American: The Bill Hicks Story

Granted, we would have been inclined to declare “American: The Bill Hicks Story” essential viewing regardless of its quality, because Hicks was one of the greatest comics, philosophers and preachers who ever lived. (There is a reason he was a member of the inaugural class of Bullz-Eye’s Stand-Up Hall of Fame.) As it turns out, “American” is essential viewing for reasons that go far beyond its subject matter. Never have we seen a documentary, especially one about a comedian, handled with such a personal touch.

The film digs into Hicks’ upbringing and his humble beginnings doing improv as a 14-year-old in Houston, and the rebels who assisted him on his quest. The interviewees are almost exclusively family members and childhood friends, with nary a single famous comic to be found (a most welcome change of pace). The movie’s most unique touch, though, is the animation, as the filmmakers used family photos of Hicks, his family and friends, and visually re-created the various stories interview subjects would tell, so that it looked as though you were actually witnessing these events happening. It’s a brilliant move, and one that will likely be borrowed repeatedly in the upcoming years.

The DVD’s second disc, meanwhile, will have Hicksophiles positively geeking out. There are never-before-seen clips, deleted scenes, extended interviews, and featurettes galore (over 90 minutes of ’em). Newcomers will be enthralled by the material; fans will love it for its grace. And the bonus features. (BBC/2 Entertain 2011)

Click to buy American: The Bill Hicks Story from Amazon

  

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Groupon: Hollywood’s new money launderer?

We’re still trying to wrap our heads around this one. A “Super Groupon” appeared in our inbox this afternoon, offering tickets to Matthew McConaughey’s upcoming legal thriller “The Lincoln Lawyer” (which is not being screened for the majority of critics) for six bucks. The fine print: the ticket must be purchased through Fandango. This is a nifty way to promote a movie, but it also raises some questions.

lincoln lawyer

“How much did you pay to see my movie? HOW MUCH, damn it?”

What is Fandango’s surcharge for this transaction?

Groupon recently ran into trouble when they ran a deal with FTD Flowers, and FTD turned right around and raised their prices for Groupon customers only. Groupon eventually made good on FTD’s bait-and-switch – and surely bitch slapped FTD back to the Stone Age for their truculent ways – but what is Fandango going to charge for “processing” these orders? A buck? two bucks? Not really much of a deal once you factor in surcharges.

That’s the lesser of our concerns, though, by far.

How will Lionsgate report the sale of these tickets?

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Groupon sells one million tickets to “The Lincoln Lawyer” through this promotion. Groupon has a 50/50 sharing policy with their clients, which means that Lionsgate would net $3 million from the deal. However, those are a million potential full-price tickets that they just sold, meaning that, with the national average at $8.00 per ticket, they could report that those tickets were the equivalent of $8 million in receipts, giving them a much better than expected opening weekend, which as we all know is the true worth of a movie these days. Later, when the movie has run its course in the theaters, they can cook the books, if necessary – after all, they might actually make that money back once that bloated opening weekend total hits the wire – when the movie ships to DVD and VOD. Call us suspicious, but it looks as though Groupon just inadvertently created an elaborate shell game that will allow every studio to goose the profits of any movie tracking below expectations.

Why do we get the sense that there is nothing about this Groupon that is meant to benefit the consumer?

  

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Denis Leary and Friends Present: Douchebags and Donuts

Well, this isn’t going to help Denis Leary’s reputation when it comes to stealing other people’s jokes.

Here’s a little back story: According to the biography American Scream, Leary used to do chunks of the routines of the late, great Bill Hicks. Hicks was aware of this, but since Leary played parts of the country that Hicks seldom visited, he let it go. Then Leary made No Cure for Cancer in 1992, where he committed the unpardonable sin of recording Hicks’ material, and taking credit for it. Louis C.K. later claimed that Leary’s song “Asshole” was based on a bit that he used to do. Leary has denied stealing from anyone because, well, what else is he supposed to do? Fortunately, we were able to ask Leary about Hicks directly, to which he gives a lengthy, thoughtful reply. (You can read it here.)

Now comes “Douchebags and Donuts,” a comedy show Leary organized with a few friends as a fundraiser for his charity. It’s a great cause, and it’s great that the show was a success. But the first word in that title has already invoked the ire of one Jay Louis, editor in chief of the sublimely funny site Hot Chicks with Douchebags. Louis went on a long and unusually pointed rant about Leary’s thievery, and how he’s been championing the mock of the douchebag for five years, building a mini-empire out of it. And that’s fine, but it’s not as if Louis created these goofy-haired halfwits – he was just the first to dedicate a site to mocking them, and in fact should be honored that his efforts have created such a groundswell that the phrase is slowly working its way into the pop lexicon with his definition as the #1 description. Before Jay, calling someone a douchebag just meant they were a jerk; now, it defines a very specific kind of jerk. Well done.

Having said that, Louis should have waited to see “Douchebags and Donuts” before criticizing it, since doing so makes him like those Republicans who call out movies they’ve never seen. If he had waited, he would have realized that the ‘douche signifier’ portion of Leary’s routine is pretty small, though it’s hard not to think of either Louis, Jay or C.K., when Leary performs his new song “Douchebag.” The rest of Leary’s routine is pretty tame, though, showing mug shots of Nick Nolte and James Brown and dissecting the side effects to popular medications (side effect for Viagara: Death). It’s no Cure for Cancer, or even Lock and Load, but it definitely looks better compared to the routines of his friends Lenny Clarke and Adam Ferrera, who come off like blue-rated Blue Collar guys. The star of the show, without question, is Whitney Cummings, who rips her mostly male audience to shreds while having fun with the idea of women as crazy bitches.

Some might point to the infrequency of comedy routines from Leary as an indictment that he is indeed a thief. That’s faulty reasoning, but Leary isn’t helping his case with “Douchebags and Donuts.” He’s clearly a funny guy, but one gets the sense that he was too busy with his myriad of other projects to work very hard on his own routine for this show.

Click to buy “Denis Leary and Friends Present: Douchebags and Donuts”

  

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The Comedy Central Roast of David Hasselhoff

As far as daises go, the group assembled to roast “Knight Rider” and “Baywatch” star David Hasselhoff was not the most star-studded, but all concerned brought the funny when it counted. With “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane serving as the master of ceremonies, the roasters hit Hasselhoff in the usual places – he’s a drunk, his shows were terrible, he’s a lousy singer – but the gifted comics still found a way to mine comedy gold from it anyway, particularly Lisa Lampanellli, who owned the show’s best line. (“Your liver was so black and bloated, it could have starred in ‘Precious.'”) MacFarlane is surprisingly dry as the MC – though he did drop in a little Stewie voice when discussing Pamela Anderson’s breasts – and that proves to be the right call. The biggest surprises are unquestionably the non-comedians. George Hamilton does it old-school but still manages to throw in a few good zingers, and Anderson has much better comic timing than you’d think. As for Hulk Hogan, well, he made for a better target than he did a roaster. Hamilton, in particular, pounded him.

Best of all, Hasselhoff shows the world that he really can sing, charging into the room singing “Hooked on a Feeling” and finishing with some power ballad that, strangely, has his voice drowned in the mix. When it does rise above the instruments, though, it sounds good. His recent reality show may have been canceled, but Comedy Central’s roast of Hasselhoff strikes the right balance of good-natured skewering. It also serves as one of the last performances by the late Greg Giraldo, who was just about to move up to the next level. Pity.

Click to buy “The Comedy Central Roast of David Hasselhoff”

  

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Catfish

It’s shocking that this movie didn’t find a larger audience, given that it’s the “Facebook movie” that its users can best relate to. A New York photographer begins to receive correspondence from a young girl in Michigan, and soon is in tight with her family on Facebook. It is here that he meets the girl’s older sister, and…well, we really can’t say anything more than that, but let’s just say that roughly two dozen “Wow” moments follow. Unfortunately, in this post-“I’m Still Here” world, the nagging question of whether the movie’s events are real lingers over everything that happens after the 25-minute mark. (The filmmakers and its star admit that it looks a little too perfect, but insist that they simply got lucky and the story is 100% true.) This does not distract from what is a truly fascinating story, even if it does play its hand a bit too early (again, at the 25-minute mark). We’d say more, but really, this is one you just have to experience for yourself.

Click to buy “Catfish”

  

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