Movie Madness

My movie reviews and rants at your fingertips.

Monthly Archives: July 2011

Fired Up!

Many of you saw and loved director Will Gluck’s Easy A last year. And who could blame you, it was fast quips and very smart, with a star making performance by Emma Stone. With his next film Friends with Benefits days away from debuting, I want to look back to his first directing effort. A film that was overlooked by audiences and mismanaged by the studio that requested it.

Fired Up! stars Erik Christian Olsen (Not Another Teen Movie) and Nicolas D’Agosto (Rocket Science) as Nick and Shawn, two football jocks who spend their free time chasing girls all over Gerald R. Ford High School. One night, Nick has an idea that would greatly increase the amount of ladies they could bag. Instead of football camp in the unrelenting heat of El Paso, they would attend cheerleading camp with Carly (Disturbia‘s Sarah Roemer) and the high school’s squad. After convincing everyone except Carly, they join the girls and head to cheer camp. What ensues is a raunchy (quite raunchy for PG-13) teen comedy as the boys bag all the girls and experience the camp from an outsider’s perspective.

The film features colorful minor characters that keep the comedy from stalling even at the end. From Dr. Rick, the pre-med douchebag, to Sylvia, the girl that says whatever she’s thinking, each role fleshes out the cheer camp world. All aspects are represented, leaving nothing on the cutting room floor.

The biggest scene stealer is John Michael Higgins, a veteran of the Christopher Guest style of comedy. His Coach Keith is a man of unfettered energy. When he speaks, it’s a hilarious quote. From his misspelling of fired up to his birthing story, Coach Keith has enough jokes to make a spin-off a sound idea.

Fired Up! came out in February 2009, a time when studios are dumping their excess inventory hoping something sticks. So far that year, Taken and Paul Blart: Mall Cop were the only things that were generating a lot of business. Friday the 13th would debut strong and fall hard the second weekend while He’s Just Not That Into You continued its slow climb to sleeper hit status. Opening opposite Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail, Fired Up! was doomed from the start. It didn’t help that critics hated the movie. It came and went from theaters quietly without much notice.

Despite its lack of profitability, Fired Up! is one of the best comedies of 2009. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to experience it in the theaters. I stumbled upon it at a video store one night when I was hanging with my sister. When we were done, we were both pleasantly surprised. It has gone on to be one of the movies we quote to each other on a regular basis.

It wasn’t a successful movie, but looking at it you understand where Gluck discovered his pacing and comedic timing for the characters. Written by Freedom Jones, a pseudonym since no one really stepped up to taking credit for it (and many writers took a crack at the screenplay), the film had difficulty being released. It had to be submitted 18 times to get its PG-13 rating; most films resubmit less half that many times if they resubmit at all. Seeing the unrated version on DVD and/or Blu-ray, you can see just what was bugging the MPAA.

Though it isn’t one of my top ten favorite comedies, it’s in my top 20. It is a terribly funny movie that I love to watch over and over again. I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys their teen comedies a tad more raunchy than run-of-the-mill. 4 stars out of 5.


Breakdown: Military Movies

This past Monday was the Fourth of July, and we are reminded of all the courageous men and women who have fought to maintain our freedom and independence. Some celebrated with a night of drinking that climaxed with a DUI; others enjoyed parades and fireworks; but some of our friends and family were working around the clock in areas where freedom is a distant hope. So, to honor my fellow military men and women and their families, here is my list of my top five favorite military films.

The Hurt Locker– Setting aside the much deserved Best Picture at the Academy Awards last year, here is easily the most intense movie I’ve seen in years (possibly ever). Jeremy Renner grounds the story of a man who becomes addicted to the adrenaline of his job. This film transcended the “Iraq War/War on Terror” sub-genre that emerged after September 2001. The story is about the job and about the EOD team, specifically Renner’s William James. When I first saw this film, I noticed that director Kathryn Bigelow had crafted a film that is more intense when it’s calm than when it’s embracing the action. A absolutely brilliant movie that deserves to be seen.

The Thin Red Line– Released the same year as Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line focuses on Guadalcanal during World War II. With a cast that is almost as long as the movie’s run time (170 minutes), the film looks at the men involved in all aspects of the skirmish. The first time I saw it, I missed George Clooney’s scenes, which drove me crazy (he only has a few minutes of screen time towards the end). A grand epic on it’s own, director Terence Malick returns to filmmaking after a 20 year break to look at the philosophy and emotion of combat. Personally, I love this film more than Saving Private Ryan even though both are great films for different reasons, so I chose to put this one in lieu of both. With my inability to get through Malick’s current release Tree of Life, this film has been on my mind ever since.

Black Hawk Down– After Ridley Scott made the Silence of the Lambs sequel Hannibal, Scott ended that same year with Black Hawk Down. It followed the operation in Mogadishu, Somalia in October 1993. When a routine operation to extract two lieutenants of a warlord goes wrong, Army Rangers, Delta Force, and a Special Operations Aviation Regiment all work to safely protect a downed Black Hawk helicopter and the injured on the ground. Filmed from multiple vantages points, we see each team work to complete the mission and minimize further fatalities and injuries. The film feels so real, you think you’re there. Prior to The Hurt Locker, this was my favorite military/war movie. It is rich with colorful characters and a few moments of baddassery that would make any strong man tear up.

Good Morning Vietnam– The first of Robin Williams’ Oscar nominated performances in his career, Williams plays Adrian Cronauer, an Air Force Airman working as a radio DJ at an Army base in Vietnam. Filled with Williams’ trademark rapid-fast comedy delivery, but also his chance to really flex his acting chops. This was the birth of his dramatic acting career. A great film that ages really well. Directed by Barry Levinson, Good Morning Vietnamis a bit fish-out-of-water and a bit of life in Vietnam during the war.

Stop-Loss– This film is controversial in it’s concept. The film deals with a man who is forced to return to Iraq after he has completed his time in service. Instead of going back, he tries to escape the reach of the government. Stop-Loss is a tough program that disheartens many who have been subjected to it. Having known someone who was recalled by it, I understand the feeling it can leave.

Starring the underrated Ryan Phillippe and directed by Boys Don’t Cry director Kimberly Peirce, the film doesn’t pull any punches. It tackles all aspects of combat veterans, from proud to those riddled with injuries both psychological and physical. The final moments of the film had me weeping for half an hour afterward.

Hollywood: The Rival of Originality

Everything in theaters is the same. It has been for years. Unfortunately it isn’t going to change anytime soon. Sequels, remakes, and rehashed concepts fill the cinemas. For example, remember the trailer for that romantic comedy? You know the one I’m talking about, it had the chick from Black Swan and it’s all about f*** buddies? Now, the answer to the question can go one of three ways.
1. No Strings Attached with Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher.
2. Friends with Benefits starring Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake
3.  Win a Date with Tad Hamilton?

Now, the third choice doesn’t really follow the question, but you get my point. Two movies with basically the same premise and plot come down the pipeline in a short time span. Though 2011 may be the most recent example of the “double-double rule” (I use that phrase just for this…starting now), this has been going on repeatedly every few years. Hollywood has been giving us some of the least original work it has in years. Some blame the writer’s strike (yes, its effect can be felt this far out), some blame the new credibility of cable television and its strong stories for actors looking for regular work, some blame the economy, some blame Glenn Beck (I know I do). But the truth is, the movie industry isn’t coming up with anything new.

Exhibit A: Ideas Come in Twos (AKA Double-Double rule)

In 1998, the sky was falling. Not in a literal sense, but at the movies it was. Michael Bay had unleashed his latest summer movie, after his career’s best The Rock.With Armageddon,

Die space!

Bruce Willis and a bunch of actors from indie movies were gonna save the world from an asteroid heading straight for Earth, threatening to wipe out all of humanity. But just a month earlier, a similar movie came out starring Elijah Wood. In Deep Impact, it was a comet, NOT a asteroid (so it’s completely different).

In the case of these two films, they only shared similarities in their respective synopses. Deep Impact focused on the human element of such an event. The ensemble, including Tea Leoni and Morgan Freeman, looked at multiple lives and how impending doom would affect people. Armageddon was about blowing that son-of-a-bitch up and how a ragtag bunch of oilers could save the day.

Another example of the this is Gigli and Jersey Girl. Both starred J. Lo and Ben Affleck; both romantic comedies. When Gigli opened to near universal rejection, Jersey Girl waited in the wings for the dust to settle. Fortunately, Ms. Lopez dies in the opening scenes of Jersey Girl, so Affleck had little to blame for that film imploding as well. This sparked a huge debate in Hollywood on whether off-screen chemistry can be transformed into a hit. With these films both released in the days of Bennifer, to this day the idea isn’t a safe one. (see Proof of Life for another example. Good movie overshadowed by coupling)

Prior to the Friends with Benefits/No Strings Attacheddebacle was the battle of the Repos.

Repo! The Genetic Opera was a musical that featured a cast that no one could logically understand. An ex-Spy Kid, Paris Hilton, Bill Moseley, and Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The story is about a man who repossesses organs when synthetic organ payments were not made. The film didn’t make much at the box office but grew to be quite the cult classic.

Repo Men is a violent movie about a man who repossess organs when synthetic organ payments were not made (sound familiar?). Jude Law stars as Remy, a Repo Man who finds himself on the other side of the coin when a botched repo job lands him a new heart.

When a sci-fi film has a premise this specific, it’s difficult to not cry foul when the other comes calling. To my knowledge, no legal action was taken. But to have two films so similar in such a short span of time (less than a year). You begin to think how original ideas can ever last.

See also Capote/Infamous and Hollywood’s upteen pending adaptations of Snow White and Seal Team 6.

Exhibit B: Truly Original is a Flash in the Pan

Look at the movies that have been released the past five years. The biggest hits are sequels and remakes. The biggest hit not based on a previous idea was Avatar. Or as I like to call it, Pocahontas in 3D with blue people. Avatar may have been the biggest movie in the history of cinema, but original it was not.

Original movies are often forced into indie cinema since the constraints of small budgets and no studio interference proves to yield more unique work than the studios’ multi-tiered vetting processes. The most original movies of the last five years are easily Tree of Life (a movie too original for me to handle), Inception, and District 9. These films took film to new heights; changing the way films are made. Now, there has been many inventive films over the years, but true original concepts come fewer and fewer every year. I thought Sucker Punch would be the film of the moment when it debuted, but it fell apart when it couldn’t match the concept.

Exhibit C: Superheroes and Comic Books

Summer of 2011 has seen a slew of these films. Comic books became a gold mine over a decade ago for Hollywood. Here was all these pre-existing stories just ripe for big screen adaptation. Problem is, not all of them are/were winners. Sometimes the studios milked the idea to death, while others deviated so much from the source material that the concept became parody. For every brilliant superhero movie like…

there is duds like Green Lantern, Ghost Rider, and The Incredible Hulk (Ang Lee’s Hulk is better). Outside of the obvious superheroes that translate to box office green (Superman, Batman, Iron Man, Spiderman, X-Men), all other ideas are an up hill battle from go. The great comic book movies find original ways to tell a story, like the two I’ve displayed here. This year, the superheroes have been anything but super. Here’s hoping Captain America: The First Avenger is more exciting and better executed than the comic book movies that preceded it.

Also, see Super as an example of both an original indie movie and superhero movie.

Exhibit D: Everything has Already Been Said

It’s unfortunately true. Almost every good idea has already been thought of or done before. Any skilled movie snob can describe one movie by mentioning and relating it to six other movies. When something one-of-a-kind comes along, everyone tries to duplicate the previous success over and over again, hoping each time to ignore the law of diminishing returns.

It’s all been done. The golden age of film (1970-1985), when I believe the best films of all time come from, is far over and little since has been made to match the gravitas and weight of the films of that era. The films of today are all the same, nothing new and sequels to the same recycled stuff. It’s sad, but it’s what it is.

Original is a word that you can throw away for the time being. Hollywood may come back around, but then again, we may just prefer the same thing over and over again. If CSI and Law & Order can have a thousand spinoffs and be successful, maybe we don’t want new and original. I hope that isn’t the case.