U.S.: Steven Soderbergh, 2012, Lionsgate)
Director Steven Soderbergh is a Jack-of-all-trades who, in his new movie Haywire, also does his own cinematography and editing -- and does them all, as we know, very well. Gina Carano is a Jill-of-one-trade, a mixed martial arts champion here branching out into acting and movie superstardom. Ms. Carano does her own fighting and chases and stunts -- like Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee, and almost as well.
The two of them join forces in this a standard, unsurprising, but very well done mix of martial arts ass-kicker and nightmare thriller, written by Lem Dobbs. Dobbs previously collaborated with Soderbergh on the moody black-and-white sort-of-bio Kafka and on The Limey, one of my favorite neo-noirs.
Carano plays Mallory Kane, an ex-Marine and daughter of another ex-Marine named John Kane, played (well, of course) by Bill Paxton. When we first meet Mallory, in a New York diner, she's kicking the crap out of Channing Tatum (as Aaron), and she goes on in the course of the film to kick the crap out of, or in some way verbally intimidate or ball-bust, a gallery that includes, or might include, Michael Fassbender (as Paul), Michael Douglas and Ewan McGregor (as her bosses, Coblenz and Kenneth), Antonio Banderas (as Rodrigo), Mathieu Kassovitz (as Studer) and various others -- while relating the entire misadventure to Michael Angarano (as Scott), while they speed away from the diner in Scott's car, westbound.
The various other locations for all this, present to past and back again, include Barcelona, Dublin and New Mexico. And they have one constant: Wherever they are, wherever Mallory is, sooner or later somebody will kick the crap out of somebody else, and the kicker is usually Gina Carano, while the kickee is usually male and a high-salaried movie star, playing some sort of sleazebag. All of this is smothered in Bourne-again intrigue and double-dealing and paranoia.
Steven Soderbergh is smooth, and he's never smoother than when he's engaged in some big crime thriller -- whether it's one of the Oceans or something brainier and more realistic, like Traffic. I had mixed feelings about Haywire, though. I liked it okay, I guess. But I should have liked it more.
Though I'm hip to the charms of stoicism in action movies, I thought Ms. C. needed to give a little more, and show a little more verbal and emotional style than she does here. As for the rest of the cast, they have my condolences. Guys, what can I say? It's one thing to be upstaged by a newcomer; it's another to be annihilated. (Extras: featurettes; trailers.)
The Mel Brooks Collection (A-)
U.S.: Mel Brooks & Alan Johnson, 1970-1993, 20th Century Fox/MGM
Mel Kaminsky, a.k.a. Mel Brooks, presents nine of his funnier features, from 1970's The Twelve Chairs to 1993's Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Brooks wrote or co-wrote all of them, and directed all but one: his 1983 remake of Ernst Lubitsch's To Be or Not To Be, which was (man)-handled by Producers choreographer Alan Johnson.
The Twelve Chairs (A-)
U.S.: Brooks, 1970
Ron Moody, Frank Langella and Dom DeLuise ("Oh God, you're so strict!") run around old Russia, looking for a fortune hidden in one of a dozen chairs. Brooks' second-funniest performance as a mad peasant ("It's good to be the serf"). Based on a Your Show of Shows sketch by Nikolai Gogol, Neil Simon, and Anton Chekhov. Very funny. Brooks should cut down on movie parodies, and make more like this one and The Producers.
Blazing Saddles (A)
U.S.: Brooks, 1974
Brooks sends up Westerns, producing the finest sagebrush gibberish since Howard Hughes' The Outlaw. Starring Gene Wilder and Cleavon Little, backed by Madeleine Kahn, Harvey Korman, Brooks, and Slim Pickens. Frankie Laine's finest hour -- or finest three minutes -- at least since "Rawhide." But what idiot nixed Richard Pryor for the lead, after the comic helped Brooks write all those jokes intended for himself? ("Pardon me while I whip this out.") What was the theory? No chemistry between Pryor and Gene Wilder? Sheesh....
Young Frankenstein (A)
U.S.: Brooks, 1974
Frankenstein unchained, unbound, unkempt, unplugged and upsent. With Gene Wilder as "Victor Fronkenstein," Peter Boyle as the monster, Marty Feldman as Eye-gore, Gene Jackman as the blind benefactor and Madeleine Kahn, Teri Garr and Cloris Leachman as horror-babes. Heye-larious.
Silent Movie (B)
U.S.: Brooks, 1976
Brooks tries to bring back silent movies, added by Feldman, DeLuise, Bernadette Peters, Sid Caesar, Paul Newman, Liza Minnelli, James Caan, Anne Bancroft, Burt Reynolds, and, of course, Marcel Marceau ("Non!"). No truth to the rumor that this movie's sound track was lost in the same fire that destroyed Carl Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc.
High Anxiety (B)
U.S.: Brooks, 1977
Brooks sends up Alfred Hitchcock, aided by Kahn, Leachman, and Korman, with script assistance from Barry Levinson. Guaranteed to give you Vertigo.
The History of the World, Part One (A-)br> U.S.: Brooks, 1981
History. With Brooks, Korman, Kahn, Leachman, Caesar -- and Shecky Greene. Where's Henny Youngman as Nero? ("Take Rome, please.")
To Be or Not To Be (B-)
U.S.: Alan Johnson, 1983
("So they call me Concentration Camp Erhard!") Lubitsch remade. Bancroft laughs. Annie and Brooks try to reincarnate Carole Lombard and Jack Benny. Well.... Charles Durning, Christopher Lloyd, and Jose Ferrer support.
U.S.: Brooks, 1987
"May the Schwartz be with you." Brooks, as wise old Yogurt, sends up Star Wars assisted by John Candy, Rick Moranis, and Bill Pullman. Here's where the joke begins to wear thin, or thinner. Whatever. The Schwartz wasn't with them.
Robin Hood: Men in Tights (B-)
U.S.; Brooks, 1993
Brooks sends up Robin Hood, assisted by Cary Elwes, Roger Rees and Tracey Ullmann. In like Flynn it ain't. But Brooks makes a good Rabbi Tuchman. ("This castle is guaranteed to close... on page four!")
Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie (D-)
U.S.: Tim Heidecker-Eric Wareheim, 2012, Magnolia
I have just one thing to say about this sorry excuse for a movie -- this nauseatingly taste-challenged, almost putrefyingly preposterous goulash of scatological gags, failed nonsense, barf jokes, poop jokes, piddle jokes, and jokes that make you want to barf, poop and piddle -- one thing to say about this inanely unfunny, deliberately misdirected or undirected farce about two nincompoops named Tim and Eric (played with zero zest by the cult comedy writer-directors Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, of the prize-winning, well-regarded web series Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!), who blow a billion dollars of mob money (the Schlaaang Mob, run by Robert Loggia as demented gangster Tommy Schlaaang and William Atherton as right-hand crook Earle Swinter) spending it all on a moronic movie, starring an inept Johnny Depp impersonator (Ronnie Rodriguez), and are consequently marked for either full payment of the squandered billion or a double-whack by the Schlaaang gang... but who manage to escape to the heartland and the sleazily ramshackle and falling-apart-at-the-seams Swallow Valley Shopping Mall -- a bankrupt commercial mecca whose gallery of failing schlock shops are a sure cure for shopaholics -- a hellhole inhabited by more idiots and a wolf or two, including the uncredited John C. Reilly as the affably deranged halfwit Taquito, the uncredited Will Ferrell as the stomach-churning con guy Damien Weebs, the uncredited Zach Galifianakis as the rustic simpleton Jim Joe Kelly (at least I think he was a rustic simpleton), Jeff Goldblum as "Chef" Goldblum, Twink Caplan as the strong-stomached love interest Katie, some poor schmo who owns a boutique that sells used toilet paper -- all of whom should have refused credit but all of whom nonetheless take part courageously in this less than socko if mind-bogglingly daring entertainment in a series of quasi-comedy scenes so lacking in comedy that they seemed to have been dreamed up by the Society for the Prevention of Laughter for a semi-annual telethon on stamping out humor -- a mind-boggling fiasco that sometimes made me feel as I'd been shrunk to the size of the Incredible Shrinking Man and dropped into a spittoon... in any case, I have, as I said a while back, one word for the flabbergasting dreck that is Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie: Awful.