Sunday, June 21, 2009

11 Word Review Expanded: Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey


Before he was saving Sandra Bullock from The Bus That Wouldn’t Slow Down, monotoning his way through being The One in the Matrix Series, or even misplacing his mind in A Scanner Darkly, Keanu Reaves was Ted “Theodore” Logan.

The first Bill and Ted movie (Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) is a pretty humorous endeavor in its own right: two young men who, in 100 years, will likely seem like the crystallization of the “slacker” stereotype (played by Reaves and Alex Winter,) travel through history to ensure that they pass their history report and, subsequently, preserve a utopia future timeline where their garage band music is the blueprint for an entire perfect civilization. It's good, in a very silly sort of way.

When doing a sequel, it’s often tempting to just repeat the formula but just up the stakes or do more on a larger scale, but this movie doesn’t just. It takes a ridiculous concept and pushes it even further. In Bogus Journey, Bill and Ted are killed by evil robot versions of themselves, escape from Death, go to Hell, defeat and then master the Grim Reaper, travel to Heaven to get genius Martian scientists Station to build good robot versions of themselves, then return to Earth to defeat the evil robot Bill and Ted and the film’s nominal villain Chuck De Nomolos.

Read that sentence again. Soak it in. This just isn’t a film with increased stakes, it’s one playing in a super-absurd kind of world. And the thing is, each of these events logically progresses from the last, and each of these sequences is laugh-out-loud hilarious.

Picking up from the last lines of Excellent Adventure (their time-traveling mentor Rufus [George Carlin] saying to the audience after witnessing a disastrous Wyld Stallyns practice session, “They get better. I promise,”) Bill and Ted are entered into the San Dimas Battle of the Bands. The movie really ends up being how Bill and Ted’s band manages to become the greatest in the world. And, including Martians, Death, and Medieval Princess girlfriends as the rest of the band, and some time travel, it’s really hard not to be.

Rather than just summarize the movie and give a lengthy version of “Oh my god, how awesome is that,” here are my three favorite parts of the movie (in no particular order.)

1) Twister With Death

Ingmar Bergman is probably rolling over in his grave, and was probably livid when this came out, but that’s why I find this hilarious. Having two idiots play and proceed to beat Death in a series of boardgames (Battleship, Clue, and Twister amongst them.) Also, the sublimated rage with which Death says, “You have sunk my battleship” is awesome. Death is actually probably my favorite character. Also note the mix of seriousness and humor that makes this work.

2) Heaven

Notable primarily that the meaning of life is revealed to be from Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.”

3) The Ending

The magazine and newspaper montage here is probably the pinnacle of how ridiculous this idea is, but also how strangely compelling. I mean, this was literally right at the end of the Cold War, when Western Culture (like rock and roll and blue jeans) had been instrumental in finally making conditions in the Eastern Bloc seem so abysmal by comparison. Maybe…rock and roll really could bring us all together?

Also: “Death Wins Indie 500” with the subtitle, “I didn’t know I could run that fast.” C’mon. That’s just hilarious.

This is definitely an example of, while not necessarily a great movie, or even an excellently made one, but it is a very funny movie that does what it does well. The actual plot is pretty much useless; it’s primarily an excuse for the series of ridiculous events to take place. And part of what makes this compelling is the movie’s own internal logic. Of course the way to defeat evil robot versions of yourself are good robot versions of yourself. And of course Death would be proud enough to go through the entire Milton Bradley gaming library. Most sequels can only hope to be just as good as the previous film, but I think Bogus Journey exceeds its predecessor in every way.

The Bill and Ted series also spawned a briefly lived cartoon series, which, although inferior to the Back to the Future cartoon that ran around the same time, isn’t bad (and is available on Youtube.) However, if you have the time, and haven’t seen it before, or haven’t seen it in a long time, go watch Bogus Journey on hulu. You’re in for a treat.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Ghostbusters 3 Hypothetical Casting


This year marks the 25th Anniversary of Ghostbusters, a movie which I may have mentioned I liked previously. Furthermore, writers Gene Stupinsky and Lee Eisenberg, best known currently for The (American version of the) Office, and soon for the hilarious looking Harold Ramis-directed Year One (I know cardinal sin #1 is to judge a movie by it’s trailer, but by God it’s an appealing trailer.) Dan Aykroyd has stated in interviews that he wants the likes of Alyssa Milano to play part of a generation of “younger Ghostbusters” who almost literally receive the franchise off the backs of Ramis, Ayrkoyd, Bill Murray, and Ernie Hudson.

So sorta like this. Sorta.

The script isn’t even finished yet, although they’re pushing for a 2012 release. With that in mind, here is what I thought of when I contemplated a hypothetical casting of Ghostbusters 3. I broke the four main parts into the main sort of archetypes they filled, starting with...

“The Heart” (Dan Aykroyd/Ray Stantz): Kenan Thompson

People slightly younger than me and slightly older than me may not as fondly remember Nickelodeon’s sketch comedy program All That (if this were a broader blog, I’d probably end up rambling on about it, and other parts of the SNICK lineup ad nauseum.) These same people may also remember the Good Burger movie (which unfortunately let the plague known as Brian Robbins [Norbit] loose on Hollywood.) These people should hopefully not remember some other Kenan vehicles (the Geneva-convention-breaking The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Fat Albert in particular.) Most should now know him as the only black guy currently on SNL.

A lot of Kenan’s characters and routine on SNL have some edge and bite to them, much like Aykroyd’s (Fred Garvin: Male Prostitute immediately springs to mind for the latter.) But under that vitrol, Kenan and Aykroyd both possess an overabundance of heart, and the Ray Stantz character embodied that enthusiasm and optimism and wide-eyed wonder that would actually try to reason with a genocidal Sumerian god by posing as a representative of the “city, county, and state of New York.” Looking at some of Kenan’s past work, I think he could play that kind of character very well.

“The Mouth” (Bill Murray/Peter Venkmann): Paul Rudd

Type-casting, I know.

But somebody needs to provide the mouthy dry humor and withering “you got to be kidding me” sort of deliveries that Murray filled the first two movies with, and if I trust anybody to be dry and mouthy and hilarious, it’s Paul Rudd. This is perhaps the most direct translation from one to the other.

“The Brain” (Harold Ramis/Egon Spengler): Ellen Page

My thoughts on Juno are not a factor here. The core of this choice is deadpan. Ellen Paige is capable of delivering that kind of delivery, and she’s more high profile and slightly younger than my original choice for the role (Thora Birch.) And she’s a girl. Yay for diversity.

“The Punch-Clock Schmoe” (Ernie Hudson/Winston Zeddemore): Seth Rogen

C’mon, Seth Rogan is nothing if not perpetually laid back and laconic. Winston Zeddemore was a guy who was interested in getting paid and the fact that ghosts existed and were in need of busting was of secondary importance. I could similarly see Rogen being the kind of guy who could approach ghostbusting with a blasé attitude. He’d be the “blue collar” or “relatable” one.

Also, I know this isn’t my usual gig. Scott over at He Shot Cyrus does these considerably more often, and his are usually much more spot on and funny. Check ‘em out!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Expanded 11 Word Review: A Scanner Darkly

I have written an 11 Word Review a day (or the equivalent) since when I began the site in September of last year. That is approaching 300 reviews, or 3300 words. I have written considerably less reviews here, some of which have already been touched on by 11 Word Reviews. But today is the first of a series where I go on, in considerably more than 11 words, about a movie of my choice. Consider it a chance to say, in more than 11 words, what I think of some of my favorites (and least favorites, and some mediocre) movies.


I reviewed A Scanner Darkly (Linklater, 2006) on September 18th of last year. The movie is one of a series of filmic adaptations of stories by one of my favorite science fiction authors, Philip K Dick, (the others being such stories as Total Recall, Minority Report, and Blade Runner.) Dick’s stories are primarily interested in issues of perception and reality (and challenging those ideas,) which fits it in ideally with issues of Postmodernism, and this one is supposedly autobiographical to an extent, dealing with Dick’s own problems with drug use.

The film is a pretty faithful animated adaptation of the book, which is about Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves,) an Orange County undercover narcotics officer strung out on futuristic brain-altering drug Substance D and trying to investigate his drugged-out circle of friends (Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder.) On the way, Arctor’s does manage to solve the case, despite having a complete chemical-based psychotic break along the way.

First, let’s talk about the use of animation in this movie, similar to another Linklater movie Waking Life, which uses rotoscoping to animate on and around live action performances. This method starts out being jarring, but I was surprised at how quickly I got acclimated to it. The real use of this is to help make some of the more sci-fi elements of the movie (like the license plates on the car, and the blending scramble suits,) from being too jarring and bizarre.

The overall structure of the story has some weird disjointed moments, but these feel intentional and are definitely not disorienting, which is a difficult thing to pull off.

In terms of performances, there is one standout guy, Robert Downey Jr. Although he is one of the best actors in general (cf. Chaplin, Hearts and Souls, Tropic Thunder, Zodiac, and Iron Man as standout examples of his work.) I’d make a joke here about Downey having a lot of research about addiction, but I already did for the 11 Word Review. But he really does. While Woody Harrelson and Keanu Reeves are at best being stoners, and Freck (Rory Cochrane) is on some mix of meth and heroin. I can’t exactly tell just what Downey is trying to be on, and therein lies the charm.

(Also, in case you miss the joke: 6+3=9, but 6x3=18. Just say no, kids.)

Overall, this is a very cerebral movie to be sure. There’s a lot going on to make you think, and that’s certainly not a bad thing. You are able to build empathetic relationships to Arctor, but unfortunately, the overall isolation and anxiety of this film makes most of the characters, although fascinating to watch, unrelatable. This makes the ending and resolution of the movie somewhat unsatisfying for me. Maybe I just have a lack of tolerance for drug users. However, it is a fun movie up to the turn in the third act, and even though the resolution isn’t satisfying, I can hardly think of a better one.

I give it a B+. I’d recommend you check it out if you like science fiction/Philip K Dick, Postmodernism, or if you’re looking for something a little new and novel in your filmgoing experience.