Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Funniest Movie You Haven't Yet Seen: EAGLE VS SHARK

Yo yo yo. It's a big day today - CAVS VS. SPURS in the NBA Finals, baby! More on that later, first off I'd like to talk about one of the sleeper movies of the summer, which I was priveleged to see a special screening of the other day -- EAGLE VS. SHARK.


This is a movie that, I hope, will soon get a big following thanks to great word of mouth and positive buzz. Other than a few scattered internet ads and one or two early reviews from Sundance, I hadn't heard much at all about Eagle vs. Shark, but, I'd heard enough that I was interested in attending a free screening on Tuesday in Hollywood that would see the New Zealander filmmakers in attendance for a Q and A. Even though Tuesday was a workday from hell, I braved terrible traffic and exhaustion to make it the Sunset Laemlle 5, where I had the pleasure of seeing this hilarious movie. One item of note: due to that aforementioned traffic, I ended up missing the very beginning of the film, which I was really upset about, but through the magic of YouTube I caught some of the key scenes that I missed the first time around.

The very, very easy comparison to make here is with Napoleon Dynamite, as the two films have a number of stylistic and narrative parallels. Like Napoleon, Eagle vs. Shark features a squinty, low-talking outcast who speaks in abrupt declarations and is fascinated with things like martial arts. In Eagle, this character is Jarrod, who is kind of like a more grown-up Napoleon who is much more self-aware of his own odball traits. Jarrod is an awkward sort of guy who plays videogames, sculpts decorative candles, and has his heart set on tracking down a bully who tormented him in high school and beating the crap out of him with this work-in-progress martial arts skills. Jarrod goes to a videogame-playing party where everyone has to dress up as their favorite animal - he goes as an eagle, and he soon bonds with the equally awkward Gordon, a geeky girl who is unusually good at videogames, enjoys hula-hooping, and speaks in a droopy monotone (she goes as a shark, hence the movie's title). The two quickly realize that they're a match made in nerd heaven, and Gordon decides to accompany Jarrod back to his small New Zealand home town where he plans to carry out his mission of revenge on his former high school nemesis.

And that, there, is the basic premise of Eagle vs. Shark. However, while Napoleon Dynamite was almsot strictly random and light-hearted, never fully exploring the hints of darkness that at times seeped into the screenplay, Eagle vs Shark is a much more well-rounded tale. It's consistently hilarious, but it also has some real moments of sadness and sweetness, since it is, at its heart, a love story - a Napoleon Dynamite-style twist on the romantic comedy with a bit of tragedy and triumph that reminds one of Wes Anderson's tragi-comedies like Rushmore or Life Aquatic, and even a bit of Paul Thomas Anderson's Punk Drunch Love. Much of the sadness as well as humor comes from Jarrod's family,who is every bit as colorful as Kip, Uncle Leo, and the grandma in Napoleon Dynamite. There's Jarrod's sister and her husband, who wear matching nylon tracksuits at all times and are always trying to shill their line of cheap ripoff products to anyone in sight. There's Jarrod's younger brother, a wannabe metal-head who plays guitar in a band with an angelic ten year old girl. And, oh yeah, this little blonde girl, inexplicably, is Jarrod's daughter (one of the most random aspects of the entire movie - we are never given any insight into their relationship or if she is in fact truly his daughter!). Jarrod's friends are an equally oddball bunch. His best friend / sidekick is this hilariously awkward guy who Jarrod claims is a crack computer hacker - this guy gets some of the best lines in the movie, especially when, in a moment of courage, he asks out Gordon, only to be thoroughly rejected to great comedic effect.

However, the plotline that really gives Eagle Vs. Shark much of its depth is the relationship between nerdy Jarrod and his dad, who has been a self-imposed vegetable ever since Jarrod's jock older brother committed suicide by jumping off a cliff. Throughout the film Jarrod tries in vain to emulate his beloved older brother and bond with his glassy-eyed dad, who watches videos of his dead son's track and field victories over and over again, and who uses a wheelchair despite being able to walk with no problems. Meanwhile, the love story between Jarrod and Gordon goes through many twists and turns, and even though the two are such oddball characters, you really become invested in them and root for them to end up happy. In another movie, Jarrod would come off as an unlikable lunatic, but thanks to the depth given to him and his family situation, you really begin to feel for the guy, and get mad at him when he begins to let Gordon slip away.

Again, Eagle vs. Shark is hilarious, but it really has this kind of serene sadness to it thanks to the artful cinematography of director Taika Cohen. The locations are beautifully shot - the beaches, plains, suburbs, etc of Wellington, New Zealand come alive here, and are made all the more interesting by the great soundtrack that accompanies the movie, which is full of atmosphere-setting songs and intrumentals. There are also these cool little stop-motion animation sequences sprinkled throughout the film that I really enjoyed - they could have been cheesy if overdone but I thought they added to the film's surreal quality and even worked nicely as a kind of metaphor for some of the themes in the movie.

Now, this is a pretty artfully-done film compared to what one might be used to from most American comedies, but, don't get me wrong - it can be flat-out hilarious as well. Jarrod's thick New Zealander accent combined with his low-pitch Napolean Dynamite-esque speech makes nearly every line out of his mout both funny as hell and instantly quotable. When he's not bumbling arund plotting revenge, he's lamenting about how "intense" and "complex" he is, or else donning a 1980's headband and "training" for his impending fight. This character, as played by the film's co-creator Jermaine Clement, is drop-dead funny, even if he will remind you more than a little of Napoleon Dynamite.

Basically, I'd urge anyone to forget about some of this summer's overhyped blockbusters for a minute and make an effort to go see EAGLE VS. SHARK, which I think is a cult-classic in the making. It inevitably suffers a bit for being a bit similar on the surface to Napoleon Dynamite, but the movie is so funny and different enough from anything you've ever seen that it is 100% worth a look.

After the film, we were lucky enough to hear a brief Q and A with creators and lead actors (and real-life couple) Taika Cohen and Jermaine Clement, and I was blown away when I saw them in person. I guess I was expecting people who, like Jon Heder, were seemingly only a few notches away from the characters they played. In fact, they were barely recognizable as the actors behind Jarrod and Gordon, which is a credit to how great their acting is in the film and how fully they immerse themselves in these quirky characters.

Anways, go seek out Eagle Vs. Shark. It's one of the funniest and most offbeat, original movies you'll have seen in a while.

My Grade: A -

- Still have to see KNOCKED UP. Kind of curious about Oceans 13 but there's something about the whole movie that turns me off. I guess I just to see all that talent going out there and giving it 75%, cashing in on the novelty of all of them being in the same movie rather than going out and making an A-list movie to match the A-list talent.

- Gotta love the wave of 80's nostalgia that is sweeping Hollywood. Thundercats and He-Man are now both official. Jessica Biel as Cheetarah?

- Okay I've got more but I'm out for now. It's crazy around here and lots going on - check back tommorow for more. And ... GO CAVS.

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