The Press Herald’s Justin Ellis and I on the week’s new releases (6/30/09)

Every week, the Press Herald’s reporter/blogger extraordinaire lets us come out to play with him in his nice, clean newspaper.  Check out the link to the right.

Eastbound and Down – Season 1

Videoport Jones: “This new HBO series is crude, filthy, boorish, gross, and juvenile.  Loved it.  From Danny McBride, Jody Hill and Ben Best, the creators of the cult comedy ‘The Foot Fist Way,’ this show is a six-episode portrait of Kenny Powers, a former fireballing major league relief pitcher who, in his career, gleefully embodied literally every vice, personal failure and peccadillo generally attributed to professional athletes (a dash of John Rocker, a syringe-full of Jose Canseco…) and who now, after his fastball has deserted him and his past transgressions and complete lack of personal skills or any semblance of humanity leave him broke and seemingly unemployable, heads back to his North Carolina home town and finds himself the gym teacher at his former middle school.  Moving in with his sensible older brother (‘Deadwood’s’ John Hawkes) and his family, attempting to re-woo his former high school girlfriend (the juicily-prim Katy Mixon) currently engaged to the proper principal (the very funny Upright Citizens Brigade alum Andrew Daly), Kenny is, without exaggeration, the worst person in the history of the world;  racist, sexist, beer-gutted and be-mulleted, and possessed of the least-deserved sense of self-regard since Alex Rodriguez (zing!), Kenny Powers is worthless.  Except, as embodied by McBride, Kenny becomes something like the locus of the tragically-misguided American male sense of self-entitlement as the series goes on.  I’ve been sort of lukewarm on McBride (liked him in ‘Pineapple Express,’ didn’t care much in ‘Tropic Thunder’ or even ‘The Foot Fist Way’), but his Kenny Powers, while remaining, resolutely, the worst person in the history of the world, evolves into the most improbably-affecting worst person in the world, as the show goes to some surprisingly dark and surprising places;  it really does get more involving as it goes along, while never abandoning its truly unrepentant crudity.  With recurring roles from Will Ferrell and Craig Robinson and overqualified direction from David Gordon Green and Adam McKay, this plays out like a shockingly dark and hilarious three hour movie of a truly original sociopath.”

Justin: “Well wow. How am I supposed to follow that up? Seriously, you have left me little meat on this bone. So instead let’s talk about Danny McBride – what kind of comedy archetype will he turn out to be? He’s lined himself up with Will Ferrell on several occasions (most recently, notably and regrettably ‘Land of the Lost’), so will he get rich off taking slightly different turns off the same type of character? Will he go the Jim Carrey route and mix things up with comedy, dark comedy and a little drama? Or maybe the Eddie Murphy road, hilarious and unique out of the box only to slowly burn out in a string of sad family films? I got no clue. I will say that I like the guy and he seems to have some range for growth. As for ‘Eastbound and Down,’ don’t dismiss this one if you think you’ll quickly tire of McBride’s unrepentant jerk Kenny Powers. You’d be surprised how much a jerk can grow on you.”

Two Lovers

VPJ: “I truly would rather discuss the relative merits of this heartfelt indie drama/romance rather than the recent behavior of star Joaquin Phoenix but, seriously….WTF?!   While all the signs point to his rap career, hirsutism, and bizarre public behavior being a part of some meta-, Andy Kaufman-esque goof on a public obsessed with celebrity, there’s the very real possibility that the former Leaf has really gone over to the emotionally-interesting side, and that’d be a shame.  In this movie, ‘Walk the Line,’ ‘Reservation Road,’ ‘The Village’ (well, he was good in it…), ‘Signs,’ and the unseen ‘Buffalo Soldiers,’ Phoenix has revealed himself to be a unique talent;  he’s got an edgy, high-strung vulnerability thing going which plays really well in the right circumstances.  And, while Phoenix clearly sees something worth being loyal to (which I do not) in the films of director James Gray (he worked with him in the overheated ‘The Yards’ and ‘We Own the Night,’ as well), ‘Two Lovers’ is actually pretty good, with Phoenix and Gwynneth Paltrow playing well against each other as the titular tormented.  Here’s to Joaquin getting this out of his system and continuing with his promising film career.”

JE: “You mention his recent turn as a tormented celebrity, which seems to fit nicely with his role in this film where he plays an equally tormented character who is, well, caught between two lovers, one being Paltrow, the other being Vinessa Shaw. Not a bad place to be, but as you can guess it’s not as rosy as it sounds. The thing about Phoenix that’s always been interesting to me is that he has a lot of currency off his looks but has the chops to back it up (who of us didn’t love ‘Space Camp?’). So part of me wants to think the recent departure from sanity is some sort of statement against that. Or maybe he is up to some Kaufman-esque (or maybe Tony Clifton-esque) theatrics. Or, just maybe, he’s finally lost his damn mind. Let’s not rule it out.”

12 Rounds

VPJ: “John Cena has made two major Hollywood films now.  And the world has not burst into flames, nor has, to my knowledge, hell frozen over.  Huh…   Well, as recent rassler-turned-actors go, I would rank the WWE superstar well below Dwayne (Don’t Ever Call Me ‘The Rock’ Again) Johnson, and slightly above ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin (who couldn’t even convincingly play a brutal, ass-kicking redneck in ‘The Condemned’), which is saying…I’m not sure what exactly.  He exists, that’s for certain.  But I kid a man who could twist me into a piece of taffy.  Here, as in his previous WWE Films starring role ‘The Marine’, Cena is a nearly adequate, burly-type action hero, say something along the lines of a mid-career Jean Claude Van Damme, or a present day Vin Diesel.  Oh, in this one he plays a muscly tough guy who has to beat up enough guys until things turn out okay.”

JE: “I think ‘beat up enough guys until things turn out okay’ is probably the best plot description you can give on this one. Just for the sake of clarity, he’s a cop who has to beat up bad guys. So, you know, he has lady justice on his side. Is it possible we can create a either a new genre or classification for actors? This flick, along with Cena so far, is ‘perfectly adequate.’ There’s nothing earth shattering about his performance, not is it a complete waste of time. You hit the nail on the head with JCVD, which may be a good career projection for Cena. I caught myself watching the first half-hour of ‘Sudden Death’ on TV the other day. By far not a great action movie, or even JCVD’s best, but it’s a servicable, watchable flick. If I caught ’12 Rounds’ on a rainy afternoon I’d probably stick around until the predictable, explosive, end.”

The Code

VPJ: “Morgan Freeman! Antonio Banderas! And it went directly-to-DVD! Oh my…that’s…that’s not a good sign at all…”

JE: “Sweet mother of el Mariachi! This is not good for either of them. A quick visit to the Internets shows that this movie is about…a jewelry heist and the ONE COP who can bring it all down? Also it stars Robert Forster? Oh this is just sadness all around. Let’s disregard the fact that this plot has been made and remade to DEATH, and focus on the fact that it has Freeman, Banderas and Forster. What is going on here? How can that talent end up in the straight-to-DVD bin?”

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li

VPJ: “Let’s see, apart from the ‘rassler-turned actor’ genre, what has been the least promising film genre?  TV show big screen remakes?  Horror movie PG-13 rated remakes?  Remakes?  Sylvester Stallone?  Nope, I think you’ve gotta go right to the hell on earth that is the ‘video game movie.’  Name a good one.  ‘Doom’?  ‘Super Mario Brothers’?  ‘Double Dragon’?  ‘Wing Commander’?  I could go on, but I think I’d snap into a coma.  Anyway, the answer is most certainly neither ‘Street Fighter’ (I am eternally saddened that that was Raul Julia’s last film) nor this, um, movie (I guess) starring notable martial artists ‘Smallville’s’ Lana Lang and that guy who hasn’t worked since the last theatrically-released ‘American Pie’ sequel.  C’mon Justin, make fun of it – it’s fun!”

JE: “You got me stuck thinking about video game movies. ‘Tron’ was kind of hilarious. ‘The Last Starfighter’ had its moments. The ‘Resident Evil’ movies were crap for the most part, as was ‘Tomb Raider,’ and ‘Mortal Kombat.’ For the life of me I can’t think of one good one. This saddens me because if you can make a good movie out of a comic book property, why not video games? I mean anything can be made into a crappy movie, so I hold out hope for video game properties. As for this, well, what can you say other than WHAT THE HELL?!? Who was begging for a reintroduction of the ‘Street Fighter’ franchise? And if they were, why wasn’t this one send straight to the new release aisle and spared the shame of the box office? The world is a terrible place. But, I think we should co-write a screenplay based on Frogger.”

Entourage – Season 5

VPJ: “I could watch Jeremy Piven be snarky and spazzy all day.  Which is good, because I’ve never found much else of this HBO series, about a marginally-talented prettyboy actor (the casting of Adrien Grenier suggests several jokes at this point) and his, well, entourage particularly-compelling.  I can’t stand Turtle, that plain-looking guy is plain, and the difference between Kevin Dillon’s hamminess and Piven’s is, well, talent, maybe charisma.  Some funny guest stars help out on occasion.  I dunno, I’m in the minority on this one;  you guys have fun, though…”

JE: “If you look at is as lighthearted, harmless fun, then it shouldn’t bother you. I hope I’m not committing sacrilege saying this, but I always thought it was like a soap opera for guys. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a very simple premise, the characters are in improbable – even by Hollywood standards – situations, and their lives and livelihood are never in real danger. There is no real tension or obstacles in most episodes and things typically go back to a sunny, plush norm at the end of 30 minutes. These are not bad things. If you need a funny, harmless distraction, this is it. Also, you get Piven firing on all manic cylinders.”

Parting Shots:
– Joaquin Phoenix: Charade, stunt or date with a straitjacket?
– Can you name a good video game movie?
– What’s the worth of “Entourage?”

Published in: on June 30, 2009 at 7:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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