July 14, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

Sascha Baron Cohen just loves to mess with people. I think my whole review could actually be that one line, and that would suffice as an accurate, detailed depiction of what to expect with this film; or most of what he does, in fact. Cohen did this in 2006 with “Borat”, which was a “great success”; and now he hopes he can redeliver the goods using another persona from his acclaimed (and very funny) show “Da Ali G Show”–this time, the Austrian homosexual fashion zealot, Brüno. Are you prepared for male nudity? Guys, buckle up. It’s a long ride if you aren’t.

The plot of the film, much like in “Borat”, is very thin. The whole basis of the film rides on Brüno getting famous in any way he can. And he tries just about everything you can do–but first and foremost, he must get to America. He takes along his lapdog assistant and goes through some great lengths in order to realize his dream to become famous. He even adopts a black baby and takes him on “Today with Richard Bey”. I didn’t know Bey was still on the air, to be honest. In any event, Brüno has some wild misadventures trying to get into the spotlight: he gets an agent to help him launch a reality-talk interview show and actually gets a test audience to screen the show, and they subsequently watch his “package” dangle for a little bit (even talk to them), and watch him “dance” while they get one second of an “interview” with Harrison Ford. In one of the funniest moments of the film, he tries to “seduce” Ron Paul into his room in order to make a “sex tape” that can be circulated around the internet.

When his dreams of fame fail, he tries to do anything he can to get back on the horse. He even tries to turn straight. He goes to a gay converter, and he tries to go hunting with some real men (another funny sequence, if a bit played out); he also goes to a swinger’s party–and this was where the film impressed me most. Not because of how far he went, but because I could not believe the MPAA allowed what pretty much was porno right on the big screen, in a summer movie. Genius!

This is kind of the greatness and weakness of the film, and I was even a bit distracted by the somewhat slow pacing. Because there wasn’t a real plot, you were just watching Brüno do crazy things. And, to me, there seemed to be a bit more culture and depth in “Borat”. How many jokes can you make about rednecks and fundamentalists? The joke seemed to be wearing thin quicker in this film than in previous Cohen offerings. Another thing was that while Borat has an assuming charm about him; Brüno is not very likable. He is brash, and he’s very stupid in an unengaging way. He’s just vapid and superficial. With Borat it seems to be more of the language barrier and culturual barrier that separates him from any normal person. But Brüno just seems out of it. I know that’s part of the joke, but if you’re going to give us 90 minutes of the guy, I think he should at least be somewhat sympathetic. And because he’s flamboyant, and obnoxious, the homosexuality seems to become more of the joke than anything else, and again, that wears thin as well. We get it. He’s gay. We get it. Homophobes are uncomfortable around it. Yes, can you make something else out of this now? Or can we move on?

Perhaps I’m nitpicking–this film has some uproarious moments, too. It’s also very shocking at times, sometimes outdoing “Borat”. And I did look into the goings on to see what was staged and what was natural. A lot of it does check out. But I really wonder how much deeper Cohen wants to take this. I’m hoping this is his last venture into this kind of film. He is a very clever satirist and a very good actor and writer–I think he can do much better things now. I know this will make him more money, and it’s what the people want; but I’d like to see him really extend himself for his next film, should he continue making them.

My rating: :-)

Burn After Reading

September 15, 2008 by  
Filed under Movies

The Coen brothers never cease to amaze me, and have been two of the most prominent filmmakers this generation. Ever since their breakthrough debut, “Blood Simple”, they’ve not only made some of the most intriguing, intense and deep-thinking films in the last 25 years, but also some of the most gut-busting hilarious comedies as well. It’s hard to believe sometimes that the same guys who made something as devastating as “Miller’s Crossing” or “Fargo” could also make screwball romps like “Raising Arizona” and thoughtful cerebral knee-slappers like “O Brother Where Art Thou?” and “The Big Lebowski”. Well, you can add “Burn After Reading” to their already stunning resumes. Leaning more toward romp than cerebral, “Burn After Reading” is a fast paced, 95 minute treat that snaps, crackles and pops and is welcomed into the post-summer doldrums at the box office. Hard to say how much money it will make, but it is as entertaining as anything I saw during the summer.

The film focuses on a bevy of characters: Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand, as extremely hyper active and positive thinking personal trainers at a gym known as Hard Bodies; George Clooney as a womanizing married man who meets women on the Internet and also maintains a relationship with a mistress played by Tilda Swinton who is married to–and trying to divorce–the main focus of the plot of the film, and one of the funniest roles I’ve seen him play in his career, John Malkovich. Malkovich plays a CIA agent who is let go in the beginning of the film, and decides to make a memoir while he is out of work, while his wife makes the bread working as a pediatrician. The plot thickens when a disc carrying information about Malkovich’s financial files falls into the hands of Pitt and McDormand because the administrative assistant of Swinton’s character’s divorce lawyer accidentally left it last time she was at Hard Bodies. Meanwhile, McDormand’s character, Linda, who is trying to get her insurance company through the gym to pay for 4 separate cosmetic surgeries, decides to blackmail Malkovich’s character, Ozzie Cox, thinking she’s got major classified information about him. Cox, not knowing that his wife is trying to divorce him anyway, has no idea how this disc came about, and doesn’t buy that the blackmailers really have anything on him. Linda tries going to the Russians, and it gets even crazier once she brings Pitt’s character, Chad, deeper into it by making him break into the Cox’s house. Linda is also the next victim of Clooney’s adulterating as she is searching for love on the Internet, and with Clooney being involve with the Cox as well, things get pretty dicey.

That’s just a taste of how involved this plot is. It’s written so well and drawn out so succinctly and logically that you totally believe everything that’s happening. The other thing is, the movie is laced with the theme about trust and how things can get so out of hand so quickly because of ignorance, greed, and ineptness. The Coen brothers treat the script with care and don’t beat you over the head with exposition, nor do they overdo the zaniness. Pitt is very funny as he dances to his kickin’ iPod selections, Clooney is incredibly charming as he deals with some strange paranoias, thinking people are following him all the time, and always making sure after having sex that he can “get a run in”. McDormand is hysterical, and sometimes just her facial reactions to what’s going on make you chuckle. As I said previously, Malkovich is at the top of his game. It’s probably the most vulgar I’ve seen him, and that’s part of why he is so funny in this film.

This movie works on every level and is a very entertaining movie to catch on a lazy Saturday or Sunday. If you’re more into home entertainment, I highly recommend picking up a copy at your local (diminishing) video rental store and grab some popcorn and soda, and settle in.

It’s a fun ride, even if it’s short.

My rating: :smile:

Tropic Thunder

August 17, 2008 by  
Filed under Movies

It’s August, so that means it’s the end of the summer blockbuster period, and now we get close to what I call the Dead Zone of the movie season, heading into fall with movies that were shelved by studios because they knew they wouldn’t make any money against the bigger films. But before we enter into that, we’re given one final treat as the summer closes. One last glimpse at the sun before it sets.

“Tropic Thunder” is easily for me the funniest comedy of the entire summer. More focused and playful than “Pineapple Express”, a bit more soulful and bigger laughs than “Step Brothers”; “Tropic Thunder” brings it on every level and fires on all cylinders.

The first ten minutes of this film had me laughing so hard, I couldn’t breathe. It starts with one of the film’s stars, a rapper-turned-actor Apla Chino, promoting his new line of candy bars and some sort of soft drink, followed by fake trailers for the characters played by Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Robert Downey Jr. Stiller’s movie is a 6th sequel in an action franchise called “Scorcher”; Black’s is a sequel to his hit “The Fatties” (with a comical sequel title), and Downey Jr.’s is a period piece about a homosexual monk. All three trailers are hilarious, but you may find yourself thinking that these could possibly be real trailers–especially with what Hollywood is about to throw at us for the next two months.

The plot is very similar to “Three Amigos!”, but I found it to be not only smarter, but also had more laughs. It’s about a Hollywood production for a film based on the book of a Vietnam vet’s personal story of his tour of duty called “Tropic Thunder”, played by Nick Nolte, and it’s pretty much in production hell. The cast is full of primadonnas, the director can’t seem to handle it, and their mega producer mogul (played by Tom Cruise in a role that is up there in funniest cameos ever territory) is losing patience. The vet offers to the director to shoot the film “guerilla style”, sending the guys out into the jungle and really feeling what it was like for soldiers to be in war. Of course, all hell breaks loose once they’re in the jungle because they come across a bunch of Southeast Asian drug smugglers and think that it’s just a part of the movie.

The film’s second act is weighed down a bit by getting a little heavy handed with the theme of identity and image, and what it really means to be yourself rather than pretending to be a hero–you know the schtick. But it does redeem itself by the end with a fantastic scene at the Academy Awards, in which the documentary about the film wins loads of awards.

Stiller is an industry guy, so this movie isn’t as brutal a satire as, say, “Team America” with how it satirizes Hollywood. It’s more of a light poking-fun-at, but it still gets the job done and I found it to be one of the most fun movies I’ve seen at the movies this summer.

We’ll see how this one ages but for now I think it, along with “Dark Knight” are two movies that lived up to their hype. It’s a rare thing when this happens, but it’s always a pleasure.

Stiller proves he’s still got something left in him, and he also proves he can get some serious talent to make a very non-serious big budget action parody. It’s weird to say that one of the best Hollywood movies this summer is a satire of itself, but then again…it says a lot about the industry doesn’t it?

My rating: :smile:

Family value: Teenagers will be ok with this one, but there’s a lot of foul language and violence that should tell you to keep the little ones away from this one.

Step Brothers

August 17, 2008 by  
Filed under Movies

This film is probably one of the only vehicles I’ve seen involving Will Ferrell in which he shares a bill with someone that threatens to steal the spot light. Not that that’s a bad thing, because John C. Reilly is a very good comic actor. But typically it’s Ferrell by himself that usually saves movies and movie scenes (“Semi-Pro”, “The Wedding Crashers” respectively). In that regard, “Step Brothers” reminds me a bit of “Dumb & Dumber”, a film made when Jim Carrey was at the top of his game and making millions and millions of dollars as a comic actor. But “Dumb & Dumber” featured a very funny role for Jeff Daniels, who sometimes was funnier than Carrey in the film. I like Ferrell’s approach to comedy better, and I’ve found myself enjoying more of Carrey’s serious work (“The Truman Show”, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) rather than his “stupid comedies” like “The Mask” or “Ace Ventura”. Ferrell’s still a box office draw, but I believe he’s in the twilight of his career, and may be relegated to cameos and supporting roles rather than being the star–but for now, he’s got to be enjoying his success.

“Step Brothers” is a deserving addition to Ferrell’s successes. It’s very formulaic, but it respects the formula and allows Reilly and Ferrell to breathe in their scenes, but veteran director Adam McKay understands when it’s time to shut the camera off and move the plot along, even if it is rehashed and thin. It involves a very simple premise: Two 40 year old men who still act like they’re 8 years old are paired together because Ferrell’s mother and Reilly’s father get married. McKay takes care of the marriage rather quickly, lending credence toward the end when things get rocky, seeing as how they kind of “rushed” into marriage. Mary Steenburgen, still extremely attractive at 55, plays the mother role very well, although the relationship between her and Ferrell isn’t as natural as it probably should be.

The relationship, however, between Reilly and Ferrell absolutely works. The key to this plot working is that these two actors have to genuinely act like kids, since they’re 40 years old, I don’t know that a lot of actors could pull something like this off and have it be credible. While the plot begs for stupidity and contrivance, Reilly and Ferrell make it believable, funny, and even cute.

There are some big laughs in this film, and overall it works. The film is right at about 90 minutes, so it doesn’t overstay its welcome, nor does it really leave you wanting to see more. It’s the perfect “get-away” movie, when you just need to ditch real life for an hour and a half. That to me is what the movies are there for anyway, especially summer movies, and this one doesn’t beat you over the head or try and send any kind of message. I won’t give too much away because I think the laughs are bigger when they’re unexpected. I will say that when Farrell and Reilly decide to sabotage Reilly’s brother’s plans to sell his father’s house so they can make enough money to retire and move out, the biggest laughs came, at least for me.

I would almost recommend this movie more as a rental than going out to see it in the theatres because of how much it costs these days, but as I said, it is a good way to kill an afternoon and spend time in a cool theatre. I’ll leave the choice up to you. But I do recommend a viewing of this little film that will probably be forgotten about soon, and that’s a bit unfortunate.

Then again, it’s not a movie that’s necessarily going to stick with you for a long time either.

My rating: 🙂

Family value: A lot of strong language will weed out the kiddies, so it’s not a family movie obviously. Go solo or bring the wife if she’s into that sort of thing.

Pineapple Express

August 6, 2008 by  
Filed under Movies

So it’s been a few summers in a row now that Apatow & Co. have completely dominated the raunchy comedy genre, and they’ve had a good thing going. I have to commend Apatow again and again for getting his old guys from past failed shows like “Freaks & Geeks” and “Undeclared” work because they’re talented and their comedy style is different than the typical Hollywood canned sitcommy humor we usually get.

I’ve been very kind to the Apatow movies, while they have been criticized for being too long or the characters weren’t engaging enough, or the story wasn’t great or maybe it wasn’t all it was hyped to be–I’ve always maintained that this is fresher stuff than what you usually get out of Hollywood, and give it a chance. Enjoy it because it won’t last.

I hope to God “Pineapple Express” is not the last entry, because it would leave as sour a taste on your mouth as a roach would. I’m not saying the movie is bad, but it’s probably the weakest effort put forth so far.

From the moment I saw the trailer, I was psyched about this. This looked like our generation’s Cheech & Chong with Seth Rogen again put in the spotlight (he carried the torch well in “Knocked Up”) and James Franco finally in a role that seems like he was born to play, at least since his “Freaks & Geeks” days. The plot looked pretty hilarious, about two stoners who get caught up in a drug scandal and the cops are involved. On top of that, you’ve got the writing team of “Superbad” (including Rogen) which was one of the funniest movies of 2007.

So why do you see the “however” coming? Well, because this movie misfires on things that I thought it would completely nail perfectly. There are “talky” scenes that go nowhere, plot points that have none, and no real direction on the story or why certain people are involved (why is Rogen’s character being into talk radio significant, and why is he dating a hot teenager?). I thought these excursions would go somewhere, but they really don’t. Especially the teenage love affair (that has a rather weak payoff) because there was almost a whole movie just in that little subplot. The script becomes fairly convoluted and the director doesn’t know when to turn the camera off on a scene in which two characters sit there and try to improvise a funny line, but can’t seem to, so they’ll just repeat themselves or just do one of those “improv pauses” and hope we laugh.

The criticism of the Apatow movies being “too long” will not only be a highlighted one, but I’m really going to have to step in and say it myself: dude, a raunchy comedy shouldn’t consistently be more than 100 minutes, and even that’s pushing it. Every one of these movies just feels like there’s a 90 page script turned into 2 hour long movie because of these obviously improved scenes, and when you keep squeezing more and more minutes out of these actors, you see they have nothing left and you CONTINUE to let the camera roll? Save it for the “outrageous unrated and totally out of control” DVD, but when you pay good money to see a movie these days, we shouldn’t be squirming and waiting for the plot to develop.

Now, I criticize because I love, and I think these guys could have done better. A lot better. Are there funny scenes? Absolutely. Will you laugh your ass off at some of the hi-jinx? Of course! Have we seen this all before, and done better? Indeed we have. You will definitely laugh, you will definitely see some cool stuff in this movie. It’s worth a viewing. But it’s not without its flaws and they must be outed because now they’re all making enough money to deserve it.

I know that’s weird logic, but I think the thing is: OK, you came onto the scene, and it was fresh and funny. Now it’s getting a bit stale. Don’t get soft, push yourselves. I know they can do better than this.

I almost was hoping Paul Rudd was gonna come out of nowhere and save a scene or two, but he must be reserved for the next one. I guess they could use a break now and then.

Overall, yeah this is a stoner-action-adventure with some brilliant moments, some extreme violence, and some really funny parts. But as a whole it doesn’t really work, and that’s a shame.

My rating: :?

Family value: Let’s see…massive drug use, lot of people being killed including police officers, as well as police officers included in the drug scandal…yeah, don’t take the kids.

:[ :choler:

License to Drive – 20 Years Later

July 28, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog

Dean teaches Les about the finer things.

Dean teaches Les about the finer things.

I still remember the hot summer day back in July of 1988, my twin sister and I were 9 years old, and our mom took us to see a movie called “Mac and Me”, a cheap rip-off of the ever successful “E.T.”, that I don’t recall either my sister and I ever asking to be taken to. At the time, of course, we had already seen “The Lost Boys” on VHS, and my sister was heavily instituted into the Corey Haim Crush. I just thought “The Lost Boys” was a cool movie. I wasn’t too young to appreciate the great chemistry between the two Coreys, and because that formula worked so well, here they were again, a year later, in another summer blockbuster film. This time, it would involve something neither my sister nor I could really relate to yet, and that was of course, driving.

But we wanted to see the movie regardless. And so, my sister being the more clever sibling, decided to “go to the bathroom” during one of the many painfully long and boring scenes in “Mac and Me” (a movie in which I can remember little about). She actually went to the bathroom a few times, and finally disappeared until the end bit of the movie, when she returned. Of course, Mom and I didn’t realize what she was doing. But she was sneaking in to watch “License to Drive”. She told me all about the scenes she did see–Corey failing his written test (on a computer! how radical!), but passing his driving test, Corey sneaking out and getting into mischief. That was enough for me to be convinced I had to see this movie. 9 year olds clearly have pretty high standards for film viewing. I maintained that year that “Willow” was an instant classic. How right I was!

Of course, later that year, when it came out on home video, thanks to a neighborhood friend that recorded everything he rented onto home VHS’s, I saw “License to Drive” in all its glory. It was instantly one of my favorite movies of the 80’s, along with “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, “Gremlins”, “The Gooniest”, “The Monster Squad”, and “The Princess Bride”. The funny thing is, I loved most of the teen comedies that came out in the 80’s (most of them starring Molly Ringwald or John Cusack), but I wasn’t a teenager and didn’t understand their situations pretty much at all. I didn’t really think of girls “that way” yet, they mostly just bugged the hell out of me and were tattle tellers. But these movies were fantastic!

And “License to Drive” was one of the best ones ever! I even went on a mashed potatoes and ketchup binge once or twice, until I realized how disgusting it was. I wanted to change my name to Les (not realizing how horrendous the full name of that abbreviation is). I wanted to take a driving test on one of those computers! And for some reason, I wanted to go on a date with Mercedes. I wanted to “get out of her dreams and into her car”, as it were.

But those days are long gone now. It’s twenty years later, Corey Haim is now the victim of excess and Hollywood binging, Core Feldman is just a jerk, and “License to Drive” is now an “old” movie. I recently caught it on one of the many movie channels there are on Comcast cable (remember when it was just HB0?), and once again, recaptured my youth for an hour and a half. The interesting thing was, I not only was appreciating it on the level of nostalgia, and laughing at how 80’s the movie was–but I was catching things I had missed when I saw it when I was too young to “get” most of what was going on, especially with being a teenager. See, unfortunately, by the time I became the age of Les Anderson, it was the mid-90’s, and the 80’s were not old enough to be vintage. If you were watching “License to Drive”, you had some problems, or you were “stuck” in the past.

Now, of course, since it’s been so long, the 80’s are the new 70’s. There is so much nostalgia and enough time has passed that the 80’s era can be appreciated. Trust me, if you were wearing a Nintendo shirt in 1996, you were castrated. I speak from experience. Because of this new found nostalgia, we can look back at movies like “License to Drive”, and find ourselves again. In some cases we can find a few versions of ourself. The too-young-to-appreciate innocence, and the one in which we know how funny drunk driving can be–if it’s an old man, and not you.

So I suggest a viewing of “License to Drive” now if you’re between the ages of 27-37, because all of you know what I’m talking about, and some of you were old enough to appreciate what was going on between Les and Dean, and probably went to a few “Archie’s” yourselves. Treat yourself to some nostalgia, and laugh again at how awesomely cool this movie was.

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