Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Dictator - 3 stars

Borat was revolutionary.  Borat was an amazing character.  By playing someone so racist, he was able to get unsuspecting people to expose their own racism.  Borat is one of the funniest movies of all time.

After Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen couldn't really get away with that kind of filmmaking anymore.  But he tried anyway, and we got Bruno.  It was harder to get people participate without being in on the joke, and who knows how many of the people in the movie didn't know that Bruno was a character.  The movie wasn't nearly as good as Borat, but it had it's moments.

For The Dictator, Sacha Baron Cohen has abandoned that style of filmmaking.  This movie is just a traditional movie with a script and everything.  Cohen plays Admiral General Aladeen of Wadiya, a fictional country in northern Africa.  He is a comedic version of several evil dictators rolled up into one.  Anyone who he doesn't approve of, he has killed.  He plays Wii Terrorist, which includes a level called Munich Olympics.  Yes, that is as offensive as it sounds. 

When Aladeen comes to New York to speak to the UN, he is kidnapped by a CIA agent.  He escapes, but he has had his beard shaved off and is wearing ragged clothes.  The UN security thinks he's some crazy homeless guy and they chase him off.  He meets an ultra left wing feminist activist named Zoey (Anna Farris), and the movie turns into a romantic comedy. 

There is something in the movie to offend just about everyone.  Some of the jokes are so over the top that they are not even funny, just offensive, which somehow becomes even funnier.  I was laughing a lot. 

Not all the jokes work.  There is a scene in the trailer where Aladeen and his countryman are flying in a helicopter.  They are speaking in their language, and the older American couple are able to make out words like 'Bin Laden' and '9/11' and they start to scream.  This is just a misunderstanding, and it could have been really funny.  But them movie takes so long building up this joke, and you know exactly where it's going that by the time it gets there, the joke has run out of steam.  A big part of humor is surprise, and if there is no surprise at a punchline, it's hard to laugh at it.

But despite that, there are plenty of good jokes.  The easily offended shouldn't go, but if you saw Borat and Bruno, you have some idea what to expect.  And I really enjoyed the speech that Aladeen gives at the end about the benefits of democracy and the evils of a dictatorship.

Dark Shadows - 1 1/2 stars

I have never seen an episode of the Dark Shadows soap opera from the 60s and 70s, so I have no idea how faithful this movie is to the show.  Will fans of the show like this movie better than I did, or will they be even more disappointed?  No idea, but this movie sucks.

In the 1700s Barnabas Collins and his parents moved from England to Maine.  They started a fishing business, and became so successful that the town of Collinsport was named after them.  They also built a huge gothic mansion called Collinwood Manor.  Barnabas broke the heart of a witch named Angelique, and she took her revenge.  First she killed his parents, then she killed his fiancee.  When he tried to kill himself, she turned him into a vampire.  Then she lead the townspeople to capture him and imprison him in a coffin.  The chained the coffin shut and buried him.  This reminds me of what the vampires tried to do to Brad Pitt in Interview With the Vampire, but I digress.

200 years go by and Barnabas is set free by construction workers.  After killing them (he says to one "Sorry about this but you have no idea how thirsty I am."), he returns to Collinwood Manor.  He finds his descendants living there and the fishing business is close to ruin. 

That's about all there is to the story.  The rest of the movie is just spending time with the family, and Angelique trying to win him back.  He doesn't seem that upset at her for what she did to him, and she is still in love with him.  But she does threaten to kill his family and imprison him again if he doesn't love her.

The only entertaining stuff in the movie is Barnabas reacting to the 20th century.  McDonald's, cars, television, and lava lamps are all foreign to him.  I enjoyed the way he spoke with his semi-british victorian accent, and some of his lines were really funny.  But aside from that, the movie bored me to tears.  There is barely any story there.  Sub plots are set up and not paid off.  We waste time with characters who seem important, then disappear for long stretches at a time. 

That's about all the effort I can muster to talk about this movie.  There are 15 funny minutes in there, the rest is a total waste of time.  Oh, and Michelle Pfeiffer and Chloe Grace Moretz give the worst performances of their careers.  They're good actors, so I blame Tim Burton and the screenwriter for giving them nothing interesting to work with.

The Avengers - 4 stars

The Avengers is the most entertaining superhero movie I have ever seen.  Not necessarily the best, but the most fun.  I'd have a hard time putting it up against Superman (1978), but then that's a special movie from my childhood, so I'm not sure it's fair to compare anything to that movie.

I enjoyed the first Iron Man, but I thought the second one was tedious.  I liked The Incredible Hulk and Thor, but I was bored by Captain America.  After those 5 movies, I was really curious to see what it would be like to have all 4 of those superheroes in a movie together.  The end result exceeded my wildest expectations.

The movie did get off to a slow start for me.  When Loki appears at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, steals the Tesseract, and brainwashes several people, it just didn't have the excitement that it should have had.  The blow up the base and there's a car chase, but it just didn't have much excitement for some reason.  Then we go into a half hour of assembling the different characters. 

Robert Downey, Jr. was fun as usual.  He is trying to have a nice, romantic evening with Pepper Potts and Agent Coulson shows up to spoil the evening.  Black Widow gets a fun introduction.  She is tied to a chair and being beaten by European mobsters, and it turns out they are just telling her all the information she needs.  Bruce Banner's introduction is also nice.  Mark Ruffalo plays Banner better than Eric Bana or Edward Norton.  I really hope they make another Hulk movie with Ruffalo.  Captain America's introduction is basically just picking up right where his movie left off.  Thor is the last to show up, and his is probably the weakest introduction. 

Once the group is together, then the fun begins.  I love how Tony Stark wants to see Banner turn into the Hulk.  He is constantly taunting him, even poking him with a stick to try to make him angry.  Stark and Rogers also have some fun verbal matches.  Stark and Rogers are total opposites, and it's great to hear them argue.  The first scene where all the heroes are together is where the movie really takes off.  Then Loki shows up and we get some good action.  The group is split apart, things look dark, they get together again for the final showdown / big action setpiece, just like you would expect.

There aren't a whole lot of surprises in the story, but that's ok.  Getting to see these characters together on screen is just so cool.  Considering the challenges of keeping a cast together and keeping egos of the actors in check, this movie is a real accomplishment.  Thank goodness Marvel Studios paid the actors what they needed.  Except for Hulk, all the actors from the previous 5 movies are here.  And Ruffalo is so good that I completely forgot that Edward Norton was Banner in the Hulk movie.

The final showdown is incredible.  It involves these giant metal space fish things attacking New York City.  Unlike a movie like Transformers, this never gets dull.  In the middle of all the carnage and mayhem, the characters are talking to each other.  We know and care about these characters, so we are invested in what happens to them.  Also, director Joss Whedon maintains a good sense of geography.  When crazy stuff is going on on screen, you can still tell where the characters are in relation to one another.  Michael Bay could learn a few things from Joss Whedon.

There is a great tracking shot that shows each character doing battle.  I think the shot lasted a good minute or two without cutting away.  That was really cool.  But my favorite part of the whole movie is when Hulk confronts Loki in Stark's apartment.  I think that was the most satisfying scene I have seen in a movie in years. 

There is no way anyone could go see Avengers and not leave the theater happy.