A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 491 – Team America: World Police

placeholderTeam America: World Police – July 4th, 2011

Last year we decided to go the obvious route for US Independence Day but we did briefly discuss watching this movie instead. But we looked at our enormous list and figured hey, we’ll probably hit the holiday again the next year! And so we did and thus today’s movie is a thoroughly ridiculous satire on patriotism, politics, acting and the militaristic attitudes many people associate with the United States. Done with marionettes. By the South Park guys. Happy Fourth of July, everybody!

I’ll be honest: I’m really not in the mood for this movie today. I’m not sure what specifically made me want to turn it off when in the past I’ve quite enjoyed it. Maybe it was that I was totally wiped out yesterday (I blame the heat – give me winter back, please) or maybe it was that we’d already watched a movie earlier in the day (Lucky Number Slevin, which we’d wanted to show my mother) or maybe it was just that this is a movie you have to be in the right mood for. And if you’re not in the right mood for it then watching it won’t put you in the mood for it. It’ll just irritate the crap out of you. Because that really is much of the point of the movie anyhow: Humor through jackassery. And puppets.

The whole idea of the movie is that it’s an over-the-top action flick a la Michael Bay. Full of explosions and disasters and dramatic tension where you don’t know if the heroic soldiers are going to be able to stop the evil terrorists. There’s more drama from the romance that occurs between the two leads and is then, of course, broken up when one of the leads panics and leaves his team in the lurch, only to storm in when things are desperate. And of course he saves the day! Every plot point is hackneyed. The lines are overwritten and the characters are cliches. Our hero, Gary, is a Broadway actor who joins Team America: World Police because they need an actor to be their newest spy (since spying is pretty much acting with surveillance equipment apparently). Team America’s base is in Mount Rushmore and they’ve got a tough-as-nails-but-dressed-in-a-suit boss, a supercomputer and a mission to stop terrorists whatever the cost. And through the course of the movie they end up going after Kim Jong Il and drawing the ire of the Film Actors Guild.

Now, regardless of my mood, there are some things I enjoy about this movie and they tend to be things that were either so spot on in their parody/satire elements that they’ve become part of our personal lexicon or they have to do with the movie’s visual conceit. I love the montage song. I think of it any time there’s a training montage in a movie because it is spot on. It’s a montage with a song about how you need a montage. I also like America, Fuck Yeah as bit of satire, same for Freedom Isn’t Free. Over-the-top jingoism in the news will always get an “America! Fuck yeah!” from myself or Andy. And let’s face it: “Freedom isn’t free” or variations thereof pop up all the time, which usually means one or the other of us will mutter “No, it costs a buck 05.” Panthers played by housecats? Yeah, I’m down with that too. As with everything that reminds the viewer that the entire cast of the movie is made of marionettes and they’re on a much smaller scale than people. Not HO scale, certainly, but small. There’s a statue in Kim Jong Il’s palace that’s actually a man in heavy makeup. There are the “panthers” and a variety of little props that you’re likely to see in the Look-a-Like books (which I love). And it’s that sort of winking cleverness that makes the whole marionette conceit play. That and that it’s not treated seriously at all.

I really do like the marionette idea. It’s thoroughly laughable. And it’s not that they’re bad marionettes! They’re obviously incredibly sophisticated things, with servos in the faces and whatnot. But they will always look like marionettes. Always. There is no mistaking that look when you make them walk, and at no point are they at all disguised. There’s no attempt to disguise them. They’re the point. They’re the humor. You try to play out a serious scene between a couple of characters, then smack their faces together to approximate a kiss and it will be funny. Every time someone references the expression on their face? Funny, because they have no expressions. And the main character is supposed to be an actor who can convince anyone of anything through his amazing acting skills. And he has the same blank look and jerky movements that every other marionette in the movie has.

What made this movie frustrating to watch tonight was knowing that I’ve enjoyed it before. That I’ve snickered at the lampooning of actors taking up political causes as if they’re experts in foreign policy. That I’ve laughed at many of the songs and many of the lines and all the marionette work while still being impressed at the sheer scale of the puppetry being performed. Tonight it just fell flat. I still laughed at the cats and the montage, sure. But the rest of the satire just didn’t feel as sharp as it was supposed to. And add to that a couple of scenes I just plain don’t like? And as a whole it just wasn’t fun to watch.

I find the racial and cultural elements of the movie to be questionable at best. I get where they’re going here, and the intent of the humor is more to poke fun at US audiences and how the media portrays other cultures than to poke fun at those cultures themselves. That being said, it’s a very dangerous line to toe. It requires that your audience be in on the joke and be able to laugh at themselves, which one would hope anyone watching this movie could do, but I can’t count on it. I’ve met too many people who could laugh at Team America themselves while still thinking that the depictions of other races were hilarious because haha, those people in the Middle East who speak gibberish! So funny! And making fun of speech impediments is a riot, right? I get it, I just don’t find it as funny as it’s supposed to be. And then there’s the sex scene and the vomit scene. Yeah, you know what? I could do without them. They’re beyond parody or satire and are just gross-out humor and I’m sure plenty of people find them hilarious but they’re not my sort of humor. I honestly think they take away from the satire and parody aspects of the movie, which makes the rest of the humor less sharp.

All in all, I can still see a lot of things I enjoy about this movie. The very concept of it is amusing and the marionettes were a fantastic way to take what might have come off as simply a cheesy parody and elevate it to satire. That being said, it does have a lot of weaknesses, not the least of which is a tendency to aim for offensiveness in hopes of hitting satire and managing to hit the slim border between them. If I’d been in the mood to watch it perhaps I could have looked past that to enjoy when they do hit the satire target dead center. But I wasn’t, so while I’ll still be amused by the montage and I know how much freedom costs in USD, I don’t think I’ll be putting this back in for a while.

July 4, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Team America: World Police

July 4, 2011

Team America: World Police

We watched Independence Day on July 4th last year. This year we decided to watch the most completely ridiculous and over the top movie about America that we own. I wouldn’t say that this is a patriotic film. If anything it is a sound lambasting of the kind of brainless patriotism seen in stupid action movies. This movie is a parody of Michael Bay style explosion filled action movies, done entirely with marionettes.

This movie is also unbelievably funny. It’s inappropriate, insulting, vulgar and offensive, but it has more laughs per minute than just about anything else we own. Then again, what else would you expect from Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the guys behind South Park?

Team America is a covert and well funded squad of adventurers ala Megaforce or G.I. Joe who travel around the world in their US flag emblazoned super jets fighting crime. At the start of the movie we see them stop a group of terrorists with a suitcase bomb in the heart of Paris. In the process they flatten the Eiffel Tower and blow up the Louvre. Such is there general style – they spread mayhem and destruction wherever they go. It’s the same kind of destruction seen in most summer action movies (indeed I seem to recall that in the G.I. Joe live action movie the Eiffel Tower is also destroyed) but played for laughs.

When one of their team is killed just after the Paris operation Team America needs a new recruit. Their leader Spottswoode chooses Gary Johnston, an accomplished Broadway actor with a degree in foreign linguistics. He figures that with Gary’s powerful acting talent he will be able to infiltrate the terrorist groups and discover the whereabouts of the WMDs that Team America is seeking. Gary’s abilities far exceed even Spottswoode’s expectations, but Gary is haunted by a traumatic event from his childhood and when the Film Actors Guild, led by his idol Alec Baldwin, accuse Team America of escalating global tensions he has a crisis of belief and quits the team. This leaves the rest of the group without an actor and defenseless when the true villain reveals himself. Kim Jong Il is actually behind the terrorist plots and plans to make every country a third world country by detonating WMDs in every capital city during a world peace event he’s hosting.

It’s a stupid and contrived plot, but it’s intended to be such. It’s meant to be a spoof of action films. I can see where they were going with this, and I’m pretty sure Amanda has reviewed it as biting satire that highlights how shallow such movies with their simplistic morality are. For me, though this movie is all about the slapstick physical humor.

The big joke in this movie is that it’s filmed entirely using marionettes with radio-controlled faces. They’re clumsy and mis-shapen and strange looking. It’s similar to the “supermarionation” of the old Thunderbirds, but slightly more modern. I was amused that Trey and Matt chose to keep the movie looking as low-tech as they did. They could have digitally removed the strings that control the characters. They could have used rods for precise control to make the fight scenes elegant and artful. Instead they chose to let the movie look half-assed. Which was the perfect choice to make.

I can’t help laughing every time I see one of the puppets bumbling about with their awkward gait. There’s a fight between a terrorist and one of the team mates early on that is pretty much just the two puppets bumping hilariously against each-other. Several times the diminutive puppets are contrasted to full sized locations and things, which is a great joke that never gets old for me. (For example Gary visiting monuments in Washington DC or when Kim Jong Il’s “panthers” attack members of the team.) I even laugh at the crude bodily humor like the lengthy puppet sex scene and the scene where Gary improbably throws up for about five minutes.

There are bits of this movie that I have to kind of roll my eyes at. Bits that are too sophomoric even for me. (Like the way that Spottswoode determines how determined Gary is to re-join the team after leaving them to their fate.) I can ignore and forget about those bits though – this movie simply makes me laugh with glee so much.

July 4, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment