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A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Heroin for a Night!

Tropic Thunder. Seen Saturday Night August 23, 2008 at Clearview's Ziegfeld. 4 Slithy Toads.

Transsiberan. Seen Saturday Night August 23, 2008 at the Paris Theatre. 1.5 Slithy Toads.

These 2 films offer an important message about the international trafficking in heroin, and it is particularly apt that I saw them both on the same night.

Tropic Thunder, the first of these films, is hilarious. I was laughing loud and hard for good chunks of the movie, I can't honestly remember when I've laughed as loud or as long or as heartily in a movie, and I am giving it my highest rating.

You're probably read a lot about this movie in lots of other places, so I don't need to say too much about it synopsis wise, I don't think. Starts out with 3 wonderful fake film trailers. If you're interested in Satan's Alley, then you might want to read some real novels, the Vampire Victor books VAMPIRE VOW, VAMPIRE THRALL and VAMPIRE TRANSGRESSION by Michael Schiefelbein. Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey, Jr., who star, have all been in their share of movies both very good and very bad, and can be very annoying to spend time with and great company for two hours. They're all on their best behavior here, and doing some of their best work. Nick Nolte is at his most grizzled wonderful best. Matthew McConaughey is another actor who's had a lot of up and down in his career, and recently been way down in a series of increasingly dismal romantic comedies, but here he shows all his charm and charisma in a brilliant performance as Ben Stiller's agent, though part of me wishes in homage to Jerry Maguire that Jay Mohr had been doing the agent thing. Tom Cruise, whom I almost always like or even love on screen (repeat, on screen), is doing the opposite of McConaughey, kind of submerging some of his charisma but yet at the same time letting it ooze out. The two play off of one another wonderfully in their scenes together.

Much like Jerry Springer The Opera, Tropic Thunder may not be for everyone. It is loud. It is raunchy. It is politically incorret, and not just because it dares talk about going "the full retard" when Robert Downey, Jr. quite nicely explains why you never go "the full retard." It is profane. But it is hilarious. It's one of those movies that offers plenty of room for favorite moments discussions, that will be perfect companionship on TV for many years and decades to come.

I can't say the same about Transsiberian, in which Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer (who was in the play Parlour Song) become involved with drug traffickers while taking a train ride across Asia from Beijing to Moscow. This is not a spoiler. The first scene of the movie shows us Ben Kingsley as a cop investigating the murder of a drug dealer, so we can safely assume that this is not in the movie accidentally. Because we can likely assume that Woody Harrelson is probably not himself a drug dealer in this particular movie and that his wife probably isn't either, we know from the moment they appear on screen that the young couple played by Eduardo Noriega and Kate Mara that join the nice Americans on the train do have some involvement with drug dealers, and if asked to pick we will probably pick the dark-haired and very rakish character played by Mr. Noriega over his much more charming wife.

If I were evaluating this as a manuscript, it would get quick demerits on the "bad prologue" front. If it weren't for the prologue, which forces us to realize that the nice American tourists will come to harm from the rakish backpacker, there would be no tension and no interest at all in the first half or two-thirds of the movie. Occasionally, rarely, a little bit maybe, some manuscript might find some way to compensate for that instant disqualifying flaw. The movie is able to do so a little bit more easily because Woody Harrelson tends to be likeable and to hold the screen no matter what he's in, and he's often been in movies that have little more going for them than that, and because you can get the gorgeous shots of the eponymous train traveling across Siberia with gorgeous sightseeing stops along the way. Considering how heavily the movie relies on that kind of old-fashioned charm, I think it's a serious turn-off to have it veer into showing the most sordid and violent aspects of the drug trade late in the game. Does the crowd that wants to see the choo choo train steaming across, the kind of crowd for whom Murder on the Orient Express was filmed 30 years ago, want to see this? The movie also (and I guess this may be a spoiler) creates considerable suspense by having the Woody Harrelson character disappear for a time right after showing the rakish bad guy walking in Harrelson's direction with a big piece of pipe, but having done so it owes us more and better in the way of an explanation than it actually provides.

I admire the movie for its attempt to recapture some of the old-fashioned charm of Orient Express or Death on the Nile, and I toyed with giving it a neutral 2 toad ranking, but ultimately I felt I had to come down a little bit more harshly on it than that. It comes down to the prologue thing; it relies so much on artifice that it almost certainly would be turned down quickly if it came to me in my professional life, so how kind should I be to it in my personal?

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