Archive for August, 2010

BOOK: Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin (2007)

August 31, 2010

I almost didn’t pick this novel up, not really considering myself much of a fan of the “historical mystery” genre.  But I’m glad I did, because I ended up really enjoying it AND it’s the first in a series, which means I have hours of future entertainment headed my way now as well.  Bonus!

The story is set in the time of King Henry II’s reign in England and begins by introducing us to the main cast of characters using a clever little spin on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.  The group, consisting of a prior, a prioress, two knights just back from the Crusades, and other Chaucer-esque pilgrims, are on their way back to their small village outside of Cambridge (after a trek to a cathedral) when they get word about something terrible that’s happened while they were away:  four local children, kidnapped, tortured, and brutally murdered.

Village fingers instinctively point to the local Jewish population, hated as they traditionally are.  To keep them safe from retaliatory violence (or, more accurately, to protect his largest source of income — Jews are the best source of tax money he’s got),  the king orders that all Jewish residents of the village be locked up inside the castle.  He then asks his pal, the king of Sicily, if he could recommend an independent, unbiased  investigator to help the village find the murderer.  The Sicilian king agrees to send one of his best experts on death, a young doctor named Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar of Salerno.

Oh yes:  a woman.  This is going to go over really well.

In order to protect herself from the harassment and potential violence she’d undoubtedly experience if the villagers realized she was a doctor (women in England not being allowed to be professionals of any sort, let alone have jobs that frequently bring them into intimate contact with the opposite sex), Adelia convinces the locals the medical professional set from Sicily is actually her partner, a eunuch named Mansur. Almost immediately, they begin flocking to Mansur for all manner of health-related complaints, keeping him busy, them distracted, and Adelia somewhat freer to poke around.

She begins her investigation on the sly, casually talking to suspects, secretly examining bodies, but almost immediately finds herself embroiled in all kinds of trouble (not the least of which are her growing feelings for one of her chief suspects).  As the mystery begins to unfold, Adelia finds her attempts to get to the answer blocked at nearly every turn by both her sex and the religious and superstitious villagers around her.  In the process, we readers get a delightful education in the history of forensics, women in science, and religious upheaval during the Middle Ages.

I found this novel to be extremely well-written and it did a great job of pulling me deep inside the time and place in which it’s set.  The mystery is solid (if a bit gruesome), I really liked the main (recurring!) characters, and there are juuuust the right number of plot twists.  All in all, this is a real page-turner, and one I greatly enjoyed.  Looking forward to reading the second one in the series, which should be arriving in my mailbox shortly!

Recommended!

[MYSTERY]

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MOVIE: Piranha 3-D (2010)

August 27, 2010

Okay, sure, you can make a case for me simply being foolish.  I mean, who goes to a movie named Piranha 3-D expecting it to be good, after all?  Only a fool!  A crazy person!  A complete madman!

But, but. . . BUT!

In my defense, I had fully expected this one to suck — UNTIL the reviews started to pour in last week.  In my experience, critics don’t tend to like most horror flicks, and for that reason alone, my plan had been to avoid reading anything those wankers had to say in the first place.  Why bother when you already know their nature is to knee-jerk with a pan on principle, right?  Snobs.

Imagine my surprise, then, when a reader forwarded me this rave review from Associated Press reporter Christy Lemire:   “Mere words cannot describe how awesomely gnarly Piranha 3D is, how hugely entertaining and how urgently you must get yourself to the theater to see it. Like, now.”

Say what?  “Awesomely gnarly”?  She even talks like me!  Curious, I started poking around and, sure enough, the critics were mostly kinda NOT hating on this one too much.  And that’s when I made the neverfailingly tragic mistake of getting my hopes up.  WILL I NEVER LEARN?

Apparently not.

The first few minutes of Piranha 3-D seemed only to confirm Lemire’s review, with a witty nod at Jaws that boosted my hopes all the more.  The filmmakers must be true fans, I said to myself, and everybody knows true fans of Jaws are among the smartest, most talented people in the world.  (Ahem.)

But as the Jawsaphors continued to pile up (not just in the script, but also in the camera work), the whole thing started to feel less like an homage to one of my all-time favorite films, and more like evidence the Piranha 3-D filmmakers couldn’t be bothered to come up with their own ideas — consumed, as they clearly were, by trying to maximize the number of jiggling, naked boobies they could cram into 88 minutes of film. (Some of those boobies, frankly, I found scarier than the prehistoric piranhas trying to munch on them.  Not a good sign, ladies.)

In my opinion, to really get into a horror flick, you have to have someone to root for.  It doesn’t always have to be the good guy — I mean, who among us wasn’t totally rooting for Junkbucket in Junkbucket, after all? — but you have to give a rat’s ass about somebody.  Giving the ass of that rat (just what IS the origin of that expression, anyway?)  requires some semblance of character development, no semblance of which can be found in this movie, despite the near-heroic attempts of both Elizabeth Shue and Ving Rhames.  By the end, the only thing I was rooting for anymore (aside from the closing credits, of course) was that the two little kids would become fish food, because at least killing off children would be somewhat original.

Also, for the record — Things I Do Not Need to See in 3-D: vomit, dismembered penises, Eli Roth.

Speaking of which, despite the fact this movie is titled Piranha 3-D, the 3-D effects were clearly added after filming was complete, tossed in at seemingly random, unplanned moments, making them superfluous at best and irritatingly distracting the rest of the time.  Frankly, I’m at the point now where if a film advertised it was going to be shown in TWO! AMAZING! DIMENSIONS!,  I’d be far more willing to shell out the extra five bucks for my ticket.

In other words: 3-D fad, I wash my hands of you.  You and I are finished.  Done. Kaput.  It’s over.  Stop texting me.

That said, I am pleased to report there was one good thing that came out of my Piranha 3-D experience.  You know those new full-body x-ray scanners showing up in airports nowadays?  The ones that give the security staff a vivid view of all your naughty bits?  I have stopped caring about this.  Because after 88 minutes of naked ladies! naked ladies! naked ladies! (including two who could make out underwater for ten minutes without ever coming up for air — neat trick!), I became completely immune to the titillation.  I give those x-ray officers three 8-hour shifts before looking at boobs becomes the most boring task on the planet.

I feel kind of bad for those guys.  Also: gynecologists.

This movie is definitely what I would describe as “awesomely gnarly” — except that I don’t mean that in a good way.  Frankly, Ms. Lemire, I haven’t been this disappointed by mainstream media praise for a horror movie since Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus.  Fie on you.

Friends:  Save your hard-earned money and go rent Jaws instead.  All the Richard Dreyfus, nary a one of the wet tee-shirt contests!

Enemies:  You’ll love it!  Try the IMAX theater!

[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre: Horror, 3-D
Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Ving Rhames, Elisabeth Shue, Adam Scott, Christopher Lloyd, Eli Roth, Jerry O’Connell, Steven R. McQueen

MOVIE: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)

August 20, 2010

Good goddamn.  You know what I love?  I love that there are people who are capable of thinking this kind of stuff up.  And not only that there are people who are capable of thinking this kind of stuff up, but that those people LIVE ON MY PLANET.  With me!  I’m an Earthling, just like them!  Heck, in the Great Cosmic Scheme of Things TM, we’re practically cousins!

Life is so, so sweet when you look at it that way, isn’t it?  Man, what a great planet this is.

Look, if you see one movie this year — ONE MOVIE — treat yourself to a truly grand time and make it this one (and that goes double if you’re in your mid-30’s-to-early-40’s, which is about how old I’d guess the makers of this film are based on the style and humor).  The opening 8-bit Universal logo and corresponding theme made me laugh out loud with glee (Atari 2600!  Oh, my misspent youth!), and I pretty much didn’t stop laughing like that until the very end. (p.s. Boyfriend Alert: Brandon Routh!  Nice to see you again, sir!)

Brilliant.  I know not what more to say.  SEE THIS MOVIE.

[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre: Comedy, Action
Cast: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Alison Pill, Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman

BOOK: Moon Called by Patricia Briggs (2006)

August 17, 2010

You know what I hate?  I hate it when really entertaining fantasy/horror novels have covers that are as embarrassing to carry around as the cover of this novel is.  Really?  That chick is an auto mechanic — she works on cars with that much cleavage showing?  That’s a really good way to burn your nipples off, lady.  I’m just saying.  Put on some coveralls, already.

But, bad art aside, did you catch the part where I said this book was really entertaining?  Because it really, really was!  And not only that, it was surprisingly well-written to boot.  I had nary a quibble with the writing at all, wonder of wonders, and I found the characters interesting, realistic, and easy to relate to, too — despite the fact they’re all a bunch of werewolves and vampires.

The story is about a female car mechanic (Mercy), who is a special kind of human who can change into a coyote.  In the beginning of this installment, the first in a series, Mercy meets a young man who has recently been transformed into a werewolf and doesn’t yet know how to control his urges.  She takes him under her wing, only to find him murdered a few days later.  As she investigates what happened to him, she finds herself mixed up with an old family of werewolves she used to be close to — before a romance gone bad — as well as a group of vampires, some of whom are nicer than others.

The story is engaging and well crafted, and I liked Mercy immediately.  I also thought the world Briggs invented — especially the way all these various types of creatures operate and relate to each other — was extremely thoughtful and original.  This is definitely a step above most novels of this genre, and if you can get past the damn cover (argh!), and you like these sorts of things, I think you’re in for an excellent time.

Recommended!

[FANTASY/HORROR]

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BOOK: Into the Heart of the Canyon by Elisabeth Hyde (2009)

August 12, 2010

I love non-fiction books about women who go out into the wild and do amazing, daring stuff I would never do (“amazing, daring stuff I would never do” consisting of just about anything anybody does anywhere that can be classified as “the wild,” of course — coward!).

Many years ago, I read a great book in that category called Shooting the Boh, a non-fiction tale about author Tracy Johnston’s white water rafting trip down the Boh river in Borneo.  I found it absolutely riveting and have thought of it many times since (even just got my mom to read it recently — she loved it as well!).  So, when I saw this book highlighted on the “good summer reads” shelf at my local bookstore, I snatched it up, thinking it might be like a fictionalized version of Shooting the Boh.

And it is, sort of.  Except nowhere near as good, alas.  Into the Heart of the Canyon is definitely entertaining, but it’s also lacking in a lot of the emotional depth and exploration of Johnson’s book.  Which is weird, because the author of this novel, Elisabeth Hyde, was inspired to write it by her own rapid-running adventure; it’s not like she hasn’t had that inspirational, incredible experience herself.  Yet I think she missed what makes these kinds of stories so engaging.  Her book was far too focused on interactions between the characters, and not focused enough on the changes the characters experienced in themselves — and that just didn’t feel quite right to me.  It worked, I suppose, but it turned what seems like a natural personal growth story into a bit of a standard soap opera instead.

That said, this novel is definitely fun to read — it’s written well enough, and the rafting and camping/outdoorsy scenes were well drawn and engaging.  The story is about a group of people from a variety of backgrounds and ages, all brought together for a commercial river rafting trip — a one-week adventure, and an expensive one at that, featuring three boats, three guides, and all lodging (tents) and food (gourmet!) provided.

The separate characters are all of fairly standard types, though some of them do have surprising character shifts by the end:  the young 20-something male who develops a crush on the hot female raft guide, the elderly couple taking their last trip down the river together (the husband has developed Alzheimer’s), the middle-aged woman recovering from a divorce by taking herself on an adventure, the bickering couple with two young kids, and a mother who has dragged her teenage daughter Amy along on the trip in an attempt to bond with her.

Amy ends up being the focus of the story, for the most part, entries in her diary punctuating the ends of each chapter.  She’s morbidly obese and her diary entries painfully reminded me of my own when I was a kid — a lot of self-loathing directed at her body.  Hard, angry self-loathing.  It hit home so sharply in a few places it made me wonder if Hyde had been a “fat kid” herself when she was younger, as I was.  I’d love to see her write an entire novel focused just on that character, to be honest.  Or perhaps I’d love to see myself write that novel.

In any case, Amy is struggling the entire trip with painful stomach cramps, the origin of which we find out at the very end.  This subplot was kind of unnecessarily melodramatic and out-of-place in the story for me, though.  I’m not sure it added anything all that poignant, and it seemed more like an afterthought in some ways — a exit strategy designed to send the characters out with a bit of a bang.  A bang they didn’t really need, if you ask me.

Aside from that flaw, however, I found this novel pretty satisfying and it should appeal to anybody who likes reading these sorts of things.  Recommended to that group; the rest of you are probably better off reading something else.

[FICTION, ADVENTURE]

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Fall TV Boyfriend Alert!

August 10, 2010

McMagnumy

It’ll be a few more weeks before I get serious about Fall TV, but since I skipped summer TV altogether (current favorite, by the way, is Louie on FX), I thought I’d at least send out a teaser about some exciting coming attractions.  Namely, a whole heap of new shows slated to start in a month or two that feature ex-Boyfriends of the Week!

Head’s up, people!  There’s some serious cute coming your way this fall!  Detailed descriptions of all these shows coming soon when I dive into the Fall TV swimming pool for reals.

McVampirey

Monday nights, for example, will be bringing us Lone Star, starring ex-Older-Boyfriend David Keith, as well as the Hawaii 5-0 remake featuring Alex O’Loughlin.

Tuesdays will have No Ordinary Family with Michael Chiklis, though I will confess I saw an ad for this show recently and it looks like an ABC Family version of Heroes — meh, will likely skip this one.  Thinking ’bout it.

McBrowdery

Wednesdays include The Defenders with Jerry O’Connell, who I hope has eaten a few cheeseburgers since I last saw him without his shirt off on Crossing Jordan (yeesh, Skeletor!).  And I absolutely cannot WAIT for Hellcats as it will star the delightful Ben Browder (dang — see comments for correction of this). Then we’ll have Undercover (the new J.J. Abrams series) with Gerald McRaney (ooh rah!), or (good lord), yet ANOTHER Law & Order, this time in LA, featuring Skeet Ulrich (yippie!).  All in all, Wednesdays look pretty delicious.

Nada much on Thursdays in the way of ex-Boyfriends, but Friday’s got three old beaus:  Blue Bloods with Tom Selleck and Donnie Wahlberg, and Outlaw with Jimmy Smits.

McCrinkly

Also, just in case you were wondering who’d try to snag him next, James Tupper of the crazy-gorgeous eye crinkles, will be doing a few-episode arc on Grey’s Anatomy.  Here’s hoping McCrinkly gets a season pass — he’s had some practice now with the medical jargon, after all.

Are you ready?  Man, I am SO READY.

MOVIE: Salt (2010)

August 7, 2010

The first time I saw the TV show Alias, I ended up glued to the couch for two straight days, consuming both season one and a ton of caffeine absolutely voraciously.  It was smart, energetic, creative, and really damn FUN.  Season two was likewise delicious, and, well, you know, it got kind of hokey after that.  I still loved it, mind you — I own every season but the last one on DVD and have watched each one more than once.  But I missed the early days when the focus was more on the spy stuff, the costume changes, the ass-kicking, and less on Michael Vartan and Jennifer Garner’s on- and off-screen romantic woes.

So it was with a little bit of glee, silly as that may sound, that I found myself thinking of Alias not fifteen minutes into Salt.  Same premise, of course:  spy woman who kicks serious ass, using her brains just as often as her brawn, and it even had the whole “Soviets trained kids to be super spies” thing going on.  But even better, it was clever, full of twists, complicated, entertainingly sharp.  I had read some reviews when it first came out that suggested it was a bit lacking in originality but entertaining in all other regards, but I’m going to disagree with that first bit.  Even though we’ve seen spy movies enough times to know roughly how this one was going to go (I had every traditional spy story theory rattling through my head at one time or another), I still didn’t have it all figured out until much later in the game than I expected.  Agent?  Double agent?  Triple agent?  Innocent?  Guilty?  A pawn?  Brainwashed?  Damned if I knew, and damned if I didn’t have an absolute blast finding out.

Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) is having a pretty good day the day it all begins — she’s leaving work early to celebrate her first wedding anniversary and has big plans for a quiet night in with her husband, an entomologist.  But as she’s headed out the door, her colleague (Liev Schreiber, who is great in this) stops her and asks her to talk to a Russian man who’s just come in claiming he’s a defector with information about a planned hit on the Russian president.  Salt’s had extensive experience with the Soviets, so she agrees to interview him, assuming he’s a fraud.  But all hell breaks loose when he announces he knows who’s planning the assassination — an American spy who’s really a Russian spy. Named Evelyn Salt.

Where it goes from there, I’ll leave for you to discover.  But I’ll tell you this much, I had a great time watching this flick.  The action is exciting and fun, the story kept me guessing, and everything tied up pretty neatly at the end, even while it left things wide, wide open for a sequel (which I hope they’ll follow-through on).  If you were a fan of Alias too, or you just like a good summer action flick, I think you’ll really enjoy this one.  Check it out!  And while it’s still in theaters, I say, if only so you can watch shit blow up enormously in front of your face.  Sweeeeeeet.  Recommended!

p.s. Chiwetel Ejiofor?  Mrrrrrrowl!

[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre:  Action/Spy
Cast:  Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Daniel Olbrychski, Andre Braugher

MOVIE: The Midnight Meat Train (2008)

August 7, 2010

For some strange reason, I thought this movie was a remake of a horror flick from the 1970’s.  And one I’d seen and liked, too.  But when I went looking for the original, I couldn’t find anything about it.  So, perhaps I made this up? Or perhaps I was thinking of the Clive Barker short story it’s based on?  Who knows.  And who really cares, more importantly.

The only reason that bit of information matters at all is it’s the reason I hadn’t gotten around to renting this one — horror remakes are 9.9 times out of 10 going to totally suck rocks, so what’s the hurry, right?  I might not have bothered with it at all, in fact, except for one thing:  Bradley Cooper.  In a horror movie?  Huh.  That sounds kinda weird.  I better check this out.  See how it goes.

Oddly enough, it went sort of well, at least in the Coop regard.  In part, I think, because he plays a guy named Leon who is a photojournalist, and not the maniac killer himself (that would’ve been beyond believability, if you ask me — there’s something too wussy about a guy named “Bradley” (or “Leon,” for that matter) for a role like that).

Leon’s job is for a tabloid newspaper in New York City, and he mostly takes his inspiration from a police radio — he hears about a crime and rushes to the scene to snap gory photographs of the victims, see?  Great front-page stuff for a cheesy tabloid paper.  It’s a living, though not the living Leon has always wanted.

When his art-snob buddy gets him an interview with famous gallery owner Susan Hoff (Brooke Shields), though, Leon thinks he may at last have gotten the big break he needs to get out of the lame tabloid biz and into the world of art photography.  He meets with Susan, and is both heartened by her reaction (“Meh, not bad.”) and frustrated by it (“But you need to dig in deeper.”).  To try to come up with a better portfolio — one more likely to impress her — Leon begins wandering around the city at night, photographing the people and places he encounters.

One night, he’s heading back to the subway when he comes across a young woman being tormented by some nasty bad guys.  He breaks up the fight and takes a few dramatic shots while he’s at it.  But the next morning, he’s horrified to discover the girl’s disappeared.  He saw her get on the subway, and then she was never seen again.

He takes his pictures to the police, who at first suspect him.  But when more people start to disappear, and Leon finds himself running into the same strange dude every night someone turns up missing, he starts to get suspicious the man has something to do with it (I can’t remember his actual name so let’s call the strange dude Bullet Tooth Tony — that’s how I always think of Vinnie Jones anyway).

The problem is, Bullet Tooth Tony’s also gotten suspicious that Leon’s on to him.  And the game is suddenly afoot.

The horror part comes in during the “disappearance” scenes.  It turns out Bullet Tooth Tony has the midnight train to himself every night, where he randomly lures people on board and then kills them.   Lots of gore in those scenes, naturally, though almost all of it is so over-the-top to the point it’s hard to feel too traumatized (except maybe for that tongue bit there at the end — yeeshers).

Since we know whodunnit from the start, the question becomes WHY is he dunning it, and, well, the answer is kind of unsatisfying and ridiculous.

It involves lizard people — ’nuff said.

On the whole, the movie itself is fairly ridiculous, though it’s also pretty  well-made and satisfyingly entertaining (you know, if you like these sorts of flicks).  Things get a bit boring there in the middle, but they pick up again in the final act. . . at least until the reptiles show up.

Cooper is always fun to watch, and he’s incredibly sexy with a camera around his neck.  Incredibly.  I’ve always had a weakness for photographers, I must say.  Can’t explain it, not going to bother trying to fight it, either.  Whether or not that makes this one worth a rental is entirely up to you.   I’ve had worse times.  I’ll end this review with a noncommittal shrug:  *shrug*.

[Netflix it | Buy it]

Genre:  Horror
Cast:  Bradley Cooper, Vinnie Jones, Leslie Bibb, Brooke Shields, Ted Raimi

BOOK: The Signal by Ron Carlson (2009)

August 6, 2010

This short novel is about a guy named Mack who, as the story opens, has just started putting his life back together after a few dramatically bad years.

It all started when, several years prior, Mack’s father died, leaving the family ranch to his son.  Married to his soul mate Vonnie and now in charge of his beloved father’s beloved ranch, Mack thinks he’s got it made, despite a nagging feeling that his father’s death has left everything “tilted, weird. . .”  This tilt begins to turn into a collapse  when Mack runs out of money and turns to crime to try to keep the ranch alive.  He soon finds himself running errands for a local band of bad guys, and when he finally lands himself in jail, Vonnie files for divorce and begins the work of moving on.  (Brutal, brutish work, that.)

It had been their autumn ritual for over a decade to go hiking, fishing, and camping together in the mountains of Wyoming.  When this year rolls around, just weeks after Mack’s release, Vonnie reluctantly agrees to join him for one last trip — to get some closure, heal some wounds, help them both go forward.

At first, things in the mountains go surprisingly well.  Though their conversations are strained at times, and occasionally tinged with the anger, bitterness, or regret that so often comes with breaking up, overall the couple seems to click back into a peaceful place.  They feel good together again.  A complicated happy, but a happy nonetheless.  There’s hope here, Mack thinks — maybe there’s some hope here after all.

The only problem is that Mack’s agreed to do one last thing for the bad guys and he’s trying desperately to keep Vonnie from finding out.  She becomes quickly suspicious, though, when he keeps checking his Blackberry for a signal — and then she becomes quickly enraged.  She packs her stuff and walks away, leaving Mack behind and alone again.

Right before this blow-out, though, the two had stumbled into the camp of some poachers.  It’s clear from their set-up that the poachers have been at it for months, a crime for which they’d serve some serious time.  Poachers are not known for their friendliness, alas, and when they discover they’ve been discovered, they snatch Vonnie off the trail, sending Mack into a frenzy.

Things get bad, and fast.  And then later, they get better.  You’ll see.  But while the plot of this novel is definitely good, it was really the writing that struck me the most.  It’s frequently spare, which somehow gives it a very masculine quality — in that way, it occasionally reminded me of Hemingway, which is not always a good thing, but which worked very well here.

Even better, sometimes Carlson turns a phrase like poetry, using only a few words to paint a picture worth a thousand.  Like when he describes Mack as feeling “like a man washed up on the beach after trying to drown himself.”   Or the sunlight at Valentine Lake turning from “gray to gold in one minute, like a sail filling with wind.”

The writing is not always as strong as I’m making it sound; there were a few places when it felt more clunky than stylistically spare.  But Carlson’s deft hand at description, both of human emotion and of nature’s beauty, matched with an intense storyline about a couple struggling with their respective battles of hearts v. brains, together resulted in a book I greatly enjoyed.

Definitely recommended, and I look forward to reading more by this author soon.

[FICTION]

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MOVIE: Dinner for Schmucks (2010)

August 4, 2010

First things first, I have a bone to pick with all the critics out there who have been slamming on this movie for being titled Dinner for Schmucks instead of Dinner for Idiots:

Look, dweebos, just because they use the word “idiot” in the film instead of the word “schmuck”  doesn’t mean Dinner for Idiots would’ve been a better title (though, Dinner for Dweebos has a nice alliterative ring to it, don’t you think?).  I mean, I don’t remember a single character using the phrase “gone with the wind” in Gone with the Wind, and I don’t remember ya’ll bitchin’ about that.  You would’ve preferred Frankly, My Dear? Or I’ll Never Go Hungry Again?  Let it go, people.  There are plenty of other things to complain about in regards to this movie (which is fun overall, but flawed — keep reading).  Focus on those.  The title’s fine.  IT IS FINE.

Second things second, is it just me, or is Bruce Greenwood the most insanely handsome man on the entire planet?  Good lord.  It’s almost hard to look at him, he’s THAT ridiculously gorgeous.  I have never seen the likes.  Humina humina humina.

Okay, title quibble, check!  Bruce Greenwood butt-kissing, check (p.s. call me!)!  Ready to talk about the movie itself in three, two.  . .

Dinner for Schmucks is about a young up-and-comer in the business world, Tim (Paul Rudd), who has been offered a huge promotion at work.  At first he’s excited, but his enthusiasm is tempered when it becomes clear the only way he’ll snag the upgrade is if he’s willing to play along with his boss’s bizarre dinner game, a game in which all the guests bring along the dumbest schmuck/idiot/dweebo they can find.  The person who finds the biggest dork wins the prize of praise from the boss, which is exactly what Tim needs to land the job.

The problem is, Tim and his girlfriend Julie find the entire premise of the dinner morally repulsive.  You invite losers to dinner just so you can make fun of them?  Ugh.  Any decent person would balk at that immediately, right?

And balk Tim does.  At first.  But it almost feels like fate when, driving home later that day, he accidentally hits a guy in the street who turns out to be the perfect schmuck for the job.  He’s Barry (Steve Carell), a taxidermist who specializes in making (adorable!) little scenes using dead mice.  Barry likes Tim immediately, and when Tim suddenly takes the leap and invites him to the boss’s dinner, Barry is so thrilled he shows up a day early.

Things go wrong, Tim hurts his back, Julie walks out on him, Tim’s long-lost stalker Darla shows up, and, worst of all, BARRY WON’T LEAVE.

Barry, feeling bad about his role in Julie’s walk-out, struggles to help Tim win her back, screwing up just about everything else he comes into contact with.  But he does it in such a sweet, authentically oblivious way that Tim can’t help but grow kind of fond of him.  Frustrated, sure.  But also fond.  Two wrongs don’t make a right, but apparently 900,000 of them come pretty close.

By the time the dinner party finally arrives, Tim’s had another change of heart; what happens after that, I’ll leave for you to discover on your own.

It’s a sweet movie at its core, and I still greatly enjoy Carell’s “adorable doofus” character, despite the fact it’s the only character he ever seems to play anymore.  I’m sure I’ll get tired of it some day, but that day is not today.  No sir.   Additionally, I liked both Zach Galifianakis, who doesn’t even need to open his mouth to make me lose it anymore (oh, that turtleneck thing! I. Was. Dying.), and also Jemaine Clement (from Flight of the Conchords), who plays a ridiculous, snooty artist with a thing for hooves.

THAT SAID, this movie has got some problems, most of which I chalk up to lazy scriptwriters. For one thing, the dinner itself is almost a negligible part of the story.  I think it needed to be a much longer scene, given the fact it’s the premise for the entire movie, and both my spouse and I felt like the writers completely blew it when it came time to invent the characters for the other “schmucks” in the group.   I mean, here was their chance to think up some truly creative, stunningly bizarre people and the best they could come up with was “dude with a really big moustache”?  Pretty lame.  For serious.

Also, there were several scenes in this movie that just didn’t need to be there.  I got impatient with the whole Darla the Stalker subplot, for one thing, and also the brunch scene with the Swedes.  Those elements weren’t funny enough to warrant as much screen time as they got, and I think the movie would’ve been a lot stronger if the writers had spent a little more time with the screenplay. It needed some hammering out.  Some moving around.  Some polish.  Some more dead-mouse dioramas.  And, of course, more, more, MORE. . . Bruce Greenwood.

Overall, however, if you’re looking for a silly flick for a sunny summer afternoon and you’re in the mood to laugh, you could do a lot worse (Dogs & Cats: Kitty Galore, anyone?).  Comedies aren’t typically my favorite genre because they can be so hit or miss for me, but I really did have fun with this one.  I’ll go ahead and declare it recommended:  Recommended!

[Prequeue at Netflix | View (hilarious) trailer]

Genre: Comedy
Cast:  Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Zach Galifianakis, Jemaine Clement, Stephanie Szostak, Bruce Greenwood, Larry Wilmore, Ron Livingston