August 2006

Festival of Beer

by Alan Rapp on August 25, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

Broken Lizard’s track record since Super Troopers has been pretty damn abysmal.  Club Dread (ugh!) and The Dukes of Hazzard (ugh!!) both stuck up the screen almost wishing you were watching a superior picture with Hilary Duff or Lindsay Lohan (almost).  Well the dry spell’s over folks, and it comes with the appropriate title too.  Beerfest certainly isn’t the smartest comedy of the year, but it’s pretty darn funny, and easily the best beer film since Strange Brew.

Beerfest
3 & 1/2 Stars

The same dumb funny humor that made Super Troopers a hit is back.  Too be fair, both Club Dread and The Dukes of Hazzard had half of that equation, they just forgot the funny.  But that’s all in the past.  Get ready for Beerfest!

Taste’s Great!

After the death of their grandfather (Donald Sutherland), two brothers (Paul Soter, Erik Stolhanske) travel to Germany with his ashes.  There they discover the secret underground competition known as Beerfest.  Teams of five from countries around the world compete in different events to crowned champions every year.

After being humiliated and thrown out of the competition, the pair decide to put together their own American team and return a year later to kick some ass.  They round-up three old friends (Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Jay Chandrasekhar), each with a specific beer related skill, and spend the next twelve months training (and getting really drunk).

The film isn’t exactly, or in any way, highbrow.  But lowbrow humor can be just as effective if done well.  It has the feel of a Mel Brooks’ comedy in its tone (and casting Cloris Leachman in one of the supporting roles).  The film that it can be most compared to is Strange Brew.  If you liked that type of humor then crack open a bottle, ‘cause this one’s for you.

The film also contains subplots about the grandmother (Leachman) and the true ownership of the Von Woflhouse Beer Factory.  Really the plot is just there to allow the crew to insert as much beer humor as possible (which turns out to be a few dozen kegs worth).  There’s nothing subtle here; the comedy is straightforward and in your face.  There are some clever references to other films including Rocky III and Fight Club as well.

Chandrasekhar still finds ways to draw out relatively unfunny jokes too long, but there are nowhere near as many of those as in his last two films.  Though not as funny as Super Troopers, it’s a huge improvement that will help wash the bad aftertaste of the group’s last two films out of your mouth.

Is it a great film?  No, but it’s damn funny.  Broken Lizard needed to show me something with this film to prove they weren’t just a one-hit wonder, and they did.  Raise you mugs, lads and lasses, and take a long swig of Beerfest.  Mmmm…foamy.

All Style and No Substance

by Alan Rapp on August 25, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

A musical about Prohibition?  That stars hip-hop stars?  Oh, dear.  Idlewild is never quite what you expect it to be, but then it’s never quite what you want it to be either.  Too long, overly ambitious, and with some very poor MTV-like music video moments, the film keeps falling down, and eventually you stop caring if it gets back on its feet.  And for a musical it’s severely lacking in good, or even appropriate, music.  Still, there’s some nice performances and camera work for those not interested in silly stuff, like a coherent plot.

Idlewild
2 Stars

Take one part Harlem Nights and mix it with two parts Moulin Rouge! and you end up with something like Idlewild.  And if I have to see one more film where the most beautiful and talent woman, not only falls for, but, chases after the talented, introverted, shy character, who lives with his parents, I think I might riot.  There’s fantasy, and then there’s fantasy.

Percival (Andre Benjamin) works with his father (Ben Vereen), a drunken, broken, and bitter man, at the funeral home.  At night he works as a piano player at a local speakeasy run by his childhood friend Rooster (Big Boi).  Rooster runs things at the club for Spats (Ving Rhames) until he meets a bitter end by a younger, and more brutal, gangster looking to take control of the action (Terrence Howard).

There’s also a young lounge singer named Angel (Paula Patton) who, almost from the very second of her arrival, begins a relationship with Percival, Percival’s relationship with his father and his dreams to be a performer, Rooster’s relationship with his wife (Malinda Williams) and daughters, and his mistress (Paula Jai Parker), and the club run by the corrupt Ace (Faizon Love) supplied with liquor by Spats, and the politics inside the club between the local diva (Macy Gray) and Angel.  Oh, and there’s Angel’s secretive past, too. 

Get all that?  You might want to take a scorecard with you.

In terms of plot and storytelling the film is just a mess.  There’s so much going on that you keep jumping from story, to story, to story.  While this may keep you on your seat, unable to guess what will happen next, it also has the unintended effect of only barely skimming the surface of any of these plot threads, let alone the characters that inhabit them.

As a musical the film borrows heavily from Moulin Rouge! by using modern music, here hip-hop and some rap, in the period of the 1920’s.  The effect is bizarre and different, but not necessarily entertaining.  Nor is the filming of musical scenes, those that don’t take place on the club’s stage, in a music video style that is glaring different from the rest of the film.  That combined with the director’s odd foot fetish, he just loves focusing the camera on feet, may help give the film style, but what it really needs is substance.

For fans of filmmaking there are few interesting pieces.  The cinematography and intriguing special effects, used to give the film its syle and help tell the story, are two of the better aspects of the film – including some wonderfully creative visuals.

I give all the credit in the world to writer/director Bryan Barber for attempting to do something different.  I do think he watched Moulin Rouge! a bit too much, however.  His main failure here is trying to jam an entire mini-series of separate plots and stories into a single two hour film.  It just doesn’t work.  That, along with the music video scenes, and the lack of any specific tone throughout the film, make it impossible for me to recommend it.  I am interested to see if he learns and grows as a filmmaker, and just what his next project, or two, will be.

Fortune Cookie Warrior

by Alan Rapp on August 25, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

If you want to see a better film about gymnastics wait about a month and rent Stick It.  A much more interesting, funny, dramatic, and real, look at the subject than the poor man’s self-help guru wannabe – Peaceful Warrior.  This film on the other hand is a real dud, but if you like characters who talk like Yoda’s dimwitted cousin, dispensing simplistic self-help advice in short catchphrases, then maybe this one’s for you.  The film has been playing in limited release and finally opens wide today.

Peaceful Warrior
2 Stars

The film has a nice message that may resonate with those of a religious persuasion (though there is no actual religion in the film) or those that love to buy self-help books.  The message, however, is so poorly presented that it’s impossible to take seriously when all were given is a series of simplistic sentences, which would be more at home inside a fortune cookie, attempting to sound more meaningful than they are.

Dan Millman (Scott Mechlowicz) is a god among men.  The collegiate gymnast rules his world coasting through classes, being treated like a rock star, and bedding a different willing lady every night.  But he’s not happy.  One late night Dan stops at a local gas station and meets a strange old man (Nick Nolte) who begins to open his mind to the philosophy of the peaceful warrior. 

After Dan is injured in a motorcycle accident this odd man he’s named Socrates, we never discover his real identity, helps heal his spirit and put him back on the path to go after what he wants.

I have to stop for a moment and share some questions with you.  Do you know a college where gymnasts are the biggest studs on campus (and the only athletes)?  Why does no one go to class, open (or even carry) a textbook over the course of the film?  If all that is injured is Dan’s leg, and his sport only uses his upper body muscles, why is everyone so willing to give up on him?  Just who, or what, is Socrates anyway?  The film has no answers for these questions.

We get the obligatory mentor/student disagreements as well as montages (at least five of them) of Dan training, both as warrior and gymnast.  The obligatory love interest (Amy Smart) who cares for Dan as a person, not just because he’s big man on campus is, of course, present as well.

There are a few “borrowed” scenes you’ll probably recognize.  Dan faces the evil half of himself in what I assume was a dream (see Superman III).  In truth I’m not sure even the filmmakers themselves knew which scenes were real and what were illusions, and with so many of them you can be sure you won’t either.  In another scene Socrates teaches Dan by having him clean toilets and scrub floors – leading to a lesson (see The Karate Kid).  Thanks Mr. Miyagi.

Now let me get to my major complaint with the film.  The “philosophy” of Socrates is cobbled together from Obi-One Kenobi and Yoda, the aforementioned Mr. Miyagi, self-help books, and fortune cookie wisdom.  In many places you’ll find yourself either groaning or struggling not to laugh at such unintentionally funny moments.  Here’s the wisdom of the film boiled down for you:

“The journey is its own reward”
“Be mindful of your surroundings” (my young padawan)
“You must unlearn what you have learned”
“You will understand when you are passive, at peace”
“Wax on, wax off”
“Everything is connected” (trough the Force perhaps?)
“Do or do not, there is no try”
“Clear your mind”

I’m not saying those are bad slogans, or that the messages in them might not hold some truth.  We’ve actually seen this work in much better films (like the ones they were stolen from).  But the way they are presented – by a wise Nick Nolte, who is all dolled up to look like Santa Claus on the Atkins diet – just doesn’t work on film.  It’s hard to take anything seriously when you are busy trying not to snicker and groan.  You might also notice the none-too-subtle crucified Jesus pose Dan keeps finding himself in while practicing on the rings.

One last technical note.  The film seemed cheaply made, was often dark and hard to make out details, and appeared stretched too far on the screen losing some of its clarity.  It’s possible these were problems with the projection I saw and that cleaner and brighter prints are available.  Those technical faults, added to my other issues with the film, didn’t help my opinion of the experience.  However, even a flawless print or digital projection would do little to improve my opinion of the film.

The film was made from Dan Millman‘s book about his, I’m assuming widely exaggerated, real life experiences.  Maybe Millman did meet a ghostly angel who taught him wondrous things and could fill his mind with visions.  Maybe the simplistic self-help slogans work better in print than on film.  I’m sure fans of Millman’s will be angry and attack me for not understanding his philosophy, but they would be wrong.  It’s not that I don’t understand it (hell, it’s so simple a four year-old could understand it, much less a college athlete who should already know how to clear his mind during his routines), it’s that I prefer real philosophy rather than cookie cutter self-help versions like this.

The film just doesn’t work.  There’s too many laugh out loud moments that should be inspiring or at least dramatic – like the “awe” shown on Millman’s coaches and friends when he performs in the moment (rather than hiring a good gymast to do the routine).  There was a much better film about gymnastics that came out earlier this year called Stick It (available on DVD September 19th) that I’d advise you to watch instead.  Let me leave you with a short fortune.  “Happiness will come from seeing a different film.”

The Weird News

by Alan Rapp on August 24, 2006

in Uncategorized

Weird Item #1: Well folks your political correctness has officially gone too far.  Tom & Jerry are under attack.  The cartoon mouse and cat who have entertained people of all ages for decades are being censored due to a single complaint about the pair smoking a cigarette (in Oscar winning episode, by the way!).  Thank you media watchdog Ofcom for overreacting with such speed and force.  Other cartoons like Scooby Doo, The Jetsons, and The Flinstones will also have to cut out any objectionable content that might encourage smoking (though cartoon violence isn’t an issue?).  Thanks for not letting a free America do something crazy – like think for themselves.

Weird Item #2: Snakes in a theater?  A few fans decided to release rattlesnakes in a theater in Phoenix, Arizona.  The movie that was playing?  Yep, you got it, Snakes on a Plane.  Reports vary on the incident, but one thing is certain – this stunt was even dumber than the movie, though not quite as dumb as our Weird News Item above.

N/A

Weird Item #1: Well folks your political correctness has officially gone too far.  Tom & Jerry are under attack.  The cartoon mouse and cat who have entertained people of all ages for decades are being censored due to a single complaint about the pair smoking a cigarette (in Oscar winning episode, by the way!).  Thank you media watchdog Ofcom for overreacting with such speed and force.  Other cartoons like Scooby Doo, The Jetsons, and The Flinstones will also have to cut out any objectionable content that might encourage smoking (though cartoon violence isn’t an issue?).  Thanks for not letting a free America do something crazy – like think for themselves.

Weird Item #2: Snakes in a theater?  A few fans decided to release rattlesnakes in a theater in Phoenix, Arizona.  The movie that was playing?  Yep, you got it, Snakes on a Plane.  Reports vary on the incident, but one thing is certain – this stunt was even dumber than the movie, though not quite as dumb as our Weird News Item above.

Tube Watch

by Alan Rapp on August 24, 2006

in Television Reviews , Uncategorized

So you want to know what’s happening on your box of wires and lights, huh?  Well don’t fret, we’ll keep you up to date.  Last weekend comedians gathered to toast, and roast, William Shatner.  Here’s what happened…

Comedy Central Roast of William Shatner
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Jason Alexander was chosen to host Comedy Central’s roast of the man who was Captain James T. Kirk.  Along with bringing the original captain’s chair from the Smithsonian, Alexander and his fellow comedians brought plenty of funny.

“All your friends are either dead or want nothing to do with you.  To be fair I’m a little of column A, and a little of column B.”

—Betty White

Comedy Central Roast of William Shatner – There may not be in actor more beloved than William Shatner who at the same time is so ripe for an event like this.  In a no holds barred event, friends (George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Farrah Fawcett, and Leonard Nimoy) and countless comedians (Jeffrey Ross, Kevin Pollack, Fred Willard, Greg Giraldo, Lisa Lampanelli, Patton Oswald, and more) came up to rip Shatner a new one for his stilted dialogue, music career, Priceline.com ads, and anything else they could think of.  In what would be Comedy Central’s highest rated original program so far this year, the dirty, racist, sexist jokes flew; nothing was off-limits. 

Much went as expected, Shatner took some shots on stage, Andy Dick went crazy, and everyone had a fun time.  The highlights of the night included Ben Stiller’s video “tribute” to Shatner and Takei explaining how he was scarred as child due to the duo, Kimmel and Silverman’s short shot at Priceline.com, Jason Alexander’s opening speech as Roastmaster, and Shatner’s own rebuttal trading back barbs with his roasters and thanking everyone for a good time.  Live long and prosper Mr. Shatner, and continue going where no man has gone before.