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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) - Theater

AndyO review: * *

I took my two boys to see this film today, and after it was over the eight-year-old said, "That was a good one!"

In many ways, I think the target audience for Journey to the Center of the Earth is eight-year-olds -- or maybe kids just a little older. It reminded me of the National Treasure movies, with implausable plot points that end up being  entertaining.

Brendan Fraser plays down-and-out Professor Trevor Anderson, who discovers the earth's seismic activity is the same as when his brother disappeared. Fraser is also babysitting his 13-year-old nephew (Josh Hutcherson), his brother's son. As quickly as you can say, "jump cut," Fraser and his nephew fly to Iceland to track down a scientist who knew the brother. Instead, they meet his daughter -- an Icelandic mountain goddess, uh, I mean guide named Hannah (Anita Briem).

After Hannah leads them up a volcanic peak, they end up getting trapped in the mountain -- and eventually fall thousands of miles into the center of the earth. As you can imagine, they see many wonderful and scary things down there.

So, if all this sounds pretty stupid, it is. But there are a few things that somehow made the film work (at least on a popcorn level):

  • Brendan Fraser -- His comedic timing and on-screen presence pull us into the story. Coincidentally, I watched George of the Jungle with my kids the night before -- and I noticed how his presence there seemed to make that otherwise silly film entertaining, too.
  • The mine car sequence -- There's a set piece in Journey that's like the mine car sequence in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom dialed up a few levels.
  • The coming-of-age story of the 13-year-old nephew. It was fun to see an introverted 13-year-old go through a crazy journey with his uncle.

So, no Academy Awards for this film. Just pure popcorn fun. 


posted by AndyO @ 11:38 PM   0 comments

Friday, September 05, 2008

Tropic Thunder - Theater

AndyO review: * * *

Tropic Thunder is about a bunch of pampered Hollywood stars who go on location to make a movie a lot like Apocalypse Now or Platoon. When things don't go very well, their director takes them deep into the jungle to shoot the film, guerrilla style. Problem is, the director gets blown up by a land mine -- although most of the actors refuse to believe it.

Thus begins their quest.

Ben Stiller, pulling double duty as director and actor, plays Tugg Speedman, an action/adventure star who's lost his magic at the box office. He's tried to make a serious film about a retarded man who thinks he can talk to animals, but it fails -- the film reviewed as one of the worst movies of all time.

Robert Downey Jr. plays Oscar-winning, Australian actor Kirk Lazarus who's playing  a black man (he underwent special surgery to play the part). Even between takes, he stays in character, annoying everyone with his Blaxploitation dialogue. (He tells his fellow actors that he doesn't break character until he's done with the DVD commentary.)

Jack Black plays the flatulent, gross-out comedy star Jeff Portnoy who's also trying to make a serious movie -- only he's a heroine addict who goes into withdrawals once he steps into the jungle. (There's a hilarious scene with a bat swooping in and taking his stash.)

There are a couple of other actors joining the "stars," Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) and Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel). Because they haven't been turned to prima donnas yet, they're able to think a little more clearly than that stars when things get tough.

But what makes Tropic Thunder really work are the support actors, including Tom Cruise, Matthew McConaughey, and Nick Nolte. Tom Cruise is absolutely brilliant, playing mogul Les Grossman. Let's just say you probably won't recognize him at first -- and by the end of the film you'll be thinking he steals the show.

What's a little odd about Tropic Thunder is I didn't laugh as hard as I thought I would. I'm not sure if that's a good or a bad thing. I think I'll know when I watch it again someday.

Tropic Thunder has been a box office success (it was the film that knocked Batman: Dark Knight off its perch), and I think it will go on to be a classic Hollywood war comedy. I know as I left the theater I thought to myself that I'd never seen a movie quite like Tropic Thunder -- which is no small feat.

I also was surprised to see Ben Stiller's name as the director of the film. I've seen a few of his films, but this one is definitely his best. I think he's now on his way to making the shift from A-list actor to A-list director, which is what he's always wanted to do.

I'll definitely be curious to see what he does next.


posted by AndyO @ 10:45 AM   0 comments