Thursday, September 30, 2010

Saw 3D's Final Poster

Well folks, it's almost Halloween, and you know what that means!

Yep. Saw's back. Again. For the seventh time. This time, in 3D. They claim it's the final chapter, but who knows? The last one might not have done nearly as well as the rest, but they've made a lot of money on something that didn't cost a lot to make.

All I know is I presumably get to see Chester Bennington mutilated in some sort of automobile-related death trap. In 3D.

Expect a full review on this 'final' chapter when the movie comes out.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Easy A, or The Best John Hughes Movie John Hughes Never Made

Director: Will Gluck (Fired Up)
Script: Bert V. Royal
Starring: Emma Stone (Zombieland), Patricia Clarkson (Shutter Island), Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones), Thomas Hayden Church (Spider-Man 3), Lisa Kudrow (Friends), Penn Badgley (Gossip Girl), Amanda Bynes (Hairspray), Malcolm McDowell (Halloween), Alyson Michalka (Phil of the Future), Dan Byrd (Heroes) and Fred Armisen (Saturday Night Live)
Release Date: Friday, September 17th, 2010
Rating: Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving teen sexuality, language and some drug material.

I’m a jerk. I saw Easy A two weeks ago at an advanced screening and am only writing the review on the day of. I thought it came out next week. I apologize, faithful reader. On the bright side, the movie is incredible.

The story is pretty simple. A nice, sweet, well-behaved high school nobody, in an effort to help a friend, ends up becoming the school’s biggest whore, except for the fact that everything said about her isn’t true. What starts small quickly snowballs and takes the audience on a roller coaster ride.

Unlike other recent teen movies, specifically Juno, Easy A has a much easier time making teenage characters sound like teenagers and not like weird alien creatures using a language all but imperceptible. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Juno, but for God’s sake Diablo Cody, NOBODY TALKS LIKE THAT! The dialogue is fast, witty, and believable, far and away one of the most charming parts in a very charming movie. It’s rife with self-aware narration, a very apparent love of the classic teen movies of the 80’s, and pop culture references that aren’t just for pop culture references sake.

The casting is also fantastic. Emma Stone plays the main character, Olive. Stone is one of my favorite new actresses, so a movie that consists of her making me laugh and dressing like a trollop is destined to endear itself to me. However, Thomas Hayden Church, who plays her favorite teacher, steals the show. Nearly every line out of his mouth made me laugh, especially when he sees Olive in one of her sluttier ensembles. He stares at her blankly for several seconds, says, “Don’t forget: tomorrow’s Earth Day,” then walks away. Her parents, played by Clarkson and Tucci, are equally as amusing. They seem to take nothing seriously and, at least for me, it’s a refreshing change of pace. Malcolm McDowell, who plays the principal, is always a welcome addition to the cast but did feel underutilized. Amanda Bynes (in her final role before retiring) plays the antagonistic Christian girl who, through the power of God, tries to destroy Olive. She plays one of those Christians that thinks if God wanted her boyfriend to finally graduate high school (he’s been there for years), then He would give him the answers. You know, the worst kind of Christian. Michalka plays Olive’s best friend, a slightly vapid, slightly envious girl who is quick to shun Olive after she starts having fake flings. Her later developments felt abrupt, and her romantic interest was only in a couple scenes, resulting in me being slightly confused when he appears for the second time nearly an hour after his first appearance. Then, there’s Olive’s romantic interest, Woodchuck Todd (Badgley). He’s attractive, cool, and the school mascot. What’s not to love? The fact that it takes nearly an entire movie for them to realize their obvious romantic chemistry. Dan Byrd plays Brandon, the gay friend who sets the main plot into motion, and I was pleased at his lack of FAAAAAAAAAABULOUS that so many homosexual characters seem to come equipped with. Lisa Kudrow plays the school guidance counselor and Church’s wife. I felt that she could have, and should have, been introduced much earlier in the movie. Regardless, she played an instrumental role in the tail end of the film. Finally, a small part by the hilarious Fred Armisen is the cherry on a well-casted cake.

I also enjoyed the fact that my usually spot-on predictions were off on this movie. Far too often do I peg a movie from the get-go. I can’t really go into detail with out major spoilers, but I zigged and the movie zagged. Bravo!

The small flaws mentioned above don’t take much away from what is an excellent movie and the most refreshing teen movie in ages. All in all, Easy A is simply fantastic. Brilliant dialogue, twists and turns, and excellent performances left me absolutely delighted. I just wish I got around to writing this a little earlier. Next time I get to see an advanced screening, expect the review much sooner. That’s my Bewildering Tales of Fiction promise to you, dear reader.

In conclusion, go see this movie. Devil was good, but Easy A is great. Alpha and Omega doesn’t deserve your money and Easy A has far less annoying Boston accents than The Town. Easy A deserves more than cult classic status, and if screenwriter Bert V. Royal has his way, there’s the possibility of two more movies set in the same high school. Easy A could well usher in a Renaissance of teen movies and it would be a shame to be snuffed out because Ben Affleck and a couple of poorly-animated wolf cubs seem more appealing.

Score: 9/10.

Fun Fact: Emma Stone dropped out of Sucker Punch to make Easy A. Sigh. I guess you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

Devil, or How M. Night Got His Tweest Back

Director: John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine)
Script: Brian Nelson (30 Days of Night), story by M. Night Shyamalan (The Happening)
Starring: Chris Messina (Greenberg), Logan Marshall-Green (Brooklyn’s Finest), Jenny O’Hara (Extract), Bojana Novakovic (Edge of Darkness), Bokeem Woodbine (Black Dynamite), Geoffrey Arend (500 Days of Summer), Jacob Vargas (Death Race)
Run-Time: 80 minutes
Release Date: Friday, September 17th, 2010
Rating: Rated PG-13 for violence and disturbing images, thematic material and some language including sexual references.

As I reported in my first review, the trailer for Devil piqued my interest, to say the least. With a story by M. Night Shyamalan that would’ve made Hitchcock or Rod Serling proud, I was pumped to see what I hoped to be a return to form for the man who brought us The Sixth Sense and, personally more importantly, Unbreakable.

Apparently, Avatar: The Las The Last Airbender left a bad taste in a lot of peoples’ mouths (not mine, or my ever-present movie-going partner Patrick's). This seems to have led to the birth of a hivemind-like running joke: every time Shyamalan’s name appeared on screen, the audience collectively groaned. This led me to create my own running joke; every time Devil appeared on screen, I’d announce loudly, “Deville?” It certainly decreased in hilarity with each weekly use, but I’d be damned if I’d let the audience’s transgression go unpunished. Sure, I loathed The Happening, but the man made Unbreakable! For me, that’s more than enough to look forward to another movie with his name on it. But, enough back-story.

The trailer did a pretty good job of setting up the story. Five people are stuck on an elevator and one’s the devil. But who!? That’s what our attractive, emotionally-burdened detective (Messina) and religious security guy (Vargas) aim to find out. Our choices are: black temp security guard (Woodbine), shifty mattress salesman who gets to have sex with Christina Hendricks (Arend), little old lady (O’Hara), well-dressed young woman (Novakovic), and shady-looking white guy (Marshall-Green). Each has a reason for being on the elevator, but the whys and wherefores spread throughout the entire film.

The action within the elevator is obviously the focal point, but the accompanying dialogue is somewhat bland and expository. This is understandable, considering more than half the movie takes place in a tiny box suspended in midair. On the other hand, the dialogue between the detective, his partner (Joshua Peace, bit player in films like Survival of the Dead and Lars and the Real Girl), the religious security guard, and the other main security guard (Matt Craven, Shia LaBeouf’s dead dad in Disturbia) was well-done and at times, laugh-out-loud funny. The two sides of the story compliment each other nicely.

As for the ol’ Shyamalan twist, it’s back and in full effect. I had my hunch from the beginning, but the story really did keep me guessing ‘til the end. Several different techniques made me change my initial guess, but then THE TWEEST occurs, and low and behold, I was right all along! To be fair, it was mostly a guess. But the trip to THE TWEEST was fun and kept me glued to my seat for the duration.

Additionally, the music was good, and at times brought to mind the Inception trailer’s famous BBBRRRRMMMMM (also known as Mind Heist by Zack Hemsey). The movie was shot beautifully, and certainly created a suffocating environment inside the elevator. The PG-13 rating may cause some to pause, but the film cleverly uses what it doesn’t show you to its advantage. Every time the lights flicker, you will find yourself full of dread, gritting your teeth and straining not to cover your eyes. I have not seen a movie in some time that has pulled off that effect with such aptitude.

You may have hated his last few movies, but Shyamalan, who merely came up with the story and produced, has delivered a terrific first installment of his Night Chronicles trilogy. I can not wait for the next two.

Damn, it feels good to say that.

Score: 8/10.

Fun Fact: As I mentioned, Devil is the first of a trilogy of tales entitled The Night Chronicles. The next one, entitled Reincarnate, deals with a jury overseeing a case dealing with the supernatural. The third movie will incorporate ideas Shyamalan had originally planned to use for a sequel to Unbreakable. Awesome.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Human Centipede (First Sequence), or A Title That Delivers, If Nothing Else

I could've sworn I posted this. Oh well, enjoy!

Writer/Director/Producer: Tom Six
Starring: Ashley C. Williams, Dieter Laser (Lexx), Akihiro Kitamura (Heroes), Ashlynn Yennie
Run-Time: 92 minutes
Release Date: Wednesday, April 28th, 2010
Rating: Not rated in the United States

When my girlfriend first described The Human Centipede to me, I was mesmerized by the prospect. Being the horror movie buff I am, I read up on the film, watched the trailer, and listened to the buzz. To say I was pretty excited to see what all the fuss was about was an understatement. Having finally seen it, I feel torn. Either it wasn’t as hardcore as everybody said it was, or there’s something seriously wrong with me.

The plot is pretty simple. German surgeon and mad scientist Dr. Heiter (Laser) kidnaps two American tourists, Lindsay (Williams, who’s only other role was an uncredited Nelwyn villager from Willow in 1988) and Jenny (Yennie, another relative newcomer, her only other role being ‘Thai Kissing Girl’ in something called Evan and Gareth Are Trying to Get Laid), as well as Japanese tourist Katsuro (Kitamura, who turned out a memorable performance in a season four episode of Heroes), and tells them all he’s going to turn them into a human centipede, linked from ass to mouth. A great man once said, “You never go ass to mouth.”

And so, the movie unfolds just as Dr. Heiter promises. The audience is treated to a mercifully abridged surgical procedure that covers bits and pieces of the process he lays out for them, and before you know it, he’s turned them into a human centipede. The second act of the movie follows the unlucky trio and their masochistic master as he trains them in how to move as a single unit, watches with glee as the inevitable first bowel movement comes to pass, and beats them at the smallest hint of disobedience. The third and final act of the movie is pretty intense as the mad doctor’s grand scheme of being a messed up weirdo begins to unravel, leading to a fairly intense climax and an ending that will stick with you.

The movie, billed as “100% medically accurate,” was certainly disturbing, but I was disappointed to find that the only part I couldn’t bare to watch was a particular portion of the surgery montage involving tooth removal. It is definitely not for the weak of heart, but I was let down that I didn’t feel like I was going to lose my lunch. For all the hype, my inner gore-hound was only partly sated.

Of course, that’s not to say it wasn’t without merit. Dieter Laser plays the part of mad scientist with a fantastic zeal, able to calmly explain the grotesque procedure he’s about to perform and minutes later have that wide-eyed insanity as he strikes his new pet for not obeying his commands. Ashley Williams and Ashlynn Yennie both pull off vapid American tourist girl with ease, and for what it’s worth, played their rolls as Middle and Caboose as well as could be expected. Kitamura was the only one of the three who had a speaking part post-surgery, and he did a great job through-out. The other, minor characters, the few there were, all performed their roles satisfactorily, but didn’t stand out. To be fair, this movie wasn’t about them.

Roger Ebert gave this film no stars, not because it was bad, but because, as he puts it, “It is what it is and occupies a world where the stars don't shine.” I disagree. It was an entertaining, stomach-churning turn on a formulaic subgenre, and while it isn’t as disturbing to me personally, I’m sure many of you will have to take a break to run to the bathroom.

Score: 7/10.

Fun Fact: Filming for The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) began in June, 2010. According to Tom Six, First Sequence was just a taste, to get the audience’s feet wet. He described it as "'My Little Pony compared with part two." Full Sequence will feature, presumably among other things, a twelve-person centipede. Sign me up.

Resident Evil: Afterlife, or “Oh, Cool, Devil Comes Out Next Week!”

Writer/Director/Producer: Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil)
Starring: Milla Jovovich (The other three Resident Evil films), Ali Larter (Heroes), Wentworth Miller (Prison Break), Shawn Roberts (I Love You, Beth Cooper)
Run-Time: 97 minutes
Release Date: Friday, September 10th, 2010
Rating: Rated R for sequences of strong violence and language.


I’m not a hard sell when it comes to movies. I’m easily amused, easy to please, and I try to find the best parts of even the worst movies. Very rarely do I live a theater going, “That fucking blew.” Resident Evil: Afterlife is one of those rare exceptions. It’s currently 2:19 AM. The movie is still fresh in my mind and the caffeine in my system is running low. I’m basically going to throw my thoughts onto this page in the hopes that it resembles a review. This will not be my best review. Most likely far from it, but a movie of this caliber deserves nothing less than half-assed.

The story is simple: Alice, played by Milla “How Many More Movies Did I Sign On For?” Jovovich, is looking for survivors. She is alone, with only her Energizer lithium battery-powered camcorder and two-seater plane to keep her company. Her mission: Find survivors. Eventually she does. Then an Axeman popped out. Then they go to a boat. Lame boss battle. Shocking twist end setting up for Resident Evil: Really!?

If you’ve seen the remake of Dawn of the Dead, you’ll be familiar with many of the plot elements. They’re in a reinforced building, there’s a heavily armored vehicle, and a super-douchey asshole. The big problem of Dawn’s Ty Burrell did it so, so, so much better than this guy. Didn’t he win an Emmy? (Editor’s note: No, he lost to fellow Modern Family cast member Eric Stonestreet.) Anyways, the colorful cast, obviously there for the dual Affirmative Action/Cannon Fodder clauses, provide the much needed deaths. They also borrowed a tense underwater scene from Alien: Resurrection, except once again executed it with the ability of a twelve-year-old playing with action figures in their bathtub.

Did I mention the zombies suddenly have tentacle-tongues? That’s from one of the later games. There’s no explanation. I guess they’re evolving? Also, what’s up with the metal spider things? Who knows. Oh, and don’t worry, all the Alice clones and superpowers are done away with in the opening, and arguable best, sequence of the movie. Spoiler alert.

Going back to casting, the role of Wesker would have been played perfectly by Val Kilmer circa MacGruber. Not only does Shawn Roberts resemble Dieter Von Cunth, he delivers all his lines just as hamfistedly. Only this movie isn’t a parody. At least, not intentionally. You may remember Mr. Roberts as Beth Cooper’s creepy, much older Army boyfriend. Also, Chris Redfield makes his screen debut. Why not, right? He got left behind in the prison by his army unit. Because, y’know, being an agent of S.T.A.R.S. would’ve required the costume designers to, like, design more costumes.

Remember the Executioner from Resident Evil 5 that they whore out in the trailers? He’s similarly inexplicably included in the movie. The worst part is he’s a better boss fight than the End Boss. Silent Hill had a big guy dragging a giant weapon, why can’t we? Feh.

This movie also goes to show you that just because you CAN film a movie in 3D (as opposed to deciding this after the fact, but that’s another gripe for another day), doesn’t mean you SHOULD. “Ah! The axe is flying at my face!” “Oh, the mouth-tentacles are coming at my face!” “Ooh, Claire’s hair is dangling in my mouth!” Like any gimmick, 3D can be done well. Mr. Anderson didn’t get that memo.

This movie is basically one big train wreck. There were more unintentional laughs than intended ones, the 3D was lackluster, the cast was basically three big names and a bunch of red shirts, the monsters went unexplained, and the end left me groaning in agony. “Now, Sean,” you might be asking, “is there anything you did like in the movie?” Yes. They brought back the Dobermans. Also, much like replacing Angelina Jolee with Tom Cruise enhanced my Salt experience, replacing the guy who played Wesker with Val Kilmer did make me tingly inside.

So there you have it, folks. A movie I genuinely did not like. I apologize for the lackluster review, BUT I’ll have both a Machete review and an advance review of Easy A for you over the course of the next week to make up for it. As for me, I’ve got a date with a futon.

Fun Fact: This is the first video game movie to be filmed in 3D. Even the Fun Fact about this movie sucks.

Rating: 4/10

Update: An esteemed colleague of mine, after reading this review, thought that my rating was awfully high. Here's where the 4 points come from:

1 point for the zombie dobermans
1 point for the Axeman, while sticking out like a sore thumb, being pretty cool
1 point for the zombies looking like zombies
1 point for spelling the name of the movie right (like the SATs!)

There you have it!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, or I Lesbians This Movie

Director: Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead)
Script: Edgar Wright and Michael Bacall (Bookies), based on the graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley
Starring: Michael Cera (Superbad), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Live Free or Die Hard), Kieran Culkin (The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys), Alison Pill (Dan in Real Life), Mark Webber (Good Dick), Chris Evans (Fantastic Four), Brandon Routh (Superman Returns), Jason Schwartzman (Bored to Death) and Johnny Simmons (Jennifer’s Body)
Run-Time: 112 minutes
Release Date: Friday, August 13th, 2010
Rating: PG-13 for stylized violence, sexual content, language and drug references

I have been waiting for Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World for ages for two reasons. 1.) Co-writer and director Edgar Wright’s previous two films, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, both sit firmly entrenched in my top ten favorite movies of all time, the former holding the elusive number one spot since I first saw it via a bootleg copy of the British release I’d picked up at a comic book convention several months before the American theatrical release. 2.) The source material, the six-volume series of graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley, is one of my favorite creator-owned projects of the last decade. Between this two reasons, I sat there in the theater with rapt anticipation, anxiously counting the minutes to midnight.

I was not disappointed.

The story is simple: Scott Pilgrim (Cera) is in his twenties, lives in Toronto, plays bass in a rock band lovingly named Sex Bob-omb with his friends Stephen Stills (Webber) and Kim Pine (Pill), shares a bed in a matchbox apartment with his ‘supercool gay roommate’ Wallace Wells (Culkin), and dates a seventeen-year-old named Knives Chau (relative newcomer Ellen Wong). Life is pretty simple until he meets the quite literal girl of his dreams, Ramona Flowers (Winstead). He discovers rather quickly that if he wants to date Ramona, he’ll have to go through her seven evil exes, a challenge he accepts with eventual gusto.

What really made this film shine as a comic book movie was the simple fact that, despite how it often strays from the source material (Evil Ex fights four through seven are almost entirely different from the fights in the books), Wright and company captured the tone of the books and said tone shines throughout. Sure, I was disappointed that Scott didn’t fight any robots, but the rock-off that takes its place is a fairly worthy substitution.

Even though the latter portion of the movie is so much different, so much of the movie as a whole is right on target, especially costume design. Even from the first trailer, I was delighted to see such attention to detail in the characters’ wardrobe, especially Scott’s 4½ shirt (supernerds like me would recognize this as the shirt Franklin Richards, son of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman, wore way back when) and Sex Bob-omb’s outfits in their performance during the movie’s climax.

Costume design goes a long way, but what really makes or breaks a comic book movie is the casting. A lot of people give Michael Cera grief for playing the same awkward teen role in every film, but he managed to capture the slightly dim-witted, periodically unlikeable protagonist’s personality to the letter. The previously mentioned bandmates and roommate all look and feel like they were ripped out of the book (though I pictured Stephen Stills having a much deeper, sarcasm-laden voice), but the real casting achievement are the League of Evil Exes. Practical nobody Satya Bhabha, who plays Ramona’s “first…evil…ex” Matthew Patel, blew my mind when he burst into a Bollywood song during his battle with Scott. Chris Evans, who plays skateboarder-turned-actor Lucas Lee captured his character’s cockiness superbly and treated the audience to a brief but hilarious look into Lucas’s acting career. Brandon Routh’s portrayal of douchey vegan rock star Todd Ingram may well be his greatest performance to date, and made the second-most substantial Evil Ex-perience of the movie a joy to watch. Mae Whitman (Parenthood) played Ramona’s fourth Evil Ex, ‘bi-furious’ ninja bitch Roxy Richter so well that it was depressing how little screen time she got. Real-life Japanese twins Keita Saitou and Shota Saito (Feel the Wind) play fictional twins, as well as Evil Exes 5 and 6, Kyle Katayanagi and Ken Katayanagi in another unfortunately diminutive portion of the movie. And last but not least, Jason Schwartzman plays the League’s evil mastermind, Gideon Graves. His performance was terrifically smug and while it was substantially different from his role in the final volume of the graphic novels (as it had not yet been finished when the script was written), it was executed with Schwartzman’s expert precision. Other roles to look forward to include Brie Larson (United States of Tara) as music sensation Envy Adams, Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) as Stephen Stills’ on-again, off-again girlfriend Julie Powers, Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air) as Scott’s wise-beyond-her-years young sister Stacey, and Thomas Jane (Hung) in an uncredited but fantastic cameo.

The music was another piece of a very well-oiled machine. With all new songs by Beck (he wrote all the songs for Sex Bob-omb), a pitch-perfect score by Nigel Godrich, and a handful of bands ranging from the Rolling Stones to Plumtree, the band who’s song Scott Pilgrim inspired the graphic novels, there’s a lot there to love.

As I mentioned, they changed a lot of stuff from the books for the movie, but it’s completely understandable. They had 112 minutes to tell a story that spans six 200+-page graphic novels. While I was sad to miss out on Scott’s life-or-death battle with Knives’ father and miss out on the subplot focusing on Envy and Todd’s relationship, I was so blown away by how well they captured the spirit of the books, what was missing or different didn’t keep me from absolutely loving this movie. The battles were all unique and well-crafted spectacles, culminating in a frantic, action-packed, nail-biter of a finale against Gideon. Flashbacks are told in cartoons emulating O’Malley’s art. The caption boxes that pop up throughout the movie, the visible sound effects, and the many, many video game influences all came straight from the graphic novels onto the silver screen, and the end result was a love letter to the source material.

Many fans will focus on what’s missing. They shouldn’t. Edgar Wright took a unique story and made it his own while staying true to it at the same time. Michael Cera led a talented and incredibly entertaining cast through a brilliantly scripted, visually spectacular film. I waited a long time for this movie, and damn it, it was so worth it.

Score: 9/10.

Fun Fact: Over the course of the movie, we get to see Michael Cera beat up Superman (Routh), Captain America (Evans) and his girlfriend from Arrested Development (Mae Whitman).

Friday, July 30, 2010

Dinner For Schmucks, or Recipe for Awkward Pie

Director: Jay Roach (Meet the Fockers)
Script: David Guion and Michael Handelman (The Ex), based on Francis Veber’s Le Diner de Cons
Starring: Paul Rudd (Role Models), Steve Carell (The Office), Stephanie Szostak (The Devil Wears Prada), Ron Livingston (Office Space), Jemaine Clement (The Flying Concords), Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover), Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek), Lucy Punch (Hot Fuzz) and David Walliams (Little Britain)
Run-Time: 114 minutes
Release Date: Friday, July 30th, 2010
Rating: PG-13

Take one exasperated everyman, one ludicrously attractive French woman, a brilliant character actor, and put them in a mixing bowl. Sprinkle a handful of “I Know That Person From Something, But What?” Stir well. Bake for 114 minutes at 350 degrees. Let cool. Serves many.

THAT, dear reader, is a recipe for hilarity, a recipe cooked to perfection in Dinner For Schmucks, a comedy I found very hard to classify. It’s part romantic comedy, part dark comedy, part buddy comedy. Select pieces from each of this have been blended together to great effect.

The movie centers around Tim (Rudd), a business executive who wants to move up the corporate ladder, and the recent firing of a guy on the coveted ‘seventh floor,’ coupled with a ballsy suggestion at a meeting immediately following said firing, presents him with the perfect opportunity to do so. The big boss of his company, Lance Fender (Greenwood) and two fellow upward-minded executives (Livingston and Larry Wilmore who played the memorable role of Mr. Brown in early seasons of The Office) invite him to their annual ‘Dinner for Winners,’ a dinner where all the executives bring somebody who is a massive loser and compete for the top spot. If Barry wins, that office up on seven is his. Of course, his super-hot French art curator girlfriend Julie (Szostak) thinks that the very idea of the dinner is awful. Tim reluctantly agrees and puts it behind him, which lasts until he hits Barry (Carell) with his car almost immediately after. That’s when the movie begins to shine.

As Tim refers to him in the trailer, Barry is a force of nature. Barry, from almost the very moment he’s introduced, manages to make his new friend Tim’s life harder and harder. The situations he manages to get into are quite possibly some of the most awkward moments in cinematic history and Carell executes every line with such incredible skill it makes Michael Scott look like a rookie. My favorite scene occurs during the important meeting with a potential investor, the ultra-rich, ultra-Swedish Müeller (Walliams). Every moment of the scene from the moment Barry shows up was a teeth-grinding endurance test of awkwardness.

The titular dinner itself happens surprisingly late in the film. By the time the dinner actually happens, I felt like I’d already seen almost a full, contained, conflict-resolution movie already. This is not a bad thing. The dinner is a climax of climaxes, full of recognizable faces and ridiculous situations.

One notable Schmuck cameo is ventriloquist Jeff Dunham. I am no big fan of Dunham, but instead of his usual ‘normal guy with wacky dummies’ routine, he plays a mustachioed man married to an overbearing female dummy. While his actual screen time is short and sweet, it is memorable and I was pleased rather than annoyed.

The interactions between Barry and self-proclaimed mind-controller Therman (Galifianakis) are some of the best, most ridiculous moments of the film and the snippets shown in the trailer barely scratch the surface. The two play off of each other very well, and it’s nice to see two of my favorite funnymen square off in such a ludicrous fashion.

Other highlights include modern artist Kieran (Clement) and his romantic rivalry with Tim, Tim’s stalker Darla (Punch), and Tim’s assistant Susana (Fellow Flight of the Concords cast member Kristen Schaal). Aside from the majority of the executives, there’s almost no characters wasted. Everybody plays their role with panache and it’s a non-stop delight to see the trail of destruction Carell leaves in his wake.

By far the most stand-out part of the film, however, are the dioramas (mousterpieces) Barry creates using mice he taxidermies himself, puts in little outfits, and poses. My hat goes off to the art and special effects departments for creating such hypnotizing pieces of bizarro beauty. Every scene these 'mousterpieces' appear in are breath-takingly surreal, especially the opening credits where they're coupled with a Beatles song.

In conclusion, the ingredients of this movie come together to create an awkward comedy meal you’ll be glad you ate. If you’re anything like me, you won’t mind going back for seconds.

Fun Fact: If you’re wondering where you’ve seen Lucy Punch’s character Darla before, it may well have been in Hot Fuzz. She played Eve Draper, the thespian with the laugh so annoying she lost her head over it.

Trailer Pick of the Night: Rango

If nothing else, this computer-animated movie from Nickelodeon will be a surreal odyssey through a desert full of anthropomorphic animals told through the eyes of the titular Hawaiian shirt-clad chameleon, as voiced by Johnny Depp. With a voice cast also featuring Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy and Timothy Olyphant, we should all be in for a family-friendly mind-f*ck next March.