5 posts categorized "comic spoof"


CGI Critterville visits 'Chinatown' in 'Rango'

In the ever-increasing deluge of animated films, there are soaring adventures for kids like "How to Train Your Dragon," somber thought pieces for adults like "The Illusionist" and those that aspire to appeal to several generations, such as "Up."

"Rango" is a wild card, even using the aforementioned parameters.

"Rango," my friends, is for movie lovers.  While it might appeal to kids to some extent, director Gore Verbinski aims this amazing critter Western not only at adults, but at adults with such diverse movie-viewing experience as "Chinatown" and, dare I say, "The Terror of Tiny Town."

"Chinatown," of course, was Roman Polanski's sleaze-oozing potboiler of 1974 starring Jack Nicholson and late, great director John Huston as a power broker with a tight grip on the L.A. water supply.  All you need to know about "The Terror of Tiny Town" (1938), an awful movie, by the way, is that it spoofed traditional Westerns by inserting little people into all the traditional roles.

"Rango" does the same, but with critters small and smaller.

Johnny Depp, who has "Arrrrrrrrrrrded" his way through a trio of Verbinski-directed "Pirates of the Caribbean" adventures, injects a ton of personality into the title character.  Rango, or at least the violently displaced family pet that will become Rango, is a chameleon.

He gets lost in the desert near Las Vegas, then, by chance, winds up in the dusty Western town aptly called Dirt.  The water supply has gone bone dry and the mayor, a devious turtle voiced by Ned Beatty (looking a little and sounding a lot like Huston), seems to always be sipping some.

After bragging a little in the saloon following a series of cactus juice shots, Rango is named sheriff.  A posse is formed and the little lizard that could (or maybe not) hits the trail to bring water back to Dirt.

To fully understand the beauty of the CGI animation in "Rango," you just have to experience it.  Say what you will about Verbinski turning an old Disney theme park ride into a cash cow movie franchise, he has done wonders here.

In addition to Depp, who is marvelous, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy and the great Harry Dean Stanton all lend their voices (and are  all tremendous) to a well-imagined character menagerie.

The Western cliches come fast and furious.  But combined with the visual brilliance, "Rango" morphs into an animated comic-adventure that's sure to become a topic of conversation when the next movie awards season heats up.  (No need to worry about that now.  That won't happen for a couple of weeks at least.)

My only minor complaint about this tongue-in-and-out-of-cheek Western spoof is that screenwriter John Logan ("The Aviator," "Sweeney Todd") gets a little too mystical at times.  And, at almost two hours, it definitely runs too long for small children.

I do wish Logan had sneaked in one line, though:
"Forget it Rango, it's Dirt."


Trust me, don't grab your 'Shorts'

"Shorts," Robert Rodriguez's goofy kiddie comedy made up of short stories featuring short kids wearing short pants, comes up more than a little short  as family entertainment.

It's full of whiz-bang gadgetry and age-appropriate gross-out humor (giant booger monster, anyone?) best appreciated by kids not yet into their teen years.  

The problem from this aisle seat is that Rodriguez has turned out far superior comedies aimed at kids in the past.  "Shorts" pales in comparison to the first couple of "Spy Kids" adventures (rollicking fun in 2001 and 2002), for instance.

Rodriguez alternates between violence-riddled affairs aimed at adults ("Sin City," "Grindhouse") and comedies for youngsters.  If you know his work, you know he never hesitates to experiment while cranking out films from Troublemaker Studios, his Austin movie production fiefdom.

A zeal to push the envelope has ventured a little too far over the edge this time, however.

"Shorts" tells the story of an 11-year-old named Toe Thompson ( Jimmy Bennett, recently on screen in "Orphan").  Toe is bullied at school and living a miserable young life until a magic Rainbow Rock falls from the sky and whispers, "Make a wish."

Perhaps thinking that the story line was too basic, Rodriguez ramps up the action-adventure madly; like a filmmaking kid might do if he spent the day guzzling  a six pack of his parents'  Red Bull.

With Toe as narrator, "Shorts" leaps back and forth in time, rewinding like a big-screen DVD.  At one point Rodriguez freezes the action (complete with the remote control pause icon on screen), then rewinds.

I'm guessing most of the tykes in the audience won't quite grasp that Rodriguez's aim here is to present sort of a disjointed kiddie  version of his buddy Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction."

Some of the adults might snap onto what's going on.  But shouldn't  an action-adventure targeted at kids be, you know,  presented in a manner they can follow?

The idea for "Shorts" -- at least the wishing rock angle -- came from Rodriguez's son Rebel, who was 6 when inspiration struck.  I admire Rodriguez for incorporating his son's idea into the plot, which is also inspired by vintage "Little Rascals" comic shorts.

It's just too bad that all the frantic antics like a telephone ear piece popping out of a kid's head, the aforementioned marauding booger monster and a scientist (William H. Macy) terrified of germs, don't add up to much fun.

Some of the adult actors are completely wasted.  That's especially the case for James Spader, the gifted co-star of "Boston Legal," who portrays powerful villain Carbon Black.

Young feature film newcomer Jolie Vanier fares much better as Helvetica Black, a grim-faced bully daughter.  Helvetica Black is the first movie character I can recall named after a printing typeface font.

As usual, Rodriguez dots his cast with family members.  His infant niece Bianca makes a pretty impressive movie debut as the baby sister.  By impressive, I mean no noticeable drooling.  And even son Rebel -- Mister  Inspiration -- has a small role as Lug, the video game-obsessed brother.

If I could get my hands on that shiny, multicolored rock, though, I'd wish for a movie more fun to watch and with a more linear structure.

Wait a minute, that might be my second wish.  What's the lottery jackpot up to?


Witty political wordplay is 'In the Loop'

With the possible exception of "Wag the Dog," political satire doesn't spew caustic comedy any darker than what you'll find in the British import "In the Loop."

Unless you're familiar with BBC programming, you might think of this raucous rapid-fire verbal barrage as "The Office" of political bumbling.

That's not far from the truth, really.  "In the Loop," however, is a cousin to the British TV political comedy "The Thick of It," which ran from 2005-2007.

In fact, some of the cast makes the leap to the big screen in writer-director Armando Iannucci's spoof of the British and U.S. political machine.

Assisted by a trio of writers, Iannucci also aims sharp barbs at the 24-hour world news cycle and how it can be manipulated by clever spin doctors, or just run wild on an ill-advised phrase.

Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), Great Britain's minister for international development, sets a potential doomsday situation in motion when he mentions during a radio interview that a U.S. war in the Middle-East is "unforeseeable."

Foster, not the sharpest mind in British government, was invited on the program to discuss the war against diarrhea in the Third World.  The fact that the minister was on the radio talking about diarrhea at all throws Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), the prime minister's director of communications, in an uproar. 
When Tucker hears the mention of war in the Middle-East, the U.K.'s top communications spin doctor goes into a ballistic tirade.

If you're familiar with the verbal spewings of Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House on the Fox medical drama "House," you have some idea of what you're in for here.  Imagine that kind of verbal outburst laced with rapid-fire profanity bombs and you'll have a better understanding of what's going on.

At least "In the Loop" lampoons both sides of the political pond.  Many of us may not know the actors representing the Brits in this battle of will, wit and, perhaps, military artillery.  But there are some familiar faces on the American side.

James Gandolfini, a three-time Emmy Award winner for his work as mob boss Tony Soprano on "The Sopranos," portrays Gen. Miller, a key link to the Pentagon.  Also, David Rasche ("Burn After Reading") stirs the comic pot with excellent timing as the State Department's Linton Barwick, who might just be heading a stealth war committee.

This is a film that's finely tuned by rollicking wordplay.  It's the kind of thing we don't see much anymore.  We used to when Bette Davis and Anne Baxter went at it in "All About Eve" (1951), just to cite one example.

Throw in the ticking political time bomb, a la "Wag the Dog" and "Dr. Strangelove," and you've got a verbally deadly British parlor farce that plays out on British and U.S. soil.

If you enjoy well staged political satire, you may never view the -- dare we say, "somewhat manipulated" -- 24-hour news cycle quite the same. 


'Brüno' aims for the funny bone, crotch

In the radio business, guys like Sacha Baron Cohen's Brüno are called "shock jocks," at least in semi-polite society.

Howard Stern is the best on the airwaves, of course.  But the prodding, do-almost anything veteran radio personality (now holding court on satellite radio) mostly paints vulgarity with words.

Cohen, especially this time out, flops his, uh, humor right out there in vivid detail; almost to the point of being in our faces.  Thank God this 82-minute, squirm-in-your-seat ride isn't in 3-D.  (Oh, the humanity!) 

With "Brüno," as it was with "Borat" three years ago, the British comedian flings graphic nudity and shock-and-awe vulgarity onto a mainstream movie screen near you.

That said, know this.  "Brüno" is funny. 
Cohen's follow up to unabashed outrageousness is not quite "Borat" funny, but it's shockingly clever enough to make anyone tough enough to hang around laugh out loud more than once.

Once again, Cohen draws on one of his outlandish characters from "Da Ali G Show," which first aired in this country on HBO in 2003. 
"Borat" got Borat, Cohen's lampoon of a Kazakh journalist loose in the U.S.  He ups the ante with Brüno, an openly gay fashionista and host of Austria's late-night fashion show "Funkyzeit Mit Brüno" (complete with broken German and subtitles). 
Since Cohen, who co-wrote the script with Anthony Hines, Dan Mazer and Jeff Schaffer, is well-aware that savvy movie-goers might be on to his corral-and-shock style of so-called "guerrilla" filmmaking, "Brüno" goes straight for the comedy crotch, so to speak. 

The title character cavorting in graphic sex scenes arrived near the end of "Borat," and served as the gut-reaction comic knock-out punch.

Not this time.  Brüno begins the cinematic evening with a vigorous sexual romp with his "pygmy" boyfriend Diesel (Clifford Baňagale) and marches into more offensive, confrontational territory post haste. 

By the way, if anything you're read in this review so far offends you, forgive me.  But if you can't handle this, you have no business wasting your money on the movie itself.

Pretending to be straight, Brüno tricks a martial arts instructor into showing him how to defend himself against gay attackers (waving sex devices at the guy the entire time).  He also disrupts a swingers' sex party and even drops trou on an increasingly seething presidential candidate Ron Paul in a Washington, D.C. hotel room.

Once again, the Deep South suffers the most.  Drunk rednecks in Arkansas prove that the South will rise again when a clamoring crowd out for blood gets tricked into watching two men -- one is Cohen, of course -- caress tenderly. 
Who can blame them?  The very vocal local majority had been expecting straight guys to beat the crap out of each other in a cage fight.

And so it goes.  The formula remains the same for "Brüno." Veteran director Larry Charles, who called the low blows on "Borat," returns for more.  It's just more blatant and exaggerated each time out.

From here, we can only guess which will happen first:  Cohen running out of new character disguises to dupe the unsuspecting, or Cohen getting snuffed trying to top himself. 


Where there's a weak spoof, there's a Wayans

Clear the floor, "Dance Flick" passes the gross-out comic baton to the next generation of Wayans kin.

Rarely funny, this spoof of every dance movie you can imagine from "You Got Served" to "Step Up" with major twisted homage to "Fame," "High School Musical" and "Hairspray" relies instead on gut-reaction shock laughs.

If you've seen the trailer and you've seen pregnant battle dancer Charity (Essence Atkins) spin around on her tummy and then pop a smiling baby across the dance floor, you know the kind of kick-in-the-groin humor you're in for here.

The problem is, it rarely works.

Damien Dante Wayans (son of sibling Elvira Wayans), who toiled a while on TV's "My Wife and Kids," calls the erratic, wise-cracking shots.  Damon Wayans Jr. is out front as Thomas Uncles (nicknamed Uncle Tom, of course), a street dancer/thug who might just turn his life around via dancing if he can stay alive long enough.

Thomas hooks up with clumsy would-be dancer Megan White at Musical High School.  TV actress Shoshana Bush takes on the role inspired -- No, let's say ripped-off -- from Julia Stiles character in "Save the Last Dance."

The only character consistently funny in all this is extremely gifted comedienne Amy Sedaris.  Sedaris, who no longer needs to prove she's fearless after starring in "Strangers With Candy" in 2005, lets it all hang out as the school's dance instructor.  Let's just say she wears her leotards way too tight.

Her name:  Ms. Cameltoe.

'Nuff said?

Nothing else even comes close to comic inspiration.  This second generation of spoofing Wayanses turns out to be as lame as the last.  The older Wayans had some success with the "Scary Movie" franchise, but also bestowed turkeys like "White Chicks" and "Little Man" on moviegoers.

Spend good money on this one if you must.  But remember this:
If you do, they're gonna git you sucka.