Thursday, July 23, 2009

If this dipsh*t hadn't left on his own, we would have kicked his a$$ out: "Into the Wild"

I see a lot of movies. Not as many as some, but probably more than most. Some friends say I'm too easy on movies. They're wrong. Any soft spots I have for certain genres, actors, etc., are more than outweighed by me calling out crap when it's obvious. Natalie Portman is cute and all, but "V for Vendetta" still sucked. (That's for you, Tex.)

I say this because I think I give just about every movie a fair shake, and very rarely have a visceral reaction to the blood, sweat and tears we see on the screen. And technically I didn't have a visceral reaction to the movie "Into the Wild." Rather, my spasms of disbelief and near-disgust were to the person around whom this tale revolves: Chris McCandless. I'm sure he was nice enough and all, but after seeing this ... well, I kind of hate the guy.

Our story is told out of order, with flashbacks and forwards and whatever, but here's the general idea: After graduating from college, our hero decides he wants to drop out of society -- rather than go to law school -- and become a drifter. Note I didn't say "live off the land" or "be one with nature," like some of the BS he spouted. Nope, he just roams around, living off the grid but still being part of the world, whether it's hanging with some hippies or glomming off on an old man or living in an old bus.

The latter happens when Chris makes his way to Alaska. Apparently, living in the wild was a thing with him, so he hitches to the Last Frontier and walks into the woods, where ... and I'm giving away nothing here .. he dies. Yep, he wanted to get away from it all, and he really got away.

Directed by Sean Penn, "Into the Wild" is a compelling and visually engrossing tale of this misguided kid's odyssey. I won't argue that. With everything shot on location, we get great scenery. And the actors are by and large good. Emile Hirsch -- whom I have come to like in about everything -- is a convincing Chris, and William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden and Jena Malone are spot-on as his tortured family. As for his journey, familiar faces include Catherine Keener (dialing down the frosty), Vince Vaughn (not quite as infantile), Kristen Stewart (doing her best Lolita) and Hal Holbrook (ratcheting the sad old man bit up to 11).

So yeah .... good looking, good acting, the whole long, strange trip thing ... what's not to like? Well, our hero, for one. And that's enough. While I never really thought of it before, I've come to realize that with just about any movie, you have to like the lead guy/girl/whatever. This doesn't mean he or she should be a good person, mind you. Could be a royal a$$hole. Think Mel Gibson in "Payback." World-class bast*rd, but you still like him. Or at least you empathize or sympathize with him.

In short, there's got to be something there, and there definitely wasn't with this joker. I thought he was full of sh*t almost from the start, and nothing about his journey changed that from me. Doing things your way doesn't automatically make you cool, and in many cases it makes you stupid. Like, when you kayak through rapids with no helmet. Or say you don't need money but then go work on a farm. Or make a big stink about living in the wild and go hunker down in an old bus with a bunch of supplies.

Yeah, you can say I called BS on our boy Chris, and all of the technical stuff and acting talent of "Into the Wild" ultimately was drowned out by how unappealing I found the main character. Strange, strange situation, I have to say. Best comparison I can make is that "Grizzly Man" movie from a couple of years earlier. That guy was flat-out nuts, as well as a glory hog. McCandless wasn't nearly as bad, but he was about as dumb.

Friday, July 17, 2009

This is what you get when you forget to take three Advil and a quart of water before passing out: "The Hangover"

I was kind of on the fence on this one. The trailer looked amusing enough but suggested a movie that was uneven at best. But the reviews were mediocre to good, and the box office has been big. With a free day before my new career begins, I gave the latest from the director of "Road Trip and "Old School" a shot.

Our story is stupefyingly simple. A groom-to-be, his two buddies and his future brother-in-law head to Las Vegas for a bachelor party/night of craziness. Fast forward to the next morning, where they and their room are in disastrous shape, and the groom is nowhere to be found. Even better, nobody remembers anything. So the race is on to find the groom and figure out what the heck happened. Care to guess what ensues?

Our foursome are straight from central casting and, while not recognizable by name, familiar from other works. The groom is the good-looking straight man, played by Nic Cage's sidekick from the "National Treasure" movies. (And more tolerable here.) His pals are the handsome rogue played by Sack Lodge from "Wedding Crashers" and a nerdy, henpecked dentist played by Andy Bernard from "The Office." The fat, childlike brother-in-law is some comedian from the Fat Slob comedy mold.

Supporting players include Mike Tyson (yes), George Bluth from "Arrested Development," Rollergirl and the little Asian dude who was the roleplaying game king in "Role Models." This last guy deserves special recognition because he's hilarious in all three of his scenes, even if a bit too revealing at first.

But hey, this is about the crazy stuff, not the acting. "The Hangover" is simply yet another excuse to string together a bunch of off-the-wall scenes and salacious lines. Some work, some don't. My big problem with the movie was the repetition. It's maybe 90 minutes long, yet there seemed to be a lot of times -- even with the different kooky stuff going on -- where it was the dentist freaking out, the good-looking guy saying, "Be cool," and the fat guy saying idiotic things. Yes, we know everyone's roles here. Move on.

I'm probably biased because I've seen them several times each, but "Old School" and "Road Trip" both are better when it comes to the immature guys or raunchy odyssey themes. "Old School" especially worked because it had separate acts and evolving characters. While I laughed more than a few times and liked it better than I thought, "The Hangover" certainly didn't break any fresh ground, nor did it stand out in this crowded comedy climate. And if I never see that Asian dude's little weiner or the fat, bearded guy's flabby butt again, I'm good.

Monday, July 13, 2009

"Stop saying that! I'm an actor!" ... yep, never gets old: "Traitor"

Sure, Don Cheadle may get nominated for Oscars and all that. But he'll always be Buck Swope to me, and that scene in the bank during "Boogie Nights" is still a heartbreaker. "You're not being fair!" Kills me every time.

I read good things about this thriller when it came out last year and was excited to see it pop up during the Free Movie Weekend Extravaganza. Cheadle plays a Muslim arms dealer who used to be a U.S. Special Ops guy but now has fallen in with true believers. Meanwhile, a couple of Feds (Guy Pearce and Neal McDonough) are bouncing around tracking suicide bombers overseas for a clue to when and where a terrorist group might strike in the U.S. Cheadle is a good lead, but he doesn't want to play ball. Go figure.

The big question, of course, is which side Cheadle is on, and why. Lurking around as some shadowy intelligence higher-up is Jeff Daniels. But all eyes are on Donny here, who plays it pretty straight as far as being a devout Muslim who seems to want justice in the world. Just whose justice is what we're left to wonder.

Even when we find out where our (anti)hero stands, there's plenty of drama left, thanks to this big ol' strike planned against America. And get this: The story is by Steve Martin. Yes, that Steve Martin. I half expected to see Cheadle walking around with an arrow with his head and telling Pearce during an interrogation, "Well, excuuuuuuusssse MEEEEEE!"

(Sidebar: Just looked for some old Martin comedy bits, and came across this little gem. Not what you'd expect, but quite amusing. And that hair!)

Pearce is pretty good with the Southern accent -- Georgia, not Victoria -- and makes a good good guy. But Cheadle is better, and between his poker face and the intriguing plot -- nice job, Steve -- I came away largely satisfied. Even if he didn't take time to explain what high fidelity means.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Yeah, it's about time we stop excusing movies with the term "sophomoric" when "idiotic" will do

Today's installment: dumb comedies, only one of which is worth a damn.

Too bad we'll never get the sequel, "HockFoot": "BASEketball"

Yes, yes ... I knew this was dumb as hell when it came out several years ago. But hey, when it shows up on a pay-turned-free movie channel, what's the harm? Well, other than dead brain cells.

While this is best known as the movie those two "South Park" guys were in right after the show took off, I guess they did this before making it big, based on IMDb. I also didn't know that one of the Zuckers was behind this. Yep, of the "Airplane" and "Naked Gun" Zuckers. That gives this a little bit more comedy cred, but not much.

Our heroes are a couple of losers who invent a basketball-baseball hybrid game -- in which trash-talking is not only tolerated but encouraged -- that eventually becomes a pro sport. As such, the dynamic duo are susceptible to the very corruption that they lamented was ruining the original big sports. Oh, the irony.

As you can guess, this is largely an excuse to string together jokes, sight gags, one-liners, impressions and what-have-you. Some work, many don't. Sure, there's a little joy at hearing Bob Costas say, "You're excited? Feel these nipples!" But even at 100 minutes, this movie goes on for a long time, and may serve better as a time capsule, documenting the period in history in which both Jenny McCarthy and Yasmine Bleeth were considered sex symbols. Yeah, I know.

Still holding out for that Bobby Finstock biopic: "Mr. Woodcock"

You know ... the coach in "Teen Wolf." Anyone? Bueller?

No way I was going to waste money on this tripe, but there was just enough curiosity for me to waste 90 minutes or so. Man ... I need to stop thinking like that.

Stifler from "American Pie" is an author of self-help books who returns home to find that his mom (Susan Sarandon) is dating his former gym teacher, a would-be psycho named Mr. Woodcock (Billy Bob Thornton). Ho ho HO! Come on ... let's all say it a few times. Woodcock! Woodcock! Woodcock! Hee hee hee!

Other players include Amy Poehler as Stifler's agent and Earl Hickey's brother as another of Woodcock's (ha ha ha) tormentees now all growns up. But the story is simple: Boy who hates gym teacher tries to break up relationship, hijinks ensue.

I'll admit that Thornton was amusing at times; it's a good role for him, and I chuckled when he said stuff like, "Put on some pants. This isn't Miami." But that was good for, oh, 10 minutes? Twelve? Otherwise, you had Stifler with some unfortunate hair playing a variation on Greg Focker and Ryan Reynolds from "Just Friends." (And that's no compliment.) But hey! Woodcock! Woodcock! Woodcock!

So Hank Azaria's new thing is showing his nude thing?: "Run Fatboy Run"

I vaguely remeber this one breezing through theaters and not giving it much thought. But I am a fan of Simon Pegg, especially after "Hot Fuzz." This isn't nearly as good, but it's not a bad little comedy, thanks to him and a few others being game for some fun.

Pegg is a sad litte security guard at a women's clothing store who left his pregnant fiancee (Thandie Newton) at the altar five years ago. Now his lady is seeing Mr. Perfect (Hank Azaria), who happens to be a marathon runner. In a weak attempt to win back his woman, Pegg decides to run the same marathon, despite being a little chubby and training not at all.

Not the most inspired story, I'll admit. But Pegg is cheeky as always while showing some earnestness, Newton is cute and Azaria is increasingly sleazy. (The scene with him and Pegg in the locker room after a spin class is pretty good, especially given the backstory.) We also get some laughs from Newton's cousin and Pegg's pal, a slacker who sometimes passes on wearing pants.

Like I said, it's better than you might think, and get this: It was directed by David Schwimmer. Yeah ... Ross! I had no idea until the end credits, and I was a little surprised, to say the least. And extra points for not forcing a Matt Le Blanc cameo in there.