Tuesday, September 30, 2008

September's Film Round-Up

Golly, I know these are late, but think of it this way: Compared to the DVD releases dates, these reviews are breaking news! The reviews are reprinted with permission of ICON (thanks, Trina).

Pineapple Express (Dir. David Gordon Green). Starring: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Danny McBride, Gary Cole, Rosie Perez. After an aimless, pot-loving process server (Rogen) witnesses a murder, he and his amiable, space-cadet drug dealer (Franco) are forced to go on the run. After starring and co-writing 2007's biggest comedies, Knocked Up and Superbad, respectively, Rogen lighting his farts on screen would make money, and this is pretty close. The movie is light and loose, an attitude that grows old pretty quickly. Rogen and co-writer Evan Goldberg's comedic riffing goes on way too long with no real payoff, and there's very little reason to care about Franco and Rogen's characters, two one-dimensional slackers who we're supposed to like because they have to take action. The movie desperately wants to be the Generation Y version of The Big Lebowski, but the writers and director Green (All the Real Girls, perhaps the last person you want to direct a movie like this) seem loath to make an effort. In that respect, they've recreated the stoner experience a little too well. R

Sukiyaki Western Django (Dir: Takashi Miike). Starring: Hideaki Ito, Koichi Sato, Yusuke Iseya, Yoshino Kimura, Teruyuki Kagawa, Kaori Momoi, Quentin Tarantino. A favorite of directors such as Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth) and Tarantino, Miike's take on the spaghetti Western has a lone unnamed gunfighter (Ito) arriving at a small Nevada town and coming between two warring factions, the Genji and the Heike, with calamitous results. The story is a little choppy and the actors' command of English isn't the best (they had a month of intensive language training), but that takes a backseat to Miike's visual mastery. For those tired of quick cuts and massive FX-laden explosives, Miike is a savior. The man knows how to use violence to evoke humor and pathos, and that ability, along with the fun he has showing it off, is infectious but not for the squeamish. Pray that Jerry Bruckheimer doesn’t give him a billion dollars to do something stupid. Tarantino, appearing early on and later in heavy make-up, plays an old gunfighter with a surprising connection to one of the townsfolk. R

Tropic Thunder (Dir: Ben Stiller). Starring: Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black, Nick Nolte, Steve Coogan, Tom Cruise, Matthew McConaughey, Jay Baruchel, Brandon T. Jackson. Desperately behind on a big-budget Vietnam War epic and hoping for a creative jump start, a frazzled director (Coogan), sends his cast (featuring clueless stars Stiller, Black, and Downey Jr.) into hostile jungle territory for filming. The exercise becomes all too real when a band of real-life bad guys mistakes the pampered stars for actual soldiers. This satire of Hollywood culture is as broad as a multiplex screen, with director Stiller pounding his points home. But when the movie hits the mark, such as Downey Jr. character's ridiculous method acting or describing the perils of an actor going "full retard" for Oscar votes--the movie is a scream. Plus, Stiller, Black, and especially Downey Jr. (playing an Australian actor playing an African American solider), are plenty funny. Those who have procaimed Tropic Thunder to the be the year's funniest movie are somewhat off, but it is a contender. Believe it or not, Judd Apatow is not involved in the movie. R

Traitor (Dir: Jeffrey Nachmanoff). Starring: Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Jeff Daniels, Neal McDonough, Aly Khan, Said Taghmaoui, Archie Panjabi. Cheadle, who produced, stars as Samir Horn, a demolition expert who joins a group of well-connected Muslim extremists in planning bombings worldwide. Meanwhile, two dogged FBI agents (Pearce and McDonough) are hot on Horn's trail, although he's really working deep cover for the CIA as he gets closer to orchestrating an unthinkable terrorist act. Got all that? Don't bother. Endless and needlessly complex, Traitor is so bogged down by Horn's international traveling and whispered details, that it never actually decides on what it wants to be--a political thriller, a well-traveled version of The Fugitive, or a commentary on religious identity in America. All it is, is boring and offensive, as the movie simply uses post 9/11/01 issues and paranoia as a set-up for a flashy, empty spy movie with a ridiculous ending. The actors involved here, and there are some good ones, deserve better than this. So do audiences. PG-13

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