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Josh Reviews Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later!

I like David Wain’s 2001 film Wet Hot American Summer, but I absolutely adored the 2015 Netflix miniseries First Day of Camp.  The success of that endeavor clearly inspired creators David Wain and Michael Showalter to come back for another go.  The new miniseries, Ten Years Later, plays out the premise hinted at by the epilogue of the 2001 film, the idea that these camp friends would reunite ten years later to see how they’d all changed. While I don’t think this second mini-series has quite the laugh-per-minute ratio that First Day of Camp did, I can say that I quite enjoyed Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later.  It’s a pleasure spending more time with this crazy band of characters and these incredible comedic performers.

Although it was made a decade-and-a-half after the original film, the previous mini-series (Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp) was set BEFORE the film, on the first day of the 1981 summer camp season (while the film had depicted the last day).  I was endlessly amused by the sight of these forty-something actors playing even younger versions of the characters they’d all played back in 2001.  Expanding to an eight-episode mini-series allowed the series to let all the characters — played by this incredible array of very funny and talented actors — to shine, allowing all sorts of crazy comedic digressions that I found endlessly entertaining.  I also liked how David Wain and Michael Showalter used the expanded format to amp-up the lunacy of the story.  The original film is a crazy exaggeration of what actually goes on at summer camps (even what actually went on in the more out-of-control environment of many 1980’s summer camps, when the film is set), but the mini-series went way beyond that, bringing in government conspiracies, falling satellites, hand-to-hand combat, and all sorts of other nuttiness.  It all worked perfectly, a very-rare example of a sequel made years later that was as-good-as, if not better, than the original!

And so, having loved First Day of Camp, I was of course excited for another return to Camp Firewood.  David Wain and Michael Showalter have crafted another very entertaining show.  This eight-episode mini-series format works great for this sort of loose ensemble piece.  There is a LOT to enjoy here in Ten Years Later, with an extraordinarily talented ensemble clearly having a lot of fun.

There were, though, a few wobbly aspects of this second mini-series.  While I was impressed by how they got everyone from the original film back for First Day of Camp, the structure of Ten Years Later indicates that they might have had a little more trouble making the schedules of all these … [continued]

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The Top Twenty Movies of 2015 — Part Two!

Yesterday I began my list of the Top Twenty Movies of 2015, listing numbers twenty through sixteen.  Now, on with my list!

Celebrity Sightings In New York City - July 16, 2014

15. Trainwreck A perfect vehicle for Amy Schumer (who wrote the film, in addition to starring in it) and a wonderful combination of her very specific comedic sensibilities with those of director Judd Apatow, it’s no surprise that Trainwreck was a breakout hit for Ms. Schumer.  That a raunchy comedy can have a woman as the lead shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is.  The film is hugely funny and elevated by a spectacular cast including Bill Hader, Colin Quinn, Brie Larson, Tilda Swinton, Ezra Miller, Vanessa Bayer, Randall Park, a who-knew-he-could-be-so-funnt LeBron James, and many more.  But the film is Ms. Schumer’s show and she crushes it from start to finish.  Trainwreck would be higher on my list if it didn’t fall into a few romantic-comedy cliches in the third act, but it’s hard to criticize a film that is so joyously funny and filthy.  (Click here for my original review.)

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14. Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation I still can’t believe how much better this film wound up being that this year’s James Bond installment Spectre Both films are about our super-spy hero uncovering a super-secret criminal organization that, it turns out, is responsible for most of the acts of terror happening around the world.  Both are globe-hopping action-adventure stories, both feature our hero assisted by a small cadre of allies and meeting a woman who shares the adventure.  And yet Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation crushes Spectre in every way.  I just re-watched Rogue Nation last week, and I was again bowled over by what a fun, thrilling roller-coaster-ride it was.  Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie has a perfect command of tone, creating a film that is a ridiculously entertaining romp that also has serious physical and emotional stakes for our heroes.  The film is gorgeous to look at and extremely well-edited.  The action sequences are spectacular.  That Tom Cruise hanging-off-an-airplane stunt that opens the film got everyone’s attention, and rightly so.  The sequence is magnificent.  (And once again an example of this Mission: Impossible film out-Bonding Bond, as this opening action sequence — a Bond-movie trademark — is far more memorable than anything in Spectre.)  But there are so many other amazing action sequences in the film, from the extraordinary opera fight, to the underwater break-in, to that last big shoot-out-and-chase through the streets of London, and don’t forget my favorite: the escalatingly crazy car-and-motorcycle chase in-and-around Morocco.  Making great use of the ensemble from the last two M:I films (including Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, and Ving Rhames) … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp

David Wain and Michael Showalter’s cult classic film Wet Hot American Summer is not a film for which I ever expected to see a sequel made.

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The film did not succeed upon its theatrical release back in 2001.  But then a strange thing happened, which sometimes occurs with films whose style or content fall somewhat outside what one might deem the “mainstream” (and this seems to particularly be the case with comedies): the film slowly began to build a passionate group of fans who love and quote the film endlessly.  At the same time, so many of the performers in the film, who were small-potatoes when it was released, exploded in popularity in the years to come: performers like Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Rudd, and many others.  Looking back on the film today, Wet Hot American Summer feels like an incredibly prescient film, one that magically brought together an insanely talented array of performers.

And yet, despite the film’s eventually earning a beloved status amongst many comedy fans, who ever thought that a sequel would ever be made?  What flop ever earns a sequel?  And Wet Hot never felt to me like one of those films that is begging for a sequel.  The film’s story, about the last day of summer camp at Camp Firewood in 1981, felt like a complete story.  And how on earth could all of these now-very-popular and successful performers ever be united?

And even if one dared to dream that perhaps someday some studio could be convinced to front the money to make a sequel for a film that flopped, there are all the other challenges of making a sequel to a comedy.  I could probably write a book analyzing all the reasons why this might be, but for now let’s just cut to the chase to state that making a comedy sequel is incredibly hard.  There are very, very few comedy sequels that are any good.  (Go ahead. Try to name one.)

Somehow, David Wain and Michael Showalter have managed to surmount every single challenge that stood in the way of crafting a satisfying and entertaining sequel to the original film.  I don’t quite know how they did it, but they did!  And so, lo and behold, Netflix’s eight-episode Wet Hot American Summer mini-series is now something that actually exists that I have seen with my own two eyeballs.

Somehow, David Wain and Michael Showalter managed to lure back every single cast-member of note from the original film.  That in itself is a triumph of staggering performers.  To reunite that enormous ensemble, all of whom are big comedy names?  Crazy.  (Along with the names I listed above, back for the mini-series … [continued]

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Josh Reviews They Came Together

They Came Together was released to select theaters on June 27, but it never opened anywhere around me.  However, I was pleased to discover that the film is available to watch on VOD through iTunes and amazon.  Right now, from the comfort of your own home!  Just click here and watch!

You really should, too, because this send-up of romantic comedies by director David Wain (Wet Hot American Summer, Wanderlust) is fantastic and boasts an extraordinary ensemble of comedic performers.  The film stars Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler and also features Ed Helms, Bill Hader, Ellie Kemper, Jason Mantzoukas, Cobie Smulders, Christopher Meloni, Jack McBrayer, Michaela Watkins, Ken Marino, Melanie Lynskey, and many other fantastic men and women who you’ll probably recognize.  I cannot believe this film is not getting a wide release!  (Is the I-can’t-believe-they-got-away-with-it dirty title holding the film back??)

They Came Together tells the story of the torturous path to romance followed by made-for-one-another couple Joel (Paul Rudd) and Molly (Amy Poehler).  I really don’t want to tell you anything more than that, because the fun of the film is watching hapless Joel and Molly stumble through every single cliche romantic comedy plot-twist that you could possibly think of.

It’s really quite brilliant.  There are some very specific references (I myself was very taken by the film’s version of the trip to meet the wealthy Christian in-laws from Annie Hall) and also a lot of more generalized messing around with the types of scenes we have all seen a million times in romantic comedies.  (The way Joel and his brother each give a tender “thanks” to one another after a heart-felt moment had me in stitches.)  There’s some nerdy clever humor in the film and also some very low-brow, silly humor.  There are a few very literal scenes that would have felt at home in Airplane! (such as the moment in which Joel and his bartender go through a “you can say that again” routine about ten times).  There are also some extremely random digressions (such as a stunningly bizarre sequence in which Joel’s boss is unable to unzip his super-hero Halloween costume when he has to go to the bathroom).  Not every one of these jokes lands, but there are always about ten more jokes coming right on its heels, so I found myself laughing pretty consistently throughout.

The film has a playful, anything-for-a-laugh approach that at times can make the film’s narrative feel choppy, but which I found quite endearing.  There’s one moment when we suddenly discover that Molly has a young son, which provides a great opportunity to get this film’s silly version of the classic romantic comedy moment in which … [continued]

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In one of my earliest posts on the site, I wrote my own follow-up to the famous Comics Journal article “Martin Wagner Owes Me Fifty Bucks,” in which I listed several comic book series that remained tragically never-completed by their authors.  At the top of the list was David Lapham’s magnificent series Stray Bullets.  This independently published, black-and-white comic book blew me away as a teenager.  I still think it stands as a magnificent achievement, which makes the fact that the series stopped publication in the middle of a story tragically painful.  Mr. Lapham is still working in the comic book industry, and for years and years I have been hoping that he would some-day return to this series and complete his story.  It looks like that day has finally arrived, as Image Comics has listed Stray Bullets on their publication schedule for March, 2014.  I hope this is real!!!

Devin Faraci at badassdigest.com has listed his Ten Most Disappointing Films of 2013, and at the top of his list is Star Trek Into Darkness.  What Mr. Faraci wrote about the film so perfectly sums up my feelings that I don’t think I ever need to write another word about that terribly disappointing film.  Here is Mr. Faraci:

This isn’t technically a ranked list, but I saved this for last on purpose. There were many months leading up to Star Trek Into Darkness that allowed me to roll with the movie’s punch, but even still this broiling heap of nonsense left me deeply despondant. JJ Abrams had totally proven me wrong with Star Trek 2009, a movie that while not great was filled with heart and adventure and managed to work despite extraordinary script flaws. Star Trek Into Darkness brought back both the cast who made the first film live and the script flaws that almost sank it, except this time the script flaws were not going to get upstaged. Into Darkness is dumb, it’s complicated for no reason, it features reveals that are meaningless to the plot and it pisses away Star Trek‘s most name-brand villain in a plotline that disrespects hardcore fans while being meaningless to the coveted new audience. Star Trek Into Darkness is a movie so bad that it fails on almost every conceivable level, including mewling fan service. This isn’t the worst film of the year… but it’s without a doubt the film that squanders the most talent, money and good will. 

Amen.  (If you’re interested, here’s my review of Star Trek Into Darkness.)

Love this trailer for Christopher Nolan’s new film, Interstellar.  I don’t have a clue what the film is about, and that’s just the way I want … [continued]

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Josh Reviews This is 40

I’m an enormous Judd Apatow fan.  I’m proud to say that I watched and loved Freaks and Geeks (the criminally cancelled-before-its time TV show created by Paul Feig and executive-produced by Mr. Apatow) back when it originally aired.  Same goes with Undeclared, Mr. Apatow’s equally-great-but-nevertheless-also-painfully-cancelled follow-up show.  I think The 40 Year-Old Virgin is one of the funniest comedies I have ever seen in my life, and Knocked Up is almost as great.  I have mixed feelings about Funny People. (Click here for my original review.)  I love the ambition behind the film, and I love how personal a film it feels like it was for Mr. Apatow, even though I acknowledge that there is a lot about the film that doesn’t completely work.  When I wrote about Funny People, I commented that it felt like Mr. Apatow was aspiring to create a James L. Brooks film, one that is funny but also personal and emotional.  I think he succeeded — Funny People feels very much to me like a James L. Brooks film, and that is a huge compliment.  In the film’s emotional honesty, in its ability to land a screamer of a punch-line, and also in the shaggy nature of its narrative, Funny People has a lot in common with Mr. Brooks’ work.

I feel the same way about This is 40. The film is very funny and is filled with a ton of throw-away hysterical lines laced throughout the dialogue as well as complete comedic sequences (Pete and Debbie’s drugged-out weekend away; Pete’s confrontation with an angry school-mom played by Melissa McCarthy), both of which are a mark of Mr. Apatow’s strongest work.  But it’s also a film with a strong emotional through-line, and a difficult one at that.  Pete and Debbie are married with two kids, but as much as they seem to love one another they also are at in a point in their lives together when they drive each another crazy.  They each have personal issues they are wrestling with, they have financial problems, and they struggle to raise their kids well while still having some semblance of a life of their own.  They are often quick to snipe at one another and to put one another down.  There are still sparks between them, and they have a long history together, and two kids they are trying to bring up, but can their marriage survive the pressures (both external and self-imposed) that they put on it?

These are weighty issues for a comedy film to grapple with, and for the most part the film avoids easy answers.  The film also wisely avoids the simplistic emotional arc of most romantic comedies, instead taking … [continued]

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Catching Up on 2011: Our Idiot Brother

In the film Our Idiot Brother, Paul Rudd plays the titular idiot, Ned Rochlin.  Ned is an extremely sweet, well-meaning goofball, but he has an uncanny knack for wreaking unintentional havoc on the lives of everyone he encounters — along with his own!  When we first meet him, he’s being busted for selling pot to a police officer — who solicited him IN UNIFORM!  It’s a great introduction to Ned, because not only do we see that he is pretty naive and clueless, but we also see clearly his inherent decency.  He takes pity on the officer who comes to him with a sob story of how tough his life has been, which is why Ned agrees to sell him some pot.  Paul Rudd brings his 100-watt smile and every ounce of his powerful likability to the role, and it’s a great fit for his particular charms and skilled comedic mannerisms.

But Our Idiot Brother isn’t just about Ned, the idiot.  It’s also about the “Our” in the title — that being Ned’s three sisters, played by Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, and Emily Mortimer.  The three women are extraordinarily well-cast, and this assemblage of comedic and dramatic powerhouses is a huge part of what gives Our Idiot Brother it’s charm.

Elizabeth Banks plays Miranda.  She’s a fast-talking, city-living journalist for Vanity Fair. She’s struggling to make her breakthrough at the magazine, and isn’t above using some unscrupulous methods to do so.  She and her neighbor Jeremy (Adam Scott, so brilliant on Party Down and these days on Parks and Recreation) are clearly perfect for one another, though Ned is the only one of the three of them who can see that.  Zooey Deschanel plays Natalie, whose hippie lifestyle involves her living in a commune-style apartment with her girlfriend, Cindy (Rashida Jones, just as much fun and as brilliantly cast as the actresses playing the three sisters) and several other roommates.  Emily Mortimer plays Liz, a stay-at-home mom married to Dylan (Steve Coogan, with his smarminess turned up to eleven, which of course only makes him more entertaining), a documentary filmmaker who is cheating on her with the Russian dancer who is the subject of his latest film.

All three women (four, if you could Rashida Jones’ Cindy, and we really should) are fascinating, strong, sharply-drawn characters.  The film wouldn’t work if they weren’t as interesting as they all are.  These women are all fully-realized people, with strengths and flaws.  As Ned bounds into their lives, his unflinching honesty results, with unswerving consistency, in overturning the carefully-constructed patterns of each of their lives.

Our Idiot Brother is very funny, but there are dramatic aspects to the story as well, and director … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Wanderlust!

In Wanderlust, George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) find their New York lifestyle overturned when George’s firm goes under and Linda’s depressing documentary about penguins gets rejected by HBO.  With no jobs  and no way to afford their apartment (tiny though it might be), the two are forced to leave the city so George can get a job working for his brother, Rick (Ken Marino).  On the way, though, a small mishap (involving an encounter with a wine-drinking nudist played by Joe Lo Truglio and their car flipping over), they’re forced to spend the night at a place called Elysium.  At first George and Linda assume Elysium is a rural bed and breakfast, though they quickly discover it’s a commune (or “intentional community” as the denizens call it) inhabited by an eclectic bunch of free-spirited men and women.  They’re oddballs, but they all seem to have achieved a certain peace and happiness that George and Linda have never known.  Is this a better lifestyle for them than the hustle and bustle of big-city modern life?

Wanderlust was directed by David Wain (who also directed the very funny Role Models) and written by Mr. Wain and Ken Marino.  I really enjoyed Role Models, and as I mentioned in Monday’s post I’ve become a huge fan of Ken Marino based on his work in Party Down. So I was interested in Wanderlust, and the film’s stellar cast was an added bonus.

The film did not disappoint.  There’s nothing dramatically revelatory in the movie, and I can’t say that mining humor from the hippie lifestyle is a particularly original idea.  But I found Wanderlust to be a very funny, weird, and even sweet film, one that I quite enjoyed.

Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston are both strong in the lead roles.  Neither actor strays too far from his/her comfort zone character type, but in a way that works for the film as we start from a place of feeling like we know and like these two people.  Both George and Linda are normal enough characters that they work as audience surrogates when they encounter all of the weirdness at Elysium.  But Mr. Rudd and Ms. Aniston are also skilled enough comedic performers that they’re able to give George and Linda some surprising weirdness of their own, whether it’s George’s increasingly insane way of motivating himself in the mirror before trying to have sex with the beautiful Eva (Malin Akerman), or Linda’s strategy for halting the groundbreaking for a casino that certain businessmen are trying to construct on Elysium’s land.

But while Mr. Rudd and Ms. Aniston are strong leads, the film rises or falls depending on how funny and interesting the … [continued]

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Josh Reviews How Do You Know

Before the start of James L. Brooks’ new film, How Do You Know, there was a trailer for a new Adam Sandler film.  Apparently, Sandler’s character likes to wear a wedding band, even though he’s not married, in order to score chicks.  Then he meets a girl he really likes, but when she finds his wedding band, he’s too embarrassed to admit what he’s been doing, so he pretends he is actually married, to his assistant (played by Jennifer Aniston).  But then Aniston mentions her kids in front of Sandler’s new girlfriend, so NOW he has to pretend that he’s married AND that Aniston’s kids are actually HIS kids.

This is exactly why I can’t stand most of what passes for mainstream studio comedies these days.  I simply have no patience for films in which we’re supposed to be laughing at characters behaving in the ways that no actual human being possibly would — doing outrageous things and spinning increasingly outlandish webs of deception.

What a refreshing change of pace, then, to watch a film like How Do You Know, in which the characters all actually behave like real people might, and in which the situations seem like actual real-life situations.  Sure, there’s some exaggeration for comedic effect, and sure, there are some coincidences involved in the plot (such as two main characters in the story happening to live in the same building), but with only one small exception (which I’ll get to in a minute), the comedy in How Do You Know is drawn from actual, recognizable human behavior and emotions.  Thank heavens for James L. Brooks!

Reese Witherspoon plays Lisa, an athletic, driven young woman who nevertheless, at the age of 31, finds herself past her prime in her sport and cut from the USA women’s softball team.  She’s recently started dating Matty, played by Owen Wilson, an affable though somewhat dim professional baseball player.  George, played by Paul Rudd, has suddenly found himself under indictment for suspected unethical stock transactions.  He’s pretty sure he’s innocent, though the cost of his defense will most certainly bankrupt him and if he loses the case he could wind up in prison.  He’s pretty sure that his father, played by Jack Nicholson, who is also the head of the company where he works, knows a bit more about the situation than he’s telling.  Even after a set-up dinner that goes pretty poorly, Lisa and George  seem to continue to find themselves drawn into each other’s orbit, as they both struggle to find a way to get through this low-point in their lives when the hopes they had and the plans they’d laid out for themselves are coming crashing down around … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Dinner For Schmucks!

August 4th, 2010
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Hoo boy, this one was disappointing.

I’m a big fan of both Steve Carell and Paul Rudd, and I thought Dinner For Schmucks had a premise that was so weird it seemed to promise good comedy.  Rudd plays Tim, who is trying desperately to climb the ladder at the private equity firm at which he works.  When one of his ideas sparks the attention of his boss (the always-great Bruce Greenwood), Tim gets an invite to his boss’ annual dinner.  But this isn’t just any dinner: each guest must bring, as their guest, the biggest idiot they can possibly find.  The purpose, simply, is for the rich hosts to mock the unfortunate souls gathered for the meal.  When Tim accidentally hits the socially awkward, dead-mice-collecting taxidermist Barry (Steve Carell) with his car, he seems to have found the perfect guest to bring along.

I’ve got to hand it to the filmmakers for having the guts to go with Dinner For Schmucks as their title.  (I’m not quite sure how that one got approved by the MPAA while Kevin Smith’s buddy cop film A Pair of Dicks had to be re-titled Cop Out — do the suits not know what the word schmuck means?)  But that title is about the only edgy element to be found in this broad, obvious comedy.

There aren’t any real, human characters to be found in this film.  Despite being one of the two male leads, I didn’t feel like we really got to know Rudd’s character Tim at all.  He likes his girlfriend and wants to get ahead in business.  What else did we learn over the course of the film?  Tim is painfully middle-of-the-road — not nice enough of a person to be someone we really sympathize with while watching the film, nor enough of a jerk to have any sort of character arc in the movie.  Then there is Carell’s Barry, who’s a big giant goofy cartoon, full of all sorts of bizarre manners and idiosyncracies.  I guess it’s all supposed to be funny, but it didn’t really tickle my funny-bone.

Director Jay Roach has been involved in some very funny movies (such as Austin Powers films), but it seems that lately he’s tended to make overly simplistic, broad comedies (such as the Meet the Parents films), and Dinner For Schmucks exacerbates that trend.  The set-ups for the gags are tired and obvious.  Hey, two characters have the same phone, I wonder if they’re going to get mixed up?  Hey, Tim has an important lunch, I wonder if Barry is going to screw that up?  Hey, now would be the worst moment for Tim’s girlfriend Julie (the beautiful Stephanie Szostak) to show up, … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Year One

I love Harold Ramis.  For his performance as Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters (and Ghostbusters 2) alone, the man deserves to be recognized as a comic genius.  When you also consider his involvement in films such as Animal House, Caddyshack, Stripes, Groundhog Day, Anaylze This, and so many more, then you have to realize what an impact he has had on film comedies over the past 30 years.

And yet, it seems like Mr. Ramis has fallen out of the spotlight in the aughts.  He’s had some great (albeit small) acting roles (in Orange County, Knocked Up, and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story), but none of the films he has directed recently have made much of an impact: Bedazzled (in 2000), Anaylze That (the misbegotten sequel to Analyze This from 2002), and The Ice Harvest (in 2005) all came and went without much fanfare.

So I was very excited when I read, last year, that Mr. Ramis was hooking up with Jack Black and quite a few members of the Judd Apatow comedy troupe (Michael Cera, Paul Rudd, Christopher Mintz-Plasse) as well as a number of other very funny people (Oliver Platt, David Cross, Hank Azaria) for the Biblical-comedy Year One.

For a movie crafted by so many talented folks, though, the result is surprisingly mediocre.  Oh, it’s funny, don’t get me wrong.  There are plenty of big laughs.  But there are also plenty of scenes that are very flat, with few if any laughs at all.  And, even of the jokes that work, a lot of the humor of the film feels rather tame, rather familiar.  Stacked up against the great comedies of the past few years (mostly from the Apatow brand) like The 40 Year Old Virgin, Superbad, Knocked Up, etc. etc., — comedies that took your breath away they were so funny, and, even more than that, felt like original, unique works, very different from any movie comedies that you’d ever seen before — Year One pales in comparison.

My biggest joy in watching the film came from sitting back and watching the great cast at play.  Oliver Platt, in particular, is just marvelously loony as Sodom’s High Priest.  I was also pleasantly surprised by the amount of screen-time that the great David Cross (who plays Cain) got.  I didn’t expect him to reappear after the early scene with his brother Abel (Paul Rudd), so I was pleased by his large role in the second half of the film.  I should also mention Xander Berkeley (George Mason from the early days of 24) who is just terrific as the King, and Vinnie Jones (a familiar face from Guy Ritchie’s films) as the menacing … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Walk Hard

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story is one of the few films from the past several years that Judd Apatow has had a hand in (he co-wrote the film and was one of its producers), that, despite his involvement, did not receive a lot of love from audiences upon its release.  My own recollection of seeing it in theatres was that it was sort of funny but not fantastic.  However, upon a second viewing on DVD last month, I must say that I have fallen head-over-heels in love with this film!

Walk Hard is, first and foremost, an evisceration of a very specific type of film: the Oscar-bait musical bio-pic (like Ray, Walk the Line, etc.).  In scene after scene after scene, the film mercilessly sends-up every single ridiculous cliche of those types of movies.

We meet young Dewey growing up in a ramshackle farm down South, enjoying an idyllic life.  But a day of fun with his brother (“ain’t nothing horrible gonna happen today!” the doomed tyke promises) ends in tragedy after a machete-fighting accident.  Out of that grief, Dewey discovers his musical ability, playing the blues (“I got the blues… cut my brother in half…”).  A few years later, a nervous Dewey performs at a High School concert.  (Starting here, Dewey is played by John C. Reilly, despite the fact that the character is only 14 in this scene.  As Apatow and Director/co-writer Jake Kasdan note in their DVD commentary, they were interested in poking fun at  “just how young the lead actor THINKS he can play” in these sorts of movies.)   Despite the innocuousness of the pop ballad Dewey performs (entitled “Take My Hand”), the concert erupts into a frenzy of sexualized dancing (as, you know, Rock and Roll is wont to cause).  After being condemned by the local priest (“You think we don’t know what you’re talking about when you say take my hand?!”) and his father (“The wrong kid died!”), Dewey decides to leave home and set out on a musical career.

What follows reads like a crazy check-list of the types of scenes one could expect in these sorts of films, charting our hero’s rise and fall and eventual redemption.  Dewey gets an opportunity to perform his music for a disinterested record company executive (played brilliantly by John Michael Higgins, who proclaims: “You have failed conclusively!  There is nothing that you can do, here in this room, to turn that around!”) but, of course, once Dewey plays one of his own songs (the titular “Walk Hard”), the executive is blown away, as are his Hassidic Jewish backers (Harold Ramis — yes, Harold Ramis — Phil Rosenthal, and Martin Starr in delightfully over-the-top Hassidic get-up … [continued]

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Josh Reviews I Love You, Man!

In I Love You, Man, Paul Rudd plays Peter Klaven, an LA real estate agent who discovers, after getting engaged to his girlfriend Zooey (Rashida Jones), that he doesn’t really have any male friends he could ask to be his groomsmen.  With some help from Zooey and his brother Robbie (SNL‘s Andy Samberg), Peter embarks on a series on “man-dates” to try to find some guy friends.  After a bizarre but amusing encounter at one of his open houses, Peter strikes up a friendship with Sydney Fife (Jason Segal).  Not suprisingly, this new friendship quickly throws much of the rest of Peter’s life into disarray.

The success (and high quality — the two don’t always go hand-in-hand, you know!) of Judd Apatow’s films (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up) have really sparked a wave of truly excellent comedies in a similar style.  But while these could have all wound up being pale imitations of Apatow’s films, it has been quite remarkable to see actors from his ensembles continue to work together and collaborate with other talented actors, writers, and directors to produce additional high quality films. I Love You, Man is certainly a prime example of this.

Directed by John Hamburg (who directed several episodes of Apatow’s brilliant TV series Undeclared, as well as the film Along Came Polly, which I must admit to having had no interest in seeing) and written by Hamburg and Larry Levin (who wrote the classic Keith Hernandez episode of Seinfeld, “The Boyfriend”), I Love You, Man feels very similar in tone to me to Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which was released last year at almost exactly this time, and which also starred Paul Rudd and Jason Segal.  (Sarah Marshall was produced by Judd Apatow, although I Love You, Man was not.)  Both films have a real sweetness to them, while also being uproariously funny.  That blend of sweetness with fierce comedy is, to me, a big part of what I referred to a moment ago as the “Apatow style.”  Another mark of that style is a loose, almost improvisational feel to a lot of the comedy and the dialogue (Paul Rudd’s lengthy, intensely hilarious riff on the phrase “slapping the bass” in I Love You, Man is a prime example of what I’m talking about).

Of course, a big part of the “Apatow style” has also been the growing ensemble of brilliant actors who have filled out his films.  Rudd and Segal have both appeared in many previous Apatow works (Segal was in Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, Rudd was in The 40 Year Old Virgin, and both appeared in Knocked Up), … [continued]