Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Slammin' Salmon - 2009

"The Slammin' Salmon" - 2009
Dir. by Kevin Heffernan - 1 hr. 30 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

There's two things to get out of the way before I get to the nut meat of this review.  First, it's way easier to dig into a film that isn't entirely successful, and secondly, I am a fan of the Broken Lizard crew.  So, if it seems like I'm tearing them a new one, that's because there are very specific reasons why this film didn't work for me, and it's nothing personal.  I'm sure that I'll check out whatever they do next without dreading it.

"The Slammin' Salmon" is a "save the house" movie.  We've all seen the basic structure a million times - a ragtag crew has to save something (usually a house) from someone evil (or just a little douchey).  The plot works fine ever since "Animal House," a bunch of slackers are both given the opportunity to be hilarious pointlessly and to rise to the occasion, proving that they have been underestimated by the world at large.  There are certain points that have to be hit in order to do this story - heroes are hilarious and undermotivated, villain wants to end their way of life for profit, and there's usually a girl to impress as well.

The set-up here is that former boxing great Cleon "Slammin'" Salmon (played by Michael Clarke Duncan) owns a seafood restaurant, at which the Broken Lizard crew work.  Salmon loses a bet to a Yakuza member, and needs $20,000 to pay it off immediately, or else.  The "else" largely means new ownership, and Salmon will likely be punching out everyone in sight.

Where this movie fails is in the set-up.  The "save the house" plot doesn't work if there's not a good reason why the protagonists would want to save their environment.  Usually, this means that the protagonists are so weird that they wouldn't fit in anywhere else, and that the "house" is the place that they've finally found that allows them to be themselves.  In that scenario, being thrown into the outside world and having to adapt to it would mean a complete loss of their individuality.  Alternately, the potential punishment can be so egregious that literally anyone would shy away from it (like the "Saw" movies and the potential for dismemberment).  The entire story-type hangs on setting this up effectively - you have to want the underdogs to win (or normal folk to keep all their limbs), otherwise there is no emotional investment in the characters, and then you just have guys doing gags.

"The Slammin' Salmon" fails on both points - the protagonists are not established as underdogs in any meaningful way (nor are they so awful as to command a viewer's curiosity as to what will happen next, as in "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia"), and the potential rage of Cleon Salmon isn't sufficient to make me care that the characters don't get beat up.

So what does that leave?  The movie looks good, the humor is decent enough, but without getting the structural components of the story sturdy, it all falls flat.  This same batch of guys nailed this type of story with "Super Troopers," and to a lesser degree "Beerfest," but definitely not here.  That's kind of frustrating as a viewer, but I'll still check out whatever they do next.

2 / 5 - DVD

Saturday, October 30, 2010

David Cross: Bigger & Blackerer - 2010

"David Cross: Bigger & Blackerer" - 2010
Dir. by Lance Bangs - 58 min.

by Clayton Hollifield

This is a stand-up concert video from 2009, and really the only thing I can judge is how good of a performance it is.  David Cross is a very good stand-up comedian, and while his act certainly isn't for everyone, you'll find out pretty quickly if you're going to get offended at his brand of humor.  This is an excellent concert - I was laughing all the way through.  It's not his best video (you could start with one of his albums or "Let America Laugh"), but it captures a damned good comedian giving a damned good performance, which is a pretty good recommendation.

4 / 5 - Streaming

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

When You're Strange - 2009

"When You're Strange" - 2009
Dir. by Tom DiCillo - 1 hr. 24 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

This is a documentary about the short careers of Jim Morrison and the Doors, narrated by Johnny Depp.  The main draw here is some rare archival footage of the subjects.  The great thing about a documentary about a band is that if you're into the band, you know the soundtrack is going to kick ass.  Same thing here, even if the subject matter has been trod before (and kneaded a bit by Oliver Stone), an hour and a half of music that I like is going to go down very easy.

Unfortunately, if you've already seen Oliver Stone's "The Doors," there's not much to this that wasn't really covered.  Seeing as how that movie is nearly 20 years old, it's entirely possible that a lot of people haven't, and being fresh to the material covered in "When You're Strange" would certainly improve your viewing experience.

One funny note - late in the Doors' run, they play a concert at the Isle of Wight in England.  Depp talks about how the "people" felt that the show should be free (and gatecrashed for that reason), contrary to the what the concert organizers thought.  It's proof positive that it's not just the current generation that was trying to steal music - the Boomers were ripping off musicians years before many of us were born!

3 / 5 - Streaming

Monday, October 25, 2010

Date Night - 2010

"Date Night" - 2010
Dir. by Shawn Levy - 1 hr. 28 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

Only you know whether or not seeing Steve Carell and Tina Fey starring together in a movie sounds like a really good idea.  To me, yeah, that's a pretty easy sell.  Even when the scenario is pretty stock (TM Lars Ulrich) - fish-out-of-water?  Bickering couple?  Who question their relationship, but eventually re-affirm it?  You know literally every plot point before you've even started watching, but the beauty of comedies is that it really is about the journey, and not the destination.  Every once in a while, you get a comedy that really transcends (like "Groundhog Day," for instance), but most comedians' careers are built upon movies like this one, movies that put your favorite stars in familiar situations and let them do their thing.  On that account, this one is not a home-run, it's a ground rule double.  If you like Carell and Fey, you're going to enjoy this one.  "Date Night" is not likely to be a career highlight, but if I was bored and it came on TV, I probably wouldn't change the channel.

3 / 5 - DVD

Blue Velvet - 1986

"Blue Velvet" - 1986
Dir. by David Lynch - 2 hrs.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

It's difficult watching movies that come with reputations.  Particularly one like this - I've seen a couple of other David Lynch movies ("Dune," "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me"), so I had an idea going in the level of weirdness that might be achieved.  And since a large amount of the reputation of this movie had to do with the weirdness within, the big question was how bad things were going to get.

What I came away with was a movie that part absolute genius (partially due to written material, but also the absolute commitment from Dennis Hopper and Isabella Rossellini), and a much less successful attempt to juxtapose the, I suppose you'd call it, perversity with a white-picket fence world (the fence is actually shown at the beginning of the film, I'm not just stereotyping).  The night world, drug-fueled and unpredictable, is such strong material (still bold and shocking in it's vividness and sexual tension nearly 25 years later) that it makes the plastic artificiality of the moral world outside of Rossellini's Dorothy Vallens' apartment fall flat.

Reviews of this film range from pegging it as an absolute classic to Roger Ebert's 1-star review - I fall somewhere in the middle.  I think it's a must see, particularly if you're into any kind of surrealist film-making, but the stratospheric, exhilarating highs of the film don't exactly make up for how little I was able to buy into the side of the film represented by Laura Dern's character.  It's almost necessary to see Dennis Hopper rampage, to see Dean Stockwell's laconic detachment playing off of Hopper's aggression and coarseness, to see Isabella Rossellini portrayal of a nearly frightening female sexuality, but I felt the dichotomy between unrestrained indulgence and the picture-perfect American life was done better in "Twin Peaks."  This is a noteworthy movie, but it's not the masterpiece I was hoping for.  I almost wish I had seen it not knowing anything about it going it.  I don't think the American dream scenes would have played any better, but maybe I wouldn't have expected them to, either.

3.5 / 5 - Streaming

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Red - 2010

"Red" - 2010
Dir. by Robert Schwentke - 1 hr. 51 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

"Red" probably benefits from a year that's completely lowered the expectations for comic book movies, but that also assumes that anyone's aware that the source material is a comic book by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner.  I'd definitely say that the movie is superior to the comic (it was a very short series - more of the outline of a story than a fully-fleshed out story), but considering that the comic wasn't a particularly big hit, it's almost irrelevant.

Bruce Willis and company coast by between action sequences with an easy charm and camaraderie that's often the make or break with this sort of movie; watching people complain about aging is a lot less easy to swallow if it's hard to believe that their on-screen circle of friends care about one another, or if they're just generally unpleasant.  The action sequences are nearly a given - if you go see a movie where things are blowing up in the trailer, there's a baseline level of competence in any movie expected.  So barring any ground-breaking technique, the entire thing rests on hitting the required plot points and how the actors work together.  It's not unexpected, but when you assemble Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, and Mary-Louise Parker, it turns out that it's a lot of fun to watch.

It seems almost a shame to single anyone out for a particularly good job, but John Malkovich's character had me laughing out loud through the entire film, and was a good foil for Bruce Willis' legendary scowl.  I had a great time watching "Red;" it's not the best movie ever made, but sometimes finding a movie that's an enjoyable ride is more than enough.

3.5 / 5 - Theatre