You Don’t Mess With the Zohan

Posted on October 7, 2008 at 8:00 am

Somewhere inside this Adam Sandler slacker silliness there is a fierce and provocative little satire trying to get out. Sandler is so busy with his usual shtick that at times it seems that even he hardly notices the subversive political humor bubbling up around him.

Sandler plays Zohan, a top Israeli assassin, who can slaughter terrorists with one hand while he scoops hummus with the other. He is commando as rock star, universally admired and adored by all women. But Zohan dreams of peace and hairdressing. He decides to fake his own death and move to the United States where he can spend his days making hair shiny and silky. Soon he has transformed himself with an 80’s haircut and has a job sweeping up hair in a beauty salon on the Palestinian side of the street in a middle Eastern neighborhood of New York and is happily having sex with all of the elderly patrons and his landlady (all-purpose ethnic hot mama Lainie Kazan).

Comedians most often rely on ineptitude at work or with women to get laughs, but Sandler’s characters are often very successful in both. That leaves only gross-outs and silliness for humor, and that is what Sandler gives us, over and over. Lots of jokes about sex with old ladies (who are all thrilled with his prowess), bare tushes (male and female), the consternation of his landlady’s nerdy son over his mother’s unabashed sexual encounters, the ability to withstand pain, made-up euphemisms for sex, random pop star cameos, and of course one of Sandler’s theme moves — a sharp implement being thrust into the body of someone who feels no pain. We’ve seen most of this before.

But the movie also has moments of surreal humor, some remarkably adept and surprisingly understated political satire, and better roles than usual for Sandler’s frequent co-stars John Turturro and Rob Schneider. Its (almost) even-handed jibes at just about everyone are refreshing. Of course the real bad guy is a white American, but the movie’s notion that this is a place where people may hate and do crazy things but they can all agree on the importance of shiny hair, good Chinese food, and the other things that really matter in life is sweetly hopeful. All the crotch-rubbing and hummus humor feels tired and shrill when we see would-be terrorists put on hold from the bomb-building line, cheerfully reassured by the recorded voice that “we will resume service as soon as negotiations break down” or a bunch of enemies interrupting a confrontation to speculate on the, uh, appeal of Hillary Clinton.

The outrageous stereotyping and stereotype tweaking of characters on the basis of race, culture, religion, and nationality may be softened or even sanitized by the content that falls into the “normally offensive” category, the stereotyping and stereotype tweaking of old ladies (sexually voracious or addled, often both), the constant vulgarity, Sandler’s annoying idea of an accent. Or it may be that it is just a distraction that lets the political satire sneak in under the radar. But this glimpse of something a little more ambitious, a little more substantive adds a level of freshness and interest that is a welcome change from Sandler’s increasingly stale snigger-fests.

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Comedy Satire

Dr. Horrible — This Weekend Only!

Posted on July 19, 2008 at 10:30 am

Until midnight tomorrow you can watch a new three-act musical from Joss Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Firefly”) online. It is the story of Dr. Horrible (a sensational Neil Patrick Harris) and his nemesis, the very manly Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion of “Firefly” and “Waitress”). And of course there is a girl, Felicia Day as Penny.

Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon says:

So you’ll have to forgive me if I lapse into slavish overpraise here for Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, the utterly brilliant singing, dancing, Web-only action-adventure you and your brothers have cooked up. I hope it doesn’t sound like hyperbole when I say that Dr. Horrible is better than kittens and sunshine and cheese. Doled in three tantalizing, quarter-hour-long nuggets (the first two went up earlier this week, the conclusion debuts July 19), “Dr. Horrible” stars an impeccably dorky Neal Patrick Harris as a would-be supervillain who pines for his lovely laundromat crush, Penny (a luminous Felicia Day), while battling nemesis and rival Captain Hammer, a musclebound jerk played with idiot bravado by “Firefly’s” Nathan Fillion. Will Horrible create his freeze ray and earn his way into the Evil League of Evil? Will he get the girl? Tuneful, hilarious and, in typical Whedon fashion, unabashedly tender, the only thing wrong with Dr. Horrible is that the damn thing isn’t a regular series.

It has already inspired responses like this one from a would-be sidekick:

After Sunday night, it will be available only on DVD, so watch it online while you can! (NOTE: Brief mature material)

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Musical Satire Shorts Superhero

Hollywood Ending

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

Woody Allen’s films seem to get whispier and more ephemeral every year. For all its small pleasures “Hollywood Ending” is so light it nearly floats off the screen.

Allen plays Val, a movie director who is brilliant but so neurotic that no one will work with him. His ex-wife, Ellie (Tea Leoni) arranges for him to have one last chance to direct — a movie set in New York that seems perfect for him. Her new boyfriend Hal (Treat Williams) is reluctant to trust Val with a $60 million movie, but he goes along with it because Ellie wants Val to do it, and he trusts her to keep Val under control.

The problem is that Val is so neurotic that just before the film is supposed to begin shooting, he develops hysterical blindness. His agent, Al (real-life movie director Mark Rydell) persuades him that blindness is no reason not to go ahead and make the movie.

So, Val shoots the movie. The only people who know the truth are Al and a Chinese student hired to translate for the cameraman, who does not speak English. Despite the fact that the director never looks anyone in the eye and his directions make no sense, everyone keeps talkng about his artistic “vision” and his leading lady tells him that she loves the way he looks at her.

Various mix-ups and pratfalls later, the movie turns out to be a $60 million mess, but there is indeed a Hollywood ending and almost everyone lives happily ever after.

Allen gets a lot of credit for poking fun at his own reputation, and there are a couple of movie industry jokes that will be funny for anyone who watches “Entertainment Tonight” or reads “People.” The movie has some great lines and some funny scenes, especially when Val and Ellie get together for their first business meeting and it keeps exploding into recrimination about their divorce. “Will and Grace’s” Deborah Messing is delicious as Val’s airhead girlfriend, who does leg stretches while she talks on the phone and whose only response to hearing that he is breaking up with her is, “Am I still in the movie?”

Overall, though, the movie feels a little tired. Not one character is as distinctive as any of Anne Hall’s family members or the robots in “Sleeper.” This is middle of the road Woody Allen — a pleasant diversion for his fans, but it won’t make any new ones.

Parents should know that the move has some sexual references and situations, including adultery. There is some strong language and a reference to drug use.

Families who see this movie should talk about why people sometimes put up obstacles to realizing their dreams. What made Val decide to reconcile with his son? Why wasn’t it possible earlier? Why did Woody Allen name the male characters Val, Al, and Hal?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Curse of the Jade Scorpion,” “Sleeper,” and “Take the Money and Run.”

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Comedy Drama Satire

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

This movie is only slightly behind “Phantom Menace” in anticipation and excitement among kids, but parents need to know that it is very, very, very raunchy, with incessant and prolonged sexual humor. Because it is a comedy, the rating system gives it a PG-13, but the material would clearly get an R if it appeared in a drama. Do not kid yourself that some of these jokes are “over their heads.” Those kids who do not see it — or who do see it and miss some of the jokes — will hear detailed explanations from those who do of references like Powers asking one woman “Which is it, spits or swallows?” and pretty much every woman “Do I make you horny?” In addition, the movie features character names Felicity Shagwell and Ivana Humpalot, a rocket shaped like a penis (described by a series of characters with every imaginable euphemism), references to a one-night stand “getting weird,” an extended sequence in which it appears that a number of objects are removed from Powers’ rectum, and Powers’ inability to perform in bed due to his missing “mojo.” There is also a good deal of potty humor, including Powers mistaking a stool sample for coffee.

The movie is very funny at times and always genial enough to inspire generosity toward the jokes that don’t work. Spy boss Basil Exposition (Michael York) wisely advises both Powers and the audience not to think too much about the plot. So we are left with a series of skits as Austin Powers (Mike Meyers) loses his wife (Elizabeth Hurley from the first movie, who turns out to be a killer robot), meets up with CIA agent Felicity Shagwell (deliciously pretty Heather Graham) and goes after Dr. Evil (also Mike Myers), still plotting world domination, with the assistance of Number Two (played by Robert Wagner in the scenes set in the present and Rob Lowe doing a great Robert Wagner impersonation in the scenes set in the past). Dr. Evil goes back in time to 1969 to steal Powers’ “mojo” with the help of a huge Scot called Fat Bastard (also Mike Meyers) and Powers goes back to 1969 to retrieve it. Meanwhile, Dr. Evil is still struggling with his dysfunctional relationship with his son (Seth Green), who goes on the Jerry Springer show to talk about it with other children of fathers plotting world domination. Dr. Evil becomes very attached to a tiny clone of himself, christened “Mini-Me” and takes time out from extorting billions of dollars from the President (Tim Robbins) to sing “Just the Two of Us” with him. And somehow everyone ends up on the moon.

This is silly fun for its core audience of college kids. They will find the jokes about the 1980’s wildly funny, though they may miss some of the jokes about the 1960’s. Parents should be very cautious about allowing children or young teens to see the movie, and should be prepared to talk with kids who see or hear about it, to answer questions, explain family standards on the use of the language in the movie, and to provide reassurance.

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Action/Adventure Comedy Satire Spies

Cats Don’t Dance

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

A singing, dancing cat named Danny goes to Hollywood to become a star in this colorful and energetic animated musical suitable for all but the very youngest toddlers. He finds, however, that no one in Hollywood thinks that animals can be stars. A Shirley Temple-style moppet named Darla Dimple pretends to help him audition with his friends, only to sabotage their big number by flooding the soundstage. Danny, humiliated, decides to go back home. But he can’t give up, and the rousing finish has all of the animals staging a spectacular musical number, with the inadvertent help of Ms. Dimple.

The animation is well above average, if not quite up to the Disney standard, and the voice characterizations are excellent, with Scott Bakula and Jasmine Guy as the leads and Kathy Najimy, Don Knotts, and George Kennedy outstanding in supporting roles. Parents will appreciate some sly satire and the music, written by Randy Newman and performed by Natalie Cole.

Themes to discuss include judging others on their talent and character, rather than their appearance, and about working for your dreams, even when the obstacles seem insurmountable. Kids may also like to talk about Darla Dimple, why she was so threatened by the talented animals and the contrast between the way she behaved in private and when she was in the public eye.

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Animation For all ages For the Whole Family Musical Satire Talking animals
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