Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Extract: We Should Bottle Mike Judge

Extract,mike judge,movie poster

Everyone knows Mike Judge, or at least they should. He created Beavis & Butt-Head. Enough said? Hardly! He also created King of the Hill, and directed the cult classic Office Space. Unfortunately, working in an office, little gags and jokes from that movie (as well as the American version of the television show The Office) has permeated the conversational minutiae of daily life in an office. Luckily, he always does extremely entertaining work, so I can forgive him making it so ridiculously popular films that they almost become annoying.

I doubt that Extract will be like that. It was good, and funny, and had a great feel to it. However, so did Idiocracy, and unfortunately, that movie didn't do as well as I think it could have. It didn't even really become a cult classic like Office Space did. I do think that he's getting somewhat more confident as a filmmaker, however, and I sincerely hope that he puts a few more films out now that this is King of the Hill's last season (I think; right?). I don't want him to create another series (didn't he already try with that terrible Goode Family thing? That sucked and got cancelled, right?); I don't want him to create another version of Office Space, either. I think it only became a cult classic because it was very identifiable with the increasing number of disenfranchised young people working in white collar type jobs. This may be a blending of old mentality and new mentality, as the film is set in a factory, but mostly told from the perspective of the founder and owner, Joel Reynolds (Jason Bateman).

Ben Affleck,jason bateman,extract

Joel Reynolds (Bateman) began his extract company when he figured out some chemistry stuff to be able to extract food flavors. He currently runs his factory full of misfits, and is dissatisfied with his life and his marriage (to Suzie, played by Kristen Wiig). He hasn't had sex with his wife in a month, and his workers are all idiots, complainers, or losers. He's trying to sell off his company to General Mills, but an accident at the factor puts those plans on hold. Due to a series of odd, Rube Goldberg-ian events, one of his employees (Clifton Collins, Jr.) loses a testicle, but intends to settle. Hearing about the accident, con-artist and drifter Cindy (Mila Kunis) shows up to talk him into suing, with the intent to steal the money. He also gets some very bad advice from his best friend Dean (Ben Affleck), when Joel expresses some romantic desires for Cindy. Dean suggests they hire a gigolo to seduce Suzie, so Joel doesn't have to feel guilty about having an affair with Cindy. Needless to say, things get complicated, strange, but wholly amusing.

The film stars a plethora of pretty familiar faces. Jason Bateman headlines with Ben Affleck supporting him surprisingly well. Kristen Wiig is pretty fantastic as his wife Suzie, who is also dissatisfied with their current lot in life, but Joel is too caught up with work and his own annoyance to notice. Mila Kunis has been in everything lately; I even saw her in a preview for the new Denzel Washington movie The Book of Eli. I'm not sure if it's a bad thing, because she's not intolerable, but I think she's going to have some problems if she tries to do too much. Dustin Milligan is the dim-witted gigolo that they hire; apparently he's on the CW or something, though I've never seen him in anything before this film. Gene Simmons is a personal injury lawyer (and pretty great), and J.K. Simmons is Joel's business partner, who can't even bother to learn the employees names. Mike Judge himself even appears as a union organizer who sounds suspiciously like Hank Hill. The supporting cast is pretty excellent, and they play their parts well (annoying characters are really annoying, dumb characters are really dumb, etc.).

jason bateman,mila kunis,extract

Mike Judge has a knack for putting the everyman into lead roles, and making it interesting. By all accounts, Joel is a somewhat whiny, somewhat self-absorbed business owner, but Jason Bateman plays him in such a way that he's engaging and interesting. Of course, I'm sure he was written that way, too (by Mike Judge). It's kind of difficult to explain why the movie is enjoyable, which is a problem I have with Office Space, as well. It amuses me and entertains me; it's well written, subtly directed (nothing flashy happens because nothing needs to, we just need to be present for the interactions of characters and their dialogue), and is pretty well acted. I was even entertained by Ben Affleck, which hardly ever happens.

I feel kind of bad, I don't really have much to say about the movie, other than it's worth seeing. However, it has a caveat. If you liked Idiocracy, you'll probably like this movie. If you just liked Office Space, you might like Extract, but, then again, you might not. They're not really the same. I guess it's not really the same as Idiocracy, either, but... it's different, though. Like I said, it's hard to explain.

Let me give it a quick shot. It has a lot of timing. Does that make sense? A lot of the humour is related to the lines and delivery, but also relies pretty heavily on the timing of those lines, and the timing of reactions. It's very subtle. It's highly enjoyable. Also, when Brad the dumb gigolo talks about being "in love" with Suzie (yeah, it happens), there's this sweet, slow piano music that plays in the background. Even when he has to talk about it like five times in a scene because he's so dumb, the sweet romantic piano music is still there.

It may not be worth a theater viewing (since there are no explosions or anything), but it's definitely worth a viewing, however you want to do it. I give it three and a half testicle destroying arbitrary factory accidents out of five, or three and a half David Koechners running up to your car while you're coming home from work, trying to bore you to death, or annoy you to murder, apparently.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Surf's Up: Penguins Surfing? It's Better Than It Sounds

Surf's Up,sony pictures,shia labeouf,jeff bridges,zooey deschanel

I love kid's movies, most of the time. I think the only one I've written about so far here is Bee Movie, which wasn't exactly the best. I generally prefer films produced by Walt Disney's frozen head, but occasionally, other production companies will send out a film that's pretty decent, and occasionally, will even be better than expected. I haven't seen Sony Pictures Animation's first film Open Season yet, but it looked halfway decent. Their newest film, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs is out now, I believe, and it looks like it could be good. We'll have to see; I was pretty impressed in general with Surf's Up.

The Lady brought it over last week, since she loves it. I wasn't sure what to think; I had some preconceived notions of penguin movies, from Happy Feet. I think the producers had a feeling about this, since there are some references to the fact that there's no singing, no dancing, etc. They almost over-reach with that, at times, putting in lots of hip, cultural references and a soundtrack filled with Green Day and popular music. It features a pretty stellar cast, starring Shia LaBeouf as the main character, Cody Maverick. Jeff Bridges stars as Geek, Zooey Deschanel as Lani, Jon Heder as Chicken Joe, Mario Cantone as Mikey (a shorebird talent scout), James Woods as Reggie Belafonte (a Don King-esque promoter sea otter), and Diedrich Bader as Tank Evans, an utterly fantastic character. I was particularly impressed with almost every scene between LaBeouf and Bridges, and I'm honestly curious if they recorded their scenes together.

surf's up,jeff bridges,shia labeouf

Presented like a documentary, Surf's Up follows Cody Maverick, a young rockhopper penguin living in Shiverpool, apparently a penguin village in the arctic. His dream is to become a surfer, after a visit from the legendary Big Z, emperor penguin and king of the surfers. He eventually is discovered and goes along with a crew of penguins (and a Chicken, who surfed Lake Michigan) to a surfing competition on Pen Gu Island, apparently the best place to surf in the world. There he meets Tank (Bader), a giant king penguin, who won the title of top surfer from Big Z when Z supposedly died in a surfing accident at the last big competition. Cody is ambitious and full of heart (as per usual with these family movie heroes), but his skills are sort of lacking. He eventually learns about the true meaning of surfing, finding the joy in it, having fun with it, and learning that being number one isn't the best thing, the most important thing, and there are plenty of wacky shenanigans, sight gags, interesting characters, great voice work, and that ever-present and extremely interesting framing as a documentary.

Three Cute Little Penguin Kids

Also, these three little penguin kids keep showing up, being interviewed briefly by the film crew (assuming they're penguins themselves, though to a certain extent, I keep thinking of them as being humans). They're pretty adorable; one of the kids keeps going into the water to "drown," so he can be saved by Lani (Deschanel). It's pretty much the cutest thing ever. As per usual with these kinds of anthropomorphic family movies, they always put fun little jokes in the periphery of the movie. Lani is a lifeguard, and so instead of one of those little red buoy things they used on Baywatch, she as a cute little squid guy, and he alternatively looks bored, amused, interested, etc., as she talks. Also, Jeff Bridges's character totally whizzes on Shia LaBeouf's character (because he stepped on some sort of sea urchin in a surfing accident). We also get a quick commentary from the pissed-off urchin, annoyed that many of his spines have been broken or are now missing.

The general plot of this movie is pretty similar to family friendly animated films. Plucky hero character with heart, trying to succeed, overcoming obstacles, sometimes pursuing a career or a path that he should have no real business pursuing (like the rat in Ratatouille, or something like that). There's a father figure, a vague love interest, and a strange, weird, dumb, or unusual friend. The obstacles aren't insurmountable, and after an initial failure, they finally reach the true meaning of what they want, and become better people/penguins/living toys/talking mice/whatever for it.

As I mentioned before, one of the things I'd be curious about is if LaBeouf and Bridges recorded their scenes in the same room together. A lot of their banter and interactions are extremely witty and interesting, and they seem too natural to be recorded separately (or even written that way). I'd like to see them on screen together sometime. I wish that LaBeouf was playing Bridges son in the new Tron movie. Oh well, maybe we'll get to see it sometime.

In general, the film as very cute, entertaining, amusing, sweet, and fun. It was better than I expected, had a lot of odd humour, interesting characters, and some great dialogue. Animated films are almost always good, when they're developed well. I was impressed with the computer graphics, as well, considering the majority of the movie took place in the ocean, with waves, rolling water, and thick jungles. Also, there are cute little Pen Guin natives, that first try to cook Chicken Joe, and then when he gives them squid-on-a-stick, he kind of becomes their leader, I guess? Also, while on the subject, Chicken Joe is a pretty wacky character, and I really like that he surfed Lake Michigan (which is something people actually do, it's not just a joke. There's actually a surf shop on the west coast of Michigan, and I've been meaning to check it out).

I'd recommend the movie if you're looking for an alternative to stuff like Happy Feet. There's no songs, no dancing, just some penguins that want to surf, for some reason. And they do, and it's actually pretty interesting. Also, some famous surfers make cameo appearances, like Kelly Slater and Rob Machado. James Woods is crazy awesome as usual, and there are some really great performances.

I give it four beefy penguin surfers kissing on trophies in their mom's house out of five, or four crazy hippie surfing fat penguins voiced by the awesome Jeff Bridges out of five.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Surrogates: Who Wouldn't Want to Pilot A Robot?

surrogates movie poster

What would you do if you could buy a robot like you buy iPods and cell phones? What if you could pilot it, immerse yourself in it, and use it like we use online personalities? Would it just be used by those who can't move on their own, the physically disabled? Would it be used by the police force to keep their real selves from being injured? Personally, I would use it so I can jump around and not get hurt. It's probably irresponsible, but it would be super fun.

These are some of the basic issues that Surrogates takes on. Directed by Jonathan Mostow, the director of U-571 and Terminator 3, based on the 2005 comic book series published by Top Shelf written by Robert Venditti with art by Brett Weldele. It stars Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell (Pitch Black, Silent Hill), Ving Rhames, Rosamund Pike (Pride & Prejudice, The Libertine), James Cromwell, and Jack Noseworthy. The film is set vaguely in the "present day," though the comic series is set 50 years in the future from when it was written. The use of "surrogates," remote operated humanoid robots has become commonplace, though it was developed with the intent to help the disabled. The creator of the surrogates, Dr. Lionel Canter (Cromwell) is wheelchair-bound, and uses a variety of surrogates to get around, after being fired from the robotics company that manufactures the robots. There's also this underswell of humans that find the idea of surrogates disgusting, and immoral, etc. They live on reservations that they create for themselves, sequestering themselves away from the others, preventing any surrogates from entering. Their autonomy is accepted by the government, and there's a tentative treaty in place. This human activist group is lead by "The Prophet," played by Ving Rhames, dressed kind of like George Clinton from the P-Funk All-Stars. Think this is complicated? This is just the backstory.

It's a crazy, convoluted, intense little ride, but it's entertaining. There are excellent sci-fi moments, and like the best sci-fi stories, it makes a very convincing and simultaneous subtle and glaring social and political commentaries.

Bruce Willis,surrogates

Agent Greer (Willis) is a fine FBI agent, working with another fine officer, Agent Peters (Mitchell). They're called to a scene where two units are offline, and they can't reach the users. Turns out, a weapon exists that can fry out a surrogate, and the backlash kills the user. One of the victims was a sexy blonde unit, piloted by a pretty fat (and now pretty dead) guy. The other was piloted by a college student, the son of Dr. Canter, the inventor of Surrogates. Greer and Peters both pilot their "surries" on the job, to keep themselves safe from harm, and also to use the advanced and near-superhuman abilities of these machines. Greer comes very close to the culprit, and almost dies by the mysterious weapon. Now finding himself without his buffer system, he needs to get out into the real world to put all the pieces together, track down the killer, and uncover a conspiracy that can only be pulled off in a world where you can be anyone you want at virtually any time.

bruce willis,surrogates

I'd like to read the original comic book, so I can see how things are different. Just from reading about the plot on Wikipedia (yes, I know), it seems that there are superficial differences, and the overall theme is the same. For some reason, it looks like they made the plot even more complicated for the movie, which is pretty crazy complicated (though I admit I called most of it at the last minute, not too long before the reveal built up. I liked the idea in general, and the little touches they threw in that they didn't have time for. There is one scene with a poster for football, with the silhouette of a player holding a severed surrogate head. It makes you think: What would the use of surrogates really do for the professional sports world? For the acting and modeling world? They do explore the idea of surrogates used as soldiers, with thousands of banks of live soldiers (in uniform) chilling out and hooked up to the system.

It also has a Big Brother/A Scanner Darkly feel, in that the government is able to tap into the feeds of users, and even remote access them to shut them down in times of danger. There are rows of video screens, displaying surrogate feeds, and thousands of people watching and monitoring to report illegal activity. It's (interestingly) supervised by a human guy, without a surrogate. He's basically the Comic Book Guy-type character, but pretty interesting in that he likens himself to God, and literally has access to the surrogate network (which is apparently interconnected like the internet, so in some ways it's technically possible to access all surrogates on Earth).

The production value on the film is pretty intense. Initially, the whole outside world has something of a plastic, artificial feel to it. All the characters are supposed to be surrogates, so they have very clean, polished skin, but there's really no issues with realism. Apparently, in this world, they've bypassed the "uncanny valley" effect, the idea that robots created that look extremely realistic somehow look less comforting, and start to look creepy. Bruce Willis especially looks interesting, smooth-faced, plastic, full head of Conan O'Brien-like hair. He looks more like John McClane when he's unplugged, and of course, as our hero, actively uses the surrogate technology, but also feels vaguely ill at ease with it, and especially in his personal life, feeling that he hasn't spent any time with his own wife without the use of surrogates in years.

It's very much a classic sci-fi film in terms of tone, and theme. It's a little bit I, Robot, it's a little bit 1984, and it's a little bit of contemporary social networking and online personality immersion. There's a little bit of Philip K. Dick in here, too, so I think that was a pretty heavy influence on both the creators of the comic book series, and the guys that wrote the screenplay. It's engaging, thought-provoking, sometimes violent, wildly fantastic, and utterly plausible.

I recommend this film to anyone that likes good old-fashioned (albeit modern updated and actiony) sci-fi. I give it four armless Bruce Willises getting hit by trucks out of five, or four rastafarian Ving Rhames human-promoting revolutionary political activists out of five.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Virgin Suicides: Surburban Life Is Just Awful

the virgin suicides,movie poster,kirsten dunst

I watched this one awhile ago, but have been too busy, what with my day job and real life, etc., to actually write about it. So now, in the ultimate snackrifice, I will write about this film today, rather than watching all of the scintillating new television shows available to me tonight. Wait, there's nothing good on Tuesdays, and the Lady is busy, so... here you go. I mean, um. I really want to?

Back in the early 90s (1993 to be obsessive), a young, hip upstart of a novelist debuted to the world with The Virgin Suicides. In 1999, the young, hip offspring of a well-respected and prolific Hollywood film director figured it would be a pretty nifty film to start off with. That crazy director was Sofia Coppola. Yes, the very same cousin of Nicolas Cage and Jason Schwartzman! It is truly amazing. Well, okay, the movie is decently well-directed, and word on the street is that she adapted the film into a passable screenplay. The film stars James Woods, Kathleen Turner, Kirsten Dunst, Josh Hartnett, and a bunch of other people whose names I can't remember. It's okay, thought. The characters are important in what they represent, and the actions that they take. Okay, fine, since you're all such sticklers, the film also stars A.J. Cook, Hanna R. Hall, Leslie Hayman, Chelse Swain, Danny DeVito in a memorable and extremely tiny role, a really young Hayden Christensen, Giovanni Ribisi as the narrator, Anthony DeSimone, Lee Kagan, Robert Schwartzman, Noah Shebib, and Jonathan Tucker. Whew. See? That's why I didn't want to get into it.

the lisbon girls,the virgin suicides

Set in early-1970s Grosse Pointe Michigan, the film is of particular resonance to me, because I've lived in Michigan for the last ten years or so. The 70s was an important time for the country in general, and the Detroit suburbs was a pretty interesting place at the time. The plot focuses on the Lisbon family, Ronald and Sara, and their five mysterious and deeply disturbed daughters. Kirsten Dunst is sort of the main daughter, Lux, and her sisters are Mary, Cecilia, Therese, and Bonnie. The story opens with the attempted suicide of Cecilia, the youngest girl. This only proves to increase the allure, mysterious draw, and legend of the girls to the various boys of the school and the neighborhood. It's through their eyes and thoughts (and the narration of one of them, grown up), that we experience the events. The Lisbon parents are slightly awkward and extremely overbearing, which causes some extreme lashing out by the girls.

Inexplicably, all of the girls end up committing suicide (hence the title). Cecilia is the first, succeeding after her failed first attempt, and by the end of the film, the other girls follow after, in decidedly suburban ways. Lux is the second-to-youngest, but by far the most rebellious, sexual, ambitious, and probably the craziest. As shown below, the neighborhood boys become obsessed with the girls, due to their unnatural beauty, the mystery inherent in their parents authoritarian rules and restrictions, and their eventual deaths. The story also features short scenes like interviews, where at least one of the boys, grown up, is still searching for answers, and still discussing them.

the boys,the virgin suicides

I'd like to read the book, and I've gotten into the habit of watching films first when I can, and then reading the book. I may have mentioned this before, but I figure, why be disappointed in the movie because it's not as good as the book? It's literally always the case. I might as well enjoy the film with no expectations, and then enjoy the book even more when it's so much better than the film. It's the most win-win situation ever, and I'll fight for that opinion! Yeah, that's what I thought, tough guy. Don't hit me!

James Woods and Kathleen Turner give stellar performances as the continually flustered and way-out-of-their leagues parents of five precocious and intense young daughters. Kirsten Dunst is pretty impressive as well, in an odd sort of way, even though I'm not generally a big fan of hers. Josh Hartnett is pretty hilarious in an extremely terrible wig, and a tiny little young Hayden Christensen cracks me up. Giovanni Ribisi is probably the second-best male in the film, next to the always engaging James Woods. Most of the girls, ironically, were relatively forgettable, in my opinion as a viewer.

I was mostly trying to figure out what was really so terrible about their lives, and why they felt their only real out was suicide. They were basically kept prisoner to a certain extent for a good deal of the film, but the parents were understandably distressed by their daughter's suicide, and probably didn't have good coping mechanisms back in the 1970s. Lux's behavior is far more extreme than I would assume rational, which I guess is the prerogative of a 14 year old girl. The boys' shared obsession with them is somewhat understandable, but only up until their collective deaths. Five sisters killing themselves almost simultaneously is worth a little closer look, but up until then? Yeah, sure, they were pretty, but come on. Pretty people are all over the place! I guess young teenage boys are more susceptible to that sort of thing. Also, they did see Lux having random sex on her roof with random people, which I guess would be pretty memorable.

In general, I found the film to be particularly disturbing, adequately directed, written well (though that's probably due to the source material more than anything else), and acted with a special sort of suburban subtlety that only increases the disturbing aspects of the story. I give it four Danny DeVito cameos out of five, or four utterly suburban teenage girl suicides out of five (they included hanging, asphyxiation by car exhaust in a garage, head in the oven, and pills). Fun for the whole family?

Monday, September 14, 2009

State of Play: Let's Co-Opt the British Some More

state of play,movie poster,russell crowe,rachel mcadams,helen mirren,ben affleck

Back in 2003, BBC One aired a television serial about journalism, political scandal, intrigue, murder, and conspiracy. So six years later, America decided "Hey! That was pretty good. But y'know what will make it even better? Let's condense it by one-third, stick Russell Crowe in it, make it set in Washington, and also put Ben Affleck in it." And you know what? They could have been wronger, but they were pretty wrong.

That's not to say that the film wasn't entertaining, because it was. Some interesting stuff happened, and it was trying very very hard to be suspenseful. It doesn't have a completely mind-blowing twist, or even a series of twists, but it's obvious that they put a lot of effort into being as taut as they could manage. It does have a surprisingly stellar cast, though (except for Ben Affleck). It stars Russell Crowe in the main role of reporter Cal McAffrey, Helen Mirren as his editor Cameron Lynne, li'l Benny Affleck as Congressman Stephen Collins, Rachel McAdams plays Della Frye, a modern media reporter (i.e. blogger) that gets partnered up with Cal, Jason Bateman as Dominic Foy, a strange li'l informer, Robin Wright Penn as Congressman Collins's wife Anne, and Jeff Daniels as Rep. George Fergus. It was directed by Kevin Macdonald, and he previously directed the acclaimed The Last King of Scotland. You'd think that there would be something more redeeming about this film with a cast like that, right? Well, it's only decent, but not awful.

ben affleck,russell crowe,state of play,bosom buddies

General plot time! A redheaded lady apparently commits suicide by jumping in front of a metro train. Turns out, she was having an affair with Congressman Collins. She also was the lead researcher for some crazy hearings that Collins was heading, something about private militias, or mercenaries, or something. A very prominent and rogueish reporter Cal McAffrey gets word of the scandal, because A) he works for a friggin' newspaper, and B) he was roommates in college with Collins (apparently, even though Russell Crowe is almost ten years older than Affleck). So, as per usual movie-style, McAffrey decides that he's the world's coolest detective, and tracks down the entire case and breaks it wide open like a cheap piñata. Also, Helen Mirren is a pretty bad-ass tough as nails Editor, and Jason Bateman is this strange, odd little bisexual club owner or something, with some vague connection to the victim. Jeff Daniels is a pretty ruthless and surprisingly evil Representative. There's a lot going on here, and I think that some threads get lost along the way, but overall, it remains entertaining throughout.

helen mirren,rachel mcadams,russell crowe,state of play

One of the biggest issues that occurs with these kinds of films involving reporters is how they've become the new detectives. Do actual reporters really do that? Pore over case reports, go running around the city, "interviewing"/interrogating people? The Lady found that to be rather improbable, as well, and she's pretty swift. However, it's interesting in that these types of films are almost neo-noir-y, in that there are a lot of dark alleys, sort-of-shootouts, in-depth investigations, conspiracies, and intrigue. Are journalists the new private investigators? It's not the worst thing I can think of, but it still seems relatively unrealistic. But, then again, I'm not a reporter, so I don't really know how things work. It might be the most realistic thing, ever. Who's to say?

I was also really tired when I watched this movie, so I wasn't really paying attention to thing like mise-en-scéne, colors, sets, camera angles, editing techniques, or costumes. There may have been some carefully planned and subtle color work in play (though everything seemed vaguely gray, but who knows). In general, though, I'd say it was fairly entertaining, and it was worth the exchange of some money and some time.

I'd say it is worth checking out if you're so inclined. Russell Crowe is always good at becoming the character he plays. It bugs me about actors like Nicolas Cage and Kevin Costner, that I'm always extremely aware that they're Nicolas Cage and Kevin Costner playing a role. Rachel McAdams is adorable as usual, Ben Affleck is basically pretty blergh, and Helen Mirren is awesome. I give it three hardcore detective reporter crimefighters out of five, or three weepy congressman Ben Afflecks out of five.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Adventureland: I'm More Excited for "Zombieland"

Adventureland movie poster

Everyone's worked at a job they hated. Some people do that for a few years when they're teenagers, or just out of college, and some people do it for longer. Adventureland is the story of James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), a college graduate that's having difficulty finding a real job to get ready for graduate school. The only job he can get ends up being as a carny of sorts, working in the Games for the local summer amusement park Adventureland. There are shenanigans, that kind of boring girl from Twilight, and some people from SNL. Ryan Reynolds is there, too, but his character's kind of a jerk. It was written and directed by Greg Mottola, the director of Superbad. One thing about the guy, he knows how to write up some awkward and basically intelligent characters (with the exception of a few, but that's normal).

Also, one of the things that I can't help connecting in my mind is the upcoming film Zombieland, which also stars Jesse Eisenberg, and also has -land in the title. Part of me really hopes that Zombieland is an unofficial sequel. If I see that kid in a "Games Games Games" t-shirt in the zombie movie, I just might lose my shiz. Unfortunately, the anticipation of a totally different movie with a similar title and one shared actor. The movie isn't terrible, but it isn't fantastic. It has some good moments, some good lines, and some interesting characters, but that's pretty much it.

kristen stewart,jesse eisenberg,adventureland

But wait, there's more! Well, not much more. Plot-wise, it's relatively complicated, actually. James Brennan (Eisenberg) has just graduated with his Bachelor's degree, and is now gearing up for a big summer abroad before going to grad school. Unfortunately, his parents (Jack Gilpin and Wendie Malick) are having financial difficulties, and won't be able to help him with the trip, or really for graduate school. He finds himself virtually unemployable, and ends up working in Games for Adventureland, a summer theme park in the town. There, he meets some girls, some weird guys, the cool but kind-of-a-jerk maintenance man (played by Ryan Reynolds), and eventually makes his plans for the fall, which he then departs from drastically by the end of the movie to be with Kristen Stewart's character. It has some great cameo appearances by Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, who play the proprietors of the park, and are relatively crazy. He also gets to hang out with his childhood friend Frigo, who punches him in the nuts a lot (and is played by that kid from the phone commercials that never wants to use "old minutes," you know the one).

It's a bit more dramatic than I was anticipating based on the previews, and I didn't really hear too many opinions or see many reviews for it. Granted, I rarely seek out reviews (which seems odd, since I sort-of write reviews several times a week), but still. It was a pretty low-key release, with few actors that can really be considered top-level, but it was pretty entertaining.

bill hader,kristen wiig,kristen stewart,jesse eisenberg,adventureland,martin starr

Now, she isn't the most terrible thing in the world. She's ... just kind of bland, and doesn't really seem to jump into any character she's playing. Luckily, I think people tend to cast her in roles that are kind of plain and relatively boring, so she doesn't really have to work all that hard. For some reason, I felt myself noticing a lot of her mannerisms, and they're annoying as all hell. She does the same hair-fixing motion when she's distressed, or hungry, or amused, or drunk.

The film feels very much like a high-school coming-of-age story, but virtually all the characters are in their 20s, at least. Maybe because Jesse Eisenberg's character is a virgin, but still, it's an unusual sensation. Maybe it's some sort of commentary, that we never really grow out of the crappy jobs, the weird relationships, the uncertain futures, and the money troubles of youth. Even his parents are having problems, and don't seem to have their own clearly defined directions. Or maybe I'm overthinking it. It's probably just a dumb little movie about a weird job at an amusement park.

Basically, it's decent, but only if you really want to see it. I don't know if it would be worth it to spend money on. Luckily for me, the Lady's sister had rented it, and we filched it, so, score! Free movie, right? I'd say it's amusing, more dramatic than it initially seemed, and kind of made me think about how interesting and rewarding my life actually is. I'd give it two and a half punches in the nuts from that phone commercial kid out of five, or two and a half blank, soulless and empty staring eyes of Kristen Stewart out of five.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Zack and Miri Make A Porno: Um, Enough Said?

zack and miri make a porno,seth rogen,elizabeth banks,kevin smith

Fifteen years ago, this fat comic book nerd from New Jersey got a bunch of his friends to be in a movie that he filmed in the convenience store in which he worked. That movie was Clerks, and it was actually pretty impressive and awesome. It was well written, decently acted, considering virtually everyone on screen had never acted before, and it became a cult classic. He turned that popularity into a movie franchise based around the exploits of Jay and Silent Bob, played by his friend Jason Mewes and himself. And what does he do with that kind of clout? He makes a movie in which Seth Rogen, a chubby, hairy man, becomes the average joe's porn star. The film also stars Elizabeth Banks as Miri, Jason Mewes as a porn star, Craig Robinson as Zack's co-worker that serves as the porno's producer, and Traci Lords and Katie Morgan playing porn stars, which is a real stretch for them.

Seriously though, this movie is extremely decent. It's an interesting idea, bizarrely executed, and was fascinatingly cast. I'm of the firm belief that this entire film was imagined, produced, casted, written, shot, and acted while completely blitzed on pot. I haven't enjoyed a comedy about the porn industry this much since Trey Parker and Matt Stone came out with Orgazmo. Like my review of Inglourious Basterds, this film is a pretty big departure for Kevin Smith, in terms of principal cast, the fact that he doesn't star with Jason Mewes as Jay and Silent Bob, the location (Monroeville, PA instead of New Jersey), and that it doesn't take place in the supposed "View Askewniverse" as far as we know. Despite the new directions (except the general content/themes are pretty standard Kevin Smith fare), the film performs admirably. Get it? It's kind of a sex pun. Trust me, it's funny.

zack and miri make a porno,elizabeth banks,seth rogen

Zack and Miri have been friends since grade school. They live in an apartment together in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, and they share a car. They both work crappy jobs, though we don't actually see Miri doing hers. Zack works in a coffee shop. And all their utilities are getting shut off. They go to their 10th high school reunion, only to find that everyone's still kind of annoying, and that Miri's high school crush Bobby Long (played by Brandon Routh) is gay, and in a relationship with Brandon St. Randy (Justin Long), a gay porn star. This gives Zack a brilliant idea: to solve their money problems, they decide to make a porno, convinced that at least the several hundred members of their graduating class would want to buy it. They manage to recruit a stripper, a random guy named Lester, a bacheolor party entertainer, another random dude, and Zack's friend and goalie for their hockey team to help them make their movie. Along the way, Zack and Miri find that they may or may not have feelings for one another, which makes filming this bizarre, half-formed and insane porn movie exceedingly complicated. And there's a lot of weird sex, a lot of crazy and hilarious dialogue, and a lot of wacky shenanigans.

Ricky Mabe,Jason Mewes,Craig Robinson,Jeff Anderson,Katie Morgan,traci lords

This film is definitely not family-friendly. There are almost 300 f-bombs dropped during the course of the film, plenty of simulated sex, naked butts, naked breasts, and ... well, all I can say is I feel bad for Jeff Anderson's character. He's the cinematographer, and he has to get pretty close and personal with shooting some of the scenes. It's refreshing to see Jason Mewes as a character other than the foul-mouthed drug dealing Jay character, and he's surprisingly good in his role as Lester. After so many Judd Apatow films, it's also nice to see Seth Rogen in a film with a little bit of a different flavor. It does share a lot of similarities with the typical Apatow fare, though, but to be honest, Kevin Smith has been doing it longer. I think. Yeah, that's probably right.

It's immensely hilarious, raunchy, and strange. The dialogue is pretty classic Kevin Smith, too. What Quentin Tarantino can do with his bizarre crime stories, Kevin Smith can do with wacky romantic raunchy comedies. The characters are interesting and engaging, and are relatively round, surprisingly. Even some of the secondary characters are like that. Craig Robinson's character grows quite a bit throughout the film, and both Zack and Miri make some real progress in their personal lives.

I give the film three and a half awkward and tender porn-star love scenes out of five, or three and a half "please don't say shit covered" scenes out of five. You'll get it when you watch it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Inglourious Basterds: Spelling Nazis Beware, They'll Kill You, Too

inglourious basterds,quentin tarantino,movie poster

Seriously, everyone. Please, please, for the love of crap-in-a-hat, stop spelling Inglourious Basterds "correctly." I don't think it's too much to ask. We shouldn't have to put a sic next to a movie title, right? Regardless, if you haven't heard of it yet, Inglourious Basterds is Quentin Tarantino's newest film, based basically on the premise of "Once upon a time in Nazi-occupied France..." It's pretty typical of Quentin these days, and is somewhat formulaic in the vein of Kill Bill (due to chapter breaks with amusing little titles). It doesn't really star any of the typical Tarantino cast, though, which is interesting and refreshing.

It also stars several natural German and French actors, speaking their native languages, which is also extremely refreshing. I'm sick and tired of movies portraying different countries as speaking English with vague accents, or worse, random British accents. I'm sorry, but Reichminister Goebbels wouldn't have spoken in English with a German accent, he spoke German. So it's good that they do it that way. And the few transitions they make into English seem a little ham-handed at first, but actually make sense for the scene. It stars Brad Pitt, B.J. Novak, Eli Roth, Mélanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz, Diane Kruger, Daniel Brühl, Til Schweiger, and Omar Doom. It's one of the largest casts that I've seen Tarantino use, though I get the vague sense that we don't get to know any one character particularly well, which is ok, I guess, because almost all characters are Nazis or Nazi-killing American Jewish soldiers.

brad pitt,inglourious basterds,b.j. novak

This film is extraordinarily gory and violent. That is extremely awesome. As for plot, it's pretty simple. Do you hate Nazis? Well, the Basterds do. They're a collection of American Jewish soldiers and several German/Austrian soldiers, one an immigrant, and one recruited from a prison (he was imprisoned for killing 13 Nazis, which Brad Pitt's character Aldo Raine considers "amateurish" but with promise). They basically kill lots of Nazis. They scalp them, too. The Nazis give Lt. Raine the nickname "Aldo the Apache," and they give Sgt. Donny Donowitz (Roth) the nickname of "The Bear Jew," because he is huge, fairly hairy, and also kills Nazis with a baseball bat, which everyone knows bears are wont to do. Simultaneously, Shosanna Dreyfus (Laurent) is on the run from the Nazis, and especially Col. Hans Landa (Waltz), the "Jew Hunter" responsible for killing her family. She owns a cinema in France, and when a young soldier/actor, Pvt. Fredrick Zoller (Brühl) fancies her, he convinces Reichminister Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth) to premier their big movie there. This catches the eye of the British intelligence, as well as the Basterds, and of course Shosanna. They all basically decide they want to blow up the cinema in order to kill a large number of Nazis, including Goebbels and Hitler himself. Oh, and Mike Myers plays a British General working with Churchill.

They kill lots and lots of Nazis in extremely bloody, gory, gratuitous, and amazing ways. I probably laughed at inappropriate places, too, but there's something about Quentin Tarantino's timing, pacing, and dialogue taht entertains and amuses me, even amidst a shower of blood, brains, bullets, etc. Especially amidst all that disgusting human offal and detritus.

inglourious basterds,drunken nazis

Tarantino makes this film simultaneously the most accessible film he's made in a long time, as well as the most shockingly controversial and violent. It stars some really big actors (like Pitt and the crazy little cameo by Myers), features some incredibly talented and prominent German and French actors, but also is entirely based on extreme violence against Nazis. Of course, its a touchy subject for a great number of people, with good reason. It's somewhat unusual in the timing, as well. it has the feel of a reactionary film, and seems like it's in response to the war as if it happened just a few years ago, instead of sixty.

It may be shallow, but on e of my favorite parts of the movie was Pitt's crazy weird American accent. He mispronounced virtually every foreign word that he came across, as well as most of the English ones. It's also immensely long, at two and a half hours. It's worth it, and entertaining every second. I haven't seen Tarantino dialogue done more in French and German than in English, and it translates surprisingly well, and very little is lost in the subtitles and strange pacing of German. Of course, it literally translates well, because, duh. I mean that it's still obviously Tarantino dialogue, despite the different language.

It's also surprisingly historically accurate (for the most part). There are a lot of little nods and notes to the German cinema and its history. You may not know, but the war was a great boon for their film industry, and in many ways, it wouldn't exist in the same state as it does now without the propaganda films that Goebbels produced during the war. It was also a great way to keep the German citizens informed, pacified, and used as a recruiting tool. The meta-film that is created within Inglourious Basterds is basically what would have happened if Tarantino was making movies during World War 2. Even the posters on display in the lobby are modernized, which I found amusing. Film was very much used as a weapon during the war (over there and over here), and it's used as a trap very effectively in the plot of the film. It also serves as a vague propaganda film on its own, though fifty years too late. It glorifies the actions of the British and American military, vilifies the Nazis without victimizing them, and gives very little justification to the actions of either party.

It's a pretty fantastic movie, but it may make you nauseous. The Lady was awfully queasy for a few hours afterwards, but she enjoyed it regardless. I give it four sacks of Nazi scalps out of five, or four extremely angry, bat-wielding ginormous Jews out of five.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Forgetting Sarah Marshall: Unforgettably Excellent

forgetting sarah marshall,jason segel,movie poster,mila kunis,kristen bell

Last year, that tall guy from How I Met Your Mother starred in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which he also wrote. It co-starred Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Paul Rudd, Russell Brand, and Jonah Hill, and there are definitely some shenanigans going on. It was directed by some dude I'd never heard of before, Nicholas Stoller, but that's ok. It's one of those movies that doesn't need Kubrick or Welles, it just needs someone to point the camera at the funny stuff that's happening. There's nothing wrong with a decent movie that relies primarily on awkwardness, great dialogue, and interesting songs sung by two characters. Also, there's a sex competition. Yes, you heard me. It is just as awesome as it sounds. Also, it was produced by Judd Apatow, so it automatically falls into the crazy category of Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin.

I greatly enjoy these kinds of movies, where virtually every line is something you kind of want to quote to other people. Sometimes it gets annoying (like when every moron that you bumped into wanted to yell "Yeah, baby!" after seeing Austin Powers), but it can be good, too. The music and songs are pretty decent, too. Segel's character is a musician, writing songs for a (decidedly terrible but incredibly apt parody) crime show starring his girlfriend, the titular Sarah Marshall, played by Kristen Bell. He's trying to write a Dracula musical. Seriously! It's pretty awesome. I am bummed out that the only spin-off from this movie is Get Him to the Greek, with Russell Brand and Jonah Hill. I wish I could see the real Dracula musical. I demand that it be produced! I demand it!

jason segel,kristen bell,russell brand,forgetting sarah marshall

Peter Bretter (Segel) is a pretty talented dude, who works as a composer for Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime, a crime show parody based on shows like CSI: (which also co-stars William Baldwin, in a spot-on David Caruso parody). His long-time girlfriend Sarah Marshall (Bell) co-stars on the show, though he starts to feel unimportant and uncomfortable in the spotlight. She breaks up with him at the start of the movie, leaving him naked and vulnerable (quite literally). His step-brother Brian (Bill Hader) tries to cheer him up, but he is only vaguely comforted by random sex with strangers. Eventually, he escapes by going to Hawai'i, to a hotel that Sarah talked about often, where he meets Rachel (Kunis), a cute and adventurous customer service/front desk worker at the hotel. They get close, while Sarah shows up at the hotel as well with her new boyfriend Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), a completely ridiculous musician. There are basically lots of shenanigans involving sex, ex-lovers, new lovers, songs about Dracula, Jonah Hill making Peter feel awkward, making Aldous feel awkward, and then an insane scene where Sarah and Aldous try to out-sex Peter and Rachel. Also, Paul Rudd is a surf instructor named Chuck, or Kunu (which means Chuck in Hawai'ian). It's funny.

jonah hill,mila kunis,jason segel,russell brand,kristen bell,forgetting sarah marshall

Okay, so there's some nudity. Okay, so there's a lot of nudity. Yes, most of it is Jason Segel. Yes, it is full-frontal. It ... It is a pretty awkward scene. Harrowing stuff. What nightmares are made of. Not really, but seriously. I had to close my eyes. Luckily, it's at the beginning, so if you can get through that, you'll love the rest of the film. Segel is surprisingly talented in virtually every way. He's a better actor than you'd expect, he's a much better musician than he seems, and he wrote the film entirely by himself (according to the credits, at least), though it's possible that there were some ad-libs and improvisations from the other actors, all of whom are talented. It's also surprising to see Kristen Bell and Mila Kunis in this kind of screwball sex comedy, where both actresses had previously been on relatively wholesome television series prior to this. Also, most Americans didn't really know who Russell Brand was at this point.

It's a hilariously entertaining movie, but a bit thin in terms of general plot, but that's acceptable. It's not often that films like this have real, thought-provoking plots or deep, rounded, incredibly developed characters. It's not really the point of these kinds of movies. The point is to forget about whatever dumb stuff is going on in the real world, and just laugh your stressed-out ass off for an hour and a half. Check out the special features, too, the commentary is great, and the line-o-rama and gag reel are worth checking out.

I give the film three awkward full-frontal nude shots out of five, or three hilarious and surprising sex competitions out of five.

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