Tuesday, April 24, 2007

"He's more helium now than man: inflated and evil."

Okay I know this is extremely tangential to the usual movie stuff, but I had to make note of this:

Mmm... villainy.

For more info: http://www.starwars.com/community/event/celebration/news20070417b.html
This also creates an opportunity in the uber-nerdy bumper sticker market. Namely, one that reads: "My other car is the inflated head of Darth Vader."

And while I'm on a Star Wars kick, here's more crazy-awesome Star Wars fan insanity: Steampunk Star Wars.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Hot Fuzz (2007)

dir. Edgar Wright
Viewed on: 2007-04-22
Rating: 9

Best. Cop movie. Ever.

That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. Actually, I'm ambivalent towards cop movies, some are lame, and some are classics like The French Connection. Anyway, I made some comments a few posts ago about my wish to see a comedy composed completely of cliches, but presented in a deadpan way. Lo and behold, here is Hot Fuzz, which is probably the closest match I have yet seen to what I was talking about. Maybe it was because I was conscious of those comments, having written them so recently, that I noticed what was going on in Hot Fuzz more than I might have otherwise. Still, I don't think the movie can be fully enjoyed the way it was intended if its viewers aren't aware of the humor underlying the surface humor.

Now, granted, Hot Fuzz is absolutely a straightforward comedy played for laughs, employing lots of physical humor, jokes, and excellent puns.(1) In these aspects alone it is a good movie. And no one would mistake it for anything less than a parody of the cop movie genre. But the film goes to some trouble to clue the audience in to a larger, yet more subtle purpose of not only poking fun at cop movies, but completely deconstructing them. One example is the soundtrack, with abundant, overly loud sound effects and a tense musical score--neither of which would be at all out of place in a common action-suspense movie. Another is the use of references to other movies. Nick Frost's character Danny hasn't seen much police action, so movies like Point Break and Bad Boys II are his frame of reference when he tries to relate to his new hard-ass partner Nicholas (played by Simon Pegg). Danny asks Nicholas about a particular scene in Point Break, later shows the film to Nicholas who hadn't seen it, and finally ends up paralleling the scene near the end of the movie. But although the parallel was set up all along, it still played out logically. That is, Danny does the same thing Keanu Reeves does in a similar moment in Point Break for the same reason, not because he's merely imitating Keanu or making fun of Point Break.

I'm trying not to spoil the details here more than I might have already, so my example might be a little vague. Suffice it to say that I think the references (2) to the other movies, or the elements of those movies, reveal Hot Fuzz as something more complex than a genre parody.(3)

Apart from the clever writing, the acting is outstanding. For one thing, your average British cast always seems more talented top-to-bottom than the typical American one (4), and good actors just seem to have a knack for comedy as it is. But also, I think Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the lead actors, could become one of the top comic duos ever, based on only Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead.

Speaking of Shaun of the Dead, it occurs to me that it too might be a good example of a cliche-based film that isn't overly aware of itself. Although, not having seen it in a while, I have an impression of it as being more of a straight-up parody of zombie movies, and not as much a deconstruction.

I'll have to revisit Hot Fuzz several months from now to see if I still like it as much. I hedged my rating a little--I was going to give it a 9.5--because I am initially flattened by the movie's total awesomeness, and at the moment it's hard to see anything wrong with it other than what I imagine people who aren't me might say. For example, some could argue that the movie, especially the ending, is too long. In that regard, though, Hot Fuzz's long ending is entirely necessary since cop movies or action movies in general often have overly-long climaxes with endless action sequences and multiple resurrections of both the good guys and the bad guys. Anything less would have been untrue to the genre the movie deconstructs.

Of course, one could choose not to buy my argument that the movie is a deconstruction. In that case, though, I think the movie would have much less value but still would be worth watching.

(1) My favorite pun is the description of a character named George Merchant, the local appliance retail tycoon, as "the refrigerator magnate." Heh heh.

(2) Another great reference was almost a blink-and-you-miss-it moment where the final line of Chinatown is paraphrased but not really dwelled upon or otherwise highlighted. In fact, I don't think Chinatown is mentioned or referenced in any other part of Hot Fuzz.

(3) I think what I consider a parody movie is one that calls attention to characteristics of one or more other movies by explicitly highlighting and exaggerating those characteristics for humorous effect. Basically, as caricature is to cartoons, parody is to movies. Therefore, I see deconstruction comedy as taking an extra step in that it makes more oblique references to the same characteristics with the intent of peeling off layers of meaning so they can be laughed at for their inherent absurdity, not merely mocked. I believe Hot Fuzz does both. And I'm not saying, here or in my comments on Not Another Teen Movie, that one is a better type of comedy than the other, just that I've seen plenty of parody and would love to see much more deconstruction.

(4) Maybe it's due to the fact that they make far fewer movies, and fewer per actor, in the UK, so to get a part you have to be damn good.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Flirting With Disaster (1996)

dir. David O. Russell
Viewed on 2007-04-16
Rating: 7

I guess I'm not on the critics' bandwagon that seems to think this is one of the funniest movies ever. For that matter, I'm not really on the David O. Russell bandwagon, either. Of the three Russell movies I've seen, Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees, and this, Flirting is my favorite,* but it's not like I love it--or hate the others. To me, they're all good and worth seeing; not great or "must-see."

I think I liked Flirting, in part, because it felt like a Woody Allen movie. But at the same time it loses points for coming off too much as a Woody Allen wannabe. (I'm hard to please sometimes, I know.) As comedies about eccentric families go, I'd much rather watch Hannah and Her Sisters, or outside the Allen oeuvre, Raising Arizona. The latter being one of my favorite movies ever. As nutty as both plots are, I like Coen brothers-nutty much more than Russell-nutty.

* Probably for some of the lines, like: "You've got a lot of nerve. You come in here, you lick my wife's armpit. You know... I'm going to have that image in my head for the rest of my life with your tongue in there. "

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Man of the Year (2006)

dir. Barry Levinson
Viewed on 2007-04-15
Rating: 4

(Spoilers below)

What the...? This was surprisingly and unpleasantly different from what the previews had led me to expect. Not that I had high expectations or that it's bad to be surprised, but watch the trailer. What do you expect? A comedy, right? Well, turns out the film is more political thriller than comedy. Yes, a comedian runs for President, gets elected, yada yada, ha ha, and then, post-election, the film turns into... a conspiracy thriller? Granted it's less intense than average, but huh? Whuh?

What jokes there are mostly fall flat. They aren't necessarily poorly written jokes (some are); it's more that the style of the film is cold and distant, which reduces the comedic impact. It's narrated in flashback by Christopher Walken's character, and Barry Levinson chose to film it in a documentary style, employing angles you'd use if you were a cameraman forced to film from behind other people because you're trying to minimize the intrusion on your subject. So when watching the moments of comedy, it feels like you're actually watching someone else watching it. Like a photocopy of a photocopy, something gets lost between the generations. Filming that way was obviously a conscious choice by Levinson, but a strange one, made even stranger because, despite the fact that the narration is by Walken's character, the shots aren't at all from his point of view, but from that third-person documentarian view.

The whole movie was off-kilter, though. In the first place, it's barely plausible that a Jon Stewart-type political comedian would seriously consider running for President of the United States. Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher... they all know better, and it's silly that it takes Williams' Tom Dobbs character the whole movie to figure it out. Basically, you can't be both a political commentator and a politician at the same time. Beyond that, the film's larger point is completely summed up in the final line, where Dobbs quotes the saying, "Politicians are like diapers, they should be changed often and for the same reason"--a point that I think most watchers of Stewart et al. understand (consciously or sub-consciously) by now and without having to sit through a whole movie for a reminder.

Clearly the misdirection of the trailer was a case of "How the hell do we market this movie?" And the answer was obviously: "Well it's about a comedian and Robin Williams is in it, so let's say it's a comedy!"

Yeah, um, not so much.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Not Another Teen Movie (2001)

dir. Joel Gallen
Viewed on 2007-04-09
Rating: 3

Arrgh! Stupid f***** Blogger!

I had a post for this movie almost completely written several days ago, when some piece of crap, Java-spewing, Flash-"enabled," or whatever-the-hell-plugin-enhanced site I had open in another window (to research some point I was going to make) crashed my computer. (I think it was the homepage of one R. Ebert, that computer-crashing bastard!) Despite the crash being so bad that I had to restart the computer manually, I thought at least my post would be safe because Blogger has an "auto-save" feature. Turns out it is shite; auto-save "auto-lost" everything. If there is one thing I truly, truly hate it's having to (attempt to) retype something from memory, especially if wasn't my fault that the original was lost.

So, there will not be the usual movie write-up because... screw Blogger, that's why! From now on I'm going to type posts somewhere else and only paste and do final edits in Blogger.

Okay, I have to say something about the movie. It sucked.

That's it.

But the point of my lost post, after an introductory section contemplating what possessed me to add the movie to my Netflix queue in the first place, was going to be that the movie was at least useful in reminding me of an idea I've had for several years: Someone should make a movie composed entirely of cliches, but done in a complete deadpan way--because farces (like Not Another Teen Movie, Scary Movie, Airplane, Naked Gun, etc.) are basically cliche-fests done in an overt, slapstick way, and are totally obvious as to what they're about. NATM in fact expressly calls attention to the cliches it mocks, like the "token black guy" who introduces himself as such. Just for the hell of it, though, I'd like to see someone intentionally make a movie full of cliches but not call any attention to them whatsoever. That includes the acting: no over-acting-to-emphasize-the-silliness allowed. No winks to the camera. The film has to be completely unselfconscious, apart from the filmmakers' conscious attempt to be utterly clicheed, that is.

But nooo! Blogger deprived me of the opportunity to make that point. And trust me, my friends, it was going to be insightful.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

For Your Consideration (2006)

dir. Christopher Guest
Viewed on 2007-04-01
Rating: 4

Parts were funny--some lines here and there. Mostly this film was painfully unfunny, though. I don't know what went wrong: The same cast and creative talent that made Best in Show and A Mighty Wind somehow fired a blank. It could be that Guest and co. made a mistake by foregoing the mockumentary format in favor of a more conventional style. Really, though, most of the jokes just plain fell flat, and making fun of insipid Hollywood types and Hollywood hype is too easy. It comes off as too believable, and therefore tests my patience in the same way as the actual Hollywood tripe.

I think, too, that I was a little prejudiced by having very recently seen the David O. Russell v. Lily Tomlin videos, which are a far more insightful and entertaining look at Hollywood moviemaking than For Your Consideration. Watch those instead.

Rocky Balboa (2006)

dir. Sylvester Stallone
Viewed on 2007-03-24
Rating: 6

Predictable? Yes. Formulaic? Yes. Unnecessary? Yes. But enough about Godfather III (wah wah). Okay, yes, Rocky Balboa is all those things, too, except I was actually surprised at not hating it. In fact, much of the movie is downbeat, which caught me a little off guard, and gave the film a little more of an edge than you'd expect from a Sly Stone movie, albeit at the cost of a rather slow pace.

Basically, Rocky and his family and friends are all continually sliding down into an urban malaise. Adrian is three years dead and Rocky is still in mourning, living in the past. Meanwhile his son is a corporate tool, estranged from Rocky, yet unable to escape his shadow. Then a televised computer simulation predicts that Rocky in his prime could have defeated the current heavyweight champ, Mason "The Line" Dixon. This does not please Dixon, who isn't a bad guy, but he's tired of getting booed for winning his fights too easily. Somehow Dixon and his handlers contrive to set up an exhibition fight between Dixon and Rocky. That would seem implausible, but a cynical sports fan (i.e. me) is rarely surprised at the lengths people will go to make money in sports. The rest of the story plays out as you'd expect: all the conflicts get resolved; there's a fight, it ends satisfactorily; everyone is uplifted. So... not essential viewing, but give me a mediocre movie any day over about 80% of what's on TV (not counting movies, mediocre and otherwise).