Chitika Ad

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 94 - Race the Sun (1996)

Race the Sun is a film with a sanctimonious environmental message (It’s  not the only one of those on my list either) about a group of teens, under the guidance of a new teacher, who enter a solar-powered car in a science fair.  They then proceed to compete in a solar-powered race.  That’s it.  That’s all there is to this waste of a movie.

The screenplay is bad, the greatly overrated Halle Berry is bad, the “teens” are bad (most are played by guys in their late twenties, which is weird... and kind of 80’s, and there's Casey Affleck, which is funny in a sad sort of way), it’s all just bad.  The message of environmental responsibility is lost amidst a horde of product placement and heavy-handed and hammy dialogue.  All I can say is at least something HAPPENED in Birdemic.  This is a stale, boring movie that doesn’t really move, it hangs there, dragging and is constantly snagged in a net of melodrama between the various characters in the already weak story.  Even the "race" scenes are boring and are conventionally filmed.

This movie is mostly forgotten.  Hell, I almost forgot about adding it to this list.  It is a boring, silly movie with a laundry list of bad actors.  Steve Zhan, Eliza Dushku and John Belushi’s embarrassment of a brother join Halle Berry and they all work together to drag this weak material down even further (assuming that’s even possible).  Still, the absolute worst thing about Race the Sun is the film’s tone.  It has a bright, fluffy exterior but is filled with such an aggressive environmental message that it is almost punching you in the face so that you’ll catch it.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with an environmental message, but the way it comes across in this film is pretty condescending and fact that this message is secondary to the film’s attempt to sell cool products (most of which are now defunct, btw) to teens just sort of makes Race the Sun offensive.

I do want to take a minute to piss off a bunch of people and say that I just don’t get Halle Berry.  I don’t.  She’s beautiful.  There’s no denying that.  Still, she is incapable of carrying a movie.  She lacks the on-screen personality to hold an engaging character and while she won an Oscar for Monster’s Ball, she didn’t have a great deal of competition as 2001 was one of the weakest years for films on record (Go ahead, besides Ghost World and Fellowship of the Ring, find the great films from 2001 that you still remember and would still watch today).  It’s right there with 1987 and 1992.  Her performance in this film is one of the worst of her career as her disinterest in this role radiates from the screen in every line of dialogue and to this day I would call her role in Monster's Ball "okay" and cannot figure out why she would've received the Best Actress Oscar putting her name next to Hepburn and Davis, I just don't see it. Not at all.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 95 - Wing Commander (1999)

Here’s a special type of bad video game movie.  While most video game movies suck because they don’t come close to following the plot of the original material, usually because the people who worked on the source material often have very little input in the production of the film version.  However, Wing Commander doesn’t really have an excuse because it was written and directed by the creator of the game, Chris Roberts.  So why is this one so bad?  Three words: Freddie Prinze Jr.  Well, not JUST him, but still...

In the plot there’s an ongoing battle between Terra and the Kilrathi, an evil alien race.  When a device that would give the Kilrathi the power to jump to Earth and attack the Terran’s home planet is taken, the stakes are high to stop evil aliens.  Lieutenants Blair (played by Freddie Wooden-Acting himself), “Angel” Deveraux (played by Saffron Burrows) and “Maniac” Marshall (played by Matthew Lillard) are now charged with saving Earth.  But not without shouting clichéd pilot speak, bad one-liners and the typical crap like “That’s an insane plan” and “This is a suicide mission”, and then proceed to follow their captain right into said suicide mission.

The ridiculousness of these scenes is juxtaposed by the actors’ seeming disinterest in what is supposed to be going on on screen.  Now, I can relate, as the action is very boring and is almost entirely poorly shot with badly rendered CGI.  However, there is no reason for an action movie, based on a game, created by said game’s creator to be boring, and boy is this one boring, it doesn't even have the courtesy to be campy!  The screenplay is just bland, and bland is worse than bad, because sometimes bad can be funny.  This one had to be a sleep aid on paper during the readings.  
Wing Commander’s blandness is only amplified by its ugly visual style, which replicates the games in some scenes and uses some weak CGI in others.  It looks washed out and sloppy.  This on top of the overall boring acting of the cast is just too much bad to handle, and while Matthew Lillard fills his character with a certain psychotic energy (hence the name “Maniac”) Burrows and Prinze Jr. act more along the lines of “Oh… no…  They are firing their lasers at my ship… I must shoot back now…  Okay…  I am shooting back now.”  Couple that with this film’s strange tendency to have its characters announce everything they are doing, about to do, or anything that they see on screen, even after the audience has already seen it, and you have one of the dumbest movies of the 90’s.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 96 - Money Train (1995)

A note on exploitation.  Violence, when exploited, should either be disturbing (Gore or injured people on the ground in hordes) or exciting (Cars flying through the air as machine gunners spray their sides with bullets), so what happens when its neither?  Well, in that case you have Money Train.  Right off the success of White Men Can’t Jump, a funny, well-written movie starring Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson, the two A-listers (at least they were at the time) star in this messy, uninteresting action flick about a disgruntled New York City cop who decides to steal a stash of stored money from accumulated subway fares as his adopted brother attempts to talk him down while protecting him from the authorities.

The message of Money Train is if you aren’t happy with your job, you should just steal from your boss.  But it goes further than that, it actually promotes the violence committed by the characters in the film.  In an early scene the two leads are in a chase and one of them runs right into an elderly man, plowing him into the concrete, Snipes looks back to crack a joke while Harrelson pushes himself off the ground from the old man’s back and leaves the extra lying there.  This is sort of the tone of this film, it has a mean streak, leaving waves of injured and dead people in its action’s wake and just sort of jokes about it.

The acting isn't as bad as most of the other films on this list, but money train marks a point where Snipes' career started taking a turn for the worse, and it would take years for Harrleson to pull back and use some smaller films or supporting roles to build his acting cred back up. That is why this is a tough one for me, because I like both Snipes and Harrleson. They're both two of the most distinct and charismatic actors of this last generation and the fact that they are reduced to making jokes at the expense of injured pedestrians and police officers is just sort of heartbreaking. They are both far, far, far above this pathetic material and White Men Can't Jump was proof.
This movie is so grim, so violent and so consequence-free (at least until the very end) that it was actually implicated in “inspiring” a string of subway booth robberies in New York that summer.  I don’t know how accurate this is (to me it sounded like congress blaming the Columbine shootings on the video game Doom), but this movie so blatantly disregards human life that it actually makes mindless assault on innocent people a joke.  Unlike other films that exploit violence but do so with a clever, tongue-in-cheek manner, I honestly believe we’re supposed to be rooting for the robberies, and for their violence.

Friday, August 26, 2011

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 97 - Milk Money (1994)

If U Turn exploited its awkward sexuality, then Milk Money exploits the sexuality of its own characters, which is comprised mostly of young kids.  Milk Money follows a small group of sex-obsessed boys (all far too young to be portrayed this way on screen) who pool their money to hire a prostitute to let them see her naked.  However, things don’t go as planned with the hooker they hire, named V (Melanie Griffith), who does oblige the kids (disturbing) but ends up hiding in the kids’ tree-house on the lam from her vicious pimp, where sparks fly between V and one of the boys’ dad when the kid tells him she’s a tutor.

This is a disturbing film because we are supposed to find these kids salaciousness... funny! Because, yeah, we’ve all biked to the inner city with our friends to pick up a hooker when we were ten years old.  There are countless, COUNTLESS dialogues where the kids watch porno, play with various objects of a sexual nature, and sit and try to "figure out things". These scenes are where the film is at its most uncomfortable. The film thinks the interplay between V and the dad balances out the creepiness but it really doesn’t.  The film goes off the deep end with its comical tone filling scenes with uncomfortable innuendo and gag-inducing sex-centric one-liners.

This is a mess.  If there was ever a more crass and disgusting movie, I’d like someone to find it.  The child stars act like lunatics, or at least like underage rejects from a Porky’s casting call, Ed Harris acts like he's just bored with life, and Melanie Griffith looks as though she’s half-asleep through most of the movie.  The child actors aren't bad, but there isn't anything to set them apart from each other as they all only talk about one thing. The acting is pretty bad all around and while she had a few more major films after Milk Money, Griffith herself never really recovered from this disaster.

This is another in the What-Were-They-Thinking category.  It fails because it’s too crude to be a coming of age drama and it’s too uncomfortable to be a straight-up comedy.  The film’s tone is that of a quirky comedy but it is so awkward and cringe-worthy that it can’t be enjoyed.  The worst part is the tone seems to want us to find all of this endearing.  We’re supposed to find it cute that these kids are going to the city streets to find a prostitute.  Disturbing. This movie is... messed up.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 98 - U Turn (1997)

U Turn - 1997 Tristar Pictures
U Turn doesn’t really make sense; That’s kind of its big problem. It is the story of a man whose car breaks down on the desert highway after he flees the wrath of a bookmaker to whom he owes a great deal of money. Minus a few digits on one hand (a consequence for lack of payment), Bobby (Sean Penn) goes into a small town to wait out the heat and possibly get his car fixed. The problem is every person in this town is nuts and he ends up involved with a couple of crazed denizens’ lives while a lunatic mechanic (Billy Bob Thornton) flat out refuses to let him have his car back. After Bobby engages a sexy stranger named Grace (Jennifer Lopez), her husband (Nick Nolte) exploits the opportunity to put a hit on his wife. Bobby’s situation gets worse when he discovers it is him that Grace’s husband wishes to be her killer.

If that sounded like a plot that you can get behind, then maybe you should become a screenwriter, because if that seems like a perfectly sensible plot, than anybody can write anything and it will make a great story. U Turn’s bad plot is just half of the story, it has strange artistic decisions that make this one a big turn off, and U Turn’s exploitative nature and over-sexualized tone is only a part of the gratuitousness. This is another example of a film that is contemptuous of audiences, and while there are countless films in this category, this one is particularly bad because it tries to cover up it’s lack of any real story or characters with any depth by filling every scene with disturbing and very, very graphic violence, bizarre music and some of the most awkward sexuality in any film, ever.

It is interesting how U Turn has such a good cast (J-Lo notwithstanding), which also includes Joaquin Phoenix, Billy Bob Thornton, Claire Danes and Jon Voight, and still manages to use all of these talented people badly (at least most of the time).  It tries so hard to be strange it forgets it is supposed to have a story.  Sean Penn is terrible here, mainly because he never seems really surprised by anything that happens in this place populated by psychos.  He's always playing it cool and spends most of his time acting like he's posing for an 70's cigarette ad and when he does exhibit frustration or any other emotion he sounds drunk.  The only person who sort of does well here is Thornton as a nutbag mechanic in a few memorable and funny scenes.

U Turn was the product of screenwriter John Ridley and director Oliver Stone. Stone was most well-known at this time for directing powerful films with a political message like Platoon and JFK, and stories with dark undertones like Natural Born Killers. He can make good movies, so I don’t know what happened here.  Shots are filled with wobbly camera shots that sway nauseatingly and fire at actors' faces from strange angles.  He really just kind of went off the deep end with this one.  Now, while Stone is talented, I can’t really say the same thing for Ridley, whose other credits include Undercover Brother and the Barbershop TV series. I guess given this pedigree it’s understandable this one would have been a gamble. Even Oliver Stone couldn’t save this one from being a slow and uncomfortable mess of a movie, and I say that despite the fact that he shares much of the blame for it being so bad. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 99 - Mad City (1997)

Mad City was meant to be an examination of how the media manipulates stories and how reporters are bloodthirsty jerks who will stop at nothing to get the scoop. We haven’t heard that one before. Mad City is special, however, in that it has some of the silliest dialogue and one of the strangest performances of superstar John Travolta‘s career.

Early in the same year, John Travolta gave an energetic and exciting performance in the spectacular Face/Off. In Mad City, he is subdued, bored and even acts a little slow. The plot follows an everyman who is fired so, through an escalating series of events, ends up taking a museum hostage. One of the patrons at the time is a reporter (who has one of the stupidest character names I’ve ever heard in a film: Max Brackett) played by Dustin Hoffman who exploits the crisis for his own career and even eggs on the situation to make it more exciting for the news. It doesn’t take long for the nation to be captivated by the events that are unfolding and they watch non-stop until the stand-off’s less-than-exciting conclusion.

It’s no secret that Hollywood has a certain contempt for news media, part of that likely comes from their own arrogance about how the big names feel they shape popular culture more than the events in reality and also is likely rooted in their hatred for film critics, who are treated unfairly by Hollywood because just looking at the box office’s top-grossing films one can see that most audiences don’t pay the critics any attention. Still, their contempt for the media in this film is trumped only by the contempt for Americans, as household watchers are depicted as bloodthirsty and vile as they are shown to long for a violent conclusion to the events that have transpired.

Also, the performances in Mad City are bad all around, and considering the leads are Dustin Hoffman and John Travolta most of the problems with this film can be credited to the dreadful screenplay by Tom Matthews, who has no other film credits to his name. Mad City was Directed by Costa-Gavras a Greek director who has a certain flair to his films, though they aren’t always for everyone. However, Mad City is a muted, boring film to look at, lacking any flair and having a confined feel, despite its story’s supposed national reach. Still, Mad City is a victim of its banality, with characters that speak unnaturally and a tone that is patronizing of the public at large.

Monday, August 22, 2011

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 100 - Hackers (1995)

At the dawn of the Internet craze, a little film came about that introduced America to the growing underground culture of hackers.  This movie is one of those niche films that focuses on a subject that attracts (at least at the time of its release) a very limited audience.  This category also covers the numerous films about cheerleading and break dancing.

Where Hackers goes off the tracks is the plot focusing on too many things: a group of hacker friends told from the perspective of an outsider named Dade that just came to town, a police officer who is obsessed with taking out the hackers, and a network security specialist who is working with a female executive to steal a fortune from his employing company.  While all of this goes on, there are countless subplots involving Dade's romance with Kate (played by a young Angelina Jolie), a young inept hacker-in-training that is constantly being quizzed by his mentor "Cereal Killer" (Matthew Lillard) and is constantly embarrassing himself as he stumbles and stutters as he tries to please his "master" or whatever, and then there’s the weak prologue about Dade moving to LA to escape his past as a notorious child hacker.

As bad movies go, there are worse films, and this one is often saved due to the ever-deceptive nostalgia goggles, but, as a stand-alone title, this one is a weak, unfunny, suspense-free mess of a movie.  It is basking in its bombast as it tries to convince us that these hackers really live in this strange world filled with secret hacked television shows, arcade machines the size of a game show set, and computer programs that resemble 3D cities complete with circuit streets.  The fake computer programs that are meant to look "cool" are a big pet peeve of mine and this film is one of the biggest perpetrators of this cliché.

100 Worst Films of the 90's - It Begins...

Man there are a lot of bad movies.  Never is this more evident when you sit and compile a list of 100 of the worst movies of an entire decade.  Since this is a 100 list, I couldn’t fit EVERY film I wanted to be on this list on there, and some got bumped off because I felt my final selections to be much worse.  These are movies that I, personally, found myself hating for a number of reasons.  It could be that the selected film stars an unbearable actor or performance or features an annoying cliche, but I had a hard time removing and excluding some really bad movies from this list, so if a film you hated is not here, feel free to comment.  Also, just so you know, I made some rules for myself.  First, the film has to have had a theatrical release (at least somewhere), no straight-to-video movies, and the better the film’s pedigree (i.e., big stars, writers or directors) the harder I am on the movie.  

So, without further ado, MY list of the 100 Worst Films of the 90’s…

Friday, August 12, 2011

30 Minutes or Less (2011)- Film Review

Caper comedies are a dime a dozen, and most of them are pretty bad. I’m not sure why. You would think there would be a lot of comedy in what can go wrong in a crime. 30 Minutes or Less is an example of a movie that really just sort of hangs there, probably because things go just a little too right. While the focus of the film is a bank robbery, this robbery, and the subsequent chase eat up about 5 minutes of the movie. The rest of the film is filled with dialogue that is only occasionally funny executed by characters that are in no way believable.

30 Minutes or Less follows Nick, a sub-par pizza delivery man who is dating his best friend’s sister and is about to have a very bad day. Two idiotic slackers, Dwayne and Travis (played by the impressively unfunny Danny McBride and the equally inept Nick Swardson, respectfully) decide that they want to off the former’s dad played by Fred Ward (Who is making me long for Remo Williams here), so they devise a convoluted plan to have an unsuspecting victim rob a bank for them so they can get money to pay a hitman, so that they can get the job done professionally so as not to effect Dwayne’s inheritance (the result of his father‘s big lottery jackpot). The victim is Nick, on whom they strap a bomb-vest, and they tell him he has 10 hours to rob a bank. Nick grabs his friend Chet from his substitute teaching job (that apparently he can just up and walk out of on a whim), and they go together to plan the robbery. Things do not go as planned, however, when the stripper who planted the idea of assassination in Dwayne’s head plans to double-cross him with her hitman boyfriend (this double-cross is evident though the movie doesn’t do a good job of establishing it, and though I believe some might put the pieces together, I doubt this film’s target audience will). They plan to take the money and run. Misunderstandings ensue and the completely stupid Dwayne then becomes the target of the hitman’s wrath. It all ends in a final standoff that is predictable and completely uninspired.

The flaw of this film is that in reality, if Nick were abducted while on the job, there would have been some sort of reported lack of contact from his employer (Is he still on the clock this whole time? Is he clocking overtime hours while evading the authorities?) . Then there’s the cop that could have ended the situation immediately that runs away comically instead of trying to protect and serve. So in this world, even the characters that only have three lines are incredibly stupid. The fact that this particular movie relies entirely on plot points that is are so improbable (that no one would notice a worker disappearing while on the clock, and that only one cop would arrive at the scene of a bank robbery) is evidence that there really wasn’t a whole lot of thought that went into this film’s screenplay. I would also like to point out that I had a hard time believing Travis could devise a bomb vest with a cell-phone trigger, that required some serious suspension of disbelief.

30 Minutes or Less is the product of Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer and first-time screenwriter Michael Diliberti. I liked Zobieland, it was a simple, campy and fun movie, but it still didn‘t come near The Lost Weekend territory. 30 Minutes or Less, while occasionally funny, manages to eliminate a lot of the things I enjoyed about Zombieland. It lacks likeable characters, and it lacks any real identity. It feels like a 20-minute episode of a very strange show stretched out over 80 minutes. There just isn’t enough material here, and so we get a lot of filler and a lot of inane dialogue between the characters. This is a problem considering the dialogue isn’t all that good.

This is one of those screenplays that seems to giggle at dirty words. “Tee-hee! He said a bad word.” It doesn’t really have any brains or heart behind it. It really just seems like the ramblings of a couple of guys who think they are extremely clever who begin throwing out ideas on the back porch after putting a few back. The characters exist in a strange world where people speak in “supposedly-quotable dialogue” . I emphasize supposedly because I am pretty sure that nobody is going to care about or even remember this movie in five years. It just floated in out of nowhere, made a few people laugh (tending to target people of slightly lower intelligence), and it will likely vanish as fast is it arrived. Being mediocre is a kiss of death. Everyone remembers the best and the worst, nobody recalls what is truly forgettable. This is a throwaway production, and I can just picture the actors walking up to the producer’s office, saying “Am I done here?”, grabbing their check and moving on to the next project.

Acting-wise, Jesse Eisenberg isn’t bad. I like him as an actor and the fact that he agreed to this film is commendable. I believe he was trying to break away from the “socially awkward nerd” that he has become known for playing and broaden his range. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. I think he has the potential to play this sort of character, but he needs better material than this. The rest of the cast seemed right at home with the material, though I don’t know what that says about them as actors. Aziz Ansari acts like he’s doing stand-up comedy on screen and Danny McBride is playing, well, Danny McBride. Nick Swardson really isn’t doing much but is occasionally funny as the submissive friend and also the conscience of the duo. The rest of the characters, including a bit-part by Michael Peña (who you may remember for his performance in Crash, a terrific film, but is reduced to a comic stereotype here) are just sort of hanging around to add filler to this thin plot.

In closing, 30 Minutes or Less doesn’t matter. You won’t gain anything from seeing it, and you won’t really lose anything either (Except the time and money). It has occasional laughs but it really is just too juvenile to warrant a recommendation from me. This film’s pursuit of an R rating is going to hurt it for this very reason. Older and more sophisticated audiences will be dumbfounded by the idiocy on display and the kids that would laugh at the sillier moments are locked-out due to the film’s pervasive profanity and unnecessary nudity. I’m not a prude when it comes to content in cinema (I’ve mentioned that before), but if your “adult content” is just there to up the film to an R from PG-13 territory, it shows that there really wasn’t much hope for this project to begin with. They had to know they weren’t getting a clever and fun romp like the Hangover or Forgetting Sarah Marshall, so I can only assume that the R-rating was basically just a bad marketing decision. With a film this banal, it goes without saying that trying to expand your audience is the wise decision (you want to get as much money as you can as a return on your investment), because it is very unlikely that this film will have a huge home video run, and thus this one relies wholly on the first-time viewers at theatres (and largely during the opening weekend before word gets out too much about it). That is a tough market to crack when you push your film too high up the Ladder of Profanity.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Film Review - Red (2010)

To be honest, I expected to hate this movie. I went into it thinking it was going to be a boring and derivative action flick, but I was surprised to find that Red does have moments that are clever and entertaining. The idea is to have a cast that kicks ass while qualifying for social security. The result is an often funny action film that shines at times but still manages to shy away from being a great film.

The plot follows Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), a retired CIA operative who has casual conversations with a pension office worker named Sarah (played by Mary-Louise Parker) over the phone. Frank is in love with Sarah, and after he is attacked by a group of assassins, he pays her a visit and, when Sarah is frightened by his intrusion, he kidnaps her. While trying to figure out who tried to kill him, he also figures out that his relationship with Sarah, who has now forgiven Frank after he rescues her from an attempted assassination, has endangered her. They travel to New Orleans, then to Pensacola, to meet up with old members of a team and learn that the Vice President, who has a horrible past, is planning on running for President and is ordering the assassination of anyone who can connect him to a war crime he committed in his early years.

The team is comprised of Frank, Joe (Morgan Freeman), Marvin (John Malkovich) and Victoria (Helen Mirren) as they storm the Vice President’s campaign announcement party. This leads to the film’s final major action scene, which is sort of weak to be honest. And this is sort of the way Red works. The screenplay is pretty good as there are some funny lines and the actors seem perfectly cast for their parts. None of them, except Morgan Freeman, really seems to be out of their element. But it does kind of hang there at times and most of the action set pieces aren’t very exciting. I believe this is because when filming Red it was assumed that the fact that the people engaging in these scenes are old is inherently funny. It kind of is, but that they really just threw their hands up for the action is a little sad.

Freeman is not really known for his roles in action flicks and in this film he is more or less a bystander during the film’s more kinetic moments. In fact, he’s barely in the movie, so the idea to make him a top-bill is obviously a marketing ploy. Helen Mirren easily steals every scene she is in as she is quite possibly the most talented actress working today, and also the sexiest actress over sixty to ever grace the big screen. She delivers her lines with grace and style that upstages everyone else here. John Malkovich is also good as an insane, paranoid agent who is both a brilliant operative and a loose cannon. Mary-Louise Parker is also good, as she is the audience’s “normal person” connection to the plot, and though she is mainly used as a plot device, she is funny and gives it her all. Lastly, there is Bruce Willis, who is actually pretty boring in this movie. He seems to be sleeping through his role and really just relinquishes the screen to the other, more energetic performances given by his costars. This is disappointing as Willis is a talented actor and I’m not sure if this was all him, or if it was a directorial/writing decision.

Given that this is really just a potboiler, it is a surprisingly fun adaptation of a graphic novel from DC. It’s certainly better than Watchmen and is a more or less harmless action flick that most fans of the genre and “simpler” forms of cinema will get some enjoyment out of. Hell, I found myself enjoying much of the dialogue and the performances by Mirren and Malkovich are quite good given everything else around them. This is the kind of film where you know most of the cast was just having fun with the material. This emotion comes off and imprints itself on the watcher and, thus, the watcher also has fun with the cast. It’s a good movie for a weekend and while it isn’t perfect, most audiences will find enjoyment in its antics. It is also a great way to introduce younger audiences to bodies of work from the elder cast members (which also includes Richard Dreyfuss and Ernest Borgnine), as the stars’ cumulative works contain some of the best films of the last twenty years, and of all time.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Paul (2011) - Film Review

Paul is the collaborative work of writers Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (both most well-known for their performances in Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead) and Greg Mottola (the director of Superbad and Adventureland).  It is obvious there are two styles at work here.  You have the more chaotic and borderline-slapstick humor of Pegg and Frost sort of clashing with the more dialogue and character-focused direction of Mottola.  There is an interesting dynamic in this film, but it doesn’t feel like it has anything special like any of the films that I listed above.

Paul follows two London natives who visit America for Comic Con and then begin a tour of the states’ most infamous alien hotspots.  While on their travels they have a chance meeting with an alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen).  They agree, after a scare and some persuasion, to take him North to aid his safe escape from pursuing government agents played by Jason Bateman, Bill Hader and Nelson Ascencio.  Along they way they inadvertently abduct a fundamentalist RV park owner’s daughter named Ruth (played by Kristen Wiig) who’s faith is shaken upon meeting the alien.  Along the way it is learned that Paul has “advised” on many of the most iconic pop culture creations of the last few decades, and is in some way the inspiration for most of the famous aliens we recognize today.  It all culminates in a predictable and completely surprise-free ending that really was very disappointing. 

The performances are good all around here.  Seth Rogen is always likeable and his voice work here is great.  Wiig, Pegg and Frost are their normal entertaining selves as they continue to prove their comedic dominance and Jason Batemen does what he does best, continuing to climb to the top of the A-list.  The problem is, as with most films that include a gimmicky animated character, that the actors aren’t given much to do.  Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have proven themselves to be comedic geniuses in the past.  They have a pitch-perfect dynamic on screen and the fact that they seem to be holding back here just breaks my heart.  The character Paul is meant to carry this film and this happens at the expense of pushing two extremely talented actors to the back, if only just a little.

That said, I liked the screenplay for Paul.  Pegg and Frost wrote a very funny, clever film with word play that is entertaining and jokes that are both original and laugh-out-loud funny, though they seem just a little subdued at times, especially towards the end.  Given the very funny first and second acts of this film, it puzzles me why they chose to make the third act a derivative chase scene followed by an equally-derivative stand-off.  It goes for the most obvious ending instead of trying to do something unexpected or different, and that is truly tragic.

Most people who know me (and read this blog) will know that I am not a fan of computer animation in films.  I believe it has proven to be the death knell for creativity in movies.  That said, Paul, himself, is well-animated and likeable.  He is a well-written and funny character that I think is worthy of iconic status.  Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening with this iteration of the story.  As a film, Paul is thoroughly funny, but that’s just about it.  It doesn’t do too much that is particularly clever and I think this comes from the fact that, as I mentioned before, it just seems that it’s a clash of comedic styles.  The screenplay is funny but the movie just feels like its playing it safe, aiming for many of the most obvious clichés and outcome, with only sprinklings of momentary brilliance.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Red Riding Hood (2011) - Film Review

Okay.  I want to get one very important thing out of the way.  This movie exists because of one word: "Twilight".  This is, essentially, a very loose interpretation of the Red Riding Hood story as if it were interpreted and performed by the cast of the aforementioned vampire “saga”.  The leads glare and brood and speak with hammy poetic dialogue that is ever as bad as anything Hayden Christensen can produce.  This is a dumb movie aimed at fans of a series that is, on its own, a horrible plague of cinema, so that means this Red Riding Rip-Off is as bad if not worse than the film it is trying to be.

The convoluted and overly dramatic plot is focused on Valerie, who is torn between then man she loves and the man to which she is to be wed (Gee!  I haven’t heard that crap before!).  Meanwhile, a werewolf terrorizes the girl’s home town.  A priest named Solomon (Gary Oldman embarrassing himself again; he does that every now and then), arrives to fight off the wolf but ends up trying to sacrifice Valerie to the wolf after she is accused of being a witch.  The wolf is drawn out but escapes, and Valerie finds out who the wolf is in a twist that is about as surprising as the ending of a Steven Segal movie.  Then we get some more posing, a sequel tease, and the credits role.

This is a bad movie.  However, it goes deeper than that.  This is a bad movie that is an example of just about everything I hate about Hollywood as it is two things that I really despise: it is pathetic attempt to cash in on a craze, and it is a waste of some good talent.  The cast is mostly B and C-List fare, with a few talented actors who have been good before.  Gary Oldman, who is one of my favorite screen actors, is one such actor, and he’s the only star in the movie that doesn’t appear to be holding back.  He is going for full camp with this performance, but it doesn’t work.  This is mainly because he’s overacting in a crowd of expressionless and shallow characters that stand around looking “dark” and “moody” throughout the film.  The worst of all the performances goes to Shiloh Fernandez, the romantic male lead, who is flat out channeling Robert Pattinson’s boring and pathetic style.  He is just awful, and if I could reach through the screen and punch him, I would.

Now, I went a little too far in calling this a straight “rip off” of Twilight, because it is from the director of the first Twilight film, and boy is the direction ever as bad as you’d expect it to be.  Catherine Hardwicke is just terrible at presenting to us interesting characters that express real and believable emotion.  Her style more closely resembles a fashion advert for Abercrombie & Fitch than an actual film.  The actors pose and pause between their lines, their carefully groomed eyebrows accentuating their grim, stone-like faces.  While “GOOD” directors draw characters out of their actors, Hardwicke seems to try to suppress them, as though actual acting would get in the way of what is essentially eye candy for teenage girls. 

This movie isn’t as stupid or offensive as many of the other bad movies I’ve watched for this blog, and I realize fully that I do not fall into the narrow intended audience for this movie.  It is obviously intended to appeal to emo teen girls who are, for some reason, attracted to the boring style of acting presented in these types of movies, so I guess if you like the Twilight movies you might be entertained by this film, but as a stand alone title, this is garbage.  It is a boring, overwritten, overacted, silly exercise that not only drags on, but shows the worst of the teen-emo genre by sticking a stupid soap opera romance into what could have been a good monster movie.  It just doesn’t work.  With a better screenplay and a director with actual talent, this could have been an entertaining popcorn flick, unfortunately I cannot recommend a movie based on what it could have been.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Opposite Day (2009) - A "Sort-Of" Film Review

I wasn’t even going to write a review on this one. I got about half way through this one before I couldn’t take it anymore. Normally, if I decide to complete a review, I will sit through the movie, even if it is the worst, most despicable piece of garbage (I sat all the way through and reviewed the Fat Spy and the Bounty Hunter). However, I can honestly say that the first half of Opposite Day is some of the worst cinema I’ve ever seen, seriously. I’m not going to write a full review of the film, that would be very unfair. Instead I am merely going to give you a brief idea of what this movie is and hopefully persuade you not to waste your time with this trash.

Now, for starters, this is some of the safest, family-friendly stuff you can find. It is utterly harmless to kids, though it may drive some adults to suicide. What I guess is the plot revolves around a scientist played by the extremely annoying French Stewart, who works in an oversized lab working on experiments to make parenting easier, or something. Some sort of machine he and his assistant are working on is supposed to make it possible to communicate with babies. Meanwhile, two kids go stay with their grandparents at a cabin in the woods but mom and dad don’t go because (SHOCKER!) dad has to work. Yep! It’s that one again. The absentee father is a common device used in these sorts of films because it gives the film an easy conclusion because all that needs to be done to close the story is to redeem the father in the eyes of his family.

Anyway, so dad, played by Pauly Shore (AHHHHH!!!) stays behind with mom. While the kids are in the woods, an experiment goes awry back at the lab and a strange gas is launched into the air. The next day, when the kids and the grandparents arrive back home, all the kids are acting like adults and all the adults are acting like kids (HOW ZANY!). After grandma and grandpa are arrested by a ten-year-old (for, of all things, underage driving), the kids sitting in the back escape. The son is enthusiastic about being in charge of the adults while the little girl is a little more tentative.

This is about the point where I killed this movie. I know I didn’t give it a chance, but I cannot describe how bad this was. In the first hour, the film replays this same pop song (I guess it’s called “Opposite Day”; clever.) over and over and it is ringing in my ears. The good news is it got that freaking “Friday” song out of my head, the bad news is now it’s in my head and “Friday” is playing over it at equal volume because writing about it drew it from the depths of my psyche. On top of that, this is one of those movies that opens with a montage of the “perfect town” you used to see in a lot of these films until Pleasantville ruined that cliché by taking it, turning it on its head, and using it as a clever allegory for society. This film is a clever allegory for getting beaten to death with a flaming stick while writhing in a kiddy pool filled with plague-ridden rats, tarantulas and Egyptian asps.

Now if you don‘t know who Pauly Shore is, he is an exceptionally untalented performer who, in the 90‘s, appeared in several comedies with some rising stars. He channeled the same character in every film and went strong for a while until Bio Dome sunk his big screen career, he retired to scant bit appearances on TV and in some small, straight-to-DVD films like this one.  The worst part is, he was only in the part of the movie that I saw for a few minutes and he was giving the BEST performance!

This is the most bubbly, hyper, silly, and badly acted mess I’ve watched in a while. It has the tone of an episode of Saved By the Bell topped with a gentle drizzle of the Partridge Family, and it lacks any character. So it is basically a movie designed to sucker unwitting parents into looking at the gentle PG rating and deciding it’s worth watching with their kids. What I saw of this movie is awful, and even though I didn’t finish this crap, I felt I needed to warn people about it.