02-19-2017  8:46 am      •     
McMenamins

Most people are probably unaware that at the beginning of their careers Adam Sandler and Judd Apatow shared an apartment in Los Angeles. That was back in the Eighties when they were still paying their dues as struggling standup comics.
 They went their separate ways once Sandler was invited to join the cast of Saturday Night Live in New York City, while Apatow remained in L.A. where he would eventually meet with phenomenal success producing such raunchy teensploits as "Anchorman," "Knocked Up," "Superbad," "The 40 Year-Old Virgin," "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and "Pineapple Express."
 Now, the former roommates have reunited to make "Funny People," a bittersweet buddy flick about a terminally-ill, middle-aged, Hollywood icon (Sandler) who decides to give an aspiring, young comic (Seth Rogen) working in a deli the big break he's been waiting for.
 Written and directed by Apatow, the semi-autobiographical adventure marks a macabre departure from the superficial scatology and sophomoric slapstick with which the bottom-feeding filmmaker's name has come to be associated.
 By contrast, this relatively-cerebral indulgence amounts mostly to a maudlin meditation on the meaning of life which simultaneously attempts to pay homage to every comedian who ever tried to make it in Hollywood. The dialogue relies heavily on a flip brand of humor reminiscent of the inside industry banter popularized by the hit HBO series "Entourage."
At the point of departure, we find George Simmons lounging around his sprawling mansion where he's dividing his time between making phony phone calls and perusing script proposals poolside. The shallow Romeo also has his pick of the litter from among the adoring throngs of groupies who throw themselves at him, although it's clear that he's only interested in one-night stands.
Everything changes the day he receives a sobering diagnosis of late-stage leukemia from his Swedish doctor (Torsten Voges). With less than a year to live, friendless and estranged from his only sibling (Nicol Paone), George becomes desperate for a shoulder to lean on. So, he offers delicatessen counterman Ira a job as his joke writer and opening act, secretly hoping to find a confidante he can count on in the process.
 So, Ira moves out of his bachelor pad where he had been living with a couple of other comics, Mark (Jason Schwartzman) who has recently developed a swelled head since landing a recurring role on a TV sitcom, and Leo (Jonah Hill), a loser who's still on the outside of showbiz looking in. Together virtually 24/7, George and Ira prove to be good for each other and gradually bond, with the former grudgingly showing his protégé how to hold an audience in the palm of his hand, while the latter helps his boss appreciate what really matters.
 The plot thickens when George's ex-girlfriend, Laura (Leslie Mann), shows up in an empathetic mood which waxes romantic. For she happens to be married, albeit unhappily, to a philanderer (Eric Bana) with whom she has a couple of daughters (Maude and Iris Apatow).
En route to the surprising resolution, director Apatow pays tribute to his fellow comics at every turn via a dizzying number of "blink-and-you-missed-it" cameos by the likes of Charles Fleischer, Dr. Ken Jeong, Carol Leifer, Andy Dick, George Wallace, Paul Reiser, Sarah Silverman, Dave Attell and Norm MacDonald. It is telling that all of the above would be upstaged by Eminem typecast in a hilarious appearance as a rap star who resents being stared at by a fan he doesn't realize is Ray Romano.
Clocking in at almost 2½ hours, "Funny People" has its moments but suffers from about 30 minutes of filler that could have easily hit the cutting room floor, like a musical performance by James Taylor. What's up with that? Furthermore, the film felt like it was about to end on more than one occasion, only to tack on another unnecessary twist again and again. That wouldn't have been a problem, if this were a typical Sandler or Apatow chucklefest, but it's a no-no for such somber material.
Proof that when bad things happen to funny people, they might not be that funny anymore.

Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated R for profanity, ethnic slurs, sexuality and pervasive crude humor. 
Running time: 146 minutes
Studio: Universal Pictures

To see a trailer for Funny People, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-sLP6jd3n8

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. 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"A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. 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