It's very tough to craft a film that's half-action, half-comedy that succeeds equally on both levels. The best template I can think of as an example would be Ghostbusters, one of my favorite films from my youth. The action sequences were terrific, and the danger, as silly as it was, felt real. It was also incredibly funny, which is to be expected when you have comedy legends like Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd leading the way.
Seth Rogen is also proven as a comedian, but his typical movie persona is quite different than Murray's oddball characters or Aykryod's nerdish intellectuals. Rogen has made his bones from playing everymen, general workaday slacker goofball slobs. These characters usually have likeable qualities, but also, more often than not, have just as many unlikeable ones. And therein lies the problem with casting him in a movie like The Green Hornet.
During the opening scene of Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll I was instantly reminded of the film Bronson. Of course this film is a biopic on the lead singer of a punk rock band and Bronson is about a notorious criminal who lived most of his life in solitary confinement. However the characters do relate in their struggle to find a comfortable identity and the films are similar in style. They both are presented in in a way where part of the film is a conventional narrative and the other part is a reflection of what is going on inside the minds of these conflicted men.
So there’s this fat Muslim dude named Mahmud (Omid Djalili) who’s prone to fits of yelling and anger, and whose son is engaged to the daughter of an Islamic extremist. He wakes up one day and decides to traipse down to an adoption center where he discovers he was born Jewish. Suddenly he’s thrust into an identity crisis of wacky proportions, complete with Star-of-David set pieces and brief theatrical numbers—an identity crisis that will eventually spell doom not only for himself, but his entire family. So is the plot of Josh Appignanesi’s The Infidel, a film I honestly have difficulty writing about because it can simply be described as “bland”. You’ve seen all the jokes in this film executed better elsewhere; the aforementioned Star-of-David sequence? Family Guy’s “When you Wish Upon a Weinstein”. Mahmud’s understanding that Jews horde gold? South Park. Every single religious punchline this movie soullessly offers up time and time again? Bar jokes, comedians, daily conversations, newspaper cartoons—everywhere you can possibly imagine. Yet the problem isn’t necessarily familiarity with the material—it’s that the entire backbone of The Infidel is built upon this humor and the hackneyed premise it’s derived from. You can only stretch Jewish/Muslim jokes so long before the whole gimmick gets old, and about 45 minutes in you’ll begin aching for something legitimately comical or meaningful to happen.
French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet is one one the more imaginative and unique directors in film today. He is most well known for his greatest work Amelie, a film in which he mixed the perfect combination of eccentricity and sentiment. What separates a classic like Amelie from Micmacs is the importance of the story. Amelie's quest to make others, and then ultimately herself, happy is what drove the movie and all the quirky moments that occurred revolved around that central theme. In Micmacs the plot is just there to allow a cast of characters to do their best physical comedy.
Ever hear voices inside your head and wonder where they’re coming from? Have long, inner dialogues with yourself over whether your girlfriend or company is trustworthy? Follow beautiful blonde women through train stations and into secured government buildings under the guise of returning a lost package? Yeah, me neither, but Roger, star of Tarik Saleh’s Metropia, sees no problem with any of these. Faced with life in an alternate future where all of Western Europe is united, connected and governed by the owner of an immense transit system named Ivan Bahn, Roger drags through life in a state of constant paranoia, unsure of his fear’s source but adamant in the belief that everyone around him is plotting his demise. Unfortunately, the pace and writing of the film doesn’t quite keep with its protagonist’s mood; long stretches of droll dialogue are delivered in a flat monotone, lending Metropia the voice of a relaxed Yoga instructor rather than anything Orwellian. Though its premise sounds promising, the whole thing— from its over-written dialogue, dark dystopian slant, or comically stereotypical characters—feels lazily thrown together by some new age anarchists in their mother’s basement.
Jay Baruchel is quickly becoming my favorite actor in Hollywood. Earlier this year he starred in the hilarious and abysmally marketed She’s Out of My League, a film that flopped largely due to an ad campaign focusing on the worst parts of the film, then hit the screen again about one month ago as the voice of Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon, quite possibly the best non-Pixar children’s movie to be released in years. At Tribeca 2010 the tousle-headed boy emerged again in The Trotsky, a comedy about Leon Bronstein, a seventeen year old convicted to his goal of becoming the re-incarnation of Leon Trotsky. I say convicted rather than convinced because Leon conciously goes about making his life like Trotsky’s—has meticulously reread a biography of the man and created visual timelines for himself. Although the film’s goofiness—and occassional ham-fistedness—roots in Leon’s unwillingness to compromise, his character raises some interesting questions about emotion vs thought, while his eventual crusade begs audiences whether revolution is possible once a society becomes too comfortable with its way of living. Whether your average viewer would ever get to these questions is debatable, but the material remains ripe for philosophical pickings.
While checking the tweets on my Twitter page I came across a link to a review for Zonad. I decided to check it out since I had just watched it the other night. The review from www.ifc.com starts out with the following paragraph:
"Around midnight in front of the Village East Cinemas, a group of friends in front of me were saying they might be inspired to finish that documentary they've been kicking around after seeing something as "half-assed" as "Zonad" get into Tribeca."
This caught my eye because that group of friends was Ryan, myself and another friend of ours. Of course it is in the realm of possibility that another group of friends went to the same showing of Zonad and proceeded to discuss similar intentions upon exiting of the theater. This is quite unlikely, however, and at this point I'm still motivated to film something--anything--and get it into Tribeca next year.
Films like Jacob’s Ladder are rare; few movies released in the last twenty years come close to matching its haunting portrayal of post-traumatic stress disorder, and all fail in living up to the self-hell after-life it weaves. Thomas Ikimi’s Legacy is one of these few—follows the tale of special ops soldier Malcolm Grey (Idris Elba) after his return from a mission to destroy biological weapons abroad. Malcolm’s initial depression and occasional odd behavior are explained easily enough—while on mission, the man was captured and tortured beyond recognition; returned home with a face and back full of lash-scars. Yet as the film progresses, and Malcolm’s agenda against his senator brother, Darnell Grey Jr, becomes more apparent, his motivation comes into question. Malcolm believes his brother sold him to torturers—effectively traded his life for the silence of a terrorist group. As the narrative becomes increasingly complex, its protagonist becomes increasingly psychotic, experiencing severe hallucinations, fits of rage, and self-inflicted wounds. Ikimi’s film never fully sorts itself out—twists and turns into one hell of a Gordian knot, leaving it to viewers to untangle. It’s a thrilling, fun ride that presumes an intelligence and investment rarely attributed to modern audiences.
Please Give is the fourth time director Nicole Holofcener and actress Catherine Keener have worked on a film together and the first of the four I have seen. This is a prime example of a mediocre picture. The characters are not interesting but not entirely boring either. There are amusing scenes but nothing hilarious and there is no key climactic moment. Please Give is simply a story about a bunch of people living their lives.
Kate (Catherine Keener) and her husband Alex (Oliver Platt) live in an apartment with their daughter. They own a business together in which they sell items they are able to purchase at a discount from family and friends of the recently deceased. The idea of sitting in a chair that someone might have died sitting on would make me feel uncomfortable but apparently a lot of people are fine with it. The film looks into the idea of whether these are simply material items or if they do in fact carry more meaning for friends and family.
A few months ago I saw Police, Adjective, a film bad enough to tempt me into yelling at the screen, giving up film criticism altogether, and committing suicide; I didn’t want to live in a world where long stretches of film could be occupied by men sipping soup or reading from a dictionary. A friend thankfully talked me down, and I’ve been fine since—until today. Today I saw Jay Anania’s William Vincent, a crime drama starring James Franco as the titular William Vincent, a nice young boy who accidentally gets sucked into New York’s high-profile drug scene. Don’t get excited just yet—though the premise sounds promising, the actual film is a plodding pretentious mess, filled with drollish dialog, innocuous, faceless villains, and many unnecessary Youtube videos explaining and exposing the daily quirks of hummingbirds. Vincent effectively sucks away everything enjoyable about mafia films—action, moral ambiguity, grandiose situations, and interesting characters—instead leaving us with some doofus clepto who enjoys watching nature videos in his storefront apartment in Chinatown. Other stuff happens, but you aren’t likely to make it past the first five minute montage of jellyfish to find out. Luckily I did; like an honest-to-god prisoner of war, I stayed with this piece of shit to the very end, hoping for something to latch onto—some nugget of truth or humor; something mildly entertaining to justify this film’s existence. But all I walked away with was the knowledge that hummingbirds radiate light.