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David Edelstein praises Robert Downey Jr. to the high heavens, and rightly so:

The Ben Stiller action-film parody Tropic Thunder is all over the map, but it

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Joe Morgenstern, in a generally positive review, says:

Tropic Thunder," which was co-written and directed by Mr. Stiller, is like a dinner whose hors d'oeuvres are far more satisfying and well-composed than the slightly warmed-over main course. Among them are the inspired mock movie trailers and the fake ad that precede "Thunder's" opening credits.

And then:

They also include Matthew McConaughey, who in the small role of a talent agent obsessed with providing TiVo to his client, all but walks off with the picture, and an uncredited, wholly unrecognizable Tom Cruise, playing a large, bald, obscenity-spewing studio head who in the privacy of his very large office shows himself to be lord of the funk.

I've read more than one critic who's singled out McConaughey's performance. I was fine with it, but didn't think it was worth special mention. Was anyone else bowled over by his performance? I thought his role was almost an afterthought.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Christian wrote:

: I've read more than one critic who's singled out McConaughey's performance. I was fine with it, but didn't think it was worth special mention. Was anyone else bowled over by his performance? I thought his role was almost an afterthought.

Wow. In my own review, I describe McConaughey as "looking a bit out of place in a role originally written for Owen Wilson". I can totally see how Wilson would have played that character in a way that would have fit the vibe of the film. But McConaughey? He never quite seemed to "belong", as I saw it.

I don't know whether the ROLE was an afterthought, but the CASTING certainly was, since they had to replace Wilson at the last minute after Wilson was hospitalized about a year ago.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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That might help explain some of my [shrug] reaction to his performance.

On another note, today I received two e-mails of the "I'm very concerned for your soul" variety from readers who saw my positive review of this film.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Christian wrote:

: I've read more than one critic who's singled out McConaughey's performance. I was fine with it, but didn't think it was worth special mention. Was anyone else bowled over by his performance? I thought his role was almost an afterthought.

Wow. In my own review, I describe McConaughey as "looking a bit out of place in a role originally written for Owen Wilson". I can totally see how Wilson would have played that character in a way that would have fit the vibe of the film. But McConaughey? He never quite seemed to "belong", as I saw it.

I don't know whether the ROLE was an afterthought, but the CASTING certainly was, since they had to replace Wilson at the last minute after Wilson was hospitalized about a year ago.

Well, McConaughey kept his shirt on for the entire duration of this movie, I think. That in itself elevates his role to a "breakthrough performance."

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Well, McConaughey kept his shirt on for the entire duration of this movie, I think. That in itself elevates his role to a "breakthrough performance."

:lol: I hadn't thought of that. No wonder my wife hasn't asked to see this movie. :)

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Philip Martin attempts a justification of the use of the "r-word" in Tropic Thunder. Edited by BBBCanada

Brandon

"God is so great and merciful that he does not require that we name him precisely. God is even willing to be anonymous for a time. Remember how God led the Three Wise Men from the East to Christ? The Wise Men did not know the God of Israel or Jesus. They worshipped the stars. So God used a star to lure them."--The Twelve Steps for Christians

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Wow. Went into this with as open a mind as possible, even knowing its not my preferred taste, hoping for at least, possibly, some decent laughs. And man, what a waste of a few bucks. If I'd seen it for free, even then I wouldn't have received what I paid for. I can count on one hand the amount of earned laughs (barely). Just a horrible, uninspired waste.

What is it with modern comedies? I mean, is there no intelligence beyond boys hanging in a locker room? Seriously, it was like watching an amateur sketch comedy troupe who were given several million dollars to go and play in the jungle. Not good. Not good at all.

It seems you can most notice the decline in artistry in modern American cinema, when comparing modern comedies with the Golden Age. Try taking a look at this film, or even the majority of other Stiller films, or for that matter, Will Ferrell, and continue on down the food chain to any two bit Saturday Night Live alumn, and compare them with the comedies of Lubitsch, Sturges, Wilder, Hawks, etc. Not even close. Heck, for that matter, compare them with Chaplin, or Keaton, or the Marx Brothers. Even compare them to Woody in his hey day. Even compare them to Albert Brooks circa late 70's and 80's. Its just ridiculous. The majority of our modern comedies are simply an absolute slide into the sewer, just a bunch of fart jokes that quickly fade. Wow.

Pass on this one, for sure.

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Haven't seen it yet, but it's good to hear a dissenting opinion. I happen to share your feelings about the decline of the American comedy, Wiederspahn, although your standards strike me as impossibly high. The world will never see another Preston Sturges, so what's the use of comparing him to the latest director off the Hollywood assembly line? The best funny filmmakers we've got are the Coens and Wes Anderson (and Albert Brooks whenever he can get something made); i.e., filmmakers who display an actual sensibility.

But the truth is most people don't care about artistry when it comes to comedies. To paraphrase Pauline Kael, a movie can be stupid and empty and you can still have the joy of a good performance or a good line. So how about Robert Downey, Jr. in Tropic Thunder? I hear his performance is great. Isn't that enough?

Edited by Nathaniel

"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

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The best funny filmmakers we've got are the Coens and Wes Anderson

And Whit Stillman, dry as his comedy is.

And Pixar's team.

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Haven't seen it yet, but it's good to hear a dissenting opinion. I happen to share your feelings about the decline of the American comedy, Wiederspahn, although your standards strike me as impossibly high. The world will never see another Preston Sturges, so what's the use of comparing him to the latest director off the Hollywood assembly line? The best funny filmmakers we've got are the Coens and Wes Anderson (and Albert Brooks whenever he can get something made); i.e., filmmakers who display an actual sensibility.

But the truth is most people don't care about artistry when it comes to comedies. To paraphrase Pauline Kael, a movie can be stupid and empty and you can still have the joy of a good performance or a good line. So how about Robert Downey, Jr. in Tropic Thunder? I hear his performance is great. Isn't that enough?

No doubt, Sturges is one of a kind. But, even if you take a look at lackluster comedies from the Golden Age, like some bumbling slapstick type of stuff, you can at least be somewhat entertained, without all of your sensibilities being assaulted by the banal bathroom gimmicks so prevalent in this film. The majority of the laughs come from sheer shock, like, "What? Wait. Did he just say what I think he said? Oh my God. Ha, Ha, Ha." But, step back and look at it objectively, and man, no thought behind the gag what-so-ever. I mean, I've been drunk before and said some pretty ridiculous things that made myself and those around me laugh hysterically. But, I sure wouldn't repeat those things out loud. Sad to say, it was the liquor talking. And that's what's going on with the majority of these modern comedies - its all liquor speak. Today, its a constant barrage of Tropical Thunder and Step Brothers material. Absolutely assinine.

Sure, Robert Downey Jr. does a fine job, and is arguably the best part of the film. But his performance sure doesn't make it worth one's time of day. Not even close. IMO. In fact, as a litmus test as to how great Downey's performance actually is (which I think could be debatable), I suggest we sit around with a group of friends, put on some black face and start doing our best Fetchin Stepit impersonations until all start laughing, then sit back and discuss whether or not their is any true merit to this type of performance.

And BTW, yeah, Wes Anderson and the Coens are doing great comedic stuff, as is who Jeffrey mentioned, Whit Stillman and the Pixar game. Plus, a few more here and there. But by and large, as my grandpa would say, its definitely slim pickins out there.

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I was really looking forward to this one so I saw it last Thursday in the afternoon. There was one other person in the theater. One. I have to admit that I let all the hype about Downey's performance get to me. The Peter Sellers comparisons were being thrown around like this was the comedic performance of the century. I have to say that if you've seen the trailers, or the fake E True Hollywood Story (actually very funny), or the Comedy Central special, or the any of the other publicity then you've already seen the best parts of what Downey does. Unlike Borat, I can't see anyone in their right mind publicly imitating his character. As for Tom Cruise, it's already been pointed out that he's too stiff and mechanical to inhabit a character who is not Tom Cruise. At first "The Intensity" works for him since his character spend most of the time screaming at people, but once he tried to dance it was over.

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Once he tried to dance it was over? I thought he danced only during the final credits, but maybe he did it earlier. I wasn't enamored with Cruise so much early in the film, although I did enjoy his performance, never more than during the final-credits dance.

If I've contributed to the funniest-movie-ever meme, then that's regrettable. I DID write in my review that I thought this movie is the funniest of the year so far, which surprised me because, like Wiederspahn, I don't usually like this style of comedy. In fact -- and I may have posted something along these lines in a related thread on this board long ago -- there was a period after I saw "Dodgeball" where I swore off anything starring Owen Wilson and/or Ben Stiller. Their track record was never all that strong in my book, and "Dodgeball" was so bad I decided to throw in the towel.

Sometime around that date, I saw "Zoolander," which I expected not to like but ended up thoroughly enjoying. Hey, I was at the beach -- cut me some slack! -- and it was the first Will Ferrell performance (another of the "usual suspects") I could stomach. (I thought he was great also in "The Producers" remake, which I saw later that year I think, but no one but me and Jonathan Rosenbaum liked that movie.) (NAME DROP! Ka-ching!)

So I approached "Tropic Thunder" with some trepidation. It won me over quickly, and I laughed at almost every joke. That's right -- even during the "slow" moments or the "off" jokes I keep reading about, but can't remember because I was probably laughing. Nor would I underestimate the crowd reaction. When a comedy is working, it's infectious, and this one went over BIG in the critics' aisle. That's something I didn't expect, and found refreshing and reassuring.

Some of these posts have brought me back down to earth. I have to admit that as much as I enjoyed this movie, I'm not dying to see it again. I'd probably enjoy it if I did, but I'm OK with it being a great one-time experience. Whether it holds up in the long run -- that's what separates the great movies from the merely enjoyable. I'm not sure "Tropic Thunder" will enter the pantheon, but I don't really care. I liked it while I was watching it, and that was more than enough for me. As for those who disagree, I appreciate the dissent. Honestly, I'm a little surprised to find myself so squarely on the other side.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I enjoyed the film quite a bit, but I wouldn't call it a classic. I suppose that since there have been so many really bad comedies lately coming out of Hollywood, that to see one that isn't totally lame was a breath of fresh air. I got some good laughs from the fake trailers and the lampooning of Hollywood egos throughout the film. Robert Downey Jr. was brilliant in showing how totally out-of-touch a Hollywood actor can be with the real world and the human race in general: spitting out high-faluting acting "advice" and gave his elitist white-guy view of the African-American experience by quoting the Jeffersons theme, all delivered in that Shaft meets Robin Harris fake accent.

As far as the controversy of the film goes, there is an element in much great comedy that does cut close to the bone of truths about ourselves that we don't like to admit. The film does make a bold statement about how Hollywood actors take on roles playing the disabled to prove their ability as serious actors, which is something that has made me uncomfortable for a long time. So I think this part of the film stood up for the dignity mentally challenged rather than denigrated them.

At the same time, the war movie plot was pretty so-so, and Jack Black really didn't need to be in this film at all. Tom Cruise's stiff dancing was kind of amusing, though. He might have fit in with the crowd on the dance floor at a suburban strip mall bar and lounge while some cover band was playing a Blondie song for the 80th time. :D

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Once he tried to dance it was over? I thought he danced only during the final credits, but maybe he did it earlier. I wasn't enamored with Cruise so much early in the film, although I did enjoy his performance, never more than during the final-credits dance.

About midway through the film Cruise dances to the "Applebottom Jeans" song by Flo Rida (What can I say, my wife wanted it on the ipod.) and then again at the end credits to Ludacris. Don't get me wrong, I like that Cruise is having fun here and was willing to put on a fat suit and a bald cap. I just didn't think it was all that impressive or consistently funny.

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The thing that really sold me on Downey's performance wasn't just the white-guy-as-black-guy dynamic, or his ridiculous cultural reference points, but the way he responds to Alpa Chino's pointed takedowns later in the film. He's clearly confused -- doesn't know who he is, or why he's so committed to the impersonation. There's an existential crisis going on inside, and his eyes tell the tale. It's sad, pitiful, and very funny.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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At first "The Intensity" works for him since his character spend most of the time screaming at people, but once he tried to dance it was over.

My first thought was that this whole dance thing with his character was a direct reference to an occurence of last year when Tom Cruise got gutted in blogdom/celebrity news for being a horrible dancer. He was in some situation where he was dancing to a hip-hop tune and it was just ridiculous. I assumed that the final dance scene with Cruise was some sort of self-deprecation referring to this real life occasion.

Otherwise, I couldn't help but to flash back to the end of Beau travail which ends with a similarly clumsy dance scene. The narrative parallels between Galoup and Tom Cruise, or at least the characters he typically plays, are a bit unsettling.

Edited by MLeary

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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The narrative parallels between Galoup and Tom Cruise, or at least the characters he typically plays, are a bit unsettling.

That reminds me, I forgot to mention the uncomfortable feeling I got that Cruise might be trying to make reference to his issues with Sumner Redstone. His whole speech about hanging Speedman/ Stiller (a "fading star") out to dry and collecting the insurance money gave me that same awkward feeling I got in Charlie's Angels II: Full Throttle when Demi Moore, in all apparent seriousness sheds a tear and says something "I was awesome." or "I was beautiful." or words to that effect.

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Yeah, I am seeing reference to that all over, though Stiller says that it isn't the case. Seems to good not to be true though.

Edited by MLeary

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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Just found this in my e-mail:

Documentary

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I would've thought the outrage over my positive review of this movie would've subsided by now, but it seems to be building. Here's a comment posted today by a reader (emphasis mine):

I have not seen this film however I have seen the trailer and am astounded by this review based on the cautions alone. Reviewer's quote "Will Christians enjoy it? The movie is full of foul language and uses the Lord

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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  • 3 weeks later...

Saw this tonight, along with Burn After Reading, and enjoyed it for the most part. I wanted to go back and read a few reviews of the film, and came across Roger Ebert's review. There's a portion of his review (highlighted below) that makes me question if he stepped out of the theatre, and then had someone explain to him what he had missed....

The set-up involves the actors, director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) and burnt-out screenwriter Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte) in the jungle with a huge crew and explosives expert Cody (Danny McBride). When one of the explosions goes off prematurely (think the opening of

Formerly Baal_T'shuvah

"Everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can't let the world judge you too much." - Maude 
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morgan1098 wrote:

: Ebert gives it 3 1/2 stars (but doesn't he give EVERY movie 3 1/2 stars these days? The ol' softie!)

Yeah, I don't know if I can trust his reviews any more. After all his medical mishaps, I sometimes think he's just so darn glad to be alive that he's thankful for every movie he sees, he's thankful that he's lived long enough to see THIS one, and THIS one, and THIS one, and... Of course, it doesn't have to be this way. He COULD respond to his medical mishaps by regarding every moment he has left on this Earth as someone precious and sacred, and thus he could be more inclined to slam movies that are wastes of his time. But that's not the way Ebert rolls. (Back when Siskel was alive, Harper's Index reported that, for every 4 thumbs-up that Siskel gave, Ebert gave 5. So he was always the more lenient of the two critics.)

I had to dig this exchange up just to say that Ebert now has a great explanation on his blog of why he tends to rate movies higher than other critics, and also higher than he himself did earlier in his career. Bottom line: he loves movies and is, as I said back in August, an 'ol softie.' Or in his own words, a "pushover." Ha!

I don't understand his reasoning that, on a 4-star scale, a 2.5-star movie is a "thumbs down."

Roger Ebert's Journal: "You give out too many stars"

Edited by morgan1098
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