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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Zack and Miri Make a Porno review

“Zack and Miri Make a Porno”

 

by Bob Garver

 

            “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” is a title that tells people right off the bat if they’re the audience for the movie.  True, it is an R-rated porno as opposed to an X-rated porno, but those who would be considered “the wrong kind of audience” (those with a low tolerance for bad taste) know to stay away. 

            Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) are lifelong friends, but they have never explored a more serious relationship.  They live in the same house, but in separate rooms.  They do this mainly out of necessity, since neither of them are good at making money.  What little money they have is dried up, and they need a way to make some quick cash.  They are desperate, so they decide to do what the title tells us they’re going to do. 

            This leads to the main portion of “Zack and Miri,” which is the bizarre process of making the movie.  They line up a series of auditions with weird wannabe porn stars (one of which is real-life porn star Traci Lords), and try to think up a “plot.”  They eventually settle on a “Star Wars” knockoff.  While a lot of the film’s crude humor falls flat, all the dirty “Star Wars” talk makes for a rare series of shining moments. 

            Like many recent comedies, “Zack and Miri” has a layer of emotional complexity beyond its outrageous surface.  The layer in this case involves the relationship between Zack and Miri.  They promise each other that doing a scene the movie together won’t change their friendship.  They both secretly know that it will, but they don’t realize until it’s too late that it actually changes things for the better. 

            “Zack and Miri” would have worked a lot better if the movie were primarily about the Zack/Miri relationship.  But it is mostly about the porno itself, with the better storyline taking a backseat.  It almost seems tacked on to capitalize on the Judd Apatow “crude comedies with a heart of gold” hits. 

            Sadly, most of “Zack and Miri”’s 101-minute runtime is spent on immature porno jokes.  Some work well, especially the ones at the expense of “Star Wars” and other sci-fi movies.  But most of them just make the movie seem long.  Pass the time with some Popcorn Games: 

            -Eat a piece of popcorn for each time someone creates a new curse word in the “(noun) (verb)-er” format.

            -Eat a piece of popcorn for each time a character uses obscene language in front of someone they’ve just met.  I’d advise you to eat a piece for when these people get offended, but strangely, that never happens. 

            -Eat a particularly tasty piece of popcorn for each time Craig Robinson (NBC’s “The Office”) says something funny.  You’ll enjoy the popcorn and you’ll enjoy his delivery.  He’s a real scene-stealer.  Also, eat two pieces when he breaks out lame dance moves. 

            -Jason Mewes (Jay from the “Jay and Silent Bob” series) plays one of the male stars of Zack and Miri’s film.  I’d suggest you eat a piece of popcorn for each time he says something filthy, but you’ll get stuffed that way.  Eat one for each time he says something that isn’t filthy. 

            -Director Kevin Smith had to make a number of cuts to the film to avoid an NC-17 rating.  Eat a piece of popcorn for each time that one of these cuts or creative edits is obvious. 

 

            Kevin Smith used to make trashy comedies that either had a good heart (like 1997’s “Chasing Amy”) or were at least honest about not having a heart (like 1994’s “Clerks”).  “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” is an unpleasing compromise.  It is a trashy comedy that feels the need to have a heart, but not enough to actually have one. 
1:25 pm est 

High School Musical 3 review

“High School Musical 3: Senior Year”

 

by Bob Garver

 

            Over the past few years, the “High School Musical” franchise has taken the youth market by storm.  The first two films were made for television, airing on the Disney Channel in 2006 and 2007, respectively.  “High School Musical 3: Senior Year” is the franchise’s first trip to the big screen. 

            The film’s theatrical release must be a mixed blessing for kids.  They get the whole theater experience:  a big screen, excellent sound, and the company of hundreds of fellow fans (and based on the crowds I saw at the screening I attended on Friday, it is hundreds).  But the downside is that they don’t get to watch it from the comfort of their own homes.  Not to mention the cost of tickets.  Parents, be warned, the kids are going to want to watch this as many times in theaters as they would for free on TV.

            They’ll want to see the cast they’ve come to love.  Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Corbin Bleu, Monique Coleman, and Lucas Grabeel may be household names in your household.  They all graduate at the end of their “Senior Year,” so this is likely to be your kids’ last chance to see them on that stage together. 

            The plot is about what you’d expect from a movie with “Senior Year” in the title.  There’s a last basketball game, a prom, a musical stage show, lots of anxiety, nostalgia, tearful breakups, tearful makeups, and of course, graduation itself.  This could be the makings of a really depressing movie, except that East High one of the coolest high schools ever and the students are all super-positive.  They’re so positive, they’re prone to jumping into elaborate musical numbers at any moment. 

            The audience for the film already knows this, but the audience for this film is roughly ten years old.  Parents who aren’t comfortable letting their kids go to the theater unsupervised are going to have to sit through “High School Musical 3” themselves.  The film is actually pretty enjoyable if you can “get into it” and take it at face value without any cynicism.  If you can’t do that, the film is a long hour and fifty minutes.  Pass the time by playing Popcorn Games:

            -During the big basketball game, eat a piece of popcorn every time an opposing player does something antagonistic.  It can’t be a good clean game between two friendly rivals, things have to be black and white. 

            -Every time one of the actors’ lips aren’t quite in sync with the songs’ lyrics, eat one hundredth of a piece of popcorn.  You’ll be eating several whole pieces, especially with Zac Efron.  

            -Eat a hundredth of a piece every time some girl in the audience squeals with admiration for Troy (Efron) or Chad (Bleu).  Maybe a thousandth of a piece for scenes where they’re shirtless. 

            -Troy and Gabriella (Hudgens) are boyfriend and girlfriend.  Every time they say something sickeningly sweet to each other, eat a particularly salty piece of popcorn to balance it out. 

            -Ashley Tisdale plays Sharpay, the film’s (and series’s) snooty, stuck-up villain.  She loves to strut around acting like she’s better than everybody.  Eat a piece of popcorn for every audience member who seems envious rather than disgusted.

            -Eat a piece of popcorn for every scene where Sharpay’s choreographer brother Ryan (Grabeel) wears a funny hat.  Two pieces for the scenes where he doesn’t, since those are so rare. 

            -Every time something at East High has a brighter, richer color than anything at an actual high school, find the yellowest, buttery-est piece of popcorn in your bag and eat that. 

            “High School Musical 3” takes place in a magical world that just happens to be a high school.  Everyone is friendly, everyone is positive, everyone sings and dances.  It is a world that is completely unlike ours.  Kids like to spend time in this world.  Adults know better, but give it a chance and you’ll love this world too. 
1:24 pm est 

Body of Lies review

“Body of Lies”

 

by Bob Garver

 

            Ridley Scott’s “Body of Lies” takes place in the always-uncertain world of CIA counter-terrorism.  Leonardo DiCaprio stars as an agent who’s fine with lying to terrorists, but doesn’t believe in lying to allies.  Russell Crowe is his boss and mentor, who’s fine with lying to anybody.  The audience is supposed to sympathize with the high moral standards of DiCaprio.  But this is counter-terrorism and the fate of the free world is at stake.  Most people are going to side with Crowe, believing that his lies are necessary for the greater good. 

            Roger Ferris (DiCaprio) says whatever he needs to say to get favors and information.  Often he will make promises.  It is up to Ed Hoffman (Crowe) to see if these promises can be kept.  Often, they cannot.  This, in effect, turns Ferris into a liar.  Hoffman also keeps valuable information from Ferris, making him a liar himself.  Hoffman is more comfortable with the moral middle ground than Ferris.  Of course, Hoffman gets the security of getting to lie from his suburban home in Washington D.C.  Ferris is right in the line of fire. 

            Most of the film takes place in Jordan, where Roger needs the help of high-ranking official Hani (Mark Strong).  Hani has a ton of resources, and can be a great help to Ferris.  But Hani has one rule:  Never lie to him.  He can just as easily turn his resources against Ferris if he wants.  This presents a problem for Ferris since he knows he won’t be able to always keep his word. 

            Of course, it is possible that Hani isn’t being truthful himself.  Informants and allies – they could be lying as well.  Knowing this, it’s hard to take anything in “Body of Lies” as truth.  It’s hard to get involved with a movie knowing that there could easily be a twist at any minute. 

“Body of Lies” is the kind of movie where you wish the story would just get to the end so you can go back and figure out which characters were on the level.  The film runs about 128 minutes, so you’ll probably want to kill about two hours before characters start showing their true colors.  As always, my suggestion is to play Popcorn Games.  Here are some suggestions: 

-Every time Ferris gets a cut on his face, yet still looks incredibly handsome because he’s played by Leonardo DiCaprio, eat a piece of popcorn. 

-Every time Russell Crowe has trouble hiding his obvious Australian accent, have trouble hiding your hunger.  Eat two pieces. 

-While healing from an injury, Ferris falls in love with his nurse (Golshifteh Farahani).  She isn’t very welcoming of his advances, but the story requires them to fall in love anyway.  Every time she smiles inexplicably, inexplicably smile yourself, then eat a piece of popcorn. 

-Every time someone is tortured or interrogated, take a piece of popcorn and poke it until it tells you where the rest of the popcorn is.  You’ll know it’s all in the bag, but it’ll be awesome just to hear the popcorn talk. 

-And finally, eat a piece of popcorn every time there is a shot of someone unknowingly under tight surveillance.  You can also do this with two of my other recently-reviewed films, “Burn After Reading” and “Eagle Eye.”  Constant surveillance seems to be a popular theme this season. 

It’s hard to get interested in “Body of Lies.”  It isn’t a “bad” movie, exactly.  The directing, script, and acting are all competent.  But that’s no surprise, given the talent involved.  Unfortunately, unlike the characters, the film is quick to admit it has a huge flaw.  By having “Lies” right there in the title, the film draws attention to the fact that it simply can’t be trusted.  At least it’s honest about that. 

 

Robert Garver is a guest columnist who lives in Palmyra.  He is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University.  He is the owner and operator of www.bobatthemovies.com.  He spends his weekends working at Cinema Center of Palmyra so he can be closer to the movies.  He can be contacted at rrg251@nyu.edu
1:22 pm est 


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