Justin Ellis (of the Press Herald) and I on the week’s new releases (11/3/09)

We’re back in business baby! This week’s new releases on DVD finally give Videoport Jones and I a reason to do the Snoopy Dance for the first time in a long time. Not only do we get to breakdown remakes, talk food choices and bash my devotion to 80s pop culture, but Will Ferrell makes a triumphant comeback! That’s something we can all be happy about.

You’re Welcome: A Final Night with George W. Bush

Videoport Jones: “Now this is more like it. After a string of subpar film outings that, frankly, were trying the patience of even his staunchest supporters (being you and me, Justin), Will Ferrell busts out with this, a filmed record of his one-man Broadway show, and all the ‘Semi-Pros,’ ‘Land of the Losts’ and ‘Blades of Glorys’ are washed away in a tide of welcome, teary-eyed belly laughs. Ferrell as Bush was one


I...am...the balls.

of SNL’s characters for the ages, a nigh-perfect comedic storm of actor, impression, satire, and just all-around lunatic weirdness that was utterly bananas while capturing the essence of its subject. Ferrell’s narrow-eyed, blinky, malaprop-prone, blusterous Bush was sorely missed after Ferrell left SNL (sorry Will Forte, but your Bush sucked out loud), and now he has treated us to an entire evening’s worth of his best parting shots at our worst president. Is it trenchant, insightful political satire? Well, that’s not really the point, although I maintain that a comedic portrayal as lunatically-inspired as this one can get to the heart of its subject with as much insight as any laboriously-footnoted biography. Plus, this is just simply one of the funniest things I’ve seen all year; and at 115 minutes, it handily defies the notion that Ferrell’s impression is only suited for a five minute sketch. Ferrell wrote it for himself, thus reaffirming my notion that he should only appear in things he’s written; he blends fact with loony, manic fancy, spinning his monlogue out into the absurdist stratosphere before snatching it back with some surprising moments of real emotion. Will Ferrell is back.”

Justin: “Oh thank the MAKER! He has emerged from the wilderness, and we’ll welcome him with open arms. I remember when he originally kicked off this show on Broadway and people ate it up. (Let’s also not forget he was, indeed, nominated for a Tony Award.) You could argue that this is just another turn on the madcap man-boy that Ferrell always plays, but in this case it works so, so well. The reason his George W. Bush was funny was because it was over the top. Heck, it took a rocket sled and boomed past being just a simple impression. Ferrell took all the small mannerisms and tweaked the former president’s tone just a bit and what he ended up with was hilarious. In the same way Darrell Hammond’s take has become short-hand for a Clinton impression, so has Ferrell’s Bush. If you’re looking for all the best bits of Ferrell, just nailing the impression, you’ll get it here as we get flight suit hero Bush, brush-cutting cowboy Bush and of course, confident commander-in-chief Bush. We get the snickering laugh, the nicknames, the odd anecdotes and plenty more. If you weren’t a fan of Ferrell as Bush then this is not for you. But if, like me and Jonesy, you thought it was comedy gold, then you can’t pass this one up. I’m happy to recommend a Will Ferrell movie again.”

GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra

VPJ: “I’d like to start off this review by stating that when a movie’s credits begin with the phrase “in association with HASBRO”, you know it’s gonna be quality. Yup, it’s the second week with a toy-based mega action blockbuster hitting the Videoport shelves in a row. I think we’ve done something wrong. And are being punished. (A sidebar: which genre is the most hellish on us viewers?: the ‘based on video game movie’ (‘Street Fighter,’ ‘Doom,’ ‘Super Mario Brothers,’ ‘Mortal Kombat,’ etc), the ‘based on a board game’ movie (‘Clue,’ ‘The Mutant Chronicles,’ the upcoming ‘Candyland’ film – god, I wish I were joking), the ‘based on a Disney theme park ride’ movie (‘Tower of Terror,’ ‘The Haunted Mansion,’ and don’t get me started in the interminable ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise), the ‘based on a TV series movie (a list too depressing to go into here), or this, the ‘based on a toy line’ movie? Man, I sort of liked ‘Clue,’ so it can’t be that category, but…wow, “big, dumb, loud, dumb, and dumb” pretty much sums up both ‘Transformers 2’ and this thing. There are actors in it, and they are all, without exception, awful (even the talented among the cast, like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Christopher Eccleston, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, and Jonathan Pryce come off like they’ve just been whammed with a ball peen hammer before filming). There is “action” in it, but said “action” is ossified into numb lethargy through judicious applications of CGI and limp direction. There is, like in Transformers, a George Lucas-style idea of humor which necessitates minstrelly black guy comic relief (surprise! it’s a Wayans!) and winking in-jokes that would be funny to, um, who? I know I’m overanalyzing a completely inconsequential film, but, hell, if I has to watch this dispiriting mess, then I’m gonna take out my frustrations. On all of you. Sorry.”

JE: “Well at least you didn’t pay money to see it in a theater. I am indeed, a sucker, and some might say powerless, to childhood nostalgia. How else can I explain seeing both this and ‘Transformers 2’ in theaters this past summer? I’m a masochist. I don’t know what to say about this movie to give a sense of how truly, powerfully, irredeemably bad this movie is. There was a moment, a window of possibility, where I thought this movie could work by not taking itself seriously and providing ridiculous amounts of action porn. Not the best attraction for a movie, but not too high of a bar to reach for. But no, they couldn’t even manage that. The action is an incomprehensible miasma of CGI, jump cuts and noise. And when you can’t hang your hat on the action, you start to notice all the other glaring flaws. More than anything what disappoints me about this movie is that unlike Transformers, GI Joe could have been a successful 80s-powered update. The premise is simple: a US special forces/counter-terrorism team fights bad guys to save the day. And oh yeah, ninjas are involved. This should have been a home run and instead its a mess. Seriously, think about it. How many countless TV shows and other movies have you seen dealing with the same premise that worked just fine? I don’t know if it was a horrendous script, tinkering from Hasbro, studio-think or just a combination of all these things that contributed to this mess. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it hurt a bit as a child of the 80s to watch this.”

The Taking of Pelham 123

VPJ: “Let’s just get a few things out of the way before the review proper: firstly, let’s just stop all this ‘the remake is better than the original’ jabber right in its tracks. Director Tony Scott (more about that guy later) and a lot of reviewers are taking potshots at the 1974 original, which is great. Matthau. Robert Shaw. Gritty, unglamorous pre-beautification NYC locations. Shaw’s final scene. Great final line. It’s a good movie. Rent that one. As for this one – it’s…fine. Directed by Ridley Scott’s vastly-less talented little brother (check out this roll call of flashy mediocrity: ‘Deja Vu,’ ‘Domino,’ ‘Spy Game,’ ‘Enemy of the State,’ ‘The Fan,’ ‘Days of Thunder,’ and, of course, ‘Top Gun’), this remake, about a hijacked subway car, employs all of the flashy, superficial tricks in his glossy arsenal. And I mean all of them. This might be the spazziest film in recent memory, catering to the attention span of, I guess, Red Bull/meth addicts. Whip pan! Slow motion! Fast motion! Smash cut! Just…slow…down, buddy, we’re trying to watch a movie. As to the movie itself, it’s the Denzel vs. Travolta show, of course, and their battle of wills is…fine. Denzel, playing the conflicted subway controller, shows that he’s, well, still Denzel. He’s good in it, as usual, although he was better in the similar, but better, ‘Inside Man.’ As for Travolta, he’s fine. I mean, he’s very, very boring, as he has been for about fifteen years, but he’s hamming it up with all his might. It’s not convincing, but, well, at least he’s, um, loud? There’s the collection of good character actors (Michael Rispoli, John Turturro, Luis Guzman) that you can afford when you’re making a big-budget, slightly above average action blockbuster. It’s fine. Watch the original.”

JE: “Let me echo my esteemed colleague’s words: ‘Watch The Original.’ It’s really that simple. Now, I should admit that I am a big, big fan of the gritty NYC movies of the 70s. Something about the look, feel and ambition of the filmmakers, not to mention the great characters, makes for great cinema. I’m talking about ‘The French Connection,’ “Serpico,’ and the original ‘The Taking of Pelham One-Two-Three” to name a few. What makes the original so great, aside from the grimy, claustrophobic backdrop of New York at the time, is the strong characters like Matthau and Shaw, but also great bit parts from character guys you’d recognize like Martin Balsam and Lee Wallace. It’s the story of an every-day subway controller who gets sucked into this tense hostage negotiation. It’s the everyman in wrong place/wrong time. With the update/remake, its harder to buy from The Denzel, mostly because, well, he’s Denzel. Like you say Jonesy, he’s good and reliable (like a classic car), but that doesn’t always make him the best for the job. And as for Travolta, well, good for him for still getting work. Do yourself a favor and rent the original, then rent this remake. While there’s nothing wrong with it, you’ll get a glimpse at what they were trying for…and how they fell short.”

Food, Inc.

VPJ: “I’m a vegetarian. I try not to be one of those vegetarians, though. You know the ones: strident, self-righteous, lecture-y. The ones that hurt the cause of vegetarianism every time they open their mouths. That being said, it’s easier to keep your opinions to yourself when there are people making documentaries like this one, about the megacorporations who control virtually all of the food production in the world. Their methods are about what you’d expect (driving small farmers and entrepreneurs out of business with amoral capitalistic glee), but it’s the meat production stuff that…man. I won’t go into it (I don’t want to be one of those), but this movie will make you angry, queasy, and really, really upset. That’s entertainment!”

JE: “Dammit Jonesy, I thought we had an unwritten agreement we wouldn’t talk about your…condition. Yes Maine, it’s true, I, the bacon-loving crown-prince of carnivores, am good friends with a…vegetarian. We can achieve peace in our time. That said, I like to think of myself as an enlightened meat-lover, who realizes the bad, reprehensible and otherwise icky things that get done in the name of getting a Black Angus ’55 oz Lost Mesa HE-MAN steak slab!’ (Apologies to Mr. Patton Oswalt) I say this because I feel like flicks like this and books like ‘Fast Food Nation’ (but not the movie.) make meat-eaters developer a sort of Catholic-esque guilt about loving the meat. Those feelings aside, if you are someone (like me) who likes learning about where products come from, how industries work and the ways all these things impact you, then check out this movie. Michael Pollan, who appears in this flick, is no stranger to the workings of the food industry and all things eating-related, and I think he makes a more compelling storyteller than say, oh, I don’t know, Michael Moore. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go have a debate with my sandwich over whether I’m going to eat it.”

Lemon Tree

VPJ: “A symbolic drama about a resolute Palestinian widow who tries to keep her new neighbor, an Israeli defense minister, from having the titular beloved tree cut down. It’s exactly the sort of heartfelt, allegorical drama that makes me feel sad and powerless as a would-be artist. We can write all of the humanistic, lovely little films and stories in the world addressing that world’s biggest, most insoluble problems with insight, sensitivity, and love of our fellow man, and some jackass with an exploding vest or a cruise missile renders it all irrelevant and pitifully silly. Maybe I’m just having a bad day…”

JE: “Come on old chum, turn that frown upside down! But you have stumbled on the dirty little secret of good art my friend: even when it conveys a powerful message, it can live in a vacuum, and ultimately effect very little. And that’s a little disheartening. Whether it’s poverty and civil war in Africa or the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, the best movie in the world can only do so much. In this case the story clearly serves as an allegory for the whole conflict around the West Bank. But when that story is brought to life with such rich characters and told in such a moving way, the story becomes something else all together. Ironic, eh? A movie conveys such a strong, poignant message, and yet how much can it actually change? So, uh, hey, wasn’t ‘Clue’ an awesome movie?”

Finally, Videoport brings you the following movies without comment: “I Love You, Beth Cooper,” “Aliens In the Attic,” “Command Performance” (with Dolph Lundgren!), “The Answer Man,” “The Tournament,” and, of course, “Sand Serpents.”

– Will Ferrell’s George W. Bush: Funny, unfunny or overrated?
– Why won’t Justin learn his nostalgia for 80s pop culture is hurting him?
– What’s the best remake you’ve seen lately?

Published in: on November 4, 2009 at 10:03 pm  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I found “You’re Welcome America” unexpectedly poignant, but I haven’t really figured out why yet. I’m probably a closet Republican.

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