MAD MEN Season 5 Premiere

The first half of this two-hour premiere is in no hurry as it re-introduces many (but by no means all) of the show’s huge cast of characters; it’s downright leisurely. Someone new to MM could be forgiven for wondering what’s the big deal. But the set-up’s brushstrokes become a fuller picture in the second hour, when we get some of the juicy scenes that we’ve loved the show for all along: Rich Sommer sweating bullets in John Slattery’s office, Jessica Pare’s sex
dance at Don’s surprise party, Christina Hendricks’ tearful
confessional with Jared Harris. The episode is heavy on what you might call Undercurrent Events — the backdrop of times-they-are-a-changin’ 60’s ferment (civil rights, women’s lib), which at the beginning is done a bit ham-handedly, but by the end is perfectly integrated with the goings on at Sterling Cooper: African-American jobseekers who show up as the result of an interagency pissing match. And as usual, exquisite art direction. A good start to the new season! — Jeff Schultz

CASA DE MI PADRE

Muy bueno.  Por cierto… magnifico. With his latest movie, Will Ferrell is cementing his reputation as a major American humorist — and doing it here in quasi-pidgin Spanish. What might have only been worth a brief Funny or Die sketch is credibly expanded into a (short) feature thanks to Ferrell’s perfectly cast co-stars, including Gael Garcia Bernal as the dapper chain-smoking villain, here reunited with his Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN pal Diego Luna playing Ferrell’s ne’er-do-well brother. Add in Efren Ramirez (NAPOLEON DYNAMITE’S “Pedro”) and Adrian Martinez as Ferrell’s sidekicks and the beautiful, sultry Genesis Rodriguez as the siren who turns men to jelly and you have an ensemble capable of walking an exquisitely fine line between parody, satire, and an involving (if deliberately cliched) story. The movie is subtitled, but even if it weren’t you’d have no trouble understanding not only what’s going on, but the jokes as well. And the use of fakery (riding dummy horses, animatronic wild animals, cheesy backdrops for hilarious studio interiors standing in for outdoor scenes) is priceless. Prepare to laugh! — Jeff Schultz

GOON

From the title you might expect GOON to be some kind of horror movie, and in a way it is. It features lots of blood and slashing, but it’s not from a knife or a machete, it’s from a hockey stick. GOON, based on the real life adventures of minor league hockey goon Doug Smith, stars Seann William Scott as the “dumb kid” in a family of Canadian-Jewish overachievers. He’s a bar bouncer, while the rest of the family are doctors. He gets notice for his ability to pound on people and absorb any kind of punishment at a hockey game and gets his shot at becoming a minor league team’s “goon” (a hockey player who’s sole job is to fight). This isn’t some insightful docudrama, with a look into the life of a man who makes his living doing things on a hockey rink that would get him arrested on the street. It’s a comedy that has some great hockey scenes, great fight scenes and lots of laughs. Scott is great and totally believable as the “goon”. Liev Schrieber plays the aging goon and their showdown is predictable, but it still pays off well. Solid supporting performances all around from Jay Baruchel (who also co-wrote the screenplay), Alison Pill and Kim Coates. If you were a fan of SLAP SHOT, you will love this, if you just want to see an outrageously funny movie, lace up your skates and see GOON. — Alan Yudman

21 JUMP STREET

God knows there’s nothing new or fresh about this piece of recycled
plastic remade as an odd-couple cop comedy. But God, Who sees
everything, also saw me laughing out loud in the theater pretty much
all through it. And here’s the thing: the laughs come from BOTH of
these guys. You know going in Jonah Hill is going to kill it — I
mean, this is the guy who made THE BABYSITTER funny. But wait, here’s
Channing Tatum… keeping up with the laughs. Everyone should have
Channing’s problems: he’s so fantastically good looking people don’t
recognize his talent. Together and apart, these guys rock: Channing in
his first encounter with the nerds who’ll become his posse; Jonah
singing “I’ve Gotta Crow” from PETER PAN in high school drama class;
Channing flubbing recitation of Miranda rights; Jonah praying to
“Korean Jesus”. Enough laughs to justify a ticket. — Jeff Schultz

Predictable, yet hysterically funny from beginning to end, 21 JUMP STREET is worth every penny you’ll pay to see it. You would expect laughs from Jonah Hill, playing his Jonah Hill-iest, schlubby best. The surprise here is Channing Tatum. Mostly a pretty boy or an action foil in previous movies, Tatum taps into his previously unseen comic talent. He is absolutely hilarious as the big dumb jock cop to Hill’s smarter, nerdier and decidedly less athletic cop. The partners wind up playing against type with Hill becoming popular in high school, while Tatum hangs with the chemistry nerds. It all works and you will be glad to know that not all the laughs are in the trailer. Special props to Ice Cube who plays the angry black police Captain perfectly. Also two hysterical cameos from the cast of the original FOX series are worth the wait. And speaking of that series, don’t expect this to be anything like it. It’s an outrageous buddy comedy, not a police/teen drama. Jump at the chance to see this outrageous comedy. — Alan Yudman

GAME CHANGE

Shallow as the ice in a hockey arena, HBO’s sinfully entertaining
docudrama does little more than skate through the high points of John
Heilemann and Mark Helperin’s best seller in an efficient, check-it-
off-the-list manner. It’s like The 2008 Campaign for Dummies. But
depth isn’t the point here; the performances are, and they’re a mixed
bag. Is there anyone who doesn’t like Woody Harrelson? Actually,
that’s a problem. If I were Steve Schmidt, I’d be thrilled with the
choice to play me — because Woody’s likeableness gives his portrayal
of the McCain campaign advisor a softer side than we got from the book
and from how he came off in the media: notoriously sharp-elbowed,
given the politics-ain’t-beanbag high stakes. Still, Harrelson’s is a
confident turn that anchors the screenplay. Less successful is Ed
Harris as McCain. The actor is lithe and energetic whereas the Senator
is filled-out and aging, but it’s more than that: the character is
underwritten, so McCain ends up seeming more empty-headed and
manipulable than I suspect the son of a bitch really is. Ultimately,
though, the CHANGE we can believe in lies inside the great Julianne
Moore. She has no trouble finding the ridiculous in Sarah Palin;
that’s the easy part. What she also shows us is Sarah fooling herself,
talking herself into thinking she is up for the job — then spiraling
downward as reality bites. A standout performance in a piece that
earns its full two hours. — Jeff Schultz

If you want to relive the disastrous GOP presidential campaign from 2008, then GAME CHANGE is perfect for you. I’m not going to rehash what happened, we all know it was the election that catapulted two people to political stardom.. Barack Obama and Sarah Palin. This movie is about the performances. The best being Woody Harrelson as McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt. Also props to Julianne Moore who captures Palin’s “Palin-ness” perfectly. If you expect to watch this and gloat over Palin’s stupidity and absurdness, you may be disappointed. Palin comes off not so much as a buffoon, but as kind of a tragic figure who is obviously way out of her depth. The real Sarah Palin is much funnier in her outrageousness. The film is acceptably interesting, It’s more of an indictment of how McCain’s campaign advisors set him up for failure. The book was far more insightful and interesting than this movie. GAME CHANGE falls short of other HBO political movies such as THE SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP. But it is worth seeing for Harrelson and Moore. — Alan Yudman

TIM & ERIC’S BILLION DOLLAR MOVIE

The movie that answers the age-old question: Just how bad can a movie be? Put it this way: Not only do Will Ferrell, Jeff Goldblum, Zach Galifianakis, John C. Reilly, Will Forte, Robert Loggia and Ray Wise not help matters, all of these otherwise brilliant actors are actively bad. The level of satire is beneath the worst Funny or Die sketch — and the worst Funny or Die sketch is funnier than almost anything in the entire movie. (I say almost because I did laugh once or twice; there, I said it.) Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim may think they’re Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter, but the talent gap is a chasm. Wareheim is what Brian Posehn would be like if he were awful (which thank goodness he’s not). Heidecker’s bizarre injection of pedophilia is surely meant to be transgressive, but is just creepy, and not in a good way. Fine actors like Loggia and Wise need paychecks like the rest of us, but come on. Everything about this stinks. — Jeff Schultz

 

WAITING FOR GODOT

Many great works of art were greeted at first with boos and bewilderment. 59 years ago, even French audiences didn’t know how to react to Beckett’s despairing, mordantly funny play about two men who wait eternally for what never comes. Today, while still emanating from an absurd and illogical dramatic universe, WFG is a heartbreakingly easy to comprehend, high art version of both GROUNDHOG DAY (endless repetition) and SEINFELD (a show about nothing). Not that there aren’t countless mysteries inside the play to suss out, some of which may always stay locked. The mysteries are the magic of it, though, and with legendary Beckett players Alan Mandell and Barry McGovern as Estragon and Vladimir — joined by the always awesome James Cromwell (Babe’s “dad”!) as Pozzo — audiences at the Mark Taper Forum are seeing a masterpiece played by masters. — Jeff Schultz 

CLEOPATRA, CEO.

The organization that staged this remarkable production is called the
Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre, but it's more performance art than
ballet. Known for its choice of unusual, non-theatrical venues, HDDT
chose a spectacular setting to tell the Queen of the Nile's story: the
former executive headquarters of the Atlantic Richfield corporation on
the top (51st) floor of the Paul Hastings building in downtown L.A.
(part of what used to be known as Arco Towers). The entire floor of
the currently vacant space is used to represent various aspects of
ancient Egypt and Rome: here, a corner office is meant to be the Roman
Senate; there, a stark white wall forms the backdrop for human
hieroglyphics. A hallway becomes the Ambracian Gulf where the Battle
of Actium is fought, the audience pressed against the walls on either
side just inches away from kung-fu-style acrobatics between the
opposing “armies”. In between, Cleopatra and Mark Antony dance a
traditional pas de deux, an opera singer performs a Puccini aria, and
the ensemble does choreographed numbers to pop tunes like Hall &
Oates' “Maneater” — all with the jewel-like, nighttime floor-to-
ceiling background of Southern California from the mountains to the
sea outside the skyscraper's windows: Cleopatra's empire. A wondrous
experience. — Jeff Schultz

SILENT HOUSE

Mostly worth seeing for its dazzling technique, this movie isn't quite
scary, but makes an honest effort. There's a little bit of REPULSION
and a lot of FUNNY GAMES as pedigree, though not enough of the
former's inner craziness and the latter's sheer dread. The tagline
exhorts us to “experience 88 minutes of fear in one terrifying take”.
It seemed to me there were a handful of places where a cut was made,
but no question the filmmakers did an extraordinary amount of planning
and rehearsal to create the illusion of uninterrupted flow. That's
especially effective when we realize the story has progressed from
daylight to darkest night. There's only one spot where I jumped in my
seat, an earned thrill which delighted the audience — although that
audience broke into laughter several times, whether derisively or as a
tension reliever I couldn't quite determine. Elizabeth Olsen works
hard, maybe a bit too hard, to convey terror; her acting is
naturalistic but could have been dialed down a bit when she's trying
to keep from losing it. The resolution, a “Twilight Zone”-style twist,
isn't the freshest. Still, this is definitely above-average. — Jeff
Schultz