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Mini Movie Reviews from Abroad, Part 1

Hello again, everybody. Ben here, back from a quick jaunt to the Orient. There seems to have been a spot of confusion, so I’d like to clear things up. All the reviews written for The Movie Advocate from late June up through this post were either written by Justin Couch or edited by him. The Movie Advocate was his for the month. I most certainly was not sitting in the jungle typing away, no sir. So please forward all your hate mail to – nah, just kidding. Seriously, thank you Justin for all your work and for carrying the Movie Advocate baton through the summer. Justin also made the deft choice of expanding the TMA family, hosting two reviews from Tome to the Weather Machine guru Ryan Hall. If he so desires, Mr. Hall has a home for his movie musings at this site. Hopefully this won’t be the last we hear from him.

As for me? Did I find Tony Jaa and convince him to leave the Buddhist monastery and return to filmic Muay Thai greatness? Well, no. But I have it on good authority from a taxi driver in Bangkok that Mr. Jaa has only joined the monkhood as research for an upcoming role, and hasn’t actually quit acting at all. So there you have it ladies and gents. If it turns out that this was all a stunt, you heard it here first! Also, this guy also assured me that Thais hate Ong Bak 2 and 3 also. Here us westerners were thinking that it must be a Thai thing or a Buddhist thing, but nope, the Thais are just as baffled as we are.

Also, when I was in a bar one night, I saw Petchtai Wongkamlao (the comedic sidekick in the Tony Jaa movies) on what I can only describe as Thai Family Feud, but with soccer and a guy dressed in drag.

But before and after Thailand itself is the dreaded 20+ hours of flight time (not counting layovers) between Denver and Bangkok. The one bright side of this awful, torturous journey is that the booze and movies are free. So on the way there and back I was able to catch up on some newish releases that I didn’t get around to seeing or didn’t feel like shelling out the money for in theaters. Keep in mind while you’re reading these reviews that I watched the following movies on a 3x3 inch screen mounted to the back of the seat in front of me, through cheap-ass China Airlines provided headphones. Not exactly the ideal moviegoing experience. However, I can’t see my opinions on the following movies being that different if I saw them in Imax 3-D Smell-O-Vision, so…

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON

The latest from Dreamworks Animation climbs to the top of that company's heap, while still not holding a candle to Pixar's rock solid productions. (As much as I liked this one, Toy Story 3 had blown me away only days early , so the deck was stacked against Train Your Dragon. If you haven’t seen Toy Story 3 yet, do it. Don’t hesitate. It’s great. How has that been doing at the box office, by the way. I’m out of touch…) But while it’s no Pixar, How to Train Your Dragon is pretty close to on par with Dreamworks previous best effort, Kung Fu Panda. The worst thing I can say about both of those movies is that I’m not totally on board with the voice casting and recording. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is, but I don’t buy that the voices coming out of these mouths are the voices that belong to these characters. Also, Dragon occasionally skirts dangerously close to the “modern” comedy of Shrek and Madagascar, thankfully always turning back and saving face at the last minute. The flight sequences in this movie are breathtaking. The montages detailing the budding relationship between Viking Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and new dragon pal Toothless leading up to their first flights together have more than a little of that ol’ Wright Brothers trial and error pizazz. Once the pair really gets moving, the flight sequences are beautiful and graceful, with a few shots unlike anything I’ve seen. I wasn’t sure if I was on board with the design of the dragons at first, but soon the creature design and storytelling become entirely intertwined. Every design element is dictated by a story element, leading to some humorous and intriguing payoffs. The “mother” monster design floored me. I think this is the closest a kid’s movie will ever get to Lovecraft.

DATE NIGHT

Don’t judge me. This played on a shorter leg of the trip, and they didn’t give options for what to watch. It’s as bad as you think it will be. I even like Steve Carell, and I can tolerate Tina Fey in small doses. But no, this is complete trash. Ray Liotta and William Fichtner are wasted in slapsticky but not funny supporting roles. Common, who has yet to be great in anything, sets a new career low here. The only reason to watch this movie is for the Mark Wahlberg cameo as a muscle-bound Manhattan super-detective playboy. The shtick where a self-conscious Carell passive-aggressively pleads with Wahlberg to “for the love of god, put a shirt on” is pretty funny.

SHE'S OUT OF MY LEAGUE

This was a Judd Aptow movie, right? Or at least his production company. There’s something about Judd Aptow movies. I hate them while I’m watching them, but there’s usually certain jokes that stick with me and make me bust a gut at totally inappropriate times and places and eventually convince me that I in fact liked them and watch them again, starting the whole vicious cycle over again. Only, this one didn't have any of those parts. A little too sweet to be really funny. And when they trot out the raunch it seems like they're trying way too hard, like, er, a nerdy guy trying to hit on a hot chick. This is the most straight up John Hughes-ian movie from the Aptow camp, and that doesn’t really work quite right. Also, I was a little self conscious at how not-censored the in-flight edit of this movie was. The 10 year old Chinese kid on some kind of 7th Day Adventist field trip who sat next to me was probably having his mind blown every time he looked over at my viewing screen.

GREEN ZONE

This movie is DOA. And this is coming from a guy who really enjoys the Bourne movies. Green Zone isn’t a bad movie, either. Its head is just so far up its ass with all that “See, there were never really any WMDs in Iraq in the first place! Woah!” jive that it’s just sort of over before it begins. Characters recite lines like, “This war isn’t about WMDs. If the government wants a war, they’ll figure out a way to get it.” and it’s as if director Paul Greengrass expects us to be all like, “Oh my god, you just blew my mind! I never thought of that!” There’s nothing wrong with the movie. It’s mostly well shot, well acted, well photographed, and does an exceptionally good job of painting a detailed picture of life in Baghdad circa the infamous “Mission Accomplished” banner. But three minutes into the movie if you don’t already know exactly how things are going to play out, you haven’t been paying attention. A useless exercise, and an unfortunate waste of time for the talent assembled here.

Conclusion: Movies, this is an intervention. 2010 has proven that you are addicted to being bad. I know you can't help it. But it's time to make a change. How to Train Your Dragon, you're cool. But the rest of you need to shape up.

Next up: Predators in Bangkok!

-Ben

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Mini Movie Reviews from Abroad, Part 1 + review