Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Stepfather (Review)

      I saw "The Stepfather" this weekend, after a failed attempt to see it opening weekend, and I was surprised.  Most PG-13 rated horror movies are complete trash.  They exist only to attract kids with disposable income to theaters during the first two weeks of release; the most profitable weeks for movie distributors.  "The Stepfather," however, is not a horror movie.  It's a suspense film.  Something I didn't expect to see considering today's movie audiences are dominated by kids who text throughout the movie and only look up when something explodes.  (You kind of have to pay attention to the whole movie when suspense is involved.)  "The Stepfather" is not filled with a lot of gore or action.  It's a textbook example of a suspense thriller.  Of course, this is also it's downfall, for, sometimes, "The Stepfather" feels like you are reading a textbook.  I was surprised to see it was doing everything a movie should do, like character development, foreshadowing, three well defined acts, and so on, but I was also disappointed that it was all so very obvious.  Almost like watching a film school assignment where you get a passing grade because all the elements are there, but none of them are done with any style or finesse. 

      "The Stepfather" is about a serial killer, played by Dylan Walsh, who fools single mothers into thinking he has recently lost his family, gains their trust, tries to live as a happy husband with the perfect family, and then ends up killing everyone when it fails to work out.  Why he does this is a mystery, although he does seem to be a bit of an obsessive compulsive.  (He's also completely nuts!)  "The Stepfather" is suspenseful, but also fairly predictable.  I really hate to dog this movie.  It really did make a valiant effort and it did everything the way it should, and, in a market full of plot holes, crappy dialogue, bad acting, and completely incomprehensible action sequences, "The Stepfather" gets everything right, but just barely.  Perhaps it was a bad idea to have a director, Nelson McCormick, who works almost exclusively in TV, and actors, Dylan Walsh, Sela Ward, and Penn Badgley, who also do a lot of TV, all try to make a movie.  In the end, you get what you might expect, a movie of the week, but not a film worthy of the cinema. 

     Watch "The Stepfather" on DVD or on cable some Sunday afternoon when you have absolutely nothing better to do or some weeknight when all the networks are playing nothing but reruns, but, don't bother with it in the theaters.  Well, maybe in a few weeks when it's playing in some run down dollar theater, maybe.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Paranormal Activity (Review)

      I (finally) got to see "Paranormal Activity" this Friday, at a midnight showing, at the Alamo Drafthouse.  In doing so, I gave this movie the best chance I could of actually scarring me.  At the Drafthouse, I am virtually guaranteed there won't be anyone breaking the tension by talking or yelling something during a tense moment, or other such sophomoric activities that you are likely to get at a regular theater.  Unfortunately, the movie did that its self.

     "Paranormal Activity" has been advertised as some kind of underground phenomenon.  During its first weeks of showings, it played only to midnight audiences.  Much of the hype around it was word of mouth.  It is being advertised as "one of the scariest movies of all time.*"(*note the poster on your right)  Perhaps it works a little bit better at midnight showings, where you don't know what to expect, and you haven't seen commercials or trailers, but now that the secret is out, and the trailers I've seen contain most of the movie's creepier moments, the experience falls a bit flatter than it should.  Maybe it will work better on DVD, just you and a loved one you want to scare, or a small group of friends who have never heard about it, but large groups of people in theaters who know what they are in for disarm some of the scare of "Paranormal Activity,"

     Over-hype isn't the only problem with this film, however.  The concept its self seems very strong.  The way that the creepy moments are shown in digital camera 'reality vision', so to speak, make them seem real and visceral, however, there was no need to shoot the rest of the movie in the same, shaky, reality style.  That tends to be the failing of every one of these Blair Witch clones.  There is no real reason for someone to STILL be filming EVERYTHING that is happening.  ("Cloverfield" is a prime example.  Put down the camera and RUN!!!)  The attempted explanation of the continual filming also tends to ring hollow.  I think the film would have really worked if the scary moments were all on digital camera, making them seem very real, and the rest of the movie were just that, a movie. 

     The main failing of "Paranormal Activity", however, is the idiot boyfriend, who, in the end, deserves what comes to him.  I'll elaborate.  "Paranormal Activity" is a kind of found footage movie.  There are a couple of lines of text at the beginning, no logo or credits, the movie just starts.  The movie is made up of footage from one digital camera that a couple, Katie and Micah, played by on one you're likely to know, has purchased to document odd occurrences that happen to Katie as she sleeps.  Now, if both people were sane, rational individuals, this movie could have been very frightening, because you could empathize with them.  You might internalize what is happening and imagine that it could happen to you.  For a moment, you could get lost in their reality, suspend disbelief, and feel what they feel.  Sadly, you can't do this, because Micah, is an idiot.  He thinks everything that's happening is cool.  He is excited to get it all on camera and actively tries to provoke more occurrences.  To a point, I was still with the movie.  I could see that happening.  However, when the occurrences did begin to accelerate and intensify and when Katie, who has been dealing with these types of things ever since she was eight years old, begins to mentally break down, he should have stopped.  They should have consulted the expert recommended by the first paranormal investigator who predicted everything that happened up to that point.  Instead, Micah continues ahead, fueled by an inability to see the obvious and an overblown male bravado, and the film degrades into one of those horror movies that beg you to yell at the screen just to relieve your own frustration at the apparent stupidity of the characters.  In the end, I didn't feel scared.  I felt sorry for Katie and I felt like Micah deserved his fate. 

     I understand the premise behind "Paranormal Activity."  The fact that it's all supposed to look so very real, like a tape you found out in the woods or cans of old film in the attic, but its been done, so the shock value is gone, and you are not actually filming reality, so you still need to pay attention to your characters and their development.  Personally, I recommend waiting a year or so, finding a copy on DVD, and trying to scare a few close friends with it, but I wouldn't bother seeing it in theaters now.  The moment has passed.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Monty Python's Life of Brian (Review)

     Thank you IFC, for playing my favorite Monty Python movie, "Monty Python's Life of Brian."  This is not my favorite Monty Python movie for the obvious, narcissistic reason, (same name!) but rather because, this is the most fully developed Monty Python movie.  That is to say, it has a story and a plot.  I don't mean to speak ill of the other Monty Python movies, they are classics in their own right, but this is actually a full fledged movie, whereas the others are more like skits, loosely bound together by a common theme.  In any case, if you don't know who or what Monty Python is, well, it's almost impossible to explain.  "Monty Python's Flying Circus" was an extraordinarily off beat comedy show in Britain in the early 1970's.  It was a sketch comedy show where skits had no endings and one ran into the other, pet shop patrons couldn't convince shop owners that a parrot was dead, and double sighted mountaineers led expedition up the twin peaks of Kilimanjaro.  Insanely silly would just begin to scratch the surface.  If you still don't get it, ask your nerd friend (you know you have one) or anyone behind the counter at the Geek Squad, and I'm sure you'll get an earful.

     "Monty Python's Life of Brian" is a comedy, of sorts, about Brian or Nazareth, born one stable over from the central figure of Christian mythology, and, his entire life, is mistaken for the Messiah.  A rather simple idea that the Python crew milk for all it's worth.

     While there is a generous helping of uniquely Pythonesque (that's a real word, by the way) comedy in this film, there is also quite a bit of religious satire.  While the Python crew made sure not to make fun of Jesus himself, they have a lot of fun at the expense of those who follow him, or, rather, follow him poorly.  My favorite example of this is the sermon on the mount, where Jesus is talking about how the meek shall inherit the Earth.  As soon as the words are out of his mouth, people in the back, who can't hear everything he's saying very well, immediately begin fighting over what he said and what it means.  (If that sounds familiar, it's still happening today!)  There is also a short lived alien abduction somewhere in the middle of the film because they had to give Terry Gilliam a chance to animate something. That's Monty Python for you. 

     If you've never seen anything by Monty Python, "Monty Python's Life of Brian" is a pretty good starter movie.  It mixes their very unique brand of comedy with biting satire and has an actual plot and story you can follow.  It's a good way to get your feet wet and experience Python humor without being overwhelmed by the  incredible, non linear, insanity of the show or other movies (or everything else they ever did!)  

Law Abiding Citizen (Review)

     I love theaters, so, I'll often go to see movies that I wouldn't normally rent or bother with on cable.  In the past, I have been pleasantly surprised.  Other times, well, I got out and I went to a theater and all knowledge is good, even if that knowledge is just how badly a film sucked.  (Hey, I could have went with, "Eternal vigilance is the price of integrity," but then I'd have to go see stuff like "Twilight" just so I could dog it in the review, and I'm just not willing to pay that price.)  That's why I went to see "Law Abiding Citizen."  It looked like it might have potential.  It seemed like it might be worth taking a chance on.  I needed to get out and go somewhere or I was going to go crazy.  Luckily, "Law Abiding Citizen" was not really a bad movie.  Sadly, it wasn't a very good movie either.  It had potential, and it simply failed to live up to it. 

    Starring Gerard Butler as Clyde Shelton, a man who's family is murdered by thieves, and Jamie Foxx as Nick Rice, prosecutor who cuts a plea deal with one of the two accused to get a guaranteed conviction on the other one, "Law Abiding Citizen" seemed like it was going to be another "Se7en," complete with a moral lesson spelled out in blood across a city and everyone who will learn, too late, what that lesson is playing right into the intricate plan, but, in the end, it turns out to be something between an action flick and a crime drama. 

     "Law Abiding Citizen" is actually not poorly done, film wise.  Butler and Foxx do good enough jobs, although their parts are not exactly challenging, the action isn't over the top, although there isn't enough of it for those looking for an action flick, and there seems to be a point to all of it, but this is where the film fails, because there actually is no point beyond, don't make deals with murders.  The film seemed to be building toward an ending where Foxx's character would have to make a choice between stopping the killing by breaking the law, thereby proving a point being made by Butler's character, or do what the systems demands of him and allowing people to die or even, maybe, allowing Butler's character to go free because his constitutional rights had been violated, instead, it ended with the lesson being quite shallow and a big explosion.  How very sad.  There isn't even a clear moral good guy vs. bad guy in this film, just some explosions and killing. 

     If you are looking to turn off your brain for a while and waste the better part of two hours, "Law Abiding Citizen" is a reasonably well done popcorn flick.  If you expect some kind of thought process to have gone into the screenplay and to get some kind of meaning from your time, you'll be sorely disappointed. 

Revolutionary Road (Review)

     After being tricked into seeing "Titanic," I said a lot of cruel, hurtful things about Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.  I was wrong about all of them and "Revolutionary Road" is the thesis statement in the argument against all those terrible things I said.  True, both actors have proven themselves many times over before this movie came out, but this biting critique of suburban life in the early 1960's is almost the antithesis of beautifully made yet vacuous love tragedy of "Titanic."  (Kathy Bates gets to redeem herself as well!)

    "Revolutionary Road" is a film adaptation of a Richard Yates novel by the same name.  It shines an intelligent and unforgiving light on the illusion of happiness created in suburban America.  Frank and April Wheeler, played by Winslet and DiCaprio, are a couple who are a little bit too intelligent for suburban life, but have fallen into it anyway.  Both are bored and unsatisfied with the lives they've chosen and are looking for something more.  Inspiration strikes as they revive a youthful dream of living in Paris and prepare to make good their escape from the tedium and shallow depths of their 'perfect' suburban home and lives on Revolutionary Road.  However, cruel fate steps in and they must make a moral choice to stay in their suburban nightmare or end April's newly discovered pregnancy, sacrificing their unborn child for their own happiness.   The drama is realistic and tense and the satire biting as the couple struggles with what to do.

     "Revolutionary Road" is, indeed, a masterful work.  The dialogue is incredible, the plot is thought provoking, the source material is, well, Yates, and Winslet and DiCaprio prove, once again, that they are not simply a couple of good looking faces, but, rather, great actors in their own right.  The best performance, however, was had by Kathryn Hahn, who plays neighbor Milly Campbell.  Young actors could learn a lot from watching the subtly of her facial expressions as she tries to keep the crumbling mask of happiness from revealing the utter desperation of a hollow and meaningless existence found beneath it.  Dylan Baker also puts forth a great performance as Jack Ordway, who refuses to play along with the suburban facade, speak the truth about what he sees, and is considered insane because of it.  

I was very disappointed when I didn't get to see "Revolutionary Road" in a theater, but the wait was well worth it. 

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Shawshank Redemption (Review)

     "The Shawshank Redemption" is one of my all time favorite films.  It's one of those movies that, when it's playing on some movie channel, no matter how much I missed, I still get drawn in and soon find myself completely engrossed, watching till the very end.  It had been on cable a lot lately, and I have been catching it, over and over, here and there, so, when I caught it at the very beginning tonight, I had to watch it, and I had to review it. 

     "The Shawshank Redemption", based on a short story written by Stephen King, (why is it that Stephen King horror novels made into film or television program never really seem to live up to the book, but his short stories make such incredible movies?) is a well written, well directed tale about a banker, Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins, who is convicted of murdering his wife and her lover and sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison.  The story is narrated and told, primarily, from the perspective of fellow prison inmate, Ellis Boyd Redding, or Red, (because he's Irish) played by Morgan Freeman.  The story chronicles Red and Andy's stay in prison, and hope.  Hope that Andy never gives up on.  Hope that Red give up long ago, but, ultimately, finds again.  It seems like too simple of an idea for a two hour and twenty minute movie, but you'll never notice the time.  The story carries you along and keeps you hanging on every moment, then, suddenly, springs open like a jack in the box, revealing parts you never knew existed, but were right there in front of you the whole time. No matter how many times I see it or how well I know every detail, the story and the almost prose like dialogue, eloquent, befitting of character, and ineloquent, when necessary, still manages to enthrall me every time. 

     Freeman and Robbins are great actors who give great performances.  They are joined by a colorful cast of supporting characters, each of which has their own story and each of which grows over the course of the story.  The dialogue, especially between Andy and Red, is both natural and memorable.  The story is complex, yet, easy to follow and lose yourself in.

     It's difficult to give this film the high praise it deserves and not sound like the rambling of an enamored school girl savoring her first crush, so I'll stop here by saying that, to truly understand the greatness of this film, you simply must experience it for yourself, and it is an experience I strongly recommend.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are (Review)

     If not for the book of the same name, "Where the Wild Things Are" could have simply been called "Childhood," for this is the best, symbolic representation of childhood and the perceptions of a child's mind that I have ever seen on the movie screen.  On the surface, the plot is almost as simple as the 10 sentence book that it's based on, but hidden therein are layers upon layers of meaning.  The urge to psychoanalyze this movie is overwhelming, but, for fear of giving away to much or tinting your own analysis and enjoyment, I'll save that for later.

     Writer and director Spike Jonze and writer Dave Eggers masterfully recreate the mind of a child as it tries to comprehend the adult world that surrounds it.  Max, played perfectly by Max Records, is a maybe eight to ten year old kid who's trying to deal with an absent father and his mother dating.  Max flees home after, in his anger, he hurts his mother and, through Max's imagination, we live out his feelings and fears as childhood anxieties and the adults in his life are replaced with wild things.

     James Gandolfini plays Carol, the wild thing that primarily embodies both Max's father and his fear of loss (but I'm supposed to be saving the psychoanalysis for later.)  Though most of the dialogue sounds like it was written by an 8 year old kid, and seeing as it is supposed to be the embodiment of the imagination of such a child, it should sound exactly like that,  Gandolfini, as well as the other actors voicing  wild things, does a great job of sounding like an adult, as heard by a child.

     Even though this movie has a cast of big, Muppet like, monster characters, it is not really intended for toddlers.  I saw many bored and restless three to five year old kids in the theater.  Sadly, this movie is simply above their level of comprehension.  Seven to twelve year children will likely identify with this movie very well, and, when they grow up and see it again, they will likely gain a greater insight to their own childhoods and a greater understanding of their own children (one can hope.)  Kids older than that can still enjoy this movie, though older teens may be a bit bored.  Parents are likely to get the most out of "Where the Wild Things Are," as they see the lives of their own children mirrored in Max's imaginary world (and they, hopefully, develop a greater empathy toward their own children and the world their children live in.)  And, apparently, twenty something can even enjoy this film as well.  I was witness to a group of college aged kids reverting back to childhood, howling, as they left the theater.  (No, they hadn't been drinking.) 

     Although I, personally, am a sucker for psychoanalytical symbolism, I can safely recommend "Where the Wild Things Are" to anyone who can find and savor that bittersweet joy that can be had by seeing the world through the eyes of a child. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Master Pancake Theater Presents Total Recall

     Ok, this is not, technically, a movie review, but I'm going to say a few words anyway.  Last Friday night, I, and about eleven friends, co workers, and guests, went to go see Master Pancake Theater at the Alamo Drafthouse, Ritz, as they mocked "Total Recall."

     If you don't know what Master Pancake Theater is, or what the Alamo Drafthouse is, the harsh and cruel reality of your cold and pitiful existence saddens me almost to the point of tears.  (...or not.)  The Alamo Drafthouse is a uniquely Austin (Texas, that is) movie going experience.  Movies, good food, no commercials before the previews, unique, pre-show entertainment, and alcohol, and that's only for normal movies.  They also have special events, like, Master Pancake TheaterMaster Pancake Theater is very much like Mystery Science Theater 3000, where comedians watch a movie and make fun of it, except, for Master Pancake Theater, this is done live, in a theater full of people that sells out every showing, and they bring food and beer right to your seat.  Surely, this must be as close as we can come to nirvana.  So, while you were doing whatever Friday night, I was, literally, laughing myself hoarse, with friends and good food.

     The Total Recall show was, hilarious, as they all are, (every showing selling out should be a hint of this) even if a lot of the comedy is obvious.  Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't exactly hard to make fun of.  However, the troupe was in top form and the odd, grunting noise that Schwarzenegger tends to use in place of actual vocabulary never gets old. 

     If you get the opportunity, go the the Alamo Drafthouse and see ANY Master Pancake show.  I can guarantee, you will not regret it.  Buy your tickets early, online, because they will sell out days ahead of time. 

Monday, October 12, 2009

カタクリ家の幸福 or Katakuri-ke no koufuku or The Happiness of the Katakuris (Review)

     Oh, where to begin.  I suppose I must thank Zach for recommending this one to me.  I am slowly learning that, just like monkey paw wishes, your movie recommendations come with a price.  The price of this one seems to be a small piece of my sanity.  For nearly two hours, I couldn't tell if I was in reality or a bad episode of The Twilight Zone.

     Imagine, if you will, a Japanese, horror, musical, comedy, where a family has terrible luck, must keep hiding dead bodies, and spontaneously breaks out in choreographed song and dance numbers, and that's just the tip of the iceberg.  (My brain is crying.)

     The Happiness of the Katakuris, brought to you by director Takashi Miike, who you might remember from Audition, the longest setup ever for the most disturbing thirty minutes of film ever made, is an indescribably insane film.  It's about a family, four generations, living in a quaint, mountain bead and breakfast/boarding house, who seem to be cursed by this little, clay-mation cherub/demon thing.  Bad luck follows as guest after guest dies, and the family buries the bodies on the mountain side in order to avoid word getting out and ruining their already almost non existent business, plus song and dance numbers...?  All of this wrapped up in the moral: "That's Life," meaning, good and bad comes in life, and you just have to keep going, even after you bury four dead bodies in your back yard.  (Really?)

     There isn't any gore in this movie.  Some dead bodies, sometimes dancing, but nothing really disgusting. (except maybe the dead sumo wrestler's naked butt)  I assume that a lot of the dance numbers are spoofs, making this a kind of dark comedy in Japan.  I don't know that much about Japanese cinema or pop culture, so, to me, it was just really, really odd and disturbing. Oh, and did I mention that anywhere where there might be special effects, they substitute in clay-mation? (Just in case your brain thought it had a handle on things.) 

     If you like odd movie experiences, or your mind is, shall we say, in an altered state, you might just enjoy this truly strange bit of Japanese cinema, if not, then I might recommend skipping it.  Watching it sober might just drive you to drink, if only to forget.

     Thanks, Zach.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

雲のむこう、約束の場所 or Kumo no Mukou, Yakusoku no Basho or The Place Promised in Our Early Days (Review)

     Back in the day, watching anime meant a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a video tape and a photocopied script that were mailed around together, so it was really something when computers reached the point of being able to process video in a reasonable amount of time and dedicated fans could translate and subtitle anime themselves.  Of course, you still could end up with a copy of a copy of a copy.  The accessibility of the internet and the fears connected to file sharing seem to have destroyed most of the tight knit communities of fan subtitleers, and the advent of DVDs just makes the whole process seem archaic and not really worth the effort anymore.  Ah, memories.  I've seen a lot of anime and, as a student of Sociology, studied the Japanese culture, a bit, so, a lot of the stuff in anime doesn't shock or confuse me anymore.  I had to say that so you could understand the full gravity of the statement I am about to make.  "Kumo no Mukou, Yakusoku no Basho" is the most confusing, yet beautiful, anime, that I have ever seen.  In the end, though, I think that the beauty of it was the point, and the not understanding of how and why is intentional.

     The less you know about "Kumo no Mukou, Yakusoku no Basho," the better.  It takes place in a slightly altered present day Japan, however, the movie's revelation of those alterations, as well as the revelation of other plot and story elements, is integral to the story as a whole, so, to review this movie properly, I will need to completely destroy the experience you will have in watching the movie.  Before I do that, I will say that "Kumo no Mukou, Yakusoku no Basho" has elements of a coming of age story, a tragic love story, and is a very complex tale where the experience of the story is more important than the scientific analysis of the 'universe' that the story takes place in.  To enjoy this film, you need to experience it and not try to analyze the sci-fi-ish aspects of it, you need to allow the film to reveal its secrets to you and not try to guess them ahead of time, (your guesses will almost always be wrong) and you need to be ready for a story that is far deeper and more complex that most.  Characters first, augmented by story and animation, and setting becomes almost irrelevant.  (...if you're wondering how he eats and breathes and other science facts, just repeat to yourself, "It's just a show.  I should really just relax...")

     Also, as an essential side note, never watch anime in English.  You lose all the emotion and feeling of the characters.  If you are not willing to read subtitles, then maybe this movie, and anime, in general, just isn't for you.  (Don't be one of those people who puts down reading.  It only makes you look ignorant.) 

     Now on to the complete destruction of the experience I was just talking about.  Really, if you think you might watch "Kumo no Mukou, Yakusoku no Basho," don't read any further.  Just watch it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Q (Review)

     Netflix is the greatest invention in the history of mankind, right next to spaceflight and modern medicine.  It allow me to catch up on movies I've missed, see movies I never would have seen before, nostalgically relive my childhood movie memories, and in the case of "Q," watch something from years past and think, "How immature did I have to be to ever think that was even remotely good?"  Ah, the innocence and ignorance of youth. 

     "Q" doesn't even really qualify as a B-movie or '80s camp.  It's a step below that; closer to MST3k-able (that's mockable to those who don't know) and straight to video.  Starring Kung Fu's own David Carradine, Shaft, himself, Richard Roundtree, and Michael Moriarty, who you might recoginize from a lot of TV guest shots.  I remember him from his starring role in "The Stuff;" an infinately more watchable campy, B '80s monster/horror movie.  "Q" actually starts off ok.  There's some campy, bad SFX gore in the way of a decapitated window washer, a completely skinned human corpse, and some bloody skeletal remains and the acting is actually pallatable for a bad early '80s horror/monster movie.  Then, there is a lot of what can be called plot, almost too much for a movie about a giant, flying snake eating people in New York, there's some more gore and random Q attacks, but not enough for fans of gory horror/slasher type films, and then, at what can vaguely be called the start of the third act, the movie really just bogs down.  Right when you are ready for the big end battle, which is the way all these movies must end, we shift to the sub plot; chasing the people who are committing human sacarifice to bring about the return of the winged, Aztec god, Quetzalcoatl.  (Q, get it!  Sorry, I know I seem to be giving away the entire plot here, but, unless you are increadibly thick, you'll figure all this out very quickly.  Besides, If you are actually going to enjoy this movie, plot is not what you are watching it for.)  Once we plod through the sub plot, we finally get to the actual final battle with the beast, the obligitory fake ending, the real ending, where they actually try to make it seem like Moriarty's character has grown, and we fade to credits with the, also, obligatory, sequel setup/the monster is not dead bit. 
     Ok, I dogged this movie pretty badly, but it deserved it.  Don't get me wrong.  I love cheesy, campy monster movies.  However, they have to qualify as a movie first, and "Q" feels more like a movie of the week, or, in more modern terms, one of those terrible "Made for SyFy" movies.  Unless your night is going to involve a group of friends making fun of whatever you are watching, or maybe some heavy alcohol or drug use (kids, just say "No.") I wouldn't recommend "Q." 

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

An Open Letter to Michael Bay (Rant)

     Before I begin, let me apologize.  I created this blog for movie reviews and that was it, however, occasional, one must rant.  I do not  plan to do this too often and truly believe that this will be a rare occurrence, however, some things must not be allowed to stand unchallenged.

     This weekend, I saw a trailer for a Michael Bay produced remake of "A Nightmare on Elm Street."  Just when I think Hollywood has hit rock bottom and can't go any lower, I see Michael Bay with a miner's helmet and a pick axe, digging deeper and deeper.  It's bad enough that Hollywood, as a collective, can't come up with one, original idea.  I wonder if they even try.  I mean, I understand, you can squeeze just a little more profit out of a movie if you didn't have to develop the idea yourself.  You just take an old movie or TV show or comic book or, I kid you not, board game, and make a new movie out of it.  It saves a step and saves money if some of the work is done for you.  You can even save on writing if you just get a few comedians who think they are brilliant improve artists and let them say idiotic things to the camera for a few hours.  Instant movie.  No writing, no development, quick two weeks at the box office, and some unrated DVD sales.  Mmmmmm...profit.  And, as I said, that is bad enough, but Michael Bay takes it to a new low.  First, let's make movies with no thought to dialogue, plot, or character development, but let's make sure there are tons of explosions and completely unrealistic special effects, all of which happen so quickly, no one can really see what's going on.  And, once again, that is bad enough.  No need to get any worse, but he does.  Let's take that same formula, and apply it to:
  • an old movie that could use a revision...nope
  • A comic book...naw
  • an old TV show...ahhhhh, no
  • A classic, genera creating movie that was the breakout work of a great director...YES!  Let's do that!!!
     Ok, some might argue that there is value in creating updated versions of these stories.  That they become accessible to new audiences and can benefit from modern techniques.  Ok, I'll grant you that if you grant me that Michael Bay is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, NOT the person we should entrust with the retelling of our cinematic legacy.  "But, Brian", you might say, "he's only producing this one, not directing and writing it.  Maybe it won't be so bad."  Ok, fair point.  Let's see who's directing it.  Samuel Bayer.  Who's he?  Well, according to the Internet Movie Database, he's directed nineteen music videos.  Well, that's a relief.  For a second there, I thought he might not be qualified to direct a major motion picture.  (Ah, sarcasm)  Don't sweat it, though.  Our writers are slightly more qualified.  Also according to the Internet Movie Database, Wesley Strick has written a music video, (you have to write those?) some TV and some screen plays, and Eric Heisserer wrote a single episode of a TV show.  First year film students know more about making movies than all four of them combined, and they want to remake "A Nightmare on Elm Street?"  Is it hubris or self delusion that drives men to such deeds?  Or is it huge piles of money? We may never know. 

     And once again, we find ourselves looking at a new low, but, just as before, as we look in anguish and horror at what Michael Bay had beget, what do I see just under this latest insult, well, it's Michael Bay with a miners helmet and a pick axe, sinking to an even greater low.  Once again, according to the Internet Movie Database, he's also in the process of remaking the Alfred Hitchcock classic, "The Birds!"  Alfred HitchcockMichael Baysplosions, the man who plans out the special effects first, then shoots the movie around them, thinks he can do a better job than the undisputed master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock?  A genius.  A legend.  A master of his craft.  And Michael Bay has the arrogance to remake one of his classics.

     Ok, I am now ready to start my open letter to Michael Bay.

Dear Michael Bay,

     STOP MAKING MOVIES!  For the love of whatever you find dear and holy, just stop.  Do movies a favor and limit yourself to doing special effects at the very most, but let qualified people direct and produce.  You know, you might actually get nominated for an Oscar if your passion for explosions was tempered, channeled, and directed by talented writers and directors.  I know, you have your own studio and you are the boss.  You can do whatever you want.  Well, that kind of freedom does nothing to challenge your creative talents and serves only to produce mediocrity.  Your name is rapidly becoming a joke and the novelty of purely special effects based movies is wearing thin rapidly.  While you still have a chance, stop.  Just stop.  Please.


     There.  I've had my say.  I'm truly sorry to have subjected all (one) of you to that ugly, little scene, but some things just should not be allowed to stand unchallenged.  I would also like to apologize to Samuel Bayer, Wesley Strick, and Eric Heisserer.  I am sure that they are all lovely people and are well liked by their friends, however, this is an open and shut case of guilt by association. 

     Now, maybe, I can get back to watching and reviewing movies without my head exploding. 

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Zombieland (Review)

     I must preface this with a bit of a confession.  I LOVE zombie movies!  I will attempt to be as objective as possible in this review, but it will be difficult to find the line between the merits of "Zombieland" and my own, personal bias. 

    Amazingly, this is my third zombie comedy.  I know, those words just don't sound like they go together, but, just like anything else, if you have all the right elements, the setting or subject matter shouldn't effect you that much.  Ok, sure, an undead apocalypse full of bloody, disgusting, zombies killing people and eating human flesh might effect that delicate balance of all the right elements more than other subject matter, but you can adjust.  "Zombieland" does this well.

     Much like "Shaun of the Dead", which almost killed the genre of zombie comedies that it, its self created, by doing it almost too well, "Zombieland" uses a mix of light comedy, very dark comedy, and just enough human drama.  This mix seems to allow you to have comedy in what would, seemingly, be very unfunny situations, by allowing the characters to use those humorous moments as a crutch for dealing with the end of their world.  Just don't stray too far in the other direction, letting the weight of the end of the world fall on the character's shoulders, and it remains a comedy.  Sort of the difference between M*A*S*H in the early years and the later ones where Alan Alda was writing and directing.  "Zombieland" does this, without a lot of obvious, over the top, gross out comedy, and also manages to allow its characters to grow some, which makes for a story that holds your attention while enabling you to find humor in some really dark moments.  (There, actually, is not a lot of gore in "Zombieland".  Oh, there's some, obviously, but not nearly as much as there could have been.)  Woody Harrelson does an excellent job as loner, zombie killer, Tallahassee.  Jesse Eisenberg also does a great job as the almost neurotic loner, Columbus.  Rounding out our cast are Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin as Wichita and Little Rock, respectively.  (If you think you've noticed a theme in our characters names, you are right.  Names lead to emotional attachments that they just can't afford, so they stick to destinations.)  Stone doesn't really get a chance to flex her acting muscles much, but, then again, her character, hot, last woman on earth, isn't exactly a challenging role or a challenge for her.  Breslin, doesn't exactly have a part that she can shine in either, but she does well and has a lot of talent that, sadly, "Zombieland" just doesn't give her the chance to show off.  Oh, and let's not forget Bill Murry as, Bill Murry.  He only has a small part in the film, but manages to bring his best Bill Murry.  Although, I think his 'final' scene may have crossed that very thin line between dark comedy and morbid humor.  Or maybe they were just trying to get a bit of suspense out of the moment, and failed.

     Now, as much as i love zombie movies and love to see them spoofed well, "Zombieland" has its faults.  The plot, characters, and their stories aren't exactly original.  Of course, part of that comes from the fact that "Zombieland" is spoofing zombie movies and characters found therein.  The comedy is good, but not constant, laugh out loud funny.  I was amused throughout the movie, but I wasn't exactly in stitches.  Also, the penchant to point out the rules along the way with on screen text might throw some, more, let's say, 'more traditional,' movie viewers, but is forgivable, because it is a comedy, and it goes along with the almost constant narrative provided by Eisenberg's character.

     All that having been said, "Zombieland" may not be the best comedy out this year, or even the best zombie comedy ever, but it is funny, well done, and worth seeing, unless, of course, you just can't take undead corpses feasting on the flesh of the living.  To each his own, I suppose.

     As a side note, the third zombie comedy I've seen, and easily the worst of the three, was Black Sheep.   No, not the Chris Farley movie.  I'm talking about a New Zealand based, zombie sheep movie (yes, I said zombie sheep) that's so bad, it's funny, if you're into that kind of thing.