Burn After Reading

I went last weekend to see the new Coen Brothers movie “Burn After Reading” and I’m not sure what to say about it. Its really good and I’d recommend that you go see it. Its full of great performances and quirky characters. The problem is when I think how to synopsize the plot I keep running into spoiler problems. Even small moments in this film are so good that I wouldn’t want to ruin them for anyone.

Lets give it a try. Two health club employees find a DVD containing the memoirs of a unemployed CIA analyst they mistake them for classified documents and try to sell them.

That really doesn’t do the film justice. The plot twists and turns taking us to some very unexpected places. It’s amazing how fully developed every character is – even minor players seem unique and well thought out! 

One of the problems describing the plot is that you realize that only we the audience have any idea what’s actually happening. The characters stumble bewildered in and out of each others lives with no real idea of what is going on.

The Coen’s have assembled a real all star cast and all involved are at the top of their game. If you liked Fargo or other Coen Brother comedies go see “Burn After Reading”. I’m going to give it an “A”.

Ratatouille

This week I got to do something I’ve wanted to do for a while – go to one of the free outdoor movies offered by the town I live in. Friday night, behind the municipal building they showed “Ratatouille” in a grass field on a large inflatable screen. Not a brand new film but “newish” and pretty good to boot! More on that in a moment.

I really enjoyed the outdoor movie experience and was a little disappointed at the same time. First the good – the audience was better than many I’ve shared a pay movie with. Sure, there was talking but I was expecting that. All in all it was MUCH less than I expected. The Kids were very well behaved and really no one acted up. For some reason a kid to my immediate left had some sort of portable lantern that he felt compelled to turn on and off, distracting but I could live with it. The sound I thought was very good with speakers set up around the field so we had true stereo and the picture quality was quite acceptable. We went to Wegmans first (the grocery store of the gods) and got take out. So picnicking during the film was amazing! Cold fried chicken, gazpacho, and pasta salad beats pre-popped popcorn any day!

As for the bad – the movie was projected from a DVD. I was really hoping for real film especially when the film skipped a couple of times. Next week’s film is “The Wizard of Oz” which I’ve seen many many times but never on actual film – always some sort of video. I’m sure it will be on DVD also. As I’ve said the picture quality was good but I was hoping for a much bigger screen. I guess I just have too many 1970s memories of New Jersey drive-Ins.

My biggest problem with the whole thing was not with the film or the environment but with me! What is it that Cassius said? “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.” While I had a blanket I am just too much of a lard ass to sit on the ground comfortably for a couple of hours. Next time I’m going to bring a chair!

As a film Ratatouille was very good indeed but it would be hard for it not to be with the talent both in front of and behind the camera. Not that there was an actual camera being a CGI film. Any movie that has any combination of the following has to be good:

  • Pixar – Just brilliant! They’ve revolutionized the movie making process. Everything they’ve done has been outstanding.
  • Brad Bird – the director of such films as the Incredibles and the Iron Giant has yet to make a misstep.
  • Patton Oswald – one of my favorite stand up comics lent his voice to the main character.

I’d give this film an A-. I’m knocking off half a point because no matter how well done its still a film about rats cooking in commercial kitchens. Which is just sort of gross.

Tropical Thunder

Over the weekend I had a chance to catch the new Ben Stiller film “Tropical Thunder” and it was one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a long time! I remember recently coming out of “Get Smart” complaining that it a had been too long since I’d seen a side splitting comedy – one that really made me laugh through out the whole film. Well Tropical Thunder was the answer to that problem, its just hysterical!

It starts out with a great cast and a great premise. After blowing a multimillion dollar special effects shot a novice director decides to film Blair Witch/Reality TV style and takes his cast of Hollywood stars into the jungle. They promptly get lost, run afoul of the heroine trade, and have to fight their way out.

The film is just full of great performances. Robert Downey Jr. is the standout playing an Australian actor so into the method school he gets pigmentation surgery to play an African American. His character does most of the movie in character and full make up.

Jack Black as the fat drugged out comic reminded me of Artie Lange from the Howard Stern Show and Ben Stiller plays an action star of questionable talent on the downward slope of his career. The real surprise in the cast is Tom Cruise as the power crazed Hollywood mogul. He has to be seen to be believed!

Stiller cowrote and directed the film which has apparently been knocking around Hollywood for ten years or more. The best thing about this film is it isn’t afraid to offend. Its very old school in that respect. While extremely different it reminded me of Blazing Saddles in that it not only went over the line but went back and rubbed the line out! See this in the theater or cable. When it gets to regular TV they’re are going to have to cut the heart out of it to show it.

All in all I’d give it an “A” and rank it among the best of the summer.