The Angry Birds Movie ***
Few of us escaped the Angry Birds mobile app video game viral phenomenon, which began around 2010, and has been played by an estimated 100-million people world-wide. The game is simple. A variety of birds, some angrier than others, smash through walls, explode and otherwise employ a wide variety of skills, none of which involve actual flying, all to foil evil green pigs. The sailing through the air comes only by the power of a giant slingshot. The game inspired TV cartoons, spin off games, and now a feature length animated film. Giving backstory to the very angry birds was the job of writers Mikael Hed, Mikko Pöllä, and John Cohen. The sparkle comes from a screenplay by John Vitti (The Simpsons, King of the Hill, Ice Age), and an all-star cast including Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, Sean Penn, Peter Dinklage, Keegan-Michael Key, and the real star, Red, voiced by Jason Sudeikis. When Red is sentenced to anger management therapy, the snarky, misunderstood bird is the only one who sees a group of invading pigs as a real threat. This is a fun flick for all ages with plenty of references to the original game and enough snappy dialog to really give it wings.
Popstar: Never Stop Stopping ***1/2
In the tradition of This is Spinal Tap, Walk Hard, A Mighty Wind and other mockumentaries, Popstar is a modern, musical, raunchy take on the genre and the celebrity/music culture with a healthy bunch of laugh-out-loud moments, even if not quite up to Christopher Guest standards. A group of three childhood friends become a hit with a Beasty Boys-type pop group called The Style Boys. When a couple of smash hits, including a dance craze single called Donkey Roll, propel the group to worldwide fame only Connor (Andy Samberg) goes on to superstar status and he leaves his pals in the dust. Nothing original here plot-wise, but it doesn’t really matter, because the film’s fun is in the jokes, the dialog, the lampooning of the pop music industry and the countless cameos from the biggest stars in music. No less than 20 real life superstars, which I won’t spoil your fun by disclosing, all play along, several singing original songs written for the movie. Co-stars Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone, Sarah Silverman and Tim Meadows, play along, too for a film both audiences and critics alike seem to be enjoying. See it for the hysterical send up of the TMZ paparazzi reporters featuring Will Arnett as their ubiquitous leader.
What do those stars mean?
* Really, really, really bad. Don’t bother.
** Pretty bad, with one or more redeeming scenes.
*** Pretty good, but maybe not great, worth seeing for most
**** Really great, a winning combination of story, casting, and directing
***** The rarest gem, an all-around perfect motion picture