Roger Ebert made it clear that Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie doesn’t even make it into his most hated canon of flicks (a hard enclosure to gain access to as the guy was a pretty fair critic right to the end). A small part of me sees the exasperation in a guy who took his cinema seriously. But most of me, especially the parts that enjoy humour so off the wall and bizarre that I’d be labelled just as far on the spectrum as the two demented wunderkinds behind this ninety minute freak show, loves it. You have to be a special kind of deranged to enjoy Tim and Eric’s brand of humour; the words abstract, surreal and extremely bizarre come to mind, but that doesn’t begin to cover the maniacal parade they’ve whipped up here. One thing does fascinate me though: since the very beginning when they first got their show rolling (Great Job!), they have been a magnet for some of the most prominent and prolific talent in Hollywood’s comedy arena, scoring cameos from the likes of Will Ferrell, Jeff Goldblum, John C. Reilly and more. That tells me that a lot more folks than you might think have an innate affinity for this extreme brand of shock humour and madness than would care to admit, and that when it comes down to it, humans organically produce their own humour in this weird, abstract fashion that’s much more natural than most scripted, constructed comedy we see in film. The humour here is so far into the stratosphere of weirdness that it understandably made a lot of folks uncomfortable, but that just makes the whole thing funnier. The ‘plot’ is just a series of running gags loosely connected by Tim & Eric owing a billion dollars to the Schlaaaaang Corporation (run by William Atherton and Robert Loggia in one of his last movie roles). They skip town and decide to take up Will Ferrell on his offer to be caretakers of a giant dilapidated shopping mall, after a few back to back viewings of Top Gun. The mall is host to a whole array of weirdos and insane people including slightly retarded Taquito (John C. Reilly), snarky sword salesman Allen Bishopman (Will Forte), a man who sells used toilet paper, Bob Ross, a bunch of hobos, oh and a wolf too, among others. Don’t expect it to make much sense, that’s not the Tim and Eric way. Just expect to be shocked, disgusted, disoriented, appalled, and if you’re tuned into the right frequency, to laugh your ass off. Their outright deliberation in pushing boundaries of taste and coherency no doubt had people running from the theatre and demanding money back in droves, but as Mia Wallace iconically put it, don’t be a 🔲. The real endurance test is when Ray Wise (Twin Peak’s Leland Palmer) shows up as a nutso self help guru whose brand of treatment (Shrim!) really goes to some gag-worthy places. Other notable cameos include Jeff Goldblum as (wait for it) ‘Chef Goldblum’, Johnny Depp, Zach Galifianakis, Mark Cuban and Bob Odenkirk. It’s a weird world, and in a genre that routinely isn’t weird enough, plays it safe and sticks to the often bland script, we need guys like Tim and Eric to shake shit up, open their bag of tricks and assault audiences with their very specific, certifiable brand of comedy. Buckle up.
The hype surrounding comedy troupe Broken Lizard quieted down somewhat after the hullabaloo of both Super Troopers and Beerfest, but that didn’t mean they halted their output. In 2009 they released the insanely funny screwball romp The Slammin Salmon, which nobody seems to have seen and garnered nowhere near as much buzz as their previous films. It’s just as much of a riot, this time landing the gang into a Miami seafood restaurant, after their jaunts in rural law enforcement and extreme competitive alcohol consumption. The restaurant they all ‘work’ at is owned by a hulking bull in a china shop named Cleon ‘Slammin’ Salmon, a gigantic ex pro boxer played by the late great Michael Clarke Duncan in one of his last, and best, appearances. Cleon runs the restaurant with an obnoxious iron fist, a giant petulant brat with a penchant for beating up his staff and the social skills of a grizzly bear. On a busy night he announces to his staff that they must sell enough deceased marine life on plates to come up with a ten grand debt he owes to the Asian mob. This sets off a chain of reliably hilarious shenanigans involving the whole Broken Lizard crew, and a few cameos from salty hollywood veterans, a welcome trend that is commonplace among their films. The pushover manager Rich (Kevin Hefferman) attempts to keep the order. The lunatic head chef (Paul Soter) and his dimbulb busboy brother (also Soter) create trouble for everyone. Douchey waiter Guy (Eric Stolhanske) plays dirty to boost his sales. Ditzy server Mia (April Bowlby) dolls up her smile and smart one Tara (Cobie Smulders) plays it crafty to get ahead. Funniest by far is Jay Chandrasekhar as Nuts, a weirdo whose alter ego Zongo makes insane appearances whenever he forgets to take his meds. Clarke Duncan is the bellowing life of the party though, in an untethered romp through the comedic corn that clearly has been improvised a lot and shows the actor having some of the most fun I’ve ever seen onscreen. It’s a chaotic flick that captures the mania of restaurant life perfectly, with nods to everything from Monty Python to Blake Edward’s The Party, while still retaining a contemporary personality of it’s own. Broken Lizard has a knack for making every joke land in their films, and it’s laugh city all the way through this one. From engagement rings in fecal matter, third degree burns from scalding soup, endless situational fisacos and satirical characters, it’s just wild. Watch for Lance Henriksen, Carla Gallo, Olivia Munn, Jim Gaffigan, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Morgan Fairchild, Vivica A. Fox as a pop star named Nutella (lol) and a priceless Will Forte. On par with Troopers and Beerfest, funny in spades and so damn re-watchable. An essential for comedy fans.
Simple. Sly. Subtle. Sensational. I’ve run out of words that begin with the letter “S” that describe Alexander Payne’s Nebraska. This film keeps popping up on EPIX HD and every time I notice that it’s on I end up watching it from wherever it’s at in the narrative. The colorized version was an interesting experiment, and I can see why Payne would be interested in trying to see how the film would play in a desaturated color zone, but this film truly feels as if it’s living in black and white; there was no other option. I’ve loved every movie that Payne has put his name on – everything always feels just right, as if there were no other options for him (it’s a very similar feeling I get while watching work from the Coen brothers). Bruce Dern breaks your heart slowly and deceptively in the lead role of a lifetime, June Squibb stole every single scene that she appeared in, and Will Forte hit notes of surprising emotional depth that I didn’t know were in him as a performer. This is the sort of movie that might hit home too hard for some people; as always, Payne wraps his dark story with an abundance of dry humor, this time courtesy of debut screenwriter Bob Nelson, whose sardonic touch fits perfectly with the shivery, monochromatic cinematography of long-time Payne collaborator Phedon Papamichael. Bleak yet filled with lots of heart, achingly sad yet strangely upbeat, honest when it needs to be, and frequently laugh-out-loud-funny, this is yet another small gem from one of America’s best and most consistent filmmakers.