Thursday, April 24, 2008

Tina Fey is Awesome...But We Pretty Much Knew that Already

Tina Fey seems to be taking over the world these days, and I for one couldn't be happier. "30 Rock" is consistently one of the funniest shows on television, and her new movie Baby Mama opens tomorrow, and features Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Romany Malco and Sigourney Weaver (seriously, what else do I need?)

In honor of Ms. Fey, I'm posting this hilarious clip of her on the Howard Stern show, talking about her experience when Paris Hilton hosted SNL. She really lays into Hilton and lets her have it. As well she should. Not to be a hater, but it really can't be said enough what a detestable waste of time Paris Hilton is. Fey really sheds some more light on the topic. Enjoy!

Street Kings--The Departed for Dummies

I won't go into detail about Street Kings. If you haven't already gathered, this is rarely my type of movie. I'm talking of course about the cop movie. It's been done to death, with rarely anything new or interesting to bring to the genre. Occasionally, there will be a cop movie that, for whatever reason, tickles my fancy. Training Day and The Departed are two more recent examples. Do I think The Departed was the best picture of '06? Not really. And it would have been nowhere near the Oscars if it had been directed, frame by frame, exactly as is by, say, F. Gary Gray. But it was fun. Great dialogue, superb cast, and a nice water-cooler ending. Ditto for Training Day. But there isn't enough in Street Kings to keep me interested and take it seriously. Keanu Reeves is no Denzel Washington, or Leo Dicaprio, or Mark Wahlberg or Jack Nicholson or Matt Damon. Hell, Reeves is barely even a Kevin Corrigan (who incidentally enough has the best line in The Departed: "Puerto Ricans think they know everything. If they knew shit, they wouldn't be Puerto Rican).

I digress. I don't think Reeves is the worst actor in the world. Let me put that statement in perspective. I think he's probably a better actor than say, me. But that's not saying much. I left Street Kings knowing once and for all that Keanu Reeves is a bona fide movie star. He has to be. That's the only explanation for his continued popularity, and his ability to get work. Then again, maybe I'm biased. I'm part of the one-percent of the population who didn't think that The Matrix was the second-coming. There are only a few of us, and we meet on the first Tuesday of every month to eat pizza and watch Dark City. But let's set Keanu aside, as he is (believe it or not) hardly the worst of Street Kings's problems.

Again, I won't try to explain the details, but only because I'm struggling to remember them (I saw the movie less than four days ago). The movie is ridiculously overlong and intricate, but not intricate in a good way. Intricate in a needlessly complicated kind of way. Kind of like the last episode of "Roseanne." I do have some questions. First in my mind, what the hell was up with Forest Whitaker in this movie? Seriously. It was like high camp, but he didn't quite commit. My only explanation was that he was on qualudes or something. Secondly, why is Chris Evans giving the best performance in this film? Chris Evans?! Really? Is he one to watch? Why do the filmmakers think that putting narc mustaches on John Corbett and Jay Mohr will make us forget that it's John Corbett and Jay Mohr? Yes, we recognize you. Yes, you're both still boring. And finally, there's Common. I love Common as a rapper. I want to see him make the transition to serious actor. But the roles he chooses to take seem to run maddeningly counter to his sensibilities. It's mind-boggling.

There are some things that make this movie watchable. Hugh Laurie. Yes, House himself. Stuart Little's Daddy. And as far as April at the movies go, you could do a lot worse than Street Kings. But alas, I'm not grading on a curve. And wanting a movie to be over a good forty minutes before the ending is seldom an indication of a movie I'd recommend. Especially when there are other cop movies, both on the high and low end of cinema, much more worth seeing than this.

Grade: C-

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Judd Apatow, as a writer/director/producer has officially been a force to reckon with in Hollywood for some time now (since around 2005), regardless of how one may feel about him. Many of the films he is connected to open #1 or #2 at the box office, with the exception of obvious duds like Drillbit Taylor and Walk Hard. For an R-rated comedy to open in the top three spots is no small feat, especially in an age when most money-makers are aimed at children (The Forbidden Kingdom was #1 last weekend), and less people are going to the movies in general. Like I previously stated. Force to be reckoned with.

As for the movies themselves? Meh. It's hard to say. If I could say just one word to Judd Apatow, or any of the directors who work with him, it would be edit. Edit, man. His movies usually clock in at over two hours. Don't get me wrong, I love Apatow comedies, but I've yet to see one that needed to be as long as it was. Until now. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is definitely not the funniest of the Apatow productions. It's funnier than Walk Hard, but falls short of Knocked Up. And of course, neither of these films holds a candle to Superbad. That being said, it was still a highly enjoyable movie-going experience, especially for a month like April which births such offerings as Prom Night and Nim's Island.

The film follows Peter Bretter (played by Jason Segel) whose actress girlfriend Sarah Marshall (Veronica Mars herself, Kristen Bell) has dumped him for a Brit-Pop singer. To get over her and mend a broken heart, Peter takes a vacation to Hawaii, where (gasp!) Sarah and her new beau are also vacationing. There, he also meets the sweet and carefree Rachel (Mila Kunis) who teaches him how to “forget Sarah Marshall.” There are the Judd Apatow standards here. A lot of sexual references and jokes, most of which are funny enough. A lot of male nudity for comic affect—you see Segel's penis. A lot (let that mean whatever it needs to for every individual). And there is of course the female romantic interest with little or no basis whatsoever in reality, birthed completely out of typical male wish fulfillment fantasies, and entirely forgivable within the confines of this charming and winning comedy.

Several things became apparent to me when watching this film. Firstly, Jason Segel plays the same character he played on Undeclared and Freaks and Geeks. The over-zealous, clingy, emotional boyfriend who's not afraid to cry. But it works for him and he's infinitely more charming and charismatic than say, Seth Rogen. Funny little tidbit, on the DVD commentary for Superbad, Seth Rogen tells an anecdote about how he auditioned for “Band of Brothers”, which causes a snickering Jonah Hill to ask incredulously “You auditioned for 'Band of Brothers'?” Amen, Jonah. Like I said, love Apatow, love the Apatow crowd, and I even love Seth Rogen, but he's obviously the worst actor of the bunch, and by a wide margin. I digress. Also apparent to me when watching Forgetting Sarah Marshall was Paul Rudd, again. This time as a flakey surf-instructor. Still funny as ever, and still without a starring role in an Apatow comedy. Please tell me that a Paul Rudd vehicle is coming down the pipe, and it does not co-star Eva Longoria what's-her-tits (I refuse to dedicate brainpower to learning her new last name that, let's face it, isn't going to stick anyway). Thirdly, Jonah Hill. Jonah Hill likable. Jonah Hill funny. Jonah Hill not completely out of control. I didn't think it was possible, but the only thing I can deduce from this equation is that Jonah Hill is best in small doses, like this film. He also has the funniest line in the movie, which I won't reveal here. Trust me—you'll know when you hear it.

Ultimately, there's enough here to keep the average Apatow fan entertained. And it should be noted that the average Apatow movie is still ten-times funnier than most of the American comedies that are released (see my review of Smart People). That being said, as I write this review, Forgetting Sarah Marshall already rests on IMDB's list of top 250 movies of all time. Another aside, but I hate the knee-jerk politics that makeup that list. I liked Forgetting Sarah Marshall too, but damn. Top 250 movies of all time? Really? Let's set aside the fact that the list is bullshit anyway, seeing as Crash is on it, but Do the Right Thing isn't. Do people have such collective amnesia that they forget about how Superbad and Knocked Up were both out of the top 250 almost as soon as they came onto the list? Seems a weird way to end the review, but that's all she wrote.

Grade: B-

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Why I Love Spike Lee...And Other Random Thoughts

Reviews for both Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Street Kings will be up soon. Possibly tonight. Also, I'm working on a piece called "Oscar Speeches: Best and Worst" that should be up sometime this week.

Now onto the title of this post. Why do I love Spike Lee? So many reasons. Spike Lee is one of my favorite directors, even though he's made more movies I don't like than movies I do like. One of the latter happens to be Do the Right Thing, which remains one of the most important films I've ever seen. It rewards repeat viewings. I love Spike Lee's anger. I love his passion. I love how he doesn't mince words, and he cuts deep. He angers people. He scares people. He is a true artist.

This article from New York Magazine, in which Lee recounts his experiences making Do the Right Thing is one of the better interviews I've ever read. It's short, it's sweet and it tells you so much about the man, who I understand is very guarded and plays his cards very close to his chest. He also reveals his feelings about the Clintons, which I'm not particularly inclined to disagree with at this point in the game.

Peruse the article, but here are some quality quotes from Mr. Lee:
"The Clintons, man, they would lie on a stack of Bibles. Snipers? That’s not misspeaking; that’s some pure bullshit. I voted for Clinton twice, but that’s over with. These old black politicians say, “Ooh, Massuh Clinton was good to us, massuh hired a lot of us, massuh was good!” Hoo! Charlie Rangel, David Dinkins—they have to understand this is a new day. People ain’t feelin’ that stuff. It’s like a tide, and the people who get in the way are just gonna get swept out into the ocean."

And my personal favorite:
"At the last moment, Paramount asked me to change the ending [to "Do the Right Thing"]. They wanted Mookie and Sal to hug and be friends and sing “We Are the World.” They told me this on a Friday; Monday morning we were at Universal."

And that is why I love Spike Lee. Happy Tuesday.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Random Thoughts

This was a very productive weekend for the Pretentious Know it All. Nothing makes me happier to say that I am now done with principal casting for the feature film I am doing. Sigh of relief, though this is only one in a very long list of steps to complete before shooting can even begin. Back on the grind...

I saw Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Street Kings this weekend. Reviews for both will be up sometime tomorrow, though one of them I kind of don't want to talk about. Guess which one!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Smart People

It's kind of interesting that for a film called Smart People, the screenplay makes so many stupid decisions. Let me put it into perspective. Do you remember the first twenty minutes of Juno? Before (it would seem) Diablo Cody snapped her fingers and said, “Hmm...perhaps that's enough schtick. I should probably get around to starting the movie now.” Well, imagine all of those moments (that painful scene in the convenient store, the first scene in the classroom with Juno and Bleeker are in science class) stretched out over a 100 minute film and you pretty much have Smart People.

Does that make sense? I'm sure it doesn't. I definitely wasn't as annoyed by Smart People as I was by the first twenty minutes of Juno. I don't think there are very many things that could annoy me as much (and I enjoyed Juno, but goddamn...those first twenty minutes “home-skillet”). What I'm saying is that Smart People, written by newcomer Mark Poirier and directed by Noam Murro (also his debut), has trouble finding its tone and its footing. There are some good moments here, but they mostly just punctuate a movie that has no idea kind of movie it wants to be.

Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) is a college English professor at Carnegie Mellon. He's a widower, who's apparently brilliant, though you wouldn't necessarily know it by watching this film other than the fact that it's constantly mentioned. He neither does nor says anything particularly smart or even memorable, but he is one of those guys who is so brilliant that he's socially retarded—we all know people like him, and if you don't, you probably are him. After getting a concussion, he winds up in the hospital where his doctor, in a magical twist of fate, turns out to be one of his former students (Sarah Jessica Parekr) to whom he gave a less than favorable grade. She's there to help him feel again, after the loss of his wife. Seriously. Her name is even Dr. Hartigan (“Heart-again.” Get it?)

Much to the dismay of his over-achieving daughter Vanessa (Ellen Page), he is unable to drive for six months, so she enlists the help of Lawrence's derelict adopted brother Chuck (Thomas Haden Church), a free spirit brought in to brighten up the dismal and drab lives of these characters who are two smart for their own good. This is all pretty much taken from “Dark Comedy 101.” Oh, and by the way, Lawrence has a son named James (Ashton Holmes) who's angry at him since the death of his mother. The way I just mentioned that is not an accident, and is akin to the role he serves in this movie. Very much, “oh, by the way...”

Smart People is at once, over-written and under-written. It's over-written in the sense that many of the jokes go over about as well as a fart in church—some are not even jokes, rather, but what seem like an attempt by screenwriter Mark Poirier to prove how he's smart and cosmopolitan. You can practically hear the “clackity-clack” of the keyboard and feel Poirier sweating, he's trying so hard. It's under-written in the sense that these are not characters, but rather character archetypes (maybe with the exception of Thomas Haden Church, who does what he can within the confines of this film). Thus, a lot of their actions feel unmotivated or questionable because ultimately we find out very little, if anything, about these people. Consider a scene in which Vanessa and good ol' Uncle Chuck smoke pot together, as he tries to get her to come out of her Young Republican shell. I'm convinced more than ever that this scene was mistakenly placed out of sequence, maybe a cruel joke by the editor. Because it happens very early in the film and is followed by scenes of Vanessa both resisting and giving into Chuck's smarmy charm, as if she's schizophrenic. Does she respect her uncle or not? And when? At what point does she go from thinking he's a slacker to a cool, laidback guy? I don't know and I'm not sure the filmmakers do either.

Shall I write more about the direction, the acting, the pacing? I just did. They each range from being completely by-the-book, or being aimless and without focus (though I suppose those two qualities are not always mutually exclusive). I will speak about Ellen Page, as it seems my suspicions have been confirmed and the pigeon-hole casting has begun. I was rather unsurprised to discover that Smart People had been held over for some time, no doubt released strategically to coincide with the DVD release of Juno, which was filmed sometime after. I won't blame Page too much, as this is not a well-written, or even original character. Seriously, the over-achieving, over-zealous, mildly-precocious high school student has been done to death, and much better (Tracy Enid Flick anyone?). But my assessment, after viewing Hard Candy, Juno and now Smart People—films that run the gamut from great to good and ho-hum, respectively—I am now convinced more than ever that Ellen Page needs to step firmly out of her comfort zone if she hopes to achieve some staying power.

And Dennis Quaid...he had somewhat of a renaissance in 2002 with the release of a little film called Far From Heaven (my favorite film of that year). With every subsequent role, he seeks to undo what was done so beautifully by writer-director Todd Haynes in showcasing Quaid's talent as an actor. Cold Creek Manor? The Alamo? Yours, Mine and Ours?! Smarten up, Dennis.

Watching this film, the last thing I thought I would ever say was that it ends too soon, but it does. Its conclusion (which I will not give away here) is abrupt—ridiculously so. To call it improbable is not the word. Much like much of the potential of this movie, it's simply unrealized. If you watch this film and are, in fact, a smart person, you will know exactly what I'm talking about.

Grade: C+

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Random Thoughts...More to Come Later

A very busy weekend indeed for the Pretentious Know it All. Friday, I met Steve James, the director of Hoop Dreams, which I did not see. But I did see Stevie, which is a great, heartwrenching documentary. I've got to take opportunities like this as they come. I stupidly missed a chance to talk to see Francis Ford Coppola when he came to my school last year--he's not one of my favorites, but he's still the director of what many people consider to be the best film of all time. He was really awesome. Really down-to-earth and personable. And I'm really looking forward to seeing his new film, At The Death House Door when it plays on IFC next week.

Today, I met an actress on Sunday who's interested in playing one of the leads in my movie. It went well. She's seriously perfect--looks the part and she's non-union! And she's incredibly cool and easy-going. It's all very promising.

I saw Smart People on Friday. Will most likely review it tomorrow. I have to let it marinate a little while longer. All I can say is that it would have been a disappointment if my expectations hadn't already been so low.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Lakeview Terrace Trailer!

I've been waiting for months now to see some kind of preview, and it finally started floating around YouTube sometime last night. I don't know what to make of this trailer. Pretty much what I'm expecting, but something I dunno. But it's still a movie with Patrick Wilson, Samuel L. Jackson and the living goddess, Kerry Washington, so I'm there.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Can We Talk About....Kristen Stewart?

D.O.B: April 9, 1990, Los Angeles, California

Where you know her from: Panic Room, Into the Wild, In the Land of Women

Ideal Career Trajectory: The Jodie Foster route

Worst Case Scenario: The Tatum O'Neal route, or perhaps the Drew Barrymore route, but without the happy ending, both of which are currently being implemented by a slew of young actresses.

The Rundown:
When I finally got around to seeing Into the Wild, I was surprised to find how much it touched me. I found Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) to be an interesting character, suffering from tunnel vision (to say the least). Not one whose outlook on life or the world struck me as particularly earth-shattering or even commendable, but you believe in him. You root for him. And at least part of that is due to Kristen Stewart. When Stewart's Tracy Tatro stares into his eyes, melting, completely won over, I buy every second of her naïve teenage romanticism. Kristen Stewart is the real deal. I first realized this when I saw her in Speak, which aired on Lifetime (shut up. It also aired on Showtime). She was only thirteen at the time, playing a high school freshman who falls victim to sexual assault (I know. Lifetime). As is often the case with Stewart, her performance was better than the film deserved. And seriously, was there a better person to play Jodie Foster's daughter in Panic Room. Just imagine if that movie had starred Nicole Kidman and Hayden Panettiere, as originally planned? (Okay, that does sound mildly interesting, but Kristen Stewart is awesome).

The Solution:
Kristen Stewart has mostly been doing bit and supporting parts. I, for one am ready to see her go lead in a respectable film, one that propels her stardom and notoriety, a la Ellen Page in Juno. Except, not Juno (I've made my feelings about Juno very clear. Liked it fine. Don't want to see any Juno knockoffs, even though I'm sure they're coming down the pipe). My point is, Ms. Stewart should NOT have be relegated to playing the supporting romantic reflector character for Adam Brody, an actor whose faux self-deprecating “hot-nerd” routine grew tiresome even on “Gilmore Girls,” long before he crossed over to “The O.C.” Nor should she have to play the babysitter in Jumanji in Outer Space. What this girl needs is a smart, character-driven drama. Possibly one written and directed by one of the awesome Todds (Haynes, Field, or Solondz. In that order). We can dream, right? As long as she doesn't go the way of so many young starlets (I don't have to name any names. They know who they are) and fall victim to the influences of the industry. But I have a feeling that she's pretty much in the clear. Plus her boyfriend is the innocently doe-eyed Michael Angarano of Sky High fame—I'm guessing he's not getting her into any trouble.

What does the Future Hold:
Looking forward, Stewart has a number of projects on the table. In 2008 alone, she's boasts five films (busy girl, that Stewart). She's got Yellow Handkerchief, which opened at Sundance recently and features her Into the Wild co-star William Hurt and the goddess that is Maria Bello. She also has a role in the new Barry Levinson film (also at Sundance) What Just Happened? She teams up with Ryan Reynolds in Adventureland, director Greg Mottola's follow up to Superbad. Oh, and she had a role in Jumper, but the less said about that (and Jamie Bell's involvement in the same) the better. Most bewildering is Twilight, which has Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen) at the helm and tells the tale of a girl who falls in love with a vampire. Okay, I want Stewart to succeed. Not to mention Hardwicke to succeed (she showed so much promise with Thirteen) but after Lords of Dogtown and The Nativity Story, Hardwicke has two flops in a row and Twilight doesn't exactly sound like the type of film that's going to break the curse. But only time can tell. Patience, Ms. Stewart. Your time will come.

Pure Awesomeness

I love this picture. I'm not sure if I would have put Sarah Silverman on the cover (she's very hit or miss with me), but loving the Fey and the Poehler as usual.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Blindness Trailer

The trailer for Blindness is up. This is definitely up there on my list of most anticipated movies of the year. Directed by Fernando Meirelles and starring Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Gael Garcia Bernal and Sandra Oh. I can't wait.