You for Not Sucking
by Paul Dinello
of Strangers With Candy being any good were pretty
slim. Feature-length films based on TV comedies, especially
those with roots in sketch comedy, tend to be pretty weak.
The roster of Saturday Night Live-spawned failures
is only the most obvious example, but there are lots of others:
From the Kids in the Hall’s Brain Candy to SCTV’s Strange
Brew to the Wayans’ I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, there’s
ample evidence that whatever it is that makes for brilliant
sketch comedy doesn’t often translate into sure-fire big-screen
good news is that Strangers With Candy doesn’t suck.
tells the tale of Jerri Blank (Amy Sedaris), a 46-year-old
ex-junkie, ex-con who reenrolls in her old high school in
hopes of winning back a normal life, distinguishing herself
as a student, making her father proud, and thereby rousing
him from the 32-year-long coma brought on by the death of
his wife and the loss of his daughter to a dissolute lifestyle.
plot sounds to you like a cracked-out combination of Melrose
Place and Saved by the Bell, you’ve gotten the
right idea. The charm of the TV series was exactly that injection
of salacious archness into the dopiest of teen dramedies.
As delivered by actor-writers Sedaris, Stephen Colbert (as
the bisexual, born-again science teacher Chuck Noblet), Paul
Dinello (as his bubbleheaded boytoy, art teacher Geoffrey
Jellineck), and talented others, the tone ranged from deadpan
viciousness to full-blown absurdity. The televised half-hours
were furious sprints through some very incorrect humor,
and the pacing was perfect.
version, a kind of prequel presenting the first days of Jerri’s
return, boasts the same creative team, with Dinello directing.
So, the feel of the movie and the style of the humor are much
the same. Furthermore, every actor in Strangers With Candy
knows how to play the material. Cameos by Sarah Jessica Parker,
Matthew Broderick, Justin Theroux, Allison Janney and Phillip
Seymour Hoffman prove just how sharp the joke writing is—in
that they don’t bring the movie to a screeching halt, as most
celebrity cameos do.
though, there are pacing problems. At 97 minutes, the movie
isn’t ponderously long, but there are nevertheless gaps. The
obligation to provide some kind of dramatic through line and
a resolution means that some of the series’ anarchic, improvisatory
feel gets sacrificed. Not enough to kill the movie utterly—Colbert
alone makes the flick worth at least matinee pricing—but enough
to cut its bite. It’s still got edgy moments, but it’s somehow
lost its perverse danger. Call it Strangers With Ribbon
Love and Donkey Fucking
by Kevin Smith
the zero-budget indie ge niuses who came along in the ’90s,
Kevin Smith is the geniusest. Unlike, say, Robert Rodriguez,
Smith knows exactly how limited his talents are. He
really knows his shtick, too: The dumb-but-beguiling characters,
the self-deprecating fanboy jokes and the edgy, disgusting
set pieces that leave audiences dumbstruck. You know, like
the inadvertent necrophilia that ended the original Clerks.
II begins with the quickie mart from Clerks in
flames. Ten years have passed, but Dante (Brian O’Halloran)
and Randal (Jeff Anderson) still work there; the fire wounds
their souls. The story then flash-forwards a year, and the
undynamic duo are working at a fast-food joint called Mooby’s—lots
of dopey cow sound effects—alongside teen virgin/Transformers
dork Elias (Trevor Fehrman). Just as at the quickie mart,
Jay and Silent Bob (Jason Mewes and Smith) peddle dope outside.
Dante is good friends with Mooby’s smart and gorgeous manager,
Becky (Rosario Dawson).
Dawson? There is no more painful experience in Clerks II
than watching Dawson, a good actress and glamorous movie star,
convincingly portray a woman in love (and lust) with one of
Smith’s nonacting leads. Her performance lets Smith get away
with trying to put over a plot about love and maturity and
responsibility and values. (Catholic values, specifically—there’s
a shot with a pregnant chick having a crisis in front of a
women’s clinic.) This sucks, because he isn’t gifted enough
to make us buy it.
is there to enjoy? The Randal character, again played by a
now doughy but still acerbic Jeff Anderson. His nasty jokes
at the expense of The Lord of the Rings are very funny;
his genuine shock that “porch monkey” is a slur against blacks
is the subtlest, most perceptive joke in Smith’s script. (Only
in segregated suburbia, Smith observes, could a white kid
grow up not realizing his family is racist.) And it hurts
to admit it, but Jay and Silent Bob’s bits were pretty good,
bestiality, too (sigh); Smith had to top the aforementioned
necrophilia. It’s awful, but he also had to balance out the
family values for his own ass-to-mouth-joke- loving fanboys.
will Smith go from here? It hurts to write this, but he’s
better at big ideas than human relationships. What sank Jersey
Girl is what sinks Clerks II; maybe he should make
another religious epic.
by Gil Kenan
may well be the first hor- ror movie directed at children,
Monster House evokes the fears and thrills of childhood
in such a way as to scare the bejeepers out of anybody who
remembers having to walk past some spooky old manse on the
way to school. The fear induced by such a place ranked right
up there with the secret, forbidden thrill of actually checking
it out, most likely with a good friend or two for backup.
Even better was knowing that somebody actually lived
in the house, and could, with little to no warning, come storming
out to snatch you up, or, more likely, yell at you to get
off the lawn.
DJ (Mitchel Musso) has enough to be scared about; he’s on
the precipice of adolescence. But that doesn’t stop him from
incessant spying on the title entity, by way of a telescope
he’s fixed up in his room, which is directly across from it.
He notices, among other things, that toys get sucked into
the house, never to be seen again—and that people who step
foot on the front stoop are rarely seen again. As in any good
adolescent yarn, Mom (Catherine O’Hara), Dad (Fred Willard)
and babysitter Zee (Maggie Gyllenhaal) are all clueless, apt
to chalk up DJ’s ramblings to puberty, rather than notice
themselves that things do seem a little peculiar across the
way. Even DJ’s best bud Chowder (Sam Lerner) has his doubts,
that is, until he witnesses Jenny (Spencer Locke) attempt
to sell Girl Scout cookies at the house, only to be nearly
devoured by its tongue-like entrance carpet.
a call to the police (Kevin James and Nick Cannon) results
first in the cops’ hysterical laughter and then, in the men
in blue being sucked up for dessert, the plucky kids decide
to get serious. There is the brainstorming; the first futile
attempts to get inside the house; the actual penetration of
said establishment; and the hell that follows. First-time
director Gil Kenan shows a remarkable flair for combining
rip-roaring action with quieter moments that establish character
and advance plot. Particularly notable are scenes in which
DJ and Chowder, their little pubescent, er, hearts aflutter
at the sight of Jen, vie for her attention and approval. The
animation is nothing short of bewitching, especially its evocation
of late fall lighting.
dark edges are evident throughout, and while it’s nice to
have a movie in which no Earnest Statement about Valuable
Life Lessons is bandied about, it’s also something of a shock
to see, for instance, a babysitter who would just as soon
spit on DJ as try to help him. The idea that cruelty is a
natural part of life, and that kids deal with a variety of
nasty things throughout childhood without parental knowledge
or involvement, is weirdly refreshing, if still disturbing.
Complementing the dark undertones is the inclusion of the
ever-creepy Steve Buscemi as the owner of the house, whose
deeply guarded secret unlocks the mystery. See for yourself
just how truly scary and memorable Monster House is.
in the Water
by M. Night Shyamalan
easy to pinpoint the exact moment in M. Night Shyamalan’s
Lady in the Water when the egomaniacal filmmaker loses
his audience. This is when water nymph Story (Bryce Dallas
Howard), an ethereal being, or “narf,” from the Blue World,
scrunches down in terror behind a bed and tremulously utters
into a walkie-talkie, “Turn and face the hidden scrunt!”
in the hell kind of a word is “scrunt”? In this context, it’s
the name of a flaxen-haired, wolflike creature with red eyes
that wants to kill the water nymph. “Narf,” a term also conjured
up by Shyamalan, is almost as aesthetically gruesome as “scrunt”;
as others have pointed out, if you google the word scrunt,
you’ll discover it’s a flexible slang term with a range of
isn’t done with the pidgin-mythological names. In addition
to narfs and scrunts, there are tartutics—giant evil monkeys—who
are supposed to keep scrunts in line. (Never mind the giant
eagle—I forget the specific Shyamalic term—that’s supposed
to save the poor narf in the end.) Unfortunately, like most
of the action in the picture, the giant evil monkeys arrive
on the scene far too late.
get back to that special scene and dialogue, though. Has there
ever before been a fantasy in which a water nymph used
getting the idea that this review is revealing a lot of plot
spoilers, put your mind at ease. There are no surprises in
Lady in the Water. Everything is explained before it
happens; there is even an explicative, pre-opening-credits
animated sequence. There are few plot twists. The meager suspense
fails to generate much fear, other than of the will-the-scrunt-get-the-narf
variety. In fact, the only misdirection the director employs
is built on a gratuitous swipe at the only evil human being
in the picture: a film critic.
thing is that the film, while largely ridiculous and boring,
has moments of humor and emotion. The cast, which includes
Paul Giamatti as Story’s protector, and pros like Bob Balaban,
Jeffrey Wright, Bill Erwin, Sarita Choudhury, Mary Beth Hurt
and Jared Harris, is mostly superb. And Howard, as Story,
really seems enchanted; it’s a terrible waste of a performance.
There’s one exception among the thespian honor roll, however:
M. Night Shyamalan himself, who plays—no kidding—a writer
whose work “will save the world.”
He can’t save his own movie.