29 July 2022

52 for '22: Strangers with Candy

MovieStrangers with Candy (2005)
Method: Netflix DVD

So 46-year old Jerri Blank is definitely unapologetically
 lusting over High Schooler Chris Pratt, right?

Why Did I watch this?

I was a big fan of the Comedy Central show back when it was on the air and part of me always knew there was a movie, but I had never gotten into it. For some reason it just didn't seem like it was as big of a deal as the TV show. It had been on my DVD queue since January 11th, 2010, so it's one of those originals that I've been trying to watch for ten years. It was just time, easy 90 minute movie.

What Did I know ahead of time?

Like I said, I watched the show pretty thoroughly twenty years ago, so I knew Amy Sedaris and Jerri Blank pretty well. I knew Colbert was big in this, although I didn't realize that he really wasn't involved in writing the show, but did contribute to the movie. I did not remember...quite a bit apparently, but we'll get to that. Suffice it to say, this was not unwholly strange and jarring to me, I pretty much knew what I was getting into.

How Was It?

This felt like a clinic in comedy writing. Every joke is masterfully written and executed, with character, irony, set-up, and pay-off. It threads this needle of extreme goofiness but never lets on that it's a comedy or grins at the audience. Everything is played extremely straight, even the most insane conversations. And it's shot very matter of factly, which seems jarring for the time it was made. It's hard to believe this is a contemporary of The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005), Clerks II (2006), or Dodgeball (2004). All those movies are loud, obnoxious fart parades for man-children, but Strangers with Candy doesn't really do that.

It's not bright or fast-paced or crisply edited. It truly stands as its own thing, a little dim, a little stayed, and hardly playing anything for laughs or pop culture references. It's weird that it exists at all. Strangers with Candy was a launching point for many of the stars here, most notably Colbert, who did this in between The Dana Carvey Show and The Colbert Report (sure, the Daily Show was in there, too). I kept being struck by the fact that this was a Worldwide Pants production with David Letterman as an executive producer. His time at Comedy Central, owned by Viacom also made me think more and more how his status as Late Show replacement was maybe more telegraphed than we'd think.

The show was fairly popular at the time, but not an extreme cultural force. It existed in this weird little hole of comedy people doing exceptional work, most notably creator and writer Sedaris who throws herself into an amazingly unflattering role with reckless abandon. I found it hard to believe that this movie actually existed for a long time. Like, why did this not that popular show get a movie five years after it ended? That no one ever saw or talked about? Like, is this really a movie?

It is and it runs very contrary to many of its contemporaries. It's female focused...but don't think this is a feminist film. In a sense it's feminist because it's letting women be really really weird and insane. It borders on surreal but doesn't quite take the plunge like a Zucker or Wayans film. It's subtle but at the same time completely unsubtle. There are some choice homophobic f-word slurs that don't age well at all. And the ending which involves a King Kong (2005)-level tribal dance by an actor in...Indonesian-face make-up despite claiming to be Indonesian is an entirely new level of cringe. It doesn't get to laugh at their buffoonery like a "Diwali" Christmas episode of The Office does. Nah, it's straight up rough.

For some reason I just kept wondering why I never saw this on TV. Why didn't Comedy Central play it? Is it because some of its humour was dated immediately upon release? The way director / creator / star Paul Dinello shoots it as if it really is an after-school special (but without any of the winking irony you'd see a lesser hack do these days), so it's cold and dim? Or just that it's whole attitude wasn't much like the polished Apatow humor of the day. I don't know, but it's definitely an underrated downtrodden gem.

Also Chris Pratt is in this. It makes you remember when Chris Pratt was a likable comedy star, although he plays a beefcake here. It's weird. Watch him interview with Colbert! Allison Janey, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Matthew Broderick, and Sarah Jessica Parker show up. It's weird. Like, a lot of A Listers wanted to be in this movie. This should have been a big success. Maybe folks couldn't get passed this main character?

We should talk more about Sedaris. She went to BoJack Horseman, Kimmie Schmidt, and The Mandalorian. But this is and will always be her magnum opus. It's totally bonkers and rests on her shoulders with a character who is at once utterly pathetic and actually kind of confident and cunning. It's a narrow needle to thread, but she pulls it off spectacularly.

I've given this a lot of praise, and it was pretty fun, but I think there is also a reason why this has been shelved for so long. It's a bit off-putting, the plot is pretty mid-2000s (tho it righteously doesn't care), and I'll admit that after twenty years I remembered surprisingly very little about the actual characters in this show. It kind of launches you right into things expecting you to remember. No one does. Then again, it was clearly an uncompromising film made for die hard fans of the show. So if you're one of those, this is going to be great.

22 July 2022

52 for '22: The Hidden Fortress

MovieThe Hidden Fortress (1958)
Method: HBOMax

With highly logical eyebrows

Why Did I watch this?

The Hidden Fortress has been on my list since HBOMax started existence. I had a total Kurosawa gap until I watched The Seven Samurai (1954) a number of years ago now, but I'm still pretty woeful. I knew this had some Star Wars links, which probably made it stand out to me, but it's also a famous film in general that I've never seen. During my mid-year assessment I realized how badly I need to up my old movie game and this fit the bill nicely as something easy to stream.

What Did I know ahead of time?

Okay, I forgot about the Star Wars thing, but that came back to me as I was watching it. But I knew it was an older film, it was Kurosawa, and it was some Japanese historical epic. Maybe not quite epic, but certainly a historical tale. I knew it starred Toshiro Mifune, who rocked shit in Seven Samurai, so I was pumped to watch him here.

How Was It?

Well, needless to say this movie is pretty dope. It is really a unique way of telling a story, that I'm surprised isn't copied more often. Sure, it was copied with Star Wars (1977), but everyone learned the wrong lessons from Star Wars. It's an epic historical adventure but the main characters are two idiots. It's that simple. These morons bumble their way through the rise and falls of kingdoms in feudal Japan, and it holds up surprisingly well. At one point I leaned over to my wife while laughing, commenting how these jokes work in a different language nearly seventy years later.

Basically these three Kingdoms are at various stages of war and two dudes are trying their best to not be involved in any of it. They desert and stumble upon some gold on a mountain. They encounter Toshiro Mifune and a princess who promise more gold (tho they don't know who they are until the end of the movie), and then go through wacky hijinxs including crossing into one Kingdom to get into another, until she's back on a throne.

The idea is that everything is filtered through their lens. Star Wars did that with R2-D2 and C3P-O, and if you haven't watched Episode IV in a while, check that out again. It's confounding how much story space these two moron droids take up at the start of that movie. You can thank The Hidden Fortress for that. It's a little better here because the jokes land and they're a lot less annoying. Like, they aren't distracting from the point, they are the point.

Mifune is fearsome, as expected. He's supposedly in the Obi-Wan role, but he's far more active than Alec Guinness, and a little less wry and clever. The Princess is somehow a much louder and brasher Leia, and their plan to pretend she's a mute to get by the guards is both inspired and harshly feels like a way to silence her obnoxious character. There is no Luke or Han analogue, and there's supposedly a Vader in the old enemy general, though he's much less of a menace and is fueled by honor rather than Sith Rage. I don't really think too much actually lines up. When the Hidden Fortress is burned, I did think of Alderaan, though.

The cinematography on display here is breathtaking. There is insane depth of field and wide shots of villages, battles, mountains, and streams. The US was of course making films of this caliber at the time, I mean, Ben-Hur (1959) came out the next year, but this really blows a lot of 1950s films out of the water. There is a focus with each shot with clarity of movement and editing that is totally immersive. It really doesn't feel like a film, it feels like an experience. This is pretty standard stuff these days, but watching it and remembering when it was made is a true feat. Scenes are big, full of extras and horses and fires and swords. It's a lot of fun.

Having said that, it could assuredly use a modern editor to take out twenty or so minutes of total fluff. There are scenes that drag, and it's not like they're establishing a mood. Watching the two guys scramble up a hill for five minutes is unnecessary. Same deal with the spear fight - there is less of an action / reaction to that than just dragging and over-emphasizing the same beats. It needs a trim, but hey, all movies do.

I really enjoyed this, for once a movie on my list was a solid gem and not a hidden dud. I knew that going in, I mean, this is considered an all-time classic for a reason. Every technical and story-telling facet is firing on all cylinders here and it's worth an evening of your time.

18 July 2022

10 Years On: The Lone Ranger Again

Well folks...it's the ten year anniversary of The Lone Ranger (2013)! Why do I still care about this? Well, no one else was going to honor the decade mark of one of our greatest modern blockbusters. Or...um...a really big movie that had no impact culturally, critically, or commercially. But it's really good, I swear. I'm also curious to look at this again based on two things we're now dealing with in 2022: 1) the complete and utter unbankability of its two principal stars and 2) its notorious absence from Disney+...or anywhere.

To be honest, I had trouble even finding an image that wasn't dead

For better or worse The Lone Ranger has become a sort of poster child for one of Norwegian Morning Wood's primary ambitions - to dissect mainstream popular culture to find out why certain properties hit big and why others fall by the wayside. The latter is obviously far more interesting to me, and there isn't a movie made in the past ten years that better shows this phenomenon. Why didn't The Lone Ranger succeed?

It reunited at the time still major A-lister Johnny Depp with Gore Verblinksi yet again after Rango (2011) and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. That series was still riding so high it cranked out Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017) a few years later. I mean, neither that or On Stranger Tides (2011) were any good, but they were still making money. And it's clear that Verblinksi's ability to wrangle both complex character work and an astounding amount of callbacks with period action is what made the original trilogy great. Anyone notice how no other modern pirate movies are any good? There is a lot of lightning in a bottle here.

The Lone Ranger had this star and director pedigree. It had the momentum of Armie Hammer, then a fresh face ready to breakout. He started with The Social Network (2010) and J. Edgar (2011), but soon was one of the better parts of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) and perhaps his most notable work, Call Me By Your Name (2017). It was really ready to peak.

It was a western, of course, which isn't always the most popular genre these days, but they still do reasonably well enough. But it was also a heavy, HEAVILY revisionist western that touts less the glorious, God-driven conquest of the West by righteous Americans than elucidates the wholesale slaughter and treachery bestowed upon the indigenous peoples of this continent in order for our nation to claim its destiny. So, it's got a unique spin. Not only that, but it's based on a very popular pre-existing property with a classic score to fuel its action - there is little that beats the William Tell Overture.

Actors, directors, genre, context - it also adds action. Some of what I might say is the best train action...ever in a movie. That's the one thing that folks might still talk about, but the adventure sequences are legitimately phenomenal. There are thrills, turns, danger, building upon highs and lows and heavily based in character. It's a tremendous achievement. It's what Verblinksi did with ships but with trains. It just works. Everything in this movie works.

But it failed. I suppose there are cracks everywhere. It was maybe one white-faced character (ironically playing redface) for Depp too many. Verblinksi lost cred because of going over budget and reshoots (for the record, I still have NO idea why this is ever considered a bad thing, like who cares. Base your judgment on the text). His assurance as a director fell further with A Cure for Wellness (2016), which I still think is pretty good until the ending is overburdened with stupidity. Hammer always seems appealing but actually lacks the charisma to carry a movie. Getting by on the skin of his teeth, if you will. And no one actually wants to see a movie about why American history is bad on the Fourth of July.

And all that based on a previous IP, thing? Well, my dad wasn't really lining up for this movie and he was Hi Ho Silver's prime fan in his youth. It tended to stray really far from the source material, and mostly just aped its music and setting to tell its own story. I mean, that sounds perfect, right?! Well, all of the goodwill it had built up was squandered pretty fast. Ultimately, while I really liked it, I can see why maybe the masses wouldn't. Hence why the only thing we talk about these days are those trains.

As if The Lone Ranger couldn't sink any further, though, now we have some problems with its cast. We were already squint-eyeing Depp for this since he justified his casting by saying he was like 1/64th Cherokee. I mean, whatever, we can all do ancestry.com. The Depp / Heard trial this year was a huge event and even though officially the outcome was pretty much "They're both abusive idiots" it's easy to take that any direction you want. You can say that Heard was an out of control maniac (funny, most men seem to be doing that online), or you can say that Depp was a toxic vortex. Both are probably right, but everyone has been distancing from Johnny over the last few years. It doesn't help make people want to revisit a notable career misstep.

And Armie Hammer. Man. Maaaan...every story in the past year is crazier than the last. His wealthy family cut him off, he's selling timeshares in the Cayman Islands, he expressed violent sexual fantasies, and has been credibly accused of sexual assault. And he apparently likes eating people? Or wanted to? I really don't think that Armie Hammer ever ate anybody. That's his character from Sorry to Bother You (2018). But it doesn't do The Lone Ranger any favors. It is unbelievable that this doomed movie has found a bigger mess for itself.

I was really excited about Disney+ because I can't find this film on streaming anywhere. I thought, "Oh, Disney+ will just automatically have every Disney blockbuster, money in the bank!" This thing is not on there. It might be an attempt to continue distancing the studio from two actors who are now box office poison. Or maybe it's because it was just a complete flop that no one is really proud of. Maybe it's simpler than that, apparently it had a contract with Starz that only expired last November. But that is getting to be eight months ago now. Where is our Lone Ranger, Disney?! I want to see the trains!

There is a special kind of hell for this movie. I should just buy the DVD. But as much as I love it, I kind of don't want to give Depp and Hammer residuals, you know? Maybe I can take solace about my money going to Verblinski, or Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Wilkinson, or James Badge Dale, William Fichtner, or anyone else who is awesome in this. Yeah, there aren't a lot of great female roles. That's unfortunate.

Part of this then becomes Death of the Author-type stuff. Can we separate the artist from the work? Man I'd like to. The Usual Suspects (1995) is a really fun movie, folks. Both Depp and Hammer are terrible, but I don't think either are Spacey or Cosby level rapists. Right? I dunno, maybe post something in the comments if I'm wrong. Or we can talk about where exactly that line is. Can we laugh at Louis CK? Can we laugh at old Louis CK? No one for some reason seems to have any issue at all with Mike Tyson. I don't know, I don't have the answers and I struggle to reconcile the fact that I love this movie with the crimes of the people involved in its creation. Trains go fast.

It also occurs to me that the current year is 2022, not 2013, so it hasn't been ten years yet. But these idiots are still in the news right now, so I wanted to get this out. Next July we'll have to do a big bash!

15 July 2022

52 for '22: Assault on Precinct 13

Movie: Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
Method: TUBI

She was better off with Frankenstein

Why Did I watch this?

This really grew out of a realization that I claim to be a fan of John Carpenter but I've only actually seen the popular stuff. You know, The Thing (1982), They Live (1988), just the hits. I really wanted to expand my viewership of his filmography, so I watched In the Mouths of Madness (1994) and Vampires (1998) within the last year and was working my way to some of his better, earlier films. It was the Fourth of July and I thought this would be a fun American movie to watch!

What Did I know ahead of time?

I knew about the 2005 remake with Laurence Fishburne and Ethan Hawke. Okay, I forgot that they were in that one, but I do remember that coming out. I've never seen that. Next year! But you can figure it out, it's like, some kind of attack on a police station, probably? I did know it was partly inspired by Night of the Living Dead (1968), so I was kind of expecting that sort of thing, which is fairly accurate to what I got. But other than a general appreciation for Carpenter and a just of the plot, that was about it. Pretty good for around here, lads!

How Was It?

I read later that it was also heavily inspired by Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo (1959). I don't really know what that is, I'll have to add it to 52 for '23! But anyway, this is a solid film. I kept thinking while watching this how they don't make films like this anymore. That is an old saying, but just a competently if not ruggedly shot, stable camera, natural lighting, relatively simple paced action flick. It's weird, almost hard to re-train my brain to engage with this.

I was also struck by the total lack of backstory. I really think Wikis have ruined us, we need so much backstory and lore to explain everything. That has creeped into movies if not only because that's what modern writers are used to reading (oh, shucks!). This movie would be revolutionary today. There are three big events here that just convalesce randomly to give us a wild wacky shoot out.Our hero, Bishop is basically just some dude newly promoted who gets put in charge of a precinct on its last night before it's shut down. There are prisoners being transferred (which, listen, I'm pretty sure Anderson, Los Angeles is fake, but there is no way a bus going from Las Cruces to Sonora would be traveling through downtown LA ghettos), one of whom is sick so they stop off temporarily. And there's a nihilistic gang killing random people for some reason, who murder an ice cream man and a little girl. The father takes revenge, tries to hide in the precinct, so the gang follows him and tries to shoot everyone.

And that's it. It's fascinating. There's no background for why this father did any of that or what the deal with this gang is. They don't have a leader or hardly even any lines. They just kind of keep coming until the movie ends. That's definitely where the zombie angle comes in, it's as if these goons could just be random anythings, just fodder for the heroes to shoot. And for a 70s movie, it does seem like it has clear cut heroes and villains, even if the prisoners kind of prove themselves to be heroic, too. But it's not like, "Oh, the police were evil all along!" No, it's more like, rational members of society against a non-stop onslaught of automatic weapons. Hey! Just when I thought I wasn't going to be able to connect this to modern police brutality, we find another angle. Hoorah.

There is a lot of set up here. The plot is a little convoluted, but I give Carpenter credit for laying it all out so that the sequence of events, even if they are fairly unrelated, all do coalesce and follow logically. It's just bizarre to me that there's no grudge against this precinct or the officers, no ulterior motive or secret plan. In 2022 there would be a gang leader played by Boyd Holbrook who'd be secret lost brothers with uncharismatic AF Scott Eastwood and there'd be a big emotional scene at the end with yelling and crying. None of that here. They just kind of shoot some flares while holding up a road sign as cover and that's it. The madness ceases. It's just uncanny how little is explained or connected, but more than that, how little needs to be.

It's ruthlessly efficient. Now, that first half that sets everything up definitely drags, like we didn't need to see Bishop take his time getting into his car in the morning. We don't really learn anything about him. Right about halfway the eponymous Assault starts and it's fun. It definitely just stops randomly, though. I don't know why. Maybe that's part of it - the gang is an entirely opaque mystery whose motivations are not divined in this film. They just do what they want. It's a lot of fun.

I haven't seen the remake, anyone want to sound off on what's that like in the comments? Because I doubt it's as bare bones as this is. I enjoyed Assault on Precinct 13 quite a bit and would recommend it - just reset your brain first. Oh, and I do want to note that it's clearly Precinct 9, District 13 as spoken in the film. I guess Precinct 13 just sounded better? I mean, it does...but they could have just said it was that precinct in the movie. I don't know. Again, just unexplained wackiness.

13 July 2022

Summer Jam Halfway Check in! July Japes!

Yeah, our Summer Jam tracking has been in shambles this year. That's okay. It weirdly feels like the time to move on. There hasn't been a super dominant track to vibe too this season. Where is our "Despacito" or anything by Olivia Rodrigo? I heard "Good 4 u" on the radio the other day. Simpler times. Let's have at it.

Obvi. I like Yung Gravy a lot. I don't think that's problematic, but it really feels problematic. Maybe he is? I don't know. He spits smooth jazz. He's kind of a joke rapper but kind of a real rapper, I don't know. Funny name and spinning a rickroll. Did he ruin rickrolling? Well, who cares. This is fun.

My wife keeps singing this to me. It's on TikTok or something. I don't care that I'm old and lost. I mean heyyy this is the hot list, baby! All the cherriest summer jams and hottest trends! I don't think this even a thing anymore. Probably, since it just dropped on an old married couple's radar. It's fun, right? That's kind of a cool notion. Crap I know I'm not cool. That's okay. Summer Jams is a youngin's dream.

I love the big bangers that crash the two hottest names of the moment together. Megan and Dua both exploded last year and it's fun to see them come together with an appropriately mind-blowing track. This hasn't been as popular as I would have guessed considering it's solid and has some great pedigree, but it's still there. I wonder if we've moved past these kinds of super collabos and more into Kate Bush.

Yeah. Fuck yeah. Elvis (2022) baby! When I think Elvis I think Doja Cat. I don't know why this isn't an Elvis song, but I actually like it a lot. I have an alarm set to Bad Bitch Energy on Spotify and this always gets me awake and up in the morning. It's actually doing well as a song and as a movie, so here you go! Summer jam! Doja Cat, just stop thirsting over the Stranger Things kids.

This hasn't really dominated, but I keep hearing it, and it's that kind of song that I like more the more I hear it. The whole song just builds until you hit that flute solo. Lizzo made flutes cool, man, it's legit. This feels like a perennial third or fourth place song if we were doing the weekly countdowns, not totally ubiquitous, but big time production and staying power. I also want to comment on the rapping style that sounds like Jack Harlow or Bad Bunny, kind of this cascading, infectious sort of melody. I dig it, but curious if that's a trend now.

I don't dig this all that much, it's kind of an everywhere song that isn't really that momentous or distinctive. It's fine, I generally like StarFox himself but this doesn't jump out at me. Still, it's relatively popular and has made a name for itself by now. I guess I hear it often. I think I usually change the station.

From my understanding this is actually about his aunt, not titties, which is admittedly disappointing, but this song is still pretty popular. Bad Bunny is having a great summer with a ton of tracks of his album blasting all over Spotify. It's hard to tell what's even popular anymore, I don't know. Summer Jam is so broken. Bad Bunny's okay, I'm not super into this, but he deserves his place here.

Is THIS the song of summer? It's my song of summer. Latto had a great performance bringing in Mariah Carey at the BET Awards. If only the Zohan were alive to see this day. Is it heresy to say I actually don't dig the official music video that much? It just seems derivative. Like a early-2010s level stock Nicki Minaj rip. Just plasticy jumpsuits and fluffy clouds. This once showed personality, but now it shows industry plants. I don't want to say a bad word about Latto! This is my favorite song of summer! But I also think she's been industry molded a bit based on what has worked with other female black rappers, which is at her own expense.

Next month or whenever...

Beyonce has some stuff out, as does Drake, Post Malone, and Jack Harlow. Cardi B and Kanye just dropped! Maybe we'll get some traction. We're just so splintered, I've been saying this for years, but I'm really feeling it this summer. Maybe if I was keeping track every week I'd feel like someone had some momentum, but we do feel like we're in a weird zone now. Am I nuts or is this the summer that everyone breaks?

08 July 2022

52 for '22: Freddy Got Fingered

MovieFreddy Got Fingered (2001)
Method: Hulu

I can eat backwards I'm the backwards man

Why Did I watch this?

Alrighty. So I obviously knew about this movie had had no interest in it back in 2001. Or really any time since then. But then I watched this edition of re:View from Red Letter Media and was curious about this film's reappraisal. Is there something else going on here, something sly or subversive that elevates this film into art? You know, me, only one to find out. I added it to my DVD queue on August 20, 2018, not too long after I watched that review, but never really got around to it. It was still Freddy Got Fingered after all. But as of July 1 it was on Hulu, so there. Easy 87 minute Sunday morning movie.

What Did I know ahead of time?

For once I knew quite a bit! I knew this was peak Tom Green, he was married to Drew Barrymore at the time, and this was a bizarre early 2000s comedy. I maybe didn't know exactly how far he pushed this one, but we'll get into that. But it assuredly helped that I was a teenager in the late 90s / early 2000s and am well versed in his style of humour. But I didn't really know how this would function as a film. I remembered the trailers and the sausages and backwards man stuff well. So it was really just seeing how it all tied together.

How Was It?

I don't know. I really don't. Getting back to that RLM review, Jay Bauman suggested that it may be brilliant, but that's assuredly accidental, because Tom Green isn't that clever. Mike Stoklasa contends that Green knew exactly what he was doing and presents this film as a meta-fuck you to the Hollywood studio system.

After a close viewing, I think that Green knew what he was doing - it feels very purposeful and committed and watching subsequent interviews with him I get the vibe that he's not really the idiot character he became famous for playing. He just seems more thoughtful and understanding. I mean, honestly, this persona he takes on isn't even dumb. It's completely psychotic and operates outside of the realm of any kind of good taste or behavior.

The constant vibe from this film is just pure anarchy. He's existing to destroy everything in society, from malls to family relations to farms and Hollywood. It definitely has Eric Andre Show energy, which made me wonder if this would have been better received had it come out today? The voices and animation of Zebra in America honestly felt like a Justin Roiland bit. I think he just peaked too early. This is perfect millennial stuff. But it's almost like he does it without ever winking at the audience. It's pure and raw in a startling and horrifying way. I liked it a lot.

He works by being so far outside of the mainstream. This kind of nonsense is more common now. I might not say accepted, it's not like this would ever be a four quarters-accepted blockbuster, but this is the kind of humor that has developed and excelled in the past decade. But at the time his insanity and unpopularity just added to his street cred.

Unfortunately this film failed hard. I don't even know if Tom Green fans enjoyed it. And I honestly didn't see it at the time, and maybe that's a product in itself. For some reason I never dove into Tom Green like I did something like Jackass or Adam Sandler movies, which were popular at the time. And RLM nails it when it suggests this film is actually a parody of those kinds of Sandler / Jim Carrey vehicles of the time. The big difference is that it refuses to be likeable. It's almost like The Cable Guy (1998) which presents this kind of man-child character in a realistic context, revealing that that kind of person would be the worst human in the world to hang out with. The joke is that the movie exists and so, the joke is more on us than anything on screen. Amazing that both of these movies failed, right? They made fun of us for liking films featuring this kind of character.

I was struck by an early scene of him working in the Cheese Sandwich factory where he grabs a big sausage and pretends it's his dick and screams "I'm a sexy boy!" No one in the factory reacts. At all. There's no look of disapproval, no moving story or character forward. It screamed to me like an Adam Sandler-type man-child begging for attention through immature humor and receiving no positive or negative feedback in return, which is really his goal. There is a refusal to acknowledge that his humor is funny, even in the context of the film. We see that again with the animation studio executive, and well, almost every other character.

It just makes me think this is just Tom Green shouting "This isn't funny, but you bastards eat it up!" I get that vibe that it was this idea of, "So this is what you want, huh? This is what makes money? Well here's a huge obnoxious serving of man-child immaturity!" We get this literally in the cheese sandwich scene. Again, this is all done without any winking at the audience. It's weird to say, since every single character is positively ruthless and insane but everyone is also incredibly straight. Like, Tom Green is full of surreal non sequitors, but he never once breaks the seriousness of his face, even when he's just repeating nonsense. It's fascinating if anything.

So, is this movie good? Well, there is sort of a plot. Tom Green is trying to become an animator and he goes to Los Angeles, fails, comes back home to live with his maniacal father, accuses him of molesting his younger brother, Freddy, then is inspired by his rocket-wheelchair using girlfriend to go back and sell an equally dumb cartoon for a million dollars. It seems like the film should end there, but then Green uses that money to cut out part of his dad's house and send him to Pakistan, where they become hostages until they reconcile and are released.

And at some point we should talk about how the film's title is derived from this important plot point - Freddy is Tom Green's brother, played by Eddie Kaye Thomas who definitely wasn't fingered by his father, and while it is a big deal, it's not the focus of the film. It's as if this film is named after just one of its bits, and it's a bit that's a total lie.

There are hijinks along the way, many seem like just vehicles to do some wacky deer carcass humor. But there's also a surprising amount of stakes here. Like, every action has a real consequence. Tom Green's false accusation of his father is real - his parents split up and his younger brother is sent to an Institute for Sexually Abused Children, despite being 25. Neither of these threads are resolved, but his mother does apparently hook up with Shaq. The movie has a ridiculous amount of momentum and despite all the side distractions, every insane decision is permanent. The Pakistan thing is generated from an offhand comment that Tom Green takes literally, and then it forms the epic conclusion to the film. It's like a stream of consciousness, or a cartoon put on the screen.

We haven't even mentioned the hospital birthing scene. I just can't believe this stuff exists. I'm curious about RLM's assessment of the love interest, who while she does have agency and is her own person with her own interests, seems to also exist only to suck the protagonist's cock. This could aptly be an indictment of love interests in male-centric comedies, who don't really exist for much else other than this. Freddy Got Fingered is just being blatant about it and saying the quiet part loud. Or it's just incredibly dense and misogynistic. I dunno, he's clearly giving her pleasure, even if it's just by smacking her shins with a bamboo stick. And he doesn't really want his dick sucked, it's almost more like sexual assault.

That's kind of what this movie is. Is it a brilliant stealth satire or is it genuine? If it's genuine, there's not much here and it's probably a despicable, terrible movie. But if it's trying to poke holes in its genre, maybe it's brilliant? I also thought of Dirty Work (1998), which feels like this kind of movie but a failure. Dirty Work is a clear attempt at applying the Sandler / Spade / Schneider gross out SNL star comedy to Norm MacDonald, but it doesn't totally work, maybe because MacDonald has no interest in that. I mean, don't get me wrong, I love Dirty Work, but it struggles when trying to find itself within the confines of its structure. Freddy Got Fingered has no problems blowing up its own structure.

This is also the most yelling ever in a movie. Everyone is screaming at each other all the time. Or just screaming for no reason. Rip Torn, let's just say it, is amazing. For some reason he understands exactly what this movie is supposed to be, and while his frustration in dealing with Tom Green is understandable, you suddenly switch sympathies as it becomes clear that he is by far the more insane, more violent, and more sadistic half of this duo. It's an epic performance.

I'm clearly in the like category here, I've seen so many films during this series that don't have any energy like Where the Buffalo Roam (1980), are unmemorable like Mongol (2007), or are convoluted and trying so hard to emulate something else like King Arthur (2004). I laughed outloud many times during this, but I totally understand someone who wouldn't. You just need to be down with the chaotic energy on display here. It's completely unconcerned with punchlines, set-ups, or payoffs. It's pure anti-comedy.

01 July 2022

52 for '22: The Sound and the Fury

Movie: The Sound and the Fury (2014)
Method: Tubi

Nope! Nope nope nope nope.

Why Did I watch this?

This has been on my radar for a while, getting to be probably eight or nine years now, from whenever they announced it. Things are dicey these days with James Franco, but remember that glorious time in the early 2010s when him and Seth Rogen were the hottest comedy duo in tinseltown! This was right on the heels of This is the End (2013) and The Interview (2014) and I was a big fan. Franco always had this other weirder artsier side, and while I think he's better at comedy than any of his dramatic efforts (he is so notably bad in the Spider-Man films), the idea of these idiots coming together to put on an adaptation of William Faulkner was always really intriguing to me.

Also, you couldn't find this movie anywhere. Like, I don't think even peak Netflix DVD services had it. I found it for free on Tubi! Yay! But I've always been interested in American literature but loth to actually read it. I guess that makes me the most American of all. So to see this complex and intricate, indelible tale of the American South told in a movie, well that's just perfect. And told by an actor I enjoyed while casting comedy legends in all dramatic roles? That's really intriguing! It's also short. All of these elements would work against the movie, but whatever, it's a really interesting watch.

What Did I know ahead of time?

I knew it had James Franco, Seth Rogen, and Danny McBride. I knew a little bit of the story, like it centered around this Southern Family throughout the 20th Century, although I later learned that the novel was written in 1929, so it's not like it takes place over the whole century. I knew it was a story about a family's declining power in the South, Franco directed, and that it was not rated high, critically appreciated, or culturally significant.

How Was It?

This was so bad. Like, it's real bad. I have so much to get into. First, a necessary disclaimer - I said I was a fan of Franco in the 2000s / early 2010s, and that work is still great (his performance in The Interview is still one of the greatest comedic efforts of all time), BUT let's face facts, this dude was apparently a monster the whole time and problematic doesn't even begin to describe some of his accusations. It's that hard reckoning. Like, him being a horrible human doesn't make his old stuff less funny. But by all accounts he's a terrible human being whose career should be destroyed.

Now that we've got that out of the way, let's talk about how he approached the nuances of playing an adult with a severe yet vague mental disability. There is no other way to put it. Franco goes full retard. He goes full retard HARD. My immediate reaction upon seeing him on screen was just "Oh noooo! That's not good!" He cast himself as Benjy, the youngest of the Compson family, who is developmentally disabled to the point where he can't speak, is shunned by his family, corralled and abused. Franco is not the dude to play this. He has that weird lazy eye, but man, he puts in those buck teeth, hunches over, and just GOES for it, grunts and all. It was straight up Simple Jack man, like, it's rough as hell. Jeez, it might be worse. It reminds me of Borat when he says his son has very funny retardation and tried to bang his sister. That is literally the plot of this movie. How is this possible?

I don't know the solution here - do you hire an actor with a disability? Do you go straight down syndrome? That doesn't seem right to me. I suppose you just kind of avoid making this film in the first place since Benjy is such an important character. But hey, people in that situation and those actors need representation, too! It's a tough call to make that without making fun of someone. Even movies with noble efforts like The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019) get tripped up in this stuff.

Early on there's also a handful of southern black teenager characters that are introduced as very aggressive, speaking and yelling straight into the camera, which is supposed to be from Benjy's perspective. "Oh noooo! That's not good!" Like, are we really showing the black sharecroppers that work on the plantation as negative aggressors? Whoopsie! It's so bad from the get go. If only there were a plot, theme, acting excellence, or directorial nuance here to salvage the cringiest stereotypes to ever be put on screen. The little kid who plays younger Benjy actually does a good job, you can read more into his eyes how he's trying to process a scene than Franco.

But definitely intriguing to watch! Franco's direction is insane. It's like The Tree of Life (2011) but directed by Benjy. The camera floats aimlessly, has a dead focus in characters' eyes and splices past and present constantly. It's supposed to simulate the stream of consciousness nature of the Benjy portion of the source novel, and it largely does that. The Sound and the Fury (1929) is famously dense and difficult to parse through, with many time jumps and different characters. The movie tries to do that, but maybe it's not the best thing for a film to do. See, with a book when you're confused, you can just re-read a passage. I'm not rewinding this movie every five minutes because something doesn't make sense.

I give it some credit for that. It does zero in on the three brothers, although the story is hard to understand. Like when Benjy sees Caddy on the swing and then later sees Miss Quentin. In the book it'd be easier, because you identify her as Miss Quentin. In the movie I'm just like, "Who the fuck is that?" There is no context, and while the one to one transition of story technique is admirable, at some point you need to calibrate for the medium you're now working in.

The most interesting character is probably Caddy, although we never really see her perspective. This is similar to the book, but again, it may have been worthwhile to update and zero in on what she's doing. There is just different context to discuss the one sister in the family all the brothers want to bang when you're watching this film in 2022. It's hard to track who is doing what and why, and I understand that's sort of the point, but I also don't know why that's the point. What are we getting out of that obfuscated form of storytelling? Let's get back to The Tree of Life (2011), which uses the medium of film to simulate a dream, with just long montages, surreal imagery, and evocations of feelings rather than plot. The story isn't even important, it's more how the characters react, what they remember, and where they ended up. In The Sound and the Fury, the story is everything. It's dense with characters and their own motivations, but we don't understand the severe consequences of their actions when it's portrayed as a flitless dream.

Again, I honestly sort of like the direction. I know, I know, just stay with me here. It's really unique, especially in the Benjy section and just full of these captivating shot choices that demonstrate perspective and placement. It's more the editing, voiceover, and writing that junks up this film. Ahna O'Reilly, who plays Caddy is pretty good - I haven't seen her in much else, but she apparently used to date James Franco and appeared in a handful of his films. Logan Marshall-Green pops up and is remarkably effortlessly cool. Everyone else is pretty trash. Except for the kid who plays little Benjy.

In addition to the black characters being fairly stereotypical, the movie also cuts out the entire last section of the book that focused on Dilsey the head house servant. We get that a little bit, like at the end of the Jason section we shift to Dilsey's perspective, but we never get a title card for her, it feels very abrupt, and it ends on Jason yelling at Luster. I know that in the book that section is more third-person omniscient, but it still exists to give the black folk in the book a voice. That doesn't exist in the movie. Yay! How did this come out in 2014 without pushback?

It's almost like it's just totally insignificant. It's such a cultural blip, there was no hype and no one has been interested in this since. It is not remotely a good movie at all, but it deserves to be up there as a terrible cult classic. I guess we don't need to give Franco our money, but I think everyone should watch this to study how much it misses the mark.

And yes, Seth Rogen and Danny McBride are in this, but as really minor roles. They play it relatively straight, though. Rogen is a little goofy, but McBride is an upstanding actor. I honestly don't know what their goal with this was. I think it would have been much better if they 100% leaned into making this film with the entire cast of This is the End but making it actually serious. Were they trying to flex their acting chops to show they could do serious work as well? I mean, imagine if these idiots actually pulled off an incredibly difficult Faulkner adaptation? I think you cast McBride as Jason, maybe like a Jason Schwartzman as Quentin. O'Reilly was a good Caddy, but you could get like Linda Cardellini in there to further the Freaks and Geeks made good connection. I get that Franco was trying to make real art here, but it just falls on its face. You could at least have fun doing it and go for broke with a novel concept.

I'm glad I finally checked this off, and I hate to say it, but it really did make me want to read the book. This is a true anomaly of a film, though, and while it's total dogshit, honestly deserves more of a look than it's gotten for its bizarreness. I think Franco's treatment of women makes that difficult because he's become someone who shouldn't be supported and the more obscure depths of his filmography will surely be forgotten. I wish there was someway we could get around that death of the author but also not support them? Like can't any proceeds just go to his victims? I don't know what the solution is, but I'd like to keep watching funny monsters in things I enjoy but ALSO be vindictive. Where is that line? I don't know, but everyone in Hollywood sucks so we'd better figure it out.

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