DUE DATE: The Film Babble Blog Review

DUE DATE (Dir. Todd Phillips, 2010)

As surely every critic has said this is essentially a remake of PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES except the trains are replaced with drugs and much more scatological humor.

In the Steve Martin role is Robert Downey Jr. who is trying to get from Atlanta to Los Angeles for his wife’s c-section and he’s saddled with Zack Galifinakis in the John Candy role.

Galifianakis is an air-headed pot-smoking eccentric with a perm toting around a small dog who dreams of going to Hollywood to become an actor.

Downey Jr. is, uh, I forget his profession, but he’s an uptight jerk.

Mix in Michelle Monaghan as Downey Jr.’s pregnant wife and cameos from Jamie Foxx, Juliette Lewis, Danny McBride (the only one who’s slightly funny here), and RZA and you’ve got yourself a wasted cast.

Downey Jr. and Galifianakis wreck a rental car, get in a high speed chase in a stolen Mexican security vehicle, and get stoned as well as other not worth mentioning shenanigans.

All the while Galifianakis has his recently deceased father’s ashes in a coffee can. Inevitably somebody accidentally brews it as coffee. This actually results in one of the few good lines when Galifianakis says: “Well, that’s the circle of life – my father enjoyed drinking coffee, and we enjoyed my father AS coffee.”

There are laughs here and there in DUE DATE, but not enough to make this anywhere near a solid comedy.

Like in “The Hangover” Phillips shoots like he’s making a drama with too many close-ups and unnecessary crane shots.

It’s the parts that try to get personal that fall flattest. The much much funnier PLANES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES had a satisfactory sentimental tone in its earned conclusion, but this film’s heart is shoehorned in.

I mean what’s the point of giving Downey Jr. a serious monologue about how his father left when he was a kid? Oh yeah, I remember – it was a set-up to a lame joke by Galifianakis about how his father wouldn’t do that because he loved him. Ugh.

There’s also the badly handled subplot that Downey Jr. gets into his mind that his wife may have cheated on him with his best friend Foxx. Again that’s only there to set up another lame joke.

Both Downey Jr. and Galifianakis are likable credible actors, but here they are 2 guys that most people would want to stay away from. The same can be said about the movie.

But hey! If you like humor about slugging kids in the gut or masturbating dogs – this may be the movie for you.

More later…

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IRON MAN 2: The Film Babble Blog Review

IRON MAN 2 (Dir. Jon Favreau, 2010)


Summer sequel season has begun with the return of Robert Downey Jr. as Marvel Comics super hero Iron Man. But you not only know that, you’ve probably already seen it as it had the second-highest May opening of all time grossing $133 million over this last weekend. For my two cents I’ll say upfront that IRON MAN 2 is a good time, not the great time that the original was because it’s a bit messy. Highly stylized and funny with quite a few sheer thrills, but still a bit messy.

We catch up with Tony Stark, not long after revealing his identity as Iron Man, enjoying his reign as a global celebrity who claims to have “privatized world peace.” He seemingly takes in stride that he’s called before a Senate Committee for a hearing led by Garry Shandling as a disapproving Senator who wants Stark to turn over the Iron Man suit to the military. Our snarky hero is more concerned that the palladium in the arc reactor keeping his heart beating has begun to poison his body so he’s trying to live it up since his days are numbered.


Meanwhile villainy toils in the shadows in the form of Mickey Rourke as a crusty Russian who has built his own arc reactor and a suit that has its arms outfitted with cybernetically controlled whips. Whiplash, as he’s dubbed, blames Stark Industries for his father’s death, and seeks revenge. He attacks Stark on a racetrack in Monaco, but Stark defeats him after some close calls when he’s able to get to his snazzy Iron Man suitcase. Also meanwhile, and that’s one problem with this film – too many “meanwhile’s”, Sam Rockwell as a conniving competing weapons manufacturer plots to take down Stark and sees an ally in Whiplash.

Gwyneth Paltrow returns as Stark’s right hand lady Pepper Pots who Stark promotes to CEO. Terrence Howard doesn’t return as Lt. Colonel James “Randy” Rhoades, for reasons that aren’t quite clear he’s been replaced by Don Cheadle. Scarlett Johansson joins the cast as Stark’s new assistant who is revealed to be a double agent working with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), introduced in the post credits of the original, of S.H.E.I.L.D. which was co-founded by Stark’s father (Mad Men‘s John Slattery) who appears in an old Stark Expo film that just happens to contain a secret message.

Whew! There’s a bunch of other elements I’m not going to go into because, well, you get the picture – it’s over stuffed with plot strands. This means a number of payoffs, such as Rourke’s placing in the climax, are a bit compromised. By the way Rourke’s mock Ruskie accent made me keep thinking he was going to say “I’m going to break you” like Dolph Lundren did in ROCKY IV. Johansson doesn’t make much of an impression except in one scene where she kicks the ass of a squad of baddies that comes off like an audition for CHARLIE’S ANGELS 3D.

As for the others – Paltrow just hovers around, Cheadle is a bit more engaged yet ultimately just along for the ride, and Rockwell does a decent job but doesn’t bring much new to the game. Director Favreau reprises his part as Stark’s bodyguard giving himself more screen time which doesn’t detract, but maybe should have been deleted scenes for the later DVD/Blu ray.

As we all know though, it’s Downey Jr.’s stage and he makes the most of it. Glib wisecracks aside he has a great interrogation room scene with Rourke. Both actors bring it dramatically for one of the only breaks from the comic action spectacle, and it helps give the movie some needed grounding.

So the fresh feeling of the first one is gone and the plotting is a bit creaky as well and the exposition heavy, but there’s enough fun to go around until the next time (stay through the credits to get a glimpse of what’s coming). IRON MAN 2 is much better than just passable (as super hero sequels often are), and its heart (or arc reactor) is in the right place.

More later…

High Concept Holmes

SHERLOCK HOLMES
(Dir. Guy Ritchie, 2009)

The recreation of the career of Robert Downey Jr. as a bankable action hero continues with this expensive explosive epic that re-casts Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic character as, well, a bankable action hero. It’s a conceit that works grandly for considerable chunks of Guy Ritchie’s period production, but an unfortunate feeling remains that such a literary icon as Sherlock Holmes shouldn’t be shoehorned into James Bondian conventions or Indiana Jones-ish set-piece progressions.

The thinking behind this is understandable (or elementary) – who wants to see stiff sitting room scenes filled with exposition? Audiences want high octane action and that’s what they’re going to get here. Holmes was a martial arts master in Doyle’s books and short stories so that’s an element Ritchie and Downey Jr. run with. Through stylized breakdowns of his fighting strategies we get into Holmes’ head blow by blow. However the attempts to get into his head clue by clue are less successful.

The movie begins with Holmes and trusty sidekick Watson (Jude Law) preventing a human sacrifice by the dark treacherous Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). Though Blackwood is jailed and sentenced to death, he still inspires fear with threatening prophecies of terror that he’ll orchestrate from beyond the grave. 3 days after he’s hanged and pronounced dead by Watson, he appears to have torn through the walls of his tomb and is back among the living. Holmes is, of course, back on his trail with distractions such as Rachel McAdams as the infamous Irene Adler and Watson’s bromance blocking bride to be (Kelly Reilly) muddying up the waters.

Muddy is apt for it’s a muddled mess of a mystery – a fast paced muddle, but a muddle all the same. For most moviegoers it won’t matter as there is fun to be had with Downey Jr.’s almost contagious satisfied smirk of a performance. His accent is much the same as it was in CHAPLIN (that is – not very convincing but still adequate) and his jovial demeanor does much to carry the film through dark passages dealing with black magic and a perplexing plot to overthrow Parliament. Law doesn’t make much of an impression as he just seems to be along for the ride and his fiancée subplot could be dropped completely with no complaints. Strong’s steely faced Blackwood is a worthy adversary, but his evil plans fail to fascinate making the murky mechanics of the third act bog down the proceedings.

Its ending obviously broadcasts that SHERLOCK HOLMES wants to be the first of a franchise, club sandwiched between IRONMAN efforts, primed for event movie seasons but I pray that it’s a one off. Downey Jr. is one of the most capable and interesting actors working today, but I fear his hipster appeal will make for major miscasting in future famous icon reboots: Robert Downey Jr. as Tarzan/The Shadow/Buck Rogers/etc. Maybe I’m being too cynical, but as much as I enjoyed particular parts of this film and would like to write it off as pure escapism, I couldn’t quite escape the notion that it’s a glorified waste.

More later…

Another Round Of Great DVD Commentaries

Several years back I posted about great DVD commentaries with a top ten list of my favorites (“Let Them All Talk” Sept. 29th, 2005). Since then I’ve been collecting notes every time a new (or new to me) commentary was particularly interesting. I’d thought I’d share them in yet another patented Film Babble Blog list. Now, I know a lot of folks don’t listen to commentaries but I thought talking about some really notable ones would encourage folks to give them a try and turn that track on – if only just to sample. So, here goes:


10 More Great DVD Commentaries

1. THE PASSENGER (Dir. Michelangelo Antonioni, 1975) A rare feature-length solo commentary track by Jack Nicholson puts this at the top of the list especially as he declares: “This picture, ‘The Passenger’, was probably the biggest adventure in filming I ever had in my life.” His involving comments are helpful because without them the film can be a long haul. Most compellingly is Nicholson’s breakdown of how the final sequence was filmed (contains Spoilers!):

Nicholson: “Now, that shot was the reason they built the hotel. The hotel, in order that the camera be able to dolly out through those bars and out the window…why I hope Michelangelo doesn’t mind my revealing of the magic of his work…was that the entire hotel could be mounted on a crane and broken in half so that they could go out into the courtyard, shoot film back towards the hotel, after they exited, with the hotel having been pushed back together again and reconstructed for the remainder of the shot.”

Whew! Hope Jack sees fit to do other commentaries ’cause that one’s a keeper.

2. FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (Dir. John Hughes, 1986)

This customer review on Amazon says it best:

“Film buffs, DVD collectors, and John Hughes fans beware! The “Bueller…Bueller…” edition DVD does not include the commentary track by writer/producer/director John Hughes which was included on the original 1999/2000 DVD release. It is a great commentary and is sorely missed from this edition.”

That’s right, even the new Blu ray of this 80’s teen classic is sans Hughes commentary and the DVD I was recently sent from Netflix was the “Bueller…Bueller…” edition. The Hughes track on the 1999 edition is well worth seeking out because it truly is one of the most insightful listens all the way through. Some sample quotes:

Hughes: “After the film wrapped, Mr. and Mr. Bueller (Lyman Ward and Cindy Pickett), in real life, got married. At the time we were shooting this, Jennifer Grey and Matthew (Broderick) were dating. It was kind of a strange situation because everybody in
this scene is in love.”

And my favorite bit is the art gallery scene:

Hughes: “And then this picture, which I always thought this painting was sort of like making a movie. A pointillist style, which at very very close to it, you don’t have any idea what you’ve made until you step back from it.

I used it in this context to see that he’s (Alan Ruck) looking at that little girl. Again, it’s a mother and child. The closer he looks at the child, the less he sees. Of course, with this style of painting. Or any style of painting really.

But the more he looks at, there’s nothing there. I think he fears that the more you look at him the less you see. There isn’t anything there. That’s him.” Watch the scene sans commentary here.

Used copies can be found fairly easily of the 1999 version with the commentary as its only special feature (what more do you need?). Just look for the one with the cover pictured to the left.

3. TOUCH OF EVIL: THE 50 ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Dir. Orson Welles, 1958) The packaging is mistaken when it lists the “Preview Version feature commentary” to be Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and Restoration Producer Rick Schmidlin. It’s the 1998 “Restored Version” that contains their commentaries. The other versions – the theatrical and preview cuts have fine bonus audio tracks with writer/filmmaker F.X. Feenet and historians Jonathan Rosenbaum and James Naremore, but it’s the Heston/Leigh/Schmidlin track on the first disc of the wonderful 50th Anniversary Edition that I strongly recommend.

Wonderful moments abound: Schmidlin pointing out: “When you see Joseph Cotton listen to the voice but it’s not Cotton…” Heston: “It’s not Cotton?” Schmidlin: “It’s, uh, Orson’s voice.” Heston: “For Heaven’s sake.” Leigh: “Orson did Joe’s voice?” Also its amusing to hear Schmidlin call out which shots are Welles’s from which are Harry Keller’s later inserts to the repeated rekindling of Heston’s and Leigh’s memories. “You’ve really done your homework” Heston remarks with a slight chuckle in this charming and essential commentary.

4. BLOOD SIMPLE (Dir. Joe Coen, 1984) This beyond odd track features audio commentary by “Kenneth Loring”, the “artistic director” of “Forever Young Films” (a fictional gig – but whatever). Maybe the most surreal listen on this list.

5. TROPIC THUNDER (Dir. Ben Stiller, 2008)

As 5 time Oscar winner Kirk Lazarus in a tense moment making a Vietnam War movie, in black-face mind you, Robert Downey Jr. declares: “I don’t drop character till I done the DVD commentary!” You know what? Like a real method actor, he keeps his word.

In this free form three way between Downey Jr., Stiller, and Jack Black, the snark level is high which is way apt considering the over the top tangents of said film. One such sample bit during the opening mock trailers – specifically “Satan’s Alley” with Downey Jr. and Tobey Macquire as tortured homosexual monks:

Stiller: “Sort of an alternate universe for Spiderman and Iron Man.”
Downey Jr.: “I was trying to ride Tobey when we was shooting this thing but he wouldn’t have none of it. Talkin’ ’bout happily married.”

6. I’M NOT THERE (Dir. Todd Haynes, 2007) Haynes’ odd yet transfixing meditation on “the many lives of Bob Dylan” (one of my top 5 films of 2007) confused a lot of people, particularly those unfamiliar with the troubled troubadour’s background. Haynes delivers a commentary that should clear up that huge cloud of confusion as he sites references and breaks down various inspirations for every detail in every scene. Some sample quotage:

Haynes: “This is the entrance of Cate Blanchett in the film. The role of Jude was something that I’d always planned, from the very first concept of the film that I gave to Dylan in 2000, that it would be portrayed by an actress. And the reason for this was really for me to try to get to the core of what this next change really looked like and felt like to audiences at the time. How he became this sort of feline character offstage and this sort of bouncing marionette onstage. Full of all these extravagant androgynous gestures that we’d never seen before and we’d never see again after.

The commentary is filled with so many more elaborate descriptions, or justifications, for every aspect of Haynes’ challenging anti-biopic.


7. SUPERBAD: UNRATED EXTENDED EDITION (Dir. Greg Mottola, 2007)

Every Judd Apatow production’s DVD commentary is entertaining, from Freaks ‘N Geeks to PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, but this group cast track with director Mottola, screenwriter Evan Goldberg, actors Seth Rogen, Michael Cera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jonah Hill, and producer Apatow is IMHO the best of the bunch. Largely because Apatow brought along his nine-year-old daughter Maude. Apatow tries to get the guys to keep it clean but it doesn’t last long. A sample exchange:

Hill: “This scene is fuckin’ hilarious, man.”
Apatow: “Jonah, Jonah…”
Hill: “Yeah?

Apatow: “Maude’s over there.”
Rogen: “You keep swearing, stop swearing Jonah!”

Hill: “Dude, what is this, bring your daughter to work day? I mean…”
Apatow: “Just be cool man, be cool! This is the only way I could do it…I don’t have a
babysitter, I’m in New York City here to do Conan and Colbert by the way…I don’t have a babysitter so what am I gonna do? Leave her like, uh, with the concierge?”
Hill: “I dunno, dude I’m not…”

Cera: “Like “Home Alone 2!”
Hill: “It’s “Superbad”! I curse the whole movie…the commentary, I mean, it’s like…whatever.”
Apatow: “You know, I’m not trying to ruin it…I’m not trying to ruin it…”
Hill: “Let’s just go back to the movie; let’s just go back to talking about the movie…”
Rogen: “It’s kinda ruining the commentary Judd, if Jonah can’t say
what the fuck he wants to say.
Hill: “Yeah! I can’t curse, why don’t you just…”
Apatow: “You know what? I’m not 15 years old and don’t have a kid – I’m an adult like Greg, I have a child. This is my reality.”
Hill: “If I had a kid I wouldn’t bring it to work with me.”

Whoa – some actual drama there mixed with the laughs. Let’s minus the laughs for this next one:

8. TAXI DRIVER (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 1976)

Writer Paul Schrader sounds a bit hesitant upon first opening up (“whatever comments I have…are really not from inside the director’s vision”) about the film and his screenplay’s seminal 70’s statement about urban alienation but once he gets going it’s quite a cutting companion piece. Sample quotage:

Schrader: “What happens at the end happens at the beginning.”

“When Marty first told me that he cast Albert (Brooks) I was sort of surprised because, you know, it was a nothing character. Well, that’s the secret: cast the comic in a nothing character and you get somebody interesting.”

“I don’t believe the script should have any references to camera angles whatsoever. There’s only one camera angle in the script, and that’s the tracking shot at the very end, and I put that one in there because I thought that it was important we see this crime scene from the eye of God. And the only way we could make that point is if we put the camera on the ceiling and track.”

9. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FABULOUS STAINS (Dir. Lou Adler, 1982) In the interest of space I’ll refer you back to this post (“Talking ‘Bout A Generation Gap” Oct. 3rd, 2008) in which I first babbled ’bout Diane Lane and Laura Dern’s very funny commentary.

10. NASHVILLE (Dir. Robert Altman, 1975)

Luckily before beloved “New Hollywood” auteur Altman died he recorded a number of worthwhile commentaries but this one is absolutely essential for his magnum opus. As rambunctious as Altman was infamous for being, his gruff ingratiating commentary makes you feel like you’re sitting on the couch with him as he rambles. Some random rambles:

“When this film first came out, they hated the music. They said this wasn’t real country music. But I wasn’t looking for good music, not that they make a lot of it there…”

“We cast these cars as carefully as we did the people who drove them.”

“Since we knew that I had no way I could control the palette of this film, the color of this film, because I knew I was going to be dealing in real situation for we were just invading an event. Even though if we created it, we had to deal with…we weren’t paying these people as extras we just had to go where they were.”

Special TV Series DVD Set Honorable Mention: Spaced (Dir. Edgar Wright, 1999-2001) This short lived but brilliant BBC series is outfitted in a nice 3 DVD set with multiple commentary tracks featuring guests like Kevin Smith, Diablo Cody, Patton Oswalt, Bill Hader, Matt Stone, and Quentin Tarantino sparring with Wright and various cast members including, of course, Simon Pegg and Jessica Haynes. Great stuff.

Okay! I hope that’ll point out some good commentaries out there. I’d love to hear your thoughts on essential bonus audio tracks so please send ’em on. You know where to find me.

More later…

WHAT JUST HAPPENED & 10 Better Inside Hollywood Homages

Just released on DVD:

WHAT JUST HAPPENED
(Dir. Barry Levinson, 2008)

“Hunter S. Thompson once said to me ‘Bruce, my boy, the movie business is a cruel and shallow money trench where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs.’ Then he added, ‘there’s also a negative side.’” – Bruce Willis written by Art Linson in this damn movie.


The above quote is rejiggered from a line attributed to Thompson which has been often alternately applied to the TV, radio, music business and the corporate communications world. That this misguided movie would have Willis (playing himself) claim it was spoken directly to him is one of the many things wrong with this rightly ignored project. The title is apt for such a film with a stellar cast that appeared and disappeared in an instant last fall. For most film folks this would be a dream A-list line-up – Robert De Niro as the lead with John Turturo, Catherine Keener, Stanley Tucci and Robin Penn Wright then throw in Bruce Willis and Sean Penn playing themselves and you’ve struck gold, right? Not with such dreary uninvolving material mostly concerning cutting a dog getting shot in the head out of a prestige picture and 40 minutes fighting over whether Bruce Willis will shave his bushy beard before a new production.



No doubt similar dire situations in Hollywoodland happened and still happen all the time but it hardly makes for compelling cinema. A little of a gruff De Niro as a once powerful producer plagued with these problems going back and forth from one uneasy conflict to another goes a long way. The intertwined subplot about his ex-wife (Penn Wright) sleeping with Tucci tries as it might but comes nowhere near making an emotional dent. Better is Michael Wincott as the strung out British director of the Sean Penn project who gripes about his artistic integrity being compromised when the cold calculating Keener threatens to take his movie and cut it herself. Willis profanely blares about artistic integrity too, but in a more destructive manner by throwing things and berating people on the set. ‘Oh, those inflated egos’ we’re supposed to think but instead I found myself looking at my watch.


Based on Art Linson’s book of the same name (with the sub-title “Bitter Hollywood Tales From the Front Line”) and marking a return to a smaller independent style production for Barry Levinson, WHAT JUST HAPPENED is nowhere near the great insider movies of years past (see below) unless anybody considers AN ALLAN SMITHEE FILM: BURN HOLLYWOOD BURN a classic and nobody does. It’s a shame to see De Niro and fellow ace actors tread water in a sea of industry indifference. Just like its IMDb entry, there are no memorable quotes or new lessons learned, just a lot of unpleasant exchanges between unlikable people making for a film with a charcoal soul. What just happened? Nothing worthwhile that I can think of.


As for better films about the same subject, that is movies about making movies, here are:


10 Essential Hollywood Insider Homages (Or Scathing Satires Of The Business We Call Show)


1. SUNSET BOULEVARD (Dir. Billy Wilder, 1950) Classics 101. Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond is truly one of the greatest screen characters of all time but with over a half a century of accolades and greatest films ever lists you don’t need me to tell you that. A film that set the precedent for dropping real names and featuring film folks play themselves (Cecil B. Demille, Buster Keaton, H.L. Warner, and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper among them). The movie plays on TCM regularly so if you haven’t seen Swanson declare “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small!” you’re sure to get your chance soon.


2. THE PLAYER (Dir. Robert Altman, 1991) No less than 60

Hollywood names play themselves in this excellent satire of the state of the film industry in the early 90’s. As Griffin Mill, an executive who murders a writer he believes is harassing him, Tim Robbins nails it when he suggests: “I was just thinking what an interesting concept it is to eliminate the writer from the artistic process. If we could just get rid of these actors and directors, maybe we’ve got something here.”


3. A STAR IS BORN (Dir. George Cukor, 1954) Actually the second remake of a 1937 film (skip the third one with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson), this is the ultimate ‘you meet the same people on the way up as on the way down’ morality play. Judy Garland’s career is taking off as husband James Mason finds himself on the outs turning to alcoholism and then to suicide (if thats a Spoiler! you really ought to tend to your Netflix queue or consult the TCM schedule). A still blinding spotlight on the fickleness of fame.


4. BARTON FINK (Dir. Joel Coen, 1991) A tour de force for John Turturo as a New York playwright struggling to write a wrestling B-movie script in 1940’s Hollywood. He fancies himself an intellectual who speaks for the common man, but he ignores an actual common man – his hotel neighbor played with gusto by John Goodman who could sure tell you some stories. Written by the Coen brothers as they themselves were struggling with writer’s block on what turned out to be the masterful MILLER’S CROSSING, the feel of spiritual distraction that all writers suffer from has never been so perfectly portrayed. Well, until #5 on this list that is.

5. ADAPTATION (Dir. Spike Jonez, 2002)


“To begin… To begin… How to start? I’m hungry. I should get coffee. Coffee would help me think. Maybe I should write something first, then reward myself with coffee. Coffee and a muffin. Okay, so I need to establish the themes. Maybe a banana-nut. That’s a good muffin.” A peek into the writing process of Charlie Kaufman (played by Nicholas Cage) who has to adapt the book “The Orchid Thief” and ends up writing himself into his screenplay. Catherine Keener, John Cusack, and John Malkovich play themselves (from the set of BEING JOHN MALKOVICH) while we get an abstract window into the world of a sought after screenwriter looking for more than just love from the business.


6. TROPIC THUNDER (Dir. Ben Stiller, 2008) Over the top and in your face with a fast pace and a loving embrace of literally explosive satire, Stiller put himself back on top of the comedy heap here. With one of the best ensemble casts a comedy has ever had including Jack Black, the Oscar nominated Robert Downey Jr. in blackface, Nick Nolte, Steve Coogan, Matthew McConaughey and (say what?) Tom Cruise as a crude bald pudgy hip hop dancing movie executive, we’ve got a crew well versed in tweaking the business that broke them. There are hundreds of zingers in this mad making of a film within a film but maybe Danny McBride as an explosive engineer spouting off as he rigs a bridge in the jungle is one of the best: “That’s it! Im going into catering after this!”

7. POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE (Dir. Mike Nichols, 1990) Another tale of a career in movies that has hit the skids, but given a hip post modern cynical spin by Carrie Fisher who adapted her semi-autobiographical book. Not soon after leaving rehab Meryl Streep as actress Suzanne Vale exclaims “Thanks GOD I got sober now so I can be hyper-conscious for this series of humiliations!” This is after finding out a new beau (Dennis Quaid) is cheating on her, which is on top of over hearing people on the set talking about how much weight she’s gained. These worries pale compared to having to live with mother Shirley MacLaine (also a former actress based on Fisher’s mother Debbie Reynolds). MacLaine asks her daughter: “I was such an awful mother… what if you had a mother like Joan Crawford or Lana Turner?” Streep deadpans: “These are the options? You, Joan or Lana?” The funny side to growing up famous with a song sung by Streep to boot (“I’m Checkin Out” by Shel Silverstein).


8. THE BIG PICTURE (Dir. Christopher Guest, 1989) The forgotten Christopher Guest film. Pity too, because there’s a lot of wit to spare in this send up featuring Kevin Bacon as a fresh out of film school director whose first film gets compromised at every turn. A crack cast surrounds Bacon including frequent Guest collaborator Michael McKean (who also co-wrote the screenplay), Jennifer Jason Leigh, Terri Hatcher, and the late great J.T. Walsh as stoic but still sleazy studio head Alan Habel. Best though is Martin Short as Bacon’s slimy permed agent Neil Sussman: “I don’t know you. I don’t know your work. But I think you are a genius. And I am never wrong about that.” Look for cameos by Elliot Gould, John Cleese, and Eddie Albert as well as a Spinal Tap-ish song by a band named Pez People (“The Whites of Their Eyes” written and performed by Guest/McKean).


9. S.O.B. (Dir. Blake Edwards, 1981)


Despite trying to peddle ersatz post Sellers expiration date Pink Panther movies at the time, Edwards showed he still had some bite left in a few juicy farces – 10, VICTOR VICTORIA and this vulgar but saucy satire. The later concerns a film within the film that flops so film maker Felix Farmer (Richard Mulligan) decides to re-shoot the family film as a R-rated romp with wife Julie Andrews (Edwards’ real life wife) going topless. A lot of this comical exposé of desperate sordid behavior in the movie business went over my head when I saw it as a kid but a recent viewing got me up to speed. Another fine ensemble cast alongside Mulligan and Andrews – Robert Vaughn, Larry Hagman, Robert Loggia, Robert Webber, Robert Preston (lots of Roberts!), and it was William Holden’s last film (shout out to #1 on this list).


10. BOWFINGER (Dir. Frank Oz, 1999) Many folks despise this campy comic caper of a film maker and his crew making a film (another film within a film plot) with an action star who doesn’t know he’s in the movie but I think it’s Steve Martin’s last great movie. Eddie Murphy’s too if you don’t count his extended glorified cameo in DREAMGIRLS. As Robert K. Bowfinger, Martin channels his old wild and crazy guy persona into a snake oil salesman of a wannabe movie mogul. Heather Graham (playing an aspiring sleeping her way to the top starlet that many thought was based on one time Martin flame Anne Heche), Robert Downey Jr., Christine Baranski, and Terrance Stamp are all along for the ride.


Okay! I was purposely skipping biopics or other movies that are based on true stories so don’t be complaining about ED WOOD or CHAPLIN not making the cut. There were a few close calls – LIVING IN OBLIVION and MOVERS & SHAKERS among them. Are there any other Hollywood insider movies that I forgot? Please let me know.


More later…

The Film Babble Blog Top Ten Movies Of 2008

Like last year, I held off making this post earlier because there were several contenders I hadn’t seen yet. It seems my area is the last to get certain movies in current circulation. Also, I still haven’t seen a number of movies I see making other ‘Top Ten’ lists including WALTZ FOR BASHIR, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, and FROZEN RIVER among many others that are filling my NetFlix queue right now. Of course, nobody could see every movie in the running so now is as good a time as any to list my favorites. So here’s my Top Ten:


1. SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK (Dir. Charlie Kaufman)


st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } It got snubbed by the Academy and many critics dissed on Kaufman’s epic tragicomic (as Wikipedia calls it) but I loved every sad sordid symbolic second. Philip Seymour Hoffman as the literally crumbing playwright Cayden Cotard builds sets inside of sets inside a ginormous warehouse recreating New York with New Yorkers and the actors that play them – including him. Joining him is maybe the best female ensemble cast ever assembled for such a movie – Catherine Keener, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Hope Davis, Samantha Morton, Emily Watson, Michelle Williams, and the great Diane Wiest. Maybe it was just too cerebral and complex to catch on but I believe time will lay waste to much of the competition while this beyond meta-masterpiece will still stand strong. My original review is right here.

2. WALL-E (Dir. Andrew Stanton)


Such a dark dystopian premise for such a cute heartwarming movie that plays beautifully like sci-fi Chaplin. Wall-E (I’m sure you well know but I’ll tell you again anyway) is a garbage compacting robot left behind on Earth hundreds of years from now who falls in love with a search probe (who by design looks like a large iPod) sent by the Buy N Large Corporation. It doesn’t sound like the sort of stuff that would make one swoon but Pixar yet again proves they can do anything from making rats lovable (and here that extends to cockroaches) to making us believe robots can love. An animated instant classic as my original review proclaimed.

3. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } (Dir. Danny Boyle)


There’s been an odd mini comment war on my original review of this delightful yet edgy Mumbai success story, which goes to show that this was one of the most talked about and vital movies of the year. It’s an amazing spectacle from start to finish with protagonist taking us through his hard knock life by way of a glittery game show – the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. As the comments on my post suggest, some folks couldnt get past the violence or what they thought was an inaccurate cultural depiction but dammit, I thought it was a stone cold blast! I’ll bet (again literally) it’ll win Best Picture at the Oscars.

4. FROST/NIXON (Dir. Ron Howard) Nice to see Opie Cunningham take a break from the dumb DaVinci Codage and revisit his old 70’s stomping ground to take on everybody’s favorite nemesis – Nixon. These were definitely not Happy Days though for the impeached President (played magnificently by Frank Langella) making a $huge$ deal for a series of TV interviews with the slickly ambitious David Frost (Michael Sheen) while in self-imposed exile in California. As riveting as a round in the ring with “The Ram” (see next entry) this showdown scores on every front with ace casting (in addition to the leads – Kevin Bacon, Sam Rockwell, Rebecca Hall,and Oliver Platt mull about entertainingly), a great screenplay by Peter Morgan (THE QUEEN), and Howard’s best direction in ages. My original review? Oh yeah, it’s here.


5. THE WRESTLER (Dir. Darren Aronofsky) Yeah, it’s true – Mickey Rourke is back and I’ll be surprised as Hell if he doesn’t take

home the gold come February because nobody else literally went to the mat like this! Call it a comeback for Randy “The Ram” Robinson who may be washed up and working at a supermarket estranged from his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) while pinning for a stripper (Marisa Tomei) but he’s overdue for redemption even if it means he’s going down for the count. This character is going down in cinema history for sure – read my original review for more gushing about this gritty gutsy grabber of a movie.


6. THE FALL (Dir. Tarsem Singh)


This fantastical visually splendorific film is all the more impressive because it contains no CGI. It’s a colorful joyful ride through fairy tale conventions which, crazily enough, orginates from a tale told in the 1930’s by a injured stuntman (Lee Pace) as a bargaining tool to get a young girl (Catinca Untaru) to break in to their hospital’s sanctuary to steal morphine for him. It’s vivid and emotional in all the right places with folks appearing WIZARD OF OZ style both in real life and the fantasy scenerios. Again you can read my praising review here.


7. THE DARK KNIGHT (Dir. Chris Nolan)


The more you think about it, the more flawed this film is. Batman’s (Christian Bale) exaggerated gravelly voice, ersatz plot elements like ‘hey, what happened to the folks at the skyscraper party after Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhall) was rescued by the caped crusader?’, and the unnecessary Hong Kong subplot (ThePlaylist jabbed some of these complaints funnily enough here). All may rub movie logical minds wrong but what did work here is arguably as good as movies can get. Heath Ledger’s amazing performance as the demented Joker was precision defined while the Gotham grandeur frighteningly filled every frame. Read me clumsily reach for more operatic poetry here.

8. IRON MAN (Dir. Jon Favreau)


Another superhero movie sure, but with Robert Downey Jr. in the metallic title role, Gwyneth Paltrow as the love interest, and Jeff Bridges as his adversary, it’s one Hell of a superhero movie! Downey Jr. is both intense and funny as Tony Stark and the streamlined shiny production surrounding him is perfectly provided by Favreau. Yep, a class action movie as I reported last summer here.


9. THE VISITOR (Dir. Thomas McCarthy) I was elated that Richard Jenkins was nominated for a best actor award for this fine understated Indie movie that many ignored late last Spring (Mind you – I dont think hell win). As a displaced professor who finds 2 illegal immigrants (Haaz Sleiman and Danai Jekesai Gurira) living in his New York apartment and forms an unfortunately brief friendship, Jenkins finds a graceful ingratiating tone and a note that will resonate long after a single viewing. Yep, more here.


10. VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA (Dir. Woody Allen)

More than just a fine return to form, the Woodman gives us a lush and lavish look at the loony intertwined coupling that the ladies of the title encounter on their trip abroad. Javier Bardem woos Scarlet Johansen, Rebecca Hall, and what Allen has before called a “Kamikaze woman” – wife Penélope Cruz (she may yet woo the Academy). Were all woo-ed in the end – well, at least I was. Read all about it here.

Spillover:


Again, the ones that didn’t quite make the Top Ten grade but were still good, sometimes great flicks – click on the title for my original review.


PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (Dir. David Gordon Green) A great Apatow-appoved comedy that like the next few titles got the Spillover shaft by my silly blog.


FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL (Dir. Nicholas Stoller)


TROPIC THUNDER (Dir. Ben Stiller)


MAN ON WIRE (Dir. James Marsh) Great intense doc in which even the re-creations make for great cinema.


4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, AND 2 DAYS


GRAN TORINO (Dir. Clint Eastwood) It got strangely shut out come award season (which is strange because the Academy loves Clint) but its a strong addition to the Eastwood canon.


SHINE A LIGHT (Dir. Martin Scorsese)


One of the worlds greatest directors filming one of the world’s greatest bands – maybe Im just biased because I was blown away by the movie at an IMAX theater last Spring but I still think itll hold up as one of the best concert films ever in years to come.


W. (Dir. Oliver Stone)

BURN AFTER READING (Dirs. Ethan Coen & Joel Coen, 2008) Trivial throw-away Coen Brothers fare still makes for great movie-time in my book – or on my blog that is.


MILK (Dir. Gus Vant Sant) Biopicalicious!


More later…

 

I Love The Smell Of Napalm In The Morning; Smells Like…Parody!

TROPIC THUNDER (Dir. Ben Stiller, 2008)

The comedy fortunes of Ben Stiller have fallen a bit lately (THE HEARTBREAK KID, anyone?) so it ’s a certainly a treat to see him in the full-on mockery mode that worked so well in ZOOLANDER taking on the industry that made him famous and bringing along a crew of above par talent (including Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black, Steve Coogan, Nick Nolte, and one unrecognizable Tom Cruise who buys back a huge chunk of street cred here). Unless you’ve been locked in a sound proof vault with no windows over the last few weeks you know that this movie features A) Robert Downey Jr. in black face as an Australian Academy Award winner who is playing a jive talking African American. B) A group of actors (Stiller, Downey Jr., Jay Barochel, and Bradon T. Jackson) trying to achieve A-List status making a Vietnam war picture but get stranded in the jungle and have to become real soldiers in order to fight their way out a la ¡THREE AMIGOS! and GALAXY QUEST. C) The before mentioned Tom Cruise as a bald pudgy foul-mouthed executive who nearly walks off, that is hip-hop dances off with the whole film.

Steve Coogan as the frustrated frizzy-haired film maker of what Access Hollywood calls: “the most expensive war movie never made” (a line likely drawn from pop culture punditry response to Francis Ford Coppola’s extremely over schedule production back in the late 70’s: “Apocalypse When?”) decides to deposit the actors into the jungle with only a map and a script and he’ ll film them with hidden cameras and rigged explosives. This plan immediately derails, in a crude but hilarious moment I won ’t spoil, and they run up against a heavily armed gang called Flaming Dragon who have a heroin producing work camp. They capture Stiller and hold him for ransom once the leader (fiercely played by child actor Brand on Soo Hoo) recognizes the actor from his career damaging flop “Simple Jack”. Meanwhile Stiller’s hotshot agent, Matthew McConaughey in chilled “alright, alright” mode, fights Cruise’ s heartless exec character for TiVo to be contractually provided for his client before realizing the severity of the situation. The real cause of the botched conflict is a grizzled Nick Nolte as the author of the book “Tropic Thunder” and the inspiration for Coogan ’s “Guerilla style” tactics. Nolte and explosive expert Danny McBride (fresh off almost stealing PINEAPPLE EXPRESS) also get captured by the Dragon gang and all the pieces are in line for a ginormous and outrageous shoot-em-up finale with every player getting his shot at glory.

Before the film proper of TROPIC THUNDER begins (before the Dream Works logo even hits the screen that is) there are funny fake trailers that introduce us to the quartet of protagonists. They set us up to embrace Stiller as a high grossing action star in “Scorcher 6” – an obvious dig at big overblown unnecessary franchises, Black as a pandering fart joke machine comic superstar in “The Fatties: Fart 2” – yep, a beyond obvious swipe at Eddie Murphy’s sad state of fat suit affairs, an ad spoof featuring Jackson as an “Booty Sweat” energy drink hawking rapper, and most amusing “Satan’s Alley”, complete with a FOX Searchlight logo announcing it as a prestige picture, giving us Downey Jr. and Tobey Macguire (who once shared a bed together in WONDER BOYS) as monks in a forbidden homosexual relationship. These and the many other digs at Hollywood cookie-cutter commerciality are the heart of this overblown but surprisingly not obnoxious comedy. The in-your-face-ness of the self aware atmosphere keep it from having to live or die joke to joke. Downey Jr. is undoubtedly the best part of this project, his unflinching take on Russell Crowe-esque maniacal method acting results in many of the movies biggest laughs like for one: “Huh! What do you mean ‘You People?’ ” Downey Jr. angrily asks Stiller at a stressful juncture. Jackson, who is authentically African American says, with an even angrier tone to Downey Jr., “What do you mean You People?’”

For all its over-the top silliness TROPIC THUNDER has a great gritty widescreen look; it has shots that look exactly like the excess-riden war epics its parodying like, of course, APOCALYPSE NOW and PLATOON – the poster of which Stiller tries to imitate, with his pumped up arms raised to the sky, every 10 minutes it seems. I experienced uncountable successions of giggles but not all out guffaws during this movie. It never lagged on the laughs but they’ re of the small smirking kind for the most part. Still, it noisily announces itself as the mega comedy you can t ignore with performances that will be talked about for years and lines that will be endlessly quoted I predict. I have to say that Stiller himself as an actor is not doing anything we haven’ t seen before – with his wide eyed pathos and tampered ego posturing his character is basically Derek Zoolander as if he were an action star and not a super model. But as a director and writer, Stiller is doing something I want to see more of, that is making comedies with a wide scope of inspired tangents and most importantly casts full of talented energized folk who aren ’t afraid to make wicked fun of themselves while taking crazy chances too.

More Later…

IRON MAN = AWESOME And Some Other Random Babbling

IRON MAN (Dir. Jon Favreau, 2008)


Now, you ordinarily wouldn’t think of Robert Downey Jr. as an action movie star – particularly a comic book hero-type, right? And you you wouldn’t think of Jon Favreau (MADE, ELF) as an action movie director, would you? What about Gynneth Paltrow as a girl-next-door-type sweetie that is obviously overlooked by our hero or even the idea of Terrence Howard as the black-guy best friend? Hold on, how about Jeff Bridges (the Dude, man!) as the villain? Sounds all pretty improbable as far as Summer blockbuster premises goes, huh? Well, IRON MAN throws all those folk and a bunch of seamless CGI craft into the mix and it all, and I mean every single bit of it, works. And remember this is coming from a guy who is not a big fan of the big ass comic book action genre.

Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark – a billionaire industrialist famous for creating nuclear weaponry and every kind of arms used in the war on terror. He gets captured by terrorists after a demonstration in Afghanistan and is forced to build them a version of his powerful “Jericho missile”. Instead, with the help of a fellow prisoner – Dr. Yinsen (Shaun Toub), he constructs an elaborate but crude suit of armour which he uses to escape from captivity. Back in the States he announces that his company will no longer manufacture weapons to the intense displeasure of Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges).

In a funny series of scenes Stark works on a new suit with better technology, more firepower, and a cooler looking shininess that, yeah, is a pretty sweet design. Stark’s best friend Colonel Rhodes (Terrence Howard) finds out about his suit in the middle of a killer sequence involving his return to Afghanistan to destroy the terrorist gang’s weapon stockpile. Stark’s assistant, and of course possible love interest, Pepper Pots (Gywneth Paltrow) suspects something is up and gets caught up in his major mechanical antics of which I will speak no further.

IRONMAN is a blast – the right amount of humor, the precise assembling of a neat narrative, and a great cast. As I’m sure every review will label Robert Downey Jr. an “unlikely hero” but he is perfect in the part – slickly engaged and slyly sarcastic, he plays all the right notes. A bald bearded Bridges is dead on too in a role that’s not just un-Dude it’s incredibly non-TRON!

Going in I was not at all familliar with the comic book it’s based on but a friend who I attended with filled me in a bit concluding that the movie is fairly faithful to its source. Obviously that didn’t matter because it stands alone as a superior formula super hero movie. I usually use the word “formula” as a criticism but here its a good solid thing. Favreau has surprisingly done a excellent job with the tried and true framework and its his best film by far. IRONMAN indeed transcends the summer blockbuster film form but simply said – it’s a lot of fun.

Some Random Babbling:

MovieZeal wrapped up their excellent April Coen Brothers Blog-A-Thon (though with their banner displaying a different cool Coen Bros. screen capture it seems like it’s still going on. It’s well worth your while with a stable panel of great film bloggers contributing reviews of all their movies, articles about the Brothers, and a very well compiled The Top 10 Most Memorable Coen Brothers Scenes. I wrote Part II of my Musings on the Coens’ Music which I hope you check out.

I recently joined The Large Association of Movie Blogs – I’m LAMB #82! Please visit and sample some of the other movie blogs. LAMB lists a lot of good ones so click away.

I also took part in a survey for Buck On Film. It’s a column in Academia – an online magazine and resource for academic librarians. It was about “what are the Oscars to you?” Please visit that too.

Okay, well more summer movies are coming and the birthday of a long gone legendary actor/director is to be celebrated when Film Babble Blog returns so please stay tuned.

More later…

ZODIAC – A New Film Babble Blog Favorite

“No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough.”
– Roger Ebert

I fully agree with Mr. Ebert. Many are grumbling about the length and density of the movie in question below but you won’t find any grumbling here :

ZODIAC (Dir. David Fincher, 2007) A murderer clothed in darkness or with a black hood exterminating make-out parking or picnicking young couples, police and press continuously taunted by letters and cards sent by a serial killer at large, and an obsession with solving a perplexing nightmare of a mystery that derails the lives and careers of investigators and reporters and alienates the ones closest to them – these are all thriller genre elements that have been arguably done to death. David Fincher’s ZODIAC though beautifully builds upon those frameworks with excruciating attention to detail and a sense of personal purpose that can be felt long after the film is over.

The film is based upon the infamous string of Northern Californian murders in the late 60’s and early 70’s by a man who indentified himself as Zodiac and who was never caught. Our protagonist and guide through this is Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhall) a ex-Eagle Scout turned San Fransisco Chronicle editorial cartoonist who while not assigned to the story immerses himself in the chilling codes and cryptic pronouncements that his paper and the authorities receive from the Zodiac. The Inspectors on the case David Toshi (Mark Ruffalo) and William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards) follow every possible lead, dissect every single angle, and interview every single suspect but still come up severely short on the crucial conclusive evidence needed. As time goes on with a long silence by the Zodiac – the trail grows cold leaving our heroes spiritually stumped and forever floored by the lack of closure.

With few of the stylistic flashy touches of Fincher’s previous work (SE7EN, THE GAME, FIGHT CLUB, PANIC ROOM) ZODIAC is a meticulously mesmerizing masterpiece. Despite it’s over 2 and half hour running time not a scene is wasted and it’s admirable that 70’s period piece cliches aren’t exploited. Couldn’t be any better cast – joining the principles are Robert Downey Jr, Brian Cox, Chloë Sevigny, Phillip Baker Hall, Dermot Mulroney, and John Carroll Lynch who all play the right notes with even incidental characters given sharp memorable turns by reliable bit-players (Donal Logue, Charles Fleisher, Ione Skye *, John Ennis, Adam Goldberg). Eerily effective and extremely absorbing with its “histories of ages past” and “unenlightened shadows cast” as Donovan’s * “Hurdy Gurdy Man” (the song that book-ends the film) playfully but darkly suggests, ZODIAC deserves the oft quoted critic line this season never lives without – it’s truly the first great movie of the year.

* Donovan has both a song and a daughter in this film. Good for him.

New release DVD reviews and more next time on film babble.

More later…

Kissing Off KISS KISS BANG BANG

“Were you at the cinema? Did you go to the the cinema? ‘Cause I went to the movies.”
– Shane Black questioning Val Kilmer on the commentary for KISS KISS BANG BANG

Yep- that’s the only flick I’ve seen since my last post. So here goes :

KISS KISS BANG BANG (Dir. Shane Black, 2005) Its title comes from a phrase coined by an Italian newspaper critic in 1962 referring to James Bond: “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and the whole tone of this movie is just that self consciously hip – well smartass really. It even has a detective film type voice over by Robert Downey Jr. of the smarmy variety (Man, ROMEO IS BLEEDING did the “hey, wait I’m getting a little ahead of myself” fractured narration so much better!) and a convoluted plot which is annoyingly a homage to Raymond Chandler (like what LA crime caper isn’t?) it even quotes the man directly in sequence heading titles. There is some good work here in both the writing and acting – Val Kilmer as Gay Perry (that name is not an example of good work in the writing – just to be clear) makes the smarm work for him and Michelle Monaghan amusingly plays with her lines just like her character toys with her men. Its just that the whole thing is so drenched in smartass sarcasm that it made me think repeatedly “this movie is sooo ten years ago!” George Burns once said “the secret of acting is sincerity. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” Wish Shane Black had learned to fake a little better on this project.

Now here’s an email I got from a filmbabble reader about my last post :

“I don’t know…the Silverman thing? some of it’s funny but there’s a line between being funny and just being an arsehole. But I guess that’s pretty much all comedy. I guess i don’t know which side i’m on. Like that lemonade joke, pretty damn funny, mighty clever, but i feel like there’s no real empathy or anything to give it weight; just an easy joke.

Actually really looking forward to Superman, don’t really know why. Haven’t kept up with it in years. hey, ever accidentally lock your keys in your…motorcycle? Now see, that’s sharp and empathetic -who hasn’t been there?

Sorry,
Drunk

Thanks Drunk for your comments. Keep on reading Film Babble Blog!

More later…