Posts Tagged ‘Comedy’

Playing catch up. Again. I make no apologies.

February 28, 2009

CORALINE

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This Tim Burton-esque animated fantasy is visually stunning and effectively creepy.  Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) is a precocious tween who’s largely ignored by her workaholic parents (who, ironically, both work from home).  The family has just moved into a new apartment converted from a large old house.  In her attempts to fight boredom, Coraline befriends her quirky neighbors and discovers a portal to another dimension.  At night she visits the other world, which appears to be a perfect version of the world she inhabits during the day…except for everyone has buttons for eyes.  And things become increasingly disturbing.

I’ve seen a lot of weird movies, but this is one is way up there on the bizarre-o-meter.  It’s dark, twisted and downright morbid.  Definitely not suitable for young kids.  But the visuals are amazing.

Perfect for: Tim Burton, animation or fantasy fans.

MADEA GOES TO JAIL

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In addition to watching Why Did I Get Married, I also watched The Family That Preys and Madea’s Family Reunion this month as part of festivities sponsored by the White People Who Like Tyler Perry Movies club.  (It was just me and my friend, who after watching two movies back to back, suffered from Tyler Perry fatigue  and dropped out.  No hard feelings.)  After watching Madea Goes to Jail, I think I might change the name of the club to White People Who Like Tyler Perry Movies In Moderation.

Tyler Perry’s comedies go from Deathly Serious to Hi-Larious Hijinx within moments of each other.  This time around, the Deathly Serious story revolves around Joshua (Derek Luke), an Atlanta assistant D.A. who stumbles upon (in court, no less) his old friend Candy (Keisha Knight-Pulliam), during her arraignment on prostitution charges.  Excusing himself from the case and handing it to his fellow assistant D.A., fiancee and villain of the movie, Linda (Ion Overman), Joshua spends most of the film trying to get help for Candy.

The Hi-Larious Hijinx part of the film comes from Madea (Tyler Perry), the sassy senior citizen with a violent temper, whose frequent run-ins with the law have forced her to go to anger management therapy sessions with Dr. Phil (yes, that Dr. Phil) that end up going nowhere.   When a snooty white lady takes Madea’s parking spot at K-Mart, Madea exacts revenge by destroying the lady’s car with a forklift.  And then–you guessed it–Madea goes to jail.

I simultaneously like and dislike the Madea movies, because the humor is so broad and obvious, and knowing it’s kinda’ stupid, still has the power to make me laugh.  I should know better.

The character of Madea reminds me of characters found on Saturday Night Live–the less you know, the funnier they are.  Unlike the other Madea films (Diary  of a Mad Black Woman and Madea’s Family Reunion), this one fleshes out Madea’s character (do we really need to know that in her younger years she was a stripper???) and in the process, some of the humor about the character is lost.

Perfect for: Fans of Ernest P. Warrel movies.

THIS IS MY LIFE

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You’ve Got Mail is, in my opinion, the greatest romantic comedy of all time.  It’s funny.  It’s clever.  It’s filled with great performances.  I figured that This is My Life would be an alright movie because a) it’s directed by Nora Ephron (she directed You’ve Got Mail and wrote When Harry Met Sally) and b) I like movies about showbiz.  I was wrong on both accounts.

Julie Kavner (unmistakable as the voice of Marge Simpson) stars Dottie, as a middle-aged single mom who gets her big break in stand-up comedy.  Gaby Hoffman (Field of Dreams) and a frumpy Samantha Mathis (Little Women) star as her daughters, Opal and Erica.  The film tries to tell the story from both Dottie and Erica’s points of view, but ends up focusing more on the latter.  The real story that needed to be told was from Dottie’s side, but things like stand-up routines and dealing with agents get glossed over whereas Erica’s first romance gets way too much screen time (including a sex scene that really pushes it for a PG-13).

The film is, on the whole, rather tepid and unforgettable.  If nothing else it shows how far Ephron has come as a director.

Perfect for: Hmmmm…..

DVD Review: ‘Gremlins’ – Yes, I’m blogging about ‘Gremlins.’

December 11, 2008

I have a love-hate relationship with Gremlins.  It’s a stupid movie.  I know this.  Yet, for some reason I cannot help but enjoy watching this movie.  Perhaps my affinity for Gremlins stems from not being allowed to see it when it was released in theaters.  I was seven, and the commericals (and the above trailer) refrained from actually showing what the fiendish critters looked like, which meant I didn’t think it would be that scary.

My parents wouldn’t let me see it, although my uncle (who, being a mere eight years older than me, was more like an older brother than an uncle) told me all about the movie.  The closest I came to actually seeing it was owning a t-shirt with Gizmo on it.  So yeah, not that close.  I don’t remember when I did, in fact, watch Gremlins, but I remember I loved it.  (I was twelve when Gremlins 2 came out, and I saw it twice in the theater.  Jealous?)

I had been waiting for quite some time to buy Gremlins, but never felt right about paying actual money for it.  Then Target had it on sale for $4, and that’s very close to no money, so I bought it.  And I’m happy/sad to say, I’ve enjoyed watching it again.

What seven year-old WOULDNT want to see this?

What seven year-old WOULDN'T want to see this?

What’s it about? Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) is a putz-ish bank teller whose dad is a putz-ish inventor.  Dad goes on a business trip and brings home a critter called a Mogwai named Gizmo (voiced by Howie Mandel–yes, that Howie Mandel).  There are some rules to follow when keeping a Mogwai: 1) keep it out of bright light; 2) don’t get it wet; 3) don’t feed it after midnight.

Billy accidentally spills water on Gizmo, which causes the little critter to reproduce asexually.  So now Billy owns five Mogwai.  The putz.  Then he accidentally feeds all of them (except Gizmo)  after midnight, which causes them to turn into little monsters who wreak havoc on the entire town.  Smooth move, Peltzer!

What’s good about it? The scene where Billy’s mother (Frances Lee McCain) is home alone with the Gremlins is effectively scary.  And gory!  (This film, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, prompted the MPAA to introduce the PG-13 rating.)

The film walks the fine line between dopey comedy and tepid horror, but does so with such panache, you can’t help but accidentally watch the whole movie.  And the final showdown between Stripe, the head Gremlin, and Billy is enjoyable, if for no other reason than to see Stripe shoot Billy with a crossbow.

What’s bad about it? It’s silly and gross.  (This may also be a good thing.   But I’m not the boss of you, so make up your own mind.)

Perfect for: I have no idea.

This is funny: ‘Don’t I Know You?’

December 11, 2008

I don’t find a lot of web videos that funny.  But I stumbled upon this a few weeks ago and can’t stop recommending friends to check it out.  So here, friends.  Check it out.

Netflix this: ‘Edward Scissorhands’

December 9, 2008

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Aside from the occasional cold, I don’t get sick very often.  But last week I was violently ill.  I spent a lot of time in bed.  Watching movies.  It was simultaneously terrible and awesome.

One of the films I watched was Edward Scissorhands, which I had first seen eighteen years ago in the theater.  (And no, I wasn’t a little kid.  But yes, I had to be driven to the theater to see it.)  I’ve loved the film ever since.  But have you ever forgotten how much you actually love a movie?  Such was my experience with Tim Burton’s 1990 film.

edwardposter1What’s it about? A man-made oddity named Edward (Johnny Depp) lives in a mansion on a hill, above the mysterious world known as Suburbia.  When local Avon representative Peg Boggs (Dianne Wiest, in what is probably her best non-Woody Allen film role) comes knocking, Edward is whisked away into a world of identical-looking houses, perfectly manicured lawns, bowling on TV, and desperate housewives.  Peg’s husband Bill (Alan Arkin) takes to Edward like he’s one of the family (which means being agreeable if not slightly despondent).  Edward’s “specialness” comes home is hands made of scissors, which the ladies of Suburbia, led by queen bee Joyce (Kathy Baker), are enfatuated with.  His talent for making cool shrubbery morphs into crazy wild dog haircuts and then into bizarre hairstyles that all the ladies love.

Edward pines for Bill and Peg’s daughter Kim (Winona Ryder), but doesn’t know how to vent his frustrations with his unrequited love.  It’s not long that the one-two punch of Kim’s jerkface boyfriend Jim (Anthony Michael Hall) and the gossipy housewives being to take their toll on Edward.

What’s good about it? Tim Burton is, first and foremost, a director who puts style above everything else, and Edward Scissorhands is no exception.  Visually, it’s a marvel–from the big abandoned Mansion (which is more of Burton’s trademark) to the pastel-colored blandness of the suburban landscape.  Acting-wise, this is one of Burton’s best films.  Danny Elfman’s score is iconic–music from Scissorhands was used in trailers for years afterward.  Wiest, Arkin and Baker give wonderful performances as people trapped in a bland and empty word and they don’t even know it.  But the film really belongs to Depp, who, with this film, established himself as an actor willing to take creative risks (and we all know how that story panned out).

What’s bad about it? There are a few gaping plot holes, but you don’t watch a Tim Burton film looking for 100% coherence (Planet of the Apes, anyone?).  It’s all style over substance, but what style!

Perfect for: Johnny Depp and Tim Burton fans.

Review: ‘Four Christmases’ – The Case of the Missing Third Act

November 29, 2008

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The pairing of Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon in a comedy about family (not to be mistaken for a family comedy) is about as appealing as a peanut butter and tuna fish sandwich.  Separately, they’re fine.  Together?  Not so much.

And thus the joyless experience of watching Four Christmases begins.

What’s it about? San Fancisco couple Kate (Witherspoon) and Brad (Vaughn) are completely enfatuated with each other.  They’ve been a couple for three years now, and each Christmas they find an excuse to avoid visiting their respective parents (all of whom are divorced) so they can take an exotic vacation for the holidays.  Thick fog grounds their flight to Fiji, and while attempting to reschedule their flight at the airport the two end up on the local news.  All four parents just happen to be watching the same newscast, causing their cell phones to ring and ring and ring and ring.  and now Kate and Brad must spend quality time with relatives they really don’t like.

First on their list of visits is Brad’s white trash father Howard (Robert Duvall) and his UFC-enthusiast brothers Dallas (Tim McGraw) and Denver (Jon Favreau).  Brad is beat up his brothers.  Zaniness ensues.

Second is Kate’s mom Marilyn (Mary Steenburgen), a cougar-type who’s never met Brad and can’t keep her eyes off of him.  Marilyn and sister Courtney (Kristen Chenoweth) delight in digging up Kate’s past (She was fat!  The other kids taunted her!  They thought she was a lesbian!).  Inexplicably, Kate takes a pregnancy test, only to have to retrieve test applicator (Thing you pee on?  Pee reader?  I have no idea what the actual term for it is) from a bratty neice in the inflatble trampoline emporium known as a Jump Jump.  Oh, and Brad and Kate somehow get chosen to portray Joseph and Mary in Marilyn’s boyfriend’s (Dwight Yokam) church play.  Wacky and zany mix-em-ups ensue.

Next it’s on to Brad’s mom’s (Sissy Spacek) house, where Brad is still uncomfortable that his high school buddy (Patrick Van Horn) is now Mom’s live-in boyfriend.  A game of Scattergories ensues.  It’s not that zany, but it sure is unfunny.

By this time Kate and Brad have seen other sides to their significant others, and their three-year infatuation with each other has come to a screeching halt.  (In regular relationships, this happens much, much, MUCH sooner.)  Kate visits her dad (Jon Voight) without Brad as Brad visits his father again.  Lessons are learned.

What’s good about it? The movie is 82 minutes.  And there are some funny lines here and there.

What’s bad about it? This is one of those soulless, mean-spirited Christmas movies marketed in a way that makes you think you want to see it.  The Christmases in this film are a mere excuse to tie four family visits into one day (it could very well have been called Four Easters or Kate and Brad are so unlikeable, as are all their extended family members.  The pregnancy test was an invitation to raise the stakes, but it is dismissed with such nonchalance that you’re scratching your head as to why it was even introduced (other than a reason to have Witherspoon chase her neice in a Jump Jump).

What’s worse, THE MOVIE HAS NO THIRD ACT!  The movie, while humorless, follows a standard story arc, and at the point where Kate and Brad learn that Nobody’s Perfect and Like It Or Lump It, Your Family Is All You’ve Got, you expect their newfound knowledge to be put through one more test that will make or break the relationship.  Instead, [SPOILER ALERT] the film does the “one year later” thing and you see them on New Year’s Day with their newborn baby, and somehow they avoided not telling any family members about the pregnancy.  And lo and behold, a news crew ambushes them because their bundle of joy is the first newborn of the year!  And the cell phones ring and ring and ring and ring AGAIN!

So apparently Kate and Brad didn’t learn ANYTHING.  Perhaps they would have if there was a third act.

Perfect for: the Two and a Half Men crowd.

Playing Catch-up, part 2: More movies I’ve seen of late

November 22, 2008

THE BAXTER

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A good friend of mine recommended I take a look at The Baxter, Michael Showalter’s 2005 comedy about a putz who tries to win back his fiancee from her high school sweetheart.  She noticed that I had not posted about The Baxter, and I told her I was hesitant because I really did not like the film.  (She was okay with it–she watched The Devil Wears Prada per my recommendation and hated it.)

The film feels like a big inside joke, like you need to be part of the New York improv/sketch comedy scene to enjoy it (writer/director/star Showalter is part of Stella, along with Michael Ian Black and David Wain; Black and Wain have small parts in The Baxter.)  Elizabeth Banks is the fiancee, Justin Theroux is the old boyfriend, and Michelle Williams is the girl Showalter wants to be with.  With the comedic pedigree behind The Baxter, you would think the film would actually be funny.  The only bright spot is a cameo by Paul Rudd, who can’t help but infuse energy into any film he’s in.

CHANGELING

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Clint Eastwood has become one of Hollywood’s most prolific directors; since 2003 he’s directed five films (including Changeling) and he still has another one–Gran Torino–coming out in December.  His recent films have been real showcases for actors, and Changeling is no exception.  Angelina Jolie plays Christine Collins, a single mother in 1928 Los Angeles whose son goes missing.  The LAPD, in need of some good PR, recovers her son…only it’s not her son at all.  (He’s three inches shorter.)  When Christine persists in refuting the LAPD’s claim, she’s thrown into a mental hospital against her will.

This is an exhaustive, heart-wrenching drama that’s not easy to watch.  Jolie’s performance is Oscar-worthy, and Eastwood’s direction is deliciously spare and restrained.  But Eastwood’s got to lighten up.  With Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima and now Changeling, Eastwood has become the King of Despair.  Doubtful if Gran Torino will buck the trend.

QUANTUM OF SOLACE

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I LOVE Casino Royale.  Hands down, it’s the best James Bond film.  Rebooting a franchise is always a risk, and Casino Royale gave James Bond a certain gravitas that the prior films (obviously) lacked.  It was dark.  It was intense.  And Daniel Craig’s Bond was a bit of a sociopath (after all, he’s a killer).

Quantum of Solace, however, is a much weaker sequel (the first in the series, really; this one’s a continuation of Casino Royale, not a standalone story).  The Villain?  Weenie.  The Girl?  Uninteresting.  The Action?  More of the same, but far less exciting.  This may also be the only Bond film that had locations that I don’t want to visit: Haiti?  The Bolivian Desert?  Russia?  Blech.

The film is watchable, but it definitely is missing something.  And coming in at around 105 minutes, Quantum of Solace is probably the shortest of 007’s adventures.  I wonder, however, what wasn’t good enough to make the final cut.

Review: ‘The Women’ – Return to Lady World

September 26, 2008

With trepidation I saw The Women, Diane English’s remake of the 1939 film that features an all-female cast and a whole lot of squabbling and fussing.  After my last viewing of a film clearly aimed at women (which was more traumatic than I would have ever anticiapted), I was not too enthused about taking another journey to Secret Lady World, that mythical, amorphous place where female wish fulfillment and cinema have a heart-to-heart.

For a dude who’s favorite films this year have been The Dark Knight and The Incredible Hulk, the thought of watching an all-female cast (there are no men onscreen, not even in the background) talk about friendship sounded like an overlong episode of The Golden Girls.  (I was only half right–the movie overstays its welcome by a good thirty minutes.)

What’s it about? Mary (Meg Ryan) is the seemingly perfect wife and mother whose marriage isn’t what it used to be.  Sylvie (Annette Bening) is Mary’s best friend and the editor-in-chief of a woman’s magazine that’s about to fizzle.  Inexplicably, these two are also friends with Edie (Debra Messing), a very fertile bohemian stay-at-home-mom, and Alex (Jada Pinkett-Smith), a sassy lesbian author.  They live in New York and/or Conneticut in beautiful homes and love to shop at Saks Fifth Avenue.  Sylvie discovers that Mary’s husband is having an affair with Crystal (Eva Mendes), a spritzer girl at Saks, and debates whether or not to tell Mary.

On her own, Mary discovers her husband’s infidelity, which leads both her and Sylvie playing the “why didn’t you tell me you knew?” game, to which there is never a winner.  Mary leaves her husband and Sylvie ends up disclosing the affair to a columnist at the New York Post (Carrie Fisher) in order to save her job.

Will Mary and Sylvie ever be friends again?  (This is as chick flick-ish as one you could possibly get, so the answer, without spoiling anything, is yes.)

What’s good about it? Candace Bergin has a supporting role as Mary’s mother, Catherine.  She is, hands down, the best thing in this film.  One scene in particular allows Bergen to shine, where Catherine reveals to her daughter that her marriage to her father hasn’t exactly been the bed of roses Mary thought it was.

What’s bad about it? As I mentioned previously the film is overlong by at least a half hour.  Prudence in the editing room would have resulted in a tighter, breezier movie, but instead there are completely useless detours (like Bette Midler’s entire performance, which is not only unnecessary but hammy and grating) and needless characters (Messing and Pinkett-Smith’s characters are not the only women this movie could have done without).

The main foci of The Women are the two relationships in Mary’s life: Mary and Sylvie and Mary and her husband.  But by adhering to the concept of a women-only world, Mary might as well be married to a ghost.  We hear Mary–and only Mary–yelling in an offscreen argument with the husband while the maid (Cloris Leachman) and the nanny (Tillie Scott Pederson) discuss what’s going on in the next room.  This relationship that apparently means so much to Mary is sorely underdeveloped, and thus becomes uninteresting because we are denied the whole picture.

Perfect for: fans of any of the cast.

’30 Rock’ Wins. And deservedly so.

September 22, 2008

30 Rock is the best comedy on television right now.  (Sorry, Office.)  Tina Fey has created a zany, loopy and–most of all–funny show about the behind-the-scenes antics at a Saturday Night Live-esque tv show.  Over the last two seasons Fey has become a very funny comedic actress, and she deserved her statuette last night.  I’ve never really been an Alec Baldwin fan, but since watching 30 Rock, I’ve come to appreciate his impeccable comedic timing.

A cross between The Muppet Show and Mary Tyler Moore, 30 Rock is the one show that is gleefully funny and silly.  If you haven’t gotten into 30 Rock, I recommend you do so.  You can watch episodes on NBC.com (in fact, the Season 3 premiere will be online October 23, a full week before it airs on TV), Hulu. com, Netflix and iTunes. If you like Arrested Development, Malcolm in the Middle, The Office or Seinfeld, 30 Rock is right up your alley.

In honor of 30 Rock’s seven Emmy wins–including Best Comedy, Best Actor in a Comedy (Alec Baldwin) and Best Actress in a Comedy (Tina Fey), I’ve posted one of my favorite episodes. Carrie Fisher was nominated for Best Guest Actres for this episode and, if you ask me, was robbed.  Enjoy!

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Netflix this: ‘Son of Rambow’

September 10, 2008

It’s been a while since I’ve given my “Netflix This” stamp of approval (Sweet Land came close).  Son of Rambow completely deserves such a distinction.  It’s a sweet little film about many things–movies, friendship, religion and family.  It truly is a feel-good film.

What’s it about? It’s the 1980’s England, and Will (Bill Milner) is a weird kid with not a lot of friends.  His mother (Jessica Hynes) has raised Will in the faith of the Brethren, a super-devout religious sect that shuns worldly influences.  As a tenet of their beliefs, Will is not allowed to watch TV–not even an educational video during school, which means Will spends a lot of time sitting out in the hall while the kids learn about wicked things like science.

Enter Lee (Will Poulter), the hellraiser from the class down the hall.  He gets kicked out often for…well, raising hell.  So much, in fact, that you can hear his classmates cheer every time he’s excused from class.  Lee gets Will into trouble, which leads to Will being bullied into becoming Lee’s friend.

Lee’s a crafty kid–he makes pirated copies of movies playing at the local cinema.  One day, while Lee makes copies of Rambo: First Blood in his family’s garage, Will ends up watching the entire film.  It changes his life.

Soaring on the sensory overload-high, Will let his imagination run wild.  He begins storyboarding his own Rambo-style film, and soon he and Lee are shooting “Son of Rambow.”  Their filmmaking process recalls that special brand of ingenuity that oozes effortlessly out of kids, where nothing seems impossible.  (The scenes of them shooting recalled to me the passion for do-it-yourself filmmaking that my little brother possessed as a child–and still does.)

The making of “Rambow” takes on a life of its own when the popular exchange student Didier (Jules Sitruk) discovers Will’s book of storyboards.  Pretty soon everybody wants to be in Will and Lee’s movie, which thrills Will but frustrates Lee who, as the film progresses, is dealing with some serious abandonment issues.  Will has trouble keeping everybody happy, and even more trouble trying to keep his movie a secret from his family and from Brother Joshua (Neil Dudgeon), a member of their church.

What’s good about it? Son of Rambow is one of those films that makes you laugh and also tugs at your heartstrings.  Outstanding performances all the way around, particularly from the two leads and Sitruk, whose deadpan delivery of the French androgynous new waver Didier is impeccable.  A scene at Didier’s exclusive party is the most hilarious scene in the whole film.

What’s bad about it? There’s a bit of language, and some kids-in-peril kind of stuff.

Perfect for: Anyone waxing nostalgic for the 80’s; anyone who loves movies about movies; anyone who’s dying for something different but not way out there.

DVD Review: ‘Bowfinger’

July 4, 2008

I hadn’t seen Bowfinger since its theatrical release in 1999. It wasn’t a super smash hit (it grossed $99M worldwide), and it pretty much has gone under the radar since. But I watched this little gem recently, and would give it my ‘Netflix this’ stamp of approval, but this is a film for people who love movies and the movie business. That’s not to say it’s inaccessible to regular folk, but the humor resonates a little more if you’ve worked in the film industry.

Bowfinger

What’s it about? Bobby Bowfinger (Steve Martin) is a wannabe filmmaker whose latest project, “Chubby Rain,” would be the perfect film for mega-superstar Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy). The only problem is that Bobby’s a nobody and Kit is not interested (and excessively paranoid, thinking aliens are out to get him). Bobby then has a brilliant idea: make a movie with Kit without him knowing he’s in the movie.

Bobby enlists his actors to approach Kit and say their lines while a camera hides out of view and films everything. “Chubby Rain” is a sci-fi adventure, so when the actors recite their deliciously butchered lines, Kit really thinks aliens are out to get him. At the advice of Terry Stickler (Terence Stamp), leader of MindHead (a Scientology-like organization), Kit lays low for a couple of days.

Without their (unwitting) star, Bobby can’t finish the picture. Enter Jiff (also played by Eddie Murphy), a nerdy lookalike who fills in for Kit for wide shots and one particularly funny action sequence. The film raises the question: how far would you go to make the movie of your dreams?

What’s good about it? Here, ladies and gentlemen, is proof that EDDIE MURPHY CAN ACT. Regardless of what you think about his recent on-screen roles (I walked out of Norbit), Murphy can be funny without being over the top. Both his roles as Kit and Jiff show his range and gives us a little taste of what he is capable of. Too bad he chooses cruddy material so often.

Steve Martin wrote the script, and it crackles with wit, clever physical comedy and painfully funny truths about the Hollywood system.

What’s bad about it? There’s quite a bit of sex-related humor (Heather Graham plays a conniving girl-next-door type who sleeps with almost everyone in the cast and crew), and even though it’s only 97 minutes long, the film lags in some places. But overall it’s a clever, biting satire of Hollywood culture where BS and selfishness are the norm.

Perfect for: showbiz types.