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.

Observe and Report redband trailer

Paul Blart: Mall Cop is the surprise family hit of the winter. Now Seth Rogen gives us the adult version, about a Mall Ninja dealing with a flasher terrorizing customers. When “head of security” Seth can’t handle it, Police detective Ray Liotta is called in. It looks like a sick take on Scorsese’s best efforts of the ’70s, and dark as hell. Written and directed by Jody Hill, who also did the underrated The Foot Fist Way with Danny McBride (who appears here as well) and HBO’s new series “Eastbound and Down,” this looks like an awesome film out of nowhere. April 10th, I’ll be there.

Fanboys

We all know one. You might even be one. The fanboy: the person who doesn’t just like something, but goes that extra parsec and lives it. We’ve all seen the Star Wars fans who waited in line for days to catch the midnight premieres, dressed in costumes, living in tents. This is a story about guys even crazier than that, who want to go to George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch and steal the print, so their dying buddy can see it before he goes to a galaxy far, far away. Whether you are a fanboy, know one, or just like making fun of them, Fanboys is pretty entertaining just as a buddy road trip movie- the nerd stuff is just gravy.
The saga begins in ’98, a few months before the new Star Wars movie, The Phantom Menace, is to be released. Three nerd buddies show up at a Halloween party dressed as Darth Vader and two stormtroopers, like they do every year. When you spend that kind of time and money on a costume, you need to get some mileage out of it. They are Hutch (Dan Fogler, Balls of Fury) who has the Shag Van and lives in his mom’s garage- I mean Carriage House; Windows who runs the town comic book shop (Jay Baruchel, who seems to have parlayed his ability to mimic Chewbacca in Knocked Up into this bigger role), and Linus, who’s got terminal cancer, but hasn’t lost his hair yet. They’re having fun until Linus sees Eric- his old high school buddy who was gonna draw comic books with him until reality dragged him away to Dad’s car dealership.
Eric misses his pals, and seeing them again makes him dread the daily drudgery and his douchey older brother at the dealership even more than usual. So when he hears of Hutch and Windows’ idiotic plan to raid Skywalker Ranch and snag a workprint of the new Star Wars film so Linus can see it before he dies, Eric is lured to the dark side. Windows is cybering with a “girl” in a chatroom who has a contact inside the ranch, so they hatch a plan to sneak in and grab the film. Remember this is ’98, he’s constantly lugging an old Toughbook and looking for phone jacks.

Once they hit the road the laughs are pretty solid, whether it’s Hutch’s Millennium Falconesque ’70s shag-van, their continual war on Trekkies, or the acerbic comments of Zoe (Kristen Bell, “Gossip Girl,” Spartan) the clerk at Windows’ comic book store. She’s the spunky Leia of the film, gone brunette and feisty. Together the gang has solid comic energy between her sharp tongue, Hutch’s perversity, Windows exasperated haplessness, and Eric and Linus as the straight men. Their adventures lead them to a hilarious clash with Jabba the Hutt (Harry Knowles, impersonated perfectly by Ethan Suplee of “My Name is Earl”), a hive of scum and villainy led by Danny Trejo, and a band of Trekkies led by Seth Rogen in one of his more self-effacing roles.
They use their cameos wisely, and don’t lay on the in-jokes too thick- there’s plenty to laugh at if you’re only peripherally aware of Star Wars. I saw it after a foray into NYC Comicon, and the theater was only a few blocks away, so the audience was full of folks who saw a lot of themselves up on the screen. And we all loved it. Just don’t go in expecting a classic- this is somewhere in the big spread between Detroit Rock City and Role Models, and the humor is similar to both. If you’ve been following the sordid tale of the movie’s attempts at re-cutting by the Weinsteins, be assured that this is no Lucas puff piece, and while we never get to see what the fanboys think of The Phantom Menace, they do ponder, “What if it sucks?” But they recall the new hope and anticipation we all had for it, and made a good comedy about it.

3.5 neckbeards out of 5

Kung Fu Panda

Wow, this was a lot better than I expected. It’s like a Sammo Hung kung fu movie with animals. If you don’t know who Sammo Hung is, he’s a chubby kung fu goofball who palled up with Jackie Chan several times and has many great Hong Kong fooey movies to his own credit. With subtle titles like Enter the Fat Dragon, you know what you’re getting into. Kung Fu Panda has some of the same spirit and manages to be more of a kung fu movie than just a kid movie, and that- along with an excellent voice cast- is what makes it worthwhile.
Jack Black plays Po, a panda who works at his father’s noodle shop. His father, Mr. Ping, is a rather goofy-looking duck voiced by the irreplaceable James Hong (Big Trouble in Little China, Blade Runner) who even managed to make Balls of Fury tolerable. Ping’s “secret ingredient noodle soup” is thw town favorite, so Po is too busy slinging noodles to learn kung fu. When he hears that the Shaolin Temple will be choosing the Dragon Warrior- the only disciple worthy of viewing the secrets of the legendary Dragon Scroll- he must attend, but of course Pops wants him to go and sell noodles outside.
The Shaolin Temple is where Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), a wizened red panda teaches his disciples, the Furious Five (not Grandmaster Flash’s band, either). They are Mantis, Tigress, Crane, Monkey, and Viper, after the 5 fighting styles of Shaolin. They are played by Seth Rogen, Angelina Jolie, David Cross, Jackie Chan, and Lucy Liu respectively- and all relatively on the down-low, letting their characters speak for themselves, you could say (if anyone steals the show, it’s David Cross’s Crane). Shifu is concerned that his old enemy, Tai Lung- a warrior so fearsome that an entire prison manned with rhino guards was constructed to contain him- may be plotting to escape. He wishes to give one of his students the knowledge of the Dragon Scroll, to be ready for the inevitable battle.
Po lugs his noodle cart up the mountain’s endless stairs, and through his clumsy attempts at viewing the choosing of the Dragon Warrior, his fat black ‘n white butt ends up in the middle of the ceremony. And of course, the wise elder Oogway- an ancient turtle, who like all kung fu masters, looks frail and slow but has powers that Yoda would envy- chooses the lowly fat panda to be the Dragon Warrior. Can such a lazy, gluttonous kung fu fanboy be trained to fight at all? Can he convince Master Shifu to take him seriously?

From here on it reminded me a lot of Jackie Chan’s earlier kung fu comedies like Half a Loaf of Kung Fu and the original Drunken Master. There is plenty of character-based humor and wordplay to keep the adults laughing while the slapstick keeps the kiddies rolling. Po is hapless and helpless. Sure, he’s a kung fu fanboy but he is beaten by a training dummy. But he’s got what fighters call “heart,” because he never gives up. Even when he probably should. When Tai Lung escapes (of course), Shifu has no choice but to train him.
The story is nothing new- it’s like a hundred kung fu films where the unlikely, destined warrior must be trained to defeat the undefeatable, but in Kung Fu Panda the humor, stunningly gorgeous backgrounds and catchy character designs, and the characters themselves make it shine. Dustin Hoffman’s Master Shifu is the one who must redeem himself, in a change of pace- Po will always be Po, and just needs to believe in himself, as disciples must. Po’s Daddy Duck Mr. Ping- who we at first expect to be a joke, or be the Angry Dad who wants to ruin his dreams- also gets a touching layer of depth that will make you stop wondering how he fathered a panda in the first place.
The animation is quite good, and while the battles are a little less exciting when you’ve seen Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle, which brings them to such a level of ridiculousness that even animation can’t top them, but the training sequences are both funny and exhilarating. There’s a fight over a dumpling that is so perfect that you’ll know they watched many, many classic old kung fu flicks and loved them before embarking on this project. And that’s what made the movie for me- sure, it’s not at the level of Pixar, but like Horton Hears a Who!, it strives for that level of excellence. Unlike Horton, it doesn’t quite reach it story-wise, but it’s still a blast and much better than I expected. Few, if any pop culture references, and the stars play characters, not themselves.

For example Ian McShane (Deadwood, Hot Rod) plays Tai Lung- a power-hungry warrior who’s not evil, or even misunderstood- but when we find out why he wants that Dragon Scroll so badly, he’s a character, not just a Bad Guy. But of course, whether you will like or hate this movie really depends on what you think of Jack Black- he’s more self-effacing here than in his usual persona, as in Tenacious D, but if you find him grating this movie is not for you. I found Po refreshing after Black’s habit of playing (with) himself, and his timing is perfect. Ebert complained that he isn’t charismatic enough, but that’s sort of the joke- I wouldn’t want to be around Jeff Lebowski all the time either.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=plyoto-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=B001ECQ75A&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrhttp://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=plyoto-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=B00168OINK&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr

the golden globes – livebloggin it

Slumdog Millionaire – golden globe for best picture: drama. It’s awesome to see a story like this win. It’s been a long time since a story like this, reminiscent of classics like Pressburger & Powell’s The Life and Times of Colonel Blimp, win big. Go Bollywood! And who says Americans won’t read (some) subtitles?

And holy shit Mickey Rourke gets best actor for The Wrestler! Go Mick! I’m really surprised that he beat Sean Penn. I think Mickey deserves it, but Penn was pretty amazing too. And he cutely thanks his dogs. He’s got 5 little dogs and he’ll kick your ass if you laugh at his chihuahuas.

Glad that Mad Men got best series, but the cameramen suck for focusing on the bald dudes when there’s hotties behind him. January Jones and Christina Hendricks please…

Kate Winslet wins another one! Wow. She should have won for Little Children two years ago, and now she’s cleaned up. Meryl Streep is going to have her killed.

Freida Pinto from Slumdog is still adorable.

Sascha Baron Cohen being funny and mean. And once again Woody Allen coasts on his rep from two decades ago with a mediocre comedy- Vicky Cristina Barcelona wins best comedy, despite being an insipid snoozer. Go see In Bruges or Happy-Go-Lucky instead; even Burn After Reading, despite being Coen Bros. coasting, was better than VCB.

Colin seems pretty nervous. He and Sally Hawkins don’t realize how good they were. Hell they might be acting it. Damn they’re good. They got me.

Yay Colin Farrell for the underrated In Bruges! A gay golden globe for my gay friend and a normal one for me because I am normal. Best actor in a comedy- though James Franco got a nice nom for Pineapple Express. Franco was great in Milk and got snubbed there.

Sigourney Weaver’s still got it. Ripley can be my Alien Queen anytime.

Danny Boyle gets the Best Director award he deserves. Personally I wanted Darren Aronofsky, but of those nominated- Opie Howard for Frost/Nixon, David Fincher for Forrest Gump 2, Sam Mendes for American Beauty: the 50s, he definitely deserves it. Slumdog is a blast, a retro Hollywood epic. Go see it. And then get some lamb korma.

Apparently when you’re old enough to win a Cecil B. DeMille award, you’re old enough to tell long rambling stories no one wants to hear. Clint Eastwood ought to go up there in character from Gran Torino and tell him to shut up.

Marty Scorsese! He’s turned into Ace Rothstein. And please stop sucking Spielberg’s cock.

Tina Fey, all the way! She’s pretty funny on twitter, too. Woman of the year with her Sarah Palin schtick, too. Way to go Tina. And Baby Mama was pretty funny, great for an SNL-related movie.

Slumdog handily picks up best score, too. And it’s a good one, too.

Apparently Glenn Close is wearing the drapes a la Gone With the Wind, and Lawrence Fishburne ate all of Seth Rogen’s leftovers. Morpheus looks more like Idi Amin.

Going by Seth “Nutrisystem” Rogen and Giammati, muttonchop ’70s sideburns are in! And I just shaved my Lemmy ‘stache off. Damn you, Firecracker!

Paul Giamatti for John Adams; he did a great job, and I always like it when fat little men get awards.

Alec Baldwin for 30 Rock; Duchovny probably lost because he got too into the part and had to go for sex addiction counseling. Baldwin joked about humiliating and belittling his daughter. I guess his Glengarry Glen Ross performance wasn’t much of a stretch.

Slumdog Millionaire for best screenplay; the direction was what made it, and the screenwriter even said so. Let’s see if Boyle gets the win, too.

John Adams is grabbing a lot of TV awards; it was quite good but not great, sparse year for mini-series.

Waltz in Bashir gets best foreign language film as expected. Must see it.

Heath Ledger gets a well-deserved award for The Joker; wtf is Tom Cruise nominated for Tropic Thunder for? To show the couch-hopping vitamin pusher still has a sense of humor? Robert Downey Jr. at least got a nom, he was fantastic in Tropic Thunder.

Wall-E deservedly wins best animated. No contest.

Meryl Streep looks embarrassed to be nominated for Mamma Mia.

Don Cheadle really needs to grow back his hair. And facial hair. He looks like he’s made of play-doh.

Glad Sally Hawkins won a GG for Best Actress for Happy-Go-Lucky. I called it and haven’t written my review yet, but it’s one of the year’s best films, and shows that you don’t have to be dark to be deep.

Kate Winslet for The Reader- glad she finally got one, but haven’t seen this yet. Marisa Tomei was great in The Wrestler, but she’ll never be forgiven for winning an Oscar for My Cousin Vinny.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Stoner superstar Seth Rogen and potty mouth king Kevin Smith together, with a cast plucked from Apatow, Smith and Office alumni, “Mac guy” Justin Long, ubiqui-cutey Elizabeth Banks, and a plot about two slacker roomies forced to make a porno to pay the rent? Sounds like it should be awesome. And it is for the first two acts, then it sort of peters out- pun intended- but still satisfies. It’s popular to bash Smith, and this isn’t his best movie, but it’s pretty fucking funny for a good while.

I have a love/hate relationship with Kevin Smith’s movies. I loved Clerks, with its unashamed profanity and familiar Jersey slacker culture, but since then Jay & Silent Bob got shoehorned in everything; the movies were good but juvenile, and while I like them I didn’t think he really grew much until Clerks 2 came along. Zack and Miri Make a Porno does feel like Smith meets Apatow, but that’s mostly due to Rogen’s involvement; Banks may not be the best-written female character, but she’s miles ahead of Smith’s usual. So give Z&M a try.

Rogen plays his usual stoner everynerd, a barista at Bean ‘n Gone; he’s Zack, and Miri is Elizabeth Banks (W., The Baxter, The 40-Year Old Virgin) his slacker roommate who’s been buds with him since the first grade. We meet them as they brave the bitter Pittsburgh cold, going to work at their minimum-wage jobs to pay a mountainous stack of bills. Soon the power is turned off, the water too, because Zack would rather buy skates and fleshlights than pay the rent. Actually it’s to Rogen’s credit that he lays on enough charm for us not to wonder why Miri doesn’t just boot his ass out, but I didn’t even think about that until days later.

Zack’s coffee shop pals include the crabby Delaney (Craig Robinson, “The Office” janitor and Apatow alumn) who’s constantly whispering Zen-like epiphanies about the misery of marriage, and the furious boss Mr. Surya (Gerry Bednob, The 40-Year Old Virgin) who is apopleptic over their total lack of work ethic. Delaney steals every scene he’s in, and with Rogen and Banks there that’s fine work. Hopefully we’ll be seeing more of him in bigger roles, as he’s definitely got the chops to do it on his own. The other scene-stealer is Justin Long, who was tedious in Live Free or Die Hard and wore out his welcome as the Mac Guy, who plays a flaming gay porn star who shows up at Zack & Miri’s high school reunion. He chews just enough scenery and delivers Smith’s dialogue- which is a little less raunchy and more clever this time around- perfectly. When the duo decides to make porn, some Smith regulars file in but are different enough that they don’t make you roll your eyes.


Jason Mewes is back, this time as a crew-cutted porn star wanna-be, and he’s crafted a character far enough from “Jay” to be funny without feeling old; Jeff Anderson (Randall from Clerks) is back as the unlikely cameraman, and wisely plays the straight man. At least Smith doesn’t shit on his old friends. Delaney is on board as the producer, with his hard-earned HDTV money; after a somewhat lame montage of possible porn movie names they decide upon “Star Whores,” and I worried that I’d be watching an hour of lame Star Wars jokes. Smith wisely plays this for a brief laugh before taking the script elsewhere, and manages to craft a hilarious, raunchy second act as they film their ultra-low budget epic.

For a movie about a porno, it manages to be somewhat less gross than Clerks 2 except for one scene, and for being slapped with NC-17 twice it only uses bouncing boobs and dangling wangs purely for comedic value. While the humor is definitely on the raunchy side, this is a lighter side of Smith; he’s learned that shock value is difficult to come by, but he still manages to slip a good one in there. Traci Lords and Katie Morgan are on board for the porn talent, but we never catch the camera leering, which is a good thing. For one lesson the movie will teach you is that there is no free titty. Smith earns his titty with this funny movie, which may not be his best, but is a fresh addition to his portfolio and a sign that he shouldn’t be written off as an aging, potty-mouthed Star Wars & comic book nerd with a camera just yet.

And I’m glad that bad boy Jay Mewes is clean again. He’s from my part of Jersey and I first met him stoned out of his mind, and know a lot of his old crew never made it out of heroin hell. Others have cleaned up their act quicker than he has, but the Hollywood temptations of easy access to your poison has to be hard. He plays his wanna-be porn star like a German-accented crazy nudist and is hard to recognize as “Jay,” which is a good thing. Apparently the “accent” is a lisp from dental surgery according to IMDb, but it’s still funny.

3 out of 4 titties. (Shave and a haircut, two bits- I saw a lady with three tits)

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=plyoto-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=B001HQIER2&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrhttp://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=plyoto-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=B001KKU9DW&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr

Zack and Miri Make a Porno redband trailer


I have a love and hate relationship with Kevin Smith’s movies- I loved Clerks, which was fresh and new. But like Tim Burton’s films, everything he’s made since has the fingerprints visible in the clay- I can see his quirks too easily. He’s really not good at writing female characters or getting a great performance out of a woman, for example. And I was hoping his Star Wars fanboyism would finally be left behind, but listen to the name of the porno they’re making. It’s not even funny.

This one doesn’t feel like a Kevin Smith movie in many ways, which is a good thing. It has a very different cast, and apparently is not set in the “View Askewniverse,” so at least Jay and Silent Bob won’t show up, and Jeff “Randal” Anderson will be playing a different character. Besides Seth Rogan as Zack and Elizabeth Banks as Miri, it’s got “the Mac Guy,” and some dude from the Office, and it has a mild comedic energy more reminiscent of an Apatow comedy than a manic Kevin Smith profanity festival. My only caveat is that it seems to think it’s a lot more shocking than it is, probably to sate the MPAA– it originally got an NC-17, but won an R on appeal.

http://videomedia.ign.com/ev/ev.swf