Eastbound & Down

Ever since seeing Danny McBride in Andy Samberg’s Hot Rod, I’ve been a fan of his bombastic assholitude. Since then he’s gone on to memorable roles in Pineapple Express, Tropic Thunder, and starring in The Foot Fist Way, as a small town Tae Kwon Do instructor. I dunno why I never gt around to reviewing that one- I’m buying the DVD and will rectify that soon. It’s as hilarious as this show, which plays Monday nights on HBO.
In Eastbound & Down, McBride plays Kenny Powers, a has-been baseball player who used to be a pitcher with a killer fastball in the ’80s. He still packs the mullet, the ego, and the attitude, but now has a beer gut and debts to pay instead of a magic arm and the world on a platter. He’s living with his brother’s family, working as a substitute Phys-Ed teacher at a local school, and drives around listening to his own audiobooks in a monster truck towing his Jet Ski. The show rides on this character he has created- someone so full of himself and obviously past whatever prime he had, and unable to let it go, that every moment of his life is a comedy to those who think and a tragedy to those who feel. There is not a likeable atom in his body, so unless you can laugh at someone like that, this isn’t for you.

He’s backed up by some relative newcomers who will be big soon. Katy Mixon (photo gallery), a busty brunette best known for Four Christmases, shows her comedic chops as the old flame Kenny holds a torch for; her husband, the school principal (Upright Citizens Brigade alumn Andrew Daly) is the perfect nerdy fan, but is still driven to apoplexy by Kenny’s shenanigans. At home, Kenny’s brother Dustin (John Hawkes, Me and You and Everyone We Know) and his wife Cassie (Jennifer Irwin) have their Christian hospitality put to the test, and the kids swerve from being terrified of their bellowing beast of an uncle. But he also charms them, because at heart he’s just a kid who never grew up. But that kid is more like Eric Cartman from South Park than anything else.
McBride’s Will Ferrell has an episode-long cameo as the sleazy owner of a car dealership, and who knows who’ll show up next. His buddy and co-writer of the show Ben Best plays an old cokehead friend with aplomb. McBride was in Tropic Thunder, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Ben Stiller dropped in sometime. Let’s hope this has stronger legs than HBO’s last 30 minute comedy, Louie C.K.’s Lucky Louie, which despite being hilarious, disappeared off the radar one season in. HBO has a bad track record with any show that’s not a blockbuster, but this is the most I’ve laughed at a TV show in a long, long time.

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The Bad News Bears – 70’s goodness

The 1976 Bad News Bears is one of my all-time favorite kid movies. Sure you’ll hear awful language, Walter Matthau driving around with a cooler of beer in his Cadillac, and other things that would garner this an NC-17 rating today. But it also has some of the best chemistry between characters, and some of the most realistic kids in a movie, ever. I didn’t see the remake and have no plans to. Maybe if I lose a bet. I liked Bad Santa, but this movie didn’t need to be remade. It’s re-played on Turner Classics so often that there’s no reason not to see it.

Walter Matthau is Buttermaker, a drunk who made it to the majors once, now hired to lead the worst team in Little League. The team was put together as a test case by a liberal politician, and he hires Buttermaker illegally when no one will coach the misfits. You’ve got a fat kid, a foul-mouthed little monster, a snotty-nosed little creature, a four-eyed math whiz, two little Mexicans who never speak a word of English, the only black kid on the League, and eventually a girl with a golden arm and a juvenile delinquent who wants to get into her pants.

The movie is one of the pinnacles of child acting. Nowadays the kids are all like the one in The Day of the Locust, you want to stomp them to death. Here they all reminded me of the little bastards I grew up with- bullies, nerds, slobs, and kids with language that would make the Brady Kids strangle themselves with their perfect blonde hair.

Walter Matthau and Tatum O’Neal are the foundation the movie is built on. He was Hollywood’s greatest curmudgeon, taking his Oscar Madison from the Neil Simon classic and turning it into a hilarious career. He could do drama too, just check out Charley Varrick. Tatum’s in a sad spot now, but she played some of the best child roles ever. This being one, Paper Moon being the obvious winner. He was dating her mom for a while, and taught her to pitch, before he dumped them. Now he wants her back to help his team, and they have to patch things up. The script doesn’t give us an easy win here– Coach Buttermaker can be a real S.O.B.
The movie tackled parents pushing kids too hard in sports 32 years ago, and it’s still a problem. The way the movie ends is one of my favorites. It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game. We like to say that platitude, but here in America we love a winner, and will not tolerate a loser. Even if that winner is a lying, cheating bastard, we admire his gumption. That’s the American Way.

The movie hits all the right notes and no sour ones. You owe it to yourself to see it. One of the best sports movies ever, and definitely one of the best with a kid cast. You can skip the sequels and the TV show with Jack Warner, nothing touches the original.