Monday, June 28, 2010

Christopher Nolan Marathon Part 3 of 7: Film Review: Insomnia (2002)

In honor of Nolan's upcoming film Inception, I'm reviewing his essential body of work over the course of the next three weeks. Enjoy.

Insomnia (2002) – Monday, June 28th
Batman Begins (2005) – Friday, July 2nd
The Prestige (2006) – Monday, July 5th
The Dark Knight (2008) – Friday, July 9th
Inception - (2010) - Friday, July 16th

Detective Dormer (Pacino) is sent from LA to investigate the murder of a teenage girl in a small Alaskan town. While trying to apprehend the murderer (Robin Williams and no that’s not a spoiler), Dormer accidentally shoots his partner. Instead of admitting to his mistake and guilt, the detective decides to create an even bigger clusterfuck of the situation because we need this movie to last longer. A complex yet boring game of Cat, Mouse and Mouse develops and it’s all frosted with Pacino’s character suffering from a case of insomnia throughout the investigation. It sounds stupid but its’ actually entertaining to watch Pacino drunkenly stumble around trying to solve a murder.

Nolan’s third film isn’t really noir, but instead a detective/police procedural. At its best, the film plays like a good episode of Criminal Minds but most of its time is spent sulking through a mediocre crime story. The movie starts to look like its heading in a good direction when Williams shows up but quickly dies down once you learn how boring the murderer actually is. I’m not saying every crime film needs a Hannibal Lector, but if you’re in a dull Alaskan town and not making many interesting choices with the script, why not have a bit of fun with your main antagonist? Especially when you have such a unique actor like Williams.

This kind of movie seems like a test that the studios gave Nolan before handing him a franchise like Batman. In this film they gave him more money, bigger names and less creative control. They kept him in a genre that he still had a chance to succeed in and even gave him a little room for his style but for the most part they just wanted to see if he’d play their game. This movie passed the studio’s test and serves as an essential transitional piece for Nolan’s career even if it is his weakest piece of work.

Grade: C+

Stray Observations

  • In the movie Pacino plays a cop from LA but it’s hard to imagine that he’s from anywhere besides East Harlem.

  • Probably  a great movie to catch on TV on a gloomy day.

  • The Robin Williams/Al Pacino chase scene was kind of unintentionally hilarious. It’s a middle aged decathlon that features both actors looking like they passed out right before each edit.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

TV Review: Breaking Bad Season 1

(Warning: the masturbatory nature of this review may cause readers to think that this is less of a critique and more of an analytical blowjob. I wouldn’t dispute that theory.)

I’ve always been a literary critic, or at least a literary reviewer.  Reading or writing about entertainment has always been more enjoyable for me when the review is subjective. The pros and cons about objectivity vs. subjectivity in writing is a vast and interesting topic that I’m not going to dive into in this review but I just wanted people to know where I stand on the issue (for this review and future reviews).

Now that I’ve babbled on about personal preferences I can start talking about my original opening statement that scared me at first. The problem with Breaking Bad is that I can’t really find a problem with it. Of course, back in the summer of my 9th year when I would watch Dawson’s Creek on television I would constantly hail it as dramatic perfection. I’m sure that as my knowledge of criticism and experience in television grows I’ll be able to see multiple problems with BB. Until than I remain utterly and joyfully ignorant.

BB is a dramedy about a high school chemistry teacher who's suffering from the world's worst case of mid-life crisis and becomes a criminal. That’s the only sentence that I’m going to devote to plot summary because anything more would be a spoiler for those who haven’t seen the show. I admit I’m a few years late to the bandwagon but so is the majority of the world.

So when watching the first season of BB started to unfold I began to get a little scared. Bryan Cranston’s performance as Walter White was comedic yet tragic in a way I didn’t know possible. His work on Malcolm and the Middle was impressive but I never would have imagined he had the chops to carry a character like Walter.

BB quickly became the equivalent of what I can only describe as an obese clown that is gracefully able to dance through a hurricane without getting wet. Television is a storm of problems for writers and this show dodged, slipped and evaded every raindrop that came its way. Every single episode sets itself up to fail and every time the show takes “the higher road” (which in almost every case is the morally lower road) and ends up being so much more engaging because of it.

I’ve been consuming mass amounts of television over the last few weeks (including the first seasons of Mad Men and The Wire) and I have to say that after everything I’ll be looking forward to BB’s season two premiere the most.

I’m aching for more Breaking.

Stray Observations:
  • I used to think Weeds was an edgy take on suburban drug culture. I used to be retarded.
  • The first season of The Wire is still the pinnacle of television for me but I wouldn’t call it perfect. I believe that The Wire is too slow. It’s not even The Wire’s fault. I think the show’s characters and story are too complex to air a week at a time over a period of years. Each season should be viewed as an entire piece of work. It’s the medium’s fault, not the work itself.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Christopher Nolan Marathon Part 2 of 7: Film Review: Memento (2000)

In honor of Nolan's upcoming film Inception, I'm reviewing his essential body of work over the course of the next three weeks. Enjoy.

Following (1998) - Monday, June 21st

Memento (2000) – Friday, June 25th
Insomnia (2002) – Monday, June 28th
Batman Begins (2005) – Friday, July 2nd
The Prestige (2006) – Monday, July 5th
The Dark Knight (2008) – Friday, July 9th
Inception - (2010) - Friday, July 16th

(Take your time with this one and think about how clever I am)

Finally, where this film really succeeds is in its re-watchability. Yes, you should be watching it more than once regardless of how well you absorbed Leonard’s journey the first time. You’ll still get a different experience each time. Nolan’s direction stands out after multiple viewings because the viewer can devote less time to following the narrative and take the time to notice the smaller touches that make an already great film even more enjoyable. Perhaps the greatest reward of multiple viewings for me was the confirmation that this whole project wasn’t an overblown gimmick. Usually in mystery stories, unreliable narrator’s can be a cheap trick because you can cheat the audience with a false reality the entire time. However, this character is actually the ultimate unreliable narrator because it’s literally built into the story through the character’s condition. The Anterograde amnesia is another great example of an “anti-gimmick” story because this type of amnesia is a much more controlled disease. It doesn’t create the usual amnesia “anything goes” story that some directors might take advantage of. After spending time with the film it becomes clear that this is an original piece of work in a very predictable genre. It’s Nolan’s best film and is arguably the greatest cult favorite of the previous decade.

Natalie: What's the last thing that you do remember? 
Leonard Shelby: My wife... 
Natalie: That's sweet. 
Leonard Shelby: ...dying. 

One of the best ways to get a handle on Memento is to compare and contrast it to Nolan’s first film Following. Both films could be considered a part of the Neo-Noir genre. Following is a fairly unique take on the noir story but pales in comparison to its younger brother Memento. Both film’s circle around deception (self deception in Memento’s case), end with a twist and have stories that are driven by our old friend Murr-Durr. The main difference in these films is the narrative. While Following a non-linear narrative, Memento’s main story is a perfectly reversed linear narrative. There is also a noticeable jump in quality from Nolan’s debut. Memento has stronger acting, more complex writing and more realized editing. Even the look of Memento is a bit more fun since the film takes place in a glossy Los Angeles and Nolan has added a bit of David Fincher to his style.

Leonard: [running] OK, so what am I doing? 
[sees Dodd also running] 
Leonard: Oh, I'm chasing this guy. 
[Dodd shoots at Leonard] 
Leonard: No... he's chasing me. 

Christopher Nolan’s second film Memento is (kinda) based off his brother’s (Jonathan) short story Memento Mori. Jonathan’s story is much more self contained but still shares many of the same plot elements and themes. Nolan’s film chronicles two separate stories. First is of our narrator Leonard (Pearce), an ex-insurance investigator who can no longer build new memories, as he attempts to find the murderer of his wife, which is the last thing he remembers. This story is told backwards revealing more each time (color with a reverse linear structure). The second story is narrated by Leonard but revolves around an old client of his names Sammy Jenkins (Tobolowsky). This narrative moves forward in time through black and white flashbacks. It’s a bit confusing at first but once you…

Now...where was I?

Grade: A

Monday, June 21, 2010

Christopher Nolan Marathon Part 1 of 7: Film Review: Following (1998)

In honor of Nolan's upcoming film Inception, I'm reviewing his essential body of work over the course of the next three weeks. Enjoy.

Following (1998) - Today!
Memento (2000) – Friday, June 25th
Insomnia (2002) – Monday, June 28th
Batman Begins (2005) – Friday, July 2nd
The Prestige (2006) – Monday, July 5th
The Dark Knight (2008) – Friday, July 9th
Inception - (2010) - Friday, July 16th

The Following is my explanation of the movie Following. Our protagonist Bill is an unemployed aspiring writer who lives a solitary and boring life in (black and white) London, England. It’s 1998, yet Bill uses a typewriter and while he’s not smoking cigarettes he might as well be. This is our standard Noir setup besides the fact that Bill isn’t a private detective who recently quite the force because of a dead girlfriend. Bill is actually a loner. Luckily for us, Bill happens to have a fascination with people, and begins to pick individuals out of a crowd, and starts to follow them around. And wouldn’t ya know it? Even though Bill establishes rules for his little game he ends up getting whipped away in a world of gangsters, manipulation, chesty blondes, secret identities and of course MurrDurr.

First, you have to give credit to those involved in this project. Nolan made the film on $6,000 budget over the course of a year on a few scattered weekends. He was smart in keeping the script short because the complex story is still surprisingly tight and well constructed. I’ve always thought more films should be this length. The filmmakers really give themselves less opportunities to fuck up.

Okay so now that were passed the synopsis and setup shit we can get to the good stuff. Nolan’s direction is fueled by two sources of influences. The first is classic film noir. Most of its European but there’s enough traditional American noir to make the film a hybrid. The second influence that is just as significant is Neo-Noir. You have older Neo-Noir (contradiction?), most prominently Blade Runner. Both start out with an investigation scene, both are visually and chronologically complex and both have twist endings with futuristic synthesizers pumping behind them. You also have the Neo-Noir that is present in any important 90’s independent filmmaker’s style. Soderbergh, The Coen Brothers, Tarantino and Bryan Singer all used it. Its presence varies but it’s always there. Sometimes it’s stylistically and sometimes it’s thematically. Sometimes it’s every scene and sometimes it just makes an appearance.

Nolan’s film is a product of these influences and is a damn good product for those who are fans of the noir, cult, or indie film genres. It doesn’t stand up to some of his later work and the stakes aren’t as high as they could be but the potential is there and as we all know that potential blossomed into one of the most exciting directors of the previous decade.

Grade: B

Stray Observations:

I noticed a small Batman sticker on The Blondes door. I guess Nolan was slipping in little hints of the future during shooting.

This film literally could have ended with The Usual Suspects last line “And like that, poof. He's gone.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Comedy: Album Review: Dan Cummins – “Revenge is Near” (2009)

Revenge is Near starts with fat people falling down and a Chuck Norris joke. Don’t stop reading. It gets better. Much better. A fairly safe beginning leads into one of the funniest and most well crafted comedy albums I’ve heard in the last few years. Revenge’s gentle but enthusiastic crowd immediately establishes the intimate feeling that this album benefits from. The environment is perfect for Cummins because he’s much more a “great comedy mind” than a gimmicky performer. His Comedy Central Presents performance was interesting but his comedy feels more natural in a small club.  

The album quickly picks up speed once Cummin’s style is established. One of the album’s strongest tracks is “Chocolate Squirrelador” where Cummins rips off a series of 45 second gags that revolve around hybrid pets and the psychology of face tattoos.  It’s the breakthrough track on the album because it proves his spasmodic writing is enough to support an entire show. That track is followed by the title track “Revenge is Near” which starts strong but also features some of the weakest material in the show. It was the first time I heard him loose the audience and it didn’t last long.

Moving into the middle of the album Cummins style starts to become clear. His best material is simply strong writing fueled by a creepy randomness. He is able to harness his own nonsensism into some witty writing that is supported by his masterful use of comedic language. His show features thoughts that are as funny as a Zach Galifianakis or Demetri Martin but have aren’t just one-liners and have a bit more weight to them. He isn’t a story teller either but instead a writer who likes to start his joke with a base and then slowly branch off the joke as much as he feels is necessary. He’s comparable to Nick Swardson in form and Daniel Tosh in style but is clearly an independent voice in the comedy culture.

It was relieving that halfway through the show that it was clear he had no agenda that night besides the comedy. At one point he mentions that he’d like to get serious with the audience and then starts to rant about the work ethic of lazy eyes. He stayed clear of politics all together and only briefly dropped in on religion to deliver a few quick punches on an easy but worthy target; Scientology.

Near the end on the track “Plans for America” he loses the audience for the second and last time. He makes a few jokes regarding U.S troops and poverty that aren’t really any edgier than the rest of his set but he still catches some crap for it. It’s undeserved but a good example of the dangers of small rooms when recording an album. Luckily, his next and final track “I Call Ribs” features his strongest joke of the night. His ramblings on cannibalism were some of the best material I heard last year and it was a beautiful way to end the album. It’s the strongest debut I can remember and I look forward to seeing how his career progresses.

“Where were you when I needed you sweatpants?”
“It was a meet to pleasure you.”
“I gave myself a Doctorate in Unicorns. Why Not?”
“That jokes called…(insert funny title)”.
 “I’ve had sex. I have a two year old to prove it”.
“Maybe he’s not drinking enough Mountain Dew with his Lucky Charms?”
“You’re liver’s a slut.”
“I’m not even pro-Death penalty but if we’re gonna kill them, let’s have some fun.”
“I don’t condone cannibalism, but I get it.”

Here's the 3rd part of Cummin's new Johnny Gun video series that inspired this review. Make it Happen.

Monday, June 14, 2010

TV Review: The Wire Season 1 (2002): F+

The Wire doesn’t have a blind detective who can smell crime. It doesn’t have beautiful CSI’s who throw out one-liners and interesting little investigative tid-bits. It’s doesn’t even have a love triangle. It fails in every aspect of the modern crime drama.

Set in Baltimore (Not LA or New York=boring), this show centers around the city's drug scene. The first few episodes are the worst because the show feels the need to establish character motives and plot details before diving into the murders and mysteries. Det. James McNulty (the only stud in the show) has been assigned to lead a joint homicide and narcotics team, in order to bring down drug kingpin Avon Barksdale. The show depicts the lives of every part of the drug "food chain", from junkies to dealers, and from cops to politicians. It’s like reading a novel…gross.

I think the biggest mistake the show makes is in its cast and writing. There are like 50 billion characters in this mess and I can’t tell who the hero of the story is. It even gives the drug dealers as much screen time as the cops!? Like hello, drug dealers are bad. I think they’re making all these mistakes because the people behind the show are former journalists and police officers. Get some Hollywood writers who know what they’re doing. For example; a experienced television writer would know that if they spent more time with the good guys we could have had some really juicy melodrama and hot cop sex.

The best advice I can give this show is to try to switch to a more episodic format. This way you can have a new bad guy every week and end on a super cool climax that makes people want to tune in for the next episode. Plus, you can have a different theme or “lesson learned” in every episode instead of concentrating on just one topic.  Since I’m reviewing the entire series, I hope to see some of these changes in the seasons to come. I didn't know TV could be this bad/realistic.

But seriously, it's genius.

Morning Shots: Eminem and Lil Wayne Collaboration, Future of Film Criticism, Free High Fidelity and Jackie Chan Kicking Kids

Darryl Campbell's thoughts on the future of film criticism. The best essay I've seen on the topic besides David Bordwell's piece

Live for the Funk's post on the new Eminem and Lil' Wayne collaboration. The song has some crazy verses and is def. worth a listen.

Movie critic Katherine Monk recalls her years at UBC's film school. I found it very interesting as an amateur critic but it's a good read for anyone. She confirmed my belief in not taking notes during the showing of film.

Kick Kick Snare writes about a small heartwarming story attached to a very sweet song. 

High Fidelity is now up on Hulu for anyone to watch. One of my all-time favorite films. 

Finally, just a little bit of Jackie Chan hating on the kiddies.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Music Review: Tokyo Police Club: Champ (2010): B+

Buoyed by social media buzz, Tokyo Police Club has slowly started to gain an audience over the last 5 years. One of Toronto's most promising indie rock outfits features vocalist/bassist Dave Monks, keyboardist/vocalist Graham Wright, guitarist/percussionist Josh Hook, and drummer/percussionist Greg Alsop. The band shows influences by The Strokes but is most appropriately classified as another disciple of the veteran indie band Broken Social Scene. TPC's second album was your standard sophomore slump but they’ve convinced me they’re headed in the right direction with their third album Champ. As a whole, the album is a lot of fun and the band’s bright sound is enough to make a bright day even brighter.

The album’s lyrics are a bit adolescent but witty and playful enough to enjoy. “Breakneck Speed” is the album’s highlight. Since the instrumentation is consistent throughout all the tracks, we simply had to wait for a song where the lyrics were strong and Monk’s voice was energetic and quirky enough to get your feet moving. Three tracks into the album the band hits us with this little stanza...

“I remember when our voices used to sound the same,
 Born on your feet, running forest fires underneath your bed,
It’s good to be back, good to be back, good to be back.”

It’s the longest track on the album and it’s over to soon. “Wait Up” is the only other track that sticks out enough to mention and has had several remixes inherit Hype Machine glory. The rest of the album’s tracks blend together in juvenile goodness. Since the band is so young, it will be interesting to see them grow into their own generation of the indie music scene. Hopefully they’ll be able to improve and perfect their song writing ability without losing the childish charm that makes this album one of my favorites of 2010 so far.

Morning Shots: Rugrat's Horror, The Delicate Psyche of the Alternative Comedian and New Toy Story 3 Characters

Horror References in Rugrats: A great post from The Horror Digest on the glory days of Nickelodeon programming and it's extra scary moments. Rugrats is now up on Netflix Watch Instantly and it's fun to seek out and re-discover a few episodes is you have nothing else to do. Also check out the Halloween episode of Hey Arnold on Netflix that is a parody of the panic caused by Orson Welles' adaptation of "The War of the Worlds". The whole city mistakes a Halloween prank set up by Arnold and Gerald as an actual alien invasion.

The Comedians of Comedy: This is a great documentary on the alternative comedy scene that was struggling to keep its head above water in an ocean of mediocre comedy culture. A struggle that is still present today. It's on Netflix Watch Instantly and is definitely worth a view in a Post-Hangover world now that Zach Galifianakis is almost a household name. The film has great material from Zach, Patton Oswalt, Brian Posehn, Maria Bamford and is an interesting look into the delicate psyche of the underground comedian that refuses to "sell out".

 New York Times Looks at the New Characters in Toy Story 3: Yes, the new film will feature all of our old friends, but it also has to feature some new ones. I wasn't crazy about the new characters in Toy Story 2, so I'm not too excited about a Pink Teddy Bear, Porcupine and a Ken doll. How bout instead of Toy Story 3 they give us what we really want: a spin-off movie that simply features Rex the T-Rex and his own paranoid clumsy adventures.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Review: The Fly (1986): A+

click to zoom

Thick smoke blankets the floor of a dirty  laboratory as a 185 pound monster takes a gun and guides it towards its own head. The woman holding the gun is the monster’s lover. The monster isn’t a monster; but a victim. Howard Shore’s gothic but heartbreaking score pumps emotion into a heartbeat that is silenced by a gunshot. Sound like a Greek tragedy's climax to you? Well it is. With a little Science Fiction mixed in with it. The trouble starts when Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldbloom), a brilliant but eccentric scientist attempts to woo investigative journalist Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) by offering her a scoop on his latest research in the field of matter transportation. Of course it wouldn’t be a horror movie unless some experiment went wrong. Brundle thinks he’s ironed out the last problem as he successfully transports a living creature,  but when he attempts to teleport himself a fly enters one of the transmission booths, and one of the greatest cult films of all time begins.

David Cronenberg’s dark love story is just about as good as film gets. First, the film’s ugly surface horrifies its viewers with its unrivaled makeup and special effects. Goldbloom’s transformation is just as terrifying as it was 24 years ago. Davis’s transformation is also a powerful asset to the film when we see her tormented by the complications of her new love’s mutation. She ends up learning the same lesson that we all have to face someday; if you love someone, blow their brains out. Of course it’s what’s underneath this entire project that makes it a true accomplishment. The film uses the nature of metamorphosis to create an allegory that addresses humanity’s moral ambiguity. Sound complicated? It’s really quite simple when watching the movie. Cronenberg doesn’t stop there and is even able throw in some social commentary on abortion and genetic engineering. Once you take a step back and look at the entire project it’s hard to label it anything besides an undisputable masterpiece.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Review: Splice (2010): B

Here’s the setup; Elsa (Polley) and Clive (Brody), two young rebellious scientists, defy legal and ethical boundaries and forge ahead with the dangerous experiment of splicing together human and animal DNA to create a new organism. It’s a standard beginning to most monster or virus movies these days and it’s a surprise when the movie takes a crucial turn just a few minutes later. It’s no spoiler to reveal that a creature (Chaneac) emerges and the couple slowly becomes attached to their mini female Frankenstein. Named "Dren", the creature rapidly develops and ages as the relationship with her creators happens over a matter of weeks as opposed to an entire lifetime. This unexpected turn is what saves the film from mediocrity but is also what ultimately ends up holding the film back from true cinematic glory. Much like the creature itself, the movie is a hybrid of two species; Sci-Fi and Horror. The first and third acts work as a horror film and the second act is more of  a Sci-fi/Drama. Director Vincenzo Nitali hasn’t created a masterpiece here but it’s sure to become another small but satisfying Sci-fi production that never caught the public’s eye.

We’ve seen the “nature run amok” story many times on both larger (Jurassic Park) and more intimate (Moon) scales. So when we’re faced with the initial horror setup, it doesn’t feel like it’s going to be enough. Once the “family” element is introduced it’s a bit disorienting because the film seemed to be marketed as horror. Eventually the film finds itself and enters some strong and innovative territory that makes the film recommendable. However, the relationship between the three main characters advances so quickly we never have time to slow down and think about the questions being raised. The biggest question, the ethics of human cloning, is given enough time to breathe but when we return to it in the final act it doesn’t have much to say. Of course, you can’t deny that the film is exploring some new ideas and having fun while doing it.  Its strongest qualities will blossom outside of the theater experience after pondering all the questions it asks. It wasn’t everything it could be, but it’s a hell of a lot more than you usually get for your $10 ticket.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Review: Shaun of the Dead (2004): A-

This film works on too many levels and the best complement I can give it is that it's the best Rom Com Zom movie I’ve ever had the privilege of watching (even if there aren’t many entries in the genre). First, you have your basic but essential comedy experience. Even before all the social commentary and Wright’s excellent visual direction come into play it’s comfortable to know the filmmakers are trying to make you laugh before think. For me, the first viewing of the film was almost strictly a comedic one. The more I watch it the further away from the comedy I wander. Most comedies lose their fun after multiple viewings, but this film just turns the adventure into a more academic one. The basis setup follows our hero Shaun (Pegg), a 29-year-old with no real ambition in life. With only a loyalty to his lazy best friend Edgar (Frost), a dead-end job where his employees step on him, and the good-ol' days, Shaun is drifting through life. But when the undead start to rise around modern-day London, Shaun must come to the rescue of his girlfriend (Ashfield) and mother before all hell breaks loose. This Pegg-Frost partnership would later be seen in Hot Fuzz, a parody of action films that might even surpass this film in the laugh-ability factor.

The zombie culture undercurrent rippling through this project is amazing. There’s something about the culture of zombies that speaks to the imagination of the Western World. Zombies as social criticism are always a bit of fun so let me indulge myself for a moment. Many times in film, the only way to conquer the beast is to become him. SOTD’s argues that we already are the beast. The beast being in this case: a modern capitalist society. In such a society, the citizens drift through life and forget to pursue happiness because they’re too busy consuming false indulgences. Next, my head starts singing “And the people in the houses/All go to the university/And they all get put in boxes/Little boxes, all the same”. Just before I lose myself in zombie geekiness, Frost screams “Yeah, boyyyeee!and I’m dragged back into a fun buddy movie that represents independent cinema at its peak.

Review: Mystery Team (2009): B

It’s always fun to find an alternative comedy that is a bit too small to hold any high expectations entering the film but is just big enough to really embrace and enjoy . Directed by Dan Eckman and staring an entire gang of up and coming comedians (most notable Donald Glover from Community), this detective spoof is bound to become a cult hit now that it’s out on DVD. Mystery Team is a band of man-child detectives dedicated to solving child-sized mysteries (like who put their finger in the pie, and who stole the tricycle). They're eighteen years old, about to graduate from high school and yet they're still storming the playground to bust little kids. When a little girl sees their sign advertising "Mysteries Solved, Ten Cents," she asks the gang to find out who killed her parents. The Team embarks on a mystery that takes them deep into a violent conspiracy that sees their lives threatened, their friendship strained and tests their claim that they're "real detectives."

It’s a very campy setup and though the plot isn’t that important, I don’t agree with the criticism that it’s just a string of gags thrown together. There are a number of calculated gags that get the majority of the laughs but under a few key performances the audience is actually able to care about the characters enough to forgive the thin and traditional story. The adventures through the gentleman’s club and the underground drug world of Oakdale are some of the most absurdly funny gags that I’ve seen since The Hangover in the summer of ’09. Eckman does a good job with the budget he was given but the reason the film works is because of the top notch comedic writing. Low budget college comedies like this (much like Hot Rod) always serve as a launching pad for the comedic talent of the next few years. This is a fun piece of cinema because everyone involved had fun making it. That original enjoyment of working on the project translates into a very amusing and witty film that I think a certain audience will really attach themselves too.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Review: Batman Returns (1992): B

It was a simpler time. It was a time when good always triumphed over evil. The villains still lived in the sewers, and Tim Burton was still making good movies. In this sequel, it's Christmas in Burtonland, I mean Gotham City and megalomaniac businessman Max Shreck (Walken) starts a plot against Batman (Keaton) and his beloved city. He's joined by Penguin (Devito), a deformed and rather deranged man abandoned at birth by respectable parents. Penguin, backed by hoodlums and a menacing gang of penguins (yep), decides to run for mayor. The plot is further complicated by Selena (Pfeiffer), a wronged secretary who transforms into Catwoman, a villain with mixed motives.

The film achieves everything it was aiming for (one of those goals was selling action figures) and would be the last time we would see a good DC Comic book adaptation till Batman Begins in 2005. The film has some standard commentary on important issues like transformation, violence and the dangers of pollution yet the film is strongest in its visual aspects. The film’s beautiful opening sequence really encapsulates everything that works about the movie. The Penguin’s parents take him into a city park and dump their new born baby into the city’s sewers. Baby Devito drifts through the dark underworld of the city as Danny Elfman’s score mixes with a fantasy montage of a heavy Christmas snowfall blanketing the city. The makeup and costumes of every character are ridiculously excessive, but in the best way. All the actors are having a blast and Danny Devito gives a performance that haunted my entire childhood.

Yes, Michael Keaton is in some form of mild comatose in this movie unless he’s making out with Michelle Pfeiffer. Yes, it’s a bit goofy when compared to the heightened realism we get in the latest Batman franchise. But, it’s still a classic director on the top of his game mixing black humor and fantasy with one of the most beloved superheroes of our time.