"Shadows present, foreshadowing deeper shadows to come." -- Herman Melville

Send all adoration/vitriol to marc@shadowbloom.com

November 16, 2006

It's fitting to group these movies together because I'll fully admit to being heavily predisposed to love them all, so let's just get my fanboy adoration for Broken Lizard, Tony Jaa, and Jackass on the record here before proceeding. That said, let's dive on in...

US 2006, Directed by Jay Chandrasekhar
Written by Broken Lizard
(***) of four

Given my galactically high expectations for Beerfest ("Seriously, Broken Lizard is doing a movie about beer games?! Oh my God!"), it is somewhat of a disappointment and frustratingly makes a few of the same mistakes Club Dread did, but, hey, it may not be Super Troopers, but it's got plenty of laughs, especially if you're in the proper state of mind. The problem is that Broken Lizard seemed to be trying so hard to make a "real movie" that they let the plot get in the way of the jokes too often. With Dread, I assumed it symptomatic of the horror genre (after all, people have to die, the killer has to be found, et cetera), but with Beerfest, there's no excuse. In sharp contrast to the breezy, guess-we-should-toss-in-a-little-plot-now feel of Troopers, Beerfest drags out its extended setup and, for a movie about drinking games, the proceedings are surprisingly somber at times (e.g. the bizarre phoenix-rising character arc for Kevin Heffernan's Landfill). Chandrasekhar has developed nicely as a director and Beerfest is shot well, but lightening up the atmosphere and cutting down the bloated runtime would have gone a long way to keeping the good vibes flowing. I just hope they find the right mix if they ever get to make their long-rumored Plato/Socrates wrestling epic. It's hard to quibble with Broken Lizard, but Beerfest feels like a missed opportunity at an all-timer. Regardless, crack open a beer, take a toke off the pipe, and enjoy.

The Protector
Thailand 2005, Directed by Prachya Pinkaew
Written by Napalee, Piyaros Thongdee, Joe Wannapin, and Kongdej Jaturanrasamee
(*** and 1/2) of four

It's tempting to make this review a single line,

Tony Jaa is teh l33t and pwnz u all!!11! w00t!!!

After blowing away unsuspecting audiences with his awe-inspiring acrobatics in Ong-bak, Jaa's back with more of the same in The Protector. And, no, that's not a bad thing at all. The story is more grim than Ong-bak's and the brutality has been ramped up as well, culminating in a furious melee where Jaa's Kham not only knocks out an onslaught of attackers, but snaps various bones (arm, leg, neck) in each of them first (he takes it even further after that, but you'll have to see for yourself). Petchtai Wongkamlao is back as sidekick/cop Mark, but has a lot less comic material to work with this time and is wasted in the role. Pinkaew gives Jaa plenty of showcase room (including an sprawling brawl filmed in one uninterrupted shot) and Jaa acquits himself well with the simple script, but, once again, I'm calling on Hollywood to get their act together here. Where's the big-budget coming-out-party action spectacular? How could this possibly miss? I won't be happy until Jaa's a household name along with Jet Li and Jackie Chan. C'mon people, let's make this happen!

Jackass Number Two
US 2006: Directed by Jeff Tremaine
Jackass Created by Jeff Tremaine, Spike Jonze, and Johnny Knoxville
(****) of four

Scatology, homoeroticism, unyielding prankish mayhem, and gleeful masochism--yep, just another day in the office for the Jackass boys. The tried-and-true formula remains unchanged and if you've seen the first movie or any episodes of the TV show, you already know what you're getting yourself into. Impressively, the film's set pieces stand on their own and manage to not retread much ground from the first movie. Helping matters considerably is that the producers wisely decided to keep everyone together for much of the filming. Whereas before they tended to break off into separate groups while shooting, having everyone together to laugh and cheer on each others' antics makes you feel like part of the gang, allowing a more enthusiastic viewing experience than if every gag were performed simply to play off of confused, unwitting passersby (shades of Borat). It also allows them to ratchet the pranks (which have been downplayed in Jackass before) to a new level. The pranks spiral dizzily, building to an epic "prank within a prank within a prank" that forms a climax of sorts for the film. Worth noting that I had tears in my eyes within ten minutes thanks to the "Valentine" prank, due to both the brilliant setup and Bam and Johnny's manic excitement at pulling it off. It's easy to dismiss Jackass as low-class gutter humor, especially if you've never watched it, but there's an endearing, good-natured method to the madness that elevates it from the likes of Bumfights (and, in a way, Viva La Bam) and its ilk. It's about as much fun as you can have in a movie theater this year.