How Does Todd Phillips Really Feel About Frat Boy Types?

June 15, 2009

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The continued success of The Hangover has cemented director Todd Phillips, whose previous work includes Road Trip and Old School, as the go-to auteur for frat boy comedy.  While this is accurate enough, as his films are sure to be quoted as keg parties for generations to come, it’s pretty extraordinary considering how Phillips’s career began.

After completing the well-regarded documentary Hated while still an undergraduate film student at NYU, Phillips won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 1998 for his second documentary, Frat House. While it takes place in a familiar milieu for Phillips and contains some dark humor, the film is actually a pretty scathing expose on hazing rituals in fraternities.  After the big Sundance victory, it was all set to air on HBO when, depending on who you believe, either pressure from subjects’ parents and fraternity organizations, or allegations that Phillips and co-director Andrew Gurland staged scenes, dissuaded the network from ever airing it (though somehow you can view it here).

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David Carradine: A Great Storyteller

June 15, 2009

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Less than a month ago, while working on a short film in Canada, I was on my way to pick up David Carradine and take him to breakfast.  I was more than a little nervous, as I’d never worked with an actor of his magnitude before and didn’t know what to expect.  As I knocked on his door, I braced for the worst – an awkward, silent car ride, breakfast at separate tables…

Imagine my surprise, when, within moments of walking in, I was instead treated to David’s appraisal of Bob Dylan’s new album, then moments later his reminisces of his own dabblings as a songwriter.  By the time we finally made it to set a couple hours later, I had heard about everything from his childhood in Los Angeles to how he met his wife to his abiding love of good coffee.

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Not The Whitest Kids You’ve Come to Know

March 17, 2009

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If you’ve followed the career of sketch comedy group The Whitest Kids U’ Know – saw their live shows at Pianos on the Lower East Side, checked their website for the latest no-budget shorts, cheered as they landed a show on Fuse, then cheered louder when it moved to IFC and became way less censored – then you’re probably surprised, or even a little disturbed to see the picture above, with stars Trevor Moore and Zach Cregger sandwiching Playboy founder and reality-TV staple Hugh Hefner. Shouldn’t Trevor and Zach be working on some bizarrely comic sketches instead palling around with Hef at the Mansion? And how do these guys even know each other?

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Unabashedly Lowbrow or Hopelessly Middlebrow, Which is Worse?

March 17, 2009

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Last week, I wrote a piece on this site about Miss March, a raunchy teen sex comedy from two of the members of sketch troupe The Whitest Kids U’ Know. Though I’ve long been a fan of the group, I wasn’t kind to the movie, and I felt a little bad about trashing what was, after all, only intended as a mindless diversion. But then I saw the other reviews.

As it stands now, Miss March is at 4% on Rotten Tomatoes, with only 2 of the 46 reviews aggregated on that site considered favorable. On Metacritic, it has an overall score of 8, which puts it as the 13th worst reviewed film of all time, just below State Property, Meet the Spartans, and something called The Price of Air.

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Late Oscar Reactions: Changes, Good and Bad

March 2, 2009
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this man is a dandy

Despite the lack of surprises among the actual winners (see mostly accurate predictions here, here, and even here), the general consensus seems to be that Sunday’s 81st Academy Awards were one of the most entertaining Oscar ceremonies in years. Much of the credit goes to producers Bill Condon and Laurence Mark, whose had cryptically promised big changes to the telecast in the press leading up to the show.

While I do think that, overall, the show was unusually brisk and amusing, I’m not sure all of those big changes were successes. So I thought it’d be useful to evaluate each of them on their own. Without further ado…
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Joaquin Phoenix: Comic Genius?

February 17, 2009

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Joaquin Phoenix’s “last film,” Two Lovers, came out last weekend, and garnered great reviews for both the filmmaking and Phoenix’s lead performance.  The film is being hailed as a throwback to classic Hollywood romance by critics like A.O. Scott of The New York Times, who compares it to the “conservative film tradition of lush, earnest melodrama.”  It’s high praise, but it kind of makes the film sound like homework.  When I saw Two Lovers a few nights ago, I was shocked, not just by how great this movie and it’s lead performer are, but by how surprisingly funny it is. Really!

I’ve since tried to tell this to a few people, but they seem unable to comprehend.  “Is it like, unintentionally funny?”  No. “So…is it a comedy?” Again, no.  Apparently it’s tough to explain, so allow me to elaborate.
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Demetri Martin

February 11, 2009

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“This is a show about things” announces the star of Important Things With Demetri Martin in the debut episode, “Timing,” which airs tonight on Comedy Central at 10:30pm. Though that line literally tells you nothing, in a weird way it’s a fitting description, as it gives you an idea of the offbeat sensibility that links together the show’s various sketches, stand-up routines, animations, and music performances.

Demetri Martin, probably best known for his role as Youth Correspondent on The Daily Show, cultivates an odd sort of deadpan hipster persona. He sports a clunky old-school digital watch and frequently wears a T-shirt emblazoned with the label “Person” and it’s all very cute, in a Wes Anderson kind of way. It may sound a little obnoxious, and at times it is, but the show mostly works because Martin, a former writer for Late Night With Conan O’Brien and a respected stand-up, is a pretty funny dude.

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