TBT: Behind Enemy Lines (2001)

. . . and just when everyone thought this thread was dead uhhhh-gain, it makes a triumphant reappearance. Well, semi-triumphant. I finally watched a war film I had been wanting to see for many a year and as it turned out, well . . . phooey on all that anticipating. It wasn’t really worth it! Oh well. It’s still a decent romp. You could do a lot worse as far as cheap-looking war movies are concerned, things that fail to succeed to even entertain on some basic level, such as what can only be presumed to be the case for the disastrous direct-to-VHS sequels to 

Today’s food for thought: Behind Enemy Lines.

Being ridiculously jingoistic since: November 30, 2001

[DVD]

Behind Enemy Lines is an awkward blend of entertainment and information. Or maybe misinformation would be a better term. Director John Moore’s fictionalized account of American involvement in the final days of the Bosnian War isn’t so much irresponsible as it is lazy. This is too easy of a film, quickly digestible and dispensable. But at least it was . . . fun?

Owen Wilson played Navy flight officer Lieutenant Chris Burnett, an intelligent but rather undisciplined young man who gets deployed on a holiday mission by Admiral Reigart (Gene Hackman). Joining him in what was supposed to be a routine reconnaissance mission is pilot Lieutenant Jeremy Stackhouse (Gabriel Macht). During the flight Burnett suggests they make use of their “shiny new digital camera” — since they’re missing the Christmas dinner onboard the ship they may as well make good use of their time. They end up taking aerial photos of a site that is decidedly outside of their lawful flying route, a demilitarized zone that just so happens to contain a mass grave, an operation being conducted secretly by Bosnian-Serb paramilitary General Miroslav Lokar (Russian actor Vladimir Mashkov). Of course they are spotted and subsequently shot down.

The Americans eject and avoid death by pine tree at Mach 3, though Stackhouse suffers a leg injury and stays behind while Burnett searches for higher ground to radio back to the USS Carl Vinson for help. Unfortunately Serbian forces appear over the horizon and gasp, spoilers! are quick to interrogate and then execute the lone Stackhouse. Burnett goes on the run, but not before he accidentally exposes himself (no, not in the Lenny Kravitz in Sweden kind of way). So ensues an hour and a half of cat-and-mouse across the frozen and rugged mountains of Bosnia-Herzegovina. How long can a sole American Naval officer survive behind enemy lines? If this film’s questionable historical basis (that of U.S. Air Force Captain Scott O’Grady) is anything to go by, apparently it’s six days (or as long as the running time says).

To provide the drama at least some depth, Moore injects his production with the typical political farce. Burnett’s survival hinges upon whether Hackman’s Reigart can convince the dispassionate NATO Commander — who is overseeing the peace talks between American and Serbian forces — that it will be worth his while to rescue this one guy. While the concerns of Admiral Piquet (Portuguese actor Joaquim de Almeida) are valid, there’s very little to justify how long it takes for Admiral Reigart to finally disobey orders by taking matters into his own hands.

Plot holes and predictability notwithstanding, Behind Enemy Lines is, at its best, exemplary of that ‘good-old boys’ huzzah that was clearly gunning for the viewer not as concerned with more accurate, less video-gamey war depictions in the vein of Saving Private Ryan, Enemy at the Gates and Black Hawk Down. Though its can-do spirit feels more like faded glory now as the special effects are profoundly poor, chaotic and overly dramatic. Added to which a script that has the typically excellent Gene Hackman stuck between a rock and a hard place delivering, visibly hesitant, corny lines that are intended to motivate Burnett. The blue wash of light from the ship’s command center on Hackman’s face offers some concealment of an actor in discomfort. And as refreshing as it is to see Wilson in a dramatic role — this, mind you, being in retrospect given his upcoming career — he doesn’t fare much better when his final dozen lines devolve into a festival of “goddamnit”‘s.

Behind Enemy Lines has almost innumerable issues, from the technical to the practical. Portrayals of Serbs as the obvious bad guys and Americans as the unquestionable do-gooders make the film ripe for parody. It’s not much of a surprise to learn the filmmakers were unable to hire any Serbian actors for those particular roles. That wasn’t enough to stop Moore from creating a silly, slight but still somewhat enjoyable slice of American action.

Recommendation: Behind Enemy Lines is far from the best war film you’ll see but the cast do a thorough enough job getting into character so believing in the situation isn’t as absurd as it might have been with less experienced actors. That said, the special effects and general clumsiness of the script (particularly the dialogue) leave too much to be desired to warrant anything but a shaky recommendation from me. All that said, this has got to be legions better than anything else that has proceeded it in the so-called “series.” 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 106 mins.

TBTrivia: Director John Moore was nearly killed in the scene where the tank busts through the wall. He was pulled away by a stuntman just in time.

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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com; http://www.channel4.com

Get Hard

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Release: Friday, March 27, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Etan Cohen; Jay Martel; Ian Roberts

Directed by: Etan Cohen

It speaks to the talents of Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart that Get Hard gets funny at all. This is easily one of the most racist and homophobic movies I’ve ever had the displeasure of reviewing.

I’d like to clear the air right away: I have a fairly high tolerance for low-brow humor and I’ve been a loyal fan of Ferrell’s for sometime, and despite the motor-mouth on Hart he occasionally has my sides splitting open from laughter. But this is a difficult one to enjoy, especially because while it begs for the mind to be shut off completely, it ironically opens the mind up to all kinds of disturbing thoughts — such as: how insecure is this Etan Cohen guy? And where did the ‘h’ in Etan go, anyway? If he enjoys poking fun at this many different subsects of society I feel it is well within my rights to go out of my way to be petty about the spelling of his name.

I doubt very much Mr. Cohen is reading this review but if he is, I invite him to enjoy the rest of this rant. I’d like your job. I’ve never directed so much as a short film before but your ineptitude at guiding what might have been — and this is being probably too generous here — a clever concept through to the end is some kind of fail I’d be comfortable with putting a hashtag in front of. #failhard.

So, before I blow a gasket, let’s talk plot, shall we? This film has potential in Will Ferrell playing James King, a wealthy and privileged white dude who’s made it big pocketing money from various American investors as a hedge fund manager at Wealthrop Fund Corporation — a legitimate businessman in several senses of the word. What he is not, however, is prepared to get raped in the San Quentin penitentiary after being arrested on embezzlement charges that come out of nowhere. First of all, let’s just assume that the act of forcible penetration by a man unto another man is the worst case scenario when one goes to the slammer. There may, in fact, be things to fear more but I don’t want to go there. The film establishes that where King is going is nothing less than a hell hole, so we accept that, yeah he’s going to need some prepping. He enlists at random the help of his car washer, humble little Darnell (Hart), whom King presumes has done time and has some wisdom to impart.

Get Hard, when not endeavoring to be as offensive as possible, sets up some pretty amusing sequences — one of the better ones being a running visual gag as Darnell converts King’s mansion into a makeshift prison wherein he’ll toughen King’s candy-ass up by overhauling his social, physical and psychological prowess. His wine room is made into a jail cell, his live-in staff (all of which are Mexican) become his prison inmates and there’s even a prison riot simulation. There are moments away from the mansion where Ferrell and Hart manage to serve up some laughs before the script (penned by no fewer than three writers) slaps the smile right off your face thanks to the temptation to push crudeness three steps too far.

Hart and Ferrell with little effort form a dynamic that’s simultaneously mildly entertaining and painful to endure. Get Hard relies on the oh-so-clever countdown clock (30 days before prison, 25 days, etc.) as a lazy excuse to establish time frames, a way to express the bond that forms between what were once strangers distanced by socioeconomic status. Oh, and skin color. As the first day of prison rapidly approaches the duo goes from James and Darnell to ‘Mayo and Chocolate.’

If you think my greatest annoyance with all of this is Cohen’s fascination with segregating people rather than unifying them — I won’t deny films have been doing this for as long as the industry has been around but few actually make use of racism/homophobia as a plot device — then let’s turn the spotlight on the quality of the acting. Ferrell and Hart aren’t worth mentioning as both are playing versions of themselves. Ferrell may need to find a new gig soon, though as it’s clear he is reaching for characters with a kind of maturity to them that just feels awkward. But to find Craig T. Nelson trying to make his character work, King’s father-in-law-to-be and higher-up in the firm is disheartening. He’s terrible. So is Alison Brie, the whiny, gold-digging prissy fiancée of James King. Paul Ben-Victor miscalculates his role as the one who does the trigger-pulling and actual threat-making as something that will help his career last.

While there are moments that are genuinely funny Get Hard is offensive on so many levels it’s difficult to comprehend. I didn’t even tap into the brutality of the gay jokes but that’s a segment that really doesn’t need addressing. Come to think of it, I’ve already spent too much time talking about this one as it is.

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1-0Recommendation: For the most part unfunny and downright offensive for the sake of seeing where the boundaries may be pushed in 2015, Get Hard may not be the lowest point in either Will Ferrell or Kevin Hart’s careers, but it’d be a crime to call the movie worth your time.

Rated: R

Running Time: 100 mins.

Quoted: “One, two, three, December, Christmas, baked potato. . .”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Big Daddy (1999)

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May is moving on with or without me, and now that I’ve committed to doing Adam Sandler movies this month, I kind of can’t wait for it to be over so I don’t have to be responsible for these posts anymore. I already know several people who question me. I want to make it up to them. I can maybe make them some real shortbread pie or something, and maybe send it to them? Eric, how expensive was shipping and handling on your Shitfest trophies??? Anyway, yes, indeed the month and the theme continues onward, to my third favorite of his old little shitty-ography.  

Today’s food for thought: Big Daddy

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Release: June 25, 1999

[DVD]

Big Daddy marks the third of a triumvirate of decent Sandler comedies from the mid-to-late ’90s that, while earning a certain reputation through the collective opinion of mainstream critics, managed to garner a significant fanbase for Sandler. This film is the last one he would do before starting up his own production company, Happy Madison Productions. Yes, that ever-reliable entity we can all thank for churning out garbage on a very frequent basis starring Adam Sandler and friends hogging a camera in a backyard for 90 minutes at a time.

This film is — surprise, surprise — not a far cry from its scatological cousins, Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison (not to mention a smattering of other, lesser offensive outings later on down the pike) who enjoyed making fun of the elderly, the homeless, the funny-looking. . .and women. The whole goal of being in an Adam Sandler movie was that you can act like a dick and get paid. This is my underlying theory of how they are able to keep cranking out true stinkers one after another in today’s market, anyway. It makes a lot of sense. Movies can be made quickly and cheaply when there is a 10-page script, most of the pages of which contain 80% choice language and made-up words.

The Big Daddy iteration of Sandler’s shtick concerns a 32-year-old unmotivated tollbooth operator finding himself in a limbo between growing up and facing being alone because of his stubborn ways. All around him his friends are getting ahead in life by proposing to long-time girlfriends and getting relocated to China for positions in law firms. Sonny himself has a law degree but hasn’t found the will to study and pass the bar exam and get his act fully together. However, an opportunity to do so presents itself when young Julian (played by twins Dylan and Cole Sprouse) appears on his trodden doorstep.

While Sonny’s initially reluctant to take on any more responsibility than the current crap-ton that he has, he finds himself becoming close with Julian and even enjoys acting like a role model for the kid, even if at times he’s a questionable one. Unfortunately it is later discovered by a Social Services worker that Julian was meant to be in the care of his biological father, Sonny’s roommate and friend and that Sonny’s extensive caretaking has been a complete circumvention of the law. He faces kidnapping and fraud charges.

I’m sure there are a few life lessons to be found somewhere in this comedy, let’s see what we can find, shall we:

  1. bigd25

    You should learn to smile more, for you have Jon Stewart for a father. Granted, there was that little issue of him jetting off to China for years to become a successful lawyer while never knowing you existed, but these things happen. You must learn that not even Jon Stewart is perfect.

  2. fhd999BDD_Kristy_Swanson_009

    Life is all about experience. I’ll just leave it at that.

  3. ijYwM2_large

    “The Birds and the Bees” discussion can never be held too early. Of course, this conversation can go into greater detail if put off until later. Then again, if you put this off til too much later, . . ah crap. That’s a real catch-22.

  4. fhd999BDD_Rob_Schneider_005

    Life requires you be patient. Not everything will fall completely into place at first. But you might find things coming together a bit quicker if you upgrade your vocabulary beyond that of a fifth grader. Don’t worry, though. No one in the real world actually judges you if you can’t spell ‘hippopotamus.’

  5. bigdaddy27

    Birthday parties are life’s little way of showing you a progress bar on the side of your Life Screen. Where you hold your parties, who hosts them for you and who attends them says a lot about who, what and where you are in your own life. Go on, enjoy it. Even if it’s at a strip joint. Or excuse me, a Hooters.

3-0Recommendation: Big Daddy is  . . .well, it’s Big Daddy. It’s neither the finest of Sandler’s offerings (a relative term for many people, this I do understand) but it’s far removed from the worst of his current drivel. Sandwiched comfortably among Sandler’s more memorable outings, this story benefits greatly from strong chemistry between it’s foul-mouthed lead and a pair of charming little twins who this reviewer still cannot tell apart. It falls into the same grooves as all Sandler’s creations do but manages to remain an enjoyable and surprisingly heartwarming raunch-fest that naturally belongs in the discussion of the man’s better contributions to the comedy of the 90s.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 89 mins.

Quoted: “Fish! Pony! Hip, hip hop, hip hop anonymous? Damn you! You gave him the easy ones.”

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Photo credits: google images

Bad Words

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Release: Friday, March 28, 2014

[Theater]

When a child uses choice language around the house, they run not from their parents, but rather away from the bar of Irish Spring they know will soon be in their mouth. The expression ‘I am going to wash your mouth out with soap’ may be timeless, but it’s never quite the deterrent parents think it should be, because. . . . . let’s face it. Most of us grow up, become well-adjusted and live a long life of swearing our asses off. Not really, but hopefully the point has been made.

Harmful (i.e. ‘bad’) words are an inescapable commodity, and most of us at some point have used them, maybe even aimed them at people we are nearby or perhaps talking directly to. But why did we use them — was it out of frustration? Or were we dropping the f-bomb because we were so thrilled about something? Did we not like the way we were being treated so we assaulted those who caused us pain with colorful and spiteful language? Context and intent is everything.

Jason Bateman decides to exploit these concepts in Bad Words, his directorial feature debut. Starring as the film’s definitive anti-hero, a 40-year-old miscreant named Guy Trilby determined to become the nation’s best speller, Bateman knew in order for the material to reach its highest comedic potential he would have to step in front of the camera as well. He could not have made a better move, for his performance is unquestionably the best work he’s ever turned in. By a mile.

Every action he makes and every word he hisses at those around him is a calculated effort of a possible sociopath in the making. Just because he doesn’t swear all of the time (even though it’s still a lot of the time), it’s to whom he speaks and throws insults and the timing of his actions that really matter. His masterful understanding of social context and a person’s ability to mask their intentions are chief among the many reasons Bateman deserves much credit. In this performance, he does his best to make us not like him but damn it he’s still too great to not (quietly) root for when truths eventually do become revealed.

Bad Words epitomizes situational comedy, or at least comes extremely close. Turn to any number of scenes in which Guy is a physically dominant opponent. We’re not talking about NBA basketball here, we are watching The Golden Quill Spelling Bee competition. As a full-grown adult, he’s in the wrong place and not only does he realize this, he doesn’t care. He wants to be the best at something, and knows he is also competing well within the rules. (A technicality based on a graduation date allows him to participate.)

There’s an equal number of scenes in which his intellect goes virtually unmatched by his diminutive, prepubescent competitors. He’ll try anything to gain an advantage, and I do mean anything. Thanks to Bateman’s incredibly funny and self-deprecating performance, Guy Trilby turns out to be a man with an alarming lack of morality; a conscience so twisted he’ll expose one of his ten-year-old rivals to his first pair of real boobs (to prove they all have nipples) before he offers up an honest answer to his journalist travel buddy, Jenny (Kathryn Hahn) about why he’s committing himself to this spelling bee. He maintains no kid will be a match for his sky-high I.Q.

You might think this guy is a complex character reading this review, when in fact it’s quite the opposite. Bateman’s dedication to keeping things simple, but earnest, crafts Bad Words into a better picture than it might have been in the hands of a director just coming off the high of directing an epic superhero film, or a director whose own lofty ambitions often run away from them. It’s what makes the character better, too. Guy Trilby has one thing to prove, and that’s. . . . . . .well that’s a spoiler. One gets the sense there is a deep pain he is hiding; when the truth is revealed we know it’s a basic, fundamental issue but it completely fits. The development proves to be great debut screenwriting from Andrew Dodge.

Despite things maintaining a straightforward procedure, that’s not to say the movie lacks interest. Bad Words instead allows its low-key status to enhance character’s presences, especially with how they are introduced. En route to the competition, Guy encounters what he initially considers the world’s most annoying brat, an Indian boy named Chaitanya (Rohand Chand). Eventually this inquisitive and impossibly intelligent kid destroys his ill-begotten misconceptions via a series of misadventures they both share during the final rounds of competition. Chaitanya is, inexplicably, looking for a friend in this obnoxious 40-year-old and the two have a bit of fun before they must get down to business. . . and spell the hell out of some words.

Bateman may take a fairly predictable route, and the final rounds of this highly unusual competition make for a foregone conclusion. Such are the traits of a film created by an accomplished actor turning his attention towards a new aspect of filmmaking — there are growing pains. Fortunately, as predictable as some of the routes are they can’t be called completely safe. That is certainly one word that does not apply here, as the proceedings often take a turn to the dark and depressing. One thing we’re not going to feel in this sitting is safe — at least, not with Bateman’s character lurking around. But that’s a good thing.

For all of its rushed third act and its many foreseeable developments, Bad Words is a thoroughly entertaining comedy that doesn’t slip nearly as much as other debut attempts have in the past. (I am not Guy Trilby so I won’t call these people out by name.) It is a laugh riot in a number of scenes, surprisingly heartwarming in others and is a great example of an actor successfully bridging the gap between acting and directing.

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4-0Recommendation: Bad Words is intelligent, raunchy, insulting and touching, often in the same scene. It is a film of an impressive quality that often beckons comparisons to Bad Santa. Is it any coincidence the two share the same first word? Methinks not. But in all seriousness, yes. This movie, it’s pretty much the shit. Go see it. And no, it’s not nerdy if you find spelling bees interesting. That’s why I saw it. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Rated: R

Running Time: 89 mins.

Quoted: “Your chair called me for help. . .it’s like help me, it’s so heavy.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com