Archive for May, 2013

Hollywood Ending (2002) Woody Allen

Posted in H, Woody Allen Retrospective on May 29, 2013 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $16 million
Worldwide Gross: 14.5 million

Val (Woody Allen) is a director that has had a recent string of failures. His ex-wife Ellie (Tea Leoni) pulls some strings in order to get him the latest big film to get him back on track. A problem arises though when Val develops psychosomatic blindness on set.

I hope you like one joke because that is all this movie has to offer. The joke being repeated is how Woody stares blankly in the distance instead of looking someone in the face and he also trips over things. I’m sorry I don’t have much to dissect and analyze but that is the long and the short of it. We have Woody Allen stumbling around for two hours. You know, one of the things I admired most about Allen prior is his sense of timing for a movie. I said before he was probably hard wired by his experience as a stand up to get in and out with the material as fast as possible. Most of his movies hover around 90 minutes as a result (with some comedies barely at 80 minutes) and I am very grateful. There is usually no fat on his movies and they move at a very brisk pace. Real life Woody Allen must have suffered a brain injury because he thought this movie had so much material, he couldn’t possible trim this from 112 minutes. Just for some perspective, Crimes and Misdemeanors, a philosophical musing about morality and justice in the universe is about 100 minutes. This movie about Woody bumping into chairs is 12 minutes longer than that.

This is all contingent on the physical humor in this movie being funny. Comedy is of course a subjective thing, but in my opinion this is so not funny. Maybe because I think of slapstick as being a young man’s game. It is something to see for example Jim Carrey flopping around and getting hit and quite another to see a late 60’s Jim Carrey get the shit beat out of him. One of these is cartoonish, and the other is elder abuse. But the other thing is this physical humor isn’t varied or fresh. A physical comedian could think of entire set pieces around a person being blind. This is an extreme example but Charlie Chaplin I’m sure could make a movie about a blind guy going here and there or playing a sport or driving a car etc. In Hollywood Ending, Allen thinks it is the height of hilarity that Woody can’t look someone in the face because he is blind. Of course, that joke doesn’t work either because a blind person can fucking hear someone and point their face in the direction where someone is talking. It is also so gut busting to see Woody bumping into furniture. It is not. You are no Buster Keaton Woody, you are not even Mr. Bean.

Even his dialog isn’t funny anymore. Much like in Jade Scorpion, we have a scene where Allen and Leoni establish their relationship, and it is just as agonizing. I think there is a big difference with how Allen treats his women now as in the past. In the past, Allen was always very self deprecating. He was willing to take as much as he gave out. But here, Allen comes off as a very bitter and cruel old man. Prior to this scene Ellie begs the studio exec to hire Val again. And keep in mind, Ellie had no ulterior motives here. She was doing this out of the kindness of her heart. Ellie meets with Val to lay out the groundwork of the movie. The „comedy“ of this scene is that Ellie wants to get to business, but Val interrupts by ranting about how she left him. Again, all that we know up to this point is Ellie is a nice girl who did an altruistic act and Val is making a complete and utter ass out of himself by yelling at a soft spoken woman in the middle of a crowded restaurant. What an asshole. Then he completely screws the movie by filming it blind costing the studio exec millions. Allen wants us to rejoice this because the studio exec is supposed to be an asshole. But we see nothing but the fact he is a loving boyfriend who gave a failing director a break because he is a nice guy. Wow, what a fucking asshole. And we have to sit through nearly two hours of this unlikable asshat as he makes everyone’s lives miserable through unfunny physical comedy? Oh joy! No no, please Woody, I want the three hour extended edition please.

Okay I am starting to rant and I’ll stop. Point is Hollywood Ending is shallow and unfunny to say the least. There is just not enough imagination to keep this premise going 90 minutes let alone 112 minutes. What was once effortless, now is a Herculean effort to even elicit one chuckle from me in a two hour film. This part of his career truly is the pits.

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001) Woody Allen

Posted in C, Woody Allen Retrospective on May 29, 2013 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $33 million
Worldwide Gross: $18 million

CW Briggs (Woody Allen) is an insurance investigator who is currently having trouble at work with the new efficiency expert Betty (Helen Hunt). The two hate one another but are drawn together on a case when a hypnotist (played by David Ogden Stiers) hypnotizes them and forces them to steal jewels without their knowledge.

Ten minutes. That was literally the moment where I said „Oh no.“ at the concept of watching the rest of this movie. There is a scene so bad that starts this movie and it encapsulates perfectly how the rest of the movie is going to fail. It is a scene where Allen and Hunt are in a resteraunt trying to establish their work relationship. I know what Woody Allen was trying to do, but it ends up being a complete disaster. Allen is trying to make a romantic comedy about a couple that starts off as adversaries but become lovers. The movie that immediately sprung to mind is Cary Grant in His Girl Friday. But then upon saying that you realize why this would go horribly wrong even on paper. Woody Allen, even on his best day, is no Cary Grant. Woody Allen is the intellectual who can spout jokes off at the drop of a hat and who has a witty retort to anything. Cary Grant is the kind of person who would steal Woody’s girlfriend without any effort because he is so damn suave and sexy, and Woody would still probably end up being his friend because Grant plays the lovable rogue perfectly. They are damn near as opposite as you can get. And as I said before, that is even on Allen’s best day. This is 69 year old Woody Allen who sounds more like a confused old man rather than the rapid fire comedian of old.

You watch this scene play out and you are painfully aware of the disconnect between what should be there and what actually is there. You should see two sexy actors who are exchanging pithy barbs at one another and who are trying their best to conceal their attraction to one another. What we get is a pervy old man and a shrill secretary bicker and bicker and bicker and bicker until the scene mercifully ends. But it doesn’t end, because you still have the rest of the movie to go.

I’m sorry to keep harping on that one scene but it really is the movie. Stuff happens, the couple meet to bicker over what happened, more pointless stuff happens, the couple meet to bicker more, boring plot reveal, more bickering, conclusion, they love each other…for some reason. This on screen chemistry was supposed to be what carried the movie and when it died in the first ten minutes, you know you are in for a long ride.

I really don’t know what else was supposed to be interesting or funny about this. We know from the beginning what the plot is but for some reason we have to follow Allen as he tries to piece together a mystery we already know the answer to. You may think the characters might do some wacky things while under hypnosis but they don’t. Every couple scenes, Stiers’ character calls up to give the trigger word, Allen goes off like a zombie to steal jewels, and that’s it. Where’s the humor in that? I can understand a scenario in which it could be funny. For example if we had a movie where a hypnotist programmed several code commands in our main character and these codes could make him act in several different ways (for example he could think he was Don Juan or a tough guy like The Rock or some comedian etc.). The hypnotist thinks he eliminates the code words at the end of the show but our main character for some reason keeps them. So during the course of normal life, people use these ordinary words in conversation which are the code words which makes our character transform into another person altogether. Hilarity ensues. I shouldn’t be thinking of funnier movies while watching your crappy movie.

What else can I really say without repeating myself? Oh, this was the first time I was creeped out by the age difference in a Woody Allen romance. We have this scene where Chalize Theron is practically throwing herself onto Allen’s character and I have to admit I was feeling a bit uncomfortable. Seriously, it was semi-unbelievable in the 70’s and now its disturbing.

This movie was a chore. I know I shouldn’t admit this, but at one point I just had this on in the background while trying to beat Gradius on one life. You will find some apologist who loves any Woody Allen movie, but this one more than any other is the one pointed to as the low point in Allen’s career. This is an absolute botch of a filmmaking experience. It is like if Gordon Ramsey tried to make Filet Mignon and he somehow ended up with Jack in the Box Pizza Bites. Do not watch this, even if you feel you are a Woody Allen completist.

Iron Man 3 (Shane Black) NO SPOILERS

Posted in I on May 7, 2013 by moviemoses

If you will permit, I have a bit of a tangent to talk about but I promise this will eventually relate to my thoughts on Iron Man 3. I am not huge into comic books anymore. It is not that I don’t love the characters because I do. It is not that I don’t love the adventure; I do. It is because comic culture has this neurotic fear of change. This is something that is shared by both the makers and the buyers. Now I can understand why from both sides. From the comic book company perspective you want to keep things as static as possible to keep the run going as long as possible to sell the most books. After all, if Batman for examples conquers his demons then that would kind of be it. There would be nothing left for his character to do. From the public perspective we kind of dislike things that are different and prefer the safe norm. Much like fast food we know what we are getting and are fine with the same but fulfilling formula.

But there just reaches a point where it all gets ridiculous. Nothing changes. Okay, I take it back. Things eventually change, but evolution is more observable than character changes in comics. It took what: 60 years for Superman to marry Lois Lane? People still go into full blown freak outs at Superman Returns’ sub plot that Superman and Lois had a kid. Spider-Man even made A DEAL WITH THE DEVIL in order to bring the comics back to the status quo. It reaches damn near comedic levels at times. Batman has either reached self parody or is doing its closest modern interpretation of Sisyphus. Instead of being destined to pushing a boulder uphill for all eternity, Batman has to catch the Joker again and again and again to the end of time.

That is why I am loving the current crop of comic movies. The Nolan Batman trilogy is perfect to me. We have Bruce Wayne who is broken in the beginning, he becomes Batman to try to fix things, he gets into adventures which are fun, but ultimately realizes the flaws in his character and overcomes them. And when it is over it is done. Over. Finished. You have no idea the sigh of relief I gave when we actually had a finished story arc and the balls it took Nolan for him to finish that way. Because I know, the movies being like the comics, we would have Bruce Wayne cloning himself to fight clone Joker in the year 5054. People wanted to complain about how little Batman there was and how Bane wasn’t quite like the comic and blah blah blah. Need I remind people that Ra’s al Ghoul wasn’t the same in the movies as he was in the comics nor was the Joker the same. I know I’m going to get nerd essays coming down the pipe about how wrong I am. Yes, I know we had some brief one offs with psycho Joker like in The Killing Joke, but for the most part Joker was always portrayed as this buffoonish, well, clown. It was only really at The Dark Knight when we get this anarchist punk rocker who believes in chaos…thing. My point is this Batman was different as told through Nolan’s vision and it was fine.

This leads me to Iron Man 3. Finally. The reviews for Iron Man 3 were for the most part overwhelmingly positive. But then you have the small percentage who want to label it the worst thing ever. Now I’m sure many will accuse me of straw manning but I tried reading as many people’s negative comments to see where they were coming from and they all pretty much amounted to this.

There are plot holes and bad writing! This isn’t like the comics. That character isn’t like that in the comics. The suit doesn’t do that in the comics. That character wouldn’t do that. Unfaithful!

To which I have to remind you just because something is different from the source material doesn’t mean it is a plot hole or bad writing. And just because it is different doesn’t mean its bad or the worst thing ever. The Iron Man of the movies is different from the Iron Man of the comics. It’s as simple as that. Yes, characters and aspects are changed but it is done in service of telling a story. For the longest time as a kid I listed Batman & Robin as my worst movie of all time and now I’ll come clean and say I was a moron for saying that. Schumaker intentionally made B&R like the Batman show of the 60’s. It was his artistic decision to make it campy and goofy and I cannot fault him for the simple fact he didn’t make the Batman movie I wanted. Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t like B&R, but it is for other reasons.

The point is during the movie, I could pin point several moments and scenes where I noted to myself „This is where the comic book Iron Man fan just yelled out ‘Betrayal!!!!!!!’ in the theater.“ But this was also the point where I tell people to loosen up. The movie and plot works in its own right and just because something is changed doesn’t mean things are ruined forever. It works in the same way we have 60’s Batman and the animated Batman and the comic Batman, and the Burton Batman, and the Nolan Batman.

I really liked Iron Man 3. Shane Black does a great job of playing to Downey’s strengths of his charisma, while at the same time mixing that with some intense scenes. In other people’s hands, the tonal shifts would be jarring. But Black has enough experience in just Lethal Weapon and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang alone to show he has the talent to juggle those elements.

Yes, there are some more fantastical elements in this movie, but in a universe where just one movie ago we had Stark fighting alien dragons along side a Thunder God and a Hulk, can we really throw up the realism flag? Yes, there is more emphasis on Stark instead of Iron Man and I like it. As I said, I prefer engaging stories and good character arcs. It ends on a note that leaves a sour taste in some people’s mouths but I like there is resolution. I think there is more tension when it is Stark who has to deal with problems outside of his suit and the absence of the suit makes the times when it does show up even better.

This is not a perfect movie at all. While I like the emphasis on Stark, I think it is at a loss to side characters like Rhodes and Pepper Potts. Favreau handled things better to where Stark and Potts were good foils to each other where here she is severely downplayed. The writing can also be sloppy at times. It is hard to really delve when I am not giving spoilers. Also keep in mind I don’t think any of the Iron Man movies are totally perfect. For example the first one had a third act problem where the writers all of a sudden realized they needed a villain and rushed Jeff Bridges out. I enjoyed this one about as much as the first one at least the first time through. Maybe things will be different on repeat viewings. I think for fans of the Iron Man movies there is plenty to enjoy and is a great entry in the series. For those that are heavily tied to the comics I can only suggest you come in with a thicker skin and check your expectations down a few notches. This is an Iron Man for the Marvel movie fans, not necessarily for the fan fans.