Comedy

Choke

dir: Clark Gregg
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I have respect, much respect, big respect for Chuck Palahniuk, but I’m starting to think that maybe he is the American literary equivalent of Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Sure, Come on Eileen was a wonderful little pop ditty that still stinks up greatest hits radio decades after its use-by date, and it probably resulted in a lot of laundry for a lot of women called Eileen, but what else have the musical impresarios and master storytellers of Dexy’s Midnight Runners done for us lately? I’m not going to go so far as to say that Chuck is a one-hit wonder for Fight Club, which I still think is a great book and a great film (a great, great film in the hands of David Fincher). The problem is that I just don’t know what else he has to offer either the book or the film worlds anymore.

Choke is a premise without much of a meaningful plot and without a character worth following for 90 minutes. I’m not sure if it’s Sam Rockwell’s fault as the lacklustre main character, because he seems okay for the first half of the film. What I can’t tell is whether the problem is that the flick doesn’t know where to go, or whether Rockwell decided he no longer wanted to be in the flick.

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Pineapple Express

dir: David Gordon Green
[img_assist|nid=108|title=Three morons for the price of two|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=452]
There’s this impulse in many of us, ‘us’ as in the kind of people who post and read opinion, commentary and other bullshit on the tubes of the internets. When anything appears, even if it is well liked from the start, there’s always this impulse to be the first to say the honeymoon is over, baby, and that thing, tv series, sequence of books or person has ‘jumped the shark’. Outlived their usefulness. Exceeded their use-by date. Outstayed their welcome.

I come not to praise Seth Rogen but to bury him. The funny, charming slightly shlubby guy has now reached the stage, at least with me, where I no longer find his shtick funny, and instead find him somewhat tiresome and obnoxious. I don’t know if it’s this film specifically, or the ‘character’ he plays, but he’s really starting to annoy me.

As an actor he has the range of a comedian, which means he has practically no range at all, and it doesn’t help that the ‘character’ he plays here is pretty much indistinguishable from anything else he’s ever done. He plays an unambitious low achiever who likes smoking dope.

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Promotion, The

dir: Steven Conrad
[img_assist|nid=113|title=Dorks just trying to dork their way up the corporate ladder|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=476|height=317]
What are our dreams? I don’t just mean what do we dream of, because most of us dream of flying, or exacting revenge on our childhood tormentors, or giving speeches naked in front of our co-workers and fellow students. And let’s leave out all the sex-related dreams regarding 80s sitcom stars or bus drivers. Please, let’s just leave them out.

Most of us, not being the super-creative and talented people whose works we crave in written, visual or auditory form as entertainment, have modest hopes and dreams. We dream of having jobs that don’t crush our souls on a daily basis. We might dream of owning, past a certain age, our own homes so we’re no longer at the mercy of deranged housemates, too-thin walls separating us from annoying neighbours and independence from the whims of landlords and slimy real estate agents.

We dream of being able to do okay and avoid looking like shmucks, at least those of us that aren’t shmucks. And even those of us who are shmucks dream of somehow getting that one thing (or several things) that’ll make everything seem a bit more worthwhile, in our eyes and in the eyes of others.

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Burn After Reading

dir: Coens
[img_assist|nid=72|title=Oh, you quality actor, you|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=300]
People give the Coen Brothers way too much credit. Sure they make good films on the odd occasion, but, after dazzling everyone with the exhausting and nihilistic No Country for Old Men, they belched out this Washington DC-based trifle, and still people acted like it was the second coming of Allah, Buddha and Abbott and Costello.

There are Coen Brothers comedies that I have enjoyed, especially Raising Arizona and The Big Lebowski, but this is certainly not one of them. In fact, I find it pretty much devoid of humour for something being marketed as a comedy.

I had similar issues with Fargo back in the day, which was lauded to the high heavens by all and sundry, but left me cold, colder than a Minnesotan winter. The humour was invisible to me, the purpose as well, though I have gotten to a better place emotionally where I don’t actively hate the film anymore.

Still don’t like it, though. And I definitely didn’t like Burn After Reading either, which has practically nothing to recommend it. Honestly, this is one of those times where I am oblivious as to what worth others see in something. Had the Coens not made it, had the cast not be the usual A-List shmucks like Clooney and Pitt, this flick would not have even gone straight to DVD.

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Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

dirs: Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg
[img_assist|nid=98|title=Harold and Kumar in Search of Humour|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=354]
Wow, even with two directors this flick is still pretty dumb and unfunny. Maybe it needed some more directors. Maybe five directors would have been the magic number.

It couldn’t have hurt. Such a sequel sounds, from its title, like it’s going to be a ribald, politically pointed satire on the contemporary American milieu and its terror at the prospect of terrorism. What this sequel actually does is limply deliver another film where two alleged stoner friends get into scrapes and shenanigans of a generally crude or sexual variety for 90 or so dull, punishing minutes.

Crude’s fine. I can handle crude. Dumb fun I can handle to, in the right mood. The thing is, even dumb and crude humour needs a bit of wit. Without wit, it’s all just shit.

There is precious little wit and plenty of shit on offer here. It doesn’t make it a supremely painful experience to sit through, kind of like a proctological exam, but it doesn’t make for much fun either.

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Tropic Thunder

dir: Ben Stiller
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If you’d told me that Ben Stiller, yes, that annoying nervy guy with the big ears, was capable of ever making another funny film, I would have metaphorically spat in your face. Maybe not metaphorically, maybe literally! I contend that flicks like Zoolander and many of the other misfires Stiller has been in, just aren’t that funny. I know people who lose control of their bladders at the mere mention of Zoolander, but I’m certainly not one of them.

And I say that as someone who likes Ben Stiller and thinks he’s a funny guy. Funny in the sense that he’s odd, not that he consistently makes me chuckle with his antics or his silly characters in the painfully neurotic films he stars in.

So colour me surprised that I got many a laugh out of Tropic Thunder. Many, many laughs, far more than is usual for me in public. Some parts had me in tears, literal tears of disbelieving, paralysing laughter.

As a fan of war movies, I’ve pretty much seen them all, especially the ones from Nam onwards. Also, I’ve probably seen Saving Private Ryan more times than most mental health professionals would consider healthy. A film that righteously takes the piss out of these films is, perversely, right up my alley. They’re so ripe for parody that they’re practically begging for it.

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Drillbit Taylor

dir: Stephen Brill
[img_assist|nid=103|title=There is death in my eyes|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=375]
Soon after making this here particularly worthless flick, Owen Wilson tried to commit suicide. Coincidence?

Director Stephen Brill is responsible for two of the dumbest Adam Sandler comedies (if that isn't a tautology), being Little Nicky and Mr Deeds. Is it possible for a movie directed by such a lowlife to be anywhere near worth watching, especially considering the fact that one of its main stars tried to kill himself soon after the production wrapped up?

The premise revolves around nerds so nerdy the nerds from Revenge of the Nerds would beat them up, being terrorised by an evil bully. So desperate and afraid are they, and so blind is the school to the campaign of terror waged against them, that they decide to hire a bodyguard, who turns out to be a homeless bum. Are the people involved in this production likely to receive Nobel nominations some time next year for their services in highlighting the plight of the homeless?

It’s unlikely. Perhaps I’m making too much of Wilson’s attempted suicide, but the fact is, you know, for a few moments, I was contemplating embracing the emptiness of eternal oblivion just minutes into this misbegotten 80s throwback idiocy.

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Onion Movie, The

dir: James Kleiner?
[img_assist|nid=74|title=Onions, by their very nature, not especially funny|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=225|height=300]
There is a shroud of mystery, a deathly pall hanging over this movie, the movie called The Onion Movie. What’s its story? What’s going on? How is Rodney Dangerfield in it? Hasn’t he been dead a long while? Has he risen from the grave, searching for the respect that long eluded him? Will his undead zombie be calling for “Brains!” or “Boobies”?

Two digressions: I’ll try to keep them quick. The real antecedent/origin of this flick is an attempt to make something along the lines of Kentucky Fried Movie or the Airplane/Flying High! movies. That’s the style of comedy that comes closest to this both in format and content. Since the movie uses the Onion television channel as its framing device, and the soothing, credible crooning of newsreader Norm Archer (Len Cariou) to link the various stories, with ads and other programs thrown in, it’s almost like it’s made to order template-wise according to the KFC spec.

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