THE FILM YAP » Kevin Pollak We Never Shut Up About Movies Sun, 23 Nov 2014 20:53:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Big Year Sun, 12 Feb 2012 14:00:24 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

“The Big Year” should work on so many levels. Based on actual events, the plot focuses on 12 months in the lives of three avid birders (not bird watchers) who max out credit cards, forgo retirement and ruin relationships as they dart around the country to spot as many species of birds as possible. The winner of “the big year” is determined entirely on the honor system and is awarded not in cash, but hushed respect from the underground society of avian appreciation.

A cross-country trip populated by the likes of Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black? An introduction to an odd yet fascinating culture? Wacky antics interspersed with touching moments as each main character realizes what’s truly important in life? A supporting cast that includes the likes of Brian Dennehy, Dianne Wiest, Kevin Pollak, Rashida Jones and Joel McHale? Check, check, check, check.

So why did “The Big Year” fly away from theaters almost as quickly as it landed? Why am I not impressed by a movie that should be right up my alley? Most importantly, why doesn’t it work?

Hard to say, really. At 100 minutes, “The Big Year” feels twice as long. Though the cinematography is breathtaking (aside from one ill-advised moment of CGI), the leading men’s attempts at physical comedy fall flat. With the exception of Anjelica Huston’s tough boat captain, female characters are either baby-mad doormats or blandly supportive spouses, mothers and potential girlfriends. Though the friendship between Black’s office drone and Martin’s rich but generous magnate is sweet, like the rest of the movie it doesn’t fully gel.

If “The Big Year” is in any way accurate, birders will relentlessly pursue a glimpse at a rare species without a second thought. Similarly, “The Big Year” feels like it is in hot pursuit of something: feel-good family friendly fun? A love letter to a treasured hobby? A star-studded map of pretty birds? Can’t really say. Whatever it’s chasing, the film doesn’t allow the audience a peek.

The DVD/Blu-ray combo pack includes a never-before-seen extended version, deleted scenes, gag reel and featurette, plus a code for a digital copy.

Film: 2.5 Yaps
Extras: 2.5 Yaps

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Red State Wed, 19 Oct 2011 05:47:43 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Crassness has always been part of Kevin Smith’s films. Usually the vulgarity and obscene sexual references come from characters who are still innocent creatures — often discussing trivial topics like employees of the Death Star or how to save a monkey. When he goes toward deeper subjects like complex relationships or religion, his characters still approach them with naivete as they fight for what’s good.

For the first time in his career, Smith is getting vicious. Most of his cast of characters in “Red State” are irredeemable in his mind — a thin metaphor for the Westboro Baptist Church and their leader Fred Phelps. The heroes have very little chance to be heroic because they are always being tortured or running for their lives. It’s a gutsy movie that doesn’t always succeed.

Smith has a knack for comedic dialogue that offers plenty of surprises and laughs. Using that to forward a drama proves difficult. Most of the movie is filled with unending monologues that lack the pacing and wit of his previous ventures. It always feels like unnecessary exposition, especially when a teacher has to explain who the national celebrity is who lives in their small town.

The strength in the film comes from its surprises. This is a ruthlessly violent movie that won’t stop once it gets going — unless characters need to talk for a long time in panic. It is often visually exciting in a very grimy way. What Smith chooses to do in the last 10 minutes represent some of the most brilliant things in his entire career. Well, eight of those minutes are great and two are too indulgent.

There is a reason why this movie needs to be reviewed as a comparison to the rest of Smith’s filmography. “Red State” by itself is a forgettable B-movie with an impeccable cast — including Melissa Leo, John Goodman, Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner, Stephen Root, Matt L. Jones, Kerry Bishé, Anna Gunn, Kevin Pollack and the mighty Michael Parks.

Seeing this as a Kevin Smith joint shows something greater. Directors like Martin Scorsese, Danny Boyle and Steven Soderbergh tend to switch genres every other time at bat. Smith has felt comfortable since “Clerks,” his 1994 breakout hit. “Red State” is such a radical departure in terms of story, visual style and content that it hardly even feels like Smith was behind it.

So much like “New York, New York,” “The Beach” and “The Good German,” I appreciate the ambition of the project more than the end result.

The DVD includes a number of behind-the-scenes bonus features that give a really thorough look at the history of the project — including the now infamous Sundance speech, which kicked off his self-distribution goals. They are sometimes a bit repetitive, but they do capture a lot.

Film: 3 Yaps
Extras: 4 Yaps


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Choose Fri, 22 Apr 2011 01:30:53 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Have you ever had one of those days where you can’t make a decision? Should I wear blue jeans or khakis? Short sleeve or long sleeve? Would I rather lose my fingers or my hearing? These are the conundrums proposed by the killer in Marcus Graves’ “Choose.” OK, maybe just the last of those.

It is apparent that original movie ideas are hard to come by these days. Almost every movie churned out by Hollywood is a remake, reboot or sequel and it grows tiresome. This is the reason that the mash-up genre is such a breath of fresh air. You take one part monster movie and one part found footage, you get “Cloverfield.” Two parts horror and one part comedy, you get a classic like “An American Werewolf in London.” If you don’t get that recipe just right, you end up with a confusing, disjointed movie like “Choose.”

“Choose” starts when a teenage girl is held captive by a hooded figure and given a choice. She has a minute to choose either a single member of her family to die or for everyone to die. Although this is the film’s strongest scene, as soon as viewers hear the sadistic ultimatum, their minds will almost certainly go to “Saw.”

The girl sadly realizes that every choice has ramifications, and the game becomes even more sadistic. The story then shifts to journalism student Fiona Wagner (Katheryn Winnick). With the anniversary of her mother’s suicide looming over her head, Fiona and her father (Kevin Pollak), the chief of police, are dragged into a deadly game of cat and mouse where they learn that everyone’s decisions have ramifications.

Winnick is enjoyable as Fiona, bringing something to a character that could have easily come off as cliché and flat. Pollak was on par with most of his performances. He plays a quiet and brooding character so well. Unfortunately, beyond these two performances everyone is flat and boring, but the actors can’t be blamed.

The story is the biggest problem with this movie. Instead of trying to mash two genres together and create something new, it just rehashes scenes from a couple of horror movies and falls flat. The fact that the killer gives his or her victims a deadly ultimatum makes them come off more as a Jigsaw ripoff than someone new and terrifying. At least Jigsaw had a purpose behind the people he picked.

Whatever stride the story finds after its first 20 minutes goes totally off the deep end in the third act. Once you find out the killer’s identity, it is something totally out of left field and feels way too familiar. I am a huge believer that the ending is what makes or breaks a movie and the ending definitely breaks “Choose.” Without giving any spoilers, the ending feels as though the writer thought, “Hey, if that ending worked for them, it could work for me.”

2.5 Yaps

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Red State Wed, 23 Mar 2011 02:25:20 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

For months now, Kevin Smith has been telling us that the towns in which his “Red State U.S.A Tour” visits will run red. He’s also told us this is his second-to-last feature and instead wants to focus on what he perhaps does best — talk, as he focuses on with his shows on the Smodcast network.

When “Red State” visited Indianapolis, I did just what Mr. Smith wants all critics to do. I pulled out my wallet for a front-row seat to see if the film lived up to all the hype we’ve been hearing. Smith has been talking about how much he loves the film for months, and now it was time to put up or shut up.

“Red State” can be summed up by its tagline — “Three boys go into the woods looking for sex. Instead they find God.” Sure there’s a lot more dressing around it, but that is the core of the film and the event from which everything else splinters.

The film was produced on a small budget ($4 million), with a cast anchored by veteran actor Michael Parks. Parks is by far the best and most interesting element of this film. Primarily a character actor throughout his career, Parks steps into the spotlight as sinister minister Abin Cooper and never disappoints.

Parks is so believable as Cooper, it’s spooky. It’s a role to which the actor gives everything, and not once do you see any sign of the man himself. If not for his skewed beliefs, it’s easy to see why a congregation would follow him anywhere he chooses to lead.

The film begins with three high-school boys — Billy Ray (Nicholas Braun), Travis (Michael Angarano) and Jarod (Kyle Gallner) — heading into the woods after finding a woman online who will have sex with the trio. Along the way they sideswipe a car, which turns out to be the local sheriff, who’s up to some mischief himself, and flee the scene.

They find their way to the woman’s trailer, and after partaking in some tainted brews and blacking out, that’s when all hell — or, in this case, heaven — breaks loose.

The woman turns out to be Cooper’s daughter, Sara (Melissa Leo), who’s also a member of his Five Points Church, which is based on the real-life Westboro Baptist Church. You know, the fine folks who spend their time protesting funerals and such.

Smith has said he wonders what a group such as Westboro Baptist Church would do if it didn’t have any funerals to protest. With “Red State,” Smith answers that question with an answer that’s horrific, sinister and, for Cooper’s group, plausible. Whatever it takes to get the message out, my brother.

The boys find themselves held captive by Five Points, and when a local law enforcement officer is killed, the cavalry is called in. Thinking I would opt for some badass, muscle-bound Fed, Smith instead goes for America’s favorite dad — Dan Connor himself, John Goodman.

Goodman descends on the group, and when things go from bad to worse, and he receives his orders on how to handle the situation, he proves to not be the righteous right hand of God. Shit starts going in the same direction as another real-life standoff that happened down in Texas way nearly two decades ago.

In the end, the Lord delivers Cooper and his followers to Joseph Kennan (Goodman) in hilarious fashion once all the truths are revealed.

I’ll not hide the fact that I’ve been a Smith fan from day one. I’ve like all of his films, including “Jersey Girl,” with the exception of “Cop Out,” and I don’t believe the fault was with Smith on that one.

Going into “Red State” I had high hopes, and while the film is nowhere near perfect, it works on most levels and shows us a side of the director we’ve rarely seen. This is by far the most technical of all of Smith’s films and, as he’s said, it needed to be. This wasn’t two people talking back and forth; this movie required movement and we get our fill.

The film is well written, it has awesome action sequences and it has one helluva performance from Parks. I hope that since Smith will release the picture himself under the Smodcast Pictures banner, Parks’ performance doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. Parks never misses a beat — not once.

The only thing that really slows the movie down are the times when we’re told and not shown in some scenes. Smith’s strength has always been his writing, but with the exception of the ending scenes with Goodman, everything else could have been shown and eliminated the drag.

Also you’ll hear a lot about Parks’ long speech when we first meet Cooper. Smith cut the scene after the film’s premiere at Sundance, and I, for one, could have sat there and listened to Parks go on for days.

I feel a little robbed that Smith has decided to call it a career after his next feature. I believe him to be a talented director who’s just beginning to turn a corner into another dimension of his career and to call it quits at this point is either brave or insane.

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Cop Out Tue, 20 Jul 2010 04:20:46 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Being a director for hire is an odd thing. Film is often credited as a director’s medium so people tend to expect things when they see a name attached, even if it obviously isn’t a passion product. Kevin Smith directing a Bruce Willis callback movie should be great…but it’s missing too many things.

Smith has said countless times that he is not the best director. He’s known for his witty and vulgar screenplays while still having a bit of childish heart. (You know, the formula that made Judd Apatow filthy rich?) Cop Out is none of those things, but pretends it is.

Willis and Tracy Morgan play Monroe and Hodges, a couple of dicks who have been partners for nine years despite having zero chemistry together. After an undercover stint goes expensively wrong, they’re suspended for a month without pay. During this time, they are trying to track down a baseball card that will be able to pay for Monroe’s daughter’s wedding. This gets them tied up with a Mexican drug lord played brilliantly by Guillermo Díaz and a nutjob thief played by Seann William Scott.

If this sounds like a 80s cop movie, it’s because it wants to desperately be an 80s cop movie. Despite the R-rating, this feels very PG. There’s no grit to anything on screen. Too much of it has such bright lighting and no stakes to their actions. It can still be a comedy and have that tone; look at Beverly Hills Cop.

Instead of playing off the cop movie stereotypes, it just repeats them. There’s no irony in the scene where the captain takes their badges. It’s not even invoking a sense of nostalgia, just happily replaying the clichés.

The worst offense is that the movie isn’t that funny. There are a ton of really funny people in this movie, but the few laughs come from them obviously improvising. Díaz, as I mentioned, is a really skilled comedic actor who is very dedicated to this stereotypical villain. Scott gets a few smirks out of a character that strives on being annoying. (Thankfully this was more entertaining than his tired American Pie persona.) Adam Brody and Susie Essman are also solid but the script is not helping them at all.

This cast is so strong though! Aside from all of the names I mentioned, there’s still Jason Lee, Michelle Trachtenberg, Rashida Jones, Kevin Pollak, and relatively unknown Ana de la Reguera. These are very talented comedians who could make this movie a comedic powerhouse if there were any effective jokes on the page.

How do I know what was on the page and what wasn’t? The bonus features told me everything I needed to know. Apparently Warner Brothers have started this new thing called “Maximum Movie Mode” which is renamed for this flick “Maximum Comedy Mode.” This is a unique concept where they combine the commentary, deleted scenes, blooper real, and featurettes into one crazy long thing. I wish this was attached to my favorite movies because this is really cool.

Basically Kevin Smith is standing on a green screen and he just talks over the movie and then may pause the movie to show an extended version. Or he may play something back to back or he may just have Seann William Scott interrupt him to give a small comedy sketch. It’s a really cool concept, but three hours of Cop Out footage can be exhausting.

In the footage was a lot of revealing aspects of this movie. The ad-libbing was much stronger than what was in the final cut. Also every scene that was thought was a cool concept was invented during reshoots. Love him or hate him, Kevin Smith is really good at being honest and this is seen during this MCM. It’s clear he likes this movie and liked being on this movie, but he also pokes fun at what kind of movie this is and how he isn’t a very good director. He even shows his least favorite scene. In the middle of the MCM, he goes into a story where he revealed to Bruce Willis that he has no idea what kind of lens there are on a camera. That story was funnier than the scene he was interrupting and that makes this an odd DVD review. Don’t watch the movie but just watch the bonus features. You’ll laugh more.

Film: 2 Yaps

Bonus Features: 4 Yaps

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Cop Out Sat, 27 Feb 2010 02:33:41 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Bruce Willis has paired up with a fast-talking black comedian in a violent, funny and gloriously R-rated throwback to ’80s buddy-cop action films.

That movie was 1991’s “The Last Boy Scout” with Damon Wayans. “Cop Out,” on the other hand, is a shockingly inept endurance test pairing Willis with Tracy Morgan in the first film Kevin Smith has directed that he didn’t also write.

When 12-year-olds make a cop-movie parody with garish camerawork and interrogation-room dialogue cribbed from “Heat,” “Training Day” and “Scarface,” it could be cute ambition, a preternatural genre awareness. When a near-40-year-old constantly battling to be taken seriously as a director does it, it’s a gigantic setback.

Smith’s has always been too sensitive to people screwing with his scripts that he fatally lacked the sense to screw with this one — Robb and Mark Cullen’s intended homage to the fast-paced urban wit and full-clip action of films like “48 Hrs.,” “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Fletch,” “Tango & Cash” and “Lethal Weapon.”

Those who think “Cop Out” matches up to any of those films are apt to fall for a banana in the tailpipe, too. “Cop Out” might play a snippet of “Fletch’s” end-credits song and have a score by Harold Faltermeyer (of “Axel F” fame), but it more closely resembles the bloat of “Another 48 Hrs.,” “Beverly Hills Cop 3” and “Fletch Lives.”

Smith’s usual verbal spark and snottiness are absent, and the boldest thing here are cojones in a film this bad to suggest something else represents Hollywood’s bowels.

Willis and Morgan’s characters have names — Jimmy and Paul — but they might as well be Hot Head and Wise Guy (as they’re sloganed on the poster). They’re police partners suspended for 30 days after a shootout ends with a dead snitch.

It’s terrible news for Jimmy, whose daughter has a pricey wedding he’s dead-set on paying for. And it will only give Paul additional time to obsess about the infidelity he’s sure his wife (“Parks & Recreation’s” Rashida Jones) is committing in their bed.

Jimmy’s Plan B is selling a mint-condition baseball card to cover the wedding. But when dopey thief Dave (Seann William Scott, wasted) steals the card and sells it to memorabilia-loving drug pusher Poh Boy (Guillermo Diaz), Jimmy and Paul must find a Mercedes for Poh Boy in exchange for the card. Naturally, they uncover a far-flung conspiracy to make Poh Boy a top-dog drug lord.

Only the musical retro goofs work — an end-credits song by Patti Labelle and Faltermeyer’s spectacular synthesized score. But as it becomes clear that all the good bits of “Cop Out” are in its R-rated trailer, Faltermeyer’s work reminds us of the gangbuster action-comedies we’re not watching.

The PG-rated, 25-year-old car chase in “Fletch” trumps the one Smith lightly farts out here, and Lifetime Original Movies have better camera coverage on scenes of gunplay. Plus, Smith’s turgid pacing — he edited this mess, too — takes the zip out of Jason Lee, Fred Armisen, Susie Essman, Kevin Pollak and Adam Brody (who shares Judge Reinhold’s beanpole frame but none of his joyfully nerdy presence).

The leads are no less uninspired. Willis plays Jimmy as a lazy John McClane facsimile, and it’s laughably suggested that Morgan’s Paul is a dirty cop. Paul’s dirty only if he’s soiled himself like the grown baby he seems to be. Morgan’s free-rein work here proves he’s really palatable only in 30-minute doses on “30 Rock.”

Speaking of “30 Rock,” Morgan’s co-stars should get honorary Emmys if they can pretend to have seen, and enjoyed, “Cop Out” while filming the show with him. After all, it’s hard to imagine any of the fake movies his “Rock” character has made — particularly “Black Cop / White Cop” — being any worse.

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