Archive for November, 2008

Review: Zack and Miri Make a Porno

With all the hype, acclaim, and box office success that Judd Apatow and Co. (Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, 40-Year-Old-Virgin) get nowadays, it’s easy to forget one of the pioneering American filmmakers that paved the way for raunchy comedies with heart.  Kevin Smith has been doing this stuff for years, and though some of his recent films aren’t as explicit, Smith was one of the first.  His latest, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, continues the recent trend of sexually-charged, foul-mouthed male-oriented comedies that feature a surprising amount of depth.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno follows two best friends, Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks), who’ve been living together since graduating from high school.  Their lives aren’t exactly going as planned when all of their bills become past due and they lose power and water to their apartment.  After attending their high school reunion, the two realize how pathetic their lives are and decide to make some drastic changes.  But, first thing’s first: fix their home situation.  Zack then suggests they make a porno, sell it to their high school classmates, and use the money to pay for rent and utilities.  Miri obviously protests, but the idea seems foolproof: it’ll be cheap and they know that someone will buy it.

What you see in the trailers is pretty much what follows: they find a producer, they cast for the film (neither Zack nor Miri want to star by themselves), and they build sets and costumes, all the while hijinks and shennanigans get in the way.  However, what the trailers don’t show you is how sweet the relationship between Zack and Miri ends up being.  Both realize how much they care for each other, and there are several scenes which showcase this.  I don’t want to spoil anything, but there is one scene in particular, when they are going through their first rehearsal with the full cast, when Miri starts to get an inkling of Zack’s true feelings.

Of course, there are some really explicit scenes, such as a few scenes of Lester (Jason Mewes) banging local stripper (and real-life pornstar) Stacey (Katie Morgan).  Lester also has one hilarious scene where he’s describing one of his favorite sexual activities to Zack.  It’s vulgar, but really funny.  The film also has a few really funny cameos from the Apatow Crew: most of the hilarity of the high school reunion sequence comes from Justin Long and Brandon Routh, Zack’s boss at the coffee shop is Gerry Bednob (the Indian guy from 40-Year-Old-Virgin), and Craig Robinson as Delaney the producer.

Craig Robinson deserves special notice because he’s quite possibly the funniest member of the cast.  While I didn’t find him all that funny in Pineapple Express, where he played one of the hitmen, and I only found him mildly amusing in his cameo in Knocked Up, I think he’s hilarious in The Office.  Here, Robinson gets to truly shine as he gets nearly as much screen time as the two leads and has some great one-liners.

So, the question remains: is Judd Apatow, with his stable of great comedic actors and proven success, the king of the raunchy-comedy-with-heart genre?  Or did one of the original visionaries from the early-90’s manage to take the title back?  It’s unfair to say, as Kevin Smith, as a writer and director, does work of varied themes (Clerks II is quite different from Chasing Amy, which is different from Jersey Girl).  But why can’t there be room at the top for more than one?  Kevin Smith writes with a sincerity that some of the Apatow-produced films lack, and that gives the audience something more to enjoy, aside from funny sex jokes, and naked women. 

Zack and Miri Make a Porno, I believe, is going to go down as one of Smith’s best movies, and definitely Seth Rogen’s best lead role to-date.  The movie is hilarious where it needs to be, and genuinely touching when it has to be.  Audience should be able to relate to these characters, despite their unusual way of making a quick buck.  Don’t let the explicit nature of the title fool you, Zack and Miri Make a Porno is a great holiday movie (just don’t bring the whole family).

8.5/10 (check the My Review Scale tab for a breakdown)

November 29, 2008 at 1:18 pm Leave a comment

‘W.’ Review

What an interesting little film. W. is a dramatization of the life of current U.S. President George W. Bush. What people going into, and out of, this movie need to understand is that it’s a dramatization, not a documentary. Also, those expecting a scathing satire or slam job need to check their expectations at the door. While W. is a flawed film in many ways, it’s a fascinating film, and one that is worth checking out by political science students and film buffs.

One thing the trailers make this film out to be is some kind of screwball comedy, and indeed many critics of the administration wish it were a screwball comedy. Alas, it isn’t, since the movie is structured like a biopic, and plays out much like a melodrama. However, the ‘funny bits’ that are in the movie are centered on Bush himself. He is the comedy relief in his own movie. What director Oliver Stone and writer Stanley Weiser’s take on the life of Dubya is that he was the wrong guy at the wrong time; a well-meaning oaf with aspirations as big as the sky put into a position of power he never should have held. Stone makes no secret of his dislike of the Bush administration, but apparently he’s interested in the making of said administration. Stone doesn’t hate the man, just his politics and he wants to get down to the bottom of how it all came to be.

The heart of the film is Bush, played absolutely brilliantly by Josh Brolin. The American public is already familiar with his mannerisms, and what has become part of the American lexicon, his Bush-isms. Brolin nails all these things perfectly, which also helps shine a light on how much of a character the real Bush is. What Brolin gets right, though, isn’t the speech or the movement of Bush, it’s the fact that he knows he’s playing a real guy that is already quite the character. That’s something that some of the other members of the cast get wrong.

Supporting him is an all-star cast including James Cromwell (George H.W. Bush), Elizabeth Banks (Laura Bush), Richard Dreyfuss (Dick Cheney), Thandie Newton (Condoleeza Rice), Jeffrey Wright (Colin Powell), and Toby Jones (Karl Rove). For the most part, the cast is fine, especially Dreyfuss, who plays Cheney like a true villain, the man that’s really pulling the strings. He hides in the background and says very little, with the exception of a monologue he gives to explain why the U.S. needs to invade Iraq. Thandie Newton deserves special mentions only because she’s the one actor who gets it wrong, very wrong. She looks like Rice, sounds like Rice, and moves like Rice. And that’s the problem; Newton is playing at something, she’s become a caricature of the real person. Not that it’s a bad impersonation, but that’s just what it is, and it’s something best reserved for Saturday Night Live or a parody movie.

The film isn’t without its faults. The pacing seems to go all over the place, and there narrative seems to get lost in all the different aspects of Bush’s life that Stone is trying to cover. Also, there’s nothing here in terms of new information that we didn’t already know. There are plenty of books to read that delve deeper into the inner workings of the administration.

Oliver Stone’s take on Dubya’s life so far is surprisingly a sympathetic one. He shows him as a crazy frat boy who’s only interested in drinking and getting into trouble. Stone also shows us a Bush that really believes in his faith (after taking a while to find it), sticks to his convictions, and is very driven to succeed at anything. The director also places a lot of focus on the relationship (or rivalry) between Bush Jr. and Sr. George W. is living in the shadow of his father, who was not only a U.S. president, but also a vice-president and C.I.A. Director. In the end, it’s an interesting take on an interesting life It’s worth checking out for the curious, and Josh Brolin’s performance is truly Oscar-nominee quality, but the average movie goer, especially one that’s tired of politics, can skip it.

7.5/10 (check the ‘Review Scale’ tab for a score guide)

November 12, 2008 at 2:57 pm Leave a comment


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