615 Notes: ‘House Party,’ ‘Puss in Boots,’ ‘Pale Blue Eye’

by | Jan 15, 2023

Hello! After a wonderful 2022 with The Letterboxd Files, this movie column of brief Cory Woodroof movie reviews is simplifying itself a bit.

Welcome to just ‘615 Notes.’ It’s as fun as the Letterboxd one was! It’s just shorter.


House Party

House Party gives you just about everything you could possibly ask for with a semi-remake of the original House Party.

Whereas most remakes hold some reverence for what came before, the newest House Party movie just lets its fun flag fly. It takes a pretty novel concept (House Party, but at LeBron James’ house) and executes it without too much unnecessary self-seriousness and a bevy of smart stunt castings. Some of the jokes here are mercilessly funny, including one NFL star cameo that has to be one of the best gags in a studio comedy in eons.

It’s a shame that this one isn’t getting the best reception, if only because it’s yet another studio comedy that does exactly what you need it to do. What is the bar we are rating these movies with? Do they all have to be sophisticated enough to appeal to the most demanding audiences? Every now and again, it’s just nice to get a soundly written, genuinely funny, admirably silly comedy that doesn’t ask too, too much from its viewer.

Lighten up, folks!

Where to Watch: Theaters 

Spoiler Alert 

This is the first movie I’ve ever seen where the main character is based on someone whose Office recaps I used to read pretty regularly.

It’s about what you’d expect. Michael Showalter is competent enough to make the real-life drama sink in, and the cast is good enough to sell it. I can’t say all of the stylistic choices worked, and the first act takes some time to really take root. But, y’know, only a jackass could watch the third act and not feel something.

Where to Watch: Theaters, PVOD

The Pale Blue Eye 

A pretty study February chiller with snow everywhere and Henry Melling doing his best Foghorn Leghorn impression. I’m not sure why Christian Bale did this movie since his role doesn’t really ask much of him. But if Scott Cooper is his boy, then you be there for your boy.

Solid Robert Duvall cameo!

Where to Watch: Netflix 

Jurassic Punk 

I’m a sucker for showbiz docs, and I quite liked this one because I think it’s the best thing we’ve gotten in a long time that actually deals with the VFX revolution. This would make a hell of a narrative feature, but they’d never be able to get Disney, ILM or LucasFilm to sign off on anything that this doc deals with (understandably).

Steve Williams was a genius, but damn, it sucks to watch a guy realize later in life that he pissed away his success trying to stick it to the man that really wasn’t, y’know, all that bad. Dennis Muren kind of takes one on the chin here, and I think it would’ve been valuable for him to try to explain his side of the story. However, it’s easy to see that it takes a silent village to make these movies, and that the folks winning the Oscars always have people behind them making this all work. That’s true of all jobs on a movie set, but a good reminder all the same.

Where to Watch: PVOD

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish 

The Puss in Boots movies are much better than the last two Shrek films, which were kind of dumb and greedy. The Spider-Verse animation style is certainly a diversion from the classic DreamWorks format, even though I thought The Bad Guys used it to better effect.

Puss’ reckoning with his mortality is much more engaging than the wishing star McGuffin, but it’s all pretty fun and emotionally surprising. We’re probably past due for another Shrek movie, and this was a good reminder that there is more to do there now that DreamWorks seems like it’s actually trying again with the golden goose.

Where to Watch: Theaters, PVOD

Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical 

Quite enjoyed this. I wasn’t crazy about the stage show, but this was electric. “Revolting Children” is one of the best scenes of the year, full-stop. Emma Thompson is a hell of a Trunchbull, and Alisha Weir and Lashana Lynch are perfect for the material. This is just a thoroughly good stage-to-screen. Feels like it’s going to find its audience and stick around for a while. Better than the 90s one!

Where to Watch: Netflix


Cats Don’t Dance 

I refuse to believe anything else but that a young Damien Chazelle walked into a movie theater, watched this and left thinking, “I’m going to make this movie, but it’ll be a 3-hour bacchanal with Brad Pitt.” (Mark Dindal kicked ass with this one)

Where to Watch: PVOD


Man, Michael Bay must really hate astronauts and Paris. Like, super hate. Like I wanna watch that movie.

Clearly ridiculous, but damn it, we didn’t know what we had. This was a blast, and startlingly emotional by the end. The Aerosmith song is still a bop.

Where to Watch: HBO Max, PVOD

House Party (original)

It’s the affable hangout movie that I kind of expected it to be, with a delightful George Clinton cameo, a great Robin Harris performance and one of the most “oh…oh dear” dated comedy bits of the early 90s. Kid ‘N Play could spit, though!

Where to Watch: HBO Max, PVOD

Step Brothers (rewatch)

I still don’t know if this is quite the Dadaist masterpiece people make it out to be, whereas a movie like Hot Rod accomplishes the purposeful absurdism with a lot more consistency.

But y’know it’s still pretty darn funny. Richard Jenkins is the MVP. Outstanding fart joke.

Where to Watch: Peacock, PVOD

Fred Claus

I’d love to have seen the Warner Bros. executive who lost his everlasting mind after sitting down and watching millions and millions of dollars shoveled into a furnace for the Vince Vaughn Christmas comedy they were assured would be a laugh fest for the whole family.

What a weird ass movie. It’s not really for kids, it’s not really for adults, it’s not really for anyone who enjoys Christmas. It’s a movie that your newly divorced uncle goes to see by himself because Vaughn was in Wedding Crashers and he heard someone at work say they liked it but they were actually thinking of Elf.

It’s just got this salty underbelly that doesn’t mesh with the festive nature of it, and Fred Claus is not an interesting character. Vaughn doesn’t ever seem like he wants to be there. Nobody does except for Paul Giamatti, who is wasted as Santa. Why did we waste Paul Giamatti as Santa?

2007 was such a landmark year for cinema, but we also got Fred Claus. So…yeah. Merry Christmas.

Where to Watch: HBO Max, PVOD

Grumpy Old Men/Grumpier Old Men/My Fellow Americans 

Grumpy: Oh, to have been a senior citizen at the height of the Grumpy Old Men films. What dreams may come. This was good! Very nice. Walter Matthau was the all-time grump. They don’t make ‘em like they used to.

Grumpier: Burgess Meredith lives his damn life in this one. It’s not quite as efficient as the first, but it’s much better than whatever the hell those reviews were in 1995. Those movie critics had no damn idea what was coming in the streaming age.

My Fellow: James Garner reportedly described Peter Segal as “a self appointed genius who didn’t know his ass from second base and Jack and I both knew it.” So I’ll let him speak for the movie.