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…

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It Was 40 Years Ago Today: Re-watching Woodstock

“It’s really amazing. It looks like some kind of Biblical, epochal unbelievable scene!”
Jerry Garcia (The Grateful Dead)

“A bunch of stupid slobs in the mud.”
– Grace Slick (The Jefferson Airplane)

Yeah, Woodstock divides folks – even folks supposedly on the same side. Whatever your feelings on the famous Woodstock Festival, currently celebrating its 40th anniversary, it’s impossible to deny its lasting impact and cultural importance. For a number of reasons * I felt like re-watching the movie that was made of the event that fateful weekend. I’ve seen it before a number of times -usually on anniversaries it seems. I remember a party in ’99 with it on in the background via VH1 and I remember seeing it constantly on the monitor of the video store I was working at in ’89.

* One of which being the upcoming release of Ang Lee’s TAKING WOODSTOCK featuring comedian Demetri Martin as Elliot Tiber who came in at the last minute to offer his property for the event after it was banned from its original location.

I just borrowed my brother’s DVD of it from the late 90’s – as Martin Scorsese, who was assistant editor on the project, said the film “has shape-shifted quite a bit over the years” so I felt I was fine with the 1994 “Director’s Cut” and didn’t need to shell out for the new lavish 40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition for an anniversary re-viewing you know? This was an old school DVD – it didn’t even have a proper menu and the video quality was pretty VHS but that’s apt because that’s how I saw it originally so screw digital remasterings! For now anyway.

The film makers had some fun with the standard ratings disclaimer at the beginning of the film – the “R” starts to ignite at the sound of Jimi Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner” guitar solo.

It extends to the word “Restricted” which quickly goes up in flames and the implication is clear – this movie is fiery cataclysmic stuff, watch out. That notion though disappears rapidly once you see laid back shots of farm fields and hippie folk arriving to take them over. Workers building the stage and setting up sound equipment while people arrive – some in colorfully painted vehicles, some on foot climbing through holes in the fence.

This all goes on a bit too long as it’s a while before we see an actual live performer. We hear studio versions of Crosby, Stills & Nash and Canned Heat tunes with a split screen image showing simultaneously Michael Lang talking to a reporter from ABC News while the second half of the screen shows the unwashed masses making their way through paths of parked cars and campers.

24 minutes into it, Richie Havens is the first performer. He does his hard acoustic guitar strumming thing on a few songs, stopping in between to tell the audience that the next day the whole world will read about how groovy they were. Out of sight, man! From there we see Wavy Gravy (still going by the name Hugh Romney **) mulling about hamming it up and then hear his announcement that the acid circulating is not poison – it’s just been poorly manufactured.

** For more on this see Michele Esrick’s excellent documentary about Wavy Gravy coming soon to a theater near you: SAINT MISBEHAVIN’.

This is where I get weary of reporting on everything in this already well reported movie and will just hit the highlights (or lowlights) as I saw them:

The Who’s bombastically beautiful “See Me, Feel Me” and “Summertime Blues” performance shakes things up after Joan Baez’s stoic stance of an act.

The audience is blown away by Joe Cocker’s ferocious “With A Little Help From My Friends” Beatles cover (wonderfully parodied by John Belushi on SNL Oct. 25th, 1975).

Jeez, there’s way too much drum circle footage combined with people running and sliding in the mud after the infamous downpour that the crowds tried to stop with a chant: “No rain -no rain!” Doubt this bit was what won the film a “Best Documentary” Oscar.

The most treacly bit: John Sebastian solo acoustic singing his song “Younger Generation” concluding by saying “That kid’s gonna be far out.”

Jimi Hendrix’s set is definitely the highlight of the entire event – despite that he was the last performer and it was early Monday morning and most of the massive crowd had left.

Hendrix’s mind bending take on “The Star Spangled Banner” is the bit that alone singed the “R” rating above. The set is available separately and for good reason.

When all is said and done in my book (or on my blog) there’s just this music on record that lasts from this colassally overwrought event: The Who, Sly and The Family Stone, Joe Cocker, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix. The rest is pretty iffy. For example: none of the Grateful Dead’s set has ever been released because it sucked – as band members have repeatedly alleged. And who invited Sha Na Na?

As a cultural historical document WOODSTOCK is essential, however as a fun rock concert movie it is bogged down with an unnecessary hyper significance – I found myself siding with Grace Slick’s quote above most of the time watching it. It’s an event ripe for major cherry picking – in this era of ripping a decent mix could be made of this but I may suggest alternatives like FESTIVAL EXPRESS and WATTSTAX for more consistent goodies. Just sayin’.

More later…

10 Movie Characters Revived Via SNL By Their Original Actors

For no other reason than to take a break from reviews of the all the prestige Oscar bait out there I decided it was time for another patented Film Babble Blog list. Enjoy!

It’s interesting that some actors stay away from reprising their best known roles when Saturday Night Live comes a-calling. In the 2 times Robert De Niro hosted there were no appearances by Travis Bickle (TAXI DRIVER), Jake La Motta (RAGING BULL), Max Cady (CAPE FEAR) or even deluded comedian Rupert Pupkin (THE KING OF COMEDY) who actually would lend himself nicely to a follow-up sketch. Sally Field even stressed in her monologue on her one time hosting gig that she would not be playing any past parts to the comical disappointment of Flying Nun, Gidget, and SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT fans (actually just one – Burt Reynolds as played by Phil Hartman). Many movie stars though have fearlessly stepped back into old shoes and reclaimed their iconic characters even if it’s just for the sake of satire. Here’s some of the best:

1. Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates from PSYCHO (March 13th, 1976) Perkins was the first actor to take on the role that made his name for a SNL sketch. It was a gutsy move because the part had him typecasted him for years but he slips back beautifully into Bates in a commercial parody entitled “The Norman Bates School Of Motel Management.” In his direct to the camera address he stutters, imitates (or channels) the voice of his mother, and gives us a quiz to see if we’re motel material: “Question One – A guest loses the key to her room. Would you: A: Give her a duplicate key. B: Let her in with your passkey. C: Hack her to death with a kitchen knife.” Silly, yes but Perkins playing Bates again later in 2 80’s sequels and a 90’s TV movie (yep, 3 more times) is much sillier.


2. Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia from STAR WARS * (Nov. 18th , 1978) Fisher, who also did the opening monologue in Leia garb, joined the cast as her most famous character in a Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello beach movie parody entitled “Beach Blanket Bingo from Outer Space.” Frankie (Bill Murray) hits on the visiting Princess to Annette’s (Gilda Radner) chagrin while celebs such as Vincent Price (Dan Aykroyd) and Chubby Checker (Garrett Morris) make obligatory cameos. Her appearance is actually light years less embarrassing than on “The Star Wars Holiday Special” (broadcast just one day earlier by the way) in which she also insisted on singing a song for us. Most notable however is the sight of Leia in a gold bikini a full 5 years before RETURN OF THE JEDI.


* Still not calling it A NEW HOPE, damnit!


3. Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison from THE DOORS (Dec. 9th, 2000) Donning a wig, 60’s threads, and a perpetually stoned expression, Kilmer embodied the Lizard King one more time in a Behind The Music satire that centered on “Rock And Roll Heaven.” Morrison forms a band with other dead musical icons such as Jimi Hendrix (Jimmy Minor), Janis Joplin (Molly Shannon), Keith Moon (Horatio Sanz), Billy Holly (Jimmy Fallon), and as the announcer (real Behind The Music narrator Jim Forbes) reveals: “a Wild Card – Louis Armstrong (Tracy Morgan) on trumpet.” Morrison’s afterlife band called The Great Frog Society is soon the talk of Heaven, but offstage things were falling apart (Forbes stresses: “‘offstage things were falling apart”, is a registered trademark of VH1 and Behind the Music’”).


4. Glenn Close as Alex Forrest from FATAL ATTRACTION (Feb. 25th, 1989) This support group sketch actually takes place during the events of the 1987 infidelity suspense thriller. Close’s murderous stalker character shares her stories with her group members (Dana Carvey, Nora Dunn, Victoria Jackson, and Jon Lovitz) and therapist (Kevin Nealon) who of course are supremely disturbed by them. Portraying Alex as merely the victum of a one-night stand is an especially nice funny touch here considering, well, you know.


5. Elijah Wood as Frodo from THE LORD OF THE RINGS series (Dec. 13th, 2003) st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) }
Gollum (Chris Kattan) interrupts Wood’s monologue to plug their new sitcom pilot featuring an Odd Couple (or more like Perfect Strangers) premise. As Wood describes it: “Basically, the idea is that, before they make it to Mordor, Frodo and Gollum decide to move to Denver and share an apartment together.” Of course, wackiness ensues.


6. Dennis Hopper as Billy from EASY RIDER * (May 23rd, 1987) Using actual footage of the ending to the New Hollywood classic, we see Billy and Wyatt’s (Peter Fonda) ultimate demise (that can’t possibly be a Spolier! at this point, can it?). Not so fast, with a “later that day” caption this sketch shows that Billy and Wyatt (now played by Dana Carvey) survived to get treated by a local Doc (Jon Lovitz) and even run into their lawyer friend George Hanson (Phil Hartman doing his best Jack Nicholson). Billy: “George, man, I thought you were dead, man!” George: Nah… just a bad hangover. I felt like I’d been whopped on the head with an ax handle. [ holds up bottle ] This stuff’ll ruin ya!” Billy: Yeah, man. I’ll take that [grabs and opens bottle].

* Incidentally on the same episode Hopper also played Frank Booth from BLUE VELVET in a game show parody called “What’s That Smell?”

7. Steve Buscemi as Mr. Pink from RESERVOIR DOGS (Oct. 15th 1994) In definitely one of the best sketches of a dreary season, John Travolta revisited his Sweathog roots in “Quentin Tarantino’s Welcome Back Kotter”. The sketch was overpopulated as an SNL sketch can be with all of the cast (including Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, Chris Elliot, Mike Myers, Janeane Garafolo, you get the picture) hamming it up but the finale involving a cameo from David Lander (Squiggy!) joining old Laverne And Shirley partner Michael McKean was greatly upstaged by Buscemi bursting in the doorway, gun raised and fitting sophomoric put-down ready: “Up your hole with a mellow roll!”


8. Richard Dreyfuss as Roy Neary from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (May 13th, 1978) One of the first to mock his own character and film while it still played in theaters, Dreyfuss again put on the worn bathrobe of the alien obsessed Neary who now comes to believe the Coneheads are the source of his implanted visions. The sketch (“Clone Encounters Of The Third Kind”) ends, like the film did, with Neary leaving earth with his new intergalactic friends.


9. Tim Robbins as Bob Roberts from BOB ROBERTS (Oct. 3rd, 1992) Another appearance that occurred when the character in question was still on the big screen, Robbins’ conservative folk singing candidate was on hand for a sketch entitled: “Bob Roberts Book Burning.” It was a funny premise – Roberts burning books while singing about free expression but its place on the program was incredibly overshadowed by that week’s musical guest Sinead O’Connor who had free expression thoughts of her own * that night.


* For those of you who don’t know what I’m referring to – O’Connor, after an acapella version of Bob Marley’s “War”, tore up a photo of Pope John Paul II and yelled: “Fight the real power!” Audience silence and the prospect of the segment never being re-run was the result.


10. Robert Mitchum as Phillip Marlowe from THE BIG SLEEP (1978) and FAREWELL, MY LOVELY (1975) (Nov. 14th, 1987) This film noir satire called “Death Be Not Deadly” appropriately filmed in black and white gave the great Mitchum the chance to spoof his Private eye character and one of the conventions of the genre. Seemingly mistaken that his comments/narration is in voice-over when actually it’s Marlowe speaking aloud, he confuses and annoys his clients (Kevin Nealon, Jan Hooks). As funny as it is a fond tribute.


Okay! Of course there are others – both Mel Gibson and Danny Glover did their cop buddy characters in “Lethal Weapon 6” in 1987 (before there was even a LETHAL WEAPON 2) and Margot Kidder reprised Lois Lane while SUPERMAN was still flying high in 1979 so I’m sure there are many I’ve neglected but that’s what the comments below is for.


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…

Dubya Gets Stoned! W. – The Film Babble Blog Review

W. (Dir. Oliver Stone, 2008)

<!– /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:""; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} — <!– /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:""; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} —If NIXON was a symphony, this is more like a chamber piece and not as dark in tone.
– Oliver Stone (Daily Variety 1/20/08)

Since his paranoid thriller epic masterpiece JFK (1991), Oliver Stone has developed a reputation for throwing people off what his suspected tack will be for hitting his targets. Most thought NIXON (1995) would be a savage dressing down of the fraudulent former president but what emerged was a grand (and at at times surreal) sympathetic portrait of a man stalking the corridors of power tormented by demons. There were no 9/11 truth movement conspiracy theories or any political agendas in WORLD TRADE CENTER (2006), it was simply the story of a couple of firefighters struggling to survive while buried in Ground Zero rubble. Now Stone gives us W. (pronounced Dubya as some in the press have dubbed him), the first ever feature length drama focusing on a President while hes still in office. While it does contain plenty of grist for the Bush haters mill, it is actually an empathetic study balancing swift satire with earnest melodrama.

W. skips back and forth timeline-wise from Bushs ANIMAL HOUSE-esque frat days to the Oval office Iraq war strategy sessions up to his re-election in 2004. Josh Brolin embodies our 43rd president with a swagger and ever present determination; sometimes overly arrogant, sometimes an impulsive hothead who cant seem to relax even when lounging watching Sportscenter drinking a non-alcoholic beer and munching on miniature pretzels (if you know your history, you know what happens with those pretzels). This is a man with major Daddy issues as seen in the recreations of his early days, who disappoints his father (James Cromwell as George Bush Sr.) right and left with his constant career failures and constant drinking. Ill never get out of Poppys shadow! he exclaims as he attempts to get a grasp on his destiny.

As the decider he surrounds himself with some of his Papas former staff including Dick Cheney (a strangely subdued Richard Dreyfuss) and Colin Powell (a stoical Jeffrey Wright) who come off as the devil fighting with the angel on Bushs shoulders in meeting after meeting. Bushs reasons for the war in Iraq are angrily off the cuff: I dont like mud suckers who gas their own people!” and I dont like assholes who try to kill my father! Despite Powells voice of reason deterrents Bush goes to the Cheney darkside believing that he is serving a higher power than his father and never letting consensus criticism get in his way.

Extensively researched and layered with obviously labored over exposition, Stanley Weisers screenplay mostly speculates about what goes on behind closed doors more than the already documented public record. 9/11 is thankfully not dramatized or even visually referenced, likewise Katrina and the extraordinary events of the 2000 election (see RECOUNT for that), though there are a number of restaging of W.s greatest hits. The Mission Accomplished aircraft carrier episode and various press conference and interview examples of embarrassing statements (Is our children learning for one) are given Stones patented cinematic treatment albeit with a more restrained and less flashy presentation than in his previous work. Dont worry though, Stone staples like glow lighting on actors in dark interiors, seamless blending of real footage into the movie mix, and a quality ensemble cast (including Scott Glenn, Bruce McGill, Toby Jones and Stacy Keach) are all on vivid display.

Unfortunately a long time complaint about Stones work bears true as the women characters are underwritten and cliché driven. Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush mostly sits on the sidelines looking pretty offering trite support to her man while Thandie Newtons snippy take on Condoleezza Rice barely registers in the many boys club discussions. Of the ladies only Ellen Burstyn has some good blustery moments as Barbara Bush but she too has a very limited point of view. Brolin though is the show as he carries the entire movie with his performance. With his concentrated vocal inflections and intense brow furthering he pulls off a Bush that is not a caricature but a believable guy which is quite a feat in the world of non-stop Daily Show jabs and SNL impressions of what many consider the worst President ever. James Cromwell, who never attempts to imitate Bush Sr.s voice, should be recognized come awards season for his measured and sternly nuanced work here – his presence is the finest and most effective in this film.

W. gives a wide personal perspective to a man who many feel doesn
t deserve one. It will play as a broad comedy to some audiences with folks mining the material for mirth but the poignant sadness of a powerful world figure standing in an empty stadium imagining cheering crowds and a possible grab for baseball star greatness will linger longer than the laughs. Oliver Stones chamber piece as he calls it, isnt a typical biopic but a dramatic thesis that goes out of its way to avoid cheap shots supremely aware that its choir has already been inundated with them. W., while no masterpiece, is a great gutsy and ambitious movie about a not-so great gutsy and ambitious man. It succeeds on helping us relate with, not hate on George W. Bush even if you, like me, cant wait to see him leave office.

More later…

Finally Catching Up With FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL

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…

New DVDs – REDBELT, RECOUNT, & BABY MAMA (for reals!)

Time to take a break from the big screen and review some new release DVDs – all with quick easy titles! So here goes it:


REDBELT (Dir. David Mamet, 2008)

A David Mamet Martial arts movie, well, how about that! Actually, since Mamets films usually offer double-talking con artists scoring a scam, the seedy world of strong armed prize-competitions is a perfect fit. Chiwetel Ejiofor, working his worry-lines particularly this one popping vein on his forehead, is a jujitsu master and self defense instructor who lives by a moral code and has perfected a new strategy. Which is, to determine the fight, Ejiofor explains with three marbles: Each fighter has a two-in-three odds of chosing a white marble. White marble’s a pass and that the black marble is a handicap meaning the fighter loses the use of his arms. He considers this his training method trademark despite its historical precedent and it is grifted from him by the business that is show – a movie star (a gruff thick Tim Allen) and his film production cronies and a big league televised championship. Other pressures mount with his nagging wife (Alice Braca) bitchin bout huge debts, a frazzled lawyer (Emily Mortimer) who accidentely shoots out the window of Ejiofors studio with a cops gun, a hot wrist-watch that competes with the marble method to be the films meta-MacGuffin. There is always an escape” Ejiofor often states though it gets so dicey you doubt whether he believes it.

Mamets trusty regulars Joe Montegna, Ricky Jay (stiffer than usual but still effective), and Rebecca Pidgeon (Mamets wife) all do their wicked best with the barbed wordings while curiously crafted fight choreography marks the set pieces. Along with the surpisingly deft Tim Allen (atoning for WILD HOGS I hope) the always affable David Paymer has a brief bit as a loan shark and look for Jennifer Grey (DIRTY DANCING) in a nothing part as Montegnas lady-friend. Ejiofor is the one to watch though; he carries every scene with a gravitas only hinted at in previous works like DIRTY PRETTY THINGS and AMERICAN GANGSTER. His sparring both with his fellow thespians in tense talks and in the ring is engrossing. REDBELT isnt Mamets best film (thats GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS IMHO) but it is meticulous and gloriously manipulative in many pleasurable ways. It’s a thinking mans Martial arts movie that, for all the abrasiveness of its characters plans, has a careful respectful grace that so much modern drama is missing.

RECOUNT (Dir. Jay Roach, 2008)

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. And then theres that little known third category.
– Al Gore

This HBO telefilm tells an all too familliar tale – the maddening election result fiasco that was the Bush/Gore Presidential campaign of 2000. No need to worry about any Spoilers here – everyone knows how this turned out but what makes this compelling and essential is the devil in the details. A solid cast staffs both sides of the debate – Kevin Spacey, Dennis Leary, and Ed Begley Jr. in the Democratic corner facing off Tom Wilkinson, Bob Babalan, and Bruce McGill as the rebuking Republicans. Laura Dern as Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris is the icing on an already very tast cake. As Warren Christopher, John Hurt makes a much more striking note (described by Leary as “so tight he probably eats his M&Ms with a knife and fork”) than he did in the whole of that last Indiana Jones flick.


The real star here is the story though – biased towards the Democrats as one would figure and fudging with some minor facts aside, the topsy turvy twists of the road to the White House turned me inside-out with some of the same feelings I had when the real thing was happening getting stirred up. I got so into the frustrating back and forth that I thought it was again possible for Gore to win only to have to take a big bite of a stale reality sandwich. Sigh.

Except for archival footage and some over the shoulder shots we never see Gore or Bush, we just hear their voices on phones or see doubles at a distance and this was a good decision. The meat of the matter was those toiling beneath them epitomized by Spacey’s part as Gore’s former Chief Of Staff. Klain was actually fired from his position but still came to work on the campaign and then the recount commitee. Spacey brings his usual slick glide to the role which can be annoying in films like BEYOND THE SEA (actually everything was annoying in that movie) and THE LIFE OF DAVID GALE (ditto) but it works wonders with such lines as “the plural of ‘chad’ is ‘chad’?” Leary pretty much hammers down his standard schtick but his jaded cynical demeanor is definitely necessary considering.


Like many I’ve never really gotten over the 2000 election. It was one of the most disappointing and devastating events of my lifetime. That a lot of the mitigating factors haven’t completely been resolved is very troubling in light of the upcoming election. There’s a lot to recommend about RECOUNT but the most vital message it contains can be summed up by the words of poet George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. While I don’t think we’ll ever forget this story, I still fear it may be repeated.


BABY MAMA
(Dir. Michael McCullers, 2008)


Former SNL head writer and currently the star of 30 Rock (which she also created and writes) Tina Fey never appeared to aspire to motion picture leading lady status. My role model is Harold Ramis she told Time Magazine in an interview when promoting MEAN GIRLS. She went on: I want to sneak into movies. I have no pretensions of thinking people will pay to see me. Well, this was #1 at the box office its opening weekend (I know that doesn’t necessarily mean hit – i.e. BANGKOK DANGEROUS) so plenty did pay to see her but I didnt. Mainly because the lame looking clips on the commercials – I mean, did anyone bits like Fey getting mad at Amy Poehler for sticking gum under her prized coffee table were that funny? Well, nothing here is that funny. This is light comedy – a rom com that was marketed as a crude offensive Farrelly brothers type affair.

Fey is a 37 year old career woman who one day wakes up and wants a baby. She is told by a doctor (John Hodgman – the PC guy from those get a Mac ads) that the chances of her getting pregnant are one in a million so she looks into adoption but is discouraged by the long waiting list. The idea of employing a surrogate mother pulls her in and before long she is set up with Amy Poehler as a white trash loon. Poehler and Fey have worked together a lot so they have a great clashing chemistry but the tone here is too comfortable to really take off. It does contain a good cast with appearances by SNL folk (Will Forte, Fred Armisen, Siobhan Fallon), a mildly amusing performance by Steve Martin as Fey’s pony-tailed new agey boss, Sigourney Weaver being a good sport about aging jokes as the surrogacy firm head who boasts about conceiving naturally, and Greg Kinnear as a smarmy but charming possible love interest for Fey.

The problem is that it’s all too light and trivial. Poehler could have really gone somewhere with her crusty character, there are hints of that when she’s going into labor and freaking out in a hospital hallway: It feels like Im shitting a knife! but director/writer McCullers (also a former SNL alumni) seems to have decided to play one tone and never vere far from its self imposed sentiment. Still, Fey and Poehler have their moments and its nice to see a quasi-smart comedy involving the needs of women protagonists thats not trying to fake sincerity. Its small success will, with hope, give them the chance to try for something that has more teeth and will really leave more of a mark than this.

More later…

THE ONION MOVIE And 5 Other Comedy Sketch Films That Actually Don’t Suck (For The Most Part)

Ah, the sketch comedy film – not really a genre, more like a sub section of cinema that barely exists. Wikipedia doesn’t have a category listing for them, only listing them under anthology films. A recent hard copy movie guide I browsed through recently – the VideoHound’s Golden Movie Retriever – had a listing for “comedy anthology” films but only had about 20 or so – very few of which came anywhere near essential. What brings this whole shebang to mind is the direct to DVD release of a film adaptation of a popular print and online satire rag:


THE ONION MOVIE (Dirs. Tom Kuntz & Mike Maguire, 2008) After years in development Hell with shelvings and re-shootings this troubled film finally gets dumped onto DVD with little fanfare. I usually stay away from reviews of movies until I can see them for myself but the critical stink surrounding the THE ONION MOVIE still wafted in my direction so I had some idea before inserting the disc that this may be hard going. What I didn’t anticipate was how painful it was going to be to get through.

I have been a fan of the Onion since the mid 90’s with its great hysterical headlines like “Desperate Vegetarians Declare Cows Plants” and “Cop Kills Own Partner, Vows To Track Self Down” but the idea of making a movie of vignettes based on their silly satirical style seemed sketchy (sorry, couldn’t resist) at best. Unfortunately it’s even worse than expected with horribly unfunny stabs at race, sexism, politics, and corporate commercialism that at times turned my stomach. A segment involving surburbanites gathering to play a “Who Done It” type board game involving rape particularly made me wince.

It’s no wonder that Onion Inc. President Sean Mills has stressed that they are no longer associated with the movie, much like Mad Magazine disowned their own ill-fated foray into film – the originally titled raunchy ANIMAL HOUSE rip-off MAD MAGAZINE PRESENTS UP THE ACADEMY. Following in National Lampoon’s footsteps, even in the era of the sexual revolution, was a lot harder than it looked I suppose.


THE ONION MOVIE oddly even tries to have something of a plot between the terrible skits – Onion News Anchor Norm Archer, played by solid character actor Len Cariou (who had a short but sweet part as an old friend to Jack Nicholson in ABOUT SCHMIDT), rebels against the plugging of their parent company during the newscast and threatens a walk-out if his forum is used to advertise their big budget movie release “Cock Puncher” starring Steven Seagal. Seagal himself appears as one of the only actual celebrities that appear, otherwise its filled with bit players from Seinfeld and OFFICE SPACE (like the “oh face” guy – Greg Pitts).

Cariou is obviously headed for a Howard Beale-breakdown (you know, “I’m mad as Hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” from NETWORK) and despite lines like “Georgia officials announced plans to add a swastika and middle finger to the Georgia State Flag” he acts as if he’s in a straight drama. That’s probably the only way he could stomach such dire material.

Not only is THE ONION MOVIE one of the worst comedies I’ve ever seen, it’s an excruciating experience that I’d pay to forget. That it is only an hour and 20 minutes long is the only good thing I can say about it.


Okay! Since that sketch comedy film royally sucked let’s look at some examples of the form that are more worthwhile. Like I said above there aren’t many so it comes down to:


5 Sketch Comedy Movies That Don’t Suck (For The Most Part)

1. Tie: AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT(Dir. Ian MacNaughton, 1971) / MONTY PYTHON’S THE MEANING OF LIFE (Dir. Terry Jones, 1983) Book ending the Python filmography are these 2 anthology films filled with a high ratio of quality material. AND NOW… was made to introduce American audiences to their material (mostly from the first and second seasons of Monty Python’s Flying Circus). It didn’t do the trick – they’d have to wait for Public Television reruns and MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL to get U.S. acclaim). Weirdly the films was more successful in Britain where the material was already well known and the title was completely redundant.

Despite that John Cleese remarked “However we edited the film, people got bored half way through because there was no story” and Michael Palin lamented that there were too many scenes with “men behind desks” it is still nice to see such classics as “Nudge Nudge”, “The Upper Class Twit Of The Year”, “The Dead Parrot”, and “The Lumberjack Song” get the big screen treatment.


As Monty Python’s last movie THE MEANING OF LIFE is a sketch film with an obvious theme. Its sketches are presented with titles: “PART I – THE MIRACLE OF BIRTH” through to “PART VII – DEATH” representing the 7 stages of man. Cleese (definitely the most critical Python) said the film was “very patchy, though it had wonderful stuff in it.” He’s right but the wonderful stuff like the “Every Sperm Is Sacred” musical number, the obese Mr. Creosote (Terry Jones in a massive fat suit) sequence, and the Grim Reaper/Heaven as Vegas finale is up there with Python’s best. “Perhaps we’re just one of God’s little jokes” Eric Idle’s opening theme song ponders and while we never get an answer to that we do get a lot of existential laughs along the way.

2. THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE (Dir. John Landis, 1977) Though it was directed by Landis this is the first film project by the comedy team of ZAZ (Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker). It typifies crude 70’s humour and foreshadows the rising tide of gross-out lowbrow fare that would soon flood the market. Still, it has a lot of material that works including an extended Bruce Lee parody “A Fistful Of Yen” (which runs for over half an hour), a trailer for the ultimate disaster movie “That’s Armageddon!”, and a commercial for a board game based on the Kennedy assassination called “Scot Free”. There’s also lots of nudity if the comedy isn’t working for you. If you want to see where the AIRPLANE!-style joke-a-minute genre that begat the awful recent SCARY/EPIC/DATE/etc. MOVIE series began check out this dated but still decent sketch comedy platter. Incidentally the title on the marquee in picture above – “See You Next Wednesday” which comes from a line in 2001, appears in nearly every John Landis movie.


3. EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX * BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK (Dir. Woody Allen, 1972) Allen’s loose adaptation of the best selling book by David Reuben is one of my least favorite of his films but as a sketch comedy collection goes it has more than its share of funny moments. Featuring actors who never worked with Allen in any other film (including Tony Randall, Burt Reynolds, Regis Philbin, and Gene Wilder) in surreal sexual settings such as a game show called “What’s My Perversion?” and a sci-fi satire taking place inside a man’s brain during intercourse, this film is by far Woody Allen’s most outrageous and weirdest work. Wilder has some oddly touching moments as a man having an affair with a sheep but the craziest and most memorable scene has to be the countryside terrorized by a gigantic breast created by a mad scientist. After subduing the runaway mammary a policeman warns that they should still be cautious because “they usually travel in pairs.”


4. THE GROOVE TUBE (Dir. Ken Shapiro, 1974) The quality is starting to drop way off on this short list of skit films with this extremely raunchy television send-up which misses a lot more than it hits. A sleazy scatological bent overwhelms the humour (or lack of it) here with scenes involving a talking penis puppet, a TV clown who reads pornographic literature to his children viewers after telling the adults to leave the room, and the linking thread of promotional films for the fictional Uranus Corporation. Most notable for sure is that was the film debut of Chevy Chase who had better luck with counterculture based sketch comedy the next year with Saturday Night Live. Doubt he holds this film in very high regard.


5. AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON (Dirs. Joe Dante, Carl Gottlieb, 1987) A sequel of sorts to KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE in that it involves Landis and has a likewise extended film parody -the 50’s sci-fi satire of the title. It’s, of course, another uneven collection of TV commercial parodies, educational films, and late night showings of B movies with a lot of dicey material (including Andrew “Dice” Clay himself!) but a few laughs emerge and the fast pace makes it breeze by. Lots of familliar folk to look out for too – Phil Hartman, Arsenio Hall, Carrie Fisher, Steve Guttenberg, Steve Allen, and Michelle Pfeiffer poke their heads in and out of this long forgotten fitfully funny sketch comedy jamboree.


So there you go – 5 comic anthology movies that don’t completely suck. Let me stress though that I’d only really recommend the last 2 as alternatives to the THE ONION MOVIE. Looks like with that awful entry this slight genre can now truly be put to rest.

R.I.P. Sketch Comedy Movie Genre (1972-2008)

More later…

New DVD Diatribes For A Dreary Rainy Day

Yep, a few NetFlix envelopes torn open and their contents digested on a cloudy drizzly May day goes somethin’ like this:

MY KID COULD PAINT THAT (Dir. Amir Bar-Lev, 2007) Is Marla Olmstead just a regular 4 year old who likes to paint or is she a artistic genius on the scale of the great masters? Bar-Lev’s documentary filmed a few years back follows the Olmsteads – a family from Binghampton, NY whose youngest daughter’s abstract canvasses cause a sensation in the art world. Her paintings are sold for thousands attracting media attention and then controversy. A 60 Minutes piece claims that Marla’s father (Mark Olmstead) actually coached the work out of her or actually produced the paintings himself. This is where the narrative arc becomes “a story about a story” as Elizabeth Cohen (the columnist who first broke the original story of Marla as child prodigy) says. Parents Mark and Laura Olmstead are outraged at the accusation that they are exploiting their child and attempt to prove that Marla is the sole author of her work by filming her with a hidden camera. The plot thickens even more as filmmaker Bar-Lev has growing doubts and voices them, at first alone to his camera in the car driving from the Olmstead home then directly to the parents in an extremely uncomfortable but still compelling scene in their living room.

The cleverly named MY KID COULD PAINT THAT is one of the best of the current crop of documentaries and one that leaves you guessing about what really went down much like CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS or the more recent THE KING OF KONG. Having been introduced to these folk through these visual essays, whether or not they are balanced portraits, we can follow up through the further internet coverage and make our own conclusions. In Marla’s unique case we are shown many of her paintings and much footage of her at work. Her father Mark does seem to have a controlling influence and her work when filmed on her own appears to be different by style and method to the previous examples. Mark Olmstead also seems overly defensive and makes some ‘digging a hole’ type comments like: “I don’t want this documentary to be about 60 Minutes although everybody wants to talk about 60 Minutes but I’m not! Because I don’t talk about it ever until you guys are around!” Still, as Bar-Lev sensitively stresses through-out the film Marla and her family seem like nice people who got caught up in the craziness of modern art marketing and manipulation. It’s hard not to have sympathy for their situation but if the attacks on the arts authorship have truth to them it’s pretty damning nonetheless. Mother Linda at a frustrated moment says “documentary gold” right before tearfully walking off camera – she says it extremely sarcastically but it may be the most truthful remark made in this movie. When Marla comes of age it will be interesting to hear what she says about her parents and painting dominated childhood – a prospect that I’m sure Bar-Lev is looking forward to.

CONSPIRACY (Dir. Adam Marcus, 2008) I’ve been working on a book about conspiracy movies for some time so I feel obligated to see every such related movie so it’s obvious why this made my NetFlix queue. A quasi-remake of BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK this awful unimaginatively titled film features a chunky Val Kilmer acting as wooden as possible returning from Iraq to seek out a fellow soldier friend from the war. He travels to a town in the South West which is being re-built as a corporate-run old timey tourist trap by an evil millionaire played by the slimily charming Gary Cole. Kilmer, suffering from constant over dramatic Iraq flashbacks, finds that his friend is missing and everybody is mum on the subject and of course that Cole wants him out of town. One cowboy hatted cliché even says: “ Throw in local hottie Jennifer Esposito, a Keystone cluster of corrupt cops, the most predictable shoot-outs this side of YOUNG GUNS II and the result is craptacular.

Cole, an under-rated actor (TALLADEGA NIGHTS, OFFICE SPACE, THE BRADY BUNCH MOVIE), is the only one who seems to be having fun with his hackneyed character. His smirking scene stealing makes me think that they should have handled this material satirically. Kilmer can do comedy too, as his performances in TOP SECRET, THE REAL McCOY and even in his overblown impression of Jim Morrison in THE DOORS (well, I laughed) attest so really I wish they had gone that route. Instead all we have is this predictable retread through the leftover plot devices of the before mentioned BAD DAY… mixed with the lowbrow aesthetics of the WALKING TALL series and severely sucky remake. As a lover of both good and bad conspiracy themed movies I couldn’t even make counting the clichés a fun game with this being just downright dreadful and well deserving of its Direct-To-DVD status.

I WANT SOMEONE TO EAT CHEESE WITH (Dir. Jeff Garlin, 2006)

Garlin’s debut as triple threat leading man, writer, and director is somewhat slight but like Garlin himself – it’s a lovable schlub of a movie. Best known as Larry David’s manager Jeff Green on Curb Your Enthusiasm Garlin has a long list of credits in comedy and casts lots of longtime buddies from his Second City days and sitcom background in this film. Garlin plays a guy not unlike himself – had he never left Chicago and lived with his mother (Mina Kolb – an original Second City Player). He hears about a remake of the classic Ernest Borgnine movie MARTY, a film he’s convinced he’s perfect for, and pines for an audition. He meets a quirky ice-cream parlour clerk played by comedienne Sarah Silverman and he pines for her too. Then there’s Bonnie Hunt as a “chubby chaser” school teacher (as Amy Sedaris labels her in a nice cameo) who actually may be a more sensible choice for Garlin. That’s about it for what we’ve got here plotwise but Garlin makes it a breezy affable affair at an economical 80 minutes with a nice helping of heart.

I’m glad that I watched MARTY (Dir. Sydney Lumet, 1956) for the first time not long ago. I think it’s the definitive good, not great, movie to win the Best Picture Academy Award. Garlin’s I WANT SOMEONE TO EAT CHEESE WITH references MARTY so often that it posits itself as a companion piece. It indeed would make a good double feature. If you want to make it a triple feature throw in John Candy in ONLY THE LONELY (1991) – another film about a frustrated fat man that owes something to Ernest Borgnine’s turn. I, like many, can relate to Garlin’s struggles with his weight, love-life, and crumbling career. The tone and timing with so many recognizable comedy folk including Dan Castelletta (Homer Simpson!), Tim Kazurinsky (SNL in the 80’s), and Richard Kind (Mad About You, Spin City), all hitting their marks is right on the money – and I mean the low budget money. Jeff Garlin says on the commentary that he feels he made a good, not great movie. He’s right – like the movie he’s giving props to (MARTY of course) it is good and while it would never get an Oscar I’m sure it’ll gain a lot of fans. Now I’m gonna go check out if I have any cheese…

More later…

SEMI-PRO – Completely Amateurish

SEMI-PRO (Dir. Kent Alterman, 2008)

Does the Will Ferrell sports comedy genre (epitomized in TALLADEGA NIGHTS, KICKING AND SCREAMING, and BLADES OF GLORY) have a future? Does it deserve one? Well judging by this recent entry – no. Will Ferrell is undoubtedly one of the biggest comic actors right now – just a week ago he came to my area and performed to a sold-out crowd at a local basketball arena (The Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, NC). I doubt sold-out crowds will show for this because even hardcore Ferrell fans will have a hard time finding SEMI-PRO anything but only fitfully funny. And it’s more fitful than funny.

It’s set in Flint, Michigan in 1976 – why? Because everyone knows the 70’s are funny with their wacky hairstyles and kooky clothing while Flint, an economically troubled crumbling city as Michael Moore has often illustrated, I guess the filmmakers figured also has comic possibilities. We meet yet another full-of-himself Ferrell character – Jackie Moon – a one-hit wonder (with the creepy single “Love Me Sexy” that opens the movie) now turned owner/coach/player of the the American Basketball Association’s Flint Michigan Tropics. His team, of course, is a gaggle of underdog losers who may have to fold because of a merger of the ABA with the NBA. Ferrell makes a deal that if the Tropics finish in the top 4 at the end of the season they can make the move to the NBA. He recruits Woody Harrelson (squandering all the cred he just gained with his measured performance in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN) as a former NBA player, and he ups the promotional ante with gimmicks like corn dog night, clown makeup night, and even gets in the ring with a live bear named Dewey one night to put bums in the seats. So far so bad…

It’s all supposed to be in the realm of “outrageous comedy” but very little amuses here. Co-star André Benjamin (also known as André 3000 of the band Outkast) makes the same mistake Harrelson does – they both act like they’re playing real people when they should of cozied up to the cartoon trappings like Ferrell knows to do. The rest of the cast is capable – former Conan co-hort Andy Richter is always likable but given little to do, Maura Tierney (Newsradio, E.R.) plays another thankless girlfriend part, and SNL‘s Kirsten Wiig (as the bear handler) along with Arrested Development‘s Will Arnett try in vain to get some laugh action. An odd appearance by Jackie Earle Haley, (no stranger to sports comedies with BAD NEWS BEARS back in the day) as a zoned-out hippie who Ferrell screws over because he can’t afford to pay him $10,000 Haley won at one of his promo nights, suggests a profound sense of laziness in the screen-writing process but that’s evident everywhere. Especially in the tired jabs at lame 70’s targets like Pong, Shasta, and Fondue sets that seem like rejects from ANCHORMAN. You can’t have Will Ferrell and this cast and not have some laughs – a poker table Russian Roulette scene has its moments and there are scattered lines that may elicit chuckles but this is a wasted enterprise overall. SEMI-PRO is the worst Will Ferrell film I’ve ever seen (and yes that includes BEWITCHED) but I’m hoping it offers some hope that the powers that be recognize it as such and scrap all future Ferrell sports projects. Yeah, as if.

More later…