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Tropic Thunder (2008)
Directed by Ben Stiller Screenplay by Etan Cohen, Ben Stiller & Justin Theroux
Good things come to those who wait. Or so I hear. However that does seem to be the case with Tropic Thunder of which Ben Stiller first got the idea for back in 1987 while working on Empire of the Sun. At the time a lot of his friends were starring in War films and going through two-week boot camps to prepare for such. Stating how the entire experience felt and as though they had been through the real thing. Something he found hilarious to even suggest in comparison to actually being in a War. Initially having the idea to make a film about a group of Actors that come back from a similar experience but with post dramatic stress disorder. However turning into a project he and Justin Theroux would work on for the next 10 years, emailing the other scenes as they would come to them.
The simple truth is that I don’t have enough nice things to say about this film. If anything, it gets better the more I view it and Stiller is a fantastic Director that doesn’t get enough credit. He’s always able to capture the best aspects within each script working with. To then have John Toll as cinematographer (Braveheart, The Thin Red Line) as well as productions eye for detail; they were able to capture endless great moments. For the most part the film was shot in sequence with select moments on set but the majority filmed in Kauai, Hawaii on private properties. Most of the locations being difficult to travel to as hiking, helicopters and ATV’s became the modes of transportation. While you wouldn’t be able to notice during the film, they also shot in an area that rained everyday and consistently, having to stop periodically in between. Sparing no usage of film and having each scene depicted with at least three cameras set-up. The end sequence on the bridge having nine rolling as about 1000 holes and sandbags were used in blowing it up.
The opening sequence alone took three weeks to film, featuring a beautiful shot of the Huey helicopters flying over the jungle. Paired perfectly with a great soundtrack that captured each scene and kept the momentum going to the end. Though the film concerns filming a movie within a movie, the just are as is. While war is always a sensitive subject, the films in which have been spawned from the injustice of said soldiers make for some of the best imagery to view on the big screen. As well as some of the better stories to watch. With plenty of classic scenes and moments that are no certainly no laughing matter. However taking apart the sub genre to pick and take what we love most about said films while poking fun of the industry that makes them also makes for a rather great tale. The ‘story’ involves Four Leaf and a suicidal mission from 1969 in Vietnam in which a rescue team was sent in to a heavily guarded NVA (North Vietnamese Army) prison camp. When less than half returned a certain amount of men wrote books of which two were published and only one received a movie deal. As we follow those trying to recreate the account, they embark on a series of adventures and finally come together to make the movie most thought would never see the light of day.
Steve Coogan (Damien Cockburn): “Of course we’re getting it in a fucking wide. What, do you think I’m a dick or something?” While I am unfortunately not as familiar with his work as the others, I have been able to enjoy anything I have seen him in. Though he doesn’t make it through the whole movie, his depiction of a rookie director dealing with the stresses of making a movie flooded with prima donnas was as humorous as his interactions alone with Nolte. Attempting to mimic his harsh behavior to the ‘cast’ after taking his suggestion of taking them off of the grid in order to get the real experience. I also loved the ego boost right before the end of his journey.
Nick Nolte (Four Leaf Tayback): “I don’t know what it’s called. I just know the sound it makes when it takes a man’s life.” The inspiration for the movie behind the movie, Four Leaf turns out to be as fake as his prosthetic hook hands. Claiming to be a patriot and having written the book as a tribute of which by the end and among the chaos, becomes an overlooked detail. Though credit must be given where due as not many 67 year-olds can dive out in order to blow up a bridge nor are seen waving around flamethrowers. Of which was real. Though you could tell from the expression on his face as well as the excitement brought into the entire final act as him and Cody save the day, kicking ass and taking names.
Bill Hader (Executive Rob Slolom): “You spank that ass, Les.” Not sure why he tends to get such small parts in the movies he’s cast. But if you watch him closely he tends to be one of the better cameos about the films he’s in. This being no different as he claims to side with Damien however, loyalty lies with his ass kissing capabilities given to the head of the studio, Les Grossman.
Danny McBride (Cody): “I need some dudes up here who speak American, God damn it!” Some of the best one liners in the film that were mostly improvised. Also the only one present for the actual 1600 gallon blast in the beginning sequence. Danny played a pyromaniac that looked up to Four Leaf, sticking closely with him through the film. The interaction between the two simply being one of the many great pairings within the bunch. They don’t dwell too far into his past though he briefly discusses losing his finger and almost blowing up Jamie Lee Curtis on Freaky Friday. But I wanted to hear the story behind his ear! Assisting in saving the day, being the only one aware of how to use all the explosives at hand. Stating before his final blow, “Oh my God! I am moving to catering after this!”
Matthew McConaughey (Rick Peck): “A hooker. Oh Jesus, you killed a hooker!” Upon getting the role, Matthew had several questions for Stiller on his character and the direction he wanted him to take it. His role being Tuggernuts (Tugg) agent who firmly believed in the Actor who had also been his friend for the past 15 years. Refusing to compromise such a small thing as TiVo and going to great lengths to ensure if his friend wanted one, that he would get one. Even though Les tries to convince him to do away with the friendship in exchange for a G5. One of the funnier parts being while reflecting out the window and holding onto a frame of them in the one hand with a magazine of the plane in his other. They do have an alternate ending that continued with Rick watching the results of the Oscars as a piece from Access Hollywood wrapped up the movie. But they stuck with the right one.
Tom Cruise (Les Grossman): “First, take a big step back… and literally, FUCK YOUR OWN FACE!” The big shot movie executive who tired of watching his money go to waste as some newb director who couldn’t seem to get his Actors in line. Most of the character idea was all Cruise, including the big hands and dancing, which he incorporated during his makeup tests (located in the special features). Certainly not known for being rather comedic nor tolerable, I was rather surprised at how funny he ended up. Playing a heartless big shot who was almost convincing in having Rick accept the plane and lots of money, playa. Best end credits ever? I think so.
Brandon T. Jackson (Alpa Chino): “It’s “viet cong.” There’s no “s,” it’s already plural. You wouldn’t say “Chineses…” What could be better than showing an otherwise thriving rapper in the midst of his fame. Making hit records about how much he loved woman, for lack of some ‘better’ terms. All the while generating profits off an energy drink and bar combination. Only to find him harboring surpassed homosexual feelings that needed to be hidden in order to upkeep his image. The fact that Jackson was the youngest out of this bunch of heavy hitters didn’t seem to faze his performance as he was especially able to counter Downey’s character. Who also seemed the main point of frustration as he couldn’t get over “the one male lead intended for a black man going to Crocodile Dundee.” Another being when at the camp near the end and shouting who he was as a Vietcong began naming the real Al Pacino’s films and is what starts the final action sequence between everyone.
Jay Baruchel (Kevin Sandusky): “Wow! The insecurity level with you guys is ridiculous!” I have long been a fan of Baruchel and his films (he’s rather attractive, eh). Though his ‘portrayal’ of the awkward, nerdy one of the bunch always seems most fitting. Which I truly mean as a compliment. Standing out as the most sane one the bunch, his biggest fault was that he had to keep introducing himself to the cast, who so easily forgot him. The scene when they trolled through the jungle as he mumbled about the difference in formats being improvised and asked to simply discuss. Which he seemed to talk to the other Actors about off-screen anyway. Though was the young blood that gets it the worst of the bunch. In most War films there’s that one guy whose guts spill out as he tries to place them back in. Such a terrible sight but the way its over exaggerated in the film was homage enough to get the ‘point’ of the scene.
Ben Stiller (Tugg Speedman): “Or are you a dude who has no idea what dude he is and claims to know what dude he is…” There is a complete professionalism about Stiller that I get whenever hearing him speak on a film he’s worked on. He’s had some great performances through his career but truly does magic when behind the camera, directing. Though only four feature length films, they are easily favorites as is clear of how much he takes into consideration when approaching his art. The platoon montage being an obvious and necessary scene of which he played perfectly into to. The action heart-throb who tried breaking out into serious roles though unable to hold his own against others such as Kirk Lazarus. Dimwitted and unaware of the lack of talent he actually holds as is all muscle and no brawn. So he spends the entirety of the film trying to fit into a mold of which he was made for. Lacking the authenticity behind the character to maintain a position of power the other Actors could respect. Eventually everything being worth it in the end as he goes home with the Oscar and outdoes veteran Actors such as Jon Voight and Tom Hanks.
Jack Black (Jeff Portnoy): “Your mother’s a cankerous whore! Hey, man, remember way back when I said your mother was a cankerous whore? I’m sorry, man.” The habit-forming comedian whose laughs have always been on account of being the butt of every joke. They compared him to Chris Farley, though as War movies are concerned, I saw him more as the the Tom Sizemore of the film. Black commented on always having that one guy with the raspy voice who dishes out orders. Many lines were improvised on his part as well. The great thing about having so many talented people on set being the endless amount of material floating around their heads. My favorite being the bit when tied to the tree or when yelling about not wanting to share his ‘jellybeans.’
Robert Downey Jr. (Kirk Lazarus): “Weren’t no cell phones in ’69, man. I’m head-to-toe legitimate.” Like a fine wine, Robert only seems to get better with age. He stayed true to his character, all the way until the commentary (which is hilarious and worth a watch). Easily also had one of the better roles, undergoing a complete transformation and delivering line after another of comedic genius. Each Actor mocking a facet they would be most familiar with. Downey never seeming to have any trouble making fun of himself or anyone else for that matter. I couldn’t even begin to speak of a favorite part without feeling like so much else would be left out. What’s more was that he had the best commercial that plays before the movie even begins.
Having great interactions all around as we’re brought to an explosive ending that takes us right back to the beginning. The group of Actors finally get the push needed and each makes their own happy endings as a plethora of cameos appear. Much in the same way as in Zoolander. However the rest of the cast was just as amazing. I loved the bit with Maria Menounos mocking Stiller’s character and Brandon Soo Hoo was able to hold as big a presence among the cast at the mere age of 13 and playing the villain, no less. They’re are several features which mainly showcase the fun had during filming. While Justin Theroux can be found twice within the film (only if your looking) he was able to shoot a mockumentary on the filming of Tropic Thunder which was entertaining but perhaps overkill to an extent. Especially if your not used to watching several and know the patterns that certain journalist tend to fall into to. Overall a grade A spoof of War films and all the things we love about them. Topped with a perfect cast that delivers laughs nonstop, making for a great watch every time.