Saturday, June 5, 2010

Step Brothers

Year 2, Day 156 - 6/5/10 - Movie #521

BEFORE: Will Ferrell-thon continues - I've been attempting to add "Old School" to my list (if not now, when?) but apparently the universe does not want me to watch that movie at this point in time. It's not for sale at the $5 DVD store, on On Demand or premium cable, so I have to imagine that it belongs somewhere in a future chain.

THE PLOT: Two aimless middle-aged losers still living at home are forced against their will to become roommates when their parents get married.'

AFTER: This was mostly funny, but partially funny because the characters were so pathetic. If you can see the humor in a 40-year old man-child who still lives at home, well, then go for it. Actually TWO 40-year old man-childs, because both Brennan (Will Ferrell) and Dale (John C. Reilly) are cut from the same cloth. Something's been holding them both back, whether they've been coddled by their parents, or traumatized in some way, neither has ever apparently held a steady job, or lived on their own.

But when Brennan's mom marries Dale's dad (having slacker sons in common), they're forced to share space. At first they're adversaries, then they're the best of friends, then adversaries again. There are so many plot reversals that it's sort of hard to keep track, or to find someone to root for. And the overall point of the film seems to be that one's crazy dreams and inner child should be nurtured, so again we have a case of mixed messages, like in "Kicking & Screaming". (Living with parents = bad? Living with parents = good? Getting a job = good? Getting a job = bad?)

What unites the step-brothers is a common enemy, their successful third brother, Derek, who's portrayed as a total douchebag who sells private helicopters to celebrities. (Again, success = bad?) He needs to be the perfect man, with the perfect wife and perfect kids, but there's imperfections lurking under the surface (so perfection = bad?). I did like the family's a cappella rendition of "Sweet Child of Mine", though...

So much of the humor is out of left field, or relies on non-sequiturs, that this might not be everyone's cup of tea. But there were plenty of funny moments, and redeeming character moments. Then again, I can see how people might find 40-year-olds who act like 5-year-olds to be not funny at all.

Also starring Mary Steenburgen, Richard Jenkins, Adam Scott (who recently came to my attention with a role on "Parks & Recreation"), with cameos from Seth Rogen, Rob Riggle, Ken Jeong, Horatio Sanz, and Matt Walsh.

RATING: 6 out of 10 pirate hats

Thursday, June 3, 2010


Year 2, Day 155 - 6/4/10 - Movie #520

BEFORE: I inadvertently timed this well, because the NBA Finals started last night - though I admit to being surprised after finding out the Celtics and Lakers made the finals (the 80's are BACK!). Also, this wraps up my sports chain (for now), and yesterday I was "kidnapped" by my boss, brought to Yankee Stadium against my will, and forced to watch a Yankees/Orioles game. My first time in the new stadium, though I felt like I was behind enemy lines - I have to say the food at the new stadium is great, I had a pork sandwich and hush puppies from Brother Jimmy's BBQ (Jimmy and I have had our differences over the years, but his BBQ tastes great when eaten outdoors) and also a steak sandwich from Lobel's, with some killer dijon horseradish sauce.

THE PLOT: Jackie Moon, the owner-coach-player of the American Basketball Association's Flint Michigan Tropics, rallies his teammates to try and make their NBA dreams come true.

AFTER: Will Ferrell shines best when you just let him go, and the crazier the situation, the better. As the owner of the Flint Tropics, his character, Jackie Moon, has to improve both the team's record and the fan attendance figures, in order for his team to survive the merger of the ABA and the NBA. He comes up with all kinds of crazy stunts to increase the team's fan base, like a corn dog giveaway, a roller-skating stunt, and a wrestling match with a bear. As you might imagine, hijinx ensue.

But the team's record does improve after hiring a former NBA player named Monix (Woody Harrelson). What I liked about this movie is that the team actually improves once they start concentrating on the fundamentals of the game. (Something Phil Weston in "Kicking & Screaming" should have tried first, not last.)

There's lots of great 70's music in the film, from Sly & the Family Stone, the requisite "Pick Up the Pieces" from Average White Band, "Shining Star", "Lady Marmalade" and so on - but also two of my personal faves, "A Fifth of Beethoven" by Walter Murphy, and Deodato's disco remix of the "2001" theme (Also Sprach Zarathustra!)

I have to admit I liked this one, it's at least up there with "Talladega Nights" and "Blades of Glory", even if it's not as hilarious as "Anchorman". Jackie Moon is at least as much of an outrageous amalgam character as Ron Burgundy.

Also starring Andre Benjamin, Maura Tierney, Andy Richter, Will Arnett and a TON of comedian cameos: David Koechner, Rob Corddry, Matt Walsh, Tim Meadows, Jason Sudeikis, Ed Helms, Kristen Wiig, Andrew Daly. Plus Patti Labelle and Jackie Earle Haley!

RATING: 7 out of 10 afros

Kicking & Screaming

Year 2, Day 154 - 6/3/10 - Movie #519

BEFORE: I suppose I could have tracked down and watched "Bend It Like Beckham", in honor of the World Cup starting next week - plus that would have made back-to-back British films, and made a fine link to tonight's soccer film. But the IFC Channel isn't airing it until Saturday, and I don't want to wait to start my Will Ferrell chain. For that matter, I also passed on "Hoosiers" and "*61" earlier this week - anyway, the point of this project was not to be comprehensive and watch every film, but rather to get around to watching the films already in my collection. And I've got a week's worth of Will Ferrell films - he may not be on a par with DeNiro or Schwarzenegger, but he's definitely made some films on my list that I'm eager to watch, considering how funny "Anchorman" and "Blades of Glory" were.

THE PLOT: Phil Weston, a lifelong victim of his father's competitive nature, takes on the coaching duties of a kids' soccer team.

AFTER: It just occurred to me that June is the month of Father's Day, and this marks the third film in a row featuring a father who becomes over-competitive, which threatens the relationship with his son.

I won't spoil the ending of this film, but if you've ever seen "The Bad News Bears" you might have an idea where this is going (in fact, I could have sworn at least one of these soccer kids was also in the "Bad News Bears" remake, but IMDB says I'm wrong...). A ragtag bunch of misfits, with an incompetent coach, that starts to succeed after recruiting a ringer - or two, in this case, Italian brothers who are studying to become butchers, but have incredible soccer skills.

The problem becomes, once Ferrell's character gets a taste of sweet victory, he wants desperately to get his Tigers team to the finals, where he would face his own father (Robert Duvall), the coach of the Gladiators. So the game-plan becomes "Pass the ball to the Italians" - which I personally wouldn't have a problem with. Since when was "pass the ball to Michael Jordan" or "throw the ball to Jerry Rice" ever a bad idea?

But, since this is about kids playing soccer, I guess every kid deserves some playing time, since there are more important things than winning... Really? Seems like a bit of an odd message for a sports film. Even the "Bad News Bears" learned how to win... Yeah, yeah, fair play, there is no "I" in "team", yada yada yada.

At the same time Ferrell's character gets a taste for winning, he also develops a taste for coffee. I guess being the owner of a vitamin store, he's used to drinking herbal tea. But this is something of a narrative crutch - it means that his overly competitive spirit could be blamed on the caffeine, and not some fault that's developed in his personality. No, that would take longer to explain, and would get into all kinds of Freudian issues over the relationship between fathers and sons...

Phil's father, Buck Weston, is clearly a bastard - one who had to beat his son at every game they played, and we see how this has, over time, turned Phil into an insecure doormat. Phil manages to bring himself back from the brink before he treats his son the same way - but the change would have been more sincere if it truly came from the heart, and BOTH characters actually learned the error of their ways. See "Run Fatboy Run", and also "The Rookie" for better ways to accomplish this within the framework of a story.

My own father liked to beat me in board games, particularly "Monopoly". He never held back, and you know what? It made me a better player (though I still lose often to my wife) and when I finally learned how to beat him, he lost his interest in the game. But I think in general this film is somewhat disjointed, without a clear message - (competition = good? competition = bad? coffee = good? evil?) yeah, it's a film for kids, but that's no excuse.

I just don't see why Phil Weston has to be either a spineless jellyfish, or a killer shark, and there's no happy medium...I suppose there's some redemption in the end, but for me it came too little, too late.

Also starring Kate Walsh, Mike Ditka, Rachael Harris, Laura Kightlinger, with cameos from character actors Peter Jason, Scott Adsit, Jarrad Paul, Matt Winston, and David Bowe ("UHF")

RATING: 5 out of 10 cleats

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Run Fatboy Run

Year 2, Day 153 - 6/2/10 - Movie #518

BEFORE: Clearly, Turner Classic Movies is copying me, again. In the middle of my sports-themed week, they ran a day of movies that included "Rocky", "Hoosiers", "The Natural", and "Caddyshack". Perhaps I should have picked up "Hoosiers", in memory of Dennis Hopper, who had a role. But I'm trying to not let my list get any bigger. Anyway, on to tonight's film - running is a sport (isn't it?)

THE PLOT: Five years after jilting his pregnant fiancée on their wedding day, out-of-shape Dennis decides to run a marathon to win her back.

AFTER: It might seem like an odd choice to watch this right after the "Rocky" films - but you just can't do a training sequence in a film without direct references (raw eggs) or at least comparisons to the great Balboa-centric montages. Plus, both "Rocky V" and this film have a common theme, that of fathers trying to stay connected with their sons, so that was a nice coincidence.

Simon Pegg, so funny in "Hot Fuzz" and last year's "Star Trek", tones it down a bit here to play a British loser, but his comic timing is still impeccable. You want to root for a man who's down, but not necessarily out - he's only about 80% given up on life, and the trick is for him to find something to believe in, even if that turns out to just be himself.

So he decides to run a marathon, initially to compete with his baby mama's new boyfriend, but when that looks impossible, he decides to follow through to inspire his son, regain his self-respect, and help raise awareness about Erectile Dysfunction (the only charity he can find to sponsor him, 3 weeks before the race).

What serves Pegg well is British deadpan humor combined with snarkiness, and when compared to Hank Azaria's rich American twit, his comic foil, he's definitely the lesser of two evils. But what serves his character well is discipline - initially it's pointed out that his character has "never finished anything" - so where will he find the discipline to run a 26-mile race?

Obviously I won't spoil the ending - but I do know a few things about discipline. Or at least routine, I think there's a fine line between the two. Since I had the kidney stone in March, I changed my routine and managed to lose 20 pounds (though my recent roadtrip may have added a few back). I've still got a way to go - I now weigh what I did 3 years ago, but I'd like to weigh what I did 10 years ago.

And lest anyone say I lack discipline, I stand on my record, based on time served at my jobs, and even my attention to this movie project, Day 518 and counting.

Also starring Thandie Newton - and I'd swear I've seen that kid before, but he's got no other movie credits. Maybe he just looks like the youngest kid on "Little People, Big World". Directed by David Schwimmer, and co-written by Michael Ian Black.

RATING: 7 out of 10 spinning classes

Monday, May 31, 2010

Rocky V

Year 2, Day 152 - 6/1/10 - Movie #517

BEFORE: Since I don't have a copy of "Rocky Balboa" (aka Rocky VI), this will wrap up the franchise for me, at least for now. I'm eager to move on to other topics, anyway...

THE PLOT: Reluctantly retired from boxing and back from riches to rags, Rocky takes on a new protege, as the champ's son must adjust to his family's new life after bankruptcy.

AFTER: The plot picks up right after Rocky's fight with Drago, but in the real world 6 years have passed - I thought Rocky's son aged a few years while he was in Russia, but I guess the character was played by two different teens. Stallone's actual son, Sage, plays Rocky's son in part 5.

And that kid's going to need a lot of therapy - not only does he watch his father go bankrupt and retire without defending his title, but then he gets ignored in favor of Rocky's new protege, Tommy Gunn. (Seriously? Like a tommy gun? Well, he does act like a loose cannon...) But after falling into his new role as a boxing manager, Rocky gets betrayed when Tommy falls under the influence of a shyster promoter, George Washington Duke - who's like a thinly-veiled Don King. (get it, Duke/King?)

When Duke can't convince Rocky to step back into the ring, he signs Tommy and gives him a shot at the title. I didn't really see the method to his madness at first - if he hates Rocky, why give his protege a chance to be the heavyweight champion? But there are plans within plans, and the devil has his methods...

If this were any other "Rocky" film, the inevitable training montage would follow, and Rocky would step into the ring and act like a punching bag, one "last" time, and somehow find a way to come out on top. After 3 sequels that adhered to the formula, I'm sort of glad that this one went in a different direction.

Instead, Rocky has to reject his unfaithful disciple, and try to re-connect with his wife and son. But the "prodigal son" has a bad habit of turning up at inconvenient times, to call the ex-champion out. I won't ruin the ending, but it was very unconventional for a "Rocky" film, and I think I ended up enjoying this sequel a little more than the others.

The dialogue is really bad - I'm tempted to believe that the actors made up most of it as they went along - but at least the spirit is there, in a believable way. "Rocky IV" was practically a cartoon, by comparison. The void between Rocky Balboa and his son seemed like almost any other teen/father relationship - that point where a teen rejects what his father stands for, which for most kids is part of growing up.

With Talia Shire, Burt Young, and Burgess Meredith (duh!)

RATING: 6 out of 10 fur coats

Rocky IV

Year 2, Day 151 - 5/31/10 - Movie #516

BEFORE: I'm back from our road trip, during which I didn't watch any movies (or any TV for that matter) for 3 days (OK, 2 1/2...). Instead in between outlet stores and brewpubs, I managed to read a whole book, and start on a second one, and get two really full nights of sleep, which is an unusual occurence for me.

THE PLOT: When Apollo Creed is killed in a match against a powerful Soviet boxer, Rocky decides to challenge him himself.

AFTER: Yes, it's Memorial Day, the day where we remember our country's fallen boxing champions, or something. Actually, this was made in 1985, at the height of the Cold War, so at least I've got something of a patriotic tie-in for the day, with U.S. boxers vs. the Soviet champion.

My quibbles with the film are as follows - first, the robot that Rocky buys for Paulie. Probably the less said about that, the better, but it was part of the general ridiculousness of the whole movie.

Second, the over-excessive use of montage. The training montage late in the film is fine - there's a nice contrast between Rocky's training and Drago's - but I have to take issue with the earlier montage, when Rocky is broken up over Apollo's death, and driving around aimlessly while visions (scenes from previous "Rocky" films) fill his brain. If he's so focused on Drago, and avenging Apollo's death, why are some of the images from his first dates with Adrian, and the birth of his son as well? I guess his mind wanders, even when he's intensely concentrating on something?

Rocky gives up his title and travels to the Soviet Union to train and fight Drago - you might think that it's the American champion who's got more scientific training, but Rocky avoids training in a gym, and instead decides to run in the snow, chop wood and lift oxcarts, while the Russian fighter, who seems to have been grown in a laboratory, also trains in one. What's the message here - is Rocky's goal nobler just because he runs up a mountain instead of on a treadmill? Is it better to do menial chores than lift barbells? Is this a "Rocky" film, or a "Karate Kid" film?

Of course, what the Russians don't count on is Rocky's superhuman ability to be punched in the head. The blows that leveled Apollo don't seem to have as much of an impact on Rocky - guess there's not as much up there to damage. Even with a 3-day break between films, all this punching is wearing me down - I'm having serious doubts about the sport of boxing, and questioning whether either fighter deserves to win. They both score late hits after the bell...

Also, it would have been nice to get inside Drago's head a little - obviously he starts out as a complete Communist tool, but then they sort of imply that there's something of a change during the match, where he starts to fight for himself rather than for his country, but it's not really explained all that well. What, exactly, brings on the change, and what are its implications? I guess we'll never know.

And if Drago was such a great fighter, why not compete in the Olympics? Seems like the next logical step after being Russia's amateur champion. Why the need to come to America and challenge the heavyweight champion? Why not rack up a few gold medals first, unless you're afraid of the Olympic drug testing...

Starring the usual Rocky cast - Talia Shire, Carl Weathers + Burt Young, plus Dolph Lungren, Brigitte Nielsen, with a cameo from James Brown.

RATING: 4 out of 10 spit-buckets