The summer funfilmfest continues Wednesday, Aug. 13, with Tropic Thunder, which rides in on the crest of protests by disability advocates because of the film’s depiction of people with learning difficulties. This alleged action comedy, directed by Ben Stiller and starring Stiller, Jeff Khan, Robert Downey Jr. and Jack Black, concerns a film crew who get involved in a real war while shooting an action film in the jungle. Tom Cruise, in a real stretch, has a cameo as a movie producer. Rated R for pervasive language including sexual references, violent content and drug material. 107m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Fortuna and Minor.
Opening on Friday is Star Wars: The Clone Wars, an animated film based on the animated TV series. The Jedi send agents to investigate the abduction of Jabba the Hutt’s son, apparently part of the battle between rebels and the Galactic Republic, with the Sith waiting to weigh in as well. Rated PG for sci-fi action violence throughout, brief language and momentary smoking. 98m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.
In a remake of the 2003 South Korean horror film Into the Mirror, French director Alexander Aja’s (High Tension) Mirrors is about a department store security head (Kiefer Sutherland) whose store is the site of mysterious deaths. Adding more tension are the demonstrators seeking compensation and a dead woman using mirrors as a gateway back to the living. I’m sure Jack Bauer is up to the task. Rated R for strong violence, disturbing images, language and brief nudity. 110m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.
The Canadian documentary Up the Yangtze should offer a nice alternative viewing experience. The film deals with the impact of the Three Gorges Dam project. When completed, the Yangtze River dam, for hydroelectric purposes, will be 600 feet tall and will displace some two million people. The film is set aboard a river ship offering “farewell cruises.” Not rated. 93m. At the Minor.
Another Friday opener is Fly Me to the Moon, the first ever animated film made for 3D viewing. Yet another cartoon that stars insects, the film follows three juvenile houseflies that stow away on the Apollo 11 flight to the moon. The movie runs at Humboldt County’s only 3D-capable theater. Rated G. 125 m. At Fortuna.
PINEAPPLE EXPRESS: I have no trouble understanding that people find things funny that I don’t. After all, I’ve been the only one laughing in a movie theatre any number of times and suspect that my fellow viewers thought I was on drugs or just mental. This summer, the opposite has occurred as I’ve mainly sat in theatres stone-faced while those around me laughed. I guess I have a little more trouble figuring out why the same stale jokes seem to endlessly trigger the laugh button but presumably that’s why the sitcom is a TV staple.
In Pineapple Express, the latest stoner comedy/action/buddy movie from the Apatow grindhouse, the few actual clever lines are swallowed up by the depressingly routine humor that pervades this overly long exercise in summer commercial filmmaking.
The opening scenes of the film are its best. The story begins with stoned process server Dale Denton (Seth Rogen, who is also a co-writer) serving court papers to a variety of individuals, along with some choice sarcastic remarks as their angry comments roll off his back. Since the job requires the consumption of copious quantities of weed, Dale needs a score. He calls on his whacked contact Saul Silver (James Franco), who provides him with the top-grade stuff called the Pineapple Express. The scene in Saul’s apartment may be scripted, but it has the feel of improvisation and it’s fun to see two intermittently talented actors perform in a back and forth.
All too soon, though, the story takes the action film detour. Pulling his car over to light up, Dale witnesses a murder involving a female cop (Carol, played by a totally unfunny Rosie Perez) and he unwisely tosses his roach out the car window while smashing into the cop car in his attempt to leave the scene. Unfortunately for Dale, the killer is the connected Ted Jones (Gary Cole) and he easily traces the marijuana to Saul, whereupon the films devolves into a sort of stoner action film as Dale, Saul and Saul’s supplier Red (an interesting Danny R. McBride, Drillbit Taylor, who steals most of the scenes he’s in) attempt to escape being killed in a series of stupid scenes.
Saul, Dale and Red also fall into a sort of buddy troika, which I guess ups the usual ante by one. Also present is Dale’s high school girlfriend Angie (a bland Amber Heard) and her parents, played by Ed Begley Jr. and Nora Dunn. I can only assume that Angie is present to make sure we understand that a buddy is more important than a girlfriend. Indeed, she disappears from the last third of the film, which is no loss.
Okay, I didn’t care for the film and fans can simply classify these comments as the ramblings of an embittered old curmudgeon who has nothing better to do than waste two hours watching Pineapple Express. Thank goodness for the hot nuts, and you can interpret that however you wish. Rated R for pervasive language, drug use, sexual references and violence. 111 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Minor and Fortuna.
THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS 2: Although I didn’t enjoy Pineapple Express, at least the film knew what it was about and who the target audience was. I’m not sure what Sisterhood 2 aims for, except almost total blandness and I’m hoping there’s not a target audience out there for that quality.
The film also shoots itself in the foot with its narrative strategy. Since the quartet of young women are now in separate summer jobs following their first year at college, the film splits the story into alternating slices of each character’s life. While one could argue that the short snippets are a virtue because if the viewer doesn’t care for one storyline another quickly replaces it, I found the strategy frustrating as nothing got developed very fully. Just when I thought one aspect of the plot was going in an interesting direction, it got interrupted, again and again.
Therefore, the main strength of the first Sisterhood film, the interactions of the four main coming-of-age characters, was almost totally lost here. Furthermore, not a lot of maturation seems to have taken place despite the advance in chronological years.
As the story begins, Bridget (Blake Lively who has scored in the popular TV series Gossip Girls), on a scholarship at Brown, goes off to Turkey for the summer to work on an archaeological site where she receives needed wisdom from her professor (the fine Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo).
Recovering romantic Lena (Alexis Bledel from the defunct Gilmore Girls) finds herself at the Rhode Island School of Design, where she hooks up with hot life drawing model Leo (Jesse Williams) until her old beau Kostos (Michael Rady) shows up.
The sarcastic Tibby (Amber Tamblyn from the discontinued Joan of Arcadia), a film student at NYU, is working in a video store and gets a little crazy when she thinks she’s pregnant by boyfriend Brian (Leonardo Nam, Vantage Point).
And Carmen (America Ferrera, perhaps the best actor of the four, now starring in Ugly Betty), studying at Yale, follows her friend and would-be actor Julia (Rachel Nichols, one of Charlie’s Angels in Charlie Wilson’s War) to a summer theatre in Vermont to work as a stagehand, but thanks to really handsome (and sensitive) actor Ian (Tom Wisdom), she ends up being cast as Perdita in The Winter’s Tale instead of Julia. This causes no end of suppressed jealousy.
The Carmen storyline seemed promising, but the film shows very little of Carmen’s struggle with a very difficult role and too much of her romance with Ian. The most interesting part of the film was Bridget’s reunion in Alabama with her grandmother, Greta (Blythe Danner, who appropriately is the go-to actress when a wise, sexy, mature woman is called for). Bridget’s story is uncluttered by high school-level romance, but, unfortunately, we see only snatches of the renewed relationship in between the other less interesting romantic plotlines.
The four finally unite at film’s end in Greece, a setting that seemed to work for everyone but me in Mamma Mia! As for the pants, I needn’t say much, but I will observe that sometimes you may need to lose your pants to gain something more valuable. This certainly worked for Lena. Rated PG-13 for mature material (which I seem to have missed, and I know I didn’t fall asleep) and sensuality. 117 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
DARK KNIGHT. Batman walks the line between hero and vigilante when he faces the Joker to save Gotham once again. Rated PG-13. 152 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
GET SMART. Maxwell Smart and his partner, 99, take on arch-villain Siegfried, out to brainwash and exploit Nobel Prize winners. Rated PG-13. 111 m. At The Movies.
HANCOCK. Hard-living superhero who has fallen from grace gets help from a public relations pro. Rated PG-13. 93 m. At the Broadway.
INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL. Intrepid archaeologist becomes entangled in Soviet plot to uncover secret behind mysterious Crystal Skulls. Rated PG-13. 112 m. At The Movies.
IRON MAN. Action/adventure flick based on Marvel’s iconic comic book super hero. Rated PG-13. 126 m. At The Movies.
JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. Adaptation of Jules Verne's classic novel packs in comedy, fantasy, action and adventure. Rated PG. 93 m. At the Broadway.
KUNG FU PANDA. Po the Panda Bear lays down bamboo shoots, takes up martial arts. Rated PG. 92 m. At The Movies.
MAMA MIA! Film adaptation of musical uses the jams of ’70s supergroup ABBA to tell the story of a bride-to-be searching for her real father. Rated PG-13. 109 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR. Family battles against China’s ruthless tyrant Dragon Emperor. Rated PG-13. 113 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
STEP BROTHERS. Immature, middle-aged men become step bros and wreak havoc trying to make their new family happy. Rated R. 98 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
SWING VOTE. Father-daughter team gets swept up in election adventure when the race comes down to just one vote: dad’s. Rated PG-13. 120 m. At the Broadway.
WALL-E. Robot love/adventure story from the director of Finding Nemo. Rated G. 98 m. At the Broadway.
X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE. Mulder quests for the truth and Scully sticks by his side. Rated PG-13. 104 m. At The Movies.