Monthly Archives: May 2011

“Even though that guy from The Hangover is in it, it wasn’t as hilarious as The Hangover. Man, I wish The Hangover were coming out again. That was fun last summer with The Hangover.” — The Onion

Diary Entry: Summer 2009:

Dear Diary,
I’m having the funnest summer ever! I just can’t get enough of that Lady Gaga! She’s wild! Is she a man, a woman? Who knows! And of course Iran! They’re protesting something abo–Oh yeah! Michael Jackson died! Everybody at work started taking bets on for which celebrity would die next. What a great time! Remember that delightful Todd Phillips film, The Hangover? The scrappy, up-and-comer comedy blockbuster was so great! Did you like it on Facebook yet? You can like anything now! When weird girls from New Delhi friend request me, The Hangover is the only thing we have in common. Boy does that film have everything! Las Vegas jokes! Silliness! Swears! Mike Tyson!  And who could forget, The Guy With The Beard. He’s a genuine riot! Everybody loves him! I hope they make a MILLION more Hangovers! That’d be the greatest!

Movie Review: 5/28/11

The Hangover II made me feel stupid: first, it tricked me into wasting $7; then, it forced me to indulge in Todd Phillips expensive commitment to mediocrity; worst of all, it made me retroactively dislike first movie. The trailer promised us a shot for shot recreation of 2009’s comedy hit. That’s what you get–except I didn’t think it would be so frustrating. No one will call me a conspiracy theorist if I say The Hangover and The Hangover II  are the same movie. Therefore, I won’t be spoiling anything with the following review. You already saw the movie two summers ago.

Question: How do they get hungover this time? Answer: Same way they did last time, dummy! Phillips begrudgingly fulfills the commitment of narrative context. The dentist (Ed Helms) is getting married to an Asian girl (what happened to the stripper from TH1 isn’t mentioned) and he invites his friends: the prick (Bradley Cooper) and the Guy With The Beard (Zach Galifinakis) comes back to keep acting quirky–in fact, since you liked it so much last time, they’re going to double it! It’s a sequel! They’ll double whatever they can! So now Prick is so snide and unpleasant, you can’t figure out why anyone would be friends with him, while Beard is so anti-social and mentally handicapped, you can’t figure out why anyone would let him out of the house. Oh well! Let’s hurry up and get to that  Mike Tyson cameo!

The rest of the movie was written by a self-automated Madlib (just like Galifinakis’ GQ interview). Now, the baby is a monkey! He’s doing double duty for the tiger! We’re out of Las Vegas and way out in Bangkok! Does somebody make a joke about the word Bangkok? You better believe they do! Is that awful, awful Ken Jeong back? Oh yes he is! Without the restraint of Dan Harmon (Community), he’s as shrill and obnoxious as ever! He’s a one man minstrel show for Asian stereotypes! And boy does he have material to run with, he’s in Bangkok remember? Do you think Bangkok will be a joke? You bet it is! It’s a sequel! Everyone look! It’s a sequel!

Instead of getting his tooth knocked out, Dentist gets a face tattoo (perfect excuse for a Mike Tyson cameo!). Instead of marrying a prostitute, he has sex with a transvestite prostitute.  Having learned nothing from getting rid of an overbearing girlfriend, Dentist now has to get rid of an overbearing father in-law; then, instead of a piano ballad, he sings a song with his guitar. Dentist is the “emotional core” of the film; therefore, Ed Helms isn’t allowed a chance to be funny. It’s cool–he’s rich now. Whatever, dude!

The Beard is back! And this time, he drugs the group with tranquilizers! Wacky! He realizes he’s got a grudge against Dude Who Gets Drunk And Ends Up In The Elevator (Mason Lee, son of Ang Lee!). DWGDAEUITE takes the place of Dude Who Gots Drunk And Ended Up On The Roof (Justin Bartha) who’s also in this movie but does absolutely nothing. Both DWGDAEUITE and DWGDAEUOTR are macguffins in  The Hangovers universe. They afford us the chance to take a journey of wacky, slapstick proportions. You think you’re looking for your unconscious friend, but really you will find so much more. This journey will teach you about  yourself, your friends, and living life to the fullest. It’s a journey that reminds us all: you can do anything when you’re drunk, guilt free! Adultery? Arms trade? Unprotected anal sex with a prostitute? Yes! All of it! You were drunk, that’s fine! The Hangovers tell us so! It’s a powerful moral that needed two films to be fleshed out to the fullest.

This is fucking shit. It’s lowest-common-denominator schlock created to STEAL YOUR MONEY. But you’ll see it, won’t you?  You’ll shovel popcorn, soda, and any other type of high-fructose corn syrup into your fat, jowely face. Sitting there, in your Dane Cook t-shirt. Looking confused when The Beard makes a joke about The Jonas Brothers being indie music. You love this shit! You’re the reason they’ll make The Hangover III! You sheep! Baaaaa Baaaaaa Sheep! Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

MadLib: How to Make a Hangover

Beard, Dentist, and Prick are back! This time ___1___ gets married and the gang has to travel to ___2___ for crazy hyjinx! This time Beard puts ___3___ in the ___4___ and the whole gang passes out! After finding a cute ___5___ and a matchbook with ___6___ on the front, they search for clues. They meet up with Gay Asian Guy while he  ___7___. It’s hysterical! Then, the Dentist ___8___(s) a ___9___ prostitute! It’s hilarious! By the end, it turns out The Beard can ___10___. I love The Hangover X It’s totally random!

1. Character from previous film
2. Exotic city location
3. Type of drug
4. Noun
5. Something cute
6. Funny Name for Strip Club
7. Asian Stereotype
8. Verb
9. Adjective
10. Ridiclious talent.

Movie Review From The Future: 6/6/2143

Beard, Dentist, and Prick are back! This time Allen’s dad, played by The Larry Sanders’ Show, Jeffery Tambor gets married and the gang has to travel to Africa for crazy hyjinx! This time Beard puts methamphetamine  in the sailboat and the whole gang passes out! After finding a cute ducky and a matchbook with Tits-a-Munga! on the front, they search for clues. They meet up with Gay Asian Guy while he drives poorly. It’s hysterical! Then, the Dentist strangles a amputee prostitute! It’s hilarious! By the end, it turns out The Beard can juggle fire. I love The Hangover XL It’s totally random! I’m so glad I live in a dystopian police state that lobotomized me! The future’s the greatest!


My favorite film at Ebertfest was Natural Selection. It’s a pitch-black dark comedy about a sexually frustrated woman named Linda; Linda is infertile, so her husband won’t have sex with her (he’s a devout Christian). Instead, he sneaks off to a sperm bank once a week and masturbates into a cup — that is, until he has a heart attack and falls into a coma. Then, it’s up to Linda to find and bring back her dying husband’s illegitimate son in a strange act of consolation. So yeah, it’s a weird movie. It’s also funny, heartfelt, depressing, and the winner of this years SXSW Film Festival. I had a chance to sit down with the director, Robbie Pickering, and the star, Rachael Harris, to learn more about some of the movie’s peculiarities.
AHG: How long did it take to get the film made?
RP: It took six years to get the financing together but it fell through a couple times because of the recession. Finding the producers took a while too. I was with it for six years all together.

When did you know what the final product was going to look like?
RP: I had said I’d known what the movie was going to be at the screenwriting stage, then I’d probably have been making a bad movie. There are three writing processes: writing the actual screenplay, directing, and then editing. In each of those points you’re writing a new story, changing the story in palpable ways. If it’s a good movie, it becomes alive—its own thing—and it switches from what it was initially from what you had in your head on set. You just have to follow the feel and tone of the movie—you just have to listen to that. I think by the end the fourth month of editing I finally had a real grasp of what the movie ending up being. For me, the art of filmmaking is that you don’t know what it’s going to be. It could be great, it could be shit, it could be completely different from how you imagined it. The biggest thing I learned about directing is that you have to let go a little bit. In a certain sense you have to let go of your expectations.

AHG: Would you call the movie a comedy?
RP: Yeah, I’d call it a comedy. I think it’s funny, but it’s funny because it’s painful.

Is it laughing at the failure of the characters? A shaudenfreude type thing?
RP: No. I don’t like those kinds of comedies, especially about Christian people. I don’t like movies that make fun of the people I grew up with. If I had made a movie like that—where you’re just laughing at misfortune—I’d have made the wrong movie. People have said that they think I’m making fun of Christian people and, to a certain degree, I am. But that’s because these are the people I grew up with and there are things that are ridiculous about them—just like there are things that are ridiculous about people from LA or artists in NYC. I think people laugh because they identify with the characters and identify with the pain. That’s the best kind of laughter. I mean, you’re still making fun of people—but there’s a difference between making fun of people you love, people who you really understand, and portraying that understanding on screen. And then there’s just making fun people because you think they’re stupid. I hope I did the former rather than the latter. The point is, you’re not respecting someone if you’re completely taking the piss out of them without trying to see their point of view, yet it’s equally disrespectful to look at someone as sacrosanct and think they can’t be made fun of because our weaknesses are what make us human.

AHG: Rachel, how did you approach the film’s dark comedy?
RH: Linda was never in on the joke. Everything came from a real place; she’s not trying to be funny. I was trying to be real, earnest, in the moment. Everything was very real to Linda: she believes people are good, and she needed to get Raymond back to her husband. She trusts people at face value; she realizes that the world is still a really good place.

AHG: What does the title mean in context of the film?
RP: Linda and Raymond are weak. They’re not made to live in the world. They’ll die off soon.
RH: I think they start out that way, but I think Linda becomes something different…
RP: Well, I’m not entirely saying that they are weak, or that I think of them as weak, but the rest of the world sees them as weak because of their honesty, sincerity, and pain. Linda is the weakest creature in the jungle: she can’t have children. Evolution is all about procreation and Linda can’t do it. Linda and Raymond are not fit to survive in their environments, they’ve been taken advantage of by the world—they only flourish with each other because they’re both honest and sincere. In the world that we’re living in now, that’s a weakness. Being an honest and sincere person is not looked at as a strength in our society; it can’t be in a a world where Dick Cheney can be vice president.

AHG: At the panel you said that death was the theme of the film; can you elaborate?
RP: It’s more about death as a feeling. Death permeates everything. It’s about  grief. It’s a coming of age film, but death is a part of that. It’s the death of an old way of life and preconceptions about the world. Everybody’s born, everybody dies: in your life you have many “little deaths” and many “little births” Death is part of rebirth.
RH: Like Linda’s old life. It’s a death of what she knew before and gained a new way of thinking. RP: She’s ready to face the unknown. She finds release because she went through a process of grieving–it’s also what my mom went through when my stepdad was dying. What she’s still going through.

AHG: How much of the film is autobiographical?
RP: The emotions in the film are autobiographical. So is my fear for my mom is and my “mommy-issues” in the movie. My mom could never stop tending to me and it really drove me crazy. I see myself as Raymond in that way. The costumes are all authentic: Rachel wears all my moms clothes in the film. The blue coat was my mom’s coat growing up–I really wanted to get that stuff right. But the plot, the situations, the tactile things going on in the film are all made up. In the traditional sense, not a lot is autobiographical. I think when you write a film it’s almost more useful to put it through a prism of a different story and use your feeling you went through. I think Diablo Cody says something like a “dream prism” that you focus into your story.

AHG: How did you think up the sperm bank scenes?
RP: I used to give sperm at NYU, but for existencial reasons. I was always looking for the meaning of life through all these metaphysical concepts–I didn’t know what was right and what was wrong. Then, I took a biology class that really affected me; we learned about evolution and really got into it. I was struck by the fact that survival of the fittest is about procreation; it’s not about two rams butting heads on a mountaintop. It’s really about who can make the most babies and pass on their genetic material. So, in college I gave sperm to ensure that my genetic material–because I was looking for meaning! That was the one thing I could grasp onto. Whatever bullshit some philosopher says, this was something tactile, this was the only thing someone could point to as the meaning of life, this was something I could grab onto–it was the only thing someone could point to as the meaning of life. I started giving sperm. It was so stupid.
RH: But then he’s not apart of the process–the upbringing of the child.
RP: Of course not! That was part of the deal! I would never get a woman pregnant and then leave. I knew they’d screen the parents and stuff like that. I always think I’ll be in New York and see my kid somewhere. I hope I have kids. I hope they’re out there somewhere. It’s ensuring my genetic validity.
RH: It’d be so crazy to see a little you running around somewhere.

AHG: Has the film been picked up for distribution?

RP: It’s close. We have sales reps and producers talking to people out in LA. I do believe it will be a theatrical run. Maybe art house, I’m not sure how big the run will be.

“Women are not as funny as men.” Whether or not you believe it, you’ve certainly heard that idea somewhere. Maybe you read it in Christopher Hitchens’ essay, “Why Women Aren’t Funny” (Hitchens argues that women don’t need to be witty:  society thinks females shouldn’t be clever–men are supposed to use humor to attract a mate, etc.). So, what do women who consider themselves funny have to say about this?

“I don’t fucking care what you think” — (borrowed from Amy Pohler)

In Bossypants, Tina Fey acknowledges that inequality between the sexes isn’t a conspiracy theory, yet more of a miscommunication. Unfortunately, the idea that women are inferior to men still exists – especially in comedy. It is a stupid, ignorant and kind-of-dangerous idea—so Fey suggests throughout that we mock it – and everything else – accordingly. The book’s title might be a winking-nudge at Fey’s ascent to comedy’s highest echelon. But the title may be onto something: women don’t get a chance to wear the eponymous “bossypants” in the world of comedy. Fey, however, through hard work, a tempered attitude, and obvious talent, proves these silly pants fit her well.

A quick review: Fey is the star, executive producer, and head-writer of 30 Rock, the most critically acclaimed comedy on network television. Before creating (as described by Donald Glover) “a show that poops Emmys,” Fey was the head writer of SNL, screenwriter of Mean Girls, and an alumni of the prestigious Chicago improv troupe, Second City. She’s also a wife and mother. All this is discussed in her A number one New York Times best seller memoir Bossypants–with plenty of jokes, honesty, and feminist zeal. She makes people who think “Women aren’t funny” sound really stupid. Bossypants is an eclectic mix of family and career memories, tongue-in-cheek advice for woman in management, and a satirical stab at misogyny in America.

First, what everyone is most curious about: do we learn the details behind her notorious scar? Yes! Fey explains the origin of her scar matter-of-factly on page eight; save for a few self-effacing jokes, the scar isn’t mentioned for the rest of the book. Fey wonders if her scar might be the genesis of her, as she writes, “inflated sense of self.” Other factors could include: a loving, but hard-to-please father; exclusive association with flamboyant actors and actresses; the Young Men’s Christian Association; and losing her virginity at twenty-four. What makes a comedian“e” tick? Fey provides plenty of suggestions, but no conclusions. If you’re looking for the exigency underlying Fey’s “Funny”, you won’t find it–she’s just funny.

In the chapter, “All Girls Must Be Everything” Fey describes the impossible standard of beauty to which women are expected to conform; then, she lists how she defies all these “standards” with her “Straight Greek eyebrows…heart shaped ass…droopy brown eyes… [and] wide-set knockers.” Sometimes it’s hard to sympathize with Fey since she was on the cover of Vanity Fair; however, she explains that “The Beauty Problem,” for lack of a better term, gets hyperbolized when you’re a woman working in Hollywood. Eventually, she concludes: no women could be “everything” and beauty is exactly what you make of it. In Bossypants, appearance is a pitfall that tricks us into caring more about something that’s impossible to change instead of becoming better at doing real work. Fey sidesteps this pitfall and passes on her wisdom through jokes about Krispy Kreme.

In the book’s best chapter, Fey wonders if “The Beauty Problem” hindered Vice Presidential Nominee Sarah Palin during the 2008 election. Fey explains that her viral video Sarah Palin impression frenzy started during the same week of 1. her daughter’s birthday party and 2. filming Oprah’s guest-appearance on 30 Rock (further demonstrating Fey’s super-powers). Fey includes the “infamous” sketch’s script as a page-padding-primary source to prove that the joke’s raison d’être was
“[to] invite the media to be vigilant for sexist behavior…although it’s never sexist to question a female politician’s credentials.” Balancing Oprah, birthday, and Palin gave Fey an anecdote that allows her to make nuanced reflections about family/work/ politics/misinterpretation of a joke/celebrity in America; it would be hard to boil down these ideas into a sentence–that’s why you should just read it.

Instead of wasting time deconstructing her wit, Fey displays it. Bossypants is devoid of lofty pontification of what/why/how people think about being funny; instead, it’s just funny. Fey’s voice seamlessly blends anecdote, parody, satire, and even good-old-fashioned joke writing. She never sounds over-polished or forced because humor really is her modus operandi. Fey’s funny: that’s how she wrote such a great book.  Unfortunately, at 277 pages, Bossypants is finishable in a plane ride. Thankfully, it’s making a lot of money, so there will likely be a sequel.  Like other great comedian memoirs, Bossypants blends wit, personality, and a refined point of view.

Hey! This was also published on Escape Into Life!

I fulfilled, as Salon’s Rebecca Traister puts, “my social responsibility” to see Bridesmaids this weekend. The questionably-feminist, maybe-a-female-Hangover, certainly-hilarious summer rom-com is causing a commotion amongst internet film critics. That’s because a) Bridesmaids is one of few attention-worthy films of 2011’s sequel-filled summer b) it’s a romantic comedy that’s both funny and genuine, and of course, c) it’s a film critic’s job to make hyperbolic assessments of movies in order to get people to read their reviews (like Melissa Silverstein calling Bridesmaids “another watershed moment for women on screen,” before actually seeing the film). Is Bridesmaids a feminist critique of Hollywood misogyny? No, not at all. Is it a funny movie almost anyone can enjoy? Yes! I loved it, and so did my parents! Go see it! But ignore the critics’ pedagogical pontifications.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Bridesmaids has a plot similar to other wedding movies. Our protagonist, Annie (Kristen Wiig) is out of work, in an emotionally-abusive relationship (with Jon Hamm!) and in charge of planning a wedding for her childhood best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph). The wedding leads to quirky hyjinx and catty competition with Lillian’s new friend, and the film’s antagonist, Helen (Rose Byrne). Annie eventually meets her love interest, a cop named Nathan (Chris O’Dowd) and the film predictably builds toward the question”Will the wedding happen?!” (Spoiler! Of course it fucking will). The plot may sound like a generic wedding movie, but there are two things that prevent Bridesmaids from slipping into “Girls-only!” triteness. First, the jokes! The film’s “cold open” is an awkward sex scene between Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig; there’s a gross-out vomit montage; somebody yells “Cunt!” Men love awkward sex/vomit/the word cunt–Bridesmaids really is the perfect date movie! Jokes aside, the film also develops genuine pathos from Annie’s problems. Her mix of bad luck and self-sabotage foils any chance at finding happiness. Wiig makes Annie’s struggle seem sincere.

Even though Hollywood executives are apt to compare Bridesmaids with The Hangover, the former’s emotion sets it apart from the latter. Sure, both films center around a wedding (The Hangover only loosely) and both films have “untraditional-looking,” quirky comic relief (Melissa McCarthy Bridesmaids; The Guy With The Beard in The Hangover)–but the similarities stop there. Perhaps a better comparison to Bridesmaids is 2004’s Mean Girls. Both films were written by funny SNL alums, have comedian-cameos in their extended casts, and successfully manipulate the troupes of their genre (wedding; teen girl bildungsroman). Bridesmaids extended cast accounts for much of its funniness. Elle Kemper (Erin* from The Office) and Wendi McLendon-Covey (Trudy from Reno 911!) are two of the film’s standout performances. Plus, McCarthy (best known from Gilmore Girls but also a native of Plainfield IL, and cousin of pornstar Jenny McCarthy) is sure to find herself playing “Generic Quirky Lady” just how  Galifinakis finds himself playing “Generic Quirky Guy”. Even Tim Heidecker, of Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job! has a non-speaking cameo.

Alright, so the film is funny–but does Bridesmaids  challenges ideas of masculine hegemony? Not a even a little! In 1985, Alison Bechdel’s comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, featured a particular strip that’s referenced in introductory film classes across the country. The Bechdel Test defined three criteria to determine a film’s portrayal of women; the film must: have at least two women with names (one) who talk to each other (two) about something other than a man (three). What’s surprising is how few films pass this test. Bridesmaids certainly fails (even if personal favorite critic, Genevieve Koski says otherwise). There’s plenty of women who talk to one another, but their conversations revolve exclusively around relationships, wedding planning, and cake baking. The women are pitted against each other, and are easily swoon by pretty dresses and cute puppies.   If that’s feminist, then I’m Andy Rooney. It’s nice that Kristen Wiig got the chance to make a funny movie; it’s even better that the film is successful critically, financially, and even pleased the harshly judging eye of my mother. But, let’s not go overboard. Women still are underrepresented in Hollywood films and that sucks; thankfully, thoughtful movies about womanhood proliferate the art house circuit. Why moralize it? Why does seeing Bridesmaids have to be an act of protest?  Can’t Bridesmaids just be a funny movie that successfully employs romantic comedy troupes in a clever, heartfelt way? Well, I think so.

See It, Steal It, Skip It?: SEE IT! 

Don’t let the hand drawn intro credits fool you: Super is not a cute indie movie. Sure, the music is twee, Ellen Page works in a comicbook store, and the aesthetic apes Michel Gondry–but it’s definitely not Juno 2. Instead, James Gunn’s pitch black comedy pries into the bloody psyche of deranged anti-heroes.

After his wife leaves him, Frank D’Arbo (Rainn Wilson) receives a message from God. God instructs Frank to become a superhero–The Crimson Bolt–and confront evil in its boldest forms. If that means saving his wife from Kevin Bacon, beating a pedophile with a pipe wrench, or assaulting a man for cutting in line, Frank will do it. His sidekick–Bolty (Ellen Page)–helps and accidentally kill innocent people along the way. Intense violence proliferates Super not by accident, or not to shock, but to make a very specific point: if you want to go out and fight crime, you’re fucking insane.

The idea that superheroes are crazy is not new. In 1986, Alan Moore and Frank Miller told us that characters who wear masks and beat up strangers have profound mental baggage.  “Superheroes Are Crazy People” became the arc of “mature” superhero comics from 1990 to roughly 2001. Unfortunately, Hollywood can’t the portray the pathetic pathos of caped vigilantes on screen–Zack Snyder’s Watchmen proved that (albeit, The Dark Knight challenges it). The problem is inherent to superhero movie conventions:  a muscular hunk can’t experience existential crisis when a million dollar CGI monster is tricking kids into buying action figures.

Super can rise above superhero cliches because it doesn’t have Halloween costumes to sell, or 7-11 Slurpee tie-ins to please (it was also a total bomb recouping less than an eighth of its budget). I walked into Super expecting “a superhero movie with an indie aesthetic” and it somewhat fulfilled that expectation (notice: I’m not contradicting myself; it only looks like an indie movie how South Park looks like a kids show). Gunn’s uses the visual vocabulary of 2000’s independent film. He casts funny, charismatic people (Wilson, Page, Bacon, and Liv Tyler) and employs low-fi special effects to add charm. The film’s budget was spent on actors, not action: that’s why a minor character like Hamilton (the sassy second chief from the diner where Frank works) is played by Andre Royo–or Bubbles from The Wire! The entire cast is full of likable actors. It’s jarring, then, when Rainn Wilson cracks a skull open or lights a goon on fire and repeatedly stabs the burnt corpse.

Frank’s primary reference for becoming a vigilante is a parody of a PAX superhero: he’s a holy crusader with a perverse vision of justice.  Yet, when Frank prays to God we can see him at his rawest: a profoundly depressed, deeply frustrated, mentally challenged man-child. Super’s violence highlights the absurdity of crime fighting. It’s dark satire the color of a pulverized face.

See It; Steal It; Skip It: SEE IT! 

Don’t forget! All your favorite Marvel superheroes will return next summer in The Avengers, directed by Joss Whedon! Remember? That’s why Thor has a teaser for Joss Whedon’s  The Avengers (in theaters summer 2012!) after the credits, just in case you forgot about The Avengers (Whedon’s 2012 summer superhero epic)unfortunately, the 90 second, Samuel L. Jackson teaser is the movie’s most interesting scene. Thor, then, is a reminder for The Avengers, premiering summer 2012 (directed by Joss Whedon).

Otherwise, it’s an entirely forgettable, high-concept blockbuster, perfectly content with bringing nothing new to the genre. Everything’s in the right place. The film opens with a mysterious stranger (it’s Chris Hemsworth!) and a flashback reveals the thunder god’s backstory. On the day Thor is set to inherit Odin’s throne (Anthony Hopkins), Frost Giants mysteriously appear; Thor reacts rashly, and Odin has no choice but to banish his son to Earth even though it may result in silly hyjinx.  Soon, silly hyjinx unfolds: Thor is hit by cars, eats at a diner, mispronounces “Hubble Telescope” and falls in love with an obligatory love interest. Natalie Portman plays the bland Jane Foster, an astrophysicist who drives Thor around in a SUV.

I’ve always thought the most interesting character in Marvel’s Thor was Loki; unfortunately, Brangath’sThor doesn’t know what to do with the shapeshifter god (Tom Hiddleston). Is Loki a foil to Thor’s pugnacious rashness? Odin’s unfairly slighted youngest son? The heir to a marginalize race of Frost Giants? A devious supervillain? The answer depends on the scene. Hiddleston, like the rest of the cast, seem content to concede defeat by letting the film sink into camp-tastic oblivion–it’s hard to take anyone seriously when they’re wearing metal spandex. Loki’s the film’s most inconsistent character, but other characters suffer from fates worse than Ragnarök: they’re insufferably boring.

Maybe it’s not Kevin Branagh’s fault; he included everything the focus group told him to include. 3-5 fight scenes warrant 3-D ticket prices; overblown CGI backgrounds (that look oddly reminiscent of cities from World of Warcraft); super-shiny weapons that are easy to sculpt into toys and action figures. Branagh made a movie for 12 year old boys and that’s what Marvel wanted: nothing fancy. Just a placeholder for the real show next summer. I’m not excited for Captain America.

See It; Steal It; Skip It: SKIP IT

This is an editorial I wrote about Ebertfest and how I think it works. I hope you like it!

After spending a week at Ebertfest, I think I’ve pinned down its raison d’etre. There are two types of movie festivals: ones for industry types, and ones for movie consumers — or, more aptly, typical dudes. Ebertfest is most certainly the latter. If you get a chance to go to Sundance, Cannes, or Toronto, it’s because you made a movie, work for a studio, write for a news organization or have a lot of money and connections. Ebertfest is the opposite. No contracts are signed, no news is broken. Anyone can go to Ebertfest — in a lot of ways, that’s the point. I’m not saying Ebertfest is strictly a gathering of Midwestern “common folk”; there are tons of journalists, artists and amateur-blogger hipsters (that’s me!) in attendance as well. Please indulge as I deconstruct the festival further.

Ebertfest exists for three reasons: The News-Gazette, the University and Townies.

These three factors are not mutually exclusive, nor are they meant to be taken entirely literally. Let me explain. Roger Ebert grew up in Urbana (read his review of 45365 for more info); he went to college at U of I (read his review of Synecdoche, New York for more info). Ebert used to work for The News-Gazette, and he remembers these years fondly.

On page 64 of the Ebertfest program, Ebert writes, “Champaign-Urbana’s News-Gazette is locally-owned, not in a chain, and a damn fine paper. My first school of journalism.” The Gazette responds, “Thanks, Roger. We’re pretty fond of you, too.” (Then, it goes on to recommend you read Melissa Merli’s writing, which is something I suggest as well). Ebert really really likes Champaign-Urbana. I’m using The News Gazette as more of a symbol (a synecdoche, perhaps?) to represent CU. That’s why Ebert doesn’t have the festival in Chicago (where he lives now); he’s filled with pride for his hometown; plus, he probably likes the chance to eat at KoFusion.

But that’s only a third of it. The College of Media is also essential in making this festival happen every year. Ebert and his wife, Chaz, are very transparent about this. Higher-ups in the College of Media plan everything from the logistics of getting filmmakers into town to making the website look pretty. The president loves it because it makes our University seem cultured, as apparent in his greeting letter in the program. Then, student volunteers handle the sundry of odd jobs as the festival unfolds: checking tickets, holding doors, popping popcorn, pointing at bathrooms. Finally, student media turn Ebertfest into an event — or we try to, at least. That’s why our friends at the DI designed and printed the festival programs. If I’m allowed to go meta, it’s also a way to teach student writers how to cover a media event.

Wait! Don’t forget the ordinary people! The “typical dudes” I mentioned earlier are the real reason the festival can exist. A cursory look around any screening’s crowd revealed that non-journalistic, non-University-affiliated adults — geriatric ones, in particular — are one of Ebertfest’s target demographics. I met a delightful lady from Ohio who told me that she and about 50 of her friends rode on a bus for six hours so they could watch movies at 1 p.m. in the afternoon (she also recommended I check out Reading Lolita in Tehran).

Townies have businesses that can afford to sponsor the festival in exchange for ad space; Townies can take off work to watch a cartoon about a man’s relationship with his dog. Sometimes, Townies  get tedious: Plenty of banal comments were disguised as “questions” during the festival’s Q&A sessions. And it’s silly to watch an old lady knit a scarf while Rachel Harris gives a provocative comparison between TV and movie acting.

Yet, other times, the “common-folk” ask much more interesting questions than the critics do: When a gentleman asked Norman Jewison why he made racially progressive movies during a time when movies like that risked being unpopular, Jewison provided an anecdote both touching and wistfully sad (if you’re reading this article, sir, that was a fantastic question).

It makes sense that Ebertfest is a “people’s” film festival. Ebert himself is an egalitarian writer of art criticism. The reason he wins Pulitzers, publishes books, maintains a TV show and has almost half a million followers on Twitter (so jealous) is because he proves that movies are fun. That’s why he calls upon his friends, his town and his University’s alumni to help him achieve the aforementioned in the most tactile of ways. Ebertfest manifests itself as a convergence between homebred old people, too-cool college kids, and a variety of writers/weirdos (the terms are synonymous). It also means I got a chance to sit 100 feet away from Tilda Swinton.