July 2005

It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp

by Alan Rapp on July 22, 2005

in Movie Reviews 

Terrence Howard is really good.  Putting his performance in Crash and now Hustle & Flow back to back he delivers two of the year’s best performances.  Here’s he the pimp Djay who wants to leave the life and become a rapper.

Hustle & Flow
4 Stars

Can a you root for a pimp?  The answer Hustle & Flow gives is a resounding yes.  Djay isn’t a bad man, just one who is stuck in a life he never really wanted and wishes to live out his lifelong dreams.  Well, that’s a pretty universal story I think most people will be able to relate to.

Djay (Terrence Howard) is a middle-aged pimp who treats his hookers better than some parents treat their children.  Djay’s main source of income is Nola (Taryn Manning) the skinny young ghetto white girl who he pimps out of his car.  Also part of his family are hookers Shrug (Taraji P. Henson) who is pregnant and the loudmouthed Lexus (Paula Jai Parker).  Djay waxes nostalgic daily about life and dreams about becoming a rap star.

Aware that popular rapper Skinny Black (Ludacris) will make his annual trek home for the Fourth of July, Djay talks himself and others (Anthony Anderson and DJ Qualls) into putting together a demo tape to pass onto his “friend.”  The slow process makes Djay reexamine himself and his life and his feelings towards more than one of his women.

Djay is a complex character and although the film does make him the “pimp with a heart of gold” it never turns him into a caricature.  Through the film Djay shows his care for the girls but when there is something he needs like money or a fancy new microphone he has no problem detaching himself and using them to get what he needs.  Howard turns in a top notch performance here as the simple yet complex Djay who knows just what he wants and has a plan to get there but finds the process isn’t quite what he dreamed it would be.

The story and drama are enhanced by a terrific soundtrack that makes you believe Djay might have a chance with his dream career if he can get his shot.  In many ways the story is about redempton, not only for Djay but also for Shrug and Nola who through helping Djay find his dream become part of it and something more themselves.

Hustle & Flow isn’t for everyone, but for those who can accept the subject matter it is an uplifting if sometimes vulgar and obscene film.  Those contradictions actually help the film feel more real and tangeable and the performances alone deserve viewing.  Sure DJ is a little too nice and acceptable through most of the film but Howard’s performance helps balance out the studio’s necessity of making him a likeable guy, because deep down he really is and you will end up rooting for him to succeed.

Let’s see:  It’s a Michael Bay film.  There are explosions, chase scenes, shoot-outs, more chase scenes, an obligatory ‘sassy’ black character, and more explosions.  Any more description would be futile.  A film that only spits in the direction of Sci-Fi, The Island is a suprisingly conservative cautionary tale about the moral dangers of cloning, but you’ll be forgiven if you fail to discern that point from the audio/visual avalanche Bay subjects the audience to.  Dumb, dumber, and dumbest.

The Island
2 & 1/2 Stars

Oh just kill me already

Michael Bay films are the cinematic equivalent of a Pixie stick when you’re a kid. Sure, they seem like a good idea what with the 3 foot long straw filled with sugar, but halfway into it you realized you’ve made a horrible, horrible mistake; one that will leave you shaking and feeling ill. This summer’s Bay-helmed senses onslaught, The Island had advance word of being a smarter, more brainy strain of Michael Bay’s trademark shaky-cam boom fests. Yeah, right.

While the subject matter is about human cloning, calling The Island a sci-fi is enough of a stretch to make Reed Richards tremble. Seriously, folks: this film makes Small Wonder look like A Brief History of Time in comparison. The film opens in the near future with Lincoln Six Echo(Ewan McGregor, whose taste in roles might have been permanently damaged from 9 years of George Lucas) a confused and curious survivor of an cataclysmic plague, whose only purpose in life is to perform meaningless tasks and stay healthy, while waiting for his chance to win a trip to the Island, the last uncontaminated place on Earth. His curiosity gets him in trouble with the area security types, and he’s repeatedly commanded to speak with Dr. Merrick, the physician who watches over the citizens of the survivor compound. Eventually Lincoln suspicions get the better of him, leading him to discover that his world is an elaborate lie designed to keep the population docile. He convinces Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson, who looks rather unreal all gussied and glamoured up) in to escaping the compound and they make their way into the real world, pursued by a relentless team of mercenaries led by Djimon Hounsou, who will stop at nothing to retrieve them and return them to Merrick.

For the first 20 minutes, The Island seems like perhaps it is a Sci-Fi film, exploring the ethical boundaries of medicine and man’s need to be independent, but as soon as McGregor and Johansson leave the compound the film ceases to be distinguishable from any other film Michael Bay has made, with the exception of hovercraft trains, flying motorcycles, and whatever concept car they could get a product placement fee for. Chevy, Cadillac, Aquafina, MSN, AmEx…no plug is too ostentatious for this film! Of course, the requisite Bay touches are there in full effect: Explosions, a body count roughly equivalent to the Black Plague, plot and logic holes big enough to contain Star Jones battling Godzilla, and last but not least, saucy black characters who only exists for one or two lines of appropriately sassy and eyeball bugging dialogue. (I have a theory that Michael Bay films are actually a fiendish plot to push back race relations 10 years.)

Had Ewan McGregor not been his normally charming and compelling self, I might have replaced my eyeballs with Milk Duds in an attempt to end the horror. Thankfully, he throws himself into his dual role with abandon, making what could have been a root canal into a mere teeth scraping.

Folks, this movie is stupid. Unabashedly, ridiculously stupid. Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle stupid. Will it make a lot of money? Probably, seeing as America is probably worn out from the intellectually top heavy summer fare like Revenge of the Sith, Batman, and Bewitched. I’d like to say it’s the stupidest movie of the Summer, but that honor goes to Stealth (which I’ll have a review of next week). So if you’re forced to see it this weekend, I recommend at least a fifth of rot-gut whiskey beforehand. With any luck you’ll pass out or vomit, with either choice being more entertaining that what’s on the screen.

Folks, this movie is stupid. Unabashedly, ridiculously stupid. Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle stupid. Will it make a lot of money? Probably, seeing as America is probably worn out from the intellectually top heavy summer fare like Revenge of the Sith, Batman, and Bewitched. I’d like to say it’s the stupidest movie of the Summer, but that honor goes to Stealth (which I’ll have a review of next week). So if you’re forced to see it this weekend, I recommend at least a fifth of rot-gut whiskey beforehand. With any luck you’ll pass out or vomit, with either choice being more entertaining that what’s on the screen.

And this bird you cannot cage…

by Aaron on July 21, 2005

in Movie Reviews 

Rob Zombie’s follow-up to House of 1000 Corpses pulls off that rareist of treats: a sequel infinitely better than it’s predecessor.  Zombie drops the schlock and gore of Corpses, but ends up with a better (and more disturbing) film because of it.  In addition to three simply awesome performances from the leads, The Devil’s Rejects is a note-perfect love letter to the grindhouse cinema of the 70s.  The colors, the angles, the fades, and the music feel so authentic that were it not for the older faces of this film’s nostalgia heavy cast, you’d think you were in 1976.  Ultimately a deeply disturbing film about vengence and it’s consequences, horror fans should sit up and take notice of a film that reminds us that the scariest monsters of all never require CGI effects.  This is a masterpiece of it’s genre.

The Devil’s Rejects
5 Stars

Rob Zombie’s directorial debut was hyped as the film Universal Studios wouldn’t release, which perhaps gave it a bit more credit as a hardcore horror film than the resulting scattershot mess deserved.  Somehow or another Zombie has focused his vision to make a sequel that not only far surpasses it’s predecessor, but might just rank as one of the best, most artistic, and perfectly realized Grindhouse films ever made. 

Perhaps sequel isn’t a fair tag to bestow upon The Devil’s Rejects. Sure, the events portrayed in House of 1000 Corpses took place a few months before Rejects (though the characters looked thoroughly modern), and it’s with the same core of characters, but Reject’s shucks the cartoonish and over-simplified thumbnails of the characters and replaces them with living, breathing souls that you just don’t ever want to come across.  Sid Haig (Capt. Spaulding), Bill Moseley(Otis), and Sheri Moon (Baby) return as the members of the psychotic Firefly family, while Leslie Easterbrook (from the Police Academy movies, no less) takes over the Mama Firefly role from House’s Karen Black.  After an apocalyptic raid on the Firefly house, Otis and Baby attempt to meet up with Captain Spaulding while evading the relentless pursuit of Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe in a career defining role), a man whose task one of both professional justice and personal revenge.  Along the way the Firefly’s abduct and terrorize a travelling Country & Western band (led by 70’s staple character actor Geoffrey Lewis), meet up with a immoral pimp (Ken Foree of the Romero classic Dawn of the Dead), tangle with bounty hunters (Danny Trejo and Dallas Page), and generally act as nasty and evil as the title suggests.  That is until Sheriff Wydell catches up to them to extract a vengence as terrible as any horror the Firefly family has ever committed. 

It’s run of the mill plot belays the sheer power and effectiveness of Zombie’s ability to perfectly capture his vision on film.  From the shot-perfect 70’s opening credit sequence to the various fades, transitions, and angles, Zombie has managed to do what Hollywood’s other 70’s obsessed filmmaker Quentin Tarentino cannot; make a homage film that refuses to wink to the audience with a ‘ain’t this hip’ perspective.  A soundtrack liberally peppered with the powerhouses of 70’s southern rock only serves to drive home the bastard Texas feel of the whole film, and I found myself in utter shock at how beautiful Rob Zombie made a film about nasty, torturous psychotics.  Horror and Grindhouse afficiandos will appreciate Zombie’s cast, which is chock full of genre and cult stars, as well as the various nods and subtle homages to some of cinema’s best horror moments.  I shan’t spoil them, as they add a level of enjoyment that is all it’s own.

Even more amazing than the look and feel of the film is the narrative feat Zombie pulls of by the tale’s end.  For the majority of the film you’re treated to the horror and destruction that results from the desperate acts of monsters with nothing much left to lose, and you’ll find yourself thoroughly hating the main characters of the film (as you rightly should).  However, once Wydell gets his hands on the Firefly family, his sense of justice has become an obsessive need to punish and obliterate the Firefly’s, making him capable of almost inhuman acts of barbarity and cruelty.  Zombie’s directorial coup is placing this horrible group of people in a situation so hellish that you find yourself almost, almost rooting for three of the most evil beings ever portrayed on screen.  That’s an impressive feat by any standard.

That not-quite-sympathy is helped along by the note-perfect performances by the film’s lead actors.  Forsythe brings a level of malice and intenstity to his performance that makes his previous tough-guy roles look like towel boys at the bath house.  Sid Haig walks the fine line between gleeful profanity and hair trigger evil that makes his character scarier without the trademark clown make-up.  Sheri Moon plays Baby like a psychotic elf just brimming with malevolant intentions, and never before has a director so lovingly showcased his wife’s finer assets with such abandon.  But the real treat here is Bill Moseley as Otis, who walks away with the best dialogue of the film all the while looking like some haggard ex-roadie for Lynyrd Skynyrd.  His soft and almost lilting voice provide a jarring juxtaposition with the intensely horrible things that come out of his mouth, not to mention his unspeakable capacity for violence.

There have been better films that have been released this year, to be sure, but I can’t think of a single film (and that is including Batman, Sith, and all the other nerd fests I’ve been drooling over) that I enjoyed more thoroughly than The Devil’s Rejects.  In all it’s bloodshed and depravity, Rob Zombie’s second directorial effort managed to be an almost freakishly unique film: one in which the director’s vision is perfectly coveyed on the screen unfettered by studio meddling or squeamish marketing.  It’s an unabashedly gleeful terror ride that might just be the first perfect horror film of this decade.

The Pretty Good Bears

by Aaron on July 21, 2005

in Movie Reviews 

Richard Linklater takes the remake route with The Bad News Bears (a film that has been remade in spirit more than any other.)  Certainly more cuddly and PC than the original, this take is nevertheless saved by a pitch-perfect performance from Billy Bob Thorton, who is fast becoming the king of ‘lovable bastard’ roles.  Linklater resisted the urge to put any kind of twist or kitsch in his version, which faithfully follows the little league careers of a group of ne’er do wells and losers who are cajoled, cat called, and coerced into near greatness by their booze-hound coach (Thorton).  A feel good, if forgettable, film, Bad News Bears is at least good enough to deliver the laughs at a brisk pace, with many a laugh-out-loud moment.  Maybe not the best kids movie in the world, but family’s should enjoy it’s easy (and kinda skeezy) charm.

The Bad News Bears
3 Stars

Since 1976, nearly every kids-themed sports film (and the not so kid-themed Slap Shot) has been a take on cynical and wonderful Bad News Bears.  Let’s see: rag tag group of non-atheletes mentored by a curmudgeonly rascal with a past rise up against the odds with the help of a couple of ringers and sheer gumption.  Sound familiar?  You bet it does.  So when Richard Linklater announced his next mainstream project was a remake of the Bad News Bears, the most obvious question was ‘what’s the point?’.  After all, what ground was there left to cover after The Bad News Bears (1976), The Bad News Bears: Breaking Training (1979), and the Tony Curtis fueled Bad News Bears Go to Japan (1978)?  Well, not much at all, to tell the truth.

ZolarCzakl’s Take:

So director Richard Linklater has done another kids movie and get this, it’s another in a slew of remakes that Hollywood’s been pumping out lately. Fortunately for those of us who actually give a crap about what we watch, this remake of Bad News Bears is actually one of the better ones.
You all know the story (even if you didn’t see the original, trust me, you know the story): a ragtag group of kids that have absoutely zero skill on the baseball field come together under the tutlage of a craggy, drunk coach who at first doesn’t care but later learns the true meaning of something or other while the kids learn to play and most importantly, to love or something like that.
What makes this movie work, though, is the talent of Billy Bob Thornton. He, of course, plays the coach and has a million crass, sarcastic lines which are all actually very funny. Billy Bob has oodles of charisma and plays the ‘gruff guy with a heart of gold’ thing very well. In fact, I can’t really imagine any other actor these days pulling it off with quite the same skill and ease. He really does carry the entire film.
The kids, however, aren’t really all that special. Their lines generally aren’t very funny and their crass insults don’t really stand up to the humor that was written for Billy Bob. I don’t really see any of these kids breaking out and becoming great acting sensations, but I guess one never knows. That really isn’t apparent with any of the kids in this movie. I was also a bit disappointed with Greg Kinnear in this one. His character is the coach on the main opposing team and of course, he plays it as a real tight-ass. That’s really all you can say about it. Nothing great, just tight-ass. Well, maybe that’s all he can really do.

So let’s tick off that checklist: the story is stock, the writing is uneven, the characters sometimes do things that it seems they wouldn’t really do, and the kids aren’t that great. However, the movie was entertaining. Maybe Wedding Crashers blew a circuit in my brain. All I know is that I laughed, I was entertained, and I didn’t leave the theater feeling cheated (this would be the perfect opportunity to put in another slam at Land of the Dead, but… oh! Too late!).
I almost forgot, there was also some racism, sexism, and lots of cursing by little kids in Bad News Bears. And there really isn’t much of a moral. Really, what more could you want for a good, dumb summer movie? Go see it. Why the hell not?

Aaron’s Take:

Linklater proved he’s got a deft touch with mainstream comedies centered around losers (School of Rock and Waking Life. Oh wait, Waking Life wasn’t meant to be a comedy) so on the surface The Bad News Bears seems like a good fit for his talents.  But while we’re treated to profanity after profanity, what remains of this film is actually far, far less cynical or ballsy than the 1976 original.  The original film ended with the Bears losing, but instead of a ‘we learned how to be a team’ lesson the original team attacks the winning team in a free for all brawl. 

Sure, the kids swear a lot and get in fights, but where’s the beer swilling, chain smoking rebellion of Jackie Haley?  This time around Kelly Leak is played by a much more scrubbed and modelesque Jeff Davies, who looks disconcertingly similar to the middle chick from Hanson.  Davies only outcast status comes from his attempt at glowering and the fact that he rides a motorbike.  In this day in age, that’s conformity not rebellion.  Sammi Kraft has the unenviable task of filling Tatum O’Neal’s shoes as ace pitcher Amanda Wurlitzer, but while she doesn’t posess O’Neal’s sheer presence, Kraft does a passable job holding her own against Billy Bob Thorton. 

Speaking of Thorton, I must agree with my co-hort Tim that Thorton is the lynchpin of this film.  His easy take on the never-was coach who gets by on sleazy charm and drunken bravado just lights up the film with each crass and careless line.  As Bad Santa proved, Thorton has a a knack for making you like despicable characters, and Coach Buttermaker is no exception.  Thankfully he’s in nearly every single scene in the film, otherwise it’d be left to the barely sketched out remains of the cast.  Similarly to School of Rock, not much thought is put in to the other characters beyond their gimmick (One’s in a wheelchair!  One’s a spaz! One’s a nerd! One’s fat! One’s a burgeoning sociopath!), so once the film starts focusing on the team itself, the whole endeavor loses a little bit of steam.

But to be honest, I laughed quite a bit during Bad News Bears, both due to Thorton’s perfect delivery and the general tone of the film.  I’ll agree that The Bad News Bears is easily at the top of the list of recent remakes, but to be honest the bar ain’t set that high. 

More satisfying than this Spring’s Kicking & Screaming, and infinitely more entertaining than any entry in the Mighty Ducks franchise, The Bad News Bears should provide you would some good laughs and honest enjoyment even without the acerbic charm of the original.

The Pick of Destiny

by Aaron on July 21, 2005

in Film News & Trailers

Rock gods (and Satanic disciples) Kyle Gass and Jack Black have long talked about a Tenacious D movie, but now the Liam Lynch helmed epic is officially in pre-production! 

How can we be so sure?  Well, there’s a website for it, that’s how!  And everyone knows anything read on the internet is true!

N/A

Rock gods (and Satanic disciples) Kyle Gass and Jack Black have long talked about a Tenacious D movie, but now the Liam Lynch helmed epic is officially in pre-production! 

How can we be so sure?  Well, there’s a website for it, that’s how!  And everyone knows anything read on the internet is true!