Friday, August 17, 2007


I like to think that I have a pretty broad taste in comedy. At least, it seems to me that I find more things funny than most of my friends. My absolute favorite type of comedy is, essentially, the stuff that my friends and I say to each other. Whenever I see a credible representation of young-dudes-making-raunchy-fun-of-each-other comedy, I wet myself with joy, mostly because its so goddamn rare. This preference of mine largely explains my man-love for comedy producer Judd Apatow. His films, like 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up do that kind of comedy better than anyone else. And, with Superbad, Apatow (who only didn't even direct this one) has created the single most recognizable, poignant, and hilarious representation of young male cameraderie I have ever seen on screen.

The only real critique of the film I can muster is that the first twenty or so minutes, in which the two leads, Jonah Hill, fat, loud, sex-obsessed, all to the good, and Michael Cera, a stammering nebbish with impeccible comic timing, stalk the halls of their high school, are several degrees of magnitude funnier than the rest of the movie. The antics of the pair conform to the classic "Let's Get Laid" plot template, and the versimilitude suffers as a result. Still, because of those wacky antics, Superbad could be poised to become this generation's iconic coming-of-age movie. If it does, then this is a very lucky generation of horny young men: me and mine had to make due with the brain-dead antics of the American Pie troupe. You could fit the comedic chops of Chris Klein, Sean William Scott, Tera Reid, Mena Suvari, and that kid from Rookie of the Year inside one of Jonah Hill's ass cheeks.

Also, while watching this film, be on the look out for a scary, steroidal Krumholtz in one scene, and Down Syndrome Colin Meloy in the climactic party sequence.

Score: 9.2

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum


The presidencies of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush have a lot in common. What with the illegally starting (or expanding) wars, the spying on and demonizing of domestic political opponents, the massive corruption and secrecy endemic to their respective regimes, they could have been long long twins, seperated by time and a hundred or so IQ points. It stands to reason that both administrations saw the flourishing of similar film genres. Much has been made of the renassaince in 70s-style horror films during the Bush years. Similarly, there has been a resurgence in paranoid political thrillers of the Parrallax View/3 Days of the Condor ilk. The best of this new breed (the Manchurian Candidate remake, Syriana), try to mix gripping action with trenchant political insight, and do a fair job. Manchurian delivers the tension, but the finale undermines the subversive politics. Syriana offers the most throughgoing leftist critique of American political structures to get a mainstream release, but lacks genuine thrills. And so it falls to Paul Greengrass to finally strike the perfect balance of relevance and ass-kicking with The Bourne Ultimatum, the best film of the trilogy, and easily the most penetrating.

On the "thriller" tip, Ultimatum delivers like Dominos, with kinetic chase scenes across London train stations, Morroccan rooftops, and New York streets, all filmed with your typical Greengrassian immediacy. The scene at Waterloo station is worth the price of admission. In this way, the third film follows in the tradition of the first two. What makes Ultimatum to a level not reached in the previous entries of the series is its striking use of allegory.

Bourne's quest throughout the trilogy has been to discover his identity: who he was before he became a government assassin, and who made him into one in the first place. The answer to the first question is, David Webb, U.S. Army Captain, formerly of Nixon, MO. The answer to the second question: David Webb, U.S. Army Captain, formerly of Nixon, MO. Bourne's amnesia leaves him alienated from the person he was. He is horrified at the idead that he is a murderer and assumes that some other must be responsible for his fate. The new, memory-erased Bourne can't square his image of himself with that of a cold-blooded killer, in league with ruthless black-bag artists like David Strathairn's CIA chief. Like many Americans who have woken up to find that their country is a torturer, an illegal occupier of foreign lands, and a right-s-trampling surveillence state, Bourne asks the question, "how did I get here?" Like Bourne, many of these same Americans have difficulty accepting their own responsibility for what has happened. Bourne's amnesia doubles for the historical amnesia that has defined American conciousness for generations. When a people have collectively failed to record vast chunks of their national history in order to maintain their sense of themselves as inhabitors of a righteous land, they are confounded and traumatized anew every time the knives come out. How are people who have blocked out the memories of slavery, Indian removal, Japanese internment, the overthrow of elected governments in Guatamala, Iran, Chile, Greece, etc, etc, and a decade-long holocaust in Southeast Asia supposed to make sense of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and Haditha? These concerned citizens, previously untroubled in their collective ignorance, are as puzzled by their country as Bourne is by his prior bad acts, and just as eager to find someone else to blame it all on. That makes the ending of Ultimatum that much more effective: when Bourne discovers that he joined the Treadstone assassin program willingly, and, in fact, killed an unarmed and unknown man at point-blank range to prove himself worthy, it obliterates all of Bourne's previous appeals to vengeance and righteousness towards those who "made him" into a killer. Likewise, Americans must answer the challenge that our history represents, and must ask ourselves what forces inside each of us, and inside our collective nature, compell us to savagery.

Score: 9.0

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Simpsons Movie

I've been putting off writing this review for a while because I just can't really put into words the way The Simpsons Movie made me feel. As an animated comedy, it's pretty straight forward: there are solid chuckles throughout, the plot is coherent and lacking the lazy po-mo non sequiters of latter-era Simpsons episodes, and there are reasonably resonant emotional touches. My problem is explaining what seperates the servicable comedy of The Simpsons Movie with the deliriously amazing comedy of mid-90s Simpsons TV show episodes. What it comes down to is that, a week later, I can't remember a single joke from the movie that I laughed at. On the other hand, there are jokes from those Golden Era Simpsons episodes that are written on my brain with lightning. You can't really blame the movie for failing to be transcendently funny. I guess you just have the blame the second law of thermodynamics.

Score: 7.4