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Monthly Archives: April 2012

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Ten Word or Less Review: Space junk

This is a straight up piece of movie crap floating in the toilet bowl of cinema.  I can’t rightly fathom what it’s doing playing in a theater.  It belongs on history’s massive wall of theater skipping video rentals that desperate people and action junkies rent for themselves on Saturday night.  Made by two dummies whose name I don’t want to bother looking up, they aimed high and hired Guy Pierce, instead of Lundgren or Snipes, to glib it up and be snarky and then built a ramshackle movie about a space prison around his character.  Pierce s having a good time but it’s at our expense so in a way it’s insulting.  I snuck in so I didn’t feel as ticked about it as others will be.  Guy’s a good actor and he doesn’t get to headline much so his decision to jump into this is really just depressing.  It looks cheap, it’s boring, it’s stupid and most of it’s characters are walking plot holes.  By next week no one will remember this.

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Ten Word or Less Review: Watching bigots and morons be killed should be more fun.

America has become a rancid cesspool of cultural deprived morons.  A sea of vast ignorance, rampant arrogance and out of control rudeness dominates our landscape. Millions of people tune in to watch crass bottom feeders humiliate themselves and others around them under the guise of entertainment.  Everyone feels entitled to their 15 minutes of unwarranted fame when all they really deserve is a slap to the face and 4 years of forced internment in higher education.  All this cultural poison destroys the souls and warps the values of those who indulge in it and the corrupted hacks who sling this trash should suffer death at the end of a firearm, a sharp object or both.  Kill Simon Calwell.  Kill reality TV brats.  Kill people who text in movies at your expense.  If any of this rant rings true to you then Bobcat Goldthwait’s God Bless America may be a movie for you, but be warned.  Bobcat has the heart of a saddened, preaching malcontent, but is a filmmaker of extremely limited vision and skill.  He has his finger on the pulse of a disgusted majority who cringe at the sight of American Idol, but little more than the ability of B level filmmaker with no money to make his point.

Frank (Joel Murray) is an intelligent but downtrodden guy.  Plagued by migraines which render him an insomniac, Frank stays up and watches the American value system erode right in front of him on his television.  He sits in a state of mortification and depression as classless Jersey scum parade across TV along side warbling crooners looking for instant fame, all while ill-tempered political pundits shout down their guest in a hail of unjustified belligerence.  All the hostility, aggression and contempt for fellow people leads Frank to ask, ‘What’s the point of civilization if no one is going to be civilized?’  Once Frank gets told that he’s going to die of a massive brain tumor, all bets are off.  Frank decides it would be better to make a dent in societies problem than off himself.  He blows away a spoiled TV celebrity and instantly gains the admiration of Roxy (Tara Barr), a plucky teen just as sick of the rancid world as Frank.  She joins his cause and the two set out on a killing spree to rid America of the toxic snobbery which has infected it down to the core.

For a movie rooted squarely on the shoulders of cultural disappointment and a desire to right wrongs with pure, unhinged, righteous vengeance, God Bless America feels sadly prosaic and poorly paced.  Goldthwait can’t give his anger infused creation any momentum, sense of urgency and can only pedantically express his clearly palpable sense of outrage.  Put more simply, it’s an angry movie that isn’t as interesting as it thinks it is, nor does it convincingly express its anger.  Joel Murray’s doe eyed, even tempered and unflappable lead performance embodies a lot of this.  I think Goldthwait wanted to avoid surface level cartoonishness which seems wise, but the track he takes instead leaves thing with no sense of pressure or importance.  Frank seems as emotionally invested in ridding the world of those he loathes as he would buying a pair of new shoes or paying his rent.

Goldthwait is further undercut by a lack of budget, scope or ambitious writing.  God Bless feels as if it takes place in a world devoid of realistic details or people.  Frank and Roxy kill with impunity and law officials are rarely ever seen or called upon.  The movie winds up being less like kindred ancestor Taxi Driver and more a psuedo twin to last years disappointing Rainn Wilson vehicle Super. That too was a movie about a lone man gone off his nut trying to single handedly right societies wrongs, but was ultimately undone by the same kind of under cooked direction and no budget execution.  God Bless has no interest in the inherent irony of its story either.  The tale of a smart man having to go savage to deal with what he sees as savagery doesn’t really cross anyone’s mind.  Frank judges everyone, but no one ever judges Frank.  In the film he is right by default and the argument doesn’t go past this.  And as shock oriented as things should be the story never throw us for any genuine loops.  Goldthwait takes aim at his easy targets, fires his volley and feels that’s all that is necessary.  It’s a screenplay perhaps not written with haste, but with a lot of possibilities ignored.

It bums me out that twice in one day I’ve had to pick apart ambitious, rule breaking movies.  God Bless America takes rightful aim at the swill being passed off as culture and justifiably calls bullshit on all of it.  It’s a movie that wants people to be better, try harder, and to strive for something more than a bargain basement mentality, but it seems unlikely that very many people will want to wade through the experience of watching it.  How can a movie with only marginal value or dramatic impact possibly get its message across to people who thrill at the idea of watching Snooki do dumb shit every night?

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Ten Word or Less Review: The Truman Horror Show

A jock, a hot chick, a pot head, a cute virgin and a minority character, or some variation of this lot, head out to the woods for a weekend getaway which is supposed to entail lots of alcohol and sexual debauchery.  Of course it never turns out that way.  Zombies attack, monsters awaken or flesh eating, inbred hillbillies terrorize the group.  One by one the teens get picked off in increasingly gruesome ways.  A machete always gets embedded in a skull.  It’s a rickety formula which got a funny kick in the pants not that long ago with Tucker and Dale vs. Evil.  Now nerd God Joss Whedon (The Avengers) and first time director Drew Goddard take their shot at turning the cliches of this horror staple inside out.  Cabin in the Woods sets itself up as a radical poking of these tired and worn out wheels.  The two come awfully damn close to pulling off a miraculous horror show of sorts.  Characters are written and given actual definition, a scenario is spun which draws in the viewer, but in the end Cabin morphs into the very thing in tries so desperately not to be, a dumb movie.

You know a joke is a foot as soon as Cabin gets underway.  Instead of introducing the audience to our obligatory cavalcade of teen meat bags Cabin shows us two government workers (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) harping about their wives.  Where are the dumb kids and guys in hockey masks?  As this opening conversation culminates the title card slams the audience in the face.  CABIN IN THE WOODS!  Cleverness is about and the audience is intrigued.  Instead of  toying with the audience by traditional means, writers Whedon and Goddard just up and tell us, teens are being lured into an isolated cabin for some kind of nefarious government experiment.  Then it bothers to introduce us to the people who will inevitably meet the wrong end of sharp objects.  Dana (the cute virgin), Kurt (the jock), Jules (the hot chick), Marty (the pot head) and Holden (nerd/ethnic minority) seem like a decent enough group of young people.  Though a collection of cliches Goddard and Whedon make the screenplay work just enough to rise above the cliches they each represent.  They’re a likable collection of youth and their inevitable dispatching at the hands of zombie hillbillies is all the more fascinating as our government workers dispassionately observe, and even bet on, the mode of death which awaits them.  Goddard and Whendon may not toy with us as we’re accustomed to but they are toying with us.  Why is the government luring teens to a cabin to watch them die horrific deaths at the hands of flesh eating zombies?  What else is lurking out in the woods?  That’s the gimmick Cabin ably uses to build up a healthy head of steam for 2/3 of its story, and then quickly turn everything into a fiery train wreck.

It always feels unjust to slap around ambition.  Goddard and Whedon are not dummies and their attempt to open the box of the cabin bound slasher flick and rewire it with actual intelligence and intrigue makes for interesting viewing to a point.  But Goddard, a frequent collaborator with J.J. Abrahms, should have taken a more enigmatic approach as J.J. surely would’ve have done.  Abrams knows that narrative death can lie in explaining things.  He’s defined himself as a storyteller by emphasizing mystery and character and intentionally forsaking pat explanations.  Once the audience knows the game, the game is over.  Cabin in the Woods expends genuine effort to draw the viewer in and it works, and then the film comes crashing down its proverbial ankles as it insist on showing us all its nuts and bolts.  In and of itself that’s not a crime.  If Toto doesn’t pull that curtain back Dorothy doesn’t go home.  But the why’s and how’s of Cabin are so overreaching and dumb, by the time the credits role it has sadly become the very thing it so wanted to avoid, achingly moronic.

There are some parts of Cabin which deserve admiration and salute.  The cast is game and everyone sells it as best they can.  Goddard and Whedon will surely win points with certain movie goers for their semi-clever creation, but in the end all their ambition and ingenuity wind up serving a story no one needed.  Cabin carves out an interesting place for itself when it’s over.  It’s an almost fascinating, ambitiously mounted , nearly successful but aggravatingly stupid movie.

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Ten Word or Less Review: The Orkin man wouldn’t stand a chance.

It would take a very unorthodox imagination to consider Mimic a genuine classic, all-time great horror film.  However, it is a safe bet to say that it is the best movie yet made about giant, mutated cockroaches.  Written and directed by now widely respected Guillermo del Toro, Mimic stars Mira Sorvino, who had just won an Oscar working for Woody Allen, Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham, future Oscar nominee Josh Brolin and several other actors of no small reputation.  That’s an unusual amount of talent on hand for a movie about killer insects which would at first glance not look out of place as the SyFy channel, Sunday night crap, creature feature starring Richard Greico and Debbie Gibson.

It’s winter in New York and children are dying of a disease spread by the city’s most prolific and indestructible inhabitant, the cockroach.  Lying in shrouded hospital beds, the children struggle and fight for life, many losing the battle.  Dr. Tyler (Mira Sorvino) is a renowned entomologist brought into the situation with the hope she can find a way to eradicate the disease spreading pest.  If nuclear bombs can’t kill a roach what chance does little Mira have?  She eventually engineers and unleashes the Judas Breed, a huge, creepy, cross bred super roach, into New York’s underground ecosystem and within months the disease spreading cockroaches have been terminated.  Eat your heart out Orkin man.  Dr. Tyler’s mega bugs should die off as well and all will be right in the world.  Of course that doesn’t happen.  This is a horror movie and Frankenstien’s ghost must always live on.  Cut to three years later and a Chinese priest is being chased to his church rooftop by cloaked men who make clicker noises.  He falls to his death and his corpse is subsequently dragged away into the sewers below his church.  Those supposedly dead mega roaches are just a few evolutionary steps away from blending in with the wolves of Wall Street.

Dr. Tyler is now hitched to fellow scientist Dr. Mann (Jeremy Northam) and the two are moving along with life, contemplating parenthood.  Dr. Mann gets brought to the church because found in its basement are scores of Chinese refugees suffering from yellow fever and ranting about dark angels.  It isn’t too long before Mann figures out something besides fever is amiss.  To cut to the chase, husband and wife scientist slowly figure out that the Judas Breed is alive and well, 6 feet tall and capable of loosely impersonating your typical pervert in a trench coat.  These super mutated insects are inching toward the surface, feeding on New York’s unlucky subterranean population of people and lost pets with an eye towards moving out to the Hamptons, and everywhere else.

Unceremoniously released in 1997, Mimic is a fine example of how to take a B-movie idea and attempt to execute it with A-level skill.  del Toro is a virtuoso craftsman of atmosphere and even though he had vision impaired producers nipping his heals the entire time, he still managed to pull off a consistently creepy monster flick.  Mimic is played completely straight and never once treats its goofy premise as the Mansquito level joke most would be inclined to take it for.  del Toro very much emulates the pacing and creepiness of Ridley Scott’s classic Alien, as well as that movie’s gooiness, drenching his film in grimy shadows and rain.  He wisely keeps his creature(s) just out of sight as long as he can and works with his actors to give the experience a small, convincing emotional core.  The movie will be a chore for those with lesser dispositions as del Toro avoids any kind of onslaught of the outright gory, instead going for a vibe of the thoroughly queasy.  This viewer made the poor mistake to eat dinner in the middle of the movie.  Bad idea.  Two foot long, dead baby roach monsters do not make for good meal time entertainment.

Mira Sorvino makes a decent lead for a movie like this.  She may fall into the ‘too pretty to be a scientist’ cliche but she brings just enough presence to the screen to make it work.  The very cute actress had won an Oscar for Mighty Aphrodite two years prior and Mimic was part of her short career as a leading lady.  She’s capably backed up by Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham in the mentor role, Italian character actor Giancarlo Gianinni as an unlucky shoe shiner with an autistic grandson and the always sturdy Charles S. Dutton, probably suffering a small amount of deja vu after being in Alien 3 a few years before.  Not everyone is aces though.  British bore Jeremy Northam underplays his husband/scientist part so much he almost vanishes into the gothic backgrounds that del Toro and his production are so dedicated to perfecting.  And yes, that is future Jonah Hex star Josh Brolin in the thankless part of cynical cop.  It would be another decade before the Coen Brothers elevated Brolin from the purgatory of obscure supporting roles which defined his career for many years.

Mimic was the first English language effort of eventual Hellboy helmer, Guillermo del Toro.  An Oscar nominee for his classic Pan’s Labyrinth in 2007, the then cloutless and Hollywood untested filmmaker is known to have had a difficult experience making the film, clashing with his 12 producers over the direction and tone of the movie.  As sustainably creepy as Mimic mostly is, it missteps in places and the fault likely lies at the feet of some of those 12 meddlers.  del Toro, a master at crafting creepy movie creatures, also hits a wall when his clicking, slimy, man-sized bugs are rendered and exposed in CGI.  The mysterious, unsettling bug men become fuzzy, dimensionless CGI hackwork.  del Toro also tries hard to be a rule breaker but he can’t get his movie to ignore all the genre cliches that come with this kind of territory.  He gets away with brutally offing a couple of bug collecting kids but he can’t divorce Mimic from a predictable, unsuitably optimistic, ending.  It works to a point but an unfortunate adherence to the blow it up and leave the theater conclusion is all we get.  In a video interview on the disc del Toro gives a description of Mimic’s original ending which was never filmed.  It would have been a far more accomplished and unsettling conclusion to a film which has ample amounts of accomplished and unsettling elements. 

Released to Blu Ray last year, Mimic now appears to us in a Director’s Cut, but this is no radical scene one re-edit with scores of lost footage.  del Toro has gone back an reinstated several scenes he was forced to cut in the original theatrical version, as well as reorganizing others.  Having not seen the film in many years I have to confess that spotting the new scenes and adjustments wasn’t obvious to me.  The run time has only been lengthened by about 5 minutes and the film still feels like it did 15 years ago when it first appeared, creepy, unsettling but just a bit off as a whole.  These minor alterations give the movie modest gains but Mimic can never completely be as the director wants it.  In a rare, honest video interview found on the disc, del Toro makes it clear that the version he wanted to make was never shot.  His clashing with producers and studio heads forced him to conceed many things.  The ending mentioned above is a prime example and who knows what else was lost due to interference and unwanted meddling.

Mimic will never be regarded as some kind of penultimate horror movie experience.  It’s an engaging, gross little movie that gets under your skin and should be easily appreciated by fans of atmospheric  horror movies.  Appreciators of giant insect cinema should also hold a place for it in their admiring hearts.  It is a very respectable creation but it seems destined to have a life as no more than a curious footnote in the career of a man who went onto to bigger and better things.  Whatever you think of it, it will always remain an interesting case of ‘what if’ cinema.