Category: Late Night Comedy


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This is going to be possibly the most contradictory and conflicting review I’ve ever written. On every intellectual level that I can muster, I know that the 2006 Happy Madison production Grandma’s Boy is exquisitely awful. It’s low-brow to the extreme and a consistent affront to good taste and smart comedy at every turn. But, and it’s difficult to express how much it pains me to admit this, I love this movie. Part of a cadre of films that I used to watch religiously whenever they were on HBO when I was younger (others include Beerfest and Anchorman), Grandma’s Boy makes me laugh louder and harder than it has any right to, and there are days when I think there’s something wrong with me for how much I love this film.

Grandma’s Boy is steeped firmly in the stoner/slacker tradition of the Cheech & Chong films but with a decidedly modern bent and a fixation with video games (which explains in part my love of the film as something of an avid gamer). And it isn’t afraid to scrape the bottom of the barrel for jokes, but for God knows what reason, those “bottom of the barrel” gags work here when they never work for me in any of the other modern Happy Madison films (like That’s My Boy). Because let’s face it. Any film that has Shirley “Mrs. Partridge” Jones talking about giving a hand job to Charlie Chaplin speaks to me on some odd, inexplicable level.

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Alex (Allen Covert) is a stoner wasting his life away as a video game tester for a game design studio when he really wants to make his own games and not mindlessly test the games of his obnoxious, robot-obsessed boss J.P. (Avatar‘s Joel David Moore). But, when the company brings in the beautiful and charming Samantha (Brokeback Mountain‘s Linda Cardellini) to ensure that their current game gets finished on time, she may be the motivation Alex needs to finally try and do something with his life. However, Alex has just been thrown out of his apartment (because his roommate spent their rent money on hookers) and he has to move in with his grandmother (Doris Roberts) and her two friends which Alex is too ashamed to explain to Samantha and his best friend Jeff (Nick Swardson).

Alexander Payne this is not. In fact, it’s not even Judd Apatow. The jokes in Grandma’s Boy are as crass and disgusting as you can possibly imagine. At one point, before he lives with his grandmother, Alex stays at Jeff’s for the evening. Alex can’t sleep so he attempts to masturbate to one of Jeff’s female action figures (which he pretends is Tomb Raider‘s Lara Croft) and winds up ejaculating on Jeff’s mom when she walks in on him. At one point, Jonah Hill (Academy Award nominee for Moneyball) sucks on a breast (he literally appears to be suckling on a nipple at one point) for hours on end. And fart jokes abound.

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But, and there’s no logical explanation for this, there are moments in Grandma’s Boy that carry some type of moronic genius where the film becomes so stupid, it’s brilliant. Alex’s burnt out pot dealer Dante (Patrick Dante) drags Alex into situations so surreal that they capture some of the absurdist magic of the old Happy Madison films like Billy Madison. And Shirley Jones steals virtually ever scene she’s in as the grandmother’s trampy roommate Grace. And, maybe it’s because I was born and bred on Freaks and Geeks, but watching a drunken Linda Cardellini make a fool of herself to “Push It” is hilarious. Although, Linda Cardellini is way too good of an actress for the material she’s given in this film.

Grandma’s Boy is a bad film. Although, it’s a bad film that I wholeheartedly enjoy (and though it was a disastrous critical flop when it was released, it has become something of a cult classic in intervening years). The movie doesn’t have a sophisticated bone in its body, and when I’m not trying to think about the film critically (as I was forced to during this viewing), that doesn’t bother me in the slightest. If you require your comedy to have brains, avoid Grandma’s Boy like the plague because it smoked all of its brain cells away. But if you can enjoy a stupid but occasionally brilliant stoner comedy, Grandma’s Boy can be a great trip.

Final Score: C+

 

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Barring It’s a Wonderful Life and, oddly enough, A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas, most supposed Christmas films don’t seem to understand the holiday they’re meant to be portraying. They’re commercial and trite, and if they do touch on themes of family and love, it’s in a bland, generic manner that’s been done to death a thousand times over. I’m an agnostic and fairly set in my lack of religious beliefs, but if you remove the religious aspect from the equation, I can appreciate the themes of love and unity that represent the modern meaning of Christmas. And, perhaps, that’s why it’s so odd that the best Christmas film, and the one most truest to the themes of the holiday, since It’s a Wonderful Life is the raunchy modern cult classic, Bad Santa.

What makes Bad Santa such a genuine and sincere tale of Christmas when, on the surface, it seems like the height of the anti-Christmas film? With a deeply unsympathetic lead (at first) and a story about a modern-day Grinch (a parallel that only struck me for the first time as I wrote that sentence), Bad Santa seems as if it should be intent on skewering Christmas with all its might. Yet, though the film is cynical, it’s never mean-tempered, and with a tale of redemption, friendship, and (in its own way) family, Bad Santa has more to say about what Christmas means in the 2000s than any other film of the last decade, and it also serves as an indictment of the crass commercialism that has come to pollute the holiday.

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Willie (The Man Who Wasn’t There‘s Billy Bob Thornton) is a sad-sack loser with no morals, no friends, and practically no reason to live other than the next fuck or his next drink. Willie makes a living, if you can call it that, posing as a mall Santa at Christmas time and robbing the department store safes with the help of his dwarf friend Marcus (Tony Cox), who poses as one of his elves. Willie’s an alcoholic and a jackass, and he gets less reliable at the job every year, and even though he swears to Marcus at the film’s beginning that that score was his last, come next Christmas Willie is broke and ready to head on down to Phoenix, Arizona to get to work again.

But, Phoenix proves to be the beginning of the end of Willie’s career as a safe cracker and department store Santa. As his self-loathing and alcoholism reach new lows, Willie stumbles into his only chance for redemption when he hooks up with a lonely barmaid (Lauren Graham) with a strange Santa fetish and move in with an odd but sweet kid (Brett Kelly) whose the object of bullying by other children and Willie himself, though Willie begins to grow fond of the possibly mentally challenged child. Willie’s life is complicated even further when his drunken antics gain the ire of the department store manager (John Ritter) who sets the mall detective (Bernie Mac) to try and figure out what Willie and Marcus are up to.

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First and foremost, I haven’t seen Sling Blade so I can’t say for certain if this is the best performance of Billy Bob Thornton’s career, but it’s certainly the best out of all of his films that I’ve seen. Thornton’s Willie is an especially loathsome creature. He drinks; he curses; he steals; he uses; he abuses; he fornicates. Yet, underneath it all, there’s a heart for the audience to latch on to. You begin, despite his almost endless list of character flaws, to grow quite fond of Willie. You want to see him improve himself. And, even at the depths of his despair and misanthtropy, Billy Bob Thornton reminds us that there’s something human still left in Willie’s core, and it’s a tricky tightrope act to conquer that Billy Bob Thornton does just fine. It was one of the finest comedy performances of the ’00’s.

And, besides Thornton’s brilliant comic turn, Bad Santa is unabashedly hilarious from start to finish. Yes, there are moments where the humor misses. Bits about a repressed homosexual Arab trying to rape Willie or Willie asking the kid if he’s a faggot are unnecessarily homophobic and not funny, but mostly, the movie hits all of the right notes. By stripping away the varnish of the “noble criminal,” Bad Santa is free to make Willie as miserable and pathetic a piece of shit as they can (as, a real life criminal could very well be), and through his complete lack of social graces and meanness, Bad Santa scores endless laughs.

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Yet, despite the gross-out humor and the general rough edges of the film, Bad Santa impresses most of all because of how genuinely touching it can be. Because of the film’s devotion to character, Willie’s arc and growth throughout the film are rewarding. In realistic fashion, Willie doesn’t find total redemption Ebenezer Scrooge style. He’s still a crude, foul-mouthed asshole by film’s end, but he reconnects with his inner humanity just enough for the film to chart a winning emotional path. His relationship with the Kid (whose name of Therman isn’t revealed until the film’s climax) is rewarding even after multiple viewings.

Bad Santa is one of the only modern Christmas films that I consider part of the required Christmas cinematic canon. It’s dark and gritty enough for those who don’t generally enjoy Christmas films (such as myself) to find plenty of laughs, but it has enough heart to know more about Christmas than most of its peers. The occasionally homophobic humor is quite dated and sad, but if you can get past those moments in the film, you will find not just the best Christmas film of the last several decades, but also simply one of the best mainstream comedies of the last ten years.

Final Score: A-

American Pie

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For better and for worse, the resurgence of the teen sex farce genre of cinema (after it faded back into obscurity in the late 1980s) can be traced back to one movie, 1999’s American Pie. Now considered one of the definitive mainstream comedies of the late 90s, it was difficult to know just how influential (once again, for better and for worse) this movie would be. Fourteen years later, knowing everything that’s come after, it’s impossible not to see the blueprint left behind by this flawed but still deeply enjoyable film. In an experiment in comedy storytelling that few have tried to match, we’ve seen these characters grow now for fourteen years, and this was our first piece of the pie.

What makes American Pie work (when its jokes, acting, and occasional casual misogyny threaten to tear the film apart) so well compared to many of its peers is the emphasis the film put on character in addition to its endless scattershot gags. No one would ever confuse American Pie screenwriter Adam Herz with Kenneth Lonergan, but unlike many of the more gag-driven teen comedies to come, the boys and girls living in this world feel relatable. Their concerns are bigger than just having sex, and though the film falters on more than one occasion (consistent humor only comes from a handful of characters), American Pie has aged better than the careers of most of its stars.

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With only a month left of high school, four best friends are desperate to lose their virginity. Socially awkward Jim (Jason Biggs) is more likely to be caught masturbating by his parents than to get any real action, although the cute Czechoslovakian foreign exchange student Nadia (Elizabeth Shannon) seems to have eyes for him. Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas) has a steady girlfriend, Vicky (Tara Reid), but they can’t seem to make it past third base, and with college on the way and both lovers heading to separate schools, Kevin knows that he doesn’t have very long to seal the deal. Oz (Chris Klein) wants to move past his reputation as a dumb jock and to work on his sensitivity, he joins the school jazz choir where he meets the cute Heather (Mena Suvari). And lastly, the want-to-be sophisticate Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) has to figure out a way to fit in with his intellectual and cultural inferiors.

After an embarrassing evening at the house party of the obnoxious and crass Steve Stifler (Sean William Scott), the four make a vow to lose their virginity by graduation. And of course, it’s easier said than done. Realizing prom is their last shot, each boy concocts a scheme to bed the girl of his choosing by that fateful night, but they find themselves in awkward sexual and personal mishaps along the way. Jim tries to have sex with a warm apple pie, Stifler drinks a beer with a special ingredient, Kevin learns the finer works of performing oral sex on a woman, and Oz realizes that becoming the sensitive guy will be a lot harder than just joining jazz choir.

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It’s not Shakespeare. It’s not even Judd Apatow, but American Pie is an uproariously funny movie when all of the pieces fit together. As the series learned by the sequels (and I honestly believe American Wedding is the best film in the bunch), Jason Biggs’s Jim is the emotional heart of the franchise, and the most consistently funny moments in the film (i.e. the parts where I was laughing so hard I woke my sister up from a nap multiple times) are being Jim and his father (Eugene Levy). In one of the most hysterically realistic portrayals of father/son sex talks in the history of cinema, Jim’s dad tries to teach Jim on the finer points of condoms, pornography, masturbation, and sex, and they made me laugh so hard I started crying.

The rest of the movie’s humor doesn’t always work as well (though other characters have their moments that work too). The franchise’s love of scatalogical humor begins with Finch’s inability to use the bathroom in a public place, and it climaxes in one of the movie’s grosser and more overtly unfunny moments. Kevin gets in on the humor when he goes down on his girlfriend which climaxes (in more ways than one) with a most appropriate and gut-busting play on words. And, Vicky’s friend Jessica (Natasha Lyonne) provides a feminist counterpoint to the mostly male-dominated humor of the film (and who can forget Alyson Hanigan’s classic quip at film’s end)

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I’ve always been bothered by the fact that the film never really addresses (unless American Reunion does which I’ve not seen yet) how wrong it was of Jim to videotape a naked Nadia and broadcast over the internet (even just to his close friends, ignoring that it was sent to everyone at their school), and the films’ casual misogyny is present in other places. Kevin is supposed to be the likeable guy in the group, but he treats Vicky like shit most of the film with little real consequence. Finch seems to be the only member of the group whose dishonesty and mistreatment of women gets any real comeuppance (and it mostly has to do with pissing off Stifler, not how he lied to women).

Also, sadly, there’s a reason that outside of these films, most of the cast never really had careers later on. Jason Biggs, Eugene Levy, Alyson Hannigan, Natasha Lyonne, and Thomas Ian Nicholas hit all of the right notes, but many of the other performances fall flat. Chris Klein is an actively bad actor. His performance during the film made me uncomfortable because of how stilted and wooden it is. And, his partner Mena Suvari, who is otherwise a serviceable actress, takes her cues from Klein and is as stilted and wooden as he is. Tara Reid is also a criminally awful actress, and the American Pie films were probably the last role of note she ever had.

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I can’t believe I just wrote 1000 words on American Pie, but as a film that was very much a big part of my adolescence, it’s an important movie to me. I do not think American Pie is a great comedy. But it’s a very good one despite it’s consistent missteps. It’s get a lot more right than it does wrong, and when it finds the voice that works best for it, it’s a hilarious look into those years as a teenager where sex dominated your mind more than anything else. If you’ve somehow not seen American Pie and you can enjoy it’s very raunchy sense of humor (and it helped launch raunchy comedies back into prominence), take a trip with Jim and his friends.

Final Score: B+

 

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Much like Iron Man 2, this is a film that I have avoided watching for two years now because I heard literally no good things about it. 2009’s The Hangover became one of the true sleeper hits of the 2000s, and it’s not a stretch by any mean to say that it’s one of the great broad comedies of the last twenty years. It reached “instant classic” status without seeming like it even had to try. And then two years later, The Hangover: Part II came out and the reviews were so one-sidedly negative that it seemed like the sequel was so bad it was retroactively ruining the memory of the first film. It doesn’t quite accomplish that, but The Hangover: Part II is still one of the most cynically-produced and legacy shattering sequels I’ve ever had the misery to sit through, and I’ve watched the first three Saw sequels.

The Hangover: Part II is what happens when you take the characters from the first film but make them inherently less likeable, take the situations from the first film and rob them of any freshness and wit, and take the jokes from the first film and butcher the writing, and throw all of that in a blender in Bangkok. Hackneyed and half-assed barely begins to cover the writing of this film, and one has to wonder if the lead actors even had a chance to read the script before they had a chance to sign onto this shit show. With the exception of Zach Galifianakis (who always commits to the role) and Ed Helms (who is as underrated a talent as there is), nothing about this film felt remotely enjoyable or clever from beginning to end.

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The Wolfpack, consisting of Stu (Cedar Rapids‘ Ed Helms), Phil (Silver Lining Playbook‘s Bradley Cooper), Alan (Zach Galifianakis), and Doug (Justin Bartha), go to Thailand for Stu’s wedding to the beautiful daughter of a wealthy Thai businessman (with barely any reason given for why he left Heather Graham’s character from the first film). And, of course, one drink at a bonfire on their resort beach turns into Stu, Phil, and Alan waking up in a seedy Bangkok hotel room with no memories of the night before and a coked out Mr. Chow (Community‘s Ken Jeong) waiting for them as they have to unravel the mystery of the night before and what happened to the little brother of Stu’s bride-to-be.

And, from that recooked premise, The Hangover: Part II tries to jam in as many jokes cribbed right from the first film, although it tries to up the ante in ways that generally don’t work. Does Stu sleep with a prostitute again? Check. Does Stu do something permanently damaging to his head/face? Check. In fact, it’s Mike Tyson’s tattoo. Does Alan drug the group? You betcha (You claim spoilers; I claim “who gives a shit, this movie sucked and it was obvious). Does Phil have to call Doug’s wife in a panic? Yep. Does Stu solve the mystery at the last second? Yep. Do they get the wrong version of the person they’re looking for? Uh huh. There isn’t an original bone in The Hangover: Part II‘s body.

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The film’s only redeeming moments come in the performances of Ed Helms and, mostly, Zach Galifianakis. Although, Ed Helms emotes and screams and prances even more than usual, and there are points in this film where his over-reaction (which I suppose works within the context of the film) begins to grate. Things mostly rest on the broad shoulders of Galifianakis whose deadpan and spot on inhabiting of the anomaly known as Alan is as brilliant as ever. Alan’s writing is worse this time around, and he goes from being eccentric to mostly a giant asshole, but Galifianakis works with what he’s given, and the film’s only laughs always seemed to come from him.

I watched The Hangover: Part II because reviews for The Hangover: Part III were moderately better, and I was hoping to see it in theaters. I wish I hadn’t wasted my time, and now I’m unsure if I even want to see the trilogy through to its close. This film is unfunny, shoddily made, and more or less, my new Ur-example of everything that’s wrong with most sequels in Hollywood today. Even if you’re a die hard fan of the original Hangover, don’t waste your time on this turd. Something tells me you can still see and appreciate the third film and not waste your time on this awful, obvious cash-in.

Final Score: C-

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(A quick aside before my review. I watched this movie Thursday before I went to bed. and then I went to a Fleetwood Mac concert on Friday and I worked open to close shifts Saturday and Sunday. I’ve only just now had a chance to sit down and write this review. I also have to review Django Unchained which I watched at my dad’s when I got home from work Saturday (and then immediately went to bed after it ended. So, if this particular review seems short, it’s only because I want to save my energy for the more complex Django.)

Despite his often sophomoric sense of humor, Kevin Smith is one of my favorite writer/directors of all time. Obviously, I don’t actually think he’s one of the best, but his particular brand of pop-culture humor and existential crises speaks to me on a fairly intense level. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Chasing Amy is my third favorite film of all time (behind Annie Hall and Pulp Fiction). Beneath the dick jokes and the literal shit humor (I’m looking at you, “chocolate pretzel” scene from Mallrats), Kevin Smith usually has something insightful to say about the rat race, love, and coming to terms with our own possibilities. 12 years is a really long time to wait for a sequel, but Kevin Smith’s long-anticipated follow-up to Clerks may not have the freshness and sense of wonder it had a decade ago, but Clerks II makes up for it with a surprisingly touching tale of male friendship that had me in tears after my first viewing.

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Taking place over a decade after the original film, Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randall’s (Jeff Anderson) lives are different but, at the same time, not much has changed at all. The Quick Stop has burned down and the duo have moved on to the only thing lower on the service industry totem pole than retail. They now work in fast food at a Mooby’s Burger (a chain Dogma fans should recognize). The movie begins on Dante’s last day before he moves to Florida with his fiancee to start a new life and leave Randall behind. Dante doesn’t really love his girlfriend though; in fact, his true feelings lie with his boss, Becky (Rosario Dawson), who he once had a one night stand with. As the clock ticks down to Dante’s last day in Jersey, Randall begins to truly feel the loss of his best friend, and Dante must choose if he should do what society wants or live his life the way that will that make him happiest.

Clearly, Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson aren’t great actors. It’s why we haven’t seen them in many films outside of the View Askewniverse (the interconnected world where all of Kevin Smith’s Jersey films take place), but I could never imagine another pair playing Randall and Dante. Perhaps, they simply aren’t playing characters too far removed from themselves prior to the success of Clerks, but Brian O’Halloran in particular captures the weariness that comes with working in the service fields (I’ve only been doing it for three years in two different jobs and it already makes me hate people). If he seemed beat down and cynical in Clerks, by Clerks II, he’s turned into almost a shell of his former shelf. And, props must be giving to Jeff Anderson for his willingness to really sell the filth and vulgarity that is Randall, but when he’s required to have his big emotional climax, Anderson nails the basic humanity of the character.

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The film’s best performance though was arguably Rosario Dawson whose smart and put-together Becky is a side of low-wage life you rarely see, the person who gets trapped and never allowed to escape despite their talents. She too has her own weariness and concerns (as you find out throughout the film), and Rosario’s natural charm made it easy to see why Dante might be willing to give up his whole life for a girl like her. And the film, in true Kevin Smith fashion, had a bevy of wonderful supporting performances. Jason Lee, Ethan Suplee, Ben Affleck, and others all make appearances, and even Jason Mewes seems like he has more to do than usual as the always obnoxious (but weirdly funny) Jay.

Like I said, I also want to review Django Unchained tonight (and I see that review eclipsing 1500 words or so) so let me end this review on a couple of notes. Clerks II is hilarious. I’ve seen this film at least a dozen times, and I still laughed my ass of the entire run time of the film. But, in addition to its deliciously low-brow sensibilities (all of the scenes where Randall tortures his Christian, nerdy coworker Elias spring to mind), Clerks II has the most heart of any Kevin Smith film whose name isn’t Chasing Amy. It’s the rare film where you may literally laugh and cry. Apparently, Kevin Smith is at work on a Clerks 3, and if it ever sees the light of day, I can only hope it’s half as good as this now classic 2000s comedy.

Final Score: A-

 

That’s My Boy

Two things. I did not pay to watch this film, and I would never independently and of my own normal volition agree to see a new Adam Sandler film. The man hasn’t made a good Happy Madison movie (because the two films his team didn’t write produce that he’s starred in, Punch Drunk Love and Reign Over Me, are actually pretty good) since Happy Gilmore and even that and Billy Madison aren’t “good” movies. They’re simply guilty pleasure comedies that I must admit make me laugh. Honestly though, the only good Happy Madison movie since then (and once again, I’m using “good” loosely) didn’t even star Adam Sandler. It was Grandma’s Boy, and I’m pretty sure I only like it because I’m a gamer and have a massive crush on Linda Cardellini (cause I’m a big Freaks & Geeks fan). So, I went to see Adam Sandler’s newest film, That’s My Boy, with some friends in Morgantown. They had free movie tickets from their apartment complex (as well as guest tickets) and they gave me one. We were going to see Moonrise Kingdom but it wasn’t playing at that theatre, and so THEY decided to go see That’s My Boy instead. I wasn’t paying for anything so I would have been a dick if I complained. After the horrendous trainwreck known as Jack and Jill, it would have been fair to just assume that That’s My Boy was continuing Sandler’s trend in making some of the worst films of the last ten years. It wasn’t that bad. It was bad. It was not a good movie, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be, and I must admit that on about four occasions I laughed out loud quite heartily.

The premise of the movie is Adam Sandler’s much belated attempt to be topical (considering these scandals were in the news years ago and have sort of fallen out of prominence). Adam Sandler plays Donny Berger, a man-child who experienced fifteen minutes of fame in the 1980s when he was seduced by his middle school teacher (Eva Amurri in the past, Susan fucking Sarandon in the present) and impregnated her. When she was sent to prison, Donny’s father (and eventually Donny when he turned 18) was given custody of their son, Han Solo (Andy Samberg), and Donny raised Han Solo til he was 18 at which point he moved out, changed his name to Todd Peterson, and became a wealthy hedge fund manager. Now a days, Donny is a washed up loser who’s still trying to cash in on his fifteen minutes of fame as a child but he’s only got $28 to his name. When he finds out he owes $40,000 to the IRS in back taxes, Donny only has three days to come up with the money or he’s going to jail. If he can get Han Solo/Todd to agree to visit his mother in jail as part of a 25 year later story on their trainwreck of a family, Donny can make $50,000. The problem is that Todd hates Donny and hates publicity. It’s also the weekend of his wedding so Donny decides to crash the weekend wedding festivities to get closer to his son and find a way to keep himself out of prison.

This is going to be a short review. I could probably count on one hand the number of times this movie made me laugh out loud, and weirdly enough, I was laughing during the parts that nobody else in the film was laughing at (they were laughing at the more sophomoric gross-out humor moments). It’s not a very funny movie and it’s not going to make you laugh very often if you prefer Woody Allen to Will Ferrell, or Alexander Payne to Eddie Murphy. The film appeals to the lowest common denominator, except you’ve got to think that even fans of low-brow, scatological humor have to realize that Adam Sandler isn’t even trying anymore. To him (with two exceptions), acting means adopting an annoying voice and being as obnoxious as humanly possible. It’s about seeing just how much you can grate the audience’s nerves without becoming a completely unsympathetic douche bag (though he crosses that line several times throughout the film). Andy Samberg’s decision to leaveSNL now seems even more questionable if this is what his career has to look forward to. The only parts of the movie that really made me laugh was two funny lines fromSNL’s Will Forte as well as outrageous cameos from Vanilla Ice and Todd Bridges (the Todd Bridges one was especially ridiculous).

That’s My Boy is immature, homophobic, disgusting, and often patently offensive. However, I must admit that I’m not the film’s target audience. The fact that I can compare Paddy Chayefsky to Aaron Sorkin (especially in the light of Sorkin’s newest program) means I’m operating at a level that the average Adam Sandler fan avoids like the plague. Everybody else who went to the movie seemed to enjoy it (though the most common expression used was, “It’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be.”) Two of my friends were laughing like hyenas. So, if sophomoric antics and man-child caricatures are your thing, you might enjoy That’s My Boy. If you want even a modicum of sophistication in your humor or are simply tired of this whole men that refuse to grow up genre of comedy and the disgusting gags therein, go see something else at the theater this weekend.

Final Score: C-

I’m not a big Will Ferrell fan. His time on SNL is probably the textbook definition of how to do sketch comedy well, but his movies are hit or miss at best. Stranger than Fiction is the only really good film Will Ferrell has made in about a decade. I enjoy some of his sophomoric Adam McKay-directed, Jud Apatow produced comedies (Semi-Pro, Blades of Glory), but mostly even with the ones I enjoy, I know that they are broadly written collections of cheap laughs. The worst of the films (Talledega Nights, Step Brothers) are borderline unwatchable except for having a rare funny or quotable moment here or there. He basically took his Frank the Tank character from Old School and found minor permutations and ways to change it to essentially play the same character for a decade strong now. It’s time to vary up your career with more challenging roles Mr. Ferrell. Still, even the cynical, angry curmudgeon in me must admit that the leading man role that got Will Ferrell his big break in Hollywood is the definition of a modern cult classic. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy remains eight years later one of the most quotable films of the aughts (along with The Hangover although not quite as consistently funny asThe Hangover). It’s not the most intellectual comedy ever written but it’s complete embrace of the absurd and surrealism means its still able to make me laugh my ass off all of these years later.

Set in the 1970s, Anchorman is the story of a fictional TV news program in San Diego just when feminism in the workplace was on the rise. Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) is the chauvinistic, womanizing, moron that is lead anchor for the Channel 4 news program which is the number one show in the San Diego area. Along with his co-reporters including the mentally disabled weatherman Brick (Steve Carrell), the possibly homosexual sports broadcaster Champ (David Koechner), and the rakish field reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), Ron is the cock of the walk in San Diego, worshiped by his legion of viewers and the women he parties with. But when ambitious and sexy hard-nosed reporter Veronica (Christina Applegate) shows up in the news room, things get shaken up very quickly. Despite Veronica’s better judgement, a romantic relationship blooms between Veronica and Ron but his sexism and her quick rise in the offices threatens to destroy their relationship as well as Ron’s entire career.

This is easily Will Ferrel’s most iconic role. It was the part that shot him to stardom and made everyone realize he could be a leading man rather than just a supporting sidekick or foil (though honestly, on film, I think that’s where he should go back to being because his solo work is less than impressive). If you were to ask the average Joe to name a Will Ferrell role off the top of their head, you have to think that Ron Burgundy or Frank the Tank would be the first answer given. And honestly, while there are definitely traces in this role of virtually every other Will Ferrell part from the last 8 years, he still manages to be very funny in this film. While his hyperactive, full-blown crazy side manages to elicit more laughs than it has in the intervening years, its his ability to dial the intensity down in this film and deliver the occasional deadpan joke that makes Ron Burgundy his most memorable celluloid creation. It doesn’t hurt that nearly everything that Ron Burgundy says is completely quotable but this is one of the rare Will Ferrell roles where he finds a balance between the two extreme sides of his acting persona. Christina Applegate isn’t especially funny in her role but as the “straight man” of the cast, she wasn’t meant to be. This film also turned out to be a break-out role (or one of several break out roles) for both Paul Rudd and Steve Carrell. Steve Carrell brings nearly as many classic Anchorman moments to the table as Will Ferrell does.

Trying to put my finger on the pulse of why this film is so endlessly quotable and enjoyable but Ferrell’s other films (which are structurally and stylistically similar) aren’t is difficult. Obviously, the film’s quotability plays a heavy part. The only reason I wound up watching this movie was because my sister hadn’t seen it, and throughout the entire film I was supplying the end to every punchline or non-sequitur (of which there are a lot). Anchorman is without question one of those films that grows on you with every viewing. I probably enjoyed it the first time I saw it but didn’t love it. Now, watching Anchorman is an exercise in getting to all of the great gags and set pieces. Speaking of set pieces, more than any of the other Adam McKay films, Anchorman has a serious bent to the surreal and absurd. Whether it’s the anchorman gang fight (where Brick stabs a man in the heart with a trident and Luke Wilson loses an arm), the jazz flute scene, or the part where Ron ends up in a zoo pit with bears, Anchorman tries to be as intentionally outrageous as possible. That’s part of the film’s charm. It crosses the line so many times (punting a dog off of a bridge for example) that you know not to try and take the movie seriously whatsoever. But it earns this comedic goodwill unlike the rest of Adam McKay’s ouevre (if you use the word ouevre in reference to Adam McKay, you probably aren’t his target audience).

The obvious payoff here is that in the face of all of the film’s truly hilarious moments, the moments where the jokes fall flat seem even more trite, boring, and lazy particularly in the face of the collected output of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay for the last ten years. Simply because this film laid the blocks in place for the rest of his movies, it robs the film of some of the freshness it had when first released. Still, even with those reservations, I haven’t stopped enjoying Anchorman after all of this time (it’s been several years since I’ve actually sat down and watched it), and it’s one of those films with lines that have entered my working, every day vocabulary. It’s not a perfect film, and it’s not Will Ferrell’s best movie. That’s certainly Stranger than Fiction. But as far as comedies that you can enjoy without having to put your thinking cap on, Anchorman might be the cat’s pajamas.

Final Score: B+

When Watchmen came out, it marked my formal introduction into films that people either loved or hated. There was little in the way of indifferent responses to the movie. Essentially, you either loved the movie and thought it was one of (if not the greatest) superhero films of all time or you thought it was boring and pointless and as my sister referred to it “a three hour segment of my youth I’ll never get back.” Generally, these kinds of films elicit either a “got it” or “didn’t get it” reaction from audiences (though some of Watchmen‘s haters tended to hate seeing their beloved graphic novel poorly displayed on the big screen though I essentially thought it was a frame for frame recreation). Last night, I watched 2001’s Wet Hot American Summer which seemed to feature almost every single B-List comedy actor who would eventually feature in some small or large role in a Judd Apatow film, and it appears to be nearly as divisive as Watchmen. While I would certainly never call this one of the greatest comedies ever (or even a great comedy), it was still a raucous and absurdist parody of the camp genre of the 1980’s and I laughed my ass off the entire film. At the same time, my dad just thought it was stupid, and that seems to be the generally divided reactions to the film. Well, if you appreciate truly surreal and off-kilter comedy, this hidden cult classic might be for you.

In 1981, summer is coming to an end at Camp Firewood, a Jewish summer camp in Maine. It’s the last day of camp, and everyone is itching to find that special someone to share the night with. Told almost exclusively through the eyes of the camp’s counselors, Wet Hot American Summer is over-the-top and outrageous satire of films like Meatballs and Heavyweights. Camp Director Beth (Janeane Garofalo) has the hots for dorky astrophysicist Henry (Frasier‘s David Hyde Pierce). Coop (Michael Showalter) hasn’t found a girl all summer, and while trying to receive relationship advice from gorgeous Katie, they form a romantic bond even though she’s dating bad boy Andy (Role Model‘s Paul Rudd). You’ve got the potentially psychotic Vietnam War veteran Gene (Oz‘s Christopher Meloni in the role that steals the whole film) as well as Ben (The Hangover‘s Bradley Cooper) and Susie (Parks and Recreation‘s Amy Poehler) who are organizing the talent show and think they’re directing Broadway. Over the course of this last day, counselor’s make out, campers go generally unsupervised, and everyone tries to get laid.

One of the real selling points of this film is that it is a who’s who of under-appreciated comedy character actors. In addition to the littany of names I mentioned below, you have A.D. Miles who played the enthusiastic Big Brother in Role Models. There’s Ken Marino who you may recognize from Reno 911 as well as Role Models. Joe La Truglio who was the squeaky gym trainer in I Love You, Man as well as the creepy party guy in Superbad plays a counselor who gets involved in a hilariously epic motorcycle chase. Elizabeth Banks has a small role in this film before she ever got famous, and one can’t help but wonder if the use of KISS’s “Beth” during a moment in this film had anything to do with its inclusion in the other Paul Rudd/Elizabeth Banks feature, Role Models.  Fans of I Love The (Insert Decade Here) programs on VH1 will enjoy seeing Michael Ian Black as Bradley Cooper’s homosexual lover. Sam Levine (Bill on Freaks and Geeks) even voices the host of the camp’s radio show, and no one will be able to forget Molly Shannon as the recently divorced arts teacher of the camp who finds redemption through her campers.

What really sells the movie for me though is simply how absurd and surreal it can be. When it first begins, you don’t really know exactly what kind of movie this is going to be, and you would be forgiven for thinking during it’s first 20 minutes or so that you were watching a conventional summer camp film. However, some of the camper’s leave to go to town for a bit, and from that point forward, it becomes the movie’s goal to see just how far they can push things and just how outrageous the next joke can be. Whether it’s driving campers off away from the camp and throwing them out of moving vehicles so they don’t know one of the kids died or going into town and becoming heroin junkies or stopping a comet from hitting the camp with a Dungeons and Dragons D20 or a Kenyan marathon runner showing up during the capture the flag segment, this movie firmly cements itself as crazy satire. The silly tone almost never lets up and while certain jokes fall flat, this movie is still consistently hilarious once you actually figure out what kind of movie you’re watching, and any moment that Christopher Meloni was on screen was pure comedy gold.

If you need conventional jokes and punchlines or a story that needs to make any semblance of a sense and a setting that is rooted in anything resembling real life situations, this isn’t for you. But if you’re a fan of intentionally outlandish and surreal comedy (Monty Python for example), then you should eat this movie up. It was lambasted by critics when it came out (Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Glieberman almost the sole exception), but it’s developed a loyal cult following over the years, and now I’m a convert. Few movies are willing to take themselves so lightly and in such a deliberately silly manner that it’s great to know there are still comedies out there that aren’t afraid to be truly unique and out there. It wasn’t a perfect film as I’ve said, and when the jokes didn’t work, they failed hard, but for the most part, few films have been able to make me laugh so hard with such bizarre material and I can’t think of many better compliments.

Final Score: B+

One of the most common themes of this blog is a recurring meta-narrative chock full of self-reflection on how my continually expanding knowledge base of movies and television has affected how I analyze these mediums and also, generally, a continuing trend to more in-depth and detailed critiques than the more shallow and vague ones that begin this blog. To wit, the first two films that I gave the rare movie score of A+ to (I haven’t given one since August for a movie) were Fellini Satyricon and Conversations with Other Women. The reviews for those films are shorter and less detailed than films like Breaking Dawn Part 1 or Scream 4 which I didn’t like at all (Twilight) or nearly as much (Scream). This all just comes with the amount of time and effort I’ve put into this blog. Wednesday, I worked the numbers and found I had written nearly 6000 words just that day alone, and I essentially do this blog just for shits and giggles. If you write that much every day (or more like every other day), you’re bound to learn more and more about entertainment analyses. The only problem with the heavily self-reflexive nature of my writing is that it often leads to reviews that are completely unfit for me to submit as writing samples when I’m trying to get freelance jobs as a film critic (I’m still praying [metaphorically since I’m an atheist] that I’ll get a break in that department). I’m not sure what any of that has to do with my review for Mel Brook’s cult classic, History of the World: Part 1, other than this was the stuff I was thinking about when I was taking a shower preparing myself to write this post. Perhaps, it relates to how when I was younger and saw this film for the first time, I thought it was one of the funniest movies of all time, and while I still find segments of it to be spectacularly hilarious, I also know now that some sections drag and Mel Brooks couldn’t make the laughs last the whole picture.

History of the World: Part 1 is a spoof along the lines of Mel Brooks’ earlier films like Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles, but rather than satirizing a specific type of film, Brooks sets his sights on the slightly more amorphous concept of the whole of human history (or at least those eras he specifically takes aim at). With narration played hilariously straight by Orson Welles (yes, that Orson Welles), the film begins by lampooning the iconic opening scenes of 2001: A Space Odyssey though it quickly delves into a more generic Stone Age comedy. A quick jaunt to Moses receiving the 10 Commandments, segues into the most involved section of the film which involves a Roman “stand-up philosopher” named Comicus (Mel Brooks) who is performing at Caesar’s Palace (complete with the casino’s moving walkway) for Julius Caeser (Dom Deluise) himself. With a little help from former slave Josevus (Gregory Hines), Comicus finds himself hunted by Roman centurions for upsetting the Emperor. My favorite section of the film (and possibly my favorite Mel Brooks set period) is a lavish homage to 1940’s Hollywood movie musicals set during the Spanish Inquisition. The last part of the film includes a massive flash-forward to the eve of the French revolution where a French peasant (Mel Brooks) is forced to be the doube for King Louis (Mel Brooks) to protect the king from angry revolutionaries.

The only Mel Brooks regular this film is missing is Gene Wilder because this is as fine a Mel Brooks cast as you could hope to achieve. As usual, Mel Brooks finds himself in a multitude of roles (Torquemada in the Spanish Inquisition being the best of the bunch). Madeleine Kahn is a scene stealer as usual as Emperess Nympho during the Roman Empire segments and the moments where she is surveying a group of half-naked centurions as her escorts for an orgy is comedy gold. Dom DeLuise is a riot as Julius Caesar, and his mastery of physical comedy makes me sorely miss the late comedic legend. Cloris Leachman has a small but funny part as one of the leaders of the French Revolution and it serves as a reminder that she wasn’t always the ancient (but hilarious) relic she is these days. John Hurt (the villain of V for Vendetta) has a small role as Jesus Christ at the famous Last Supper scene. Gregory Hines made his film debut as Josevus and he was an instant comedy smash. He made me laugh nearly as much as the seasoned pro Mel Brooks. Sid Caesar is great as the lead cave man in the early Stone Age segments. I could go on at lengths about the absolutely fabulous huge ensemble cast (including a Jackie Mason cameo), but I’ll just leave with the statement that this film’s cast is one of the best ever comedically.

For the most part (the French Revolution business a bloated and unfortunate exception), Brooks manages to keep the laughs rolling the entire film. While the only moments where I was seriously laughing out loud was the Spanish Inquisition number, I was still chuckling virtually the entire film. I can’t begin to state how brilliant that whole Inquistion segment is. The systematic torture and mass murder of Jews (my people are always getting our asses kicked) and Muslims doesn’t seem like it would be the source of comedy fodder, but Brooks (a Jew) manages to make it look easy. The notion that you can combine water ballet, a big Broadway musical number, and the Spanish Inquisition would never occur to a normal person, but thank god for Mel Brooks because it remains one of my favorite comedy memories of all time. Those opening Stone Age segments were also a hoot thanks to Orson Welles sandpaper dry delivery and Sid Caesar’s deliciously campy cave-man performance. While I enjoyed the Roman empire moments, it probably ran a little too long though the inclusion of Leonardo Da Vinci (who wouldn’t be born for 1500 more years) at the Last Supper was a great comic touch. My only real problem with the film was the French Revolution which contained far fewer laughs than the rest of the film and was an unfortunate way to draw this otherwise hilarious film to a close. I keep praying Mel Brooks will make one last movie before he dies and make it History of the World Part 2 so we can finally see “Jews in Space!”

For fans of classic comedies, this is a no-brainer. Mel Brooks is the undisputed champ of the spoof film, and much like Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, this film is a timeless artifact from this legend’s storied career. Not every joke hits and it wasn’t nearly as laugh out loud funny as I remember as a child, but it’s still refreshingly smart and witty humor from an early 80’s when that was unfortunately rare. Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles are the films he is most remembered for, but History of the World: Part 1 will probably always claim the special place in my heart as my favorite Brooks film. The only people that should avoid this film are those that are easily offended because as you can imagine from a film that makes light of the Spanish Inquisition, no group is safe from Brooks’ razor sharp wit. I don’t know when another Brooks film will actually end up on this list though I know there are several others still to be watched. I can’t wait to get there cause the man almost always puts out comedy gold.

Final Score: B+

 

If my generation were to ever have our response to the comedic stoner euphoria that was early Cheech and Chong, it is the now seminal Harold & Kumar franchise of films. The multiracial duo of John Cho as constantly put upon and in over his head Harold alongside his self-destructive but brilliant and charismatic best friend Kumar (Kal Penn) have been delivering over the top laughs and outrageous stories for nearly a decade now. They have become symbols of the burgeoning movement amongst our nation’s youth that prolific use of marijuana isn’t just the past time of our nation’s poor and uneducated but is a hallmark of some our nation’s brightest and most talented youth. In the first film, Harold was at the beginning of a successful career in banking and Kumar was capable of performing surgery even though he hadn’t even started med school yet. In the franchise’s third entry, one would have been forgiven for having low hopes and expectations as third films in franchises (and even worse, Christmas themed films) don’t always have the best track record of high quality. Well, drop all of your concerns at the door because entry number three is potentially the best adventure yet for our half-baked heroes.

Years after the pair escaped from Guantanamo Bay, Harold and Kumar are no longer friends and, in fact, haven’t spoken for several years. Harold is now a wildly successful investment banker living in an obviously expensive house in the suburbs with his wife Maria (Paula Garces). Kumar has completely detached himself from society and lives in near complete squalor in a permanent haze of marijuana smoke. Kumar is greeted with the shocking news that his longtime girlfriend (who dumped him for giving up on life so completely) Vanessa  is pregnant with Kumar’s child. Harold’s biggest concern is the arrival of his father-in-law (Danny Trejo, Machete) whose approval he desperately desires but can not achieve. Fate brings Harold and Kumar back together when a mysterious package is delivered to Kumar’s apartment marked for Harold. After accidentally burning down Harold’s Christmas tree (which was personally grown by Harold’s father-in-law), Harold and Kumar (along with Harold’s best friend Todd [Thomas Lennon, Reno 911], Todd’s infant daughter, and Kumar’s friend Adrian), the group starts out on a quest to get a new Christmas tree that quickly spirals out of control into run-ins with Ukrainian mobsters, introducing an infant to weed, cocaine, ecstasy, and the Wu-Tang Clan, a Claymation drug trip, and of course the return of Neil Patrick Harris.

Rather than following in the creatively lazy steps of other comedy franchises and relying on recycled jokes and gags (with the exception of NPH’s return as well as a surprise stop to a certain hamburger joint), A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas instead takes the story both into uncharted (and surprisingly poignant) territories as well as completely shattering whatever remnant of a fourth wall existed in this series. This is one of the most patently over-the-top films I have ever seen, and while my most major complaint about the second film was how ridiculous it was compared to the more grounded original film, this entry succeeds where its predecessor fails by being so intentionally out there that you can’t help but want to see just where they’re going to take things next. Normally, in these sort of intentionally outrageous films, attempting to be serious would cause the jokes to fall flat because of the mood whiplash between surreal and absurdist humor against a potentially meaningful thematic message. A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas manages to bridge that seemingly impossible divide, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out how it worked except for the sheer comedy packed into virtually every second of this film.

I am not a fan of 3D. If there is ever an option to watch a movie in 2D or 3D, I will choose 2D every single time. I remember when Avatar was in theaters, I saw it twice, once in each format, and I distinctly remembered thinking that the 3D added legitimately nothing to the experience. It actually proved to be a detractor as the 3D glasses always give me headaches, and I simply ended up in physical pain by the end of the experience. No 3D film I had seen since then changed my opinion on the subject. However, A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas manages to make 3D work by deconstructing the over-proliferation of 3D and using it for often hilarious and comic effect. There are very few scenes in the film where the 3D isn’t used, and whether it’s clouds of billowing marijuana smoke, scalding maple syrup, confetti, a claymation penis, or whatever other sight gags the film is using, it always contributes to the experience rather than hurting or doing nothing. This is the only movie I can think of that I will voluntarily watch in 3D in the future and will always choose the 3D version over the regular.

While John Cho and Kal Penn (especially Kal Pennn) are as funny as they ever are, special praise must be given to two of the film’s supporting players. Neil Patrick Harris came out of the closet in real life after the movies immortalized him as a womanizing sexual predator. Not afraid to poke fun at himself, let us merely state that NPH survived his gunshot wounds in the previous film and his new homosexual public image is not off-limits for some seriously outrageous laughs. Similarly, Thomas Lennon who regularly stole Reno 911 as flamboyantly homosexual Sheriff Jim Dangle is able to garner nearly as many laughs as the film’s stars as a father whose baby gets dragged along for a night of illegal mayhem. With a super-polite and proper persona which is at odds with some of his most recognizable characters, watching Lennon’s transformation and his attempts to deal with his suddenly high daughter are among the funniest parts of the whole film.

Just when I thought it was going to be impossible for 2011 to produce a better straight comedy than Horrible Bosses, A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas decided to come along and throw it’s hat in the ring. It’s going to take a couple more views before I can decide for sure, but I can easily say that this film is in the running and it’s a close race. For those who aren’t fans of the series, this will likely not do much to change your mind, but for those who appreciate wicked smart stoner humor and have a healthy respect for taking a wrecking machine to the proverbial fourth wall, this film will leave you in stitches from beginning to end. There really isn’t much more you can ask for when it comes to a third entry in a film franchise, and this is probably the funniest Christmas themed movie that I’ve ever seen.

Final Score: A-