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The Campaign (2012)

by Steve Habrat

Finally, a summer comedy worth laughing hard about! Funnyguys Will Farrell and Zach Galifianakis team up for a short but (really) sweet political satire in The Campaign, cleverly released just three short months before the presidential election, right in the thick of battle for the White House. Pitting these two buffoons against each other is comedic gold and under the direction of Jay Roach, the film manages to have a soft side that really made me fall for it despite the consistent string of jaw dropping obscenities and playground tomfoolery. A step in the right direction for both of these titans of comedy, The Campaign refuses to play dumb like the two candidates duking it out at the heart of the film. As Roach guides things along, The Campaign evolves into a witty prod of the absurdities of a political race, at times feeling a little too real despite the all the childish behavior. The Campaign also comes as a major relief because it was released just in the nick of time to make up for the sorry state of funnies in 2012. Any film that has a tiny baby taking one in the kisser by Mr. Farrell runs off with my vote.

After leaving a sexually explicit message on an innocent family’s answering machine, long-term democratic Congressman Cam Brady (Played by Will Farrell) finds himself in hot water with the public. Since his careless slip has occurred right before the upcoming election, two wealthy and corrupt CEOs (Played by John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd) see a way to finally push clueless Cam out of office and use the election as part of a plan to profit from shady deals that they have made with the Chinese. They set their sights on the equally clueless Marty Huggins (Played by Zach Galifianakis), the sensitive tourism director for their small town. Backed by a no-nonsense campaign manager named Tim Wattley (Played by Dylan McDermott), the conservative Marty has to get aggressive against the ruthless Brady fast in order to win over the public’s vote. Things start out civil but take a turn for the disastrous when the two candidates cross paths, locking them in a never ending game of tug of war that finds them resorting to childish tricks and putdowns to win the election. May the best comedian win!

While it is business as usual for both Farrell and Galifianakis, it is business that is right at home in The Campaign. Here, Farrell is great as an idiotic man-child who doesn’t seem to understand the severity of his behavior and Galifiankis is on point with his lisping naivety that just never clicked for me in The Hangover. You’ll feel for poor Marty when he first meets with cold-hearted Cam at a brunch that finds Cam going for the throat of his opponent. The jabs are hysterical, one of the best coming from Cam who accuses Marty of being a communist because he owns (and adores) two pugs. When Marty realizes that the gloves need to come off and the brass knuckles need to be put on, the sweet natured Marty dishes out his fair share of insults. While we expect this abrasive behavior from Cam, it begins to be a bit painful to see Marty resorting to the same style of politics. Marty becomes almost monstrous in his attacks at Cam, the lowest being his accusations that Cam is a lousy father (you have to see it to believe it). Roach and his screenwriters, Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell, avoid repetition by revealing the emotional bruises that are left by each insult hurled, something I was pleasantly surprised with. It really allows The Campaign to have it both ways, raunchy gonzo comedy for those looking for an escapist laugh and substantial satire for those who like their chuckles with a side of intellect.

While the big name leads keep things spunky for the eighty-five minute runtime, the supporting comics all have their moments too. It was nice to see Lithgow and Aykroyd really playing it up as two slimy suits that warn that money and big business control the election. It is said with a wink in all the theatrical madness but it coldly cuts through you to the point where you half suspect your vote doesn’t make a bit of difference in the real world. Brian Cox as Marty’s disappointed father who enjoys cocaine and multiple afternoon cocktails was also a welcome presence even if he does spend much of the film exasperated with Marty. McDermott almost steals the show with his domineering Tim, the campaign manager from Hell. When he steps on the scene and begins tinkering with Marty’s life, things really get fun. He overshadows the rather forgettable Jason Sudeikis as Mitch, Cam’s close friend and campaign manager. I’ve never been particularly smitten with his brand of comedy and he didn’t really do anything out of the ordinary to really win me over here. Katherine LaNasa has strong presence as Cam’s fiendish wife Rose, who gladly accepts big checks to stick by her unfaithful man. Rounding out the supporters is Sarah Baker as Marty’s bashful wife Mitzi, a gal who weakens in the knees for both Drew Carrey and Cam. 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer also stops by in a small cameo that ends up being one of the funniest sequences in the entire film. I’d love to see him get his own project one day but I have a gut feeling that too much of him could be a bad thing.

After the disappointing Dictator, the revolting That’s My Boy, lumpy Ted, and lackluster Watch, The Campaign is an absolutely glowing adult comedy despite the handful of flaws that can be found throughout. There are a few points where Farrell flies wildly off the rails, taking things further than he needed to and killing the moment. It happens only a few times and you quickly forget about it. Farrell’s problem is that he gets on a role and begins to run the joke into the ground but I guess it comes with adlibbing. There is more emphasis put on him in the middle section of the film while Galifianakis twiddles his thumbs in the corner and patiently waits for his turn. I’d say that Galifianakis gets the upper hand through a good majority of The Campaign but Farrell is always a very close second, eager to not be completely outdone. It just boils down to range and there is no question that Galifianakis has Farrell there. I also found the side plot involving those slippery CEOs to be thinly written and completely overlooked during the middle of the film. I can confidently say that you have not seen all the funniest moments in the laugh-out-loud trailer that has been running all summer long and there will be more than a few jokes that linger once the film has left the theater. Overall, The Campaign has more than a few surprises up its sleeve and the fact that it actually sends you away thinking is a major positive. You won’t simply be swapping your favorite one-liners with your buddies and wiping away tears of laughter from Farrell’s baby punch heard round the world.

Grade: B+

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

by Will Nepper

If you’d have told me a decade ago that there was any banana juice left in the Planet of the Apes franchise, I’d have expected you meant it in a straight-to-video capacity. Tim Burton’s Apes — just like his Alice and Willy Wonka — seemed to reflect a filmmaker with little understanding of what made the source material great. (And when I apply the adjective “great” to anything PotA-related, I don’t mean it so much as in a “cinematic-achievement” way, as I do a “Tony-the-Tiger” way.)

The PotA series is beloved by many but not because its all that special. It’s a sci-fi movie that was in the right place at the right time. Its effects were state-of-the-art and fairly convincing. (I mean, if man evolved halfway back to ape … I could see it looking like that I guess.)

Rise of the Planet of the Apes may represent the first shot of dignity the series has ever been allowed. It’s a well-acted, well-structured prequel that establishes a loose origin story for a series that actually deserves one. (How did those apes get so smart anyway?)

James Franco looks a little bored as some top-shelf genetic medical mad scientist-lite type of guy who has invented what is supposed to be the “cure to Alzheimer’s” (or just “The Cure” in the original trailer). When tested on apes they find that its brain-building properties turn chimps into little cheeping Steven Hawkings! Cool! –wait! Not cool! That’s how the Statue of Liberty got buried!

When things go to shit in the test-monkeys-to-cure-Alzheimer’s wing of Franco’s Mega-Medical-Corp employer, he finds himself adopting Caesar, the first recipient of the AMAZING only-temporarily-cures-Alzheimer’s-but-makes-monkeys-rule-the-Earth serum.

Franco is impressed with Caesar’s ability to communicate, emote, and make it okay to like CGI again (and let’s not forget how uh-dor-a-bullll and natural he looks in kids’ clothes!) that he decides to bring the hairy kid home to meet Dad (John Lithgow, underplaying it for as change) who — and you may be one step ahead of me here — happens to have Alzheimer’s.

But as much as Franco seems to love living with his genetically-altered monkey-old-man sitcom-ready duo, his genetic animal specialist or whatever girlfriend has the good sense to mention that this situation might be on a collision course with an action-packed last reel. After an unfortunate incident in which Caesar damn near takes Franco’s neighbor apart he’s sent away to an ape … storage … facility? … or Hell Zoo? … or some Animal Planet version of the Truman Show? I don’t know…it’s been a few weeks since I screened the movie.

When Caesar sees that he’s rejected by both human and ape alike, he makes like Charlie Bronson and takes the law(s of nature) into his own hands. After making friends with a gorilla and an orangutan, he breaks out, steals the secret formula and blesses all of his monkey pad-mates with the gift of accelerated evolution. You can guess what happens next? Or maybe you can’t — either way, Rise is worth your time.

Its story is constructed with the dramatic heft found in a lot of late 70s sci-fi without sacrificing the stuff that makes you want to see a PotA movie, like battles and clumsy sociological subtext.

Fans of any of the Apes’ earlier incarnations with a keen eye are endlessly rewarded with references, in-jokes and meaningful connections. For a broad example, Rise establishes the Gorilla-as-militant, orangutan-as-thinker, chimps-as-sensitive-and-kind dynamic that runs consistently through all Ape endeavors.

Some of the dialogue is clunky and as much as I usually enjoy James Franco (really!), I didn’t buy him in Rise. It kinda seemed like hiring Cheech Marin to play Albert Schweitzer. Beyond that though, I don’t have many bad things to say about Rise. It represents the best that the science fiction genre has to offer; the binding together of known science and fantasy in a way that takes hold of the imagination. Add to that what may be the most convincing digitally-rendered characters I’ve ever seen (How about that motion-capture technology? Amiright?), an impressive (if not completely absurd) action finale, and it makes sense that Rise has become the sleeper hit of a summer stuffed with crap you couldn’t pay me to see…and Captain America. Grade: B