Saturday, September 27, 2008

Movie review:Tropic Thunder

Parodies run the gamut. They can be anything from something where they actually develop a story and let the jokes flow out of that, but work in a lot of belly laugh jokes...say, the Airplane or The Naked Gun franchises, to something where simply referencing another movie is thought of as the joke. Somewhere in between are movies that are so full of inside jokes that they end up being at best marginally funny and at worst painful experiences that bring regret to all whom see them. Where does Tropic Thunder fall within this pantheon? It is hard to tell.

It partially depends on how knowledgeable the viewer is about "Hollywood insider" type stuff and how humorous he finds parody. Tropic is full of parody. It starts with some trailers that parody everything from sequels of sequels of sequels that carry on because the former one was successful rather than because it had a story to tell,  to movies that are supposed to be funny because one guy plays multiple parts and farts a lot to movies that use heavy-handed emotion to fool people into thinking a story is actually good.

Then it parodies the over anxiousness of special effects coordinators, the 'star behavior" that is often credited for ruining movies, the overpowered producers, the callousness of Hollywood, the way fictional books are presented as truth and true books are fictionalized, the attempts of actors to win Oscars by playing disabled people, and more. 

At some point you realize the actors are playing to the camera as much as they are to the Tropic Thunder camera. It is a movie within a movie within a movie. They have statements to make about how Hollywood takes itself way too seriously...but they do it by taking themselves too seriously sometimes. Which is odd, because virtually everyone in it parodies himself and is having fun with it.

There are a few laughs in the movie but they are mostly the type where you mainly smile inwardly and move on. 

This movie could have been great and no doubt many people will think it is but if you don't like to look beyond the service this is not the movie for you.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Movie Review:My Best Friend's Girl

Dane Cook is a polarizing figure for comedy fans. Some love him, think he is hilarious, and will see anything he is in. Others regard him as an unfunny jokeless "comedian". I fall somewhere in the middle. I think he could be funny and does a good job of acting...he just has made poor script choices in his movie roles. And yes, I realize the movie roles are different than the critiques of his stand-up.

In My Best Friend's Girl (2008) we meet Tank (Dane Cook), a guy who embodies every stereotype of the arrogant male...interested only in sex, doesn't care about the girl, has no comprehension of how to treat her nice. Theoretically it is a role for Tank. It is his job. He gets paid by dumped boyfriends to show their girlfriends how good they had actually had it with their ex-boyfriend, and then of course the girls would run back to their spurned boyfriend and end up marrying them.

Unfortunately, his over the top crudity does not come across as Jackass just comes across as jackassery. It is not funny. It still manages to be repulsive.

His roommate is Dustin (Jason Biggs). In theory, Dustin is the prototypical "nice guy". When he is given the "let's just be friends" spiel by Alexis (Kate Hudson) he turns to Tank to do his magic. Naturally, Tank and Alexis fall for each other and hilarity ensues. At least, that is how they drew it up. They just forgot to include the hilarity. Or to make Dustin sympathetic.

Actually, he comes across as pathetic. Cloying. Obnoxious. Irritating. Unworthy even of Alexis who is none to desirable herself as portrayed in this film. You kind of get the feeling Tank and Alexis deserve each other. And that Dustin deserved nobody. 

So as the story goes along Tank and Alexis are mutual booty calls who somehow fall in love, Dustin and Tank fight over it, then get back together as friends and the movie (thankfully) ends.

Probably the most interesting thing about the movie was watching the people change into each other.

At the beginning of the movie, Dustin wants a relationship, not sex. He chases Alexis at every opportunity for this very purpose. Yet at the end of the movie he could not care less about building relationships, being a nice guy, or anything like that, he has become Tank in that he is pretty much a random philanderer.

 At the beginning of the movie Tank is quite the philanderer who has a rule; none of the skanks he brings home for sex can stay over;they have to leave after the sex. He says horrible things to the girls he wants to sleep with. And it somehow works for him. Alexis is very sweet, prim, and proper. 

Yet by middle of the flick it is Alexis who, after sex, tells Tank to leave because tomorrow is a work day, using almost the same words he used to kick out girls. Tank has become both the girls he used and also Dustin, the sad, pathetic, guy who wants a relationship, not just sex.

Alexis starts out wanting a sweet relationship, just not with Dustin...and ends up becoming a Tank clone in many ways.

What was the movie trying to say with the inversion of roles? Frankly, the movie was so boring it never really mattered. It was unfunny, uninteresting, and I would have felt ripped off if I had seen it via a free Red Box rental. Spare your eyes from this travesty.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Movie Review:Igor

Picking up on the idea proposed by the Shrek franchise and its more forgettable cousin Happily N'Ever After (2006), Igor (2008) takes the view of the classic villain, in this case the assistant to the evil mad scientist, and makes that movie.

Shrek (Mike Myers) is the best villain-as-hero of all time, but even he falls victim to the same trap Igor (John Cusack) falls into; he is not really a villain, he is just misunderstood. Igor has a heart of gold under his surface desire to be an evil scientist.

Stuck serving under defective mad scientist Dr. Glickenstein (John Cleese), Igor secretly works to invent evil inventions. Sadly, he is best at creating misshapen life; Brain (Sean Hayes) and Scamper (Steve Buscemi). Brain is so dumb he spells his name "Brian" and Scamper was unfortunately made immortal...but wants to die so he keeps committing suicide, only to reanimate moments later.

One of the best jokes in the entire movie is the tire tracks running across Scamper's belly. But there are a lot of other good jokes and several laughs. There is also some tremendous voice and comedic talent. Sadly, a lot of it is wasted; Eddie Izzard as Dr. Shadenfreuede has a horrific role as a stereotypical villain...yes, in a movie where a villain is the hero there is a villain...and another one...and another one.

Anyhow, Igor rolls out, overcomes obstacles, makes his evil invention. So far, so good. The normal roles are inverted. Unfortunately, his evil invention proves to be good. Fortunately, it turns out Igor is not evil at heart...he just wants to invent, so he turns the kingdom back from evil and ends up happy with his good invention.

The best jokes come from the inverted paradigm where evil is preferred and it just depends on what level of evil you are successful at to be successful in the kingdom. The worst jokes and least entertainment come from trying to insert a classic villain into this setting. He just doesn't work.

And saddest of all, the turning of Igor to classic "good guy" weakens the result. This movie verged on greatness and ended up just being another forgettable entry into the field of animation.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Movie Review:Bangkok Dangerous

What is it about arguably great actors...or at the very least, highly entertaining actors...where they feel compelled to show up in hairstyles so bad they make Telly Savalas look fashionable? Tom Hanks infliced us with the pseudo-mullet in The DaVinci Code (2006) and now, proving he learned nothing from the follicly challenged Con Air (1997), Nicholas Cage is back to show that bad hair can't ruin a good movie or save a bad one.

I suspect nobody had their viewing pleasure of either Davinci or Con by the mistakes in the head department. Both were eminently enjoyable for their target audiences. Conversely, the hair can't save Bangkok Dangerous (2008).

Joe (Nicholas Cage) is the unbelievably dumb assassin who rolls into Hong Kong for a few jobs for his new Thai clients. Joe has rules such as don't ask questions. Unfortunately, he only occasionally plans out his assassinations and accepts jobs for whenever or wherever the clients suggest. This, of course, means he would be very easy to set up should his clients so choose since they would know when and where the hit is being performed.

For example, when he is told to whack a gangster at the Sheraton while making it look like an accident he is forced to drown the guy more or less in plain view of everyone, though oddly his deed goes unnoticed.

When another hit goes bad on the waterways, he does not call it off but instead engages in a high-profile, high-speed chase through the waterways and ends by pulling the trigger in plain sight, then having a lengthy pose so anyone who might desire can photograph it.

Along the way, Joe breaks his own rules and takes on Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm) as his student. Since he normally kills his errand boys, this is a step up morally speaking. Yes, teaching someone how to commit murder is a positive step...that tells you something about the theme of this movie.

But along the way, Joe falls for a local pharmacist, Fon (Charlie Yeung). She is mute so their communication is non-verbal which, in conjunction with the constant questions of Kong, reawaken his conscience.

This moves him into a new world. Ultimately, however, the final job of his career, the one that will make him rich, turns out to be a job he will not do. Fearful of betrayal, the gangsters kidnap Kong and Aom (Panward Hemmanee), the dancer/liaison who has started dating Kong.

Joe goes to rescue them which leads to the third action packed set piece and an ending that has him contemplating suicide. To understand his choice it is vital to understand the symbols of the movie.

Early on, Kong points out that an elephant trunk pointing down is emblematic of bad luck. As his relationships with Fon and King develop, Joe moves into a new world. In the world of the assassin he is emotionless, has no relationships, and is always prepared to move to the next job.

Now, however, he has a pseudo-friendship with Kong, he has a budding relationship with Fon, and he is starting to become part of the Thai culture. Emblematic of this, he makes a connection with a live elephant and then turns the elephant picture upside down...which turns its trunk right side up.

Later, Fon's deafness proves a problem as when 2 random guys try to mug Joe, he kills them both. Fon has her back turned and hears nothing, simply turns when blood splatters her and turns to see 2 dead men and Joe with a gun in her hand. She then rejects him.

Unfortunately, now Joe is part of a world that, through Fon, has rejected him but is no longer part of the world of killers. This is pointed out through the use of mirrors. Early on, he shows Kong that mirrors are all around them. Yet when he stops by the house of Fon on the way to rescue Kong, he fails to use the obvious mirror on his car and thus does not see she has repented of her acceptance of him.

Believing the Thai world and the world of happiness with Fon can never be, no longer an assassin, he rescues Kong whom he sees as a younger version of himself.

Of course, if Kong retakes the path Joe took, he can never continue the relationship with Aom. Thus ultimately Joe must die in order for Kong to have a new path that does not end up in the world of the assassin.

Too bad the movie never really sets up that way.

A dark, gloomy movie, it does have 3 action-packed, gunfire filled set-pieces, but they are pretty plain, by the numbers pieces that don't deliver on the promise. We have seen better boat/motorcycle chases in the James Bond, Italian Job, Bad Boys, and other franchises. We have seen better gunfights thousands of times. There is nothing really original or even exciting. The camera work is okay but too often replaces great shots with rapid cuts to convey movement and excitement.

This movie bombed at the box office and deserved to do so. If you like dark action, go see The Dark Knight again. If you life fun action, go see Iron Man. If you want a good "assassin who wants to retire after one last job that goes wrong" then check out Assassins (1995). Just don't bother with Bangkok unless you have a free Red Box rental for some reason.

Movie Review:Longshots

The movie poster and trailers for The Longshots (2008) were nothing if not misleading. They portray happy, smiling people taking part in yet another "inspiring sports story of a misfit, fish out of water non-athlete who becomes a star. You expect a certain amount of sappiness, a whole lot of feel-good cheer, and just generally a feel-good story.

Instead, it starts out dreary and gets much, much worse before getting better...sort of.

Curtis Plummer (Ice Cube) is a guy who has pretty much lost everything. Once a star football player, he blew out his knee and got a job in a factory. When the factory closed, he basically gave up on life. He spends his time with homeless guys hanging around the local trashed out football field with other homeless guys. His daily routine includes taking money out of his "Get out of Minden" fund to buy another beer.

Meanwhile, his niece Jasmine Plummer (Keke Palmer) is a loner/loser who does little except pine for her father Roy (Malcolm Goodwin) who ran off several years prior. She is picked on by the other kids, loses herself in her books, and is basically crawling through life.

When Claire Plummer (Tasha Smith) has to take extra hours as a waitress to make ends meet, she turns to Curtis to watch Jasmine. Curtis is so far beyond being a decent guy that he holds out until Claire offers him 5 bucks an hour to watch his niece.

It does not go well as Jasmine and Curtis not only do not hit it off, he shows a mastery of the ability to say the wrong thing at the wrong time, sending her ever further into a dark spiral.

Finally he gives up on trying and takes her to the park. In one of those movie cliches, she picks up an errant football and proves to have a natural talent for throwing.
So Curtis starts teaching her how to quarterback. How to grip the ball. How to cock. How to throw. Naturally she is great.

After a brief time where the coach will not replace his inept quarterback, Jasmine gets her shot. The Minden Browns start winning.The spectator totals explode. Well, they at least go from a half dozen people to maybe 20....
As word spreads of Jasmine's exploits, the media starts paying attention. Using the idea the media needs to see more of Minden than run-down streets, Reverend Pratt (Garrett Morris) convinces people to get together and clean up the town.

As the Minden Browns make their improbable run to the Pop Warner Super Bowl, Roy makes an untimely reappearance, Curtis replaces the ill coach, and everyone has something to solve.

For Curtis, he needs to fulfill the statement he made to Jasmine: "When you find something you are good at, you have to pursue it and don't let nothing stop you."

Jasmine has to realize that Roy is worthless and she needs to move on with her life.

Minden needs to regain their town pride since the factory is not coming back.

Coach Fisher (Matt Craven) needs to let his son know that he is proud of him.

What, did that just seem thrown in? Well...lots of things were just "thrown in" in this movie. Like the iconic moment when the Browns are celebrating their unity and the camera holds on a black hand and a white hand clasped together in unity. Now, nothing wrong with that...except that theme was nowhere else in the movie and when you see it, there is no question a statement being made. Great statement...completely out of the blue and random. Jasmine's hand being there would have meant more. And easily recognizable via her Dad's watch which she never takes off.

Or the crowd assembling when the Browns return from the Super Bowl. Or out of nowhere Coach telling his boy how proud he is of him and how proud he is.

Ironically, Curtis is the only one who does not achieve his goal. He proves to be a GREAT coach. Yet when he is offered a presumably decent paying job in his dream town of Miami, he turns it down to return to Minden and no future. While his reasoning of being there for Jasmine is honorable, it is a contradiction of the movies themes of people needing to get to better places.

Ultimately, the outright misery and depression of the first hour and change of this movie is just too much to overcome and what could have been a nice, enjoyable niche film is just too dreary.

A lot of that needs to be laid at the feet of first-time director Fred Durst, better known as the lead singer for Limp Bizkit. The filming is inconsistent, at times having the clear, smooth feel of being shot on digital video and other times looking as if it were shot on extremely grainy film. Themes are introduced and then ignored. Resolutions occur to questions that aren't asked.

And the advertising was highly misleading.

This might be worth a Netflix, but there is no need to see this in the theatre.