>> Pineapple Express (7/10)

Pineapple Express

Summer, 2008.  Year of the Danny McBride.  Wait.  Dude?  Was this how my Tropic Thunder review started?  Aw, man, my bad.  I am soooooo high right now!

**cough, cough, snort**

Wait.  No, I’m not.  I’ve never touched the stuff.  So what does Pineapple Express mean to me, as a non-smoker who generally dislikes pot comedies but generally likes the Apatow Gang (including stars Seth Rogen and James Franco)?  Please keep in mind that I watched this film in Austin, Texas, which is almost like traveling to Hershey, PA to watch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or getting to watch 2001 while on a ride into orbit in a space shuttle.  Austin loves the leaf.

And so it was that I found myself in a throng of teenagers at a sold-out midnight show (on two screens!) in one of the most remote, isolated theatres in town.  I began to wonder if this film was intended for me, Mister Straight-Laced Thirtysumthin.  I asked myself if I would be entertained by a film that I suspected might just be Cheech and Chong for 2008.  I wondered if I was the oldest person there.  I pondered how many of these kids lit up on the way to the theatre to, y’know, set the mood.

Then, Pineapple Express started, and all my questions vanished.  This was a film created to make people laugh, not just make high people laugh.  Strangely enough, one could actually view Pineapple Express as an anti-drug film.  Really bad stuff happens to Dale Denton (Rogen) and Saul Silver (Franco), and it all stems from marijuana.

Dale is a process server who witnesses a murder during a routine job.  The murderer turns out to be Ted Jones (Gary Cole), a drug lord at war with “The Asians”, and the only source for Dale’s drug dealer’s stash of superweed called Pineapple Express.  That drug dealer is Saul, and he’s implicated in the mess when Dale drops a roach at the murder scene with the rare herb still smoldering.  This leads the two on the run and into danger in the form of crooked police, an angry father, and Saul’s supplier, Red, played by Danny McBride.

Danny McBride is awesome in this movie.  He’s generated plenty of buzz this year, thanks to Foot Fist Way, but this is the one that will put him on the map.  Craig Robinson also made me laugh quite a bit as one of Ted Jones’ assassins on the trail of Dale and Saul.  Seth Rogan’s part is no real stretch for him, but he’s likeable, as usual, and James Franco convincingly plays someone who is completely baked.  They also have great chemistry, and the charm of their camaraderie allows the movie to get away with being rougher around the edges than it should be.

Specifically, there are a lot of moments that feel cheap and perfunctory.  Dale has a girlfriend subplot that ends, then picks back up only to end again.  Most of the parts involving Gary Cole and Rosie Perez (as the cop in his pocket) feel unscripted in a bad way, like the actors were just told to show up on set and they’d come up with something for them to do when the cameras rolled.  The action sequences are inconsistent as well, relying too often on a tired (but seemingly intentional) 1980’s-style shoot ’em up vibe.

Maybe a toke or two and I would’ve given this movie a ten?  The world may never know.  Pineapple Express plays fast and loose, the Apatow Gang’s most sloppy comedy by far, but it never fails to entertain, even at its sloppiest.

7 on a 1 to 10 scale


>> Tropic Thunder (7.5/10)

Tropic Thunder

Summer, 2008.  Year of the Downey Junior.  Tropic Thunder‘s biggest selling point in its advertising campaign is Downey’s character, Kirk Lazarus, a white method actor who undergoes surgery to become a black man for the Vietnam film-within-the-film, also titled Tropic Thunder.  Downey is amazing in this role.  It sort of sneaks up on you, but he’s Oscar-worthy amazing here.  It’s more than a blackface gag; it’s an actual role.

Tropic Thunder is fascinating in that way.  It’s the smartest dumb comedy in ages.  Its targets–big budget filmmaking, the churning, grinding show biz machine and its effects on the personal identities of those within the machine–are rich and its aim is spot-on.  It’s high-concept comedy, the type that goes over great in a Hollywood pitch session.  “What if a bunch of actors with conflicting personalities, all sharing the lead roles in a war movie, are accidentally left stranded in a war zone?”  But beyond that pitch, there’s substance here, and pointed satire.  And, on the surface of that, there’s dozens of vulgar gross-out gags and jokes about the metally handicapped (make that hilarious jokes about the portrayal of the mentally handicapped).  It’s a film with a lot of layers.

Co-written and directed by Ben Stiller, who also appears as waning action star Speedman alongside Downey and Jack Black as coked-out comedian Jeff Portnoy.  Jay Baruchel and Bradon T. Jackson round out the main cast, with Baruchel as a young actor in his first big role and Jackson as rapper-turned-actor and Booty Sweat energy drink spokesman Alpa Chino.  Both are great alongside comedy veterans like Stiller and Black, but the best supporting cast members are the two unadvertised mega-stars that Tropic Thunder uses as secret weapons.

I won’t tell you who they are here, but with a little research you’ll be able to find them if you absolutely must know.  One of the roles is a massive step forward in career damage control for the particular actor in the part.  He throws aside his public image with gusto, to take on the part of a balding, overweight, foul-mouthed movie exec with a heart of ice.  He’s Tropic Thunder‘s main villain; a bastard who has all of the power to save his actors that are lost in the jungle, but refuses to do so due to bottom line costs.  The other actor that I mentioned isn’t given as showy of a part, but still manages to move away from his image by simply appearing in a film like Tropic Thunder, taking a break from his never-ending stream of mediocre romantic comedies to hang out with the real guys.  It’s a welcome change for the both of them, and their scenes together are mind-blowingly bizarre.

This brings me back to those themes of identity.  Not only are they written into the script itself, but they are there in the mere casting of two supporting characters.  This kind of thought really makes Tropic Thunder into something special.  It’s more complex than I expected, but its complexity is sort of sneaky and easily overlooked during all the funny quips and explosions.  This is the kind of multi-layered comedy where some people will only get the obvious laughs, while others will find amusement on the almost “meta” side of the film–the part of the movie that deals with what it means to be a celebrity.

I don’t know that I had any full-on belly laughs during the film, but I grinned the entire time at the audacity of the thing.  It’s a movie with guts (literally and figuratively), an action movie disguised as a comedy disguised as a mediation on the cult of personality.  It’s very entertaining, and makes me love this Summer’s crop of blockbusters that much more.  I wish every Summer could be 2008.

7.5 on a 1 to 10 scale

>> The Midnight Meat Train (6.5/10)

midnight meat train

My first major clue that the suits at Lionsgate don’t understand the movies they try to market (at least not the ones with Saw in the title) was with their inability to create any decent hype around the excellent film 3:10 to YumaThe Midnight Meat Train is no 3:10 to Yuma, but it’s a slick, memorable chiller bearing the Clive Barker brand name and directed by a Japanese cult fave, Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus, Godzilla:  Final Wars).  They released an interesting trailer for this film months ago, got people a little interested, and then…the movie vanished.

The Midnight Meat Train opened this week on roughly one-hundred screens at second-run, discount theatres across the U.S., which is, to put it kindly, a contractually obligated theatrical dumping, earning a whopping $30,000.  Lionsgate apparently has no interest in making money with this film, and, while it probably wouldn’t have broken any box office records, it could’ve made between 15 and 20 million dollars with a little advertising finesse.  The truth is that Barker made his multi-picture deal when he had a supporter at Lionsgate; someone who understood Barker’s specific appeal.  That person left the company.  The new suits looked at the film, noticed it wasn’t called Saw, and did what they were contractually obligated to do with the movie (release it in theatres), then close the book on a film that will end up looking like a black eye on Barker’s box office pull.

That’s the part that bothers me as a movie-goer, and why I bring it up in this review.  Barker’s an inconsistent filmmaker, but with a distinct and unusual voice–the kind of creative force who will always give you something interesting, even when you don’t like his stuff.  It’s been over ten years since something based on his work was released theatrically, and, for a horror fan like me, that’s too long.  The Midnight Meat Train could’ve easily been Barker’s biggest commercial and creative success since Candyman, but no.  And the sad truth is that it has everything to do with show biz and nothing to do with the film itself.

The movie itself is a simple, gruesome story about a photographer, Leon played by Bradley Cooper, who accidentally discovers what appears to be a serial killer (Vinnie Jones) lurking in the New York subway, bludgeoning people to death with a silver mallet, then hanging them up on hooks like cuts of meat.  The Midnight Meat Train appears to be a fairly routine slasher mystery (although a brutal and stylish one), but as the plot thickens, the film begins to reward the viewer with Clive Barker’s usual sinister supernatural bent.  The end result is violent, creepy, and unique–as the best of Barker’s work always is.

It’s not a perfect horror film.  The casting of Vinnie Jones might have been a mistake, as his persona as All-Purpose UK Thuggernaut threatens to overwhelm his quiet role.  The movie, while engaging, is rarely genuinely scary.  It’s more interesting than terrifying most of the time, and the d-grade cast (Brooke Sheilds?  Ted Raimi?) is sort of distracting.  But you know what?  It’s different than 99% of other horror films, just like Hellraiser was, just like Candyman was, just like Lord of Illusions was.  Clive Barker’s just not going to give you Prom Night or The Eye, to name a couple of theatrical horror turds flung our way this year by movie studio monkeys.

Coulda, woulda, shoulda, Lionsgate.  Barker could be a minor cash cow for you right now, but I see you are busy promoting Disaster Movie and this Dane Cook thing you have coming out.  No, really, I understand.  There are more important things in this world than money.  Like making sure Dane Cook has work.  Or something.

6.5 on a 1 to 10 scale

>> Klondike Bar Contest! PLEASE VOTE!

Klondike Bar

What Would You Do For a Klondike Bar?

What would you do for a Klondike Bar?

I’d make a commercial to try and win a bunch of money in a Klondike Bar commercial-making contest! But I need YOUR HELP!

Please go to the link provided, register, and VOTE for our ad! (Then, if you like it, tell 100 other people to vote for our ad!)


The ad was conceptualized by me, written by me and Q Manning, and directed by Q. Let me rephrase that–not just directed by Q, but brought to life by Q. His hard work constructing the character of the Klondike Bar is what makes it all work.

Jennifer Blair
Paul Gandersman
And myself as the Klondike Bar.

Directed/Edited/Slaved Over by Q Manning
Produced by Lesley Sullivan & Peter Yoder