August 29, 2008

Smart Spoof Funny From Go to Whoa


The year's funniest comedy and most- anticipated music movie are on David Manning's viewing schedule this week. --------------------

Tropic Thunder

Starring Ben Stiller, Robert Downey jnr, Jack Black. Directed by Ben Stiller. R16.

* * * * 1/2

Don't be late for this spoof comedy - and don't leave before the end credits roll.

From start to finish, this send-up of Hollywood and war action movies in particular (Platoon, Apocalypse Now) is hilarious - and for film buffs, it's loaded with tickling in-jokes to keep the movie funny even when it has the occasional, but fleeting, flat moment.

What first appears as an energy drink ad and more trailers for upcoming movies are actually ways to introduce some of the main characters - successful film stars who are about to make the best Vietnam war film ever.

Among them are Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), an action movie star whose quest for an Oscar by playing a "retard" in a movie called Simple Jack was a colossal flop; Eric Lazarus (Robert Downey jnr), an Australian method-style actor's actor and Oscar winner known for his total immersion into his characters; and Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), a comedian who specialised in playing several characters in fat-suits in fart-joke comedies.

In his last film, Lazarus and Tobey Maguire starred as gay monks (a la Brokeback Mountain); in this war movie, he has undergone skin pigmentation alteration to play a black soldier. Meanwhile, Portnoy secretly harbours a heroin addiction.

When the movie, being shot in Southeast Asia, becomes a production- plagued bungle in the jungle, its rookie director (Steve Coogan) agrees with the grizzled and disabled (he has prosthetic hands) Vietnam vet author (Nick Nolte), whose autobiographical book is the basis for the movie, to throw the actors into scary "reality" situations and shoot the movie in a freewheeling, unpredictable guerrilla-style.

Unfortunately, when the actors encounter an actual heroin- manufacturing Vietnamese gang, they initially believe it's all part of the movie, until eventually having to fight to save their lives.

With a soundtrack of Vietnam movie classic songs (by CCR, the Stones, Steppenwolf and Buffalo Springfield), director and co- writer Ben Stiller's comedy is often clever and smart satire, with politically incorrect content likely to upset some viewers and gross- out parody scenes mocking grisly, gory content in war movies.

The movie also has a secret, or heavily disguised, weapon - a comic Cruise missile.

You might have a hard time spotting him at first but it's none other than a bald and paunchy Tom Cruise - he's the guy doing the black-style rap dancing at the end.

Much of this movie is laugh out loud as Stiller targets prima donna actors, Hollywood agents (Matthew McConaughey) and greedy producers, more often than not hitting the bull's-eye, the resulting comic carnage making Tropic Thunder the funniest comedy to screen in Nelson this year.

Shine a Light

Starring The Rolling Stones. Directed by Martin Scorsese. M.

* * * *

Martin Scorsese's directing pedigree already includes Michael Jackson's Bad video (1987) and the 2005 Bob Dylan documentary No Direction Home (and he's set to shoot a doco on George Harrison) - but Shine a Light mostly recalls The Last Waltz (1978), his film on The Band's farewell concert performance.

Here he showcases the Rolling Stones, who perform 18 songs, covering a range of musical facets, from rock (the likes of Jumpin' Jack Flash, Tumbling Dice, Start Me Up, Brown Sugar, Sympathy for the Devil) to ballads (As Tears Go By), country (Faraway Eyes) and saucy sass (She Was Hot, Some Girls).

There are also a couple of duets, Jagger with Jack White singing Loving Cup, and with Christina Aguilera for Live with Me, and also with blues guitarist Buddy Guy for Muddy Waters' Champagne and Reefer.

Before the concert starts is a fascinating 10-minute opening segment on filming preparation (staging, set song list, camera placements, pre-show meet- and-greets).

Scorsese's 18 cameras and editing then capture indefatigable man- in-motion Mick Jagger (63 when this was filmed in 2006) prancin', dancin', struttin' and sashayin' on stage, his vocals supported by drummer Charlie Watts and guitarists Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards - the latter ("Good to see you, good to see anybody," he tells the audience) also singing You Got the Silver and Connection.

In some ways, this movie becomes a rock of ages, with Scorsese mixing into the concert footage vintage clips showing interviews with much younger Stones, including one in which Jagger is asked if he can picture himself at the age of 60 still performing - and his quick reply is "easily".

But Scorsese never forgets that, first and foremost, he's making a concert movie. A fan of the Rolling Stones, his light-shining on them ultimately shows that these behemoths of rock can still deliver satisfaction.

Taking the Waewae Express

Starring Evan Hussey, Matariki Whatarau, Rangimoana Taylor. Directed by Andrea Bosshard and Shane Loader. M.

* * *

This low-budget, low-key debut film from Kiwi directors Andrea Bosshard and Shane Loader tackles tough emotional issues, especially when most of its core characters are generally inarticulate youth struggling to express their feelings.

Following a death in a car accident caused by reckless driving, a Wellington widower and teacher (Rangimoana Taylor), his surviving son (Matariki Whatarau) who's yet to tell his father he's quit university, a cousin, a friend of their whanau, his girlfriend and her brother have to cope with grief, anger or guilt.

For the driver of the car (Evan Hussey), it's also a matter of finding the courage to seek forgiveness, while for the victim's family and friends, it's finding the ability to forgive.

The story not only has both Maori and Pakeha at its centre, but manages to also include a Swedish tourist and Malaysian taxi driver.

Performances are understated, which at times gives the story an authenticity, but at other times they are a bit self- conscious and unconvincing.

Overall, however, this film - whose title refers to walking (waewae) or, colloquially, taking Shanks's pony - compensates for its awkward moments in acting and script with an honesty and tenderness that is both affecting and compassionate.


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