Category Archives: Jonah Hill

Movie Review: The Wolf of Wall Street

Image via Slate

“The Wolf of Wall Street” is the rare film in which its trailer is not misleading. If you came anticipating flying midgets and strippers with money taped to them, that is exactly what you will get.

Although he has dipped his toes into very different territory over the years (“The Aviator,” “Hugo”), Martin Scorsese returns to the world of crime and money again and again. Each time, he seems to have something new to say about it, and gives us another rags to riches villain to engrain into our memories.

Meet Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a middle class kid from Bayside, Queens who just wants to make millions. His ambition brings him to Wall Street where he meets a broker (Matthew McConaughey) who teaches him how to survive on Wall Street, mainly through increased sex and drug intake.

Through some successes and failures over the next few years, Belfort finds himself in the penny stock business and eventually, he becomes a multimillionaire. He begins to live a life of excess as opposed to luxury. Those with enough money are comfortable. Then there are people like Jordan Belfort, who have more money than they can spend, and thus have wealth-induced anxiety. I hate that I am about to type this, but I feel like I have to: more money really does mean more problems.

Scorsese fights excess with excess. With a running time that just hits the three hour mark, he revels in the insane behavior that took place at Stratton Oakmont and then reprimands it. “The Wolf of Wall Street” embodies the truism that crime doesn’t pay, and it has such a fun time in doing so. “The Wolf of Wall Street” is a comedy, through and through, and by far one of the funniest movies of the year. This is a satire with consequences. It allows its actors to show off comic skills that you knew or didn’t know that they ever had.

Scorsese’s films with DiCaprio has proven to be one of the most successful actor-director collaborations ever, and about as close to the pairing that Scorsese and DeNiro once had. DiCaprio has never had a real comedic role before, which is a shame; he has never been funnier than he is in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” His drug-addled physical commitment to his performance turns Jordan Belfort into the weirdest kind of cartoon – the kind that will slink and slither as much as he needs to so long as it helps him put more money in his pocket. And while DiCaprio could probably make a rock seem charismatic, he has especially good chemistry with Jonah Hill, who plays his sidekick, Donnie Azoff. Many of the scenes are focused on Hill’s ability to bounce off another person in long banter sessions. He is as good with DiCaprio as he has been in past comedies with Michael Cera and Channing Tatum.

“The Wolf of Wall Street” proves that age has nothing on Scorsese. He recently said that he thinks he only has a few films left in him. However, his directorial style is as fresh today as it was when he first started. His view of the world lends itself to so many different times and places. However, it is fantastic to see him back in his home turf. Whether it is the 1860s in Five Points or the 1990s on Wall Street, Scorsese knows New York better than anyone. He captures the neighborhoods, the accents, and the attitudes. His hyperactive directing style lends itself so well to the chaotic energy of the city.

This film has been compared many times to “Goodfellas,” you know, that movie you will watch to completion anytime it is on cable. While the comparison sets “Wolf” up for high expectations, it is a fair one. “Wolf” is filled with criss-crossing perspectives and multiple voiceovers. This is Jordan’s story, and he gets a chance to try and justify himself with the perspective of time. However, allowing the side characters to comment is a sly way to let the audience know that the narrator cannot be trusted.

In the world of “The Wolf of Wall Street,” stockbrokers are the new gangsters: kids aspire to be them, women want to be with them. They see what they want and they take it. However, Henry Hill is something of a sympathetic figure, while Jordan Belfort does not come close to being sympathetic. The fact that the film is able to get this across is part of what makes it so good. While “Goodfellas” showed that gangsters could be average guys who found some short cuts to success, “The Wolf of Wall Street” portrays criminals as reverse Robin Hoods who got rich by ripping off the working class. “Wolf” is really about class warfare. The scene where Belfort and his gang launch little people for their own entertainment struck me as biting, yet sad comedy. It is about the equivalent of the scene in “History of the World: Part I” where King Louis shoots peasants for fun, the same people he is supposed to be looking out for.

Nobody contradicts himself for artistic gain quite as well as Scorsese does. Throughout the film’s run, quaaludes are snorted and orgies are had, and we get to experience the feeling of being involved in all of these. Scorsese has an amazing ability of being able to boil down the business of crime into something understandable. Sure, little pieces could have been trimmed off of the film here and there, but no scene really needed to be removed completely. There is never a boring moment in the film, something that cannot be said for most films that are half the length of “The Wolf of Wall Street.” You will enjoy every moment of what is on screen, and then question why you enjoyed something about a subject so dark. This is provocation done right in one of the best films of the year.

Brain Farts From The Edge (Minor Spoilers/Spoilers For Real Life Ahead)

  • Matthew McConaughey is barely in the film, but he still deserves an Oscar nomination. I also like how most directors seem to have given up on trying to get him to drop his Texas accent.
  • As Always, Kyle Chandler plays the authority figure. Luckily, he has more of a personality than he did in “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty.” Plus, he gets to curse. Go coach!
  • The chimp in roller skates needed more screen time. He is as intriguing as the llama they always show backstage on “Saturday Night Live” but never explain.
  • Apparently, Belfort’s main influence for his get rich quick scheme was Gordon Gekko of “Wall Street.” This once again proves that people are really, really bad at understanding simple irony.
  • The quaalude tripping scene is unbelievable. From the Popeye reference to Belfort’s attempt to gain control of his own body, this is one of the funniest scenes of the year. Like tear-inducing laughter. It’s like a slightly more down-to-earth version of the drug trip sequence from “21 Jump Street.”
  • During the drug trip, one very long lasting shot weirdly reminded me of the hanging scene in “12 Years a Slave.” Talk about two very different kinds of struggles.
  • Something about this movie really makes me want to go eat in a diner in Queens.
  • I immensely enjoyed the scene where Rob Reiner yelled at his wife over the TV show. It is really fun to watch old Jews argue.
  • On that note, I don’t know what “The Equalizer” is, but I would totally watch it.
  • One scene I could have done without (SPOILERS!): After Naomi (Margot Robbie) tells Jordan she wants a divorce and Jordan tries to steal his own daughter. It felt both unnecessary and painful to watch. At this point, I didn’t need any more evidence that he was selfish and pathetic. This scene just felt like overkill.
  • The storm scene. Terrifying. “The Perfect Storm” has nothing on this. (Note: I have never seen “The Perfect Storm,” so it’s probably best to ignore this).
  • I really enjoyed that nice little bit of subway symbolism in the end.
  • The fact that this escaped an NC-17 rating is beyond me.
  • F***ing Benihana.
  • Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go watch “Goodfellas.”

Movie Review: This is the End

Movies can teach us a lot about ourselves. For example, “This is the End” taught me that I will actually enjoy the site of Michael Cera being impaled. As long as it is preceded by him slapping Rihanna’s ass and trying to give drugs to McLovin. Maybe what I’m trying to say here is that I am a terrible person. Or maybe it is that celebrity is whatever you make of it. I don’t know, I’m not a celebrity.

Much has been said in the press about “This is the End,” but nothing could prepare for this one shocking twist: the star of the movie is actually Jay Baruchel. While his leading role in “Undeclared” might not have helped, perhaps this will finally give him the recognition he deserves as an actor. 

“This is the End” is a Hollywood satire where all of the actors play themselves. That would seem incredibly self-congratulatory, if it wasn’t for the fact that the actors don’t try and make themselves look like saints. The film begins as Seth Rogen walks through an airport to meet his best friend Jay Baruchel. Seth is accosted by a man with a camera (who I assume is from TMZ). The man asks Seth why he plays himself in every movie he’s in. Rogen co-wrote the film, and is clearly aware of what people think of him, as does everyone else involved.
In the film, Seth and Jay’s relationship is based off of them drifting apart. Seth has new friends now, and Jay wonders whether or not he is still in the picture. This is the same separation anxiety that made up “Superbad,” another film that was co-written by Rogen and his best friend Evan Goldberg. Every film they write together also serves to show how their friendship grows and changes. In a film that contains a lot of false perceptions, the truest part of it is this friendship.

Seth and Jay’s first stop is James Franco’s house. Here, Franco is as weird and artsy as everyone thinks he is. However, he’s more obsessed with Seth Rogen than he is with himself. It’s equal parts creepy and hilarious. Franco is both earnest and funny all while being a huge dicknose. Who knew someone could show such range while playing themselves?

While Rogen and Goldberg are pro writers, “This is the End” is their first stab at directing. The two blend together as directors as well as they do as writers, which is why it always seems like a singular vision. The two of them strongly embrace buildup. The apocalypse doesn’t happen for a little while, which provides plenty of time to understand Jay and Seth’s friendship as well as both of their relationships to everyone else around them. It is in this time period where the film truly gets its heart. Action films, comedies, and well, most films in general could learn a lot Rogen and Goldberg: it’s good to know the characters before you let the bodies hit the floor.

“This is the End” is a great Inside Hollywood comedy because it never goes meta. It’s less about the wink and more about the inviting nod. For every joke about “Flyboys,” there is also an extended riff about Danny McBride’s use of James Franco’s bathtub. In fact, by making a bunch of celebrities face the apocalypse, the film shows that they aren’t that special after all. What also keeps “This is the End” from becoming too much of an in-joke is how carefully crafted all of these fictitious personas are. Clearly Michael Cera doesn’t treat Rihanna like that. I’ll have to get back to you on James Franco’s weird taste in art.

At a time when Hollywood is creepily obsessed with the end of the world (see: “Oblivion,” “After Earth”*), it is refreshing to see a film that doesn’t take ridiculous apocalyptic scenarios so seriously. Yet, Rogen and Goldberg still manage to lay out all of the rules of this new world with so much detail. And the vision is so inspired. Just take the demons: they look exactly like the beasts from “Ghostbusters,” but with one major exception (you’ll understand when you see it).

“This is the End” clocks in at just under two hours and the length feels neither too long nor too short. In terms of its characters, it gets nearly as much done in that running time as any season of any TV show. Plain and simple: this is high concept comedy at its absolute best.

*Actually, don’t see “Oblivion” or “After Earth”

Movie Review: Django Unchained

For any of you who think I have a severe Quentin Tarantino bias, let me just say that I disliked “Death Proof.”

Now that that’s out of the way, “Django Unchained” may have just stolen the top ten list of the year in one fell swoop. It may lack the audacious perfection of “Inglourious Basterds,” however this messy masterpiece is bold and brilliant in its own right.

“Django Unchained” rightfully opens with the theme music from 1966′s “Django,” a film that is similar with this Django only in name. This is the first time that Quentin has made a Western that actually takes place in the appropriate era and locale. This is not modern-day Los Angeles, Tokyo, or Nazi-Occupied France. This is Texas in the years just before the Civil War.

Django (Jamie Foxx), a quiet slave with a sharp tongue and a deadly grin, is freed by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Foxx is fantastically deadpan and unpredictable as Django. Unsurprisingly, Waltz displays his incredible way with words as the verbose dentist-turned-bounty hunter. There is a giant tooth on top of his carriage. I don’t why any of that is important, but it sure is funny.

Like Quentin’s other films, “Django Unchained” is less a story and more a series of cause and effect vignettes. Schultz at first frees Django because he is the one man who can help him identify and track down the ruthless Brittle Brothers, whom he is hired to kill. The mission allows Django to prove himself to be a great shot, as Quentin opens the doors of a slave revenge fantasy of the highest sort.

As his career progresses, Quentin’s films have gotten bigger and more ambitious. During a stretch of the film that is surprisingly quiet on a Tarantino standard, “Django Unchained” takes a beautiful detour into the American frontier as Django and Schultz cross the country.

“Django Unchained” is also Quentin’s funniest film. A scene involving an attempted lynching by a proto-KKK group (which includes Don Johnson and Jonah Hill) quickly dissolves into pure farce. Even with all of the gruesome violence, what shocked me most about “Django Unchained” was all of the moments I found myself laughing and feeling giddy when I probably shouldn’t have. The film is full of comic moments framed around serious moments. Laughing at these demons helps remove their power.

More than any other of his past films, Quentin has challenged himself here, by making a film that takes place before movies. Without the cushion of his typical pop culture references, he goes to some new and interesting places. Surfer movies and Elvis are traded for The Three Musketeers and German fairytales as “Django Unchained” is a mashup of western, southern, and European legends. When Django asks Schultz to help him rescue his wife, Schultz remarks that the name of his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), is the name of a character from Germany’s most famous folktale.

Just when the film couldn’t get any more exciting, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), the Mississippi slave master who currently owns Broomhilda is introduced. Candie reminds me of the villain that Waltz played in “Basterds” but on a whole different level of delusion. DiCaprio, so good at conveying southern hospitality, making Candie seem like a kind and reasonable man even when he clearly isn’t. It is this charm that makes him even more terrifying. He hosts slave fights and doesn’t blink an eye when he orders the violent execution of a rebellious slave. There were many times I forgot that it was even DiCaprio in the role. In a perfect world, the Academy would just hand an Oscar over to him already.

Without the cushion of film, Quentin delves deeper into overanalyzing historical issues with excessive dialogue. Several scenes are so good, yet so dense, that I have to watch them again. His dialogue can explain simple things in such eloquent ways.  Without pop culture, you can see Tarantino’s dialogue for what it really is: a cross between indulgence and intellectualization.

Very few films have been made about American slavery. “Gone with the Wind” and “Roots” are the only ones that have truly stuck, and even those feel a little outdated. Even if it carries some extreme historical inaccuracies, “Django Unchained” is the most interesting and complex portrayal of slavery ever put out by Hollywood. Even when Tarantino intentionally overlooks historical truths, he does wonders with the details. Every costume and set is given so much loving and painstaking detail that I I felt myself becoming deeply immersed in the era. Tarantino shows the slave owners as white trash in fancy outfits, and their accompanying women are exaggerated southern belles.

And then there is Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen, an old slave who is also racist. This character totally topples the terrible archetypes in American fiction of the “Magic Negro” and the “wise, old black man.” Stephen has been Candie’s slave for so long and is so close to the man that one might argue that he believes that he is white. However, I think it is deeper than that, and it greatly shows why Tarantino’s history benders are so marvelous and so filled with depth. It is as if slavery rewarded those with loyalty by creating an immense fear of the outside world, and immense comfort on the plantation. Stephen is more than just an excuse for Samuel L. Jackson to curse and say the n-word a lot. Though, watching him do both of those thing is predictably entertaining.

“Django Unchained” does to slavery what “Inglourious Basterds” did to Nazis and The Holocaust.  It is also the most perplexing and entertaining film of 2012. Nobody combines high and low brow as well as Quentin Tarantino. Only in one of his films could a Mexican standoff segue into a conversation about racism and French culture. After 20 years as a filmmaker, Quentin still knows how to pull the rug out from under the audience. “Django Unchained” constantly change our opinions of who the bad guys are. It may not totally rewrite history or change the way movies are made, but it does go way past the point in which it should have ended, and then gives great reason as to why it does just that.

How I Rank Quentin Tarantino’s Films:
1. Pulp Fiction- Still Tarantino’s best film, “Pulp Fiction” is still as brazen and funny as it was when it first came out. This pop culture tribute has become an indelible part of pop culture.
2. Inglourious Basterds- Jews kill Nazis. Christoph Waltz is introduced to the world. History is rewritten. What’s not to love.
3. Kill Bill 1 & 2- Part one is a breathtaking action spectacle. Part two is the most emotional film Tarantino has ever made. Altogether it’s the film that kicked off my movie obsession.
4. Reservoir Dogs- The place where it all began. Still one of the best directorial debuts ever.
5. Django Unchained
6. Jackie Brown- This was not loved when it first came out, but it’s hard to follow “Pulp Fiction.” “Jackie Brown” holds up well on repeat viewings.
7. Death Proof- This is where Tarantino went a little off the rails. It’s the weaker half of “Grindhouse.” This ode to trashy cinema forgot to be fun.

Movie Review: 21 Jump Street

If Hollywood wants to continue remaking movies, then remakes must declare themselves as being one. That helps in making “21 Jump Street,” a modern update of the TV series that made Johnny Depp a star, so good.

Early in the movie, when Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) is assigning mismatched officers Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) to a new job as undercover officers at a local high school, he notes that the people who make these assignments lack creativity and instead steal old ideas from the 80s. The studio was truly a good sport on this one.

“21 Jump Street” might as well have been called “Not Another Cop Comedy.” It is more “MacGruber” than “Starsky & Hutch,” with a hint of “Hot Fuzz.” “21 Jump Street” works because it knows all of the beats that a cop comedy should go through, yet it is funny and self-aware at each of them. Call it a post-modernist cop comedy, if you want to be all English major about it.

Schmidt and Jenko go back a long way. In high school, Schmidt was president of the juggling society and Jenko was a jock. Jenko frequently beat Schmidt up. However, they form a tight, unlikely bond at the end of high school and go into the police academy together. Schmidt is always the smart one and Jenko, well, he looks and acts like a cop. Or at least the kind you would see in a movie.

The duo find their lives as cops surprisingly dull; they mainly patrol a park while riding bikes and stop kids from feeding the ducks. The scene of them trying to stop a group of drug pushers shows just how many possible ways there are to make riding a bike funny.

Schmidt and Jenko prove to be hopelessly incompetent as cops. Because of their youthful looks, they are placed in a program that puts under cover cops in high schools, under the jurisdiction of the tough Captain Dickson (Ice Cube). It was Ice Cube’s performance here that made me remember what a good actor he can be, and almost made me totally forget those “Are We There Yet?” movies. But I digress. Anyone who watched the show will already know that 21 Jump Street refers to the abandoned church (not sure how it was in the show but here, they worship some kind of Korean Jesus) where all of the undercovers meet. Schmidt and Jenko are assigned to the same high school they once went to in order to bust the kingpin of a potentially deadly new drug. Jenko can’t wait to return, and Schmidt is quite afraid.

Schmidt and Jenko find out that this is nothing like the high school experience they had. Now, veganism and tolerance are popular. So Jenko has a particularly hard time fitting in, especially when he inadvertently commits a hate crime on his first day.

Schmidt, meanwhile, has a much easier time fitting in. He enrolls in a drama class and takes the part of Peter Pan in the school’s latest production. One of the funniest scenes in the entire movie comes during his audition. Soon enough, he gets in on the cool crowd by befriending Eric Molson (Dave Franco, who shows that talent runs in the family).

“21 Jump Street” is the kind of movie that has been done so many times before, and it knows that. And while the plot beats are pretty predictable, it is the way that the story and all of the jokes are done that makes it a winner. Everyone should know from the start that at least one of them will have a relationship with a student, and at least one of them will pursue a teacher. But what is funny about it the fact that the teacher (Ellie Kemper) is actually the pursuer and the fact that the relationship that forms between Schmidt and fellow drama student Molly (Brie Larson) is actually kind of sweet. I give credit to the stellar screenplay by Michael Bacall, a highly talented writer who is also responsible for “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” and “Project X.” He has a good ear and eye for the way teenagers talk and act nowadays, the kind that most writers lack. With this movie and the past two mentioned, Bacall has made himself an indispensable comedy writer.

Usually, two directors working on one movie would seem like a bad thing, like the old saying of too many chefs in the kitchen. But Chris Miller and Phil Lord are a dynamic directing duo, and perhaps both of their sensibilities contribute to the very even balance between comedy, drama, and action throughout. Miller and Lord, with the combination of Bacall, hysterically play with audience expectations throughout. They will only blow something up when they feel like it. It is as if they are shouting “F**k You, Michael Bay!” in certain scenes.

“21 Jump Street” serves partially as a vehicle for Channing Tatum’s comedy career. Seriously, who ever thought Tatum could be this funny? This is the same actor who starred in the “Step Up” movies and was once a male stripper. As Tobias Funke might say, “this is ripe for parody!” Tatum is a standout because he is such a great team player, willing to mock his own appearance for laughs. I don’t know if I could ever see him doing standup, but I could definitely see him acting in more movies like this. Mark Maron could make a great WTF Podcast about him.

Perhaps to the shock of everyone, Tatum gives the movie its heart. Despite once being a jock and a bully, Jenko is sensitive and a loyal friend. Think of him as more Troy Barnes than Andrew Clarke.

Tatum and Hill play off each other well, and they gave me enough reason to want to see the sequel mentioned at the end that may have only been a joke. This is the rare occasion when I actually would not mind seeing a comedy get a sequel. That is, as long as they don’t “Austin Powers” it and make it exactly like the original. If there were to be a sequel, I would hope there would be more scenes with Offerman’s police chief, who is criminally underused here. I suspect that many of his original scenes had to be left out during editing.

I find much joy in the financial success that “21 Jump Street” has had at the box office, and by the end of next week, it will likely cross $100 million. On the one hand, this could drive studios to continue on the sequel/remake trend as an alternate for producing original ideas. Or, this will make them realize that what truly makes a good comedy (or a good movie, in general) is to take a lot of risks, and hire a good writer. “21 Jump Street” is not a short movie, and a large chunk of it involves Schmidt and Jenko going through the side effects of a drug over the course of one day. Yes, it becomes totally necessary that we see the disgusting way in which they try and expel the drug from their bodies. A stupid comedy with a few laughs will do well its opening weekend, break even, and then be totally forgotten about. One that is as funny as “21 Jump Street” will merit repeat viewings.

Movie Review: Moneyball

Does every sports movie have to end with a victory in order to inspire us? If “Moneyball” teaches us anything, it’s that a failure is just one small step on the road to success.

The sports movie formula has become a giant cliche: assembling the team, training, and then against all odds, winning (usually in slow motion). “Moneyball” does right in veering from this formula, but its biggest folly is that it thinks it’s the smartest sports movie ever made.
I guess this could only occur in a movie about Billy Beane. Beane, portrayed with ever relatable qualities by Brad Pitt, was general manager of the Oakland Athletics in the early 2000s. He joined as the team was about to lose Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon. Beane was looking not only to turn his team around, but to totally change the game (pun intended).
On a trip to Cleveland, Beane meets a young, Yale-educated analyst for the Indians named Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). In a secret “All the President’s Men” style meeting in a parking garage, Brand shares his unconventional method of finding players: judging on the numbers rather than the looks. The fact that all of the talent scouts were well into their 60s shows how out of touch management was with the actual game.
So Beane takes Brand away from Cleveland and the two apply his new system to the A’s. The statistic-based way of recruiting angers many and takes a few hits to the team’s reputation. Beane builds up a team of outcasts and misfits, and through some training and semi-inspirational speeches, the A’s pull off the longest winning streak in Major League Baseball history.
“Moneyball” is less about the actual game and more about what happens behind-the-scenes of the game. As someone who never got too into sports, it speaks great volumes of how invested this movie got me into baseball, if only for this two hour span. There are more brains that goes behind creating a good team than I ever could have imagined. Some of the logic is still a little fuzzy to me (I don’t have a mathematician’s brain), but the fact that it works is absolutely fascinating.
This is also where the film faults the most. “Moneyball,” written by Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian, lacks the absolute clarity that Sorkin injected into “The Social Network” that made the world of computer programming so intriguing. Sorkin should have written this one by himself. Zaillian, while a talented writer, tries to put in the same sentimentality that defined most of his other screenplays such as “Schindler’s List” and “Gangs of New York.”
It wouldn’t be shocking if adding the relationship between Beane and his daughter was Zaillian’s contribution. This wasn’t a terrible addition, as it makes Beane seem more relatable. However, there is no real conflict put into this relationship, as well as in Beane’s relation with his divorced wife. Therefore, this whole plot line just feels thrown in, and the ending isn’t as moving as it should have been. It also takes away from the goal of making “Moneyball” reminiscent of a 70s thriller. That little girl really can sing, though.
“Moneyball” might just miss the mark, and it might suffer from Multiple Ending Syndrome, but it is still a solid, if not spectacular, two hours of entertainment at the theaters. The real highlight of the movie though, is Jonah Hill. Comedic actors give their best turns in dramatic roles when they still act like they are in a comedy. If I could give one more compliment to “Moneyball,” instead of all out dissing it, I’d say it has great comic relief.

Movie Review: Cyrus

And now everyone, time to breath that collective sigh of fresh air. “Cyrus” has arrived. It’s a comedy that’s not too ridiculous, and a drama that’s not too, well, overly dramatic; it’s just right. But then again, it’s also ever so wrong.

“Cyrus” is a little less of the screwball comedy you might’ve been hoping for. It’s humor is dark and very, very awkward. Cyrus, the man of the movie, isn’t even the main character. Rather, it’s John (John C. Reilly). John has been divorced from his ex-wife, Jamie (Catherine Keener), for seven years. While Jamie has happily recovered, John remains alone and devastated. After Jamie convinces him to go out one night, he meets Molly (Marisa Tomei).
At first, Molly seems perfect. She’s made John the happiest he’s been in years. But something must be wrong. Yep, there’s a problem. Molly has a grown son, the titular Cyrus (Jonah Hill). Cyrus was home schooled and he maintains a too-close-for-comfort relationship with his mother. He’s prone to panic attacks, and behind his sweet cover, he’s quite the sociopath.
Cyrus is no fan of John. He wants his mother back, and he’ll do anything to do so. John needs Molly, but he’ll have to get by Cyrus first.
“Cyrus” is not quite the movie I was expecting. I don’t mean this in a bad way. I mean that it’s more genuine, and more emotionally moving than I ever thought it would be. It handles a lot of characters that walked a thin line between character and caricature. Yet, each one fell into the former category. Despite the title, each character is handled with similar care, and each get their own sort of moment to stand out.
It might be emotional with all of the various character revelations. But don’t get me wrong, “Cyrus” is better comedy than almost anything that’s come out in some time. The laughs sometimes come from the dialogue, which often seems improvised. But it really derives from every character, and to truly get the humor of the film, you must become invested in the characters.
The story of “Cyrus” is bettered further by excellent acting. After a string of great comedic performances, Reilly returns to more dramatic form, while bringing in much comedic voice. He brings to his role some extra awkwardness, as well as this often child-like sense of vulnerability. Yes, you could totally see how this is the same actor from “Step Brothers.” Just think of it as another great comedic actors bending their comic acts into dramatic territory. Think of Adam Sandler in “Punch Drunk Love,” or Ben Stiller in “Greenberg.”
Someone who manages to be even better is Hill. Yes, he’s that good. Like Reilly, he packs in so much awkwardness. But his performance is also so dark, and so haunted. The point of his character is that his true motives are so hidden. He manages to be so sheltered, yet at times so open and honest. At times, he’s creepy beyond belief. Other times, you feel like you just want to sit down with him and sympathize. And the other great performance comes from Tomei. Between this, “My Cousin Vinny,” and “The Wrestler,” she proves she can play any character.
“Cyrus” embodies the newer genre known as Mumblecore. It’s basically exactly what the word suggests: quiet, and delightfully aimless. For a dialogue driven film, it certainly contains a handful of quiet moments that suggest much more beyond the surface. So please, pay very close attention to those facial expressions. You might see a smile, but look closer, and maybe you’ll see much suppressed anger.

The Duplass Brothers have mastered a style of both extreme awkwardness and a dominant feeling of being uncomfortably real. You can see that by their very odd yet innovative camera style. The camera never quite stays still. Even when focusing on one character, it still jiggles around and constantly goes in and out of focus.

It is also worth noting how the film’s title character isn’t even given a first person perspective. However, he may very well be the main character. Perhaps the film is about how all of these different people see “Cyrus.” Or maybe it’s about how Cyrus’s horrible actions cause people’s lives to fall apart. One thing is certain though: his character is too mysterious, and his inner workings too creepy, to be given a first person voice. It’s more entertaining to try and understand his thoughts and motives as the rest of the characters do.

As you watch more and more movies, even when watching a good one, you still get a sense that you can take past films as precedent and know exactly where the movie you’re watching is headed. “Cyrus” is resistant to that. It’s not trying to impress, and it’s not even trying to get you to like the characters. That comes out of your own opinion. It doesn’t even end on a note of certainty. There is a feeling of certainty that we know what will happen to the characters next, but we don’t need to see it. It will just…happen.

“Cyrus” is as real and funny as the people you know, or the people you never wanted to know. It proves that a raunchy joke, or a grown man standing in nothing but a t-shirt and holding a giant knife, can be funny and sophisticated. Oh, and I’ll emphasize once again that it’s weird. However, it’s the kind of weirdness that feels so unique. More directors should be like the Duplass Brothers: not afraid of throwing away Hollywood convention in order to tell a perfectly good story.

Movie Review: Get Him to the Greek

Hollywood loves sequels. They love it. They’re a little too in love though. If Hollywood wants to continue banking off of franchise-worthy films, they should consider spin-offs over sequels. “Get Him to the Greek” shows that perhaps individual characters, and not entire plots, were meant to be seen again.

“Get Him to the Greek” uses the 2008 instant classic “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” as its starting point. It pulls away Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), the self-absorbed English rocker. Snow still exists in the same universe as “Sarah Marshall.” After the success of such songs as “Do Something” and “Inside of You,” his career was almost totally destroyed after the failure of the accidentally offensive “African Child.” And don’t worry, you will get your music video.
Snow also got married and divorced. After seven years of being sober, he took up drinking and drugs once again. Across the pond and an entire land mass over, Aaron Green (Jonah Hill) is a rising executive at a record label with a doctor girlfriend (Elisabeth Moss) that he rarely has time to share a moment with. Green is what Hill’s character in “Sarah Marshall” (who is totally different) would have become if Snow actually ever listened to his demo.
But the music business is changing. Green’s boss Sergio (Sean ‘P. Diddy’ Combs), who is always mad about something, wants a game changer. Green suggests the winning idea: bringing back Snow to do a show at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. The only catch is, Green has to get him himself and bring him from London to New York to Los Angeles in just 72 hours. Basically, it’s a good set-up that makes room for even better jokes.
The humor of “Get Him to the Greek” stems from a mixture of awkwardness and over-the-top gags. Sometimes, these two styles interact with one another. The awkwardness works because the actors play the characters that way, and the slapstick works because it’s well directed.
Yet, the one comedic aspect of “Get Him to the Greek” that could be considered close to brilliant is its satire of the music world and entertainment industry in general. Snow’s songs are always laced with innuendos. At another moment, Sergio plays the music he thinks will sell right now. It’s basically just a string of curse words, but it sounds nearly identical to modern mainstream rap. Satire is at its best when it seems too ridiculous to be true, but too truthful to be just a joke.
Like most of the other films in the Apatow oeuvre (Judd produced this), there is a strong reliance on the actors. And the actors deliver. This is Hill’s first true lead performance (in “Superbad” I’d say it was a co-leading performance), and with it he proves that he’s more than just the creepy guy in the background who does cringe-worthy things. What this kind of comedy needs to work (besides good jokes) is relatable characters. Green’s uptight nature feels genuine and not forced. Hill works to make him not only likable, but also hatable. He’s nice when he should be, and extremely selfish when he should be. Moss is essentially playing Peggy from “Mad Men” yet she adds a dash of humor to it which makes it very effective.
So Hill may be a great leading man, but there are two absolute scene stealers here. I thought from the time I first saw “Sarah Marshall” that Aldous Snow was a character worthy of his own movie, and he finally got it. He is transformed from ex-druggy musician to a character worthy of being in “Spinal Tap.” Some might call Brand’s performance effortless, because he is essentially playing himself. However, I enjoy performances like that because what it really means is that no other actor could play this character. It belongs distinctly to someone.
Brand makes the character real by adding little distinct features to him such as a pretentious way of pronouncing words and an even more pretentious walk. While his character is a huge jerk most of the time, there are little moments that make him seem relatable. Making a caricature relatable is what should be defined as fine acting.
I agree with many who are saying that Diddy’s Sergio deserves a movie of his own. His character is too big, bloated, and hilarious for one film. Diddy channels the angry boss role flawlessly. His performance reminded me of a variation of Malcolm Tucker from “In the Loop” with less of a good reason for being so angry all of the time.
“Get Him to the Greek” is written and directed by Nicholas Stoller. Like he also displayed in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” Stoller has this amazingly rare talent of creating a huge ensemble full of three dimensional characters.
While some of the backstories in “Greek” certainly don’t feel as original as the ones in “Sarah Marshall,” they no less bring understanding to the characters. And why, do you ask, is backstory so important in a comedy? Because it’s easier to laugh with people you like than people you despise. Green could’ve been nothing more than a selfish, cold businessman. Snow could’ve been nothing more than a self-absorbed and emotionless rock star. Yet, “Greek” is better than that. It doesn’t need to stoop down to that level.
“Get Him to the Greek” lacks some of the finer points of its predecessor, yet I find few things here I could really complain about. In a summer season that has so far been pretty tepid, “Greek” seems less interested in trying to sell something to you and more interested in actually trying to give you a good time at the movies. At that I say, it nobly succeeds.

More Thoughts on Funny People

This is an unofficial second review of Funny People. Some movies are just so big, they need to be reviewed twice.

Usually, once I review a film, it’s done. But sometimes, I am so conflicted over a film that I can’t help but go back to it. This happened with “Funny People.” Critical consensus is telling me not to like this movie, but something inside me is telling me not to listen.
I finished my review of “Funny People” still partially undecided. I am still mixed on my opinion, but if I had to choose one end of the spectrum, “Funny People” would fall towards the “good” end.
The reason I have decided to revisit “Funny People” is because so much happens in this long movie, and I feel like I barely got to cover everything I wanted to in one review. One thing I really would like to talk more about is the film’s massive supporting cast. I talked plenty about Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill, but not enough about Jason Schwartzman. Schwartzman is one of my favorite comic actors today, and his performance in “Funny People” as an actor who caught a lucky break on a horrible sitcom was a highlight of the film. His performance reminded of his performance in “Rushmore;” like Max Fisher, his “Funny People” character always casts off an air of superiority for minor achievements. He was born to play smug.
Also worth mentioning is the always great Leslie Mann and the breakout performance by Aubrey Plaza. On that note, a post on PopWatch today made a fascinating observation about the portrayal of women in “Funny People.” While some wrongly accused Judd Apatow’s “Knocked Up” of being sexist (*cough* Katherine Heigl *cough*), the women in this film are portrayed as being no different then the men. Plaza’s Daisy is just a struggling comedian like the rest of the guys. Meanwhile, Mann’s Laura seems much less reactionary than Debbie in “Knocked Up,” despite hiding much more sadness.
There are so many great characters in “Funny People.” The real problem with the film was that even with its long running time, you still feel like you want more from the characters. Maybe the problem with the film wasn’t that it was too long, but that it wasn’t long enough. I’m not much of a sequel person but I would not at all mind seeing more of these characters’ lives (luckily, a Randy movie is reportedly in the works).
Overall, it seems impossible not to recommend this movie because overall, it is a well made movie. It’s a comedy that’s not like most comedies coming out nowadays: it’s not formulaic, it’s not predictable, and it’s real. Each of these characters feel like real people with conflicting emotions and even the power to change. But then again, it is an Apatow film.
“Funny People” is definitely different from the rest of Apatow’s oeuvre. Most of his film’s endings are decided from the beginning, but it’s the path to the end that is unpredictable. “Funny People” takes the opposite approach. In “Knocked Up,” you know from the beginning that one way or another Alison will have the baby, and Ben will one way or another be there. In “Funny People,” we know that George will try and win Laura back. Whether or not he’ll succeed at it, remains unclear. I don’t know which approach is better but in the end, both work. I am excited to see whether Apatow continues this new approach to comedy. If he does, then “Funny People” was just an experiment, something that wasn’t meant to be perfect. His next film then, should be comic gold.

Movie Review: Funny People

Judd Apatow is the comedy legend of our day. It seems that just about everything he touches turns to gold. After a few years of small producing and writing efforts, Apatow returns with his first directorial effort in two years with “Funny People.” At first, it might not seem like comic gold. But under its scratched surface, lies a diamond in the rough.

“Funny People” is probably Apatow’s most personal project to date. He incorporates real life experiences into every movie he does, but never so much as in “Funny People.” In fact, “Funny People” starts off with real footage of Apatow and Adam Sandler making prank calls when they were just starting off in the comedy business.
But forget reality, lets head off to movieland. “Funny People” is a dramedy about George Simmons (Adam Sandler). Simmons is based partly off the life and career of Sandler; he’s a comic legend who’s become one of the biggest movie stars in the world. He may have a big, beautiful home, but like Charles Foster Kane, that home is completely empty.
Now, Simmons has discovered that he has come down with a terminal disease. In his near-death experience, Simmons decides to seize the moment and reevaluate his life. First, he decides to return to his standup career. Then, he hires struggling young comic Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) to be his writer and something of an assistant. Next, he decides to win back an old flame (Leslie Mann) who is currently married to an Australian man (Eric Bana).
“Funny People” isn’t just a personal project for Apatow–it’s just as personal for Sandler. And because of that, he gives the best performance he’s given since “Punch Drunk Love.” However, “Funny People” isn’t as much of a flat-out drama as “Punch Drunk Love” was. Maybe it’s not seriousness that makes Sandler’s performance so good, perhaps it’s maturity. In “Funny People,” he’s just as funny as in classics “Billy Madison” and “Happy Gilmore.” However, here, there is a degree of self-awareness. The style of humor of George Simmons is something like the style of humor that made Sandler famous in the 90s. Those bothered by Sandler’s sense of humor won’t be bothered here.
A performance less acknowledged by critics is Rogen’s. He projects a high level of awkwardness, especially when Ira is struggling through stand up routines. It’s funny, but we’re not laughing at him; in a way, we’re cheering for him. Rogen also brings probably the most emotion he’s ever brought to a role when expressing his feelings towards George in their very rocky friendship.
The film contains a fine ensemble of comedians both old and very new. Apatow regular Jonah Hill is a scene stealer in his portrayal of a comedian who realizes the key to comic gold is YouTube videos of cats. Meanwhile, newcomers like Aubrey Plaza (“Parks & Recreation”) pull their own weight as well. Most surprisingly is how hilarious Eric Bana is. Then again, I shouldn’t be too surprised. Before becoming a serious actor, Bana was a standup comic Down Under, and even had his own comedy show.
Along with being a dramedy, “Funny People” is also a self-reflexive show business satire. It contains fictional movies and TV shows within a fictional movie. There are actors playing actors, and actors playing themselves. Many are celebrities you would never expect to be funny, yet it turns out a certain rapper who I won’t name happens to have a very good sense of humor about himself. Meanwhile, the movie within a movie “Re Do” and the show within a movie “Yo Teach!” show the somewhat dismal state of mainstream comedy.
Although all of these aspects of the movie–the actors, the satire, the drama–are all great, they all serve as part of the film’s bigger problems. The first real flaw with the film is that it’s too long. “Funny People” is around 145 minutes long, and you can feel every minute of it. Some scenes drag on too long. The film also tries to tackle way too much. It’s central focus should be the relationship between George and Ira, and George’s quest to win back Laura’s affection. However, the film also goes off trying to tackle Ira’s girl troubles, as well as the careers of a few other rising comics.
The only problem is, I don’t think I would want to remove a single scene from the movie because every scene is so good, every character is so fascinating, and every joke is so funny. The editors must have had a more difficult time than they could ever have imagined with this film.
But there is also another reason it would be impossible to cut a single scene out. The film isn’t meant to focus solely on George and Ira. “Funny People” is an ensemble film, and as an ensemble film, it must cover a wide amount of people rather than a small amount. Apatow decided with “Funny People” to make both a personal relationship film and a collage of the lives of assorted comedians.
So now I sit here, wondering whether to tell you to see or not to see this movie. Instead, I’m going to do what a good critic does best: give you my opinion, and then let you decide for yourself whether or not you should see it. This is a movie made for people who don’t just like comedy, but are diehard fans of it. Even if you’re not, you’ll still laugh at the brilliant stand up routines and be wowed at the human connections that Apatow’s career has become defined by. To put it in short, this is the first comedy epic I’ve ever seen.
On the Apatow Scale: 1. The 40 Year Old Virgin 2. Knocked Up 3. Funny People