Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Film on the Naughty List

Honestly, all you need to know about Fred Claus is that Ludacris plays an elf. Actually, that's not true. Ludacris plays an elf's head. An actual little person plays the body.

Weird rapper casting aside, the film is just bad. It's badly conceived, badly written, badly acted. The premise of the film is that Fred Claus (Vince Vaughn) is Nick Claus's (Paul Giamatti) older and less successful brother. Fresh out of jail, Fred returns to the North Pole and agrees to work a stint in his brother's toy workshop to earn money to make a fresh start. Unfortunately, Fred isn't what you'd call a model employee and his tenure in his brother's shop coincides with a visit from a vindictive efficiency expert (Kevin Spacey) hell-bent on shutting Christmas down. And mayhem ensues.

A film like Fred Claus makes me seriously question how the film industry works. Think about this. Someone (Dan Fogleman) wrote this script and though, "Dang, this is good. I can sell this!" And then a studio executive read it and thought, "Dang, this is good. People will pay to see this." (I, for the record, watched it on HBO; no money left my pocket with the intention of viewing this atrocity.) And producers put up money to get the film made. And actors thought it would be good for their careers to be in the film (um, did Elizabeth Banks turn down any roles in the last two years? I don't know if she's meant to be a giant elf or randomly the only average-sized person not related to the Claus family living at the north pole). It is difficult for me to imagine there are that many people out there with such poor judgement.

The film, on top of just being a trainwreck from start to finish, also has a heavy-handed "moral" message about forgiving the overbearing scene-stealing sibling in whose shadow you've lived your whole life (thanks to some cameos from Roger Clinton, Frank Stallone and Stephen Baldwin) and shining in your own spotlight. And about pulling together as a family when times get tough and a bad man tries to shut down Christmas because one year he was naughty and didn't get the Superman cape he asked for.

There's also a weird message about tolerance relating to an angry orphan (Bobb'e J. Thompson) whose been so trod upon by the world as a child that he lashes out and ends up on the naughty list. But, as it turns out, there really are no naughty kids, just kids who need a little extra love and understanding. And puppies.

Watch this film at your own risk. It'll make you feel badly enough about yourself for the simple act of having watched it that you should lock up all sharp objects and avoid operating heavy machinery for at least 3 hours afterwards.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Movie to Smack You in the Face

I can understand the science-fiction film community's desire to remake classic films. However, those remakes rarely do the original justice. I feel like the remakes rely too heavily on special effects and computer animation techniques, whereas the originals were more reliant on imagination and creative filmmaking. Unfortunately, The Day the Earth Stood Still is one of those remakes that just doesn't cut it.

If you haven't seen it, and alien being (Keanu Reeves) comes to earth to meet with another member of his alien race, Mr. Wu (James Hong), who has been living among us to determine whether or not the human race deserves to live. And why might we not be allowed to live? We abuse our planet and are disrespectful of the other living beings we share it with. Moreover, as the universe is imagined here, Earth is one of a very few planets capable of supporting life, and if the highest form of life here is not properly caring for it, then that life form may have to be eliminated to protect the planet itself.

But who goes to bat for humanity? Although Mr. Wu has decided we must be destroyed, he refuses to leave the planet to save himself because he loves humanity enough to die with it. But then we have Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly), an astromicrobiologist, her orphaned step-son Jacob (Jaden Smith) and her supergenius mentor Dr. Barnhardt (John Cleese). That's right...the fate of the human race lies partly with Will Smith's kid (who is, I suppose, genetically pre-disposed to saving the world on screen) and Monty Freakin' Python's minister of silly walks. And yet, somehow, humanity gets another chance. I suspect it's that Smith DNA.

In terms of performances...sorry! I dozed off there for a second. Connelly stares pathetically into the camera with her big brown eyes as if that's some kind of substitute for effort. And, although I liked him in Devil's Advocate, I really feel like Keanu peaked when he played Ted.

But, honestly, the only film I've seen with as heavy-handed a message about how humanity is going astray was Wall-E. Watching it I felt like I was being smacked in the face with the wooden acting. In fact, I'm pretty sure if I had never seen a film before, didn't speak English, and was mostly blind and deaf, I would STILL understand that this film was a call to action to save the environment. After all, how many times can Keanu Reeves really singlehandedly save humanity?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Spiritless Film

The best part of The Spirit is the preview for Repo: The Genetic Opera.

I'm not joking. This is a bad, bad movie. The storyline is convoluted and doesn't really seem to have a point. Let's see...this guy died, and now he's an indestructible superhero who calls himself The Spirit (Gabriel Macht). All the women in the city are in love with him, and he's in love with all of them. Of course, he used to be in love with a girl named Sand Serif (Eva Mendez) whose dad was a cop, but he died, and she likes shiny things. There's this bad guy called Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson) who is, um, an angry black man with 8 of everything, and he's got a smart sexy chick sidekick named Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson) and a seemingly endless army of semi-retarded clones. And there's a cat.

So Octopus wants this trunk, because it has a vase full of the blood of Heracles, which will make him immortal. Except he sends the semi-retarded clones to get it while he fights The Spirit in a swamp, whacking him with a toilet. So, the clones accidentally grab an identical trunk which, instead of having a vase of blood, has the shiniest thing of all--which shiny-thing lover Sand wants. And Sand has the vase of blood! O, the hijinx!

The film has all the subtlety and facility of acting as a high school play. We're not talking about a school for the performing arts...we're talking about an entire drama club full of not-quite-functional illiterates who need to be fed each line one word at a time. The film appears to be kind of set in the 1940s, although cell phones (specifically the LG enV), photocopiers and online banking are key elements of the plot. At one point, Octopus puts on a Nazi uniform.

Frankly, I have no idea what this film is about. It's pointless. And the special effects, which were so good in Sin City were lame. Mostly they relied on weird color saturation. And the worst part is that they left an opening for a SEQUEL!

Honestly, if the film were a 20-minute kindergarten sock-puppet production it would be vastly superior to the feature film. If you haven't seen it, I'd avoid it like swine flu--although the flu will probably leave you feeling less sickly.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Truth in Advertising

Sometimes a film comes along that tells you exactly what it is in the title, and as bad as that film may be, you can't help but love the film. A good example? Shoot 'Em Up. The film features, well, people shooting. A lot. A bad example? Death Race.

The reason Death Race is so bad is that it takes itself seriously. Shoot 'Em Up, in the first five minutes of the film, gave you its jump the shark moment when Clive Owen jams a carrot through someone's skull. And the film is riddled with puns. Death Race, in the first five minutes, does give you what is clearly a mannequin being ejected from a car. And there are no puns.

What there is, however, is a car race, to the death. The film takes place in the future, when the economy has collapsed to the point where prisons are converted into money-making machines churning out MMA-style fighters as well as the infamous Death Race. So, let's say sometime in the next 6 months, the way things are going now.

It features inmates from the hardest prison in the country, in cars not only souped up to race, but loaded with crazy weapons. Jason Statham stars as Jensen Ames, a former race car driver who is framed for his wife's murder in order to have him imprisoned so he can replace Frankenstein, the prison's best driver who has secretly been killed in a crash. How can he replace the fans' favorite driver? Well, Frank's face is supposedly so disfigured from crashing his car that he drives wearing a mask. The corrupt prison warden (played by Joan Allen) arranges this race, promising that if Ames wins the race he'll be granted his freedom, as it would be Frankenstein's fifth win. But first, Ames has to beat Machine Gun Joe Mason (Tyrese Gibson), and decide whether he can trust his hot-chick navigator on release from the women's prison (Natalie Martinez).

I will tell you, without spoiling the end of the film for anyone who loves movies with a lot of action and no real raison d'etre, that Ames manages to secure his freedom and open the door for a sequel...but not quite the way most people might expect.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Angelina Jolie is a TERRIBLE Actress

Desperate and grasping. Yeah, that's how I'd describe Angelina Jolie's performance in Changeling. Which is really too bad, because you would think someone who's been around as long as Clint Eastwood would have either gotten a better performance out of her or hired a better actress. I guess it proves that thing people say about not being able to squeeze blood from a stone.

I think the problem with this movie, other than Jolie's performance (and her emaciated frame making her not only look like she's in her late 40s rather than early 30s, but causing her to bear an eerie resemblance to a La Catrina figure [see below]), is that the story isn't a story American audiences enjoy. On the one hand, it's based on the true story of Christine Collins, a woman whose son disappears and is given a replacement son by the LAPD, who go out of their way to prove she's crazy when she insists the boy isn't her son. They even institutionalize her. The story becomes intertwined with the story of a boy the cops find living on a farm who claims to have been forced to be an accessory to kidnapping and killing dozens of other little boys.

I wanted this story to be more of a mystery. Is the boy really not Walter Collins? Is Christine really insane? But, it's clear from the start that the boy isn't Walter, and Christine is just a desperate mother trying to find her child. And yet, Jolie's over-the-top hysterics make her more ridiculous than believable in the film. The desperation in her acting doesn't translate into a desperate desire for someone to listen to her and find her son, but more a desperate begging for some talent. Or a sandwich.

On the other hand, audiences would have been far more interested in a gruesome horror story about the farm on which the dead bodies were found. Showing the little boy being held captive go through stages of terror, maybe crying and vomiting the first time the predatory killer makes him chop up another little boy, and then finally the cops discovering the operation.

The worst part of the film is that the whole thing builds towards learning what happened to Walter Collins, and you never do. You find out that, since it was before DNA testing was available, none of the remains at the farm could definitively be identified as Walter. While the cops think it's reasonable to believe the boy was probably among the dead, Christine Collins never accepted that assessment and never stopped looking for her son.

So, what we end up with is a story that should be compelling but isn't and provides no real resolution, an actress who can't act, and a director who should have known better. If you're thinking of renting Changeling, I suggesting changing your mind.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Unkind Rewind

You can pretty much tell from the previews--hell, from the cover of the DVD package--that Be Kind Rewind is going to be one of the worst films ever made. Here's the premise: Jerry Gerber (Jack Black) accidentally becomes magnetized and destroys all the videos in Mike's (Mos Def) video store while the owner (Danny Glover) is out of town. To save the store, Mike and Jerry attempt to remake all the films. I hope someone got fired for greenlighting this movie.

Everything about the film is just awful. First of all, it's nearly impossible to find a video store that actually rents VHS videos anymore, although not quite as impossible as the idea of a human being becoming completely magnetized. Store owner Elroy Fletcher (Glover) is supposed to be a very crusty and old-school type guy, but I suspect even the crustiest of store owners would have converted to DVDs out of respect for their wallet, if not for the desire to provide customers with the technology they actually use.

Second, the film remakes are so bad that no one would ever actively rent them, much less prefer them over the originals of the film. I don't think anyone would actually watch them on YouTube.

Not surprisingly, the guys remaking the films get caught and face a hefty fine from the feds, plus some possible jail time. But, instead of having to pay up and go to jail, they make a fake documentary about a fake jazz singer, and the whole neighborhood comes out to see it, causing the powers that be to have their hearts swell and forgive the morons.

I just can't handle how bad this film is. I mean, seriously, if I read this script as an actor, I'd probably fire my agent for not vetting the scripts better. And if I were a producer or a director or investor, one look at the premise would cause me to run screaming for fear my name might be sullied by the film's awfulness.

Frankly, were I Jack Black or Mos Def or anyone else involved with this movie, I'd like to rewind my life and choose not to be involved with this film.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

One Uncomfortable Wedding

I guess it's not really fair to call Rachel Getting Married a "bad" movie, but it's definitely a very, very uncomfortable movie to watch. And the music is so incredibly bad, it makes the film a chore to watch. However, Anne Hathaway does deliver a great performance, which was totally worth the Best Actress nomination.

Hathaway stars as Kym, a drug addict who comes home from rehab for her sister Rachel's (Rosemarie DeWitt) wedding. Because of Kym's addiction, despite being the older sister, Rachel has always lived in Kym's shadow, so there's a necessary tension between the family's concern for Kym and her recovery and Rachel's desire to finally be the center of attention. This goes beyond simple sibling rivalry, however, when you factor in Kym's having killed their younger brother while she was stoned.

The film features some serious ethnic weirdness. The film is a bit like a United Colors of Beneton ad in its multicultural inclusivity, which never quite gets explained. Not that having a multi-ethnic social circle needs explaining, but when it's set in an affluent Connecticut suburb, where whiteness comes from, it might warrant a mention. Another element that's never explained is why the wedding is Indian themed (at least in terms of what the wedding party wears) when the bride is white and the groom is black. And there are no Indian people in the film.

But, the reason the film is so uncomfortable has to do with the way it's shot. Jonathan Demme seems to be trying to purposefully exclude the viewer. Most of the film makes the viewer feel like they're overhearing conversations, and, because the other actors in the film frequently leave the room during tough moments, it's like you're not supposed to overhear what's going on. It's not quite cinema verite, and not remotely a documentary, but it has elements of both, joined together in a way that just doesn't work.

The music, however, is dreadful. A combination of new age folk music and various world music and a little bit of R&B, it's just a nightmare. And, since Demme notes that he's trying to show the viewer all the events of the wedding weekend, there are long parts where you just have to sit through a dismal musical performance.

In short, the film is like being at a wedding with a family that is not only dysfunctional and in danger of imploding, but is outwardly so liberal and ethnically inclusive it borders on actually being racist. It will make anyone's family (except possibly the Manson clan) look harmonious and ideal by comparison.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Keep out of the Twilight

There is nothing good about this movie. Nothing. It's badly written, poorly acted, the cinematography is totally overthought and overwrought...hell, even the lighting is bad. Nothing like overlighting characters with pale skin to make them look even more washed out and pale. I officially apologize to Kristen Stewart for another blog posting where I slammed her for saying, "Sometimes I'd be like, 'This is crap. This is the worst, most trite piece of crap I've ever done in my life.' I love the books, but trying to do it in real life, it doesn't translate." You were right; it was crap, but your acting wasn't much better.

Twilight is obviously part of a larger body of films, since the film is about 7/8 exposition and 1/8 action. The film is more than half over before Bella (Stewart) discovers that Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) is a vampire. And, to diverge from the vampire legends we all know and love, Twilight's vampires are able to go out during the day, but have to avoid direct sunlight. And, direct sunlight doesn't make them burst into flame or melt. It makes them glitter like rejects from Studio 54. Glitter!

There's a drama hinted at (to be played out in the last 10 minutes of the next film, perhaps?) about a local Native American tribe (descended from wolves) and the Cullen family of vampires, which also indicates a love triangle that might emerge more clearly between Bella, the bad-haired Edward, and the worse-haired Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner). There's a whole lot of bad hair in this film, by the way.

In addition to the bad hair, there is also a whole lot of bad symbolism. In one scene, Edward is actually positioned in front of a taxidermy snowy owl, which makes him look as though he has wings. Angel wings? Well, he and his family are "vegetarians," living off animal blood instead of human, so perhaps that does qualify him to be amongst the heavenly host.

I recognize that I am not the film's target audience. I have achieved puberty, and do not find Robert Pattinson, with his greasy, floppy hair and questionable personal hygiene, to be the least bit attractive. And yet, I fear that if I were an 11-year-old girl, I would still recognize this movie as being awful. AWFUL!!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Major Movie Does Not Disappoint!

Sometimes, you see a movie and it changes your whole world. It gives you a fresh outlook, renewed faith in your fellow man, and an understanding of the future you never thought was possible. And sometimes, you see a not-quite-straight-to-DVD film starting Jessica Simpson, and it lets you know that all is right with the world.

Oh, you haven't heard of Private Valentine: Blonde & Dangerous? Well, then perhaps you will recall having heard of Major Movie Star, Jessica Simpson's follow up to Blonde Ambition. This film was released in, if I recall correctly, less than 10 theaters in the Dallas, Texas area for about a week, thanks to some wrangling on Dadager Joe Simpson's part. The movie tested so poorly with audiences that, in order to avoid the taint of Major Movie Star, it was released on DVD with a new name.

The movie is exactly what you'd expect, and is probably the final nail in the coffin holding Vivica A. Fox's career. The film is completely predictable from the opening credits to the kiss at the end. Jessica Simpson plays Megan Valentine, an air-headed actress who makes cheesy movie after cheesy movie after cheesy movie (insert an art-imitates-life joke here). In one night, she finds out that her cousin/accountant has stolen all of her money, her assistant thinks she's a horrible joke, and her manager is sleeping with her secretly-gay boyfriend who was only dating her to boost his own career. She reacts as most of us would: Gets drunk, crashes her car and sleeps on the steps of the local Army recruiting office. Naturally.

When she wakes up, a kindly recruiting officer lets her use the bathroom and gives her a cup of coffee where she is taken in by the recruiting video's promise of a new and better life. So, to gain control of her own life, she enlists in the Army. And hilarity ensues. And by hilarity, I mean all the jokes you'll remember from Private Benjamin.

Of course, the movie also tries to be serious, and talks a little about the reasons each woman in her platoon has joined up. One is paying for medical school, one is trying to make a better life for her daughter, one comes from a family of soldiers and one is trying to make her brother, who died in Afghanistan, proud. Oh, and Private Jeter (Cheri Oteri) is bat-shit crazy.

But, moreso, the movie makes the Army appear to be like sleep-away camp with guns. The girls all bond in the barracks, and everyone loves each other in spite of getting off to a rocky start. There's a bit of a sub-plot that doesn't get really well played out, involving Drill Sergeant Louisa Morely, who has a secret, which Private Valentine discovers. And the Drill Sergeant sells information about Valentine's stay to a paparazzo, played by creepy man-child Andy Milonakis, a story that could have gone a bit further.

But, in the end, as expected, Private Valentine grows some 'nads, completes her training and earns the respect of her fellow recruits.

This movie clearly demonstrates why Vivica A. Fox is hosting style competitions on MTV, and why Jessica Simpson has been engaging in has-been behavior, like playing at a chili cook-off in fat pants. It does, however, feature a small role for one of my favorite Gilmore Girls, Keiko Agena.

In the end, this is a predictable film with no real redeeming features. Jess, take a tip from Private Valentine and fire your manager. Who cares if he's your dad--the man is destroying you.

A Movie to Put You Off Cheese

The cover of I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With declares it to be hilarious. Apparently, the reviewer from the New York Times who said this believes "hilarious" means "causes you to want to shoot your toes off one at a time." This movie is awful, and everyone involved with it, from stars Jeff Garlin and Sarah Silverman to the guy who swept under the craft services table should be ashamed of themselves. Like Gigli ashamed.

Jeff Garlin plays James, a fat struggling actor and all-around loser. He's fat. His job, which he loses, is on a hidden-camera prank show that's actually more hurtful than funny. He also gets fired from Chicago's Second City comedy troupe, his agent drops him, his girlfriend leaves him. He's 39 and lives with his mother. And, he loses a part in a remake of Marty (the part of Marty, a fat middle-aged loser who lives with his mother) to Aaron Carter. Yeah, that Aaron Carter.

Then he meets Beth (Sarah Silverman). She seems sweet. She works in an ice-cream parlor. She invites him for a walk, then for a fitting in a lingerie shop. Then she sleeps with him. And then she tells him that she only slept with him because she'd never had sex with a fat guy before and wanted to see what it was like.

This movie does not get any more cheery. If there were to be a sequel made, it would probably be two hours of James standing in line at the unemployment office. The movie is just one colossal downer and gets more and more depressing as it goes along. Honestly, when it was done I wanted to pry open my skull, find the place where the memory of having seen it is stored, pick out that piece of my brain and throw it away.