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Aug 21, 2008

Double Feature -- Tropic Thunder and Man on Wire

FEB 24 ALERT: Tom Cruise video is back, courtesy of the Russians at rutube (Top Gun irony?) run to 2:30 to skip the cursing and get to the dancing, playah.

Update/Alert: at least for the moment, YouTube has the Tom Cruise scene in which producer Cruise and agent McConaughey are dealing with the heroin dealers who are holding Stiller hostage.  At first, McConaughey thinks that Flaming Dragon is a rival talent agency.  Watch the whole 5-1/2 minutes while you can, play-ah! Gone, too bad.  Fun while it lasted.  Maybe to return someday.


Saw two movies this week: Tropic Thunder and Man on Wire.

Tropic_thunder_poster_2 Tropic Thunder was consistently amusing to me, and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, but I'm beginning to realize that I don't like Ben Stiller in anything.*  Tom Cruise was far and away** my favorite part of the movie and I wish I could remember his quotes better.  I look forward to when YouTube has his bits of this flick, so I can watch just them.  (A friend quoted some critic who said, "Ben Stiller has single-handedly rescued Tom Cruise's career.")  Robert Downey Jr. has a few great moments in rapid-response dialogue*** with Ben Stiller, and Matthew McConaughey has many funny moments as Ben Stiller's agent, doing his impression of Tom Cruise playing Jerry Maguire.

After reading a few reviews, I'm guessing that the two strongest reactions to this movie come from either (a) the politically-correct/activist folks who resent the portrayals of mentally retarded people or (b) the entertainment-industry aficionados who love the Hollywood satire.  Since I don't fall into either of those categories, I give it an unequivocal "Oh, it was pretty funny.  If I were bored and it came on TV, I'd watch most of it on purpose, and the rest because I'm too lazy to move."  Denver mall-theatre ticket: $9.

Man_on_wire_poster Man on Wire was recommended to me by a client (I think that's the movie he recommended) who saw it at Sundance (I'm pretty sure that's where he saw it.  At the very least, I know he was there).  In case you didn't see the trailers on TV (you didn't), Man on Wire is a documentary about Phillipe Petit's tightrope walk between the two World Trade Center towers in 1974. 

It's a good story, but I didn't care for the storytelling or the camera work.  The filmmakers try to weave many story elements into the 90-minute doc: (a) re-enactments of the ~12 hours leading up to the walk, (b) re-enactments of the planning, (c) real photos and videos of their years of preparation, (d) re-enactments of early years from Petit's life, (e) present-day interviews with the participants (including commentary on their relationships in addition to their efforts) and (f) the walk, itself. 

It was too much for them to do skillfully.  The movie (tried to) emphasize how hard it was to do the planning, and how nerve-wracking it was to get the people and equipment into the building and to set up the walk.  I understand how important this part was.  I also think that the way they showed it (with re-enactments that might remind you of police/reality shows on FOX, where they interview a crime victim while showing a re-enactment of crack-addled kids breaking into the house while she's cooking her family's dinner) was cheesy and disorganized.  And they lean unnecessarily on Erik Satie's beautiful but now-way-overused Gymnopedie 3 (or is it 1?).**** So, anyway. See the movie if only if you are very interested in tightrope walking or the World Trade Center.  It was nice to see a contemporary movie about the WTC that wasn't about their destruction.  In fact, you get a lot of nice coverage of its construction, opening, and life. Denver art-house ticket: $9.75.

Unrelated to filmmaking:
my personal takeaway from both movies is the itch/motivation/wish to get myself more focused and energized around single projects rather than scattering myself across many things (including Vonnegut's "farting around").  There's a quote from Man on Wire in which an accomplice recalls the first time he saw Petit step on a cable.  He said something like, "And suddenly, I could see nothing but Phillipe's concentration.  He was like the sphinx.  I'd never seen concentration like that before, and I don't think I ever have, since."


*Which is too bad because he does so many things. 

**Pun not originally intended, but subsequently heh-ed at.

***bar trivia team name overheard this week, "Never Go Full Retard."

****on my almost-want-to-boycott list: (1) movies that use this beautiful piece because they can't think of anything else to get the job done (extra annoying because this crew went through the trouble of getting Michael Nyman (who scored The Piano) to compose at least a half-dozen original tracks for the film.  They could have asked him to do one more.) (2) weddings that quote Kahlil Gibran or the "Love is Patient" text from 1 Corinthians, or that use the Lohengrin wedding march and/or Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring.  Yes, I know I'm being overly grumpy about this.

12:57 AM in Reviews | Permalink


Thanks for giving me something to do while I wait for a text message from work to do something at 4AM.

Haven't seen TT yet. Tom Cruise's character kinda looks like Chevy Chase.

At first I thought I read "Bird on a Wire" in your subject. There's a great movie...not really. :)

Posted by: Toastie | Aug 21, 2008 4:18:31 AM

I didn't know you COULD be married without the Lohengrin wedding march, Phil! (This being the case in the rural Midwest).

Related note: I learned that this musich was the Lohengrin wedding march when I impulsively saw Lohengrin for the first time at Vienna's Staatsoper. It is the only opera I have seen without English subtitles (except maybe one in Paris--I can't remember) and this caused me to really focus on the music and what the orchestra was doing. I did not realize how stressful it was to be overflowing with lack of comprehension until the familiar wedding march was played, and I was so grateful to hear it! So I forgive that song its cliched nature, I guess.

Posted by: Lisa | Aug 21, 2008 11:50:53 PM

I can't stand Stiller. Whenever I'm watching him, I'm thinking, "Oh, he thought it would be funny if his semen were hanging in his hair," or "He thought it would be funny if his balls got zipped in his pants," or "He thought it would be funny if he threw a little kid over a bridge" or "he thought it would be funny if he did a really outrageous imitation of a retarded person -- that's all, just an outrageous imitation of a retarded person. Well, see, it's an outrageous imitation of a retarded person. You know. And Ben Stiller is doing it. Ben Still acting really retarded." I'd rather not be thinking these things.

Lisa, dawg, you saw Lohengrin in Vienna? Word Up! I stood through Tristan there too, once. They do it right up in there. In Lohengrin, I only know what's on my Greatest Hits CD, and that's just the overture and something else. The overture is slammin' though, if you ask me.

Posted by: Elrond Hubbard | Sep 6, 2008 5:37:07 PM

So I saw maybe four movies in theatres last year (my usual number, more or less). But whaddya know -- the two I saw in Denver had some sort of Oscar nomination.

I saw online that Man on Wire won Best Documentary. Yeesh. Great story, for sure. But the storytelling? I'm almost certain I'd find several documentary films I'd respect better if I went to Full Frame and the Hayti Heritage film festivals for a couple of days. I wouldn't even have to drive to Denver (though I certainly don't mind being there).

Posted by: Phil | Feb 22, 2009 11:39:54 PM