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Idiocracy should have been great.  Mike Judge’s dystopia is immediately recognizable yet clearly hyperbolic.  (Ethan Cohen co-wrote the screenplay, he also co-wrote Tropic Thunder, for whatever that is worth).  Luke should certainly be able to excel at anything Ron Livington does.  Maya Rudolph has the comedic chops, and I must admit I was not aware how slammin’ she is.  And call me crazy, but I think Terry Crews is woefully underappreciated.

So what happened?  I think the idea appeared so engaging at first, it seemed the jokes would write themselves.  Except they didn’t.  Granted, the movie is littered with gags.  The lettering of the hospital comes to mind.  But the gags become increasingly infrequent, which is exacerbated by the boredom between them.  Making the movie doubly frustrating.  Frustrating for not being entertaining, and for taking so long to get to the next gag.

I don’t particularly like using the word, but Idiocracy felt surprisingly “conventional.”  The setting was original, but the storyline could have used some serious sprucing up.  I don’t know if it is just because the movie was done by Mike Judge, but I wonder if the ideas would have been more effective as a TV show supported by a team of writers.

By the way, I’m sure seeing Idiocracy a month before Wall-E is affecting my judgment, but I’d totally believe WALL-E as a sort of sequel to Idiocracy.  As in Idiocracy taking place just before people leave Earth.  The two movies share many of the same sensibilities, at least.


I have a huge film-crush on Luc Besson, but even I was skeptical of The Big Blue.  A two-plus hour movie chronicling the competiton between two free divers?  Free diving being swimming down into the water as deep as one can go, without any supporting apparatus, like an oxygen tank.  As expected, it was one of my least favorite Luc Besson movies, but it was actually surprisingly gripping.

Jean-Marc Barr stars as a childlike restless soul with a troubled heart.  Brought up in a seaside community, his father dies in a diving accident, but that only drives Barr to master the water.  He works both as a subject in science experiments, holding his breath underwater in arctic climates, as well as a wrangling dolphins.  (Like Jessica Alba in Good Luck Chuck!).  Jean Reno is the gregarious diver who holds the free diving record.  And yet, he knows he won’t be satisfied until he’s the best, meaning beating Barr, his childhood friend (or acquaintance, at least).  Barr accepts, and the two compete at a series of free diving events, their dives getting deeper and deeper, thus becoming more and more dangerous.  Rosanna Arquette falls for Barr at first sight, and leaves her entire life behind on the chance he reciprocates.

The movie is sparse.  Which is a term I probably use too liberally.  Here I mean that events don’t necessarily drive the movie.  Besson co-wrote the screenplay, based off of his story which mimicks two real life divers, with Robert Garland (who has The Bob Newhart Show, Sanford and Son, and uncredited work on Tootsie and the Twilight Zone movie on his resume), Marilyn Goldin, Jacques Mayol (one of the real life divers), and Marc Perrier.  I must admit a bias against underwater scenes.  I can’t explain why, but I just rarely enjoy them.  Most of my least favorite Bond scenes are the underwater ones.  In any case, that obviously negatively affected my thoughts on the film. But while the film isn’t empty, it just feels like there should be more there.  Or maybe it is more that I felt there was more to explore in the story, and the events depicted seemed more forced than I expected.

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Jared and I took in the slate of Animated Short nominees each of the past two years. The 2007 nominees literally put me to sleep but in 2006 it was a pleasure taking in preparations of a singing bird before the big show (“Maestro”), that Ice Age squirrel’s attempt to protest his food (“No Time For Nuts”), and Disney’s wonderful and devastating watercolor take on Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Matchstick Girl.” The winner (and my favorite), however, was a Danish/Canadian entry called “The Danish Poet” with a distinct animation style and a wry look at love and fate.

Youtube is starting a program to feature short films called The Screening Room and “The Danish Poet” was one of its first selections. I highly recommend it. It’s embedded below or click through it to get to a high definition version.

Hindsight is 20/20, but my word does this movie feel like it was based on a play.  The biggest reason Proof failed (well, other than me not being cast as an extra) is that it basically was a filmed version of the play.  Not a knock against plays, they are just a different animal than movies.  Not saying movies need to be expansive, Driving Miss Daisy just lacked a certain…cinematic quality.  The disjointedness of the scenes, for example.  Or the way we are told and not shown too many things.  Mostly, though, the way that nothing really happens.

Not that I disliked the movie.  I wouldn’t say it was moving, but it was certainly entertaining.  I mean, shoot, any movie starring Morgan Freeman has better than even odds of being good, right?  Obviously, it is a defining role for him, one that set the tone for his roles ever since.  And sure, he’s amazing in it.  But to be honest, I kinda wish he was given more.  At least, less Bagger Vance, and more a character with some sort of depth.  Because any depth I saw was a direct result of the awesomeness that is Morgan Freeman.  Same goes for Jessica Tandy.  Her character wasn’t terribly notable to me, but I wouldn’t mess with her.

Call me crazy, but the standout in the movie, in my mind, was Dan Aykroyd.  He was nominated for an Oscar for the role, and you know the Academy absolutely dreaded having to do that.  Again, the character wasn’t terribly interesting, but it just seemed to fit Aykroyd like a glove.  Mostly a straight man to a dominant (though not domineering) mother, he had Southern charm, a little guy-next-door-who happens to own a factory, and sure, a few laughs.  In some ways, he’s the linchpin of the movie, bringing everything back to reality, and acting as a relief from seeing Freeman and Tandy square off.

1989 had a rather diverse set of Oscar-nominated movies.  Check them out.  I kinda feel like doing this blog during late 1989 would have been all sorts of fun.  I’ll save my gushing for another post, but it is safe to say I would have been dismayed at Driving Miss Daisy’s haul.  The movie is solid, and certainly watchable, but I can’t imagine telling someone they need to see it.  I totally get the Oscar appeal: Morgan Freeman, old respected lady, and it is “weighty” because it is historical, it deals with racism (but the toned down everybody is happy kind), and was based off a play.  Still, as is more often the case than not, the Academy got this decision wrong.  Driving Miss Daisy is a good film, but not a special one.

Trailer after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Last year, I thought that the AFI finally realized that they ran out of ideas for their “100 Films” series of lists when they reprised the 100 Best Films on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of lists. That being the case, I foolishly forgot about the annual TV special that Jared and I have used for argumentative and gambling purposes in the past.

But last Tuesday, the AFI once again drew from their well of unoriginality and scrounged up 10 new lists of the best “genre” movies. Pigeonholing some of the great classics of the past century into just one of these categories is mystifying…how Field of Dreams gets thrown in with “Fantasy” and not “Sports”, as if they are mutually exclusive,  is just silly. Not to mention that the movie deserves a Top 5 All-Time Sports Movie designation and if you asked anyone who had seen Field of Dreams, I don’t know anyone who would call it a “fantasy.”

I’m getting distracted, however, onto the lists, in alphabetical order. One disclaimer: I will not claim to have seen all 100 selected films…but I’ll be passing judgment nonetheless.

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I believe I speak for all of us when I say that the Golden Grouches heart Laura Linney.  Last year, they all really liked The Savages, we all enjoyed Breach, and maybe I’m the only one brave enough to see The Nanny Diaries (the things I do for you, Scarlett).  But what’s she up to now?

The City of Your Final Destination: A grad student (Omar Metwally, from Munich and Rendition) wants to write a biography of a semi-obscure Latin American writer, and visits those (Laura Linney, Anthony Hopkins, Charlotte Gainsbourgh) who knew the man.  The film is directed by James Ivory, the first since the passing of Ismail Merchant.  It was written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who has written many Merchant Ivory films, and based off a Peter Cameron novel.  It seems to be in the can, and Wikipedia said it was geared for an April wide release (not a good sign), but there appears to be some litigation surrounding the movie.  First Anthony Hopkins sued, claiming he hadn’t been paid, and then someone sued claiming she’d invested money in the film without receiving a credit or her money back.  So, I’m not quite sure what to think.  Other than Laura Linney will undoubtedly be great in it.

The Other Man: A husband thinks his wife is cheating on him and starts looking for, um, the other man.  Not a particularly novel plot, but when the movie stars Laura Linney, Antonia Banderas, and Liam Neeson, well, that’s something.  Based on a short story by Bernhard Schlink the movie was directed by Richard Eyre (Notes on a Scandal, Iris) and written by Eyre and Charles Wood.  Charles Wood will be 78 this year.  Charles Wood co-wrote Help!.  Charles Wood is awesome.  The movie is currently slated to be released December 25, 2008.  So I’ve got some pretty high hopes.

Spread: Something about a womanizer and one of the girls he dumps.  The movie stars Ashton Kutcher (I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess he plays the womanizer) and Anne Heche.  Maria Conchita Alonso is in it, along with Linney.  The movie is apparently very raunchy.  The world definitely does not need a Kutcher-Linney sex scene.  Imdb says the movie is in post-production and due out in 2009.  I would not be terribly surprised if this went straight to DVD.

Kevin Approaches: This one may not actually be happening, as all the cast is listed as “rumored”.  But, the rumored cast includes: Robert Carlyle, Minnie Driver, Laura Linney, Guy Pearce, and Christopher Walken.  The New York Times summarizes thusly: “A loner ventures out to seek love in New York only to wind up with success in the art world.”  Weird.  In any case, I’m rooting for it to happen, because that’s a pretty awesome cast.

The movie is worthy enough to be an Indiana Jones film, but it certainly doesn’t add anything to the canon.  Most of the non-Harrison Ford characters are superfluous, but that’s always been the case (save for Sean Connery, of course).  So yeah, it does sorta feel like a blatant cash grab.  But one of the reasons for the success of the Indiana Jones franchise is its sense of fun, and that’s retained in this installment.  Yeah, some parts are ridiculous, silly, unnecessary, or slow, but there’s enough fun stuff to keep things moving along.  Oh, and while no one may be positive about the origins of Indiana Jones, I see no reason to believe anything other than the theory he was based on a University of Chicago professor.

I was able to see a sneak preview of Get Smart, so I might as well be a good little toadie and put up a review.  Based on the TV show (co-created by Mel Brooks(!) and starring Don Adams and Barbara Feldon), Get Smart is quite funny and has surprisingly decent action.  And I’m fairly certain those are all you really need from an action-comedy.

When I heard about Steve Carell in this role, it made a whole a lot of sense.  Anyone familiar with the series and Carell’s work would likely agree he was THE person to play the role, because it plays right into his strengths.  And he does a fabulous job.  I also think those who somehow aren’t big Steve Carell fans will be able to tolerate him here because the movie sort of tones down the Maxwell Smart character into something a little more digestable.

Anne Hathaway is…wow.  She’s pretty much the definition of classically beautiful.  She’s the type of girl you bring home to meet your parents, and your mother not only loves her, but tells her she could do better than you.  She’s…well…darn near perfect.  And I’m not just talking about her beauty.  She’s not going to be an action star, but she handles the action scenes nicely.  But comedy is a huge strength for her.  99 was always the sane, logical one in the operation, generally playing the straight man (or, woman, I suppose) to Max, but often knowlingly supplying a Mel Brooksish punchline.  Again, the character has been smoothed over a bit, but the casting was inspired.

The supporting cast is really spot on.  I’m an Alan Arkin fan (who isn’t?)  so I would have liked a bit more for him, but he’s funny.  Dwayne Johnson really has, in my mind, earned the right to drop “The Rock” when describing him.  He can do action and comedy (sure, particularly physical comedy).  His role in the movie isn’t particularly new fare for him, but it is a good fit.  There’s ton more, I’m not usually a David Koechner fan, but he’s funny, especially when playing off Johnson and Terry Crews (who is totally the man).  Masi Oka and Nate Torrence (from Studio 60!) are absolutely hilarious as the nerds, and you’ll no doubt find yourself wanting to see more of them.

I didn’t love James Caan’s quasi-Bush impersonation.  It felt out of place and unnecessary.  I also wasn’t sold on Terence Stamp as the bad guy, but others seem to feel differently.  I didn’t think he was bad, just didn’t knock it out of the park.

The film (written by Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember) does feel pretty close to the original.  As I mentioned, I think Maxwell Smart and Agent 99 were softer versions of themselves, which I think sells better, but I sort of missed a bumbling Smart who managed to escape situations either through luck or the sheer genius of his imbecility.  The plot isn’t anything novel, it has a few unsurprising twists, but I don’t think summer popcorn fare really need to have unique stories.  The movie is chock-full of gags and one-liners, and most of them hit.  I laughed way more than I expected to.  I’ve heard some people have a problem with the age difference between Carell and Smart.  I don’t really understand why that sort of thing would bother people (the movie does make an attempt to explain it), but they definitely have an on-screen chemistry.  I don’t think their buildup is handled particularly effectively, though, it just sort of seems like, “Well, everyone in the audience expects these two to end up together, so, let’s put them together.”

I enjoyed Get Smart.  In many ways, it is the ideal summer movie.  Fun story with fun characters, entertaining action scenes and a plot not really veering into the ridiculous, but which doesn’t require too much thinking.

Walk Hard is a tremendous parody. Unfortunately, it isn’t a particularly good movie. Of course, I’m also not a fan of The Rutles, so just keep that in mind. As the title might imply, Walk Hard hews closest to Walk the Line (with Ray a close second), but it also skewers much of the music industry since 1960. And sure, most of the parodies are spot on. But that doesn’t mean they were funny or made for a particularly good movie.

The cast is pretty tremendous, and has way too many cool people to mention all the performances. It was a good role for Kristen Wiig, who was more tolerable than I normally find her. Margo Martindale is a name you may not recognize, but she’s been in tons of stuff I’ve seen over the past few months. She plays Dewey’s mom, and I just want to give her a shoutout as a top notch matronly character actress. It was nice to see Chris Parnell pop up, and he was one of my favorite characters. And Jenna Fischer is rather fetching (aside from being totally great):

Here’s a good place to point out I really enjoyed the original songs in the movie. They are funny, but catchy and always appropriate for the situation and era being parodied. Having Dan Bern along for the ride was an excellent call.

John C. Reilly is, by definition, awesome. It is interesting to think about the ride he’s taken, even since being Amos “Mr. Cellophane” Hart in Chicago. Still, Dewey Cox started to wear on me by the end. Considering how much screentime he had, I was surprised by the lack of depth to Dewey, and the repetitiveness of his actions.

I found the script terribly disappointing. Partially, I’m sure, because it was a Judd Apatow joint, and I was expecting more. Too many jokes seemed forced or implied. I found myself rather unamused for most of the film. I think making a movie of this sort is terribly difficult, since so much time is devoted to songs and the parodies themselves, meaning it is just that much harder to form a coherent plot and add in funny jokes. The jokes didn’t always miss. The Beatles scene was quite good:

Walk Hard may make you feel with it when you get one of the more obscure musical references, but like The Rutles, it ends up just being kinda boring, with a few interesting bits sprinkled in. Give me Spinal Tap any day.

June 2008