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Friday, December 09, 2022

The Banshees of Inisherin

It is fashionable to think of modern society’s craving for silence as new-fangled, what with all the screens and social media and the 24-hour news cycle and stories of locating the last place on Earth without human noise. Set in 1923, “The Banshees of Inisherin,” however, is here to remind us that as of at least 100 years ago, silence was already an object of great yearning, even on a small, quaint fictional Irish island like Inisherin. Cozy and quaint, after all, can become an unlikely synonym for oppressive, as it is with Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson), who unemotionally cuts off his longtime friendship with Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) as writer/director Martin McDonagh’s movie opens, saying “I just don’t like you no more.” It’s a taciturn line reading befitting Gleeson’s performance, carrying himself in his manner and his posture like a man bearing a great weight but not being all demonstrative about it. (It’s a back a bit, he confesses to a therapist by way of a priest about his depression.) That weight comes in the form of Pádraic, not that Colm’s drinking buddy has the self-awareness to know it. Eventually the reasoning for this one-sided falling out is clarified in a bit more detail, but just in the dueling airs of these two men and you can imagine in an instant a lifetime of Pádraic prattling on – about the weather, about his precious donkey Jenny – and Colm retreating deeper and deeper within himself until he can no longer hear himself think.

It’s true that despite so much lush scenery “The Banshees of Inisherin” could be translated to the stage from the screen with but a few minor tweaks and no one would be the wiser. (That includes the donkey. I saw “The Ferryman”; there was a goose onstage.) This is to say McDonagh is not telling his story strictly in visual terms. But it is also true that the movie screen is predominantly about the human face and so “The Banshees of Inisherin” becomes predominantly about the weathered, wearied visage of Gleeson and Farrell’s big, bushy eyebrows, the best eyebrows in a movie this year, like the movie’s weathervanes, cluing you into whether Pádraic is perplexed, heated, sad, or maybe all three at once. Indeed, the real drama in “The Banshees of Inisherin” proves less about the why than the what, and the what is Pádraic’s struggle to simply process what he has been told. In that way, McDonagh’s movie calls to mind one Larry David might have made if Larry David were Irish Catholic rather than Jewish. Because no matter how many times Colm tells Pádraic to feck off, because even when Colm threatens to start chopping off his own fingers for every word his drinking buddy utters, Pádraic, frequently in the most bleakly hysterical manner you can imagine, will not, nay, cannot leave well enough alone, looking more and more like his beloved pet donkey Jenny wanting to come inside the house even as Farrell and McDonagh deftly allow the character’s cited niceness to shade into something that begins to feel almost overbearing, flipping the whole idea of niceness on its head.

Pádraic’s winnowing niceness is put into further perspective through the village idiot Dominic (Barry Keoghan) taking Colm’s place, in a manner of speaking, as his new drinking buddy. Granted, McDonagh creates the character of Dominic to put him through the wringer by way of an abusive father in order to ostensibly subvert our expectations and then extract poignancy from his plight, mechanized humanity skewing too close to McDonagh’s previous “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing,” Missouri. Yet, even if the writing tilts toward caricature, Keoghan evades it by creating, when it’s all said and done, a character who feels genuinely nice, warts and all, without having to broadcast it. Pádraic’s sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon), meanwhile, becomes stuck between the rock of Colm and the hard place of her brother. If McDonagh does not write much of an inner life for Siobhán, evoked in just how little care he takes to bake her explicit reasons for wanting to leave the island into the script, like Keoghan, Condon takes up the slack in her turn. In her character’s attempting to broker peace between warring pals, Condon lets a knowingness pass over her face when Colm suggests her character must relate to his desire for a little peace of his own. 

“The Banshees of Inisherin” takes its title from a song Colm composes on his fiddle, evocative of his expressed desire to put the little time he has left on Earth to some sort of purpose rather than wiling it away in unimaginative company. In truth, McDonagh does not express much interest in Colm’s burgeoning songwriting just as he does not express much interest in Colm’s raised query about whether creating something of value in your life is worthier than simply living a contented life, all of it winding up beside the point in the face of escalating violence. The violence provides an avenue for the movie to track toward a resolution though that resolution pointedly finds nothing resolved. The Irish Civil War on the mainland alludes to such an open ending throughout, and McDonagh cannot help but render those allusions explicit with some concluding dialogue, all the more unfortunate because the truth is not in the words but in silence where, it turns out, Colm finds little peace after all. 

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Jolly Good Christmas

There is an ominous message lurking in plain sight in “Jolly Good Christmas,” Hallmark’s tale of a London personal shopper named Anji (Reshma Shetty) who got into the gift-whispering business because she put too much pressure on herself so many Christmases ago to find the right present for a significant other. That suggests the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping as honest to goodness neurosis, requiring therapy rather than a mere reminder of the secular reason for the season. That’s not Hallmark’s game, though, and I, as the kidz say, get it. No, finding the right gift in director Jonathan Wright’s movie is not about some soulless product but something personal, or maybe, just maybe, a person, like Mr. Right, like the handsome if slightly awkward and eccentric American architect named David (Will Kemp) Anji bumps into, first in a store and then on a bus, only to discover he is getting his English girlfriend a gift card for Christmas and hey, Anji thinks, I could be of some help here, triggering a whirlwind romance.

“Jolly Good Christmas” is a little like “Serendipity” if Sara and Jonathan hadn’t split apart at the end of the prologue and instead made the whole movie out of the prologue, like if they were searching for a copy of Love in the Time of Cholera rather than Sara putting one out into the world. This means we do not simply watch Anji and David scurry about in search of the perfect gift, but scurry about in front of prominent London landmarks in search of the perfect gift, falling in love along the way. It’s true that despite a commendable nod to London’s extensive Indian community, “Jolly Good Christmas” doesn’t capture the air of London, so to speak, quite like Franco Nero embodied the Eternal City in “Christmas in Rome,” while the familial crises of both characters don’t feel baked in enough and like a lot of these movies, it runs out gas in the final 20 minutes when the various reversals become too predetermined. Still, if Hallmark movies tend to be overly reliant more on plot, “Jolly Good Christmas” is the rare one that flourishes through [makes sign of the cross] vibes. 

There is a surprising thoughtfulness to Wright’s framing, both in walk and talk scenes and when Anji and David are standing still, tending to position her just in front of him, not leading him on but leading him along, a Christmas gift sherpa of sorts. In his performance, Kemp effuses a subtle kookiness to his turn that calls to mind Bruce Campbell, if Bruce Campbell had chosen to make these movies earlier in his career rather than waiting until now, that not only transcends the abundance of zeroes that tend to fill out these roles but embodies the obliviousness the character has where interpersonal dynamics are concerned. Shetty, meanwhile, possesses a vivacity and wit that makes her character feel truly alive rather than a beachy waved automaton while impeccably playing off Kemp’s eccentricity with expressions that are alternately quizzical, amused, intrigued, and finally, charmed. The best sequence in the movie is one alongside the Thames when he is hustling to catch back up with her and in Shetty’s eyes you can see she’s just reeling this big fish in, not only improbably animating her totally spurious sounding job description but carrying us, the audience, along in her wake. 

If I had one wish that I could wish this holiday season, it’s that Reshma Shetty become a Hallmark Countdown to Christmas regular. 

Monday, December 05, 2022


It’s been less than 20 years since the Johnny Cash “Walk the Line” biopic, but after Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” it felt 5,000 years old. That is not to suggest that Luhrmann’s kinda, sorta biopic of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll is futuristic, or something. No, this is the same ol’ Baz, carving a movie almost exclusively out of sensation and spectacle, telling the story of Presley chronologically, but blending all the seismic events of this titanic American tale into an unbroken melody by way of one relentless montage, so much so that it can become disorienting even as that disorientation impeccably captures the turbulent rise and fall of Elvis. And that is what Luhrmann is going for here. “Elvis” evinces not so much a portrait of a person but a phenomenon; indeed, Austin Butler in the eponymous role is carried along by the movie more than he drives it. The framing device of Presley’s insidious mentor Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), a self-styled P.T. Barnum, underlines this idea, suggesting how this is not really a story about Elvis at all but about someone else’s perception of him. If “Elvis & Nixon,” the good parts anyway, were about the dying embers of the Presley myth than “Elvis” is about the myth in full flight. 

The more Oscar bait-y Hollywood musical biopics often like to equate their subjects with superheroes by giving them origin stories to match, a trope spoofed in the recent Weird Al biopic by way of his glowing Hawaiian shirt. Spoofing, though, is not what Luhrmann does; he goes a hundred and fifty miles an hour in the other direction. Here he makes the superhero origin literal (in a figurative) sense by showing the young Presley reading Captain Marvel Jr. comic books, wearing a yellow lightning bolt around his neck to fashion himself in the image of his own hero, and using bombastic visual language to render the character’s lightning bolt moment. That lightning bolt moment occurs when the young Presley enters a Pentecostal revival tent immediately after peeking into a juke joint where Arthur Crudup (Gary Clark Jr.) is playing “That’s All Right, Mama.” Though it comes close to advancing the idea of Elvis full-on appropriating African American music, it evades this charge in how Luhrmann brings to life the sudden manifestation of the future King’s essential musical nature as marrying the secular and the spiritual, Rock ‘n’ Roll as religious experience. 

True, the country music that also inspired Presley is virtually absent aside from the overly amiable Hank Snow (David Wenham), and in showing famed black performers as something akin to Elvis’s sherpas he risks reducing them in ways he does not intend. But Luhrmann also shows Elvis watching a Little Richard performance, as adrenalized as Presley’s own, wishing he could perform that same song, emphasizing how the music industry worked for whites and how it worked for blacks. In Luhrmann’s telling, Elvis is positioned in the way Public Enemy’s Chuck D saw him years later through the lens of “Fight the Power”: not necessarily as the racist the lyrics overtly say, but as a sin eater for the whole industry, one who capitalized, rightly or wrongly, on the industry’s all-encompassing racism. 

“Elvis” is at its best, though, not when considering its subject through the prism of time but in opening an ineffable portal to the past. If these musical biopics are so often rendered as mere wax museums with a pulse, to quote Vincent Vega, Luhrmann succeeds by making Elvis come alive, to feel the way he must have felt then, to put us in the room with him, so to speak. It’s not so much Austin Butler’s singing, which has been reported as a mix between Butler’s own voice and Elvis’s recordings, but his movement and how Luhrmann and his editors Jonathan Redmond and Matt Villa evoke the communion between Presley and his audiences.

That is never more apparent than Presley’s appearance on the Louisiana Hayride show, where the channel he opens up to his audience is palpable, plugging us into the same figurative electrical socket as all his ravished fans, the involuntary shrieks from the women incredibly, electrically, illicitly disappearing the line between shouting in church and shouting during sex. The “Take My Hand” scene from “Walk Hard” took the piss out of what constituted so-called Devil’s Music, but in this scene “Elvis” puts all the piss back in. Presley’s celebrated 1968 comeback special, meanwhile, is composed as much like a suspenseful action sequence as a musical performance giving great life to the idea of his career and legacy being on the line while Luhrmann deftly employs flashbacks and split screens for Elvis’s inaugural show at the International Hotel in Las Vegas to epitomize it as a synthesis of everything he was even as it sets up as the final nail in his coffin. And we see the Rock ‘n’ Roller’s famous appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1957 partly through a living room television, one that seems to glow, illuminating a King fit for his crown over the airwaves. 

Paradoxically, in a movie of excess, the scenes of excess, of drinking and drugs and his failing marriage to Priscilla Presley (Olivia DeJonge), lag as much as Elvis falters in his own life, offering no real insight, Luhrmann’s own aesthetic extravagance here just doubling back on itself to ultimately feel as empty and rote as any behind the scenes Rock ‘n’ Roll drama. Despite all this, what rescues the movie is that Col. Parker framing device, which both implicates the audience in Elvis’s public pressures and emotional downfall while also evoking the sensation of Elvis being trapped in an emotional prison. If Butler is not necessarily finding anything new in his character’s tragic slide toward the end, he doesn’t need to, Elvis itself evincing the sensation of the Rock ‘n’ Roll raging against the dying of his own light. Luhrmann, though, doesn’t just leave it there. If biographical movies often conclude with footage of the real subject with no conception of that footage beyond an honorary parenthetical of the real person, Butler’s Elvis suddenly gives way to the real one, a transition emphasizing Presley’s voice, and how despite everything, it could still break free. 

Friday, December 02, 2022

My Sight & Sound Ballot

Below is the ballot I submitted to Sight & Sound for their 2022 Best Films of All Time poll, drawn up in the four minutes it took me to eat a bowl of cereal. However, the ballot was subsequently ripped in half and returned to me by mail. I don’t believe it counted in the final tally? Anyway, for the curious, here it is.

The Big Sleep, Howard Hawks (1946)
Roman Holiday, William Wyler (1953)
13 jours en France, Claude Lelouch (1968)
Die Hard, John McTiernan (1988)
The Naked Gun 2 ½: The Smell of Fear, David Zucker (1991)
Ruby in Paradise, Victor Nunez (1993)
Cookie’s Fortune, Robert Altman (1999)
The Insider, Michael Mann (1999)
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Adam McKay (2006)
Michael Clayton, Tony Gilroy (2007)

Thursday, December 01, 2022

Some Drivel On...A Very Kacey Christmas

The Kacey Musgraves Christmas album “A Very Kacey Christmas” was released in 2016, meaning it’s only 7 years old and not a round number like ten years or twenty years which is what a blogger would typically exploit for a remembrance piece. But writing about the album in 2022 for the copper and wool anniversary, which is hardly the anniversary anyone remembers or anticipates, I think only works to underline how much I cherish it, that I want to write about it right now rather than wait for year ten. Because seven years, I have decided, is enough time to decree, a la Caesar Augustus, that “A Very Kacey Christmas” is my favorite Christmas record. 

Aside from a couple originals called “Ribbons and Bows,” that in its hand claps, horns, and multitracked vocals comes on like the lost classic from Phil Spector’s “A Christmas Gift for You,” and the bluesy “Present Without a Bow,” Musgraves mostly leans on a western swing sound inviting flashbacks to Bob Willis and West Texas dance halls of the 30s and 40s. That’s appropriate. Christmas often seems to take place at least partly in the past tense, like opening today’s door on an Advent calendar you have opened two-dozen times during holidays bygone. And though there is also an air of the country variety shows of the 60s and 70s, “A Very Kacey Christmas” never becomes like her overly accessorized 2019 Amazon Prime Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show, opting for a breezy intimacy suggesting Musgraves eschewed baking Christmas cookies for friends to lay down some Christmas tracks to crackly vinyl and hand those out instead.


Though Musgraves is generally classified as a country artist, her sound flits between a traditionalist bent and a more modern, pop-oriented one, an indifference to genre that is evident in her impeccable “A Very Kacey Christmas” curation. The record opens with a pair of standards, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which isn’t Judy Garland’s melancholia but a sanguine sort of shuffle, where a merry Christmas is not some distant dream but right there within the reach of that star on top of the bow and something that Kacey really wants you to have, followed by a “Let it Snow” with dollops of steel guitar that taken in tandem with Musgraves’s version of “Mele Kalikimaka” reminds us of the instrument’s Hawaiian roots and reminds me how Christmas Day Aloha Bowls of my youth (and Christmas Eve Hawaii Bowls of my ostensible prime of life) have always caused an association in my mind between the holiday and the sounds of the Islands.

From there, Musgraves’s song choice grows more eclectic and inclusive, and inclusive not just because of “Feliz Navidad” and soul singer-songwriter Leon Bridges guesting on “Present Without a Bow” but how “Present Without a Bow” and Kacey’s own “Christmas Always Makes Me Cry” provide space for people who are not into the season, whether just this one or overall. (Oh my god, that Bridges line about “the New Year will come and brings lot of change, baby” is the perfect distillation of mounting dread at the end of each year of having to mount up and go through all this again.) At the same time, Musgraves’s gently playful voice allows her to express the season’s childlike joy as much as its sadness, successfully translating The Chipmunks’ “Christmas Don’t Be Late” without need for the tape speed chicanery, acing the tongue-twisting rhymes of Gayla Peevy’s “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” and submitting a version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” that really does sound like an Elementary School Christmas Concert with Linda Ronstadt singing lead. 


If those songs are for the kids, she’s got one for the adults, too, and not just her pessimistically plaintive version of “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” No, I’m talking about the original “A Willie Nice Christmas.” It’s a pun, see, because Willie Nelson is her duet partner, and because it’s Willie Nelson perhaps you can already glean the role played in the song by Nelson’s favorite hallucinogen. I know, I know, a holiday stoner anthem? Musgraves, though, pulled a similar track by opening her 2015 album “Pageant Material” with “High Time,” utilizing a smattering of weed smoking double entendres to advance a universal argument to chill. That call becomes even more acute during the holiday hustle and bustle, when the days get shorter, and we tend to speed up rather than slow down. And even if Kacey cheekily transforms Peace on Earth into “piece on earth,” well, I still hear it as the first one, but less as a Biblical annunciation than the living embodiment of that same Corona Christmas television ad that never goes out of style. I suspect that “A Very Kacey Christmas” never will either. 

Monday, November 28, 2022

10 Made for TV Christmas Movies to Watch This Holiday Season (by synopsis)

Depending on your source there are maybe 164 new Made for TV Christmas Movies in 2022, or possibly 148 new Made for TV Christmas Movies in 2022. Without doing a lick of deeper research, let’s split the difference and unofficially call it 156 new Made for TV Christmas Movies in 2022, except that we also have to subtract the new 18 Made for TV 2022 Christmas movies at GAC (Great American Family Channel) because the network was hit with a whole host of false piety violations by the Federal Broadcast Commission. So, that’s 138 new Made for TV Christmas movies this spread across not just the old reliables like Hallmark and Lifetime but ION and BET and UPtv too. That’s too many movies from which to choose for the average Made for TV Christmas viewer. Then again, the average Made for TV Christmas viewer might not care which movie is currently airing, just one that is in the first place. To them, all these hard-charging event planners and career-oriented journalists in love with or scarred by Christmas are probably the same. To the discerning viewer, however, the kind of person who does not just buy a coffeemaker for a Christmas present when someone puts it on his or her list but does the research on drip and pour-over and French press and Moka pots, there are subtle variations within each synopsis. And that is where Cinema Romantico comes in as we do each and every holiday season, to wade into these myriad synopses and point you toward the best. 

Granted, the quality of synopsis does not necessarily correlate to the movie’s own quality. We have already watched one with much to recommend it (review to come!) that does not appear on this list. But it’s a good place to start, and besides, in many pop cultures, it is merely the Made for TV Christmas Movie synopsis that is considered the reason for the season. 

(All synopses belong to the Hallmark Channel unless otherwise noted.) 

10 Made for TV Christmas Movies to Watch This Holiday Season (by synopsis)

10. Noel Next Door. A hard-working, single mom gets into a war of words with a neighbor who she feels is ruining Christmas, only to find that this misunderstood grouch just may steal her heart. Can you guess that hard-working, single mom’s name? Can you???

9. The Most Colorful Time of Year: “Ryan is an elementary school teacher, who learns that he is colorblind. Michelle, an optometrist and mother of one of his students, helps bring color into his life in time for the holidays.” It’s a metaphor!

8. Reindeer Games Homecoming: Sparks fly between a Vermont biology teacher and her high school crush as they compete in a holiday fundraising tradition.” (Lifetime) The synopsis is strong but I’m disappointed Gary Sinise doesn’t have an And Starring credit while appearing on the poster in a garish Rudolph sweater. 

7. #Xmas: “When Jen gets the chance to enter a brand’s design contest, she poses as a family influencer, enlisting the help of her best friend, Max, and her baby nephew. When her video is selected as a finalist, Jen is torn on whether to go on with her perfect ‘family’ or reveal the truth.” Some hard lessons here about our brave new world.

6. A Royal Corgi Christmas. “Sparks fly between a crown prince and a canine behavior expert as they work together to train a rambunctious dog before an annual holiday ball.” Our second “Sparks Fly”! (See #8.) These Royal Hallmark entries always take place in fictional countries, but I like imagining a version of known Corgi devotee Queen Elizabeth II showing up in this one anyway in a kind of dream sequence a la Jaclyn Smith’s glowing visage in “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.” 

5. Haul Out the Holly: “Emily arrives home, hoping to visit her parents, only to discover that they are leaving on a trip of their own. As she stays at their house for the holidays, their HOA is determined to get Emily to participate in the neighborhood’s many Christmas festivities.” This one stars our good friend Lacey Chabert. She always does fine work, and maybe she’ll prove me wrong, but I sort of feel like this one should star, say, Clea DuVall. Because Clea DuVall strikes me as the sort of person that would really want to punch this whole HOA in the face. Also, shouldn’t Emily’s name be Holly?

4. The Holiday Swap. (UPtv) “When two strangers mistakenly pick up the wrong piece of luggage at the airport, each must use the intriguing contents within to track down the other’s whereabouts in time for Christmas.” Dying to know what constitutes “intriguing contents.” A PalmPilot? They don’t make those anymore! French francs? They switched to the Euro! A Leland College hoodie? That’s not a real college! Does this person even exist?! Does love itself even exist?!

3. Wrapped Up in Love. (Lifetime) “Ashley has always been the ‘Christmas Queen’ in town. That is, until she meets her match, Ben, a handsome new guy in town, who loves Christmas just as much as she does. They join forces to make Christmas even more meaningful.” More meaningful??? This sounds like a sentient War on Christmas meme. 

2. A Magical Christmas Village: “A woman tells her young granddaughter, Chloe, that her miniature Christmas village can magically grant holiday wishes. As Chloe begins setting up the figurines, real-life events seem to mimic the scenes she creates.” Our annual reminder that all these movies are one broken snow globe away from mutating into full-on horror. 

1. The Royal Nanny: “Working undercover as a nanny, an MI5 agent must resist the charms of Prince Colin while keeping the royal family safe during Christmastime.” Answers the question I have been asking for almost 20 years – that is, what if one of the “Love Actually” vignettes had featured Sydney Bristow

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

It only makes sense that in mounting his own biopic in tandem with director Eric Appel, beloved musical parody artist “Weird Al” Yankovic would render it as a parody of biopics. Now that is not a new approach. Jake Kasdan and Judd Apatow did the same thing 15 years ago with “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” right down to the bullying father seeking to thwart his own son’s dreams that “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” also comically employs. (“It’s confusing and evil,” says “Weird Al’s” father, as played by Toby Huss, of the young Al changing the lyrics to Amazing Grace, a pretty funny joke equating parody lyrics with blasphemy.) “Walk Hard,” however, was more barbed in its satire, seeming to exist partially as a point-by-point rebuttal of each cliché spouted by 2005’s Johnny Cash biopic “Walk the Line,” a call to arms, almost, as much as a comedy. “Weird Al,” though, the person is lauded as a true nice guy, generally always asking for permission before recording his parody songs. And so even if there is a scene where Weird Al’s father beats a door-to-door accordion salesman to a bloody pulp, in spirit, “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” is less satire than spoof, having as much fun with the character’s own persona as the genre.

In his 2020 New York Times profile of “Weird Al,” Sam Anderson theorized that Yankovic’s secret sauce was normalizing weird. And in a sense, Appel’s faux biopic honors that diagnosis, emblemized in the moment when Al’s mother discovers a Hawaiian shirt hidden in his bedroom, the music swelling as the shirt seems to glow like Excalibur. In the world of “Weird,” polka parties are cool, the accordion is a rock star totem on par with the guitar, “I Love Rocky Road” at some heavy metal club becomes Bruce Springsteen at the Harvard Square. A “Boogie Nights”-like party at the home of “Weird Al’s” mentor Dr. Demento (Rainn Wilson), meanwhile, puts the parodist on par with artists like Andy Warhol and Salvador Dalí and when rock ‘n’ roll’s great evangelist Wolfman Jack (Jack Black) espouses non-belief for “Weird Al’s” parodic preferences, “Weird Al” makes him believe by taking up the famed disc jockey’s dare and inventing his Queen spoof “Another One Rides the Bus” on the spot.

The moment might specifically be a send-up of a similar one in the Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but spiritually it is a send-up of every cinematic A Ha! Moment ever blended with a kind of “8 Mile” battle rap by way of accordion, made all the more hysterical by Black’s ardent dedication in playing an overconfident foil. The genesis of this parody song, like an earlier moment when “Weird Al” summons “My Bologna” out of the sandwich-making mist, teases his own gift for parody lyrics by inflating it to epic proportions just as the nifty reversal that in the world of “Weird” imagines his “Eat It” parody as an original and Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” as the spoof has fun with the sort of artistic discontent the late Coolio expressed about “Weird Al” parodying “Gangsta’s Paradise” and then disavowed. 

The songs as performed in the movie are lip-synched by the real “Weird Al,” not unlike how “Get Up” had Chadwick Boseman lip synch to James Brown’s real vocals; you can’t fake The Hardest Working Man in Show Business and you can’t fake “Weird Al.” That, however, is to take nothing away from Radcliffe, who is wholly committed to the part. And that is to say he is completely committed to playing “Weird Al” as an angry, lewd, self-serious rock star, the increasingly bewildered intensity of his expression as the plot amusingly devolves working in superb juxtaposition to all those Hawaiian shirts. The descent of this version of “Weird Al” into VH1 Behind the Music territory is exacerbated by the character’s love interest. As the old saying in show business goes, if you have the chance to write yourself into a fictional relationship with Madonna, you have to do it, and “Weird Al” does, paving the way for a gleefully game Evan Rachel Wood to play the part by taking gum chewing into the realm of performance art. If “Weird Al” is sending up its character’s squeaky-clean image than it does the same with Madonna’s relentless ambition, seeking out Al to further her career by having him cover “Like a Virgin,” before the Material Girl becomes the Yoko Ono, or what the clueless perceive Yoko Ono to be. She is the villain, in other words, an offensive banality stretched to the point of joyful absurdity by essentially transforming Madonna into Dan Hedaya in “Commando,” which has the double joyful effect of ultimately making this “Weird Al” a martyr for daring to be stupid.