Archive for November, 2008

Role Models

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

 

 

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Has there been a weaker preview for a funny movie this year? The trailers for Role Models show some of the jokes, and give the basic premise for the film, but they make it look lame, annoying and silly. In fact, I was probably going to pass on this film, until I read a few inspired reviews and decided to take a look on my own. I’m glad I did.

Role Models is a sarcastic, at times hilarious film, with a great comic cast and inspired moments of vulgarity. I liked that the plot is basically that of a PG-rated family comedy, but it’s delivered in what is very much an R-rated film. In this respect, director David Wain definitely has dared to subvert a film genre.

Role Models stars Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott as Danny and Wheeler, two employees for Minotaur, which is an energy drink akin to Rock Star. They drive around to different schools and extol the virtues of Minotaur, while also warning teens on the dangers of drug use. “Say no to drugs, and drink Minotaur!” Before too long, Danny and Wheeler wind up in a bad situation, and they have two options: jail or community service.

Danny and Wheeler end up at Sturdy Wings, a Big Brother type program, and here we are introduced to Gayle Sweeny (played by the great Jane Lynch), who is an ex-addict and runs the program. Lynch is hilarious in this role, and indeed, has some of the film’s best lines. Danny is paired with Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, McLovin from Superbad), a teenager obsessed with a medieval game that is played every Saturday in a local park. Wheeler is paired with Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson), a foul-mouthed 10 year old who just might give the funniest performance in the film. In a movie with great comic performances, this is saying something.

Rudd is a gifted actor, and he projects hostility, sarcasm and bitterness like bullets. Seann William Scott is also funny playing the same sort of role that he became famous for, only now it’s extra funny, since it’s been about nine years since he started playing the party animal, and here he creates the perpetual man-child. The film certainly feels like a Judd Apatow production, although his name is nowhere to be found in the credits. In addition to Rudd and Lynch, Apatow regulars in the movie include Elizabeth Banks, Ken Jeong (a terrific comic role) and Joe Lo Truglio. Also cast in funny supporting roles are Ken Marino, Kerri Kenney and A.D. Miles.

I thought the film was pretty funny, and also was warm and had a message, but Wain is admirable for not making it saccharine and sweet. It’s also been a while since I’ve seen a movie where the music of KISS becomes important to the film’s climax.

 

Quantum of Solace

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

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Like The Phantom Menace, Quantum of Solace is a strangely titled cinematic addition to a popular franchise. Unlike Phantom Menace, however, the title makes perfect sense after viewing the film. I mention this at the beginning of the review because it’s sort of an unusual title, and I wanted to mention it so I could get it out of the way and dive in to what I actually thought of this film. (By the way, this is not, in my opinion, a bad Bond title. The worst Bond title, by far, is Octopussy. Lame, lame, lame name for a Bond movie.)

This film picks up pretty much where the terrific Bond film Casino Royale left off (ok, I’d say about twenty or twenty five minutes afterward). Bond (Daniel Craig) is shaken and stirred over the death of his beloved from that film, and Quantum of Solace follows Bond as he tries to figure out what this evil, ubiquitous organization that’s pulling all of the strings is, and what it’s up to. Oooh, mysterious.

The film is a sequel of sorts to Casino Royale, and if you haven’t seen that one yet, I’d suggest watching it before you see Quantum of Solace, or you might be kind of lost. There are many characters, references and lines that might not make much since if you haven’t seen Casino Royale (you should see it anyway, really).

I have no idea if Daniel Craig is the best Bond, or if he’s better than Sean Connery or Roger Moore or whoever. I think all of the Bonds have their strong points (yes, even Lazenby). I do think, however, that Daniel Craig is the closest to the James Bond of Ian Fleming’s 007 novels. James Bond, as depicted in Fleming’s books, is a loner, a bitter, angry type who is good with a gun and quick on his toes. He’s good with the ladies, sure, but he’s not a smooth, suave playboy type as the character is sometimes portrayed in films.

Craig humanizes Bond, makes him real in a way few other Bonds have. As he did in Casino Royale, Craig breathes new life to a character who is over forty five years old. That’s some kind of feat.

I don’t think that Quantum of Solace is a superior Bond film, but it has splendid action sequences, and it fleshes out the relationship between Bond and M (played by Judi Dench). I thought that the Bond and M dynamic was one of the strongest aspects to the film. Marc Forster, the director, also creates some terrific sequences that bring a new aspect to the standard Bond film. One in particular has Bond spying on several members of the evil organization at an opera. It’s theatrical, tense and funny.

Mathieu Amalric (who starred in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) plays the evil Dominic Greene, and he brings a slick, scummy charm to the role. Looking eerily similar to Roman Polanski, Amalric is a fascinating actor to watch, thanks in large part to his incredibly expressive eyes (do they give honorary Oscars to eyeballs?)

Jeffrey Wright is back as Bond’s ally Felix Leiter, furthering my belief that Wright is in just about every other made in the last twelve years. David Harbour as CIA operative Gregg Beam plays the part of boorish jackass just right, and he also has one of my favorite lines in the picture. Giancarlo Giannini is back as Bond’s ally Mathis, and Jesper Christensen returns as the mysterious Mr. White. The Bond girls in this film, Olga Kurylenko as Camille and Gemma Arterton as Agent Strawberry Fields, are both stunning without really having much to do in the film.

Quantum of Solace is a solid installment in the Bond franchise.

Body of Lies

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

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Body of Lies is a solid action film, with strong performances and directed by a master filmmaker (Ridley Scott), but the film left me feeling cold, uninvolved. I appreciate it from an aesthetic standpoint, as a competently made thriller about the Middle East, but it never really captivated me. I recommend it if you really like spy films, but I don’t recommend it that enthusiastically.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Roger Ferris, a secret agent stationed in the Middle East, who is really, really devoted to his job. Leo plays Ferris as bitter, obsessed and very prickly (and prickish); in fact, shades of Leo’s character from The Departed can be found in his work here. Anyway, the plot involves Leo tracking down the suspected terrorist mastermind Al-Saleem (played by Alon Abutbul), and playing just about every side to do so. This includes his handler back in Washington, Ed Hoffman (played by Russell Crowe), and Hani (Mark Strong), who heads up the Jordanian security.

Of course, every action film nowadays needs a love interest, and the plot provides one in the form of Aisha (played by Golshifteh Farahani), a nurse at a hospital where Roger goes after a nasty confrontation with some angry doggies. Roger and Aisha have some nice scenes together, but the subplot doesn’t really seem to go anywhere. (that being said, the scene where Roger goes to Aisha’s home to meet her sister and her two nephews is brilliantly done).

Leonardo DiCaprio is a trooper in this film (his character is bruised and battered physically, emotionally and mentally throughout the film), but, as I said elsewhere, his work here seems in parts a retread of some of his other past, better performances. Russell Crowe’s supporting turn as Ed, the overbearing, overweight handler is terrific; Crowe creates a ruthless, boorish character who serves as comic relief in several scenes. Throughout the film, Ed eats like a pig and pushes Roger to the breaking point, but he’s also depicted as a loving father (notice the way he helps his young son use the bathroom in an early scene).

A key supporting role is the performance by Mark Strong, as Hani, the head of the Jordanian security, who helps Roger with information. Hani is a man of honor, sure, but he’s also devious, cunning and seems to always be thinking two steps ahead. Strong plays him smooth, quiet but with a vicious, violent strike that erupt at any moment. I also liked the supporting performances by Simon McBurney as Garland, the computer expert who becomes Leo’s ally, and Lubna Azabal as Aisha’s disapproving sister.

Body of Lies is well-made and provides a good entertainment, but it doesn’t really resonate with the viewer afterwards, and pales next to many other recent movies about the Middle East.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

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I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Kevin Smith’s latest film, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, is a funny movie. Smith has always been a gifted writer, and the dialogue in his films are witty, intelligent and incredibly profane, but in a good way. What I was surprised by was how sweet the tone of this film is. Yes, it’s vulgar, but it’s got a heart, and you care about the characters.

A good deal of the credit has to go to the lead actors: Seth Rogen and Elizbeth Banks. They have a natural chemistry, that helps immediately convince us that these two characters have in fact known in each other for years. This isn’t one of those movies were the two main characters are supposedly lifelong friends, but the actors don’t pull it off. We sense a history between the two.

Elizabeth Banks is beautiful, of course, but she is also a gifted comedienne (just look at her work in The 40 Year Old Virgin or her stint on the TV show “Scrubs). She has an early scene where she’s attempting to seduce a classmate at her high school reunion. Watch Banks’ timing, and her physicality in this scene, and also watch the reactions of the classmate (played by Superman himself, Brandon Routh). Banks’ makes Miri an endearing and alluring heroine.

Seth Rogen is quickly becoming a star, and his natural humor and comic presence is instantly apparent in this film. Rogen, who is also a gifted writer, has a way with dialogue, and can make seemingly inconsequential lines hilarious. He makes Zack a slacker with an acid tongue, but also a big lug with a bigger heart.

I’m sure I’m making Zack and Miri Make a Porno seem like an uneasy combination of smut and saccharine, but Smith has the audacity and the comic sensibility to pull it off. Although his name is nowhere on the film, I feel like at least the spirit of Judd Apatow was somehow in involved in this film. Rogen and Banks are both Apatow regulars, as are Craig Robinson and Gerry Bednob (who played Mooj in 40 Year Old Virgin). The film also has the mix of the sick and the sincere that Apatow films generally possess.

It is a Kevin Smith film, though, so Smith regulars crop up too. Most notably Jason Mewes (Jay of Jay & Silent Bob), as a dim-witted porn star, and Jeff Anderson (Randy of Clerks and Clerks II), as Deacon, the camera man. Smith also gives the film a dash of authenticity by casting real-life adult film stars Traci Lords and Katie Morgan in notable roles. Look fast for a cameo by horror make-up master Tom Savini.

I really enjoyed the work of Robinson as Zack’s co-worker Delaney, who winds up as the producer of the adult film that Zack and Miri set out to make. Robinson is a very funny actor (as his work on NBC’s “The Office” shows), and is a great asset to this film. I also thought that Justin Long was well-cast in his supporting turn as a gay porn star.

Although there are definitely some great gross-out gags (one particular scene involving Anderson’s put-upon cameraman comes to mind), but I think that Zack and Miri Make a Porno resonates after the credits because of the believability that Rogen and Banks bring to their characters. They give the film a realness and freshness that many gross-out comedies severely lack.

2008 Election: The Movie

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

Ok, you know that somebody, someday, somewhere is going to make a film based on all this election madness. It would make a pretty good satire, I think. Anyway, I thought I would save the liberal media a bit of time and cast a few of the key roles. Enjoy.

Don Cheadle as Senator Barack Obama

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Zeljko Ivanek as Senator John McCain

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Gene Hackman as Senator Joe Biden

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Mariska Hargitay as Governor Sarah Palin

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Michael Rooker as Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher aka “Joe the Plumber”

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Stephen Collins as Mitt Romney

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Miranda Richardson as Senator Hilary Clinton

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Bill Murray as Bill O’Reilly

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Tim Blake Nelson as President George W. Bush

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