MONKEY REVIEW: Bruno

July 11, 2009

brunoMy very short review: Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen’s followup to Borat, isn’t as successful a satire as its predecessor, but it’s still frequently hilarious. As with Borat, Bruno is a combination of scripted comedy and improvisatory sequences where Cohen inserts his character into real life situations, with some inspired results. Its 88 minute running time flies by, even though by the last third, the movie has run out of steam. The startling last sequence, set at a cage fight, does end things on a memorable note. Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has come out strongly against Bruno, however, stating that the movie “reinforces negative stereotypes and ‘decreases the public’s comfort with gay people.'” In defense of the movie, I felt that what was being satirized, with results that are often funny and disturbing in equal parts, is the American public’s ready acceptance of virtually any gay stereotype as truth, and in the context of the movie, their startlingly virulent and sometimes utterly violent response to Cohen’s provocations, which are taken seriously no matter how completely absurd and outrageous they become (and since Cohen is a man totally unashamed of his body, it can get pretty outrageous). Cohen’s character, Bruno, is an Austrian fashion show host, flamboyantly gay to a surrealistic extreme, and he uses him not to just send up American homophobia, but reality and talk shows and celebrity culture. Cohen is a pretty fearless comic actor, putting himself on numerous occasions where he’s in danger of actual physical harm. Alas, the quality of the movie is only sporadically on par with that level of fearlessness. Additionally, Cohen may have run into a quandary that fellow satirist Dave Chappelle apparently ran into with his show: When you’re using stereotypes to send up stereotypes, at what point are you giving your audience permission to laugh at the very stereotypes you are satirizing? A perhaps unintended consequence of Bruno is to raise this question anew. I did find Bruno funny, hopefully for the right reasons, if you liked Borat, odds are you will enjoy Bruno, too.

MONKEY RATING: TWO MONKEYS

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

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thelonelyislandComedy troupe the Lonely Island (Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone) make their LP debut with Incredibad, a frequently hilarious collection of 19 tracks, several of which originally debuted on Saturday Night Live as digital shorts. (The CD version of the album comes packaged with a DVD featuring eight videos, two for songs not included on the CD, “Just 2 Guys” and “Bing Bong Brothers.” You can otherwise see the videos on their site and pick up a digital booklet if you buy the MP3 album.) What makes Incredibad especially worthwhile is that many of the songs, most of which are pitch-perfect send-ups of rap, hip-hop and dance music, are so catchy they bear repeat listens. The guest list is also totally impressive: E-40, T-Pain, Julian Casablancas, Norah Jones, Natalie Portman and Chris Parnell. There’s a dud or two, and at least one song worked better with its visuals (“Space Olympics”), but in general, this is one great comedy album. It’s profane, it’s profoundly silly, it’s absurd, and it’s quite possibly the album of the summer, several months early. Standout cuts: “Santana DVX,” “Jizz In My Pants,” “I’m On A Boat” and “Like A Boss.”

http://www.incredibad.com/

burnafterreading“You’re part of a league of morons.”

The latest film from the Coen Brothers is a dark comedy about the chaos that occurs when the memoirs of an ex-C.I.A operative (John Malkovich) fall into the hands of two inept gym employees (Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt). Extortion, violence and general mayhem and confusion ensue. Burn After Reading is not up there with the Coen’s best movies, and it’s not even close to their best comedy as it’s more amusing than hilarious, but it’s still very entertaining, and gets more so as it goes along. The three principals are supported by a pretty amazing cast that includes George Clooney, Tilda Swinton and Richard Jenkins, all in top form. Pitt is especially inspired here, and provides the movie with some of its funniest and goofiest moments, though Clooney features in a great sight gag involving the revelation of his character’s home made invention. All in all, Burn After Reading isn’t classic Coen Brothers, but it’s damn fun Coen Brothers, and what’s wrong with that?

MONKEY RATING: TWO MONKEYS

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

MONKEY REVIEW: Hamlet 2

December 26, 2008

hamlet2“Yes, it was stupid, but it was also theater.”

Flawed, but still frequently hilarious movie about a failed actor turned Tucson high school drama teacher named Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan) who, in a desperate attempt to save the drama program from budget cuts, decides to put on a long time dream project of his: An elaborate musical drama called Hamlet 2, a sequel that allows the doomed Danish prince to travel back in time and, aided by “a sexy Jesus,” to right all the wrongs perpetrated in the first play. Director and co-writer Andrew Fleming picks some obvious satirical targets, chief among them Coogan’s character, who is pretentious and painfully inept, but also genuinely eager to inspire his mostly reluctant students a la Dead Poet’s Society and Mr. Holland’s Opus. Coogan really is the whole show here, despite being aided by a mostly outstanding supporting cast, and your tolerance for his character in the opening first couple of “acts” will be a litmus test as to whether you’ll stick the movie out. Marschz is similar to Corky St. Clair of Waiting For Guffman, if St. Clair were painfully and acutely aware of his own flaws and failures. Coogan gives Marschz enough depth that he becomes sympathetic, even in the grip of his most idiotic and clueless schemes. Frustratingly, Hamlet 2 never quite turns into a truly great comedy, but it is filled with great moments, and the climactic staging of Marschz’s play is hilarious and even, unexpectedly, a bit moving. Despite its own flaws and failure, Hamlet 2 ends up having something to say about how art, even bad art, can have a profoundly positive effect on the people who participate in it, and the people who receive it.

MONKEY RATING: TWO MONKEYS

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

tropicthunderBen Stiller’s Tropic Thunder is a profane, sometimes quite gory Hollywood satire about four self-absorbed stars (Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey, Jr. and Brandon T. Jackson) and their naive, film nerd co-star (Jay Baruchel) who, while filming a Vietnam War movie, inadvertently find themselves battling an actual jungle militia. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of Richard Rush’s 1980 movie-making satire The Stunt Man, mostly because its aim tends to be a lot lower, but Tropic Thunder is nevertheless frequently hilarious and well worth seeing for its impressive array of comic actors working in top form. Downey, Jr. gives a fearless performance as a pretentious multi-Oscar winning Australian actor who undergoes cosmetic surgery to play a black soldier, but Stiller gives everyone a chance to get laughs, including Steve Coogan as the harried director, whose priceless reaction to one of the character’s lines is one of the best moments in the movie, and Tom Cruise, who has some explosively funny moments as an obnoxious producer. If there’s an overall flaw in Tropic Thunder, it’s that the idea of what’s happening onscreen is often funnier than the actual execution, but when it delivers, it delivers in a big way, so it’s easy to forgive it for the moments when it doesn’t.

MONKEY RATING: TWO MONKEYS

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

As far as sequel ideas go, putting stoner comedy duo Harold and Kumar (John Cho and Kal Penn), who are Korean and Indian, respectively, in Guantanamo Bay after they are mistaken for terrorists on a flight to Amsterdam seemed like it could result in some comedy gold. It doesn’t, however, as its satirical jabs at culture and race in post-9/11 America are surprisingly, well, blunted, but it’s frequently very funny, and its main characters are amiable enough to pull audiences through what is a very spotty movie indeed. It gets a good deal of its requisite gross-out humor out of the way in its first few minutes, thankfully, and the rest of the movie is basically a series of misadventures, some funnier than others, as Harold and Kumar, post-escape, try to make it to Texas, where they hope a well-connected friend will help them clear their names. As with the first film, Neil Patrick Harris playing “Neil Patrick Harris,” a drug-addled, hard drinking version of himself is a comic highlight. I’m giving this three monkeys only because the overall mood of the movie is so good-natured and because it does contain some pretty funny moments, but if you were not a fan of the first movie, you will probably want to lower the rating down another monkey.

MONKEY RATING: THREE MONKEYS

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

MONKEY REVIEW: Hancock

July 3, 2008

As directed by Peter Berg, Hancock, Will Smith’s latest summer blockbuster, tends to be as strange, confused and obnoxious as its title character. Hancock is a modern day superhero living alone in Los Angeles, ageless, superstrong and impervious to injury. Being a heavy drinker and thus more than a little careless and temperamental, his attempts at crimefighting tend to do more harm than good in the eyes of most citizens, including the mayor and police chief, as they also cause excessive property damage and personal injury. After Hancock saves the life of a good-hearted PR man, Ray (Jason Bateman), Ray brings him home to have dinner with his wife Mary (Charlize Theron) and his son Aaron (Jae Head) and offers to rehabilitate his image so that people will love him instead of hate him. Hancock starts off in broad, low comedy mode, then switches to light satire before taking a left turn into dramatic territory. In the hands of a more subtle, witty director, this material might’ve made for something more satisfying and intriguing than what’s ended up on the screen, though Smith, Bateman and Theron do more than their share of selling the material as it is. Since none of Hancock‘s disparate parts ever really gel into a whole, it’s a movie that’s entertaining in fits and starts, with some standard summer blockbuster CGI sequences mostly involving more property destruction to no great effect. Some of the most interesting and tantalizing plot elements involving race and mythological connections appear as exposition, but then are just tossed aside and are frustratingly explored no further. All in all, I’m not sorry I saw Hancock, but then I’m not sure I can exactly recommend it to anyone, either.

MONKEY RATING: THREE MONKEYS

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

“It’s a lie. The signal; it’s a trick. Change the way you look at things, the things you look at will change. .”

Superior, smartly written and surprisingly ultra-low budgeted horror/comedy/thriller about a signal broadcast over cell phones, radio and television that causes the people who hear or see it to get “the crazy,” that is, to hallucinate and behave in impulsive, violent and sometimes murderous ways. The film is divided into three parts, each written and directed by David Bruckner, Dan Bush and Jacob Gentry. The first part is by far the best, which depicts the first night the signal is broadcast, and the resulting chaos. It’s genuinely creepy and frightening, and photographed in gorgeously saturated colors. The second part is more satirical, and while the switch in tone is jarring, it still works up some laughs owing to the cast (including A. J. Bowen, Anessa Ramsey, Justin Welborn, Sahr Nguajah, Scott Poythress and Cheri Christianwhich), which is uniformly good. The last part is more serious, and wraps up the storyline effectively. It’s not a perfect film by any means, but when it works, it works very well. Amazingly, The Signal was done on a $50,000 budget, putting a lot of higher budget Hollywood junk to shame.

MONKEY RATING: TWO MONKEYS

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

Enormously entertaining documentary about Vince Vaughn’s ambitious comedy revue that traveled across the Midwest in 2005, starting in Hollywood and ending 30 days later in Chicago. Called Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show, it featured Vaughn hosting what amounted to a variety show with sets by four up and coming comedians (Ahmed Ahmed, John Caparulo, Bret Ernst, and Sebastian Manisalco), intermixed with improvisational bits and guest appearances by friends like Jon Favreau, Justin Long and Keir O’Donnell, the latter two being actors Vaughn has appeared with in the movies Dodgeball and Wedding Crashers, respectively. Apart from the performance highlights, which are frequently hilarious, the movie’s worth seeing for the insightful and sometimes unexpectedly honest and moving interviews with the performers, both backstage and on the road, about the experience of doing stand-up comedy, their different approaches to it, and how they came to do stand-up in the first place. There’s also a revealing sequence where the comics go to distribute tickets to Hurricane Katrina victims living in a camping area: They’re reluctant at first, but then gradually warm to their task as they start to grasp the enormity of the disaster. Vaughn himself doesn’t try to hog the spotlight at all, and instead comes off as an articulate, thoughtful and supportive host to his traveling company of comedians. Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show goes on maybe a bit too long, but in general, it’s a very entertaining ride.

MONKEY RATING: ONE MONKEY

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

Terrible sketch comedy movie, loosely held together by a story about the integrity of the Onion news network being compromised by its parent corporation. Delayed for years, The Onion Movie was filmed long enough ago that Rodney Dangerfield makes a cameo in it, which gives you an idea of the amount of time this has been on the shelf. It was made for a theatrical release, but it’s easy to see why this was released direct to video. Though there’s a lot of good comedic ideas that float through the movie, most of them are sabotaged by those ideas not being developed enough, not going anywhere at all, or just plain inept execution. Much of the material is dated, like the Britney Spears parodies (which are still somewhat amusing, anyway), while some of the segments are just not funny at all, like a sketch about a “How To Host A Rape” parlor game. Steven Seagal, who is otherwise not known for his comedic talents, scores a good portion of the laughs here as the star of the action movie Cockpuncher. Len Cariou also gets some laughs as a harried news anchor. If you absolutely must watch it, my advice is, fast forward through the sketches you think look bad, because 90% of the time you’ll be right. (Just stop for the Dungeons and Dragons/Magic the Gathering sketch – it’s pretty good.) That will leave you with maybe 20 or so minutes of movie out of 80 minutes, but at least you won’t be wishing you had that 60 minutes back. Plan B? Watch the trailer. The lion’s share of the funny moments are in there.

MONKEY RATING: FIVE MONKEYS

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)