Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tropic Thunder

This statement might be sacrilegious in some circles, but I thought Tropic Thunder was as funny as Zoolander--or at least pretty darn close. It might not necessarily be as quotable or as creative, but it's still a barrel of laughs.

*Warning* some of the links contain [a lot of] profanity

Anything that makes fun of actors or Hollywood is golden. I'm so tired of pretensious actors thinking they're the ones who know how to run the world (darn that Film Actors Guild!). All of the major actors in this film are making fun of other actors (and their stupid films). For those of you that might refuse to see it because it uses the word "retarded," you have no clue what the movie is about. Just like male models in Zoolander, the actors portrayed in Tropic Thunder are ridiculously vein and stupid. Ben Stiller and Robert Downey, Jr.'s characters were both [mis]using the term "retarded," and it did was display their lust for Oscars as well as their it's-all-about-me attitude. The people that come off as intellectually disabled are the actors, not the mentally challenged character (Simple Jack) portrayed. To say that Stiller is deplorable because he says "retarded" is to say that he did a disservice to coal miners ("black lung") or homeless people ("derelict") in Zoolander... a clear misunderstaning and misinterpretation of the overall point of the film.

The cast is terrific here. Ben Stiller had the trifecta: [co-]writer, director, actor. Robert Downey, Jr. is almost unrecognizable (and the exchanges between he and Alpa Chino are priceless), and he's some sort of Russell Crowe character. Jack Black does an Eddie-Murphy-on-drugs character, and it's also really funny. Tom Cruise's bellicose billionaire producer role is outstanding! Everything he says is hyper-masculine and over the top, which reminds me of the best character from Burn After Reading.

If you rent this movie and have extra time, watch the "actors commentary" with Stiller, RDJr., and Jack Black. Classy.

Final Grade: A
Blurb: Definitely the funniest movie in 2008.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Resurrecting the Champ

If you know me, you know I'm not a Samuel L. Jackson fan (although I love his beer). Thankfully in this movie, he doesn't play his angryblackman archetype. As former-heavyweight-contender-turned-homeless, Jackson has a strange, cartoonish voice, but I prefer it to his yelling. Josh Hartnett, who won me over after Lucky Number Slevin, plays the newspaper writer that tries to get Jackson's story. And while the story appears conventional at times, it had a twist that I didn't see coming (and no, it's not an M.-Night-Shymalan-type twist--thankfully). The trailer will give you a better idea of the film's storyline:

Caveats: When I was in high school, I thought I wanted to be a sports journalist--or broadcast journalist--so there's probably a bit of sentimental value here. On top of that, last year I read a really good book on boxing for my 20th-Century U.S. popular culture class and it piqued my interested on boxing history a little, so there's additional value that I found in the film that you might not.

Caveats aside, I liked this movie. It didn't blow me away--this movie is no Field of Dreams--but I enjoyed it.

Final Grade: B+
Blurb: Unlike recent, formulaic Disney sports movies, this film is more about the people than the sport or the games' outcome. Like the story told in the movie itself, this is a story that is often overlooked.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sukiyaki Western Django

This might be the weirdest title of a movie I've ever seen. The storyline itself, too, is a bit weird, but in a good way. The setting is actually Nevada, presumably in the 1860s-1880s (the timeline is never given). But here's the catch: instead of an old prospector, the town is filled with Japanese Samurai-Cowboy hybrids. Even stranger, they all speak English (this is actually a problem at times, and I had to turn on the subtitles). If I've confused you, hopefully the trailer will help:

This movie gets all sorts of style points and plenty of points for creativity, but the problem is that the story is weak (two rival tribes seeking hidden treasure, while a lone gunman wanders into town and tries to find the treasure himself) and the action isn't outstanding.

Also--and this is simply personal preference--I would've liked the movie more if it had featured martial arts instead of guns. Don't get me wrong, I love me some gunfights (Tombstone, anyone? Smokin' Aces, Shoot 'Em Up, etc.), but the gun action is merely satisfactory here. When you're an action film, the action needs to be superb. Furthermore
, if you're going to mix guns and martial arts, you have to live up to The Matrix and Kill Bill... which Sukiyaki Western Django doesn't do.

Final Grade: C+
Blurb: The action is slightly above average, which is not enough to make up for the somewhat weak storyline. The idea of this movie is cooler than the movie itself.


So I'm not the world's biggest Woody Harrelson fan, but I wanted to see this movie the moment I saw the preview:

I believe I've made it clear that I like Emily Mortimer and Ben Kingsley, so I thought this movie had a decent cast. However, Sir Kingsley is not utilized to his full potential here; that's not his fault, it's the failure of the screenwriter(s) and director. Mortimer is the star here, and she does fairly well. This movie is both a literal and a figurative train wreck, and by figurative--in the vein of Before the Devil Knows You're Dead--I mean that the whole time you wish the characters would stop what they're doing before it gets worse... but, of course, they don't.

As far as suspenseful movies go, this one definitely has suspense, but I suspect it's not as much as the movie's director would like us to feel. It's not horror-suspense, like The Orphanage, but it's not necessarily action-suspense, like Bourne or Casino Royale... it's somewhere in between (again, Before the Devil is a good comparison here). It's a decent movie, but I think I liked it more than it may have deserved because I like trains and Russia.

Final Grade: B-
Blurb: If you have to see one movie from 2007-2008 that take place almost entirely on a train, I think you should go with Darjeeling Limited (but I'm a huge Wes Anderson fan).

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Long Time No Scene

It's been 5 weeks since my last review, but it's just because I've been studying for my prelims. I still managed to watch a lot of movies and TV shows in there (over lunch and dinner, and random weekend nights). I couldn't however, in good conscience, spend time writing a review if I could spend that time studying for prelims. Thus, I've decided to give you the quick hits on the last 5 weeks of movies/television.

Snow Angels: David Gordon Green's latest effort. Not nearly as good as All the Real Girls or even Undertow. Still, an emotionally intense work.
--Final Grade: B

The Believer
: I wanted to give Ryan Gosling a second chance since he impressed me in Lars and the Real Girl, so I picked this up. Meh. It was okay. I thought the ending was cheesy.
--Final Grade: C+

Mad Men
(Season 1): An interesting show about advertising in the early 1960s. It's a drama, but it's usually good drama.
--Final Grade: B+

Mad Men
(Season 2): The second season was still intriguing, but not as good as the first.
--Final Grade: B

Run Fat Boy Run
: I love me some Simon Pegg, but this movie is not nearly good as a few of his others. Some of the gags were a bit too much. The love story felt rather generic.
--Final Grade: C

Away From Her
: A three-person drama about a man having to put his wife--recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's--in a nursing home. Not easy viewing; I don't recommend it if you have/had a loved one with Alzheimer's.
--Final Grade: B-

: I'm still not convinced that John Krazinski will find a better role than Jim in The Office. Campy and sassy, but both of those suffer from a lack of spark or spunk. It feels a little forced and over-produced.
--Final Grade: C+

Things We Lost in the Fire
: Superbly-acted film in which Benicio Del Toro and Halle Berry both shine. Del Torro plays the [recovering] junkie best friend of Berry's murdered husband (Duchovny). Not an overwhelmingly powerful film, but a good, solid effort.
--Final Grade: B+

Ten Canoes: An Austrailian film, the first--to my understanding--to be almost entirely in the aboriginal language. That uniqueness doesn't help the mediocre story, which sometimes borderlines on boredom.
--Final Grade: C

: Definitely my least favorite of all the Oscar-nominated films. Was M. Night Shamalan hired as a consultant on this project? Also, I was intensely bored by some of the length of a few scenes.
--Final Grade: B-

The Orphanage
: I'm not a fan of scary movies, but I was told this wasn't a scary movie. Welp, it must be about as close as you can come; this blurs the line between "suspense" and "horor." Too intense for me. And don't be confused: Guillermo del Toro merely "presents" this movie (which I suspect means he purchased the rights to sell it in America); he didn't write or direct it.
--Final Grade: C

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
: I watched this the first week it came to DVD (back in February?) and I've been wanting to see it again. Definitely one of the best films of 2007. Great acting, great cinematography, great narration, great story, and a great musical score. Casey Afleck is still my pick for Best Supporting Actor. Sam Rockwell and Paul Schneider are also a nice addition.
--Final Grade: A+

Indiana Jones
: I watched this with the Rifftrax (worth every penny by the way), so it was bound to skew my perception a bit, but man, does this movie suck. Big time. No wonder South Park had a controversial take on what Speilburg/Lucas did to this franchise
--Final Grade: D