Archive for the S Category

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.

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Silent House (Chris Kentis, Laura Lau) 2011

Posted in S on November 1, 2012 by moviemoses

Silent House is a minimalistic horror film about young Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen).  She is helping to fix up a beach house with her father and uncle who are planning to sell it.  Sarah is soon trapped in the house and being hunted down by unknown intruders.

The first thing I will talk about is the thing everyone talks about which is the gimmick.  This movie is shown as one continuous shot even though in reality there are subtle edits every 10-15 minutes of the film.  Does it really add anything to the film?  I guess it makes you more aware that the events are happening in real time where edits can have you play around with time.  But that being said, this still didn’t need to be “one continuous shot“ and does come off as a cheap gimmick.

Much of this movie is carried by Elizabeth Olsen.  I truly mean carried as the camera is on her through the whole movie and she has to convey all the horror and fear and shock going through her character.  I’ve now seen her in this and Martha Marcy May Marlene and I definitely want to see her get more mainstream exposure.

If I have to give the directors credit, it is that they have confidence in what they are presenting.  Most of this movie could be dismissively boiled down to Elizabeth Olsen wandering around a dark house.  Really, that’s about it.  Sarah wanders around, we hear some bangs and creaks, and she runs away and cries some.  For the first thirty to forty minutes I was actually going along with it as I was appreciating the slow build.  But then the second act was more of the same and my anticipation to see how she eluded the killer turned to more annoyance as it seemed she was putzing around the house more to pad the run time than get away.

The third act things finally go off the rails and Sarah starts losing grip with reality.  This was a breath of fresh air although for me it was too late to start springing all that on us.  I’ve heard complaints about the ending although I guess I was in a good mood because I wasn’t as pissed off about it.  There is nothing about the twist which is particularly bullshit, but it is more uninspired than anything else.  It is a cliche that you can spot a mile away but the twist itself isn’t bullshit.

Silent House is a well made movie.  Elizabeth Olsen does a great job and to the directors credit, they almost make her wandering around an empty house interesting.  I can say I was mildly entertained watching this in the comfort of my home in the dark.  I would not want to ever watch it again and I don’t think I would recommend it either.  There isn’t enough in the story to get invested, the writing is so minimalistic it gets boring, and when we finally get to the horror elements you may have already given up on the movie.  It is a nice try, but everything in the movie comes up short.

Sinister (Scott Derrickson) 2012

Posted in S on October 31, 2012 by moviemoses

I tend to be a lot more generous in my reviews of any halfway decent modern horror movie.  It is because I consider modern horror to be, well not a dead genre but a deeply comatose one.  Despite many horror films that come out each year I can count on one or maybe two (if it’s a good year) to be good.  The rest are either PG-13 cash in schlock or uninspired garbage.  So when I see people going out and legitimately trying to make something compelling, I’m more than willing to forgive its flaws rather than films.  Is it fair?  Probably not, but I figure it is at least fair to tell you where I’m coming from.

Sinister is about true crime author Ellison (Ethan Hawke) who moves his family into the house of a horrific murder in order to write his latest book which will hopefully elevate him back to stardom.  He finds a box in the attic which has super 8 films of previous murders.  Ellison is trying to track down the killer but at the same time he is noticing strange events going on about the house.

Probably the thing that stands out and something other reviewers have noted is Hawke and his character.  Horror characters usually fall into the virtuous virgin or the baby kicking asshole so it is nice to have an almost noir like flawed hero.  Yes he does dickish things but he never seems malicious.  Rather he is misguided in both his attempts to be financially secure for his family and his lust for fame.  At the core he is a likable guy and you hope he sorts his crap out and comes out a better person.  Ethan Hawke does a great job in the main role.  I have said for a while Hawke is a woefully underrated actor.  He is never going to turn in an Oscar performance but he is always a solid character actor who certainly never detracts from your movie.

The movie also has a nice creepy atmosphere.  The super 8 footage is well done and suitably horrific.  The tone gets great near the end when it seems like the super 8 world is mixing with the real world.  The soundtrack takes on the sounds of the projector with the clicks and snaps and images are seemingly spliced into Ellison’s world.  It is at that point everything is coming together to show reality is pandripping away and the acting helps sell it.

Now there are flaws with the story.  I won’t spoil it since by the time of my writing it is still in theaters.  I say that, but it seems rather pointless since the trailers spoil most of the movie.  That is a shame because much of the joy would be in unraveling this mystery only to come in and have the cashier tell you Bruce Willis was a ghost the whole time.  Aside from that there are flaws with the story.  Sure you can forgive some stupidity because otherwise you would never have a horror movie but it gets bad at times.  Some of the scares are a little laughable and you may be yelling at Hawke’s character by the end because he really needs to take a hint.

But like I said before I’m willing to forgive those things.  Sinister legitimately tries and for the most part succeeds in making a suspenseful little horror film.  The characters are compelling and you are interested in seeing what happens to them.  The direction is equally as good in bringing the audience in as voyeur and later merging the film world with the real world for a tense atmosphere.  The writing lets down the rest of the movie as you can be taken out of the experience by some silly stuff.  But if you want to see a horror movie in theaters this year, I don’t think you will be disappointed by Sinister.

Sleeper (Woody Allen) 1973

Posted in S, Woody Allen Retrospective on August 9, 2011 by moviemoses

Sleeper is about nebbish (that is an adjective you will see in almost all Woody reviews) Miles Monroe.  Miles eh?  Dunno where he got that name from but it sounds hella awesome.  Anyway, he is the owner of a health food store who gets cryogenically frozen after a botched minor operation.  He wakes up 200 years in the future where things are controlled by a totalitarian police state.  Miles joins an underground resistance in order to fight the “leader” of said police state.

Sleeper is usually in the pantheons of many people’s best of Woody list and frequents many best of comedies list.  I can certainly see reasons why so many people like it.  For one, it is one of Woody’s most accessible comedies.  Woody is paying homage to physical comedians of the past like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.  Sleeper was, at least early on, an attempt to bring a silent comedy into the modern age.  Slapstick and physical humor is not, by itself, funny though and that is where you see how good a comedy writer Allen is.

While there is physical humor to be had, there is still the smattering of social satire, Woody’s rapid fire verbal humor, and screwball humor.  I have read online that originally this movie was supposed to be three hours long.  I also like to believe that maybe Woody realized it was too indulgent and instead condensed the best material in this 90 minute film.  It seems that way because the movie is always upbeat and moving at a fast pace.  It is all glued together with a great jazz score which is almost always a cue for a silent comedy bit.

I feel a little bad because I usually love to write more on the movies I watch.  In this case, I can’t really elaborate on the different aspects of the movie.  The plot of this movie, like with the other early Woody films, is thin.  This isn’t a negative, it just means there is enough to string together one comedy bit after another.  The acting by Woody Allen is what you come to expect and Diane Keaton is a perfect compliment to his character.  The editing and directing are tight as to make the movie run smoothly and to not let the humor stagnate.

Really, this is just a funny comedy.  That’s about it.  I can list off the funny lines or the memorable sight gags or certain scenes but it would seem like a waste.  If you like Woody Allen films but haven’t seen this then you probably should.  If you are not a fan of Allen’s typically intellectual humor then you can get into this film.  It is pretty much accessible to everyone.  Up next on the retrospective is Love and Death.

Super 8 (J.J. Abrams) 2011 No spoilers

Posted in S on June 23, 2011 by moviemoses

I guess I’ll start with what seems to be the topic of discussion for everyone else. Yes, this movie is very much an homage to Spielberg movies of old. It has some of the same themes as loss, abandonment issues, and children coming of age. But just because Abrams has the same themes, don’t get confused that he is just copying Spielberg. Super 8 is an original film and is enjoyable in its own way.

The movie is about young Joe (Joel Courtney). He recently lost his mother in an accident and his father (played by Kyle Chandler) isn’t really there for him since he is dealing with his own grief. Joe is helping his friends make a short film for a regional film festival. During a night shoot, they observe a pickup truck intentionally ram a train which causes a creature to be released. The air force then enters the town to try to hunt the mysterious creature.

Super 8 is part coming of age story and part horror film. The film does do an excellent job of creating a tense atmosphere. The monster is slowly built up to create suspense and to show us what the monster can do. That being said, I will say the monster was maybe built up too much. I will admit there was a point in the second act when I was wonder when all the shadows and hints would actually amount to anything, or if the filmmakers would be playing with us all the way through. But in the final act we get a very exciting climax and all the build up seems worth it.

The plot involving the children is also entertaining. We follow them through their point of view as they are trying to investigate what is exactly going on all the while dealing with their childhood issues. We get to know Joe very well and we really care about what happens in his life. It really helps they have a solid child actor to play the part. Even a mediocre actor in that role would have been the kiss of death since just about every scene has him in it. Elle Fanning of course does a great job also playing opposite of Joe’s character. You also get some good supporting performances also from Ron Eldard and Kyle Chandler. Sorry I can’t really say all that much about the plot but being so close to release date and the fact the movie plays its secrets close to its chest, I don’t want to reveal too much right now.

I was surprised by this movie although now I can’t think of why. J.J. Abrams usually makes enjoyable movies. Maybe it is because in this movie he was a little more thoughtful and patient in crafting this story when he is usually all about action. I would have to see it a few more times to get a more solid opinion of it, but my first impression is it is one of the most enjoyable movies so far this year for me.

Sanctum (Alister Grierson) 2011

Posted in S on June 22, 2011 by moviemoses

Sanctum is a disaster much in the same mold as an Irwin Allen production (or I guess Roland Emmerich for the new generation). With that mold comes big special effects and a large cast of paper thin characters. In this case you have a group of cave divers having to go deeper into an underwater channel to escape a typhoon which is flooding them from the top. Now the disaster movie genre has been for the most part played out but that doesn’t mean somebody couldn’t bring something new to the table. Unfortunately, not only doesn’t Sanctum bring anything new to the table, it doesn’t even get some of the basics right.

My biggest problem with this movie is with the characters. Now to anyone that knows disaster movies, you know that characters are usually the weakest part of any of those movies. That is because those movies are primarily about giving the audience carnage and great action. Characters and good dialog usually get the shaft in these movies. Now to counterbalance that, these movies usually have a star studded cast. These actors are usually just cashing in, but they do help the movie by making these two dimensional characters likable and imparting SOME personality to them. Who do we have in Sanctum? Nobody really. And not just nobodies, but wooden nobodies.

Another thing that hurts these characters is they are not very likable. Again, to use the Irwin Allen movies as an example, the characters are usually regular guys who are stuck in extraordinary circumstances. In Sanctum we have a group consisting of either selfish prats or rich A-holes going into a cave system which they know is most likely going to be flooded. That’s right, they knew of a storm coming which would spell trouble for their dive but they chose to go anyway. So not only are they assholes, but they are stupid assholes too. So for the majority of the movie we are following characters that we don’t like which makes this story a dull slog.

Another thing that slows the movie down is the fact we have to wait through half the movie before we even get to the disaster. That’s a long time to spend with these people. When we do get to the action it is just not all that impressive. All during the movie I couldn’t help think of how much of a better movie The Descent was. Not only did the direction give us clearly defined natural obstacles for the characters to move through, but things were also spiced up by having it be a monster movie too. Here we see the characters slog through one random tunnel after another.

Everything about this movie is just poorly done. This was a movie made to capitalize on Cameron’s 3D technology and it is clear to see that is the only thing this movie had to get it greenlit. I don’t see myself recommending this movie to anyone.

 

 

Screamers: The Hunting (Sheldon Wilson) 2009

Posted in S on June 21, 2011 by moviemoses

This is a SyFy Channel original movie right? There is no way a movie can suck this bad and not by a SyFy movie. And on a tiny tangent I would rather see an Asylum film than a SyFy movie.

So the reason I saw this movie was I reviewed the original Screamers for my box office bomb blog. One of my helpful “fans” directed me toward the direct to DVD sequel. Now, it’s not like I expected this film to be all that good, but I certainly didn’t expect it to suck this hard.

The sequel is about a group of people (marines, special forces, company men…the movie never specifies) to the planet of the screamers because they received a distress call. I don’t exactly know why people care now about what happens on Sirius 6B since they didn’t care in the first movie but trust me that is only the first of many plot holes. So a group of cannon fodder make their way onto the planet and realize the screamers have evolved.

Let’s start by talking about the story. It sucks. They do absolutely nothing to make this story interesting or to add anything new. We learn nothing new about the screamers, nothing about the universe these characters inhabit, and nothing about any of the characters. They decide to make the main character Bronte (Gina Holden) the daughter of Hendrickson of the first movie. Do you wanna guess how much they do with that during the course of the movie? That’s right, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!

This movie is just another killer something movie. The crew are just there to get picked off one at a time. I don’t mind a monster of the week movie, but this one is just sooooo idiotic. The movie is littered with plot holes and inconsistencies. For example, the crew gets stranded on the planet when the screamers get on the ship, kill the engineer and drain the fuel cells. There is just one problem; how did it get on the ship? No one left a hatch open, the screamers didn’t break through the hull, and they didn’t slip a human hybrid on board. It just shows up and kills him. Why? Because the plot needs there to be a conflict. It is sad when I am drafting re-writes in my head to show how lazy the writing is and how easy it would be to fix it. I could write way much more about the plot holes but I won’t bore you.

The plot wouldn’t be so big of an issue if the characters were at all interesting. They aren’t. Not only are they all annoying pricks, but they are stupid pricks to boot. That is probably the most frustrating part. Making your characters jerks, I guess I can live with that. But when the characters are doing things so stupid and moronic you are yelling at your TV? Yeah, that’s bad. It takes you out of the movie when all the characters combined don’t have a shred of common sense.

The action is dull since I don’t care about the characters and the special effects are bad. Now I know this is a DTV release and normally I can look over that if the story is good enough. But when the rest of the movie is shite, then I can’t exactly overlook it. The horror doesn’t work because like I said, you either hate the characters or are so frustrated with their actions that you don’t care what happens.

Oh god, I was about to forget to comment on the acting. It sucks too. Gina Holden is absolutely dreadful in this movie. Again, I know this is a DTV movie, but even by those standards she is terrible. I also think we all need to give up on the idea of Lance Henriksen “starring” in any movies anymore. The man is the John Carradine of the new millennium. He will just show up for five minutes to any movie offering craft services. Chuck a few free tacos his way and BAM he will show up to your nephew’s bar mitzvah. I just assume he is in every crappy Scifi movie from now on. Yeah, as you can guess, he shows up for five minutes grunts out a few lines and collects his paycheck (despite being top billed).

There is nothing redeeming to this movie. Everything about this movie is uninteresting (at best) or frustrating and shitty (at worst). Its the rare movie that pisses me off and it succeeded. So, congratulations. So this movie sucks…um, the end.