Tag Archives: Jack Black

The Muppets (2011, James Bobin)

The Muppets is confused.

The screenplay from Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller oscillates between being this lame story about Segel and his brother, a Muppet named Walter (indistinctly performed by Peter Linz), and his girlfriend (Amy Adams) and a better story of the Muppets reuniting.

The better story is, unfortunately, not exactly good. There are some good moments, but Segel and Stoller take a very serious approach to the Muppets. Kermit is a, well, hermit. Gonzo and Piggy have sold out. Fozzie’s working in Reno. Rowlf doesn’t even get a backstory; it’s hard not to read into that slight, since Rowlf was previously the symbol of Jim Henson’s legacy.

But the good stuff in The Muppets can’t outweigh the bad. Segel gives a weak performance, but he’s still leagues ahead of Adams. Adams is shockingly bad and creepily artificial. Neither character matters to the film and much of The Muppets is Segel and Stoller forcing their story into the picture.

Most of the human performances are bad. Chris Cooper is awful, maybe even worse than Adams.

Only Rashida Jones is good and she’s barely in it.

Watching The Muppets, I tried to imagine watching it again and could not. Segel and Stoller have some really stupid details and, until Kermit shows up, the film is pretty dreadful. Bobin is a bad director.

As for the Muppets… Without the original performers, Muppets feels even more like a corporate construction.

It’s not a complete failure, but it’s too close to being one.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by James Bobin; screenplay by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, based on characters created by Jim Henson; director of photography, Don Burgess; edited by James M. Thomas; music by Christophe Beck; production designer, Steve Saklad; produced by David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Peter Linz (Walter) and Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, David Rudman and Matt Vogel as the Muppets.

Starring Jason Segel (Gary), Amy Adams (Mary), Chris Cooper (Tex Richman), Rashida Jones (Veronica) and Jack Black (himself).


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Mars Attacks! (1996, Tim Burton)

I remember seeing Mars Attacks! in the theater–in those days, the pre-Sleepy Hollow days, I was quite the Tim Burton aficionado. That affection has changed (changed is the polite word) in the last fourteen years, but Mars Attacks! has just gotten better and better on each viewing. At present, it’s my vote for Burton’s most accomplished film (Ed Wood being the other contender).

In fact, it’s almost unbelievable Burton made the film–during the war room sequences, one could feel Strangelove, something I don’t think of with Burton, and his handling of the cast is magnificent. In a lot of ways, Burton does here what Soderbergh tries to do with his populist films and can’t achieve fully–Burton makes a great time, but for himself. The film’s completely indifferent to its potential audience (something I sort of remember from the response when it came out) and just… enraptured with itself.

The Martians don’t show up for at least a half hour–it might be forty minutes–so the cast is instead given the opportunity to create these fantastic characters who may or may not matter later on. I think only Danny DeVito really gets to define himself after the invasion begins.

Everyone in the film is fantastic (I always forget Natalie Portman used to be good), but standouts are Nicholson, Glenn Close, Annette Bening… oh, wait, I’m just listing the cast.

Jim Brown’s really good.

Burton’s direction–his first Panavision, I think–is singular.

Simply put, it’s awesome.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Burton; screenplay by Jonathan Gems, based on his story and the trading cards by Len Brown, Woody Gelman, Wally Wood, Bob Powell and Norman Saunders; director of photography, Peter Suschitzky; edited by Chris Lebenzon; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Wynn Thomas; produced by Burton and Larry J. Franco; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Jack Nicholson (President James Dale / Art Land), Glenn Close (First Lady Marsha Dale), Annette Bening (Barbara Land), Pierce Brosnan (Professor Donald Kessler), Danny DeVito (Rude Gambler), Martin Short (Press Secretary Jerry Ross), Sarah Jessica Parker (Nathalie Lake), Michael J. Fox (Jason Stone), Rod Steiger (General Decker), Tom Jones (Himself), Jim Brown (Byron Williams), Lukas Haas (Richie Norris), Natalie Portman (Taffy Dale), Pam Grier (Louise Williams), Lisa Marie (Martian Girl), Brian Haley (Mitch, Secret Service Agent), Sylvia Sidney (Grandma Florence Norris), Jack Black (Billy Glenn Norris) and Paul Winfield (General Casey).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED ON BASP | MARS ATTACKS! (1996) / SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999).

Waterworld (1995, Kevin Reynolds), the extended edition

I haven’t seen Waterworld since the theater–probably opening day. I remember it being an unimpressive sci-fi adventure without a lot of distinct characteristics, but certainly not a disaster. Watching it again after fourteen years, that description holds (for the most part). The film–even in the three hour extended version–moves quickly. There’s always something going on, some bit of tension to pass the time. But I certainly didn’t remember Kevin Costner’s character was such an unrepentant bastard. He might be the worst protagonist in a major Hollywood summer tent pole. It’s stunning how little the film–until the third act–cares about making him a likable character. The way the film works, how to plot unfolds–and how long they manage to keep pertinent information (information the viewer knows) from the protagonist is something.

Costner has some good acting moments, but the script doesn’t provide many of them. He’s fine throughout, but it’s frequently a physical, silent performance. He has a good conversation with Jeanne Tripplehorn at one point and then, at the end, he has a fine standoff with Dennis Hopper. That final standoff comes after the viewer is told all about Costner being a dangerous person. The film only shows the aftereffects, which makes the sequence awkward, but when Costner faces off with Hopper–those previous, iffy sequences get an automatic pass.

Hopper’s okay as the villain. He’s got some good moments and some bad ones. He’s really funny with Tina Majorino. Waterworld‘s interesting today because of its rather neon anti-American sentiments. The villain wants nothing more than to turn the mythical Dryland into a golf course development. Not to mention the ice caps melting (from an unmentioned global warming)–it’s kind of strange, but also an indicator of when the film was made. I don’t think any big Hollywood pictures today are going to allow any “anti” American sentiments in.

Waterworld‘s most successful as a spectacle. It cost a bunch of money and it looks great. There’s some definite 1995 CG, but it’s certainly excusable, given the amazing practical effects. Kevin Reynolds knows how to shoot action scenes–complex ones with intricate geographies and lots of players–and Waterworld‘s exciting when it’s trying to be exciting. James Newton Howard’s fine score only amplifies the film’s (relative) success. It’s a big action-adventure movie with zero sequel prospects included–a dead sub-genre.

Even though it doesn’t affect Waterworld‘s quality overall, the third act features some truly idiotic developments. It humanizes Costner all of a sudden, with one particular scene being the turning point. Except that scene doesn’t have anything to do with humanizing him. Either there’s a scene missing or Waterworld‘s makers thought the audience wasn’t going to be paying enough attention. It’s an annoying misstep, the first of many in the conclusion. After spending at least two hours inflating the viewer’s suspension of disbelief–everyone speaks English (and some can read it), there are still discernible ethnicities, there’s oil around and the ability to refine it–Waterworld ends on fast forward. There’s a rapid-fire romance between Costner and Tripplehorn, which doesn’t make any sense since she kind of seduces him and then, in the next scene, has given up hope. There’s the convenient return of the people from the first hour–I mean, R.D. Call’s good and I was glad to see him back, but come on–and then there’s the conclusion. It’s not like they’ve got Hercules’s twelve labors to get to Dryland. It’s kind of sitting around for anyone to find and it’s unbelievable only two other people did. Waterworld plays fast and loose with its time frame, which is fine until the lackluster ending, when it should come through and doesn’t.

Some of Waterworld‘s failures have to do with Costner. When he made this film, he wasn’t a big star–he was on the way down, as I recall–but he made epic films. Waterworld is a finely paced summer diversion masquerading as an epic. It needed a solid rewrite, another half hour and, surprisingly, a bigger budget (for more characters and sets).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Reynolds; written by Peter Rader and David Twohy; directors of photography, Dean Semler and Scott Fuller; edited by Peter Boyle; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Dennis Gassner; produced by Charles Gordon, Lawrence Gordon, John Davis and Kevin Costner; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Kevin Costner (The Mariner), Dennis Hopper (The Deacon), Jeanne Tripplehorn (Helen), Tina Majorino (Enola), Michael Jeter (Old Gregor), Gerard Murphy (The Nord), R.D. Call (Enforcer at the Atoll), Jack Black (Smoker Plane Pilot), John Toles-Bey (Ed, Smoker Plane Gunner), Robert Joy (Ledger Guy), John Fleck (Smoker Doctor), Kim Coates (Crazed Drifter), Sab Shimono (Elder of the Atoll), Leonardo Cimino (Elder of the Atoll), Jack Kehler (Banker), Rick Aviles (Gatesman at the Atoll), Sean Whalen (Bone), Lee Arenberg (Djeng), Robert LaSardo (Smitty), William Preston (Depth Gauge) and Chris Dourid (Atoller).


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Tropic Thunder (2008, Ben Stiller)

Tropic Thunder is one of those nice movies where most of the cast is phenomenal–here, while Nick Nolte and Steve Coogan are less than amazing, they’re both good. Only Ben Stiller lacks. The script’s full of good one-liners and some knowing Hollywood references. When, for the third act, there’s an attempt at honest characterization, it stumbles. Instead of amping up the absurdity, the movie strangely sidesteps it. The last couple scenes totally ignore that sidestep, going for an ending one half Soapdish, the other Austin Powers. It’s a weak move, but it’s hard to get too upset–the Austin Powers half is Tom Cruise in a fat suit and a bald cap dancing to hip hop.

Cruise’s performance, which I thought was more a cameo, says a lot about where Tropic Thunder works well. It gives the opportunity for good actors to essay crazy roles in the “real” world. There is a certain air of unreality about the movie, if only because it’s a movie made about “Access Hollywood” type reporting using “Access Hollywood” as a narrative tool. There’s a certain conflict of interest, particularly given Cruise’s presence.

Of the three leads–and calling Jack Black one of the leads is a courtesy, Black’s absolutely fantastic, but he’s not one of the leads–Black is the only one without a recognizable real life analog. Even though Robert Downey Jr. picked his character’s nationality (Australian)–a change from the original Irish–the result, a multi-Academy Award winner who does Oscar bait, results in rather obvious Russell Crowe comparisons. Stiller’s playing a combination of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom Cruise. Imagine Cruise’s career downturn but without the prestige projects and a lot of dumb, Arnold-sounding action movies. It makes Cruise’s appearance all the more amusing, but it feels–like the “Access Hollywood”–not like punches are being pulled… but they aren’t connecting.

The result is a measured success. Tropic Thunder is really funny, but never genuinely witty or intelligent. There’s a pretense it is witty and intelligent, which just makes it a little sad. Thank goodness for that Tom Cruise dance number.

As far as the acting goes… Downey is–technically–the most amazing. Until he has to play it straight, it’s just fantastic. But Jay Baruchel and Brandon T. Jackson, as the non-superstar supporting cast members in the movie’s movie, steal it in terms of actual human performances. These characters exist to remind the viewer the main characters are unbelievably loopy, which really cuts into the reality factor. Baruchel has more to do in the plot, more people to interact with (Jackson basically gets scenes–good scenes–with Downey).

In much too small roles, both Danny R. McBride and Matthew McConaughey are good.

Stiller’s direction is nearly as passive as his performance. There’s some funny references to war movies–Baruchel starts the picture in glasses in what I’m hoping is a silent Full Metal Jacket reference–but in terms of actual craft, Stiller comes up empty. The movie’s strength are in the script’s dialogue and its characters (certainly not its plot) and the actors. And Stiller seems aware of it.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ben Stiller; screenplay by Stiller, Justin Theroux and Etan Cohen, based on a story by Stiller and Theroux; director of photography, John Toll; edited by Greg Hayden; music by Theodore Shapiro; production designer, Jeff Mann; produced by Stuart Cornfeld, Eric McLeod and Stiller; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Ben Stiller (Tugg Speedman), Jack Black (Jeff Portnoy), Robert Downey Jr. (Kirk Lazarus), Brandon T. Jackson (Alpa Chino), Jay Baruchel (Kevin Sandusky), Danny McBride (Cody), Steve Coogan (Damien Cockburn), Bill Hader (Rob Slolom), Nick Nolte (Four Leaf Tayback), Brandon Soo Hoo (Tran), Reggie Lee (Byong) with Matthew McConaughey (Rick Peck) and Tom Cruise (Les Grossman).


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