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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Drama > Documentary > Fantasy > French > Surrealism > Hicksploitation > American: The Bill Hicks Story (2011/BBC Blu-ray + DVD) + HappyThankYouMorePlease (2009/Anchor Bay Blu-ray) + Just Go With It (2011/Sony Blu-ray + DVD) + Passion Play (2011/Image Blu-ray) + Ricky (200

American: The Bill Hicks Story (2011/BBC Blu-ray + DVD) + HappyThankYouMorePlease (2009/Anchor Bay Blu-ray) + Just Go With It (2011/Sony Blu-ray + DVD) + Passion Play (2011/Image Blu-ray) + Ricky (2008/IFC/MPI DVD) + Rubber (2010/Magnolia/MagNet Blu-ray) + White Lightnin’ (2008/IFC/MPI DVD)


Picture: C+ & C/B-/B- & C+/B-/C/B-/C-     Sound: C+/B-/B & B-/B-/B-/B-/C+     Extras: C+/C/C-/C-/C-/C-/C-     Films: C+/C/C-/C+/C/C-/C-



Comedy takes many forms and sometimes it crosses over into surrealism and politics.  Here is a recent sampling of releases that demonstrate this….



We start with a documentary about a comedian who passed away long before his time.  American: The Bill Hicks Story (2011), who I vaguely remember.  An unconventional, surreal comedian, he told wild jokes, challenging jokes and like Jonathan Winters, became many characters instead of just impersonating them.  His later legacy was standing up against the first Bush Administration during the first Gulf War when many remained silent and for this, he is highly respected today.  He was talented, but I never found him outright funny, but he certainly was bold.


This program goes deep into his past, lays out a solid biography of the man and shows what he managed to accomplish.  My only problem with the overall work is that it assumes we know him and that we all find him very funny, so it tends to coast on this when it could have been showing, asking and saying more about him.  Still, it is a good work worth a look.  Extras include a booklet inside the respective format cases with nice illustrations and text about the program, while both discs offers a half-hour of additional vintage performances, 3 hours of extended interviews, Bill’s personal audio journal, deleted/alternate scenes, alternate animation sequence, trailers, audience reactions, Austin SXSW Panel with Bill’s friends, Dominion tour, festival footage in the U.K. & U.S. with the Hicks Family, the family visiting Abbey Road, U.K. 15th Anniversary tribute, comedy school, Dwight in London, Making of Arizona Bay and the ranch.


Josh Radnor’s HappyThankYouMorePlease (2009) is set in New York and though it is not quite another tired mumblecore indie release, the notsofunny tale of a man (Radnor, who has some talent) who finds a quiet young pre-teen boy on the subway and tries to help him.  You can suspend disbelief somewhat, but this runs on longer than believability allows.  Then there are his other adult friends, including a potential new female friend who sings (Kate Mara), no luck with men Annie (Malin Akerman) and a couple (Zoë Kazan and Pablo Schreiber) who cannot decide if they can stay together and if so, where to settle down.


There are some good ideas and moments here, but besides seeing some of this before and having some appealing actors, the scenes too often look like they are reciting dialogue form the script and trying to look happy doing it at the cost of naturalism.  If this were a hit, I could see this aspect being spoofed.  Of course, the city is not enough of a character, something Radnor should know from Woody Allen’s best work.  Then there is the comedy, which is better than a sitcom, but hardly what I would call funny.  We’ll see what Radnor does next, but this is very uneven.


Extras include Deleted Scenes, featurette about the music with Jaymay and feature length audio commentary that is not bad with Radnor and Producer Jesse Hara.


Adam Sandler is back and he has brought Jennifer Aniston with him in Dennis Dugan’s new non-comedy that wishes it were: Just Go With It (2011), which no one should.  The leads have not been funny in years and together, somehow cancel out each other in this idiot plot piece about Sandler due to get married to another woman, but turning to Aniston to have her pretend to be his ex-wife to cover for one of his many dumb lies.  Allan Loeb & Timothy Dowling’s screenplay adaptation of a French play is awful and this might have been a total disaster, but something funny happens almost by accident and stops this from being the total; bomb it would have been otherwise.


Dave Matthews and Nicole Kidman turn up as a snobby couple and her character knows Aniston’s, so Aniston has Sandler pretend to be her current husband as not to be outdone and the film becomes entertaining by accident; typical of ALL Sandler films when they work at all once every 5 -7 years or so.  Matthews can act and Kidman is a riot never faltering as the wacky snob who seems to have it all.  If you must see this, know you will not go into a total coma.


The Blu-ray has exclusive extras including 11 minutes of additional Deleted Scenes, 9 featurettes, BD Live interactivity and movieIQ interactivity, while both format versions (including DVD) has other Deleted Scenes, Filmmaker/Cast commentaries, 3 featurettes and Laughter Is Contagious – Blooper Reel.


Mitch Glazer’s Passion Play (2011) could have been a comedy and has comic possibilities, even with Bill Murray showing up, but any comedy is very incidental despite the film’s situation.  Mickey Rourke is a has-been Jazz musician who goes to the circus one day and discovers a very beautiful woman (Megan Fox) there who he is attracted to, but that becomes something more when he discovers she has wings like a bird!


Despite problems with the men running the circus, including its insane leader (Rhys Ifans), he escapes and helps her.  Then he makes a mistake and turns to a tough gangster type (Murray, in an amazing performance where he remarkably out-acts Rourke (which is NOT easy) and everyone else) to help her and him by offering her to him for a cut of profits, which spectacularly backfires when this very powerful man becomes more obsessed with her than expected.


The best dramatic film on the list, I liked the idea that it was just so different, had some interesting performances (Kelly Lynch, who reunites with Rourke two decades after working with Michael Cimino on his Desperate Hours remake) and ideas it actually knows what to do with.  Even Fox is good here.  Comedy is replaced with irony often, yet comedy haunts this work in some odd way and you should see it to see for yourself.

Francois Ozon also tries a tale of a human with wings in Ricky (2008), a French film that could have moved into many directions.  The title character is a newborn child, so is it Satanic?  Are we in for another Rosemary’s Baby, Omen or It’s Alive?  Will this be a “feel-good” film?  Well, Ozon’s screenplay does not deliver a supernatural thriller, which is wise considering how ineffective his thriller Swimming Pool was.  But what we do get is a doodling tale that is supposed to be funny somehow and never is.  It is not a sitcom or outright silly, but the attempts to do anything joyous and profound never add up and despite some good actors (including Sergi Lopez and Alexandra Lamy) just don’t work and it is an amusing curio at best.  I just did not care for it and found it forgettable.  A trailer is the only extra.


Quentin Dupieux also tries something profound and funny with Rubber (2010) which is almost supernatural in this goofy tale about a car tire that awakens and possesses telekinetic powers!  No kidding.  And the tire somehow has the name Robert, for whatever reason.  After a dumb opening dialogue that gets the color of E.T. wrong (don’t ask), the tire comes to life and gets on a roll.  Too bad this film does not.


This is just way too silly and pointless to work and cannot deiced if the tire is a menace or just an amusement, so it is like watching Last Action Hero (though is anything really that bad?) or the Beavis & Butt-Head episode where Beavis rolls all over the place in a tire, which seems like a Fellini exercise versus this run-on dud.  Extras include a Theatrical Trailer, four interview pieces, camera tests for the tire and HDNet episode promoting it.


Finally we have Dominic Murphy’s White Lightnin’ (2008), a story about Jesse White (Edward Hogg), a great dancer who also became a criminal and legend dubbed The Dancing Outlaw.  His father was an all-time great dancer, but Jesse could not stop getting into trouble and became a criminal after going from institution to institution with no one to reach out to help him or get him on a better path.  While the performances (including some bold work by Carrie Fisher) are good, the film, like its camera style and editing, is all over the place and would qualify (for better and worse, depending on how you see it) as a Hicksploitation film.  I just found it too clichéd and predictable to recommend.  A trailer is the only extra.



The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image on American is a culmination of new HD and older analog video footage for the most part, with some stills thrown in that is edited well enough, but pulls down the picture quality as expected for a documentary of this kind.  The anamorphically enhanced DVD is even more watered down.  The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image on Just and Rubber fare a little better with a more consistent presentation, but they too have softness and detail limits.  The anamorphically enhanced Just DVD is watered down and Video Black weak by comparison.  The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image on Happy and Passion manage to be as good, but also have similar problems.


The anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image on Ricky is a very weak presentation with blown-out Video White, stylizing that backfires and degraded imaging to accommodate the digital effects.  The anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image on Lightnin’ is the worst on the list with purposely degraded images, tired shaky camerawork and other flaws on purpose that become obnoxious very quickly and add to the clichés.


The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless 5.1 mixes on al the Blu-rays (save Dolby True HD 5.1 on Happy) vary with Just having the warmest presentation and best soundfield of all the releases (though the Dolby Digital 5.1 on the DVD version is no match), while American is the weakest and very, very narrowly better than the Dolby Digital 5.1 on the DVD version of that release, but that is to be expected considering there is more monophonic and simple stereo archival audio than any of the other titles.  The DTS-MA on Passion and Rubber are about evenly matched, good recordings, if not perfect soundfields.  The Dolby True HD 5.1 on Happy is well recorded and not bad for a low budget production, but the dialogue-based mix is more in the center channel than I would have liked.  That leaves the Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes on Ricky (French and with some soundfield) and Rubber, the later of which is as choppy and sporadic as the image, so expect a broken soundfield and spaces of monophonic sound.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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