Archive for October, 2010

Lifeforce (1985) Tobe Hooper

Posted in L on October 27, 2010 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $25 million

Gross: $11 million

Lifeforce is about a space shuttle mission to Haley’s Comet in which the astronauts find a space craft hiding in the tail. In the ship they find the perfectly preserved bodies of one female and two males. On the way back to Earth, all of the crew member dies with the exception of Col. Tom Carlsen (Steve Railsback). The three bodies are actually a kind of intergalactic space vampire who sucks the life force out of people. The victims turn into zombies who also try to take people’s life force.

This feels like the most expensive B movie ever made. Everything about it screams “big budget sci fi thriller”; which the producers were really trying for. But when you actually describe what is in the movie, you wonder who this ever got past the initial pitch. It’s like Hooper was trying to make 10 different types of horror movies and smush them into one awesome package. Okay, at first we have this completely naked hot chick who sucks the lifeforce out of you (scifi vampire movie). But then let’s have zombies and a kind of plague theme (zombie/outbreak movie). But then this naked chick is really just a spirit who can take over people (shapeshifter/”Fallen” type/”The Thing” type scifi movie). But then the plague gets out of control and it turns into a kind of disaster movie. But we can’t forget the tits!

This kind of ‘throw it against the wall and see what sticks’ approach is what makes this movie bad but also awesomely bad at the same time. It’s like the Mad Libs of horror movies. Lifeforce wants to be an erotic horror movie and it is interesting to see how Species (being made ten years later) seemed to get it right. The set up is simple and only takes about ten minutes to explain to the audience. Lifeforce is so convoluted that even with a few minutes left, characters are still expelling exposition like diarrhea and I am repeatedly asking “Why?” to my television expecting some kind of reply. Now this could be because production was cut off (due to going past schedule) and there were big cuts to the running time, but I doubt it. This movie doesn’t make much sense and you really aren’t supposed to examine it that critically.

This movie is a guilty pleasure, if for the simple reason you are watching Mathilda May walk around naked for two thirds of it. When you are not looking at that, you are given your share of the funny and the bizarre. Let me put it to you like this. One of the most tension filled scenes is probably when the vampire entices Carlsen to kiss her while in Patrick Stewart’s body. Really, there is not much more I can say about that.

As I mentioned before the budget for this movie is impressive. A lot of work went into this movie. The effects for the zombies are great and the scope is large scale. And at times the plot about tracking the Space Girl is interesting enough on its own. However I will say this movie did start to drag for me after a little while. I think campy movies are best enjoyed at a brisk pace where all the crazy can be condensed in a tight package. At 2 hours, Lifeforce does tend to drag a little at certain points.

On the whole I enjoyed this movie. It is by no means supposed to be taken seriously. This is the very definition of ‘so bad it’s good’. While I would have liked for it to be a little shorter, there is more than enough to keep me entertained throughout.

Waiting for Superman (Davis Guggenheim) 2010

Posted in W on October 14, 2010 by moviemoses

This is a documentary directed by the person who also made An Inconvenient Truth and It Might Get Loud. This movie is about the failing school system in America. The number of drop outs are rising and our proficiency in science and math are dropping rapidly. In addition to trying to find reasons for the problem, we follow several families that are trying to enroll in better charter schools. The schools have a limited number of slots and the applicants have to win a lottery in order to get in.

 

This is a complicated issue with many things holding education back. One of the main issue that Guggenheim takes on which will raise controversy is that of the teachers union and the concept of tenure. Many of the unions use tenure, where after two years it becomes a near impossibility to terminate teachers from employment. Unions block any kind of merit pay or evaluation system and they make elected school superintendents useless. I can already tell there is going to be a big backlash against this movie by teachers but there should be fair evaluations of teachers.

 

Now to give them credit, I will say it is not all about teachers. Guggenheim rather quickly dismisses the fact we are spending enough on schools. But when you consider schools are still packed way beyond capacity, teachers are being fired by the recession, and budgets are low enough that teachers have to pay for many school supplies, you can’t say that money doesn’t have some part to play. However, I do agree that money is not the sole factor in quality of education. The quality of the teacher is a prime factor in how well the students learn.

 

Guggenheim does a good job in making the presentation interesting. There are plenty of different animations and subplots to go to so that the movie is not just a series of talking heads. The analysis of the situation is interesting and the personal stories are compelling in their own right. I don’t think this documentary is perfect. I think it does a good job though in outlining the problem for people not familiar with the topic and presenting a hypothesis not immediately considered (due to public opinion and how we view teachers). I think Guggenheim is a good director and I recommend this movie to people interested in the subject.

 

The Social Network (David Fincher) 2010

Posted in S on October 14, 2010 by moviemoses

It was interesting to read the comments before the movie was out; specifically misunderstanding of what it would be. There is still a bit of that going on by most people calling it “The Facebook Movie”. It is almost as if people expected a movie where people posted on Facebook all the time or some dry narrative about people coding. While this is based on the creation of Facebook (take not of the “based” since this is Hollywood after all), The Social Network is more a character study than anything else.

 

We follow Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) as he recounts his creation of Thefacebook through a series of lawsuits (which focus the narrative). Among the people suing him are the Winklevosses (brothers who are part of Harvard’s elite clubs) who gave him the idea and his best friend and CFO of Facebook Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield).

 

Much of what makes this movie work is the clever writing by Aaron Sorkin (West Wing). Sorkin is one of my favorite writers in that he can take rather dry material and make it informative, funny, and witty. He also avoids making anyone into two dimensional characters or caricatures. Even the Winklevosses who in any other screenplay would be the smarmy elite snobs that want to drag the little man down, here has dimensions. You can understand where all these characters are coming from even if you don’t agree with them.

 

Who really carries the movie is Jesse Eisenberg. At first I probably wrote him off as trying to be another Michael Cera (and I hate Michael Cera), but here he actually is able to give a complex and layered performance. It could be easy to label him a dick but there is a lot going on. As Devin from CHUD I think put perfectly, Zuckerberg is driven not by fear of rejection, but lack of acceptance. His intelligence obviously is his greatest asset to Facebook, but it gets in the way of his personal relationships. He over analyzes his relationships and treats friends at times like business rivals. I would not have expected it but he gives a wonderful performance in the main role. I also have to give credit to Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker (who created Napster). He has a very memorable performance as this kind of nerd rock star who parties all night and has lines like a used car salesman.

 

If you couldn’t tell I really liked this movie. It is going to be one I am going to see multiple times and own the Blu Ray of. Throw out what you expectations of this movie might be and come into it with an open mind and I think you will enjoy it. I highly recommend this movie.

 

Machete (Ethan Maniquis, Robert Rodriguez) 2010

Posted in M on October 14, 2010 by moviemoses

Yeah, I’m late to the party. I finally caught it with some co-workers this weekend. So, I’m going to cut through plot synopsis and some usual chit chat to go into what I loved/hated about it. First with the hate.

 

My number one problem by a wide margin is Jessica Alba. If she dragged down Sin City with only about ten minutes of screen time, then she cripples a movie by sharing the screen time with Danny Trejo. Yeah, she gets just as much screen time; if not more than the title character. Rodriguez seems to be repeating the same problem with Once Upon a Time in Mexico. That being cluttering up his film with too many characters and delegating the main character to a supporting role. In OUATIM, at least Johnny Depp was entertaining. In Machete, Jessica Alba is simply dreadful. Her character is written horribly, but that doesn’t change the fact she has less than no personality (she somehow sucks the joy off the screen), and her line reads are terrible. When she delivered the line “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us” I think I joined my six friends in projectile vomiting. Her character contributes nothing, and getting through her story arc is a painful slog. If you cut her scenes out of this movie I would love this movie. I don’t care if it then becomes a 45 minute short film, it would be infinitely better than the shit you give me now.

 

Speaking of useless, let’s move onto Lindsay Lohan. She sucks, her character is also pointless, and I’m not going so suffer through her acting for any amount of obscured boobs. And while I like Don Johnson and Robert DeNiro as actors, they have absolutely nothing to do in this movie.

 

A point of discussion with this film is the politics. And while I don’t have a problem with a movie having a political message, I think Rodriguez goes a little overboard. There is a difference between delivering a message and getting on a soapbox and being didactic. Not to turn this into a political review (so I’m not going to linger on it), I am open to immigration reform, but I was getting tired of the brow beating every five minutes and the over the top idea of essentially erasing the borders completely.

 

I also think the ending suffers from the problem of excess. Yes, I know this whole movie is over the top with the satire but you can overdo it. The climax had an endless parade of Rodriguez’s characters to stand in front of the camera and fire a machine gun. It’s like Rodriguez lost his way completely with the story and just decided to have his cast take one final bow.

 

Now, let me talk about what I liked. I did like Michelle Rodriguez and she had a good role in this movie. I also loved Steven Seagal as the Mexican drug kingpin Torrez. Hearing him use a Spanish accent and ham it up is hilarious. Jeff Fahey is great and should have gotten more screen time. And of course, the main thing to love about this movie is Danny Trejo. He has some truly funny lines and steals every scene he is in. Again, it is just such a damn shame he plays second banana to Jessica freaking Alba.

 

In the end, I’m not sure how to really feel about this movie. I had a fun time with it. It was a great movie to watch with the guys. That being said, it feels like half a great movie, half a crappy one. If I were to buy this movie, I think I would have my thumb glued on the fast forward button to skip past every worthless scene by Alba, Lohan, and DeNiro. Of course that would have me skipping a lot, and I don’t think a great movie should have me skipping through so much crap. So while I do recommend it, I think Rodriguez dropped the ball big time. He turned a great movie into a slightly good one.

 

Hearts of Fire (1987) Richard Marquand

Posted in H on October 12, 2010 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $17 million

Gross: unknown

 

Yeah, I know I don’t have numbers but it did bomb. The film only had a two week release in the UK and didn’t even see theaters in the US (was shipped direct to video). And yes, I had to seek this one out and pay for it with my own dime. This is a true unknown. When there are only 16 reviews of this movie on IMDb, then you know the producers were more ashamed of this movie and buried it in a darker place than all those ET Atari cartridges.

 

The movie was originally a vehicle for Dylan. The movie is about young Molly (played by a woman only billed as Fiona) who hopes one day to be a big rock star. She is mentored by reclusive rocker Billy (Bob Dylan). During the tour she meets a young pop star named Colt (Rupert Everett) and they hit it off. Billy thinks Colt is just using her and Molly is unsure who to be loyal to.

 

Now a lot of people want to throw Dylan under the bus and blame him for the failure of this movie. Heck, even Dylan admits he just did it for the money. But honestly, Dylan is the only thing that was enjoyable at all in this film. Musicians turned actors can be a mixed bag. Sometimes you get people that can do well like Eminem in 8 Mile and sometimes you get people with negative personality like 50 Cent in Get Rich or Die Tryin’. I am by no means saying that Dylan is a great actor, but he is a hell of a personality. When he was on screen, this movie was hilarious. Just picture this serious movie about a person getting their big break, and every 10 minutes a space alien comes in, hovers around, then wanders out of the frame. It’s like if Capt. Jack Sparrow wasn’t modeled after Keith Richards, it probably would have been based on this performance. Every scene he’s in he is just stumbling around, looking so puzzled, and throwing out some truly nonsensical lines (which is so true to his character that I say he’s not acting at all) which make you laugh. Really, his scenes are the one redeeming part of an otherwise sh*tty movie.

 

The rest of the movie is terrible. The best way to describe it is utterly predictable and boring. What’s odd is that even though this is supposed to by a Dylan vehicle, this is more a Fiona vehicle. Dylan has very limited screen time and only two songs (including a duet with Fiona which was so inharmonious it made my ears bleed). Fiona is the main character and she has the majority of the songs. Fiona is just not up to the task of carrying a movie. I can’t say she does a bad job, but she isn’t compelling either. I don’t care about her character and I don’t care for this paper thin plot to move it along. And I am being generous in describing this plot as paper thin. The majority of the running time is padded out with endless numbers from Fiona. And I know this is a musical movie, but when you have like 12 musical numbers it gets to be a bit much.

 

It also feels like some pages were torn out of the script because the end doesn’t really make any sense. Okay, so in the end you would expect to see Colt revealed as the scummy record producer he is and Molly to see the error of her ways. That is what you expect from this predictable script. Well as it happens after a show, one of Colt’s fans tries to kill Colt and ends up committing suicide. Molly somehow takes from this event that A: the music industry is evil (and I don’t know how you draw that logical conclusion) and B: Colt doesn’t care about her (everyone join me in saying “HUH!?”). Then the movie just kind of peters out. Molly moves on with her life and becomes the next big star, Colt continues to by Billy Idol, and Bob Dylan continues to be completely mental.

 

I guess another reason I don’t care about all the musical numbers is I don’t care all that much about Fiona. Her music kind of sounds like an even more mellow version of Pat Benatar. While her songs aren’t bad, they aren’t what I paid money to see. I didn’t come to see the Fiona story, I came to see Bob Dylan. I didn’t come to hear Fiona’s greatest hits, I came to hear Bob Dylan. If you didn’t feel right making him the star, you shouldn’t have made the movie. But I don’t like the bait and switch here. Dylan didn’t wreck a good movie here, in fact his crappy acting salvages it to fun camp.

 

In the end, Hearts of Fire is a bit of a mixed bag. I had a fun time with it, and if they had more Dylan I could almost recommend it as a campy romp (Bob Dylan’s Purple Rain as it were). But the Fiona sections really bogged down the movie and were almost painfully boring. For some, this might be fun to watch as an oddity but for most people I can’t recommend it. It’s bad, but not gloriously bad.