Step Brothers


Step Brothers

Cannonballllllllllllllllllll!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(2008) Comedy (Columbia) Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Richard Jenkins, Mary Steenburgen, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Andrea Savage, Lurie Poston, Elizabeth Yozamp, Logan Manus, Seth Rogen, Rob Riggle, Ken Jeong, Travis Flory. Directed by Adam McKay

 

Blended families are no longer very unusual. The days of the Brady Bunch and Yours, Mine and Ours are pretty much behind us. However, it is pretty unusual to see blended families with middle-aged children living at home.

Brennnan Huff (Ferrell) is the self-centered son of Nancy Huff (Steenburgen), living at home, unemployed and screaming at his mother when his snack food isn’t exactly right. Dale Doback (Reilly) is the peevish son of Dr. Robert Doback (Jenkins) and is also unemployed; he berates his father for not leaving him enough money to order pizza AND soda while he’s away at a convention.

It is at that convention that Nancy and Robert meet, fall in love and eventually get married. It is decided that Brennan will move in with Nancy, Robert and Dale. Initially, Dale and Brennan take to each other pretty much like Texans to Oklahomans. The two try to make each other as miserable as possible, much to their parents anguish. An escalating series of pranks finally comes to a head when Robert orders the two grown men to find work, leading to a series of job interviews that are best left uncommented upon.

After awhile, Dale and Brennan find some common ground – quite a lot, frankly – and begin to change their tunes. However, this could be too little too late and with Brennan’s conniving and status-obsessed little brother Derek (Scott) trying to sabotage their efforts (and Derek’s lusty wife Alice (Hahn) putting the moves on Dale) things are taking a turn for the worse for the two slackers.

Judd Apatow is once again at the producer’s reins here and longtime Ferrell collaborator McKay in the director’s chair, which should mean good things, Unfortunately the comedy magic that has resulted in movies like Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby is largely absent here. There are some good moments to be sure, but the story is pretty weak – it’s kind of a bad episode of the Brady Bunch.

Ferrell and Reilly aren’t the problem here. They make a tremendous team and play off of each other well. The best sequences in the film are those in which Ferrell and Reilly are front and center. Fortunately, most of the time that’s exactly where they are and at their quirky best. I’m not saying the rest of the cast s awful, they simply don’t get much to work with.

The language is pretty darn foul, and at times I think the movie relies too much on profanity which is usually a bad thing – it’s the sign of a lazy writer who doesn’t have particularly much to say – but there are those who think that kind of thing is hilarious, so they’ll like all of this.

Some critics get huffy about this kind of comedy, but let’s face it; even men with the mentalities of adolescent boys deserve a laugh too. That the movie was somewhat disappointing at the box office is indicative that the general moviegoing public may be getting tired of this kind of humor.

WHY RENT THIS: Ferrell and Reilly are among the best comedy teams there are. Quirky in a good way.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The story is weak and the cast never really lives up to expectations. Some of the gags fall flat.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a lot of bad language and a fair amount of sexual content.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Steenburgen, who plays Ferrell’s mom, played his step-mother in Elf.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a music video, as well as a gag reel and the regular Judd Apatow “Line-o-Rama” feature. There is also a segment in which Apatow gives actress Charlyne Yi permission to live on the set, which causes some problems. There’s also a bit in which Jenkins pursues Steenburgen amorously, incurring the ire of real-life husband Ted Danson (and there’s a fabulous mystery cameo here). There are a series of job interview segments that were cut from the film and some additional therapy scenes as well.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $128.1M on a $65M production budget; the movie essentially broke even.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Virginity Hit

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Fanboys


Fanboys

Fanboys on the outside looking in.

(2008) Comedy (Weinstein) Sam Huntington, Chris Marquette, Dan Fogler, Jay Baruchel, Kristen Bell, Carrie Fisher, Danny Trejo, Billy Dee Williams, Seth Rogen, Allie Grant, William Shatner. Directed by Kyle Newman

Fans have a kind of sweet madness. I’m not talking about the people who follow something on a casual basis; I mean the full-out, balls-to-the-wall, obsessive, dangerously knowledgeable super-fans; the kind that show up at conventions and name their kids after characters in the movies.

This specific fandom that Fanboys is examining is the Star Wars fans. The movie is set in 1998, just prior to the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and arguably the best time to be a fan of the series – when anticipation had fans jumping out of their skins waiting for the new movie, the first in more than 15 years.

Four school friends who hadn’t been together since graduation meet up at a party; Eric (Huntington), the lone respectable one who was working for his dad’s car dealership which he was expected to take over some day; Hutch (Fogler) who lives in his mom’s “carriage house” (read: garage), Windows (Baruchel) a computer nerd who has a thing for a chat room geek he’s never met and Linus (Marquette), who is somewhat angry about the way things turned out.

It turns out he has plenty of reason to be angry; he has cancer and won’t live to see the next movie in the franchise released. Eric, who was once his best friend, resumes that role and decides that his friend WILL see the movie before anyone else does. The four of them – and Zoe (Bell), a very cool friend that frequents the comic book store Hutch and Windows work at and quite possibly the only girl that could hang with these guys – will drive from Ohio to Marin County, California where Skywalker Ranch is located, break in and watch the movie. Windows’ online crush even claims she can get them the plans to the Ranch which is legendary for its security.

They take off in Hutch’s tricked out van, a kind of rolling convention on wheels, and head vaguely West. On the way they will encounter evil Star Trek fans, the all-knowing Harry Knowles (of Ain’t It Cool News fame) and William Shatner himself as they race the clock to get their dying friend to the ranch. Will it be worth the trip?

Of course, we all know at this point in time that The Phantom Menace was a disappointment but back then the possibilities were endless. The world of fans was anticipating what they thought would be an epic movie and nearly every fan website was in a dither. It was a kinder world.

However, the story of this movie might have made a good movie of its own. The movie was completed back in 2007 but was shelved by studio head Harvey Weinstein who felt the cancer subplot was too grim for the comedy he wanted; he also felt it appealed to a niche audience and not a general one. Both are legitimate points.

Director Newman fought the changes and Weinstein eventually assigned director Steven Brill to reshoot some scenes and re-edit it. Fans went ballistic, launching a campaign to stop the changes, opening MySpace pages (“Stop Darth Weinstein”) and threatening to boycott Superhero Movie en masse. I’m not so sure that was a threat so much as a relief.

Eventually Weinstein relented and allowed Newman to re-cut the movie a third time…only he gave him only 36 hours to do the work. The movie bounced from release date to release date over the course of three years until it finally got an extremely limited release in February 2009 and, as you can see from the box office performance below, died like the Emperor at the end of Return of the Jedi.

It’s kind of a shame because the movie isn’t too bad. It got a critical shellacking which, frankly, illustrates why critics are out of touch with the audience that comes to the movies. People do get involved with their favorite franchises. Laugh and make fun if you want to, but it fulfills something in people, be it Trekkers, Star Wars fan or Twilighters. Those who judge the lifestyles of these people are the ones who really need to get a life.

For the most part, the performances here are okay although there’s nothing here that’s going to supercharge any careers. Baruchel is sweet as Windows and Marquette has some nice scenes as Linus. Mostly, the star power is in the cameos and there are plenty of those, from Star Wars vets Fisher and Williams to Shatner and Rogen (who is amusing as an overbearing Trek fan).

There are a lot of asides that will have knowing fans nodding in satisfaction; I can see how audiences not super-familiar with the Star Wars saga might feel left out a little. However, the movie really isn’t for them anyway. The DVD extras on several occasions call this a love letter to Star Wars but I don’t think it actually ends up that way. It’s more a love letter to the fans, and not just of Star Wars but of all things that excite the imagination and promote obsession. It’s sweet-natured and while not everything works, I am positive that the love is sincere. I’d much rather see a movie like this one than a thousand big budget big star comedies whose sole reason for being is to fatten the bank accounts of those involved. Sincerity trumps budget every time.

WHY RENT THIS: A very sweet homage to fandom, particularly that of Star Wars. Some of the cameos are actually well thought-out.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A bit gratuitous in places and the humor – well heck the whole dang movie – is going to appeal to a very limited audience; some of the references will go right over the heads of ordinary folk.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a lot of crude humor, much of it sexual (as you might expect from a bunch of guys who don’t get laid much). There’s also some drug use in the movie, as well as a heaping helping of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The guards at Skywalker Ranch wear uniforms from THX-1138, one of Lucas’ early films (and one he references regularly in subsequent films). The head guard is played in a cameo appearance by Ray Park, who played Darth Maul in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is some webisodes that were available before the movie’s release, as well as a character study but really, most of the extras are relatively mundane as these things go.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $960,828 on an unreported production budget; the film was undoubtedly a flop.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Answer Man

Zack and Miri Make a Porno


Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Didn't I see this in a letter to Penthouse?

(Weinstein) Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Craig Robinson, Traci Lords, Katie Morgan, Ricky Mabe, Jason Mewes, Justin Long, Jeff Anderson, Brandon Routh, Tom Savini. Directed by Kevin Smith

I am quite frankly a big Kevin Smith fan. Chasing Amy is one of my favorite movies from the Nineties, and I also adore Dogma and Jersey Girl (which I guess makes me a fanboy). While I wasn’t high on Clerks II or Mallrats I still admire them as well. I guess it’s safe to say he has a whole lot of leeway with me when it comes to his movies.

Zack (Rogen) and Miri (Banks) have been friends since high school and while they’ve never been romantically involved, they manage to stay close; in fact, they share a dumpy apartment. The electricity has been shut off just before they go to their high school reunion, one which is important more to Miri than to Zack (she’s even managed to procure a new dress for the occasion). Zack works at a coffee bar with his good friend Delaney (Robinson) and Miri is forced to change into her new dress in the coffee bar’s kitchen, which is filmed by a couple of teenaged dickweeds. More on that later.

The reunion is a complete disaster. The guy that Miri is trying to impress, Bobby Long (Routh) turns out to be gay, much to the amusement of Zack who discovers this while talking to Bobby’s gay porn star partner (Long) who then proceeds to out Bobby to the whole class. Ouch.

With funds getting thin, water and power turned off and the prospects of not being able to pay the rent looming, they discover that Miri has become famous for her striptease video which the dickweeds uploaded to YouTube. They need cash quickly and they decide to cash in on Miri’s newfound fame by making a porno. Hey, if Bobby’s gay partner can do it, then it can’t be impossible can it?

Surprisingly, Miri agrees to the scheme. To this end they recruit Delaney as a producer, high school videographer Deacon (Smith regular Anderson) to shoot the movie, as well as several would-be porn stars to act in it; Bubbles (former porn star Lords), Stacey (current porn star Morgan) and the very well-hung (and possibly deranged) Lester (Mewes). They decide to do a Star Wars-themed porno but when circumstances force that to shut down, they decide to film in the coffee bar instead.

However, when the time comes for Zack and Miri to film their own sex scene, they discover that it becomes more than sex. Once the two of them have scenes with other actors, it complicates a friendship which when they least expected it had grown into something else.

Smith is maybe one of the best writers in the business. Yes, he’s fond of using a variety of profanity but he uses it in the same way Hemingway used machismo, as a means to an end. The characters here are all interesting; you could spend time with any one of them and find yourself entertained and you get a room full of them at any given time. There are moments that are hysterically funny, and others that are quietly endearing.

Smith’s movies have a tendency to be rather raunchy on the outside but have a surprisingly tender inside. Chasing Amy for example was one of the most romantic movies I’ve ever seen, and one that gets what love is more thoroughly than any ten Lifetime Movie Channel movies you could name. Certainly sex is part of the equation, but as it does for Zack and Miri, the movie goes beyond the equation by a really large margin. It’s actually refreshing to see a movie that balances both the emotional with the physical instead of dwelling on one or the other.

Rogen made a name for himself as the endearing schlub in Knocked Up and this movie comes closest to the sweetness of that character. Sure he has an immature streak but you love him anyway, the same way you love that friend of yours that can be counted on to mess up at any given time, but not so much out of malice or stupidity but more out of bad luck and low ambitions.

I can’t tell you why Elizabeth Banks isn’t an A-list star, but she surely deserves to be. She is pretty and smart and plays a character that can hold her own with anybody. Sure, she makes some poor life choices but again, who hasn’t? Roles like this are perfect for Banks, who can be sexy and smart – often the two don’t mix in Hollywood. I’m still hoping for a big breakout film for her, but there don’t appear to be any forthcoming for her for the moment.

There is a lot of graphic nudity, simulated sex and sexual humor here, so this is definitely not for the Puritanical at heart, but those who aren’t easily offended will find this a bit refreshing; a raunchy comedy that actually is more than just funny. It makes you feel good and at the end of the day, isn’t that why you see movies in the first place?

WHY RENT THIS: There is more heart than crotch in this movie despite all signs to the contrary. Rogen and Banks exhibit some real chemistry.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Sensitive souls will find the overuse of the f-bomb and the frank sexual humor off-putting.

FAMILY VALUES: This very nearly got an NC-17 and while it didn’t really deserve it, there is plenty of sexuality and frank discussion of sex, enough to scare any prude away.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Actor Tom Savini, who plays Jenkins, was the make-up man for Dawn of the Dead which was set in Monroeville, Pennsylvania; the hockey team Zack and Deacon play on is called the Monroeville Zombies.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: As with most Kevin Smith films, there is a wealth of features, deleted scenes and other assorted goodies totaling well over two hours.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: Knight and Day