Hall Pass, Cedar Rapids and Rango: Three Comedies Addicted To Winning
by Chauncey Telese
Hello again, this is the first time in awhile I’ve been able to post two weeks in a row. I’d like to think it’s because I have tiger blood and Adonis DNA or that for the first time in a long time I’ve been able to generate poetry from my fingertips but really the reason is for the first time this year, things are picking up.
Deron Williams found out that if you get Jerry Sloan to quit, you get exiled to (in David Patterson voice) NEW JERSEY! Carmelo and Amare are actually looking like a team that could beat Miami in round one (especially after their choke job against Orlando), the NFL isn’t on lockout quite yet, and Kendrick Perkins could decide the western conference. That trade scares me as a Laker fan, sure Boston gets a little worse but Oklahoma City gets a lot better.
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The Oscars have come and gone and I’m still perplexed how David Fincher, who is on the short list of the best directors working right now, loses for making what will be considered his masterpiece. He lost to a movie that no one will really remember or care about in five years and in five years will be shocked it won. Also, who knew that Kirk Douglass’s dirty old man routine would be the best part of the show? I feel bad that Franco and Hathaway got thrown under the bus for what was one of the worst-written Oscars in a long time. Sure, they had a hard time thinking on their feet and Franco became progressively disinterested and Hathaway had to compensate more and more.
In order to find a happy medium between the old guard and new guard and find hosts who balance both demographics, might I suggest:
- Tina Fey and Steve Carell
- Anne Hathaway and George Clooney
- Anne Hathaway and Tom Hanks
Or go with Justin Timberlake because he appeals to almost everyone and he can improve with no problem. They also need to explain to me how Lena Horne became the hammer in the In Memoriam and why Halle Berry spoke about her, yet Dennis Hopper got buried, Corey Haim got replaced by an agent and Leslie Nielsen got lost in the shuffle. Listen, I think that Lena Horne was a groundbreaking entertainer and broke racial barriers and all but it was like Halle Berry was auditioning for the Lena Horne biopic and it came off to me as tasteless. Enough about the Oscars, let’s move on to my favorite pop culture moment of the week. CHARLIE SHEEN!
As far as celebrity rants go, this is in the Hall of Fame and is the most unique because unlike Mel Gibson, Christian Bale, Kobe Bryant etc. Charlie is the only one who has controlled every aspect of what he says. He wasn’t caught on a camera phone, he didn’t have someone record his conversations and send them to TMZ, or wasn’t filmed during a tense moment on the set. Charlie has been the most accessible celebrity in a long time, and the most entertaining and fascinating. That “20/20” interview was a compelling hour of television almost more so then the scripted programming (granted the only new shows were “Justified” and “Parenthood” but still that’s stiff competition).
I’m not in the camp that thinks he’s using, I just think he’s just an eccentric who is finally letting us see his id at full capacity. His id is an F-18, bro. I’ve never heard anyone call themselves a drug before let alone a drug that could kill me after one try, be proud of being in the same celebrity party circle as Sinatra, Richards, and Jagger while explaining to us how much he does when he goes on a bender. I certainly have never seen anyone call Thomas Jefferson a p****. Charlie is an innovator and the first celebrity in the Twitter era to command this much attention willingly and I can’t wait to see what he says and does next, although I’m sure whatever it is it will involve winning and I will love it violently.
This week I have three comedies to cover, one a broad guy comedy, an indie comedy that should hit it big on DVD, and one of the most innovative animated movies to come out post-Pixar.
“Hall Pass”: An Almost Return to Form for the Farrelly Brothers
I’ve been a huge fan of the Farrelly Brothers since they caused me to nearly die laughing Roger Rabbit style with their debut film “Dumb & Dumber” which is still as funny today as it was then. Their work progressed with “Kingpin” (totally underrated). They hit their apex with “There’s Something About Mary” which like the aforementioned film kills me every time I see it and it remains one of my favorite comedies of the last 20 years. Then they brought Jim Carrey back for “Me, Myself, & I” which again was downright hilarious. After that however, they hit a bit of a funk. “Shallow Hal” was hit or miss, “Fever Pitch” was a disappointment, “Stuck on You” didn’t click, and “The Heartbreak Kid” was a colossal failure.
Well, after a rough decade the Farrellys have sort of come back to form with “Hall Pass.” I say sort of because, despite the talented people involved, it feels like the first draft of what could’ve been a great movie.
Owen Wilson plays Fred, a devoted husband and father who annoys his wife Maggie (Pam Beasley herself, Jenna Fisher of “The Office”), by checking out other women and his best friend Fred (“SNL’s” Jason Sudekis) does the same with his wife Grace (Christina “Kelly Bundy” Applegate).
After Rick and Fred embarrass their wives with their crude and honest discussion about other women (and with Fred, a neighborhood indiscretion that invokes shades of Ben Stiller’s prom night in “There’s Something About Mary”) they decide to follow in the footsteps of their psychologist friend Dr. Lucy and they give their husbands a hall pass, a one week off from marriage, if you will. They are immediately the envy of their friends and are eagerly watched to see what kind of action they get.
The problem is a predicable one: Rick and Fred have been married for so long, their recollection of the single days is hazy and their moves no longer work, if they ever did at all. We see several instances where they strike out repeatedly and try various techniques that only serve to leave them alone in their motel room. Meanwhile their wives take the kids up to the coast for their own hall pass and unlike their husbands actually attract a plethora of attention.
Now, this movie is very funny at times, and the biggest reason for that is Jason Sudekis. Fred is a wannabe pig and his tactics are far more crude then Rick’s who is just a nice guy looking for a change of pace. Rick has luck with an Australian barista named Leigh (Nicky Whelan) while Fred settles for some horrible alternatives (the Farrelys have never been afraid of going for grossout humor and they amp it up here).
But back to my original point: Sudekis is a star in the making. He is one of my favorite people on SNL and his guest starring role on “30 Rock” is always entertaining to watch. Here he shows he can easily be the funniest person in a movie and should get many more at bats as time goes on. What also works are the supporting cast who are great but totally underused. Stephen Merchant (co-creator of the British version of “The Office”) who is awesome during the credits, J.B. Smoove (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), Larry-Joe Campbell, and my favorite, Richard Jenkins as single, wealthy playboy Coakley.
Coakley is adept at finding the truth about women at a party and almost has a radar-like quality in picking out the good ones. I wish all of the supporting players got more screen time because it does become a tad tiresome seeing Rick and Fred have the same arguments.
The biggest knock I have on this movie is it doesn’t take advantage of having Pam Beasley and Kelly Bundy. Jenna Fisher and Christina Applegate are two of the most underrated women in comedy. They get some stuff to do but they don’t get to be funny and that to me was a bummer. It’s not like the Farrellys don’t know how to write for women, they practically made Cameron Diaz and even got Renee Zellweger to come off as funny.
This was a glaring oversight because they do toy with the idea that the women have a hall pass but instead back off of that plot twist. What makes the movie work is the amount of heart they exhibit and that almost saves it from being an awful movie. I’m conflicted, because on one hand I enjoyed myself, but really wish that they would’ve gone further and taken more time to develop their characters. This movie serves as a warmup before the Farrellys make their highly-anticipated “Three Stooges” movie and that should be amazing.
For now, this is a comedy that is good but more of a rental because while it is funny it should’ve been better. Moving on, our next movie is a comedy that I will probably consider one of the most underrated movies of the year.
“Cedar Rapids”: The Nard Dog gets to Grow Up
I’ve been an Ed Helms fan for many years now. I first saw him in “The Daily Show” and watched him pop up in bit parts in movies like “Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay” and “Evan Almighty.” He then got hired as Andy Bernard on “The Office” and got to demonstrate his singing, banjo, and overall comedy skills. Then he exploded as Stu in “The Hangover” and with his aforementioned gig on “The Office,” appears to be on the verge of getting to carry movies in a starring role.
His first at bat is the indie comedy “Cedar Rapids” which serves to show us just how versatile and likeable a performer Helms is and the first step toward proving he is more then a supporting player.
“Cedar Rapids” is the story of Tim Lippe (Helms) a sheltered insurance agent who has never left his small Wisconsin town of Brown Valley. He is beyond naïve and thinks his former teacher Macy (Sigourney Weaver) is his girlfriend even though she tells him it’s just a fling. Tim is also an overly nice guy who loves insurance and later when we learn why, it’s actually kind of heartbreaking.
When his company’s top salesman Roger (Thomas “Lt. Dangle” Lennon) dies in a less then dignified way (think David Carradine) when he is supposed to go to the ASMI convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and get the company it’s fourth two diamond award for excellence. Lippe’s boss Bill Krogstad (the always excellent Stephen Root) decides to send him to the convention in hopes that his squeaky clean image will save the company.
Tim goes to Cedar Rapids and is blown away by how big everything is and how much it’s different then his town. He has to share a room with Ron Wilkes (Isaih Whitlock Jr.) an insurance salesman from Minnesota and a more optimistic version of Stanley from “The Office” and John C. Reilly’s Dean Zigler who is as lewd and crude as Reilly’s best characters; Dale Dobeck and Reed Rothchild, but proves to be more adult then both.
The three become fast friends and then Tim meets Joan (Anne Heche) who is happily married, but like Vera Farmiga in “Up in the Air” uses her time on the road to escape who she is. Tim at first finds her creepy and weird but then begins to fall for her and she sort of falls for him. Tim is under considerable pressure from Bill to impress the uber Christian insurance boss Orin Helgesson (Red Foreman himself, Kurtwood Smith) yet as time goes on, he learns to let go.
After a scavenger hunt, Tim becomes the toast of the convention and like everyone’s little brother. He begins to win everyone over with his good-natured honesty and his karaoke skills (which is a scene that is both hilarious and very sweet) but then begins to see the ugly side of his business. He learns the truth about Roger’s success getting the two diamond award and after he almost screws up getting the award by getting caught with Joan in the pool, he comes undone at a backwoods party with a hooker that takes a liking to him.
This movie is very simple and plays like a more comedic version of “Up in the Air” but instead of Tim choosing isolation, he sort of just grew up in it. Ed Helms is a knockout here and shows us how vulnerable he is and sees the world differently then everyone else. Everyone else in the movie is fantastic as well. Anne Heche continues to prove she has some great comedic chops and makes a really sweet sympathetic character out of Joan, Isaiah Whitlock is sneaky funny, and John C. Reilly is his usual hilarious self.
I hope this movie has a second life on DVD because it is so funny and deserves to be seen by many people. I can’t stress just how good Helms is and I hope after “Hangover Part II,” he makes a boatload of money so he can do more movies like this. “Cedar Rapids” was a pleasant surprise and if you can find it, I highly recommend you see it.
Our last film is an animated film that “Rolling Stone” has called “the ultimate WTF movie.”
“Rango”: Welcome Back Nickelodeon!
A long time ago Nickelodeon used to make cartoons that were for kids but played really well to adults. Shows such as “Ren and Stimpy,” “Rocko’s Modern Life,” “Aaah Real Monsters,” “As Told By Ginger,” “Doug,” “Rugrats,” “Hey Arnold” etc. were edgy and in their own way challenged kids to look at the world differently.
Well, for some reason Nick decided that they didn’t want to make cartoons any more, instead opting for “Hannah Montana”-style shows that were designed to create teen stars that would sell DVDs and albums. Apparently somebody at Nickelodeon has grown some stones and allowed for edgy animation to come back again. Not only have they made a movie that is visually equal to Pixar (it should be, it was made by ILM) but one that matches it in terms of visceral storytelling.
The only difference is that even Pixar has never made a movie this bizarre and surreal at the same time. When I saw the first trailer for this movie, I knew it was going to be something totally different and boy do I hate being right almost all the time. “Rango” is the best western parody since “Blazing Saddles” and is easily the front runner for Best Animated Feature at next year’s Oscars.
The story begins with a chameleon with no name (Johnny Depp) who practices plays with the inanimate objects in his tank and longs to make contact with people and find purpose. His tank crashes out of the car window and he finds himself trapped in the Mojave Desert. He wanders the desert (wearing a Hunter S. Thompson-style Hawaiian shirt) and has his death foretold by a mariachi band consisting of owls.
After outrunning a hawk, the chameleon meets Beans (Isla Fisher), who has a nervous tick where she freezes in times of duress. She takes him to the town of Dirt which is like the consummate Old West town that is experiencing a mysterious drought.
The chameleon goes into the saloon and creates a persona for himself: Rango a badass outlaw from out West. The town buys into his stories and he becomes sheriff after accidentally killing the hawk. Rango meets the Mayor (Ned Beatty) and begins to wonder if he is involved in the drought.
Once Rango becomes the sheriff, we are treated to several hilarious and awesome action sequences that pay homage to “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” “Apocalypse Now” and other westerns. The jokes are rapid-fire and very adult in nature, witty enough to go over kids’ heads but will have adults bursting with laughter. Johnny Depp once again creates a fun character that is part con artist, part actor, and part hero.
The entire cast performed their voice work together (a la “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”) and it makes the entire movie flow. The visuals are absolutely incredible and it will take several viewings to soak in all of the details such as the sunrise and sunset, the little nuances of the town, and the way the lighting is done throughout. While the story isn’t exactly novel, it is very dark in tone. There is genuine peril and death is definitely a possibility throughout, especially once we meet outlaw Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy) with a rattle that is a gun barrel.
Rango is unlike anything I’ve seen before and a large credit goes to “Pirates of the Caribbean” director Gore Verbinski, who seems to be reenergized after doing three Jack Sparrow movies. Verbinski and Depp owe each other their career (I realize Depp owes Tim Burton too, but none of Burton’s movies with Depp ever netted the kind of success as the Pirates movies) and their collaborative efforts here are spellbinding. I hope that “Rango” does mega business because it will encourage Nickelodeon to greenlight more movies like this. Even though Pixar is the gold standard, it doesn’t hurt to have competition.
Thank You for Reading and stay tuned, as next week I witness “Battle: Los Angeles.” Remember you can see these and other fine films like “The Adjustment Bureau” at your local Edwards.