The Brothers Grimm (2005) or Did I Just Watch A Movie? I Can’t Remember…

28 02 2009
Who ya gonna call? MATT DAMON!

Who ya gonna call? MATT DAMON!

Bonjour, friends! Today is a tough one for me. I love Terry Gilliam, I really do. His movies course through my veins, and I am generally compelled to like them. Everybody remembers my fond romp through The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, all the fun I had gallivanting and enjoying myself. But The Brothers Grimm is different. This movie is so visually stunning and so technically provocative, but so unmemorable that even after just a recent viewing it is difficult to recall all the details.

During the early years of the 19th century, two brothers by the name of Will and Jake Grimm travel the countryside in French-occupied Germany. They are a couple of phonies, and charlatans to boot, who claim to have power over the supernatural and can exorcise haunted areas. They ride into one town that is convinced that a witch’s ghost plagues them and casts ills upon them. They readily agree to help them for a fee. Upon dispatching this ghost, however, it is revealed that all they did was con the town with a number of tricks and clever illusions. While celebrating at a nearby tavern, a strange Italian named Cavaldi comes up to them and insists they come with him to meet General Delatombe, the military leader of the occupied land. The creepy Italian guy being as forcefully persuasive as he is, the two decide to meet the general. He, also being forcefully persuasive, tells the two to solve a problem for him. All the young girls in the nearby village of Marbaden have gone missing, and all the townspeople believe it to be the work of evil spirits. Delatombe, however, is aware of the phoniness of the brothers now in his employ, and he doesn’t believe in evil spirits any more than they do. He feels that some other cons are responsible, and he wants them to get to the bottom of it. They do it, albeit unwillingly, and start looking for the tale-tell signs of fakery in the superstitious village of Marbaden. All the people say that it is the work of an evil queen in a tower in the forest abreast to the town. And the deeper they look into this mysterious incident, though, the less likely it seems that con artists are responsible. Is there an evil queen in the forest? Can the brothers save the abducted children before it becomes too late? Can these two mischievous brothers turn over a new leaf and become the heroes they only pretended to be for these scared, vulnerable townsfolk?

As always, Gilliam takes his love of storytelling, magic, and folklore into his films, creating a landscape that is unique and completely his. To my dismay, however, it seems this landscape is also very forgettable. Nothing about this movie stays with you for very long. While the vision is undeniably compelling, I feel that the weakness lies with the script and the leads. We are taken to a world where magic is possible, full of colorful characters and adventure, only to follow two boring, jerk brothers and their banal banter. It is very counter-productive to what Gilliam must have originally intended.

Let me say that while I respect both Matt Damon and Heath Ledger, who play Will and Jake Grimm respectively, I could not see one example of real chemistry between the two. The camaraderie seemed contrived, the sibling playfulness seemed manufactured, and in the end they were both trying to be the leading man instead of brothers. It felt like if someone had cast both Val Kilmer and Michael Keaton were both cast as Batman in the same movie, both of them pretending to be Bruce Wayne and beating up bad guys side-by-side, and the director let them duke it out for on-screen supremacy for two hours. So an E for effort, but a NC for No Compatibility.

The script is also quite weak. There is certainly enough going on, but not enough of it is interesting. There were many times when I wanted to urge the characters on with my mouse pointer, showing them which way to go instead of making witty repartee. It’s not that rambling is a problem in a movie like this, where it can feel right as long as it is engaging, but this is the wrong dialog for a Gilliam script. It does not fit, and it can be problematic and distracting.

The direction, as usual, is amazing. Gilliam actually manages to make the woods a little scary again. No longer a tired standard for a brilliant two hours, it really feels at times that the forest is against the brothers, and all that the forest commands. Gilliam has a way of making magic out of the ordinary, and even the simplest shots can intrigue. Even this is hindered by the long wonky dialog, though, when Gilliam stops his innovation to just let these two leading men talk, as if the camera itself is enthralled by Damon and Ledger (THEY’RE SO DREAMY…). But when he melds the lilting, coy music with the grand special effects with the two leads it can really shine, so I can’t fault him too much.

So I can’t really tear this movie a new one. It’s good on its own terms. But, damn it, I cannot keep this movie in my head. It is ultimately forgettable, the last thing Gilliam ever would have wanted. So check it out if you feel curious this weekend, but keep a pen and paper close to the sofa when you watch to take notes. Otherwise you might never even know you saw a movie. I give The Brothers Grimm 6 1/2 dual Bruce Waynes out of 10.

Tomorrow is the first of this week’s two Night Out segments! Get ready to get Fired Up!

Stray Dog (1949), or What Have I Done?

27 02 2009
Things get tough, mistakes get made. A police officers life is never easy...

Things get tough, mistakes get made. A police officer's life is never easy...

Ahoy, everyone! Another day, another movie. You know, it has come to my attention that I have not watched enough of the movies I love to watch. I have been pleasing the masses for far too long! Sorry, masses, but I gotta be free. I feel that for quite some time, I have watched a number of movies designed for an audience that I just do not quite fit in. I mean every word I say when I talk about these films, and I am glad to have seen a number of them. But it’s time for me to return to my roots, get down to brass tacks. Foreign drama is my IV, it is my lifeline. I will be doing a number of these in the coming month of March to ground myself in what I know and love. Today is a new one on me, directed by the great and powerful Akira Kurosawa.

It is 1949. Rookie detective Murakami is having a normal day under a heatwave in Tokyo. He commutes around town in a packed bus, breathing in the curious air of bombed-out post-war Japan. As he steps off the bus, he notices that the Colt pistol issued to him as a police officer has been purloined during his commute. In a panic and completely ashamed at what has transpired, he attempts to locate the culprit to no avail. Things become even more complicated when the gun is used in a murder. Murakami is completely hopeless until an older detective named Sato takes him under his tutelage. Together, they comb the filthy, crooked streets of Tokyo and its seething underbelly attempting to locate the weapon. Along the way, they see the totality of life on the bitter streets and the depression that exists in a day and age where Japan had lost a war for the first time in its history.

Sweet and simple. That’s just what this movie is. It is a journey film, and I love journey films. They are the most adept at showing the most myriad facets of life during a particular place and time. And Kurosawa is a master of the journey movie, which makes this all the sweeter. He makes not only the expedition compelling, but also the characters. Murakami, played by the legendary Toshiro Mifune, is someone you can really relate to, and Sato is the father-figure archetype, but Takashi Shimura plays the character in a way that stays fresh and never falls to easy cliché.

I could go on about Kurosawa and his complex methodology, but for now I’ll simply state that he is a very literary director, much like James Ivory. He crafts scenes with the written word very close to his chest, and you can tell that not only is he well-read, but he has a bit of prose in him as well, though expressed in a very different way. He is a learned director, and already at this early point in his career you could see his greatness, but in this one he keeps his flourishes brief but brilliant. This is sparse like a poem by E.E. Cummings and as dry as exposition from Raymond Chandler. Watch the craft on display here, and  you’ll want to start picking up a camera yourself and start shooting something.

Another quick word here about Toshiro Mifune. This is only his 6th role out of almost 170 that he would take on in his lifetime, so he hasn’t exactly formed himself as an artist yet, but for all Toshiro Mifune fans, this is one of his little-seen early collaborations with Kurosawa, and I recommend it highly to see him in something different than his usual larger-than-life leading man persona. Here, he is a nervous rookie, a timid young buck who makes plenty of mistakes. If you never thought you would see him like this, you will be in for a treat to see a great actor so vulnerable.

This is a short review, but this is a simple movie. No frills, nothing too grandiose or pretentious. That doesn’t make it an easy film; it is undeniably complex in certain aspects, such as the moral obligations of a police officer and the depiction of a stagnant, melancholy Tokyo. But in the end it has simple aspirations, and in that it is very endearing as a crime drama with a little more than you bargained for. I give Stray Dog 8 1/2 missing Colt pistols out of 10.

See you tomorrow for The Brothers Grimm!

PSA: Buffalo ’66 (1998), or Still Life With Vincent Gallo

26 02 2009
Christina Ricci as a blonde... No, sir, I dont like it!

Lose one on to the Heart of The Sunrise...

Greetings, all! Welcome to another addition of the PSA, where I give my own take on movies I have already seen before so you can make up your teetering modern mind. Today we have a movie that has divided a lot of people. Vincent Gallo’s Buffalo ’66 is as controversial as it is mesmerizing. The director, writer, and star of this fiercely independent flick is something of an outspoken asshole, and when he is not churning out quality content he is being very off-putting to a large number of people. I do not like the man myself, but I really do not care what the man does in his personal life as long as the art is good. And I feel that this piece of art is very, very good.

Billy Brown is a lonely, disturbed 30 year-old individual who just served his sentence of 5 years for a crime he did not commit. He made a large bet on Buffalo to win the Super Bowl with a bookie, a bet which he lost. And not being able to pay back the money, he had the chance to take the fall for a robbery and serve time for the bookie’s friend (otherwise, the bookie was going to kill him and his family). Billy accepted this, and took seven years in jail for his mistake. But he does not blame himself or the bookie or anyone else. Instead, he blames the kicker who missed the winning kick for Buffalo, who he hears missed it on purpose to collect on a bet of his own. So he hatches a plan, once out of jail, to dispose of the man whom he believes ruined his life. Before that, though, he wants to see his family once more, a dysfunctional mother and father who are worthless in every way. But even that turns out to be complicated, because instead of telling his parents the truth about his incarceration, he makes up a story explaining his disappearance involving getting married and finding a government job. So, not having a girlfriend or even knowing any women, he does what any of us would do; abduct a tap-dance student and force her to be a fake-wife. Duh. The woman he abducts, Layla, is a lovely, shy, quirky young woman who almost doesn’t seem to mind being kidnapped. She is frightened at first, but actually warms up to him and finds that she might be in love with him (!!). That doesn’t mean anything, though, to depressed, self-absorbed Billy, who only wants someone to make him look like less of a fuck-up before he kills the kicker who ruined his life. Will his mother and father believe this complex ruse? Will Billy really go through with killing that damn kicker and ruin his life again? Will he warm up to Layla’s love, the only thing that can save him?

This is a difficult movie on a lot of levels. Gallo creates a monster of narcissism and self-assuredness here that is almost indescribable. His character, Billy, is so damaged but so concerned with himself that we end up despising him. The way he treats Layla, someone who just wants to help, is appaling, and you run the risk of wanting to pick up Gallo’s address on the internet and just bashing him at his palatial New York home. He doesn’t act as much as he makes an autobiography on screen, a starkly disfigured portrait of loneliness through mistake after mistake, self-inflicted wound after self-inflicted wound. It is despicable, and I think we can all agree that Vincent Gallo needs to be assaulted heartily.

But, damn it, I like this movie a lot! And not because of the plot, really. That has something to do with it, I suppose, but Gallo as a director is really innovative. He makes the feature very vintage and dirty, recording sound on antique equipment and filming with 35mm film stock. It adds to the entire beaten-down mood of the picture. It feels the whole way through that Buffalo, New York is dying, and it feels the same for the old equipment he uses, as if the camera will simply stop working at any moment. He makes use of a number of older camera techniques, and it turns at once from a home movie shot with the care of capricious summer to a classically shot Hollywood movie. It is the sensibility that attracts me; the idea of making a movie as an auteur, an idea that Gallo takes very seriously.

The cast is great. Christina Ricci took a number of abuses at Gallo’s hands, and I can only assume that it was worse working with him than she could ever truly articulate. But the results, however wickedly achieved, speak for themselves. She is great as Billy’s long-suffering hostage/girlfriend Layla. She takes the cold things he says to her because he loves him, and despite the misguided nature of that notion, she feels genuine as a person. And for this we love her, and hope that she can change him. Other actors shine, like Angelica Huston, who plays Billy’s mom. She is a die-hard Buffalo fan, and you can really tell that she cares about football more than she does her son. Billy’s father, played by Ben Gazzara, is a permanently pissed-off curmudgeon, with not a drop of interest in his child either. The family scenes where they are all together are equal parts hilarious and tragic, because they are so uncaring of their son who has returned after so long that you cannot even comprehend the sadness and just have to laugh.

Oh, and the soundtrack is AMAZING! Featuring some of my favorite songs from my favorite progressive bands like Yes and King Crimson, this collection of songs really gets my blood going. It adds to the vintage quality the whole movie has, and some of the instrumental noodling might just be the inner working of Vincent Gallo’s head. I think every person on earth should own it, and I think after you hear it, you will too.

Check this movie out once. You may be disgusted by it, and I can’t quite say that I wasn’t either, but it was such an enjoyable experience to see a pioneering vision from an American auteur that it did not phase me much. I think Vincent Gallo is scum, but he knows what I like, and I have to admit it. It is a journey through a fading, haunted America that will have you talking with your friends. I give Buffalo ’66 9 self-absorbed auteurs out of 10!

See you tomorrow, where we discuss Stray Dog!

Hardware (1990), or Robot Rumpus

25 02 2009
Hey, guess what! The future is here, and it sucks! Again!

Hey, guess what! The future is here, and it sucks for us! Again!

Hello, all! Sorry, but Comedy Week had to be unceremoniously cut short. I know, I know. Let’s try to remember the good times, like when I chortled vigorously at Wet Hot American Summer, or when I went on a drinking binge after sitting through Gigli. Good times. But forget about that! We have to move on from all that hilarity and get serious.

But before we can move on, before I can move on, I have to do something that has been on my plate for a long time. Long-time friend of Cinematronica Stephen has been requesting this hard-to-find, seemingly unknown movie from 1990 called Hardware for about as long as I have talked about doing this 365 movie project. Well, as much as I try to satisfy everyone, this ended up being quite the challenge. Finding it was nearly impossible to begin with. And, yes, I know that I could watch it for free on Youtube with this link and that it would have saved me an hour of my life searching for a hard copy. But here’s the thing: I didn’t want to do that. I like finding difficult, hard-to-find movies because there’s nothing like that day it comes in the mail. It’s like Christmas, only hard-to-find movies aren’t predicated on lies and superstition (BURN!). Anyway, while scouring the endless bazaar of rare movie sites (or, as I like to call it, Junk Mountain), I tried the ol’ reliable, Amazon, and they had one copy out of three for only 15 bucks! You know how much the other two cost each? Uh, about $148.99!! Ha! I laugh at those exorbitant prices! So after weeks of waiting, Christmas came in February and I had the movie, warm with travel and in my hand!

And, not to go on a rant, but looking at the DVD I began to notice a sickening trend with all these rare films, and that is the ridiculous bare-bones quality they all have. All Hardware has on the DVD is a German trailer and 8 seconds of deleted scenes which is also introduced in German! What the fuck is up with that? Did all the extra footage get dropped into Khazad-Dûm? Were all the cast and crew so well paid that they couldn’t stop for ten minutes to do a featurette before they went to go swimming in freshly minted $100 bills? There aren’t even subtitles! How long does that take, honestly? If I’m going to spend two hours on the computer like a bump on the idiot-log searching for a vendor, then shell out 50 bucks for an obscure film that will never come out in America any other way, THEN wait anywhere from two to three weeks to find a torn, beat-up envelope on my front doorstep that looks like it just came back from the first World War, then would you assholes in the rare movie industry please, PLEASE, PLEASE pull the director aside and have him do a commentary track? It’s all I ask.

Oh, and Hardware? I almost forgot!

Well, it’s the 21’st century (THE FUTURE!!!!), and America is totally devastated by an undisclosed nuclear disaster. People have to make a living any way they can, and many times that includes scavenging the technology of the past. One disturbing fellow, called a Zone Tripper, finds the menacing remains of a robot (it is called a cyborg, but since there there are no organic mechanisms implemented into the device, let’s just assume they wanted it to sound cooler than just a plain ol’ robot) in the distant, post-apocalyptic desert. This intimidating fellow comes to sell his scrap at the typical oddball junk broker in town, but at the counter he meets an interested buyer named Mo and his goofy friend Shades. Mo is a Space Marine (THE FUTURE!!!) on leave who decides that his girlfriend Jill would like the parts due to her hobby in metal sculpturing (excuse me?). He buys the head and a few other assorted parts for 50 future-bucks and takes off after commiserating with the oddball scrap dealer about the weird robot and how everything sucks in the future. He brings the parts to his girlfriend, she is happy, they have sex. A perv watches them from some crappy pixelated future telescope (a perv besides me), but this seemingly important detail dead-ends quickly, so forget it. Anyway, post-coitus, Mo gets a call from the junk dealer in the dead of night telling him that something is up with the robot, something worth a lot of money. He tells him to bring the rest of the creepy metal menace with him and come back to the shop immediately. He gets up quickly and goes to the shop, but not sensing the real urgency of the situation, he doesn’t bring the parts. And that leaves Jill all alone with the robot head. What Mo finds is that the robot is a government experiment and that its primary capability is killing. He also learns that the robot can regenerate itself with various scrap, and that leaving it at the house of a metal sculptress was the worst possible thing he could have done. Oops! Will the robot revive itself and kill our plucky Space Marine’s girlfriend? Will Mo be able to get back to his girl’s apartment in time? And will Jill be asked to present any of her metal sculptures in an art gallery of the future?

Well, I have to say that, despite my utterly hilarious asides during the quick plot recap, this movie wasn’t bad. It was breezy, very streamlined. This is a cyberpunk horror movie about a robot run amok, simple as that. Usually, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi likes to wax poetic and lament on our ever-dwindling lack of human compassion and kindness toward our Mother Earth. And I don’t have a problem with that, but when your movie is actually about a killer robot and not about the fate of man’s heart as we hurtle deeper into the future, perhaps being an armchair philosopher is not par for the course. The plot is based on a story in the British comic staple 2000 A.D. called SHOK! Walter’s Robo-Tale, and it certainly takes the cyberpunk vibe from that series and really goes with it despite a $1.5 million budget. Incidentally, that is a comic series I am interested in starting up on, so any readers feeling up to schooling me, leave me a reply for this film!

The cast and crew are decent for a shoestring budget. Director Richard Stanley is quite good at working something out of nothing, and out of thin air he pulls a cybernetic rabbit with all the working parts in order. I am impressed, and I hope to see more from him soon. Our Space Marine hero Mo is played by a young Dylan McDermott, with this as only his fifth movie, only his second as a leading man. He is hunky and handsome and all that jazz, but I find him insufferably slick, even in the future. I cannot believe this guy has ever been in something other than a soap opera, and his performances can’t either because he plays cool so close to the chest in this movie I thought for a moment he turned into the Fonz. I have never liked him, and while I tolerated him in this movie, he is no leading man for me. Stacey Travis is Jill, the uh… metal sculptress. She has done a lot of bit parts, and this looks to be one of her only leading lady roles. She does a good job. I am in no hurry to watch her in anything else, but I think she deserves a little more recognition. They don’t even spell her name right on the DVD box!

The robot really sells this movie. Called the M.A.R.K. 13, it is a creepy creation that the designers should be proud of. It freaked me out on a number of occasions. It is scary not only because of it’s skull-like head, but its malformed hodge-podge body. And when it kills people, it rips into them. There is blood everywhere during a kill sequence, and I was a little shocked at how long they linger on the brutality. They were excited about the effects, and I can see why. It skulks around Jill’s cramped apartment at inconsistent speeds, much like the conveniently fast creature from Alien, but I won’t hold that against it too much. It still creates a palpable claustrophobia with its relentless pursuit of life, and that is the whole point, isn’t it?

And now the entire reason Stephen wanted me to talk about this movie (yes, buddy, I’m outing you). Hardware features a number of cameos from rock and roll royalty. Carl McCoy, lead singer of Fields of the Nephilim, makes an appearance as the Zone Tripper. He is the only character on the DVD box, and he is very intimidating. Unfortunately, his screen time can’t even be calculated. He only has one line, a throw-away one at that. Sorry, Stephen, but it’s even shorter than we thought. Lemmy is also in the movie as a boat-cab driver. He plays his own band’s song, Ace of Spades, on the car-boat radio and reminisces on the good old days when you only needed to carry a knife with you when you walked downtown (?). And Iggy Pop is Angry Bob, an unseen radio DJ who is angry about being in a dystopia. he is typically obnoxious, but not nearly as bad as an actual DJ. GWAR can also be seen on a television set doing weird things on stage. All of these are unbelievably short, but whatever gets you on IMDB, right guys?

So if you like cyberpunk dystopian movies like Demolition Man or Judge Dredd or extremely short rock and roll cameos, well click that link I posted earlier and sit back! You’ll love this one. Otherwise, it’s not bad, but on such a small budget and with a very lean script there is not much movie beyond the robot, so Youtuber beware! I give Hardware 6 metal sculptures out of 10!

See you tomorrow, for the PSA, where we get lost in Buffalo ’66!

No Night Out This Week! Sorry!

25 02 2009

Just a quick announcement! I cannot see a movie in theaters today. There is nothing but post-Oscar slime in theaters, and I do not want to see a crappy movie in a theater all alone today. Can’t do it. Sorry. And unfortunately, this was the last day I could have watched a movie this week (a quick note: the first day of the year was a Thursday, so a week for me on this site is Thursday through Wednesday). I will make it up next week by watching two movies in theaters, hopefully this weekend or somewhere in that surrounding chronological territory. Today, I will watch a movie that friend of the site Stephen has been nagging about for quite some time, entitled Hardware. I am popping in the DVD as we speak, so wish me luck and look for my review in a few hours! Thanks for your patience, gentle readers!

Wild Hogs (2007), or You Weren’t Funny When You Were Young, So What Makes You Think You’re Funny Now?!

24 02 2009
If you liked Wild Hogs, youll love being a middle-aged stereotype!

If you liked Wild Hogs, you'll love being a middle-aged stereotype!


Oh my.

This movie really sucks.

Hello, friends and compatriots. Cinematronica here, churning out another movie for Comedy Week. I have come to the conclusion over the past week that people are completely insane. I see so many defenders of this movie all over the place in my home state of Texas, mainly people who fit the film’s target demographic, who say that people over-analyze things too much and we should just “shut up and laugh!” Well, anyone over 40 who has seen this movie, I have to say that while I respect you and your seniority over me and my lack of experience in life, I cannot honestly believe you when you say that you love this movie. Younger folks, don’t listen to your elders this time. Wipe the greens off your plate, take the twist-tie off the bread and wash your whites and darks together because with this massive adult mistake all bets are off. It’s like Santa Claus all over again, and I’m sorry, but fool me once, shame on you…

Sigh… Okay, here we go. The story follows four suburban friends, real average American men (emphasis on average), who are fed up with their individual predicaments. Doug is a dentist, a washed-out former college jock who peaked too early and can’t even form a relationship with his despondent son. Dudley is a “geek”, a computer programmer who is middle-aged and alone. All he wants in life is (drumroll please)… a WOMAN! Bobby is a plumber who is constantly berated by his horrid wife and his equally horrible daughters. It’s HILARIOUS. Anyway, he wants to write a how-to guide for plumbing, and you’ll never guess in a million years if he does it or not. And Woody is a once-wealthy businessman whose wife wants a divorce and whose money is all gone. Seeing himself go bankrupt prompts him to ask his friends to go on a cross-country road trip on their Harleys. The friends have always been big bike enthusiasts, and they often ride together to the local bar on their bikes as a flaccid show of camaraderie, but they have never stepped out past their comfy suburban lives on a real journey before. This intrigues his friends, also down on their luck, and agree to the idea. Together, the friends run into a lot of completely ingenious situations that have never been done before in a movie. Along the way, they begin to find themselves and each other (in a totally hetero way, because they are not getting paid enough to kiss). Loser Dudley even finds an incredibly hot woman (what are the odds?!)! Everything is going good until a roving band of real hardcore bikers called the Del Fuegos call them out and make them realize that they might just be in over their big, dumb, suburban heads. Can four city boys stand up to the scary, “real-life” badasses? Can Dudley score with a girl way better than he deserves? Can these guys find their happiness in the wild, open road?

Okay, have you seen City Slickers? Well, guess what? You also saw Wild Hogs. It’s the same damn thing. Watch Without A Paddle, add twenty years on each of the characters in your mind. It’s the same damn thing. Watch the half of Deliverance that does NOT feature sodomy. It’s the same damn thing. It’s a tired idea that needs real talent to revitalize it, not four pieces of Hollywood gristle that fell on the floor on the way to the trash.

Tim Allen, John Travolta, Martin Lawrence, and William H. Macy play Doug, Woody, Bobby, and Dudley respectively, and it is such a shame. These four have NO chemistry together. For four buddies, I do not really feel that they are having fun with one another as much as I feel that they are attempting to out-funny each other as actors. I am being very genuine when I say that not only did I not laugh once, but I actually groaned out loud by myself! How often do you do that? Not very often. Nobody is individually more horrible than anyone else; they are all equally groan-inducing. But nobody jives together as if they were real friends, especially Martin “White People Be Scared Of Black People” Lawrence. His act was never supremely hilarious, especially for a dumb white bastard like myself, but the lines they make this man say are atrocious, and even Martin “Black Folk Do Things Differently From White Folk” Lawrence should not be dragged to such a low.

There are some terrible gags here, many of them involving them being average guys and not enjoying being too close to one another. William H. Macy sums it all up when he has to ride on the same bike as John Travolta. John Travolta, as he is getting off the bike, expresses his discomfort with the situation, saying, “I could feel you smelling my neck”. He walks away before Macy could explain himself, telling his friend Martin Lawrence, “His cologne was fantastic! He smelled like a… lawyer cowboy.” Well, that’s the movie in a nutshell. Some people thinking things are gay when they really aren’t. HA!

There are some good cameos in this movie from much more talented people. You see glimpses of the Sklar Brothers and Kyle Gass, and sometimes you get the false hope that we will be taken away with their story. But, alas, it was not to be. Instead, we are greeted with a face that should only show itself every ten years for a good movie, Ray Liotta. He is the leader of the Del Fuegos, and a right cheery fellow to boot. I know the guy needs to work, but I can’t help but wonder if Scorcese saw this movie, called Liotta up and bitched him out. “I give you Goodfellas, and THIS is how you take care of yourself? You coulda been a star, Ray!”

I’ve said all I can say about this picture. I could regale you with the highlights, but oh wait! There are none. The formula is a tired one that should be trotted out only when everyone involved with the project is enthusiastic, talented, and on the same page. Until then, put it to bed. I give Wild Hogs 2 1/2 lawyer cowboys out of 10. And if one of your elders recommends this to you, tell them to watch Gigli; they’ll be glad you did.

Tomorrow is going to be a Night Out day, but I have no idea what I will watch. If you have any suggestions, let me know in the comments section. Otherwise, I’ll just figure it out myself. Until then!

Pumpkin (2002), or Love, Soft As A Wheelchair

23 02 2009
Christina Ricci makes a bold move by becoming a character who loves a handicapped man. But is it funny?

Christina Ricci makes a bold move by becoming a character who loves a handicapped man. But is it funny?

Salutations, everyone! Comedy Week busts through your front door today and roughs you up for some money to buy PCP! Don’t forget that it was by popular vote, so you unleashed it upon yourselves! Today we examine the black comedy, a genre that can really bite when done correctly. Dr. Strangelove, Drop Dead Gorgeous, and Heathers have all made lasting impressions in the comedy world for their portrayal of very serious issues in a comedic light. Certainly nuclear war is not funny, but when Peter Sellers as the doctor himself is basically frothing at the mouth over the idea, I can see the humor. It is finding the humorous, if not alternately tragic, side of a morose situation, and Pumpkin is certainly that.

Carolyn is a beautiful young sorority girl. She is your average upper class girl, complete with hollow sorority friends and a tennis jock (?) boyfriend who also has no soul. In order to win a contest, she and her fellow sorority sisters decide to do some charitable work with the mentally and physically handicapped, namely training a group of them for the Challenged Games (movie version of Special Olympics). Carolyn is not too thrilled with the concept, and neither are any of her friends. But when she meets her trainee, a young man in a wheelchair named Pumpkin, she finds herself in a strange case; the more she knows about him, the more she finds herself liking him, and eventually realizing she might love him. He feels the same way, and articulates in his own way how he feels about her. Pumpkin is genuine, unlike everyone else in her life, and likes her for who she is. Nobody else is too keen on the idea, however. Pumpkin’s mother, her sorority friends, and her lame tennis badass boyfriend all think it’s just plain wrong. And things only get worse when Carolyn is found in bed with her handicapped paramour by his mother and she is accused of raping him. Can the couple try to make everyone in their lives accept what they have together? Can Carolyn train Pumpkin to be the best athlete he can be for the Challenged Games? Can these two star-crossed lovers truly be together?

Wow. I was honestly taken aback at first by the premise. Just looking at it on paper, it actually sounds like, well… not that much like a comedy. But watching it, it can actually be pretty jocund in its own mischievous way. Let me be clear that this film is very respectful of the handicapped. It is one of the few movies in which they are not depicted as victims or cruel parodies, but three-dimensional human beings with joys and burdens just like you and me. Do not make the mistake of thinking they are being exploitative. You would miss out on a pretty good little movie.

The jokes are definitely there, you just have to be patient and have a wicked streak. At the beginning, one of the sorority girls freaks out at actually being close to a mentally challenged person, screaming at her trainee, “I’M REALLY SORRY CASEY! IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT! IT’S NOT MINE! IT’S THE SYSTEM!” and runs off like a fucking lunatic! Classic! Everyone in the sorority is such a pain in the ass that it makes you want to find one rich girl a day and punch her in the face, every day for the rest of your life. And at one point, after being dumped for Pumpkin, Carolyn’s cliché tennis jock boyfriend drives off a cliff in a drunken stupor, and as he drives off the cliff, the car bursts into flames as soon as the wheels stop touching the ground! WHAT? HUH? And interestingly enough, I know for a fact that they lifted that footage, because I saw the same car explode in Bruce Willis’s extreme vanity project, Hudson Hawk! Small world, right?

Like all black comedies, there are moments of dire seriousness where nothing is very funny, and that is okay, but this one is very sparse sometimes on the humor and I contemplated not even writing a review for this at first on the grounds that it would not be funny enough. But on closer consideration, a comedy does not have to make you laugh every two minutes. Hell, it doesn’t even need to make you laugh every ten minutes, as long as it has an intent to make you laugh. But, to be fair for all the fast-paced comedy fans, this is probably not the one for you.

As for the cast and crew, I tried finding some info on the directors Anthony Abrams and Adam Larson Broder, but this is the only movie they ever did besides writing Dead Man On Campus together, another black comedy. They do a good job, and  hope to see these guys again one day. And the actors? Well, Christina Ricci practically glows for this role. She seems to be made for a dramedy like this, with her fragile, cute looks and her quick wit. This was probably her best work since Buffalo ’66 (another PSA for the future, to be sure), and though she has gone on to make many more movies, I still think this has to be in her top three roles. Hank Harris plays Pumpkin, and though he has gone on to do basically nothing, I hope he comes back in a big way because this movie was perfect for him. He played the part with dignity and I appreciated him not resorting to any stereotypes. Well played, Hank!

The soundtrack is very good, but from my research only the score is available to buy. There are a lot of good, moving indie tracks from bands like Gentle Waves, Sourcerer, and Icelandic vocalist Emiliana Torrini. Go find the song credits at the end of the movie and start downloading if you like them, because conveniently available they are not.

So all in all I liked it. It was enjoyable, it definitely takes some risks, and should most certainly use more viewings than it currently receives. Imagine Wes Anderson directing a blend of Romeo and Juliet and The Ringer. Now if that sounds remotely up your alley, then make your next webpage Netflix and rent away! Otherwise it can be a little distancing with its unique blend of offbeat comedy and sadness. I enjoyed it though, and if you are anything like me, you will too. I give Pumpkin 7 1/2 prematurely exploding vehicles out of 10.

Stay tuned for more Comedy Week tomorrow, where we grapple with Wild Hogs!

Congrats, Slumdog Millionaire! You Destroyed The Competition Like An Impoverished Mumbai Beggar!

22 02 2009

So, Slumdog Millionaire made an impressive sweep just a few minutes ago, virtually sweeping the Academy Awards! Congratulations to Danny Boyle for winning Best Director, A.R. Rahman for composing Best Song and Best Score, and to the whole gang for winning Best Picture! I can’t help but think it was my own sterling review of the movie that catapaulted it to the success it has achieved tonight. I cannot wait for the drunken, late-night phone call from Danny and the gang, groveling and weeping, singing my praise in an inebriated stupor. I will laugh in hearty approval, but will decline to join him because you folks and I still have a ways to go on our journey to 365 movies, and I have to get my beauty rest in order to give the best reviews possible! So thanks but no thanks Danny! Congratulations, and even though I was not pulling for the film to win anything at all (I was pulling for The Reader for Best Picture and David Fincher for Best Director all the way), I acknowledge the cast and crew’s prowess, and I wish them the best of luck on their future endeavors! And for the rest of the winners tonight, a hearty congratulations from Cinematronica! And for all the hopeful nominees, better luck next time folks!!!

Wet Hot American Summer (2001), or Why Is This Not A More Popular Movie?

22 02 2009
Alt comedy comes together to make a movie that nobody watched. How is that not surprising?

Alt comedy comes together to make a movie that nobody watched. How is that not surprising?

Aloha, film buffs! Comedy Week continues today with a movie that is inexplicably unseen. It is probably one of the best parody films ever made, and I’ll admit to never having seen it until this morning. It all stems back to yesterday’s review of Eagle Vs. Shark, where I mentioned (if you call an entire paragraph “mentioning”) that alt comedy is notorious for being extremely funny as well as being extremely ignored, and this is Exhibit A. This has to be one of alt comedy’s masterpieces, and nobody even knows it exists. Featuring the talents of Jeneane Garofolo, Paul Rudd, Michael Showalter, Michael Ian Black, Elizabeth Banks, and H. Jon Benjamin as a talking can of vegetables (!!!!!), Wet Hot American Summer was panned by critics almost universally. Roger Ebert, my main man, even made his scathing review to the tune of “Hello Mother, Hello Father”! I respect the man highly, but honestly if what Ebert said was always right than Transformers would be worth more than crud on the bottom of my shoe and Monster In Law might have been nominated for an Oscar. This is funny stuff.

It’s 1981, the last day at Camp Firewood for campers and counselors alike. Everyone wants to find someone to kiss at the end of the talent show. Katie and Coop are counselors, and good-guy Coop likes Katie a lot, but unfortunately she has a loser jerk boyfriend that stands in his way. This causes him all kinds of wimpy teenage suffering. Meanwhile, Beth, the camp director, is trying to keep all the campers and counselors from getting out of hand. It’s difficult for her though as she starts to become enamored with a local college professor, Henry. He is attracted as well, but is terrified by a startling discovery he has made that suggests NASA’s Skylab might be plummeting towards the camp. Can Coop get Katie away from that asshole boyfriend Andy with the help of freaky camp chef Gene and a talking can of vegetables (!!!!!!)? Can Beth win Henry’s astrophysicist heart? Will Skylab really destroy the camp? And what about the talent show?

This is a seriously funny movie. I haven’t laughed this hard in a long time. There are so many absurd moments that just tickle you in all the right places. It starts out as an obvious parody of other summer camp movies like Meatballs, Gort, and Stalag 17 (oh, wait; POW camp, not a summer camp. Sorry!), but quickly morphs into something quite a bit more insane. There are so many crazy abstract pieces of comedy here, that it’s hard to take it all in sometimes. Some people’s hyperbolic overreactions to news (like the infamous WHERE IS THE PHONE? scene), characters randomly behaving like children (when Beth tells asshole Andy to clean up food he threw on the floor, he picks it up in the most annoyed way humanly possible), and props mysteriously being handed off into space (when Henry needs to get rid of a trophy in his hand he hands it to someone off screen, and in the next scene it has disappeared. Huh?) and other odd humorous things make you wonder if you just saw a joke or a piece of ludicrous performance art. Not that it’s highbrow by any means; there’s plenty of dick-and-fart jokes for everybody. It’s just an echelon above what you normally see in watered down alt comedies.

The cast is unbelievable. Paul Rudd as obnoxious boyfriend Andy in one of his earlier funny roles. And I don’t mean the shitty romantic comedy shtick he had going for years in the 90’s (ugh…). He is awesome, and you can really imagine him being that much of a jerk in real life, and yes, that is a personal jab at him and I will fight him in public in a duel of honor. Jeneane Garofalo is also funny, so much so that it made me remember that she was a comedian. I had almost forgotten with all the weird bit parts she has done in recent years that she used to be really hysterical. This really highlights not only her sardonic, dry side, but also her manic and screaming side that should be unleashed more often. The irreverent Michael Ian Black is in this as a gay guy, and I was genuinely surprised to find out that he wasn’t gay in real life, so here’s to a hilarious comedian with range! David Hyde Pierce is also makes a strange turn as the astrophysicist Henry, and I really gotta say that his character is funnier than I thought. I assumed his character would be the tether, the one that kept the story grounded with some semblance of plot, but it turns out that nobody does that to extreme comedic effect, so kudos to Frasier’s brother on a joke well played!

The soundtrack kicks ass, if you’re forty-five, still living at home, and hope to God each morning that the skanky girl you dumped in high school walks through the door and gives you one last orgasm before you blow your brains out in a severe post-80’s depression. Featuring songs from KISS, Loverboy, and Jefferson Starship (ugh…), it really adds to the cheezy early 80’s vibe. I would buy it, but I already have an FM radio, so I can just hear all these songs whenever I want to because they STILL PLAY THESE SONGS EVERY SINGLE DAY!!!

So please watch this! It is a movie that should be watched way more often, especially if you have an unconventional sense of humor. Alt comedy fans, this is a lost gem that you need to search out ASAP! I guess nobody wanted to laugh in 2001 (I can’t say I blame ’em; horrible year for comedy), but I am sure as hell ready to laugh now, and this movie really did it for me. I give Wet Hot American Summer 9 talking cans of vegetables out of 10! A high recommendation!

See you tomorrow, where Comedy Week continues with Pumpkin!

Eagle Vs. Shark (2007), or Are We Funny Or Quirky?

21 02 2009
So, do we attack each other now?

"So, do we attack each other now?"

Greetings, one and all! It’s Comedy Week! So turn on the laughing gas, get out the French Tickler, and get ready to guffaw yourself stupid! Today we take a look at an interesting sub-genre, the indie comedy. Now, when I say indie comedy, I don’t mean just any independently financed comedy. You know what I mean; I mean the head-to-toe completely “indie” look, with all the characters being ironically cool, with the dialog bursting at the seams with over-confident one-liners, and with the entire soundtrack performed by quirky acoustic guitar numbers or underdeveloped keyboard tones. These movies are part of a new wave of stupid-funny comedy, where the audience is really supposed to identify with these characters because we’re all a little quirky. It works sometimes, like in Nacho Libre, where everybody is just so damn weird and unique that it endears you to them. Sometimes it doesn’t work, though, and it doesn’t because of a fatal flaw in the formula. I know it well, because my favorite form of comedy, 90’s alt comedy, had the same fatal flaw. It is a problem of attitude. All my favorite comics from the 90’s were not only funny but cool as hell, and they would be so damn cool that whenever they tried to do something not cool, like a guest spot on a sitcom or a lame bit part on a movie, people wouldn’t buy it. It wasn’t genuine to their pure cool image. And a lot of my favorite comics to this day are still funny as hell, and they are also still doing stand-up because nobody will buy them in anything else. So, if alt comedy was too cool to do anything mainstream, then indie comedy is too cool to do anything funny. They make whole movies based off of Huey Lewis and The News’s song “It’s Hip To Be Square”! They hope that quirkiness and knowing the names of indie bands will carry a movie. And sometimes it makes for an interesting movie experience, but what about today’s subject, Eagle Vs. Shark? Well…

Lily is a lovely young woman who works at a fast food restaurant. She is shy and eccentric, but she is definitely a keeper. Unfortunately, that is not what her job thinks, because she has been let go by her boss, although she has been asked to work out the week. She is not so upset about losing the job as much as she is about not seeing her favorite customer Jarrod. Jarrod is a total prick and a horrible human being, an over-confident geek who somehow has a few friends. He works at a video game store across the street, and every day he comes in to buy a meal at the restaurant, but instead of going for pretty Lily, she chooses to wait in line to talk with the more conventional beauty, Jenny (what a jerk). One day, while Jenny is not there, Jarrod asks Lily to give Jenny an invitation to his “Dress As Your Favorite Animal” party for him (what a jerk). She does, but Jenny instantly throws it in the trash. Seeing this as an opportunity to get in close with him, she decides to invite herself to the party, dressing up as her favorite animal, a shark. Can Lily win this jerk’s heart? Will Jarrod open up to Lily, revealing his private pain and his personal plan for revenge against a man who wronged him? Will the audience be able to stand Jarrod for more than twenty minutes?

Oh, and did I mention that this movie was made in New Zealand? This is a forewarning, and if you can’t stand Kiwi colloquialisms stay away from this film!!

So, this is quite the quirk-fest, a regular eccentric-aganza! Everyone in this movie is a total loser who can barely function in the real world, and we’re supposed to feel some sort of relation to them because we’re all like that, or something to that effect. I get it. The problem is that sometimes things become too sincere. Sometimes, the movie becomes very depressing due to these characters’ extreme inadequacies. Lily is such a sweet girl, that even thinking about her being with Jarrod makes my skin itch with rage. And Jarrod…

Jarrod is played by one-half of Flight of The Conchords, Jemaine Clement (not Jermaine, Jemaine (?)). He is the real reason why this movie is funny at all. If not for him, I think this would honestly be shelved under drama and packaged as a two-fer at Target with any number of Gus Van Sant films. This guy is funny as hell. Everything this deep-voiced weirdo says is hilarious. I especially love when he calls up his old high-school rival on the phone (“You foolish sucka!”). He is a jerk, and not a likable one at that. There is nothing really redeemable about him, and I hate him as a character. But Jemaine Clement (no relation to Willem Defoe) is really good at what he does, and I feel more movies will only increase his ease with the medium and make him a funnier guy.

Lily, played by Loren Horsley, is a dream to watch. She is a sad, skinny, beautiful woman, and she deserves way more than pathetic loser Jarrod. I feel for her, I really do, but she is not really funny. She is more of a foil for her love interest’s wickedness, so I understand, but I had hoped she would receive more material. Instead, she is constantly set up to be used and abused, which is weird considering the director, Taika Waititi, just happens to be her gentleman caller. I don’t think it would go very well if I told my significant other, “Okay, baby, I’m gonna set up this scene where it turns out not only were you fired from your job, but everyone in the place also wanted you gone as well! Funny, right? I know! Now, go over there to your fake asshole boyfriend and start making out!”

Either way, I am at odds with this movie. Jarrod is hilarious, but he is WAY too much of a jerk, even for me. It can really kill the funny sometimes, and when there is only one character really making a concerted effort to be funny, that is a problem. All in all, if you like romantic comedies like Singles, where the female main character is thrown around like a rag doll, and Napolean Dynamite, where the “hero” is a colorful spaz, you will like this movie. There are some comedic gems here, but they are too few and far between for me. I give Eagle Vs. Shark 5 1/2 oddly-spelled first names out of 10!

Tomorrow, Comedy Week chugs along with Wet Hot American Summer!