Friday, May 25, 2012


MEN IN BLACK III (Dir. Barry Sonnenfeld, 2012)

Despite a few good ideas - Josh Brolin cast as a young Tommy Lee Jones; a cameo by SNL’s Bill Hader as Andy Warhol – the third installment of the MEN IN BLACK series is exactly what I expected. Every joke and plot point of this series of CGI-saturated set-pieces is mechanically in place in this standard-issue sequel right off the formulaic franchise assembly-line.

It’s been 10 years since MiBII (and 15 years since MiB), and not much has changed.

Will Smith and partner Jones are still up to their top-secret agency’s alien neutral zone policing, only Rip Torn doesn’t return to play their boss Agent Z. Instead they’ve got Emma Thompson, severly underwritten as Agent O, who figures out that there’s been a fracture in the time-space continuum because Smith came to work craving chocolate milk (that’s right). This is after Smith wakes up in a world in which Jones has been dead for 40 years.

You see, when the evil intergalactic criminal Boris the Animal (Flight of the Conchords’ Jermaine Clement) escaped from a Lunar prision (the film’s big opening scene), he traveled back in time to 1969 (via a time-jump device obtained in a pawn shop) and killed Jones, so Smith has got to go back to the past and save his gruff partner. Then they can save the world from, I dunno, alien jellyfish descending on the planet?

This is where Brolin comes in with a pitch-perfect impersonation of Jones. This central gimmick works well initially (Brolin does Jones so much better than he did Dubya), and helps carry the film from half-chuckle to half-chuckle.

Jones really made out well in this outting - he only has to appear in the beginning and end of the film, but still gets his name above the title while a young hot actor embodies his persona for the rest of the picture.

There are a lot of possibilities for larger-than-life laughs here, such as retro aliens a la late ‘60s sci-fi (think Star Trek and Lost in Space), Clement’s bickering with his younger dumber double, andMichael Stuhlberg (A SERIOUS MAN, Boardwalk Empire) as a quirky visionary alien, but as big as the spectacle gets (and with its Cape Canaveral climax it gets pretty big), the attempts at creating actual comedy are few and futile.

It feels as if the film is so slickly streamlined that any notion of inventive wit would only get in the way. A throwaway one-liner spoutin’ Smith kickin’ extraterrestrial ass is always a surefire summer movie-going audience pleasing scenario, so why mess with success?

Basically, MiBIII isn’t a great movie, but it’s a sturdy franchise entry.

More later...

Friday, May 18, 2012

GOD BLESS AMERICA: The Film Babble Blog Review

Now playing at an indie art theater near me:

(Dir. Bobcat Goldthwait, 2011)

Although he’s nowhere near as well-known as his brother Bill, Joel Murray has built an impressive career out of solid supporting character work over the last three decades.

Especially recently with recurring roles on the shows Shameless, Two and a Half Men, and Mad Men, in which he played Freddy Rumsen, an alcoholic copy-writer who drunkenly peed his pants in one memorable episode.

Murray even popped up in last year’s Best Picture Oscar winner THE ARTIST as the policeman who saves Jean Dujardin from his burning apartment (with the help of Uggie the Dog).

But until now, Murray has never owned a movie as the lead.

Well, he really gets his chance in comedian Bobcat Goldthwait’s fourth film as director, GOD BLESS AMERICA, which opens exclusively in the Triangle at the Colony Theater in North Raleigh today.

Murray plays a man who takes the mantra from NETWORK (“I’m mad as Hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”) to ginormous extremes when he picks up a firearm and starts offing people that he believes deserve to die.

That would be offensive reality TV stars, a Bill O’Reilly-type political pundit, people who take up more than one parking space, folks who talk and text during movies, and everybody who’s a fan of or involved in any way with an American Idol-style show called American Superstarz.

Murray can’t help but ask: “Why have a civilization anymore if we no longer are interested in being civilized?”

Back before his killing spree, Murray was diagnosed with a terminal illness, so there’s a nothing left to lose vibe (along with a bit of a Breaking Bad mixed with FALLING DOWN feel).

After taking his first victim - North Carolina native Maddie Hasson as an obnoxious reality show pampered princess -Murray meets a teenage girl (Tara Lynne Barr - annoying at first, but she grew on me) who latches on to him. Barr is just as full of rage about the inundation of crap culture as Murray so they join up as “Platonic spree killers,” as she puts it.

Folks will know in the first 3 minutes if this is a movie for them, as it opens with Murray fantasizing about blowing away the moron neighbor’s screaming baby with a shotgun. A bloody image of the mother shrieking will definitely disturb some folks, but if seen in the right light of satire - it’s a bold gutsy way to start a movie.

At its worst, GOD BLESS AMERICA can resemble last year’s SUPER, which starred Rainn Wilson as a delusional super hero wannabe/vigilante who bonds with Ellen Page (JUNO) who also wants to fight what she thinks is the good fight.

But as Barr says “don't you ever call me fucking 'Juno' again.”

It appears that Goldthwait’s relationship with his daughter, Tasha, is the basis of the duo here. In a recent stand-up special, Goldthwait told a few anecdotes about Tasha that echo in much of the dialogue.

Murray does a great job as the everyman on the edge, handling Godlthwait’s diatribes with heated passion; he indeed owns the film.

Even though it takes aim at easy targets, GOD BLESS AMERICA hits them all hilariously.

It’s a funny fearless film that succeeds in being what Goldthwait calls “a violent movie about kindness,” as it provides an outlet for those who want to live vicariously through these pissed off people.

I mean c’mon! Who wouldn’t want to kill the Kardashians, execute entertainment gossip mongers (I love the parody of TMZ called TMI), and daily eliminate all the a**holes that are cluttering up our culture? If you can forget the concept of consequences and just go with it, then this is the movie for you.

GOD BLESS AMERICA is now playing at the Colony Theater (check their website for show-times), and is available on Demand.

More later...

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

THE DICTATOR: The Film Babble Blog Review

THE DICTATOR (Dir. Larry Charles, 2012)

In their newest film, Sacha Baron Cohen and director Larry Charles don’t push the envelope; they poop all over it.

Discarding the mockumentary format of their previous films, BORAT and 
BR√úNO, THE DICTATOR tells the story of Supreme Leader Aladeen, the rude crude ruler of the fictional North African nation of Wadiya.

We’ve seen the likes of this kind of character before - a power-mad tyrant who has anybody who disagrees with him killed - so many of the punch-lines are predictable, but Baron Cohen energetically milks every possible comic possibility available, and succeeds about half the time with getting laughs.

The other half of the time is extremely cringe-worthy. Disgusting bodily humor, gratuitous nudity (do we always have to see Baron Cohen’s junk?), and cheap smarmy dialogue (Baron Cohen calls co-star Anna Faris “Justin Bieber's chubby double” among other monikers), dominate THE DICTATOR, suggesting that its target audience is still in grade school.

After its setup in which Baron Cohen gets kidnapped and shaved (by a hitman played by John C. Reilly of all people) upon arriving in New York City, the movie largely becomes a fish-out-of-water premise. The dictator’s scheming uncle (Ben Kingsley!) replaces him with a dumb double (also Baron Cohen), so he bides his time working in Faris’s vegan food store, waiting for his chance to reclaim his title. So we get a lot of crass gags that the film makers really over sell. Especially when the movie riffs on rape jokes.

As Baron Cohen’s ally, Jason Mantzoukas has one of the most grounded roles, and some of the funniest parts are the bickering exchanges between the 2 characters.

With its mericifully brief 83 minute running time, THE DICTATOR moves fast from laugh to cringe, is cluttered with cameos (look for Megan Fox, Garry Shandling, various Saturday Night Live folks, etc.), and it has the right comedic spirit.

If only those appealing factors weren't overridden by the film's high quotient of gross-out groaners.

Baron Cohen's climatic U.N. speech would've had so much more satirical power had it not been surrounded by such juvenille scatalogical shenanigans. But then, these guys are, of course, more into poop jokes than making a pointed political parody - something THE DICTATOR would never be confused with.

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Friday, May 11, 2012

MARLEY: The Film Babble Blog Review

MARLEY (Dir. Kevin Macdonald, 2012)

Previous documentaries about ‘70s Reggae superstar Bob Marley, including “The Bob Marley Story,” “Time Will Tell,” “Classic Albums: Catch a Fire” (available on Netflix Instant), have never gotten as close to the actual man as this one does.

In MARLEY, releasing today in the Triangle on what is the 31st anniversary of his death, director Macdonald (LAST KING OF SCOTLAND, STATE OF PLAY), takes us on an involving and intimate journey from Marley’s poverty-stricken shanty town upbringing through his breakthrough into international stardom to his untimely death from cancer at age 36.

There’s no narrator, but there’s a strong narrative. Mainly because much of it is made up of new interviews with family (including Ziggy, Rita, Cedella, and Constance Marley), fellow musicians (including Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry) and testimonies from some of the man’s many disciples.

Through these folks’ insightful anecdotes we get up close and personal with Marley’s music, his open Marijuana usage (he’s arguably the musician most associated with weed), and his spirituality. Also the film doesn’t gloss over his many infidelities which resulted in many children (11 children by seven different women).

This is all augmented by lots of enjoyable archival footage (especially all the cool Bob Marley & the Wailers concert footage), tons of rare photos, and a soundtrack of jammin’ Marley classics. We get a bit of a Reggae history lesson too.

In the film’s central sequence, we get the lowdown on the attempted assassination on Marley’s life which drove him into exile in England in 1976, and the One Love Peace Concert a few years later, in which Marley joined the hands of opposing political party leaders Michael Manley and Edward Seaga onstage to the applause of over 30,000 Jamaicans.

The film pulls no punches when it gets to Marley’s final days. I was unaware that in his last months, he received alternate cancer treatment at a holistic clinic in Bavaria, but heartbreaking photos of an ailing Marley surrounded by snowy terrain (these aren’t the kind of images that adorn stoner’s t-shirts), and an interview with his nurse (Waltraud Ullric) at the time, lay it all out.

MARLEY is long (144 minutes), but it more than justifies its length with its high entertainment factor. I was so engrossed in it that I didn’t think about the time, but then I’m a fan of the man. Still, since it’s such a powerfully potent strain of cinema (sorry), I think even non-fans (or the uninitiated) will get a lot out of this exemplary biodoc.

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Friday, May 04, 2012

THE AVENGERS Starts The Summer Movie Season Off Right

THE AVENGERS (Dir. Joss Whedon, 2012)

After years of baiting fans with cameos, visual nods, and Easter Eggs embedded in their movies, Marvel Studios puts them all together in this masterful smash-up/mash-up assemblage of their major comic book characters, which starts the summer movie season off right.

Joss Whedon's snappy screenplay and energetic direction really delivers the goods, with a cast and special effects crew that never stops trying to entertain, right up to the after-credits bonus material.

For those who haven't been paying attention, we've got returning champ Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), along with Captain America/Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth); both fresh from their summer hero hits last year, Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and The Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo; the only actor here who hasn't previously played their character).

Samuel L. Jackson as S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury, and Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow are also on hand to provide extra fire-power against the film’s villain Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who was also the antagonist in THOR (maybe my least favorite of the Marvel movies), as he’s Thor’s adoptive brother and rival.

Loki, with the help of something called a Tesseract and an alien army, is trying to take over the world (of course), but those pesky Avengers keep getting in the way.

You know the plot isn’t what folks are coming to see here, but this movie’s not just about breathtaking bombast, furious fight-scenes, and spectacular sequences stuffed with eye-popping CGI – although there’s lots of that.

What elevates it is that the film actually cares about how its characters interact and clash with one another. Evan’s Captain America is rubbed wrong by Downey Jr.’s snarky arrogance (Whedon gives Downey Jr. the sharpest funniest lines, as expected), and everyone is on edge about just what Ruffalo’s Hulk will do when his rage famously takes hold.

Ruffalo’s take on Banner is one of many strong elements on display in “The Avengers.” It’s a more nuanced and edgy performance than what Eric Bana and Ed Norton brought in their respective portrayals. Now I’m looking forward to seeing Ruffalo own his own Hulk movie.

Clark Gregg, as S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson, finally gets a more substantial role after his glorified cameos in the previous Marvel movies, and he makes the most of it. A surprising yet fitting addition to the ever expanding universe is Cobie Smulders (Robin on the sitcom How I Met Your Mother) as another Avengers ally, Maria Hill. Smulders gets a considerable amount of screen-time, and like everybody else here, she doesn’t waste it.

The New York City battle finale outdoes the fun destruction of just about every other super hero movie ever (take that Superman, Spiderman, X-Men, etc.!), and it's hilarious to boot.

Whedon does a fantastic job juggling this vast array of characters while arranging mighty action set-pieces (particularly the sequence aboard the ginormous S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier).

So there you have it - the must-see super hero movie event of the summer. That is, until THE DARK KNIGHT RISES comes out.

More later...