Tag Archives: Jack Black

The Jackal

If you ever want to see Bruce Willis being a nasty bastard check out The Jackal, a pulpy remake of a 70’s spy flick that ramps up the intrigue, ultra-violence and takes a decidedly silly turn with its set pieces. Despite the fact that he and Richard Gere are kind of miscast, they both somehow get the intensity right and bring the heat even though we never really believe them in the roles. Willis is the titular Jackal, a sadistic international assassin whose methods get so elaborate you wonder where he gets the energy from. Gere is the imprisoned IRA radical who is sprung by super agent Sidney Poitier to bring him down. Willis’s next job is supposedly one that will put the delicate forces of international diplomacy off their axis and therefore the powers that be have allowed dangerous Gere to come into play as a ‘fight fire with fire’ mentality, which as any student of action movie narratives knows, never really ends well. Gere seems out of place as both an Irishman and an antihero but is fun to watch nonetheless, while Willis hams it up royally with a stoic grimace and enough high powered weaponry to bring down a building. Poitier always seems dignified no matter the material and such is the case here. The real scene stealer though is underrated character actress Diane Venora as Poitier’s partner, a scary badass of a Russian agent who displays more grit and grizzle than both Willis and Gere combined. Other work is observed from JK Simmons, Tess Harper, Stephen Spinella, Mathilda May, Sophie Okonodo and others. One scene always stood out though for years, and for awhile I didn’t even know what film it was from as a watched it with my dad when I was very young. Jack Black plays a shady arms dealer who hooks up Willis with product, but he gets a bit greedy with his paycheque. Willis, not impressed, loads up a giant 50 caliber cannon, tells him to start running and blows his fucking arm off from a few hundred yards out. Needless to say that scene made a spectacular impression on me and for years I just knew it as ‘that movie where Bruce Willis fucks up Jack Black with a 50cal’ until I eventually went for a rewatch. Not a great film but worth it for that scene alone, and the production value.

-Nate Hill

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Peter Jackson’s King Kong

Peter Jackson has made a name for himself as one of the most ambitious, resourceful filmmakers out there, and his version of King Kong isn’t so much a film as it is literally a three hour trip to another world. The 1930’s Kong was a marvel of its time, admittedly now very dated, but this film is really something else, and for me is the minted definitive version of the story, brought to howling, lush, terrifying and affecting life by Jackson and his army of F/X wizards. The main beef people take up is its way too long, and I’m not even going to try and argue. Of course it’s too long. Of course. But I love it anyways, and part of what makes it so immersive and captivating is the length. We spend almost two hours in a New York prologue leading to oceanic escapades before the ship even finds the island! You almost get so tied up in smoke n’ soot vaudeville and scenic intrigue that you forget that there’s a giant gorilla on the way, among many, many other things. Jackson reaches for the stars here, sails off the edge of the map past the borders of the known world and awakens something dark, primal and enthralling in the viewer: a genuine sense of wonder, like films were always meant to since the beginning, and these days don’t often achieve. He also films in a way that you really feel scope, size and the tactile, spacial dynamics of his world, from the gorgeously foreboding mega forests of skull island to the vast expanse of an open ocean to the titanic skyscrapers of old world NYC. Naomi Watts makes a perfect Ann Darrow, her striking femininity harbouring a deeply intuitive courage that ultimately spells her survival and acts as a magnet to Kong, who is a wonder in himself and played right out of the park by Andy Serkis. Jack Black and Adrien Brody embody the hustling filmmaker Carl Denham and the wiry playwright turned adventurer Jack Driscoll neatly. Jackson takes time in getting to know the supporting characters as well, and in a film with this much breathing room, who wouldn’t? Thomas Kretschmann steals every scene as the intense, heroic Captain Englehorn, Evan Parke is implosive as the first mate and Jamie Bell does terror to a turn as a crew member. Skull island itself is the real star of the show here; along with the living, breathing and feeling vision of Kong, the primordial rock is home to all manner of threatening, awe inspiring ecological splendour including vicious T-Rex’s, graceful herbivores, cunning raptors and more. Two sequences in particular test the boundaries of comfort in the viewer and push into almost outright horror as the crew falls victim to an insect pit home to the kinds of spiders, worms and other creepers you wouldn’t want to find in your worst nightmares, as well as the scariest bunch of indigenous tribes-people I’ve ever seen in a film. Nothing quite compares to the otherworldly atmosphere Jackson infuses in the island, we really feel like we’re in a place that time forgot and the attention to detail is remarkable. In a film full of human characters, Kong wins us over as the most emotionally relatable, a rampaging beast whose softer side is brought out by Ann, until the harsh realities of the human world catch up with them in a flat out spectacular aerial smack down set atop the Empire State Building where we see how savage behaviour begets the same back tenfold when you mess with a creature of his size, it’s a heartbreaking sequence. This is a testament to what can be done in film, from effects to world building to period authentic detail to music (the score by James Newton Howard is brilliant) and more, all combined in a piece of adventure cinema for the ages, and one that reminds us why movies are so fun in the first place.

-Nate Hill

Jake Kasdan’s Orange County

Jake Kasdan’s Orange County is comedy gold that has since gone platinum, and one of the best examples of basket case comedy blending together with heartfelt moments I’ve ever seen. Kasdan is the son of legendary Lawrence Kasdan, and it stars Colin Hanks (Tom’s spawn) and adorable Schyuler Fisk is Sissy Spacek’s kid which is interesting, but any snarky remarks about nepotism can be shut down simply by how terrific the film is, they went out on their own, showed talent and made something genuinely good. Hanks plays a California surfer bum who has an epiphany and decides its time to go to college, Stanford in particular. Scoring admission proves a challenge when he’s saddled with his deranged family including hopeless druggie brother (Jack Black), emotionally stormy mother (Catherine O Hara, priceless) and manic nutjob dad (John Lithgow, equally priceless). Hijinks ensue as he tries to win over a tight assed Dean (Harold Ramis), hold on to his loving girlfriend (Fisk, the spitting image of Spacek) and babysit big bro. There’s a kind of full moon looniness on display here, an offbeat, near abstract style of comedy that won me over almost immediately, it’s lighthearted, raunchy when it needs to be and almost effortlessly enjoyable. Cameos abound, including Chevy Chase, Ben Stiller, Jane Adams, Leslie Mann, Lily Tomlin, Lizzy Caplan, Nat Faxon and a superb Kevin Kline. A winner.

-Nate Hill

Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks


Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks is a spectacular howling good time, a 50’s inspired gumball machine packed with schlock, satire and more star studded send ups than you can shake a stick at. It’s so silly and overstuffed that one just has to give in to it’s fisher price brand of mayhem and just watch the wanton hilarity unfold. Martians are indeed attacking, and they’re evil little rapscallions with giant brains, buggy eyes and lethal ray guns. Humanity’s best are left to fight them, and let’s just say that’s not saying much with this bunch of morons. Jack Nicholson does a double shift as both the hysterically poised, rhetoric spewing US President and a sleazeball casino tycoon. Annette Bening is his hippy dippy wife, while Rod Steiger huffs and puffs as a war mongering potato head of a general. Over in Vegas, prizefighter Jim Brown and his estranged wife (Pam Grier) fight against hordes with little help from obnoxious gambler Danny Devito. Pierce Brosnan is a bumbling tv expert who sucks on a pipe that he apparently forgot to fill or light, a subtle yet precious running joke. The only people with sense are trailer dwelling youngster Lukas Haas and Natalie Portman as the President’s daughter, and the method they finally find to destroy these nasties has to be seen to be believed. The cast seems padded simply so we can watch famous people getting dispatched by slimy aliens, and also contains Tom Jones as himself, Lisa Marie, Jack Black, Paul Winfield, Michael J. Fox, Christina Applegate, Glenn Close, Joe Don Baker, Barber Schroeder, Sylvia Sydney, Martin Short and Sarah Jessica Parker’s head on the body of a chihuahua (don’t ask). There’s little story other than Martians attack and kill shitloads of obnoxious people, but therein lies the big joke, and it’s hilarious. Aaack !

-Nate Hill

Problem Children with Big Eyes who make Biopics that’ll give you Goosebumps: An Interview with Larry Karaszewski by Kent Hill

As the child from a working class family in South Bend, Indiana, Larry was introduced to the movies by his father. He was not restricted as to what he could watch, so he watched it all. After high school he debated between pursuing either a career in comedy or a life in pictures.

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Larry opted for the movies, and soon found himself at USC. It was there that he would meet Scott Alexander, and together they would form not only a friendship, but also the foundation of a prolific career as a successful screenwriting duo.

After (and though it launched a trilogy of films and even an animated series) Problem Child, the screenwriters struggled to find work. It seemed as though they had been typecast buy their work and so looked to independently produce a biopic they were working on about the notoriously bad filmmaker Ed Wood.

As fate would have it, word of the project reached director Tim Burton. After expressing interest, the boys would have to hammer out a screenplay in double-quick fashion. They succeeded, and this, the first in a string of biographical efforts, would re-establish them in Hollywood and from it they would carve out their place in the genre and become, in many ways, its ‘go-to guys.’

Biopics of Larry Flynt and Andy Kaufman would follow, seeing the boys team up with Academy Award winner Milos Forman. They would go on to re-team with Tim Burton as well as dabble in a variety on different genres including everything from a kid-friendly version of James Bond to horrific hotel rooms were you’ll spend a night or perhaps even an eternity.

Larry and Scott have garnered the highest accolades the industry has to offer and continue to deliver. While trying to get a hold of Larry for this interview I caught him riding high on his recent wave of success, so I would just have to wait for the tide to turn. I am however, glad that I did. It was, as it is ever, a privilege to chat with a man whose work I heartily admire. I love the films he has written and I look forward to the projects that he and Scott have in the pipeline.

Without further ado I present, the award-winning screenwriter and all-round nice guy . . . the one, the only, Larry Karaszewski.

Ben Stiller’s The Cable Guy: A Review by Nate Hill 

What do you get when you combine acid tongued social satire, unnerving physical comedy, borderline horror/stalker elements, endless pop culture references and an abrasive yet pitiful protagonist from your worst nightmare? Ben Stiller’s The Cable Guy, that’s what you get. And yes, before the hands go up, I do consider Jim Carrey’s lonely, disturbed TV repairman Chip to be the protagonist of the film, mainly because he’s eternally more interesting than Matthew Broderick’s bland, lifeless performance as the poor average joe who becomes victim to his ‘friendly’ courtship. Chip is one part neglected child, two parts borderline psychotic with a dash of manic obsessiveness and a pinch of terrifying delusional behaviour. Doesn’t quite sound like a comedy, does it? It almost isn’t. Stiller’s vision is so pitch black that it takes a few well timed sympathetic beats from Carrey, infused with his googly charm, to make it work. It’s mostly a walk on the scary side though. Broderick has the misfortune of having Chip show up to look at the television, and the guy takes an immediate, unsettling shine to him, going to great and terrible lengths to solidify an unrequited bromance that is a complete one sided fabrication. Stalking, interfering, framing him for god knows what, roughing up a smarmy gent (Owen Wilson is hilarious) who horns in on his girl (Leslie Mann) are but a few of the life shattering misdeeds that Chip carries out, all under the pretense of the buddy system. He’s essentially Frankenstein’s monster that has grown up from a child left to his own devices, fuelled by a lonliness which has long since pickled into something sad and destructive, both to himself and others around him. Carrey plays him like a champ, never cheaping out or holding back, always willing to go there and show us the extreme degrees on the temperature of the human personality. Damn, I make it sound so dark, don’t I?  It is, but at the end of the day we’re talking about a comedy starring Jim Carrey and directed by Ben Stiller, so there’s still the inherent comedic vibe that both of them bring, just drenched in tar this time around. Call it character study, stalker drama, a lifetime movie gone horribly awry or anything in between, whatever it is, it’s some stroke of demented genius and holds up well today. Watch for Jack Black, Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, Andy Dick, Joel Murray, David Cross, Kathy Griffin, Charles Napier, Bob Odenkirk, Kyle Gass  and a pisser of a cameo from Eric Roberts as himself in a facepalming television melodrama. 

TROPIC THUNDER – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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For the years leading up to Tropic Thunder (2008), Ben Stiller had been coasting on his patented, one-note neurotic doormat shtick in films like Night at the Museum (2006), The Heartbreak Kid (2007), and others. What happened to the guy who could play a self-destructive junkie screenwriter in Permanent Midnight (1998) and a dorky romantic in There’s Something About Mary (1998)? Stiller, at times, is more interesting behind the camera as director of the Generation X comedy Reality Bites (1994), the black comedy about stalking and television, The Cable Guy (1996), and the hilarious fashion world satire Zoolander (2001).

With Tropic Thunder, Stiller returned to being behind the camera (and also in front of it) and decided to take on the Vietnam War sub-genre. In an odd way, we have Oliver Stone to thank for this film. Not just because he made Platoon (1986), which really popularized the sub-genre, but he also rejected Stiller when he auditioned for a role in the film. Stiller never forgot it and now he’s parlayed those feelings of rejection into a film that not only lampoons war films but Hollywood in general.

Tugg Speedman (Stiller) is an action film star on the decline, still flogging his Scorcher franchise – films that resemble a cross between something Tom Cruise might do and Roland Emmerich’s brain-dead special effects epics. Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) stars in low-brow comedies filled with fart jokes that allow him to play multiple characters a la Eddie Murphy (Norbit, anyone?). Australian actor Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.) is a five-time Academy Award winner who appears in “serious” films that win all of the important awards just like Russell Crowe.

They are all starring in a Vietnam War movie called Tropic Thunder that is currently being made on location in South Vietnam. The production is on the verge of being in the kind of trouble that almost consumed Apocalypse Now (1979) as Lazarus is upstaging Speedman. First-time director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) can’t control his actors, which is causing the movie to go behind schedule, much to the chagrin of Les Grossman (Tom Cruise), the blustery, Harvey Weinstein-esque head of the studio.

In an effort to save the movie, Cockburn takes the five main actors to a remote jungle area to shoot a bunch of scenes guerrilla-style only to stumble across a rag-tag group of Vietnamese drug runners who assume that the clueless movie stars are actually DEA agents. At first, Speedman and his co-stars think that this is all part of the production but they (except for Speedman) quickly realize that this is for real.

Robert Downey Jr. was rightly praised for his hilarious performance as an actor who goes so deep into character that he undergoes “pigmentation alteration” surgery to darken his skin in order play an African American soldier. Downey’s commitment to the role is almost as dedicated as Lazarus’ and he gets some of the film’s best lines, including such gems as “Man, I don’t drop character ’till I done the DVD commentary,” and “I know who I am. I’m the dude playin’ the dude, disguised as another dude!”

It’s not too hard to figure out the real-life Hollywood power players that Stiller’s film satirizes with Cruise’s Grossman channeling the abusive reputation of the aforementioned Weinstein and Downey poking fun at the way-too serious on-and-off-screen antics of Crowe. Unlike all of those Scary Movie spoofs, Stiller understands that a good satire plays it straight on the surface. Admittedly, he’s got a much bigger budget to play with ($100 million+) than any two of those dime-a-dozen spoof movies so he’s able to hire the likes of A-list cinematographer John (The Thin Red Line) Toll and cast marquee name actors like Robert Downey Jr. and Jack Black instead of C-listers like Carmen Electra to make Tropic Thunder look like the slick war films he is sending up. Of course, the danger in doing this is to become the very thing you’re trying to parody, but fortunately Stiller doesn’t fall into this trap.

Every generation needs a Mel Brooks and Stiller takes up where the legendary comedian left off – before he became irrelevant and painfully unfunny. Stiller goes after the usual suspects of the genre: Platoon, Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter (1978), and even a sly reference to a scene from Predator (1987), but Tropic Thunder is more than a game of spot-the-reference that spoof movies tend to devolve into. It actually has something to say other than Hollywood is excessive. This is one of Stiller’s most ambitious film to date and demonstrated that he can play in the same big leagues that fellow comedian-turned-filmmaker Jon Favreau has also graduated to with Iron Man (2008). They both started off with very modest films and have shown a very definite learning curve with each subsequent film they’ve helmed. Tropic Thunder has everything you’d want from a big budget, R-rated comedy.