Archive for July, 2008

The Onion Movie

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

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I honestly think that the online publication The Onion is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. A brilliant satirical newspaper, The Onion is brutally hilarious, provocative, capable of being both unbelievably clever and unbelievably stupid at more or less the same time. Four or five years ago, when I first heard about the Onion movie, I was pretty excited. Then, I didn’t hear anything about it…for a couple of years. I read internet rumors of failed test screenings and rewrites, of how the film just wasn’t funny and had bombed.

Finally, last year, I began seeing ads for it online, and caught previews for it on Youtube. “Direct to DVD,” it said; hardly ever a good sign. Well, maybe it just couldn’t find an audience, I thought, many good or great movies just don’t work for every audience. Then, it was released on DVD, and I hesitated to see it. I hesitated for the same reason I have, of this writing, refused to see the Jaws sequels; I believe it will ruin my opinion of the original source. I felt, for some reason, that if I saw The Onion Movie and was let down, that the Onion would forever be ruined for me.

Today, I took the plunge and sat down and watched the film. And, it was really, really mediocre. It wasn’t awful, but it was kind of close. How they took something so funny and watered it down, ruined it so thoroughly and consistently is kind of astounding. It’s hard to pinpoint why the film doesn’t work. At first, one might think it’s simply that a full-length version of Onion-style parodies wouldn’t work, but I don’t buy that because I’ve watched hours of Onion videos online without getting bored or tired of them (mercifully, this film is only 8o minutes long). Could it be that rather than being a series of bizarre sketches and news clips (like the classic Kentucky Fried Movie), it has a silly, half-assed plot to hang the skits together? Maybe, but several of the sketches themselves lose their steam without assistance from the storyline.

Could it be that several of the gags are lifted directly from old issues of The Onion? Maybe, but many of the headlines and articles were just as funny the 14th time I read them as they were on my first reading. So, maybe I don’t know really why this movie isn’t very good or very funny, but it just isn’t.

The “story” centers around Onion news lead anchor Norm Archer (played by Len Cariou) and his battle with his producers (including Broken Lizard’s Erik Stolhanske) over the direction the news program is heading (a giant, sinister corporation has just bought Onion news, and is putting on commercials over the news).  This very loose plot structure is simply a weak Network parody, and although Cariou is a good sport, this plot strand goes nowhere fast.

Yes, the Steven Seagal “Cockpuncher” movie trailer parody is kind of funny, but it kind of wears out its welcome as it’s mentioned over and over and over again. I found the more random sketches the funniest, such as the repair man who removes mens’ penises out of mail slots and other various holes, or the terrorist training video. There’s a number of sketches that will probably offend people (the “Rape party” sketch comes to mind), but I found them offensive only because they weren’t that funny. I think that sketch, the rape party skit, in which a young woman is unnerved to find herself at a party where instead of playing one of those host a murder games, there playing host a rape, could have been hilarious, but it goes for the cheap jokes and fails to push the envelope, the way The Onion website does every issue.  Two pretty funny bits, though, include Gedde Watanabe as a spokesman for Asian rights, and Michael Bolton (!) in a Sally Struthers, save the children ad.
I don’t know, this movie should have been really, really funny. I mean, it’s The Onion, people. But, instead, we have a soggy, exceedingly mediocre direct-to-DVD. I bet you’ll forget about it a day or so after you see it.

Oh boy

Monday, July 28th, 2008

As Borat might say, I am very excite for the new Watchmen film! One of the best graphic novels I’ve ever read, Watchmen looks like it will be an incredible movie. March 6th, 2009 can’t come soon enough!!!

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Mamma Mia!

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

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Ok, I’ll admit it: I love ABBA. I don’t care what anybody says, they’re a great band. They’re over-the-top, ridiculous and terrific. I dare you to listen to an ABBA album and not sing along. It’s impossible. So, going into the new film version of the hit ABBA musical Mamma Mia!, I at least knew that the music was going to be good.

Yeah, the movie is cheesy, silly, contrived and about as complex as bubble-wrap, but I don’t know if I’d like to see a dark, complex musical based on the songs of ABBA. The plot complements the music, no real depth, no real nuance (I mean this as a compliment). This is a fun movie that requires very little thinking, just go in and enjoy the music and the performances.

The film is anchored by the one and only Meryl Streep, who looks like she’s having the time of her life in this role. She plays Donna, a carefree woman who runs a hotel with her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) on a Greek island. Sophie, as the film opens, is set to marry Sky (Dominic Cooper), and desperately wants her father to attend the wedding. Unfortunately, she has no idea who that may be, but with the help of her mother’s diary, she has narrowed it down to three possible choices: Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) and Harry (Colin Firth).

She invites all three to her wedding, not telling them why they’ve been invited (they believe that Donna has invited them), and, of course, Donna has no clue that any of her former lovers are on their way to the island. Of course, complications and misunderstandings ensue, helped (or hindered) by the arrival of Donna’s two best friends: Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters).

As I said earlier, this is a silly movie, but it’s catchy and easy going, and the musical numbers are great. The film is great to look at, as it takes place on a beautiful, lush Greek island (filmed partly in Greece, but also on some sound stages in England). Streep is the stand-out in the film, but she’s aided by a game cast, particularly Baranski and Walters.

Mamma Mia! is not a great piece of cinema, but it’s definitely a good time at the movies. And if you like ABBA, I’m going to guess you’ll get a kick out of it. (Look fast for ABBA members Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus in cameos).

The Dark Knight

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

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Dark, indeed. Christopher Nolan’s new Batman film takes the conventions and expectations of the Batman films (and super hero films in general) and throws them out the window. Here is a Batman film that is as unrelenting, spellbinding and, yes, dark, as the best Batman comic books. Nolan has created a sequel that outdoes his previous Caped Crusader film, Batman Begins (and I thought that was a four-star picture), daring to take the franchise to places where most big-budget Hollywood action films don’t dare go.

If you want to make a great sequel, you have to be willing to push the envelope, take the story and the characters to places the audience hasn’t been before (think Empire Strikes Back, think Godfather Part II, think Aliens). That’s what the filmmakers do here, creating a comic book film that will be remembered as one of the great superhero films (definitely in the top 10). Nolan understands that Batman is the great tragic hero (something that Burton understood with his Batman films, and Joel Schumacher refused to acknowledge with his silly BatFlicks), at least the great tragic superhero.

The film opens with the introduction of a new villain to Gotham: the Joker (played by the late Heath Ledger, in a performance that hinted that he could’ve been the next Christopher Walken), a sadistic, remorseless monster. Unlike most movie villains, who have a back story or are driven by revenge, or lust for power or money, the Joker kills and destroys for the sake of…who knows? It is a chilling character, and Ledger’s performance is astounding (there were times during the film when I forgot that the Joker was simply a role in a movie). His strange voice crackling and snapping with electricity, his smile slit from side to side like a demented Jack-O-Lantern, his pasty, dried, smeared clown make-up. The Joker, in Ledger’s hands, is a shocking creation.

I don’t know if it’s “better” than Jack Nicholson’s work in Batman, it’s simply taking the character in a completely new direction. Ledger’s approach to the Joker is wholly original from any other version of the Joker I’ve seen (in TV shows, movies or the comics). He takes a character who is over sixty years old and breathes new life into him.

Ok, back to the movie. So, the Joker brings chaos to Gotham City, and strikes an agreement of sorts with the crime syndicate to bring down Batman. Meanwhile, Batman (Christian Bale), Lt. James Gordan (Gary Oldman) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) join forces to bring down crime boss Salvatore Maroni (Eric Roberts, yes, you heard me, Eric Roberts). Batman’s alter-ego Bruce Wayne struggles to control Wayne Enterprises while dealing with the Joker and trying to win the love of Rachel Dawes (this time around played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, replacing Katie Holmes, who was the weakest element of Batman Begins).

As I said earlier, The Dark Knight feels and looks just like a great Batman comic book (fans of the books will recognize several elements from many story lines in the film, most notably “The Long Halloween). It pulls you in the way few Hollywood super hero films ever have. Of course, Christian Bale is perfectly cast as Batman/Bruce Wayne, just as he was in the previous entry in the franchise. Bale plays Bruce Wayne with the right mix of pathos, humor, cocky pride and drive; if you thought he was messed up in Batman Begins, you ain’t seen nothing yet. And, of course, his work as Batman himself is the only Caped Crusader that’s ever actually been scary.

As in the previous film, Batman’s allies Alfred, Bruce’s loyal butler/sidekick (Michael Caine) and Lucius Fox, Batman’s own version of Q (Morgan Freeman), are crucial to the film’s success. Caine’s Alfred, especially, gives the film its heart. Gyllenhaal is a far more capable actress than Holmes, but I also think Dawes’ role in the sequel is much more substantial, rather than just a damsel in distress. Gary Oldman as Lt. James Gordon is a terrific supporting role, and the chameleon Oldman makes his role as “the only honest cop in Gotham” his own (again). Gordon was always a great character in the comics, but I thought that he was always misrepresented in the Burton/Schumacher films (though it was no fault of the actor who played him, the great Pat Hingle, Gordon’s role was just never that well written in the movies). Anyway, Oldman’s Gordon is so good I’d watch a film focusing on his character.

Aaron Eckhart’s performance as Harvey Dent is also key to the film’s success, and I would say that his work is every bit as good as Ledger’s. It is an edgy, unnerving, compelling performance. I never would’ve thought of Eckhart for the role, but now I couldn’t think of anyone else. If you are familiar with the character, than you’re aware of the complexities of the role.

I love this movie. It’s entertaining, sure, but it’s also thought-provoking and challenging, and pushes the Batman franchise into uncharted waters. I can’t wait for the next one!

This is such a great photo

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

    I really wish that this was a still from an upcoming buddy picture.  I would see that movie in a heartbeat.

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Gerry

Monday, July 21st, 2008

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    To describe the plot of Gerry is an exercise in futility, two dudes get lost and wander around for two hours. That’s it. Oh, I forgot the opening, which is a tracking shot of a car that goes on for a couple of minutes, followed by a tracking shot of the passengers of the car, driving. This also goes on for a couple of minutes. By all accounts, I should have found this film frustrating, boring or pointless. But, I found it hypnotic.

Granted, this is not the kind of movie everybody likes. Actually, this isn’t the kind of movie many people like. Even its defenders (like Roger Ebert), tend to admire it more than really “like it” (as Ebert himself says in his review of the film). Director Gus Van Sant is a director who, like him or hate him, must be respected for always making the kind of movie he wants to make, no matter what the subject or what the public opinion will be (his much-reviled remake of Psycho is a good example of that). Gerry is the second film in Van Sant’s “Death” trilogy, which also includes Elephant and Last Days. Elephant was a film I didn’t really care for, and Last Days I bought for two dollars at a garage sale but I have yet to watch it (my lukewarm reaction to Elephant being the main reason.)

After reading several brutal reviews of Gerry, I was hesitant to finally sit down and watch the film (it had been languishing on my DVR for about nine months), but I finally decided to watch it, thinking even if I hated it, at least I could say I finally watched Gerry. Imagine my surprise when I realized this is a good movie. It hooked me in, even as I wondered how it had.

The film stars Casey Affleck and Matt Damon (both Van Sant regulars) as two young men, both named Gerry, who venture to a state park to hike to a “thing.” What the “thing” is is never revealed, their reference to the natural landmark as a “thing” helps establish them as brain-dead slackers. Indeed, their only really in-depth conversations deal with things like “Wheel of Fortune” or video games. My favorite scene has to be when Affleck, in superb detail, explains to Damon how he conquered Thebes in a video game.

They decide to wander off the trail to see the “thing,” get bored with their walk and go back towards the car. They never find it. Gerry is the journey of two bland know-nothings (think Rosencratz and Guildenstern as computer obsessed slackers) to their inevitable doom. One of the greatest assets of the film is the spectacular cinematography by Harris Savides, even those who hated this movie cannot deny that is is incredible to look at.

Van Sant and his crew shot the film in a variety of locations (Argentina, California, Utah and Jordan), to make the wilderness seem not only endless but also to allow it to contain every geographic and climate change possible. Visually, we get the impression that the two Gerrys have entered another dimension.

Van Sant has created a comedy of sorts, about two young men who flourish and function in a world of technology but, when faced with the great outdoors, flounder and wander. Gerry is a challenging film to watch, but it will hook you in if you let it.

Another Installment of Another Franchise?

Saturday, July 19th, 2008

So, I was surfing the net and I stumbled across this still from the set of the fourth (!) Terminator film, Terminator: Salvation. In it, Christian Bale is about to annihilate one of those pesky machines. I didn’t particularly care for Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, but this film sounds like it could be good, mostly because the thought of Batman kicking Terminator’s ass sounds pretty cool. Ok, the fact that it’s being directed by McG (the guy who did the Charlie’s Angels movies) doesn’t exactly get me stoked, it still could be ok. Maybe.

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Still, this picture gives me hope.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Saturday, July 19th, 2008

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Guillermo del Toro is one of the most visionary directors working in mainstream cinema today, and his unique vision helps make this sequel much better than it has any right to be. Of course, the commanding performance by Ron Perlman as Hellboy is a big part about why this film works, but without Guillermo the film would not be as visually compelling. The dazzling creatures, sets and effects help make up for a story and pacing that is not quite up to the level of the original Hellboy film.

Hellboy II opens with a flashback: it’s Christmas in 1955 on a military base, and Professor Broom (John Hurt) is telling young Hellboy about an ancient war between the creatures of the earth and humankind, and an elusive crown that was broken into three and controls the unstoppable Golden Army. Fast-forward to modern day, when the solemn, revenge driven Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), looking like an elfin Edgar Winter, decides to find the missing pieces of the crown and declare war on humans. Uh oh.

Only Hellboy, his fire-starting girlfriend Liz (Selma Blair) and the aquatic genius Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) can stop them. Joining them on the mission is Johann Krauss, a paranormal specialist voiced by Seth MacFarlane, in a silly German accent. Like in the first one, comic relief is provided by Jeffrey Tambor as FBI director Tom Manning, the thorn in Hellboy’s side. In fact, Hellboy II is pretty much the first Hellboy, with better effects, more monsters and sillier jokes. Some of the funniest moments really don’t fit in the context of the film, like Hellboy and Abe’s sing-a-long (it’s funny, but does it fit with the movie? Probably not).

Hellboy II: The Golden Army is great in places (such as when the gang journeys to the Troll Market, and in the eerie depiction of the Angel of Death), and mediocre in other places (the love story between Abe and Princess Nuala, played by Anna Walton, didn’t really add anything to the story). I wish that del Toro would’ve given the same attention to the script that he did to the look of the film.

Ron Perlman, of course, is reason enough to see the film, in a film with larger than life creations and monsters that threaten to engulf the city, his performance stands out (Tambor is a hoot as usual, and Blair holds her own, which is interesting since she was so bland in the first Hellboy). The Golden Army is a visual feast that suffers from pacing and a repetitive storyline, but it’s still manages to be a good super hero movie, nonetheless.

Casting Oliver Stone’s “W”

Friday, July 18th, 2008

The more I hear about Oliver Stone’s new biopic about our beloved president Bush, the more excited I get. This is a strange, eclectic cast. Elizabeth Banks (Beth, the bookstore employee/sex fiend in The 40 Year Old Virgin) as Laura Bush? James Cromwell as Bush Sr.? Josh Brolin as W? Some of the casting decisions are no brainers, like Toby Jones as Karl Rove (this is a perfect fit) or Jeffrey Wright as Colin Powell. Others are so odd they’re inspired, like Scott Glenn as Rumsfeld. Uh, ok. Thandie Newton as Condoleeza Rice? Hmm, interesting. But, who will play Cheney? For months, rumors floated the Internet(s). I heard Robert Duvall’s name pop up once or twice, for instance. As great as Bobby Duvall is, I just couldn’t see him as ol’ Dickie Boy. Finally, a few weeks ago, IMDB.com had a name for the actor to play our controversial Veep: Richard Dreyfuss. At first, it didn’t make any sense, but then I remembered his brilliant turn as a cold-blooded politician in Silver City and thought, yeah, this will work.

Oliver Stone has always been pretty far-out (in a good way) when it comes to his casting choices. John Candy, Gary Oldman, Rodney Dangerfield, J-Lo, Jon Voight as a blind Native American. Oliver Stone is out there, and I love it. I am stoked for W, it will be either amazing or ridiculous, or, hopefully, amazingly ridiculous.

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Get Smart

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

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I walked into this film fully expecting it to be terrible, so imagine my surprise when I found myself laughing, pretty damn hard, throughout the 110 minute running time. Sure, it’s goofy, silly and ridiculous, but those don’t necessarily have to be bad things. Get Smart proudly wears its ridiculousness on its sleeve, and it’s all the better for it.

The reason this film works, though, is thanks to the game cast, lead by Steve Carell as the unflappable Maxwell Smart and Anne Hathaway as the stunning super spy Agent 99. It doesn’t hurt that the supporting cast includes Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Agent 23, the rock star of spies, Alan Arkin as the cranky Chief, Terence Stamp as the cantankerous villain Siegfried and Ken Davitian as Siegfried’s right-hand man. David Koechner and Terry Crews are also on hand as fellow CONTROL agents, and there are several hilarious cameos that were surprises to me (and I’ll leave them to be surprises to you.) If you’re familiar with the original TV show “Get Smart,” you’ll probably also recognize a few actors from the original, but I’ll be honest, I had no clue who they were.

Get Smart is definitely not a great film, but it’s funnier than it probably has a right to be. Again, much of the thanks should go to Carell, who plays Smart not so much as an idiot but as a man so confident and focused that he ignores every incredibly obvious fact staring him in the face. There were two moments that almost made me convulse with laughter. One is when Carell is struggling in vain to use a eye scanner to open a cell door, and the other is a line that Arkin delivers while he and Carell are involved in a car chase. Alan Arkin is the film’s secret weapon, in fact.

I notice that this is only the start of the fourth paragraph, and I’ve already ran out of things to say. I think that’s because some movies, although entertaining, just don’t have a lot to them. I mean that as a compliment, not an insult. Get Smart is a funny, silly movie without any desire to be anything of any greater substance and, hey, I’m okay with that.