Thursday, November 29, 2012

DVD Review: That's My Boy

Anyone who knows me will know I am angry, bitter and cynical person. A few people have accused me of this being an act that I put on, but no I’ve been very committed to being this way for quite a while now. And as a result, I like giving negative reviews. Not enough to alter my opinion, mind you. But since I have to pay for this, I usually only give positive reviews, as I typically only see movies that I want to or are already interested in.

But since it’s approaching Holiday time, I’ve been fairly miserable (I hate this time of year) and looking to let off some steam by giving a hate filled review. This is meant as a long form defense against why I watched and am reviewing That’s My Boy, because I was sure I would hate it. After all his previous movie, Jack and Jill was bad enough to render me barely coherent in rage. So I would probably be able to write a rage filled review of this.

Turns out I was wrong. Oh the movie is bad alright, in fact it’s fucking terrible. But I can’t summon the rage, the way I could for Jack and Jill. I am here to tell you that That’s My Boy is so bad, so worthless, so utterly terrible and putrid and devoid of anything resembling quality, that I can’t even summon any anger. It’s fallen right off the end of my critical graph, past even Jack and Jill into a void I didn’t know existed, into nothingness. Fucking hell, even Freddy Got Fingered didn’t do that.

The only (ONLY) nice thing I’m prepared to say about this movie is that unlike it’s processor, it’s an actual movie. It doesn’t look like a pre-Oscar skit, or something they’d film in 20 minutes for The Tonight Show. It has an actual camera and actually looks like a film should look. That doesn’t mean the cinematography and editing are GOOD, they’re at best passably generic, they just look like they belong in an actual movie.

The story is probably the most loathsome Sandler has ever put out. A teenager has sex with his teacher, who winds up pregnant and he is forced to care for the son. I know,   I know, it’s supposedly a teenagers dream or what have you but…we all know this isn’t kosher right? Legally, morally, what have you? Anyway, the son grows up to hate his father and the father grows up to be an asshole who needs money to help with the IRS, but needs his son to reunite with his mother for, oh who gives a fuck?

I could literally go on and on for pages about this movie, about all the things that it does wrong, about how it’s disgusting and deplorable and just plain bad. Adam Sandler is horrifically awful and miscast in the main role (more on that in a moment) but that’s no surprise, with precisely 2 exceptions, he hasn’t made a good movie since the early 90s (and both of those movies had, you know, real actors and a real director). But this movie has the Transformers issue, where it has real actors embarrassing themselves. Susan Sarandon is in this movie, in an admittedly minor role, but the entire time I was sitting there going “Susan. Susan, no.” So she has the admittedly dubious honor of appearing in one of the best movies of the year (Cloud Atlas) and one of the worst. But she’s only on for a few minutes, no the real person hurt by this film is Andy Samberg, a talented comedian whose work with The Lonely Island is justifiably lauded and will have to live with this embarrassing dud on his resume for years. He spends the entire movie looking lost and slightly dull, his normal genius comic persona buried underneath a hopeless character, which doesn’t seem at all suited for him or his comedy style.

Of course he’s not the only character who’s hopeless in this movie, as the movie itself seems to not understand itself or it’s main character. Consider, for a moment, the character who Adam Sandler is playing. He’s playing a hopelessly alcoholic, drug abusing, childish, nostalgia obsessed, lecherous manchild, trying to recapture his glory days. His glory days, for the record, are some early fame and fortune based on him, to borrow a phrase someone else used, a rape survivor. This should be a dark and disturbing character, someone who is at best disconcerting and at worst, downright alarming. This is great fodder for a Death at a Funeral style dark comedy. But the movie seems to want us to regard him as the coolest guy in the world. Can I ask…why? The movie goes out of it’s way to present Sandler’s character as the guy who can make anyone happy, who can make ‘squares’ fun and who can get any chick and he just strikes me as annoying, a boorish lout who is looking to coast through life and who’s madness mantra of ‘I’m a good person’ seems to be all that’s holding this misplaced world view together.

This leads to my final point (as I promised myself I would avoid, just for this review, bitching about script or characters or story structure or the fact that this movie has no idea how to structure a joke properly). The movie is weirdly mean spirited, which all ties back to the issue of Sandler in the lead. Fat people, nerds, gays, people of other races (Chinese this time, to contrast with Latinos from the last one) and women of all types, all get raked over the coals, and it all seems oddly mean spirited. And not in a challenging or interesting way, just cruel. I bring it back to Sandler, and the way the movie treats him. Most comedies work by making their leads get hurt or mocked. Consider some of the classic comedies, everything from City Lights to Fawlty Towers and how they treat their lead characters. Hell, consider The Lonely Island’s song, Threw It On The Ground and how it treats the singer (if you haven’t seen/heard it, fix that). Imagine if the song was treating the lead as something other than a pretentious douchebag. Wouldn’t that be insane? Wouldn’t that just destroy the comedy of the song? I repeat: Adam Sandler’s character should be everything from pathetic to downright disturbing, but the movie wants us to regard him as awesome. How is that funny? Where is the joke?

Aside from those things (all 1000+ words of it) there’s not a whole ton to say. There is precisely one actual joke in this entire movie, one setup-punchline and it’s only bordering on clever. The rest is simply presenting gross or disgusting things and saying ‘isn’t that funny?” Except it’s not.

I’ve seen a lot of movies in my life, and a lot of them were bad. But I can’t remember the last time a movie actually made me feel like this. No anger, no rage, no snarky humor, not even ironic cruelty. Just an empty feeling of depression, like I’ve been defeated (yes I know it was a box office failure, but given how Sandler’s movies are financed and run, I doubt anyone actually lost money on it. I don’t have the time or energy to go over it now, so I’m just going to throw a link to RedLetterMedia’s excellent video on the subject here). What’s most depressing about this, and it’s processor Jack and Jill is how they reframe the world. A lot of comedies I’ve seen, from some of Sandler’s movies (Don’t Mess With the Zohan), to Jim Carrie’s (Dumb and Dumber) to more obscure ones (Dude, Where’s My Car), all of which are basically terrible, seem better by comparison. Neither of them are anywhere near the level of the terrible, but energetic and creative Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie. So basically what I’m saying is That’s My Boy has finally made me lower my comedy standards and if that’s not damning criticism, I don’t know what is.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and the entire time Sarandon was on screen, he kept hoping Tim Curry would show up in drag.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Review: Life of Pi

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Life of Pi is a movie slavishly, some might say entirely, devoted to its visuals. Entire segments of the movie are devoted to nothing but giving us beautiful sights and lavish spectacles. It contains what I think is one of the best (thus far) uses of 3D in a movie, and it uses it a way that is artistic and unique, rather than for show. It is a bit of a shame, therefore, that it drops the ball in small, but damaging, ways in the story department.

Adapted from a solid book that I, for once, have actually read, the story is devoted to a teenager, Pi (actual name Piscine, but he stopped wanting to be called that in school for obvious reasons). His parents own a zoo but are falling on hard times and are moving to Canada, planning to sell the animals in order to start a new life. On the way to Canada, the ship sinks, leaving Pi alone on a lifeboat with a fully grown Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

All of the things that are needed to make a good movie are in place. The cinematography is gorgeous, the visuals and their design unique and well put together, the CGI is some of the best of the year, the editing and score are flawless and the character of Pi and (weirdly enough) Richard Parker are well sketched and believable. So all we need is a good story to hang all these things on.

And this is where the movie drops the ball. The movie, while energetic and exciting, is paced really weirdly. The first act takes forever, which could normally be made up for in an energetic third act, but the movie also doesn’t seem to have a third act. I feel like I’m exaggerating just typing that, but it really doesn’t. The movie has a long first act, an even longer second act, gets to the end of the second act and then just sort of…cuts to the denouncement. I suppose it’s a function of the story that it be without a third act, but it’s still incredibly weird to have happen.

Aside from the wonky pacing, the movie is ludicrously unsubtle at times, to the point where I’m starting to wonder if a behind the scenes editor was worried American audiences wouldn’t get it. The movie spells out a few of it’s morals and ideas at the very end (as in literally states them) and at least one of the visuals is so on the nose that I actually rolled my eyes.

If it sounds like I’m down on the movie I’m not. It’s a legitimate experience, something that is actually breathtaking to watch when it’s in motion. But the things I like to talk about are the things that the movie fails at. But it’s still a good movie, beautiful and moving and highly unique. So while it’s not perfect, I’m going to call this one recommended. After all, where else are you going to get 2 hours of a tiger on a boat with an Indian Kid?

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he wishes movies would stop demonizing hyenas; I fucking love hyenas.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

DVD Review: The Amazing Spider-Man


There are a lot of factors that make The Amazing Spider-Man suck as much as it does. I hope to cover the majority of the reasons in my review proper, but for the first paragraph I want to focus in on one particular aspect that got to me the entire time; the main character. Peter Parker, in this film, lacks almost any consistent personality, switching between character traits from scene to scene. And the one character trait that remains consistent is that he’s a massive fucking tool.

And for the record, no this not me being a fanboy over the original Sam Raimi trilogy. I liked the first two (not so much the third) but I’ll be the first to admit they’re not without their issues. The character work and dialogue is universally awkward, they haven’t aged well and Kirsten Dunst looked bored throughout all three films. But for all their issues, I’d still take any of them, including the bloated, awkward mess of the third film, over the disaster that is this movie.

Okay, okay, stop ranting, back up and explain. So, if you’ve been under a particularly sturdy rock for the past decade, you might be unfamiliar with the Spider-Man story. For the rest of you, this is basically a new origin story, with a focus on high school Peter Parker and his romance with Gwen Stacy, while the villain is the Lizard, a scientist who lost his arm and attempts to regrow it, turning him into…well guess from his name.

Okay so since I’m trying to do things differently, I’ll say the things I like about the film first. The film desperately wants to be an action film and it’s good at putting together action, if little else. Most of the action scenes are well staged and shot, and at least one in genuinely inventive. And while this is the very definition of damning with faint praise, this movie has to have my favorite Stan Lee cameo of all time.

Now onto the shit, and there’s more than enough of that to go around. Since I was talking about the action, I think I’ll start by focusing on the things that get in the way of it, namely the look. Spider-Man’s new outfit is incredibly garish looking, but you get used to it around the halfway point. The real issue, however is the villain, as his design looks awful (in particular his face) and while the CGI isn’t bad in the strictest sense, it’s certainly sub-par, especially compared to some other recent superhero movies.

The plot and script are another big fat target, as they’re essentially what drags the whole enterprise down. While trying to differentiate this movie from the Sam Raimi trilogy is probably a smart idea, the way it’s handled is by devoting FAR too much of the movie to stupid high school bullshit that manages to tick off every single annoying cliché of high school movies, including the really minor ones that tick me off (it even manages to pull out my least favorite, IE bully physically assaults people without consequences, but when the hero humiliates him without harming him, the hero suffers both consequences and reprimands from nearby authority figure du jour).

The story’s world also feels ludicrously small, even more so than the original films. I always complained that it felt like the entire world of the films revolved around Peter Parker and this new one takes that issue and turns it up to 11. You’ll see what I mean. And finally there’s a whole ton of problems with the characters, mostly in their scene to scene characterization. I already addressed how Peter switches personality traits at the drop of a hat, with the only consistent trait being what a massive douche he is (seriously, whoever wrote his fucking ‘comedy’ bits that he spouts off during the combat scenes should get busted back down to writing Michael Bay movies), but that issue extends to the other characters as well.

The movie never really gives us a solid character behind Dr. Curt Connors, instead focusing in on the one aspect of his character that is established (IE, I am sad about my lack of arm) and never really feels like establishing why turning into a reptile makes him want to turn everyone else into a reptile. There’s a few scenes that look like their building that up, (which, it must be said, rather violently rip off the ‘talking to the mirror’ scenes from Spider-Man, and those were problematic to begin with) but they just sort of drop that aspect and he becomes a reptilian fascist for essentially no good reason.

Based on how schitzophrenic the movie is and especially how weird the editing in certain scenes get (notably the scene where the Lizard talks to himself and a couple of weird character scenes toward the middle and end) it feels like the rumors of massive script rewrites, re-edits and even reshoots going on behind the scenes were true. For example the teaser doesn’t seem to be teasing…much of anything, other than ‘there’s other villains out there.’ That usually only happens when the studio doesn’t think the product that’s coming out is very good and if the studio thinks this is shit, then who am I to argue. Bottom line, I didn’t see this one in theaters because I couldn’t be assed to spend any money on it. Now that I’ve seen, I justified that position to myself. Don’t bother with this.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he kept hoping Spider-Man would go ‘Webshooters…EMPTY!?’ like in the animated series.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Review: Lincoln

Imagine, if you will, the movie Lincoln based only on it’s description. It’s a biopic on Abraham Lincoln one of the most beloved Presidents of all time, directed by Steven Spielberg, with a ridiculously high caliber cast and starring, in the title role, Daniel Dey-Lewis, who is generally considered the best actor of his generation and high in the running for the best actor of ANY generation. What movie comes to mind, based on that description? Perhaps a well meaning but a tiny bit white washed version of history, well acted by heavily Oscar bait, like The King’s Speech?

Well what a treat you, I and everyone who sees this movie are in for. Not only is the movie not at all like the movie I made you just imagine, it’s a hundred times better for being different. All of this can be attributed to the area of focus, as the movie is not focused on a broad representation of Lincoln’s whole life; it expects to know all that. Instead, it focuses in on a tight period of history, the period inbetween when Lincoln won his second election and when he passed the 13th Amendment (the one that abolished slavery). This allows the movie, based on the excellent book Team of Rivals, to instead focus on the backroom deals and political arm wringing Lincoln pulled off to force, shame and bribe the lame-duck Democrats into passing the 13th Amendment through the House.

Given that the movie is basically a political thriller, the focus is going to be on the acting, which means that Spielberg’s choice of actors is crucial. I’m going to break form however and not talk about Dey-Lewis’ performance much. What’s the bloody point after all? He’s Daniel Fucking Dey-Lewis, he’s the greatest actor currently alive, of COURSE he kills it in the part, not only giving Lincoln the voice he probably had, but also portraying him in a way we rarely see on film. No, we want to focus on the other performances firstly from a played down Sally Field as Mary Lincoln. Her character is grieving for the death of their second son, but has to put on a brave face and support her husband, and she nails it in a way most portrayals don’t. Second comes Tommy Lee Jones as a thunderously pro-abolition (as well as pro-vote and pro-interracial marriage; extremely odd for his time) politician. He gives his best performance since No Country for Old Men. At one point you can physically see an internal struggle on his face, and that’s a hard thing to pull off. Fantastic supporting work comes from David Straithairn as Secretary of State Seward and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who is still having a great year) as Lincoln’s oldest son.

Of course, given it’s subject matter and style, a lot of the focus is going to be on the script, which makes talking about the direction (solid), SFX (excellent) or music (good, if sparsely used) pointless. Which is why it’s good that the script works. The film doesn’t shy away of depictions of Lincoln as odd, or unstable and certainly doesn’t avoid referencing or even depicting his occasional abuse of power. I like that the movie trusts us to KNOW the man was basically a Saint, and uses that to depict his abuse of power as bending the rules for freedom, making Lincoln basically a political vigilante; Batman in an awesome hat. Indeed, a large part of the plot consists of him delaying and hiding the fact that Confederate ambassadors are coming North to negotiate peace, because if the House knows their coming to surrender, they won’t want to vote for the Amendment.

Of course it has flaws, mostly in a running time that seems a bit overlong, but that doesn’t stop it from easily being one of the best movies of the year and a surefire candidate for a fuckton of Oscars come January. This a keeper guys, so it comes highly recommended.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he’s pretty sure Daniel Dey-Lewis is trying to win an Oscar every time he acts…and no Nine doesn’t count.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Review: Skyfall


I’m not a huge fan of James Bond. Is that okay? I don’t hate it, but I’ve never been overly fond it either. I think it’s because the first Bond I ever saw was Moonraker, IE one of the worst ones, which kind of colored my opinion of it. I like some of them, mostly the Sean Connery ones, but I also dislike my fair share. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I so enjoyed Casino Royale, because I didn’t care about the trappings of James Bond being in the Bond movies, I just care about them being entertaining. This is also one of the reasons I didn’t care for Quantum of Solace, because it was just fucking BORING. But, I’m pleased to report that Skyfall is both highly entertaining, and designed to return the trappings of James Bond to the Bond series.

The plot is a little interesting, as it seems this is the first real attempt to update the James Bond formula to modern day settings. Bond, after having nearly been killed on assignment, is tasked with tracking down a stolen list of MI6 agents. He finds out it’s been stolen by Raoul Silva, an insane former MI6 agent with a grudge against Bond’s Boss, M. And this is the first place that the story is a unique and interesting take on the Bond franchise. Raoul has a lot of the trappings of a Bond Villain (Trademark), like secret lairs, wacky gadgets and insane plans but with the details updated. You’ll see what I mean.

The lifeblood of this movie is going to be its action scenes, which are all interesting, well staged and inventive. A big chase scene towards the beginning in particular is one of the best chase sequences of the year and while the final action beat isn’t quite Best Ever material, it’s somehow managed to completely be hidden from the trailers, so going in fresh gives it a lot of power.

Daniel Craig is, naturally, killer in the roll of Bond, but we already knew that, ditto Judy Dench as M. But Javier Bardem is the real standout, as the villain. He plays him completely different from any Bond Villain before him and completely different from any performance he’s given before. By relying so heavily on the internet he distinguishes himself from a typical Bond Villain, but his personality and mannerisms are much less Goldfinger and much more Joker, and he really sells it, one of the more memorable villains of the year.

The script is the source of one of the movie’s bigger strengths and also, one of it’s minor letdowns. The strength is the fact that, unlike essentially any Bond movie before it, it has a running theme. In this case, the theme is a running point of how useful analogue agents can be in an increasingly digital world. But, the major failing is how wonky the pacing and structure are. I can’t really talk about it, because it would be a spoiler, but the pacing is awkward, especially towards the end and the act structure is little weird.

Overall though, I quite enjoyed Skyfall, a bit more than I expected. It’s November, so I’m more in the mood for serious actor driven dramas (the theater near me isn’t showing Lincoln yet) but that’s not really a flaw. It’s no Cloud Atlas or Argo, but it’s not trying to be. It’s an engaging and enjoyable action movie starring a well known and well loved character, that also seems to be intending to kick off a new franchise for him. So, unless you still haven’t seen Cloud Atlas (and there’s a lot of you) I can recommend this.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he wonders if Bardem’s character was supposed to be gay or not. I honestly can’t tell.

Friday, November 2, 2012

DVD Review: Rock of Ages


Rock of Ages is kind of a fascinating movie. Not because it’s good, it’s not. It’s roundly pretty bad and at spots it flirts with being terrible. But then, a lot of movies are bad, why is this one interesting? Because of the way it, and the style it chose, cause the movie to fail. That’s not to say the movie itself is actually interesting to watch, it’s mostly just dull. But it’s one of those movies that might be interesting to study, purely in the academic sense.

The first and biggest problem with this movie is the choice of music. See Rock of Ages is a song catalogue musical, which means that instead of composing your own music, the musical is based around pre-existing music, typically of a single artist although not in this case. This doesn’t NEED to be a bad thing, Jersey Boys is awesome and Across the Universe isn’t bad, but it does make writing characters and story more difficult since instead of the music adding to the story and characters, it instead takes time away from them, which means your story is probably going to wind up pretty flat.

As in this case. The story is devoted to a boy and a girl working at a rock club called the Bourbon room, which has fallen on hard times and under scrutiny from anti-rock religious crusaders. The owner is betting the farm on the last performance of Arsenal, a heavy metal band with an insane lead singer about to go solo. The boy and girl’s budding romance is threatened by the cold realities of the music industry and…hey, wake up.

Yeah, it’s not the most original story in the world, but it’s the kind of thing some flair can make up for. But the issues run deeper than the basic outline of the story. The best example, in my opinion of this, is Mary J Blige’s character a…bartender I think, at a local strip club. She gets a lot of screen time and lead parts in a lot of the songs, but her character doesn’t seem to go anywhere, and she hangs around long after her part in the story is over.

It doesn’t help that most of the song covers are terrible, with the Glee problem of the more I like a song the more I hate their cover (and before you ask, no I don’t watch Glee). Most of the cast is hopefully out of their depth and humiliating themselves. The two leads are incredibly bland, Catherine Zeta-Jones is amusing but given two of the worst songs in the entire thing and Bryan Cranston keeps dropping out of the movie. And while Tom Cruise’s insane comic performance is one of the few bright spots (seriously, he’s actually funny) his singing is just fucking awful, to the point where I wonder why they didn’t dub him.

There are bright spots, aside from Cruise’s insanity. Paul Giamatti is fine as the villain (good in everything, remember?). Russel Brand and Alec Baldwin work well together, and the payoff song to their vibe is probably my favorite bit in the entire movie. But they aren’t enough to make up for the movie’s awful screenplay and strangely dead direction. Seriously, musicals call for a lot of directorial flair, but here the director (who previously directed the pretty good film of the musical of Hairspray) seems to be content to just point the camera and fall asleep. It’s not as bad as Mamma Mia, but that’s beyond damning with faint praise. Skip it.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he’d like to ask whoever owns the rights to Wicked to call him.