assassination“Forget it, Funke. It’s high school.

Brett Simon’s Assassination Of A High School President, which is receiving an undeserved direct to DVD release after its distributor’s bankruptcy, starts out a little too satisfied with its own cleverness, but once it finds its own groove, it turns into a funny, fast paced entertainment, ranking up there with the best high school satires and comedies. Like the much more serious minded Brick, it offers up the high school experience through a film noirish lens, though Assassination‘s primary influences come from 70’s investigative and conspiracy thrillers like All The President’s Men and The Parallax View, with a heavy dose of Heathers and nods to both Lindsay Anderson’s If… and Chinatown. The deliberately anachronistic story focuses on an aspiring school newspaper writer, sophomore Bobby Funke (Reece Thompson), who finds himself elevated to the top of the popularity ladder when he is asked to investigate the disappearance of the school’s SAT tests by senior Francesca Facchini (Mischa Barton). When the trail leads to Francesca’s boyfriend, Paul Moore (Patrick Taylor), things start to get complicated for Funke. The plot is secondary here, however, as mystery lovers will figure out key elements of the resolution, though in true The Big Sleep fashion, the complete solution is so involved that virtually no viewers will be able to work it out ahead of time. Aside from some terrific dialogue, it’s the performances that really make the movie, particularly from Thompson and Barton, but also from Bruce Willis, who does a funny turn as a principal driven and obsessed with his military past. It’s also got a terrific soundtrack, one of the best I’ve heard in a long time. With the utter garbage that routinely makes it to the big screen on a weekly basis, it’s hard to comprehend why Assassination Of A High School President wasn’t picked up by another distributor and given a chance at least a limited theatrical release. It’s one of my favorite movies of the year, just the same, and it’s very much recommended.


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


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.


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

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.”


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.


(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.


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

Bullwinkle Assassinated!

September 19, 2008

Yeah, it’s not modern rock related, I just think it’s funny. You can click it to enlarge it, by the way.



August 31, 2008

I first saw Death Race 2000, regarded by some as one of the best B-movies ever made, at a drive-in way back when in the mid-70’s, and subsequently saw it whole or in part numerous more times on cable over the years. Death Race 2000 was a Roger Corman production, directed by Paul Bartel and starring David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone, set in a dystopian future (well, the future in 1975, anyway) where a cross country race takes place annually in which the drivers get points for running over citizens unlucky enough to get in their way. That it was satirizing the American obsession with violent entertainment flew right over my head on initial viewings, and instead I saw a very odd movie with cartoonish violence, bizarre characters and even more bizarre cars. There was also a lot of nudity, but of course I covered my eyes during those parts. There’s a plot point worth mentioning where the US government blames the French for things going wrong, which seems pretty contemporary now, and a lot of the political satire in general still seems spot on. The remake, written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil, Alien Vs. Predator) and co-produced by Corman, leaves out the satire for the most part and has repackaged it as a sort of killer American Gladiators set in a prison called Terminal Island. No one gets points for running over anyone, and instead the drivers try to kill each other. The changes pretty much remove everything that was interesting about the original and what ends up on the screen is your standard action picture, nothing more, nothing less, and certainly nothing special. Jason Statham and Tyrese Gibson ably fill in for Carradine and Stallone, and Joan Allen shows up as an evil warden. Statham always makes for an entertaining screen presence, which is why I decided to see Death Race, against my better instincts, but I would advise Statham fans to just wait for Transporter 3, due out in November. All others would do better to seek out the original, which is a lot more fun in all respects than this remake.


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


May 8, 2008

“Vagina dentata!”

Ambitious, provocative horror/satire from writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein: Dawn (Jess Weixler) is a popular, if very troubled, high school chastity group speaker for her local church, known for her ability to recruit more student pledges, whose promise to keep their virginity intact is symbolized by a ruby red ring. Compounding her troubles, which include a dying mother and being harassed by a perverse half-brother Brad (John Hensley), she finds herself plagued by sexual urges when she meets a new member of the chastity group, Tobey (Hale Appleman). Then, midway through the movie, she discovers she has a unique defense against male sexual assault, teeth in her vagina (evolutionary adaptation? nuclear power plant mutation?) that react before she can think about it, at first, anyway. The central problem with Teeth is that because it plays it so straight initially, it’s just not very funny for half the running time, which, of course, is not very good for a movie primarily in a comic mode. In other words, it lacks a lot of the bite you would think a movie about a woman with a vagina with teeth would have. That said, the inevitable amputations are staged with the appropriate hysteria and are as gorily explicit as the R-rating will allow (which is quite a lot, really, but then since they’re played mostly for laughs, that may have made a difference). What really holds the movie together is Weixler, whose carefully modulated performance as Dawn never devolves into caricature, despite the movie’s wild shifts in tone. The rest of the cast is also good enough that they mostly carry you through the movie’s flaws. Teeth has some visually dazzling moments going for it as well, and a sequence with Dawn and Tobey going for a swim is particularly well staged. And once it cuts loose, so to speak, it’s got some big laughs, and there’s a low angle shot towards the end that I won’t soon forget. All in all, Teeth is not a total success, but it is worth a look for those who like their horror/comedies to have some depth to them, as well as a rare feminist bent.


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

“What do we think of when we think of Cox?”

Frequently hilarious satire of musician biopics, in particular Walk The Line, covering the turbulent life of American rock star Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly) from ages 14 to 71. Though there’s an impressive array of comic actors supporting him, Reilly is really the whole show here, even singing his own songs, which are inspired, dead on parodies of Johnny Cash, Elvis, Roy Orbison, the Beach Boys and Bob Dylan, among others. (The Dylan parodies, written by Dan Bern, are my personal favorites, though “Let’s Duet” and “Black Sheep” are pretty priceless, too.) Walk Hard hits most of the notes you think it’s going to hit comedy-wise, detailing his rock star excesses, failed marriages and repeated trips to rehab, but some of the most memorable moments are when it drifts into the absurd or the random, as with the childhood incident that haunts him or a running gag involving male nudity. Though it’s R-rated for good reason, most of Walk Hard is good natured fun, and easily one of the funniest movies of 2007.


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