A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

The Punisher (2004)

May 30, 2011

The Punisher (2004)

We’ve already watched one Punisher movie for our movie a day project, and frankly I think I preferred that version of the story. This movie is just so needlessly bloody and violent. I know that the whole point of the story is that it’s a tale of gory vengeance, but it’s also supposed to be a thrilling comic book adventure movie. My recollection from the first time I watched this movie is that by the end it’s too full of blood and death to really be enjoyable. Paradoxically it’s mixed in with some dreadfully unfunny comic relief, which is also not terribly enjoyable.

In the eighties Dolph Lundgren version of this same story part of what made it so much fun was that it got right to the punishment without having to go through the pain of watching his origin story. Ludgren’s Frank Castle was the Punisher right from the very beginning. Thomas Jane’s Frank Castle has to go through the entire ordeal of having his whole family wiped out by machine gun toting goons.

In this adaptation of the Punisher comic books Frank Castle is an elite undercover FBI agent. He’s just completed a gun-running case and is set to retire, but unfortunately the son of a powerful gangster gets killed in the crossfire during the final sting. Howard Saint is not a forgiving man, so he sends his hit squad to kill Frank. Not just Frank, though, they kill his wife, his son, his parents, and his entire extended family – thirty people in all. The problem is that although they shoot Frank in both legs, in the solder and in the chest and blow up the pier he’s bleeding to death on he doesn’t die.

Instead Castle comes back to Florida and goes about killing every member of Saint’s gang and family. The problem is that although clearly Frank has been wronged and has some right to vengeance the brutal cat and mouse game of killing as Frank hunts Saint’s people and Saint in turn unleashes more and more deadly killers in attempts to eliminate him – well it just never feels justified. I know what this movie is trying to be. It’s trying to make us, the audience, cheer at Frank Castle’s victories as he takes down the evil mastermind behind his family’s death. Instead however I feel like I’m watching Castle sinking into evil himself. The punishment he doles out never feels appropriate, and at times it seems absolutely cruel. By the time we see a weeping and broken Howard Saint being dragged through fire behind a car with explosives stuck on its trunk I almost feel sorry for him.

This is a movie that revels in violence. It’s an R-Rated bloodbath filled with brutality from beginning to end. Now in some cases that would not be a detriment. The same could be said for example of Robocop, which is still one of my favorite movies of all time. Extreme brutal violence is not particularly my cup of tea, but in some cases it can make a move a more visceral experience. In this case, however, it just doesn’t work for me.

Then there’s the comic relief. In the tenement house where Frank sets up his base of operations there are a trio of disenfranchised loners who appear to have formed a kind of loose family amongst each other. There’s a be-piersed and angry young man, a chubby dim fellow who loves food, and a hard working waitress with an abusive ex-boyfriend. These bits of incongruous humor do not fit at all with the dark feel of the rest of the movie. They feel like they must be part of some other movie stuck in here to make it clear that this is a comic book movie.

It wasn’t until I went to read the trivia on IMDB while writing this review that I saw that many of the plot lines and characters involved in this movie come from a series of Punisher books written by Garth Ennis. I have never read the “Welcome Back Frank” arc in question, but it explains so much about this movie that some of its inspiration comes from Ennis. He has a particular style of writing which blends humor with gruesome gore, which in general I have really enjoyed. I loved Preacher for example. Perhaps this is simply a case of something that works in comic form not translating very well to the screen. Whatever the case, I have to simply say that I don’t enjoy this movie. It isn’t fun to watch. Which is kind of sad, really.

May 30, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 451 – The Spirit (2008)

The Spirit (2008) – May 25th, 2011

Tonight Andy said he needed something that wouldn’t make him think. And we do have a multitude of non-thinky movies left on our list. Movies that won’t tax the brain when trying to understand the plot or the purpose or anything like that. No serious themes that we’d want to spend pages pondering. No deep backstory for our personal connection to the movie. Nothing like that. Just something ridiculous and silly. So I looked through the list and dismissed a few things right off the bat. Dismissed a few others after looking them up. And then saw this and suggested it. I hadn’t seen it. Andy had. I knew it had been panned. And yet we owned it. So it seemed pretty much tailor made for tonight.

And I was right! Except I did end up having to think a bit when it came to trying to explain to myself how the movie could be as bad as it is. Really, I find it baffling. I can see so many things that were attempted and could have been done well and just weren’t. I’ve seen a couple of reviews describe this movie as “fun” and I have to wonder what their basis for comparison is. A root canal? The 1040 long form? Watching paint dry? Punch Drunk Love? I mean, this movie kept attempting humor but I don’t think it ever reached more than a moment or two of funny, let alone movie-long stretches of fun. What makes it so frustrating is the attempts that were made. Attempts in so many directions I honestly don’t know if the movie knew where it was going.

That right there is, I think, a large chunk of the problem. This is a comic book movie based on a serial I’m not familiar with. So I did a little reading and as far as I can tell it was a noirish detective serial that had a good dose of humor mixed into its regular plots and storylines. So I would expect there to be some humorous lines. But there aren’t just humorous lines dropped into an otherwise serious story. It’s this bizarre mix of parody and homage that never quite works, largely because the parody aspect needs firmer ground than it’s got. What, exactly, is it parodying? Sin City? I wouldn’t say Frank Miller can’t parody his own stuff, but it’s not like the movie is a genre unto itself. If it’s parodying noir in general it misses the mark completely because the bits that read as parody aren’t the femme fatale or the tough detective or the faithful lover or the gritty and dark city streets. The bits that read as parody are the comic book parts, with the clone henchmen and the out-of-nowhere Nazi villains and the hero himself.

On top of the problem with the uncertain tone is a distinct lack of focus on the part of the actors. Now, this is a more than decent cast. Samuel L. Jackson, Eva Mendez and Scarlett Johansson alone should have been able to breathe some life and vitality into this movie. But they don’t. Okay, Jackson does every so often, but he’s saddled with the most ridiculous part I think he’s ever played. And this is the man known for Snakes on a Plane. He’s playing the villain here, and he gets some great scenery chewing moments. Moments where I can see what Miller was going for. His obsession over a bizarre little failed clone that’s just a tiny head on a foot and his dislike of free range chickens? It’s so out of place and laughable but then he doesn’t get to really go anywhere with any of it. Each strange quirk gets carried for a line or two and then it’s played out. The Octopus (his character) has eight of everything? Great! Except we only hear that in the climactic fight scene. If you’re going to go whole hog and be that ridiculous then damn well do it! Don’t half-ass it and leave us hanging there, wondering if he was supposed to have eight henchmen and eight cats and eight labs or whatever. And to top it all off, remember I mentioned that the villain is an out-of-nowhere Nazi? Yeah. Complete with lightning bolt tattoo on the back of his head. What the everloving fuck? That’s not parody. That’s not canon as far as I can tell. It’s just tossed in there for no discernible reason aside from making him more of a villain? I don’t even. So all of Jackson’s hamming it up comes to naught because he’s got what is probably one of the worst roles I’ve ever witnessed on film and he can chew chew chew and it’s never going to make the role palatable.

Not that the rest of the characters are a whole lot better, but at least only one of them is an unnecessary Nazi (seriously, the Spirit himself has a cell phone so we’re not set in the 1940s). Sadly, she’s also the most lacklustre character of the bunch, and that’s saying something. My theory is that Scarlett Johansson signed on, then read the script and hoped she was missing something and by the time she realized she wasn’t it was too late to back out. It’s the only way I can explain her performance. I usually quite like her, but from her first lines it was pretty clear to me she was done with this movie. I’ve seen more interested reads done in high school English classes. She gets a couple of lines near the end that hint at the parody her character might have been trying to portray, but if a movie has to have a character flat out say that she’s a parody? The parody has failed.

The rest of the movie is just plain messy. It’s got this plot with the Spirit’s backstory and the Octopus being his nemesis and neither of them can die. But it’s also got some backstory from when the Spirit was a kid and not the Spirit yet and he had this girlfriend, Sand Saref, who ended up turning to crime. And now she’s stolen a crate with a vase full of blood in it instead of a crate full of some sort of treasure we never really find out too much about. The Octopus wants the vase full of blood and while one would think they’d arrange a trade right quick one would be wrong. Instead they faff about for an hour or so. The Octopus makes his hideous foot clone and Sand kills some people for kicks and the Spirit tries to track them down and his faithful doctor girlfriend waits for him to get carted into the hospital. And her father’s the police commissioner and he works with the Spirit, who used to be a cop before he died, but he doesn’t like his lone wolf techniques. And there’s a rookie who wishes she was Paget Brewster and a siren who’s actually death, I think, who tries to seduce the Spirit into dying whenever he gets close to death.

It’s not that it’s hard to follow! This is not a complicated movie. It’s just messily put together. Oh, visually it’s quite pretty, with the not quite black and white visuals with little hints and pops of color. Unfortunately it’s not handled as well as the other two black/white/bit-of-color movies I can think of, namely Sin City and Pleasantville. The former was stark, keeping the color to splashes and highlights. Red sneakers here, blue eyes there, yellow bastard in the corner. The latter used some more subtle and realistic shades, washing them in over skin and the pages of books and the leaves of trees. This movie hits somewhere in the middle. The Spirit’s tie is bright red, but the Octopus’ gloves have dark burgundy accents that barely read. It diminishes the whole effect and while the movie is pretty, it could have been so much more visually arresting.

I honestly don’t know what else I can say about this movie. I don’t know what else there is to say. It’s a movie that doesn’t quite know what it is. It’s got a great cast that’s wasted on clumsy lines and a messy plot. It’s got a director who has gone on record as having been so distracted by an actress in a skimpy outfit that he yelled cut instead of action (and if I was an actress in a movie where the director did that I’d be pretty pissed – just saying). It’s got flat humor and pointless Nazi villains and it is about as much fun as doing a sink full of dishes.

May 25, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 434 – Hollow Man

Hollow Man – May 8th, 2011

Wow, so, this movie offends me on so many levels. We bought it because Andy said it was a horrible cheesy sci-fi horror movie and it is! But it’s also horrible on more levels than cheesy sci-fi. It’s got a lot of problems and not all of them are the horribly obvious flaws in the science portions of the movie. I mean, I expect there to be some ridiculous science babble in movies like this but wow, this movie’s got more than that. In fact, I think I can just leave most of the ridiculous science flaws alone since they’re so glaringly obvious to anyone who’s ever even taken a lab science class in high school. Instead I’d like to address the rest of the movie’s flaws, and there are oh so many of them.

The plot follows brilliant scientist Sebastian Caine as he and his team work on making a chemical that will make a living subject invisible, then restore them. There’s some babble about it being a matter of making them out of phase with the visible world or whatever. It doesn’t really matter how they manage it because it’s going to be ridiculous and not follow its own rules no matter what. That was a given. So after finally managing to fix a problem they were having with the restoration part of it all, Sebastian convinces two of his teammates, Linda and Matt, to go against their funding committee’s rules and try it on himself ahead of schedule. And then the restoration fails, leaving Sebastian stuck invisible for the foreseeable future. Having already established that prolonged time “out of phase” (i.e. invisible) has nasty side effects on the mental and emotional states of subjects, it’s pretty easy to see where this is going. Which is one problem right there.

I knew from the first moment we met the whole team what order they’d die in. I doubted it a little after Sebastian has some interactions with the team veterinarian, Sarah, because I thought maybe with his interest (his creepy, predatory interest) in her he’d go after her first. But no. I was right and it was poor awesome Janice. She should have shot him when she had the chance. I knew how the whole thing with Sebastian and ex-girlfriend Linda would play out and from the first moment we met Linda I knew she was obviously now seeing another member of the team. It’s not so much telegraphed as just plain lazy writing. Really though, every single plot point in this movie was both obvious and ridiculous. They knew about the behavioral issues! They knew Sebastian was a jackass! So why on Earth would Linda and Matt, who should really have known better since they clearly know Sebastian well enough to know he won’t react well to their relationship, have allowed it? Who knows. But of course they allowed it! It’s full of stuff like that, though the issue of Sebastian’s personality is what brings me to my biggest problem with the movie.

In the trivia for the movie there’s mention of a cut scene where Sebastian rapes his neighbor, but it was cut out because audiences felt it was too early for him to have descended to that level of depravity. Oh, the implication of the scene is still there, but the specifics aren’t revealed. And you know what? I don’t think it’s too early at all. Dude has a creepy sexual predator vibe going right from the outset. The movie implies that being invisible for prolonged periods of time causes emotional instability and increases violent behavior, so it would follow that it’s the invisibility that causes Sebastian to go homicidal. But really, he starts out a total jackass with predator leanings. I didn’t so much feel like being invisible caused something to go out of whack in his head so much as it allowed him to act on impulses he’d never been able to act on before. I mean, it’s not long at all after he goes invisible that he’s sneaking into the observation room and unbuttoning Sarah’s blouse and molesting her. That’s not the invisibility as a cause, it’s just a means to an end. The problem here is that he’s not really a nice guy to start with. He’s a jerk who spies on his neighbor while she undresses and treats his coworkers like crap even when he’s visible. And while those are far lesser offenses than rape and murder, they don’t paint him in a favorable light. His character arc isn’t a tragic or unpredictable one, which is a pity because if it had been it would have been a more interesting movie and less offensive to me.

Had there been more of an arc for Sebastian I think I would have enjoyed this movie a whole lot more. There’s just something more horrifying about a relatively nice person being turned into a homicidal maniac via an experimental scientific procedure than there is about a jackass going through the same thing. I’m not sure if the movie wants me to like Sebastian at all ever but I hope not. While I think it would have made a better movie if I had, the thought that the movie might not see his early pre-invisible behavior as a problem is even worse. So I’m just going to hope he’s meant to be loathsome from the get-go. Being a genius doesn’t make it okay to be a sleazy douche and I sincerely hope the movie was intended to be seen that way.

So, seeing as there’s pretty much nothing that surprised me and a lot of things that disgusted me, this movie would have had to pull out a miracle to make me like it at all. And I think it could go without saying that it doesn’t. The characters are all one dimensional at best, and I’m not just talking about the redshirts who are so clearly destined to die messy deaths at Sebastian’s hands. Bizarrely and disgustingly, Sebastian’s lecherous behavior towards the women actually gives them more time on screen than the men get, but it’s still not enough to give them much to work with. And while Linda and Matt are obviously supposed to be the leads we care about we never really get much about them. All we know about them is that Linda used to date Sebastian and left him and says that Matt is everything Sebastian isn’t. That there is not a hell of a lot to root for. I prefer to like my heroes, not just dislike my villain. The best I can say for either of them is that they do seem to be fairly intelligent most of the time, within the confines of the movie.

I didn’t enjoy this movie. I didn’t hate it in the same way I hated Death Proof and Punch Drunk Love but I also did feel like the movie focused far too much on Sebastian to the detriment of the actual positive characters. And it’s full of unpleasant scenes and moments and not nearly enough triumphant moments at the end to redeem it. I’m certainly not sorry to have it behind me now and I definitely won’t ever be putting it back in again.

May 8, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Hollow Man

May 8, 2011

Hollow Man

We simply cannot resist a cheesy bad movie. This should be obvious from the titles in our collection but I feel I need to point it out to make sense of the fact that we’re reviewing this movie tonight. When we were making our recent mass DVD purchase this movie popped up and we said “a widely panned Paul Verhoven movie? How could we not?” After all, we’ve already reviewed Showgirls, Starship Troopers and Robocop. The thing is – although you’d think after Showgirls we’d know what kind of sleaze Verhoven is capable of; I just didn’t appreciate how his particular brand of depravity would influence this movie.

I can understand the intent of this movie. It’s trying to be a sci-fi horror along the lines of Alien or Predator or Deep Blue Sea where a supernatural killer (here an invisible scientist and not an alien or shark) is picking off people trapped in an enclosed space (here a secret underground lab complex.) It has a couple problems that keep it from working as part of that genre though. For one thing it takes an awful long time to get to the meat of the movie. Easily two thirds of the film involve the creation of the insane invisible killer, which doesn’t leave much time for the actual sci-fi horror plot to play out. Another problem is that is doesn’t have any heroes. The movie is packed with likable victims, but there’s nobody that I really find myself rooting for by the end.

The story here is of the brilliant Sebastian Caine, a scientist who heads a team that has perfected a means of making animals invisible. Of course, as anybody knows, being made invisible drives animals mad, but this slight flaw in his process doesn’t much concern him. Not much concerns him, to tell the truth, because he’s a raging ego-maniac and sleezeball. His ex-girlfriend is part of his team, and she’s come to the realization that she doesn’t like him much – and is sleeping with a different team member without his knowledge. At the start of the movie Caine succeeds in perfecting the means to make some of his experimental creatures re-appear, which means that he is in danger of losing control of his project to the military group that fund it since he’s accomplished his goals. Naturally this means that he must immediately inject himself with the invisibility serum otherwise the movie would end quite suddenly without the plot getting going at all.

In very short order Caine is naked and invisible – which accentuates all of his egomaniac tendencies and removes the necessity to behave himself. Or something. He was pretty sleazy to begin with but no sooner is he invisible than he’s creeping up on sleeping colleagues and taking their clothes off. When it becomes apparent that the reversal serum they’re cooked up doesn’t work on humans for some reason Caine really starts to go crazy. Soon he’s breaking out of the facility and raping his neighbours. (Well it’s implied in the movie that he rapes his exhibitionist neighbour with a penchant for stripping in front of her windows and very fake looking breasts – but according to the trivia on IMDB the rape was actually part of the movie until test audiences objected.)

Okay, so that does a great job of establishing that Caine is an insane power mad bastard who gets off on using his invisibility to hurt others. But nothing is done to establish a counter-weight. When Caine traps his science team in the facility and goes on his inevitable killing spree we don’t really know anything about the people he’s hunting except that they are inoffensively nice and have an asshole for a boss. Even his ex-girlfriend Linda, who would seem to be the heroine of the movie, is almost completely without character or motivation. Her new boyfriend, Matt, is even less of a character and I find that I have no emotional investment in either of them. In fact the only partially interesting character in the whole science team is the first to die, which just sucks the fun out of the whole rest of the movie.

One thing I cannot deny is that this movie involves some simply astonishing special effects. It is packed with clever digital tricks which remove Kevin Bacon from the scene and show us only the impression of him. His face in smoke or water or smeared in blood. There are also the fantastic digital models which allow the effects meisters to strip away his body layer by layer so we have him with no skin, no muscles, no blood vessels. Or any combination thereof. I don’t know if it’s worth watching the movie again just for the effects, but they are certainly the best thing in the movie. I appreciated it for that at least.

As for the rest, well I think I’ve said it all. It’s a sleazy story of an unappealing man turned invisible and the completely forgettable group of people he kills off one by one. It has a very Verhoven feel to the entire thing, but it’s the salacious and voyeuristic Verhoven and not the master of action cheese that I’ve come to enjoy so much over the years. More than anything else right now I regret that we don’t have Total Recall to watch tomorrow to ease the pain of this movie.

May 8, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 1 Comment

Movie 415 – Bush’s Brain

Bush’s Brain – April 19th, 2011

Why, oh why do we own this? Apparently it’s because one of Andy’s former staff members and a suggestion he made. The thing is, when someone tells Andy “Hey, you should see this movie” he doesn’t rent it or look into it. He finds a copy and buys it. This is why we have the collection we have and this is why we own this movie. It’s definitely not my taste. I like to keep my political views to myself. It’s a work thing, and I could go into detail about public librarianship and why I keep my mouth shut most of the time but it would take up this whole review. Suffice it to say that I have some very strong feelings about politics and political parties and policies and so on and so forth, but I tend not to share them.

And I admit, part of that? Is because politics make me angry. Really angry. So angry I stop being able to express myself coherently. To be honest, I feel like I’ve got very little in the way of control over how anything in this country goes. I can vote. I can write letters. But I’m not a politician and I don’t want to be one and my workplace does require a certain amount of public neutrality. And I firmly stand behind the ideals of my job, but it does make for some frustration. So one might think that in my private life, when I don’t have to be so careful, I would appreciate a documentary that’s a series of attacks on a political figure I dislike, right? Wrong. It just makes me all the more frustrated. Watching this doesn’t change the amount of power I have. It doesn’t put me in a different position or give me anything useful to do about him or people like him. And let’s face it, I didn’t need a documentary to tell me that many politicians do shady, scummy, underhanded things to get ahead. That some of them go beyond what’s considered the norm? Not a shock here.

Really, it makes me feel much like how Michael Moore makes me feel. Sure, make your arguments, but you’re making them to the wrong audience. I highly doubt that anyone who likes Rove would watch this and have their minds blown and do a 180 on the man. I mean, it makes me dislike him more, but I didn’t go in with a positive opinion of him anyhow. He always struck me as an incredibly intelligent and ruthless man with a boatload of privilege. But this documentary is preaching to the choir and doing so with a whole lot of talk and rumor and very little fact. Aside from some excerpts of a letter Rove sent the authors of the book this documentary is based on when he go a copy of the manuscript (and I do wonder if this was made as a rebuttal to his rebuttal to the book) it’s mostly got a lot of interviews with people Rove worked with or worked against or both. It’s got interviews from a variety of politicians and journalists and really, aside from some specific events and items like ads he put together or election dates? It’s opinion.

“Can I definitively tell you Karl Rove did this or that? No.” So says one of the interviewees here when talking about the Texas gubernatorial race between George W. Bush and Ann Richards. And that, I think, sums up so many of the interviews this documentary is based on. It’s a lot of people speculating and making assumptions and you know what? That makes me angry. It makes me angry because I don’t like Rove and I think there are plenty of reasons not to like him. But this documentary is going about it in such gossipy ways. It makes a poor case for the accusations they’re leveling against him and that makes it that much harder to claim that said accusations have any foundation. It’s so damn frustrating and it makes me angry. Just like everything political.

And then on top of it all, for the last twenty minutes or so of the movie there’s an extended piece about a Marine named Fred Pokorney who died in battle and we sat there waiting for it to involve Rove somehow. We floated ideas about friendly fire cover-ups and the like, but no. Sad as it is, it’s not really anything to do directly with Rove. It’s one in far too many stories of soldiers who haven’t come home and never will. And I can see what the filmmakers were trying to say here, blaming the war on George W. Bush’s presidency and therefore on Rove since the whole point of the documentary is to claim that Rove put Bush in the White House. But the closest connection they could actually manage was Pokorney’s family saying they don’t think politicians care about the soldiers who’ve died, juxtaposed against Rove giving a speech where he states that every individual matters. It’s a tenuous connection at best and really, its major impact should come from the Rove connection to Bush.

The trouble with that connection is that the movie spends so little time on it. We hear plenty about Rove’s early years and apparently dubious campaign methods (I say apparently because quite a few of them are supposition, not evidence-supported fact) but when it comes to George W. Bush? Well, there is some time spent there on how Rove got to know Bush, but his actual role in the White House and actions and all? The lack of in-depth reporting is pretty sad. What comes across the most is more personality than anything else. The description of Rove as so clever he could shut you down with a swift quip puts me in mind of nothing so much as the queens of last night’s movie, reading their opponents and throwing shade. But I doubt Rove has ever vogued and unfortunately none of the folks in last night’s movie had the opportunities he’s had. If it turned out that he had then perhaps I’d have actually learned something from this movie.

I asked Andy if he’d watched this yet when we grabbed it tonight and he admitted that he’d only made it through about twenty minutes before having to turn it off. I asked why and he said it was “heavy handed”. I had no idea. It’s even got that scare music used in the worst sorts of negative political ads, which, considering the subject, would seem to me to be either a very poor choice or some badly played irony. Andy further admitted to me that he’d never have put this in again if we hadn’t been doing this project. And yet he never got rid of it. He disliked it and couldn’t get through it but it’s still taking up shelf space. I am so confused by that, so we’re going to make a list of movies we’re ditching as soon as the project is over. And this and Death Proof are the first inductees.

April 19, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Bush’s Brain

April 19, 2011

Bush’s Brain

I bought this movie at the urging of a heavily left leaning staff member of mine. At least that’s my recollection of things. I’ll freely admit that I’m about as far to the left politically as it is possible to be. I spent a lot of the early part of this millennium upset with the president of our nation. I was angry with him, his decisions and the things he did to our country. I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say that I hated George W Bush. As such I didn’t particularly mind the notion of a movie that attacked the man regarded as having been responsible for putting Bush in office.

There’s no kind way to say this though: this is a poor excuse for a documentary. It’s a collection of interviews based on hearsay, speculation and bitter grapes. It’s fear mongering and hate speech. I don’t mean that Karl Rove is innocent of the shady dealings that this movie accuses him of taking part in. I simply mean that no good case is made in any of the allegations.

Most of this movie is interviews with the two authors of the book the movie is based on and with various political opponents of candidates that Rove worked for. Hardly unbiased. Even that would be acceptable if a single thing they said was backed up by fact. They accuse Rove of bugging his own office. They accuse him of sicking an FBI agent on his political opponents. They talk about the Valerie Plame leak, constantly saying things like “I can’t prove that Rove was responsible for the leak, but if he were it would be his style.” That’s not reporting, it’s speculation.

Not to mention the transparent emotional manipulation. There’s an entire segment of the movie that briefly explores the life and death of an American serviceman named Fred Pokorney. Amanda and I kept waiting for the movie to explain why this tragic tale of a life cut short had anything to do with Rove. It doesn’t. It just shows us Pokorney’s wife and father mourning, and implied that he wouldn’t have gone to war and died if Karl Rove hadn’t used Iraq as a chip in a political poker game.

What this movie drives home more than anything else for me is the acriminous nature of modern politics. A much better insider take on it in my opinion is Bush press secretary Scott McClellan’s book What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception. McClellan talks a lot about the never ending campaign shapes not just the spin put on politics but every political decision. Are there people, Karl Rove among them, engaged in a constant war of words to promote their candidate and denigrate the other side’s? I don’t doubt it for a second. Are the stories we read in the paper often fed to the press by these political wranglers? No doubt. Indeed I’ve become more and more skeptical of all news stories regarding politics precisely because I know this kind of maneuvering goes on. But Karl Rove is only one example. I don’t doubt that there are equaly duplicitous political masterminds on the Democratic side.

So where does that leave this movie? Well to be frank it’s not worth the time it takes to watch in my opinion. Karl Rove IS a force to be reckoned with, this I have no doubt of. He can be credited with formulating the entire Republican strategy for re-claiming congress in the last elections (a strategy of blocking every effort to get anything passed in congress over the last two years and then blaming Obama and the Democrats for not getting anything done.) But this movie doesn’t build any sort of credible case against him. It just vents its spleen for an hour and a half, and then is mercifully over. I don’t believe I will be watching this movie ever again.

April 19, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Dungeons & Dragons (2000)

April 15, 2011

Dungeons & Dragons

The year this movie came out Battlefield Earth swept the Razzies. I’m not trying to deny that Battlefield Earth was a confusing and disappointing mess, but there’s no way to deny that this movie was robbed. It is difficult to think of any way that a movie could be worse than this one – even if you intentionally set out to make it so. It has an awful script. It has hammy, ridiculous acting. It has awful cheap special effects. It is truly and unbelievably awful, made all the more dreadful because it defecates from a great height on an enjoyable, intelligent and engaging pass-time that occupied a great deal of time in my high school days.

Where to begin? Perhaps with the scenery chewing? Jeremy Irons in particular, as the evil mage Profion, seems to have been directed to over act as have never been done before or since. I dare you to find a more over the top line read ever in any movie than his “Let their blood rain from the sky!” with his wide eyes, snarling visage and clawed hands raised up in supplication to the dragons battling in the skies above. He is a character whose dialog should really be rendered in all-caps. He’s not the only one of course. The inimitable Richard O’Brien is no slouch (if you’ll forgive the pun) in the area of over acting, and his portrayal of the flamboyant thief king Xilus is one of the best parts of this movie. Then there’s Doctor Who himself, Tom Baker, who plays the elf king. His performance makes me wonder if Tom was acting when he portrayed the fourth Doctor or if that’s just who he is. The elf king has the same sense of smug wisdom to him, and it made me want to watch the Key to Time again. Let us not forget as well the wince inducing antics of Marlon Wayans as the “comic relief” Snails. It feels like he’s doing a less funny impression of Chris Tucker’s Ruby Rhod from The Fifth Element. Throw all this together in a single movie and you can just feel your brain cells dying as you watch.

The “plot” here involves an evil wizard who wants to rule the world by controlling dragons. He has failed in his attempts to manufacture a dragon-controlling rod, so he decides instead to use political intrigue to steal such a rod from a local empress who has incurred the wrath of the ruling elite (all wizards) by suggesting that the common people should be allowed some kind of representative government. Or something. It’s unclear exactly what her plan is and why it irks the mages so much. We know she wants all people to be equal but what exactly that means is never explained. Anyhow – to protect the empress and insure that the kingdom doesn’t descend into anarchy if the mages take her scepter away a wise old seer sends his apprentice on a quest to get yet another dragon-controlling rod that has been hidden away for years.

This apprentice, the wide eyed and slightly dim Marina conscripts a pair of thieves and a dwarf that they accidentally fall on while fleeing the palace. Eventually they also pick up a elf tracker. This little band has various adventures, mostly involving repeated encounters with Profion’s henchman Damodar, who is dogging the group in hopes of also acquiring the red rod. They visit a thief’s guild. They visit an elven wood. One of them, the incredibly bland “hero” of the movie Ridley, even goes into a dungeon (well a cave with three rooms at least.) In short the movie is a series of D&D cliches and over used tropes.

I don’t know. This movie makes me tired and sad. I see Thora Birch as the empress Savina, for example, and I just feel sorry for her. How did a classy and intelligent actress like Thora end up in this mess? There’s the throw-away dwarf caricature and the elf tracker in her very uncomfortable looking lacquered bread plate. There are the beholders that appear in one scene and are so laughably animated that they look like cardboard cut-outs hanging on strings. (I realize that they are bargain bin digital effects… they only look like cardboard.) The movie is plagued by constant swooping establishing shots of the towers of Savina’s kingdom that establish nothing. We have no idea where most of the climactic action is taking place because all the many towers and bridges of the city tend to blend into each other. There is a lengthy climactic battle involving tens of dragons trying to kill one another and the wizards, but by that time I’m half asleep with boredom and can’t be fussed to care.

The thing is that apparently this movie was a labor of love. Director/Producer Courtney Solomon seems to really have wanted to create the quintessential D&D movie for the ages and packed it with all the iconic things that such a film should require. It’s just that his two lead actors are pieces of wood, the supporting cast have so much scenery in their mouths its a wonder they can say their lines, the script is laughably awful, the effects are embarrassingly sub-par, and in short the entire mess is one of the worst movies ever made. I suppose it does work in one regard: it makes me want to play some D&D just to wash the taste of this travesty from my mouth.

April 15, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Movie 392 – Spider-Man 3

Spider-Man 3 – March 27th, 2011

I did not want to watch this tonight. Actually, after the last two movies I didn’t ever want to watch this. The first movie wasn’t great. The second one was thoroughly unpleasant. I mean, it was irritating. And annoying. And from what I had heard, I expected this one to be abysmal. The downward trend seemed a little too steep to correct in the space of one movie. And I can’t believe that anything done in this movie was supposed to make anything better. Much like the Venom symbiont, it amplified characteristics of its host. Negative ones. But not aggression. More like suckage. It has everything I disliked about the first and second and more. In one overlong, overcomplicated morass.

When we start with this movie, Peter is on top of the world. Which is a nice change from the last one, but it’s like he’s a pendulum and we only get to see him at one extreme or the other, never in the middle. He’s either an ego-maniac smarming for his crowds of adoring fans (or horrified onlookers) or he’s Mopey McMoperson, Mayor of Mopeville. But hey, I’ll take what I can get, you know? And what I can get is at least a few minutes where Peter’s not making me wince for one reason or another. Unfortunately, that doesn’t last long. I understand the Venom plot and Peter’s personality getting amped up by the symbiont, but that doesn’t explain his performance in the park when Gwen Stacey gives him the key to the city and they smooch. Basically, the movie is setting him up as a douche. And then it goes and introduces a bigger douche and then gives them both super douche powers. But I’m getting ahead of myself! We’ve got a bunch of other plots to cover before we get to Venom.

First of all, let’s talk about Harry. We left off with him having delusions of his father talking to him and telling him to avenge his murder. So, yeah, Harry’s gone the way of the Goblin and attacks Peter a few times, both physically and emotionally through MJ. Next we’ve got Flint Marko, an escaped convict who, it turns out, was actually responsible for Uncle Ben’s death. But Marko’s a bit of a question mark as a character cause he claims it wasn’t the way it’s been presented and sadly, he doesn’t get much time on screen to be a character. Because before we get to know much more than that he’s escaped from jail and his daughter’s dying, he gets caught up in some particle physics experiment with sand and suddenly we have a walking dune. He wants to get money to save his daughter but Spider Man won’t let him steal it, so what’s a guy to do, right? Then we forget about him for a while because Harry’s got amnesia and can’t remember his vendetta against Peter. Then he remembers it again. Peter gets shut out of a job at the Bugle by the douchetastic Eddie Brock, whom he then exposes as a fraud and who then goes way overboard by wanting Peter dead. Yeah, that’s a healthy response there, Brock.

If all that wasn’t enough, through it all is MJ, whom Peter wants to propose to but he’s never around for her and keeps making everything about himself (douche!). The addition of Gwen Stacey as a pawn in the whole romance plot makes sense, but I don’t really like it. She deserves a little better. At least the movie tacitly admits that when she walks out on Peter after his incredibly gross display in MJ’s nightclub. The whole Venom plot, with Peter’s suit (and Peter himself) getting infected by a nasty symbiont from outer space that amplifies characteristics, specifically aggression (apparently in all forms) ties into this here, with him acting out all over the place. And then it infects Brock, so we get another villain on top of our new Goblin and Sandman. The trouble is, that while Peter’s infected, the only people left to root for are MJ, Gwen and Jonah, who are all given so little time it barely counts. And oh, oh do I weep for the lack of awesome Jonah, who is toned way down in this movie because he’s on blood pressure meds. Yes, really.

What a muddled mess of a movie. The relationship issues with MJ, Harry taking up his father’s mantle then getting amnesia, Sandman, Venom, smug celebrity Spidey, Gwen Stacey? Of course it’s the longest of the three thus far. It would have to be to have all of that. But really, come on. Pick a plotline, or a pair of plots! Run with Harry and Sandman! Or Venom and Stacey! MJ would certainly end up involved with either. But bundling them all together into a single movie doesn’t work. More plot doesn’t mean a better movie. Oh, it’s bodged into a semblance of coherence, with the Venom stuff seeping into the other parts. But it ends up feeling like every plot in the movie is lessened for there being so many plots.

The really sad part? Is that the end, with Sandman and Spider Man and the whole culmination of their plot once Venom and Harry are out of the way and MJ’s safe? It has some good emotional impact and Sandman/Marko and Spider Man/Peter have some similarities that echo nicely. Neither of them asked for their powers. Both of them want to help someone they care about. And the end for Harry and Peter brings things to a nicely bittersweet close. The endings aren’t spectacular, but they work. The problem is that those endings along with the endings for Venom and for Peter and MJ, we had to have four! If the movie had somehow managed to have all of the various plotlines come together for one actual ending with a coda after the fact? I’d have at least had to concede that they’d been tied together. Having to end them all separately is an admission that they were only loosely spun and easily unraveled.

March 27, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spider Man 3

March 27, 2011

Spider Man 3

I’ve been kind of dreading watching this movie again. Not because it is an awful or irredeemable movie but because it has such promise and tries so hard and just falls so flat. I saw it in the theaters – one of those rare times when I went to the movies alone because Amanda had no interest in watching this particular film with me. I found myself underwhelmed by the movie, but it had a lot of bits that were pretty cool. By the time the DVD came out my memories of the movie had faded somewhat and I was willing to give it a second chance. Maybe some of the frenetic fight scenes that simply didn’t work in the theater would read better on the small screen. Maybe the multiple plots fighting for dominance weren’t quite as hodge-podge as I remembered them being. Besides: I owned the first two movies already and it was a comic book movie after all so I felt the need to own it.

I’ve watched it again since then and I hate to say it but all the flaws I remembered from the theater did still plague the movie on the small screen. And I had managed to block out the most painful to watch and irritating bits of the movie.

Most of the problem with this movie is that it bit off more than it could chew. I was excited when it came out because I wanted to see the story of Venom on the big screen. I have only a passing familiarity with the actual comic books, but I know the tale. I distinctly remember Spider Man’s cameo in the Transformers comic book and being puzzled that he was all in black so I asked my friends what the deal was. The black suit was an alien symbiont that gave Spider Man extra super powers. He no longer needed to change his clothes to fight crime because the suit could change at a whim from street clothes to Spidey’s slick new duds. He also had no more problems with running out of web fluid (something he hasn’t had to worry about in the movies but a common issue I remember from the comics and cartoons.) And he had amplified strength and power as well.

This was too much for our simple web slinger, and left him fairly over-powered, so it had to end. Enter Eddie Brock, a rival photographer who wanted Peter Parker out of his way. When Peter finally freed himself from the symbiont Eddie merged with it, gaining all its knowledge of Spider Man’s true identity and all of Spider Man’s powers – amplified by his own rage and hate. Thus was born Venom, a dark mirror to Spidey and probably the coolest enemy he ever had to face. It didn’t hurt that these books were illustrated by the extremely talented Todd McFarlane, so they had the over-worked and insanely detailed illustrations that he was known for.

It’s a grand and epic tale that took place over the course of a couple years in the world of the comic books. Which is the downfall of this movie – because none of the groundwork for this whole tale was laid out in the first two films. The groundwork that was laid out over the course of the last two movies all has to do with Harry Osborn and his vendetta against Spider Man for the death of his father. The result is that this movie is committed to resolving the whole Harry Osborn thing and at the same time has to introduce the black suit and Eddie Brock as well. Then, just to make things more difficult, the film makers decided to throw in the Sandman as well. I think their intent was to give Peter somebody dangerous to fight that would require the ruthless power of the black suit and drive home how deadly it is – but it really is unnecessary and acts to weigh the whole movie down. (Wouldn’t it have been more powerful just to show Peter in the black suit almost killing his friend Harry and have that be the emotional core of the movie?)

Then we get to the most awful scene in the entire movie. Awful because Sam’s attempts to show Peter’s descent into darkness takes the form of him becoming a smarmy asshole. The alien symbiont is supposed to bring out the rage and hatred in its host. That’s a kind of cool concept and it would be interesting to see Peter tortured by the rage that the alien unleashes within him. Instead in this movie the alien inspires Peter to dance at a jazz club where Mary Jane is working in an attempt to hurt her. It’s a painful scene that doesn’t work to move the plot in the way it ought to – it just makes you hate Peter Parker and everybody associated with this movie.

We finally, after two entire hours of waiting, get to see Venom at the very end of the film, and he’s got maybe five minutes of screen time because by then the audiences’ collective asses are falling asleep and things need to get wrapped up mighty quickly. There’s no sense of payoff for all the investment we’ve made slogging through this convoluted and messy morass of a movie. Instead there’s a slap-dash quick CGI-heavy battle between Harry, Peter, Venom and the superfluous Sandman.

It’s such an underwhelming and pathetic conclusion to the Spider Man franchise. Like I said at the top there are individual bits that are cool. The transformation of petty thief Flint Marko into the Sandman, reminiscent as it is of the creation of Doctor Manhattan to me, looks awesome. The iconic image of black suited Spiderman brooding on a cathedral bell tower is cool. The few glimpses we get of Venom’s manic nasty grin are nice. In short: there’s about enough good film here to make a pretty kick-ass trailer. Too bad they padded it out to more than two hours.

March 27, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 372 – Grindhouse: Death Proof

Death Proof – March 7th, 2011

So, tonight when we put this in Andy looked at me and said “I’m going to warn you that you will hate this movie and it will make you angry.” And I figured he was right. After being treated to a few of my rants about other movies in our collection he should, by now, know what will anger me. And so I knew going into this movie that it would suck and I would be snarly by the end. And I was right and he was right. But oh, oh is it far worse than I really expected. It’s even got redeeming features, and yet they’re not redeeming enough. I don’t think anything is redeeming enough. I don’t know if anything could be.

So let’s talk about the conceit before we talk about the movie. The conceit of this particular film is that it’s got a very 70s vibe to it, with scratches and glitches and generally it’s supposed to seem like a horror film you’d watch at a drive-in. And it was released with the other Grindhouse movie, Terror Planet, apparently both in shortened forms. And lucky me, I get to watch the longer version. Having not seen it in the theater (and thank goodness, cause I think this would have been the first movie I’d ever walked out of if I had), I can’t say what was added for the DVD cut. But I have to wonder if it was the entire second half of the movie. Because, you see, all those glitches and scratches? All the things that make it look aged? Disappear halfway through. We follow one group of women, stalked by the villain, and then we follow a second group. And the first group gets the 70s treatment while the second group starts in black and white for a few minutes, then switches to color and then it’s goodbye to any attempt at making the movie look aged.

I could give Tarantino some credit here. I could make the argument that he’s trying to make a statement about how the first half of the movie is dated and exploitative and ugly and the second half of the movie is modern and empowered and attractive. And I could probably make that a convincing argument. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone has already made that argument. But to be honest, I don’t really buy it myself. And I don’t buy it because there’s just plain too much time spent on the first half of the movie. It’s not just style homage, it’s worship. We spend an hour listening to a group of woman get drunk and talk about all the various sexual acts they’ve performed or will perform or might perform. It’s not parody. It’s just flat out verbal porn spoken by women in short shorts who were introduced to us by shots of their crotches. And after an hour spent with these women – none of whom are made out to be particularly sympathetic – we watch them all get brutally murdered by Stuntman Mike, our villain. After one of them gives him a lap dance, of course.

There’s no getting around the scene where he kills the women. He’s got this matte black car that he claims is death proof. He’s a stunt man and he’s made his car tough enough to withstand a lot of damage. First he traps a young woman in the passenger side and slams her around. Then he hunts down the car the other women are in and smashes into it, killing them all. The camera pauses and shows each gruesome death in detail. Limbs go flying, blood spatters, faces are destroyed by tires. It’s hideous and brutal and it’s given a painful amount of camera time.

The second half of the movie follows a different group of women. This time they’re not out to get boozed up or laid. They’re just a group of four women who work on movies together. Abby does hair and makeup, Lee’s an actress, Kim and Zoe are stuntwomen. After a somewhat labored plot to get Abby, Kim and Zoe into a white Dodge Challenger (leaving Lee behind, which I will get to), they encounter Stuntman Mike in his black deathmobile and off they go. Mike menaces them, almost kills them, and then the tables get turned because these are professionals. Kim’s a stunt driver and she carries a gun (a rather literal example of Chekhov’s Gun, to be certain), so Mike’s tricks don’t work and they hunt him down and beat the crap out of him. And meanwhile, their fairly innocent friend, Lee, is hanging out with the owner of the Challenger. And Abby implied to him that Lee was a porn star. Cute, ladies. Really cute. Totally makes me like the ‘heroines’ of the movie to know that they’d leave their friend with a strange man and give him the impression that she was there to perform sexual favors for him. It undermines a lot of the ‘empowerment’ aspect of the second half of the movie. Not that it wasn’t already undermined by everything else.

This is a profoundly hateful movie. This is a movie for people who like to ogle women and watch them get hurt and I hate it. It was uncomfortable to watch and I feel a little ill that we own it. The fact that three of the women in the movie go on to exact vengeance on the sick fucker who hunted them does not excuse the absolutely pornographic scenes of women being dismembered when he rams his car into theirs. I get the point. I get the intent. I get why Kurt Russell’s character is so very horrific. It’s to make you feel that much more invested when the tables are turned on him. It’s so you think everything that happens to him afterward is more than deserved. I get that. It’s still hateful. It’s not just the body count, or that five out of the six bodies are women. It’s how the movie lingers on those first five as they’re torn apart. It’s how those women are set forth as the bad girls. The ones who get smashed and flirt with strange guys and give lap dances. It’s how the first five are basically just bodies there for consumption. It’s how those bodies are the entire point of their presence in the movie. It’s that this movie is a sloppy and nasty piece of work masquerading as clever pop-culture homage and I find that utterly vile.

March 7, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment