Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I Want Your Money - No

I Want Your Money is the first movie this year that I have walked out on, so I can't really rate it. Not fairly anyway, but I definitely saw enough to get the idea. It was sort of a rule for this project not to walk out on movies, but I'm not even sure that I Want Your Money is even qualified enough to be called a movie, so out I walked. For those unfamiliar with this thing, which I hope is all of you, it is basically a piece of propaganda that alleges that Ronald Reagan was the greatest president we've ever had, and that Barack Obama is little more than a dunce. It's director and narrator, Ray Griggs, uses random facts to create meaningless arguments: "When Ronald Reagan won the election, he won 44 states, Barack Obama only won 28 states in his election." What does that mean? Nothing! Nothing at all. What's worse is that Griggs desperately wants to be the conservative Michael Moore, so I Want Your Money consists mainly of random stock footage and poorly animated cartoons. The result is neither funny nor accurate, but rather infuriating both as a film fan, and as an American citizen.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Jackass 3D - Yes

There's really no way to rate Jackass 3D. It's not for everyone, but it happens to be for me, and I was glad to see that not only has it not lost its edge in the four years since Number Two, or the decade or so since it began, but it is maybe the third film that I have seen that actually takes advantage of 3D rather than simply making me pay an extra $4 to wear glasses and be distracted. That may sound like an overstatement, but that's because you haven't seen Bam Margera surprise people by pissing on them, with the camera at the base of his penis... the depth of frame is stunning, especially when he does it off of a trailer! Or when the dildo gets shot out of a potato gun and jiggles and writhes in super slow motion past miniature models of the Pyramids and the Eiffel Tower, through a glass of milk and into a guy's face! Is it art? Mmmmmmmmmmm... Sure. Or maybe not. But it's certainly all the glory of big budget immaturity you could ever hope to see in one sitting. That's got to count for something.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday, October 15, 2010

Notes 10/4-10/10

Monday 10/4:
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
The Social Network

Tuesday 10/5:
Daddy Longlegs
Mao's Last Dancer
Let Me In

You may have noticed that I changed a couple of ratings earlier this week from zero to half. I noticed that I was a little heavy on zero star ratings after seeing that I had more of them than any other rating so far. Now this is probably due to the fact that I don't have a lot of time to update consistently (right now I am approximately fifty movies behind), and shitty movies are just a lot easier, and a lot more fun to write about than good ones, and so I imagine the remaining fifty will probably balance everything out in bell-curve fashion, but nevertheless I realize I got a little carried away after sitting through a horrible double feature. While the films in question, Legend of the Guardians and You Again are completely miserable films in every way, I'm not sure they're on the level of the worst I've ever seen, or even the worst of this year. It's not necessarily that they had redeeming qualities... I actually can't think of any for either film. You Again actually did have about two funny lines, but that's not the point. The point is that they just weren't that difficult to sit through. They were more like steady pokes in the side, rather than a full on punch in the stomach like Brooklyn's Finest or Sex and the City 2. In other words, the experience of watching them was less awful than it could have been. I groaned, squirmed in my seat, took out my phone and yelled at the screen a lot less in these than I have in other films this year, and that does count for something, because that's ultimately what I base my opinion on... my experience while watching the movie. People always argue with me that a movie is good because it has a good story; a guy that I work with has been arguing with me for weeks that John Wayne was better than Clint Eastwood because Wayne's films had morals. Well, a movie can have a great story, observation, theme, message, moral, whatever, but if it isn't presented in a way that is at all entertaining, why do I give a shit? I don't think that people connected with The Hurt Locker so much last year simply because it had a good story. No, it was because that film was just pure, heart-pounding, visceral experience. Or at least that's what did it for me. And that's essentially what I look for in a movie, and what I try to relate when writing about them: my impression of what it's like to watch each movie. To analyze story and themes, or provide a bunch of non-essential details would probably just be boring to read, which is probably the reason that I am fifty movies behind. Most of them were pretty good, and it's pretty difficult to come up with something interesting or worthwhile to say about a good movie that hasn't already been said. But I'll get around to them. Sometime.

Also, feel free to leave comments or email me or something, especially if you disagree with any of my opinions. I think the Twitter and Facebook information is on the sidebar somewhere. I'd be happy to argue with you, and it's also much more motivating to update this thing if I know somebody is reading it, and an argument is more fun than getting a text-message from a friend asking why I haven't posted anything in two weeks.

Weirdest Google search that landed somebody in Denzel, WA this week: people from Canada, Germany, Belgium, India, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, three different areas of Australia, and the Isle of Man searching for pictures from Cats and Dogs 2. Thanks for all your eight-second visits, International Pet-Spy Film Connoisseurs.

Secretariat - 1/2*

Secretariat features three different types of dialogue: 1) Obviously Expository: "I've got a meeting with Ogden Phipps." "Ogden Phipps... the richest man in America?" "Yes." 2) Expressions of Doubt Right Before Secretariat Wins a Race: "Why is he hanging back so long?" "I can't watch this." "We're done." 3) Trite Qualifiers for How Fast Secretariat is Running Instead of Just Showing It: "No horse can go that fast!" "Have you ever seen a horse run that fast?" "That's impossible!" "Unbelievable!" "I don't believe it!" And when the audience dozes off for a couple of minutes and misses the dialogue, the generic score will tell them exactly what's happening, like when Secretariat is making a move to win, or when somebody dies. So don't worry, you'll never be lost. If someone drags you to this thing, kill the popcorn and volunteer to get more, or take an extra long doodie and play some games on your phone, or better yet, YouTube the videos of the actual Triple Crown races that Secretariat won... I assure you you'll find a lot more excitement in those videos, and maybe even better cinematography, and Secretariat will definitely not cross the finish line to the tune of a Gospel hymn and a scripture reading.

Secretariat packs enough drama into any scene to launch a spin-off film, and when things aren't really that dramatic, they're made dramatic, like when Diane Lane's character, Penny receives a phone call with news that her (at least) seventy-five year-old mother passed away (peacefully), the news is shocking enough for director Randall Wallace to end the scene with a shot of her dropping the bowl of pancake batter she was mixing. They're not afraid to radically condense details, either, like when Penny sits down for breakfast in a diner, and someone comes in with a newspaper declaring Secretariat "Horse of the Year" and everybody stands up and cheers (Yay!), only to be followed by a friend informing Penny that her father just died (Aw, shucks). You'd think that Disney would have mastered the annual inspirational sports movie by now... They haven't. Not by a long shot.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

It's Kind of a Funny Story - ***1/2

Creating humor out of a group of mental patients isn't a very difficult task, but creating interesting characters who actually feel like real people out of a group of mental patients is. There may be a lot of fun to be had in It's Kind of a Funny Story, but there is a lot more truth in it. Though it may be a little formulaic in some areas, its flaws are more than overcome by its wit and intelligence, and by a somewhat surprisingly great performance from Zack Galifianakis, who is finally getting, and hopefully staying, away from just being the awkwardly quiet deliverer of one-liners in the background. The brilliance of the movie, and of all of its performances, is that the focus is less about comedy, and more about characters who happen to be naturally funny, which allows this material to breathe a little bit without being burdened with the task of churning out a laugh with every other line of dialogue. The result certainly happens to be very funny, but also honest and heartfelt.

I could almost see this film being co-opted by this year's high school seniors and college freshmen as the movie that totally defines who they are, like a Juno or a (500) Days of Summer, but the difference between this and those is that this never sacrifices its integrity for unnecessarily over-cute dialogue exchanges and directorial flourishes. Instead it's just a simple portrait of a teenager unable to decide what he wants to do with his life. The course that the film takes to figure this out is definitely odd, but it's honest, and it's fantastic.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Jack Goes Boating - ***1/2

It doesn't seem that a film like Jack Goes Boating should work nearly as well as it does. It's really bizarre. It's as if a really funny script is being played with the utmost seriousness by four brilliant actors, which somehow makes it even funnier. Or at least I hope the laughs were intentional, because there were so goddamn many of them. The film is essentially a master class in awkward tension and brutal comedy. For about the first half I wasn't sure what to make of it. There doesn't seem to be much going on, but less a story than a character study of four people who do not know how to act in each other's presence, as though they bring out each other's flaws. But at the same time I found myself identifying with these people, and really caring for them, and beneath all of the awkwardness, the weirdness, and the tension, Jack Goes Boating ends up being really sweet, though it takes the most absurd path to get there.

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole - 1/2*

Crises pop up everywhere in Legend of the Guardians, crises that are solved almost immediately. It's actually astonishing that the film made it to feature length. Honestly it's surprising. There is about three minutes of character introduction and development: two young owl brothers who can't fly yet practice floating between a few branches. One can do it, the other can't. Guess who the jealous one is... bingo. One night he pushes his brother out of the tree and they land on the ground and are swept up by mean owls bent on owl-world domination and flown to a mountain where a "pure" army is being assembled and slaves are being "moon-blinked" into a zombie-like state after staring at the moon before they go to sleep. Or something like that. Bad Brother betrays Good Brother and joins the evil army, while Good Brother avoids a moon-blinking and vows in a rousing inspirational monologue to spend every unwatched minute learning to fly, even if it takes him the rest of his life, so that he can escape and bring help to the others. Luckily this happens the next day.

Nonsense this pure and narrative convenience this extreme are rare, especially in combination, but poorly thought-out easy plot resolutions permeate the entirety of Clumsily-Titled Owl Movie. In addition, the human expressions put on the owls' faces are creepy, the movie is pretty ugly to look at, all of the voices sound exactly the same, and the soundtrack is obnoxious to its core.

And when I wasn't preoccupied with any of that, all I could do was wonder why this story was told with owls. There is no reason I can come up with to explain it. I don't even understand the world in which it is set. There are no natural predators of owls, just other owls, who have somehow fashioned helmets and sword-claws for themselves. It lacks creativity of any kind, not to mention cinematic craftsmanship, coherence, and fun. It's an epic adventure story that completely skips over the journey, or characters bonding, or even characters at all. And other than talking animals, there's really nothing in it that even a kid would enjoy. Anything positive that I may have taken from this film I have already forgotten. Hopefully I can do the same for the rest of this bullshit.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

You Again - 1/2*

The lazy writing in You Again produces bad jokes, boring characters whose motivations are largely unclear, rich people who can be bribed into doing things they do not want to do for twenty dollars, tired cliches, silly coincidences, the expected unexpected reconciliation between characters who hate each other, poor narrative devices, and characters with apparent on-and-off memory loss that are all very convenient for the film. Unfortunately it's inconvenient for anyone that has to watch it all in one sitting.

The Karate Kid - ***

The 1980s are cool... again. Or at least that's what Hollywood thinks. 80s throwbacks, homages, updates, re-makes, reboots, and spoofs are all the rage these days, and the new Karate Kid had all the potential, and expectation, to simply be lumped in as another generic rip-off of a popular 80s classic. Surprisingly that's not what it actually is. Instead it's not only a worthy re-make, but also a really good film in its own right. The best thing that I can say about the The Karate Kid is that it feels new. Though it tells the same story as the original film, but in a different way, which is always nice, despite what fans might think. Why bother watching a re-make if it's exactly the same as the film on which it's based? Maybe it's just that the story is transplanted to China and follows a twelve year-old Jaden Smith, but it has a freshness to it that will make you forget to look for similarities with the original. At 140 minutes, the film runs a little too long and, to be honest, the first half hour could easily have been trimmed, though it does contain a few nice character moments. But once you get past that, and Jackie Chan enters, it's a really enjoyable film. I never thought I'd say it, but Jackie Chan gives an amazing performance, one of the best of the year, even. And Jaden Smith isn't so bad, either. It's not a perfect movie, but it's a lot better than it needed to be.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Ramona and Beezus - **1/2

The first half of Ramona and Beezus is kind of an annoying experience, especially if you're over the age of six. During this forty-five minute period everyone in Ramona's life treats her like a nuisance and condescends to her whenever she opens her mouth. The hyper-polished look and obnoxiously over-cute tone led me to the early conclusion that this would be yet another children's film with no joy and an obvious message. I was wrong, or half wrong anyway, because that description certainly does suit the first half of the film well. But then it eases up somewhat, and with the help of a nice supporting performance from Transformers' Josh Duhamel of all people, Ramona and Beezus gently glides into the territory of genuine sincerity. Though the obvious message remains, the film is made for kids, not a twenty-three year-olds. And when the message is to be yourself, and let your imagination run wild, I'm not going to bitch too loudly.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Knight and Day - ***

Though it was ignored by most people and shit on by the rest, Knight and Day succeeds more than enough of the time to make its reception seem unfair. Though you may think the title is awkward and the cast is questionable, Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz will make you remember why they became stars in the first place. While I am a big fan of Cruise, I haven't been able to say that I enjoyed Diaz in a movie in more than five years, but here they are fantastic together, alternating roles as straight man and funny man to great effect. Cruise is as charming as ever, constantly on the verge of being over-the-top in the best way, especially considering the plot and tone call for exactly that. Though it may devolve into silly nonsense in the third act, it's nothing that these two stars can't keep afloat.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Social Network - ****

The Social Network isn't flashy or fast-paced or full of distracting stylistic flourishes. It's straightforward, precise, and steadily paced... it is completely assured film making, and it inspires nothing but confidence in its viewer from the first frame. Its opening scene, like all of its scenes, is a micro-masterpiece, masterfully written, lit with perfection and purpose, and flawlessly performed. It also features one of the best lines to kick-start and encapsulate a film I've ever heard: "You're probably going to be very successful some day, and when girls don't like you, you're going to think it's because you're a nerd, but it's really because you're an asshole."

When I first heard about "the Facebook movie," I thought it was a stupid idea, but that was before I learned that it was about the creation of Facebook, and not a series of trite observations from loose acquaintances. It couldn't be more the opposite of what Facebook has become, and I can assure you that The Social Network tells a fascinating story that transcends an Internet fad.

The truly great thing about the film is Mark Zuckerberg. There is some debate over how right or wrong it was of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin to take liberties with this story, which has Zuckerberg doing some pretty awful things. But what it amounts to is one of the most interesting, engaging, and entertaining characters I've ever seen. I actually found myself rooting for him to screw over all of his friends and explain why he is better than they are, because he does it so gracefully, so fluently, and so goddamn entertainingly that it is absolutely irresistible. I actually found myself wanting to be him at times, despite the fact that what I know about him leads me to believe that he is a complete asshole. But he makes for such an amazing character, and I think that that's one of the great things about movies: when you can trust and root for somebody you would never want to know in real life. The Social Network is at once great escapism and painfully poignant, and it's a masterpiece.

Let Me In - *

Here we go with yet another completely unnecessary remake, this time of the criminally overrated Swedish vampire film, Let the Right One In. Director Matt Reeves, who tried, and failed, to elevate the giant monster genre a few years ago with the over-hyped, under-scripted Cloverfield, tries, and fails again, to elevate the vampire genre with the renamed replica Let Me In.

For some reason Reeves decided to set his film in 1983, 1983 via 2010, with every character dressing like contemporary Brooklyn hipsters, and playing Ms. Pac-Man while Ronald Reagan constantly addresses America. There's nothing in the actual style, the cinematic style, of Let Me In that feels like the 80s, an idea that could have worked for a schlocky vampire film, but Reeves desperately wants his film to be legitimate, despite setting it in the 80s for the cool factor.

The big problem I have with this film, which is the same problem I had with the original, is that there are too many subplots to maintain. The film is essentially about a twelve year-old boy who is bullied in school falling in love with a vicious twelve year-old-looking vampire girl. But there is a sizable portion of the film devoted to her caretaker, who goes around draining the blood from people for her to consume, which causes an absurdly half-assed police investigation by a detective unworthy for even a campy film. Who hasn't seen enough movies to know that you should watch for the peephole to darken when knocking on a suspect's door before giving up? The real issue is that these subplots add nothing at all to the film, other than forty-five minutes, and essentially end up cancelling each other out.

All that aside, I will say that the film looks pretty good. It's full of snowy nights and neon lights, which are captured brilliantly by Reeve's cinematographer, Greig Fraser. Also contributing some of Reeve's desired legitimacy is Chloe Grace-Moretz, who already wowed us this year as Hit Girl in Kick-Ass, and wows again in a much more subdued performance. She's about the only thing worth watching in this film, which is high praise for a movie co-starring the under-appreciated Richard Jenkins and Elias Koteas, or maybe it's just low praise for Matt Reeves for making Jenkins wear a bag over his head as he limps around, mumbling his nine lines, and putting Koteas in an equally thankless role. Yeah, let's call it low praise for Reeves... all around.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Notes 9/27-10/3

Monday 9/27:
Easy A
Alpha and Omega

Tuesday 9/28:
Resident Evil: Afterlife 3D
The Virginity Hit
Cairo Time
Animal Kingdom
The Town

One thing that I have come to realize this year is that it doesn't take much to be a hit at Sundance, or Venice, or even Cannes. Both Cairo Time and Animal Kingdom boast some prizes and "Official Selection" from some of these festivals and they both turn out to be more-or-less worthless. Pretentious gets you pretty far in the world of independent cinema, even, and maybe especially, if the film is empty, devoid of any attempt to entertain. I used to buy into these types of pretentious films... A few years ago I would have fallen for the all-grit no-logic missed potential of something like Animal Kingdom, and would have tried a whole lot harder for a whole lot longer to find some meaning in the colossal boredom of Cairo Time, but I really just don't have the patience for that nonsense anymore.

If you're looking for recommendations on these eight movies, I probably won't actually review them for a while, but The Virginity Hit and The Town are well-worth your time and money.

Weirdest Google search that landed somebody in Denzel, WA this week: "jason statham leather jacket end of expendables." Glad to be seventh down on that list of search results. Thanks for visiting, Los Angeles Biker.

New Feature!

Regular readers of this blog know as well as I that it could certainly use some regular upkeep, so I have decided to start logging some non-review content each week. I don't know if there will actually be anything noteworthy to post every week, but we'll see how it goes. Considering the fact that I am roughly fifty reviews behind, this new feature might get updated just as frequently as reviews do. It kind of pisses me off that I didn't think to do this earlier, or that I actually did think of it but refused to implement it so late into the year to screw up the uniformity of content covered on this blog. But it occurred to me that most of the people who end up here based on Google search results for "Denzel Washington should have been in The Expendables" only to find a snarky zero star review don't even realize that I don't actually consider myself a critic, but am just somebody who decided to see every movie for a year, so I'll start posting some other thoughts.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Death at a Funeral - *1/2

I don't know why the original Death at a Funeral needed an update a few years after it was made, but apparently it did, and we have it now, from acclaimed writer/director Neil LaBute. I also don't know why acclaimed writer/director Neil LaBute needed to venture into the low-brow comedy territory, but here we are. The new Death at a Funeral features a host of aimlessly crude jokes split equally between four different subplots with different areas of a family coming together for a funeral. A good portion of these jokes, mainly the ones about poop, or at the expense of a homosexual midget blackmailing the family with racy photos of their deceased father, or delivered by Martin Lawrence, fail completely. Others actually are pretty funny at times, though I'm doubtful it has anything to do with the awful writing, and everything to do with the actors performing them, Tracy Morgan and the underrated James Marsden in particular. The rest of the comedy stems from reactions of people hearing comments through paper-thin walls and zany sitcom moments, like when the guys think they've accidentally killed the midget while their wheel-chair bound uncle takes a shit in the next room. I think I'd rather have been shitting in the next room while this was going on as well, because I'm pretty sure that's what Mr. LaBute was doing instead of directing it.