Bob and Justin's Mad Movie Blog

My name is Bob. My friend Justin and I are aspiring filmmakers and we have pretty similar tastes in movies. This will include our take on what's going on in film and television today as well as updating you on the status of our own work.

Monday, July 26, 2010


For the past few years uncomfortable "awkward" comedies have become more and more cromulent. Some get it right, keeping the emphasis on character and story, while others get it all wrong, believing that mere awkwardness will be enough. "Cyrus," written and directed by Jay and Mark Duplass, is uncomfortable for most of its running time and it's often quite funny, but it never feels like a comedy. Thankfully though, the emphasis is where it should be.
John (John C. Reilly) maintains a friendship with his ex-wife Jamie (Catherine Keener) and though they've been divorced a long time John still feels the sting when Jamie tells him that she's getting married. In an effort to help him out, Jamie convinces him to go to a party in the hopes of him meeting someone new. John has difficulty talking to women at the party, his drunken honesty scaring them away, until he meets Molly (Marisa Tomei), who finds it charming.
John takes to Molly so fast that he tells her on their second date, "I really want this to work out." Clearly Molly likes John a lot but there's something she isn't quite ready to tell him just yet. Unknown to her, John follows her home one night and the next morning he discovers a young man living in her house. His name is Cyrus (Jonah Hill). He is Molly's son and John quickly realizes they're going to have to get used to each other. Cyrus on the other hand isn't ready to share his mom with anyone.
Cyrus and Molly are not just close, their relationship actually makes John rather uncomfortable. Once it becomes clear to him that he and Cyrus are in a psychological battle he knows that Cyrus has the upper hand. Cyrus knows this too and he's going to exploit his closeness with his mother to the fullest.
It seems that audiences have become conditioned to laugh when things get too uncomfortable for them when watching a movie. As great as "awkward" comedy can be when done well ("The King of Comedy," "Freaks and Geeks," the TV work of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, etc.) the sheer amount them, particularly the ones that don't work as well, has put people in the mindset that anything that's a little bit difficult to watch must be meant to be laughed at. While there are several genuinely funny moments in "Cyrus" there are some very serious heartfelt moments as well. The difference between the two can be subtle but it is most definitely there. The Duplass brothers know what reaction they're after but the assembly line of uncomfortable comedies may leave many in the audience confused. I'm not blaming the Duplass brothers for this, or even the audience (except for the too cool for school viewers who won't allow themselves to feel anything), but mainly the film and TV industries for playing up awkward pauses and forced discomfort. Not every uncomfortable moment is meant to be laughed at. Some of them are filled with genuine emotion and are the result of a believable conflict between characters. In "Cyrus" these conflicts are wonderfully played out by the cast.
Reilly has great success using every inch of his talent, playing John somewhere between Dewey Cox and John from "Hard Eight." Hill meanwhile shows off a lot more depth than he has before, showing he may be around awhile after all. Tomei and Keener are terrific as always.
Maybe the most surprising thing about "Cyrus" was that it was released in its current form. As it ended I got the sense that this was the sort of movie that could have very easily become a formulaic major studio comedy with one word from a jittery executive. John and Cyrus would have been outlandish caricatures instead of real people, there would have been a series of broad fight scenes followed by an equally broad reconciliation, and it would have been all wrapped up with people dancing over the end credits.
"Cyrus" isn't a masterpiece but it is a movie that should be appreciated for what it is. The movie the makers of it wanted it to be. This one is well worth checking out. 8/10.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Films as challenging as they are entertaining do not come along every week or even every year. The rarity of these kinds of movies should tell us just how special they really are. "Inception" is that kind of movie.
Two years after making one of the most artistically satisfying blockbusters ever made, "Dark Knight" director Christopher Nolan is back with a story that takes place in what he calls "the architecture of the mind." Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the leader of a very elite and unique group of thieves. Masquerading as "subconscious security" they break into the mind through dreams to steal ideas. After their most recent mark, Mr. Saito (Ken Watanabe), figures out who they really are he gives Cobb and his partner Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) a chance to use their talents for him. What Saito really wants though is not to steal a thought but to plant one. Certain this is possible, however difficult, Cobb takes the job when Saito promises him the chance to go home again. Wrongfully arrested for the death of his wife Mal (the excellent Marion Cotillard, "Nine"), Cobb's been in Europe ever since, separated from his children. He can't say no to Saito.
Saito's most powerful business competitor, Maurice Fischer (Pete Postlethwaite, "The Usual Suspects") is dying. Saito wants Fischer's son (Cillian Murphy, "Batman Begins") to decide to give up the family business. This job will require the best team Cobb can get. Along with Arthur and Saito, Cobb will be entering Fischer, Jr.'s mind with Eames (Tom Hardy, "RocknRolla"), a man who can change his identity within dreams, and Ariadne (Ellen Page), a gifted architecture student who creates the world of the dream.
"Inception" is a film with a lot to explain. The amount of exposition in this movie, while necessary, would be interminable if it were not given to us in action. Nolan gives us so much detail at such a rapid rate as the story progresses that it's impossible to catch it all in one viewing. This is a film that demands to be seen again, but who wouldn't want to? Not only is this is visual feast that should be viewed on the largest screen possible, it is a marvel of storytelling. When a movie involves getting into a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream and remains completely coherent throughout, you know you're dealing with a writer-director who knows what he's doing. Through it all he never forgets that the audience needs a reason to care. Each character is fully realized and smart people are given smart dialogue.
As always, Nolan's casting is exceptional. DiCaprio gives one of his finest performances, infusing Cobb's incredible intelligence with plenty of heart. Unable to move on from his wife's death, he is a nearly broken man and it could cost his team dearly. The other standouts are Gordon-Levitt and Hardy, whose characters clash throughout the film. Gordon-Levitt continues to display his versatility after "(500) Days of Summer" and "The Lookout." Even though it's a cliche, Hardy truly does give a starmaking performance as the kind of charasmatic badass that makes you want him back on the screen whenever he's not there.
In case there was any doubt before this, "Inception" cements Christopher Nolan's place as one of the finest filmmakers of this generation, alongside David Fincher, Wes Anderson, and Paul Thomas Anderson. Clear your calendar for this one. "Inception" is even better than you'd hoped. 10/10.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Despicable Me

I have a special place in my heart for supervillains. Such intelligence, dedication, and hard work, all in the name of evil. Given the amount of time and effort they expend on their schemes it's hard not to sympathize with them when some do-gooder in a cape just flies in and ruins everything, er, saves the day. The makers of "Despicable Me" have so much sympathy for these evil geniuses that they've made a film with one as their protagonist.
Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) is a middle-aged supervillain whose exploits are well known throughout the world, so much so that he's considered the best in the business. Until upstart Vector (Jason Segel) comes along and steals himself the Great Pyramid of Giza. Feeling threatened by this much younger evil mastermind, Gru knows he must do something more dastardly than he has ever done before. With the help of his old friend Dr. Nefario (a virtually unrecognizable Russell Brand) and his little yellow minions, Gru is going to steal the moon. That's right. The actual moon. With a little help from his shrink ray he will be able to fit the moon into the palm of his hand. There's one problem though. He doesn't actually have the shrink ray yet which is preventing the Bank of Evil from giving him a much needed loan.
Once Gru steals the shrink ray it doesn't take long for Vector to take it from him. Gru doesn't know how he's going to get it back, until he finds out that Vector will only let three people into his evil lair. Three orphans selling cookies. Gru sets his plan to get it back in motion by adopting the three girls in question, Margo, Edith, and little Agnes. As you can imagine, things don't go exactly as planned for our supervillain hero.
The first feature film from Illumination Entertainment, "Despicable Me" is a wonderfully imaginative look into the life of a man who makes something like moon theft seem like a perfectly normal life goal. (It is, isn't it?) We see Gru as a lonely man with a desire to impress his mother (Julie Andrews), something that has eluded him his whole life. His gradual progression as a man discovering his own heart thanks to three little girls actually comes off as the right kind of cute when it could have easily been nauseating. You find yourself rooting for him to steal the moon and to become a loving father all at once.
He also has one of the most wonderful houses you'll ever see in a movie. Or in real life for that matter. Every room and every piece of furniture is befitting of an evil mastermind. You're going to want his car, or whatever you call it, as well. What you'll want more than anything however are your very own minions. They're just cute and funny enough to be loved by small children and just evil enough so that we believe that they would work for Gru. I liked the fact that all of them seemed to truly love their jobs too.
"Despicable Me" is the second great animated movie of the summer and its only shortcoming is the character of Vector. He's not a bad character but as the villain of a supervillain it would have been nice if he had a stronger personality and been given a little bit more to do. He's also probably the least funny character in the film, which is disappointing. This one flaw aside though, this is an extremely funny and incredibly enjoyable movie. Let's face it. At one time or another you probably found yourself watching a film and rooting for the bad guy. This is a movie that encourages you to and what's not to love about that? No matter your age this is one to see as soon as possible. 9/10.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

"The A-Team," "Micmacs," and "Toy Story 3"

Yes, I am all about variety. Let's get started.

The A-Team - If Saturday mornings in the late eighties meant Bugs and Daffy for my brother and I, lunchtime during summer vacation meant "The A-Team." Sporting easily the most badass theme music of any TV show in existence, people falling in slow motion, and lots of gunfire that never seemed to actually hit anybody, it was one of our favorite things growing up. Even so I wasn't about to demand that a film of "The A-Team" adhere to the same rules and formula as the series. Different cast, different time, different medium. As long as it was fun, had the right music, and resembled the original even a little bit I would be satisfied. In essence don't pull a "Miami Vice." Thankfully, Joe Carnahan's movie gets it right on all counts.
Carnahan (director of the criminally underrated "Narc") starts things off with a big dumb crazy action sequence that brings our four heroes together. Following the "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" theory of what makes a great team, Bosco "B.A." Baracus (Quinton "Rampage" Jackson) is the muscle, Templeton "Faceman" Peck (Bradley Cooper) is the looks, John "Hannibal" Smith (Liam Neeson) is the brains, and Murdock (Sharlto Copley, "District 9") is the wild card. During this sequence the team kills more people than they did in the entire five seasons of the TV series.
The action picks up again 8 years later after this "crack commando unit" of Army Rangers has earned a reputation for being the best at what they do. Due to this reputation, CIA Agent Lynch (Patrick Wilson, "Hard Candy") wants to use them for a special mission in Baghdad. It turns out Iraqi insurgents have created over a billion dollars worth of counterfeit American money using U.S. Treasury plates. Lynch wants them to swipe the plates and the cash and get them back into American hands. Face's ex-girlfriend Captain Sosa (Jessica Biel) senses trouble and warns them not to go through with the unofficial "Black Ops" mission but if they listened to her this movie would have no plot. Hannibal's old friend General Morrison (Gerald McRaney) can't officially endorse the plan but he stays out of their way, the only proof that they're acting with some kind of authorization. So of course after they successfully complete the mission Morrison and the money get blowed up and the A-Team is arrested, tried, and convicted "by a military court for a crime they didn't commit." The plan did not come together.
After this the four are incarcerated far apart from each other but when Lynch visits Hannibal in prison with the promise of clean records in exchange for the treasury plates, the boys reunite after a series of spectacular prison breaks. The remainder of the film has lots of chases, comedy, 'splosions, a montage involving creating a supervehicle, and then Don Draper shows up.
All in all, "The A-Team" is just what I wanted it to be. Well cast, highly entertaining, stupid fun. With 'splosions. I'm hoping that if there's a sequel it might follow the show formula just a little bit more. A storyline involving farmers being terrorized by businessmen or an orphanage getting threatened by mobsters or something. Ya know, the gritty kind of true to life stories the show was so famous for. Be sure to stay through the end credits. 7/10.

Micmacs - After an almost six year break, Jean-Pierre Jeunet ("Amelie") is back with a film only he could make. Bazil (Dany Boon, "Joyeux Noel") grew up without a father, due to his death from an exploding mine. Thirty years later, Bazil lives a quiet life, working in a video store. One night as he recites "The Big Sleep" in his empty store, a spectacular car chase is happening right outside. When he peers outside to take a look he is struck in the head by a stray bullet. After several months in a coma he survives but the bullet remains in his head and could actually kill him at any time.
When he awakes he finds he no longer has a home, possessions, or a job. Bazil must resort to unconventional ways of earning money and he soon catches the eye of an old ex-con who calls himself Slammer (Jean-Pierre Marielle). Slammer introduces Bazil to his new "family," a group of eccentrics who live beneath a Paris scrap heap. When Bazil discovers who manufactured the mine that killed his father and the bullet that's in his head he enlists the help of the family to carry out his revenge.
Being that this is a Jeunet film, revenge is more about comeuppance than an eye for an eye. There's nothing cold or mean spirited about Bazil but ultimately he could end up doing far more damage to the two industry titans his way than if he'd gone for Tarantino-style revenge.
Boon gives a wonderful performance as Bazil, a character we sympathize with the instant he appears on screen. The character's eccentricity never becomes cloying or quirkiness for the sake of it. Boon makes him a fully realized character. The rest of the cast do fine work as well and anyone familiar with Jeunet's work will see the usual suspects, most notably the always great Dominique Pinon.
It doesn't top "Amelie" but only a very small handful of films could. Jeunet is still a master craftsman with the love of character, story, and little details that have always made him great. The opening credits sequence alone is better than most whole movies I've seen this year. "Micmacs" is in limited release but well worth seeking out. In Seattle it is playing at the Egyptian. 8.5/10.

Toy Story 3 - After two films and several years, the target audience of "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2" has grown up. And unlike most animated characters, so has Andy, the boy who loved his toys. Days before going off to college, Andy is packing his things. Some items will be going with him, others will be off to the attic, and some will just end up in the trash. His toys, which have not been played with for years, are worried about what their fate will be.
Some such as Rex and Hamm are convinced that disaster awaits. Woody (Tom Hanks) reminds them they'd long known this day was coming but now that it's here there's panic in the ranks. Andy decides to pack Woody in the college box and keep the rest in the attic, but a misunderstanding leads his mother to putting Buzz (Tim Allen) and the gang out for the garbage man. After a narrow escape and not knowing the truth about Andy's intentions, Buzz, Jessie (Joan Cusack), and the rest make their way into a box that Andy's mom is taking to Sunnyside Daycare. Having seen what happened, Woody tries convincing them that their job is still to be there for Andy, but their minds are made up. They want to be played with and belong to children who will love them.
Upon arriving at Sunnyside they are welcomed with open arms by Lots-O'-Huggin' Bear (Ned Beatty..."Wheeeeee!!") who leads them into the Caterpillar Room. Grateful for Lotso's hospitality and promise of an endless supply of young children to play with them, Andy's old toys are convinced that Sunnyside is where they belong. All except Woody. Angry with the others for what he perceives as selfishness, Woody decides to make his way back to Andy's house. Along the way however he winds up in the hands of a little girl whose other toys know the truth about the Caterpillar Room. A truth Buzz, Jessie, and the gang learn the hard way. Woody knows he has to get back to Sunnyside and bust them out but the bitter and devious Lotso won't make it easy.
With "Toy Story 3" Pixar extends their flawless track record. 11 feature films, 11 winners. It's very funny (Michael Keaton as Ken of Ken and Barbie fame and Buzz's Spanish setting are pure comic gold), it has a terrific villain in Lotso, and it's full of moments that are amongst the most touching in the Pixar canon, particularly near the film's end. I won't spoil them for you but you'll know them when you see them.
"Toy Story 3" is a wonderful conclusion to the story of the secret lives of the toys that mean the world to a little boy who's grown into a young man. As we see though, there's still some little boy left in Andy and "Toy Story 3" taps into that little boy or girl that's still there in all of us. 9/10.