July 16, 2013

A passionate defense of The Ten.

David Wain is one of the fathers of modern alternative comedy, and The Ten is -- to me -- the most lovable of his many offspring.

Sure, Wet Hot American Summer is a cult classic, and -- unlike Wain's other movies -- lots of people actually paid to see Role Models in theaters.

But for fans of extremely irreverent comedy, it doesn't get any better than The Ten.


When the trailer on its own is this weird, you know you're in for a good time.

Deadpan humor and an endless string of callbacks are woven through 10 stories (read: sketches) that loosely depict each of the Ten Commandments. But the jokes -- if you could even call them that -- pile up to ridiculous heights, as if Wain and co-writer (and co-star) Ken Marino kept trying to top each other until there was literally nowhere left to go.

That doesn't mean everything builds to an unexpected dick or a fart joke, although the last few minutes of the movie are indeed packed with nude men. For Wain and Marino, a passionate romance between a librarian and Jesus Christ (yes, that Jesus Christ) wraps up with...a casual meeting years later in St. Louis, where Jesus is a sales rep attending a prosthetics convention. A neighborhood feud between two middle-aged men turns into a family-ruining rivalry, a Bonnie Raitt hum-a-long and, eventually, the death of numerous innocent children. Two fatherless African-American children learn to love an Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonator, even when they discover their real dad is Arsenio Hall.

And who are the stars of this outrageous film, you ask? You've got Joe Lo Truglio and a plethora of fellow The State alums; you've got the wondrous voice of H. Jon Benjamin; you've got Delocated's Mather Zickel playing a character he'd go on to reprise in not only Childrens Hospital but also his own show, Newsreaders. In the first of his two segments, he's a pompous newscaster who spits before each shot. In the second, he's a shell of a man, beaten out for the woman he loves by a ventriloquist's dummy with a hard wooden dick.


But it's not just Wain's traditional stable of alternative comedians who are on hand. Liev Schreiber displays expert comic timing as one of the two aforementioned men engaged in a battle for CAT scan machine supremacy. Ron Silver plays a Hollywood agent -- with the ventriloquist (and dummy) as his assistant -- who turns a guy stuck in the ground (Adam Brody) into a TV star. Jessica Alba pops in for four or five minutes of narrative propulsion and baby voices. A pre-Mad Men Jon Hamm utters one unforgettable line: "I don't goof."

Famke Janssen leaves Paul Rudd for an anchorman with a very large penis. Justin Theroux -- the man tasked with playing the son of God -- seduces Gretchen Mol in Mexico. Rob Corddry rapes Marino, with his implicit permission, in a prison cell. There are a few great shots of A.D. Miles' butt.

Suffice it to say that The Ten is not for everyone. If I tried to get my 57-year-old father to watch this movie, he'd be resisting the urge to punch me in the face after a few minutes.

And that's what makes it so spectacular. It feels like a bunch of movie stars got together and made a very strange movie for your amusement, and yours alone. Or, to be more grandiose, it brings about the realization that you share a partial sense of humor with Sabretooth and the Invisible Woman.

The Ten made $785,528 at the worldwide box office; its investors are probably still kicking themselves. Not many people talk about it; I suspect even fewer remember it exists. But I insist that, to a certain small subset of humanity with very curious ideas about what constitutes humor, it's a masterpiece.

David Wain and Ken Marino took 10 outrageous ideas, turned them into lengthy sketches and used a loose narrative to form them into some sort of motion picture. That kind of filmmaking won't win you any awards or make anyone a lot of money, but it allows for the kind of freedom that most other movies only dream of. And, more importantly, it ensured that scenes like the one below were released to the movie-going public, and will exist -- on DVD and the Internet and all to-be-invented forms of digital entertainment -- forever:


UPDATE: Wow. Hooray, the Internet!


July 7, 2013

Tonsil hockey.

In the spring and summer of 2004, the removal of my tonsils sent unexpected shockwaves through the world as I knew it.

The night after my surgery, I phoned a group of female friends who'd mentioned coming over to check on me. For long-lost reasons I cannot rouse, I decided not to call the girl I had a crush on. I called the other one.

The first question I got on Monday morning from my crush was a curious "So why did you call her instead of me?" I didn't have a good answer; nor did I need one. A seed had been inadvertently planted. I did not realize it could be that easy. Up until then, it hadn't been.

The next weekend, I went to the other one's house to watch a movie. We sat in her living room, petted her dog, engaged in idle chatter. If a transcript of my end of the conversation existed, I'd pay hundreds of dollars to have it destroyed.

Her parents came home around 10 PM; her dad, quoting an awful television commercial of that era, asked if my big red pickup truck "had a hemi." I laughed awkwardly; they went to bed.

We put on another movie; she snuggled up next to me; the movie ended. On my way out the door, I pulled her close and kissed her. She told me years later that, by that point, she'd given up hope. I was a lost cause, until I wasn't.

Smash cut to: One week later. She's lying with her head in my lap as the DVD menu for Big Fat Liar loops endlessly. She's looking directly into my eyes, practically begging me to kiss her again. My courage is nonexistent.

Smash cut to: Six months later. We're in that same living room; I'm silently breaking down in tears at the end of What Women Want because I know our relationship is falling apart but I'm too terrified to admit it out loud. My courage is nonexistent.

Gradual fade to: Nine years later. I'm sitting on the sofa in my underwear writing a blog post about the past. I am still not courageous, but I am moderately self-aware. This is progress.

Those particular sad times have drifted into nothingness. The mistakes I made were inevitable; my fears were understandable. I have learned what I can from both and tossed them aside, even if they still occasionally haunt me in my weaker moments.

There's a movie called The Way, Way Back that was just released; you should not see it, unless you're overly susceptible to cinematic depictions of young romance. Which I occasionally am.

Your first kiss. The first time you really felt special: that someone out there wanted you, maybe even wanted to understand you. That kinda stuff. It also stars Sam Rockwell, who is just great.

I enjoy remembering those moments; even more so, I enjoy placing 2004 me and 2013 me side-by-side, as if to measure their heights against the wall, and assessing my progress as a functional human being.

My first romance was not my best, nor was it my most memorable. But it'll always be one of the more prominent markers on the map of my life, the catalyst for so many of my choices of today. And as I compare the person I am now to who I was back then, I see that the seed sprouted in more directions than I could've fathomed.

There's hope for us all; you just need a little recovery time.