Monday, September 7, 2009

Another One Bites the Dust (another roommate that is)

I don't think I've ever made a smart choice of roommates.

Of course, the very idea of having a roommate in the first place is one that reeks of desperation to begin with. Sharing a room is something that's FORCED upon you in childhood when your parents pop out too many kids for the space they have. It's bad enought when 2 kids are fighting for space - i can't even IMAGINE the overcrowded-prison conditions suffered by the children of Octomom, Jon & Kate or worst of all, the human breeeding farm run by the Duggars, who just announced the impending arrival of their 19TH spawn!

Really?! Are they living in pre-18th century conditions, when you had to fear the CROPS wouldn't get picked in time ahead of th. e big tornado? Are you having to have 19 kids because 15 of them are gonna get scurvy? My sister has 5 kids under 14 and most people think SHE"S crazy. I just want to have ONE kid so i drive in the carpool lane for the next 18 years.

So here I am as an adult, and you'd think if i hated sharing rooms with my brothers so much, I'd certainly steer clear of living with a STRANGER. But no, not only have i done so, but I've picked some of the worst human beings imaginable.

First i lived wiht Jack, a 55 year old guy who looked and talked like late-era, bloated Dan Aykroyd. he shared a house with his mother, which I should have realized was disquietingly like the film "Psycho" since she supposedly lived in the attic and yet i never actually SAW her.

I, meanwhile, rented a room in his basement that i should have realized was disquietingly like ANOTHER movie, "Alien," - because in a basement, just like in space, no one can har you scream.

And so for the sickening allure of cheap rent - $340 a month to be exact - I moved in and stayed in Jack's house for a year, even after I stumbled across his bizarre porn collection -which he offered to let me keep when i was in actuality hoping he would MOVE it. Who wants to know what gets their creepy old landlord off?

He also let me know that if his dog ever got a little TOO old and weak, he'd be dragging it down just outside my room and shooting it there since, and I quote! - "no one could hear the gun go off in here." Before assuring me, of course, that he'd only commit the hideous act while i was at work and that he wouldn't ask me to help clean up - that is, unless I wanted to work a little off the rent next month.

Let's just say I never prayed so hard for a dog's health in my life. I managed to make it out ahead of the dog, but the friends who helped me move back out said they were surprised i was leaving in the pickup instead of the back an ambulance or a hearse.

And so since then, I've spent a year accidentally living in the gayest neighborhood in Chicago - I was from Arkansas, so how was I to know that Boy's Town wasn't another branch of the famed Catholic boys' orphanage?

I've also lived with a friend named Pedro who was kind of a fundamentalist Christian. He frequently picked random moments to whip out his Bible and rail against homsexuality, even as my GIRLFRIEND was sitting on my LAP. Yet I can't count the number of times I came home early to find him watching a sweaty Russell Crowe or Mel gibson grappling with OTHER sweaty guys in shorts, sandals and skirts in "Gladiator" and "Braveheart." Let's just say that when I moved on, Pedro wound up finding a new male roommate - his workout partner from his favorite gym - Bally's in Boys Town. They've been "roomies" for 7 years now and have a couple of poodles they like to dress in cute outfits. I'm not sure if Pedro's still whipping out his Bible as often.

And here in LA, I've harbored an illegal-alien Brit who wound up deported, and a 26 year old Long Island guy named Bobby who looked and acted like Joey from "Friends," complete with a different girl every weekend. And then of cours, there was the guy named Bill who I knew as a "regular" from the Barnes & Noble I worked at and needed a place to stay for a day, then two days, then a week while awaitng assignment to a new halfway house and who revealed on his 4th night that he'd killed a man once. It was just manslaughter - hell, involuntary even! And he'd done all his time, so don't worry!

Most people would have stopped by then, but I'm a weekly newspaper reporter and a standup comic, so I'm always too broke to be discriminating. But this time I've finally learned my lesson. I walked in my apartment earlier than usual one night six weeks ago to hear a whacking noise that sounded like something David Carradine would be involved with. I kept hearing this the next three nights out of the dark and out of my rooommate Sal's closed room. Sal was another fundamentalist - a friend told me he was "cool" and that was the extent of my reference check -
so I kept telling myself he COULDN"T be a perv - completely ignoring the fact that often the biggest weirdos are the biggest judgers. Jimmy Swaggart or Ted Haggard, anyone?

So finally I had a chance to see what happened on that Saturdy morning, when his door drifted open. I tiptoed into the kitchen through the corner of his room, only to find him...clothed, thankfully, but furiously, rapidly whacking his shaved head with the open palm of his hand!

I snuck back out and it kept going: WHACK! WHACK! WHACK! And on the one hand I thought, what do I DO?! And on the other remembered he didn't ever officially sign onto the lease. I had just turned 38 and decided if I wanted to live to 39, or ever convince a girl to come upstairs to my place again, it was time for him to go and for me to live on my own.

So I hid all hte knives, sharp objects, meat mallets, hammers and other tools in the place and asked him to move. And amazingly, he did. Sure it sucks to be paying another $300 a month until my lease runs out, but as Mastercard commercials like to say, Some things - like privacy and peace of mind - are priceless.

Friday, September 4, 2009

"EXTRACT"ing Laughs Is Easy

“Extract”-ing laughs is easy
Mike Judge’s new comedy takes a sharp satirical look at middle-class America
By Carl Kozlowski

Joel is just an average guy, a quiet yet well-to-do American living in a small town who happens to own a flavor-extract company. He’d like to sell the plant, retire early and get back to a healthier sex life with his bored, put-upon wife.

But just as he seems prepared to make a deal with food giant General Mills to sell the plant for good, a freak accident occurs inside his plant that lops off one of a long-time employee’s testicles. The other is hanging by a thread, a metaphor that is apt for Joel’s life as it suddenly spirals out of control via a surreal round-robin of relationships that come unhinged and turn his life upside-down in the new comedy film “Extract.”

Written and directed by Mike Judge, who has chronicled the modern everyman’s life in the long-running and brilliant Fox cartoon “King of the Hill” as well as in the short-running yet brilliant 1999 film “Office Space,” “Extract” takes a sharp-eyed and sharp-tongued look at middle-class values in Middle America. But once again, Judge proves that he possesses a true love for the common, working-class Joe that translates into comedy that uplifts rather than demeans the lives of its characters.

And what characters they are, with Jason Bateman and Kristin Wiig as the lead couple; the gorgeous Mila Kunis playing Cindy, a con-artist whose ever-shifting false love interests enable her to sleep her way to the top of the bottom of the American ladder of success; Ben Affleck, in a hilarious turn as a mullet-sporting bartender named Dean, who can find a way to make any of his incredibly sleazy schemes sound perfectly moral; and Clifton Collins, Jr. as Step, the slow-witted warehouse worker whose twisted testicular travails drive the plot forward. Add in Dustin Milligan in a star-making performance as an incredibly dense aspiring gigolo named Brad, and you’ve got a cast of fresh faces and actors reinventing their personas, with the resulting effect being that Judge’s best lines aren’t just quotable, but rooted in a strong sense of realism turned askew.

“Extract” marks a welcome return to form for Judge, who spent the decade following “Office Space” immersed in television work and writing-directing the ambitious but highly uneven film satire “Idiocracy” in 2006. After seeing that passion project - in which an average American soldier wakes up 500 years in the future after an experiment goes awry and discovers he’s now the smartest man in the country – trapped on the Fox studio shelf for more than two years before getting literally dumped into a handful of theaters with no ad campaign to support it, Judge has clearly decided to return to the working-class characters that have made him a zillionaire already.

This time, though, Judge has improved his storytelling from the often-sketchy plotting of “Office Space,” making every scene an essential piece in an ever-more-complicated puzzle of riotous shenanigans. The overall effect matches the powerhouse effect of my favorite comedy of 2008, the Coen Brothers’ “Burn After Reading,” due to its whiplash pacing, utterly amoral and unpredictable characters and twisted dialogue.
Usually a film’s release on Labor Day weekend suggests that it’s a forgettable failure, with a merciful death assured amid the fading glow of summer box office expectations. Thankfully, that isn’t the case with “Extract,” which deserves a long life in the theaters before its inevitable union with Judge’s other works as comedy staples to be quoted by generations to come.


Summer’s ‘Greatest’ movie?
With “World’s Greatest Dad,” Robin Williams turns in one of his career best
By Carl Kozlowski

Some guys never seem to catch a break in life. Lance Clayton is one of them.

In “World’s Greatest Dad,” the recently-released, extremely dark and sometimes perverse new comedy from writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait (we know, we’re just as surprised as you), Clayton is the epitome of the put-upon, browbeaten modern middle-class American man. He’s a high-school poetry teacher with hardly any students, a girlfriend who’s afraid to be seen in public with him, and a son named Kyle (played with an amazing level of scorn by Daryl Sabara) who surely must rank as the foulest, most awful teenager in the history of movies.

Lance does have dreams of greatness, however. In fact, he’s in the middle of sending off his fifth novel for agent consideration, even though he’s never been published before. But ** SPOILER ALERT ** one night, after finding his son dead from a bout of autoerotic asphyxiation that occurred while watching porn on this computer, Lance suddenly feels a unique burst of inspiration: in order to cover up the shame of his son’s actual cause of death, he moves Kyle’s body, re-hangs him in his closet and writes the perfect suicide note so that the policeman who finds him will think that it was just another, normal teenage suicide.

But when the note is leaked to his high school newspaper, Kyle is quickly embraced as a misunderstood saint rather than the most misanthropic monster in the building. And with a newfound discovery of his writing’s potential for power, Lance quickly builds lie upon lie, creating an entire book of Kyle’s faux “journals” and watching his words take flight among all of Kyle’s newfound “fans.” ** END SPOILER **

With “Dad,” which caused a sensation last January at the Sundance Film Festival, Goldthwait accomplishes several remarkable feats. He manages to take a detestable subject, death by autoerotic asphyxiation, and still deal with it in a way that won’t drive people from the theater.

He also pulls out a stunning performance from Williams that easily ranks among the Oscar-winner’s career best. Conveying everything from drudgery to wild-eyed glee with a dollop of perfectly placed tragedy in between, Williams shows that when he wants to apply himself, he’s still one of the most daring and unpredictable actors in the business.

Goldthwait manages not only to completely reinvent his image from its prior heyday as a B-grade, one-note comedic weirdo with a screechy voice and claim a spot as an astute observer of modern American life whose best qualities easily fit in the canon of the character-based classic comedies of the late, great writer-director Hal Ashby.

But most important of all, Goldthwait has created a film comedy that offers plenty of fodder for deeper consideration. For even as Lance Clayton manages to deify his son through the falsely glowing tribute of a suicide note, the movie quietly yet firmly points the finger at each and every audience member as well – asking them if they want to laugh or cry, believe or disbelieve in Kyle’s sudden appearance of saintliness.

While “World’s Greatest Dad” was shot last year in Seattle and debuted in January, its amazingly prescient script addresses a question that all of America should be asking in a summer overshadowed by the deaths of two controversial American icons, Michael Jackson and Teddy Kennedy: Just because someone with a vile or highly questionable past dies, does that suddenly mean we have to make them a saint?
Like any great film, “World’s Greatest Dad” doesn’t have all the answers, but at least it’s asking the right questions.


On Sept. 8, President Barack Obama will attempt to address all the nation’s schoolchildren with an unprecedented address delivered live over CSPAN and on the White House website. No doubt, NBC, ABC, CBS, MSNBC, CNBC and CNN will all carry it as well. The speech has drawn controversy because concerned parents have noted that no one has explained what the president intends to say to the children.

Yet here, in an exclusive advance coup of epic proportions, Big Hollywood has received an internal, top-secret copy of that speech. It reads as follows:

Hey kids,

What’s up.

I’m speaking to you, the nation’s children, today because nobody else will listen to me anymore. I also have come to realize that you are my only hope, as those of you in kindergarten through the third grades are the only Americans left lacking in the cognitive skills necessary to see through my lies, deceit and trickery.

And don’t complain about having to watch me, either. I know how much you hate turning on the television at home and seeing me on 24/7 with my friends Brian Williams, Keith Olbermann, and especially Chris Matthews, who kinda freaks me out a bit because he says I send chills up his legs whenever I talk. I’m sure some of you in high school know what it’s like to be weirded out by the creepy guy who likes you a little bit more than you like him back. But we’ll save that for my upcoming mandatory sex-ed, contraceptive fitting and free abortions program next month. Right now, just be glad you’re getting to watch me instead of your chemistry teacher. You’re not gonna have to learn a damn thing from me.

You see, I want to talk to you today about hard work and the need to use it in order to achieve your dreams. It’s important to have dreams – I’ve come to realize that in these last few weeks as I found no one believes a word I say and I started losing sleep, wondering what the hell I’m going to do now. So I’m not sleeping enough, my REM counts are low and some people tell me I’m starting to hallucinate – such as when I still claim that I’m going to be able to pass significant health care legislation before Christmas.

A milder form of my delusion comes in the idea that I’m going to accomplish anything at all, now that my approval rating is the lowest of any first-year president we’ve ever had in this country. Wait, that’s a history lesson, but one I want you to forget. (Pause) Who’s running this teleprompter anyway?!

Moving on, I want to share with each of you the lessons I’ve learned in the past eight months as your president.

First, you really can only fool some of the people some of the time. I have no business being your president, or hell, even a senator. But my craven need for ambition meant that I believed -- with my glowing smile, smooth complexion and adorably big ears --that it didn’t matter that I wanted to be leader of the free world while having less relevant job experience than it takes to manage a Circuit City store. And now, Americans have put down the colorful pictures of me – you like colorful pictures, don’t you?! I do!! Just wait for my national coloring contest to help me get the shiny new posters to fool your mommies and daddies with.

Second, you break it, you buy it. I had no idea that after I bought my way into the presidency, I’d actually be expected to accomplish anything of relevance. I thought everything would be a cakewalk, like when you have two weeks’ notice on the next really big test and took the time to prepare. Well, I didn’t prepare. I just came out of nowhere, got elected in Illinois, then jumped into the US Senate when no one was looking, skipped more than 100 votes while I was senator and then said hey look at me! I wanna be president!” even before I finished one-third of my term. It might be fun to soar like an eagle, but it’s not fun when people learn you’re really a turkey.

And finally, I want to say that you should be careful what you want, because you just might get it. I said I wanted to be president, and thanks to GE and NBC and CBS and ABC and CNN – all those friendly-sounding letter combinations from our alphabet! – I got just what I wanted. But now that I see that there’s actual pressure in the job and people don’t like me anymore, I wish I had just wanted to be a cowboy. Or a fireman.

Instead of just a clown.

Thanks for listening, boys and girls. Now let’s all say the new Pledge of Allegiance!

I pledge Allegiance to Barack Obama
Even more than my daddy and momma
And to the earth on which we stand
And to give our enemies whatever concessions we can
One world
Under Barack
With welfare and health care for all

Very good, boys and girls!
Until the next time I have an insecure need for attention, bye-bye!