Tuesday, September 30, 2008

DVD: The Foot Fist Way

This movie was made by a bunch of dudes from North Carolina a few years ago for roughly fourteen pesos. It sat largely unwatched and unreleased until Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, who have made it their mission to become arbiters of the comedic for all of America via the internet and film, got a hold of it and secured a limited release this year. Not many more people saw it in theaters, but the I'm sure the recent DVD release will see a solid cult following develop around this movie. Not only does it have the endorsement of comedy samurai like Ferrell, McKay, Judd Apatow and Patton Oswalt (who is a quasi-evangelist for the movie), but it's got the sort of perfectly quotable dialogue that can be dropped without notice into any conversation. I personally can't wait until the next time I'm sitting in a restaurant before the meal arrives to say "I'm so hungry I could eat a grown man's ass." However, the theatrical release did see a bit of pushback develope among critics who found the film mean-sprited towards its characters in a way that poisons the humor.

The story of Tae Kwan Do instructor Fred Simmons, played by co-writer Danny McBride, who is coming off of a monster year in which he was the funniest thing about the two biggest comedies of the summer, Pineapple Express and Tropic Thunder, and his struggle to come to grips with his wife's freely dispensed handjobs, has some of the DIY vibe of Napoleon Dynamite, mixed with the existential bleakness of Your Friends and Neighbors. The film is loosely assembled, episodic and largely plotless. More importantly, there is very little in the way of character development. Fred Simmons is a preening dick at the start of the film, and slightly concussed preening dick at the end. In the context of the movie, these aren't really demerits; if the filmmakers had tried to affix a redeeming character arc to their collection of brutal, awkward-comedy vignettes, it would look like a cheap concession to audience expectations. As it stands, the defiantly unsympathetic characters and stunted emotional growth give the proceedings a sense of tactile reality. You don't get the sense of smart-ass filmmakers mocking a bunch of karate-chopping crackers. Rather, it feels like a rancid, sad but bitterly hilarious slice of life culled from experience. The last shot of the movie is a freeze frame of Fred Simmons looking defiantly, yet stupidly into the middle distance. The look on his face brings to mind a line from American Psycho: "this confession has meant nothing." Coming on the heels of ninety minutes of failure and obvliousness and deadly killing systems, the moment is a dark comment on the American psyche. Plus, there seriously high-level comedy in this movie, most of it of the squirm-inducing variety. Not to mention all of those delicious dialogue nuggets that you can hold onto for use at the perfect moment...like during a gang-rape situation.

Score: 8.7

Monday, September 15, 2008

Burn After Reading

In the world according to Joel and Ethan Coen, humans are driven, at base, by two equally powerful and equally dangerous character traits: greed and stupidity. Almost every character in the vast and ever-expanding Coen-verse is defined by their possession of these attributes. The only way to be a hero in a Coen brothers movie is to be stupid without being greedy: I'm talking, of course, about the Dude, here, but also noble idiots like Norville Barnes and H.I. McDougnah. These heroic dunderpates have no opposite number: there aren't a lot of smart but greedy people in the Coen pantheon. Greedheads like Carl Showalter and Jerry Lundegaard are as dumb as you please. This goes to support another central Coen premise: greed makes you stupid.

That premise is on glorious display in the brother's new movie. Two gym employees, the stupid-but-joyful Chad (played by Brad Pitt) and the stupid-and-desperate-for-money-to-pay-for-an-extreme-makeover Linda (Francis McDormand), stumble across a computer disk full of gobbledegook from the harddrive of a recently fired CIA analyst played with vertigious arrogance and seething rancor by John Malkovich. Their bone-headed attempts to extort the analyst and/or sell the "raw intelligence shit" on the open market ripple through the Georgetown townhouses of government middle management, ensnaring, among others, George Clooney's federal marshal, who brings a welcome addition to the Coen cavalcade of character types. Stupid and greedy, meet stupid and horny.

Not to sound too much like Jeff Daniels in The Squid and the Whale, but Burn After Reading is decidedly minor Coens. None of the characters (save Malkovich) make an impression beyond their outsized comic stupidity. The performances are generally amusing. Clooney, in particular, seems to have perfected portraying "smug and oblivous." Brad Pitt is the exception, giving a painfully labored attempt at carefree vapidity that leaves you swearing you can see the flop sweat glistening in his pompadour. The farcical plot machinations lack any sense of forward momentum, with the clockwork seeming to wind down rather than speed to a satisfying conclusion. Part of this is by design: the comedy comes from observing the vast chasm between what the individual characters think is going on and what the audience knows is going on. What seems world historic to them is laughably slight to the observer. But the ramshackle plot reinforces the sense that the whole movie is an undercooked goof, a chance for the Coens to put on screen some random bits of comic business that wouldn't fit in any other project.

Still, it's a wonder that even when the Coens are sipmly having fun with genres and over-the-top mugging by A-list stars, they still manage to inject toss-offs like Burn After Reading or The Ladykillers with a singular, and singularly cynical, worldview. McDormand's character in particular has a tragic edge to her bufoonishness. Her single-minded pursuit of life-altering plastic surgery is what starts off the whole bloody debacle, and there is a great sadness in this that McDormand smartly suggests between her moments of thundering stupidity. Linda Lipske wants to be loved, and only way she thinks that is going to happen is if she mutilates herself into a grotesque parody of the women she sees on television. Like all the ill-fated dim-bulbs who come to grief while scrambling for money in Coen brothers movies, she's making a desperate grab for a cruelly illusory and wholey destructive American dream. Give it up to the Coens: whether it's Granny Smith or carmel-coated, the apple always has a razor in it.

Score: 7.5

DVD: Postal

The comedic sensibility of this film, the first attempt by cinematic abortionist Uwe Boll to make a movie that is funny on purpose, is encapsulated by one striking scene. Boll, playing himself and wearing leiderhosen (because he's German, get it?), gets into a gunfight at his Nazi-themed amusement park, and someone shoots him in the balls. It's filmed with the same sort of flat-footed, wah-waaah style as any other bit of nut-based humor. Of course, Boll, being some sort of Teutonic robot demon from beyond the grave, is unaware that damage inflicted on the human ball sack is only funny if the damage is not permenant. Smacking a dude in the nuts with a nerf bat? Funny. Smashing a guy's nuts until they explode like hairy pinatas? Horrifying. Poor Uwe, he wants to be humorous, but the subtleties get lost in translation. Still, this is by far the best film Boll has made. For the first time, Boll shows an ambition besides exploiting German tax loopholes and the misguided enthusiasm is sort of infectious..like the clap.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Blogging for All!

I know that a few months ago I heralded the return of my political blog, but I ended up just putting one one little, limpdick post. Too much of the stuff I've been thinking lately has been put more eloquently at any number of political blogs, so I didn't feel the need. But the twin inspirations of an absolutely dire movie month and the vile spectacle of the Republican National Convention have propelled me back into pontification mode. I don't know if such inspirado will strike again, but I wrote a couple of long-ass posts that I'm relatively proud of, so please check them out.


September should be a better month for films, what with the Coen brothers laying the smack. I'm also going to post more random crap and lists and such. I don't want to lose you people.