Directed by the souls of its ancestors, 2010
Given that this is a revival of the SNL ‘character’ movie for the current era of R-rated feature comedy -- and headed by a chest-thumping, incompetent-but-really-super-competent man’s man character not a hundred miles out from Will Ferrell’s traditional persona at that -- it’s a little surprising how it expands its source material of 30-second Will Forte clips into a big parody of the last quarter century of action movies. Except, it’s surprising to me because that’s such well-trodden territory, and MacGruber has almost nothing to add, from its mock-serious opening battle (evidencing a sense of style that immediately vanishes from the rest of the film) though a halfhearted ‘80s kitsch credits sequence and into an expository Rambo 3 parody straight out of Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls. It’s not as detailed as Hot Fuzz, not as vulgar as Team America: World Police, not as manic as Hot Shots! - one of the big laughs is even a bald-faced reworking of Jack Black’s cocksucking speech from Tropic Thunder, and while that alone isn’t a big deal to me -- silent comedians would frequently appropriate each other’s routines and modify them, adapt them, seek to better them -- it nonetheless points to how crowded this field is, and how little MacGruber stands out.
Still, there’s a few good bits. It’s pretty hard to fuck up spoofs of soft-focus sex scenes, Ryan Phillippe makes for a good Channing Tatum, Val Kilmer grins and snarls around like an aging heel manager of pro wrestlers (who make up much of the film’s cannon fodder) and Kristen Wiig is amusing as MacGruber’s comprehensively timid sidekick, who through her abuse sometimes teases out what makes Forte’s brand of comedy special: his characters aren’t so much eccentric as possessed, prone here to fucking hallucinations in a graveyard or filling a notebook with obsessive demarcations of petty personal wrongs. He’s a demon, like he said with Tim & Eric, who’re consistently the best at accessing the sputtering torture of his comedy; if Ferrell funny-screams, Forte scary-screams, and while Ferrell’s deluded-but-not-really characters are capable of learning something about relationships and masculinity, Forte (even in as comparatively ‘nice’ a project as The Brothers Solomon) seems to occupy a world of basically illusory change. Which isn’t inapplicable at all to a parody of an action hero, even one with as dull movie as this surrounding him.Kites
Directed by Anurag Basu, 2010
You probably haven’t heard, but this thing recently made a little bit of history - it’s the first Bollywood production to crack the North American top ten on its opening weekend, having appeared on a likewise record-setting 208 screens. Granted, this accomplishment is a little tenuous, in that higher-grossing stuff has debuted in North America before -- My Name is Khan pulled in nearly twice as much just a few months ago -- while Kites had the good fortune to premiere in a somewhat fallow week dominated by an underperforming children’s picture, but let’s not discount the relentless internationalism at play. Pairing Indian actor Hrithik Roshan -- his banner year was 2006, where he starred in the first and second-highest grossers of the year, the superhero film Krrish (he was the superhero) and the Bad Boys-ish buddy cop thingy Dhoom 2 (he was the villain) -- Uruguayan-born film and telenovela actress Bárbara Mori in a U.S./Mexico-set romance-action-tragicomedy delivered in Hindi, Spanish and English, every effort appears to have been made toward thundering borderless appeal, including plans for a re-edited, re-scored, no-songs Remix version to open somewhere this weekend, supervised by Rush Hour and X-Men: The Last Stand mastermind Brett Ratner.
Wait! I can hear you! I am actually psychic and I can hear your thoughts and you’re thinking: “Brett Ratner? Is this gonna be some kinda anonymously slick albeit unpretentious entertainment product, sexy?” To which I say: basically, yes, but at least the full-length version (haven’t caught the Remix) boasts some memorably confused abandon. This can be bad-memorable, sure - the plot, in re: strapping Las Vegas dance instructor Roshan’s brief marriage to illegal immigrant Mori for the purposes of scamming a green card, then their dalliances with the scions of a powerful casino mob family, then their flight from murderous violence, and then, of course, their discovery of true love, wanders all over the damn place through a long series of apportioned flashbacks that don’t so much confuse (it‘s a really simple plot) as cause puzzlement over their delay in presenting dramatically potent information - present-tense scenes of Roshan wandering bloody through the desert are supposed build into a mystery about why Mori suddenly abandoned him, except the flashback-plot has barely finished cutting through the backstory and into the cute-fighting phase of the relationship by then, simultaneously presenting little reason to care and telegraphing future developments, not that any of them are ever in doubt. It’s really kind of an Oh What the Fuck feel, extending to the metaphoric significance of the title, which is bluntly explained in an opening voiceover and never reprised.
Yet the good-memorable is connected to this - it’s purely tonal, fundamentally masala, adapting old something-for-everyone Bollywood aesthetics to a sort of free-associative citation of presumably international fonts of cinematic mass appeal. Roshan wanders through a glossy-gritty Vegas to the music of the most clichéd semi-noir voiceover imaginable (did you know some cabdrivers become rich at the tables, while sometimes the rich become cabdrivers?), only for a chance confrontation with a young and dangerous lady to erupt into an extended dance-off straight out of Step Up 2: The Streets, which then gives way to several reels of straightforward luxury porn in which the romantic leads delay contact as begrudging the pretty casino money scenery its fated end. Also: Roshan avoids being drawn into the world of gang violence after witnessing a sickening Reservoir Dogs citation - the ‘mob’ is self-evidently constructed from bits of mob movies, including the black downpour massacre from Road to Perdition. There’s interrupted domestic violence, a comedic bank robbery, a song set to a daring escape in a hot air balloon, and lots and lots of heart-tugging death, evoking the ‘70s American fatalism of lovers on the run as another helpful device. It’s half-delirious nonsense, and definitely something that registers shorter than 130 minutes, but I mostly flashed back on my own volition to happy, legal-and-otherwise immigrants relaxing on a yacht and later sharing a drink over chants of No More Poverty, which is closest to a deeper sentiment you’ll find as the rich come to call havoc and love evades conjunction with dollars, rupees, pesos, whatever.
Hillcoat X McCarthy, 2009
More exercise than experience, John Hillcoat's take on McCarthy's bleak fiction succeeds at capturing drudgery, but not a whole lot else. The Road, as book, was one of Cormac's sparsest plots--the boy, the father, survival, little else--and without his prose, Hillcoat depends on atmosphere and scene-making, creating electrified action beats, only one of which (the grasping hands of nude, live meat in a flame lit basement) captures the furious horror of McCarthy's skewered-infant passage. Digitally painted by a manic-depressive cousin of Stephen Soderbergh, Hillcoat's view of a future apocalypse is ugly, possibly honest, but visually boring in a way that McCarthy's description of the same never were.
And still, some of it delivers. While he's no great shakes in the final hour of the film, Kodi Smit-McPhee's initial scenes are powerfully moving. The way his downcast eyes recall an earlier shot of his dead mother, his high-pitched crying as Viggo Mortensen cradles his face--there's just enough emotion to engender in the audience the same lunatic caring that motivates Viggo's entire performance. The film limits its concerns to this brusquely explained passion for the son's life, glancing alongside the question of whether their mutual survival is worth the toll, and yet, even as the phrase "carry the fire" gets trotted out with a fervor that McCarthy doubtfully intended, that question incessantly looms. Why should they keep going? What possible future could be worth all of this? There's a pat, near farcical answer when Robert Duvall delivers a straight faced "no time for luxury" response to the question of whether he thinks about dying, but the true one seems more likely to be found in the film's final minutes. It's in the corny moment when a woman--under the over-the-top sneer of a miscast Guy Pearce--reaches out her hands for the boy, telling him how happy she is to see him. It's a wildly un-Road like moment, the sort of gentle, easy warmth that wouldn't be out of place in one of those Nicholas Sparks movies, but it works. You go this far, you lose this much. For this. Coming after the two hour education in why it can't last, it's certainly cynical. It touches all the same.
-Joe McCulloch, Tucker Stone, 2010