REVIEW: “THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS” (2018) STX ENTERTAINMENT

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I truly wasn’t sure what to expect from “The Happytime Murders”Brian Henson’s (son of Muppet creator Jim Henson)foray into the adult puppet genre’ aka #MuppetsGoneBad, but it wasn’t a VERY adult comedy about puppets to be sure. But fear not, this isn’t Ernie and The Cookie Monster doing puppet porn, however it could be described as a bit of #Muppetsoncrack..or should I say sugar, as snorting sugar is their ‘crack’.

In The Happytime Murders, a private detective named Phil Philips (Bill Barretta) picks up a new case, which leads him directly into a series of brutal puppet homicides. Someone is targeting the cast of The Happytime Gang, a once popular sitcom whose cast has hit hard times, and Phil has to team up with his old partner Det. Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) to solve the case. In addition to McCarthy, whose slapstick performance comes off as rather effortless, you’ll also encounter Maya Rudolph, portraying Bubbles, the noir P.I. secretary to Philips, Elizabeth Banks as ex-human girlfriend Jenny, and (a sadly under-utilized) Joel McHale as smarmy FBI Agent Campbell.

The murder mystery in and of itself, isn’t anything you haven’t seen before – neither is the twist at the end. These cute puppets though are revealed as porn addicts, drug addicts, plastic surgery addicts, sex addicts and worse, in other words, just like us. But that’s really what the joke of the whole film is – as they make due on jokes of puppet racism, puppet stuffing, what happens to puppets in jail, and to be honest, some of it was quite funny. It’s a somewhat weird, crazy and ingenious idea to be honest. It’s like Henson knew he had this one opportunity to tell an adult-oriented puppet story that entertains comedically, has an actual storyline and isn’t a cartoon type film. But when I say it’s for adults, it’s because it truly not a family-friendly movie in the slightest. It’s over-the-top heavy on sexual humor, along with violence, although how ‘violent’ is it really to shoot a puppet and stuffing blows up – or have a dog-attack on a puppet when 5 yr. old’s tear their dolls apart like this everyday. Well, it could be used in the context of point, because subtlety won’t make the point that puppets can be used to tell stories, but also have something meaningful to say in that story. But it’s mostly effective due to Bill Baretta and Melissa McCarthy being talented comedians who know how to make their sillier jokes feel like extensions of their characters and the relatively absurd reality in which they live.

The humor in The Happytime Murders can be raunchy and sophomoric, and its story will no doubt be too simplistic for some, but those who don’t suspend disbelief and go with the flow of imagination here, are missing out on what was intended to be an hour and a half of some good laughs.

I expect The Happytime Murders to be a hit among McCarthy and adult Muppets fans alike, as well as those seeking a don’t-take-it-so-seriously fun comedy in the closing days of summer.

Media Review Screening: Wednesday, August 22, 2018 ~ Courtesy of STX Entertainment

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REVIEW: “MAGIC MIKE XXL” (2015) Warner Bros.

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Well it’s been three years since “Magic Mike” (Channing Tatum) retired from his life as a male stripper, now running his own struggling custom furniture business and he decides to reunite with what’s left of his old team with plans of bowing out once and for all after a final performance at a big 4th of July weekend stripper convention in Myrtle Beach, FL.

What happens along the way is what truly makes this a much better film than the first one with one or two exceptions – one of them being no Matthew McConaughey as emcee extraordinaire “Dallas” this time round and as expected Jada Pinkett Smith as “Rome” cannot even come close to filling his shoes. (If you watch Gotham at all, it’s almost the exact same character portrayal here). Two, no Alex Pettyfer and it’s perfectly fine as you don’t miss him in the slightest.
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Magic Mike XXL is in essence, a comedic guys road-trip movie with a lot of dancing, a couple hits of ecstasy & lucky for us, there is at least one stripping scene per stop ensuring us all a good time on the road with these boys. At points its hard to care that they throw caution to the wind and just pause the plot entirely when so much effort was put into making each stop outrageous, hilarious and insanely sexy. If your only reason for coming to watch just to see hot, sculpted men, you will not be disappointed either.
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The film wastes no time reuniting what’s left of Mike’s old male stripper team. Matt Bomer plays “Ken” – the charming pretty boy of the team – who shows off some of his strong Broadway vocal ability here in a version of “Heaven” that slays everyone. Kevin Nash is back as “Tarzan” the big guy who can’t dance but loves to paint. Adam Rodriguez is “Tito” who along with Gabriel Iglesias’s “Tobias” is unsure of his future prospects. The stand out of these guys might just be Joe Manganiello as “Big Dick Richie” who on top of being built like a god, is the most unexpectedly funny member of the team with a convenience store challenge to die laughing for and sure to be new tag-line of the year “How much for the cheetos & water” scene you can’t help but love. Leading the supporting cast is Amber Heard as “Zoe” who at first simply appears to be Mike’s love interest though in the end she is revealed to be much more than that in being a central part of the finale in an very unexpected way. Add in Stephan ‘Twitch’ Boss as “Malik” doing some absolutely amazing dancing routines and Donald Glover “Andre” singing like no other and you just can’t help but smile and enjoy yourself.
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Once the road trip gets going, the film spends most of its time just observing the guys hanging out as they travel from place to place running into obstacles along the way, but always finding time to dance and/or take their clothes off. The guys are all charming and with a somewhat low-stakes plot, XXL’s laid back ideals are perfect for a movie that is really contingent on the audiences likability of the cast and that we are able to engage with their characters. The film provides us endless opportunities to do just that as like them we do and not just as sexually alluring beefcake.
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In the end, this movie is just fun. That is just about it. Well…except I would be totally remiss to not mention one little last tidbit in calling out the spectacular cameo strip off that Michael Strahan gives as “Augustus” – it’s almost beyond words it’s so fun!!
There is no dramatics here or Oscar-worthy performances. But what there is are a lot of smiles, oodles of good fun & laughter, some really great singing and fantastic choreographed dancing. To sum it up there will definitely be a “Tsunami of dollars” made opening weekend from this one!!

Grade: C+
@pegsatthemovies

Screening Monday, June 27th at The Grove/Pacific Theatres courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.
Nationwide release – Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

PITCH PERFECT 2 (2015) Universal

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Yep…the Bella’s are back with new additions and some of the same cliches. The boy’s are there too though not so predominant this time round, even the Green Bay Packers brought a batch of a cappella linebackers to this one, along with a wanna-be group, The Tone Hangers.
But what would the story be if not for new rival a cappellas, German based “Das Sound Machine” featuring the beautiful badass “Kommissar” (Brigitte Hjort Sorensen) & her side-kick “Pieter” (Flula Borg) to duel it out with with an ending that comes as no surprise to anyone. Even so, never underestimate the power of the teen girl viewing audience as the ‘Pitches’ took down ‘Mad Max’ for top grossing film of the weekend box office. pp5

The tone of the film is set in the opening routine, in which Rebel Wilson’s “Fat Amy” has a wardrobe malfunction on stage while dangling upside down at a performance in front of the POTUS & FLOTUS no less. This unlikely set-up forms the premise that takes us through what happens when the group is suspended from competing – unless they can pull off a win the world a capella championships in Copenhagen which no American team has ever done before.
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It’s pretty much all the same crowd – our jaded commentators “John” (John Michael Higgins) & “Gail” (Elizabeth Banks – whom most impressively also directed the film); leader of the pack “Beca” (Anna Kendrick) who also has a side-plot in wanting to become a music producer and keeping her music internship a secret from the rest of the Bellas, a cappella over-achiever “Chloe” (Brittany Snow), butch girl “Cynthia Rose” (Ester Dean), will do anything “Stacie” (Alexis Knapp), the ultra whisperer “Lilly” (Hana Mae Lee), “Flo” (Chrissie Fit) immigration story survivor extraordinaire and yes, of course previously mentioned, “Fat Amy” (Rebel Wilson). Even “Aubrey” (Anna Camp) shows up though is graduated and running a ‘boot camp’ for a cappellas where they get their harmony back with some hi-jinks to give us a laugh or two. The films secondary biggest plot revolves around Hailee Steinfeld as newcomer “Emily”, the group’s latest addition, who writes and sings her own original music which is unheard of in the a cappella world. Steinfeld is pretty terrific and has good screen presence and holds her own as the newbie here.
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There are some solid singing and dancing performances throughout with highlights in scenes in which the rivalry between the Barden Bellas and German reigning champions Das Sound Machine comes to a head; some hilarious confrontations between lead singers Kommissar and Beca follow with a few of the one-off scenes being a bit clumsy, though the sequence at the private party sing-off is a high point as it’s fun and musically clever.
At this point though, the humour factor is getting cheap, the fat jokes are wearing thin and getting on your nerves. Others are falling hard & flat and some are just leaving a bad taste in your mouth they are so crass and offensive.
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I did like the first Pitch Perfect, but in that ‘oh it’s cute way’ that you do like some films as it gave you that ‘Rocky’-underdog feel to it. This one, while it has it’s entertaining moments, lacks that. All the plot points are stepping stones for the climactic finish in Copenhagen, when everything comes together in by far the best part of the whole film, with dynamic harmonies and rhythms, it’s just too bad the film best perks wait until the very end to grab you.

Grade: C+
@pegsatthemovies

Pitch Perfect 2 is in theaters nationwide.

RATINGS SCALE: A = OSCAR-WORTHY; B = ABOVE AVERAGE; C = AVERAGE; D = NOT RECOMMENDED; F = SKIP IT ENTIRELY (+ OR – GIVES IT AN EDGE UP OR DOWN)