When a film aspires to elite stoner flick status, it faces legendary competition. Yet by leveraging the new and familiar, 2008's "Pineapple Express" now sits in the Pantheon alongside the fabled weed comedies that forged its path.
Seth Rogan and "Superbad" co-writer Evan Goldberg also penned "Pineapple Express," where we find Rogan as dope fiend and subpoena server Dale Denton. When his stash runs dry, Dale rings fog-headed Saul Silver (James Franco) to procure his next bag. Saul introduces Dale to Pineapple Express: a marijuana strain as rare as it is potent. Dale somehow gets teed up to serve a subpoena to Saul's supplier -- one Ted Jones (Gary Cole of "Office Space") -- and while sparking up outside his house, Dale witnesses Ted blowing a hole in a dude's head. Dale flees in buffoonish style, leaving a smoldering roach with the olfactory traits Ted knows as Pineapple Express.
An Asian drug cartel, an oddball hit man, and the parents of Dale's young girlfriend all contribute to the hilarious imprint of "Pineapple Express." This is entry-level coursework for post-legalization stoners wondering what it was like to imbibe pot illegally. - WATCHED IT? THEN WATCHLIST: "Dazed and Confused," "Superbad," "Stadium Anthems."
Pairing a prepubescent Nazi with imaginary best friend Adolf Hitler sounds like drastic cinematic overreach, but the sublime "Jojo Rabbit" proves about as improbably enthralling as moviemaking can reasonably get.
Set in the last phases of World War II, we track the youthful zealotry of Johannes "Jojo Rabbit" Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis), a boy all too infatuated with Nazi iconography. To puff up his machismo in the pursuit of influence, he stuffs his head with propaganda, and instructs it to replace his departed father with the companionship of das Führer.
Sharing the movie's plot line at the water cooler can elicit complete and real bafflement. Yet Taika Waititi's film is as paradoxically tender as it is tack-sharp. "Jojo Rabbit" takes the absurdity of fascism to the woodshed while holding a mirror to its inane pervasiveness. - WATCHED IT? THEN WATCHLIST: "Knives Out," "Stadium Anthems," Blazing Saddles."
Now a quarter century old, "Trainspotting" stands as truly bulletproof moviemaking. Floating in an artistically liberated air vaguely shared with "Pulp Fiction," Danny Boyle's master class equals Tarantino's in its spiritedness, violence, and drug-centricity. Yet this 1996 black comedy is also imbued with an eviscerating, street-level British intelligence, resulting in a legendary film with a fingerprint all its own.
The structure here is freeing and brilliant. "Trainspotting" is narrated by Mark Renton (Ewan MacGregor), a young street urchin and smack addict whose habit hasn't diluted the venom he spits at Scotland, England, and shoot-up partners Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) and Spud (Ewen Bremner). Once they find heroin, they look to find more. But despite an unchanging end-goal, these are brilliantly sketched characters exhibiting a criminality and shiftlessness that perversely endears.
"Trainspotting" showcases elite storytelling by counterpointing the dehumanization of addiction with a truly vibrant humor. This is a classic of the first order. – WATCHED IT? THEN WATCHLIST: "Being John Malkovich," "True Romance," "Stadium Anthems."
As pop stars continue to be built from younger and less world-weary materials, director-screenwriter Craig McMahon's "Sweet Sunshine" expertly distills the convergence of fame and youthful coming-of-age confusion that we increasingly understand to be a true alligator to wrestle for those few that manage to blast off into that space.
Young country singer T.J. Millhouse (John Way) is just old enough to be learning in real-time that even a perfect skyward trajectory incurs costs. For T.J., the paradox of it all stirs questions around faith and family. He's ascending, but so is his learning curve, and it all becomes fraught with risk when tragedy comes calling. Fortunately, a young woman by the name of Sunshine (Savannah McMahon) emerges from the pain, and helps TJ piece himself back into a more fully realized whole.
"Sweet Sunshine" is earnest family fare running on the battery of faith-based storytelling, and doing it at an elite level. The production values in particular are hyper-strong, from terrific stage performances that defy indie convention to a soundtrack loaded with expertly placed original songs that prove spot-on for their intents and purposes. "Sweet Sunshine" is a sweetly-told, big screen reflection of our true-to-life contemporary pop stars, their meteoric rises, and all the first-time feelings and life situations that follow closely behind.
Paul the Octopus was an "animal oracle" who grabbed the world stage by predicting a shocking string of World Cup soccer match results, and this great documentary dives the full extent of his unlikely cultural impact. No love of soccer required, because as is the case with most good films, this one isn't only about what it hints at on the box.
Subject matter experts and statistical analyses are introduced to quantify the possibility that maybe this soft-tissued mollusk did have otherworldly insights. Soon images of penalty kicks and marine life give way to beautifully captured old world churches and celestial landscapes, conjuring meaning of life themes and considerations of a higher power.
The filmmakers were clearly aware it would have be pretentious to oversell Paul's contributions, so the film's grand notions are counterpointed with a buffet of seafood jokes. It works to great effect; crisp imagery and editing pull us in while the story architecture endears us to the slimy yet cuddly Paul, reminding us again that the impossible is not only maybe possible after all, but either way, it eventually tastes good when fried.