Thursday, April 23, 2009

"Fighting" Review

Every so often a movie comes along that completely defies your expectations. Sometimes this happens in a positive way. Other times, not so much. Well, I'm happy to report that despite my incredibly low expectations for "Fighting", the end result was much worse than I honestly expected.

"Fighting" stars Channing Tatum as Shawn MacArthur, a street vendor of knock off goods in New York City. At least until he defends himself from some people trying to steal his stuff and Harvey Boarden (Terrence Howard) inexplicably sees an underground fighter in him. So when Shawn goes to confront Harvey, Harvey offers him the opportunity to fight, right there on the spot, and Shawn mindbogglingly accepts this offer from a man who coordinated a theft from him just hours earlier.

That's essentially all that you need to know about "Fighting." Despite the fact that the title of the movie is "Fighting", there's surprisingly little fighting in it. Nothing in the movie will surprise you in any way except for how paint-by-numbers it all is. Anyone who has seen a movie will be able to telegraph each plot point a mile away.

And of course, characterization isn't necessary when you are able to just glide through a plot of this nature. Nope, just stick a few characters with a few stereotypical "from the streets" backstories, and you have yourself a movie. And the acting isn't any better. Howard, who normally excels in his roles, seems to be channeling some sort of high functioning Rain Man in his speech patterns and Tatum just mumbles his lines probably hoping that you don't really hear anything he has to say since the writing is so atrocious.

Top it off with an incredibly hackneyed reluctant love interest, Zulay Valez (played by Zulay Henao, too lazy to even change the girl's first name) and there is pretty much nothing redeemable about this movie. And you really have to appreciate the way the line between persistence and stalking is drawn. Wait, it isn't? No, not at all. Shawn follows her around, waiting for her to show up in random places, buys her gifts within moments of getting her to agree to hang out with him and offers to pay for her apartment. (Maybe THAT'S where I'm going wrong in life. I'm not being stalkerish enough with women!)

Of course, this review wouldn't be worth much if I didn't mention the randomness. Between the guy who runs up and does a flip off the wall and a man dressed as a human taco who walks past the camera, there are plenty of "What the hell is that?" moments that permeate the entire movie. I don't know if the intent is to confuse you so you don't realize how terrible the movie itself is, but if that is the case, no, it didn't work.

I barely even want to mention the fighting itself. There are four fights, all lasting fewer than 5 minutes. A movie called "Fighting" put less than 20 minutes of fights in the whole movie, yet somehow was able to stretch the running time to 1 hour and 45 minutes. And filled that with what? Story? No. None to be had here. Completely unacceptable.

"Fighting" has the distinct privelage of being one of the worst movies I've seen in the theater in a long time and would not recommend the movie to anyone. Anyone at all. Seriously. Don't go see it.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Adventureland Review

Every so often a movie comes along that completely blows away every expectation that you could have had for it. And despite the fact that many of the trailers make it out to be a run of the mill goofy summer job comedy, "Adventureland" has so much heart and realism to it that I'm still thinking about it.

James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) has just graduated from college in Pennsylvania during 1987 and is planning on pursuing a postgraduate degree at Columbia in New York after a summer traveling through Europe. Unfortunately, the initial plan involving his parents helping him along on this journey had been scrapped after his father gets demoted and they no longer have the financial means to support this. This leads to James getting a job at the summer carnival "Adventureland" where he plans to save up money to afford a place in New York in the fall. It is here that he meets an incredible cast of characters, the most important of whom is Em Lewin (Kristin Stewart) who, despite seeming like she walks around perennially stoned in real life, is incredibly fantastic and alluring here, faults and all.

What is most surprising about this movie is how at the core, "Adventureland" is not really about the comedy. Sure, the movie is hilarious and there are plenty of laughs to be had from start to finish, but every laugh is earned. Even the cheap kicked-in-the-nuts gags are realistic because everyone knows a guy like that, a guy who is just so completely immature that only these childish moments give him entertainment. Even Ryan Reynolds, who normally is king of over the top, turns in a subtle performance as adulterous musician Mike Connell.

Every character has flaws and makes dumb mistakes, mistakes that every day people make. Whether it be trusting someone you shouldn't with a huge secret or knowing that you're about to make a mistake and you do it anyway, these are things that happen to real people and none of it comes across as forced. Writer/Director Greg Motolla (who directed "Superbad") places every character in such a specific position that the audience can truly feel for them. Some of the decisions are misguided or outright wrong, but you never feel as if the characters who make even the worst decisions are bad people.

Other films would have taken the fact James is a virgin in his early 20s and hammered that home, making the loss of his virginity the driving focus of the movie, but it's not. His virginity is just one element of his character. Sure, that's a background focus of his, and he still is a male, but it never overwhelms the plot. In fact, it only becomes an issue when he himself brings it up, showing that many of the things we think are holding us back are just parts of who we are, things that should be neither celebrated nor condemned. Even the wackier characters such as managers Bobby and Paulette (SNL's Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig) are handled in a very regular way.

There's also more story than what's just on the surface. Peripheral characters too have their own life issues that are only alluded to but never really explored, yet they don't have to be. They appear to exist to provide our main characters with a more fully realized back story.

The soundtrack is also fantastic, with many excellent songs from the 1980s, most of which are poignant and not used for kitsch. All too often 80s movies focus on the over-the-top outfits and tacky songs, but those were just two elements of that era. This movie never takes that route and in fact can't think of one self-referential 80s joke that was made.

If there's one complaint to be had is that the pacing is a little odd near the beginning of the movie before it settles into a very natural progression. Towards the start, I could really feel the scene changes and this was slightly jarring. While I don't feel that any significant differences were made between the start and finish, I was brought fully into the characters' world and each step towards that end became more natural.

This is a movie about growing up, changing, and just dealing with life and the unexpected things it throws at you. Sometimes it's awesome, sometimes it sucks, but that's just the way life is. In the end, "Adventureland", despite its reality as a hilarious film in its own right, is an incredibly nuanced movie that deserves to be seen by the widest audience possible. A completely heartfelt surprise.