Saturday, March 29, 2008

Superhero Movie

I'm a terrible person. My contribution of $7 towards a ticket is only going to motivate them to make another one. I wonder what the next genre will be. To be fair, this wasn't the worst installment in the franchise- but that's still not saying much.

Superhero movie essentially takes the first Spiderman, and peppers in the occasional other comic book reference. Rick Riker (Drake Bell) is bitten by a radioactive dragonfly and becomes the Spiderman-esque character. It follows virtually the same exact plot as Spiderman, while making lame attempts to lampoon it.

I'm really struggling to find anything to say about this movie. If you've seen the previews, you've seen it all, except be prepared to sit through several minutes of flatulence. There was, however, one part I did laugh at, and laughed a lot at. When Riker is submitting photos of The Dragonfly to the newspaper (in a send-up to Peter Parker's job at the Daily Bugle) the pictures he submits are nothing more than him sitting in his bedroom holding the camera at arm's length.

Also, Leslie Nielsen is always a delight. A parody movie wouldn't be complete without him. And the brief inclusion of Jeffry Tambour was wonderful, but unfortunately underused. There was only one scene with the two of them, and between them they could have carried the movie.

So even though this isn't the worst genre parody movie, it's still really bad. Don't waste your time or money to this, and if we're lucky, this'll be the last one. An even better scenario would be to return to the classic parodies of Mel Brooks, and pre-2000's David Zucker.


Friday, March 28, 2008

Diary of the Dead

George Romero is back, completely changed (well, not completely- this is still a zombie movie after all). Fortunately he learned from the terribly glutenous Land of the Dead and has returned to low budget roots. The sort of guerrilla film-making found in Diary of the Dead is how zombie movies should be made. It's exactly what made 28 Days later one of the best zombie movies ever. Sadly, despite the good idea behind Diary of the Dead, the acting is so bad that it almost completely ruins the movie.

The premise is just like any other zombie movie- the dead come back to life and start terrorizing the populace. Like the best of them, this movie features a small band of very confused survivors just trying grasp the situation. This time, they are college film students who were in the middle of making their own horror movie. Their movie shifts gears, however, and becomes a documentary. They are torn between staying alive, and capturing everything on film.

Romero's films have always been much more than just horror flicks. They all have some sort of not-so-subtle commentary in them. And his style is to not just tap you on the shoulder with them, but hit you over the head. This is fine, it plays well with the genre. Previous themes in his movies have included militarism, mob mentality, and consumerism (all which play very well using zombies). Again he revisits the idea of blind actions by commenting on our obsessions with media fed blood lust. Even as society is crumbling, fortunately they at least still have internet access.

The major draw-back in this movie is the acting. You may say "it's a low-budget B movie, who cares about the acting," but in a movie like this, it's the most important thing. The documentary illusion is completely shattered when they don't act natural. The long-winded monologues, the strained arguments between them, and the self-righteous clumsy voice-overs all took me out of the movie. And the character of the professor? What was with him? I found myself getting angry at his very inclusion.

There was so much self-congradulatory philosophizing by the narrator that I found it irritating. "It's us again them, except, they are us." Lines like this and "If it didn't happen on camera, it didn't happen," just started to pile up and bug me. I wish they hadn't taken the time to add in the voice-over musings and the slow motion recaps. I realize this plays into the glorification of violence that he's trying to convey. but it doesn't help the movie. And why oh why did he put in some of the music he did? That completely threw away the intent of the movie.

Diary of the Dead is a interesting blend between Blare Witch style realism, and very aware and conscious editing. This combination sums up the entire message of the movie. The movie is essentially stating that the media, as dressed up and overly produced as it is, attempts to pass itself off as raw news. The hypocritical situation is reflected very overtly by Romero. It's debatable about whether this works, but his intention is certainly there. Despite the very poor acting, and the sometimes annoyingly blatant preaching, this is still better than your average zombie movie.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Drillbit Taylor

Drillbit Taylor is better than the previews made it out to be. I wasn't expecting very much, which may have been the reason for my enjoyment. If you go in for a good time, you won't be dissappointed. Think of it as a more family friendly Superbad- with actors that really could be in high-school (nothing against Jonah Hill, but c'mon, he's older than I am).

Owen Wilson really is a fabulous actor. He plays the movie's namesake- a sleazy yet undeniably charming homeless man. Meanwhile Nate Hartley, Troy Gentile, and David Dorfman play Wade, Ryan, and Emmit- three high-school freshman misfits with a severe bully (Alex Frost) problem. They decide to hire a bodyguard, and Drillbit sees this as a perfect opportunity to make a quick buck. Nothing that happens in this movie is realistic. The unabashed, and completely unapologetic look into the profane and perverted mind of the high-schooler in Superbad is thrown out the window here, but it doesn't lose any of the comedy.

The triumverate of losers were actually pretty good. You really feel for their position, but the star was obviously Drillbit. He goes through the greatest transition, including some rather uncomfortable confrontations, that were more awkward than funny. The only one I didn't like was Frost. His bully character was more annoying than intimidating. I wanted to kick his ass, and it didn't seem like it would be all that hard to do.

No movie about a lovable loser would be complete without a romantic interest. To protect his protégés, Drillbit assumes the persona of a substitute teacher, and develops a relationship with another teacher (Leslie Mann). This was the weakest part of the movie. They're relationship was a bit forced, and I don't care what world this is, I don't think any serious teacher would have sixth period sex every day in an empty classroom. Maybe, though, I was pretty oblivious in high-school.

This is yet another Judd Apatow film (though I don't think he had much of anything to do with this). It was directed by the absolutely mediocre Steven Brill, who's behind some of Adam Sandler's worst movies (Little Nicky, Mr. Deeds). The strength comes from the scripting collaboration of Seth Rogan (yeah, he's pumping them out, and they're all good), and John Hughes (the John Hughes). Then of course, Wilson just brings it all together.

Like a certain other movie I recently reviewed, this isn't great, but it's fun, and damn funny. I'll probably forget about it in a few weeks, but for the hour-and-a-half sitting in the darkened theater, surrounded by laughter, it was worth it.


Friday, March 21, 2008

Run Fatboy Run

This is a charming and fun little throw-away movie. There's nothing great, and nothing lasting, but it's an endearing trip to the cheap theater (if that even exists anymore) or a rental. In his directorial debut, David Schwimmer helms this script penned by Michael Ian Black (yeah, he does more than just VH1 countdown shows) and star Simon Pegg. In essence, the movie is one running gag, with not much substance holding it together. But in keeping with the British vibe of the film, it's still rather cheeky.

Pegg stars as Dennis, kind of an overweight jerk who left his pregnant fiancée, Libbie (Thandie Newton), at the alter. Five years later, Dennis realizes he wants her back. The problem is her new guy, Whit (Hank Azaria). He's successful, great with their son, Jake (Matthew Fenton), and most relevant to the movie- physically fit. Dennis decides to race against Whit in the London marathon with the completely unfounded hopes that it will win Libbie back. He enlists the help of his friend, Gordon (Dylan Moran), who incidentally also has money riding on this race.

Most of the movie is about Dennis trying to lose the weight and get in shape- even though I don't think he looked fat, just normal. It features a number of training montages, more of spoof than genuine. The best dynamic in the movie, was actually between Dennis and Gordon. The relationship between Dennis and Libbie was a bit unbelievable. I don't care how much he's changed- he left her pregnant at the alter. It should take a lot more than running a race to win her back- even if it is just symbolic.

The movie isn't without its problems. There are times that it unfortunately results to bodily fluid, and many falling down gags. But in a fun little comedy like this, that's forgivable- even expected. Wait until it comes out on video, and it'll be worth a rent.


Interesting new viral video

This is a YouTube video that was put up about a week ago. Taking a cue from the success of Cloverfield, this is allegedly a campaign for the movie Quarantine, coming out in November. This is a remake of the Spanish movie [Rec] which only came out last year. It'll be interesting to see where this goes.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Never Back Down

I've got a great idea. Let's take Fight Club, and remove all the plot. What? You mean they already did? And it's called Never Back Down? Guess I'm too late. This movie is nothing but back alley brawls split up by terrible acting.

John Faris plays Jack Tyler, a high-school student with some pretty severe anger problems. He's starting at a new school that seems completely oblivious to the massive amounts of fights that occur on a daily basis. Apparently this is standard for Orlando. After getting beaten up at a party by the king of the school (Cam Gigandet), he vows revenge. This leads him to the door of a martial arts master (Djimon Hounsou), who tries to channel his anger into something more productive. Everything is still just about getting even, though. Through all of this, Tyler has to deal with disappointment from his mom, and setting an example for his brother.

I'm okay with really bad action movies- if that's all they are. Bloodsport with Jean-Claude Van Damme is actually one of my favorite 80's movies. The problem with Never Back Down is that it attempts to fulfill this theme of familial obligation and responsibility. Unfortunately the only message that actually comes across is that not fighting makes you weak. It even compares Tyler to Achilles, saying that he's fighting now so he won't have to again. This was not only implied, it was told outright.

It seems like all movies even remotely of this genre are starting to blend together. There were lines that seemed almost identical to Step Up 2- something to the effect of "You won't know where the tournament is until they text you at the last minute." The whole idea of using YouTube as a means of communications, and pretty much the entire last fight scene in the parking lot were completely unoriginal.

To the credit of the movie, however, the fight scenes were shot very well. The acrobatics of the fighters were matched perfectly by the camera. The acting is also pretty bad, but I can't fault this too much. I mean look at the Karate Kid, and that movie is beloved. I was kind of surprised to see Hounsou in this after his Oscar nomination for Blood Diamond. Despite him being pretty good, none of the others were- including Amber Heard playing the bad-guy's girlfriend who falls for the good-guy. Unfortunately, not even the impressive camera work is enough to make this a good, or even mediocre movie.


College Road Trip

Okay, I didn't care for this movie, but of course it's not targeted at me. This is a veritable who's who of Disney channel stars. Raven Symone of "That's so Raven", Margo Harshman of "Even Stevens", Brenda Song of "The Suite Life of Zach and Cody", Lucas Garbeel of "High School Musical", and Martin Lawrence of, well, every rule has an exception. He does manage to transition well from his profane roots to the family genre, though.

There is one thing about this movie (and Raven in general) that I really do appreciate. Unlike other movies targeted at children (Bratz being one of the big ones), this movie stays clear of any sort of sexual content. Rare among high-school based movies are ones like this, focusing on the relationship between a daughter and father. Also, you can make a movie funny for children, without gross-out humor. Take example from this, all you children's movie directors out there. Keep it endearing, and about the relationships, and kids will still like it (at least the ones when I saw it. They loved it).

The movie is about Melanie Porter (Symone) and her father, James (Lawrence). She is preparing to apply to colleges, and her main choices take her far away from home. James, being the chief of police is a tad over-protective, and wants her to stay as close as possible. This results in the two of them going off on the titular road trip together. Stowing along is Melanie's brainy little brother Trey (Eshaya Draper) and their pet pig. Yeah, I don't really get it either.

Along the way they meet another family (Donnie Osmond, Molly Ephraim), in all their car-game playing, show-tune singing glory. There have been criticisms that this is racist, portraying white people as annoyingly over-excited people, but I think these accusations are just absurd. They were just there to provide some comedy (though they really weren't all that funny), not to signify some sort of racial tension.

Despite this movie being very good natured, there wasn't much funny about it. If you take your kids, you'll probably be bored stiff. The pig, the karaoke on the bus, the sky diving- all of it kind of falls flat. The only part I laughed at was when James made them stop by a closer university, and paid off some people to talk it up, while talking down where she wanted to go. This led to a few funny situations. Unfortunately, even though it works well for its target audience, it doesn't work for much else.



Sorry it's been a while since I've updated anything, but don't worry, I've got a slew of movies lined up. The first one is Semi-Pro, Will Ferrell's latest sports movie (following Talladega Nights and Blades of Glory). Semi-Pro falls squarely in the middle, helped mostly by Woody Harrelson and Andre Benjamin. I still love Will Ferrell, even though he's only batting about fifty percent. Normally he either swings and misses, or hits a home run. With Semi-Pro, he managed to get a single.

Farrell plays Jackie Moon, the owner/coach/power forward of the Flint Tropics- the worst team in the American Basketball League. The team is in trouble when the ABA and the NBA announce that they are merging, and only taking a few ABA teams. Needless to say, the Tropics is not one of them. In a hilarious scene with traditional Will Ferrell style, Moon manages to convince the league chair (played by David Koerchner in possibly his only normal role ever) that they should take the top teams at the end of the year. This gives the Tropics at least an outside chance of making it.

Unfortunately, Moon is more hung up on promoting the team than making them good. This would be understandable since he is also the owner, but his publicity stunts are both terrible and hilarious. Free corn dogs if the Tropics win (which results in him trying to throw the game because..well...they can't afford the corn dogs). The funniest was Moon wrestling a bear that proceeded to get loose in the basketball arena. This was the best scene in the movie and convinced me to not write off Farrell.

To handle the team, Moon brings in Monix (Harrelson). He has an unpleasant history with the team, but agrees to whip them into shape. This includes him working them until they throw-up (including Moon for the first time in his life in a rather funny sequence). Andre Benjamin (Andre 3000 formerly of Outkast) plays Clarence 'coffee' Black, the star of the team. Add Maura Tierney, Andy Richter, Will Arnett, Andrew Daly and Rob Corddry, you get the recipe for a pretty good B comedy.

Unfortunately it doesn't reach its potential. The frequent basketball scenes don't match up to their off court antics. The slight variations in each game don't prevent those scenes from getting tedious (at least for me, not being a sports fan). Some people may enjoy this, and there were certain scenes that did make me laugh. But I would really like to see Farrell try another semi-dramatic role, instead of more of these sports comedies.


Two Legends

Arthur C. Clarke

1917- 2008

Anthony Minghella


Sunday, March 2, 2008

Charlie Barltett

How many cliches can we fit into one movie? Let's see, the bully who turns out to be a good guy? the gothic theater girl? the heart-to-heart/make-out in the convertible? the football player who wants to be an artist? The over medicating psychiatrist? The dead dad who's actually in jail? The bathroom smoking and beatings? I could honestly fill this entire column with them. I'm not sure if these are conscious throwbacks and homages to the high-school movie genre, or if it is truly a complete lack of creativity. Considering some of the dark wit that is found in here, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it's intentional.

The titular character is played by Anton Yelchin, who bared a strikingly resemblance to Ferris Bueller era Matthew Broderick. The only difference is that Bartlett's shenanigans stem from some depressing and dark places. No doubt Bueller also had these tendencies, they just weren't explored as much in the 80's feel-good comedy. Bartlett instead follows in the newer trend of the Andersons, and the Baumbachs, and the Mike White's of portraying funny as sad. These movies strike an obvious chord with viewers, because everyday life is both funny and sad. Unfortunately it's a vibe that's almost being done to death. When the same names keep popping up as references when talking about these movies, it's time for something new.

The main plot is perhaps the biggest cliche of all. A rich boy from a broken family gets kicked out of private school and is forced to attend public. He finds that his coat and tie, and attache case are not the uniform of choice, and quickly winds up on the wrong end of a bully. It's not long, however, before he uses his wit to turn his situation around. In his quest for friends he opens a sort of psychiatric clinic in the bathroom, listening to people's problems and "prescribing" medicine he himself was prescribed by his psychiatrist. He becomes the most popular guy in school, and hooks up with Susan Gardner (Kat Dennings) the daughter of the principal (Robert Downy Jr., but more on him later).

The themes in this movie are mostly positive, but they're kind of all over the place. The most obvious theme is the commentary on the over medication of today's society. Bartlett's psychiatrist prescribes pills for ailments he clearly doesn't have. This is a bit of an exaggeration, but it certainly makes its point. The generation gap is another theme touched on. This is shown most clearly between Gardner and her father. He was the most interesting character for me, struggling between being a principal and a father, and dealing with his own unsavory past. I wish the movie hadn't portrayed him quite as negatively as it had, because I found myself feeling sorry for him. Finally, the most important over-branching theme is the idea that we're all unique. Unfortunately with Bartlett's popularity, this idea gets lost on those who really need it, and the movie takes a darker turn.

The acting was very strong (though Dennings at times seemed to just be reciting those cliches). And the dynamic between Yelchin and Downy was great. The movie tried to cover too much in its message, but masked all of it under the idea that everybody already knows- high-school sucks. The movie does have some problems with the occasional stray scene or plot-line. (the rebellion against security cameras in a students' only cabin on campus seemed a bit absurd. In today's violent culture I can't imagine them not having security cameras). But I it didn't detracted from the over-all story too much. It's not legendary, but good for the time being.