Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Pineapple Express

Sorry it's been a while since a real review. Hopefully I'll have Tropic Thunder, Mirrors, and Clone Wars on the way, so stay tuned. First, though, is one of the few beacons of comedy in the midst of a rather unfunny summer. Pineapple Express is, of course, the newest comedy from the Apatow gang. This time relative newcomer David Gordon Green helms a Seth Rogan script to a mostly positive product.

This is, what else, a stoner movie. Rogan plays Dale Denton a professional loser who witnesses a murder committed by drug lord Ted Jones (Gary Cole). Dale goes running to his only friend, who also happens to be his dealer- Saul Silver (James Franco). The problem is that he gets his supply from Jones. The result is a tale of mistaken identity worthy of Hitchcock that wraps Saul and Dale up in the middle of a drug war.

The movie was decent on a whole- but not on par with some of their other movies. And it certainly will not go down as a stoner classic. It was a funny distraction, though. Each character was an overblown caricature- from Dale and Saul's perpetual high, to Jones' Pulp Fiction worthy thugs. The relationship between Dale and Saul was delightful. The two of them in their intoxicated state try to reason through simple problems and manage to come up with absurdly elaborate solutions. The best part of this is that they're completely aware of this. They try to destroy their phones so they can't be traced, yet leave the car on all night so it drains the batteries. It's amusing watching two men who can barely function try to escape from a crime boss.

There were some parts of the movie that really left me a little dumbfounded, however. Apparently Seth Rogan had written this quite a while ago, before he was a big name, and it kind of shows. His character, who delivers summons to criminals is dating a girl who is still in highschool. And he meets her there, and everybody just seems to be hunky dory with that. In fact, he's even invited to have dinner with her parents. Even in a near slapstick comedy like this, that's a bit too weird.

The highlight of the movie is the car chase that is featured so predominantly in the trailers. This scene really embodies the spirit of the movie. Saul "rescues" Dale from someone who was trying to help them, and they end up being chased with Saul's foot caught in the windshield where he tried to kick it out. This is the perfect example of the two of them completely ruining what should be a simple situation.

The final act in the movie really falls short in comparison. It turns into a rather straight forward action movie. The mentality of lighthearted (if inappropriate) fun is replaced by boring shootouts and fight scenes. This is absurd, but not in a good way. It seems like the main thing that made the movie good, a script by an author not held down by conventions, and obviously under a number of influences, is also what made it end so poorly. It's clear they didn't know a good way out of the story.

So the ending was lacking pretty severely, it's still better than that abysmal Step Brothers in every regard. I was a little disappointed by Pineapple Express because I've been excited about it for sixth months or so. But I'm not going to hold it against them. I suppose the movie did deliver on what it offered, a funny distraction. I just wish it didn't leave me with a bad taste.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Step Brothers

This movie was atrocious. It actually had the makings of a pretty good movie. Will Ferrell is of course one of the best current funnymen, and John C. Reily is a very good actor (though I prefer him in dramatic roles. Adam Mckay is certainly no newcomer to comedy. He's been writing and directing on Saturday Night Live for the past 10 years, and was behind some of Ferrell's best movies. Unfortunately, the movie falls flat.

Brennan Huff (Ferrell) and Dale Doback (Reilly) are two emotionally stunted men in their late thirties still living at home with their respective single parents. Conflict arises when their parents get together and Brennan and Dale now have to live under one roof. They spend two hours acting like 10 year olds. All the expected conflicts are there, from not touching each others things, to having to share a bedroom.

The core story here is the struggle for these two man-children to leave the nest and finally start their adult lives. This could be really funny as a short, or it could be endearing as a feature, but their attempt to stretch this joke for an entire movie simply does not work. Don't get me wrong, there are certainly a few funny scenes. Brennan and Dale spend a very funny montage interviewing for jobs- going into the interviews together. It's too bad that these funny scenes were short, and there just weren't many of them.

In an odd, and I think misguided choice, the movie was rated R. This is clearly because of the excessive language peppered throughout. Aside from this, there was nothing at all offensive. So by including completely unnecessary and often times out of place language, they cut off much of the potential demographic.

I think Ferrell should try revisiting his touching abilities that he demonstrated in Stranger Than Fiction. And I really miss the John C. Reilly of Gangs of New York. Any way you look at it, Step Brothers was just a miss.


Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

What would be great would be if this were an actual job, so then I wouldn't have to pay ten dollars to go see movies like this. The third Mummy installment was just awful. It was a close race, but it still failed to unseat Dark Knight from the #1 spot where it has sat for the third week. I guess we'll have to wait and see if Pineapple Express manages to accomplish that next week.

This movie employs essentially the same formula the other's in the franchise have. This time, however, Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser) is fighting a mummy in China. The movie opens with a fairly long winded history of the Dragon Emperor, his rise to power, and his downfall. 2000 years later, his tomb is discovered by Rick's son, Alex (Luke Ford), and a militant faction is trying to raise the emperor and his ancient army. In true Mummy fashion, the fate of the world rests on a rather small band including Rick, Alex, Rick's Wife, Evelyn (Maria Bello), her brother, Jonathan (John Hannah), and the mother daughter team of Zi Juan (Michelle Yeoh) and Lin (Isabelle Leong) that has been trying to keep the emperor down for the past two millenia. Aside from the different setting, there is virtually nothing new about this movie.

This movie takes some of the funny absurdities of the previous installments to a new level. The horribly integrated Yetis and a rather cartoonish dragon divorce this movie from any sort of reality. Of course there was the obligatory clash between the armies of the undead. And actually, these looked pretty good. In fact, I'll even through the "car" chase scene between a chariot and a truck loaded with fireworks into the good pile. But it takes more than an impressive battle to make a movie.

The movie was obnoxiously self aware. Early on in her first appearance, Evelyn says "I'm a whole new woman." This is clearly nod to the fact that Bello replaced Rachel Weisz who had played the role in the first two movies. Not long after that in a scene about their marital relations, the music plays up anticipation than letdown as the orchestra comes to a grinding halt. I understand that this is an adventure comedy, but parts like those were just annoying.

I've made it no secret that I am no fan of Brenden Fraser. It seems like he can only play himself. His lines in this movie seemed almost interchangeable with those in Journey to the Center of the Earth. And Bello plays a rather odd character (much different than I remember from the earlier movies) who seems to have some sort of sexual fetish about mummies and being in danger. That's gotta be a difficult turn on to deal with. And Luke Ford was just about on par with Fraser, but I think it was just his character. In the middle of tracking the emperor, he's talking to his mother about relationship advice because he has a thing for Lin, whom he just met earlier that day. I think he may have more pressing matters. And that's not even mentioning the fact that Ford is only 13 years younger than the actors portraying his parents- and it looks like the gap is even smaller.

This really shouldn't come as a surprise. Even the best series start to have problems by the third installment. And the Mummy was never a very good franchise to begin with. Judging by how this movie will probably be received, and the fairly lackluster opening weekend, I can imagine this may be the last we hear from The Mummy.


Friday, August 1, 2008

The X-Files: I Want To Believe

This movie had a lot going against it. And I mean a lot. It opened the week after The Dark Knight, which had the biggest opening weekend of all time, marketing was virtually non-existent, and the TV show ended 6 years ago, barely limping to the finish the line. The movie was really made as a sort of closure for X-Files fans. The big question, however, was are there any X-Files fans still out there. The answer is a somewhat muffled yes.

The movie plays out as a somewhat mediocre self-contained episode. All the deep seeded governmental conspiracies, alien invasions, and secret organizations that were so embedded in most of the series, and was full integrated into the first movie have long dissipated. This movie focuses more on the human side and the relationship of (former) FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson).

The movie opens in classic X-Files fashion. A team of FBI agents are being led through a snow covered field by what appears to be a psychic. Our questions are answered, and more are posed with the discovery of a severed arm in the snow. This leads to an investigation regarding a missing agent and a rather grisly underground operation. The bizarre nature of the case forces the FBI to enlist help from our favorite former agents. The contrast between the two immediately comes back into play with Scully relying strictly on science, and Mulder putting all of his faith in the psychic from the beginning, Father Joseph Crissman (Billy Connolly) who happened to have been convicted pedophilia, ending his former career. This results in conflict between Mulder and just about everyone else.

Mulder and Scully's counterparts who are currently at the FBI are played by Amanda Peet and Xzibit. They have some pretty big shoes to fill. Peet does an ample job of actually creating another Scully- skeptical yet oddly attracted to Mulder's ideas. Xzibit on the other hand looks really out of place here. It's tough to come from hosting Pimp My Ride to being an FBI agent. He was all force without the finesse of the other characters. Anderson and Duchovny, despite what they claimed in interviews, seemed like they slipped right back into the roles as if no time had passed.

One of the major revelations in the movie is that we finally get closure regarding Mulder and Scully's relationship. We see early on that, yes, they are indeed together. Anyone who watched the show knows that the series was filled with sexual tension between the two from day one. This causes conflict between them when Scully wants to stay out of the FBI's matters, and Mulder wants to jump right back into it. Mulder's infatuation with Father Joseph also puts him at odds with Scully's righteous religious beliefs, and her hatred for what the man did. Clearly, this movie focused much more on their human side than on their detecting side. Don't get me wrong, there was no shortage of creepy moments, it was just much more subdued than the visual effects show than many may have expected.

Director and show creator Chris Carter threw little tidbits to fans. Most of these were unnecessary, but were still appreciated. There's a scene with Mulder talking about his sister who had been abducted by aliens when he was young, Scully wrestling with memories of having to give up her son, and even an appearance by their old boss, Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) one of the favorite characters from the show. None of these really had any baring on the plot of the movie, which was fairly thin. They simply said to the fans "we're thinking of you."

As I've made pretty obvious, I loved the show- even the last few seasons after Duchovny left. So of course I liked the movie. They could have played nothing but the theme song for two hours and I would have gone. If you weren't a fan of the show, you may not be drawn in. But chances are, it you weren't a fan of the show, this probably wasn't high on your summer movie list anyway. The filmmakers knew this, so they decided to go with a relatively low budget and make it for those who were interested. I enjoyed the movie to no end, but in the interest of being unbiased, I'll have to say that some parts were a bit thin. If you did like the show, however, go see it, they need the support.