Sunday, April 10, 2011

Underdogs: Get Him to The Greek and The Men Who Stare at Goats

I've always been a fan of cult films. The kind of movies that you can use as a litmus test for new friends. You drop a quote into the conversation at a party, and if the other person can finish the dialogue, you're instantly friends.
I watched two movies recently that are sure to build a small but devoted following for years to come.

The first, was The Men Who Stare at Goats. Ewan McGregor plays a reporter who follows his gut on a story, and finds himself in a top-secret military organization that must be real, because no one could make anything like this up. The plot is so ingenious and the dialogue is so clever that I was smitten by the 20 minute mark. Basically, the premise is that Jeff Bridges, a high-ranking military officer, is sent by the Pentagon into the love-child subculture of the 60s after he returned from Vietnam. His task is simple: Conceive of a method that utilizes natural human gentleness for military purposes. He succeeds, and the new-age warfare techniques he develops are simply far out.
The film opens with a disclaimer that more of the story is true than most would like to believe. But the really fantastic thing is the way that the movie keeps you guessing as to just how real all these psychic powers and new-age fighting techniques are, and how much of it is the shared delusion of the Jedi. When it turns on a dime and makes you start to think that maybe these love-happy warriors really are onto something- the film becomes transcendental. It lifts you up, and keeps you laughing the whole time.

George Clooney, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey have such an innate sense of comedy that it's strange that we know them best for their dramatic work. It makes me wish that America still had a palate for rat-pack or Marx Brothers-style farces. Surely Clooney, Bridges and Spacey would star in many of them. Watching them in this movie is joyous. I laughed myself silly. A group of masters playing off of each other and taking it all to another level. If only every movie could have a cast like this.
It does feel very much like a Cohen Brothers rip off, but I mean that as a compliment. It reminded me so closely of Burn After Reading and Fargo that I was impressed. Punchy colors, wonderfully simple and realistic sets, and costuming that acts as part of character development. There's also a brave use of narration here that most contemporary movies don't dabble with. Perhaps not since Fight Club have I seen it done so well.
Not too much, (Perfect example of too much: Most episodes of "Sex and the City"- Really, Carrie? You're telling me you just arrived at home while I'm watching you, on screen, arrive home? That's maddeningly redundant. Either tell me what you're doing or show me what you're doing. Don't do both or you'll just annoy the crap out of me. This isn't a damn cooking show.) not too little (I don't have an exact example of too little, but pretty much anytime you're watching a movie and think to yourself "I shouldn't watch movies when I'm drunk because I have no idea what's going on" but then you remember you're not drunk, the movie's narrative is just confusing as hell and some voice-over would really help you out.).

See The Men Who Stare at Goats. It's wonderful.

Get Him to The Greek needs a preface:
I have an amazing friend named Lucie. She's just plain awesome. We became good friends while working at Sephora, especially after she heard me yell in frustration at a hand truck "It goes in the hallway or else it gets the hose again!" She laughed hysterically and I was thrilled to have found someone who can appreciate a well-timed Silence of the Lambs reference. We spent many an evening watching movies together. We have incredibly similar taste and she has an impressive selection of DVDs. Lucie, and her husband, Jon, between them have just about any movie worth watching on DVD. And they are kind enough to rent their collection out to their friends! See? I told you she was amazing. Plus, she's beautiful. That's just icing on the awesome cake.
So, I was at Lucie's, and we were all talking about movies, and I remarked how surprised I was that actually wanted to see the Arthur remake. Lucie agreed, and then we began discussing the strange genius that is Russell Brand. I admitted I had never seen Get Him to The Greek, and Lucie and Jon insisted Dan and I bring it home to watch. they promised we would love it.

OH MY GOD were they ever right.

This movie is riotously funny. What I like so much about Russell Brand is his gift for absurdity. Things are funnier if it seems like no sane person would ever speak or act in that way. And here, he's let loose to play.
Jonah Hill portrays Aaron Green, a normal, if a bit awkward, guy who works at a recording label. Sean "P. Diddy" Combs plays the head honcho of the label, Sergio. (More about this in a moment) Aaron comes up with an idea of having his favorite rock star, Aldous Snow, (who has fallen from popularity after a terrible album) restored to his former glory by playing an epic anniversary concert at The Greek. Hilarity ensues when Sergio sends the starstruck Aaron to bring the hard-to-handle rocker from London to L.A.

Get Him to The Greek is outrageous, but also tender. Aaron and Aldous embark on a journey of self-discovery- but that tired movie cliche is not to be found here. You will see things you never thought you'd see in a movie. Aldous is clearly modeled after Tommy Lee, and his roller coaster relationship with his Pamela is just as complicated, yet so romantic in a really dysfunctional way. Aaron learns that his hero is simply a lonely man, who only yearns for love because he didn't have any as a child. The heart of this movie truly touched me. It really tries to show that most of us don't really comprehend what it is to be a rock star- To leave all of yourself on the stage, for your fans. And the harsh reality of that is that, often times, there's not much left to hang onto off-stage. They drift along, not really living until the next time they get to perform. The drugs and the sex just fill the void in the meantime. It truly reminded me a lot of This Is Spinal Tap in how it balances mockery and empathy.

But it's also just funny as hell. Brand and Hill are a chemistry match made in comedic heaven. Every scene between the two of them is delightful. Brand really gets to show some range here, he's not just a big haired buffoon, he has a soul, and it's tortured. And he somehow manages to carry it off without it seeming tired and cheesy. Elizabeth Moss is effective as Aaron's girlfriend Daphne, but she sort of gets lost between Hill and Brand, literally one time.
But P. Diddy is a revelation. Who knew he was this funny? He's not in most of the movie, but his big scene, the "Jeffrey" scene, is some of the funniest material I have ever seem committed to film. It's Monty Python-worthy funny. It's Mel Brooks-level funny. I was laughing so hard I thought I was going to pee myself. Pure bliss. This is the scene that you will be quoting for the rest of your life and hoping that someone else knows what you're talking about. It's really that good.

So much of what happens is unexpected and bold. There's a lot of gross-out humor, but just like in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, I enjoy it because, hey, that's real life. We puke, poop, have sex- why hide it? It's funny because it's true.

Watch it, you won't be sorry. Stroke the furry wall.