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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Sunday, July 21

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Pineapple Express

There isn't a ton of competition for the title, but the best movie of the week is the latest from the writing team of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (who first joined forces to write Superbad). The story is fairly simple, and the film is a prime example of how strong writing and a handful of pinpoint accurate performances can elevate a familiar plot and make it some of the most fun you'll have at the movies this summer. As much as the world would like you to believe Pineapple Express is simply some dopey stoner comedy, Rogen (playing process server Dale Denton) and his "Freaks and Geeks" co-star James Franco (as pot dealer Saul Silver) do not simply sit in a room and smoke killer weed for two hours. The movie is a great buddy comedy action film with a hefty level of violence and blood mixed with a fairly convincing story about the kind of friendships that evolve around the massive quantities of illegal narcotics. This is the story of two drug buddies and their excellent adventure through the world of killer drug dealers, corrupt police officers and stormy romances.

Perhaps the most bizarre thing about Pineapple Express is that David Gordon Green is the man behind the camera. The previously low-key director of such thought-provoking works as George Washington, All the Real Girls and Snow Angels (from earlier this year) has true gift for drawing out some of the most unusual performances from his actors. Seth Rogen coughing up a storm from his first puff of the Pineapple Express-brand weed suddenly begins moving like a robot while he's gasping for air. Franco's entire performance is so dead-on happy stoner that you find it impossible to believe the guy isn't baked for the entire movie. But the scene stealer in a film filled with potential scene stealers is Danny McBridge's Red, Saul's supplier who turns on his friend and spends much of the film trying to make up for the indiscretion. Every word out of this guy's mouth is gold. Every since seeing him in Green's All the Real Girls, I've enjoyed watching him work. Most people (including me) were turned onto him thanks to The Foot Fist Way, and I've enjoy him a little bit more every time I see him (he's also outstanding in next week's Tropic Thunder). The fight scene between him and Rogen in Red's cramped and cluttered apartment is one for the history books.

Every supporting part also is exceedingly strong. I would have loved to see more of Rosie Perez and Gary Cole as the police officer and drug dealer, respectively, who kill a man with Dale as an unexpected witness. They are able to track Dale down and connect him with Saul, and soon the pair are on the run for their lives. If I had one gripe with the film, it's that the subplot involving Dale dating a high school girl (All the Boys Love Mandy Lane's Amber Heard). There is either not enough of it, or there's far too much. I wanted to see more about that relationship, but I understand that Rogen and Heard as a couple aren't necessarily what the audience wants to see in this movie. Still, by the time we get to the long-anticipated dinner with Dale and his girlfriend's parents (Ed Begley Jr. and Nora Dunn), I was ready for that storyline to go somewhere or just go away. It's a minor quibble.

Pineapple Express is fast paced when it needs to be, shocking with the level and quantities of violence it offers up and mellow and silly pretty much from end to end. The film is produced, not surprisingly, by Judd Apatow (who is also given a story credit), and there's a certain degree of familiarity that goes along with each Apatow Productions. You expect a strong script and some of the best ad libbing you're ever likely to see. Add to that, Rogen and his stable of fellow actors (many dating back to"Freaks and Geeks") are so reliable in whatever combination they appear that it just doesn't seem fair. Pineapple Express isn't your average "spot-the-celebrity-cameo" kind of Apatow production, because the tone is a bit more serious (relatively speaking). The film feels streamlined and to the point in its foolish behavior. Even the violence is treated with an degree of humor. All of the blood will fill you with a combination of shock and giggles. Without giving too much away, something happens to one of Rogen's body parts that disgusted me and made me bust out in uncontrollable laughter. Much of the film is like that. If you can see the humor in two grown men selling some of the strongest weed imaginable to 11-year-olds, I think you'll feel right at home with this baby.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2

And I thought Sex and the City was outside my demographic. Is it weird that I remember that the first Sisterhood movie came out at almost exactly the same time as Batman Begins? True story. Anyway, about the best thing I can say about this watered-down tale of four college girls and their magic denim slacks that somehow fit all four of them is that it's interesting to see how much the careers of the actresses in the four lead roles have changed in three years. For Alexis Bledel, "Gilmore Girls" is off the air and other than a small role in Sin City, her movie career seems quiet. America Ferrera is on the hit TV series "Ugly Betty" and pops up in the occasional indie film or two. Amber Tamblyn's show "Joan of Arcadia" is also gone, and while she seems to be working steadily, most of her films end up going straight to DVD (Havoc 2, anyone?) or have a short lifespan in theaters. Blake Lively, a relative unknown when the first film was released is now the new It girl thanks to "Gossip Girl," but has no real film career to speak of.

The first thing that strikes me about Traveling Pants 2 is how afraid it is of the age of these girls. All four are in college, but other than a pregnancy scare with Tamblyn's Tibby, sex doesn't seem to be a part of their lives. They all get paired with non-threatening pretty boys, but mostly the intimacy consists of flirty banter, eyelash batting and hair twirling. Was I expecting hardcore sex scenes? No, but I'd at least like to feel like the option existed.

The "drama" in the movie is more about keeping the Sisterhood together despite the four young women all going to different colleges. Half the movie is spent listening to these hens complaining that the others haven't kept in touch or kept the pants in rotation among them. The rest of the film is people arguing, running out of the room and later apologizing for overreacting. Just like real life. Really Traveling Pants 2 is four boring stories about boring girls intercut into one exceedingly plodding feature. Do I care whether Ferrera's Carmen makes the successful journey from stagehand to actress at a drama camp? Nope. Do I give a rat's ass if Lively's Bridget makes a major archeological discover or that she is reunited with her grandmother (Blythe Danner)? She doesn't seem to, so why should I? Bledel's Lena has the most bizarre storyline. She meets a nice guy in her drawing class, but then her Greek boyfriend from the first film shows up and says he's not getting married to the woman he said he was in the beginning of the film. Boyfriend Number 1 simply vanishes. Okay, aside from that being a bitch move, what the hell?

Director Ken Kwapis (who helmed the first film, as well as several classic episodes of "The Office" and the godawful License To Wed) probably didn't have a lot to say about the way Traveling Pants 2 turned out. If he did, he should be ashamed. But the film feels like it was edited by committee, with plot points left hanging, conflicts resolved with one line of dialogue and messages about friendship and trust hammered into our heads with the subtlety of a jackhammer. I'd like to think even teen girls have enough taste and a sense of the way the world really is to know that this movie is bullshit on every level.

Man on Wire

Structured like a great thriller, this documentary from director James Marsh (The King; Wisconsin Death Trip) is an thoroughly entertaining account of a French high-wire walker named Philippe Petit who made a name for himself making illegal walks across the tops of the world's most famous buildings, including Notre Dame Cathedral, getting arrested and rarely paying any kind of serious price for his actions. In August 1974, Petit and a small crew of co-conspirators planned a walk between the barely finished towers of the World Trade Center. The plan was both highly elaborate and 100 percent reckless, and it's fascinating to see how Petit and his multi-national crew came up with a plan, attempted to think of every possible problem and then rehearsed the mission like as if it were a military operation.

Director Marsh doesn't just tell us about the day of the event itself. He wisely creates a profile of Petit, who clearly has an ego the size of the buildings he is conquering. Fortunately for us, he documented (with home movies and photos) every step of the process, going back six and a half years before the stunt, when he first read about the plans to build the towers and knew he would be walking between them. The members of his team are also interviewed, and its revealed that some members were more reliable than others, some thought the feat was impossible and some just followed Petit like a cult leader. False documents, hiding from security guards and dumb luck all contributed to putting Petit on the roof of one of the towers, and we discover the complicated process of getting all of the gear to the roof, stringing a cable between the two buildings in a way that would minimize sway and flexural tension and making the walk in as safe a way as possible. We can't forget that even the slightest wind made the buildings sway a bit as well, and that had to be accounted for as well.

Much of the film is done using recreations of the actual sneaking into the World Trade Center, but that never really takes away from the enjoyment of Man on Wire, since there is an abundance of genuine footage from the time as well. My favorite scenes involve the self-proclaimed (with a hand-made sign) World Trade Center Association, which was actually located in the French countryside, where Petit and his team marked off the exact dimensions of the two towers and where he practiced incessantly his perilous walk. The concentration on his face when he's walking the wire is mesmerizing, and he doesn't just walk; he kneels, lays down on the wire and performs other panic-inducing tricks. The plotting documented in Man of Wire is like that of a bank robbery or some terrorist event. The fact that it's for an artistic expression almost makes you forget the location of the stunt. No one in the film ever mentions the fate of the towers some 27 years later, and there's really no reason to do so. What the film and Petit make clear is that these Twin Towers were not built to be occupied by businesses; they were meant to be conquered by one man with a balancing pole walking across a wire some 1,350 feet in the air. This is a fun and exciting viewing experience, with just enough bizarre characters in it to make it entertaining as well. The film opens today at the Landmark Century Center Cinema.

Bottle Shock

I'm not sure how much of this curious little film is based in fact, but I know just enough about the history of French versus American wines to know that some of it is true. Bottle Shock covers a time when California wines were a joke to everyone in the world except those in the Napa Valley, who used radical methods of growing and bottling wine and ended up producing a product that bested the most highly praised French wines in a blind taste test in 1976, a year when Americans were feeling pretty good about themselves to begin with.

The film is actually two stories: one is about Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman), a British wine store owner living in France who wants to offer something a bit different in his struggling business. He cooks up this taste test to boost his profile, but what he ended up doing was discovering American wines. The second story is that of a small vineyard, operated by a former attorney (Bill Pullman), who threw away his stable life to start this operation. He works with his slacker son (Chris Pine, soon to be seen as Captain Kirk in the 2009 Star Trek relaunch) and a small team of dedicated workers (including Freddie Rodriguez and Rachael Taylor) to produce one of the finest and purist Chardonnays ever made.

Many of the subplots and distracting character details feel fake and forced, even if they are based in reality. I don't care that the father and son didn't get along, or that the son was involved in a cutesy love affair with one of his employees (Taylor). There's enough going on here to keep things interesting without the phony Hollywood formula nonsense. The supporting cast (including Dennis Farina, Bradley Whitford, Eliza Dushku and Miguel Sandoval) provides enough color and flare to the proceedings to keep things lively. But simply telling this story as a factual drama would have been enough. Still, the film succeeds despite attempts to energize it with artificial sweeteners. Director Randall Miller has been doing junk comedies for years (Houseguest; The Sixth Man), but in 2005 he made a charming film called Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School and another decent offering after that, Nobel Son (which has many of the same cast members as Bottle Shock). While I'm certainly happy with his new direction his filmmaking has taken, the story of the "Judgment of Paris" is funny and interesting enough to hold off on the saccharine.

Bottle Shock gets its title from the phenomenon that occurs when wine is shipped long distances in crates and is jostled enough that the flavor of the wine is changed, taking several weeks to recover its original qualities. There's a great scene near the end of the film that deals with this occurrence in getting the American wines to Paris. As much as I wish more of the film had been more like that sequence. Still, most of the film, with particular praise aimed at Alan Rickman, is solid once you scrape away the sugar coating. I had fun watching this movie, without a doubt, and the story is fascinating. Despite its flaws, Bottle Shock is worth checking out. The film is now playing at the Landmark Century Center Cinema.

Hell Ride

Words cannot describe how much I hated "actor" Larry Bishop's second "effort" as a "director" after the impenetrable Mad Dog Time, but since words are all I have, I'll give it my best shot. I don't care that Quentin Tarantino has given this film an executive producer credit, Hell Ride is a over-written hunk of dusty shit that thinks it's some sort of philosophical grindhouse biker exploitation film, when in reality it's a collection of actors that are always fun to watch (Michael Madsen, Dennis Hopper, David Carradine, Vinnie Jones) trying to breathe life into an empty-headed screenplay (courtesy of Bishop as well). Granted the film is filled with a plethora of beautiful women—many of them naked—and a handful of very violent sequences. But none of that makes up for the crap we have to endure in between the cool shit.

The plot has something to do with rival gangs, one seeking revenge on the other for the murder years earlier of the one woman in the film that they all seemed to respect. Eric Balfour plays Comanche, whose origins are a mystery, but not really. He rides with the Victors bike gang along with Madsen's "The Gent" and Bishop's "Pistolero." The evil gang is called the 666ers, led by the downright nasty Jones. The plot is so unnecessarily convoluted that I lost interest in it at about the halfway point. Characters in this movie don't have conversations; they have dueling monologues that loop around while the actors attempt to look like they even know what they're talking about. The look of the film is its strongest feature. The press notes claim that Hell Ride is some sort of homage to the Westerns of Sergio Leone, which is horse doo-doo, but the look of the film comes the closest of anything in this movie to Leone's style. But don't be fooled. You know what? I'm sick of thinking about this movie any longer. It sucks, end of story. If you feel like seeing a crap movie, Hell Ride opens today at the Landmark Century Center Cinema.

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About the Author(s)

A Windy City resident for nearly 20 years, Steve writes about everything but movies at his day job for a trade journal publishing company. Using the alias Capone, he has been the Chicago Editor for Ain't It Cool News since 1998, and has been writing film reviews since he was a wee lad of 14, growing up in Maryland. Direct your questions or comments to
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