Archive for May, 2012

Battleship (Peter Berg) 2012

Posted in B on May 28, 2012 by moviemoses

Before you think I was set from the beginning to hate this movie, I actually thought this concept had more milage than most other people.  Many of my friends were set on seeing this movie and believe me, it was not because they were yearning for some Michael Bay hand me down script.  Whenever they spoke about the movie it was always about the comic potential this movie had.  Everyone envisioned a stern faced Liam Neeson hunched over a computer table trying to use his particular set of skills to sink that tiny boat that only took up two spaces on the board and culminating in him saying in the most serious tone “They sunk my Battleship.“  They knew it was a stupid concept, I knew it was a stupid concept, and the filmmakers should have known it was a stupid concept.  This film should have had its tongue firmly planted in cheek but unfortunately Peter Berg took this thing far more seriously than it ever deserves.

There are times when this movie is so dumb it almost falls into that satirical category.  The best example is when our protagonist Alex (Taylor Kitch) enlists the help of a bunch of crusty veterans to run the only battleship left to fight the aliens all to a montage of ACDC’s Thunderstruck.  It is that overload of sheer ridiculousness that makes you laugh out loud and at the same time makes you regret the route the movie actually took the rest of the run time.  The majority of the movie are tedious effects sequences with no sense of tension or fun.  For example we get the destruction of Hong Kong and Hawaii which have little to do with anything and feel more like rejected carnage scenes from a Roland Emmerich movie rather than a Bay-ish action scene.  The ship combat scenes are boring as we have no investment in the characters and we are seeing nonstop CGI fly at the screen.  We finally get to the point where Berg actually does sit everyone down and plays a variation on the board game but instead of being a hilarious send up, it is as boring as seeing people actually play Battleship.  It is stupid that it does not fit the action movie set up by Berg, but not stupid enough to be the funny send up we want it to be.

We also get a bait and switch as to the actors we want in this movie and who we actually get.  This movie was sold on the star power of Liam Neeson and he is in the movie for about five minutes.  I actually really liked the performance by Alexander Skarsgard who made a compelling character out of the same shitty writing every other character had.  But guess what?  He leaves the movie very early too.  What we get is ever wooden Taylor Kitch and a supporting cast of non-actors.  So the acting we actually get is downright horrible.  Some of the line reads are absolutely embarassing.  It really doesn’t help that Kitch’s character is rather unlikable.  The writers hammer home the point he is a loser, so much so that his decisions kill many people.  The writers try to make Alex likable by going through adversity and changing, but by the time his actions have cost dozens of people their lives, it is a little too late for the audience.

What also kills this movie is the running time.  This would probably be a more fun and easy going experience if not for the fact I have to sit through 131 minutes of this crap.  I can handle bad, but when you drag out the pain for over two hours that’s when I become bitter.  This movie could have easily (EASILY!!!) cut to 90 minutes and you would not miss a thing.  That is how much pointless crap there is in this movie.

I think you know where I stand on this.  If there is one tiny thing I can give Michael Bay credit for, it is that he knows the ridiculousness of some of his movies and goes along with it.  The idea of oil drillers going up into space to nuke an asteroid is freaking moronoic but Bay just wants to have fun with it so you go along for the ride.  The idea of making a big budget summer blockbuster based on a board game with no plot is equally as stupid and Berg should have had the same attitude in reveling in the stupidity.  Instead we get a movie that comes off without any charm or sense of humor and painfully crawls through its over two hour running time.  There are moments where the stupidity is too much and you can’t help but laugh, but there are not enough of those moments for me to endorse this as a ‘so bad its good movie‘.

Blubberella (Uwe Boll) 2011

Posted in B on May 22, 2012 by moviemoses

The short lesson you need to learn about Boll is that not everything he makes is comedy gold.  Not everything Boll churns out is the same cheesy consistency as Bloodrayne or Alone in the Dark or In the Name of the King.  When Boll actually “tries“ with a movie things are actually worse.  I have seen movies like Seed, Stoic, 1968 Tunnel Rats, Attack on Darfour and they don’t even have the benefit of being so bad it’s good.  Those movies just sit on your head for two hours.  But you know what’s worse than Boll trying to be serious?  What’s worse is when Boll is trying to be funny.

Where Tunnel Rats will sit on your head, stuff like Postal and Blubberella will sit on your head and shit on your face.  There is nothing worse than a comedy that isn’t funny.  Remember House of the Dead The Funny Version?  It was basically House of the Dead with stupid comments and effects put on the screen.  Blubberella is like what happens if you took a Rifftrax commentary of Bloodrayne The Third Reich and actually filmed a new movie.

Blubberella uses the same sets, the same action scenes, the same actors (with the exception of Blubberella), and the same basic story as Bloodrayne 3.  These films don’t just feel like they were filmed around the same time, it feels like Natassia Malthe finished her scene and they immediatly did “the funny take“ for Blubberella.  Most of the “funny“ comes from the fact Blubberella is fat.  Har har har.  Despite being a vampire, in most scenes we see her eating cotton candy, meat, etc.  I know, I am pointing out plot holes in Blubberella.  I will just slap myself for that right now.

Let me give you an example of humor that is not fat related or homophobic (there is a limp wristed lisping gay stereotype named Vag).  The scientist is explaining what a vampire is and he says something to the effect of: “This creature is an unbelievable discovery.  The only things that can kill it are a stake through the heart, sunlight…or making him watch the Rocky sequels!“  Really?  That’s the best line you can come up with?  The answer is yes, that is the best he can come up with.  Bloodrayne is being riffed on by the unfunniest man on the planet.

Scene after scene rolls on and with every attempt at humor I let out an audible groan.  I’m glad no one else was with me because I’m sure they would kick my ass for the number of times I let out either a groan or an exasperated sigh.  That’s just what this movie makes me do.  Blubberella goes on a Jewish dating website (in 1942 Germany for some reason).  Why?  I don’t know.  There is no punchline to this joke.  I guess it is just funny that a vampire would use a Jewish dating website.  Sigh.  Let’s have Blubberella do a Precious spoof.  Why?  I don’t know.  I’m sure it has a ton of relavance in a spoof vampire movie.

Like I really need to say this but I will anyway.  Don’t watch this movie.  I’ve been to funerals with more humor than this movie.  And if you are not into this movie for the humor, then there isn’t any other reason to watch.  There are no fun performances, there is no plot, there is no anything.  There is no reason to watch this movie.

The Fury (Brian DePalma) 1978

Posted in F on May 22, 2012 by moviemoses

The Fury was a movie that I had been interested in seeing for a while but never got around to.  It had so many things that should make for at the very least an interesting movie like Brian DePalma (during a good period of his career), Kirk Douglas, John Cassavetes, a John Williams score, and people exploding ala Scanners.  I was hoping this was some forgotten gem that I had discovered.  Unfortunately a lot of potential doesn’t hold up to poor execution.

The story is about Peter (Kirk Douglas) who is retiring from some super secret government agency.  Peter’s son Robin (Andrew Stevens) discovered he has psychic abilities and is going to a special school to learn about them.  Peter’s coworker Childress (John Cassavetes) kidnaps Robin for some unknown secret government work and Peter is on a mission to get him back.

For the first 30 minutes, I was actually well on board with this movie.  Everything was moving along with a fast pace and the story set things up as a fun adventure part thriller with Kirk Douglas evading all these secret agents.  Douglas was entertaining, Cassavetes was settling into a smarmy villain role, and everything was clicking.  Then the second act happened and things fell off a cliff.

It feels like in the second act they start a completely different movie.  Peter is looking for his son and he hears there is another girl with powers named Gillian (Amy Irving) who can possibly track Robin.  Naturally you think Peter is going to contact Gillian and they will continue the adventure.  However it seems like DePalma was still thinking he was working on Carrie and the second act is about her learning about her powers.  Gillian freaks out her school mates with her witchy powers, then she goes to this school for the gifted (which is actually a front for Childress‘ evil work), and she figures out bad things are happening.  Really this should have been at most about 20 minutes as we learn about Gillian and that she is being trapped by this shadow organization but instead this goes on for like an hour.  All during this time Kirk Douglas is completely MIA (with the exception of like one scene where he makes a phone call) and you wonder when the hell the plot will keep moving again.  Because the thing is we aren’t really learning anything new or anything that we need to know for this story so the whole narrative grinds to a halt.  Gillian will get a vision that Robin is being held against his will.  Who cares?  We already knew that.  Gillian will go all Nancy Drew and find out the school is not as it seems.  Again, we already knew that; please move on with the actual story.

By the time the third act rolls around, all the plot inconsistencies and holes we may have forgiven earlier are made that much more annoying because the poor writing calls attention to it.  First off, why the hell does Robin need to be kidnapped in the first place?  Robin was perfectly willing to go to whatever hospital/school/lab to be tested on and learn about his powers.  You are kidnapping someone who would have been a willing participant!  You may think the government captured Robin because they need his powers but we are never told what they would do with it.  There are scenes where scientists are trying to warn Childress if they keep pushing Robin that he will go on a crazy Akira like rampage but Childress brushes them off saying they need to move forward.  Why!?  What is the purpose of pissing someone off who can pop your head like a water balloon?  Sure enough Robin does go full on Chronicle and Childress acts as if everything is going to plan and we are left wondering who the moron was who was in charge of reviewing the hiring packets at the secret government agency.

When the rest of the movie was content to take its sweet ass time all of a sudden we have to rush the ending.  Kirk Douglas gets pushed onto set, Robin has a downright lame freak out (given all the build up), more plot holes like Robin can fly but then he can’t when it matters, blah blah blah then John Cassevetes explodes.  Really John Casssevetes exploding should the icing to an awesome cake filled with win it sadly is too little too late.  That bit should be made into an animated gif and you should forget the rest of the film.  This was so disappointing.  The pieces were in place and there were moments when it felt like this could have been either a fun adventure film or a nice thriller, but by the end all that good will is squandered.  The story is schitzophrenic, the pacing is all over the map, and the acting by anyone not named Kirk Douglas is pretty bad.  The Fury ends up being only mediocre which, given what this movie could have been, actually makes it worse than if it ended up gloriously bad.

Crimes and Misdemeanors (Woody Allen) 1989

Posted in C, Woody Allen Retrospective on May 17, 2012 by moviemoses

Crimes and Misdemeanors has two different storylines.  The main story follows Judah (Martin Landau) a man who has it all.  His mistress played by Anjelica Huston, is threatening not only to bring up the affair to his wife but to expose his shady business practices.  Judah asks his criminal brother Jack (Jerry Orbach) to kill the mistress. After Judah has to deal with the moral implications of his actions after he gets away with murder.  The second story follows documentary filmmaker Cliff (Woody Allen).  Cliff is down on his luck and gets hired on as a favor to direct a documentary on sleazy producer Lester (Alan Alda).  Cliff hates working for Lester and is competing for the attention of producer Halley (Mia Farrow).

Waaaaaay back when I was first getting into film and learning about Woody Allen (farther back then I now want to admit on paper) I’ll admit my appreciation didn’t come quick.  I saw Annie Hall and Manhattan and my feelings were complicated and I kind of stayed away from other stuff.  But then I decided to give it another go and checked out Crimes and Misdemeanors and it was one of those “Wow“ moments.

And really, Crimes and Misdemeanors is a film that shouldn’t work so well for me.  I normally would not like a film that is so heavy with its themes and in this movie, Woody Allen is practically sitting you down and having a discussion on morality.  I guess it works because, at least watching it the first time, I wasn’t quite sure where the movie was going.  It starts off pretty normal with Judah worrying about Huston’s character exposing an affair.  No biggie right, especially given other movies Allen has done and how he’s approached infidelity.  But then the curveball is thrown in about possible theft and Judah is considering murder and it feels like a thriller.  We are wondering if Judah will get away with it and when he does will he be so wrecked with guilt that he will confess.  And intercut with all that, we get these lighter scenes with Woody Allen and an absolutely brilliant Alan Alda as the ultimate smarmy douchebag.  It is almost like directoral slight of hand to distract you from the fact several times the audience is sat down for deep philosophical discussion.

This movie also felt honest in how the story played out at least in Judah’s scenario.  There was no tell tale heart or anything like that to bring Judah down.  Judah does not believe in God or in a divine set of morality and was able to live through this experience.  When Cliff tries to re-write the story by saying it would be more tragic if the man turned himself in, Judah shoots him down with “This isn’t a movie.“  The message was so audacious and honest and I was taken back by it.

Martin Landau is fantastic in this movie.  He plays someone being torn apart by the decisions he makes but you also see this dark side to him.  There is a scene where he invites his brother to “discuss“ the problem of his mistress and he has to fake disgust while at the same time ask his brother to kill her.

What makes this movie complete is the subplot involving Allen.  Not only is it a nice tie in thematically but it is a much welcome respite from the heaviness of Landau’s plot.  As mentioned before, Alan Alda is just great as the minor villain.  He is the embodiment of the greedy sellout know it all and Alda chews up the scenery with relish.  Cliff just can’t see life being fair with this know-nothing being a rich producer and eventually getting the girl while Cliff can’t even make his small documentary culminating in the discussion between the two leads.

I had not seen this movie in a while but I was reminded again of how much I love it.  This still is my short list of favorite Allen movie. This was what turned me into a Woody Allen fan to begin with.  If you haven’t seen it yet check it out.

New York Stories (Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen) 1989

Posted in N, Woody Allen Retrospective on May 17, 2012 by moviemoses

New York Stories is a compilation film where Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Woody Allen made short films somehow featuring New York.  The three directors did not collaborate with one another and there are no other links between the films beside what was already mentioned.  I’ve seen a ton of these compilation film films whether they be horror (Creepshow, Trick R Treat), stories about love, or in this case stories about a place, and most seem to play the same way for me.  There is one that is good, one that is alright, and one that is shite.  It really doesn’t matter what stars or directors you throw in that’s just how I feel about it and New York Stories is no different.

The first is Scorsese’s which turns out to be the alright one.  The film is about Lionel (Nick Nolte) who is one of the biggest painters in the world who is struggling to finish work for an upcoming art show.  He is in a tumultuous relationship with his protege played by Patricia Arquette.  Lionel is pining after her but she seems to absolutely loathe him at this point.  Lionel’s passion also seems to be feeding into the passion of his paintings.  I certainly found “Life Lessons“ the most intriguing of the bunch as Scorsese is being more adventerous with the opportunity.  This is not a simple fluffy story as one you would find in say Paris J’Taime.  These are some heavy themes that Scorsese has kind of flirted with before in say New York, New York.  Even in the shortened scope of 45 or so minutes I found myself getting restless especially since both main characters are rather unlikable.  It is one I enjoyed on a technical and thematic level than with anything else.

The next is Coppola’s Life Without Zoe which is the bad one.  The thing is this film isn’t bad like it made me angry, it was bad in that I did not know what the point of any of it was.  The film is about Zoe who is kind of like the 12 year old girl version of Ferris Bueller I guess.  She is an upper class girl living in New York City for which the whole world revolves around her.  There is a strange plot about Zoe helping her dad from being killed by a jealous lover by sneaking a diamond back to a princess and believe me when I say nothing I describe means anything to the tone or relavance to anything.  Stuff happens and then it ends.  I guess you could say it would be “cute“ for an audience of 12 year olds which I guess has a little to do by the co-writing by Sofia Coppola.  But cute just don’t cut it compared to the other work in this movie.

Finally we have Oedipus Wrecks directed by Woody Allen and by process of elimination you have figured out that it is the good one.  Woody plays it doesn’t matter so let’s just call him Woody.  Woody doesn’t like his mother and how he embarasses him in front of his friends and girlfriends.  They go to a magic show and during the act, Woody’s mother disappears.  Woody thinks his problems are over until she shows up as a gigantic face superimposed over the New York skyline and she can talk to anyone.  Given the marathon of Allen films for me and of this single movie in particular, it was nice to have Woody plain have fun for a little bit.  Allen is known for having a drawer full of comedy ideas and many are not good enough to fill out a full length movie so it is probably the perfect setting to have a mini-movie to get the most out of the joke.  It comes in, tells the story it needs to tell, tells the best jokes it can, and gets off the stage.  That works just fine for me.

Would I recommend New York Stories on the whole?  Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.  If you did I would recommend outright skipping Life Without Zoe.  I have read numerous reviews and I have yet to find anyone who really likes it.  At best, people tolerate it.  However Life Lessons and Oedipus Wrecks are interesting enough that if you love both directors I think it would be worth your while to check out on a slow day.

Another Woman (Woody Allen) 1988

Posted in A, Woody Allen Retrospective on May 17, 2012 by moviemoses

It’s time for a completely random comment about Woody Allen because that is how my swiss cheese brain operates.  If there is a thing I appreciate about Allen is that he does not needlessly fluff his movies.  It has become the standard that a movie has to be at least 90 minutes to justify a theatrical release but if Allen’s story only goes 80 minutes then that is what he gives you.  I gotta think that has to come from his experience as a stand up comedian.  Even in today’s case of a dramatic movie, I think he realizes what his audience will sit for and how much a certain concept will go.  This is strange coming from me because I can sit through some rather, shall we say, slow paced movies.  It is just a nice change to have someone who is confident and competent enough to know how much milage he can get out of an idea even when it is on the short side.

Another Woman is about Marion Post (Gina Rowlands) whom she says right off the bat that by all outward appearances she has a very good life.  Marion has a good job, good husband, and is very comfortable in her life in New York City.  Marion is writing a new book when she realizes she can hear through the walls of a neighboring psychiatrist and his troubled patient Hope (Mia Farrow).  Hope problems make Marion think about her life and how her happiness could be a lie.

I mentioned in my September review how it was a stock Woody Allen character film but it failed because the writing (the main focus of the film) was crappy by the standards I have grown accustomed to.  Another Woman is the Jeckyll to September’s Mr. Hyde.  Allen brings his A game as I was fully invested in this character study.  Marion’s life unravels, and this forces her into deep introspection.  We are given kind of interactive flashbacks where we see turning points in her relationships with family, friends, and lovers.

Despite the somber tone through much of the film, this is not a complete downer.  Marion does come through this with wisdom and a renewed outlook on life.  Once again I have to give credit to the writing which seems so much more relaxed than shoe horned as was the case in September.  Marion interacting with her past gives everything so much more freedom and Allen doesn’t confine himself (both physically and artistically) in one location.  Allen can bring up memories and points in conversation that wouldn’t have been easy to do with two people talking.  Of course the performances sell the movie and true to a Woody Allen movie they play well against type.  Gene Hackman is downright cuddly as Marion’s former lover and Gina Rowlands is low key but powerful as the controlled Marion.

This gets many comparisons to Bergman which isn’t out of line since Allen has tried copying him throughout his career.  However my point is this comes close and is endearing in its own way.  I had not seen this film prior to my retrospective so it was a surprise.  If you are a fan of Allen’s dramatic work, I think it would be worth your time to give this one a shot too.

Idlewild (2006) Bryan Barber

Posted in I on May 8, 2012 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $15 million

Worldwide Budget: $12 million

Idlewild is about a speakeasy in Idlewild during the Prohibition era.  Two lifelong friends, Rooster (Big Boi) and Percival (Andre Benjamin) work for the club: the former as the manager and the latter as the piano player.  Local gangster Trumpy (Terrence Howard) kills off the competition in town and owns all the connections for illegal booze.  Rooster now has to pay off the club as well as pay a heavy price for this new supply of booze or else Trumpy will come after him.

Probably the most important thing about a musical is, of course, the music.  Now I haven’t listened to much Outkast but of what I had heard I wasn’t a huge fan.  So I was a little surprised that the musical numbers were enjoyable.  I would even go as far as say the music and choreography are the best parts of the movie.  That being said, I still have to criticize some things.  For one, the songs do not serve the traditional musical role of advancing the plot or giving us insight into the characters thoughts.  Instead these feel like music videos thrown into a gangster movie.  While they are enjoyable, they serve no purpose at all.  My second criticism I’m not sure how much I am really going to harp on but what the heck.  This movie is set during the Prohibition where the music was jazz and yet all of the songs are either hip hop or rap (which weren’t around).  Now like I said, I am not sure how much this matters as other movies had anachronistic music and the music here is good.  But it is strange that you make a movie about an era and you don’t have that music ANYWHERE at all in the movie.  The final thing I will say about the music is I don’t think there was enough musical numbers given the length of the movie.  It was a little too few and far between.

The plot of the movie works alright (if a bit stock), but like much about this movie, there are things that make me scratch my head.  I get the impression Idlewild was sort of the Purple Rain for Andre 3000.  The music stems from Andre’s character and it is ultimately about finding love and finding his calling as a musician.  Seems straight forward, but in the movie it is almost like Percival is delagated to the role of subplot.  The majority of the movie is about Rooster managing the club and keeping the psycho Trumpy off his back.  We learn more about Rooster, we follow him as he tries to pay back the debt on the club, and the tension in the plot deals with Rooster being threatened by this mobster.  When the focus turns back to Percival you almost forget he should be a bigger part of the movie.  There isn’t much of a conflict compared to Rooster and you don’t feel as much depth as compared to Rooster.  Big Boi is a singer which is why he has a big role in the film, but he is not a singer in the movie which is why the time devoted to the characters is a bit confusing.  Trumpy’s is also a bit baffling as a character.  Rooster is a productive club owner who rakes in the cash for Trumpy but Trumpy gives Rooster unworkable demands and threatens to kill (for all we know as) one of his main sources of income.  This doesn’t make any sense at all as Trumpy is seemingly the worst businessman/gangster ever.  I’m just saying I would prefer a conflict with a little more depth than the bad guy is batshit crazy.

I’m kind of surprised that the most annoying thing about this movie is the direction.  It really says something when directing calls enough attention to itself to be called annoying.  The director tries to be flashy and cool but it comes off as distracting and confusing.  I’ll give you some examples of what I mean.  Rooster has a hip flask which he drinks from that has a rooster printed on it.  When he drinks the Rooster comes alive (in cartoon form) and says something ala Skids and Mudflaps in Transformers 2.  Why?  I don’t know.  I don’t know if Rooster is insane or if there was some hallucinogen in the whiskey but all I know is I audibly said “What the fuck?“ when it happened.  When Percival is writing music, the notes become stick figures and dance and laugh.  Why?  Does it look like I know?  And the thing is these aren’t some isolated examples.  It seems like every few minutes there is something that is so confusing and nonsensical (although the director probably believes its brilliant) that pops up on the screen.  The movie will rewind and fast forward with little record scratch sound effects put on the soundtrack, some random CGI will pop in (like a Matrix gun fight), or some cartoon voice or sound effect will pop in.  Sure enough every couple minutes you will be frustratingly exclaiming “Why?“ and getting no response from your television.

Idlewild is a mixed bag of a movie.  The acting is fine (especially from Paula Patton and Terrence Howard), the story works, and the music is actually fun.  For all those good things, there are an equal number of questionable or annoying things about the direction and choices with the movie. Overall I enjoyed it although it is frustrating because it actually could have been really great.  I would give a recommendation if you were ever interested in it but for everyone else I think the flaws drag it down from a must see to a maybe see if you are bored.