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Posts Tagged ‘ben stiller’

The Lodger: Director David Ondaatje‘s debut is loosely adapted from Hitchcock’s 1927 silent film about a ‘Jack The Ripper’ copycat killer. Ondaatje gives The Lodger a routinely modern twist by throws plenty of false climaxes, both run-of-the-mill and unexpected, at us. The visual elements are also far grittier than these types of films normally lend themselves to, thanks to nifty cinematography from David Armstrong. Actress Hope Davis (with whom I’m having a cinematic affair) as the hapless patron of the lodge and Alfred Molina as the obsessive detective deliver on so many levels that we can ignore Simon Baker‘s ineffectual brooding as the title character. Two other things that didn’t quite work for me – Philip Baker Hall darting in and out as the generic Captain Smith, grimacing perhaps a tad too unnaturally, and the predictable ending. Everything else deserves a thumbs-up in this suitably atmospheric Hitchcockian thriller.

Pig Hunt: I have the softest corner in my mind for low-budget horror films that scream bloody murder. It is adorable how they make us curl into a foetal position, letting our mind escape from recurring group hugs that define our lives, careers and breaks in sobriety. It is also heart-warming that there are film-lovers out there scraping together money and questionable talent to scare the shit out of other people. Like many other gory backwoods thrillers turn out to be, James Isaac’s Pig Hunt could be an extended metaphor for the socio-political hierarchies that govern every aspect of our world; so if you’re into that sort of thing, you may find sly references to misogyny, established religion and if you’re drunk, oedipal complexes too. Mutilated emus, a machete-wielding maniac, nymphomaniacal pot cultivators, and a monstrous wild boar that makes Russell Mulcahy’s Razorback look like Babe lost and hogtied in the city? The show goes on. And how.

Greenberg: These comedians have become infatuated with playing caricatures of their publicized persona – Adam Sandler in Funny People, Patton Oswalt in Big Fan, and that creepy guy, to an ostensibly lesser extent, in Pauly Shore Is Dead. Even crappy action stars have embraced it (spoiler: this intro is a waste of time) and gone on to make fun of themselves (JCVD and My Name Is Bruce). I assume Ben Stiller was going for something similar in Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg, but I could be wrong. Actually, Roger Greenberg isn’t very different from characters that we’ve come to associate Stiller with. Domesticated, empathetic, dorky and infatuated with delusions of grandeur – traits that don’t mesh very well with the character’s existential despair in this film. Sort of like Chris Cornell’s Scream album that toyed with hip-hop. I can appreciate the deviance from normalcy but uh uh no thanks…it’s just too weird. Thankfully, the film’s zanier and more admirable bouts of melancholia lie in Rhys Ifans‘ droopiness and Greta Gerwig‘s gut-wrenching facial expressions, both of which, are spectacular as is the soundtrack provided by James Murphy (front man, LCD Soundsystem). Now go watch Oswalt set the bar incredibly high in Big Fan.

The Losers: Sylvain White is the genius behind I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer. We definitely know what he did the summer of 2010. He made an abortion of an action flick.

American Splendor: Harvey Pekar died last week, so let’s spend a minute in obligatory silence as I pray to the distraught geeks in the sky for his soul to keep. In case you don’t already know, he was a iconic comic book writer and legendary cultural nihilist. His autobiographical comic series detailed the tortuously funny bits of his life as a file clerk at a Veteran’s Administration hospital in Cleveland. In Berman and Pulcini’s biopic, Paul Giamatti is very believable as Pekar. It is evident that someone has done proper research. One of the details I really enjoyed was the way Giamatti lets his eyebrows do most of the talking as did Pekar in so many of his interviews, especially on Dave Letterman. In addition, a special mention to the cameos from his real-life friends and their splendidly spaced-out, interstellar stares; with friends like these who needs copies of Hitch Hiker’s Guide. All said and done, a notch below the utterly cool crankiness of Terry Zwigoff’s documentary on Robert Crumb, but a tremendous water pistol salute to the man nevertheless.

Splintered: Vincenzo Natali‘s extended love letter to Spielberg’s epically bad film about cute aliens is no longer the odds-on favourite to win my ‘wasted storyline potential’ trophy for 2010. Director Simeon Halligan could have gone about a million other ways with Splintered‘s storyline and still had me thoroughly engaged. While the first 15 minutes promises vicious creatures of the night, creative dismemberment and a wee Welsh lassie’s descent into hyper-realistic madness, the rest of the film has some of the flimsiest excuses for bloodshed. He mucks things up further by paying zero attention to group psychology during moments of crisis. At times, I wasn’t sure if the guys were being stalked and attacked by unseen evil or frantically seduced by their pregnant cousins; a strange mix of disgust, euphoria and fear. Some of dialogues are so absurd that we might soon have a ‘Godzilla vs Splintered’s Script’ straight-to-DVD classic on our hands. Holly Weston‘s passive hysteria in the last frame as she walks towards a close-up angle is a thing of beauty, but everything is such a chore to endure.

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Patton Oswalt is a stand up comedian extraordinaire and one of those actors who tries really hard to bring in as much originality, finesse and pure unadulterated awesomeness. As a stand-up, he’s dynamite on the microphone (and not just because he resembles a tub of nitroglycerin); explosively funny in delivery, brilliant in content and just under six feet of raging, scatterbrained intellect. Small town America’s repressed comedians turning into Dubya-hatin’, independent art-lovin’, under appreciated, over informed smartass social misanthropists is somewhat of a cliché but the ferocity of his commitment for original humour is something else. He’s great for the same reasons men like Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks once were. They say it like they see it, without a filter, and secretly nurse a grudge with the world (or at least the 2% which appreciates good comedy) for laughing along with them.

After watching him in Robert Siegel’s Big Fan, I’m also convinced that soon we are going to watch this man receive a ‘best supporting actor’ Oscar statuette, nervously adjusting a ridiculous bowtie in a tasteless suit while sweating profusely and thanking his best friend, Toby the potted plant, for encouraging him through the journey. Then he’d spit at Meryl Streep and ask the Weinstein brothers if they’d like to kiss his ass for 3$ a cheek only to be escorted outside by security and never to be seen on television ever again.

It wouldn’t matter though since Patton Oswalt is one of the funniest fuckers around whether you’ve heard of him or not. Here’s a list of his cameos, movie roles, comedy tours and documentaries I’ve seen.

Down Periscope: Patton Oswalt made his feature film debut in David Ward’s comedy about a goofy submarine crew doing goofy stuff with their super serial Lt. Commander played by Kelsey Grammar. Patton barely gets any screen time as Stingray Radioman and the movie isn’t very good either except for this scene. Moving along.

Magnolia: In Paul Thomas Anderson’s 188 minutes of mindfuck of a movie, he plays Delmer Darion, a blackjack dealer stricken by fate in one of the opening montages. For what it’s worth, he makes a really mean and scurvy face after being accidentally scooped up by a firefighting airplane while scuba diving. Great performances by Julianne Moore, William H. Macy and John C. Reilly too.

Man On The Moon: He has a ridiculously short cameo in Milos Forman’s Andy Kaufman biopic as Blue Collar Guy, a sheepish-looking fellow. Nothing much to say here. Instead of moving along, maybe we could take this opportunity to discuss you, my dear minion. Tell me a bit about yourself. Did the cool kids treat you badly in high school? Do you miss listening to audio cassettes?

Zoolander: Not that it is anything to write home about, but he beats Ben Stiller (Zoolander) silly in the absurdity quotient as the Monkey Photographer. Once again he does his shtick for a few seconds and makes us giggle. I think Will Ferrell’s a barrel of hoots, but still I would have much rather had Patton Oswalt play Mugatu.

Run Ronnie Run: Troy Miller’s trailer park comedy stars a lot of people making idiots out of themselves. Considering David Cross and Brian Posehn co-wrote the script, this film’s excessive gross-out content was really disappointing…and I don’t seem to remember much of Patton did here. IMDB says he played Dozer – Editor #1. Sounds about right Oh Jeff Goldblum almost saves this film with his killer delivery of one-liners.

Calendar Girls: Nigel Cole’s 2003 comedy about none-too-desperate housewives posing nude to raise money for local hospital’s fundraiser is vaguely amusing, especially when Ciarán Hinds and Julie Walters are on-screen. The vendible valetudinarian from Virginia is barely noticeable as Larry in this, and for a wee moment, pops in and out.

Starsky & Hutch: Apparently Ben Stiller is a big fan of Patton. I bet Stiller walked up to director Todd Phillips and said, “Patton friggin Oswalt as a 80s disco jockey, man…call me when it sounds like a good idea to you?” Thank god he called. Patton and his swanky disco suit make a memorable appearance in this film and stage a douchebag dancing contest between a coked-out cop and a man child.

Blade Trinity: This was Patton Oswalt’s initiation into cinema. While his foreskin wasn’t grated and served back to him with a side order of chilli chips, he was expected to act in a truly horrendous film starring Wesley Snipes and stop it plummeting into the abyss. In David Goyer’s crapfest of a comic book adaptation, he plays Hedges – a socially challenged tech geek, which is spectacularly convenient considering Patton in real life is a socially challenged comic book geek. All sorts of Grecian justices were done here.

Reno 911 Miami: Read review here.

Ratatouille: It’d be easy to say that Patton Oswalt sold his soul by starring in a Pixar film, so you can go ahead and say it to your heart’s content. I actually liked the darn film. As irony would have it, he had the least interesting character (lead, but still) in this film but I’m at least glad to know he didn’t do anything stupid with the money like lose weight or star in another Pixar film. Just to remind you, Peter O Toole gives a glorious speech in Ratatouille as Anton Ego, the food critic.

Balls Of Fury: Robert Ben Garant’s kooky caper features one of his funniest cameos. He plays Hammer – a local table tennis prima donna looking to derail Randy Daytona’s (the film protagonist) path to greatness and awe-inspiring good ol’ American heroism. He’s barely on our screen for a couple of minutes but is hilarious enough for us to want more. Much more. The absurd cockiness with which he struts about the ping pong table makes me want to see him play a super villain. Are you listening, Nolan? You have the best man to play either The Penguin or The Ventriloquist right here.

All Roads Lead Home: So finally Patton moves up Hollywood’s ladder and ends up in the ‘main character’s best friend’ rung. Dennis Fallon’s 2008 family drama about broken hearts and sad puppies    (no, really) has the world’s smallest violin playing a stirring version of Iron Butterfly’s Inna Gadda Da Vidda (yes, kidding) halfway through the film. Patton Oswalt as Milo – a sensitive animal shelter worker and Peter Boyle (in his final film appearance), who plays a Clint Eastwood-like grandpa, give us reasons to go slow on the ‘skip’ button. Milo is sometimes sappy, but never annoying, and he’s constantly surrounded by cute puppies. Uh Oh.

Big Fan: Read review here.

Observe and Report: Read review here.

The Informant: Steven Soderbergh has a discernable talent. He hires A-list actors, gives them vaguely quirky characters and makes them behave like they took a crash course in existentialism. Credit to Matt Damon for not letting it bother him; he is surprisingly good in this film. As for the portly and paludicolous possum (don’t ask) from Portsmouth, he plays Ed Berst – one of the company lawyers out to prove Mark Whitacre (Damon) wrong. He sports a great facial expression when Whitacre unrelentingly bullshits in the conference room.

No Reason To Complain / Werewolves and Lollipops / My Weakness is Strong: He hates Republicans, hippies, bigotry, glam rock, Steven Spielberg, and politics, loves indie music, comic books, action figurines and the cleansing aura of nihilism. Plus, he’s tremendously funny. In the Werewolves and Lollipops TV special, he even gives a State Of The Urinal address, urging people not to pee on other people because it’s just not nice at all.  Yes, somebody actually peed on another person during one of his shows in Austin, Texas and yes, he’s that funny. Now I’m going to try and see of he’ll be my pen pal.

The Comedians of Comedy: This is, as Generation X and Y have so lovingly coined, the shit. In 2004, some funny people – Patton Oswalt, Zach Galifianakis, Brian Posehn and Maria Bamford – filmed one of their erstwhile stand-up tours and, with the help of Netflix, shot a documentary feature called The Comedians of Comedy. This is no Werner Herzog documentary where a collage of sounds, colours and ideas explodes in front our eyes, leaving them breathless and shivering. No need to fret about editing, the camerawork and sound-mixing either. They barely delve deep enough into their psyche to give Oprah a chance to even consider giving an itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka dotted fuck. This is about four eccentric comedians trying to hustle some interest for their Gregg Turkington-influenced stand-up tour that features them performing at smaller indie rock venues instead of comedy clubs, and to bring the funnies, fast and furious.

Patton’s in usual form, transitioning from psychotic post-modern preacher mode to ‘funniest dude from college’ mode with ease. He makes Dane Cook’s jokes about society sound like Mickey Mouse’s farts against a cellophane sheet. Zach Galifianakis seems a bit like Jack Black, but not nearly as annoying. But he doesn’t get funnier after the first few minutes he’s in. I’m not a fan of pairing music with comedy either, so his song-style skits didn’t do much for me. As for Maria Bamford, she does great impersonations of people, both living and fictitious, and cute jokes about her dysfunctional family. I really liked the bits when wasn’t on stage and just chilling in front of the camera; also, she should start acting in indie movies since she has a fantastically dreary Hope Davis-like look.

Brian Posehn, for me, is the highlight of the documentary. You might know him as this guy from the sitcom Just Shoot Me, which incidentally makes you want to do just that. He is also a regular on the Sarah Silverman Program. As goes for most people who look like they skin city folks in a lonesome cabin by the hills and eat the rats that try feasting on the remains because mommy didn’t love them enough, Posehn has a great personality. While his jokes are mostly self-derogatory, the punchlines are so sharp and vicious that you never get tired of them. Plus, his uber geekdom towards comic books and arcade games are both creepy and adorable. There’s even a half of minute of proper cinematic goodness when he awkwardly hugs his wife before hitting the road with Patton.

I hope a special place is reserved for me in hell because I’m going to have to say, these guys are truly the comedians of comedy.

One more thing. Support independent musicians, film-makers and comedians. Given all the torrent-ing and thieving that happens, and will continue to do so, we should pledge our allegiance to them any way we can. So go on, order an album from Amazon, buy a DVD of eBay and more importantly, move your butts and watch them perform live.

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I am a petty petty man whenever I write about films. Even though I have zero credibility, I still sit on a pedestal, put my grubby fingers on the keyboard and pass judgment as though mere admiration for cinema immediately brings with it a superior understanding of the same. Matter of fact, I’ll bring in an IMDB quote to clear things up.

anton egoIn many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new”

As much passion as a critic/writer feels during the course of defending the refreshingly unproven, I think he feels just as much while berating the unfortunately unexpected. In lieu of such delightful ironies, here’s a review (questionable usage) of some of the most overrated films I have seen…

No-Country-For-Old-ManNo Country For Old Men: The first time I watched this film I thought it was really really good. A couple of viewings later, I turned turtle on it. While Intolerable Cruelty remains the only truly horrendous mistake committed by either of the Coen brothers, I think No Country For Old Men is one of their most overrated moments. Now look, I think its fantastic that sometimes intelligent directors get awarded these nice trophies. As much disrespect as I have for such industry-standard recognitions, I cannot help but feel all warm and fuzzy inside when directors like Chris Nolan, Sam Raimi and the Coens win those golden statuettes. In that sense I was sort of glad when No Country took the best film award. However when compared to the most of their other films this one pales like the offspring of Mr snowman and Mrs albino monk(ess).

Yeah yeah Javier Bardem almost hit Michael Madsen’s level of coolness with his brooding presence and the storyline too was alright, I guess…a sly veer from cinematic norms. But I ask you, can any facet of No Country even dream about reaching the skull-crushing, bone marrow-sucking, badass awesomeness of films such as Miller’s Crossing, Big Lebowski (it’s not “just a slacker comedy”), Blood Simple or the grossly unappreciated Barton Fink? No friggin chance, if you ask me. In fact apart from the great Catherine Zeta Jones-inspired atrocity of 2001, I can’t think of one other Coen brothers’ film that has left me with such emptiness. Oh and I did not dig the ending at all. Too often directors have taken this route to escape giving closure for their characters. Apparently there is some sort of a pseudo-intellectual acumen attached to leaving films in limbo. Let the audience figure out the ending, it seems. I have at times wished that Ernest Hemmingway had never kickstarted this interactive connect with his readers through The Lady And The Tiger; perhaps then we wouldn’t have had to sit through these too-breezy-to-qualify-as-stylish climaxes. As if that weren’t lame enough, the brothers had the audacity to let Tommy Lee ‘I forgot how to act after Natural Born Killers’ Jones lead us through to the final scene. If I had to choose the actors who were supposed to do  that last scene in No Country For Old Men, my last three picks would be Dennis Quaid, Tommy Lee Jones and Harrison Ford. Of course I’m spiteful. It’s true, folks…what you love the most can also hurt you the worst.

walk_the_lineI Walk The Line: Now now keep your knives back inside and play nice. I am not finding fault with the film or the performances in it. I do however question its decision to leave out few things that defined Johnny Cash and the way he lived his life. We see precious little from his childhood years and even less of his later years. I mean, Wikipedia could tell you that Johnny Cash had started writing songs way before he enlisted in the Air Force during the early Fifties. His mother and a certain childhood mate taught Johnny how to play the guitar; legend even has it that he wrote his own songs and sang on a local radio station at that time. In 1972 when he got to perform at the White House, he turned down President Nixon’s requests for a few dainty folk songs and instead performed some of his most politically charged ones. During the early Nineties, he rebelled against his label Columbia records and recorded an “intentionally awful” self-parody called Chicken in Black. As it turned out, the song had more commercial success than “any of his recent material”. In 1994, under the very questionable supervision of producer Rick Rubin, he released American Recordings – an intense collection of songs that he created in his living room, accompanied only by his faithful dreadnought guitar.

In the very same year, the crowd at the famed Glastonbury Festival gave him a rousing reception that had the Man In Black in tears. In 2002, at the age of 72, Johnny Cash covered a Nine Inch Nails’ song (Hurt) and turned it into one of the most harrowing folk ballads of all time. A year later, both him and his lovely wife were no more. So, when the Walk The Line was released, I was extremely friggin excited. I sat down in front of the TV and threw away the remote in cool disdain, even foolishly scoffing at the fact that remote controls would become extinct if more people made biopics about folk rock legends. And what did I get instead? The lady from Legally Blonde yodeling her precious little heart out and a silly notion that the song Walk the Line was written for June Carter. Hell no, Cash wrote that for his first wife – Vivian. I can understand the director’s intention to focus on the certain sections of his life but I think it’s hardly coincidental that the film contained the most inspirational, glossy and predictable moments. Cash, Elvis and Jerry Lewis on a rock and roll road trip? The final thanksgiving family showdown? The Folsom prison concert? Jeez man, they might as well have shown his stupid cameo appearances in Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman.

reality_bites3Reality Bites: This is proof that good music and passable humour mean squat to a film when its storyline is uber lame. Add Ethan Hawke to the mix and you have a film that just cannot be saved unless Klaus Kinski gets to play a psychotic dramatist, Mr Reality ‘John’ Totality, who likes biting stupid slacker kids who misconstrue poetry as foreplay. That would so rule. As for Ben Stiller’s debut Reality Bites, it doesn’t just bite, it friggin sucks.

Forrest Gump: Take away the corny dialogues and the background score whenever something inspirational happens and you have a pretty decent movie. Now, replace Tom Hanks with Adam Sandler and Bubba (Mykelti Williamson) with Steve Buscemi, and you will have comedy gold.

A Beautiful Mind: John Forbes Nash Jr was a mathematician and economist extraordinaire. He was also promiscuous, paranoid, schizophrenic, racist and anti-Semitic. And who gets to direct the film? That freckled kid – Ritchie Cunningham (Ron Howard) – from Happy Days, of course. Excuse me while I go puke.

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Cinema often has a knack of being therapeutic without intending to do so. It can even make pain seem exquisite and worthy of admiration. Such films offer no respite for the audience and are relentless with their pursuit of nihilism, decadence and utter disregard from any sort of closure. For certain people, more rewarding are films that merely epitomize grandeur, absurdity and a gigantic dollop of fun. Reluctant to accept that cinema is anything more than entertainment, such movies are none too subtle in their efforts to appear silly. Now don’t get me wrong, such films don’t belittle the audience by vying for their attention through nefariously retarded storylines or jokes that involve fat people falling down the stairs, getting a bad case of flatulence, and sometimes, even both…. simultaneously. Rather they lure the viewers with a plausible storyline, a set of kooky characters, and most of all, satirical humour.

Directed by Ben Stiller, Tropic Thunder is all that and then some. It’s hilarious and ironically, also very aware of the constant deviations it takes from any semblance of logic. Long story short, Tropic Thunder chronicles the comic events that take place on set during the shooting of a big-budget Vietnam War flick. The film revolves around Ben Stiller, Brandon Jackson, Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr as four renowned actors – Tugg Speedman, Alpa Chino, Jeff Portnoy and Kirk Lazarus respectively. Two of them are prima donnas, one a heroin addict and the other a closet homosexual. Thanks to the rookie director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan), a psychotic, foul-mouthed movie executive (Tom Cruise) and a tormented novelist (Nick Nolte), the four of them get caught up in a real-life guerilla situation involving mistaken identities and drug peddlers.

There is a twist at the end, but Tropic Thunder is more about the eccentricities and many quirks of its inhabitants. And the irony is that even though we get a real kick out of most of them, the director intentionally diverts our attention when it comes to making an emotional investment on the characters. By the end of the film, I felt this disconnection from the people whose fabricated adventure I was watching for the past two hours. I guess that’s why I enjoyed it so much. Even if the final scene had involved all the main characters getting brutally killed, it still would not have taken anything away from the constant entertainment that preceded it.

Ben Stiller is at his best, with his portrayal of a former action movie star whose success quickly faded away once he had started focusing on serious acting. Jack Black is…well, almost always an exaggeration of what we think he is…stout, not astute and the first person amongst the group to do something outrageously dumb. Having said that, the scenes in which he suffers from withdrawal symptoms are both hilarious and offensive. Maybe it is funny until someone gets hurt, then it is just hilarious. Hmmmm. Nick Nolte is funny as hell; interestingly enough, his character was a bit similar to the one played by Jai Ganesh in a god-awful Karthik film Ullathai Allitha.

Robert Downey hogs the cake and the limelight as Lazarus, an Aussie method actor who undergoes ‘skin pigmentation” surgery, just to add authenticity to his role as an African American. The constant arguments between him and Alpa Chino are hilarious. At one point, Chino gets so fed up with Speedman that he starts hopping around like a Kangaroo, hoping to get under the skin of the “Aussie actor”. It might not sound terribly funny or well thought out, but it’s the sort of running gag that doesn’t lend itself to criticism with its banality. Instead they tickle your funny bones with politically incorrect gags that explode on cue.

In fact, a long, analytical review of Tropic Thunder seems pretentious in hindsight, considering you don’t have to think too much to enjoy this film. All you need is a lazy Sunday afternoon and buttered popcorn.

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