Quick Movie Review: War, Inc. (2008)

War, Inc. is a strange duck of a film. It’s set kind of in the future with self-flying personal jets and futuristic cars, but still references to current pop culture elements. It feels like it’s trying really hard to be a satire on US capitalism and it’s intended spread to the Muslim world, but an unbalanced tone makes the whole thing just feel goofy and silly. There’s some cool ideas about technology and society, but the ending is filled with so many old hat tropes that I half expected the whole thing to end with “it’s all a dream.”

I decided to check this movie out because I’m a big John Cusack fan (starting with High Fidelity and Grosse Pointe Blank and then moving back to his older movies like One Crazy Summer and Better Off Dead. And it definitely has that typical Cusack charm and unassuming swagger, but it suffers from an all-over-the-place script and way too many comparisons to his other hitman movie, Grosse Pointe Blank.

The story finds Cusack, a hitman, heading to the small Mid Eastern country of Turaqistan that’s basically run by a US corporation. I don’t remember who he’s supposed to kill and honestly it doesn’t really matter because, much like in GPB, he gets wrapped up with a girl (Marissa Tomei) and a younger girl (Hilary Duff playing a pop star). Lots of nonsense goes on, some cool character bits, a few fun reveals of what this new world is like and some great performances by Joan Cusack (playing pretty much her character from GPB) and Duff (who really surprised me with some depth).

As I said, though, the movie winds up being really unbalanced. There’s a good deal of commentary in the film in that heavy handed the way that movies written or made during the Bush Administration tended to be, but the cartoony goofiness at the very end winds up making the whole thing feel kind of like a light weight/half-copy mess. I think the actors elevated the material, but they can only do so much without an actually solid script to make sense, make you think and make you laugh.

Bloogling Confessions Of A Shopaholic (2009)

So last night the missus and I decided to watch Isla Fisher’s Confessions Of A Shopaholic. I figured it would be a fairly vapid rom com that I could easily ignore and read comics through. Instead it turned out to be a pretty classic madcap comedy where everything that can go wrong, does. Sure it has the usual “girl falls for a guy she can’t have,” “character lies and gets called on it later, thus making people around her lose faith” and “problems between friends and potential lovers that can be easily explained aren’t and lead to huge blow-ups” elements, but that’s just the framework the overall movie is hung upon. By making me think it was something small and obvious it took me off my guard and wound up really surprising me.

Oh, you might be wondering what “bloogling” is. After having a few drinks last night and enjoying the movie I blurted out “I’m gonna bloogle” this movie. The missus started ragging on me pretty hard for mis-speaking. I told her I coined the term and that I’d make it huge, she dared me to use it on the blog and here we are. Feel free to use it. I have no idea what it means, but it’s got a nice ring to it, no?

Anyway, Fisher plays the titular shopaholic. She comes off as pretty unlikable in the beginning because of how much money she spends on clothes which puts her into huge debt (it’s not like she’s super wealthy, she works at a gardening magazine). She wants to work at a fashion mag, but instead winds up working for the company’s finance mag. She becomes a pretty huge success “using shopping metaphors to explain larger financial concepts.” Of course, she’s making it all up as she goes along and knows nothing about finance. There’s a lot more going on with her best friend’s upcoming wedding, her trying to get her finances under control, her parents popping in and out of the movie and a debt collector on her trail. It’s a classic “how long can she keep this up?” flick with plenty of pratfalls and site gags along the way.

I wish I knew more 60s comedies, because that’s really what Confessions reminded me of, though I can’t give an obvious comparison that isn’t Down With Love, which has similar themes. Fisher pulls the part off extremely well going from the head-slappingly stupid moments of self centeredness to making the viewer fall for her (her being super hot doesn’t hurt either). John Goodman and Joan Cusack are delightful as her frugal parents, though it’s a little distracting thinking that Cusack is supposed to be Fisher’s mom as she seems so young. Fisher’s best friend Krysten Ritter also threw me a bit because the last movie I saw her in was She’s Out Of My League where she also played the best friend. In this flick she’s super nice and bubbly while in the other she’s mean and constantly spewing obscenities. I kept expecting her to get mean in this flick and it didn’t happen, but that’s obviously not the movie’s fault, just something I kept thinking while watching.

It is kind of interesting to me that this movie about a woman with money problems and an addiction to shopping came out during one of the biggest economic downturns in the history of the country. Meanwhile, magazines are a pretty big focal point of the movie which are going through all kinds of changes. The movie doesn’t mention either the country’s financial problems or the dwindling magazine industry (except for one magazine closing down, though that seemed more a plot point than anything else). I thought that might put me out of the movie a bit, but since it’s already kind of cartoony anyway, I’ll give it a pass. Plus, a few years from now after the downturn becomes an upswing again, we’ll still want to enjoy movies like this and not have them bogged down with too much social commentary. A few years after that though people will be like “what are these magazines you speak of?”

I don’t know if I would outwardly recommend this movie. I was surprised with how much I enjoyed it, but I probably would not have ever watched it on my own. If you’re looking for a movie to watch with your girl, you can do a lot worse. But, if you’re a fan of those classic comedies or the current crop of awkward flicks, this might be a good one to check out.

Best Of The Best: High Fidelity (The Movie)

For a few years now I’ve been on this absorption kick, trying to watch as many new movies and TV shows, read as many new books, comics and trades and listen to as much new music as possible. And by “new” I mean new to me, not necessarily brand new. This has probably been going on since right after college. In college I didn’t have a lot of money, but I’d still check out new movies at the theater and on the rare occasion when I could rent something, so that left me to peruse my personal DVD collection and those of my friends’. Well, one movie that I saw in high school, which spurred me on to read the book and then eventually watch the movie over and over again was High Fidelity (2000).

When I first saw High Fidelity in high school I was pretty enamored with the idea of working in a record store (still am really). I also really liked the idea of Top 5 lists, discovering new music and hanging out with music nerds and musicians. It wasn’t until I read the novel that I realized how weird of a guy Rob (the main character, played by John Cusack) is. Saying the dude has relationship problems and issues with women is like saying Michael Myers is irked by promiscuous teenagers. Anyway, Em and I watched High Fidelity on the car ride back to Ohio about a month ago (well, I recited every line in my head while she watched it for the first time on our portable DVD player). It was probably the first time in three years that I watched it. I used to watch it about once a month my Junior year of college when my roommate would be away from the room at night, it was his copy, so I had to buy my own once he graduated later that year.

It’s funny how different I look at things now that I’m older. I still love all of Jack Black’s lines and still want to a own a magical record store that doesn’t go bankrupt, but I look at Rob a lot differently now. I see how damaged he is and wonder what happened to him. I’m also glad that things worked out for him by the end of the movie, but also wonder if they stuck. Maybe when he turned 40 or 50 he flipped out and went through another crazy decade or something. Basically, I’ve been thinking about how these characters that were so important to me when I was maturing, dealt with further maturation, cause this growing up stuff can really suck.

Philosophy aside, I actually got into an argument with someone in the middle of a movie for my film class in college over High Fidelity. The movie was called Mifune (1999) and is from Denmark. The main woman in the movie is taking care of her mentally handicapped brother who’s obsessed with Toshiro Mifune, an actor in many an Akira Kurosawa film. I think there was something about aliens too, but who can remember all those subtitles? Anyway, I got into an argument saying that the main female character was Laura from High Fidelity and whoever I was with was completely convinced I was wrong. Well, I went right home and IMDbed her and was right Iben Hjejle was in both, so suck it whoever that was. Knowing that, it explains a few of Laura’s vocal ticks that always made me curious.

So, I guess I haven’t really explained why I like High Fidelity so much, but I’m not really sure if I could. I don’t know how into the movie I would be if I hadn’t fallen in love with it when I was younger. It’s like, I didn’t like Reality Bites when I first saw it because I thought Ben Stiller shouldn’t have been such a pussy, but maybe if I was really into the idea of making films that would have been enough to keep me hooked. I should check Reality Bites out again actually, it’s been a while. Anyway, I used to wonder when I was in high school if I would still really like movies like Empire Records and Dazed & Confused when I got older, because I watched Fast Times at Ridgemont High with my dad one time and I don’t think he enjoyed it as much, probably because you remember things like Phoebe Cates’ boobs and not that abortion stuff. Well, luckily for me (at least so far) I still like a lot of those movies. It’s a weird combination of quality and fondness, I’m guessing, with a sliding scale depending on the flick. High Fidelity still strikes a chord with me, but I wonder if 50-year-old TJ will be reclining in his hoverchair and still enjoying watching John Cusack go through his Top 5 Break-Ups Of All Time on my holo-glasses with the same enjoyment as I do now. If not, I at least hope I’ll still remember all of Jack Black’s lines. Let’s just hope I’m not wearing a Cosby sweater while watching.

Oh, and anyone wonder how close the movie is to the book, it’s super freaking close. Like, so close they turned the book into the script word for word. Well, it’s not British, but everything else is in there, just peep the deleted scenes for scenes from the book that didn’t make it into the movie (I love the stuff with the jilted wife trying to sell her cheating husband’s record collection). There was also a musical on Broadway that I missed out on, but Ben saw, hopefully he (or anyone else who’s seen it) will comment. Hopefully next there will be a video game to continue the slow media evolution of this property. Just think of how much fun it’s be to kick the shit out of this f#cking Ian guy in a myriad of different scenarios? Get working on that Flash dudes.

Also, check out this video I just discovered on YouTube, I’ve never seen it before!