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Monthly Archives: January 2011

Ten Word or Less Review: Garbage

Red is as lazy and covered in fail as films get.  From its limp performances, to its first draft screenplay, to its prosaic direction, everything about it screams, ‘Go make a movie which can comfortably fit into a 2 ½ hour FX channel viewing block and not bother someones nap.”  As an action movie its rote and uninspired.  Someone might be foolish enough to argue that the PG-13 rating hamstrung things but I wouldn’t buy that argument.  Everything in Red feels safe and unthreatening.  There’s no tension in anything or a thought that anything bad will happen to anyone that matters to the proceedings.  The other side is to argue that it’s a comedy, it shouldn’t be hard hitting.  Fine, but Red isn’t funny either.  It’s a movie which portends to entertain by merely providing an inspired cast, it doesn’t actually ask any of them to do anything particularly inspired or say anything clever.  Director Robert Schwentke is tone def to the off beat humor he’s forcing up on the screen.  When Red tries to be funny it feels like white noise.  It’s a trash movie with grade A talent, nothing more.  And about that talent.

I hold no grudges against anyone in this thing.  A laundry list of well respected thespians taking a paycheck job in a goofy, piece of shit action flick is nothing new.  Freeman, Mirren, Malkovich, there are no hard feelings.  Except you Bruce Willis.  You are not off the hook.  Come back, sit down and pay attention.  I’m sick to death of you and your stoic, bald head.  You have clearly given up as an actor and I will no longer subject myself to vehicles of this type.  I avoided your second rate offerings for years but in the past 12 months you have been the anchor for three of the laziest, most uninspired pieces of shit I’ve seen.  Between Red, Cop Out, and Surrogates I’m beginning to think you hate life and quite possibly the people who suffer through this crap you make.  You sure as Hell hate movies.  No one should be subjected to this kind of torture and this will be the last time I sit down for one of your farces.  Make a real movie with a real filmmaker or fuck off.

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The Innocents (1961) – This horror gem from 1961 embodies all the classy elements of yesteryear horror: suspence, mood, sound effects, atmosphere and haunting imagery.  Deborah Kerr plays an inexperienced Governess who takes over an estate for a selfish bachelor who has suddenly been bequeathed two young children whom he has no interest in raising.  She arrives at the estate to find a massive mansion, sprawling gounds which entrance with beauty and an adorable girl, soon followed by her equally adorable brother.  But before long spooky shit starts to happen and the whole experience becomes a freak show.  Ghostly figures appear around corners, whispers waft down from the rafters, the kids start acting like little freaks.  The film becomes creepy and nerveracking.  Innocents could best be described as a grandparent of The Others or perhaps less directly related to Pans Labyrinth.

Soylent Green (1973) – Green was the last part of Chuck Heston’s end of the world trilogy, following Planet of the Apes and Omega Man.  It’s the year 2022 and New York is horribly overcrowded with 40 million residents and counting.  People are so abundent that they sleep in stairways by the dozen and subside on a food known only as soylent.  Spoiler alert, it’s people.  The plot is pretty transparent and rickety, but the film was made with that kind of dopey, misguided ambition that 70’s sci-fi excelled at.  Heston is just being Heston but Edward G. Robinson, appearing in his 101st and final movie, is still kicking strong in a supporting role.  He would pass away shortly after finishing Green.  Most people will chuckle at Soylent for its casually misogynistic attitude, a female character keeps being referre dto as furniture, its questionable costume choices, Heston wears an ascot through the whole movie, and it’s all around silly presentation.  Despite all that it’s pretty watchable for a piece of crap 70’s sci-fi flick.

Despicable Me (2010) – Something for the kiddies.  Mostly harmless but probably boring for anyone over the age of 9.

After a lot of debate and consideration I’ve decided to post this in fairly simple fashion.  A few notes peppered in here and there.

THE BEST:  THE SOCIAL NETWORK (BEST OF THE YEAR), BLACK SWAN, INCEPTION, SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD (MOST FUN OF THE YEAR), 127 HOURS (MOST INTENSE 10 MINUTES OF THE YEAR), THE AMERICAN, LET ME IN, NEVER LET ME GO (SADDEST FILM OF THE YEAR), THE KINGS SPEECH

FLIRTING WITH THE ABOVE: THE GHOST WRITER, SHUTTER ISLAND, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, THE OTHER GUYS, SPLICE, TRUE GRIT, THE TOWN, TOY STORY 3 (FILM I GAVE THE MOST RECONSIDERATION), THE FIGHTER

THAT ALMOST MATTERED: EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP, HARRY POTTER 7, Pt 1, PREDATORS, EASY A, DAYBREAKERS, KICK ASS, THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT, HOT TUB TIME MACHINE, WINTERS BONE, THE KILLER INSIDE ME

THAT DIDN’T MATTER: CENTURION, UNSTOPPABLE, I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS, IRON MAN 2, TRON: LEGACY, THE A-TEAM, ROBIN HOOD (WORST MOVIE TO DWELL ON), EDGE OF DARKNESS, THE BOOK OF ELI

THAT WAS SHIT: MACHETE, CLASH OF THE TITANS, THE WOLFMAN, GREEN ZONE, DUE DATE, FROZEN

THAT WAS INTERESTING BUT STILL SHIT: GREENBERG

THAT WAS A STINKING PILE OF SHIT: THE EXPENDIBLES

THAT MADE THE STINKING PILE OF SHIT SEEM WONDERFUL: ALICE IN WONDERLAND, COP OUT

I missed several things of note and will be seeing more as time marches on but all in all 2010 movies feel wrapped up.

Ten Word or Less Review: Stiff ass Brits make fun flick about speech impediment.

You have to afford an ample amount of respect to certain British filmmakers.  It takes guts to make a movie about something as outwardly trivial as a guy stammering.  Much like 2006’s The Queen, The King’s Speech tackles a story which by most accounts should amount to tedium but instead manages achieve a delicate air of humor and drama.  A refined, top notch cast and a skilled filmmaker breathe volumes of life into this tale of a King who just can’t seem to spit it out.

Colin Firth is Albert, the Duke of York.  Albert has a nagging problem which haunts his daily life.  He stammers, very badly.  Years of emotional repression, family strife and a general lack of self-confidence have left him unable to speak without running into a wall of inability.  Being royalty, this isn’t some problem to simply live with.  His inability to enunciate eloquently reflects badly on the Royals and on the fading and threatened British Empire as a whole.  The spread of radio, Speech is set mostly during the early 30’s, has suddenly rendered public speaking a most important skill.  That’s a very important stammer to be stuck with.  After years of failed attempts to correct the problem the Duke is thrust into the company of Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a speech therapist with unorthodox ways who refuses to let the Duke use his position in life as a point of superiority.  He insist on calling him Berty, puts him through silly actorish physical exercises, uses tongue twisters of titanic troublesomeness and encourages fits of profanity to loosen his mind, temper and tongue.  All of this becomes an enjoyable journey about two men becoming great friends, one man overcoming a debilitating handicap, and how an entire nation can be wrapped up in the speaking abilities of one man.

Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush act up a storm in this stately, well groomed vehicle of a movie.  Firth has been an ever reliable source for old fashioned British thespian styling for some time now.  Perhaps the part doesn’t propose scores of challenges for him but he’s excellent regardless.  One of the year’s best scenes in any movie entails his Royal Highness getting in touch with his locked up ability to be profane.  Watching the refined loose their shit is always a hoot and the f word hasn’t been this fun in ages.  Playing off Firth with a constant, devilish gleam in his eye is Rush, having real fun for what seems like the first time since his first Pirates outing.  The thought of him screaming and ballyhooing through another one of those next summer now seems all the more dispiriting than it already was.  Rush infuses Logue with a devil may care; leave your bullshit on the front door step attitude that’s instantly ensnaring.  A who’s who of Harry Potter veterans, Helena Bonham Carter, James Gambon, Timothy Spall, fill out the cast in admirable fashion.

Longtime BBC director Tom Hooper puts things together with a light, sturdy hand and a good pace.  This being a British film it’s easy to foresee loads of methodical and emotional understatement and repressive attitudes that often accompany these types of drama.  But the film feels free and light weight on its feet.  It doesn’t feel restrictive or strangled at all.  Those fearing a turgid, BBC level costume drama, replete with tea sipping and emotional repression, will find a very different experience.

This winning tale should have little trouble winning over audiences.  It has numerous Oscar nominations in its future and is considered a front runner for winning Best Picture.  I can think of several better films this year but I wouldn’t bitch too much if it won.  If exceedingly British movies do little for you then perhaps it’s not for you.  It’s not a trailblazing groundbreaker like several of the years other fine accomplishments, but it can sit regally towards the top of 2010’s cinema with little fuss from me.

 

 

Micmacs (2010) – Jean Pierre-Jeunet (Amelie) returns from a prolonged directorial absence, 5 years, with this quirky piece of creative fluff.  Bazil (Dany Boon) looses his father in childhood to a landmine.  As an adult he suffers a bullet to the head during a criminal getaway.  It remains lodged in his head and could kill him at any moment.  One day he discovers that the makers of the landmine and the bullet are neighboring arms manufacturers, both run by vile, amoral business scumbags.  He sets out with a group of landfill living crusaders to turn the companies on each other in what is mostly a lighthearted revenge fable.  Jeunet’s innovative camera work and playful sense of fun work overtime here.  Boon has the clever physicality of Chaplin but only uses it in small doses.  It’s a fun lark of a movie but for Jeunet it feels like a minor work, something to get him back in the swing of things until a more ambitious project comes around.  Worth seeing though.

Collapse (2009) – Michael Ruppert stares into the camera and tells us that bad hasn’t even started yet.  Michael believes that the world as it currently functions is doomed.  And it’s not a matter religious fundamentalism or corrupt morality that will destroy us, its simple math, physics and time.  Nearly every single product produced uses oil in some form or fashion in its creation or transportation to market.  Oil is finite.  The moment of peak oil has passed.  It will run out sooner rather than later.  Once that happens, shit hits the fan on a scale that no one wants to imagine.  Hard logic to argue with.  Human ingenuity don’t fail us now.  If Ruppert is wrong we’ll go along on our road bump laden way and look back at him as just another roadside prophet preaching doomsday.  If Rupert is right start watching Mad Max movies for survival tips ASAP.  Ruppert’s best tip?  Buy organic seeds.

Machete (2010) – Here’s the problem making films rooted in the aesthetic of 70’s exploitation trash, they mostly suck and emulating them without the lens of reinterpretation, Tarantino, or parody, Black Dynamite, is a fool’s errand.  For every inspired chuckle or bit of lunacy that works there are miles of celluloid totaling scores of films that just sit there and bore you to death with their listless lack of talent.  Machete wants to be one of those movies and that’s what it is.  It’s a silly bit of garbage that thinks because it’s garbage that everything is fine.  But it’s not, it’s just garbage.  And it’s made by Robert Rodriguez who usually makes garbage anyway, but here he’s trying to make fun garbage but since he’s always trying to do that, and rarely succeeding, why would he succeed here?  Meat faced role player Danny Trejo finally gets his shot at leading a film but it was better as an idea than an actuality.  Trejo imparts very little charm or presence in a flatly written part that requires him to be stoic and stab people.  This opportunity for overcooked slaughtering of racist dirt bags and their immigrant victims gets boring fast.  In Grindhouse it worked great as a 2 minute gag preview, all those bits are here, but as a full blown movie it’s a chore.  It’s one note, overlong, intentionally but unamusingly stupid and it’s first 5 minutes are about all that’s worth watching.  For schlock fans only.

 

The A-Team (2010) – Misplaced nostalgia strikes again.  Bombastic and tiresome action rehash of semi-iconic 80’s TV show works hard but achieves little.  It’s almost a shame because the cast was game and there was something resembling chemistry between these guys.  Neeson, Cooper, Copley and the Ultimate Fighter guy all seem invested in this goofy shit.  A smartly written, less transparent film would’ve helped too.  A giggle sneaks through here and there but this ADD addled film is in a constant state of roid rage.  It’s a sense of impatience with itself and silly eagerness to blow shit up that keeps A-Team from being fun.

 

 

Ten Word or Less Review: Batman and Dirk Diggler team up for boxing flick.  TKO!

Looking at it from the outside The Fighter doesn’t look extremely promising.  Mark Wahlberg is a drunk driver of a leading man.  He might be able to perform admirably behind the wheel (The Departed) or he might just crash into a wall in a heap of flaming wreckage (The Happening).  David O. Russell is helming but since the success of Three Kings over a decade ago he’s accomplished next to nothing.  His film before this one languishes somewhere, unfinished.  And then there’s the whole idea of sitting through another clichéd, worn out, underdog sports flick, centered on boxing no less.  But despite all this The Fighter manages to rise above its inherented drawbacks.  Russell and his cast put together a film which is more dysfunctional family saga than boxing film and on the strength of Wahlberg, and stand out co-star Christian Bale, deliver a fine drama that people across the board should appreciate.

Based on a true story, The Fighter focuses on boxing brothers Mickey Ward (Wahlberg) and Dickie Eklund (Bale).  Eklund was once a strong up and comer who lost his way.  Now a raging crack addict with teeth falling out, he lives vicariously though his brother’s accomplishments and on his own inflated sense of nostalgia.  Mickey is the quiet brother who suffers passively as his brother and mother (Melissa Leo) let down and mismanage his career through self-interest and neglect.  After bottoming out by losing a fight he shouldn’t have gone through with, Ward meets Charlene (Amy Adams) a woman who sees Mickey being misused by people and finally pushes him in a better direction that he can’t go in on his own.  He cuts himself off from his family in an attempt to become a stronger person and boxer but finds that though his family may not be the best, he may not be able to function without them.

Bale’s the attention getting scene stealer.  He’s once again emaciated himself for cinema.  While nowhere near the frightening physique he achieved for The Mechanic he’s still a rag doll of a human, all bones, ticks and bug eyes.  Dickie’s self-destruction is more pathetic and sad than loathsome and Bale makes this poor excuse for a human sympathetic.  It would’ve been easy to villain up the part but he’s too sad a person to waste hate on.  Wahlberg goes understated and studied as Mickey Ward.  He’s a guy too shy and introverted to say the things he needs to the people he should which turn into strengths for Wahlberg.  The faux charm and offbeat emoting that typify a bad Wahlberg performance are mercifully absent.  Melissa Leo is his force of nature mother.  A woman who doesn’t so much mother as steamroll, she’s an intimidating presence.  Amy Adams is going with haggard but sexy as Charlene.  Both women turn in great work and more than hold their own against the likes of Bale.

The entire cast benefits greatly from a sturdy screenplay as well as Russell’s unobtrusive, low key direction.  Boxing movies are often judged on the strength of their boxing scenes but Fighter doesn’t play this card.  Its few fight scenes contain neither the credibility straining bombast of a Rocky film nor the methodical artistry of genre pinnacle Raging Bull.  Instead Russell stages his fights by simply recreating the HBO Sports look and feel that these fights originally had, going so far as to use the fight commentaries as they were heard on the air.  It may be an unorthodox choice but it works.

The Fighter stands tall as a work that once again proves that the story you’re telling isn’t so much important as how you tell it.  While rooted in clichés and uplift like so many sports vehicles before it Fighter works because of performance and integrity.  The entire cast shines brightly and Oscar nominations seem sure with even a win or two very possible.  It may not quite challenge its boxing classic forefathers but there’s nothing wrong with achieving integrity and class.

 

Exit Through the Gift Shop:  Acclaimed documentary about graffiti artists.  Was supposed to be a movie about this nutty French dude who spent years shooting footage of graffiti artists, documenting their work, seeking out the elusive icons of this eclectic subculture and showing the world their work, but he never really intended to make the movie.  After tracing down the most elusive and renowned of this graffiti pack, a guy going buy the name Banksy, he’s finally motivated to make the actual movie.  Said film is an unwatchable disaster so Banksey, who appears only in shadow and modified voice, makes his own movie, this one, and turns the documentary around on the nutty French guy and his ascent to pop art stardom.  Whole thing is probably a put on from front to back, the French guy isn’t so much an artist as a guy who tells other artists what to make, but it’s entertaining for what it is.  Those who label it one of the years best are too impressed by that which is kind of clever.

 

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence: I got no grasp of this movie at all.  It’s an off center POW drama set during World War II that the good folks at Criterion felt compelled to bring attention to.  It features David Bowie in weird contact lenses that give him eyes with different dilations.  I really have little to say about it because I’m not sure what point the movie was trying to make.  Something about culture class between Japanese and British.    Maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough.  I don’t know.  If you’re into David Bowie go watch The Man Who Fell to Earth instead.  Or just listen to Station to Station one more time.

 

 

Easy A:  Watching anything aimed squarely at the team crowd is tantamount to having to sit through an honest to God snuff movie.  But instead of watching a person die on camera you’re watching a whole culture be asphyxiated with stupidity.  I guess movies aimed at teems have always been pretty dumb but the stuff that floats around now seems particularly toxic.  So it’s a nice surprise that Easy A turns out to be fairly digestible and likable in many regards.  Emma Stone holds the film up as an intelligent teen who takes Nathaniel Hawthorne material to heart.  A high school wall flower who starts a lie about losing her virginity, only to escalate it to lying about having sex with everyone and becoming a school pariah.  It’s a breakout part for her and one hopes that things turn out better for her than they did for Alicia Silverstone.   Things are made more enjoyable by virtue of a very notable supporting cast: Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, Thomas Haden Church, Lisa Kudrow.  Tucci and Clarkson are scene stealers and Stone’s parents.  More Easy A’s and less Twilight’s would make the world a better place.  Here’s hoping.