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|10 reviews in total|
There is a scene in Richard Linklater's Fast Food Nation where two
illegal Mexican immigrants sit in the back of a pickup truck as they
are being carted off to work at a meat packing plant in a midsize
Colorado town. As the truck glides down the town's main drag, the two
men are greeted with their first uninhibited sight of America: a
landscape comprised of chain restaurants and $2.99 Happy Meals-a
literal sea of neon signs and billboards. From this, it's obvious that
Fast Food Nation isn't a movie that holds its punches. With each
passing burger joint and pizza place dotted along the road, Linklater
is posing a silent question. He's asking about consumerism and an
American obsession with immediacy. He's criticizing the "bigger is
better" and "quantity over quality" aphorisms that have run amuck
amongst this country's social conscience. But, as the film progresses,
it becomes clear that Linklater likes to pose more questions than he
actually likes to answer. The film is attempting to be a desperate wake
up call to a society that is trying to eat itself to death. But, in
reality, what we get is nothing more than a bold prophet that simply
can't begin to live up to or answer its own queries.
Based on a nonfiction book of the same name, Fast Food Nation ultimately fails because it doesn't quite know what it's trying to do. Filmed in a style that feels very organic, Linklater is attempting to blur his cinematic world with that of reality-where his fictionalized "Mickey's" burger joint could easily pass for the local McDonalds or Taco Bell. This realist approach is juxtaposed against the fictionalized characters that artificially inhabit the playing field. To put it bluntly, it's a mixture that just doesn't work. Several sub-stories are told in conjunction with each other, each poorly paced and each not given the appropriate attention it deserves. For instance, Greg Kinnear's blissfully ignorant fast food marketing executive is completely dropped halfway through the film. This unevenness not only feels awkward, it stilts the narrative structure. If the character is so unimportant that he can just disappear, why should we care? The other stories get similar treatment, complete with stereotypical teenage miscreants and an overly aggressive meat packing foreman that preys upon the immigrants that work there. The moments of genuine emotion-such as Catalina Sandino Moreno's performance as a distraught migrant wife-are too few and far between. The rest of the movie is clumsily ground together with odd cameos that, while somewhat interesting, are not smoothly congealed into the rest of the recipe.
By the time Linklater gives us his grand finalean uncensored, raw look at the killing floor of a meat packing plant-we get the feeling that the film is less concerned about stirring genuine emotions and more interested in manipulatively gutting the feelings out of us. If we can watch such bovine terror, than darn it, we should feel something! Yet, there is no connection to what we are seeing. It's a spectacle, stuffing us with a bombardment of grotesque images that ineffectually force us to react-gross, but ultimately hollow. And in that respect, ironically, Fast Food Nation is very much like the pre-made meals it claims to despisesomewhat visually appetizing, but ultimately void of emotional and nutritional content.
With his unassuming eyes and sheepish, "awe shucks!" demeanor, Will
Ferrell is quite simply the guy you root forthe eternal boy trapped in
a gangly 6'3" frame. Just a single look can make you giggle and smile
so effortlessly that you're often unaware that you're actually doing
it. It is with this notion that Stranger than FictionFerrell's first
major foray into a theatrical world outside the realm of in-your-face
frat boy sillinessjust makes sense. By surrounding Ferrell's charisma
with a subdued, darkly comic script and a talented supporting cast, we
get a film that is both fresh and heartfelt.
Directed by Marc Forster and penned by Zach Helm, Stranger than Fiction is an odd mix-mash, combining a standard comedy with existentialist ideas. Number crunching IRS agent and genuine loser, Harold Crick (Ferrell) one day wakes up to find his life being narrated word for word by burnt out writer Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson). Odd thing is, Eiffel is writing an actual book where Crick just happens to be the main character. To make matters worse, she plans on killing him off as soon as she can make it through a particularly arduous stretch of writer's block.
Originality is one thing that is absent from a majority of contemporary Hollywood pictures, so Fiction immediately gets points for simply trying something different. I suppose it's icing on the cake that the film is genuinely good. Crick, knowing that is death is imminent, begins to break out of his cloistered shell and to experience the fruits of his life. And, in the process he forms a bond with a tax breaking baker (Gyllenhal) and seeks advice from a literature professor, played by a particularly charming Dustin Hoffman
However, even though it is well intentioned, the execution isn't flawless. The romance that develops between Gyllenhal's outcast baker and Ferrell's strait-laced Crick doesn't feel entirely organic. We admire the relationship and smile at its sugar coated sweetness, but we don't necessarily believe their connection. It may taste good, but it doesn't exactly wash down smoothly. Neither, does the film's over reliance on reinforcing generic, "Carpe Diem" philosophies. Towards the second act, things do get sappy. Luckily, by the conclusion, the plot has bounced back to a wonderful limbo of both oddly comic and genuinely heartwarming moments.
For all its flaws, Stranger than Fiction, works. Like a good novel, Forster has fashioned something that is strange, stylistic, and unexpectedly inspiring. And, despite the chinks in its existentialist armor, that's surely something worth writing home about.
Dane Cook isn't funny. It's a mantra one can live their life by. I
guess it should come as no surprise, then, that his first starring role
in a feature film isn't funny either. Employee of the Month is trying
to be a smart and satiric portrayal of life for blue collar workers at
a Costco-esquire warehouse store (think Office Space, except with cash
registers instead of computers). What we get instead is a lame,
uninspired display of physical schmaltz dashed with clichéd jokes and
poor comedic timing.
The plot is pretty basic. Likable loser Zach, played by Dane Cook (still not funny), begins an all out competition with head cashier Vince (Dax Shepard) to win the coveted position ofwait for itemployee of the month. The two warehouse enemies go through ridiculous stunts to win the accolade, including finding lost children, cleaning up spills, and speedily checking out customers. Oh, and apparently uber-hot new cashier Amy (Jessica Simpson) only dates the employee of the montha plot point that is so stupid and inexplicable that it takes a lot of guts (or just plain laziness) to base a movie off of it.
The majority of the film consists of the back and forth banter between the two lead charactersa concept that is lot more humorous in concept than in execution. In essence, this is something that can be attributed to the movie's horrendous comedic timing. The jokes just don't work. The actors don't react when they should. They're inch a way from making contact, but instead end up striking out instead. Matters are made worse by Simpson's performance. I understand that making fun of Jessica Simpson is somewhat passé, but to put it bluntly she's awful. She mumbles through her lines like a sedated porpoise at Sea World, smiling giddily and awkwardly towards the camera. Heck, I think in the background I saw some guy holding up cue cards. Her bland performance doesn't help her on screen chemistry opposite Cook. I almost felt bad for Dane. Almost.
The side, "color" characters aren't any better, which is a shame because they are played by some recognizable minor comedians (Andy Dick, Brian George, Harland Williams). But, as with all things in Employee of the Month nothing is ever utilized to its potential. Andy Dick plays an eye technician whoget thisis practically blind! If you find that concept hilarious, you are either: A.) 10 years old. B.) A moron. Efren Ramirez, the guy who played the nerdy Hispanic sidekick in Napoleon Dynamite, stars once again as theumnerdy Hispanic sidekick. Wow! Where do the writers get this stuff?
The lack of laughs is incredibly disappointing considering the potential hilarity of the subject matter. From three pound tubs of mayonnaise to generic paper products, there's a lot of stuff to work with here. But, instead of getting some kind of commentary on excessive consumerism or a ridiculous need for price gouging and bargain hunting, we get a lot of fart and midget jokes. For a comedy that comes in at what feels like a staggeringly long 143 minutes, the laughs are too few and far in between. I cracked a smile every now and then, but for the most part I just kept on thinking how much better the film would have been as an express checkout installment15 minutes or less.
Supermanhe's a character that fascinates because of his
impenetrability. He's the quintessential superhero both handsome and
heroic. Compassionate and strong. But, what about the man behind the
icon? What about the flesh playing the facade? From this concept,
springs the biopic turned gumshoe-noir thriller, Hollywoodland.
Detailing the aftermath of the death of George Reevesthe man who
brought Superman to the TV's of countless children in the
1950'sHollywoodland is a two tiered story. The first is the mystery
following the death of the caped crusader. The second deals with Reeves
himself, documenting his struggle to shed the confines of his fictional
alter ego, and his longtime public affair with Toni Mannix (Diane
Lane), the wife of MGM studio executive Eddie Mannix (played by Bob
Hoskins with delicious menace).
Tying these stories together is Adrien Brody's portrayal of slick private investigator Louis Simo. Brody, per usual, delivers a performance that is deep and emotionally complex. He slyly gallivants around Los Angeles, muckraking dirt as he brings the controversy from the hushed accusations of Reeve's mother straight to the headlines of big-time newspapers.
Hollywoodland may not give us new revelations on Reeve's curious death, but it does manage to explore the life of a person bolstered, and simultaneous hindered by, a red cape and blue tights Ben Affleck, post "Bennifer/Gigli" pop-culture fiasco, tackles Reeves with a performance that is rich with loathing and lost potential. He's the guy you want to root forboth handsome and funnybut also inevitably destined to fail. We know the result: as George Reeves he will die a startling, non-fantastic death. Bullet in the head. Lots of unanswered questions. But, the empathy we feel for his character before the trigger is pulled is fascinating. Watching a childhood icon degrade into a paunchy punch-line is excruciating in some way, but also entirely engrossing. You want him to succeed, yet know he never will.
The questions that Simo unearths become the film's central plot-point. Was it really a suicide? Was Mannix involved? Or, did Reeves's fame seeking fiancé (Robin Tunney) pull the trigger? Slowly, Hollywoodland becomes less about the history and more about an unsolved mystery. This works well. However, it takes far too long for the bait to finally hook the audience. Too late in the runtime do we begin to care, and too early are we forced to disengage. The movie enters its crux, but fizzles before a solid resolution can be reached and all the strings can be pulled together cohesively. Since there isn't a definitive answer to the burning question at hand, the film decides to give equal credibility to all three. The result is unsatisfyinglike a politician who dodges the tough question with generalities and the contradictory support of opposing ideas.
But, if Hollywoodland doesn't soar, it at least manages to get off the ground. Shot beautifully by feature novice Allen Coulter, the film has a sensibility that it's trying to deglamorize the superheroprove the existence of a vulnerability and a want in those who should ostensibly be absent of such imperfections. A jazzy score romantically floats in the background, and cigarette smoke billows amongst sepia-toned sets and Hollywood boulevards. It's a film that is nostalgic in its portrayal, and biting in its sharp performances. If only it were able to be more definitive in its accusations.
It's slightly ironic that people keep asking Kevin Smith to grow up.
Ever since the New Jersey-native writer and director smashed on to the
scene in 1994 with the independent hit, Clerks, he has been exploring
the highlights of an inspired comedic universe, all placed in front of
the backdrop of his beloved Garden State. His characters make witty and
gross pontifications about sex and racism. They wax poetic about the
battle between Star Wars geeks and Lord of the Rings nerds. It's a
familiar placejust as warm and comfortable as it is shocking and
risqué. Yet, despite Smith's mastery of his desired subject, there are
those who keep wanting him to do more.
After his slight departure (and unfairly criticized) flick, Jersey Girl, Smith has once again returned to his bread and butter with Clerks II. All the usual suspects are back for the second round. The sensitive and frustrated Dante Hicks (Brian O'Halloran). The quick-talking, seemingly uncaring Randall Graves (Jeff Anderson). And, of course, the cult stoner duo, Jay and Silent Bob (played by Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith, respectively). But, if it appears as if Kevin Smith is treading back into sailed waters once again, Clerks II, is a film that proves that looks truly are deceiving. The famous Quick Stop convenience store has burnt down, and Randall and Dante are forced to shuffle their lack of commitment to flipping burgers at a fast food joint across town. The location may have changed, but their attitudes towards life haven't. And, to top it off, Rosario Dawson's attractive Becky and church-going dork Elias (Trevor Fehrman) have joined the crew of uninspired misfits.
Clerks II hits its stride because Smith makes us feel for these characters and their lot in life. Yes, they still may spend the majority of the flick discussing the erotic nature of man-on-donkey sex, but in reality this is just a veil disguising two frightened menboth too old to be considered young, but too young to be considered old. They're stuck and they're scared of their apparent rut, desiring and simultaneously fearful of change. Whereas the original Clerks could be considered a commentary for early twenty-somethings, Clerks II parlays a similar message for an audience that has grown with the times. The difference lies in the fact that Smith has managed to pinpoint his message with precision, doing so with pounds of heart and without an ounce of cheesiness. The whole thing goes down smooth and familiar, like a burger, milkshake, and fries.
While you can admire clerks for the admiral performances it draws from Dawson, Anderson, and Fehrman, the true praise rests in Kevin Smith himself. By the time Clerks II ends, it is clear that things have come full circle for the filmmaker. He has braved familiar waters and come out stronger because of it. He has infused a script with compassion, gross-out humor, and wit. Heck, he even has amplified his usually stagnant visuals with rotating camera-work, crane shots, and an all out dance sequence. Yes, my friends, for Kevin Smith everything old is truly new once again. Now, what could be more grown up than that?
There's nothing more frustrating than somebody who doesn't get the
joke. The punchline rolls by and he's left sitting theregazing
awkwardly into space struggling to figure it all out. Troy Duffy's
first feature film, "The Boondock Saints," rests in that type of
eternal limbo. At first glance, it seems to bounce back and forth from
payoff to payoff, giving the audience a good deal to chuckle about.
But, as the film keeps rolling, we begin to get the feeling that "The
Boondock Saints" is becoming choked-up by its own gag. Half-way
through, the uncomfortable silence of an unrealized ruse seeps into the
room. And, sadly it becomes apparent that the filmmakers don't quite
get their own joke.
"The Boondock Saints" is a simplistically rendered adult-male fairytale. Whereas children relish in tales of knights and princesses, Duffy makes his Camelot a kingdom adorned with stylized hit-man and generic mafiosos. Two Irish Brothers (Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus) attempt to save the world from the evil and the corrupt by becoming (what else?) the embodiment of a Tarantino fanboy's fantasy. Adorned with dark sunglasses and nifty accents, the MacManus twins strut around the streets of Boston, muttering pleasing Catholic prayers in a futile attempt to somehow try to veil their inherent vacancy. Amidst all the good natured killing is a gay cop, played by Willem Dafoe with bombastic comedic zest, who is attempting to stop these vigilantes with hearts of gold. Dafoe's charactereasily the most charismatic of the bunchis a walking, talking caricature. He smiles and slaps around his compatriots, all the while flicking his bouffant into the air like a swimsuit model leaving the ocean.
This is all not to say that "The Boondock Saints" is a complete failure. Sure, it's over-the-top, but at least there are plenty of gun shootouts and interesting carnage to keep the ball rolling. The slightly non-linear story is managed well. As Dafoe handles one crime scene, we get to see the whole shindig played out in real-time. It's a slow-motion gunfighter's dream! Bodies fall and bullets soar as Dafoe reenacts the entire massacre with emphatic precision.
The true problem with the film is that it is so engrossed in its own mythos, that it actually takes itself seriously. This becomes apparent as haunting cathedral choir musical adorns the madness with Gothic foreboding. All the while, we're shaking our head wondering why Duffy isn't capable of accepting the ridiculousness of his own creation. Heck, even porn star Ron Jeremy enters the fray, but the movie doesn't pause to giggleinstead it continuously plugs along with repetitive and ruthless abandon. It seems that Duffy actually believes that not only is what the MacManus brothers doing rightbut that it is actually possible. In that sense, "The Boondock Saints" is like the elephant in the roomthe dinner party guess who fails to get the big joke. And, not surprisingly, the audience isn't laughing.
Let's get a couple of things straight--I loved the first Pirates film.
It was a deliciously fun swashbuckling adventure that had its tongue
firmly planted in its cheek. Director Gore Verbinski sailed his cast
into a sunny experience that just made you smile out of pure enjoyment.
But, in the world of the Caribbean, it's amazing how quickly the weather can turn against you. To put it bluntly, Dead Man's Chest is downright boring. It's poorly paced. It lacks a cohesive structure. And, for an action movie, it lacks great action sequences. The story, which is a convoluted mess that reeks of multiple screenwriters with too many ideas and not enough common sense, takes a good two hours to get interesting. Yup, I said it. TWO HOURS. In the meantime, we're tossed back and forth from character to character with vague dialogue and leaky pirate ships until the whole shindig smells as bad as the Kraken's breath.
When we do finally reach the bombastic action-packed finale, it's hard to care anymore. Like an unruly dinner party guest, Pirates 2 long outstays its welcome. Character motivations weren't explained. Plot is thick and unintelligible. And, as a result, "Dead Man's Chest" becomes a victim of trying to do a little bit of everything, but at the same time, not doing anything particularly well. Sure, the special effects looked top notch, but in a world where computer generated wizardry is the norm, it takes a lot more than a fish people to get one to turn his head in wonder.
It's fascinating how all the best cinematic ingredients (a good director, solid cast, brilliant special effects) all come together to taste downright bitter without the unifying power of a solid story. And, as the famous theme park attraction prophetically declares, "They're be rough waters ahead." In the meantime, I raise a glass of grog to the heavens in hope that the third installment brings life back to such a promising franchise.
To put it succinctly, there's something beautiful about director Joe
Wright's adaptation of Jane Austen's famous novel, Pride and Prejudice.
Maybe it's the stunning British vistas that appear on screen,
completely saturated in subtle tones of yellow, green, and blue. Maybe
it's the delightful and classically poignant musical score that
meanders unobtrusively from scene to scene. Maybe it's the understated,
but expert performances given by a stellar cast. Or, maybe it's simply
the fact that Pride and Prejudice is a pleasure to watch.
Jane Austen's original novel is legendarydetailing the affairs of the predominately female Bennett family (five girls in all) as they all attempt to find love in a time period where convenience and ignorance were the most attractive qualities in a partner. The eldest Bennet girls, Lizzie and Jane, find out directly that first appearances can sometimes be the greatest form of prejudice and falsehood.
Director Joe Wright succeeds because he's not afraid to embrace a style that is unpretentious, but also engaging. During a visually majestic ball scene, we are treated to a long, impressive shot that dollies from room to room, following each character as they interact with other guests. Outside the Bennet household, the camera moves from window to window, detailing the actions of all the inhabitants inside. It's a visual treat to be sure, but it also seems that in the process Wright creates an authentic worlda cinematic realm that appears to exist long after the camera has stopped rolling. As a result, Pride and Prejudice has managed to surmount one of the biggest problems of contemporary romances: we actually care about the characters.
And, what characters they are. Young Kiera Knightley excels as the quick-witted and skeptical Lizzie Bennet, finally putting to rest her ostentatious pout and delving into Austen's literary subtlety. Matthew Macfadyen plays the stern and "disagreeable" Darcy with enough pizazz to make even the legendary Colin Firth blush. But, beyond their separate performances, the sparks really fly when the two leads share the screen together. Here the romantic tension is so palpable that every handhold feels like a long passionate kiss. Every brief touch is charged with sexual energy. The supporting players are equal to the precedent set by the leads. Donald Sutherland stands out especially as the Bennet patriarch, both loving and smart. His wife, played deliciously by Talulah Riley, is both comedic and convincing as the woman who wants all her daughters to, above all, find a match that is financially sound.
Pride and Prejudice proves that romance is more about chemistry and atmosphere than showy smooches or diamond rings. The entire film simply feels authentic. And, in the process, it shows how sexy subtlety can be.
The moment Rian Johnson's noir-caper Brick opens something seems to
come out of the screen and smack the viewer in the face with ruthless
abandon. And, for once it's not flashy explosions or gun battles. No;
Brick fascinates with words.
The concept at first seems oddmodern high school students speaking as if they just stepped off the set of The Malteese Falcon, but as soon as the movie seat starts to get comfortable, the words become a natural extension of the rigid, stoic characters, and as a result, the greatest thrill comes from just waiting to see what they are going to say next Brick follows Brendan, a young teenage lonerplayed with impressive confidence by Joseph-Gordon Levittwho pushes his way into the underworld of a high school crime ring to investigate the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend. As with all good noir flicks, the plot invariably thickens, bringing in kooky drug lords (a darkly hilarious Lukas Haas), femmes fatales, and brutish muscle (Noah Fleiss). Yet, Brick succeeds by taking an established style and spinning it on its head. The dark and dimly lit office of the chief of police becomes the drab and monochromatic office of the high school vice principal. Dark alleys are replaced by football fields and rows of lockers.
The visual ingenuity of the film is complimented by other aesthetic details, most notably the deliciously clever musical scorea literal patois of older noir goodness and modern eerie melodies. Brick's undeniably slick feel doesn't stop there. Colors are featured on a monochromatic palate that relishes in its own contrasted and hyper saturated state. It's a world that feels real despite the fact that it's undeniably based in fictiona world where Levitt's Brendan takes enough care to store his glasses before a fight and where a high school savant can solve a Rubik's cube in thirty seconds flat (Matt O'Leary). By the time Brendan is served milk and cookies by the mother of the local drug lord, it's apparent that the film savors the roots of noir, but also feels content to chew it up, manipulate it, and toss it back at the viewer with both a wink and a smile.
The beauty of Brick is that the style isn't trapped by the confines of its gimmick. Yes, the film is relying on an original twist to a definitive style in order to stand out. But, it does so with such creativity and care, that it's hard to not to be enraptured by what director Rian Johnason has constructed. While the plot lines and events may seem a tad manipulated at times, the fact remains that Brick is an intriguing and sublimely interesting visceral ride from start to finish. And, above all, with the fast talking barrage of words and slang that the characters continue to spit out, it's bound to get people talking.
We've seen the image before: a white, Spartan-dressed dictator commands
hold of the vacant masses. His mannerisms are stern and his message is
cleardefy me or die. And, with this mental picture it's easy to segue
into the world of James McTeigue's action/social commentary film, V for
Vendetta's primary success centers around its enigmatic hero. Adapted from Alan Moore's often-lauded graphic novel of the same name, Vendetta tells the tale of the mysterious Guy Fawkes-masked 'V'an elegant terrorist if there ever was one. With the air of a modern Phantom of the Opera, V dashes through the streets of a dystopia London like a British Zorro. He's a man of the people, embracing anarchy in order to overthrow an obviously corrupt futuristic regime. And, as a result, it's hard not to get caught up with what the film throws at you. Just like the down-trodden populous that joins V's noble mission, the audience romps and rouses with every explosion and with every gloriously choreographed knife throw.
Amidst the poetic violence is Natalie Portman's Evey Hammond. Small and weak, Evey becomes a protégé of V's honorable madness. Portman plays her character strongly, if a tad forced. Her emotion is real and compliments V's theatrics well.
But, like V's mask, there is something darker underneath that glittering exterior. After the explosive fireworks die down, and it becomes possible to probe through the residual smoke, things aren't quite as appealing as they once seemed. At the heart of the matter, Vendetta is attempting to comment on a world that is too scared to stand up itself. As V succinctly puts it, "People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people." The words sound pretty, but the film fails to explore the ramifications of its message. We are never given the biting social satire of a film like Brazil or the hard hitting consequences of defiance presented in 1984. In turn, the result comes off tasting like stale bread.
But, beyond the fact that 'V' doesn't give us anything new, it has the audacity at the same time to pretend that what it's attempting to say is "edgy" or "subversive." Nothing could be further from the truth. It's a movie made for the massesthe same masses that gobble up "Rage Against the Machine" albums and T-shirts. The same group that screams "Power to the People" while simultaneously voting for American Idol. And, there lies the problem with V for Vendetta. It's a movie that is attempting to say big things, but not really saying anything at all; an attractive picture, but no meat underneath. Corrupt governments are bad? Really? You don't say...
This transparency is exemplified by Va character that is for all his moral speeches is nothing more than a static super hero. He slices! He dices! And, he knows how to alliteratively pronounce a lot of SAT WORDS! The void left by his static nature isn't filled by Portman's Evey, either. She seems to transform. But, really she wasn't one in need of convincing in the first place. By the time the film has ended, it is clear that V for Vendetta succeeds on a basic levelit punctures our emotions, and at the same time, is able to give us something that is visually engaging. However, once all is said is done, it is clear that a great charade has been played in front of our eyes. Portman's Evey emphatically reminds us to "Remember, remember the fifth of November," but ultimately we are not told a reason why.