For those of us who enjoy contemplating the historical and political currents that run through film history, it’s tempting to look at the latest comedy from director Jay Roach (“Austin Powers,” “Meet the Parents,” “Recount”) as a possible reflection of American discomfort at the brutal nature of business and the growing disparities between the wealthy and the increasingly lumpen middle-class. However, when you’re talking about a movie that ends with a confrontation between a good idiot (Steve Carell) who designs amazing dioramas using dead mice and an evil idiot (Zach Galifianakis) with the power of mind control, but only over other idiots, that may be taking things a little seriously.
Opening this Friday, “Dinner for Schmucks” borrows its premise and some of its plot from Frances Veber’s 1998 “The Dinner Game.” Paul Rudd co-stars as Barry, a rising L.A. executive who finds that entering his company’s upper echelon will mean participating in a competitive Dinner for Winners. All the guests are to bring an extraordinary person who has been unrecognized by society — in other words, a dithering idiot. The winner of the nasty game is the one whose guest is the most amusingly stupid.
Barry is initially appalled by the idea and assures Julie (Stephanie Szostak), his horrified art curator girlfriend, he’ll have nothing to do with it. On the other hand, he needs to pay for his Porsche and his absurdly large apartment at West Hollywood’s Sunset Tower Hotel (in real life, you’d need a billionaire’s wealth to afford that). It’s a choice between being nice and being unemployed and in debt. Then the fates seem to reward him when, driving through a quainted-up version of Westwood Village, he nearly runs over Tim Wagner (Carell), a clueless IRS employee and ultra-naive artist committed to his “mousterpieces.” Wagner, of course, turns out to be a goodhearted type whose attempts to help his new friend backfire in increasingly absurd ways. Fortunately, most of them are funny, particularly thanks to some outstanding and often completely unhinged supporting performances from Zach Galifianakis and Jemaine Clement of “Flight of the Conchords” as an absurdly pretentious and untalented, but hugely successful, artist on the make for Barry’s increasingly angry girlfriend and all other attractive women on the planet.
“Dinner for Schmucks” isn’t going to electrify cinephiles or become a staple of screenwriting seminars, but a couple of weeks back it had proven itself to be a very effective laugh-getting machine at a West L.A. screening. Therefore, full of a free breakfast, a selection of journos were in a pretty good mood for a morning press conference at the Beverly Hilton with a number of funny and/or talented people, including stars Carell and Rudd, supporting bad guys Bruce Greenwood (“Star Trek“) and Ron Livingston (“Office Space“) as well as director Roach and writers David Guion and Michael Handelman, who are about to become directors themselves with the film version of the BBC comedy, “Cruise of the Gods.”
It’s been a slightly less than stellar 24 hours here in movie-land, at least as far as it regards managing ‘net access, which is why you’re not now looking at my usual box office preview. I’ll try to at least allude to this week’s very interest box office derby in a later post.
Though I’m embargoed from reviewing it before it’s 7/30 opening, and not sure how much opining I’m even allowed to do here, I can say that I attended a screening last night for the upcoming Jay Roach comedy starring Steve Carell and Paul Rudd, “Dinner for Schmucks” and that the brief scene below, while amusing in that humiliating way fans of “The Office” know so well, isn’t even close to being the funniest or best scene in a movie with a lot impressive comic set pieces — which is not saying it doesn’t have some significant faults, too, but you can wait to hear about those as well.
The movie’s real strength here is a strong supporting cast and, as oddly funny as Lucy Davenport and David Walliams of “Little Britain” are as a wackily pretentious Swiss billionaire and his wife, the comic stylings of Jemaine Clement of “Flight of the Conchords” as a wackily pretentious artist (a lot of wackiness and pretense going on in this film) and Zach Galifianakis of every-comedy-made-in-the-last-two-years as a dickie-wearing master of mind control are something to behold. Until you get a chance to see that, you’ll have to make do with this.
Hey folks. I’ve got a relatively limited amount of time today and, just to add to the drama, the usually excellent free wi-fi at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf slowed down today to a relative crawl for a time while I was researching this. Let’s see how much I can cover.
* Just as I was ready to wrap things up, we have a breaking story. As I sorta alluded to yesterday regarding J.D. Salinger, it’s inevitable his death will pave the way for some new films. It turns out I was, if anything, way behind the curve. Working screenwriter Shane Salerno — whose work, like the planned James Cameron-produced “Fantastic Voyage” remake, bends toward the geek — has been working on a documentary about the writer who became almost as famous for his escape from the public eye as for his actual work, and it’s apparently nearly completed. Mike Fleming has not only broken the news of the formerly under-wraps project, he’s seen most of the movie
* Of course, Sundance continues slogging away, and word of acquisitions by film distributors have been making their way round the usual spots. Indiewire’s Eugene Hernandez has news on the well-regarded “Blue Valentine” with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. He also gives a quick nod to such other highish profile films as “The Tilman Story” (a documentary about the late Pat Tilman), “The Kids Are Alright” (not to be confused with the old rock-doc about the Who) and “Hesher,” a not very appealing sounding film that nevertheless has Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead. The “Valentine” sale is of particular interesting as it was the troubled Weinstein Company that picked it up. Coincidentally, the company named for Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s parents, Mira and Max, has gone on the block.
Posted by Christopher Glotfelty (12/11/2009 @ 3:28 pm)
“Flight of the Conchords,” one of the most inventive comedies of the past decade, is not coming back for a third season. The reason why remains unclear. While the duo’s website suggests exhuastion, Variety reports that HBO cancelled the series. I remember reading a while back that the network was willing to give Jemaine Clement, Bret McKenzie, and co-creator James Bobin an indefinite amount to produce another season. Considering its rabid fan base, the final decision likely came from the “Conchords” camp.
One can understand their creative fatigue. Besides constructing the story and script, the pair also wrote two complete songs per episode. And these songs aren’t just throwaways — they’re actually quite good. Although the total product of “Flight of the Conchords” only amounts to 11 hours (22 episodes), I’ve enjoyed every minute.
Of course, a movie is already rumored, but I’d expect a concert tour before they hit the big screen.
…has been given a new name for its U.S. release: “Pirate Radio.”
If you’re unfamiliar with the motion picture in question (which lets out most of our UK readership, as the film was released across the pond back in April), here’s the official synopsis from Focus Features:
“Pirate Radio” is the high-spirited story of how 8 DJs’ love affair with Rock ‘n’ Roll changed the world forever. In the 1960s, this group of rogue DJs, on a boat in the middle of the Northern Atlantic, played rock records and broke the law, all for the love of music. The songs they played united and defined an entire generation and drove the British government crazy. By playing Rock ‘n’ Roll, they were standing up against the British government who did everything in their power to shut them down. The band of rebels is led by The Count, played by the Academy Award-winning Philip Seymour Hoffman, Quentin (Bill Nighy), the boss of Radio Rock, Gavin (Rhys Ifans), the greatest DJ in Britain, Midnight Mark (Tom Wisdom), Doctor Dave (Nick Frost), and Young Carl (Tom Sturridge), who comes of age amidst the chaos of sex, drugs and rock n roll. The film features an unbelievable selection of music including The Beatles, The Stones, Beach Boys, Dusty Springfield, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Smokey Robinson, David Bowie, Otis Redding, Cat Stevens just to name a few. The film is laugh out loud funny and speaks to the rock n roll rebel in all of us.
A few other bits which might interest you: it also stars Kenneth Branagh, Rhys Darby (“Flight of the Conchords”), Chris O’Dowd (“The I.T. Crowd”), Ralph Brown (“Meadowlands”), January Jones (“Mad Men”), and Jack Davenport (“Coupling,” “Swingtown”), and it was written and directed by the always-enjoyable Richard Curtis, the man behind “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Notting Hill,” “Love, Actually,” and the “Bridget Jones” films.
Here’s the trailer for your viewing enjoyment:
In a turn of events which obviously leaves me pleased as punch, I have been invited to participate in the press junket for the U.S. release of the film, so stay tuned to Bullz-Eye and Premium Hollywood for further coverage, including discussions with Mr. Curtis and some of the stars of “Pirate Radio.” Rest assured, my first question will be, “Who decided that Americans couldn’t appreciate a title like ‘The Boat That Rocked’?” (I’m guessing I’ll learn that some higher-up decided, “Hey, the kids love the pirates, so maybe we can trick ’em into thinking this is actually about pirates!”)