Sunday, March 28, 2010

Valentine's Day - *

There are too many characters to keep track of in this year's Valentine's Day ensemble romantic comedy, appropriately titled Valentine's Day, and it seems that their only function is to be played half-assedly by a recognizable actor. Or that's how it feels anyway. Taking place over the course of one day, the screenplay weaves the lives of all twenty-two (thousand) characters in and out of each other's paths until they all intersect in some way: the gay football player's agent is in love with the newscaster who interviews the flower guy whose best friend is in love with a married guy who earlier bought flowers from the flower guy... and it grows tiresome pretty quickly. Director Garry Marshall uses all of this to his advantage, capturing the true essence of Valentine's Day, a day devoid of any genuine romance or charm. The film feels like a product from start to finish, resembling a cheap line in a greeting card more than an actual expression of endearment. The only authentic moment in the entire thing is when Jessica Biel calls for more chocolate, and Jamie Foxx yells out, "I'm the chocolate!"

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Wolfman - *

Haha. Academy Award winner Benicio Del-Toro stars in the absurdly awful new update of the classic monster movie, The Wolfman. And wow is it bad. Rarely can you tell how awful a film is going to be from the first frame, but The Wolfman achieves it, and it's perhaps the highest achievement of the film. What is the first frame? It's the prologue, etched on a headstone with awfully fake-looking blood pouring over the words, "Even the purest of hearts can be changed by the bite of I'm bored already" to the tune of a soulless, already defeated Danny Elfman score (what the hell happened to that guy?).

The story is absolute nonsense, despite being written by Seven screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker, but I'm going to describe it anyway, because it's hilarious. Del-Toro comes to town as an investigator trying to find out what happened to his brother, who was mysteriously and brutally murdered. A wolf man did it, and on the next full moon he gets the bite himself, and even his pure heart is changed by it. The townsfolk start to suspect he is the wolf man, and next full moon he starts noticing some changes and consults dad about it, played by Sir Anthony Hopkins, who at this point is just shitting all over his name by choosing movies like this. Dad locks him up and tells him that they are both wolfmen, and he leaves to go terrorize the town, so that he can frame Del-Toro, quit the biz and live it up undetected. The next morning Del Toro is found outside in tattered clothes, and is sent to a hospital. The rest is just build-up to the final showdown between the two of them.

It is possible that this screenplay could have been made into a fun midnight movie, if it had been told with a wink to the audience. But instead it is handled with the utmost gravity, as though it is possible to take something like this seriously. There is also a subplot involving the dead brother's fiance that never registers as even mildly interesting.

If you are unfortunate enough to see this film, your viewing experience will invariably devolve into counting how many times the camera pans up to reveal a full moon, or how many close-ups of someone's eye there are when a man is changing into a wolf man, or how many CGI animals there are and why there are so many in a film which legendary effects designer Rick Baker worked on (if you haven't seen Videodrome you should find a dunce cap that fits you). Or you might just wonder how many people are there in this small town in the 19th century that has been ravaged by a wolf man for so many years, killing a dozen people every full moon. As for me, I found myself wondering whether or not a better film could be made about a wolf who is bitten by a man, and how that would affect his status in the wolf community. Would the Manwolf grow opposable thumbs on full moons and try to domesticate them? There's a great film in there somewhere.

Luckily I had a private screening of this film with my brother and a friend and a large pizza, otherwise it would have been a miserable two hours (yes, this drivel is two hours long). We went in thinking it might be any good, but by minute number two we gave each other permission to shout out derisory remarks. Honestly, there is nothing good about this film. Except for the pizza.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Dear John - **

Why put Richard Jenkins in a movie if this is what you're going to do with him? In Dear John Jenkins plays John's father, an autistic coin collector who is afraid of going out of the house. He gets about three scenes, which I have a hard time remembering because I spent them hoping that he got a big paycheck. As for the rest of the film, it's pretty standard fare, filled with generic emotion designed to jerk tears from lonely women.

There is nothing too aggressively bad about Dear John, but there is also nothing remarkable about it. It has no real ambition to be anything more than typical. It's adapted from a Nicholas Sparks novel, the man responsible for such gems as A Walk to Remember and Nights in Rodanthe as well as 2004's only-watchable-because-it-has-Rachel-McAdams-and Ryan-Gosling-in-it-but-even-still-not-really-that-great The Notebook. The plot is very similar to The Notebook: Guy falls in love with girl, goes away for a while and in the meantime the girl settle down with another guy, only to break the heart of the original guy when he returns home. But the difference between the two films is that this one doesn't have two great actors to carry it above it's painful schmaltziness. Despite a good performance in last year's extremely underrated Fighting, I'm still not sold on Channing Tatum, who just looks like he's trying to act. In this he reminds me a bit of Hayden Christiansen in Attack of the Clones, kind of wooden, and a little whiny, like he's always trying to cry but can't find the tears. Or maybe we can just blame it on what he is given to work with.

The film is directed by the talented Lasse Halstrom, but you wouldn't know it because it has absolutely no style. Aside from a one minute montage in which we see the process of a letter being sent home from a soldier in Iraq, there is nothing interesting at all going on visually, so all we are left with when it is over is the thought of what else we could have done with two hours and seven bucks.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

From Paris with Love - **

At times in the awkwardly titled From Paris with Love it feels like John Travolta is playing an annoying parody of himself, and it grows tiresome almost instantly. But he slowly works his way back into your good graces and makes a fun character out of it. Boy, I wish I could say the same of Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, who is painful to watch from the start. To his credit, it is not all his fault. He is given absolutely zero to work with, playing a someone whose character arc is obvious from scene 1. He is the straight man to Travolta's "unpredictable" (you'll predict almost everything) wild man, which means he is burdened with the task of setting up every attempt at comedy, like when he sees Travolta meeting with a shady guy in an alley and walks back with a brown paper sack and has to say something like, "C'mon [Travolta], drugs? We're working, you can't get high!" Turns out it's just a pair of Royales with cheese. Oh, and that's not the only time that reference is made in the film, and all of these set-ups are as pathetic and poorly carried off as that one, but Travolta makes it work well enough not to hate it.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

When in Rome - *1/2

Nothing unexpected happens in When in Rome. Is that good or bad? Your call. Girl in love with job has no time for men until she goes to Rome for her sister's wedding and falls in love with a guy, mistake's guy's sister for guy's girlfriend, gets drunk, takes coins out of a magic fountain and owners of coins instantly fall in love with girl. I refuse to put any more effort into a plot description of this film because there was no more effort than that put into the plot itself. It's formulaic, silly, ridiculous and sometimes downright stupid, but it's almost made tolerable by the small parts, like Danny DeVito as one of Kristen Bell's suitors who owns a sausage factory and constantly tries to woo her with fancy sausage links. Any other actor and that's dull, even for this movie, but DeVito has the stuff to pull it off. Jon Heder plays Napoleon Dynamite the fourth (this is his fourth film, right?), this incarnation being a shitty magician, and believe it or not he is actually funny some of the time. Overall not good, but not all wretched, either.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Legion - *1/2

The fate of the world and the future of the human race is at stake as a ragtag group of unlikely heroes band together to battle the forces of evil. Sound familiar? It is, but for a while the premise and execution are campy enough to be entertaining; an encounter with the Ice-Cream Man will probably end up in the running as one of the most awesomely cheesy scenes of the year.

The problem comes in the second act, when it appears that nobody knows what to do. The action and the cheap special-effects stop, and Paul Bettany shows up as a renegade angel and explains the situation: Charlie is pregnant, God has sent some mean angels to kill the baby because he is pissed off at mankind. Bettany is here to prevent this, because he understands that God doesn't really want this--Holy shit, is it as boring to read as it is to write? Flashbacks, philosophizing, and life lessons follow in a series of expository sequences in a film that essentially has no real story to tell, which culminate in one curiously anti-climactic end-all battle between Bettany's good angel, and some other angel whose name I didn't care to remember.

Edge of Darkness - *

In theory Edge of Darkness sounds great: Mel Gibson in a gritty revenge-thriller directed by Martin Campbell, the guy that did Casino Royale! In practice, in short, it's a piece of shit. It's the type of film that makes your iPhone bill well worth the money. There's relatively no action, awful performances, and boring dialogue that only serves to set up underwhelming payoffs. I can't think of a movie in which it feels like actors are straining so hard to have an accent... and failing at it. Even London born Ray Winstone seems like he's trying to sound British, and menacing, and he goes oh-for-two. The political/corporate conspiracy plot is incoherent, but that doesn't matter, because even as you check's price for the Lethal Weapon Blu-ray, you'll still be able to sort it out, because you've seen it a hundred times. Aside from a few decent line deliveries from Danny Huston, there's nothing, at all, to see here.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Book of Eli - *

A drifter blows into town and causes all sorts of havoc in The Book of Eli. It's a pretty old story and has been given much better treatment from many better films in the past, but Eli twists it, making it an apocalyptic western with religious themes. Eli is a man of faith who has been walking around with a machete for fifteen years looking for something God told him he would find but when his iPod battery runs out, he needs to go into town to get it charged and starts some shit with the locals. Mayhem ensues.

The film opens pretty well, although perhaps my judgement was clouded by my love for directors the Hughes Brothers, who are responsible for Menace II Society and the criminally underrated Dead Presidents. Whether it was ever actually good or not doesn't really matter, because by the thirty minute mark, the bleached-out color tone has already blanked out your desire to care about what is happening. After a while you resign yourself to only noting silly details, like when Eli visits an elderly couple and realizes while sitting on their couch that they are cannibals who wish to eat him, just before their house gets shot up by Gary Oldman and his gang, who are trying to get ahold of Eli's Bible (the last one in existence, we're told) so he can use it to control people. Why he needs the Bible is never really clear, because he already rules the town. The silliest twist comes at the end, though, and it is almost worth spoiling, but I won't do it. Despite all of this, I will say that Gary Oldman is pretty excellent at times, and Denzel Washington is Denzel Washington, but they were both upstaged in what is the most memorable part of the film: a bartender asks Eli if he wants a glass of water, and some thirsty dickhead in the audience shouts, "Yeah."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Tooth Fairy - **

As lame as this film is a lot of the time, it could have been a lot worse. It's a routine execution of a potentially interesting premise: a former hockey star stuck in the minor leagues is sentenced to be a tooth fairy after he is caught crushing kids' dreams.

Though I actually kind of enjoyed it, I have to say that for a film about encouraging imagination and dreaming, The Tooth Fairy is about as devoid of creativity as they come. The fairy court or whatever it's actually called, looks and runs exactly like it would on earth: just a bunch of plain desks in an office setting that was phoned in by the set designer and bathed in white light (so we know that angels and stuff live there). That said, the film has an awkward charm that almost makes you question who the real target audience is, from a cameo by Family Guy's Seth MacFarlane as a drug-dealer for angels and fairies, peddling pixie dust an the like (almost unforgivable missed opportunity: angeldust) to a series of Billy Crystal scenes where he plays a Q-like character for fairies, demonstrating James Bond-like gadgets for troublesome fairy situations. Every moment Billy Crystal is on the screen is weird and even a little creepy, but in the best way.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

To Save a Life - 1/2*

High school douche-bag Jake Taylor attends his former best friend Roger's funeral. Let the over-zealous, somewhat hypocritical Christian moralizing begin. Jake has a flashback to the last time he had a conversation with Roger: Freshman year after his basketball game some hot babes invite Jake to a party. Whether it's because Roger's not on the basketball team, because he's black, or he's disabled, Roger isn't invited, so Jake leaves him on the street. Cut to four years later Roger is depressed and takes a gun to school and shoots himself in a crowded hallway. Jake wonders why nobody saw the signs; he does some Ganoogle searches about teen suicide and realizes he can help. He teams up with the local pastor at the church and starts preaching acceptance to his bros at school.

To Save a Life is basically a theatrical after-school special. It's plot is bogus, nonsensical, bullshit, pick a word. Things happen without logic or consequence, and the only reason things happen at all is to dispense some kind of moral, and that's really what the film boils down to: a series of vignette-like sequences that are aimed at some troubling issue. Nothing in the film seems at all genuine, none of the characters do anything that real people do and, like the plot points, exist more as conduits for Christian messages.

The only thing that saves this from being one of the worst experiences of my life is how much awkwardness there is in it, like the scene when a loser-friend of Roger's who Jake has taken under his wing, goes out on a date with a girl and they start to bond over the fact that they used to be wrist-cutters, before the kid drops his ice-cream into her lap, which ruins the moment. Better still is he picks it up and puts it back on his cone, tries to brush the melted remnants off her skirt and licks his fingers afterward. Scenes like this, and anticipating the drinking game people will play when this comes out on DVD, taking a drink every time there is a blatantly fake version of a real product or service the producers couldn't get the rights to (When was the last time Coca-Cola said no?) make this film kind of entertaining in the most unintentional way possible.

I saw this film on opening night at 7:00 with an almost sold-out crowd (I got there 5 minutes late and the only accessible seats were in the front row, off to the side) of Christians (I'm assuming they were Christians because who the Hell else would see this thing?) and the film didn't even work on them, at least not in the way it was intended to. Nobody was responding to the messages, and they all seemed to be laughing at the parts when the jocks make fun of the losers which, by the film's logic, is one of the causes of suicide.

The film has a happy moral ending, I guess: Jake's loser club is a big hit, his girlfriend doesn't get the abortion, he resolves some daddy issues, and the OurSpace page he creates about teen suicide gets some positive feedback. But who was changed by it? Judging by the crowd I was with I'd say it almost reinforces how much fun it is to make fun of people.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Extraordinary Measures - *1/2

As I have mentioned in previous posts, we started this blog about a month and a half late. So I have been trying to catch up on all of the movies that I have seen in the order that I saw them. I sat down a few minutes ago with the intention of writing about To Save a Life, which was a miserable piece of trash that I did not feel like thinking about, so I decided I'd go to the next film I saw after that. Upon consulting my film log for this year I realized that I saw Extraordinary Measures, which I had completely forgotten. For the past two weeks I have been thinking back on everything I've seen (except, apparently, Extraordinary Measures) and making notes on what to say about them, but not once did I remember this one until about four minutes ago. With that in mind, here are some of the things I do remember:

It felt like it was made for TV. It's a hokey, sappy story of a group of people banding together to cure disabled kids. Along the way they go up against the forces of evil corporate types that just want to make money off of the cure.

If it hadn't been based on a true story I would have been rooting for the kid to die.

I think Harrison Ford was in it. Yup, imdb says he was, but it doesn't state that this was the bored, old-age Harrison Ford who will say yes to anything, the Harrison Ford that will make you beg for the mediocrity of Indiana Jones 5.

I don't think I can remember the last time that I decided it was more important to go to the bathroom than actually watch the movie in its entirety.

When I went to the bathroom I was confident I wasn't missing anything.

The best part of the film was when I tweeted that a kid in a wheelchair had just bowled a strike, and a friend replied that Larry King would probably call it the best sports film of the year.

I checked late and Larry King did not actually make that comment, but it does sound like something he would say.

In the end they found the cure and the kid survived, and despite the fact that it was a true story, I felt that the filmmakers should have taken dramatic license and found the cure one minute too late.

Okay, maybe kids dying is a little harsh, but somebody should have died.

No, I take that back, I wish the kid would have died. This maudlin little story didn't have enough inspirational montages for the happy ending to be satisfying. It needed a little struggle, a little drama, or some shock moments. They could have at least had a moment where they thought the kid was dead, and had that shot of the heart monitor flat-lining, and then show Brendan Fraser and Harry Ford looking on in disbelief for a couple of seconds before they saw a couple of blips. But no, everyone was always safe. Kill the kid, I add a star to the rating.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Youth in Revolt - **

This is a one joke movie, with not enough of the joke. Michael Cera plays George-Michael Bluth Paulie Bleeker Nick Twisp, a boring loser who invents an alter-ego, Francois Dillinger so that he can impress a girl that he is in love with. Unfortunately Francois enters the film too late and isn't in it enough to make me want to like the parts he's absent from.

I saw this film about a month ago and can't remember any of the details, good or bad. And that's probably the most accurate way to describe the film: wholly forgettable.

The Spy Next Door - **1/2

Watching this film made me discover that the secret to making a great tough-guy-takes-care-of-children film is casting an actor that has trouble speaking English. And who better to cast than Jackie Chan, the new master of botching the English language? Watching Chan fumble over our language is one of the purest delights in modern cinema. Okay, maybe that's taking a little too far, but it's pretty fantastic, and I'm thoroughly convinced that the writers of this film were aware of that fact; why else would they burden Mr. Chan with the task of saying a word like "Frankenstein?" The film is worth watching for that one line.

You know the story: action star is entrusted with the care of children who don't like him. Hijinks ensue. While this is no Kindergarten Cop, The Spy Next Door actually does have a fair amount of charm. I went into this thing with a couple of derisory tweets already formulating in my head, but was surprised to find that Jackie Chan's tender side kind of makes this film work. As silly as it may sound, a scene in which Chan fights off a slew of bad guys while juggling a little girl's pet turtle is particularly entertaining. But silliness is what makes this film go: the villains are goofy, the plot is nonsensical, and it features a kid in third grade who accidentally downloads top-secret CIA documents onto his iPod, mistaking them for bootleg shows of an obscure German metal band. Yup, that really happened.

But don't get me wrong, this isn't a brilliant film. Even quite a bit of the aforementioned silliness doesn't exactly land, and there's plenty of awkwardness throughout, like when the kids' mother bakes them cookies, and then pretty much admonishes them for existing, because she can't pursue her own happiness with men that they don't like. And while one of the kids is kind of adorable, I sometimes felt like passing through the screen and rubbing Metal Kid's face in a pile of dirt. That said, I think that enough of this film works, and the stuff that doesn't is pretty harmless, and this film inspires more laughs than it ever should have, even if you're sometimes (a lot of the time) laughing at it. I wasn't always sure exactly why I was laughing, but the fact that I was laughing at all made this a pretty nice surprise.