Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Justin Timberlake - Best of a Generation?

Every once in a while, I will hear an argument about who is the best of a generation of actors. Recently, while reading Dawn's most recent post, I came to her description of Southland Tales, a film starring Justin Timberlake. In it, Dawn wrote: "I don’t know if Justin Timberlake has ever been in a good movie, but… no, correction: Justin Timberlake has never been in a good movie and Southland Tales is no exception."


Timberlake has been in a slew of solid films and over that time has proven himself to me to be if not the best actor of his generation today, at least in consideration for that lofty title.

I shared this thought with Dawn, to which she offered some alternative bests of the generation: Zack Efron (I kid you not), Robert Downey Jr. and Johnny Depp.

First, let me clear up the issue of what constitutes a generation. Depp and Downey were born in the mid-1960s. Timberlake was born in 1981. Therefore, it is safe to say that they do not share a generation. This is good, because I agree with Dawn that Downey and Depp are better actors than Timberlake.

Efron was born in 1987. For the sake of simplicity, let's assume a generation constitutes a decade of breadth, in this case, from 1980 to 1990. In that case, Efron and Timberlake share a generation. In reality though, one could argue that a generation, particularly with actors, is much shorter, closer to 5 years. I leave that distinction up to the reader. Regardless, it is safe to use 10 years as the maximum for a generation.

Here is a quick filmography for Timberlake, focusing on the highlights with some commentary:
  • Alpha Dog (2006) - Timberlake played a rich Hollywood kid who gets involved in the escalating disaster involving the kidnap of a minor to collect a drug debt. Timberlake does a solid job of filling the role with the right bravado but also insecurity.
  • Southland Tales (2006) - Admittedly, this is an odd movie, but Timberlake shines as a former soldier returning from war.
  • Black Snake Moan (2006) - Timberlake once again plays a soldier returning home, but this time in the bayou, where his girlfriend is whoring it around town. Timberlake gets extra credit from me for his portrayal of his character's PTSD, especially when he reveals that it first reared its head before he saw any action.
  • The Social Network (2010) - Timberlake plays the founder of Napster, who acts as both role model and adviser to the founder of Facebook. He plays this role well, adding a sense of experience and aged resilience, followed by self-destruction, even though he is still a young guy.
Granted, these are only four roles, three of which were released in the same year. But Timberlake has demonstrated on SNL that he also has a knack for comedy. This is no surprise, since he started acting at a young age on the Mickey Mouse Club.

So, here is where I ask for audience participation. Can you think of other actors who are more deserving to be dubbed the best in Timberlake's generation? I have a couple of possibilities, ironically mostly from the cast of Alpha Dog. However, what do you think?

And the greater question: Who is a better actor: Efron or Timberlake?

Monday, October 18, 2010

October Movie Reviews!

More Than A Game

This is a basketball documentary about Lebron James and his three best childhood friends. I’m not much of a basketball fan, but after the Lebron brouhaha, I rented it to find out who this guy is and why he gets to be on TV for an hour and then gets to move to Miami. Seems pretty unfair all around. It was okay. If you’re a Lebron fan, you’ve probably already seen it. There’s a great part where he and his friends decide to go to the local Catholic school instead of the public high school and Lebron has a quote in there about how they’ve decided “to take their talents to” St. Whatever it was. I laughed. He’s had the same PR staff since he was 14! And they say he’s not loyal.

This movie was weird and creepy and did I say creepy? And weird. Plot? A fish becomes a human girl, but for her to stay a human girl, a seven year old boy has to promise to love her forever. Uh huh. Am I the only one who can imagine the “how could you sleep with my best friend? I gave up being a magic fish for you!” argument that ends with him going “GOD DAMMIT WOMAN, I WAS SEVEN!” And then broken glass? Just me? Okay, moving on.

I love you, Beth Cooper

I loved this movie. I know, I know…who didn’t want to see Sylar cut open that cheerleader’s stupid head and suck her brain out…or whatever it is he did to take powers? But she totally works in this movie. She’s just obnoxious and self absorbed enough to be the homecoming queen type, but vulnerable and insecure enough that you don’t hate the protagonist for being in love with her even though she’s never spoken to him before. It’s a funny silly “one crazy night in High School,” movie that would have made John Hughes smile.

A Prophet
So, this movie is about a French prisoner. Who is in prison in France. For committing some French crime. Oh, but he’s a Muslim, so the other French prisoners are all “You’re not French! You’re Muslim!” And then they beat him up. A kingpin in the prison decides to make him a minion, so then the other prisoners stop picking on him. There is a super gross murder scene. Oh, and the movie is in French. All in all, I give it 7 out of 10 Frances. I hope I do not have to tell you that is not a good thing.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
This movie was retarded. I give it ten out of ten Frances.

After Life
This movie was weird. It’s about a school teacher who dies in a car crash and that guy whose name might be Liam Neeson (or he might be the guy I always confuse with Liam Neeson) is the funeral home director. He is trying to prepare her body for burial, but she is all “dude, I’m not dead!” And he’s all “yes, you are! And I’m preparing your body for the funeral!” But then it turns out that maybe she’s not dead and he’s just a psychopath who finds wounded people and drugs them so they look like they’re dead. But then it turns out that maybe she is dead. I dunno. We’ll call this six Frances.

Nadie Conoce a Nadie (1999)
This movie is sorta cool. It’s a Spanish flick, set in Spain. It’s one of these noirish whodunits, so I can’t say very much more without giving stuff away. But the main guy is a crossword puzzle maker who ends up at the center of an international terror plot against Jesus. No Frances at all for this movie! I give it four Americas!

My Name Is Bruce (2007)
Vomit. Barf. Hurl. Blurgh. This movie is so stupid. It’s supposed to be a spoof on the Evil Dead movies (which I think is why I ended up renting it…during my Evil Dead phase I added it to my queue.) Bruce Campbell plays himself, but an exaggerated version. In the movie, he is hired to kill this monster because the town believes he actually is Ashley, but in reality he’s just a selfish movie star. Of course, he then comes to realize he can put the needs of others ahead of himself and fight the monster after all. I give this movie twelve million Frances.

Southland Tales (2006)
I don’t know if Justin Timberlake has ever been in a good movie, but… no, correction: Justin Timberlake has never been in a good movie and Southland Tales is no exception. This movie has such a star studded cast it’s actually pretty unbelievable how terrible it is. Though, Sarah Michelle Gellar is in it and except for three or four movies, her movie resume is about as terrible as Timberlake's. HOWEVER, The Rock is in this movie AND HE IS SHIRTLESS about 80 percent of the time that he’s on screen. So… this movie earns itself a solid one and a half Americas! You’re welcome. Plot? Dude. Did I mention that The Rock is SHIRTLESS? Moving on.

All About Steve (2009)

Um… so… *whistles* I kinda sorta…um… liked this movie. Judge me? I JUDGE YOU! Yeah, that’s right. Deal with it! Sandra Bullock is wonderful! And the story is very empowering and cute and it ends exactly right. You find yourself rooting for Mary the whole way. Okay, her outfit is a bit off the wall, but other than that…the story of a plucky crossword puzzle writer searching for love in all the wrong ways, is terrific. Hmmm…I saw a lot of movies about crossword puzzle writers.

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

This movie was great! My friend Fisch said he didn’t like it, so I avoided it for a long time, but having pretty much wiped out the shelves at my local Blockbuster (see above where I rented All About Steve) I had no choice, plus, you know I have that Johnny Depp thing. It was great though! Way better than the Alice in Wonderland movie I remember from my childhood. This one made sense and was fun and triumphant and not at all annoying! Definitely six Americas. At least!

Jennifer's Body (2009)
This movie was also great! I was going on and on about how much I loved 2012 on twitter and one of my friends sarcastically (I think) said that if I liked 2012 so much, he bets I’d LOVE Jennifer’s Body. But joke’s on him, I totally did! It’s a brilliant horror movie which also kinda cleverly captures the nature of teenage girl on girl friendships. It really is an almost perfect movie.

Ice Castles (2010)
This movie is, I guess, based on a true story of a promising ice skater who has a freak accident while skating, which leaves her blind. With the help of her boyfriend and inner strength, she competes even with her blindness! You’ll laugh, you’ll cry…um…no you won’t. It’s actually pretty meh. I rooted much harder for Mary in All About Steve. The blind ice skater girl is sad and all, but…okay, I’m going to stop now before I get letters from blind people. Are blind people on the net? Is there a Braille reader for blogs? Okay, so I’m going to stop now. Definitely.

Robin Hood (2010)
Do you remember how terrible Southland Tales was? Yeah, if it were a choice between watching that again or watching this Robin Hood again, I would throw myself off a building. What do you mean “do I know what the words ‘choice between’ means? Of course, I do. This Robin Hood was awful! It’s some prequel to the Kevin Costner Robin Hood, except there’s no awesome “I would die for you,” song and then they splice in footage from Elizabeth and Saving Private Ryan. OH AND IT'S THREE HOURS LONG. NO BUENO. TWO BILLION FRANCES.

Get Him to the Greek (2010)
This was a GREAT movie. 1. P. Diddy > Justin Timberlake ALL DAY EVERY DAY AND TWICE ON SUNDAYS! He was hysterical as the music producer mogul with five kids and a heavy dose of crazysauce. That fat dude from those movies that I usually hate (Superbad? Knocked Up?) was terrific as the straight man assistant (just going to show that I was right! He is NOT funny!) And the guy who plays the has-been rockstar was spot on. The songs were funny, the situations were funny…I laughed so hard… and I was at work, so that was probably inappropriate. GREAT FLICK! SEVEN AMERICAS!

The Experiment (2010)
This movie sucks. Why is that fat black guy from The Crying Game making such bad movies all of sudden? He was great in that “rawr I’m an African dictator and I kill people movie.” The premise of this dungpile is that these guys sign up for a study. They get paid two thousand dollars a day to play their parts in a prisoner/guard simulation. Of course, things go badly when the guards get power hungry and the prisoners say they’re not going to take it anymore. Blah. Four Frances.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)
This movie was meh. I could tell they really really really wanted me to see it in 3D at a movie theater. But I could really really really tell it was going to suck and I was going to be mad that I had wasted money on it. Um…so the plot is a king adopts a street urchin boy even though he already has two biological children. They all grow up and when it comes time to pick an heir, the father is murdered. Street urchin boy is accused and then he finds a dagger that can take him back through time. The sworn keeper of that dagger is a beautiful woman. You figure the rest out. Yep. It happens just like that. One France.

Titanic 2 (2010)
I tweeted this movie as I watched it. As I believe my tweets to be brilliant, I will recap them here:
“Yes, I rented this. SMH.”
“You get on a ship called the Titantic 2, you deserve whatever you get.”
“I’m a nurse NOT an electrician” – direct quote from Titantic 2.”
“There was one survivor of the Titanic 2, hopefully the third one won’t make any mistakes.”
One hundred Frances.

Letters to Juliet (2010)
I thought this movie was cute. Very very predictable, but it’s a classic, no nonsense chick flick, so what did you expect? American writer goes to Italy, discovers an old love letter seeking advice, she decides to answer it. Old lady comes to Italy to follow American girl’s advice that she look for her long lost love. Old lady’s grandson, pissed the hell off. Voila.

MacGruber (2010)
FOUR HUNDRED BILLION FRANCES. There is nothing funny nor charming about this movie. Also I think some guy sticks a celery in his ass and prances around naked.

Killers (2010)
This movie was good! By far Ashton Kutcher’s best movie. Katherine Heigl did not irritate me and in a movie where her husband turns out to be a spy and there are assasins trying to kill them, I did not once hope that they would be shot to death. Talk about high praise!

Just Wright (2010)
I liked this movie. Queen Latifah is spot on as the tom boyish rabid basketball fan. Common was good as the injured basketball player she rehabs back to health and Clair Huxtable is in it! Definite rent. Six Americas.

Caligula (1979)
I don’t know why I rented this movie. There were a lot of boobs. A lot a lot of boobs. I’m still a little traumatized.

Solitary Man (2009)
This movie is TERRIBLE. It stars Gordon Gecko as a guy having a middle aged crisis and he’s chasing younger women and won’t let his grandson call him grandpa because then people will think he’s old. But then he sleeps with the daughter of his girlfriend and she has her mafia ex husband threaten his life and then he’s all in the hospital with no one and his ex wife comes back and says he needs to choose, the life as her husband again or chasing after floozies. Bah. I dunno. But more importantly, I DIDN’T CARE.

A Quiet Little Marriage (2008)
This movie is brilliant! It’s about a newlywed couple. The wife decides she wants to have kids, the husband has this loser younger brother who he has taken care of his whole life, so he definitely doesn’t want to have kids. So she starts poking holes in the contraception and he starts grinding up birth control pills and putting them in her tea. Hijinx ensue.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

TIFF Review - Everything Must Go

*Yes, TIFF is long past, but I'm lazy and procrastinaty. Ergo, you get these as I write 'em.

We often see the biggest comedic movie stars turn to drama. Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, Bill Murray, Adam Sandler, etc.. Sometimes this is because they want to break away from the schtick that made them famous before it gets old. Usually its because they want some critical acclaim for their abilities as an actor instead of just a wacky guy.

Will Ferrell is no different. He's carved a big path of funny, but long ago it began feeling like more of the same. I would refer to the latest comedy as "Will Ferrell movie 20xx". I'd still go see them, and I'd still laugh, but they weren't exactly deep explorations of the human psyche, or anything new.

Then I saw Stranger than Fiction, a strange little comedy where he played, for all intents and purposes, the straight man. He was in a ridiculous situation, but was just a guy trying to deal with it. It's a great movie that shows how his talents can be harnessed in something other than his normal routine.

Then he went back to Blades of Glory, Semi-Pro, and the like. I still laughed, but now anticipated his next "serious" role.

Everything Must Go falls into that category. Ferrell plays Nick Halsey, a career salesman who starts off the movie having a very bad day. Canned from his job, he comes home to find that his wife has left him and locked him out of the house, along with all his stuff. It doesn't really get better from there. At first.

With no job, no place to go, and no capability to deal with it, Nick restarts his drinking problem, ending yet another trip on the wagon. He plops himself into his chair on his lawn and decides that his front yard isn't such a bad place for a living room. Granted, this has the small problem of being illegal, a situation rectified with a local bylaw allowing yard sales to last 5 days.

What comes next is the story of an alcoholic in a crappy situation trying to sort out his life. As he struggles with denial and avoidance, the realities of his suburban life begin to make themselves known. Secrets, stories, and characters start to come forth, each of them waking Nick up just a little bit more, and helping him come to terms with where he is, and how he got there. The "yard sale" rapidly becomes an obvious metaphor for his emotional burdens.

In the bigger picture, this is a good move for Ferrell. It once again makes him a relatable, "real" character and puts him in an unique situation. But instead of a voice in his head and his life being controlled by a writer, he's in a place that one can actually believe exists. It's another step out of his safety zone and into more grown-up roles.

There's plenty of comedy in here, but don't expect a ridiculous moustache and ignorant rantings. Nick Halsey's just a guy trying do deal. As a movie, it won't make it on too many people's radar - it's just a bit too slow, a bit too scattered, and again, not the typical Ferrell vehicle, which will confuse and disappoint some of his fans. Personally, I enjoyed it, but probably more for some of the individual performances than the whole.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Incredible Melting Man (1977)

'The Incredible Melting Man' (1977)*

“No one has ever seen anything like this.”

So says Capt. Steve West (Alex Rebar) at the start of The Incredible Shrinking Man, a silly slice of low budgeted sci-fi horror written and directed by William Sachs. West, an astronaut leading his crew on a mission taking them to Saturn -- what for, we never learn -- is specifically referring to the “magnificent” sight of the sun through Saturn’s rings.

Then again, he could be describing the next 80 minutes or so, which I think it is safe to say no one has ever seen anything like, either.

Though released in 1977, The Incredible Melting Man has a premise (and title) that comes straight out of the 1950s. Of course, while one generally finds even in the least accomplished B-movies of that earlier era some sort of moral or message -- say, about the dangers of allowing scientific progress to go unchecked, or communism, or the bomb, or what have you -- the emphasis here is a little different.

Rather, The Incredible Melting Man is a film about sticky goo. Mostly.

Following a vague opening sequence in which the Saturn mission apparently goes horribly wrong, West lands wrapped in bandages in a sparsely-filled room in what looks like a warehouse. It is a warehouse, actually. But we’ll call it a “Psychological Research Center” because of the hand-lettered sign hanging outside.

Left alone, West swiftly removes the bandages to discover he has become the titular character. He’s melting. It’s incredible, man.

The doomed mission’s only survivor then wastes no time expressing his disappointment by attacking and killing a nurse, then taking off into the surrounding woods. Such anti-social behavior is explained via mumbo jumbo from the doctors about radiation and the fact that “he’s going to need human cells to live on” so “his instinct will tell him to kill.”

The viewers instinct will tell them this is hardly an explanation, but I imagine most getting this far will still be curious to see what happens next.

'The Incredible Melting Man' (1977)And what does happen next? A sequence of awkward set pieces involving numerous random folk, all punctuated by more mucky mayhem committed by an increasingly syrupy Steve. These scenes include a fishing expedition, a kids’ game of hide-and-seek, an involuntarily-topless photo shoot (with the often-topless cult film star Rainbeaux Smith), an elderly couple stealing lemons, and a man eating leftover turkey.

There’s a sheriff impotently running around trying to figure out why heads and other body parts are turning up all over his jurisdiction. He’s not helped very much by two others who know more about it all than they are letting on -- an avuncular though mostly unpleasant General Michael Perry (Myron Healey) and the weirdly morose and uncharismatic Dr. Ted Nelson (Burr DeBenning).

Strictly amateur hour top to bottom in this one when it comes to editing, cinematography, script, acting, mise en scène, and just about every other aspect of filmmaking one can name.

For example, at about the half-hour mark the entire opening sequence is repeated as a flashback occurring in the melting man’s memory. I mean, it was less than thirty minutes ago. We remember. (And this despite the fact we’ve been told “his mind is... completely decomposed.”)

That said, seeking other of the film’s many goofs is a big part of the fun here. Late in the film a woman finds herself trapped in a farmhouse kitchen, the viscous villain awkwardly trying to push his way inside from a connected room. She spots the back door. Does she run out? Nah. She locks it.

And then finds herself a meat cleaver.

Speaking of, that inexplicable choice allows for another of numerous examples of the film’s sort-of-interesting-for-the-time gruesome makeup effects, provided by the since-celebrated Rick Baker who’d go on to earn a half-dozen Oscars for such.

The film eventually oozes its way to a finale of sorts, with an ending so messy it needs a custodial crew to clean it up. No, I’m serious. There’s a janitor... with a broom and dust pan.... Okay, don’t believe me.

Some might remember this one famously received the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” treatment, although the original film is plenty full of gelatinous grins even without the wiseacres in silhouette pointing ’em out. Keeping in mind the usual scales of cinematic valuation, one star seems the most suitable grade here. But some will nonetheless find reason to seek out The Incredible Melting Man, including those who enjoy and/or appreciate campy goodness.

Also, those who like sticky goo.