Bread and Milk

Stay safe out there. Snow predicted.
Yes, I bought bread and milk today. I think it is deeply embedded in our DNA. When a hurricane is coming, you get booze and gas and a hatchet. When it’s snow, you get bread and milk and cold cuts. And sometimes terlet paper.

80s Trash of the Week: In God We Tru$t

I have a soft spot for Marty Feldman. I can’t say he has puppy dog eyes, unless your puppy is from an alien planet where their eyes grow on stalks, but I saw him in SILENT MOVIE and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN as a kid and always found him funny. His personal projects tend to be broad spoofs, such as THE LAST REMAKE OF BEAU GESTE, and his take on televangelists, IN GOD WE TRU$T. The problem that kept Marty’s movies from being as big as those of partner in crime Mel Brooks is that his sense of humor is so mild and subtle. He has a bit of Jacques Tati in him, a lot of vaudeville, and he was just too old fashioned for audiences by the time he was allowed in the director’s chair. He’s more famous for broadly comic roles in Brooks’ films, like his immortal Eye-gor, and the like. In his own films he is a less talkative Woody Allen, and while they are great if you like his self-deprecating, nervous milquetoast character, they require rapt attention to get the little details, and that’s something audiences have lacked for a long time.

~Do not walk on water~

The story begins at the Trappist Abbey of Ambrose the Unlikely, where the mortgage is about to be foreclosed upon. They have signs all over the place because of the Vow of Silence, that read “Keep They Trappist Shut.” Puns and PG friendly visual gags abound. Marty plays Brother Ambrose, the monk tasked with going out into the wild world and paying the mortgage so the monastery isn’t kicked out on its holy arse. On the road he meets a crazy, scheming revival preacher played by Peter Boyle who has a refitted school bus that he brings the Word to people with, for donations. Boyle plays the part a lot like his version of Dr. Gonzo in WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM without the politics. Sometimes he’s funny, but he’s a predictable character, stealing from Ambrose and dumping him in the big city.

If God had not intended for some people to be poor, then He would not have had The Bible published in paperback!  

There we have the most fun, as Ambrose meets Mary- a hooker played by Louise Lasser. Lasser is just a funny comedian and brings a lot to the role of the Hollywood hooker with a heart of gold. She first thinks Ambrose wants to break his vow of chastity, but when she sees he’s an innocent doofus, she helps him out, and introduces him to sinful indulgences like hot dogs and ice cream, which he prefers to mix together. As a ten year old, that was funny. Watching it all again, I grinned a lot nostalgically. The movie doesn’t really pick up until Ambrose sees televangelist Armageddon T. Thunderbird on the TV, played by none other than Andy Kaufman at his scenery-chewing finest. With an enormous pompadour and the showmanship and charisma of a master scammer, he has a religious empire run like a corporation, with suited stooges and everything an ’80s villain needs. He even has G.O.D., a computer of course, played by Richard Pryor.

So yes, God was black here long before BRUCE ALMIGHTY, and Richard Pryor jumps right into the role. Like Ambrose, he’s an innocent- a computer program that is just learning about the real world. I don’t know if Feldman was trying to make an absurdist and atheist comment on God, or making an insightful satirical poke at how computers have become our God, but the scenes with Pryor and Kaufman are the best in the movie, and make it worth tracking down. It’s not available on DVD, nor as a torrent. I got lucky and it was played on cable last February. Between this, THE LIFE OF BRIAN and WHOLLY MOSES, kids with HBO in the ’80s had a lot of annoying questions to ask the Sunday school teachers! This isn’t as great as the Pythons take on the Gospels, but it is fun once it gets going and is a must for fans of Marty Feldman and Andy Kaufman, as they made so few films. In the video clip I uploaded, you get to see God give the finger.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 2
Could it be remade today? Not a chance
Quotability Rating: None
Cheese Factor: Monk’s toe cheese
High Points: Andy Kaufman and Richard Pryor
Low Point: Long, slow start
Gratuitous Boobies: Nun (get it?)

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

Staring at goats is funnier than you’d think

The Men Who Stare at Goats has an ad campaign that made me wary. It professed to be just so wacky, that it seemed primed to disappoint. Thankfully, it doesn’t. It’s not the surprise comedy of the year that Role Models was, but it’s refreshingly different, and very funny. The burden rests mostly on the backs of the actors assembled for the task, but director Grant Heslov- probably best remembered as Fazil, the funny sidekick in True Lies– does a good job with an iconoclastic script.
Ewan McGregor plays Bob, a reporter working in Ann Arbor, Michigan who finds a local eccentric who claims to be a psychic who worked for the Army. The man, Stephen Root, has those crazy eyes we’ve seen Root use, and he drops the names of the most powerful psychic he worked with. Later, when Bob is in Iraq looking for a story on contractors, he recognizes that name: Lyn Cassady, played by George Clooney. Lyn always looks like he’s a deer in the headlights, or perhaps a rat in a cage. Clooney excels at creating eccentric characters like Ulysses Everett McGill, or his spook from Syriana, and this is perhaps somewhere in between. Lyn is immediately intriguing, infectiously enthusiastic about his psychic powers once he decides he can trust Bob, and they’re off on an adventure across the desert.
So it’s partly a road movie, with Bob reading the New Earth Army manual that Lyn gives him, so we learn the history of Psychic Warfare in the U.S. Army through flashback, with its birth in the training of Bill Django, a super-hippie warrior monk played by Jeff Bridges. It’s easy to write this performance off as The Dude, but it’s much different except for the easygoing acceptance of new age oddities. When Bill and Lyn click during an early, unconventional training session involving the hippy hippy shake, it’s perfect. The whole premise is unbelievable now, but in the madness of the Cold War, which gave us Mutual Assured Destruction and other insanities well satirized in Dr. Strangelove, we think it just might have happened. The movie is a fictionalized account, but the opening notation of “You’d be
amazed at how much of this is true.”
In structure, it reminds me of Thank You for Smoking, which melded the ridiculous and the morbid, and this is a fun war movie set in Iraq, something I never expected. It has a sort of Three Kings vibe in that way, a “Catch-22” view of the military and keeps a magnificently consistent tone. The villain of the story is Kevin Spacey’s Larry Hooper, an L. Rob Hubbard science fiction writer dabbling with the occult, who becomes intrigued with the team, joins it, and becomes its undoing. This is one of Spacey’s best roles of recent, a skin he fills naturally. Compared to his Lex Luthor, this is masterful and perfectly played. Ewan McGregor is the outsider and does a good job, despite his American accent sounding a lot like he had the same voice coach as Eddie Izzard for his role in “The Riches.” He may have been chosen so we can chuckle every time the psychics call themselves “Jedi,” but he manages to hold his own with the big boys who get the crazy roles.
Do they stare at goats? Yes. They also take some digs at Halliburton, Blackwater, torture, and the media. It’s enjoyable viewing, and doesn’t belabor you about the head with messages. Unlike the idiocy of Buffalo Soldiers, this embraces the mad bureaucracy of the military and its excesses, and makes good fun of it. It introduces us to unbelievable characters that we enjoy the company of, and despite a little shakiness in the third act it’s never boring, eye-rolling or inconsistent. I give it great credit for maintaining its wild tone of ’60s idealism throughout, without getting sappy.

3.5 out of 5 goat scrotes

Extracting Judgment

I like the films of Mike Judge. Like John Waters, I think he made his bones and I give him a bit of a critical pass, that few reviewers are likely to do with his latest film Extract. What can I say? I loved Idiocracy, shamelessly elitist- even decried as eugenicist- because while it may not be scientifically sound, it was still hilarious and one of the best satires of modern America yet filmed.
Extract is more obviously a return to the “success” of Office Space, which only became a beloved classic on video and cable. This time we see things from the top, instead of among the worker drones. He’s just as acerbic mocking them as he was at Lumberg. It’s not quite as inspired as his previous hit, but that was when Dilbert was all the rage and pasty white nerds needed an outlet; this one takes a look at Joel, an entrepreneur who came up with a better way to make flavor extracts, and built a successful privately owned company from it. And we all know the sufferings of the small businessman, squeezed by the government and big competitors. Joel has bigger problems- an employee minus a testicle, harpies on the line who shut things down at every perceived slight from their co-workers, a manager (J.K. Simmons) who won’t bother to learn people’s name, a wife who locks up her goodies in the Sweatpants Locker when he’s late coming home, and perhaps worst of all, a sexy scammer who sees money in this confluence of misfortunes.
It’s a funny jumble of scenes- Joel’s best buddy (Ben Affleck, in a jerky role that suits him well) runs a sports bar and likes to solve everything with drugs; Gene Simmons plays an ambulance chaser who genuinely wants to slam Joel’s balls in a door; a gigolo, who Joel hires to seduce his wife, so he won’t feel guilty if he cheats on her, is so stupid that posts should picket the film because it says he’s as dumb as one. The structure should feel familiar; his previous films are similar. He’s good at jokes and people, but his plots aren’t exactly clever or new. But coming here for a clever plot is like seeing a Coen Brothers movie for “some good dumb fun.” What were you thinking?
Oh, Judge still stumbles at the Act 2, part 2 conflict in his scripts, and depends on characters not talking to each other to keep it going. There are things that could be solved by Joel and Suzie sitting down and talking to each other; is Willie the pot-head Cindy’s boyfriend, or brother? Why doesn’t Joel tell Step about Willie? Jason Bateman and Judge’s endearing sense of humor managed to make me look past the plot holes. I was delighted to be entertained with a minimum of vulgarity. Sure, they curse. Someone’s nickname is Johnny Horsecock; the damage done to a man’s testicles is the very linchpin of the plot. But it’s not as revolting as we’ve come to expect from humor. And I appreciated that. Just as John Waters can never top Pink Flamingos in disgusting acts committed in the name of cinema, Mike Judge may never make us laugh as hard as we did at Office Space, or the first time we saw Beavis and Butthead narrate a music video. But I feel cozy watching his films, like I’m at a buddy’s place. Having a beer. Yup.

3.5 out of 5 lost testicles

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Funny People got no reason to smile

Funny People has lost some steam now, but we had some free passes, and I liked the trailer. Despite not being much of a Sandler fan outside of Punch-Drunk Love, I thought I’d give him a chance. He’s pretty good here, but the script is about a half hour too long and feels like an Apatow version of The Royal Tenenbaums‘ basic premise at times. I enjoyed the first 90 minutes thoroughly, but kept looking at my watch once the second act rug-yank occurs. Oh, you’ll laugh a lot. The film lives up to its title, but Apatow’s third film as director shows little growth. He’s gone from virgin to father to dying, but still has an undescended testicle.
I thought Seth Rogen showed some good range as an actor in this one, and while playing a young comedian looking for his break isn’t a big stretch for the new star, he nails it and never feels like he’s playing himself. Adam Sandler tries really hard to not be Adam Sandler, but it’s obvious the part was written for him. He does a very good job with it, but it takes a long time for any depth to come to his character. The faults are with the screenplay, which takes an interesting premise- what does a famous comedian do when faced with death- and turns into a different movie by the end. I was enjoying the idea of George Simmons, the multimillionaire comedian turned actor who learns he has an 8% chance of surviving the year. He’s lonely at the top, has made many mistakes and lives alone in a big house with the occasional starfucker he has limo’d out in the morning. When he shows up at an improv club and goes before a struggling young comic named Ira (Rogen), he likes how the “kid” reacts to this turn of bad luck and takes him on as a writer. And then, an assistant.

The film shines during the scenes of comedians in their natural habitat. Ira lives with a successful up and coming comedian named Leo (Jonah Hill) and one whose already transitioned to a popular but lame TV show (Jason Schwartzman) and it’s very entertaining watching them riff off one another. We get a lot of cameos once Simmons lets people know about his illness, everyone from Paul Reiser and Charles Fleischer (more famous for voicing Roger Rabbit nowadays, but his stand up act is hilarious) to Norm Macdonald, Dave Atell and Sarah Silverman show up. They act like we imagine comedians would act around each other, a zillion laughs a minute. How true it is I don’t know, but it has that veneer of realism. We only get hints at the pain behind the need to make people laugh. One of the first things George asks Ira about is his childhood; his parents are divorced, George says he never could make his father laugh. When he does make his father laugh, it’s almost an afterthought.
The last 30 minutes of the movie are about George trying to get with the love of his life, Judd Apatow’s wife Leslie Mann. I like her a lot- she was great in Knocked Up– but this storyline feels almost tacked on to give Judd’s family screentime. His kids play the kids too. They were also in Knocked Up, and they’re still cute and not annoying. But it’s the kind of thing that gets distracting when you do it twice. Also, it seems like a movie in itself, jammed into a half hour, where Eric Bana and Adam Sandler vie for her affections. Ira does play the part of a child of divorce, trying to stop George from breaking up a family, but it doesn’t have the comfortable feel the first two acts had. We’ve seen comics deal with death in Man on the Moon, Memories of Me and Tribute, but it would have been worth exploring again. Instead, we get a more familiar story about a jerk who learns he’s a jerk, and tries to stop being a jerk. Scent of a Comedian? I wasn’t expecting The King of Comedy either, but he flirts with the competitiveness of comics, the pain behind the laughs, the need to be loved taken to its celebrity extreme, and does nothing with it.
Just as the Director’s Cut of 40 Year Old Virgin loses the tight pacing and meanders, this comes pre-extended. I don’t want to know what the DVD with extra footage will be like. I’ve read that Aziz Ansari, who plays a comedian who jumps around a lot and says boy-eeee and generally acts like a caricature of a suburban white boy rapper fan, will be getting a starring role to explore this character. Russell Brand will also reprise his role from Forgetting Sarah Marshall as the pop singer, with Jonah Hill as his wrangler. Apatowland is starting to feel like SNL, spinning off of itself. I’d rather see Aubrey Plaza get some more work. This was a good, if not great movie but it was in dire need of an editor, or perhaps even a rewrite of Act III. Sometimes you see people who’ve impressed you begin to fail because no one has the balls to tell them something’s not working, and they’ve lost that self-doubt that makes you strive to improve. They mock this in the movie with Simmons’s acting career, but it happens with directors too. The guy who gave us Stripes and Ghostbusters? His last movie was My Super-Ex-Girlfriend.

The Return of Brüno

So now Sascha Baron Cohen has made movies with all 3 of his characters from Da Ali G Show and has to come up with something new. This is the second best of the trio- Ali G Indahouse was pretty boring- but despite the high hit ratio of laughs, it’s a bit scattershot and resembles the Borat movie a bit too much. Does it suck? Not in my opinion. If you liked Borat, you’ll like Brüno, unless you’re homophobic, or easily offended by gay stereotypes.
If you’re not familiar with Brüno, he’s supposed to be a flamboyantly gay Austrian fashionista who declares who’s “in” and who’s “straight to Auschwitz” on his TV show. For the movie, he falls from grace by wearing a Velcro outfit to a catwalk and causing disaster. He is “out,” and flees to America to seek stardom with Lutz, his assistant’s assistant, who is infatuated with him. In Borat, his sidekick was funny in his own right; Lutz plays the starstruck lackey well but he can’t hold a shot on his own. That’s one minor flaw.
Sascha Baron Cohen is very good at pranks, and he plays a few good ones here. Brüno adopts an African baby to be more like Madonna and “Brangelina,” by trading an iPod for a cute kid. Then he takes him on the Richard Bey show before a mostly black audience to say he’s gay, he’s adopted a black baby, and named him “a traditional African-American name,”– O.J. The audience reacts as you might expect. Another great prank is his cage fighting arena where he grows a Lemmy mustache and calls himself “Straight Dave,” and ends up making out and stripping with his opponent before a stadium full of rednecks expecting pro wrestling. They throw chairs at the gay men, but they also don’t leave or stop watching. Nearly as suicidal, he calls Osama bin Laden “a dirty wizard who looks like a homeless Santa” to a real live terrorist leader. Cohen, I salute you. Your balls rival Stephen Colbert’s. Nearly as brave: he dresses like a Hasidic Jew, except for the hot pants, in an Orthodox section of Israel, and gets chased out. He goes hunting with a bunch of guys in Alabama, and tries to enter a guy’s tent while nude. He crashes a swinger’s party and comes on to guys as they pork away in a wife-swapping party. The man is insane.
Yes, he makes you very uncomfortable and not all the gags work. He pranks Ron Paul, mistaking him for Ru Paul, and strips in front of him in a hotel room. This pissed off a lot of bloggers. I think Ron Paul is a bit of a loon but I respect his strict constitutionalism and don’t think he deserved this. Any more than Charlton Heston, dying of Alzheimer’s, deserved Michael Moore’s attack in Bowling for Columbine. As much as that fat fuck has redeemed himself with Sicko, I’ll never forgive him for ambushing a man with dementia. And Cohen should have went after an anti-gay politician like Rick Santorum instead of Ron Paul if he wanted to have real effect. Even if he went after a hypocrite like one of the Republican parties many gay sex scandal exiles, it would have been better.
I can’t deny that I laughed a lot. Before I saw it, I read many reviews where people found his schtick passé, or even damaging to gay rights by promoting stereotypes. But let’s face it, the people who hate gays don’t care if they’re the utterly polite, über-neat and trendy stereotype who gentrify neighborhoods so the yuppies can kick out the po’ folks, or the guys who dress like the Village People and ride their motorcycles in pride parades. In the big picture, does Brüno matter to gay rights? Is some California jerkoff going to watch this and see a Sexercycle with a dildo attachment and decide to vote against gay marriage? I don’t think it’s going to change anyone’s mind. As satire, Brüno works a lot better as he points at how celebrity-obsessed Americans are. In one scene, he asks parents who are pimping their children as actors if they’ll allow liposuction, crucifixion, or if the kid will dress as Hitler pushing Jew babies in a wheelbarrow. They all say yes. They’ll allow anything if their kid will be in a music video. It’s terrifying, and you almost see Cohen break character as they surprise even him with the depravity they’ll subject their children to. Things even Brüno, who rides with a baby on the handlebars of a Vespa, won’t do.

Rating: 3.5 talking weenuses out of 5

The Hangover

Sometimes you just had to be there. That’s how a lot of Todd Phillip’s The Hangover feels, and we weren’t there. It’s a good premise- 4 buddies on a bachelor party booze binge in Vegas who remember nothing of the wild evening that left the groom-to-be MIA, the room destroyed, and both a tiger and a baby in their midst. So it’s a mystery as they backtrack their missteps to find their buddy and get him to the church on time.
The buddies are Bradley “Wedding Crashers” Cooper, a slimy schoolteacher who steals his kids’ field trip dough for Vegas; Zach “Comedians of Comedy” Galifianakis, the creepy idiot manchild of a brother-in-law; and Ed “Daily Show” Helms, a pussy-whipped dentist about to propose to a nightmare woman. The insanity they awake to is epic; there’s a tiger in the room, an abandoned infant, someone’s missing a tooth, someone is married, and the room looks like Hunter S. Thompson visited. The characters are well-played, but Zach Gonocacockus steals the show; with a mountain man beard, puppy dog eyes and questions like “did Caesar really live here?” he brings a low-key hilarity that saves the film.
The other scene-stealer shows up much later and is making a name for himself for this sort of thing- Ken Jeong. He was the snarky ob-gyn in Knocked Up, and the King Argotron in Role Models; here I won’t reveal when he appears or why, but he’s definitely deserving of bigger roles and I can’t wait to see them. The other cameos are a bit forgettable- Heather Graham is a stripper with a heart of gold, and Mike Tyson shows up to reclaim his tiger, and to settle the question if he should ever appear in movies that aren’t documentaries. The answer is no. The film’s other misstep is the hip-hop soundtrack, which was a funny idea for a movie about a bunch of whitebread nerds ten years ago when Office Space did it. Not so much this time.
What I did like was that the movie wasn’t very cruel and had some affection for its characters. I’ve only seen snippets of Todd Phillips’ other movies like Road Trip and Old School, as was not impressed. The Hangover, however, shows promise. He makes great use of small roles like Jeffrey Tambor as the father-in-law who takes the slogan “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” to heart. Other times the movie feels like an episode of “Reno 911,” and too much is explained. The concept of not knowing what happened last night is funnier when we really don’t know what happened; it can never live up to our imaginations, and it’s a rookie mistake to show things best left a mystery.
So, I don’t know why Ebert loved this so much except that he’s been very forgiving since his recent brush with mortality. He’s still my favorite movie critic, but now I feel like I need to remove a half-star or so from every rating. In the old days, you’d just have to knock down movies filmed in Chicago a notch. Now it’s mostly everything.

Rating: 3 pasties out out of 5