RALPHIE MAY: AUSTIN-TATIOUS
By Saul Sudin
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STUDIO: Image Entertainment
RATED: Not rated
RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes
Stuffed to the gills. But no, there aren’t any special features.
South Park’s Cartman grew up and became a real boy.
Ralphie May, more Ralphie May, and a crowd of Texans dumb enough to sell out a show put on by Ralphie May.
In 2008, comedian Ralphie May recorded a live concert special with a sold-out crowd at Austin, Texas’ Paramount Theater. It was filmed by a team of trained monkeys, and released on DVD. In 2009, Saul Sudin watched said DVD in four separate sittings, because 99 minutes of this crap is just too damn much.
Apparently Ralphie May is a known comedian. Apparently he was featured on NBC’s Last Comic Standing, and apparently Variety listed him as one of their “10 comics to watch in 2008”. I can only presume this is because with Ralphie May around, you can’t see any of the other comics. I ended up with this disc at the bottom of the Chewer Reviewer slush pile (believe me, the other options were worse) and thought, “I love comedy; surely this can’t be that bad?”
Every comedian has a shtick. Some are in the Lenny Bruce mode of storytelling with intelligent profanity. Some are understated and rely on the string of witticisms like Steven Wright. And some run around the stage with boundless energy like a coked-up Richard Pryor. Ralphie May subscribes to a style I’m not quite familiar with, where the comic kind of stands there like a loaf, leaning in slightly to reach the microphone without actually picking it up off the mic stand. With that level of excitement going on, and an entire performance stage to fill, Ralphie May has chosen to focus more on diversion. For example, a giant orange jacket he wears, which jokingly he addresses at the beginning saying he is “under construction”. Unfortunately, making a short joke out of it doesn’t make the jacket a good idea. What’s worse, he’s wearing it all over the DVD package.
With this much excitement going on visually, the special more likely works better as a stand up record than a television special or DVD. Visually, the director and his crew struggle to add something- anything- to the 90-plus minutes of run time. One camera on the left side is in black and white the entire time, making cutaways jarring. I can only assume they were going for some kind of edgy effect, but it never works because May’s material isn’t that shocking. What’s worse, the camera man chooses to focus on May’s hands most of the time, so we go from a full color wide shot of the stage to suddenly a black and white close up on hands. This is just one example of an overall shoddy directing and editing scenario.
You can see the wheels rolling in Ralphie May’s head as he performs. This is never a good thing. Sometimes subtleties of jokes are forgotten and then included. Sometimes it just makes Ralphie laugh at his own material. But it is never a good thing. And it is especially telling because everything he says seems calculated. Years of watching shocking comics must have convinced him that the way into an audience’s heart is to pretend to be cruder or more socially unacceptable than you actually are. Every time he makes a joke about his “Jew wife” or instructs the audience to find the closest black person in the audience so that they know “it’s okay to laugh” you can see how he backtracks on the joke, telling the audience why he isn’t really racist. Offensive as it may seem, this is actually a flaw. Like any other performer, a comedian must sell you on an image or character and May never quite dedicates himself fully to being the grown up “Eric Cartman” as he may come across as at times. This wouldn’t be such a problem if most of his act didn’t revolve around joking about Jews, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Mexicans.
May comes across as an engineered success, and I can only assume he has had success based on the other comedy specials advertised with the DVD and the hype on the back of the package. But all the comedy is something we’ve seen before, and better. He seems like an intelligent enough person; smart enough to know the structure of a joke and how to involve an audience. It is no easy task to handle one as large as a grand old theater like the Paramount, which was never intended for a lone man standing still on stage talking to you. Thankfully the people in the rear of the balcony section had no problem seeing a man of Ralphie May’s girth from afar.
Did you hear the one about the comedian who was so fat (how fat was he?) that he needed 5.1 surround sound just to fit in your ears? Ralphie May: Austin-Tatious is so fat it is presented in a 1.78:1 extra, extra-widescreen aspect ratio.
There are no redeeming features, nor anything I would refer to as “special”.
THE MYSTICAL ADVENTURES OF BILLY OWENS
By SSG Vincent C. Milucci, USA, Ret.
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STUDIO: MTI Home Video
RUNNING TIME: 90 Minutes
“Flaunting his ethnicity in Hitler’s smug Nazi face, our man Owens… shit, wrong Owens! Let’s just make a shitty movie, then.”
The Director: Mark McNabb
Starring: Roddy Piper, some kids, a human resource director…and a 18 year veteran of the Chatham-Kent Police Force. No. I’m not kidding.
Kid is a wizard. Kid has two friends. Kid has wacky adventures. Civilization ends.
Billy Owens has a problem. No, the problem is not that young Billy is a boy wizard. The problem is, that this film was allowed to be fucking made… and that I watched it. I was admittedly hard on the last movie I reviewed, but after watching TMAOBO, it looks like Battleship Potemkin next to this.
Billy Owens just turned 11… and as it turns out, he was born on the 11th day of the 11th month, at 11pm no less, so it stands to reason he will have some powers of the magical variety. Did not see that coming. Of course, he and his friends, a snarky know-it-all named Princess Kate, I mean Mandy, and his other pal, the village idiot Devon, will all go on some kind of mystical adventure… and here’s why! The sleepy little town of Spirit River is under a mystic curse! It has something to do with Vikings, an evil teacher, and a town bully who seem to be able to appear anywhere at the speed of thought and disappear just as fast. Oh, and Roddy Piper. Now you know all you need to know.
I’m all in favor of amateur film-making, and my YouPorn account will attest to this…but there have to be limits. Keep it amateur, at least. Like the old Super 8’s your parents shot of the trip to the beach… or the video you got of that gangbang during spring break. Don’t release it on an unsuspecting public… just show it to your family at holidays, and they can lie to you about how you are “a wonderful blend of Ed Wood and Peter Medak”. If someone had told this to Mark McNabb, the world might be a little bit better.
Now… about the performances.
No amount of hyperbole can adequately describe them. Seriously. If even Dennis Miller were to try, he would leak blood from his ears and die painfully. Roddy Piper? I’m not even going to go there. I’ll just say ‘They Live’ was his high-water mark.
The ‘actors’ who play young Master Billy’s parental units are a human resource director and a police officer… and surprisingly, bring in a better performance than the younglings or Rowdy Roddy! Granted, their acting is hewn from only the finest Amazon grown cocobolo wood… but it’s streets ahead of the others. The script? Taut, engaging, effective… are not words I can describe it with. Seventeen writers are credited with this. Go on… count them! I know you won’t!!
Let me assure you… you people have no conception of what you owe me for falling on this grenade of a film. Especially since there was a “To Be Continued…” at the end of it! Don’t believe me? Here’s the site for the sequel! Click if you dare…
Dearest CHEWers, (Notice how I did not say CHUDlings…)
After two film reviews for this site, I cannot but ooze love and respect for Devin, Nick, Jeremy, and the others for doing what they do. It’s not an easy thing at all to watch a film and try to maintain a semblance of objectivity in order to review it. I can’t do it. Reviewing films is great fun, no doubt… but to do it for a living? Let’s just say I’m glad all I did was kick in doors and shoot bad guys in the face for 22 years. Far less stressful…
My verdict? If you see it on the shelves, then burn down the video store.
Since this was a review copy, there were no special features other than a preview of ::shudders:: THE MYSTICAL ADVENTURES OF BILLY OWENS!!
By Worm Miller
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STUDIO: North American Motion Pictures
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
The Grudge meets nap time.
Marina Resa, Shirley To, Akiko Shima, Rick Irvin, Jerod Edington
A boring young girl accepts a boring job at a boring house in the boring desert, only to boringly discover that boring ghosts boringly haunt the boring house. Now she must boringly uncover the boring mystery before boring bore bored snore.
There are a lot of ways in which a movie can be “bad,” and most of them don’t necessarily prevent a film from being enjoyable. (I own and love a lot of “bad” movies. Road House or Cobra, for example.) The one thing that is impossible for a movie to overcome, even one with good acting, cinematography or dialogue, is being boring. Ghost Month is exceptionally boring. And it does not have good acting, cinematography or dialogue either.
Alyssa (Marina Resa) is a young twenty-something, coming out of a bad breakup. She needs some money and a change of pace, which has lead her to take a job as a live-in maid for a Chinese woman, Miss Wu (Shirley To), who lives out in the middle of nowhere with her weird older relative, Aunt Chen (Akiko Shima). After Alyssa stumbles upon the two Chinese women performing a ritual at night, Miss Wu informs her that every year in the Chinese calendar the 7th month is known as the “ghost month,” during which hell opens up and lost souls try to find a living person to take their place. Soon Alyssa is seeing ghosts, and she inadvertently begins uncovering a mystery about Miss Wu’s previous maid.
I’m not a huge fan of the ghost subgenre of horror, especially not the “wet child” vein of J-Horror and its stylistic imitators. The subgenre can work for me (Skeleton Key, to pull one off the top of my head), but generally I grow to find all the scare-teasing somewhat tedious. Ghost Month embodies this problem perfectly. A crappy Slasher movie can appease with well-timed kills to keep goosing our interest, but a movie like GM has the inherent problem that no one ever dies, so nothing ever really happens. Oh my god something in the mirror! Oh wait, now that I’ve turned around it is gone. Each “horror moment” is a shitty handjob with no completion. Which just leaves us with the general boringness of the rest of the film as entertainment.
The movie’s first big problem is Alyssa. She’s a wet blanket central character that is not helped by Marina Resa’s unfortunately lackluster performance. Though to be fair, Resa was saddled with the film’s simply atrocious dialogue. The film was written and directed by Full Moon alum Danny Draven (Deathbed, not to be confused with the Patton Oswalt fav, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats), and while I wouldn’t say the film is well directed, directing is clearly his stronger suit.
Everyone in the film tends to speak with zero subtext, as though a robot programmed with screenwriting software wrote the film. When Alyssa first arrives at the house she looks over at some bricks and states, “All this brick reminds me of my father. He was a mason. I used to help him build things.” To which Miss Wu replies, with seriousness, “Wow, you’re multi-talented.” This is also the kind of movie where Miss Wu is constantly saying things like, “We believe a lot of strange things in China,” and where half the scenes seem to end with characters making dramatic faces to indicate to us that “something mysterious is happening here.”
The movie also has a seemingly small, yet nonetheless major structural flaw for a horror movie. Midway through the movie it is revealed to Alyssa there are “rules” to Ghost Month:
1) You must not whistle.
2) If you are outside and hear someone call your name, you must not turn around.
3) Never disrupt offerings [to the ghosts].
We also learn that Alyssa has already broken all three. What?! Come on screenwriting robot! You put your rules at the beginning of the horror movie! That way there is some suspense and dramatic irony while witnessing our hero accidentally break them. Simple stuff here, robot. Simple stuff.
Okay. About now my mother would tell me that I need to say something nice about the movie. Well, the closest thing Ghost Month has to a highlight is Alyssa’s ex-boyfriend, Jerome (Jerod Edington), who comes very close to being so-bad-it’s-good level fun. Yes, he also speaks in robot written subtextless statements – “You’re just a fucking whore like my mother!” – but his subplot of crazily stalking Alyssa becomes so ridiculous as the film progresses that it is borderline enjoyable. He creepily hits on Alyssa’s maid agency boss, he kills her friend in the least convincing choking scene I’ve ever seen, and then, during the climax, Jerome attempts possibly the world’s lamest murder-suicide… with pills. Suicide with pills? Easy. Murder with pills? Not so much.
The movie also has acceptable digital FX given its budget. Though the sound design is atrocious. Dammit, I couldn’t keep the positivity going. Sorry. The movie is just really bad. Unless you absolutely love ghost movies to the degree that you enjoy seeing even the bottom of the barrel stuff, you should not waste your time with Ghost Month.
I had a screener, so not really applicable.
THE IT CROWD SEASON 2
By Brian Owens
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STUDIO: MPI Home video
RUNNING TIME: 144 minutes
- Recording The IT Crowd
- Commentary by writer/director Graham Linehan
- English subtitles!!!
The Office + punchlines = The IT Crowd
Chris O’Dowd, Richard Ayoade, Katherine Parkinson, Matt Berry
Join the IT department of Reynholm Industires: slacker Roy (Chris O’Dowd), uber-nerd Moss (Richard Ayoade), and technically clueless department head Jen (Katherine Parkinson) on their misfitty adventures!
Advertising (whom I always trust in every case) tells me that The IT Crowd comes from the producer of The Office. It also tells me that it is a cross between The Office and Seinfeld. Those are some lofty names to toss into comparison for a television show, you know, claiming your show is on par with what are arguably the best and most influential sitcoms of the last fifteen years. It’s a good thing that The IT Crowd is funny, or else those comparisons would leave it dead in the water. While it rarely ascends to the comedic heights that the former two operated at consistently, The IT Crowd adds its own unique flavor into the mix of modern sitcoms. When it allows itself to operate completely on its own terms, the show really soars.
What makes the show unique and what makes it soar? As any good show answers: The characters. The chemistry of the cast as the characters makes this show succeed as much as it does, as well as the shows carefully crafted character-based writing. Each character, while a caricature, (some more than others) is given enough depth and likeability in order to connect with the viewing audience. It also allows for any stock plot situations to be approached with a different understanding and execution, making old cliches seem fresher than they should. Special kudos must go to the cast for adding such depth, nuance and amiability to the characters. Chris O’Dowd, playing Roy, would be the romantic interest in any other sitcom, but his constant abrasive behavior keeps him in a role usually unoccupied by main characters in a sitcom. Richard Ayoade’s Moss is the requisite socially awkward character, but both the writing and his performance bring a gentility to the role: he comes across as an amalgam of The Office’s Gareth Keenan and Community’s Abed Nolastname. Katherine Parkinson brings enough un-likability and selfishness to her role to balance out the character’s innate nature as the most commercially “likable” one of the bunch. This creates something interesting: a strong female foil. Finally special mention must be made for Matt Berry who joins the cast in the second episode as Douglas, the new head of the company who is obsessed with Jen. His characterization: part pervert, part Shakespearean actor is brilliant. (Is there really that much of a dividing line there, folks? Come on) It’s a performance to enjoy every second he’s on screen.
Where the show excels is placing these characters into the most absurd of circumstances possible. The highlight, sadly, is the season’s first episode that features the gang (“What is this?” you ask, “A British version of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia?” No, it’s not. But I will refer to them as the gang, so back off) . . . Where was I? Oh yeah. The highlight, sadly, is the season’s first episode that features the gang taking a night out at the theatre. The episode continues building until it reaches such farce that the rest of the season fails to meet its promise. That’s the real pity, because the show makes such good sense and use of extremely absurd and farcical elements and situations that its denial of them for much of the season seems like a misfire. Other episodes are good, even great at times, but only when allowing the absurd to take center-stage.
What is great about the absurd elements is they always grow from plots torn from standard sitcom fare: A dinner party! A night out! Corporate advancement is available! They blossom from these overdone ideas and thus create something familiar but hilariously new at the same time. That is why it is disappointing when the absurd never fully blossoms and we are stuck watching the characters interact within the maudlin. Highlights of this second season include an episode two opener featuring a brilliantly surreal satire of corporate greed, befriending German cannibals, comparing smoking breaks to Russian pogroms, a new boyfriend named Peter File, (say it out loud a few times, if needed) mistaken ministers of defense, inventing new bras and bike jousting, just to name a few.
Each episode usually features a few nuggets of absurd gold that shine, but it makes the blase moments surrounding them all the more stark in contrast. Also, because of the nature of the show, plot and character development are low on the scale of importance. There is not much more character dimension given than the actors bring to the amiable performances. That’s fine, for the nature of the show it works brilliantly. But at the end of the season when it attempts to shoehorn in a plot that would normally be a multi-episode arc (Jen gets another job offer, leaving the IT department) it seems forced and unneeded. But how much can I complain when that episode (and series) ends with SPOILERS Jen locking Roy and Moss in Douglas’ office so he can rape them? END SPOILERS
My final gripe would be nothing really against the program, but just reminding me how much I hate laugh tracks. Sure, it’s not completely canned and it’s filmed in from of a live audience, but I have enjoyed the stretch of recent sitcoms featuring no laugh track. For a show like this with so much to find funny in various places, why force punchlines onto the viewer? The absurd tone of the piece lends itself to no needed laugh track, and in fact, the show is hindered by it at times.
The IT Crowd is funny, and it’s good. But all it really shares with The Office is a producer. Whereas The Office shone while emphasizing the uncomfortable reality of the workplace, The IT Crowd works best when attempting to forget that aesthetic and revel in the absurd. It has a closer connection to the American incarnation than the original. But thanks to the great work from writers and actors, even the lesser parts feel like they can shine.
The cover art is pretty basic, featuring the three lead characters, the logo and some pull-quotes in a way that is reminiscent of the first season’s cover art. The series looks and sounds fine enough for a television program. The special features include about ten minutes of actors laughing through lines called “Outtakes” that for some reason the producers think we’ll enjoy. There’s a short documentary on filming the series that’s interesting only in the fact that it’s mostly just backstage footage with director Graham Linehan and producer Ash Atalia discussing the footage. There’s also commentary by Graham Linehan for the entire second series. It’s a pretty standard commentary alternating between the basic backstage back-patting and anecdotes to interesting tidbits about Linehan’s creative process. Also, we find that Linehan detests smoking and that the story from episode one (Roy uses a disabled toilet and accidentally pulls the emergency cord instead of flushing, calling several employees to his non-disabled aid) is based on a true story. Linehan comes off as a very humble guy in the commentary who really enjoys his job, and I think the show reflects that.
A quick shout-out to the great DVD menu design for the series. In tone and style it perfectly captures the glory of old 8-bit video games. Using moments from the show to display in NES fashion sets a perfect tone for the series. Check it out: