Monday, August 18, 2008

"I don't read the script. The script reads me."

How does one approach comedy from a critical standpoint? It is the most critic proof genre there is because everyone has a different sense of humor. So when looking at a film that is a total farce and taking a critical stance one must look beyond the jokes. If all that's there is a vast emptiness than the jokes will generally ring hollow, but when you look past the jokes and find something of substance to place the jokes onto, therein lies the secret to comedic masterpiece.

Ben Stiller is no stranger to great comedy. His work in films like There's Something About Mary, Zoolander, Meet The Parents, and the great Ben Stiller Show prove that he has a real knack for playing the lovable shlub that we can root for. He is Charlie Chaplin's tramp in a new form, slightly more buff. With his latest starring and directorial effort Stiller brings it to an entirely new level.

Tropic Thunder is a Hollywood satire starring Robert Downey Jr, Jack Black, Steve Coogan and of course Mr. Stiller. It follows the stars as they star in a movie called Tropic Thunder based on a book of the same name. Coogan, who is directing them, has realized he cannot control them and follows the advice of a hilariously over the top Nick Nolte and puts them "into the shit". Things go awry and when the actors think they are still being filmed, they are actually under attack and in real danger from a terrorist drug running group from Lao ran by a little boy.
It's a pretty absurd plot, and I did a terrible job of truly describing it, but it's no easy thing to do with this film. That's not to say that the plot is convoluted or messy. I actually think it flows along quite well and uses all the characters and jokes to it's advantage.

The true star of this film is obviously Robert Downey Jr. His portrayal of Australian method actor Kirk Lazarus getting his skin colored to play the troops black sergeant is this films greatest achievement. Honestly, I was lost in his performance. Both as a black man and Australian, he isn't Robert Downey Jr, but he actually is these characters. Before I had always thought he was good, but really just playing himself. This film really proves his outstanding acting ability. It's obvious he is making fun of method actors who take it a little too far, but it's kind of interesting to see how far he is actually taking it himself. Not to mention the discussion that can be brought up out of the idea of a white man playing a black man.

This film really hits all it's marks when Downey is on the screen, but he isn't stealing the whole show here. We get a whole slew of great guest appearances from Hollywood that aren't really expected. From Tom Cruise, to Matthew McConaughey, to Tobey McGuire we are spearheaded with Hollywood A-Lister's seemingly lampooning themselves.

The films satire is rich and biting for the most part, but they head over into broad comedy land a little too much for my liking. Stiller wants to have his cake and eat it too. He wants to be able to make fun of Eddie Murphy for his flatulence laced family films while at the same time being them. This isn't to say I didn't laugh a lot. This is some of the most laughs I have had all summer, maybe even all year. But with what Stiller was trying to accomplish the film does fall a little short.

There are some really great moments that reach a peak and then hit a mark that just isn't very funny, sometimes stopped dead in their tracks. One such moment is when Kirk Lazarus is talking to the group about having someone back home. In this hilarious, and honest scene, we get a joke about a character being gay. It falls flat on its face. But I will say I thought it was saved in the end by a nice monologue by a tied up Jack Black.

The films peaks are much higher than its lowest spots and that's definitely a good thing. Just watch out for a dancing Tom Cruise, which seems to be in the vein of Date Movie.

Tropic Thunder is probably Ben Stiller's best directorial effort. Here's to hoping his next one is even better!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

"To me Psycho was a big comedy. It had to be..."

The title quote is a quote from the Master of Suspense himself. I come back to you so early with another little quick post on Hitch because while starting my study I decided I wanted to broaden the scope just a little with the films I am covering. Since Hitchcock's body of work is so large I am adding 3 more films to made it a total of 10. I will also be watching a little bit of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and recently had the pleasure of seeing a really interesting documentary on Hitchcock called Dial H for Hitchcock.

Anyways, The study is coming along better than expected and I am getting more and more excited to write it all out for you guys.

Here's the new and improved list.

Rear Window (1954)
North By Northwest (1959)
Strangers On A Train (1951)
Vertigo (1958)
Rebecca (1940)
Notorious (1946)
Psycho (1960)
The Birds (1963) Lifeboat (1944) Frenzy (1972)

I don't like putting a finished date on things because I am a huge procrastinator but I am expecting to be finished sometime in mid-September. Keep me to my word.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What exactly is the "R" word?(RANT)

So Tropic Thunder comes out today and people are protesting. Why are they protesting you ask? Well it seems that Ben Stiller portrays a mentally RETARDED person unfavorably.

Okay, lets get down to the nitty gritty on this. Have any of these people seen the film? No, because they were boycotting it this morning when the theatre's opened. So then what are they protesting exactly? The bits and pieces they saw of the film in the previews. Did these people take a second to actually look and see what the film is about? It doesn't seem so as they seem to think that Mr. Stiller is making fun of RETARDED people.

The question is, Is old Ben making fun of the mentally handicapped? I have yet to see the film, but from what I have gathered the answer would obviously be no. He is satirizing Hollywood. Many actors today try to portray RETARDED people in films, and many of them do it because these kinds of performances generally grant the actor with a list of awards and nominations. Just look at the track record of Tom Hanks, Dustin Hoffman and Sean Penn. This isn't to say those actors did it for the wrong reasons, but you never really know. What Stiller is doing here seems wonderfully genius to me. He is playing an actor who acts in a film called "Simple Jack" about a RETARDED boy. Why does he do so? Because he has always been an unrespected action star and he thought this would give him the awards he has always wanted as an actor. Simple as that, no wait, simple as Jack.

I am not being hard hearted, or empty headed here. I have two younger sisters with learning disabilities and have a few RETARDED family members. One, that I don't know all that well, who is wheel chair bound and has trouble speaking coherently. I understand that these people care about their children, or loved ones, but what they don't understand is that they are fighting a pointless war.

I was listening to the news on the radio about some people in my neighborhood protesting and they had a woman on talking about why they were protesting. She said something to the effect of "I thought we were past this point. People on TV, the radio and in print never use the "R" word, so why does Hollywood think they can make fun of people for something they can't even help. They just seem to be trying to set us back another twenty years."

Hello lady! They are setting us back? No ma'am you are the one who is setting us back by focusing so much on the issue that you keep it in the forefront of everyone's minds. Nobody makes fun of RETARDED people for being the way they are. Everyone today knows that that is something that is just unethical and immoral to do. But you and your PC police try to force your agenda on everyone and make us think that a medical term (RETARDED) is a bad word. I'm sorry lady, but you're just as bad as the people who think African-American is less offensive than saying black. Most black-americans feel that adding African to their name makes them less American. Just like changing the word RETARDED to special and making the word RETARDED a bad word only robs your child of know who they really are. Yes, It's going to be hard for them and kids will make fun of them and people will stare, but if the kid knows who they are and knows that being RETARDED does not make them stupid and they can still do anything they put their minds to, that to me seems to be all that really matters. But to you your kid cannot do whatever they want and you have to hold them back and not let them know what they are. Let's sugarcoat everything so that they don't have to deal with being RETARDED. Guess what? Making the word RETARDED a "bad" word and calling your kid special will hurt them because one day they will find out from some dickweed classmate that they are in fact RETARDED and will think they are lesser because you don't like the word RETARDED, you hate that medical term so much you won't even utter it!

And back to the controversy surrounding this comedy that is actually doing better for the minds of the mentally RETARDED people around the world than these sheltercrazed-PC-hidingmykidsfromtheworld moms. I commend Stiller and crew for sticking with their guts about this issue and the issue with Mr. Downey Jr and black face. If the people fighting this would just sit back and watch the movie and think for a second that "hey, maybe these people are on my side." Than we can actually accomplish something.

Review of the RETARD loving Tropic Thunder in the coming days.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Huey Lewis Can Do No Wrong

Back in 1985 Robert Zemeckis directed a delightful little film, you may have heard of it, it was about a boy who through a friend and mentor becomes entangled in all this time travel stuff. Anyways, that movie, if you haven't already guessed, is Back To The Future and the reason I bring it up is because of it's theme song, Back In Time by Huey Lewis and the News. The film was sky rocketed into American pop culture and carried the song with it. 23 years later Judd Apatow is producing a comedy with yet another Huey Lewis theme starring the new king of comedy Seth Rogen and his former short lived television co-star James Franco. The film is, as I am sure you already know, Pineapple Express. But the question that might be lingering on every one's mind, is it funny?

I can answer such a question with a yes and a no but let me first explain it a little. If you have seen the trailers, which have been playing for something like a year now, you know it is unapologetically a stoner movie. It doesn't try to hide that fact. Something it isn't though is a stupid movie. I would say it uses some cliche but only to it's advantage. The films director, indie god David Gordon Green (Snow Angels, All The Real Girls), does a great job making this film stand out amongst all the Dude, Where's My Car and Harold and Kumar type movies.

The film is essentially a buddy/action/chase movie. Dale Denton(Seth Rogen) witnesses a murder and drops his weed at the scene. While trying to get away he makes a big ruckus and the murderer/drug lord sees that he saw them commit the murder and is able to trace the weed back to Saul(James Franco). This leads to a chase and we go along for the ride.

Now back to the "is it funny?" question. The reason for my saying yes and no is because it is funny, but it isn't the type of funny you expect from these guys, well not totally. Yes they do offer up jokes filled with expletives and jokes about being high, but the film isn't riddled with such jokes. Every joke actually shows you a bit of the character and if it isn't exactly pushing the plot forward it is at least bringing you into what each character is going through.

I would say it is kind of separated into two halves. The first half we are introduced to the characters. We meet Dale, Saul, Red(Danny McBride), and Angie, Dale's 18 year high school girlfriend. They have funny banter, but it isn't exactly laugh-out-loud, burst a spleen funny. It just kind of makes you smile as some subtle and most not so subtle jokes are thrown about left and right. You may giggle or nod your head as to say, "heh, I get it" but rarely do you laugh as hard as you might in other Judd Apatow vehicles such as Superbad, Knocked Up, or The 40 Year Old Virgin. This isn't to say that those movies are unequivocally funnier, what it is saying is that David Gordon Green definitely played his hand in this film. If you have seen any of his other films, they are mainly dramas, but they are interspersed with wonderful bits of humor throughout. I can see all the actors pretending they are just talking and the humor just comes from what the characters are saying, there are rarely any punchlines.
The second half is more action oriented but it gave me more laugh-out-loud moments. The action is well paced and has a certain sense of humor to it all, especially in a fight between Dale Denton and Ted Jones(Gary Cole). They fight, but in a more realistic sense, they bite each other, pinch each other, anything to get ahead. You can tell that these guys don't often get into fist fights, especially on Denton's part. Sometimes the action goes over the top, but it wasn't so much that it took me out of the story, although I will say that it was on the brink.

Along the way we get some spoofing of action films but not in your face spoofing(Ala Date Movie, Meet The Spartans) just a few jabs here and there. You can tell that the cast and David Gordon Green had a lot of fun and the fun seems to comes through into the characters.

Now, although I definitely enjoyed this film for it's Knocked Up meets Lethal Weapon humor I will say it did have it's set backs. Some people say the beginning is a little slow paced and boring, others say that the second half is too over the top, I don't happen to agree with either of those opinions. To me the flaws lie in some of the characters. Rosie Perez plays a bad cop in this and while I really dislike Rosie Perez I think she was pretty much wasted in this role, there is nothing to it and it could have just as easily been cut out. The only reason it is in there is to have a bad cop or a dirty cop I guess, but it wasn't really needed. Gary Cole on the other hand, while his character was definitely needed, seems to play it totally straight. Which I understand he needs to being a villain and all but he just seems to be to serious for this movie. Not only is he serious but he lacks anything compelling whatsoever. He is a terrible villain. If he were at least more compelling to watch maybe he would be a more interesting character, but as is he just falls flat on the screen(save for the Rogen/Cole fight scene).

When the third act is coming full force it seems that Green decided he wanted to lose some characters, and while I thought the way he does so is funny, it seems to happen a little too quickly. Almost anytime a character dies, or leaves the story it just seems very abrupt.

Despite it's flaws I do think this is a hit for the Apatow clan(yet again) and the choice of director was a wonderful addition. Tim Orr's cinematography is perfect for the film and really nice on the eyes, he has been the DP for all of David Gordon Green's films to date.

The last thing I am sure most people want to see is another stoner comedy or maybe for a lot of people another Apatow comedy, but really this movie just made me smile the whole way through.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

So. You've Got Faith Over Here, Right? And Chance Over There.

“The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God”
-Psalms 14:2(KJV)

“Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.”
-Psalms 90:3(KJV)

Oliver Wendell Holmes once wrote “Beware how you take away hope from any human being.” It can be said that it is utterly impossible for humanity to lose hope in anything. With all the religions, beliefs, ideals and philosophies of the world every human being holds some sort of hope. The main thing any of us can hope for is a better future, a better tomorrow. What if there were no tomorrow, would there then be no more hope?

In 2006 Alfonso Cuaron made Children of Men, a film that delves into that very question. The film is set in the year 2027. We hear the youngest human being (Baby Diego) on earth has just died at the age of 18 and the world is devastated. We learn that for the last 18 years woman have been infertile and no new life has been brought onto earth since. We follow a hopeless drunk, Theo Faron, as he agrees to help the first pregnant woman in 18 years reach The Human Project. We know little about The Human Project, only that they want to help humanity survive and save the future of mankind.

The idea of the dystopian vision is blatant within the first 5 minutes of the film. When we first hear of Baby Diego we see the on-lookers faces and any glimmer of hope they may have had seems to be diminishing within the first seconds of the film. We see Theo’s cousin and his Ark of The Arts, a place where he is storing the world’s famous art since no one will be around to enjoy it. The world put forth in Cuaron’s film is a claustrophobic one as well. When Theo sits at his desk he is surrounded by other desks with nothing between them, no privacy. When we see anyone walking down the street there are constantly large groups of people just rushing past them at every second. And while this is true, when Theo is on the bus or train, there seems to be very few people on it. Likewise, when Theo is at Jaspers he is finally in open spaces and can relax. This can be said that these are the only places of progress seen in the film, and humanity has lost hope in progress.

The dystopic vision doesn’t end with the claustrophobic sense the world gives off. Humanity seems to be literally attempting to destroy progress. From the way the city looks to the idea that art is no longer needed(ark of the arts) we see humanity doesn’t desire to progress any when there isn’t anything left for it to progress to. This point is further driven home while Theo is riding the train. As the train is pulling away we come across a group of people just throwing rocks and trash at the train for no apparent reason. They are trying to destroy progress. In many films, particularly westerns, the train represents progress. There is a total digression in the world’s attitude and outlook on life itself.

In Modernity and Mis-En-Scene: Terry Gilliam and Brazil the author writes that in Brazil ( 1985, Dir. Terry Gilliam) “Gilliam makes the point that every step forward can also be a step back. In other words, science, technology, reason and logic may try to move humanity forward, but in the process they inevitably erode the traditional values that give human beings a sense of meaning in their lives.” This is an interesting piece to look at and compare to the worldview that Cuaron takes and the way Technology is used in Children of Men. Throughout the film we see televisions everywhere. In the coffee shop, on the train, in the bus, but we don’t ever see anything happy going on. All that is spoken of on the television is the hope we are losing, Baby Diego and anything relating to those two subjects. It seems televisions main purpose, to entertain, has been replaced. TV used to be able to give these people hope. Watching a favorite sports team win a game, Ross and Rachel finally getting together, these things give humanity hope despite what’s going on in the world.

Also notably stated is Jasper’s conversation with Kee and Miriam about chance and faith. “Everything is a mythical, cosmic battle between faith and chance.” But he discusses further that “Theo’s faith lost out to chance.” This could mean he began to think with reason and logic rather than faith, but as the film progresses that ideology in Theo digresses.

The functions this film plays within history, past and present, while tying them into its overall theme brings the Science Fiction ideals more upfront than they might have been. Not that the historical themes covered in this film are related to science, but that the historical themes are used to give us a context of where we are today, in our contemporary society. This is what most Science Fiction films do. They show us a vision of the future or past and use it as a mirror for today. In The Imagination of Disaster the author covers this theme throughout many of the 1950’s Science Fiction films such as The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951, Dir. Robert Wise) and Forbidden Planet (1956, Dir. Fred Wilcox) which discuss the threat of nuclear war, which was a heavily prevalent thought in the times the films were made. Children of Men brings us the refugee camps but makes them look disturbingly similar to those of Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. We are brought into the issue of illegal immigration and also shown some images that are very reminiscent of September 11th. Euthanasia is another topic that is brought into this film, but not enough to make an impact on the viewer other than to show the loss of hope felt throughout mankind.

The main theme this film covers throughout all of that mess is hope. This is a topic well covered in many Science Fiction films. The genre is all about hope. From Back to The Future to ET hope is the most often used ideology for a Science Fiction film. Even when the film has a grim subject, or a scary theme, such as in an alien encounter film, even if they aren’t here in peace, the idea of life on another planet is too engaging to not hope for. The way Cuaron presents this hope is through a very traditionally packaged religious story. From the idea that Kee (the pregnant woman) and her baby are the only hope for mankind and their future, to the name of the main character(Theo, meaning God in Greek).

While the Novel’s religious themes are much less subtle Cuaron doesn’t totally shy away from them. When Kee reveals her secret to Theo they are in a barn, referencing the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. When Theo sees Kee’s pregnant stomach the only words he can utter are “Jesus Christ!” It is Theo’s job to get Kee to the Human Project by getting her to their boat(aptly named “Tomorrow”) in a refugee camp. This baby is the hope for tomorrow, just as tomorrow is the hope for the baby.

It can also be said that Theo is a more modern version of Noah. At many points in the film we see animals come up to him, even once it is commented that “They like you, they normally don’t like anyone.” It is also notable that they are always seen in pairs, just as in the story of Noah when he had “2 of every kind” get onto the ark. More proof for this theory can be found in the final scene when Kee, Theo and the baby are on the row boat waiting for “Tomorrow.” The hope is found at sea.

In this same scene Kee proclaims the name of the baby will be Dylan (the name of a child Theo once had but had passed away at a young age). The name Dylan means “sea god, son of the waves” which can also be related back to the story of Noah. There are many hopeful Dylan's in the world though. To me, most notably, I think of Bob Dylan.

The message that Children of Men provides us with is a message of hope. Even throughout the darkest times, hope can be found and will seemingly appear out of nowhere. The only hope any of us can have is in tomorrow.

In Non-film Related Talk...

I just awoke from a terrible nightmare where I was being chased around my place of work(where my last day is tomorrow) by my mean,lazy old lady of a boss with a friggin machete! It was so weird, because it started out normal and then all the sudden BAM! MACHETE!

Not sure why I had to post this here, but it scared me to death and I thought you would like to know. For the record, I am still shaking right now.
By the way, that picture looks exactly how she does.
Any words of consolation would be appreciated.

Monday, August 4, 2008

And The Winner Is.....

Rebecca is the seventh film for my Hitchcock study. Thanks to all who participated in the polls as I wouldn't have known where to begin with such a huge body of work. So the final list includes:

Rear Window
North By Northwest
Strangers On A Train

This will take a little while for me to do if I really want to do it right, so in between now and then there will be the regular posts.

Thanks guys!

Saturday, August 2, 2008


So I have decided to end my Hitchcock films poll a day early and add a poll with the 3 films that are tied for 7th place. The top 6 seem to have it in the bag so I am giving them their due.

The for sure 6 films I am going to study are:
Vertigo (1958)
Rear Window (1954)
Notorious (1946)
Strangers On A Train (1951)
North By Northwest (1959)
Psycho (1960)

The final 3 spots:
Rebecca (1940)
The Birds (1963)
Rope (1948)

I am a little disappointed that Lifeboat missed the cut because it looks rather interesting, but to me all of Hitchcock's films have an aura of intrigue surrounding them.

Anyways, you have 1 day to vote.

Vote away!

Maybe I Should Make My Blog Sing-Along...

Joss Whedon is most known for his work as the creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly. I must say I was never really a fan of any of those shows, but have always found the storylines to be interesting, I just never cared much for the execution. At any rate when I read about Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog I wasn't really that interested. But as most stories go, boredom beset me and I finally got around to watching it.

I was captivated from the first minute. Neil Patrick Harris is hilarious as Dr. Horrible. He opens with him having his own video blog and just talking to the camera for a few minutes showing just how pathetic of a villain he truly is. He reminds me of Dick Dastardly from Wacky Races and if anyone actually knows what that show is then I can say that person is my best friend, because I love it.

Dr. Horrible is placed in three episodes labeled Act I, Act II, and Act III and they work as such. Act I brings us into who Dr. Horrible is and why he does what he does. It also sets up the other main characters Captain Hammer, Penny and Moist(a villain whose only power is he sweats alot). We find out that Dr. Horrible has a thing for Penny, but so does Captain Hammer. It's easy to see where the plot could lead from here, but there are still some surprises especially in Act III.

The musical numbers of Dr. Horrible are very well orchestrated and fit seemlessly into the story. The singing is great as well, especially from NPH.

I find this story most satisfying because we follow the villain and root for him. The interesting thing is, when following the villain it is easy to see things through his perspective. Yes, Dr. Horrible knows he is, well horrible, but he also thinks that what he is doing is for a good cause. We can sympathize with him because he is a loser in all meaning of the word. Captain Hammer on the other hand we see as the villain of the story and to be honest, I don't much like the guy. He is pompous, arrogant and doing things for all the wrong reasons. This could be just the way Dr. Horrible sees him or is Whedon trying to tell us to quit judging people, even when they do things that are wrong or that we disagree with. Don't get me wrong, this message isn't being preached at us or thrown in our faces, this is a simple,hilarious but touching little story. It is a refreshing take on the superhero/comic book films and shows we have been bombarded with lately.

Whedon has big plans for these characters and their story and I am on the bandwagon for this one. I think it could work as a film or a television show or even a mini-series, I just want more.

Me: Please sir may I have some more?
Whedon: MOOOOOORE?!?!?!?!