What do you do when your heroes start to lose their luster? In this week’s rundown of new DVD releases Videoport Jones and I have to come to grips with our own expectations of former comedy icons Harold Ramis and Eddie Murphy. We also deal with Nia Vardalos and whether she is a scourge to film-watching men everywhere.
Videoport Jones: “I had high hopes for this one, and why wouldn’t I? I think both Jack Black and Michael Cera are funny guys. The script was co-written by a couple of writers from ‘The Office.’ It’s got supporting parts from surefire funny folks like David Cross, Oliver Platt, Paul Rudd, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Hank Azaria, and Bill Hader. And it was also co-written, and directed by, Harold Ramis, who, in addition to being a really charming and funny guy, has, if you check out his resume, had a hand in some of my all-time personal comedy favorites. ‘Caddyshack?’ ‘Meatballs?’ ‘Ghostbusters?’ ‘Stripes?’ ‘Animal House?’ ‘Back to School?’ ‘Groundhog Day?’ I cannot overstate how important this guy has been to the development of my own sense of humor. (‘Gee, thanks,’ I can hear some of you say). Well, I gotta say this knockabout comedy, about a hapless pair of bumbling cavemen who stumble into some of the Bible’s most popular set pieces, is a big letdown. And I am bummed out. Shooting for a ‘Life of Brian’ level hilarity, ‘Year One’ ends up delivering ‘Wholly Moses-level laughs’ (look that one up on IMDB.com – yeah, ouch). Actually, I compared it to Mel Brook’s ‘History of the World – Part 1’ as I was watching it; lazy script going for easy laughs redeemed, when it is, by some inspired,
loony performance bits from funny actors, but ultimately a flabby disappointment. In the movie’s defense, and to make myself feel better, I will say that Black and Cera make a funny team, with Jables’ trademark comic bluster blending nicely with Cera’s trademark time-released underplaying, and Cross is especially funny as a predictably-untrustworthy Cain. (Those who babble on about ‘being tired of Jack Black and Michael Cera’s schticks’ are just white noise to me; the guys are funny and good at what they do. So sue them.) Still and all, a mildly-disappointing timewaster. The commentary with the two stars and the ever-affable and warm Ramis is more enjoyable.”
Justin: “Way to bring us all down to earth compadre. Do you feel a little personally wounded by a Ramis misfire? Do you need some time to compose yourself? Should I come over with a six-pack of PBR and some Oreos? I’ll do it buddy. It’s not easy seeing your heroes take a bit of a tumble, and that’s the case here. You joke that Ramis played a part in developing your humor, but I would lay good odds that he’s had a role in EVERYONE around our generation’s sense of humor. I defy you to not name at least ONE Ramis flick you like America. Do it. As for ‘Year One,’ this is shades of what we talked about last week: the parts not adding up to the whole. I absolutely LOVE Cera and Black, but for me, this has a knock-it-out-of-the-park comedy support staff. Rudd, Cross, Azaria AND Hader? Gold. While I see your comparison to ‘History of The World Part 1,’ I think Brooks almost always plays for the hard schtick over a solid script, so maybe not the best comparison. (Also, I love ‘History of the World’ more than anything. The FIRST Brooks movie I saw as a kid. Changed me. I could sing you ‘The Inquisition’ right now.) Maybe Ramis is getting a little long in the tooth, maybe the historic comedy is a tough sell, or maybe this one is just a miss. We’ll put it near the back of a long list of hits from the man that gave us ‘Caddyshack.'”
Anvil!: The Story of Anvil
VPJ: “Anvil is (are?) a Canadian heavy metal band, hailed by some as the ‘demi-gods of Canadian metal,’ which is perhaps the most unintentionally-poignant phrase I’ve ever heard. Fronted by two guys in their fifties who’ve been together and rocking the Provinces since they were 14, Anvil have never hit the big time, and this documentary follows the lifelong pals as they regroup after a calamitous European tour, begin their 13th album, and ponder the uncertain future in store for their lifelong dream of rock superstardom. If it sounds like ‘This Is Spinal Tap’, well then you’ve heard every other reviewer in the world say, ‘they’re like a real-life Spinal Tap!’ Sorry, but the comparison is pretty hard to shake; the two leaders of Anvil (named Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow and, weirdly enough, Robb Reiner), have a distinctly Nigel Tufnel/David St. Hubbins chemistry, combining the aging has-been/never-was self-importance with a genuine, comically-touching love for what they do, and for each other. Anvil may not be a great band (in fact, after seeing the film, I’m fairly certain they are not), but you’ve got to admire Lips and Robb as they work menial jobs, take care of their families, cope with one career disappointment after another (the gig at the Transylvanian metal festival is particularly painful), and yet keep plugging away, living their adolescent dream even in the face of, well, overwhelming reality.”
JE: “Great, great movie to watch, even if you’re not a big metal fan, or for that matter, Canadian Metal fan. (Who is really?) You’re right that the Spinal Tap comparisons are unavoidable (thought I’d throw in lazy for some reviewers. Present company excluded, of course.) What sets Anvil apart is that the reality of it makes it more compelling and somehow funnier. You know Spinal Tap is playing for laughs, but Anvil isn’t. ‘Sex Farm Woman’ is good writing while ‘Metal on Metal’ is sublime. As bad as you may feel about laughing about someone’s misfortune or lot in life, it doesn’t matter. Funny is funny. The bizarre, thrown-together European tour, the creation of a new album, the rejection of that album, the inevitable fights between Lips and Robb, it all makes for an impossible and funny trip. You root for them even though you know the prospects are never good and the door to success closed a long time ago. If I was a hack I might say something like ‘a triumph of the human spirit,’ but in some ways it is. Despite all their problems and times they’ve been punched in the face, they endure because they really, really love metal music, and yes, each other. In some ways the movie makes you grateful for the marginal victories after seeing these guys excitement over just being asked to play the same songs they’ve been playing for 30 years. You’ll like this one.”
Trick ‘r Treat
VPJ: “It’s October – the time of year when the leaves turn, the wind blows, and the studios cram a year’s worth of horror releases into the weeks before Halloween, hoping that the spooky holiday vibe (and perhaps its attendant sugar rush) will make us all a little more receptive to their mediocre scare flicks. ‘Trick ‘r Treat’ gets points, however, for not taking itself terribly seriously, for having a few actual actors in the cast (Dylan Baker, Anna Paquin, and the ever-crotchety Brian Cox), and for reviving the ol’ horror anthology genre with its ‘Creepshow’-esque EC Comics style. There’s some black comedy, some imaginative twists, some witty gore, and a ghoulish little bagheaded dude who’s a nice, little piece of monster design sure to give you the heebie-jeebs and make you chuckle at the same time. An entertaining little Halloween doodle.”
JE: “Horror that doesn’t take itself too seriously? Hmmm, interesting. Not so interesting, this movie was supposed to come out several years ago but was pushed back and now got shot straight to the DVD aisle. So use that information as you would. But you are right about welcoming back the old horror anthology angle, which you would think is appealing to studios with less than stellar writing talent and audiences with less than 100 percent attention spans. But enough of my venting. I was never a horror fan, as we’ve talked about before, but I did enjoy ‘Tales from the Crypt’ and also liked the ‘Creepshow’ flicks, partially because they were sort of ‘pop horror,’ that was supposes to scare you as they wink at the camera. Sometimes stories work better if they let you in on the joke, and in the case of cheap scares like ‘Trick ‘r Treat,’ it can’t be a bad thing.”
Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation
VPJ: “My pick for the most purely entertaining release of the week – if your definition of ‘entertaining’ is ‘sleazy, sexy, violent, and with an Australian accent.’ Which mine is. This documentary chronicling the rise of the Australian exploitation film industry is a hoot, with hard-to-believe clips from the saucy Aussie flicks of the 70s and 80s interspersed with interviews from celebrity fans of the genre (unsurprisingly, Quentin Tarantino loved ’em), and the stars and creators themselves. You get the lowdown on flicks like ‘Mad Max,’ ‘Roadgames,’ ‘Barry McKenzie Holds His Own,’ ‘The Cars That Ate Paris,’ and about a hundred other, known only Down Under, exploitation masterpieces (‘The Naked Bunyip’ comes to mind), all served up with a cheeky sense of humor and all the explosions, fast cars, and Aussies without cossies you could ever want. Tons of fun.”
JE: “You just used the phrase ‘Aussies without cossies.’ I have no idea what that means, and I’m frightened. But I am NOT frightened by sex, violence and explosions. In fact, when they make the documentary on my life, make sure they use that title. And get Robert Evans to produce. ANYWAY, I was unaware that put together these movies constituted a genre of sorts, I always just figured the Aussies had their own weird sensibilities and neuroses that needed to be worked out on film. I don’t think I would be off base in saying that part of the reasons for the explosion of ‘Ozploitation’ is the same as blaxploitation or any underground genre that burns fast and bright: they did it because they could. It was because there was a feeling (and some looseness in restrictions and guidelines) that seemed to give people a green light to go crazy on screen. If you look at it from a documentary or anthropological standpoint it can be fascinating. Oh, I’m sorry, I got too REAL for a second there. ‘Splosions! ‘Sex! Uh…’Sviolence! There you go.”
VPJ: “I actually tried to watch this movie. I was trying to avoid the by now de rigeur and lazy Eddie Murphy bashing that passes for film criticism whenever Eddie’s name comes up, but, well, I didn’t get all that far into this one (where his daughter’s imaginary world is real, or some such). It wasn’t just that the movie was bad (what little I saw of it), it’s more that I find it genuinely painful to watch Eddie do this sort of thing. (I’d say ‘lower himself,’ but that term just doesn’t apply to the star of ‘Norbit’, et al anymore.) See, I grew up when Eddie Murphy first emerged as the funniest man on the planet; it was safe to say that, for a period in the 80s, Eddie Murphy was, deservedly, the biggest star in the world, and the funniest (some youthful homophobia aside), but now, like former co-funniest man in the world Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy is synonymous with ‘shameless cash grab’ (although, when he feels like it, Martin will actually try once in a while). And we have, according to IMDb.com, these upcoming Murphy vehicles to look forward to: ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man,’ ‘Fantasy Island,’ ‘Untitled Bret Ratner Project’ (noooo!), and, of course, ‘Beverly Hills Cop 4.’ Sigh. Man, Eddie just makes me sad.”
JE: “Wow. You just brought the room down hard. Any time the phrase ‘Untitled Bret Ratner Project’ is used it’s cause for self-immolation. I feel like we could dedicate a whole blog or maybe a podcast dissecting Eddie Murphy’s movies and his career trajectory. In a way he’s kind of Tyson-esque in that he’s a shadow of his former self. Just like Tyson he was ferocious, talented and unlike anything seen before during the 80s. But now, what is he? He’s gone far beyond the natural reflex of making family movies that many celebrities have. We’ve discussed it many times, but it make sense actors would want to make movies their kids can watch. But Eddie has long since crossed the line. It’s like watching someone actively trying to burn their legacy to the ground. I mean, ‘Norbit,’ really? Really? Every time I watch ‘Coming to America,’ (hands down one of his best movies), I feel like I’m watching two different men. Is it possible Eddie Murphy died during the mid-90s and he’s been replaced by a less-talented but similar looking member of the Murphy family? Can we get Charlie Murphy to confirm this?”
My Life In Ruins
VPJ: “If there are two words more guaranteed to repel potential male movie viewers than ‘Nia Vardalos,’ then I don’t know them. ‘Traveling Pants,’ maybe. Anyway, the star of the equally never watched by a male human ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ dips back into the retsina bottle in this tale of a shrill, would-be adorable single gal looking for love in the Greek Isles. (SPOILER AHEAD! She finds it.) You are legally required to purchase this for your mom for Christmas.”
JE: “I’m sorry I just dozed off. What was that? ‘My Big Fat Life in Ruins,’ sounds like a…zzz. See, it happened again. You ever wonder if some movies are specifically made to be toxic to males of the species? I understand there are ‘chick flicks,’ and romantic comedies that may not appeal to a guy, but they don’t actively repel them like a magnet. If I had to I could sit down and watch ‘Sex in the City’ or something starring Amy Adams or Gabrielle Union looking for love. But this and its predecessor seem like studio-made kryptonite to guys. Keep it away or we’ll turn green and die. Also, while I’m fired up, she couldn’t even be bothered to stay off the Greek thing? Isn’t that just lazy? I mean I get it, you’re proud of your Greek heritage, but let up already! Great, now I’m shaking I’m so angry. Fire up one of those Ozploitation flicks stat Jonesy…”
– Name a Harold Ramis movie that influenced your life or sense of humor.
– Seriously, do we need to devote a blog or podcast to breaking down what happened to Eddie Murphy?
– Guy kryptonite: what flicks are bound to turn you away fellas?