Off-Beat Comedies. Movies Reviewed: A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, Identity Thief

Posted in 1970s, Cars, Class, Crime, Cultural Mining, L.A., Meltdown, Movies, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on February 17, 2013

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

It’s February and it’s winter and I hate it. With snow comes slush, and with slush comes sludgy puddles. I got sprayed with brown muck from my shoes to my face by an SUV driver a couple days ago. Not fun.

So what better time for a laugh or two.

This week I’m looking at a couple of off-beat comedies about men trying to get their lives back together. Ones a retro look at a man’s midlife crisis; the other is a buddy/road movie about a robber and a rob-ee forced to travel together.

Party_CS_BM_1A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III

Wri/Dir: Roman Coppola

Charles Swan III (Charlie Sheen) is a drunk, a womanizer, a stoner, and a self-centred, Hollywood semi-demi-hemi celebrity. He has his own successful design studio where he makes pop-art posters and record album covers for megastars, like his best buddy Kirby Star (the director’s cousin Jason Schwartzman). He is known for his airbrushed images of camp, huge-breasted woman in fringed vests and cowboy hats. He drives around in his vintage car (known for the giant fried eggs painted on the side) to make out with his current girlfriend Ivana (Katheryn Winnick). But, when she digs up a crusty diaphragm a past date left from under a seat, she loses it. She dumps him. She’s gone, his career collapses, his life is over, and he spirals into a dramatic, Hollywood-style meltdown.

An LA meltdown starring Charlie Sheen? Who woulda thunk it? We follow his encounters with his doctor, his psychiatrists, his agent, his lawyer, his friends and his family, all of whom have lots of their own problems and neuroses to complain about. You get to see all this through the filter – and I use the term lightly, since the one thing this movie could use is a filter! — of Charles’s brain, filled with fantasies within stories within meta-memories, until your brain wants to explode, too.

Does this sound messy? It is. It’s a slapdash, hodgepodge mess of a movie, less compelling than confusing, less funny than eye-rolling. It’s just hard to sympathize with a rich successful conceited Charlie_Sheen_and_Jason_Schwartzmanguy having a midlife crisis.

At the same time, it’s a visual smorgasbord. It takes during the 1970s, the “Me decade”, and is filled with all the kitsch icons — the cowboys and Indians, fast-food, sports cars, the bikinis, the faux country/western ranches, the psychedelia, the sideburns, the seventies’ nostalgia for the twenties, forties and fifties. What at the time was thought of as incredible excess, is now almost admirable for its care and craftsmanship. Peter Max, Tom Robbins, Linda Ronstadt…

It shows us an era where you really could get rich designing the cardboard cover of a hit record album, and you were allowed to rent elephants or camels and extras and costumes for that one perfect shot. While I love the music, the images, and even the amazing fonts used for the titles, I find the story a godawful mess.

identity thief 2Identity Thief

Dir: Seth Gordon

Diana (Melissa McCarthy) favours heavy make up, a fright wig and loud, flowered shirts. She doesn’t have any friends. So she replaces them with hairdressers, shop clerks, bartenders. What she does have is a nearly bottomless money pit, a goose that keeps laying golden eggs. She has multiple toasters, fiberglass boats, a new car. But money doesn’t grow on trees – she gets it from other people’s credit cards, using Identity theft.

Meanwhile, in Denver, Sandy (Jason Bateman) a mild-mannered, middle-aged middle-manager, has a beautiful wife, two cute daughetrs, and another one on the way. But suddenly his job disappears, his bank account is drained, and he’s suddenly a wanted criminal – for something Diana did in Florida. He’s the victim, she’s the culprit.

So, after discovering who’s to blame — and without any help from the police — he decides to drive identity thiefacross the country to bring her to justice in Colorado. Although a pathological liar, she agrees to come with him, as the lesser evil. You see, she’s being stalked by a pair of slick gangster hitmen and a ruthless bounty hunter, both out to catch and kill her. So Sandy soon finds himself surrounded by her world of con-jobs, frauds, deception and crime. Will he descend to her level, or will she rise to his?

This is actually a funny trip comedy. It’s made by the guy who did Horrible Bosses, and has a similar feel, lots of slapstick comedy with Diana getting Identity_Thief_4hit by trucks, Sandy getting punched in the throat, people having embarrassing, kinky sex with Texans in roadhouses… things like that. Lots of sight gags and shtick thrown in just for the laughs, but the movie doesn’t suffer, and the story pulls it along. And Bateman and McCarthy are an excellent team, with her as the funnyman, him as the straightman. Good comedy that’s actually funny, worth seeing for the laughs.

Identity Theft is now playing and Charles Swan III opens today in Toronto. Also playing and worth checking out are some great documentaries. Shadows of Liberty, by Canadian Jean-Philippe Tremblay, exposes the excesses and biases of mainstream media. And 5 Broken Cameras, (directed by Guy Davidi and Emad Burnat) is a devastating, first-hand record of the lives of the people in Bi’lin, a Palestinian village after settler encroachment. Check your local listings for times and screens.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com .

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