Archive for December, 2012

Zabriskie Point (1970) Michaelangelo Antonioni

Posted in Z on December 27, 2012 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $7 million

Worldwide Gross: $1 million

Antonioni achieved success in the Italian Neorealism movement with his trilogy of L’avventura, La Notte, and L’eclisse.  He then received international success with his first English release Blow Up.  Zabriskie Point was to capitalize on the success of Easy Rider and be a further statement on American counterculture at the time.  Production was problematic from the start.  Due to the politics of Antonioni and of the film, protests followed the shoot everywhere.  The police attempted to shut down shoots due to the disturbances and shooting at Zabriskie Point was halted because of the infamous orgy scene at the location.  There were even the possibility of charges being brought against Antonioni from the Mann Act which was a statute about transporting women across state lines for sex acts.  The film was released about five years after first conception which meant it was already past its time and received scathing reviews by critics.

I’m really at a loss for what I can say that can be of substance here.  Usually that is the hallmark of a great Antonioni film.  It is easy to say nothing happens but they are about deeper issues.  L’avventura and Blow Up are about a woman disappearing and a person being murdered however you never find out what happened to either.  They end up being about the ennui of the upper class and a guy finding passion in his work again.  Now much like Zabriskie Point I’ve long since forgotten what my original point was and am just trying to pretentiously prattle on as if this will have some substance.

I guess my point was that his previous films were more carefully constructed and his subtext was a little more coherent.  Here I don’t know what the fuck Antonioni is trying to do.  It seems like Antonioni is the kind of person who agreed with the sentiment of the hippies he is portraying and was trying to show the counter culture in a positive light.  But that being said, the hippies are portrayed so moronically in this film that it makes you think he hated hippies and all their pretentious bullshit, or like Inception, is trying to go even deeper with some bullshit subtext.  I’m leaning toward the idea Antonioni was trying to be sympathetic, but I clearly have a deep seeded hatred for hippies.

I don’t think it is a matter of portraying hippies negatively but genuinely hating their drug fueled (hate to use this word so much but fuck it) pretentious crap.  I mean I’m a liberal so it’s not like I’m on some political polar opposite from them.  But within the first five minutes of this film I’m stuck in a meeting of protesters bickering about who would die more for the cause and how everyone needs to read Karl Marx and wondering why they even need meetings in the first place because they are so bourgeois and I find myself rolling my eyes and agreeing with Patton Oswalt that “hippies need to die off“.

That’s really the majority of this movie; dealing with annoying hippies.  The first third we are mainly following Mark as he takes part in meaningless protests and then tries to murder police officers (our hero ladies and gentlemen!).  Mark then steals a plane and meets Daria who is on som spiritual journey or some such crap.  They then go to the titular Zabriskie Point where they talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk about absolutely nothing.  Most of their banter is on par with Barbara Walters “If you were a tree, what tree would you be?“  They then fuck, and their fucking is somehow pretentious and boring as well.  I could ramble some more but I think you get my main problem with the movie.

I will give the movie the credit where it is due.  Zabriskie Point is beautifully shot as it is the one thing Antonioni can always be relied upon to do well.  The soundtrack is also well done as Antonioni worked with the big bands of the time to capture some of the music of the time.  Plus this movie has one of the best explosions ever.  Yeah, I’m watching an art film by Michaelangelo Antonioni and I am talking about an explosion like it is a Transformers movie but it is that awesome.  In the end Daria has a dream where she blows up a mansion which is some symbol of bullshit materialism.  Let me tell you, this mansion blows…the fuck…up.  I’m not joking when I say they used most of the budget on this explosion.  I’m serious.  Most of Antonioni’s other films are extremely cheap but most of the budget was used in building a full scale mansion and blowing it the fuck up.  You see every dollar as you see it from fifteen angles, multiple times, and in super slow motion.  If it were in any Expendables movie it would surely make you jizz in your pants.

The acting of the film is not any good.  Antonioni hired two non-actors for the lead roles in Mark Frechette and Daria Halprin.  Both have a great look which is why they became sex symbols of the counter culture.  They received a lot of exposure prior to the films release and were on the cover of Rolling Stone.  However having the look is not as important as knowing how to say a line or to be a convincing character.  Despite being icons they could not get much work after as actors.  Frechette  went off the deep end by robbing a bank as what he calls a revolutionary act then died in minimum security prison of a “weight-lifting accident“.  Not really anything to do with the movie but I found it interesting.

Everyone made mistakes in the 60’s from clothes to music to hair so I can give a pass to Antonioni for Zabriskie Point.  ZP is not a good film.  Sure it’s well shot and has a great soundtrack but that’s all there is.  Antonioni tried to be deep but it only seems that way if you are high as the crew was upon making this.  There are other Antonioni films worth watching, and there are other beautiful films with actual content as well.  Skip the film but watch the house blowing up on YouTube.

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Bullets Over Broadway (1994) Woody Allen

Posted in B, Woody Allen Retrospective on December 27, 2012 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $20 million

US Gross: $13 million

This is a tentative placement due to the fact I can only find US numbers.  But that being said, it has been listed as a box office disappointment and if I can find anything to refute its bombing I will certainly update the review.

Bullets Over Broadway is set in 1928 and follows David Shayne (John Cusack).  Shayne is a struggling playwright and can only get his new production on Broadway through financing by a Chicago mobster.  The condition of getting that money is Shayne has to hire the mob boss‘ girlfriend Olive (Jennifer Tilly) as one of the leads.  Olive turns out to be an incredibly horrible actress.  Olive’s bodyguard Cheech (Chazz Palminteri) who has to sit in on the rehearsals, eventually gets fed up with the play and offers his thoughts on how to fix the material.  His suggestions are genius and Shayne and Cheech soon team up to finish the play.

I haven’t reviewed a Woody Allen movie in about three months mainly because Netflix was backed up and couldn’t get Bullets till now.  So I’ve pretty much had a vacation from my 40 film marathon.  So I should be re-energized and ready to go back to some classic Woody Allen.  There are times when it stinks having to write thoughtful movie reviews.  Bullets Over Broadway is one of Allen’s most highly regarded comedies in the second half of his career.  Critics praise it for being very smart and it even got nominated for more Oscars than Annie Hall.  Yet despite all the praise and my being “re-energized“ after about 15 minutes of watching Bullets I let out a weary sigh.  The part that sucks is I now have to explain why I didn’t care for this movie when even I can’t rightly justify it.  There are just some movies people love or are considered classics that when you watch them the only thing you can say as to why you don’t like it is something to the effect of “I just wasn’t into it“.  Sadly that doesn’t fit for a review like this so I have to try to find something more concrete.

The one thing I read from reviews is how intelligent and smart this movie is when I find it to be the opposite.  When I think of intelligent Allen I think Annie Hall or Manhattan where the relationships are more realistic and complicated and the dialog is witty.  In Bullets everyone is playing a broad character and the jokes are predictable and telegraphed.  I’m not saying broad characters are necessarily bad but I don’t see what people are saying when they claim its intelligent. To me this feels like Allen wrote another short film for New York Stories but inflated it to feature length.

The film really felt lazy to me as all the jokes are simple and telegraphed.  A perfect example is when Shayne hires Warner Purcell (Jim Broadbent) with the warning he is thin now, but as stress hits him he tends to nervously eat.  Sure enough in every scene he is in he has a turkey leg in his hand or is stuffing pastries down his throat.  I frankly don’t know how it passes as a joke or how this passes as smart Woody but then I’m not a comedy writer.  Of course Shayne gets funded by mobsters and of course they are stereotypical leg breaking mobsters and of course Big V’s girlfriend Olive is a terrible actress and…*sigh*.

I mean, am I being unfair here?  I know not everything Allen does has to be super smart and I love other movies where he gets silly.  But even in those films he is able to take an easy set up and still twist things in a new direction.  That is what I am wanting here.  I don’t need smart, but I need something fresh.

I guess you get that with Cheech becoming interested in screenwriting.  However, as I mentioned before, that feels like a premise for a short film which was inflated to feature length.  Admittedly those scenes are the funniest of the movie.  I enjoyed the idea Cheech viewed art the same way as the mob and used the same tactics to complete the show.  This sub plot saved it from being a bad film for me, but didn’t make it a good film.

The acting is hit or miss.  Among the hits are Palminteri, Romb Reiner, Jennifer Tilly, and Dianne Wiest, who won a Supporting Oscar for her role as aging diva actress Helen Sinclair.  Wiest does break out of her role, which no longer becomes a simple parody of Norma Desmond, and becomes a funnier role with her take on the funny “don’t speak“ scenes.  The big miss for me has to be John Cusack in the Woody Allen role.  I know, this places me in the minority yet again as everyone else praises his performance.  Even with Cusack allegedly toning down his performance, I still see him as trying way too hard.  Seeing Cusack go from forced stutters and slumping down to look smaller to gesticulating wildly and yelling in a high pitched voice made me feel sorry for him.

Yes I’m a grinch who hates everything including the genius Bullets Over Broadway.  I also realize I may be spoiled at this point since I’m nowhere near the bottom of Allen’s worst comedies.  Keep in mind I in no way think this is a bad film.  I just didn’t personally find it funny.  I was severely underwhelmed given the massive amounts of hype which was piled onto it.  To me it is an amusing film which is elevated in some peoples eyes due to how far Allen has fallen since.  This is one of the few times my opinion has differed from the majority of Woody fans, but for me it is a big ‘MEH‘.

Zyzzyx Road (2006) John Penney

Posted in Z on December 5, 2012 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $2 million

Gross: $30

You read that right.  This movie is the record holder for lowest grossing movie of all time with a whopping $30 dollars.  Now you may naturally think this movie sucks a big one if it only made $30 dollars.  After all, my parents spent more pity money on my marching band than John Penney could scrounge up for Zyzzyx Road.  But really, I found something like this to be inevitable.  Okay, maybe not $30 dollars bad but something like it.  The movie industry is in such a state that so many movies are being released some big budget blockbusters are forced out in a few weeks.  What chance do many indie movies have in this kind of market?

This movie never even had aspirations of hitting it big at the box office either.  Zyzzyx had to be released per SAG contracts so it was limped out for six days at one small theater.  It was never intended to do well, but the producers probably never figured it would be now legendary for it.  But now to actually talk about whether this movie is good or not.

The movie is about Grant (Leo Grillo), a bland accountant who was having an affair with Lolita like prostitute Marissa (Katherine Heigl).  Marissa’s jealous boyfriend Joey (Tom Sizemore) attacks them and Grant kills him.  Grant and Marissa are taking the body to Zyzzyx Road to bury the body in the middle of the desert.  However it appears Joey was not dead and is harassing the couple.

Probably the first big red flag that pops up for Zyzzyx Road is that it is not a straight ahead horror movie about Joey attacking this couple but a kind of mind bending thriller.  Within the first five minutes we see our lead Grant, has a bump on the head and is hallucinating things.  So immediately we know we can’t trust our storyteller and that the movie is building to a bullshit twist.  That is not a good start because at that point I also lost interest. Why should I be invested in these characters and what is going on when I know the writer is just stringing me along to pull the rug out from under me?  Although, its not like much happens in the first third of the movie anyway.  Joey pops out of the trunk and the couple lock themselves in the car to avoid being attacked.  So for about 25 minutes we have to endure the horrible banter of these characters as the movie wastes our time.

In the second act you may be partially tricked that the twist has already come.  Grant finally (FINALLY) runs into Joey.  Joey explains though that he was not trying to kill Grant but Marissa because (get this) Marissa is a demon who lures its prey with sex then drains your life force.  Temporarily my interest is piqued as I rather like the concept of Tom Sizemore as a demon slayer who is fighting sex demon Katherine Heigl.  Throw in Mel Gibson as Sizemore’s partner and you have the makings of one of the funniest buddy movies ever.  So the second half is spend with Joey and Grant hunting Marissa.

But then the final twist comes.  Instead of an interesting movie like the one presented in the second act, it turns out Grant is just crazy and everything we know about the movie is completely wrong.  So, in actuality, our movie starts properly in the third act of the movie.  I say that because nothing in the story before hand can be trusted.  Nothing.  Even Heigl’s character undergoes a serious change.  In the first act Heigl is this bumbling blond who’s only contribution to covering up a murder is to constantly suck on Ring Pops.  In the third act she is seemingly a strong independent woman who can survive against both the desert and psycho Grant.  I don’t even think Hitchcock would have the balls to sack our main character two thirds of the way through the movie.  Maybe he did but Hitchcock’s brains finally overrode his balls.  So yeah, after all that time wasted we just get Grant chasing Marissa through the desert like a low budget slasher film.  Although I also liked the comic potential of a movie where a mild mannered accountant has a crazy Vegas weekend with Tom Sizemore.  Tell me you wouldn’t pay to see that movie!  Throw in a cameo with Ben Affleck and you have the next Hangover.

This film actually reminds me of those DTV cash ins at the video store.  It is one of those films made prior to somebody making it big which is then re-released to cash in on their success like Going Overboard.  Either that or it would be some BS sequel to a franchise like Jeepers Creepers 3 or something.  This movie is bad although I didn’t find it legendarily bad.  The movie is built on a BS twist which means the rest of the movie will either be boring or plain suck until it is revealed.  Honestly, this movie needed to be a straight forward horror movie from the start.  Psycho Tom Sizemore killing people may not have been the most inventive idea in the world, but it at least would have been more entertaining.  There is no reason to see this movie though.  Zyzzyx Road is a dull movie and doesn’t even rise to the level of being a so bad it’s funny type bad movie.  Well, at least it is funnier than The Ugly Truth.