MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

WILMINGTON ON MOVIES: Hall Pass, I Am Number Four, Certifiably Jonathan, Poetry

Hall Pass (One and a Half Stars)
U. S.: Bobby and Peter Farrelly

Hall Pass, the first Farrelly Brothers comedy since they messed up The Heartbreak Kid four years ago, is a forgettable, mostly bad movie about two horny forty-something married guys named Fred and Rick (played by Jason Sudeikis and, it seems, Owen Wilson), who, thanks to the amazing tolerance of their wives, Maggie (Jenna Fischer) and Grace (Christina Applegate), and the questionable advice of the wives’ therapist Dr. Lucy (Joy Behar), get a spouse-approved “Hall Pass” to go out and make whoopee with other women for a week.

That sounds pretty unlikely to begin with, and even unpalatbale, even if it comes with an official, womanly seal of approval from TV’s Ms. Behar. But their orgy turns into a fiasco. Rick and Fred discover that they don’t know how to pick up chicks or swing any more, if they ever did. (Rick confesses to monogamy; Fred has been perfecting the art of the disguised ogle and how to masturbate in minivans.)

They give it a shot anyway. Suckers. Their ice-breaker lines are losers (“You must be from Ireland, because my penis is Dublin.”) Their timing is off. Their strategy and presentation are ludicrous.


They try to score at the local Applebee’s, and wind up stuffing themselves. And when they do find a willing woman, like the awesome café waitress Leigh (Nicky Whelan) or the hot-to-trot baby-sitter Paige (Alexandra Daddario), or whomever, she either gets a diarrhea attack (this is Farrelly humor, remember), or they get guilt pangs and back out, or a psycho deejay boyfriend (Derek Waters) shows up, murder in mind.

Meanwhile Maggie and Grace, holed up at a beach house in Cape Cod, are pursued by the studs of a minor league baseball team, or could be if they wanted to. Author’s message: These guys should have stayed home, been good husbands, stopped ogling and jacking off and dreaming about café waitresses, and instead watched movies like Hall Pass for diversion on their big-screen TVs.


So much for Joy Behar as a sex therapist. So much for that den of iniquity, Applebee‘s Retreat. So much for the Farrelly Brothers and their gross-out comedy throne, now teetering and tittering over Apatow-Land. Sesame Street could probably make and air a better gross out comedy than this. (“Flipping the Big Bird?”)

Anyway, when I say forgettable, I mean forgettable. I’ve actually forgotten the whole movie, and I had to struggle to write this synopsis. To elucidate: I know there was a Wilson brother in Hall Pass, but was it Owen or Luke? Or was it Brian, Dennis or Carl? (Yeah, I know, two of them are dead. But which two?) And which actress had diarrhea? Was this movie‘s original title maybe “I Am Number Two?“ (See below) Didn’t Ben Stiller do a cameo as an Applebee‘s waiter? Or was that Adam Sandler?

Maybe I just mean Hall Pass should be forgettable. Possibly, I just don’t want to remember this damned movie. It’s a good show to forget even before you see it, especially before you see it.

I’d be justified. The show looks bad, sounds bad, plays bad, is bad. The Farrellys’ happily empty-headed Dumb and Dumber made you laugh. Their magnum dopus There’s Something About Mary made you laugh. Hall Pass just makes you think about maybe laughing and otherwise makes you feel dumb. (And eventually, dumber.) The cinematography is scrappy. The writing is fuzzier. The production is feeble. I’d even criticize the key grips. (Why shouldn‘t they share the blame?) But I‘ve forgotten what they do.

In fact, the whole premise of Hall Pass is bad. A comedy about infidelity where the wives give their consent to the hanky-panky has two strikes against it to begin with. How can you sympathize with wives like that — even if they did get the go-ahead from Joy?  (Or Oprah?) These wives are therapy-debauched doormats. These guys are dim-witted, dickless, dick-head doofusses. The women they’re chasing are ridiculous. (Or ri-donk-ulous.)

The movie makes you appreciate stuff like Just Go With It. The Farrelly Brothers would have been better off forgetting the whole obnoxious idea and just making another gross-out adultery (or would-be adultery) comedy without the wives‘-consent twist. Better than this, they should have made “Kingpin Strikes Again.“ Or “There’s Something about Mary’s Daughter.” Or taken back their franchise with or “Dumb and Dumberer 2: The Dumbest.“ Or even taking another whack at “The Heartbreak Kid.” (How about “Beyond the Valley of the Heartbreak Kids?“ ) Better anything than this.

Oh yeah, now I remember. The Hall Pass Wilson brother is Owen Wilson. Luke was the Wilson ogling along with Will Ferrell in Old School. Brian wrote “Good Vibrations.“ Dennis was the drummer; Carl sang the high parts.

Owen has been all over the map recently, including some places he shouldn’t have gone near. But he might have been better off making “Bottle Rocket 2,” with Luke and their buddy Wes. Or making his rock CD debut with “Wouldn’t It Be Nice to have Fun, Fun Fun: Owen Wilson Sings the Great Songs of The Beach Boys. ” Meanwhile everyone should forget Hall Pass — especially the Farrelly Brothers.

I Am Number Four (One a half Stars)
U.S.: D. J. Caruso 2011

Sometimes, you look at a movie, and you know it’s going to give you a bad time. But what can you do?

I Am Number Four is a super-glossy science fiction teen thriller, produced by Michael Bay and directed by D. J. Caruso, about a striking-looking kid named John (Alex Pettyfer), who’s also known as “Number Four.” Four comes from another planet and is being shepherded around America — and protected from the evil Mogadorians of that same planet– by his helpful guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant). Those bad Mogadorians, who have evil-looking creases by their noses, and are led by their evilly grinning Commander (Kevin Durand), have already killed Numbers One, Two and Three, and their guardians. There’s another refugee from John‘s planet (Teresa Palmer), a striking looking blonde in black leather. She‘s wandering around. So is a cute little dog with an injured leg. (See, this movie has a heart.)

John, or Four, dyes his hair blonde too, and becomes even more striking-looking. But he‘s tired of hiding. He wants to go to high school, though Henri warns him he‘ll have to be inconspicuous. (How can he be inconspicuous? He looks like a movie star with dyed-blonde hair.) So, on the first days of school, Four attracts the prettiest girl in school, artsy photographer Sarah (Dianna Agron), alienates her ex-boyfriend, the school’s snotty star quarterback Mark (Jake Abel) and his hoodlum friends, and gains a Plato-like Sal Mineo sort of hanger-on buddy named Sam (Callan McAuliffe).

Inconspicuous? The picture’s just started and already, Four has used up half the setup of Jimmy Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause, and he doesn’t even have a red jacket. The rest is the same old stuff, science fiction-ized, nowhere near as good as “Rebel,” but very well-shot by Guillermo Navarro (Pan’s Labyrinth), and juiced up with monsters and Mogadorians.

Flashback: Back in the good old days, teen-agers, as far as I know, just did their homework and ran around and danced to rock music and ate cheeseburgers and malts, and snuck smokes and tried to get laid, and occasionally went on chickie runs. (“You ever been on a chickie run?“ “Sure, that’s all I ever do.”)

Now, by God — at least if we can believe many of the teen movies we see — the new breed of high school kids are not only delinquents, but vampires and werewolves and sorcerer’s apprentices and vampire-slayers, and they’re bent on saving the world from super-robots and monsters that come from other planets, or, if they’re bad, destroying it. They’re supermen and superwomen (a fantasy I sometimes shared) and their cute little dogs turn into superbeasts and battle the local dragons, and the kids are being chased all over hell and gone by evilly grinning Mogadorians.

Damn! Don’t Michael Bay, D. J. Caruso and the screenwriters and original novelists of I Am Number Four worry that they may be arousing unrealistic expectations in the hearts and minds of the youth of America? (Nah, it’s only a movie.) But aren’t they a little ashamed of filming scripts like this, where the very best line of dialogue — by a crush — is “I am Number Six!”

When I was a teenager, if I’d gone to a movie like this, I would have felt like I was being played for a sucker, treated like an idiot, and that I should have my head examined for getting a ticket to it — even if the show had a striking-looking blonde or two, plus great dialogue like “I am Number Six!” What did I know? How could I have envisioned? The world can move in strange directions.

Did you ever have a rumble with a Mogadorian? (Sure, that’s all I ever do.) Well, it is only a movie. But of we keep making shows about adults who act like teenagers (See Hall Pass above), and teenagers who are supermen who can rule the world, and we justify it all by how much dough the move makes, how can we complain when people act, and vote and govern, like suckers, idiots and dimwits who believe that they’re supermen? (“I Am Number One! I Am Number One!”)

And yes I had a collection of “Superman“ comics when I was younger than a teenager. I loved them. The man of Steel. He was Number One. This movie, however…

Certifiably Jonathan (Three Stars)
U.S.: James David Pasternak, 2007

When I was a kid, I thought Jonathan Winters was the funniest comedian I’d ever seen in my life, maybe as funny as an improvisational comedian could possibly be. God! He killed me!

A mainstay on late night TV in the late ‘50s and 60s, a revered regular on the Jack Paar, Johnny Carson and Garry Moore shows, and in the ‘70s, a supporting star on his acolyte and heir Robin Williams’ TV hit “Mork and Mindy,” the rotund, hilarious and impishly eloquent champion spritzer Winters was in a bleepin’ brown-eyed class by himself. He was a totally inspired comic who could literally create comedy from scratch, instantaneously pull it out of the seeming air, kill an audience with one shift of the eyebrow, a pursed lip, and a well-cracked sentence or two. His specialty on the late night shows came when Paar or somebody threw him some neutral-looking prop — a stick, a ball, a limp cloth — and he would proceed to improvise ten or so swift gags or mini-routines with whatever it was, bang-pop-bang, like a living cartoon, before the audience knew what hit them, before they could stop laughing at the first one.

If Charlie Chaplin was sublimely funny, if Buster Keaton was mathematically and mechancially funny, the Marx Brothers woundingly funny, Peter Sellers chameleonically funny, Richard Pryor dangerously funny, Robin Williams lightning free-associative funny and Woody Allen brainy funny, then Winters was insanely funny. (Sometimes more than comfortably so; Winters is bipolar and has had two nervous breakdowns.) But, despite his comic genius, his absolute mastery of improvisation and the mad spritz, he never got the gold ring, never became the American Sellers, though he had the chops to do it all. Maybe that’s because, sadly, his best stuff usually wasn’t in his movies.

Neither, mostly, was Robin Williams‘s. Like Winters, he’s at his best instead (Good Morning Vietnam excepted) when you get him on stage, and watch him take off and wing it. A stage and an audience and good acoustics: that’s all either of them needed. By the way, it’s a crying shame we don’t have twenty or thirty times more Winters on film than we have now.

Well, the years have passed, the decades have gone. Winters is 85, and somehow we never got enough of him. He never composed his comedy Eroica, or painted his masterpiece. Never played in his Gold Rush, or his Dr. Strangelove.“ The great Jonathan Winters movie was just never made — even if he debuted spectacularly on screen as the bedeviled, childlike truck driver in 1963‘s It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, a gargantuan farce in which he stole the scenery from nearly every comedian in Hollywood, from Mickey Rooney and Buddy Hackett to Jerry Lewis and Jimmy Durante, to Sid Caesar and Milton Berle.

For good and bad, for funny or not, Sellers found his niche. So did Allen, so did Steve Martin, so did Williams. But the greatness and madness of Jonathan Winters — something I think every comic feels in their bones whenever they watch him — never had its highest wild funny testament, or its perfect hilarious frame.

It doesn’t quite in ” either, a documentary about the now elderly Winters, trying to become recognized for his paintings: delightful, playful, Klee-ish, Miro-like comic concoctions he paints with the same economy, childlike fun and flawless touch that infuses his comedy. But let me tell you: perfection (as a be-all, end-all) can be overrated. Half of perfect is good enough. Or even 25%, sometimes. How the hell often do we see any perfect at all?

Director Jim Pasternak dreams up a framework: Winters trying to finish three new paintings for a proposed New York Museum of Modern Art show, but then losing his desire to paint after the humor is sucked out of him. The reason: His favorite painting was stolen from as gallery by two mean old ladies (one of whom looks suspiciously like Maudie Frickert.)

It’s a so-so idea: Arty high jinks and I Remember MOMA. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The best thing about the premise is that it enables us to see a lot of Winters’ paintings, which resonate with his sly, sunny sense of humor.

But what’s ultimately best about Certifiably Jonathan is that we get to see a lot of Winters, still a marvelous comedian in his 70s and 80s, conjuring up gut busting Winterian humor or wondrous, delirious Winteresque chuckles in the back seat of a car with a few rubbery putty-face-twitches or nutty phrases. And we see him with a host of his admiring fellow comedians, including Williams of course, but also Richard Klein, Jim Carrey, Nora Dunn, Rob Reiner, Sarah Silverman and the Arquette family. All are obviously people who love him and love to compete for laughs with him.

Anyway, sometimes movies are valuable, not because they’re perfectly realized works of art but because they contain a perfectly realized work of art. And this movie contains just that: it has Jonathan Winters. It showcases and delivers, certifiably, Jonathan himself. How many other chances are we going to get to see him, to preserve him? And when this show comes out on DVD, there‘ll be lots more of Winters and pals, because there were lots of outtakes, including about an hour of Winters and Williams riffing together. I can‘t wait.

The movie took a long time to make. Winters became ill. Eileen, his wife of many decades, died in 2009. Critics have not been too kind to it. Well, that’s their opinion. There‘s only one thing that’s important to me here: This movie lets you see, lets us all watch, savor, and howl over  — just as I did so insanely-happily, so long ago when I was a kid — one of the funniest damned comedians you‘ll ever see, in your life. And his friends, who are pretty funny too. And there’s a bonus: you can watch him paint his masterpiece. Maybe. (Gene Siskel Center, Chicago)

“Poetry” (Four Stars)
South Korea: Chang-Dong Lee, 2010

Her face is careworn but still pretty, the face of a once beautiful woman now in her ‘60s, her hair still black, her eyes soft, her once dazzling smile now almost completely vanished. She wears colorful flower print dresses and a white beach hat, which, at one point, sails away in the wind when she bends to look at the river. She works as a maid and caretaker for an elderly, disabled man, who gives her tips and gets aroused when she bathes him.

With no help at all from her absent daughter, she tries to feed and provide a home for her teenaged grandson Jongwook (David Lee), a boorish, pimpled bully who treats her with cruel and offhand neglect — and who has committed a hideous crime (a gang rape that drove a young classmate to suicide) that she must now try to make right, by paying reparations (of 500 million won) that she cannot afford. She is gentle and giving, tireless and kind to everyone she meets. She has begun to get distracted, to forget nouns and verbs, and she doesn’t yet know what that may mean.

Once, when she was a little girl, her teacher told her she would grow up to be a poet. And now she remembers those words, as she spies a notice in the street for a poetry class. She decides to take the class, because she wants to write a poem. Just one.

Her name is Mija.

The sorrows, pains and occasional beauties of old age — the way the old can by ignored, hurt and sometimes horribly abused by the young — have rarely been more movingly portrayed than they are here by the superb Korean actress Jeong-Hee Yoon, and by the gifted and deeply perceptive director-writer Chang-Dong Lee, in Lee’s film Poetry.

Lee, an acclaimed Korean novelist, who began his movie directing career late in life, at 40, is now one of South Korea’s finest contemporary filmmakers. Yoon is a one-time film star and great beauty whom Lee coaxed out of retirement for this role. No one in the world, in any country, could have played it better.

The movie is quiet and subtle, and like some of the poems we hear, perfectly phrased. It does not coax our tears. We watch it quietly, and our heart breaks. Seeing this woman, so kind, so good, so badly and uncaringly treated, as she struggles to live her life, to cope with her great troubles, and to write her poem — even as the words slip away from her — is an experience I will never forget. Neither should you. (In Korean, with English subtitles.) (Music Box, Chicago)

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4 Responses to “WILMINGTON ON MOVIES: Hall Pass, I Am Number Four, Certifiably Jonathan, Poetry”

  1. George says:

    I don’t know about the premise of “Hall Pass” being bad. I thought “the wife giving the husband permission” made for an entire season’s worth of great comedy when it was used in “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

  2. Mtnz says:

    It’s based on the real life situation of NBA star Kirelenko, who claimed he had a ‘one night only’ deal with his wife.

    Still a lousy, lazy film.

  3. waterbucket says:

    All basketball players have a “my entire playing career” deal with their wives. To marry a basketball player is to accept cheating and ignore it.

  4. Mike Wilmington says:

    By the way, what position does Larry David play? Or wasn’t he the guy?


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon