Thursday, August 28, 2008

"Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild"

While Todd Stephens' "Another Gay Movie" was a sophomoric, unfunny gross-out mess of a movie, it largely evaded mass derision on the grounds of "well, if straights can make juvenile teen sex romps, why not the 'mos?" I saw it at Tribeca Film Fest with a packed house of primped Hell's Kitchen gays, and while the energy in the room was great, it was tough to ignore how quiet the house got during intended "outrageous" sequences. As a follow-up where three of the four leads have opted not to return, "Another Gay Sequel" ups the first film's ante of being merely juvenile, incompetent and unfunny, and takes things to a realm that could accurately described as a disgrace to homos everywhere. The three replacement-leads are fine, I guess, if a bit bland, but "cameos" by Perez Hilton (who should never, ever, ever consider acting) and Zac Efron-lookalike porn star Brent Corrigan (who just sounds like a big gay baby when he speaks) are among the low points.

But acting aside, this movie casts more aspersion on gays than any homophobic Sandler flick ever could. It successfully perpetuates the worst sort of stereotypes that exist, encourages the worst of behaviors that are rapidly eating away at the gay community, but moving beyond my moral grandstanding here, on a base level, this just ain't funny. The jokes are dated (and in one galling case, stolen verbatim from "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion"), eye-rolling, adolescent, and when all else fails, nauseating. While the first film had a predictable "scat" joke, here we're treated to filets of skin being ripped off an asscheek, a character with shit smeared on their upper lip, and an extended sequence of characters repeatedly vomiting on each other. The gross-out humor here recalls Tom Green's "Freddy Got Fingered" more than anything, only without that film's inspired madness and borderline-disturbing grotesquerie. By the time "Gay Sequel" got around to said group-vomiting scene, I wasn't repulsed or offended, I just stared at the screen in disbelief, wondering, "who finds this shit funny?"

"Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild" opens tomorrow, August 29th, at the Quad in New York, the Sunset 5 in Los Angeles and the Gateway in Ft. Lauderdale. It expands to San Francisco and Chicago on Sept. 5, Philadelphia and Palm Springs on Sept. 12, Washington DC and Boston on Sept. 19, and Dallas and Atlanta on Sept. 26.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Catch-Up: Part 2


When Don Cheadle appears in a movie these days, you know he'll be playing a noble, likable-but-flawed protagonist. So when he shows up as an African-born Muslim-American who provides explosive accessories to terrorists, you're almost immediately disoriented and intrigued. A smart, frequently entertaining thriller that has Cheadle on the run from FBI agent Guy Pearce for much of it, the movie's rarely boring, but it's disappointing how it pussies out as it goes along (and how it wastes Jeff Daniels). The film takes a twist halfway through (already entirely given away by every trailer and TV spot) that immediately transforms it from an interesting exploration of how terrorists are made into a run-of-the-mill Ludlum imitation. If pressed, I'd give "Traitor" a mild recommendation; it's a surprisingly engrossing, solid flick rearing its head in the dog days of late-August, just don't be teased by its initial threats to be something weightier or more substantive than another slick geopolitical thriller.

"Hamlet 2"

Having inexplicably caused a sensation at Sundance, "Hamlet 2" has had hype thrust upon ever since, and while it's not nearly as uproarious, outrageous, offensive or hilarious as you might be inclined to believe, it's a funny, entertaining late-summer comedy that might have been one for the ages had there been an opportunity to give the jokes a bit more polish. As it stands, I still laughed regularly, but never a hearty, enthusiastic belly laugh resulting from a truly brilliant joke. The story of a fruitlessly hopeful drama teacher Dana Marschz (Steve Coogan) who longs to stage an irreverent sequel to Shakespeare's "Hamlet," it takes a few minutes to get used to just how low-brow and general-audience-friendly the movie is, with dumb jokes and slapstick a plenty. Of the latter, while a bit involving a frequently-abused female student may be unfunny each time it's repeated, an extended sequence of Coogan drunk in a liquor store cage is physical comedy at its finest. Other bright spots include Elisabeth Shue playing herself and allowing herself to be poked fun at (Coogan gushes, "Dreamer... with the fuckin' horse!"), the "Rock Me Sexy Jesus" finale that the film's ad campaign has been built upon, and most of all, Coogan giving his almost-too-broad all as Marschz, making him pathetically ridiculous, but somehow always human. Being haphazardly linked to "Little Miss Sunshine," "Napoleon Dynamite" and "South Park" in its TV spots, "Hamlet 2" can't offer the outrageousness or consistency of, say, "Tropic Thunder," but there's still many laughs to be had, as well as really funny supporting work from Amy Poehler and Catherine Keener.

"The House Bunny"

Anna Faris has long been one of the best comic actresses around, showcasing her mad skills in the lame "Scary Movie" franchise, "Just Friends," "Lost in Translation" and "Smiley Face," but major stardom has yet to come calling for her just yet. With "The House Bunny," a surprisingly adorable, frequently funny bit of preteen girl power, she may finally have her vehicle that gets her to a higher plateau. But while Faris may be the reason the film's worth seeing, she's hardly the only good thing about it. The screenplay is as formulaic as can be -- you keep waiting for certain, necessary beats -- but I chuckled a whole lot more than I was expecting to, and there are only a few moments that noticeably fall flat. Though some gross-out stuff seems mandated by producers Adam Sandler and Allen Covert (this is a Happy Madison production after all), there's enough here to laugh at or enjoy without feeling like you've watched an entirely brainless endeavor. Minor nitpick: a magnets-on-back-brace gag is stolen from "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion."

"Death Race"

Even though she gets to utter the line "Fuck with me, cocksucker, and I'll show you who shits on the sidewalk," it's difficult to feel anything but depressed for Joan Allen when watching her in this dull, lowest-common-denominator-targeting piece of shit remake of Roger Corman's trashy but enormously entertaining "Death Race 2000." You know walking into the theater that this movie's going to be dumb, and that's fine, dumbness isn't inherently problematic with a film if it embraces its silliness. But what's amazing about Paul W.S. Anderson as a director, is that he takes films/concepts/ideas/premises that seem destined to be turned into "dumb fun" and manages to turn them into loud, joyless, leaden affairs that just pulverize you into an uninterested stupor. Not to mention, the racing sequences on display are damn near incomprehensible; I, for one, barely had a clue of what was going on, considering there's no sense of space, proximity, distance, and no discernible aesthetic difference between the vehicles. There are fleeting moments of gore and fast-paced frivolity here that offer momentary hope, but at the end of the day, "Death Race" isn't nearly entertaining enough to classify as "fun," and will really only satisfy plebes who get off on car destruction.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Little Bit of Catch-Up...

Friends, I lay myself at your feet. It's been over two weeks since I've posted any semblance of critique, and I apologize. I'm beginning to approach the possibility of an encroaching *gasp* paying job, and I fear this blog's time may be nigh; the last couple weeks, I've been wrapped up with interviews, the rare freelance gig, and enjoying my free time. I'm not ready to eulogize just yet, but I'm ever hopeful for employment -- this blog was always meant to be just a fun college thing anyway. Anyway, when and if that time comes, I'll offer more significant details, but for now, on I go. This week, I intend to get back into the couple-paragraphs-long-capsule swing of things, but right now, here's brief sum-ups of some of what I've caught and thought in the last couple weeks:

"Tropic Thunder"

Hot Damn! Perhaps predictably, Ben Stiller's satire of Hollywood's self-importance and self-obsession (his first directorial effort since 2001's "Zoolander") is the funniest, most daring, most extreme, and probably best comedy of the summer. It's incredibly smart, while unremittingly crude and over-the-top, and had me in convulsions of laughter both times I've seen it. In depicting actors starring in a war film who unwittingly get caught amidst real warfare, the film has higher aspirations than nearly any comedy we've seen as of late, and reaches them without ever getting too inside-baseball or brainless. Piled high with hilarious set-pieces and quotable lines (most courtesy of Robert Downey Jr.), "Tropic" is a blissfully R-rated ball of what-the-fuck ideas that should play like gangbusters to those who like both sharp satire and smart-stupid broad comedy. Stiller, back to 'funny' mode, leads the pack as the desperate-for-a-hit former action star Tugg Speedman, and Jack Black gives his most unhinged performance in years as comedian/heroin addict Jeff Portnoy, but this movie completely belongs to Downey. As Kirk Lazarus, an Australian method actor whose received pigmentation surgery to properly embody the black man he's playing, Downey is not only hilarious with his stereotypical delivery and dialogue, his work is, against all odds, a legitimately great piece of acting worthy of the awards and accolades his character so nonchalantly calculates. Everyone took a risk on this one, and as a result, Black and Stiller should win back some of those who were starting to lose their favor, and Downey should build even more upon his recent super-stardom. It's not a movie for everyone -- it's likely to genuinely offend or put off more than a few -- but count on excellent word-of-mouth and hearing people recount favorite jokes for weeks to come. Minor quibbles: the pairing of Nick Nolte and Danny McBride never reaches its potential, Bill Hader is noticeably underused, and the film's closing moment seems like a shameless, borderline-desperate re-visit to a gag envisioned as an audience pleaser. Still, none of that keeps it all from being a hell of a fun ride, and boasting some of the funniest shit you'll see in a movie this year. Get Some!

"Pineapple Express"

David Gordon Green's stoner action comedy entry into the Apatow factory has the best production values of the lot so far and it's one of the funnier ones. I've seen it twice now -- once blissfully stoned and once not -- and amazingly, I enjoyed it about as much both times. The rambling dialogue scenes hit the stoner nails right on the head without losing their funny, and Green does a great job shooting action-y set pieces (see the foot through the windshield car chase) as well as infusing the film with some of his lyrical Malick-esque sensibilities (a completely superfluous sequence involving our two leads playing leapfrog may be my favorite in the film). And, living up to the hype, James Franco is hilarious as perpetually fried weed dealer Saul, one of my favorite performances of the year so far.

"The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2"
Not by any means a girl movie that will cross boundaries and change minds of those not inclined to attend, but a completely worthwhile follow-up to a movie that I couldn't believe I actually enjoyed when I was dragged to it a few years back. Though it perhaps unrealistically prepares young girls for a world where every guy they meet is a handsome, polite, aw-shucks type with an insanely defined body, it's refreshing to see a movie/series that tells girls they don't necessarily need to subscribe to societal demands, and doesn't feel the need to create grandiose melodrama and sentiment to justify its existence (though I could've done without the pregnancy scare). All in all, a movie that doesn't talk down to its audience -- I'm looking at you, "Kit Kittredge" -- and actually makes for a pleasant enough sit, even for non-converts.

"Swing Vote"

Poor Kevin Costner's latest high-concept dramedy does so much that's admirable and effective and well-intentioned that it's only upon speculation that you recall what's wrong with it. Still, there's an awful lot to like here, and it says all the right things while remaining consistently entertaining. Though it's basically a two-hour Public Service Announcement for the dumber factions of the electorate, there are worse messages for politically-themed movies to have than simply "be an informed citizen." What Costner and co. are trying to say here is that your vote does matter, and don't let it go to waste by either abstaining from voting, or voting on surface wedge issues. The gimmick here is a cute one, and it's used to good effect; the movie even approaches satiric brilliance with its depiction of Pro-Life ads from Democrats and Pro-Gay Marriage ads from Republicans as they try to court our main character's vote. But while the movie's a consistently watchable time at the movie and has it's bright spots, it's difficult to ignore that many of the jokes/set-pieces don't ever really take off, the excellent supporting cast (chiefly Stanley Tucci) is largely wasted, and a suplot involving Costner's ex should've been scrapped entirely. A noble effort worthy of a matinee or a rental.

"The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor"
As you've probably heard, this movie is a total piece of shit, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a little fun with it. There's literally nothing nice to say about it from a logical standpoint; the effects are lame, the jokes are awful, the action sequences are nonsensical and poorly mapped out, Brendan Fraser's as annoying as ever, Maria Bello's British accent is astoundingly awful. And, oh yeah, there aren't actually any honest-to-goodness mummies in it. So, while I can't give any sort of rational reason for it, the movie has enough retarded energy coursing through its veins that, through it all, I was never bored and wasn't angry I had watched it. I wouldn't use the word 'entertaining' -- that's far too complimentary -- and I wouldn't recommend anyone watch it, so don't take this as even a half-hearted endorsement. But in the realm of soulless blockbusters, it's shockingly not particularly dull or painful and, if pressed, I'd watch it again over "The Mummy Returns."

"The X-Files: I Want to Believe"
I've only seen the first film and a few stray episodes -- all of which I enjoyed -- so I'm not a X-phile by any means, but for the life of me, I can't imagine who would enjoy this drab, dull, dry, uneventful bore. I know the X crew wasn't given much of a budget on this one, so perhaps that limited their scale, but that's no excuse for how talky and repetitive this sleep-inducer of a mystery is. I'm all for keeping things small, and avoiding the actiony and alien-filled theatrics, but there's only a germ of an idea here, and most of the running time is made up of Duchovny's Mulder and Anderson's Scully (both of whom constantly look like they're in serious danger of falling asleep) having the same conversation -- about faith and believing -- over and over again.