Rating: The Good – 70.5 Genre: Sport, Drama Duration: 118 mins Director: Peter Berg Stars: Billy Bob Thornton, Jay Hernandez, Derek Luke
Director Peter Berg and writer David Aaron Cohen’s adaptation of H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger’s novel chronicles the travails of a football mad Texas town and their high school team’s attempt to win the State Championship amidst social and personal pressures. Living up to the seminal novel was always going to be next to impossible especially for a (albeit) solid journeyman like Berg but there’s no denying this one just sort of works. From the bone shaking tackles, the swagger of the touchdowns, to the strategising on the sidelines, Berg does every bit of the game justice and so the audience will be suitably engrossed on that level alone. But it’s the team camaraderie and off-field personal tests that coach and players alike face throughout the season that gives this movie its substance despite Berg and Cohen presenting only fleeting snippets of each drama ‘s due to time limitations. Berg quite smartly uses the energy of the rough and tumble to exhilarate the audience and then funnel it into some rather touching moments of emotion when needed. It’s all very explicit with plenty of slow motion shots and uplifting score but, because of its honesty and Berg and Cohen’s success in binding us to the players, the resultant goosebumps are guilt free and welcome. Billy Bob Thornton puts in an outstanding shift as the thoughtful coach desperate to keep both his self respect and his job despite their mutual interference. But it’s a bunch of unknowns that fill out the rest of the cast and not one puts a foot wrong. Modest in its aims yet efficient in its execution, Friday Night Lights does what all good sports dramas should do and remains respectful of the source material as it goes. Nicely done Mr Berg.
Rating: The Bad – 39.4 Genre: Comedy Duration: 91 mins Director: Terry Zwigoff Stars: Billy Bob Thornton, Bernie Mac, Lauren Graham
There’s no point wasting much time on the plot to this one because a quick scratch to the surface reveals it to be the empty suit of pseudo black comedy that it most certainly is. The jokes are stale, derivative, and as a result completely predictable. The laziest of ‘anti-pc’ devices are rolled out from a drunk Santa (Billy Bob Thornton) debasing himself in all manner of predictably unpredictable ways (this was all done before in Trading Places) to the writers’ “cheeky” use of a little person (sigh!) in the form of Tony Cox. Let’s just be clear: the jokes here are 1) a guy dressed up as someone we associate with a child’s innocence wets himself in front of those same children and 2) his partner is little and he uses bad language. This is not writing! These are nothing more than coarse unrefined concepts dropped into the movie like a lead weight. To illustrate, when Dan Aykroyd hits rock bottom dressed as a miserable self-soiled Santa in Trading Place, the contrast between what his suit symbolises and his personal state is not the joke. The joke is the transition from where he started to where he is now and the debasing Santa contrast is merely added to accentuate that transition. It’s the sauce. Bad Santa is all sauce – no meat and potatoes!
With such a low premium being placed on the writing in this film, the “story” takes on a very unreal feel as the writers attempt to jerry-rig a bunch of crude devices to generate laughs and emotion. The ultimate example of this is “the kid” (“played by” Brett Kelly). This is arguably the most artificial and contrived character *ever* written. There is nothing real or substantial about this child. He exists solely to tie all the crude ideas the writers had in mind together at one source – to create the semblance of structure. The result is this strange avatar moving throughout the picture completely devoid of human quality who at any one time is either coarsely and obviously reflecting the writers’ desires to shock the audience or coarsely and obviously reflecting their desire to prompt a cheap emotional response. So bizarre a construction is this kid that one wonders if the writers themselves are human. It seems logical to assume that at some point, Hollywood will be using software to churn this type of crap out so maybe they’ve already got there?
Bad Santa (like The Hangover) is the perfect example of Hollywood trying desperately and pathetically to imitate the more independent comedy film-makers but failing miserably because the spirit and commitment to the story just isn’t there. Black comedy and satire are among the more sophisticated forms of comedy not because of the dark humour but because of its implications for the wider story. Thus, writers of such comedy are not trying to be dark for the sake of it. They merely don’t mind going dark if the story calls for it. They don’t let morality get in the way of the story. Pseudo-black comedy arises out of a misinterpretation that black comedy is nothing more than gross out jokes and ‘anti-pc’ humour simply for the sake of it. If ever there was a clear-cut example of this, it is Bad Santa.
Rating: The Good – 74.7 Genre: Crime, Thriller Duration: 105 mins Director: Carl Franklin Stars: Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, Cynda Williams
Carl Franklin’s excellent crime thriller One False Move tells a dark story about two men and a woman who rip off some LA drug dealers and proceed to leave a trail of bodies as they head south for Star City, Arkansas the town of Chief of police Dean “Hurricane” Dixon. Bill Paxton is electric as the backward, mile a minute lawman and much of the film’s comedy comes from his interplay with the two incredulous LA cops (played by Jim Metzler and Earl Billings) sent down to track the murderers. The dramatic tension comes mostly from the other side to the story as unlikely couple Billy Bob Thornton and Cynda Williams along with their cold blooded friend Michael Beach make their way for Hurricane’s patch. This is an original and quietly gripping film. The script is full of intelligent dialogue and is structured in a somewhat unorthodox manner. The main character is undoubtedly Paxton’s Hurricane though he is introduced almost incidentally while the remaining secondary characters all remain hugely and equally important throughout. It’s all the more impressive, therefore, that Franklin coordinates the different sub-stories so well and maintains an even pace to the film. Although there isn’t much bloody violence, there are a couple of scenes which are seriously dark and Franklin uses them well to set the tone to the film. Michael Beach’s cold and calculating Pluto comes to the fore in these scenes and leaves a sinister and lasting impression. Thornton and Williams are also strong as his amoral accomplices as are Metzler and Billlings as the cops but all are blown off the screen by Paxton’s tour-de-force.