Saturday, October 16, 2010

Saturday Movie Madness: Jackass 3D & Wall Street 2

What kind of crazy person pairs up (unintentionally at first but still) a third movie where the dipshits from Knoxville and the boys keep doing crazy stuff to and with themselves AND the long-awaited(?) sequel to Oliver Stone's 1987 iconic drama?  Well... MEEEE!!

But for real, I had Jackass 3D on my radar for a while, and took a little while to get to Stone's movie, for various reasons for both.  Why for?  Well, here goes....

Going to Jackass for me is like going to visit your idiot cousins on the side of your family you are not (or think you are not) into seeing.  You used to hang out a lot with these guys (their TV show) and thought you needed a break... then came the first big go around-renunion in 2002 (Jackass: The Movie), and it was fun times, and you thought 'hell, this was good, but what was I thinking?  I need another break'... and then came the next big reunion where you got shit-faced to hell and had even bigger fun times, and realized the break needed to be for good, no more, that's it, I got to grow up.... and now they're back for one more go around (knock on wood) and, fine, let's go for it.  And hey, it's in 3D!  Fuck it, let's bring on the kicks in the nuts, poop sprayed all over, donkey kicks to the stomach, and a giant hand giving a "high five".

What can I say as defense?  It's the true guilty pleasure of my generation, and the level of guilt you feel depends on how much you think you can take or, subjectively pure and simple, how you find it funny.  It is extreme, obscene, and knows what it's doing just as much as it now surely knows its audience.  The first two movies were huge hits, and it grossed 20 million in *one day/night* (Inception just made that much).  You might ask, perhaps naively, after so many years of this being on, 'Well, should I give it a shot?'  Let me put it this way: the (now) classic MTV characters Beavis and Butt-head make a special appearance to introduce the movie, and demonstrate some punching techniques to demonstrate what kind of Jackasses these guys are.  And this is the *smart* section of the movie!

He's blending - to PAIN!
There is by now a certain formula to the Jackass movies - what would one be without it ending with Rip Taylor?  And each movie has to have little side-steps to the guys dressing up as old people going into public and screwing with people (in this one Knoxville as an old man makes out with his granddaughter, for example).  And there have to be dangerous things with animals.  Oh boy is there fucked up encounters with donkeys, bulls, rams, pigs (or a pig's snout in a man's anus), snakes, and a (fake) gorilla. If there were dinosaurs walking around today with humans you can bet your liver and kidneys that Bam Margera would surprise his mother - who by now shouldn't be surprised by anything her son tries to put on her, but still can be - and his step-father Phil would be taking a shit while a Raptor destroys the house.

On the one hand the appeal of Jackass is something akin to wild admiration.  How can they pull off some of this and have the guts to do it?  They're really professional stunt people first, and the stuff they pull off here is the stuff of having fun.  On the other hand the appeal is pure shaudenfreude, though not always malicious... well, maybe sometimes malicious enjoyment at their expense.  They get propelled, smashed, punched, flown in the air and shot with paintballs, shot with bullets, fall from trees, bit by scorpions, and give their genitals such a run for their money you'd swear the Society-For-a-Safe-Scrotum would sue after watching this.  And yet for all of this craziness, if you can tap into the level of insanity... it's funny.

The laughs one has are proportional to the levels of absurdism on display, or close to surrealism.  One of the funniest set pieces involves a mounting midget-gag where it turns into a world of midgets.  And for all of the shit flying around (i.e. the bungee 'gag' where no one, most especially Steve-O inside the porta-pod, is safe from the feces), the most cringe-inducing moment for me is the "Lamborghini Tooth-Pull" where one of the characters gets his tooth pulled by being hooked up to a car driving fast away (part of it is the originality, and part of it is an aversion to teeth-pulling - suffice to say he's one of the few people who really cries after its done).  And how much humor comes out depends on how one is sucked into the film's treatment of bodily function-ballyhoo.  By the 14th kick in the nuts I was groaning.  When it came to the man farting darts, I was all in laughing out loud.

Bottom line: if you're already a fan, you'll get what you pay for: professionally stupid people doing lots of ridiculously stupid, harmful things as if to completely defy Darwin.  If you're not a fan, do keep away from the idiots' family reunion.


Did we need another Wall Street movie?  The story seemed to be closed-and-shut at the end of Oliver Stone's 1987 film as Gordon Gecko gives his big creedo - "Greed is Good - Greed is Right" - and is carted off to prison for insider trading.  Logically, one might think that because of the financial clusterfuck two years ago where everything went to hell until the government pulled its bail-out, its just the right time for one, to give a 21st century update with Gecko when insider trading is so... 1987.

It is logical, but the question becomes 'does the movie work'?  Yes and no.  It's a sequel that tries to make its own story without involving too much of the previous film's material outside its iconic character (Charlie Sheen makes an almost thankless cameo as Bud Foxx, and we find out what *other* stuff Gecko did to have him get eight years in prison).  But after the set-up of the story, about how Jake Moore (Shai LaBeouf), dating Gecko's daughter (Carey Mulligan) is a wall street trader who connects with the elder Gecko after Jake's mentor kills himself over the financial crisis at the firm he runs, and thus the seeds of revenge are sewn for Jake against sneaky "Pig" Bretton James (Josh Brolin), it turns into a Hollywood drama.  By this I mean not really an Oliver Stone drama that one looks forward to from his days doing them well in the 80s and 90's (maybe not so much in the 00's).

Without spoiling too much, the results of the drama in the story turn out to be a little too neat and tidy, and shockingly, considering how much the original Wall Street took chances and made one think about the financial mishaps downtown NYC was doing at the time, how it doesn't really take the bull by the horns and make the financial meltdown seem *that* important.  More than that, it feels like Stone and his writers use the big financial meltdown as a plot point more than something to leap off of as something important.  And unlike a documentary coming out this month like Inside Job, you won't really learn much about what happened with Wall Street and the financial crisis, except "hey, we're money people, we're in trouble, we can't let it "sleep", better get a bail-out."  I'm not expecting too heavy a history lesson, but like with Stone's recent W., it combs over anything really revelatory to get back to the formula of the story.

So why is this worthwhile?  Simple: the acting here, the cast assembled, and how restrained Stone's direction is - that is when he's not going nuts with sprawling stock-numbers super-imposed over the city -  makes for very compelling viewing.  If it feels slightly stale and expected how it turns out in terms of the story points, right down to the Freudian daughter-father thing with Gecko, Jake and her father, the actors breathe a lot of life into the conflicts and make it believable.  LaBeeouf especially is given a really meaty role here dramatically, where he has to show his chops instead of surrounded by overwhelming special effectas.  His Jake is smart but emotional, impressionable and determined, a kind of nouveau Bud Fox who has his passion project to fund (the one issue that is pounded away here, maybe even *more* than the economy in Wall Street 2, is alternative energy), and he plays off very well with Carey Mulligan, who gives some depth to a girl who seems straightforward: "I'm a liberal gal whose distanced myself from my father following my brother's overdose-death that is my FATHER's fault."  For a character who should only be halfway sympathetic, she's filled with pathos and has a wonderful scene with her father on the steps in reconciliation.

Oh, and Michael Douglas.  If only he were here in every scene it would be a must-see... then again, maybe not.  Maybe Stone is wise to bring Douglas in as the big scene-stealer, because he really is, one of the great ones as a character.  And damn if Douglas doesn't deliver again on a character who is wicked but inviting, seductive but practical, witty but not insufferable, and has that snake-like charm that could draw in a tax collector into his grasp.  Every moment with him is just about perfect, even when he's put into some of the expected beats of the last reel.  Other actors like Frank Langella (for how brief he's there he makes his mark), Josh Brolin, Eli Wallach, they all contribute to making it at least watchable and fun; you want to see what the actors, more than the story, will do next with the turns it takes.

And maybe the cast will be enough, and some of the dramatic situations and how they're staged without fuss will bring in audiences.  I was certainly sucked in more, without the kind of distractions of Stone's most recent output by pablum (WTC), misdirection (W.) or being just overloaded (Alexander).  Ironically when Stone brought in some of his wacky visual schematics for the stocks floating over the city and split-screens and the animation of the alternative-energy examples, don't work to the same wild effect that Stone used to pull off.  Maybe he's getting too old for this shit.  But, thankfully, he knows how to direct actors very well, or just how to assemble them, and if one sticks to that point Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is enjoyable and, oddly enough, escapist entertainment.  You'll almost forget how screwed the country still is at the end of the movie.  Almost, though not quite.  

Or, as Gecko himself says in the movie: "It's not about the money - it's about the GAME."

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