Friday, March 14, 2008

Filmtastic Friday - Uneven Week

Rush Hour 3: If someone could give me that hour and a half of my life back, I'd appreciate it, thanks. Man, what a painfully needless film that was. Has Chris Tucker gotten more annoying as he's gotten pudgier, or have I just grown less tolerant?

Hot Rod: Uneven comedy about Rod, a would-be stuntman who decides to stage a huge stunt to raise money for his step-dad's heart transplant so that his step-dad will become healthy enough for Rod to beat up. And if that concept sounds too weird or stupid to you, then stay far, far away from this one, because that's only the tip of the weird, stupid iceberg that is Hot Rod. My biggest problem with the film was that it didn't seem to know what it wanted to be; bursts of absurdity that normally would have had me rolling only left me scratching my head in a "why the heck did they think that fit into this movie?" sort of way. Plus, Andy Samberg came across like he was trying to do his best impression of Billy Madison era Adam Sandler and Napoleon Dynamite era Jon Heder at the same time, and only succeeded in making me wish someone else would come on screen. A couple of flashes of brilliance here and there (punch-dancing out frustrations, the musical interlude that devolves into something else, Rod's contentious relationship with his step-dad), but all too few and far between.

Beowulf: Computer-animated version of the tale of the powerful warrior Beowulf and his epic battle with the monster Grendel and Grendel's monstrous mother. To say that this takes a few liberties with the source material would be an understatement. Whatever you do, kiddos, don't try to disguise a review of the movie as a book report for your English class -- trust me, your teacher will begin to suspect some thing's up right around the time you talk about how Beowulf got to do Grendel's mom who, by the way, was smoking hot. Yup, a tiny bit of a giveaway there. Deviations from the source aside, I wasn't all that impressed with the film. Some entertaining fight scenes, and the changes to the storyline did make sense within the context of the film, but all in all, I was never drawn into the world of the film, and for a fantasy, that inability to make your audience buy into the universe you've created is a virtual death knell.

And I thought Rush Hour 3 was a waste of time! I don't even know where to begin with this migraine-inducing mess which mistakes the use of near-subliminal stock footage and purposefully stuttering editing for artistic merit. And then, when it finally starts to settle down and tell what could be a linear storyline without any needless camera trickery, it populates the screen with horribly grating and obnoxious characters so off-putting that I actually stopped watching it before it was done. What's most distressing about all this is the caliber of the cast involved with this train wreck: John Turturro, Michael Clark Duncan, Christian Slater, Camryn Manheim, Jeffrey Tambor, and writer/director/star Anthony Hopkins. Sure, there were a coule of things that showed promise, such as Slater's pod people speech, but overall, the movie just made my head hurt, and not in a "man, this is confusing" sort of way, but in a literal, headache intensifying way.

Master of the Game:
Indie film about a group of Nazi soldiers who are drawn into a deadly psychological game by a captured American soldier, who also happens to be Jewish. This is one I heard about years ago, and which I had pretty much given up hope of ever seeing when I accidentally stumbled across it on Netflix. Was it worth the wait? On the whole, I'd say yes. Sure, it's not going to go down as an example of high art, and the way the "game" plays out does stretch suspension of disbelief to the breaking point -- especially the breakdown of the final Nazi -- but overall I enjoyed the dialogue and performances, which is more than I can say for several other, much bigger budgeted films I've seen recently.

Margot at the Wedding:
Drama about the opinionated and controlling Margot (Nicole Kidman) who travels to her childhood home for her estranged sister (Jennifer Jason Leigh)'s wedding to a wannabe artist (Jack Black). Knowing that this film was made by Noah Baumbach, writer/director of the excellent Kicking and Screaming*, I was expecting this dialogue driven film to lean more on wittiness than awkwardness, and those expectations led to a slight level of disappointment with the film. Yes, it was well-written and well-acted, but the tension between the sisters, and Margot's eternal superiority and constant put-upon, martyr attitude wore on me a bit. A good film, but one I'd have a hard time recommending to most.

The Devil and Daniel Johnston:
Documentary about cult musician Daniel Johnston, whose unique musical stylings have brought him almost as much notoriety as his mental breakdowns. Fascinating film about a fascinating individual.

First Blood:
The first Rambo film, which I just saw for the first time. Not sure which was more surprising, the appearance of a very young David Caruso as one of the cops Rambo beats up, or the fact that the body count in this is only four, and three of those happen at once when a car blows up. Enjoyable movie, especially any scene featuring Rambo's old commander Trautman, who steals the show every time he's on screen.

Rambo: First Blood Part II:
Second Rambo film is a vast departure from the first, but since it wound up being the number 2 movie at the box office the year it was released, it's no wonder that it became the template for the rest of the franchise. Quite a bit of cheesiness to wade through here, and more than its fair share of "wow, that made no sense whatsoever" moments, but as far as mindless action goes, you could do worse. Maybe. I preferred the first one with its quieter, more dramatic tone, but this one was entertaining in its own right. Now, on to part 3!

No, not the Will Ferrel film