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.

Monday, July 26, 2010


5. Community Season 1
Why I Can’t Wait: Obviously, the people that chose who and what gets nominated for an Emmy somehow missed ‘Community.’ Last season, NBC laid new foundation in their Thursday Night Primetime scheduling with this show about a rag-tag group of characters from hilariously diverse backgrounds (ranging from Über-Christian Divorcee to Out-of-Touch Rich Coot to Fourth-Wall Breaking Indian, et cetera) pursuing higher education at Colorado’s Greendale Community College, a school where they who can’t teach, teach. I fell in love with the show from the get-go thanks to ‘The Soup’ host Joel McHale playing sarcastic-but-lovable Jeff, but it was the rest of the characters, especially Troy (Derrick Comedy’s Donald Glover) and Abed (Danny Pudi), who’s always-entertaining end credit scenes keep me laughing consistently. While most every episode is an excellent example of good comedy TV, the stand-out episode of the season for me was the twenty-third episode, ‘Modern Warfare.’ Any show that can transform into a hysterical pseudo-post-apocalyptic warzone during the opening titles is worth keeping around for another season, which is fortunately the case here. It may not be up for an Emmy, but ‘Community’ should be on your Amazon wish-list.
Release Date: September 21st, 2010

4. Kick-Ass
Why I Can’t Wait: Usually, the further a comic book adaptation strays from its source material, the more I dislike it, but ‘Kick-Ass’ is a rare bird. Many things from the comic are expertly replicated on the big screen, most notably Kick-Ass’s costume and Hit-Girl’s foul mouth and penchant for violence most extreme. On the other hand, the romantic subplot, most of the other costumes, and several other pieces deviate considerably. Despite all that, it didn’t phase me. What I got was a fast-paced, violent, well-penned comedy action movie about real-life superheroes, and it was fantastic. Probably my favorite thing about the movie is Big Daddy, played by Nicholas “Will Work For Food” Cage, and his Adam West diction. The movie is unflinchingly brutal, uproariously funny, and absolutely entertaining. Thankfully, the wait for this particular release is almost over.
Release Date: August 3rd, 2010

3. The Office Season 6
Why I Can’t Wait: It’s ‘The Office,’ what more reason do I need? Season six started out strong, building up to Pam and Jim’s wedding, then staggered to find its footing, then returned to form to finish the season with some of the funniest and most game-changing episodes in the history of the show. For those who didn’t tune in, I won’t give away too much, but holy crap, Kathy Bates is awesome. Other new edition Gabe Lewis, played by relative newcomer Zach Woods, functions essentially as the new Jan but with far more hilarious results. CFO David Wallace’s arc near season’s end provided me with quite possibly my personal favorite moment in the show’s six-year run. ‘The Office’ is a show I can watch over and over, despite what episode it is. I look forward to watching this season in quick succession and will do a full review upon its release.
Release Date: September 7th, 2010

2. Modern Family Season 1
Why I Can’t Wait: Al Bundy and his dysfunctional family were a fairly influential piece of television history for many reasons, but unfortunately for Ed O’Neil, it would take almost a decade and a half to find another good fit, and lucky for us, said fit is ABC’s ‘Modern Family,’ a pseudo-documentary style look into the diverse nuclear family dynamic of the new millennium. O’Neil plays Jay Pritchett, father of Claire Dunphy (née Pritchett) and Mitchell Pritchett, all three of whom have their own modern family. Jay is re-married to a gorgeous Mexican woman considerably younger than him and has sub-sequentially inherited a wise-beyond-his-ears stepson. Claire is married to gloriously oblivious Phil and they have two daughters and one son, all of whom have their own niches in the show. Mitchell and his life partner Cameron begin the show returning from Vietnam with their adopted baby girl Lily. All three of these families are drastically different, but all united by true, real love that is conveyed on screen far better than any other show in years. The pilot still sticks out to me as my favorite episode, but all the episodes are great and it’s thanks to intelligent writing and brilliant acting. This is another show that will be back for a sophomore season and we’re all the better for it.
Release Date: September 21st, 2010

1. Parks and Recreation Season 2
Why I Can’t Wait: When ‘Parks and Recreation’ first debuted I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. Amy Poehler as a driven, female Michael Scott in a show done in the same style as ‘The Office,’ except in a small town parks and rec department? In my day job, I work pretty closely with civil servants, so I wasn’t sure if it could be anywhere near as good as ‘The Office,’ which is very much a golden calf on my DVD shelf. By the end of season one, I’d completely changed my tune. ‘Parks and Recreation’ has a much smaller cast, allowing for a much more focused performance from each character, as well as a subtlety I feel ‘The Office’ lacks to a degree. The long, slow build of a surprise romance actually caused me to yell at the TV on more than one occasion. I am in love with every single character on this show in a much deeper, more emotional way than the larger cast of Dunder-Mifflin Scranton. Poehler’s over-eager Leslie Knope is full of heart, Aziz Ansari, who has quickly become my favorite comedian of all time, is spot-on in every episode as self-proclaimed Ladies Man, Tom Haverford, and Nick Offerman’s mustachioed anit-governmental head of the department Ron Swanson is one of the funniest characters of the new millennium. Rashida Jones’ Anne Perkins is the weak point for me, but through her we get Andy, who comes into his own this season and takes part in my favorite arc of the show so far. Aubrey Plaza’s apathetic April and Paul Schneider’s ex-swinger city planner Mark Brendanawicz round out the regular cast, a cast whom I can, and soon will, go on about at great lengths. ‘The Office’ still holds the title of my favorite show, but I have a sneaking suspicion that if season three of ‘Parks and Recreation’ is half as good as season two was, Michael Scott will need to watch his back.
Release Date: None yet, presumably September 7th or 21st

The Walking Dead Turns #75, We Get Presents

U mad, Rick?

Spoilers ahead, sort of.

A seventy-fifth issue of any comic is a milestone. Lasting twenty-five issues without being canceled these days is a feat, let alone three times that. Last week, Robert Kirkman’s zombie drama 'The Walking Dead' celebrated its 75th issue with a couple treats for its loyal fans. Years ago, Kirkman said that if he ever ran out of ideas for the series, he’d just have aliens invade. While he may not be out of ideas, we were treated to a fun little what-if. Art duties for the post-letters column portion of the issue shifted from long-time series regular Charlie Adlard’s gritty black and white pencils to long-time 'Invincible' artist Ryan Ottley’s distinct style. The icing on the cake? Every gooey, gory bit of the imaginary tale is in full, vibrant color! It was very much the same kind of surreal the UFO endings from 'Silent Hill' provided, and I for one was delighted.

But wait, there’s more!

Before readers can recover from what they just read, they’re treated to not one, not two, but ten cast shots of the forthcoming ‘Walking Dead’ show, airing on AMC this October. I’ve been rabidly following the show since it was first announced and having finally seen the initial cast in the flesh, the countdown ‘til Z-Day has begun! Do yourself a favor and pick up ‘The Walking Dead’ #75, in stores now.

“More like ‘Captain Retard,’ Am I Right?”

"Do you think this A stands for 'butthurt?'"

Here are some highlights from the comments section of WorstPreviews’ article on how “Captain America” Won’t Be Very Patriotic:

"HIS COSTUME IS A BIG FUCKING FLAG JOHNSTON YOU SACK OF CRAP. Mannnn if you do to Steve Rogers what you did to the Wolfman, I will personally track you down, and end you bitch!"

"Ok from this interview only, I now think this movie might suck."

"Me thinks the Liberals have got hold of this. And in turn a making it into a PC loving sack of crap."

"Ted Turner already did this. It's called Captain Planet. I mean jesus, as already pointed out, he's WEARING A FLAG. That's like taking a giant shit in the middle of an open mall and then obliviously going on with your day."

"So what the fuck does the A on his forehead stand for, acceptance??? Johnston is a hack, and cant be trusted with pet turd."

"This has quiet possibly be the stupidest fucking thing i have ever heard and i have heard my self talk before so that's fucking stupid. Also his name has fucking America in it saying he wont be very patriotic is like calling the blob the blob but making him rail damn thin."

"This movie blows already."

The list goes on like that. For awhile.

So Steve Rogers will be more a good person than outright patriot? Okay. Nazis are killing Jews by the trainload. That’s bad. Steve Rogers reads this in the newspaper and says, “I should go kick those Nazi douchebags in the face.” You don’t have to drink Fox News’ kool-aid to know right from wrong, and thus Steve Rogers gets off his duff and enlists.

From the aforementioned article’s comments section, people obviously wonder why he’s wearing a flag-themed costume. Guys, seriously, if the government makes a super-solider out of a hundred-pound weakling with the intent of sending him to fight the Nazis, they’re going to turn him into a giant propaganda tool. Doing the right thing and being patriotic aren’t mutually exclusive. This is Marvel Studios we’re dealing with here. The same guys who made Iron Man. Have a little faith.

With this much fan outrage about Cap not being a chest-beating flag-waver, I didn’t even both reading the comments about them taking Namor’s foot-wings away.

Friday, July 23, 2010

James McAvoy is Professor X. Really?

The leader of the mutant race. Oh boy.

I'm aware I'm slowpoking a bit, but bear with me.

Maybe it’s just me, but I really cannot imagine the star of ‘Wanted’ as the Martin Luther King, Jr. of mutants.

Alice Eve as the sexy, damaged Emma Frost? Yeah, totally.

Nicholas Holt as Beast? I’ve never really watched ‘Skins’ and I’m not entire sure which character Eusebios was in ‘Clash of the Titans,’ (list the names of three of the ‘supporting characters’ who come to Perseus’s aid and I’ll give you a cookie), but yeah, there’s no reason why not. Slap some glasses on him, have him walk on the ceiling, and BOOM, you’ve got yourself a Beast.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen Jennifer Lawrence in anything, although she’ll be playing a shape-shifting mutant who spends most of her time with blue skin, so you could cast pretty much any hot female and put a red wig on her.

McAvoy as Charles Xavier just really doesn’t do it for me. I’m a pretty enormous comic book geek and while it might be my hatred of ‘Wanted’ straying so far from the source material (where was the petition that THAT casting was racist?), I really, really, really can’t imagine him bald, let alone the leader of the mutant race.

I had the same problem with Timothy Olyphant in ‘Hitman.’ Was Jason Statham really too busy making 'In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale' to play Agent 47?

I guess I have a hard time seeing people with hair not having hair, or maybe Patrick Stewart ruined all other Xaviers for me with his character-defining performance. Tell me you don’t read Professor X’s dialogue in Jean-Luc Picard’s voice.

Do I trust anybody to cast an X-Men movie right outside of Marvel Studios? No. Will I shell out the money to see the movie regardless? Yes. Will James McAvoy turn out to be the Aladdinian diamond in the rough that will blow me away? Maybe. Only time will tell.

Salt, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Like Angelina Jolie.

Director: Phillip Noyce
Script: Kurt Wimmer
Starring: Angelina Jolie (‘Wanted’), Liev Schreiber (‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’) August Diehl (‘Inglorious Basterds’), Daniel Olbrychski (lots of foreign films), Chiwetel Ejiofor (‘2012’)
Run-Time: 100 minutes
Release Date: Friday, July 23rd, 2010
Rating: PG-13

I’m not sure when it started, or why, but I really don’t like Angelina Jolie. It may have something to do with my abhorrence of the movie adaptation of Mark Millar’s ‘Wanted.’ Bad news for me, because this week’s Thursday Night Midnight Showing came down to Jolie’s ‘Salt’ and Ms. Selena Gomez’s ‘Ramona and Beezus.’ I found myself torn between staying home and playing the copy of ‘Dark Void’ I got for ten dollars or keeping up with tradition and seeing one of these two movies, neither of which I was tremendously excited for. I opted for ‘Salt’ because I still haven’t forgiven Beverly Cleary for never writing ‘Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret II: Blood Feud.’ So with a can of NOS coursing through my veins and my expectations set to zero, I took my usual seat in the back row next to my ever-present companion Patrick and prepared for the worst.

Back to our movie. It begins with the first flashback of many, establishing that Jolie’s character, the eponymous Evelyn Salt is an agent for the CIA, and fairly good at her job. Her skill set is varied, setting up a reasonable explanation for all the kick-assery that will follow in the next one hundred minutes or so. Seriously, Salt is would make MacGyver blush with her ability to fashion plot devices out of everyday household items.

After the introductory flashback, we are returned to the present just in time for Evelyn and Mike Krause (Diehl), her creepy German Nationalist husband’s anniversary. The work day is almost over and Salt is ready to go home, drink some champagne, and have sex with the lights off when a Russian defector (Olbrychski) shows up. She and her close friend and confidant Ted (Shrieber) decide to have a word with the man. A long, expository tale about a Hogwarts School for Child Spies and political assassinations follows, ending with the man telling the CIA that a Russian spy named Evelyn Salt is going to kill the Russian President at the American Vice-President’s funeral. Salt’s like “lolwut” and then things get a little crazy and proceed as such from there, growing more and more ridiculous, from her escape from the CIA’s cover building in Washington, DC all the way to New York City, and back, culminating in a fairly intense showdown in an underground bunker beneath the White House. All the while she is pursued by Ted and another CIA agent, Peabody (Ejiofor), each on opposite ends of the “Totally a Spy” spectrum.

The real question through-out for both the characters and the audience is simple: Is she who the Russian defector is or isn’t she? From the moment we get our answer, a bloody swath is cut all the way through to the end of the film, with all the twists and turns befitting of a political thriller. The movie is delightfully clever at times, from an excellent use of Chekov’s Spider to Schreiber’s show-stealing exchange with the National Security Advisor to a fairly original murder technique. At one point, even, I had images of ‘Dr. Strangelove’ dancing through my head. Mutually assured destruction is always a terrific endgame plot device. By the time the credits rolled, I felt that Ange’ and I had worked out some of our differences. I’m still bitter about how awful ‘Wanted’ was, but she shouldn’t have to shoulder all the blame for that.

Considering I had no expectations, I was pleasantly surprised that ‘Salt’ was not only watchable, but at times downright enjoyable. Nobody will win any Oscars, but I don’t regret the $7.50 I spent on it. If you’re a fan of topsy-turvy political action thrillers or just like watching the guy from ‘Scream’ yell at people, ‘Salt’ is not the worst way to spend a hundred minutes of your time.

Oh, and to Beverly Cleary, if you’re reading this, I’m still waiting.

Fun Fact: Did you know the script had originally been written for Tom Cruise? I spent a lot of the movie replacing Angelina Jolie with Tom Cruise while leaving the rest of the movie in context, with an end result of hilarity. Give it a try!

Trailer Pick of the Week: 'Devil'

I’d like to mention the trailer for ‘Devil,’ as it played before 'Salt.' From the get-go, I was intrigued, primarily because I had no idea what the hell was going on. Some people, including the guy who ate all the mushrooms in ‘Super Troopers’ that gets to have sex with Christina ‘Those Things Are Enormous’ Hendricks, are stuck on an elevator and stuff starts to get weird. As the trailer progressed, I became more and more excited. Then, ‘From M. Night Shyamalan’ appeared on the screen. An audible groan arose from the audience, but not me! I see this movie as a beacon of hope for Shyamalan, a return to form even. ‘Unbreakable’ is an amazing film, and if ‘Devil’ ends up half as good as ‘Unbreakable’ it will be head and shoulders above everything that followed. After the crowd finished its collective groan, I announced, “The twist is it’s going to be good!” Spoiler alert. I hope. We'll find out September 17th. Update: (Incidentally, he only came up with the story and is producing. Other people are writing and directing.)

So that was 'Salt,' and also my first movie review, and also my first real entry on this blog. Lemme know what you think! There's plenty more to come, including a new movie review every Friday. Next Friday: 'Dinner for Schmucks', staring Paul Rudd and Steve Carell.