Ellison & Penley: Episode 4
Ellison: I'm Estefan Ellison.
Penley: And I'm Will Penley.
Ellison: After a very long hiatus, we are finally back with another new episode of Ellison & Penley, the poor man's Ebert & Roeper.
Ellison: Let's start off today with this weekend's box office smash, The Da Vinci Code based on the best selling book by Dan Brown. Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is a Harvard University professor who has a knack for looking at symbols. When a curator at the Louvre is murdered, the local inspector (Jean Reno) believes that Langdon is responsible for it. While running from the law, Langdon befriends Sophie (Audrey Tautou) the grand-daughter of the man murdered. Both of them try to figure out who is responsible for the killing and in the process find out some secrets involving the Opus Dei Group and some new information regarding Mary Mageline. Now, unlike almost half the population of North America, I have not read the book on which this film is the basis of and I believe that is what made me enjoy it more than my fellow critics. The many twists and turns greatly surprised me and I thought the scenes explaining the history of Jesus were very fascinating. Thumbs up from me.
Penley: I've never read the book either, but according to Roger Ebert, Ron Howard is a better director than Dan Brown an author. I'm inclined to believe him. It's a fun movie, very reminiscent of Jon Turteltaub's recent action blockbuster National Treasure. The book has been protested by the Catholic church to no end, but I believe all their protesting is quite pointless because everything presented in the book and film are obviously false. It definitely will not shake anyone's faith, and if it did I'd have to say their faith wasn't that strong to begin with. Still, The Da Vinci Code remains a fun summer thriller and is well worth seeing at least once. Thumbs up!
Ellison: Yes, it is a very fun film with a great ensemble. Paul Bettany was especially great as Silas, an Albino monk.
Penley: As was Sir Ian McKellen as aging historian Leigh Teabing (who can also be seen in the upcoming X-Men: The Last Stand).
Ellison: Is it just me or is that man in everything nowadays? At least everything that makes money. Am I right?
Penley: You know, he is in everything and I've come to really like seeing him onscreen. He has an air about him that always brings something extra to the films he's in. This film was rated PG-13 by the MPAA, but some scenes -- especially those involving Paul Bettany's Silas -- are very graphic and could disturb the very young.
Ellison: Yes, good point.
Penley: So, two thumbs up for The Da Vinci Code.
Ellison: Yes, two thumbs up. Now, moving on to lighter fare is my top film from 2005 which has been released on DVD: The Producers, an adaptation of the hit Broadway show, which itself was based on the classic Mel Brooks film from 1968. Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane) has been producing flop, so much so that he has to resort to seducing little old ladies to get money for his plays. When his accountant, Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick) tells him that he can make more money with a flop than he could with a hit, they both set out to find the worst play ever written. The result: "Springtime for Hitler!", a love letter to De Fuhrer. This is a very funny and lively musical which I find very hard to dislike. The performances (especially from Nathan Lane and Uma Thurman who plays a Swedish sex bomb) are wonderfully brilliant and I commend director Susan Stroman on making this film the old-fashioned way with the fast-paced editing. The Producers was ignored by filmgoers in cinemas, but I hope it gets a chance to attract their attention on home video. Huge thumbs up from me!
Penley: Well, I wouldn't call it the best film from 2005 nor place it in the 10 best films of that year. There are a lot of negative qualities to The producers like musical numbers that run too long and seem very out of place and an extremely stiff performance by Matthew Broderick as Leo Bloom. I was really hoping Broderick would be a bit wilder (no pun intended) with his performance. His renditions of some of the classic Leo Bloom moments from the original, such as the scene where he goes nuts after Max takes his beloved blue blanket away from him, are very poor. Even so, this film also has plenty of good qualities. Nathan Lane is a terrific replacement for Zero Mostel and his performance is the best in the film. He's loud, funny and actually kind of sweet. Uma Thurman and the always-hilarious Will Ferrell turn in great supporting performance as Swedish bombshell Ulla and Franz Liebkind, the crazy kraut who penned "Springtime for Hitler." Even though it pales in comparison to the original film, this is a case of the good outweighing the bad. Thumbs up for The Producers.
Ellison: I personally loved Matthew Broderick, but I'm just glad to own The Producers on DVD so I can watch the show over and over again without buying any $100 tickets.
Penley: I really would have liked to see the Broadway play, because I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more.
Ellison: Well, nothing beats a live performance and I think the Broadway show stands as the best incarnation of the story. Too bad it's just so gosh darn expensive.
Penley: Plus, Lane and Broderick have left the show. (Though some could say that the latter's departure is a good thing. Nudge, nudge, wink wink.)
Ellison: Need I remind you he got a Tony nomination. Anyway, Will. What's next on the reviewing agenda?
Penley: The next film on our show is also a comedy, but a much more crude and funnier one at that. Kevin Smith's fifth film, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, plays like a secret handshake for all the View Askew fans. If you haven't seen the previous films, you probably won't find this funny at all. It was said to be the last film taking place in the Askewniverse, but with the upcoming release of the very highly (very, very, very highly) anticipated Clerks II that has proven to be false. This time out, everyone's favorite drug-dealing dynamic duo sets off to Hollywood to stop a film that was based on a comic book that was based on them from being made. Of course, hilarity ensues. I give this film a HUGE thumbs up and it's another addition to Smith's FLAWLESS filmmaking record. Jason Mewes and director Smith are great in the leading roles, though Silent Bob turns into too much of a mime in this one and it gets slightly annoying. If you're a longtime View Askew fan, you'll notice many familiar faces here. Ben Affleck returns both as himself and Holden McNeil (from Chasing Amy) and Jason Lee turns in doubly good (pun intended) performances as Brodie Bruce and Banky Edwards. Look out for other previous View Askew characters such as Dante Hicks, Randal Graves, Alyssa Jones, Hooper X, Steve-Dave Pulasti and Walt the Fanboy. There are also tons of cameo appearances in the film from big directors like Gus Van Sant and Wes Craven to big stars like James "The Dawson" Van Der Beek and Jason Biggs. I love this film with all my being, and if you're a fan of all things Askew, I'm sure you will too. HUGE thumbs up! (Sorry about the fanboy ramblings, folks.)
Ellison: They're excused (mainly due to me doing it earlier in my Producers review), because it's true, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is a great film. Jason Mewes gives the potty-mouthed Jay some heart when he falls in love for the first time and he doesn't even pull his walla-walla-ding-dong out.
Penley: Not for lack of trying
Ellison: I especially enjoyed Chris Rock's performance as a director complaining about there only be white people on the set as well as some tiny appearances from Jedi Masters Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill. Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back gets a nice big (expletive deleted) thumbs up! Snootch to the Nootch!
Penley: P.S. Be sure to look out for a hilarious scene between Ben Affleck and Matt Damon as themselves, spoofing themselves and their own filmographies. The last film on the show is also from the good Mr. Smith. His most recent film, Jersey Girl, flopped at the box office and was trashed by most critics, but that just should not be. Many said he tried to do something different and failed, but actually he did something that was the same and succeeded...greatly. Ben Affleck is back as Ollie Trinke, a big-time advertising exec who has recently lost both his job and his wife, who died during childbirth. Not being able to pay for his expensive apartment and possessions anymore, he is forced to move back to Highlands, New Jersey (Smith's hometown), and live with his father, Bart Trinke (George Carlin, in a painfully funny performance). Adding to his stress are a job he doesn't like and a daughter (Raquel Castro) whom he wants to raise elsewhere. Smith has triumphed once again with this film. His screenplay is smart and witty, just as expected, and he continues to grow as a visual artist. View Askew regular Ben Affleck gives his best performance since Dogma in the leading role, and newcomer Raquel Castro is equally great as his daughter. George Carlin, as I said before, is a hilarious delight. Liv Tyler also has a memorable performance as Maya, a video store clerk (hmm...) who becomes Affleck's love interest. Jersey Girl is as good as Smith's other films and it definitely met and exceeded high expactations. A lot of people say negative things about Affleck's performance, but I thought he was on the top of his game. Either way, he was still the bomb in Phantoms. Jason Lee and Matt Damon have great brief cameos as other executives. BIG thumbs up for Jersey Girl! (Again, sorry for the fanboy ramblings, folks.)
Ellison: I'm sorry, but I don't share your enthusiasm for Jersey Girl. I understand that Kevin Smith wanted to get away from all the Snootchie Bootchies and 37 dick jokes, but I think he could have done a better job. While I was watching this film, I was waiting for that great Smith dialogue, but it just never happened. I also didn't particulary like the performances by Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler. What is it with those two that when they are put together, they don't experience any chemistry and dumb down the film (We're looking at you, Armageddon.)
Penley: (HE'S looking at you, Armageddon. I enjoyed you.)
Ellison: However, I must admit that I did enjoy Raquel Castro and George Carlin's performances, but not enough to recommend it. I give Jersey Girl a thumbs down.
Penley: Well, I'm sorry to hear that...very sorry. Next time on our show, we'll be taking a look at the new animated film, Over the Hedge. Until then, I'm Will Penley.
Ellison: And I'm Estefan Ellison. By the way, The Da Vinci Code is now playing at your local cinema and The Producers, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and Jersey Girl are all available to rent or own on DVD. Good night, folks!
Penley: ...And good luck.