The Small Screen

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Posted February 12, 2009 in The Small Screen

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People 
Ethics, that transcendent force usually hidden in a protagonist’s chest for 90% of a movie, comes bubbling out of Simon Pegg (who plays wiseacre Sidney Young) like a reluctant roll of snot. The Brit lands in New York to work as an editor (barely explicably) for sycophantic and wildly popular Sharps magazine. His point—besides to shag a hot actress—is to bring an ounce of integrity back to journalism, particularly his icon and current Sharps editor Clayton Harding, who at one time many years ago had some good fangs. It’s an enjoyable film—if a bit excruciating—and the follies make for a few laughs. Robert B. Weide directs.

 

Specials Highlights: Making Of and Commentary.

 

Choke

Chuck Palahniuk’s book and Clark Gregg’s direction mesh almost too easily, which leaves little window for cult-followers of Palahniuk (Fight Club) to quibble. In a room full of whackjobs—sex addicts, institutionalized loons, metaphysical criminals—the average man becomes very conspicuous, and that’s the premise of Choke. Sexaholic Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell) has some vague-nobility, mainly in keeping his demential mother alive, but he is also full of devil. He chokes to be saved and supplements his income with money from the saviors, and then he throws his willy into every available receptacle. Oh yeah, he could be the son of Christ. 

 

Specials Highlights: A semi-fascinating conversation with Clark and Palahniuk, where both question and neither seem displeased with the other; plus a Gag Reel.

 

Body of Lies

Ridley’s Scott’s Body of Lies is a lesson in economy of storytelling, although not in economy of movie-making (there are plenty of high-budget explosions). In this tale of CIA actions in the Middle East, Scott lays out a twisted mesh of spies and terrorist and surveillance technology, but his heart is in his main characters: in-the-trenches operative Roger Ferris (Leonard DiCaprio), his overseer back in Washington Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) and Jordanian head of security Hani Salaam (Mark Strong). Giving them essentially no backstory at all, Scott expertly shows what each of these men stand for via small choices of action. Crowe’s detached “at all costs” boss conducts operations via cell phone as he absently snaps photos of his kids at a soccer game, DiCaprio’s ground level agent revels in the markets of Jordan and Strong’s smooth “professional” doesn’t turn away from brutality and creepily calls DiCaprio “my dear”. 

 

Specials Highlights: Only available on the 2-disc edition, commentary and a feature that deconstructs key scenes.

 

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa

As a parent, movies for your kids fall into two categories: gratingly annoying and tolerable to actually engrossing. The better ones slip in a few laughs just for the parents and make watching them along with your kids enjoyable. And then there’s Pixar, but that’s another story. Madagascar 2 is one of the better ones, as is most stuff from DreamWorks Animation. A continuation of 2005’s Madagascar, the sequel pick ups as our band of exiles from the Central Park Zoo—Alex the lion (voiced by Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett-Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer)—trying to get home to New York from Madagascar. They end up in Africa where they run into Alex’s long-lost dad (voiced by the late Bernie Mac). Although not perhaps as coherent as the first installment, it’s full of top-notch animation and, yes, funny bit for Mom & Dad (like a homage to a certain Twilight Zone episode featuring William Shatner.) Crack-a-lackin!

 

Specials Highlights: A bonus disc with a preview of the new show The Penguins of Madagascar, plus a feature detailing the “Crash Landing” sequence.


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