Monday, March 30, 2009

Review of "Pineapple Express" (2008)

Pineapple Express (2008)

Disappointed. Tropic Thunder is the real deal.

I have to come out and set the record straight: I am not a fan of Judd Apatow or his minions (especially Seth Rogen & Danny McBride). I never saw more than one episode of Freaks & Geeks and didn't break a smile when I saw the 40 Year Old Virgin. I thought Knocked Up was an evolutionary step for the geek character (maturation), but at the end, instead it falls into a mixed-up, end-justifies-the-means philosophy that contradicts the true nature of the geek. Looking at a list of Apatow's writing/directing/producing credits, only the Cable Guy & Walk Hard, would I consider funny or better than average. He has created this chic-geek template which he just transplants to a new scenario. This wouldn't be so bad if he didn't use a group of similar guys in very similar roles, playing themselves in each one of those. PE is not directed by Judd, but he does have writing and producing credits. As Tim Burton keeps acting out father issues and Woody Allen struggles with his sexual inadequacies on screen; Judd Apatow has geek issues/trauma.

Bringing a boat to the gun show.

This is the geek-chic scenario in a stoner movie with action scenes. Rogen is a late 20/early 30-something, subpoena delivery, court-clerk stoner, who's dating a high school senior. James Franco is his dealer (a good hearted stoner as well), who has a strain of "pineapple express" cannabis. Rogen witnesses a murder, but leaves behind the roach. That roach connects Rogen to the pineapple express which connects him to Franco. The result is a stoner, buddy movie (typical of the genre Cheech & Chong created) with over-the-top, bloodless action.

I have seen a variety of stoner movies, either made with or for stoners. The stoner part is almost identical throughout the movies: hallucinations, uncontrolled laughing, red eyes, cotton mouth, random ramblings, poor logic process & decision-making ability, crazy/random/awkward situations, etc. That part requires an uncanny chemistry between the "stoners" to be memorable. Though this movie tries to create an emotional connection between the two main protagonist stoners, it ultimately fails because the goal of the movie is the action. The humor is simple (as in you don't have to think about it and is more similar to a pie to the face or a fart joke, than the life of Oliver Cromwell in song) and implies a certain state-of-mind to appreciate it. A good comedy is funny in a variety of states and I am starting to find that implied required state to be insulting to the target demographic. It is stereotypical and unrealistic of most.

Ah. Purging fire. If only it were real.

While this movie tries to stand out by adding an extra layer of violence, the problem with the violence is that it seems hyper-realistic & graphic at first, but turns out to be cartoony and unrealistic. I praise the movie for trying something different with this genre, but in the end it fails because it does not go far enough with the one element that is original. The violence angle negates itself by it's own ridiculousness. CG blood still doesn't look real (see 300, Mongol or Rambo for reference). Think of the violence in a Warner Bros cartoon. Recall Elmer Fudd blowing the face off Daffy Duck. Did you feel like anyone was hurt? Are you outraged by the shooting? Does it make you feel anything other than hysterical laughter? Were there any repercussions? For most people all those are going to be answered by an emphatic 'no'. An example of this black, action comedy genre (that succeeds where this fails) is Tropic Thunder (review coming soon). And yes I know Danny McBride is in it, but his comedic influence is mitigated in TT in contrast to his PE role.

Graphical representation of the effects of this movie.

The movie teeters dangerously down the divide that separates the two main themes & choosing not to go in either direction. As Mr. Miyagi once said this inevitably leads to being smashed like a grape in the middle. If the movie either stayed on the ridiculous, stoner angle or chose instead to make the violence real (think of the difference between most of Boogie Nights & Wonderland), it would have been more of a success. As I mentioned earlier, I am biased when it comes to this. If you are a fan of Apatow or his brood or are new to the stoner genre, then you might get more enjoyment from this than I did. To me this is just a disposable (cliched and unremarkable) stoner-genre buddy movie that is as disposable as the contents of a Japanese vending machine. BTW, I was thinking of used underwear.

The rest of the screen shots are here.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Review of "Fist of Fear, Touch of Death" (1980)

Fist of Fear, Touch of Death (1980)

Lifetime Membership to the Worst-Movie-Ever Club.

It has been quite a while (more than 6 months) since I posted my last review. Do not take this to mean I have given up on movies. I have seen many since then and hopefully will write about them soon, but for now let's handle what is upon us.

Ron van Clief??

Fist of Fear, Touch of Death is a epic movie in the genre that exploited the consumer desire after the death of Bruce Lee. In the vernacular, this is a Bruce-ploitation movie. I have seen a few of these, with most bordering on the ridiculous and having little to do with Bruce Lee (except for the use of his name, image, words, etc). Some are enjoyable on that ridiculous level, but most are unwatchable. FoF,ToD is epic in the scale at which it seemingly exhumes and defecates on Bruce's image. I can safely add this alongside Orgy of the Dead, as the two worst movies I have ever witnessed.

I don't know how to start. This movie is a multi-leveled disaster. On one level it tries to fake investigative journalism surrounding the "theory" of the pressure point death spot, a.k.a. Touch of Death, and whether or not it was the "secret" cause of Bruce's death. This is mostly done through the narration/"interviews" of NY actor Adolph Caesar (who most will remember for his role in Club Paradise).

Hey. You're not Sidney Poitier!!

Other levels include staged martial arts exhibitions by Ron Van Clief, Bill Louie and Aaron Banks, all in tribute (of course). The Hammer, Fred Williamson, shows up as himself for no apparent reason as well. Yes I know he was one of Bruce's students, but that doesn't explain his purpose in this movie. Add another level, by showing two different movies and somehow linking them up. The first movie being an early, early, early black & white Bruce movie that resembles the Chinese version of Leave it to Beaver. That is somehow linked to a color, period-piece martial arts movie that does not star Bruce. The cherry topping to this turd cake are the dubbings, especially Bruce's martial arts fortune cookie-like sayings. It isn't even Bruce Lee's voice, it's much worse.

I AM Jasper Milktoast!!

Others have commented that even though this movie is atrocious, it still maintains a ridiculous humor. Sadly, I searched for any spark of humor, but was met with a dull, boring pain instead. The production value just screams of a VHS copy of someone's home video of their trip to New York being found in a dumpster and edited by one coming out of a weekend of chasing the dragon.

All those who commented that they enjoyed this, did recommend not watching this by oneself. All I can say is that any fun derived from watching this with others, is laughing at your "friends" as they writhe around on the floor in agony. If Mel Gibson made a biography film based on Bruce Lee in a similar manner to the Passion of the Christ, this would be it, because you will feel approximately the same amount of pain that Bruce would have felt in death. Skip it. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Turdenstein approaches:

The rest of the screen shots are here.