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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Rat Race

This film follows the same pattern that many other comedies are taking as of late; it seems they work hard developing around fifteen to twenty minutes of scenes that are quite funny. Mix in another forty minutes of mildly funny scenes, then add another thirty-five minutes of awful filler and weak plot development. Put all that together and you have “Rat Race,” as well as a number of other recent comedies.

There were a number of entertaining performances in this film lead by Jon Lovitz (of course), John Cleese, Vince Vieluf and Dave Thomas (of Strange Brew “fame”). But, just as there were a couple of very entertaining actors their were also some on the opposite end of the spectrum. Whoopie Goldberg, Rowan Atkinson, Wayne Knight and a bus full of Lucy impersonators were downright awful. Not once were they funny and more often than not they were less entertaining than watching paint dry. The scenes with the Lucy impersonators were so repulsively bad I considered walking out of the theater and waiting until the scene was over.

I hate to see such a large cast of (arguably) respectable actors and actresses waste away in a mediocre comedy. But, waste away they did and this film makes me wonder again and again why if one can put together a half dozen good jokes, why can’t they spend the time and stretch it throughout the whole film. This could have been a very funny film with more effort to fill the gaps between the big gags, but it didn’t and the film suffered because of it.

Rating: C-
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Changing Lanes

1. The forms given at the end of the screening are by no means sufficient to state my views of this film.

2. I want to make VERY clear to Paramount that while this movie needs fixing, it does NOT need the sort of fixing I suspect tonight’s screening will be taken to suggest.

3. The print looked complete. There was a temp score (that actually worked pretty well), temp opening titles, and no closing credits, but aside from thatr This was a finished film.

“Changing Lanes” starts with a simple premise. A yuppie lawyer (Ben Affleck) gets into a wreck with a middle-class insurance broker (Samuel L. Jackson). The lawyer doesn’t want to give the insurance broker his insurance information, tries to give him a blank check, which is refused, and he scurries off to court. Unfortunately, he’s dropped a file, and Jackson’s character doesn’t want to give it back. That’s a superficial story outline, but there’s A LOT of storylines beneath it. Jackson’s character is going through a nasty divorce and is a recovering alcoholic. Affleck’s character had been having an affair with another lawyer (Toni Collette) and is worried that he may be on the wrong side of the case.

The fundamental premise and the lead cast led me to believe that we were going to get a mainstream Hollywood thriller, but that’s not what we get at all. Instead, we get an explanation of right and wrong. Both of the lead characters constantly try to do what’s “right” by their moral code, but wind up fucking up their good intentions. There are a LOT of long speeches about right and wrong, mostly delivered by Sydney Pollack as the Senior Partner of Affleck’s firm, and by William Hurt, in a nice cameo turn as Jackson’s AA sponsor. This is a drama, folks, about two men at the breaking point—it’s not a thriller, and it need not try to be. What I saw tonight was far better than the execrable Tomb Raider, and contained solid performances pretty much across the board, with the exception of the actress who plays Jackson’s wife, who is too hysterical for her own good and winds up hurting what could have been a powerful scene between her and Jackson in a jail cell.

So, my suggestions for how to recut the film:

1. Action Should Be Abrupt: There are “action sequences” in the movie. The car wreck that starts the film, another car wreck about midway through the film, and a couple of fist fights. These sequences need to be recut to be more jarring and sudden. Right now, they’re shot simultaneously too lyrically, with slow mo, and too jarringly, with quick cuts all over the place. Give us the incident in one take, from one wide angle, and it’ll be more effective.

2. Expand the Supporting Characters: Toni Collette and Ben Affleck’s characters OBVIOUSLY have history together. In fact, it’s made clear at one point that they were having an affair that is now over. Unfortunately, Collette’s character doesn’t have a back story, or any real development. Collette’s a talented actress! Use her! Additionally, William Hurt’s part should be expanded a little more. If we knew a bit more about the ties between him and Jackson, a scene at the jail would really come alive.

3. Cut Down The Cinema Verite: There are, especially early in the movie, a lot of documentary-style shots that establish setting. Those are all well and good, but they linger a bit too long. The film feels long as it is, and it runs only about 100 minutes. Basically, the film needs to be tightened throughout… little cuts, though… nothing big.

4. Emphasize The Themes More: The whole movie takes place on one day, Good Friday. There’s obviously some religious imagery going on. Hell, Affleck’s character even spends some time in a church. But if there’s a religious parallel going on, draw it out a little more. You don’t need to hit us over the head with it, but make it clear. It’s too fuzzy as it currently stands.

5. Rework The Ending—The ending, as it stands, is abrupt and silly.

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT

After a day of battling, Jackson shows up at Affleck’s offices to give him the file. Affleck and Jackson first talk, and Affleck has a nice speech about right and wrong. Here’s where we veer substantially off-track. They get into an argument about whose “fault” the accident that morning was, and get into a fist fight, which spills out onto the balcony. The folder drops to the floor of the balcony, and the file begins to blow away. Jackson saves the file, but Affleck takes it from him, lets it blow into the breeze and they laugh together. Fade to credits.

END MAJOR SPOILER

How about ending it this wayr Jackson shows up at Affleck’s office and gives him the file (thereby doing the right thing), they discuss right and wrong (it turns out the file is actually a fraud designed to funnel money into the firm’s hands), then Affleck disposes of the file, preferably by burning or shredding it. The end. More satisfying, less unbelievable, and lends more closure to both characters. You don’t need the fistfight. All you need is closure to the characters.

6. Don’t Fuck It Up: What already exists here is a decent movie. I suspect it test screened poorly. Scenes that I found effectively dramatic drew laughter from chunks of the audience. However, don’t feel compelled to turn this into a taut thriller. That’s not what Roger Michell (the director, who previously made Notting Hill) made, and not what Michael Tolkin and his co-writer wrote. They created a story about two people facing crossroads in life on the very same day whose paths happen to intersect. THAT’S the movie! Not an action thriller or an Affleck/Jackson showdown, but two stories that happen to intersect. Some touch-up will help… a new score (might I suggest Thomas Newman, whose music would fit nicely) will make sure the right emotional buttons get pressed, and tightening will help, but this isn’t a movie that needs to be completely reworked.

The film is slated for a Christmas-time release, it looks like, and it can make it. The changes I’ve suggested are far from gigantic, and would make the film a better film. In fact, Jackson and Pollack’s performances are both potentially award-worthy, and Affleck yet again does above-average work in a role he’s started to make his trademark when he’s doing real acting… that of a young shark who’s trying to keep it together in the wake of tragedy and change. The current film commits a cardinal sin: it’s uncommercial. However, it has a virtue even stronger than that. It’s a good film already, and it can be an excellent one with a little bit of tweaking. Paramount, take the risk and give us a movie closer to the cut I saw tonight, a drama about lives intersecting, than the cut I fear, which turns the film into “a taut thriller about men at the edge!”

Rating: B-
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Pride

Tojo attempts suicide by shooting himself in the gut, but his life is saved by the Allieds, and soon is put on trail along with 27 other top Japanese ministers in front of the newly convened International Military Tribunal for the Far East around the time the Nazi war crimes tribunal in Nuremberg were undertaken.

A vengeful American prosecutor wants to destroy Tojo’s reputation in his homeland, successfully censoring the Japanese press reports about the trials to the point where he own children must flee to another part of the country and take their mother’s maiden name to hide from the shame the name Tojo has within the public, after Tojo’s grandson is mercilessly taunted by his teacher for being related to a man who is “worse than a thief”. The defense argues the war criminals are being unfairly tried by a form of “victor’s justice” group for acts which had not been criminal at the time they were committed, and could not be held responsible for what they had done as government officials. The 28 Japanese officials are, after a long trial, all found guilty and sentenced to die by hanging.

This is the structure in which Pride (Puraido, unmei no toki) investigates the real life story to a mostly satisfying resolution.

On a technical level, Pride is mostly masterful. The cinematography and musical score are profound, finding that necessary but usually neglected composure of power and grace. The acting amongst the lead actors is top notch. Masahiko Tsugawa, best known to American foreign film fans as the male lead in Juzo Itami’s A Taxing Woman films, stars as Tojo, bringing to the character a quiet honor to a man who acted out of responsibility and conviction, even if it wasn’t the best within the eyes of the world. Scott Wilson, who can ironically be seen on American screens this summer as General Marshall in Pearl Harbor, brings a strong presence to his role as Joseph B. Keenan, the lead prosecutor on the tribunal who is under orders from Douglas MacArthur to secure convictions. The great character actor Ronny Cox adopts an Australian accent to play Sir William Webb, the head Justice of the tribunal who tries often in vain to keep a balanced opinion within himself and the court he must lead, and Cox shows once again why he is one of America’s best vastly underused actors.

My main complaint about the film is within its editing. There are several subplots, most notably looks into the personal life of Tribunal Judge Radhabinod Pal, India’s representative to the multinational court, which could have been excised without losing anything relevant to the story. There are also several strange jumps back and forth through time (the tribunals took place in 1947 and 1948) into these unneeded subplots. Along with a restructuring to tell the story in a linear timeframe, removing several of these sequences would trim a good twenty minutes out of the two and a half hour film. making a good film into a haunting cinematic tour de force.

Made on a 1.5B yen budget (approx. $11M US, or three times the average budget for a Japanese film), Pride‘s 1998 release in Japan saw the film become a sensation, becoming one of the biggest homegrown hits of the decade with over 2.4B yen worth of ticket sales and causing a firestorm of controversy concerning liberties writer/director Shunya Ito and co-writer Hiro Matsuda took with historical accuracy. At one theatre where Pride played outside Tokyo, a screen was slashed by a group of protestors angered at the positive portrayal of Tojo in the film.

After fifty-something years, General Tojo’s place in history is still being argued, with as many people respectful of what Tojo wanted for his homeland as those who canonize him as a monster. For history buffs and those who enjoy good dramas, Pride is a film they will want to keep an eye out for when distributor Cargo Films rolls the film out through exclusive regional releases during the fall, starting with three playdates in Los Angeles, Pasadena and Riverside August 24th.

Rating: B
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Planet of the Apes

Mark Walhberg was enjoyable to watch throughout the film like he has been in all of his recent films. He is quickly becoming one of the best young mainstream actors. Other characters such as Helena Bonham Carter, Tim Roth and Michael Clarke Duncan made notably good apes, though none even compared to the energy from Charlton Heston’s brief role. The human characters were rather disappointing; Kris Kristofferson was wasted to a small and somewhat unnecessary part. Estella Warren played the usual role of a supermodel turned actress, to stand around and look good. The rest of the humans had very little personality if any, and for the most part they were just walking zombies. This could be explained by being prisoners of the apes, but I still would have like to see some personality in them, even when their ‘hero’ came they didn’t even talk.

I had a problem with the ape’s having the ability to defy all laws of gravity and physics. Some of them could amazingly fly back and forth from wall to wall, and leap some 25-30 feet in the air similar to the abilities of Chow Yun Fat in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” But even with these slightly improbable feats I was able to put aside these superpowers and forgive Burton due to the interest it helped caused.

Up to the last twenty-five minutes or so it was an enjoyable movie then it began its big twist ending. Now generally I like big twists at the end when they are done properly such as in “Seven,” “Fight Club” or even “The Score,” but this twist was just there for the sake of confusing everyone. The last few minutes just went crazy, almost to the point of absurdity. While after much discussion after the film with my friends I believe I figured out the ending, I found it to be unnecessary for the most part. The ending was intriguing as Burton was surely attempting it to be, but it is nearly unexplainable and will definitely be over the heads of 99.9% of the audience. The ending itself begs for a sequel to explain itself, which is likely something executives at Fox demanded so they could have another franchise. This is the sort of movie you might have to see multiple times to truly comprehend whether the ending was a mess or brilliant on a much higher intelligence level than the rest of the film. Either way it merits discussion, more so than any other action movie released this year.

Rating: B+
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Wet Hot American Summer

That’s not to say that these last few months have been a total wash. “Memento” was finishing its run during the early days of the summer season. “Shrek” was amusing. “Legally Blonde” and “The Others” saved the big studios from total fucking embarassment and the indie scene has given us a plethora of solid entertainment with “Sexy Beast,” “With A Friend Like Harry,” “Made,” “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and on and on. If it wasn’t for independent cinema I would have had to have cracked open a book or two to entertain myself. And I may have started reading that little golden book sitting on my coffee table this weekend except my second most anticipated movie of the summer finally opened on two, count ’em two, screens in Los Angeles. That’s right. It was time for “Wet Hot American Summer.”

You know how sometimes it seems that a certain movie was made specifically for your For instance, I have a bizarre obsession with the 1950’s and Reese Witherspoon so I was pretty certain that “Pleasantville” would enter my canon before I even entered the fucking theater. Well, “Wet Hot American Summer” seemed like another one of those movies for me. Thanks to a pair non-attentive parents and a stolen VCR I must have watched “Meatballs” around three dozen times in my formative years. Bill Murray was a surrogate uncle for me, Rudy and Spaz my big brothers. I enjoyed the movie tremendously when I was a child and I like it now, but I’m woman enough to realize that it’s pretty stupid. Once I got to high school, every waking hour not spent playing Mortal Kombat II was used exclusively to view and review episode upon episode of MTV’s sketch comedy show “The State”. When I heard that David Wain and Michael Showalter of aforementioned TV show had just made a parody of the whole “Meatballs” genre starring several State alumns and two of my all-time favorite comedy actors, Janeane Garofalo and David Hyde Pierce, well, I had to run out and find a homeless no one cared about to fuck to death.

After all of this rabid anticipation, I was finally able to see the film unfurl at the AMC Santa Monica 7 this afternoon and I have to say…it made me feel old.

The movie starts out pretty well. It seems like a smarter, up-to-date version of Meatballs. It’s the last day of summer camp and everybody–campers, counselors, associate professors living next door to the camp–just wants to score before the fall begins. But when Janeane Garofalo’s Beth goes into town to research books on astrophysics (don’t ask), WHAS reveals itself to be a full on throw-every-piece-of-shit-you-can-find-to-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks madcap affair akin to Airplane! There are at least five climaxes, each one lifted from and poking fun at another film from the summer camp-genre and such giggle inducing lines like “Fuck my cock.” But many of the gags overstay their welcome, others are just too weird to be funny and I quickly realized that what I was watching was a bunch of leftover State sketches. And then I also quickly realized that a type of humor I found endlessly hilarious back in high-school had passed me by and became merely chuckle-inducing. Fuck. There is nothing worse than being in your mid-20’s and feeling like the world has passed you by.

Not to say that I wouldn’t recommend the movie. I would. I would even say to see it in the theater so you can get that whole communal laughter thing going. There are moments in it that made me laugh just as hard as some of the shit in “American Pie 2.” I would also say you should see WHAS for Marguerite Moreau who is so incredibly hot I nearly forgot about that homeless guy I left bleeding from the ass in a deserted alley the week before. The lovely Marguerite also has the unenviable job of playing the straight man through most of the picture and she pulls it off admirably. Janeane and Niles are funny as are my boyz from The State Ken (I wanna dip my balls in it) Marino, Michael Ian Black (which I changed from Schwarz because I’m ashamed of being Jewish) and Joe Lo Truglio (who never had any cool catch phrases on the show, but that’s okay because he Joe Lo Fucking Truglio!). Molly Shannon is annoying, but what did you expect from someone who came over from a shitty sketch comedy show. A true revelation, though, is Chris Meloni who must of us know from “Oz” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”. I had no idea this guy could be so funny. When he starts humping a refrigerator I not only laughed, but started being pissed off at Hollywood for not using this guy enough. I look forward to seeing his next comedic role. I also look forward to the next un-official “The State” movie from these guys because “Wet Hot American Summer” does have several things going for it…I just hope the next one has several more.

Rating: B
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