DID YOU READ

“The Green Hornet,” Reviewed

“The Green Hornet,” Reviewed (photo)

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Here is a case of a producer letting down his writer and star, and the producer, writer, and star are all the same guy. That guy would be Seth Rogen, the charming comedian (and creator) of movies like “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express.” Rogen the writer’s script for “The Green Hornet” is the perfect set-up for Rogen the actor: an ordinary guy with no superpowers or skills decides to fight crime so he’s forced to rely on his sidekick Kato to provide him with weapons, gadgets, and muscle. The film is all about the interplay between The Hornet and Kato, their relationship and their rivalry. In other words, this “Hornet” is superhero movie as buddy comedy, catnip for a gifted improviser like Rogen.

Herein lies the problem: in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up” Rogen partnered with Steve Carell and Paul Rudd. In “Pineapple Express,” he worked with the versatile James Franco. In “Green Hornet,” Rogen the producer saddled Rogen the actor with Jay Chou, a handsome Taiwanese pop star with a limited grasp of English. That leaves us with a buddy film starring an exceptional improviser and a guy who can’t improvise because he can’t speak the language. No surprise, then, that Hornet and Kato’s friendship, so central to the plot of the film, feel forced and uneven.

“Forced and uneven” is actually a good way to describe this version of “The Green Hornet.” It was directed by the Michel Gondry, the talented and inventive filmmaker behind “Eternal Sunshine and the Spotless Mind” and “Be Kind Rewind,” but bears little of his personal stamp. It doesn’t have the handmade quality or visual dexterity of “a Gondry film.” Instead it feels like “a Neal H. Moritz film” — he’s one of the producers of “The Green Hornet” as well as “The Fast & the Furious” and “xXx” franchises. It’s loud, slick, and relies heavily on pop music and sleight-of-hand editing to keep the film moving so fast audiences don’t have time to notice how little they care about the characters or story.

Rogen and co-writer Evan Goldberg’s take on the material, though, is smart. Rogen plays Britt Reid, the do-nothing heir of newspaper tycoon and Hall of Fame bad father James Reid (Tom Wilkinson). When James dies a hero, the vindictive Britt can’t stand it. So he convinces Kato, the guy who makes his coffee in the morning who also happens to be an incredibly gifted mechanic, inventor, and martial artist, to help him desecrate his father’s grave. Along the way the pair accidentally break up a mugging, and decide they’ve found a new calling in life as crimefighters. But while The Green Hornet gets all the attention, Kato’s both the brains and the brawn behind the operation. That stirs up enough jealousy to rip the team apart.

The unspoken truth of The Green Hornet’s 1960s TV show was the fact that he, the nominal star, was frequently upstaged by his much cooler sidekick (a very young but already awesome Bruce Lee). Turning that simmering tension into the focal point of the film is a stroke of genius. So is the spin on the Hornet’s M.O.: his whole schtick is that he’s a hero who poses as a villain in order to destroy the underworld from within. But really that conceit doesn’t make a ton of sense (why not just outwardly act like hero?) and it makes a lot more sense that this none-too-brilliant plan would be formulated by a guy like Rogen’s Hornet, who’s kind of a dope.

In Rogen and Goldberg’s conception, Britt and Kato are less superheroes than well-armed anarchist pranksters, the dudes from “Jackass” with gas guns and a missile launching car. Britt and Kato like to claim they’re “helping people” but we never see them help anyone after that first night. Instead, they tool around Los Angeles in their Black Beauty limousine, blowing up traffic cameras and beating up drug dealers for kicks.

That’s a pretty subversive notion for the superhero genre, but the film glosses over it on the way to another big action sequence. In fact, “The Green Hornet” often plays like a mainstream movie uncomfortably fashioned from iconoclastic raw materials. Quirky ideas are tossed out and then immediately abandoned for the sake of pacing and accessibility. This, too, plays against Rogen’s strength, which is to dawdle and riff, rather than rush. The finished film plays like the cinematic equivalent of a cobblestone road that’s been repaved with blacktop. The ride’s smooth, but at the expense of the character and personality. That’s certainly true of the film’s generic villain, Chudnofsky (“Inglourious Basterds”‘ Christoph Waltz). Wisps of a subplot involving an aging crime lord facing obsolence remain, but the meat of his arc must have gotten lost along the way from script to screen. Rogen and Chou get plenty of screentime, but for whatever reason — temperament, acting style, language barrier — they never quite connect.

A few moments have that Gondry touch. There is one truly outstanding sequence, a montage that takes full advantage of the film’s otherwise forgettable 3D effects to showcase the spread of information through the Los Angeles underground. And Gondry’s speed-shifting approach to Kato’s badass fighting style is both playful and exciting. But a lot of this movie looks like it could have been directed by anybody. The idea of a Rogen/Gondry collaboration was intriguing — and I would be interested to see what these men could do together with total creative freedom — but the results this time don’t come close to equaling their potential. In that sense, “The Green Hornet,” a film about how easily a promising and unusual creative partnership can blow up in the partners’ faces, is the perfect metaphor for itself.

(NOTE: I have gone this entire review without mentioning Cameron Diaz, the female lead of this movie. Truth be told, I had forgotten Diaz was even in the movie until just now, which says quite a bit about her role and her performance.)

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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