Save for its recurring gag about lazy eyes, Free Birds makes it through its 90-minute runtime without so much as a cringe — a rare accomplishment among Hollywood's animated fare lately. Unfortunately, there aren't too many laughs either. The reaction you'll find yourself emitting most often, in fact, will be befuddled gasps. Whatever form of exhalation best represents the question, "What the hell is going on?"
This emotion will hit you fast in an introductory 20-minutes jam-packed with hyperactive absurdity. We meet Reggie (Owen Wilson), an intelligent free range turkey who is ostracized by his rafter for shunning the corn gods and vocalizing a distrust of that infallible farmer. But just a few quick cutaways later, he's sitting pretty at Camp David, having been chosen as the "pardoned turkey" by the President of the United States (one in unmistakable Bill Clinton form, complete with accent, thumb gestures, and a joke about his relationship with a female aide). And mere moments after that, Reggie is kidnapped by renegade fowl Jake (Woody Harrelson), a dutiful dimwit whose plan is to utilize the government's top secret time machine to travel back to the first Thanksgiving and get turkeys off the menu forever.
It's a bonkers enough plot to elicit interest in the first place, and a harmless enough story (if you can really call it a story) to keep you from falling offended throughout. But in committing so exhaustingly to this mania, you'd imagine Free Birds to muster up some better material. And the line this film toes is actually rather frustrating; the humor is just passable enough that you almost root for it. You wish it was better. There aren't many laughs, but the almost-laughs come in large supply. The rivalry between alpha males Jake and 17th century wild turkey Ranger (director Hayward), himself a brawny dolt hoping to protect his flock from the approaching humans, dissolves into Leslie Nielsen-esque shtick, but without any impressive panache. Reggie's budding romance with Jenny (Amy Poehler) offers a few bits of banter that could have, through a rewrite or two, been funny. Smirks are plentiful. Laughs are few.
And maybe this is because the story has no characters. Wilson, Harrelson, Poehler, and their legion of backup players trek along with this harebrained script, spouting nonsense verse as the peculiarities ebb and flow. But there's no evolution for Reggie, who identifies himself as a "lone wolf" but falls hard for Jenny at first sight. There's no true trajectory for Jake, who claims to be haunted by his childhood but is never fleshed out beyond sight gags. There is no lesson to be learned, message to be imparted, or real conclusion to be reached beyond the obvious narrative point to which the turkeys' actions ultimately lead. Free Birds is just a bunch of kooky things going on for an hour and a half, to no real end. But if you want to wean your children into Naked Gun humor, this might be a harmless place to begin.
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NBC's Survivor meets Bachelor meets Real World Challenge-on-speed dating show Love in the Wild was a pleasant summer surprise last year, mostly because throwing spoiled, gorgeous 20/30-somethings in a jungle with the expectation that they'll find love (or heartbreak!) is an idea so absurd that it actually might work. Also, because the douchiest and whiniest ones got sent packing with nothing but emotional scars and zillions of mosquito bites to show for it, while the two leading couples actually found love and stayed together. Hey, New Yorkers and Angelenos who love to complain that dating in your city sucks – next time you should try to find love... in the wild!
This year NBC upped the fun humiliation by adding seven additional male lambs to the slaughter for the premiere episode, and as well as likable yet diabolical host Jenny McCarthy. They also moved the setting to the Dominican Republic, so we'll get to see beaches and a muggy jungle. Ooh, sharks!
After the initial teams were picked, seven additional dudes showed up to make the chosen duos a trio. This was a fun twist for the ladies, but oh-so mean to the guys who would face increased odds of going home week one. The trios ended up being Summer/Jesse/Quaison, Cina/Chase/Jason, Tara/Tim/Leo, Jenny/Ben/Franky, Ali/Jason/Darwin, Yanina/Ken/Mike and Shauna/Christian/Ryan. The challenge went a little something like this — and bear with me here, because none of this is going to make any sense. But that doesn't matter, because it all ends in annoying Arkansas Ali and her partners having to sleep in a dilapidated lean-to. The campers' packs were dropped in the ocean, and one member from each team had to swim to get them. Summer, the only female to take on this part of the challenge, kicked ass — so we like Summer. Next, all of the girls had to jump into a pit of snakes (!!) to retrieve the first conch shell, because this is a really good exercise to prepare singles for the dating-verse. Then the guys had to throw coconuts at a clay mask to knock it down to get some sort of clue. The guy "more responsible" for knocking it down got to kiss their girl for five seconds, while the other guy had to film it. This was so, so weird, and I loved it. Next the teams rode wooden boats to a dive site to get another conch, and the final leg involved climbing up a poll to retrieve the final conch in the game. Then it was a race to the finish, with the final order as follows: Jesse/Summer/Q, who shared an "oasis" with a private chef, Yanina/Mike/Ken, Leo/Tara/Tim, and Cina/Chase/Jason, who shared some pretty nifty cabins, Christian/Ryan/Shauna and Jenny/Ben/Franky, who were stuck in average-sized camping tents, and Jason/Darwin/Ali, who spent the next couple of nights in the afore-mentioned abysmal lean-to. Ali spent the next 48 hours threatening to leave the show, while her main suitor, Jason, talked her down from an impending anxiety attack. Ugh, she's terrible
Over the next couple of days, the duos/trios/whatevers tried to "bond" with each other so the ladies would have an easier choice going into the elimination, err, "Couple's Choice Ceremony." Keep in mind that each oasis/tent/cabin/lean-to only had one bed, so this typically ended in the more forward dude staking his claim on the lady, who just wanted to get some f**king sleep, while the non-alpha male crashed alone on the floor. During the day, Mike and Ryan both went after Shauna — who is annoying, but I'm choosing to like her because there aren't too many of us out there, and we have to stick together. Everyone liked blonde bombshell Tara, Ken instantly bonded with Yanina, and goofballs Jenny and Ben actually seemed perfect for each other. The adorable Jesse thought he had Summer in the bag, while Jason's attempts to sooth Ali had him convinced that she'd pick him in the Couple's Choice. So, basically, this was a confusing mess of fourteen desperate dudes flirting with seven lucky ladies on a gorgeous beach landscape. Was everyone else drinking during this? I love this show.
The Couple's Choice, as promised by Jenny, was a doozy. Summer had her pick of any dude in the group, and viciously threw out Jesse and Q for Tara's brainless hunk, Tim. Tara looked like she'd been punched in the gut, as this meant she was stuck with the insufferable Leo. Yanina chose Ken, Cina gave up the pretty cool Chase for Jason, Shauna chose her yoga-buddy Ryan, Jenny chose Ben, and Ali went with other-Jason, the really nice one who tried his best to make her feel comfortable in their lean-to. So, seven miserable dudes were stuck in the humiliating "Unmatched Area," destined to never find love, ever. OR WERE THEY?
Jenny then announced that all of the ladies (sans Summer, who already had her pick of the litter) could swap their dude for one in the unmatched area. At this point, Leo knew he was a goner. Tara swapped him out for Jesse, and Ali ditched a seriously bummed Jason for Chase, the cute Marine who used his military know-how to calm down a lady in warlike conditions. All in all, it was a pretty satisfying silly summer show premiere. I know I'm hooked.
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[PHOTO CREDIT: NBC]
Jenny McCarthy to Pose for Playboy Again
S9E3: Last week's Two and a Half Men, "Big Girls Don't Throw Food," was a bit of a fumble. Thus far, Ashton Kutcher's been doing a solid to above average job of turning the show into his own, departing from Sheen's style while finding a groove that is quintessential Men. But episode three didn't work—Walden's writing was shotgunned and ambiguous, the character doing whatever the scenes required.
Was this week different? For that, we go to the scorecard. Here's the breakdown:
One Charlie Sheen Head (1 - 10 Points): Ashton, you were in this episode.
Two Charlie Sheen Heads (11 - 20 Points): Ashton, you landed a few jokes, but we can't stop thinking about good ol' Charlie.
Three Charlie Sheen Heads (21 - 30 Points): Ashton, you earned tonight's laugh track. Solid.
Four Charlie Sheen Heads (31 - 40 Points): Ashton, we're impressed. You've surpassed Sheen-level kookiness.
Five Charlie Sheen Heads (41 - 50 Points): Ashton, you're scaring us with classic levels of comedy. Charlie who?
That's that, now on with the fourth round of the Ashton Kutcher Two and a Half Men scorecard!
"Nine Magic Fingers"
1. "Why are you wearing masks?" - Walden
"I'm at a charity event...for people without faces..." - Bridget
Walden Schmidt's continuous dilemma is his inability to get over his soon-to-be ex-wife, Bridget. Naturally, Ashton would then play his character sad. But it seems as if he is having trouble differentiating from playing sad and not 'playing' at all. Ashton Kutcher delivers his lines flatly and without much enthusiasm. Just because Walden Schmidt is depressed and languid, it doesn't mean his performance needs to be lazy.
2. "Sometimes I lay down. Sometimes I curl up in a ball." - Walden
One thing to Ashton's credit: he's managing pathetic reasonably well. It seems that Walden Schmidt has had almost no interaction with human beings. Whether this is a conscious choice or not by the creators and Ashton is ambiguous, but it makes it more believable that a handsome multi-billionaire would have trouble finding love.
3. "You need to get out there and find Ms. Right. And you need to do it immediately." - Alan
"Now? But I was gunna curl up in a ball." - Ashton
It's hard to tell what the creators really want to do with Ashton and this character. Is he supposed to be parallel Alan's relationship with Charlie? Is the new relationship supposed to be a role-reversal, with Alan being the on-the-ball alpha male to Walden's whiny, morose loser? It seems, mostly, that neither the show nor Ashton has figured out just what Walden is, and what purpose he'll serve. It's early yet in the season, so this is forgivable. But hopefully they'll figure it out soon.
4. "Alan called and told me you were doing something stupid. I just met her." - Bridget
Ashton faces a showdown between his ex-wife (Judy Greer) and new girlfriend (Jenny McCarthy; the woman who tried to con Charlie into a marriage previously). This sort of face-off could warrant something emotionally explosive from Ashton's extremely fragile character, but instead we get a predictable lewd joke and some more flat delivery. Get this man a coffee!
5. "Let this be a warning to you, Alan. There are women out there who will just be nice to you to get to your money." - Walden
"Thanks, but that's not very high on my list of priorities." - Alan
And the tag that proves that, in the end, this show is not about love between a man and a woman, but the bond between two men (the other "half man" is featured strangely infrequently in this and recent episodes). As Ashton mumbles through a profession of his appreciation of Cryer's character, we take little of it as genuine, as the performance seems like the actor is half asleep. There was always something heated and alive on both ends of the Cryer-Sheen dynamic. And although Cryer is still as animated as ever, Ashton Kutcher doesn't really seem all too excited to be there at all.
Total Points: 14 - TWO Charlie Sheen Heads!
Ashton Kutcher is not a man without acting talent. In fact, he is known for playing lively, animated, and slightly kooky characters in film and television. This begs a lot of curiosity, as he is bringing none of this enthusiasm to Walden Schmidt. Perhaps he just hasn't figured the character out yet. Perhaps he's nervous in filling Charlie Sheen's shoes. Whatever it is, let's hope he rectifies it quickly.
On the outside Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) couldn’t be further from the mold of a “normal teenager.” He wears a suit everywhere he is precocious and he has a spring in his step that suggests oblivion to his high school surroundings. Of course Charlie isn’t really at all oblivious and at his core is very much that “normal teenager”: He wants only to be popular. After starting anew at a public school--because he got kicked out of yet another private school for distributing fake IDs--Charlie is promptly pummeled for the way he dresses by the school’s bully (Tyler Hilton). He complains to his psychiatrist whom his mother (Hope Davis) keeps on retainer. The shrink decides to put Charlie on Ritalin. Ever the entrepreneur Charlie tries to parlay his easy access to drugs into popularity and it works like gangbusters. Before long “Dr. Charlie” is listening diagnosing and prescribing drugs to the entire student faculty. He’s got the popularity the trust and the girl (Kat Dennings) the latter of which just happens to be the principal’s (Robert Downey Jr.) daughter. And that relationship--not to mention the slight legality issue of prescribing controlled substances to minors--threatens to ruin his whole operation. Yelchin (Alpha Dog) is a Hollywood rarity: He’s an ‘it’ boy because of his acting not his looks (sorry Anton). Rarer still is the fact that Yelchin’s actual age is near that of Charlie Bartlett and not since the days of Freaks and Geeks has that industry taboo been broken so successfully. It’s all a credit to the young actor who in the span of Bartlett oozes everything from vulnerability and precociousness to Ritalin-induced mania and the theatricality of a much older actor. There’s nothing he can’t do in this movie; the same goes for his acting future. And the same goes for his adversary in Bartlett Downey Jr. although that’s been abundantly clear for decades now. Downey Jr. is famous for making seemingly effortless work of a complex character which is precisely what he does with Principal Gardner--a concerned parent recovering alcoholic and dutiful high school enforcer/villain. He’s a force to be reckoned with on screen and when Yelchin’s Charlie finally squares off with him the scene is a thing of beauty. As an essential link between those two characters Dennings (40-Year-Old Virgin) is a credible charmer and refreshingly the rare non-ditzy non-clichéd high school-portrayed girl we’re used to seeing. Rounding out the cast is Davis (American Splendor) aka Laura Linney-in-waiting. Her clueless alcoholic mom is a source of laughs and ultimately sobriety--for the character and us. For the first time in his decades-long career Jon Poll trades the editing room for the director’s chair. And after seeing Bartlett it makes sense that Poll who has edited movies like Austin Powers in Goldmember and Meet the Parents/Fockers is a behind-the-scenes veteran but a rookie helmer. His debut is fresh and loose but also very sure-handed. The movie is constantly a pleasant unclassifiable surprise spurning both the raunchiness of teen comedies and the pretention of psychology dramedies. The result is something far less precious and opaque than Wes Anderson’s Rushmore--to which Bartlett bears a broad thematic resemblance--yet a sharp commentary nonetheless. To that end Gustin Nash’s debut screenplay is just as impressive as his director’s rookie effort. His writing is clearly steeped in satire namely how loose today’s doctors are with the prescription pads--especially when it comes to our children--but it’s also able to be sweet and real when necessary. It’s the most impressive screenplay debut we’ve seen in a while--gold standard Juno notwithstanding--and the directorial one isn’t too shabby itself.
Nora Wilder (Parker Posey) is depressed. She's a lonely single thirty-something New Yorker whose job as the VIP facilitator of a chic boutique hotel is boring her to tears. Her mother (Gena Rowlands) is no help nor is her best friend Audrey (Drea de Matteo) who is actually having problems of her own in her seemingly perfect marriage to Mark (Tim Guinee). Nora is drinking too much dating cute but crappy men and still mourning the death of her father despite years having past since that sad event. When she meets Julian (Melvil Poupaud) a gorgeous Frenchman her life changes in a series of unexpected ways. With her role in Broken English Parker Posey reminds us of what a talented actress she is. Her portrayal of Nora is dead-on right down to the sadness in her eyes and the slump in her shoulders. You can just feel her need for love and emotional connection; it leaps off the screen right at you. Yet Posey is (as always) so likeable her innate personality shines through the sadness a fact that works perfectly with the character she plays. With her best-friend role Drea de Matteo shifts far away from her now iconic portrayal of Adriana in The Sopranos revealing a very different sort of person a privileged woman doubting her life choices—and she does it in a completely believable way. But it is Melvil Poupaud who is the big surprise here. The French actor has been in numerous films in his native country since he began his career at age 11 yet is still a face unfamiliar to American audiences. And what a face it is! The strikingly handsome 34-year-old is a revelation bringing a natural charm and ease to his performance that is sure to make every woman who sees the film dream about him that night. Director Zoe Cassavetes has movies in her blood. The daughter of legendary actor-director John Cassavetes and actress Gena Rowlands and the sister of Nick who directed The Notebook and Alpha Dog she has clearly felt the influence of her famous family. Broken English her first full-length feature film (which she also wrote) follows in the tradition of her late father's best work. He too wrote and directed personal films (Faces Husbands A Woman Under the Influence) which explored the intense human need for love without sentimentality or sappiness. With Broken English Zoe accomplishes the same difficult feat making her protagonist a very real woman whose life journey is at times sad yet ultimately uplifting--and always fascinating. In fact she has fashioned an excellent film which speaks to the human condition of countless single women in their 30s and beyond. Anyone who is one of those women should make sure to see this movie as should any man who would like to understand them just a little bit more.