Archive for the O Category

On the Road (2012) Walter Salles

Posted in O on March 28, 2013 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $25 million

Gross so far: $8 million

Again, jumping the gun a bit but will gladly change the review if anything major changes.

We have a rarity on the blog. Normally on these adaptations I say „I’ve never read X so I’ll have to judge the movie on its own.“ But this time I’ve actually read On the Road and of the Beat in general. So much so one of my first trips was to New York to Greenwich Village where the Beat Generation started. It was like an extremely dorky pilgrimage  I had some expectations for this movie going in mainly because of the director. Walter Salles directed another road novel called The Motorcycle Diaries which was a journal chronicling one of Ernesto Guevara’s trips with his friend. Salles did a great job of romanticizing the journey and also the personal story of a friendship on its last legs. When it comes to On the Road, I think something got lost in translation.

On the Road is based on the book of the same name. It was a semi-biography by Jack Kerouac and it is about struggling writer Sal Paradise. Sal meets a free spirited person named Dean Moriarty and they go on a series of journeys across the country.

I’m sure you probably think that now I have a source material I recognize I will pick apart how the movie’s plot is so different from the book. To be very honest, despite reading On the Road quite a few times, I actually had to refresh prior to seeing the movie. Maybe that can be attributed to my Swiss cheese memory or maybe it is some cue to bad writing. I prefer to think that I don’t remember the exact specifics to the plot because that doesn’t matter so much as the themes and the characters.

Much of On the Road was a rejection of ideas and culture of the time. The American Dream was the nuclear family with a wife and kids and you were firmly planted in one city with a stable job. Sal was a restless and directionless every man who gets seduced by Dean’s spirit of adventure and his counter culture attitude. Roots? Real happiness is the open road and the beauty of the country. Family? Careers? Chains that tie you down. Meet friends wherever you go and have parties with lots of sex, booze, and drugs. Dean seems like the best friend you could ever have and the life is exciting. But during the course of the book Sal experiences the disillusionment of that ideal and the illusion finally wears off of Dean. Dean is a free spirit, but that comes at the cost of being a selfish asshole who is not responsible to anyone or anything. So while I don’t remember the plot specifics of who went where and did what, it is memorable (at least for me) for other reasons. It is a coming of age story that while is set in the 50’s, still speaks to people today.

All that goes into why I think something got lost in translation by Brazilian director Salles. Because stuff happens in the movie that happens in the book, but to the audience that is all it is. Stuff. We never get that context which explains why it is important and in the story. One scene that is a great example is when Sal has about a five minute scene when Sal meets the immigrant woman Terry (Alice Braga). In the movie you see Sal meet Terry, he goes to stay with her on a work camp near a cotton field, they fuck, and they go their separate ways. Now while most men won’t object to seeing Alice Braga’s boobs, they may be wondering why this is in the movie. After all, Terry never shows up in the rest of the movie and she is never mentioned again after Sal leaves. And you don’t see that Terry made any lasting impression on Sal or that she taught him any lessons in life. In the book, she represents a more stable life for Sal. They love each other, but by entering into this relationship Sal is dedicating himself to a kind of pre-made family (Terry has a child already) and a daily grind in the cotton field. Sal is not ready for that kind of commitment, gets restless, and leaves her citing a weak excuse.

Many reviews have pointed to the meandering nature as a negative and I think it is for the purpose I described. Take another scene where Sal and Dean go to a nightclub where they meet jazz saxophone player Walter (played by Terrence Howard). They go, they hear some jazz, they have some small talk with Walter, and that’s it. Once again, you are left wondering why the hell that is in there. Jazz was big in On the Road because, again, it was counter culture. Sure there was jazz, but it was weak ass watered down Benny Goodman/Tommy Dorsey crap. Yeah, I just gave a 60 year burn to Tommy Dorsey. What? Real jazz was seen as pure inspiration and had a little rebel rock and roll spirit to it. Our characters also hung out with and sometimes made love to people of color which was also taboo at the time. So, in the context of the book you have our characters hearing this sexy and cool music and breaking with many social conventions. In the movie we have a pointless scene where Sal and Dean smoke weed with Terrence Howard. It is like Walter Salles was working from a checklist of plot points from the book without really getting what it means.

I also think that applies to the cinematography; specifically to the road shots of America. This is a story that romanticizes travel but I found much of the shots of America to be lazy. Don’t worry, I’ll explain. Do you know when other movies have to lazily establish where in the world you are so they show an obvious landmark? Like, if you are shooting in Brazil, you will show that gigantic Jesus statue. Or if you are establishing London you will do Big Ben or some such crap. It is kind of the same thing here and I blame it on the fact Salles is obviously not familiar with the US. The characters are going to San Francisco? Well, show the Golden Gate bridge! The quality is seriously contrasted when the characters go to Mexico. Salles is not only Brazilian but is familiar with Central and South America due to The Motorcycle Diaries. So the shots of Mexico are gorgeous without needing landmarks. We see the beautiful desert and the mountains and valleys. Salles found choice locations in places as diverse as Arizona, Argentina, and Chile. But then our characters go back to New York and lets just go to a shot of the Brooklyn Bridge. Yawn.

So lets move on to the acting. Sam Riley is unremarkable as Sal Paradise but partially I think that is due to the character being mostly an observer to the story. Garrett Hedlund gives a break out performance as Dean. He is both very charismatic and very vulnerable when the scene demands it. Kristen Stewart was also heavily billed in this movie probably due to Twilight. Does this make me forget her awful acting in Twilight? Short answer no. You can tell she is trying to break out of that Twilight mold with a heavily sexualized role, but when you have to see her try to act up to the other people in the movie you want her to go away and leave the acting to the big boys.

The supporting cast is star studded as I gave a few names earlier but as I mentioned, most of them are nothing roles. The only people that leave any impression are Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst. Dunst does so much with her limited and (lets face it) shitty role she embarrasses Stewart by contrast. I could list all the other guest stars but it’s not worth it.

Now I’ve been criticizing for most of this review but in the end, On the Road is a mixed bag. The quality of most of the movie is prone to bipolar swings. At times the movie is beautiful and at others it is lazy and lackluster. At times the characters have some genuine touching moments, and at others they are unlikable one dimensional asses only out for sex and drugs. At times, you get a feeling of the period and the characters, and more often than not you feel like you are getting pointless scenes with unremarkable characters. At times you feel like the themes are coming through, and at others the movie seems like a meandering mess. This isn’t a bad movie, but it is a disappointment. On the surface Salles seemed like the perfect director, but in reality the movie needed someone to grasp the spirit of the text, and not someone who sticks too literally to the text.  

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One for the Money (2012) Julie Anne Robinson

Posted in O on January 15, 2013 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $40 million

Worldwide Gross: $36 million

One for the Money is based on one of a series of books by Janet Evanovich featuring her protagonist Stephanie Plum.  Plum is a former lingerie salesperson who decides to become a bounty hunter to pay her bills.  One of her first bounties is for an ex-cop and former boyfriend Joe (Jason O’Mara).  Romance is still present while Plum tries to get Joe’s bounty and solve his crime.

I’ve never read a Janet Evanovich, but I can’t help but feel fans would feel disappointed by the results of One for the Money.  This is despite Evanovich’s own statements she sees Katherine Heigl as Stephanie Plum.  There is a disconnect between what Plum is written to be and what Heigl thinks Plum should be.  Evanovich says the character is a cross between Nancy Drew and Dirty Harry.  I think it might be more apt to say a street smart version of Veronica Mars but whatever.  What ultimately comes out is what would be a starring vehicle for Fran Drescher in the 90’s.

I used the term ‘street smart‘ before because Plum should be able to maneuver her way through these situations.  I think a good example would be Axel Foley from Beverly Hills Cop.  He is not someone who is necessarily book smart, but is able to use his checkered past and gift of gab to get through his cases.  You wonder during One for the Money what makes Stephanie Plum so special since she is always the last to know things and everyone bails her out of bad situations.  Heigl plays Plum very ditzy with what I’m sure Heigl thinks is a hilarious Jersey accent.  That’s why I mentioned I see this more as a rom-com starring Fran Drescher.

Speaking of television, this movie reminds me of an extended pilot to a Stephanie Plum TV show rather than a Hollywood film.  There are no action scenes, only one explosion, and all of the humor is more tame than an episode of Two and a Half Men.  I’m not expecting Jack Reacher here but I guess the larger point is I’m not seeing why this character is so special.  One for the Money was obviously made to be the start of a franchise.  They needed to do something to establish itself and show to the uninitiated why this is a popular series, but it comes off as painfully bland.  I would even welcome Drecher because Katherine Heigl doesn’t even have the presence of an actor who can do an interesting goofy role.  If you have seen one Heigl performance you’ve seen them all.

This movie just bored the shit out of me and most of it was due to Plum.  She is so incompetent and cannot do anything right.  The plot seemed to move despite her trying to derail the whole thing.  I’m just sitting there waiting for the mystery to sort itself out becuase I know our protagonist isn’t going to add anything to the matter.  And it might be fine if it was played for comedy but all of the comedy was flat as well.  The plot is modeled after Out of Sight, but Heigl and O’Mara have none of the chemistry that Lopez and Clooney had.

I’m kind of struggling to fill a review because most of it boils down to “watch the trailer“ because that’s the movie.  Some trailers aren’t representative of what the movie is but this one is.  All of the humor, and I mean all of it, is contained in the trailer.  All of the action high points are in there and the only reasons you would see this movie are in the trailer.  In fact, consider it a short film instead of a trailer.  I would say all the unnecessary stuff has been edited out and you are left with all you need to know about One for the Money.  While none of the stuff in this movie was horrible or offensive, there is absolutely no reason to see it.  This TV show would have been cancelled after a few episodes due to lack of interest.  One for the Money killed any interest in making another Stephanie Plum movie ever again because of how boring and lifeless this one is.

Outlander (2008) Howard McCain

Posted in O on March 2, 2011 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $50 million

Gross: $161,000

Outlander is about a spaceship that crashes in Iron Age Norway. The only survivor Kainen (James Caviezel) is on a mission to kill a creature called a Moorwen that stowed away on his vessel. The Moorwen terrorizes a Nordic village led by Hrothgar (John Hurt) and Kainen teams up with the Vikings in order to kill the animal.

There’s a few ways this movie could turn out. I kind of thought it would be a touch campy because of the rather ludicrous set up of a spaceman in viking times. Kind of sounded like Cowboys vs. Aliens to me. Of course the box cover boasts “Predator meets Beowulf” which is…interesting. The movie I tend to think of after watching it is a poor man’s Ghost and the Darkness. You can tell that the writers did not want to make something so banal as having Vikings fight a natural foe like a bear or something. So instead we go for this odd alien horror movie angle which really isn’t played up to its full potential.

There really aren’t any futuristic weapons or sci fi tech (aside from one brief scene) in this science fiction movie. Even our hero Kainen doesn’t do anything to indicate he is an alien from a more advanced civilization. You would think someone who is cut off from his technology could improvise something or use some scientific advancement from his race but no. He is perfectly happy to pick up an ax and slum it with his viking companions. It is almost like the filmmakers are embarrassed about their one selling point and tried to back peddle the goofiness after the initial pitch.

Everything about this movie though ends up being generic and lackluster. None of the characters are interesting in any way. I actually really like James Caviezel but he is a block of wood in this movie. His character doesn’t say anything because he doesn’t want to give away the fact he is an alien. But guess what? When you don’t have you’re main character say anything then it is really hard to give a shit about him. John Hurt mutters through his lines enough to get by and Ron Perlman is almost less than a cameo. I didn’t care about any of these people.

The plot does play somewhat to Beowulf in that you have this hero from a distant land come to slay a monster. Really there is enough to string together plot points in a coherent manner and no more. There are no twists or surprises or thrills. This leads me to the last bit of blandness which is the monster. This is a pretty lame monster and the threat is minimized by the fact we are never told anything about it. You would think Kainen could talk about this creature and what it could do but he stays mum about it. In fact, he looks even more clueless about it after the first few attacks on it. The creature’s powers seem to come from plot convenience. Kainen mentions nothing about a natural armor…until he tries stabbing it with a sword and fails. Fire kills it…until it for some reason doesn’t. You can see it most times…until it decides to cloak like the predator. You see what I mean? You keep changing the rules on me and eventually tune out.

None of the action scenes are interesting or all that inspired. I know I keep running into a theme here but the movie keeps running into a steaming pile of mediocrity. Nothing about this movie is particularly awful. I can’t blame this on any one thing. But Outlander feels like if you took a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a really good monster movie. It is an extremely faded image of what a great movie should be. There is no reason for anyone to waste their time with this. Skip it.

 

On Deadly Ground (1993) Steven Seagal

Posted in O on January 20, 2010 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $50 million
Worldwide Gross: around $42 million

Seagal was at one time the next big thing in Hollywood.  After small successes like Above the Law and Hard to Kill and his mega hit Under Siege, Seagal was being called the next Arnold or Stallone.  His fighting style was unlike anything anyone had ever seen.  He couldn’t be touched.  Somehow he could kill ten men with his wuss slaps.  He took on a battleship full of crazed mercenaries, Tommy Lee Jones, and Gary Busey and he only received a cut on his eyebrow.  Gary Busey did nothing!?  The man is crazy!  He’s Mr. Joshua for cryin’ out loud!  What people didn’t realize at the time was that Seagal was an a**hole.  He had that stupid pony tail, always dressed in black (hey pal, only Johnny Cash can do that), and always had that constipated look on his face.  He also had a tendency to exaggerate about his past.  At one point he said he was CIA black ops, and then when people called him on that steaming pile of dog dookie, he said he was the reincarnation of a Buddhist holy man.  Then he changed to Captain Planet.  He started to wear these frilly leather coats, alligator boots, and donning huge Indian medallions.  I’m sorry, but if you wear dead animals, you are not the next protector of the environment.  And we haven’t even got to the Elvis fat years yet.

But anyway Seagal got mucho dinero to make his message movie and On Deadly Ground was one of them.  Seagal is Forrest Taft (stop laughing its tough.  It is!), an ex-black ops oil worker/explosives expert/fire expert/environmental hero/fry cook (I think).  Michael Caine has black hair and is evil and the only way to stop him is to blow up an oil rig.  Yeah, that won’t irreparably damage the environment.  The plot makes no sense and is only a vehicle to include the typical Seagal fight scenes and Seagal’s mad ramblings on the environment.  Really the best rant on this movie is at jabootu.com.  I’ll give you the best example of his anti-government ramblings.  This is at the end when he delivers a four minute speech to an Indian council.

“I’d like to start out by saying, thank you to all the brothers and sisters that have come here today representing this cause. I have been asked by Mr. Itok and the tribal council to speak to you and the members of the Press about the injustice that has been brought against us by some Government Officials and Big Business (1). How many of you out there have heard of alternative engines? Engines that can run on anything from alcohol to garbage or water (2). Or carburetors that can get hundreds of miles to the gallon. Or electric or magnetic engines, that can practically run forever. You don’t know about them because if they were to come into use, they’d put the oil companies out of business. The concept of the internal combustion engine has been obsolete for over fifty years. But because of the Oil Cartels and corrupt government regulation, we and the rest of the world have been forced to use gasoline for over a hundred years. Big Business is primarily responsible for destroying the water we drink, the air we breathe and the food we eat (3). They have no care for the world they destroy, only for the money they make in the process. How many oil spills can we endure? Millions and millions of gallons of oil are now destroying the ocean and the many forms of life it supports. Among these is plankton, which supplies sixty to ninety percent of the Earth’s oxygen (4). This supports the entire marine ecosystem which forms the basis of our planet’s food supply. But the plankton is dying. I thought, well, let’s go to remote state or country, anywhere on Earth. But in doing a little research I realized that these people broker toxic waste all over the world. They basically control the legislation, and, in fact, they control the Law. The Law says, “no company can be fined over $25,000 a day (5).” For companies making $10,000,000 dollars a day by dumping lethal toxic wastes into the ocean, i’s only good business to continue doing this. They influence the media so that they can control our minds (6). They have made it a crime to speak out for ourselves, and if we do so we’re called “conspiracy nuts” and we’re laughed at (7). We’re angry because we’re all being chemically and genetically damaged, and we don’t even realize it. Unfortunately, this will effect our children. We go to work each day and right under our noses we see our car and the car in front of us (9) spewing noxious poisonous gasses that are all accumulative poisons. These poisons kill us slowly, even when we see no effect. How many of us would have believed if we were told twenty years ago that on a certain day we wouldn’t be able to see fifty feet in front of us. That we wouldn’t be able to take a deep breath because the air would be a mass of poisonous gas (10). That we wouldn’t be able to drink out of our faucets, that we’d have to buy water out of bottles. Our most common and God-given rights have been taken away from us. Unfortunately, the reality of our lives is so grim that nobody wants to hear it (11). Now, I’ve been asked what we can do? I think we need a responsible body of people that can actually represent us rather than Big Business (12). This body of people must not allow the introduction of anything into our environment that is not absolutely biodegradable or able to be chemically neutralized upon production (13). And finally, as long as there is profit to be made from polluting the Earth (14), companies and individuals will continue to do what they want. We have to force these companies to operate safely and responsibly, and with all our best interests in mind (15). So that when they don’t, we can take back our resources and our hearts and our minds and do what’s right.”

Did your eyes glaze over on that?  Sorry, but I had to listen to it.  This was the beginning of the end of Seagal’s big screen career.  He became fat and old and is only doing Direct to Videos.  The DTVs are weird because in most of them he doesn’t do his own dialogue.  This guy with a weird southern accent does his lines.  Oh, he’s also shilling his energy drink.  Please try Steven Seagal’s lightning bolt and listen to his rock band (which is actually successful in Europe.  Silly Europeans).

Is it any good?  Hell no.  But I see Seagal movies in a “so bad its good” way.  It’s funny to see Seagal beat the racism out of someone. Seriously, he beats a man half to death and asks “What does it take to change the essence of a man” and the man realizes the error of his ways.  I didn’t know beating someone’s ass made you so introspective. Or how bout when Seagal wrestles a bear.  A bear for crying out loud!  I thought only Fedor could take on a bear.  We also have R. Lee Ermy doing what he usually does.  I personally love when he tries to build up how badass Seagal is by saying something to the effect of “You could drop him in the middle of Antartica with only his skivvies and he would show up at your pool the next day with a tan and a fistful of pesos.”  That is just brilliant.  This movie is simply hilarious and is funnier than most comedies out there today.  You aren’t a movie fan until you are a Seagal connoisseur.