Monday, November 27, 2006

You, Me and Dupree

Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo
Starring: Owen Wilson, Kate Hudson, Matt Dillion, Michael Douglas, Seth Rogen

Running Time: 108 min.

Rating: PG-13

*** (out of ****)

Over the past month I've had the pleasure (or in one case the displeasure) of sitting through the comedies Nacho Libre, Accepted and now You, Me and Dupree. If you had told me a month ago that You, Me and Dupree would easily be the funniest and best of the three I'd say you were insane. But it is. It takes a realistic, relatable premise and mines comic gold from it proving that good comedies work if we like the characters and don't mind spending two hours with them, no matter how stupid they may be. It's also the first time Owen Wilson pretty much has a movie all to himself and boy does he ever take advantage of it. More importantly, it marks the first time in six years Kate Hudson is in a movie that's any good and gives us a peek again of the qualities that made her so memorable in Almost Famous. It's great seeing four very talented big name actors having such a good time.

Things couldn't be better for Carl Peterson (Matt Dillion) and Molly Thompson (Hudson). They just got married in a beautiful ceremony in Hawaii, Carl was given a huge promotion at his land development job by Molly's dad (a hilariously deadpan Michael Douglas) and they're all set to start their new lives together. There's only one problem: Randy Dupree (Wilson). Carl's infantile best friend was just fired from his job and living in a cot at the local bar when Carl suggests he move in with him and Molly. With moose head in hand Dupree crashes at their place promising to get out as soon as he lands a new job. Initially this is a good idea, until they discover Dupree is the most annoying, insane individual anyone could ever possibly have in their home. He's essentially the houseguest from hell.

Throughout the course of this film we witness Dupree do the following: Stop up the toilet, sleep bare-ass in their living room, change their answering machine message, masturbate to Asian porn, do unspeakable things involving butter and the school librarian on the couch, build a skate ramp in the front yard, and burn down half their house. All of this makes Dupree sound like he's a sick, depraved human being, but the beauty of the movie is that he's not. The way Wilson plays him you can't help but like the guy and you understand why they'd give him chance after chance. He's like a grown-up kid who's just trying to help and has no idea what he's doing wrong. When Carl suspects Dupree is moving in on his wife the movie takes an interesting and smart turn. Pretty soon Carl and Molly are forced to face the facts that Dupree isn't the problem with their marriage at all. Let's face it: Any guy married to Kate Hudson who feels the need to house a giant collection of Asian porn deserves to be called out on it. Dupree's the best friend he's got. It would have been easy for a lesser comedy to portray Dupree as jealous loser trying to wreck Carl's marriage.

One of the funniest sub-plots involves Michael Douglas, as Molly's dad, wanting Carl to have a vasectomy and insanely urging him to take Molly's last name when they're married. This leads to one of the best jokes of the movie when Carl walks to his office and the door reads: "Carl Peterson-Thompson." Admit it, that's pretty funny. I loved the way Douglas played the character completely straight as he made these ridiculous requests and the put upon look Matt Dillion had on his face the entire film. It reminded me that Douglas, while a great dramatic actor, also has a dry sense of humor that works well in comedies. He should do more of them.

It was so great to fnally see Hudson playing an energetic, exciting, interesting character again. These are exactly the kinds of roles she should be taking instead of depressing dreck like The Skeleton Key. The movie does commit the crime of underusing the hilarious Seth Rogen (The 40-Year-Old Virgin) and having an ending that's contrived and sappy, but honestly, the movie does kind of earn it. I should mention there's a dream sequence in this movie featuring a cameo from Lance Armstrong that literally had me on the floor in pain I was laughing so hard. Nearly everything in this works and that's in no small part due to the efforts of the actors who are all at the top of their games here. With all the crappy comedies out there these days it's a nice change to see one that's, you know, actually funny.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Da Vinci Code

Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Sir Ian McKellen, Paul Bettany, Alfred Molina, Jean Reno
Running Time: 149 min.

Rating: PG-13

*** (out of ****)

I'd be lying if I told you I understood every single thing that happened in The Da Vinci Code. However, I'd also be lying if I told you I didn't enjoy most of it and that the pieces came together by the end. I haven't read Dan Brown's controversial blockbuster bestseller on which the movie is based since I usually make it a point not to read the book if I know I'm going to see the movie. This time that was easy since religious history (real of fictional) isn't a topic I have a lot of knowledge on nor one that interests me greatly. There was a lot of head scratching going on for me during the first hour as we're fed an incredible amount of information in a short time span before we're off and running. By the end, though, I really enjoyed it and found myself absorbed in the gigantic cover-up at the film's center. The final hour really delivers with two twists I didn't see coming and a strong conclusion. Anyone who hated or was offended by the novel will likely think the same of the film. Those who enjoyed the book will probably find much to like about the adaptation.

When the curator of the Museum Louvre in France is murdered, symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) and French cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) discover secret codes and puzzles embedded in Da Vinci's Mona Lisa that reveal Sophie's grandfather to be part of a secret religious society known as the "Priory of Sion." This society holds a secret that if revealed would shake up the entire foundation of humankind and a demented albino monk named Silas (a frightening Paul Bettany) will go to any lengths to protect it. Even if that includes killing Langdon and Sophie to prevent them from uncovering the "real" Holy Grail.

They find themselves on the run and enlist the help of crippled historian Sir Leigh Teabing (Sir Ian McKellen) to help solve the mystery and discover the true meaning and location of the Grail. Not being religious or to date on religious history at all even I found myself gasping at the "big secret" that is revealed in this movie. It's pretty shocking so I can only just imagine the reaction of a devout Christian watching a film that pretty much spits in the face of all previously held beliefs and uses real historical facts to piece together it's fictional tale. I realize that has to be scary for some people's just a movie. This didn't happen and you'd hope someone's faith would be strong enough not to be shaken by what is essentially a really well done popcorn movie.

The only bone of contention anyone could possibly have is that it takes an issue that is deep and impactful to many and trivializes it into a summer action film. Unlike a novel, the movie doesn't have time to stop and dwell on the historical significance of the story. Considering it's subject matter it's surprising the movie moves at the pace it does as it has a lot of explaining to do at times. Much of that is done quite well through quick historical flashbacks, and while the action scenes feel a bit stagey at times, the movie doesn't feel nearly as long as it's two and a half hour running time suggests it should.

The performances are solid all around, but I did have some problems understanding Audrey Tautou at times because of her heavy accent (though I commend them for actually casting a real French woman in the role). Tom Hanks was a good choice for Langdon as he's basically supposed to be a brilliant bookworm who's just thrown into the biggest conspiracy of all time. No one plays your normal, everyday guy stuck in an extraordinary situation like he does. Paul Bettany absolutely creeped me out as Silas. I have no idea how this character is described in the book, but I can't imagine anyone who's read it being dissapointed how he's portrayed in the film. Bettany has a tough job because he has to be just creepy enough without crossing the line into caricature. He also can't just play him as a monster, but as someone fighting for what he believes, no matter how warped it may seem. Despite all these obstacles, he delivered. Oscar winner Sir Ian McKellen is dignified as usual as Langford's crippled mentor and historical guru.

The special features on this 2-disc special edition package are loaded with some fascinating interviews with author Dan Brown and director Ron Howard. Brown lets us know what he was looking and hoping for in the adaptation of his novel while Howard recounts the awesome responsibilty he faced bringing it to the screen. Howard's a really interesting guy and you can tell he poured his heart and soul into the project to make it work, seeking input from Brown whenever he could. Whether you think this is a failure or not, you have to give Howard credit for making it a priority to capture the author's vision before all else. There's also a guide to codes and clues hidden, at times quite ingeniusly, in the film. Despite the controversy sorrounding it, The Da Vinci Code works, and delivers a final act and closing image that grabs hold and doesn't let go.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Director: Steve Pink
Starring: Justin Long, Jonah Hill, Blake Lively, Lewis Black, Adam Herschman, Columbus Short, Maria Thayer, Hannah Marks

Running Time: 90 min.

Rating: PG-13

**1/2 (out of ****)

Accepted is an excellent example of what separates a good comedy from a great one. It raises the interesting question of whether you judge a movie on what it is or what it could have been. What it could have been was the best college set comedy since Animal House, but what it ends up being is entertaining and efficiently funny. The premise is so strong and the movie so close to greatness you can almost smell it, but it makes stupid little mistakes that were avoidable. It was probably a script rewrite away from really being something. There are still a lot of good things in it but not enough to earn a mild recommendation.

Bartleby Gaines (Justin Long), known to his friends as B., isn't going to college. He just couldn't get in anywhere. So what's he going to do? Make one up. With the help of his rotund friend Schrader (Jonah Hill, who steals the entire film) they create a web site for a fictional college named the South Harmon Institute of Technology (S.H.I.T.-get it?) and produce a fake acceptance letter for his parents. Surprisingly, and to the movie's credit, the S.H.I.T. joke doesn't get old as they constantly find inventive variations on it throughout the movie. Of course, his folks want to see the place, so with some help, they renovate an old run down mental hospital, get some fake students for show, and they're in business. The only problem is every student who couldn't get in to any college anywhere applied online and were accepted. Now they're all showing up at the front door for class and B. has to figure out how to run a college. They also face the threat of eviction from nearby prestigious Harmon College, where Schrader and Monica (Blake Lively), the girl of B.'s dreams, are enrolled.

You probably know how this is all going to end. What you don't know, however, is that this film actually does kind of have something to say and is enjoyable much of the way through. It's not laugh out loud hysterical (although parts are) but it's definitely funny and the characters are memorable. Sometimes an actor is given a line that may seem mildly amusing on paper, but when delivered onscreen it just hits a home run. I must have seen the scene with Schrader dressed as a hot dog telling everyone to "ask me about my weiner" at least a hundred times before seeing the film and laughed every time. When I saw it in the context of the movie I was still on the floor laughing. The sincerity and idiocy with which Jonah Hill deivers it with is perfect and he does the same for just about every other single line he's given in the movie. The guy is just hysterical and it would be worth seeing this if only just for his performance. What I like about the Schrader character is that he does stupid things, but he's not stupid. He knows how illegal this whole operation and against his better judgement goes along for the ride. It was also great to see comedian Lewis Black finally get a role worthy of him as the bitter, grumpy shoe salesman who acts as the fake dean of the college.

Justin Long (the guy in the Apple commericals) is nearly pushing thirty yet I still found him believable as a college freshman and he made a good straight man to all the ridiculousness that sorrounded him. I really liked how they handled his relationship with Monica as they've known each other for years, but never really knew each other at all. There's a great scene where B. thinks she's asking him to the prom, but she's really asking him if he could mow her lawn. She's a nice person who just really isn't aware of his existence through no fault of her own and I liked the way Blake Lively played her. She doesn't do anything actorish and is just really natural as a normal, pretty girl. One of the best performances of the movie comes from Hannah Marks as B.'s wise way beyond her years little sister who knows everything her brother is up to and is easily smarter than every character in the movie.

With all these things the movie does right it almost does as many wrong. Why is it PG-13? If there was ever an opportunity to make a good, old fashioned R rated college comedy it was this. With kids creating their own college the opportunity for gross-out hysterics and over the top comedy was limitless. Instead it's limited, like the filmmakers were too afraid an R rating could hurt the box office. Also, way too much screen time is given to a very annoying character named Glen who's head looks like an eraser. Nothing he does is funny and he's given an amount of screen time that should qualify as cruel and unusual punishment for the viewer.

The script often throws common sense out the window. I know we're supposed to suspend disbelief to the max in a comedy like this, but the movie doesn't even try to make any of this the slightest bit believable. That this stunt would require students with a college education to pull off I'm willing to forgive. Or that no one has anywhere to sleep or eat I can deal with. I mean, it is college. What I can't handle (spoiler warning!) is the students being in complete shock late in the movie that this wasn't a real college and feeling upset and betrayed. Gee, what gave it away that it was a fake college guys? Plus, why would they care as long as they're having fun? This goes against the spirit of the whole movie.

The film contains some really good ideas about higher education such as that colleges don't really do anything to prepare you for the real world and you should always just follow what you're interested in. I liked the idea board they came up with where students create their own classes. Unfortunately, the movie grandstands at the end painting the issue in black and white with evil Harmon College up the road killing education and suffocating students with structure and discipline. The villains are caricatures, the issue isn't that one-sided and the final courtroom scene is embarassing, even for a comedy like this. The movie deserved better.

This is the directing debut for Steve Pink who co-wrote Grosse Pointe Blank and High Fidelity with John Cusak. He just directed it. There's no way a man who co-wrote those movies could have had any hand in writing this, I would hope. This is not even close to being in the same leasgue as those two films. It sounds like I hate the movie, which I don't. It's actually pretty good and at least worth a rental. Even with all it's problems, I still may have enjoyed it more than Old School. When it was over though, I couldn't help feeling that, like the applicants to this college, this movie just failed to reach it's full potential. That's a shame because Accepted had all the ingredients to be the best collegiate comedy in years.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Mission Impossible 3

Director: J.J. Abrams
Starring: Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Billy Crudup, Ving Rhames, Michelle Monaghan, Jonathan Rhys Myers, Keri Russell, Maggie Q

Running Time: 126 min.

Rating: PG-13

*** (out of ****)

Before seeing Mission Impossible 3 I remarked to someone that I didn't think I've ever seen a bad Tom Cruise movie. That streak continues. M:I:3 is less complicated than the other films in the series, is much more focused and adds a human element to the story that the other two lacked. Plus, it has a great villain, which always helps. It's probably the best in the series. That's not to say I necessarily want to see another one and it's unlikely we will since Cruise was fired from Paramount after this was released, (more due to his offscreen antics than the earnings of this film). Still, it would be a shame if people avoided this for that reason because accomplishes everything it sets out to do quite well.

I.M.F. agent Ethan Hunt is now retired from the field and spends his days training up and coming agents like Lindsey Farris (Keri Russell). When Lindsey is kidnapped by dangerous arms dealer Davian (Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman) Hunt is drafted back into action and ends up getting more than he bargained for when the life of his new financee (Michelle Monaghan) is also put at risk. To save her he has to retrieve the mysterious "rabbit's foot." To the script's credit, we never find out what the "rabbit's foot" is . All we know is that it's incredibly important. I really wish more films would do this. It's so much more effective when the filmmakers don't reveal that information because whatever it is will just pale in comparison to what the viewers imagine it will be.

At the center of the story is the question of whether someone is Hunt's line of work can even have a normal relationship with somebody and there are some good scenes with Cruise and Monaghan that support it. This is an improvement over the other Mission Impossible films in that it dares to raise questions about anything. Of course, the story is beside the point. It's just an excuse to have some terrific action scenes and chase sequences and I assure you there's definitely no shortage of them. There's a great sequence at The Vatican where Hunt and his team have so many costume changes I almost lost count and a chase scene/shoot out on a bridge that will blow your mind. There's the memorable introduction of a bomb that detonates inside your head as well as the return of one of my favorite elements of the MI series: the use of masks. It's a special treat here as we get to see Seymour Hoffman do a dead-on Cruise impersonation. This guy didn't win an Oscar for nothing and it's a thrill to see him ham it up in a villainous role like this, a nice change from the usual character driven roles we see him in all the time. It makes a big difference when an actor of his caliber is cast and it's great seeing him having such a good time with it. I also liked the interplay with Hunt and his I.M.F. Team and if you don't know who Maggie Q is, you definitely will after this movie. She makes an entrance at a party you won't soon forget.

M:I:3 has some twist and turns and the movie effectively starts it's first scene at the end and then works backwards showing us how we got there, adding a heightened sense of importance to the proceedings. This is the feature directorial debut of Alias and Lost creator J.J. Abrams and he proves him himself more than capable of making the leap to big budget action without missing a beat. Tom Cruise is often taken for granted as an actor and this special edition DVD features a montage of all his films and it's really amazing when you look back at his output. We also find out on a "making of" feature on the disc that much to the director (and probably his agent's) horror he does actually perform much if not all of his own stunts. You could argue he should be contractually obligated to given the insane salary he commands per picture, but the fact remains few actors do all their own stunts. There's also a commentary track on the disc with Cruise and Abrams that's entertaining enough, as it's defintely fun to hear how they did some of the more spectacular action sequences. While my expectations couldn't have been lower heading into M:I:3, I found it was a fun, exciting way to spend two hours.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Nacho Libre

Director: Jared Hess
Starring: Jack Black, Hector Jimenez, Ana de la Reguera, Richard Montoya

Running time: 92 min.

Rating: PG

** (out of ****)

It's a terrible feeling when an actor you're a big fan of makes a bad movie. Jack Black is funny. Hilarious even. He was terrific in High Fidelity, Shallow Hal and Orange County. Was was also the best thing in King Kong. However, he's one of those actors who needs to be given direction and focus to be effective. If the story isn't strong or tight enough, he can fly off the rails and the consequences can be unpleasant and annoying. I thought that happened with School of Rock. Such is the case with Nacho Libre, a movie that tries desperately to be subversive and cool but in the end is just empty. Jack Black is fat. He's wearing a ridiculous wrestling costume. He's winking at you, letting you know he's in on the joke and it's funny. That's the movie.

Black plays Brother Ignasio, a monastary cook who dreams of becoming a Luchador (a Mexican professional wrestler) so he can improve food service for the kids and hopefully impress the beautiful new teacher, Sister Encarnacion (Ana de la Reguera). He finds a tag team partner in frighteningly skinny street peasant, Esquelto a.k.a "The Skeleton" (Hector Jiminez) and they soon realize they can get paid pretty well to be beat up every night. That's not enough for Ignasio though. He wants to win. With a tablecloth and a sewing machine Nacho Libre is born.

I really wanted to like this movie. I tried really hard, but it just goes nowhere. Some of the wrestling scenes are actually pretty funny (especially a tag team match against scary midgets), but once you get past that the movie just limps along aimlessly. I actually found myself looking at my watch at times, which is pretty pathetic when you remember this thing is only 92 minutes long. The movie doesn't make fun of wrestling and actually has alot of respect for it, which I liked. Unfortunately though, it's not funny and downright annoying at times. I giggled a few times but most of the movie just consists of Black in ludicrous regalia mocking his lines as he delivers them in an intentionally bad accent. That's actually hilarious for the first fifteen miutes, but a movie needs more. If you hope to gain any insight on Lucha Libre wrestling or even how they made the movie with the special features on the disc, don't hold your breath. It's just Jack Black rehearsing wrestling scenes.

What's mind blowing about the movie is that it was made by incredibly talented people. It was directed by Jared Hess, who made Napoleon Dynamite and was co-written by Mike White, who wrote Orange County. Napoleon Dynamite told a story with memorable characters that went somewhere. It was campy and intentionally ridiculous like this film but it was about something. The characters may be more likable in this film but they sure aren't as entertaining. One of the big flaws with this movie is they seemed determined to recreate the Napoleon-Pedro friendship with Nacho and Esquelto. You can strangely see the movie trying to be another Napoleon Dynamite as both are about outcasts who struggle to gain acceptance. Except one film is actually about it, while the other is just going through the motions. Given the way it was made, Nacho Libre is probably destined to become a cult classic if it isn't one already. But that still won't make it any funnier.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Lost Season 3 Finale

Last night Lost delivered one of the most captivating, yet maddingly frustrating episodes in the show's history. With scalpel in hand Jack (Matthew Fox) performed surgery on the villainous "other," Ben (Michael Emerson) to remove a spinal tumor only to intentionally cut his kidney and threaten to let him bleed out unless "the others" agree to let Kate (Evangeline Lilly) and Sawyer (Josh Holloway) go. If you want to know what happens you have to wait...until February 7, 2007! Next year!

In either a really ballsy or really stupid move, ABC listened to all those complaints about too many repeats last year and decided to fix the problem by airing no repeats this season. Instead, they're taking the show off the air for over 3 months and praying the viewers come back. The question is with ratings already slipping slightly, will anyone care when it returns or will they be too frustrated? I will be back in February and I'll tell you why. Despite claims to the contrary, Lost is still at the top of it's game.

A lot of viewers seem to think Lost is no longer the best serialized drama on television anymore and that title now belongs to NBC's Heroes. Heroes, while a great show, is only in it's infancy and has yet to even develop to a point where we can care about any of the characters outside it's gigantic"save the world" premise. It's still too early and there's so much going on to establish things, it has yet to settle into a groove. Even though Lost has been accused of just posing more questions than it's answered, it has actually answered alot of them at the end of last season and into the first six episodes of this one. The amount of information we're getting and advancement of storylines have been just right.

Just think of how much more we know now. We know "the others" were on the island for a while and saw the plane crash (they even had a village complete with a book club), We at least know there's an outside world that's aware of their plane crash. We also know the time frame as demonstrated in that awesome scene where Jack gets to see footage of the Red Sox winning the World Series. This debunks any theory of the island being some kind of purgatory or hallucination. I still stick with my original theory that everything, starting with and maybe dating before the plane crash, is a government experiment. We finally have some kind of culmination of the Jack/Kate/Sawyer triangle with Kate picking Sawyer. In last night's flashback (one of the show's best) we also discovered Kate left her cop husband out of guilt that she was hiding her criminal past from him. Plus, they killed off Mr. Echo (which was a wise move-he served his purpose). I don't know what more anyone could possibly want out of a season.

If the show is to continue, there still has to be some mystery and questions left unanswered. That central question is, who are "the others" and what do they want? The introduction of Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell) further complicates that question, at least for Jack. The character is intriguing because she doesn't seem to be on the same page as "the others" even though she is one. The scene where she let Jack know she wants him to kill Ben on the operating table was shocking. I think the writers know where they're going with this, even if we don't have a clue.

Whether Lost will be remembered as legendary among television dramas is entirely up to ABC at this point. The time will come when they have a choice to make: give in to greed and let the show run well past it's saturation point or leave on top wrapping everything up clearly and crisply, ending the series on the highest note possible. The latter doesn't happen too often. The next season or two of Lost will really tell the story of its future. However, it's way too early for viewers to start losing their patience with a show that has, at the very least, earned the benefit of the doubt.