Archive for April, 2013

Small Time Crooks (2000) Woody Allen

Posted in S, Woody Allen Retrospective on April 30, 2013 by moviemoses

Production Budget: between $18 million and $25 million
Worldwide Gross: $29 million

I can’t find a solid number on the budget although I’ve had more say more pinned this at the 18 number rather than 25. This movie was one of his biggest recent US box office successes at the time although for the purposes of my blog a movie has to at least double budget to be considered a success.

This is where the fatigue REALLY sets in. This is bad because it is not even like I’ve seen these movies back to back to back. I started with Tiger Lily in mid 2011. Sometimes work has gotten in the way and sometimes it has been difficult to get copies of some movies (Small Time Crooks was surprisingly difficult) but it has taken some time. That being said it still doesn’t change the fact I’ve seen over 30 films from one guy and it fills me with absolute dread that only now am I entering the supposed bad period in Allen’s career. I know some people want to give the claim „Even bad Woody Allen movies are better than 99% of the stuff that is currently in theaters“. That is a nice platitude but that is unfortunately not true. I may not be the biggest Woody Allen fan seeing as how I have given some negative reviews to some of his more widely regarded films but even the best of directors can churn out shit when they want. It took me a while to actually put this movie in and not just because of delays in finding it. It was because I had to wait to be in a good enough frame of mind so I wouldn’t come in with a bad attitude and shit on it for no good reason. So after all that, here is what I think of Small Time Crooks.

Ray (Woody Allen) is a loser crook who has an idea for a heist. He is going to rent out the property of a store and dig a tunnel to the bank to rob it. He has his wife Frenchy (Tracy Ullman) run a cookie shop as a front. The heist fails but the cookie business does so well it makes them millionaires.

What’s odd is all the trailers I initially saw focused on the robbery portion when in actuality it is only a third of a film. And really I can see why because this was the best part of the movie. This is where you get all the characters together and the comedy can snap quickly between Woody Allen and Michael Rappaport and Jon Lovitz and Tracy Ullman, etc. Sure the comedy is very predictable and weak but it is fun enough that I thought if they could sustain it for the running time, this would be a good movie. Then we get to the other parts.

The second act is when Ray and Frenchy make their millions and if it didn’t feel like a sitcom before, it really feels like one now. We transition from a modern Honeymooners episode to a Woody Allen version of Married With Children. Seriously it is like Allen wrote a special episode where Al and Peggy get rich and they have to deal with those snooty upper class twits. But if there is a character I do not equate with Woody Allen, it is the semi-abusive lower class bum Al Bundy. Hell, I honestly don’t know why they didn’t cast him for this. This just didn’t work for me at all. For one it seems odd that Allen, who is almost a proud intellectual snob himself, is trying to write himself as the hero of the working man. But it all comes off as so weak and poorly written. Oh those rich snobs! All they eat are snails and caviar! Why can’t they eat a burger and watch the game? Seriously that’s how lazy this all seems. I’m surprised we didn’t get a person with a monocle to show up. It also doesn’t work in the fact that Allen does his best when he gives witty dialog. Here he is trying to play the shlubby every man and he cannot pull it off.

The third act seems like a desperate attempt to get to 90 minutes as we get an overstuffed ending where they lose their fortune and they try another heist and this character does this and this character does that and blah blah blah I don’t care.

At best this would have been a great two parter episode for Roseanne or Married with Children or what the hell ever. The humor is TV safe and is kind of carried by the good character actors Allen assembles around him. Unfortunately Allen quickly loses track of the humor and any good narrative. The rags to riches falls flat at best, and dies a slow painful death at worst. Allen both plays against type and writes against type and it shows in the forced and out of character humor. This may have worked in the 50’s but this is absolutely no good today.

Sweet and Lowdown (1999) Woody Allen

Posted in S, Woody Allen Retrospective on April 30, 2013 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $29.7 million
Worldwide Gross: $4 million

Sweet and Lowdown is a mockumentary about Emmet Ray (Sean Penn) who is a jazz guitarist in the 1930’s who was considered the second best jazz guitarist (first being Django Reinhardt). Many wild stories are told about Ray and we also learn about him falling in love with a mute (played by Samantha Morton).

This review may be really short but that is becuase my feelings are rather simple on it. This movie is absolutely carried by the performance of Sean Penn. Emmet Ray could have easily been a despicable character portrayed by most anyone else. Penn perfectly plays Ray as both a selfish prick, but also someone who is charming and slightly vulnerable. He also has to play the balancing act of being wildly over the top for the comic scenes, but at the same time make the dramatic scenes believable without giving the audience tonal whiplash.

The performances of Penn and also Morton (who gives a charming silent performance), elevate this movie from just a good movie in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong, the production is good. Allen does have a good sense of nostalgia as you get the feelings Allen probably gets with the time and the music. The writing and the overal story is also written well. I guess this is where some Allen fatigue sets in as I say the problem is I’ve seen the nostalgia and themes before. I’ll cover this later in my next review, but this is where seeing about 30 Allen films in a short time takes its toll. I will freely admit I would like this a lot more if this had been one of my firsts as opposed to being this late in the game.

Sweet and Lowdown is a sweet little movie. It is one of Allen’s most popular now and it is easy to see why. It is completely inoffensive and fun nostalgia trip which is carried by one of the best performances in an Allen movie ever. The rest of the movie is good, but they don’t quite feel on par with some of Allen’s true masterpieces. This is a movie I want to revisit down the road when my batteries are recharged and some of the elements don’t seem so stale. For now I liked this film, but I didn’t love it.

Celebrity (1998) Woody Allen

Posted in C, Woody Allen Retrospective on April 30, 2013 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $12 million
Domestic Gross: about $5 million

Now you’ll have to excuse the quality of the next few Allen reviews. I have seen the movies a while back but these past few months have been some of the busiest for me so I couldn’t write them when they were freshest in my memory.

Celebrity is about a couple (played by Kenneth Branagh and Judy Davis) who divorce and go in different directions afterward. Lee (Branagh) ruins several opportunities for success while Robin’s life gets much better.

Celebrity is a movie that has had a roller coaster of reactions. It was panned by critics and the public initiall and has since gained a cult following (I guess like many Allen movies now that I mention it). So where does my opinion lie?

Like every other review I have to discuss the elephant in the room which is the casting of Kenneth Branagh. Now I’ll discuss this in more general terms and move specifically to Branagh himself. In general I’m reminded of a time I saw American Idol (like ten years ago) and one week they did covers of the Bee Gees. Immediately I knew that no matter how talented these singers were, there was going to be some butchery with these songs. Because like him or hate him, there was only one person who could do the shrill womany shrieks of Barry Gibb and that was Barry Gibb. He was unique, and no wannabe karoke singer could ever do that voice justice. Or to put it in acting terms, no one can ever do Christopher Walken (a serious version anyway). The guy is a unique character and no one can do a Walken performance justice. I will also put Woody Allen in the same category. Yes, many people have been cast in the Woody Allen nebbish persona. Some have done it better and some have done it worse, but no one could or should honestly try it. Really, Allen should have known better.

This brings me to Kenneth Branagh speaking of the “worse” performances. Yes I’m beating a dead horse but believe me when I say I tried giving him a chance. I’m all about re-evaluating long held opinions and for the first ten minutes or so, I didn’t have a problem with it. It started as a rather toned down version which wasn’t that bad, but then he ramps it up to 11. He stutters and sputters and flails his arms like mad and you wonder what part of the scenery he won’t chew. To some this is a deal breaker for the movie, for me I’ll settle with very annoying.

Celebrity doesn’t play like a three act movie so much as a series of vignettes. I’m reminded of Mr. Bean episode titles. Mr. Allen dates a Supermodel, Mr. Allen’ Vegas Weekend, Mr. Allen’s wife Learns How to do a Blowjob. Okay the last is a little long but you get the idea.

I will admit the movie is very funny at times. The best parts are the scenes where he tries to pick up Charlize Theron’s character and when he spends a crazy weekend with Leonardo DiCaprio. But then there are scenes that don’t really go anywhere or fall flat like when Lee tries to pick up on Melanie Griffith’s character with no good payoff.

To me the movie really drags when the narrative switches to Robin. Now I know she serves a purpose in the narrative and we are contrasting the two stories. However she is not a very interesting character and she doesn’t have as good material as Lee does. Probably the most comical scene she is given is where she learns a proper blow job from a prostitute and even that is tame and worn out by today’s standards.

To me Celebrity’s misses outweigh its hits. It has some funny and even iconic scenes but there is far too much down time and scenes that just fall flat. Judy Davis is completely underwritten compared to Branagh’s character and it really doesn’t help that Branagh gives one of the most annoying portrayals of Allen ever. I don’t hate Celebrity or think it is one of his worst, I just didn’t find it a satisfying experience overall.

The Babymakers (2012) Jay Chandrasekhar

Posted in B on April 9, 2013 by moviemoses

Production Budget: unknown
Gross: about $8,000

Audrey (Olivia Munn) and Tommy (Paul Schneider) want to have a child, but Tommy is having trouble with his sperm. In desperation, Tommy decides to rob a sperm bank where earlier in his life he made donations. Hilarity supposedly ensues.

You can almost see the desperation on Chandrasekhar’s voice as he pitches the movie. “Okay, okay, this is a bank heist film but get this: this isn’t an ordinary bank…this is a SPERM bank! Huh? Huh!?” But is this really a concept screaming for a movie? Let’s follow an infertile couple disintegrate into madness over something that is not such a big deal. Oh, the hilarity! Now I’ve said before that anything could be made funny given the right person. The Babymakers is an example of someone taking an initially bad concept and making it one of the most annoying films of the year.

The first thing to strike you is the laziness of the humor. If I told you that you were making a raunchy comedy involving a sperm bank couldn’t you already have the majority of the jokes visualized? There is going to be a lot of sperm flying around and a lot of jerking off. That is to be expected but the writers do nothing else with the humor.

Couple that with the fact they jackhammer a joke until they hit the Earth’s core. For example, in breaking into the sperm bank one of the character’s naturally get sperm on him. But he doesn’t just get a little sperm stuck to him. First he gets some on, then he flops around, then he knocks over a whole rack on him, then he flops around more, then he gets some in his mouth, then he swims in it, and it feels like this goes on for 10 minutes. We get it, jizz is icky. Can we move on?

In a comedy you have situations obviously exaggerated for comedy value. But in Babymakers, we linger so much on things that you get pissed off with the characters and the motivations. We actually have to spend the first fifteen minutes on the fact Tommy can’t have kids. There is a prolonged montage where they fuck, and fuck, and fuck, and fuck, and fuck to where they have been screwing for like six months straight. Instead of laughing, I’m yelling for the characters to just go to a fertility specialist. But no, we have to have several more scenes where Audrey gets pissed at Tommy. Why? Cause his sperm doesn’t work? Is that something you can blame a person for like it is a conscious decision? Besides you don’t know so go to a fertility clinic!

Then we get several “gut busting” scenes were Tommy has to jerk off for a sperm sample and apparently he has this thing about not being able to at the sperm bank. So he has to go home, jerk off and drive 100 MPH to get the sample to the bank in time. Really dude? Just jerk off in the office. I realize we wouldn’t have these comedy scenes if characters just acted normally but come on. Comedy is about exaggeration but it is not about making people into unbelievable morons.

So then we get the news Tommy’s sperm doesn’t work due to many hits to the groin. This prompts a montage of the easiest joke in human history short of the fart joke; man getting hit in groin by football. The news I couldn’t have kids wouldn’t deter me because there are alternatives. There is adoption or you could use a solution already mentioned in the movie. Audrey could artificially enseminate herself with another person’s sperm. After all, it is not like Tommy was hung up on him passing on his own genes. Tommy wasn’t really that enthusiastic about having kids but simply wants it becuase that is what Audrey wants. But no, that would mean thinking rationally and we wouldn’t have a movie. Instead we spend the next hour shaming Tommy for something out of his control.

I am not kidding when I say a good hour of this movie is person after person berating Tommy for his sperm. Now, as I said many times before I recognize I am not a regular person. I sometimes feel like an alien who doesn’t understand these illogical humans but I honestly don’t understand this. If I found out a friend couldn’t have children due to a medical problem with his sperm, my first response wouldn’t be „“Haha! You aren’t a man! Can I fuck your wife to get her pregnant?“ But that is what every character does. And they aren’t saying this to razz their friend, they are saying this to legitimately put him down. This isn’t the same as say, getting an errection. I honestly don’t get it, Tommy has no control at all over the production of his sperm. You are seriously making me question humanity movie. I could go on but you get the point. I can’t remember another movie where I spent so much time screaming at my TV over stupid irrelevant BS that didn’t make sense.

The acting in this movie is no good either. I’ve always thought Olivia Munn a black hole of comedy. It is sad when you have to be carried by Kevin Pereira of all people. But that being said, I can’t put too much blame on Munn as she is given nothing to do but be shrill at Tommy over not making sperm. Scheider too has the unfortunate duty of delivering terrible dialog in a horribly exaggerated manner.

Looking through the IMDb filmography, you can actually see the nosedive of talent that is Broken Lizard. You start off with Super Troopers which I love probably more than I should. Then you get a misfire with Club Dredd and a brief recovery with Beerfest. Then you have Slammin Salmon which is absolute ass followed up by Babymakers which is a serious contender for worst of 2012. I don’t get mad at movies usually. Seriously, I did a worst of list for 2012 and my common write up was that a movie was boring. The Babymakers pushed all my buttons though and it seriously made me consider stopping the movie several times and I never do that.