Sunday, July 27, 2008

Step Brothers: A Wort Report Review

A new Will Ferrell movie stirs up strange feelings in anyone who thoroughly enjoyed his 2004 big-screen star turn in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. That film’s farcical take on 1970s television journalism was inspired, albeit gloriously unintelligent. Directed by Adam McKay, who co-wrote the film with Ferrell, Anchorman reveled in its lowbrow intentions, and was propelled to instant-classic status due to a strong ensemble cast, improvised dialogue and Ferrell’s proficiency at playing a narcissistic manchild.

After Anchorman’s success, Ferrell had found his niche: dumb movies where he plays a loudmouthed idiot. However his niche soon became a rut. From Kicking & Screaming to McKay’s subpar Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby to the abysmal Semi-Pro, Ferrell seemed destined to play the same exact self-absorbed character in mediocre films until we all grew sick of him. We'd always hope for stupidly amazing, but—with a few exceptions such as Elf and Stranger Than Fiction—we usually got amazingly stupid.

Thankfully, the just-released Step Brothers is easily Ferrell’s best comedy since Anchorman. He once again collaborates with McKay—the film’s co-writer and director—and joins his Talladega Nights co-star John C. Reilly. This time, thankfully, the team of Ferrell, Reilly and McKay is working with much better material than a tepid NASCAR spoof. Reilly and Ferrell play Dale Doback and Brennan Huff, two middle-aged slackers who still live with their single parents (Mary Steenburgen and Richard Jenkins). When their parents fall in love and get married, the two manchildren are forced to share a room. There’s your premise. Naturally, shenanigans ensue.

And the shenanigans, I must say, are pretty damned funny. Reilly and Ferrell practically ooze profanity in this raunchy R-rated buddy film, and almost all of it is quote-worthy. Like Anchorman before it, Step Brothers’ strength lies in its back-and-forth dialogue, most of which seems to be completely improvised. And the premise allows for some genuinely hilarious moments with these characters, from sleep-walking to job interviews to tea-bagging a drum set (don’t ask).

Ferrell is playing the same role that we're used to seeing him play, but this time his film persona is organic to the plot, flimsy though it may be. It's not another "Will Ferrell sports comedy," mercifully, and teaming him with someone like Reilly makes complete and total sense. A joke will fall flat here and there, but Step Brothers is a rapid-fire comedy. Don't worry if a dick, poop or fart joke lets you down; this film ensures that there will be another one coming along in just a few seconds.

While its toned-down marketing does it very little justice, Step Brothers is an uproariously funny and fairly consistent film. It’s a comedy for the giggling potty-mouthed 12-year-old in all of us. Will Ferrell, welcome back.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Dark Knight Breaks Records, Blows Minds

According to its distributor Warner Bros., The Dark Knight set a single-day box office record, earning $66.4 million on its opening day, July 18.Reuters reports that the highly anticipated follow-up to Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins is on track to trounce the $151.1 million opening weekend record held by 2007's Spider-Man 3.

I was able to catch the 10:30 screening of The Dark Knight at City Center 15: Cinema De Lux in White Plains, NY last night and was shocked (and pleased) to see so many excited people lining up nearly an hour before the screening. The theater was packed, and there was an electricity in the air unlike that of any filmgoing experience I've had in some time. We were ready for The Dark Knight, and the pre-screening anticipation was warranted. The Dark Knight is not only the best comic book adaptation of all time, but it's also one of the best sequels I've ever seen, and may be one of the best action films in history. Nothing in recent memory even comes close in terms of scope or characterization.

Look for my full review of The Dark Knight on Broken Frontier later this week.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

WALL-E: A Wort Report Review

I would love to be able to go against the flow of critical reaction and general opinion and say that WALL-E was one of Pixar’s few misfires, but that would go against my better judgment and would surely brand me as a heartless cinematic spoilsport who doesn’t know good family filmmaking when he sees it. So yes, WALL-E is everything you hoped it would be: a crowd-pleasing robot love story complete with an environmental slant that makes a point without bludgeoning you over the head with it.

The film follows the story of a merchandising juggernaut, er, trash-compacting robot named WALL-E (Ben Burtt), which stands for Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class. His job is to clean up the mess we’ve made of planet Earth which, by the year 2815, can no longer support life due to our obsession with consumerism. The title character is the only WALL-E unit left on Earth, and he spends his days crushing our trash into neat little cubes and organizing them into piles. In his years of isolation amongst human refuse, he adopts a personality. He plays with a Rubik’s Cube, he has a pet cockroach and he studies an old VHS of Hello, Dolly!, which teaches him how to love. And wouldn’t you know it; one day a sleek sexy female robot (Elissa Knight) gets sent to Earth to collect plant specimens. WALL-E presents to EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) a seedling that he had found and placed in an old boot. Little does he know that once she scans the vegetation, her mission is accomplished and must return back to the human ship Axiom to present proof that Earth can sustain life once again. WALL-E, desperate to stay by her side, joins her on her journey to the Axiom and helps the humans revive their world in the process.

Pixar’s last attempt to humanize machines was a mixed bag. With Cars in 2006, Pixar gave automobiles human characteristics, and the result was a film that felt less polished, more punny and far less charming than the studio’s previous efforts. In WALL-E, director Andrew Stanton let the characters’ actions do all the talking, sparing audiences from a self-referential parade of celebrity voice actors by keeping dialogue at a minimum. WALL-E’s big, baleful eyes tell a story all their own, and the love story between he and EVE rivals those of most Hollywood films featuring flesh and blood actors. During one scene, when the two are “dancing” in zero gravity, the artificiality of watching not only robots, but computer animated ones, melts away altogether.

While WALL-E is a love story at its base, it also has an environmental message about taking care of the world we live in before it’s too late. The humans in this film are fat, pampered, overgrown babies who rely solely on automation as they float about the decks of the Axiom in hovering chairs, suffering a loss of bone mass and an inability to perform simple tasks on their own. The moral here is rely less on technology, do more for yourself and take an active role in protecting your surroundings. It’s not An Inconvenient Truth for toddlers, but it’s a welcome cautionary message—delivered without cynicism—that should resonate not only with the preschool set, but with their parents as well.

But one wonders if there isn’t a hint of hypocrisy in WALL-E’s messaging. The film tells viewers to consume less, but at the same time, the film lies at the center of a marketing machine that includes action figures, dolls, remote-control toy robots, video games and other consumer products. Disney, with its far-reaching merchandising empire, is the last company one would expect to rail on the evils of consumerism. But then again, these days, green sells.

Regardless of who may be pulling the strings, WALL-E is a welcome addition to the Pixar library, and stands as one of their most impressive outings yet. Most of the cast may be mechanical, but its heart is truly in the right place.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Happy Fourth of July!

America Rules England Sucks - Watch more free videos

Where I Draw the Line

If you know me, you're well aware that I have no problem with making a fool of myself. While others fiddle mindlessly on public transportation with their Blackberries, I'm whipping out my gold Legend of Zelda Nintendo DS and leveling up my Pokémon. Instead of taking the time to actually learn to play a real guitar, I'm rocking out on a fake plastic one trying to five-star "Even Flow" on Hard in Guitar Hero III. Gamers are shameless, which is why Guitar Hero: On Tour has sold over 300,000 units in just seven days.

For the uninitiated, and undoubtedly more attractive and popular, Guitar Hero: On Tour is a portable version of Activision's popular faux guitar franchise. Instead of a plastic guitar controller, gamers strum using the DS stylus and touch screen, while a guitar grip attachment is used for the fingerings. I'm just waiting for the Nintendo DS port of Dance Dance Revolution. Now that would make for an interesting commute.