The Extra Man

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There are some actors who excel at playing a wide range of eclectic roles, high or low status, mighty or feeble, comic or tragic. There are some few of these who can do so and yet still can shape a character into a thing that could only have been played by themselves. Kevin Kline is that later sort. This is not to say that every character he plays is himself, or is the same. Rather, Klein’s Henry Harrison (a nod to Henry Higgins by Rex Harrison?) becomes a creature even greater than could possibly have been on the page because he was played by Kline. It has been too long since we’ve enjoyed him on the big screen (2008’s Definitely Maybe was too little to count). His Harrison is why you would go see The Extra Man, for the rest of the film struggles to keep up with him. Directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini build a microcosmos of character, rather than fussing about the world at large.

Louis Ives (Paul Dano) is a timid academic with a mild budding fetish, and who was born about 80-90 years too late. He finds himself Harrison’s roommate and eventual protégé in the business of being an “extra man,” a sort of sexless escort for rich people for whom sycophancy and the balance of the dinner table is more important than sincerity or friendship. Harrison is maddeningly opaque and calculatingly eccentric — a charge that could have been levied against this movie had it not been peopled with actors of such sincerity. Louis is almost embarrassingly naïve and repressed, but Dano makes it charming. Harrison is beyond sexist, flighty, and unsustainably cavalier, but Kline makes it charming and even appealing. Their dynamic could feel forced — it almost does when their inexplicably falsetto neighbor John C. Reilly joins the scene — and yet by some miracle they keep it grounded and keep it real and sweet. One scene in particular recalls many such “lovable eccentric” moments in other films, but never devolved into preciousness. I consider that a great triumph.

The art of being an Extra Man does not contribute much to the narrative, but it does enable us to have a couple of lovely scenes with The Billionairess, played by Tony darling Marian Seldes. A fun piece of trivia about La Seldes: she was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records for appearing in “Deathtrap” from 1978 until late in 1982 without ever missing a single performance. Even though her part is small in this movie, she makes a terrific, bewigged impact. Louis’ crush on his unavailable, uninterested, and uninteresting coworker Mary (Katie Holmes, enunciating like she’s in a madcap 1920’s film) has nowhere to go either, but it provides us with the chance to see Louis grow elsewhere. Writing this now, it seems like none of the things that happen in this film have a point, and maybe they don’t need to. Harrison’s life is a quest only for pleasure, and Kline and Dano definitely provide it, even if their arc is short and shallow. See it for Kevin.

MPAA Rating R-some sexual content (?)

Release date 8/13/10

Time in minutes 105

Director Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini

Studio Magnolia Pictures

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

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San Diego Comic-Con was a huge love fest for this, director Edgar Wright’s latest movie. (Previous beloved outings: Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz.) Some may complain of Michael Cera fatigue, but Scott Pilgrim gives Cera’s tender appeal some post-punk juice. This movie makes full use of Brian Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel source material (graphic renditions of feelings, quick short cutaways like individual panels) as well as its target demographic’s love of video games, anime, and epic epics of epic epicness. Wright fully commits to a style that is loud and bright and snarky and dynamic — and the key words here are “fully commits.” Even small reaction shots get a sound sting and/or an effect or camera move. Be sure to take your seizure medication before seeing Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. I’d say overall that the movie is about 90% style and 10% substance, but the style is so fully realized, so lush and different and dynamic, that it in itself becomes substantive.

Cera’s 22 year-old title character lives with the not-seen-enough Kieran Culkin and has a “fake high school girlfriend” named Knives (the adorable Ellen Wong), that is, until he meets Ramona Flowers (a detached Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Ramona is a punky funky fuschia-haired chick who has a League of Evil Exes that any new swain of hers must battle to the death in order to date her. Is she worth it? The movie doesn’t bother to answer that (hence the 10% substance). It doesn’t matter. Scott thinks she is. Not all the Evil Exes have supernatural powers, but some of them happen to. It’s pretty great how Wright can plop the extraordinary into a sea of ordinary and still keep his feet on the ground, even with this hyper-real video game-like world. I wonder what he might do with a franchise like X-Men. Pilgrim battles, the loser drops loot, achievements are unlocked, and his levels increase. Meanwhile he still needs to deal with Knives, his roommate situation, and the struggle of his band, the Sex Bob-Ombs. Sure, in real life we all struggle with multiple challenges, though little of it so publicly.

If you have watched or played Mortal Kombat and its ilk, or seen big one-on-one battles in anime movies, the visual language of the film will be clear enough. After seeing the film I was able to flip through one of the graphic novels, and the frenetic-but-never-frantic tone is dead on. If the last video game you played was a table-top console of Ms. Pac Man at a pizza joint, go with a high schooler who can translate between yelping “Pwned!” The story itself is pretty pedestrian, more like a quest than a full narrative with full characters. The people get a lot of pyrotechnics and fantastic editing behind their stories and performances — and by behind, I mean in the classic sense of upstaging. But really, the pleasure of this movie, and it is hyperactively pleasurable, is in digging the mechanics of it; the gamifying of life, if you will. The animations, the floating words and jump cuts and witty barbs, the funny villains and Cera’s unlikely but solid bad-assitude, these all make a potent and spicy sauce you may not have seen before.

Remember in Shaun of the Dead, the Requiem-for-a-Dream quick montages of Shaun getting ready to go out for the day? Take that pace and sense of overly vital importance, and add tons of insane anime-inspired fight scenes; then take script pages from Better Off Dead, Mean Girls, and Kick-Ass and put it all in a blender with Cera and Culkin. Did I enjoy it because it made me feel young and in touch with the kids today? More so I enjoyed its balls-to-the-wall full-on appropriation of the concept and the merry, antic pace for what is really just a sweet romantic comedy about nerds.

MPAA Rating PG-13

Release date 8/13/10

Time in minutes 112

Director Edgar Wright

Studio Universal Pictures

iPhone 4 FaceTime Parody

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iPhone 4 FaceTime Parody

What if the topic of that FaceTime phone call wasn’t something about a newborn baby or a bad haircut that actually looks cute?  FaceTime calls could also be used for the bad moments in life. Check out the parody video that Jeremy Hyler created past the break.

By the way. Jeremy Hyler is coming out with his own web series called Film School which premiers this weekend here on Pixelated Geek. Stay tuned.

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I Do & I Don’t

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This little comedy, now available on video, feels like it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. At times it treads the path of “normals shocked by weirdos” forged by such films as Four Christmases or National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. At other times, a satire of — well, something — seemed to be brewing, but never gelled. About-to-be-wed Alexie Gilmore and Bryan Callen are forced to attend last-minute pre-cana counseling with married couple Matt Servietto and Jane Lynch. This is where the farce or mayhem or something should ensue, but I Do serves more as a showcase for characters to be weird to no purpose.

Pre-cana, a term with which I was unfamiliar, is the required pre-marital counseling for a couple wishing to marry in the Catholic Church. Except for this being a practical/administrative requirement for their nuptials to take place, the pre-cana aspect has zero philosophical or metaphysical impact on the movie. It might have been interesting to commit to some kind of religious context for this young couple (who don’t seem a particularly good match), or conversely it could have been interesting to commit to mocking the arcane requirements that have no bearing on the day to day lives of these clearly non-practicing people. Like the film’s title, though, I Do & I Don’t can’t seem to take any side, daring or not. Please do not confuse it with the chick lit title and adaptation I Do But I Don’t, which is a delightful book (though doubtless a forgettable movie).

It should come as no surprise that a movie couple being counseled by another (especially one that includes the redoubtable Jane Lynch) is going to get something weird and unexpected — well, unexpected by them; the audience sure knows. Servietto and Lynch are both screenwriters’ angels. They can do so much with a line reading and a character that when they are onscreen, you might not notice the story going nowhere and the jokes falling flat. Gilmore and Callen have the thankless role of reacting to this unlikeable, unlikely pair. Gilmore has little more to do than be brittle and impatient; Callen at least gets into horribly awkward situations with both Lynch and Servietto.

So, without spoiling anything, our couples meet and awkwardly interact, and end up achieving nothing — no growth, no realizations, no great understanding of their happiness or unhappiness or what marriage is or anything. The beginning of the movie tells us whether they successfully completed the task; the end of the movie tries to force the title to work. Lynch and Servietto are weird, but it works for them, so nothing happens there either. All drama, even comedy, is about change or progress. I Do & I Don’t serves as a puppet show slice of life of gags, and then life goes on as before. Meh.

MPAA Rating R- crude and sexual content, nudity, language and some drug material.

Release date 7/20/10

Time in minutes 83

Director Steven Blair

Studio Phase 4 Films

Unaired pilot for the US version of IT Crowd has surfaced

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Unaired pilot for the US version of IT Crowd has surfaced

I remember when a friend of mine (I think it was Andrew) told me about the I.T. Crowd.  The hilarious and geeky sitcom from the UK.  If you don’t know what it is, you’ve been missing out. Here is a quick except about the I.T. Crowd from Wiki:

“Set in the London offices of the fictional corporation Reynholm Industries, the show revolves around the three staff members of its IT (information technology) department, comprising two geeky technicians, a genius named Moss (Ayoade) and the workshy Roy (O’Dowd), headed by Jen (Parkinson), the department’s ‘relationship manager’ who knows nothing about IT.”

The show is genius and is already on season 4. So, rewind time before the writers strike here in America and on NBC’s website was a small webpage about a US version.  It was set to air during the fall but never did.  Now finally, the unaired pilot has surfaced on YouTube.  Check out all three parts past the break.

If you’re already a fan of the original UK version of the I.T. Crowd, it may seem a bit weird. Mainly because they use the same dialoge and jokes from the original UK pilot.

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The Other Guys

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After zillions of cop movies, buddy and lone-wolf, comedic and dramatic, the type of action that movie cops get up to has evolved into big, loud boom boom and total disregard for administrative aftermath. Even TV procedurals skip over a lot of the procedures as an act of mercy to the story. The Other Guys dives in with a hilariously hyperbolic “typical day” for wundercops Danson and Highsmith (Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson; I confess I would watch their high-octane spin-off cop show if they had one) — and caps it with the cost/benefit analysis.

The eponymous Other Guys? They are desk jockeys Will Ferrell and his unwilling partner, Mark Wahlberg. Their bad-cop/nerd-cop dynamic isn’t anything new, but they bring great energy to the trope. Ferrell is of course no stranger to comedy (whether you find his comedy funny or not), but he generously cedes a lot of the big funny bluster that he’s usually known for to relative comedy newbie Wahlberg. Wahlberg is no stranger to ripped-abs action, but his epic frustration and infamous failings plopped him into this desk jail and he’s gonna rattle those bars until he gets a chance on a real case. These guys have terrific chemistry together, and my companion and I were merrily quoting our favorite early-movie exchange on the way out. (Let’s just say it involves an unlikely Animal Planet confrontation.)

I think we all knew the artist formerly known as Marky Mark could be funny, and it’s odd to think of how little comedic — well, intentionally comedic — exposure he’s had. Ferrell dials back on the habitual grandstanding that for me kills the funny midstride and goes for the understated and sincere nerd thing that Steve Carell is busy patenting.

The script, co-written by Chris Henchy and director Adam McKay definitely doesn’t know hew to the probable or even possible, but it is definitely funny. McKay has some serious crap on his filmography (and a historic unwillingness to stop Will Ferrell from getting in his own way), but I think these past three years of the Funny or Die site have been a really excellent school for both of them. The pacing is great, the dialogue is funny, and the situations, whether ridiculous or earnest, are solid.

Steve Coogan is a corporate investment bastard who’s the bad guy our nerds are trying to take down. It’s timely and satisfying to watch him sweat and classic and satisfying to watch the captain (Michael Keaton) gum up the works. The music is pure high-testosterone ass-kicking rock, with some seriously good use of some soft and easy favorites from the ’70’s and today. The cast twinkles with fun, smaller parts (Rob Riggle, Eva Mendes, Jackson & Johnson, Bobby Cannavale, Lindsay Sloane, and a completely unrecognizable Damon Wayans, Jr.) and the story is lots of fun. Stay through the infuriating real-life financial scandal infographics during the credits for a silly little stinger. We had fun, I bet you will too.

MPAA Rating PG-13

Release date 8/6/10

Time in minutes 107

Director Adam McKay

Studio Columbia Pictures

Dinner for Schmucks

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Dinner for Schmucks, a remake of the 1998 French farce Le Diner de Cons (The Dinner Game), reunites the extremely lovable duo of Paul Rudd and Steve Carell. Readers of Cinerina know my feelings on Carell — an actor even before he is a comedian, Carell can swing his characters out in a wide outrageous arc because he is able to ground them so effectively in reality. Schmucks definitely wants his character Barry to be so naïve, so socially inept as to be practically an alien from another planet. Carell saves the day. Barry has a weird hobby and a deep sadness, and the story needs him to be laughably ridiculous. Well, you don’t cast Carell as someone irredeemably weird — you cast Zach Galifianakis.

Director Jay Roach did that too — Galifianakis’ Therman is an alien, incomprehensively weird for weird’s sake and off-putting; Barry is a real guy who just misses all the cues life gives him. We can laugh at Barry because we also come to love him — and we can laugh at his effect on Tim (Rudd) because we kind of get why Tim deserves the inevitable disasters that Barry brings. Rudd is of course winsome, put-upon, and quietly stealing his share of the spotlight from Carell. Their onscreen chemistry is as always a pleasure, and the only real hurdle they have is the clumsy translation of the original to an American audience.

I haven’t seen the source film, but it seems that the places where this remake missteps the widest are either when it hews too closely to reproducing the original, or when it succumbs to the Hollywood pandergeist “we’re making a movie with Dinner in the title, there is gonna be a damn dinner!” I have learned that Le Diner De Cons does not actually include the titular meal; Dinner for Schmucks has chosen this dinner as a climax of wackiness. Le Diner was doubtless about Tim and the relationships in his life and how they were affected by the bad decision he made in agreeing to this dinner party. Dinner is about how weird Barry is, and then there’s all this legacy material.

A character called Darla (played awesomely by Brit Lucy Punch) throws a sexual monkey wrench into the already convoluted problems Barry is causing for Tim and also Tim’s relationship. Darla’s character confronting Tim’s girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak) is a huge set piece, and the additional distractions of Kieran, a weird and magnetic artist that Jemaine Clement was born to play, are clearly the original meat of the story. Without seeing the original, I can tell from the anthropological evidence here that Carell’s character was not meant to be the main event, Tim is. The result of all this is that we get a funny sex farce dominated incomprehensibly by a lovable weirdo — or we get a corporate prank comedy waylaid by random weird offside sexual antics. Two movies for the price of one, but the overall pacing becomes weird and not quite right.

Fussing about the hybrid script aside, I laughed a good deal, as did my companion. Barry’s mouse dioramas are totally freaky but quite beautifully done by Joel Venti. Barry’s heart is poured into these whimsical, incredibly crafty creations, and they play a huge part in establishing both his weirdness and his sympathetic qualities. Overall I would call the film more amusing than funny, and more sweet than anything else — like Despicable Me, the unbelievably awesome cast and their incredible improv brilliance elevates the film past the available potential of Jay Roache’s often-misguided directorial choices and the awkward Hollywood Frankenstein of the story.

MPAA Rating PG-13

Release date 7/30/10

Time in minutes 114

Director Jay Roach

Studio Paramount / Dreamworks

The Kids Are All Right

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While I always try not to read or hear any critical buzz about a movie before I see it, some movies crawl into the cultural consciousness and become unavoidable. I had heard that enthusiasm for this movie was overblown because of its “lurid” subject matter, or its “unconventional” relationships. I find that kind of commentary willfully ignorant of modern society and the changing definitions of what makes a family, what marriage is really about — and it does a disservice to the tenderness of the story. I know some political viewpoints out there think a family headed by two women is the most heinous scourge known; the movie barely touches on the fact that the Moms are Moms except for the unique quality that each of them got to give birth. (“We’re pregnant” carries a lot more weight when both parties are actually gestating!)

The teen children of lesbian parents Annette Bening and Julianne Moore get in touch with their sperm donor Mark Ruffalo and the family dynamic is affected. The tale could easily have been of a straight, infertile marriage thrown off balance by the surfacing of their anonymous biological donor, but then we would have been deprived of the singular pleasure of getting to watch Bening and Moore play such a wonderfully limned married couple. State and federal laws aside, these women are in a real, concrete marriage, with the love and pettiness and ease and irritations that come with long-term partnered life. Their kids take after their respective moms and their bio dad in wonderful and subtle performances. The writing and acting is so solid that we get a crash course in intimate familiarity, so we can see when one character’s behavior is a little but off. We can read everyone’s layers with almost no effort with this cast and script.

Directed and co-written (with Stuart Blumberg) by Lisa Cholodenko, The Kids explores the family dynamic more than the strange newness of one’s newfound biological heritage. Yes, he’s not what any of them expected, but his contributions bring up some thoughts about nature vs. nurture, as well as his motivations for donating. Everyone responds to him differently, without a thought as to how their existence would affect him. Ruffalo is a sexy free spirit, no less affected by meeting his progeny than the family is by meeting him. The world and their lives are all shades of grey, though on occasion Bening’s character gets a little overly brittle and testy, teasing at the edges of total unreasonableness. She never really goes too far for too long, and it’s illuminating to see a marriage continue with all these changes, rather than the Hollywood norm of “having problems? It’s over!” plot movement.

The kids Joni and Laser (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) aren’t idealized or overtly troubled — they are just good kids who, like kids do, act on impulse and screw up on occasion. As the characters make their choices, we can follow their motivations and feel all their insides. The dialogue flows and illuminates and very little of it feels wasted. So many loose ends, as in life, weave in and out of the story involving him — dreams and plans, desires and directions. It’s just solid and real and heart-opening and well done. Check it out.

MPAA Rating R – strong sexual content, nudity, language and some teen drug and alcohol use.

Release date 7/23/10

Time in minutes 106

Director Lisa Cholodenko

Studio Focus Features