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Monday, March 28, 2011

A Little-Late Film Review: Grown Ups (2010)

Dennis Dugan has brought us some of the most notoriously terrible films of the last twenty years. Often working with Adam Sandler, he directed some of the worst from the former SNL cast member. He is also responsible for such garbage as Problem Child, National Security and Saving Silverman. I hate Dennis Dugan’s movies. Hate, hate, hate them! Therefore, I went into Grown Ups expecting to be enraged and energized, ready to blast this film in a review. Little did I know that Grown Ups could be the best movie Dennis Dugan has ever done. Now don’t get too excited, given his track record, that isn’t saying much. Grown Ups is still a piece of crap.

After the death of their childhood mentor, a basketball coach, a group of friends meet up at the funeral, and decide to spend the weekend together with their families at a cabin in the woods. (Yep. That’s the plot.) The friends (played by Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade and Rob Schneider) bring their families with them and they engage in the typical shtick you would see in a comedy that takes place mostly in the woods. There are pratfalls, scatological humor, some unfunny innuendo and kids that say and do things kids don’t normally do. A lot of that crap.

Most comedies have a formula. The good ones will open with a few gags then settle down just for a few minutes so we can be moved into the plot. Not Grown Ups. Grown Ups is obnoxious from the first five minutes. The characters reveal themselves as immature, self-absorbed and asinine as they present their various personality traits at their coach‘s funeral, turning a memorial service for their beloved coach into a night at the Improv. This scene does what I think it’s supposed to do. Reveal these characters to us. They are not so much revealed, though, as they are exposed. This scene seems to be much longer than it should be, and it has zero laughs. It is a poorly conceived attempt to make us feel like we know these characters, and that they know each other.

Now, I did say it may be the best film of Dennis Dugan’s career, and there are a couple things that elevate this one above the previous films in his septic tank of a repertoire. First, Adam Sandler speaks like an adult male here, not shouting, stuttering, slurring, shrieking or squealing his way through his lines; that is one improvement (I know Sandler has spoken like a normal human being in other films, but not so much under Dugan). Also, David Spade is not quite as obnoxious here as he has been before; a plus. Then there’s the other, smaller roles from lesser SNL stars like Tim Meadows and Colin Quinn that are okay, but these stars aren’t really given much to do here.

Okay, so I’m really ending things here. I don’t want to recall anymore of this movie. I will not dwell on the lame gags at the water park, or the poorly-directed basketball match between the protagonists and a group of adult bullies, or the shallow and useless female characters, or the poor child-actors, or the sloppy editing, or any of the other elements of this film I hated. I also will not harp on the five leads exchanging crude and immature insults, laughing at each other and themselves. We could just tell they had a lot of fun while on the set of this movie. Well, I didn’t have fun.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Little-Late Film Review - The Fighter (2010)

With all of the hundreds of sports films (about 70% of which are from Disney), for some reason the subject of boxing tends to lead to better films. Rocky, Raging Bull, and to a lesser extent, Million Dollar Baby all tell the tale of an embattled hero (or heroine) in their quest to achieve greatness. Maybe it is the individual struggle that makes such great cinema. In football there is a whole team to track, create story points for, and to cast, while in boxing there are only the boxer, the boxer’s nemesis, and the family and friends of the protagonist. The generally smaller cast seems to lead the movies to focus more on story and character development rather than the actual sport of boxing (Rocky’s sequels notwithstanding).

The Fighter is the latest of this illustrious list of cinematic achievements that show us both sides of an athlete’s life, the one inside and the one outside of the ring. Micky (Mark Walberg) is the devoted younger brother to former champ-turned-crack-addict Dicky (Christian Bale). A series of losses has led Micky to small-fry status and he really wants his chance to shoot back to the top. He struggles to do so, however, due to a very powerful shackle that always seems to keep him from achieving his dream: his boundless devotion to his family.

Enter Charlene (Amy Adams), a lovely bartender whom Micky becomes enamored with. She encourages him to pursue his dream and is the source of much contention between Micky and his family, as he is ordered around by his overbearing, aggressive, and sometimes utterly insane, mother (an Oscar-and-Golden-Globe-winning performance by Melissa Leo) and his junkie brother. This family dynamic is really the focus of the film, and it is fascinating. Dicky has an obvious affection for his younger brother, but his constant absence due to stretches of the day in the local crack house becomes a burden, and his mother seems less concerned about Micky’s personal success and more so about her part in it.

Then there’s Charlene . She is bright, tough, sexy, encouraging and supportive of Micky, despite all of his natural flaws and his overpowering family burden. This is one of the best performances Amy Adams has ever given (probably second only to her young Sister in Doubt). She has played good roles before, but here she is exceptional. Charlene has a vulnerability hidden behind a thick-skinned toughness that is visible, but only hinted at most of the time. This is when you know you’re watching a great actor, when you can almost see what they’re thinking, in spite of their outward appearance. It harkens back to Claudette Colbert’s perfect performance as Ellie in Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night.

Mark Walberg gives a career performance here. He has grown to be a truly great actor and we have seen hints of this in previous roles, including his supporting performance in the Departed. Here he shows that not only can he carry a lead in a great film, but he can bring a character to life. I mentioned Adam’s performance, and how you can almost hear what she’s thinking at times. Micky has a different look. It is one of sadness, almost defeat. You can see the determination and frustration in his brow and his posture.

The supporting cast, including Amy Adams and Christian Bale are often scene-stealing. Their more outspoken characters are a contrast to Micky, who is submissive to their more commanding personalities. Melissa Leo, in particular, is quite good. Her Alice is a little sleazy, a lot crazy as Micky and Dicky’s mother. She commands her army of daughters as if they were her loyal subjects and there are some very good exchanges between her and some of the other characters, especially Charlene.

The Fighter is an extremely well-written, smart drama. It is one of the best films of 2010 with terrific performances from all involved. There are a few moments that seem to drag just a bit, and the fight scenes skip ahead a few rounds, occasionally becoming disorienting. I also would have liked to see Micky and Charlene’s relationship examined just a little further, as it seems sort of glanced over at times. Still, the Fighter is an exceptional film and I believe we will begin to see more and more dramatic leading roles for Bale and Walberg in the coming years due to their outstanding work here.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Little Late Film Review - Monsters (2010)

You know?  While watching Monsters I was speaking with a friend and he suggested they make a movie about a giant squid with swords in each of its arms.  I don’t know how you could make a movie with that premise and it be boring.  Then again, I don’t know how a movie called Monsters could be so damn boring either.  While watching I checked the time on the film, just to see how far in I am and noticed that nothing exciting has happened for more than 45 minutes.  Then I realized, about the same time, that I’m not even an hour in.  I began to do things to pass the time.  I would count how many times the leads stared woefully, or how often we get hammy shots of limbs or articles of clothing strewn across the ground, or how many times we get “art” shots of the camera peering through obstacles, the actors just out of focus in the background.  Might be a fun drinking game, but you may want to relinquish your car keys before you start playing.

Sometime (made unclear), earth falls under attack by monsters who take over northern Mexico (for reasons unclear) and the military struggles to keep the beasts at bay.  They even resort to building a “Great Wall of Border Fence” to keep the monsters South of the border but who cares, we have twenty-somethings who have to talk about stuff!  This is the attitude of this messy movie.  We have a film about lethal monsters who terrorize North America and we are focused on two moderately attractive stars as they trade banter with each other and mope about natural landscapes, often staring off into the distance.  So we follow a photographer named Andrew who is charged with escorting his boss’s daughter, Samantha back to America.

This is an almost entirely dialogue-driven film, which is fine, but only if the writing is good.  The writing in Monsters, unfortunately, isn’t.  I found the inane screenplay to be exceptionally dull.  The characters trade innuendo with each other and point out the obvious.  They use the traditional “Wait!?  Did you hear that!?” and “Stay here!” lines to build phony tension.  These thrills pay off in the worst ways possible; one scene actually having a bag lady stand there, silent, the music builds as Samantha walks toward her, urging a response.  The bag lady turns and then barks like a dog before she walks away.

The climax (taking up roughly fifteen of the last minutes of the film) takes the leads to America, where a town is ravaged by monsters and is in ruins.  We spend our last moments waiting for a military escort at an empty gas station when the heroes come under attack by badly animated tentacles.  Even this scene is boring, a blatant rip off of the raptors-in-the-kitchen-scene from Jurassic Park, only done poorly.  The scene ends with the actors staring in amazement at the creatures, then they turn to stare at each other when the monsters leave.  More staring…

The “action scenes” in Monsters are exceptionally weak.  The all take place in the dark, so that we can’t actually see how bad the effects are, then we get very obscured shots of some tentacles or other body part moving across the screen.  There’s screaming, gunfire, quite for a second, then a cheap scare tries to conjure some response from the event.  I believe they were trying to take the Jaws approach here.  Making it so you don’t actually see the monster until the end (noting that in Jaws that was not the original intention.  Sometimes technical difficulties are good!), the problem is the action is not tense, or scary, or even interesting.  These are muddily-shot, dark scenes that seem less like an artistic choice and more like they are trying to cover up the effects.  These attack scenes are the worst parts of this film.

Monsters is a film with a lot of build-up and zero payoff.  The ending is anti-climactic, the dialogue is dull and tiresome, the characters are uninteresting and the film is just boring as a whole.  Monster movies, even bad or low-budget (or both) ones are supposed to be fun.  Not only is this movie not fun, it’s a downer.  It’s shot in depressed tones, lots of sandy browns and grays (or pitch-black), and the characters are all so sorrowful.  It’s bitter and it’s dismal.  Don’t be fooled by the weak acclaim this film has received.  It is misplaced.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Little-Late Film Review: G-Force (2009)

Hollywood shows a great deal of contempt for younger viewers. This is evident despite the fact that big-Hollywood family films are often among the highest-grossing theatrical releases. Disney is a company held in high esteem for being a source of quality family entertainment… fifty years ago. Now it is a schlock factory that pumps out one mediocre title after another attempting to generate enough coin to fund their enterprise between the one annual release they actually care about: their Pixar-cash-cow masterpiece. So, in between great films like Up and Wall-e, we get boring crap like G-Force (I am aware that Pixar MADE Up and Wall-e, but Disney is its production house and publisher, so they do have a say in what comes out of that has their name plastered on it).

G-Force is an example of an idea born from the “Random Movie Plot Card Game.” This being a series of cards big studios seem to abuse to give their less-creative production teams something to, well, create. So they scatter the cards face down in a small baking sheet; they then draw three or so cards. So in this case, it’s obvious they drew Spy, Rodent and Comedy. So this Spy/Rodent/Comedy is discussed and in about four hours they have the basic plot for a screenplay. Two days later, it’s time to start casting!

Okay, okay, I’m sure they put more effort into it than that. And that is what is truly sad about G-Force. The extremely generic, uninspired and completely clichéd plot involves a small team of guinea pigs (and one mole) who are trained to execute very delicate missions without detection. They are good at what they do, for rodents. They seem to have a great deal of understanding about everything, which leads to some stand-out-stupid moments later, but I digress.

Their team is disbanded by the FBI after it is learned that they gained evidence of a conspiracy to turn our common household appliances against us using satellites to manipulate high-powered processors embedded into each device. Blah, blah, blah. It’s all been done before (Barenaked Ladies; pretty good song) and we know how it ends.

This being a Jerry Bruckheimer movie, there has to be explodiness right? Yep! There is plenty of destruction and mayhem for your sadistic eight-year-old’s amusement. These “action scenes” come in the form of a coffee-maker turning into a five-pound death-dealing device that throws razor blades and pursues our heroes through a store display window and out into the street. Good thing it’s no match for a couple of white-walls that roll over it, converting it from a deadly robot to a less-deadly scrap heap.

There are other action scenes, and some are well done, they just aren’t anything we haven’t seen before. Think about this for a minute. They made a movie. A movie about GUINEA PIG SECRET AGENTS and they couldn’t think of one funny, original, intelligent thing to do with the plot?! This is testament to the creative wastelands that are the big studios, and also telling about how they feel about your kids. They know your kids will want to see the movie, because it’s all CGI’d up and stuff, and they know you’ll shell out the dough for them just to shut them up about it. America is duped like this every year, over and over, starting somewhere around May 5th.

G-Force overlays the CGI rodents with live action but it doesn’t look or feel right. They don’t seem like they are part of the world. They seem either like cheaply-done cereal mascots that just jumped off the box or fluffy alcohol-induced hallucinations. The animation on the individual characters is okay, but compared to higher-quality films like Ratatouille, it seems sort of understated and unnatural. The voice acting is okay, filling out the quotas for the various stereotypes needed to generate much of the film’s empty humor. Jon Favreau voices Hurley, the flatulent fat one; Penelope Cruz voices Juarez, the sexy vixen; Tracy Morgan voices Blaster, the loud-mouthed one-liner-spewing screwball character; and Sam Rockwell is Darwin, the leader; because he falls into that very simple “the white guy” category, he has no defining qualities at all.

The live actors serve very little purpose here. Face it, they weren’t intended to be the stars of this show. However, considering that they got some really talented people to work on this project, you’d think they’d give them something to do on screen right? WRONG! We can’t go upstaging the animated action heroes now can we?! How do you include Zach Galifianakis, Will Arnett and Bill Nighy and not give them anything funny or even entertaining to say or do? This just shows you how much of a waste this project is. All of these truly talented actors, in voice and in the flesh, and all the filmmakers can do is have them spout lazily-conceived dialogue that was obviously thrown together with some sort of screenplay-generating software. Such a waste…

The screenplay is the result of the Wibberly siblings. These two wrote such “masterpieces” as I Spy, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, The 6th Day and (shutter) Bad Boys II (Wha‘?! You ain’ seen Bad Boys II?!). If you have not seen any of these movies, let me explain very simply. They are all terrible. They also wrote National Treasure, which was a little better, but not by much. They mostly specialize in the pattern of: Open scene; dialogue to lead; big stunt; actors say something funny; repeat for two hours. The next project these two are working on is a courtroom TV drama.

Directorially, G-Force isn’t bad. There are some shots that do well to scale the characters to the much bigger world out there and some of the action scenes are well done, it is just not enough to save this vapid project. There isn’t enough life or creativity in this film to make it a worthwhile piece of entertainment. With so many great family films to watch with your kids, classics like Willy Wonka and the Wizard of Oz, why waste your time with this poorly conceived, only decently-executed dribble that will not inspire one ounce of imagination in their growing brains?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Film Review - The Chaperone (2011)

WWE Studios. It is a relatively new studio yet it has such an amazingly bad track record. Could this because they are creatively bankrupt? Could it be that their “athletes” are terrible actors? Maybe it’s just that they really just don’t know how to make a movie. It started in 1989 when the wrestling organization, then called WWF, decided they can do films. They started with a notorious disaster called No Holds Barred starring Hulk Hogan. There was a long gap, more than a decade actually, before they started making movies again. WWE co-produced the Mummy spin-off The Scorpion King and it was all downhill from there. The Rock was their top-billing actor for some time, but more recently, other “stars” have had their shot to appear in completely mediocre movies too.

Enter The Chaperone, an example of a movie that lacks any creativity, any brains and any talent on any level. Paul Levesque (a.k.a. “Triple H”… I guess) plays Ray, an ex-con, released on good behavior after a seven-year stint in prison. Upon leaving the pokey he is paid a visit from his old friend Phil (Kevin Corrigan) who is the reason he was in jail in the first place. He adamantly refuses to return to a life of crime as he tries to reconnect with his family but is rejected.

Some plot contrivances enter the scene from here and, to make a long story short, he ends up as the driver for a bank job orchestrated by the unscrupulous Phil. He bails on his crew while they are still hitting their target and travels across the street to a conveniently-located school bus transporting his daughter and her class to New Orleans for a field trip. He offers his services as a chaperone and is permitted (because the plot says so) by an idiotic educator named Miss Miller (played by Simpsons voice-actor Yeardly Smith). So it’s off to The Big Easy and this well-read wrestler guides the children through a museum tour among other pointless things all while trying to connect with his daughter and avoid the pursuing Phil and his cohorts.

This is a bad movie, but it’s not just bad, it’s worse; it’s completely boring. Some bad movies are filled with bad laughs that make the film entertaining. The Chaperone is so dull, so blandly acted, so cliché-ridden that it is not only a drain to watch, but thinking back on it as I write this article I notice I used the words “bored” or “boring” at least thirty times in my notes. There is action in some scenes, but these scenes are brief, poorly shot and anti-climactic; existing only to fill the violence quota of a film from WWE studios.

On the acting in the Chaperone: the dynamic, or lack their of, between Ray and his daughter Sally (played hatefully and apathetically by Modern Family’s Ariel Winter) is so weak and unconvincing that I actually thought I was going to see the camera follow them from the set to the crafts and services table as they grab a doughnut and discuss their work in the film industry. At no point did I believe any of these characters existed before or after the brief span of the story and at no point did I believe that there is any connection between Ray and Sally, even after the story tells me they have one. This is an emotionally detached film, and it shows in every scene of dialogue, the first hour of which is dominated by Sally telling Ray how much she hates him and Ray patiently trying to get her to overcome that anger.

The other child actors in this film aren’t any better. They fit neatly into a set of stereotypes and I found myself plugging them into the Breakfast Club model created by John Hughes more than twenty-five years ago. They are neatly defined by the way they dress, the things that they say and the actions they take later in the film. There’s the nerd who seems to carry everything he owns with him, and for the sake of us knowing he is a geek is allowed to do so; there’s a bully complete with an aggressive T-shirt and curly red hair; there’s the ditsy blonde girl; and the tall boy who Sally pines over who is cool because he is vanilla, lacking any defining characteristics, except that in almost every one of his scenes he is sitting casually, reading a book.

But what am I thinking? This is a WWE Studios production. There is no need for anything like plot, or character development, or acting, or even a script for that matter. This is all about the action. As I mentioned, the action is just as boring as the rest of the film. What I did not mention is the third act action scenes where the kids, yes the kids, take on the baddies. These few moments are so desperate, so lame and so poorly conceived that I almost thought I was watching a gag reel. When you’re watching a film as absurd as the Chaperone and you can’t believe what you’re seeing, it truly says something about the size of the shark the writers jumped here.

The Chaperone suffers from its weak plot, story conveniences and contrivances and its horrible, horrible acting. However, it also suffers from the boundaries it created for itself in terms of marketing. The film has a PG-13 rating for violence and language, but most teens and definitely most adults will find this to be exceptionally boring. They were obviously pandering to a younger demographic with this film so the fact that they allowed the script to take it into PG-13 territory baffles me. Granted, most parents will let their kids watch this despite its rating but the Chaperone obviously doesn’t know who it is marketing too. Knucklehead was not a good movie but it was innocent, and certainly better than this, and at least it knew the audience it was aiming for. This film seems scattershot, trying to hit too many target audiences at once and failing in all counts. The Chaperone is a failure because it is not only uninspired, it is woefully disconnected. The film is disconnected from its audience, the characters in the movie are disconnected from each other and the story is disconnected from any reality present in any film, ever.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Little-Late Film Review: The Town (2010)

The Town is an absolutely stunning and tragic heist film centering on two Boston bank robbers.  Ben Affleck is Doug MacRay, a level-headed and patient thief.  Jeremy Renner’s James Coughlin, on the other hand, is a violent, hot-headed villain.  The two are life-long friends who run together in a single job at a bank that changes things forever.  They are forced to improvise when a silent alarm is hit and the crew decides to take a hostage to ensure escape. 

That hostage is Claire (Rebecca Hall) who is released but traumatized by her ordeal.  After a brief time passes, Doug meets her again, this time unmasked and they begin to develop an unintended relationship.
The already complicated scene becomes even more dangerous when an F.B.I. agent named Adam Frawley (John Hamm) begins to pursue the crew of bandits. 

From beginning to end, the Town is a excellent film.  It is filled with thrills and tragedy and the three main performances by Affleck, Renner and Hall are perfect.  Affleck, in particular gives what could be the best performance of his career.  Doug MacRay is a pained man with a sorrowful past and a heartbreakingly unshakable devotion to his childhood friend, Jim.  Jim is adversely wicked, seeking violence rather than trying to avoid it.  Where Doug’s pain is a menace to him, Jim wields it as a weapon, unleashing his hatred on his victims.  Rebecca Hall’s performance, as Claire, in this film is a wonderful balance.  Doug embraces her as a respite from the violent life he feels himself trapped in and, out of what could be love, or maybe genuine and understandable guilt, he is drawn to her, and when his true identity as one of her captors is revealed, he is willing to throw everything away for a chance to be part of her life.

Affleck is really, on most occasions, only an okay actor.  However, he is an utterly spectacular writer and director, his previous credits including Gone Baby Gone and Good Will Hunting.  He really could go on to be the next Martin Scorsese if he focused on filmmaking rather than being a movie star.  Each scene in the Town is very well constructed and framed, and the action, which in most films tends to be sloppy and difficult to follow, is filmed with a certain focus.  It feels chaotic but is it is technically structured and well-timed.  This is a credit to Affleck’s ability to manage a scene and really elevates the Town to what could be the best action film of the last ten years, even though the action is not a dominate part of the film. 

The second half of the film features a particularly well done action scenes complete with two tense major stunts: one involves an ambulance violently colliding with an armored car and the other features an armored vehicle flipping as it falls into a parking lot.  These are so obviously technical, but so well executed that they seem more like a news reel rather than a film clip.  We feel the weight of the vehicles as they collide and crush and the moments bring a sort of pause.  They each last all of about fifteen seconds a piece and they are both utterly breathtaking. 

The Town is proof that you do not need a gimmick, CGI, or any over-the-top excess to achieve perfection in the action genre.  I, personally, found the Town a hundred times more tense, more menacing and more exciting than any cheesy camp-fest starring the Rock, Jason Statham or Jet Li released over the past decade or so.  This is because the lack of the unrealistic stupidity found in most films of its genre makes the risk feel real, which makes you fear that anyone could be executed in this film’s more violent scenes.  This expendability is part of the true thrill, and if that is absent, and we know the hero is invincible, the trills are empty, relying more on how we react to the visuals than the action itself.  In the Town it is not inconceivable that any of the leads could be killed off at any time, and that is a terrific achievement in the mood of the film.

The Town is one of the best films of 2010, one of the best films of any of its star’s careers, and one of the most powerful stories I have seen from Hollywood in quite some time.  It is not a downer, instead, it feels like a reality check.  The characters’ tragedies are highlighted the painful and angry way in which they execute their armed assaults on their various targets, and this pain and anger haunts the characters outside of their criminal lives.  The characters all seem bound to each other, connected, and the fear of losing any of them is a constant looming element of the story.  If you have not seen this film yet, do seek it out.  It is a stunning achievement in cinema, the first one, probably, since Slumdog Millionaire.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Little-Late Film Review: The Chosen One (2010)

Rob Schneider has one of the worst film track records of any star I can think of. I can honestly say he has not been a good movie his entire career up to this point, and I went into the Chosen One expecting it to be a disaster. Well, it wasn’t. It’s not good, but it is not nearly as bad as anything he has appeared in in the past. The Chosen One is, however, a contemptuous piece with lots of sneering to those that do not believe in its moral authority. The story follows Paul, a suicidal car salesman who is falling apart due to an overload of tragedies a Lifetime Original would envy. He tries to kill himself but is interrupted by a chance phone call by his mother, and then again by a chance arrival by his close friend, Freddy.

One fateful day, he gets a visit from a group of Columbian shaman and a lovely guide who he is not too quick to dismiss (if he did this movie would exceed it’s intended 90 minute runtime). Upon their arrival we see some strange occurrences, but nothing that is really addressed, and most aren’t even mentioned more than once. They are attuned with nature, and Paul is not, and so they are there to “right” him, because he is the Chosen One. This is where the Chosen One spends its next hour rehashing the typical fish-out-of-water clichés. We see the shaman mesmerized by television, we see them enthralled by a vehicle’s power windows, and we watch as they try to barter an apple with a single seed in the produce section of a grocery store, making translated educated observations like “We are fortunate to arrive at the time of the harvest.”

I’ll get into some of the supporting characters that appear between these recycled scenes in a moment, but there is one very important thing about this film I want to address: its ending. The ending of the Chosen One follows roughly eighty minutes of build-up and offers little payoff. It attempts to take the hints that the film has thrown in over time and mesh them together to form a cohesive climax, but none of this matters because the intent of this conclusion is not to reveal what has been hinted at but to strike the final nail into the film’s message, as it is hammered into our brain.

The Chosen One’s self-important moral is that these lowly shaman from Columbia are a million times happier and better than you are. Why? Because they love and respect the Earth, and you don’t! That’s why! This is so blatant that it isn’t so much an undertone as it is a thirty-foot, flashing neon sign towering in the background. I don’t so much have a problem with the message, so much as the way it is delivered. We are constantly told that everything we, as Americans, do is wrong, wasteful, or amoral. This is an offensive message coming from a film that still assumes most of the spiritually-mature, religious people in South America live in a tiny village in the rainforest and that they worship a nearby mountain.

That complaint aside, I did get some laughs out of the dialogue in the Chosen One. It has some honestly good writing in some of the scenes. The supporting cast is also funny, with its main secondary character being Steve Buschemi as Paul’s Buddhist-convert brother who’s moral-superiority and constant self-adulation is meant to be annoying (I find this hilarious, personally, as this film is JUST like his character in that sense). The back-and-fourth between these two is good, and helps the film out of its mire of arrogance. Other performances, like those of Carolina Gomez and Holland Taylor, are good as well, though so understated that it feels like they were toned down to keep Schneider and Buschemi from being upstaged.

The Chosen One is not a bad film. It is a bad story with a good screenplay, but the performances are fairly good, and that includes Rob Schneider. If it weren’t for the constant hits from the writer’s superior morality, it would have been a thoroughly enjoyable experience, but as it is, it is about as enjoyable as being told how bad you are for 90 minutes in a slightly funny way, which is essentially what the film does. We are supposed to get a message out of this, this I know; but I don’t find myself much caring what that message is. It is all told to us in the end, and the whole time we have been chastised, it was over something so pointless that I was actually offended. Watch this one for the screenplay, but if you didn’t spend your Saturday chained to a tree to prevent its demise from the crushing route of a bulldozer, you are probably going to feel the sting of this movie’s moral whip.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Little-Late Film Review: Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008)

Have you ever noticed how in movies, caves deep within the bowels of the Earth tend to have just enough light for us to see how much work the artists put into their presentation?  This is not just an honest observation I had while watching Journey to the Center of the Earth, but it’s a metaphor for the entire film. Some movies are made for the sole purpose of looking good to capitalize on a trend or to simply lure eight-year-olds into nagging their parents about taking them to see it; and like that amazingly well-lit cave, Journey is a cavernous, empty, twisting mess that got very old, very fast. 

This is one of those movies where the heroes can easily drop everything and enter the ancient nether with little regard for familial or financial responsibility.  They just go, and they always seem to get where their going with little danger.  The danger is always reserved for the unknown places that are hidden near their destination.  Trevor Anderson (Brendan Fraser) is a socially inept scientist who is losing his grant and is being forced out by an antagonistic rival named Alan Kitzens (Seth Meyers).  One day, while babysitting his nephew Sean (Joseph Anderson), an anomalous seismic reading leads him to leave on the spot to Iceland, teen in tow.  It is here that they meet a guide named Hannah, who leads them into the mountains to the reader.  There’s a cave, and some falls, and boom!  Center of the Earth!

Journey to the Center of the Earth is not so much a film, but a series of ideas that are forced together in an attempt to generate artificial thrills.  All of the things you would have expected to see are here; there is lots of running, falling, shouting, hanging from ledges and unconvincing CGI creatures.  Nothing in this film is really convincing or even cohesive.  There are lots of phosphorescent beings, lots of big scary things want to eat you, a ton of science and logic-defying set-pieces, and lots of unnatural natural disasters to remind us we are watching an action/adventure film. 

Instead of there being natural development of the characters in Journey, they tend to sort of evolve.  The nerdy scientist becomes an action hero; the bratty teen becomes a brave adventurer; and the blonde chick, who doesn’t seem particularly surprised she’s sailing across and ocean deep beneath the earth’s crust, just sort of stands there looking sexy.  I guess you could argue they are adapting, but I think screenwriters Michael Weiss (who spent his career up to this point writing overblown and crappy thrillers) and Jennifer Flackett (who spent her career up to this point writing overblown and crappy family films) just wanted to write lame one-liners and clichéd interjections during over-the-top action scenes, rather than an engaging, honest screenplay.  There is meant to be a dynamic that grows between three characters in the depths, this is obvious, but the one time the film does slow down during their adventure to develop this people, it feels forced, manipulative, and totally illogical.

The character development is further addled by the poor performances by the three leads.  Fraser is always charismatic, though usually not great, on screen.  Here he is boring and shallow, spouting out “sciency” things to make sure we know he’s got brains.  The obligatory female is played by Anita Briem.  She is okay, though she really doesn’t have any purpose in the film except to provide Fraser’s character someone to quip to when they and the young Sean are obligatorily separated.  Sean exists to give the kids in the audience a point of connection.  That’s it.  This entire film could be re-cut without him and it would not make a bit of difference.  He is not a particularly good actor here.  Some critics don’t like to pick on kids but not me.  There are good child actors.  There are plenty of them.  Casting a boring, uncharismatic teen does not make the movie better.  Given the needless inclusion of characters in this film, I’m surprised they didn’t include a twenty-something sidekick who provides constant comic relief in the form of snarky dialogue.  In fact, one young scientist that works with Trevor in the lab was probably, I speculate, originally meant to be in the action as well to give us more cheap laughs, but was eventually written out.  Once again: I only speculate.

This is a shameless movie, complete with a built in car commercial and a blatant tease for a sequel in the end.  The movie also fully exploits its advertised 3D-ness, though I did not watch it in 3D (that crap gives me a headache).  There are plenty of moments where things are sent towards the audience to create those wow moments that are meant to make you forget you’re watching a mediocre, or in this case bad, film.  For that matter, I refuse to even call this a movie.  It is a jigsaw puzzle of poorly conceived action scenes that more closely resemble a video game than a film.  So, Journey to the Center of the Earth, I cast ye aside, you don’t even deserve to be called a piece of cinema.

A Little-Late Film Review - Otis (2008)

The comedy/horror genre is flooded with over-the-top slapstick crap.  Otis, however, is an entertaining, tounge-in-cheek but still smart thriller about a psychopathic introvert who captures and imprisons teenage girls, calls them “Kim” and forces them to be his prom date.  After Otis’ lovely fourth victim is accidentally killed in his captivity, Otis finds a new Kim in the form of Riley, the older teen daughter of Will and Kate, and sister to Reed.  He keeps Riley (Kim) locked in a cellar, chained to the floor, tortures her by turning up a radiating lighting grid and forces her to play Prom Queen.

Meanwhile, Riley’s parents have turned to the FBI to bring her home, and their help comes in the form of Agent Hotchkiss    (Jere Burns).  Hotchkiss is possibly as insane as the titular villain and the family becomes aware they may never see their daughter again.  He plays with a laser pointer during conversations, rattles off outrageous non sequiturs, and blurts out shocking possibilities as to Riley’s condition. 

Without giving away what happens in the third act, I will say that this film takes a very strange twist (as if it weren’t strange already) and it had, at least me, laughing out loud.  This is a very sick movie, but it is also very self-aware and the characters are all so neurotic or  just plain nuts that they bring life to a film that would have been a huge pass if this were a serious movie.  The little touches in the form of awkward moments and strange responses to very scary situations elevates Otis.

Another thing I liked about the film was Otis himself.  He is a pitiful man, dominated by his cruel older brother while he toils away in his home, spending most of his time monitoring his captive date.  The scenes where he is “courting” his victim are very funny, though a little uncomfortable (not in a bad way though).   He is almost child-like; Lost in the life his brother lived in high school, believing he was still there himself.  He dresses in a jersey and forces Riley (Kim) to wear a cheerleader’s uniform.  Otis’ setup, which includes a projected moving road behind a convertible and a mini-movie theater, is so extravagant that it makes you laugh at its absurdity even though you cannot help but feel sorry for him, despite the fact that he is a depraved monster.

I enjoyed Otis.  I found it funny and different.  It isn’t chilling, rather it appeals that base sensibility the great classic thrillers like A Nightmare on Elm Street managed to tap. There is a certain tone about this movie.  The mood was a little off, the events: more than a little bizarre.  It isn’t a perfect film.  It is a little sloppy in its direction.  There are a couple periods where the pacing feels a little slow, and the lengths some of the characters in this film go to for revenge are so out there, they are a little difficult to believe.  Still, for a bloody Saturday night horror flick laced with a few genuine laughs, this film is worth checking out.

A Little-Late Film Review - The Proposal

Jagged and shredded steel, broken glass scattered all around, and mangled metal cars wind and bend their way across the landscape as electrical fires break out and property damage and the voices of survivors permeate the landscape. What I’ve just described is a train wreck. In the Proposal, the imperious Margaret Tate (Sandra Bullock) blackmails her submissive, weak-willed assistant Andrew Paxton (Ryan Reynolds) into marrying her so that she is not deported back to Canada. What I’ve just described is also a train wreck.

After the initial announcement of their proposal by Margaret, a shocked Andrew refuses to go along with her plan until she essentially offers to pay him off. So, without any real reason except to include the rest of the cast in the movie, they go to Alaska to meet the Paxton family. The family is filled with popular talents including Betty White, who seems to be reserved to play the old lady that says outrageous things in every bad movie released anymore; Craig T. Nelson, who is a rock, we never really learn anything about this man; Mary Steenburgen, who is underused except to promote the fictional couple’s sexual activity; and the Office’s Oscar Nuñez, who is the obligatory “Jack-of-all-trades” in the small town, he is also an offensive stereotype here.

The performances here are forced and unnatural. Very few characters in this movie are likable and relatable and the overblown acting makes things that much more disconnected. When you are trying to tell the story of an unlikely couple, say Rhett and Scarlet in Gone With the Wind, it is important to make aspects of each character likeable. The biggest problem with the Proposal (and most modern rom-coms for that matter) is that the characters on screen are so outside the bounds of reality that we cannot find a point to connect to. When Harry Met Sally brought together two flawed but likeable characters and revealed them to us and we grew to know them. The Proposal plops them down like a ladle full of stew and we are forced to pick through the slop. The characters are messy, inconsistent and illogical. As a result of this, any attempts at depth the film tries to portray seems like it belongs in a different movie.

Ultimately, The Proposal is a stupid, empty, boring and sometimes mean comedy of which the jokes are the result of behavior that no one on God’s Green Earth would consider normal. There is no room for a thick plot here. There is just Margaret being a contentious, hateful wench to almost everyone on screen including, and especially, Andrew. The problem is, we don’t feel any sympathy for Andrew either because later when the tables turn on their charade, he is just as heartless and dismissive as Margaret has been this whole time.

The genre of the romantic comedy has been a vapid wasteland for a very long time. With the exception of some smart and honest films like (500) Days of Summer and the Forgetting Sarah Marshall, most rom-coms are dumb, gimmicky movies with little regard for the audience and for their stars, and the Proposal is one of the worst offenders because it actually tries to be a heartfelt romance in the end, something I did not buy for a nanosecond. While not as schticky and overblown as the Bounty Hunter, or as disgusting and offensive as the Ugly Truth, the Proposal is a dull, brainless, heartless beast of a film that should be slain for the sake of the people. It could be argued that it is worse in some respects than those two because it is the same manic and immature material disguised as sincere.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Little-Late Film Review: Birdemic: Shock and Terror - PART 2!

I pick up where I left off…  This movie is just too bad to give just one article.  Here is where the movie goes further off the rails:

The acting in this movie makes Tommy Wisseu’s in the Room look like an Oscar-worthy performance.  The inflections are all wrong, the emotions, out of place.  One particularly bad performance belongs to a young girl who’s family is ornithologically slaughtered.  So, in one shot she’s crying, scared and missing her family, in the next she’s smiling in the back seat, playing a PSP, all in the span of about three minutes.  Aside form the girl’s performance, the leads are just as bad, mumbling and running words on, speeding up and slowing down their rate of speech in the middle of conversations and showing no emotion at all despite the fact that the world is under attack. 

There are so many other glaring issues with the film, starting with the picture quality, that make it qualify to be one of the worst films ever made.  The film quality changes from scene to scene, going from camera-phone quality in some shots, to studio-lit life insurance-commercial-quality others, not just from scene-to-scene, but from camera-to-camera.

Then there’s the audio.  I can assure you, no boom-mics were harmed (or even used for that matter) in the making of this film.  The mix is way off, the ambiance overpowers the voice track, and the fact that most of the actors mumble through their lines doesn’t help.  Also, like with the video quality, the audio quality changes from shot to shot as well, and sometimes does not start playing until after the video cuts to the next scene, leaving awkward gaps of silence at the start of cuts in the middle of the film‘s dialogue.

The special effects, if you want to call them that, involve animated sprites of birds super-imposed onto the screen with cheesy special effects in the form of pre-fabricated explosions and lights placed over buildings.  The scenes of the bird attacks, which actually take up only a fraction of the film, are so hilariously bad that they will actually make you forget you aren’t watching a comedy.  I literally laughed so hard it made my head hurt. 

So.  After all that, what is my verdict for Birdemic?  It’s hard to say.  If you like to watch bad movies and laugh at them, this one is for you.  It is filled with laughable moments and are just designed to be mocked.  That said, this movie is very, very bad.  If you aren’t tolerant of the So-Bad-That-It’s-Good genre, this will be a painful experience for you.  The acting is terrible, the cinematography is as though the cameraman has Tourette Syndrome, the dialogue is muffled and there is a great deal of background distortion making the things very noisy.  Also, the heavy-handed, albeit absurd, environmental message will make this one too much for some.  Birdemic is not bad in the way Norbit is bad.  It is taking itself very, very seriously, and that makes it funny.  So, if you are looking for a few unintentional laughs (or “bad laughs” as their called), this is one you have to see to believe.

A Little-Late Film Review - Birdemic: Shock and Terror

The Room and Bride of the Monster have some competition for the title of most inept movie of all time.  By now, most film fans know about Troma Studios, and the Asylum, but have you heard of Severin Films?  I haven’t, until I decided to check out the C-grade camp-fest that is Birdemic: Shock and Terror.  The film centers on our aviary occupiers of the sky taking their wrath out on man.  Our heroes: a telesales rep named Rod, and a model named Natalie. 

So after Natalie, who’s shoot apparently took place in a 1-hour photo shop in a commercial strip gets a cover deal with Victoria’s Secret, and Rod closes a one million dollar sale, from a cubicle, and everything seems to be going great for their newly-blossomed romance.  So, we watch Rod debate the prices of solar panels for two minutes and then it cuts to him waiting in a shopping center parking lot for a dinner date with Natalie.  The scene in the Chinese restaurant looks less like a film scene and more like a cheesy local commercial for a medium-grade oriental diner. 

Shortly in, the film’s grating environmental message starts to hammer you over the head.  You get lines like “I’ve learned my lesson, I’m getting a hybrid car.”  We get long diatribes about the cost-effectiveness of solar technology, and a laughable scene where the film‘s two stars cry over the corpse of a dead hawk.  This environmental message becomes key to the film’s paper-thin plot.  There’s nothing wrong with the promotion of environmentally-friendly technology, but considering this movie involves people getting attacked by killer birds, it seems less like “Love the planet or your actions will destroy it and you.” and more like “Mankind be damned!  Save the planet!”  We eventually learn that Global Warming caused the birds to attack us.  So, global warming causes birds to make sounds like fighter jets from the 1940s and explode on impact?  That sounds AWESOME!  Hooray for blaring misanthropy!

So, after about forty minutes of setup , which is mostly pointless and dragged out (including a musical number with the whitest dancing I have ever seen in a movie), the birdies attack.  It is literally like THAT.  Out of nowhere.  This is the scene we’ve been waiting for, and boy is it art.  The two wake up from a hotel bed to find birds screeching outside their door, and to their horror: DEVASTATION!  These are some of the funniest scenes I have ever seen, I couldn’t stop laughing.  The bird attacks are complete with sound of fighter engines diving as they swoop down and explosions when they collide with various objects.  It is perfect.

The scenes that follow are standard monster movie fare.  Warning of attacks, searching for survivors, panic and fear.  These scenes bring even more laughs as the heroes swat at super-imposed animated birds with coat hangars.  What’s really funny is this is supposed to be the aftermath of a brutal bird attack, but they forgot to tell that to the other cars on the road that drive by consistently during the so-called Birdemic, they obviously weren‘t intended to be in the shot, but with a budget this low, you can‘t expect them to close any roads. 

So with a plot this silly, and this hilariously executed, there has to be problems right?  Yep.  They are abundant.  So abundant that I’ve reserved my review of the technical flaws with the film for a second article.  So stay tuned for another episode!

A Little Late Film Review: The Ugly Truth (2009)

Where do I even began?  While watching this movie, I was like, “Wow!”  This movie is simply amazing; and not in a good way.  The Ugly Truth may be the worst modern romantic comedy of them all, and boy is that saying something.  If you recall, I recently reviewed the Bounty Hunter.  That movie is an insane mess.  So believe me when I say, the Ugly Truth is worse.  WORSE!

The idiotic plot centers on Abby (Katherine Heigl), a feminist control freak who produces a network talk show.  Her stupid show is on the verge of failing (of COURSE it is!!!), so the show’s owners take drastic measures to keep it on the air (of COURSE they do!!!).  Their solution is to suddenly hire a chauvinist television show host without telling the show’s producer (It just happens to be the very same host she called into and thought she told off on national television the very night before.  Isn‘t life full of funny little coincidences?).  Mike is meant to be the show’s savior and he also turns out to be Abby’s as well as he begins to offer her advice on men and even on her own sexual liberation.  So there’s a lot of “yadda, yadda” followed by even more “blah, blah, blah” and, WHO KNEW!  The two romantic leads on the poster together fall in love.

The problem is this movie thinks itself to be a raunchy, fowl-mouthed sex comedy told from a woman’s perspective.  Why is that a problem?  Because this perspective tells us that all women have the right to sexual liberation and all men have a right to watch you if you let them.  When the men in this film aren’t bumbling idiots they are disgusting pigs, while the women (with the exception of the lead) are more level-headed and intelligent.  The feminism in this film is so blatant, the misandry so screeching, the acrimony so vile that throughout the film, I wanted to punch my television screen. 

When you’re trying to be a comedy about sexual liberation, you shouldn’t really make sex the punch line.  The setup, maybe, but this film makes the same mistakes that Porky’s did about thirty years ago.  It objectifies the opposite sex and gives their only voices to detestable, usually less attractive, morons.  In the Ugly Truth, the source of contention is Abby’s repulsion of Mike’s amazingly inappropriate language; language so grotesque that if anyone in the real world spoke to their boss like this, they would not only be fired, but would likely end up in court.  The film is supposed to arouse giggles amongst the female audience members because popular stars are actually saying the things they are saying on screen.  It’s the cinematic equivalent of a creepy teacher trying to connect to his/her students by saying or doing something outrageous. 

With all of the film’s unfunny sex gags, and they are plentiful, what’s worse are the performances by the leads.  I can confidently say that Katherine Heigl is one of the worst actresses working today.  Her inflections are off in every sentence.  She emphasizes every other word and shrieks and barks at her onscreen counterparts like a harpy with hiccups.  She perplexedly widens her eyes and jerks her head about, you know, because she’s silly.  She flails her arms and overacts in every single scene.  Heigl’s acting aside, her character, Abby, is a bossy, obnoxious, aggravating wretch filled with “quirks” that make her an unlikable mess.  So is Butler’s Mike any better?

Nope.  The male lead may actually be worse!  Gerard Butler is an exceptionally boring on-screen presence.  His droll Scotish accent mixed with his snarky demeanor makes him very unpleasant to watch.  In the Ugly Truth, his character is a disgusting pig who is not only unlikable but he is utterly abhorrent.  Every comment he makes throughout the film that is meant to be gross but funny is offensive and off-putting.  I found myself cringing and uncomfortable by the dialogue in the movie and I was watching it by myself.  It’s not just filthy, it’s downright pornographic; and Mike’s objectification of the opposite gender is actually meant to make him an example of men as a whole, something I found to be utterly invidious. 

I really don’t even have to get into any examples of the unscrupulous sex gags in this film.  That thought that just popped in your head: yeah, it’s in there.  The Ugly Truth is a disgusting, unpleasant film that not only hates men, but it apparently thinks women are stupid because this movie tries to trap its audience into thinking it’s about stepping outside of your comfort zone.  It isn’t.  It’s really about plot contrivances, mean and unlikable characters, unfunny and disgusting jokes and really, really, really bad acting.  Good job the Ugly Truth!  You’re officially the WORST FILM I’VE REVIEWED ON THIS BLOG SO FAR!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Little Late Film Review: Death at a Funeral (2010)

Death at a Funeral is a louder, more obnoxious, more profane and inept version of a mediocre but slightly entertaining British comedy of the same name from 2007.  The movie follows its source material almost to the letter, with the same characters and the same events that turn a patriarch’s wake into a circus.  Everything that happens in the film is taken from the original yet it is executed worse on every level. 

The cast is not without talent.  The list of popular stars includes Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Tracy Morgan, Danny Glover, Luke Wilson, Keith David, James Marsden, Loretta Devine and Peter Dinklage reprising his role from the original.  Most of the stars do what they can with the weak material; Regina Hall, Luke Wilson and Chris Rock are good here in a more subdued roles.  The problem is much of the remainder of the cast shouts and overacts, even resorting to flailing and running around.  James Marsden takes over the far more talented Alan Tudyk’s role as the boyfriend of one of the bereaved who is inadvertently given a narcotic that causes him to hallucinate.  His performance is particularly bad, and could be the worst in the film.

Another performance, that of Peter Dinklage, is a testament to the poor direction by Neil LaBute.  While Dinklage was pretty good in the original, he is stale and out of place in this version.  Its the director’s pension for seeming to enjoy overacting that brings this film down, which is why it is so odd that Dinklage is so boring in this role.  LaBute is the director of such absurdities as Nurse Betty, Lakeview Terrace and the epitome of over-the-top cinema, the Wicker Man.  It shows.  This movie is much tamer than those, but it is still pretty hyperactive. 

The film has what I like to call editing A.D.D.  It never holds a shot more than a few seconds, bouncing between views.  Shaky cam and speedy tracking shots are also abundant.  This is a bad editing job, and it makes the film distracting and hard to watch at times, especially in dialogue.  Actor 1 speaks, cut to actor 2 for one second, back to actor 1 to finish his/her sentence, back to 2 for reaction, back to 1 for wait, back to 2 for retort.  What makes things worse is occasionally you will see a shot in the rapidly shuffling mix that works; a shot they could have used from the start for the whole or at least most of the conversation, which further points out the film’s technical ineptitude. 

All of that aside, Death at a Funeral is the immature younger brother of an already silly and strange comedy.  It falls into the category of “If I use lots of profanity, it will be funny.”  To make matters worse, and to make the film that much more insulting, the screenwriter of this version of the film wrote the script for the original.  Which is a testament to what the writer must think about the film’s target audience.  One scene in particular, which was already bad in the original (involving a particularly disgusting scatological gag), is dragged out and overdrawn in this version.  Stupid Americans like poop jokes.  At least, that’s how this film comes off.  It’s a dumbed down version of an already unsophisticated film which is pretty derisive.  What’s even more insulting is the film tries to get heartfelt in the end; an inexcusable insult to the audience that has been subjected to the level of humor you would read on the bathroom wall of a middle school for almost an hour and a half. 

In short, this is a stupid, condescending film assuming its target audience is to immature for the original, tamer material and pursues the over-the-top over the believable.  What’s worse, is there was absolutely no reason for this film to be made.  It is a remake of a film that was already only moderately funny at times, and while I found a small level of amusement in the British version, I found this movie to be amateurish in directorial execution, ridiculous and needlessly crude in its screenwriting, and very puerile in its humor.  If you absolutely have to see this film, see the original instead as this version is exactly the same material recycled poorly.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Little Late Film Review: Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

Undworld: Rise of the Lycans is a laughable and shockingly bad action film that tries to pass itself off as well-written and exciting. This prequel to the first two films focuses on the origins of the long-time war between the Vampires and the Lycans. Sonja (Rhona Mitra) is heir to the throne of the empire of the Vampires and Lucian (Michael Sheen) is an enslaved Warewolf, raised by the Vamps’ leader Viktor (Bill Nighy). There is a thing between Lucian and Sonja (of course there is), all while Viktor attempts to prepare his daughter to take the throne. Lucian devises a plan to escape by making a key to his shackles and fleeing. This leads to an insurrection that begins the war between the two races.

The problems with this film are abundant and prominent, and it could take a very long time to list them all, so I’ll try to keep this short. We’ll begin with the screenplay. I just know that the film’s screenwriters were very, very proud of themselves for writing this pretentious dreck. Just think Shakespeare if it were written by a drunken truck driver who never finished high school but remembers Romeo and Juliet and tried to recreate THAT. The screenplay includes some absurd colloquialisms that try to make it seem poetic, but just come off as laughable.

Another major problem is exceptionally bad direction of the film. This also includes the cinematography and art direction. Shots are poorly framed, unsteady and filled with unnecessary cuts between four or more cameras. The editing looks as though it was done through a Viewmaster. The actions scenes are incomprehensible, with bodies moving quickly in front of the camera passing as violence. There are also the constantly sweeping shots of landscapes. These would be great, if you could actually see them. The style of the film is blue filter, low-light and grim and boring sets. When you can actually see what’s going on the characters are shot in a way that makes them look like pale Smurfs because of the heavy blue in every single shot. The deep black doesn’t help. The actors are meant to be lit against the dark backdrop, which can work (I reference the works of Orson Wells), but the backdrops are opaque and ugly. All in all, this is a huge problem for a movie that thinks it’s pretty.

There’s also the horrendous CGI and practical effects that make up the Lycan. They are grimy, ugly and cheap looking as makeup, and resemble a video game character circa 1999 when animated. They wobble like blobs as they slide across the screen, meant to be cool looking but just coming off as cold and lifeless. One major problem with CGI in movies is that there has never been a film were you couldn't tell you’re looking at a poorly-rendered computer object. For a movie that tries to make these beasts seem intimidating and impressive, this issue is crippling.

Alas, there is the acting. It isn’t all bad. Certainly not the worst I’ve reviewed so far on this blog. Michael Sheen is one of my favorite actors working today and he isn’t bad, though he does seem a little out of place. He does what he can with the shoddy writing and direction. Character actor Bill Nighy is usually good, but here he is brooding and insipid. Then there's Rhona Mitra, who is just terrible here. She is emotionless (and don’t give me that crap that she’s supposed to be, that’s B.S.) and vapid. She comes off as a store clerk bored with the redundancy of her minimum wage job. As one of the leads, she really needs to be more likable, but alas, she isn’t. It’s hard to cheer for a character that doesn’t connect with the audience, let alone the other actors on screen.

In short, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, is a silly, disreputable mess of a movie. It is so dank, so ugly, so poorly written and so overacted that it feels like it could almost reach so-bad-its-good status, but its just to impressed with itself to be an enjoyable experience in the way Bride of the Monster is. When I watch a film like Rise of the Lycans, I can’t shake the thought that the makers of this film created the movie more for their own entertainment, rather than ours. It is also very boring for an action film, moving far too slow. It’s an 88 minute film stretched out to 2 hours (Thanks to roughly 40 minutes of unbearable filler), and it feels like it lasts an eternity.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau - Review

Volition. Nihilism. Humanism. All of these are studied in the Adjustment Bureau, a film adaptation of the Phillip K. Dick short story. Whenever a film tries to get philosophical, it is normally disastrous. In the case of the Adjustment Bureau, it is interesting that the ideology that drives it tells us two things, love conquers all, and man cannot rule himself. There is also a degree of politics imbued in this film, something that Glen Beck would have a field day with, but there is nothing here to make a big deal of, and that’s the problem.

Structurally and artistically, the Adjustment Bureau is fantastic. The cinematography is beautiful, the screenplay is naturalistic and convincing, and the characters, even the smaller ones, are fleshed out and studied. The film takes place over the course of several years, beginning at the failed campaign of a New York state politician and fast forwards to the time where his next campaign begins. It focuses on the most intense and stressful periods in the life of this politician, and it is timed perfectly.

David Norris (Matt Damon) is struggling in his campaign, and after a brief, chance meeting with a lovely woman hiding in the men’s room, his life becomes an endless search to find this woman again, a woman he knows is “the one” (In a very contrived and strange moment, after speaking for about thirty seconds they begin a passionate kiss). There is a problem with this relationship however: It wasn’t supposed to happen.

The Adjustment Bureau is a team of strange and very powerful beings that look like men, but they are much more. They can manipulate the world around them, they can change your will and even read your mind. After an agent assigned to keep an eye on Norris misses an important queue in his target’s fate, Norris stumbles again into the girl, Elise (Emily Blunt). This is a big problem and conflicts with “the Plan”. From here, the Bureau does everything they can to ensure David and Elise do not meet, and this is made even more difficult for them when they reveal themselves to David. Once he knows their plan, he does all he can to dodge their endless roadblocks.

This is the movie in a nutshell: Norris meets Elise, the Bureau attempts to separate them, repeat. Their measures grow increasingly extreme, but that really is the formula here, and that formula becomes a huge crutch to this film, keeping it from greatness. The first two acts of the Adjustment Bureau are great. The dialogue is good, the movie is shot well, and the performances by all involved are fantastic. When the film reaches its last act, it is an extended chase scene that is well done, but too fast and sudden. It culminates in an ending that is so sudden, so “Hollywood” and pandering that it feels like it belongs in a different movie.

Another strange element of the film is the marketing. The Adjustment Bureau is marketed as a thriller or even and action flick. It isn’t. It is a romance with an underlying fantasy element, and this is important to get across. It is much more When Harry Met Sally than it is the Bourne Identity. This is fine, because they didn’t take the route of Inception, which essentially ruined that movie for me; making it thirty minutes of set up, two hours of shooting. Still, the trailers are deceptive and that’s important to note.

Another note, the concepts of free will, God and human and social nature are good; they give the film depth and that is always welcome. I only ask: Why did they take the ending the way they did? It is contrary to everything in the film, and it made no sense. Just because there is a guy and a girl doesn’t mean the ending always works out the way the couple would like (I refer you to Casablanca).

Overall, the Adjustment Bureau is a good movie, held back because it plays it too safe. It had the potential for greatness early on, but the film’s cold nature takes a turn so weak that it makes you wonder what happened to the previous two hours. Still, for a good weekend night out, it is a movie with elements that most audiences will enjoy, and in the scheme of things, considering all the garbage that comes out in theaters these days, it is a decent attempt at a great idea that may just be too deep for Hollywood.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Video Game Review: Rift

There are many MMO’s out there.  Most of them are bad, some are only okay.  For years, World of Warcraft was the quintessence of online RPG’s and all those that attempted to be “fresh” and “better” either failed miserably, or just didn’t catch on.  Enter Rift; a much hyped, much talked about MMORPG that promises to give players a vacation from Azeroth.

Rift is a fast-paced game in which you choose from two factions, three different races in each, and then from four classes:  Warrior, Mage, Rogue and Cleric.  The game opens with an entertaining cutscene and you are then dropped into a complex and lively world.  After you create your character, there is a lot to learn.  It may seem overwhelming, but the intro area is designed to get you acclimated to the way things work in the game, and to give you a taste of how gorgeous this game is.

Rift does borrow a lot from World of Warcraft and the other “good MMO” Warhammer Online, but it never feels like a copycat.  It runs its own course after the familiar things are out of the way, and, honestly the familiarities with borrowed shortcut keys and similar leveling styles makes it easier to get into from WoW.  Since Trion World’s (developer of Rift) goal is to obviously steal players from Blizzard, making things familiar but different is a very smart move. 

With four classes, it doesn’t seem too broad.  That is, until you get into the game.  After you choose your class, your first quest rewards you by allowing you to select from a big list of subclasses.  For example, a Cleric can choose Shaman from the list.  As the intro area proceeds, you will get to choose from two more of these.  In short, within your class you get to mix and match three different subclasses, each with their own abilities and specialties.  This makes for a truly dynamic experience and really does merit multiple tries of the same class, to see how things play differently. 

The quests are standard MMORPG fare.  Kill a few of these, pick up some of these, go talk to this guy, ect.  But the quests are not the focus here, they merely act as something to do between the other events that are occurring constantly during gameplay.  Rifts open, acting as group quests that you can automatically join if you enter the area during the event.  Each rift is divided into stages where the group must take on increasingly more challenging waves of enemies until the Rift closes.  Invasions occur near or in towns where dozens of powerful enemies storm the area, and the players group up, automatically again, to take on these hordes until their numbers are drained.  Footholds are smaller-scale, simpler events that spawn other attacks, these can easily be soloed by a skilled player who can then earn the same rewards as they would from other events.

I, personally, have been playing Rift for a few days now and I am hooked.  It is a very polished, well-balanced and extremely fun to play MMORPG that gives more experienced gamers a nice break from the more paint-by-numbers MMO action in WoW.  The spontaneity of the events makes them more exciting, because you never know when or where they will occur.  This makes for a fast-paced action RPG that provides more than a little fun for fans of this style of game.  If you are unsure of Rift, I can assure you; if you like MMO’s, or maybe even just one MMO, and you like a fun, exciting challenge, Rift is a delightful option.  I may even speak evil and say that it is, in many ways, better than World of Warcraft.  GASPS ABOUND!!!!!!!!!!!!