TV Round-Up

It was an off week. Boardwalk Empire had no nudity.


One of the regulars wrote in to say that he had studied the HQ film clip of Paz de la Huerta and had reason to suspect that it's not Paz in that abortion scene, and that the face looks like a different woman. I don't know whether he is right; offhand, I don't think so. On the other hand, if any of you have any thoughts, I would be pleased to hear them since this scene is likely to contend for the nude role of the year, and I want to make sure it belongs there. Here is the facial capture he sent in to support his position.


Dinner for Schmucks

Barry is the ultimate modern movie cliche - the guy who wants to climb the corporate ladder and has the talent for it, but is basically too decent to swim with the sharks. He's about to land the dream promotion in his firm, but the last challenge thrown at him by his boss seems to be more than his conscience can bear: he has to bring a date to a schmuck party. This event is sort of a twist on the "pig parties" held by college frats, in which each guy has to compete to see who can bring the ugliest date. In the corporate variation, the winning date is not the most unattractive, but the most utterly ridiculous person available for the executives to make fun of.

Barry is in his car, just about to cancel out of the dinner, when he almost runs over a pedestrian who was bending over to pick up a dead mouse from a busy city avenue. The two men talk briefly, and it turns out that the pedestrian is an utterly clueless dunce who uses the dead mice to create "artistic" representations of great works of art and great moments in history. Barry concludes that it must some kind of sign that he should meet the world's biggest schmuck at the very moment that he's trying to cancel out of a schmuck party, so he gets back in on the schmuck party, with the pathetically grateful pedestrian as his date.

There are many marvelous moments in Dinner for Schmucks. Steve Carell is funny in the lead, and Paul Rudd is excellent as his straight man. The mouse tableaux are bizarrely inventive, existing somewhere in the no-man's land where humor, pathos, insanity and genius compete for territory, a place normally occupied only by Charlie Kaufman, the author of Eternal Sunshine. There are some funny minor characters played by Larry Wilmore, Jemaine Clement, and Zach Galifianikis, and let me give a special tip o' the hat to Chris O'Dowd, who plays a blind swordsman at the actual schmuck party. Not many people could steal a comedy scene from Zach Galifianakis and Steve Carell simultaneously, but O'Dowd pulls off just such a coup!

Lots of good stuff.

And yet Dinner for Schmucks is not really a strong comedy. Why not? Because its too uneven.

Most comedies today maintain a consistent pace of blandly funny sit-com humor. There are usually no great highs, but they generally don't get boring or annoying enough to force viewers to start looking for the remote. This film, however, is concocted from a very different recipe. It's about 110 minutes long and about twenty of those minutes consist of sheer genius. Unfortunately, you will have to sit through an hour and a half of extremely annoying and boring clichés in order to find those inspired moments. Because the film has so many good ideas and so many talented performers, it keeps building up the audience's hopes with a great scene or a really good line here and there, only to dash those hopes by following those moments of inspiration with thirty minutes of dead air. I found myself laughing at loud at times, thinking I'd love the movie. Fifteen minutes later, I'd have forgotten those great moments and would be cursing myself and fingering the fast-forward button. Then another funny moment. Rinse and repeat if necessary.

Many critics complained about the sentimental turn at the end in which Barry starts to regard the irritating dunce as a jewel of uncorrupted innocence and sweet sincerity. That particular aspect of the film didn't really bother me at all, because I felt that it evolved logically from the characters' interaction. What did annoy me was the superfluous love story between Barry and the woman he hopes to marry. That is a by-the-numbers story arc which took up enough running time to be its own movie. Of course the girlfriend is a decent person and thus opposes the schmuck party, so there is a break-up when she discovers that Barry changed his mind about the event after finding the perfect schmuck. That in itself is not annoying, but all of the plot twists following the break-up come from the standard rom-com playbook, which requires a seemingly endless series of contrived misunderstandings to prevent the lovers from reconciling before the obligatory happy ending.

In other words, Dinner for Schmucks is essentially a tedious 90-minute romantic comedy of no special merit other than it happens to be in the same film with about twenty minutes worth of inspired lunacy. I loved the twenty, but hated the ninety. Of course, if I had known all of that in advance, I would still have endured all the crap to get to the strangely wonderful moments, so I have to be fair and give the film a guarded recommendation.

But maybe that's just me to accept that trade-off.

Your mileage may vary.


It's rated PG-13, so it has no real nudity, but it comes very close: a strange artist acts out a bird fantasy with two nearly naked girls named Nicole LaLiberte and Maria Zyrianova.


  • * Yellow asterisk: funny (maybe).

  • * White asterisk: expanded format.

  • * Blue asterisk: not mine.

  • No asterisk: it probably sucks.


Catch the deluxe version of Other Crap in real time, with all the bells and whistles, here.



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