Archive for July, 2013

Branded (2012) Jamie Bradshaw/Aleksandr Dulerayn

Posted in B on July 24, 2013 by moviemoses


Production Budget: unknown
Worldwide Gross: $3.7 million

Yeah, I know no known production budget. Let’s just say with my limited experience in movies I can tell this movie didn’t cost less than $2 million dollars. While I didn’t find hard numbers I know this movie was called a bomb and like with other titles like this, if I find numbers to contradict it I will note the correction. Anyway, onto the review.

When you see the trailer for Branded, you get the clear impression this is a sci-fi movie akin to They Live. In the trailer we see strange alien like creatures are being mass marketing and are subliminally controlling people to buy their products. They Live worked because its tone played as goofy as the premise.

Branded is a film that almost has to be seen to believe. Almost. I say that because while They Live played things tongue in cheek, Branded decides to take the concept and play it completely straight. And boy is Branded a train wreck because of that decision. In the first minute alone we get a boy being infused with the powers of marketing by a constellation of an astral cow and they being struck down by a bolt of lightning. Again, this is played completely straight.

This movie feels kind of like another movie I reviewed called Dragon Wars (or D-War). It was a Korean film that was meant to be a kind of hybrid American/Korean film to appeal to both audiences. It had American actors but featured a story about a Korean legend about these spiritual dragons and whatnot. It was a movie supposed to appeal to American tastes but ended up feeling, well, odd. The same feel permeates this movie. We have American actors like Leelee Sobieski and Jeffrey Tambor to make it seem like a domestic picture, but once you watch it you get this weird spiritual cow stuff that makes you think this is more relevant to the Russian audience to where this was made. It seems to draw from spiritual folklore from that region (which seems silly to us), as well as cultural beliefs. Sure, in America advertising and marketing are crazy here, but you get the feeling in Russia especially after such a long period of Communism (where they didn’t have much exposure) there is more hostility about it. The message of this film simply isn’t “advertising has gotten out of control” but marketing in any form is immoral and is corrupting both culturally and spiritually. The very end of the film has all the nations of the world band together to ban marketing. That isn’t defined either, marketing in its generic term is banned. That makes no sense. I’m not even going to go into how having all nations band together for anything would be impossible but how would you ban marketing? Our main character even gloats about how a sign on the front of your business is marketing so people can’t even have signs with names? How would you find your way to any place?

I know, I’m getting sidetracked by stupidity but that is all you have to focus on. This is played as a cautionary tale like 1984. So Max von Sydow plays an evil marketing guy (with no name) who promises to make fast food moguls rich by changing people’s opinions that fat is now sexy. Misha (Ed Stoppard) is the up and coming ad specialist who I explained earlier was blessed by a sacred cow. Anyway, he soon learns the god like power he possesses and puts himself into exile ala John Rambo. He then performs a ritual where a white cow turns gold and then he decapitates it, burns the remains in a Russian version of the Wicker Man, and covers himself in the blood of the cow. And this means he can now see the things which have latched themselves onto people causing the evil marketing to…work? Misha then uses his marketing powers to cause the brands to fight each other until they are all dead.

Wow my head hurts from the stupid. Worse is this crap isn’t even internally logical. I still don’t get any of it. Who is Max von Sydow’s character supposed to be? Satan? Generic demon? You may think that due to the spiritual cow but the brands take the forms of giant grub worms and dragons. Why is he doing this? Money? Power? What the hell are the giant grubs and why do they care about advertising or if someone eats a damn burger? Are they aliens? You already feel dumb watching it, but now I feel worse because I am arguing the logic of a movie with magic cows and giant grub worms that feed off of the gluttony of children.

As I said, this movie almost has to be seen to be believed. This movie has so many moments where you scream “WTF!?” that it is like Russian Battlefiend Earth or Russian The Room. Words cannot describe my face when the brand of a vegetarian restaurant which is an egg hatches to become a dragon and the dragon fights a giant grub worm which is the brand of the in-movie MacDonalds brand. Your logic circuits just blow up in your brain and you have the most quizzical expression. There are many parts that if I had a group of friends that were game, we would rip this movie a new one MST3K style. This is a movie that needs to be Rifftrax’d.

What keeps me from recommending it for that is the movie is not all crazy. In fact, a good portion of this movie is boring. For about an hour of the film we go away from the main plot about aliens and advertising and focus on Misha and his relationship with Leelee Sobieski. There is this whole story about how we learn Misha grew up poor and that is why he wants to be a famous ad guy, and he learns hard life lessons with his first job, and then he dates Sobieski’s character and it goes on and on and you just don’t care. This isn’t Once Upon a Time in America, this is a movie where a guy has sex with a girl with a giant CGI worm on her back.

Make no mistake about it, this is a horrible movie. The only thing I have left to debate is whether this is enough to recommend to the crowd of bad movie aficionados or to skip it. It says something that after all my years of watching movies that I have come across a movie so uniquely stupid. Other movies have become cult classics for a lot less. But there is so much down time, boring character exposition, and incredibly slow talky scenes about advertising and relationships that it becomes a lot harder to recommend. In the end you have to judge for yourselves on what your tolerances are for pain. Branded sure is a memorable movie though.

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Scoop (Woody Allen) 2006

Posted in S, Woody Allen Retrospective on July 4, 2013 by moviemoses

Ugh.

Sorry, I know that’s not helpful. I also know many people find this to be a funny light comedy from Woody Allen as evidenced by its score on IMDb. All I know is I’ve seen this both times. Both of the times I’ve seen it have come after the good comeback of Match Point and both times this has killed the good will that came from that movie. Allen is like an addict to laziness and here he has had a relapse.

Scoop is about an American journalism student named Sondra (Scarlett Johansson). She gets a tip from the ghost of a legendary journalist (played by Ian McShane) that wealthy aristocrat Peter (Hugh Jackman) is a serial killer known as the Tarot Card Killer. Sondra tries to investigate but finds herself falling in love with him.

It is really not a good sign when Allen is seemingly going back to the realm of Curse of the Jade Scorpion and Small Time Crooks. Alright, I’ve been trying to write about this movie and have been sitting in front of my computer for a long time because with all these movies and reviews, I am really struggling to think of things I haven’t said already. How fitting given the fact I am reviewing a director that is struggling to think of things he hasn’t said already.

I have bemoaned several times the laziness of Allen and maybe I need to go into that a bit more. I know several Allen apologists who will mention the fact he has made a movie every year since he started and it wasn’t effecting his quality before. To that, I say we are talking about a different Woody Allen. Younger Allen was energetic and had a million ideas bursting out of him. He was always experimenting with tones and styles and camera work. While he tried at times to emulate directors he loved, he was still trying to do his own thing. So while he made a movie a year, none of them felt lazy because they were earnest attempts at art.

Now it seems like Allen does movies, not from a genuine love of film but because he can’t be retired. It is like the man has no hobbies and no friends to hang out with so doing something like Jade Scorpion is a better thing to do during the work week rather than sitting at home doing nothing. The ideas for his comedies lately have been rejected joke concepts that he keeps in a dresser drawer that he blows the dust off of. It doesn’t help he makes cracks that he only does one take with actors because he would rather be at the Knicks game than doing this.

Younger Woody wouldn’t have made Scoop for the same reason he threw the joke concept in his desk drawer in the first place. It is because there isn’t enough to make a good movie out of it. The jokey premise is that a dead journalist comes back as a ghost to help this useless student crack a massive story but they do nothing humorous with it. The premise is there solely to get the plot moving but Ian McShane is wasted and so is the character. He just shows up every 10 minutes to say something like “You need to figure out who the Tarot Card Killer is.” and then disappear. That’s it.

Really the comedy in this movie is all about the kind of buddy cop-ish dynamic of Scarlett Johansson and Woody Allen. First off, Scarlett is just odd in this movie as she is I guess trying to do a Woody Allen impression like Branaugh and Cusack and it so doesn’t work. There are brief moments where Allen throws out a funny quip but for the most part, it seems like scene after scene of bickering that is trying to disguise itself as witty banter. I felt as if this movie was in a loop becuase every five minutes we would get this scene:

Sid: Peter is the Tarot Card Killer
Sondra: That’s crazy Sid! I swear you have a screw loose.
Sid: *stammering* Then how do you explain X.
Sondra: That could come from anywhere. Jesus Sid, how suspicious are you? Peter is a nice guy he couldn’t have done it!
Sid: *stammering* The guy is weird, Joe Stromberg…
Sondra: You’re wrong Sid. Peter wouldn’t hurt a fly! I’m done! You guys are crazy! You have a screw loose!

These scenes go on and on and on and on and on and they recur every couple of minutes. Where is the joke? Where is the witty banter? Yes, I know I’m not quoting verbatim but that is the gist. One person brings up a bit of circumstantial evidence and the other person whines that the other person is crazy. That’s it! By the 50 minute mark I was stupidly yelling at the TV to shut up because all the characters would do is pointlessly bicker at one another.

It doesn’t help that our main character seemingly doesn’t give a fuck about solving the case. Seriously, there is almost nothing in it for her. The story isn’t that Sondra is super motivated to be a journalist. She feels like she was forced to England out of obligation and the story falls in her lap. She doesn’t feel threatened by Peter and falls in love with him. So why should we care? Remember back to a movie called So I Married an Axe Murderer? It was a while ago when Mike Myers had a career. Anyway, that movie is a masterpiece compared to Scoop. The character in that movie is scared for his life and is actively looking for evidence that either confirms or denies his beliefs. Along the way he is put in awkward and sometimes life threatening situations. The story is always moving, the characters are motivated, and most importantly that movie was funny.

Scoop is not funny. Take one of the few recurring jokes of the movie in which Allen, who plays a minor magician called Splendini, wows upper class twits with stupid card tricks. I guess it is a joke that these snooty upper class aristocrats are amused by the same thing that would barely amuse a five year old but they don’t just stop with one time. Allen does that joke another three times during the movie. Or take another “joke” near the end where Sid dies trying to rescue Sondra because he always had trouble remembering to drive on the left side of the road. That joke is barely a joke for one but it is strange that that is seemingly the high point of the humor for this movie. I shouldn’t have to be digging for the jokes in this supposed comedy.

I know I am being a real grinch despite doing this retrospective out of love for Allen. But it is hard going through all of his movies and experiencing the dreadful lows this man has done. I know there are die hards who will disagree vehemently and who will call this a breezy fun comedy. To me Scoop was painful as it is 90 minutes of bickering and extremely forced comedy from someone with whom comedy was effortless at one point in his career. This was a hard movie to sit through this late in the retrospective.

Match Point (Woody Allen) 2005

Posted in M, Woody Allen Retrospective on July 4, 2013 by moviemoses

Match Point is about Chris (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a semi professional tennis player who is now an instructor at a country club. He gets in a relationship with Chloe (Emily Mortimer) and has hopes of marrying into an upper class family. Trouble comes when Chris falls for struggling actress Nola (Scarlet Johansson) who threatens his family life.

Initial reactions toward Match Point probably were more glowing than they should be but I can certainly understand why. Slogging through Allen’s filmography recently has been like eating Ramen noodles for every meal for a month. Your first real meal back will probably seem like Filet Mignon no matter what. In this case, we don’t get Filet Mignon, but a well cooked steak nontheless.

The obvious movie to liken Match Point to is Crimes and Misdemeanors. But it would be unfair to say that even though they share the same themes that they are necessarily trying to do the same thing. While Crimes was trying to be a pure philosophical statement about morality, I think Match Point is settling for being a straight thriller. In Crimes, the murder was simply a means to get to the discussion. In Match Point, follow Chris as we learn all about him and his situation. Our questions are more about what he is going to do and whether he will get away with it or not, rather than musings about justice in a godless universe.

This is where the film really shines. Allen does a great job with creating tension in this movie. All during the crime we are unsure as to what mistakes he will make or whether anyone will see him. After it happens, we are on the edge of our seats during his interviews with the police and whether he will slip up with his story.

There are things that still keep this movie from being as interesteing as Crimes. For one, Chris is a little too cold and calculating to be a lead we can really get invested in. I get that was the point that Chris can think ahead which makes him capable of what he was doing. But in Crimes we could somewhat sympathize (at least a little bit) with Landau’s tortured character and his moral crisis. Chris’ cold demeanor has him come off more sociopathic than anything else.

I also found myself more entertained with the two stories of Crimes than the one in MP. The Allen subplot was a welcome respite from all the heavy material. In Match Point all we have is the one story which make things a little tedious by having it be one note.

Match Point is obviously no Crimes and Misdemeanors but it is still a very good and effective thriller. Allen effectively ramps up the tension when it comes to the third act. While the themes of morality and class are not as strong as in Crimes, they still do elevate the material. This is a refreshing film after the dreadful last couple of films and it doesn’t hurt it feels like Allen actually gives a crap on this one. This is definitely one worth recommending to people.

Anything Else (2003) Woody Allen

Posted in A, Woody Allen Retrospective on July 4, 2013 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $18 million
Worldwide Gross: $13 million

I don’t know about the world at large but I had no idea about this movie being released when it first came out. I remember first seeing it in the Blockbuster and by the box cover thought it was a lame Direct to Video cash in on the mild success of the American Pie films. Then I looked on the back and saw it was done by Woody Allen and then thought “How far has he fallen that he has to do DTV films now?” Well, it got a theatrical release and despite initial bomb status, has found a cult following. Sure, there are many that hate it, but it does have its defenders. Quentin Tarantino has it as one of the best movies in the last 25 years and even Allen considers this as one of the best movies he’s done that best represents him.

Anything Else is about young comedy writer Jerry Falk (Jason Biggs). Jerry is trying to come into his own despite a bad talent manager (Danny DeVito) with the help of older mentor David Dobel (played by Allen). During this he has a tumultuous relationship with his girlfriend Amanda (Christina Ricci).

I would have played “Stop if you’ve heard this before” but you would have stopped me at “Set in New York…” before even getting to Annie Hall, writers, intellectuals, actress, jazz score, relationships, evil women, etc. So okay, this is a modern “Greatest Hits” of Annie Hall. Clearly this movie has found its fans and maybe initial press was bad because of recent failures. Once again, the point of this is to find hidden gems. Sorry to disappoint you guys but I will not be in agreement with Quentin Tarantino.

One of criticisms for this movie is the portrayal of women; mainly Amanda. No longer are the women in Allen’s movies just slightly neurotic or finnicky but now straight up evil harpies. Amanda doesn’t just do wrong, but he seemingly has malicious intent. As I mentioned in a previous review, in the past Allen was much more able to take as well as he gave. In Annie Hall, Annie may have issues, but Alvy was just as bad if not worse. In Anything Else, Amanda is evil and Jerry is as innocent as an angel.

Now I could forgive this if the writing were better. I could see a movie about a shy door mat who meets a brash mentor who teaches him to take control of his life. In that case, you can play the humor more broadly and have the characters be more shallow. Anything Else kind of plays like that in how Jerry has David who dispenses wisdom at the drop of a hat. The problem is that relationship isn’t fully capitalized on and the comedy isn’t as wacky as it should be. All David does is state the obvious: you should dump your agent, you should dump Amanda, etc. He should be putting Jerry in wacky situations to build his confidence. There is one scene like that where David comically beats on a bully’s car with a tire iron but the whole movie should have been like that. I’m thinking more Trent from Swingers, and Woody is thinking more like a nebbish Qui Gon Jinn.

I got fed up with the characters in this movie. Amanda is obviously the antagonist so you can’t be interested in her. But Jerry is so pathetic we don’t care about him either. It doesn’t help that we never get that big a turnaround in his character or that the antagonists don’t get a proper comeuppance. Because of all that I could never really get into the movie or the comedic situations.

I will give both credit and criticism for the casting of Jason Biggs. The credit is that Biggs isn’t like all the other non-Woody castings in that he doesn’t try to do an impersonation of Woody. I am so sick of other actors trying stutter and wildly gesticulate trying to make Woody happy and here Biggs just plays a nice kid. It is rather refreshing to just have Biggs seemingly be himself which comes off as more casual. The criticism comes in more about the writing of Allen in that Jason Biggs cannot deliver the lines. Biggs has to give the same pretentious lines about Dostoevsky and deliver the same witty banter Allen would and he just can’t do it. It is not in Biggs’ character to say those lines so his prattling about existentialism or whatever goes over like a lead balloon.

Anything Else didn’t do much of anything to keep me interested. At best it can be amusing especially with the relationship between Jerry and David where the chemistry really comes through. But most of the time the humor was played too tame for it to either be witty or zany. The characters hurt the movie the most by being either being so passive or malicious that you can’t be invested in what happens to them. This isn’t among the worst Allen has done (although his recent work has really lowered the bar) but it is not good either. This is only for those extremely forgiving of Allen’s lesser works.