Conflict comes to town! Knife fights! Nazzys! Also…uh…guinea pigs! In this week’s rundown of new releases on DVD Videoport Jones and I revel in Quentin Tarantino’s latest epic and clash over whether ‘The Hangover’ lives up to “guy comedy” standards. Also, there are animated guinea pigs.
Videoport Jones: “Videoport’s owner Bill has decided to file Quentin Tarantino’s new WWII film in our Incredibly Strange section. Sure, maybe he’s just doing so to piss people off (I think he does that sometimes, just for his own amusement), but, watching it, I really think it’s found its proper home. Part of the reason is how different the actual film is from its advertising, which promised a raucous, hyper-violent wartime romp, with Brad Pitt’s all-Jewish squad shooting, stabbing, and scalping their way through an explosion-a-minute action-revenge flick, although a typically-Quentin-y one. And the other part is, well, (and here there be SPOILERS- I DON’T WANNA HEAR ANY COMPLAINTS!!) they kill Hitler! Yup, to me, ‘Inglourious Basterds’ seems like Quentin is reliving his childhood dreams, playing with his army men in the sandbox and imagining how he’d like the war to go. Along the way, the film consists of a series of largely-static virtuoso dialogue scenes where QT reveals himself, again, to be the most self-assured, prankishly-masterful American filmmaker alive; the opening interrogation scene, the standoff in the basement – Tarantino here toys with his characters and the audience like Hitchock on his best day. (And he once again provides his – this time largely international – cast with pages and pages of dialogue which just vibrates up there on the screen; Brad Pitt is hilariously hammy, Christoph Waltz is going to be a big star due to his slyly evil Nazi Jew hunter turn here, I want to see everything French actress Melanie Laurent ever does, and even Mike Myers is used effectively.) The film, with its sequences separated by evocative title cards, builds like a book of interconnected short stories to its gloriously, ridiculously bananas climax. Quentin is clearly having a ball, wrapping the whole enterprise in his own obsessions (the film is as much about the love of film as it is about killin’ Nazzys). Even the last line of the film is a giddily self-referential in joke boast about QT’s regard for his new film. While I think Basterds is, obviously, one of the best films of 2009, I can’t agree that this is his ‘masterpiece’ for a couple of reasons. One, I thought the film became a little less assured as it marched on to its conclusion; never remotely bad, but narratively the film seems to lose some steam even as the action element heated up. Tarantino pal, and ‘Hostel’ director, Eli Roth has neither the physical nor vocal presence to play such a large role (although he does have the crazy eyes). And one big set piece, set incongruously to Bowie, is audacious all right, but it just doesn’t work. As to the whole ‘revisionist wish fulfillment’ aspect of things, well, like I said – the Incredibly Strange section awaits.”
Justin: “I went back and forth for the longest time over seeing this one in the theater. Like most men, I feel like I have a strange relationship with Quentin Tarantino. While I love his devotion to a big-time 70s action-genre schtick, sometimes his coolness gets in the way of, well, his coolness. We get it Quentin, you are a gifted movie maker. I recently caught both ‘Kill Bill Vol. 1’ and ‘Deathproof’ on cable and genuinely had a blast seeing them again (though I am finding I laugh at inappropriate times in his flicks. Is it wrong I was having a hyena outbreak every time a fountain of blood came out of some recently slashed character?) ANYWAY, ‘Inglorious Bastards’ had the whiff of ‘watch as I do something really cool’ from Tarantino, and it flagged me off. And you know what, I regretted that once ‘Inglorious’ disappeared from theaters. I mean look at what he’s working with here: A big gun like Pitt just chewing up the screen and turns from familiar faces like BJ Novak, Samm Levine and Meyers, and oh yeah, a breakout from Waltz. (Is there anyway he doesn’t steal a role in a summer tent pole movie in the next few years?). Throw in the fact that it can technically be classified as a ‘war movie,’ (which I am pretty sure I can’t resist thanks to dude hard-wiring) and I had no business missing this one. (Heck I may even overlook the fact that Eli Roth shows up.) That’s the thing about Tarantino movies. Even when he spends time winking and smirking at the camera, it’s still gonna be a heck of an enjoyable time. Whether or not this is his masterpiece remains to be seen, that’ll likely take multiple viewings, which I got no problem with. Still, I’d submit ‘Jackie Brown’ for masterpiece status, but it has no Nazis.”
VPJ: “This should come as no shock whatsoever to anyone who’s ever read this column, but a well-done juvenile comedy is just my cup o’ off-brand beer. The ’40 Year Old Virgin,’ ‘Knocked Up,’ ‘I Love You Man,’ ‘Funny People,’ ‘Anchorman,’ ‘Talladega Nights’ – I own ’em all, I watch them frequently, and even the much-smarter Mrs. Videoport Jones concedes their charms, for the most part. So, with all the hoopla over ‘The Hangover’ as the sure-fire hilarious ‘guy movie’ of this past summer, have I added it to my dumb-fun DVD shelf? No freaking way. (Mrs. VJ sighs in relief). From director Todd Phillips (whose ‘Old School’ will probably make its way to the shelf at some point), this is easily the most overrated comedy of the year. I had high hopes (even though, apart from ‘Old School,’ Phillips has churned out ‘Road Trip,’ ‘Starsky & Hutch,’ and ‘School for Scoundrels’…ugh). The cast held some promise: cult comic Zach Galifianakis is a hilarious weirdo, Ed Helms (aka Andy Bernard from ‘The Office’) is always money, and I’ve always liked Bradley Cooper’s unsettling combination of handsomeness and crazy-eyes comic intensity. But ‘The Hangover’ pulls off the neat trick of being both manically-busy and incredibly lazy, a combination that equals desperation. The setup’s not bad – bachelor party in Vegas, wake up in the destroyed hotel suite with no memory of the night before, no groom, and follow the clues to put the previous night’s debauch together. But the scenes are shamefully unshaped, the plot is both ramshackle and slapdash (‘slapshackle’?), the roles are badly underwritten (only Helms’ henpecked dentist comes through with any resonance), the dialogue lacks any snap at all, and the film just flails away up there on the screen like Jerry Lewis. I genuinely can’t recall being more let down by a film all year. This is the sort of by-the-numbers, aim-low crude comedy that gives the ‘guy comedy’ genre the bad name that it usually deserves. Adam McKay, Judd Apatow- save us!”
JE: “I’m…I’m speechless. To say nothing of deeply wounded. I thought I knew you Jonesy. I thought we would be high-fiving each other and passing the High Lifes over this one. This…I think this movie gets a special place on the guy movie shelf, a place reserved for the likes of ‘Anchorman,’ ’40 Year Old Virgin,’ and ‘Caddyshack’ among others. Is this a great movie? No. Is it an expertly-made comedy? No. Will its star loose a little shine after multiple viewings? Absolutely. But there is no way this movie doesn’t leave me a ball of crying laughter in the end. ‘Bachelor party gone awry’ is far from original thought anymore, nor is the concept as Vegas as the big-bad. Yes, none of this should work and yet…it makes for a damn entertaining time. This is one of the times where I am going to say that the sum of the parts makes the whole work, even when on first glance the whole seems like a mess. Do we need to have more of a sense of the characters here? I don’t recall needing one of the Channel 4 newsteam in ‘Anchorman?’ And it was more than fine. The unlikely trio of Galifianakis, Helms and Cooper (seriously, you have to commend the studio for not throwing a Paul Rudd, Vince Vaughn, Will Ferrell or Wilson brother in there) is what carries this one along with the sort-of backwards storytelling. Sure it may be akin to ‘Dude, Where’s My Car,’ in some ways, but the rapid-fire laughs, dash of slapstick and fun cameos (heck yes Ken Jeong, Rob Riggle and Mike Tyson) make it entertaining. I took the NXT Gal and we were a wreck after seeing this one in the theater. We’ll have to give a split decision on this one old chum. Hope this doesn’t mean ‘guy comedy’ night is off?”
VPJ: “An amiable-enough little doodle from director Ang Lee, this period piece about a mild-mannered closeted gay guy (cult comic Demetri Martin) who, in trying to save his immigrant parents’ rundown motel, finds himself right in the middle of the negotiations to bring the legendary rock festival to town, is better appreciated in its supporting roles. It’s pleasant and amusing enough, but Lee is hampered here by the scripts ordinariness and his choice of leading man. Martin’s standup persona, sort of a stoned, hipster naif, is moderately amusing, and he doesn’t do badly here as the dutiful son who finds himself in over his head. But he comes off like a less charismatic Jason Schwartzman for the most part and the movie lacks a center. There are, as I said, some rewards to be found on the fringes, with Liev Schrieber (uniquely alive as a cross-dressing Korean war vet), Jonathan Groff (slyly elusive as the seemingly-blissed-out concert organizer) and good ol’ Eugene Levy (as Max Yasgur, the local farmer who leased the Woodstock land, Levy created a folksy but shrewd portrait of Yankee ingenuity), but the film itself fades in your memory as soon as the film fades from your TV.”
JE: “I think this film really underwhelmed people from the start. Trying to capitalize on this summer’s Woodstock anniversary, Lee and the studio were both looking for a new or unique look at this event that has been analyzed almost as much as the moon landing, Watergate and the JFK assassination. This is Problem 1. Problem 2 is that in trying to capitalize on the anniversary they were also competing with a flood of other features, documentaries, specials, books, etc, on Woodstock. And as much as I like Martin, Levy and Schriber, they’re not enough of a draw to get me interested in something I’d probably otherwise skip. (Though I do have the feeling the three of them would be good together in something.) Sure it’s not the worst idea for wrapping a fictional tale around a non-fictional event, but really, I just can’t think of anything compelling about this. I don’t even think people in the ‘Woodstock Generation’ would be moved to see this one. Ang Lee’s field goal/attempts rate remains shaky.”
VPJ: “Let’s be positive about this movie, shall we? Umm…the fact that Zach Galafianakis has two major releases hitting DVD on the same day bodes well for his film career; sure, I didn’t like either of his films, but he’s still a funny guy. Oh whoops – forgot about the whole positive thing. Um, Sam Rockwell and Tracy Morgan are both hilarious guys, and, therefore, hearing them voice CGI guinea pigs isn’t…altogether disagreeable. The same goes for co-stars Niecy Nash, Steve Buscemi, Bill Nighy, Will Arnett, and Jon Favreau – I have long liked their work, and wish them well in all their future endeavors. Oh, and my dad, an otherwise sober and sensible man, has always liked guinea pigs, has one as a pet right now, and occasionally speaks to it in a funny voice. I may purchase him this movie for Christmas. There. Positivity.”
JE: “Yeoman work as always Jonesy. Yes, let’s keep the positivity flowing, shall we? These cutely rendered guinea pigs are secret agents, who alternate fighting bad guys and warding off unruly children. And who among us hasn’t wondered ‘what would it be like if guinea pigs were SECRET AGENTS?!’ Unlike, say James Bond or Jason Bourne, full-grown actual people who can drive cars, shoot weapons and kick people in the face and not come off as comical. And yes, who wouldn’t like a movie where Zach Galafianakis and Tracy Morgan play their manic energies off each other? And we all know how much I love the woefully underrated Sam Rockwell, who was in a little-known movie called ‘Moon’ that did not feature talking CGI rodents. And Nick Cage! It’s got NICK CAGE! And it was produced by…oh wait…am I reading this right? Can we check this? OK, I’ll wait…Really? Jerry Bruckheimer? Jerry ‘BOOM-SPLODEY’ BRUCKHEIMER? Seriously? Positivity’s OVER. NEXT.”
The Other Man
VPJ: “Liam Neeson thinks his wife, Laura Linney, is cheating on him with Antonio Banderas. That’s exactly who I’d suspect, too. But seriously. This is a great cast. Neeson playing hurt is like watching a mountain in pain – there are depths inside that man. Linney’s always solid and sexy, in a plainly-brainy way. And, hey, I think Banderas has gotten a bum deal, critically speaking. Check him out in the early Almodovar films and tell me he’s just a ‘vapid Latin prettyboy’ (not my words). Plus, he was born to play Zorro. All in all, an intriguing combination of actors; please don’t read anything into the fact that that combination has not enticed me to watch it yet.”
JE: “But does Liam go all ‘Taken’ on Banderas? Do they face-off against each other and destroy five city blocks in the process? A winner-take-all fight to the death for Laura Linney’s love (and brainy sexiness, naturally.) Cause I would be first in line at Videoport to rent that flick. As it is this one is not coming up on my radar. But while we’re on the subject, why HAS Banderas fallen off the map? You’re darn right he was born to play Zorro (a movie I enjoyed immensely), and he was similarly good in ‘Desperado.’ I would think he has the goods to make a long career going back and forth between action flicks for the guys and movies where he takes his shirt off for the ladies. Who knows. Interesting fact: This movie is based on a story by Bernhard Schlink, who also wrote ‘The Reader,’ which was turned into a flick you may remember that got Kate Winslet an Oscar. So, you know, there’s that. Use that information as you will.”
Lightening Round! Also this week at Videoport: “Robot Chicken” – Season 4 (Seth Green opens his toybox again), “The Tudors” – Season 3 (The last season of the series, cancelled right before Henry VIII started to pork out), and two new, spazzy Adult Swim shows for the short-attention-spanned among us “The Drinky Crow Show” and “Lucy: The Daughter of the Devil.”
– Did Inglorious Bastards hold up? Could it be Tarantino’s “Masterpiece?”
– Where do you come down on ‘The Hangover?” Team Justin or Team Jonesy?
– Did “Taking Woodstock” suffer from a nostalgia hangover?