WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
George Simmons is a comedian-turned-Hollywood superstar whose comfortable Malibu existence is threatened when he is diagnosed with a rare blood disorder. Placed on a regimen of experimental meds that offer a mere 8% chance of success he’s forced to confront the very real prospect of his own mortality which not surprisingly triggers a drastic realignment of his priorities. Looking for a companion to assist him in his final days he hires Ira Wright an earnest young comedian in desperate need of a break to work as his assistant. Ira naturally jumps at the chance to be mentored by one of his idols but quickly finds himself in over his head as he accompanies George on his perilous chaotic journey of self-discovery and redemption.
WHO’S IN IT?
A newly trim Seth Rogen (Pineapple Express Observe & Report) injects an endearing blend of sensitivity and self-doubt into his normal “lovable schlub” routine as Ira the struggling performer tasked with such a strange assignment. In the role of George Adam Sandler deserves kudos for taking on a character clearly based on himself. It’s not hard to see the similarities between Sandler’s resume of high-concept critically-maligned blockbusters and George’s fictional portfolio of hits like Merman a male-centric version of Splash Re-Do the story of a grown man turned into a baby by a wizard and My Best Friend is a Robot a buddy comedy co-starring Owen Wilson. (For a more complete list check out george-simmons.com.) But in contrast to Sandler’s genial everyman persona George is an acerbic self-absorbed privileged vision of the Hollywood success run amok.
Supporting players include Leslie Mann (Drillbit Taylor Knocked Up) who plays George’s ex-girlfriend and soulmate Laura a one-time actress now married with two children in Marin County. Eric Bana (Munich The Time Traveler’s Wife) makes an inspired turn as Laura’s husband Clarke a boisterous Aussie businessman whose temperament amusingly alternates between violent aggression and teary-eyed affection. Relative newcomer Aubrey Plaza (TV’s Parks and Recreation) is a delight as Ira’s shy witty love interest Daisy while veteran Apatow players Jonah Hill (Superbad Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and Jason Schwartzman (The Darjeeling Limited Walk Hard) provide much of the film’s laughs as his oddball roommates. Rounding out the supporting cast are RZA Aziz Ansari and Apatow and Mann’s real-life daughters Maude and Iris Apatow.
Cameos abound with appearances by such varied names as musician Jon Brion comedians Ray Romano and Andy Dick and rapper Eminem.
After tugging the heartstrings and tickling the funnybone with equal skill in his previous directorial efforts The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up Judd Apatow heads into darker more ambitious territory with Funny People while still trying to deliver the same raucous comedy that we’ve come to expect from him. The result is a movie that is at times heartbreakingly poignant and laugh-out-loud funny.
At almost two and a half hours in length Funny People is neither poignant nor funny enough to justify such a bloated running time. Apatow let his ambition get the best of him this time attempting to deliver — to paraphrase his own words — his funniest and most serious film to date. Methinks a shorter cut of the film might have yielded either a great comedy or a great drama depending on which path its director chose. Instead we wind up with a merely good dramedy that meanders for a while before falling off a cliff in the third act.
While offering some sobering advice to Sandler’s character at a high-class restaurant rapper Eminem catches Ray Romano staring at him and unleashes a barrage of expletives at the mortified former sitcom star much to the shock of the surrounding customers. It’s ironic that one of the film’s funniest scenes comes courtesy of one of the few non-comedians in the cast.
The film features solid performances all around but I was most impressed by Bana who displays some terrific range and comedic timing as Laura’s charismatic unstable Aussie husband. Perhaps the man who scowled and brooded his way through Munich and The Hulk might want to consider sprinkling more comedy into the mix.
In Norway Iowa (pop. 586) baseball is what you do by default—there apparently aren’t too many options. It is either baseball or gas-station get-togethers according to the (true) story in The Final Season. Set in 1991 the town’s high school baseball team the Tigers has amassed 19 State Championships in 22 years and it is the community’s heart and soul. So when a move is put in place to merge the team with another school’s for budgetary reasons the townsfolk are understandably outraged. As a nail in the coffin the team’s longtime coach Jim Van Scoyoc (Powers Boothe) is to be replaced by his much-younger and -less-experienced assistant Kent Stock (Sean Astin) for the final season. Suddenly everyone sours on their team and its chances of notching that 20th title. But what they don't know is that there is a diamond-in-the-rough catcher (Michael Angarano) who has just moved into town—as a punishment by his dad (Tom Arnold)—and that Stock is every bit as determined as Coach Van Scoyoc to continue Norway’s winning tradition. It initially takes some time for the players to warm up to their new coach but after a while… Oh you know the drill. The updated score in Sean Astin’s sports-movie career: football 1 baseball 0. The well-traveled actor can’t quite do for Season what he did for Rudy partly because this movie is cheesy beyond repair. But Astin who also executive-produced is by far the film’s biggest asset both on and off screen. He soldiers on as Coach Stock brimming with realistic enthusiasm and fortitude perhaps to spite the woeful script. Fellow veteran actor Boothe (Sin City) rounds out Season’s two bright spots as the pitch-perfect embodiment of a baseball sage who doesn’t waste words. But he and Astin don’t fit in this movie for reasons of authenticity or lack thereof on the others’ part. That includes onetime Next Big Thing Rachael Leigh Cook who plays Astin’s much-too-cutesy love interest; Tom Arnold striking out in a role that is (mercifully!) a near cameo; and Angarano (Sky High) who gives a performance that is heavy on cliché and light on realism. Like the movie itself. It’s hard to imagine even the youngest of viewers being able to resist sarcastic laughter throughout The Final Season—that’s just the degree of its corn. Almost everything is wrong here and the result is a nearly two-hour cliché whose transparency knows no age boundaries. Both director David M. Evans (The Sandlot of course) and writers Art D'Alessandro and James Grayford seem to only be concerned with concocting unnecessary melodrama. Most of the movie’s story for example is a highly fictionalized addendum to the less-cinematic true story on which it is based. And one scene early on serves as a microcosm of the director’s contrived efforts and forced cheese: After Angarano’s Mitch plunks his classmate/teammate with a Wiffle ball Evans cues music so heavy you’d think you were watching the climax of Mystic River. It’s utterly laughable and indicative of Evans’ many missteps. As for the baseball scenes they look sufficient when shown but Final Season is so much less a sports movie than it is the feel-good stuff of Disney TV movies—nay Disney cartoons.
Top Story: Kinks Singer Shot in Leg
Ray Davies, former lead singer of the '60s British rock group The Kinks, was shot in the leg while chasing a man who stole his girlfriend's purse, Reuters reports. The incident occurred Sunday night as Davies and his unidentified girlfriend strolled along Burgundy Street in the famous French Quarter district of New Orleans. Two men pulled up alongside the couple then jumped out and, brandishing a gun, demanded the woman's purse. The thief, purse in hand, ran off down the street with the 59-year-old singer chasing behind. The thief then turned and shot Davies in the thigh. A suspect in the case has been apprehended though the driver of the car remains at large. Davies, recently honored as a Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II, was released from the hospital Monday and is expected to be "up and about in a day or so" his manager Deke Arlon told CNN.
Jury Selection Begins in Martha Stewart Case
Jurors who will hear the securities fraud and obstruction of justice case against lifestyle maven Martha Stewart filed into the courtroom today in the first phase of jury selection, Reuters reports. Prosecutors and defense attorneys will winnow down the pool of hundreds of potential jurors though a questionnaire designed to eliminate jurors with a bias either way about the trial. Stewart, who built her company from catering business to publicly traded giant, is accused of making misleading comments regarding the sale of nearly 4,000 shares of ImClone. The day after Stewart sold the stocks, ImClone's stock price plummeted due to the rejection of a drug patent application. Stewart's trial begins January 12th.
Curb Your Enthusiasm - It's Only a Seinfeld Cameo
Jerry Seinfeld will make a cameo appearance on Larry David's HBO improvised comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm, Associated Press reports. Seinfeld, who co-created the hit Seinfeld with David, showed up on the Enthusiasm set one day and was incorporated into the show. But don't expect a show about Jerry. Says David of Seinfeld's time on screen: "Don't blink." The fourth season of the critically acclaimed show kicked off Sunday.
Boy Band B2K Calls It Quits
A mere fortnight after the release of their third album, the platinum-selling quintet B2K is disbanding citing internal disagreements, Billboard reports. The group had a hit in 2002 with their debut single, "Uh Huh" off their self-titled album, which sold 861,000 copies. Their follow-up Pandemonium! sold well over a million units. The band's remaining album is the soundtrack to their film, You Got Served which has already sold 103,000 units. The film will be released January 30th.
Michael J. Fox To Play Doc
Years after his starring role as a doctor in the comedy Doc Hollywood, Michael J. Fox is pulling on his scrubs once more with a guest starring spot on the NBC hit, Scrubs, AP reports. Fox has remained out of the spotlight since revealing his struggle with Parkinson's disease and quitting his show Spin City. His appearance on Scrubs will reunite him with Bill Lawrence, creator of Spin City and executive producer of Scrubs. Fox will appear on two episodes as a doctor with obsessive-compulsive disorder. The shows will air next month.
Sopranos Star Gets Radio Show
Vincent Pastore of the HBO mob drama The Sopranos will host a talk show in Westchester, NY, reports AP. Pastore played Big Pussy, a mobster bumped off several seasons ago on the hit show. His character has resurfaced now and again in flashbacks. The radio show titled, What's Goin' On? will air weekly on WVOX, 1460 AM. Station owner Bill O'Shaughnessy claims he made Pastore, "an offer he couldn't refuse," though according to a WVOX spokesman the actor will do the show for free.
Producers Produces Big Revenue for Broadway
The Broadway musical version of the Mel Brooks film The Producers played to packed houses over the Christmas though New Year's Eve holiday, bringing the week's gross to a record breaking $1,600,243 over the eight performances, AP reports. Stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick returned December 30th after leaving the show earlier that year. A spokesman for the show gives partial credit to the inflated New Year's Eve top ticket price of $600 for the huge year-end returns. Lane and Broderick will be paid $100,000 a week for the rest of their nearly sold-out run that ends in April.
Role Call: Lew Wasserman Documentary Set for Spring Production
Canadian documentarian Barry Avrich will shoot, The Last Mogul: The Life and Times of Lew Wasserman, the story of the late great media mogul who ran MCA-Universal for decades. The film will be shot in New York and Los Angeles and tell the story of Wasserman's life and and times though the golden age of Hollywood until his death in 2002 at the age of 89. Says Avrich, "Power began and ended with Lew Wasserman. There's powerful people in Hollywood, but there's not one powerful person anymore."
Love In Air For Hanks
Tom Hanks' Playtone Productions and HBO will partner on a drama about a polygamist and his three wives, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Hanks has worked with HBO in the past on such high profile projects as the miniseries From the Earth to the Moon and Band of Brothers. This would be his first foray into series television for the network.
February 08, 2002 2:07pm EST
Jonathan Cross (Chris Klein) is down and out in California when he runs into his old friend Marcus Ridley (LL Cool J) driving a pricey sports car and dripping in gold jewelry. As it turns out Ridley is making it big in an international Rollerball league and convinces Cross to do the same. Fast-forward four months into the future and Jonathan has become one of the biggest and most sought-after Rollerball stars. He's rich drives a nice car and is having a steamy relationship with his teammate Aurora (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos). From the looks of it Rollerball is a serious moneymaking operation: We are constantly shown million of dollars worth of currency going through money counters at record speed. And by the instant ratings numbers that appear on the organizer's monitors it's obvious that Rollerball fever has taken over the world. When conniving Rollerball creator Petrovich (Jean Reno) discovers that the ratings go through the roof when blood gets spilled things start to go very wrong. Cross and his teammates suddenly find themselves playing for their lives.
Chris Klein (American Pie 2) is Jonathan Cross the all-American Rollerball player but he underplays the role. You would expect a character in his position to have a certain amount of charisma and charm but Klein's delivery is a bit deadpan and lacking in attitude. His best pal Marcus Ridley is played by LL Cool J (Kingdom Come) who manages to add a bit of dimension to his otherwise underdeveloped character. In fact he may have been better suited for the lead. The only good part about model-turned-actress Rebecca Romijn-Stamos' (X-Men) role is that it didn't incorporate too many lines. Sounding like Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle you have to wonder what she was thinking with that accent which (contrary to the actress' recent statement on MTV that a bad accent is not necessarily bad acting) certainly is part of the acting and certainly is bad. Jean Reno (Just Visiting) was probably the most interesting character. He was all bad without a single redeeming quality which he at least pulled off with flair whether it was in his delivery or his elaborate fur coats.
Rollerball is director John McTiernan's (The Thomas Crown Affair) take on the 1975 classic directed by Norman Jewison. There is definitely enough action in Rollerball to keep viewers interested but the major problems lies within the characters' development-there isn't any. So while the action may keep your eyeballs glued to the screen momentarily you will find yourself indifferent to the characters their plight and what happens to them. Cross and Aurora's relationship for example is implied through one hastily done sex scene in the gym. Consequently when the evil Petrovich threatens to hurt her if Cross tries to leave the game we could care less because we don't really know her or how important she is to Cross. Being such an internationally renowned sport the accents which play a big part in the film are done too shoddily. The French accents go from Canadian to European within a sentence and that's only from the ones I could pick up. Who knows what other languages were massacred in the process?