Saturday, November 27, 2010

Faster - 2010

"Faster" - 2010
Dir. by George Tillman, Jr. - 1 hr. 35 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

If you're going to do an action movie, revenge is a solid motive for the main character.  Often times, that, a cool car and a star who doesn't run like a girl is enough to fill up the run time, and whatever else is there is a bonus.

In this instance, Dwayne Johnson's Driver (that's the only name given for him) is out for revenge, hunting down a group of men that ambushed and killed his brother.  The car is an early 70's Chevelle, by the way.  Driver begins his hunt immediately upon his release from prison, and isn't particularly subtle about it.  This draws the attention of the police, Billy Bob Thornton and Carla Gugino (Cop and Cicero, respectively).  From there, it's a stylish, tense, gritty race to see if Driver will accomplish his mission before the cops figure out what's going on (and there's a third party, a hired killer named "Killer" hot on Driver's tail as well).

While there are a couple of surprises along the way, this story plays out both exactly like you think it will and exactly like it ought to.  But this is a movie about the execution and the acting, as oddly as that sounds.  Dwayne Johnson probably doesn't have a dozen lines in the entire movie, and yet he's on screen for the bulk of the movie.  He doesn't need the lines to explain what's going, he's a physical presence, he commands the viewer's attention.  It's all there in how he carries himself - even before you find out what's happened to him along the way, you know that something's happened to him along the way.  He's offset by Billy Bob Thornton, starting off at the bottom of the barrel, trying to reach the finish line, almost convincing you along the way that he's the one getting piled on.

One after one, you find out what Driver's family and friends have done to him.  One after one, it adds up until you can understand and feel the seething, single-minded focus of Driver.  I'm not going to pretend the culmination of the story is a twist on the level of "The Usual Suspects" or anything like that, but it's more enough to satisfy the journey.

I found myself more than pleasantly surprised by "Faster."  I was happy enough to see Johnson away from children's movies (there's not necessarily anything wrong with them, but where have all my action stars gone?), but this was a benchmark performance in his career, the sort of role that few could pull off.  If you were to compare Johnson in "The Rundown" or "Doom" to "Faster," it's clear that he's getting better.  After this role, I'm eagerly looking forward to whatever comes next.

4 / 5 - Theatre

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Knucklehead - 2010

"Knucklehead" - 2010
Dir. by Michael W. Watkins - 1 hr. 40 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

This is a movie that you'll likely enjoy much more if you don't have any real expectations going in.  And certainly, when you've got a WWE Studios movie, starring a professional wrestler (The Big Show), and it's a comedy, odds are that you're going to get a somewhat low-brow formula movie.  I've seen nearly all the movies that WWE Studios have put out, and it's safe to say that they're not going to reinvent the wheel.  This is a continuation of their track record.

Big Show's Walter Krunk is 35 and living in an orphanage.  A series of events puts him on the road with a sleazy fight promoter and a reformed dancer acting as his chaperon, sort of.  Yes, it's another "save the house" movie (in this case, the orphanage)!  Walter has to learn how to fight on the fly, in a series of dubious pseudo-MMA matches, culminating in a big fight in New Orleans.  One of the things I actually liked about the movie is that it didn't pretend that it was in a low-budget version of the UFC.  I have no idea what the rules of the fights were, and I love the idea that MMA purists will get bent out of shape because some of the fighters were wearing pro wrestling boots and the fighters were throwing wrestling punches instead of strikes - purists of any stripe are generally pretty boring, and should be angered at every opportunity.

The other main pleasure of "Knucklehead" is the Big Show.  He's one funny dude, and threw himself into the acting more than I figured he would.  If you've watched him as a wrestler (or on a talk show, or wherever you might have seen him), you'd expect that was a distinct possibility.  It was a pleasant relief that he managed to carry the lead role just fine, and I'd definitely check out whatever movie he does next.

2.5 / 5 - DVD

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pineapple Express - 2008

"Pineapple Express" - 2008
Dir. by David Gordon Green - 1 hr. 51 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

I know there's a sort of haze around this movie, that it might only be suitable for stoners (or at least a lot funnier if you're in that state of mind), and that might be true (I have no idea how this film would be edited for a network broadcast), but it's still a pretty good movie.  The set-up: Dale Denton (played by Seth Rogan) is a process server, and accidentally witnesses a murder.  He and his dealer, Saul (James Franco), have to go on the lam.  From there, it's largely a buddy movie (although they're under quite a bit of stress).

And you're not likely to see a movie like "Pineapple Express" for the plot or cinematography, so that largely leaves how well it's executed, and the general likeability (or at least interestingness) of the actors.  At this point, you pretty much know what you're going to get from Seth Rogan, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.  But most of what I liked about the movie was James Franco's Saul - it's a very well-rounded and wonderfully acted character.  It was also nice to see him break from more brooding characters and have some fun.

So yeah, this is a funny one.  This was the 2nd time I've watched it, and I still liked it as much as the 1st time.  Check it out if you're so inclined; don't let the weed-related content keep you from watching.  I mean, you can always pretend it's like the "Bill & Ted's" movies - although it was never mentioned on-screen, there's no way they developed those personalities without some herbal intervention.

3.5 / 5 - DVD

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Pecker - 1998

"Pecker" - 1998
Dir. by John Waters - 1 hr. 26 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

There's a weird plasticity to John Waters films that I don't often see elsewhere (particularly in his more recent material), sort of an artificial veneer that keeps the viewer at arms length.  I suppose it's a coping mechanism to prevent viewers from truly locking into some of the odder characters in the films.  And it works well if you're dealing with supporting, one-note characters (both Christina Ricci's laundromat-obsessed Shelley and Martha Plimpton's Tina, who tends bar at a gay strip club and calls everyone "Mary," male or female, are great in their roles), where it's more than enough for them to wander through the plot at opportune times, honed into their individual obsessions, making near-non sequitur comments.

But when it comes to the titular main character, played by Edward Furlong, there's just no meat there.  He coasts along through the movie with the same single-minded focus, snapping pictures of literally everything around him.  There's no emotional depth whatsoever, so it makes it difficult to care about him or his family.  A viewer has to be able to invest in a main character one way or another before a story can really take hold, and that never happens at any point.

Having said that, "Pecker" is still a fun, quick, breezy film (if you consider lines like "Pubic hair causes crime!" to be fun, which I certainly do.  Underneath the intentional cheesiness and shock tactics, there's a legitimate debate about the role of art in a society (despite the somewhat tired trope of smaller towns being more "authentic") - Waters argues that art can be made by and relate to everyday people instead of solely among an elite, disconnected class, which is a message that would be useful for more people to hear.  This movie is also notable for introducing the term "tea-bagging" into the lexicon, and I have to admit I laughed pretty hard over it (especially the sound effect - a dull thump upon impact).

Generally speaking, I enjoyed the movie, and I imagine I'll watch it again at some point. I'm still working my way through John Waters' movies, no end in sight.

3 / 5 - DVD

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Jonah Hex - 2010

"Jonah Hex" - 2010
Dir. by Jimmy Hayward - 1 hr. 22 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

I'm not sure I've ever seen a movie where literally every choice made is the wrong one before.  I almost don't know where to begin, and before I do, I'll both admit that I've read the Jonah Hex comic book and that I don't care about changes made from the source material.

What we've got here is a Civil War-era movie, and Jonah Hex is a disgraced, disfigured former Confederate soldier.  The plot involves a nemesis who fakes his death for all of about 5 minutes of screen time (John Malkovich's Quentin Turnbull, about a million explosions, and a super weapon that resembles a nuclear orange.  I'm not joking about the explosions, this is literally pornography for pyromaniacs.  There's a heavy-metal soundtrack, which works only in the sense that I would associate heavy music with lots of explosions.  There are an abundance of extended scenes in the middle of the night, and they are frequently too dark to tell what's going on.  And in such dark sequences, and when you've got a character that essentially has a vagina on the side of his face, there are opportunities to reveal that disfigurement to effect.  Instead, it was treated visually as being no more important than Hex's left shoe.  In a year when the comic-book movie backlash finally crested, there's an extended "motion comic" sequence in the first five minutes of the film.  There's an inexplicable pseudo-MMA scene, for no good reason other than MMA is popular now (I even groaned during "Sherlock Holmes'" extensive MMA nonsense - it's apropos of nothing, particularly in period films).  By the end of the film, Jonah seems to have acquired Dr. Doolittle powers, assembling the beginning of an all-animal posse.

Maybe the only good thing I can say about this film is that I've discovered the easiest acting role ever - playing a hooker in a PG-13 film.  Megan Fox really lucked out here, the closest thing to a sexy scene she had to play was a few seconds of her tightly-bound bosom, heaving in fear.  Other than that, she seemed to fight with men more than plying her trade.

Even though the run time is listed at 1 hr. 22 min., the credits rolled at the 73 minute mark.  Now, I don't want anyone to think that I'm asking for more Jonah Hex, but it's clear that something is missing.  I don't really care what the excuse is - a bad movie is a bad movie.

1 / 5 - DVD

Sunday, November 7, 2010

John Pinette: I'm Starvin' - 2006

"John Pinette: I'm Starvin'" - 2006
Dir. by ? - 1 hr. 12 min.

by Clayton Hollifield

The difference between this special and John Caparulo's is that John Pinette has nailed his character, and has worked through more than enough material to fill a special.  I usually find comics that rely heavily on fat jokes pretty rough viewing, and this was no exception, but Pinette is also a very polished, very funny comedian (despite my reservations about the subject matter).  This is funny stuff from a guy who's persona I usually wouldn't care much for.  In lesser hands, I probably would have turned it off.

3 / 5 - NF Streaming

Monday, November 1, 2010

John Caparulo: Meet Cap - 2008

"John Caparulo: Meet Cap" - 2008
Dir. by David Higby - 61 min.

by Clayton Hollifield

I had seen John Caparulo's stand-up before, albeit in shorter lengths.  He's pretty funny in smaller doses, but I didn't really feel like he filled up an entire hour very well.  There were good parts, but I got bored in the middle and started playing with my dog.  If you really like him, give this a go.  But I'd have to admit that I don't feel he had enough material for an hour.  Oh well.

2 / 5 - Streaming