Episode 22 : Wack Diesel to Hell, Brother

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Added on Sun, 14 Sep 2008 19:47:26 +0200.
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Und in zis podcast we cover zese films:

Babylon A.D sees Toorop, your common or garden superhuman mercenary played by Vin Diesel escort a young girl Aurora (Melanie Thierry) and her protector Sister Rebeka (Michelle Yeoh) into America. The bun in Aurora's oven may or may not be the genetically engineered second coming of Jesus, or something similar, which causes a chase film to break out. Suffering from utterly obfuscated sub plots that never receive a proper explanation, it has to fall back on it's superficial chase action that's alright, but hamstrung by wanting to be a lot more violent than it's 12A rating will around. Not terrible, and perhaps better than you'd expect from something with Vinny in it, but it's still not good enough to distinguish themselves from the crowd.

Ben X sees Ben (Greg Timmermans) retreats into a MMORPG to escape from a life of bullying. Indeed, Ben is bullied to the point of suicide, despite the efforts of online best chum Scarlite (Laura Verlinden) to cheer him up in both reality and in Ben's increasingly frequent fantasies. Quite what this is supposed to be saying, I'm not entirely sure. Bullying is bad? Who knew? This surprisingly uninsightful insight aside, there doesn't seem to be much of a reason for this film to exist, and seems to reduce to lots of shots of Timmermans wandering around with his shoulders hunched looking both worried and substantially older than seems appropriate for the school he's supposed to be at. The same issue goes for his tormentors, who display behaviour characteristics that everyone in my experience grew out of at around half the age of what these guys seem to be. Director Nic Balthazar keeps things moving well enough and his cutaways to interviews with Ben's parents and teachers imply a pseudo-documentarian feel to the piece which adds some degree of gravitas to the film that the actors themselves fail to. Ben's habit of recasting scenes unfolding around him in real life with analogues from the game world prove to be a mildly interesting visual device to hang the film around, but Ben's story simply isn't very interesting. There's a five minute scene in Sommers Town that deals with kids bullying other kids far more effectively than in the entirety of this film. Autism is rather unfortunate and all, and being bullied because of it is tragic, however as the film takes pains to point out in its conclusion it's simply not noteworthy enough in and of itself to engender caring in most audiences, and any technique you care to mention isn't going to help that. All in all, utterly avoidable.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army has Hellboy (Ron Pearlman) and his merry band once again having to defend us from weird things, this time rounded up and unleashed by the very angry elf prince Nuada (Luke Goss), who's upset that humanity has been running about as if they own the place in defiance of some ancient accords or somesuch nonsense. At any rate, he's decided to unleash the invincible magic robots of the Golden Army, which scientists agree would be A Bad Thing. While Guilermo Del Toro hasn't scrimped on the CG, the simple fact that it's Yet Another CG Spectacular in the endless parade of Yet Another CG Spectaculars serves the film very poorly, and doesn't match up to the often stunning old-school costume and rubber-suit design. Even so encumbered by my CG-hatin', Hellboy II proves to be a mildly diverting experience and there's more metric worth and interest to it than a good number of other films we've had the misfortune to witness, but I can't bring myself to offer more than a half-hearted recommendation and a vague sense of dissatisfaction with the world.

It may come as something of a surprise to those who have seen the underwhelming trailer that Get Smart is actually pretty funny, for the most part. This redux of spoof spy outing Get Smart, with comedy man of the moment Steve Carrell taking the role of Maxwell Smart as a CONTROL agent fighting the evil forces of KAOS and going through the usual James Bond For Laughs stuff. Carrell can still do the hyper straight laced character of his Daily Show days well enough, which is essentially his character here during his moments of competence, although the whacky zany kooky Eddie Murphy stuff works rather less well. Also, I hereby call a moratorium on fat suits which are not funny here and have never been in any film nor ever will be in any film because they are intrinsically not funny. So, almost in defiance of itself, it's an amusing film. I'd still rather see Carrell do lower key and, well, better films like Little Miss Sunshine or Dan In Real Life, but whatcha gonna do, huh? While it's a decent, amusing, if entirely disposable and ultimately forgettable film, it's also not one that's worth writing anything more about.

Hmm. It's now reaching the point where I can't really come up with too much to say about another Will Ferrell film. The central conceit in Step Brother is that Ferrell and John C. Reiley play thirty-odd year old sons with seven year old mentalities staying with their mother and father respectively, their lives complicated by said mother and father getting married and moving in together, creating a combined unhappy family. Starting out as mortal enemies before warming to each other, what follows is something like a cross between one of those insufferable Disney Parent Trap like things and a big bag of swearing. It's quite hit and miss, but on balance the hits outweigh the misses. As usual, if you're not already enamored of the Ferrell school of over-wraught nonsense then this will do little to convert you. It's unabashedly crude and extremely silly. It's certainly not the sort of film we'd put in a time capsule to show off the best of human culture. As an entirely disposable way to provide a few laughs for a couple of hours it's acceptable enough. I'll be damned if I can actually remember anything in it, mind you, which doesn't speak too well of it, and it's certainly several rungs below Anchorman. I could go on, but I don't think I'd really be adding much. It's a toss up whether or not it's funnier than Get Smart, the other comedy rattling around the multiplexes, so I guess most folks can toss a coin to decide which one they see and have few lasting regrets about it.

The concept behind Triangle is interesting, if nothing else. Three of the top Hong Kong directors (Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam and Johnny To) essentially decide to divvy a film into three parts, and working almost in isolation from each other play pass the baton to each other. Sounds, well, it sounds like a disaster in the making, to be frank, so it's something of a triumph to find out that the film isn't a total disaster, although there's a few partial disasters knocking around in there. It's a helluva long way from perfect. It never entirely recovers from an opening third that's pulled every which way from Sunday, and perhaps surprisingly there's very little shift in tone between the different director's segments. Indeed, the only real clue that there's been a handover at all is that there's a sudden shift in the story's focus. The final few reels suffer from a fairly heavy dose of silly coincidence and standoffs that border on farcical, and while the combination of the lot manages to avoid being completely unwatchable it's ultimately entirely forgettable, and indeed I pretty much already have forgotten it entirely. It's well below the quality of film I'd expect to see from any one of these directors, and while it's an interesting concept for a film, like your average concept car it's also not one that's really fit for production. If you aren't already a fan, to some degree, of these directors already then this simply isn't worth your time, and to be honest even if you do like these chaps' output this doesn't raise itself to anything more than a curiosity piece. Maybe they're right about those broth cooks after all.

The Wackness sees Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) approaches graduation as something of an outsider, and unusually unpopular for the school dope dealer. Occasionally he speaks of his troubles to one of his clients, psychologist Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley), a man who has more than enough problems of his own. His marriage to Kristin (Famke Janssen) has lost any sparkle and it's triggering a mid-life crisis. Well, Kingsley is sixty five, but for the purposes of the film let's run with that. Luke's parents are getting into financial trouble prompting Luke to spend his impending summer break by dealing more hashish to his mildly whacky clientele, including incongruous hippie chick Union (Mary-Kate Olsen, who I largely mention only to point out that she's in an essentially pointless small cameo role, contrary to what the film's press goons would want you to believe). Dr. Squires stepdaughter Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby) decides to start hanging around with Luke, largely because her 'normal' friends have vanished on holiday, and before long Luke's infatuated. Cue the usual coming of age, first love heartbreaky type stuff, punctuated by the odd dope deal and Dr. Squires going into a meltdown. Aside from the calculated patina of edginess given by the lead being a small time drug dealer, this film isn't exactly doing anything that a hundred other coming of age, first love heartybreaky type films haven't done a hundred times before. It is, at least, doing it rather well. Josh Peck captures the awkwardness of his character well, and it's a believable and sympathetic performance. Indeed, it's a welcome grounding counterbalance to Kingsley's scenery-chewing that at times feels more suited to a Jim Carrey movie than a serious exploration of teenage angst. Thankfully, The Wackness isn't really a serious exploration of teenage angst, and thank $deity for that. It's more of a light hearted piece that dips its toe into darker waters from time to time, and is all the more enjoyable for that.