15 August 2008

An Open Letter to...Samuel L. Jackson

Welcome to a new feature on this blog. I had written one entry in the past, dedicated to Mr. Nicolas Cage. Well, now I plan on it being a semi-regular feature thanks to my growing disgust of Samuel L. Jackson. With that, here's the letter:

Mr. Jackson:

It seems your presence is inescapable. This is mostly due to the many movies you appear in this year, and I congratulate you on your continued success. However, quantity does not equal quality. And there hasn't been a quality performance from you in over six years (not including your voice work in The Incredibles or your cameos in Kill Bill: Vol. 2 or Iron Man). Now, if you chose your roles carefully, this would not be the huge problem it is. Alas, it seems you star in anything that crosses your desk and you've done no less than 20 movies in that time. And after each movie, you don't get better, just louder. You're beginning to sound like Dave Chappelle's version of you.

But what's truly frustrating is that you used to be good. Great even. You received great acclaim for your roles in Jungle Fever (1991) and Juice (1992). You were in the second-biggest movie of the '90s (Jurassic Park) and even got a well-deserved Oscar nomination (Pulp Fiction). And you were terrific in A Time to Kill (1995) and Jackie Brown (1997).

Now look what you've become. An over-the-top caricature of yourself. Your recent resumé is filled with poorly-made action films and ill-suited indie projects with great intentions but terrible execution. And don't get me started on some of the bad lines you've spoken lately. And now your next projects look to be the apex of your suckiness: Lakeview Terrace, the latest from the infamous Neil Labute (who I'm surprised was allowed to make another film after The Wicker Man). Let's take a look:

Seriously? "I'm the POLICE! You have to do what I say!" I would say this would make a serious play for the worst movie of the year. But then you top it, camping up the supposed-to-be-awesome The Spirit with the now infamous leaked Comic-Con footage. "Toilets are ALWAYS funny!" Oh, but they're not.

So here's what you do: Call Quentin Tarantino. Fast. If you don't, can't, or won't, you'll just have to retire. Think of it as a tribute to your fallen co-stars Isaac Hayes and Bernie Mac.

Jules Winfield's #1 Fan

13 August 2008

Mooney at the Movies: Tropic Thunder

"So you mean to tell me that our joke about actors playing the mentally disabled offended groups representing the mentally disabled? That's retarded." (DreamWorks)

Tropic Thunder (A-)

Starring Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr, Brandon T. Jackson, Steve Coogan, Nick Nolte, Danny McBride
Story by Stiller & Justin Theroux
Screenplay by Stiller & Theroux and Etan Cohen
Directed by Stiller

This may sound improbable, but Tropic Thunder is the smartest stupid comedy of the year.

From the smarmy highs of Smart People to the shameful but hilarious lows of Step Brothers, comedies this year have run the gamut, but Tropic Thunder is the brightest of them all (at least of the summer months). It's been a good while since we've had a satire this sharp, and boy is it welcome.

Whether it's the action star in need of a career reboot (Stiller, eerily similar to Tom Cruise, who makes a cameo here) to the hefty, drug-addicted comedian (Black, who's definitely a less tragic Chris Farley-type) to the ultra-serious Method actor (the brilliant Downey Jr, adhering to the Russell Crowe/Heath Ledger pastiche), the stranded stars of the incredibly expensive Vietnam picture, they all deserve to be taken down a peg.

But there's more than just brilliant parody, there's also plenty of darn funny jokes too. There's Stiller's accidental panda-cide, Black's withdrawals (and his increasingly outrageous promises to anyone who will release him from them), and Tom Cruise swearing up a storm, just to name a few. And enough simply cannot be said about Robert Downey Jr's performance. He's officially back on track, and between this and Iron Man (and last year's Zodiac snub), he deserves another Oscar nomination.

There's so much to love here and so much takes place that any plot description or further explanation would spoil the surprises that lie within (including glorious fake trailers, a trend I pray continues in years to come). So close this webpage, go outside, and get yourself to theater immediately and prepare to laugh like you haven't laughed in a while. But don't worry about staying through the end credits; they're the only weak part of the whole movie.

08 August 2008

Mooney at the Movies: Pineapple Express

Rogen, Franco, and McBride feel the burn. (Columbia)

Pineapple Express (B)

Starring Seth Rogen, James Franco, Danny McBride, Gary Cole, Rosie Perez, Amber Heard
Story by Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg
Screenplay by Rogen & Goldberg
Directed by David Gordon Green

Pineapple Express is the latest in the Judd Apatow canon. But like the unbelievable cannabis of the film, this is an entirely different breed.

For one, there's no sex. Co-writers Rogen and Goldberg (the much better Superbad) have traded it for drugs and violence. And there's plenty of both to spare here, even at the cost of some good jokes.

Now if you've seen the previews, you know the set-up: pothead Dale Denton (Rogen) witnesses a murder and goes on the lam with his dealer (Franco, in his best performance, well, ever). Luckily, the writers are gifted enough to keep this from simply being a one-joke movie ("Hey. We're high. This is funny").

Alas, with so many jokes flying, not all of them hit, and a lot of them come off as creepy or unsettling. Take for instance Dale's relationship with high school student (Amber Heard). It's not really offensive; just, well, kinda wrong. Of course this relationship does lead to some of the movies best bits, including a cameo by a completely-out-of-character Ed Begley, Jr. as her irate father, but it just all feels a bit icky.

And for some reason, everyone involved in the project has insisted on realistic violence, and with blood and bullets flying everywhere it makes for a darker tone that doesn't really belong in this movie. The only time it's not realistic: when Rogen and Franco take on Danny McBride (actually funny and not annoying) at his house. And that's because they fight hand-to-hand like girls and have no automatic weapons.

When the movie is really freewheeling and doesn't take itself too seriously is when it truly soars. During Rogen and Franco's rambling conversations about their jobs and friendship, you almost feel like these are real guys. And that actually aids the movie in its violent scenes: these guys really have no idea what they're doing, so they don't look very determined when they attack their assailants, guns a-blazing.

Much like this summer's earlier Apatow offering Step Brothers, it's funny but you know everyone involved could have done a little bit better. But you'll still laugh your head off. And I mean it, bro.

04 August 2008

Mooney at the Movies: American Teen

Megan plots her revenge. (Paramount Vantage)

American Teen (A-)

Directed by Nanette Burstein

Reality TV is everywhere. Networks have crammed their schedules with it. MTV has replaced nearly everything music-related with it. There's even a whole cable channel devoted to it.

American Teen has nothing to do with any of it. This is the actual reality, even if some of it seems a bit forced or recreated.

Basically, pop documentary filmmaker Nanette Burstein (who won the directing award at Sundance this year) followed four seniors and their friends around for a year in Warsaw, Indiana, as they negotiate the vast social battlefield that is high school, complete with failed relationships, public disgrace, and the inscrutable pressure of getting into college.

The cast of characters is here: the rich drama queen, the superstar athlete, the cute artsy hipster girl, the uber band nerd, and more. The clichés are all present and accounted for, but the facades drop quickly and we begin to understand why they viciously retaliate, crack under pressure, retreat after a bad break-up, and hide from love, respectively.

Through these students, we get to experience the joy, pain, and utter frustration of high school all over again. While that may seem like a bad trip, it's through Burstein's lens that we get to remember how naive, how selfish, how desperate we were when we were in high school. It's really quite an experience, especially to those who see one documentary a year tops.

This is not the film that will win the Best Documentary Feature at the Oscars next year (even though it's deserving). There's nothing here that's uncovering some shocking truth about Iraq or further investigation into the Holocaust. It's simply entertaining and gripping and how much was staged or simply caught off hand is simply not worth the debate when a film is this compelling.

American Teen is poised to become a word-of-mouth hit, but it's still got a tough road to mainstream success. It may not be the indie gem everyone will love, but it will be a diamond in the rough to its rewarded viewers.