Friday, April 25, 2008

Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay

Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay
Writer/Directors: Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg
Starring: Kal Penn, John Cho

If you liked the first one, then you know exactly what you're getting yourself into if you see this stoner comedy. It's pretty much a clone of the first movie, but more offensive all the way around.

Since the characters have already been established, this film takes advantage of its opportunity to incorporate more political jabs and societal jokes, and it does that pretty well for a comedy that's supposed to be kind of stupid. I think the filmmakers realized that most of their audience for the last movie was made up of high schoolers and younger college kids, so they figured that that same audience would have matured slightly in the four years since the first one came out. I didn't mind the shift in tone - in fact, the scene I thought I would hate the most from the trailer (the one with President Bush) actually ended up being one of the more enjoyable scenes in the entire thing.

Escape From Guantanamo Bay picks up right where H&K Go To White Castle left off, and follows the pot-smoking duo as they track Harold's true love Maria to Amsterdam. As you can imagine, it's not quite as simple as that: Rob Corrdy gets involved and throws the concept of "politically correct" out the window with some of the funniest scenes in the movie, most of which involved stereotypes of multiple races and ethnicities. And yes - NPH is back, and as classic as ever. Here's one of the first posters that came out promoting the movie a couple months ago:

I fear I'll give away too much if I say any more about it. Suffice it to say that I wasn't expecting it to be as funny as the first one, but I thought it turned out to be about the same caliber. Listen for a special song in a slow-mo car entrance scene that had us cracking up in the theater and don't forget to stay until after the credits are over for another scene you won't want to miss if you're a fan of this franchise. Until next time...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Indiana Jones Series Review - Part One: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost Ark
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen

Every time I meet someone, we invariably get into a conversation about what our favorite movies are. When it's my turn, Raiders of the Lost Ark is (without fail) the first film I mention, and about 90% of the time, I follow it with the word "obviously." I watched Raiders again a couple of days ago (my roommate had never seen it), and it didn't miss a beat. There are a lot of movies that lose their gusto as time passes; Raiders is not one of them. I stayed as enthralled with every scene as I was when I watched as a child, and that reason alone is why this series captured the heart of America and continues to mesmerize and excite us 27 years after the first film was released.

Really, though - what did you expect from a teaming of two of the most influential directors of the modern era? Spielberg and Lucas are legendary, and the recent collaborations between Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller, and Quentin Tarantino for Sin City and Rodriguez and Tarantino on Grindhouse are the only projects that come close to modern equivalents. But even those fall far below the talent level of combining Spielberg and Lucas. Star Wars, Jaws, Close Encounters, anyone? These guys were ridiculous, and with their powers combined they created the highest grossing movie of 1981 and started a franchise that would become as legendary as they were.

Raiders of the Lost Ark hits on so many levels, they're hard to fit in one article. Adventure, romance, action, car chases, explosions, whip-cracking, simple but effective dialogue, history, religion - I dare you to find something in that list that you don't like. Obviously a throw-back to the cliffhanger adventure serials of the 1930s and 40s, Raiders translated that "Saturday morning cartoon" feeling directly onto the screen without seeming over-the-top or forced, which is a miracle in itself.

The protagonists are easily relatable, and shy away from stereotypes. When Spielberg and Lucas were discussing the character originally, Lucas wanted Indy to be more like James Bond; luckily Spielberg stepped in and said that his persona of professor and adventurer was characterization enough. The combination of Indy's sensitivity and rugged ability to get his hands dirty gives him a distinctly different feel from the slick Bonds of old (although Daniel Craig's interpretation is more comparable in these respects). Marion Ravenwood is as stubborn as they come - she can drink more than anyone in Nepal but take care of Indy's wounds at the same time. No "damsel in distress" stereotypes here - although Indy did have to rescue her at the end, the film didn't portray her as the helpless woman that you so often see in action films.

Belloq was kind of a one-dimensional villain, but I liked the way they played it out in the movie because they used the "intellectual equal" factor that evens the playing field for our hero. I love this kind of villain/hero face off - it generally means the hero is actually threatened and is forced to outsmart his opponent in order to survive instead of just punching him in the face like countless other minions throughout movies like this. Belloq's one-dimensional aspect didn't necessarily hurt the character, but it would have been nice to see him have some other motivation for his actions other than just his own curiosity. And come on: the Nazis are some of the greatest villains one could ever fight - everyone hates them already, so there's no chance that people could be sympathetic to their cause (skinheads notwithstanding). Also, the sidekick characters of Marcus Brody and Sallah are some of my favorite minor characters ever committed to the screen.

The music for this film becomes a character in itself, and John Williams outdid himself when he came up with this one. I'm sure he high-fived whoever was in the room when he finished this masterpiece. It's by far my favorite theme song, and I'm honestly surprised that it hasn't been sampled in a rap song yet.

When we watched the movie, my friend said that the opening scene was one of the best in cinematic history. I balked at this statement, thinking it was a little brazen and that he didn't really think it through before he said it. But after watching it again, I realized that there's no thought necessary - he's right. Better than almost all Bond openings (sorry, Connery - you'll get your Indy lovin' in The Last Crusade review), the opening for Raiders has been parodied so many times that everyone recognizes it whether they've seen the movie or not.

The ending has always been one of my favorite endings because of the breathtaking questions posed by that final shot. But now that I think about it, structurally speaking, it's kind of a weak ending. Indy and company have worked so hard to preserve the legitimacy of a legendary discovery and to keep it pure, and the government comes in and F's it all up by hiding it from everyone. Whatever - it's still one of the coolest ending shots ever filmed.

Little trivia for you: the scene filmed in the desert canyon was filmed in the same location as the Jawa sequence in Star Wars. Also, John Rhys-Davies (Sallah, Indy's Egyptian friend) crapped himself on set in the middle of a shot because most of the crew contracted dysentary in Tunisia due to the unbearable filming conditions. I laughed really hard when I read that, and I'm a bad person because of it.

Every scene in this film is iconic, and if the filmmakers of the upcoming Crystal Skull can recapture two thirds of the magic that Raiders possessed, then I'll be pleased with their effort. Keep your eyes peeled for the next two reviews in this series, Temple of Doom by guest contributor Tyler Branz and The Last Crusade by yours truly. Until next time...

Friday, April 18, 2008

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Brummitt and I had a couple of free movie tickets, so we went to go check out Judd Apatow's latest comedy tonight at the local drive-in. The girls from the sock hop next door came over and we partied and listened to Beach Boys records long into the night after the movie was over. It was one of the best nights of my life.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Starring: Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis

[I used to be able to come up with halfway-decent intros to these things. I seem to have lost the ability to do that with my lack of posting on this site, so hopefully I get my mojo back or else all of them will have to be made up like this from now on. Which may not be a bad thing.]

Honestly, I wasn't expecting much from this one. Looked like your run-of-the-mill funny movie, with a vaguely recognizable cast and some good one-liners in the trailer. It surprised me by how funny it was, and if you go in like I did (with no expectations) then I think you'll be pleased with it. Then again, I can't exactly recommend that you pay the requisite $9.00 or whatever it is nowadays to get in and see this in a theater, because, as I'm sure you could tell, this isn't one of "those movies" like Cloverfield or something that needs to be seen in a theater.

Jason Segel, the star, wrote the screenplay and did a great job at crafting some very memorable characters in this movie. That's the aspect that really separated this film from the other Judd Apatow usuals (Knocked Up, Superbad, etc): the characters. Aldous Snow, the sex-crazed British lead singer that Sarah hooks up with, was my favorite character of the movie and he was played by an unknown actor/comic named Russell Brand. Good stuff from this guy - he was really funny. Kristen Bell was decent enough as Sarah Marshall, although they could have replaced her with one of 20 different actresses and had the same success with the movie. Before I saw this, I didn't really think that Segel had it in him to carry a movie as a leading man, but he was pretty respectable in my opinion and he earned a little more respect in my book. Mila Kunis (pictured) was absolutely stunning in every scene, which almost hid the fact that she's a pretty average actress.

The hotel staff (including regulars Jonah Hill and Paul Rudd) was funny and added to the charm of the movie, which increased for me as the film progressed. I found myself becoming more and more attached to the characters as the movie went on, and that's a sign of good writing. Nicely done, Mr. Segel - get to work on that new Muppets movie you're doing; as long as it's as quality as The Great Muppet Caper you'll be doing fine by me.

I only found two main problems with Forgetting Sarah Marshall:

1. The CSI: Miami spoofs were funny in the beginning, then wore out their welcome. They could have been a lot funnier if they had tried a little harder with the writing in this section. I almost think our one-liners from CSI: Gainesville were better than the ones they used in the movie.
2. There was way too much male frontal nudity. About five shots too many, as far as I'm concerned. The good part was that you knew when they were coming so you could easily avert your eyes. Still, filmmakers - that's not cool. (Update 04/22/11: It's ridiculous that I would complain about something like this considering the massive double standard in Hollywood regarding nudity on screen. For the record, I'm cool with it now - in moderation, of course.)

Anyway, those issues aside I thought it was pretty funny and definitely better than I anticipated. If you've got a hankerin' to see a movie, then this is probably the one to see right now. Otherwise, wait a couple weeks, save your money, and go see Iron Man and Speed Racer. Until next time...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Summer 2008 Preview

As of today, I've only been to the theater 9 times so far this year to see a movie. That's a pretty low number, and I'm disappointed that there haven't been more films out that I actually wanted to see in theaters. The ones I HAVE seen, just to recap: Cloverfield (spectacular), Rambo (awesome), In Bruges (fantastic), Strange Wilderness (below average), Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show (documentary - decent), Be Kind Rewind (meh), Charlie Bartlett (solid), The Bank Job (average), and The Counterfeiters (a foreign Catch Me If You Can, but not a comedy).

Fear not, though - this summer is shaping up to be one of the most enjoyable summers for movies in recent memory. Here's a list of what I'm looking forward to the most, and you can bet the farm that there'll be reviews of at least 80% of these on this site right after I see them.

Harold & Kumar 2: Escape from Guantanamo Bay - The first one was pretty funny, and the four years since its release has given it enough time to become a cult classic. I hear there's more NPH in this one, so that's gotta be a good sign.

Smart People - This one is out in theaters now, and I'm planning on seeing it soon. Dennis Quaid, Thomas Haden Church, and Ellen Page star in this small family drama. I'll let you know how it is.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall - The latest in a string of Judd Apatow comedies looks pretty funny. Hopefully it's better than Superbad.

Pathology - This one doesn't look like anything special, but I'm convinced it'll be this year's Awake. [Meaning, I wasn't expecting anything going in but I was pleasantly surprised after I saw it.] The guys behind Crank wrote it, so I have a little faith in it.

Iron Man - Being thrown in the same summer as Batman and Indiana Jones will be tough, but from early rumblings about this movie, it should be able to hang in there just fine. I think it'll catch a lot of people off guard with how good it's going to be - Robert Downey, Jr. is perfectly cast.

Speed Racer - I've seen maybe one episode of the original show, but I'm psyched for this one. The Wachowskis have invented a new camera system that removes depth from the screen as if everything is a 2-D cartoon, and the graphics look pretty awesome so far. Emile Hirsch was really solid in Into the Wild, so I'm looking forward to seeing him as an action star in this family movie.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - I'm not even going to say anything. You know how excited I am.

The Happening - M. Night Shyamalan's latest looks intriguing to say the least. Mark Wahlberg and Zoey Deschanel star, and since Night is one of my favorite directors, I'll literally see anything he puts onto a screen.

The Incredible Hulk - Ed Norton's Hulk should be a lot more engaging than Eric Bana's attempt a few years ago. Rumors of control freak Norton taking over the scriptwriting and editing processes, however, are the cause for a bit of alarm. We'll see how this turns out.

Get Smart - I love "The Office" (aka Steve Carell), Anne Hathaway is smokin' hot, and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is really fun to watch. Count me in.

The Dark Knight - Once again: I don't even need to say anything.

Assassination of a High School President - I've mentioned this one before, but it's another noir set in a high school. Reece Thompson and Mischa Barton star alongside Bruce Willis.

Pineapple Express - Another Apatow-comedy, this time with Seth Rogen and James Franco (what is HE doing in this?). Sounds like Hot Fuzz mixed with Harold & Kumar, so it could be good.

The International - Clive Owen. That's all you need to know.

Tropic Thunder - Ben Stiller's newest sounds like it could be my favorite comedy of the summer. With that cast and a competent script, it'd take a moron to screw this one up.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor - Laugh all you will, but there's something about Brenden Fraser as Rick O'Connell that I just can't turn down. Jet Li stars as the mummy in this one, so maybe there'll be some cool fight sequences.

Get fired up, readers. This summer should be one to remember. Until next time...

Friday, April 4, 2008

Comedic Actors Who Turned To Drama

Will Ferrell
Comedies: Anchorman, Old School, Blades of Glory
Drama: Stranger Than Fiction

I wanted to see this in theaters, but never made time for it. I watched it yesterday and ended up liking it a lot. Will Ferrell was surprisingly good as a dramatic actor; so much so that I hope he goes for another role like this sometime soon. We've all seen how stupid/funny he can be in [Insert Sports-Themed Decade Movie Here], but it takes some real skill to pull off legitimate acting that doesn't involve him taking his shirt off and guzzling beer. He was quiet, normal, and reserved: a huge change for him. His performance earned him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor, so hopefully that will lead him to consider other projects besides Semi-Pro 2: Half Pro.

Robin Williams
Comedies: Good Morning Vietnam, Mrs. Doubtfire, License to Wed
Drama: What Dreams May Come

I remember thinking this was a really good movie when I was 13. It was one of the first dramas that I remember actually enjoying in a theater. I'll have to go back and watch it again since I'm operating on almost 10-year-old memories here, but I'm pretty sure Robin Williams was really awesome in it. He dies and is taken through an Odyssey-like adventure through heaven/the underworld/limbo to find his wife, who committed suicide after his death. [Note - The special effects were outstanding at the time.] The cool thing is that Williams has really stepped up his game in the last decade, taking on a slew of dramatic roles in films like Insomnia, Good Will Hunting, and One Hour Photo. I didn't care for him in Bicentennial Man, but that's probably just because that movie was terrible. Aside from that, I've liked him in just about every drama I've seen him in. His performance in Dead Poet's Society was especially moving for me.

Jim Carrey
Comedies: The Mask, Dumb and Dumber, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective
Drama: The Number 23

I don't care what people say, I kind of liked this movie. Sure it was predictable, and sure it was a little ridiculous (the numbers are out to get me!), but I thought Carrey was really good in it. His acting hearkened back to his Truman Show days, which was a far better film but one in which Carrey was equally as effective. We all know he can be rubber-faced and outlandish, and his catch-phrases are universally known, but these two movies prove that he can hack it as a dramatic actor. Lately he's been trying out some more of those types of roles in movies like The Majestic and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, so I'm glad that people have recognized and embraced his ability to operate outside of the box we all so easily throw him in.

Bill Murray
Comedies: Ghostbusters, Stripes, Groundhog's Day
Drama: Lost in Translation

This one is a no-brainer. After dropping off the face of the comedic earth for a while, Bill Murray resurfaced with a quiet poise that adds a whole different level to this capable actors' repertoire. He had a similar resurgence in Rushmore, a comedy that played off his subtlety instead of laugh-out-loud humor, but his seriousness and full acting talents are on display opposite Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation. I haven't seen Broken Flowers, but I understand he delivers the same type of nuanced performance in that movie as well. I'm glad that Murray has expanded his arsenal with age. I'm sure we can only expect more brilliant things to come from this talented actor.

Jack Black
Comedies: School of Rock, High Fidelity, Orange County
Drama: King Kong

One of my favorite films of 2005, King Kong would not have been the same without Jack Black in his first serious dramatic role. Instead of watching him dance around with his arms flailing wildly, we were treated to an almost-somber display of restraint and ambition. Many people couldn't suspend their disbelief enough to accept Black in this kind of role, but I bought it: hook, line, and sinker. I totally believed it, and I think he did a great job. I'm honestly surprised he wasn't nominated for any awards: yes, I thought he was THAT good. I really hope that we get to see more of this from Jack Black in between his ridiculous comedies he's sure to keep pumping out.

Honorable Mentions (aka - Films I Haven't Seen): Steve Zahn in Rescue Dawn, Tom Hanks in Philadelphia, Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love and Reign Over Me, Will Smith in Ali. Until next time...