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Press Conference for “Schmucks”

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.

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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.

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“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.”

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“Being middle-aged and all takes up most of your time, doesn’t it?”

With Emmy news immanent and various television items kind of sucking up all the oxygen, it’s a pretty slow day for movie news, give or take an item about a movie Denzel Washington is “looking” to be in or some critical meta-gazing on the ever-bashable Armond White.

Nevertheless, today just happens to be 70th birthday of young Ringo Starr. Joke all you want but, his hugely considerable skills as a drummer and all-around musician aside, Ringo was always the best acting Beatle. With his comically melancholy mien, he was something of a natural but apparently just kind of got bored with it. That’s a shame, but we’ll always have Ringo’s performance in the centerpiece of the most influential rock and roll film ever made.

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A trailer for a Sunday morning/afternoon: “The Kids Are All Right”

It’s a little sad that what appears to be a really entertaining social comedy with two genuine superstars, a leading man who deserves to be one, and another possible emerging young superstar or two is considered an “indie” flick. Anyhow, “The Kids Are All Right” brings us staid and affluent same-sex parents Annette Bening and Julianne Moore. They find their peace interrupted when Mark Ruffalo turns up as the fun-loving, ne’er do well biological father of their teenage children, played by Mia Wasikowska of ”Alice in Wonderland” and Josh Hutcherson of “The Bridge to Terabithia” and the upcoming “Red Dawn” remake.

Except for the lesbian part and the artificial insemination part, this could easily have been an “A” Paramount production in 1951 with, say, Jean Arthur and Rosalind Russell as the two mommies, Robert Mitchum as the bio-dad, and Liz Taylor and maybe Dean Stockwell as the kids. Oh, well.

A big h/t to Dustin Knowles of Pajiba. And, yeah, if I was going to have two mommies, Ms. Bening and Ms. Moore would work for me, too.

Also, of course, this isn’t the first movie with this title, give or take and “L” and a space.

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Raimi & Spidey part company; Hanks to direct again with Roberts in tow; history repeats on “Thor”; an auteur departs; ASC, WGA, and ACE noms; Nikki Finke makes a friend

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My highly esteemed colleague Will Harris has been right on top of  the huge small screen stories that seem to be breaking right and left at the TCA conference this week. Still, it’s not like there hasn’t been any news in movieland. It’s almost hard to know where to start.

* The Hollywood Reporter as well as Nikki Finke and new stablemate Mike Fleming (more on that below) are carrying the news that, in the wake of ongoing script problems, the kibosh has been put on Sam Raimi’s “Spiderman IV” with Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst and a 2012 reboot, written by James Vanderbilt (“Zodiac“) announced. The new film will feature a once-again teenage Peter Parker, so Taylor Lautner is no doubt already in touch with his agent.

THR says the script problems had something to do with a disagreement over supervillains between Raimi and Sony and/or Marvel Studios. Finke also notes that the fourth installment would probably not have been in 3-D and it seems reasonable that that might have been a factor, given the current mania for the process.

* In another apparent scoop for new Deadline team member Mike Fleming, Tom Hanks is returning as a writer-director for the second time since making his 1996 charmer, “That Thing You Do!” A comedy, “Larry Crowne” will reteam him with his “Charlie Wilson’s War” co-star, Julia Roberts. Like “Up in the Air,” according to Fleming it’s somewhat topical in that’s it’s about a middle-aged guy forced to reinvent his career at a time when past generations where just starting to settle down.

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While he’s at it, Fleming also has the word on Shia LaBeouf not going agentless after all and signing with CAA. Agents around the world can all breathe easier now.

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A quick point about Polanski, and….

Some on the right have tried to make arguing for the freedom of Roman Polanski into a left wing cause rather than something espoused by a few filmmakers and entertainment figures a bit blinded by Polanski’s brilliance as a filmmaker. If Polanski really is the next Sacco & Vanzetti, Leonard Peltier or Mumia, why is this piece of verse of blunt-spoken verse by Calvin Trillin running in the country’s best known left-of-center publication? (H/t The Auteur’s Daily.)

Believe me, lefties are as angry at Polanski’s crime as righties and the poem’s attitudes are common across the political board. I actually like these verses quite a bit, and largely agree with them, though I’d vehemently quibble over one of Trillin’s word choices. However, I’ve already quibbled myself silly in various comments sections.

Instead, for no particular reason, I present an indescribable moment of Polanski, the actor, with a magnificent friend lip-synching a standard by Noël Coward — as suggested by Will Harris’s fine new piece on Monty Python solo projects.

Insert joke inspired by “The King and I” here –

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