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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby



Will Ferrell is the funniest actor working today.

Period.

He even made me laugh in that horrible bomb Bewitched.

So it wasn't a question of whether or not I'd eventually watch this movie......only when.

The truth is that I usually wait for DVD to catch his films.

Not because I don't feel he's worthy of my movie money, but because I'm lazy and cheap, so when I go to the movie theatre it's usually for an event film, or a big action blockbuster.

I usually don't catch silly comedies on the big screen.

But because this film was made by the same writer and producer who made the hilarious Anchorman: The legend of Ron Burgandy I made the exception, and headed out to the movies to catch this flick. More specifically, the Drive-In theatre.

That's right the Drive-In theatre.

It's the first movie that I was able to watch with my wife, and baby cub in attendance.

And I wasn't disappointed.

Talladega Nights tells the tale of one Ricky Bobby. A boy who grew up always wanting to go fast. So what better profession to pursue then becoming a professional Nascar driver. With the help of his teammate Cal Naughton Jr (John C. Reily), he quickly reaches the top of the circuit. But trouble arrives when a mysterious rival Jean Girrard (Sascha Baron Cohen) threatens his supremacy on the Nascar tour.

First off, the movie is pretty freaking hilarious. There are genuine laugh out loud moments, spread throughout the film, and the cast, which includes Michael Clarke Duncan, Gary Cole and Jane Lynch are all affable, charming and enjoyable to watch. There's no doubt that they all probably had as much fun making the movie, then it is for the viewer to watch.

In the typical Judd Apatow style, the film doesn't take itself seriously at all. It's not afraid to turn absurd, and inappropriate at the drop of the hat.

But, I have to admit the movie was different than what I expected it to be.

For one, this is no small budget comedy. There are some huge set pieces, and action sequences in the film.

I'm talking big, expensive crashes, and expertly choreographed action.

Seriously, some of the scenes would give Tony Scott's movie Days of Thunder a run for the money as far as action.

Which I'm not sure was really necessary.

When I'm usually watching a comedy like this I don't really need too much action. Personally I like small, silly, off the wall type stuff.

When I think of a big budget action-comedy. I think of Bad Boys.

Not a good thing.

I almost think it's to a comedic film's advantage to have less money and resources, because it forces the artists to use creativity, talent, and wit to compensate.

I think a lot of the problem with Adam Sandler films nowadays is that he is depending way too much on special effects and big action sequences.

That's not what we go to an Adam Sandler, or for that matter a Will Ferrell film for.

That being said the movie is still pretty funny. I'm going to say not as funny as Anchorman.

But almost.

A particular treat is seeing John C. Reily in pure silly mode. It's always interesting to watch his work. He's a fascinating actor who constantly makes interesting choices, and to see him working with a comedian like Ferrell is just comic heaven.

Also getting plenty of laughs is Sascha Baron Cohen's strange homosexual character Jean Girrard. It's a scene stealing performance that almost has me wishing he'd get a film of his own.

I can't WAIT for his next movie Borat.

Some comic highlights include Ricky Bobby running around the race track in his underwear, Ricky Bobby learning to conquer his fear by driving with a cougar, and John C. Reily and Michael Clarke Duncan trying to remove a knife that was plunged into Ricky Bobby's leg.....by Ricky Bobby.

The movie is not perfect though....obviously.

Besides the unnecessary action. A lot of the great laughs in the film were seen in the trailer. The movie also features a little too much story for my taste.

I know that's a little odd to hear. But when I watch movies like this I don't really care about story arcs, and character development.

I want situational comedy.

I want Ron Burgandy in a Gladiator fight.

But, like I said earlier the movie is still pretty funny. I don't want to give the impression that I didn't enjoy myself.

Actually I'm still giggling thinking about moments in the film. Which makes me think the movie will get better with repeat viewing.

Also before I forget, I have to remind the viewer to stick around for the end credits, which feature bloopers and deleted scenes.

It's easily the funniest stuff in the movie.....maybe even the funniest material of the year.



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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Clerks 2



I'm a Kevin Smith fan.

I own all his movies on DVD.....except for Jersey Girl. Which gets a bad rap for being worse than it really is....maybe.

I'm sure I'm not in the minority when I say that the first Clerks movie had a profound effect on me both personally, and in my opinion about the possibilities of film as an art form.

Here was a movie that didn't look or sound like the typical Hollywood film of the day, and it was made by a man who truly represented the independent spirit.

A film school drop out, average joe, with limited resources, no studio contacts, and using a no name cast, who utilized his one strong skill as a comedic writer in order to make his dream project by maxing out his credit cards.

The general consensus was that the movie featured brilliant, outstanding dialogue, which overshadowed the thin story, mediocre to poor performances, and admittedly undisciplined, unpolished direction.

But what it had going for it was that there was a palpable energy, affection, and desperation in the film that reflected the passions of the director.

Something all of us undiscovered artists shared in our own lives and ambitions.

When the film became a huge hit, suddenly all the artistic aspirations of the working class became tantalizingly reachable.

Which was obviously just an illusion. But fun to daydream about anyways.

Simply put, the making and the success of the film was the underdog story of the decade.

Six movies, a failed animated T.V. show, countless appearances, numerous writing and acting gigs later Kevin Smith returns to where it all began.

Or has he ever left?

The truth is, for the exception of Jersey Girl, all his following movies have been sort of sequels to the first film. The movies, affectionately called the Jersey chronicles, feature the characters of Jay and Silent Bob, that live in the same world as the Clerks themselves, Dante and Randal.

This time around Dante and Randal take center stage.... again.

When the film begins we see that seemingly not much has changed in their world. Dante dutifully reports to work at the Quick Stop only to find that an accident by Randal has caused the beloved/cursed stores to burn to the ground. With no options they are forced to take jobs at the fast food joint Mooby burgers.

Jump forward and Dante is engaged to be married and this is his last day at work, before he leaves Jersey and moves to Florida, to live the first day of the rest of his life.

But can he easily move knowing that he'll leave behind his best friend, a potential soul mate in Becky, played by Rosario Dawson, and the city, and the View Askew universe that the audience has grown to love?

Before I begin my actual review of the film, I'd like to point out that during the first 15 minutes of the film, I had the unfortunate opportunity to sit right next to someone who had obviously seen the film....many times.

In fact he had actually memorized long speeches from the film, and was reciting them along with, sometimes seconds before the actual scene would appear on film

After several of my fellow patrons had threatened bodily harm to him, he stopped.....finally.

But one can imagine this left a sour taste in my mouth for the rest of the film, when several times during the 15 minutes I was tempted to either move seats, get up and report the idiot, or even contemplated smacking the idiot in the brain with my fists, forearm and knees.

Indeed if he was not accompanied by a lady friend I most certainly would have, and I might not be here writing this post, but instead in a jail cell considering a different kind of blog post about the dangers of losing one's temper.

In any case,I admit there's a possibility that my review might be slightly tainted. However I firmly believe I don't feel it has affected my disposition to the point of not writing a fair and accurate review of the film.

In any case here it goes.

The film for me was a case of two extremes.

I hated it, and liked it.

Specifically I hated the first half of the film, and enjoyed the second half of the film...almost to the point where I might recommend it.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The first act of the film which includes the exposition, and the introduction of new characters didn't work for me.... at all.

In fact throughout several points in the beginning I contemplated walking out of the film.

Seriously.

Not for the same reason that Joel Siegel did however, and not because of the ignorant jerk next to me.

But because I did not care or feel for any of the characters involved....at all.

While watching the first 30 minutes I kept considering how in the press after Jay and Silent Bob Strikes Back, Kevin Smith had remarked how he out grew the characters in the View Askew universe. That he felt it was time for him to move on from the characters and explore new territory.

The characters of Dante and Randal, to me in the beginning, just seemed like bitter, unpleasant, immature people that I had no interest in getting to know all over again.

Which may have been some of the point.

Except that none of the comedy seemed to work for me in the beginning. The interesting, humorous mean spirited banter of the original film, had turned annoying, uninspired, boring, and tired.

When Randal torments a strange annoying co-worker named Elias, it seems desperate and excessive, a plea for laughs.

Something that was below everyone involved.

Why feel the need to comically point out what is abundantly clear.?

The guy is weird. Unrealistically character actor weird. We get it.

Rather than just let the character exist. Kevin Smith's writing feels the need for Randal to comment and remark on those peculiar traits over and over and over again....just in case we missed it.

The same can be said about the character of Emma Bunting.

Awkwardly played by Smith's real life wife Jennifer.

Along with excessive writing pointing out her weird traits, Emma Bunting's character has the unfortunate circumstance of not given good dialogue to work with as well as a weak performance. Couple that with the idea that a lady like her would even be interested in someone like Dante, and it's a mess waiting to happen.

Although his films are not renown for their acting prowess Mrs. Smith's performance is unusually stilted. Which is unfortunate since I found her enjoyable in Jay and Silent Bob and humorous in her bit part in Jersey Girl.

To be fair, looking over her IMDB page, unless she has theatre training I'm unaware of, it's obvious that she is just starting out in the business.

It's possible that the idea of playing love interest, and performing a make out scene while his husband the director was watching, proved to be too awkward for her. In any case it's obvious she is not comfortable here, and is hard to watch without being pulled out of the movie's story.

There are however some comic highlights in the first half that I won't reveal, not surprisingly involving Jay and Silent Bob.

But for me the laughs were very few and far between.

The banter and observations in this film seemed to lack the timely and cultural relevance that the first film did.

It just felt forced.

It had me questioning whether all the material with these two characters had been exhasted in the first film, the animated series, and the cameos in the other films.

When things start to turn around for the film is with the arrival of Becky played by Rosario Dawson. Although she too suffers with awkward exposition, and unnecessary scenes of character revealing quirks, at least her character has an energy and a personality that is affable.

Although it's even harder for us still to imagine her character would feel romantically for Dante.

No matter how much they try to tone down her appearance.

Strangely enough it's when the comic hi-jinks start to mellow down, that the film starts to begin to work.

After an effective encounter with a high school nemesis, played by Jason Lee. We start to get into the real heart of the movie.

How the friendships that we keep help sustain us through the mediocrities of life.

The second half plays with a sensibility which is perhaps closer to where Kevin Smith's head is at nowadays.

More mature, heartfelt, and sincere.

The second half of this film is what Jersey Girl wanted to be.

Sure some of the situations are formulaic. But much like the first film, there is an energy and spirit in the second half of this movie which reflects and represents the director's life view.

I'm sure Kevin Smith is well aware how lucky he has been in life.

Whereas the first film reflected the anger, frustration and absurdity, which he felt at that period in his life. The second half of this movie reflects his ideas of taking life more slowly, observing the positives in one's life, and the joys possible when listening to one's own heart when making life choices.

The second half of the film is also a lot more fun. The humor also hits it's stride in the second half, it's a nice blend of heartfelt sincerity, and absurd comedic over-the-top-shocking humor.

It's an interesting contrast.

It's almost as if he wrote the first half of the movie to please his hardcore fan-boys, and the second half to please general moviegoers.

It's quite dramatic to witness actually, two drastically different tones, and sensibilities in the same film.

In retrospect, I guess, when considering the two halves of this film one can argue that the film represents a synopsis of Kevin Smith's own life. An angry, bitter, frustrated, confused, first half, followed by a mature, grateful, life affirming, second half. Was this done on purpose? I don't doubt it. He is a talented writer.

But is it a good film?

Although it's obviously subjective, there was a significant portion in my audience who enjoyed the first half of the film, as well as the second. There were also however several walk outs in my screening, and as I stated earlier a temptation by myself to follow suit.

Although I enjoyed the second half of the film, the reality is I could not reconcile my dislike for the first half.

The writing, acting and story just seemed awkward, tedious, and uninspired. Although the film redeems itself in the second half, it's too much to overcome....at least for me.

A telling question which I posed to myself was whether I felt the film was up to the standards of the first 5 films in the View Askew universe.

The answer is no.



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But perhaps most telling is that I don't intend to add it to my DVD collection.

I do hope to catch the movie again perhaps on Cable or maybe on DVD.... as a rental, just to see it with a clearer head without the annoying mimicking parrot movie patron in my ear.

But I don't think it'll change my perception. The reality is I just think that it's now become abundantly obvious that Kevin Smith has moved on from this type of material, and he doesn't seem to have the same passion and enthusiasim for the View Askew universe like he once did.

He is ready for a new chapter in his artistic life.

I look forward to seeing it.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Inside Man



While watching Spike Lee's Inside Man, the first thing one notices is the definite change of tone of the film compared to his previous work.

The movie just feels lighter.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Spike is undoubtedly a very talented director, who has always had strong political statements weaved into his films. He's a director who often provokes his audiences.... to the point of feeling uncomfortable, and often times angry.

But I often wondered to myself, what kind of movie would Spike Lee make if he was just having fun.....in a sense a commercial film designed to entertain and please the most people possible.

The answer is the enjoyable, and amusing Inside Man.

On a seemingly normal day, several bank robbers take over an exclusive corporate bank. The ring leader is the charismatic and intelligent Dalton Russell, played by Clive Owen. The detectives in charge of the case played by Denzel Washington and Chiwetel Ejifor, arrive on the scene and shortly discover that this is no ordinary bank take over. When a mysterious bank official played by Jodie Foster arrives, things take an even more complicated turn. Can the detectives avoid the seemingly inevitable bloody conclusion, like most bank robberies, or can they uncover the real motives for this unusual bank take-over?

What makes this movie refreshing is the unusual twists and turns the film takes with the genre.

It's obvious that the writer Russel Gerwitz, and Spike Lee are well aware of the different expectations in this type of movie, and they use those expectations to their advantage as they create mystery, and tension in the movie while twisting and tweaking those expectations.

The film is suspenseful, and exciting, while delivering plenty of thrills.

But the film also features surprising oddly placed humor throughout the film to disarm and amuse us.

It's the first clue that Spike Lee is having fun with the viewer, and is obviously making a conscious effort to make this an audience friendly affair.

The movie also benefits from strong acting from the entire cast.

Denzel Washington and Clive Owen do an excellent job of anchoring the film.

But it's especially refreshing to see an engaging performance from Jodie Foster.

For some time now, we've seen her play mediocre heroine-type caricatures, in films like Flightplan and Contact. It's nice to see her stretch her legs a bit, and play a grounded, complex, character with morally ambiguous motivations.

Christopher Plummer, Wilem Dafoe and Chiwetel Ejifor round out the excellent cast, with solid enjoyable performances.

But ultimately the movie's success has to be credited to Spike Lee.

Sure the movie is not as provocative, and demanding...... or even as important as a lot of his earlier work. But it's good to see that Spike Lee acknowledge his abilities to deliver a well- executed standard mystery/suspense film, that one can enjoy with some popcorn and candy.

Although it's often commendable that artists try to provoke audiences to think politically, and challenge people into discussion.

It's also important to sometimes take a step back, and accept that ultimately an artist's job is to entertain.

And that's one thing that I can guarantee about Inside Man.......that it's entertaining.

Check it out now on DVD.



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