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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Benchwarmers



Um.....yeah....not good.

I don't want to go too much into how bad this movie is.

It would be too easy to attack this movie on that level. It's obvious that logic, reality and comedy for that matter, aren't part of this movie's world.

What I would like to discuss is how far the Happy Madison group has slipped.

Happy Madison is the group of comedians which consists of ex-SNL cast members Rob Schneider, Adam Sandler, David Spade, Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz.....and if one wants to throw Norm McDonald in there too... that's fine .

Make no mistake about it....they are a talented group.

But lately I'm confused about what exactly this group of talented comedians feels is humorous?

Watching a movie like The Benchwarmers, one gets the sense that they don't even think the material is funny.

It's like someone is making them perform at gunpoint.

Indeed, reading a recent review of the DVD, the reviewer noted that David Spade does a less than enthusiastic commentary on the disc.

So what's going on???

The early works of the company like Happy Gilmore, Deuce Bigelow, and Tommy Boy were not admittedly mentally demanding material....thankfully.

They were low budget comedies with silly, over the top skits in absurd, crude, situations.

They were unabashedly stupid movies.

One could tell that the group could care less what the hell anybody thought. To me it just seemed like they were having fun, while trying to make each other laugh.

A movie like The Benchwarmers feels condescending and preachy.

The movie's moral is basically that kids should not be bullies.

The whole movie goes out of it's way to drive home that point....several times.

Are they honestly trying to teach us something.....or more specifically teach my kid something???

Rob Schneider?

What the hell??? I don't want Rob Schneider to teach my kid life lessons.

I'm waiting for the dick and fart jokes.

Since when did this group decide to make After School Specials?

It's like they suddenly care about what everyone's thinking.

What's even more depressing is that, not only does the group care about what the audience thinks about them, they all look like they aren't having fun anymore.

Like they hate what they are doing.

So what's the point?

It's not just this movie either, this has been going on for awhile now. I just caught The Longest Yard on cable the other night, and I swear Adam Sandler is trying to be Gary Cooper.

He wants to be a hero. He could care less if he makes anyone laugh.

I know he did Mr. Deeds and all, but Adam Sandler is not a leading man.

He's a comic.

He should only be concerned about making us laugh, not pulling on our heart strings.

Judging by the reception his movie Click got at the box office this summer, I'm not the only one who feels this way.

The truth is at one point, Adam Sandler was considered the most successful box office star in the world.

It's true, in terms of cost to profit margin his early movies are among the most successful movies....... ever.

But lately, the group has decided to deviate from the blue print.

It seems that lately the group is focused on making big budget so-called comedies....... with a message. An After school message.

The results are disastrous.

Serioiusly, I don't understand why they would think spending more money on special effects, and bigger, star-studded casts, would bring them more success.

If it ain't broke....why fix it?

It's really perplexing. Because the ideas are the same, but the execution is off.

Seriously....really off.

I mean there are fart jokes in the film, but what used to be funny, now feels awkward and mean- spirited. Even surreal moments in the film... like an albino character and a character who wears a speedo throughout the film don't feel like silly off-the-wall fun anymore.

It feels like desperation.

What's happened guys?

I'm trying hard not to be too critical here.

As a fellow actor, I know that comedy is the hardest thing to perform.

To move people emotionally in a drama, all a performer needs are good writing, and a dramatic situation.

Comedy requires talent, timing, and emotional availability....as well as good writing and an interesting situation.

But the truth is that this group hasn't been funny in awhile, and it needs to examine what their real goals in the entertainment industry are. They have the talent, and potential to do interesting, funny work.

But there's no trace of it here.....or any of their recent work.

The truth is the work they are doing now is not only, not funny but it's become insulting, and offensive.

Not in a comedic good way.

So here's hoping they figure it all out.

Because there's another group of comedians....which consists of Will Ferrell, Steve Carrell, Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Luke and Owen Wilson who'd be glad to steal this group's thunder.

I'm sure to the Happy Madison group....that's no laughing matter.



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Sunday, July 16, 2006

Jet Li's Fearless



I was lucky enough to get my hands on an import DVD of this upcoming movie release.

The film is being billed as Jet Li's last Hong Kong Martial Arts Epic.

Which to me is kind of a bold statement considering there seems to be such a demand for this kind of material lately. But I can understand why he wants to walk away from this genre. It's almost like the classically trained actor who no longer wants to do Shakespeare. Too many Sunday matinee's wearing tights.

But in Jet Li's case, too many days wearing wigs, hanging on wires, and dressed in period costumes.

Judging from the trailer , it looks like the version I watched on DVD is going to be the same for the U.S. release. Unless..... they dub over the film with English, which would be pretty ridiculous considering the tone of the film.

The movie is a semi-biographical account of the life of Huo Yuan Jia. I can see why Jet Li was drawn to this material, it's an interesting true life story. For fun, I did a quick Wikipedia search to check out just how much of the movie's recounting was real.

Surprisingly enough the movie is pretty accurate in it's retelling of the man's life......to a point.

Apparently Huo Yuanjia was a martial artist who took up challenges by foreign fighting champions who ridiculed the Chinese people during a time of poor Chinese morale. Huo Yuanjia became a symbol of Chinese pride, and was renown for his martial arts abilities, and became the founder of the Chin Woo athletic association. A school that is world famous, and is still in existence today.

Where the film uses some artistic license is in of course....the action sequences. The film's action is choreographed by the world famous Yuen Wo Ping of Matrix and Crouching tiger fame.

The ending of the movie is also a little over the top, and over dramatic. Especially when compared to the less dramatic real life story. It also feels a little out of place, considering the way the film is being marketed....as an action film.

Which is what we usually watch a Jet Li movie for, the action. Which the film does feature. There are plenty of impressive fight sequences, and action. What's interesting is that this film takes a more realistic approach to the fighting then Yuen Wo Ping's other choreographed films. Of course when I say realistic, I mean that this film doesn't feature extensive wire work, and mystical flying sequences.

However what limited wire work there is in the film is pretty great, and the more grounded approach in the sequences is all pretty refreshing, and impressive to witness.

Funny enough in real life many of the fights that Huo Yuanjia allegedly participated in the film never happened, apparently whenever a foreign champion was confronted by Huo Yuanjia they would back off in reverence and intimidation, probably because they were all aware of his considerable skills.

As far as the story's structure....unfortunately it's pretty standard stuff. Although a foreign film, Ronny Yu's movie still feels very much like a Hollywood blockbuster.

The movie is basically a re-telling of the prodigal son.

A man lives a wild, and reckless life until a traumatizing event forces him to flee in shame, until he learns the errors of his way, only to return triumphantly.....A hero.

It's stuff we've seen a thousand times before. I also think that the movie's ending will turn off a lot of his U.S. fans who just want mindless action, and fighting.

They just won't like the melodrama and Chinese nationalism.

It's obvious that the story is close to Jet Li's heart because he produced the film, and chose this story to be the last martial arts epic of his career.

But the truth is that the movie doesn't feel unique or special.

It's ambitious in it's aspirations, but ultimately it doesn't transcend the genre like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers , and to a lesser extent Hero seemed to do.

I recommend watching the film for the action, and fantastic fighting scenes, but don't expect Academy Award type consideration. This is a big Hollywood type movie in the mold of The Last Samurai.....except it's directed by Ronny Yu.



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Monday, July 10, 2006

Tristram Shandy: A cock and bull story



Coming to DVD this week is an inventive, and unusual comedy from director Michael Winterbottom.

Tristram Shandy: A cock and bull story starts off as supposedly a film version of the The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentlemen by Laurence Sterne.

This book however has been notoriously referred to by film-makers and storytellers as being a novel which is unfilmable.... by any conventional standards.

After watching the first 30 minutes the audience realizes why.

The book is obviously a satire of procrastination, as the novel pretends to tell a life story of one Tristram Shandy, but in the storytelling, the events are always interrupted by sub-plots, and irreverent information which constantly distract the audience from what it thinks is the main story.

When actually the sub-plots and irreverent information is the main story of the novel.

Taking a cue from the source material, after 30 minutes into the film, director Michael Winterbottom takes a break from telling the novel's story, and then abruptly shifts the movie's focus into a mockumentary about the star of the movie.....real life actor Steve Coogan, and the behind the scenes "drama" of the cast and crew making the movie...... Tristram Shandy... directed by Michael Winterbottom.

Besides the inventive premise, and unusual storytelling. The movie features funny performances from comedic British Television personality Rob Brydon, and actor Steve Coogan.

They share a delightful, and hilarious chemistry that really carries the film.

The movie itself is witty, often times hilarious, energetic.... and very British.

Which is both a good and bad thing.

It's good in that the humor is very dry and intellectual, but the problem is, because it's sooo dry many audience members might feel that the movie is condescending, and pretentious. Especially if one doesn't have any knowledge of the actual novel.

Which is probably 98% of the audience.

But it's hard not to admire the satire, and wit of the film. Michael Winterbottom really nails the irony, humor and craziness of the film business. While Steve Coogan plays the difficult, and pretentious movie star to perfection. It's a brave performance considering he's playing himself so unflattering and petty. Especially for american audiences who probably aren't as familiar with his work. There's a possibility that a lot of people might actually feel that he's really like this character in the movie.

Which is part of the humor.

The movie is challenging and complex on many levels, yet is not afraid to resort to silly, off the wall hijinks, such as when Steve Coogan....the actor, tries to use sense memory to act out a scene which requires a hot chestnut in his pants, and crotch area. Or when he's forced to hang upside down, and inside a giant womb to replicate the birthing process for Tristram Shandy in the film.

It's a movie of many levels and really interesting considering the seemingly lack of originality in today's films. It's one of the reasons why the film has landed on a lot of critics best films list...So far this year.

I was also impressed by Michael Winterbottom's work.

Looking over his IMDB page I was surprised at how many of his movies I've watched, and what is even more impressive is how different they all are. This movie is light years from his most "Hollywood" movie the Claim or his dark mystery I Want You, not to mention the sexually explicit experimental concert film 9 songs. I'd say if one is looking for something in this movie which resembles his previous work, I'd say that the film shares the same frenetic energy of 24 hour party people.

But the movie is uniquely it's own. I'd say the movie is part Adaptation and what Roger Ebert compares the film to, part This is Spinal Tap.

But I'm not sure it's for everyone.

I think if one is in a stimulating mood, and are looking for something fun, different , and challenging, then this movie is for them.

But if they are looking for an Adam Sandler or Nacho Libre type kind of comedy.....then I'd say this movie is definitely not for them.

Overall, it's a fun and interesting film, and a movie I would heartily recommend, if only for the conversation it would spark immediately after.



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