Film Forum: Tropic Thunder, Transsiberian, Star Wars – The Clone Wars

This is collection of reviews that I found interesting and helpful. The collection will be revised as I find more notable assessments online. Feel free to submit more reviews, or even your own, in the comments below.

TROPIC THUNDER

Anthony Lane – New Yorker:

After the dazzle of the early scenes, something droops and flags in Tropic Thunder. … As a jab at the movie business, Tropic Thunder is flailing and unfocussed, hardly in the league of The Player, and if you want an expos√© of the combat movie, strewn with compromise and creative sacrifice, watch Hearts of Darkness (1991), about the making of Apocalypse Now. The Stiller of Dodgeball left the genre of the sports melodrama in tatters, but we can safely assume that the war film, after this assault, will live to fight another day.

The filmmakers probably anticipated an uproar over Robert Downey Jr.’s impersonation of a black man — or, more accurately, his impersonation of an Australian method actor who decides to transform himself in order to play a black man. And, to suppress such reactions, critics are jumping into action.

Christopher Orr – The New Republic:

Downey is not acting in blackface (except in the literal sense); he’s playing a character who is acting in blackface. Anyone who fails to grasp this distinction should probably also conclude that playing Archie Bunker made Carroll O’Connor a racist.

Robert Davis – Daily Plastic:

Downey lowers his voice, affects an accent, and adopts the prickly attitude of someone who’s lived a life under subtle racism. Downey himself, of course, is just using make-up — a light coat of blackface, essentially — and if he weren’t so precise a performer, if he weren’t making fun of someone for performing in blackface (surgical or not), he’d rightly be assailed. But in our age of layered irony, Sacha Baron Cohen can dress up as a sweet Kazakh to spew anti-Semitic rhetoric, and Downey — in a softer turn matching the limited license of a white New Yorker — can strut like Shaft and claim the Southern-bred knowledge of greens and crawfish. Minstrel shows laughed at black culture; Tropic Thunder laughs at the shallow appropriation of that culture.

Strangely enough, though, it’s not Downey’s role that’s stirring up the most controversy. It’s something else.

No doubt you’ve heard and read about the protests. Does Tropic Thunder make fun of the mentally disabled?

Easy answer, according to critics who have seen the movie: No. In fact, the film shows respect for the disabled by taking satirical jabs at the way Hollywood encourages the exploitation of the mentally disabled for the sake of showy compassion and awards-attention.

At Christianity Today Movies, Peter Chattaway explains:

A recurring gag in the film—and one that has earned threats of boycotts and more from advocates for the mentally disabled—concerns Tugg’s disappointment that he didn’t win an Oscar for playing a “retard,” as he and the other actors keep calling him, in a movie called Simple Jack. Much has been made of the offensiveness of this movie-within-a-movie, but that is, in a way, the point: the target of the film’s satire is not the mentally disabled themselves, but the way Hollywood romanticizes mental disabilities, and the way actors take on such roles as “stunts” in a bid to win awards.

At Crosswalk, Christian Hamaker agrees:

Tropic Thunder targets Hollywood pomposity, pampered actors and over-the-top movie clichés, scoring several direct hits.

Since people are making the huge mistake of calling out Tropic Thunder for mocking the disabled, hey, why not accuse it of mocking the military as well?

After all, even though the actors are playing actors, they are also wearing fatigues and carrying guns, so clearly this is an attack on the U.S. military. Right?

Amongst film critics who have seen the movie, you don’t find criticism about the film’s references to the disabled. Instead, you find assurance that the film is mocking egomaniacal actors and the exaggerated, extreme, excessive nature of Hollywood war-movies.

And yet, as I might have predicted, the Christian Film and Television Commission, Movieguide’s Ted Baehr, launched his condemnation of the movie back on June 11th:

It is yet another cinematic insult to America’s military.

And, staying in character, he proceeded to explain that if you attend this movie, you may as well align yourself with the Nazis.

Pray that Americans will avoid this movie. … A ticket purchase for this movie is a vote AGAINST decency and morality.

While Baehr goes on eviscerating a film that apparently doesn’t exist, critics who have actually watched the movie go on arriving at different conclusions.

Here’s John Podhertz of The Weekly Standard:

The farce is what makes Tropic Thunder a good movie. Its portrait of Hollywood–by far the most savage ever committed to film–is what makes Tropic Thunder so memorable. Most Hollywood satires have an odd politesse about them. They have good guys and bad guys, like all other Hollywood movies. They trash producers, but defend directors; attack directors, but spare writers; eviscerate agents, but make nice when it comes to the people who work behind the scenes. Tropic Thunder spares no one, and especially not actors.

As a big fan of Ben Stiller’s Zoolander, I’m eager to see what he does with a satire of Hollywood’s war-movie factory. Coppola’s half-crazed endeavors making Apocalypse Now are the stuff of legend, long overdue for a good satire. You can bet I won’t praise or condemn it until I’ve actually seen it for myself. Who knows… maybe everybody else is wrong. Maybe I’ll buy a ticket and discover a heartless condemnation of the disabled and U.S. military forces. Of course, by that point, I’ll already have lost my salvation, and become an agent of all that is immoral and indecent.

TRANSSIBERIAN

At the Tomatometer, critics are lining up to praise Transsiberian as one of the best thrillers to come along in a good while.

But the reviews gathered at GreenCine offer a less enthusiastic reception.

And if I ask my friends, well…

J. Robert Parks – Daily Plastic:

But just when the movie should focus on characters and relationships, it takes a right turn into plot. And an ugly, barbaric plot it is, which is surprising. If you‚Äôre making a movie that stars Ben Kingsley (as a narcotics investigator) and features exotic railway travel and interesting characters, the likely target audience will be middle-aged arthouse fans. Last I checked, that demographic isn’t so big on brutal mutilation and punishing violence.

Todd Hertz – Christianity Today:

The thriller isn’t glitzy, tricky, or even wholly unpredictable. There are no M. Night Shyamalan shockers. Instead, it’s got more of that classic thriller feel where characters are slowly caught in a mousetrap and they have to find their way out. It’s a slow, menacing burn.

 

STAR WARS – THE CLONE WARS

Roger Ebert:

Has it come to this? Has the magical impact of George Lucas’ original vision of “Star Wars” been reduced to the level of Saturday morning animation?

This is the first feature-length animated “Star Wars” movie, but instead of pushing the state of the art, it’s retro. You’d think the great animated films of recent years had never been made. The characters have hair that looks molded from Play-Doh, bodies that seem arthritic, and moving lips on half-frozen faces — all signs that shortcuts were taken in the animation work.

The dialogue in the original “Star Wars” movies had a certain grace, but here the characters speak to one another in simplistic declamation…

The battle scenes are interminable, especially once we realize that although the air is filled with bullets, shells and explosive rockets, no one we like is going to be killed.

I’m probably wrong, but I don’t think anyone in this movie ever refers to The Force.

You know you’re in trouble when the most interesting new character is Jabba the Hutt’s uncle.

J. Robert Parks – Daily Plastic:

… one of the beautiful backgrounds of Kung Fu Panda, little of the sleek design of the Pixar films. Instead, we have the somewhat geometric characters that are common in video games, which fits since most of the movie feels like a long video game, with various battles involving ships, droids, and clones. And of course Jedis with lightsabers.

Harry Knowles – Ain’t It Cool:
[CAUTION: Harry believes that only a pile of obscenities will appropriately describe this film.]

I hated the score, the animation, the shots, the characters and most of all the #$%@! idiot story. … I hated the film. HATED IT. REALLY HATED IT.

Russ Breimeier at Christianity Today:

Jabba the Hutt’s son has been kidnapped. (Seriously?) If the Republic hopes to forge peace with the Hutt gangster clans in order to ensure safe trade passage, the Jedi must quickly recover Rotta the Huttlet (Seriously??). Yes, this is a plot with a gurgling, whimpering baby slug at the center — seriously. Little do our heroes suspect that evil Sith lord Count Dooku and his apprentice Asajj Ventress (from the first Clone Wars micro-series) are using this plot, under the orders of Darth Sidious, as means to discredit the Jedi with the Hutts.

The Clone Wars is not bad, and not without its moments. The sequence where Anakin and Ahsoka lead troops in a battle up the side of a cliff is often breathtaking and clever. There are nighttime lightsaber duels framed against the light of a full moon that are stunning. And there are plentiful nods to classic moments from the beloved sci-fi saga, from sound effects and creature design to a few recurring musical motifs. And though most of the voice acting is handled by unknowns imitating the original actors—and doing a decent job of it—Samuel Jackson, Christopher Lee, and Anthony Daniels are on hand to reprise their iconic roles (as Mace Windu, Count Dooku, and C-3PO, respectively).

Unfortunately, about the most that can be said for The Clone Wars is that it reminds you of the other movies that you either loved or loved to hate. Though fans may enjoy the movie, no one would be foolish enough to put it on par with the original films — the special effects and design are all spot-on, but it’s still an animated copy of the real thing. And those who disliked the tone of the prequels will find this to be more of the same — more political scheming by the Sith, endless explosions between robots and troopers, corny dialogue peppered with amateur one-liners, and lots of whining. Either way, it’s not a good thing.

I gotta say, I actually cringe when the ads for Clone Wars come on. That’s never happened before. I may start selling my collection of 1977 Star Wars memorabilia soon, because I just don’t get the buzz of nostalgia that I once did. All I feel when I look at them is sadness.

Thanks, George.

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  • http://moviegoings.wordpress.com Jared

    I had a great time at Tropic Thunder (my review), and, strangely enough, I have not yet dragged myself in to see The Clone Wars. I’m having the hardest time deciding whether to go or not.

  • truerthantruth

    I think Brad Anderson has talent as a director and screenwriter, but most of his earlier films (especially The Machinist and Session 9) have brief moments of brutal violence in them. In those films, that fact that it’s so brief makes it more unnerving too. So for the trend to continue in Transsiberian, I’m not surprised. Still want to see it, though. I really want to see where Anderson goes as a filmmaker.

  • http://cinexcellence.com Joseph Demme

    I do believe the Summer is pretty much over for me, now. Next film to look forward to? Burn After Reading.


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