Archive for the '1.5' Category

Labor Day

Friday, January 31st, 2014

*½

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (Give us your rating!!)
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Labor Day

Written & Directed by: Jason Reitman
Cast: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Tobey Maguire

Labor Day is a labor to watch, laborious, protracted, and an almost complete time suck. I’m tremendously appalled that a director of Jason Reitman’s stature would produce what amounts to cinematic toilet paper. The only saving graces to this, least I say film, are the vague observations it makes about the nature of family, the allure of a father image, and the necessity of human touch. And believe me, even that’s stretching it.

What appears to be a chilling ‘home invasion thriller’ quickly descends into a bad Nicholas Sparks novel, but without the heart he endows his work with. Here’s the storyline:

Set in small town New England, Labor Day struggles to be a story of love, passion, and betrayal as viewed through the eyes of a teenage boy. Looking back on the events in his life at age 13, Henry (Narration by Toby Maguire) muses on the time he lived alone with his reclusive divorced mother (Winslet) and the pivotal moment when a stranger changed the course of their lives. It is the end of summer and the start of the Labor Day weekend. Henry and his mother take their once weekly excursion to the market and encounter an injured man (Brolin) who asks for refuge in their home. Over the intervening four holiday days, they’re sort of taken ‘hostage’ by this man, an escaped convict, who ultimately charms the mother and wins over the boy.

To say we’ve seen this all before is to insult the films we would compare it to. There’s no denying that Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin are a very compelling pair, they are good actors both, but even their appeal and chemistry can’t quite rescue Labor Day from the insipid melodrama it becomes. However, to their credit we really do want to see their characters find happiness together. Tobey Maguire’s narration is so superficial it’s almost laughable (not his fault, it’s the script), and the flashbacks to the past are so predictable and unnecessary they slow the already staid action to a snail’s pace.

I think the fault here lies with Jason Reitman, he’s just to damn good to sink to the level of lightweight melodramatic escapism. Why do it when he’s so good at giving us subversive dramedies about disenfranchised and disconnected individuals (Up in the Air, Juno, Thank You for Smoking)? This direction he’s taken is off his usual mark, perhaps that’s why this film seems so disjointed. He’s created a piece of sentimental craptrap.

My take, stay away. Don’t spend your time or money on this film. There are better movies to catch up on that you’ve probably not seen yet. Or better yet, if you really want good melodrama, re-watch The Notebook.

 

 

Paradise

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

*½

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (Give us your rating!!)
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Far from it.

Paradise

The H-Bomb: When a terrible accident leaves most of her body covered in burn scars, mid-western Christian girl, Lamb (Julianne Hough), undergoes a major crisis of faith. She flips out and goes on a religion bashing tirade in her church, and then, much to the shock and horror of her parents (Holly Hunter, Nick Offerman), she hops a plane to the devil’s playground itself, Las Vegas, where she hopes to see and do all the things her religion told her she never could.

A genuine fish out of water, Lamb suffers from severe culture shock upon landing in Sin City, as everywhere she goes she encounters drinking, gambling, lewd dancing, hooker cards, girls in short skirts, and Muslim cab drivers(!). For a girl who was forbidden from ever wearing shorts, or going out on dates without a chaperone, it’s all just so much to take in. It doesn’t help that Lamb is very self-conscious about her disfigurement, and feels the need to cover up as much of her body as possible.

Eventually, Lamb’s wanderings lead her to a bar being tended by William (Russell Brand), who pours Lamb her first alcoholic drink… which she promptly spits up. Recognizing that this little Lamb is way out of her depth, William and the bar’s lounge singer, Loray (Octavia Spencer), decide to take her on a guided tour of the “real” Vegas… which basically consists of hitting up bars, bars, and more bars, with a trip to the pharmacy to pick up some much needed pain killers and a heart to heart talk with a hooker thrown in for good measure. What ensues is a painfully dull all-nighter that most definitely should have stayed in Vegas.

Paradise marks the directorial debut of Oscar winning scribe Diablo Cody, and serves as undeniable proof that not all screenwriters, even exceptionally talented ones, are meant to be directors. Things get off to a promising enough start, as Lamb rips her small, conservative church a new one with Cody’s scathingly witty dialogue, that is as sharp as ever. It has a solid theme, with an overly sheltered young woman seeing and experiencing the world for the first time, and discovering herself along the way. That all sounds well and good, doesn’t it?

So, where, o’ where, does Paradise go so, so wrong? Long and short of it, Cody’s direction. While the films made from her scripts that were helmed by Jason Reitman had a great deal of spark and spunk to spare, Paradise is just flat and lifeless. I would never have believed that a film set mostly in Las Vegas could be so visually dreary, with bland cinematography that would barely cut the muster for a Lifetime movie, but alas.

Cody’s lack of visual flair, however, is really a minor problem. It’s her non-existent sense of pacing that’s the real issue. There are so many scenes that just sit there, as if all the energy and urgency have been sucked right out of them. Events simply unfold in a very blasé manner, so much so that even the moments that were meant to be emotional and affecting fail to strike any kind of chord. It’s Cody’s indifferent direction that gives the picture an overall lack of weight and a sense of plodding that makes the scant 87 minute running time feel twice as long.

While Cody proves to be a fairly inept director, she really could have helped herself immeasurably had she handed herself a better script. As stated, her trademark dialogue starts out entertaining enough in the beginning, but completely loses its bite somewhere along the way, and ultimately becomes just as banal as everything else in the movie. This is probably the first film Cody has written where I can’t recall a single witty or memorable quote from it. Not a one. Hell, even the lackluster Jennifer’s Body had some quotable lines.

The cast tries here, they really do, with Hough making a surprisingly appealing lead. With the wrong actress in the role, Lamb could have come off, in some instances, as a complete caricature, a cartoon version of a provincial small town girl, and in others, as a whiny, self-centered bitch, when she brays on and on about her misfortunes. But Hough, in spite of the script, and the character’s laughably obvious name, managed to make her human and empathetic.

I was also surprised by Brand, who I never liked, as a comedian or an actor, but here, as the roving-eyed barman who develops a genuine affection for Lamb, he’s sympathetic and even kind of… charming… kind of. I also liked Spencer as the straight talking Loray, who tries to impart some wisdom on the naive Lamb. There’s a moment in which she comments on the role of wise, black characters in movies that I found rather amusing. It was the cast alone that saved this dismal, flavorless film from the one star stamp of death.

Sadly, as hard as the actors try, there simply is no saving Paradise. A boring script, plus boring direction, equals a boring movie. There is just no way around it, this movie’s failure falls entirely at the feet of Diablo Cody, who must have been going through a particularly uninspired phase when she wrote this dreck, then decided to shoot it herself. I do hope this is merely a phase, that she hasn’t lost all inspiration, as she’s shown herself to be immensely talented in the past. I also hope that she hasn’t lost Jason Reitman’s phone number, because, as Paradise clearly demonstrates, directing is not where Ms. Cody’s talents lie.

 

The Lone Ranger

Saturday, July 6th, 2013

*½

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (4 People gave this 2.25 out of 5)
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How the west wasn’t fun.

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The H-Bomb: If there’s one thing I should give Hollywood props for, it’s their refusal to let the western die, as it is a truly great genre. However, if there’s one thing I wish they would learn, it’s that westerns tend to make for lousy summer blockbusters. Bombs like Wild Wild West and Jonah Hex should have taught them that lesson, but alas, now we have The Lone Ranger, a mega-budget revival of the classic western hero, brought to us by producer Jerry Bruckheimer (if that’s not a red flag, I don’t know what is). Now, I have to admit, I’m a total Lone Ranger virgin, as I’ve never seen the TV series or any of the past films, but somehow, I think it’s safe to assume that this bloated revamp is nothing short of a complete bastardization of the source material.

As this is a “modern take” on an old character who is probably considered too cheesy to play straight, the movie goes the nudge-nudge, wink-wink ironic route… meaning it basically makes fun of it. The righteous, masked hero (Armie Hammer) is transformed into a clumsy, bumbling dolt, who is the butt of many “stupid white man” jokes by his Native American sidekick, Tonto (top billed Johnny Depp). This incarnation of Tonto is a spastic, delusional oddball with a penchant for embellishment. In other words, it’s Johnny Depp doing his (rather stale) eccentric Johnny Depp thing, cracking wise while feeding seeds to the dead bird resting atop his head… a joke that was funny the first four of five times, but after the ninetieth time, it got a little old.

In keeping with the whole “modern” approach, director Gore Verbinski and his posse of screenwriters take a basic western story, the Lone Ranger tracking down the filthy outlaw (William Fichtner) who killed his brother, and over-complicate it by shoehorning in a whole lot of hooey about some conspiracy involving a railroad tycoon (Tom Wilkinson) plotting to steal silver from Indian territory. This conspiracy ties back into Tonto’s past, and why he’s so keen on helping the masked ranger track down the “Wendigo,” but like most of the filler stuffed into this flick, it’s for the most part entirely uninteresting, and only helps to inflate the film to an ungodly, uncalled for two-and-a-half hour running time.

That, coincidentally, was a huge issue I had with the first film Verbinski and Depp made together, Pirates of the Caribbean, an overly labored plot that went on for too Godamn long. But, while Pirates managed to be mostly fun in spite of that, The Lone Ranger is not. Not even remotely. It is an unbelievably boring slog of a movie that trudges along at the speed of a three-legged burro and is devoid of any kind of spark or energy whatsoever.

Even worse than the leaden pacing, is that this film that has no idea what it wants to be, with a tone that shifts drastically, and jarringly, throughout. At times, it’s very lighthearted, with Depp up to his typical quirky antics. At others, it turns surprisingly grim, like the violent ambush scene in which a man’s heart is cut out of his chest and eaten! Excuse me, Mr. Verbinski? Mr. Bruckheimer? Were you guys going for Blazing Saddles or Unforgiven, here? I’d rather watch either Blazing Saddles or Unforgiven. Hell, I’d rather watch a play through of Red Dead Redemption on YouTube.

And that brings back me to my main beef with The Lone Ranger, it just isn’t any fun at all. It promises early on to be a grand old time, but it soon goes completely flat and drags on needlessly for the better part of three hours. That is absolutely, positively un-fucking-forgiveable. The shame of it all is that the climax features an incredible, over-the-top train chase with the Ranger riding Silver on top of the train, guns blazing, and the William Tell Overture blasting at full volume. I thought to myself, “Finally, signs of life! It’s just too bad that it took us over two hours to get here.” And that indeed is the problem, the climax is fantastic, but everything that comes before it is dull, plodding bullshit.

The more I think about The Lone Ranger, the more sorry I feel for Armie Hammer. He was so good as the Winklevi in The Social Network, and here, he managed to make an engaging lead, despite a script that tried to make him look like an utter and complete buffoon at every turn. I can tell from watching him in this that he seriously has the chops, the charisma, and the potential to be a great star, he just needs that one breakout role to set him on that path. Sadly, The Lone Ranger just simply isn’t it.

A Good Day to Die Hard

Saturday, February 16th, 2013

*½

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (3 People gave this 1.00 out of 5)
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The series that refuses to die…

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The H-Bomb:  Bruce Willis makes a shockingly un-triumphant return as John McClane, the hero cop who always seems to find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.  This time, that place is Russia, where his estranged son, Jack (Jai Courtney), has been arrested for murder.  Mere moments after McClane arrives at the courthouse where his son is scheduled to appear, the place is rocked by a giant explosion, as some heavily armed goons swarm in looking to take out Jack as well as Komarov (Sebastian Koch), an ex-billionaire who apparently has some damning file on a Russian bigwig hidden away somewhere. [H-Man Note: This movie’s plot somehow manages to be both paper thin and ridiculously convoluted at the same time.  I shall do my best]

After the explosion, Jack grabs Komarov, jumps into a van, and hightails it out of there, with the bad guys in hot pursuit, and a confused as fuck McClane following behind all of them.  This leads to an outrageously over-the-top, yet curiously dull, chase that practically destroys half of Moscow.  Once they leave the bad guy’s in the dust, McClane learns his son’s secret . . . that he’s a deep cover CIA operative . . . yeah . . . how’s that for a contrivance?

Jack is trying to get Komarov out of the country in exchange for whatever this file is, and he doesn’t appreciate his cowboy father showing up and nearly blowing the whole operation.  But, as Jack will soon find out, his dad is about to come in handy, as the bad guys will soon be back, in force, to get this Komarov fellow, one way, or another.  From there, we get a stream of double crosses, triple crosses, gun battles, an insanely ridiculous amount of explosions, and some father/son bonding as the McClanes dodge bullets all the way from Moscow to Chernobyl.  As all this is happening, the senior McClane is left wondering, “Why does this shit always happen when I go on vacation?”

Yippie Ki Yay, Mother Russia . . . or not.

The original Die Hard, released in 1988, is undeniably an action movie classic.  It was exciting, suspenseful, had a fantastic villain, and its lead character, John McClane, was a hero who was as human and vulnerable as he was bad ass, which made him far more relate-able than most other action stars of the era.  Die Hard 2 was a decent sequel, if perhaps a bit too close to the original in its story and structure.  Die Hard with a Vengeance I fucking love.  It was the one I watched over and over again as a kid, and having just recently re-screened it for the first time in years, I can say it’s easily the best of the Die Hard sequels.

Then, after a twelve year hiatus, we got Live Free or Die Hard, and this is where the series started its downward spiral.  Directed by Len Wiseman, who recently graced us with his oh-so-necessary Total Recall redud, this one wasn’t terrible, but the action was cartoonish, CGI-saturated, sanitized, and worst of all, neutered for the PG-13 masses.  It just didn’t look or feel like a Die Hard movie, and the title was fucking lame, to boot.

Now, as much shit as I might give Len Wiseman, he is fucking Christopher Nolan compared to John Moore, the uber-fucking-hack who helmed the shit-tastic Max Payne, and who is now spraying his fail all over the Die Hard series with A Good Day to Die Hard.  A movie as Goddamn dreary as its Russian setting, this is proof positive that, unlike the Bond films, the Die Hard series is not meant to go on forever.  The action scenes are nothing more than an endless, senseless series of bangs and booms, the editing and camera work are appallingly shoddy, and the pacing is just terrible (for an action flick running only 90 minutes, I was a hell of a lot more bored than I should have been).  Worst of all is the ass wipe screenplay by Skip Woods, which is astoundingly inept, with a confusing as fuck story, no memorable dialogue, and characters made of cardboard.

And on the subject of characters, this is a series that once gave us such deliciously evil villains played by the likes of Alan Rickman, Jeremy Irons, and William Sadler.  This time, the identity of the villain changes so many times that when the true head baddie is finally revealed, you’ll have long stopped caring.  It doesn’t help that they’re all just a bunch of clichéd, interchangeable euro-trash thugs who are not even remotely menacing or distinct.

Then there’s Jack, who, as played by the spectacularly bland Courtney, is just a belligerent little butt-face who I kept hoping John would just sock in the mouth.  See, in this movie’s limp dick attempt at character development, McClane Jr. and Sr. are not on speaking terms at the film’s start, but, predictably, will come together through the carnage and reconcile by the film’s end.  It could’ve worked, if Jack didn’t come off as such a whiny little bitch boy with daddy issues.  Through the whole movie, he moans about how John was “never there for him,” and calls him by his first name, instead of dad.  This is supposed to pay off in the end, when he finally does call him dad.  It would’ve been a big moment, if only I gave the slightest shit about this snot-nosed douche rag .

And finally, I must touch on McClane himself, who was once a relate-able, everyman hero who displayed such human qualities as fear, anger, and pain.  Remember that great scene in the original, where he had to pick all that broken glass out of his feet, and then could barely walk after that?  That flesh and blood McClane no longer exists.  This new McClane is a laid back superman who takes everything in stride and reacts to life threatening situations with an attitude so blasé it’s almost Zen-like.  Maybe McClane actually became a Zen Buddhist at some point, that would explain the bald head, but I digress.  This super-McClane can fall down several stories of scaffolding, and then simply stand up, dust himself off, and walk away, which I must admit, is pretty impressive for a guy pushing 60!  And I won’t even get into his wandering around Chernobyl without a radiation suit.

The only way in which this John McClane even remotely resembles the one from 25 years ago, is his penchant for cracking wise.  That’s pretty much it.  The reason for this, of course, is Bruce Willis himself.  He brings to A Good Day to Die Hard the same attitude he brought to Cop Out, the “I don’t give a flying fart, I’m just in this for the money” attitude.  He sleepwalks through this mess from beginning to end, and to see him, with this truly half-assed performance, show such callous disregard for the series that made him a movie star is simply a depressing sight to behold.

In fact, all of A Good Day to Die Hard was a depressing sight to behold, to see a once great series reduced to such a sloppy and downright joyless product.  Yes, this is a product, not a movie.  It’s most definitely not a Die Hard movie, just a generic action junker that just happens to star Bruce Willis playing a generic, underwritten character who just happens to be named John McClane.  If I were to hope for another entry in this series, it would only be so it wouldn’t have to end on such a shitty note, otherwise, I say it’s time for this franchise to just fuck off and die . . . hard.

Recommended Movies

Cosmopolis

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

*½

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (3 People gave this 1.00 out of 5)
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Say what, David?

Comsopolis

The H-Bomb:  28-year-old Wall Street billionaire Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) is in for one hell of a day.  His latest investment proved to be a not so wise one, as he stands to lose his entire fortune, and his security detail has just informed him that a credible threat has been made against his life.  Upon receiving all this wonderful news, Packer decides to do what anyone in his situation would… go across town for a haircut.  The only hitch is, the U.S. President happens to be in town, and his visit is causing traffic jams all over the place.

This does nothing to sway Packer’s plan of action, as he absolutely must have his haircut from this very specific barber.  So, climbing into the back of his super pimped-out stretch limousine, the inside of which looks like a space ship, Packer begins his surreal, daylong odyssey across NYC to the barbershop.  Along the way, he encounters an eclectic mix of colleagues, acquaintances, and lovers- all played by a variety of familiar faces- as well as his ice queen of a wife (Sarah Gadon).

Most of these people appear abruptly inside his limo, with no explanation offered as to how they got there, and spout mouthfuls of Greek Salad about his shrinking fortune, the economy, the future, the past, technology, sex, philosophy, anti-capitalist protesters, and God only knows what else.  For most of these incomprehensible, mind numbing exchanges, Edwar… ahem, Eric remains perched upon his thrown in the back of his space limo, sucking down cocktails, banging his mistress, and having his asymmetrical rectum examined by a visiting physician,  all while he ponders one of the universe’s biggest mysteries: Where do limos go at night when they’re done driving people like him around?

Occasionally, Packer does leave the “safety” of his vehicle, to either meet his wife in some restaurant or another, or hook up with a hooker in some hotel.  Occasionally he will venture out into the street, where people fire guns at him when they’re not inexplicably throwing pies in his face.  What could all this possibly mean?  I know not, I care not.  I just wish he would get to the Goddamn barber’s already!

How one reacts to David Cronenberg’s latest film, Cosmopolis, based on Don DeLillo’s novel of the same name, will depend on what kind of person they are.  The artsy-farts will praise it for being “ingeniously” indecipherable, while normal people will absolutely fucking hate it because it is so utterly indecipherable.  How did I feel about Cosmopolis?  Frankly, I felt like the guy from Scanners… ya know, the one whose head exploded.  In other words, this indulgently talky head trip sent my brain into a complete and total meltdown, due to a massive overload of bullshit.  For much of the picture, I had no clue what these weirdos were blathering about, and worse than that, I didn’t care enough to even try and keep up with it.

As an enormous fan of Cronenberg’s, particularly of his more “out there” films, I really hoped that Cosmopolis would be a return to form for him after A Dangerous Method, which was disappointingly flat.  By about ten minutes in, all such hopes were dashed.  That’s about how long it takes for this circle-jerk of suck to turn completely intolerable.  If I were to liken Cosmopolis to any of Cronenberg’s past works, I would say that it’s a hybrid of Crash (1996) and Naked Lunch, which oddly enough are my two favorite Cronenberg films.  From that, it would stand to reason that I would love Cosmopolis, right?  Well, sometimes reality defies reason, as I did not like Cosmopolis… not one bit.

Now, I’ve already encountered some film snots out there who call this movie “brilliant,” and who claim that anyone who speaks ill of it just “didn’t get it.”  You know what, fine, I didn’t fucking get it.  Does that automatically make me stupid?  Okay then, I’m stupid.  So, with my stupidity firmly established, this film still sucks.  Between Cronenberg and the other director named David who makes strange, abstract films, there have been plenty of movies that I absolutely loved, even though I didn’t entirely “get” them.  I loved them because, while I didn’t necessarily understand everything, I still found them provocative, captivating, and intriguing.  They made me want to keep watching, so I could ponder and try to decipher them.

Cosmopolis is not provocative, or captivating, or intriguing.  Instead, it’s a tedious, hour and forty-something minute long parade of “people” (no one here is playing a human being, let’s be clear on that) spitting out a shit-load of stilted, wannabe philosophical drivel masquerading as social commentary about contemporary American society… at least that’s my best educated guess.  It’s not at all stimulating or interesting, but merely pompous, pretentious, and dull.  Worst of all, it comes off as insufferably smug, as everyone is way too pleased with themselves for how clever they seem to think they are.  Sorry to break it to you, folks, but being incoherent does not make you clever… quite the opposite, in fact.

What passes for an actual plot in this poppycock is just pathetic.  Random shit happening randomly for random reasons.  Protesters fling dead rats around while chanting empty slogans, why?  Packer gets a pie slammed into his face, why?  Packer blows his security chief’s brains out, why?  Why?  Why?  Why?  Wish I could tell you.  This whole fucking thing is less like genuine Cronenberg, and more like some film school freshman trying to be Cronenberg, just being weird for weirdness sake, while pretending to make a profound statement of some kind.  The result is both sad and painful.  Fucking Christ on his rubber cross did I loathe this bullshit movie!

Normally I would say at least the actors managed to somewhat salvage this worthless cock-cheese, but no… not really.  This is meant to show us that Pattinson is a “real actor” and not just some pouty male model. Yeah, that didn’t happen.  He’s still doing the Edward thing, except not emo so much as simply emotionless.  I know, his pampered character is meant to be numb, detached, and bored with the world around him, but he just comes off as boring.  The supporting cast, which includes Juliette Binoche, Mathieu Amalric, Jay Baruchel, and Samantha Morton, don’t fair much better, as they all basically get one scene each, where they spew out impenetrable gobbledygook.  I just wanted them all to shut up and go away.

Of all the actors, the only one who really earns his payday is Paul Giamatti, who shows up late in the show as Packer’s would-be assassin.  Basically, the last twenty minutes of the movie belong to him, he rocks it, and he almost brings this frozen corpse of a movie to life.  His performance alone managed to raise my rating up by half a star… for whatever that’s worth.

On a technical level, Cosmopolis is an impeccably crafted picture.  The cinematography, by regular Cronenberg crony Peter Suschitzky, is beautiful… perhaps his finest work, I would venture to say.  He does an incredible job of painting with light and color, giving everything an appropriately heightened look, and the meticulously composed angles have a very Kubrickian vibe to them.  I also like Howard Shore’s score for the film, and that giant rat marionette thing was fun to look at for the few seconds it was on screen… that about does it for the likes.

I know my art house street cred may take a hit for not liking Cosmopolis, but I gots to keep it real, I absolutely despised it on almost every conceivable level.  (For the record, I gave The Tree of Life a positive review, and my favorite film is Blue Velvet, so I think my art house street cred is just fine.)  I love the bulk of Cronenberg’s filmography, so this review was particularly difficult to write.  Cosmopolis looked like it was going to be a welcome throwback to “Depraved” Cronenberg, but it just played like a pale imitation, instead.  A damn boring one, at that.  I know this once great director is getting up there in years, and that perhaps has caused him to lose a step.  If Cosmopolis is really the best he can muster now, maybe it’s time for him to just hang it up for good.

Total Recall (The Crappy Version)

Sunday, January 6th, 2013

*½

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (1 People gave this 3.00 out of 5)
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A Total Dud

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The H-Bomb:  From Hollywood super-hack Len Wiseman, he who is responsible for the duller-than-dogshit Underworld and the dickless Die Hard 4, comes the latest why-did-they-fucking-bother remake, Total Recall, which takes away all the fun, gory, campy awesomeness of the Paul Verhoeven/Arnold Schwarzenegger classic and replaces it with pure, unadulterated blandness.  Like that 1990 film, this is an adaptation of the Philip K. Dick story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”, although instead of taking our asses to Mars, this time all the action is set on Earth, which has been mostly decimated by chemical warfare.

This war was apparently so widespread that the only two inhabitable places left are, and man isn’t this convenient, England and Australia.  England (or The United Federation of Britain) is where all the upper class citizens live, while Australia (or The Colony) is where the second class citizens dwell.  Naturally, a conflict has started between the UFB and rebels from The Colony.  However, instead of fighting for oxygen, as they did in the original, these freedom fighters are fighting for the new most valuable commodity, living space (because people needing oxygen is so 90’s… I guess).

One man who is seemingly on the outside of this conflict is Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell), a simple factory worker who lives in The Colony with his impossibly hot wife, Lori (Kate Beckinsale), and works in the UFB.  Quaid commutes to the UFB from The Colony each day the same way millions do, by taking a giant elevator that goes right through the center of the Earth, called The Fall (I include this detail because it is the sole interesting contribution this remake brought to the story).

Despite having a gorgeous wife and a steady job, Quaid is somewhat discontent with his mundane life.  He really feels as if he was meant for something more.  The vivid dreams he has in which he and an unknown female companion (Jessica Biel) are being chased and shot at by Storm Trooper-like cops only re-affirm his feeling that something is missing from his life.

So one day, Quaid walks into Rekall, a business that manufactures fake memories and implants them into the heads of its clients.  This is a pretty controversial service that has a reputation for being rather risky, but after listening to a rave review from one of his co-workers, Quaid decides to give it a shot.  The slickster salesman at Rekall (John Cho) offers Quaid a number of memory packages, and the Secret Agent one is, of course, the one he goes for.

Seems like Quaid is finally going to get the exciting life he always (literally) dreamed of, but he gets more than he bargained for when complications arise, his memory implant is interrupted, and Quaid finds himself on the run for real, with everyone, including his now not-so-loving wife, trying to hunt him down and kill him.  Apparently, Quaid’s entire life is a lie, as he really is a secret agent who is right in the middle of The Colony rebellion.  But which side is he on?  And who is he really?  And is any of this real, or is it all simply being remembered for him wholesale?

Quaid must figure all of this out as people chase him… and chase him… and chase him… for pretty much the duration of this movie’s running time.  Holy crap did I detest this movie!  I mean, I wasn’t exactly expecting miracles from this utterly pointless remake, but when I have to try four times to get through a movie, because it keeps putting me to sleep, something is truly fucking wrong!

With this review, I really didn’t want to take the cliched, bash-a-remake-for-being-a-remake route, but this is a case where the overall negative perceptions that people have towards remakes are absolutely justified.  Wiseman’s Total Recall redo is just total shit… totally.  Remember the original Total Recall, the REAL Total Recall?  With its cool Mars setting, its memorable mutant supporting characters, its satirical sense of humor, its cartoonishly over-the-top violence, and its wonderfully cheesy performance by Arnold?  Wiseman, the creatively-challenged knucklehead that he is, filters all of that out of this new version.

What his version leaves us with is a colorless, humorless, and downright boring Sci-Fi action chase movie that is totally undeserving of the title that it has hijacked.  Taken on its own terms, this film isn’t so much terrible as it is mediocre, but when you hold it up to the original, which was just so balls-out incredible and so wildly unique and original and fun, it just shows this one to be the unimaginative, unmemorable, second-rate, store brand knock off that it is.  As I was watching this regurgitated pile of fertilizer, my eyes kept wandering over to my Blu-Ray copy of the original Total Recall, and I kept thinking to myself, “Yeah, that’s what I could be watching.”

Essentially, all the “character development” and “exposition” are confined to the first thirty minutes.  The remaining ninety minutes are dedicated entirely to chase scenes, one after another, in hover cars, through weird elevator things, and on foot… non-stop chases, each one more tedious than the one that came before it.  That Wiseman gave the movie a washed-out, desaturated look, only adds to the overall dullness of the proceedings.

Another aspect that fails to bring any life to this limp dick of a flick is the cast.  Now, I’m not a Colin Farrell hater, and I certainly think that he’s a better actor than Arnold, but in this role, he doesn’t have an iota of Arnold’s charisma and he just isn’t nearly as engaging.  A lot of that can be blamed on the script, as Farrell certainly is earnest in the role, but the writing is so flimsy that it’s impossible to invest in his character.

Biel, who I’ve never been a huge fan of, basically just runs and jumps around… acting doesn’t really enter into the equation with her.  Bryan Cranston and Bill Nighy are absolutely wasted in nothing roles that required them to do little aside from showing up on set.  The only cast member with any spark, the only one who could almost be called a redeeming virtue for this dismal dreck, is Beckinsale, who brings a shit load of attitude and believability to her part of nice wife turned ruthless assassin.  She’s not bad to look at, either (though the fact that she’s banging the talent-deprived Wiseman is a definite turn off).  Again, she’s almost a redeeming virtue.

But, there is no redeeming this dreary, generic re-dud.  I never thought a film as lively as Total Recall could be recycled into something this monotonous and uninspired.  It’s got enough going against it being compared to an original, but also the fact that I just saw Looper, a fantastic and highly original Sci-Fi chase film, only makes this movie’s existence all the more confounding.  This, so-called, Total Recall is totally forgettable!

ATM

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

*½

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Absolutely Terrible Movie

The H-Bomb:  Yuppie financial adviser David (Brian Geraghty) offers his female co-worker, Emily (Alice Eve) a ride home from an office Christmas party.  David has had a crush on Emily for a while, and since she has just quit the firm to start a new job, he figures this will be his last chance to make a move on her.  However, David’s hopes of courting Emily are quickly dashed by another co-worker, Corey (Josh Peck), an annoying douche-face who also hits him up for a ride home.

On the drive out of the city, Corey decides that he’s hungry and pesters David to stop at an ATM so he can get some cash for a pizza place (this pizza place being one of the five restaurants left on the planet that still doesn’t accept credit or debit cards in the year 2011).  David would like to just tell Corey to shove it, but it’s very late at night, and he doesn’t feel like arguing, so he agrees to stop at an ATM, which is located in a small glass building in the middle of a deserted parking lot.

David parks, strangely, quite a ways away from the ATM, and Corey heads inside, only to wave both David and Emily in a few moments later.  Apparently, Corey’s ATM card won’t work, and he needs David to spot him some cash (as if the guy hasn’t already done him enough favors).  Once the money is withdrawn, they turn to leave, only to find some creepy motherfucker in an Eskimo jacket, standing perfectly still in the parking lot, staring in at them.

All three of them have an inkling that something is off about this guy, particularly when they try to leave the ATM, he starts towards them, only to stop when they go back inside.  Their suspicions that this ominous looking dude intends to harm them are pretty much confirmed when they witness him murder an unsuspecting passerby with his bare hands.  From there on in, this sinister fellow, whose face is perpetually hidden in shadow, proceeds to stalk and play mind games with our trio of non-heroes.

Since one needs a debit card to unlock the door to the glassed-in structure, the three of them should be safe, so long as they stay inside.  But, as the night wears on, and the temperature drops, they become desperate to either signal help, or find a way to escape (conveniently, not a one of them is carrying a cell phone).  The fact that the psycho outside is inhumanly patient and has a few tricks up his sleeve to lure them out, the odds of them surviving the night are not in their favor…

From the look of the trailer, I really thought that ATM would be right up my alley.  It looked like it had a potential to be a tense, tight, single location thriller that could do for going to an ATM after dark what Psycho did for taking showers, what Jaws did for swimming in the ocean, and what Pluto Nash did for paying to see Eddie Murphy movies.  And I was right, it did have that potential, as director David Brooks (making his feature debut), did manage to shoot and cut together some sequences that could have been nerve-wrackingly suspenseful… if it wasn’t for him being saddled with a screenplay by Chris Sparking (Buried) that wasn’t so utterly Goddamn stupid!

And when I say stupid, I mean exactly that, STUPID.  “Stupid, stupid, stupid!!!” as Ed Wood would say.  A stupid script with stupid protagonists who do the stupidest things imaginable, just because the stupid plot needs them to.  I’ve come down on certain horror movies for this kind of shit before, but here, these characters are so fucking moronic it totally and completely invalidates anything this movie might have had going for it.

I’ll just list off a few instances of the blatant dumb-assery on display here, in the hopes that you’ll pass this ass-wad up when/if you come upon it on Netflix.  Let’s see, first, our main character David inexplicably parks about a hundred yards from the ATM, even though the parking lot is empty and it’s freezing cold outside.  Then we’re supposed to believe that not one of these yuppie butt-rags has a cell phone on them, which in this day and age, is not just unlikely, it‘s absurd.  Then there’s the notion that these two grown men don’t have the nuts to go outside and try to rush this guy and overpower him, even though they agree that if he had a weapon, he would have brandished it by now.  This ain’t fuckin’ Bane we’re talking about, these two could’ve taken him, had they not been too chickenshit to try.

If that’s not enough, they also have numerous chances to bravely run away, like when he’s beating a passerby to death, or when he’s behind the ATM building hammering away at the back wall, they could easily bolt out the front door, but they don’t.  Or, all three of them, at any point, could have all made a run for it at once, each going in a different direction, thus ensuring that at least two of them would reach help, but that, of course, never occurs to them.  Instead, when they do venture outside to get help, they go one at a time, guaranteeing that this nut job will be able to foil them.  Hell, even the killer himself expresses his boredom with their shear stupidity when he breaks out a fucking lawn chair just so he can sit and watch his tiny-minded victims as they fumble about foolishly in their little glass hut.

I know that when people are under extreme duress, they tend not to make the smartest decisions, but thanks to screenwriter Sparking, these three dullards don’t have a quarter of a brain between them.  They work at a financial firm?  Yeah, with the state the economy’s in, I fuckin’ believe it.  Sparking wrote a sharp, intelligent single location thriller with Buried.  With ATM, however, he wrote a desperately contrived, nonsensical pile of poop.

The actors try their best with the imbeciles they were tasked with inhabiting, but as it breaks down; David is a sniveling wuss, Corey is an obnoxious dick, Emily is bland, and they are all dumber than a box of rocks.  Director Brooks, again, does show some talent with the camera, especially the creepiness of the isolated location at night, as well some well staged suspense scenes.  If he ever gets his hands on a good script, he really could make a good film, but this bundle of bullshit is not that script.  I can forgive a considerable amount of stupidity, as well as some lapses in logic, in my horror movies, but ATM had so much of both, that by the end of it’s 90 minutes, it just became insufferable, infuriating, and more than a little insulting.

 

11-11-11

Friday, August 31st, 2012

*½

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It’s the end of the world as we know it . . . and I don‘t care!

The H-Bomb:  Bring on the apocalypse…  seriously, I mean it.  Bring it on, now!  If it means not having to sit through any more of this dreary, tortuously inert, coma inducing crap-tastrophe, then the end of days is something I welcome with open arms!

Okay, I suppose I should backtrack a bit and explain myself.  11-11-11 (a title that doubles as an expiration date) is an apocalyptic thriller (pfft … that would imply the presence of actual thrills) from Saw II, III, & IV director Darren Lynn Bousman, whose surprisingly kick-ass Mother’s Day remake I reviewed a month or two back.  With that film, I thought Bousman was well on his way to becoming one of the better genre filmmakers working today… then he had to go and do this.

The story of this supernatural snoozer revolves around Joseph Crone (Timothy Gibbs), a successful author who’s wife and son died tragically in a fire a year or so back.  His son was pronounced dead at 11:11 PM, and since then, Joseph has been unable to help but notice the number 11-11 everywhere he looks.  He wakes up from a nightmare at 11:11, he gets into a car accident at 11:11, and he receives a phone call from his younger brother summoning him to Spain because their father is dying, and the time that call came in was … yep, 11:11.  In fact, every time a clock is shown in the film, it’s 11:11.

So Joseph hops the next plane to Spain, where he meets up with said younger brother, Samuel (Michael Landes), a wheelchair bound pastor who runs a church in Barcelona.  Since Joseph has been a devout atheist ever since his wife and son died, he has been estranged from his father and brother, and is none too happy to see them.

But before Joseph has time to mend fences, weird shit starts happening; he hallucinates his dead son, he catches glimpses of bizarre, demonic looking creatures in the shadows, his brother is attacked by a crazed parishioner with a gun, and that damn number 11-11 continues to pop up.  When a security camera catches a glimpse of a strange figure, the time code reads 11:11, and Joseph remembers that his mother died giving birth to Samuel some three decades ago on 11/11… as in November 11th, the movie felt the need to clarify.

Joseph, unable to shake the feeling that the number must have some greater meaning, researches it on teh internets, and comes to find that people called “Eleveners” (groan) believe that all of these 11-11 signs are messages sent by celestial beings trying to warn us that the apocalypse will come about on the date of 11/11/11… which is just a few short days away (and for me can’t get here fast enough).

11/11, if you remember, also happens to be Samuel’s birthday, and Joseph’s father cryptically warns him that Samuel is “very important” and must be protected.  And after the incident with the armed parishioner, as well as a close call with a falling chandelier, Joseph becomes convinced that his brother is somehow at the center of all the crazy 11-11 crap that’s going on.

Well, dear readers, this Summer has been remarkably kind to me, in that just about every film I watched and reviewed I liked, to one degree or another.  This looked like it was going to be a perfect summer season… then the pile of Satanic Suckage that is 11-11-11 had to come farting along at the last minute and break that streak.  The fact that it’s barely 80 minutes long, yet it still took me three tries to sit through it all, speaks volumes of how utterly fucking boring it is and what a chore it was to watch.  I viewed it on Netflix Instant Streaming, and I still felt like I had been ripped off in some way by the time it ended.

I find the subject of Satanism and the occult inherently creepy and fascinating, and the idea behind 11-11-11 is certainly an interesting one.  Unfortunately, the story, as executed by writer/director Bousman, is anemic, lethargically paced, and completely lacks any kind of suspense.  The exposition, of which there is a lot, is delivered via clunky, forced dialogue that the actors practically have to puke out of their mouths, and the end of the world scenario is given no urgency whatsoever.  This is a rare instance where Bousman is working from his own screenplay, and judging from the end result, it’s clear that writing is not where his talents lie.

Bousman attempts to keep us on the edge of our seats with randomly scattered jolt scares, but they only succeed in keeping us awake (and just barely, at that).  He also tries to ratchet up the suspense during the climax, and pay everything off with a big “twist” ending, but we the audience had already stopped caring long ago.  At least I did.  And as for the twist, it will be pretty apparent to anyone who’s actually paying attention, as Bousman, the brilliant writer that he is, foreshadows it with some insultingly obvious dialogue, “Beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing…  The devil’s greatest trick is deception…”, and other such clichéd bullshit.

Adding even more to the movie’s overall dull-spiritedness is the lead actor, Gibbs, who is perhaps the most charismatically-challenged thespian this side of Sam Worthington.  If he were any more wooden, he’d be a fucking totem pole, and the few instances where he’s actually called upon to emote are simply embarrassing.  The scene early on where he has a big break down at the grave of his wife and son had me laughing harder than an old Eddie Murphy stand-up special, and maybe I’m being presumptuous here, but I’m fairly certain that was not the reaction that Bousman was going for.

Also good for some accidental yucks is the film’s final shot, which is meant to be oh-so-creepy and chill us to the bone, but instead comes off as awkward and giggle inducing… for those few of us who are miraculously still awake by then.  And that brings me back to my main problem, 11-11-11 is just so bloody dull!  Bousman has shown he is fully capable of making an effective suspense flick, so how did he go so fucking astray here?

Again, I believe the major problem is his lousy script.  It’s admirable that he tried to depart from the more visceral “torture porn” arena and make a different kind of horror film, but Darren Lynn Bousman the director was completely let down by Darren Lynn Bousman the screenwriter.  For any and all of his future projects, it would probably behoove him to leave the writing to those who are more capable.

Restless

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

*½

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A collage of “Indie” clichés.

The H-Bomb:  Enoch (Henry Hopper) is your basic indie film protagonist; a sensitive young man with a tragic family history who’s lost and directionless and full of angst, yada, yada, yada.   He’s in between schools for reasons we’re told late in the film (not that it really matters) and his favorite past times include crashing the funerals of complete strangers and playing Battleship with his best friend, Hiroshi (Ryo Kase), who just happens to be the ghost of a WWII Japanese Kamikaze pilot… just take a moment and let that last bit sink in.  Ready to move on?  Okay.

One day, while crashing a funeral, Enoch meets a girl named Annabel (Mia Wasikowska).  Now much in the way that Enoch is our typical indie film leading man, Annabel is our typical indie film leading lady; she’s sweet, free spirited, into nature (including bugs and birds), is not necessarily drop dead gorgeous, but attractive enough to make us smitten with her, and, of course, she is the only person on the planet who can relate to our spastic weirdo of a protagonist. (This is the exact kind of character Zooey Deschanel would’ve played had the movie been made some 4-5 years ago)

Enoch and Annabel have a few meetings before they really hit it off, but eventually they bond over their conversations about funeral crashing, funeral attire, musical instruments, and I forget what else.  Then, right before this predictably quirky relationship can really hit its stride, Annabel drops an A-Bomb…  she’s got cancer and she only has three months to live.  Enoch takes this news remarkably well and continues the relationship in which they converse with Hiroshi the ghost, throw rocks at passing trains, go trick or treating, memorize facts from bird books, along with other such activities that I would most definitely engage in if I knew I was going to keel over in three months time.

Restless, which came out quietly last Fall, is Un Film du Gus Van Sant, a director most people will know from Good Will Hunting, but who I like more for My Own Private Idaho and Elephant.  I won’t do a full run down of his career, I’ll just say he’s had his share of solid films (Milk) and not-so-solid (Psycho remake), and that he’s one of those directors whose films I will go out of my way to see.  And now that I have gone way out of my way to see Restless, I can say that it is a movie that rightly went in and out of theaters with little notice, as the movie going public missed absolutely nothing when it flew underneath their radars.

Independent films over the last few years, particularly independent romantic dramedies, have developed their own aesthetic, become basically their own genre, with their own set of clichés; and aside from the ones already laid out, we are also treated to such staples as the typical indie soundtrack.  It’s hard to describe, really… it’s the kind of music that has a lot of bouncy, boinging noises in it, the kind that’s spunky, playful, grating, and just weird.  It also features cinematography that is nice but self-consciously artsy, chock full of pretty, perfectly composed pictures of our heroes drawing chalk lines around themselves, and overall, a whimsical vibe that’s meant to be endearing but just comes off as smug.

What I have just described is more or less the whole of Gus Van Sant’s Restless, a stereotypical check list of modern “independent” movie clichés, and in describing it, hopefully, I have taken away any and all interest you might have had in actually seeing this irritatingly self-satisfied wank-fest.  It is basically, weird boy meets weird girl, they have weird relationship, in which they have one boring, pretentious conversation after another, and then she, and I’m not spoiling a thing, dies of her cancer.  And it’s no biggie when Annabel does die, because she’s made peace with that and goes out with a smile, and we should all just party when she kicks the bucket, because that’s what she would want.

Plus, you know what’s really nice about her cancer, it’s that special kind of movie cancer, the kind that allows her to look all cute and pixie-like right up until the bitter end.  Ya know, unlike real cancer, where people are usually bald from chemo, deathly thin, and look like they’re being eaten away from the inside out, which, by they way, Mr. Van Sant, is what happens to real people with real cancer, fuck you very much!

But I don’t mean to get so hot under the collar, because Restless, which is inexplicably co-produced by Ron and Bryce Dallas Howard, is not a completely awful movie, it’s just an awfully annoying one with its overly familiar, oh-so-hip art house vibe.  Usually, at least the actors would help make things a little bearable, but here, we get Hopper (son of Dennis), who displays absolutely none of his late father’s charismatic intensity, and instead just mopes through this flick like a drippy little emo punk you just want to beat the shit out of on general principle.  In other words, I didn’t like him.

Then there’s Wasikowska (good thing this is a written review, so I wouldn’t have to try and butcher that), who does manage to be appealing in a way, but again, her character is the stock indie chick in a film that is made up entirely of stock indie film ingredients.  I wouldn’t be harping on this so much if it wasn’t so damn true!  Add onto that it’s never charming, never moving, nor does it ever ring emotionally true even once in it’s ninety-something minutes (and even that slim running time feels too long).  With all that, Restless adds up to nothing more than one a big, fat, obnoxious cliché of independent cinema that absolutely is not worth anyone’s time of day.