BRIDESMAIDS: The Film Babble Blog Review

BRIDESMAIDS (Dir. Paul Feig, 2011)

On his highly addictive popcast “WTF,” comedian Marc Maron often talks about comic actors that have a grasp on exactly what’s funny about them. In scene after scene of BRIDESMAIDS, Kristen Wiig nails exactly what’s funny about her.

Lately Wiig has been so overused on Saturday Night Live reprising obnoxious characters that weren’t that amusing in the first place, and then at the same time she’s underused in a string of sideline parts in movies such as PAUL, EXTRACT, MACGRUBER, GHOST TOWN, DATE NIGHT, etc. that it’s so satisfying to report that her first starring role is a real winner.

Wiig’s mastery of nervously nuanced body language, and naturalisticly awkward line readings carries her hapless heroine Annie here hilariously through this uber affable film.

As a former bakery owner turned jaded jewelry store clerk whose life is going steadily downhill, we first meet Wiig in bed with Mad Men’s Jon Hamm in the funniest sex scene since TEAM AMERICA.

Hamm is, in his own words on Conan, an unrepentant douche-bag, who only wants no-strings-attached sex, but it’s obvious that Wiig wants more. Hamm just has a small, and oddly un-credited role, so we know that’s not where this is going.

Wiig’s best friend since childhood Maya Rudolph is getting married, and our sardonic sad sack heroine finds out she has competition in the Maid of Honor department in Rose Byrne as Rudolph’s new upscale best friend.

There are shades of Wiig’s Penelope character from SNL, in a good way, in a bit at an engagement lunch as Wiig and Bryne keep trying to upstage each other, stealing the microphone from each other back and forth in vain to get the last word in.

The other bridesmaids that make up the wacky wedding group are Reno 911’s Wendy McLendon-Covey, The Office’s Ellie Kemper, and Mike and Molly’s Melissa McCarthy whose abrasive fearless performance comes close to stealing the movie, as funny as Wiig is.

On a plane to Vegas, Wiig gets drunk and tries to crash first class repeatedly while the rest of the cast gets in their own crazy predicaments which I won’t spoil. It’s a uproarious scene, but it’s far from the funniest ones on display, as a great sequence featuring Wiig breaking every law in the book driving up and down the road in front of a cop she had a fling with (Chris O’Dowd) tops it. I really can’t explain how this comes about – you’ve just got to see it for yourself.

As that bemused cop, O’Dowd has charming repartee with Wiig and joins the well chosen cast which notably includes the last film role of Jill Clayburgh as Wiig’s ditzy celebrity portrait painting mother.

Despite its predictable rom com trappings and some unnecessary gross-out humor (I could’ve done without a food poisoning/vomit scene in an expensive dress shop), BRIDESMAIDS is one of the funniest films of the year so far (that might not be saying much, I know).

There are more laugh out loud moments than I can count, and Freaks and Geekscreator Feig (who also helmed episodes of Mad Men, 30 Rock, The Office, and Arrested Development BTW) does a great job shaping the material written by Wiig and Annie Mumolo with a touching tone and, for the most part, great timing.

And coming from the Judd Apatow production line it’s a welcome change from the usual boy’s club fare.

Ignore the accusations of BRIDESMAIDS being a female version of THE HANGOVER (although they did cut a Vegas party scene because of the similarity) and the superficial resemblance to such chick flick crap as BRIDE WARS, because this is an extremely funny movie that really should make Wiig a star.

More later…

GET HIM TO THE GREEK: The Film Babble Blog Review

(Dir. Nicholas Stoller, 2010)

In FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL Russell Brand, as a tawdry British pop star named Aldous Snow, stood out in a strong ensemble of heavy comedy hitters enough so that his character has been granted a very rare entity – a spin-off vehicle of his own. Joining him is Jonah Hill in a different role than the possibly gay hotel employee he embodied in the previous film. Here Hill is an ambitious record company intern who wants to stage a concert celebrating the 10th anniversary of Brand’s band Infant Sorrow’s best selling live album recorded at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles.

Hill’s boss, played to the hilt by Sean “Diddy” Combs, at first vetoes the idea, but comes around and declares that this is Hill’s moment to shine. It’s a tall order – Brand has recently fallen off the wagon after 7 years because his girlfriend Jackie Q (Rose Byrne) has just left him and his last record, the oh-so-wrong “African Child”, was a huge highly derided flop. Hill has 3 days to transport the famously decadent and destructive rocker from London to L.A. with a stop in New York for an appearance on the Today Show.

Of course, the premise is that none of this goes smoothly and, ahem, wackiness ensues. To muddy the water, Hill leaves for the trip thinking he’s broken up with his live-in-girlfriend (Elisabeth Moss from Mad Men) after a fight about her wanting them to move to Seattle. He arrives to an already wasted Brand who thinks the concert isn’t for a couple of months. With a clock countdown alerting us to their stressful schedule we then go through a series of party set-pieces in which Brand predictably side-tracks Hill with sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll at every turn.

Because this is a Judd Apatow production we can’t just have an excess of crude in-your-face comedy, we have to get to the heart of these guys in the last reel. Emotional confessions have to be made and tears have to be cried, but since the volume of laughs leading to that has been well over the limit of, say, THE HANGOVER‘s, I’m not going to complain. Brand’s timing and chemistry along with Hill’s dependable awkward schtick is impeccable. He’s “on” even, or especially, when his character is off in his own whacked out world; the king of his own little adolescent fantasy land he’s built up around him, as Spinal Tap manager Ian Faith would put it.

Combs, or “Diddy” or whatever he goes by today, undoubtedly steals the movie every time he’s on the screen. At first recalling Tom Cruise’s turn as profane movie exec Len Grossman in TROPIC THUNDER, Combs goes further bringing a kind of gangsta gravitas to every word he speaks. His speechifying about the power of “mindfucking” to Hill is one of the funniest bits of the movie.

As comedies go this year GET HIM TO THE GREEK is a much better than average romp with only a few scenes I could do without. I think most folks will know exactly what they’re getting when they go in and will be fine with that. Under Apatow’s tutelage director Stoller has assembled a sturdy comic farce with all the trimmings – tons of celebrity cameos, funny freak-outs, and rapid fire one-liners.
It may not single handedly save this summer from its overriding suckiness, but it’s an extremely amusing 90 minute reprieve.

More later…

Another Round Of Great DVD Commentaries

Several years back I posted about great DVD commentaries with a top ten list of my favorites (“Let Them All Talk” Sept. 29th, 2005). Since then I’ve been collecting notes every time a new (or new to me) commentary was particularly interesting. I’d thought I’d share them in yet another patented Film Babble Blog list. Now, I know a lot of folks don’t listen to commentaries but I thought talking about some really notable ones would encourage folks to give them a try and turn that track on – if only just to sample. So, here goes:

10 More Great DVD Commentaries

1. THE PASSENGER (Dir. Michelangelo Antonioni, 1975) A rare feature-length solo commentary track by Jack Nicholson puts this at the top of the list especially as he declares: “This picture, ‘The Passenger’, was probably the biggest adventure in filming I ever had in my life.” His involving comments are helpful because without them the film can be a long haul. Most compellingly is Nicholson’s breakdown of how the final sequence was filmed (contains Spoilers!):

Nicholson: “Now, that shot was the reason they built the hotel. The hotel, in order that the camera be able to dolly out through those bars and out the window…why I hope Michelangelo doesn’t mind my revealing of the magic of his work…was that the entire hotel could be mounted on a crane and broken in half so that they could go out into the courtyard, shoot film back towards the hotel, after they exited, with the hotel having been pushed back together again and reconstructed for the remainder of the shot.”

Whew! Hope Jack sees fit to do other commentaries ’cause that one’s a keeper.

2. FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (Dir. John Hughes, 1986)

This customer review on Amazon says it best:

“Film buffs, DVD collectors, and John Hughes fans beware! The “Bueller…Bueller…” edition DVD does not include the commentary track by writer/producer/director John Hughes which was included on the original 1999/2000 DVD release. It is a great commentary and is sorely missed from this edition.”

That’s right, even the new Blu ray of this 80’s teen classic is sans Hughes commentary and the DVD I was recently sent from Netflix was the “Bueller…Bueller…” edition. The Hughes track on the 1999 edition is well worth seeking out because it truly is one of the most insightful listens all the way through. Some sample quotes:

Hughes: “After the film wrapped, Mr. and Mr. Bueller (Lyman Ward and Cindy Pickett), in real life, got married. At the time we were shooting this, Jennifer Grey and Matthew (Broderick) were dating. It was kind of a strange situation because everybody in
this scene is in love.”

And my favorite bit is the art gallery scene:

Hughes: “And then this picture, which I always thought this painting was sort of like making a movie. A pointillist style, which at very very close to it, you don’t have any idea what you’ve made until you step back from it.

I used it in this context to see that he’s (Alan Ruck) looking at that little girl. Again, it’s a mother and child. The closer he looks at the child, the less he sees. Of course, with this style of painting. Or any style of painting really.

But the more he looks at, there’s nothing there. I think he fears that the more you look at him the less you see. There isn’t anything there. That’s him.” Watch the scene sans commentary here.

Used copies can be found fairly easily of the 1999 version with the commentary as its only special feature (what more do you need?). Just look for the one with the cover pictured to the left.

3. TOUCH OF EVIL: THE 50 ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Dir. Orson Welles, 1958) The packaging is mistaken when it lists the “Preview Version feature commentary” to be Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and Restoration Producer Rick Schmidlin. It’s the 1998 “Restored Version” that contains their commentaries. The other versions – the theatrical and preview cuts have fine bonus audio tracks with writer/filmmaker F.X. Feenet and historians Jonathan Rosenbaum and James Naremore, but it’s the Heston/Leigh/Schmidlin track on the first disc of the wonderful 50th Anniversary Edition that I strongly recommend.

Wonderful moments abound: Schmidlin pointing out: “When you see Joseph Cotton listen to the voice but it’s not Cotton…” Heston: “It’s not Cotton?” Schmidlin: “It’s, uh, Orson’s voice.” Heston: “For Heaven’s sake.” Leigh: “Orson did Joe’s voice?” Also its amusing to hear Schmidlin call out which shots are Welles’s from which are Harry Keller’s later inserts to the repeated rekindling of Heston’s and Leigh’s memories. “You’ve really done your homework” Heston remarks with a slight chuckle in this charming and essential commentary.

4. BLOOD SIMPLE (Dir. Joe Coen, 1984) This beyond odd track features audio commentary by “Kenneth Loring”, the “artistic director” of “Forever Young Films” (a fictional gig – but whatever). Maybe the most surreal listen on this list.

5. TROPIC THUNDER (Dir. Ben Stiller, 2008)

As 5 time Oscar winner Kirk Lazarus in a tense moment making a Vietnam War movie, in black-face mind you, Robert Downey Jr. declares: “I don’t drop character till I done the DVD commentary!” You know what? Like a real method actor, he keeps his word.

In this free form three way between Downey Jr., Stiller, and Jack Black, the snark level is high which is way apt considering the over the top tangents of said film. One such sample bit during the opening mock trailers – specifically “Satan’s Alley” with Downey Jr. and Tobey Macquire as tortured homosexual monks:

Stiller: “Sort of an alternate universe for Spiderman and Iron Man.”
Downey Jr.: “I was trying to ride Tobey when we was shooting this thing but he wouldn’t have none of it. Talkin’ ’bout happily married.”

6. I’M NOT THERE (Dir. Todd Haynes, 2007) Haynes’ odd yet transfixing meditation on “the many lives of Bob Dylan” (one of my top 5 films of 2007) confused a lot of people, particularly those unfamiliar with the troubled troubadour’s background. Haynes delivers a commentary that should clear up that huge cloud of confusion as he sites references and breaks down various inspirations for every detail in every scene. Some sample quotage:

Haynes: “This is the entrance of Cate Blanchett in the film. The role of Jude was something that I’d always planned, from the very first concept of the film that I gave to Dylan in 2000, that it would be portrayed by an actress. And the reason for this was really for me to try to get to the core of what this next change really looked like and felt like to audiences at the time. How he became this sort of feline character offstage and this sort of bouncing marionette onstage. Full of all these extravagant androgynous gestures that we’d never seen before and we’d never see again after.

The commentary is filled with so many more elaborate descriptions, or justifications, for every aspect of Haynes’ challenging anti-biopic.


Every Judd Apatow production’s DVD commentary is entertaining, from Freaks ‘N Geeks to PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, but this group cast track with director Mottola, screenwriter Evan Goldberg, actors Seth Rogen, Michael Cera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jonah Hill, and producer Apatow is IMHO the best of the bunch. Largely because Apatow brought along his nine-year-old daughter Maude. Apatow tries to get the guys to keep it clean but it doesn’t last long. A sample exchange:

Hill: “This scene is fuckin’ hilarious, man.”
Apatow: “Jonah, Jonah…”
Hill: “Yeah?

Apatow: “Maude’s over there.”
Rogen: “You keep swearing, stop swearing Jonah!”

Hill: “Dude, what is this, bring your daughter to work day? I mean…”
Apatow: “Just be cool man, be cool! This is the only way I could do it…I don’t have a
babysitter, I’m in New York City here to do Conan and Colbert by the way…I don’t have a babysitter so what am I gonna do? Leave her like, uh, with the concierge?”
Hill: “I dunno, dude I’m not…”

Cera: “Like “Home Alone 2!”
Hill: “It’s “Superbad”! I curse the whole movie…the commentary, I mean, it’s like…whatever.”
Apatow: “You know, I’m not trying to ruin it…I’m not trying to ruin it…”
Hill: “Let’s just go back to the movie; let’s just go back to talking about the movie…”
Rogen: “It’s kinda ruining the commentary Judd, if Jonah can’t say
what the fuck he wants to say.
Hill: “Yeah! I can’t curse, why don’t you just…”
Apatow: “You know what? I’m not 15 years old and don’t have a kid – I’m an adult like Greg, I have a child. This is my reality.”
Hill: “If I had a kid I wouldn’t bring it to work with me.”

Whoa – some actual drama there mixed with the laughs. Let’s minus the laughs for this next one:

8. TAXI DRIVER (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 1976)

Writer Paul Schrader sounds a bit hesitant upon first opening up (“whatever comments I have…are really not from inside the director’s vision”) about the film and his screenplay’s seminal 70’s statement about urban alienation but once he gets going it’s quite a cutting companion piece. Sample quotage:

Schrader: “What happens at the end happens at the beginning.”

“When Marty first told me that he cast Albert (Brooks) I was sort of surprised because, you know, it was a nothing character. Well, that’s the secret: cast the comic in a nothing character and you get somebody interesting.”

“I don’t believe the script should have any references to camera angles whatsoever. There’s only one camera angle in the script, and that’s the tracking shot at the very end, and I put that one in there because I thought that it was important we see this crime scene from the eye of God. And the only way we could make that point is if we put the camera on the ceiling and track.”

9. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FABULOUS STAINS (Dir. Lou Adler, 1982) In the interest of space I’ll refer you back to this post (“Talking ‘Bout A Generation Gap” Oct. 3rd, 2008) in which I first babbled ’bout Diane Lane and Laura Dern’s very funny commentary.

10. NASHVILLE (Dir. Robert Altman, 1975)

Luckily before beloved “New Hollywood” auteur Altman died he recorded a number of worthwhile commentaries but this one is absolutely essential for his magnum opus. As rambunctious as Altman was infamous for being, his gruff ingratiating commentary makes you feel like you’re sitting on the couch with him as he rambles. Some random rambles:

“When this film first came out, they hated the music. They said this wasn’t real country music. But I wasn’t looking for good music, not that they make a lot of it there…”

“We cast these cars as carefully as we did the people who drove them.”

“Since we knew that I had no way I could control the palette of this film, the color of this film, because I knew I was going to be dealing in real situation for we were just invading an event. Even though if we created it, we had to deal with…we weren’t paying these people as extras we just had to go where they were.”

Special TV Series DVD Set Honorable Mention: Spaced (Dir. Edgar Wright, 1999-2001) This short lived but brilliant BBC series is outfitted in a nice 3 DVD set with multiple commentary tracks featuring guests like Kevin Smith, Diablo Cody, Patton Oswalt, Bill Hader, Matt Stone, and Quentin Tarantino sparring with Wright and various cast members including, of course, Simon Pegg and Jessica Haynes. Great stuff.

Okay! I hope that’ll point out some good commentaries out there. I’d love to hear your thoughts on essential bonus audio tracks so please send ’em on. You know where to find me.

More later…

FUNNY PEOPLE: The Film Babble Blog Review

FUNNY PEOPLE (Dir. Judd Apatow, 2009)

This movie is further proof of my theory that Judd Apatow wants to be a scatological James L. Brooks. Despite his raunchy bad boy comedy pedigree, Apatow seems, to me, to be emulating the oeuvre of the writer/director/producer famous for classic TV comedy staples like Mary Tyler Moore and Taxi (not to mention extensive work on The Simpsons) and films such as BROADCAST NEWS and AS GOOD AS IT GETS. In other words Apatow wants to make his own TERMS OF ENDEARMENT with dick jokes.

Inching closer to that goal is FUNNY PEOPLE, Apatow’s 3rd film as director, which may look from the marketing to be a comedy that takes dramatic turns but it is really a drama sprinkled with a lot of comic asides. Adam Sandler, Apatow’s former ’80’s room-mate, plays a famous comedian named George Simmons who has made a lot of Adam Sandler-like stupid movies with names like “Mer-man” and “Re-do”. He lives alone in a huge mansion by the beach decorated with posters from his films and his looming loneliness. A young comic, the increasingly skinny Seth Rogen, goes quickly from a brush with celebrity moment with his idol Sandler to being his assistant and joke writer. You could be forgiven for thinking this is just another crude yet tender bromance (brom-com?) in the vein of SUPERBAD or I LOVE YOU, MAN.

A James L. Brookian factor in this is that Sandler is diagnosed with a potentially fatal blood disorder. Rogen is the only one he’s told and the tears start flowing (onscreen that is) when the comic upstart implores his mentor to tell the world of his sickness. There’s also the matter of, as Sandler says onstage: “There is always the one girl out there that got away…the one that got away. Guys have that and serial killers have that.” That comes in the form of former flame (Apatow’s wife Leslie Mann) that our ill protagonist obviously still pines for. She’s married (Eric Bana plays her amusing Australian husband) with children (Apatow and Mann’s daughters Iris and Maude) but she still holds a candle for Sandler. The film then goes from the more interesting world of stand-up comedy, to a less interesting near farce in a Marin County suburban home-set, and in the process, loses its ground.

There are many laughs and genuinely funny people (including Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Aubrey Plaza, Aziz Ansari, and cameos from just about every working comedian in LA) in FUNNY PEOPLE but at 2 hours 26 minutes its way too long with a dragging 3rd act. That’s another reason it’s not a comedy; the unwritten rule that comedies should be around 90 minutes. As such, I could’ve done with more of the backstabbing egos backstage at comedy clubs crux than the ‘will they/won’t they get back together’ relationship rigmarole overall.

There’s also that long running complaint with comedies about all the best jokes being in the trailers and commercials and that’s all too true here. The drama is what’s left, and there’s a lot of it so take note. Still, I bet it’ll be an appealing DVD down the road with an unrated cut, tons of outtakes, extended scenes that are funnier that what’s in the movie, and a crowded cut loose commentary like all Apatow productions have. So even as a mixed bag of a dramedy (or whatever you want to call it) Apatow still makes with the yuk yuks – I just hope next time he gives us more laughs and less pathos.

More later…

Late 80’s Amusement Park Blues

ADVENTURELAND (Dir. Greg Mottola, 2009)

Greg Mottola’s follow-up to the hilarious and touching SUPERBAD immediately announces its thematic stance with The Replacements anthem of adolescent angst “Bastards Of Young” blaring at the very beginning. In 1987 Pittsburgh, Jesse Eisenberg (THE SQUID AND THE WHALE) is indeed the “mess on the ladder of success” that song wailed on as he finds that his parents have cancelled his dream trip to Europe due to his father being transferred at work. After failing to find anything close to upscale work, Eisenberg gets a summer job working game booths at Adventureland – a garrish amusement park so cheap one risks being fired if they give away prizes such as stuffed giant Pandas simply because they’re running out of them. Eisenberg falls for a co-worker (Kristen Stewart of TWILIGHT) while suffering daily indignities such as ridicule from his former best friend (Matt Bush) who has a penchant for decking him in the crotch and almost being knifed by a redneck father for one of the prized “big ass” Pandas.

Luckily Eisenberg has a few things that help him get through this. He is given a bag of joints by a yuppie friend (Michael Zegen) who actually gets to go on his summer vacation, he befriends Martin Starr (Freaks And Geeks) as a burnt out carnie and confides about his crush on Stewart with a laid back Ryan Reynolds, a handyman who is semi-legendary in the park because he supposedly jammed with Lou Reed. Reed appears in the almost wall-to-wall mix of 70’s and 80’s music that blankets every scene lovingly. Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” seems to never stop playing on the park’s PA system but the likes of well chosen Big Star, Crowded House, Velvet Underground, Hüsker Dü, New York Dolls, and Bowie cuts that fill out the soundtrack more than make up for that.

The appearance of SNL‘s Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as Eisenberg’s bosses made me expect a broader and definitely wackier movie but the wack has been held back in favor of character development over crude jokes – though there are a few. A number of narrative threads aren’t fully fleshed out; there seems to have been stuff cut from the parents’ (Jack Gilpin and Wendy Mallick) story and Reynolds just has the bare bones of an identity yet he still slickly glides through.

Eisenberg is likable in his Michael Cera-like awkwardness even when he performs some cringe worthy actions such as taking the park’s lusted after Lisa P (Margarita Levieva ) for a date on the side. There aren’t big laughs; just a steady stream of snickers but enough to keep me smiling throughout. It’s apt for a film set in the late 80’s about coming of age in the era post Pacman and pre Beavis And Butt-head that it has a heart more akin to John Hughes than Judd Apatow. A comic valentine to a plastic but palpable time, ADVENTURELAND is a good, not great, ride.

Post note: New Jersey Indie rock heroes Yo La Tengo scored the film and contributed a track called “Leaving Adventureland” which plays over the end credits and is well worth a download. It’s Yo La Tengo instrumental dreaminess at its best.

More later…

ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO – The Film Babble Blog Review

(Dir. Kevin Smith, 2008)

Seems like the world of movie comedy has passed Kevin Smith by these days.

From the many Judd Apatow approved projects to the likes of Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, and Adam Sandler dominating the raunchy guy genre is there really any place or need any more for Jay and Silent Bob?

Well, thankfully they’ve been left behind (though Jason Mewes does show up) for Smith’s new chance to play catch-up and show he can still make with the crude and rude gross-out gags. Highjacking major Apatow-player Seth Rogen and basking in the low budget roughness in which he created his best work, Smith gives us Rogen and Elizabeth Banks (also a Apatow veteran) as broke best friend room mates who…oh, you know the title.

The use of the word “porno” has caused mild controversy with some markets refusing its title and original promotional images were changed to feature stick figures to both appease the MPAA and make cheap fun of it.

The film was heavily edited to avoid a NC-17 but I doubt any of that material was any dicier or outrageous as the film wants itself to be. The lowdown is that it’s filled with scads of scatological humor, which is mostly tossed of in casual banter, and a lot of nudity (filmed in probably the most unsexy way I’ve ever seen) but nothing that would shock anybody who hasnt seen the trailer and got already the gist.

That’s not to say it isn’t fairly funny and very watchable – Rogen and Banks are good together with amusing turns from the obligatory real porn star cameo by Traci Lords, Smith stock company member Jeff Anderson (Randal from CLERKS), and the bemused Craig Robinson (The Office, PINEAPPLE EXPRESS).

It appears from the duo’s ideas for a adult movie effort to help pay their bills that Smith’s pop culture reference lingo has really dated – enough with the STAR WARS whatnot! “Star Whores”? Really witty, Kevin. The Star Bucks stand-in “Bean ‘N Gone” that Rogen and Banks work and are forced to film their porno project at (further echoes of CLERKS) reeks of left-over retail complaints you’d think that Smith would be over at this point.

Smith delights in characters and premises that refuse to mature and that’s fine, I just wish his film-making would grow up. Crude, badly cut, and just barely holding the narrative together, this movie is not the work of a polished confident director though I bet he would take that as a compliment.

Rogen carries a lot of the film on his affable back, rolling with a laid back nature while Banks’ spirit and go-with-it timing are a welcome contrast to her current portrayal of Laura Bush in W. They’re both big reasons to see this movie whatever your views on the View Askewniverse. ZACK AND MIRI… has the soul of an 80’s teen movie, most definitively the oeuvre of John Hughes.

Its heart and motives are a pastiche of well worn tried and true predictability – the funny audition sequence, the on-the-fly dance number, the aim to make a distinction between sex and “making love”. The fact that it has a heart probably won’t concern those who want old school Kevin Smith shenanigans so the best I can say there is that this is much better than CLERKS II. ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO has too much worthy competition (PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, TROPIC THUNDER, FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL) to be considered one of the best comedies of the year yet it is still likable enough even though it’s not as laughable as I would’ve liked.

More later…


FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL (Dir. Nicholas Stoller, 2008)

This is one I really wish I had seen when it came to theaters last spring. The raving reviews and accolades have piled up so much that by this point it can’t possibly be as funny as all that, can it? Almost comparable to the hype of THE DARK KNIGHT being immediately called one of the greatest films ever, this got an instant comedy classic stamp on it and I’ve seen it appear on several premature “best of 2008” so, yeah, my expectations couldn’t help from hitting the ceiling. Well, after watching it on DVD I can say that it definitely was far from a letdown with many laughs and likable characters though not exactly the experience Richard Roeper gushed about: “I want to just get down on my knees and declare my undying love for this movie”. Boston Globe critic Ty Burr also seemed a bit over the top when he wrote: “it delivers belly laughs that explode from the meeting of wit and shock”. But to be honest, I believe that if I had seen it on its original release I probably wouldve gotten carried away and might have said some similar things too.

Sure, it has a flimsy sitcom premise – boy loses girl, boy goes on Hawaiian vacation in order to get over girl, boy runs into girl with her new boyfriend who happen to be staying at the same resort, crude wackiness ensues etc. but the whole deal is as affable as its protagonist. The boy is Jason Segel whose persona as a hapless schmuck he began perfecting on the late great one seasoner Freaks And Geeks. He’s an LA musician who writes incidental music for a CSI-derived TV drama starring his girlfriend (Kristen Bell). Bell tells him that their 5 year relationship is over in a scene that sets the tone by featuring Segel refusing to put clothes on as his heart breaks: Oh, would you like to pick out the outfit that you break up with me in?!!? Segel, who wrote the screenplay, appears to have no shame portraying a guy who feels nothing but shame as he cries in the nude and shakes uncontrollably in emotional pain while eating from an oversized bowl of cereal.

After some comic consoling by his best friend (SNL’s Bill Hader who spends most of the film as a head on a laptop) he makes that fateful trip to one of the world’s most famous vacation spots and, yep, he has to face his former love in the arms of a major pop star played by the sleazily charming Brit Russell Brand. Luckily there’s Mila Kunis (That 70’s Show, voice of Meg Griffin on Family Guy) as a flirting hotel clerk that may be the key to helping him recover (you think?), Paul Rudd as a perpetually stoned surfer, Jonah Hill as Matthew the Waiter who is obviously hiding a man crush on Brand, and a Christian newlywed couple (30 Rock’s Jack McBayer and newcomer Taylor Wily) who are definitely not having a good go at consummating their marriage.

FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL is another in the series of Judd Apatow produced flicks about pop culture obsessed immature men coping with growing up as they endure a plethora of awkward sexual circumstances – i.e. THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN, KNOCKED UP, and SUPERBAD. It helps that this has a few somewhat plausible female characters and an actual moral code beneath the scatological silliness. None of things realy matters though as what folks were raving about is simply how freakin funny this flick is. It is certainly much funnier than many comedies, especially recent rom coms (a genre this film seems to want to reconstruct by way of just add more dick jokes) so maybe those people were on to something. But comedy classic? Lets just give it some more time and I’ll get back to you.

Post Notes – Bonus Material With A Shout Out: There is not much difference between the unrated extended version and the theatrical cut on the DVD except for some excised lines and a mildly amusing Kristen Wiig (SNL) yoga class scene. The gag reel is, like the movie, funnier than most flicks flubs while the patented Apatow “line-o-rama has a lot of great alternate lines like Segels reaction to Kuniss over-reaction to seeing her ex-boyfriend: “You were like David O. Russell when he was yelling at Lily Tomlin! Jonah Hill has some good unused ones too: “I think its cool though, you just come and eat dinner by yourself. I wouldnt do it, I would rather stay in the room and jerk it, if you know what Im saying? Dont tell anybody I said that.

The shout-out goes to the great barely known comic actor Bill Hader who was in a couple of other possible future comedy classics over the last few months. Though many would classify them as bit parts – his turns as Private Miller in PINEAPPLE EXPRESS and studio executive Rob Slolom in TROPIC THUNDER, which had him hold his own up against Tom Cruise, are great sideline roles. With hope he will get some more substantial film work alongside his current gig at SNL but with projects like NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM 2 and something called CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS on his cinematic horizon, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

More later…

PINEAPPLE EXPRESS – The Film Babble Blog Review

So THE DARK KNIGHT is still holding steady at #1 at the box office but riding on its ass at #2 is:

PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (Dir. David Gordon Green, 2008)

“Stoner Action Comedy” – those are the key words in all the publicity blitz surrounding this movie. Also the ‘buzz’ (Can’t resist) was that this entry in the juvenile yet thoughtful Judd Apatow produced movie sweepstakes was helmed by David Gordon Green best known for film fare like ALL THE REAL GIRLS, GEORGE WASHINGTON and SNOW ANGELS which has raised a few cineaste’s eyebrows. What we’ve got here is a self-effacing Seth Rogan re-united with his Freaks And Geeks (also an Apatow creation) co-star James Franco as the leads going through some of the same stressful stoned situations that Cheech and Chong (or more recently Harold & Kumar) went through back in the day but this time out we’ve got more heart (of the John Hughes variety), more inventive sideline characters (of the Quentin Tarantino ilk), and lots of sloppy yet involving action (shout outs to the white trash fight scenes of the Coen brothers’ RAISING ARIZONA) to keep us rolling. Sure, on the surface this is SUPERBAD with murder but look closer and you’ll see that PINEAPPLE EXPRESS has a movie mojo of its own.

Rogan plays a process server (funnily called a protest servant at one point by Franco) who spends his days smoking weed between delivering subpoenas, dreaming of being a talk radio personality, and visiting his 18 year old girlfriend (Amber Heard). His new dealer (James Franco), who seems to spend his days watching reruns of 227 while dreaming of being a civil engineer, hooks him up with a rare species of super potent marijuana called “Pineapple Express” which as events go places Rogen at the scene to witness a murder committed by an evil drug kingpin (Gary Cole) and a corrupt cop (Rosie Perez). After that the buzzed buddies are on the run wrongly thinking a fellow dealer named Red (Danny McBride) will help them and that it’s a good idea for Rogen to still make a dinner engagement with his girlfriend and her parents (Ed Begley Jr. and Nora Dunn) while eluding Cole’s hired thugs (Kevin Corrigan and Craig Robinson). Gross-out humor prevails as our high heroes endure a rowdy car chase, clashes with each other, and finally a warehouse shoot-out with the Ninja-like attack of an Asian gang and many many grotesque woundings.

The premise is so slight that it nearly disintegrates but that hardly matters as there are so many funny lines and a smile inducing joy throughout. Rogan and Franco have a hilarious chemistry especially when disagreeing on their next move with Rogen’s bemused reactions to Franco’s mangling of old cliched sayings: “the monkey’s out of the bottle, man!” Danny McBride, such a stiff in THE FOOT FIST WAY, plays an incredibly amusing character here who steals every scene he’s in as he gets abused more than any one else and even killed over and over a la Kenny on South Park. The only weak scenes are the ones with Cole and Perez who, likable as they are, don’t match the over the top tone as they gruffly flirt while their crooked worlds collide. Likewise Rogan’s girlfriend subplot could be cut altogether which would confirm McBride’s repeated “bros before hos” stance. These are minor grumblings for PINEAPPLE EXPRESS is the funniest movie I’ve seen at the theater this year and has enough laughs for many repeated viewings. With Green’s sturdy direction and Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s gloriously silly screenplay the Apatow universe expands once more with another of a strong line of consistent comedies; movies so full of mayhem and mirth that you don’t have to be stoned to enjoy because they’re baked enough for all of us.

More later…

Pop Culture 101: Today’s Class – WALK HARD

What better way to celebrate the holidays than to have another lesson in pop culture provided again by Judd Apatow and his cronies? Their new movie WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY follows the trajectory of a dramatized career overview and hits many familiar targets so it’s a perfect professor for our forum. First up – A review of said film:

WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY (Dir. Jake Kasdan, 2007)

Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly) now joins the ranks of The Rutles as well as the Christopher Guest cinematic concoctions Spinal Tap and The Folksmen: that is fictitious musical entities created not just to satirize specific artists or styles but an entire sweep of eras and cultural contexts. Of course it’s obvious by the title alone that the chief model of mockery here is WALK THE LINE – the fine but formulaic Johnny Cash biopic. The riffing on the tried and true formula of the modern music biopic (THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY, LA BAMBA, COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER, THE DOORS, etc.) is the name of the game here and for the most part it’s well played.

From his meager beginnings, oh you know the story – he grew up on a farm with a stern father (Raymond J. Barry) and a loving doting mother (Margo Martindale) and a brother (Chip Hormess – later played as a ghost by Jonah Hill) who he accidentally cut in half with machete, Cox discovers the blues and quickly becomes a star with his hybrid brand of jukebox glory. Just as quickly he is turned on by his drummer (Tim Meadows) to marijuana – “it’s not habit forming!” then over the years every other drug known to man. Also just as fast he meets the woman of his dreams – back up singer Darlene Madison (Jenna Fischer from the US version of The Office). He marries her before divorcing his first wife – the nagging Kirsten Wiig (SNL) and when found out is left by both women. This ushers in his dark period and we know this because Cox exclaims “this is a dark fucking period!” So I need not go on plotwise – from darkness to redemption, you get the picture. John C. Reilly carries the movie wonderfully – his singing on the sharp song satires is very strong, his wide-eyed airhead gusto is authentic, and his delivery of lines like “I’m locked in a custody battle right now. Custody is being enforced upon me which I don’t think is right” is dead on.

WALK HARD is very amusing but not roaringly hilarious – the tickling my funny bone got amounted to a series of chuckles though they were plenty enough to keep me smiling. I appreciated its tone and take on the smart-dumb kind of comedy, one that has more heart than those the smarmy scatological joke-a-minute SCARY MOVIE series that’s for sure. One of many running jokes is that there isn’t any subtext – everything is said out loud like in these random lines:

“Dewey Cox needs to think about his entire life before he plays.”

“The 60’s are an exciting and important time.”

“That was early Dewey, this is middle Dewey.”

WALK HARD continues Apatow’s winning streak (yes, I know he didn’t direct but he co-wrote produced and it’s being promoted as his enterprise) and gives us what we’ve been waiting for all these years – a full out John C. Reilly showcase (okay, maybe I’m the only one’s who’s been waiting). Take that, Joaquin Phoenix in WALK THE LINE! Eat it, Dennis Quaid in GREAT BALLS OF FIRE! In your face, RAY! Y’all gonna have to stand aside because though he surely won’t take home an Oscar for this (and that’s a damn shame) I predict that Reilly’s lampoon will have a longer lasting effect than their earnest yet often bland biopic offerings.

So now onto the Pop Culture 101 Schooling:

Warning: Many Potential Spoilers

Like I said above, of course the life and legacy of the late great Johnny Cash by way of WALK THE LINE provide the film’s narrative arc and it’s most evident in the first act with Cox’s clothes, mannerisms, his first hit record (the title song), and the dead brother all borrowed from the Man in Black. However the winning over of skeptical African American music purists comes from
THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY and Buddy Holly appears briefly played by Frankie Muniz (Malcolm In The Middle). Muniz actually has a more accurate physical appearance than Gary Busey did to Holly in the 1978 biopic and he establishes a Cox tradition of calling celebrities by their full name as in – “I’m awful nervous, Buddy Holly.”

The only exception to the full name is Elvis portrayed by Jack White of the White Stripes. The blatant mis-casting is part of the joke here as White does an exaggerated cartoon version of the King’s swagger – “look out! I could chop a man in half!” Elvis also had a dead brother – a twin that died at birth and as legend has it haunted him his whole life so there’s that too.

After his first dance with cocaine (of course provided by Meadows) Cox inadvertenly invents punk rock. Dave (Matt Besser), Dewey’s guitarist, protests “ain’t nobody gonna listen to music like this. You stand there playing as fast as you can looking like some kind of… punk.”

Cox’s Dylan period is pretty defined as well – in a bit made to look like mid 60’s grainy black and white press conference footage an interviewer even puts forth – “people are saying that your new music sounds a lot like Bob Dylan”. Cox responds “well maybe Bob Dylan sounds a lot like me!” We get a few other DON’T LOOK BACK-esque shots of Cox in Bob mode – singing lyrics like “mailboxes drip like lampposts in the twisted birth canal of the coliseum” (written by folk singer songwriter Dan Bern) and another has him wearing the same Triumph motorcycle t-shirt under a mod emblemed dress shirt just like Dylan wore on the cover of “Highway 61 Revisited”.

During the short time that WALK HARD shared the theatre I work at part-time with I’M NOT THERE (at the end of its run) I noted that both twisted anti-biopics have 2 sets of actors playing The Beatles. They are just briefly seen extras in I’M NOT THERE but they are all name cameos (to some degree) in WALK HARD. Paul Rudd (on the left) plays John Lennon, Jack Black does a horrid yet still aptly amusing Paul McCartney impression, Justin Long (the Mac guy from those commercials) does a passable George Harrison, and Jason Swartzman does an odd constipated clinched teeth take on Ringo Starr’s heavy Liverpudlian accent.

After witnessing their bickering Cox remarks “it seems like there’s a rift happening between The Beatles.” He drops acid with the fab four and has a animated YELLOW SUBMARINE derived hallucinatory experience. “We’re the trippy cartoon Beatles” Ringo (I think) says in case we didn’t make the connection.

A Brian Wilson descent into madness (complete with paisley attire and Wrecking Crew style accompaniment) follows as Cox attempts to make his highly orchestrated masterpiece that none of his fellow band members understand – i.e. the ill-fated “Smile” sessions. Inspired by Wilson’s outrageous recording methods (right down to the use of barnyard animals for sound effects) and friction with the rest of the Beach Boys, Cox’s resulting song – “Black Sheep” is, though ridiculous, a pretty groovy track.

A decade later Cox has a TV show which is most certainly based on The Johnny Cash Show but there’s also a Sonny and Cher/Laugh In variety show element to it too. His version of David Bowie’s “Starman” done with an astronaut outfit and dancing space girls is taken from many embarrassing attempts by outdated acts in the 70’s to crossover and connect with younger audiences on the small screen. The disco-fied version of the title song also drives the point home.

Late-period Dewey has him finding out that his music has been sampled by rapper L’il Nutzzak (Jacques Slade) which is perhaps inspired by Ice-T’s defense during the “Cop Killer” crisis of ’93 – “When people criticize the lyrics of rap music, I tell them to listen to ‘Folsom Prison’ – “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.” I’ve never heard any rap song that hard-core.” In general though it’s just a comment on the younguns yet again co-opting the old guard.

Lastly let’s look at the promotional materials – the poster picture (on the left) is based on the famous “Young Lion” photo of Jim Morrison taken by Joel Brodsky in 1967 (on the right) though the film itself has little DOORS spoofing except in a general ‘a rock star gets trashed way’. This is right in line with the posters for THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN and KNOCKED UP – all you have to do feature a large close-up of the goofy looking protagonist and the crowds are sure to flock to the multiplex. Don’t know if the image of John C. Reilly’s mocking mug is going to put bums in the seats but I still find it funny.

The advertising campaign for WALK HARD includes a joking attempt to get the film nominated for an Academy Award – as Apatow said “our movie is the dumbest movie to ever beg for an Oscar.” Imitating iconic Johnny Cash’s famous giving the Nashville music industry the bird pose in an infamous ad in Billboard Magazine*, Cox makes his position well known. I do think the soundtrack is award worthy but against such competition as HAIRSPRAY and SWEENY TODD I seriously doubt that it will get any gold.

* The shots scanning up a page of Billboard charts to see the artist’s record hit #1 – (usually lit up) is a music biopic cliché from Hell! I can’t think of a film in the genre in which that doesn’t appear.

Now I’m sure I’ve missed many individual pop culture points and just about every trailer or TV spot I’ve seen has material not in the movie but I thought it was best to just concentrate on what’s in the theatrical release. When the DVD comes out I may do a revised edition of this Pop Culture 101 entry.

More later…

Pop Culture 101: Today’s Class – KNOCKED UP

I finally got to see Judd Apatow’s hit comedy KNOCKED UP (newly released on DVD) which I really regretted missing last summer in the theaters. I thought it was very funny though it was more of a James L. Brooks style drama than I expected – the 2 hour 13 min. running time should have tipped me off. What really got to me about this anti rom-com about slacker stoner Ben (Seth Rogen) unintentionally impregnating way-out-of-his-league Allsion (Katherine Heigl), is the incredible amount of pop culture referencing going down. The abundance of name dropping, bad impersonations, and snarky wise-cracks would put Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarentino to shame! It’s almost like without these media touch points these people would have nothing to talk about at all. Since I would have nothing to talk about without them let’s take a look at the cinematic schooling KNOCKED UP provides us in pop culture profundity:

WARNING : Many Potential Spoilers

A large percentage of the riffing comes from Ben’s room-mates (Jason Segel, Martin Starr, Jay Barachel, and SUPERBAD‘s Jonah Hill – who all use their real names in the movie). They all have a what they call “the dirty man competition” – a bet that air-headed Martin can’t grow his hair and beard without cutting or shaving for a year. If he lasts that long they have to pay his rent for a year – If he caves and shaves he’ll have to pay all of their rents for a year. So they hurl insults relentlessly at him – calling him SERPICO, Charles Manson, Chewbacca by way of Jay’s horrible impression, and Jonah asking him if he had a hard time changing his name from Cat Stevens to Yusef Islam. Martin: “yeah, it was awkward.”

The gang has a website in the works – Ben’s pitch: “only at * will customers be able to find exactly into what movie their favorite stars are exposed”. It seems to be a premise created soley to riff on Jamie Lee Curtis’ infamous full-frontal in TRADING PLACES, Julianne Moore’s pantless appearance in SHORT CUTS , we actually see them watch the Denise Richards/Neve Campbell lesbian love scene in WILD THINGS on TV, and Meg Ryan’s nude scenes in IN THE CUT. To their later dismay Pete (Paul Rudd) tells Ben there is already a celebrity nudity website called Mr. Skin. Ben rationales – “Good things come in pairs you know? VOLCANO, DANTE’S PEAK. DEEP IMPACT, ARMAGEDDON, right? WYATT EARP, TOMBSTONE.” To which Jay adds – “Panda Express, Yashinoya Beef Bowl.”

* Yep, it’s a real site now.

Random Reference Riffing :

Shortly before Ben and Heigl meet, the guys discuss Speilberg’s MUNICH – all agreeing on its awesomeousity. Ben : “Dude, every movie with Jews we’re the ones getting killed. MUNICH flips it on its ear. We’re capping motherfuckers!” They all drink to Ben’s proclamation – “if any of us get laid tonight it’s because of Eric Bana in MUNICH!”

Paul Rudd’s character Pete is a A & R guy for some never named record label. Photos of him with Elvis Costello and framed album covers (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers “Damn The Torpedos” can be seen a few times) decorate the walls of his suburban home. Pete does a number of impressions throughout the film including Robert Deniro (not bad) and in the deleted scenes – Austin Powers (awful). He and Rogen disagree on music – Ben: “If I ever listen to Steely Dan, I want you to slice my head off with an Al Jarreau LP!” The most defining straight-forward statement that Pete makes of course is encased in pop culture – “marriage is like that show, Everybody Loves Raymond but it’s not funny.”

Pete and wife Debbie (Leslie Mann – Judd Apatow’s real-life wife) have kids (played by Apatow’s daughters Maude and Iris) who argue over whether to listen to the soundtrack to “Rent” or the band Green Day from the back seat of Allison’s car on the way to school. Not far from the tree obviously.

Of course you’ve got to have a “boy loses girl” 3rd act conflict development with both couples spliting temporarily. Ben and Pete take a trip to Las Vegas in which they plan to take mushrooms (acquired by Pete from a roadie for The Black Crowes no less) and go see Cirque de Soleil quoting SWINGERS all along the way – “you’re so money!”

On a hotel room TV a scared Ben, tripping out of his mind on those Crowes roadie ‘shrooms, watches CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN (we see shots of Steve Martin running around surrounded by his kids’ wacky shenanagins) and remarks “He’s got 12 kids…that’s a lot of responsibility to be joking about. That’s not funny.”

When Ben starts getting his life together and moves out of what was essentially a clubhouse into a respectable apartment he replaces his framed Bob Marley smoking a big ass spleef poster (obviously pictured on the right) for a ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND poster which he hangs in the soon to be nursery.

Dr. Kuni (Ken Jeong) who delivers the baby angrily tells Ben in the hallway – “if you want a special experience go to a Jimmy Buffett concert!” In the bonus features there is a line-o-rama feature that has dozens of alternate lines for many scenes. There’s an amusing run with trying out variations on the Jimmy Buffett line – some examples: “go to Disneyland”, “go to freaking Busch Gardens”, “go to Korea”, and “go to my apartment, it’s phenomenal.”

Another run on the line-o-rama has Jonah Hill saying “Mr. Skin is like the Beatles and we’re like the Monkees” and “Mr. Skin is like Alec Baldwin and we’re like Billy Baldwin.”

The opening credits sequence shower scene from CARRIE is viewed by Ben and Allison for further research.

Loudon Wainwright III plays Dr. Howard and also contributes the songs “Daughter”, “Grey In L.A.”, and “Lullaby” to the soundtrack.

One of the deleted scenes has Jonah spouting out a hilarious rant about BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN which he says “was made by, like, fuckin’ homophobes in my mind!” He drags MASTER AND COMMANDER and Bruce Willis’s full frontal in COLOR OF NIGHT down into his profanity filled diatribe.

Harold Ramis makes a nice (albeit too brief) showing as Ben’s father. He attempts to console his son in an extended scene with an Indiana Jones analogy – “So, he could be like little Indy and you could be Sean Connery.”
Ben: “Or, I could be the guy that got melted when he looked in the Ark.”

Uncredited cameos by obvious Apatow and Co. friends Steve Carrell, James Franco (plugging SPIDERMAN 3 which was released at the same time as KNOCKED UP and is mentioned several times), and Andy Dick are brief blips on the reference radar – helped by Heigl’s character being a reporter for E! Entertainment Television. That definitely hooked up the attitude-infused Ryan Seacrest appearance. Also swift bit parts from SNL‘s Kirsten Wiig and Bill Hader should be noted too.

Whew! That’s a lot of TRAINSPOTTING for one movie. I didn’t even mention the mentions of Robin Williams, Taxicab Confessions, Martin Scorsese, Cartman from South Park, Doc Brown from BACK TO THE FUTURE, Ben’s Mr. Bill T-shirt, Pete’s Tom Waits “Rain Dogs” T-shirt, Vince Vaughn, Matthew Fox from Lost, Fellicity Huffman from TRANSAMERICA, as well as Ben and gang’s posters of Pink Floyd, Hunter S. Thompson, and Fraggle Rock. Okay, now I ‘ve mentioned them.

There will be a test on all this so I hope you took good notes.

More later…