Kent’s Movie Diary: Netflix Roundup

I’ve been trying to catch up on some stuff in my Netflix queue. Finally. I had the same discs sitting in front of my TV for, like, four months. So let’s take stock of some things I’ve seen lately on blu ray.

OMFUG! CBGB: Those of us who are fans of old school punk (aka those of us who listen to The Ramones and don’t just wear their shirts) all know about CBGB, the club that gave rise to great punk and new wave bands when the rest of the country was awash in the horrors of disco and arena rock. Blondie (back before they went disco themselves), Talking Heads, Television and many other bands got their start on its stage, in front of floors packed with people that weren’t smart enough to run from the bankrupt, rat-infested 10th level of hell that was New York in the 70s.

Alan Rickman is probably one of my favorite actors. Hans Gruber? Snape? The Metatron? Take your pick. He tends to be great in most things he does. However, he typically isn’t trying to play a New Jersey Jew and, honestly, his American accent has gone a little downhill since he was in Die Hard. They try to make up for this by mostly giving him monosyllabic dialogue, but it’s still more a fun excursion than a great performance as CBGB’s owner, Hilly Kristal.

The film isn’t great, but I actually did find it a pretty solid bit of entertainment for a fellow with my interests. There are a surprising number of people that you may recognize in it. Rupert Grint plays one of The Dead Boys, a band known for their outrageous stage shows involving cutting, sex and asphyxiation. Stana Katic of Castle and Bradley Whitford are record execs. That annoying guy from Big Bang Theory is a manager. (I know what you’re thinking; could you be more specific?) Donal Logue wears a hardhad at all times. It’s pretty fun playing Where’s Waldo with them.

The aesthetics are too playful for some of the darker themes of the film, though. It makes better use of a comic book framing device than Ang Lee’s Hulk did (using Punk magazine as its basis for doing so) but the whole thing seems to suffer from a tonal problem. Still, for anyone that loves this kind of music, I say check it out. It’s worth a rental.

Jurassic Park it ain't. LAND OF THE LOST: I know the critical community took a dinosaur-sized crap on this film, based somewhat loosely on the Sid and Marty Krofft television series. And when I say loosely, it’s because most of the elements from the show are present: dinosaurs, time portals, Sleestaks, pylons… but it’s presented in a way that’s completely different. Instead of a family falling through a time portal to the Savage Land, what we have instead is a couple of scientists and a redneck. Will Ferrell is Dr. Rick Marshall, a professor that ruined his career by focusing on time travel and getting into a fight with a well known TV personality. Holly is recast as a British grad student that drags him back into research and looks good in some Daisy Dukes. And then there’s Will, a tourist trap owner played by Danny McBride. He’s pretty much just Danny McBride. Again.

And I can understand why this thing flopped at the box office and audiences stayed away in droves. It’s just plain weird. Like, cult film weird.

I have rattling around in my brain some particularly memorable bits and pieces of the show because they showed reruns on CBS Saturday mornings as I was growing up in the early 80s. And it really was pretty much an insane slice of psychedelia made on the cheap, mostly distinguishable from the Kroffts’ other works by its tone. And the tone was kind of creepy, honestly. As laughable as the effects and the production values may have been, for a kid, it was kind of nightmare fuel. And the movie goes hog wild with the complete bizarreness of the world they created. The plot really doesn’t make sense in a lot of cases, but it also doesn’t pretend to. It uses logic as toilet paper. I use that metaphor because the movie is also kind of filthy. I’m surprised at some of the jokes they got away with in a PG-13 film.

That said, I actually liked the movie. Quite a bit, in fact. There were definitely gags that did not land and a lot of the references to the original show are just plain too on the nose. Actually, so much so that I think they were purposely doing them that way. You can practically see Ferrell playing chicken with the audience when he pauses with drama prior to every use of the movie’s title in his lines. But I thought Ferrell was pretty damn funny doing his pompous idiot routine. I liked the psychedelic rock used in the soundtrack. I liked the grainy, washed out cinematography. I liked the great Sleestak costumes and the terrible CGI effects. And I just plain liked the balls out ridiculousness of the script. Maybe this is based too much on it being a deserved lampooning of my nostalgia, but I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Or don't. Totally up to you.SLEEPWALK WITH ME: Mike Birbiglia is a stand-up comedian who became well-known for a one-man show in which he talks about his experiences with a rare sleep disorder which causes him to act out his dreams. After performing on NPR’s English Major wankfest This American Life, he and show host Ira Glass decided to adapt his autobiographical comedy act into a film.

In some ways you could say that the film is an indie equivalent to Howard Stern’s Private Parts. (Albeit a PG-13 rated one.) He says it is about 70% accurate to his life with some events mixed around and some cinematic shorthand applied. See, Mike is a pretty regular guy working a crappy job and having a dream to make it in stand-up comedy. The problem is that he’s completely awful at it. Regardless, he begins pursuing gigs while his relationship to his long-term girlfriend starts to slowly disintegrate in large part due to his fears of marriage and children. The couple’s horrible friends certainly don’t help. This anxiety triggers his ever-increasingly dangerous and bizarre sleepwalking adventures.

Despite the depressing premise of a failing relationship, the film not only manages to be funny, but it hits on being genuinely sweet at times. He doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to saying that he did things wrong which actually works in his favor. “Remember that you’re supposed to be on my side,” he apologetically says to the audience. It could come across as cheesy, but instead seems genuine. I highly recommend spending seventy minutes with him. It is definitely an excellent film.

Furious 6! Vin smash! FAST AND FURIOUS 6: I have not seen all of the F&F movies. I took the strange move of seeing the first in the theater when it came out and then seeing the fifth in the theater due to interest drummed up from rave reviews. I did not see any of the others in-between. I’m thinking I need to go back and catch the ones in the middle. Maybe make it one of the series I catch up on since I’m switching between several of them. (Currently in the middle of the Zatoichi films and the Star Trek Next Gen films, which we’ll get back to.)

Like the last film, Justin Lin (who’s best work I still consider to be the paintball episode of Community) is at the helm and he creates one hell of a fun, stupid ride. The script is an absolute mess. It’s just dumb. Like, dumb as my sister-in-law’s mentally challenged Boston Terrier. It makes Fast Five seem downright Shakespearian. There are plot points that don’t make even the slightest bit of sense, twists that make you say, “Whaaaa?” and some serious problems with physics. But damn does he know how to do action scenes and do them well. He’s basically a very talented director in search of better material.

The reason to watch this film, like always, is to see some good, old fashioned chases and wrecks. Due to CGI there aren’t enough of them nowadays and it’s great that there’s at least one franchise that is keeping stuntmen employed. Plus, with some of the vintage vehicles they pull out, you’re getting some classic car porn. The actors are still really likable. Putting them all in the same film is what really kicked the franchise into new territory when most film series would have died. The problem is that my favorite two characters are gone by the end of film, which cuts into my interest in the upcoming seventh film (currently scrambling to recover from the death of Paul Walker).

It’s hard to believe that this franchise has become one of the most successful in Hollywood history. I suppose maybe part of it is because there’s been surprisingly little imitation of it. In my head, I’m assuming it is because it was a slow-growth success where most copycats go after things that are overnight sensations. Either way, despite my misgivings about the intelligence of the plotting, I am much less insulted by this series that quietly serves its fanbase than I am more aggressively stupid fare like the Transformers films. So I say keep making them as long as they’re entertaining.

Let's listen to the Picard song on repeat! STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT- And here’s the first film in these reviews that I did not get from Netflix. I’m very, very slowly making my way through the Star Trek movies. I love the original cast and I am a big fan of the JJ Abrams helmed films (more so the first than Into Darkness, though both are well made) but I’ve never been a great lover of Next Generation. I’m a Kirk man through and through.

That said, I am a big fan of this film for multiple reasons and it was nice to revisit it. Picard actually does things. The action is handled well, even if there isn’t that much of it. It manages to build on some squiggy plotpoints from Generations in a positive way. (Mostly Data’s emotion chip.) And it has a lot of humor involved.

I guess the way I would try to sum it all up succinctly is that it doesn’t succumb to shoving its head up its own butt as I’ve learned to expect from a lot of modern Trek with Berman and Braga. The blu ray looks pretty darn good and showcases the then cutting edge work ILM did on it (watch for the cameo by the Millenium Falcon fighting the Borg cube), even if there are some examples of the problems of early CGI.

I haven’t seen Treks 9 and 10, so the next couple of films will be new to me. I’ve heard that First Contact is the one excellent film they did with the characters, so it’ll be interesting to see if I agree with fan sentiment or if I’ll enjoy them more since I’m not particularly invested.

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: The Campaign

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The Campaign is probably Will Ferrell’s funniest movie in quite a while. Can’t say the same for Zach Galafianakis, but that’s because the first Hangover was pretty great. But otherwise it seems like his talents haven’t been as well used as they could. Jay Roach’s last film in theaters was the mediocre Dinner for Schmucks, surrounded by a couple of HBO movies, and before that it was Meet the Fockers. So we can say that it’s an improvement for a few of the folks involved.

I’ve skimmed some criticism from my peers and betters and have found that the reason a number of critics didn’t like this film is because they wanted it to be political commentary instead of a commentary on politics, which is what it is. Personally, I’m perfectly fine with this as, instead of trying to make political points, it’s using that energy to tell a story of two characters attempting to reach the same goal for two very different reasons and doing so at nearly any cost.

Ferrell is echoing his SNL portrayal of George W. Bush, with a big chunk of John Edwards thrown in for sleaze factor. (Hard to believe how close that guy came to the White House.) Ferrell’s Bush was always more of a character than an imitation, so it makes sense that his film character, Cam Brady, a four-time incumbent North Carolina Democrat congressman, can share so many traits while seeming somewhat original. His unhinged southerner cuts loose in a purely sociopathic way. He has tasted power and now he truly believes that nothing he does is wrong and that nothing is his fault. The fact that he’s been mentioned on a shortlist of vice-presidential candidates has only made it worse.

Galifianakis, meanwhile, dips into the effeminate weirdo that he has often channeled in his stage act (which he says is his brother) and in Todd Phillips’ moderately funny Due Date. He plays Marty Huggins, the misfit son of a powerful political strategist (the mighty Brian Cox). He runs an unsuccessful tourism office for a city with little to offer tourists, but he is darned enthusiastic about his job and his life. He is tapped by The Motch Brothers, played by Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow in a mode that is obviously channeling the Dukes from Aykroyd’s 80s classic Trading Places, to run against the formally unopposed Brady on the Republican ticket.

With his equally weird family and two slobbering pugs in tow, his campaign begins to pick up steam under the guidance of a rather intense Dylan McDermott, the Motch’s kingmaker. The brothers pull out all the stops since they figure Huggins is a dope they can keep in their pocket to get around labor violations.

Instead of pussy-footing around to get a PG-13, The Campaign is gleefully R-rated in the best way. Frequent (and creative) uses of foul language permeate the film while it’s punctuated with nudity, some of which you will wish you hadn’t seen. It helps mark a difference between this film and the juvenile dancing around the ratings board that Roach performed in the Austin Powers sequels.

The two leads smash into each other in a great way, with each new confrontation upping the stakes to delirious heights, mocking all of modern politics’ absurdities and a great many recent scandals. “Gotcha” ads, ridiculous debate logic, sex scandals, PACs, political favors, grooming candidates based on market testing, and even the Cheney shooting are pulled in as the contest becomes more and more ridiculous. If it wasn’t abundantly clear how annoying and stupid the “I approve this message” tag at the end of every political ad was before, it certainly will be when you’ve seen Ferrell do it naked on a bearskin rug.

By concentrating on the characters and the process instead of trying to make a political point with a sledgehammer, the film successfully manages to keep the comedy focused and continuous, even during the inevitable saccharine finale. Seriously, you just know it’s coming. It just can’t avoid it. But at least it doesn’t linger too long.

In the meantime, you’re treated to a couple of actors doing a great job of improvising off each other and a lot of talented people in small roles. Jack MacBrayer, Jason Sudeikis and a lot of other folks get their chance to shine.

This is one election I would hate to vote in, but it was a pleasure to watch. It made me laugh and that helps it overcome any of its minor shortcomings.

(Three and a half damns out of five)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Casa de mi Padre

My name Jose Jimanez

And they call Daredevil the man without fear…

Casa de mi Padre finds Will Ferrell not only participating in the worst sex scene in cinema history (and his butt is on display much more than the comely female lead’s is) but he does the entire movie in Spanish.

Yes, like a Conando sketch taken to it’s terrible, yet inevitable conclusion, this is a parody of the type of Mexican soap operas you’d see on Univision or any of the other channels that you tend to skip over if don’t speak the language, and mostly seem to be made up of programming involving puppets and women with large breasts. It’s a ballsy move for one of the biggest comedy stars in America right now. A gamble that does not pay off completely, but is highly laudable for simply having the guts to take it.

Now, obviously, Will Ferrell is not of Mexican descent. Not even close. And that joke is able to sustain a good third of the movie. But it is not able to fill an hour and a half and eventually runs out of steam before picking up again in the third act to finish the movie fairly strongly with a violent ending that is probably about what the Anchorman rumble would have looked like if they’d had guns.

The plot is a fairly simple one; Ferrell plays the simple son of a rancher. He loves the land and his family. But when his brother comes back with his love-triangle inducing fiance and a new way of doing things, it puts both the ranch and the family in danger, leaving Ferrell to rise to the occasion and deal with the drug war that has long ravaged his peaceful existence.

From the opening titles that announce the film is produced in Mexic-o-Scope, it puts out an uneven mix of Black Dynamite-style genre film parody, earnest soap opera and typical Ferrell comedy, the likes of which you would see in his films with Adam McKay. It’s the mix of the first and last parts that work best together, when the film gets supremely silly and at times slides into a surreal stream-of-consciousness that hasn’t been on this scale nearly as often from him since he became a bankable star. One has to wonder if maybe the soap opera part plays better for those that are bilingual since it has been reported that the subtitles are often wrong.

Those looking for his usual gang of costars will be severely disappointed, as with the exception of a cameo or two by American actors, most of the players in the film are actual stars from South of the Border, along with Efran Ramirez of Napoleon Dynamite fame. Everyone does their job well, with special mention to the “real” villain of the piece, Gael Garcia Bernal, who plays the drug trafficking Onza. The look of the film is great, with intentional production errors cropping up and a combination of great and terrible sets providing a fantastic contrast which often proves hilarious. There are portions that are downright Monty Python-esque. It should all add up to an instant classic, but somehow it doesn’t. It’s hard to tell whether it’s the writer or the director that most should shoulder the burden of the film’s ultimate failure that results from the middle dragging the way it does. Or, maybe it’s just that they finally have to put in more exposition and it’s extremely tough to keep the energy of a comedy up in a subtitled film.

Regardless, the film ultimately is well worth a watch. The funny parts outweigh the slow parts and it most likely will have a long, healthy life on disc and cable. Chances are, it may even play better at home. The film gets a middling score, but it’s an enthusiastic middling score.

(Two and a half out of five stars)