Monday, June 29, 2009

Nog Sees Away We Go!

After the domestic warfare of American Beauty and Revolutionary Road, I suppose it's kind of nice to see Mendes make a film about a healthy, loving couple (although I'm not sure this is exactly what I want or expect from Mendes). Burt and Verona, played by John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph, are smart, socially aware, in love, on the verge of having a baby, and suddenly wondering if they're irresponsible "fuck-ups" (as they put it, in a memorable conversation). Having nothing in particular to tie them down (she's an artist, he sells insurance over the phone, forcing him to be fake in a way that she finds infuriating), they embark on a road trip to visit various friends and family members and figure out the best place to settle and raise a family. Like all road movies, Away We Go is episodic, but each of the couple's stops is interesting and all the supporting characters are memorable and well-acted (if deliberately over-the-top). Some critics feel the film is too condescending toward the various "types" encountered along the way, who seem to represent varying attitudes toward raising children (such as the uninentionally smothering earth mother played by Maggie Gyllenhaal and the outrageously neglectful and likely alcoholic Allison Janney). And I suppose it is, although I don't see that as a problem (obviously, we're meant to champion the reasoned approach taken by Burt and Verona, who seem like they'll make excellent parents). The film is written by the authors Dave Eggers and his wife Vendela Vida, and some will find it equal parts smug and sentimental, but it's generally sharp and often very funny. Mendes is working in a new style here that lacks the meticulous composition of everything else he's done. It's suited to the material , and he still finds room for a striking visual here and there, although personally I miss the Mendes of Beauty and Revolutionary Road. But the central performances are the most impressive thing here. Krasinski and Rudolph are TV veterans, but they don't feel (as I feared) like they've been plucked out of some sitcom world and set loose on the big-screen (as so often happens). Although Krasinski, especially, is playing the same kind of ultra-likable guy as his Office character, Burt feels very real. I know guys like this. And Rudolph is even better. I'm not a particular fan of her SNL work but this is a real performance with a couple of powerful speeches, nicely delivered, near the end. And if I had not been seated in a "Fork and Screen" near a man more interested in discussing the price of his quesadillas with the waiter, I might have been quite moved by them!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Nog Sees Bay's Giant Fighting (Racist?) Robots!

A sloppy and incoherent film deserves a similar response. For our reader(s), we present a transcript of myself and Dr.X discussing the film on Facebook, followed by three quotes from other critics! Enjoy!

Dr. X sez:

Critics be damned! T:ROTF ain't bad. It's not HAMLET, but it is by no means an abomination. Bay might learn how to use music a bit better, but, it's good dumb fun. I WILL see it again.

Nog at 3:27pm June 24

You're a glutton for punishment, brother. I'll stick with the critics and call it incoherent and offensive (the amount of cash behind it, moreso than the racism). But I'm certainly glad I viewed it once just to marvel that it exists.

Dr. X at 4:49pm June 24
Dude, the visuals on that thing were sick! Admittedly, not I understand what that Green Day comment was all about, but, really, who cares about any of that. I could have slept through the human parts (and hopefully they will excise them in #3!).

Also, I think it probably works better in Non-IMAX -- the size/ aspect ratio is part of what, I think, makes everyone have trouble discerning robot from robot. I know, from where I was sitting, the thing was beautiful!

And, honestly, besides the fact that they had kenny doing the voices -- were the dumbass Twins any more or less racist than things we see in all mediums? I'd go with shoddy caricatures and/ or Jar-Jaring... but, not racist. Stupid, almost racist, but not racist.

Plotwise, well, Ehren wrote it terribly and got top line on it, but it actually followed the cartoon/ comic perfectly. It was like any and every episode! So, to even a person who has seen one episode -- it makes sense. And, really, who else is seeing this?

Dr. X at 4:52pm June 24

But, yeah -- I mean, honestly -- is it a GOOD movie... in the sense of being critical about a filmic narrative and all apparatuses involved? Not so much. If this were vegas -- I'd give it a push. If this were At the Movies, the side hand.

But, is this a summer event flick that pushed jingoistic notions of AMERICA to the level of ridiculousness that only comes with the words "A MIchael Bay Film" at the front? Oh yah, man! And I loves it! And I would have him cut all that jingoistic military love -- but it's how he gets all his access.

--Even Bay's gotta pay the bills!

Nog at 5:11pm June 24

Yeah, I ended up seeing it local, non-IMAX, and much of it looks good, I'll give it that (although personally I felt some moments even within the big battles looked shoddy...I saw some ruins topple that looked like a shot out of Cecil be Demille!). And I still can't tell what's happening when the transformations occur or the robots clash!

I suspect there are a fair amount of people like me who enjoy a summer spectacle but don't know a damn thing about Transformers and wouldn't mind a marginally coherent story to go along with their shenanigans (although some parts I admittedly zoned out on...I don't even know how the parents suddenly arrived in the middle of the final battle!). At the same time, I do enjoy Turturro shouting about how no one will destroy the sun on his watch!

And I think a valid argument of racism could be made. But I prefer to slam it for other reasons!

Dr. X at 5:38pm June 24

I can see in the outward visualizing of the twins elements where people could say: Damn, that's almost minstrelsy -- but I offer this counter-argument: Bay did it with Jazz in the first movie, he did it with the Twins here... and, how is it any different than what Spike Lee does? Or Eddie Murphy with the PJs? Or The Boondocks? Or Dave Chappelle?

Answer -- he's white and they're black. And therein lies the double standard. The ownership BS doesn't hold for me. I mean -- if people wanna hate on the Twins (which is perfectly valid), they could hate them because they're stupid, obnoxious, don't actually DO anything... and essentially Jar Jar up the joint. Hell, Lucas didn't even take this much smack for Jar Jar!

And why does no one care that the THREE women-bots got less screen time than the dude from the office!? How does 'women-bots' even work?... Read More

Oh, and the parents got kidnapped in France when Soundwave found them by cell!

Dr. X at 5:39pm June 24

I did not much follow that entire sequence of event, myself -- except to say that Bay still thinks that the French equal: snails, mimes, and words no one can pronounce.

--Somehow, I think Peter Sellers got it a bit better. (But Peter Cullen somehow brings sincerity to this whole mess through his voice acting!)

Nog at 5:45pm June 24

And why is Rainn Wilson in the film at all?!

But Spike and Chappelle and Boondocks work with negative stereotypes for a purpose! (while Eddie's fat black lady movies and Tyler Perry's stuff do veer into mistrelsy, I'd say). Surely Bay realizes (and doesn't care?) that most audiences are going to associate those robots with many of the most offensive African-American stereotypes? (not to mention a few China jokes, Jew jokes, Hispanic jokes...I just can't ascertain if it's pure racism, insensitivity, anger toward critics, etc). But it sure is fun to bitch about! (also, what a brilliant moment where we see a poster of Bad Boys II on the wall!).

Nog at 5:50pm June 24

Also, was it just me, or did everyone seem to read most of their lines extra fast, especially the unecessary roommate character (perhaps because Bay wanted to get back to the shootouts!).

Dr. X at 5:50pm June 24


Methinks you've drunk some of that St. Anna Kool-Ade *laughs*. And the PJ's were one ofthe worst ideas ever conceived (and I still watch that crap every Friday and Saturday night!). I'm trying to remember the comic that protested because someone wanted to put him in a dress saying it was the last bastion of acceptable race-baiting.

Bay is not a thinker. He is barely cognizant of any higher functions. ... Read More

Bay is a boom boom man -- he brings the things that go EXPLODEY! And here's the thing about Bay and his non-PC ways... he realizes that 95% percent of people watching this thing (you know, the ones not on the net) don't give a @#!+ or are sick of PC... so, he went as non PC as one could get! And, admittedly, were the twins any worse than what we see on BET? Or from 1991 - now in rap videos? Or on Cribs?

I'm just not convinced he's doing anything worse than anyone else who exploits bling culture!

--See, look at the intellectual debate T2 has spurred!

Dr. X at 5:54pm June 24

I think they actually probably read their lines as well as they could be read, but, between the 'scoring' (and I use that word liberally when all you do is play the same Linkin Park bit and Green Day's "21 Guns" over and over and OVER again) and the actual quality of the dialogue... they probably did as well as they could.

I mean -- if I am going to bemoan something: why is Megan Fox even present? He only quasi-exploited her (by Bay standards) in her opening scene. She brings nothing to the story and couldn't act her way out of her...white jeans? Do people still wear white jeans?

I get that she's candy... but, she wasn't even used properly as bling bling eye candy... she was just kinda there... 'Acting.' It made no sense. ... Read More

--At least make her dance or something if they're gonna exploit her!

Nog at 6:31pm June 24

Yeah, you're probably right about the PC thing (although it's more scary and amusing to think that Bay's a dangerous racist who's tricked Hollywood into giving him a huge mouthpiece for his ignorance).

If you take out Foxy, you'd lose a few audience members (namely, me).

And here are other three other thoughts from the critics:

Peter Travers: "I know there are still 17 months to go, but I'm thinking Transformers 2 has a shot at the title Worst Movie of the Decade."

Roger Ebert: "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" is a horrible experience of unbearable length, briefly punctuated by three or four amusing moments. One of these involves a dog-like robot humping the leg of the heroine."

And my personal favorite is Quint from AICN: "...each one [action scene] felt like the choreography was based on a 10 year old holding up two Transformer toys and mashing them together over and over while making crash sounds with his mouth."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Nog Sees Year One and Declares It The Summer's Worst Comedy!

As unfunny as much of it is, I can't work up a lot of hatred toward Year One. It's just a tone-deaf ramshackle comedy in which Ramis and his writers seem to have followed this maxim: when in doubt over whether to go for a marginally incisive religious joke or to go for another dick, fart, or shit joke, always go for the latter. There's minor enjoyment in Michael Cera's performance as the world's most sensitive caveman (yes, he's a "gatherer"), but most of the laughs come more from his line delivery than anything particularly funny in the dialogue. David Cross as Cain gets a few laughs too, but it's a shame to take a comedian known for his absolutely corrosive religious commentary and put him in this toothless flick, which seems to have no particular interest in religious satire. Hank Azaria's brief appearance as Abraham provides a minor highlight with a running joke about his enthusiasm for circumcision ("It's a nice sleek look. I think it will really catch on."). Wait for late-night cable on this one, and watch it get trampled by Michael Bay's 43 fighting robots on Wednesday in a film which I predict will be much easier to hate.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Nog Takes The Taking of Pelham 123 to Task for Numerous Things

The original (1974) Taking of Pelham 123, with the great Walter Matthau and the badass Robert Shaw, is a crackerjack thriller (which seems to have inspired Reservoir Dogs' use of Mr. Blue, Mr. Brown, etc). The Tony Scott remake, despite a few good qualities, is ultimately a cookie-cutter Hollywood product. The basic premise (hostages taken, one to be executed each minute if money is not delivered in one hour) is inherently suspenseful, but Scott does his damndest to ruin it with every unecessary trick in the book (let me obnoxiously freeze-frame the action every once in awhile during important scenes! let me spin my camera around in 360-degree angles while people are talking in case the audience is too dumb to follow the conversation!). Denzel Washington is very good, as usual, as a troubled subway controller (a "maestro," his coworkers call him) who's been demoted to a temporary desk-job and finds himself suddenly enmeshed in the complicated hostage situation, led by John Travolta (miscast and mostly given lines like "I'll fuck you in your fucking greaseball ass" this really the same Brian Helgeland who wrote L.A. Confidential?). When Scott relaxes and lets the tension build naturally, through the negotiations, the movie works well enough (to give the screenplay some credit, the film has been somewhat cleverly updated in light of post-9/11 New York and even, to some extent, the financial crisis). But the ultimate failure (the final underestimation of the audience) tranforms Denzel, in the last half hour, into a totally unbelieveable action hero that's no way in line with what we've been told about his character. The original film ends with a wonderfully subtle joke in which the villain accidentally gives his identity away; Scott's version ends with a chase and a shootout. I half expected some fighting robots to emerge near the end.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Nog Visits The Land of the Lost!

About an hour into Land of the Lost, Will Ferrell and Danny McBride have a somewhat lengthy argument about whether one Sleestack creature will "tap the ass" of another. It was at this point that a mother in the audience uttered a loud, indignant sigh and ushered her three children out of the theater.

Oddly enough, I'm almost on her side here. Oh, don't get me wrong, I personally laughed at that joke and most of the other raunchy material here. But the average mother looking for a silly dinosaur movie to entertain the kiddies on a summer afternoon probably doesn't expect it (I wouldn't want to explain to a six-year old what "tapping that ass" meant). So I guess what I'm getting at is that the film might have found an audience had it veered to one extreme or the other. A raunchy R-rated take on the material which played up the "druggie" element already inherent in the campy old Kroft projects might have attracted a nice little cult following. A family-friendly (Elf-like) take on the material might have pleased the moms and the kiddies. But instead, the film, with its PG-13, tries to have it both ways, no doubt because it's the PG-13's that normally rake in the big bucks. And the result of this won't please very many (and perhaps people sense it, as it's a major box-office failure). While the raunchy R-rated Hangover and the kid-friendly UP are filling the multiplexes, Ferrell and McBride are discussing ass-tapping in empty auditoriums.

I'm ready for the return of Kenny Powers. Come on, McBride!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Nog Experiences the Hangover!

The Hangover is a bit overrated, probably because everyone was needing a laugh after several weeks of action flicks and the film, in its defense, provides quite a lot of them. Whereas the Apatow bromances seek a modicum of three-dimensionality in their characters (and I suspect Apatow will push this character development much further in Funny People, probably resulting in lesser box-office), Todd Phillips' comedies--Road Trip, Old School, and now The Hangover--want nothing but to make you laugh. And there's nothing wrong with that. IF you are laughing. Consistently. And I was only laughing part of the time (although if I'd seen it with a full house and after a few beers, I'm sure I'd have laughed harder). The reason to see the flick is Zach Galafianakis, who has a medium-sized cult following through the Comedians of Comedy tour and more recent associations with Will Ferrell. It's an absolute breakout role, perfectly performed (Ebert compares it to seeing Belushi on the loose in Animal House and knowing you're seeing a star in the making...we'll see if it pans out). But without him, you wouldn't be left with much. Ed Helms gets some funny lines but it's a one-joke role (a pussywhipped doctor who becomes a foul-mouthed party animal as soon as he breaks free for a weekend). And Bradley Cooper, I guess, is on hand to be the handsome one. For me, he's largely a non-presence. Still, I'll give it a "summertime recommendation" on the grounds that it WILL make you laugh (although not as much as the trailer for Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans).

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Nog Meets the Brothers Bloom

I suppose Rian Johnson's first film, Brick, is better than his new one. There he takes a conceit that should be very silly (let's do a high-school flick using hard-boiled film noir dialogue) and makes it (mostly) work, capturing the sense of loneliness and desperation associated with noir.

For his follow-up, The Brothers Bloom, he's turned to another genre, the con artist/caper, flick. Bloom is altogether more light-hearted than Brick, although there's a serious undercurrent here too, with Adrien Brody turning in an affecting performance as Bloom, a man who feels his life has been entirely "written" by his older brother Stephen (Mark Ruffalo), the mastermind of the elaborate cons which usually center around Bloom. The film is about the brothers' attempt at conning an eccentric heiress ("I collect hobbies") out of her fortune, an attempt made difficult by Bloom's habit of falling in love with his con-ees (it's Rachel Weisz: who can blame him?). The film has been criticized a bit for feeling too much like a Wes Anderson flick, and it definitely has that jaunty but melancholy tone to it (the first half hour or so, especially, whizzes by, with the frames crammed full of intricate detail and occasional jokes sort of quietly playing out in the background). Like most films about cons, it culminates in a series of things-are-not-what-they-seem revelations which are never quite interesting enough to make this a con-artist classic like The Sting or Mamet's House of Games. But the four central performances are strong (Rinko Kikuchi plays Ruffalo's second-in-command, Bang Bang, almost entirely without dialogue, just an inventive series of hand and eye gestures...very funny).

This makes three worthy theatrical ventures in a row. The Hangover might make four. But Ferrell's Land of the Lost will almost surely be a large piece of dinosaur shit.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Nog Goes UP With Pixar and Down to Hell With Sam Raimi!

Finally, summer brings up a couple of movies which remember that summer movies should be fun and inventive. T4 and Angels and Demons felt like everyone was just going through the motions, but UP and Drag Me To Hell feel like the filmmakers and casts are having as much fun as the audience.

I'm not quite as willing as Dr. X to proclaim UP an instant classic. Wasn't Wall-E, which works quite well as a reasonably sophisticated sci-fi film, more groundbreaking? But this doesn't mean UP is not one of the best movies you'll see this year. For me, this hearkens back to more old-fashioned family adventure fare. Going in, I didn't know too much beyond the basic facts (an old man with a flying house and an uninvited kid on board). Therefore, much of the film was a consistent surprise. Ed Asner's Carl Frederickson deserves to become a famous character, but I was less pleased by his child companion Russell (who's pretty much your standard annoying kid). The film's bid-for-greatness is the already-much-discussed sequence near the beginning which takes us, in the span of about five minutes and with no dialogue, from Carl's wedding to his wife's death. Now that's pure visual storytelling, kids! Watch and learn.

Raimi's return to horror with Drag Me To Hell seems designed as a treat for his old-school 80's fans (look at that Universal logo!) and a much-needed reminder that horror films don't have to suck (which some of us had forgotten given the recent wave of torture-porn, Americanized remakes of J-Horror, and endless franchise "reboots" of films that weren't very good to begin with). Yeah, yeah, it's PG-13, but it's the...gooiest and most disgusting PG-13 you've seen, full of the kind of purely-bonkers moments the Evil Dead (II and III) fans want to see. Does it rely a little too much on cheap scares and loud noises? Yep. But just try not to grin like a chimp while watching Raimi gleefully dismantle audience expectations (be warned, animal lovers!) and deliver us with an abrupt ending that leaves the multiplex-trained horror boneheads whining on their way out the door--even though it's the only possible ending that's not a complete cheat. Don't fuck with a lamia!