Monday, August 29, 2011

Review: Our Idiot Brother (2011), dir. Jesse Peretz

The following review is spoiler free and is meant to be read BEFORE seeing the movie, as opposed to the upcoming podcast episode, which will contain spoilers and an in-depth discussion of this movie

Our Idiot Brother concerns Ned, a “biodynamic” farmer who is sent to prison for selling marijuana to a police officer (who was in uniform at the time). Upon his release, he finds his girlfriend of three years has found another man and has kicked Ned to the curb, yet she refuses to give up Ned’s dog, Willie Nelson. This sets in motion a movie with no plot. Essentially, Ned, now homeless, imposes on his mother and three siblings, and ends up affecting their lives greatly.

Were Our Idiot Brother a book or a report, its thesis would be Ned’s statement to the character played by Janet Montgomery, Lady Arabella: people are inherently good (that is an oversimplification but I can’t remember the exact wording). Ned’s optimism and naïveté lead to many divulged secrets and unplanned confrontations. His good-naturedness and good intentions make him easy to love even as he upends the lives of his three sisters. Their problems are their own of course, but they were perfectly happy letting these problems simmer before Ned came along.

Between Paul Rudd, Zooey Deschanel, Elizabeth Banks, and the always amazing Emily Mortimer, Our Idiot Brother is an actor’s showcase. There is not a single sub-par performance to be seen. Even the supporting cast is stupendous! Rashida Jones, Adam Scott, Sterling K. Brown, and T.J. Miller (who steals ever single scene he is in) are all giving A+ performances with their small amount of time on screen. The actors are able to do so well because of their talent, of course, but also because the writing gives them characters to sink their teeth into. Some of them don’t have much, such as Adam Scott’s Jeremy, but that doesn’t give the impression that their characters are one-dimensional; it merely means that we don’t get much time with them. Adam Scott manages to give his character unwritten depth by his performance. And the same goes for the other actors with not too much time on screen. All of the characters ring true.

This movie is so sincere, honest, and straightforward that it’s hard to believe it isn’t as dark as it could have been. There are some themes here that could have been played much darker but Ned’s optimism is just so infectious that it’s hard to be brought down. He believes in the goodness of people and therefor so do we.

The sad thing about Our Idiot Brother is that it was marketed as a comedy. It is quite clearly a light drama, starring actors who are commonly found in straight comedies, and it has its comedic diversions, but it is a drama at its core. It is unpretentious, delightful, and is the best movie I’ve seen so far this year.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Review: The Big Lebowski (1998), dir. Joel Coen

The following review is spoiler free and is meant to be read BEFORE seeing the movie.

It is sort of a cheat to call Joel & Ethan Coen auteurs. Being the writers of every single one of their directorial efforts makes it a foregone conclusion that their style will shine through. Joel & Ethan Coen are two writers with one strong voice, and they are their own gatekeepers. This can be both a blessing and a curse; their voice is allowed to make it to the screen almost unimpeded by studio interference, allowing their genius to reach a mass audience, but that also means that very few people will stop any bad ideas from getting through…

Thankfully, they have managed to pump out masterpiece after masterpiece. One could worry that the lack of interference could lead to creative stagnation, but that hasn’t happened yet. Consider that as of 2011, the Coens have had four of their films be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, winning one, and three of these nominations (including the win) happened in the last four years. Critical consensus appears to believe that they are only getting better. I’d like to add my voice to the consensus (not that I’m a critic…). They are not only getting better, but they were already great to begin with.

Back in 1998, they put out a phenomenally great comedy called The Big Lebowski. While their dramas have gotten better and better (and sometimes easy to confuse with comedies), their straight comedy peaked at The Big Lebowski, a film that is so unbelievably well written that one could believe they spent decades writing it, and yet this film premiered only two years after their critically acclaimed Fargo.

The Big Lebowski finds Jeffrey Lebowski (The Dude) being assaulted in his home by two thugs mistaking him for Jeffrey Lebowski (The Big Lebowski). The thugs (one of whom would go onto fame in roles in Showtime’s Dexter and ABC’s LOST) demand he repay a debt to Jackie Treehorn, owed by The Big Lebowski’s wife, Bunny. One of the thugs then pees on The Dude’s fucking rug (it really tied the room together). From there, The Dude begins an odyssey to get compensation for his soiled rug. This odyssey involves kidnapping, nihilists, avant-garde artists, White Russians, bowling, a Pomeranian, an Uzi, a fascist chief of police, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Beyond that, I don’t wish to reveal anything more for fear of lessening any new viewers’ enjoyment.

I will say, however, that my favorite part of the writing in this movie is the tendency of characters to pick up catchphrases from other characters they have never even met. I can’t explain why this is funny, but it makes me laugh when one character calls The Dude a “goldbrick,” and then another character (who wasn’t in that scene) uses that word to describe somebody else ten minutes later.

The Big Lebowski is funny because of the precision of the dialogue, the style of the writing, and the larger-than-life characters. My only complaint is that the movie slows to a dead stop a couple of times. It is actually quite jarring. Other than that, Joel & Ethan Coen haven’t topped this yet as far as their straight comedies go; the Ladykillers and Burn after Reading both pale in comparison to The Big Lebowski.


No New Episode This Week

Extreme weather conditions (Hurricane Irene, a few tornadoes, flooding, power outages, zombies, etc.) prevented me from seeing the movie to be reviewed this week, so there will be no new episode until next week.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Episode 3: Fright Night (guest Matt "Saint Mort" Kelly)

  • 0:00 - Jay-Z - 99 Problems
  • 0:30 - Introductions, "Fright Night" discussion
  • 12:28 - Interview: Matt "Saint Mort" Kelly on Fright Night (SPOILER ALERT for Fright Night!!!)
  • 33:38 - Stuff Matt Watched (Sucker Punch, True Romance, They Live, Paradise Lost, Paradise Lost 2, Breaking Bad)
  • 39:46 - Stuff Kat Watched (Paul, Blades of Glory, Modern Family)
  • 53:25 - Stuff Chris Watched (The Big Lebowski, Let's Go To Prison, The Blues Brothers)
  • 1:10:20 - Outro, Golden Earring - Twilight Zone

Review: Fright Night (2011), dir. Craig Gillespie

The following review is spoiler free and is meant to be read BEFORE seeing the movie, as opposed to the upcoming podcast episode, which will contain spoilers and an in-depth discussion of this movie

Fright Night movies too slowly for there to be any thrills, it has no scares for it to be considered a horror movie, and it has too few laughs for it to be considered a comedy. I didn’t appreciate much about it. I may be handicapped by the fact that I never saw the original Fright Night, but a movie shouldn’t depend on its source material to be any good (take note, makers of the Harry Potter film franchise). If “getting” the new Fright Night is dependent on having seen the original, then that speaks to poor filmmaking.

The casting is certainly good. Colin Farrell is always dependable, and David Tennant is extraordinary. Anton Yelchin did a good job as well. The rest of the supporting characters made very little impact.

My biggest problem is that this movie didn’t make me care about anybody in it. The characters were so uninteresting that when there’s a moment where the movie needs me to feel something… I don’t. I couldn’t have cared any less about what was happening on screen to these people, save for David Tennant.

The 3D was a waste as well. 3D makes a movie inherently darker, so having almost everything take place at night or in rooms with no lights on really made watching this film a chore.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Episode 2: 30 Minutes or Less

  • 0:00 - Barenaked Ladies - Bank Job
  • 0:30 - Introductions, "30 Minutes or Less" discussion
  • 10:30 - Stuff Chris Watched (Your Highness, Super, Paul, Casino)
  • 13:23 - Stuff Kat Watched (American Psycho, Taxi Driver, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby)
  • 18:12 - Outro, The Hives - Tick Tick Boom (as heard in "30 Minutes or Less")

Friday, August 12, 2011

Review: 30 Minutes or Less (2011), dir. Ruben Fleischer

The following review is spoiler free and is meant to be read BEFORE seeing the movie, as opposed to the upcoming podcast episode, which will contain spoilers and an in-depth discussion of this movie

I feel like I’ll be spending three paragraphs insulting this movie and then end by saying “…but I enjoyed it.” Yes. That is exactly what is going to happen.

30 Minutes or Less is not an original movie: the premise is taken from real life, the characters are buddies with a rift between them, there is a love interest, there are dumb criminals, and there are a couple of gay jokes. The laughs are also few and far between.

That said, the laughs that were to be had were good laughs, and I enjoyed some of the few honest moments between the leads. The laughter is sometimes cheap, but it still made me laugh. Jesse Eisenberg is reliable as always, Aziz Ansari does his job of being funny at every possible moment, Nick Swardson is actually very restrained, and Danny McBride is playing Kenny Powers for some reason.

I liked how 30 Minutes or Less was told, I like how it was acted for the most part, and I liked how it ended up. All told, I liked it and I’m glad I saw it, but I would not pay $9.50 to see it again.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Review: Your Highness (2011), dir. David Gordon Green

The following review is spoiler free and is meant to be read BEFORE seeing the movie.

Enjoyment of Your Highness depends almost entirely on how long you can stand Danny McBride. I understand that there are a lot of people who don’t particularly like him and his comedic style. I am not one of those people. I love Danny McBride and I think that he has great timing and delivery. He makes lines not funny in and of themselves into funny lines. For example, just saying “oh f*** me” is not funny by itself (especially if you find profanity actively unfunny as opposed to just not funny), but Danny McBride’s Thadeous makes it funny. Frankly, vulgarity is never really funny for its own sake, and the idea of placing it in situations where you wouldn’t expect is also getting tired (yes, society, I get it: Betty White is an old woman who curses… it isn’t amusing). Yet, I am willing to forgive this movie mining comedy from vulgarity because it does it so well.

This could have easily fallen into an aimless parody of the 80’s fantasy epic much like the “parodies” by Seltzer and Friedberg, but it thankfully embraces some of the elements that made those older fantasies so cheesy (and well-loved) and pays homage, instead of slinging mud. That is what the creators of the “[Blank] Movie” series will never understand: great parodies actually love their source material. Your Highness takes the piss out of that genre while at the same time telling a story that could only be told in that genre. Hence, it belongs in the genre it is parodying. That is why movies like Blazing Saddles work and movies like Epic Movie do not.

I do wish that this movies jokes relied less on foul language (although as I said, this one does it better than most thanks to people like Danny McBride and James Franco), and I also wish that actors like Charles Dance (Alien³, The Golden Child, HBO’s Game of Thrones) and Damian Lewis (HBO’s Band of Brothers) had more to do. This movie isn’t a massive comedy success, but it does work in some areas that other comedies fail in, and for that I have to give it a lot of credit.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Review: Paul (2011), dir. Greg Mottola

The following review is spoiler free and is meant to be read BEFORE seeing the movie.

I liked Paul because everybody in the film is eminently likable. I liked Paul because it was a chase/getaway film, a road film, and a love-letter to the Spielberg/Lucas films of yesteryear. Paul is simply a movie that was made to make people happy and succeeds on that front.

Not-so-prolific writer Clive and his illustrator Graeme visit the San Diego Comic Con and then embark on a road trip of various UFO-related tourist traps. During their nerdtastic road trip, a government vehicle crashes in front of their rented RV, and they meet the car’s occupant: Paul. He’s an alien.

From there the movie goes out of its way to not only subvert your every expectation of a benevolent alien movie, but also pay homage to every movie of its ilk that came before. Numerous references to Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and E.T. can be found throughout Paul in the form of dialogue and replicated shots. At one point a character shoots a radio and proclaims: “…boring conversation anyway.” (There are also stolen bits of dialogue from Jaws and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom).

The best thing about Paul, however, is how well constructed a chase movie it is. It doesn’t let its pace slacken any more than it has to, and there is always the threat of being caught at any moment. Paul is funny, but also well-paced and efficient.


Review: Super (2010), dir. James Gunn

The following review is spoiler free and is meant to be read BEFORE seeing the movie.

I’m not entirely sure what kind of movie Super intends to be. I am not sure of its motives, and I’m surely not sure of its message. Its intent is lost on me. And despite the fact that I enjoyed many separate parts of it, the whole of the movie made me feel uneasy. I have suspicions that the movie is meant to make me feel this way, to which I say: “Mission accomplished!”

There is the story here of a borderline schizophrenic named Frank who decides to fight evil after his life is turned upside down (he’s only had two perfect moments in his life: one of them the wedding of his sweetheart, and the other assisting in the apprehension of a criminal). His wife leaves him (kidnapped?) for Jacques (“Jock”) and Frank decides to get her back by fighting evil. The problem is that he is delusional and his choice of villains is sometimes correct (pedophiles/perverts) and sometimes not (people who butt in line).

Ellen Page plays Libby, a girl afflicted by a different kind of crazy who is attracted to the delusional Frank for all the wrong reasons. Together they try to become a real superhero duo, but their delusions bring them into all sorts of trouble. I don’t wish to spoil too many of the antics they get into but I will say that they don’t spend much time fighting real crime. It’s almost as if the message of the movie is that you can’t fight real crime and that although certain jerkoffs can annoy you in real life by butting in line or keying a friend’s car, they don’t deserve to be hit in the head with a wrench.

I have mixed feelings overall. I liked parts of this movie very much. But the whole is much less than the sum of its parts. Perhaps I took this silly movie too seriously. I don’t think it is bad by any stretch of the imagination, but I can’t imagine watching it again. Or if I do watch it again, I can’t imagine being sober for a second viewing.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Episode 1: Captain America, Cowboys & Aliens, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes

  • 0:00 - The Kinks - Apeman
  • 0:30 - Introductions, "Captain America" discussion
  • 6:48 - "Cowboys & Aliens" discussion
  • 8:50 - "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" discussion
  • 16:01 - Outro, Tesla - Modern Day Cowboy

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), dir. Rupert Wyatt

The following review is spoiler free and is meant to be read BEFORE seeing the movie, as opposed to the upcoming podcast episode, which will contain spoilers and an in-depth discussion of this movie

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is proof again that just because a movie is a remake, sequel, or “reboot” (I really despise that term), it doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie. Any time a new sequel to a franchise is announced, the response is groans and grievances before even a teaser trailer is shown. I believe that every single movie should be judged on its own merits, from the very first frame to the very last. It shouldn’t matter what its source material is, no matter what happened in the films preceding or following it, and no matter what kind of movies the trailers and TV spots promised.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes finds James Franco – a man who is contractually obligated to be in twenty movies every year – trying to develop a cure for Alzheimer’s. During his development of this cure, he comes into possession of a baby ape that he must care for. Throughout the next several years this ape, named Caesar, gradually increases in intelligence (his IQ actually increases over time, as opposed to him merely learning new things). From there, Caesar’s life grows more complicated, and as he becomes more humanlike in his thoughts and intelligence, he sees just how little a place he has in this world.

From there, Rise of the Planet of the Apes unfolds in a very logical (but not predictable) way, and made real by the amazing performance of Andy Serkis. Mr. Serkis gives Caesar life behind a screen of CGI, and it is impossible for me to imagine how this film would have fared had he not been in it. Caesar is a playful and loving ape, an intelligent but sad ape, and a cold and vengeful ape, all at different points in the movie. This may be the sort of performance that one can take for granted seeing on a human face. I have never seen a CGI creature with more pathos, not even Serkis’ own Gollum or King Kong. And it isn’t just that his performance manages to shine through the CGI, but that it is so good. Everything rides on how you feel for Caesar, and I felt I would follow him into battle by the end… were I an ape.

This is also the best film in the franchise since the original. It’s really a remake of both Escape from the Planet of the Apes and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, but it is better than both of those films. My only complaint is that Freida Pinto, although second-billed, has nothing to do in this movie. Her character has no personality and may as well not be there. Also, some of the references to the previous Apes movies feel really shoe-horned in.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Review: A Serious Man (2009), dir. Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

The following review is spoiler free and is meant to be read BEFORE seeing the movie. 

A Serious Man is a movie about the unknown and the unknowable. It is about uncertainty, it is about mystery, it is about bad luck, and it is about misery. There is nothing in A Serious Man that is easy to discern on the first viewing, but one may feel reticent to watch it immediately after viewing it the first time; after all, it is as bleak as a movie could possibly be.

After a brief prologue (bearing only thematic relation to the rest of the film), A Serious Man introduces us to Professor Larry Gopnik. Almost immediately, his wife informs him that she is leaving him for widower Sy Ableman (his wife is barely cold). I would not like to reveal too much more, but I will say this: it gets worse. And throughout the entire movie, all Larry can think to say to all of this misfortune is “but I didn’t do anything!”

And that is just the problem. Larry didn’t do anything to make his wife leave him. In fact, he didn’t do anything to deserve all of the misfortune that falls upon him. The misfortunes fall upon him precisely because he is a man of inaction. He is ignored, steamrolled over, or just plain abused because of it. He comes to turn to God for guidance, but he merely wants God to give him an answer instead of trying to fix his life for himself. Larry doesn’t deserve any of his bad luck… but that doesn’t mean he didn’t bring it upon himself.

A Serious Man is a movie that is perfectly casted, perfectly written, perfectly shot, perfectly scored, perfectly acted, and perfectly paced. It is my favorite movie of 2009, a year that gave us Adventureland, The Bad Lieutenant – Port of Call: New Orleans, District 9, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, and on and on and on. It may be dark and difficult to watch, but it is a brilliant modern day fable about the dangers of inaction, the random nature of the universe, and uncertainty in general… or maybe it isn’t. How the Hell should I know?