Thursday, August 14, 2008

Pineapple Express

Dir. David Gordon Green

Viewed: From the Balcony

Certainly my most anticipated movie of the summer. Ever since I read that David Gordon Green was going to make an action movie about a guy and his pot dealer, I was giddy. At the time Knocked Up was still happily buzzing in my head and the idea Seth Rogen was co-writer and he'd star with James Franco as the pot dealer was simply mind boggling. At this point Superbad hadn't even come out yet and the fact that Judd Apatow had tapped Greg Mottola for that one and David Fucking Gordon Green for this one was endlessly inspiring.

I'm happy to say that this is one of those rare occasions when my anticipation wasn't let down. Maybe it was the beers the amazing Somerville Theater serves its patrons, maybe it was the wonderfully drawn, relatable characters or maybe it was that organic touch that Green brings to everything he does -- the movie simply had me laughing the entire time. It does start out a little rocky, I'm not sure the Bill Hader 1950s intro properly sets the right tone for the movie, but the ship is righted pretty quickly and once we meet James Franco's pot dealer for the ages, the movie really does begin to sing.

James Franco's Saul is an singularly wonderous creation. While Seth Rogen can tend to play his characters a bit broad -- lets face it, the guy doesn't have the biggest of range -- Franco gives Saul so much soul and pathos that at times it is genuinely heartwarming. It's why I love off-beat genre movies like this so damn much. Anyone can tune into a old classic, something by a film festival darling, or a serious minded foreign flick and get that expected emotional punch. It's when that excitement comes from an action, horror or disregarded genre movie that really gets my mojo going. It's like they won one for the team and all us beleaguered cheerleaders get to do that ovation that simply so much sweeter since it doesn't come as often as we'd like it to.

Obligatory plot description: Guy witnesses murder by local drug kingpin who ties the witness back to Franco because of super weed Pineapple Express that he sold to Rogen. Guys have to go on the run. What honestly gets to me though is the truth to the Rogen-Franco relationship. Anyone who's bought weed knows about the hanging-out factor that you have to do with the dealer to buy the weed in a non-asshole way. Yes, it's been dealt with before in comedy (memorably in a Mr. Show skit where David had to hang out with the pharmacist to buy prescription weed) but to make it the relationship arc works surprisingly well and is even odds defyingly touching. Rogen just wants to buy his weed and be on his way, not deal with Franco showing off his entertainment system and talking about his Bubba, but I'll be damned if their eventual friendship in the story isn't earned twice over out of well paced characterization and the great chemistry the two actors have together.

Oh yeah, the movie happens to be a balls out action extravaganza too. Albeit a ramshackled one at that, but it is this unsophisticated brand of melee that makes it so much more enjoyable than another standard action movie. Punches hurt the guy making the fist, dustbusters are a viable weapon, guys feel sorry for making a hole in the wall with another guy's head. And that reminds me: This movie does feature on of the best, cringing, amazingly funny fight sequences committed to film in some time -- dare I say it made me recall a certain Roddy Piper movie in its hilarious extremes. For this 5 to 10 minutes of film I would gladly pay another 8 bucks to see this movie again.


Padraic said...

"Anyone can tune into a old classic, something by a film festival darling, or a serious minded foreign flick and get that expected emotional punch."

Heh, maybe, but based on sales receipts, almost nobody does.

Glad to see your underdog flick (with 23.3M in sales last weekend) was able to compete with those monolithic festivals, repertory theaters and subtitled annoyances that so dominate the marketplace.

In case you haven't realized, the ovation from the beleaguered pop-cheerleaders has been about the only thing anybody has heard in American cinema for 30 years.

Sean said...

I don't think anyone points to sales receipts as a sign of quality, but my point is: What has the horror movie fan had to cheer about in the past five years? You're lucky if you get one half decent movie a year -- that's a beleagured fan. When's the last time a stoner comedy made you care? It's the transcendent moments that come from the least expected places that give me the cinematic goosebumps. That's not to say I don't get that buzz from the newest movie that won all that praise at Venice or that's coming on the shoulders of a deathly serious Ukranian autuer. Of course I appreciate these things and perhaps they should be more widely embraced here -- but they lack that suprise element for me. I expect a moving experience from these movies. Of course the new Dardenne movie is going to try and change my life. But to get a jaw dropping performance or a top 5 of the year experience from a sci-fi horror kung-fu monster stoner zombie slasher picture? That's the kind of thing that gets me the most excited.

Padraic said...

Is it really that rare? I don't know about horror flicks, but as long as I've been watching and reading about movies in the mainstream press, I've been hearing about the seriousness of action, comedy, and all other sorts of genre flicks (I blame Walter Benjamin), while hearing almost nothing about foreign or experimental films.

I think the beleaguered folks are those who actually want some serious or artistic fare outside of a month in October. Seeing something like the Nicolas Provost screening, or Izgnanie, or Night and Day, is not as easy as you make it out to be.

I certainly like mainstream fare (see the best-of list), but I was objecting more to how you flippantly dismissed the ease with which one can experience great films.

It's a lot easier, I would argue, to find a Pineapple Express than to find am Inland Empire.

And how were you surprised, you've been talking about this movie forever!

Sean said...

You're absolutely right. I'm only speaking of my own personal tastes -- why I'll continue to watch crappy genre movies in the hopes of finding gold. (Different than just "mainstream" movies. Sometimes the two do cross though. And PE is about as off-beat as you'll find in mainstream movies this year. I don't expect it to continue to make 30 million a week. What other movie in wide release would extoll the virtues of smoking a cross joint and have a man beat another man with a dust buster?) I'm not trying to push my peculiarities, or say that you or anyone should be following my lead. And PE does offer many surprises even for those who were eagerly anticipating it - James Frnaco's performance could not of been predicted by anyone (even those familiar with his great work on Freaks & Geeks).

Anyway, I should be getting up my long winded take on Emir Kusturica tonight or sometime this weekend -- a brilliant director who only has 50% of his work available in the US. There is of course some material out there that hasn't come to DVD, that isn't available through some clicks of a mouse, but that percentage is getting smaller every year. If you have money and are serious about watching the more "important" work from the greatest filmmakers you could get a Netflix account and be satiated for years. That's what I'm talking about when I say anyone can watch a great film. There's no stats to say how many people watched Pineapple Express on their computers last weekend but I'm guessing a fair amount did. I certainly wish business didn't play a part in how films are distributed but that's not going to change. I wish Inland Empire got to play at the local cineplex in Alabama but it won't. If the audience was there and ensured the cost, I'm sure it would, so what can you do?

Also, finding obscure gems is a huge part of my love for cinema, don't get me wrong. But if they weren't as obscure as they are, would I enjoy them as much? I don't know. Wouldn't you say that there's something about going to that rare screening of a Bela Tarr movie that make is all the more special and personal than if it were playing across the planet at the same time?

Padraic said...

But it's not an obscure gem! It's going to be like a top 10-20 movie of the year and I've heard nothing but Seth Rogen/Judd Apatow for two years running.

I'm not objecting to you liking it (I'm sure I would like it too - I was a big fan of both Knocked Up and Superbad), I'm objecting to it being cast as some surprise, when I was reading about how important Judd Apatwo was in NY Times Magazine stories in 2005.

The idea of making a genre movie into something more real or emotional isn't new. It's been going on since just about forever (see review above). That doesn't mean PE is a bad movie, or that I don't like this kind of movie, but I hardly find them surprising or novel. On the contrary, I feel inundated by them.

I mean who is more beleaguered, the person who wants to find emotional impact in summer fare or the person that wants to have a serious conversation about the work of Bela Tarr without being told to lighten up?

Sean said...

Sheesh... I was adding that aside from stuff like Pineapple, a big part of why I love cinema is hunting down the obscure stuff. I was not trying to imply that PE is some sort of obscure gem. Ha! Hence the "don't get me wrong", as in, I'm on your side!