Posts Tagged “Comedy”

THE TOUR
2008

March 6, 2009
Cinequest 19
Serbia / Bosnia and Herzegovina
Serbo-Croatian
108 Minutes
Action / Adventure / Comedy / War
Goran Markovic

Notes:
The Bosnian War. A formerly glorious acting troupe, in need of a change of scenery (and some pocket money) embarks on a tour of the divided country. The manager insists that they’ll be thought of as heroes from Belgrade coming to help the troupes with morale. They arrive in a huge Bosnian Hummer-type vehicle after dodging mortar fire. An indifferent general has, of course, changed the itinerary. They will play once in town and they again at the front lines. Mis-steps ensue. Some humorous. Some funny in a more “we’re all in this together, why are we shooting each other” way. It turns out that no one cares that these actors have appeared on a TV series. Music is terrible. Bad news is telegraphed by single low note on a piano.

7.9 IMDB

THE TOUR

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FINNISH TANGO
2008

March 1, 2009
Cinequest 19
Germany
German
90 Minutes
Comedy
Buket Alakus

Notes:
This film could never be made in the USA. Is it exploiting the disabled or empowering them? There’s a fine line. Downs Syndrome woman wants sex and offers to pay. A man with MS play-acts his own suicide. Our “hero” steals and ID from a guy at a bus stop with no arms. We know our guy will come to love this motley crew of special needs adults, but how long will it take and what about the cutie who runs the group home?

A young man, in love with his accordion, suffers the death of his band mate, becomes homeless, and has no job until a headhunter tells him that if he were somehow disabled he could get a job right away. He’ll need a disabled ID, which is why he steals one from the armless man at the bus stop.

Even though our protagonist is a total dick at the beginning (including saving his accordion from a car crash instead of a second buddy), we can’t help but feel like he’ll be redeemable by the end of the film.

6.4 IMDB (42 Votes)

FINNISH TANGO

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2008

February 17, 2009
Cinequest 19 Screener
USA
English
102 Minutes
Comedy / Drama
John-Michael Thomas

A group of good-looking, but geeky, 20somethings meet in a warehouse loft to play online video games. To say they take these games seriously would be quite an understatement. Right away, the jargon is going to be tough for those of us outside the target age group. But before we throw up our hands in frustration, the screen freezes and two of the characters explain to us what the hell they’re talking about. Characters speaking directly to us is just one of the ways that CORPSE RUN tells its story.

This group is plugged in. They live in Los Angeles, they pursue their dreams in the daytime–singer, actress, investor, management trainee–but they only feel alive when they gather with each other (and beer, junk food, extremely fast computers) to defeat other teams in an online universe. They are the self-described “second best team online.”

Much like people you know in real life, everyone in the movie has an online handle. Adama, Liberty, Chucky, MichaelVox. Just kidding about that last one. When not playing videogames (reasons come up–the online universe is down for maintenance, the electricity is out, the sun is out) the group sits around and tries to explain and solve the problems of the world. Which would be grating in most movie instances, but isn’t in this film. That’s mostly due to the extremely capable cast of unknowns (at least to me). Another thing that keeps this introspection from being excruciating is that the characters themselves realize that they’re full of shit.

The musician knows he’s probably not much better than the other thousand bands in Los Angeles at any given time. The actress, while attractive, can’t perform in auditions and begins looking for another job. A young videogame magnate realizes that he’s stopped calling games art and begun calling them business. In one memorable scene, one character explains to his boss at what appears to be every single office job I’ve ever held, that what his boss thinks is 3 weeks of work, can be completed by a halfway intelligent young person in three hours. And then he goes off on a rant about “his generation” being able to multi-task and figure things out and they are better equipped and smarter and have access to more information and all the rest of the things that people born in the 1980s sometimes say in online essays (or their blogs). The result of this character’s inspiring story about how much different the new boss is from the old boss is that he is fired. He is no good at his office job. He talks an extremely good game, but can’t execute that gameplan.

The film has video game theory, style, and music throughout. When a kid is told that the Challenger disaster will be the defining moment of his generation, his voiceover counters with “Fuck the Challenger, my generation was defined by the Nintendo Entertainment System.” Scenes begin with quotes from the guys who brought us Pac Man and Donkey Kong.

Two characters have a meet-cute in a diner after one uses an obscure anime reference and the other answers back with a different, though equally obscure, anime reference. Love is born.

For computer geeks, this group seems relatively well-adjusted. They are no more messed up than any other 20s group. They get outside. They play poker, they aren’t rendered mute around attractive women. In fact, they are probably substantially better looking as a group than any real group of kids gathering in the dark to play games on a LAN. The main love interest (the anime twins) have a sweet and realistic courtship. They talk about ice cream and movies and games and their dreams. They walk on the beach and pretend they’re superheroes. Each of the couples in the film (there are two others) are sweet and awkward and realistic. The larger group has become a sort of family for all of these kids who have come to Los Angeles from other places, mostly.

There is a very well done scene which takes place in one of the canyons where a Myspace alert has brought other gamers out of their homes for a kegger. There is drinking and a bonfire and laughter. And then there is a game of capture the flag. Sega v. Ninetendo. And the Hatfields and McCoys never had so much unbridled hatred for each other. This is just another example of videogames permeating the lives of these characters. A diatribe against John Madden for somehow becoming the most powerful person in videogame history is also particularly funny.

As a filmmaker, director John-Michael Thomas (who appears in the film as anime boy / aspiring singer) tries all kinds of things to prove that we’re not watching a normal narrative. There are quotes on the screen, the characters speak directly to the camera, in several scenes a videogame arrow appears above a character denoting his importance, there is text on the screen instead of filmed footage (EXT — Characters walk into bar), and there is a Zelda-type quest that three characters take to a mysterious cave where they play in a live-action text-based videogame from back in the day.

In terms of plot from A to B to C, it’s not really there. A few of the characters change, but in most cases we don’t know what happens to them. Life goes on. Online life goes on online. Characters pontificate about their place in the world, but aside from the technology at their disposal, generations of humans have been arguing about their place in the world since we left the cave. They are no different.

If I were 15 years younger, this would probably be one of my favorite films ever. I cheered when I saw an actor playing Nolan Bushnell, I oohed at the Atari 2600, I swooned at the fake DOOM screen showing a character attempt to fix the electrical grid. But the rest of the gaming stuff was a bit over my head–which is exactly where it should be. I’m too old to be worried about my generation’s place in the world. I’m simply trying to live in it.

CORPSE RUN will be shown at Cinequest 19. Details here: http://www.cinequest.org/event_view.php?eid=472

IMDB

CORPSE RUN

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2009

February 15, 2009
Camera Cinema Club
USA
English
90 Minutes — April 3, 2009
Comedy / Horror / Sci-Fi / Thriller
R.W. Goodwin

She Was A Waitress. He Was A Space Alien.

Well-done, but extremely light story of a flying saucer that crash lands in a California desert town. Filmed as if it were a monster movie from the 1950s. Everyone is playing it straight. Much like FAR FROM HEAVEN looked and felt as if it could have taken place in the early 1960s, everyone in ALIEN TRESPASS is taking their job seriously. There is slang from the time period, everyone smokes, no one believes the first guy to see the crash site, a teenage couple watches the crash from inspiration point. There are some fairly well-known actors involved. Eric McCormack, Robert Patrick, etc. It is literally a one joke film, but that joke (this film was lost in the vaults of a major studio only to be unearthed in 2009) is done very well.

No one winks at the camera. Everyone is horrified at the ridiculous looking space alien.

IMDB

ALIEN TRESPASS

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2008

February 14, 2009
Cinequest 19 Screener
USA
English
86 Minutes
Comedy / Crime
Julian M. Kheel

Three devious schemes; three badly executed heists; and a pawnshop with one surprising treasure.

Every year that Cinequest comes around, I sort of have to split my personality as a viewer. Half of me remains the snobby holier-than-thou viewer, seeking out the darkest Ukrainian dramas about life’s futility and documentaries whose sole purpose is to anger or delight me enough to physically pull others into the theater to experience what I just experienced.

But the other half of me at Cinequest (this will be my 13th year), when dealing with ultra-independent American films, has come to realize what the festival is here for. Cinequest looks for fresh faces–filmmakers who will go on to greater things. We get early exposure to them and can remember future superstars when they could barely hold a camera straight or keep a narrative flowing to save their lives. There is also the whole social aspect of the festival–there are parties and the chance to see and meet semi-famous people, there are casual movie fans who are looking to impress their dates, there are dinners and cocktails before and after the screenings–and this is where I differ from the crowd.

I have rarely, if ever, enjoyed a dinner and cocktails, and then headed to a movie. Or at least any movie where any thought was involved. Spiderman? Yes. Frozen River? No. However, on those rare occasions when I venture to the movies on a Friday or Saturday night, I am typically surrounded by buzzed audience members who insist on continuing their dinner conversations in the darkened theater. I personally need to be alert, sober, and ready to be taken wherever the filmmaker wants to take me.

But Cinequest is different for me. I still don’t drink-first-view-later, but I understand that there are parties and people are spending their money in a down economy at one of the many fine San Ho restaurants. There are also first dates being planned whereby one party will prove to the other party just how much of a film buff they are by taking a chance on a movie none of their friends have heard of. There are aspiring young people filmmakers and artsy seniors who finally feel like the Camera 12 is their venue–at least for the 11 days of Cinequest. For some filmmakers with movies in the fest, this will be the furthest they get. For others, it’s merely a stepping-stone on the way to greatness. People will come into theaters late and leave early. People will get texts, answer them, and then go to the next-door screen where a friend has told them genius is unspooling. People will sit in aisles, stand against walls, laugh at jokes that they’d never laugh at in a normal multiplex, and ask questions of filmmakers which have no basis in the reality of the film they just experienced. That’s become a bit of a sport for me. Watching something I hated and then waiting for someone to attempt to impress his or her companion by asking a question about the director’s influence from Bunuel or Ozu or Kiarostami. It’s all I can do to not laugh out loud. At Cinequest 18 I sat next to a girlfriend sitting on her boyfriend’s lap for a 130 minute film. By the end, I thought she was at least half mine. Needless to say, she went home with lap number one leaving me, lap number two to enjoy the next film uncovered.

What all that means above is that I have come to realize that there are certain films which appear to be made especially for this kind of melting pot of an audience. Snobs, hipsters, old folks, wise-beyond-their-years teens, NYU grads, and people who wandered into the wrong theater by mistake make up quite a schizophrenic group of viewers.

But CAPERS should make almost all of them happy. It’s a perfect Cinequest comedy. It tries new things, it stars people who you think you’ve seen before, it looks good, but not too good, it’s plot is easy to sum up in both a Tweet and in the big program with the woman putting on (taking off) her face. There are a lot of laughs, some minor girl-on-girl action, hip hop rhymes, and stone-faced Soviets.

CAPERS has four easy-to-remember sets of characters. Connie is an over-the-top racist mafia widow who runs a pawnshop with her semi-retarded grandson. The Amateurs are over-the-top robbers who dress and act like they’re from a 70s movie, down to the Popeye Doyle hat on Danny Masterson’s head. The Moolies (I didn’t realize that it was okay to name a gang after an Italian insult directed at black people, but this film claims that it is) are over-the-top small-time crooks who dress and act like they’re filming a rap video. All the time. They wear colorful outfits, carry a huge boom box, and hold their guns sideways. Every time they enter a scene, music plays loudly and the familiar MTV font appears at the lower left of the screen. The third group of crooks are referred to as the Sputniks who act as if the cold war hasn’t ended, wear drab clothes and live in drab surroundings, and have no discernible sense of humor. Each of the gangs has had interactions with Connie, each has noticed that she keeps a safe in her shop, and each has decided that the safe must contain something incredibly valuable. Each gang plans a can’t-fail robbery of the place.

Here’s the cool and unique thing about CAPERS: whenever the Amateurs are on screen, the film uses lenses, film exposures, angles, clothing, and language as if it were filmed in 1974. This same idea was tried, less successfully, by Tarantino and Rodriguez for their Grindhouse experiment a few years back. The Amateur scenes have poor splicing, a 70s soundtrack, hairs on the camera, and long, grainy shots. It is actually quite a feat.

Whenever the Moolies are onscreen, the picture is razor-sharp, the music is loud (so loud that in one scene two characters continually yell louder than the music until one of them gets out of bed to turn it down), the clothes are loud, and the style changes to the slow-motion, fast-motion scenes we’ve come to expect from rap videos. There are slow-motion house party dances for no reason, the language is street, there is a blacked-out SUV, the beverages are all Diddy-approved.

Finally, the Sputniks are kept in black and white. Sparse language, spoken with a Rocky and Bullwinkle accent, a robot-like woman trying to be sexy, and static camera shots.

Somehow, director Julian M. Kheel keeps all the balls in the air. The Amateurs try to gather a team together (“you need a tall guy and an oriental for computer skills and karate”), the Moolies shop for weapons at a Hassidic plastic explosives store (“we’re open until sundown every day but Saturday”), and the Sputniks try to buy Uranium at their local hardware store. Each time we join one of the teams, the entire frame is changed to suit the style of the group. This works to fantastic effect, but it’s more than simply a visual gimmick. The editing changes, the pacing changes, the soundtrack changes. Eventually, all three teams will have to be in the same place at the same time–what will that look like?

Plot-wise, CAPERS is nothing to shout about. There are enough jokes to keep us laughing, none of these teams are Oceans Eleven quality brain trusts. The object of their planning doesn’t seem like much, and many of the characters are complete cartoons. But sometimes cartoons are funny and can keep your interest for 90 minutes.

CAPERS is sure to be a Cinequest hit. The theater will be full of laughter and people will talk about it when the lights come up.

And there is nary a whisper about the futility of life in the entire film.

CAPERS will be shown at Cinequest 19. Details here: http://www.cinequest.org/event_view.php?eid=470

IMDB

CAPERS

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2008

February 5, 2009
DVD
UK
English
118 Minutes — October 10, 2008
Comedy / Drama
Mike Leigh [Life Is Sweet; Naked; Secrets & Lies; Topsy-Turvy]

The one movie this fall that will put a smile on your face.

Poppy is always happy. Always. No matter what happens to her, no matter how those around her are feeling.

The opening scene of Happy-Go-Lucky shows Poppy riding a bike around London. She stops at a bookstore and tries to engage the silent and brooding clerk in a conversation, but he doesn’t take the bait. She continues smiling, looks at the shelves and as she’s leaving, she says “it’s okay now, I’m leaving”. She goes outside to find her bicycle stolen, but instead of swearing or crying she continues the smile and says to herself “I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye.”

This is not a normal person. But you know what? I fell for her. She’s like a sociology experiment come to life. What if you met every situation with a happy go lucky attitude? How would you change those around you, how would you be treated–that is, can you will yourself to happiness? This film argues that yes, if you react to every setback and rude person and heartbreak and, once in awhile, danger, with overwhelming (some would say oppressive) positivity, your world will be a better place.

There are problems with this way of living. Because she is acting so different than other people, strangers aren’t sure how to react. I remember an experiment I did as part of a college course where I entered a crowded elevator and faced the back while people got on and off. This caused a frenzy. Just doing one thing that people don’t normally expect completely messes with their day.

Poppy’s friends are used to her and are happy most of the time, also. She teaches young children at a grammar school where her happiness works in her favor, no matter how serious her classroom management issues become. She’s happy clubbing, she’s happy trampolining and taking Flamenco classes and visiting her uptight sister, and meeting potential boyfriends. She’s even happy while taking driving lessons from a red-faced, belligerent, racist driving instructor who never cracks a smile during the whole of the film. These scenes border on terrifying. What if her smiling disposition causes real violence in a man who clearly needs help. But you sort of believe that no harm can come to her.

This is especially true when she walks home, through a scary part of town and walks towards a homeless man muttering to himself. She meets his eyes, signals that she understands him. walks with him a little ways, and then after some sort of unspoken signal between them, he leaves and she continues on her way home. On paper this sounds like an irresponsible, if not dangerous, turn of events. A young woman doesn’t head towards abandoned train tracks in the middle of the night to converse with a large homeless man. But as this is happening, we feel as if her happiness is some sort of protective shield. Who could hurt her, she’s just so happy?

Sally Hawkins pulls off this role by the sheer force of her will. She is perfect.

The problem with this film is that if you find her annoying, which is not only possible, but probable, you won’t want to spend time with her as she goes about her daily life. For some reason, I fell for her, and her story, from start to finish.

8.4 Metacritic
7.2 IMDB

Happy-Go-Lucky @ Amazon

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

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2008

January 4, 2009
DVD
USA
English
101 Minutes — October 31, 2008
Comedy / Drama / Romance
Kevin Smith [Clerks; Mallrats; Chasing Amy; Dogma; Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back; An Evening With Kevin Smith; Dinner For Five; Jersey Girl; Snowball Effect: The Story Of ‘Clerks’; Clerks II; Siskel & Ebert & The Movies; An Evening With Kevin Smith 2: Evening Harder; Live Free Or Die Hard; Reaper]

Disclaimer: I’m a few years older than Kevin Smith and when I first heard him interviewed in the mid-90s as he was becoming well-known, I used to tell friends that he was the first person younger than me who I completely admitted was better at what he did than I could have been. That is, when he spoke or wrote, I knew I’d be hard-pressed to keep up. This was a revelation to me. He is one of the best guests that Howard Stern ever had on his program; he somehow was insightful and smart when he filled in for Roger Ebert, even though he was trying to critique people he may some day work with. I have his books on my shelf right now, Silent Bob Speaks and the screenplays to Clerks and Chasing Amy. I’ve downloaded every episode of his Smodcast podcast (though he and Scott can be so wordy that I can’t take a full 90 minutes per week).

If he’s involved in something, I want to read/see/listen to it. I hope that as he grows into middle age, he’ll become some sort of film or pop culture historian. Sort of like what Scorsese does with his documentaries and what Tarantino tries to do in his screening room with young actors. Smith is an aware social critic, pointing out hypocrisy in culture and politics. He can often give compelling arguments as to how comic books are an art form. He finds a way to be a good catholic and a smut peddler at the same time. I remember reading a piece somewhere about John Madden, the football magnate. The quote was “Madden is a genius who masquerades as a lunkhead.” The same can be said for Kevin Smith. Get past the language (and for god’s sake get past the poop humor–please!) and you’ll find stories about love and self-awareness and inferiority and all the other parts of the human experience that artists have been trying to make sense of for hundreds of years. If you haven’t seen them, go watch An Evening With Kevin Smith 1 and 2. He is charismatic and charming. If he keeps filming his Q & As, I’ll keep watching them.

He has said himself on many occasions that he’s a terrible director, but he makes up for it in his writing. His blog posts and his essays and his book of random thoughts are compelling, humorous, and honest. He has no trouble (often to a fault) exposing his thoughts and beliefs and idiosyncrasies to whomever is there to listen. I suspect he’d be exposing these same thoughts if there was no one listening.

So it is with great sadness that I have to report that ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO is a failure on nearly every level of filmmaking.

Plot:
Zack and Miri are friends from childhood who live in a terrible Pittsburgh apartment. They act as brother and sister, get in arguments, make fun of each other–all the groundwork needed for an inevitable hookup down the road. The fact that Elizabeth Banks seems too smart, driven, and beautiful to be living in such an apartment is just one of the film’s many problems. The two buddies are so low on cash that their utilities are turned off and they decide to film a porno as a last-ditch effort to make some money. Not get more hours at the coffee shop, not cut back on hockey expenses, not take on another boarder, but film a porno. In the real world, modern porn has much higher production levels than these two can come up with. In the real world, distributing a movie to 800 classmates would barely begin to turn a profit. In the real world, people don’t film porn in Pittsburgh coffee shops. And the actors don’t look like Zack (at least since the retirement of Ron Jeremy). And with downloading now an issue, how many copies were they hoping to sell? And why wouldn’t those same customers just get on the almighty internet to get their fix of amateur couplings? None of this occurs to Zack and Miri.

Casting:
Seth Rogen plays Seth Rogen. He is frumpy, lazy, mutters quips under his breath, and will end up with a girl way out of his league. I have been a fan of his since Freaks and Geeks, but he is in even bigger danger than Michael Cera of being typecast as the exact same guy for the rest of his filmic life.

Jason Mewes is in the cast of the fake porno and he actually has improved since his other attempts at acting in Kevin Smith films. His heroin habit apparently behind him, he actually does exactly what the part needs him to do.

Traci Lords and Katie Morgan have actual porn experience, so they lend the film whatever realism it has to offer.

Craig Robinson plays an unhappily married co-worker of Zack’s who incredibly gives up a flat screen TV (how he can afford one while having the same job as Zack who can’t keep his heat on is a question the film doesn’t attempt to answer) in order to “produce” the movie. Robinson’s scenes are both funny and incredibly demeaning. When the script calls for hip street language, Robinson is there to deliver. When there’s a hint of racism, Robinson is there to comment on it. When there are grammar rules to be broken, call up Robinson. He is the one exception to the lily-white cast. He does more with two minutes on The Office when wiping the floor with Michael Scott than he does here in a full length film. Go rent KNOCKED UP and watch his single scene as a club doorman and think what might have been. Examples of his delivery in this film (watch the grammar): “What? Han Solo ain’t never had no sex with Princess Leia in the Star War!” and “Her name Bubbles”. His “boob audition” scene was pretty funny.

But the person who emerges the most worse for the wear is Elizabeth Banks. She has proven to be that special combination of cute and funny on Scrubs and 40-year-old Virgin. She is a sweet girlfriend in Invincible. I hear she’s good as Laura Bush in W. But she is completely miscast in this film. She is too cute and smart to be surrounding herself with either Rogen as a roommate or any of the other people she comes into contact with. But the fatal flaw with her is that I simply never believed that she’d talk the way her character talked, act the way her character acted (her squirm-inducing seduction of the popular guy from high school was well-done), or involve herself in the money-making idea that she follows through on in this film. It’s like she’s pretending to be a hard-assed f-bomb throwing girl-next-door and it didn’t work. At one point, she even says “Hey Zack, no one wants to F-in watch us fuck.” That’s right, she used f-in and the full work fuck in the same sentence. I believe that someone like Sarah Silverman actually talks like that. I believe that Kevin Smith talks like that because I’ve heard him talk like that dozens of times. But I never bought that Banks was speaking realistically. To be clear, I’m not saying that people don’t act or speak like Smith writes, I’m just saying that I don’t believe Banks or her character would. I found myself embarrassed for her.

Which leads us to writing: If Smith only gave the world Chasing Amy, he’d be rightfully held in some regard for finding a way to weave both a tender can-I-turn-a-lesbian-straight romance and a here’s-why-she’s-called-fingercuffs raunchy comedy into something special. (Setting aside the male-dominant view that all any lesbian needs is a perfect guy to “cure” her.) It wasn’t Ben Affleck that made that movie, it was the writing. But here, again, is where ZACK AND MIRI fails. The “realistically dirty” language we’ve come to love from Smith (and Apatow) is here used to prove something, I think. Like Smith is afraid that when we boil down the story we’ll see a sappy love story, not unlike WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, and to avoid accusations of becoming soft, he goes for the verbal grossout. I simply do not believe that Banks would recount in casual conversation the time that Zack tried to fellate himself for about an hour. I’m pretty sure that she wouldn’t stay around that long to watch. But the script has that experience as one of the many that is supposed to make us feel like these two have shared everything with each other except feelings. As a guy with far more female friends than male, I can say that when Zack claims to have never wanted to sleep with Miri, even though they share a bathroom and 25 years of friendship, I say, bullshit. Plain and simple. That the plot has us believe that until they were scheduled to have on-camera sex, the thought of trying out a romance with each other never occurred to them is preposterous. And from the second they do, the movie goes completely haywire. Slow motion, closeups of their faces in love-filled ecstasy, a completely different song by the band Live which seems to be playing only in their heads, all combine to turn the film into something else. Something it neither earned, nor does particularly well.

There have been hundreds of films where two characters fall for each other after a hookup or a good talk or some other event. What is this one saying? “The search is over, you were with me all the while” to quote a sappy 80s song. Tell us something new.

But that’s not the worst of it. After a misunderstanding at a party, whereby Zack leaves with a pornstar to have sex after Miri has given permission, the next morning brings an argument, which sends Zack peeling out, then moving out, then working at the Penguins hockey games as a human target. The screen says “Three Months Later,” but not 30 seconds in, we see Robinson who has come to get the two crazy kids back together.

I can’t explain just how off the pacing is at this point. Zack drives off, film crew wonders why, Miri sees that Zack has moved out (where to? we never find out), “3 Months Later”, we are there to see Robinson contact him for the first time by using a quote that only they would recognize, they rekindle a friendship (not sure why they broke contact with each other), Robinson entices him back to his basement where they are still (after 3 months) editing the film, then the big reveal that Miri never had her second on screen sex scene, a ridiculous attempt at a serious line from Robinson about how people make you believe you can do things that you didn’t know you could or something, a musical cue that sends Zack back to Miri where a final misunderstanding involving her new male roommate gives way to a tearful hug and reunion and happily ever after.

It may have been the most painful 15 minutes of film I’ve seen in years. It’s made more painful because it’s my hero Kevin Smith who’s in charge.

I haven’t brought up the music: fake porn background music throughout, even when the scenes change; great 80s pop at the high school reunion; sappy I love you songs when the two are having sex..making..doing whatever they did.

I can remember exactly two laugh-out-loud moments: Jason Mewes in the last five minutes discussing the “Dutch Rudder” was deadpan delivery at its best.

The other one was a spectacular cameo by Justin Long as an “actor” in L.A. who attends the high school reunion with his football hero lover. “Really, you’re an actor? What kind of movies have you been in?” “All kinds of movies with all male casts.”

Zack Brown: All male casts? Like “Glengarry Glen Ross”, like that?
Brandon: Like “Glen and Gary Suck Ross’s Meaty C**k and Drop Their Hairy N**s in His Eager Mouth”.
Zack Brown: [pause] Is that like a sequel?
Brandon: Sort of. It’s a reimagining.
Zack Brown: Oh, like “The Wiz”.
Brandon: More erotic. And with less women. No women, to be exact.
Zack Brown: I apologize in advance if I am outta line here, but are you in gay porn?
Brandon: [smiles] Guilty as charged.

[I've added the *] The fact that his lover is played by the guy in the new Superman movie is one of the fanboy tips of the hat that Smith is famous for. Long is funnier in those five minutes that the remaining 95 minutes of the movie. Don’t get me wrong, whenever a character like Rogen’s talks as quickly as Smith’s script call for, there will be chuckles. “Where’s the clitoris again?” caused me to smile. But those smiles were so few and far between and so hidden by the rest of the “look how outrageous my dialogue is” that the impact was weak.

I wanted so much more from my former BFF Kevin Smith.

MichaelVox Twitter Review In 160:
Zack And Miri Make A Porno (08 Smith C-) Dear Kevin, I’m breaking up with you after 14 years of bliss. It’s not me, it’s you. WTF happened?

5.6 Metacritic
7.5 IMDB

Zack and Miri Make a Porno @ Amazon

ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO

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2006

December 31, 2008
Netflix Roku
USA
English
100 Minutes — February 8, 2008
Documentary / Comedy
Ari Sandel

Vince Vaughn, who will forever be remembered for making fratboys across the nation say “you’re so money” in SWINGERS, got some of his buddies together for a tour of 30 cities in 30 days. He talks up a lot about taking his show to the heartland, but five dates are in California, and St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, and Atlanta are hardly strangers to stand-up comedy.

On the other hand, I am a big fan of his OCD-inspired fast-talking and the comics he brings along are pretty funny. One of them is Ahmed Ahmed who became something of a poster-boy of an Arab-American trying to make it big in a post-9/11 world. He’s been profiled in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. He already has a career. The other three guys are at various levels of struggling. If you thin a 30 day tour into a ten minute act, of course these guys are going to look like comedic geniuses. Vaughn acted as the MC, and did some skits with famous friends (Favreau, Long, Yoakim), but most of the stuff is about the four comics.

Your like or dislike of this movie will be dependent on your interest in stand-up comedy as an artform or a catharsis-in-public for the performers. If you’ve ever wondered if you would have made it on a stage in front of a brick wall (as I often do), it will probably hold your interest. Each of them is shown after a disasterous set where they had a completely different impression of their show than the audience did. One guy yells out “F**k Yeah!” but the comic hears it as “F**k You!”, which completely takes him out of his rhythm. Stuff like that I enjoy–you may not.

Another worthwhile portion is that we meet the parents of several performers and see where they get their sense of humor or lack thereof. Ahmed’s parents are especially interesting as they’re Egyptian immigrants who expect their children (especially sons) to be doctors or lawyers–certainly not a guy who tells swear word jokes for a living. The stuff on the road isn’t new in any way. The boys (minus Vaughn–who has his own back bed) sleep in bunks on the bus. They share single hotel rooms. They get on each other’s nerves. We’ve seen that stuff before. We also only glimpse the towns in which they perform. They visit Graceland and Buck Owen’s Crystal Palace, and the Grand Ole Opry, but I defy you to differentiate between the audiences at these different places.

Doesn’t say very much about the life of an entertainer or the “heartland of America”, but it’s entertaining nonetheless.

5.1 Metacritic
5.9 IMDB

Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show @ Amazon

VINCE VAUGHN’S WILD WEST COMEDY SHOW

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COWBOY BEBOP: THE MOVIE
2001

December 29, 2008
Netflix DVD
Japan / USA
English
116 Minutes — September 1, 2001
Animation / Action / Comedy / Crime / Sci-Fi / Thriller
Shinichiro Watanabe

R-rated animation story about a terrorist explosion that releases a virus that kills people within a nearby radius. The virus contains microscopic machines that somehow kill people. There is one guy who is immune and he’s the one doing the exploding. But I may have the plot all wrong because I’m not entirely sure what was going on. But as a piece of animation, the creativity is high-level. There is a ragtag team of bounty hunters. The women are buxom, the guys are slender, there is a dog along for the ride. The city is futuristic and we are sometime in the future.

This is in no way as cool as any of the Howl’s Moving Castle or any of the other Miyazaki stuff. Those are aimed at children and are almost superhumanly creative. This one is sort of based in reality. There are scientists developing things, bad guys at drug companies, army and secret police arguing over jurisdiction. There was hand-to-hand combat and realistic gunshot wounds.

But it never amounted to anything. We know who blew up the truck, do we really care why?

6.1 Metacritic
7.7 IMDB

Cowboy Bebop – The Movie @ Amazon

COWBOY BEBOP: THE MOVIE

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2008

December 3, 2008
San Jose CA — Cinearts Santana Row
UK / USA
English / Hindi
120 Minutes — November 12, 2008
Comedy / Crime / Drama / Romance
Danny Boyle [Shallow Grave; Trainspotting; The Beach; 28 Days Later; Millions] & Loveleen Tandan

It’s hard to describe just how “cool” this movie is. Which is a terrible way to refer to any kind of film. “Cool”.

A young man from the slums of Mumbai is a contestant on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. The host can barely contain his contempt. Everyone expects him to exit the game early. But he continues to answer questions correctly, captivating all of India in the process. Most of the film is told in flashback as each question he is asked on the show reminds him of a part of his life. If the question is about US currency, he flashes back to a time when he was a hundred dollar bill. This is clearly unrealistic but sometimes, as the screen shows us early “It is written”. These flashbacks provide and opportunity for us to watch the visual styling of Danny Boyle, who is working out of his European element here. Jamal and his brother are first played by tiny Indian boys who live in an enormous slum just outside the gates of an airport. They spend their time playing cricket, trying their luck at money-making schemes, and outrunning the corrupt police.

There is thumping music, colorful fabrics, slow motion and shaky camera work. It is incredibly exciting.

The boys are compelling and respond to heartbreak with a seen-it-all attitude. They become orphaned and pick up a “third musketeer” along the way.

The film continually moves between the present-day quiz show and the incidents in Jamal’s life that led him to know answers that he has no right knowing.

It is loud and exciting and is a great mixture of western and Indian filmmaking. I loved it.





8.5 Metacritic
8.6 Critical Consensus
8.6 IMDB

Slumdog Millionaire @ Amazon

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

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2008

September 24, 2008
San Jose CA — Camera 12
USA
English
115 Minutes — September 26, 2008
Comedy / Drama
Neil Burger [The Illusionist]

Sometimes Losing Your Way Home Means Finding Yourself

There isn’t much to this film. Three soldiers, injured in combat, take the same flight from Germany to New York City. They fall into easy conversation on the flight, discussing where they were stationed, why they’re going home, and for how long. Colee (Rachel McAdams) is naive and open and trusting, and does most of the talking. Cheever is played by Tim Robbins as a man whose career in the reserves has come to an end. He can’t wait to get home, see his family, and get reacquainted with the civilian world. TK (Michael Pena) is a macho soldier coming to grips with an injury to his manhood (literally), though he describes his wound as “upper thigh”.

A power outage means that each of their connecting flights has been canceled. The kindness of the guy at the Dollar Car Rental counter (You guys Army? I have one car left) means they are soon on their way in a rented minivan to see the country and to drive non-stop to St. Louis where Cheever will be home and the other two will catch flights to their final destinations.

There is nothing new or unique in this film, whatsoever. Cheever’s wife will chose his arrival to announce their divorce, his son will be proud of his acceptance to Stanford and in the next breath will say “they need $20,000 by next Saturday.” There will be a bar fight, car trouble, people blaming them for the conduct of the war, tears, hugs, romance, jail, and humor. They will all end up in Vegas because that’s where road trip movies end up these days.

I have nothing against road movies. In fact, I rather like the idea of being forced by circumstance to get to know other people while experiencing (or at least driving quickly past) the vastness of the US of A. But, even for a road trip film, this thing meanders all over the place. It aspires to be something bigger–the story of three people learning about the country they’re fighting and being wounded for. They don’t know about American Idol, or the way cocktail chatter often revolves around how bad a mistake Iraq was. They are told “thank you” on a half-dozen occasions, by people they come into contact with, though it seems people say it more out of a sense of duty or relief that it isn’t them in the fatigues, than any actual feelings of gratitude.

The three leads are more than up to the task. McAdams is fiery and beautiful and isn’t as unbelievable as you might imagine as a combat veteran. Robbins is normal and puts aside his usual smarter-than-thou persona to good use–although his marital meltdown seems out of place for his level-headed character. Pena is becoming a very good actor–he’s charismatic, bull-headed, and afraid his fiance will leave him when she learns of his “infirmity”.

But the script is a mess. There are situations that don’t really happen and then there are situations that everyone in the audience sees coming long before the characters do. Robbins hooks up at a BBQ for no other reason than comic effect. There is a preposterous scene involving a tornado (in New Mexico or Colorado, I think) when TK and Colee head off to the store for some powerbars, encounter ominous clouds, then rain, then hail, then they pull over to the side of the road. A tornado appears (ILM has nothing to worry here about effects-wise) but they still have time to have a discussion about getting out of the car and running to a conveniently located drainage pipe under the freeway where the two attractive leads can hold each other while the scary storm blows past. They then get in their car, which shows no proof of the near-fatal twister, and head back to a campground to pick up Cheever, never mentioning it again.

There’s a plot about a guitar handed down from Elvis Presley to Colee’s late boyfriend. Will she return it to his family or give it to Cheever for his son’s tuition? How will Cheever find the money? Will TK really run to Canada to avoid his third tour of duty? Why is there a scene in a Nevada jail?

None of this adds up to much. These three actors deserve much better.

5.2 Metacritic
8.0 IMDB
*** Ebert
** Phillips
**^ Berardinelli

The Lucky Ones @ Amazon

THE LUCKY ONES

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2000

September 21, 2008
Netflix DVD
Italy / USA
Italian / Sicilian / English / Latin
92 Minutes (USA Version) — December 25, 2000
Comedy / Drama / Romance / War
Giuseppe Tornatore [Cinema Paradiso]
Monica Bellucci [Bram Stoker's Dracula; Irreversible; The Matrix Reloaded]

An Intimate Portrait And An Epic Story Of The Courage We Discover, The Innocence We Surrender, And The Memories We Cherish…Forever.

In Sicily in the early 1940s, a beautiful woman, who loses her husband in the war, is the object of an adolescent’s day dreams.

From the man who brought us perhaps the most nostalgic film of all time, CINEMA PARADISO, a movie I love with all of my naive heart. Take a look at the tagline above. He tries to have lightening strike twice. “The memories we cherish forever”?

This lightweight story is about a small Italian fishing village as Mussolini rises to power just before World War II. A young teenager named Renato is our surrogate for this film. We will grow up with him and experience life in Italy with him. The film opens with him receiving a new bicycle which seems to be the entry fee into a group of older boys who hang out together. He follows them one day as they race to a seawall, sit on it, and wait. His questions are all answered as Malena walks out of her house, past the panting boys, towards the market. As she passes, we actually get to see Renato’s shorts get tighter.

The entire story revolves around a woman whose husband is fighting for the Italian army. This woman is so beautiful that the rest of the village goes completely bonkers. Rumors spread, men declare their love, women spit on her, boys climb trees to peer into her house, German occupiers pay to sleep with her–all while she pines for her beloved.

In order to pull off a story like this, the woman needs to be almost supernaturally beautiful. Beautiful enough to become the obsession not just of an adolescent boy (which is comparably easy), but the obsession of an entire region of Italy, as well as male and female viewers, alike. There are maybe five women on the planet who could inspire such a response. Monica Bellucci is absolutely one of them.

From the moment we see her sashaying by the group of boys, we are goners. She is a work of art. From that point on, there is not a single thing that happens in this unevenly toned film that seems out of place. A beautiful woman can make people do unbelievable things. I would say that Bellucci would probably lead any number of global villages to cease to function as societies were she to show up in one of her cleavage-baring dresses.

Beyond that, there isn’t much here. The character of the boy is a pretty realistic portrayal of someone who is protecting the thing he loves without telling the object of his affection. He spies on her, he dreams about her, he masturbates to her, she shows up in his daydreams as a teacher, or butcher, and he writes unsent letter to her declaring his love and that he’ll always be around to protect her. It’s probably a uniquely male thing to do, to create a fantasy world where you have a relationship with someone you’ve never spoken to, where you defend someone who doesn’t know your name, where you know that if she would just talk with you once, she’d be as convinced about your compatibility as you are. This is hard to portray on film, so it falls back on flashes of breasts and on the incredible face of Ms. Bellucci.

Because I am a straight male, I needed to do further research on Ms. Bellucci and was shocked and horrified to find that the version of MALENA that I saw on DVD, while rated R (deservedly), had more than ten minutes cut from it, including several more scenes of seduction and nudity. The horror!

I am now firmly on the Bellucci bandwagon. To fans of hers I say, skip IRREVERSIBLE as you may never recover from what you see in it. I am also incredibly happy that she is roaring into her 40s as beautiful as ever.

The film, in a nutshell is about a woman so beautiful that a village goes bonkers. Don’t look for anything deeper than that.

* Halliwells — “Teenage fantasies of sexual success conflict with the realities of political failure and personal humiliation in this engaging fable that shows the influence of Fellini.”
5.4 Metacritic
7.4 IMDB
** Ebert
*** Berardinelli
B- Gleiberman

Malena @ Amazon

MALENA

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2008

September 17, 2008
Campbell CA — Camera 7
USA / UK / France
English
96 Minutes — September 12, 2008
Comedy / Crime
Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

Intelligence is relative.

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BURN AFTER READING is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 60. After you’ve seen the movie, listen to the spoiler-filled review by Tassoula and I by clicking the play button right here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Show Description:

• 00:00 Intro
• 00:32 BURN AFTER READING Discussion
• Break
• 22:19 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 22:44 The Last Five®
• Break
• 49:15 Fall TV Update/Show Notes
• 1:02:40 Credits and Outtake

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*** Ebert
*** Berardinelli
** Phillips
C Schwarzbaum
6.2 Metacritic
7.9 IMDB

BURN AFTER READING

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1996

September 14, 2008
DVD — Thank You Nazhat S.
USA
English / Spanish
91 Minutes — February 21, 1996
Adventure / Comedy / Crime / Drama / Romance
Wes Anderson [Rushmore; The Royal Tenenbaums; The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou; Hotel Chevalier; The Darjeeling Limited]

They’re not criminals, but everybody’s got to have a dream.

Three young incompetents decide to embark on a life of crime.

* Halliwells — “Enjoyable and witty small-scale independent film that manages some original variations on a familiar theme.”
6.0 MC
7.2 IMDB

BOTTLE ROCKET

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2008

August 24, 2008
Camera Cinema Club
USA
English / Mandarin
96 Minutes — September 5, 2008
Comedy
Jessica Yu [The West Wing; In The Realms Of The Unreal]

null

Don’t Just Win. Destroy.

Light, but highly enjoyable story of an Asian-American layabout, who must train for and enter the big ping pong tournament because his overachieving brother has suffered an injury. What makes it different from other films of this type is that it pinpoints exactly the cross-over of cultures in young America. Christopher Wang prefers to be called “C-Dub” by his friends and the young kids he schools on the basketball court. He speaks in a non-threatening gangsta fashion. He wears jerseys and chains and protests against his parents’ old Chinese ways. This film has nothing threatening to families in it. There are cute kids, a tame love interest, and all the swear words are “dribbled” or “bounced” out.

5.4 Metacritic
7.7 IMDB

PING PONG PLAYA

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2008

August 13, 2008
Reno NV — Century Riverside
USA / Germany
English
107 Minutes — August 13, 2008
Action / Comedy
Ben Stiller [Empire Of The Sun; Fresh Horses; Next Of Kin; The Ben Stiller Show; Reality Bites; If Lucy Fell; Flirting With Disaster; The Cable Guy; There’s Something About Mary; Your Friends & Neighbors; Permanent Midnight; Keeping The Faith; Meet The Parents; Zoolander; The Royal Tenenbaums; Along Came Polly; Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story; Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy; Tenacious D In The Pick Of Destiny]

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TROPIC THUNDER is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 58. After you’ve seen the movie, listen to the spoiler-filled review by Tassoula and I by clicking the play button right here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Show Description:

• 00:00 Intro
• 00:32 TROPIC THUNDER DISCUSSION
• Break
• 14:21 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 14:46 The Last Five®
• Break
• 24:20 Listener Last Five® (Michelle in Sydney)
• Break
• 30:48 From the Queue: TOKYO STORY
• Break
• 36:11 Tassoula’s interview with ALAN BALL
• 55:33 Credits and Outtakes

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Robert Downey, Jr., Jack Black.

Not as good as the non-stop hype would suggest. The trailers at the beginning are by far the funniest moments. Nothing satirized here hasn’t been the target of a better film or skit before. Downey better than the rest.

7.1 Metacritic
7.7 40 Critic Consensus
8.2 IMDB

TROPIC THUNDER

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2008

August 7, 2008
San Jose CA — Camera 12
USA
English / Cantonese
111 Minutes — August 6, 2008
Comedy / Crime / Thriller
David Gordon Green [George Washington; All The Real Girls; Snow Angels]

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PINEAPPLE EXPRESS is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast Number 57. After you’ve seen the movie, listen to the spoiler-filled review by Tassoula and I by clicking the play button right here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Show Description:
• 00:00 Intro
• 00:30 THE LAST MISTRESS Discussion
• Break
• 14:35 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 15:20 PINEAPPLE EXPRESS Discussion
• Break
• 34:35 To Sum It Up
• Break
• 35:15 The Last Five®
• Break
• 1:01:10 Show Notes/Credits and Outtakes

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Put This In Your Pipe And Smoke It.

Absolutely hilarious. The pop culture non-sequitors that the great James Franco throws out, almost like he’s whispering, are spot-on. The Seth Rogen character gets a bit tiring, and the ending with the seemingly endless shootout belongs in another movie, but whenever the two bro’s are together, everything clicks. And the ending at the diner has dialogue that is exactly what those characters would say. Exactly. Very funny.

6.4 Metacritic
8.3 IMDB
*** Berardinelli

PINEAPPLE EXPRESS

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2008

August 2, 2008
DVD (Thank You, Paul)
UK / Belgium
English / German
107 Minutes — February 8, 2008
Comedy / Crime / Drama
Martin McDonagh

Shoot First. Sightsee Later.

6.7 Metacritic
8.1 IMDB

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DRUNKEN MASTER
1978

July 25, 2008
Netflix DVD
Hong Kong
English-Dubbed
111 Minutes — October 5, 1978
Comedy / Action
Woo-ping Yuen [The Matrix; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; The Matrix Reloaded; Kill Bill, Vol. I]

Jackie Chan [Enter The Dragon; The Cannonball Run; Cannonball Run II; Police Story; Police Story 2; Supercop; Rumble In The Bronx; Jackie Chan's First Strike; Rush Hour; Shanghai Noon]

7.6 IMDB

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1960

July 19, 2008
TCM
USA
English
125 Minutes
Romance / Comedy / Drama
Billy Wilder [The Lost Weekend; Sunset Blvd.; Sabrina; The Spirit Of St. Louis; Some Like It Hot]
#55 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

A lonely, ambitious clerk rents out his apartment to philandering executives and finds that one of them is after his own girl.

OW: Picture, Director, Writer
ON: Cinematography, AC Jack Lemmon, AC Shirley MacLaine, SAC Jack Kruschen, Art, Editing

*** Halliwell’s
8.4 IMDB #96

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2008

July 7, 2008
Campbell CA — Camera 7
USA
English
98 Minutes — June 27, 2008
Animation / Comedy / Family / Romance / Sci-Fi
Andrew Stanton [Toy Story; A Bug's Life; Toy Story 2; Monsters, Inc.; Finding Nemo]

An Adventure Beyond The Ordinar-E

9.2 Metacritic
8.7 IMDB #26 All Time

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2008

June 7, 2008
Milpitas CA — Century Great Mall
USA
English
113 Minutes
Action / Comedy
D: Dennis Dugan [The Howling; Hill Street Blues; Can't Buy Me Love; Parenthood; NYPD Blue; L.A. Law; Big Daddy]
W: Adam Sandler & Robert Smigel & Judd Apatow

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YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN is the subject of Cinebanter Podcast 53. After you’ve seen the movie, listen to the spoiler-filled review by Tassoula and I by clicking the play button right here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Show Notes:
• 00:32 SEX AND THE CITY Discussion
• Break
• 08:47 To Sum It Up (SATC)
• Break
• 09:02 YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN Discussion
• Break
• 19:22 To Sum It Up (ZOHAN)
• Break
• 19:55 The Last Five®
• Break
• 44:00 Listener Last Five (12-year-old Charlie)
• Break
• 50:26 From the Queue
• Break
• 56:46 Show Notes
• 57:41 Credits and Outtake

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Lather. Rinse. Save The World.

5.3 Metacritic
5.7 IMDB

YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN

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Written by Michael W. Cummins