Posts Tagged ‘comedy



26
Oct
09

Movie Review: Zombieland

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Call it an American “Shaun of the Dead.”

Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, and Bill Murray. Directed by Ruben Fleischer

Sometimes going into a movie with low expectations is the best way to see it. I walked in hating the idea of the movie and walked out loving it.

Welcome to the United States of Zombieland; what’s left after a virus begins turning people into zombies (nothing new there). The narrator of this tale is “Columbus” (Eisenberg), an Austin college student from Ohio. He’s your standard post-Generation X nebbish, sensitive, shut-in “World of Warcraft”-playing collegiate that didn’t find out about the virus until his next door neighbor in 406 (Amber Heard) is bitten by a homeless guy and he offers a sympathetic shoulder. Unfortunately when he wakes she doesn’t want just his shoulder to cry on.

After the incident he ventures out into the world creating a list of rules as he goes along (up to 31 when the movie opens). The Rules for dealing with zombies include Cardio (being able to out run them), Double Tap (shooting the zombie twice, at least once in the head), Don’t Be a Hero, Check the Back Seat, Beware of Bathrooms, etc. It’s by these rules that Columbus survives.

On a highway with cars and trucks strewn everywhere (and a few burnt to a crisp) he meets Tallahassee (Harrelson), a shoot-from-the-hip zombie-killing badass. Tallahassee is 180 degrees different than Columbus: he’s brazen, redneck, macho, and says exactly what he thinks. His mission: killing zombies and the quixotic quest for Twinkies. His advice leads to Rule 32: Enjoy the little things.

This pair begin heading east and a stop at a grocery store leads to meeting sisters Wichita (Stone) and Little Rock (Breslin). Columbus and Tallahassee soon find that Wichita and Little Rock are more than just sisters; they’re con artists. This is found out multiple times after being taken for their weapons and vehicles (which they lose twice). Wichita and Little Rock are on a mission: Pacific Playland, an amusement park which supposedly has no zombies.

Before going in I wasn’t a big fan of zombie movies. I’m as done with zombies as I am with vampires. Yes, I loved “Shaun of the Dead. Who, except my brother, didn’t? I thought “28 Days Later,” was great. That’s it. I don’t fawn over every zombie survival guide or movie that’s released. This movie is something different.

The movie keeps a consistency: cynical narration from Columbus. We see and hear his internal thoughts, fears, wants, and desires. He thinks tough but can’t always pull it off. Add to that creative CG titling that brings to mind David Fincher movie intros. The initial opening sequence that shows the progression of zombies in the world and feels more than inspired from the intro to “Watchmen.” In fact Fleischer does a great job in doing what he wants with the zombie genre without making you feel like “we’ve seen this all before.” The world of “Zombieland” becomes a backdrop for a road movie where the characters are looking for illusory security.

Paying homage to “Watchmen”/David Finch intros is the most direct homage the movie pays to any other film. There is a scene at Pacific Playland where Tallahassee fortifies himself inside one of the booths where you throw a ball in the futile attempt to win a giant plush animal prize. Wearing a snakeskin jacket he blasts away at the oncoming zombies with a pair of gold-plated 9mms (“Face/Off” anyone?) He ejects the empty clips and reloads by slamming the cartridges standing on the table into the them (“Tomb Raider”-ish?) Speaking of video games the coup de grace scene where all parties involved have to defend themselves against the gigantic group of zombies reminded me of the days when I played “Doom,” while blasting hard rock music in the background. I’m just saying…

Is it gory? Yes. It’s also funny, witty, cynical, brazen, redneck, and a little romantic. Harrelson definitely carries the movie, but the cast looks like they were having film filming it. Eisenberg is good, but Michael Cera could’ve done just as well. Emma Stone works, and I’m becoming really impressed with Abigail Breslin; she’s more than just the kid you remember from “Little Miss Sunshine.”

So I’ve been saving Bill Murray for last. The group make it into Hollywood and after stealing a Map of the Stars they head to the home of the actor Tallahassee considers the top of the A-list: Bill Murray. Murray’s huge, lavish mansion is a little more than self-indulgent with various paintings of Murray. They almost mistake Murray for a zombie because he wears makeup to look like one (“It’s easier to blend in as a zombie.”) After an altercation Little Rock asks if he has any regrets to which he responds: “’Garfield,’ maybe.”

That’s as much as I’ll say about that. If this review can’t convince you to go see it, I don’t know what will.

My grade: A

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14
Oct
09

Movie Review: Jennifer’s Body

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It would be nothing without Megan’s body.

Starring Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons and J.K. Simmons. Directed by Karyn Kusama

Okay. I thought this movie was going to be crap-tacular. It wasn’t. I really wanted to hate this movie. I couldn’t. Then again, the movie wasn’t all that great.

The films begins with a teenage girl named Anita nicknamed “Needy” by her friends. Needy is in a mental hospital where she has been labeled “The Kicker” because she has a habit of not taking her medication and kicking the orderlies an appreciable distance. Upon being sent to solitary confinement, we learn that she wasn’t always like this…

Needy was your average, overlooked high school geek with a boyfriend named Chip (Johnny Simmons). Her best friend since sandbox days has been Jennifer (Fox), the popular, beautiful, attractive, head cheerleader. They live in the small town of Devil’s Kettle so named because of a waterfall that flows into a vortex where whatever goes is never seen or heard from again. Scientists have proved it using small, red GPS balls.

On one particular night Jennifer takes Needy out to Melody Lane, the epitome of small town dive bars, where up-and-coming indie band Low Shoulder are having a show. Jennifer has been a big fan ever since running across their MySpace page (amazingly they’ve never friend requested me) and they plan to “make it big in a Maroon 5 way” (the running gag of the movie). Before their first song is over Melody Lane catches on fire. Needy, Jennifer, and the band make it out alive. Transfixed with the band the lead singer takes Jennifer into his conversion van and bolts down the road.

Needy is upset with the band taking her best friend, more upset when Jennifer shows up covered in blood, and even more upset when Jennifer spews black liquid onto the floor before smiling and leaving. The next day Jennifer seems perfectly fine and happy, disregarding the fact that a bunch of her high school friends were among those trapped and burnt up in the Melody Lane blaze. Out on the football field she seduces the lead football player and takes him into the woods where we see Jennifer for who she is now: a demon possessing the body of Megan Fox (or a high school teenage girl, take yer pick).

Jennifer’s callous attitude strikes Needy as odd, as well as the “psychic” connection she has with Jennifer before a new victim is claimed. Turning to the occult section of the high school library (check your local school for yours, kids) she finds out about “demon transference:” if a sacrifice is not a virgin then she does not die. Instead she becomes possessed by a demon which will feed on human flesh. It can only be killed when the demon is hungry by piercing through its heart.

Jennifer is now Countess Elisabeth Bathory-come-demon from hell. When she’s “full” she’s nice, attractive, and feels great; when she’s hungry she’s grumpy, has blemishes, and feels like crap. During one scene Jennifer shows off her newfound abilities which include ripping into her skin and having it self-repair, explains how the band sacrificed her to make it big like Maroon 5, and passionately kisses Needy. Jennifer then disappears and sets her sights on the upcoming dance/benefit for the families of the victims of the Melody Lane mishap in which Low Shoulder will not only be performing but giving 3% of the proceeds of the sale of their single, “Through the Trees,” to the benefit. Low Shoulder isn’t the only reason Jennifer plans to attend; she wants Needy’s boyfriend Chip.

As I said before I really wanted to dislike this movie. In a sea of retarded 70’s and 80’s horror remakes (“Friday the 13th,” “The Last House on the Left,” “Sorority Row,” and that’s just this year) it’s good to have a horror film that tries to be as original as possible. The problem with this movie wasn’t so much the storyline as it was the direction. The movie starts off with what everyone expected: Diablo Cody’s signature “Juno” pop culture slang and vernacular. Jennifer and Needy speak some of it in the beginning but after the 1/3 mark, it almost ceases to exist. Not that it’s a bad thing because while it worked for “Juno,” the idea feels misplaced in the horror world.

The second problem with this film would be in the question “what kind of movie do you want to be?” It was tense but not scary. It had moments of satire but wasn’t a satire. Only one high school couple had sex and at least one of them lived to the end. Uneven overall would best be describing it. A few laughs, satire that barked instead of bit, and the wonder if it was supposed to be the movie it was trying to be or making fun of that kind of movie. Smarter than your standard slasher but more complacent than your standard studio horror remake.

I’ll let you decide whether this one is worth your time. My best suggestion is to save this as a Halloween Rental along with the Midnite Movie “Countess Dracula.” Megan Fox, Ingrid Pitt, some friends, and alcohol. How can you lose?

Watch for J.K. Simmons as Mr. Wroblewski, a science teacher with a claw hand.

My grade: B-

14
Sep
09

Movie Review: Extract

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Mike Judge’s comedy flavor.

Starring Jason Bateman, Mila Kunis, Kristen Wiig, J.K. Simmons, David Koetchner and Ben Affleck. Directed by Mike Judge

This movie is to the small, mom-and-pop business as “Office Space” was to the office environment. It’s a small, fun, little comedy.

Jason Bateman stars as Joel Reynolds, the head of Reynolds Extract, a plant-extract company he personally created which offers flavors such as vanilla, root beer, and wintergreen. Joel is stressed-out and having problems: the business is full of dysfunctional people not the least of which is his assistant Brian (Simmons) who calls all the workers “dingus” because he refuses to learn their names. When word comes that General Mills may buy their plant and Joel and Brian may be in for some serious cash, things begin looking up.

As for the homefront he hasn’t had sex in a month and doesn’t get it unless he gets home before 8pm. Otherwise his wife Suzie (Wiig) walks around in a pair of sweatpants with the drawstring tied in a bow; a veritable “Gordon’s knot.” He spends late nights at a local bar where the bartender Dean(Affleck), a friend and former co-worker, offers pills and a suggestion: pay a guy to pretend to be a pool cleaner and seduce his wife. If the wife resists, then Joel can’t cheat and they have to work things out. If she does then Joel has the “moral clearance” to cheat on her.

Enter Cindy (Kunis), a new temp with ideas of her own. A criminal vagabond, she finds out about a mishap at the factory and applies as a temp to work there. She plays both sides against the middle: she gets into Joel’s “good graces” as well as dating the worker, “Step,” and getting him to use local big shot lawyer Lou Adler (Gene Simmons) to sue the company for more than it’s worth.

I enjoyed the movie. Small, unassuming, and not a bad way to kill 90 minutes on a weekend. Mike Judge uses his “lovable loser who gets in over his head” formula (see also “Office Space”) and it works well with Bateman. Mila Kunis is great as the femme fatale; the opening scene where she takes a guitar is laugh-out-loud funny. David Koechner is great as the neighbor who won’t go away no matter how much you want him to. Finally, Ben Affleck as a spiritual healer/friend/bartender is worth watching in and of itself.

If the movie had any faults, it’s that it didn’t strive to be great. Sometimes, striving for enjoyable is good enough and having went through a decade of “Scary Movie” gross-out humor, “Date/Epic/Not Remotely Funny” parody movies, bad Kevin Smith stuff, and whatever Judd Apatow script had been sitting on a shelf, it’s nice to have this comedy come around. It might not be “The Hangover,” “Tropic Thunder,” “Dodgeball,” or even Judge’s cult-favorite, “Office Space,” but I enjoyed it.

Should you go see it? I can’t say that it’s worth the full $10, but I would put it as a matinée, $1 movie/second-run, or even a rental.

My grade: satisfactory B

15
Jun
09

Movie Review: The Brothers Bloom

brothers_bloomCharming and amusing.

Stars Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel Weisz, Rinko Kikuchi, and Robbie Coltrane. Directed by Rian Johnson

Story: Stephen (Ruffalo) and Bloom (Brody) are brothers who, whilst growing up, went from foster family to foster family; 38 of them to be exact. In their early teens Stephen concocts a 15-step plan that dupes other children into getting mud on their clothes which then leads to getting a kickback from the local dry cleaner. This assuredly sets Stephen and Bloom on the long road to becoming master con artists.

Which they do. Through dialog and flashback we get the history of Stephen and Bloom: they went from con to con and happened upon an older con artist named Diamond Dog (Maximilian Schell) who taught them everything they needed to know. After Stephen took Dog’s right eye out, they quickly took flight and became the legends they are. Along the way they picked up Bang Bang, a silent Asian woman that specializes in explosions, smokes anywhere (including hospitals), and who becomes Stephen’s girlfriend.

After one of the cons Bloom doesn’t want to be a con anymore; he wants a “normal” life. He retreats to Montenegro only to be found 3 months later by Stephen who propositions him for one last con. The “mark” is Penelope Stamp (Weisz), an introverted millionaire heiress. She drives, and repeatedly wrecks, yellow Lamborghinis (which are automatically replaced). She also happens to “collect hobbies,” such as breakdancing, playing the accordion, and juggling chainsaws. Bloom entices her to join in and the con is on.

The plans to make it to the Mediterranean and down to Mexico come with complications. First is the Curator (Coltrane), a Frenchman who knows the Brothers Bloom all too well and threatens to destroy the con. Add to that the return of Diamond Dog; Bloom hates him and Stephen assaults him again. As the con continues Bloom falls in love with Penelope against his hopes, which further threatens a divide between him and his only family: Stephen.

Overall it was a cute and charming movie, but I’m not so sure that I agreed with the ending. Ruffalo and Weisz are enjoyable, but Brody is a little too depressed. The cinematography was cool and Johnson did a great job with the scene titling (watch it to know what I’m talking about).

My grade: B

21
May
09

Movie Review: The Hangover

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What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, especially if you can’t remember it.

Starring Bradley Cooper, Zack Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Justen Bartha, Jeffrey Tambor, Heather Graham, and Mike Tyson. Directed by Todd Phillips

The story begins with a phone call. Phil (Cooper), one of the groomsmen, calling Tracy (Sasha Barrese), the bride, and telling her that they may not be able to make the wedding on time. Cue flashback…

Doug (Bartha) lives in L.A. and is marrying Tracy, a beautiful woman from a well-to-do family. One-by-one we are introduced to his friends Phil, a schoolteacher, and Stu (Helms), a passive dentist with a mean girlfriend as well as brother/bother-in-law Allen (Galifianakis), a somewhat imbecilic loner. These men are heading for the time of their lives in Vegas. What could go wrong?

Note to characters: see also “Very Bad Things,” “What Happens in Vegas,” etc.

Phil, Stu, and Allen wake up to find their Villa Room trashed. A chair has smoke coming from it, there are stacks of beer cans and bottles, Stu has a tooth missing, a chicken roams around freely, and there’s a tiger in the bathroom. Matter are further complicated when they find a baby outside their door, they can’t remember what happened the night before, and the groom, Doug, is missing. Slowly piecing events together they find that Stu got married to a stripper named Jade (Graham) and the baby is her kid Tyler, Phil had to go to the hospital, Allen had mixed Rufelin in their drinks (which explains their memory loss), the tiger belongs to Mike Tyson, they stole a cop car and are being chased by an effeminate gambler/gangster named Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong). What the hell happened?

Usually I don’t go and see the “Vegas” sub-genre. As the above noted films “Very Bad Things,” and “What Happens in Vegas…” you know what? I really don’t care if anything happens in Vegas, but I got to see this as a preview screening and really enjoyed it.

So how does this movie distinguish itself from the others? First off: the “mystery” aspect. Instead of the groom commandeering what everyone does he’s taken out of the equation. Instead of flashbacks to what happened the night before none of the groomsmen (or groom) remembers anything. Secondly none of the leads are A-list actors which, in my opinion, would have destroyed the “reality” of how the movie felt. Third, the scene where the groomsmen meet Mike Tyson and he’s listening to Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” You’ll love it. Fourth, the comedy isn’t mean-spirited, cynical, or mind-numbingly stupid as a lot of comedies are these days. Yes, there is some gross-out humor but it’s used sparingly.

On another plus note: the cinematography. I’m reminded of how “Tropic Thunder” looked better than most comedies do, or should, look. Same thing applies here. Lawrence Sher did really nice time-lapse photography as will as a good deal of well-composed stuff. A little bit of art thrown into a comedy…

Watch for the other “Daily Show” castmember Rob Riggle as a cop.

Not laugh-a-minute, but the comedy is pretty even throughout. It’s better than amusing and in the words of my brother, I wouldn’t mind seeing it again or owning it on DVD.

Final note: the WB has already requested a sequel (don’t know how). The movie’s release date is June 5, 2009.

My grade: B+

29
Dec
08

Is Kevin Smith Still Relevant?

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Writer, director, and comic book artist Kevin Smith came into the Entertainment Scene in 1994 releasing his first film, “Clerks,” about a Quick Stop convenience store employee who was dealing with relationship problems while having problems with customers. Using credit cards and money borrowed from his family, as well as shooting at the Quick Stop where Smith worked during nights and in-between customers, the movie was an epitome of the Independent Films of the Nineties and traveled the film festival circuit before being picked up by Miramax, which gave him money to shoot additional scenes as well as pay for music rights (which cost more than the film itself).

 

The next year Smith received a bigger budget and made “Mallrats,” a movie about comic book-loving slackers who are dumped by their girlfriends and seek refuge at the local mall. This film featured a few people from “Clerks,” most notably the duo Jay and Silent Bob (Jay Mewes and Kevin Smith). The film’s budget was $6 million and brought in $2.1 million; a nearly critical failure for Smith. The best thing to come from this movie was that it was Jason Lee’s debut, who went on to do more Kevin Smith movies as well as the film “Almost Famous” and the hit NBC series, “My Name is Earl.”

 

Smith redeemed himself with the follow-up, “Chasing Amy” (1997) Ben Affleck starred as Holden McNeil, a comic book artist who falls in love with a lesbian comic book artist played by Joey Lauren Adams. The movie was a critical hit for Smith, being better received than “Clerks” and especially “Mallrats.”

 

From that point Kevin Smith climbed the filmmaking ladder with follow-up hit, “Dogma.” Smith had gained more “star power” with casting Linda Fiorentino, Alan Rickman, Chris Rock, Salma Hayek, George Carlin, Janeane Garofalo, and Alanis Morissette. Made on a budget of $10 million, it earned most of it back within its first weekend ($8 mil). Controversy from the Catholic Church surrounded it, possibly driving more people to go and watch it.

 

With the characters Jay and Silent Bob, as well as the inter-weaving of stories through Smith’s “View Askew Universe,” it was only fitting that Smith’s next film was, “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,” following the two convenient store misanthropes as they head to Hollywood to stop production of a Bluntman and Chronic movie. Smith has called it a “$15 million inside joke,” making it for the fans and to tie-up any loose-ends of the “View Askew Universe.”

 

And with the finalization of “Jay and Silent Bob…” Smith was closing a chapter on what made him famous: slacker characters and “dick and fart jokes.” As quoted by Ben Affleck: “Why in God’s name would I wanna keep writing about characters whose central preoccupations are weed and dick and fart jokes? I mean, ya gotta grow man. Don’t you ever want anything more for yourself?” Kevin Smith did, and walked away from the characters in View Askew.

 

Three years later Smith returned with “Jersey Girl.” Most the fanbase, reared on “Jay and Silent Bob” as well as Smith’s dialog (read: cussing and weed, dick, and fart jokes) turned away. The reasons differed, but most of the reasons stem from Ben Affleck’s relationship with Jennifer Lopez. To his credit, Smith made a good film. Not great, and not what he had built his career on, but it showed that Smith’s “Peter Pan” syndrome was well behind him.

 

Or so it seemed.

 

Sans any good ideas, Smith returned to his roots: “Clerks.” Cashing in on “sequel-itis,” “Clerks II” showed slackers Dante and Randall having to find jobs after the Quick Stop catches on fire. Here Smith returns to what made him popular: the View Askew Universe of characters. While the film did make its money, “Clerks II” was a far cry from Smith’s previous VA Universe ventures.

 

Which brings me to “Zack and Miri Make a Porno.” Greenlit by the Weinsteins before Smith had even written the script, “Zack and Miri” follows as two lifelong friends, strapped for cash, make a porno. Reportedly, this was based on Smith’s experiences in making “Clerks.”

 

And it’s this stagnation that makes me question Kevin Smith as a filmmaker. Ever since Smith has “struck out on his own” from the View Askew-verse, his road has been worse than a flat tire forced across speedbumps. I will give him credit for “growing up” and making “Jersey Girl,” and accept why it wasn’t as popular as his previous entries. However, he has mined the “Clerks” shaft all the way to China. He made a “Clerks” animated series, released a special “Clerks X” DVD with commentaries, original version, etc., and made a sequel not even as good as the original (which, in the world of his characters, requires chastising). Harlan Ellison once said that, “Gene Roddenberry had only one good idea in his lifetime, and that was ‘Star Trek.’” It seems that “Clerks” may be Smith’s “one good idea.”

 

If I had one thing to say to Mr. Smith, it would be, “Yes, I know that you LOVE ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Indiana Jones.’ We GOT that. Can you please move on?” I don’t mind the occasional reference to the series, I love them myself, but how many references to Spielberg and Lucas do you need? For God’s sake man, we get it!” And you can only keep profane language, comic book references, weed, dick, and fart jokes going for so long.

 

So, I’m opening this up for discussion. Is Kevin Smith still relevant? Is he still a filmmaker to be admired, or are his fifteen minutes up? Give me your thoughts.

 

clerksmallratschasing_amydogma1jay_and_silent_bob_strike_backjersey_girlclerks_iizack_and_miri_make_a_porno1

 

24
Dec
08

Movie Review: Zack and Miri Make a Porno

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Another romantic comedy for the low-brow crowd…

 

Starring Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Jason Mewes, Jeff Anderson, Craig Robinson, Traci Lords, and Katie Morgan. Directed by Kevin Smith.

 

Was this movie anything more than the chance to shoot a faux porno with Jason Mewes getting the most action with porn star Katie Morgan? Or letting Mewes walk around naked? Or just having Traci Lords on set for back-alley cred?

 

“Zack and Miri” is a movie about lifelong friends Zack (Rogen) and Miri (Banks), two friends who have lived around each other growing up in Monroeville and now live together in an apartment. Miri works at the Mall while Zack works at the local coffeeshop Bean ‘N Gone. When the bills pile up too high and their water and electricity are shut off, they come up with a sure-fire way to make money: make a porno. From auditions to borrowing money to their location and equipment being destroyed, this film crew experiences it all. More complications arrive when Zack and Miri eventually discover their true feelings for each other.

 

How is the movie on a basic level? It’s okay. I agree with one reviewer who said, “Only Kevin Smith can make the making of a porno boring…” What kind of porno is being made where the films two main stars, Rogen and Banks, don’t get naked? Again, outside of Morgan and Mewes “getting’ it on,” there’s nothing to see here except the “love story.”

 

And that’s really what Smith is all about. “Clerks” was about a slacker convenience store guy and his girlfriend problems. “Mallrats” was about a slacker whose girlfriend worked at the mall and who was about to lose his girlfriend to another mall manager. “Chasing Amy” was about a comic book guy who falls in love with a lesbian. “Dogma” was about a woman who has given up on love and must stop two angels from destroying the Earth (okay, not his common fare…) “Jersey Girl” was about a guy who lost his wife due to childbirth, loses his job, and must not take care of his daughter. He eventually finds love with Liv Tyler. “Clerks II” finds the convenience store burnt to a crips, forcing the slackers to sell-out to hamburger food-chain Mooby’s, while Dante is about to get married but is falling for his female co-worker Becky.

 

See? A chronology of “love stories.”

 

To get back to the review… The movie was okay. It begins with about 30 minutes of all the characters dishing out trash dialog just for effect. Tarantino, Smith is not. While there are funny parts here and there the majority of the movie goes through the motions, feeling like a throwback to an Eighties rom-com. Rogen and Banks do a good job with the material given to them but everyone else in the cast seems to be sitting around, chewing the scenery. Watching a movie about making a movie shouldn’t feel like sitting around, waiting and watching a movie being made.

 

And how can you have a movie with Traci Lords just standing around, and maybe giving that one sorta “insightful” piece of dialog? That would be like having Shannon Tweed read a teleprompter while shooting a commercial for male-pattern baldness.

 

I could go on about Kevin Smith, asking if he’s even relevant anymore but I’ll save that discussion for another time. Smith claims that without Rogen the movie wouldn’t have been made, but I think the movie was made more for Jason Mewes to be with a porn star than anything.

 

My grade: C