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Notes From the Back Row

Scoundrels, more talking animals, and Costner

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Napoleon Dynamite has a new movie dropping this Friday. School for Scoundrels, also starring Billy Bob Thorton. Of course, Napoleon (whose real name is Jon Heder) is probably pissed that people still identify him with the role of Napoleon, so much so that it’s off-putting to see him in any other part. (I imagine starting your column with, “Napoleon Dynamite…” isn’t helping matters. Tough Napoleon, same thing happened to Linda Blair ( Exorcist ) and Keanu Reeves ( Bill and Ted/Point Break ).

The good news is the protagonist of School for Scoundrels is somewhat Napoleon-esque (only less cool.) He’s a loser, a NYC meter maid who gets pushed around and can’t even talk to the one-dimensional girl character he likes. So he goes to a secret class and Dr. P (Thorton, looking a bit stretched- physically, and recycled actorish-ly) uses unorthodox techniques to teach him to be a suave, tough, successful man. Unleash the inner lion, so to speak.

Once Heder gets his game together he’s suddenly competing with Dr. P for the same girl, even though Heder saw her first. Along the way a few guys get shot with paintballs, there’s some gay jokes, some straight jokes, Ben Stiller as (you guessed it) a neurotic failure-type, and a bunch more rudimentary humour until, in the end, the film condemns the whole manly doctrine it spent its entirety building up.

All in all it’s a good movie to see after smoking a joint with a buddy you haven’t seen in a while. One-hundred silent minutes later you’ll be able to talk about how it was a mash-up of Anger Management, Fight Club and Bad Santa with a bit of Rushmore in there while you enjoy a drink at the Amsterdam. There are few solid laughs in …Scoundrels though, (Sarah Silverman is never bad, even when she’s reduced to a bunch of one-liners) and besides, this might be as good as it gets for new flicks this week.

Because, next up is just what you wanted, another animated movie with talking animals. That just never gets old, does it? (And then you turn 8.) Open Season is about a talking bear and a talking deer with one antler. The bear doesn’t eat the deer because he was raised by a nice ranger lady and, as a product of nurture rather than nature, therefore is also nice. Together the friends face off against a crazy hunter who plays air-guitar on his rifle, and don’t you worry, there’s just enough bodily function humour in there to keep things childish. This has been a crappy year for cartoons, the exception being Monster House.

Filling out the week is The Guardian , a Coast Guard movie that plays on the standard hero’s journey theme with some old/young, mentor/student drama tossed in. Kevin Costner plays the grizzled elite rescue swimmer with the difficult past who uses, you guessed it, unconventional teaching methods to school the brash, talented, newcomer — Asthon Kutcher — also with a tragic past. In the end both young and old learn something about themselves and you can almost hear the Top Gun theme song play in the background.

Superb action sequences of people jumping out of choppers into 20-foot waves and the fact that there truly aren’t really that many Coast Guard movies out there make up for the token, disposable romance and in the end we have a decent, if predictable, date flick, especially if you grew up on a desert island and haven’t seen all the ideas/themes/clichés in 100 other movies.

By the way, B-Grade Horrorfest is coming up, we need more movie submissions. Email the address under that dapper picture above for more info…

AT VILLAGE 8 Sept. 29-Oct. 5: School for Scoundrels; Open Season; The Guardian; Jackass 2; Black Dahlia; Everyone’s Hero; Fearless; Ryboys; The Last Kiss.

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