Undercover Brother has soul
A stern warning should be given to all moviegoers before seeing Undercover Brother: suspend disbelief and have a good time. Forget about analyzing the film for its morale and discount any such motives to extract meaning and afterthought, because there are none. If these simple rules are followed, then the viewer will have a great time with this very funny film.
Eddie Griffin (Double Take, The New Guy) has graced our screens many times in the past; unfortunately, these roles have been secondary characters with little or no substance to them. In this instance, Griffin gets the due recognition he deserves as he portrays the main character, Anton Jackson, a slick, smooth talking, ‘stuck in the 70s’ kind of guy who just so happens to be the world’s greatest spy. In terms of storyline, you can derive your own conclusions about
the wafer-thin plot that has many holes and causes imbalance on more than one occasion.
Despite that detriment, the film is neatly tucked into 3 acts, which at only 91 minutes in duration, causes for a sour second act that is quite tedious and not funny. Yet, the film is basically linked from one scene to another as there is no correlation to previous scenes. Each scene builds upon the next resulting in a quick film that straggles only when attempting to build up a weak climactic battle.
Yet, as viewers, we know what we are in for with a film of this capacity. We are simply there for the laughs and that is what we get. The climax is hilarious and is ensued by villainous Mr. Feather (the innocuous and misplaced Chris Kattan) going against our soulful Undercover Brother in a serenading of Michael Jackson’s Just Beat it before the final showdown.
The script has an exaggerated premise in which an unidentified figurehead attempts to rid the world of African-American train of thought. Rap music, funky bell bottoms and Afro hairstyles are all part of an evil scheme that uses the unfortunate case of racial bigotry at the foreground of this pleasant film.
Race does play a vital role in the jokes of the film, as there is a no
holds-barred attitude from both racial perspectives as mayonnaise, corduroy pants and even the television show Frasier are at the core of some very funny jokes. That being said, the film is heavily flawed and one cannot help but draw comparisons to the Austin Powers films.
Is this film as witty and clever? Definitely not, but Undercover Brother can stand on its own as an innocent and singular piece of film that is not ashamed of poking fun at the ‘free-wheelin’, good natured spirit of the 70s. And for that in itself, must be praised.
Director Malcolm D. Lee vehemently infuses some soulful zest into his film in the implementation of some great 70s tunes along with some funky sequences.
Furthermore, what can be admired is the apparent attempt at spoofing the blax-ploitation films of the past. While there are not many references to past icons and fads, the ones that were present worked.
One such example is our hero’s tormented obsession with the Bruce Lee film, Enter the Dragon. Seemingly enough, that film seems to have influenced the direction and style of the many action/adventure sequences presented in this film. From the in your face comedic martial arts sequences, to the wide angle shot car chase and the slanted angle character shots, this whole film is an amalgamation of past fads and ideologies bottled up in a harmless comedy.
This film is quite good in its own little way, yet part of the film’s chemistry is the cast. The underrated Dave Chappelle (Half-Baked) is absolutely terrific as Conspiracy Brother who works with the Undercover Brother team. Also along for the ride are Chi McBride, Denise Richards and even Billy Dee Williams.
But the greatest surprise is the casting of Doogie Howser. Just as we thought he faded out of the limelight until another Starship Troopers came along, Neil Patrick Harris plays Lance, the only original member of the all black secret team; the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. In case you are wondering what these initials stand for, do not bother, the film does not even attempt at explaining it.
At this point, it is not an understatement to identify Austin Powers as the
comedic icon of the 60s, and as soon as Undercover Brother hits DVD and develops a cult following, so too will it become an icon of the 70s.
This film is the type of film that grows on people. Similar to the Austin Powers saga, which, when first released made an unimpressive $33 million. It was not until it developed a following on video that the second Powers movie was rushed and released and made more than four times the original amount.
Therefore, those searching for a developed, coherent and exuberantly produced film are encouraged to look elsewhere. If it is simply a funny film with underdeveloped characters, reality defying sequences and that wafer thin plot, then you found it. This film will fulfill your desire for a laugh and will have you walking away uttering contagious catch lines as ‘solid’ and ‘You’ve got soul’. This film definitely has some ‘soul’.
Star Wars: visual exhaustion, but better than Episode I
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones can best be described as a
transitional film in which we are right in the middle of the ultimate conversion from good to evil with plenty of action along the way. Director George Lucas opens the film with a great action sequence involving the pursuit of an assassin, which is extremely entertaining.
The sets in the introductory sequence seem to be lifted from Spielberg’s A.I. as the dizzying lights and glamour of a galactic city come to life. This
interesting action sequence seemingly sets the tone for what is a visually
exhausting yet solid attempt at getting the franchise in the direction, which it should be headed.
Hayden Christensen is brilliantly cast as the hormone-infused Anakin Skywalker who treads on love with Senator Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman). In Episode II, we see Lucas actually focusing on telling a story and although the story might not as be as interesting as the later chapters (Episode 4, 5, 6) we are still captivated by young Christensen. This virtually unknown actor inhibits several characteristics that will lead into the third part, which I will be anxiously awaiting.
I must admit, I was severely turned off by Episode I and wanted to loathe this film, but Lucas seems to have revamped the franchise and has focused on telling a story and not selling toys. Good move George, you have partially restored some integrity back into the franchise. Episode II seems to correct the faults that were so pervasive in Episode I. That being said, it still has its flaws. Lucas embeds his film with digital imagery that exhausts the viewer. I have come to terms with this trait that I only experience when watching these Star Wars films
(Episode I & II) and have keenly labeled the experience visual exhaustion. This is because Lucas puts 95 per cent of the film through a digital filter. To some this can be an alluring trait, but in my personal opinion it seems as if he has come to rely wholeheartedly on digital imagery to convey a story.
This was the severe case that we encountered upon Episode I. The hype
surrounding that film was maniacal and had many people, including myself, disappointed with the first foray into the galactic tale that everyone had so eagerly awaited.
Improvements are seen in the overall design of the film. The plot involves some more origins being uncovered as an assassination attempt on Senator Amidala leads to a civil war in the galaxy as Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) attempts to destroy the galaxy through a separatist movement.
This in turn forces the Senate to develop an army in order to ensure safety, as there are not enough Jedi for thorough protection. The army of clones in question is the storm trooper army we see in future films under the direct command of Lord Vader.
Confused yet? You should be. I always thought Lucas complicated his scripts by tackling too much content as back story and there is no difference here.
Trade wars, colonies and separatists are all part of this plot that leads into one pivotal event – the conversion of young Skywalker to the dark side. What I found interesting was the manner in which the film cleverly foreshadowed the events to come surrounding young Skywalker. Perhaps foreshadowing is not the best word to use since we all know Skywalker’s fate, but during the film we see clever scenarios that display the innate rage, madness and anger this young Jedi
Skywalker’s progress as a young man is a crucial element in this film as we are exposed to his much darker side that really spotlights him as a trouble-maker.
Skywalker is slowly becoming disenchanted with the rules a Jedi must follow and finds himself falling out of favor with his masters. This in turn leads to a
slow, yet gradual progression towards the Dark Side.
Writer Jonathan Hales (The Scorpion King) was called upon to clear some points but the film still suffers as we are in for some of the weakest romantic dialogue in a long time. The interplay between Skywalker and Amidala is gushing with uncomfortable romance as these two characters plot out their love lives.
Lucas uses the same transitional progression as he did with the later chapters in terms of pace and character development. Episode II serves to hopefully build towards a cataclysmic and dark third piece that resolves all.
Yet, the stereotypical alien characters are back in full force and the pounding score from musical genius John Williams accompanies this tale that is a step ahead from Episode I, but a few steps back from the magic that was Star Wars.
Insomnia not another ‘cat-and-mouse’ thriller
Director Christopher Nolan succeeds once again at mastering a suspenseful script with Insomnia and turning it into a truly superb film. Nolan, known for his work on Memento, creates a complex and carefully construed tale that has plenty of intentional misdirection.
Al Pacino plays another one of his droopy detective roles that is quite
unoriginal if placed in other films. What separates this role from others is his portrayal of Los Angeles detective Will Dormer actually has some ‘meat’ attached to it. Relocated from L.A. he is sent to Alaska in hopes of capturing a killer who murdered a local schoolgirl. Pacino’s characters has a history of successful apprehensions, yet he has flaws just like any other person and they come back to haunt him.
Judging from the previews, premature assumptions can be made labeling the film as another ‘cat-and-mouse’ thriller. Instead, those conceptions will be lost soon after the haunting opening credits emerge and the audience is transplanted directly into a deep and complex character study set against the backdrop of a local homicide mystery in a small Alaskan town.
The film’s antagonist (For those who have seen the film – is he really the
villain or the catalyst for Pacino’s ethical debate?) is a local writer
portrayed by Robin Williams. This is Williams’ second villainous role in his
trilogy of films (Death to Smoochy, One Hour Photo) that aims at diversifying his resume. Williams impresses as he juxtaposes between an innocent victim of a mishap and a calculating and conniving murderer. Nolan has assembled a terrific cast as this complex plot unfolds at a frivolous rate. This is a film that a discerning viewer will admire and a viewer with a short attention span will loathe. Nolan tosses us one set of objectives and midway through the first act, we are sitting in on an entirely different film.
Adjectives such as formulaic and conventional should not be associated with a film such as this. Nolan has completely revitalized the tired genre of the murder thriller with his sleek direction and picturesque photography. Nolan had first conceived the idea after viewing a Norwegian film of the same name directed by Erik Skjoldbjaerg. Nolan seems to have taken the flaws of the original and improved on them in a sleek achievement of filmmaking that leaves much to be questioned about its brilliance. One viewing is not enough to internalize the level of sophistication Nolan has created with this brilliant film.
Hillary Seitz’s first attempt at writing a screenplay is solid but must be
understood that the concept was not hers. Still, her script contains some juicy scenes that benefit all of the characters in this film. Three Oscar winners (Pacino, Williams and Hillary Swank) highlight this film and with good reason.
At first glance, the cast seems obviously incongruent, yet with time, they are all explained through in-depth character analysis. Swank’s performance, as detective Burr seems unnecessary right up until the final moments in the film.
Yet, this is all of the resolute brilliance Nolan lends to this film. This film
succeeds on several levels of cinematic boldness. David Julyan’s haunting score coupled with intense subliminal flashes match the films’ dark tone and cinematographer Wally Pfister (Memento) captures the majestic beauty of the Alaskan sea front.
As mentioned, a thrilling chase of a murderer can be expected when introduced to the film. But not long after, we are delving into a debate that has a positive fix on morality. A battle between a person’s conscience and his actions are truly at the forefront of this intellectually intriguing and complex thriller.
Despite its disappointing anticlimactic finale, the film still has enough zest
to make it a true testament to the skill of Nolan.