Friday, April 27, 2012

Tropic Thunder (2008)

The genre of parody films has been around for a while. In my opinion, parodies can be some of the most fun movies to see. Most of them are “critic-proof.” They aren’t about the story, characters, or even performances, mostly. They are about satirizing movies and they are judged on how well they do it. Parody films go back to the Mel Brooks films of the ‘70s (High Anxiety, Blazing Saddles). However, the success of one movie, Airplane!, caused an uproar where many filmmakers tried to satirize different film genres. However, now that Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer are on this planet (Meet the Spartans, anyone?), it’s more of a formula. Don’t get me wrong. It was a formula, then, too, but it is more so now and less clever. One of the more original and clever parody films of recent years is the 2008 film, Tropic Thunder.

Tropic Thunder revolves around a group of actors, Tugg Speedman, Kirk Lazarus, Alpa Chino (get it?), Jeff Portnoy, and Kevin Sandusky, who are in a Vietnam War film, based on a memoir. The director of this film claims that it will be the most expensive war film ever made. However, the actors are egotistic prima donnas and production is one month behind schedule. After the film is threatened with cancellation if production doesn’t get back on track, the director decides to put these actors in a real battle-like situation. However, the actors think that it is actually part of the movie and many crazy situations ensue, including one of the actors being captured by a heroin manufacturing company that happens to be a big fan of the actor.

Right from the beginning, you know that this is going to be something special. It begins with an ad for Booty Sweat Energy Drink. Then, it shows us trailers for films with titles like, Scorched VI: Global Meltdown, The Fatties: Fart Two, and Satan’s Alley. This is one of the better parody films in quite a while. Most films parody certain films or genres. This film, brilliantly, parodies Hollywood in general. Also, if you think about it, it starts out kind of like a mockumentary version of the documentary, Hearts of Darkness, about Francis Ford Coppola directing Apocalypse Now. The opening of this film is the director trying to make this great war film and complications ensue. Also, I thought of the jungle stuff like a live-action version of the 2005 animated film Ben Stiller was in called Madagascar, in the way that it is about people taken out of their normal, comfortable environment and transported somewhere else. ALSO, I thought of the film as, partly, a parody of found footage films like, The Blair Witch Project, in the sense that it’s people being put in situations and a movie is based around that. Ben Stiller, who proves to be just as talented a director as he is an actor, directed the film. The cinematography for the film is bright, crisp and, for a comedy, shockingly beautiful.

The casting is dead-on perfect. Ben Stiller is very funny as Tugg Speedman, the cynical, somewhat neurotic, action star, as is Jack Black as Jeff Portnoy, the drug-addicted comedian. Also, like the best comedies out there, there is a great supporting troupe. Jay Baruchel of How to Train Your Dragon and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice fame is overshadowed, but is very good as a newcoming actor, Kevin Sadunsky, Brandon T. Jackson is funny as Alpa Chino, a rapper who has a deep secret, Danny McBride is very funny as the pyrotechnics operator, and Nick Nolte is very good as John “Four Leaf” Tayback, the man whose memoir the movie within the movie is based on. He is an armless Vietnam War veteran. Or is he? My favorite in the movie was an unrecognizable Tom Cruise as Les Grossman, the cynical studio executive, who brings such intensity to his role and delivers some of the funniest lines. There are more celebrity roles and cameos, but I won’t bore anymore with those. You can see the film for yourself.

Of course, the stand out of the film is Robert Downey, Jr. as Kirk Lazarus.

He scored two big hits in 2008 with this film and Iron Man and, call me crazy, I think this is best of those two roles. What is amazing about him is how audacious his role is and how committed he is. The character is an African-American and since Robert Downey, Jr. is Caucasian, the role could’ve been stereotypical and even offensive to African Americans (*insert Soul Plane joke here*). However, he plays it straight and, not once, is the joke based around the fact that a white guy is playing a black guy. The joke is how committed actors can be when it comes to playing their role. That’s a lot funnier. And the fact that he is playing an Academy Award winning actor makes the role even juicier. In fact, there were times where I thought that Robert Downey, Jr. was an African-American.

However, there is another star that should be mention: the acerbic and very funny script written by Ben Stiller (go figure), Etan Cohen (not to be confused with Ethan Cohen), and Justin Theroux (the lucky b*****d who went out with Jennifer Aniston). They have an ear for dialogue and a somewhat bittersweet attitude toward the movies. This movie references many, many movies, but unlike Doogal, which I reviewed a while back, the references actually have insight and are not just for a cheap laugh. There is, even, small talk that references and satirizes movie trends and even the DVD industry. One of my favorite jokes revolves around a fictional film that Ben Stiller’s character made called Simple Jack, a movie about a mentally challenged character, to which Robert Downey, Jr. gives some helpful advice to Ben Stiller. The dialogue is intelligent and rings true because some of the dialogue features the same attitude we reflect about the movies. Of course, you know that if a satire on Hollywood is made, the cruel side of it will be brought in. It is, but it is smart and, once again, rings true.

Also, for a comedy that isn’t a buddy cop film, I was surprised by the well-choreographed action sequences, especially near the end. In fact, I was surprised how graphic this film got at times. There are two really gory moments that may provoke disgust from the viewer. The R rating is well deserved (MPAA, you finally got one right). My only gripe with the film, though, is that the pacing could’ve been a tad bit better, but that is a small complaint for this piercingly sharp comedy.

On a scale of zero to four stars, Tropic Thunder gets a high three and a half stars! By the way, if anyone out there has a copy of Simple Jack, could I borrow it please?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Wrath of the Titans (2012)

Going to see a movie in a theater is, to me, a great pleasure. Going to see a movie in a theater all by yourself is even more of a thrill. You feel a sense of independence, as you choose what candy, food, or beverage you want and, of course, what movie to see. Walking into Wrath of the Titans, in 3D I might add, gave me that experience. Now if the film itself captured the same sense of ecstasy, I'd be in a much better mood, but I press on.

The plot, of what little I can decipher, takes place ten years after the original 2010 remake. Perseus is the beloved demi-god whose wife, Io, is dead, but has a son now. Perseus has chosen to live life as a human, working as a fisherman. One day, however, Zeus informs him that the gods’ powers are fading because of lack of devotion from humans, or some crap like that. At first, Perseus isn’t interested, but then is later informed that he not only has a cousin, Ares, but he and Hades have taken Zeus as captive. Ares is jealous of Perseus because of Perseus' popularity due to the Kraken battle. So, Perseus, along with Queen Andromeda’s army and the demi-god, Agenor, sets out to find the god, Hephaestus, who apparently knows where Ares is, so that Perseus can defeat Ares. 

Confused? Bored? Well, times that by like ten and you get the idea of what the experience is like. 

I, actually, enjoyed the remake of Clash of the Titans. Was it cheesy? Yes. Was the acting and dialogue laughable? Yes. However, I thought it was a fun movie with an engaging story, likeable characters, and some pretty cool action sequences. So, the idea of making a sequel to a remake when the original 1981 film didn’t have a sequel was pretty stupid. However, the trailers got me convinced to go see it. My hopes were high as I handed the lady my gift card, which had $8.50 on it. So, I didn’t have to pay a dime for anything, except my food. Yet, I still feel ripped off.

I thought it was going to be a fun, campy movie like the remake was, because the film starts out that way. The acting is laughably bad. Liam Neeson as Zeus and Ralph Fiennes as Hades are dull, Edgar Ramirez is dull as Ares, and Sam Worthington is bland, as he reprises his role as Perseus, who looks ridiculous with that stupid hairdo. My least favorite actor in the movie was John Bell as Perseus’ son. Apparently, he is an up-and-coming young actor, as he is appearing in two other films this year, Battleship and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I don’t know how good he is in those films, which don’t sound good to begin with, but he is utterly wooden in this. Occasionly, he shows emotion, but about 90% of the movie, he looks like someone slipped him some Xanax to get through this film. The dialogue is also laughable. I fear that a drinking game will evolve where you have to take a drink every time someone in this film says, “Brother!” However, at first, I thought that all this would be an advantage to the film, if it went the campy route.

However, the story is boring and incomprehensible. I could barely understand what was going on, to the point where I just didn’t care about anything that was going on. In fact, I barely could pick out a plot in this movie. I think the whole movie was basically made to cash in on the original film and be a spectacle of special effects. It has a running time of 99 minutes and it still feels longer than the original film. The characters are barely developed before the movie begins the action. There are several things in the story that are stupid or don’t make sense, especially one scene near the end (not a spoiler) where Hades revives Zeus. How Hades does it made me groan and cringe.

Also, the editing is very poor. It’s almost as if the director and/or cinematographer was embarrassed of the special effects, because he cuts the action sequences so quickly that you can barely grasp on what’s happening and you can barely see the creature or whatever until like 10 seconds later. To make things even more confusing and murkier, half of the time, the camera gets doused with sand or light, so there is no way to know what’s going on. And the fact that it is predictable, you don’t even care, because if you are a popular, bland, pretentious demi-god, you’ll always win.

Also, it is visually dull. I’m not trying to say the film is cheap, though there are some lava, fire, or dissolving effects that are cheap. What I am saying is that we’ve seen it all before. It’s not innovative or groundbreaking. It’s more like, “Oh yeah. People can do that now.” However, in the 2010 film, the action sequences, while not innovative either, were fun and that scorpion battle had me at the edge of my seat. The only time I was ever on the edge of my seat was when I was trying to comprehend what was going on or when it stupefied me. 

Also, the creatures are pretty ugly. I mean, I understand that’s kind of the point, but the fact that they are exteriorly unappealing distracts you, instead of captivates you. There are, also, two shots where, I swear to God, were only in there for 3D. One was where the Chimera, all of a sudden, opens his mouth and it pops out at the screen. While it was cool, it was also forced and gratuitous. The other shot was with the Cyclops, where he looked down at the screen. Not only was that a cliché you would see on a TV spot for the film, but also I swear that the filmmakers were so lazy, they repeated that same shot.

However, on the positive side, the sets and locations are magnificent. I don’t know how much of it was real and how much was CGI, but they look really authentic. Also, the 3D is much better in this film. The 2010 film’s use of 3D was, I must confess, completely unnecessary. It did nothing to entangle or transport me into that world. This movie’s use of 3D is much more effective. Also, there were a couple of funny moments and even an emotionally strong moment involving Agenor, played by Toby Kebbell. Overall, though, the movie is flat and stupid and it gets worse and worse until the very bloody end.

Rating: A high one-and-a-half stars out of four