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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Film Review- Avatar: The Last Airbender (2010)

Okay.  I have to ask this question.  Don’t people in Hollywood read screenplays anymore?  Do these studios actually think this crap will be a worthwhile investment?  Maybe there is no meeting to green light projects anymore.  Maybe there’s just a vending machine (similar to a Red Box) outside every studio, you type in your pitch and it just says “Thank you” and prints out a pre-signed check?  I mean, come on!!!  There is nobody, either in the studios, the cast, or the crew who could have possibly thought they were making a good film here.  Even M. Knight Shayamalan, the man behind the Happening, one of the worst films of the previous decade, must have known there was a problem with this material.  Hell!  He WROTE it!  Is he just blinded by his own wordsmith? 

Avatar: The Last Airbender is an idiotic movie about a legendary hero who is the last of a tribe that could wield the power of wind as a weapon.  He is awoken from a ball of ice and is taken in by some Water benders and aids in the overthrowing of the oppressive conquering nation of fire.  I wish I could say “Just kidding!”, but nope, that‘s the plot.  A strange outside person with a unique understanding of a certain force that holds the key in fighting back against an oppressive regime?!  HEY!  It’s every movie ever made!

That is the biggest problem with Avatar: TLA, it is so derivative, so by-the-numbers that it lacks any surprises or imagination.  Everything you’ve seen in just about every other successful action/adventure movie is present and the movie doesn’t even try to hide the fact that they are ripping off Star Wars and just about everything else you can imagine.  At some point it will come to pass that there will be no more original ideas.  Has this time come?

The action scenes in Avatar are equally bland and uninspired.  The fights are poorly framed and even large-scale action scenes are confusing and even silly at times.  The benders wave their arms around and pose goofily as computer animated elements weave around them.  The film often cuts awkwardly making it difficult to see exactly what’s happening, but it doesn’t matter, because you’ll be too busy laughing at the hammy dances done to wield (bend?) the elements.  A large fight just after the hour mark would be climactic, if they showed it.  Instead we get a pre-battle scene taken right out of Helm’s Deep, and a few shots of some poorly animated crap but that’s really it.  The rest of the scene focuses on our “hero” who is wussily hiding out in a cave talking to his Chi dragon thing.

The fact is Aang, the Airbender, our “hero“, is just lame.  He gets kidnapped more than Princess Peach and his power of wind usually just sends dudes stumbling backwards a few steps and occasionally pushes them over, rolling across the ground.  He really presents his true power when he summons a massive tornado in a fit of emotion that blows people’s hair around a little.  At one point he draws the water around a castle, forming a massive wave that hovers over the fighting soldiers.  The stare in awe at the big wave, and then he lets the wave flow gently back into the ocean (So, he wussed out, basically.).  Adding to the weakness of the movie is the tame PG rating.  I know they are adapting a cartoon that is target at kids, but how many good action movies are rated PG?  Not many.  There’s a reason for that: Action is violence, and violence is restricted by the rating.  If you set your limits too low on what you can show, you won’t be able to present the action the audience expects out of dudes who can wield ice and throw fireballs.

Let's pretend, for now, that the action doesn't matter in an action film.  The story is where it counts.  Well the story here is a pathetic amalgamation of just about every cliche of the fantasy/action genre you can imagine.  I've already mentioned how it rips off everything, and how it is shameless about its plot-theft.  The actors don't seem to mind.  Most give cheesy performances and they range from so-so, to absolutely dreadful.  Dev Patel (Jamal Malik from Slumdog Millionaire) probably gives the best performance.  He's almost convincing as a conflicted prince outcast from his homeland.  On the opposite end of the spectrum is Jackson Rathbone, who plays Sokka, one of the two that finds and aids Aang.  He acts like he wants to eat the other actors most of the time, staring blankly with the depth of a cereal mascot.  It is no surprise to me that one of the actors from the Twilight series would give a terrible performance, because they generally all do in most of their other roles.  However, it's easy to just blame the actors and I have seen how Shayamalan's direction can cause talented stars like Mark Wahlberg and Paul Giamatti to embarrass themselves.  Given the range of actors in this movie however (most are unknowns or B-list), it takes a good director to draw the performance out of them, and while Shayamalan was good early in his career, he has sunk like the Titanic ever since.

The film isn’t helped by the little things that make it even dumber.  For instance (a little nitpicking here at the logic of the story), the arrow tattooed on the ancient hero’s head.  The arrow symbol is reported appearing first sometime in the late 19th century.  It’s kind of hard to be reincarnated 200 some-odd times when you’re only about 130 or so years old.  Then again, the way this wimp of a hero fights, it’s not improbable.  Other things, like the way the film interrupts the flow and tension of the battle scenes to show flashbacks and uninteresting dialogue really slows things down and takes you right out of the action.

Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of the worst movies of 2010.  It is a silly, uninspired movie that carefully walks the edges of the pool of So-Bad-It’s-Good, drawing occasional laughs from the silly performances and the ridiculous fight scenes, but never really jumps in.  For that reason, I can’t even really recommend sitting through this crap for giggles.  It’s just not worth it.  Even worse is the fact that this movie teases a sequel.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sucker Punch (2011) - Movie Review

Sucker Punch is a stupid action-fantasy from the Zack Snyder, the director of 300 and the Watchmen. It follows a group of girls who are more or less slaves at a strange sort of strip club. The girls dance for clients under the supervision of a poorly acted eastern-European instructor (Paula Gugino), and a menacing proprietor. The primary focus of the story is Baby Doll. Her dance is supposed to be mesmerizing, so her and the other girls plan an escape with her dance acting as a distraction for the retrieval of five things needed to escape. These scenes take the form of heavily-computer animated action set pieces that more closely resemble a video game than an actual movie. I take it these are meant to be dreams or something, but they really are pointless. While parts of a few of them look okay, they aren’t at all well done, filled with excessive slow-motion and unnecessary posing by the actors. There is an overlying plot that is the focus in the beginning and ending of the film involving Baby Doll’s abusive father having her institutionalized. This seems as though it is completely abandoned after the first section of the film until it culminates in a twist ending so stupid that I found myself rolling my eyes and bouncing in my seat in frustration.

The lead, Baby Doll (played vapidly by Emily Browning), is one of the worst performances I have seen in a major motion picture in years. She stares blankly, mouth either agape or in a pout the entire film. She never really seems to be reacting to what is happening on screen and when she does open her mouth, it‘s to spout out one or two lines with a level of disengaged enthusiasm rivaled only by Tidus from Final Fantasy X, and the fact that she doesn‘t seem to really be interested in anything that is happening on screen makes these lines seem less like they come from a character and more like they come from a six year old appearing in her first stage performance in a school play; It is a big problem when even your lead character doesn‘t seem to care about the plot. Another issue is that the other girls, who are much more lively and interesting (and better acted for that matter), are barely touched on and get very little of the action in the dream sequences. An even bigger offence is that the likeable and talented Jon Hamm is wasted here in a bit part. There really are no good performances in this film, so the blame more or less falls onto the shoulders of the director, and that blame would be well-placed.

Snyder co-wrote and directed this piece with a lot of his signature style, for better or for worse. While there are a few scenes in this movie that look good, most if it is dark and ugly. The low-light style hides the eyes of the actors, making them hard to read expressions from, and it shrouds the performances. It doesn’t help that they are all wearing thick makeup that makes their faces even darker. The action scenes are equally difficult to read. Dark hides the poorly rendered animation and weak effects push the film into style-over-substance territory. This style is also accentuated with a dark soundtrack, and by “dark“ I mean “lame“. Most of the songs are crappy covers and many of them sound exactly the same. They are meant to add to the mood I suppose, but they make the movie look like a lineup of silly music videos. It is just another element of the film that I hated. It doesn’t really further the movie at all, it merely ads more pointlessness to the already meaningless remainder of this movie.

As a whole, this is an incredibly stupid film. I can’t recommended it as a popcorn flick because the action sequences really aren’t all that interesting. There never feels like there’s anything at stake, and they basically boil down to the girls fighting enemies in a fantasy setting that in no way connects to the actual story, they are merely “cool” representations of the girls trying to get one of the five things they need to achieve freedom. Sucker Punch is an utterly empty movie, lacking any real personality or identity. It is bogged down by its lack of a real plot and its inability to draw a connection between the audience and the characters on screen. There are points where the movie attempts to manipulate emotions, but these are forced and really did not yield any reaction from me. It’s hard to care about any of the characters when even the movie treats them like video game fodder.

Sucker Punch is one of the worst movies of the year. It is an empty, exploitative void of a film, that simply shows us things that we are meant to find entertaining but they are so disconnected and ugly that they are little more than forgettable. The scenes that take place in reality are sadistic and push the movie into a realm that makes it both a little uncomfortable and even confusing. It is hard to tell who this movie is for. I can only assume it was meant for older teens and twenty-something men who want to watch girls fight things for roughly two hours, but I would hardly consider that entertaining on its own.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Film Review - Fred: The Movie

So far on this blog, I’ve reviewed some of the worst films ever made. For this blog I’ve sat through the Fat Spy, the Ugly Truth, the Bounty Hunter, Birdemic and more recently the Room. I survived those movies. I even LIKED two of them (in a sort of masochistic way). So believe me when I say, Fred: The Movie is worse than all of them. ALL OF THEM! It’s worse than the Room people!!!

While bad movies that are trying to be serious usually draw unintentional laughs, bad comedies, which are by their very nature trying to be funny, are more often than not painful experiences. Think back to the worst comedies of recent years. Look back at the Master of Disguise, Son of the Mask, Freddy Got Fingered, Home Alone 3 and the Hot Chick. Consider how bad all of those movies are. These films represent the bottom of the comedy barrel. Now take a drill, drill a hole through the bottom of that proverbial barrel and into the ground below, stick your finger through the new hole into the dirt and whatever sticks to your finger when you pull it out, that is Fred: the Movie.

Fred is an exceptionally unfunny, annoying and I’d even say evil helium addict who is the brainchild of Lucas Cruikshank, a You Tube “celebrity” that got enough hits to justify a TV series and now a full-length feature. Fred is one of the worst characters I can remember in recent years. In anything. He makes Jar Jar Binks look like Rhett Butler and he is one of those inexplicably famous people (kind of like anyone with the surname “Kardashian”) that drew the attentions of preteens long enough to keep him famous for about three years longer than he deserves.

Okay, I’ll try to review this thing. The plot (?) follows Fred who pines for Judy, the girl next door who is currently dating Kevin, a douche bag who lives across the cul-de-sac and constantly terrorizes Fred (I was rooting for Kevin most of this film). Fred attempts one stunt after another to get to Judy and avoid Kevin in the process. After Judy moves away, he makes an unfunny racist joke about the new residents and then embarks on a journey across the city to find her and… sing… with her..?

However, Fred is an idiot. So he can’t just go over there. No! We get a freaking adventure!!! A stupid, unentertaining, joyless, loud, obnoxious, retarded, mind-numbing, suicide-inducing adventure. Along the way he confuses a toy dog with a squirrel, has a duet with a deer, gets buried in sand and meets a handful of throwaway C and D-list celebrities like John Cena and Oscar Nuñez. They don’t matter, just like everything else in this film. This was meant to make some older viewers go “Ah!”… I guess.

I don’t care. Look. If you like this film, there’s something wrong with you. If you think Fred is funny, there’s something wrong with you. The fact that this movie exists is a scathing example of everything that is wrong with popular culture today. This movie has no redeemable qualities. I didn’t really get into the other characters, or the stupid climax involving a fake party or Fred’s idiotic mother or any of the other things I hated, which is more or less everything. I hated everything about this movie. Everything and everyone in it. It’s a worthless pile of shit, and I hope to never see Fred or hear his screeching, stupid voice or see his retarded, contorted face again. EVER!!!!!

More On the Room

Okay, so if you read my actual review of the Room, you would know that it is not a good movie. In fact, it is one of the worst films ever made. However, it stands apart from other bad movies because it is actually the most unintentionally funny film I’ve seen in a long time. When I watched Birdemic, I had a similar reaction. The world of the So Bad They’re Good movies is a small place, populated by a few rare gems that are memorable and are elevated by fans of cult cinema.
The Room is a fantastic piece of garbage. It is so horrible that it actually holds a place of honor. It is my generation’s Plan 9 From Outer Space. It is dreadful, and it is also fantastic. Some of the more in depth online reviews of the Room approach the film with dread and disgust, but I embrace its idiocy. So what makes the Room stand apart from other bad movies?

While films like The Ugly Truth actually THINK they’re funny, the Room ACTUALLY brings laughs from its audience precisely because it was intended to be a deep examination of the fall of a good man. There have been a lot of stories of characters that fall victim to obsession that slowly eats away at them, the Room is a different take on that genre. It’s shot with the finesse of a Lifetime Original Movie without any of the heavy-handed crap that comes along with it. Instead, the Room is a perfectly stripped down nugget of insanity, It is like a Macy Gray song, it sounds awful, it’s off-beat and off key and it doesn’t resemble anything we would consider normal.

Actor, director, writer Tommy Wiseau (who plays the lead character Johnny) is the key reason this is such a mess. It’s obviously a personal study of this character that could be considered close to the creator’s heart. I’ll let you draw from that what you will, but it’s hard to take him seriously. For starters, he looks like a mummy who plays drums for a Ramones cover band. One who has had a long history of recurring eczema of the face. Now I know that’s not fair, but I don’t care. He opened himself up for this. Compared to the rest of the characters he looks like he just walked off the set of Men In Black and left his makeup on.

Julliette Danielle isn’t unattractive, but she hardly fit’s the role of a character who’s meant to be nude in half her scenes. The manic, confusing, overlong “love scenes” are where she shows her “assets”. It’s truly amazing but Wiseau has figured out how to make sex not-sexy. These scenes reach an Escheresque level of confusion as you try to figure out where partner one ends and partner two begins. They are so badly done that they are actually comical. In a couple of the scenes Danielle’s belly fat adds extra curvature where more is not entirely welcome. Maybe she should consider narcotics, they seem to be the weight-loss method of choice for every other blonde in Hollywood.

The other minor characters are all useless, providing nothing that furthers the plot in anyway and are mainly just used as padding to stretch the thin story out to a full-length film. Denny looks like a defective who dipped his face in wax before each take. He looks almost devious most of the time. The drug-dealer who we see for all of thirty seconds looks less like a pusher and more like a UCLA art student. Then there’s Lisa’s mother. She has the depth of a character in a medicinal ad targeted at septuagenarian diabetes patients and she doesn’t seem all that concerned by the fact that she has breast cancer.

The best friend, Mark, is another two dimensional and badly written character. He looks like he fell off of a Calvin Klein ad onto the set of the movie and doesn’t resemble a movie star so much as a reality show contestant. He looks like the embodiment of every stereotype describing the average Starbucks customer. Throw in the fact that he acts like he’s waiting on an important phone call, always distracted and constantly pulling off screen, and you have a perfect storm of fail.

So with all these characters (I didn’t mention the psychologist buddy or Lisa’s sister), it’s essential that they do stuff. They do, don’t worry. They play football. They play lots of football, and they play it in the way a seven year old that doesn’t understand the rules of the game would play. They giggle and cheer as they randomly pass the ball around in a circle, bouncing and clapping like the Price is Right fan-girls. All the while never accomplishing anything. These scenes are entirely pointless. I got a laugh however at the scene where they all dress up in tuxedos to throw the football around then take them off in the next scene.

I’m pretty much done here. I loved making fun of this film while watching it, and all fans of bad cinema who haven’t seen this one yet should see it ASAP. It is the single most entertaining film I’ve seen in years. No campy B-Grade sci-fi or horror flick I’ve seen compares to the pure joy I got while watching this. Just note that mocking this film brings with it a certain meanness. It stabs at your soul and you will want to dissect it and destroy it in turn. The worst films ever made do not compare to the pure madness of oddity of the Room. It is the strangest display that I’ve seen that tries to pass itself off as normal.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Film Review - The Room (2003)

Tommy Wiseau wrote, directed and starred in the Room, a strange ad utterly perfect “Bad Movie” that just may be one of the most surreal and entertaining films ever released.  The thin plot follows Johnny, a happy man who is to be wed to Lisa, a selfish woman who is bored with their long-time engagement and is seeking escape in the arms of another man.  The other man in question is Mark, Johnny’s best friend, who is perpetually confused by his affair with Lisa.  In between bouts of sex with the two men in her life, Lisa repeats the same circular discussion with her mother, who wishes Lisa to be wed to Johnny for fiscal security.  These events repeat over and over and the pressure builds until the film’s ultimate climax.

The Room is a special type of bad film.  It’s not like other disasters like Waterworld and Batman and Robin because it is so sincere with itself, so serious and so senseless that it creates an air of self-congratulation.  It’s kind of like the one guy in high school who has convinced himself that he is the best at everything, and everyone watches perplexedly as he fumbles one attempt at success after another.  When watching the Room, it is evident that all involved had convinced themselves they were making a five-star best picture nominee.  Now, considering the cost and work that goes into filmmaking, it’s insane to think that anyone would go in to make a bad movie intentionally.  Some films are bad because they are lazy or cynical or just plain poorly executed.  The Room is different.  The Room exists in a strange version of reality where characters travel through time, read each other’s minds, speak in strange mumbling catchphrases and behave in ways that no living person anywhere does.  While watching some of the things that occur in the Room, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility that Wiseau has no idea how anyone, especially men, interact in the real world.

There are a number of infamous scenes in the Room that have gone viral online, and over the last couple of years the Room has picked up a sort of second life years after its initial release.  The film is now one of those famous bad movies that I believe holds up to multiple viewings.  It is consistently funny because of its strange distorted version of human behavior.  Just watching the way these characters sweep the floor, play football and even have sex is baffling.  Nobody in the real world even speaks the way the characters in this movie do.  The only thing I can think of is that either the Room is an examination of the banality of urban life or it is written by a man who has never held a conversation with another person… ever.

The characters in the Room are equally strange.  They are barely defined, instead filling simple two-dimensional representations of the simplest possible understanding of what it is like to be a young adult in the city.  For starters, Johnny works at a bank and is awaiting his “big promotion”.  He is over nice all the time and is meant to represent the “perfect man” before his big fall.  Lisa is the “spoiled, selfish girl” who, for no apparent reason aside from being bored wants to leave her fiancé Johnny for his best friend.  However, instead of speaking to him, she sneaks around on him, claiming to care for his feelings but then proceeding to rub his nose in all of her indiscretions.  The best friend is Mark; we never learn anything about him.  Denny is a teenager who is infatuated with Johnny and Lisa.  We learn that he is orphaned and Johnny helped him out, but he consistently exhibits the behavior of some sort of sexual deviant.  We meet a few minor characters too, like Lisa’s mother, but none of them really have anything to do with the story at all.

This leads me to the bizarre scenes where Lisa tells her mother how unhappy she is, over and over and over.  Her mother then proceeds to say she needs Johnny for security.  This same discussion occurs several times, slowing the movie down to a snail’s-pace.  These scenes just add to the long list of pointless moments in the film.  Boy, oh boy are there a lot of them.

Let’s start with the transitional shots of San Francisco.  At times, they are inserted into the middle of scenes where there was no need for them whatsoever.  They are overlong and they break up the flow of the “story?”  Then there are the scenes that are brought up and never talked about again.  There’s the scene where Denny is held at gunpoint on a rooftop before he is saved by Johnny and Mark.  Apparently he owed money to a drug dealer, however after that scene, the whole drug-dealer-about-to-kill-Denny thing is never brought up again.  Another completely pointless moment is the ten-second discussion between Lisa and her mother about how the elder woman has breast cancer.  Lisa’s response to the news is simply “You’ll be fine” and cancer is never addressed again.  In fact, if you shave all of the pointless scenes out of this film, it would probably run about twenty minutes. 

Finally there are the funny moments.  A friend of mine declared that the Room is one of the funniest movies he’s ever seen.  I’m inclined to agree.  The Room is so unintentionally funny that during viewing we found ourselves rewinding a few times just so we can hear what we missed because we were still laughing from the last horribly-executed line of dialogue.  I’m going to give this one a special treatment.  I’ve tried to give an honest, professional review of this film, but I’m done with that.  Wait ‘til next time…