The Brothers Grimsby

'The Brothers Grimsby' movie poster

Release: Friday, March 11, 2016


Written by: Sacha Baron Cohen; Phil Johnston; Peter Baynham

Directed by: Louis Leterrier

There’s something about Sacha Baron Cohen that really makes you feel like a complete idiot. He’s become really good at that because here I went, blinded by my own boredom, to a screening where I was the only viewer and thinking, ‘Okay, this might be fun. At least I can laugh obnoxiously loud and not think twice when something actually funny happens.’ The joke was on me, an idiot.

The Brothers Grimsby is, to put it nicely, Cohen’s own Mortdecai; it’s the stinkiest, lamest, dumbest release so far this year and like Johnny Depp’s misguided attempt at mocking the English, it marks another point of no return. While it was naïve to think that Brüno would be the nadir of the career of one of England’s great embarrassments, that movie was pretty terrible — Brüno not Mortdecai, although yes, very much Mortdecai as well — and it set quite a low bar regarding the efforts a movie should make in entertaining or offering escapement.

But what Louis Leterrier et al don’t seem to understand is that that’s not the kind of bar you play limbo with; the goal is not to see how low you can go. Lo and behold, they deliver a revolting mess of a comedy that uses bodily fluids as both literal and figurative lubricant to make up for the script’s refusal to do any of the work. There’s one scene in particular that’s offensive and sums up almost everything that is wrong with not only this film but the entire subculture of sadistically gross-out comedy. Those poor fucking elephants (and that’s the verb, not the adjective). This exercise in visual torture is what would happen if you gave Mel Gibson free reign over the fake rhino birthing scene from Ace Ventura. The excessiveness will test the sensitivity of your gag reflex, and that’s an issue that runs all throughout.

So who are ‘the brothers Grimsby?’ And why is the American release so awkwardly titled? Well, who gives a shit about the why; let’s talk about the what. The brothers are a pair of mismatched boys who were born and raised in the poor fishing town of Grimsby, which resembles the bottom of a dumpster or a very large ash tray. Cohen plays Nobby Butcher, the yoonga bruvva of Sebastian “superspy” Butcher (Mark Strong, painfully out of place). The pair have been separated since they were six years old and Nobby longs for the day they meet again.

Similar to previous outings Cohen opts for caricature over character, hoping to inflict the maximum amount of damage upon the culture that supposedly spawned his creation. Once a Middle Eastern pervert, then a one-time gay Austrian fashion journalist, he now finds himself donning the mutton chops and packing on the beer gut as a soccer hooligan with a proclivity for thick women and thick-battered fish-and-chips. He’s like a pig writhing around in the grease and sweat of intoxicated Man United fans all crammed into the pub watching The Big Match.

The world we visit in The Brothers Grimsby isn’t a pretty one, it’s populated by the so-called ‘scum’ of English society — the derelicts and the blue collar chumps, the illiterate and the really ugly and sweaty. Fans who may have been delusional enough in the past to liken the Cohen moviegoing experience to crude culture shock can’t really say the same thing now; the only thing shocking about this film is how uncultured it truly is. Nobby has far more screen time than his older bro, and that’s disappointing because ultimately Sebastian provides our only respite from the cartoonish extremism Leterrier has fashioned here. But the real question there has to be, how clear is Strong’s calendar right now? He had time for this?

Scenes featuring the MI6 agent in action — think of James Bond only with more baggage and less hair — feel like they are ripped straight from the upcoming Hardcore Henry, what with the liberal usage of point-of-view shots designed to raise both our heart rates and awareness of Go Pro cameras. While the action sequences are a welcomed distraction, they’re still not an excuse for the sheer pointlessness of everything else. A subplot involving Sebastian’s line of work is as generic as you can get: he must stop a shady organization from releasing a virus into the atmosphere at a high-profile soccer match. They’re doing this because of the global population crisis.

This paragraph that you’re reading now is definitely an edited version of what lay before, but in consideration of my readers I’ll just say that the film’s attempt to balance action and heartfelt drama with Cohen’s insufferable presence is funnier than any of the comedic elements presented here. The Brothers Grimsby ultimately fails when it tries to convince us of their shared history. I saw the look on Strong’s face during the “suck my balls” scene. He didn’t want anything to do with this. What, was Rob Schneider busy?

Sacha Baron Cohen and Mark Strong in 'The Brothers Grimsby'

Recommendation: Sacha Baron Cohen may still have appeal for some but after The Brothers Grimsby, a film that fails to mine comedy out of what little interesting material it presents while continuing to mistake causing its audience to actually gag for comedic gags, this reviewer has officially stepped off the bandwagon. A film that caters to the lowest common denominator and looking  really bored with itself in the process, this is an unmitigated disaster from start to finish. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 83 mins.

Quoted: “Oh, these heated seats make you feel like you’ve pissed yourself!”

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The Franco Files #10


Welcome to November, and the second-to-last edition of The Franco Files!*

You know what? I’ll just spare you the time of looking around on the page for an explanation for that asterisk that sits naggingly in the previous sentence and just explain right here: it basically indicates that this is pretty much the end of TFF in the form we currently know it. I am still not yet sure what I will do after this or with what actor/actress I might go with. In fact I’m thinking of drafting up a list of five to ten people and letting you guys decide who I should shine the spotlight on next.

I’ve really enjoyed doing this feature and hope you have enjoyed reading along. I probably haven’t said much about Franco that you haven’t known already, but maybe. . .just maybe. . . I have drawn attention to some of the things he’s helped create that some of you may not have known about before. And if there’s any justice in the world of movie blogging, this feature has served its purpose thus far; it should now be abundantly clear to my readers that I dig what Franco has been doing and hopefully will continue to do with his career.


Francophile #10: Mr. B, Palo Alto

Role Type: Supporting

Genre: Drama

Character Profile: Everyone loves Coach B. Well, a lot of the girls on the Palo Alto High varsity soccer team do, anyway. He’s a nice guy and more than a little flirtatious with a few of them, in particular the pretty but ambivalent April (Emma Roberts). His laid-back attitude and nonchalance about his inability to separate professional and personal capacities will envelop him in a dodgy, clandestine relationship with a student. Mr. B is a shady character whose personality allows him to stay just on the periphery of being unlikable. 

If you lose Franco, the film loses: Franco’s somehow-charming sleaziness. It works wonders with this morally questionable school employee, a role in which he’s never actually considered himself fit to play. Trust me when I say that this is the kind of role tailor-made for those lining Franco up in their crosshairs, ready to snipe criticism at him left and right for exhibiting a school notebook’s worth of despicable character traits. All formal complaints leveled against his character’s actions and decisions are understandable, but if you were to ask this reviewer no one else could do Mr. B better than James Franco.  

Out of Character: “I had just assumed I wasn’t going to be in it. [Gia] had been talking to me about other actors for the role of Mr. B. And then after talking to me about other people for about a month, running names by me, she finally said to me, ‘You know I’ve always wanted you to be in it, you’ve been one of my favorite actors since Freaks & Geeks,’ and I thought maybe she’s just buttering me up to play the slimeball. Up to that point I’d done everything possible to help them make the movie, including helping them find financing and everything, so I wasn’t going to say no, I’m not going to be the bad guy. Also, I wasn’t ignorant of the fact that she comes from a Hollywood family, and probably in the back of my head I thought that if anybody has film-making in her blood, it’s gotta be Gia.” 

Rate the Performance (relative to his other work): 


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The Franco Files — #7


Welcome to August, and the seventh edition of The Franco Files! I’m back from my quick trip to Negative Town with TFF #6 (infamously known as TTFF by now) and let’s hope to not go there again ‘cuz that wasn’t much fun. As my friend Cara — yes, THE Cara of Silver Screen Serenade — put it, the last edition was a most definite dark blot on an otherwise rather diverse and impressive résumé held by Mr. James Franco.

But happy times, people. Happy thoughts.

A somewhat ironic transition, really, because when it comes to talking about this role of his, it’s almost anything but happiness for several of the characters surrounding him. This is perhaps a role that will also provide somewhat testy for people who aren’t already fully subscribed to the notion that James Franco is a great talent. He plays something of a snake in the grass here, there’s no getting around it. James definitely gets a bit slithery. But he’s good at this. See evidence in his take on Harry Osborn.


Francophile #7: Mr. B, Palo Alto

Role Type: Supporting

Genre: Drama

Character Profile: As the head coach of the high school girl’s soccer team, Mr. B finds himself quite the popular man on campus. Carrying an incredible down-to-Earth personality as well as the good looks necessary to garner the affection of some of his female student players, Franco’s is a supporting role that may overstep the boundaries more than any of the other wayward characters in Palo Alto, a movie adapted from his own book, Palo Alto: Stories. Mr. B takes a particular interest in April, the shy girl on his team who has yet to lose her virginity yet always seems interested in him. He also happens to be a single parent. If you’re looking for where the moral and ethical gray areas of the movie come into play, look no further than his disconcertingly charming soccer coach.

If you lose Franco, the film loses: one of the more compelling relationships in the film. Unfortunately, this thread isn’t quite as well-established as I feel it could have been. Franco doesn’t ultimately get a great deal of screen time, but that’s of a secondary importance to the quality of those limited minutes. (As well, that has less to do with the actor himself and more to do with how Coppola managed to filter down these many stories into a mostly cohesive narrative.) Within this fairly truncated time on screen, however, the man works wonders. He’s creepy, but he’s incredibly charming at the same time, to a point where you feel legitimate disappointment when he really and truly crosses a line. If you get rid of Franco’s talents in this role, the relationship changes completely and while it remains interesting to see what others might be able to make out of this little space, there’s no denying Franco inhabits it oh-so-perfectly.

Out of Character: ““There were a couple scenes that ended up not being in the movie, where I was being this reprimanding teacher. I just felt like, oh, man, what a bummer! I identified with the young kids.”

Rate the Performance (relative to his other work): 


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Palo Alto


Release: Friday, May 9, 2014 (limited)


One of the last memories I have from high school is staring at the giant inflatable penis dangling from the roof of the Farragut High gymnasium — actually it looked more like a cross than a penis because the way the balls were positioned relative to the shaft. It was the senior prank, and this is how I would be leaving the school behind. Now a landmark fading in the rearview, what was once vivid and colorful has become a grayish blur.

If, for whatever reason, I felt compelled to return to this time through contemporary film, I know I can always rely on the emotional highs and lows of the James Franco-produced Palo Alto for reassurance that I’m now in a better place.

I’ll admit that my walk through high school (ten years ago next May, yikes!) wasn’t exactly a story even the least-discerning director would probably target for a low-budget drama. It’s the folks who unfortunately found themselves often ignored, bullied, threatened or in some other way marginalized in their daily existence, who often surface in compelling cinema. There’s a reason to root for the oppressed and downtrodden in the films we have watched through the ages. The dorks have Revenge of the Nerds; the awkward outsider rightfully lays claim to The Perks of Being a Wallflower. And there are others, of course.

Whereas these other titles more-or-less catered to cliques, Palo Alto is just ever so slightly more conscious of being all-inclusive, featuring a variety of students as well as their collective apathy that hangs in the air as thick as the humidity. Remaining faithful to its source material, Gia Coppola’s directorial debut is kaleidoscopic in its surveilling of several disparate, yet similarly troubled youth. Yet, the script remains uniformly brilliant in its rendering of circumstances and environments. And given the low profile of its cast, the film further benefits from the fact that we feel like we’re starting afresh with these young, unknown faces.

We first are introduced to good, but mischievous friends Teddy (Jack Kilmer) and Fred (Nat Wolff), who are comparatively well-behaved on their own but their frequent hang-outs together foreshadow nothing but trouble. Then there’s the quiet and despondent April (Emma Roberts), about whom there’s a rumor circulating around the school involving the girl’s soccer coach, the popular Mr. B (Franco), and his wanting to sleep with her. And yeah, that’s bad, but at least she isn’t someone whose social status is reduced to her ability to provide sexual favors to anyone who happens to be in her vicinity, someone like Emily (Zoe Levin). We spend more time with these characters than anyone else, though there’s a few others on the fringe who are equally fragile; equally endangered to leading a life fraught with danger.

Palo Alto may drift around a bit in its attempts to weave all these narratives together in a cohesive thread. The occasional dull moment does surface but none of them really endures. What’s more important is that honest portrayals of the teen experience are in abundance, with attitudes ranging from the convincingly cocksure — (what’s this, Nat Wolff as the new Miles Teller?) — to the painfully ambivalent and numbingly apathetic.

Coppola also likes to take it one step further. Aided by solid work turned in by her young performers, she wisely produces a few compelling reasons as to the decay in these teens’ personal lives. For April, she starves for attention from her parents: Val Kilmer plays her stoner father who would rather rewrite her paper outright than give her helpful advice on how to improve; her mother frequently has to break off phone calls so she can say hello to her daughter. (Woe as me, the inconvenience.)

For the others, we experience less of a single catalytic event than we do a series of wrongdoings and psychologically harmful developments that push the students to extremes.

In the case of Palo Alto, authenticity cannot be dismissed. It also helps that, barring the odd one or two individuals, these are some of the most lovable characters any Coppola has ever presented us with. We may not always approve of their decisions, but this is the kind of disapproval that stems from knowing that we may very well have been doing the same things (if we could remember). We now just hope that these people have the resolve to move on from this; that this is all just a phase.

This is the kind of movie that provides the opportunity to think back on those times, reflect, and feel grateful for what’s been given. I for one, am grateful for that inflatable joke on top of my old gym. . .but I don’t know about you.


3-5Recommendation: I’m trying to find a better word to use than ‘realistic’ as a way to recommend this film, but I’m failing pretty epically. It is, in every sense of the word, a realistic snapshot of high school life, even despite it’s inclusion of only a few stories. From the brutally honest performances, to the authenticated settings. . . . . even taking into consideration it’s moody (bordering on overly angst-y) soundtrack. . .  everything about Palo Alto screams authentic, and will likely bring back a memory (nightmare?) or two of everyone’s high school (or equivalent) experience.

Rated: R

Running Time: 98 mins.

Quoted: “This party sucks. . .”

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