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Movie 43 (2013)

1922There were two driving reasons why I chose to go see Movie 43, the collection of 13 comedy sketches from different writers and directors. First, the red band trailer made me laugh, so I figured it was worth a shot. If one sketch didn’t work, there was always another ready to cleanse my comedic palate. The other reason is that I have been compiling sketches written by myself and my friends with the intent to make my own sketch comedy movie in 2013. Part of me was also concerned that something so high-profile might extinguish my own project; maybe we came up with similar material with sketches. After watching Movie 43, a tasteless, disconnected, and ultimately unfunny collective, I have renewed hope for my own project’s success.

Like most sketch comedy collections, Movie 43 is extremely hit or miss. This ain’t no Kentucky Fried Movie or even the Kids in the Hall flick. Rating this worth viewing depends on which side racks up the most. Unfortunately, there’s more terribleness than greatness on display, but allow me to briefly call out the film’s true highlights. The best segment in the movie, the one that had me laughing the longest, was a bizarre fake commercial that does nothing more than presuppose that machines, as we know them, are really filled with small children to do the labor. Seeing little urchins inside a copy machine or an ATM, looking so sad, with the faux serious music welling up, it made me double over in laughter.

94243_galWith the actual vignettes, “Homeschooled” and “Truth or Dare” where the standouts that drew genuine laughter. “Homeschooled” is about a mother and father (real-life couple Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber) giving their son the total high school experience, which amounts to degrading humiliation. Dad makes fun of his son’s penis in the shower. Mom and Dad throw a party with the cool kids but don’t invite their son. Dad tapes his son to a flagpole. The kid gets his first awkward kiss thanks to his mom. It’s outrageous without falling victim into being crass for the sake of crass, a common sin amongst many of the vignettes. “Truth or Dare” starts off innocuously enough with Halle Berry (Cloud Atlas) and Stephen Merchant (Hall Pass) on a blind date. As the date progresses, they get into an escalating game of truth or dare that each has them doing offensive acts, like blowing out the candles on a blind kid’s birthday cake. This segment knows when to go for broke with it silliness and it doesn’t wear out its welcome, another cardinal sin amidst the other vignettes.

But lo, the unfunny sketches, or more accurately the disappointing sketches, outnumber the enjoyable. Far too often the sketches are of the one joke variety and the comedy rarely leaves those limited parameters. So a sketch about a blind date with a guy who has testicles hanging from his chin (Hugh Jackman) is… pretty much just that. There’s no real variation or complications or sense of build. It’s just that. A commercial about an iPod built to model a naked lady is… exactly that and nothing more. A speed dating session with famous DC superheroes like Batman (Jason Sudeikis), Robin (Justin Long), Supergirl (Kristen Bell) and others should be far cleverer than what we get. While I laughed at the sports sketch “Victory’s Glory,” it really all boils down to one joke: black people are better than white people at basketball. That’s it. “Middleschool Date” starts off interesting with a teen girl (Chloe Grace Moritz) getting her period on a date and the clueless men around her freaking out that she is dying. However, this is the one sketch that doesn’t go far enough. It really needed to increase the absurdity of the situation but it ends all too quickly and with little incident. “Happy Birthday” involves two roommates (Johnny Knoxville, Sean William Scott) interrogating an angry leprechaun (Gerard Butler) for his gold. It pretty much just sticks to slapstick and vulgar name-calling. That’s the more tiresome aspect of Movie 43, the collective feeling that it’s trying so desperately to be shocking rather than, you know, funny.

The worst offenders of comedy are the scathingly unfunny “Veronica” and “The Proposition.” With “Veronica,” Kieran Culkin tries to woo his lady (Emma Stone) with a series of off-putting sexual remarks, delivered in an off-putting “bad poetry delivery” manner, while the film is off-puttingly shot with self-conscious angles that do nothing for the comedy. It’s a wreck. “The Proposition” is just one big poop joke. It’s far more gross than gross-out.

94242_galThe frame story connecting the varied vignettes is completely unnecessary. Well, I suppose there is one point for its addition, namely to pad out the running time to a more feature-length 94 minutes. The wraparound storyline with Dennis Quaid pitching more and more desperate movie ideas never serves up any good jokes. Its only significance is to setup an ironic counterpoint that gets predictable and old fast. Example: Quaid says, “It’s a movie with a lot of heart and tenderness,” and we cut to a couple that plans on pooping on each other. See? You can figure out its setup formula pretty quick. I don’t understand why the people behind Movie 43 thought the perfect solution to pad out their running time was a dumb wraparound. These sketches don’t need a frame story; the audience is not looking for a logical link. For that matter why is the guy also pitching commercials? I would have preferred that the frame story was completely dropped and I got to have two or three more sketches, thus perhaps bettering the film’s ultimate funny/unfunny tally.

There will be a modicum of appeal watching very famous people getting a chance to cut loose, play dirty, and do some very outrageous and un-Oscar related hijinks. The big name actors do everything they can to elevate the material, but too many sketches are one joke stretched too thin. I suppose there may be contingents of people that will go into hysterical fits just seeing Hugh Jackman with chin testicles (I think the Goblin King in The Hobbit beat him to it), just like there will always people who bust a gut when a child or an old person says something inappropriate for their age, or when someone gets kicked in the nuts (the normal ones). I just found the majority of Movie 43 to be lacking. It settles far too easily on shocking sight gags and vulgarity without a truly witty send-up. It wants to be offensive, it gleefully revels in topics it believes would offend the delicate sensibilities of an audience, but being offensive and being funny are not automatically synonymous. You have to put real work into comedy. Movie 43 isn’t it.

Nate’s Grade: C-

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)

Thanks to a rambunctious comedic spirit and some delightfully colorful visuals, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is absurdly amusing from start to finish. I was relieved when this animated family film stuck by its own manic comic sensibilities instead of pandering with scatological humor and bizarre and instantly dated pop culture references. The story has the familiar “believe in yourself” elements but it takes it another tasty level. Writer/directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (MTV’s vastly underrated Clone High) pack the story with jokes of all levels, running gags with surprising payoffs, puns that manage to be funny, satirical one-liners, imaginative visual gags, and inventive action sequences when the film becomes an all-you-can-eat buffet of disaster movies. The pacing is frenetic and the eclectic vocal cast (Bruce Campbell as the villainous mayor! Mr. T as sheriff! Neil Patrick Harris as a talking monkey!) really, as the film says, “carpe some diem.” This isn’t an emotionally engaging movie whatsoever but it’s one of the best comedies of 2009 and certainly one of the most jam-packed, fun 90 minutes you could ask to sit through. Just prepare to be extremely hungry afterward.

Nate’s Grade: A-

Observe & Report (2009)

During the middle of a mean prank, a police officer walks out of hiding and says, “I thought this would be funny but it?s really just sad.” That’s my feelings with Observe and Report, the second mall cop comedy of 2009. Writer/director Jody Hill specializes in pained, awkward, tasteless humor, but with this it’s like he made a comedy and forgot to put jokes in it. The ongoing joke is how crazy a bipolar mall security guard named Ronnie (Seth Rogen) is, but it’s hard to laugh when he just keeps coming across as scary. Hill’s movie has more in common with Taxi Driver than other comedies. We follow one dangerous man with delusions of grandeur who has violent tendencies. The humor can be daring, off-putting, and extremely risqué, like a date rape joke where Anna Farris wakes up in the middle of the act and encourages Ronnie to continue. What is the point of all the provocative envelope pushing, in the end? Is Hill trying to lock his movie into a ready-made cult status? I enjoyed Hill’s TV show Eastbound & Down starring Danny McBride (who makes a cameo here as a crack dealer). That show succeeds with a blustery, unhinged, delusional lead character because we know the character is a vulnerable loser lashing out because he realizes he is a loser, we can empathize and eventually root for the brute. Rogen, often a chubby teddy bear in comedies like Knocked Up and Zack and Miri Make a Porno, is lashing out because he won’t stay on his meds. He’s too dim to even realize his lowly place in the universe, so his bluster and rude behavior is ultimately just repellent because it provides no insight to his character. And yet, after having said all that, the movie is consistently interesting, if you want to call it that, and goes in unforeseen directions. This is a challenging movie and the biggest challenge is to try liking it. Good luck.

Nate’s Grade: C

The House Bunny (2008)

Anna Farris (Scary Movies) is proving herself to be one of the most adept physical comedians of today. This is formulaic fish-out-of-water comedy set in the familiar territory of collegiate coeds, so you’ll be excused for thinking you’ve seen this movie before in a dozen incarnations. The nerdy outcast sorority adopts Farris as their housemother, and through no shortage of makeover montages, the girls come out of their shells and embrace their outer midriffs. However, The House Bunny doesn’t just stoop to pandering a hypocritical “believe in yourself” message tied to beauty makeovers to win over the fellas, but it almost does. Farris is the true draw for the film and she goes for broke as the daffy Playboy Bunny. She’s sweet and effervescent even at her most dimwitted; this woman knows how to sell a joke. Her comedic timing and line readings are superb. The movie isn’t anything more than a pleasing diversion, but without Farris and her comic gifts it would be something much worse. The House Bunny does what it does well enough to be disposable entertainment. She’s got the dumb blonde routine down cold, now it’s time for filmmakers to allow Farris more opportunity to hone her other comedic chops.

Nate’s Grade: B-

Scary Movie 4 (2006)

David Zucker was apart of the team that gave the world Airplane!, The Kentucky Fried Movie, Top Secret, the Naked Gun flicks, Ruthless People, and even Ghost. When the Wayans brothers left the Scary Movie franchise for greener pastures (greener meaning richer), it was Zucker and his stable of writers that came in and gave Scary Movie 3 a fresh kick. Now less than three years later we have Scary Movie 4 poking at the same material, and once again this franchise is starting to feel like a bore.

Cindy Campbell (Anna Farris) is in the home health care business looking after a supposedly haunted house. Inside the house resides those pale, wide-eyed, meowing ghosts from The Grudge. Next door resides Tom Ryan (Craig Bierko), a crappy father watching after his two crappy kids for the weekend. Things get a tad hectic when giant Tr-ipod robots rise from the ground and start zapping everyone. A war of some worlds looks to be in progress. Cindy and Tom go their separate ways, each trying to stay alive and return to each other. Cindy meets her old pal Brenda (Regina Hall) and they journey into the heart of a secluded village, one surrounded by monsters. Somehow they’ll find a way to stop the aliens from destroying the planet. Meanwhile, President Harris (Leslie Nielson), briefed that the country is under attack, is very interested to know what happens to a duck in a children’s story. The only thing missing is a Passion of the Christ parody (talk about a horror movie).

This is a franchise of diminished returns. Zucker and company feel like they’re badly grasping for something. Scary Movie 4 relies far too heavily on juvenile scatological behavior (a urine sponge bath is simply gross, not a gross-out) and very repetitious slapstick. Your level of enjoyment with Scary Movie 4 will rest solely on the question of how many times you can laugh at someone getting hit in the junk. Zucker’s gone practically overboard on the physical comedy, making this the filmic equivalent of “Football in the Groin.” The sad thing about this franchise is how safe it all feels now. It seems to have its demo sights set squarely on teen males, less discerning folk who will pee their pants with groin kick #86 and roll in the aisles uncontrollably with groin kick #113. I’m no prude when it comes to slapstick mind you; a well-timed kick to the groin can be downright Shakespearean, but when an entire film is stuffed with people knocking the stuffing out of themselves, then the joke loses its original flavor. No one wants to keep chewing on something once its flavor has long vanished.

I seriously think there should be a one-term limit when it comes to the comedy teams working with the Scary Movie films. Scary Movie 2 felt like a bad Xerox copy of Scary Movie, heavily smudged and lacking definition. Seriously, how many times can you go back to the giant semen geyser well? So too does Scary Movie 4, Zucker’s second in the series, resonate with the same hackneyed feeling. Zucker’s first movie dialed down the raunch and upped the PG-13 slapstick, and now his second film feels like a less executed duplicate. In Scary Movie 3, the joke was that the creepy psychic kid could never foresee his own clobbering. Therefore, there was an extra comedic layer to watching a kid accurately predict when a woman would start her period but not when a car back into him. In Scary Movie 4, it’s simply been reduced to watched a kid get beaten a lot. Jokes rarely connect when you rob them of context or set-up or just repeat them ad nasuem. Scary Movie 4 feels a bit overly content just to be a copy of a copy. That?s simply depressing.

Even the jokes feel out of touch, smacking of a minimal effort. The Scary Movie franchise was never a place for biting satire, but everything seems so curiously outdated. Viagra jokes in 2006? I guess so. When the film does reference modern items (Myspace, Yahoo maps, Michael Jackson) it still feels awkward. The Brokeback Mountain parody, while shocking in how comparatively restrained it is, comes across dead in the water because our market is over-saturated with gay cowboy jokes. It’s like in 1999 when even your invalid grandmother was doing a Blair Witch Project parody (turns out the witch was just the nurse trying to get her to take her pills). I do realize that the plot parodies are mostly a jumble, bits blended together to house the film’s rapid-fire gags. The Million Dollar Baby parody is probably the best sequence in the film and even that spoofs a cultural event 10 years old. If Scary Movie 4 is targeting teens, to the detriment of the film’s funny, then why even bother referencing pop-culture outside their cognizance? I wonder if the inevitable Scary Movie 5 will have a pointed satire on the Iran-Contra scandal.

Zucker just feels too pleased with himself. His movie parodies are spot-on when it comes to technical execution, replicating even the camera angles from his source material. It’s a pity he has little to add with his tweaking. Any form of comedy gets old with repetition, but slapstick especially. I would think a man like Zucker would know this.

Farris is the best thing that Scary Movie could have ever hoped for. She’s one of the most gifted comedic actresses working today. She’s at home whether it’s the physical, whether it’s delivering a silly line with pitch-perfect dumb blonde finesse, or whether it’s just making exaggerated facial contortions. There’s a music montage of Farris making funny faces that works so well because of how much Farris throws herself entirely into the joke. Too bad the movie lets her down.

Nate’s Grade: C-

Waiting… (2005)

I have always respected restaurant workers; it’s just how I’ve been brought up. Short of elephant in vitro fertilization, being a waiter has got to be one of the hardest, most thankless jobs on the planet. The waiter (or server, the popularized non-gender specific term) is always the last responsible for food and the first to bear the brunt of a customer’s wrath. They’re easy targets. Their livelihood is also dependent on the idea of common decency in mankind. For these tortured, put upon, overlooked lot comes a new comedy aimed to ease the pain. Waiting… is a balls-out (pun very much intended) gross-out comedy that will make you a better, more sympathetic tipper (I generally start at 20 percent).

Welcome to the wonderful, family-friendly world of Shenaniganz. It’s another day of business for the restaurant staff and another day of enduring the slings and arrows of unruly customers. Monty (Ryan Reynolds), the leader of the pack, escorts a newbie (Freaks and Geeks‘ John Francis Daley) through the rules and customs of the Shenaniganz family. The cooks (Dane Cook, Luis Guzman) like to get randy at work, the bus boys (Max Kasch, MTV’s Andy Milonakis) like to hide in freezers and toke up, and the wait staff (Anna Faris, Justin Long) are all dating each other. Meanwhile, Dean (Long) is mulling over whether to take the manager’s job offered to him by his buffoonish boss (David Koechner). He feels his life is going nowhere and he’s stuck in a dead-end job. And there’s a store-wide game where workers try and get other people to inadvertently look at their genitals. God I hope this doesn’t go on when I order my food.

Bishop (Chi McBride) tells two other characters, “You guys are so one-dimensional.” It’s like the movie’s doing my job for me. Waiting… is stocked with underdeveloped characters that don’t even seem used properly. They all have one characteristic of note, from the white wannabe rappers to the bitchy self-loathing server that’s been there longer than anyone else. There’s a lesbian bartender and by the end of the movie that’s still the only thing you know or feel about her. Dean’s girlfriend (Kaitlin Doubleday) has nothing to add to her character, nothing to really say, no personality, she’s just “the girlfriend.” Waiting… has so many lame, poorly developed characters that go nowhere and shed little purpose or personality. It’s a general waste of talent, especially Faris and Guzman.

Reynolds is a charming and gifted comedic actor. He’s got the rat-a-tat-tat delivery down cold and adds a great polish to dialogue that ordinarily wouldn’t seem funny. He can seem at once jerky, knowing, charming, distasteful, and funny. Consider Reynolds a Vince Vaughn Jr. in the making. Long is supposed to play a character dissatisfied with his bearings in life, yet he comes across as disinterested in being in the movie. You almost expect him to shrug his shoulders and just say, “Whatever.” Long too is a very capable comedic actor but he needs far broader roles (Dodgeball) than something where he has to shuffle his feet and mope a lot. As stated earlier, Waiting… really wastes most of its talent by stranding them in thankless roles that don’t give them much to do or add. Koechner is the bright spot as a clueless, leering buffoon of a manager who keeps trying to connect with “the kids” and score with some as well.

The story feels the same way. For a 90 minute movie so much of this feels unbearably plodding. Waiting… sets up the life of a restaurant well but then can’t find much to do. The story feels formless and the characters can?t provide any direction because of their limitations. The plot seems like a group of anecdotes looking for structure. Even the comedy is rather uninspired and bland. Waiting… attempts gross-out guffaws but just ends up becoming, well, kind of gross. Dropping food and serving it doesn’t exactly register on the Ha-Ha meter no matter how many times the act is repeated. The gross-out apex comes when vengeance is heaped upon a very hostile customer with an assembly line of new “additions” to her order. In this one instance the gross-out is transcended because the audience cares about the situation. Most of the humor is juvenile and not even good at it; the penis-showing-game is inherently homophobic and a running gag with little payoff. The best joke in Waiting… is the film’s production design; Shenaniganz looks nearly identical to those homogenized chain restaurants dotting the landscape. If you stay throughout the entire end credits you’ll discover that all the crap on the walls is actually an elaborate, Rube Goldberg-esque device.

Waiting… is a very knowledgeable film about the food service industry, what with writer/director Rob McKittrick spending years and years in restaurants. I think the only way you could seriously enjoy this comedy, while sober, is if you have experience working in food service. My fiancée has spent years as a server and she identified more with the characters than I ever could. There are scenes in Waiting… that are a server’s fantasy, like when Dean returns his measly one-dollar tip back to his customer. The movie is a safe release for people in the field, much like Office Space. McKittrick even thanks Kevin Smith in the closing credits, but Waiting… doesn’t have an iota of the wit, intelligence, and comedic savvy of Clerks. This is a bargain basement comedy that will largely appeal to fellow restaurant slaves yearning to have their beaten voice heard.

Waiting… is an aimless comedy with no characters to feel for, little personality beyond its knowledge of the restaurant environment, and a cast done in by one-note roles and bland gross-out jokes. Reynolds walks away with his dignity and adds a comedic polish to some otherwise ordinary jokes. Mostly, the film feels like a waste of time, energy, and talent. Waiting… will definitely appeal to people who have felt the wrath of working in food service, but objectively this is one comedy that just doesn’t order up any laughs.

Nate’s Grade: C

Scary Movie 3 (2003)

Spoofs can be done well (Airplane, The Naked Gun films) or they can be embarrassing and wretched to sit through (Not Another Teen Movie). Where does Scary Movie 3 fit in, especially when the creators of the first two installments of the series are absent this time around?

Scary Movie 3 starts off with a preacher (Charlie Sheen) finding mysterious crop circles in his fields of wheat. Elsewhere, Cindy (Anna Farris, once again the Scary Movie ingénue), a bubbling reporter, is investigating a mysterious tape that kills whoever watches it. The plots for Signs and The Ring are thrown into a blender, and the ensuing mush is the shaky plot for Scary Movie 3 to stage its jokes within.

But instead of swinging for the stars, Scary Movie 3 often settles for countless swings to the head or crotch. I swear, I saw more people getting hit in the crotch in Scary Movie 3 than if I had spent a weekend strapped to a chair, Clockwork Orange-style, and been forced to watch an endless loop of America’’s Funniest Home Videos. It’’s almost like sixth graders wrote the script, and their creative process revolved around the question, “”Will someone getting hit in a sensitive body area ever not be funny?”” And of course, the answer was, “”Never, dude. Let’’s go look at your dad’’s nudie magazines now.””

Despite the scattershot nature of spoofs, Scary Movie 3 is a noticeable step up from its predecessor. Scary Movie 2 was comedy lost in the woods as if it were in search of a Blair Witch of comedic sensibility , unsure of any direction and falling back on lame gross-out gags and scatological humor. When you have to go to the “giant geyser of semen” more than once, you’’ve got some dire script problems. Credit new director David Zucker (Airplane, Naked Gun) with classing up the place after the absence of the Wayans’ brothers, who wrote and directed the previous Scary Movie films.

Scary Movie 3 has more of a steady footing for its comedy, but its parodies can seem flat. A Matrix: Reloaded parody with George Carlin as the uppity Architect only serves to make you remember that Will Ferrell did it better for the 2003 MTV Movie Awards. The lengthy subplot supposedly spoofing 8 Mile is dead on arrival. He’s white, get it? No, really, get it? Hey, didn’’t Eminem actually rap about this at the end of 8 Mile? So then Scary Movie 3 isn’t even parodying 8 Mile so much as repeating it in inferiority. There are several times that Scary Movie 3 seems like it’s struggling to lampoon anything popular at the time, no matter if it has anything funny to say about it.

What redeems Scary Movie 3 is what made the original Scary Movie so enjoyable: several scenes of laugh-out-loud, tears-in-you-eyes comedy. Some personal favorites of mine are scenes that go bizarrely over-the-top, like the funeral of Regina Hall, or the more clever jabs at pop culture, like the origin of the evil videotape having something to do with Pootie Tang. Faris is also a very talented comedic actress that proves game for whatever is thrown at her (usually at her head).

So while some of the topical parodies may not work, Scary Movie 3 seems to hit its stride when touching on others. Characters get battered, bruised, flattened, smacked, and thrown all around like the film was a living cartoon. Many of the film’s jokes are juvenile, but not the puerile juvenile demeanor the Wayans dealt in. Scary Movie 3 is the first film of the franchise to be rated PG-13, and in some lights it liberates the comedy. Instead of trying to out-do sex gags, the filmmakers turn toward the more universal art of slapstick and a slyer pop culture commentary. The comedy may only be there in spurts but it is there.

With any comedy there are hits and misses, and Scary Movie 3 has plenty of misses (a kid being beaten repeatedly does not get funnier as it goes), but when it hits its targets it strikes hard. And when it doesn’t? Well, I do so hope you like people getting hit in the crotch. Scary Movie 3 is worth a rental price and best enjoyed with large quantities of popcorn, friends, and alcoholic beverages. Fans of slapstick will be tickled pink, people who left the franchise after Scary Movie 2 may rejoin the flock.

Nate’s Grade: B-

Lost in Translation (2003)

Sophia Coppola probably has had one of the most infamous beginnings in showbiz. Her father, Francis Ford, is one of the most famous directors of our times. He was getting ready to film Godfather Part III when Winona Ryder dropped out weeks before filming. Sophia Coppola, just at the age of 18, stepped into the role of Michael Corleone’’s daughter. The level of scathing reviews Coppola’s acting received is something perhaps only Tom Green and Britney Spears can relate to. Coppola never really acted again. Instead she married Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich) and adapted and directed the acclaimed indie flick, The Virgin Suicides. So now Coppola is back again with Lost in Translation, and if this is the kind of rewards reaped by bad reviews early in your career, then I’’m circling the 2008 Oscar date for Britney.

Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is a washed up actor visiting Tokyo to film some well-paying whiskey commercials. Bob’’s long marriage is fading and he feels the pains of loneliness dig its claws into his soul. Bob finds a kindred spirit in Charlotte (Scarlet Johansson), a young newlywed who has followed her photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi) to Japan and is second-guessing herself and her marriage. The two strike up a friendship of resistance as strangers in a strange land. They run around the big city and share enough adventures to leave an indelible impression on each other’’s life.

Lost in Translation is, simply put, a marvelously beautiful film. The emphasis for Coppola is less on a rigidly structured story and more on a consistently lovely mood of melancholy. There are many scenes of potent visual power, nuance of absence, that the viewer is left aching like the moments after a long, cleansing cry. There are certain images (like Johansson or Murray staring out at the impersonal glittering Tokyo) and certain scenes (like the final, tearful hug between the leads) that I will never forget. It’s one thing when a film opens on the quiet image of a woman’s derriere in pink panties and just holds onto it. It’’s quite another thing to do it and not draw laughs from an audience.

Murray is outstanding and heartbreaking. Had he not finally gotten the recognition he deserved with last year’s Oscar nomination I would have raged for a recounting of hanging chads. Murray has long been one of our most gifted funnymen, but later in his career he has been turning in soulful and stirring performances playing lonely men. When Murray sings Roxy Music’s “More Than This” to Johansson during a wild night out at a karaoke bar, the words penetrate you and symbolize the leads’ evolving relationship.

Johansson (Ghost World) herself is proving to be an acting revelation. It is the understatement of her words, the presence of a mature intelligence, and the totality of her wistful staring that nail the emotion of Charlotte. Never does the character falter into a Lolita-esque vibe. She’s a lonely soul and finds a beautiful match in Murray.

Lost in Translation is an epic exploration of connection, and the quintessential film that perfectly frames those inescapable moments of life where we come into contact with people who shape our lives by their short stays. This is a reserved love story where the most tender of actions are moments like Murray carrying a sleeping Johansson to her room, tucking her in, then locking the door behind. The comedy of disconnect is delightful, like when Murray receives incomprehensible direction at a photo shoot. The score by Jean-Benoît Dunckel, front man of the French duo Air, is ambient and wraps around you like a warm blanket. The cinematography is also an amazing experience to behold, especially the many shots of the vast glittering life of Tokyo and, equally, its strange emptiness.

Everything works so well in Lost in Translation, from the bravura acting, to the stirring story, to the confident direction, that the viewer will be caught up in its lovely swirl. The film ends up becoming a humanistic love letter to what brings us together and what shapes how we are as people. Coppola’s film is bursting with such sharply insightful, quietly touching moments, that the viewer is overwhelmed at seeing such a remarkably mature and honest movie. The enjoyment of Lost in Translation lies in the understanding the audience can feel with the characters and their plight for connection and human warmth. A work of art like this sure doesn’t come around every day.

Writer/director Sophia Coppola’’s come a long way from being Winona Ryder’’s last-second replacement, and if Lost in Translation, arguably the best film of 2003, is any indication, hopefully we’ll see even more brilliance yet to come. This is not going to be a film for everyone. A common argument from detractors is that Lost in Translation is a film lost without a plot. I’ve had just as many friends call this movie “boring and pointless” as I’ve had friends call it “brilliant and touching.” The right audience to enjoy Lost in Translation would be people who have some patience and are willing to immerse themselves in the nuances of character and silence.

Nate’s Grade: A

Scary Movie (2000)

If you can’t stomach crude humor perhaps Scary Movie is not the ideal picture for you. If you’re unsure of things like a geyser of semen that could rival any of the inclement weather in A Perfect Storm, some pubic bush-whacking, or the big screen’s first aural sex scene — then turn away now as fast as you can. But for those hungry for the gross-out laughs of There’s Something About Mary though, Scary Movie delivers in spades.

The story of Scary Movie revolves around a cross-section of the Scream trilogy and the J. Love Hewitt ‘Summer’ escapades. The plot is still kept together with ease but always gives sizable room and advantage for the film’s numerous parodies and slapstick. All of the typical high school clichés are present (naturally played by actors in their 20s and 30s). There’s the loudmouth jock who’s short where it counts (Lochlyn Monro), the busty and ditsy beauty queen (Shannon Elizabeth), the virginal Neve-like innocent (fresh-faced newcomer Anna Faris), as well as countless stoner buddies following the antics of Shorty (Marlon Wayans) among others. Together along with roaming newscaster Gale Hailstorm (SNL‘s Cheri Oteri) and “special” police officer Doofy everyone tries staying one step ahead of our black-hooded fiend’s list.

Scary Movie ruthlessly skewers not only the works of horror author Kevin Williamson but along the road are ‘American Pie’ like teen sex farces and just about anything else you can think of. The lampooning establishes parodies of The Matrix, The Sixth Sense, The Blair Witch Project with a hilarious close-up of Oteri, Amistad, the Budweiser “Wassup” commercials, and one movie I won’t even mention as to not give away one of the film’s best spoofs for a great ending. Scary Movie is a movie rich in laughter of all sorts as well as pure guaranteed shock value. The cast even parodies their own source actors perfectly with Shawn Wayans doing a perfect drooling of Matthew Liliard and officer Doofy as a perfect representation of David Arquette.

Director Keenen Ivory Wayans’ Scary Movie doesn’t just wrestle with bad taste; it gleefully rolls around in it. But that’s exactly how it leaves its audience – rolling with laughter. Scary Movie is easily the funniest movie of the year and will likely stay that way. It’s also the first movie in years that I have actually walked out of with my face aching from so much laughter. Scary Movie will be this year’s word-of-mouth sensational smash as it smashes taboos and taste full-ahead, trust me on this one.

Nate’s Grade: B+

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