Bayside resident Mark Metcalf is an actor who has worked in movies, TV and on the stage. He is best known for his work in "Animal House," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Seinfeld."
In addition to his work on screen, Metcalf is involved with the Milwaukee International Film Festival, First Stage Children's Theater and a number of other projects, including the comedy Web site, comicwonder.com.
He also finds time to write about movies for OnMilwaukee.com. In this week's installment of the Screening Room, Metcalf looks at "Hamlet 2."
HAMLET 2 (2008)
I have seen about half of one episode of "South Park," and I managed to skip "Team America." I had seen ads for it and I thought that I wouldn't be missing anything I hadn't seen before. It's not really the kind of humor I enjoy. I have been known to laugh at Will Ferrell, but he's trying so hard that I don't really enjoy myself the way I do with the Marx Brothers, or Monty Python or Cary Grant in anything.
I like things that have wit. And I don't even really know what wit is except, that it is associated with intelligence. What Will Ferrell has to do with the South Park gang is only that they seem to survive on the same gross-out, shock with the language, 12-year-old sexual or bodily function kind of humor.
I wasn't looking forward to seeing "Hamlet 2." I have acted in a lot of Shakespeare and I love him, so I don't mind people sending him up. He does it himself sometimes, and the best productions of Shakespeare are aware that the play is 400 years old and some of the language is antiquated to say the least and they are willing to laugh at themselves and the ornate-ness of some of it. I also don't mind harsh language in a film, unless it is gratuitous. But anything gratuitous is not good, even gravy. And sexual references aren't really a problem. I do have a 13-year-old and I find myself being a little more careful in my references. It's that I was expecting "stupid" and I think "stupid" has taken over much of the comedy in this country and I'm a little tired of it.
So I was pleasantly surprised to find something a lot more that fart jokes and f-bombs littering the screen at a screening of "Hamlet 2" last Thursday at the Downer. There are pratfalls, yes, and plenty of stupid humor, and they do swear a fair amount. But I think, because it is live action and not little cartoon people, the language seems somewhat normal and not so offensive. Maybe I should watch how I speak around my 13-year-old.
The plot of the film seems related to "Waiting for Guffman," the Christopher Guest film. But the sensibility of "Hamlet 2" embraces the people rather than making fun of them the way Guest seems to do. It also parodies the old Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland "Andy Hardy" movies, the one's where someone's Mom can always make the costumes and someone else has a barn, and somehow, against all odds, the play gets done, and the kids do it themselves.
But, it goes much further than just making fun of that genre. It enjoys the silliness, and there is a real affection for the people and the effort and I like that. It's pretty easy to get a laugh by mocking someone's sentimentality, someone's feelings, but after a while it is just nasty and I don't think that is so interesting anymore. Maybe, again, it's because I have a 13-year-old and I'm very aware of bullying.
I have not been aware of Steve Coogan, who plays the lead. Apparently, I have seen him, but he has not left an impression. I kept thinking he seemed like a Monty Python-type actor and then I find out he is English and comes from that tradition. He is very good in this. Very natural and likeable. He finds all the clichés and makes them funny, but he also manages to find the heart and the commitment of the man in the situation and that takes the audience a lot further.
I definitely recommend it. It's not for the faint of heart. There are some sexual references that cross over the normal sensibility. And almost every one is lampooned at one point or another. But the musical number "Rock Me Sexy Jesus" is worth the price of admission all by itself.
Mark Metcalf is an actor and owner of Libby Montana restaurant in Mequon. Still active in Milwaukee theater, he's best known for his roles as Neidermeyer in "Animal House" and as The Maestro on "Seinfeld."
Originally from New Jersey, Metcalf now lives in Bayside.