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Friday, December 9, 2011



O ye of little sanity
I liken this film to Mary Bronstein's psychological comedy Yeast (2008). Note, Alyce is nowhere near comedic (okay, well... parts of it are funny). Alyce, directed by Jay Lee, depicts the psychology behind the psychological breakdown of a psychopath. You won't find it in a theater near you anytime soon, nor will you be able to find it on DVD shelves in the near future. But you will hear about it, through word of mouth, and it will birth a star of Jane Dornfeld. You'll hear its name whispered in festival circuits, and you'll see a trailer next year and say to yourself "Oh, wait - I know that from somewhere." And then it will be a hit. 

Much like Yeast, SXSW, and the inimitable Greta Gerwig.

Beyond the stretched Yeast comparison, the obvious (and by obvious I mean 'if you don't see it without even looking, you're an idiot) comparison is to Through the Looking Glass and Alice in Wonderland. How so? Well, let's take a look at the basic plots for both - 

Alice in Wonderland (not that awful Tim Burton movie) - a young woman suffers an emotional outburst and is thrown down a 'rabbit hole', meeting colorful characters, overcoming her fears and unique problems along the way. 

Alyce - a young woman 'accidentally' murders her best friend during a fit of clarity, and while trying to deal with the guilt and discover who she's become in the midst of her self-inflicted tragedy, meeting colorful characters, overcoming her guilt and fear, and discovering that the path of reckless sex and drugs has only brought her further down to Hell and out of the 'rabbit hole' she was intended for. 


Alyce (played with incredible skill by Jade Dornfeld) after a night of ironic celebration, accidentally (or...) shoves her best friend Carroll (get it?) off of the roof of their apartment building. She's overcome with grief. The above plot description states the exact premise of the film - Alyce, dealing with what she's done, realizes her psychopathy and turns to rough and anonymous sex, drugs and drug dealers, and mind-numbing violence to solve her problems. Eventually, she solves her problems, proving that Grindhouse cinema is nowhere close to dead, and revenge films - when done properly - are nothing short of pure art. 

This isn't so much a review as it is a plea for awareness. So, as a film critic, I'm going to break a critical rule, just as I did in 2008 when Yeast premiered on the festival circuit. Without condoning pirating in anyway, I'm telling anyone who has a love for perfect performances, for horror movies that push the limits of conventional pop-art, for films that take Jungian archetypes and traditional storytelling and flip them upside down... seek this film out. 

In fact, as an incentive, if you see it, and want to review it, I'll post it here. And you can consider yourself published. Best review wins a Christmas prize. How's that?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Upcoming Reviews and Changes

Hello, all five of you who read this blog! :D

I know I said there'd be posted reviews and other things today, but... well, there's not. I'll be working on them tonight. Here's what's on the docket for the next few days -

Reviews and more: We Need To Talk About Kevin, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts I & II, a piece on why the Sherlock BBC series needs to be a feature film, a thorough coverage of the awards season so far (that's gonna be a three piece series, otherwise the article would take a day and a half to read), DVD and theatrical releases, Life in a Day, Rampart, The Ides of March, a beautiful horror film called Alyce, Meek's Cutoff, Tucker and Dale vs Evil, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

And I promise by January, we'll have the oft aforementioned podcast off the ground and running.

Stay tuned! Take care!

OH. The URL will be changing soon to " " We'll be official. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Paranormal Activity 2


Worst game of Hide and Seek ever.

The most positive thing about the Paranormal Activity series is that there isn't a shred of visible f/x in any of the shots. They're a technical marvel, even if the rest of the film might not be up to par with certain standards. The acting has declined since the first installment, but all of the actors accomplish their requirements. Be there, get scared. And they do, for three films. Of course, they do it best in the first. Much like the invisible special effects, Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat manage to deliver two performances full of life and naturalism without being actors in any sense of the word.

Here, the family portrayed seems a bit rehearsed, which takes away from the naturalism of the film, thus diminishing the intended emotional effect and taking the audience to a bit of a more safe place than probably hoped for.

but that's just me.

I know people who love this film. I know people who hate this film. I'm in the middle camp, though I'd happily watch it again. In fact, I'll probably pop all three in and have a marathon. The quality has diminished, sure, but the films are still great examples of special effects genius and good storytelling. And a great way to spend six hours, if you turn off the lights and suspend your disbelief, like you've never seen them before. The first film still scares the pants off of me.

Our set-up in this chapter takes place only a few weeks before the first film. Per usual, there are no credits - merely a thank you from the production team behind the "documentary". Like the last, this film is presented in the style of "found footage", passing itself off as the ultimate "based on a true story". The Blair Witch Project cemented the idea that this could be done. And it proved effective for the first film as well. I should stop myself - I could go on and on with comparisons to the first part, and even the third (though it takes the formula in a bit of a new direction). I think it's fair, though, as it's what's called a "parallel sequel", essentially taking place during the first film, as the ending proves is evident.

Filled with unnamed actors, the most famous of which would probably be Molly Ephraim, who plays the teenage daughter Ali, despite being almost 24 during the time of filming. Her work is excellent, and by far the best of the cast. She exudes the naturalistic candor the rest of the cast was aiming for, with what looks like little effort. If given the right roles, she'll be a big star.

The story is fairly simple - Kristi (Sprague Grayden) and her husband Daniel (Brian Boland) experience a random "break in", during which only a box of her sister Katie's videotapes are stolen. So, in a fit of plot point, Daniel installs a 24-hour security surveillance system in their home, catching the action in every room of the house. Except the bathrooms, the screenplay notes. Sorry, guys - Molly might be 24, but her character's apparently 15. gofigure.

You have the usual set of events - the characters play with a Ouija Board and there's the - as Roger Ebert so beautifully illustrated - the horror movie cliche of the foreigner that nobody listens to. There's a neat Spielbergian approach to the handling of their newborn kid (if you watch closely, you can catch several directorial nods) and the dog. But, despite the average acting, the film manages to crawl out of its cliched plot points and become something truly frightening in the last half hour. There are moments of directorial brilliance; the best shot in the film involves a sudden eruption of the kitchen cabinets that is perfectly timed.

Despite what you might think of horror films in the new millennium (there's a fairly valid argument that nothing good has happened to the genre in years), the Paranormal Activity series represents something fairly exciting - it's a bit of a rebirth of creativity. Doing what Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 failed to, PA2 (and PA3, to a larger extent) manages to take the clever idea of the original film, duplicate it, and improve some important aspects of it, engaging the audience in a new way, despite essentially showing them the same thing. What sets this apart, negatively, from the first film is the acting. And it's a far cry. What it improves? the original story, which is damn strong, and the effects. Which is what people see these movies for in the first place. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Jack and Jill


Poor guy didn't know it was Adam Sandler. 

If you've seen Funny People, then you get the joke they were making the entire time. This is the type of film they were - in foresight - making fun of Adam Sandler for making. Of course, Jack and Jill isn't without comedic merit. Most of Sandler's films, no matter how bad a few of them are, have a few moments that make me laugh out loud. This one is no exception - the highlight of the film, outside of the entirety of Al Pacino's performance as himself, is the Thanksgiving dinner with a homeless man. The film is worth seeing for those two things alone.

Unfortunately, one hilariously scripted moment and a brilliantly uninhibited extended cameo don't a quality film make. Two stars, for the above reasons, as they're that good. Two missing stars for the overbearing presence of everything else.

When your film relies on diarrhea jokes and racist stereotypes, you might think you have a problem. Consider the too-subtle-for-everyone black-as-damn-night All About Steve for a minute - if you remember the extremist character that Sandra Bullock played, you'll see connections with the first hour or so of this film, and you'll probably see what Sandler was trying to do. There are moments that hint at darker-than-hell comedy, but are usually put aside pokes at Latinos and celebrity cameos. It's hinted that Jill (... adam sandler) has severe social anxiety and is cluster-B style Passive Aggressive. Of course, that's only hinted at. What we're spoon-fed, instead of being left to infer on our own like an intelligent audience, is that she's really just Adam Sandler in a dress a lonely woman who doesn't spend enough time with her twin brother Jack (... adam sandler). What could have been Tatie Danielle style genius is left in the dust for Eddie Murphy/Norbit/Klump style flatulence. Yes, the film has funny moments. I laughed quite a few times. But, it's important to understand the fine distinction between intelligently written comedy and cheap laughs. This is a film of cheap laughs.

If you aren't familiar with the story, as we've been forced to watch the trailer over and over again (thanks, Colombia marketing team), Jack is an ad-executive from the Bronx, living in LA with his wife (Katie Holmes) and two children. One of whom is adopted. and has a tape fetish that goes unexplained for the entire film. Jack doesn't like his twin sister (and there's the set-up, folks) who comes to stay with him once a year for Thanksgiving. Except this time, she elongates her stay until after New Years. Meanwhile, Jack is trying to secure Al Pacino (Al Pacino, channeling Skynet) for a Dunkin Donuts commercial, hocking the new Dunkaccino. yeah. Al falls in love with Jill, Jill doesn't love Al, Jack hates both of them, but learns to love Jill spoilers and they all live happily ever after.

Oh and David Spade has a cameo. As a woman.

I'm having a hard time understanding Sandler's choices for the film. Yes, it's very easy to look at it and just call it a goofy comedy made purely for everyone to have fun. But, he's done that before to much better results. His Grown Ups from 2008 wound up being extremely touching and surprisingly well-acted. Even Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison, which are completely ridiculous, have moments that live on past the films. Sandler is a credible dramatic actor, and a gifted stand-up comic. So, looking at his decisions for Jack and Jill, one has to wonder where he went so wrong. Almost as if he lost a bet. Or took plot ideas from a Twitter potluck. You can do much better than this, Adam. 

Paranormal Activity 3

*insert tasteless Polanski joke here*

Cards on the table - I'm a fan of this series. Not this film, particularly, but as a whole trilogy, I can gloss over the poor points of this film and look at all three as a whole. Consider the first three Saw films, left solely on their own, without the additional parts 4-29. or however many there are now. With the addition of part 4, the first three films' stories are negated and make almost no sense. With only 1-3, it's a perfect, multi-faceted trilogy about several interesting themes. My hope is that the Paranormal Activity trilogy is left on its own and not given additional, needless sequels.

More after the cut--

Friday, December 2, 2011

In Theaters This Weekend

Apparently Mr. Brooks taught us nothing as a nation.

Wouldn't you think that when a comedian does his absolute damnedest to venture into dramatic territory, and fails miserably along with the rest of the film, that he should just stick to his usual stuff for a bit? Well, in general, I wouldn't agree with that. But that might be the case for Dane Cook, as his last foray into the serious side of serial killing tanked harder Gigli. Now, he's back in the fray with Answers to Nothing (I know, right?) - a Crash/Magnolia/Short Cuts hodge podge of random people connected by a specific event. We'll see. 

Rolling into theaters this weekend, a handful of films that might surprise you. Shame, starring Michael Fassbender, about a man with a chronic sexual addiction and an inability to feel pleasure. Answers to Nothing, which we've covered. Pastorela, in which a man who usually plays the Devil in the Church's Christmas play is replaced by the new priest, and fights to get his role back. Sleeping Beauty, which isn't anywhere close to what you think it is. And, Autoreiji - a Chinese crime film, in the style of Woo.

More after the cut--

Monday, November 28, 2011



"Wait. Roman's guilty of what?!"

There isn't very much you can dissect about a 75 minute film, that takes place almost entirely in a single room, with only four actors. Sure, there will be unavoidable comparisons to Yasmina Reza's play, God of Carnage, and there will be comparisons between the casts. Stage-to-screen adaptations seem to pull thespians out of the woodwork to defend Broadway. But, much credit is due to the screen in this adaptation, mostly for borrowing someone's toy without breaking it. At the very least, Roman Polanski plays well with others.


While researching the film before my viewing of it, I ran across the review written in The Hollywood Reporter, here. Interesting read from Todd McCarthy. He posits, in the opening paragraph, that Polanski is at his best in tight spaces, citing Knife in the Water and Repulsion as examples. Generally, I would agree. He seems to operate with his actors more comfortably when he has them confined to one or two areas. The more uncomfortable the characters are, the more he shines, oddly enough.

Carnage imagines what might happen when the adults behave like children. There's a schoolyard incident where one boy armed with carrying a stick strikes another boy in the face, a few times, knocking out a couple of teeth. The parents of the victim are Michael (John C. Reilly) and Penelope (Jodie Foster). The parents of the aggressor are Alan (Christoph Waltz) and Nancy (Kate Winslet). From simple formula, we assume these people won't get along. At first, Alan and Nancy couldn't be more ready to leave. Coaxed into staying with coffee, espresso, peach cobbler, and subtle jabs at the dignity of their child, they sit and get drawn in. It's not like they want to be there. A number of times, they almost get in the elevator but get talked into coming back inside. From this, we get deeper and deeper into the mindset of each parent, not just as a unit, but as individuals surviving within that unit.

In situations like this, the director isn't entirely necessary. There isn't much of a mark outside of the framing that they can leave, nor is there much of a need to. It's almost a "name" thing. But, in certain situations, you'll get a director like Polanski who not only leaves his mark on even the smallest of details, but on each actor as well, who seem to be almost reinvented in his eyes, through his lens. We don't associate any of these four actors with drunken, loud mouthed, vulgar people. Okay, well maybe vulgar for John C. Reilly. (he spread his butt-cheeks as Mike Honcho, after all). But, mostly, there's a sense of demure that goes with these actors. All Oscar-veterans, all students of theater, all have decades of experience.

Alan is a lawyer, Nancy is an investment broker. Penelope co-wrote a text book once, and Michael sells doorknobs and decorative fixtures. There's stuffy, and there's suburban hippie. And never the two shall meet. Once the booze comes out, though... and after Nancy gets physically sick and vomits all over priceless books of Penelope's... and after Alan won't quit answering his cell phone... and once Michael opens his mouth and says what's really on his mind... well, all Hell breaks loose and the adults quickly become mirrors of their children. McCarthy refers to this in his review as "Virginia Woolf" syndrome, the inability to maintain composure with other characters in a small space once alcohol comes out. I like that. I'm gonna use it. 

Martha Marcy May Marlene

"Mary-Kate... Ashley... hold still."

Meet Martha, as she's known to her family. Or, Marcy May, as she's known by the people she lives with. Or, Marlene, as she's known to whomever might call. To be fair, all of the women answer the phone by 'Marlene'.  That's how they're directed to. Directed by whom?

His name is Patrick. He runs a farm.

From the film's opening few minutes, it's easy to tell that something is wrong here. We can't ever put our fingers on it, collectively, but we know that something feels wrong. To call it a cult, as some critcs have, would be doing a disservice to the film. It's meant to be ambiguous. Yes, there are cult-ish qualities, so that would be the easy way out. But, it's not like anyone is drinking their Kool-Aid out of a sock or anything. It's more of a group than anything else. Of course, this is a group that is seduced by an older man, driving them to sexual depravity and violent home invasions in the name of nirvana. To enter the group, if you're a woman, you're drugged and made to sleep with Patrick (a magnetic John Hawkes), regardless of your virginity. One can only assume that the new boys are made to rob the homes, as this seems to be something they all do.

Patrick lures the newcomers in with promises of happiness to those who have been abandoned. He fills their heads with things all people should be told - that they're loved, that they're important, that they're needed. But does so only to get under their skin, hooking into their brains and not letting them go. Men like him are sent to prison for a reason. He is a man guilty of countless rapes, countless murders and robberies, but he wouldn't ever suggest it. He might just seem like a loving father figure to a group of lonely kids. That's his power. After raping the unconscious women, he convinces them that they wanted the sex and that it was the best thing that could happen to them. In one scene, after ordering the death of a complete stranger, Patrick explains it was showing him pure love by allowing him to reach God.

Early in the film, Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) escapes the farm, only to be followed by one of Patrick's "men". Or, "sons". I guess. Whatever. She's found at a diner and the boy, Watts (Brady Corbet) does his best to convince her to come back. Leaving, thinking she will, Martha instead calls her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) to come and pick her up at a bus stop. It has been about two years since they've seen each other or spoken. Naturally, Lucy hurries, thinking Martha's been hurt. She's taken to live with her sister and he husband Ted (Hugh Dancy). Moving only three hours from the farm, Martha is taken from rural upstate New York to a lake-side cottage where her past begins to meld with her future, causing alarm and concern from Lucy and Ted. She tells no one what's wrong, but let's everyone know that she needs serious help.

There's a sense of doom that hangs over the entire film. Even in the lighter moments, which there thankfully are, there's a predatory sense that follows the camera. Almost like Martha herself is being followed, which is subtly implied throughout the film. Even in the film's ambiguous and divisive ending, it's hinted. Is she being hunted, or is she being paranoid?

Elizabeth Olsen's performance is the definition of "throwback". I used this word once when describing Sandra Bullock's performance in The Blind Side as a throwback to the way people approached acting in the 40's and 50's. I maintain that I was correct. This performance, however, is a throwback to the golden age. Think 1972, and how sharp the new form of acting was then. Remember when method became a thing, and it was all about quiet torture right behind the eyes. That's Olsen's Martha, Marcy May, and Marlene. She recalls a beauty from the days of Garbo, and the subtle turmoil from the glory days of Pacino. It's a perfect performance, and the stuff that "Best Actress" is made of. 

A Dangerous Method


If you're still thinking about your mother, not even Freud can help you. 

The birth of modern psychoanalysis. The world as we've come to understand it, from two of the sharpest minds to have ever graced the field - Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Knowing this, one can only assume that the unstoppable force (Jung) would not meld with the immovable object (Freud), especially when a woman (Sabina Speilrein) comes between them.

It shouldn't be a surprise that a film about psychiatry would be full of long stretches of dialogue, should it? Of course, for a David Cronenberg film - if his career is indicative of anything - it might be surprising. Though, since 2005, he's apparently traded in the industrial fare for a more human style of filmmaking. His career hasn't suffered, surely, but it's interesting and certainly surprising (in effect) to see where he goes next. A proposed sequel to Eastern Promises might be on the way. And for a filmmaker as strong as Cronenberg, it could be the right territory.

The film opens in the early 20th century, with a young woman being hauled away in a horse drawn carriage. Though, for her, it seems to be more of a horse drawn cell. She's placed in the psychiatric care of Dr. Jung (Michael Fassbender). The woman, Sabina (Keira Knightley), might not need much care were it not for the society around her. Still, Jung brings out in her the patient he never knew he wanted - a cunning young woman suffering from the abuse of her father, and driven by a desire for humiliating sex. Her major fixation - being spanked.

Of course, with a patient that looks like Keira Knightley baiting you to have sex with her and spank her with a belt... you're going to have a hard time focusing on the actual job. Jung would eventually cure her and she would become one of the first female psychoanalysts. If you know anything about history, this isn't a spoiler. And beside, spoilers are superseded by fact. By the way, Aaron Ralston lost an arm in 127 Hours. Point being - Sabina and Jung enter into an elicit and graphic affair, leading Jung to seek the council of Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), off of whom he basis his treatment for Sabina. Freud's (then) modern theories about human sexuality being at the root for most mental distresses was cutting edge medical hypothesis, but Jung found fault with his diagnoses. Over this disagreement, an intense friendship is formed and both parties would come to know the best and worse of each other, through Jung's affair with Sabina.

It would be easy to say that the film talks too much, sure. But, isn't this the case with most films about psychiatrists? If Jung had transformed into a fly halfway through, wouldn't you be like "..."? And if Sabina and Freud sword-fought during their first meeting... actually, that would have been all right. I would watch that.

Thing is, despite the apparent complaints that the film is too dialogue heavy, it shouldn't be that much of a complaint when the film boasts one of the best screenplays of its year. It might not make it into the Oscars' categories, but consider the source material - three psychiatrists battling wits, two among the most famous men of all time. Freud's theories about penises and mothers are woven into the dialogue beautifully, as are Jung's eventual archetypal theories. The film does an excellent job weaving between the two men, building the tension around Sabina.

Keira Knightley's performance is something to behold. There's a phrase among actors called "dropping in", where an actor so immerses themselves in a role that even without the help of make-up or costuming, they become unrecognizable. Here, Knightley completely drops into the role of Sabina. It's always flattering to admire the way a character moves rather than how an actor might move as the character - it's a testament to their incredible skill. Her quirks and ticks that comprise her character are second only to the mental cues she displays even by simply breathing as Sabina - she's completely in character. Her scenes with Fassbender are magnetic, not even just because of her. Fassbender's quiet reptilian performance as Jung is remarkable. Physically almost unrecognizable, however, is Mortensen as Sigmund Freud. He's got the beard, he's got the gut, but most importantly, he's got the guile. He, through his subtle mannerisms, embodies not just our current idea of Freud, but the man who Freud might actually have been. Both he and Keira Knightley are perfect in their roles. 

30 Minutes or Less, Our Idiot Brother, and More on DVD Tomorrow

The boys from The Town laugh at you.

It's been a long while since I've done one of these. I'd apologize, but I don't feel like it. 

Here goes! 

Hitting DVD shelves tomorrow, five releases that will most certainly not define the year as we know it. 30 Minutes or Less, One Day, Another Earth, Our Idiot Brother, and Tucker & Dale vs Evil. How many of these did you see? Really, me either.

30 Minutes or Less 

I wasn't too inclined to view it at first, but my interest has been piqued. The trailer is amusing enough, and as it's from the creative team behind the ferociously funny Zombieland, I'm sure I'll be amused. That, and Danny McBride gets my money, always. Will it be another Zombieland? Reviews have indicated a resounding "nope", but even the negative reviews had positive things to say. Check back here for my own thoughts on it soon.

Our Idiot Brother

There's a certain "wtf" that usually goes along with releases like this. Nobody really bothers to say anything about them, no one will claim it's their favorite movie of the year, but not one soul will hate it. It's there, it's got Paul Rudd in it, so we live with it, because we love him. And, from what I can tell by the trailer, the film itself actually has a fair bit of heart. Will it be the kind of film to make you go "Aw!"? Probably not. But, it might be worth checking out simply for the Rudd factor.

One Day

You ever watch a trailer that doesn't seem to have much to it, but you know that when you see the film, your reaction will be solidified on either end of the spectrum? You'll either love it, or hate it. You'll probably cry if you love it, or you'll spend the whole film plotting your own suicide. This is one of those trailers. Check for a review soon, and find out whether I've plotted my suicide or wept openly. I have a deep love for Anne Hathaway, balanced with a deep regret for Jim Sturgess' career. So, honestly, it could go either way.

Another Earth 

And then there are trailers where you feel like jumping out of your skin for joy. Like this one. Imagine what your reaction would be if you walked outside one morning to enjoy your coffee, and saw an image of the planet Earth in the sky. Hovering right above your house. Only to find out that it's not just a mirror... but another Earth, with another you, in another life. Imagine the walking dream (or nightmare) that would induce. And there you have this film, centered around a young woman who made a terrible mistake and has the chance to help herself, or someone else, start over. And all I can say is... wow.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil

Ahahahahaha yesssss. Yes! My first time seeing this trailer was right before embedding it into this blog post. And I can't stop laughing. Much like Another Earth, I'm so thankful that there are two startlingly clever and original ideas coming to DVD tomorrow. I don't care if this flops on sales, I'm picking it up. And cheers to Alan Tudyk for holding on strong to his career. Firefly did him well.

Enjoy your week, filmgoers! Go pick up a movie. Let me know below what you're looking forward to!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part I


"I have to put what where? No, no, this doesn't add up at all!"

It's 5:30 in the morning on Thanksgiving, and after four solid days of Twilight viewing, I have something to genuinely be thankful for. Let's recap here: Twilight, eh. New Moon, not too bad at all. Eclipse, pretty good. And now, with the first part of the Breaking Dawn conclusion, I have to say...


I'll step up and say most of this is due to the fact that director Bill Condon is one of the best alive, and he'll be the best thing to ever happen to love-lorn teenage vampire romances. He has a unique understanding of human sympathy that flows underneath his films, seemingly making it easier for the audience to connect to even the strangest stories. Consider Kinsey, if you will. And one thing that usually sets his films back from greatness, however, is that he knows he's that good. The cocksure sensibilities, while impressive to a tee, make his films as a whole just a half step back from where they should be. Here, though, knowing that he has a better handle on this than David Slade, Chris Weitz, or... catherine hardwicke. cough. He takes key moments from the first Twilight that might have stuck out like a sore thumb, and embeds them, recreating them in a way that makes the first film seem better than it actually is. He's gifted, that one. I tell ya'

The film begins, well... let me rephrase that. The first hour of the film involves a lesson in Pacing and Editing 101. Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) is about to marry Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and finally realize her shortly lived life's long wish - become just like him. Given that this is a series about holding onto your virginity until marriage, and... thinly veiled Mormonism, but never mind, you would think that the honeymoon would be something to see! We watch Bella get her make-up done, stress over her shoes, and be girly. We watch Edward be a nervous wreck and get ready for a bachelor party. There's the walk down the isle with the none-too-pleased pop Charlie (Billy Burke) toward all of Edward's 'relatives', including his 'dad' Carlisle (Peter Facinelli). There's the toasts, the cake, the dinner, and then we get to the honeymoon. And it feels like no time has gone by at all. And by the time the film actually gets underway and gives us the first major piece of plot, we're one hour into it and entranced by Condon's American gothic recreation of Rachel Getting Married.

We know from the previous films that the Vulturi (the oddly Romanian cast of vampire royalty) is closing in on the Cullen clan, hoping to get to them before Edward can turn Bella. And that Jacob's pack of Teen Wolves are still on the prowl. Things become far too tense for normalcy and sanity, however, when Bella discovers that she's pregnant. And it's Carlisle's. Kidding. Obviously it's Edward's. But the problem is that it shouldn't be happening. The Teen Wolves finally decide that enough is enough and they're going to end this feud once and for all - no more Cullens, no more problem. I'm sure even the Vulturi wouldn't mind that.

If we take the easy, languid, and ironically sharp pacing of the first hour, and match it with the last hour, it's a bit of emotional whiplash. There's a strong breeze in hour one during the wedding, and we're treated to a mandible-induced C-section during the final hour. Somehow, the whiplash is tolerable and makes for an enjoyable viewing experience. The actors have finally gotten into character and no one seems false, especially Kristen Stewart, whose physical transformation for the role was startling.

The only thing we don't get to see up close and personal is the deflowering of Bella that's been hanging over our heads since 2008. Of course, what with the live birth and all, the film probably wouldn't be suited for teenagers had they kept that in. Still, though - we see the aftermath. No, not the pregnancy (though I'm sure there's a moral in there somewhere, folks). I mean the bedroom, which is practically torn in half. Bed broken, curtains mussed, Charlie Sheen in the corner crying... For two teenage virgins, ... again, all I have to say is...


Wednesday, November 23, 2011



"Bald. No... landing strip." 

Laughter is the best medicine. Unless you have a rare and serious form of spinal cancer and your chances of survival could be either heads or tails, in which case, chemo is probably your best bet. Still, though, if you don't manage to have a sense of humor about it, you're in for a very tough ride. Cancer, by all means, is no joke. My grandmother was recently taken by breast cancer, and I've had others I know and love struggle with it in the past. Thankfully 50/50 knows all the right ways to make the ride as smooth as possible, managing to snuggle up right next to the viewer and tell them "it's all right to laugh. he is, you should, too."

By all definitions, it's an impressive film. 

Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) works for public radio. In Seattle, no less. He's as unassuming as a likable protagonist can be - charming demeanor, easy going, beautiful girlfriend by the name of Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard). His best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen), ... not so unassuming. He's out to get girls, get drunk, and bring the noise. It's fascinating how the friendship works, but it does. What doesn't seem to work, once you get past the surface, is Adam's relationship with Rachel. It's one of those relationships that works merely because they are polite to each other. There's no sex life to speak of, and both seem to keep their distance. The film is based on the true events of the script's writer Will Reiser. Reiser was diagnosed with cancer; Rogen's friendship with him and their relationship during the diagnosis/treatment process is the basis for the story.

This could certainly fall into the category of "quirky indie comedy with loads of heart", much in the same way that Little Miss Sunshine and Juno do. But there's an air of honesty floating around the screenplay - probably because it actually happened to the writer - that sets it apart from those films. Despite the fact that Little Miss Sunshine and Juno are good films, expertly written, it's the mere fact that 50/50 is a true story that sets it apart. To me, there's indie, and then there's independent. This, dear readers, qualifies independent.

I think the most important thing you could say about a movie like this is that the characters follow their laws of economy. Everyone has something important to do. Even that one nurse whom I wasn't sure would have a line, even though she hovered around Adam in the OR for a minute. Every character is put to excellent use, and not one felt out of place. Adam forms a relationship truly special with his therapist, played expertly by Anna Kendrick, proving that her Oscar nomination was not a fluke. Their bond is tangible, which is important in 'illness dramas'. It's the perfect foil to every other relationship in the film. Adam's relationship with his girlfriend, and his mother (Angelica Huston) and his Alzheimer's stricken father. It seems that it's the people he meets after his illness who speak to him the most. Notice the strength of the friendship he forms with his other chemo-friends.

Of course, I'd be remiss to not mention Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance in more detail than "he plays Adam." The little kid from 3rd Rock From the Sun has grown into one of the best actors of his generation. He has more tonal control and more range in his soft-spoken demeanor than most people had back in the golden age of cinema back in the 70's. If he doesn't land an Oscar nomination for this (and I rarely rally like this), then something is being said about the Oscars. Seriously.

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse


Oh, just hit it already. 

As virginity parables go, The Twilight Saga is probably two steps below The Virgin Suicides and about three steps above your average PAX special, putting it smack in the middle of a smoldering "ehhh." To the series' credit, however, the films have steadily taken leaps forward in quality since the firing of Catherine Hardwicke after the near tragedy of the first film. For those of you who have seen Red Riding Hood or Thirteen, imagine what Eclipse would look like if directed by her. Now imagine what Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince would look like if directed by Chris Columbus. See my point?

David Slade isn't a household name. He's a name known among cinephiles, certainly. Perhaps, because of this film, he'll be a name known among teenage girls. Actually, no, I don't wish that kind of attention on him. Regardless of his notability, he appears to be a director with a lot of people to impress. There are moments in Eclipse where you can almost hear him thinking "yes. yesss. YESSSS." during the editing process. Most great movies have scenes that flow so easily, you can almost picture the director stepping back and letting the magic happen on its own, maybe reaching for a silent fist bump from the key grip next to him. David Slade strikes me as the kind of director who "woo hoo's" and high five the next few people he sees. He's talented, but a little boisterous at times. Yes, boisterous. In a film where 50% of the dialogue is mumbled and broken, and there are long stretches of scenes in fields, and because this film isn't Bright Star, there are actually boisterous attempts at directing. I enjoyed Eclipse quite a bit, though. I'll be the first to admit it.

And here's why.

Brutality. Where the first two films took their time and acquainted us with the love Mexican-standoff between Bella (Kristen Stewart), Edward (Robert Pattinson), and Jacob (Taylor Lautner) and the will they or won't they motif that saddles the films to near dime-store paperback quality (which is a little ironic), this film genuinely sinks its teeth (!) into the brewing war. Victoria, now played by the brilliant Bryce Dallas Howard, has been assembling an army to avenge the murder of her mate Jake at the hands of the Cullen clan. But, to be fair, Jake had it coming. If it weren't for the fact that he tried to kill Edward's mate Bella, his pony-tail certainly called for some sort of violent backlash. In short, they whipped his hair back and forth.

The film opens with a silently impressive attack scene, in which the army's assembly begins. Victoria, faster than all hell, 'kills' a loner by the name of Riley. She bites him, convinces him that he's her ain true love, and further convinces him to raise an army of vampires for her. A domino effect which has a disastrous effect. Actually, no, not that disastrous - as the Vulturi (the coven of vampires akin to royalty in the Cullen universe) know exactly what's going on and allow it to happen anyway, responding with only an "oops!" attitude when they're found out.

Preparing for the battle, we find out more about the Cullen clan and how most of them were turned. Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) was a civil war soldier in Texas who went through a similar ordeal to the one presented in the film. Thus, he's the go-to vamp to train everyone to defeat the newborns. Vampires, apparently, are never stronger than in their first months of transformation, while both vampire and human blood courses through their veins. Logically, you'd think that might slow them down, but we need a movie. So, never mind. Vampires and werewolves find a way to live in harmony during this oncoming slaughter, fighting side by side to protect Bella. And she's literally the only reason why. Vampires and werewolves are natural enemies and since Bella's the reason for all this, and has both a vampire and a werewolf fighting for her attention, ... I have a hard time typing most of this with a straight face.

The only reason that I've come to enjoy these films as much as I have, and I'm being honest here, is because of the performances. Kristen Stewart, outside of this series, has proven herself to be a credible actress. If you haven't seen Speak or The Cake Eaters, you're missing out. And even Robert Pattinson has genuine talent. Water for Elephants and Remember Me are proof enough of that. The two leads are gifted in their more strongly-scripted moments. Taylor Lautner... well... yeah. And thankfully, the screenplay had figured out its pacing early enough to keep even the sleepy boyfriends interested, breaking the love story up with an actual story, and some brilliantly staged choreography in the fight scenes.

If it weren't for the weird inclusion that vampires are apparently breakable like ceramic figurines, it might be easier to swallow. But, of course, as violent as this film is, if they were breakable like actual people, we'd have a serious R rating on our hands. And even then, most likely not, as it's not like there's anyone having sex. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Twilight Saga: New Moon


Clown Make-up by Calvin Klein

Yes, you read that right. Three stars. And no, that's not just because I don't know how to make a half star on my laptop. It's because it's a step up from the previous film, to which I gave two. In all honesty, as much hate as these films get, and they do get their fare share, they've been getting better and better. I have yet to see Breaking Dawn (that's on the docket for tomorrow), but if it's as good as Eclipse, than my theory stands.

Yes, I enjoyed Eclipse, too.

And no, I'm not a teenage girl.

bella's hot.

I'll go ahead and point out the main reason that New Moon stuck with me in the first place, and what has brought me back for multiple viewings - there's a montage after Edward leaves Bella (don't worry I'll explain the plot in a minute) where, in her deep depression, she sits at her bedroom window and watches the people outside. Months fly by, and seasons change, and Lykke Li's 'Possibility' plays heavily over the following few minutes. It's a scene of perfect direction and acting. Chris Weitz is a talented man.

Moving on. There's more to the movie than that one scene. Though, if that scene had just been the whole two hours of the film, there'd be a glowing four stars atop that picture. and, coincidentally, a different picture. But, never mind.

As for the basic run down of the plot, it's Bella's (Kristen Stewart) birthday. Of course, this means terrible things to her, because she's just getting older while Edward (Robert Pattinson) - eternally 17 - stays the same age. Even though he's 104. Damnation looks good on him, no? He brings her to the Cullen household to celebrate with his family, but an innocent paper cut sends his vampiric family into an uproar. In order to protect her from anything like this happening again, he leaves her. To not only be tended to by Jacob (Taylor Lautner, still searching for a tailor) and Veronica, whom you might remember is the ginger villain from the first film. We find out, through audience word of mouth and publicity strangleholds and trailers and Jacob himself, that he's a werewolf, and Bella has absolutely awful taste in men. Monsters, all of them.

If the theory holds true that women wind up marrying father figures, what on Earth does that say about her father? Who, in all honesty, seems as attentive as Edward himself. So, maybe that's the draw. Who knows? Certainly not the audience.

The most solid thing about New Moon is a bit abstract, so try and follow me. It isn't the scene I pointed out earlier, nor is it the fantastic supporting cast that the film has contracted (Michael Sheen and Dakota Fanning are spectacular in their small roles). It's that it is leaps and bounds ahead in quality compared to the first. There's a prime measure of angst and the romance genuinely feels palpable. As opposed to the first one where most things are just implied and everyone looks as confused as the parents/boyfriends dragged to it.

I do have to point out again, however, that if you watch this film, and you're interested in the craft of filmmaking itself, pay particular attention to the Possibility montage. No matter your opinion of Twilight, or those who are connected with it, it's a masterful scene that probably deserves a better movie, despite how entertaining this one can be. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011



The stars of Twilight thwart Stephanie Meyers' attempt to
take her story back.
Cards on the table - I'm a fan of the Twilight series. The books, the movies, the mass shrieking hysteria, all of it. I have a friend who chooses to pretend this piece of my personality doesn't exist, lest it cause a rift between our wonderful intellectual persons. But, friendship be damned, I get it. 

I've heard this series referred to as several things. "The story of a girl's struggle to choose between bestiality and necrophilia", Interview with the Vampire: The D-Bag Chronicles, etc. I've also heard Edward Cullen referred to as Queen of the Damned. Which, I admit, is kind of funny. But, as far as the story goes, there's a deeper meaning. Shades of Mormonism are completely founded, and the entire saga can be boiled down to a message about keeping your virginity until marriage. No matter how hot Edward Cullen is. 

And he is.

It'd be hard to talk about this film, pretending it hasn't become a bit of a cultural punchline. The boys at Mystery Science Theater 3000 even took a swing at it, to hilarious effect. But, I'll attempt to discuss this as the film that it is, and as if it stood on its own. 

As adaptations go, it isn't the most deft book-to-film translation out there. It's no Kubrick v King, but to call it a fair handle would be a stretch. Some films take artistic license, and some films take it too far. This, sadly, falls in the latter category. I'll reiterate that I'm a fan, but I'll also mention that I'm a Kristen Stewart fan and hopefully you can see the connection. I'm on Team Bella.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the story, outside of the Team Edward and Team Jacob fluff, here's the rundown. Bella (Kristen Stewart) moves to Forks, WA to live with her dad Charlie (Billy Burke). She runs into old childhood friend Jacob (Taylor Lautner) and meets a few new friends at school. Including the Cullen family. Most importantly, Edward (Robert Pattinson). He's a vampire, and he's immediately attracted to her, her to him, except that he's a vampire. So, he'll probably kill her if he stays too close and...

actually, boiled down to basic plot points, the story really is quite plain. It's all about the metaphor for Mormonism and virginity, I think. That's what has kept me interested over the last few years. 

On a technical level, the film is fairly impressive. The atmosphere of Forks, WA - the overcast, perfect place for vampires to live as they can't go out into the sun, town - is handled quite well, with the film being shot in hazy blue and grey tones. Unfortunately, the screenplay and direction halt the entire production. Near clinically insane, Catherine Hardwicke admittedly didn't put much thought into the film as she didn't think it would become such a giant success. We can see why she got fired from the sequel, can't we?

The performances are something to behold. Whether that's a positive or a negative statement is up to you. I, however, stand completely divided on the subject. I love the way Pattinson and Stewart play Edward and Bella. But, the rest of the cast, immune to criticism is Billy Burke, hams it up beyond belief. Bella's high school friends, one of whom is played by now Oscar nominee Anna Kendrick, aren't believable in the slightest, and Taylor Lautner seems like he's on peyote for most of the production. 

I think the most unfortunate thing about this film, as much as I enjoy it as a relaxer from time to time, is that even though the fans recognized that the production quality as it relates to the book is pretty damn bad, it was still a huge success. I could equate that complaint and stick it to the audiences, but I'm blaming Catherine Hardwicke for it. Mostly because I'm still not over Red Riding Hood yet. And my hatred for that film seems to consume me when this woman comes up. Oops. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

An Open Letter to Brett Ratner

"I asked for Doritos like ten minutes ago, guys..."

Dear Mr. Ratner, 

And I use the Mr. with great hesitation. 

I see your publicity stunt, and I raise you this one. And seeing as how I can guess you're the kind of man who sits at home Googling himself, in more than one sense of the word, I have no doubt you'll eventually run across this, love the attention, and carry on writing your next masterpiece. As a true auteur of Hollywood, that's just what people like yourself do. 

So, I'd like to offer you a piece of advice. Actually, several pieces. Put down the jar full of cookies and glass of whisky, sit up proper, and pay attention. 

1. Using the word "fag" in a Q&A? This isn't 1964. You can't just throw around slurs like that. If Rep. Larry Taylor (Texas, R) can't get away with saying "Don't Jew them down" to an insurance representative, even after apologizing immediately, what in the hell do you think you'd gain by waiting a few days after spitting out the word "fag" during an interview? When you are producing the Oscars? And you're the only reason Eddie Murphy was chosen? Because he hasn't been funny in about ten years? 

2. Don't do the Howard Stern show. It's a breeding ground for civil suits. 

3. If you do in fact go on the Howard Stern show, it's probably not the best idea to talk about having sex with Lindsay Lohan for a few reasons - one, she's being turned into a sex toy. way to go, player. two, you're producing the Oscars. three, apparently, she was "very young" when you two bumped uglies. Are we talking Parent Trap young or Mean Girls young? And on behalf of Olivia Munn, whom you falsely claimed to have sex with three times and then recanted a few days later kind of like your apology for saying the word fag during an interview, I'm going to imply that you Googled yourself during The Parent Trap. Multiple times. 

And I apologize for implying that Brett Ratner is, was, or will ever be a pedophile, and that he may or may not have but probably might have maybe masturbated to Lindsay Lohan in The Parent Trap. 

See? An apology right afterward. Should I not have said it? I shouldn't have said it. But, I did. And I can't take it back. But, I apologized immediately. My agent didn't have to bribe me with Reese's Pieces and Asian massages. 

from 16 year olds. 

God, I did it again. My b. 

4. You shouldn't be allowed to answer any questions about filmmaking after you put your name on X-Men: The Last Stand. I mean, really, dude. 


5. And this is really more for the Academy's sake - why on Earth did you pick Brett Ratner? At least it's not too late to fire him and plead on your knees for Bill Condon and Jon Stewart?

Sincerely, I'd like to wrap this letter up with a well-wishing for Ratner. 

You've claimed many times that you don't like condoms, but that you now use them. Is it because of a certain Lohan that you apparently bagged when she was teething? Or because you've taken a page out of your own douche-book when it comes to being careful about STD's. Remember how you joked with Howard Stern recently about forcing women, or apparently, toddlers, to go to the doctor to get checked for STD's before they're graced with your noodley appendage (sorry, FSM, couldn't resist the pun)? Yeah. That's gross. 

Also, remember how you claimed publicly that a scene in New York I Love You where a kid loses his virginity in a tree was based on you? I totally believe that. It's kind of like how I had the time of my life at a dance camp in the Catskills. 

Wishing you nothing but the one girl you regrettably don't ask to get checked, 


The Human Centipede - parts one and ew

Disclaimer - yes, these films have been given no stars. Are they the worst movies ever made? No. That honor belongs to Red Riding Hood and Pumpkin. However, are these films completely devoid of any merit, and bordering on the brink of Guantanamonian torture? Damn straight.

So, not since I was too lazy to post two separate articles for The Fighter and True Grit, I give you my second two piece review.

First Sequence - 0 stars. Why? Really?

100% Medically Made-Up

You know that series of movies that Lionsgate puts out? The "8 Films to Die For", or the off-shot "After Dark Films" series? This midnight movie wannabe sits comfortably in that zone of quality. And having seen a great handful of those films, I genuinely enjoyed two. I wish I had genuinely enjoyed this, but the lack of joy (even for his own craft) that director Tom Six - and apparently that's his actual name - injects into this experiment makes it absolutely unwatchable. I've no qualms with the darker side of independent horror. In fact, I consider it some of the best cinema around. It's the creation of neo-Grindhouse art that I so greatly appreciate. But, at least that has some joy in it. It isn't made solely to piss on its audience, nor is it made to make a point. Six, who seems to be channeling pre-Rampage Uwe Boll, takes what could have been a modern Grindhouse masterpiece and turnes it shock-theater piece of the worst kind - banal. 

Six has stated that he loves making movies that push boundaries and that pay no mind to political correctness. So, disregarding the film's World War II allegory, we'll take him at his word. Here, he has crafted a film so vile and yet so uninteresting, that he seems to not only be disregarding political correctness, but he seems to be disregarding his own mission statement - push boundaries. Do something that hasn't been done before. Be original. Two dimwitted American girls get a flat tire on their way to a club. They run through the woods and stop at a creepy German doctor's house. He poisons them and performs torturous acts. Boiled down - two teens get tortured by a crazy man. Even more boiled down - Saw, but with a pinch of Frankenweenie.

What follows past the basic plot is just as insulting to any given viewer: the cops come, people die. And, somehow, we're afforded room for a sequel? In which Tom Six promises to make this one look like My Little Pony? Okay. He's just trying to egg us on at this point, right? I hope so. What I'm hoping for in a subsequent viewing is a glimmer of tongue-in-cheek that maybe I just somehow missed this time. There's no way anyone involved could have been taking this so seriously. Except... Deiter Laser spent the entire film's production completely in character, a la Daniel Day-Lewis. And Six went so far as to apparently have a surgeon as a consultant so that the film would be "100% medically accurate", a claim that has been rightfully laughed at by anyone who has ever played Operation in their lifetime. It loses its reputation as "the sickest midnight move ever made" by showing little to no violence on camera. Attempting maybe to join the ranks of Scarface and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in Most Violent Movies of All Time, Except We Barely See Anything. The thing about those movies though is... the violence implied is frightening, and still palpable. This is just stupid. Ridiculous, and stupid.

The most frustrating thing about this movie, though, isn't the three teens making up the centipede, none of whom can act, nor is it Deiter Laser channeling the love-child of Klaus Kinski and Tommy Wiseau, nor is it the lack of passion Six seems to have for what he's doing. It's that the film really does seem to have an err of self importance. Like what its doing is necessary, rather than just needlessly repugnant on just about every human level. The film gives what it offers, if ever so slightly. And it, of course, comes complete with its own drinking game - every time Deiter Laser molests something off camera with his eyes, take a shot. So, it'll be a popular Halloween even. Count me out, though. I'd rather dig through my old VHS tapes from when I was a kid and watch that Mark Summer/Haunted Mansion movie that was on Nick.

Full Sequence - 0 stars. And here we go.

Porky's Revenge

When you're fifteen minutes into your movie, and your college thesis could be about how bad it is, you know you have a problem. When Police Academy 4 is funnier than your unintentional comedy, you know you have a problem. When the laws of physics, nature, or mankind don't apply to your film that doesn't take place in space or in the future, you know you have a problem. And when your film is directed by Tom Six, you've just wanted ten bucks. 

And you have a problem. 

Just like Tom Six does. I have a hard time digesting this man's career. I'd put career in quotes, but I like the quotes gag too much to degrade it. And his career is enough of a gag already. This man has built a cult empire on the premise that films don't actually need to hold artistic merit, nor do they need to even strictly be films, but more pastiches of everything black that can reside in a person's soul. Which is fair, and that can be considered art, I suppose. If done with artistic merit. And, pro-tip for Six - just because you say it's art, doesn't mean it isn't still The Human Centipede (Full Sequence). 

Here's a basic rundown of this film - there's a guy named Martin. He looks like a popover and is obsessed with the movie The Human Centipede. Also, he was raped by his dad as a kid, and his mother is physically and emotionally and verbally abusive. Martin finds his escape in Tom Six's "vision" (see when it works, kids?) and decides he's going to kill a bunch of people while trying to make his own 12 person-long human centipede. With a stapler. He even goes as far as to contact the star of the first film, the admittedly more-talented-than-she's-gotten-credit-for Ashlynn Yennie by telling her that she's in the running for a Tarantino film. But, in actuality (and this isn't a spoiler, merely because the poor scripting gives it away), she's in the running for head of Martin's centipede. And, one by one, Martin throws down.

And that's the movie. At least the first one had an actual plot. There's the aforementioned World War II allegories and everything. It can be talked about. This film, much like footage of a train wreck on, or even Two Girls One Cup, is meant only to be looked at, vomited over, and passed around like a naked picture of your hot math teacher in high school. Yes, hot math teachers do exist. Probably as some weird butterfly effect offset to balance out the existence of this film. I mean, God has to give us something, yes?

The film was banned in the UK simply because of the idea of the plot, and that it might actually happen. In public, Tom Six criticized the banning, stating that the film was art. Then, ten minutes later in a different public, drinks were on him because he got what he wanted. Which is kind of like when a sick kid coughs on a toy and then "shares it" with another kid. Mission accomplished, and Six's cooties were spread just like that. The film became a media bug zapper and once it was criticized, all he had to do was say "art" and then talk about the third one. Six's promise for the Full Sequence was to make the First Sequence look like My Little Pony. I can only imagine that the Final Sequence will make the Full Sequence look like the First Sequence, all while making me look like an amnesia patient for sitting through this cinemabortion a third go 'round. 

Yes, I'm a little bitter. 

I'd like to take a moment (just sit right there) to tell you (how I became the prince of a town called Bel-air) about some of the more... unspeakable moments in the completely uncut version. 

Deep breath. This is where it gets gross. And, yes, this is one fat spoiler.

Our villain masturbates with sandpaper. Up close and personal shots of teeth being knocked out one by one with a hammer. Peoples lips are stapled to other peoples anuses. Someone, like the first film, poops into someone's mouth. And that someone is forced to eat it, and repeat the cycle through 10 other people. Our villain wraps barbed wire around his genitalia and anally rapes a woman. Like... that doesn't even fit into the story. A woman gives birth, and then the newborn baby's skull is crushed by the gas pedal of a car. A skull is smashed in, and we see it and the aftermath, with a tire iron. After being stapled to someone's anus, someone has the foresight to rip themselves away from it. You ever have to pull a staple out of your skin (for some weird reason)? Imagine that, but it's about twenty staples and its your lips. And you're attached to some stranger's ass. 

And that's not all! 

We're also treated auditory flashbacks of child molestation! On screen blowjobs. Blood gushing gun wounds (in places where, realistically, blood really wouldn't flow like that). An actual centipede is placed in a man's rectum and he tries to fish it out. Throats are cut, hookers are shot, there's a skinhead, it's all a big mess. 

And I'll be honest - that's not even the most gruesome part. It's that the villain, Martin (Laurence R. Harvey) is practically naked for about 30% of his screen time. I'm not generally one to point out physical flaws to make a point about a movie. I generally consider that to be a cheap shot and it speaks volumes of the person writing the review. But, the goal of a horror film is to create atmosphere, right? We've all learned that together. So, part of the atmosphere is adjusting the presence of what you see on screen. The appearance, in other words. The film is shot in black and white, rightfully so. Six gets a point, there. Like, half a point. But, never mind. He shoots Harvey as the embodiment of sloth, and completely sinful. Harvey is asthmatic, blubber-laden, and sweatier than anyone has a right to be. His appearance has been adjusted with the sweat and lighting of the film, therefore, it's fair game. And seriously, Tom - you didn't have to have him be a sweaty, fat, naked loaf just for us to be uncomfortable. I mean, you crushed a baby in front of us. Think about it. 

The Room

If we're awarding stars based on sheer camp value and enjoyability, then this would have been the easiest four star review I'd ever written. But, we're not, and it isn't. Therefore, we treat this as we would any other film. 

As a critic, I think that the most important part of the job is to be able to assess a film's worth, piece by piece. That means the acting, writing, cinematography, directing, all the down the list until you hit make-up and the key grip. (pro-tip: a key grip is in charge of shadows and camera rigging, basically). Unfortunately, once you're at least 30-seconds into The Room, a now midnight masterpiece written, directed, starring, and produced by shaggy auteur Tommy Wiseau, you'll realize that even the key grip didn't show up for rehearsals. 

It's astute, really - making something so bad that it's perfect. Sometimes, movies are just plain bad. Take Pumpkin; the film that, for nine years, I championed (?) as the worst movie ever made. Or, even, this year's Red Riding Hood, which dethroned it. Barely, but damn. When I judge whether a film is truly awful, there's one factor I have to consider. Were the filmmakers actually trying? Wiseau himself claims that the film is an intentional black comedy, and that this was the reaction he was expecting. But, there have been, albeit anonymous, reports from cast members that Wiseau is genuinely a few french fries short of a Happy Meal and that this was a serious attempt at filmmaking. I don't think we'll ever know, to be perfectly honest. Consider - the original writer of The Rocky Horror Picture Show said the same thing. And look at it now. 

Our "film" centers on Johnny. He's a banker, apparently (we learn that about thirty minutes into the movie, I think). He's engaged to Lisa, who... is in computers? Or maybe she just plays on the computer, as she never leaves the apartment. But, Lisa is having an affair with Johnny's best friend Mark. Mark does nothing, even though he always tells people that he's busy. There's Lisa's mother, who has breast cancer, but is constantly told not to worry about it. There's Denny, Johnny's all but adopted weird kid neighbor who apparently sells drugs, I think maybe. And there's that one guy in the end. And that's all we know about that one guy. 

This movie, for all intents and purposes, was written on post-it notes, shredded in a moment of blissful realization, and then reassembled when the demons repossessed Wiseau's body. 

In all actually, it's hard to review a film like this. I can simply say "wtf" and leave it at that, but that almost wouldn't be fair. For a film as jaw-droppingly awful and near-blatantly infuriating, there has to be something more I could say. I could detail the film's excessive plot holes - such as the disappearance of a supporting character in the middle of a scene that is never explained. I could call it this generation's Manos: The Hands of Fate. I could denote the musical choices for the four sex scenes that take place in the same half hour. I could talk about Tommy Wiseau's nude shot. Or how Lisa is consistently called sexy and beautiful through out the film. Or how Johnny is the most. friendly. guy. ever. 

Or I could say the one positive thing I could about the film. While over the top as hell, that's pretty much what it feels like to be cheated on. They got that right. 

Everything else? Don't worry about it. 

Friday, October 14, 2011


The Wheelman With No Name
If you watch Drive on an exterior level, you get a badass action film. A slow burning, tightly paced one, at that. But, if you watch Drive from a critical standpoint, you'll notice more than one polite tip-of-the-hat to Taxi Driver - slight turns from Martin Scorsese's directorial playbook by director Nicolas Winding Refn. Really, Drive could be viewed as a pastiche of action movies and westerns from the glory days of Hollywood. The 70's and 80's era from Hollywood, more specifically. 

Ryan Gosling has a skill - determining the darker aspects of characters that appear to be a little blank on paper. In 2001, he played a self-hating Neo-Nazi Jew in The Believer. In 2010, he was a feigning husband in Blue Valentine (I really hope you all saw that), and here, he's the wheelman with no name. He goes by "the kid", and that's barely a term of endearment from the man who took him in. He (Ryan Gosling) has a hell of a job - he's a stunt driver for the movies, by day, and a getaway driver at night. Of course, he's freelance all the way. When a producer needs a flawless car crash, he's the guy. And when a mob king needs a flawless getaway, there's nobody better. He works with a man named Shannon (Bryan Cranston) who gave him a job years before the movie (and the kid's criminal activity) started. 

He lives on his own, like any self-preserving young criminal might. But, to search his psyche is to destroy the character. He's the ultimate anti-hero - the bad guy going good. Recall Clint Eastwood's "Man With No Name" trilogy. Good, Bad, Ugly, complete with a fistful of dynamite for only a few dollars. Our story comes to a slow boil about half way through the film, when his beautiful neighbor (Carey Mulligan) takes a shine to him, and let's him into her life (slowly but surely), He gets attached to her little boy. The boy's father is released from prison, and contracted for the famous "one last job" to pay off a debt. The Kid agrees to be the getaway guy and get the father out of debt so he can be the dad he needs to be.

This isn't the film you might think it would be based on the trailer. I know people who went in expecting a Gone in 60 Seconds retread, but left disappointed because they were given something a bit slower and more thoughtful. It seems that some audiences these days just want explosions and gun fights. Well, here's a tip, this film is ultra-violent, without a single explosion or gun fight. What little action there is takes place in the last 45 minutes of the film, during which it doesn't slow down at all (kind of like the driver. get it?). Once the whole thing goes to Hell, it sets up to roost there. Albert Brooks, who steals the movie with his cold as ice and steel portrayal of movie producer turned mob boss Bernie, is the only fire in the film. He's a veteran comedian, but plays this role with the assurance of a man who has something to prove. This is among the best work of his career. Oscar? I hope so.

Lovingly, I'd call this one of the biggest sleepers of the year. Hopefully it garners the cult following that director Nicolas Winding Refn deserves, as his film Bronson seemed to. Will it be a contender for the Oscars outside of Brooks? Yes, it will. I expect big things. And we're approaching that time of year already. If you haven't heard of the film yet, and if you're a filmgoer (like this blog demands) then you will by the end of the year. I don't normally go out of my way to say this in a review, but if you're a film lover, go out of your way to spend the money and see this film. I doubt there will be another one like it any time soon. 

Real Steel


Boxing movies all have one thing in common. Especially boxing movies these days, in our generation. There's that moment of pure badassery that lets you know things just got real. The hero, our hard-boiled yet soft hearted fighter is getting beaten down, physically and emotionally, and you have every reason to believe it's over. There's no getting up off the mat, no getting out of the corner or off the ropes, and no closing those wounds. But, the motion will slow, the music will stop, and the boxer will look at his opponent and do something that you should be very afraid of. 


Things just got real.

That's probably in my top five movie cliches that don't actually put me off to the whole project. Real Steel, fortunately, has a moment like that. If you've seen one boxing movie, you've seen Real Steel. But, while this isn't Rocky or Cinderella Man with robots, it has the same idea. You have your rundown fighter on his last legs, trying to make it all work, while overcoming all sorts of adversity. In Real Steel, that adversity comes in the form of gambling debts and addiction, and a kid. Of course, his kid proves to be the one thing that holds him together. 

That's not a spoiler, that's a formula. Don't yell at me. 

The movie does follow a pretty strict formula. You can guess what happens, especially if you watch sports movies these days. Once Friday Night Lights came out, the rules changed quite a bit. Underdog sports movies have always been a huge seller, but now that the rule about the ending has changed, they aren't anything special anymore. It's all about "no matter whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game that counts". Which is fine, and true, and tried. But, still - surprise me again, Hollywood. I get tired of figuring out who's going to win based solely on whether the film came out before or after 2004. *shrug*

Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) used to box. And he did quite well for himself. His late trainer was the father of Charlie's on-again/off-again girlfriend Baily (played beautifully by Evangeline Lily). Since his retirement from the human boxing ring, he's taken up "extreme Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots". Remember that odd Comedy Central show Battle Bots? It's a little like that, but, you know, real (!). Remote controlled robots get in the ring with each other and battle it out, sometimes, to the death. Which, to a robot, means the head is knocked off and their oil blood is spilled all over the place. Had this been a real boxing movie with this premise, an NC-17 would have been unavoidable. But, because these are robots, it's fine for the whole family. That's not even sarcasm. This is a family film. Yeah, the PG-13 rating makes sense, but I'd take my kid to it.

Which is exactly what Charlie does. He finds out this his ex-girlfriend has passed away and since he's the next of kin, he's in line to take care of his estranged little boy Max (played with gusto by Dakota Goyo). I've never seen this kid before, but he's a natural, and he's full of fire. I hope his career is long and fulfilling. Max's aunt (Hope Davis) and uncle (James Rebhorn) want custody of Max so they can buy him a new life, and agree to give Charlie custody for the summer. During which they travel around the country pitting their robot against other bigger robots and find out exactly what boding truly means.

The movie has more heart than any of the trailers would lead you to believe. Most action movies don't make me tear up during their touching scenes. But, the testament here is for the actors, specifically Hugh Jackman. He has a way of tapping into even the most ridiculous characters and making them easy to connect to. Thinking back to the days when Swordfish came out, I remember people in my school thinking it was the be all-end all action movie, and that John Travolta owned the world in a way he hadn't since Pulp Fiction. But, the surprise to me, other than Halle Berry's pointless topless shot, was Jackman's tender and genuine ability. Then we got the X-Men series and he was a star; rightfully so. He won't be getting any awards for this film, which is a bit unfortunate because he deserves recognition, but he will be able to say that he made a movie about robots that took the country completely by surprise and got an unexpected critical reception. People love it. And not just because they love him. It's a genuinely lovable movie. 

The Change-Up

"I don't know why we agreed to this either, Ryan!"
At seems that at least a few times a year, movies are released that test the attention span - and maturity - of their audience. I'll be the first to spoil the big surprise here - there's a projectile poop scene. And, I swear to God, the review almost writes itself. Take Jason Bateman, who seems to be one of the busier actors this year, and put him with Ryan Reynolds, who seems to be one of the busiest actors in general, and put them in a Freaky Friday rehash, and you might expect some comic gold, right? Well, your head is in the right place, but your expectations might be too darn high. What we're given instead is one of the raunchiest - for the mere sake of being raunchy - comedies I've seen in a long time. This makes Reynolds' Van Wilder seem like Elmo in Grouchland. 

And that's being kind. 

As I mentioned before, with the need to point it out again, there's a projectile poop scene. With no build up. That's how we're told what kind of movie this is - all of the intelligence of subtle comedy is thrown out the window for the chance to have a kid drop a deuce on Jason Bateman's face from across the room. The Exorcist never seemed more watchable, right? And I've never long for a Lindsay Lohan movie more than when I was watching this. Sure, the R rating for "everything under the sun" should have given the crudeness away. But, not the lack of intelligence. Nor the lack of faith in its audience. 

Our story begins with Dave (Jason Bateman) being a good guy. He's a father of three, a dutiful husband, and an excellent lawyer on the brink of the biggest corporate merger of his career. Inexplicably, his best friend is Mitch (Ryan Reynolds). A pot smoking, lecherous, struggling actor living the life of his dreams - no life at all. Our story really only begins when Dave and Mitch go to a bar to watch a game, as they haven't hung out in a while. Which makes enough sense; they're busy. Well, Dave is busy. But, never mind. They go to the bar and get far more drunk then men of their age should and Dave falls in love with Mitch's lifestyle while he listens to Mitch go on and on about the random women that he's sleeping with, including the enigmatic Tatiana. Sounds great, right? I'm not a saint, and I certainly understand the struggle of monogamous relationships - but Dave seems a bit more unhappy than he should. He avoids couples therapy with his wife and wishes for Mitch's life. Mitch, the same, wishes for Dave's life. As they pee together. In a fountain. Drunk. In public. 

They pee together in a fountain, drunk in public. 

This is our movie. There's a rolling black out, and by the time they wake up the next morning, they got their wish. Dave wakes up in his home next to his wife (Leslie Mann) and has to take care of the three children, while having Mitch's personality drive him. And Mitch wakes up, and has to go to his first big movie role as Dave. Which is the only funny thing in the film, as it's a "lorno movie". Or, a light porno for those of us not in the business. Now, I'm only a writer, but I make a decent living doing the things I do. And as bad as I want to work in film (it's the dream, yeah), even I wouldn't take a "lorno". Still, though, the scene is damn funny, mainly because Reynolds is a talented actor and mimic. 

One more thing that drives my distate in the story and film is that this is one of the films whose trailer contained all the funny moments. Trick is, the funny moments in the trailer aren't in the film. So, the film's funny content is belied to us and therefore not as funny as the trailer. Which isn't even related to the movie, in theory. There's the obvious outcome to the film where everything is set right and all is well again, as they learn to appreciate their lives. 

And they pee together in a fountain, drunk in public.