Monday, November 16, 2009

Blood Lust, Caution

“So the lion fell in love with the lamb,” vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) tells Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart). “What a stupid lamb,” the smitten Bella pants at him. Edward wryly and tenderly counters with a half-chuckle, “What a sick, masochistic lion.” Ladies and gentlemen, behold the wonderful awfulness of Twilight. Funny, I felt kind of stupid and masochistic for watching it. I always knew that I would watch it, though. I haven’t been consciously avoiding it (hmm, maybe I have been a little - I‘m a Harry Potter girl, so I think there‘s a little spite there), but it took me awhile to get around to it. But what perfect timing! I took the plunge less than a week before the next installment hits theaters. I (masochistically, perhaps) signed up to review New Moon for a site I’ve been writing for, so this was my necessary homework. I mean, I’m sure I could have managed the sequel without seeing this one first, but alas, it was just my time for Twilight. It was just my time. I’m not going to lie or make excuses - I’ve been dying to see it. Part of me is always going to be a squealing teenage girl. I’ve been so curious about the phenomenon. Signing up to review New Moon was no accident; it was my motivation, my way in, at long last.

Twilight isn’t a great movie by any means. In fact, the more I think about it, the more glaring the problems become. In the moment, though, I enjoyed it quite a bit. For sheer, mindless entertainment - and let me stress the mindless part - it’s good stuff. Her mom wants to go on the road with her new husband, so Bella Swan, a high school junior, decides to leave Phoenix and go live with her dad in middle-of-nowhere Forks, Washington, a rainy, dreary place (ideal if you’re a vampire). The town is very small, so the new girl is exotic and instantly popular, even though Bella doesn’t particularly give people any real reason to like her. She’s pretty bland, actually, but I‘ll talk more about that later. Bella is intrigued by the independent Cullen clan, especially broodingly gorgeous Edward. You know from the instant she sees him that the two are destined to fall in love. They’re partnered up in biology class, but it seems like Edward can’t stand the smell of her. Bella thinks that she repulses him. It turns out that her scent was just too intoxicating to him. He craved her blood more than he had ever craved human blood before. She was irresistible to him; he even calls her “my own personal brand of heroin.” Insert eye roll here. Even after saving her life superhero-style (he has super-strength and super-speed), he insists that they stay away from each other, but of course, that’s not going to happen. She won’t let it.

Bella is fascinated by Edward; he’s a mystery, and she needs to solve him. We know that Edward is a vampire, but it takes Bella about half of the two-hour running time to figure it out. Once it was out in the open, I enjoyed the movie a lot more. I just found their interactions much more interesting when they could talk about it. Overall, I think Twilight is a bit long. It was a little too slow on the set-up, and since this is the first in a series, there’s a ton of set-up. Oh, before I forget, there’s a lot more going on plot-wise: Edward‘s vampire family (I found them delightful - they have some great scenes, including a very awkward, refreshingly unconventional, and funny dinner visit with Bella at their home), rival vampires who actually do kill humans (Edward’s family sustains on animal blood), Bella’s developing relationship with her estranged father, and Native Americans with an ancestral connection to wolves who have a legendary beef with Edward’s kind (one young man named Jacob, played by Taylor Lautner, is especially interested in Bella - cue impending love triangle!). The other plot elements aren’t superfluous, per se; it’s just that nothing else matters except the love story between Bella and Edward. Director Catherine Hardwicke doesn’t care about anything else, and consequently, neither do we. But it’s okay, because the swooning love story is the best part.

I haven’t read the books by Stephenie Meyer, and I’m not sure if I ever want to. I think the movies (yes, that’s plural - it’s a visual potato chip, you can’t watch just one) will be enough for me. I suspect that the books might make me want to throw things, that her flowery, seemingly aimless prose would grate on me. More importantly, I’m really angry with Meyer for wasting a critical opportunity to give the young masses a female character with strength and substance. There’s nothing strong or substantial about Bella whatsoever! Instead, Meyer has given young girls a simpering heroine whose identity is totally and inextricably linked with a man. Edward IS her identity. And he’s all protective of her, which sounds sweet, but it’s just his way to control her. He owns her, and she seems fine and dandy with being a possession. Bella also rather easily makes up her mind that she wants to become a vampire so that she can live forever with Edward. Is that all that she aspires to, really? Doesn’t she want anything else out of life? I know that not every book or movie has an obligation to be a shining beacon of powerful womandom, but come on, Bella is absolutely ridiculous. She’s weak and pitiful. And what makes the whole thing even more abominable is that this is a movie directed by a woman, written by a woman, and based on a book by a woman…tsk tsk, ladies. Way to represent. I feel sorry for all of the young girls who are undoubtedly looking up to Bella as a role model. They deserve better. Shame on you, Ms. Meyer.

Not only does Bella make me ashamed to be a woman, she’s not even interesting as a character. I don’t get why people like her, and I certainly don’t understand Edward’s instantaneous, undying devotion to her. What does she have to offer? What does she bring to the table? She’s totally devoid of personality, but she’s pretty, so therefore she has value, and everyone fawns all over her. Great message. I think Meyer and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg have confused mopiness with depth. Seriously, why are we supposed to care about her? Edward doesn’t have much going on other than constant brooding and good looks either, but he’s not the protagonist, Bella is. Bella being so boring is unforgivable. Ugh. She kind of makes me sick.

Twilight and Harry Potter don’t really have much in common, but they’re definitely compared, and it annoys me, because Twilight doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Harry Potter. They’re both global phenomenons aimed at a certain age group and dealing with the extraordinary (magic, vampires), but the similarities end there. I’ve always asserted rather emphatically that Harry Potter, in whatever incarnation, is far superior to Twilight, and after finally exposing myself to Twilight, I was right. Twilight is nothing compared to Harry Potter. For starters, the target demographic is obviously totally different. I can’t imagine many young males picking up a copy of Twilight. In fact, I don’t see many males reading Twilight at all, no matter what age. Actually, I don’t even think Twilight would appeal to women over a certain age (what that age is, exactly, I’m not sure - I’m a writer, not a sociologist). Twilight is smut (tame smut, but smut nonetheless) for teenage girls. Harry Potter, while maybe more popular with females and younger readers, is kind of a gender leveler that appeals to all ages. Also, with Twilight, what you see is exactly what you get. There’s absolutely nothing else going on there, no subtext or deeper meaning, nothing at stake (ha, pun totally intended). And even though Harry Potter takes place in a more fantastical world, the way the material is written in the books (J.K. Rowling is a genius/goddess) and approached in the films makes it feel relatable and real, way more than anything in Twilight. Both series also deal with growing up and the angst that process entails, but Harry Potter does it far more successfully, with intuitiveness and intelligence and resonance. I could go on and on about this subject forever, possibly even in a thesis, so I have to stop myself now. In short: yay Harry Potter, boo Twilight.

As far as the filmmaking in Twilight goes, it’s a mixed bag. The special effects are cringe-inducingly awful, pedestrian really, but the cool cinematography (cool as in lots of blue) by Elliot Davis is quite striking. The film has a gorgeous look to it, but the script is abysmally cheesy. Granted, I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know how much of it is simply adapted cheese versus organic (my gut tells me the onus falls primarily on Meyer). The score by frequent Coen-collaborator Carter Burwell (what are you doing, man?!) is ominously beautiful, but the directing by Catherine Hardwicke (capable of insight and greatness, i.e. Thirteen) is negligible at best. The acting is decent but nothing terribly special. Some performances are definitely better than others. For instance, I found the supporting actors comprising the Cullen clan vibrant and engaging (especially the earnest Peter Facinelli and the spunky Ashley Greene). Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson…eh, what can I say? To be fair, they’re not required to do much except for heave at each other and brood, and I guess they do that well enough. They both have a strong presence, for sure, and they look good on screen, but that’s about it. I don’t foresee a whole lot of growth in their performances throughout the rest of the series, which is probably largely due to the fact that their characters are so glaringly one-note. Still, I don’t think these two young actors will be challenging themselves much here. It’s a shame, because I know both are capable of better, especially Stewart.

The vampire lore is so ludicrous. I thought vampires were supposed to burst into flames in the light, not sparkle like diamonds. It’s truly Vampire Lite. And for all of its smuttiness, Twilight is actually pretty tame. There’s a lot of heavy breathing but very little follow-through. It’s all talk, all foreplay with no consummation. It’s really kind of juvenile. So…why did I like it so much?What’s wrong with me?! I’ve talked forever and a day about all of its problems, but when it comes down to it, I was really, really into Twilight. It got under my skin, deep, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. I even dreamt about it! Logic be damned, I enjoyed the smut, the absurd melodrama, and the swooning romance. Oh, it’s so achingly, unabashedly romantic! I was enraptured by Bella and Edward, sucked in by the intensity of their heaving, whimpering, creepily dependent love. Stewart and Pattinson have smoldering chemistry, and it’s dizzying, hot even. And I never thought I would say this, but I thought Robert Pattinson was positively dreamy! I feel like I’ve gone into arrested development or something. As a woman, I’m affronted by its misogynistic, anti-feminist implications; as a person with a brain, I’m appalled by its idiocy. But so help me…I liked this silly, stupid movie…a lot. On some sick level, I might even love it. I feel like a hypocrite, and I kind of hate myself for it, but there it is. Twilight is mesmerizing nonsense, the guiltiest of all guilty pleasures. I was intoxicated by it.

I can’t wait to see the sequel. I need more. Twilight has become my own personal brand of heroin, I guess. In voice-over, Bella says about Edward, “I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him.” Well, that’s how I feel about Twilight. I’m in now…unconditionally and irrevocably. Sigh. What have I done?

Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Over the past five months, I’ve seen a handful of films in theaters: Up, Public Enemies, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Cold Souls, and Inglourious Basterds. With each one, I was determined to make a comeback. And then, one by one, they all faded away. It’s not that they weren’t memorable (quite the contrary, actually); I just failed in my attempts at writing. Too much time passed, and I was convinced that the next film would be the one, and so on. Well, I’m not reviewing any of those films today. The film that has brought me back from the dead (so to speak, of course) is…drum roll, please…Zombieland. My first review of a 2009 release and my first blog post in over 6 months, and I’m talking about zombies? Go figure. As unexpected as this review is, though, I'm embracing it. I don’t know why this film is the one, it just is. Zombieland is a thrilling surprise. I thought I would like it and that it would be a lot of fun, but I had no idea just how phenomenal the experience would be.

Zombieland is a fantastic film from start to finish. I would even call it a masterpiece. It’s so much more than just a zombie movie. In fact, I wouldn’t even put it in that genre. This is a coming-of-age comedy, and a witty, exhilarating one at that. The apocalyptic story centers around Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), a college-aged loner with phobias and issues galore, as he survives in what he dubs “Zombieland.” Basically, humanity has been ravaged by a virus (some advanced form of Mad Cow, hilariously enough) that turns people into zombies. Columbus is one of the few humans left on the face of the earth, and he has survived this long because, well, he was never much of a people person to begin with, so it was easier for him to remain uninfected. He also has a set of rules that he follows obsessively (these include: “don’t be a hero" and “beware of bathrooms"). He meets up with Woody Harrelson’s Tallahassee, a zombie killing machine, and the resourceful Wichita and her little sister Little Rock (they‘re all given geographical names). The four of them become bonded together, reluctantly and inextricably.

Everyone is on a quest for something (that‘s great screenwriting): Tallahassee wants to find a Twinkie and destroy as many zombies as possible (he has an understandable chip on his shoulder), Wichita wants to keep Little Rock safe and to bring her to an amusement park in California so that she can be a kid again, Little Rock wants to stick with her sister and go to said amusement park, and Columbus is initially searching for his parents and his home, but when he meets Wichita, he starts looking within himself and embarks on a journey of romantic/sexual awakening and self-discovery. They all find home in each other. Isn’t that sweet? I’m not being sarcastic either, I really mean it. Zombieland is wonderfully sweet without ever being sappy.

All sweetness aside, there is a TON of violence and blood in Zombieland. It works as a parody of zombie flicks, as well as a zombie movie on its own terms. It’s uncompromisingly gory and unabashedly silly. The visual effects are astounding, from the zombies themselves to the stunts to Columbus’ rules intermittently popping up on the screen and moving around. Michael Bonvillain’s cinematography is gorgeously muted and at the same time vibrant and visceral. David Sardy’s score really got under my skin, in a really good way. It’s very insistent and powerful, and at times seriously beautiful, especially during the climax of the film. The only problem I have with it, actually, is that it isn’t available to the public to buy or download. That needs to be fixed immediately. The production design by Maher Ahmad and set decoration by Gene Serdena are exquisite. The world is so amazingly believable. I was especially blown away by the look of the amusement park. The running time is perfect; it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and it doesn’t waste any time getting into the story. Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s script is impeccably brilliant, and Ruben Fleischer’s direction is relaxed (he lets the actors explore their characters), yet purposeful and confident, with great flair. Zombieland is pretty much the total package.

The cast is incredible. I loved seeing Abigail Breslin holding Woody Harrelson at gunpoint and then later describing Hannah Montana to him. She really holds her own here and challenges herself by doing something different. I’ve been a fan of Emma Stone since Superbad, and I think she’s poised to become a big star. She has an ease about her that instantly elicits the viewer's empathy. And she’s a strong, kickass female presence. Her performance as Wichita is multi-faceted and memorable. Jesse Eisenberg is similar to Michael Cera in persona and acting style, I don’t think anyone will deny that, but Eisenberg is more likeable, doesn’t seem as needy, and has more going on than just the persona (I'm not sure that Cera does, though he does do his shtick extremely well). I think Eisenberg has significantly more depth and range than Cera. He’s adorably loveable as neurotic, geeky Columbus, and he has that quality that just makes you want to root for him. Even though this is totally an ensemble effort, Woody Harrelson stood out the most for me. He’s hot (really? did I just say that?), hilarious, and moving - he's just awesome. There’s also an epic cameo, but I’ll let you discover that on your own. *wink*

I absolutely LOVED Zombieland. I honestly can’t find a single thing that I didn’t like about it. It does exactly what it sets out to do. It’s funny as hell, smart, sweet, suspenseful, romantic, touching, exciting, exuberant, and emotionally engaging - it’s perfect. I couldn’t ask for anything more. Well played, Zombieland. And thank you.

Rating: ***** (out of 5 stars)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Question: Would a Rose by Any Other Name Smell as Sweet?

Answer: When the rose is an iconic building, no. No, no, no. NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO! NO!!!! No.

Le sigh.

Chicago is experiencing an identity crisis, courtesy of the egomaniacs at Willis Group. Who? Exactly. Our beloved Sears Tower is soon to become the Willis Tower. And I thought the British stopped colonizing a long time ago...

I'm very much of the opinion of this editorial piece from the Daily Herald (originally here):

"Let this be a lesson to whomever buys Wrigley Field. The name matters.

Apparently, Willis Group Holdings of London thought they could just march across the pond and rename an iconic building and no one would notice or care.

Granted, we in the Chicago area don't have as much history as England boasts, but, hey, three decades of calling the tallest building in the United States the Sears Tower means something to us.

'With the Sears Tower name having international cachet, you could argue that imposing a new name might be kind of cheeky on their part,' Tim Samuelson, Chicago's cultural historian, told The New York Times.

Perhaps Willis should have done a little homework first and talked to some Chicagoans. Instead, their chief executive told the Chicago Tribune he was surprised at the uproar. And its spokesman told our reporter Jamie Sotonoff that 'This is a new day, and over time, Chicagoans may come to embrace the Willis name.'

We wouldn't count on it. And we wouldn't count on most of us ever calling the building anything but Sears Tower.

As Sotonoff detailed in a story Saturday, we cling to the name we know even when politicians or business execs try to foist new monikers on us.

Granted, United had an easier time getting buy-in on the new United Center because the old Chicago Stadium was demolished. The same could have been said for U.S. Cellular Field, but even tearing down the old Comiskey Park has done nothing to get regular usage of the new name.

Politicians think it's honorable to rename our tollways for politicians and do-gooders. And that's well and good. But the directionally challenged or those who like using numbers for their roads still are in the majority, so the Reagan Tollway, for example, is still the East-West Tollway or I-88 to most of us.

We know Willis has every right to rename the building. They paid $2 million for 140,000 square feet of office space for 500 employees and got the naming rights thrown in. Normally, that would be great news, especially in these trying times. And most of it is.

But as noted earlier, the name counts. Nothing against Macy's really, but it's still hard for many to embrace the store that took over Marshall Field's. That's probably not as evident in the stores Macy's built since they came to town, but it certainly is for the venerable department store building they took over on State Street.

Macy's has had to spend a lot of money overcoming those obstacles in Chicago. But Willis, a global retail insurance broker, has no direct dealings with consumers. They have no image to build up. So why?

'It's ego,' Bob Killian, CEO of Chicago-based Killian Advertising, told Sotonoff.

Yes, we can hear them denying that all the way from London: 'Whatchoo talkin' 'bout Willis,' they might say.

Hmmm. We might say that too."

Step off, Willis. When you mess with Chicago, you mess with Chicagoans. We're bloody pissed. And not like you'd care, but our rich history is full of much more than just buildings...perhaps you've heard of Al Capone? I'm just saying...

Readers, please help preserve Chicago's heritage and sign the petition at:

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Disorder of the Phoenix

Is it performance art? Is it mental illness and/or drug addiction? You decide!

Whatever it I...I'm just...speechless. Holy hell, Joaquin...

Friday, March 6, 2009

A Knight's Tale

"I'm not good at future planning. I don't plan at all. I don't know what I'm doing tomorrow. I don't have a day planner and I don't have a diary. I completely live in the now, not in the past, not in the future.” - Heath Ledger

Hey folks, remember this?

And then my full-blown homage for the midnight screening? (Taken in the bathroom by myself, thank you very much.)

Newcomers to my blog, that is me. Maybe it’s not the best first impression, but oh well. I embraced my inner freak in honor of Heath Ledger. This is me before the midnight screening of The Dark Knight, some time during the 11 p.m. hour on July 17, 2008. I was, surprisingly, one of very few people who dressed up or otherwise made themselves really visible in a crowd for the sake of the film. I was damn proud, though. And I looked good. In fact, I believe I was the only female with Joker make-up on at all. I was certainly the most drastic. How cool of a chick am I?

It’s over 7 months later. In that time, The Dark Knight became the second highest-grossing film of all time and an instant classic (check its prestigious place on the IMDB Top 250), and Heath Ledger posthumously OWNED awards season, capping it off with his much-deserved Oscar on February 22nd (exactly 13 months from this death). And…we get to the heart of this ridiculous review postponement…literally. When I typed out Heath Ledger’s name, my heart skipped a beat, and it feels like a bunch of bats are flapping around in my stomach. I had to accept that he was really gone a long time ago. I did it in the form of a written tribute, which you can check out here. It took me awhile to write that after he died, but nowhere near as long as it’s taken me to write this review. To write this review, I would have to face it all over again…rip off the still-fresh scab and mourn him once more in a major way. Every letter I type is a knife to my heart. Once you see how long this review is (and maybe that’s your warning to get out now if you’re not up for it), you’ll understand why my heart has more holes than Shia LaBeouf.

I saw The Dark Knight a few times in theaters (once in IMAX - it was I-MAZING). No review. And then time passed. Well, it had to be totally fresh in my mind, so I wanted to wait until I could see it again before writing about it. I owed it to the film and to Heath. So, I waited until December, when it was released on DVD. I watched it again. No review. I saw more movies and didn’t believe I could write the review and do it justice until I sat down and watched it AGAIN. It continued this way for awhile. I wanted to watch it on the one year anniversary of Heath Ledger’s death, which, incidentally, was also the day he was nominated for an Oscar for his role in The Dark Knight. I thought it would be perfect to post my review that day. But it didn’t happen. At the very least, I wanted to post something, even just a picture of him and a few words saying how much we still missed him a year later, that he had never left my thoughts or my heart, to congratulate him on his achievement, and to thank him for being him. I couldn’t even do that. I couldn’t even put up a simple post. I regret it so much. I feel like I failed him. I’m sorry, Heath.

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen The Dark Knight at this point. Almost ten maybe? Like Rachel Dawes and her legal briefs, I know this film backwards now. I kept insisting that I couldn’t write my review unless I had JUST watched it, so I was able to procrastinate for a long time. I really wasn’t doing it consciously. I sincerely believed that it couldn’t be done any other way. I still believe that my multiple viewings will help this review, but I probably could have done it just as well long ago. Who knows? It doesn’t matter. And I HAVE, incidentally, watched it recently (most of it anyway), just before the Oscars. I haven’t finished it, but you know what? I think I’m ready anyway…if the tears will only stay out of my eyes long enough. I was mainly re-watching it so that I could document Heath Ledger’s performance as vividly and with as much detail as he brought The Joker to life. But honestly, every second of Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight was indelibly burned into my very being on that first viewing at midnight over 7 months ago. Well, this one’s for you, Heath. Now, a deep breath, and here…we…go.

The Dark Knight is not a “superhero movie”; it is a film drama that contains action and suspense and just happens to have a superhero in it. It is a transcendently perfect, and dare I say the only, example of the fusion of blockbuster and art. Titanic had the numbers but not really the elements of a blockbuster. The Dark Knight looks like a blockbuster, sounds like a blockbuster, and continues to have the success of a blockbuster, but it also has serious artistic credibility. You’re a wizard, Christopher Nolan. Tim and Joel who? Nolan’s Batman films are THE definitive Batman films, and The Dark Knight easily surpasses the didn’t-think-it-could-get-any-better superbness of Batman Begins. As for a third film…well, it will be hard for Nolan to top The Dark Knight, let me just put it that way. I don’t know if he should even try, but that’s a discussion for another time and place. In The Dark Knight, the stakes are higher. People and things matter, souls are bruised, damaged, and constantly at risk, and there’s enough pathos and neuroses to fill, nay, overflow Lake Michigan. It is worthy of what is perhaps my favorite adjective to describe a film. It is…wait for it…delicious.

Initially, I thought the plot was unnecessarily convoluted and a tad boring. I am no longer of this opinion. When you see a midnight screening, or any packed screening but especially the midnight one, you have to be prepared to miss about 55% of the dialogue due to boisterous audience reaction. And it’s okay, it’s just part of an experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Usually, though, this necessitates a second viewing. If you care enough to see the midnight showing, you’re probably not just going to see the movie once in theaters anyway. The Dark Knight has a lot of dialogue that explains the plot, so if you miss a significant portion of it, you have a problem. You‘re bored, lost, or screwed. On that note, I have to congratulate Nolan and company, yet again, for making a blockbuster in which the story challenges you and rewards diligent watching. They so could have been lazy about it. The story could have been total crap, and the film would have made just as much money. I appreciate the effort so much, and with each subsequent viewing, I’ve only admired the story more and more. Everything clicks together in gloriously labyrinthine fashion.

Since everyone has seen The Dark Knight (I heard Osama bin Laden got a Blu-Ray player just to watch this film) and given my description of the plot as “labyrinthine,” I’m going to do something that is against every fiber of my being as a critic and NOT summarize the plot. Stop it, nagging stomach monster! I just think my time is better utilized elsewhere in this review. The themes that are explored within the plot are epic, timeless, and rooted in the deepest literary traditions: good versus evil, sanity versus insanity, law versus anarchy, order versus chaos, morality (“Know your limits, Master Wayne”), corruption, greed, mortality, honor…just to name a few. I love how deep this film goes, and how brazenly it does so. See? It IS possible for a summer blockbuster to make you think.

I think Chicago is the greatest city in the world; the fact that it also doubles as Christopher Nolan’s Gotham City is simply icing on the cake. The Dark Knight utilizes Chicago to previously untapped awesome potential. I don’t think anyone has ever captured its essence on film better than Christopher Nolan. I practically burst with pride knowing that I can look at the film and go, “That’s MY city.” I recognize the landmarks. I’ve seen those views. I’ve been to those places. Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Christopher Nolan…they were HERE. My feet have walked the same ground. I’ve probably stood in some of the very same spots. I remember stalking this one desolate shooting area a couple summers ago for HOURS, taking more laps than a NASCAR driver, waiting oh-so-hopefully for someone to emerge from a trailer, and being okay with it when no one did because I could feel them there. I was a part of it, even for the smallest moment in time. What a rush. Christopher Nolan, director of photography Wally Pfister, production designer Nathan Crowley, set decorator Peter Lando, and a team of art directors turned Chicago into a Gothic Gotham wonderland worthy of F.W. Murnau or the most Expressive Germans. Sweet home Chicago, baby.

If the film didn’t look good enough already, check out the visual effects. The chase scene with The Joker (in a semi), Batman (in the Batmobile-turned-Batpod), and Harvey Dent (in an armored police truck) is one of the best action sequences ever. Period. It’s SO exciting and masterfully choreographed. The seamless blending of visual effects trickery and actual stunt work (That’s a real truck that flips over! And I KNOW that street!) is mind-blowing. This is the power of moviemaking, its ability to inspire awe and create magic. The truck flipping over and barreling down the street at the screen is the Lumière Brothers’ 1895 film The Arrival of the Train: Redux. You can witness the history of cinema unfolding as you watch The Dark Knight, and it’s thrilling.

The editing looks effortless (though I know it couldn’t have been easy!), the sound design is impeccable (the sounds of Gotham penetrate the darkest recesses of your mind), the script by Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan Nolan (with story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer) is marvelous and should have been nominated for an Oscar, just like Christopher Nolan (especially) should have been for his directing. Let’s be real - The Dark Knight got the shaft at the Oscars (The Lord of the Rings but NOT The Dark Knight? Come on, people!). Christopher Nolan is present in every frame of the film, and his command of this massive project is nothing short of Herculean.

For me, though, the most egregious Oscar snub against The Dark Knight was the random disqualification of Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s brilliant and innovative score from contention. It wasn’t even eligible to be nominated! I don’t know what stupid reason the Academy came up with this time, nor do I care. They’re idiots no matter what reason was given. This score should have been recognized. It’s dark, twisted, and ominous at times, heroic and soaring at others, and always a powerful driving force that is integral to the film’s overall success. The track they created as The Joker’s theme had to do Heath Ledger and his performance justice, and it does. Man, does it. Listen:

They got it so right. All of it. What magnificent work from two amazing composers.

Acting: the final piece of the astounding puzzle that is The Dark Knight. Now, I need to make it clear that Heath Ledger is the focus of this review. For me, it can’t be any other way. I apologize to the other cast members (main and supporting); this is not a slight on you by any means. This cast has electrifying chemistry and is one of the strongest and best ensembles of the year. I don’t want to dismiss the significance and brilliance (some more significant and brilliant than others, but I’ll get to that) of their performances. I’m sorry, but the enormity of Heath Ledger and his work as The Joker eclipses the cast, crew, and the entire film. That’s where I’m at with my review, and I honestly don’t think his “Dark Knight family,” as Gary Oldman called them, would have it any other way either.

So, let me try to run through the other performances as non-dismissively as possible. Eric Roberts admirably and smarmily steps in for Tom Wilkinson as slick, charming mob boss Salvatore Maroni (Never fear, Mickey Rourke! Eric Roberts IS getting work!), Cillian Murphy (love him!) makes the psychotic most of his far-too-brief cameo as The Scarecrow. Maggie Gyllenhaal...ugh. You ARE the weakest link. Goodbye. Seriously, she sucks. She normally doesn’t, so I don’t get what happened here, but she really is terrible. Way to represent for the ladies, Mags. But Gotham is a man’s world, right? And I’m okay with that.

I feel a bit sad for Christian Bale because I think Batman is sort of a thankless role. Don’t get me wrong, in Nolan’s films, Batman/Bruce Wayne is a trillion times better than the shmuck in the other movies (especially Michael Keaton - LORD, is that man dull…). He’s a compelling character, and we got really involved in his evolution in the stellar Batman Begins (an impressive origin story, indeed), but The Dark Knight is back to being all about the villains. It’s inevitable, perhaps. Anyway, Bale’s Batman is pissed all the time (after the release of his tantrum on the set of Terminator: Salvation, maybe it wasn‘t a stretch). He punches really hard and growls more than Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino. But his rage is palpable, ferocious, and utterly believable. He’s equally good when he’s self-doubting, tormented Bruce Wayne. Bale’s worthy of being called the Dark Knight.

Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are, well, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman. They’re great, of course! Both are sassy and sincere in their roles. Caine brings such a dignified, compassionate, melancholy gravity to Alfred, and Freeman is commanding and noble as the smart as hell Lucius Fox. If I can be superficial for a moment (and I think I’ve done enough analysis to earn it!), could Aaron Eckhart BE any more good-looking? What a dreamboat. He has the most genuine, trustworthy face, and to play Harvey Dent, it's ALL about the face...right? The casting of Eckhart as Gotham’s White Knight is spot-on (I can’t see anyone else in the role). He can disarm you as soon as look at you (I mean, swoon! Who WOULDN’T believe in Harvey Dent?), but watch out when he dabbles with his dark side. He’s downright frightening (and he has to compete with Heath Ledger‘s terrifying-ness, so it‘s even more impressive). But Harvey struggles with his choices and morals, and Eckhart makes us care deeply about the character. Eckhart undergoes a startling transformation with Harvey Dent that is something to behold. His character has, without question, the biggest and most dramatic arc. Aaron Eckhart easily could have gotten nominated for Best Supporting Actor. He hasn’t gotten enough credit.

Speaking of not getting enough credit, I want to hug Gary Oldman for his work in The Dark Knight. What he does with Jim Gordon is nothing short of a miracle. And he totally NAILS that Chicago accent. Oh, to hear him say, “Da Bears,” just one time… I adore him. Even more than Aaron Eckhart (marginally, though - it’s a tough call), Oldman does award-quality acting in this film. I would even argue that Gary Oldman SHOULD have gotten a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He takes my breath away in The Dark Knight. He’s the ultimate good guy, but he's never a wimp. I totally agree with Peter Traver‘s assessment that he "is so skilled that he makes virtue exciting." He’s the film’s moral backbone and a pillar of strength every step of the way. Gary Oldman is so amazing that he makes me want to weep. Seriously. He infuses Gordon with such earnestness, integrity, and hope that he made my heart swell and actually did bring tears to my eyes. I just wish I could bottle Gary Oldman’s goodness in The Dark Knight and carry it around in my pocket. Is that creepy? I don’t care. He’s SO wonderful! Apparently, he’s that wonderful in real life, too:

How moving and lovely. He rocks. Gary Oldman, will you marry me?

I’m going to continue my unorthodox approach to this review by finishing the review of the film before the review as a whole is actually over. How’s that for labyrinthine? Basically, I want to conclude my thoughts on The Dark Knight as a film before I move on to Heath Ledger (gulp). Please, I don’t want this to be interpreted as me dismissing the film. I mean, go back and read, it’s all there! The Dark Knight is not one of the ten best films of all time (as IMDB users seem to think), nor is it even the best film of the year (although it’s up there). It is, however, the best superhero film/film about a superhero ever made, and a masterpiece in its own right. It lived up to the hype…and then some. Now that’s super.

Heath Ledger, it’s your turn now, sweet prince.

I think this short clip of an interview done with Heath Ledger shortly before his death is a good starting point. I’m not sure why. It feels right. It’s about how his daughter changed his life and how he feels about death. He displays remarkable sensitivity and wisdom (far beyond his years), and it’s so eerily cryptic…it just blows me away.

Heath Ledger…sigh…cinema is in your debt forever. His Joker is already being hailed by many, and rightfully so, as the best movie villain of all time. Before Ledger redefined what a villain was, Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter topped many lists (including the, um, illustrious AFI list of villains). Strike me down if you must, but I have always thought that The Silence of the Lambs, Hopkins, and the character of Hannibal Lecter were WILDLY overrated. The top 5 of the AFI list of best villains continues as follows: 2) Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Psycho (this is Heath’s time now, but let me just say that I could probably write a dissertation about the inaccuracies or, as Norman would say, “falsities,” of that categorization in which I would tear apart that haphazard, reductionist labeling of a character as complex as Norman Bates - ugh, you test me, AFI); 3) Darth Vader in Star Wars (I get that); 4) the ever-creepy Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz (I TOTALLY get that, and so does my childhood); and 5) Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (meh, okay, but I wouldn’t put her that high).

Here are a couple of the criteria that the AFI used when compiling their list:

  • Cultural Impact: Characters who have a made a mark on American society in matters of style and substance.
  • Legacy: Characters who elicit strong reactions across time, enriching America's film heritage while continuing to inspire contemporary artists and audiences.

Maybe Heath Ledger doesn’t have the longevity yet, but he will. In terms of cultural impact, well, he truly created a monster. Here’s what the AFI thinks of villainy: “For voting purposes, a ‘villain’ was defined as a character(s) whose wickedness of mind, selfishness of character and will to power are sometimes masked by beauty and nobility, while others may rage unmasked. They can be horribly evil or grandiosely funny, but are ultimately tragic.” Despite their grammatical ineptitude, I think they’ve got something there. The Joker’s wickedness of mind, selfishness of character, and will to power definitely rage unmasked. He is, at times, grandiosely funny, but ALWAYS horribly evil. Heath Ledger is mesmerizing and terrifying in The Dark Knight. Just like he owned awards season, he completely owns this film. He didn’t hold anything back with his performance, a performance that, ultimately, MAY have led, in some way, to his far-too-premature death.

I figured now would be a good time to take a little breather (there's a lot coming up still) and listen to Heath talk about playing The Joker, in his own words. I love this clip so much. I think it's quite poignant, and I simply adore hearing and watching him talk.

Before Heath Ledger died, people were already geeking out about his work in this film. This was a side of Heath Ledger that no one had EVER seen. You can say that about all of his work (and I love that), but this was a doozy. The first non-teaser trailer set the internet (and myself) ablaze with anticipation. Check it:

I still have the urge to squeal with cinematic glee when I watch that. And I STILL get chills when Heath growls, “Come on, hit me!“ Soon after (god, so soon…too soon), he died, and expectations skyrocketed. His death shook pop culture to its core. The Dark Knight would now be, officially and unequivocally, the biggest movie event ever in the history of cinema. It was a phenomenon long before it was released, and now, 7 months later, phenomenon is too weak of a word to describe it. Honestly, I don’t know how things would be if Heath Ledger hadn’t died. I think about it a lot, even though I hate doing it. Would the movie still be as big? Not quite, I don’t think. Would he still have cleaned up during awards season, won the Oscar and, in fact, been the surest thing the Oscars have ever seen? I have to believe that the reaction to his work in this film would have been exactly the same. I have to believe in the raw purity and brilliance of his performance. He deserved the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. I don’t understand how anyone can say otherwise. It’s insanity. If you disagree, bring it. I’m ready for you. There were some stunning performances this year, and I’m not going to pit Heath Ledger against the Best Actor contenders. It’s just not fair or productive. But in the broader scheme, in terms of impact on pop culture and cinema, 2008 belongs to Heath Ledger. He took us by storm, and oh, what a ride.

This is so hard for me to write. If you want to get an idea of how hard, please read the tribute I wrote to Heath Ledger a year ago. I have wrestled for seven long months with how I would write about his performance in The Dark Knight. I’m not ready to do it. To wrap it up. To close it. I’m actually about to cry right now, but I have to keep going. Ledger is the most primal of forces in this film. I’m a HUGE fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the TV show), and in one season (fittingly, the last), Buffy must grapple with The First. The first what, you ask? The first EVIL ever, dating back to the beginning of time. THAT is Heath Ledger as The Joker. There is no good in this character. He is only evil and darkness. What guts Heath had to take it so far (sorry, calling him “Ledger” feels cold and weird). I’m so inadequate as a writer to describe his revolutionary work in The Dark Knight. This isn’t just faux-modesty; I really am. I can type and type until my fingers fall off, and I still wouldn’t come close to capturing his genius. And that’s what I fear I’m in danger of doing - typing forever. The best way to appreciate Heath Ledger as The Joker is to watch him as The Joker. Here are two clips that give you the glorious idea (I don’t want to give away too much for anyone who might not have seen it, otherwise I would TOTALLY be including a clip of the hospital scene, as well). The quality of these videos is not worthy of Heath’s talent, but it was unbelievably difficult to find embeddable clips from this film. Anyway, please watch them. They speak volumes. Plus, they’re two of the best acted and most intense scenes of this year or any other.

(Update, July 15, 2010: Since I posted this, these specific videos have been removed or disabled. I couldn't find an embeddable version of the first clip, so click here to watch it. The second clip can't be watched embedded, but if you click on it, it'll take you to YouTube to watch it. Do it!)

This is the kind of method power that would make even Marlon Brando stand up and cheer….or curl up on the floor and weep…or both. This is unparalleled acting. The depths he plumbs, the heights he climbs, from one moment to the next…it gives me goosebumps. Heath Ledger is unquestionably one of the greatest actors of this or any generation, but the potential he shows here makes my heart shatter. In my tribute, based on only the trailer, I said that he was acting out of every pore. It’s more than that; he’s acting out of every atom. Just look at these next two pictures and you can see it. From the core of his soul to the top of his head to the ends of his crazed hair follicles to the tips of his fingers and toes…he IS The Joker.

The facial tics, the vocal inflections, his piercing eyes, the erratic mood swings plastered on his face along with the sloppy, devil-may-care make-up, the total disregard for sanity or goodness in every word and in every gesture, and the dazzling myriad of other things that comprise his acting IN ANY GIVEN SCENE, IN ANY SHOT…tell me he doesn’t deserve the Oscar. Go on. TELL ME. Sentimental, shmentimental! He EARNED that Oscar. Come on, hit me. I dare you. Ahem… Anyway, even though my heart continues to break for him, it also soars because I am so immensely proud of him. And that’s what I want to cling to - my overwhelming awe and pride, not my sorrow.

Heath Ledger still has one film coming out (hopefully), Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, but he died before shooting was finished. The Dark Knight, then, is essentially Heath’s last role. I’m not dismissing his work in Dr. Parnassus AT ALL, so don’t mince words with me. You know what I mean. It’s unspeakably tragic that he died, but if he had to go, man…what a way to go out. To say that this is one of the greatest performances of all time (not just in cinema) is like saying that William Shakespeare kind of liked to write or that the Harry Potter franchise is a little popular or that people sort of need oxygen to live; it’s a gross understatement the likes of which my hyperbolically-inclined mind can’t even begin to fathom. His Joker is the stuff legends are made of, and even if his mortal light was extinguished painfully early, his star will continue to burn brightly as long as people watch movies (so, forever). He is a supernova, and he will be with us always. He is in my heart every second of every day. I’m sorry he wasn’t around to bask in the praise and accolades he so richly deserves. Somewhere, I know he’s been watching, and he is humbled and grateful. I imagine him looking down shyly, a small, sheepish, stunning grin on that gorgeous face. He might even jest, “Why so serious?” Because we miss you, Heath. I miss you and love you so much and can never thank you enough for enriching my life, the lives of so many others, and cinema. Alas, this has been my attempt. I did the best I could, and while I can’t ask for more than that, nothing will ever be enough to thank him. Even so, I want to say the words: Thank you, good sir. Thank you. And congratulations.

Oh, and you didn't think I'd leave this clip out, did you?

Heath, what would we do without you? I hate that we’ve had to find out. Why so serious? Because you…complete us. And like The Joker says to Batman, so I say to Heath Ledger: “You’ve changed things…forever.”

So, in honor of Heath Ledger, his little angel Matilda, who I know still feels his love every single day and who will be so proud of her daddy once she‘s old enough to understand, and this beautiful monster of a film called The Dark Knight, let’s put a smile on that face. Cheesy? Maybe. But how could I end this any other way?

The Dark Knight: ***** (out of 5)
Heath Ledger: Priceless

Monday, March 2, 2009

Ocular Misadventures

I've been looking for this clip online for SO long. Finding it was something that I desperately needed on this cold and lonely Monday morning in Chicago.

Check out the clip here. Thank you, Family Guy.

P.S. "That's pie."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Year of the Ram

I don’t know why everyone is so surprised that Darren Aronofsky was able to make a subdued character study like The Wrestler. Is this so different from Requiem for a Dream? Not really. Think about it. They’re both about people, their addictions, loss, pain, regret, and loneliness. Okay, so his films are kind of depressing, but give me depressing, aesthetically innovative, and emotionally engaging over happy-go-lucky, artistically bankrupt, and forgettably vapid any day. If you have any semblance of a heart whatsoever, The Wrestler will break it. It will make you sad. This is a tough film. But it will also make you cheer: for the spirit of Randy “The Ram,” for Mickey Rourke’s glorious victory, and for the beauty of filmmaking at its finest. The Wrestler is a film that is not easy to shake. It’s easily one of the year’s very best.

I came away from The Wrestler with a huge amount of respect and appreciation for professional wrestling. Aronofsky is so meticulous in his recreation of this world. The details are painstaking and fascinating. In fact, I’m not sure there IS another sports-based film that honors its subject so well. There is so much skill and planning involved, and the wrestlers are so dedicated to the sport and to each other. I was incredibly moved by the overwhelming sense of camaraderie that Aronofsky captures in the wrestling community.

The Wrestler is the ultimate underdog film: it immortalizes the comeback of fallen and, arguably. past-his-prime actor Mickey Rourke playing (BEING) the comeback of fallen and past-his-prime wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson. I can’t think of another role that is so inspiringly autobiographical, or if one exists at all. Randy works weekdays at a grocery store and weekends in the ring. Even though he is still wrestling, and the other wrestlers respect and admire him tremendously, it’s clear that his time has past. 20 years ago, he was on top of the wrestling world. Now, he does shows, but he also appears at fluorescent-soaked, echo-y community centers for autograph signing sessions with a bunch of busted old-timers in which barely any fans attend (but those that do adore him - see why this film is so interesting?). He takes all the wrestling work he can, and while he still has skills, I wonder if he’s being included in these events partly out of pity.

Randy gets the chance of a lifetime when he is offered to headline a major upcoming wrestling bonanza in a re-match of his career-defining defeat of his arch-nemesis, The Ayatollah. Randy enthusiastically, and gratefully, accepts, but in the meantime, after a particularly brutal match involving a staple gun, Randy has a heart attack in the dressing room and requires bypass surgery. He wakes up in the hospital to his doctor telling him that his life is essentially over. His body, ravaged by steroid use and the very real blows in the ring for so long, just can’t wrestle anymore. Hopelessly alone, Randy seeks comfort in Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), a stripper at the club he frequents, and Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), the daughter he estranged. He gives up wrestling for as long as he can, but it’s in his blood. He fights the big fight at the end. How could he not? A lot of stuff, surprising and wonderful, happens in this film; I promise I’m not giving anything away. But just in case, I’m going to refrain from doing any more plot regurgitation so that I don’t ruin the purity of the experience for you.

Darren Aronofsky confounded many people with his incomprehensible-yet-beautiful film The Fountain, including myself. But with The Wrestler, he, like Rourke, is back on top. He is truly one of the greatest filmmakers we have and, I would wager, THE most visceral. Even if you don’t understand The Fountain, you feel it. Then there’s the wrenching Requiem for a Dream, an emotional anvil of a film, and one of the greatest masterpieces in cinematic history. God, I love this man. He brings such a visual vibrancy to this story. His style is bold and distinct, he constantly takes risks, and he never compromises his startling and unique vision. He uses the camera as a character to create a sense of claustrophobic isolation. There’s this authentic, documentary-style aura about the film that transcends aesthetics. You are an active part of this world. The aesthetics, though, are astounding: the gritty and gripping cinematography by Maryse Alberti, the powerfully naturalistic and humanistic writing by Robert Siegel, the intricate and essential sound design (Aronofsky utilizes sound as well as Paul Thomas Anderson), and the soul-piercing melancholia of Clint Mansell’s score…when you factor in the acting…it all adds up to perfection.

So, let’s talk acting. WOW. Evan Rachel Wood is intensely moving as Randy’s daughter. She is one of the most gifted young actresses out there. Marisa Tomei should have won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. She is divine. Her performance is so brave. She’s an aging actress in Hollywood portraying an aging stripper that no one desires anymore. Talk about tough. This is one of the best women’s roles I’ve seen in years. Cassidy is such a strong, compassionate character, and the fearless way Tomei throws herself into this part is mind-boggling. She has to do all of these scenes nude or mostly nude (and she looks fabulous), playing a woman who is being rejected and humiliated by scum whose money she needs. That is some SERIOUS stuff. Women today are under more pressure than ever to maintain a certain (unrealistic) body image, and I admire Marisa Tomei more than I can express for doing such a beautiful job, for the confidence and class she exudes, and for exposing much more than just her body.

Mickey Rourke. What can I say that could possibly be adequate? He’s officially back, and he IS this film. He is its throbbing, beating, bleeding heart. I could see his soul in that weary face. Like Tomei, he is brave and totally fearless. He is utterly unflinching in his commitment to this role. He’s so many different superlatives that there’s no point in me just rattling them off. They’re not good enough, even if they’re all true. The only word that I hope can come close to describing his work is “heroic.” It’s rare to care this much about a character…or an actor. Rourke IS “The Ram.” He’s so astonishingly real that I often felt physically uncomfortable, like I had to turn away from the excruciating loneliness and humiliation that he personifies so relentlessly. Mickey Rourke is primal; he almost looks like an animal. He's got this sexual aura, this rawness, that actually unnerved me at times. He's almost off-putting in the way he looks, but then he's also just a big, adorable teddy bear that I wanted to rock in my arms. I think I kind of fell in love with Mickey Rourke while watching The Wrestler. He made me weep with the beauty and genuineness of his performance. When Rourke enters the arena at the end for the big fight, I got chills all over that were so intense, it felt like my whole body was on fire. I can pay no higher compliment than that.

I’m outraged that he didn’t win the Oscar. A great injustice has been done. Years from now, people will have forgotten all about Sean Penn in Milk, but future generations will always remember and cherish Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. Perhaps that’s his real award, and the greater one at that.

Rating: ***** (out of 5)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Thunder Blunder

Tropic Thunder is a movie about a group of self-congratulatory assholes MADE by a group of self-congratulatory assholes. This alleged comedy has been nearly universally lauded by critics and audiences. Everyone seems to think it’s the funniest thing since a kick to the groin (which, by the way, is akin to the maturity level of this movie’s “humor”). Merely imitating, or imitating with a bit more raunch, is NOT satire. If you’re looking for a humorous skewering of the big-budget war movie, skip Tropic Thunder. I mean, skip it anyway, but see Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, the documentary chronicling the making of Apocalypse Now. No, in all seriousness, Tropic Thunder is not the brilliant satire that everyone seems to think it is, and which IT thinks it is, and certainly its filmmakers and cast think it is. Ugh. Let me say this loud and clear: Tropic Thunder is NOT good, and it’s NOT funny.

Honestly, this movie isn’t worth much of my time, so I’m going to rip off the critical band-aid as quickly as possible. Tropic Thunder is about the making of the making of the making of a war movie, or something like that. At any given point, it’s various levels of real for random characters. It gets old really fast. This painfully unironic macho fest (no, this is not just because I’m some man-hating feminist) is the immature mind ejaculation of writers Etan Cohen and Justin Theroux and writer/director Ben Stiller. The predominantly male cast includes: Ben Stiller (who is actually pretty good), Jack Black, Brandon T. Jackson, Robert Downey, Jr., Jay Baruchel (he‘s so annoying that I wanted to smack him), Nick Nolte (redefining “grizzled” and reprising his mug shot, though not unfunny), Danny McBride, Steve Coogan (wasted and irritating as Damien Cockburn - get it? teehee), Bill Hader (always funny), Matthew McConaughey (Ben Stiller’s character’s agent, goes by “Pecker” - oh, how droll), and Tom Cruise, who I will not say one snide word about, because he rocks this movie in surprising and unrecognizable fashion as chunky, angry, crude studio head Les Grossman.

So, it’s not all bad. I’ll make some concessions. The movie LOOKS good. It looks like it cost a lot of money, so that equals good, right? Sorry, that was snarky. It does look good. And the selection of music is pretty rocking. It was mildly funny and even very funny sporadically. Tugg Speedman (Stiller’s character) and Simple Jack? Hilarious. Tom Cruise is a RIOT. He should have gotten the Oscar nomination if anyone from this movie was to get one, and even then, no one deserved to get one. The cast is decent, some much better than others (Stiller, Cruise…um, thought there would be more…I guess Downey, Jr. and Black), but there are definitely some talented comedians here. However, they know it, and it’s obvious. I could appreciate the concept. I got where they were trying to go with it. And it did work occasionally. The experience wasn’t a totally miserable one. There were fleeting moments of brilliance (SO fleeting, though), which made me even more disappointed because I saw that it had potential. Too bad Stiller and company (I’m looking at you, RDJ) couldn’t put their egos aside for the greater good. They just think they’re really cool.

And come on, really? An Oscar nomination for Robert Downey, Jr.? Like that guy needs his head inflated any more. Yes, he’s a great actor, and yes, he’s really darn good here, but this performance is ultimately nothing. It’s not memorable or special. It’s cheap and wrings the hell out of a joke (Kirk Lazarus is SO method…how method is he? He’s so method that…you get the idea…GAG) that isn’t very funny to begin with. The whole movie feels that way. Everything is drawn out to the brink of insanity - MY insanity for having to endure it. Also, Jack Black is so randomly used in this movie as a heroin addict. I laughed at his scenes more out of disbelief than anything else. If all that wasn’t enough, the movie is too long, the pace is often agonizingly slow (like that insufferable climax), the narrative is disjointed, it’s one of the most self-indulgent things I’ve ever seen, and oh yeah, it’s NOT FUNNY.

The movie is a totally self-serving project. It left me completely unsatisfied. Tropic Thunder is impotent. Sorry, fellas.

Rating: ** (out of 5)