Archive for August, 2011

The Chaperone (2010) Stephen Harek

Posted in C on August 31, 2011 by moviemoses

I will apologize in advance for this review.  I had written this review several months prior when I originally saw it.  Somewhere along the way it magically disappeared off my computer (there are several possibilities but for the time being I will go with the magic excuse).  So I am writing this from faded memories seeing as how I like to forget some of the movies I’ve seen after I’ve written the review.  (in the case of the Chaperone doubly so)

The Chaperone is about Ray (Paul Levesque aka HHH) who is released from prison.  Ray is trying to reconnect with his family and become a functioning member of society again.  That is difficult for Ray and he soon falls back into his former ways with former gang member Phillip (Kevin Corrigan).  Ray, prior to robbing another bank, has a change of heart and hides out on his daughter’s school bus as their chaperone.  Little does Ray know that somehow the loot from the heist gets on the school bus.  Shenanigans ensue.

I remember watching the trailer for this movie and at the end of it being thoroughly confused.  Was this a comedy?  It seems to be since it has kids and a goofy premise of having WWE Superstar HHH as the chaperone of the field trip.  Yet despite trailers usually putting in the best jokes in the trailer I could not find anything that even remotely resembled a joke.  Turns out the trailer wasn’t too far off of how the movie felt since this is one of the unfunniest movies I have seen in a good long while.

Here is an example of the non-humor being written in this movie.  A long running joke is that Ray has read many self-help books in prison and refers to it many times during the course of the movie.  That’s it.  That’s the joke.  Can’t find the humor?  Neither can I.  I think what the writers were *intending * was Ray reading books about anger management and becoming more “sensitive”.  The humor coming from the fact you have a roided up (allegedly) wrestler whose gimmick is crippling people in the ring and having him be a big cuddly teddy bear who doesn’t want to fight anymore.  That somewhat resembles humor at least.  But having him quote cheesy inspirational crap like “when a door closes for you a window opens” or some such nonsense; that’s not funny.  That makes no sense.

Much of the humor is like that; stuff which is supposed to be a joke but isn’t.  It’s like space aliens looking at Earth culture and trying to re-create this thing called “humor” but failing miserably.  For example, the bus driver played like a surfer dude who takes everything mellow.  AND!?  And what movie?  What is supposed to be funny about that?  Is the actor playing that part supposed to be funny in it of itself? A kid on the school bus has a backpack full of firecrackers…AND?  No punch line.  No reason for why this kid has a backpack full of firecrackers except it gets shoe horned in at the finale (even though it didn’t have to be).  Do you see what I mean; this stuff not making any sense?

Even the central premise of the movie (the fact WWE Superstar HHH is a chaperone) gets played out inside of a minute.  If you have seen the trailer you have seen HHH give a speech in his grumbly tone about how he is the chaperone and how he is not going to take crap from any kids and that’s it.  He doesn’t really do anything else in the movie.  I never thought I would be referencing all the good things Kindergarten  Cop did but at least in that movie they embraced the stupid premise.  Much of that movie was laughing at Ahnuld’s thick Austrian accent as he was trying to act tough in front of a classroom full of kindergarten kids.  In The Chaperone all we really get is one scene of HHH glowering at kids on a bus with his freakishly gigantic forehead ridges and the kids are scared straight.  HHH doesn’t have the charisma of Arnold.  Hell, he doesn’t even have the charisma of Tommy Wiseau.

You would think the director would play up to HHH’s strength and put in several action scenes but no.  He has about two fight scenes that don’t take up much time and aren’t at all memorable.  Even the climax of the movie has the kids rescuing Ray for crying out loud.  It’s not like I came to this piece of shit for HHH’s fantastic acting ability.  HHH is to acting what WWE’s Big Apple Takedown is to literature.  It’s an abomination.

The compound the problem of not having any jokes, the movie doesn’t have nearly enough to fill it’s 80 something minute running time.  It doesn’t help that there is no conflict in this movie.  Ray quickly finds out about the money and is perfectly willing to give the money back.  Stuff keeps coming up though which prevents him from going to the designated meet ups to deliver the money.  Eventually the bad guys capture him and ransom him for the money.  The money he was willing to give them in the first place.  Someone may argue it could be a recurring gag that Ray wants to do the simple task of giving money away and is thwarted by random chance.  But this is The Chaperone we are talking about here.  I’m not giving them credit for shit.  I’m further not giving them credit because it really doesn’t feel like it is done for humor.  It just feels like they needed to artificially pad out the movie so they threw in some bullshit speed bumps in the way.

This movie was so monumentally frustrating for me for a few reasons.  For one (something I say so often it could be a catchphrase or something) there is nothing worse than an unfunny comedy.  The other reason is for what I outlined earlier.  I was watching this movie trying to find out where the jokes were and what the writers thought were jokes.  The only thing that could be funny for people would be watching me watching this movie and yelling “Where’s the joke!?” at my TV.  As a person that appreciates good screenwriting this was like my kryptonite.  I am not sure if there is anything else to say: the acting blows, the plot is not only non-existent but artificially lengthened nothing, and there are no jokes in this supposed comedy.  This movie is fucking awful and there is no reason for it to exist.

 

Advertisements

That’s What I Am (2011) Michael Pavone

Posted in T on August 31, 2011 by moviemoses

I have sucked as of late getting numbers so for that I apologize.  I do know this movie was big enough of a flop that the head of WWE Films was sacked for it.  This was their attempt at making a film that critics would enjoy and it tanked.

That’s What I Am follows Andy (Chase Ellison) through his last year of junior high.  Andy has many of the typical problems of children his age such as his first crush involving a girl in his class.  Those problems are made worse though when Andy’s favorite teacher Mr. Simon (Ed Harris) makes Andy work on a semester long project with a kid known as “Big G” (Alexander Walters).  Big G is the subject of ridicule at the school for not only being a nerd but for his unusually large body for his age.  Andy has to learn to deal with the intolerant children at school while Mr. Simon is caught up in intolerance of his own as a rumor spreads through the school he is a homosexual.

I am very familiar with WWE Films.  In addition to reviewing The Chaparone (which is one of the unfunniest comedies ever) I have seen most of their other films.  I can tell you the reason this movie failed because I got the same reaction seeing the trailer as I’m sure everyone else had.  It’s that “here we go again” type of feeling.  It is like (to use a simile involving this movie) walking down the hall expecting your daily swirly from the school bully.  The audience came to the decision they did not prefer any more swirlies and chose to transfer to a different school.  The problem is…

 

Ugh, I can’t even say it.  It is like bile in my throat.  The problem is…

That’s What I Am is not a bad movie.  I could go so far as to say it is a good movie.

This is the problem with text reviews because you can’t see the fact I had to projectile vomit for the past few hours due to the fact I had to pay a compliment to WWE Films.  If I had to say one reason why this isn’t a bad movie, is because it does nothing to associate itself with wrestlers or making a shitty wrestler oriented action movie.  Yes, I know the movie was billed as having starred WWE Superstar Randy Orton, but he is not really IN this movie.  I’m reminded of the movie Casino, where Robert DeNiro’s character had to appease the licensing commission by hiring the commissioner’s dumbass cousin.  DeNiro’s character tried putting the putz in the position that would cause the least amount of damage.  That’s what they did with Randy Orton’s character.  I’m not even sure his character has a name.  They just put him in as Bigoted Dad #2 so they could put him in the trailer to draw in the wrestling fans.  I think we all got spoiled with The Rock and his acting abilities none of these other Superstars can act.  If your movie stars Steve Austin, HHH, Big Show, Ted Dibiase, or whoever, then I don’t want to see it.  I can barely believe they can dress themselves in the morning let alone play whatever role you have for them.  Your movies suck because you have to make your movie so shitty in order to give the appearance the wrestler isn’t the worst part of it.

In this movie they let the real actors do their part.  They actually find some good child actors which carry the movie.  Even Ed Harris, who is in a limited supporting role, gives a performance so good at one time I got a little misty eyed.  That’s what I care about.  I want good characters along with good actors to pull them off.  Unless you are making a cheesy wrestling B movie where you have the wrestlers play wrestlers (far out concept, I know), then I really don’t give a crap about the WWE Superstars.

That’s What I Am can probably be described as a 90 minute episode of The Wonder Years.  We have our resident Kevin Arnold going through adolescence and learning a good life lesson by the end of it.  Heck, we even get a narration from an older Andy through the whole movie.  Sadly the narration isn’t done by Daniel Stern.  Much of the humor comes from the “quirky” stuff kids get into at that age.  It is all balanced out by a nice message about tolerance and understanding.

Now this isn’t a great movie.  The script is predicable, the writing is hammy at times, and like I mentioned earlier, this feels more like a long television episode rather than a movie.  But in terms of the expectations I had and the difficult task the director had (making a single WWE Film that didn’t suck) then I consider it a success.  It is not good enough that I would recommend that people go watch it, but if you were at all interested by it, it wouldn’t hurt to give it a shot.  It is a sweet enough movie that I don’t think anyone will have a problem with.

The Ward (2010) John Carpenter Some Spoilers

Posted in W on August 25, 2011 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $10 million

Gross: unable to find

The usual disclaimer that if numbers are found that show this movie made money I will post a correction.  I will also admit this isn’t a usual bomb in that this movie only had a limited release worldwide, consisting mostly of film festivals.  It is sad to say this will not be the only John Carpenter movie that will probably be reviewed by this blog.  Before this blog I did a blurb about In the Mouth of Madness (which I love), but Carpenter has had his share of bombs.  Hell, I didn’t even realize he did Memoirs of an Invisible Man; mostly because I had more respect for him than to think he was capable of making a movie like that.

But to get back on track, The Ward is about Kristen (Amber Heard) who is found by the police burning down an abandoned farm house.  She is committed to a psychiatric ward and is put under the care of Dr. Stringer (Jared Harris).  Kristen starts seeing a ghost around the ward and there is some mystery involving some of the patients and the staff.

It is a shame I have to bash a John Carpenter movie.  John Carpenter is one of my favorite directors making great movies like The Thing, Halloween, Big Trouble in Little China, Assault on Precinct 13 and other fun genre flicks.  It is also nice to see Carpenter return after being away from the director’s chair for about ten years so I hate to bash someone trying to get his mojo back.  But if a movie is bad then I have to be honest about it.

One problem with this movie is that it is incredibly generic.  Normally Carpenter can take a cliché premise and make it great through the writing or by effective directing.  Here it feels like any director could have pulled this worn out script off the shelf, dusted it off, and made this a direct to DVD fare horror film.  There is nothing new to add to the formula and the mystery is not engaging.  When you find out at the end that he is essentially doing his own cheaper take of Shutter Island, then you are even more frustrated.

It doesn’t help that the majority of the horror in this movie are jump scares.  Jump scares are to horror movies what dick and fart jokes are to a comedy.  You can use them as part of your movie effectively, but make a whole movie based on it, then it’ll suck.  You know that tired cliché of a character opening a bathroom mirror and when they close it someone is behind them.  That is this movie.  It is one cliché jump scare after another.

Another problem I had was with the characters.  We are literally told nothing about Kristen because by the nature of the twist ending, it all had to be a big mystery.  Because of that, Kristen is a blank slate with no personality or character.  We have no reason to care about this person other than the fact she is our designated main character.  It is almost not even worth talking about the other characters because they are either one dimensional or non-existent.

I won’t say The Ward is a terrible movie, but it is his weakest film.  The movie tries to have a shocking conclusion, but in doing so sabotages the rest of the film.  For so much of it, the plot feels like it is spinning its wheels so as to not give anything away too soon.  Much of the horror comes from cheap jump scares and does not have any legitimate feeling of dread for the characters.  For horror fans, this is a mediocre film at best.  For John Carpenter fans, I see this as a big letdown.  Let’s hope this is a bump in the road to something that is a little more entertaining.

 

Priest (2011) Scott Charles Stewart

Posted in P on August 25, 2011 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $60 million

Worldwide Gross: $76 million

Priest is set in a post-apocalyptic world where humans are at war with the vampires (which follows in a recent trend of non-vampire vampires but whatever).  The humans had a human fighting force called the Priests in order to fight the vampires.  When a truce was called between the two, the Priests were disbanded and forbidden to use their fighting skills again.  One of the Priests that is generically called “Priest” (Paul Bettany) is brought out of retirement when the vampires kidnap one of his family members.

Now if you look at the trailer or read descriptions of this movie you get the impression this is a cheesy genre mash up.  It is not to be taken too seriously and is there for laughs.  Well, Priest has a few problems with that.  First off, for a movie that is not to be taken too seriously, it takes itself too seriously.  Come on guys, this is a world where a cowboy vampire fights a ninja priest on top of an old west train in a post-apocalyptic future run by the Catholics.  There is no reason to play this up as if it could actually happen in real life.  Yeah, silly stuff happens like the Priest getting a higher jump by running up stones in mid air thrown by another priest.  But everything is brought back down by the completely lifeless acting of everyone.  A movie that I was reminded of which I will reference constantly during this review is John Carpenter’s Vampires (again, being such a huge film snob I reference a cheesy B movie).  In that movie you had an action horror movie which is, for the most part, played straight.  But you also had the ever lovable James Woods acting badass and throwing out cheesy one liners.  The cast took the events seriously, but that didn’t mean they could not pal around with one another or have *gasp * a personality.  You got the feeling the team had been around for a while and if they weren’t killing vampires, they would be palling around a construction site or something.  In Priest everyone is so lifeless and boring.  Paul Bettany just sits around the whole time and is always stern faced and dour.  It is like everyone took an Ambien before shooting.

The other problem with this mash up is that they mash up too many genres.  Priest is a vampire movie, a Mad Max style movie, an Equilibrium rip off which is also a Matrix rip off, a monster movie, a spaghetti western, and a kung fu movie.  When someone like Jon Favreau has trouble mixing two elements like Cowboys and Aliens, then what chance does Scott Charles Stewart have with mixing half a dozen elements?  It seemed like the writing spent so much time trying to justify how all these elements exist in this world that it couldn’t focus on the actual plot or the characters.  This leads into my biggest problems with the movie.

This movie had neither a good story nor interesting characters.  The writers again were too focused on making Priest a mysterious badass that they spent no time on why we should care about what he is doing or why we should pay attention to him.  Again, I know I am going to get flack for slamming the plot of a movie like Priest.  Keep in mind though that I have no problem with a movie with a far fetched plot as long as the elements are set up clearly and the world is internally consistent.  Earlier I bitched about the fact these vampires are not really vampires in the traditional definition.  I don’t even really have a problem with that as long as you tell me what it is our characters are actually dealing with.  In this movie we are never really told exactly what these vampires are, what they can do, how they can become vampires, or why they necessarily hate humans.  We are also never given what I think is a satisfying answer for why the bad guys are doing what they are doing other than they are just evil.  Then there are the nagging things about the story which don’t amount to anything.  Take for instance the Church’s hard line stance that the vampire threat no longer exists.  The Priest says he is going out to look for his relative and to eliminate the vampire threat.  To which, the Church leaders threaten there will be consequences.  This leads the viewer to believe either the church elders are either incredibly inept, or that they are in league with the vampires somehow.  However, this plot point is never followed up on and doesn’t factor into anything.  Let’s go back to John Carpenter’s Vampires as an example.  In that movie we are told exactly what these vampires are, what they can do, how they become vampires, what the main bad guy wants, and gives us all characters that are memorable and distinct. Again, I’m not looking for Shakespeare.  I don’t mind if you are making a cheesy vampire movie, but at least spend a little time so that I’m not sitting in the middle of the movie saying to myself “What the fuck is going on!?”

The action in this movie is spaced out too far so boredom sets in and the action we do get is uninteresting.  I mentioned earlier that we aren’t really told anything about the vampires (other than they are a generic snarling beast).  That factors into the action because if I don’t know what they are capable of I don’t know why I should think they are any match for the Priest.  In fact, of the times Priest has to fight the vampires they are all squash matches.  Yawn.  Even if I weren’t factoring that into the action, I found no one of the fight scenes to be all that interesting.  There was nothing that stuck out as all that memorable or of note.

It is bad when a movie barely over 80 minutes feels like an eternity but Priest accomplishes that.   The plot sucks, the characters are flat and lifeless, the action is uninteresting, and the concept is not played up to its full potential.  This film cannot even be enjoyed in a ‘so bad it’s good’ way because there isn’t enough there to mock and, again, the lifeless tone.  Don’t waste your time with this.

 

 

 

Love and Death (Woody Allen) 1975

Posted in L, Woody Allen Retrospective on August 15, 2011 by moviemoses

Love and Death is set in Russia during roughly the time of Napoleon’s invasion.  Nebbish Boris (Woody Allen) is trying to woo Sonja (Diane Keaton) but is caught up in the events of the time.  First he has to serve in the military despite being a pacifist, then is swept up in a plot to assassinate Napoleon.

This movie has been reported to be Woody’s personal favorite and I can easily see why.  It is clear to see his familiarity and love of Russian culture as he parodies psychology, literature, philosophy, and history.  He is doing more intellectual comedy and, even though it is still a little wacky, you see a lot more of Woody sorting out his own personal beliefs.  It is a nice meshing of his comedy writing, his philosophical musings, and his personal interests.

I kept wanting to really love this movie because it has a lot of things I should find really funny.  All during it I found it amusing, however I wasn’t finding it funny.  Part of that is most likely the fact I am doing a 40 movie re-visiting of Woody Allen so some weariness could be expected.  I mean, as good as it is too much of anything is no good for you.  It might also be that this is still something of a transitional period for Woody; going from screwball comedy to the intellectual comedy many are familiar with.

Personally I am chalking this up to being in something of a bad mood.  I say that because, for as little as I was laughing during the movie as it was playing, much of the movie has remained in my mind in the days since I have seen it.  The dialog is very witty and smart while in the same breath delivering ‘wah wah’ level puns.  And this quote by Diane Keaton,

“To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love, but then one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer, not to love is to suffer, to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love, to be happy then is to suffer but suffering makes one unhappy, therefore to be unhappy one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness. I hope you’re getting this down.”

That has to be one of my favorite quotes from a Woody Allen movie.  Love and Death is a movie that grows on you and despite my less than enthusiastic initial reception, this will be a movie I re-review before any other Woody Allen movie.  This movie probably isn’t for everyone or at least people unfamiliar with Woody.  Some of the earlier movies are better jumping on points.  To anyone that loves the intellectual comedy Woody does later in his career, I think there is a lot to love about this movie.  This review was short but up next in the retrospective is the classic Annie Hall.

Paul (Greg Mottola) 2011

Posted in P on August 15, 2011 by moviemoses

Paul is about a pair of nerds (played by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) who are on a road trip to the American southwest visiting several alien hot spots.  The come across an alien named Paul (Seth Rogen) who is on the run from several government agents.  Pegg and Frost’s characters decide to help Paul travel up north in order to meet up with a rescue ship.

I was very reluctant to see Paul.  I love the work of Pegg and Frost as Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are hilarious movies.  Two things were kind of holding me back.  First was the fact that Pegg’s American movies (Run Fatboy Run, How to Lose Friends…) were at best, mediocre.  Second was the trailer.  Holy crap did this movie trailer fail.  The comedy looked way too broad and seemed like another Seth Rogen stoner comedy.  Now that the movie is out on DVD I finally worked up the nerve to check it out.

2011 is a strange year for me because many of my expectations for movies end up being wrong.  I can’t think of another year where I have had so many ‘pleasant surprises’ or ‘movies I am sure will suck but end up being very good’.  I thought Thor would be too goofy, I thought Super 8 would be generic, I thought Bridesmaids would be absolutely dreadful, and so on.  This is a bit of a tangent, but long story short I was also wrong about Paul.

I found Paul to be a funny movie.  The humor is kind of a sampling of everything.  I mean you get nerd references, you get clever jokes, you get some raunchy bits, you get maybe one or two stoner jokes, and you get some slapstick.  The trailer did misrepresent what the movie was in that it focused solely on the stupid wherein the actual film you get a nice mix of everything.

Warning: this paragraph has some discussion of religion.  If you care then move onto the next paragraph.  There are a few people who are offended by the cracks at Christianity.  Speaking as an atheist living in a culture practically dominated by Christianity/Christian themes, I would first like to give a condescending “poor baby” while simultaneously playing the world’s smallest violin.  With that out of the way I will go back to my politically correct self.  The movie makes fun of a small group of Christian extreme views.  I doubt most people would say Ray Comfort, Ken Ham, or Fred Phelps would speak for them so I don’t know why many Christians would think Paul speaks for them.  Secondly, I saw this movie with a large group of Christian friends and they all loved the movie.  The point of that is I think some people are being hyper sensitive about one character which does not represent the whole.  Hell, the movie has a pair of hillbillies who look like they are out of Deliverance.  Should Southerners be upset at the stereotypes being portrayed in this movie too?

With that out of the way, I will go on to the acting.  Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (it should go without saying) are great together.  The reason they have done TV and movies for so long is they have a great natural chemistry and play off each other well.  Kristen Wiig, with Bridesmaids, Paul, and even Macgruber, has really come out as someone I like to see in comedies.  I think she is really funny and charming in the movies she is in.  I even like Seth Rogen in this movie.  I normally hate Seth Rogen’s antics but for some reason it all works when he is voicing Paul.  Jason Bateman is not that good but I base that more on not having enough material rather than bad acting.

I recommend Paul to just about everyone.  As I mentioned, the humor is good enough that I think there is something for everyone to enjoy.  It is a predictable movie and that predictability can sometimes bleed over into the humor where some gags are stale.  There is a loss by not having Edgar Wright directing Pegg and Frost.  And if you are comparing this to say Shaun or Hot Fuzz then Paul is not close to the greatness which are those movies.  Paul is though, still a very fun movie and I see myself watching it again soon.

Sleeper (Woody Allen) 1973

Posted in S, Woody Allen Retrospective on August 9, 2011 by moviemoses

Sleeper is about nebbish (that is an adjective you will see in almost all Woody reviews) Miles Monroe.  Miles eh?  Dunno where he got that name from but it sounds hella awesome.  Anyway, he is the owner of a health food store who gets cryogenically frozen after a botched minor operation.  He wakes up 200 years in the future where things are controlled by a totalitarian police state.  Miles joins an underground resistance in order to fight the “leader” of said police state.

Sleeper is usually in the pantheons of many people’s best of Woody list and frequents many best of comedies list.  I can certainly see reasons why so many people like it.  For one, it is one of Woody’s most accessible comedies.  Woody is paying homage to physical comedians of the past like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.  Sleeper was, at least early on, an attempt to bring a silent comedy into the modern age.  Slapstick and physical humor is not, by itself, funny though and that is where you see how good a comedy writer Allen is.

While there is physical humor to be had, there is still the smattering of social satire, Woody’s rapid fire verbal humor, and screwball humor.  I have read online that originally this movie was supposed to be three hours long.  I also like to believe that maybe Woody realized it was too indulgent and instead condensed the best material in this 90 minute film.  It seems that way because the movie is always upbeat and moving at a fast pace.  It is all glued together with a great jazz score which is almost always a cue for a silent comedy bit.

I feel a little bad because I usually love to write more on the movies I watch.  In this case, I can’t really elaborate on the different aspects of the movie.  The plot of this movie, like with the other early Woody films, is thin.  This isn’t a negative, it just means there is enough to string together one comedy bit after another.  The acting by Woody Allen is what you come to expect and Diane Keaton is a perfect compliment to his character.  The editing and directing are tight as to make the movie run smoothly and to not let the humor stagnate.

Really, this is just a funny comedy.  That’s about it.  I can list off the funny lines or the memorable sight gags or certain scenes but it would seem like a waste.  If you like Woody Allen films but haven’t seen this then you probably should.  If you are not a fan of Allen’s typically intellectual humor then you can get into this film.  It is pretty much accessible to everyone.  Up next on the retrospective is Love and Death.