RIORI Vol 3, Installment 98: David Gordon Green’s “Pineapple Express” (2008)



The Players…

Seth Rogen, James Franco, Danny McBride, Gary Cole and Rosie Perez, with Kevin Corrigan, Craig Robinson, and Amber Heard.


The Story…

Dale and Saul are the best of buds…so to speak. Dale relishes his unenviable job of a process server, throwing out subpoenas to unsuspecting catchers. Sure, it can stressful, but then there’s his pal Saul with the panacea: a veritable Eden of reefer.

But Saul doesn’t have the green thumb, no. He’s just Amazon. The distributor, and his reach is vast, is only as long as Saul’s supply line runs. And what funds the supply? Right, cold hard cash.

So what does Dale do when on the job? Right. Witness a murder at an alleged drug lord’s mansion. And then what does Dale do in a reefer-induced haze? Right. Seek out Saul and his product for solace. Right?

Nope. And now any hope of safety goes (wait for it) up in smoke.


The Rant

Let us speak frankly now about weed. And I ain’t talking gardening here. Blooms definitely not in the Burpee catalog.

My experiences with mary jane are few and far between. I’ve been partial to the legal, government sanctioned, actually dangerous drugs available at any SafeWay. Booze, caffeine and nicotine, the American Holy Trinity. Sure, I did have my fun with prescription abuse, but the worst that happened there was constant drowsiness and bitchin’ dreams about being awake. That and the patience to read dozens of books at a leisurely clip to which I have no recollection of reading. That sure as sh*t wasn’t amongst the microscopic warnings on the phial. Oh well.

(BTW: why are the risk warnings SO HUGE the legal drugs and f*cking cramped onto a postage stamp for the prescription drugs? Discuss)

I like beer. If you could see me now it shows. Moving on.

Weed. I is a decaf Cheech & Chong routine. For real, every time in my ancient, Phish-loving past I toked and fell fast asleep. Every. Damn. Time. I never felt the dopey joys and goofiness and chilling and ability to dissect every guitar chord on Santana’s self-titled debut along the curves of the Book of Psalms. Nope. Snore, snore and more. Wake up hours later with chili sauce slathering your nose enough times you figure out what a downer apparition you are under the influence of grass.

did sleep well though, complete with some bodacious dreams involving Heather Graham circa 1997.

Even in high school hanging with my stoner friends (I was the lone holdout) I got a metaphorical contact high. First and prob to no surprise I’m pretty liberal in my views about burning. Pot is a controlled substance nowadays, but back then I figured that it should’ve been treated as such. For booze and smokes? You gotta be of a certain age to partake, like 18 or so. You shouldn’t toke and drive, since it messes with your already flawed everyday judgment. You shouldn’t be high in public, because you are irritating and might shut down the local pizzeria. Control the substance. It’s not harmful, but too much weed may make you annoying.

Here’s a story. It’s from college. For those of you who went to one you’ll hear what I’m screaming. It’s one of those “there’s one in every crowd” story. Face it, you’ve been there.

Every solid dorm floor population at college is inhabited by a lot of stereotypes. The go-getter with his scholarship in finance. Some jock, an expert is some lesser-revered team sport (think lacrosse or cricket). The computer nerd with the pale complexion. The bando (raised hand), the artsy queer, the engineer, the etc.

And the burners. You know the kind. Two seconds behind the matter at hand. Their glow-in-the-dark Dead posters hung upside down. Facial tics like moss growing on the wrong side of the tree. Wake and bake. They’re like anti-KISS Army; unlike those manic fanatics who wake, wash and dress like Gene and Paul do everyday, the burners smirk and giggle since Gene don’t bow to the delights of their chosen high despite they snore “Detroit Rock City” in their sleep, sometime after lunch.

There is an argument I lean towards when those admonish the others for toking. Weed can be psychologically addictive. Y’know, like cigarettes, coffee, heroin and binge watching Game Of Thrones. Of which is the worst I cannot say, but when you firmly believe you need to maintain your habit on an hourly basis, then yeah, you have an addiction. My father watches BBC America every night on PBS. It’s an awful show, and he’s not British. What gives? Then again I a lot myself nightly bouts with Jeopardy! So who’s to say what?

We all have our addictions. It’s only when the habit supersedes getting on in the day that it may get troublesome. Especially that if such practices rub you raw, consider the others in your ever dwindling circle that find you increasingly annoying. So here comes the wake ‘n bake tale of grue. Not so much an after school special but an inevitable facepalm.

A room over from my freshman squat were the ideal Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Can’t remember their names, but it doesn’t matter. As I said, you know the type. Glazed eyes, snickering at nothing funny, reeking of patchouli, snickering at nothing funny. Study hall. Domino’s would call the floor asking when we’d like to place our order. Not kidding, there.

We’d have these dumb floor meetings. The RA would rally us every Friday to talk turkey. Mostly domestic 20th Century skills about keeping house. Cleaning up trash. No loud music after 10. Don’t use Canadian quarters in the Coke machine. Bring us together so that we may agree.

It was always eye rolls. But to Zig and Zag it was a circus. Giggling, impatience, odors of spoiled incense and Europe ’72 oozing from every pore. The funniest thing about a career pothead (besides his sidekick) is that they are convinced no one else figures that they are high. Pretty funny, and very annoying. Ain’t this as funny as ever? No, and nope. The joke’s on…whatever.

Like I said about these two jokers. They were in the room next to mine. Always with live recordings on their jambox, day and night and day. Going to actual classes ended…come to think of it, I don’t remember if the guys ever went to class, or if they ever registered. No matter. All I knew then was they bivouacked next door and really liked Santana. I know this for sure because said group invited my first and only convo with Tweedlewhomever. Like most white folks, they all look alike to me.

I had a substantial CD collection then. I was alternating between American Underground bands like the Replacements and Buffalo Tom against classic rockers like Hendrix and the Who. And Santana. This dope caught wind that I had the remastered disc of Carlos and Co’s debut album replete with live tracks from the original Woodstock concert. Trace element stuff back then. I was a feather in my cap, and I played those live tracks to death. Awesome.

I had the door to my room open one evening, that Santana album on repeat when Dee sauntered by. He poked his shaggy head in the doorway and used it to brace himself. I regarded him curiously.

“Hey man,” he drawled. “That Santana?”

I nodded. “Remaster. Got live tracks from Woodstock.”

“Cool, cool. Can I borrow it?”

I hesitated. Hey, at least give me that credit. “Yeah, sure.”

“Like now, man?”

Right now?”

“Yeah. Big study session. Carlos relaxes me. Is it cool?”

Without realizing what I was doing I turned off the stereo, ejected the disc and case and handed to him. At this point anything to make him leave. He smelled like a fart in a car, and was creeping me out. He was interrupting all the nothing I wasn’t working on.

“Thanks, man.” His tipped a salute with the case, leered and dragged himself down the hall. I closed the door.

Now I may know what you’re all thinking: and he never saw his blessed Santana CD ever again. Nope. It was in exile; even I had forgotten about it for some weeks. But one night I got to studying and felt peckish. I went next door with a keen awareness of what laid in wait: very odd, confused hospitality. I shoulda figured out the scene earlier. Once when the Domino’s delivery guy dropped off that evening’s feast it was my turn to pay. He sent me on my way with the pizzas and fistful of coupons. We were such good customers; he told me to spread the clippings around my floor. Sure, okay. Whatever. Save a few bucks next night.

So after the extra extra cheeses were demolished I passed around the coupons and took it on myself to drop the rest off at my dormmate’s rooms. Those who weren’t in I just slipped them under the door. Had to get rid of them somehow.

I met resistance at the door of my music critic’s room. I was surprised. I knew these guys were usually on something, but I couldn’t place what. I was too dumb then to fully understand what patchouli incense was really for, other than for attracting a bull yak in the time of the rut. I tried to shove the coupon under the door, but something was in the way. I poked around and figured it was some fabric. A towel. I gave up, looking quizzically at the piece of paper like one does when the Coke machine won’t accept that wrinkly dollar bill. I saw that the edge was discolored, wet. I raised and eyebrow, harrumphed and went back to my room. I tossed the coupon on the floor. One would figure two potheads would eagerly trudge at a chance for cheap pizza.

Many moons later and about the peckish order, I wanted my Santana album back. It had been weeks since I loaned it out and I was for wanting. I went around the corner and knocked on their door. No surprise a live Dead bootleg was warbling from within. And again with the yak bait. I knocked again.

A shuffle, then a stuffy, “Who’s that?”

“Me.”

“You?”

“Yeah. Can I have my Santana disc back?”

Silence. I knocked again.

“Who’s that?”

I rolled my eyes. Dave’s not here. “I want my Santana disc back. Please.” I’m nothing but polite.

The music went off and the door unlocked. I pushed against but it got stuck. I looked down. Lo and behold a wet towel, as well as a miasma of incense that could keep Dracula at bay. I saw the room was dim; the blinds were closed. Day-glo Henrdrix poster on the wall…as well as an elaborate hand painted mural of a Dead concert as if conjured up by Lewis Carroll. Pizza boxes piled by the closet. I guessed they found that coupon.

My fellow fanboy cursed the glare from the unforgiving halogens in the hallway. It was my turn to lean in the door. He looked at me perplexed.

“What’s up, man?”

“My Santana CD. May I have it back now?”

“That was yours?”

“…Yeah.”

“Hold on.” He kicked away the fallout and found the disc, handed it to me. “Sorry, man. I forgot about it.”

“Uh-huh.”

“I didn’t even get a chance to hear it. But thanks, dude.”

“You’re welcome.” I let him slink back into his lair. Jerry and the guys kicked back into life. I went back to my stereo and kicked Carlos back into life. To this day the liner notes of that remastered disc still smell like spoiled oregano. Good times, good times.

Not long after that meet-and-greet, the Tweedles left campus. And no surprise, not of their own choosing. Not actively, at least. They were expelled, but not so much for getting caught schmokin’ than for never going to class. And vandalism. I will admit I embellished describing the Santana CD story, but the pothead’s room? Amazing. Decked out like an opium den minus the opium. In brighter light the mural was amazing, the stink was glorious and maintenance would’ve had to tear up the floor tiles for sanitation’s sake. All in all awesome, but what a waste.

On the whole, most burners are a kind, mellow lot. Casual and conversational, with a lot of cool stories and great jokes. Chill. It’s only when pot becomes their life and wife that stoners can become obnoxious, where everything is funny, including wreck, ruin and expulsion. Not even making casual use of weed legal could undo that. It’s like if a user, pot or otherwise, is making life troublesome for at least one other person then it becomes an issue. If one’s—pardon the pun—dopey antics, no matter how benign start to rankle someone (even if they’re high as sh*t) it might be time to say when.

Take Dale and Saul, for instance…


“You’ve been served!”

Sounds kinda like a superhero battle cry. But nope, it’s just pothead process server Dale Denton (Rogen) doing his ugly job. Hence the weed. You think you could remain sane being called a*shole on an hourly basis and not partake to remain calm? Right. Pass the Dutchie on the left hand side.

Saul (Franco) is Dale’s left hand. He’s the hookup, with a veritable forest of rare weed to cure every ill. Sure, Saul is just as—if not more—dopey than his numero uno customer Dale, but he’s a kindly, generous soul. No harm to anyone. He wants to invest his cut of sales to get his Grammy Faye into a better retirement community. Aw. See, kind?

Dale’s job ain’t as kind. He’s Saul’s remora. It’s symbiotic. Dale needs the weed to tolerate the job. Saul provides the balm to salve his wounds. Easy.

However, on night on the prowl, doped out of his mind on the latest breed o’ weed Pineapple Express—very new and very trace—Dale starts to get the paperwork ready to deliver to one Ted Jones (Cole) when shots ring out. Jones plugs a guy in the head and Dale sees it all, freaks and speeds off, dropping the tell-tale joint on the driveway. Not cool.

Not ever cooler is when Jones investigates the screeching and finds a spent roach on the ground. Sniff, sniff.

“Pineapple Express.”

See, Jones is a big deal drug dealer in weed, and Saul is his pusher as Dale is the mark. And eyewitness to a murder. Ted’s killing.

Uh, Dale better call Saul…and both get the f*ck out of town.

Who said pot was harmless…?


I may have mentioned this before (and probably have indeed), but doesn’t Rogen play the same guy in all his movies? I know it’s nice to find steady work, but as an actor with a solid schtick rather than a range you’re gonna close a lotta doors. Then again, no one has ever lost money in Hollywood underestimating audiences’ intelligence. Well, maybe once or twice.

Rogen has a good thing going over the past decade. His motormouth humor isn’t for everyone, and even gets a bit degrading for me sometimes, but does sell tickets. At the end of the day I find Rogen funny and sometimes approaching witty in a blend of “aw shucks/are you insane” repartee. His stuff’s usually good with the right co-star. You gotta have one for a buddy movie, right? In Superbad it was Bill Hader, and it was Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 50/50. Such pairings that didn’t work was Adam Sandler in Funny People and especially not Katherine Heigl in Knocked UpDefinitley not her, even if she weren’t a she. Vote’s still out on that, too.

Face it, buddy comedies are almost exclusively the man cave of the sprawling studio lots. So gotta get a good foil to your straight man. A Costello to his Abbott, a Spock to his Kirk, a Stimpy to his Ren (okay, not the best example there). If Rogen’s Dale is an immature, churlish goof with a weed habit. The Murtaugh is his Riggs is slacker, skittish (but still mellow) with a weed habit and business Franco’s Saul. I was pretty surprised how well the two got on together, especially since I never figured his usual yuk-yuks border on ribald. His and Rogen’s oddball, passive-aggressive, bird-pecking-croc-teeth is the centerpiece of this movie.

It also might’ve been the only thing of merit, also.

While watching Express (for the second time, mind you. Caught in theatrical release and wasn’t bowled over. Guess I should’ve smoked up first, but that sh*t’s harder to sneak in than a cold six. This precept has been tried an tested. Yer welcome) there came a nagging at me. And no, it wasn’t the kid yanking on my earlobe for her iPad so she can watch The Loud House (j/k, she’s a SpongeBob fan. watch The Loud House. Grew up with sisters. ‘Nuff said).

(note to self: cut back on parenthetical references)

Express felt a little lopsided, like more was going on elsewhere in film land than what I was immediately seeing. As metaphor, my car has a “dead bulb” warning glowing on my dash, but for the life of me I cannot locate it. Headlights are fine, blinkers re fine. I even asked the kid to check out the rear lights as I applied the brake. Nothing. But something is up. I guess Express cam across a little stilted because that director Green is better known for dramas than screwy stoner action-comedies. A shot in the dark, but hey. Throughout the whole movie there was this Sisyphus-like weight threatening to derail the whole story. I couldn’t figure if this was some proto-meta, Kaufman-esque gag about how too much weed can ruin your perception of the reality of your surroundings. Or maybe it was just shoddy camera work, I dunno. Still, cool to ponder, eh?

Wake up. I got Oreos.

So right, we got a really Laurel and Hardy action going on here. Despite the minor, but still smelling overarching pretentious of our director I must give credit to this dopefest—literally and figuratively—is that is does have a cool mystery vibe going on. It’s paper thin (Dale witnesses a murder, Ted is a bad dude, Carol’s a crooked cop. Saul is just Saul, etc) but enough to let Express survive. It’s a burner Sherlock mystery. Again maybe a metaphor for the Down syndrome goldfish memory of most stoners, but there’s enough silliness to keep things afloat. Barely.

My biggest carp with Express is there’s quite a bit of filler. Scenes that have no point, crammed into the lacy plot. I didn’t really see the point of Dale’s dating Angie in the movie; he’s already very immature and petulant. It’s also safe to assume that a lot of the banter between Rogen and Franco was improv, but too much of it jumps the shark. When that crap goes down, the decent chemistry between Rogen and Franco become stale Martin and Lewis (in a word, annoying, and gimme back my Santana CD). If any wit seems stilted sometimes blame bad directing or an editor asleep at the reel.

Come on. That is the greatest pun you will ever hear in this installment.

Anyway, this action/mystery/comedy flows at a leisurely pace. Perhaps another analogy. This film made me think too hard, because I wasn’t high at the time. Clever device? If there’s some precious direction at work in Express I must’ve been too lucid to find it funny. The movie was funny, but there was too much passive winking that I snuck up on and examined to much.

Let me put it this way: as of this post, the hot ticket at the multiplex is Avengers: Endgame. I haven’t watched a Marvel movie in the theatre since the first Iron Man film back in 2008 BC. Being a comic book collector, I had seen other adaptions before the MCU got revved up, to see what was “right” and what was “wrong.” It’s the only form of snobbery I have: if a movie is based on pre-existing material (Shakespeare’s plays, Stephen King’s novels and/or Stan Lee’s superhero stories) I will scour it rather than just sit back and enjoy it. I can’t help it. Entertainment takes a back seat for studying up for the Bar exam. I overanalyze things (it’s kinda what RIORI and The Standard is all about). I found myself picking apart Express with the lucidity required to strip the Thanksgiving turkey carcass of its oysters because most folks don’t know that turkeys have oysters.

Remember, oreos.

So exactly why does the wit seem stilted? Why was my mantra watching Express was, “Something is missing here?” Must’ve been my imagined device at work. Watched the flick too deeply that Corrigan and Robinson were secretly the real stars of the movie (or at least the yin to Dale and Saul’s yang). Then again I may spotted Green’s established, aforementioned artistic pretentions at full flow here, behind the scenes. Everything is kind until it’s not (the final scene was the best part, clear as a bell). The gauzy direction must’ve put off a lot of folks by The Standard’s stake. But chances are they weren’t high, like me, and missed the chucklefest for that very loss. I dunno.

Welp, that being said I’m gonna go watch One Crazy Summer for the umpteenth time and then try to solve Fermat’s last theorem. Again.

Dude, marvelous.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? A mild rent it. A kind rent it. See it with a bud. Hey, where’s them oreos at?


Stray Observations…

  • “Dopest dope I ever smoked.” Dude, movie in a nutshell.
  • Where’d Saul get the pickles?
  • Why is every vehicle here a period car?
  • So. Many. Payphones.
  • “I used to use this little gun when I was a prostitute.” Shrug.
  • “Watch your head.”
  • Is all the bush supposed to look phallic?
  • “Yeeeah. If you could roll out those 18 bales of kush by 9:30 that would be greaaat (sorry, couldn’t resist).”
  • I never did test the high beams.
  • “Teamwork!” “Yes!”

Next Installment…

Adam Sandler has cooked up a few Bedtime Stories to share with his kid. What’s endearing about that is the tales were intended to be just stories.

Gumballs, anyone?


 

RIORI Vol 3, Installment 87: Kevin Smith’s “Zack And Miri Make A Porno” (2008)



The Players…

Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks, with Craig Robinson, Jason Mewes, Jeff Anderson, Traci Lords, Katie Morgan, Ricky Mabe, Brandon Routh and Justin Long.


The Story…

Zack and Miri are the best of buds, childhood friends, roomies. Inseparable.

And very, very broke. Their financial squeeze gets so bad that their apartment’s utilities shut off, one by one, in the dead of winter. Dire straits. How can they cough up the cash to make ends meet, let alone survive?

Grouchy Zack muses one night there are plenty of people out there who make a mint without working at all. Especially actors. Hey, maybe he and Miri can make a quick buck to set things right by making a cheapo movie.

Miri scoffs. A movie? Really? What kind of movie?

…You read the title, right?


The Rant…

I might have told this story before. If so, forgive me. After over 100 installments here at RIORI the memory gets blurry. Gets more difficult to separate the chaff from the chaff. Still, I think the following are good stories, and might, might be relevant to this week’s assignment. Here’s hoping with crossed fingers and fewer hurled beer bottles. Am wearing a hockey helmet now, BTW. Make up your own jokes.

Back in college in the ancient 90s I was a barista. Real deal and no visor to be found. Local cafe, owner owned and operated. Sumptuous temple for fair trade coffee well before Whole Foods raped your wallet dry. Back then working there had a coolness cachet, minus the embroidered apron. Scammed my way in due to being a good customer. One of the few favors my then girlfriend did for me was bringing me to the place on our first date. It fast became my hangout for both studies and chewing the fat, getting wired all the while. We may talk about the other favors she gave me later, you dogs.

She swallowed. Moving on.

I donned the non-apron my sophomore year. Most of classes ended around 4, so I had the evenings free, which is when the mercurial owners plunked me behind the line. Let me tell you, working under a pair of recovering junkies installed quite a serious work ethic in me, the FNG, not seen since a binge watch of “My Little Pony.”

I have no idea what that means. Neither did they. Seems fitting nonetheless.

The joint was a fishbowl; a demented microcosm of campus life inaction. A good thing. It was this aspect that attracted my then squeeze and her urging to hang out there. Like I mentioned, a true favor. And I am approaching a point here. Figured I’d politely warn you in advance this time out. You’re welcome; please stay awake.

I’ll spare any introduction to the demented “Cheers”-esque cast of regulars that frequented the place (at least in specific). The joint was called the Coffee Cave. Quaint. It squatted in the basement of the local liquor/lottery ticket/cigarette/sodomy vendor. Beneath this haven of sin was a low-slung cafe delightfully reeking of spent cigarettes, fresh baked scones, high end java and endless prattle about courses, bookended by the profs often holding court and in need of a fix. Japanese exchange students holed up with the Anglo architect study. The Arabian business uber-grad with the large, friendly who shamelessly brought his own lunch to the cafe (which irked the owners to no end). Drunken sorority babes every Friday eve requesting elaborate drinks while the winggirl snorted coke off the ceramic top of the “ladies'” room toilet. The homeless demanding said scones, and a wailing wall for budding and failed romances alike. Good times. Saw some things. Learned some things.

One of the things I saw was a movie at my girlfriend’s apartment. The Cave had no TV. At her behest; raving about it and demanding me to see it. It was so me. It was so Mark! It was a quest, for truth and fun. So she planted me in chair, duct taped my eyelids open and made me watch Clerks.

Thanks, babe. Lather rinse repeat.

I’m not gonna say that Kevin Smith’s Clerks was some sort of revelation. But Jess was right. It was so me. It was so Mark. I watched it many times between Coffee Cave jaunts, occasional classes and ever dwindling BJ sessions. Kidding. I watched Clerks over and over often.

But it was true. Learning to serve the hoi polloi was akin to scenes of frustration Dante and Randall had serving the trogs that hoved into the Quick Stop. Indie coffee shops were all the rage back in the Clinton years. Had the aforementioned cachet of cool, to which I lay the thanks or blame on Jen Aniston and her dippy, very white crew from Friends (mostly blame. Those stiff hairstyles, ugh). Every cloud has a silver whatever. That fact, and me being horribly droll about my new passing parade’s antics. What, me worry? What began as a comfy job swiftly became a life awakening in the Cave. No health bennies, to be sure. But the place did have one killer benefit (besides free espresso).

Enter Mark. Him Randall to my Dante. Love at first bitch.

I met him one night at the Cave. Might’ve been Sunday, the slow night. Mark was a grad student, tax law. Head in hand poring over some massive tome that smelled of manipulative English. Beige ballcap planted firmly on his head hanging over said textbook, a thick folder at his elbow vomiting paper. I roused him.

“You Mark?”

He snapped his neck awake and stared at me. I introduced myself.

“I’m riding shotgun with you tonight.”

“You’re the new guy…”

From simple greetings, bonds are borne.

I’ll spare some more details (save my “inspirational” schpiel about colleges parse out degrees of esteem while others withhold info based on tuition. He liked that). To wit, Mark was the Yin to my Yang. No surpirse he was a Clerks devotee also. We had a time recreating scenes from Clerks a la our own unique élan, quoting the movie’s lines ad nauseum:

“Cute cat. What’s its name?” “Annoying customer.”

“This job would be great if it weren’t for the f*cking customers…”

“Title does not dictate behavior.”

“I’m not even supposed to be here today!”

And so on. Our quoting got old to the crowd fast. Savages.

I was the cranky straight man, he was the loose cannon. Our scenes against each other were wondrous. Definitely a “you shoulda been there” scene. The shenanigans were jokes for ourselves alone. If a person outside played along, they’d give us a tip. If not they’d walk out in a huff, ordering nothing and leaving us two stooges laughing, same shared joy. Like I alluded, the owners were odd ducks. They suffered us goons well. They had to. Maintenance at the clinic and all.

Mark and I devised all sorts of gags. Alternating between jockeying the counter jibing customers and our homework assignments (read: goofing off), we would get all vaudeville on the pulsing flow of caffeinated humanity. Here’s a taste of Mark and our theatre. The counter where the register was was oddly tall. We had to lean into it to serve an order. I had to step onto the baseboard to make eye contact. This design oddity gave Mark and I an idea. Hence the levitation trick. Ready?

The owners had a pair of stools. They could sit in relative comfort serving their marks. When they were away, Mark and I used them as props. For the levitation trick. Always guaranteed a tip. Always. Here’s the setup. Recall the high counters. I would perch myself atop one of the stools, heels into the crosspieces between the legs. Mark stood a few feet away, warming up his “psychic powers,” which involved a lot of him adjusting his cap just right. To balance his chi, of course.

Copperfield stabbed his hands at me and with great strain induced me to wobbly “float” behind the high counter, trying to balance my gangly self on the crosspiece. The show culminated on me losing my balance and crashing on the floor. Sometimes it was deliberate. Always got a laugh, even from the customers. Nickels came pouring in.

Not all was fun and games. A certain nasty contingent always descended on our grotto every, every Friday and Saturday night: the aforementioned drunken sorority girls, schooled by the manners of Sex And The City. Multiple extras faded into the cityscape yet still on the set. Their 15 minutes. Here we went:

(flip of the hair) “I’d like a decaf half-caf mocha latte with cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg. Don’t forget the foam, and not too much. Skim milk, please. And don’t forget the mutton scraps.”

Sleepy-eyed me or Mark would slowly rotate towards the vacuum carafes filled with house blend, stagger for a house mug and plop it before the Carrie Bradshaw wannabe.

“Buck fifty. Try it.” I’d slink away and jack up the volume on the beater tape player that provided fractured ambiance to the Cave. My selection was early Replacements. Mark loved ska. The girls cowered at both.

“This wasn’t what I asked for (sniff).”

“It’s what you need. And I know what you need.” Grin.

Squeaking and fleeing. Stil got a tip, TP dragged by a heel.

And so on.

Mark and I became fast friends. Study buddies. Drinking buddies. Even dueling Dr Phils regarding romance. He hated my girlfriend. I envied his fiancee. We both agreed women were nuts, and would never appreciate the wisdom of Randall.

Why the heck am I telling you this? Two reasons. First, the right kind of movie can draw to people together, like iron filings to a magnet. C’mon, how many times have you gotten into a debate about a certain movie, its pros and cons with another cinephile? Very rarely does such fevered didactics result in fisticuffs, drunk or otherwise drunk. Boom. You make a fast friend (and a swift summation of their personality) going over the well trod territory that is The Godfather, Taxi Driver, MASH, 2001: A Space Odyssey and, yes, even Clerks. I’m not comparing Kevin Smith’s opus to slackerism to those cinematic pinnacles, but mention the flick and here comes the gasoline to your book of matches. Agree to disagree? Perhaps, but a feeling of kindred spirits almost always come calling.

Second, films such as Clerks sort of serve as a kind of acid test as to who you—and/or your friends—are. It’s like a kind of malign Kinsey report. I’m not talking sexual positions, but rather exposure of the idful aspects of one’s personalty, shoved away until the proper valve is released. Drunk or otherwise drunk.

*klonk*

Hey! A full one! Thanks, ladies!

Anyway, what I’m trying to get at is that certain films speak to certain audiences. And what they take away can be terribly influential on their worldview. Clerks did for Mark and I, as it did for hundreds of wage slaves in the vast wastes of America.

However, a filmmaker’s voice can often become a sounding board for its devotees. It can sometimes get toxic, making fans into cyphers. We all know someone like Dante Hicks. We very well may be Dante Hicks. But not every cultish Clerks fan can be Dante; they ain’t fans anymore, but lacking a personalty and super glued to their pet films. Examples may include Star Wars, Star Trek, Game Of Thrones, X-Files and Kevin Smith disciples.

Sometimes as a director, in the face of their own success must either shed an audience (the one that made them a household name and stupid rich) and branch out or succumb to their own Scylla and Charybdis, sally forth and churn out product with their naked signature. Many great directors have reinvented themselves many times over and have found success without compromising their vision. Spielberg (of course), Scorsese, Zemekis, Eastwood, Kubrick and Altman to name a few. Hell even John Waters and John Carpenter wandered away from doggie poo and Kurt Russell eventually.

In the shadow of Clerks accomplishments, Smith has been making the same movie ever since, with varying degrees of success. And beyond the social structure the Quick Stop invited, Smith became a victim of his own vision. Having Jay and Silent Bob guest in virtually every Red Bank movie didn’t help either.

No conversations needed between dweebs, Smith has a signature that he’s become a prisoner of. Comic books, Star Wars, f*cked up sexual innuendos, weed and the wonder and versatility of vaginas. This has become his oeuvre, much to the delight of teenage/college age mallrats everywhere.

So. With this week’s installment, does Smith rise above or keep on slumming? Or perhaps something more sinister and calculating?

Let’s just say it’s rough being a victim of your own success…


It sucks being broke. Despite hard you labor at your sh*ttastic, menial job, barely hovering over minimum wage, you walk away with hemorrhoids, pennies and a hefty unpaid bar tab. Gets even more difficult when you gotta mutually shoulder the bills with another broke-ass wage slave who happens to be your roomie. And your best bud.

This is Zack’s (Rogen) ugly mantra he carries around all day. It’s not too far removed from his best bud Miri’s (Banks) mindset. Childhood friends, been through thick and thin ever since grammar school. Now as adults, their flat on edge of being disconnected it’s now white agony in the wallet. No shiny lemonade stand on the corner is gonna fix their mess. They face facts, they’re losers, broke and behind the eight ball.

One fateful eve, Zack and Miri attend their high school reunion, if only revel in their peers’ crappy lives at the open bar. Mostly for the open bar. Miri secretly harbors her crush with the studly Bobby (Routh). Her ultimate goal is to score with him. Zack’s quarry is just the bar. While he quaffs his beer he strikes up a conversation with the creepy Brandon (Long). Turns out he’s a porn star and makes sh*tloads of money in his chosen profession. And is also Bobby’s boyfriend.

(fast forward a few miserable, embarassing hours)

Zack and Miri are crying in their beers at the local watering hole. Zack laments on their lack of funds some more, bitching how that f*ggot Brandon is a pervert. A rich pervert. Miri just whines over Bobby. Then Zack comes up with a daring plan to get them out of poverty.

We should make a porno!”

Miri scoffs, but they both want heat and water. According to Brandon making a porno on the cheap is easy, and can be very lucrative.

So what could possibly go wrong…?


We’re probably all familar by now with Smith’s irreverent style of filmmaking. It’s the tenet upon which I slam pimply fanboys. Yep, “irreverent” is the watchword of Smith’s style. It was the column upon which the empire was built. It also might be why Mallrats made any money. I’m still hoping it was for Stan Lee’s cameo.

But again, a filmmaker’s signature can only work for so long. Like I noted Speilberg et al effortlessly switched gears many a time with some good results. Unlike Smith’s naked muse, those guys had their vision on a string, which threaded through all their works in a subtle, background style. Smith’s end is Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Robots. Go along for the ride, you cretins! You want art? Come and get it! If you consider finger painting art. Up on the fridge it’ll go.

And like magnets to a fridge, Zack follows the same template that Clerks established. Don’t know ’bout you but I outgrew Clerks‘ schtick years ago. Hopefully a lot of those absent-minded fanboys jumped ship a while ago also. Played against Smith’s Zack he defiantly screams no. Smith is like Willy Wonka here. What you’re about to ingest is decidedly not good for you. Come along for the ride, you innocents.

Um, the innocents grew up. We saw Zack coming from a mile away. And we were high AF.

Besides being a retread of Smith’s well worn signature, Zack tries to shoehorn a Jerry Maguire-esque warm fuzzy feeling shrouded with being vile. Give the people what they want, despite the people outgrew Bluntman And Chronic back in the late 90s. Smith is deaf to this.

Zack is a cipher. Clerks lite, wrapped up in a cute romcom. Before I stroke the blade across my bilious strop, let me point out something about Smith’s signature I could never ignore in his films, including the good ones: duality between the leads. An existential Abbott and Costello bit.

Keeping in mind the classic “Who’s On First?” The whole key to the act is the frustation Bud and Lou have with miscommunication. A simple setup, but the bit’s hilarious (and probably spawned Three’s Company for ill or for ill). It’s all left hand/right hand, and the crowd is easily lured into the joke. And really it’s a simple setup, as is Zack. The major difference is that “Who’s On First?” requires your attention. With Zack all it requires is nodding. The way Smith drives his characters is nothing new since Clerks (all right, maybe Chasing Amy. I’ll give that one a pass). We know where we’re going, and Smith is straining to be clever; his irreverence schtick is wearing thin.

Zack we find is a crossbreed of Clerks. It plays like a slacker-meets-white trash rmeta ewrite of Chasing Amy, minus the lesbionics. It’s like ten years later. Kevin, get a new muse already. And Abbott and Costello don’t count; funny folks have been ripping them off for decades. Go ask Mitch Hedberg. Oh yeah, you can’t. He’s dead. As well as Smith’s schtick, hopelessly entrenched in the 90s. Like Mark and me. Not a good endorsement.

Neither is this: Zack is too patchy. There’s this slapdash feel to film, precious little segue between scenes and acts. Felt like a lot of first takes were used that required a second. Or third. Or never. Who edited this? The Red Bull, uh, bull? Guess Smith wanted to push the spontaneity of the movie (let’s face it: imminent poverty’ll make you think on your feet tout suite). And as for porno movies from what I’ve seen…I mean what my friends have told me that not a lot of planning goes into making them. The plot’s always the same: barely there. At least Zack has a leg up on most skin flicks. Most, and just one leg.

Now one could argue that Zack might be a swipe at Smith’s culty fanbase. I’m going to. It could be an Andy Kaufman-esque practical joke all us Clerks adherents, Star Wars freaks and comic book geeks. I mean, note the hockey stick as boom mike on Zack and Miri’s makeshift stage. They got the guy who played Superman 2.0 as Miri’s “one that got away.” Super overt Star Wars references. You get the idea. It’s all part of Smith’s signature, and may be a deliberately skewed delivery. For those who might get it. At any rate it’s all irreverent. Take a deep breath, Jedi maniacs. The first; episode six. Not the new—

Ferget it. My underwear’s showing.

Zack is stupid, but not dumb. If my above hypothesis holds any eternally fresh milk, Smith may very well  be trying to pants his key audience, and in the process, himself. Maybe he was trying to shed an audience al a Dylan’s Self Portrait. Maybe Smith just wanted to f*ck around. Maybe I’m over-thinking things. I tend to do that. Do I?

Save it, you in the back.

But wait, let’s take a few to explore this hypothesis further. This’ll be for all those conspiracy theorists/MSTies/slavish Smith adherents. Kinda like with the Self Portrait analogy. Was Smith trying to shed an audience, pull some Kaurman-esque prank and/or evacuate his directorial bowels of all the crap that’s been loaded on him since Clerks? Hell, since Mallrats (still can’t figure out why folks like that turd in the punchbowl). As I wandered through Zack, and after some chewing afterwards, I somewhat rethunk my MO in taking apart Zack. Somewhat.

Years back I caught an episode of NPR’s On The Media. The subject was the Star Wars franchise (The Force Awakens was hurtling towards multiplexes as he spoke). The guest advised listeners it would be better to watch the first six eps not in chronological order. Something about watching the overarching storyline out of synch did a better job of arranging subplots in a fashion that made the character development more assured. Face it A New Hope‘s cast of dozens—heroes and villains alike—don’t have a very chewy (pardon the pun) backstory. This gets some correcting in Empire, but still the guy’s argument sounded solid. Can’t remember the order he recommended, so whatever.

That being said, if there is such a thing as a Smithy-verse, then Zack is the tipping point where all the man’s films up until that point get all ironical. He takes the audience on a round the world trip up his rectum. Which is probably much more amusing to Smith than his duped apostles. That and maybe there’s some cinematic incest with Jay and Silent Bob in almost every one of his f*cking movies. Connection? Coincidene? I’ll wager not.

So then, keeping all the above dreck in mind let me now properly dissect Zack. No duh Smith has his sticky fingerprints all over the place. He directed, wrote and—key here—edited Zack. Okay, ipso facto we had no Silent Bob, but we did have Jay cum (ha!) Lester. And his schlong. The plot (such as is) is relatively simple and straightforward enough to pad is with lots of crude humor and examining the human condition. And another competent, if miscast crew of slacker oddballs. All securely stationed in Smith’s wheelhouse. Heck, even the flick appears that the director always the same camerawork. Who was the cinematographer? Silent Bob?

Oh yeah.

Anywho, other noteworthy contributions from Smith. There’s a brittle sweetness to Zack. We fast learn that our sad sack protags are up sh*t’s creek, wallets as flotsam. Relatable, and please tell Verizon’s billing department to quit calling me. Their lives didn’t pan out as planned, as if they had a plan. Gen X ennui. Their jobs suck and as we know are not keeping the lights on. Maguffin? Desperate times call for desperate measures! Improbable leap to cutting a porn flick! Get rick quick scheme!

Kinda predictable, which what makes it accessible to all you berserkers in Smithville out there, as well as the general public…who wanted to learn how a porn was made. Hell, Zack co-stars Traci Lords, so we have an authority on the subject, thank Heaven.

I’m guessing this semi-standard plot was borne out of Smith’s need to make his own Self Portrait with everything, everything in overdrive here. So we can put the mediocre plot aside and be tricked by “The Mighty Quinn.”

You get what you think you’re paying for.

This is the second ensemble film Smith has cut, and it’s damned good ensemble, if underused. Dogma had the better cast, since in essence that was a road trip movie, which allowed the players to be introduced like pepperoni on a pizza and allowing subplots to bubble up smoothly. Zack is a straight line, permitting precious little—dare I say—growth with our characters. Felt like Smith was in some sorry of hurry to splatter the screen with all his demented ideas in the name of, “Now f*ck off, fanboys!”

So since Zack in an ensemble film with a threadbare plot, most of our concerns are directed through the cast. Here is the part where either Smith was bored or brilliant (I’m leaning towards the latter now, BTW). I’m thinking both; let’s take a few big/medium faces, throw ’em in the gooey existential Cuisinart and let it rip.

First and foremost on my mind watching this was how sorely Robinson was wasted here. Guy’s damn funny, like pre-Family Feud Steve Harvey. If Def Comedy Jam was still on the air, he’d be a header. He only gets dribs and drabs of snicker-worthy quips. Again, maybe that was Smith’s intent, and from here on I’m gonna cite the director’s probable joke on us as His Intent. It’ll save room in the Cloud. Thank me later.

His Intent was fleshed out to a degree by casting Rogen. Look, I know a lot of actors make their mark and their money by playing a type and sticking with it for the better part of their careers. Mostly comic actors, mostly. It worked (and still sorta works) for Adam Sandler, especially since his stabs at drama have bit the big one. Same with Jim Carrey, who broke the mold by portraying Andy Kaufman in Man On The Moon (a weird comic playing a weird comic. Not much of a stretch). Even the late, great Richard Pryor’s best role was…Richard Pryor in JoJo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling. And that wasn’t him as Black Bart in Blazing Saddles. Get yer history straight, you philistines.

But does Rogen have any depth? I mean, I know he made an earnest attempt in 50/50 to not be a yob throughout the whole film. This might be the wrong movie to invite this question, but I gotta consider His Intent again. I always harbored the belief that Rogen improvs his lines. All his lines. If so, worked wonders in Superbad, his delicious awkwardness in Knocked Up and his non sequiturs in The Forty-Year-Old Virgin. But not so much with Funny People, The Green Hornet and here. Don’t misunderstand me; I’m a fan of the guy, and his schtick mostly works. Except here, where his motormouth gimmick comes across as just that: a gimmick. Rapid fire, impoved quips can only go so far for this guy, and Christ was he laying on thick. Who is Zack Brown, really? Do we care? Should we? Unsure on all fronts.

Let’s talk dialogue. It’s there. It’s loud and puerile, all that chatter about dingles and holes and mammaries that are perky. I read the title as did you. But this may be a first only only for me: there’s too much profanity. I grok Zack‘s reason for being surrounds the cast’s naughty bits and where they go. Salty talk goes with the territory; I ain’t deaf. But all of the blue language got numbing after a while, a blue blur of angst and innuendo. This was profanity overload, and it went from jarring to distracting to boring across three acts. Truth be told, I couldn’t pick up any line that wasn’t delivered with needless volume to forward the actors’ motivation, which was quite clear. Shakespeare this wasn’t. Shocker. Ah, well. F*ck off, fanboys, remember?

Banks is too pretty to be vulgar. With all its ribald humor, Zack pulled another miscast—maybe deliberately—by making Miri Zack’s foil. She does well with the lines she was given, albeit delivered in a anxious sense. Fish out of water. This isn’t the crone you’re looking for (admit it, that was clever). Truth be told I found Banks outfunnied Rogen, the vet. Sure, she’s done comedies before, mostly rom-coms but stuff made to amuse is made to amuse. Gotta give her props for the clown college try, despite the fact she looks like the terminal cheerleader captain. Still, she cussed with the best of ’em, God bless her.

In another film of this ilk (minus any maps of Hawaii on some silicone chick’s REDACTED), there might have been a little more romantic meat on the bones (heh). Even as Zack was over-the-top raunchy, some rules in the romantic comedy subgenre need to be obeyed to maintain cohesion. At its core, Zack is a rom-com. A dirty, demented rom-com directed by Kevin Smith, but a rom-com all the same. Again, if the following was part of His Intent, he did a good poor job of execution here. The latent sexual tension, for instance, coming to light is too abrupt (like everything else here. At least Zack is somewhat consistent). If there was a real message to this film then its a safe, universal one: sex changes everything, both figuratively and literally here in Smithworld. It’s not a bad note to wrap up on, but remember you gotta put that any everything else in Zack in the proper context. A little Vaseline over the lens focused at Red Bank helps.

So here are, near the end this week. After dismantling Zack what have we learned? Not much really. The whole caper was so cynically transparent, but did allow His Intent to run riot. If that was the objective. Mediocre sex comedy or brilliant practical joke? You decide. Still, likely both if you’d ask me. And I don’t care if you didn’t. I’ve got lasagne and you don’t. Neener neener.

In conclusion (for really real this time), Smith’s cachet is thumbing a nose and a middle finger to subtlety with Zack. Outright flushed down the sh*tter really. It was His Intent with Zack, calling out shots in the Foreign Man’s accent all the way (the Intent, not Latka). I’m almost sure of it. Betcha Zack frustrated a lot of Smith adherents out there, if not pissed them off. If so, good for the man. Sometimes you need a creative colonic now and again. Ask Dylan.

Snoochie boochies.

*klonk*


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it at your own peril. Big Smith fan? You’ve been warned. Casual Smith fan? Go watch Clerks. Again.


Stray Observations…

  • Primus? Really? Well this is a Kevin Smith movie.
  • “Can’t you see we talkin’, White?”
  • Thanks there, Alanis.
  • Was casting Brandon “Superman” Routh another flagrant “touch” as him being Mr Right that got away? Geek chic meta.
  • Even at 40 years old, Lords still look like a teen here. A teen that shoplifted the local Hot Topic, but adolescent nonetheless. Creepy that.
  • Wait for the third chorus.
  • “I love the movies.”

Next Installment…

Oskar is autistic, Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close to recovering those lost eight minutes. All he has to do is find the right lock.


RIORI Vol 3, Installment 81: Greg Mattola’s “Paul” (2010)



The Players…

Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, (and the endless voice of) Seth Rogen, with Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio, David Koechner, Jane Lynch, John Carroll Lynch, Blythe Dinner, Jeffery Tambor and Sigourney Weaver.


The Story…

A pair of dyed-in-wool British sci-fi geeks are taking holiday in the US southwest. Not just for attendance at the big deal Comic-Con, but also to scope out historic UFO sightings in the vast wilderness.

They get more than they bargain for.

Chugging along in their RV late at night on the highway they narrowly avoid a serious car crash. Feeling their civic duty to check on the driver, they’re beyond shocked to discover a for real alien behind the wheel.

Some smelling salts later, they learn his name is Paul, and he needs their help getting home.

It turns out for our trio, “home” is a relative term.


The Rant…

A while back I covered Sam Raimi’s Oz, The Great And Powerful, a rompy prequel to the classic Victor Fleming opus, the third (and best) cinematic interpretation of L Frank Baum’s opus, The Wizard Of Oz. I also went on record that I was never keen to fantasy. Wasn’t interested in Tolkien’s film adaptations. Never saw (nor read) any of the Harry Potter series. Never even was barely curious about watching (or reading) Game Of Thrones. Beyond Fleming’s idea of Oz, the closest thing to fantasy films I ever dug was…well, Oz, The Great And Powerful. Mila Kunis made for a cool Wicked Witch Of The West. As well as Meg Griffin, just to play to the fanboys.

Speaking of fanboys, despite being meh on fantasy I’m big on science fiction. Last time I waxed nostalgic on being exposed to Ridley Scott’s signature flicks, namely Alien and Blade Runner. Sci-fi films in the barest sense. Sure, both flicks took place in the future, where malign tech and nasty, slobbering xenomorphs reigned supreme. I also spoke of my young poisoning of the mind catching both Star Wars: A New Hope and ET: The Extra-Terrestrial in the theater around age six.

However neither of those pairings really stuck. They piqued my interest, sure, about “out there, somewhere.” But the sci-fi gateway drug was (surprise) Star Trek. That and a few Arthur C Clarke books and Time magazine’s compendium of how the universe worked. For sure. Bless your local library. And put down the damned smartphone.

Yeah. Trek. A giver. I remember the very time I got into it. I was 14, and rolling on the couch like a desiccated hot dog back and forth on the lukewarm washboard at your local Sheetz. I had my wisdom teeth impacted, and my jaw felt like a strained jack holding up a Mack truck. I all I could eat was yogurt and all I could do was churn on the couch and watch TV. It sucked.

Cold compact pressed against my mandible, I surrendered to the idiot box. Didn’t want to read or listen to music. The NES controller grew dusty. The remote was sticky in my mitt (when I wasn’t groaning rubbing my on fire jaw) as I channel surfed. Saw the usual “Disney Afternoon;” (yes, I was in high school and still watching cartoons. I had yet to experience the oys and joys of p*ssy and beer. We could both do worse). I was a fan of the wry DuckTales, the silly Chip N’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers and the very good superhero send-up Darkwing Duck. These pastiches ran from 3 PM to 5, where after the syndicated series’ reruns rerun.

Cutting to the chase, at clear 5 every afternoon the local cable affiliate aired both the previous and recent episodes of Star Trek: The Generation starring that lovable dork from PBS’ Reading Rainbow, Levar Burton. More on that soon.

Sooner than later, I had idly caught an ep of TNG once and saw big bro Levar wearing a golden hair clip across his eyes, wearing tight red pajamas scouring the deck of a damaged starship deck.

The hell? But don’t take my word for it. Ha.

Even at 14 I also dug Reading Rainbow. Our host Levar was a piece of work, promoting literacy on PBS. He came across, convincingly, as the cool older brother who knew stuff. Seeing him with a banana clip over his face made me ask “What the crap?” So with aching missing teeth, I stayed tuned in after Darkwing ended. And gradually the scales fell from my eyes.

I enjoyed the drama. I liked the dialogue. I dug the character interplay. The Enterprise-D looked like a mall in space. Worf’s ever evolving face was funny. I slowly got hooked. Darkwing what?

The affiliate was burning through the fourth season at the time during the week I learned. Saturday evening was last week’s ep followed by the latest installment. I punished my parents before the big screen to tolerate my new addiction before Saturday primetime. And a small win there. Once Paul Sorvino was a guest star on a TNG so even my stalwart Dad set the remote down for that episode.

I swiftly nabbed every episode I could nab. The older sh*t I rented from my local library (remember the 20th Century?) TNG became a fast addiction. I later checked out the original series to compare notes. The drama/humor/intrigue dynamic failed to falter. I was seriously hooked. Not a bad way to go for a stone cold sci-fi fanboy. Now stone cold.

So what else to do, when one is a Trekkie, anathema to the opposite sex, hanging out after school with all-female friends who loved to re-watch Aliens over and over who had no interest in my flaccid…that.

Star Trek-Con!

We went to a handful back in the day, right outside Philly. My friend’s dad was patient in driving us out to the convo (we all had lisences, but no car. How we suffered), dropped us all off at the convention center and spun back to the homeland ASAP. Probably didn’t want to get contaminated. He suffered our endless afternoons carved into the latest MST3K installment enough. He hated tribbles, I guess.

So we were let loose at the Trek convention. It was cool. Really. I mean if you were into sci-fi in all its guises—be it movies, TV, comics or related curios—the whole Trek theme fell by the wayside. Lots of booths with their hawkers peddling the above goodies, not unlike a malign, stellar flea market akin to a space opera wall of a TGIFriday’s shot through a Waring blender.

It was a circus. Folks dressed as out of shape Klingons. Folks dressed as the forceable Borg (lots of dead aquarium paraphernalia put to good use there). Folks dressed as Starfleet Acadamy recruits who could never pass the physical. Also writers, artists, actors earning some beans schilling their former stage and/or screen glories.

And the stars. The real reason why we came.

Consider this. There have been TV shows that have ran far longer than Trek in all its iterations. The original Law & Order. The Simpsons. Even Gunsmoke, before God. MASH still maintains the highest ratings for its finale pales in comparison to the mere three seasons the original Trek graced the grey screen, and us Trekkers get our conventions. It is to wonder.

Three stories from the front, in degrees of artistic appreciation of sci-fi openness that Trek allowed me. From up to down.

First: Sir Patrick Stewart. Capt Picard himself. He wasn’t knighted then, but a was bright light for us dorks. He was the primary guest on the list that day. We all sat in attendance, and Stewart let most of the Trek questions roll off his back.

Stewart suffered our endless TNG questions well enough. The rest of the time he promoted his one-man show of A Christmas Carol on Broadway, a big deal thing back in the day, prob’ cuz it was very un-Trek and most likely what the man needed as a prophylactic to chatting with Number One for the umpeenth about what to do with the dang communication breakdowns with the pesky Romulans.

But Stewart was a stage actor first, born and bred. I recalled when I accidentally saw I, Claudius on PBS (was probably searching for the latest Reading Rainbow installment). I took note of the actor playing Sejanus. That voice. Now the body attached to the voice was voicing to all us geeks. I smelled an opportunity, perhaps once in a parsec. I raised my hand and Stewart called me out.

“Yes, young man?”

“Mr Stewart, I understand you were a student of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. The Bard never wrote science fiction. I don’t think there was any context at the time—

(laughs from the acne-ridden peanut gallery)

—however, I seen you on TNG for years and often wondered how the Shakespearean Method has been imprinted on your Picard character. It can’t be denied the method, but the setting, the scenes on TNG don’t really permit Shakespeare. Drama, yes, but also this context makes me curious. What permitted Sejanus to wear the Captain’s uniform? And to what end?”

(boos from the zits)

Stewart set the mike at his hip and snickered. He raised the thing back up to his lips:

“Young man, you do know where you are right now, correct?”

I didn’t falter. “Yes. We’re here at a Star Trek convention appreciating your appearance. But also it’s also my opportunity to sweat a respected Shakespearean actor to how he’s applied his craft to a space opera, co-starring a guy who pushed books and had the hair clip at the wrong end.”

(groans)

Stewart giggled, then grinned, “Son, I’m glad you asked me that!”

And he went into a tear about his time with the Theatre, TNG never really hammered on. I was glad. My fellow dorks weren’t. C’mon, if you were alone in a looked room with your favorite writer, would you really ask about how they held a pencil? Doubts even here.

The next late of this trilogy isn’t mine, but too sweet a treat to deny you bored readers. Still makes me smile.

An old roomie of mine was a Trekkie, and once made his pilgrimage to Mecca. Mr Banana Clip Levar Burton was a guest. Due to contractual obligations my crafty friend heard he wasn’t permitted to sign autographs. Pishaw. My buddy knew the secret knock. He cornered Burton after he left the bathroom and leapt on him.

“Mr Burton, can I have your autograph?

He waved his hands. “I’m not allowed to give out autographs, sorry.”

“Well, could you sign this?”

My friend waggled a book in front of Burton. A Reading Rainbow book.

Burton grinned, snatched the picture book from him and said “Gimme that. What’s your name?” He pulled a pen out of nowhere.

“…Lucas.”

Burton scrawled on the cover page: To my friend Lucas, keep on reading. Your friend, Levar Burton.”

Cool right? Better than catching the pick after Keef’s third encore solo.

And finally, the reason why we sci-fi morons congregate the way we do. For the big game.

My last tale hems the pants of my convention days. High school was ending and assumed maturity of going to college after summer. One last night flight. That and another jillion Aliens viewings waiting. You can take the gorilla out of the jungle, but…

We all went, me and my trio of proto-Ani Difranco friends. It was sovereign this time. We’d already seen the sights at the convo a dozen times over. Same hotel, same sh*t. There were only so many lead soldier Geordis for sale one could pore over. This time it wasn’t about the goods. It was the goods.

The guest of honor was Leonard “Mr Spock” Nimoy. We were thrilled. Doy.

The man had done it all. An old hand. Nimoy was a star of stage, screen, photography, writing, music (for good or ill), directing and all things logical. When he took the mic—shocker—standing O. It was funny. For decades we watched Nimoy’s exploits on TV and later on the big screen. We scrutinized every twitch of the eyebrow or ear. We ingested his lines. We saw him get McCoy’s goat regularly.

We never saw him smile. Let alone laugh.

Like I said, the guy was an old pro, and not just being an actor. He had been pounding the beat at Trek convos since their inception. Again, an old hand, and he had us all in the palm of his.

He came well prepared. He had a PowerPoint presentation, flicking through outtakes of TOS, explaining the minutiae of how the show was put together. We were enraptured. Some were drooling.

The cherry on the sundae was how Nimoy as Spock invented the Vulcan salute. “Live long and prosper” and all that jazz. The screenshots he presented were from an episode where Spock returned to Vulcan with his human buddies Kirk and McCoy as witnesses to some ancient Vulcanian rite of passage. There was a quick scene of Spock addressing the “queen” with the salute. We well knew the episode. It was etched in our Clearasil-scarred brains.

Nimoy paused the scene and calmly explained the scene and the gesture all we Trekkies do rather than shake hands with one another’s sweaty, mealy palms. The Vulcan salute’s origin. It’s a cool story, really. Even if your not a Trekker. Pull up a seat.

When Nimoy was a kid in Brooklyn, he hailed from an orthodox Jewish family. Missing temple on Saturday was verboten. It was Talmudic law. Best not piss the Big Guy off. Like most Christian practices, there was a benediction at the end of the service. May God bless you and keep you and so on. The Benediction usually occurs at the narthex, where the prelate and acolytes praise the congregation for their audience. JC approved.

The Jews have something similar, but at the front of the altar. Nimoy and his father knew the routine. Close your eyes, kneel, pray and don’t open your eyes. We’re talking don’t look, Marion.

Of course Nimoy did. He said he was six. Seemed logical at the time.

He witnessed the cantor with armed outstretched and speaking is Hebrew. His hands were formed in the shape of a familiar alien greeting, thumb and fingers separated in the middle of the palms. According to Nimoy, the gesture was a representation of the Hebrew character shin, which is supposed to represent a wish for a fruitful life, and also practice actions that would help others find their way.

Sound familiar? Was to us nerds. Nimoy co-opted the gesture and meaning for the Vulcanian salute. “Live long and prosper.”

All of us in the enraptured audience in unison went, “Ohhhhh. Okay.” Grins all around.

Cool Hand Spock suffered our questions well, with much patience and humor. I reiterate, guy was an old pro. Talked about goofing around on the set. What a card Shatner was, always pranking him. And DeForest “Bones” Kelley was really a sweetheart, miles away from cantankerous Dr McCoy. It was revealing. Not just hearing about how the sausage was made, but how communal the cast was. A family. Shat, Bones and Nimoy were buddies as well as co-workers. So were the rest of the cast of TOS.

It was not unlike us Trekkies. Most strangers to be sure, but not unlike rowdy Philadelphia “Fly Eagles Fly” football fans, vintage vinyl collectors and online gamers. It’s a community, often congregating in their chosen forums to revel and high-five over their culty, pet hobbies. It enables camaraderie that, let’s face it, outsiders wouldn’t “get.”

I believe that is the appeal of both Star Trek cons and Birds’ tailgating alike. Like-minded folks immersing themselves in their fetish, where strange, disparate weirdoes can make friends. Among others who “get it.”

Like with sci-fi cons, fast friendships can be formed, forged in the arcana of Star Trek, Warhammer and the rioting that followed the Cubs winning the series. Bonds formed with people who get it, and snubbing the poor schlubs that don’t. Their loss. Resistance is futile.

Well okay, one more: a prime example of this is a tale from one of my bar buddies, also a Trek enthusiast. He attended a con where James “Scotty” Doohan was the guest of honor. He was in ill-health, kinda dinged in the head, recovering from a stroke (which left him speechless. Literally) and stuck in a wheelchair. There was a lightyear long queue for getting his autograph. According to my bud, the stroke rendered his penmanship a bit wobbly. Read: inscrutable.

My pal patiently waited in line. He noticed that Doohan could barely hold his Sharpie and basically scrawled a blur across the fanboys well-worn copies of Mr Scott’s Guide To The Enterprise. My friend wasn’t interested in scribblings. He wanted to chat with The Man.

His turn came and with no pretense he greeted him in a tone that could wake the lame and the halt (which was kinda the point):

“Jimmy! Lookin’ good! Hey, what do ya say we ditch this joint? Got a great bar upstairs, How ’bout we do some shots of whisky?”

Doohan’s droopy face lightened up. Grinning, he craned his head up to look at his daughter who was escorting him and smiled. She shook her head no. Scotty frowned.

“That’s okay, Jimmy. When yer kid has to hit the head we can skeedadle!”

Again the grin, again the frown.

“Anyway, heard you were signing stuff?” He held out a well-worn VHS jacket of Star Trek: The Animated Series. Doohan got the role on TOS based on his rep for being a skilled voice actor. Doohan was Scotty as well as Arex as well as all the ancillary voices voices on both series.

“Do me the honor?”

Smiles again. Doohan raised a shaky, outstretched hand and accepted the case. He held the Sharpie in both hands and slowly, carefully wrote on it in very clean script, “For my friend, George.” Clear as a sunny day. Too bad shots didn’t later ensue in celebration. A few months later Doohan passed away, but my bud has his “real” autograph to remember him by.

That’s kind of family feeling Trek cons create. As do tailgates and the SXSW festival. We get it. And so sorry if you don’t and then scoff. Your loss.

So now, let’s fall down the sci-fi geek wormhole with a pair of unwitting pals accidentally finding their “thing” out in the real world.

Well, “surreal” world might be a more apt description…


Two sci-fi geeks in blood from Britain, Graeme and Clive (Pegg and Frost, respectively) take holiday to attend a big deal Comic-Con on the West Coast (and we ain’t talking Wales here). But that’s just the cherry on the sundae. They’ve rented an RV for a road trip across the American southwest to check out all the alleged alien activity over the past century (and we ain’t talking rogue migrants here).

When their boat gets all waylaid near Nevada’s forbidden Area 51 by what first appears to be a DUI driver, well there goes the voyage for truth and fun. Until the driver scrabbles out of the scrub and introduces himself.

His name is Paul (Rogen).

He’s a Grey, a casual term for a space alien. From outer space. Outer. Alien. The contact of is the holy grail for these two twits.

He needs help getting home, not to mention sanctuary from the gun happy agents who need to get him back to the lab.

(And we ain’t talking Alexa home here. We’re talking “phone…” Oh, you get it, tosser.)


I’ve read that when it comes to very Albion, very dry comedy Simon Pegg (also Scotty!) and Nick Frost can do no wrong. From Shaun Of The Dead to Hot Fuzz, they are Britain’s answer to a Millenial Laurel and Hardy. Us moviegoers can’t wait to see what another fine mess they get themselves into.

After seeing Paul I think the secret to their success is staying in the UK. Their rapport may be regarded as a novelty to us Yanks. But take these two goofs across The Pond and set up camp in Vegas? Erm.

Make no mistake, Pegg paired with Frost is very funny. But taking them out of English context render them cannon fodder. Namely, ain’t these limeys cute? Especially in the Nevada desert? Does England have a desert? Haw haw.

That speaks that their’s is a very palpable awkwardness for our wonder twins hamming it up as strangers in a strange land. That schtick is like a sliver or popcorn wedged in one’s gums. Pegg and Frost don’t belong in America, let alone the community their fave sci-fi con environments provide sanctuary from the ugly, real world. It’s kind of a cheap joke, fish out of water and all that implies. It’s been done before, and done better.

To the point, Pegg and Frost are poorly fit for Paul. Their interplay is based more on finger-pointing than hands across bellies. It’s kinda mean. And redolent of the unfun stereotypes that fanboy geekiness invites. The “innocents abroad” gig only goes so far.

That’s really the shame of Paul. It’s rather one note when there was comedy gold to mine. Instead we get sci-fi geekdom in its stereotypical bad light (which ain’t hard come to think of it), drug jokes and sh*tty chemistry between all the Yank players; save Bateman (and surprisingly not Weaver), Paul suffers what I’ll call “joke cramming.” Namely, there are so many funny cast members all pitted against each other to be the funniest. It plays like a fridge door with way to much elemenary school art: hard to compare, but necessary completeing the whole. Whatever that is. Try to get a nine year old to cough up her postmodern muse, which is likely a melding of Care Bares and Melanie Martinez. In short, Paul tries to be cohesive, but the kid ate up all the paste.

Beyond Pegg and Frost, Paul does have a great, eclectic cast. It’s too bad they all were reading different scripts (which I suspect was mostly improv). Our two blokes, despite being the stars, are quite underused. They’re both underused, especially in light of the background rogue’s gallery backing up the story. Sorta more on that later.

I think the lick of salt you take with Paul is that it’s kinda like a funny X-Files/ET send up. Maybe outright parody. However the thing about parodies is that they are deliberate send ups of war horse movie tropes. Think Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs and the rest of Mel Brooks’ CV. Not to mention the Police Squad movies, the Airplane! movies and practically the entirety of the ZAZ movies (save Ghost, which later was sweet parody fodder in other parodies, like The Naked Gun 2 1/2. Hey, wait a minute). Parodies are winking and let audiences in on the joke. Bad parodies resort to Family Guy-esque non-stop pop culture name dropping to blur the corners. If parodies require Google, they’re lame. It’s one thing to be let in on the joke. It’s another to be overloaded and force to surrender to a critical mass. Keyword being “critical.”

Paul tries to be sweeping in skewering anything and everything sci-fi geek/classic sci-fi film it’s like shopping at a flea market for used electrical sh*t. It plays like this:

“Hey look! A used Sega Saturn! For just a buck!”

“…There’s bullet holes in it.”

“No big! Previous owner musta got pissed at f*cking up nights Into Dreams too much.”

“Those look like cordite burns.”

“Ah, it’s a buck. I’ll take it home, clean it up and we’ll be in PTO land faster than you can call 911!”

Then you call 911 as your mancave descends into the Seventh Level. All that wasted beer. Tsk tsk.

In other words, this flick could’ve been great. A real find. Then it leaves you dumb. And hard to figure if that was intentional. That’s the trouble with poor parodies, you eventually can’t differentiate the inside jokes from the outside, name-dropping ones. It’s gets boring. As Steve Martin claimed: comedy is not pretty. True, but it should defiantly bore as Paul did for me.

We’re sorta get into the above now. I keep my promises.

At its core, Paul is a buddy/road trip comedy. Almost always a good thing to waste time with. Think Rush Hour, Rain Man and all those classic team-ups with Bob and Bing. The key to such flicks are surefire gold chemistry between the leads. Or course Pegg and Frost have that spark, duh. However the supporting cast has a vital purpose also: to bounce off our bumbling heroes. Despite the awesome supporting cast bombarding Pegg and Frost with limitless comedy fodder, our limey dolts are too passive. Way too passive. They only react to the inanity, not respond. Pegg and Frost made their mark in zany comedy by interacting with absurdity that plagues them (e.g.: remember the record throwing scene in Shaun Of The Dead? Yeah, like that). In Paul, they are the records, bombarded with insanity and Frost just sits in the RV’s passenger seat while Pegg traipses off to the bathroom. Sorry, I meant loo.

I understand that Paul is another frenetic comedy directed by Mattola, but there stinks of a of rehashed Superbad schtick lurking beneath the Area 51 gags. The buddy comedy. A quest to complete. Jon Hader as a “cop.” What worked once doesn’t always work again, and Superbad is one of the wifey’s fave films. I could not in all honesty suggest we watch Paul together. There’d be too many sci-fi, pop culture refs to punch up. And down the toilet we go.

I feel the ultimate fault in Paul‘s execution is a lot of stilted dialogue. Not what is said, per se but how it’s delivered. Senta, RinaldiSenta. Letting Rogen run his motormouth for 90 minutes does not automatically equal funny. We need some time to breathe. Instead we choke on the bullet-time gags about drugs, sex, sexy drugs and drugging Kristen Wiig with too much truth (there was a gag that could’ve gained traction. Instead it fell into a short-bus version of Tyson’s Cosmos. Coulda worked).

That’s a pretty apt way to send off Paul: it could’ve worked. There were some bright spots, like Weaver winkingly chewing scenery in the final act. Or Tambor’s wry cameos. Of the sense of belonging between our fanboy/hereos in the final scene to share. Hell, even the heartwarmer (kindly slower scene) between Paul and Danner. Everything else was shot through like poop through a goose. Too much pant pant. You gotta lay off the relentless silly in order to take time to giggle. And taking time to see a Grey suck REDACTED don’t count. Sorry.

Based against those bright spots, there was still a lot of wasted potential with Paul. Was it funny? Sure, it fits and starts. Were Pegg and Frost at the top of their game? Nope. And nope. Was the cast awesome? Approaching. Did Paul require, nay, demand pop-culture name-dropping to push the plot along? Uh-huh.

It was a mish-mash of one-liners, winking jokes, tired Hollywood tropes whipped up in a Cuisinart? You just won a prize. Still—believe it or not—I couldn’t bring myself to dislike it. Call it my soft spot for the SF cons of youth. Or Frost and Pegg, together again. Or that shared guilty pleasure sense of being one with the cosmos reveling in one’s culty fetish, and the welcoming outstretched arms from fellow freaks.

I guess my real, buried soft spot for Paul was the (admittedly flawed) tribute to guys like Clive and Graeme. Brothers in arms. Loving tales about illicit autographs, contraband booze just out of reach (when one could really need it) and a venerable Shakespean actor suprised and then respecting an honest question.

Sh*t like that never seems to happen watching The Simpsons. Or Firefly.

Or watching reruns of Black Books.

What? Too obscure? No more than debating the life-saving value of Prince’s Batman soundtrack.

Geek.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? A mild relent it. I didn’t hate Paul, but I was sorely let down. Still, there were enough winks to keep me smiling and watching. Only logical I gave it a “mild.”


Stray Observations…

  • Are comic-cons really like this? Yes, yes they are.
  • “Pizza!”
  • Cute Raiders nod.
  • “You know you’re grown men, right?”
  • Who’d’ve thought Bateman could ever have such a great flat affect?
  • “Get away from her, you bitch!” A very meta ha!
  • Is this whole flick a tourist trap? Ha!
  • “Seems rather fitting.”

Next Installment…

Cate Blanchette must reunite with Tommy Lee Jones in an uneasy alliance in order to find The Missing  family they both have lost.


RIORI Vol 3, Installment 36: Jody Hill’s “Observe And Report” (2009)


065515h1


The Players…

Seth Rogen, Anna Faris, Ray Liotta and Michael Peña, with Collette Wolfe, John Yuan, Matthew Yuan, Patton Oswalt, Jesse Plemmons and Aziz Ansari.


The Story…

“All the animals come out at night…”

Wait, that’s another story. It’s during the day when the freaks come out to terrorize shoppers at the Forest Ridge Mall. It’s up to bumbling mall cop Ronnie to keep the food court secure and free of vandals, flashers and thieves. He does the best he can, which ain’t too much. His misguided self-importance gets in the way of his duties a lot. That and the belief the hot chick at the make-up counter would ever give him the time of day.

But never mind that. Vandals, flashers and thieves have infiltrated Ronnie’s turf. This means war. And he’s not gonna let any legit cops get in the way of his righting right. By any means possible.

Including Hoverboards. The thieves might’ve gotten away on Hoverboards.


The Rant…

Let’s be perfectly clear on this matter: I’ve never believed in the Oxford comma.

Whew. Glad we got that out of the way. Onwards!

One of my fave films in my all-time, top ten is Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (“You talkin’ to me?”). It’s a classic, even to people who’ve never even seen the dang thing, so saturated it’s become in our collective pop cultural landscape. But to be fair, for those who haven’t seen it (fools), here’s the premise: Travis Bickle is an antisocial, emotionally unstable cabbie who can’t relate with anyone. He gets it into his head that if he can complete a quixotic mission to rid the city of filth, he will become self-actualized. And get the unattainable girl. Something like that. There’s a lot of violence and violence, too. Well worth watching.

Taxi Driver was the ur-antihero movie. What I mean by that is there were plenty of films prior where the “hero” toed a very fine line within their role and how to reach their goals. Most of the time it was an “ends justify the means” kinda outlook. The antihero could be just as dangerous as the villians. Eastwood’s “Man With No Name” in the Dollars trilogy. Charles Bronson in the first Death Wish movie. Hell, even later on with Mad Max: The Road Warrior, it got kinda tricky to root for the home team where there was no place to lay one’s head as home. Please refer to your Metallica fake book for further answers.

In light of my 40 years on this planet, after watching 40,000 plus movies (give or take 39,000) I can’t immediately recall an antihero movie to be silly. So obviously goofy an execution that any audience would be hard-pressed to take the demented, clownish antihero seriously. Sure, there’s always been humor—albeit dark and perhaps unintentional—in these kind of movies. I cite The Road Warrior again: the marauders dressed like rejects from a combo cabaret/Wes Craven/bondage festival ravaging the Aussie Outback? Were they menacing because they were generally scary, or so over the top ludicrous you just had sit back, say, “It is what it is” and go with it? Maybe a bit of both. Still, not overtly silly.

Another good example (by my standards, which are very flexible don’cha know) of humor penetrating and otherwise gritty melodrama? Escape From New York. We know the film’s delivery is pretty honky tonk, which is unintentionally funny, but the only gag meant as a gag was the one-liner, “I thought you were dead.” The rest of the time is Kurt Russell shooting, stabbing and limping his way along the wastes of Manhattan. Not many giggles, few and far between. At least on purpose.

But wait, blogger! You forgot about antiheroes like Han Solo and even Frank Drebin from The Naked Gun series! They weren’t dark and dangerous! You forgot to floss too! Broccoli! Gross! Both that and their movies had plenty of humor! Huh? How’s that, huh? Who’s dead, Kent? Who’s dead?

Calm down. And it’s spinach, you dolts. And like I said unintentional humor. Han and Frank were  scruffy and incompetent, respectively. Not necessarily malicious or menacing like Clint, Max and Snake were. Within that context (and giving the raison d’être for this week’s debacle. Not the movie. Maybe this scribble. Pick and choose) this week’s installment examines an antihero in a lighter take of another antihero movie. Observe And Report is a comedy, never fear, but it’s also—

Wait, wait. Hang on. Y’know what? Let’s save that extended commentary for a little later on, post-apocalyptic Australian bikers at my ass be damned.

Fair dinkum…?


There’s something rotten at the Forest Ridge Mall, and it’s not the moldering crap in the China King’s dumpster. Well, it’s not just that.

Rent-a-cop Ronnie (Rogen) has sworn to protect his mall and its patrons at any cost. He might’ve sworn too much. No vermin is gonna invade his territory of pristine Orange Julius’, Sharper Images and even that annoying Saddamn (Ansari). No vagrants, no delinquents and no thieves allowed.

Oops on the last one.

Someone’s been knocking over store after store under Ronnie’s nose, clearing out thousands of dollars of merch in shoes, jewelry and George Forman grills. This don’t look good for Ronnie’s rep, nor his job security. The general manager figures he better call in the pros; a team of actual cops, headed by the irascible Detective Harrison (Liotta). And Harrison is not gonna let a loser mall cop with delusions of grandeur muck up his investigation. Things don’t look so hot for Ronnie.

But what does look hot to Ronnie? That babe Brandi (Faris) at the makeup counter. Too bad all his meager efforts fail to get her attention. She won’t go on a date with our schlumpy, mildly unhinged Ronnie. He gets it into his head that if can nab the perpetrators himself—maybe even become a cop in his own right—he could score with Brandi. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

Oops. What about that perv? Guy’s running around showing more c*ck than a henhouse.

Ronnie’s got a busy week ahead of him…


Here’s the painful truth about this week’s movie. Ready?

Observe And Report is Taxi Driver. For real.

*gasps from the peanut gallery, empty beer cans at the ready*

Hold on there. I am saying Report‘s a comedy. A rather bleak and dark comedy, but a funny film nonetheless. However it is Taxi Driver also. Consider the parallels:

Our hero is unhinged, socially awkward, racist and has delusions of grandeur of cleaning up the creeps that rove into his job. He’s obsessed with both the unattainable girl and stopping the criminals, both may serve a singular need. When all that falls through and he snaps, he ends up rescuing a wayward female and finds a feeling of worth and/or redemption. It’s all rather open-ended, however.

Now. Are we talking about Ronnie Barnhardt or Travis Bickle? Flip a coin.

More parallels in specific: Ronnie and Travis are obsessed with blondes named Brandi and Betsy, respectively who spurn them. Ronnie and Travis pop pills to keep their impulses in check (to no avail). Ronnie comes to the aid of Nell, an sweet-natured, injured girl who’s treated unfairly by her boss. Such is a la Taxi’s pimp Sport taking advantage of his naive charge Iris, played by a very young Jodie Foster  later reduced by Travis (BTW, “Nell” was the name of one of Foster’s movie roles. Just saying). More comparisons can be made.

Report‘s plot is virtually identical to Taxi. They’re two sides of the same coin, to be sure. And, no, Report is neither a rip-off nor outright plagiarism. I didn’t know if director Hill and his crew were paying homage or subconsciously channeling Travis. I’m not sure it was either, but the argument via comparisons can be made in the affirmative. The antihero vibe is there, as this movie is indeed an antihero movie. It’s a black comedy, too, but who says our lead can’t be demented and funny as well?

*”Where’s he going with this? I got a roast in the oven.”*

I’m saying we’re going back to the silly antihero theme, which is few and far between in movie land. Report is both madcap and dark, stupid funny and aggravating, off kilter and subtly disturbing. It’s like watching an ep of The Monkees minus the innocence and music and plus blue language, violence and waaay to many full frontal dick shots. Madcap. Even from the Coen-esque intro we know we’re in for a surreal and crass ride. Again, dick shots. It’s been said what audiences remember most about a film is the opening and the ending. Report‘s got your attention at the outset and sure does set the tone of the film, so be warned. Beyond this point there be dragons. And flashers.

This was the first Rogen vehicle that didn’t fair too well at the box office. The critics were pretty divided, also. Report fell quite comfortably into The Standard’s territory, which is weird. Since his ascent in Hollywood as the reliable buffoon, Rogen’s mostly done no wrong. Until now. Report was his first movie to lose money at the cineplex. Uh-oh. I think I know why. And it wasn’t for too much (wait for it) dicking around, either.

Ronnie is nuts. His is a sad case. It’s cringe-inducing to witness his conduct, his cluelessness, his about to snap. I’m thinking the guy’s core fan base (mostly frat boys I’d wager. Then again I was a frat boy back in the day. We only had Rob Schneider as an option, the poor man’s Sandler. Yes, I did write that) didn’t know what to make of their hero’s…antiheroics. Rogen the endless quip machine as assh*le. As nut job. As disturbing. Not the flavor in Columbus, despite it was some of the best actual acting the man has ever done. We’re supposed to like Ronnie, root for him. It’s not an easy task.

Actual acting. Rogen can’t act. Sorry to pop your bubble. It’s true. Oh sure, he’s funny, a one man Jerry Lewis movie tempered with the charm of the Three Stooges on a blind date with their cousins funny. But he only acts as Rogen, take it or leave it. If he’s not careful, his agent will doom him to being himself up to when the heart attack hits, maybe four more hits into his contract. Seemed to me that Rogen tried to stretch himself here in Report. Perhaps a bit too much for the mainstream media vultures. Um, fans. I meant fans. Smells like his fans didn’t go along for the ride with Ronnie. Not enough Paul Blart, I guess.

Which is too bad (not the missing Blart bit), because Rogen really did apply himself here. There was his usual histrionics, yes, and very much welcome by yours truly. But I also liked the creeping menace Ronnie was dragging behind him, not unlike—you guessed it—our favorite cabbie Travis. A good example of Ronnie blowing his cool in his usual slapdash manner is the scene where he comes to Nell’s “rescue,” which is redolent of the shootout in Taxi. Before Ronnie goes off pop, you can see him mulling over what to do next. It’s acting you seldom see Rogen do, and it was lost on the masses. A shame really.

I didn’t intend for this installment to pick apart Rogen’s performance, but already dropping Taxi Driver a million and a half times here it didn’t feel necessary to go into Report‘s finer details. All I can say about that is the film was good. A bit creaky at times, until you figure out where the whole thing is going, but still funny in the endgame. Also funny if you view the movie’s humor as a thickly disguised veneer covering the fact that our goofy, silly antihero character is crazy and willfully unaware of how dangerous he could be in different circumstances. Like becoming an actual cop. Shiver.

I know. Heavy sh*t for your almost run-of-the-mill Seth Rogen film. He ain’t gonna win any Oscars for his performance, and critical respect is but a parsec away, but it was kinda cool to see the guy act as well as be funny. Such things are possible in our impatient culture of gnat-like attention spans.

Rogen acts. Huh. Go figure.

*splat*

Hey! I just got pig sh*t on my shirt! And it fell from the sky!

Ah well, maybe a real rain will come down and wash the filth—

*incoming beer cans*

Whaddya want me to say?!? “That’ll do pig?”

Barbarians. Where’s my truncheon?


The Verdict:

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. It’s a cleverly disguised black comedy. Most folks didn’t get it. Doubts even here if they ever would. Just never confuse stupid with stupid. And that’s one to grow on.


Stray Observations…

  • Did Rogen actually gain  weight for this role?
  • “You’re just drunk, mom.”
  • “My dick is brown, you dumb motherf*cker!”
  • It sounds as if Morphine did the soundtrack. Amazing since their bass player has been dead for over a decade.
  • “Good luck with the crack.”
  • WE ACCEPT. Get it?
  • I once knew a guy who was so hard up to be a cop. He applied twice to the academy and tanked; lousy on admission, which is code for “unfit.” He also often spoke unfavorably about non-Whites. Wonders abound why he didn’t pass.
  • “I party like this only every four to six hours.”
  • The wifey loved this flick, “every inch of it.” I know this from being awakened by her cackles of joy against my Resperidone induced slumber. That’s how funny it was. Wish I was awake for the third act.
  • “Gotta get back to work.”

Next Installment…

Any responsible radio host must be mindful about what they say on the air. Robin Williams should be exceptionally careful. Who knows what The Night Listener hears when he tunes in to his show?


RIORI Vol. 3, Installment 14: Judd Apatow’s “Funny People” (2009)


Funny People


The Players…

Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann and Eric Bana, with Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Aubrey Plaza and the RZA.


The Story…

When superstar funnyman George Simmons learns he has a life-threatening disease, he slows down and takes stock of his life. Sure, all his movie success has given him wealth and fame, but at what cost to his health and happiness?

Believing his time is short, George decides to get back to the source: he wants to get out on the road again, do stand-up. Recapture the fun again, before it’s too late. But, well, its been a while since he had to sing for his supper. George could use some help to get back into the groove. He needs a wingman, a personal, personal assistant. Say maybe some up-and-coming comic, all fresh-faced with some raw talent. Somebody like George once was back in the day.

Since the clock is winding down, George instead settles with Ira. Sh*t, it wasn’t like the poor schlub was going anywhere to begin with.

*kick*


The Rant…

Tried my hand at stand-up comedy once. Never really thought I was funny in the vein of, say, George Carlin or Bill Hicks, but I remembered my younger days whiling away my lonesome Saturday nights watching Fox’s Comic Strip Live and laughing myself silly as those guys and gals tore up the midnight screen with their stories and one-liners. Hey, I could do that!

Right. No, I couldn’t, or was not able to in my neck of the woods. Such simple joys were all I was after, especially since beer and snatch weren’t as easily accessible as Domino’s was come the weekend. But it wasn’t for a lack of trying.

Was I any good at it? Ah, again: no. I figured my schtick wasn’t the flavor in Columbus, let alone where I lived (which was nowhere near Ohio). To give you a notion—and this isn’t about sour grapes, believe me. Ask my friends—of where I was coming from, my hometown was—still is a chunk of conservative Middle America. I’ve commented here before that Middle America is not a place, but a mindset. And no, I’m not gonna slag on where I was raised and warped. Did that already, and once you hear about it, nod assent, share your story any further analysis is a waste. Because your small town is still going to be small, and likes it that way. Like Lou Reed sang, “No one ever important came from here.”

As a teen, there was no real social scene for me back then. There were high school related things, sure. A minor league baseball team. Even an under-18 dance club that played raver music, replete with glow sticks and a fruit smoothie bar. But that was it. Everything else to do revolved around bar-hopping—taboo for a minor like me anyway—and late nights at diners, with one exchanging places with another and back again every weekend. Boring. Dead. Not wholly awful, but me being a restless teen, I knew there had to be something else. Something really fun to do late at night on a weekend that didn’t involve danger. At least not the physical kind.

In a back-asswards kind of way, that’s how I got onto my Comic Strip Live viewings. Right. Nerdy teen. No place to go. Up late in mom and dad’s basement, Sega Genesis controller all sticky. You need a laugh. What’s on TV? Why, it’s a bevy of stand-ups, men and women from across the country (sometimes even across the globe) of all different stripes telling stories and spouting social commentary and making a huge room of complete strangers piss their pants. Not to mention the new fanboy at home (eeyew). I loved it; I was hooked. From 7th grade to the show’s cancellation in the mid-90s, you’d almost always find yours truly glued to the tube every Saturday night from 11 to midnight with the local Fox affiliate. When it was summertime with no school to worry about I was waving a finger to the Sandman by watching The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson to tide me over till the weekend. And when stand-up specials would pop up occasionally on HBO, I had a fresh, blank VHS at the ready to record George Carlin, Robin Williams and even goofy Gallagher for posterity.

So when I was of the improper age, figuring that I had a few funny things to tell strangers in the dark, I sought out open mikes at local coffee shops. Okay, at the two coffee shops. I never had a problem with public speaking. I always figured I got to be the center of attention, and if I f*cked up, hell just act all silly about it. We all worry about making an ass of ourselves in front of a crowd. It happens sometimes; just roll with it.

I tried to roll with it. You always hear about comics getting heckled. Some (usually drunken) assh*ole yells sh*t out of line at the comic, wrecking his flow and pissing off the audience. I knew about that. I also expected to having folks not getting my stuff, and not getting many, if any laughs. What’s funny to you ain’t necessarily funny to others, smashed watermelons or no.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the indifference.

I was young, but my concerns were decidedly not on the buffet for the gentry. Lambasting 90s pop culture institutions like the latest music and movies (see a pattern forming?) as well as how hard—honestly hard—it is to get with, deal with the opposite sex was not what your typical cafe crowd wanted to hear from some loudmouth 18-year old. Comparing sexual conquests of Sean Connery versus Roger Moore in the 007 movies wasn’t much of hit. My bits went sh*t over shovel, but weren’t regarded with heckles or no laughter. The crowd couldn’t be bothered with such interactions. They were too busy chatting with each other over their drinks to give an ear to my antics. I was an irritant. Granted that this was a cafe, but it was open mike night, and the guy with the bagpipes got a standing O, after all.

That’s not how it went on Comic Strip Live. What happened?

In my wanderings about town, I encountered many, many backwoods people in the heart of urban Pennsylvania. In the A Most Violent Year installment, I spoke of my walkabouts in the less seemly parts of my old stomping grounds. I found regardless of the setting—be it cafes, the aforementioned diners or other public gathering places—the townies were not keen to having feathers they weren’t aware of be ruffled by some jabber jaw kid who watched Jon Stewart and Colin Quinn cut their teeth Saturday night. One too many times. You hear what I’m screaming. Even if you weren’t a comedy wonk like me, but just some schlub living in an uptight, reactionary, conservative town you were quick to learn that spouting your mouth off about issues others would happily ignore would likely get you in line, awaiting the inevitable drubbing.

I understood that old comic axiom: “Timing is everything.” Certain jokes work here, some there. Depends on the audience. It would probably be unwise to crack jokes about type 2 diabetes while performing at Hershey Park. For every season and all that bullish*t. If you’re a comic, or any performer for that matter, you gotta pick your moments. Gauge your audience. And know when it’s time to make a graceful exit.

Which is why indirectly, after my belabored attempts at bein’ a funnyman, the seed was planted why I had to get the f*ck outta dodge.

Comedian Patton Oswalt—a personal fave—put it best with his “Test of the Small Town” bit. It went something like this, more or less verbatim: when you grow up in a nondescript, soulless, boring town you have been given a present from God. And the present is the Test of the Small Town. You pass the test when you go, “I’m leaving before I kill everyone and then myself!” That’s when you pass. You fail when you go, “I’ll git a job at the Citgo and fill m’truck up fer free!” Whoops, you f*cked up.

Wasn’t gonna be me. At the time, but I probably wasn’t aware of it, I was taking Oswalt’s test. By watching comedians and then mimicking their bits, I learned quickly two things (well, one was already quite codified in my teenage mind).

First, watching all those comics from all over hither and yon told me that there was a bigger world than my dot on the map. All sorts of different people came on that stage from all over, telling stories that anyone, on one level or another, could relate to. And laugh about, no matter how weighty the subject. And how they delivered their bits reflected where they came from. New York. LA. Boston. The Midwest. This told me that there was indeed a bigger world beyond my little ville. Populated with people that, hey, I might be able to be down with. Ah, the optimism that only puberty can provide.

Second, I grew up in a staid, narrow town. Maybe on some vestigial level my mucking about with comedy planted the needful seed for me to scurry off down the path. It’s not unlike the virginal would-be starlet fresh off the motor coach from Wichita. Most of us come from nowhere to seek our fortunes elsewhere. Those cats on CSL were just struggling comics, but they came to LA from very elsewhere sometimes for their big TV spot. I saw the salt mine years of Jon Stewart, Jeff Foxworthy, Jeff Dunham (and Peanut), Bill Engvall, Kathleen Madigan, Dom Irrera (whom I met once; nice guy) and Denis Leary on CSL, before they were anybody. They knew they had to travel, to move on to find their muse. That’s the way it is with stand-up. You gotta find the right time.

Again, as they say in comedy, “Timing is everything.” A wisecrack here, a joke there, an anecdote later on, maybe some philosophical musing and/or social commentary. It only works within the proper context, as well as the right environment. Languishing in my old town, with the gift given by both an Oswalt-esque crisis and all those jokesters I caught on CSL, I quickly learned that I had to get out. All this required was my timing.

The right timing.

Sorta like the kind George Simmons once took. His career skyrocketed only after years of digging in the trenches, hitting the road and honing his act. Now he has it all. But all it takes is some bad news at the (im)proper time to make him assess his actual achievements, and perhaps realize that where he came from—where it all began—may have been nowhere, but it was somewhere.

Profound, huh? You get chills…?


America’s number one comic actor George Simmons (Sandler) has it all. Success. Lavish home. Millions in the bank. A lucrative—albeit questionable—motion picture career. Wants for nothing. Except maybe…something. For all his wealth, like many celebs, there’s this feeling of hollowness. Not to mention some other feeling.

His annual physical’s laboratory results have come back, and the news is bleak. George has contracted a rare blood disorder. He has very few options for treatment, let alone looking down avoiding a possible death sentence. To say he is scared and devastated in a disgusting understatement. He returns home to his sumptuous estate and all he sees is, well, nothing. What was all that hard work as a workaday comic a lifetime ago for, only to have…this happen?

Ira Wright (Rogen) is a struggling comic. Struggling mostly due to one glaring problem. Ira ain’t funny. He lacks confidence, timing, decent material and stage presence. But he tries hard. In fact, by his roomies—all successful funnymen, by the way. Some even have contracts—he’s very trying. Despite his minimal talent, Ira is sure that if he keeps plugging, he’ll win over a crowd. But after all the silence and indifference, when will that happen?

One night at an abortive club date, George catches a bit of Ira’s bumbling act. With a furrowed brow, George recognizes something in Ira he once recognized in himself. Do what it takes to be funny and make a bunch of strangers laugh out loud. George recalls, if only vaguely, what it took to make that happen.

George taps Ira. Knowing time is a precious commodity, and being reminded of that thrill he got back in the day, George tasks Ira as his new writer. He figures it’ll be good for the kid. That and George wants to do stand-up again, get back to the source, recapture the buzz again before its too late. He’ll let Ira try out new stuff with him as his mouthpiece. In return for his “services,” Ira has to be George’s valet, life coach and overall flunky for as long as…whatever takes.

Ira is ecstatic. George Simmons! The man is not unlike a god to newb comics. He’s the guy where Ira is now! F*ck George, yeah! I’ll do anything you say!

Could you get in touch with my ex and destroy her happy marriage?

Um, wait. What? Hang on. Like that’s gonna happen…


Funny People is two movies in one. Unlike a double bill at The Comedy Store, this is not a good thing. In fact it’s a disappointing thing.

I rightfully enjoyed Apatow’s first efforts, The 40-Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up (and by extension, Superbad). Apatow’s done all right as far as I’m concerned. He was one of the guys I caught on Comic Strip Live back in the day. He had a bit about having a head cold (no, really) that left me in stitches. Who’d be better to write a movie about the ups and downs of comic stardom than a former comic himself? Remember: write what you know.

Apparently what Apatow knows—learned, rather—is that the life of an entertainer has more pitfalls then a southeastern PA freeway come March. Success in this biz is a hard-won ally, and one that could hand you over to the enemy at a moment’s notice. Considering the dire state of affairs regarding Sandler’s current cinematic track record, Funny is both prescient and cautionary. Not to mention makes for great character study.

A few light-years back, I took apart one of Sandler’s dramatic turns in Reign Over Me. The thing sucked on toast, but prior to the nitpicking I spoke about the comedy career arrest in Sandler’s current movie CV. I also spoke of his trademark schtick, what with its screaming, silly voices and mid-70s variety show-like musical numbers. In addition to that, there was an assumed cavalier attitude Sandler might have regarding his fans and/or detractors who see his films: you know what you’re getting into buying a ticket, so take the lumps with the laughs or else.

That being said, is this whole film a self-conscious deconstruction of Sandler’s movie career? If so, it’s a needful thing—especially considering the non-stop backfires of his recent movie output. It’s then remarkable how one can turn a negative into a positive (albeit a small one). When the script for Funny dropped on his desk, Sandler read it, must’ve smirked and decided to give it the ol’ college try. Write what you know? Sandler “wrote” what he acts for Funny. The guy was readily game, and definitely qualified to portray a doosh like George Simmons.

What’s brilliant about Funny is first the very simple plot. It’s the whole mentor/student bent like other movies I’ve tackled here at RIORI, namely Finding Forrester and Wonder Boys. Whereas those tales were sober, heart-warming tales (sort of), Funny comes off as bitter and satirical, not unlike many a real-life comedians’ routines. Since the cast is choking with comic actors and real-life stand-ups to boot, small wonder why characters Ira and George—the proverbial Tom and Huck of the movieare hand in glove for a film like this. There’s a kind balance between schtick and dramatic aspirations at work here. The seamy, struggling world of Funny mirrors perfectly the lifestyle that goes with this kind of gig. Our movie is not supposed to funny, however, what with all its nights in the trenches and possible trappings of fame, it still keeps its humor. A good example in the film as how practicing comedy is at heart an organic thing are the scenes with the Teutonic doctor; it’s a priceless setup as to where comedy comes from. But despite the vital illustrations of funniness with scenes like that, prickly is the best overall way to describe the aura of this movie’s first act.

More on the final act later.

*cue sinister music*

Sandler didn’t need much motivation to play George. He is George. From his track list of movies that area at best mildly amusing and at worst inane, as well as his straying from the stand-up scene that made him, Sandler/George is an icon to comics and bane to their own careers. In other words, George sold out and it’s getting to him. Even more so that his life may be cut short.

Let’s talk about the acting, shall we? Essentially, our two leads are playing themselves. We get that George is Sandler. It’s nice to see—even in a meta fashion—Sandler’s hard-fought road to success. Sort of. I heard Apatow incorporated a lot of Sandler’s real-life experiences into the script. It shows, especially the scene when George is reliving his past via old video footage of his salad days. It gets lonely at the top later on in life. Doesn’t success do that? Sandler has this resignation hanging on his face, but doubtless it’s attached to Geroge’s circumstances. It’s his, winking and nodding at: yes, this is my life, my fame, my prison. How he delivers George, one gets the (correct) impression that Sandler improvised most of his lines, for good or for ill. I mean, the guy’s been there. Is there. Who’s better than him muckraking? I don’t think Sandler has but a wink in his eye as to how his career’s turned out, but his alter-ego does, and perhaps Sandler’s doing some vicarious therapy.

Right. I delve too deep. Shutting up and moving on.

After George receives his bad news, he quiets down, becomes reflective as anyone facing such a fate would. In the first half-hour of Funny Sandler exhibits more pathos than in the two-plus decades Reign Over Me sprawled over. He’s funny in fits and starts, and most of it is cutting, sardonic and plainly dark. Not the usual flavor in Sandler’s Columbus. His bread and butter is put to good tongue-in-cheek use as against character here. Like I said, maybe here was a opportunity for the guy to excise his demons, get some sh*t off his chest and let us have a laugh on him rather than with him. A nice departure, actually. I like a lower key Sandler here, and maybe a few of his diehards could make room for this bit also. This movie illustrates that Sandler can actually act. If only within the proper context. This movie does what Spanglish and Reign didn’t: give Sandler room. Comedians often do well in dramatic roles (e.g.: Jim Carrey, Richard Pryor, Jamie Foxx, etc) and seldom the other way around. Here Sandler got the ideal role: autobio comedy kinda drama. Sorry, it was the best way I could phrase it. Fine. You try.

I like low-key Rogen, too. Rogen here as Ira is just as childish as ever, not to worry. His stock in trade is playing a schlumpy quip machine ever put upon by the troubles he creates for himself. That and a lot of yelling. Here in Funny, Rogen also plays against type and his Ira is a lot more down that his usual fits of dick jokes and stammering like Curly on crack. Instead he is the terminal straight man. His childishness here is channeled into the mold of a nervous, under confident, neophyte comic that doesn’t have a leg to stand on. His act is lame. He has no timing. He’s like a kid who finds a lump of coal in the proverbial stocking. He needs a hug. Rogen finally has a role that reflects what America sees in him. It’s his most human role, not unlike his benefactor’s. Gone is Officer Michaels and Dale Denton. Enter Ira. Got a funny feeling here that Rogen is also channeling the years he grappled with a comedy writer. Like I said, many times over, timing is everything. Maybe with Funny, it was Rogen’s turn to pull back the curtain. What we see is rather endearing, and a character that we as an audience can sincerely get behind.

Okay. Now shut it about my rooting around. There’ll be a payoff.

What about the technical stuff? Good question. Apatow is generally a sharp filmmaker. He drops hints and allusions to subtly pair drama with the giggles and poop jokes. Funny is no different. There’s oddly a lot of good camera work. Why oddly? Because a bittersweet comedy in his vein is often in your face, if not outright brusque. Almost everything front and center. I couldn’t help but notice that for the majority of the shots—save close-ups—every scene was framed slightly left of center. Or right. Whatever. Even the scenes that involve intimate conversations or moments of contemplation (yes, there were a few in this Apatow flick), next to nothing was framed center stage. Unless it was significant; i.e.: the stand-up scenes. Little doubt to leave in the mind what our director was trying to convey here. All the world’s a stage and whatnot. If this show’s about stand-up, give the comics some, y’know. And Funny is very good at illustrating the growth of a comic. All this cinematography did a good job of keeping us centered against the looming twin shadows of death and failure. Kinda like that old Shakepearean trick…you’ve heard it already, right.

Apatow is also skilled with splicing drama along comic lines. Both Virgin and Up had heartfelt storytelling underpinning the raunch. It helps that the weighty matters are about the mundane sh*t we may all have to deal with in life. Like Carlin said, “Everything we share, but never talk about is funny.” Very sage. Apatow took this philosophy to heart when making his movies. For every booger joke, his sh*t illustrates we all pick ’em. There ain’t much subtlety in most of his execution, but then again neither is being caught digging for that gold nugget. Those proverbial nuggets are what makes his drama-comedies work so well most of the time. It’s kinda endearing.

One last thing on the technical side: Apatow’s tasteful soundtracks. What with all the 80s cheeze with Virgin and the stroke of genius hiring Loudon Wainwright to cut tracks for Up, a keen application of the right song at the right time isn’t missing here with Funny. There were two scenes that best illustrate said keenness. First was backing the whole face-out-the-limo scene. Backed by James Taylor’s “Carolina In My Mind” makes Ira’s reactions seem to remind George the joy of success he’d had one time in the past. Poignant, if only for a flash.

Second was the scene where George was clearing out his garage, choked with movie promos and swag the studios sh*t on him over the years. You can hear Alice In Chains’ “Man In The Box” lulling in the background. Pointed without being all up in yo grill. You’d almost miss it if you weren’t listening (to the soundtrack or my quackings).

So far, so good. Solid story, likable characters (regardless of unfortunate actors), funny and a potential long-range, rewarding story. All that being said, the first half of Funny is a warm, good-natured movie.

Now we have a problem: there is no second act.

Worse: the third act is from some other movie. One I’d dislike. Uh-oh.

Hang on. Backtrack. There is a second act, and it lasts less than ten minutes. It’s just one scene, really.

In any other movie with a similar storyline (dying man seeking redemption), the scene where our protag tries to repair bridges with “the one guy/girl that got away” is de rigeur. It’s a f*cking tradition by this point. George has an emotional moment with his spurned love, Leslie Mann’s Laura, and it’s very sweet. Not quite saccharine—Apatow’s too adroit to leave it so—but also somehow…baiting?

And now we reach the inevitable; here’s the moment when Funny goes careening off the tracks.

I’m really unsure that what happens in the third act was an honest intention in Apatow’s storytelling, or instead some demon muse suggested, “Hey, you got these name stars, a tight plot, this big-ass budget and the audience in your pocket. You’ve done a fine job exorcising Sandler’s demons for the first half of your movie. Let’s use up the remaining time to purge your demons and vicariously tell your ex she kissed the wrong frog and her p*ssy is awash in warts for it! Mwa-ha-ha! Now go forth and bring me the skins of the Olsen twins!!!”

Right. Not sure. Just musin’.

At any rate, after George and Ira reach an understanding about each other’s chosen paths the film should’ve ended. It didn’t. Instead we get another 90 minutes of the two trying to upend Laura’s presently decent relationship in the name of…what? Revenge? A perverted extension of George’s need to mend/burn bridges? Ira trying to…hey, where’d Ira go? Totally unsure. All I got from the final act was a chance to hear Bana speak in his usual Aussie accent. Well, that was amusing, at least.

This whole tryst aim of the movie disrupts—destroys—everything, everything that get set up for the first 90 minutes. Here’s a bit that goes on waaay to long, and has next to no connection with the first half of the movie. I got confused as to where the point of the antagonism lay. If this device was trying to enhance some tension it would’ve worked better edited down and had nothing to do with advancing the ‘A’ plot. This killed the movie’s pacing (uh-oh) as well as all the natural-feeling tension that was established in the first half. In short, this sidestep sucked all the funny building in Funny out of the movie from then on out.

I repeat, Funny is two movies in one. But this ain’t about no double feature at the Cineplex. I mean, after my desultory opening statement to the review part, I enjoyed Funny up until the point of no return. But this movie went on way too long for the worst reason possible: directorial indulgence.

It’s been an accepted fact for decades that certain directors get long-winded, regardless of their résumés. Scorsese does it. Coppola did (still I feel that the unedited version of Apocalypse Now is superior to the original, theatrical cut). Cimino really was. But those dudes carried decades long cachets. Apatow has, what, five directorial credits to his name (or as I like to call it: Marty’s lunch break)? I think it’s a tad too soon for the man to get all gushy here with Funny. Y’know, since his work’s almost legitimatized. Big deal office turn out does not automatically grant one Crooklyn street credit (sorry, best example I could conjure up. I’m like a Replacements’ live show right now). Still, I get the feeling with the last half of Funny, Apatow took his turn pulling a George Simmons within his own film. It would’ve worked if it, well, would’ve worked.

It didn’t. In fact it failed so badly I got so befuddled two-thirds through the movie that not only I had no idea what was going on but forgot about the first chunk of Funny‘s original plot thread. Such a thing might’ve been tolerable if the movie’s throughput remained relevant, consistent and, well, funny. Geroge and Ira’s story are basically sidelined to make room for a f*cking soap opera. The only thing that was remotely amusing about this thread was seeing Bana be way over the top, almost a mirror image of Sandler’s rise to his. Trading one caricature for another isn’t funny. It’s goddam aggravating, like we need training wheels to get the joke. Very un-stand-up. Shame on you, Judd.

What spark had been developing got snuffed out here. This movie should’ve been half as long. Even my endless patience was tested as soon as George and Ira arrived at Laura and Clark’s place. Goddam it. Here we had a chance for a near blemish-free role for Sandler and Apatow just had to revisit his old high school A/V Club one last time. Sh*t. We were on a roll here with Funny, then it got all…unfunny. Not just “not funny.” The audience got catapulted into another theatre entirely. And I don’t care that at the end George alludes to Ira REDACTED. It would’ve been better off that way at the outset. Or at least the first 90 minutes.

I can’t f*cking believe this big-ass disappointment was two-and-a-half hours long. That’s like three hours of Comic Strip Live! Minus the reliable laughs!

That’s if you even use an ELP 8 hour VHS from BASF.

What? Too many acronyms? Is this on?


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. It’s a bait-and-switch. Get the hook.


Stray Observations…

  • “Don’t blame me for your p*ssy problems.”
  • No burgeoning comics could ever afford a pad like that. Not feasible.
  • “You ever get tired ’bout talking about your dick?” F*ck FaceBook!
  • I love all the comic posters.
  • “Smart movie.”
  • I hate the LA skyline.
  • “I think I can hear the freeway…”
  • Warren Zevon’s “Keep Me In Your Heart.” It works wonders.
  •  “That’s just fifth grade.”
  • Schwartzman needs a-slappin’.
  • “Are you mad that you died at the end of Die Hard?” “I don’t understand your reference.” You tell ’em, Karl.
  • Marshall Mathers. Closet sage.
  • “You owe me fifty.”
  • Mann is endearingly annoying, like that squeaky girl who’d follow you and your friends around after school and onto the playground. Later in high school, she’s give you a bl*wjob so you’d do her homework. You dig what I’m saying? What do you mean…? Hm. Guess that explains the sores. Anyway, “I like Spider-Man!”
  • “I thought everybody loved you…”
  • Dick move there having Ira telling Laura about George’s REDACTED (God, I love doing that).
  • “Where are the black guys?”
  • Who wants to wager that Apatow is a Gershwin fan? What with Sandler performing and Rogen writing? The analogy sure wasn’t lost on me. Clever.

Next Installment…

Can Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried literally escape their futures In Time?


RIORI Vol. 3, Installment 5: Michel Gondry’s “The Green Hornet” (2011)


22930377_PA_The-Green2


The Players…

Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Christoph Waltz and Cameron Diaz, with Edward James Olmos, David Harbour, Tom Wilkinson and a very funny cameo from James Franco.


The Story…

When careless Britt Reid’s newspaper mogul father dies accidentally, he has to man up and take over his old man’s media empire. Britt? He’s a slovenly, self-entitled trust-fund bastard. All he needs is himself, partying, girls, that’s all and forget the family business. But after one night when a prank goes wrong, and he’s inadvertently falls into the belly of LA’s crime beast, he has an epiphany. All these low-lives are running the city—the city Dad always wrote about and exposed its dark side—and almost nearly ruined Britt. Nothing like your balloon being popped to wake you up. So he and his buddy Kato do the only rational thing in response: become superheroes…with a really bitchin’ ride.


The Rant…

Sex sells, as the popular axiom goes. You know what comes in second? Nostalgia.

If you were there, you might remember back in the 90’s when all those movies based on TV shows and radio serials came out. If you weren’t, here you go: Some Hollywood exec got a wild hair up his ass one day and figured, “Hey, nostalgia’s always a big draw for audiences. Look at The Big Chill, or Diner, or even Back to the Future? And what’s a better source of nostalgia that being reminded of the slapdash fun of the old television and radio shows that built freakin’ pop culture? They need the big treatment!”

Um. Well. Not sure why those type of shows were elected as cinema fodder. I’ve always assumed the 50-year-old-plus demographic was more or less non-existent. My guess is that in a rare show of cynicism on Hollywood’s part, no one from the crucial 16-24 age demo would’ve ever even heard of the likes of any radio serials from yesteryear. Let alone know what a f*cking radio serial is. So a play on viewer ignorance was gambled. More often than not, Hollywood came up trumps.

Now I wasn’t party to the executive meeting, so I’m just basing that scenario on my very lopsided, maligned view of the Hollywood movie machine. It might have more truth than we’d like to admit. Most of these adaptations had middling results at best or just plain fell short. There were the good ones (The Fugitive, Dick Tracy), the not so good (Lost in Space, The Shadow) and the goddam terrible (The Beverly Hillbillies, The Phantom. Curse you, Billy Zane).

Right. So in the last decade of the 20th Century, Hollywood got its sniffer going on the very old nostalgia train and began rooting through the vaults of classic TV and radio to find material for movie updates. Easy money, that; securing the rights to half-forgotten stories must’ve been hella cheap. Low price tag notwithstanding, most of the end results sucked miles of c*ck. Don’t quote me on this, but I think this might’ve been the start of the “reboot trend” that’s omnipresent in movie making today, by which I mean use an established format that proved successful (read: profitable), lather, rinse repeat and watch the cash come oozing in. With the TV-as-movie thing, it worked for a while. When McHale’s Navy finally got the silver screen treatment, there was the tipping point and America threw up it hands. Okay, that’s when I threw up my hands. Maybe I just threw up rather.

In hindsight, I really can’t figure out the big-screen TV/radio model. Other than the novelty of “big stars” and bigger budgets to ensure the movie adaptation will be…well, big, why bother seeing it rather than the already successful TV shows they were based? I mean, not all small successes demand a new wheel. Did The Flintstones need to be upgraded? Why am I even asking?

Still, it can’t be said that the TV/radio cum movie trend was a total waste. There were a few bright spots. I mentioned The Fugitive (which got an Oscar nod for Best Pic, believe it or not). There also was the Mission: Impossible franchise, the very tongue-in-cheek Maverick, and what Monty Python got to do with a bigger budget was nothing short of hysterical. And if you wanna get technical, there was another legacy show that got the royal treatment.

Don’t worry. I am going somewhere with this. Sit down and shut up.

Let’s set the way-back machine to the mid-60s. There was this big hit TV series showcasing screwy, heroic adventures, was chockfull of dastardly villains, byzantine plots, silly costumes, a little social commentary, and also a very chic place to make a cameo. And no, we’re not talking the original Star Trek here. Good guess though, especially with the whole “guest-starring” bit.

We’re talking the original Batman, starring Adam West as the Caped Crusader and Burt Ward as the (man) boy-wonder Robin. Yeah! The corny, campy duo that sets right what their rogues’ gallery sets to undo week after week ensuring Gotham is a safe place to ransack again next week. It was corn-tastic, rife with Jarlsberg dialogue, stupid plots (most of it not a little too removed from the source material) and with enough of a pop cultural cachet to even have Bobby Kennedy request a cameo (for real!). If Tim Burton’s Batman wasn’t an obvious vehicle to tap onto the Hollywood nostalgia TV wagon here, the timing sure was. The Baby Boomers as kids caught Batman on TV and later took their kids to Batman on the big screen. I think some were half-expecting goofiness, since director Burton’s previous effort was 1988’s Beetlejuice. Who knows?

Batman, like a lot of TV shows back then, were upgrades from radio shows. It was the march of time in the media world; Superman, the Lone Ranger, Dick Tracy, all those guys got started on the AM band. Making them into television shows was the next logical step. And like the movie/TV craze a quarter-century ago, there were plenty of wells to plumb to morph once-profitable radio shows into TV series to wedge between ads. At any rate, Batman the TV show became the quintessential iteration of this move. The TV series beget Batman the movie (and its increasingly embarrassing sequels) 20 years later. Doubtless all this exchanging of funds from radio to TV to movie has something to do with that. Not to mention cashing in on the nostalgia ticket. Remember The Wonder Years? Shameless pandering to the Boomers, believe you me. 1989’s Batman was not all that different.

Burton’s Batman, despite its massive budget, top tier stars and its dark and brooding Gotham, still had a lot of winks and nods to the old TV show. Besides Jack Nicholson’s overreaching portrayal of the Joker, there were bits and pieces of camp and comedy spattered throughout the film. Again, little doubt throwing a bone to the older generation. Burton shrewdly knew that he had to straddle the fence between attracting and not alienating the old school fan base while at the same time enticing younger audiences—with their flammable dollars—to come see the show.

What presaged Batman making his big budget splash was this: syndication of the old TV show. I remember as a kid, West and Ward’s Dynamic Duo reruns got heavy rotation on local affiliates. In hindsight this might have been the soft sell to get folks to see the eventual movie proper. Worked for me.

I found the show funny, dumb, corny and poorly choreographed (Bam! Splat!), yet oddly watchable. There was a factor in play that wasn’t even inhaled by the Boomers then and would barely send a whiff to the Millennials: THIS SH*T WAS MEANINGLESS, STUPID FUN. For real. I mean, hey, I watched the crap relentlessly as a kid. It might’ve been because it was summertime and there were only stupid reruns on all the time. But I doubt that the Boomers found Batman pithy, regardless of its social commentary, but rather action of the highest regard. I mean, check out that jet-powered Batmobile! With a siren on top! The jet thing was even carried over to the movie’s Batmobile.

Today’s generation would find the old program nothing more than sad and laughable—a fair assessment all things considered—and would only tune in out of being all ironic. Kids, there was a time where irony was not just buying the tee-shirt. Trust me. Gen X perfected cynicism and irony. By the way, you’re welcome for the Internet being scrubbed as best it can be.

*squeegees bile off screen*

But back in the 60s, the Batman TV series was huge. It became a cultural phenomenon. It had like over 100 episodes in three years. Baloney-fed Adam West was a sex symbol, before God. It was so popular, as I mentioned, that celebrity guest-stars and cameos abounded. Actors of the day would line up in droves to be a guest star on the show. Vincent Price, Burgess Merideth, Julie Newmar, Eli Wallach, Joan Collins and even “Mr. Television” Milton Berle all made recurring appearances on the show. This is not to mention the “wall-crawling” gimmick employed in the show where the aforementioned cameos popped out a window to chat up Batman and Robin. Folks like Sammy Davis, Jr., Dick Clark, Jerry Lewis, Edward G Robinson, the Green Hornet and Kato—

Wait. What? (Told ya I was going somewhere.)

Not unlike an infamous episode of the original Star Trek series (it was called “Assignment: Earth” BTW, and it failed as a gateway to Roddenberry’s next sci-fi show, as well as being one of the worst eps of Star Trek ever) the network used the popularity of Batman to serve as a launch pad for their next superhero show, The Green Hornet. Like the TV/movies of the 90s, Hornet was originally a radio serial. The guys behind Batman wanted to capitalize on their show’s popularity by introducing the next superhero team that would surely eat up the airwaves.

Well—surprise, surprise—it didn’t. The show played straight to the goofiness of its parent show, and I guess at the time audiences weren’t in the mood for “serious superheroes.” Hell, even TV’s Superman George Reeves was a humorous, light-hearted and gentle guy, not the conflicted Kryptonian we know and love today. The Green Hornet as TV wasn’t a total loss though. It did manage to survive one full season, and got some respectable reviews. More importantly, the show introduced a grateful world to Bruce Lee, who played Van Williams’ valet and kung fu sidekick Kato. What was the neat sticking point of the short-lived series, which was pleasantly not campy like Batman was (the producers must’ve heard the air going out of Batman’s whoopee cushion and tried an about face towards better ratings elsewhere). It was also probably the first interracial team-up in prime time TV. Yeah, yeah, there was Jay “Tonto” Silverheels on The Lone Ranger, but he was played more like a subordinate. On The Green Hornet, however, despite Kato being the Hornet’s aide-de-camp, Lee’s character wasn’t a stereotype and more or less an equal—as far as characterization was concerned. Lee’s Kato was sharp, tough, funny and also did a lot of winks-and-nods to the audience about who was the “real brains” of the Hornet’s operation. Though the show was short-lived, Hornet had it’s moment in the sun thanks to Lee, who we all know went on to bigger, better, more ass-kicking things.

I guess based on that small cachet alone, The Green Hornet earned the latest—quite possibly last—radio/TV-to-movie adaptation treatment. However, the fact it dropped in 2011 is kind of puzzling; raping and pillaging the video vaults for celluloid destruction is so last century. Especially if it’s ravening for delights a big budget allows, with their name stars and a director who’s been known to make good on colorful movie promises.

Hang on. More on that later. The answers will come. Have faith…


The curious thing about print media—magazines, tabloids and above all established newspapers—in the 21st Century is that, despite all the competition from the Internet and social media, established, well-written newspapers can still be bastions of not only delivering the news, but also an inexpensive gateway into world we live in, at home or abroad. The most successful papers can defy the law of diminishing returns by wit, grit, great writing and integrity. It’s how most media empires started a century ago. Ask Hearst.

James Reid (Wilkinson) established said media empire with The Daily Sentinel, LA’s last independent newspaper. With only his hard-nosed approach to the telling the truth about the ugly aspects of the City of Angels, he stands tall above the other easily bought-and-sold journalists that plagued the city. He’s had his pulse on the finger of LA, and has reported all the glam, glitz, shams and sh*ts that the city represents, his integrity never wavering.

Then there’s his son, Britt (Rogen).

To call wastrel Britt a party animal is akin to calling a junkie a “heroin fancier.” He’s been living off The Sentinel’s—and his dad’s—millions for over, like, two decades. And what does Britt have to show for it? Damage fees for reckless parties, endless hangovers and babes laid waste in his bed whom he can’t even remember their names (okay, so it ain’t all bad).

James demands of Britt time and again as to how could he take over the family business when he’s endlessly recovering from one night of debauchery onto the next morning of debauchery? Britt assures his father that he has plans, or rather really good excuses.

But when James dies unexpectedly, it falls to Britt to head up The Sentinel in his father’s stead. Britt always knew his dad was a scion—albeit dickish—of hard-nosed truth. What’s Britt? A walking bar tab. There’s no bloody way he could ever run a first rate newspaper, especially since daddy held the reigns for so long. Britt soon realizes, away from the Jacuzzi and the endless open bars, not only that he’s wholly incapable of filling dad’s shoes, he can barely fill his own.

It takes a lousy cup of coffee one day—a threat to his hallmark of self-entitlement—to get Britt’s dander up. Who’s responsible for this swill? It wasn’t James Reid’s mechanic Kato (Chou), who has a gift regarding not only coffee, but also custom-made tech in general. Turns out that Kato became James’ valet, but wasn’t too keen on it. He would’ve bailed years ago, but the opportunity to work on James’ collection of classic cars proved to be too much of a temptation. Kato was such a good little elf, James gave him free reign of his garage to indulge in all of his tech ideas, some of which James actually green-lit.

Dad never green-lit anything to Britt, not even respect.

Anyway, Kato earned the respect Britt never had. Such a drag. But after a long day of espresso, beer and the sense of self-righteousness they bring—also the pair having no love lost for their late benefactor—Britt and Kato decide to defile the late James’ headstone as a drunken lark. In Kato’s souped-up ride, it’s off to the cemetery.

But things go all tits-up, as they often do.

Before Britt could hiccup, a crew of toughs assault a young couple—a simple, easily ignored story that James Reid would’ve reported. With only the zeal drunken panic can bring, Britt lays a haymaker to a thug and Kato kung-fus his way through the rest. Both bail and thank their lucky asses that no innocents got hurt. But this altercation—aeons away from Britt’s cushy bed—plants a seed. This was a random act of violence in the City, but it happens everyday. Not to Britt, or even Kato. But to see it, hell get involved in it? Britt and Kato aren’t cops. The police have bigger fish to fry.

But this sh*t happens all the time. And a lot of criminal bigwigs—the kind of d*ckheads Britt’s dad would fearlessly expose—profit off of these muggings. The scales fall from Britt’s eyes, assisted by too much adrenaline. It felt good to save some people, someone other than himself. First time for everything.

After all the ballyhoo, Britt shares many more beers with Kato, and both get all amped when the local TV news captures their exploits.

“We’re heroes!” Britt screams. And that’s when it really hits him. The words planted by his late dad coming out of his mouth.

Britt figures that the best way to thwart the organized crime gangs’ activities is to create a target; a united front, if you will, against an uber-criminal. Put the whole “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” axiom to the test. When all the thugs are after the guy whose been scotching all their delicate affairs of drug-dealing, extortion and creating general mayhem, they’ll get all reckless in pursuit and the cops’ll have easy leads to follow.

Britt and Kato—with his gift for tech—will become superheroes! No! Anti-heroes!

Only old school crime boss Chudnofsky (Waltz) ain’t buying this latest scam in a lifetime of scams.

Chudnofsky has been around. He’s been a serpent slinking the gutters of LA long before Britt and Kato’s antics were barely a fart in the wind. Whoever the calling card belongs to, Chudnofsky has no pretense—or fear—of any marginally successful upstart that might potentially upset his delicate balance of crime and profit. Who gives a sh*t how cool his ride is, or his getup? Or his kung fu sidekick? And what real criminal leaves actual calling cards at the scenes of their crimes? Idiots. There’s a lot to be said for being quiet, methodical and carrying a double-barreled pistol.

That’s the trouble with interlopers confusing themselves as would-be crime fighters: it’s always spectacle over substance.

Not unlike the headlines on The Daily Sentinel, now run under the auspices of a lushy, spoiled, ne’er-do-well with a green mask, a boss ride and a kung fu/tech master wingman who patiently waits for his time in the sun, Britt’s alter-ego The Green Hornet exposes crime in a more in-your-face way than the paper ever could.

Now if only Britt could keep off of the f*cking chaise lounge, pool-side…


How Hornet plays out ties in directly with it’s troubled birth. When I asked earlier as to why this kind of film adaptation—after its brethren died a cold death at the turn of the century—was made in 2011 when the practice is so outré, the truth is odd. Well, not really considering how Hollywood works (which I’m still trying to figure out, and may never do). Anyway, I don’t think the nostalgia tag alone was reason enough why Hornet had to become reality. I think it was partly out of frustration.

Y’ever hear of “Production Hell?”

For those who haven’t, here you go (for those who have, feel free to skip ahead, you lazy sods): sometimes a movie project fails to get off the ground, despite all the hype and/or goodwill Hollywood dumps into its development. But no matter how much press and promise the execs deliver, sometimes movie projects just can’t gain traction. Be it budgetary concerns, securing a good script and/or writer, casting disputes or just a lot of hurry up and wait, some movies just languish as concepts rather than actual productions. Said concepts linger in the Hollywood backwaters—endlessly on hiatus—in what is know as “production hell.” A good example of this is another movie covered here at RIORI: the eventual execution of Watchmen by Barnum-like director Zack Snyder. That film fell under the guidelines of The Standard in every which way, but not might have if the film hadn’t decayed in production hell for 20 years since its initial proposal.

Hornet is another casualty of production hell. To answer the question of why make a movie based on a radio show well into the 21st Century? How that creatively bankrupt ship sailed lies within the kooky machinations of production hell. Hornet was originally slated for release in 1997. Nineteen. Ninety. Seven. That’s almost fifteen years prior to the film’s eventual release. It was also back then that the TV/radio show-as-movie trend was in full swing. The only reason I can divine as to why Hornet finally saw the light of day was to cash in on this century’s current version of movies lifted from Michael Crichton novels: the superhero gimmick.

Right. I mentioned that Hornet as a visual entertainment spawned from the Batman series. Technically the Green Hornet wasn’t a comic book superhero, but sort of sided that way thanks to Bats. Then again, I often shamefully point the finger at Hollywood for trying to make a buck based on audience’s ignorance, which they often succeed. These kids don’t know nuffin about no Batman teevee show, let alone some offshoot with a dead martial arts legend as actor! Crank it out! Let’s see if she sails!

Cynical you say? Damn skippy. You know how marketing works: if it makes money, ram it into the ground. Keep it going as fast as f*ck as possible before the bubble eventually pops. Besides, folks these days have attention spans like gnats on Red Bull. Entertain the brutes! It’s akin to the old Doritios slogan: crunch all you want, we’ll make more.

Hmm. Well, perhaps Hornet was better off in production hell. Hollywood sure didn’t profit much from its eventual birth. As an example to how a film gets mired down in production hell, Hornet suffered from the trifecta of roadblocks that keep a movie’s production down in the trenches.

First, a suitable director couldn’t be scored. Believe it or not, director Gondry was approached back in ’97 to helm the project. This was well before he entered the spotlight with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Hornet was supposed to be his debut film, but it got passed on and on to the likes of Stephen Chow and even Kevin Smith—who I think under his watchful eye might have made the movie work betterbefore eventually landing back in Gondry’s lap again. Hot potato, hot potato. Here we went on the money-go-round.

Then there was the writing team to consider. The likes of Edward “Robocop” Neumeier and Christopher “The Usual Suspects” McQuarrie were tapped, but it finally fell to Rogen and buddy Evan Goldberg to create a new script from scratch, eschewing the hard line the original Hornet had and instead injecting their usual goofball histrionics into their final product. In all fairness, Hornet was funny, but perhaps too much so to translate into an action movie. The final product is slathered in the ribald tones of Knocked Up and Superbad.

Finally, the casting. Uh, no one fit the bill as the leads. So since Rogen and Goldberg held the pen, and no one else could be qualified to deliver the lines, Rogen got to wear the mask (ably backed by Chou’s Kato). Rogen is the anti-leading man, and the last guy you’d ever smell to don the cape as some superhero, radio show or no. Doubtless that this also was gimmick, maybe capitalizing on the comic actor’s rising star in order to pull a bait-and-switch as he’d pull a Michael Keaton like in Burton’s Batman.

No. Not really. Not at all. The Green Hornet was your typical Rogen farce, but with some really boss action scenes tempered with his trademark snarky repartee. Take it or leave it. By its turnout, I don’t think most folks took to The Green Hornet.

The overriding theme of the movie is what I call “controlled hamminess.” The acting isn’t bad. It’s serviceable, but it lends very little weight necessary for an action vehicle, even if it’s a comedic romp like this one. I’ll cut to the chase: as far as I can see, regardless of the role he’s in, Rogen will always be a schlumpy quip machine. It’s his bread-and-butter, and he’s in that mode 100% of the time. It goes so far as when I once saw him on CNN espousing the need for congress to grant more research money for further studies in finding a cure for Alzheimer’s, and even that delivery was riddled with jokes and barbs. CNN. Congress. Alzheimer’s. Yuk yuk yuk.

Don’t misunderstand me. Rogen is a funny guy, and he gets a lot of good lines in the movie (hell, he wrote half of them), but wisecracks alone does not make for an endearing lead. Does he have to mug in every movie he’s in, really? His Britt Reid as reckless hero can only go so far on one-liners alone. The schtick gets repetitive, and what’s really repetitive is the reserved scenery chewing, the aforementioned ham in action.

The whole cast is a combo of ciphers and caricatures. We have our spoiled brat Britt, sage Kato who knows everything (this is not an exaggeration. Kato knows everything), bubbly and over-eager Cameron Diaz—who seems to be revisiting her role from 1994’s The Mask—as Britt’s secretary and Waltz as an underworld boss with an inferiority complex. We got no subtlety with this rogues gallery, which makes for a very one-sided movie watching experience.

I say one-sided because the movie feels like it’s ignoring the audience. The cast is clearly having a ball tearing it up on screen, but like a heated conversation you’re witnessing, not contributing to, you kind of want to tap Rogen and Chou on the shoulders and say, “Hey guys? Remember me?” Nah. More jokes! More explosions! More drinking!

Still, this one-sidedness lends a few perks. If you don’t give a sh*t what the audience thinks, then you’re free to ramp it up, get all hammy, flip us the bird and carry on, carry on. And boy, does Hornet carry on. It can best be described as having an odd, anti-Lethal Weapon vibe. The movie’s a “buddy cop” story to be sure, and Rogen and Chou have chemistry with good humor, and their antics not only create a mixed bag of funny/action, but cement the whole “who gives a sh*t?” feel to the movie.

The ham-tastic acting also adds to this lightheartedness. All the players have a just slightly under the radar one-dimensional characterization that adds to the humor without making it dissolve into pure camp. The comedy aspect helps a lot, especially since the action takes a back seat a lot of the time. I’ll admit I was snickering a lot watching Hornet, almost exclusively at Rogen’s wisecracks. Chou got a few good lines in too, but on the whole, it was Rogen’s show all the way. It kind of reflected the mentality of the original Hornet TV show. Van Williams’ Britt Reid/Green Hornet played it very straight, almost dry and totally opposite Rogen’s constant jokey banter. Williams never cracked a smile, but Lee did.

Back in the day, when the classic Green Hornet show was on air, it was considered a joke—a passive joke, mind you—that Kato was the true brains of the outfit. The “man behind the curtain” if you will. That subtle character dynamic comes to the fore here as an outright gag, almost as a refresher lending some seriousness to the job of superheroics against Britt’s endless, clueless bantering. It also enhances some racist undertones, which were decidedly shied away from on the TV show.

The movie does seem to exaggerate said undertones on the TV series. Very little then—being the progressive 60’s—put Williams or Lee under the lens as the first interracial team of heroes. I’d like to think that Lee was such a charming actor, such room for either bleeding-heart white guilt or shooting a spotlight on the mixed team-up made the whole social context superfluous. Williams and Lee made a good team, straight up. While Williams was grim, determined crime-fighter, Lee got to be funny, smart and lighthearted in his role as the “subordinate” sidekick. He got the best action scenes overall.

The on-the-nose social commentary or maybe exercise in irony to the layman is played to the hilt here in the movie. C’mon, for those who saw it, is what we want to remember from the TV show as a complement to Batman—with all its corniness—merely the introducing the first inter-racial duo (Okay, I suppose I Spy did it first, but that show was all about subtly, going along with its whole “espionage” theme. I wasn’t remembered for high action—let alone kung fu—only a very young, pre-rape accusation Bill Cosby palling around with TV stalwart Robert Cup) or the launch pad for Bruce Lee’s rise to fame? The implications were vital then but hackneyed now. Why play on this play-for-keeps spin for entertainment’s sake? It’s really weak and insulting, very uncool for 2011. It’s a glaring black spot on an otherwise lighthearted and funny film.

Another aspect about the movie—and other would-be, 21st Century comedies of its ilk—I disliked it the endless, winking pop culture in-jokes injected into a story that is ultimately designed for an audience-at-large to not get said in-jokes. The whole thing I said about not giving a sh*t about what the audience cares for can be freeing, but when taken too far you are really alienating the audience. After a while, the jokes morph into the standard, razor-thin plot of your typical episode of Family Guy. Sure, the cast and crew get it, but shame on you dear viewer for missing the joke. Too bad you weren’t there at the brainstorming session at Columbia. It’s just baiting for the fading demo, and rather cynical for the rising.

Still, for all its broad and lenient takes on the legacy, Hornet is terribly amusing, something the old radio serials and TV eps were not. Decidely not. Back then, “serious” superhero show just plumb didn’t exist. Hell, refer back to Batman. Nowadays, most comic book movies are besotted with drama, gravitas, endless navel-gazing only punctuated with the occasional one-liner or winking joke. It’s a Shakespearean thing: inject comedy right before tragedy to amplify the drama. It’s been done so often over the past decade that a would-be superhero flick littered with non-stop jokes, puns, wisecracks bucks the trend. This might be the most refreshing—and eventual downfall—of Hornet. It goes too far here. We’ve been set up across two acts to fall into the trap of info-dump in the third.

Hornet’s third act seems forced, especially after 90 minutes of joking and rather nifty, albeit limited action scenes. At this point, it’s all about the collateral damage. There’s so much of it one should only see it as an extension of the winking joke running throughout the film. The final scenes, with all their whiz-bang, are incredibly forced. It’s like Gondry and company made a bum’s rush to compensate for all the fluff in the first two-thirds of the movie to inject a bit of heaviness now. So much so that the resolution and Britt’s redemption are crammed into maybe three minutes (at most) of hard story before sh*t starts getting all kerblooey again.

And holy f*ck do Gondry, Rogen, Goldberg and their accomplices throw everything into the kitchen sink and crashing through the window. After 90 minutes of a left-of-center action/comedy with a few cool scenes of chaos, Gondry tears the lid off the pot and the rest is pyrotechnics, shattered glass, more of that hamminess condensed like a can of Campbell’s and crazy car chases through multiple floors of an office complex. Extension of the jokes? You decide (I already did: yes).

Yeah, The Green Hornet was a big joke. It either ended up that way between all the nonsense the project was smothered with in production hell or the comedy Cuisinart treatment it got from Rogan and Goldberg. There were a some cool action scenes, rather funny one-liners from Rogen, Chou’s Kato was great (albeit an over-inflated version of Lee’s character from back in the day), those Black Beauties were awesome and Diaz wore a lot of short skirts. But overall, Hornet was jumbled, and came across as a relic of a time far removed from 2011. And now that I mention it, since Hornet was on the whole an action/comedy a la Lethal Weapon, thumbing its nose at all the rampant, heavy comic book movies of our time, wouldn’t this jumble be considered a relevant balloon-popping of the relentless Marvel titles gumming up the multiplexes now?

I dunno. Maybe. In the long run, despite its glaring flaws, Hornet was entertaining. Sideswiped of the nostalgia ticket and fingering its fellow comic movie contemporaries. It was dumb, and that’s not always a bad thing. In a cinema world of guys in tights waxing way too philosophical on the nature of being, a good fart joke is almost always welcome before the credits roll.

Oh yeah. That whole nostalgia market? Just keep your cards close to your chest. Whatever you personally regard as representative of your Golden Years Hollywood will never catch. They’re too busy trying to capitalize on someone else’s, who’s probably already dead.

Hornet sting!


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. I’m only saying so because I didn’t dislike The Green Hornet outright. It’s a lousy superhero movie, but it also doesn’t really try to be a good one. Consider it a time-waster; something you’d find on the TV some boring Saturday afternoon, with you having nothing else to do but tune in. It’s chewing gum, and that’s okay from time to time. Plus it’s funny, which is never really truly wasteful.


Stray Observations…

  • “My gun has two barrels. That’s not boring.”
  • Hornet has a lot of blue language for a PG-13 movie. Good.
  • “We’re just two guys who stole a head.”
  • The Black Beauty’s headlights are green. Nice touch.
  • “See you in an hour…”
  • Boy, Edward Furlong has really fallen on hard times.
  • “You need nunchuks then…”
  • Fun fact: The Green Hornet turned out to be quite the hit in Lee’s homeland, doubtless due to the “local boy from Hong Kong does good” story. The Chinese knew Bruce’s TV debut as The Kato Show. For the few Yanks that caught it, it was easy to see why.
  • “That’s a very big gun.”
  • I heard once that Adam West complained in the movie press that he wasn’t considered for a re-cast as his classic Caped Crusader role for Burton’s movie. This was in 1989. The TV series aired almost a quarter-century prior, Adam. Do the math.
  • “Go be a journalist! I’ll kick ass!”
  • The Black Beauty getting plowed under…I saw that ep of Mythbusters. Maybe you did too.
  • “Hand over the sushi!”
  • Hornet has a very cool, very eclectic soundtrack. Any movie that dares to bookend Vivaldi with Coolio’s “Gangster’s Paradise” deserves some mention.
  • “Let’s roll, Kato.”

Next Installment…

According to the NYPD’s criminal records archive, 1981 was A Most Violent Year.