In defense of ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’

Nostalgia is quite the powerful force.
It can make you look back on the rough periods of your life with
whitewashed longing or convince that you still love something, even
if you know now that it’s crappy.

We all have them, those things we loved
as children that no matter how old we get, or how much smarter are
brains grow, we stubbornly refuse to believe is bad.

For me, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” is
just one of those things. I first
saw the film when I was 11; my mom borrowed it from a coworker, and
in an unprecedented move, she let me and my sister stay up way past
our bedtimes so we could watch it.

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Mystery Team

Remember last week, when I was talking about the appeal of low-brow comedies and how the really good ones can transcend their limited (or no) budget approaches?

“Mystery Team” does not fall in to that category.

I waited almost a full year to see this movie; I first heard about it at their Comic-Con panel last year, and it was sitting in my saved queue ever since then, with me eager and willing to watch more from the talented (and funny) Derrick Comedy group.

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The Gamers: Dorkness Rising

Readers, here’s something you might not know about me: I love being a movie snob.

I know enough movie trivia to be a formidable opponent at “Scene It,” and I can wax on (endlessly) about the virtues (and failings) of renowned foreign and domestic directors. In fact, the movie I’m most likely to pick as my favorite is “Wild Strawberries,” a Swedish movie directed by Ingmar Bergman that premiered the same year my mother was born.

But sometimes, you need to shove that stuff aside and embrace some lowbrow comedy. “The Gamers: Dorkness Rising,” the no-budget “Dungeons and Dragons” parody from writer/director Matt Lancil fits that bill in spades and manages to be pretty damn entertaining.

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Ocean’s Thirteen

Man, do I love Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s Eleven.”

It’s a layered but satisfying heist movie, a buddy movie, an easy revenge picture, and an all-around good time. Sure, you’re rooting for the criminals, but that’s what movies are for.

I wish I was reviewing that movie instead.

“Ocean’s Thirteen” is a lot like the first movie; a casino owner, Willy Bank (Al Pacino, mugging it up as usual), has wronged Reuben Tishkoff (Elliot Gould), the moneybags of the trilogy, nearly killing him, so the band, led by Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), gets back together to ruin Bank’s newest casino and rob of him of millions.

To do that, they’ll have to recruit some new team members, bypass an impossible-to-fool security system, pull off several long-cons, and get out with no traces of their presence (you know, like in every heist movie).

Not a bad setup, but a big part of what made the first story so fun was getting to meet the characters for the first time. Here, we are thrust into the action midstream, and while I normally applaud that sort of thing, here it just feels overdone.

That’s basically my problem with “Thirteen” (and to be fair, “Ocean’s Twelve” too). We’ve seen what came before, we’ve watched them pull off the impossible, and by now we can spot all the tricks coming.

It’s such a waste too; the cast is still solid, but there’s no more fun to be had. The effortless charm of “Eleven” has evaporated, and all we’re left with is a film that’s trying (and failing) to recapture the glory days of the first movie.

Let’s hope there’s not an “Ocean’s Fourteen” around the corner.

“Ocean’s Thirteen” (2007)

Written by Brian Koppelman and David Levien

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Starring: George Clooney (Danny Ocean)

Brad Pitt (Rusty Ryan)

Al Pacino (Willy Bank)

Reuben Tishkoff (Elliot Gould)

Funny People

This is a bit of a hard review to write.

 

On one hand, I liked a lot of “Funny People,”* Judd Apatow’s look at death and dying. Adam Sandler gives a great performance as schmuck comedian George Simmons, who discovers that he’s got a rare blood condition that will kill him.

 

George is a wildly successful actor, but once he gets his diagnosis, he returns to his roots as a stand-up and discovers Ira Wright (Seth Rogen), a struggling comic who is still trying to find his style (and become wildly successful himself).

 

George hires Ira to write some jokes for him, which quickly turns into George paying Ira to be his buddy/personal assistant. There is a good friendship there, but there’s also a lot of tension, because Ira wants to be honest with *friend,* but you can’t always be honest with your boss.

 

That evolving relationship (and its turbulent ups and downs) is the best part of the movie, but like other Apatow movies, the side characters and their stories just don’t interest me. Ira’s buddies and his crush on a comedienne really drag the film down, contributing to one of the bigger faults: at 2 hours, “Funny People” is just way too long.

 

Most of the excess comes from the side plots that really don’t need to be there and over-indulgence in comedy scenes, which are supposed to be painfully unfunny (and are unfunny). It’s a flaw he keeps going back to in his films, and I hope he can eventually get it out of his system. He’s a decent storyteller, and pretty funny one, but success is not helping him grow.

 

Better luck next time, Judd.

 

“Funny People” (2009)

Written and directed by Judd Apatow

Starring: Adam Sandler (George)

Seth Rogen (Ira)

 

*Spoilers ahead in my review addendum

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Year One

A while back, I wrote about the hope I held for “Year One,” that the film would be a good kind of stupid that’s fun to watch and not something that needs to be endured.

For the most part, I think the film delivered.

“Year One” starts off with our two cavemen heroes, Zed (Jack Black) and Oh (Michael Cera), trying to get two cavewomen babes, Eema (Juno Temple) and Maya (June Diane Raphael) to notice them. After an unfortunate series of events (Zed eats the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge), our heroes are kicked out of the village and must fend for themselves in the unknown world beyond.

They wander about, running into various Biblical characters (David Cross as Cain is a real treat), but once they discover that their loves have been sold into slavery in Sodom, they bravely (and foolishly) venture into the fortified city to save them.

For about an hour, this film really had me in its corner. It’s nothing special or extraordinary, but Black and Cera have comic stylings that I didn’t expect to work together but do. A lot of the Judd Apatow players show up and you can tell that they are all having a good time of this little distraction.

But that’s only the first hour of the movie. As my movie buddy pointed out (hi Jim!), the movie really slowed down once the plot kicked in.

Not too many movies will earn that criticism, but “Year One” would have been much better if it had stuck to its sketch-comedy roots and left the dumb (although at times funny) political-machinations plot to another movie.

Not unlike last week’s “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” more is less here; the last 30 minutes aren’t as painful as that movie’s third act, but I’m sure there was a better way to wrap the film up.

Better luck next time guys.

Want a different take? Check out Jim’s review.

“Year One”

Directed by Harold Ramis

Written by Harold Ramis, Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg  

Starring: Michael Cera (Ooh)

Jack Black (Zed)

David Cross (Cain)

You Don’t Mess with the Zohan

Readers, I have a confession to make; for about ten years, I’ve had a deep affection for Adam Sandler movies.

I once watched “The Waterboy” on a particularly awful day, and it made me feel better, and ever since then, I’ve never looked down on the guy. He’s funny, and while he does make crap movies, they are funny when done right (“Happy Gilmore” and “The Waterboy” being two stupid-fun highlights).

So, when I wanted a movie that was funny and stupid (and “Year One” wasn’t available), I turned to “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.”

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Alien Trespass

I’ll admit it; despite its flaws, I enjoyed “Alien Trespass,” the straight-to-DVD film from director R.W. Goodwin.

The fake backstory of the film was enough to get me to want to watch it; at the height of his popularity, M. Eric McCormack (“grandfather” of actor Eric McCormack) made “Alien Trespass,” but after a falling out with the studio, all copies of the film were destroyed and lost forever. Until now – a copy has resurfaced and the “grandchildren” of the makers have healed some old wounds and for our enjoyment, comes a forgotten treasure of ’50s sci-fi.

In a small California town, during a meteor shower, an erratic UFO crashes into a bluff. When scientist Ted Lewis (McCormack) goes to investigate, an alien snatches his body and begins walking around, being weird and attracting all sorts of attention from his fellow townfolk. Of course, while he’s off exploring and searching, the baddie alien is running amok and killing people. Not-Ted (otherwise known as Urp) keeps looking for the alien, but even with the help of plucky waitress Tammy (Jenni Baird), can he succeed and save humanity from imminent destruction???

To add to the gimmickry, the real filmmakers made the film only with materials and procedures available at that time. No CGI for these folks; that spaceship looks likes a model spaceship. That fake alien looks like a cheesy fake alien (although it moves pretty well).

I can admit, there’s not much there that’s original or surprising, but it is fun. It’s not a satire of those old monster movies; it’s a loving homage and it perfectly captures the goofy thrills and styles of that era. If you go in for those kind of pictures, by all means, see “Alien Trespass.” If you don’t, best look elsewhere.

“Alien Trespass” (2009)

Directed by R.W. Goodwin

Written by Steven P. Fisher

Starring: Eric McCormack (Ted Lewis/Urp)

Jenni Baird (Tammy)

Stardust Memories

Yes, dear readers, it finally happened; I saw a movie with the word ‘star’ in it, and it was not science fiction.

Shocker, but on with the show.

In “Stardust Memories,” writer and director Woody Allen puts his super-famous heart on his sleeve for all to see, and it’s an ugly site to behold.

Allen plays Sandy Bates, a comedy director who is trying to move in a more serious direction, to the consternation of studio-heads and fans everywhere. Constantly, he’s told that his “early, funny” films are the best things he’s ever done, so he shouldn’t do anything else.

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