Zoolander

In the writing process of a film such as this it is very easy for the film to take a wrong turn and fail miserably in its attempt, with “Zoolander” Ben Stiller has mastered this challenge. While the characters were ridiculous in almost every way they were still very enjoyable to watch. Scenes that might normally be unbearable to watch (such as the “gasoline fight”), were actually incredibly funny. The entire film walks such a fine line of being very funny or just plain awful, it amazes me that it held itself together for the entire length of the film.

Owen Wilson’s performance was easily one of his best ever, and proves he is one of the best comedic actors in Hollywood. With his ability to pick good acting roles and his writing abilities shown from his co-writing of “Rushmore,” Wilson should be one of the top actors for some time to come. Ben Stiller as Derrick Zoolander was excellent as Derrick Zoolander, a role in which very few other actors would be able to perform.

“Zoolander” is able to successfully hold together a really absurd plot. In doing so I produces one of the funniest films of the year to date. The last time I laughed as hard during a movie as I did during “Zoolander” was during the first half an hour of “Moulin Rouge.” While this movie is probably not worthy to be considered in the elite class of great comedies it surely merits multiple viewings.

Rating: A-
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Hearts in Atlantis

The problem with the movie is that it tells two disjointed stories. The stories are both set off by Robert Garfield (David Morse), in the present day, getting a letter and a baseball glove as a bequest from his childhood friend John Sullivan’s will. As a result of this, he flashes back to his childhood, where we have two distinctive plotlines:

1. A relatively realistic coming-of-age story between young Garfield, the young girl he loves, and his friend Sullivan. Add to this a meddling, overprotective mother (Hope Davis), and complications ensue. Gradually, Garfield becomes stronger as a person and moves toward adulthood. This story is well-done, but somewhat underplayed. In particular, even though Sullivan leaves Garfield the glove that sets off the reminisence, he’s never given any character or substance. Also, because the “big star” of the movie isn’t in this plot, I suspect it may have gotten cut down in the testing process.

2. A somewhat odd supernatural story about Ted Bradigan (Anthony Hopkins), the new boarder in the Garfield home. Ted has a “second sight” (exactly what this extends to or means is never really explained), and is being chased by “Low Men.” He asks Garfield to keep him safe and watch for the “Low Men.” Slowly, he befriends Garfield, and their relationship develops.

Now, the stories do intersect, especially near the end of the film, but to a large degree, they’re very separate. One is pretty starkly realistic while the other is heavily supernatural. The supernatural story leaves A LOT of questions unanswered. What exactly are Bradigan’s powersr How did he get themr What is her Who are the “Low Menr” Why are they chasing himr What do they wantr We don’t know, and the unclarity makes it confusing.

Hopkins is really good here, playing a haunted man, but the story doesn’t really drive him forward. His character is just haunted the whole time and doesn’t really change or grow. Also, the child playing young Garfield (Anton Yelchin) is excellent and has a strong chemistry with Hopkins. The movie really rises or falls on his shoulders, and he holds it together well.

So, did I like the movier I think it’s a good film, and worth seeing. It’s well-made, well-acted, and beautifully photographed. The problem is it’s not particularly entertaining or insightful. The insight it has to offer is that “childhood is a wonderful experience, but it’s fleeting.” This isn’t really anything new, having been said for ages in various movies, books, TV programs, and other sources. It’s interesting and noble, but in the end, I’m not sure it’s the great film it so painfully wants to be. It’s better than many films this year, but it’s not (I suspect) going to make my Top 10 for the year, nor do I expect it to burn up the box office, as it’s slowly paced and self-indulgent.

Rating: B-
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Count of Monte Cristo, The

I don’t know. But it did. Now, I got some spoilers here so watch out. Bare bones review: the movie is pretty solid and I would recommend it.

For all you illiterates and twelve year-olds out there, “The Count of Monte Cristo” is based on the classic (and really fucking long) novel by Alexandre Dumas who also wrote “The Three Musketeers” (and if you ever get the chance–there is an excellent stage adaptation written by Charles Morey that is the best version of the story I have ever seen). “Monte Cristo” was made into a Richard Chamberlain movie which I slept through in English class and is often described as the mother of all prison break movies. This version stars Jim Caviezel as Edmund Dantes, a naive sailor, and Guy Pearce as Count Mondego, a fellow adventurer and Edmund’s best friend. The movie opens with Jim and Guy landing on the island of Etta. Their ship’s captain has a “brain fever” and they are desperately looking for a doctor. Complications arise from the fact that Napoleon is being held prisoner on the island and, fearful of a possible prison break, his British captors have been ordered to shoot on sight anyone who sets foot on the island. Thus is set up our first big action scene and it’s poorly staged and confusingly edited and I was pissed as hell, cause it looked like I was going to be in for a long night.

In fact, the whole first act feels clipped and rushed like they new the film was long (this cut came in at about 130 minutes), they needed material to excise and the set-up was chosen to go.

Now, Dumas wrote really complicated plots so I won’t go into detail how or why Jim is set-up for treason by Guy and sent to an inescapable island prison, but suffice to say when Jim does get imprisoned, the movie starts to pick up steam. Jim is befriended by an old, wrongfully imprisoned priest played by Richard Harris who is much better and more lively here than he was in Gladiator. Dick teaches Jim all about mathematics, how to play swords and most importantly the location of a huge Spanish treasure. This is easily the best section of the movie, interesting and full of suspense and if it feels derivative of The Mask of Zorro… well, motherfuckers, guess who ripped off who. After Dick dies, Jim escapes the island and runs into a group of smugglers. Luis Guzman is one of these smugglers and he is set-up as one of the world’s greatest knife fighters and Luis is going to fight Jim to the death and if he doesn’t…the smugglers will kill both of them. So, there’s this great set-up for what will be a great action set-piece…only it never happens. Jim disarms Luis in about two seconds and then tells the smugglers that he refuses to fight and the smugglers say, “Okay. Come be a pirate with us.” The fuckr Look, you could have just put up a title card that says: “Jim meets a gifted minority actor who agrees to be his manservant and comic foil.” Lazy. And Luis Guzman is too good for treatment like that. Seriously, every time he was on screen I saw the audience lift themselves out of their seats so they could better see what he was doing. Dude’s got talent and charisma and even with the shitty material he had to work with, was quite good.

But enough negative remarks about the writing. One thing I really loved about this movie was the depth of characterization. Guy has his own petty, selfish reasons to do what he does, but we totally buy into it. And while he did fall into some mustache twirling shenanigans every now and then, most of the time Guy was quite human and very believable. Jim was even better, depicting a character who starts off as innocent and naive then becomes a shell of his former self: hollow, haunted, consumed with revenge. I thank Terry Malick and The Thin Red Line for introducing us to this actor. It’s great fun to see Jim reinvent himself as the Count, and begin his exacting revenge on his former captors. There’s also a nice little love story between Jim and newcomer Dagmara Dominczyk, who plays Mercedes, Jim’s former fiance who has since married Guy. The climax of the movie is a little goofy. Does Jim really have to go “mano a mano” with Guy even after he has taken Guy’s family and money and exposed him as a murdererr I don’t know, it seemed kind of liked, “Hey, Gladiator had a big swordfight at the end, maybe we better have one, too!” I guess you do need one, but the motivation behind it didn’t seem so strong to me (shit, there I go talking like a creative exec again…). Oh, there’s also this one really lame character sub-plot about Jim losing his faith in God, but then he finds it again, I guess, by ramming steel rods through people’s chests and breaking Dorleac’s (Michael Wincott) neck.

This movie is better than any other big studio Hollywood action picture I’ve seen this year. The fight scenes may not be as flashy as what we’ll get in “The Musketeer,” but the story, characters, acting and visual design is all there. Solid filmmaking. I recommend it.

Rating: B+
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American Pie 2

This guy almost… almost… ruined the film for me, as he did the first one. You see, the “American Pie” movies are not documentaries, and are not rooted in reality. When I see a film like this, I want hot guys. I want N’Sync. I want hot chicks, like Destiny’s Child. I want some hot ass flesh. And Jason Biggs is just about the nastiest, most repugnant creature to ever grace the screen. I won’t go into his Ed Wood-level acting skills — but his charismar This moron makes Freddie Prinze Jr. look like an A-list superstar! His greasy hair and pit bull’s face leave me with the desire to tear him a new asshole with my stiletto heel. Every time he was onscreen, I tried to choke on my popcorn. Jason Biggs might represent the ‘every-boy loser’, but you know what, I can see that looking out my window. If I’m gonna pay my hard-earned dollars to visit the cinema, you bet your sorry ass that I’m going to see six-packs and zit-free skin.

But enough about that. Your Lolita had a marvelous time ogling the other boys. Chris Klein just gets better and better, surpassing even his wonderful role on “Here on Earth.” He’s so adorable, oh my God he is sooooo cute!!! I have had a thing for Thomas Ian Nicholas since he played the kid with the killer fastball in “Rookie of the Year.” Seann William Scott is back as Stifler, the jock with the shit-eating grin you know you want to nail. And finally, rounding out the babelicious guys is Eddie Kaye Thomas. There was just something about him, the refined, mature attitude, the suave way he spoke and acted. The kid wouldn’t last a day in my world of pleasure and pain, none of ’em would, but hey, a girl can dream, rightr

I guess I should also mention the girls: Alyson Hannigan, Mena Suvari, Natasha Lyonne, Shannon Elizabeth, and Tara Reid. And Jennifer Coolidge, of course. I’m not going to get into the girls, because they really aren’t what gets me hot: I need dick for that. Except maybe Stifler’s mom. MILF! MILF!

The main difference I noticed between the movies: the pathetic antics by pathetic virgins have become pathetic antics by non-virgins. Nothing has changed much. Jim is still f-uuuuugly. Oz and Heather are wasted, used only for some boring phone sex scenes. (If you Hollywood boys need a consultant, I am most available.) Kevin and Vicky: wasted! The only characters to get any decent scenes and play were Stifler and Finch, in my lovely opinion.

By the way — they were dropping some serious homo innuendo for Stifler. I was afraid they’d turn him into some gay guy in major f***ing denial, but luckily, the two “lesbians” dashed that possibility into pieces. Not that I have a problem with gay men, they usually are quite obedient… but Stifler is MINE. Once my leash is around his balls, the only dick he’d ever get is when I strapped it on.

And Finch, who learned Tantra and Japanese over the year, remains the most desirable. Who wouldn’t want to screw for daysr It’s so hard to find someone so disciplined and ambitious as he was. Plus, they should have used more of Klein. They are just so cute and adorable! And some N’Sync music would have helped. I love them! JC is so gorgeous!!!

Until next week, I’ll be listening to N’Sync and writing fan letters.

Lolita out.

Rating: B-
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Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (Snapman)

While I bet it sounded very funny on paper, and maybe if done in separate sketches some of the scenes alone might be funny. This was an hour and a half of combined sketch comedy that I rarely found amusing.

I can enjoy a comedy that has no real plot, one that’s sole purpose is to go directly for a laugh and not worry about what it has to do to get there. In order to enjoy a movie like that it has to be able to make me actually laugh, and often. This film just could not manage that task. I laughed during Sean William Scott’s cameo, and Will Ferrell caused me to laugh a couple of times, but these laughs were few and far between. Major cameos in this movie happened so often that after a few minutes the neatness of seeing someone make an appearance lost its appeal. Instead of being surprised when another famous person makes an appearance it was more like “huh… that’s Judd Nelson… OK, whatever”.

I can hear the initial story being laid out… Jay and Silent Bob leave New Jersey to stop the movie about their characters, then hilarity and crazy antics ensue. The problem is they forgot the hilarity in the equation, there were a lot of ridiculously crazy situations that occurred, but they weren’t very funny. This movie relied too much on being obscene for shock value, and not enough on actually translating its humorous ideas into funny scenes.

Having now seen this film and “Dogma” I must say I am not terribly impressed with Smith’s talents. This is just another gross out comedy like all of the Farrelly Brothers movies; the only difference is this one has a ton of cameos. I still plan on checking out Smith’s other films, but because of my overall dislike of this film it will probably be awhile before I can bring myself to rent one of his films.

Rating: D+
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Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

The film begins with an “origin” story for Jay and Silent Bob. Sadly, the comic “payoff” in this scene is simply a baby saying “fuck” several times, which doesn’t do it. Then, Randal and Dante (from “Clerks”) call the police and get a restraining order against Jay and Silent Bob, preventing them from staying at their post outside the Quick-Stop. They then go visit Brodie (from “Mallrats”) at his comic store, who tells them that a movie is being made based on the “Bluntman and Chronic” comic book. As usual, Jason Lee is brilliant in this little bit. So, they visit Holden McNeil (from “Chasing Amy”) who tells them that the movie is being made, and introduces them to the “Internet”—where people say nasty things about Jay and Silent Bob. Because nasty things are being said about them, Jay and Silent Bob head off to Hollywood.

The next act has some serious problems, and makes no sense from a narrative standpoint. There’s a lot of sketch-y type stuff going on—a long bit involving “the rules” of hitchhiking, a completely out of place Scooby-Doo parody, until finally, at a “Mooby” restaurant (one of the few “Dogma” references in the film), Jay and Bob meet Justice (Shannon Elizabeth) and her friends Chrissy, Missy, and Sissy (Ali Larter, Eliza Dushku, and Jennifer Schwalbach Smith). They, along with an animal-loving troubadour (Seann William Scott) are going to Boulder, Colorado, allegedly to free animals from a research lab.

We get to Boulder, and it’s revealed that Jay and Bob have been set up as patsies by the girls. They will break into a lab and liberate monkeys, while the girls perform an elaborate diamond heist across the street. I’m unclear on exactly how the heist is performed, but it requires all the girls to get dressed in skin-tight leather catsuits and perform strange martial arts maneuvers. Needless to say, things go wrong, but everyone escapes, just barely—the girls with the diamonds, and Jay and Bob with a monkey. Jay and Bob then, with the monkey, finally make their way to Hollywood, where the final act occurs.

In Hollywood, Jay, Bob, and the monkey, pursued by Federal Marshal Willenholly (Will Ferrell) and an overzealous security guard (Diedrich Bader), go on a wild romp through the Miramax lot, and everything climaxes in a shootout and everyone getting down to the music of Morris Day and the Time. Obviously, the plot really doesn’t matter that much. It’s all an excuse for bizarre comic set-pieces and speeches.

The film is intermittently hysterical. Basically, once Jay and Bob get onto their first movie set, there’s a 10+ minute stretch of the film that’s non-stop laughter as they’re chased through various movie sets. After then, we move into closing the film’s “plot,” which takes far too long for its own good, including a 3 minute montage of Jay and Bob kicking people’s asses. There are a lot of good jokes and solid laughs throughout the film (with Affleck and Lee giving the most laughs per time), but there are times when the film is just DEAD.

The film has substantial problems as well. First is its inaccessibility. There are LOTS of lines that are fairly obscure “View Askew” jokes—like “Affleck! You were da bomb in Phantoms!” and brief appearances by just about every major character from Smith’s previous films who still exists on Earth. Most of the audience isn’t going to get those. Second is the film is way too self-referential for its own good. Lines like “people act like this in movies!” are uttered, and then the characters stare out of the screen at the audience. Hilarity allegedly ensues. Also, the film relies on an on-screen caption to make a joke at one point that stops what could have been a clever comic sequence dead in its tracks. Third, the film’s jokes often are too dated. The “jewel thief” sequences are obviously intended to be a parody of “Charlie’s Angels,” but as that film indulged in self-parody, it’s very hard to parody it well. Finally, the film doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and isn’t really ABOUT anything, unlike Smith’s more recent and more impressive films.

So, in summary, “Jay and Silent Bob” is a good way to while away a summer afternoon, at least if you’re a fan of the View Askew universe. Just don’t have your expectations too high. I suppose it brings the characters of the “Jersey Trilogy” to a close. I just hope Smith can leave them behind now, and move to something new and different. He obviously has talent as a writer that I think can transcend these narrow characters.

Rating: C+
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