Thursday, July 30, 2009


Plot Summary and Target Audience Described in One Word Title

There's a good chance that if you're some level of movie geek, you did hear about this movie. Most likely it was in the context of the controversy surrounding Harvey Weinstein's attempts to re-edit the film to remove a subplot where a character was dying of cancer. You also probably didn't see it because it rolled through theaters and onto DVD with barely a mention on even Adult Swim.

So to answer your questions in order, yes the cancer subplot is there and yes, if you liked Star Wars you'll probably enjoy this movie... but it does have it's faults.

Now for those of you who never heard of Fanboys, the story follows a group of friends from Ohio who made plans to infiltrate the Skywalker Ranch (George Lucas's home) when they were kids. By the time they've grown up, its 1998 and, one of the group, Eric, is primed to take over his family's used car business. The rest of his friends still act like they're in grade school. When another of the group, Linus, finds out he has cancer, they decide to go through with their childhood plan. In particular, they've decided they will steal a rough cut of Star Wars Episode I - The Phantom Menace, so that Linus can see it before he dies.

Naturally, what follows is a madcap cross country road trip filled with nerd references and an occasional sexual encounter. They rumble with Trekkies at the town where Captain Kirk was born (Shatner's Kirk, not Chris Pine.) One of them gets beat up by Harry Knowles from Ain't It Cool News. An of course, and endless stream of Star Wars gags ranging from the overt to the subtle.

While there are alot of good gags, there are a few occasions where something was a bit off about the execution. The joke would be funny, but had the potential to be way funnier. For example, in the aforementioned Star Trek rumble, the filmmakers couldn't get the rights to use the actual Star Trek uniform designs, so instead they use "parody" uniforms. Its a minor distraction in that it took me a while to actually get that they were supposed to be Star Trek uniforms, which sort of took me out of the moment. However, the scene is saved by a cameo appearance by Seth Rogen as a Trekkie who does not take kindly to somebody ripping on Captain Kirk.

On top of that the subplots could have used a bit more fleshing out. Once they hit the road the film pretty much forgets that the characters are all supposed to be running away from something back home. Eric's story about taking over the family business would have been nice to see fleshed out, but you can't fault a movie too much for sticking to it's main premise.

In spite of all that, it's an alright movie It's not of the calibre of film that it would have been worth seeing in theaters, but it's certainly worth checking out as a rental. Clearly the people who made it have a deep love of all things Star Wars, but you'll probably leave it wondering why it wasn't directed by Kevin Smith. Sadly, he only makes a cameo appearance, but then again so does anybody else famous who's tied to Star Wars. My favorite might be Billy Dee Williams as Judge Reinhold. (It makes sense, trust me.)

The film's strengths come when it plays on the sense of nostalgia for the excitement alot of us felt at the prospect of a new trilogy of Star Wars movies coming out. If you're like me, you probably thought the original trilogy was the most amazing contribution to cinema ever, so the idea of there being more to the story was simply mind blowing. The characters capture that perfectly. It also brings back memories of what it was like being a nerd in the late 90's. You know, back when the internet was still new, and if you got the inside scoop on something it meant something. Not like today where if something gets leaked online, the whole world is going to know about it in half a day.

At the very least, it should bring back memories of your first time seeing Episode I. For me, I'd managed to rally friends together for the Special Edition releases of the original trilogy, and Episodes II and III, yet for some reason I couldn't get a damn one of my friends to go with me on opening day of Phantom Menace. Their reason? They wanted to wait until the crowd died down.

You guys kind of suck, you know that?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Layer Cake

The Movie that Turned Daniel Craig into James Bond

So, you've seen The Departed inside and out, you know every line from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and you're trying to find a crime movie a little less over-referenced than Scarface. (Over-referenced. Overrated. Same thing.) Fortunately, if there's one thing that British filmmakers are good at, it's putting together a crime movie that doesn't feel like it's just a rehash of everything that came before.

(On a side note, I just want to mention that I opted for the UK version of the trailer because it was far more creatively made than the US version, revealed less of the plot and just to point out what they can get away with in advertising over there.)

Layer Cake is just that sort breath of fresh air the crime genre can use. It's got all the stuff I wish American filmmakers would put in gangster movies more often. There's the snappy one liners, the characters constantly trying to out do each other, and the fact that anybody who's naive enough to think he's a big shot usually gets cut down... brutally.

The film stars Daniel Craig as a drug dealer named... um... Okay, so apparently I'm not smart enough to figure that out. Anyway, he rigidly abides by a set of rules that ensures that he stays out of trouble with the law. He keeps a low profile, doesn't try to make a name for himself, and has every intention of getting out of the job early.

His plan seems to be working well, until his boss calls him up and says he wants Daniel Craig to find one of his associate's daughter who's gone missing. On top of this, a group of idiot wannabes heisted a large supply of ecstasy pills from an Eastern European war criminal, claiming to be Daniel Craig's associates, so he's got to sort things out to keep his good name alive.

The film is directed by Matthew Vaughn, who previously produced Guy Ritchie's hits Lock, Stock... and Snatch, and who would also go on to write and direct Stardust (another movie I expect to cover later). Unlike Ritchie's films, which are essentially comedies where everybody has a gun, Layer Cake is a bit more serious in tone.

That's not to say this is some sort of gravely serious, gritty crime drama. There's plenty of humor, it just tends to be a bit quirkier. For example, one scene has Daniel Craig's character engaging in a romantic tryst with a woman played by Sienna Miller. She gets him riled up then makes him wait while she changes into something a bit more enticing. Just before she's ready to make her grand entrance, he is quietly abducted by thugs.

Then of course there's what one of my friends described as the best directed scene involving a man getting beaten senseless, scored to Duran Duran's "Ordinary World." You really have to see that for yourself.

The film does suffer a few drawbacks. Everybody speaks with pretty heavy British accents, making the dialogue a bit hard to follow on occasion. This wouldn't be so problematic if everybody in the movie weren't constantly trying to outwit each other. There are a few instances where it was clear that somebody just pulled an impressive con over somebody else, but I couldn't tell exactly what had just happened. The accents and plot twists only result in mild confusion, and with the overall cleverness of the movie, you're not likely to care too much.

It's also worth noting that this is pretty much the movie that secured Daniel Craig's role as the new James Bond, and it's easy to see why. He portrays his character in this movie with the sort of aggressive coldness he would later use to save the Bond franchise from the travesty that was Die Another Day, though in Layer Cake, he does considerably less ass kicking. In fact, the first time he picks up a gun, he kind of makes a fool of himself.

If you do decide to check it out (which you should), I should also mention that this movie seems to be one of those ones that Best Buy periodically puts on sale for $5 or less, meaning that it's just as cheap to own it as it is to rent it. In that case, buy it right away. Odds are, this movie is going to find its way into the rotation of movies you watch over and over again anyway.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Southland Tales

Another Mind Blowing Sci-fi Movie From the Writer/Director of Donnie Darko

Southland Tales is director Richard Kelly's follow up to his cult hit Donnie Darko. Considering that Donnie Darko's popularity grew so huge that it's one of the few films I can think of that actually got a theatrically released director's cut, whatever Kelly released next seemed destined to be huge... at least in the nerd/art house film crowd. Yet Southland Tales is still a little known movie, a fact made even stranger considering the film's all star cast.

When I say "all star" I mean that in a pretty close to literal sense. Just about everybody with a speaking role is a well known actor, although most of them play characters unlike anything they've ever played before. No really. It's got Dwayne Johnson, Sean William Scott, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Christopher Lambert, John Laroquette, Jon Lovitz, Mandy Moore, Cheri Oteri, Amy Poehler, Miranda Richardson, Kevin Smith, Justin Timberlake and the bald dude from The Princess Bride.

With this many stars, it's no surprise that Janeane Gerafalo's role ended up getting cut down to a half second cameo.

So why haven't you probably heard of this movie? Truth be told, it didn't fare too well with critics in early screenings. They were mostly baffled by the film's intricately twisting storylines, and onslaught of geek references. Presumably, based on the bad early press, it was given a very small theatrical release, even by art house film standards. But this really isn't a movie for critics at all. This is a movie for fanboys looking for an out and out crazy piece of hard sci-fi.

Now you're going to ask me what it's about right? That's where it gets a bit tricky. The short version is that it's about the way the world ends. Not with a whisper, but with a bang.

The long version, is that it's a Bush-era fable about a world where government paranoia has gone rampant. Terrorists detonate a pair of nuclear bombs over Texas, prompting the nation throw control of Congress over to the Republicans. In turn, they put the nation on complete lockdown, with visas required for interstate travel and heavily armed soldiers in the streets.

Against this backdrop are interweaving stories about the citizens of L.A. in this new world. There's Boxer Santaros (Dwayne Johnson) an action star with political connections who has amnesia and finds himself in the company of Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar), a porn star trying to go legit. There's Ronald Taverner (Sean William Scott), a cop who finds himself caught up with a group of Neo-Marxists trying to take down the government. We follow the government employees who believe that they're restoring order to the world, the Neo-Marxists who think they're doing the same thing, and everybody else who is caught up in between, whether deliberately or not.

However, it's not so much the plot that's the draw of this story as is the execution. If you've ever seen Donnie Darko, you should have some idea what to expect next. For starters, the one liners are fantastic. If you thought Samantha Darko asking "What's a fuck-ass?" at the dinner table was good, you ought to hear the stuff that comes out of Sarah Michelle Gellar's mouth.

Then there's the whole sci-fi aspect. Much like Donnie Darko, the characters find themselves subjected to things like parallel dimensions, time travel, destiny and religion. Yet there's never that moment where everybody figures out exactly what is going on. Suffice to say, things get really freakin' weird fast.

Thankfully, they never get weird in the David Lynch, I'm-never-going-to-figure-this-shit-out kind of way. You'll be able to follow the plot (mostly) on the first time through, but there's going to be a lot of stuff that is going to go over your head. This movie just politely asks that you sit back, enjoy the soundtrack, and let it blow your mind. It begs you to watch it again with the promise that you'll have a better understanding of what you just saw the next time around.

As you can guess, this is an extremely ambitious movie, a fact made more notable considering that the movie wasn't even envisioned as the entire story. You'll note that after an extensive prolog, the story starts out at chapter 4. That's because Richard Kelly conceived this story as a truly multi-media extravaganza, with parts of the story told in different formats. There was supposed to be a massive viral marketing campaign and a comic book mini-series leading up to the release. The comic, which tells the first three chapters of the story didn't get that wide a release and the online aspect was started but never really completed. For example, even two years after this movie's release, the website for the character Krysta Now, the porn star/aspiring businesswoman, still has a coming soon banner on most of its pages. In case you're wondering, it's not essential to read the comic before seeing the movie. The important parts of the comic are summarized at the start of the movie, but it gives the viewer a better understanding of the back story.

The soundtrack, as I mentioned before, is incredible. For one thing, Moby was such a fan of Donnie Darko that he agreed to score the film, which is something he rarely ever does. Then there's selections by the Pixies, Waylon Jennings, Blur and a nice little number sung by Sarah Michelle Gellar as Krysta Now called "Teen Horniness is Not a Crime." Of all of these, the showpiece is the scene where Justin Timberlake lip syncs to The Killers' "All These Things I've Done," during a hallucination filled with dancing nurses.

Like I said before, this is an ambitious movie, but while that's a phrase usually used to describe movies that aspire to be something great and fall extremely short, Southland Tales seems to be every bit the epic Richard Kelly hoped it would be when he started work on it. This is a movie that will probably never be part of the mainstream, but I suspect that over time it will find its audience and become a cult hit. That being said, I recommend renting it soon so that you can say you were one of the cool kids who saw it before everybody else.

Promo Art courtesy of Darko Entertainment

Little Nemo

So one thing I decided I’d do when I started this blog was to shed some light on movies that never really made it into the public consciousness, despite being thoughtfully crafted, and just plain enjoyable to watch. Today, I thought I’d cover the anime film Little Nemo, seeing as how I finally got to watch it over the weekend. If you want to see a trailer for it, click here.

Odds are that if you remember this film at all, it’s probably in the form of a half remembered advertisement you saw as a kid for one of those “non-Disney” cartoons we all shied away from. It never did get what one would call a major release, and even in the days of where old anime classics experienced a revival on DVD as anime became more popular in America, this film never got caught up in the hubbub.

For those unfamiliar with the character, Little Nemo began as a comic strip created by Winsor McCay in the early 20th century. The strip chronicled Nemo’s journeys through a fantastical realm known as Slumberland, and each strip usually ended with him waking up and falling out of bed. The strip was also notable for it’s brilliant colors and surrealistic imagery. Generally, they took up an entire page of the comic pages. (On a side note, supposedly one of the reasons Bill Waterson retired from writing Calvin & Hobbes was because he wanted to draw his comic in the style of Little Nemo, but newspapers wanted something smaller and with panels that could be more easily rearranged.)

The movie was produced by Japanese anime studio Tokyo Movie Shinsha, but was largely worked on by American talents such as Ray Bradbury, Chris Columbus (famous for Home Alone and the first two Harry Potter movies) and the Sherman Brothers, who previously worked on music for several Disney films. Despite being made in 1989, it didn’t make its way stateside until 1992. Strangely enough, the video game adaptation made its way stateside before that.

As for the plot of the movie, I’m going to be honest. It’s not exactly Disney. Even when Disney was in its pre-Little Mermaid slump, it was putting out stuff with more character development than this. The story is pretty simple. One night Nemo is visited in his bed by the personal entourage of Morpheus, the King of Dreams. The king requests that he comes to Slumberland to be his daughter’s playmate. He doesn’t explore Slumberland too long before a mischievous character named Flip accidentally gets Nemo to unleash an evil known as the Nightmare, and naturally Nemo’s the one who has to stop it.

I say it’s a simple story because there’s never really any motivation given for the characters actions. Morpheus’s invitation to Nemo is completely arbitrary (not to mention the level of responsibility he gets entrusted with) and there’s no reason given for why Flip creates the amount of havoc he does, other than it helps move the story along.

What the film lacks in story, it certainly makes up in style. The film manages to effortlessly toe the line of depicting a world that is strange and surreal, without confusing the viewer. The world in which the story is set frequently transforms into something completely different in a way that perfectly mimics the non sequitur nature of dreams. For example, the opening sequence has Nemo wake up in his bed, discovering he can fly it out the window. He flies around the city, but suddenly finds himself among unfamiliar ruins, hounded by a speeding train.

Even the non-surreal visuals are incredible. Slumberland, as depicted in the movie, is a world that resembles the most extravagant palaces of Europe if they were the size of entire cities. Then there’s the animation itself. Like many anime movies, everything is drawn with such fluid detail that even the way smoke is animated, it seems to have character.

Despite it’s simple story, the whole package is overall pretty enjoyable. I suspect that had I seen it as a kid, this movie would have been something I watched over and over. Although it’s clearly targeted for younger audiences, this movie is a good example of how to make a family film parents can enjoy that doesn’t involve slyly sneaking in “adult” references, or tries to hock some product to kids. Aside from a scene halfway through the movie where the Nightmare breaks into Slumberland, it’s as family friendly as one could ask for. Granted that scene in question is a bit freaky and I’m sure it would have given me bad dreams as a kid. In fact, I think they cut it out of the initial American release, but it’s not that bad.

Unfortunately, Little Nemo is still a bit hard to find, so unless you use Netflix,, or your local library has a good inter-library loan system, it’s going to be a hard one to track down. On the plus side, it’s pretty cheap to buy, as has it listed for about $8. Yes, that’s twice the cost of a rental, but if you’re an anime fan or a parent looking for a quality family film, it’s worth owning.

Hopefully in upcoming years this movie will gain some level of notoriety and be easier to find.