The Movie Binge

August 2007

Moliere

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Molière is fanfic. Director and co-screenwriter Laurent Tirard, I guess, decided that we didn't know quite enough about the super-famous French playwright, even though we basically know his entire life story because he was famous and rich people liked him. Seriously, he performed his plays in an old-timey room at the pre-listening tour Louvre. I am not even kidding about that, he was a popular guy! So we know a lot about him because he was constantly surrounded by rich people and rich people, as we know, write Wikipedia.

Regardless, Laurent Tirard has decided that Wikipedia is not enough and basically Tartuffe — Molière's professional turning point between straight up farce and comedy with teeth — couldn't have been written unless Molière himself went through a farcical situation of his own. One so madcap and crazy that he couldn't help but poach it for his very own, very successful career. The better to help your literary audience laugh in well-educated recognition, naturally.

So: Molière is thrown in debtor's prison (true). Molière is bailed out by a weasley, wealthy merchant who likes to (a) ignore his wife (b) ignore his daughters (c) suck up to a local nobleman, who is a dick and (d) moon over a rich girl named Célimène who has a salon and who paces back and forth, flicking her fan around like she's gonna kill you with that if her wit doesn’t get you first. Oh: (false). Molière is tasked with coaching the merchant, a gentleman named Jourdain, in performing a play that Jourdain has written for Céli. Also Molière has to pose as a priest for some reason, and later he gets with Mme. Jourdain, who just happens to be a total wellspring of wisdom when it comes to making honest artistic choices.

Behind every great writer is a dead woman who likes to encourage said writer to be true to himself. True story. Amidst all the fanficcy faux-farce (Molière gets chased by a dog! Molière jumps through an open window! Molière, ah, dresses...up...as a priest!) there is plenty of time for Mme. Jourdain to buck epochs of cultural scholarship and make the wholly shocking claim that comedy can make people think about truths. For some reason Molière is sooooo not into that, at least not until 13 years later or something where they basically haven't seen each other for a decade and she's dying and he vists her on her deathbed and she's like "make me laugh" and so he does a running backflip against the wall. Oh, I wish. No, actually he writes Tartuffe and is suddenly completely okay with a little drôlerie. That's French for patronizing your audience, I think.

Making a comedy about a comedic writer in which said writer does not believe in comedy is a confounding set of choices, and we'll all be damned if even the cast knows what's going on. Their choices are half ham, half cheese, and the only real truth generated by the whole honky tonk monkeyshine is that Molière deserves better. You can say things with comedy, you can say all sorts of earth-jiggering things, but maybe first before you try that, you go and you figure out if you have something to say at all.

I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry

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I'm sure that no matter what, I Now Pronoun would've been a better movie.

Something that you need to know is that I didn't pay to see I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. I refused to spend money on it, and so I bought a ticket to see The Simpsons Movie (which was pretty good, I mean, it's the Simpsons, what do you want?), and after that was over, I snuck in to watch Chuck and Larry. The other thing you need to know is that I couldn't make it though the whole movie, and that I walked out after about an hour. (There was almost another full hour to go!)

I hope that you can understand. Given some of the truly horrible things my fellow Bingers have had to sit through, I realize that it's kind of a dick move on my part. But hear me out -- I was in a lousy mood, and the film was nearly devoid of charm. I was feeling down, and it was just making things worse.

Why? Well, for one thing, it's hard to tell whether Chuck and Larry is more homophobic, misogynistic, or racist. I mean, it spends most of its time trading in homophobia, but at least the film attempts to make its characters' boneheaded attitudes about homosexuality some kind of gag at their expense. The racism is totally uncalled for -- Rob Schneider has a totally inexplicable role that has him in the Asian equivalent of blackface -- but it's a relatively brief detour. The sexism, though -- yikes! Chuck and Larry is a film that presents women mainly as walking, talking tits and asses who all desperately want to fuck Adam Sandler, mainly because everyone involved is so desperate to make sure we understand that his character is sooooooooooooooooooooo not gay, dude! It's a movie in which Adam Sandler's cock is the great equalizer: Whether you're some random bar skank or a headstrong doctor, you're going to end up dissolving your identity and joining his harem of identically-dressed Maxim girls. Do you see how this might be a bit much to take? I'm not even getting into all the lame fat jokes.

To make matters worse, the screenplay is a poorly paced, overlong mess of illogical motivations, rotting clams, and witless set pieces. Why is it that the trailer for this movie was able to communicate its basic premise -- Adam Sandler and Kevin James are firemen who fake a gay marriage in order to bilk the system, and Jessica Biel is the generic hottie that Sandler can't nail for fear of blowing the ruse -- but the film itself takes nearly an hour to establish all of that, and Biel doesn't even show up til around the 45 minute mark? It's bad enough that Chuck and Larry is boorish and unfunny, but did it really need to be full of plodding exposition too? Seriously now, who were they trying to fool by even attempting to make this shit plausible?

Anyway, I have a few theories as to how this thing ended. If you saw it and know the ending, don't bother telling me. I'm pretty sure this list is the only kind of pleasure I could derive from this experience, and it'd just be mean to take that away from me.

Theory #1: The film ends on an unbroken 40 minute shot of Sandler awkwardly fondling Biel's T&A while making kooky sounds and wacky faces. (Actually, I might be describing an outtake from the eventual unrated dvd. Whatever.)

Theory #2: Kevin James' faggy 10 year old son turns out to be not so gay after all when he stumbles into Sandler's harem and FUCKS EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM with his tiny, prepubescent member. The boy finally earns the love and respect of his father. Awwwww!

Theory #3: James and Sandler actually give sodomy a shot, and it turns out to be kinda awesome for the both of them. Hey, this homo stuff ain't so bad! The two abandon their cushy DUMBO firefighting gig and join up with that all-gay volunteer fire department in New Hampshire from that one episode of the Sopranos. A round of johnny cakes for everybody! Hooray!

Theory #4: Oh, snap! Jessica Biel is totally a lesbian. You shouldn't have pushed your luck, Sandler! Sandler, James, and their accomplices all go to jail and HAHAHAHA get anally raped by enormous black dudes! Comeuppance!

Theory #5: Oh, for the love of God. I don't fucking care, okay?

Who's Your Caddy?

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This man is fat. He is farting. That's about it.

Before I begin, I want to make something clear: I paid money to see Norbit. Honest to God, I paid $12.50 to see Eddie Murphy in a fat lady costume and I wasn't reviewing it. Oh, and I kinda enjoyed it. "How you Doin'?!?" Keeping this in mind, I want you to understand the gravity of this statement: Who's Your Caddy? is an absolutely wretched film that has made me consider the benefits of a police state that only releases government propaganda films with G ratings.

At this point, there must be someone out there still considering this movie. I accept that I am just one man with an inexplicable fondness for urban comedies, but I'm hoping the whole of the IMDb community will be enough to convince you. See, they have deemed Who's Your Caddy? to be the worst movie of all time. Sure, the list is loaded with new-ish films and the IMDb community commands less authority authority than most kindergarten classes, but you can't get around the fact that people hate this film.

As you'd expect, the film is based on a terribly broad, terribly generic stereotype — white people are stuffy, stale, racist and want to keep urban flava out of their lives. Evil White Man has worked well elsewhere (in Do the Right Thing for instance). Caddy doesn't set the bar that high, but righting the wrongs of African-Americans with a hyper-wealthy rap mogul and his rag-tag entourage who prove that a black man holds a golf course record is ludicrous and slightly offensive at best.

This is a comedy though, so it's at least funny, right? Right? I guess no one told the suits at MGM that Andre 3000 is the funny one in Outkast. Big Boi and Faison Love were dreadful and Finesse Mitchell was wasted; his delivery was great but the lines fell utterly flat. The funniest scene was when Faison, a very large man, sang, farted and made dick jokes while naked in the men's locker room. In fact, if he had just danced and farted for the whole movie it would have been an improvement (possibly raising it to #10 on the IMDb list, just above Baby Geniuses 2).

Despite being unfunny and offensive, most urban comedies can be saved by a fantastic soundtrack and hot girls. Well, the soundtrack is not for sale because there were zero notable songs and the leading lady was stuck in business suits for 98% of the movie. This is a movie starring a major hip-hop star and the songs were worthless. How is that possible?

With a fart joke being the sole redeeming aspect of Who's Your Caddy?, I am amazed this made it into theaters. Lee's Movie Info claimed they spent $7 million on marketing but they should have spent 1/20th of that and released it straight to DVD. It would have sold a million copies and MGM and the Weinsteins would make their money back. Instead the assholes released it to theaters, thereby forcing its inclusion in the Binge and, thus, me to see it. Therefore, I hope every man, woman and child who allowed this to open on over 1,000 screens suffers from extreme bouts of food poisoning, pink eye and gonorrhea. Yes, even the children.

Arctic Tale

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I really don't want to hate on this film. It's trying to do right, showing us the splendors of the Arctic and that our frivolous consumption might put everything at risk. It is a noble venture. Leaving it alone would make Al Gore happy, but I can't do it.

You got Queen Latifah to narrate? You included two minutes of walrus farts when your message was about global warming? You used comic sans on your website? Couldn't you have just shut up and let these amazing visuals speak for themselves? I would have much preferred pleasant classical music to their lame attempts at voice-over. To be honest, I don't fault Latifah as she's just collecting a paycheck and trying to help the environment. The writers though, sheesh. You really didn't have to include urban slang to make polar bears relevant.

The suits at National Geographic obviously saw The March of the Penguins and said, "I want that. Take this footage and make it happen." Then a committee got together, egos clashed and instead of doing one thing, they did everything. An Inconvenient Truth meets Penguins meets Ice Age. If the story of a young polar bear and walrus growing up (shot over fifteen years, no less) hadn't been so riveting, I would have headed straight for the door. For this reason, I am confident the film will resonate with the little ones, who are slightly less discerning and love cuddly things. For the rest of us, wait for the DVD to come out and turn on the director's commentary as quickly as possible.

No Reservations

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This summer there have been two movie posters that made me wanna bash my fucking head against the wall. The first is the one for I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry where the King of Queens guy is holding Adam Sandler and has his mouth open wide like he’s screaming and you can see his tongue. The other one’s the ad for No Reservations where it’s Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart in a kitchen and CZJ is looking at AE kind of dreamily romantically and he’s smirking back with his dimpled blond handsomeness as if thinking shit’s sort of wacky here but essentially under control.

Catherine Zeta-Jones is something of a mystery to me. She’s one of those people who I don’t understand how they got famous. I know it’s largely the Michael Douglas thing but she must’ve been a little bit famous before that or Douglas never would’ve walked up to her and said, “I’d like to father your children,” which according to some bullshit I just read is what he said to her when they met. Oh and then she won a fucking Oscar. Who fucking cares. Zeta-Jones is the worst. I hate her.

Anyway, in this movie she plays Kate, a super uptight but really awesome and renowned chef. Kate works at a hot restaurant in New York called 22 Bleecker, which has a small dark intimate dining room but for some reason has a huge gleaming kitchen about ten times as big. The kitchen is sweatless and greaseless and Kate rules with an iron fist. She’s one of those movie women who only has time for her career and won’t ever go on a date with the pleasant Irish guy who lives in her building and keeps asking her out. She goes to therapy but only so she can drone on to her shrink about her succulent quail. At this point everything’s set up for the dude to come along, the Aaron Eckhart character, to first throw her world into turmoil and then bring her true happiness but what happens instead is her sister dies in a car crash and Kate gets custody of the kid, her niece. I admit this was a surprise and made the movie marginally more interesting. Plus the kid’s played by Abigail Breslin from Little Miss Sunshine, who’s not so bad as far as child actors go. But pretty soon Eckhart does appear as a soulful nonconformist sous chef named Nick who wears red Converse All-Stars and sings fucking opera in the kitchen to the delight of the staff but the outrage of Kate and blah blah there’s some hard times and some good times then some hard times again but eventually Kate and Nick fall in love and feed each other delicacies with wooden spoons blindfolded and everyone ends up happy etc.

No Reservations is way too long and, after that brief early detour into death and darkness, adheres pretty strictly to formula. But it’s more interesting than the poster makes it look and I liked it better than I thought I would, though I hasten to add this has more to do with Eckhart and Breslin and nothing whatsoever to do with that fucking mannequin Zeta-Jones. It’s still a piece of shit but on the scale of things certainly better than Chuck and Larry or some fucking movie about tourists who get hacked.

I Know Who Killed Me

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Siverston (right) and Linds the Lane Babe (left) on the set. Note the very professional-looking camera!

LOCAL INDIE FILMMAKER HITS THE BIG TIME!!

He wears a regular t-shirt and blue jeans, he eats Wendy's late at night sometimes, and he has a dog named Carmella. But don't be fooled, his mind is as twisted as a scary tree branch. No, he's not Dr. Kevorkian, he's local filmmaker and super-ghoulishly-talented Chris Siverston! Chris has just finished the final touches (called "post-production") on his new super-scary movie I Know What Killed Me, and I recently caught up with him to get all the details.

Chris is a high school senior at Davis, and got all his friends involved in the making of this, in his words, "great little movie." He got his friend Jeff Hammond to write the script, and Jeff has been writing ever since. "I love it," he says, "you can do anything you want!" That's true, Jeff. He said that he and Chris are very influenced by the show "Passions", and wanted to make a full movie like that. And although this is his first regular-length movie, Chris has been making funny fake commercials and videos with his friends since 2002, says Siverston in his wicker easychair. There was even a whole team of people in charge of special effects. "I thought it was important," says Siverston outside, "to have realistic effects, because that's what I think are important and like about movies." And boy oh boy do they look realistic. I got to see some unedited ("raw") material that was just long shots of gross-looking hands and feet, it was really cool.

It stars Ms. Lindsey Lohan, who most people who bowl at Garver Lanes know as "Linds the Lane Babe", and many other local actors and actresses. I asked Lindsey what it was like to be in a movie. "It's pretty fun," said she with a nice smile. "As fun as getting married?" which is what Lohan will be doing in a few weeks. "Ha ha", she laughed, "No, not as fun as that." Lindsey will be marrying Dwight Douglas, a rugby player and her high school sweetheart, a few days after her high school graduation.

"What do you think of this new trend of "indie" films?" I asked Siverston, at pool's edge. "I think it's really important," he answered in reply, "that filmmakers are free from the old "studio system", so they can be more free to have the freedom to make what they want. Look at all the best directors, they were free." So true, Chris.

Can't wait to see it? Well, I Know What Killed Me will be screening this weekend (Fri., Sat., Sun.) at the Burnt Hymen Community Center in room 222, with free admission, and a small reception with refreshments afterwards. There won't be another chance to catch this spectacular inter-stellar premiere of Chris Siverston's new movie, so be sure to come out. This reporter thinks we might just have the next Steven Spielberg on our hands. "Maybe," says Siverston, laughing at his table, "I just want to make a movie as a living." At this rate, that's not too slim of a possibility, Chris.

The Bourne Ultimatum

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"I'm not Jason Bourne anymore."

Jason Bourne is a fascination type of action hero. He has little to no personality, he never has any fun, he's never not running, he's always aware of threats. He has no firm character at all because he has no idea who he is. But instead of this being boring, it actually really works. There's no heroic posing, there's no wry wise-cracks as he thwarts the baddies, there's just succinct fights and chases as a means to the end of evading the constant pursuers, and a nagging (and streaky-strobey) conscience that tells him killing is wrong. So what happens, at least for me, is that I just graft whatever I want in terms of character onto Matt Damon's meaty face. The less he's like his own thing, the more he's like me. Except, just the kind of me that can kill a dude eighty ways. I identify with him the way I do with Spider-Man, minus the wit, like if Spider-Man were played by Mason Gamble. So when it came to the ultimatum (which turns out not to be an ultimatum, which is another odd counter-intuitive anti-climax that somehow succeeds) I found myself really wrapped up in Bourne's decision. Essentially (and I need to spoil to make my point) Bourne chose to be Bourne, he decided he wanted to be something he ended up hating, and I was desperate for him to be able to reverse that decision. It was suddenly me in that room with Albert Finney, that fish-mouthed reminder of how you can fuck up your life with one false move, and I was so tense. And, as they should, the movies thankfully reminded me that no change is permanent where the will is involved, you can always make your situation better. And if that's an illusion (I'm open to comments, readers) then it's one I'm fully signed-on to.

Oh, and in terms of the movie, it's a slick, precise, machinated entertainment device that has maximum yield with minimum ingredients. It's a LOT, and I'm surprised I haven't seen this on posters, like a Hitchcock film. Though I guess most people think Psycho and murder when they think Hitchcock. It's just pure distilled tension and perfectly cut action. I recommend it.

El Cantante

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The cheek bones of a warrior and the look of love.

The audience I saw El Cantante with on Saturday afternoon was filled to the gills with Latino mamis, and when Miss Jennifer Lopez appeared on screen about five minutes into the film, an audible gasp of pleasure rippled through the crowd. They knew what we had paid $11.75 to see—we were here to see our superstar Jenny from the block play second banana to her real life husband Marc Anthony as he portrayed the salsa performer Hector Lavoe. An immigrant from Puerto Rico to New York during the early '60s, Lavoe fused a number of different popular Latino musical styles to create an electric new genre called salsa but like many a performer before and since, he developed a insatiable taste for the injectable party and died in the early '80s of AIDS.

But Lavoe shavoe, even though the movie's title "El Cantante" or "the singer" refers to him, anyone who understands the Hollywood star system knows this is a Jennifer Lopez movie. Interestingly enough it actually reads as a Lopez/Anthony movie, more about the aspects of their relationship they want to put up on the silver screen than any kind of biopic narrative. Lopez chose the script with her production company long before she was even dating Anthony, casting him as Lavoe and herself as the controlling shrew wife Puchi. See, she even put herself into the non-singing, second fiddle role. Could've it have been for love?

As a proud, yet scarred member of the Saw Gigli in the Theaters club, I know what Lopez looks like on camera when she's in a dying relationship. In El Cantante her facial expressions and body language toward her costar are the complete the opposite. She literally lights up. It's lovely. Of course it's not surprising that she has affection and admiration in her eyes while she watches Anthony perform, he's not one of the most popular recording artists in the Latin world for nothing, the man knows his way around the microphone. But with the rote "a star rises, a star falls" story line, I could've done with about 45 minutes chopped off the end of this movie. Or better yet, the filmmakers should've eschewed narrative all together and strung together a bunch of Lavoe music with their footage of Lopez modeling increasingly more decadent fashions from the '60s, '70s and '80s. It's a serious shame that Lopez didn't live during the era of Studio 54, she looks spectacular with messy curls, gold jewelry and Amazonian blush. If she'd been a Steve Rubell regular, she would've outshone Bianca Jagger and Cher combined. After all, she's no regular girl from the Bronx. Jenny's a Star.

This Is England

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So, I guess because I grew up in America, I was under the mistaken impression that skinheads are, by definition, neo-Nazis, or at the very least racist. Well, I learned something today. Only half of skinheads (a completely arbitrary estimate that will not hold up to any statistical evidence, so don't bother) are racist. The other half are some pretty chill dudes who just want to listen to Toots and the Maytals and wear Doc Martens.

This Is England, based on some of director and writer Shane Meadows's experiences, follows a turbulent school holiday of 12-year-old Shaun, played pitch-perfect by Thomas Turgoose, who is possibly the best child actor I've ever seen. Set in 1983, Shaun's father has recently died in the Falklands War. In addition, the young lad is picked on by his peers (and, in this reviewer's opinion, understandably so) for wearing bell-bottoms and generally looking like a hippie. After a chance meeting with a group of amiable skinheads, led by the immediately likable Woody (Joseph Gilgun), he starts dressing like them, shaving his head, and getting into the variety of light-hearted mischief that makes little gits such lovable scallywags. Oi!

Unfortunately, the mixed group of friends is put to the test when former convict and raging fuckwad Combo (Stephen Graham) shows up and tries to coerce the errant lads into hate and "Paki"-bashing. His arguments stem from chestnuts—so fresh in our American minds from our own recent fantods over immigration—on the importance of national identity and accusations of job-theft by immigrants. Paper tigers like the Falklands War and unemployment are presented and torn up, naturally, without clear logical pretext for the vandalism and intimidation that follows. From then on the threat of violence raises the tension on the otherwise capricious goings-on, and, as any novice screenwriter will tell you, you don't introduce a gun (or, in this case, an emotionally unstable bigot) into a story unless it's going to go off in the third act. If a horrible act of mindless violence offends, one probably shouldn't seek out this film.

Thematically, the film touches on all sorts of theoretical touchstones. The idea of nationhood, spiritual fatherhood, coming of age tropes, politics, prejudice and class status are all packed so densely into the context of the pleasantly divergent narrative that this film could easily function as a subject for any number of undergrad theses. That it manages to come off as fresh and engaging despite the well-worn subject matter, though, is proof of how well all the simplest elements of cinematography, editing and scripting come together to make a truly entertaining and affecting film, brimming with appropriate social commentary and genuine pathos. For this, I have to say that This Is England is the best movie I've had all Binge.

Or maybe I just really dig British accents.

The Ten

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Last week my Australian roommate told me that Americans don't understand dry comedy, and though what I really wanted to do was make a fart joke or go star in a movie about an athlete triumphing in an inherently hilarious sport, instead I went to see The Ten to prove her wrong. Turns out it's full of lessons for American citizens who want to overcome our inherent unfunniness and our love of mediocre framing devices to turn out a ninety minute sketch comedy show movie. Who's with me, people, seriously.

Honestly it probably sucks some to be David Wain or Ken Marino or any of those The State alums, constantly getting called impish or puckish or weirdish or just hard to understand. Though many of the vignettes in The Ten have clear story arcs or familiar sketch comedy tropes, the jokes don't always get born straight of the premises. Just a for instance would be the super-funny Y tu mamá también parody that sees Gretchen Mol losing her virginity to none other than Jesus Christ (Justin Theroux) himself — Jesus, of course, taking a break before he gets around to the rapture. It's a great sketch, but it begins with a fantastic and completely unrelated joke in which Mol is introduced to a new co-worker (Jason Sudeikis) who, for no clear reason, is walking around on his knees. He stands to shake her hand, apologizing. A cut later he's in the background, on his knees again.

That's really as scary as Wain comedy gets. Over the years, he and his collaborators have done a lot of work to create a whole vocabulary of absurdist funny crap: gross mispronunciations of certain words, cruel shoves leading to disproportionate pratfalls, large groups of screaming people running around in chaos, quotidian dialogue spoken fast enough to be ridiculous, women who make out with visible tongue, and the occasional direct address. All are present in The Ten, some more successful than others, some more aware than others: When Liev Schreiber flatly mispronounces the names of several popular fast food restaurants, his neighbor (& State alum) Joe Lo Truglio nods knowingly at his diction, saying, "I like what you did there." The joke has been through enough iterations that it might as well reach for the meta-meta skies, but hell, it's still funny to listen to someone deadpan "MacDarnolds."

The very best part about the non sequitur jokes is that none of the movie's vignettes are ever a total wash. This sketch about prison rape not doing it for you? Hang on, it's saved at the end with Michael Ian Black first reciting a Shakespeareanish soliloquy and then twisting away from the camera in a sickly, sultry way. Paul Rudd's dialogue a total drag? Wait for the very end, when he bites off the final word of a speech with a whine and a hilarious sort of sneer. That's goddamned right, people: The Ten sometimes balances exclusively on the very funny choices of its grossly talented cast. The movie is packed with the Wain Repertory Players (Paul Rudd, A.D. Miles, H. Jon Benjamin) and filled out with a generous high-caliber motion picture actors like Schreiber, Mol, Theroux, Oliver Platt, Adam Brody, Jessica Alba, Famke Janssen, and Winona Ryder. Everyone from Serioustown is super-game, making out with puppets (Ryder) donning funny mustaches (Schreiber), doing horrible Eddie Murphy impressions (Platt) and squealing about ponies (Alba) whenever necessary.

It's true: in the America we like our storylines, we like our truth in comedies, we like our Knocked Ups, but certainly there is a place in our hearts for a gaggle of comics who tirelessly search for the funniest things that could never happen, the driest possible deliveries and the most profane and juvenile of words. If you're scared don't be and if you're not you should be and if you're Australian it'll probably be the best thing you've seen in your entire life.

Hot Rod

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Hot Rod ain't, cuz it's not.

While Andy Samberg has consistently been one of the better elements on the surpassingly uneven Saturday Night Live for the past few seasons, it's obvious that he still isn't ready for prime time. I was hoping to just end my review right there without even having seen Hot Rod, but after a week of begging and pleading I finally found someone to go see it with me. What can I say? Misery loves company.

Samberg's character, the titular "Hot" Rod Kimble believes his father was a stuntman, is striving via hand-to-hand combat to attain the approval of his step-father, and generally spends his time launching his moped off of things. He is attended in this by his crew, a passel of borderline retards, and a curiously (if not found in the context of a ridiculously implausible summer movie) hot neighbor (played flatly here, even by stock-love-interest summer movie standards, by Isla Fisher). Anyway, Rod's step-dad needs surgery that his insurance won't cover, so Rod decides to out-do Evel Knievel's record by jumping over 15 school buses to raise the money so that his step-dad can get better so Rod can finally kick his ass in a fight. I hope no one's looking for the logic in that last sentence.

Essentially, if you want to see multiple impossible injuries sustained, improbable explosions, over-acting, under-acting, fake moustachios, non-sequitir thrust-dancing, Footloose-inspired angry-dancing (all sorts of hyphenated dancing, really), random singing, flash riots, poop jokes, an underused Will Arnett, Europe songs that aren't "The Final Countdown," over-pronounced silent h's, human piñatas, hemorrhaging head wounds, an unconvincing acid trip, an octopus and a kitten as spirit animals, a taco fighting a grilled cheese sandwich, and Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas Day, then by all means see Hot Rod. You obviously love totally unrelated dumb stuff.

It's not that all of the jokes don't come off in the movie. It's just that the ratio of good to bad jokes is excrutiatingly low, so much so that at times I'd completely forgotten that what I was watching was ostensibly a comedy. The good jokes, and the more inspiredly absurdist tangents, could have made a riotous five-minute sketch, but never 88 minutes of enjoyable summer movie. "Dick in a Box" it ain't.

Skinwalkers

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It's easy to understand why so many hack genre fiction writers are into prophecies as a plot device. I mean, it's an incredibly lazy way to string a story together, and you don't have to spend any time thinking about character motivation and plot holes because -- dude! -- it was PROPHESIED, and prophets never get anything wrong! The future is already written by ancient idiots with no grasp of poetry or logic, and we're just going along for the ride, okay? What's harder to comprehend is why audiences go for this sort of thing. Once in a while you just have to deal with prophetic bullshitting in order for a writer to focus on better things such as interesting characters, funny jokes, and subtextual themes (hi Joss Whedon!), but most often, anything involving prophecies is just insultingly stupid, and Skinwalkers is no exception.

Make no mistake, Skinwalkers is a b-movie. In fact, it might be a c- or a d- movie. There are no stars, the acting is uniformly stiff and unbelievable, the special effects are extremely lame and unconvincing, and the writing and film making are on a level far below that of a Lifetime TV movie. No one involved in the film was trying very hard, and it's difficult to understand why the film even exists. Maybe the producers felt as though there weren't enough movies in the world? If the film was even remotely fashionable in terms of content -- ie, something closer to Hostel or Saw -- I'd assume it was just a blatant cash grab, but Skinwalkers is so plodding, gore-less, and devoid of style that it's hard to imagine it doing well in any era.

The most galling thing about Skinwalkers is that the writers decided to make a werewolf movie and refused to engage with the central metaphor that makes werewolves such a potent archetype -- ie, fear of unrepressed sexuality. Instead, they go for a drug metaphor so lame and hysterical that it makes those old "this is your brain on drugs" ads seem extraordinarily subtle. On top of that, you barely see the werewolves, and when you do, they look totally silly and ridiculous, like a substandard Halloween costume from the mall. So basically, if you're into werewolves at all, they've basically fucked it up in any way you could possibly enjoy a werewolf movie. They try to make up for it with lots of guns and motorcycles, but it's just pathetic, really.

Becoming Jane

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Dear Miss Bingey,

I am sooooooo into this one guy at work! He brings me flowers he picks from the parking lot and sometimes we "split" a stick of gum from the vending machine. Recently he finally "popped" the question: would I go out with him to the movies!! Would I!!! Everything was a total dream, until I realized we'd have to agree on a movie (hilarious differences between men and women alert!). I thought for sure he'd want to see The Simpsons Movie (YAWN!!), so color me surprised--and a little confused--when he suggested we go see Being Jane, the romantic comedy of the summer! At first I was excited -- then I was scared! Doesn't it seem a little, you know. You know!! I don't want to say because I think Martin in Sales might actually be, but you know. You know!!! What should I do?

Signed,
MovieWatcher Member #1889078


Dear MWM#1889078,

First of all, this column has a three month turnaround time. You aren't seriously still waiting for an answer, right? I mean didn't he ask you about this forever ago? I mean I guess we'll answer anyway, because if you are with this guy after all I would get with the breakup. This man is clearly a sociopath (yes, like Martin in Sales).

Face the facts, kitten: Being Jane is about the worst date movie ever. And we're not talking License to Wed style worst ever, either. We're talking, like, you know when you're all ready to eat a delicious dried fig and you bite down and it turns out to be a piece of pemmican? Who hasn't been there! This li'l film sets you up like, okay, I've banished all thoughts of literary credibility and I'm ready to see two sevelt young actors moon and banter over each other. Right? It sets you up like that and then for like the last hour it drops you into this horrifyingly depressing story about how no in fact you can never ever be with the person you love, because if you are you are ruining your life and also the lives of his fifteen hungry siblings, so, effin go spinster it away for the rest of your life, hope you're happy, maybe I'll see you again someday when you're grey and I've named my firstborn after you! Lots of laughs, peace!

Of course loyal readers all know that we know lots of facts about the choices of educated and unwealthy women in the time of this Jane Austen lady. In fact, we know so many facts that occasionally we visit graveyards and walk around apologizing. You would even think that all the reality might have improved our chances of liking the thing, since we were a little up in arms about it being made at all. (Jane Austen's like number one amazing characteristic is that she did all of the expert writing she did without ever having to rely on the support of a husband, so, why bother. That was our thinking.) But we girded our brains, and were thusly dropped into what we thought was fantasy land but no in fact was The Nightmare Before Christmas. Dear MMW, it has been long since we were so depressed at watching a romance.

In short, this man wants nothing more than to lift you up and either kill you in his basement or make you make all the hard choices for him. He will likely offer you great ideas and thoughts of running away together, so long as you leave your life behind and never accomplish the things you want. And then he will expect you to point out the flaws in this plan, and lo, you will do the dirty work entrusted to women all over the centuries: mopping up the breakup pieces, trying to pretend it's all for the best. You may in fact get a good novel out of it; we actually recommend you just read a novel instead.

Lovingly,
Miss Bingey

Bratz: The Movie

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I believe the mastermind behind this colossal shitpile was a sympathetic bookie. Jon Voight must have built up a seven figure debt in underground peanuckle games but didn't have the money to pay. The bookie, let's call him Frankie, respected Jon's impressive filmography and thought he'd throw the old man a bone. It just so happened his thirteen year-old daughter, Francine, loved both Bratz dolls and Jon Voight (Deliverance is her favorite movie). In exchange for finding his way into the film and the paycheck he would receive, Voight would be off the hook for the full sum. It was through a similar perdicament that Jon ended up in The Karate Dog and Baby Geniuses 2. This must be God's honest truth as there is no other plausible explanation for his involvement in a movie this offensive. To make matters worse, he plays a bumbling idiot, subjugated by his awful daughter and never gets a comeupance. I'm sorry Mr. Voight.

The downfall of Jon Voight aside, this movie is guaranteed to teach your child the wrong way to deal with just about every situation. Is life getting you down and you have nowhere to turn? Go shopping! Don't have enough money to solve your problems with shopping? Turn to your friend with divorced parents who want to her love and wait for her to give you free clothes! Are social clicks bringing you down despite your ability to be liked by everyone you meet? Put on an elaborate performance costing thousands of dollars! The overt message of loving yourself and your friends was perfectly acceptable, but the only reliable answer to life's problems involved spending money. The movie felt like it was financed by the evil fashion industry overlords from Zoolander.

What's worse is that the kids around me seemed to be laughing and enjoying themselves. They even clapped when the villain was cast aside. To their credit, there were a few moments that were genuinely funny and made me think the movie was salvagable, but it was too far gone. I was rooting for nobody. I looked longingly at the few adults that got up to leave, wish I might be them. This film is not for you and it's not for the kids in your life. Take them to Ratatouille instead.

As a final thought, I want you to hear the moment of the film when I laughed loudest. The villain, who is trying to control the school with cliques, actually says, "I love MySpace" after watching a clip for the talent show. It seemed they eschewed having many product placements in favor of letting MySpace and MTV take over the movie.

Listen to I LOVE MYSPACE.

Stardust

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I would like to make sure my review of Stardust has a viable place in the canon of Stardust reviews, so I will structure it accordingly;

1. Stardust has been praised for its refreshing quality of storytelling. This is false.
I suppose what most reviewers are interchanging here is a refreshing AMOUNT of story for a refreshing QUALITY of storytelling. Yes, there is a huge amount of story (never have I felt like I was watching a 2-hour trailer more than while watching Stardust, it's all expositional vignettes) but it's told very lazily and without much regard for clarity or truth. Wait, Dan, "truth" in a fantasy movie? YES! The main character, 30 seconds after traveling through space-time, figuring out that he must be beside the fallen star he thought would take a week to find, and that the star is in fact a person, he immediately decides to ENSLAVE this person. I'm fine with everything in that sentence except the all-caps. His actions are far more contrived than any of his surroundings, so the bottom falls out from underneath, because they're foregoing truth for the needs of the jam-packed story.

2. Stardust has been praised for the work of Michelle Pfeiffer. This is false.
She's really not impressive, I don't know why they're making this mistake. She falls in and out of her British accent, and she overplays most of her moments. I was waiting for Claire Danes to come back onscreen, surprisingly.

3. Stardust has been deemed an all-around passable let's-not-harp-on-it-when-there's-better-battles-to-wage fantasy film that suffers mostly from bad casting. This is true.
There's no point in raging against this movie, it's just kind of boring, but it doesn't suck. It's as if they've just started making a bunch of movies using the Harry Potter "engine", as if they were video game sequels. But Robert De Niro is garbage, and kind of offensive. And it's hard to offend me (because I keep my moral compass under lock and key!) but this comes damn close. I didn't see Chuck and Larry, but I imagine the level of gay sensitivity is about on par. Ricky Gervais is out of place, and yet somehow underused, and as one shorts-and-oakleys muttered to his girlfriend on the way out of the theater, "needed more Rupert Everett".

And with all weaknesses of the tome addressed and my own insights added to the mix, I am forced, immodestly, to review my own review: nuthin but net!

Superbad

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I first saw this movie with fellow Binger Karen, who asked after the screening, "Is this a guy thing?" Or something like that. Yeah, I told her, I guess it is.

There are no cigars here. Only penises. Lots of penises. Superbad is the most phallo-centric film I've ever seen, although, to its credit, it manages to expertly demonstrate all the attendant vivacity and existential terror that young men face in the process of sexual maturation. Paradoxically, this film dealt with the theme of men facing maturation more efficiently and maturely than any other Judd Apatow film (40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up) even though the film focuses on his youngest subjects. As would be expected, the movie has a lot of vulgar male bonding, tough-guy swagger coming from the dweebiest of dweebs, and a conviction that getting with women, while the ultimate goal in life, necessarily means distancing oneself from his friends. Whether or not such a conviction has merit is up for fiery debate, but it's certainly more in line with an 18-year-old virgin's mentality than Apatow's previous outings.

Increasingly, Apatow's best accomplishment is the perceived realism and relatability of his characters. Here, the central friendship between Seth (Knocked Up's Jonah Hill) and Evan (Arrested Development's Michael Cera) is as real to me as any I had in high school, often uncomfortably close to actual conversations and complications I experienced around the time of my own graduation. I've heard some reviewers describe the leads' friendship as being latently homosexual, but I think this is a knee-jerk and dismissive reaction. The truth is, it's a film about homosocial young men, platonic friends in the truest sense, who are faced with the uncertainty of their inevitable adulthood. Since they are teenagers, most of their dialogue, hell, their self-proclaimed raison d'etre, is in the service of their sexual pre-occupations, but the film allows a few sincere, illuminating moments wherein they connect on an emotional level and face, however briefly, both how much they love each other and how apprehensive they are about leaving each other's constant company at the end of the summer.

The inspired subplot features scene-stealing newcomer Christopher Mintz-Plasse as the self-christened "McLovin". While running afoul of the law, he finds himself in the company of two incredibly nerdy bad cops who, through McLovin, are trying to prove to themselves that they can still have fun and shrug off their responsibilities. Running directly contrary to the emotional development of the film's teenage leads, the cops drink like punk kids, play with their guns as if they were their dicks and apologize profusely for "cock-blocking" McLovin, proving that as necessary as it is to become adults, the mostly innocent frivolity of youth will always trump the banalities of the adult world.

Yes, Karen, I agree with you that the few female characters in the film are underdrawn, but this, too, I feel works toward the notion that teenage men have absolutely no idea who, or for that matter what, women really are. The characters here are as fascinated with women's sexuality as they are afraid of it. Women are another world for them, one that they will, the film suggests, come to terms with and find as much comfort and friendship in as they do with their understandable albeit immature homosocial realm.

Also, I laughed my ass off. This is the only movie I've reviewed this summer that I've seen twice. Take that for whatever it's worth.

Tekkon Kinkreet

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I have a demonstrable soft spot for urchins and other pathetic children. If for some reason you encounter my forboding presence, a quick lapse into Dickensian orphan-speak and I will be immediately disarmed, especially if you sing a song about chimbley sweeping (but — not you, Colin Meloy!).

The urchins who are the main characters of First-time feature director Michael Arias's Tekkon Kinkreet are surely adorable but their backstory is just as tragic as anything from an 800 page 19th century novel, though instead of working their little fingers off in a darkling factory in sooty London town they're leaping off walls and flagpoles and parapets in the crazy-quilt multicultural setting of a grafitti'd slum called Treasure Town. They're "Black" and "White," a pair of symbolically monikered "cats" — stray cats, orphans — who live by their quick wits, nimble fingers and super-hero-esque Karate skillz. Black is the older, quiet, more cynical and violent one, his face scarred from untold past battles, while White, still a snot-nosed tween who is afraid of the dark, is more or less his ward rather than his sidekick. Their relationship is very touching, particularly in the way they interact with the older residents of Treasure Town. Cops and (most) crooks alike seem to have a soft spot for these street children.

While Black and White wear cartoony costumes (goggles, animal head-hoods, toilet-paper dispensing utility belt) and White is prone to saying crushingly adorable nonsense like "I've got all the screws to his heart," not everything about their lives is cute. The only home they've ever known has come under successive threats from a rival kid-gang, the Yakuza, and a weird, fruity guy who might be German or Martian, or Martian German — it's not clear — but who definitely has crazy eyebrows. While force and corruption cannot change the nature of Treasure Town, one thing can — gentrification, in the form of Kiddie Castle, a theme park. That and 8 foot tall flying dudes with rocket launchers and bows and arrows.

Although Black keeps on insisting that he "owns" Treasure Town and engages in increasingly unhinged violence to prove that point, it is clear that the "cats' attachment to this deadly urban playground will mean their early death if they don't get out soon. When Black lets a skewered White be taken into protective custody by the police, he grows further and further detached from reality, culminating in a theme park showdown with his dark alter-ego, who drags him into a crayon-scribbled netherworld which is among the most moving and innovative animation I've ever seen. The confrontation between the dark powers upon which it is possible for Black to draw and his love and attachment to the world, particularly to his friend White, is riveting, and when the end comes it is uplifting and satisfying without being cloying or cutesy.

The Last Legion

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"Let's go measure our swords to see which one is bigger!" "Hey, this isn't Superbad, keep your sword to yourself."

For almost as long as there has been cinema, they've been making swashbuckling movies. Dudes with swords and damsels in distress, it's a genre that doesn't even necessitate dialogue because with a few key images we get the gist. The Last Legion is filmmaking at its most generic, and I don't mean that in a hip street slang sort of way. The genre is toga/sword action adventure and that's exactly what the movie delivers. While not a particularly original or artistic movie (and the last 20 minutes are a bit of a snooze), it is exactly the kind of grist in the mill that keeps Hollywood churning along and as a fan of the business of show, it seems pretentious to begrudge those involved with Legion their paychecks.

Scene: just before the fall of Rome. Thomas Sangster plays Romulus Augustus, the soon to be crowned Caesar of Rome. You may remember Sangster as the idealistic young romantic from Love Actually who wooed the Mariah Carey singing pre-teen by learning to play the drum set. Four years on, Sangster is a few heads taller but is just as earnest. He's like a hall monitor in sandals and a Roman skirt. Shortly after his coronation, Huns sack the city kidnapping Romulus and taking him to the natural water-bound prison of Capri.

Colin Firth is the Roman centurion Aurelius who leads the charge to save Romulus, while Sir Ben Kingsley plays Romulus's mysterious robe-wearing (that's how you know he's mystical) teacher. Poor Colin Firth, twelve long years have passed since the BBC's version of Pride and Prejudice but he's still pigeon holed as Darcy. Though being type cast as a little brusque and emotionally aloof, yet still dashingly hunky is hardly a tragedy. As his romantic foil, the filmmakers have gone surprisingly multi-culti casting the Bollywood superstar Aishwarya Rai as the warrior Mira, who predictably enough is introduced in a man's garb and then reveals her smokin' hot physique to Aurelius only after she's proven her battle skills.

On Capri, Romulus discovers a special sword forged for his ancestor Julius Caesar which contains special powers and with the instruction from Ambrosinus—who of course has been studying its mystical ways his entire life—Romi wrestles it from its hiding place. Unfortunately super sword or no, the Roman political tides have turned in support of the Hun invaders and our adventurers head North to find the last loyal warriors stationed in Britannia.

Blah blah blah, crossing the Alps. Blah blah blah, befriending the natives in their lush green Celtic paradise. Blah blah blah, appearance of evil Lord in Phantom of the Opera-ish golden mask who must be vanquished. Anyhoo! Full disclosure: somewhere in there I got up to use the restroom and completely lost the thread of the plot, so sue me. Regardless I will say, phalanxes are cool and even cooler is the opportunity to use that word in a review. Phalanx, phalanx, phalanx. One more thing before you go off to read all about phalanxes on Wikipedia, The Last Legion features a completely bizarre performance from Kevin McKidd, who previously was so wonderful on the HBO series Rome. Here he plays one of the evil Germanic guys and has the most ridiculous, yet strangely awesome, ginger-colored eyebrows and sideburns. When this movie hits basic cable, be sure to check those suckers out.

Oh by the way, the super sword? It was Excalibur. And Sir Ben the mystical teacher? Totally Merlin. Yup, it's a Roman legion/phalanx rockin'/Arthurian legend movie. Take that genre conventions! Booyah.

Rush Hour 3

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Brett Ratner could have called the third installment in this series Rush Hour 3: The Search for a Plot. or MacGuffinfest or Money is just Paper. The first two films were tolerable popcorn movies, but this newest film feels like a clips episode of the never-aired Rush Hour television series. As friends pointed out last night, it is not shocking that Michael Scott loves Rush Hour.

The movie supposedly centers around mysterious Chinese Triad gangs and their willingness to kill anyone to protect their identities. While we find out early that Inspector Lee's (Jackie Chan) brother is a key member of the Triad, I wasn't sure until the very end that he was the Bad Guy. Detective work leads them to Paris, which is best known as the homebase of all international crime groups (and a chance to use the Eifel Tower in a fight scene). Unsurprisingly, Lee's brother, a hot girl and a painfully large hotel room greet the dynamic duo. They fight, they win, etc.

It wasn't until the last fifteen minutes, when I had realized this was the plot, that I became really disappointed. I admit, I had expected more from this film and I've learned my lesson. What truly amazed me was Ratner's insistence that I never suspend disbelief. Jumping out of windows and arresting beautiful ladies for dates are things I'm willing to accept, but I'll never understand how a L.A. cop owns vintage Corvettes and rents out $3000/night hotel suites. Oh, and the evil henchmen only noticed our heroes when it was convenient. "Hey, who are those guys in the burlesque show? It looks like Lee and Carter, but it couldn't be them. Move on!"

Still, my favorite and most ridiculous aspect of the film was George the cab driver. He always showed up out of the blue and at exactly the right time. He seemed to hate America, but was really supressing his desire to be a spy. At the very end of the film, he was the one to save the day. He was the MacGuffin-man.

Rush Hour 3 is a lazy mess. Chris Tucker definitely knows how to deliver a punchline, but that was the film's only redeeming trait. If you're looking for a chase-the-bad-guys-and-blow-things-up movie, go see Bourne Ultimatum.

Death at a Funeral

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Okay, imagine you are like a teacher for a literacy company, or something (are those called schools?) and you're trying to help these ten year old kids be creative. So you decide your teaching moment for today is to explain to them what a farce is, except when you get to the nuances of how amazing it is sometimes to watch the most tightly wound people unbraid and unbraid and unbraid, as you get to saying that the kids are definitely waning, and one of them kind of punches the one next to him, and your co-teacher (who is doing something horrible like I don't know phonics) shoots you this look. God, I thought we could date when we both started here but he's just really turned out to be a tool, you know?

So you're like okay, let's cut to the chase, let's make a list of the funniest things in the world, and for some reason the first one on the list is "funerals" and the second one on the list is "British people" and then things just start to snowball and before you know it you're in the middle of this just deluge of statements like "and then you know what would be funny is if he had some DRUGS!!!" only they don't even know quite what drugs are so they're like "it's a drug that is X crossed with K crossed with UNICORNS and it makes you NAKED" "WAIT WHAT IF (indoor voices please) wait what if one of THE GUYS DIED AFTER JUMPING UP AND DOWN" and at this point you're kind of thrilled that they're so into this and not hitting each other anymore but also, like, this isn't what you meant it to be when you drew up the lesson plan and what if their parents walk in? But the kids keep going on and on, like "diarrhea!!" "homoerotic statues!!!" "old people!!" "sixty-nining!!" (that kid has seen too much, you think) "in-laws?" "diarrhea!!!" (again, I know)

Against your better judgment you do try to get this on track briefly and you say, "Well, what if there was a case of mistaken identity, or some sort of conflict within the family that is so blown out of proportion that by the conclusion of it everyone just realizes how silly it is to fight? Wouldn't that be a way to keep the farce grounded just enough so that at the end of the movie your audience doesn't just feel like you were out of mouthwash and used flat orange soda this morning?" At that point the kid who said "sixty-nining" actually gives the kid next to him a bloody nose with his mind. I mean, actually with his mind.

That's about all you can take for the day so you lock the kids in the classroom and ride your bike home. The faster you ride, the faster your tears will dry, and maybe no one will see when you stop for that bodega-born Vitamin Water, maybe nobody will see that you have really just been inventing hope this whole time, that you never expected a completely dated premise like this one to get you any farther than a gig at Kaplan. I mean: it is days like today you doubt the existence of comedy at all.

Rocket Science

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As a culture, we are inundated with quirk. The situation has reached such serious levels that the Onion is making jokes out of what was once so unpopular as to easily avoid mainstream attention and criticism. Ira Glass and what This American Life have wrought are a useful frame of reference when delving into an analysis of the film Rocket Science, so laden with a comfortably knowing voice-over and quirkily idiosyncratic caricatures that one's surprised by the lack of Glass's name in the production credits.

In his first film since also quirky and highly entertaining documentary Spellbound, and his first dramatic film altogether, writer-director Jeffrey Blitz returns to the world of cutthroat, eruditely pubescent competition and frames his story around a debate team in a New Jersey high school. Ginny, a no-nonsense, lightspeed-talking champion debater is looking for a new teammate after her previous partner's mid-finals meltdown. For speciously curious reasons, perhaps for nothing more than the sake of quirk, she decides that Hal Hefner, a troubled freshman whose parents just divorced is a prime candidate. Her decision is speciously curious because, get this, he stutters. Pathetic-child written all over his face, a broken home AND a nervous, socially-preventive pathology?! Quirkcore gold! Naturally, Hal falls in love with Ginny (or just becomes obsessed with her; hard to tell with teenage boys), awkwardly gropes at her, earnestly attempts to overcome his stutter, fails, is betrayed by her and eventually tries to beat her in competition by using her old teammate as a ringer. All set to the quirky filmscoring shorthand of the nearly anachronistic Violent Femmes.

It's not that this is a bad movie. I found it entertaining and non-offensive in that public radio kind of way. It's almost a strange doppleganger for movies like Superbad, which deal with essentially the same issues (writ largely, Dealing with the Tribulations of Puberty), although this film trades in crass for class. An extended middle finger is as racy as it gets, which, given the zeitgeist for public filth, is almost endearingly quaint in its tepidness. There is much to recommend in the film. The mostly unknown actors play their humble parts well, the touch of sentimentality is mostly justified, and there is a good deal of fresh comic timing in the pacing and delivery of quirky non-sequitirs. But for all the parts deserving of accolade, the cultural implications of this addition to a rising pantheon of lovable losers and cringe-inducing awkwardness—increasingly a stand-in for emotional relevance—guarantee that Rocket Science, a film trying so hard to come off as unassuming, will sink in the widening sea of its own hip quirkiness.

ENOUGH WITH THE QUIRK ALREADY!!!

The King of Kong

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[Ed. note: Consider this the unintentional second quirk review in a short series, following Erik's Rocket Science review from yesterday morning.]

Welcome to the saturation phase of quirky documentaries. The ouvre previously covered spelling bees, Scrabble, crossworld puzzles, ballroom dancing and countless other topics, but the onslaught has just begun. The latest victim is video games, and it's not even an original subject &mdash High Score, like King of Kong, is also about two men competing for the best score in a classic arcade game (Missile Command is the playground in that case). Having watched both films, and many other quirky documentaries, I think I've got a handle on why King of Kong succeeds so gloriously.

In essence, all of these films are real life Christopher Guest stories, except they don't have the luxury of creating their own characters. For Kong, the cast of characters are better than the fruits of any writer's mind. Steve Wiebe is a good American boy who poured his efforts in Donkey Kong after losing his job at Boeing. He has a history of coming up short — Steve was a gifted athlete who threw out his arm — and has a sweet disposition that only Beelzebub himself could ignore. Billy Mitchell has held the Donkey Kong world record, and records for several other games, for the last 25 years and is a cocky son-of-a-bitch. He has a mane of black hair, a "hot" wife, a hot sauce business and is never, never, ever wrong. Even better, he has a protegé and a posse (his lawyer friend and the folks who run Twin Galaxies, classic arcade record keepers). His protegé Brian Kuh is basically Billy's man servent, and worse than any band groupie, as he hilariously spies on Wiebe and secrets away to give Billy updates, all the while growing frustrated that Wiebe got to the kill screen first. What's amazing is that this is just a slight peak into their world are there are still three more people who are equally hilarious.

While this crew is entertaining enough on its own, the dramatic story arc makes King of Kong a real winner. Wiebe comes from nowhere to break Billy's long-standing record, showing his wife that he's not a worthless good-for-nothin', only to have it taken away because Billy's long-time nemesis provided Wiebe with a new motherboard (which is obviously a no-no). Then, when Wiebe breaks the record in front of the Twin Galaxies nerd crew, Brian the underling proudly produces a tape of Billy topping Steve's 10 minute old score. Best of all is that Billy refuses to be in the same room as Steve. Steve is the sweetest man in the world but Billy and his crew treats him like a radical insurgent.

Director Steve Gordon must have shit himself when he started getting everyone on tape, because all he had to do was not mess it up. Steve, you sure as hell did not mess this up. In between the hilarious banter there's great information on the history of competitive gaming, which fills in holes for people less nerdy than myself. I'm sure Billy isn't quite as evil as he's portrayed, but the good vs. bad shtick was well-played and I wouldn't have had it any other way. Most impressively, he only belittled his subjects when they were worthy of it and never looked down on the sport.

Even the least nerdy and most jaded corners of my brain ached with delight throughout the film. If you do have any nerd up in that noggin', you owe it to yourself to feed the beast. This film is not to be missed.

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