Jay Roach’s Dinner For Schmucks is an ironic title for this film because the ‘schmucks’ therein are more interesting and charismatic than most of the people I’ve ever shared a dinner table with. A psychic medium who talks to dead pets? A dude with a pet turkey vulture? A ventriloquist with hella marriage issues? A guy who taxidermies dead mice into gorgeously elaborate dioramas? A fucking blind fencer are you kidding me?? These are the people I want to party with. Anyways this film rocks and is built around the ludicrously funny but unfortunate premise of a rich asshole CEO (Bruce Greenwood) who hosts a dinner once a year where each of his smarmy junior execs pick the most outlandish person they can find to bring along to dinner, and whoever’s guest they make fun of the most is invited into his dumb little rich boys club. Paul Rudd is a golden boy employee looking for that perfect dinner guest who he finds in Steve Carell, who is the mouse taxidermist, bordering on the spectrum and is a laugh riot the entire film. Rudd’s art-world girlfriend (Stephanie Szostak) thinks the whole dinner idea is reprehensible (she’s right of course, it’s legit the meanest fucking thing ever) and tells him not to go but it could potentially mean a huge promotion so he’s torn in the classic ‘angsty but funny conflicted Paul Rudd’ way that he’s almost patented these days. He’s also relentlessly pursued by his psycho bitch of an ex girlfriend (we’ve all got one), constantly dealing with the bizarre sexual advances on his current girlfriend perpetrated by larger than life performance artist Jermaine Clement and doggedly shadowed by Carell and his kindergarten asylum antics that cause mess after mess. If my review seems like it’s taking a long time to get to the dinner itself, well the film does the same thing and you begin to wonder if it’ll ever happen… then it does and trust me it’s worth the wait. The film has a stacked cast including Octavia Spencer, Chris O’ Dowd, Ron Livingston, Lucy Punch, David Walliams, Jeff Dunham, Patrick Fischler, Rick Overton, Nicole Laliberte, Alex Borstein and a reliably bizarre Zach Galifinakis who somehow manages to be even weirder than Carell himself, which trust me is an achievement here. Much of the humour is improvised and not all of it lands squarely (Clement overdoes the elemental, sultry musk of his oddball artist and can be a drag) but Carell fires on all of his certifiably insane cylinders for a character that’s lost in his own abstract world and for long periods of time is only able to communicate in bursts of eyebrow raising verbal and physical eccentricities which are just too funny. I’ve seldom laughed harder than I did at him trying to speak gibberish Austrian and sounding like the Swedish chef in front of a literal Austrian couple who do not look amused. There’s also an inherent sweetness to the film as it evolves and Rudd’s character realizes what his boss is doing is not okay in any universe and takes steps to both derail it and connect better with Carell’s whirlwind of unorthodox behaviour, who is actually a really decent guy underneath all of his issues. Great film.
Halloween 6: The Curse Of Michael Myers was one curious and troubled production, living up to that title and then some. Bashed on release, fans heard hushed rumours of the fabled ‘Producer’s cut’, a much different take on the story with numerous alternate scenes, augmented kills and a brand new score by Alan Howarth. I finally got a chance to snag a Blu Ray of it from amazon (for six bucks no less, I’d get on that now if you’re interested) and after checking it out last night I’m elated to say it’s pretty much a whole new film as well as one of the best of the sequels, between the changes to story and the beautiful picture restoration.
Here’s the cool thing about Halloween 6 for me: while the rest in the franchise all sort of come as stylistic and narrative package deals/double feature type things with one another, this really stands on its own. The original and 2 happen on the same Halloween night and both have Carpenter’s stamp plus Laurie Strode. 4 & 5 feature Danielle Harris’s Jamie Lloyd and bear similar approaches. H20 and Resurrection both have an early 2000’s Scream/MTV vibe and an older Laurie Strode. Rob Zombie’s two versions were intrinsic to one another and even the 2018 reboot is getting some three’s company fellowship in the coming years. But 6 is really a singular, unique vision and stands like a lighthouse of originality albeit still bearing the framework and blueprint of the Myers legacy.
Michael is back and more violent than ever as he hunts down Jamie (J.C. Brandy stepping in for Danielle Harris) and in turn pursued by the now semi retired Dr. Loomis (beloved Donald Pleasance in his final franchise appearance), his colleague Dr. Wynn (Mitchel Ryan) and the now grown up Tommy Doyle, played by a young Paul Rudd in a turn that can only be described as a knowingly campy harbinger of his then untapped comic talent. Michael shows up in 90’s Haddonfield on that night of nights to cause quite a bit of trouble for the family living in his old house, but his ultimate endgame is to find Jamie’s baby, who somehow holds the key to… something.
So this is known as that Halloween film that betrayed the legacy by explaining away Michael’s evil with the inclusion of a spooky pagan cult that worships the power of ancient Celtic runes and thereby both gives him his power and uses him for their agenda. Not even Rob Zombie was that brazen with his extended Smith’s Grove childhood sequence. I have no real problems with the direction they went here though. Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for spooky folk horror, maybe it’s the excellently atmospheric Howarth score that sells the weirdness, who knows. I suspect it’s the big, unwieldy and multi-canon best that this franchise has become over the years though. There’s been a few restarts, do overs, lapses in overall logic and liberties taken with continuity to allow new ideas and the paving over of them next time someone gets out the crayons. What’s wrong with a Myers timeline in which he’s controlled by a spooky Pagan cult whose leader looks like Jack The Ripper dresses by Johnny Cash’s tailor? It’s cool, it’s well done and in terms of camp, style and music it holds a candle and then some to other entries in this run. This Producer’s Cut is the way to go though mind you, I’ll probably toss my old DVD and only ever revisit this cut again.
Among all the razzle dazzle that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, my favourite series going right now has to be Ant Man. There’s something so relatable about the underdog superhero who’s just a regular guy with a criminal record and a daughter to raise and isn’t some alien from way out there or a snarky billionaire. I love all the quantum realm elements, the trippy SciFi surrealism reminds me of 80’s stuff like Joe Dante or Spielberg and the large/small scale action sequences are hilarious, played up even more in Ant Man & The Wasp, a sequel that blasts further into new ideas, develops the characters more and has a lot more fun than the already brilliant first outing, or at least I did anyways. Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang is under house arrest for two years after an unauthorized trip to Germany, which provides both obstacles and a running joke when Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) need him to wear the Ant Man suit once again and help them find Pym’s missing wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) who got herself stuck in the Quantum Realm decades before. Pretty much everyone is back for the ride again, including Scott’s merry band of thieves (TI, Michael Pena and David Dastmalchian), his ex wife (Judy Greer) and her husband (Bobby Cannavale) as well as others. I loved this film because nowhere in it is there a sense of menace or an edge, usually something I embrace in superhero movies, but I was looking for something light, feel-good and benign. Even the antagonists are on the easygoing side; Laurence Fishburne is a salty old colleague of Pym’s, Walton Goggins plays his black market tech dealer with that frivolous southern charm and even Hannah John-Kamen’s Ghost, who’s in a perpetual state of (wait for it) ‘molecular disequilibrium’, is just a damaged girl trying to make things right. We won’t speak of the jarring mid credits sequence that now has me demanding an Ant Man 3, which better happen soon. These first two and particularly this one are pleasant, gung-ho SciFi comedies that make the most of terrific visual effects, Rudd’s natural charisma and a retro feel. Something about Douglas and Pfeiffer flying around in Ant suits together and blasting through the quantum realm just has me missing the same sort of films they used to star in in their heyday. This is a throwback to that sort of thing, and I love it to bits.
In a world of gargantuan Marvel Movie phenomena, it’s nice to see the little guy get some love amidst titans, superheroes and demigods, and by little guy I mean Ant Man, who I recently heard referred to as the underdog of Marvel movie protagonists, and that he is, given adorable slacker charm by Paul Rudd, who couldn’t have been cast better. From InnerSpace to Antibody (first rounds on me if anyone’s heard of that one), the concept of people shrinking down to minuscule size has been a staple of cinema since before The Borrowers said they were doing it before it was cool, and this one, although stubbornly an MCU entry, functions better as a loving throwback to the kind of old school Sci-Fi bliss you’d find someone like Dennis Quaid, Jeff Bridges or Michael Douglas headlining in the late 80’s, early 90’s. Speaking of Douglas, he’s in this, as Dr. Hank Pym, a fancy scientist who should star in his own spinoff/crossover called Honey I Shrunk Paul Rudd, because that’s more or less what happens. Rudd is petty thief Scott Lang, a middle aged dude who acts like he’s twelve until a little fatherly guidance from Pym and a *lot* of snazzy metaphysical science turns him into a microscopic hero. Of course the technology is coveted by a sinister rival scientist, played by Corey Stoll and set set up for this summers sequel as the super villain The Wasp. What I loved so much about this is it knows how to have fun and utilize the potential of it’s premise so effectively. All the scenes involving shrinking have a thoughtful innovation, absurd sense of humour (the toy train crash jump cut killed me) and warped, trippy style. The third act sees a scary malfunction in which he literally can’t stop shrinking and starts to lose himself in molecular infinity, which is probably the coolest or at least most original Sci-fi set piece of any Marvel flick. Joining Rudd and Douglas is whip smart scientist Evangeline Lily (Kate from LOST), and the cast is thick with excellent talent including the lovely Judy Greer as Rudd’s exasperated wife, Bobby Cannavle as her new cop boyfriend, Michael Pena, TI and David Dastmalchian as Rudd’s merry band of thieves, with work from John Slattery and Hayley Atwell to remind us we’re in the Marvel Universe, and a cameo from oddball entertainer Greg Turkington (Baskin Robbins always knows) to remind us this is also a departure for the MCU into something a little more delightfully bizarre. A rockin good time.
Opening the 31st Santa Barbara International Film Festival was the new film by Mark Osborne, THE LITTLE PRINCE. The film completely honored Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s legendary novella. SBIFF’s director, Roger Durling, introduced the film, spoke of how much the novella means to him, and then he joyfully introduced Santa Barbara’s favorite son, donning an incredibly glorious beard, Jeff Bridges.
The voice cast is one of the most eclectic and brilliant voice casts ever. Bridges headlines as the Aviator, Rachel McAdams as the Mother, Paul Rudd as Mr. Prince, Marion Cotillard as the Rose, James Franco as the Fox, Benico Del Torro as the Snake, Bud Cort as the King, Paul Giamatti as the Academy Teacher, Riley Osborne as the Little Prince, Mackenzie Foy as the Little Girl, Ricky Gervais as the Conceited Man, and Albert Brooks as the Business Man.
The film itself has a wonderfully unique animation style that was a merger of stop motion looking animation and clean and crisp animation that was masterfully fastened together by Osborne.
The film was as funny as it was sweet and struck the perfect balance of the importance of child’s development of daring to be yourself and adult oriented entertainment.