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Tropic Thunder is a biting satire on the state of Hollywood filmmaking and prima donna status if big name actors in the industry, and amid all the controversy you would expect the film to have little more edge to it. Not to sell Ben Stiller’s writing-directing-producing work short, the film is very well done, and nearly every joke hits its mark, but you wonder if more than a few punches were pulled at the last minute to guarantee all those involved would actually be able to work in the industry they were skewering again.

Stiller stars as Tugg Speedman, a lagging action star responsible for the ubiquitous Scorcher series of films now in its sixth installment as the pre-movie faux trailers tell us. Speedman took a disastrous turn as a “full retard” in Simple Jack an award-fishing expedition lambasted as one of the worst films ever made. Speedman signs on to Tropic Thunder (also the name of the movie within the movie) to rejuvenate his career alongside one-joke comedian Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) who farts a lot and Australian method actor Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey, Jr.) who dons blackface and a clichéd African-American persona. The internal film’s director, Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) receives and ultimatum from studio head Les Grossman (scene stealing Tom Cruise) leading Cockburn to drop his actors in the middle of a drug warfare zone and shoot the film guerilla style.

All of the leads bring their A-game but it’s the roles by Downey, Jr., Cruise, and supporting roles of Jay Baruchel and Danny McBride that really propel the movie to the next level. Cruise’s involvement was meant to be kept a secret to surprise the audience, and even with pictures on the net and syndicated reporting, you could still hear “That’s Tom Cruise!” exclaimed throughout the theater when he first appears litter the room with profanities. Coming off Iron Man, Robert Downey, Jr. look to continue his career high with an excellent portrayal of method actors and the extreme lengths they go through to preserve the illusion on and off camera. Baruchel, late of Knocked Up and TV’s Undeclared, plays the straight man in the ensemble and McBride, seen only last week in Pineapple Express brings the pyro-obsessed FX-master Cody to life.

The opening segments of the film are the most rewarding with the trailers highlighting the careers of each of the three leads and the in-movie filming of the big finale of Tropic Thunder complete with a $4 million dollar explosion (in which the camera wasn’t rolling) offer up the most laughs. As the film progresses and the characters become aware that they are no longer actors in a guerilla style war film, but civilians being captured by drug runners the movie loses a little bit of the spark that initially drew you in, the satire is gone as the film devolves into your basic war-time comedy.

One of the problems is the characters are never really developed beyond their eccentricities, Speedman is the classic action star looking for a serious role and recognition and respect, Lazarus is the quirky Australian who excels at acting naturally, and Portnoy is basically a combination of Belushi and Farley rolled into the flatulent stylings of Eddie Murphy. The secondary characters play one note throughout, and while these notes are funny, it only lends to the belief that so much more could have been done with this picture.

Just like the beginning the ending also brings a host of laughs as a mock Oscar ceremony finds our heroes sometime after the completion of the film and a final dancing scene presents the credits to you in one of the most disturbing manners possible.

The hype that has preceded Tropic Thunder may be its biggest enemy as its almost impossible to live up to the expectations of being a razor-sharp satire on movie making. At the core this is what Stiller and company were going for, but in reality the audience is treated to a fair amount of satire before just settling for what we get.

Since the unlikely success of Harold and Kumar the sub-genre of stoner-action-comedy-adventure has really taken off. Of course movies like this are nothing new in Hollywood, but getting the target audience off the couch and away from the substances that make them the target audience for two hours is sometimes harder to manage. All you need is some clever marketing, the guys who wrote Superbad, and the genre’s new “it” boy Seth Rogen to make a successful film. It doesn’t hurt Judd Apatow is along for the ride as a producer and the always excellent, although drastically underused here, Gary Cole makes an appearance.

Pineapple Express, through its thinly laced plot, excels at making you laugh more often than note, however your level of enjoyment figures on how well you “get” the culture of habitual weed smokers and what they might find funny, or if you just like to see stone people stumble around like, well, stoned idiots. Rogen and fellow Apatow-alum James Franco star as Dale and Saul, respectively, a buyer and a dealer on the run from an even bigger deal (Cole’s Ted) after Dale witnesses Ted blowing a guy’s head off.

The movie’s namesake comes from a particular strand of plant that, leads Ted back to a mid-level man, Red (Danny R. McBride), whom he sold it to, and where it went from there. Ted sends a couple of hit men after Dale and Saul and Red flip flops sides more times than a politician up until the movie’s explosive finale.

As always Rogen is excellent here, his oafishness and chubby guy persona brings a certain likeability to him, even in some of the smallest roles. Everyone remembers how he stole the show in The 40 Year old Virgin and seemingly made getting married to Katherine Heigl manageable (in real life I doubt this is possible). Franco, late of the Spider-Man franchise, grows his hair out and puts on the dumbest face possible in the role of Saul a clichéd example of why you shouldn’t do drugs and try to do any thing that requires a quarter of your brain. Most of the film’s best moments come at the expense of his limited intellect.

The cast is rounded out by the aforementioned Cole who is apt to play the bad guy but is underutilized and underdeveloped with the script, written by Rogen and partner Even Goldberg, focusing more on Dale and Saul than anything else. The chemistry between Rogen and Franco is top notch, however, and the third wheel of the scheming McBride completes the ensemble in the same way Christopher Mintz-Plasse McLovin’ augmented Superbad.

The film, however, isn’t able to stand up completely under the weight of its hook, a couple of high guys know too much and have some bad guys after them, the opening segment, featuring the hilarious Bill Hader ties in well to the ending of the film 70 years later, but without the film’s star power draw, there wouldn’t be much to it but smoke billowing out from under the door.

At the beginning of summer if someone were to ask me what would be the most disappointing film of the summer (thus far) I could have pretty much guaranteed the world “Man” or “Hulk” would have been in my answer, but not the single letter “X”, yet here we are, nearly done with the summer movie season and the shining example of too little, too late is a movie I wanted to believe in so much.

The X Files: I Want to Believe seeks to do two things, introduce new viewers to The X Files, which ran on FOX from 1993-2002, and to bring back viewers who have been without their Mulder/Scully fix for the better part of the new millennium. What Chris Carter has done with the secret script he guarded for years barely measures up to one of the show’s mediocre episodes which thankfully lasted only 42 minutes, here we have nearly two hours to endure.

The abandoning of the mythology story arc, seemingly resolved at the end of the series, really hinders what makes The X Files special. Even the first film, which fit into the time line of the show, broadened the show’s appeal with bigger set pieces, bigger action, but kept the series trademark conspiracy, mythology, and characters in check. Fight the Future was a superior example of how to transition a TV show to the silver screen with style, while preserving what made it special in the beginning. I Want to Believe is a devolution back to the monster-of-the-week story lines present throughout the show’s book-ending first and ninth seasons, no mention of aliens, black oil, cigarette smoking men, nothing. Replace the two main characters with anyone else, or chimpanzees and you’d have the same film.

The biggest problem is how fleeting the final, and highly rated, episode of the series is thrown away, it’s a single line of dialog and Mulder is no longer a wanted man, in-fact, all it takes is one psycho psychic (who also happens to like little boys) and the FBI is scraping at the door to get Mulder back into the fold. Aren’t these the same people that wanted him dead? The same people that created trumped up charges so see him live in agony for the rest of his life and discredit his work?

Aside from a minor appearance by Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), who is apparently still working for the FBI even after the series finale, we get nothing else to even remotely identify this as an extension of The X Files series. No Lone Gunman (even though they are dead), no Doggett, no William (aside from a mention of Scully’s who-knows-where child), but we do get the famous poster and a few Samantha references.

Maybe Carter wrapped everything up too tightly at the end of the TV run to really make a follow up movie or create a franchise beyond a nine year run on the small screen. Without the mythology, there is no X Files, all you have left is creepy Russian headhunters who like to transplant heads to different bodies.

As the credits roll after the most needless ocean scenery ever the light come up and you stare blankly at the screen, wanting to believe that there’s more, that a UFO will come crashing through the production logo and set up a sequel covered in black oil. You want to believe that The X Files isn’t truly over, but after such a mess of a film, you now want to believe they’ll leave this treasured franchise alone to run in syndication and in the minds of its fans.

More so than its predecessor, Hellboy II: The Golden Army is an arresting visual experience with a loose story centered on the titular character and the army of paranormal investigators at the BRPD. The influence of Guillermo del Toro on the franchise, lifted from the pages of Dark Horse comics, has brought it to a more mainstream audience and amplified what it is to be different. The original film was a modest success for Sony and the ailing Revolution Studios, after passing on the sequel, Universal picked up the rights and brings us one of the top comic book movies of the year, so far.

Hellboy II manages to surpass its original installment, something that’s not easy to do, but becoming more common recently, in nearly all aspects. While the plot is still a prime excuse to link together fight scenes, the background story still has some muster and a mythological base treats fans of two different genres.

Long ago an elf king commissioned goblins to create an indestructible army commanded by a crown. The Golden Army was so destructive and indestructible that it nearly annihilated all of mankind and led to a truce between the two parties, the humans taking the cities, the elves taking the forests. While most of the elf population took this truce to heart for each generation, the king’s son Price Nuada (Luke Goss) drifted into exile only to turn up in the present day with the urge to command the army for himself and destroy the humans.

The antagonist is a bit weak, although its hard to top the terrorizing effects of undead Nazi’s from the first film. What really shines here is the character development of Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and Liz (Selma Blair) and their struggling relationship. The writing has been tightened significantly with Perlman delivering one-liners like any leading man and making them count. Both Liz and Abe (Doug Jones) receive expanded parts in relation to the original, new character Johann Kraus (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) really brings a bit of freshness to the film.

The film also maintains aspects of the comic book’s back-story and mythology including more and more allusions that Hellboy will be the destructor of our world, and when the pregnant Liz hears this as a choice between Hellboy living and dying she understandably choices his life over, what may be, everyone else’s. While a common theme of the character, del Toro again tries to play up the fact that the world will never accept Hellboy, even when he, Abe, and the BRPD are ousted into the public eye. The red-skinned one once again contemplates his position within human society and if he can ever survive and be accepted.

Perlman loses himself in the role and makes the doubters who initially opposed him for the role eat a good sized helping of crow as he further evolves the character down new paths. He’s able to make a giant red demon into a humanized character, naïve in relationships, and sticking it to authority figures much to the dismay of his overseer Manning (Jeffrey Tambor).

As mentioned previously, the visual imagery of the film is stunning with some major holdovers from del Toro’s Oscar-nominated Pan’s Labyrinth including the creepy, yet enticing Angel of Death near the climax of the film. The battle between our heroes and the Golden Army is also very well choreographed and a visual masterpiece.

When it’s all said and done, the Hellboy series continues on its high road (as long as we don’t count videogames) and manages to outdo the original film in a planned trilogy in nearly every category from writing to action to character development. One can only hope that the next film capitalizes on this one’s success and high points and continues to climb upwards.

There hasn’t been a movie like Hancock in a long while with the ability to polarize audiences to such a degree as this. From the very onset of the film, when a drunken, languishing superhero (Will Smith) awakens to perform the not-so-daunting task of stopping a SUV full of guys with guns, you know you are in for something different, or at least you think you are. Truth be told, Columbia Picture’s marketing department accurately marketed about 20% of this movie before its release, a few one-liners, some boozing super powers, and a guy saving the day for all mankind. All that stuff ends about 25 minutes into the film and after the true perspective of the film is revealed.

The big “twist,” that has been marketed more than Smith flying under the influence, isn’t that big at all as Peter Berg’s direction makes everything so blatantly obvious with close to two dozen shots of Charlize Theron’s face that you just know she’s mentally projecting into your brain, “Hi, I’m Academy Award winner Charlize Theron, and I know something more than I let on!” The obviousness of the “twist” when it finally happens has no punch to it, it simply happens and some hair-brained explanation is supposed to make everything better. Granted the premise is unique, the execution is severely lacking.

Smith is his usual charismatic self, borrowing elements from all the previous characters that he’s played and combining it into another great role. Hancock eventually saves Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) who puts him through the paces of changing his image in the public eye, even going to jail for a month to make the public miss him, but Ray’s connection to Hancock, through his wife, complicates things as the film goes on into its dramatic climax.

Theron as Mary Embrey seems to have lost all the muster that gave her the aforementioned Oscar, whether it be from a lack of material, or just a general lack of talent, but Mary comes off as flat and even more so when her secret is revealed.

Oh the hell with it, Mary is a superhero too, she has super powers, and when pairs of the ancient race of beings come close to each other they become mortal, something that plays out near the end of the film. Fate always brings them back together, and she’s always escaping away from Hancock to save both of them. See, hair-brained.

Realistically this is the main antagonist in the film, there isn’t a super villain created by a super-secret experiment, there isn’t a mole-man drilling up from the ground or anything like that, it’s a character piece, and while the character of Hancock is developed enough for us to care, the rest of the script, save for Bateman’s usually wonderful performance, really leaves a lot to be desired.

Again, Hancock is a polarizing film, you either like it, or you don’t, based on what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish there is a lot to like here, but where it all counts, the script, is where the film falls flat. In a world where we give accolades for participation and trying, Hancock wins a handful of awards, but where execution gets you results, this superhero film fails to live up to the expectations set up by its first 20 minutes of runtime.

Not since the death of Spock in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn has a sci-fi film truly expressed the emotional state of characters set in the far, far future. Today, on the small screen, at least, the science fiction genre is rich with emotional, compelling stories each week, but the silver screen versions, where two hours are usually devoted to action and “wow” moments, are sometimes lacking in the major development of what it means to be human. What better way to exemplify such a human emotion as love than two robots in Pixar Animation Studio’s latest opus, WALL-E.

The tale of WALL-E is easily Pixar’s most melancholy and glum tale to date, easily surpassing the Disney staple of “your mom is dead, here’s a life lesson” embodied since the release of Bambi. WALL-E is most likely the last surviving, functioning robot of his kind, his primary directive is to gobble up trash in his shell, compact it down into neatly stacked cubes, and await humans to return to Earth after it was polluted and left for dead. However, WALL-E has developed personality, and through repeated watching of his cherished Hello, Dolly! tape, he’s trying to love, although being alone (sans a cockroach friend) makes this difficult.

Enter EVE, the object of WALL-E’s affections throughout the 90 minute tale, EVE was sent from the massive AXIOM spaceship to seek out life on Earth, alerting mankind that the forlorn planet has recovered enough (after 700 years) to support human life again. WALL-E eventually follows EVE back to the AXIOM and becomes a hero for malfunction robots, and a hero for all human kind.

The social undertones of the film are present in the none-too-subtle opening shots of the planet in utter disarray. Stacks of compacted garbage cubes stand taller than the world’s tallest skyscrapers as WALL-E has been busy for 700 years. The oceans have dried up, plant life is near-to-none-existent, and the air is so polluted it makes Los Angeles look like Aspen. While a direct environmental message isn’t beaten into the audience, after all, this is a G-rated family film, the effects of humanities’ gluttony is easy recognizable, and when we are re-introduced to humans aboard the AXIOM, it’s basically what you would expect.

The film itself is a masterpiece of storytelling and art direction with each cog coming together to build a working, magnificent machine, capable of entertaining, saddening, and eventually making you cry with joy as the final act plays out. The beginning 30 minutes of the film are a harkening back to the era of silent films where a character’s actions were representations of the emotions we couldn’t usually see or hear about through dialog. WALL-E and EVE’s interaction, although cold at first, eventually warms up to the point where they are the most human characters in the film, they represent hope in the most dire situations, and for that Pixar and Academy Award-winning director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) has outdone themselves once again.

Just sitting in the theater seeing the once cold EVE replay the recorded memories of WALL-E protecting her after she completed her mission and deactivated was both heartbreaking and uplifting, showing the spirit the little robot had gained from a few pieces of seemingly innocent human culture.The film can bring you to tears, and have you laughing the next minute, a seemingly endless onslaught of emotional impact.

Everything about the film clicks and comes together in one of the best packages Pixar, or anyone else has ever assembled, live action or not. WALL-E is the antithesis of films like The Love Guru where one can proudly say that they have a love affair with cinema and movies that draw you in, and never let you go. Such a proud package has you happy for two animated robots, twice removed from reality, and potentially turning into the most talked about couple of the year.

Crime dramas are big today, so it’s no surprise that we see a lot of independents jump into the fray and produce gritty, seedy films with sex, drugs, guns and violence. The Yuzzi Brother’s attempt with Vegasland is valiant, but unfortunately needs a lot of work in the script and acting.

Vegasland follows bookie and gambler Eddie G., who gets roped into an underworld involving a cop hell bent on killing anything in site in order to get a tape of an underground fight that could spell trouble.

Whenever I review a low budget independent, I always take into account resources when evaluating the final product, to see how much was done with…well, how much. The problem here is that for a film like this that can’t afford a lot of effects, it needs a tight script and great acting talent, both of which are unfortunately weak here. The story itself is fine, but the scenes in the film feel more like a hodgepodge that don’t do anything to really build on the characters that are introduced. It seems almost as if the scenes are simply a means to and end.

Some of the scenes are notable though, including one where Eddie, seeing what amounts to his best chance to escape, trying to get a jammed gun to work. At first I thought he just didn’t know how to operate the gun, and so that humor lent itself to the frustration and sense of tension the scene had built.

The acting in the film lacked, and that is the one thing the movie could have had going for it if enough time was given to a casting search for the more crucial roles (yes even films on no budget can get people that have talent that work for peanuts, or less). Ernell Manabat does a passable job in the lead, having some great sparks of performance here and there, but it’s actually in some of the supporting cast members with almost no screen time that we see the best performances. Most notable are Rusty Meyers as Councilman Lance Eliason and Chuck Prater as Snakes who do outstanding jobs, and are quite believable in their roles.

Other notable plusses to the film are the quality of the cinematography and the sheer length of the film they were able to lay down on a shoe string budget. It’s not often you can find this kind of dedication to a project that transcends the almighty dollar, so it is really nice to see it all come together.

All in all I would say the film is a decent effort, and while it has some flaws that probably mean it won’t be winning any awards, it’s a fun change of pace to see a big budget movie style done independently.

Every person that reviewed this movie poorly is clinically retarded. Would you believe severely traumatized?

All of you who loved the television series Get Smart should LOVE this movie. It may have quelled some fears if the tag “consultants: Mel Brooks and Buck Henry” came at the beginning of the movie, since these original series co-creators can hardly touch anything without it being comedic genius (I say anything because, I’m sorry, Dracula: Dead and Loving It should have been aborted like a…well put in your own analogy, I don’t want to sound uncaring.)

The movie follows Maxwell Smart (portrayed flawlessly by Steve Carell), a formerly portly analyst for C.O.N.T.R.O.L that has dreams of making it big like his hero, Agent 23 (played by Dwayne Johnson). When K.A.O.S. agents infiltrate the C.O.N.T.R.O.L. HQ and compromise the names of all their agents, it’s up to Max and Agent 99 (sensuously played by Anne Hathaway) to save the President and the city of Los Angeles from destruction.

First off, the casting was spot on. Steve Carell was able to keep the Don Adams sly confidence and dry wit without losing too much of the lovable ineptitude. Anne Hathaway plays 99 deliciously, with a mix of deadly sexuality and bite. The supporting cast does just as well, with notable performances by the ever fantastic Alan Arkin as the Chief, and Terrance Stamp as Siegfried of K.A.O.S. Even at the end we get Hymie, the lovable robot agent played by none other than the hilarious Patrick Warburton.

Now I must say it isn’t EXACTLY like the series. People need to realize that the type of humor Mel Brooks went for in the 60’s is not the type of humor he goes for today (if you’ve seen Robin Hood: Men in Tights, you know what I mean). While there was a lot of over the top humor back in the day, it wasn’t all sight gags, and they weren’t always so banal; it was somewhat more highbrow compared to the over the top sight gags of today. Obviously we have to very quickly get these characters up to speed, as they don’t have a gajillion episodes to flesh out and solidify characters, so we do miss stronger character arcs.

My two main disappointments were the direction they took agent 23’s character at the end (spoiler alert, he’s the bad guy too), and PART of the 86 character. For the Rock’s part, he played the character of suave, cool 23 very well. I just felt that making him a bad guy was a little forced; it didn’t quite feel right at the end of the movie. As for Max, Carell again does a great job getting the audience to like him as he tries to act courageous and knowledgeable, and is of course really just a complete fish out of water. There were parts though where he was actually TOO competent. The Max of the television series would NEVER have been able to actually hit something he aimed at with a gun, let alone several times. There also, and this is funny to gripe about, were not enough accidents.

A lot of the situations that Max got into, or got out of, were completely accidental. Anyone who watched cartoons from the 60’s and 70’s knows Hong Kong Phooey, who would act like he was the shit, but it was really his trusty cat Spot that would get him out of messes. In Get Smart, 86 would find his way into a situation and would either stumble out, or stumble around while Barbara Feldon got him out. That was part of Max’s appeal, that cocky self assuredness that never rubbed you the wrong way because you knew he meant well, and he acted that way because he was making up for the fact that half the time he was just faking it and was hoping to get credit for style points.

All in all it was an incredibly funny movie that paid a great deal of respect to the original series, and while a couple elements did fall under what would be seen as spot on, the overall picture was a joy to watch. I hope that they take note of the couple kinks in the characters and build on that for next time.

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