Rock goes wild in Get Him To The Greek, dogs talk in Marmaduke, and geneticists play God in Splice
GET HIM TO THE GREEK: Remember the randy English rock star in Forgetting Sarah Marshall? Aldous Snow, as played by Russell Brand, was outrageous and funny, but also obnoxious. Here he’s spun off into a full movie of his own guided by the same director, Nicholas Stoller who wisely keeps him somewhat in check and on the whole away from becoming annoying. The result is a very funny rock and roll romp with the added benefit of a shrewd view of the music business. Jonah Hill plays a gofer to a music promoter played by Sean Combs, the former Puff Daddy, P Diddy or whatever he’s calling himself these days. (That’s him chasing our boys in the picture above). Hill has to fetch Brand in London and get him to Los Angeles in time for an anniversary concert. But he finds him distracted by drugs, partying, his narcissism and recent failures. His last album had an African theme but was slammed as “the worst thing for Africa since apartheid.” The trip is stalled, interrupted or waylaid by a pub crawl, a gross idea to fool airport security, much partying and a side trip to Las Vegas.
That’s where Snow reunites with his father (Colm Meaney) in a terrific sequence that over an evening of drinking moves from tender bantering to fighting. The film, produced by Judd Apatow, has sharp snappy dialogue with plenty of cultural references, a long list of celebrity cameos (Pink, Christina Aguilera, Kurt Loder and others) and thankfully not too much of the vulgar humor these films throw about these days. (Tinseltown and many suburban theatres) 3 ½ out of 5
PAX AMERICANA AND THE WEAPONIZATION OF SPACE: Just a week and a half ago this subject made the news. An amateur satellite tracker caught sight of the X-37, a super-secret plane the U.S. has orbiting the earth. Its stated goal is defensive only, but you’ll feel plenty of doubt after watching this unsettling new documentary. Weapons of mass destruction are banned from space, but not lesser weapons. The US has a huge annual budget for those.
Elements in the US military want to stay dominant out there because they fear a surprise attack from space. Satellite transmissions could be disrupted in an “electronic Pearl Harbor.” The Chinese have already practiced by shooting down an old weather satellite. The possible scenario in this film envisions the shutdown of all communications, GPS, even cell phones, leading to air accidents and traffic chaos. Ex-military and government types plus commentators like Noam Chomsky and protesters like Martin Sheen make the case for and against (mostly against) space weapons. One calls the project a long-running fraud. Archival clips take us through Reagan’s Star Wars SDI (later revived by George Bush), the space race that Sputnik started, and even back to Hitler’s V2 rockets. It’s a comprehensive survey, a little too fear mongering at times but ultimately more intellectual than urgent and scary. This is a France-Canada co-production with Vancouver input. Mark Achbar (The Corporation) and Betsy Carson were Executive Producers. (VanCity Theatre) 3 ½ out of 5
SPLICE: Gene-splicing took a big step towards creating artificial life recently according to a major news story. How timely. This film is about the same subject, including the morality of human beings playing God. But despite the presence of an Oscar winner (Adrien Brody), an Oscar nominee (Sarah Polley) and some oversight by Guillermo del Toro (creator of Pan's Labyrinth) as executive producer, this is just a creepy movie that gets frantically overwrought and scientifically ludicrous.
It’s Canadian too, directed by Vincenzo Natali, who had a cult-hit with Cube. Brody and Polley play bio-chemists under pressure by a pharmaceutical company to produce a moneymaker. A dash of these genes, a few of those plus some human DNA, all well mixed together, spawns a new creature. At first it looks like a plucked chicken but children grow up so fast don't they? Before we know it it's a petulant teen and then the size of an adult human, although with a scorpion-like stinger on its tail. Polley gives it a name and develops some motherly feelings for it. Feeding, teaching and discipline are all included. Brody at first wants to kill it and then succumbs to an even more un-scientific impulse. Of course it escapes from the lab. Things have to go terribly wrong in these kind of movies. This one has some good atmospheric scenes within a low-budget look. It's too tame for horror fans and too dotted with yucky scenes for Sarah Polley fans. And little reality for students of science. (Tinseltown and many suburban theatres). 2 out of 5
MARMADUKE: This is for kids only. They’ll probably like the dogs (and one cat) that look like they’re really talking. But really, there are good children’s films out there. This is not one of them. Owen Wilson provides the voice of the great dane taken from the one-panel daily comic strip. In the papers he’s accident prone. Here he’s got a hipster speech pattern (he calls the family he’s with “my main food hookup”) and a gnawing fear of being an outsider.
There is a mish mash of ideas. Story lines start up and are mysteriously dropped. The dog park for instance is like a high school, with jocks, drama geeks, mushroom heads and so on, but the idea disappears. Kids wouldn’t get it anyway. Marmaduke sees that his human masters aren’t listening to their kids. Again, dropped, as other story ideas come up, chiefly a bullying scenario by the pure-bred top dog who rules the park (voiced by Kiefer Sutherland) with a sleek collie girlfriend (Fergie) at his side. The film never rises above artificial. The dogs dance to some hip hop, go surfing and abuse a cat. Lee Pace and William H. Macy play actual humans working on a pet food advertising campaign. Some great lower mainland locations, notably Van Dusen Gardens and White Rock, pretend to be Los Angeles. (Tinseltown, Dolphin and many suburban theatres) 1 ½ out of 5
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RUSH: BEYOND THE LIGHTED STAGE: Toronto’s biggest rock band - if you count stadium shows worldwide and 40 million albums sold - gets a thorough and loving documentary portrait by two admitted fans. It’s the latest in a series of films on heavy metal rock by Scot McFadyen and Victoria-raised Sam Dunn. They’ve turned up rare footage the band didn’t even know they had and drawn revealing memories from the three members, Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and most notably Neil Peart, the drummer. He brought an Ayn Rand influence into the band’s lyrics and later suffered the death of both his wife and daughter.
The film shows the band’s four-decade evolution from geeky high school combo into a powerhouse band that plays long (some say pompous) works heavy on intellectual content. There are observations from various luminaries including Trent Reznor, Billy Corgan and Jack Black, who you might remember shouted out in his movie School of Rock that Peart is the best rock drummer on earth. Unfortunately, both attempts to preview it for critics here in Vancouver went disastrously wrong, so I’ll just pass along that it was both a fan and critical favorite at festivals in New York and Toronto. (Tinseltown, showing twice on one night only, June 10)
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KILLERS: This comedy adventure starring Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutcher has been getting huge promotion but not with film critics. No previews for them means no reviews in the Friday papers. It happens often with horror films and low-class comedies. Rarely with expensive star vehicles like this. The studio, Vancouver-based but California-operated Lionsgate, wants the fans themselves to decide on the film’s merits and then text or tweet their friends. Probable translation: the studio sees bad reviews coming and hopes to get a few unaware customers in the seats before they arrive. Kutcher plays an assassin now settled down in suburbia with Heigl. A pack of other hitmen come after him. (Tinseltown and many other area theatres)