Michael Cera Is The Putz *And* The Poseur

YOUTH IN REVOLT (Dir. Miguel Arteta, 2009)

It’s funny that Michael Cera has reportedly been the lone holdout for the prospects of an Arrested Development movie since he’s never quite left the character of awkward yet lovable George-Michael Bluth behind. Cera has never shown us that he has any versatility, yet his trademark hangdog nervousness coupled with his particular brand of soft spoken sarcasm, has worked nicely in several movie comedies in the last few years – SUPERBAD being the best of those.

As Nick Twisp, that same Cera persona is on display in YOUTH IN REVOLT, but here there is sort of a promise of a twist to that persona in the form of a bad boy alter ego named François Dillinger. Unfortunately apart from a pencil thin mustache and an always present dangling cigarette in his lips, François is still the same Cera. He makes taunting risque comments to Twisp and acts according to the domino-effect accident-prone nature of the script, but it’s still the same Cera. Sigh. Couldn’t he have even just attempted an accent?

Cera affects François for the express reason of wooing the girl of his dreams (Portia Doubleday) – a neighbor in the trailer park his family fled to. Though we are introduced to Cera’s Twisp by way of a masturbation scene, he fancies himself a well read intellectual who loves Frank Sinatra and in Doubleday he feels he’s met his match. He longs to break away from the white trash world of his divorced mother (Jean Smart) who’s shacked up with a scuzzy trucker (Jack Galifinakis), so he plots to get his real father (Steve Buscemi) to get a job and relocate so he can be close to the girl he loves. François appears to be the key to set this in motion.

Mix in reliable character actors Fred Willard, M. Emmet Walsh, Mary Kay Place, and Ray Liotta (as yet again an asshole cop) and this all plays as quirk by the numbers – “Independent Teen Angst Movie” it could be called. To jazz up these stale elements there’s jaunty animation that looks like it was pilfered from Nickolodeon and Justin Long as Doubleday’s laid back hallucinogenic mushroom providing brother.

YOUTH IN REVOLT was filmed a few years ago and possibly shelved because the producers (the Weinstein Brothers) sensed there was a lack of a strong hook to this material. Its release in early January seems to support this. The film has likable people, songs, and story strands but Cera feels severely miscast to the ultimate detriment of the movie. Unless Cera’s got some major character deconstruction surprises coming anytime soon, here’s hoping he reconsiders reprising George-Michael Bluth in the afore mentioned Arrested Development movie. I mean, c’mon! It’s the only role he seems to have really played since.

More later…

Judging Mike Judge’s EXTRACT

EXTRACT (Dir. Mike Judge, 2009)

The filmography of Mike Judge is very small (just 4 films over 13 years) and very odd. Best known as the creator and voice of Beavis And Butt-head and King Of The Hill, his movies have a obvious bent towards working stiffs and the threat of stupidity taking over the world (see OFFICE SPACE and IDIOCRACY). EXTRACT is cut from the same cloth as Judge’s cult classic OFFICE SPACE but it’s a jagged uneven piece of that cloth. As the protagonist Jason Bateman is not just a cog in the system, he owns his own company – an extract manufacturing plant. A freak accident on the factory assembly line that leaves one of his employees (Clifton Collins Jr.) with only one testicle, leaves him with a huge lawsuit that could potentially ruin his company. Meanwhile on the home front Bateman isn’t getting any action from his wife (a blank slate Kristen Wiig from SNL) so he drowns his sorrows at a nearby hotel sports bar whining to his best friend – bartender Ben Affleck.

Affleck, bearded and be-wigged and seemingly having a better time than anyone else in the movie, spouts out awful advice, and recommends pills as solutions. Bateman is attracted to a new intern (Mila Kunis) and confides to Affleck that he wouldn’t care if his wife cheated on him as long as he could get it on with Kunis. Affleck refers Bateman, heavily drugged, to a small time gigolo (Dusty Milligan) whom he hires to go to his house in the guise of a pool cleaner in order to seduce his wife.

Okay! This is where I give up on the plot summary as recounting it is almost as bad as it was watching it. What started out promisingly becomes a test of endurance. Instead of waiting for laughs I found myself anticipating the flimsy unpleasant premise to get even more flimsier and unpleasant. When Gene Simmons of Kiss showed up as a sleazy lawyer (one of the film’s most inspired notions actually) I expected him to make good on his threat to slam Bateman’s balls in the conference room door. Why not? It’s not like the film had any loftier aspirations.

There are a number of genuine laughs in EXTRACT, just not enough to add up to a great cutting comedy. Kunis’s character as a hottie grifter (no Spoilers there – that’s revealed in the opening scene) offers no surprises and no character is likable enough to care about – I’ve liked Bateman in just about everything I’ve seen him in (especially Arrested Development) but here he’s a pretty bland and not particularly sympathetic everyman. I cringed more than I laughed during this movie I’m sad to report. Judge’s previous works were indeed odd with a twisted yet likable affinity for those struggling to climb to another rung on the ladder of success. EXTRACT is just odd and twisted – which would be fine if it was just funnier.

More later…

10 Repeated Lines That Define Their Respective TV Series

Though this blog is called “Film” Babble Blog I’ve written about TV shows from time to time because the worlds obviously overlap (Simpsons, SNL, X-Files, etc.). Since this season many folks will be giving and receiving multi-disc box sets of popular programs (most likely of one or more of those listed below), I thought it would be fun to sum up 10 series by repeated lines, both comical and ominous, and sometimes said by more than one character. Oh yeah – these are all from the last 10 years because you know, shows like Seinfeld (“Not that there’s anything wrong with that!”), Friends (“We were on a break!”), back to ancient Happy Days (“Sit on it!”) reruns and other Nick At Night fare have been pretty covered already on the internets. So here goes:

1. “I’ve made a huge mistake”Arrested Development (2003-2006) This is said by nearly every character in nearly every episode. The stated self realization coming usually in a moment of panicked frenzy defines the rampant disfunction on heavy display. There are a few other choice lines like: There are a few other choice lines like Maebe’s “Marry me”, Michael Bluth’s (Jason Bateman) disapproval of George Michael’s (Michael Cera) plain girlfriend Ann – “Her?”, and my personal pick – Gob’s (Will Arnett) mouthy cover-up of a failed magic trick: “Where did the lighter fluid come from?!!?”

2. “This is the business we’ve chosen.”The Sopranos (1999-2007) Actually this is a quote from THE GODFATHER: PART II. It is repeated in a few variations (“the life we’ve chosen”) by Tony Soprano (James Gandofini) and numerous other mobster buddies and foes. They all worship Coppola’s gangster classics so the quote is both a reference and affirmation of the crew’s code. Honorable mention goes to “all due respect” which is an episode title *. I had originally thought of Tonys (and others) angry “this is how you fuckin’ repay me? line but couldnt find as many examples.

* Also a title of an episode of The Wire funnily enough.

3. “It’s a gift…and a curse.”Monk (2002-present) In the “memorable quotes” section of the IMDb’s entry on this obsessive compulsive disorder detective show every quote is a repeated line including: “Here’s what happened”, “You’ll thank me later”, and “Unless I’m wrong, which, you know, I’m not…” All of which are pretty representative, don’t you think?

4. “You of all people should know that.”Six Feet Under (2000-2005) This line usually spoken by Nate Fisher (Peter Krause) comes in handy when admonishing somebody’s misguided attitude even if it comes off as holier than thou itself. It can also be used as a grounding reminder as when guest star Mena Suvari tells Claire (Lauren Ambrose) “None of us may be here tomorrow. I mean, you of all people should know that.”

5. “And just like that…”Sex In The City (1998-2004) As newspaper sex columnist (bet in todays ecomony that’s not a job that’s very secure) Carrie Bradshaw, Sarah Jessica Parker in voice-over often uses this short-cut to describe an abrupt change as in: “And just like that she was a woman again”. It’s even used in the movie released last summer (yes, I saw the damn movie!).

6. “Everybody lies.”House M.D. (2004-present) Pretty much says it all for Dr. Gregory House’s (Hugh Laurie) world view and the show’s thematic thrust, huh? Like Monk there are a handful of repeated lines: “You need a lawyer”, “We’re missing something”, and the odd but handy prognosis: “It’s not Lupus.”

7. “Pretty good. Pret-ty pret-ty pret-ty good.”Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000-present) Larry David is rarely doing “pret-ty good” in the farcical follies that make up his hilarious HBO hand-held camera comedy and when he is it’s as extremely short-lived experience but the line persists nevertheless. “Hey, let me ask you something” is also often said but it doesn’t bring the voice of David to mind like the “pret-ty good” line. His long suffering wife Cheryl (Cheryl Hines) has her own repeated query: “Why would you do that?” That question seems to be asked every episode as well.

8. “So, this is how it ends.”Dexter (2006-present) Since this show was just renewed for 2 more seasons the ending isn’t coming anytime soon for blood splatter analyst/serial killer Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall), but with the myriad of close calls and sticky situations he gets trapped in, it’s sure to make more appearances in his voice-over inner monologues. Possible Spoiler! – It was spoken out loud by one of his victims in season 1, Sgt. Doakes (Erik King) incidentally.

9. “That’s what *she* said!”The Office (2005-present) Yeah, this joke has been around way before this American adaptation of the British work place sitcom made it Michael Scott’s (Steve Carrell) go-to tag-on comeback, but you’ve got to admit that now it is both owned by the show and it says everything you need to know about its delusional lead character.

10. “Ya happy now, bitch?”The Wire (2002-present) I’m only just a recent convert to this gripping gritty cop drama but I’ve come to the understanding this line which was in the first episode of season 1 is Detective Bunk Moreland’s (Wendell Pierce) crusty catch phrase always said to partner James McNulty (Dominic West). Seems to show up on every message board as many fans’ favorite lines so I’m sure as I make my way through the DVDs I’ll soon see why.

Well, that’s that. A lot of shows don’t have definitive repeated lines – unless I missed it my favorite show of the last year, Mad Men, hasn’t had any catch phrases yet and may not as the show moves forward through the 60’s. Anyway, it’s the holidays and I got a Freaks And Geeks DVD boxset as well as more The Wire discs from Netflix a-callin’ me.

So as Krusty the Clown would say: “So have a Merry Christmas, a Happy Chanukah, a Krazy Kwanzaa, a Tip Top Tet, and a solemn, eventful Ramadan.”

More later…

JUNO what I’m talking about?

Since it opened on Christmas Day JUNO, Jason Reitman’s comedic drama about a teenage girl who gets pregnant, has been trouncing WALK HARD at my hometown theatre (where I work part-time) with at most showtimes 3 times the audience in attendance. The critical response has been overwhelming – it has 94% rating on the Rotten Tomatometer and the most beloved and respected critic ever – Roger Ebert wrote that it’s “just about the best movie of the year” and that he thought that star Ellen Page (who plays the title role) “will be one of the great actors of her time.” Whoa! I thought it was a likable though derivatively quirky little film with good acting and some sharp lines but Ebert’s swooning seems a bit much.

Of the minority that didn’t care for what looks from a distance to be this year’s LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, one of the most interesting reviews came from Triangle critic Craig D. Lindsay. His review was entitled “Danger: Snarky Pregnant Teen Ahead” and he writes that JUNO “could very well be the most dangerous movie to come out this holiday season”. Dangerous not for its possible pro-life agenda but for “its kooky, deceptive, ultimately mediocre charms”. He goes on to say that if successful “it will inspire and influence a legion of teenage girls to start acting snotty and snarky, just like Juno, more than they already do.”

So since Ebert adores Page, thinks Diablo Cody’s first time screenplay is Oscar worthy, and ended up making JUNO his #1 film of the year while Lindsay considers the whole thing “snarky” I find myself toeing the middle ground. It is not in my eyes anywhere near the best movie of the year or is it a dangerous socially influential manifesto.

Greatly in its favor is that JUNO is very well cast – apart from Page we have J. K. Simmons and Allison Janey (The West Wing) as her parents, from the beloved yet short-lived Arrested Development – Michael Cera (also of SUPERBAD) as Juno’s boyfriend and his fellow former cast member Jason Bateman. Bateman and Jennifer Garner play a suburban couple who sign on to be the baby’s adoptive parents. How it all pans out was a little different than I expected and some of the exchanges are nicely witty:

Juno (Ellen Page): “Can’t we kick it old school? Like Moses and the reeds?”

Mark (Jason Bateman): “Actually that would be kicking it old Testament.”

None of JUNO will be surprising visually to moviegoers – it resembles most indie fare from THUMBSUCKER to ROCKET SCIENCE and its soundtrack won’t shock either. Reitman should know that you don’t use The Kinks (their song “A Well Respected Man” plays at one point) if you don’t want to invite Wes Anderson comparisons but don’t worry I won’t make them. I feel after one viewing in the middle of the busy bustling season I may be blowing the film off so I may see it again and get back to you but for now –

Film Babble Verdict: JUNO is just alright.

More Later…