29 November 2008

Quantum of Solace

Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Olga Kurylenko, Jeffry Wright
Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis DIRECTED BY
Marc Forster

** (out of ****)

I’m about to say something I never, ever thought I would say about an action movie: there was just too much action, and not enough in the line of story. Otherwise, Quantum of Solace is about as awesome as you’d expect: amazing fight choreography, insane explosions, the characters lust for revenge, the suave coolness of Daniel Craig accompanied by two very attractive female co-stars. So, what’s not to love? Apparently, plenty.

Solace begins with gunshots: minutes after the Royale ended, Bond is being chased (in a very fancy car) by some baddies. Bond escapes and hides out in a secret, MI6-controlled vicinity. Turns out, Mr. White (the dude he shot in the previous film’s ending) is in the trunk, and interrogation commences. Mr. White reveals that he is part of a secret organization (evidently called Quantum, but I honestly don’t recall anyone ever saying the organization’s name), and they have people everywhere – including MI6! Suddenly, one of the rogue agents starts shooting – commander M (Dench) barely gets away while Bond is in pursuit of the suspect. Ultimately, the guy dies, but now Bond is determined to locate the mastermind of this organization and bring all members to justice – whether it by a bullet or the justice system. Oh, and he’s also trying to find out who got Vesper killed, but again, not sure how this relates to the Quantum organization (perhaps I should have paid better attention).

My first exposure to the world of James Bond was Die Another Day (2002), and suffice it to say, that wasn’t the type of Bond flick that would get me pumped for another installment. Thus, with some resistance I saw Casino Royale, and to my complete surprise, I fell madly in love with it. Sure, the whole card dealing sequences aren’t all that interesting, but they were still quite engaging (a testament to its wonderful direction, I wager). And a smile lit on my face during every combat, their brutality and unrelenting force leaving me in awe. Although, the sight of Eva Green (The Golden Compass) didn’t hurt matters, either. I loved that they took away the Superman-ish way of Bond, where he could do anything, short of flying without aid of some mechanical device. Perhaps Bond became too much like Jason Bourne - it is an arguable question - but this is the type of Bond I love and enjoy. Royale's awesome final minutes left me anxious and ready to watch the next installment immediately.

So here we are, Bond 22 is out, titled Quantum of Solace (a title I really dig by the way; it sounds friggin' epic), and it continues the story of Vesper's legacy (Eva Green's character), as Bond comes to terms with his relationship with her and the betrayal he felt by her hands. One would expect this movie to be insane - just by the prospect of watching Bond exact some much needed revenge on some Baddies alone, and to do it brutally and without mercy - that woulda been something. Instead, Vesper is mentioned every once and a while, and Bond's 'burning' anger about the situation is mentioned every once and a while (and occassionally expressed by Craig's face and eyes), but another thing that really sucker-punches the flick is that none of this rage and feeling of betrayal resonates at all.

The script doesn't feel complete - which I believe is due to the Writer's Strike because the script was finished hours (if memory serves me right) before the Strike officially began - and thus they decided to add in plenty of action sequences or at the very least extend their running time (get it? running time? because they're usually always running? Oh, I'm a genius!). Seriously, there's an action sequence in what feels like every five minutes! And hardly ever are these fights or chases truly integral to the plot. If it was between a long, drawn-out brawal or Bond easily kicking some guy's ass and begins torturing the bloke for information, I would go for the latter. I guess I'm just one of those strange people who prefer plot over fights. (Look at Bourne Ultimatum for example: they were still writing the flick while they were directing it, and look at how well the movie turned out!) Admittedly, the fights and chases are pretty damn cool (except the plane sequence near the film's climax - I was bored enough to leave and go to the bathroom, something I typically never do during a riveting action scene). Another nifty thing about some of them is that it showed the effects of Bonds rampages on your everyday citizen (for example, when a young lady got shot in the beginning by a rogue spy).

The most exciting scene and the one thing that made me believe that my initial worries were unwarranted was the sequence in which Bond locates and overhears Quantum members at a opera. When Bond departs, some Bad Guys start chasing him, and all the action is muted while the opera is blazzing full, with intercuts of Bond running and firing for his life and the opera's performers acting out a murder. This scene was filmed brilliantly (a rare case when it comes to director Marc Foster - I don't like the dudes directing style), and my hope for a good film started to rise, but diminished slowly when I found out Solace was nothing more then lazy directing and lazy writing. And considering how phenomenal Casino Royale was, and the amount of anticipation I had for Quantum of Solace, it's a high dissapointment.

However, one aspect these new batch of Bond movies will undoubtedly always excel at is Bond himself. Why? Because Daniel Craig epitomizes James Bond, and is truly one of the coolest damn action heroes I've ever witnessed. Obviously, there will be plenty who disagree and still hold true to Sean Connery's interpertation; I never got into those older Bond films, seeing as how my interest wavered no matter how many times I attempted to re-watch Dr. No, for example. Craig has the ability of just standing still and glaring at the camera, and he invokes a menace and power that makes me want to hide behind a blanket screaming, "The Power of Christ compels you!" When I first watched Craig in Royale, I thought the dude could do no wrong. Unfortunately, he was unable to follow through in one regard, though I also chalk this up to a ill-written script: his anger. This entire movie is suppose to be about Bond reacting to Vesper's death, but not only is the script apparently interested in other things, but Craig seems to think a brooding face will suffice. Not so. I wanted a little Tom Cruise/Ethan Hunt from Mission: Impossible III (2006), where Ethan was enraged with Phillip Seymor Hoffman's character for threatning his wife, and thus returns the threat by opening the doors of the plane, ready to let him fall out. In that scene, Cruise made Hunt a force to be reckoned with when truly pissed off; so if Cruise could do it, why couldn't Craig?

A surprising performance highlight is Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal), playing MI6 commander-in-chief M. Dench is bloody terrific in every scene she's in, and occassionally steals said scene from the other actors. If Dench leaves the series and the M character remains, the character will never be the same again. While authoratative and stern, M also holds a bit of a weak spot for Bond, feeling he's the only person she can truly ever trust (even though he goes off the grid plenty, but that's beside the point). There is a old friends while simultaneously a mother/son vibe going on with these two characters, and their scenes together are fascinating and always interesting, as you're never quite sure how M will respond to Bond's latest theatrics.

First breaking onto the screen in last year's Hitman, model Olga Kurylenko proves that she has some acting chops. Unfortunately, the script doesn't allow Olga the opportunity to truly shine, as her character isn't all that fleshed out; but by golly, Olga does what she can with what she's given. As Camille, Olga plays the character as strong yet sometimes vulunerable, and quite manipulative (as part of her story arc). I do like Camille's storyline, how she wasn't your typical 'Bond Girl', and how she mirrored James' lust for revenge, but she wasn't given enough to work with. The other female cast member is Gemma Arterton (RocknRolla), showing up as Strawberry Fields, whose only reason for existing in this movie is to shag Bond, trip a Bad Guy down some stairs, and get murdered (c'mon, like that's a spoiler).

As the Big Bad Bond Villian Dominic Greene, Mathieu Amalric (Munich, 2005) never registers as a threat, but you can't help but be captivated by his wide eyes and wonder what he's so wowed about. Actually, Amalric - for some reason - reminds me of a reptile, waiting to strike at his prey; I blame it on the eyes. Dominic has some brilliant scheme to purchase land, find water (or oil - something) and sell it for mass amounts of money. Or something like that. To be brutally honest, I have no bloody idea what the Great Scheme was, nor do I really care. After all, Quantum of Solace was suppose to be about Bond getting revenge, not beating up some random Bad Guy and making him cry for mommy.

Jeffrey Wright reprises his role of Felix Leiter from Royale, and the bloke looks so completely uninterested in being here. Wright looks bored and irritated every scene he's in, while simultaneously keeping a handle on his constipation problems (at least, that's how it looks). What initially promised to be a interesting character has no turned into just a worthless cameo, really. The only highlight from his scenes is his American partner, who ironically reminds me of Phillip Seymor Hoffman - that dude was major fun to listen to.

Something that bugs me and I simply must address: what were they thinking when they decided to make the visuals for the Jack White/Alicia Keys-contributed “Another Way to Die” opening credits song? First there’s James Bond shooting his gun – alright, I can deal with that – and we follow the bullet until…something fills the screen. Yes, something; either I don’t remember what it was or it was just some strange orange mist. The best way to describe what I was seeing would be to relate it is that if a person was on acid while watching this flick, they would have to be checked into a mental institution because they’re scared out of their freakin’ minds by the strange, Satanic images they just witnessed in a James Bond movie. Aside from what I think was a lot of sand transforming into bodacious women and Bond falling (is this suppose to be symbolic?), I have no idea what the hell I was watching. While on the topic of music, David Arnold returns to deliver a score as lazy and uninspiring as the script. It kind of sucks, considering I was contemplating picking up the CD before I saw the flick, and now that I know the only thing potentially worth owning is the theme song. Oh well.

Quantum of Solace kicks a lot of ass – as in people getting their butts royally kicked – but lacks in the department of story and having any sort of emotional center. However, with that said, there's no way I'm going to miss Bond 23; I just hope they put a bit more effort into it, and don't hire Marc Foster to direct. As this film concludes the Vesper storyline and closes the book on Bond's lust for vengeance, the next installment has a blank slate (similar to how season 6 of 24 left Jack Bauer with infinite possibilities), so Bond 23 can go in any number of directions, and I'm already excited.

28 November 2008

The Last Temptation of Christ

STARRING William Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, David Bowie
WRITTEN BY Paul Schrader
DIRECTED BY Martin Scorsese

** (out of ****)

I knew next to nothing about this movie with the exception of writer/director Kevin Smith referencing it when discussing Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ(2004). If memory serves me right, Smith brought this up in one of his Evening With DVDs, but I don’t recall what all was said. I did know that it was controversial because of the inclusion of Mary Magdalene and some of the assertions this movie supposedly made towards Jesus and her, and its viewpoint of Jesus of Nazareth as an unsure, doubting figure. And where there’s a controversial religious film, there’s me interested in seeing it. Such controversy is typically unwarranted (most recently, The Golden Compass and The Da Vinci Code come to mind), but I guess, out of all of them, this one deserves it. Last Temptation isn’t a great movie, really, but what saves this from being garbage is its interesting premise: one final temptation for Jesus to stray from his ‘path’ – and it’s enticing.

Based off the 1951 book of the same name, Jesus (Dafoe) is your everyday man - chilling with his mom and carving crosses. Except, Jesus also believes himself the Son of God. But yet Jesus doubts himself - how could he be the Messiah when he is so afraid of everything? How will he know what to say to the people, or to not say the wrong thing? To find out for sure is he is the Messiah prophesied, Jesus meets with John the Baptist, who initially doesn't recognize Him for who He is. Thus, John proposes that Jesus go out into the Desert and find the answers via a 'spirit walk' of sorts. There, secluded in a drawn circle, Jesus is confronted by temptations of the flesh and promises of grandeur, but he banishes them away. Jesus leaves the desert and finds his companions, now knowing his mission, and what he must to. He reveals to his best friend Judas (Keitel) that He must die, and that Judas must help him. And so the prophecy is in motion, although there is one last temptation that Jesus must resist - but can He? Is the proposition too seductive? Can Jesus thwart human temptation?

Does Last Temptation warrant controversy? For uptight religious folk: absolutely! Personally, I find storylines like this fascinating. Additionally, such a story - Christ being tempted whilst on the cross - is fairly powerful in my book, and only adds to the weight of the situation and his sacrificial selflessness. I think it's brilliant. Whether or not Jesus and Mary Magdalene were a item or not, it's interesting to see if Jesus would be tempted one last time to get off that cross by something he so desires it's near impossible to resist. Obviously, all ends well.

I love the notion of making Jesus of Nazareth - or Jesus Christ, if you prefer - more human; for me, it just makes everything more compelling and emotional, not to mention creates a bigger sense of 'Wow' when you consider what Jesus took upon himself for the sake of all humanity. Gibson's Passion is similar in this regard; there were flashbacks to relatively calm and peaceful moments in Jesus' life (such as building something for his mother), Plenty of Jesus flicks paint him as the Messiah right from the start - Godly in all ways: how he acts, how he speaks, what he thinks, etc., etc. By making him human and relatable - with faults and grievances - his plight is thus far more comprehensible and emotionally devastating. It just sucks that Dafoe doesn't play Jesus humanly - he comes across more as a whiney adult, really.

Now I'm giving kudos to the story, but the screenplay doesn't reach the calibar I thought it would gain. I was thinking something along the lines of brilliance, but the only time the script shows off intelligence is the last forty minutes. The dialogue alone seemed lazy, with crappy lines that not even George Lucas would write for Anakin in Episode II (2002). Luckily, the script gets it's act together in the third act, but by then, the damage is done, and my amount of respect towards the flick was pretty much near gone.

William Dafoe plays Jesus, and there's not a single moment where he was convincing or not whining. The entire time I was half anticipating Jesus to dig out his Green Goblin outfit and glide around the sky throwing pumpkin bombs at naysayers. Harvey Keitel's Judas fairs off only a little better, being a far more stronger character than Jesus surprisingly, and infusing him with more life then the thankless script grants him. But really, both of these actors have done better.

The best thing about Last Temptation, I think, is the score by Peter Gabriel. Take away Gabriel's music, and this movie gets boring really, really fast. The score always helps a movie, but for me, this flick lives and dies by the score. Since Dafoe wears the same set of expressions all the time, and Keitel is without any, the score is really our only guide to the movie's emotions. Honestly, this is beautiful, beautiful work.

I may not have been the movie's biggest fan, but I do appreciate what it was trying to accomplish. Last Temptation truly portrayed Jesus as a honest-to-God (pun sorta intended) human being who had to endure pretty much the unendurable, and that idea alone makes me recommend the flick. However, I do believe different casting decisions would have really helped improve the movie, but Gabriel's score more then helps these faults seem less severe. If you're to see one Jesus film in your lifetime, I still vote for Passion of the Christ, but this comes a close second.

27 November 2008

Role Models

Role Models
Sean William Scott, Paul Rudd, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jane Lynch, Elizabeth Banks
WRITTEN BY Paul Rudd, David Wain, Ken Marino, Timothy Dowling
2008, 95 mins.

*** (out of ****)

Once Sean William Scott appeared onscreen in the trailer for Role Models, my ticket was bought. Not saying that I have a man-crush on Mr. Scott, just saying that since first watching the guy in American Pie (1999), I’ve been hooked to his comedic humor and acting chops (yes, he does have some). Paul Rudd being in the flick was just a bonus – he was always a bright spot in Judd Apatow productions while Seth Rogen laughed in such a manner it would give the Joker a chill. And upon finding out that Rudd also received a writing credit, as does Ken Marino, who I’m familiar with from the semi-hit-but-then-cancelled-by-evil-TV-executives Veronica Mars, I was even more thrilled for Role Models. Luckily, the movie lived up to my expectations (which was basically: ‘be funny, make me laugh’) and although it’s not the best comedy of the year, it’s in my top five. On the flip side, the movie’s ending hits the happy-sappy, cliché high note that makes you leave the theater with a wide smile and feeling all jolly inside. It’s probably the only appropriate ending, but not the one I was looking for; oh well, still fun.

Danny (Rudd) hates everything and Wheeler (Scott) loves all. Making a living as energy drink salesmen, going from school-to-school promoting the drink via anti-drug campaigns, Danny isn’t satisfied with his life anymore. To make matters worse, he’s approached his 10-year anniversary at the company, which puts him in a foul mood, and which in turn agitates his longtime girlfriend Beth (Banks), who breaks up with him. While on the job at a school, Danny says all the wrong things, find their company truck being towed, and attempt to drive away but end up crashing into the school statue instead. As punishment, it’s either a 30 day stint in jail or 150 hours of community service at a bird brother program called Sturdy Wings. Electing the ‘worse’ of two evils, they choose Sturdy Wins. Run by psychotic ex-druggie Gayle (Lynch), she pairs Danny with medieval role-player Augie (Mintz-Plasse) while Wheeler gets wild wise-cracker Ronnie, who is quite obsessed with breasts, and Wheeler takes it upon himself to show the small boy The Way. By the film's pretty cool climax, both Wheeler and Danny come to terms with their lives as they are right now, and how they can change to be better people (!).


I've started this review three times, and never finished it. Is that an indication of something? Did
I not enjoy the movie? Am I just not enthusiastic about it? Perhaps I just have no idea what to write other then the normal 'That due was good' and 'that dude was exceptional.' Comedies are very hard to give any sort of critique, I wager. I just have no idea what to say about Role Models other then I enjoyed it; not the best comedy in the entire universe, nor near as fantastic as I anticipated it to be, but it as still a fun flick.

Rudd is Rudd playing off the script's necessities. Role Models doesn't exactly force Rudd to explore his acting abilities, nor does it really branch into any territory he hasn't covered before, which is a shame, because Rudd is a phenomenal actor. Granted, the only non-comedy role I've seen him in was Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1996), but this dude is just one of those guy's where you feel it. Same with Dwayne Johnson, formally known as "The Rock." That dude has talent! Don't believe me? Rent Southland Tales (2007): won't understand a damn thing going on, but you'll see that Johnson is amazing. Fans of Mintz-Plasse will be happy; he successfully steps out of his McLovin shell and into a different brand of Nerdom. Kudos, Mintz.

Scott channels his Stifler persona occasionally, with his womanizing ways and sporting off dick jokes left and right. Pity thing is, Scott can act - for proof, watch The Rundown (2004), in which he was friggin' hilarious and brilliant in. Although Scott's given the weaker of the two stories, he gives it his all, and that's commendable. Elizabeth Banks fairs the worst. With seemingly ten dozen movies out in 2008, she seems to be everywhere, so if you want a Banks fix, see Kevin Smith's brilliant Zack & Miri Make a Porno instead. I'm not saying I don't enjoy looking at her beautifulness any chance I have, but her talent - and indeed, she has some! (and this first dawned on me when I was watching the horror flick Slither, of all films...) But basically, she isn't given much of anything to do but break up with Danny, provide legal counsel, move out, and gradually fall back in love (spoiler?).

One part that doesn't work is Jane Lynch as the ex-druggie runner of Sturdy Wings. Irritating and obnoxious in every scene she's in, she is most definitely not the film's highlight as some believe. I wasn't a fan of her brand of humor in 40-Year Old Virgin, and I don't enjoy her performance here, either. Her dialogue (which, these days, I don't know whether it's actually written or improvised) is more outlandish then any insane teen sex comedy scenario in my book. I would bet on the crazy life of John McClain being real moreso then I would any person on this planet saying the stupid stuff she said.

The script throws in plenty of jokes, a majority of it being raunchy sex humor, while there's plenty of smart gags as well, and it all works. It isn't brilliant by any stretch of the imagination, but it is able to rise above 'average.' KISS references galore, breast-obsessions, and intelligent nabs at politics make it pretty damn enjoyable. Plus, the film's climax is a 10-minute midevil Battle Royale that is a joy to behold. Watching all these dudes dressed up in First Knight-armor, fake-killing each other - it's brilliant fun. Downside is: sappy conclusion, where all is right in the world (like there was any doubt).

Overall, Role Models isn't the most original comedy, but it definitely is one of the more enjoyable and funny ones out there.

26 November 2008

The Shield: Family Meeting

Michael Chiklis, Walton Goggins, CCH Pounder, Jay Karnes
Shawn Ryan
Clark Johnson

**** (out of ****)

Spoilers of The Shield's series finale, "Family Meeting," is included in this review. Read with caution.

(S07E13) Since the first episode transmitted in March 2002, I have been a loyal Shield fan, and last night - November 25, 2008 - marked the conclusion of the series with its 88th episode, "Family Meeting." There was no black screen fade out a la The Sopranos (a creative decision which I do find interesting, but hell - I would be one pissed off fan of I had that type of treatment), nor were there plotlines left that didn't have a sense of closure. Creator and episode writer Shawn Ryan (who also worked on my favorite series of all time, The WB's Angel) delivered a series finale that was stunning, at times numbing, overly brilliant, and all-around satisfying.

I had a bit of a late start watching this season of The Shield, with a bunch of schoolwork piling up, and other programs also grabbing for my attention. Within a day, I was able to catch up from episodes 1-9, and skipped to 13 because I was so damn impatient to watch the series finale. I watched the confession sequence from episode 12, "Possible Kill Screen", and that was riveting. Michael Chiklis' performance in that episode alone as he finally relinquishes the burdens he's been holding for three years: the death of Terry Crowly, the Armenian money train hit, Margos - all of it - was chilling. And to see Laurie Holden's Olivia flabbergasted at the monster she was manipulated into granting full immunity to - another fine example how the actors on Shield excel most with facial expressions.

Going into the series finale, I honestly didn't know what to expect. I refused to look up reviews online (due to a lack of cable, the internet had to be my source) or check out Aint-It-Cool-News, because I didn't want any of the finale spoiled. Thank God I didn't.

Nothing could have prepared me for what I watched. In retrospect, everything that happened in these 75 minutes makes absolute, logical sense. I'm satisfied with the fate of all our characters, even the supporting cast. There is a sense of closure, even though a great many things still remain unsolved. Personification of a perfect, brilliant series finale. Forgive me if I begin repeating myself, I just finished the episode a little under a hour ago, and I'm still in awe over everything I just witnessed.

Indeed, I was interested in Vic's fate, but the storyline I was most invested in was Shane's. By this episode, Shane has nothing but Mara and Jackson, and he is literally on the brink; there's no way to save Mara after a incident in the previous episode left a man dead. To get away from it all, Shane sniffs up some drugs, enters a conveinence store and picks up a few items for Jackson and a set of flowers for Mara. To the cashiere, Shane hands her most of the money in his wallet - a damn fair amount - and leaves. Upon arrival at home, a jogger spots Shane and calls the authorities. Inside, Shane calls for a family meeting. Claudette, Danny, Dutch and the team arrive at Shane's house. As they enter, Shane shoots himself in the head in the bathroom, leaving behind a unfinished suicide note. Mara and Jackson are laid on the bed - we find out later that they were poisoned - in a peaceful manner.

Holy crap, that is insane! I read that plenty of people anticipated Shane committing suicide, but not I. Me, I was holding out for a Vic vs. Shane confrontation of the ages, but I can deal with this conclusion. As I said, it was tragiclly satisfactory. It does suck that Mara and Jackson perished as well, but I wager they don't have much of a storyline after Shane's departure. I wish I had the ability to say something really philosophically profound right now concerning the character of Shane Vendrell, but all I'm thinking is, "Holy friggin' crap! Shane committed suicide!"

Ronnie's fate was inevitable, and the thing I loved most about the sequence when he was being arrested was Claudette having Vic there witnessing everything. Vic cries out for Ronnie as Dutch enters the Strike Team's lair; and when he gets downstairs and looks Ronnie in the eye as Ronnie in utter anguish and hatred lashes out at Vic as Dutch tells him about Vic's complete immunity and his lack of. Vic repeatedly apologizes, and Ronnie yells in response, "You're goddamned sorry??!?!" Out of all the scenes in the episode, this is the sequence I've re-watched the most. It's heartbreaking and bloody brilliant. Poor Ronnie. Bastard Vic.

So, concerning Vic - he now has nothing. The impetus for Vic doing the immunity deal was for Corinne to get clean (not knowing she was in kahoots with the police until this episode). Now she's under witness protection - in fear of what Vic would do when he finds out; everyone at the Barn knows what Vic has done and all hate him; Ronnie is incarcerated; Shane is dead; Danny will have nothing to do with him; and the final nail in the coffin - Vic isn't going to be working street at I.C.E. Instead, he's going to be dressed in a business suit everyday for three years, stuck in a cubicle compiling analytical reports and placing them on desks. Vic is left with nothing. But as the final four minutes show - as Vic takes out his gun and exits - he might not stay quiet. Perhaps a little Batman/vigiliante justice, every once and a while? The beautifulest part of the final sequence is when Vic watches as two cop cars zoom past below, and he's stuck in his little cubicle area for only three years. His own little prison. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

Wonderfully written, wonderfully directed. Obviously, in a different state of mind this re-cap/review would be much more professional and make much more coherent sense, but I'm so damn giddy and so damn sad that The Shield is over - on one hand, Shawn Ryan has delivered us one of the best television programs that ever existed, and the other hand is that it sucks it's over. At the very least, I can say the show concluded on a high note. With only 11 episodes, season five (guest starring Forest Whitaker, in a role that is perhaps one of the best performances I've ever witnessed in my existence) is still the strongest and awesomest, in my opinion.

Season seven is sort of complicated, with the Strike Team trying to cover their respective asses, starting a gang war, 'pretending' to be corrupt cops to get close to some Big Time Baddies for their own personel gain (most of the time). For those who have yet to watch The Shield, I highly recommend you pick up the first five seasons on DVD. If you must, skip the third and fourth season, but the first two and season five are vital to this season.

Hell, I think the one aspect that makes this finale so brilliant is that the entire reason it exists is because of the pilot episode's finale. That single event has reverberated through all seven seasons (most prominently in the last three). That is bloody fantastic, in my opinion. Everything that has transpired is a result of that shooting.

Alright, I'm losing my sense of sanity. Point is: The Shield concluded in utter brilliance, and it's a show that didn't reach as many audience members as it should have. If you've heard of the utter awesomeness of HBO's The Wire, then there is no reason why you won't fall in love with Vic Mackey and the Strike Team. Adios, I say, to a brilliant, brilliant show.

21 November 2008


STARRING Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Billy Burke, Ashley Greene, Nikki Reed, Peter Facinelli, Cam Gigandet, Taylor Lautner, Elizabeth Reaser, Sara Clarke
WRITTEN BY Melissa Rosenberg
DIRECTED BY Catherine Hardwicke

*** (out of ****)

I’m flabbergasted I gave this movie three stars, and I’m even more surprised that the movie deserves it. First and foremost, I must say I am not a fan of the TWILIGHT saga; I have read the first two books, skipped the third, and read a detailed synopsis of the fourth (out of curiosity – can’t start a series without wanting to know the conclusion). It was a interesting story, but Stephenie Meyer’s writing really separated me from it: the constant ‘he was so beautiful I felt my eyes lock upon his mighty…mightiness’ or her constant stupidity which comes out of her blinded, insane ‘love’ for Edward – these little things drove me insane. The family dynamic of Bella and Charlie, and the Cullens family – those things kept me interested more so than Bella and Edward’s love (and it’s not because I’m an insensitive dude; I enjoy the occasional romance flick – particularly the 2003 British comedy Love Actually and this year’s Definitely, Maybe). But enough about the book, the movie adaptation is upon us, and holy-potatoes, Batman (!), I enjoyed it.

Teenager Bella Swan (Stewart) leaves her sunny home in Phoenix and moves in with her father
Charlie in the rain-filled town of Forks, Washington. Her mother is going on a road trip with her new husband, so Bella elected to get out of the way. At Forks, Bella is the newest sensation: everyone knows about her, and everyone wants to be her friend. Expect one particular dude – the handsome, yet mysterious and reserved Edward Cullen (Pattinson), who appears quite repelled by her mere presence. After a near car crash save by Edward in which he displays superhuman strength, Bella is intrigued by this strange character, and trys to find the truth to who he is. Turns out, Edward is a 109 year-old vampire, and has been 17 for "a while." And the apparent revulsion towards her was actually a internal struggle on his part trying not to kill her because he's so infatuated with her. The two end up striking a relationship because they love each other so, but Bella must confront the dangers of being involved with a vampire (even under the protection of the Cullens, his foster family) while also keeping the whole 'my-boyfriend-is-a-vampire' bombshell from Charlie. Things go fairly not good when a skilled hunter catches Bella's scent, and it ignites a frenzy inside him that he can't control - he must find Bella and take her blood for himself!

Whatever grievances I have with the story, I confess that TWILIGHT works. It successfully blends the romance, the violence, the threats of bad vampires, and the relationships of all the cast members into a nice, well-paced flick. I have one complaint, which considering I thought I would have 50, that's pretty good.

Direction under Catherine Hardwicke (THIRTEEN) is simply splendid. Honestly, the thing that most peaked my interest in seeing TWILIGHT was how they filmed it, and judging from the trailers, it looked rather not-good. Somehow, what I've seen on screen looks terrific, and when the script doesn't deliver the goods, Hardwicke (and the actors) do. Filmed mostly with camera jitters a la BOURNE (though it also reminded me of Frank Darabont's THE MIST, with small zooms every once and a while). One particular shot that made me go 'Woah' is when Edward takes Bella, who is holding onto him Yoda-style, up to the highest point of a tree and they look upon the town and forest; that was nifty. Hardwicke films it gritty, accomplishing a atmosphere of reality that something like this needed. While on the topic of direction, I admit: the editing was excellent. The 2 hour running time flew by, and everything transpired in a well-paced manner.

One aspect the movie lacks (and to an extent, the books did as well) is why Bella is so in love with Edward. Yes, I get that he is so indescribably beautiful, insanely swift and caring, and has this whole charismatic thing going on, but I’ve never truly understood why Bella loves him. Take away him being the pinnacle of gorgeous, and you have a guy who wants to kill you but is trying his damnest to resist (which is admirable and might excite some girls), quite reserved unless he’s spilling his guts about how much you fascinate him (a little weird, but flattering), and this dude also has snuck into your bedroom for a few months to watch you sleep (a world of creepy). Does any of that cry, ‘Oh, Edward! You’re the guy for me!’? I understand Edward’s fascination and infatuation towards Bella, but there’s really nothing I can tell that would peak a girl’s interest (again, aside from the ‘hotness’ factor). In fact, if this wasn’t a heightened romance story, any sane girl would be calling the authorities on this creepy guy who not only stalks but wants to kill you. When NEW MOON comes out, I would love for an explanation of why Bella’s with him to be addressed, but bloody hell, I know it won’t.

However, Stewart and Pattinson’s chemistry is undeniable, that I admit. Their scenes together are filled with intensity; they both brought their passion and attraction to the front, and helped elevate potentially bland scenes (eg, the prom, the meadow scene) and escalated them into some damn fine sequences between two people in love (despite how implausible it may be).

Stewart recently sat down and talked to Entertainment Weekly, discussing the project and how she and Rob approached their performances, and she has ended up delivering not only one of my favorite quotes in a while, but something that sums up their abilities well:
"We were like, 'We're going to play this real' and the studio was like, 'But it's fun. Lighten up!''' says Stewart, who launches into an imaginary rant at the studio suits: ''You knew what you were getting when you hired actors who aren't Disney kids! We're actually going to consider the characters, and not just smile on our marks, and hope we're in focus."
Within the giant cast, there are a few standouts, but everyone is mostly regulated to a few scenes or less, so one can't really adequately comment. First and foremost is Jacob Black (Lautner, TV's My Own Worst Enemy), who once you get past his annoying Predator-like hair, is pretty good as Bella's friend and future love-triange flair (huh, that rhymed). Black plays a more prominent role in the upcoming installments, so let's how he gets a haircut and more scenes to be interesting. The best supporting actor performance is Billy Burke (FRACTURE) as Charlie - this guy was able to convey his love for Bella, while simultaneously keeping the awkward factor when around her, because he's unsure of his ability of being a father and/or what to do. Additionally, the two sequences he has with Pattinson are fantastic, from the loading of the shotgun to accepting Edward, Burke delivers the goods.

Members of the Cullen family have hardly any screentime to develop, but these are my general impressions: Dr. Carlisle Cullen, played by Peter Facinelli, freaks me the hell out when I look at him, though I think it's because of his slicked-back hair; Nikki Reed as Rosalie was annoying in every scene she was in; Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) appeared constipated; Ashley Greene as Alice Cullen is beautiful and underused; Elizabeth Reaser as Esme is your standard beautiful, concerned and caring mom; and Kellan Lutz has nothing to do but look like a wannabe gangsta basketball player.

Cam Gigandent (NEVER BACK DOWN) comes off as nothing more then another pretty chest for the girl's too go ga-ga over, and never strikes any fear into any scene he's in; hell, when he's beating up Bella, there's no menace to it at all. Also, the aging whilst beautiful Sara Clarke, who 24 fans will recognize as the sidious Nina Myers from seasons 1-3, plays Bella's mother. Given two telephone conversation scenes, and two non-phone scene, Clarke hardly gets her duo, but she comes off as a caring mom and not a secret agent, so there's a plus.

The score by Carter Burwell was superb! Thankfully, the complete score will be avaliable 09 December. Initially, the composition reminded me of Alan Silvestri - and that's a compliment. Burwell creates a wonderful sense of menace when necessary, and during intense sequences, a listen to the tracks alone will pump your blood. It's not James Newton Howard or Hans Zimmer level of awesomeness, but I loved it. Next time you watch TWILIGHT (admit it people, you'll be seeing it again), pay attention to the score.

Overall, TWILIGHT wasn't nearly as horrible as I anticipated, and I'm happy for that, because it's a damn good, well-executed flick. It may seem like I have a few harsh things to say about it, but that doesn't mean I don't like it.

Summit Entertainment has just snabbed the rights for the remaining three books, and currently scribe Melissa Rosenberg is hard at work penning the screenplay for NEW MOON, which Summit announced they're starting production on (er, actively putting into production). If they can expound the relationship between Bella and Edward, and hopefully alter some bad bits from the next book (from what I remember, there are some just stupid developments in it), then I'll be one of the people in line in 2010.

10 November 2008

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

STARRING Brendan Fraser, Maria Bello, Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, Luke Ford, John Hannah
Miles Miller & Alfred Gough
2008, 120 mins.

** (out of ****)

As a fan of the re-imagined
Mummy series from Stephen Summer (Van Helsing), I was supremely disappointed with this lackluster, paycheck-cashing third installment. Seriously, there was more heart put into Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift then Mummy 3. There are two reasons why this flick isn’t a total loss: Brendan Fraser and the action sequences. Surprisingly, the presence of martial arts masters Jet Li (The One) and Michelle Yeoh (Babylon A.D.) doesn’t anything unique to the mix, nor do the du o give us a jaw-dropping fight in the finale – just a bunch of flips and narrow misses with swords. Really, this is just one giant movie that when the credits role, all you think about is what could have been. It’s not the worst movie I’ve seen all year, but it’s a huge disappointment when compared to the near-perfect previous two.

Years after the events of Mu mmy Returns, Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) and Evelyn O’Connell (Maria Bello) lives the comfortable life in retirement: Rick attempts to master the craft of fishing, while Evelyn is an acclaimed escapist romance novelist, basing the stories on her Mummy adventures. Meanwhile, Alex O’Connell, the grown-up version, uncovers the tomb of the great Han Emperor (Jet Li). The Emperor was given power over the elements of the world, but simultaneously cursed into damnation, with his followers, by a scored mistress. Bored with retirement, Rick and Evelyn venture to China to deliver a crystal to the same museum where the excavated Han Emperor is housed. Once there, some really bad bad guys show up and despite the best effort of Rick and Evelyn, the Han Emperor is resurrected in all his immortal glory. Thus, Rick, Evelyn, Jonathan (John Hannah), and Alex, along with his new attractive female Asian friend, embark on a journey from the Himalayas to the Great Wall, all to stop the Han Emperor from ruling the world! (though things get a little tricky with the Dragon Emperor’s ability to shape-shift into wolfs and…well, dragons…)


The sad part is, there was a chance it could have been a good movie. From the very first instant we hear Maria Bello’s atrocious, nails-on-a-chalkboard accent, the flick was doomed. And yet, I remained a little optimistic: Jet Li will surely kick some serious ass – why else would they cast him? Unfortunately, I have yet to stumble on an answer other then the simple fact that he is a ‘name’ actor t
hat would pull in an even higher attendance number. When the movie was over, I felt robbed from what could have been Mummy 3; I ached for Stephen Summers to pop out of nowhere and say, ‘Ooops! That was the rough cut! This is my cut!’ and he would reveal to us a far superior movie with an intelligent script and Rachel Weisz in the lead (funny how one actor – whether present or not - is integral to the enjoyment of a flick). Obviously, that didn’t so much happen.

My mind’s buzzing all over the place right now, so my writings will be a little messy.

First off
, the good: it was fun. Yes, it’s a word I chum out a lot, but that’s because I feel movies are meant to be enjoyed, not to be analyzed minutely - pondering why a director made a certain choice in framing a scene instead of a more commonly used angle (especially with a movie like this; if it was a blatant ‘give me a Oscar!’ type flick like There Will Be Blood, then discuss all you want!). So Tomb succeeds in that regard. Car chases on New Year’s in Shanghai, explosions all over the place and the Dragon Emperor spitting out fire or ice with his hands; giant Yetis in the Himalayas pulverizing the bad guy troopers; a lackluster and disappointing but miledly entertaining duel between Li and Yeoh at the films climax; and a few cool Brendan Fraser kick-ass moments are definitely the highlights.

Unfortunately, even this
positive thing comes with negative strings: bad direction. Now, I have no trouble following the action in Bourne Ultimatum (2007), with all of its erratic camera movement, but for some reason, I could hardly make out what’s going on during the New Year’s chase in Shanghai; I lost a sense of geography or why people were doing what they were doing. The climatic battle sequence at the end where two armies of undead warriors duel for the sake of all mankind is actually quite a bore – makes the finale of Eragon (2006) far more enticing in comparison.

The other aspect that saves this movie from being a total waste is Brendan Fraser. Although Fraser is noticeably not on his A game as he was for
Mummy Returns, he nonetheless pours some life into this corpse of a movie. From the terribly cheesy-but-simultaneously-humorous (although I won’t admit it) lines to the John McClane-ish fights, Fraser owns this franchise. For those who grew up with Indiana Jones as their action/adventure icon, Rick O’Connell is mine. I was nine when the first Mummy came out, and he simply personified coolness – holding cats in the air, or wielding a sword and slashing mummies, or sporting off hilarious one liners, Rick O’Connell was godly. The dude still kicked major ass in the sequel, and perhaps I’m biased, but I think Fraser maintained his Indiana Jonesy-ness in this one.

Now with all this praising out of the way, let’s address Maria Bello. From the second she was onscreen and I heard her voice, my heart nearly died. To say her impersonation of Rachel Weisz (if she was even attempting; I’m not sure what the hell she was tryin
g to do) is horrid, disastrous, dreadful, and deserving of a Razzie award alone is not a understatement. Her voice and that annoying, Botox-like smile that would make Jack Nicholson’s Joker proud creeps the shit out of me; it must be how Harry, Ron and Hermione felt when they looked at Professor Umbridge’s toad-ish face in Order of the Phoenix (2007). Suffice it to say, this was a real revelation after first encountering her in A History of Violence (2005), where I thought she was a great actor and someone to admire; now, I don’t know what to think. Gah. Another strike against the actress which only puts further credence to the poor casting choice: she shares zero chemistry with co-star onscreen husband Brendan Fraser, making their scenes awkward and their romance never believable for a instant.

John Hannah returns as Evelyn’s brother Jonathan, and aside from looking far older than the rest of the cast, he delivers all his quirky, sometimes chuckle-worthy one-liners with ease. After all, this is his third outing (making him the only one next to Fraser who has been in all three), so he appears quite comfortable with the character. New comer Luke Ford sort of grew on me, but occasionally, I get glimpses of such a wooden performance it would put Hayden Christensen’s work in Episode II to shame. Ford wasn’t terrible, and there are moments where you can get the vaguest feel of a father/son bond, but he was completely unconvincing when it comes to the romance department. During the course of the movie, Alex O’Connell falls for the daughter of Michelle Yeoh’s character, but this whole them being immortal thing puts a damper on the relationship. Never once is this romance realistic or believable – same as Hayden and Natalie Portman, if I were to continue the Star Wars references. Jet Li is given nothing to work with other then to look menacing and give a deadpan, serious stare which is supposed to be sinister. But it’s Jet Li, and the dude’s cool, so any lack of acting I can deal with – I just wish he was utilized better.

The main fault lies in the screenplay, written by Smallville co-creators Alfred Goughh & Miles Miller. It appears the duo viewed the two films, took notes (eg, "funny line, action, romance, funny line, action, funny line, action, romance, funny line!" and repeated the steps a few times over - but hugely lacking the level of intelligence the first two had (yes, I said intelligence). There's probably some plot holes, but honestly, unless they're quite obvious, I don't really pay attention to them, so I'm rating the script by the story and dialogue.

Gough and Miller also add Yetis and shape-shifting mummies into the mix, and I'm not quite sure how I feel about that just yet. For some reason, I can deal with a three-headed, fire-breathing dragon moreso than four ten-feet tall Yetis (maybe it's my experience in the world of Godzilla films). When compared to the other two, these elements are ginormously out of place, but yet fit into the context of this story. It just feels like it's 'Mummy In Name Only', if you get my drift. Obviously they couldn't bring Imothep back (probably spelt that wrong), but this didn't fit the world Summers created, and instead felt like a spin-off attempt while using the name brand.

It seems they tried, truly really, but director Rob Cohen couldn't have any of that. With the exception of a bad performance or two...or four...a huge reason why Tomb of the Dragon Emperor falls flat is the direction. As I stated in the opening, there is no substance - there's no care. It's like McG's Charlie's Angels vs. Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle: one was excellent, the other felt like he didn't give a damn and just ordered the DP to shoot anything with the three leads in the frame doing something sexual. It just felt lazy - and that's something I hate above all else. If Roger Corman's name is attached to a project, it's forgiveable, but for a big-budget summer blockbuster, I expect a little life in my flick; at least hire some good actors!

Well, Universal got their cash, everyone received their paychecks, so all is good and done in their little world. Director Cohen (Stealth) indicated the potential for more Mummy installments, starting off with the Jonathan and his Peru situation mentioned in the flick’s last moments. I’ll probably be there, and I’ll probably dish out the cash to see it. Sure, Tomb of the Dragon Emperor was a massive disappointment, but it wasn’t terrible (Bello aside), so I wouldn’t mind seeing if they do better…or at the very least, I’ll be entertained. Though they sure as hell better not make it all about bloody Jonathan; great bloke with fantastic comic timing, but I couldn’t suffer a whole movie with him as the sole protagonist.

09 November 2008

Pride and Glory

STARRING Edward Norton, Colin Farrell, Jon Voight, Noah Emmerich.
WRITTEN BY Joe Carnahan & Gavin O'Connor
DIRECTED BY Gavin O'Connor
2008, 130 mins.

** (out of ****)

Warning! I give out massively original, heart-blow-upy awesome spoilers, so read at your own discretion!

Honestly, there’s no reason to see this flick – it’s easily skip-able. Everything present in Pride and Glory has been done before; it’s not a matter of whether the other movies executed the premise better or worse, it’s just that there’s nothing interesting enough to warrant a viewing of something you’ve seen plenty of times before. Main plot could be summed up by a supremely better, straight-forward title: Good Cop/Bad Cops; think TV’s The Shield but less better. The most recent version of this formula that comes to mind is the Joaquin Phoenix/Mark Wahlberg We Own the Night (2006), which pitted police man Wahlberg and his father against his brother, Mr. Phoenix, who at the end of the movie, gets into the family business. These flicks aren’t just about good cops and not-so-good cops, but about what it means to wear the badge, right and wrong, and furthermore, family; this is Pride and Glory in a nutshell. For what it is, Pride is a well made movie, but its main fault is that there is absolutely no tension in any of the scenes, nor did I find myself caring for a single character. The only reason I don’t feel totally robbed for buying my ticket (even though I semi-enjoyed it) is the presence of Edward Norton, who helped sell this summer’s action blockbuster The Incredible Hulk enormously.


An incident where a failed drug bust resulted in the death of four officers rocks the police department. Commanding officer Francis Egan (Noah Emmerich) enlists the help of his brother, Ray (Edward Norton), who has become a loner after some unspecified catastrophe brought down his life, to investigate the murders. Initially reluctant, Ray accepts, and as he digs, he finds more and more evidence that implicates members of the task force, including his brother-in-law Jimmy (Colin Farrell). Thus, Ray’s undecided on his next course of action: exploit the crimes of these officers, or be silent?


The opening paragraph pretty much sums up what I think about the flick, but I’ll elaborate a bit. My general experience was this: my attention gravitated throughout until the film’s final fifteen minutes, which was either very stupid or very smart, I’m not totally sure yet. As I’m sure you’ve figured out the complex plot, I’ll reveal the ending, and for those who don’t want to know the ending, now would be the time to not be reading: two of the dirty cops get in some serious trouble in a corner building convenience store, and this trouble gets the attention of pretty much everyone on the street, be it gang members, gang impersonators, or just very not-so-happy people outraged at what’s happening. Once this situation is resolved, the gangsta portion of the crowd their way to where Norton and in-custody Farrell are, and they demand a little justice with weapons of harmful destruction. Personally, I enjoyed this ending; it was quite far-fetched, but it deviated from the norm.

As I mentioned, Edward Norton is the saving grace of the movie, which sort of surprised me. When Colin Farrell’s career was rising about three or four years ago, his name alone gave me confidence that the movie I was about to see would be worthwhile, if just for his performance alone. I’m still not sure of what I thought of Farrell, but he didn’t have the same presence as other flicks he’s done in the past (hell, I was more invested in Bullseye from Daredevil, 2003). Norton has become an actor where I’ll see a flick of his just because of his name (I even suffered through The Illusionist, 2006), and he completely helped this movie from damnation. Times like these that actors are helpful in saving a poorly written script.

Norton plays his character exactly how he’s written: conflicted and unsure of himself; Farrell is erratic and trying to maintain control over an increasingly escalating situation. Noah Emmerich attempts to maintain order at the police station and find out what truly happened that resulted in the death of four cops. And Jon Voight plays the father, ex-chief or captain or whatever of the department, and he honestly sold a more convincingly performance in Transformers (2007).

The script is the main problem. Redundant dialogue, lack of urgency, and the biggest offender that I initially was alright with: the wife of Noah’s character who is dying of cancer. When this plot point was first introduced onscreen, I was thinking, ‘Hm. Nifty. Never been done before, so I’m interested in where this goes.’ Ultimately, it goes nowhere, and it adds nothing but being an obvious attempt tom invoke sympathy for Francis. Something I am thankful for is the lack of slang used, a la Harsh Times (2004), which could potentially have hurt the movie even more.

Keep in mind, I didn’t approach the movie with a negative viewpoint. On the contrary, I was pumped to see it; I’m a sucker for those good cop/bad cop type of flicks, but this just didn’t cut it. I guess the underlying problem is that I just didn’t care what happened to anyone, and that’s sort of something dramas kinda need – the caring of the cast. For a good example of this formula put to good use, I recommend picking up the first six seasons of FX’s The Shield and catch-up on the last ten episodes of season seven; they are truly some of the finest writing and performances television has ever produced. But hell, still enjoyable then Max Payne.

05 November 2008

Sex Drive

STARRING Josh Zuckerman, Clark Duke, Amanda Crew, Seth Green, James Marsden
WRITTEN BY Sean Anders & John Morris
2008, 109 mins.

*** (out of ****)

Being a teenager, it's hard to find a good teen comedy. The last truly flick that reached greatness was American Pie 2 (2001), which mixed raunchy sex humor with equally great, loveable characters. [Undoubtedly some disagree; some have their Breakfast Club, I have my American Pie] Sure, Superbad (2007) was huge amounts of fun, but I was one of the few movie goers in the world who didn't fall in love with it (or, for that matter, most of anything director/writer/co-writer Judd Apatow has his hands on). I enjoyed Road Trip (2000) and Eurotrip (2004), and I have no idea why anyone liked Accepted (2006), with Jonah Hill being his obnoxious self and plentiful with lame jokes. Come to think of it, Not Another Teen Movie (2001) was golden - a total spoof on anything and everything teen comedy related. Hell, I think I own two copies of that flick on DVD, the original release and the Unrated edition. So, here we come to Sex Drive. I didn't bother with this summer's College, hearing nothing but negative, harsh reviews. At least this flick had better critical reception (though I wager that's due primarily to Seth Green's stuff, and there's a reason for that). But the good news is something I didn't expect: Sex Drive is a damn near great teen comedy that had me laughing out loud, Seth Rogen-style, and if I wasn't the only bloke in the theater during the screening, someone would probably complain.

It's not strickingly original, but it's the best time I've had at a theater since Steve Martin's Pink Panther (2006) [again, me probably being one of the few people on the planet who enjoyed it].

Eighteen year old Ian Lafferty (Josh Zuckerman) has the Nice Guy Syndrome: he allows embarrassing things to happen to him and he doesn’t go after what he wants – specifically his best friend, Felicia (Amanda Crew), who he secretly loves. His two brothers have no problem in the relationship department, nor does his friend Lance (Clark Duke), who slides through everything with a cool breeze. Ian also just can’t get laid. Taking matters into his own hands, Ian IMs a girl on the internet and in order to meet and ‘greet’, he has to get to Knoxville before Ms. Tasty gives up and calls it an night. Lance and Felicia join Ian on this road trip packed with crazy adventures and complications. Together, the three of them change in drastic, life-altering ways they didn’t expect.

When I entered the theater I've been going to for five years, they asked me for my ID Considering that I've never had to show my ID for anything - say, a flick that has guts splattering straight at the camera and heads being ripped off - I thought this was a subtle attempt for them to say 'Dude, this movie blows, don't waste your money!' Or perhaps it was just them checking my ID for a movie that just swears a whole lot and very much lacking in the flesh department - which makes no sense, but whatever. Point is: thank God I hate my ID on me at the time, 'cuz this movie rocked!

Almost every minute there's a joke; sometimes it falls flat, but most of the time, it elicited a laugh-out-loud moment. Sure, there's plenty of gags or plot points that have been 'lifted' from several other teen comedies, so the originality factor isn't very high, but somehow, everything felt fresh - like hearing it for the first time, sitting in that theater, and I loved 'em.
Zuckerman is perfect as the Jason Biggs-like Good Guy who is lacking any experience in the sex department. Actually, he's more like DJ Qualls (Road Trip), but less freakishly skinny. The dude is the perfect dork. Zuckerman is completely enjoyable in every scene he's in, and you can't help but feel bad for the guy, being all humble and unable to defend himself; and when he makes the decision to meet up with Ms. Tasty, I rooted for the guy, because he's finally taking matters into his own hands and 'being a man!' Kudos, dude.

I've fallen in love with Amanda Crew after watching this. I don't recall her in She's the Man, but next time I check it out, I'll definitely be looking for her. Crew and Emma Snow (Superbad) both love me...they're just...slow on the uptake. Their love for me aside, Crew is awesome, and actually pretty good as far as acting is concerned. A potential rising talent. Ian's other friend, the cool-headed and easy-going Lance, is played by Clark Duke, who is far less annoying then Jonah Hill could ever be. Imparting wisdom and urging Ian to grow some balls, Lance is the party animal who just looks at women and their clothes fall off - Ian's complete opposite. When Snow fell for Hill in Superbad, it was completely unbelievable, but Duke is a dude I can believe would get all these women without using Jedi mind tricks. Honestly, he was just a blast. I was thrilled to find that Ian actually has a story attached to his character, he's not just the dude who shows up and marks dumb comments; that just helps improve this already very well written flick.

The biggest surprise concerning the cast is James Marsden as Ian's homophobic brother, Rex. From the very moment he was onscreen, I thought to myself, 'That looks like James Marsden...can't be....nah...what would he be doing in a movie like this after Hairspray?' So, throughout the entire run, I was in denial that it was James Marsden, and then, sure enough, the credits read - James Marsden. Holy buckets! I've seen Marsden in the X-Men trilogy and most recently, 27 Dresses (2008), but this is his role of the century. It's like Eugene Levy as Jim's Dad in the Pie series - every moment he's onscreen, you love him because he's so damn fun. Forget being known as the romantic lead, or the culturally-aware announcer, this is truly his best work ever (alright, probably not so much true, but point is, he was phenomenal).

A little less surprising is Seth Green (TV's Robot Chicken), who, without doubt, is a highlight of the flick. Playing the Amish dude Ezekiel, Green delivers his lines in such a serious, deadpan, Steve Carrell-type of way that literally had me howling in my seat. Sometimes, his dialogue can be kind of thin (such as the closing credits encoutner with the band All-American Rejects), but more often then not, Green delivers the laughs.

And finally, the last thing worth mentioning: the ending. It is so completely insane and yet brilliant, it alone deserves four stars. Ian's donut costume finally comes into play as everyone who has been affected by this road trip have a western-like stand off until the police come and...well, do nothing, really...though they do bring a gun into the fray.

Unfortunately, the flick's already left my local theater, so probability of seeing this a few more times is nonexistent. But I have every intention of picking this up on DVD. For some, this is going to be a test of endurance to see how long you can last during a movie that's redundant and stupid; for others, it was a OK experience which Green made it worthwhile; and for the people like me, every damn minute was filled with awesomeness. But give it a shot, folks. At the very least, you'll laugh a bit, and it's better then Beverly Hills Chihuahua - though I'm not sure how much of a selling point that is...