Klown (Klovn: The Movie)


Klown

For Drew Carey lookalike Frank Hvam, the price is wrong.

(2010) Sex Comedy (Drafthouse) Frank Hvam, Casper Christensen, Marcuz Jess Petersen, Mia Lyhne, Iben Hjejle, Lars Hjortshoj, Tina Bilsbo, Mads Lisby, Anne Moen, Niels Weyde, Marie Mondrup, Elsebeth Steentoft, Bent Fabricius-Bjerre, Dya Josefine Hauch. Directed by Mikkel Norgaard

 

Fatherhood shouldn’t be for just anybody. Any man out there who can get a woman pregnant but not all of them are capable of being dads. Some of them are barely progressed from children on an emotional level themselves.

Frank (Hvam) is a 30-ish nebbish with  a girlfriend – Mia (Lyhne) who is far too hot for him and he knows it. He’s the kind of guy who wanders around the house in soiled “tighty whities” without a whole lot of regard for who sees him in it. He’s got a decent enough heart but has a knack for saying and doing the wrong thing. He isn’t terribly respected in his circle – the book club he belongs to run by former songwriter Bent Fabric (Fabricius-Bjerre) torments him with schnozzles.

While attending a wedding, Frank is congratulated by Mia’s gynecologist on her pregnancy. The problem is that her condition is news to him. Mia hasn’t told him because quite frankly, she’s not sure if he’s ready for fatherhood and thus not sure if she’s going to have an abortion, keep the baby and stay with Frank or keep the baby and leave Frank. Frank is devastated.

Following some pretty poor advice regarding masturbating on one’s mate (you ladies just love waking up to find your partner’s ummmm….stuff….on you, right?) that turns disastrous which winds up sending Pykker (Steentoft), his mother-in-law to the hospital Frank turns desperate. Mia looks about ready to leave him, so he does what any man would do – kidnap his 12-year-old nephew Bo (Petersen) and take him on a canoeing trip with his sex-crazed best friend Casper (Christensen) which was largely concocted as an opportunity for Casper to cheat on his wife Iben (Hjejle). The trip even has a name which Casper has bestowed on it; the Tour de P….err, we can’t say it here but it relates to a slang term for female genitalia. You get the drift.

From there things go from bad to worse. Frank’s regular attempts to get laid put Bo and Frank in a series of unsavory situations. Frank at first is more interested in trying to impress Mia but at least makes a genuine albeit misguided effort to bond with Bo, protecting him somewhat lamely from a group of bullies who humiliate Bo with observations on his genitalia which are unusually small.

Throughout his youth, my wife was fond of telling our son that “Your sins will find you out” and so it is here. Frank and Casper’s indiscretions – not to mention outrageously poor decisions regarding Bo – get back to Mia and Iben and both are not just in the doghouse but given their marching orders. Can these two misfits figure out a way to make things right?

This isn’t a typical Hollywood sex comedy by any stretch of the imagination. Norgaard (as well as Hvam and Christensen, who co-wrote the movie) seem bound and determined to take on any taboos without flinching and so they do. Things that Hollywood would certainly shy away from are fair game here. And it’s funny. Hysterically so – to the point where Da Queen very nearly fell out of her chair laughing. Which, if you’ve ever seen the chairs at the Enzian, you’ll know is no small feat (for those wondering which scene it is, it’s the finger scene – you’ll know it when you see it).

Hvam bears a striking resemblance to Drew Carey, albeit a younger and less cheerful one. Whereas Carey made a career out of an acerbic observational humor that had a kind of terminal optimism, Hvam seems to see life as a series of opportunities for humiliation. Still, he plunges forward as best he can and despite everything he does and says here we wind up liking him which is just short of miraculous.

Christensen’s character has a libido that’s constantly on overdrive. He’s a bit of a lummox and completely selfish, putting his genitalia ahead of his best friend’s relationship (which is not an un-man-like thing to do). His opinion of himself is such that you wonder that he doesn’t refer to himself in the third person although that might well be lost in translation.

For the most part the theatrical run for the movie is over although you might find it playing at an art house or two. It is shortly to be released on home video, so you may want to check your preferred means of streaming/downloading/retail outlet or order it online through the website which you may reach by clicking on the picture above.

Do be aware that this is really, really raunchy. Those who are sensitive about sexual jokes, nudity (both male and female), simulated sex acts, drug use and general carnal behavior should know that this might not be for them. The sexuality has a more easygoing, matter-of-fact European vibe which might shock us uptight Americans. For those of us who can take a joke, don’t mind sex and don’t shock easily, this is a treat we’ll want to enjoy for ourselves. Pass the Danish.

REASONS TO GO: Hysterical humor that is much more straightforward about sex than Hollywood tends to allow, yet possessed of a decent heart as well.

REASONS TO STAY: Might be offensive to the prudish. Some of the Danish references fly right over our heads.

FAMILY VALUES: There is graphic nudity and lots and lots of crude sexual humor. There’s a whole lot of bad language and a smattering of drug usage. Questions?

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie is based on a successful Danish TV show in which Hvam and Christensen play largely fictional versions of themselves.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/23/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 79% positive reviews. Metacritic: 62/100. The reviews are pretty good.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Hangover

CANOE LOVERS: A good portion of the film takes place on a canoeing trip on bucolic Danish waterways.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Terri

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High Fidelity


High Fidelity

This is my movie and these are my people.

(2000) Romance (Touchstone) John Cusack, Iben Hjejle, Todd Louiso, Jack Black, Lisa Bonet, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Joan Cusack, Tim Robbins, Chris Rehmann, Ben Carr, Lili Taylor, Joelle Carter, Natasha Gregson Wagner, Sara Gilbert, Bruce Springsteen. Directed by Stephen Frears

 

John Cusack is one of those actors who is quirky, engaging, charming, occasionally irascible but always interesting to watch. In short, a young Jack Nicholson. From time to time, Cusack will produce small-budget films on his own that are generally paid for by his appearances in big-buck extravaganzas such as Con Air. Like Cusack himself, these less fiscally ambitious movies are nearly always quirky yet endearing and generally include his sister Joan in some capacity (see Grosse Pointe Blank).

In High Fidelity he plays Rob Gordon, who owns an eclectic record store in Chicago that actually sells records, and by that I mean vinyl. The store specializes in classic rock and soul and indie rock. Gordon has just broken up with his girlfriend Laura (Hjejle), who left him to take up with a New Age ex-hippie named Ian (Robbins). While Gordon’s store employees – the loud, rude and opinionated Barry (Black) and the soft-spoken music nerd Dick (Louiso) – try to keep the store running (such as it does; the store is nearly broke), Gordon is busy trying to figure out why he keeps getting dumped.

A compulsive list-maker, Gordon seeks out the girlfriends responsible for his top five worst breakups in an effort to discover why they chose someone else over him.

Cusack imbues Gordon with complexity. He yearns for stability and contentment, but always sabotages himself with the wrong impulses just when those goals seem attainable. Moody, temperamental, a musical snob and more than a little bit of a jerk, Gordon is nonetheless sympathetic. He admires excellence (particularly in music) and champions the underdog without fail, which is why he sells vinyl, a sort of Don Quixote of music retail. He smokes compulsively, talks to the camera like it’s a confessional and plunges into all situations without fear. It may sound awful on paper, but Cusack is likable enough to pull it off.

To his advantage, Cusack surrounds himself with a great cast. Black and Louiso are hysterical as his employees. Sister Joan is her usual acerbic self as a mutual friend to the estranged couple. Robbins shows flair as the new boyfriend. Catherine Zeta-Jones is lustrous in an uncredited cameo as Charlie (one of Cusack’s top five)and indie film queen Taylor, as another one of Cusack’s list, lends cachet. Bruce Springsteen even cameos as himself, displaying a heretofore unrevealed knack for the craft.

This was pretty much Jack Black’s break-out performance. It was from here that he went on to get leading roles and it’s easy to see why. His on-screen charisma is simply astonishing here. He steals nearly every scene he’s in, culminating in a stunning performance of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On” in the final reel. He’s manic, hysterically funny and infectious in this role which has to be considered one of the best performances of his career.

As a rock critic for an independent alternative weekly for six years, I can tell you that this is MY film and these are my people. Director Stephen (Dangerous Liaisons) Frears wisely lets Cusack take center stage, letting the rest of the performers play off him and build their performances off of him. Cusack takes up a ton of screen time – he’s in almost every scene – so if he’s not your cup of tea, you should probably pass on this one. Still, there are some great laughs herein (particularly the scene in which Cusack and Robbins meet face-to-face in the record store), a lot of insight into why we mess up our relationships, and an awesome soundtrack, much of which was selected for the film by Cusack himself.

The film began life as a novel by Nick Hornby (from whose pen also spawned About a Boy). That was set originally in Hornby’s native London but was transplanted to Chicago by Cusack who co-wrote the script. I think the shift works really well; the action seems germane to the Windy City setting and one gets a sense of life among Midwestern hipsters. Chicago has always been a center for musical trendsetting and separate from L.A. or New York is a far more grounded location, making for more down-to-earth kind of realism rather than a boatload of trendies struggling to be the first to the Next Big Thing.

High Fidelity didn’t do killer box office, but it shouldn’t be overlooked among the wave after wave of teen sex comedies, self-indulgent Oscar leftovers, event movies and niche films that populate the video store. It’s a well-written, enjoyable movie that will be on your mind long after you turn off the TV slash computer slash smart phone.

WHY RENT THIS: Killer soundtrack. Fine script and excellent performances by Black, Louiso, Hjejle and both Cusacks. Some laugh-out-loud moments.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: If you don’t like Cusack you won’t like this.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s some sexuality and a lot of four-letter words.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The location of Rob’s store Championship Vinyl used to be a Wax Trax record store, the retail outlet for the influential Chicago-based Industrial and Punk label.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $47.1M on a $30M production budget; the movie lost money.

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

NEXT: Wanderlust

Cheri


Cheri

A transcendent moment of idyllic loveliness; Ah, La Belle Epoque!

(2009) Drama (Miramax) Michelle Pfeiffer, Kathy Bates, Rupert Friend, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, Iben Hjejle, Stephen Frears (voice). Directed by Stephen Frears

It is not unusual for Hollywood to portray May-December romances. It’s just usually that May is the woman and December the man.

In the waning days of La Belle Epoch (the early 20th century in France), retired courtesan Lea de Lonval (Pfeiffer) has taken herself a lover. That lover is the son of her close friend (and fellow retired courtesan) Madame Peloux (Bates), christened as Fred but known to all as Cheri (Friend), which is the French word for “darling.”

Cheri is a bit of a project, somewhat indolent, occasionally cruel in the thoughtless way of youth, desperate for a firm, guiding hand. Perfect for the role would be Lea, 25 years his senior and someone whom he has known and adored all his life. With his mother’s tacit approval, they embark on an affair that lasts six years.

After that, Cheri announces that his mother has arranged a marriage for him with the comely but terminally naïve Edmee (Jones). Lea is devastated. The affair had been a languid one of beauty and sunlight, something that she has come to need much more than she thought she might. As for Cheri, it’s just the end of a chapter as far as he’s concerned. Like many young men, he doesn’t recognize what a rare and precious gem is in his possession until it’s already fallen down the drainpipe.

Director Frears has experience with lush period pieces in Dangerous Liaisons (which co-starred Pfeiffer) and Mrs. Henderson Presents but also more recently-set classics like The Queen, My Beautiful Laundrette and my personal favorite High Fidelity. This is right in his comfort zone, with a witty script, gorgeous cinematography and a fine cast.

His best move was hiring Pfeiffer for the role. Pfeiffer is playing her age here and while she looks much younger, her eyes tell a different story. She is still regally beautiful, but from time to time you catch a hint of doubt and sadness in those eyes, a knowledge that a beautiful epoch is coming to an end, and her own beauty will soon betray her. It’s marvelous work and re-affirms that Pfeiffer is perhaps the most underrated actress of her era.

The movie is based on a novel by the iconic French author Colette which in turn is loosely based on her own affair with her stepson. The novel extolled the virtues of Lea’s strength and pointed out rather vividly Cheri’s weaknesses. Unfortunately I only managed to plough through the first third of the book – she’s not my literary cup of tea, although I can say that she is a tremendous writer, one who should be better known on these shores except that she flouted the morality of her times and was quite scandalous (she was bisexual in an age when that simply wasn’t tolerated).

My issue with the movie – and the book as well – is that Cheri is so venal, so whiny and unlikable that it is impossible to see Lea falling for him the way she does. Yes, he’s handsome in a boyish way, and has all the youthful vigor that goes with it, but in the end I kept asking myself if someone as obviously cultured, intelligent and self-possessed as Lea de Lonval would find such a strong emotional bond for someone so obviously childish and wantonly cruel? I know a lot of women who have the same qualities as Lea and I can say with great certainty that they are generally not attracted to immaturity regardless of how pretty a package it comes wrapped up in. Then again, I’ve known some very smart, capable and beautiful women to make some incredibly dumb choices when it comes to romance.

Despite its flaws, the movie is still worth seeing if for no other reason for Michelle Pfeiffer’s performance and the lovely expression of an age long gone by. Like a shaft of sunlight on a late autumn afternoon with the threat of dark winter in the wind, it is a golden moment of glorious loveliness that is there so briefly before going the way of all things so fragile.

WHY RENT THIS: Gorgeous period photography and a clever script make this a feast for eyes and ears. Pfeiffer is magnificent as always in her role.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Cheri is just so damned insufferable that you wonder how anyone, particularly as intelligent and cultured as Lea de Lonval, could fall for him.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of sexuality and a bit of drug use; not suitable for most young family members.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The part of Lea de Lonval was originally meant for Jessica Lange when this project first started development back in the 1990s.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $9.3M on a production budget of $23M; the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

TOMORROW: The Young Victoria