Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

Release: Friday, November 4, 2022 

👀 The Roku Channel

Written by: Al Yankovic; Eric Appel

Directed by: Eric Appel

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe; Evan Rachel Wood; Diedrich Bader; Toby Huss; Julianne Nicholson; Rainn Wilson

Distributor: The Roku Channel

 

 

***/*****

Love him or just weirded out by him, there is no denying “Weird Al” Yankovic is a success story. Anyone who has survived four decades in the music business must be doing something right. The mop-topped accordion player who became famous for humorously rewriting other people’s lyrics has exploited a niche to the tune of five Grammy wins, six platinum records and well over 12 million albums sold — more than any comedic act in history.

Now there’s Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, an appropriately whacky and over-the-top comedy that pokes fun at fame and films (specifically the musical bio-pic) with almost reckless abandon. Rather than offering a straightforward account of what created and sustained Yankovic’s career as a song parodist, Eric Appel’s directorial début instead takes a satirical approach, producing a movie that, like its namesake, more often than not hits the sweet spot by being both ridiculous and clever.

Daniel Radcliffe continues to reinvent himself by stepping into the shoes and loud Hawaiian shirts of the “Weird One,” again taking to the eccentric like it’s his second language. Co-written by Yankovic, the story broadly deals with a creative person’s struggle to win the approval of his conformist parents. When Al’s love for polka is exposed one night at a party a major rift in the family opens up, prompting him to leave home as soon as he can. Weird embraces tropes like these and exaggerates them to comedic effect.

Living with his roommates Steve (Spencer Treat Clark), Jim (Jack Lancaster) and “Bermuda” (Tommy O’Brien) Al finds himself in a nurturing environment. Then the bologna sandwich scene happens, setting the stage for a wild and often very funny ride that sees Al ascending on one of the most unlikely trajectories in music history, becoming a hit sensation overnight and shooting up the Billboard charts. His rendition of The Arrows’ “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” (“I Love Rocky Road”) catches the attention of his childhood inspiration Dr. Demento (Rainn Wilson).

His quick wit and extemporaneous style earn him a record deal with the Scotti brothers (portrayed by Will Forte and Yankovic in hilariously terrible wigs) but with greater success comes greater complication. In saunters a perfectly-cast Evan Rachel Wood as Madonna, a bubblegum-chewing diva who seduces and manipulates her way into Al’s heart and back to another career high. The filmmakers take the “Yankovic Bump,” a real phenomenon which saw renewed commercial enthusiasm for the original songs he parodied, and create a whole new paradigm wherein Al develops full-blown egomania, determined to make it even bigger by coming up with his own original tunes.

A tale of two halves, the first much stronger than the second, Weird is nothing if not a showcase of personality. As the production threatens to come off the rails late you can’t help but admire its go-for-broke attitude. Radcliffe’s sincere performance may be the only thing you can afford to take seriously, but the cumulative effect of the weird makes for an experience that’s easy to enjoy.

Great acoustics, terrible smell

Moral of the Story: Though it would undoubtedly help to find “Weird Al” entertaining, being a long time fan of his is not necessary, especially considering how little truth there is in the way the story is told. Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is a pastiche of the peculiar that falls in line with the likes of Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and This is Spinal Tap — so if you like those movies, good chance Weird will be right up your alley. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 108 mins. 

Quoted: “You think you’re going to stop me from playing? You’ll see. One day I’m going to be the best. Well, perhaps not technically the best, but arguably the most famous accordion player in an extremely specific genre of music!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

A Very Murray Christmas

A Very Murray Christmas movie poster

Release: Friday, December 4, 2015 (Netflix)

[Netflix]

Written by: Sophia Coppola; Mitch Glazer; Bill Murray

Directed by: Sophia Coppola

A Very Murray Christmas is kind of an odd package. It’s a fairly self-indulgent vanity project but only in the best way possible. I mean, how do you say ‘no’ to Bill Murray?

It’s a movie but not a movie; a musical but not really a musical; a short story without much of a tale to tell. It’s roughly an hour of Murray lamenting being left alone for Christmas Eve as he’s holed up in the famous Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan as a blizzard rages outside, preventing anyone from traveling anywhere and from taking part in his Christmas Special in which he is to live broadcast a number of classic tunes for the masses to enjoy.

Then the weather intensifies and shuts down the production, leaving him to his own devices in the hotel lobby, where he slowly starts gathering random hotel guests and staff members together for an impromptu session of Christmas caroling. In essence, this is Murray’s way of saying Happy Holidays without resorting to social media. It’s a live recording of him nudging even the grumps into the holiday spirit. He starts off the film in a lousy mood and slowly overcomes his depression as said guests gather round in drunken merriment.

Despite the aimlessness of it all, A Very Murray Christmas is a good bit of fun. It’s cozy and will fill your heart with warmth come the surprisingly entertaining introduction of Miley Cyrus and George Clooney in a bizarre dream sequence that results after Murray collapses in the hotel lobby after drinking one too many shots of tequila.

It’s a who’s who of the Murray entourage. The guest list is rather impressive: Amy Poehler, Paul Shaffer, Jenny Lewis, Maya Rudolph, Michael Cera, Demitri Dimitrov, Rashida Jones, Jason Schwartzman, David Johansen, Miley Cyrus, Julie White, Chris Rock, George Clooney (he seems to be owing Murray a favor after Murray did Monument’s Men) and members of the band Phoenix all donate their time to the cause.

Ultimately this is nothing you will regret having missed but for the Murray faithful, this Christmas special makes one feel as though this is the closest they can get to actually interacting with the great Bill Murray. That in itself is a gift.

A Very Murray Christmas

Recommendation: Fans of Bill Murray are going to greatly enjoy this while anyone else who isn’t so much a fan are probably going to find it a chore to sit through. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 56 mins.

Quoted: “I don’t even know how to express my shame in this moment. The Murricane skulking down the back stairs like some $25 an hour, Twin Cities hooker.” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.theguardian.com 

The Night Before

The Night Before movie poster

Release: Friday, November 20, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Jonathan Levine; Kyle Hunter; Ariel Shaffir; Evan Goldberg

Directed by: Jonathan Levine

I was enjoying, for the most part, the latest incarnation of the Seth Rogen and Friends Show, finding myself more than a little amused by their storming of New York City in an effort to live it up one last time this Christmas Eve; finding comfort once more in the familiarity of their crassness and the simplicity of the mission: let’s get wasted and have a blast, maybe even learn a thing or two about each other in the process. (Yes, people actually get paid millions to do this.)

Then suddenly, from out of nowhere, Jason Mantzoukas shows up, dressed as one of two drunken Santa Clauses and wipes the smile from my face. This I don’t call a Christmas miracle. This I call a threat to a movie’s enjoyability. Seriously, this guy is the worst. Is this his talent, being a buzz kill? If the name’s not familiar, you’re either lucky or you haven’t caught many episodes of The League. In which case you are also lucky. Mantzoukas doesn’t appear for long in The Night Before but apparently it’s enough to cause me to go off on a rant about how much I dislike the characters he plays.

Where’s my egg nog? Ahh, there it is. Right. Now we can actually talk about the film.

It’s no secret Seth Rogen isn’t a man of great range. A few weeks ago he managed to impress me with his dramatic turn as Steve Wozniak in Danny Boyle’s intriguing examination of the late Apple CEO and he also played it somewhat straight as Ira Wright, an up-and-coming comedian in Judd Apatow’s underrated Funny People. However, nine times out of ten you know what you are going to get in a film bearing his name prominently on the poster.

The Night Before, in which he plays Isaac, a mild-mannered (when sober) thirty-something, is the long-lost lovechild of This is the End and Knocked Up. It’s a film that knows when the party should stop and embrace important life events like childrearing, relationship-building and aggressive product placing. While it will never be as good as vintage Rogen-inspired raucousness — I refer to the likes of Pineapple Express and Superbad — this collection of Yuletide yucks offers a suitably raunchy alternative to the saccharine stories about family and togetherness we’re about to be hit with in the coming weeks.

We’re introduced to Isaac and his buddies Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) via a cringe-inducing voiceover that plays upon the titular poem, explaining how Ethan had lost both parents several Christmases ago and has since spent the holiday with his pals. Despite the support, he has found himself stuck in a rut while constantly running into obstacles in his personal and professional life. He’s no longer with his girl Diana (Lizzy Kaplan) and he works odd jobs, most recently as a miserable little elf.

The others take it upon themselves to make this Christmas the best one ever, as Chris’ NFL career is starting to take off and he finds himself with less time to spend hanging out, consumed ever more by social media and the associated vainglory. Betsy (Jillian Bell) hands her hubby (Rogen) a bag of drugs before they hit the town, reassuring him he’s earned himself a night of recklessness before properly settling down. Say no more, we know where this is all going. Mostly.

Along the way we bump lines, ingest psilocybin by the ounce, hallucinate in a manger, buy pot from Michael Shannon (can this guy do any wrong?), take relationship advice from Miley Cyrus, play some Goldeneye (yes, on N64!), promote Red Bull and even find time to reconcile past and present tensions in a subway car. All of this farce ultimately leads us to the Nutcracker party, the party anyone who’s anyone finds themselves at after midnight on Christmas Eve. That includes Ethan’s ex, which means you know the guy is bound for redemption sooner or later.

The Night Before settles on tried-and-true Rogen/Goldberg formula, simultaneously  mocking and embracing the spirit of Christmas by developing a none-too-surprisingly wholesome bromance between a never-more-stoned Rogen and his cronies. ‘Tis the season to be giggling uncontrollably, although I couldn’t call you a grinch if you wanted to take a pass on this hit.

JGL is a Wrecking Ball with Miley Cyrus in 'The Night Before'

Recommendation: The Night Before doesn’t rank amongst Rogen’s best but it’s a perfectly satisfying blend of juvenile humor and sight gags as well as heartfelt relationship building. (Interestingly it manifests as only the second time Evan Goldberg wrote a script without Rogen.) Save for a few questionable cameo appearances, this still manages to offer the quota of amusing supporting roles and it is nice to see Rogen reunited with Gordon-Levitt.

Rated: R

Running Time: 101 mins.

Quoted: “You have been such a Rock throughout this whole pregnancy. You are like my Dwayne Johnson.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.movie-torrents.net

Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon

117506_gal

Release: Friday, June 6, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

Shep Gordon. To not know him is to not live. Or love. Possibly both.

The name’s iconic in at least the music and film industries, after the would-be social worker established his reputation as an idiosyncratic, freewheeling talent manager who stumbled into the gig thanks to a comical encounter involving Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and the generally awkward misperception that Joplin was being assaulted by the musician in broad daylight. Amazingly, the situation never culminated in fisticuffs. Hendrix instead asked if the man was Jewish, which he was. (If that sounds gauche coming from me, I assure you it’s far more amusing hearing this from Shep, who tells everything like it is with only the most massive of grins plastered on his face.)

The second question from Hendrix’s mouth was less personal but far more propitious: whether or not the wide-eyed twentysomething would have any interest in management in the music biz.

“Uh. . .yes?”

The tragically-fated rockstar then pointed an entirely too naive Gordon in the direction of one Alice Cooper.  And thus, off we go on our gallivanting through Mike Myers’ passion project, a tribute to one of the greats of Hollywood — a man who has always been grateful to stand behind the spotlight rather than in it. There’s little he can do now to avoid being front-and-center, though one gets the feeling the debut of this highly entertaining documentary won’t have been the first time Shep’s been left somewhat vulnerable, subjugated to public opinion.

One recurring theme that plays out in Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon is this sense of great respect and courtesy that Gordon has managed to buoy throughout his lengthy and considerably prosperous career. The number and quality of the testimonials alone speak volumes. If he had a Google+ account — which he doesn’t, no one has a use for those things — his friends circle would include the likes of Sly Stallone, Michael Douglas, Willie Nelson, Sharon Stone (well, former-friend anyway. . .they dated for a time in the ’90s, though she never shows for an interview), American restaurateur Emeril Lagasse (you know, the “Bam!!!” guy?), Canadian pop singer Anne Murray (need you any more evidence of the diversity of his work?), among a slew of others which quite obviously include first-time director Mike Myers.

The man is at once incredibly hard-working, horny and wholly fun to be near. Even if the closest you’ll likely ever be able to get is a seat in a theater or your couch at home, have fun trying to resist his charm and his refreshing honesty. He’s a man who loves his women, as many in the film will also attest to. Curiously, though, for all his exhaustive altruism the fact that the closest he’s been to calling himself a family man thus far was by way of looking after four orphaned children following the death of their mother is a reality that’s jarring and somewhat this. Its particularly difficult to reconcile given Shep’s lovable personality, never mind his ability to put others before him on a consistent basis.

But the biggest surprise of all might be his grand revelation towards the end. It’s a bit of info that’s less inherently surprising as it is shocking based on whom is admitting it: “there’s nothing about fame that I’ve ever seen that’s healthy.” This comes from a man who understands life is a privilege, not a waste. From a man who’s spent his cultivating those of others, even if some of those lives ironically ceased to be. Jimmy Hendrix. Janis Joplin. Those two whom he had wrestled around with in a crummy motel parking lot when first arriving in Los Angeles, they were gone well before he could retire. Gone also were many other friends and clients — even intimate relationships he had held were disappearing with an astonishing ease.

Strange, then, that the focus of Gordon’s very first project has managed to pull it together enough to have his commentary featured throughout the film. Simultaneously, there’s a warm feeling of reassurance, that maybe. . .just maybe Gordon really is a true protector. An aging Cooper by comparison seems to be a human being one can actually hang out with, without fear of having a live chicken butchered randomly in front of them based on what he or she said to Mr. Cooper.  (Granted, that stunt was actually all Shep’s idea. . .)

The interviews with Cooper and Gordon on a schooner come across most poignant of all. A non-threatening setting and the passage of time does a lot to expose the real artists for who they are, and this is one of the real treats of Myers’ production. We see not only Gordon, but we see the part of that individual, that groomed personality Gordon has undoubtedly helped shape. Despite the film failing to maintain an even consistency in pacing and possessing an arguably far too limited a runtime for a subject as colorful as Shep Gordon, Myers’ effort deserves applause.

Engaging, entertaining. . . surprisingly emotional. There are a million other ways to describe Supermensch, but these seem to fit the best.

ShepGordon

That is one must-have tee

4-0Recommendation: Informative and often inspirational but not completely free from its own relative cliches, Mike Myers’s foray into directing and documentary filmmaking may have more to offer those who are intimately familiar with this extroverted personality, but it still will resonate quite well with anyone interested in meeting a genuinely nice man whose life story may be more complicated than anything anyone might naturally assume about a man still unwed and without children of his own who, by the way, has spent a lifetime making people rich and famous.

Rated: R

Running Time: 85 mins.

Quoted: “The three most important things a manager does. One: get the money. Two: always remember to get the money. Three: never forget to always remember to get the money.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com