Saturday, August 25, 2007

Episode 55

Superbad - Best friends Evan (Michael Cera) and Seth (Jonah Hill) are high school seniors with about two weeks left until graduation who have to deal with the fact that, having gotten into separate colleges, they will soon be parting ways. Not exactly the most popular guys in school, the two of them have high hopes of losing their virginity before moving away to college. A perfect opportunity to score presents itself when they find out that a popular girl named Jules (Emma Stone) is having a party and they are invited. The catch is that Seth let it slip that he would be getting his hands on a fake ID and Jules has given him $100 and asked him to pick up alcohol for the party. In reality, Seth and Evan's nerdy acquaintance Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is the one with the fake ID, so now Seth must rely on a guy that he doesn't even like very much to take Jules' money and seal the deal. In a similarly sticky situation is Evan, who has promised to pick up a special bottle of vodka for Becca (Martha MacIsaac), the girl of his dreams, and doesn't want to screw things up by not coming through. Everything seems to be going according to the plan until Fogell is involved in a robbery at the liquor store and police officers Slater (Bill Hader) and Michaels (Seth Rogen) arrive on the scene. Evan and Seth panic, leaving Fogell behind and continuing their quest for alcohol. As the night goes on and their time to acquire the booze begins to run out, Seth, Evan, and Fogell embark on hilarious journeys that may just change their lives forever. My only real attraction to Superbad was Michael Cera, whose dry comedic stylings I fell in love with on the show Arrested Development. I had assumed that the film would be funny, but I had no idea that it would be as hilarious as it indeed turned out to be. Superbad is the first comedy that I've seen in the theater since last year's Borat, which I claimed that I had laughed harder and longer at than any other movie that I'd previously seen. Having seen Superbad, that record may again be broken. What makes this film so funny is not just the great cast of character actors themselves, but their ability as a whole to mesh their comedic timing together so well. Cera, Hill, Mintz-Plasse, Hader, and Rogen are all great comic talents by themselves, but when you put them together it's almost impossible not to laugh your ass off. The basic premise of Superbad is not all that different from other comedies such as American Pie or Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle in which a group of young guys go on some kind of quest or adventure and hilarity ensues, but it is the slight nuances that really set it apart from these others. The intricate back-stories of some characters, the strange personality quirks of others...there are a million little details thrown into the story that make it much more grandiose and fleshed out than the precursors of the "sex comedy" genre. Not to mention, beneath all of the cursing, vulgarity, and dick jokes, there is a very relatable sub-plot involving the relationship of two best friends who have to come to terms with the changes going on in their lives and how they will affect each other. Also on the topic of relatable elements, I have never seen a movie before in my life, comedy or otherwise, that genuinely captured high schoolers and high school in general so well. There are plenty of films that show the camaraderie between students and the segregation of the different archetypes of young people, but the thing that no other movie about high school has never done quite like Superbad is to realistically translate the way the students talk. It's just a fact that teenagers in general have dirty fucking mouths, but movies like American Pie have always seemed to stray from showing it. It is sometimes jarring to hear the way the young characters in this movie use vulgarity and swear words in combinations such as "suck dick at fucking pussy", but to me it always rang true to reality. In fact, despite the obviously ridiculous and unbelievable turns that the plot of Superbad sometimes takes, I really feel like it properly translates how it feels to be a kid these days. I've been in situations in the past that mirrored multiple scenes from the film which felt totally genuine. For example, the feeling of awkwardness when going to a party where you don't know anyone or the crazy shit that goes through your head when you're tempted to steal something from a store. On every possible level I found Superbad extremely enjoyable. I laughed through the entire running time and can't wait to see this movie again.

Rescue Dawn - Based on real events, Rescue Dawn follows the story of United States fighter pilot Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale). On a mission over Laos during the Vietnam War, Dieter's plane is shot down by the enemy. Surviving the crash, Dengler narrowly escapes immediate capture, using his training to survive in the jungle. Before too long though, he is tracked down and caught by the a group of Vietnamese soldiers before being taken to a local town where he is tortured using a variety of cruel techniques. When he refuses to say anything about himself or his mission, Dengler is led to a small prison camp where he is kept alongside a group of about five other men, some of whom have been in captivity for over two years. Learning the habits of the guards and timing his actions with the rainy season in Vietnam, Dieter plans an escape from the camp. However, before he can execute his plans he must convince his fellow prisoners to join his cause, which proves more difficult than expected as some of them have reservations about taking any risks with the guards. When rumors begin to make their way through the camp that all of the prisoners will be executed in the next few days, Dieter's plans are rushed into immediate action. Relying on his cellmates, Dengler makes a break for freedom, but even if he make it out of the prison, how long can he possibly survive in the harsh, unforgiving jungles of Vietnam? As long as there has been cinema, it seems, there have been films about war and escaping from prison. Often times these two premises have been combined, and at first glance Rescue Dawn is no different. Take a second look though, and director Werner Herzog just may make you think otherwise. Having already helmed a documentary about Dieter Dengler's plight and finding the story so fascinating that he felt the subject would make a worthy narrative film, Herzog was obviously the perfect person to helm this project. You can feel how much he cares about the material when watching it. There is an incredible feeling of realism in Rescue Dawn that I've personally never quite gotten before from a war movie (not to say that this is a war movie, but moreso a movie set during a war). This is mostly due to Herzog's attention to detail and serious approach to the topic, but equal shares of the credit for this film's successes must go to the cast. Christian Bale has fast become one of my favorite actors, and his role in Rescue Dawn is a perfect example of why that is. He is an incredibly versatile actor. He can play anyone from a corporate psychopath to a futuristic rebel to a gentleman magician, and even Batman, all seemingly with the greatest of ease. All of the emotions that the viewer feels in Rescue Dawn are derived directly from Bale's performance, often being sparked by a mere facial expression. Adding to the intensity of many scenes during the middle of the film are the performances of Bale's fellow prisoners. Steve Zahn, who is usually more of a comedice than dramatic actor, puts in a great performance as another American pilot named Duane. Also very impressive is Jeremy Davies as the slightly deranged and malnourished Gene. There are many moments during Rescue Dawn that will make you feel as though you are in fact watching a documentary as opposed to a narrative movie, which I think works to the film's advantage. It's very easy to get caught up in what's going on because it is filmed in a sort of sterile way as opposed to the flashy directing of other war films like Saving Private Ryan and Pearl Harbor, which seem to focus more on accentuating the action than the story. This is not always a bad thing, but it certainly wouldn't have suited the story behind Herzog's film. Perhaps the only thing that I wasn't completely satisfied with about Rescue Dawn was the ending, which I felt strayed from the mood of the rest of the movie a bit. It's certainly a satisfying conclusion, but if I had to complain about something, that would be it. Since Rescue Dawn is often very bleak and filmed in a very realistic fashion, not everyone will be able to truly enjoy the experience of watching it, but I think that the knowledge that what you're seeing really happened is enough to at least make the events of the movie interesting to just about anyone.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Next - A smalltime criminal named Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) has landed himself in prison yet again. In order to get out of the slammer he convinces the prison staff that he is crazy and is shipped off to a mental institution. Once there, Randle thinks that he's going to live an easy, carefree life without being confined to a cell, but soon discovers that life in the nut-house isn't going to be the walk in the park that he'd expected. Despising authority figures, Randle immediately gets off on the wrong foot with nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), who works with the patients daily. Nurse Ratched is a stern, cold woman who appears to want to help the people in the institution, but generally treats them like children, which Randle believes is actually working against the therapy which she is trying to provide. Over time Randle stirs up the daily goings-on at the institution more and more by requesting that he be allowed to watch baseball games on television and other seemingly small gestures. The scope and intricacy of his ploys grows in the coming weeks, making life in the institution more and more interesting. The sheer fact that he wants to do things differently begins to liven up the other patients and seems to garner results in making them less irritated and more personable, but nurse Ratched cannot see past her own ego enough to realize that not only is it possible that Randle is right, but that he himself may not actually be mentally disturbed. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is considered a classic by many, which certainly made my expectations for it pretty high. Seeing the film for the first time, it wasn't quite able to meet those expectations, but that is by no means to say that I didn't like the film. For whatever reason, Jack Nicholson has never really been one of my favorite actors, but I think that his portrayal of Randle McMurphy may now be my favorite of his roles. The demands of the role seemed as though they came rather naturally to Nicholson. His job in the movie was essentially to try to have fun and argue with authority figures, which he does in a way that makes for some very memorable and entertaining scenes. He becomes a real leader for the seemingly aimless group of patients at the mental institution where he finds himself, and his relationships with some of these characters are really what allow the film to have the strong impact that it leaves the viewer with. Primarily, of course, is his friendship with the chief (Will Sampson). Other memorable roles in the film were played by Brad Dourif, Christopher Lloyd, and Danny DeVito. One role that garners a lot of attention, it seems, is that of nurse Ratched. While I do think that the character is important, I honestly wasn't the biggest fan of Fletcher's portrayal of her. I think that this may have something to do with the writing, because I almost feel as though she didn't really fall into the role as the real antagonist of the story until the climax. For the majority of the film she just seems like a small hurdle that Randle must overcome from time to time instead of the true force to be reckoned with that I think she was supposed to be. Then again, I guess most people don't feel the same way as me on this topic. While the film was heartwarming and comedic at parts, I think that I really needed a stronger feeling of opposition to Randle to get the triumphant feeling out of him that he deserved at parts. Of course, the lengths that the hospital goes to to calm him down become quite devastating, but as the characterization of "the man" keeping Randle down, nurse Ratched just didn't cut it for me. As I said, it could have been the actress, it could have been the writing, or it could have been a combination of the two. I find myself looking for other things that I had a problem with in the movie, but I can't necessarily pinpoint anything, which is why I get the feeling that my high expectations for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest are really what ended up being it's downfall. As I said, I enjoyed it, but I honestly don't really see what it is about this film that places it so high on so many peoples' lists of favorite films. Case in point, it's spot at #9 on the IMDb's Top 250 films list. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a memorable movie watching experience that I think anyone can enjoy, but I guess my advice to those who have yet to see it is don't put it on a pedestal like I did until you've seen it and can form your own opinion.


Kansa.....whatever, dude it's Kansas(little Jakey Rhodes) said...

I also enjoyed Superbad. However I think it holds a fatal flaw in the first ten minutes that can ruin it for droves of viewers. Allow me to illustrate with this handy dandy story: Jesica, her friend, the friend's boyfriend, and I all attended the Friday night showing of this moving picture. Jesica and myself are pretty open people. I know I consider myself christian, but I understand the world and I have a sense of humor, so I have no problems with things. I don't agree with it, but I totally understand it for what it is. Even you'd have to admit just talking to me it doesn't seem I am.
However the friend is christian. Very christian. She's nice and great fun, but I suppose Superbad proved too much. She sat through the thing, she laughed at parts, but the opening ten minutes of dialogue from Jonah Hill's character was a turn off for her. There lies the rub!
I felt that while funny, it seems to be there to shock you into the world of Superbad. For me it worked, but I can clearly see where for others it would be off putting and throw the film off kilter. I don't care what you say, no one talks like Jonah Hill's character in the first ten minutes of Superbad. That and the penis drawings. She didn't like the penis drawings.
So of course anyone under the age of 25 will think this film is the best thing in a while, I'm just saying some unsuspecting audiences may be off put. That's all I'm saying, dude. Give me a break. Don't do this to me. We're dodgeballahs. The Sons of The Rim.
Also, I'm patiently awaiting next weeks review of Mr. Bean's Holiday. And/or The Nanny Diaries. Man, what a crap week for movies. Even War in tanking in rotten tomates.

Rian said...

Fellow Dodger, Kansas - There is no doubt in my mind that Superbad is way too dirty for some people. As far as the way Jonah Hill talks, I swear to xenu that I know/knew people who talked like that in high school, and used to sound a good bit like that, myself. They were obviously pushing it to an extreme, but it still rang true to me. Unless I can get out to catch The Invasion or Stardust before they're gone, the next movie I'll probably be seeing in the theater is Death Sentence, in which Kevin Bacon murders a whole bunch of hoodlums. Also, I've got a review of all three Rambo movies and a 15 part review of the films of John Carpenter on the horizon. Stay tuned.

Kanalanadingdong said...

Man, action packed line up.
I'll admit I knew ,and was just about, an unsavory character in high school. No one was throwing down euphisms for sex like that guy. It was ridiculous. I refuse to believe it. I felt Jonah Hill's character was more of a collection of it. Like looking back that's how I feel that my friends and I talked, but if I really looked at it, every word out of our mouths wasn't a 'dirty word' as his was.
Also, I implore you to go see Mr. Bean's Holiday to give us, the adoring public, a review.
In unrelated news, I took my first step to being a man the other day and purchased my Back to the Future Trilogy set.