Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Sickness Cinema Summer in Review Part II

The Bataan death march of summer listing (this was a horrible HORRIBLE idea and I regret doing it) continues again. I'm envious of Peter (and to a lesser extent Rob) and his free form listing. Oh well, here I go.

Favorite scene that made me laugh
Phillip Petit explains the benefits of having crutches in America in Man on Wire. Have you seen this yet? You really, REALLY should.

Wall-E finds a spork and doesn't know where to put it. Pefect.

Danny McBride makes mother nature wet her pantsuit.

Favorite scenes that got me tingly
Juan Antonio propositions Cristina (and to a lesser extent Vicky). I don't often give it up for ScarJo but she looks sooooo into it. The much ballyhooed about three-way can't possibly measure up to her anticipation.

The dance-off in Get Smart. Yeah. That's right. I gotta be me. You all know EXACTLY what I'm talking about.

Favorite older actors I appreciate again from the summer
Tom Cruise goes for broke in what critics are calling "Jew-face." Sickness laughs.

Ben Kingsely turned in two very solid performances in both the Wackness (where he plays a boho Harvey Kietel) and Elegy where he goes back to being good mid 80's Ben Kingsley.

Ummmm, I think that's it for that category, unless you count the 40 minute block of Indiana Jones where the movie is actually decent (hint: it's in the middle).

Favorite performance in an awful movie
Shia LaBeouff rocks it mightily in a terrible, terrible movie filled with ridiculous robot characters and loaded with sloppy CG. I'm shocked that I'm talking about a movie from this summer too.

Pierce Brosnan in Momma Mia when---nope, he's awful, AWFUL in this movie.

Alright I'm exhausted, tomorrow will mark the end of the work week. Join me as I burn off steam by talking about the worst of summer.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sickness Cinema Summer in Review Part I

First off I'd like to acknowledge the passing of the voice of movie trailers Don LaFontaine (aka "In a world..." guy). There have been many solid tributes all over the internet and I'm not going to endorse any one in particular, but if you check out MOST of the sites to the right you should find something. Oh what the heck, here's a quick one.

On to happier things. Now I don't want to out and out rank all the summer movies because for one, I didn't see ALL of them, and furthermore that's what the year in review is for. But here is a number of things I feel are worth mentioning before we head into the likely headier, more outre work of the fall and winter. So without further ado some Sickness Cinema approved favorites.

Favorite lovers of summer
Wall-E and EVE from Wall-E
At the end of the day it's all about kindness and what that kindness can inspire. Wall-E is for all intents and purposes a dork. He invites the girl back to his aprtment and shows her his dorky collecibles and makes her watch a "terrible" movie. He lays his soul bare for here nd she couldn't be less interested. But Wall-E is loyal, steadfast and caring and eventually it gets to her (I respectfully disagree with Devin's interpretation of Wall-E's inserting his hand into her arm slit as date-rape). She sees the world through considerate, awe-inspired eyes and from this spark (both literal and figurative) the foundation is laid for the redemption of all things both robo and human.

Saul and Dale from Pineapple Express
Poor Saul, he wants Dale so bad, though who can blame him. Dale appears confident, comfortable and cool in his entirely lackadaisical skin. Fine, I'll cop to my Rogen man-crush, but most stories about male-bonding just love stories writ macho. David Gordon Green captures the budding friendship with the same lazy afternoon elegance of past films like George Washington and All the Real Girls. It gets to the point where you can simply enjoy these two shooting the breeze in a diner for hours on end.

Favorite Super-Hero Characters that a ten year old Sickness would want to be
Hellboy from Hellboy II-The coolest hero with the best looking adventures and the coolest fight scenes of the summer. Plus Jeffrey Tambor would be my boss and I'd be crazy horny all the time (get it?).

Racer X from Speed Racer-Cool car, punches people upside down, fights ninjas (more like non-jas) and Rain... RAAAAAIIIIIIINNNNN! (shakes fist) Also good friends with the perfectly named Inspector Detector. May or may not be Speed's brother (who was once Jason Street).

Favorite Super-Hero Characters that the Sickness wants to be now
Tony Stark in Iron Man-Wry billionaire, socially acceptable drinker, notorious ladies man with a robot butler and a hot redheaded Gwenyth Paltrow. Also, I'd be Iron Man.

Comissioner Jim Gordon-I'd get to be the moral center of Gotham City and generate audience applause when I fake my own death only to triumphantly capture the Joker. Also I'd get to deliver the final kick-ass monologue that ties the whole movie together.

Favorite Movie Music of the Summer
"Put On your Sunday Clothes" and "It Only Takes a Moment" in Wall-E
Remember "Singin' in the Rain" in Clockwork Orange or "Blue Velvet" in Blue Velvet? One of my favorite tricks a movie can pull-off is re-contextualizing a pop-song. Wall-E pulls it off twice with two rinky-dink book numbers from Hello Dolly! The numbers are entirely forgettable in the original film (or at least they were) but now director Andrew Stanton has underlined the unbridled enthusiasm of "Sunday" and the naive, pure love found in "Moment" and makes each song a gateway to deep, primal feelings. I mean, little (sniffle) Wall-E just (sniff) hold her-- Oh God I have something in my eye.

"Paper Planes" from the Pineapple Express trailer
Rarely does a song so perfectly capture the tone of a film that it makes it a shame that it doesn't show up in the actual film. The song has gone on to become so popular that recording artist M.I.A. is considering coming out of retirement to create more popular international style trip-hop.

Favorite Actor to watch from the summer
Josh Peck from The Wackness
Most young actors rest entirely on the script or their looks to get them through a part. Not Peck, who brings authenticity to every moment and brings the emotional weight where Ben Kingsley's more childish character cannot.

Danny McBride from Pineapple Express and Tropic Thunder
Ok guys I give, I "get" Danny McBride now. He's more of a delusional alpha male type. The frat boy who is cannier than you'd think but not anywhere near as skilled as you'd hope. McBride's biggest laughs aren't generated from big moments but rather through seemingly tossed off tiny moments.

All right it's late and I need the sleep, but I'll be back with part two where you'll learn my:
Favorite scene that made me laugh

Favorite scenes that got me tingly

Favorite older actors I appreciate again from the summer

Favorite performance in an awful movie


Monday, September 1, 2008

Sickness Cinema Summer in Review Intro

Tomorrow school begins once again which will most certainly put a crimp in my daily blogging (it already has) and while this time I'll be in front of the class it's still a nerve wracking. I'm saddened by the end of summer but a bit mixed on the end of the summer season. Quieter, more thoughtful movies will slowly be marching into cinemas and I can't wait. So how about a little perspective on the summer? I'll be coming at you for the next several days with my favorites (and least favorites) of the summer. Enjoy as I work through super-heroes, Apatow-ian man-children, high-wire documentaries, animated lovers and all sorts of assorted brick-a-brack. In the meantime you should always be checking out the wonderful Peter and Rob make lists of things blog (easily my favorite blog on the entire inter-web) for topics as diverse as hobos, juice, closing tracks, fictional haircuts and micro-nations.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


A Meme courtesy of the fine folks at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule.
1) Your favorite musical moment in a movie Start me with a tough one huh? Do they mean from a musical? For non-musical A music cue? A performance? Arghhhh!

Ok for musical moment from a musical I will say "Make 'Em Laugh" from Singin' In the Rain, cause it is pretty definitively perfection.
For a non-musical film nothing raised me to blissful heights as much as "The Age of Aquarius" coming out of nowhere as performed by the entire cast in The 40-Year Old Virgin.
For a music cue I'd say when the zither comes in to reveal Harry Lime in The Third Man, that or when the Raiders March returns when Indy is on the sub in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
2) Ray Milland or Dana Andrews?
Not a super fan of either of these guys (is anyone?). I'd give it to Milland because he's been in two Billy Wilder movies.
3) Favorite Sidney Lumet movie?
My gut says 12 Angry Men but my head says Dog Day Afternoon. I'll split the difference and say Network.
4) Biggest surprise of the just-past summer movie season?
Speed Racer was charmingly awesome and silly fun and deserves a cult following.
5) Gene Tierney or Rita Hayworth?
You'd think I'd pick Rita because she's curvier and beloved by Stephen King characters, but you'd be wrong since Tierney is a better actress and a looker herself.

6) What’s the last movie you saw on DVD? In theaters?

I just saw Smart People on DVD and was pretty bored by it (hey look the feel and conventions of every mainstream-esque indie film of the last five years pushed through a duck-press). In theatres I saw Man on Wire and it may be favorite film of the year so far.
7) Irwin Allen’s finest hour?
Ugh, really? I guess the Poseidon Adventure. Kind of glad that this style of film is out of fashion. Not saying it won't come back and not saying it couldn't ever be good, but by-in-large I could do without.
8) What were the films where you would rather see the movie promised by the poster than the one that was actually made?
Most recently? Smokin' Aces.

9) Chow Yun-Fat or Tony Leung?
Ooo good one. I'll go with Fat.
10) Most pretentious movie ever?
Last Year at Marienbad is pretty rough-going. Any number of experimental films, what's the one where it's just lights flickering in a hallway for fifteen minutes? Anyone from my old film theory class want to help me out with this one?

11) Favorite Russ Meyer movie
I am sadly pretty deficient when it comes to Russ Meyer films, the same for his Italian counter-part for bottoms Tinto Brass. I should work on this.
12) Name the movie that you feel best reflects yourself, a movie you would recommend to an acquaintance that most accurately says, “This is me.” Hmmm maybe Brazil. Or Horse Feathers. Or Manhattan. Definitely one of those three.

13) Marlene Dietrich or Greta Garbo
Gut says Garbo for Ninotchka, but I need to see more to be sure.

14) Best movie snack? Most vile movie snack?
Popcorn (hot and fresh, don't lie to me and tell me it's hot concession guy) with M&M's or Milk duds mixed in and a large (diet) soda. Most vile? Any food that's been under the heat lamp for years.
15) Current movie star who would be most comfortable in the classic Hollywood studio system Jon Hamm, does he count?
16) Fitzcarraldo—yes or no? What are you kidding? Yes, yes a thousand times yes.

17) Your assignment is to book the ultimate triple bill to inaugurate your own revival theater. What three movies will we see on opening night?

The opening night would be a celebration of movies called "Hooray for movies" and it would be a triple bill of The Bad and the Beautiful, 8 1/2 and The Muppet Movie.

18) What’s the name of your theater? (The all-time greatest answer to this question was once provided by Larry Aydlette, whose repertory cinema, the Demarest, is, I hope, still packing them in…)

My theater would be called The Xanadu.

19) Favorite Leo McCarey movie

Duck Soup

20) Most impressive debut performance by an actor/actress.

I'm stumped, any ideas?

21) Biggest disappointment of the just-past summer movie season
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Shattering Failure.
22) Michelle Yeoh or Maggie Cheung
Maggie hasn't crossed-over yet but her resume is a bit more thoughtful

23) 2008 inductee into the Academy of the Overrated

Mama Mia, I don't get it, just listen to an ABBA's greatest hits album and save the money.
24) 2008 inductee into the Academy of the Underrated
In Bruges and all participants therein.

25) Fritz the Cat—yes or no?
Ummmm, no.

26) Trevor Howard or Richard Todd
Trevor Howard, seriously is this a competition?

27) Antonioni once said, “I began taking liberties a long time ago; now it is standard practice for most directors to ignore the rules.” What filmmaker working today most fruitfully ignores the rules? What does ignoring the rules of cinema mean in 2008?
Todd Haynes, a stylist who consistently pushes boundaries and doesn't rest on his laurels.

28) Favorite William Castle movie?
As a director House on Haunted Hill, as a producer Rosemary's Baby.

29) Favorite ethnographically oriented movie
I think most Scorsese movies are pretty ethnographically oriented whether it's Kundun or Goodfellas.

30) What’s the movie coming up in 2008 you’re most looking forward to? Why?
A four-way tie between:
Synendoche, New York-Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut
Australia-Baz Luhrman's first film since Moulin Rouge!
Doubt-Amy Adams goes dramatic
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button-A new epic from super genius David Finchner.

31) What deceased director would you want to resurrect in order that she/he might make one more film?

Billy Wilder, but no cussing allowed please because Avanti was kind of awkward

32) What director would you like to see, if not literally entombed, then at least go silent creatively?

Bury, BURY Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer.

33) Your first movie star crush?
Alicia Silverstone in Clueless. I was very young and very dumb, it's that thing she does when she pulls the gum out of her mouth.

Monday, August 25, 2008

To dream the impossible dream

A young injured French boy sits in a doctor's office reading a magazine and sees an article about architects and designers creating what will become the World Trade Center towers. So excited by this discovery the boy neglects his injury and races home with excitement. At this moment tumbler/sidewalk entertainer/juggler and high-wire walker Phillippe Petit knew his life's dream, to walk a tightrope between the WTC towers. It is this goal that is the subject of the breathtakingly wonderful documentary currently inhabiting indie theaters across the country. By turns awe-inspiring, hilarious, thrilling, frightening and thought-provoking as anything in theaters this summer. Director James Marsh deftly mixes archival footage, re-enactments, talking head style interviews and still photos to tell this story. Though the outcome is never really in question as Petit is alive, well and talking to us throughout , the film manages to thrill and make audience members gasp with the intricate heist-like plot of Petit and his fellow conspirators to reach the top of the towers and attempt the illegal but ultimately "harmless" (to everyone but Petit I suppose) act.

The film manages to gracefully never dip into a dull presentation of what is ultimately a very simple and straightforward plot by its excellent use of Phillipe Petit. His boundless enthusiasm, his charmingly accented English, his child-like sense of wonder make for a exceedingly compelling lead. One overlooks his borderline insanity or potentially obnoxious level of self-importance because you've simply never seen anyone quite like him before. His wacky crew of conspirators are fairly compelling too. While hardly the attractive, slick operators of the Ocean gang, this eclectic group's shagginess works in the movies favor as it forces the viewer to ponder how on Earth could this group have pulled it off.

Surprisingly for a film about the WTC, 9/11 is never explicitly mentioned though it does underscore and cast a pall on the proceedings. There is a moment where Petit talks about looking down because he would (and really by extension no one would or could) ever see from that particular angle again. This moment goes a long way to conveying the feeling and provide the catharsis curious and invested viewers may need.
The film takes great pride in pointing out the poetry and beauty that occurs when something random and wondrous happens in the midst of the mundane. Petit's walking, seemingly on air thousands of feet in the air may not sound like much, but to actually witness it is truly awe-inspiring. In finding the wrinkles in unexpected places in he world (like say several thousand feet above one's head) Marsh and his crew have created a mini-masterpiece that should have viewers looking at their world with more intrigued and excited eyes.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Where once there was a yacht, now there is naught

GOB everybody! GOB IS BACK! Or was briefly on public television. He can call himself "Max" but you can't fool me, that is George Oscar Bluth clear as day. The delivery, the stage craft, the slight of hand, all that's missing is the glorious bombast of Europe's "The Final Countdown." You know who'd be a great addition to Sesame Street? Franklin. He'd put Oscar the Grouch's green-ass in line. And remember kids it's an illusion, a trick is something Cookie Monster does for money...or cookies.
See more funny videos at Funny or Die

Saturday, August 23, 2008

I'm a total google hit whore

Went to an amazing Italian restaurant in North Hollywood last night to say goodbye to a friend of mine who is moving to New York (very jealous). The restaurant was hit by a major case of the 90's as other tables were filled by such luminaries as James "Dawson" Van DerBeek and not one, not two, but three Lawrence brothers. I know, I know, hardly a Clive Owen sighting but still good times, good wine, good friends and good 90's teen heart-throbs. What more could you want from a Friday night? Much more sophisticated (yeah right) and movie centric postings to resume shortly.

Oh and I suppose this is appropriate given the deluge of advertising I'm seeing for it, is anyone planing checking out the new 90210? Veronica Mars mastermind Rob Thomas was originally show-running but left the project so that's a bad sign right there. On the other hand the show has Tristan Wilds (Michael from The Wire) as one of the main kids and Lucille Bluth herself Jessica Walter as a snarky lush (PERFECT). So what say you readers, yea or nay?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Oh Oh Oh It's Magic

Is there a greater purveyor and advocate of whimsy then my friend Frank? I consulted the Oracle at Delphi about this and instead of her usual mumbo-jumbo about Croesus and the Spartans and what not, she simply said "no." Well Frank was first to point me to the below video (way before all the nerd sites). It's chalk full of magical movie moments. I'll grant that it's a touch fanboy heavy but by the end true movie fans will be so overwhelmed with good feelings that it won't matter.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Come Fly With Me

Post-Tropic Thunder I'm feeling pretty good about Ben Stiller. Who knows? Maybe even
Night at the Museum 2 won't be the soulless, albeit well-intentioned, silly children's film the first one was. Why my optimism? Who oh who could be possibly make this film worthwhile to me where Dick Van-Dyke, Ricky Gervais, Paul Rudd and Steve Coogan failed?

Booya Baby! Amy Adams is back on the blog and looking cute as usual (no surprise there) as Amelia Earhart. That Ben Stiller is one lucky dope. My lord the pants, that jacket, those short fetching red curls. Oh it's love all over again. Man I hope ADubs rules the Earth in this part and that she comes off way better than Hillary Swank's Earheart coming out at the same time. Actually, no, I take it back, it's really unfair to actors when they play the same role around the same time. Just ask poor Toby Jones in Infamous what he thinks of PSH's Capote Oscar.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Lessons I've Learned from Val Kilmer Characters

The definition of the word idiot can be found in the dictionary (also, it does't feature a picture of Harry Lockhart).-from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
The Bat-signal is not a beeper.*-Batman Forever
Apparently, he's my Huckleberry.-Tombstone
This may be the only chance I have in my whole have sex.-Real Genius
Let them be low. We are getting *high*. We're not getting fucked down. We're getting fucked up.-from his delightful turn in Entourage
There's the fucking door.-Heat (which was good because I needed to know where the door was)
In the city there is always a reflection, in the woods always a sound.-Spartan, cool flick, check it out
You've got to do it. If you don't, I'm dead.-Wonderland
I can ride his tail any time.-Top Gun

Good to know Val, good to know. Should Val ever read this (and it's not outside the realm of possibility WINK) let it be known that I think that Val Kilmer is just awesome even in the absolute worst DTV dreck. I mean even in an otherwise worthless flick (like Mindhunters) or a literary adaptation that could've gone better (like Comanche Moon) Kilmer is fascinating to watch. Here's to more kick-ass performances and hopefully better movies (how about an out and out comedy like Real Genius or Top Secret?)

*(I actually thought about this for a bit and I must respectfully disagree, the Bat-signal is specifically a beeper. A beeper for Batman.)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Character, Chracter, Place Name

I am happy to say Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a welcome addition to the Woody Allen canon and his best film since Match Point. Allen's film is about the complicated nature of relationships and the difficulty of romance. It also works as a sharp character study wrought with instances of contradiction and self-delusion.

The titular Vicky and Cristina, a pair of friends vacationing in Barcelona have an immediate and telling moment early on when they disembark the plane and get into a cab. Allen frames the two women in a split screen. Even though they are sharing the back of a cab and could easily fit the frame the two are distinct in character and personality, a study in contradictions even though they inhabit the same space. Vicky (Rebecca Hall, initially a bit frigid and then warms charmingly) is pursuing her post-graduate studies about Catalan culture (though she doesn't really speak Spanish or want to do any sight-seeing) while Cristina (Scarlett Johanson) is fresh of a year's work on a twelve-minute short film and is determined to explore the country with reckless abandon while trying to find her niche in life. Vicky alleged to be happy in her stable relationship with a perfectly pleasant, yuppie fiancé back in New York while Cristina is seeking an unconventional relationship. Both their expectations are turned on their head when they encounter artists Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) who propositions them in a restaurant to come with him to a remote island village for a day of sight-seeing and love-making. Cristina is intrigued and Vicky is aghast at the idea and the whole sequence along with the ensuing conversation is a lively and smoldering bit of business that features some nimble dialogue and a masterful performance by Bardem. Another actor could not possible pull off such a seemingly garish action with such appealing results. Bardem, however smolders with his candor and makes Johnason appear deliciously squirmy and excited at the prospect of this dalliance.
Upon arriving in the island the film launches into a brusque montage of the three characters walking through gorgeous Spanish exteriors while a hypnotic Spanish guitar strums in the background. While it seems most likely that Bardem and Johanson are going to consummate the relationship first but the movie zags as it is the happily engaged Hall who falls to Bardem's ample charm. Her reluctance, combined with her more serious demeanor draw in Bardem's artist. But as is re-stated time and again, unfulfilled love is the only true form of romance. The pair's affair is all too brief and Bardem moves on to Johanson but the lingering attraction hangs over the proceedings. Also gumming up the works is Penelope Cruz as Bardem's overly-emotional, perhaps even psychotic, ex-wife. Cruz does some marvelous English language work as her character demonstrates a primal bond with Bardem's. They're bound in a complex relationship wherein the two require a third to balance out the passion that can, at a moments notice, turn to destructive fury or suicidal melancholy. Despite Bardem's constant to protestations to the contrary, it is clear that the two are meant for each other. When Johnaosn becomes the willing third in their bizarre love machinations she too realizes that she's deluded herself into realizing she's less than the Bohemian she thought.
A movie filled with regret and missed opportunities (Patricia Clarkson appears as the dissatisfied woman whose marriage is pleasant but is desperate for the romance her niece Hall is so close to attaining) the film nicely vacillates between moments of unbridled beauty and wistful romance to its more dour feelings. Allen, working with Alejandro Amenabar's DP Javier Aguirresarobe, creates a Barcelona as haunting and majestic as his Manhattan. The film is filled with fine performances, snappy lines, sensual love scenes and a throbbing guitar score. Allen devotees enjoy this fun late-period creative burst.

What do YOU mean "You People"?

Tropic Thunder presents a problem as thorny and twisty as the Vietnamese jungles it finds it's characters lost in. The problem being, whether one should settle on the film as an exceptional spoof and sublime mainstream comedy, or should one expect and demand more and wish that the filmmakers had pushed to make an out-and-out satire? Should we as viewers expect that a very good film push itself to be great? That a great film should be timeless? Perhaps one should, if the potential is there. If nothing else Tropic Thunder is bursting with potential and it gets about 85% of the way there. The film makes good use of its R rating to bombard the viewer with strings of creative obscenity and gloriously over the top gore all in the service of getting laughs. Its most certainly the best comedy on film that Ben Stiller has ever been responsible for. The plotting too is very solid, scripters include the aforementioned Stiller working with another writer/actor Justin Therouex (State, David Lynch and Charlie's Angels fans [any takers for all three?] will likely all recognize the name) along with Etan Cohen (not to be confused with either Ethan Coen or my friends Etan Greenbaum or Amir Cohen). They do a respectable job in defining and juggling a good dozen or so characters and give them all compelling arcs. The same can be said about the cleverly informed tone as set by the choices in soundtrack (Buffalo Springfield, Edwinn Starr etc) and the lush cinematography of Thin Red Line DP John Toll. I just wish the film had a little more on its mind then simply that the Hollywood mainstream is a money hungry machine and that most actors' processes and motivations are pretty ridiculous. I struggle here because these two ideas are in and of themselves ripe for being mined for comedy gold. Stiller and co succeed at this but given the resources at hand Stiller could have crafted something really sinister and biting as opposed to the cheery crowd-pleaser that the film turns into by act three.
The story resolves around a film shoot that goes very wrong. Fading action star Tugg Speedman (think early 90's Bruce Willis or Stallone or whoever) needs a hit and is hoping that the Vietnam drama "Tropic Thunder" is his ticket back to the big leagues. He's also threatened by the presence of superior method actor and nine time academy award winner, Australian bad-boy Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr running through the winners circle with a giant smile on his face). Lazarus is clearly inspired by the likes of Russel Crowe and Colin Farrel (with maybe a dash of Daniel Day-Lewis thrown in for good measure). The very white Lazarus courts controversy and the enmity of some of his co-stars by playing the squad's African American sergeant after receiving a radical skin darkening procedure. Any other actor coupled with any other script would torpedo the film wih this concept but given the way the material is presented coupled with the masterful deprecating performance of Downey (who absolutely steals the picture, as if there was any doubt) it works perfectly.
Keeping Lazarus in line and easing the tension for the audience in this scenario is rapper turned actor Alpa Chino (get it?), played by Brandon Jackson. Chino is part of a duo of younger characters in the squad who are there as the voice of reason, except when he's trying to hawk his various merchandise (though Chino has his own predictable albeit funny secret he's dealing with). The other young rational squad member is Kevin Sandusky as played by Apatow regular Jay Baruchel. Baruchel plays the straight man with aplomb and keeps things level before they spin out of control. He's the heart of the film and is really the glue of the unit and gets the actors on point. Lastly there is the franchise comic actor Jeff Portnoy, a drug-addled spoiled brat who having attained fame through a series of fart comedies where he played all the characters in heavy prosthetics (sound familiar?), is now desperate for legitimacy (and jonesing for heroin). Portnoy is played by Jack Black who's role in the film is much smaller than the advertising would have you believe. He certainly gets his moments but the film is much more about the other four men.
Responsible for wrangling this bunch is inexperienced Brit director Damian Cockburn (Steve Coogan) who, after a scene goes terribly, expensively wrong (in part due to increasingly likable Danny McBride) and under studio pressure (I won't spoil the surprise if you don't already know who plays the Weinstein-esque boss, Les Grossman) follows up on the suggestion of the film's technical adviser (Nick Nolte, who has finally realized that it's hilarious that he's Nick Nolte) to end the actors out into the real jungle and shoot the film guerilla style. The actors will bond, learn to toughen up and not depend on their agents and hangers-ons and their various vices and the movie will get the gritty, realistic feel it needs. It sounds too good to be true, which is why things go wrong fast when after getting dropped off in the jungle the actors are discovered by a gang of blood-thirsty drug manufacturers who think they're D.E.A. agents. With that, we're off to the races.
It's a testament to the screenwriters at how quickly all this information and character gets across as well as how fast we get to the meat of the story, the actors in the midst of actual danger in the real jungle. Once in the jungle the laughs flow endlessly as the clueless bunch slowly but surely becomes aware that they are in very real danger. The conflict that emerges between Speedman and Lazarus is great. Stiller's character, desperate for respect and legitimacy after a disastrous foray into award-bait films playing a retarded farm hand does a good job with his own material, though the midn wonders if Stiller took a crack at himself or let someone (like, say, Matthew McConaughey an already failed action lead) play the part. It's an ultimately fruitless exercise to wonder what could have been, it's just that Stiller does such a fine job conveying the tone and desires of modern Hollywood that it's a shame he doesn't go further. At the end of the day though Tropic Thunder succeeds, gloriously so, as a very, very funny movie.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Classic Movie Meme

Taken from the most excellent (and quite prolific blogger) Electronic Cerebrectomy.

So, get the American Film Institutes's 100 Years... 100 Movies list and answer the following questions

1) Your favorite 5 movies that are on the list:
This was hard, I went with my gut. The Third Man, Harold and Maude, Double Indemnity and Annie Hall got SO close.

The Godfather
The Apartment
Singin' in the Rain
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Dr. Strangelove

2) 5 movies on the list that you didn't like at all:
The Birth of A Nation
High Noon
Forrest Gump
The Jazz Singer

3) 5 movies on the list you haven't seen but want to:
The only one I haven't seen is Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, I don't know if I want to haring how dated and didactic it is, but in the end I must complete the list.

4) 5 movies on the list that you haven't seen and have no interest in seeing:

5) Your favorite 5 movies that aren't on the list:
I'll follow Samurai Frog's criteria here: "Well, assuming I should only pick movies that it would be reasonable to call one of the hundred greatest American movies of those 100 years, I think these five."
There Will Be Blood
Rio Bravo
The General (1927)
Bride of Frankenstein

Feel free to post your own responses in the comments.

A Kiss in My Mind

I finally, FINALLY saw Jules et Jim one of the biggies from the never shrinking list of classic foreign films I haven't seen. Within about one minute of screen-time it was IMMEDIATELY apparent that this was going to be an outstanding film and I gave myself a good mental kick to the bottom for waiting so long to see it. Right off the bat is the lovely restoration that Criterion has given the film. This is a very pristine print they were using, nicely complimenting the lush black and whites captured by DP Raoul Coutard. I am in awe of director Francois Truffaut's professional and revolutionary sensibilities only a handful of shorts and two features into his career. Truffaut demonstrates adroit mastery of filmic narrative still fresh into his career. You want a prime example of style informing substance? One need only examine the first hour of Jules et Jim wherein the action cuts with extreme rapidity and frenetic narration filling in the gaps so as to convey the wild and reckless abandon of youth as evinced by its titular protagonists.

While the film does have a structured story and theme, Truffaut doesn't mind slowing things down and let us get a feel for these characters (all of whom he has tremendous affection for). Truffat wants us to live in the rumpled skin of his characters, see how they think, how they love and how they examine the world. For all the exciting stylization the performances come off as so breezy and naturalistic that there is a genuine sense of knowing these characters. Listening to them ruminate on love, on women, one life, is so freeing, so soothing that one gets the sense of being wrapped up in the film.
The plot? We follow Jules (a then callow Oskar Werner), an Austrian expatriate in France and his new best buddy Jim (the dapper Henri Serre who has, easily, one of my favorite cinema mustaches ever [Peter-list idea?]) in the immortal quest for love, or at least meaningful female companionship. After trying and striking out a couple of times Jules meets Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) and after warning off ladies-man Jim, pursues her. The three become fast friends but there is romantic tension everywhere. World War I separates the trio, both men are drafted on their opposing sides and both are terrified they may encounter each other in battle and be forced to kill the other. Truffaut brilliantly inter-cuts stock footage of the war with his own scenes (a move that surely influenced the bettered technique of Phillip Kaufman in Unbearable Lightness of Being) and after the war the film's tone and tenor changes, very much matching the feeling of Europe itself. The film becomes more somber, more reflective (and if it were even possible, more wistful). Jules, Jim and Catherine go round and round. At first I thought Catherine a manic-pixie-dream girl, a fore-bearer to the likes of Annie Hall or Sam in Garden State. But Catherine is a bit more complex than either of those women. She's not a quick fix for the leads or a playful mystery to be unraveled. She is a complex woman who wants to play by her own rules. My perception of her was continuously changing as I watched the film and my sense is that in future viewings this will continue. It's a rich film that constantly has you re-assessing it and perceiving in new and different ways. You don't me to tel you why Jules et Jim is great, I'm just another chit to throw on the critical dog-pile of love for the film. But if you haven't seen it use this article as an excuse to not waste one more second NOT having seen it.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The List is Life

To be a cinephile is to be a lover of lists. They're fun, they're utterly arbitrary and endlessly debatable. We love to rank, categorize, order, it's part of the fun. Well I say to you sickness fans that lovers of lists should drop everything they're doing (excluding my readers who are airline pilots or surgeons) and proceed immediately to the charmingly fun Peter and Rob Make Lists of Things blog. Featuring the compatible but distinct comedy voices of lab tech Peter Mende-Sidelecki and fellow writer Rob Trump, the site features daily updates of completely random lists. For example, today the site features an article of Peter's about the sixteen best Daves or Davids in the world. Oh and film fans take heart, there is an ongoing debate between the two as to whether or not President Merkin Muffley of Dr Strangelove fame should have been included on the list of greatest fictional presidents. I'm inclined to agree with Peter and say no, because a) too obvious and b) he's not that great a president, funny, but ultimately takes part in Armageddon. This site is entirely worth the visit if only to learn what a Mitch McCroy special is.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

I Fly Like Paper/Get High Like Planes

After being so sorely disappointed by Step Brothers, Pineapple Express feels like a breath of fresh air. Or, well, a breath of fresh something. The action-comedy (there's stoners in it, but the film's creative team has been loathe to call it a stoner comedy in interviews) is an incredibly enjoyable romp through urban Los Angeles sprawl that deftly bounces from action to comedy in a beat and then back again. David Gordon Green, the Terrence Malick influenced director of thoughtful indie character pieces, like the gorgeous George Washington and the charming All the Real Girls, steps before a much larger audience along with DP Tim Orr to make what is easily the best looking film of the Apatow cannon up to this point. The script by the duo responsible for Superbad, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, does an excellent job of channeling mid-80's Shane Black. The film echoes feelings and beats from the likes of Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout to name but two. Also while it isn't as commenting on the genre as much as Hot Fuzz, this film most certainly owes a debt to the trail blazed by Edgar Wright and his mates.
The story resolves around Saul (Seth Rogen constantly showing his development as an actor, his freaking out is MARVELOUSLY funny) a process server who likes to get high and his dealer Saul (James Franco, looking like he's having the most fun in a film he's had in years). Saul is a sad, needy little Bubbe's boy living in a bizarre apartment and considers Dale his best friend. The feeling is not mutual. When Dale goes to serve the villainous Tom (Gary Cole, who also happens to be Saul's supplier) with a subpoena he accidentally witnesses a murder. In his panic he drops his roach and leaves the titular weed in a place that Ted can track both he and Saul. Now on the run the pot-addled Dale and Saul most pool their limited mental and physical resources to save their skins and get to the bottom of things. Along the way they encounter hitmen, the Asian mafia, an old folks home, a secret military lab, tiny corrupt Latina cops and all manner of craziness. By act two the duo becomes an unlikely trio as drug middle-man Red ("next big thing" Danny McBride) who takes no end of punishment and frequently betrays the boys, joins up.

The pot isn't the center of the story but rather the brewing bro-mance between Dale and Saul. Like all great action buddy films the story ought to be about the semi-platonic love of its two male leads. As Saul and Dale get beaten and bruised (virtually every character in the film gets punished BADLY) and go through the staple action moments; brawls, car chases, shoot-outs etc they form a compelling bond. Their long-time chemistry formed on the set of Freaks & Geeks is on display and gives the film a strong backing so it never quite loses itself in the mire of the increasingly wacky plot. The comedy flows abundantly and with great ease from these two. Quite often there is so much funny going on at once that the movie earns a second viewing just to catch all the throw-away lines you laughed over the first time. The film has been cleverly packed to the brim with comic wringers who bring all sorts of fun quirks to the proceedings. Rather than just having stock henchmen we get Craig Robinson (Daryl from The Office) and the ever versatile Kevin Corrigan. Ken Jeong and Bobby Lee show up as foul-mouthed Asian hit-men and then there are Ed Begley Jr and Nora Dunn as the parents of Dale's high school aged girlfriend. The film, which takes place in the bleak suburban quarters of LA (lots of back-streets of Van Nuys and Northridge, at least that's what it FEELS like), serves as the perfect shabby backdrop to this gang of reprobates and weirdos. Green captures the feelings of awkwardness and potential in a world where Seth Rogen can actually seem like a legitimate action lead. It's fun, exciting and knows the lay of the land. The movie even goes so far as to provide the post-film conversation courtesy of the leads. Here Green just lets the camera linger on his leads letting the audience in on this bruised, beaten and near dead gang and their silly, intimate conversation. I could've hung around for hours.

Monday, August 4, 2008

In the future all movie advertising will be done this way

I loved the original Crank. It's a ridiculous, over-the-over-the-top (yes the double "over the's" are intentional) action thrill-ride. Though I have my doubts for a sequel, they have been assuaged by THIS. Behold: ASS-VERTISING!

As seen at the San Deigo Comic and photographed by

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Stranded on Planet Bullshit

Step Brothers should work, it comes frustratingly close to working, but it doesn't. There's brief flashes of maniacal brilliance where you can see some of the Anchorman greatness (a one-two punch fantasy sequence involving a centaur and a lumber-jack comes to mind) but it just doesn't add up. The ingredients are there but the writing and directing and performances are all too indulgent. The tone is radically uneven. At times the parents (the always reliable Richard Jenkins and Mary Steenburgen) are sensible, rational people and other times they get caught up in the inanity (and the insanity). The thing about Anchorman was that all the characters felt as though they belonged in that universe at all times. Even the "straighter" characters like Veronica Corningstone or Ed Harken fit into the sillier framework. But in Step Brothers there are moments where McKay and company strive for emotional honesty and the whole affair becomes like driving with the parking brake on. In trying to keep one foot in the real world and the other in the out-sized cartoonish world the film has a great deal of dissonance that translates to awkward stretches where jokes that should hit (the series of interviews, the playground fight) don't. The more I think about it the more frustrating the whole experience seems. I just don't want to waste my time writing about it. No matter how solid the delivery is (on that front Riley is the MVP with the line "You sound like a combination of Fergie and Jesus") or ridiculousness of the lines ("I am not a raper") the whole thing collapses in a heap. Sorry guys, better luck next time. I can't wait to ride the Pineapple Express soon enough and get this bad taste out of my mouth.

Friday, August 1, 2008

How Batman and the Joker made this the best summer ever

No it's not the way you think, behold:

Couple of things:
  • I love the way Batman says "The sun gets everywhere."
  • I wish the Joker sounded more like Heath Joker, though I understand why they went the way they did.
  • A very, very thin line is being walked here and I LOVE it.
  • Oh man do I wish they actually produced an episode where the Joker is dancing with that sombrero (as seen in the opening credits).
There are SIX more of these and you can see them by linking at the end of the video OR checking them out where I found them courtesy of beacoupkevin.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Swing and a Miss

I won't be seeing Swing Vote this weekend, or any other weekend for that matter. No imitation Capra-corn for me at full price thank you very much. But it does put me in a certain frame of mind thinking about Kevin Costner. Man what happened to 80's Kevin Costner. Probably the same thing that happened to 80's Harrison Ford. Those men don't exist anymore just pale imitations, shades of the fun, exciting, lively performances they once gave on a regular basis. Compare; Silverado, The Untouchables, Field of Dreams, Bull Durham (and we'll grandfather in early 90's Costner too for JFK) and compare that to 3000 Miles to Graceland, Dragonfly, Open Range, Upside of Anger, Rumor Has It and The Guardian.

Doesn't look too good does it?

Open question to anyone, should I see Mr. Brooks? The AV Club went on and on about it for being crazy and good-but-bad-but-good. Can anyone personally attest to this? Worth the rental?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Baby bird films-Raising Victor Vargas

One of the more fascinating things about films is how we interact with them. Sometimes we wrestle with them, take my ever changing feelings on No Country for Old Men as an example, sometimes we are secret defenders like with the Wachowski's Speed Racer (oh it WILL have its day) and sometimes there are films that we feel compelled to care for. Something in our mind is triggered and we want to nurture for them, praise them and show them off to the world. They're baby bird films. I recently had such an appearance with the critically touted then quickly forgotten Raising Victor Vargas. The movie won some tiny awards and was nominated for a handful more but it essentially gt drowned out by bigger and flashier films with critical clout (Two Towers, Chicago) or by more immediately exciting foreign films (Irreversible, City of God).

I think the trailer rightly touts it by it's high critical reputation, but RVV is not the sort of film that conveys itself well in two minutes. It's a film about a certain time and place but carries some very universal truths to it. A lovingly shot character piece director/writer Peter Stollet comes off as a more informal David Gordon Green (not surprising given that the two men share DP Tim Orr who worked this film in Super 16mm). The film employs a variety of non-actors (though several of them have gone professional since) to flesh out the Lower East side world Victor and his family inhabit. Not a lot of story but the characters are so honest and so authentic you just enjoy spending time with them. You root for them. Victor grows up a little bit over the course of the film but it doesn't happen in a contrived three-act structure sort of way, everything is organic.
The story itself is deceptively slim. Victor (Victor Rasuk) sees himself as a smooth operator and lothario but when a rather young and selfish encounter with the unfortunately nicknamed Fat Donna gets publicized he needs to rebuild his "rep." Victor in order to undo the damage sets his sights on Judy (Judy Marte), the beautiful girl who is completely fed up with being hit on and oogled at because of her looks. At first she's annoyed by Victor but she decides that he's harmless so she allows him to hang around her as a repellant to more obnoxious guys. Judy, her little brother and her friend Melonie (played by future Sickness favorite Melonie Diaz who would go on to blow me away in Be Kind Rewind) somehow all manage to get entwined in Victor's home-life.
The stuff at home alternates between funny, embarrassing and melancholy. Victor lives at home with his grandmother (though he refers to her as Mama), a younger sister he constantly quarrels with and a younger brother who's a good kid but his idolization of Victor is starting to get him in trouble. Grandma's English is not great and she's a very traditional woman but her conviction is so strong one can empathize with her frustrations of dealing with a generation of kids and a world she can barely begin to understand.
To say more would be to rob the movie of it's myriad charms. I described it to my friend Ian as a sort of sweet Cassavetes picture. Very authentic and rough but polished in it's execution. I would urge all my readers to promptly add it to their netflix q's post-haste. Hey readers any tiny films you want to help see their audience grow? Put them in the comments with a few words saying why.

PS-Stollet's next film will be Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (which will probably have a killer soundtrack). The film's titular stars are George Michael himself Michael Cera and the voluptuous fictional spawn of Katherine Keener in 40YOV Kat Dennings (see I wasn't kidding about titular). What's it about, tell us oh imdb:
It's been three weeks, 2 days, and 23 hours since Tris broke up with Nick. And now here she is at his gig, with a new guy. How could she have moved on so fast??? Nick, in a desperate attempt to show her he's moved on too, turns to the girl next to him and asks her to be his 5 minute girlfriend. This begins the night of Nick, Norah and Manhattan. The night of stripping nuns, hotel ice rooms, russian food, psychotically Jewish ex boyfriends and lovingly trashy ex girlfriends. It's the night of Julio and Salvatore. The night of holding hands and writing songs and singing in the rain. It's a night they'll never forget.
Oh, Peter porn.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

There was something in the air that night

Yeah that's right I saw Mama Mia! I sat through it all the way to the credits so I could see the part where Samuel L. Jackson invites Meryl Streep to join the Avengers (holy crap has THAT joke not gotten old yet). Let me say this for the film, it is not the worst movie I've ever seen, it's not even the worst movie I've seen this summer (what up Wanted) but I will say that the movie does no favors to making the musical genre accessible to anyone who doesn't already have a love for ABBA going in.

Director Phyllida Lloyd staged the original Mamma Mia on Broadway and all over the world, but this doesn't make her a credible film director and working with a bunch of amateur singers and dancers doesn't help matters. I will say that she keeps it light but she doesn't open up the story the way only a film can over stage. Susan Stroman had a similar problem when she mostly bombed at adapting the Producers to the big screen several years ago. No offense to both women who are tremendous theatrical talents (especially to Stro) but film is simply not a milieu they've mastered. Lloyd seems to be operating under the impression that overtly manufactured fun will naturally endear itself to the audience. Well not this viewer, no how no sir. I know organic fun and I know manufactured fun and I just didn't believe it up there. My audience though, which to be fair WAS the film's target audience (women in their 20's-60's) seemed to be having a grand old time. The woman behind me clearly felt that Meryl Streep accidentally breaking a door handle she was attempting to repair was the height of comedic brilliance. Clearly this is a woman who never saw Silkwood. Now THAT'S comedy! Oh also the phrase "goat-house" is guffaw worthy as is the sight of Julie Walters chasing a shorts wearing Stellan Skarsgard while singing "Take a Chance On Me" (well ok that's kind of funny). It's a testament to the pop-strength of the songs that even when poorly (and I mean POORLY) sung and danced to they still can provoke a sort of toe-tapping fun.
The story? Oh a little wisp of a thing about a girl on the eve of her wedding inviting the three men who could be her father to the proceedings. Everyone finds love on a beautiful Greecian island and much revelry and half-assed farce ensue. It's cute until you stop and think about it for three seconds and realize that it's kind of creepy. Yep Meryl Streep's Donna was kind of a ho, but who cares? Now Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) has three daddies! Hooray! I don't mind the extended family, but the duplicity involved in Sophie's plan is kind of bizarre. Why not ask mom point blank? Cause there would be no movie then, I guess. Giving credit where it's due I will say that Sayfried shows considerable singing chops and hits just the right tone for the film. Streep is in good voice but she looks perpetually red-eyed as though she was crying in embarrassment between takes. Her friends, Julie Walters and Christine Baranski (playing a privileged lush, big surprise) are fine but the same can't be said for the men. Pierce Brosnan is...oh I can't even say it, I like him too much. He just, ugh, he cannot sing at all. He's just a big super likable movie star but man can the guy not sing. He makes Jonny Depp sound like Brian Stokes Mitchell, really that's what it's like listening to Brosnan sing. Sorry Pierce. I appreciate the effort but nope, sorry. Colin Firth actually can sing but he only gets one quick little ditty and then promptly vanishes from the film. Also his resolution is completely unclear and bizarre (spoiler alert/question?: Wait, so he WAS gay?). Stellan Skarsgard, in what has to be his least serious role EVER by a large margin doesn't really sing at all, but his sheer un-musical-ness makes him kind of a huge distraction.
But even bad performers can get hidden by good staging right? Well the film doesn't even manage to get that right. It tries to coast more on being an amateur good time than professionalism. The movie goes for the cheapest of laughs and the most broad audience pleasing gestures possible time and again. A mother brushing her daughter's hair before the wedding? Check. Girls partying more boisterously than the men could ever imagine? Check. Slo-mo Meryl Streep jumps in lieu of actual dancing? Many a check. "Comical" interactions with local wildlife? That's a big old goathouse check. Someone, oh good lord, wobbling then falling OUT OF A BOAT? Yeppers. The filmmakers want grandma's easy laugh and know they don't have to work too hard to get it. Even when "Dancing Queen" kicks in it's so abrupt that the movie practically throttles you by the collar screeching "Enjoy me!" Alright so this movie really wasn't ever intended for me but that's no reason why a little more thought and care couldn't have gone into it.