Across the Universe

2008 04/21

It’s like this movie stole the Beatles and then somehow made them suck.


The Triple-D’s of Splatter

2008 03/15

A review of Doomsday. (It’s good).

The Triple-D’s:

Dog Soldiers
The Descent
Doomsday

Doomsday - What day is it again?These are Neil Marshall’s first three movies. Each one is awesome in its own way.

  • Dog Soldiers is an ode to Aliens
    A pack of werewolves attacks a Scottish military excursion.
  • The Descent is a take on Alien
    Cave explorers are hunted by scary/freaky/badass creatures.
  • Doomsday is The Road Warrior
    a simple-minded, post-apocalyptic, brain-exploding action flick.

It’s as if each film is a love note to a previous landmark, even if the new installment brings nothing original to the table other than an updated sense of aesthetics. It’s also as if Marshall’s work to date is nothing but a high budget director’s reel, begging for loftier projects. I believe there is greatness in Marshall’s future, but if that is to be achieved, he will have to stop writing his own movies.

The film starts with about 20 minutes of boring exposition. We listen as Marshall gets all of the plot out of the way; bad dialogue, clunky plot holes, talk, talk, talk. Get to the action, dude! It’s tiresome to get it all at once, but once that’s out of the way you won’t have to think about it again. As a society, are we really so concerned with making plotless movies appear less plotless? Here, Doomsday sheds the sincerity of Marshall’s earlier work.

Marshall’s films trademark themselves with a lack of character depth that comes across as modest – his work doesn’t think too highly of itself. It’s unpretentious at its core, and that has a charming effect. However, the venerated Mad Max series never bound itself to such a clumsy back story, as Doomsday does. It seems that, along with his highest budget and greatest financial concerns to date, Marshall’s deal with the devil included a marriage to some of the more traditional film conceits. In the case of Doomsday though, the marriage is a loveless one.

Thankfully, when the film gets to the action, it gets there with an extra dash of awesome. Neil Marshall is the modern king of splatter, and Doomsday is perhaps his most splatteriffic splatterfest. By the time the movie actually gets going, the action and effects take over completely. Doomsday provides enough gore to satisfy a serial killer. It’s like a great action movie, except the explosions are all of blood. In this respect, Doomsday is everything that the Resident Evil franchise wishes it was.

Rhona Mitra’s spandex clad bootyBut I must admit, I was already sold on this one when I saw the preview and its gratuitous shots of Rhona Mitra’s spandex clad booty. There’s plenty of that in Doomsday too, and it deserves at least an honorable mention.

All in all, this is Neil Marshall’s worst movie. That’s really impressive.


Driving Mos Daisy

2008 03/12

A review of Be Kind Rewind. (It’s good.)

Be Kind Rewind - Driving Mos DaisyThis is a surreal movie. Not because Michel Gondry is a prankster of an art designer who exclusively makes films that are dreamscapes. But because, god damn it, I worked in that video store. No, not the titular video store, but West Coast Video, the rival. The manifestation of corporate evil. I wore the light blue denim uniform. I hung the cheap purple and yellow paper signs on the walls. I alphabetized the DVDs. My video store is in a Michel Gondry movie. Weird.

And make no mistake, this is a movie for video store clerks, for all movie lovers. The centerpiece of the film is as artsy high-concept as it gets: video clerks are forced to remake, or mis-remake, the modern classics of cinema – a process they call “Sweding”. These ultra-low budget adaptations of Hollywood blockbusters provide a perfect venue for Gondry to flex his inventive art design muscles. The result is spectacular; visually, comedically, poignantly. And while it helps if you’ve seen the movies that Mos and Black “swede” (Ghostbusters, Rush Hour 2, Driving Miss Daisy, who hasn’t seen these?) it’ll be a fun ride either way.

The performances all hit their marks. Jack Black’s absurd side kick antics compliment Mos Def’s Woody Allen-esque anxiety. And after watching far too much Will Ferrell, it’s worth appreciating that Jack Black’s comedy still doesn’t feel like schtick.

At times, the movie gets a little too cute for my taste, and Gondry’s art school style isn’t for everyone. But it’s good. Overall, it just works.

P.S. Michel Gondry “sweded” the trailer for Be Kind Rewind. Here it is:


Semi-Pro

2008 03/11

A review of Semi-Pro. (It’s okay.)

I’m Jackie Moon?Surely, you are aware that Will Ferrell’s schtick is growing tiresome. Kicking and Screaming, Talladega Nights, Blades of Glory… It’s obvious that there’s a formula at work here, and watching Will Ferrell sports movies is going to eventually get tiresome for everybody. It bothers me because it seems like creative executives aren’t being creative, they’re saying, “Hey, let’s give Will Ferrell a funny job and just let him go crazy!”

So going into this movie, we already know a few things about it. We know Ferrell will shout a lot, there will be wacky clothing, and wacky attitudes, and there will be a great supporting cast. Thus, it would seem, came Semi-Pro.

However, this phenomenon, the Will Ferrell schtick, has blossomed to a point where filmmakers can actively combat it or endorse it. Films like Stranger Than Fiction rein him in, while ones like Blades of Glory let him loose. One would hope that a balance could be struck, and Semi-Pro is an odd movie for just this reason. Because while the movie would have you believe that Ferrell’s “Jackie Moon” is the hero of the film, he’s not. He’s actually the antagonist.

After the first act, the Tropics trade for a grizzled, old point-guard (Woody Harrelson) and there’s an odd switch in the film’s focus. Harrelson’s Monix is a complex character, attempting to rebuild a lost relationship with his ex-wife, living off the glory of having played in the NBA (he’s basically Crash Davis from Bull Durham), and he quickly takes over coaching the team, prompting them towards fundamental play and an unlikely winning streak. That sounds like a lead role, doesn’t it?

Farrell’s character does nothing to provide momentum. Instead, many of the obstacles that the team must overcome involve simply getting Jackie Moon to calm down. His passion for the team and outlandish promotions hinder the team more than they help, to the point where the opposing ideologies of basketball, fundamental vs. fun, become the difference between Monix and Moon. In the end, of course, both are needed.

What a strange concept, structurally. It’s almost as if the script was written and then, years later, rewritten to give a minor but humorous character the lead because Ferrell was attached. It’s as if they knew Ferrell would steal the movie, so they preemptively gave it to him. However off-putting this strategy is, it does seem to work. Will Ferrell does his schtick, but is eventually relegated to a supporting cast member as the other characters, most notably Harrelson and Andre 3000, assert themselves on the plot.

There’s a bottom line here, and that is: Semi-Pro is funny. Ferrell hadn’t been really funny in a while, and this is a good comedy. It’s also a great sports movie. There aren’t many good basketball comedies… Celtic PrideLike Mike… Semi-Pro belongs near the head of the “good basketball comedies” list.

 

A Graphical Representation of Will Ferrell’s Humorousness over Time

A Graphical Representation of Will Ferrell’s Humorousness over Time

Don’t ask me about the mathematical data used in the calculation of this graph. It’s overly complex, and would take days to explain it to a layman like you. Rest assured, it’s very scientific. Furthermore, the formula contained herein is proprietary and I simply can’t allow it to fall into the wrong hands.


Giant Killer Ostriches? Wha?

2008 03/09

A review of 10,000 B.C. (It’s okay.)

prehistoric AmericansYou know who’s repetitive? Roland Emmerich. That’s who’s repetitive. Roland Emmerich is. Repetitive. I mean, I like the guy. I think the one movie he makes over and over again is pretty awesome.

Independence Day is probably his best work. The Patriot was good too, definitely a fun movie. Funny how both of those got released on the 4th of July. Oh wait, no. It’s just repetitive. Surely a movie called 10,000 B.C. isn’t about the American quest for freedom…. no, wait. It is.

A prehistoric tribe is attacked without warning by evil Arabians that believe in a different and strange God (cough, cough, 9/11, cough). Citizens are killed, girlfriends stolen, et cetera. In order to reclaim his bride to be, our hero is forced to unite the world and bring the battle back to Egypt. At least, I think it’s Egypt. The geography is pretty muddled, but I assume it’s Egypt based on the pyramids involved. I suppose that could have been a clever red herring.

The film has its Emmerich moments. It has some awesome battles in the second half of the movie, and old Rolly always makes it fun to see the bad guys collect their comeuppance. It’s not hard to imagine the producer reading the script and avidly checking off each one of his mega-hit bullet points.

Sabertooth TigerCGI monsters
spectacle location
allegory for American freedom
mysterious prophecy
personal stake for the hero
ticking time bomb

All the ingredients for a blockbuster billion dollar movie. Except one.

story ×

Am I getting too cynical out here? I double checked with Rotten Tomatoes, just to find out what color crack I’m smoking, and guess what? No pipe. They gave it one of the lowest ratings I’ve ever seen.

Surely, it wasn’t that bad a movie. There’s way too much narration, which is plodding and intrusive, the characters are so archetypal that they need no explanation, and the plot is more predictable than a cereal box maze.

But woolly mammoths are cool, dammit. Sabertooth tigers are cool. Giant killer ostriches are cool. These are the facts and they are indisputable. Wait, giant killer ostriches? Wha?

Well, they’re ostriches, but I mean they’re the GIANT, killer kind of ostriches. Maybe you need to see the movie to believe it. They’re cool, I swear.

Anyway, I had a point. This isn’t the billion dollar movie that Mark Gordon wanted, but that’s because it plays the story so damn safe. Awesome CG monsters can only get you so far before you’re faced with the fact that a story is kinda, sorta, maybe important to film making.

Whoops!


London Calling

2008 03/08

A review of The Bank Job. (It’s okay.)

DisappointmentIt was a movie that had everything going for it. It had Jason Statham, star of The Transporter and Crank, two very fun action movies. It had Roger Donaldson, the director of No Way Out and The Recruit, two smart, suspenseful spy movies. It was based on a true story, a daring tale of the greatest robbery in the history of the U.K. So what the hell went wrong? Why is this movie so boring?

A big part of it is Hollywood’s obsession with true stories. Guess what, execs. True stories sort of suck. Do you really think that, all things being equal, telling an audience that a story is factual really helps them suspend their disbelief and dive in? I don’t. I think it gets in the way. I think the desire to be faithful to the truth impedes your creativity. It forces you to be loyal to the elements of a story that really aren’t that interesting. I think it seduces you into thinking that what you have is a great story readymade for mass consumption and it forces you to forget that at its core, this is supposed to be a heist movie, god damn it.

That’s the real problem here. It takes a solid hour for The Bank Job to take off and get fun. That’s an hour spent juggling intrigue and political allegiances, an hour of setting up characters that are peripheral at best. Abbreviatedly, an hour of exposition. About 5 minutes in, they basically sit you down like a child and explain the plot. And that would have been just fine with me if it meant the storytellers would get out of my way and let me watch a bunch of robbers planning and executing a freaking heist. But no. We have to see these spies planning this double cross, and these other guys being set up by the government. The worst is that there could have been some really good twists in this movie, if it weren’t for all the exposition. Keeping all these subplots in the air makes the film come across as smart, but in the end, it’s too smart for its own good.

Get CarterAnd another thing. The trailer for this movie is BADASS because they plug in The Clash’s London Calling, and it fits perfectly. It sells you on the idea that this movie is a throwback to the great British caper flicks of the 60s and 70s. It calls back Michael Caine in Get Carter (No, not the remake) and The Italian Job (No, not the remake). But when the platters finish spinning on The Bank Job, London Calling has gone M.I.A. (A phenomenon discussed at length here). The trailer proves that London Calling would have MADE a montage in this flick. It’s a shame. The trailer editors were just a little bit smarter, brighter, and better funded than the guys who actually cut the movie.

My rhetoric’s getting out of control here, so let me simplify. This movie isn’t that bad.
Statham – solid.
Donaldson’s direction – solid.
Plot, tension, excitement – solid.

So yeah, The Bank Job is a disappointment, but that’s only because it could have been awesome, and it isn’t. It’s just okay. But okay is pretty good.


Motherjumping Jumpers

2008 02/21

A review of Jumper. (It’s stupid.)

Jumper starring Samuel L. Jackson and some other guySometimes you go see a movie even though you know it sucks. It’s inspiring, in a way. You often learn a lot about how to make movies by learning what not to do. So I thought maybe with Jumper I could learn a lot.

I was wrong.

There is nothing to be learned, gained, or laughed at about this movie. It’s not hilariously bad or even amusingly bad. It’s just bad.

Let’s examine this as a super hero movie:

  • Super power? Teleportation. Meh. They really try to spice it up with shock waves caused by each teleport, but it’s got a cool factor of zero point three.
  • Who is the hero? Just some dude. Fine.
  • Who does he become once he gets his powers? Some rich dude who saves money on airfare.
  • What about the villain? A PG-13 Samuel L. Jackson with a tazer. If anything could have saved this movie it would have been a ridiculous Snakes on a Plane-esque rant about those mofo jumpers.

So bad superpower, bad hero, bad villain. And it’s PG-13! At least a bad R-rated movie can be violent. Add in a sobbing back story and some predictable twists and you’ve got a movie that was probably written in a week and a half.

But Doug Liman is a good director. He made Swingers, Go, and The Bourne Identity. As good as he is, David S Goyer is an even better screenwriter, especially for super hero movies. The dude wrote Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and Blades 1, 2, and 3. He wrote Dark City. He’s helming the new Magneto movie. You would think these two could handle a trashy comic book flick with flair and excitement.

Jumper doesn’t take itself seriously enough to be totally laughed at. It’s a frustrating attempt at Steve McQueen cool that doesn’t make it halfway to Rip Taylor. And can we finally stop giving Hayden Christensen roles in movies yet? Probably not. The freaking thing  is making money. Which sort of proves me right. Goyer is a good screenwriter. Liman is a good director. This movie sucks, but a lot of people are seeing it anyway.

Blah.