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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Brothers Grimm 

Personally, I thought this movie was great. It was creative, somewhat spooky in parts, funny, and it had a variety of interesting characters. However, I think that many viewers might find the movie a little on the weird side, as it incorporates several fairy tale legends into one overall mythical legend with some rather strange events.

Will Grimm (Matt Damon) and Jake Grimm (Heath Ledger) are traveling con artists in the late 1700s during French occupied Germany, where they play upon local legends and beliefs by creating ghosts or witches which they then defeat for payment. With the assistance of two other men, they use elaborate systems of springboards, ropes and pulleys, and light displays in order to create the illusion of an otherworldly haunting. Unfortunately, however, the French military becomes aware of their scheme, and forces them to go to the aid of Marbaden, a small German town whose woods appear to be haunted. Their mission is to unmask the real culprits who are causing the disturbance and rescue 10 missing girls who have mysteriously disappeared within the forest. They are led through the enchanted woods by Angelika (Lena Headey), a beautiful hunter/trapper whose three sisters are among the missing. Once they enter the woods, however, it becomes clear that they are not dealing with any con artists, despite Will's insistence that they must be simply extremely well funded.

While Will attempts to "Scully" everything that he sees, Jake sets about trying to discover the story behind the woods and the enchanted tower that they find within it. The movie incorporates several minor fables such as Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, and even the Gingerbread Man in a rather surprising and odd scene. The special effects are all quite good, which makes the movie nice to look at, and I was happy to see that they weren't overdone or made to be the focus of the film. The two brothers are both on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of their explanations for what is happening in the forest, which provides some tension and funny dialogue. Jake's character is easily the most likable in the movie, as he is a bit naive and ready to believe in magical occurences, but always follows his brother's lead.

The film maintains a definite light atmosphere throughout most of its scenes, but at times switches to suspenseful and even gruesome. I appreciated the light tone and humorous dialogue when it was there, but I liked that the filmmakers were able to keep things serious for the more suspenseful scenes, especially considering that the story itself is rather dark. There were a few elements of the story that weren't explained well enough and could have used a bit more attention, but on the whole I didn't have much trouble following the plot. I also felt that one of the characters, the Italian torture specialist Cavaldi (Peter Stormare), could have been toned down just a bit, as many viewers might find him on the annoying side at times. However, he was entertaining enough and got much less annoying toward the end.

I admit that The Brothers Grimm is definitely my kind of movie, so I'm somewhat predisposed to like it. I definitely don't think it's for everyone, as some might find the creative aspects a little too strange. But as far as suspenseful fantasies go, I thought this one was really pretty good.

Monday, August 29, 2005

The Cave 

As far as monster movies go, this one was pretty decent--creatures with big teeth and sharp claws who possess some kind of physical advantage over their hapless human prey, systematically devour the characters one at a time. Despite hinting at something far more sinister than big scary monsters, The Cave was still the same kind of story with different creatures in a different setting. Nothing surprising here.

This time we have a team of expert cave divers led by Jack (Cole Hauser) and his little brother Tyler (Eddie Cibrian). They have been called to the Carpathian Mountains in Romania, where a wandering team of generic scientists has found a huge cave beneath the ruins of an old church. The team scoffs at drawings on the old church walls of knights getting the crap kicked out of them by ferocious winged devil monsters, and happily descends into the cave. Which then promptly collapses on them. They are then left to find a new path out of the cave and avoid the ferocious winged devil monsters that start appearing. The hot chick among the group decides at this point that the best course of action would be to strip down into a bra and tight shorts, because if she's going to die then she wants to look good doing it.

For some reason, the monsters take their sweet time in attacking the wayward explorers, and the movie builds up several scenes as though someone is about to be ripped to shreds but then fades to black instead. It turns out that the creatures, when we finally do see them, use a form of echolocation to determine which stupid human to attack next. I fear that the filmmakers simply did not use enough characters for the team, as the real action in the movie does not get going until the end when they can afford to start killing people off. It's certainly not surprising who ends up getting eaten either, as certain personality characteristics will apparently always get one killed in these situations. I was disappointed with the action shots as well, as the filmmakers apparently chose to use the cameras as strobe lights rather than capturing extended seconds of film. Instead of watching a fight between a monster and one of the characters, the audience is treated to a jumbled mass of blurry motion.

The movie does add some rather interesting twists to the "get killed off one-by-one" plot but sadly does not choose to make the story more interesting by expanding upon the idea. The first ten minutes of the film, which is set 30 years earlier during the cold war, builds the audience up for some kind of great historical revelation, but when absolutely nothing comes of it all, I wondered what the point was of including it in the first place. Apparently, this is left as an exercise for the viewer.

For a monster movie, The Cave wasn't horrible, and it achieved its purpose in providing a new setting in which people can be chased and eaten. However, it wasn't very clever or as interesting as it obviously had the potential to be, so I can't say that it was unique enough to warrant the $10. If you want to watch monsters chase down a group of people in a cave three miles beneath the surface, then you will not be disappointed with The Cave. You just won't be surprised either.

Friday, August 26, 2005


I’m giving Valiant two stars for a general audience, but I would say that it would be closer to three or even four stars for kids. It’s cute, mildly funny, and the story is interesting yet simple to follow.

Valiant (voiced by Ewan McGregor) is a small pigeon who lives in the English countryside during World War II. He wants to join the Royal Homing Pigeon Service (RHPS) and serve his country by delivering important messages that have the potential to save lives and win the war for the allies. Unfortunately, he is rather small in stature, but strong in spirit and determination, and blah blah blah, so he sets off to sign up for training. Along the way he encounters Bugsy (voiced by Ricky Gervais), a dirty and unkempt swindling pigeon who signs up for the RHPS along with Valiant in an attempt to avoid some aggressive crows whom he just tricked out of some seeds. The pair are joined by three other misfit types and summarily placed in Squad F, which is the reject squad. Surely, this squad will not be called upon to embark on a dangerous mission with no likelihood of success and yet emerge victorious where the superior squads failed. Surely.

Ah, but of course this is Disney. And we’ve seen this story a skajillion times before, so we all know precisely what will happen. Again however, this is a kid’s movie, so your average 6 year old probably hasn’t learned his share of Disney life lessons yet. Valiant and his squadron are trained endlessly, yet they continuously seem to have a series of blunders that cause the drill sergeant to constantly shake his head in exasperation. Inevitably, Squads A through E are taken out by falcons, and a dangerous mission to retrieve a message from the French Resistance is left to the bungling Squad F. They set off to complete the mission, learning about teamwork and the importance of believing in oneself along the way.

There are a few scattered scenes that I thought were pretty funny, but mostly the film delivered a few chuckles here and there. John Cleese lends his voice to a Squad A pigeon who is captured by the falcons, and it was his character that provided the most laughs in the movie. Bugsy is also a fairly funny character as well, although not quite to the extent as Cleese’s pigeon. The filmmakers use Bugsy mostly for the farting, burping, and armpit humor, but fortunately he was also given several funny lines of dialogue that did not revolve around bodily functions.

This movie was moderately funny, and it was a cute and entertaining story. I am sure that younger kids would like it, but it doesn’t seem to have the same adult appeal of higher caliber animated films like Toy Story. Let me put it this way, any adult who takes a child to see Valiant will be reasonably entertained without worrying that he/she will be completely miserable during the short hour and 50 minutes.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


How good was Supercross? So good, that I was, quite literally, the only person in the movie theater. If that tells you anything.

Basically, this film was a rather poor attempt to showcase the popular sport of motocross through the experiences of two brothers, K.C. Carlyle (Steve Howey) and younger brother Trip Carlyle (Mike Vogel). K.C. plays things safe when he rides, driving “old school,” whereas Trip lives more on the edge, taking risks and frequent jumps. The filmmakers are completely oblivious as far as character development, so they choose to make these particular riding preferences identical to the brothers’ personalities as well. Trip is therefore a hotheaded, carefree risk taker in every aspect of his life, whereas K.C. is level-headed and responsible. K.C. and Trip eventually enter into a local motocross event, where they almost win but for a last second crash caused by Trip’s recklessness. Amazingly enough, a representative from Nami, a company that manufactures motorcycles and sponsors a Supercross team, is impressed with K.C.’s natural racing abilities and signs him onto the team. Because that’s precisely what large companies do—sign up complete unknowns with little to no racing experience to professional contracts. Unfortunately for K.C., his brother Trip is pissed at him for having the audacity to succeed, and his sponsors only want him to block for his obnoxious teammate, Rowdy Sparks (Channing Tatum). Trip, meanwhile, continues to behave recklessly and loses his truck in a rash decision to street race! The audience (which was again, just me) is captivated by this dramatic turn of events, which the filmmakers attempt to emphasize using a music montage where K.C. forlornly walks around the track, and a dejected Trip cleans pools by himself.

The movie squanders its one opportunity to create some competitive tension when Trip gets a ride through a privateer (non corporate sponsored team) and competes with his brother for a supercross victory. At this point I actually started to gain a bit of interest in the outcome, but the filmmakers didn’t want to choose between the two brothers and instead have Trip crash while protecting K.C. from an aggressive rider. When K.C. wins the race, his sponsors are furious that he has smeared their good name with a victory. I believe the direct quote from the manager is, “We’re finally being taken seriously and you’re jeopardizing it.” I can understand his point though, because after all, people just wouldn’t respect a team composed of winners.

The acting wasn’t all that horrible, and in fact, Mike Vogel did a pretty good job with the carefree Trip, who was easily the most likable character in the movie. There wasn’t a lot of good material to work with however, as the dialogue was choppy and absurd. I was also disappointed with how little racing is actually done in this movie (which is ostensibly about racing). Each race took up about 10 seconds of film time, so the remainder was filled with “drama.” The brief scenes that actually did feature races were shot well at the beginning and were decent for the final showdown, but unfortunately the filmmakers mistook dirt flying into the camera for good action in the majority of races.

I spent most of my time during Supercross looking at my watch and hoping that the hour and a half would go by as quickly as possible. Despite the brief flashes of meaningful drama and slight character development, this movie overlooked its main purpose and gave little attention to the very sport it was following. It really could have been much better.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Red Eye 

You just gotta love it when a group of professional assassins has to rely on a hotel manager in order to carry out their supposedly ingenious plan.

All plot weaknesses aside, Red Eye was very entertaining and extremely suspenseful toward the end. Wes Craven certainly does know how to direct a thriller, but the conspiracy itself was disappointingly thin. However, the acting and direction were strong enough to pull me into the story and keep me highly interested.

Lisa (Rachel McAdams) is a supremely competent hotel manager who is traveling back home to Miami after her grandmother’s death. She is totally awesome and super, always friendly to everyone, and cool under pressure. Despite the fact that everyone in the audience has seen previews for this movie at least twelve thousand times and therefore already knows that this is not a romantic comedy but a thriller in which Cillian Murphy’s character, Jackson Rippner, is up to no good, the movie still spends a good 45 minutes on the setup. By this I mean that the audience is forced to watch in great detail, the process of going to the airport and boarding a plane. After watching Lisa wait in line to check in, wait in line to board, walk slowly up the aisle to her seat while noticing every single living person already sitting down, and finally watching Jackson help Lisa and another woman put their luggage into the overhead compartment, I began to worry that I was going to have to sit through the stupid safety video as well. It’s not as if flying isn’t already boring enough, so I’m really not sure why Wes Craven felt the need to drag this part of the film out. It does little for plot development aside from fostering some romantic tension between Lisa and Jackson, which then completely evaporates when the guy tells her that, by the way, he’s going to murder her father.

What I did like about the movie was that once the plane finally takes off, the tension is created right away. No sooner have they reached cruising altitude than Lisa is completely freaked out by what Jackson tells her of his purpose on the plane. He specializes in high profile assassinations, and in this case his associates are depending on Lisa in order to gain access to their intended target. One of Jackson’s associates is stationed outside Lisa’s father’s house, with orders to kill him if Lisa does not help them. The task that she must complete in order to save her father’s life is an extremely simple one to do, yet horribly difficult from a moral standpoint. Any decent person faced with the choice that she is given would have trouble doing it, and yet she has very little choice. The character is strong, however, so Lisa’s escalating struggles with her predicament are refreshing and fairly realistic, as Jackson maintains a rather firm grip of control over the situation.

The suspense is built up very well, and I was completely drawn into the story despite its many puzzling aspects. As I left the theater I quickly began to see some of its more glaring problems—the most obvious being that a team of ostensibly highly trained and intelligent killers would be unable to carry out an assassination without threatening a hotel manager with her father’s murder while she sits on a plane 35,000 feet in the air. Nevertheless, this movie was very thrilling, with strong acting that helped distract from the inherent plot weaknesses. I do recommend Red Eye, but it won’t hurt to wait for the DVD.

Monday, August 22, 2005

The 40 Year-Old Virgin 

The 40 Year-Old Virgin was definitely a funny movie, if not a bit overlong, with great characters and a surprisingly good story. I was expecting it to be a cheesy SNL-type of movie, but it was unexpectedly mature and clever.

Andy Stitzer (Steve Carell) is a somewhat stereotypical nerd who never quite outgrew the hobbies of his youth. Obviously, as we can tell from the title of the movie, Andy is also still a virgin and has long ago abandoned any attempts to change this fact. He rides his bike to work at a “Circuit City” type store, quietly goes about his job, and comes home to a house filled with action figures, video and computer games, and all other sorts of clichéd interests relegated to the dorkier side of life. His coworkers invite him to play poker with them one night, although not without some degree of trepidation, as they all believe that while Andy is certainly a nice guy, he gives off that socially awkward serial killer vibe as well. They quickly learn that he is not so much a serial killer, but in fact a harmless virgin whose peculiar anti-social demeanor is caused from lack of sex. Obviously. Needless to say, his three newfound friends take it upon themselves to get Andy laid, much to his nervous reluctance.

This movie features a great supporting cast of Andy’s friends, who each smother him with their own dating advice, unique to their particular love life issues. David (Paul Rudd) pines endlessly for his ex-girlfriend, and gives Andy his old porn collection so that he can “learn a thing or two.” Cal (Seth Rogan) is easy-going and attempts to help Andy by giving him advice on how to flirt with women, telling him to ask questions and be kind of a dick. Jay (Romany Malco), meanwhile, has a steady girlfriend but can’t keep himself from straying, so all of his advice centers on how to snag a one-night stand. He insists that Andy “slay the hoodrats first” before pursuing Trish (Catherine Keener), a beautiful single mother whom Andy really likes. Each of these characters provided a sort of brotherly kinship for Andy and a great amount of humor for the audience. There were several one-liners and interactions between them that made me laugh quite a bit during the movie, and I always looked forward most to their scenes.

There were of course the inevitable scenes that were, at least in my opinion, a little cheesy and also completely unnecessary. This movie was clever enough and funny enough that it really didn’t need them, in particular the waxing scene. Maybe I’ve just seen the hair-waxing too many times in movies lately, but I don’t know why anyone would be shocked that forcefully ripping out hair all at once is going hurt. Apparently people are still surprised by it, however, as it continues to be featured in movie after movie. Aside from that, the movie relies on scenes that delve more into Andy’s dorky personality, such as when he practices pick-up lines while grakking (i.e. carefully painting little Warhammer Quest figurines with intricate detail).

This movie is definitely worth the price of admission. Steve Carell portrays Andy perfectly and doesn’t allow his character to shoulder the entire burden of comedy in the movie. The situations in which Andy finds himself are almost always hilarious, and the advice and encouragement from the supporting characters are constantly entertaining. I definitely recommend The 40 Year-Old Virgin.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Great Raid 

The Great Raid is based on the historical World War II rescue of 511 U.S. prisoners of war held in the Japanese-controlled Cabantuan camp in the Philippines. It is a very character-driven story, almost entirely based on actual people with only a few exceptions. The movie takes place over 5 days in January 1945 and follows three separate groups of people involved with the rescue: the battalion of rangers who plan and execute the rescue mission, the prisoners at the camp, and the small group of Filipino and American civilians who form the underground resistance to the Japanese occupation of the island.

There is not a lot of action in the movie until the fifth and final day, as the story mostly focuses on the days leading up to the actual raid. We see Colonel Mucci (Benjamin Bratt) and Captain Prince (James Franco) plan their approach for the raid, which must be done with as much stealth as possible since the Japanese will kill all of the prisoners if they suspect any military action. Local Filipino guerillas, who are sympathetic to the Americans, lend their assistance to the rangers as the battalion is severely outnumbered by the Japanese military. We are reminded several times that the rangers are well-trained but unproven in the field, going against all the odds to successfully rescue the prisoners. We are also shown the experiences of the prisoners at the camp, who have been held for three years following the brutal Bataan Death March that killed most of their number. The surviving prisoners are led by Major Daniel Gibson (Joseph Fiennes), who tries to keep his men’s spirits high and prevent them from attempting escape from the camp. Gibson is informed by the Japanese commander that he will kill ten prisoners for every one who tries to escape, which provides a great degree of tension as some of the men grow more and more desperate to free themselves from the horrendous camp conditions. The underground Filipino resistance, led by American Margaret Utinsky (Connie Nelson) constantly tries to smuggle food and medicine into the camp while avoiding detection by the Japanese. There were several highly suspenseful scenes involving these characters, as the Japanese eventually begin to discover the identities of the underground members.

The raid itself was very exciting to watch, and since the audience witnesses the actual planning stage of the attack, it was easy to follow what was happening. Nearly 800 Japanese were killed during the raid compared to only two American soldiers and 21 Filipino guerillas, which is in fact historically accurate. Throughout the course of the film, the director (John Dahl) does a good job following the separate groups involved with the raid, so the movie can therefore feature several powerful scenes that depict the more disturbing aspects of war.

I definitely liked The Great Raid, and I recommend it for anyone who enjoys war movies or anything based on historical events. The battle scenes were exceptionally well done, and the close inspection of the characters allowed the audience to become invested in the outcome. This particular rescue mission is considered to be the most successful in American history, and I believe that the movie does it justice. It demonstrates both the significance of the event as well as the importance of the people involved with it, and while it might not resonate quite as strongly as other movies of its kind, I found it to be very worthwhile.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Aristocrats 

The easily offended should definitely not see this movie, as you would probably pass out from shock within the first five minutes. Let me put it this way, the aim of each comedian who tells this one joke is to make it as raunchy, inappropriate, disgusting, shocking, and offensive as he/she possibly can using rather imaginative visual imagery. The movie is funny, as is the joke despite its inappropriateness, because it features comedians doing what they do best—telling stories and joking around.

The Aristocrats is a century-old joke that has heretofore only been shared privately among comics. It has never been performed in public and has served as a secret handshake of sorts between professional comedians. The joke has a basic framework, and each comedian puts his or her own personal spin to it. The only similarity between one comedian’s version and another’s is the opening sentence and the two-word punch line at the end—well, that and the fact that each comedian tells it in the most disturbing way possible. As it has historically been kept within the confines of professionals, you can imagine how far they must go in order to impress or top each other with each telling. Seriously, there were some descriptions in this movie that I had never before heard or even imagined could possibly exist—these guys get extremely creative. The format of the movie itself is simple: professional comedians are separately interviewed about their take on the joke, the first time they heard it, and what it means to them. Almost all of them agree that the joke itself really isn’t that funny, and some of them actually hate it. But what makes both the joke and the movie funny are the personalities of all the different comedians.

You won’t find any “memorable quotes” from this film on IMDB and for good reason. Most of the time the joke starts out innocently enough but quickly progresses into the truly pornographic and disturbed. It was hard to pick a favorite telling, as it would be akin to choosing a favorite comedian, but I was shocked when I actually laughed—hard—at a mime routine of the joke. It’s definitely the first time I’ve ever thought mime was funny, but I also laughed at the card trick version, the juggling version, and even a great rendition from a ventriloquist and his foul-mouthed dummy. There was an especially good animated South Park version of the joke, and Kevin Pollack did a hilarious dead-on impersonation of Christopher Walken telling The Aristocrats. The editorial staff at The Onion is featured trying to come up with the dirtiest and most offensive elements of the joke that they can create, and Bob Saget (the dad from Full House) is briefly featured telling perhaps the most shocking variation in the entire movie with a helpful public service type announcement mid-way through.

I thought the movie was very funny, albeit highly disturbing, and it does indeed feature the same joke told over and over; however, I was amazed at the filmmakers’ ability to prevent the movie from dragging or becoming repetitive. Comedians specialize in making people laugh through casual dialogue and storytelling, which is the entire focus of this movie. The Aristocrats, both the film and the joke itself, are only as funny as the comedians themselves, and when the very best get together in the same documentary, you can bet that it will be entertaining. And apparently extremely dirty.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Skeleton Key 

Personally, this movie fell more into the four star category for me, because it featured a good story, great acting, suspenseful and frightening scenes, and an interesting twist ending that I did not expect. However, realizing that I sometimes don’t see twists that others work out within the first five minutes, and fully aware of the fact that I am a willingly jumpy viewer, I’m placing Skeleton Key in the three star range for most people. A good movie to be sure, and even more so if one is predisposed to the idea.

Caroline (Kate Hudson) is a hospice care worker in New Orleans, who, seeking to make a real difference in someone’s life, takes a job caring for Ben (John Hurt), a man who recently suffered a debilitating stroke that left him completely paralyzed and unable to speak. Ben and his wife, Violet (Gena Rowlands), live in a somewhat run-down antebellum mansion, which is isolated in the midst of the Louisiana bayou about an hour from New Orleans. The house is predictably creepy in the way that an old mansion with too many rooms for just two people would tend to be, yet it retains its southern grandeur. Ben is completely unable to speak, and yet at every opportunity he seems to convey to Caroline with his alert and ever-moving eyes that he desperately needs her help. As Caroline snoops around the old house in that typically maddening horror movie fashion, she discovers a hidden room in the attic that is overflowing with voodoo-esque items. Growing more and more suspicious of Violet’s dubious intentions toward her husband, Caroline consults with her southern-raised friend, Jill, who tells her about hoodoo American folk magic, which is supposedly harmless as long as one does not believe it. Jill warns Caroline that even though she doesn’t believe in hoodoo magic, she shouldn’t mess around with it—Jersey-girl Caroline of course does not heed Jill’s warnings and instead continues to investigate things with escalating danger.

Each step in Skeleton Key’s progression is deliberate and systematically heightens the sense of foreboding and suspense. What I really liked about the movie was that it played upon the audience’s existing fear of magical voodoo practices and beliefs, with frightening imagery and a sense of the unknown. The southern culture played heavily as well, as it becomes more and more apparent that Caroline is simply a northerner who has stumbled upon something she cannot understand. I guess they just don’t practice much voodoo/hoodoo in New Jersey. Whereas all of the previous southern-raised care workers quit the job before becoming entrenched in the situation, Caroline continues to investigate, not having the cultural instinct to tell her that she is in danger. She insists to herself that hoodoo is simply the power of suggestion, a psychosomatic symptom that can be cured with a scientific approach. The audience hopes as Caroline does, that she can rescue herself from the situation using this approach, but it increasingly becomes clear that she has dismissed forces that actually do have the potential to harm her.

As I said, I thought this movie was frightening and suspenseful, and I liked the unexpected twist at the end. The concept of the story is creepy, and it appeals to both those who are superstitious and those who are not. It had the usual startling moments that one would expect from a horror movie, but what left me with a lingering sense of unease was the very idea behind the movie itself. If you enjoy supernatural and suspenseful movies then I definitely recommend Skeleton Key.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo 

I don’t think that anyone who has a desire to see this movie needs to read a review of it beforehand, and likewise, anyone who is opting to skip it probably already has a good idea of what I’m going to say. Nevertheless, I already spent the $10, so I might as well say what everyone already knows: save your money and see something else.

Rob Schneider returns as Deuce Bigalow, whose former pimp, T.J. (Eddie Griffin), has called him up and asked Deuce to come visit him in Amsterdam. Deuce’s visit coincides with a serial killer’s commencement of murdering the male gigolos of Europe, and wouldn’t ya know it, but ol’ T.J. gets into a rather compromising situation that leads police detectives to pinpoint him as the gigolo killer. Deuce therefore resumes his old gigolo ways in order to draw out the real killer and clear TJ’s name. There is a new assortment of strange dates lined up for Deuce: a hunchbacked woman, a woman with big ears, a woman who is covered in dirt (?), another giant woman (though not quite as giant as the one in the first movie), a woman who had a tracheotomy and squirts wine out through her throat, and of course the routine woman with a penis on her face instead of a nose. As in the first movie, Deuce politely dates these women, while making them feel comfortable with their particular abnormality and showing them that beauty comes from the inside or something.

Much of the humor in Deuce Bigalow revolved around variations of “prostidude,” “she-john,” “he-bitch,” etc, although I stopped writing them down when it became apparent that the filmmakers (i.e. Rob Schneider who wrote this movie) were going to say “male prostitute” in as many different forms as they could conceivably come up with. Great. The rest of the comedy came from mocking Amsterdam for having legalized drugs and prostitution, Canadian tourists for pooping on the streets (?), a variety of gay jokes, racial jokes, and several jokes concerning Asian girth. Considering that these parodies were repeated several times throughout the movie, I can only conclude that Schneider felt that his audience must be so idiotic as to have missed most of them the first and second times, therefore necessitating these constant reiterations of the same stupid jokes.

Admittedly, T.J. is still a very funny character, and the movie does have a few genuine laughs in it. There’s also a very likable Asian gigolo who has several funny “yo’ momma” lines despite his being designated as the object of juvenile girth jokes—again, ten thousand separate times in case anyone missed it. There were also some amusing one-liners that capitalized on the current anti-U.S. sentiment, but all of these instances were overshadowed by scenes of utter absurdity—like Deuce having to wear a diaper for one of his clients.

Seriously, what goes through Schneider’s mind when he’s coming up with this stuff? What possible line of thinking could reasonably lead to having Deuce date a woman with a penis on her face? Because it just makes sense I guess. Look, don’t get me wrong, sometimes crude humor can be really entertaining (e.g. Dumb and Dumber or the first Deuce Bigalow movie), and I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve laughed heartily at these types of movies. But I think I outgrew this particular film when I was 10 years old. Unfortunately, Deuce Bigalow wouldn’t be appropriate for any 10-year-old, so I’m really not sure to what audience this movie is supposed to appeal, but I pray that there aren’t that many people out there who would fall into the proper category.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Four Brothers

The first thing I have to say about Four Brothers is that it is extremely, heavily violent and in no way pulls its punches. It paints a rather disturbing picture of Detroit, and I hope that this culture of near mayhem was merely exaggerated in the film and not actually reflective of reality. However, I will say this about the level of violence—it was absolutely necessary in order to demonstrate the force of the brothers’ anger in a tangible way.

As we know from the previews, Evelyn Mercer (Fionnula Flanagan) is a sweet, matronly woman who provides a temporary home for children prior to their adoptions. She’s a veritable saint in the neighborhood as she is able to miraculously turn these children’s lives around through tough love and unrelenting empathy. We see her ability to reach tough kids in the opening scene as she chastises a little boy for attempting to steal candy from a convenience store. He realizes that crime doesn’t pay and is off to change the world after her life-changing lesson in morality, etc... Unfortunately, she is murdered soon thereafter, and four boys that she had adopted after no one else would take them in, return home for her funeral. All four are described as being lost causes but for the fact that Evelyn Mercer turned their lives around (for the most part anyway). Police Lieutenant Green (Terrence Howard) tells his partner that these guys are saints compared to what they would have been without Evelyn’s guiding hand. The brothers are self-described as being “straightish,” meaning that they’re not necessarily bad people, but they don’t always play within the confines of the law.

Apparently, the four Mercer brothers are also much less forgiving than their adoptive mother. They quickly set out to discover who killed Evelyn, not caring as much why she was killed as they are concerned with vengeance. They figure out the “why” only as a consequence of finding out who was responsible and at whom they should therefore aim their multitude of guns. Bobby Mercer (Mark Wahlberg) is the oldest and natural leader of the group, and he is also the smartest and toughest. He shows a great amount of affection for his adoptive brothers through a large amount of sarcastic, brotherly razzing. This aspect of the film was perhaps my favorite, as there were constant humorous exchanges between the brothers. Since their interaction was the strongest indicator of their family allegiance, the audience is able understand and sympathize with their need for vengeance.

Bobby leads his brothers through what turns out to be an admittedly weak conspiracy, but the process itself is interesting to follow and the characters were likable enough for me to want them to get their vengeance. Everyone in Detroit seems to carry a gun in this film, and Bobby is frequently forced to resort to intimidation and violence in order to gather information. They do what the have to do, however, and unapologetically work their way toward the top of the conspiracy. There were moments when I was surprised by their violence, and the director (John Singleton) definitely didn’t pull any punches in telling this story.

I enjoyed this movie for its characters and its dialogue—the conspiracy itself left something to be desired, but the process of discovery was entertaining enough to keep my attention. I’m not sure the movie intends to leave the audience with any message or reality to think about, but like its characters, the film is not apologetic for its purpose.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Transporter 

In anticipation of Transporter 2, which hits theaters in September, I thought perhaps a revue of the first Transporter movie might be in order. Besides, does one really need a reason to watch a good action movie?

Grossly underrated actor Jason Statham plays Frank Martin, an ex military special ops agent, who has taken to transporting people and objects of dubious legality in order to support a rather simple yet expensive lifestyle on the southern coast of France. No questions asked, he diligently and expertly delivers whatever package he is hired to transport under a strict self-imposed set of three unbreakable rules: 1) Never change the deal once it has been agreed upon; 2) No names; 3) Never open the package. If it wasn’t glaringly apparent at this point that he would eventually break some or all of his rules then it became even more obvious when he reiterates the rules ten thousand times. We see his expert driving skills in action as he transports three bank robbers and their ill-gotten loot in a brilliant car chase scene through the streets of Nice, France. The music accompanying this scene was somewhat questionable but the choreography definitely wasn’t. Frank then takes a seemingly easy job transporting a single package, which he quickly discovers must be a human as the bag wriggles around in his trunk. We are not surprised in the least when he breaks his third rule and opens the bag to reveal a beautiful woman tied up inside. Eventually, he takes the woman, Lai (Qi Shu), back to his house in order to give her the opportunity to fall into his muscular arms and solicit his help.

I must admit that the plot itself was very shaky, but I suspect that the filmmakers were less concerned with plot and character development than they were in choreographing extended action scenes. Not that I’m complaining in this instance, because the action scenes were extremely well done. It’s so invigorating these days when fight scenes are not cut and edited so drastically that one can hardly tell what is happening. I’m fairly certain I saw several shots that lasted a good four seconds at least before they switched to a different angle. It is also obvious that Jason Statham has a background in martial arts, because he didn’t look completely ridiculous doing kicks and throwing punches, and he clearly did many of his own stunts as his face is almost always visible. At one point Frank uses the time-honored fighting technique of taking off his shirt in order to beat up multiple bad guys, which ostensibly gives the viewer ample time to admire his well-toned upper body. Given that this movie is probably aimed at a more male-dominated audience, however, I’m still not sure I see the wisdom for choosing this approach.

Luckily, The Transporter is able to rely completely upon its action scenes in making it a good movie, but I can’t help feeling that if it wasn’t so drastically lacking in other elements such as character development and a strong storyline, then it could have been spectacular. The character of Frank is certainly an interesting one, but beyond kicking the crap out of faceless henchmen and driving with reckless style, he isn’t given much room to actually engage the audience. The plot itself was almost annoying in its pointlessness, and it quickly became apparent that it merely existed to provide brief interludes between Frank’s hailstorms of punches. Then again, between sky diving, sensational car jumps, scuba diving, car bombs, rocket launchers destroying things, and an inexplicable oil fighting scene, I’m not sure a well-conceived plot could have been squeezed in anywhere.

Needless to say, however, this movie is quite entertaining, and despite its weak plot I highly recommend it as an action movie. At least you’ll be able to actually see what’s going on during the numerous fight scenes, and you won’t have to hassle with those pesky, thought-provoking plot developments.

Monday, August 08, 2005

The Dukes of Hazzard 

Just the good ol’ boys, never meanin’ no harm.

Thank god, this movie turned out to be pretty good! I was looking forward to seeing it and was worried that it would completely disappoint me. But no, Dukes of Hazzard, much like its characters and setting, is simple and fun with moments of clever humor, but mostly consisting of good ol’ fashioned entertainment. The choice to cast Seann William Scott as Bo Duke and Johnny Knoxville as Luke Duke was perfect, and they interacted with each other and their surroundings with the perfect amount of innocence and recklessness. There are of course, numerous car chase scenes, and each one was exciting and held my attention—some were better than others obviously, but none of them were overly long. Daisy Duke’s (Jessica Simpson) sole purpose in the movie, at least from what I can tell, is to wear the “Daisy Dukes” as well as a multitude of other skimpy outfits in order to distract whichever authority has the boys in a bind at any particular moment. Simpson fits the bill, however, and did precisely what she was supposed to do. It worked perfectly for the film, and I’m sure that guys will appreciate her scenes.

The movie felt somewhat like an extended episode of a tv show, where Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds) cooks up a nefarious scheme to strip mine Hazzard County, and Bo and Luke Duke are more than happy to engage in a series of hijinks in order to thwart him. They are constantly chased by various police departments along their way, including one especially humorous run-in with college campus police. Having graduated from college only a few years ago, I found the parody to be dead-on and extremely funny--anyone who is currently or was recently in college will definitely appreciate the humor in that scene. The film also manages to briefly but humorously address the subject of the controversial confederate flag, which is painted on top of the car at one point, unbeknownst to the Dukes. I was actually quite impressed with the way the filmmakers dealt with this issue, because they maintain continuity between the movie and the show, while demonstrating that not only is the confederate symbol no longer acceptable like it was back in the 70’s, but that it is also only displayed these days by backward thinking hilljacks. The only problem I had with the movie was the wrap-up of the plot, which I thought was just a little too cheesy and abrupt. Then again, it could be argued that this is a fairly typical ending for a television show.

Bo and Luke Duke have ridiculous car chase scenes, get into bar fights, blow stuff up, womanize, and have a hell of a good time doing it. The characters are extremely likable and seem to have fun with their misadventures and improbable car jumps. The movie doesn’t take itself seriously, and the audience certainly isn’t meant to take it as being anything other than a goofy and fun parody of life in a small southern town. I’m sure that this film appeals to a very specific demographic, of which I am part, so I don’t doubt that many people will not see the same humor or lighthearted qualities that I did. But, in the end, it’s just a good ol’ movie, never meanin’ no harm.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Sky High 

Sky High turned out to be a fairly interesting movie—it’s extremely tame in typical Disney fashion, but it was also funny and at times really hits home. What I mean by that is that the filmmakers took every opportunity to thrash the audience with the movie’s message. But, in the end Sky High was cheerful, moderately creative, and amusing.

Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) is the son of superheroes Steve “The Commander” Stronghold (Kurt Russell) and Josie “Jetstream” Stronghold (Kelly Preston). His father has super strength and his mother can fly, yet Will has never developed any powers—although he somehow manages to hide this fact from his parents, who are under the impression that he possesses super strength. Will has just reached his freshman year of high school, so he is sent off to Sky High, a school that specializes in teaching kids how to use their powers responsibly…which is strangely similar to the X-Men.... And Harry Potter. This particular school, however, divides the students into one of two categories: hero or sidekick, based upon one’s specific superpower or, as in Will’s case, lack thereof. While some kids are blessed with rather impressive abilities and subsequently designated as heroes, others possess powers such as melting, morphing into hamsters, or glowing yellow, thus relegating them into the sidekick category. Heroes are more or less the “in crowd” by default, while the sidekicks (also referred to as “hero support”) become losers and are repeatedly bullied by superpowered jerks. The message, as we’re painfully reminded every two minutes, is that just because one is a sidekick (subtext: dork) it does not make him or her any less important than a hero (subtext: cool kid).

As we know from the previews, Will eventually develops his superstrength during a moment of panic in a fight with a school bully. He gets transferred from sidekick courses to hero courses, where he learns how to build heat rays and laser guns. His friends, meanwhile, remain in sidekick class, where they learn rappelling techniques and how to change into a costume within 5 seconds. Unfortunately, Will’s new hero friends are uninterested in hanging out with sidekicks, so Will is forced to choose between his true friends (the sidekicks), and his new shallow friendships with the in crowd. Eventually a supervillain attacks Will’s parents and the high school, so Will must use his newfound powers to defeat the supervillain and save the day, etc.... The sidekicks are given crucial roles in this fight in order to prove how essential they are as hero support—that, and Disney has to show underdogs overcoming their overconfident hero bullies.

Sky High is definitely a movie that kids will like, and it’s generally worthwhile for adults as well. There were many funny lines and moments in the film that made it enjoyable enough to watch, and aside from the incessant message beating, the story and its characters are decent. The bad guys have those overdone, cartoonish voices and mannerisms, and there is one overly slapstick teacher, but these are common elements in Disney movies, and I’m sure that they appeal to kids. I would recommend Sky High to anyone looking for a wholesome family film, or even to anyone who might want to watch a light and surprisingly funny movie.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Must Love Dogs 

This movie is a very feminine romantic comedy. It was cute and funny, somewhat predictable, and basically entertaining for those in the audience who are female. The movie had its funny moments as well as the expected happy ending, but I have a feeling that anyone who wants to see Must Love Dogs is already fully aware of and counting on that fact.

Sarah (Diane Lane) is a recently divorced preschool teacher, whose meddlesome family insists that being single for 8 months after a heartbreaking divorce must mean that Sarah is out of control and needs a dating intervention. Her sister, Carol (Elizabeth Perkins), puts Sarah’s profile onto an online dating service, and everyone sits back to enjoy the ensuing comedic ride. Meanwhile, Jake (John Cusack), has also recently suffered a heartbreaking divorce, and his lawyer, who pathetically enough is apparently Jake’s only friend, forces him to set up a date with Sarah based on her online profile. The two meet, but Sarah is unsure about Jake, as he seems extremely intense and a bit overly emotional for a guy. The movie factors in an additional love interest for Sarah in the form of a recently separated father, Bobby (Dermot Mulroney), whose son is in her preschool class. Despite the son’s claim at the beginning of the movie (and in the oft-repeated trailers) that his dad has a roving eye for lots of women, Sarah is certain that he can be trusted and might be more suited to her than Johnny-Nice-Guy Jake. The movie follows Sarah’s exploration into the dating community, and eventually she must choose between the obvious womanizer Bobby or the sincere nice guy Jake. Confoundingly, this proves to be a difficult decision for her.

What I did like about the movie was the interaction between Sarah and her family, especially her sister Carol. These are the moments in the movie that provide the most humor, and it was also interesting that the film really did make an effort at exploring, however quickly, the feelings and worries of people who have experienced a depressing one-sided divorce. Sarah is uncertain about stepping out into the dating world again, and she is fearful of another sad ending in her life—which I would think should then discourage her from getting involved with a guy who is getting divorced because he can’t stay faithful. But, the film is required to show two diametrically opposed male romantic interests, forcing Sarah to learn a lesson that everyone already understands—the nice guy won’t break your heart.

As I said, this film is predictable, but I don’t believe it was intended to be surprising or filled with suspense. It appeared to achieve its objectives, so if you enjoy these types of movies then I assure you that this one will not disappoint. It is funny enough, cute enough, and has the obligatory cheesy ending, which, in my opinion, was just a little too goofy. Regardless, it provided the expected catharsis, and everyone in the theater got exactly what they wanted. I’m giving it four stars because I believe that while it’s not necessarily a romantic comedy that guys will appreciate on the same level perhaps as women, but it definitely provides precisely the kind of entertainment that its target audience desires.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


Hollywood is obviously working under the assumption that the movie-going audience is now completely incapable of intelligent thought, and when they release movies like Stealth, which is clearly designed to destroy neural matter, they basically assure themselves that what little is left of our collective intelligence will eventually be eliminated entirely.

The basic premise of Stealth is that three Navy pilots, Ben (Josh Lucas), Kara (Jessica Biel), and Henry (Jamie Foxx) are selected to help the Navy test a new stealth jet with the ability to think for itself. EDI or “Eddy” is made of "electroplastic fiber metal carbon plating," and has a ridiculously effeminate voice. The director (Rob Cohen, who also brought us XXX: State of the Union) would have done just as well to use Pee-Wee Herman’s vocal talents for it. I mean if I’m going to laugh every time I hear the thing talk, then it might as well be intentional. Otherwise, when Eddy goes berserk and starts off on a murderous rampage through the sky, I’m going to have difficulty taking it seriously as a sinister weapon of artificial intelligence, especially when it says stupid things like, “it is good to be part of a squadron,” etc…

Supposedly Ben, Kara, and Henry are the very bestest pilots in the entire Navy, which they demonstrate during the opening sequence with their amazing abilities to shoot non moving objects on the ground. Truly, the skills achieved by our military pilots are remarkable, testing the very limits of human capability. I mean they can shoot stuff that doesn’t move! Ben is in love with Kara and Kara is in love with Ben, but they can’t act upon their undying love due to the Navy’s strict rules against romantic fraternization. The director wastes about a cumulative hour on meaningful looks and subtextual exchanges between the two in a failed attempt to add suspense at later points in the movie when it becomes unclear whether they will both survive. Jamie Foxx’s character, Henry, has no real purpose in the movie other than to convincingly portray a “cool” pilot. We know he’s cool because he listens to rap music and twirls a basketball on his finger—at one point in the film every stereotypical action and behavior that could possibly be displayed by Henry is done so within the span of literally 10 seconds.

Eventually, EDI/Eddy understandably gets fed up with the ridiculousness surrounding it and attempts to destroy the movie. I could hardly blame it. There were so many absurdities and clichés in Stealth that it would be impossible for me to list them all. Seriously, think of any and every movie cliché that you can, and I promise you it’s in this film. The team is out on its first test run with Eddy, and an emergency mission comes through! Oddly enough, they’re the only team within range so they must abort the training and go off on a serious military operation. Uh huh. Turns out that they get sent on not only one, but two emergency missions, and both times they must destroy terrorists who are meeting to plan an attack on the U.S. with stolen nuclear warheads or something. As the pilots approach their targets, the terrorists raise their guns in the air and fire randomly. Typical. Because they really do that, you know.

The film finally ends, but not before presenting the surviving team with yet one more obstacle, over and over, for about 20 minutes. They destroy a watchtower. Then there’s one last remaining bad guy shooting at them. Then comes one last helicopter. Oh my god, just end! Obviously, I recommend that you skip Stealth.