Archive for September, 2008

30 Sep 2008

Run Fatboy Run

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“Run Fatboy Run”mixes great performances with silly British humor to overcome its simple and predictable story to become one jolly good comedy.

After ditching his pregnant fiancée (Thandie Newton, “Norbit”) at the altar, Dennis Doyle’s (Simon Pegg, “Hot Fuzz”) life has gone nowhere. As a security guard at a fashion store, the most eventful parts of his week include getting to see his son during visitation times and chasing down drag queen shoplifters. When Dennis learns that his ex’s new fiancé (Hank Azaria, “The Simpsons”) is running a local marathon, he decides to enter the race to prove he wants her back.

Who would have thought the tall, insecure and awkward guy from “Friends”could craft an extremely entertaining comedy? In his directorial debut, David Schwimmer, a New York native, creates a British comedy that brings more laughs than England native Frank Oz’s dark British comedy “Death at a Funeral.” That’s quite a feat for someone who is more recently known for voicing the depressed and anxious giraffe in “Madagascar.”

Using a great mix of witty dialogue and awkward situations, “Run Fatboy Run”doesn’t fall victim to the over usage of slapstick and gross-out humor like many of this year’s comedies.

Whether it is Dennis vigorously using a clothing mannequin’s hand to scratch his crotch or having to watch his ex’s new fiancé powder his “goods”after a shower, the laughs are never in short supply.

With “Shaun of the Dead”and “Hot Fuzz,”Simon Pegg has become a comedic force to be reckoned with. In those two films, Pegg played a contained character who was serious and intelligent. In “Run Fatboy Run”one could say Pegg was let off the leash. Acting like a pathetic moron was what he was born to do. By constantly flaunting his unattractiveness, it seems Pegg may have taken a few cues from Will Ferrell.

Like most comedies today though, it is the supporting cast that often steals the show. In this film, it is undoubtedly Dylan Moran (“Shaun of the Dead”) as the gambling-addicted friend Gordon. Mixing randomness with vulgarity, Gordon delivers the film’s biggest laughs.

One example comes when talking about his last relationship ending in a broken collarbone and a dead meerkat. Another comes after Gordon pops Dennis’ gigantic blister, which leads to Gordon getting a face full of puss. Disgusting as that is, Gordon effortlessly turns the situation into an awkward one when he states, “That was the second most disgusting fluid I have ever had in my eye!”

Along with this amusing film comes an onslaught of special features ranging from audio commentaries to bloopers. The only worthwhile features are the always interesting deleted scenes and a pre-interview feature with Simon Pegg. In the pre-interview Pegg is seen sitting, waiting to be interviewed, but cannot get a drink of water, because all of the bottles are filled with vodka. Even the assistants don’t know what is going on after the third bottle they bring is still full of vodka not water. Pegg insists it is the clever Thandie Newton getting back at them.

“Run Fatboy Run”may not rank with the elite Judd Apatow comedies, but in this slow fall season, it is probably one of the best films you can rent.

‘Run Fatboy Run’
DVD Release Date: Sept. 23
Director: David Schwimmer
Starring: Simon Pegg, Thandie Newton and Hank Azaria
Genre: Comedy and romance
Rating: PG-13 for some rude and sexual humor, nudity and language.
Grade: B+

23 Sep 2008

Speed Racer

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For such a nonsensical film with the corniest acting imaginable, “Speed Racer” still manages to be a fun ride with its dazzling special effects and ridiculous race sequences.

“Speed Racer” is the story of Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch, “Into the Wild”), the second and most ambitious son in the racer family. Haunted by the death of older brother and idol Rex, (Scott Porter, “Prom Night”), Speed is trying to carry on the family legacy by winning the infamous Grand Prix race. On his way to the top, Speed is tempted by the owner of racing conglomerate Royalton Industries to sign to a major race team and merge his independent family team with the major corporation. Now, Speed must decide what is right for his family while trying not to relive all the mistakes that led to his brother’s demise.

For never seeing any of the original “Speed Racer” shows on television, I didn’t know what to expect from this big screen adaptation. After viewing this candy coated mind trip, I sure as hell hope the TV series was as corny and absurd, because I honestly have a hard time believing the creators of the Matrix (The Wachowski Brothers) could create something this frivolous.

There are two points that can be made about the Wachowskis’ film making abilities from watching “Speed Racer.

First, The Wachowski’s are still two of the most imaginative and creative filmmakers in Hollywood. While The Matrix redefined the special effects world with “bullet time”, “Speed Racer” redefines green screen capabilities by introducing the most exotic color pallet ever seen by the human eye.

I was only able to watch it on regular DVD, but am now afraid to think of what watching the headache inducing effects on Blu-ray would do to someone’s Occipital Lobe (part of the brain associated with visual processing).

Second, the brothers should stick to flicks that do not involve much humor or children characters. While Emile Hirsch and Christina Ricci play acceptable renegade adolescents and John Goodman does a good job of portraying the overbearing, but caring father, Paulie Litt’s character, Spritle is unbearable. Being that he is so young, I find it hard to blame him, but look to the people that guided his obnoxious role. Not even Cheetos can compete against Spritle and his monkey sidekick, because they are now officially the cheesiest!

Beyond the plot and acting is the saving grace of the film, the race sequences. Thankfully, most of them are long and by god are they entertaining. Science geeks will have a heart attack when they see that the laws of gravity and all common knowledge are broken, but casual viewers will be thrilled to see the acrobatic cars pop around the screen.

With the single disc version of the DVD comes only two special features. The first is a 15-minute making of the film hosted by the intolerable Paulie Litt (aka Spritle). While he is extremely annoying, the random trivia facts and behind the scenes peeks are actually worth spending the time watching. The other feature is a guide to the cars and the world of “Speed Racer”. Narrated by a guy who sounds like a Monster Truck announcer reject, this 15-minute piece is informative, but mostly unnecessary.

The C+ grade I gave this film might not show much enthusiasm, but I encourage all to experience film making ingenuity at its finest in “Speed Racer”.

‘Speed Racer’
DVD Release Date: September 16
Directors: Andy and Larry Wachowski
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, and Matthew Fox
Rating: PG for sequences of action, some violence and language.
Grade: C+

Jay Brissenden can be reached at: jbrissenden@nevadasagebrush.com

23 Sep 2008

Lakeview Terrace

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While Samuel L. Jackson (“Jumper”) does play the ultimate antagonist in “Lakeview Terrace,“the film’s true assailant is the irritating and uncomfortable plot.

Samuel L. Jackson plays the racist neighbor to the newlywed character played by Patrick Wilson. Photo from Movieweb.com

Interracial couple Chris (Patrick Wilson, “Evening”) and Lisa (Kerry Washington, “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer”) Mattson have just bought a gorgeous new house on Lakeview Terrace.  Located on top of a hill overlooking the Los Angeles valley area, it seems to be the perfect location.  That is, until they meet their disturbing and racist neighbor, Abel Turner, who also happens to be a cop.  With the law on his side, Abel pushes the Mattsons to their limits and forces them to decide whether or not Lakeview Terrace is going to be their permanent address.

When Sony/Screen Gems began its marketing campaign for Lakeview Terrace, they primarily focused on the downfalls of living next to an annoying neighbor.  They also promoted the lack of options to resolve a conflict when that neighbor is a cop.  What they purposely did not mention is the reason behind the neighbor’s contempt is due to their interracial relationship.

Making a movie with historical context about racism is one thing, but making a film about an overzealous racist neighbor only for the purpose of entertainment is another.  “Lakeview Terrace”focuses so heavily on Abel’s hatred towards the interracial couple, it often becomes extremely awkward and difficult to watch.

Director Neil LaBute may have wanted to show that these tensions still exist, but he does it in such a poor fashion that his thriller quickly becomes a tragedy.

Whether or not the script was proper, Jackson undoubtedly was the best possible candidate for the job.  For years he has been the ultimate intimidator. Highlights include Jules, the bible-quoting hit man in “Pulp Fiction”and the raving alcoholic insurance salesman in “Changing Lanes.”  In this movie, Jackson creates a truly disturbing character that will literally stop at nothing to get his way.

A prime example of his instability comes while chasing after a suspect while on duty.  When Able corners the suspect, the man threatens to kill himself with the shotgun he is holding.  Cool as can be, Able walks over, pumps the gun and says, “Pull the trigger!  If you are going to do it, do it!”  This leads to the man undoubtedly soiling his pants and Abel taking the gun only to then knock the guy over with it while asking, “What the hell’s the matter with you?”

Wilson and the stunningly beautiful Washington do a great job of countering Jackson’s part by playing the innocent newlywed couple.  Through all of their problems with Abel and the decision of whether or not to start a family, the chemistry is obvious and the audience can be assured that when the credits role, they will still be together.

Even with the convincing acting, the ridiculous events make the movie feel like fiction, instead of real life.  From the Mattsons’ air conditioning getting cut to Abel attacking Chris with a chainsaw through a fence, the outcome is more humorous than threatening.

While “Lakeview Terrace”had the potential to be as thrilling as last year’s “Disturbia,”the socially inept plot makes for one unpleasant theater going experience.

Jay Brissenden can be reached at jbrissenden@nevadasagebrush.com

‘Lakeview Terrace’
Release Date: Sept. 19
Director: Neil LaBute
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington
Genre: Thriller, Suspense
Rating: PG-13 for intense thematic material, violence, sexuality, language and some drug references.
Grade: C-

16 Sep 2008

Burn After Reading

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“Burn After Reading” may just be the most irrelevant movie of all time, but with a ensemble cast performance that is arguably more charismatic than “Tropic Thunder’s”, it instantly becomes one of the year’s best.

The film begins with troubled CIA agent Osborne Cox (John Malkovich, “Beowulf”) quitting his job to write his memoir and expose the wrongdoing inside the agency.  His wife Katie, (Tilda Swinton, “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian”) who currently is having an affair with Treasury agent Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney, “Leatherheads”), decides that it is now finally the right time to get a divorce.  In order to attain a good share of Osborne assets, she copies all of his files (including chapters from his memoir) onto a disk, which somehow manages to end up in the hands of two gym employees.  Seeing a great opportunity, the gym employees, Linda (Frances McDormand, “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day”) and Chad (Brad Pitt, “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”) blackmail poor unsuspecting Osborne.

That is only the start of what “Burn After Reading” has to offer.  The beauty of it all is that the writers and directors, Joel and Ethan Coen (“No Country for Old Men”), purposely set it up this way.  In fact, after all mayhem has ensued and the film is at its conclusion, a character asks, “What did we learn from all of this?” with another character responding, “I have no idea.”

It seems the Coen’s made this movie just for the sake of a bunch of talented actors to go wild onscreen.  The most ironic part is after making one of the most acclaimed and thought provoking motion pictures of our time, they have returned with the most immature film for adults ever produced.

Mr. Cox says it best when he calls the other members of the cast part of the “League of Morons.”  The film literally matches the wits of government agents vs. gym trainers and sexual deviants.  The result is pure magic and constant hilarity.

While it is hard to pick just one standout in the ensemble, it is easily “Ocean’s” series costars, Clooney and Pitt, who steal the show.

As the twitchy and paranoid womanizer, Clooney gives yet another award worthy performance.  Not only does he sleep with three different main characters in the film, but he creates a device so perverted, it will be hard to look at him the same way again.

Pitt on the other hand gives a supporting role so enthusiastic and flawless, it comes close to topping Tom Cruise’s turn as overweight swearing machine Les Grossman in “Tropic Thunder”.

As the ADD calisthenics trainer for Hardbodies gym, Chad is always jamming out to his IPod Mini.  With the IQ of platypus, it is gut busting watching him manage the blackmail when the best words for the information he has is “the shit”.

The film’s funniest moment undoubtedly comes when Cox is trying to explain to Chad that blackmail is a felony and that showing up on a Schwinn bicycle is hardly the way to intimidate someone. Chad, giggling like a school girl replies, “You think that’s a Schwinn?”

Coen Brother film veteran McDormand also piles on the laughs as the gym assistant who will go to any lengths to get four different kind of surgeries ranging from face lift to a tummy tuck.  Her lack of self respect leads to her hooking up with losers she meets online, with one of those losers not surprisingly being the very horny Clooney.

With its lack of a meaningful plot, “Burn After Reading” will leave some going “WTF mate?”, but will hopefully have most rolling in the aisles, begging for more.

‘Burn After Reading’
Release Date: September 12
Directors: Joel and Ethan Cohen
Starring: George Clooney, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Brad Pitt
Rated: R for pervasive language, some sexual content and violence.
Grade: A-

16 Sep 2008

Righteous Kill

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Dynamic duo are too far beyond their prime

What do you get when you mix two of the finest actors of the past 40 years with a by-the-numbers, predictable serial killer plot?  You get a by-the-numbers, predictable serial killer movie that fools the unsuspecting into believing it is something more.

“Righteous Kill” stars Robert DeNiro (“Stardust”) and Al Pacino (“88 Minutes”) as Turk and Rooster, two 30-year NYPD veterans who are investigating the murders of men directly relating to their pasts.  A serial killer has been picking off men who Turk and Rooster arrested for murder, but were later found innocent in court and set free.  When more and more evidence begins to point to a cop being the killer, tensions fly high and the NYPD’s most righteous men become suspect.

20 years ago, “Righteous Kill” would have been considered a solid entry in the always thrilling detective/serial killing genre.  Today, it is nothing more than what we see on “Dexter” each year on Showtime.  The only difference is “Dexter” is extremely clever, captivating, and best of all, capricious.

When the movie makes it clear that one of the two main characters is the killer within the first minute, audiences have a 50/50 chance of guessing right.  That means that 50% of the people watching probably already know the film’s biggest plot twist.  One would think a script from Russell Gewirtz, writer of the thrilling and sly 2006 Denzel Washington film “Inside Man,” could fool more people than that.

So who better than DeNiro and Pacino to turn a dull script into a fun and memorable ride?  That would be true if both were still at the top of their game and didn’t look so damn lethargic.  The truth is, they shouldn’t have waited 13 years after their brilliant teaming in “Heat” to make another film.

At age 65, DeNiro still does the tough guy act better than anyone.  In “Righteous Kill” he is the PD’s “no bullshit” man who will do whatever it takes to get the job done.  For many, this kind of performance would be top-notch, but for DeNiro, it’s just another notch on “Raging Bull’s” belt.  To no surprise though, he does show a good amount of charisma while banging Carla Gugino’s (“American Gangster”) character, who believes that rough is the only way to do it.

68-year-old Pacino delivers the film’s most likeable part, but hardly brings the “HEY-OH!” Pacino performance.  Always having to make sure DeNiro stays out of trouble and smooth things over with a quick one-liner, Pacino seems like he was being held back. Was the performance that brought him his Oscar a subtle yet mesmerizing role?  Hell no, it was a gritty and scary performance that demanded more screaming in two hours than all of the yelling that Keifer Sutherland does as Jack Bauer in a season of “24″!

Though the devilish marketing tempts, thy righteous filmgoer should know best not to pick this rotten Hollywood fruit.

‘Righteous Kill’
Release Date: September 12
Director: Jon Avnet
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, and Carla Gugino
Rated: R for violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and brief drug use.
Rating: D+