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Wednesday, Feb 6, 2008


They say that successful movie marketing is an art. If it is, it’s one of the blackest. Nothing against advertisers in general, or the creative individuals forced to turn turkey loaf into Thanksgiving, but creating buzz is a bifurcated saber. On the one hand, you have the easy sell, the material or individual with inherent pull and established popularity. All you have to do is say the name, suggest the situation, and potential revenue streams find their inner customer clicked over into “sold” mold. It’s the very definition of a no-brainer - the mindless, lemming like “Yes” to a Madison Avenue SOS.


But then there are the harder sells - the untested talent, the complicated project, the demographically indeterminate subset. For these amorphous entities, these hard to compartmentalize and conceptualize beings, no amount of Q rating returns or focus group grading can provide a window into its retail viability. For the copywriter or the art director, the minds paid to pull this unreasonable rabbit out of its wonderland-like hole, it’s all about the angle, the dirty back road in. If they can just find some path to the PR Promised Land, it’s another unexpectedly successful campaign and a key to the unisex Executive washroom.


So it’s clear that when faced with the prospect of selling Malcolm Lee’s Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins to a comedy weary (and wary) viewership, Universal’s crew was more than a little flummoxed. The upcoming comedy has a cast comprised of several recognizable and established actor/stand-ups (Martin Lawrence, Mo’Nique, Cedric the Entertainer), a complementary list of fine A-list names (James Earl Jones, Margaret Avery, Michael Clarke Duncan), and a few scene-stealing surprises (Michael Epps) to flesh out its funny business. With a script that successfully balances the broadest of physical and shtick humor with lots of familial heart and insight, the studio must have sensed it had a winner on its hands.


But how to get that across to a public poised to hate almost anything that purports to make them laugh. After a decade of gross out gag fests, a combination of limp ideas and even lamer execution, anything without the name “Apatow” attached to it was seen as a risk. Add to that the clear ethnic angle and suddenly, you’re stuck. Between Tyler Perry’s “Go with God” restaged plays, and the formulaic African American anarchy which substitutes crudeness for something clever, the selling points were stuck between a social Scylla and Charybdis. So how did they resolve this dilemma? They didn’t. They took the incredibly easy way out and decided to position this film as a scatological slice of slapstick.


Frankly, nothing could be farther from the truth. In a year already overloaded with unexceptional fare, Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins is a surprisingly rich and rewarding experience. Certainly, Mo’Nique and Cedric trade on the material that made them famous, and director Lee resorts to outrageous physical humor to drive some of his less important points, but at the oversized soul of this movie is a clear message about embracing who you are, forgiving people for the past, and learning to accept the love…and lesser qualities, of those you grew up with. Pointed, insightful, and slightly sloppy around the edges, it’s a wholly entertaining and enjoyable work.


Yet to watch the trailers, you’d think it was nothing but tawdry toilet humor, riotous roughhousing, and lots and lots of hard-R retorts. Of course, much of that comes directly from the comedians cast. All of the professional stand-ups present are notorious for their potty mouthed performances, and throughout the course of the film, several euphemisms and other expletive like comments are heard. But for every bit of blue humor, material one imagines resulted directly from the adlibbing tendencies present, Lee made sure to include a moment of clarity, a sequence where common sense takes the place of crudeness. And the pratfalls are saved for a couple of over the top sequences where our filmmaker lets the anarchy get out of hand. But it’s hardly the main point of the movie.


No, the marketers of Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins obviously believed that audiences - specifically viewers of color - were not sophisticated enough to embrace a full blown family comedy. Even the PG-13 rating reveals a limited use of the FCC’s favorite slang (the F-bomb gets dropped once). Like politicians who believe that pandering is the best way to tap into the electorate, Hollywood is convinced that certain racial profiling perfectly mirrors their merchandising. A slacker flick has to have indie rock and some petulant pop culture quips. A RomCom must retread some Tin Pan Alley classic and contain at least one shot of our stars making cow eyes at each other. And apparently, African Americans need sophistication spoon fed to them in vaudevillian like volleys of mugging.


Or maybe the motive is even more sinister. Maybe, in order to sell the film beyond those predetermined to see it, Tinsel Town takes the intolerant approach. While someone more scholarly and sophisticated will have to determine if the Roscoe Jenkins trailer is racist (instead of merely misguided), it is clear that to an audience unfamiliar with the work of those in the cast, stereotypes abound: the big mouthed black woman with shaving cream on her face; the fast talking hustler; the “white” acting prodigal; the various references to other culturally specific signposts. Like a visual reference guide to the experience about to be offered, the trailer takes a road no one should travel and traverses it with hamfisted foolishness. 


Again, the question is why? Why is the film being marketed this way? And again, what does that say about the intended audience on both sides of the social spectrum? If Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins wasn’t so obvious in the way it addresses its product, if the movie wasn’t so different than the non-character based chaos shown in the advertisement, maybe it wouldn’t matter. But Tootsie didn’t trade exclusively on its man in drag dimension, and Knocked Up acknowledged that there was more to its scatological tirades than farts and frat boyishness.


Yet somehow, when the skin tone shifts, so does the subjectivity. Instead, everything gets processed through a veiled worldview that’s long stopped representing the community at large. There is true diversity in the African American community, an element that Malcolm Lee’s movie clearly embraces. Too bad the rest of the entertainment arena can’t see it. Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins is indeed a good movie. Perhaps it’s time Hollywood relied on truth, instead of trickery, to enlighten its customers. Imagine how novel that would be.


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Tuesday, Feb 5, 2008


It’s time to stop hatin’ on Disney - not that they don’t still deserve a little manufactured wholesomeness dissing. Critics clamor over the retread sequelizing of classic titles, the cookie cutter entertainment options, and the long dead aesthetic of the corporate namesake, and still the House of Mouse thrives. Hot on the heels of the smash hit concert tour, Hannah Montana - aka Achy Breaky offspring Miley Cyrus, has broken box office records with the 3-D version of her syrup-strapped stage show, and everyone’s favorite organized opportunist couldn’t be happier. As a matter of fact, Disney has announced an extended theatrical run for the film, hoping to milk that cacophonous cash cow for all its pre-adolescent worth.


Now granted, there is nothing inherently wrong with what Montana/Cyrus represents. It’s yet another in a long line of tide pooling cultural waves, generational substrata that see certain heretofore unknown quantities leap up and grasp the pre-tween constituency. It represents the untenable trending, the post-Popcorn Report’s inability to gauge the ga-ga factor in the Double-O demo. Certainly, if someone could forecast which underage family fodder becomes the next Tickle Me Elmo, Drake Bell and Josh Peck would be on their fifth franchise effort. Kids are fickle, however, and they tend to run with the herd. Tell them that a brain addled bumpkin with limited life skills is the second coming of pop artistry, and it’s Britney/Hilary all over again.


So, naturally, we cast aspersion on the younger generation, wondering how cultural phenoms could go from the Beatles to the Backstreet Boys in 30 short years. Social fashions are gauged, the talent temperature is taken, and predictions are prepared. Then, seemingly out of the ether, an unfamiliar quantity grasps the short attention span of kid nation and a new fad is formed. Companies rush to capitalize, entertainment show tongues wag, and in the end, no one knows nothing, William Goldman style. Like any good social surfer, the entity rides the crest, establishes their potential staying power (or lack thereof) and then goes the way of the Big Kahuna, leaving room for the next mainstream mindboggler.


There’s another element here that’s equally aggressive, a facet that longs to see this latest bandwagon dismantled, burnt, and buried in salted earth so that it never has reason to reinvent or revive its fortunes. The aesthetic watchdogs, the so called connoisseurs who believe that opinion is fact and individual taste is a matter of group determination wince at the very suggestion that something like Hannah Montana is worthy of such acclaim. To them, it’s a creative Rapture, a moment when art is usurped by artifice to raise the routine and the redolent from the genre grave. It doesn’t matter if the no-frill filler makes millions of underdeveloped music lovers ecstatic - scholarship demands its intellectual pound of flesh, and there’s lots of pubescent baby fat to go around. 


But why blame the audience for the blanding of the medium when the true culprit is so bloody obvious - and remember, Disney is just responding to some already present fiscal wind. No, the true adversaries in this nightmare of nonthreatening-ness are parents - specifically the generation of guardians who grew up in the ‘70s. For them, Uncle Walt and his old world pen and ink iconography represented the purest panacea to a disco and drugged-out decade overflowing with bad vibes and even worse entertainment options. Thanks to the rerelease boycotts on all their famous films, the full length animated features the company counted on to continue their legacy became the pot of gold at the end of the lineage leprechaun’s rainbow. Now, three decades later, they command that their own progeny bathe in the warm, overworked glow of the new creative order that’s learned to capitalize on - and cannibalize - its past.


You see, Disney actually lives by the motto forwarded in the classic I’m No Fool shorts series. As little Jiminy Cricket crooned, “they play safe for you and me.” The basic formula is this - if it made money before, it will make money again. The amount is usually determined less by the quality and the peeked sense of proprietary nostalgia. When home video came along, the House of Mouse protected it’s product like a mother badger sensing a coyote. This made Moms and Dads dismiss the Ten Commandments and covet the Hell out of the rapidly OOP videotapes (and later, DVDs). They needed them for two very important reasons. One, they represented the high end of kid vid oriented amusement. Unlike the infomercial-esque Saturday morning fare, which tended to hide its charms in mechanical cartooning and lax production value, Mickey had a patina of quality.


The second element was even more important - it held the wee ones in rapt attention. Compared to the crap pouring out of the boob tube, the gorgeous drawings and backdrops that Disney excelled at gave children their first taste of true eye candy - and their sugar addicted brains drank it up. As more and more titles became available, the suits suggested extended the more popular series. While recent policy changes have put the kibosh on such direct-to-video revamps, the company learned a valuable lesson: the more you give the world weary adult and their biological responsibilities, the greater the returns…and the need…and the vicious cycle.


Now, there’s the Disney Channel. Instead of having to put in a disc or fire up some aging technology, you can hit the remote and soak your soul in 24/7 House of Mouse fodder. It’s all there - the old cartoons, the new revisions, the original programs, and the trends in progress. Hannah Montana’s rise to record returns is a subject left for another time, another place. After all, little girls like to think in lockstep with one another, and too many careers can be chalked up to such a mob mentality. But the true culprit remains the parent, the people who can’t say “NO”, the individuals who substitute prescriptions for discipline and wish fulfillment for actual interpersonal connections.


After all, one misguided mom let her daughter submit a series of lies in essay form (including the death of a fictional father in Iraq) just to win tickets to Ms. Cyrus’ group hug. When confronted, she claimed innocence, then argued that her choice was not really fraud - it was a creative chance at making her demanding daughter happy. Better minds can dissect the ethics of said decision, but it points to the real problem. If adults were not willing to part with hundreds of their hard earned dollars to feed the need of kids who’ve achieved said want out of endless, unsupervised hours in front of the TV, there’d be no demand. Without demand, no mania. Without mania, no phenomenon. And without the phenomenon, no windfall.


Like the stereotypical miser rubbing his wrinkled hands together at the thought of another possible penny, Disney must love every controversial, craze-fueling second. Even the recent disclosure of a Hannah/Miley double (used to facilitate a costume change) did very little damage to the ever increasing cult. It’s no surprise then that the concert film cleaned up at the box office. Parents have been preparing their kids to be such consumers since the minute they flicked on the flat screen. Without a buffer for what the House of Mouse is putting across (there are dozens of ads each day for the movie, including song-long clips to get the toes - and wallets - tapping), without some manner of matured wisdom to wipe the panic away from the apparent peer pressure of being outside the Cyrus loop, the benevolent brainwashing will continue - unabated and undeterred.


So don’t be surprised if Hannah Montana and her safe as sugared sunshine music make a second big weekend splash at the box office. Even with the ‘had to be their first’ crowd over and done with it, the buzz is still loud enough to draw in the fringe and the merely curious. Nothing stimulates sales like a high profile, and it doesn’t look like the media mushroom cloud is going to die down anytime soon. But there has to be a constituency for every hard sell shilling, and Mothers and Fathers around the country have created the perfect, unfiltered sponge to absorb it all. Call it tradition or trickery, but Disney is more than happy to play along. They may have started it all, but someone else keeps the coffers overflowing. After all, very few children have that kind of disposable income. Too bad their parents don’t have as much disposable time.


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Monday, Feb 4, 2008


By Wednesday, it will probably all be over. The pundits will be hoarse and the electorate sore and scarred. Eight whole months before the rest of the so-called democracy can actually have their say in who becomes President, Super Tuesday will set a stage that few faltering campaigns can recover from. In a contest that’s seen both fields narrowed down to two questionable contenders, the votes cast this day will determine everything - momentum, money, endorsements, delegates, and perhaps most importantly, public perception. If you’re Mitt Romney, alleged Conservative savior, and you loose to many of those Red State reactionaries, no amount of flip flopping will revive your reverse Reaganism. And for Hillary Clinton, it’s time to put that frontrunner fallacy to the test. If Obama can keep in lockstep, their showdown may have to be solved on the convention floor. It’s all part of the process. It’s all part of politics. 


Ahh… politics. That creator of strange bedfellows. That seducer of the honest and the well intentioned. That corrupt bastion of bad policies, faulty execution, and spin doctored excuses for both. Every couple of years it seems the representative form of our government gets the grand idea that people actually believe that their voice counts, and so they set about pandering—sorry, CAMPAIGNING—to bring the citizenry to the issues that the lobbyists find most important. Outrage is amplified over insignificant social dicta while truth is tempered by ideological based perspective. It’s all in service of a sinister cabal in which power cannibalizes and feeds itself, a non-stop frenzy of false pride and implied dominance. In the end, the result is a malfeasant machine that manufactures its own magnitude and perpetually pleases only those who can provide its omnivorous fetid fuel.


But wait, you don’t believe that one man/one vote is a lost cause? You think that a sincere and straightforward candidate can rise up out of the glad-handing quagmire that is this onerous organism and avoid the behind the scenes manipulation of his or her party’s protectorate to actually serve their constituency? Well, Mr. and Mrs. America, you need a quick lesson in the realities of the Republic, and there’s no better place to start than with the many movies made on the subject. Indeed, film has, over the decades, found many ways to highlight the hypocrisy and expose the evil boiling just below the surface of the scandal-plagued political process. No sour subject has avoided the cinematic vox populi, from nation altering atrocities like Watergate and the JFK assassination to the standard stratagem of dirty tricks and the always scandalizing subject of sex.


Perhaps the best example of such an anti-politico polemic is 1972’s Year of the Yahoo. What? What’s that you say? You’ve never heard of this film? Perhaps you were expecting All the President’s Men? Primary Colors? The Manchurian Candidate? Well, if you took a smattering of Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd, mixed in a smidgen of standard exploitation, and sprinkled the entire enterprise with a heaping helping of hominy and hambone, you’d have Herschell Gordon Lewis’ long lost masterpiece of down home despotism and the media’s unpardonable ability to influence events. With a narrative fresh out of today’s headlines and a tone as cynical as a grad student’s weblog, Lewis lifts the lid off the muckraking ridiculousness that is our political process, and even provides a few toe-tapping musical PSAs along the way.


Our story begins when the incredibly liberal and virtually unbeatable Senator Burwell comes up for re-election. Angry over his left-leaning ideals, the sitting President of the United States wants Burwell defeated. He even handpicks his own rube for the job: strumming and grinning goober Hank Jackson, famous in both fields of music: country and western. Sending a triumvirate of trained pollsters and media men into the bumpkin’s backwoods locale, the Corruptor in Chief hopes to help the honky-tonk hick win more than his fair share of the illiterate Appalachian vote. But the glad-handing Governor and his backside smooching sidekick think this corn pone crooner ain’t got a chance in Chattanooga of success. They fail to take his candidacy seriously, and spend most of their days giggling over the lopsided poll numbers.


It’s not long, however, before a sleazy, slick ad campaign and a constant playlist of public pandering, philosophically fascist songs has Hank labeled a wholesome homeboy by the neo-conservative race baiters within his constituency. His TV appearances, complete with some finger snappin’, demographically accurate musical numbers, increase his image of earnestness and elect-ability. Indeed, it looks like Jackson will win the gerrymander, even when a rent strike divides his bluegrass bandwagon and unsettles his perfectly polished coalition. As Hank continues to tow the prejudiced party line, his hen pecker of a girlfriend sides with the agitators. It takes dozens of underhanded shenanigans, a sexual assault and a clear case of conscience—not to mention a lonesome ballad or two—to help Hank regain his integrity and to determine, once and for all, if it’s really The Year of the Yahoo.


Indeed, Yahoo is a real rarity amongst supposed skin and sin exploitation films, especially the one’s made by Mr. Blood Feast himself. Instead of some sleazy exposé in which naughtiness and nudity are the only salient selling points, what we have here is a really great movie with an incredibly well written script, a narrative that navigates the truths about government in a way most mainstream efforts would likely avoid. Existing outside the confines of an oppressive studio system, capable of saying anything and everything he wants, screenwriter Allen Kahn creates an astute, perceptive dissection of the entire cynical candidacy process. It’s a plot that demonstrates how gaining elected office in the United States is not a matter of ethics or integrity but merely showmanship and selfless pandering to the public. Measuring up favorably against directorial heavyweights like Mike Nichols and Elia Kazan, Lewis’ political potboiler about a podunk country singer candidate being mass marketed to his population of peons feels as new and astute now as when it was made.


Unfortunately, a hundred image consultants doing soundbite surgery at a suicidal rate would have a hard time getting the registered voter hyped about Claude King. Yes, he can carry a tune, but he can’t carry a movie. His “wish I was George Jones” persona filled with ‘golly-gees’ and hair cream just can’t seem to slink beyond the initial line reading level. He’s like any other non-actor trying to put on the performance. His halting, half-baked believability leeches every available drop of drama out of his dilemma.  Still, his “h-yuck yuck” yokelism works wonderfully within the movie. He comes across as a complete innocent made a meaningful man of the people. Actually, about the worst thing you can say about this production is that its low budget, non-professional cast aspects tend to show through more than usual. Funny how good writing will do that. Still, if you never thought that you’d experience high-class social consciousness and shrewd political satire in a surreal pseudo-grindhouse goof, then step right up and cast your ballot for The Year of the Yahoo. It’s no more ridiculous than the arrogant stumping that’s passing itself off as self-determination this Super Tuesday cycle.



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Sunday, Feb 3, 2008


It was awful. The game, up until the fourth quarter, was a dog ugly low scoring defensive battle, as patience trying as the big show ever gets. Both teams looked skittish and out of their element, with New York finally finding the fire late enough to pull out a victory. Even Fox’s announcing team (Joe Buck and Troy Aikman) seemed unable to work up the energy to actually care. Their last minute accolades sounded hollow and rote. But maybe the worst element of the 42nd Super Bowl telecast this year was the horrendous commercials. There was nothing memorable or remotely clever. Controversy gave over to safe as milk shilling, and the closest thing to innovation came from Coke, who had a pair of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons (Stewie Griffin and Underdog) fighting over an inflated bottle of the famed soda.


So Hollywood can’t be happy. Last year, in a bid to ignore the demographic potential of the NFL’s premiere event, the studios only bought four major ads - and the films they represented (Wild Hogs, Meet the Robinsons, Hannibal Rising, and Pride) were hardly the cream of the crop. This year, that number more than doubled. If you count the two brief trailers that played prior to kick-off and the one obvious tie-in with Bud Lite, there were 11 sneak peeks (the four hours of pre-game hype were not taken into consideration). By contrast, Fox advertised its own network fare 43 times, pimping everything from the FX cable channel to The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Still, Tinsel Town tried to put on its game face during this writer’s strike hobbled awards season, and for the most part, it looked like they we playing their practice squad. In fact, aside from one outright surprise, the movies featured were obvious and the previews themselves uninspired.


First up was the underperforming one two punch of Vantage Point and Drillbit Taylor. The former is a supposed thriller where eight people witness the assassination of the President. We then get a hyper-Rashomon rehash of what supposedly happened. Of course, the trailer gives away one of the movie’s main secrets (apparently, the Commander in Chief did not die) and what initially looked like an actioner comes back feeling like a crackpot conspiracy theory retread. Still, it has more potential than the freaks and geeks groaner Taylor. Owen Wilson, looking incredibly tired, plays bodyguard to a bunch of socially awkward dorks. The humor is forced and totally focused on putting nerds in uncomfortable athletic positions and watching them fail. Hardee-har-har-har.


Once the game began, the First Quarter found limited offense and even less film news. Not a single ad for a Hollywood production aired during the initial hour-plus of the Super Bowl. When a trailer finally did arrive it was for something called Wanted. Directed by Russian genre guide Timur Bekmanbetov (of Night/Day/Twilight Watch fame) it looks like a combination of The Matrix and Shoot ‘Em Up. While the 30 second spot offers very little of the plot - lots of big bang money shots, but little else - we do get to see Angelina Jolie doing her best non-VR Trinity, and Morgan Freeman packing heat. The curving bullet bit may be the visual selling point at this juncture, but there needs to be more information on the skilled assassin storyline before a verdict can truly be rendered.


A film we’ve heard a great deal about already, Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, finally got a full blown F/X ad, and the results were…mixed. The shots of our hero in flight were fleeting, and Robert Downey Jr. did very little except look concerned and spout blockbuster buzzspeak. The closing moments when our metal marvel takes a pot shot at a tank stands as a memorable image. Still, with nearly three more months left before the film finally bows, the marketers are going to have to do more than offer up small snippets of CGI if anyone besides comic fans are going to get excited. And leave it to the NFL to leech all the potential fun out of George Clooney’s period football comedy Leathernecks by trying to find an appropriate league link to the clearly fictional flick. The historical approach was hackneyed and somewhat crude.


Disney dropped the last trailer before halftime, and oddly enough, it was the edited version of the longer in theaters The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian ad. If you needed further proof that the House of Mouse and Walden Entertainment are positioning this faux franchise to be a less D&D oriented version of The Lord of the Rings, the bombastic, attempted epic scope of the 30 second piece is all the evidence you need. Between huge water beings, ethereal witches, roaring lions, and lots of stand-offish swordplay, we have the kind of tamed down Tolkien that everyone can enjoy. With the success of the first film, the sequel was inevitable. How successful the latest installment is will be based solely on how well Uncle Walt can sell the spectacle. So far, they’re succeeding.


Once Tom Petty finished running through songs that he popularized over a decade (or more) ago during a decent if neo-nostalgic halftime show, the game returned - and so did the trailers. Semi-Pro, the latest Will Ferrell hard-R comedy delivered a 15 second clip that highlighted the more physical side of the film’s humor. Dressed in his ill-fitting basketball uniform and massive red afro, we got a surreal stunt sequence. It was the kind of physical comedy bit that continues to give post-modern slapstick a bad name. Better was the Fourth Quarter hook up with beer maker Budweiser. Still decked out in his iconic gear, Ferrell ran through a series of smutty entendres that were far funnier than anything offered the first time around.


Pixar picked up the pace, if only a little, by dragging out Toy Story stars Woody and Buzz for a commentary like commercial for the predestined Summer smash, WALL-E.  As the recognizable voice of Tom Hanks explained a bit about the premise, our cute little robot does battle with a vacuum cleaner. Nothing new or novel here, especially not the title character’s occasional mechanical Macaulay Culkin mugging for the camera. It’s not that WALL-E is unappealing. It’s just that, so far, Pixar seems to be selling the film based on its name and reputation alone, and little else. At this point in their production history, they may have earned that right. But for anyone curious as to what the film is actually about, these initial trailers are incredibly tight-lipped.


A movie that should keep its big, loud, obnoxious mouth shut is Jumper. Hayden Christiansen, hoping to prove there is career legitimacy after ruining the Star Wars saga, plays a variation of his personality-less drone as a guy with a talent for teleportation. Samuel L. Jackson is the bleached blond badass who’s out to kill him. Here’s praying he succeeds. While the preview gives far more play to director Doug Liman (of The Bourne Identity) than anything else, another background name should make film fans wary. David S. Goyer wrote the script with help from Simon Kinberg (xXx: State of the Union) and Jim Uhls (Fight Club). While his collaborators have some intriguing credits, our main screenwriter has proven to be a very uneven scribe.


That just leaves the last trailer, a real shocker for something called You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. It’s Adam Sandler’s latest, and about as far from the appalling I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry as a standard Stud Boy comedy can get. It’s back to the old familiar formula that made the ex-SNLer a superstar - freaky foreign accent, weird premise (Israeli Secret Serviceman fakes his death only to reemerge as a NYC hairdresser) and lots of certifiably stupid sight gags. It may be the fact that few outside the industry knew this was in the pipes, or Sandler’s surreal appearance and voice, but this spot seemed very bizarre - and very funny. Of course, the film could be a real loser, but at this point, the preview is suggesting otherwise.


And then, that was it. The Giants hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, Eli got some MVP swag to place on the mantle next to Peyton’s, the Patriots took to the tunnel, dejected and somewhere, the still smug old men who once called themselves the ‘72 Miami Dolphins uncorked the champagne and celebrated another undefeated team’s competitive comeuppance. From a pure sports history perspective, this Super Bowl will probably go down as one of the lamest excuses for athletic prowess that ended up producing the biggest single story (18-0 team finally loses) of the new millennium. Sadly, the Madison Avenue minds responsible for the commercials came up incredibly short. Even Hollywood failed to hold up its end.


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Saturday, Feb 2, 2008


They say that comedy isn’t pretty. Whoever coined that phrase (it may have been Steve Martin) never saw a Giuseppe Andrews’ film. If they did, they’d modify the phrase to state comedy shouldn’t be pretty. In a world long past the clipped and clever wit of a British drawing room farce, or beyond a manic Marx Brothers satire, humor has found a need to be dirty. Where once it was calm and collected, it now hankers to be down and disgusting. While it shouldn’t venture totally into the gangrenous gross out trap that so many filmmakers fall into, it should know when to skim the cesspool and pick out the chunks, so to speak. In his latest RV based magnum opus, Andrews employs such a sound strategy. Half the time, Orzo finds its funny business in its personalities. The rest of the time it’s pure raunch.


Toggle Switch is a little person living in a world of her own design. Deadly with pets, and equally unhinged with her family, she spends her days watching exercise videos and her nights in pursuit of various bizarre extracurricular activities. Her daughter is married to an ex-con, a sex toy bandit with an insatiable urge to steal dildos and bury them in the back yard. He has a hard time balancing a life of freedom. He is constantly reminded of the cellmate who showed him a better way of being. Along the way, we meet a bearded 12 year old, a closet junkie, and the skinniest fitness guru in the entire self-help universe, all getting by on chutzpah, camaraderie, and a healthy dose of vagina-based show tunes.



Orzo is by far the funniest thing Giuseppe Andrews has ever done. It’s a comedy plain and simple, a character-based humoresque that proves the actor’s mantle as both a writer and a wit. Equaling the high school toilet trappings of Judd Apatow while never venturing too far from his masterful mobile home roots, this amazing mini-epic may just top everything he’s done in the past. While other efforts in the Andrews canon have relied on occasional gimmickry and mannered moviemaking to get by (not that there is anything wrong with such a stylized approach - especially in his hands), Orzo is the first time that pure individual idiosyncrasy rules the narrative. There’s no big picture pontification (as in Garbanzo Gas) or straight ahead scatology (Period Piece). Instead, this is a day in the life dowsed in demented, frequently scatological, satisfaction.


Like Tyree and Bill Nolan before, Andrews seems to have found a new muse in undersized actress Karen Bo Baron. As Toggle Switch, her line readings and emotional cues are printed on the page performance oriented. There are even moments when her lack of skill is showcased to dazzling (if difficult) effect. But that’s the beauty of a film like Orzo. Andrews lets people be themselves, whether it’s old and rickety, young and dumb, or skilled and streetwise. It’s clear that he finds something mesmerizing in Baron’s demeanor, and we find ourselves falling under her spell as well. Other regulars, including Ed, Walter Patterson, and Marybeth Spychalski, provide ample support for this novice’s rising stardom. As in all of Andrews’ work, they stand as the backbone for the big gun’s fire power. 



Even our whisper thin hero gets into the act, playing the lamest personal trainer since Richard Simmons discovered short shorts. Decked out in a well-enhanced banana sling, and gyrating for his female clients, Andrews delivers some of the biggest laughs in the film during a gangly, gyrating strip show. Similarly, the brilliant Vietnam Ron plays the prisoner who left a big impression on Toggle Switch’s son-in-law. As he does with every acting turn, he takes very little and magically transforms it into a work of living art. Indeed, the best way to describe Orzo and any other Andrews’ film is as a breathing, writhing work of aesthetic genius. Very few filmmakers, no matter their Tinsel Town categorization, can claim that.


Yet perhaps the most intriguing part of this film is the undeniable growth Andrews continues to show. Where before, his efforts seemed tied to a true outsider idea of cinema, a desire to rewrite the language of the medium to fit his own idea of expression, now, he is incorporating more mainstream fundamentals, moving away from the reading-only strategies of something like Trailer Town and into more character based interaction. The scenes between Toggle Switch and her family crackle with a kind of interconnectivity that we haven’t really experiences before in an Andrews work. Where previously the players on screen seemed to be talking AT each other, there is a newfound sense of them talking to each other - and saying some very significant things.



In addition, Andrews is using the camera more, avoiding the point and shoot scenarios that have many complaining about his lack of craft. There is still a great deal of POV perspective being used, a way of getting the audience directly involved in the action. One of the many joys a viewer has when watching a film like Orzo is the notion of being one of the party, a person actually participating in the adventures playing out. Along with the new desire to incorporate delightfully dumb F/X into the narrative - we get a raven attack complete with light saber, and a BMX bike jump, all done via hilarious optical processes – Andrews is clearly changing.


When all is said and done, it’s the laughs that linger long after Orzo draws to a close. Rib tickling doesn’t get more ridiculous than this, a combination of factors guaranteed to get you giggling. By using various made-up words, clear interpersonal dynamics, and an attention to the way human beings interact that underscores Andrews’ understanding of people. Even if someone failed to see the specialness present in what this amazing filmmaker creates as part of the artform’s elements, his ability to turn the regular into something regal, to find the inherent grace and beauty in the downtrodden, the disenfranchised, and the different remains this director’s undeniable gift. While it’s true that very little of the physical world exists in Andrews’ unusual universe, he does reflect the kind of fringe dwelling dominion were magic happens. And Orzo is enchanted indeed.


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