The Last Stand (Kim Jee-woon) 2013

Posted in L on May 1, 2014 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $45 million
Worldwide Gross: $48 million

The Last Stand is about the leader of a drug cartel breaking out of federal custody and making his way to the Mexican border. The last stop in his path is a town with Sheriff Ray Owens (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his inexperienced deputies.

Something that is only a problem for me is I usually watch these bombs on their opening weekend (cause I have no life) and it is only months later that I find out they bomb. By then I have to watch it again to refresh my memory to write a review. Again, this is only a problem for me (especially for the really bad movies) and I am essentially complaining to the open air.

Anyway, The Last Stand is the tale of two halves. The first half is so painfully dull I got so close to turning the movie off. You see, it takes nearly half the movie to get this ridiculous plot underway. We have to explain how the most notorious drug cartel leader in history escapes from federal custody, escapes road blocks, escapes helicopters, escapes every police agency and the military, and the ONLY person able to stop him is Arnold Schwarzenegger. A killer robot from the future is frankly more plausible after seeing the things the writers pull out of their collective asses. But the worst part is none of it is interesting. We know this is the dirty work of getting the plot underway and there is no chance of the bad guy getting stopped prior to getting to the town so we are just sitting as the movie goes through the motions.

It might ease the pain if the characters are interesting or if the dialog were fun but outside of Arnold, there is no one I care about. Forrest Whitaker has the thankless role of barking out feeble administrative lines like “Talk to me people!” or “Get so and so on the line!” or “I want this guy caught yesterday!” Every once and a while we check in on Arnold and he gives his usual cheesy line reads that make you wax nostalgic or laugh at Peter Stormare who I think is trying a Texan accent but if it is it is officially the worst attempt at an accent ever. But all of that is fleeting as we have to sit through another scene of tension-less driving from the bad buy or another scene of boring exposition about how an attack helicopter couldn’t blow this guy’s car off the road. I don’t care.

It is not until the halfway mark that we finally get our main characters in an action scene and I let out an enormous sigh of relief. The movie spent a long time establishing the climax and when it comes, it thankfully does not disappoint. The action is fun and Arnold does enough badass things to make you squee. There is a good dose of self-deprecating humor and all in all it is a well choreographed action scene. If it is one thing the director got right, it is how to effectively use Schwarzenegger in action at his age.

The Last Stand is solely for those who are Arnold fans yearning for his comeback. And even on those terms, your mileage varies. While I had a blast with the climax of the movie, it is incredibly hard to muck through the slow and uninteresting first half. Really, I want a Phantom Edit made which starts off in the second half and you can just open with a title card that explains “Bad guy has to escape through town to get to Mexico. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the sheriff of the town. Don’t ask about what the feds, military, or state police are doing because crappy writing. Enjoy.”

The Host (Andrew Niccol) 2013

Posted in H on April 26, 2014 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $40 million
Worldwide Gross: $48 million

The Host is about an alien species that comes to Earth and takes over humans like pod people. Melanie (Saoirse Ronan) nearly dies during the bonding so there is a complication. The alien Wanda, still has control, but Melanie is able to talk to her. Wanda/Melanie make their way to the resistance where a love triangle develops between her Melanie’s lover and a new man.

Now, it is no secret that I am not a fan of the Twilight series. Like many critics, I’m sure I could write a book on just about everything that I plain don’t like about the books/movies. But make no mistake, this is not about me being a guy and not being part of the target demographic. True I am not a teenage girl or a middle aged housewife, but I can certainly understand romance and escapism. At the end of the day, when you cut through all the bullshit, I just plain don’t like any of the characters. At best they are merely hollow shells by which the unimaginative audience can project themselves in and at worst Bella is a despicable excuse for a human and the two male leads not much better.

So why watch The Host? Well, because it bombed. And I don’t know what it says about my taste that of all the Stephanie Meyer films I have seen this is the best. Now, that still doesn’t make The Host a good movie, it just means it rises to the level of merely bad. Compared to Twilight, the protagonist of Wanda/Melanie is far more compelling and there is a reason for the love triangle. Two people are sharing a body and each has fallen in love with another person. Oh it’s silly and having Saoirse Ronan doing internal commentary of how icky it is she is kissing another man can be quite comical. However the issue is one of a real conflict and not because our protagonist is a selfish manipulator.

Also, unlike Twilight, there is a clear conflict going on. In The Host, aliens are hunting down Wanda and the remaining humans to completely conquer the world. In each of the Twilight movies, the conflicts seem to be of the pulled out their ass variety. I have seen every Twilight movie, and I honestly cannot tell you why for example, why vampires wanted to fight the Cullens in the first one. Now again, that doesn’t make The Host’s plot any good. Most of the time the humans aren’t really fighting the aliens as much as they are milling about their secret base doing nothing. This movie is dull more than anything else. Not much happens in the conflict between humans and aliens and not all that much is done with the love triangle.

It is kind of pointless to talk about the direction. As evidenced by the Twilight movies, it doesn’t matter how good a director you have attached to the project, they still have to work with the material of Stephanie Meyer. I love Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca and Lord of War. And while he adds an interesting visual flair to the movie, he can’t do anything to make the script any more interesting.

Maybe I caught this in a good mood, but I didn’t hate The Host. It is mostly dull and at times the premise and the hamfisted dialog can lead to very hammy exchanges with the actors. But I can at least appreciate that the fact I didn’t want to murder the main characters. Would I recommend it? Oh hell no. I’m just saying I can admit this is not the worst thing ever.

The Big Wedding (Justin Zackham) 2013

Posted in B on April 25, 2014 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $35 million
Worldwide Gross: $21 million

The Big Wedding is about Alejandro (Ben Barnes) who is getting married to Missy (Amanda Seyfried). Alejandro’s mother is coming to the wedding from Columbia and she is an ultra conservative Christian. Alejandro believes if his mother finds out his adoptive parents are divorced, she will not give her consent to the wedding. So Alejandro lies and tells her his adoptive parents Don (Robert DeNiro) and Ellie (Diane Keaton) are married. They must now pretend to like each other until the wedding concludes.

Doesn’t the plot of this come off as severely outdated? It is especially weird as this isn’t about how Alejandro or Missy appear to their parents but how Alejandro’s adoptive parents seem to Alejandro’s mother. You could maybe, MAYBE do a movie where the mother disapproves of Missy’s religion or portray her a crazy free spirit as opposed to the mother’s ultra conservative views on what a wife would be. Pardon my language in advance, but who gives a flying fuck what Alejandro’s mother thinks about his adoptive American parents?

Nothing about this plot really resonates with or is relatable to the audience. The comedy is especially toothless as nothing is really done with it. Yeah, you heard me. The writers don’t really do anything with the main plot of the movie. You see, the mother speaks only Spanish, so our characters don’t even have to pretend very hard to like one another to fool mommie dearest. All they do is give a fake smile and mutter curse words at one another. So there isn’t really any comic potential where there is not a chance in hell she is going to find out Don and Ellie are not married.

But I don’t want to give the impression the Don, Ellie, and mother storyline is the only one working here. This is kind of an ensemble piece so there are several subplots I guess to show how crazy weddings can be and other such crap. Jared (Topher Grace) is a virgin who is saving himself in yet another strangely outdated character trait. Anyway, Madonna (Alejandro’s mother) brought his daugther Nuria as a translator and she is something of a flirt. Hilarity supposedly ensues as she will, for example, go skinny dipping and we see Topher Grace try to conceal a boner. When you are being upstaged by Two and a Half Men on purile sex humor, you are doing something wrong.

What else do we have. Don is a recovering alcoholic who is being driven to drink by the wedding. Wait, that’s not funny. Okay, well we have Lyla (Katherine Heigl) who is separated from her spouse because she can’t have kids. That’s not funny either. Oh, we have Bebe (Susan Sarandon) who is Don’s current girlfriend who is kicked out of the house when Don has to pretend to be married to Ellie. This provides no real conflict and Sarandon is out of the picture for long stretches of the film.

This movie is supposed to be absurdity after absurdity in the quest of keeping Madonna in the dark, culminating in the wedding when the whole house of cards comes tumbling down. But there are no big set pieces and the jokes are what you would get from the weakest episodes of How I Met Your Mother. I would mention the acting, but it doesn’t matter. You have very good veteran actors who try their best but they can’t do anything with this flat material. It is clear to see why this bombed. Why spend good money on a comedy that is less inspired and less funny than stuff you can get on free TV?

Dirty (2005) Chris Fisher

Posted in D on December 4, 2013 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $3 million
Domestic Gross: $274,000

Dirty follows Officer Sancho (Clifton Collins Jr.) through a day in which all he is supposed to do is go to IA over a shooting incident he was involved in. His partner Salim (Cuba Gooding Jr.) gets him involved in an illegal scheme to get close to higher ups in the department. Sancho soon finds himself in over his head with stolen drugs and several people out to kill him and his partner.

So from that description, the box cover, and everything else you get the clear impression this is a quick cash in on the success of Training Day. One of the responses from people when I mention this movie is “Cuba is playing the Denzel Training Day role!? Really?” While I certainly admit he’s not playing his usual type with this role, I was at least more hopeful about this movie. I mean, I’d rather want a Cuba who is at least trying than some of his other DTV crap like The Devil’s Tomb where he is almost sleepwalking through it. There I go with that ‘hope’ thing again.

Dirty is so incompetent and over the top I was laughing quite a bit throughout. There is no subtlety to anything in this movie. Salim is not just a bent cop, he might as well be tying women to railroad tracks and bombing orphanages while twirling a mustache. In five minutes alone he sexually assaults a woman on a public beach in broad daylight, all the while screeching the N word at anyone within earshot, then goes back to his patrol vehicle where he guzzles from a gallon size bottle of vodka. He gets into several shoot outs over stolen drugs he took from the evidence locker, then gets in his car to go to IA with a bullet wound in his leg wrapped up in duct tape.

Why does he do this? There is a vague promise of getting in good with the dirty captain and whatnot but what it boils down to is a pair of playoff tickets. Yup, playoff tickets. I was absolutely laughing my ass off when Salim, after going through hell and is going to IA, the Sergeant takes back the playoff tickets since he won’t be using them stuck in IA. It’s like, not only is this guy evil, but he is a Lumberg from Office Space type douchebag who will take back gifts. What an asshole.

Cuba Gooding Jr. is hilariously miscast in this role. He tries to do the “King Kong ain’t got shit on me” act but he just can’t pull it off. He tries by using every racial epithet and curse word and is screaming to the rafters and yet he still carries about as much menace as Meg Ryan. Now I know Cuba has cultivated a persona of an action hero. And while I normally buy him as a soldier or a hit man, I just don’t get the fear of god dread from his act. Someone like Clint Eastwood in his 80′s can still say “You every meet someone you know you just shouldn’t have fucked with *spit * That’s me.” and people would still be nervous. With Cuba I still think he should be driving an ice cream truck with Skeet Ulrich.

Obviously this movie doesn’t work on its own terms. Every character is irredeemable from the start so we don’t care what happens to them. The writing is so heavy handed and over the top and the plot gets downright confusing with unnecessary double and triple crosses. And despite my laughing at the insanity of it all, I was missing some action scenes. I mean there are some minor shoot outs but in a movie so crazy in every other department, why are they shirking on the violence and nudity? You should at least strive to be more outrageous than the movie you are trying to rip off.

I really don’t know how to adequately sum up here. Obviously for most of you out there don’t watch this. It is a terrible movie. What I am more struggling with is if bad movie aficionados should watch it either. Like I said, I was laughing pretty consistently at the terrible writing and the over the top acting. But that being said, it feels like it is missing out on the action or the gross excess that would make this a must see bad movie. Ultimately I think with all its lacking, plus the fact every character is so patently unlikable, that I can’t even recommend Dirty in that regard either. But at the very least, it is more interesting than The Devil’s Tomb.

Annapolis (2006) James Wan

Posted in A on October 3, 2013 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $26 million
Worldwide Gross: $17 million

Annapolis is about Jake (James Franco) who gets accepted to the US Naval Academy. Jake is having trouble especially under the strict instructor Cole (Tyrese Gibson). Jake is an amateur boxer who joins the academy boxing tournament in the hopes of beating champion Cole.

This movie received absolutely rotten reviews, garnering a 10% on Rottentomatoes. Most of the reviews seemed to focus on the similarities between this and An Officer and a Gentleman and even Top Gun. Now I’ll make a confession that I have not, as yet, seen An Officer and a Gentleman. But despite that just by reading the plot description I can’t see it being a rip off. Yes, both are about a Naval academy and a tough drill sergeant type character. I personally don’t care if Lin was remaking or ripping off An Officer and a Gentleman as long as he does it well. It just strikes me as odd that is front and center in their dismissal of this movie. I have my problems with Annapolis but it has nothing to do with that.

Right off the bat though I will say this isn’t nearly as dreadful as the tomatometer would have you believe. At the very least Annapolis is a functional movie. It is surprising that despite being about Annapolis the movie doesn’t bash you about the head with ‘Rah Rah America Fuck Yeah’ rhetoric. It is focused on a guy getting through a boot camp which could have taken place just about anywhere at anytime. I really didn’t see anything to indicate Annapolis is any different or any more difficult than any other basic boot camp. But at the heart of it is a simple story about a loner learning to accept help from friends and about the power of teamwork.

Everything is basic but functional from the plot elements to the acting. It is mediocre, but none of it flat out sucks. That might be an even worse thing to say really. People can laugh at a movie that sucks but being forgettable may be a worse crime. It doesn’t help that the acting is all so bland. James Franco is just so unbelievably bland. He gives you absolutely no reason to care about our main character at all. That might be forgiven if he had a good antagonist but Tyrese Gibson is in a competition to see who can give less of a screen presence. Gibson is supposed to be the ruthless drill instructor. This is a part begging for scenery chewing but all Gibson can manage is his constipated face to everything. Jordana Brewster exists. That is about all I have to say about that. Okay, in all honesty she’s fine, rather her character is non-existent. I like she started out as an empowered female character but by the end the movie does the lame predictable thing by making her the token love interest. Keep in mind this is not due to anything in the story really showing a relationship growing but just because we need a romance I guess.

Now I said everything is basic but I will give a few more flaws with the overall movie. You notice my initial plot synopsis? You notice how it seems disjointed? You know, in the first sentence I mention boot camp and then in the next I’m talking about both doing some boxing tournament. Well, the movie plot is just as disjointed. Now I know what the writers were trying in theory but in execution it fails. In theory instructor Cole is supposed to be Darth Vader in dress whites. I mean we are supposed to hate him with a violent passion. Normally you can’t go around slugging your superior but in this tournament there is no rank. So the events of the film are supposed to lead up to Jake (and subsequently the audience) getting so pissed off at Cole that he will do anything to take a shot at him in the ring.

But much of the movie is spent with Jake trying to get through boot and getting over his own problem of accepting help from others. The conflict comes from Jake himself and the challenges from boot aren’t all that crazy. That’s another thing too; it’s because of that I don’t consider Cole all that bad of a character. We are supposed to think he is evil incarnate and he deserves to be knocked out but he doesn’t really do anything any other instructor would do. So in the third act we switch gears to a Rocky training montage and the tone also switches with an audible thud. To use Top Gun as an example, it would be like going through the Top Gun tournament complete with Iceman winning and then instead of the regular third act, Maverick spends 20 minutes training for a squad kickboxing tournament. It would be something poorly established and I wouldn’t consider Iceman to be someone who needs knocking out. They are rivals yes, but they take it out in flight exercises and in volleyball games; not real fighting though. Point is, the third act doesn’t mesh with everything that has happened so far in the film.

I didn’t hate Annapolis as I was watching it. Keep in mind I do this for a review blog so I’m kind of forced to sit though this. Just because I don’t object to having to watch it doesn’t mean I would recommend it. It has its problems but none of it amount to it being a horrible movie. If you were interested in the trailers and caught it on TV then go ahead. But really the movie is too bland and generic for you to take time out of you schedule and watch it.

The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008) Mark Waters

Posted in S on September 4, 2013 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $90 million
Worldwide Gross: $162 million

The Spiderwick Chronicles was one of many fantasy books turned to movie upon the success The Lord of the Rings and more notably Harry Potter. The movie did receive mostly positive reviews however that did not prevent it from flopping at the box office. The story is about divorced mother Helen (Mary-Louise Parker) bringing her children Mallory (Sarah Bolger) and twin brothers Jared and Simon (both played by Freddie Highmore) to the secluded house of a lost relative. The children find a journal of the relative Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn). This journal containes information on all of the creatures that normally stay hidden in the worls like fairies and trolls. The troll Mulgrath (Nick Nolte) wants the journal to take over the world.

While there are movies that feel more like cheap and lazy cash ins like Eragon and The Seeker, The Spiderwick Chronicles feels like it is actually trying. The plot has elements that could be from Harry Potter, but it is not the beat for beat retread from say Eragon. You do have that hidden world element along with magical creatures, but it is repackaged nicely in a kind of Charles Darwin exploration and cataloging of this mystical world.

The story works best bundled with the surprisingly well written character stories. Much of the story is about Jared coming to terms with his parents divorce. In the beginning he is a complete ass to his mom and a bit of a troublemaker. I actually like that because it gives his character an arc. Many of the problems with these movies are the protagonist is a perfect goody goody from the start. Here he has to get over some personal problems and at times it was more interesting than the magical stuff.

There was something about this movie though that kept it from being great. Something I can’t quite put my finger on. One thing I hear is the writers combined several of the Spiderwick books into one movie. That might be the case because the story did seem to meander a bit. We do have to wait a while until we finally learn about an actual threat to the children. The world also doesn’t seem as large as it should be. After all, we are told that there is an entire world hidden from us that is just now being exposed, and in the end we spend most of the movie in a cabin in the woods speaking to a few trolls and fairies. Or it could be that some of the writing to get our protagonists out of danger is a bit too childish even for a children’s story. What harms the trolls? Ketchup. Maybe that could have been established better but it seems way too goofy for me.

The acting of the movie is pretty good all around. Nick Nolte as usual plays a homeless man well and Mary-Louise Parker is charming enough as the mother way in over her head. David Strathairn is fine although he doesn’t get nearly enough time. The best performance goes to Freddie Highmore who plays the twins. Even though it sounds like a cutsie gimmick, he actually does a good job in making them distinct and you don’t think about it after a few minutes.

The Spiderwick Chronicles is an entertaining movie. It establishes its own universe which is distinct enough to not feel like a retread. The characters are interesting and you are genuinely invested in seeing what happens next. There is something lacking from the writing which keeps me from saying this is a great movie. Whether that be from losing something from translation from the books or whether it is something else I’m not too sure about. Still, as a children’s film I certainly recommend it.

The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (2000) Des McAnuff

Posted in A on August 25, 2013 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $76 million
Worldwide Gross: $35 million

Yeah, I know the reaction. I think everyone who sees the poster or trailer have the same reaction. Well, now that I think about it, there were two reactions. The first was: has Robert DeNiro done anything more embarrassing than this? The second was either “oh god…” or “Why?”. Because it is just one of those concepts that shouldn’t be made into a movie.

For one I don’t know why this had to be made into a live action film period. I know in Hollywood there is a perceived hierarchy of movies and doing something live action is somehow better than an animated movie. It is why Akira can never be left alone and every year we get the “AKIRA is being made live action!!!” news headline. But in an age where movies like Finding Nemo are crushing other live action movies (or in the case of an already existing franchise The Simpsons animated movie) I don’t get what the fetish is. People just haven’t learned. There are things you can get away with in cartoons that you just can’t in real life. The real life Scooby gang looks friggin’ stupid, the Flintstones looked hideous, and a real life Homer Simpson would be a wide awake nightmare.

But even overlooking the big picture of live action animated movies in general, Rocky and Bullwinkle still shouldn’t have been considered for a full length movie. Why? It is the same reason I gave a shudder when The Three Stooges came out as a film. I’m sure the Farrellys wanted to be faithful to the material; I had no problem with that. It was because most times the Stooges were best taken in small doses which is why the shorts were great. They got in and out fast and the Stooges never overstayed their welcome. Rocky and Bullwinkle was really a 20-ish minute show and it wasn’t even completely filled with Rocky and Bullwinkle. Remember Dudley Do-Right? Peabody’s Improbable History? Fractured Fairy Tales? In the show things played off like a variety show which made things fresh and interesting. But when Rocky and Bullwinkle don’t even fill 20 minutes of their own cartoon, how in the hell are they going to fill 90 minutes? I don’t think I can hold your suspense on whether this movie is bad. But the real question is how bad? I gauge the absolute worst on the level of the Rocky and Bullwinkle NES game which I actually played btw.

If I were to praise this movie it would be that, in terms of other cartoons turned live action movies, this one does stay more faithful to the source material than most. We don’t get the other segments like in the cartoon, but the overall bad puns and self-referential humor of the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon is present.

But then that transitions to the big problem of this movie. This movie only really has one note and it hammers it and hammers it and hammers it for 90 minutes. You are going to be bludgeoned with cheesy lines and puns that should all be followed by the “WAH WAH WAHHHHHH” over the soundtrack. Just look…

R: Bullwinkle, you weigh 400 imaginary pounds. B: Yeah, but it’s all moose-le.

‘Bullwinkle, can you rappel?’ ‘Sure. I’ve been repelling viewers for years.’

Cappy: Bullwinkle, allow me to be frank.
Bullwinkle: OK, allow me to be Bullwinkle.
Cappy: I’m Cappy Von Trent.
Bullwinkle: I thought you said your name was Frank.
Cappy: Shut up Bullwinkle.
Bullwinkle: All right Frank.

You get the gist. Now I’m fine with a cheesy pun every now and then. But after sitting through an entire movie you get fed up. I actually made a note. There was a moment where I had to look at the timer because that was just about where I got bored. It was the moment where the plot went about as far as it could go, and the humor was overstaying its welcome. I still had an hour to go at that point.

I could even have forgiven the beyond bare bones plot and the lame humor if there was any kind of characters in it but there is not. I know, I am bitching about characters in a Rocky and Bullwinkle movie but hear me out. Having character arcs or having something for the characters to overcome is not limited to serious dramas. Take the recent Muppets movie for crying out loud. They actually have a similar story in that both acts are struggling in a world where they have lost their relevancy. But the muppets had their own problems of getting along and the human characters had to deal with moving their relationship to the next level and whatnot. I’m not asking for deep insight here but you have to give the characters SOMETHING to do.

In fact, one of the only slightly interesting things was the female protagonist FBI agent Karen Sympathy, who was driving the plot along. I’ll give it to the actress Piper Perabo, she was acting the shit out of this movie. And for a movie like The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, she didn’t have to give much effort. Of all the real actors playing the cartoon characters, the only one I felt did a decent job was Rene Russo as Natasha. I say that and she is the only actor to get a Razzie nom for this was Rene Russo. DeNiro is just kind of in this movie and doesn’t contribute much besides embarrassment. Jason Alexander is actually really bad in his role. Most of the time he reverts to George Costanza and he has these prop teeth that he wears that was extremely distracting rather than amusing.

This isn’t the worst thing ever. I’ll admit there were sparse moments where there was a self referential joke or a pun that even got through my defenses. Although for each of those moments there was another that was painfully embarrassing. Take, for example, one of the few times this movie actually goes “modern” and Bullwinkle gets “jiggy with it”. And the less said about DeNiro doing his “You talkin’ to me…” shtick in this movie, the better we will all be. Really, this movie is just a chore to sit through. By the time the cartoon would have been over Rocky and Bullwinkle runs through all its best material and you still have to sit through another 70 minutes. There is no plot, no characters, and there is nothing else to distract you from the monotony like the show would have. And really, why the hell do we have to have a $76 million dollar Rocky and Bullwinkle movie? At the end of the day, that is the question investors should have been asking. But no, this isn’t as bad as the NES game as there are few things worse than that. The movie is dull but not offensive and far from the worst thing ever.

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