Year One

Year Released: 2009
Directed by: Harold Ramis
Starring: Jack Black, Michael Cera, Hank Azaria, David Cross, Possibily Jesus
Production Company: Sony Pictures Entertainment
Release Date: June 19, 2009

Year One is a reminder never to take our religion too seriously. It also reminds us that Jack Black plays the same damn character in every movie. Thanks to Michael Cera’s awkward teenager role lifted directly from his Arrested Development days, the two manage to squeeze out some laughs, but the movie never really gains any momentum.

Hey! Did you catch Bill Hader?

Zed (Black), and Oh (Cera) are Hunters and Gatherers (respectively) for their small village. Zed is a failure at his job, and Oh simply wants to obey his carnal lusts for Eema (Juno Temple), yet fawns for her at a distance. Zed one day, has the bright idea to eat from the tree forbidden tree of knowledge. With his mind awakened, he and Oh are promptly exiled from the village. Zed in his slow, somber retreat accidental torches the village, burning it to the ground, causing his ex-tribe members to be imprisoned by the guards of Sodom. Zed and Oh travel the lands with Zed’s new-found knowledge in search of Zed’s destiny. You need to think less Life of Brian, and more Superbad; the script certainly has an impromptu feel, yet doesn’t distract too much from the main themes.

Jack Black has worked a long time in Hollywood, and for some reason he keeps getting plum roles where he gets to show up, shout some obscenities and never develop a real character. Michael Cera keeps getting jobs on his teen character, speaking to his chest more often than putting his forward emotions on screen. It certainly works in his favor, as Oh is more at home given intricate moments of inflection such as “I saved a life with my love making”. At least these guys looked like they were having fun filming, with a subject like religion he tongue-in-cheek humor bodes well with both personalities.

Golden Shower just took on a whole new meaning.

Year One at times felt more B-Movie quality, which was supposed to be played off as campy. Most of the humor comes from physical comedy, even observations (lady armpit hair, women’s eyeliner) or the circumcision loving Abraham (played by Hank Azaria). It also seemed a little foolish to have yet another aimless comedic duo start out wandering from forest to desert, only to find their true calling. Call me crazy, but is Hollywood really pandering that much to the generation that’s still spinning it’s tires?

The genre can withstand shtick, should it be awesomely funny as “Life of Brian”, or more ho-hum as “Year One” puts it. On the scale, “Year One” land between mediocrity and an eyebrow raise.

Kung Fu Panda

Year Released: 2008
Directed by: Mark Osborne, John Stevenson
Starring: Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, Ian McShane, David Cross, Seth Rogen, Michael Clarke Duncan, James Hong, Randall Duk Kim, Dan Fogler
Production Company: DreamWorks
Release Date: June 6, 2008

Watching Kung Fu Panda I was a little stunned. Watching the lush Chinese landscapes and real world lighting made me think “Is this a PIXAR movie?”. The backgrounds and attention to detail were THAT GOOD. It became immediately apparent to me that I wasn’t watching a Disney based company once the supporting characters were introduced. They were given so little to do, had flat dialogue that it wasn’t even worth putting the star voices names in the end credits. The characterizations were flat, given the virtual environment. That sentence even sounds a little clumsy as the characters are actual animals and the voices didn’t seem to fit as well as Panda.

Okay, the movie does have some highlights, even if the animation and story team didn’t talk to one another, they at least collaborated on the slapstick comedy and fight sequences. I found myself laughing at the fat-panda jokes, plus the role of Po, the giant noodle serving panda was custom made for Jack Black.

Panda discovers gravity exists only in the Pixar world

The movie opens with a 2D dream sequence of Po, the giant Panda. He’s daydreaming of becoming an ultimate kung fu master, while the reality is that he’s slinging noodles for his duck father Ping (the always hilarious James Hong). Po idolizes the ‘furious five’, the five kung fu masters of China, each a different animal with unique fighting styles: Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Viper (Lucy Liu) and Crane (David Cross). Their master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) needs to choose the fabled dragon warrior soon, and teacher Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) is sure one of his pupils is up to the task. After a series of hilarious events, Po is chosen as the dragon warrior, much to the dismay of the furious five, and even to Po himself. Master Shifu sees through this hefty panda and try as he might, tries to discourage him from learning kung fu. Meanwhile, the feared kung fu warrior Tai Lung (an awesome Ian McShane) escapes from prison and is on his way to steal the dragon scroll the furious five and master Shifu protect. With only the fabled dragon warrior destined to stop him, it’s a race against time to train poor Po the mastery of kung fu.

All these animals, yet no Kung Pao Chicken?

The fights are absolutely awesome, for a bunch of CGI pixels you can feel those hits. For Po’s fight scenes; a mix of Buster Keaton hilarity mixed with good willed kung fu, they’re fun to watch. Take the movie into context and for a moment watch the lush backgrounds and appreciate the natural lighting of the environment. According to Wikipedia the animators took years to develop the look, researching Chinese architecture to get the right look and feel. All their work certainly paid off, as you feel immersed into the world of talking animals.

If you want a beautiful looking family friendly romp that’s close to PIXAR standards, look no further than Kung Fu Panda. There’s enough laughs to keep all ages happy, but if you want something with a little more meat, the adults out there might want to check out the infinitely more entertaining, and subtle WALL-E.

8 out of 10

Tropic Thunder

Year Released: 2008
Directed by: Ben Stiller
Starring: Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey, Brandon T, and Tom Cruise(!)
Production Company:
Studio: Dreamworks SKG

When Tropic Thunder was released, all the buzz was about Robert Downey Jr. playing a black man. Different groups were all in upheaval about the charade of a man willing to do something like this in the name of comedy. There was a lot of talk about racism and Hollywood’s easy acceptance in the name of a buck. If you watch the movie, you’ll actually find it’s done quite tastefully and it fits the character Downey Jr is portraying. And if you think Hollywood cares who they’re offending in the name of the almighty dollar, you’re dead wrong. Just take a look at ‘White Chicks’ a gross out comedy starring the Wayan brothers as two blonde heiresses. No one even batted an eyelid when that premise was announced. Even the title was honest in what the content was about, yet you didn’t hear about any petitioning groups against it.

The rabid fans of ‘Envy’ find their way onto the set…

I’m sure the double standards community online agrees with me.

It’s been a while since Ben Stiller was behind the camera, his last directoral movie, Zoolander was the satire of the world of male modeling. This time around, Stiller is a little more honest and has a lot less slapstick in Tropic Thunder. It’s a movie within a movie concept complete with fake trailers with the title characters playing to their strengths. If you give it a chance you’ll have a fun time keeping up with the insanity of movies and vices that each actor can have.

Start the engine, Katie Holmes found out where Tom got to at night!

The story follows a group of actors with engorged egos cast in the most expensive war movie ever made. Each actor is at the top of their game in the three major film genres: Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) the comedic actor with a spiraling drug problem, Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) the action juggernaut with one last chance to show he’s got some acting talent, and Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.) the five time oscar winner method actor who gets a little too involved in his roles. In the mix is a up and coming rap superstar Alpo Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) and the unknown actor (Jay Baruchel) who actually reads the source material and script. The source material in question was written by double arm amputee Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte) whose experience in Vietnam and horrific injuries are a result of a top secret mission, which now is being turned into a high-concept overblown Hollywood movie.

The director is fed up trying to get his all-star cast to gel together to get the project done, and at Four Leaf’s request, puts them into the jungle filming them guerrilla-movie style. As you’d expect, something happens and it’s no longer a movie, as the group finds themselves in real danger.

Downey Jr. is magnificent as the dude playing a dude, disguised as another dude.

If you’re going to spoof a major tent pole film, you might as well make it look the part: it’s shot and lit incredibly well. The in-jokes come mainly from the actor’s attachments to their paycheques and lifestyles than they are creating art. All the supporting cast seems to be in on the joke, Matthew McConaughey as Tugg Speedman’s agent is more concerned about getting his client TiVo instead of working on his acting skills. Keep you ears unplugged for an unmistakable voice in Tom Cruise, as Les Grosman, the overweight vulgar, obscenity spewing corporate executive looking to pad his wallet at the expense of any actor or film. This was supposed to be the hidden gem; Cruise is hilarious in his execution, his dance moves and appearance a stark contrast to his otherwise pretty-boy image. His appearance would have dominated the movie, except for:

Robert Downey Jr. Say what you will, his performance walks the line between good taste and comedic timing. He’s got pathos and creates empathy for his fictional character, african American staff Sargent Lincoln Osiris, played by Kirk Lazurus. There’s so many layers behind that performance it’s hard to peel back one after another and not be astounded by the amount of effort he put into those character(s), especially in a movie satire, let alone a comedy film meant to generate laughs instead of buzz. There’s so much conviction in what he’s doing, as his own character states “I only break character after the DVD commentary”. Downey Jr. still shines when he’s playing the Australian Oscar winner and it almost takes away from the films overall tone of irony and sarcasm.

If you looking for a movie that’s light on conscience pick up Tropic Thunder, the laughs are well earned and the filming is beautiful.

7 out of 10