Saturday, February 16, 2008

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

[NOTE: This film opens in April. I got a chance to check out an early screening this week. The final film may end up being different from the cut I watched.]

Forgetting Sarah Marshall is the latest in a constant stream of movies emanating from Judd Apatow. It was directed by "Undeclared" writer Nicholas Stoller, and only produced by Apatow, but it's an obvious cousin of Superbad, The 40 Year Old Virgin and especially Knocked Up.

At Mahalo the other day, we discussed whether Apatow's motley team of comic actors has a "Pack" name yet. Rat Pack, Frat Pack...what comes next? I'd propose Whack Pack, because all of their films glorify unfuckable nerds, but Howard Stern's already using that one. Other suggestions are welcome.

Anyway, like all the other Packs that have come before them, the Whack Pack's schtick has started to wear thin after only a few films. There's an unrelenting sameness to these movies, beyond the similarities of their protagonists. (Apatow has defined his genre as "nerdy guys with hot chicks," and Sarah Marshall proudly carries on this tradition.)

The concept of melding the subversive fun of gross-out/stoner humor with the sweetness of a screwball romance is a really good one, but Apatow just kind of puts these two styles side-by-side in his movies rather than really letting them play off of one another. (Compare that to the Farrelly's Something About Mary, still a better film than any from Apatow's collection, where the gross-out shock scene inform the main action...Mary's such a cool chick because she'll overlook things like her date lighting her neighbor's dog aflame or getting his semen in her hair).

Sarah Marshall, I think, represents something of a tipping point for Judd & Co. It's certainly not a bad film, and it's far far far more likable and funny than the atrocious Apatow-produced Walk Hard from last year. But like that painful dud, Sarah Marshall is lazy and formulaic and predictable, implying that this sudden, massive outpouring of material from Apatow's R-Rated Comedy Factory may have depleted the man's reserve of funny.

The writer-star of Sarah Marshall, Jason Segel, first worked with Apatow on the awesome "Freaks and Geeks," and popped up in a supporting role in Knocked Up. He works fairly well as the romantic lead here, and seems as capable as Apatow or Seth Rogen at penning dick jokes, but I'm still convinced he's better used as a wacky supporting character. (He was fantastic in "Undeclared" as Carla Gallo's creepy ex-boyfriend Eric).

Segel plays Peter Bretter, a composer for the TV show "Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime," starring his girlfriend, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), as a no-nonsense homicide detective. (The brief clips we get from "Crime Scene," a biting send-up of "CSI," are among the film's highlights).

When Sarah dumps Peter for the ludicrous British rock star Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), he pretty much falls to pieces. A string of painful one-night stands (including one with Gallo) convinces Peter that he needs a change of scenery, so he jets off to Hawaii. Regrettably, he realizes, immediately after checking in with the cute girl at the front desk (Mila Kunis), that Sarah and her new beau are staying at the very same Hawaiian resort.

(A brief note here about Kunis, who's cute but somewhat forgettable in the film and whom I probably won't bring up again...She has a terrible-looking fake tan. Atrocious. I get that she's not normally tan, and that her character's supposed to live in Hawaii, but couldn't she have just arrived on the set a week early and gotten a real tan? She looks orange here, and it's shocking to me that a major movie studio with millions of dollars can't get an actress a healthy, natural tan.)

From about 15 minutes in, you can pretty much see all of the plot developments coming. Peter cries a lot about his break-up, then slowly discovers that life still has a lot to offer, even without his famous celebrity girlfriend. He flirts with the front desk girl, he forms a few friendships with some of the resort's employees and guests, he learns a little bit about himself and so forth.

I expect a romantic comedy to have a familiar storyline, but what makes Sarah Marshall tiresome is that most of the jokes themselves, the "shenanigans" if you will, come off as familiar and perfunctory. Bill Hader (a Superbad veteran), for example, tries his best to make Peter's brother-in-law, with whom he videochats on his laptop, memorable in his few scenes, but I wasn't even sure I understood the concept behind his character. He's uptight? He loves his wife?

I saw Apatow moderate a Q&A with Daniel Day-Lewis and P.T. Anderson last year, and had the same feeling watching him on stage that I had watching this movie. Weary of ceaseless, sophomoric dick, vag and gay jokes. Nonplussed by shock humor. Ready for something new.

Segel's script tries to separate itself from the pack by including less fratboy humor while including more nudity (mostly male) and frank, overt sexuality. I'd say it works about half the time. He gets big laughs for playing a long, dramatic sequence in the buff. And Kristen Bell's very hot and funny, so I won't complain about a montage of her and Brand in a variety of acrobatic sexual positions, even though I doubt she'd wear a bra throughout that kind of lovemaking marathon. A sub-plot with "30 Rock" star Jack McBrayer as a virgin unable to pleasure his new bride, however, misses "comedy" entirely and heads straight for "cringe-worthy and uncomfortable."

Like most comedies that only work 50-75% of the time, Forgetting Sarah Marshall wears out its welcome, and an extended sequence near the end in which Peter performs his Dracula rock opera could seriously be lost altogether. (It's supposed to be really ridiculous and campy, but that doesn't mean we want to see a whole lot of it at the end of an already-long comedy). I sense that most audiences who will see the movie will like it, because they're fans of the actors and the style and because it's good enough to keep your interest. But I'm also starting to doubt that Apatow will be able to keep this pace up for more than another year or so, and whether or not I will ever again be excited to see one of his movies. Maybe the whole point is to make as much as possible for a few years and then take off for Hawaii himself.

Mike Huckabee's Curriculum Vitae

Mike Huckabee
Former Arkansas Governor

I believe it's a lot easier to change the constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God, and that's what we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards.

Ouachita Baptist University
M.A. in Miracles (Minored in Angelic Studies)
Dissertation: "Is Miracle Whip Technically a Miracle"?

Southwestern Baptist Seminary
No degree received
Major Course of Study: Monsterology
Significant Papers: "Werewolves and Mummies: A Study in Contrasts," "For the last time, Frankenstein is the name of the scientist! The monster doesn't have a name!"

I Can't Believe It's Not Harvard
B.S. in Intelligent Design
Significant Papers: "Bananas and Peanut Butter: Not just Elvis' favorite sandwich combination, but an atheist's worst nightmare"

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Emphasis: Potions

The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants
The Fellowship of the Ring

That one about how I used to be fat
"The Five People You'll Meet in Hell"
"Eat, Pray, Love, Pray, Shit, Pray, Work Out, Pray, Sleep, Pray, Pray, Pray"
"Running for President for Dummies"

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Mind Boggles

What's wrong with Michelle Malkin? I mean, for real. Beyond just being a cruel nativist simpleton.

Ill-advised doesn't really begin to cover it. Aside from the atrocious singing voice and the amateurish piano-playing ability, Malkin demonstrates approximately zero understanding of satire.

The song is supposed to make fun of Hillary's tendency to cry on the day before big votes. I'll state plainly right here: a parody song about this could be funny. I don't know Hillary personally, so I really can't say for certain that he tears are inauthentic, but it certainly does seem coincidental that she's always so overcome with emotion right when she wants Americans to feel sympathetic towards her. I bring this up only to make it clear from the beginning - I do not object to Malkin's attempt to poke fun of Hillary Clinton's phoniness. She strikes me as a phony, so I'm not insulted that someone would accuse her of being a phony (though I think the video does a poor job of making this case).

But in order to mock Clinton's tears, you actually have to do something other than point out the fact that she cries. That's not mockery. That's just pointing out. The lyrics of the song aren't funny, and frequently don't make sense. ("Even Clintons have a right to dream"? Doesn't that contradict the song's entire critique, that the Clintons are both amoral schemers who would do anything to achieve their dreams of power and political success?) There are no jokes. At one point, Malkin simply sings all the names of the states with remaining Democratic primaries. Ha ha.

And the visuals are just scanned newspaper and magazine clippings, reminding us over and over again that, yes, Hillary Clinton cried. Warbling painfully over a mundane little melody on YouTube doesn't make Hillary look crazy or foolish. It makes Michelle Malkin look crazy and foolish. Which is the opposite of the intended purpose.

Plus, do Republicans really think it's funny or clever or significant that Barack Obama's middle name is Hussein? He speaks frequently and passionately about his Christian faith, so Michelle, who follows politics for a living certainly know he's not really Muslim. (Not that I wouldn't enthusiastically vote for a Muslim if I felt that he or she were the best candidate. But this is the basis of Republican attempts to tag Obama with the name "Hussein." He's one o' them crazy A-rabs what wants to blows us all to kingdom come cause they hates our freedoms.) Therefore, I must conclude that she thinks it's funny, which explains why she's so woefully inept at comedy video production.

[Hat tip, Tbogg]

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentimes

Despite only featuring me in a brief cameo, today's Mahalo Daily is both funny and awesome:

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Double Talk Express?

I follow this guy Cliff on Twitter, and he made a comment about a half hour ago that "Democrats always make things complicated." And I thought, "well, sometimes things are complicated." And that's when I realized he was probably right.

Republicans don't do nuance. I worked at a bookstore with this conservative, very religious guy once, and he told me that he believed that life was entirely binary. Things are either good or bad, black or white. There is no gray.

"But haven't you ever felt like you loved someone and hated them at the same time?," I asked.

"No, that's just a misleading emotion. Deep down, I actually love them or hate them."

We went on like that for a while. The thing is, he's EXTREMELY INCORRECT. Very few things in life are that easy. But, because we remain a rather primitive species in the geologic sense, this faulty reasoning makes a certain amount of common sense to us. It feels like life is this way, or at least, it feels like life ought to be this way - full of clear-cut decisions, well-lit paths and simple truths.

Which is why George Bush can get away with speaking only in these terms, every day, for eight years. (Bush's worldview is so over-simplified and childish, he perpetually sounds as if he's describing his foreign policy to an elementary school class. "America had to go give some of the Bad People a Time Out but if they promise to be good and learn how to share, they can rejoin the rest of the group.")

So what I'm saying is, if you ask a Democrat what to do about a war, you get some long-winded bloviations about strategies, externalities to consider and nitpicky details. Most of it's bullshit anyway, but there's effort made to make the bullshit sound reasonable. But ask a Republican about war and you'll just get some Fantasyland abstraction. "We must be ever-vigilant in our fight against those who would threaten the sanctity of our homeland and assail our way of life."

Now take a look at this anti-McCain ad:

It's good, right? I mean, it uses his own words to make him look stupid, always an effective technique. But I don't really think you need to try this hard to make McCain look stupid. I think the ideal anti-McCain ad might just be that video of him promising to stay in Iraq for 10,000 years. Just play that, no text, no subtitles, and then we hear "I'm Barack Obama, I approved this message and I'm as dumbfounded as you are."

That's seriously all you need. Simple. Old Man Love War. Young Man Prefer Compromise. Obama '08.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

My First Commentary Track!

Because what's a classy foreign film without a self-congratulatory audio commentary?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Ceci n'est pas une blog post

Today's Mahalo Daily just might be the best thing ever. Seriously, a MUST SEE for film fans, and not just because it features me and my brother.

Just Another Darwin Day

So, former game show host and present Nixon apologist Ben Stein has a new film out in which he argues that God-talk is forcibly kept out of the classroom by jackbooted professorial thugs, possibly linked up with this whole Liberal Fascism movement I keep hearing so much about...

Here's how he described Expelled on his

In a scientific world gone mad, EXPELLED: No Intelligence Allowed is the controversial documentary that will chronicle Ben Stein’s confrontation with the Neo-Darwinian machine, exposing widespread suppression and entrenched discrimination in his heroic quest to bring back freedom in our institutions, laboratories and most importantly, in our classrooms, with the help of the world’s top scientists, educators and thinkers.

I've got to say, it's pretty ballsy to come right out and call your Creationism documentary No Intelligence Allowed. This is the easiest punchline for critics and satirists since the heydey of '90s alt-rock mainstay Garbage.

You've also got to love the epic language with which Stein describes his bitchy academic slapfight. "You big meanies won't give my nonsensical bullshit beliefs the same weight as your rigorously-tested scientific theories!" suddenly becomes "Let My People Go!" I mean, his confrontation with the Neo-Darwinian machine? Is that "machine" anything like a large, disconnected group of angry nerds with mild superiority complexes? Seriously, his heroic quest to bring back freedom in our institutions? Freedom to believe made-up fake shit? This is too much...

The whole blog is chock full of complete dumbfuckery. I can't imagine how silly the movie is going to be. I mean, say what you will about Ben Stein...I enjoyed (and once appeared on) his game show. His single scene in Ferris Bueller is mildly amusing. Those Clear Eyes commercials weren't the worst thing I've ever seen. Um, he's probably not the single most oily douchebag from the Nixon administration...

But strong, well-reasoned argumentation has never been his strong suit. Attentive readers will recall his unspeakably distasteful, sociopathic reaction to Hurricane Katrina. The main post on the site right now is about how Charles Darwin's birthday has supplanted Lincoln's birthday in the "imagination" of Americans. (They were both born on the same day: February 12, 1809). Which, of course, is not true. Like most people who believe evolution is essentially correct, I couldn't have told you Charles Darwin's birthday off the top of my head.

But Stein doesn't stop with mere mendacity. Check this out:

The title of Charles Darwin’s book is not “The Origin of The Species.” The full title seems shocking: “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.” That last half of the title, often overlooked, sounds like it could come straight out of a Ku Klux Klan manual - which is precisely why Big Science rarely quotes the full title (even though Darwin was not referring specifically to “man” in his use of the words “favoured races.”). Big Science is uncomfortable with even the suggestion that evolutionary theory might favor politically incorrect thinking.

This is some intensely intellectually dishonest writing right here. Stein essentially acknowledges that his analysis is incorrect. Darwin used the term "favoured races" in a way that had nothing to do with our current ideas about racial diversity in humans. Then he just goes ahead and discusses implications of his incorrect analysis anyway. I mean...what? That's the opposite of how persuasive argumentation works. You establish a premise and then back it up with evidence, guy.

Darwinian evolution theory is a viable scientific theory. Author of The God Delusion Richard Dawkins has stated that Darwin’s evolution theory has provided atheists with “intellectual fulfillment.” If you grant that, then you must also grant that it has given a great many racists “intellectual fulfillment,” too.

Because...some racists...many years ago...were inspired and comforted by elements of Darwin's theories...that means they are wrong? Or it means they are right, but so toxic, we should pretend they are wrong? W

Ben Stein is an old man, and I'm pretty sure a reasonably intelligent middle-school student could unravel this argument. I mean, it's not like racists have exclusively used evolution to justify their racism. They'll use any means to justify it they can think of. What about religion? Ann Coulter said we should go kill the leaders of Middle Eastern countries and convert the people to Christianity, not Secular Humanism. That mean we should give up on Christianity? Hey, Ann Coulter used it in a racist context!

What a child this man is. If you want to be super-super-religious, go for it. No one's telling you not to. But why do strangers have to justify your belief system to you? If Ben Stein's answer really is The Truth, then Science will come around to it eventually through the standard process of hypothesis and experimentation. He knows that won't happen, so he has to cheat, to bully and pester people into accepting his unique brand of ignorant twaddle.

But cheating is all Stein knows how to do. A little box on his website features insulting snippets from comments/e-mails from detractors and reads: "Intelligent Quote of the Day!" Rather than present arguments from his critics and then take them on honestly in the forthright manner that might spark an actual dialogue, he prefers to cherry-pick substance-free insults and present them as the sole opposition. See, I must make a lot of sense if all these hysterics come here unprovoked and insult me! What a loser.

[Hat tip: Sadly No]

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Return of Raimi?

I miss Sam Raimi. His movies weren't always classics (though a few of them, particularly Evil Dead 2, could actually be described as such). But they were always fun and above all daring. Films like Darkman and Quick and the Dead aren't exactly award-worthy, but they were fueled by a manic desire to entertain: even when they didn't work, they were interesting failures.

But the last film that felt authentically Raimi-esque was 2000's The Gift. Ever since, he's been embroiled in this underwhelming Spider-Man franchise. Yes, yes, some of the effects are nice, and Alfred Molina's good in Part 2, but I think The Fanboy Nation should be capable of admitting the truth at this late point...they're pretty crappy movies, especially Part 1 but especially Part 3.

So hearing about his next project, the brilliantly-titled Drag Me To Hell, brought a smile to my face this morning. The synopsis according to IMDb: "An unsuspecting person becomes the recipient of a supernatural curse." Sounds vaguely familiar...but I'll take it.

And Harry Knowles is reporting that "unsuspecting person" will be played by Juno star Ellen Page. Page stepping in for Bruce Campbell, huh? I'm intrigued...

Damn You Paparazzo!

I don't post often about the very public mental collapse of Britney Spears, because there are plenty of other websites happy to provide a minute-by-minute breakdown of her breakdown. But I have to say...this kind of treatment 24-7 would make me batshit insane as well:

That's not trying to take her picture. That's just taunting her, middle-school style. I know these guys say they're just doing their job to excuse the taking photos part, but how do they excuse the sneering, needlessly cruel attitudes? It takes a bunch to make me feel sorry for a billionaire pop princess, but here we are.