Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Cycle Savages - 1969

"The Cycle Savages" - 1969
Dir. by Bill Brame - 1 hr. 22 min.

Mainly, this biker-exploitation film caught my eye because it starred someone I'd actually heard of, Bruce Dern.  So, if you're a Bruce Dern fan, and want to see what he looked like when much younger and much dirtier (as in unwashed), this is going to be a jackpot for you.  He plays Keeg, the leader of a biker gang who gets infuriated at an artist who has been sketching their misdeeds.  That's right, we have a biker gang vs. freelance artist throw-down.

Needless to say, this movie isn't very good.  And it's not even not very good in a trashy way, either.  Aside from the chuckle-worthy premise, there is one part of the film that's relatively well-done, if bizarrely chaste and prim by Summer of Love standards.  The artist, Romko (played by Chris Robinson), starts by doing some earnest nude sketching of a beautiful young woman named Lea (played by Melody Patterson) which ends up in a tender love-making session (which is naturally what happens when you whip out your pencil and start drawing a naked woman).  That scene is juxtaposed with another, where one of Keeg's underlings picks up a woman from a bus-stop by licking her ice cream cone (not a euphemism, either), and takes her back to the hideout for what essentially is a gang-rape.

Other than that, Bruce Dern is actually pretty good here.  I'm of two minds about that - his skill makes everyone else in the movie look like chumps.  If he had been as wooden as everyone else, it might have upped the entertainment factor.  Also of note, Casey Kasem has a one-scene cameo that must've been brutal to shoot (he shares a phone call with Dern, sitting poolside while a couple of a cuties swim around and look smoking hot in bikinis).  The rest of the things that were interesting about the film were largely unintentional: seeing what a 40-year old's view of a youth movement was (writer/director Bill Brame was roughly that age at the time, and apparently thought that being a biker meant looking much like a grown, unshaven Pigpen), getting to see what things looked like in Los Angeles 40 years ago (the joy of low-budget film-making is that they probably just shot everything on the fly, accurately documenting the surroundings), and hearing the lead actress refer to herself as a "whore" after getting bailed out of jail, after being rounded up on prostitution charges because the police caught her in bed with the artist (while not having a license to fornicate - a MARRIAGE license!).

1.5 / 5 - NF Streaming

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Arthur - 2011

"Arthur" - 2011
Dir. by Jason Winer - 1 hr. 50 min.

Even though they're both remakes, it's interesting that two big studio movies would get made so close to each other featuring a billionaire playboy as the leading character (I'm rounding up with Arthur - it's clearly stated that he'd be giving up on $950 million in the film) during such uncertain economic times.  I'm talking about this movie, "Arthur," and "The Green Hornet."  Perhaps it's due to a need for escapism, I don't really know.  It's worth pointing out, however.  The truth is, when I saw the production still from this film months ago showing Russell Brand as a drunken Batman and Luis Guzman as his Robin gone to hell, I was sold.  No question, no hesitation, I needed to see this film.

While TGH was largely about redirecting anger (albeit frequently with mixed results), "Arthur" is more about a search for intimacy.  There's a huge layer of glibness and whimsy on top of that (and it seems weird to use the word "whimsy" to describe a perpetual drunk, but I don't know how else to put it), but they are there precisely to gloss over the structural problems in Arthur's life.  It's clear that Arthur's actual family doesn't have his best interests at heart, and when he is faced with the ultimatum to submit to a business-deal marriage or give up his fortune, the coping mechanisms stop working.  On top of that, Arthur becomes smitten with another woman, which complicates the decision.

Minor quibbles:  Jennifer Garner's character, Susan, is never portrayed in a way that would give Arthur any temptation to marry her.  There's a big difference between showing someone as a real person with flaws, but Susan is a businesswoman first, and nothing else second.  I suppose this works to soften the harshness of Arthur's strained relationship with his mother, which is necessary if you don't want the audience to commit suicide in the parking lot post-film, but a less black-and-white version of Susan might have been more interesting.  Secondly, and I can nearly feel my balls shriveling away by typing this, but I preferred the original Christopher Cross version of the theme song to the cover version in this one.

On the other hand, the casting (and cast) was superb.  Without Russell Brand, there's no reason to do this movie.  After seeing more hyper-sexualized performances by him, it took a little while to buy in to a more naive performance.  But I couldn't imagine anyone else playing that role.  Helen Mirren, Luis Guzman, Jennifer Garner, and Greta Gerwig (as the wide-eyed Naomi, the girl that Arthur falls for) were all perfect choices.  The story wasn't spectacular, but it worked, and it was enough to keep the cast doing what they were all good at.

3 / 5 - Theatre

Monday, April 18, 2011

Hall Pass - 2011

"Hall Pass" - 2011
Dir. by the Farrelly Brothers - 1 hr. 45 min.

I did a little research, and saw that this was the first Farrelly Brothers movie I've seen in literally a decade (the last one I'd watched was 2001's "Shallow Hal").  Comedy movies go through phases, where one guy or one crew of guys dominate for a period of time.  The Farrelly brothers had that distinction for the mid- to late-90's ("Dumb and Dumber," "Kingpin," and "There's Something About Mary" are about as tight of a three-film run in comedy that I can remember), but they've been eclipsed by the Apatow explosion since then.

What I liked about this movie:  the Farrelly brothers still know how to build a humor scene up, and then keep pushing things until it's a classic.  There's an early scene that involves stars Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis being watched on security cameras that is hilarious, a golf course sequence, and a later scene involving a stalker-ish character that works really well, too.  And the actors in this film do a good job of taking the rest of the material and keeping it afloat, even if the material isn't up to those three sequences.  I think that it might have been a more interesting movie if it had flipped the focus to Christina Applegate and Jenna Fischer's characters over Wilson and Sudeikis', though.  I know that there are rarely female buddy movies, but those two could not only pull it off, but stand a good chance of making it awesome as well.

Nitpicking:  Wilson and Sudeikis have a posse for about half of the movie, and then when they say they're going home because they're bored, they completely disappear.  And I mean gone - none of them show up again.  That's okay, aside from the golf scene, they're not nearly as funny as Wilson and Sudeikis.  My other problem is that I often intensely dislike films that glorify marriage and family.  It's tough to pull off without being saccharine or just plain stupid, and I know that embracing the opposite would be veering into Jody Hill/Danny McBride territory.  I guess this film pulled it off as well as it could, but there was never much doubt as to how the various characters' situations would play out.

Criticism always sounds harsher than praise, and I did enjoy "Hall Pass."  It fits in well with the Farrelly Brothers' post-"Mary" work, which you'd have to decide for yourself how much praise that is.

2.5 / 5 - Theatre

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Your Highness -2011

"Your Highness" - 2011
Dir. by David Gordon Green - 1 hr. 42 min.

I don't want to overstate things, but I really enjoyed this movie.  It's a filthy, raunchy run through a medieval quest.  I can't understate that enough, I think part of the reason that critics in general squatted atop this movie is the fact that they couldn't reasonably discuss it through traditional media outlets.  When one of the main points of the movie is that James Franco and Danny McBride's characters (Thadeous and Fabious, respectively) are on a mission to stop something called "the Fuckening," how are you going to write about that in a "family newspaper?"  But there's the litmus test; if you're the sort of person who wants to see a movie where something called "the Fuckening" is a plot point (and you know who you are), you're likely not going to seek out feedback on "Your Highness" from a newspaper or TV review (where the reviewers are going to spend as much time rolling their eyes, either verbally or literally, as they will actually discussing it, in a lame attempt to cover up the fact that nobody gives a fuckening about their opinion).

Here's something that I appreciate:  James Franco and Natalie Portman will do a film like this.  It's so gleefully, insistently profane that there's literally no chance of kudos for it, there's not even a chance that it'll live on in cable TV re-runs (like "Orgazmo," there's a visual joke that runs through the last third or so of the film that simply can't be edited out, unlike language).  From where I'm sitting, it's just down and dirty funny.  For a lot of people, though, it may go to far.  Frequently.  But that's part of the appeal, knowing that while you're laughing at something, there's someone somewhere freaking out because the joke went there.

There's a number of comparisons that will help you out here.  Did you like Danny McBride in "Eastbound & Down?"  You'll enjoy this.  Did you like "Pineapple Express?"  You'll enjoy this.  Do you giggle a little bit at the idea of "the Fuckening?"  You'll enjoy it even more when a wizard with a faux-British accent says it.  If none of that rings a bell, you might want to enjoy something else.

3.5 / 5 - Theatre

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Take Me Home Tonight - 2011

"Take Me Home Tonight" - 2011
Dir. by Michael Dowse - 1 hr. 37 min.

There are a limited amount of kinds of stories that tend to get told, especially when you're dealing with a comedy filled with sub-30 year olds.  I had mentioned the "save the house" film when writing about "The Slammin' Salmon."  "Take Me Home Tonight" is in a related, but separate category - the "carpe diem" movie.  That's Latin for "seize the day."  Where a "save the house" movie is about rallying to preserve something larger than the individual as a route to self-actualization, a "carpe diem" movie is about personal redemption, often about overqualified people mired in indecision, and spurred to more fully fulfill their potential.

If that sounds like over-thinking things, you should know that comedy is serious business.

The quick overview here is that Matt Franklin, played by Topher Grace, is a MIT graduate who works at Suncoast Video while trying to avoid figuring out what he's going to do with his life.  The reappearance of his high school crush, Tori Frederking (played by Teresa Palmer) reinforces the fact that he has no balls (figuratively), but another opportunity to find love with Tori has presented itself.  He reintroduces himself with a lie, and we all can guess how that ends up.  Matt's storyline twin sister Wendy (Anna Faris) faces a related issue - that of settling into a life that's perhaps easier than she should accept.  And for a healthy dose of chaos, Matt's best friend Barry (Dan Fogler), gets fired from his job as a car salesman.  In the vein of "SubUrbia" or "Superbad," the story plays out over one day.

Generally speaking, I was pleasantly surprised by this film.  Going in, the only thing I could think of was that it was likely going to be just more comedy product.  And I'm not suggesting that may not be the case, but it's well-executed, likable comedy product.  That goes a long way with me.  Matt is kept from sinking entirely into solipsism and self-pity by his best friend, who reacts to being fired with a self-destructive gusto I wish I could muster.  He sees peers dipping their toes into waters that his parents are trying to force him into, and doesn't like the results.  Also, Grace and Palmer do have some chemistry, which makes the admittedly large romance-driven part of the story go down easy.  And for contrast, pretty much everything that happens to Barry is just a bit further than he's willing to go.  There's a scene at a high-class party that ends up with Barry engaging in a cocaine-fueled tryst with an older woman (Angie Everhart) and her leather-clad older male friend that leaves Barry fleeing, yelling, "You've lost your way!"

The other thing that I really appreciated about this movie is that the fact that it's set in the 80's wasn't the main source of material for the humor.  In fact, that it was set in the 80's is so unimportant to the film that I'm curious as to why it was set then.  Sure, Grace's character sells VHS tapes, and there's an early scene in a mall record store that is filled with cassettes and vinyl, but they're just treated like a video store and a record store.  People dressed as they would have, but there weren't any anachronistic winks about how silly things looked compared to now.  Even the soundtrack kind of soft-pedaled the era - it was all period-specific, but it was more like a well-constructed mix tape than the soundtracks to "Romy & Michelle's High School Reunion" or "The Wedding Singer."

For a "carpe diem" movie, this was a decent one.  It's not transcendent like "The Graduate," but few movies are.  It's a pleasant, funny movie, and that's about what it aspires to be.  Goal accomplished.

3 / 5 - Theatre