Category: Uncategorized

Other Guys, The

By , August 24, 2010 7:01 pm

Do you muthaf*#kas smell what the muthaf#@kin Rock is cookin, muthaf#kas?

Adam McKay is not your average comedy director hack with a knack for creating comic chaos around his star muse—he’s not Jay Roach, or worse yet, Dennis Dugan.  He and Will Ferrell resuscitated the fourth great cast of Saturday Night Live (McKay begged Lorne Michaels to hire Tina Fey to replace him as head writer), created the must-stream Funny or Die.com, and have created and produced some of this generation’s great comic films (think Harold Ramis, Ivan Reitman, and Bill Murray).  Where Ramis/Reitman  and Murray aimed their barbs at the middle class aspiration for elitism, McKay and Ferrell’s movies take on the great bourgeois threat: white male panic.

“Anchorman” is a millennial man’s romantic vision of the 70s, when men wore wooly mustaches, musky cologne, and stark blazers. In the world of “Anchorman,” men grabbed ass at the office, not text about soccer. If season eight of Mad Men follows Sterling Cooper Draper Price’s opening of a San Diego branch, one can see Ron Burgundy and Don Draper sharing scotch amongst many leather bound books. Today’s man—precisely the guy whose wife doesn’t care to on-demand yet another stupid Will Ferrell movie—makes that world up in his mind, usually after his Banana Republic polo gets stained with microbrew during the couples dog party.  There’s a reason why the Kansas City Club (former members: Harry Truman, Ewing Kauffman) keeps a picture of Ron Burgundy on its rich mahogany bookshelves.

If “Anchorman” is about yuppies yearning for the world of Old Spice commercials, then McKay and Ferrell’s next film, “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” is about the rural and suburban conservative masculine panic that manifests itself in Nascar fandom, Bush voting, and truck nutz.  “Talladega Nights” isn’t as fully a realized vision as “Anchorman,” but it still lands some blows: Sasha Baron Cohen’s threatened French dominance of NASCAR as a metaphor for the Freedom Fries era jingoism that pushed us to the Iraq War; the braindead sloganeering of NASCAR (“Shake and Bake, baby!”)  as the rhetoric of Republican politics (Mushroom clouds! Death panels! Socialism!). Conceived when Karl Rove could still see permanent Republican majorities, Ricky Bobby is the epitome of pseudo-macho posturing of get-tough conservatives who haven’t ever had to get-tough about anything other than protecting their white American privilege.

“The Other Guys” is McKay and Ferrell’s satire of white panic in the age of Obama—specifically, white urbanites in the postracial age. Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson open the film as Detectives Highsmith and Danner, in a ridiculous only-in-the-movies cop chase sequence through the streets of New York to nab a dealer with a quarter-pound of weed.  They are worshipped, of course, saluting the “little guys” doing paperwork that make it possible for them to “have the sex we don’t want to have.”

Enter Mark Wahlberg as Terry Hoitz, the put-out workaday cop stuck at his desk while the cool cops get all the glory. Wahlberg is the straight man, basically playing the Irish cop in every gritty Boston thriller from “Mystic River” to “Gone Baby Gone” to Wahlberg’s Oscar-nominated turn in “The Departed.” Wahlberg’s impotence in the face of black urban cool is not only funny (“I’m a peacock!  Let me spread my wings!”), but a portrait of the fallen Irish and Italians political machines in America’s big cities.  As The Sopranos documented, today’s mafia is fighting for scraps at the end of the empire.  As the Boston Irish movies tell us, all that’s left of the old Irish glory are hollowed out working class neighborhoods full of drugs and abuse.  Guys like Terry Hoitz missed out by at least two generations. 

His partner is desk jockey Allen Gamble, playing the schlubby accountant turned detective.  There’s no need to ruin any of the buddy cop gags, but there is one point worth mentioning here.  McKay finishes the movie with a credits sequence outlining the fraud of Wall Street, and size of the bailout, etc.  And there’s a sideplot involving the SEC, where the boys have to turn over some evidence, and Allen observes, “These guys are the best of the best…except they missed AIG.  And Lehman Brothers…”  Allen lists about ten major SEC screw ups—maybe the best joke in the movie. 

The point should be—not to downplay the danger of street crime—that the most damaging criminals in this country are white collar.  And to catch those guys, we need nerds like Allen on the beat.  Big city cops like Terry just end up like Detective McNulty, chasing cocaine-powered windmills in a futile drug war.  Highsmith and Danner are pure Hollywood.  A more potent buddy cop satire would make this point by turning the chubby wuss Allen into the only effectual cop on the force. 

Instead, MINOR SPOILER ALERT!

McKay kills off Highsmith and Danner twenty minutes into the movie.  Not only does this limit the comedic choices (Samuel L. Jackson and The Rock intimidating beta males is funny), but there’s a whiff of…not racism, but a kind of artistic fear.  The plot revolves around Terry and Allen (and rival beta partners, played by Damon Wayans, Jr. and Rob Riggle) aspiring to be kick-ass urban-cool cops.  Again, if the underlying satire is about how these beta males are intimidated by urban masculinity, McKay himself seems to suffer from his own white male panic:  He kills off a great joke as if he doesn’t have any idea how to handle two awesomely funny black actors. 

The answer is easy:  Just do what you do with Steve Carrell and John C. Reilly—send SLJ and The Rock into the scene and see what happens.  But for the life of me, I can’t figure out why McKay kills these guys off.  Yes, their death scene is funny, but you could have easily moved it to the end of the movie and merged it with the SEC satire.  That joke would have been about the irrelevance of these characters to the actual work of fighting crime.  Instead, the movie devolves into a really funny version of “Cop Out.” If only Ron Burgundy had been at Highsmith and Danner’s press conference, then we’d be on to something.

The Pitch:

2 Shake and Bake

2 Shake and Bake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plus

1 Gone Baby Gone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Equals

3 The Other Guys

3 The Other Guys

3 The Other Guys

The First Citywide Change Bank Economy

By , August 23, 2010 8:17 pm

 

You may remember this commercial parody from the third great cast of SNL, the Dana Carvey/Phil Hartman/Jon Lovitz/ Kevin Nealon, et al years.  I ran across this the other day, and it got me to thinking about the recession.  I’m not trained as an economist, but I have enough professional and academic experience in related fields that I get the basics.  So here’s what I think I’ve figure out about the American economy.  Since we’re no longer exporting things (not just manufacturing goods, but also intellectual capital), basically we’ve devolved into a service economy. Now, we’re still the top consumer market in the world, but we’re not growing at a rate to sustain a marked increase in our quality of life.  We’re just passing around the wealth we’ve already amassed.

So why haven’t we defaulted in totally bankruptcy yet?  Why were we able to avoid a second Great Depression?  Keynesian thinkers like President Obama and, yes, George W. Bush leveraged government power to become the spender of last resort, propping up the job, consumer, and credit markets while the economy corrects itself.  Turns out, our debt is worth owning because still pretty good in the creative and entrepreneurial sectors, but mostly because we’re still the wealthiest country in the world.  Hey, we’re good for it!

But because we’re no longer exporting mass amounts of goods and intellectual capital, this “jobless recovery” may mean that the market correction has settled on an employment rate of around 9% to 10%.  In the meanwhile, we’re going to just keep passing around the money we already have to keep everybody employed. 

 

All the time, our customers (mostly the Chinese) ask us:  How do you make money doing this?

The answer’s simple:

Volume.

I give you, America in the Twenty-First Century:  The First Citywide Change Bank Economy

That America won’t give you two thousand nickels, unless two thousand nickels meets your particular change needs.

That’s what we do.

Cyrus

By , August 19, 2010 7:12 pm

Can I take a picture of you, Carl Naughton, Jr.?! Shake and Bake for the camera!

Billed as a comedy, “Cyrus” aspires to Gervaisian levels of discomfort.  In fact, directors Mark and Jay Duplass direct the film as if they learned cinematography from “The Office,” with lots of timed close-ups of reaction shots.  But unlike Steve Carrell’s “Office” or his socially inept “Dinner with Schmucks” role, “Cyrus” doesn’t want your laughs.  It wants you to feel the awkwardness of an unwanted step-dad.

John (John C. Reilly), as usual, is The Schlub, divorced from but friends with Jamie (Catherine Keener, in her usual role as the world-weary middle aged single woman).  She urges him to go to a dinner party and, you know, “be yourself, be honest.”  John takes this too far with an “I’m lonely” speech to a stranger on the couch, and after a few too many, he grabs the karoke mic and belts out “Don’t You Want Me.”  He’s rescued, quite literally, by too-hot-for-him Molly (Marisa Tomei), and the relationship begins.

So why is a hot ticket like Molly still on the market?  Well, she’s a new age weirdo with an obese twenty-something son who stays home and creates electronic music all day, after morning painting sessions in the park.  The rest of the movie is John’s struggle to separate the Oedipal couple without offending either.  A film that cared about its box office would turn this into a “Step Brothers”-esque series of comic set pieces. 

“Cyrus” is not that movie.  Here, Reilly’s character fights the infantilism that “Step Brothers” embraced, even if that means losing the first woman to make him happy in a decade.  There are some comic set pieces, including a fat guy fight with rolling around in cake, but the movie respects John and Molly enough to take itself seriously.  Beyond the clunky camerawork, there’s craftsmanship here:  The claustrophobic 60’s era apartment mirrors the relationships, and there are plenty of scenes that demonstrate why Molly loves John, rather than forcing the audience to buy yet another schlub/hottie non sequitur. 

In the end, “Cyrus” would rather you respect it than love it.  That may be the best some stepdads can hope for.

The Pitch:

2 Lovely and Amazing

2 Lovely and Amazing

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plus

1 Step Brothers

 

 

 

 

 

Equals

3 Cyrus

3 Cyrus

3 Cyrus

This Giant Rusted Out Trailer is Everything You Need to Know About the Tea Party

By , August 16, 2010 5:36 pm

 

This is David Jungerman.  David lives in Raytown, an old inner ring suburb of Kansas City.  “Mama’s Family” is set in Raytown, and when you drive down Highway 350, that feels about right. Raytown isn’t nearly as rough as east Kansas City, but it has problems.  Raytown’s glory days were the baby boom years.  But the jobs have left, white and black middle class families have sprawled farther away from the city center, and Raytown has become a rough mix of settled whites who can’t afford to move, lower middle class minorities fleeing the ‘hood, and low income hispanic immigrants.  Think of Clint Eastwood’s rusting suburb in Gran Torino

David owns some land out in Bates County, a rural county bordering Kansas.  Bates County is where you can go to get a coupon for a free AK-47 with the test drive of a new American automobile. Bates County has a meth problem.  It’s just like any other rural county in the Midwest, but a bit rougher. It’s 97% white with a per capita income of around $15,000.

David is mad as hell at Barack Obama, so he pulls a rusted out semi to the side of Highway 71 and paints, “Are you a producer or a parasite? Democrats…party of parasites.” 

You know where this is going.                                               

David Jungerman is one of the biggest recipients of federal farm aid in western Missouri.  Oh, and he used to scam expecting mothers into attending “safety seminars” so he could sell them cribs.  The fun part: The fraud was that he made his fake seminars look like they were sponsored by the government to give them credibility.

David says there is no hypocrisy here because that’s just money “coming back” to him.  Or, he’s in a business that can’t make money and is propped up by the government.  Or that.

We could have the argument about the insanity of farm subsidies and how they’re an unfortunate and stupid consequence of the Iowa caucuses.  But I’d rather take this moment to think of the rusted out hulk of the trailer as a metaphor for the rural Midwestern Tea Party.  These are the same people who want the guvment to get out of their Medicare.  There’s no center to the Tea Party’s political ideas, only the ugly remnants of an increasingly resentful blue collar America willfully misunderstanding the modern world.

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