stooges and a baby: (l-r) Galifianakis, Cooper and Helms
in The Hangover.
by Todd Phillips
in a while you actually get what you ask for. And moviegoers
have been asking, in not so many words, for a movie that combines
Three Men and a Baby and Dude, Where’s My Car?
with the raunch of Old School (and maybe a dash of
Jackass). Here it is: The Hangover is the most
satisfying R-rated comedy picture in years.
soon-to-be-married Doug (Justin Bartha) and his three buddies
go to Vegas for his bachelor party; the next morning, Doug’s
missing, the room is trashed, and there’s a tiger in the bathroom.
(And a baby in the closet.) Except for a small amount of scene-setting,
Hangover follows the three men as they retrace the
steps of their wild night and get into a series of sticky
situations. So most of the picture is “Dude, Where’s My Dude?”
In a different film this would shift the onus onto the shoulders
of its stars, but one of the successes here is that the leads
are not stars. There’s no reason to give a crap about
these characters, which makes it all the funnier when they
Director Todd Phillips, whose Old School was an awesome
mashup of buddy- and college-comedy conventions (despite occasionally
turning into a Will Ferrell showpiece), finds a lot of funny
in what is essentially one long caper/chase scene. This is
something of an accomplishment; the real action takes place
off-screen, so the actors spend most of the film reacting
to being told what a bunch of dicks they’ve been. This also
sets up a series of cameos, from Heather Graham (as a kindly
stripper) to Mike Tyson (as a concerned tiger owner named
Mike Tyson) to an unfortunately—but understandably—underused
Jeffrey Tambor (as the bride’s father.)
Because the groom is the nucleus of this group, his early
removal leaves an odd combination of people with no real chemistry.
There’s Phil (Bradley Cooper), a schoolteacher and a smug
prick; Stu (Ed Helms), a tightly-wound dentist; and Alan (Zach
Galifianakis), the bride’s very strange and possibly unstable
brother. Helms does a great job of keeping his character from
being just the geeky pushover who comes into his own, and
gets a lot of mileage out of a missing tooth. Cooper’s comic
skills are questionable (too often he smirks through his lines)
but he holds his own.
But Galifianakis just eats up the screen. His presence is
such that it’s hard to pay attention to what anyone else is
doing when he’s on the screen. Alan is a unique balance of
awkward and weird and bizarrely confident, and played without
so much as a smirk. Where Ferrell would have mugged and shouted,
Galifianakis keeps his voice down and lets the absurdity soak
in. (Hey, it’s funny enough if the fat guy isn’t wearing pants.
There’s no need to yell.)
A bunch of the jokes are borrowed, the actors are all but
nameless, the premise is thin. It’s rude, vulgar, borderline
nonsense. And it’s wickedly funny. The Hangover
is everything you didn’t know you were looking for in a comedy.
Limits of Control
by Jim Jarmusch
the sequence in Point Blank where Lee Marvin waits
(and waits and waits) for the mob bagman to show up at his
late wife’s apartment? Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control
is that scene stretched out to feature length, and its star,
Isaach De Bankolé, is as laconic as Marvin.
You haven’t seen Point Blank? It’s a revenge-driven
existential drama about a man (Marvin) who wants the money
that was stolen from him by a former friend—a mobster. He
doesn’t need to understand the way the film’s corporate-style
mob works; he just wants his money. He is implacable and imperturbable.
He is laid-back almost to the point of being catatonic, and
single-minded to the point of monomania.
It’s worth going into this much detail about John Boorman’s
1967 masterpiece because Jarmusch has named his production
company for this movie PointBlank Films, and is a member of
the secretive “club” called the Sons of Lee Marvin. And because
The Limits of Control seems like an endless riff on
Point Blank, Lee Marvin, and the moral reasons for
taking action—any action. It’s as slow-moving as a glacier
and just as mysterious.
It’s the kind of movie that reminds you of other movies. (A
naked woman in a see-through raincoat made me think of the
chorus girls “in cellophane” in the ’30s musical International
House. The last scene reminded me of similar scenes in,
um, Soylent Green, Blade Runner and a dozen
If you don’t like Jim Jarmusch movies, you will absolutely
hate The Limites of Control. If you like his films,
you may enjoy it quite a bit.
Here, the Lone Man (De Bankolé) meets two sinister men in
a European airport lounge. They speak in riddles. He accepts
their “assignment.” He goes to Madrid, as per instructions,
and waits. He sits in the same café everyday. People stop
by, talk to him. He doesn’t contribute much to these conversations.
Matchboxes are exchanged; after reading the message in each
box, he eats the slip of paper it’s on and washes it down
with an espresso.
One day he returns to his room, and finds a naked woman (Paz
de la Huerta) on his bed. She asks, “Do you like my ass?”
Given the prominence with which Jarmusch introduces said ass
into the picture, one doubts that the Lone Man is actually
neutral on the subject—but, as he is “on the job,” he keeps
his own counsel. (And his pants on.)
Later, he takes a train to another part of Spain. More encounters,
more matchboxes, more espresso. Eventually, he carries out
The conversations are cryptic. The visitors—Tilda Swinton,
Youki Kudoh, John Hurt—are entertaining. Gael Garcia Bernal
is the “Mexican.” Bill Murray is the “American.”
It’s that kind of movie.
got a feeling you’re fooling: (l-r) Brody, Weisz and
Ruffalo in The Brothers Bloom.
by Rian Johnson
The Brothers Bloom, there are two brothers but only
one Bloom; Bloom’s older brother is Stephen. Bounced from
foster home to foster home, the boys, especially Stephen,
become pint-size swindlers, partly out of necessity (bomb
pops cost money) and partly for escapism. It’s Stephen who
decides they’ll become “gentlemen thieves,” and Bloom, a shy
romantic, goes along for the ride. The high-speed prologue
(narrated by Ricky Jay) is a flashback from 25 years ago,
as the brothers are now in postwar Berlin, or perhaps a particularly
well-preserved section of Berlin (the art direction is deliberately
ambiguous). Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrien Brody)
are succeeding in their profession of thespian con men, though
they sometimes refer to their mysterious Russian mentor (Maximilian
Schell) with dread and awe.
The film literally wears its eccentricities on its head: All
the characters wear black hats, bowlers, fedoras, panamas,
throughout. Written and directed by Rian Johnson (Brick),
this traditional crime-caper film is driven by a madcap sense
of style (most of the interiors look like shabbily genteel
dance halls) and an absurdist narrative that owes a bit of
this to Charlie Kaufman and a bit of that to Wes Anderson.
When the brothers visit a zoo, a camel follows them out and
eats Stephen’s cell phone for no other reason than . . . maybe
camels are visually amusing?
Stephen has an “assistant” they call Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi)
who almost never talks but who fills in the odd-job character
parts that Stephen scripts for their scams, as well as serving
a mannequin for the film’s retro fashion sense (the soundtrack
does a better job of evoking continental intrigue from decades
past). The brothers have been acting out their cons for so
long that Bloom isn’t sure who he is anymore, if he ever knew
at all. “I want an unwritten life,” he complains to Stephen,
and Stephen complies with one last big score, involving the
largest private residence on the Eastern seaboard and a secluded
heiress, Penelope (Rachel Weisz), with a ludicrous amount
of liquid assets.
More self-consciously zany than inherently funny, Bloom
has a hermetic feel to it, similar to Penelope’s self- contained
mansion, where she practices bizarre hobbies in total isolation.
Some of the contrivances are rather arresting, as when Stephen
runs away from a petty larceny through a meadow, or the sight
of Brody’s storklike legs pumping like pistons while he clutches
his bowler like a mechanized Magritte. The only breath of
spontaneity in Johnson’s overly art-directed machinations,
however, is Penelope, whom Weisz gustily plays like a waifish
Kiki. Stephen counts on her having a desire for adventure
when he writes the scam, which involves smuggling a priceless
book out of Prague for a black-market collector in Argentina.
Handwritten title tags announce each “act,” such as “Telling
the Tale” and “Springing the Trap,” to which Penelope responds
with more enthusiasm and bravado than either of the brothers
anticipate. Bloom ignores Stephen’s warning not to fall in
love with her, explaining, in the script’s most interesting
line, “You tell her something, and she knows everything.”
Penelope gets what she deserves in the best sense—the plot
may be contrived, but it’s clever—but what Weisz’s character
really deserves is a better movie.
of the Lost
by Brad Silbering
If any of these comic situations seem tantalizing, then Land
of the Lost is for you: Will Ferrell bathing in dinosaur
urine; Will Ferrell, covered in ketchup, passed out on the
floor in a fast-food coma; Will Ferrell licking his chops
at the prospect of slow-roasting his little primate friend,
Cha-Ka (Jorma Taccone), “until the Cha-Ka meat falls off the
The last, you have to admit, is funny.
The new Will Ferrell comedy has the two ingredients one has
come to expect from a Will Ferrell comedy: a lead character
with a grossly oversized sense of accomplishment and/or entitlement,
and a plethora of bodily fluid-related jokes.
It also has some amazing special effects; one suspects that
the cost of one Sleestak (lizard man) costume would have covered
the budget for an entire season of the lovable, craptacular
Sid and Marty Krofft 1970s TV show from which this has been,
um, “adapted.” The T-rex, aka “grumpy,” is amazing, as are
the Sleestaks themselves. Upgrades for the lizard men include
multiple rows of sharp, pointy teeth, and the ability to have
hot Sleestak sex.
What’s missing is a character to balance out Ferrell’s screaming
egomaniac, Rick Marshall. Yes, Danny McBride (as trailer-park
comic relief Will) is his usual funny self, but the best Will
Ferrell comedies have a character that’s either crazier or
dumber than the lead. In Blades of Glory, it was Craig
T. Nelson’s batshit crazy figure-skating coach. In Talladega
Nights, it was John C. Reilly’s numbingly stupid fellow
NASCAR driver. In Anchorman . . . in Anchorman,
every character is insane. (Remember Steve Carell’s weatherman?
“I killed a guy with a trident!”) With no one to counterbalance
Ferrell’s look-at-me hijinx, Land of the Lost is a
lot of self-indulgent flailing about.
Still, it has its moments, as when the ice-cream truck falls
from the sky, and the Good Humor man is devoured by dinosaurs;
or when Rick gets a mess of his blood sucked out by a mega-
mosquito; or when Ferrell tells Today host Matt Lauer
to “suck on it.”
Slick TV hosts need to hear that a lot more often.