Freddy Got Fingered — CLASSIC FILM PICK
In this sadly unloved comedy, class clown extraordinaire Tom Green brings his anti-establishment performance art comedy to a recurring boil with a movie that combines a punk rock esthetic with acted-out cartoon abandon. Where teen gross-out movies like the recent "Say It Isn’t So" or "Tomcats" sink in their own toilet humor, "Freddy Got Fingered" soars because of Green’s sincerely committed imagination, curiosity, and irony-free execution of comic stunts that frequently involve oral fixation, word play, or Green’s bizarre take on large animals' naughty appendages. Non sequitur comic gags involving skateboard ramps, salamis, a British Bobby uniform, and a cordless phone play out behind cartoon animator hopeful Gord Brody’s (Green) attempts at finding his niche in society, thereby making his father (Rip Torn) proud. Green masterfully achieves his goal of ‘confusing audiences enough to enjoy’ his signature brand of demented comedy with a heart of gold. It’s a movie that works perfectly on its own terms, much like a Swiss watch in a doghouse overrun by bees and monkeys.
Tom Green is a comic genius. Audiences familiar with his MTV show already know the twisted magic that pops out the lanky prankster with unrelenting regularity. As director, Green layers songs from punk music standard bearers The New York Dolls and The Sex Pistols to fuel his irreverent vision while subtly commenting on the scene at hand. The Pistol’s song "Problems" becomes an opening power chord statement for the movie as Gord skateboards through a shopping mall while being chased by irate security guards. Gord pulls off a few skating flourishes to show mocking grace under pressure before catching up with his parents who are waiting to see their boy off to Los Angeles to pitch his cartoon ideas and make something of his life.
Dad and mom surprise Gord with a blue convertible Le Baron that instantly becomes an award of favoritism that the 28-year-old Gord flaunts over his 25-year-old brother Freddy. Freddy is as straitlaced and dull as Gord is unpredictable and wild. It’s a classic sibling rivalry that goes beyond crisis when, after Gord’s dad Jim ruins his skateboard ramp, and Gord responds by accusing daddy of ‘fingering Freddie’ to a family counselor. In this way, Gord pits authority on itself and wins a victory over his brownnosing brother and his overbearing father. Sure it’s a last ditch mean-as-snakespit thing to do, but Gord seizes the opportunity like the underestimated no holds barred man-boy that he is. Gord doesn’t want to be taken seriously, he just wants to be taken (as in accepted).
After meeting with failure in getting a top L.A. television executive to hire him, Gord returns home to Portland to further incubate in his parent’s house. On a day that Gord is supposed to be out looking for a job, Jim returns home to find Gord wearing one of his suits backward while holding a briefcase in front of a full length mirror and repeating a ditty to the effect of, ‘I’m a backward man, I’m a backward man.’ The scene is loaded with humor as Gord lies about having secured a job with a computer company to his overjoyed father before going back to his self entertaining mirror act.
The character that the movie turns on is Gord’s adorable love interest Betty (Marisa Couglan - "Teaching Mrs. Tingle"), a paraplegic nymphomaniac who also happens to be an amateur rocket scientist. Betty can’t get enough of having Gord cane her lifeless legs or letting her give him oral sex. It’s through Betty’s bottomless inspiration that Gord is able to turn his personality crisis into a successful career as an animator and finally reconcile the differences he has with his dad.
By that time Gord has perhaps fondled one too many animal penises (once while repeating "I’m a farmer, I’m a farmer"), and spent a little too long getting intimate with an umbilical cord (by duct taping a piece of umbilicus to his navel that gets discovered by Betty), or a roadkill deer (which he guts and wears on his head). What’s important is Tom Green’s priceless comic delivery, quick to the mark timing, and daredevil sense of humor. When Gord tries to impress Betty at a nice restaurant by pretending to be a stock market consultant, he uses an out of date cordless phone with a tape recorder to fill in as a cell phone. Gord’s haiku rendition of the stock market is in a league of its own. For every person who walks out of "When Freddy Got Fingered," there will be two hundred others howling in laughter.
Rated R. 92 mins. (A) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)
Ivy League Tina Fey
Higher Learning Gets Schooled
An above-average romantic comedy, “Admission” profits considerably from Tina Fey’s reliable comic efforts as Portia Nathan, a Princeton University admissions officer approaching an unforeseen midlife crisis. Sending up Ivy League practices for attracting and, mostly, rejecting desperate young college applicants is all part of the film’s canny satire. If the American college system is one big scam, Ivy League schools are shown as the worst offenders. It’s especially droll that the real Princeton University is used rather than a fictional school. In an age when the cost of higher learning comes with potentially bankrupting student loans, “Admission” is about how the process of learning is an ongoing activity that never stops. Having the ability to work inside the system means having the aptitude to move beyond it.
Fey’s upwardly motivated Portia anchors the film’s personal aspects. She’s engaged in a catfight struggle with her African American co-worker Corinne (Gloria Reuben) to take over the soon-to-be-vacant Dean of Admissions post currently held by Wallace Shawn’s Clarence character. Portia’s NPR-approved home life marriage to a pretentiously highbrow college professor — Mark (Michael Sheen) — is going down the drain quick. Tina Fey’s quirky-but-sexy-librarian manner makes her an ideal protagonist ripe for ethical challenges. She receives a doozy.
Recruiting road trips to high schools come with Portia’s job description. Her canned Princeton pitch doesn’t go over so well at New Quest, an alternative high school run by one-man-show educational visionary John Pressman (Paul Rudd), a world traveler committed to bringing up his adopted son. Assembly-line learning isn’t what the students at New Quest have in mind. Here are a group of informed kids capable of reading between the lines of a collegiate educational system built on capitalist ideals of greed, racism, and sexism. There’s comic satisfaction in seeing intelligent — rather than intellectual students — speaking truth to bravura. Portia gets stung.
John has an ulterior motive. He introduces Portia to Jeremiah (Nat Wolff) a young man John has reason to believe is Portia’s biological child that she gave up for adoption nearly two decades ago. John is a helper. He also has the hots for Portia, a fact that her feminist mom (Lily Tomlin) is none to pleased to endorse. She’d rather point her shotgun in his direction.
Paul Rudd continues his winning streak of amiable comic post-hippie characters. A more congenial romantic comic pairing — Fey and Rudd — you are not likely to find.
Portia takes up the insider cause of insuring Jeremiah’s entry into Princeton at any cost. However much Jeremiah has blossomed academically at New Quest — he’s something of a prodigy — his educational past isn’t so impressive on the printed page.
Crosscurrents of romance, drama, and comedy flow through one another. The movie hits its stride during a roundtable admissions process whereby each officer defends his or her picks for applicants. Comic suspense builds as Portia plays her best game of political strategy on Jeremiah’s behalf.
“Admission” is a “talk film.” Shifts in comic tone come without warning. The audience gets caught up in the battle for pent-up hopes between the film’s three main characters. We want the best for them, but understand that the status quo will never fill that gap. We’ve all still got a lot to learn.
Rated PG-13. 117mins. (B) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)Tweet
A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III
Roman Coppola’s '70s-era scattershot comic apologia for Charlie Sheen’s sins of womanizing and drug abuse has a train-wreck appeal that makes it moderately interesting to look at —i.e., a snapshot of our times as seen through a retro view. Our eye is drawn to the excess of pop-art style that Coppola flashes to distract us from the film’s utter lack of narrative momentum. Still, “experimental” would be too polite an adjective to describe Coppola’s deconstructionist misfire in the name of maturity avoided. Charlie Sheen’s man/boy persona is doubtlessly more interesting to himself and his close friends than it is to moviegoers at large.
Sheen plays a slightly altered version of himself as Charles Swan III, a beauty-obsessed romantic with the attention span of mouse. Swan is in the midst of yet another break-up with a gorgeous woman half his age. He feigns heartbreak but is really more frustrated by his own inability to completely possess and abuse a woman as he does his vintage car. By day Charles Swan runs a Los Angeles graphic design studio responsible for projects like designing his best friend Kirby Star’s (Jason Schwartzman) upcoming album cover. Schwartzman’s character gives incidental credence to Liam Hayes’s hippie-groove musical score.
Forget that this is a character that could no more sit down at a drawing board for four straight hours than he could keep his eyes off a woman’s breasts for more than five seconds. Bill Murray adds a twinge of comic interest as Swan’s neurotic business manager Saul, but like everything and everyone else in the movie, his is just one more throwaway performance in the service of presenting Charlie Sheen as a moderately likeable human being. I’m not sold and you probably won't be either. Roman Coppola goes so far as to throw in a literal “kitchen sink” as part of his ploy to entertain, but like reality TV and Sheen himself, “A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III” can’t even manage to titillate.
Rated R. 86 mins. (D+) (One Star - out of five/no halves)Tweet
Bumpy Road Movie
Melissa McCarthy Packs a Throat-Punch
By Cole Smithey
2013 is Melissa McCarthy’s year. The plus-size actress who blew up big laughs in “Bridesmaids” is making major comic waves with at least three features tailored to her fast-twitch style of physical humor this year. The first of which is director Seth Gordon’s (“Horrible Bosses”) laugh-out-loud road movie of opposites, which paints McCarthy’s Florida-dwelling identity thief character Diana as a walking sociopath of epic proportions. Jason Bateman plays straight-man Sandy Bigelow Patterson to McCarthy’s dance-move-busting crook. She can also sing along to any song that plays on a car radio — goofy hand gestures included. If cornered, she’ll punch her attacker in the throat. A suit-and-tie finance guy by day, family man Sandy is one of those pathetic people born every minute — you know, a sucker. Sandy falls for a phone-call scam committed by Diana, wherein she extracts his social security number and goes on to rob him of his “unisex” name. Buying many rounds of tequila shots for strangers at a local bar is one of the ways “Sandy” chooses to max out the real Sandy’s credit card. She also has an inexplicable affinity for guitars, blenders, and all form of cosmetic products.
After suffering a dose of verbal degradation from his filthy-rich boss Harold Cornish (Jon Favreau), Sandy throws in with a group of similarly disenfranchised co-workers when they mutiny in order to start their own company. The blush of overnight DIY success dims when Sandy gets arrested by Denver, Colorado cops to answer for Diana’s illegal activities committed in his name many states away. A weeklong reprieve from his new job allows Sandy to track down his “Hobbit-like” identity double in Florida. Sandy plans on bringing Diana back with him to Denver to extract a confession from her that will exonerate him once and for all from her misdeeds.
What follows is a series of hilariously rigged set pieces fuelled by outrageous dialogue. One such humorously escalating episode unfolds at a bar where Diana flirts with a turquoise-jewelry-wearing cowboy appropriately named Big Chuck. Diana tells Chuck that Sandy is a “watcher” before the pair hit the dance floor to perform some dirty dancing while Sandy looks on in ambivalent disgust. The situational jokes explode when the trio makes their way to Diana’s and Sandy’s motel room. Diana encourages Chuck to verbally humiliate Sandy, who is forced to seek refuge in the bathroom while Diana and Chuck get down to some noisy nasty business.
One of the film’s best comic bits is as old as the hills. It involves a campfire and a snake. It would be a crime to give the scene away, but suffice it to say it incites some serious belly laughs. The movie is not without its faults. As is the current trend, the “Identity Thief” suffers from a series of false endings. As a result, the comedy peters out instead of closing out with the hoped-for bang that seems promised. Still, Bateman and McCarthy share a great comic chemistry together that more than compensates for the film’s flagging windup.
Rated R. 107 mins. (B) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)Tweet
This Is 40
Three years is too long to go without a Judd Apatow comedy. That’s how long it’s been since the comic genius of American cinema gave us his last written-and-directed movie (“Funny People”). Apatow’s witty sensibilities have matured, if only slightly. With that experience comes generosity. At nearly two-and-a-quarter-hours “This is 40” has a lot to give in the way of ribald laughs and kindly expressed observations about post-economic-collapse-America.
The episodic cross-generational comedy explores the ongoing marriage of secondary characters from Apatow's “Knocked Up” (2009). Pete (Paul Rudd), Debbie (played by Apatow's wife Leslie Mann), and the couple’s two daughters Charlotte and Sadie (amusingly played by Apatow’s own girls Iris and Maude) are celebrating Debbie’s 40th birthday.
Perfectly believable as a couple, Rudd and Mann make the most of every lived-in comic beat. Funny-bone zingers fly. The couple barely has time to replace their bad habits with good ones. Debbie likes to sneak cigarettes. Pete likes clandestine cupcakes. You can feel Pete and Debbie getting under each other’s skin. When the gloves come off during a heated argument, tickles come with a slap.
The marriage is going through a few bumps. Pete’s record-distribution business is in trouble, yet he can’t stop giving big handouts to his needy mensch of a dad Larry (Albert Brooks). One of Debbie’s employees, at the women’s clothing store she owns, is stealing thousands of dollars. Selling the family home is in the offing. The upper middle class isn't what it used to be. Children are too busy with their mobile devices to play outside anymore.
As always Apatow’s sense of humor cuts close to the bone. The bedroom isn't all fun and games. Pete’s idea of secretly taking a dose of Viagra doesn’t go over so well with Debbie even if she momentarily enjoys the “turbo-charged” sex the couple shares in the shower during the film’s tone-setting opening. Like a lot of married men, Pete doesn't always know when to keep his mouth shut. Debbie later complains of wanting more passion in the couple’s sex life. Much of the film’s comedic effect arrives from the layers of real-life irony that piles up.
You can’t help but get the sense that Judd Apatow is drawing liberally from his own home life for more than a few jokes. He certainly taps his own musical tastes by casting Graham Parker in a pivotal supporting role. Pete runs a small retro record label whose success depends on selling “10,000 copies” of Graham Parker’s latest record “Three Chords Good” — recorded with his real-life former band, the Rumour. The sometimes-prickly Parker isn’t above being the brunt of a few jokes that speak to everything from the downside of aging to the downward slide of pop culture. One hilarious story about his Aunt Queenie's gout foot —"the size of a small pig" — tickles the ribs.
From a bang-for-buck perspective “This is 40” delivers big dividends in laughs. Not every joke or comic situation squeezes out a spark, but they do hit the mark more often than not. That said; the movie probably won’t win over many new audiences to Apatow’s team. If you’re a fan of his signature style of comedy, you’ll be pleased. If not, no amount of proof will convince you. “This is 40” is more of a comic banquet than an appetizer. If only the filmmakers had toned down the excessive product placement (Oreos - really?) the ugly reality of America's strained economic seams wouldn't be so apparent.
Rated R. 133 mins. (B+) (Four Stars - out of five/no halves)Tweet
Here’s a new twist. Picture a Republican politician with humanitarian ethics. Now imagine said unicorn in the corporeal being of Zach Galifianakis, making the most of every effeminate gesture he can muster as small town family man Marty Huggins. Marty likes to wear turtleneck shirts and patterned sweaters as he conducts guided bus-tours around town to an audience of one — a kooky old lady with a crush on Marty. When long-term North Carolina Congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) shoots his forthcoming re-election bid in the foot by leaving a dirty phone message for his latest slut-conquest on the family phone machine, Marty Huggins gets the call-up to run against the dead-duck candidate. Marty’s dad Wade (Brian Cox) is an old-money Southern patriarch who doesn’t care for Marty’s less than manly qualities. Nevertheless, Wade sends his approval-hungry son into the fray of mud-slinging politics.
The parody extends to the endless platitudes Americans are about to be inundated with during the 2012 election. Cam Brady is a photo-op addict espousing a fill-in-the-blank policy where everyone everything represents “this nation’s backbone.”
You couldn’t really call the slapstick shenanigans that transpire between political rivals Cam and Marty high comedy, but plenty of contagious laughs follow just the same. Ferrell’s and Galifianakis’s physical differences alone are enough to make you grin. Their awkward chemistry is a powder keg, one that only comic fireworks can resolve. It doesn’t hurt that both characters are as simple-minded as Scarlett O’Hara — it is the South after all.
A quote from Ross Perot sets the tone. “War has rules, mud-wrestling has rules — politics has no rules.”
“The Campaign” makes fun of ethical missteps that American politicians from both sides of the isle seem unable to stop themselves from making. Drunk driving, tweeting nude photos, and public- speaking gaffs make for easy comic pickings here. In the case of Cam’s DUI arrest, how he got inebriated in Marty’s company is germane to the hilarity of the situation.
Although the filmmakers mask the greedy conservative targets of their satire, they let a few cards show. Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow play the Motch brothers, a pair of billionaire string-pullers clearly patterned after the notoriously malevolent Koch brothers whose behind-the-scene tactics of political manipulation are examined in Robert Greenwald’s well-received documentary “Koch Brothers Exposed.” The Motch brothers bring in their secret-campaign-weapon Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) to make over, prep, and supervise Marty’s run for congressman. The top-to-bottom transformation necessarily means that Marty’s beloved pair of Pugs must be switched out for different — more “domestic” — dogs. No Chinese canines are allowed in this white-bread part of the country, at least not as the pets of a right-wing candidate. McDermott’s shadowy character represents an undercover black-ops methodology of cutthroat politics that Americans take for granted.
Character-actor Karen Maruyama steals scenes in a delightfully effective sub-plot supporting role as big daddy Wade’s housekeeper Mrs. Yao. Under Wade’s openly racist insistence, Mrs. Yao speaks in a slang-riddled old Southern accent when she replies to her “masser.” Mrs. Yao knowingly skewers her put-on accent with knee-thick sarcasm that drips like molasses in 110-degree heat. It’s a sub-plot device that would fail in most comedies, but inexplicably works like a charm here. Folks “did used to talk real stupid” — some still do — in that part of the country where the Confederate flag still flies.
Director Jay Roach (“Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me”) dovetails escalating zingers, as when Cam Brady habitually misses punching Marty in public, only to connect with things better left unspoken. The situational humor goes gloriously blue before settling on a calming theme of social responsibility, the likes of which America hasn’t seen in years. There’s more to “The Campaign” than just a big old bag of funky, witty satire — but it is that too.
Rated R. 97 mins. (B) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)
Wes Anderson’s Divine Kingdom
By Cole Smithey
Wes Anderson has honed his formally composed vernacular of kitschy nostalgic magic realism cinema to a super fine point. Making his debut animated film “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009) seems to have allowed the perennially youth-obsessed filmmaker to correct the narrative missteps he made in films such as “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” (2004) and “The Darjeeling Limited” (2007). “Moonrise Kingdom” is a blissful celebration of pubescent romance that relishes every detail of its cherry-picked cultural influences from its nearly idyllic 1965 setting.
An understated theme of ecological preservation runs through all of Anderson’s films, and perhaps never more so than in “Moonrise Kingdom.” A lush complexity of starry-eyed circumstance and organic atmosphere come together on the fictional island of New Penzance near the New England coast. A storm is due to hit the sparsely populated island in a few days. An outcast 12-year-old orphan named Sam (wonderfully played by newcomer Jared Gilman) has run away from Camp Ivanhoe, the site of his Khaki Scout troop, much to the dismay of the troop’s scrupulous leader Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton).
Headstrong Suzy (Kara Hayward) is also 12. She lives in a plush red house on the island with her three younger brothers and irresponsible parents (played by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand). Sam and Suzy have been exchanging secret letters for the past year, planning for a 10-day romantic adventure to be alone together on the “16-mile-long” island of “Chickchaw” territory. The sweet romanticism that passes between Sam and Suzy during their brief escape from the adult world presents an exquisite crucible of emotional and sensual awakening that carries the film’s distinctive tone. Kara Hayward (also a newcomer) has all the big-screen charm and natural poise of an instant star.
“Moonrise Kingdom” is a dynamic ensemble chamber piece of stylized comedy with an adoring fascination with childhood perspective. Anderson gives generous credit to children’s capacity for maturity in the face of their own precious naiveté. His young characters possess an innate self-confidence. A captivating scene where the scantily clad Suzy and Sam dance on their private beach to the strains of Francoise Hardy singing “Le Temps de L’Amour” percolates with a heady blend of daring curiosity and avid sophistication.
That said, Wes Anderson’s acute sense of humor is an acquired taste. His loving and meticulous attention to detail approaches an obsessive degree of precision. Visual and aural elements are presented in a simplified space to allow for maximum comic resonance. Comic background occurrences permeate the foreground action at hand. There is no question that Wes Anderson is a force of nature, and an indisputable genius. And yet, Anderson is such a passionately individualist filmmaker that some audiences will remain indifferent to his films. His movies never subscribe to any Hollywood-approved template of what a film should contain or how it should proceed. Wes Anderson’s maturing process as a filmmaker is nonetheless of enormous interest to audiences who appreciate his bold style of instinctual cinema. You can savor every frame.
Rated PG-13. 93 mins. (A) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)