Insert Comic Book Guy Quote Here: It’s the Simpsons Movie Review

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"I can’t believe we’re paying for something we could get for free on TV." — Homer Simpson, The Simpsons Movie.

Exactly. Eighteen years in the making, we get a pretty funny 86-minute Simpsons episode. Not Season 4 funny, not even Season 8 funny, but not bad. But, honestly, it’s nothing special.

On the plus side, there are less celebrity guest stars than your average current episode — I counted only  three, one of whom provides the movie’s biggest laughs. (It’s not Green Day.) Another, frequent guest voice Albert Brooks (Brad Goodman, Hank Scorpio, Bowling instructor Jacques), is funny as always as an EPA brass who is the defacto villain.

But the story — Homer messes up with catastrophic results — although grander in scope, is basically one we’ve seen dozens of times before. The biggest flaw for me, and David Poland of Movie City News also pointed this out, is that the writers pull much of the story out of Springfield and alway from the townsfolk. Mr. Burns and Smithers get a very, very short scene. Krusty gets maybe two lines. So does Moe. Principal Skinner gets one line. Lenny gets one line. Carl gets one line. Willy… nothing! None of them, apart from Flanders, is really intrinsic to the story. Maybe this is what happens on episodes these days —  I stopped watching regularly about six years ago.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone knew how to take a TV show and turn it into something bigger, wilder, funnier for the Big Screen. I think The Simpsons Movie was over-thought, with the edges dulled and the schmaltz factor upped. (Blame James L. Brooks for that.) One of my complaints of later Simpsons seasons was that they took away the heart, which made episodes like "Maggie Makes Three" so good. But on TV they only get 20 seconds of sentiment, but here you get long scenes of introspection. Again, it’s in now way bad. Just disappointing. I guess. It’ll probably play better on TV.

Tea Time

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If you went to see Danny Boyle’s new sci-fi flick, Sunshine, this weekend you probably saw the trailer to The Darjeeling Limited, the fifth film from Wes Anderson, which is now online.

I am on the fence about Anderson. I loved Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, but he seemed to just repeat himself with The Royal Tennenbaums and The Life Aquatic. And they became increasingly cold, sterile and ironic for me, missing the heart that collaborator Owen Wilson brought to the scripts. (That’s how I perceive it anyway. I know Wilson is credited with co-scripting Tennenbaums, but I’m told he had very little to do with it.) Anderson also seemed more interested in the little details — the clothes, what books were on the shelves — than in the story or characterizations. It’s like the old Starkist Tuna commercials: we don’t want a tuna with good taste, we want tuna that tastes good.*

The Darjeeling trailer is pretty entertaining, and 100% Anderson in style, from the title cards, to the broken family storyline, and the Kinks songs. But you can make any movie look good in a trailer. The screenplay was cowritten by star Jason Schwartzman and his cousin Roman Copolla (whose film CQ is also on the sterile side, though I liked it; he was also Second Unit director on Life Aquatic) so here’s they will bring a little humanity back to Anderson’s world, or at least pull him in a different direction. Also: no Mark Mothersbaugh this time, instead using music from the films of Satyajit Ray (maker of the wonderful Apu trilogy, among other things) and Merchant Ivory — presumably the early films of the latter, the ones set in India like The Guru and Bombay Talkie.

I want to like Anderson’s films again. His recent Amex commercial is genius. Please do something different this time, Wes. Please. Anyway, here it is in Quicktime format, better to enjoy Anderson’s meticulously-designed composition. Gorilla Vs. Bear has the mp3 of the Kinks song, "This Time Tomorrow," used in the trailer.

*Though the slogan really did its job, I never understood why Charlie wanted be a be caught, killed, and processed into a can of Starkist.

Everything’s All Knocked Up

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There has been enough written about Judd Apatow‘s new comedy Knocked Up in the last few weeks that I no longer feel a need to write a review of the movie. I saw it about six weeks ago and, not  to add to the hype, but it’s pretty great, very funny, and a better film than The 40-Year-Old Virgin. There may not be one scene as uproariously funny as the chest-waxing scene in Virgin, but you’ll laugh more throughout.

Knocked Up is loose, like most of Apatow’s work, with probably a good half hour that could have been lost without hurting the story one bit. Of course, those are some of the funniest moments. Apatow also for the first time seems to be able to balance his improv-based working style with a bit of visual flair. I’m pretty sure the camera moved in at least a couple scenes.

Fans of Judd Apatow’s previous work will be particularly happy as it features appearances by nearly every castmember of Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared. though you’re likely to exclaim, "whoa, is that Bill Haverchuck?" The whole cast is great, but any scene with Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd is pure comedy gold. A set-piece where they go to Vegas and experience Cirque du Soleil as it was meant to be experienced is one of the funniest things I’ve seen all year. (And the delivery room scene… to quote Steve Carell in Virgin, "Wow. This is graphic.") Even more than his previous film, Knocked Up appeals equally to dudes and ladies — it’s going to be one of the biggest hits of the summer, getting a lot of repeat viewings… heck, I may go to see it again this weekend.

That was more of a review than I intended, but so be it. There has been lots of Apatow-related stuff in the last week, and here’s the best of it.

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Judd was the cover story on this past Sunday’s issue of the NY Times Magazine. It’s a great read. The Times Website has some nice supplemental material, including an mp3 of Judd interviewing Jerry Seinfeld for his high school radio station. (Seinfeld mispronounces "Apatow.") There’s also a funny video of Apatow and Rogen discussing that giving writer Stephen Rodrick such close  access may have been a horrible mistake.

Meanwhile, the AV Club has a great interview with Rogen, who looks to have a very good year with three major films released before 2007’s end: Superbad (which he wrote and has a small part in) and The Pineapple Express, an action-comedy he wrote and stars in that is directed by… wait for it… David Gordon Green.

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The soundtrack features another Apatow mainstay, his musical hero, Louden Wainwright III
— a brave choice when you figure the studio probably would’ve
preferred it to have Fergie and Maroon 5. There actually is lots of hip hop and modern pop in the movie, but the soundtrack is typical, dark and funny Wainwright. It’s more a Wainwright record than a soundtrack, actually, given the title is Strange Weirdos – Music from and Inspired by the Film Knocked Up. In addition to the songs, Louden, who played Steven Karp’s divorced dad in Undeclared, has a funny part in the film as one of Katherine Heigl’s many obstetricians. If not my normal cup of tea, Strange Weirdos is quite a nice record.

MP3
: Louden Wainwright III – Grey in L.A.
(Buy it)

And, saving the best for last like the dummy that I am, according to an interview on About.com, Apatow reveals that one of the planned Knocked Up DVD extras will be a "fake documentary about how Seth Rogen was the tenth choice to play the lead. So during our shoot we would have actors come and perform a scene and then I would fire them. We had James Franco do it, Justin Long, David Krumholtz, Allen Covert. I did it. There was a moment where I think I should be the lead as an actor/director. Orlando Bloom did it. It’s really funny." Michael Cera (of Arrested Development and the upcoming Superbad) is also in it, and his scene has hit the internet:

Michael Cera gets fired from Knocked Up

I’ve got one more bit, which is long, so you’ll have to click past the jump for it…

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Control at Cannes: The Reviews are In

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Anton Corjbin‘s hotly anticipated Ian Curtis biopic, Control, debuted at Cannes today as part of the Director’s Fortnight series, and both of showbiz’s two biggest trades have weighed in.

Variety gives it a rave, full of their annoying in-house jargon: "Somber, sad and compelling, Ian Curtis biopic Control, about Blighty ’80s post-punk band Joy Division’s lead singer, is a riveting, visually arresting portrait of a soul in torment. Central perf by Sam Riley is a winner, surrounded by a strong ensemble of thesps. First feature helming bow by photographer Anton Corbijn manages to present working-class Northern England in a wide range of appealing grays that make the description "black-and-white film" inadequate. Widely anticipated by the band’s legion of fans, pic is assured a warm welcome and a successful worldwide tour." (Read the whole review)

The Hollywood Reporter, however, is less enthusiastic: "Any biography of a fringe performer with a cult following must give the uninitiated some clue as to what the fuss was about or it will never appeal beyond a small circle. Anton Corbijn’s "Control," covering the short life of 1970s British rocker Ian Curtis of Joy Division, captures the period nicely. It features lots of music from that time, and it has decent performances, but it fails to make the case for its fallen star," adding later in the review, "Curtis is made to look like a bland grammar school boy who leaves wife, baby, girlfriend, bandmates and fans in the lurch because he can’t stand the heat of fame." (Read the full review)

Ouch. I’m guessing THR reviewer Ray Bennett is not a Joy Division fan. The rest of us will get to make up our own minds when Control makes it’s stateside debut this fall, date tbd. To tide you over, here’s LCD Soundsystem’s cover of "No Love Lost" (not used in the film) from their "All My Friends" single:

MP3: LCD Soundsystem – No Love Lost

Neworderonline has loads of stills from the movie.

You Fill Me Inertia

BedazzledTime to give the Devil his due. One of my favorite films ever is Stanley Donen’s 1967 farce Bedazzled, staring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore> (The two also wrote the screenplay.) The film takes Faust and puts it in the middle of swinging London. Dudley Moore is Stanley Moon, a sad little fry cook at Wimpy’s Hamburgers who trades his soul to Peter Cook‘s George Spiggott (aka The Devil) after a failed suicide attempt. All Stanley wants is for the girl of his dreams to fall in love with him. But, as the story goes, the Devil twists his words, only technically giving Stanley what he wished for, but not really.

Though the "granted" wishes are broad (One involving nuns and trampolines, couldn’t be broader or funnier), the best parts are in between — Stanley and George’s conversations about theology, morality, organized religion, and the nature of evil. "There was a time when I used to get lots of ideas," George tells Stanley. "I thought up the Seven Deadly Sins in one afternoon. The only thing I’ve come up with recently is advertising." (And in this film the Seven Deadly sins are personified. Raquel Welch plays Lust.)

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This is the stuff that was entirely gutted from the 2000 remake starring Elizabeth Hurley and Brendan Fraser, and the less said about that the better. But it’s the only one most people even know about, partly because the original has never been released on DVD… until now. Out today, FOX has done a nice job with the disc, cleaning up the print and the audio, as well as including some from-the-time interviews, the trailer, photo stills, and a new interview with Harold Ramis who I’m hoping spends most of his time apologizing for directing the remake.

But even without extras, it would be worth buying. Apart from the nuns sequence, my favorite part is when Stanley wishes that girls would be screaming for him and suddenly we’re on the set of a pop music TV show like Shindig! or Top of the Pops. Dudley Moore belts out, Tom Jones-style, the pleading number "Love Me." The girls go wild. But no sooner than it’s done, the camera spins over to the other side of the stage where the Devil launches into his own song, "Bedazzled," (based on the same music as "Love Me") and the girls go even crazier, despite his emotionless read of lyrics like "You fill me with inertia." Fame is fickle.

MP3: Dudley Moore – Love Me

MP3: Peter Cook – Bedazzled

Both songs were written by Dudley Moore (who wrote the movie’s soundtrack), with Peter Cook providing lyrics for "Bedazzled." The latter has been covered by Bongwater, Nick Cave & Anita Lane, Pussy Galore and others.

Buy Bedazzled.

As a little bonus, here’s a song Cook & Moore actually released as a single, a parody of the trippy psychedelia of the day. Even though the voices were a dead giveaway, some people actually speculated it was The Beatles under a pseudonym.

MP3: Peter Cook & Dudley Moore – The L.S. Bumble Bee

There are clips of the movie on YouTube, but why spoil it for those who haven’t seen it. Instead, here is one of the DVD bonus features, an interview with George Spiggott himself:

URGH! A TiVo Alert

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Thanks to Heather over at Ugly Floral Blouse for pointing out that VH1 Classics is showing seminal post-punk/new wave concert film Urgh! A Music War tonight (10/30) at 9PM. If you’ve never seen it, Urgh! features performances by Echo & the Bunnymen, Gang of Four, XTC, Wall of Voodoo, Devo, Joan Jett, the Cramps, Gary Newman, Klaus Nomi and many, many more when what they were doing was actually fresh. Other than Penelope Spheeris’ Decline of Western Civilization, this is the most important punk/new wave film that has yet to be released on DVD. (Except for those who don’t worry about legalities.)

There are several different versions of Urgh! floating around, so who knows which one VH1 Classics will actually show. The last time I know it was televised, on IFC in 1999, the footage of Gary Newman’s "Down in the Park" (perhaps the film’s most classic moment, along with Nomi’s "Total Eclipse") was not included. When the Onion screened it at Anthology Film Archives last year, other footage (Pere Ubu, 999) was missing. But whatever version is being shown is worth catching.

Some of the footage is just incredible. Gang of Four’s "He’d Send in the Army," Klaus Nomi vamping it up in "Total Eclipse," The Cramps’ Lux Interior doing awful things to a microphone (I feel bad for whoever had to use it afterwards), and Gary Newman driving a weird little go-kart onstage… classic stuff. Plus bands you’ve never heard from since: Skafish, Invisible Sex, and the unforgettable (if hard-to-pronounce) Splodgenessabounds. Plus, for you sting fans, two songs by the Police.

Of course, a lot of it has found it’s way onto YouTube, but if you consider yourself a music fan at all, you owe it to yourself to see this essential document of a vital era in music.

From the soundtrack:

MP3: Gary Numan – "Down in the Park" and Wall of Voodoo – "Back in Flesh"

Idiocracy Indeed

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Most people in America had no idea that Mike Judge‘s new comedy, Idiocracy, opened this weekend in five cities around the US (three of which being in Judge’s home state of Texas): Austin, Dallas, Houston, Chicago and LA.

Note it’s not playing in NYC. Usually everything plays NYC first. But not Idiocracy. FOX, who "released" it, didn’t bother making a trailer for it… or even a poster! This is Mike Judge… who created Beavis & Butthead, King of the Hill and cult hit Office Space (which was similary marketed by FOX but became huge on home video). It stars Luke Wilson! Could it really be so bad as to deserve such a dumping as this? I asked Dallas resident and friend of SoundBites Erich Scholz to take a look. Here’s his report:

Dealing with Mike Judge’s latest film, Idiocracy, I believe requires a two-tiered approach. On one hand, there is the film itself — a vicious and frequently funny satire on modern consumerism — and on the other there is its baffling critical reception in the mainstream press.

Judging from the way FOX has decided to bury the movie in very limited release at the end of the summer, one could easily be lead to believe that it stinks to high heaven. Well, the good news is, no, it doesn’t stink. While belly laughs may not be in abundance, the movie offers more genuine chuckles than any other recent Hollywood comedy. Star Luke Wilson is satisfying as the straight man in a nightmarish dystopia where the most frequently used words are "fuck," "ass" and "fag." Co-star Mya Rudolph is adequate as his co-star and the supporting cast — including cameos from Stephen Root, Thomas Haden Church and Office Space‘s David Herman — are perfect as the dumbed-down denizens of the future who survive on tubs of goo and electrolyte-fueled sports drinks.

While the frequently funny narration that strings the film together may not be to everyone’s taste, it certainly isn’t enough to derail the entire enterprise. If Rudolph’s character had been replaced by a more outlandish persona — say, a Mo’Nique type — I believe they could’ve gotten a few more comedy miles out of the pic. But as it is, Idiocracy is both subtle and leaden in its send-up of things to come — a society that has more in common with our own than most would like to admit.

But  if you believe the reviews in Entertainment Weekly and The Dallas Morning News — which gave the movie an "F" — you’d wonder if they even saw the same film. Upon review, it’s quite obivious why Idiocracy is getting the cold shoulder. Judge is explicitly implicating major corporations, including Starbucks, Gatorade and even the Fox News Channel — by name — with the degradation of our civilization and that can’t sit too well with the higher ups. Rumors of lawsuits have been whispered in Internet chatrooms and despite the fact that Idiocracy is an original piece of filmmaking from one of the brightest comedic talents working in the medium today, the studio is content to quietly release the film into theaters before dumping it on video where it will undoubtedly find its audience. Now if only we could find out how much these film "reviewers" are getting paid to trash a movie that they probably didn’t even see. I give it a solid "B."

I’m not sure about conspiracy theories but EW‘s review seems nothing if not lazy. Did Joshua Rich even see it? They declared Office Space one of the biggest cult movies ever — complete with a big feature article — in an issue from the last two years (can’t remember when, exactly) and they can only devote 94 words to it’s follow-up?

ALSO: Read more about Mike Judge’s battles with the idiocracy that is FOX in this article on Esquire.com.

From Idle to Wild

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It was like the end of Blazing Saddles, when the melee on screen spilled out into the cinema audience watching the movie. The press screening (or "all media," as it’s called in the industry) for Idlewild, the new movie starring Outkast‘s Andre 3000 and Big Boi, was held at the AMC/Loews 84th St. Theatre featuring an audience of critics from weekly mags and daily rags, online writers, and anyone else who is connected enough to get on the list. (There are usually a fair number of radio station contest winners at these things too.) Usually, the most exciting thing that happens at these screenings is Joel Siegel walks out in a huff. But during Idlewild‘s climactic scenea wild dance number that becomes punctuated with violence — a fight broke out in the front of the theater that sent the first six or seven rows scrambling for the aisles.

Then the fight went up the aisle too, right past us. Not knowing whether the gunshots were coming from the screen or the theater, my girlfriend ducked under the seat and kept whispering — loudly — for me to do the same. I wanted to see what was going on. It took only about five minutes to finally clear the idiots out of the theater (no idea what the fight was about, but one of the main offenders left shirtless) and the remaining 15 minutes of the movie had little consequence to anyone in there. You could tell everyone was anxiously awaiting for the end credits to talk about what the hell just happened.*

Even the best of movies couldn’t have recovered from something like that, but Idlewild — a cookie-cutter gangster film set at a speakeasy club in prohibition-era Georgia had already lost on most people by that point I think. What a mess. On-screen, I mean. At nearly two hours, Idlewild is a kitchen sink affair, with so many ideas — musical, visual, otherwise — that it can’t possibly hold them all. It’s also predictable and loaded with cliches that lead to the sort of pat ending we’ve seen again and again and again.

But it is at least a classy, interesting, entertaining mess. The opening credits sequence — featuring a lot of Ken Burns style photo manipulation and scene-stealing performances from two kids playing pint-sized versions of Big Boi and Andre — is an awesome start. And there are a lot of good ideas going on throughout, but most of them are half-baked. Animation features prominently in the movie. Some of it works (musical notes on sheet music), some of it doesn’t (a flask Big Boi’s character carries that has a talking rooster on it). A fanciful musical number featuring a wall of cuckoo clocks is one of Idlewild‘s best sequences — until it ends abruptly. It’s as if Andre didn’t finish the song but writer/director Bryan Barber decided to film make something out of it anyway. The music may have been the most disappointing aspect of the film. That a movie featuring one of the most creative hip hop groups of the last ten years can’t muster one memorable song in a two-hour movie is a major problem.

But again, there are many nice touches. The choreography pops (the dance numbers are just great), the cinematography lush, and you can feel that Southern humidity throughout. And Big Boi and Andre are both good, though they barely share 10 minutes of screen time together. They work together in Idlewild the same way they do on Speakerbox/The Love Below — you can’t buy one without the other. Separate but equal time. A package deal.

The supporting cast is pretty great but underused. How do you have Ben Vereen in a musical and not have him sing or dance? Ving Rhames and Terrence Howard aren’t given much to do. Macy Gray, however, is given way too much to do. People who listened to alt-rock in the ’80s should look out for Fishbone‘s Angelo Moore as the bandleader at the speakeasy where much of the action happens.

What really bugs is that Idlewild could’ve been great. But I have a feeling the only thing I’ll remember about it next year was that fight.

_______________

More Idlewild reviews at Metacritic.

*Turns out the cause of the fight was one guy was kicking the back another guys seat. At least it was a just cause.

 

The Future’s On Hold

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Bad news for Mike Judge fans. Idiocracy, his first movie since Office Space — which was scheduled to be released September 1 — has been "indefinitely postponed" according to MTV.

Actually, this is not that surprising as its release has been delayed numerous times (it’s been in the can for two years) until finally appearing on Fox’s September release schedule. But there was no mention of it on Fox’s website, no official site, no trailer, no billboards, no nothing.

Maybe you didn’t even know this was a movie.

Idiocracy stars Luke Wilson as an average man who is cryogenically frozen in 2005. When he’s thawed in 3001, he finds that he’s the smartest person on the planet.

Sounds like a funny idea to me, but obviously something went wrong. One wonders, "how bad can it be?" We may never know… or at least have to wait for DVD.

Hello, Mr. Chips

Warning: this scene does not appear in the film.
If you watched Napoleon Dynamite and thought to yourself, “This is pretty funny but I wish there had been more Pedro,” then you’re probably going to like Nacho Libre. It’s a whole movie of Pedros. (Except that Ephren Ramirez, who played Pedro, isn’t in this movie.)  It’s all funny Mexicans with funny mustaches… apart from Jack Black, of course, who stars as Ignacio, a Mexican monk who secretly enters wrestling matches to earn money for the orphanage his monestary runs.

Actually, any comparisons of Napoleon Dynamite to this, Jared Hess’ new film, aren’t really fair. Nacho Libre is more than anything a kids movie (which explains all the fart jokes), albeit one with a strange sense of humor and a whole lot of style. But it is more cute than funny. With Black, Hess and Mike White (who wrote School of Rock, not to mention the polarizing Chuck and Buck in which he also starred) there shoulda been more laughs. The two six-year-olds sitting next to me at last night’s press screening seemed to really like it. I liked it ok, but maybe not enough to recommend it.

Your enjoyment of Nacho Libre probably depends on how much you like Jack Black – who’s doing what he always does but now with a funny accent – and wrestling. Even though the story is clearly about a monk who is also a wrestler, you may be surprised by the sheer amount of wrestling in the movie. Those two kids sitting next to me – they liked wrestling a lot.

Nacho2If nothing else, the movie should further the cause of delicious Mexican corn – grilled on the cob, slathered with mayo and then sprinkled with cotija cheese, chili powder and lime. Black’s sidekick in the film has one in his hand in nearly every scene. Good renditions of this in NYC can be found at Bonita and Café Habana.

Addendum: The soundtrack — lots of weird, early-’70s Spanish language soft rock —  is pretty good too and the cinematography by Xavier Pérez Grobet (who has worked on HBO’s Deadwood, among other things) is actually quite lovely. Both of which give it a Wes Anderson sort of feel (I kept thinking of Bottle Rocket). I dunno maybe this is one of those movies that gets funnier the more times you see it. Despite the aformentioned gorgeous cinematography, I bet this may play better on home video. But maybe not.