Tag Archives: Judy Greer

“Reboot” is Solid, Could Still Use a Reboot

I like “Reboot”…but for better or worse, comedies are weighed against expectations. This is a comedy I feel I should love, in a year studded with standout comedies that range from the poignant to the absurd. “Reboot” feels surprisingly safe, which is limiting for a comedy that tries to lean into the shocking and subversive.

I’m a sucker for show-behind-the-show comedies. “Reboot” finds indie writer Hannah in charge of rebooting “Step Right Up”, an early 2000s sitcom in the vein of “Full House” or “Step by Step”. It’s 20 years later and she wants the original cast back for a darker, more mature take. She gets her cast, and the cast we get playing them includes Judy Greer, Keegan-Michael Key, and Johnny Knoxville.

Key’s Reed Sterling is a Yale-trained actor with an ego, Greer’s Bree Jensen is a former pageant queen with little acting experience and waning popularity, and Knoxville’s Clay Barber is an offensive stand-up comedian who makes terrible decisions. They all need the job, though, so they find a way to power through.

Showrunner Hannah is stuck with an overbearing co-showrunner – the man who created the original. Hannah’s played by the excellent Rachel Bloom, who mostly does voice acting but who you might recognize as the lead in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”. Paul Reiser plays the show’s original creator, stuck in a mode of lame 90s-era sight gags.

There’s a meta element, too, in that they’re producing “Step Right Up” for Hulu. Props to Hulu for making fun of themselves as a bunch of yes-people chasing whatever trend other streaming services are doing. Their vice president of comedy Elaine, played by Krista Marie Yu, is “new to humor”. The meta gag works, but thankfully isn’t overplayed as a focus.

There are a number of plot twists and some solid character development, but “Reboot” feels like it’s aiming for what’s safe most of the time. Many other comedies have the ability to balance the short, punchy scene with longer banter. Comedies can’t just deliver a joke the same way over and over again. Timing isn’t just about the internal pace of the joke, but also how it’s balanced against your expectations. If all your jokes are a quick progression in short, choppy scenes, then there’s no surprise to the timing.

Take a show like “Abbott Elementary”. There are a lot of quick, cutaway scenes stitched into the overall fabric of each plot, but they’re balanced well against longer scenes and conversations. Not everything’s a plot point, and many of the quicker, punchier jokes work well because they rely on longer scenes that advance each character’s emotional perspective. As characters evolve, even in small ways within a single episode, those quicker jokes reflect a slightly changed perspective each time they’re introduced. This balance of different styles of comedy and the different timings they require creates an ebb and flow that keeps things unpredictable from one moment to the next. When a joke’s timing takes us by surprise, it disarms the part of our brain that anticipates and predicts the punchline.

A great punchline with the same timing as every other joke might be anticipated too much. A solid punchline with unpredictable timing can often be more joyful because we didn’t expect it.

When timing is predictable, punchlines that should function off of surprise suddenly don’t work. In the case of “Reboot”, we can often start guessing some of the punchlines because they’re the ones that fit that timing. Most of them are good to great jokes, but because they’re all delivered the same way, with the same predictable timing, I anticipated many of the punchlines before they happened. Chances are, you will, too.

This doesn’t ruin “Reboot” by any means, but it does make it feel like it’s squandering some of its considerable potential. It also feels like an underachievement given this cast and premise.

“Reboot” can justify some of this by its meta elements. Characters are constantly criticizing the shape and predictability of late 90s/early 00s sitcom humor, so some predictability is clearly designed as a meta joke that highlights how it doesn’t work. Some of the jokes in “Reboot” intentionally don’t work because they’re designed to highlight their own not working. These are the ones that end up working best because they’re surprising, unique, and can’t be anticipated.

It’s the humor that’s built to surprise or shock that comes off as predictable. I’ll use two minor spoilers in the next two paragraphs:

Knoxville’s Clay ends up sleeping with the mother of the now grown-up child actor from the show. This reveal is predictable and the show knows this, but they try to take this into shocking territory by having Clay describe some of it, and Zack (the son) walking up and grabbing an orange slice from Clay’s questionably clean hand. If the set-up was done with less predictability, it wouldn’t need these embellishments to sell the moment. As is, the comedy’s functional, but it’s asking Knoxville to play the material into shocking territory when we’ve seen versions of it before. It should hand Knoxville the shock and let him build on top of it.

An early scene has Greer’s Bree inadvertantly take off her bra in front of Key’s Reed. The two used to go out, so it’s an awkward moment. As is, the awkwardness feels acted rather than real. It relies on Greer and Key to play up the awkwardness, but if the scene itself had sold that awkwardness first, then the actors could have built another layer on top of it. That would have opened the door for something less predictable than the conversation that follows.

In both cases, the awkwardness is predictable. What we want out of those scenes is the unpredictable element that this awkwardness leads to. If the actors are the ones working to establish the awkwardness in the first place, then they’re doing the work of establishing the predictable. They’re building the show’s comedy, but not taking that next step into what the actor can do.

You want that predictable element already built by the time the actors are playing with it, because this allows them to surprise us. If we watch them build the foundation of the scene, then all we’re getting is the foundation of the scene. For the amount of plot movement that occurs in “Reboot”, it leaves many of its scenes in the actors’ hands to develop, rather than elevate.

“Reboot” might have been better served to progress at a slower clip. Its strength is that Rachel Bloom, Judy Greer, Keegan-Michael Key, Johnny Knoxville, and Paul Reiser are all very different comic actors. Bloom’s a put-upon everywoman, Greer’s satire balances the biting and empathetic, Key has a talent for reaction and parody, Knoxville is energetic and abrasive, Reiser is light-on-his-feet and quippy. They each bring a unique approach to comedy that doesn’t overlap much with the next. Their scenes together should be constantly unpredictable. If our time is spent watching them all do the same foundational work to build their scenes, then we don’t get to the point where they have the space to give us these vastly different paces and deliveries.

“Reboot” is good because the jokes are good and the cast is phenomenal…but the expectation for solid jokes and a cast like this is to push further out than “Reboot” does. This is the era of “Abbott Elementary”, “Angelyne”, “Harley Quinn”, “Killing It”, “Never Have I Ever”, “Our Flag Means Death”, “Reservation Dogs”, “Somebody Somewhere”, and “What We Do in the Shadows”. I laughed and I’ll keep watching “Reboot”. It’s an easy watch and a solid recommendation, but I just can’t shake the takeaway that it’s underachieving too noticeably. It wants to shock without taking the risks that develop shock, and its jokes boast some of the most unique comic actors telling each of those jokes the exact same way.

You can watch “Reboot” on Hulu.

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Trailers of the Week — Only “Tomorrowland”

by Gabriel Valdez

Disillusionment. We’re used to trailers that show us magical places full of wonder and awe. A two hour escape into a movie, into a world that changes from beginning to end. That’s appealing.

We’re not use to trailers that show us why we want to escape there so badly. One shot, one little aside – a young girl glancing at the TV – tells me all I need to know about why this movie’s being made. On that TV is a riot, protesters squaring off with police.

We don’t know why this girl is getting out of jail or what her world is like outside this flat gray room. But we do have one detail that connects her existence to ours: disillusionment.

It used to be that young adult movies communicated a child not quite belonging to the rest of society through orphanhood, the death of a parent, or divorce. But we feel it on the back of our necks when we read the news, when we see police firing at protesters, cameramen being beaten just for doing their jobs. None of us quite belong to this society. None of us look at the state of things and imagine: this is what I expected, this is what I hoped for.

Tomorrowland, at least in this trailer, doesn’t communicate a fantastic world very well. It communicates a disappointing one. It communicates a desire for something better, a desire so overwhelmed and constantly assaulted that it can’t even take shape.

Dozens of trailers tell us, “Go here. See this. Feel better.”

This one tells us, “Look around. It’s OK to be overwhelmed. I’m overwhelmed, too.”

This is the only trailer we’re featuring this week. That’s an experiment, and runs counter to the purpose of this series, but everything else seems to dilute the impact of Tomorrowland. This is the one that’s got me thinking.

Trailers of the Week — The Spoils of Tim Burton

by Gabe Valdez

Diving straight in:


We’ve all been waiting for a return to form by Tim Burton for quite some time. His best film is an argument that will never be solved, but many cinephiles – myself included – will make the case for his kooky, emotive biography of the legendary B-movie director, Ed Wood.

Burton can go off the rails sometimes. It’s the emotion that can’t help but shine through in his most restrained moments that gives his best films their heart. So when Burton finally returns for another biography, let alone one centered on painter Margaret Keane and starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz, it’s cause to pay attention.

That and, if you know me at all, you know I’ll watch anything starring Krysten Ritter, one of our most unappreciated screen comedians.


Elle Fanning. Peter Dinklage. John Hawkes. Glenn Close. Lena Headey.

You simply don’t get better casts than this. What’s it like to grow up under a drug abusing, drunkard jazz legend? That’s the premise, and while that’s a stellar cast, this looks like Fanning’s movie. She’s been moving further and further out from older sister Dakota’s shadow and at this point may be the better actress – or at least the one choosing more interesting projects (I’m sure Dakota is crying into her Twilight money as I write this).


Jessica Chastain is one of the most fearsomely commanding actors we have. She’s worked a career’s worth of roles in just a few short years. In 2011, she starred in seven films, including Take Shelter, Tree of Life, and The Help. In 2012, she starred in four films, including Zero Dark Thirty. 2013 saw two more films, and this year, she’s in another five or, depending on how you count The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby‘s different his and her variations of a troubled romance, six. Or seven. It’s complicated.

The point is, since her performances announced to the cinema world in 2011 that she’s the kind of force we may not have seen since Meryl Streep first brought her talents to bear, Chastain’s starred in at least 18 films, garnering two Oscar nominations. Anything she does is must-see because across those 18 films, she’s unfailingly created unique and compelling characters. Yeah, Oscar Isaac’s great, too, and J.C. Chandor is the very definition of an up-and-coming director (he helmed last year’s All Is Lost), but Chastain is the reason to see this.


And, of course, the latest Men, Women & Children trailer. This is looking incredibly good. I featured an earlier trailer a few weeks ago and, aside from championing Jennifer Garner and Judy Greer as under-utilized actors, I stand by the idea that this could echo Adam Sandler’s touching and scary dramatic break in Punch Drunk Love several years back.


And it doesn’t fit the theme, but all the trailers rarely do, so feast your eyes on this beautiful preview for The Liberator. We aren’t offered many Latin American heroes, let alone in a film that looks so sumptuous and epic.

Worst Trailer of the Week (Tie) –

Oh dear. Normally, I don’t include films made on the cheap. That’s why Bigfoot’s film debut in Exists was excused from Worst Trailer a few weeks ago. But this is from some pretty major found footage talent and it manages to look profoundly atrocious inside of two minutes.

Worst Trailer of the Week (Tie) –

I also don’t normally feature straight-to-DVD in this section, but Kite was a groundbreaking anime. Why? Not so much for its cliché storyline, but rather for how stylishly it delivered such an incredible amount of violence in so short a time. Centering on an assassin who gets close to her targets using methods of distraction that sometimes involve her underage sexuality, it either bordered on the tasteless or took Japan’s silent cultural endorsement of child sexuality to task. Depends on who you ask. Certainly the imagery in the movie was deeply controversial.

This live-action, English language adaptation? Well, it stars Samuel L. Jackson, who does a film like this every year just to keep his B-movie cred shiny. It otherwise presents itself as a wannabe Hitgirl movie. Will it contain the confrontational gore of the original, or present action free of consequence and saturated in American-style one liners? Will it use the disturbing sexuality of the anime to hammer home a real social commentary, or will it use the premise as an excuse for cheap titillation and provocation? I have my worries.

I haven’t seen the original in so long, I don’t think I could give an accurate opinion. I remember liking the cinematic techniques in the action scenes, but that’s about it. You don’t adapt this project as a cheap cash-in free from addressing in some way what made it so controversial in the first place, and that’s what this trailer reeks of.

Big Eyes Amy Adams

Trailers of the Week — Postapocalypse Westerns & Youth Movements

Young Ones fanning 2

Well, this came out of nowhere. I mean, we all know that Autumn brings postapocalypse Westerns, but Young Ones was an afterthought a week ago. It was a contentious film at Sundance, and then fell off the map. And yet…this is exactly how you announce a movie. Directed by Jake Paltrow (yes, that’s Gwyneth’s kid brother), the cinematography and color choices on this look superb.

Toss in Michael Shannon and some of the best young actors around (Elle Fanning, Nicholas Hoult, Kodi Smit-McPhee), and suddenly you’ve got what looks like a young adult, sci-fi There Will Be Blood on your hands.

If I was a more traditional critic, I’m sure this would be my trailer of the week. Runner-up ain’t too shabby, though.

Director Jason Reitman is a force to be reckoned with. Though his last two films failed to capture the imagination like Thank You For Smoking, Juno, and Up in the Air, he remains an actor’s director.

There’s a lot happening in this trailer. It’s interesting that we’ve yet to make many films that deal with the interconnectedness of the modern world in a realistic way. I suspect this will begin to change as younger directors make their way up in the industry. Not knowing exactly how Men, Women & Children will choose to comment on this, however, let me focus on the excitement I have for this cast.

It’s nice to see Adam Sandler in something dramatic again. His comedic torch has all but burned out, and I’ve been disappointed he never pursued the dramatic ability he hinted at in Punch Drunk Love. I don’t expect the guy to start reciting Shakespeare, but comedians can often play real world drama in a way that accomplished dramatic actors can’t. Steve Carrell, Steve Martin, and Bill Murray made the transition on film, while Hugh Laurie, Olivia Munn, and Ray Romano have all given us captivating dramatic performances on TV. It’s not that all good comedians have this ability – Jon Stewart pretty famously can’t act his way out of a wet paper bag – but rather that the vulnerability that comedy requires can offer a unique perspective on delivering a dramatic performance.

Reitman is an actor’s director, but unlike most he regularly prioritizes female characters. Judy Greer has been typecast as the punchline in comedies, while Jennifer Garner (who may be the most underutilized actress of her generation) has stuck mostly to indie films because they’re the only ones that include good parts for women. Combined with Rosemarie DeWitt and filled out with the kind of young cast Reitman has always used well, I have high hopes for this in terms of being a film that includes strong, unique roles for women.

In Jake Gyllenhaal I trust. Donnie Darko. Brokeback Mountain. Jarhead. Zodiac. Brothers. Source Code. End of Watch. Prisoners. Enemy. At what point do we put him in the pantheon of great American actors? Few have delivered such strong and varied work in such a wide range of roles.

Nightcrawler, the story of a freelance reporter who dresses up the crimes he reports, seems like a uniquely Gyllenhaal-ian opportunity to create a deranged yet driven character, someone we can simultaneously withdraw from for his actions yet admire for his tenacity. The film itself looks like it fits squarely into the gallows satire at which Gyllenhaal excels, and it seems like they’ve got a solid midnight, roadside look to the whole affair.

This week’s was the second trailer for Nightcrawler (though the first “official” one). It doesn’t show off the visuals as much as the first, but it delivers the set-up better.

Antonio Banderas as a Blade Runner? Yeah, we’re not done with postapocalypse Westerns yet. Clearly influenced by the stories of Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick (and the films their work spawned), Automata looks…really damn good. I worry about an unproven director whose last work (Hierro) was visually mesmerizing but narratively middling. Those are the sorts of directors who can either grow into artistic powerhouses, or make a career of crafting spectacular trailers for so-so films.

Yet I’m also always on the lookout for Spanish takes on genre film. Spanish and Latin American stories often have a unique approach to narrative, defined by cultural priorities that are markedly different from other Western cultures. While Banderas doesn’t always have the best taste in American projects, often just taking a paycheck, he is far choosier with the roles he knows will be widely seen in Spain.

I’m taking a flier on what ultimately amounts to a homemade film made halfway around the world. Does this look like a good movie? Jury’s out. But as a trailer, it catches my attention.

It’s a textbook example of how to film a movie for a few bucks, yet find a hook that will keep you curious – in this case, a Romanian twenty-something becomes determined to film a movie with Anne Hathaway. He hires three local actresses to film scenes he intends will prove the worth of his production to a movie star he doesn’t know.

His obsession with women who look like Hathaway, whom he compares to pets, turns controlling and violent. There’s opportunity here to make a solid psychological horror film, even if the low-budget seams show. There’s opportunity here to make a real comment about our possessive attitude toward women and celebrity, a sort of modern-day David Holzman’s Diary crossed with My Date with Drew.

Of course, those are probably pipe dreams. This really looks like it’s going to be a homemade mess, but every filmmaker I know started out by making homemade messes, and I’ve enjoyed watching these more than I do some hundred million-dollar films. Homemade messes boast some of the most passionate filmmaking we have. Be My Cat is a film that’s on my radar now. Before I saw this trailer, it wasn’t.

Worst Trailer of the Week: OUTCAST
We’ve run this series, what, five weeks now? Already Nicolas Cage has won Worst Trailer twice. The man is an unstoppable machine. I say this as a fan of his, but Nic Cage is going to run away with this segment.

It’s difficult to identify the most nonsense part of the trailer for Outcast. Is it Nic Cage’s godawful English accent? The brilliant idea to pair him with fellow legendary bad actor Hayden Christensen? That the first half of the trailer appears to take place during the Crusades, and the second half in ancient China, with no explanation? The last third of Cage’s dialogue involving him stuck in some sort of weird, permanent wink that will haunt my nightmares?

This trailer is a landmark moment for the words “unfathomable” and “inexplicable.”