Coming soon...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

TROPIC THUNDER (2008) - Ben Stiller

These days, it seems like there are two types of comedy film. Films produced or directed by Judd Apatow, and films staring Will Ferrel. So it’s nice to see that Ben Stiller’s new film, the comedy Tropic Thunder has little to no link to either of these guys. Things are getting a little bit repetitive, so comedy needs something else. Parody is a staple of comedy. And war films are ripe for parody. Yet few films tackle this. Stiller does, and manages to create something genuinely funny.

Tugg Speedman is a Hollywood superstar. However, his career is on a bit of a decline, especially after the spectacular failure of his attempt at serious acting, the film Simple Jack. Attempting to reignite his career, Speedman takes the lead in ‘the most expensive war movie ever made,’ Tropic Thunder. He is joined by obnoxious fart comedian, Jeff Portnoy and five time Oscar winner, Kirk Lazarus. However, once filming begins, it immediately spirals out of control as the actors’ egos clash and director, Damien Cockburn loses control of the production. In a final attempt to get the best out of his actors, Cockburn drops his cast into the middle of the jungle. However, things get worse when it becomes clear that the cast are unknowingly in the proximity of a heavily armed drugs gang.

In Tropic Thunder, co-writer and director Stiller has created quite an attack on the film industry. Actors, agents, directors, everyone comes under fire. He launched a similar attack on the model industry in 2001 with Zoolander. But the film isn’t cynical or cutting. Instead, it’s more like a cartoon version of the industry, albeit with gore and gratuitous bad language. The film received a bit of flack over the Kirk Lazarus character who has skin pigment alteration in order to play the platoon sergeant, Lincoln Osiris. But it’s a parody. It’s not serious. It pokes fun at itself and the type of actor who immerses him or herself a little too much into their role. So these complaints are ridiculous. And besides, it’s a comedy. And a damn funny one at that.

Stiller, who co-wrote the film with Justin Theroux and Etan Cohen creates one of the most memorable comedy characters in Kirk Lazarus. Robert Downey Jnr.’s performance is spot on. His character is so lost in the role that he cant snap out of it when it’s clear things have gone absolutely pear shaped. It’s Downey Jnr., and a stunningly hilarious cameo by Tom Cruise of all people that are the outstanding things about Tropic Thunder. The dialogue is hilarious, and the parodies are subtle but handled brilliantly. Platoon, Saving Private Ryan, Apocalypse Now, and a great many other films are lampooned but in a way that makes sense in the context of the film. It’s not like everything stops to go ‘hey, look! We’re poking fun at... (insert pop-culture reference here)’ It’s something that talentless hacks like Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg have no idea how to do.

The performances from everyone are very good. Steve Coogan is his usual brilliant self, but his role is unfortunately quite small. Playing the man who wrote the book the film Tropic Thunder (the film in the film) is based on is crazy Nick Nolte. Nolte is madness personified, and adds a great edge to proceedings. The trio of movie stars are also great parodies in themselves. Stiller doesn’t lose any points in playing Tugg Speedman. He’s not preoccupied with directing and is very funny in the role. And Jack Black had the drug-addled Jeff Portnoy nailed. But like I’ve said before, it’s Robert Downey Jnr. and Tom Cruise who steal the show. It’s just a shame we don’t get to see more comedy from Tom Cruise. His reputation as someone a little bit eccentric just adds to the role. Hell, the film even makes Matthew McConaughey look like a great actor.

Tropic Thunder does lose a little steam in the middle of the film. But the opening is relentlessly funny and the laugh count does drop, but things are still very amusing. Sure, Tropic Thunder won’t win awards. But it’s a brilliant parody and a very funny comedy. And it almost makes me forgive Stiller for the dreadful Night At The Museum.


Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman 1925-2008

Paul Newman, one of the greatest actors of all time, has passed away. A truly brilliant actor, humanitarian and genuine movie star, Paul Newman will be sadly missed.

Controversy much?

Oliver Stone has courted controversy in the past. But his latest film, a biography of one of the worst presidents of the USA, W. stands to be his most controversial. Much could be said about the film at this point, but it will be better to let the outstanding trailer speak for the film.


Friday, September 26, 2008

To kill a leader...

Bryan Singer's Valkyrie has had a pretty hard time up until now. The production was fraught with problems and it's star, Tom Cruise is today more known for his questionable public persona than his acting skills. However, as the trailer for the film shows, Singer and co may have the last laugh. Valkyrie looks spectacular. A fascinating story, a stellar cast and a director who can handle ensemble drama as well as spectacle means that Valkyrie could be quite the hit.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Two Holmes? Most people can only afford one...

So next year Sasha Baron Cohen and Robert Downey Jnr. will both don the deerstalker hat in two different films tackling the world's greatest detective. On one hand, we have the Judd Apatow (yes, HIM again) produced comedy take on the legendary character with Cohen as Holmes and Will Ferrell as Watson. And competing with this is Guy Ritchie's more serious Holmes with Downey Jnr. as Holmes and Jude Law as his assistant. Which movie will be better? At this stage, it's more like which movie will suck less. Ritchie's proven he cant make anything that's not a cock-en-ey gangster movie, and even at that, he's lost the touch he once had. And Apatow's films are hit and miss. Should make for... mundane watching. Hollywood calling originality... come in, originality.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Monday, September 15, 2008

PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (2008) - David Gordon Green

Stoner movies are something of a rarity nowadays. They’re don’t exactly fit in with what the studios want to release. Drugs are bad, mmkay? Obviously, due to the very nature of marijuana, stoner movies are inevitabely comedies. But sometimes it helps to cross-pollinate a comedy with another genre and that’s exactly what’s at hand in Pineapple Express, a new film from the Judd Apatow factory. It follows some of formula what we’ve expect from these films, but is geared more towards older audiences.

Dale Denton is a process server. It’s a job that makes him few friends, but allows him to pursue his passion in life- smoking weed. It’s a firm advocate of the drug and spends his days getting stoned and delivering summons to unsuspecting people... and getting called asshole, dickhead and all manner of other names in the process. He gets his weed from Saul, a well-meaning and genuinely nice pot dealer. Albeit one who’s brain is somewhat mush due to his consumption of copious amounts of weed. While delivering a summons, Denton witness a murder. He in turn is spotted by the murderers. He takes off back to Saul’s but the joint he threw out his car window leads the murderers to Saul. So Denton and Saul take off with gangsters and a crooked cop baying for their blood.

Pineapple Express is a strange film. What’s immediately strange about it is that it’s directed by indie darling David Gordon Green. Green has directed some pretty heavy dramas such as George Washington and All The Real Girls. But Pineapple Express is a total departure for the director. It’s laughs and bullets, something Green fans will not be expecting from the director. But the script is written by star Seth Rogen, so by that, the film isn’t lost.

The other strange thing about the film is one of it’s weaknesses. At times, I didn’t feel like the filmmakers were sure what exactly type of film they were making. When it’s funny, it hits the mark quite well. However, when the action kicks is, and the bullets fly, things begin to fall apart. There are moments when the two parts gel, but these moments are few. The best thing about the film is James Franco’s turn as Saul Silver. There have been many screen stoners, but Franco’s manages to be hilarious and still be the heart of the film. He’s a lovable character, not just because of his idiotic ideas and comments, but also because he’s just a lonely guy looking for a friend. Seth Rogen has carved a niche as the loser with good intentions in these movies, so he’s not out of his depth.

There are other familiar faces on show. Gary Cole and Rosie Perez play the villains, weed dealer Ted Jones, and the crooked cop, Carol. Cole has played villains to a certain extent before. Most famously in Office Space where he played Bill Lumbergh. So he’s got the bad guy thing down. And Perez just seems to be caustic no matter what she plays. Other familiar faces such as Danny R. McBride, Bill Hader and Ed Begley Jnr. fill out the cast. But it’s Rogen and Franco who are the stars, and they make a great team. Though having started out together in Freaks And Geeks, that’s not unusual to see.

Pineapple Express works on some levels and falls flat on others. It’s a funny film, don’t get me wrong. But the best moments are reserved for when Franco’s on screen and you do miss Saul Silver when he’s not around. It’s a film that isn’t quite sure of itself. But at the same time, it’s got great moments. It’s one of those films destined to be a cult movie. And it’ll no doubt be another success for the Apatow factory.


First look at Heath Ledger's last film

A video in which Terry Gilliam talks about The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus has been released. It's the first look at the final film of actor Heath Ledger. He never completed the role, and the remaining footage was completed by Jude Law, Johnny Depp and Colin Farrell. Hopes are high for this one. Heath Ledger deserves a great final film, and Terry Gilliam deserves a bit of luck and a hit. Released next year.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

ROCKNROLLA (2008) - Guy Ritchie

Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrells kicked off the sub-genre of London gangster films. Films about geezas, right royal hard bastards. After the success of the film, innumerable imitations, rip-offs and Ritchie's own follow-up, Snatch, the genre got tired and dull. Ritchie himself tried his hand at something different, and made two films so poorly received that people began to wonder if Ritchie had actually lost his mind. He returns to the genre he's most comfortable with in the film RocknRolla, released this week.

RocknRolla follows the same old formula as Ritchie's other gangster films. We have an artifact of some sort. This time, instead of a pair of shotguns or a diamond, it's a painting. The artifact is in the hands of a 'godfather' of a London gang, Lenny Cole played by Tom Wilkinson. The painting is knicked and a whole slew of gangsters, cheekie chappies, hard-nuts and whatever other description you want to use for these character are charged with getting it back before the claret flows. Cole's stepson, rocker, junkie, and suspected dead-man Johnny Quid has stolen the painting and everyone must get use their contacts on the streets, fists and guns to return the painting to Cole so he can complete a deal he's making with a Russian football-club-owning billionaire.

If you've seen Lock, Stock and Snatch, then you've pretty much seen RocknRolla. Which is actually unfair to the previous two films, because they were actually pretty entertaining. RocknRolla is more of the same old, same old. There's very little subtlety, character development or story. There's a voice-over which just seems to be a cop-out in terms of letting the story tell itself, and the snazzy camera flourishes just distract from what is a simplistic and brainless plot. Instead of developing characters, Ritchie just gives people hats and kooky names which are never explained and never seem to describe the characters they're attached to.

The acting isn't really up to much either. Tom Wilkinson is awful, and I do mean awful as Lenny Cole. Wilkinson seems to have overdosed on The Long Good Friday and is regurgitating Bob Hoskins' role from that film. Gerard Butler breezes through proceedings with a wry smile. But it doesn't take much to do that. The rest of the cast is filled with a couple of familiar British faces, two small roles for Jeremy Piven and Chris Bridges playing the token Americans, and Thandie Newton who adds nothing to the proceeding other than a female face. The only really notable performance is from Toby Kebbell as Johnny Quid. But it's not really the fault of the actors that none of them have much to do. The film is just written that way. I wouldn't be surprised if the character description in the screenplay consisted of 'he wears a trilby hat' or 'he has a Scottish accent.'

1999 called and it wants RocknRolla back. The film is part of a sub-genre that has long ago run out of steam. It has elements that relate to London today. Especially the addition of a Russian billionaire who owns a football club. It's that kind of ham-fisted subtlety that is all over RocknRolla. It's neither original nor innovative. Just a step-back in Guy Ritchie's career. It seems that he cant even make a decent version of a genre piece he once was the poster-boy for. It's not rubbish. But it's not particularly good. And it feels a helluva lot longer than 114 minutes. I weep for Sherlock Holmes.*

*Guy Ritchie's "Awight Guvna', It's Right Royal Sherlock Holmes" coming 2010.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

THE STRANGERS (2008) - Bryan Bertino

Serial killers. Mask-wearing psychos. Two young lovers trapped in an isolated home. It’s been done before. To death. Yet this month, we see the release of The Strangers. A film that has those done-to-death elements. Yet it’s another attempt at scaring apathetic audiences with loud noises and jump scares. None of the psychology, all of the cheap thrills.

So we have two young people who arrive at a house off the beaten track, isolated somewhere in America. These two people are lovers, but they’re on a rocky road. Things aren’t going well for them. The house has been done up as a surprise for the girl who has just rejected her boyfriend’s marriage proposal. But things are about to get a whole lot worse. A faceless girl arrives on the door. She is the harbinger of doom. While she initially disappears, she returns with two other masked intruders who proceed to intimidate Kristen and James. Will they get out of this situation alive?

We’ve been here before. It’s ground that is well covered and executed in far better ways. Director Bryan Bertino has some good ideas but they’re not executed very well. While he avoids giving the audience anything sane to grab onto, he keeps his villains masked and anonymous. We never get the cathartic release of finding out who they are. It’s a shame that there’s little in the film to really scare. Shadows and jump scares are about the sum of the whole proceedings. If the sound were turned down a little, there’d be nothing at all.

Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman do their best with what they’ve got in terms of a script. But there’s little for them to do in the film. She just screams, he just runs around having one bad escape idea after another. In the end, there’s little for us to really grab onto and care about in these characters. The rest of the roles are either faceless or relegated to cameos that last mere moments. The direction is effective enough, I guess. But all that’s in the film has been seen before. Been there, done that.

At the end of the day, if you’ve never seen a horror movie before, I’m sure The Strangers would scare the bejesus out of you. But if you’re familiar to the genre, avoid it. It’s an absolutely tame Texas Chainsaw Massacre kind of film. Nothing to see here. Move along.