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Entries in John C. Reilly (7)

Friday
Nov022012

Wreck-It Ralph

People watch movies, indulge in television and play video games to be transported to another world for a brief period of time. Video games, in particular, seem to come more alive due to the fact that they allow you to live in that world and control the characters in it. While movies and television are a passive viewing experience, video games are active and give the illusion that what you’re doing matters, that your actions have a ripple effect on the digital world you’ve been placed in. But what if that wasn’t an illusion? What if, when the games were shut off and the players were elsewhere, the characters lived their own lives and experiences? That’s the premise of Wreck-It Ralph and it’s great, the first movie since Toy Story to truly tap into the imagination of what it’s like to be a kid, when everything you wanted to be real was if you believed it hard enough. Wreck-It Ralph strips away the cynicism of adulthood and it’s an utter delight, especially if you’re a gamer.

Ralph (John C. Reilly) is the “bad guy” of his arcade game, Fix-It Felix, Jr. His job is to destroy the building onscreen and prevent the hero, Fix-It Felix himself (Jack McBrayer), from fixing it and earning a medal. His code dictates his in-game actions and he is forced to be the bad guy, so he’s an outcast and sleeps at a nearby dump at night while the rest of the game characters live together in their cozy apartments. He’s tired of being the bad guy, though, and decides he wants to earn a medal himself, so he travels outside of his game to the central hub (the surge protector where all the arcade machine power cords meet). Once there, he stumbles his way into a couple other games, including “Sugar Rush,” a cute racing game that takes place in a world made of sweets. There he meets a glitch in the game named Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) who isn’t allowed to race in the game because if the gamers see her glitch, they may notify the arcade owner who will decide the game is broken and unplug it, putting all the inhabitants of the game homeless, except for Vanellope who, because glitches can’t leave their game, will die with it.

Though vibrant, colorful and targeted at kids, Wreck-It Ralph is just as accessible to the older crowds; more specifically, seasoned gamers. If you’re a child of the 80’s and grew up with Nintendo, you’ll adore the little touches that the filmmakers, who are all clearly avid gamers, threw in. Jumps are followed by a Super Mario-esque sound effect, 8-bit worlds are populated by trees that are little more than square blocks and the characters, at least the minor ones, are jaggedly animated due to their 8-bit limitations. These touches are brilliant and really bring these video game worlds to life.

Expectedly, video game references, both subtle and obvious, are thrown in the film for gamers to spot. An early scene where all the bad guys have gathered together to discuss their evilness is ripe with them. The group includes Bowser from the Super Mario series, Dr. Robotnik (or Eggman as I suppose he is now called) from the Sonic series, Zangief from Street Fighter, a Pac-Man ghost and even a character who looks suspiciously like Kano from Mortal Kombat, who proceeds to perform a Fatality onscreen and rip a nearby zombie's heart out. When this meeting is over and they head back out to the central hub after navigating their way out of the Pac-Man game—the meeting took place in the center rectangle where the ghosts originate from—they find the long forgotten Q*bert sitting outside begging for help with a sign that says "Game unplugged." Even Sonic's there doing his usual do-gooder shtick, performing what can only be described as a PSA for the rest of the video game characters, informing them that if they die outside their game, they die for good.

Eventually, Ralph makes his way to the bar to drown his sorrows. The bar, of course, is the classic arcade game Tapper and you get to watch as the bartender runs up and down sliding beverages to his quickly approaching patrons. On top of all this, you'll see references to Mario Kart, Metal Gear Solid and even the famous Konami code, which is guaranteed to impress the gamers in the audience. These references disappointingly dissipate as the film goes on, though it isn't necessarily a bad thing. The story is imaginative and warm and the characters are lovable thanks to some top notch voice acting from the game cast, particularly Silverman who once again proves how spot on her comedic timing is.

This is a good thing because it gives those who aren't gaming savvy something to latch onto. Not once will a viewer feel like they're being neglected or left in the dark because of their lack of gaming knowledge. Even with all the clever nods to some of gaming's most iconic franchises, the central story is the heart and soul of the movie and you'll be surprised by how invested you've become by the end. Whether you've played zero video games or thousands, Wreck-It Ralph is worth your time.

Wreck-It Ralph receives 4/5

Tuesday
May152012

The Dictator

Sacha Baron Cohen is no stranger to the absurd. After three progressively ridiculous films, Ali G Indahouse, Borat and Bruno, all of which were based on characters from his HBO program, Da Ali G Show, it’s clear the man has no limit. He’ll go anywhere and everywhere if it means he’ll get a laugh, even if that means pushing the boundaries beyond what many would deem tasteful. What those people fail to see, however, is the biting satire hiding beneath its immature and offensive veneer. His show as well as his films (Ali G Indahouse notwithstanding) have displayed unimaginable examples of racism, homophobia, religious bigotry and more through a mockumentary style where the camera is turned on us, exposing the more hateful thoughts some of us manage to disgracefully conjure up. His latest film, The Dictator, abandons that mockumentary style and, transitively, much of its satirical bite. Save for a few inspired moments, The Dictator is more absurd comedy than social commentary, but it’s one that is undeniably funny, right on par with 21 Jump Street as the funniest movie of the year.

The tagline for The Dictator reads as such: “The heroic story of a dictator who risks his life to ensure that democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed.” If you find humor in that sentence, this movie is right up your alley—no further convincing should be needed—but I’ll continue on for those who want a bit more background. Baron Cohen plays Admiral General Aladeen, the dictator of the fictional North African country of Wadiya. He’s in the process of creating nuclear weapons, which the United Nations isn’t too happy about. In response, they demand he address them regarding his plans for the weapons, so he heads off to America. However, his backstabbing advisor, Tamir (Ben Kingsley) has plans of his own and orders to have him killed. After escaping his seemingly inevitable death (now without a beard—his single most defining trait), he learns of a double being used to eventually sign a constitution that will bring democracy to Wadiya. He can’t let that happen, so he begins working at a hippie, left wing shop run by a feminist named Zoey (Anna Faris) that is catering the event in the hopes of infiltrating it, taking back his rightful place as dictator and assuring his people don’t receive democratic freedom.

It’s understandable to bring some hesitance into a viewing of The Dictator. One of the main reasons Baron Cohen’s two best films are so good is due to their approach. They followed only the most thinly mapped out stories and allowed the comedy to surface not so much based on Cohen’s presence, but more so on the reaction of the unwitting participants to what he was actually doing. The same can be said for the satire, as shocking and disgusting as some of it may have been. By throwing himself into precarious situations that yielded interesting (and sometimes dangerous) results, Cohen was able to point out flaws in our actions and beliefs. Leaving all that behind could have led to a movie that felt too safe, one that stuck too closely to a script and didn’t allow his sensational improvisational skills to shine, but such is not the case. The Dictator doesn’t necessarily feel scripted—the string of events in this movie are so bizarre, they feel more like random happenstances—and the ad-libbing remains intact. The narrative dialogue that must be said for the story to progress is never prominent enough to overshadow some of the film’s on-the-spot vocal concoctions.

Whether Admiral General Aladeen is learning the joys of self pleasure or giving a speech about what’s possible in a dictatorship, (of which all were done in the democratic America), the end result is almost always hilarious. What disappoints the most about The Dictator isn’t that the expected commentary isn’t there, but rather that it tries to be there, but isn’t fleshed out enough to work. It occasionally brings forth the wretchedness of many people’s discriminatory behavior, but those themes were explored more thoughtfully in his previous films. Although a spoof on dictators and dictatorships in general, it too fails to make any real point about them, instead only pointing out the obvious, like the superiority complexes that can rightfully be assigned to any dictator. Not every movie has to include an enlightening take on a particular subject—leaving it out is just fine if you have a technical prowess behind the production—but including it and failing is something worth addressing. That unfortunately happens here.

Still, The Dictator delivers on the laughs so frequently that you don’t miss the commentary that was featured so prominently in Borat and Bruno. Sacha Baron Cohen is once again fearless with his performance, proving he’s a force to be reckoned with in the comedic world and the soundtrack, which is full of Middle Eastern renditions of popular American songs like Dr. Dre’s “The Next Episode,” is so offensive you can’t help but laugh at it. I may never look at Forrest Gump the same way ever again, but that’s a small price to pay to laugh as much as I did while watching The Dictator.

The Dictator receives 4/5

Thursday
Mar082012

Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie

I’ll be the first to admit it: I don’t get the humor for Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim program, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! I understand that stupid humor can be appealing after a hard day or when you’re just simply in the mood for it, but after a while, their senseless shtick becomes tiresome. Similar to Adult Swim’s last theatrical endeavor, Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters, Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie is insipid drivel, as quirky and creative as it is pointless and inane. As they say, a little goes a long way and in small bursts, Tim and Eric can be mildly diverting (an 11 minute runtime for their television show is testament to that). Having to sit through their idiocy for over 90 minutes is a waste of life. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

There’s something resembling a story in Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie, though it acts less like an actual narrative and more like a strange series of skits to ensure they run into all sorts of strange characters and situations. At the beginning of the film, Tim (Tim Heidecker) and Eric (Eric Wareheim) show their new movie to their financier, the head of Schlaaang Corporation, Tommy Schlaaang (Robert Loggia). He gave them one billion dollars and what they produced was complete garbage, so he threatens to take their lives if they don’t pay him back. After seeing a commercial calling for new managers to take over a local mall that promises they’ll make a billion dollars, they head on over to meet Damien Weebs (Will Ferrell), who immediately gives them the job. Soon, they find themselves in the middle of a renovation, but first they need to get rid of the homeless people, the wolf running amok and close down certain stores, including one that sells only used toilet paper.

It’s incredibly difficult to explain this movie’s style of humor. I doubt even ardent fans of the Adult Swim show could. It’s just plain stupid and you either like it or you don’t. Tim and Eric run with their arms straight down and palms facing out, which is intercut with footage of two horses galloping over the plains, there are homoerotic montages that are supposed to be funny because, well, two men are rubbing each other, and the strange editing style, similar to how a broken record might skip, requires characters to repeat themselves over and over for no real reason other than to be unconventional. None of that is funny, though many have argued that Tim and Eric are actually comedic virtuosos. A good example of their so called prodigious talent can be seen in an early scene where Tim, Eric and Damien watch Top Gun and then (wait for it) watch it again. Clearly that’s hugely clever and hilarious. Still, one must admit that the duo is at least doing something unique. I’m pretty sure this is the only movie I’ve ever seen where four small children submerge an ailing man in a bathtub with their excrement while across the hall an elderly woman fellates a giant black dildo suction cupped to someone’s forehead.

But just because something is different doesn’t make it good. Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie is all about excess. They stretch jokes out for far too long, push the envelope beyond what many would consider basic human decency and their gross out sight gags are just that: gross. Tim essentially becomes a child predator in the film and tries to kiss a little child, the gangsters at the Schlaaang Corporation beat up a couple of fragile old ladies and cut one of their fingers off and disgusting visuals like a semen covered hand and the aforementioned bathtub poo scene are on prominent display. Any non-offensive, moderately amusing joke is immediately overblown with repetition, like when they honk the horn on their golf cart while parked in front of one of the stores. Instead of honking it once or twice, they do it fifteen times, which I suppose is meant to be funny.

It’s easy to hate this movie, but at the same time, it’s hard to be angry at it because, again, at least it’s different. If nothing else, Tim and Eric know what they’re doing. You can’t accidentally make something this stupid. What it all boils down to is whether or not you’re a fan of the show and think you can tolerate over an hour and a half of their foolishness. I personally couldn’t wait for the film to be over and my experience with it was unbearable, so I really have no choice but to declare Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie as one of the worst films of the year.

Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie receives 0.5/5

Friday
Mar022012

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Now that the awards season has come and gone, it’s time to look back on what the Academy may have overlooked when deciding who and what was good enough to be up for an Oscar. The first film that comes to mind is Nicolas Winding Refn’s brilliant Drive, which found itself left out of the Best Picture category despite critical praise (and the fact that only 9 of the 10 Best Picture slots were filled this year). Another notable snub, at least according to those who had seen it prior to the show, was Tilda Swinton for Best Actress in We Need to Talk About Kevin. Having finally seen it with its DC release right around the corner, I have to join those who scoffed at the idea of her not nabbing a nomination. A fearless actress in any role, she is downright brilliant here. One could argue over whether or not she deserved to win when up against other spectacular performances like Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady or Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn, but to not even give her a nomination is, quite frankly, insane. But We Need to Talk About Kevin is more than just a performance. It’s a damn fine film in its own right that is mesmerizing, haunting and eerie.

The film opens giving little information. It intercuts between past and present, from a time when Eva (Tilda Swinton) met her soon-to-be-husband Franklin (John C. Reilly) through the birth of their son Kevin (played by three different actors, the oldest version by Ezra Miller) and to the aftermath of a tragic event that has taken place. That event serves as the film’s central mystery and though you know it wasn’t pretty, you don’t know what happened and certain early moments in the film manage to confuse even more. Eva runs into a random woman on the sidewalk, for instance, who slaps her and tells her she hopes she rots in Hell. Then a young man in a wheelchair calls her over and tells her that his doctors say he may be able to walk again one day. All of these events are connected, but the how is left intentionally vague.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is a tough movie, both thematically and structurally, to sit through, and it demands that you pay attention and start fitting the pieces together. Without some heavy thought, motivations and reasoning will be left unexplained. This isn’t a film that tells you everything. You have to discover it yourself, a refreshing change to be sure. Eventually, however, the movie slows down and the shifts between the two time periods become less frequent, making it much easier to become invested in what’s happening. You begin to really learn about Kevin and Eva and when the mystery is revealed (if you haven’t already figure it out beforehand, which is a good possibility), these moments put it into perspective.

Kevin was a detached child, seemingly evil to the core, and he treated his mother like garbage. He tormented her and got a sick pleasure out of it, showing resentment even while still in diapers. He used her when he had to, like when he was sick and needed someone to take care of him. He destroys one of her rooms when she has her back turned and then he fools his father into thinking he did it out of love. He is a disturbed person and the film gets that point across crystal clear. His motivation for those acts isn’t necessarily explained, but some behavior simply can’t be explained. Even as a baby, when he was far too young to know what he was doing, he cried and screamed constantly, but only when he was with Eva. The film makes the point that some behavior is so deeply rooted in us there’s nothing we can do to change it, a frightening, but certainly interesting notion.

Eva isn’t so happy herself either. When she tries to play with Kevin and he doesn’t respond, she becomes frustrated. When he won’t stop crying, she gets so annoyed that the sound of a construction site jackhammer gives her some peace. In the present day, after the mysterious event, she is isolated, shunned and disillusioned, the latter expressed beautifully with blurry visual cues. She has her own demons to fight, a metaphor expressed perhaps a bit too literally when trick-or-treaters circle her car when driving home on Halloween night.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is a great movie that could nevertheless stand to be trimmed up a bit. A nearly two hour runtime isn’t overly long by any means, but Kevin’s early years are stretched thin. At a certain point, you get it. You understand that Kevin is a troubled kid and wish for the movie to move along. When it finally does, it’s gripping to the end and that slight loss of momentum becomes easily forgivable.

We Need to Talk About Kevin receives 4/5

Friday
Dec162011

Carnage

Some of my favorite movies take place in small spaces. That’s because the sheer amount of talent and ingenuity it takes to keep a story interesting without changing location is impressive to say the least. Alfred Hitchcock did it most effectively with Rear Window and the excellent, underseen Rope, but recent attempts have proved to be just as interesting, like John Cusack’s terrific horror thriller, 1408, and Ryan Reynolds’ nail biter, Buried. The newest attempt, Carnage, which is adapted from a play and written and directed by Roman Polanski, is one of the best. It’s a masterful display of intense, focused storytelling that ranks among the best of the year.

The story takes place at the home of Michael (John C. Reilly) and Penelope Longstreet (Jodie Foster), a married couple whose son just recently got in a fight with the son of Alan (Christoph Waltz) and Nancy Cowan (Kate Winslet). The two couples are pairing together to discuss the situation and come to a mutual understanding of what happened. But what begins as a calm discussion soon becomes a heated argument where emotions rise and tempers flare. The two couples are about to show their true selves.

What Carnage does so well is keep the playing field level. It doesn’t take sides in the argument and lets you judge them for yourselves, though you most likely won’t be taking sides either, but it’s not because you’re looking from a neutral point of view. It’s because you’ll understand what all four characters are saying at certain points. Think of it like a game of Pong where your opinion is the dot in the middle. At first, you’ll agree with Foster when you realize that Waltz is more job oriented than family, seemingly unconcerned with the fact that his son beat up another young boy. But then you’ll find yourself disgusted at Foster’s pretentious, holier-than-thou attitude and her gall to basically tell Waltz and Winslet how to raise their son, even though her son is just as much at fault for the scuffle.

That bickering soon shifts from their sons to themselves, however, and the movie really begins to shine a light on their personalities. When most movies set their characters up with certain personality traits that are unchanging, Carnage creates characters that evolve throughout. The troubles of the children begin to take a back seat to the weaknesses of the parents. This naturally causes the male and female mentalities to diverge, which brings the sexes together while the couples drift apart.

Carnage is a very awkward movie, not structurally or artistically, but literally because the situation the parents find themselves in is inherently awkward. It’s a type of situation that has many variations and that many have lived through, which is precisely why it works. It takes a not uncommon event and creates a what-if scenario out of it. It shows a group of people saying whatever is on their mind, a luxury I’m sure many would like to have, yet it’s never mean spirited. Rather, it’s often very funny and at a brisk 79 minutes, it never wears out its welcome. Its ending may be a bit abrupt, but it’s nevertheless profound, showing in one simple shot that the parents made the fight out to be a bigger deal than the actual kids involved with the it.

When most movies can’t manage to maintain interest jetting all over the world, Carnage does it in one small apartment. It’s not flawless, but the ensemble cast is one of the most impressive of the year and the steady-handed direction is beautifully understated. It may be a small movie, but a big heart went into it and if you have the time to spare, it’s definitely worth seeing.

Carnage receives 4.5/5