Monthly Archives: September 2011

Rubber

The past few movies I’ve watched/reviewed have all been pretty awful, leaving me feeling a bit curmudgeonly lately.  Am I just watching only bad movies, or just in a bad mood?

Eh, they were probably bad movies.

Anyhow, I watched RUBBER yesterday, and found it…interesting.

It’s about Robert, a little rubber tire with psycho-kinetic powers that goes on a killing spree.  It’s funny, it’s weird, it’s thought provoking, and it’s at least worth a quick watch.  Sure, it wears out its welcome at about the hour mark, but it picks up again before the ending.

Though it takes place in America, and is all in English, it’s actually a French film.  It plays with the genre, pokes fun at it and all its clichés, and still manages to be interesting enough to fill out the 85 minutes or so.

It’s definitely weird, an you’ll have to be a bit open minded.  But it’s nice to see something really unique for a change.

It’s on Netflix

B

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Red State

If you needed further proof that Kevin Smith is, at heart, still an amateur filmmaker, look no further than RED STATE.

It’s juvenile, not in his usual sense with toilet humor, but in its execution.  Poorly written, poorly plotted, poorly shot, poorly edited, and so on.  With the exception of acting, there isn’t much up to snuff here.

Smith decided to make something decidedly different for a change, which is good.  For me his comedies are all hit and miss and tend to fall flat for anyone over the age of 17.  I sure thought MALLRATS was the shit for a while, but I rewatched it recently and, well, it’s not.  But still, he has his place, and people like him, so whatever.

I don’t know why he keeps selling RED STATE as a straight horror film, because it’s not.  In any way.  There’s a tense, horror-esque scene near the beginning, but after that it devolves into a straight forward action-type movie with a lot of gore (and gore does not equal horror).  And he really had no choice as, given the way the story is set up, there’s no room left for anything to be scary once the ATF standoff starts.

The usual Smith hallmarks/problems are all there.  The dialogue is 40% clumsy exposition, 50% preachy grandstanding, and 10% smart-ass filler.  There are a few scenes where the exposition is just painful to sit through.  The characters just vomit plot points without any subtlety, just because they need to be out there.  There’s always got to be a certain amount of that in any movie, but it’s usually hidden as skillfully as possible.  You fold it in with fleshing out your characters and setting.  You mask it.  Here, they just say it.

The characters are all flat and ankle deep.  One note.  See-through.  In a comedy, this is usually OK (to a point) as many will just be there for laughs.  Here, where it’s all dramatic, you end up with characters you just don’t care about and can’t pin down.  Couple that with the fact there are a lot of characters spread around, some introduced very late, occasionally dying here and there, that there’s little time and reason to care.

Michael Parks, who plays the Fred Phelps-like preacher and villain, does his best (and a good job) trying to create a creepy and frightening religious nutjob.  There’s a long scene, a very long scene, with him leading his church and preaching all creepily.  But that’s all we see, his character does nothing much later.  He’s given nothing to work with or do.  It’s disappointing, as at least a compelling villain could help carry the film, but instead it completely shifts focus to John Goodman.

And John Goodman, who is always great, does a commendable job here.  His problem, sadly, is movement.  As in he can’t convincingly move as the scene demands.  As the ATF commander in charge when a shootout starts, he can’t rush and hurry and be physically demanding.  He lumbers, he’s slow, he’s strained.  It could have been edited differently to hide that, but it wasn’t.  It’s not that important ultimately, but it was distracting.

And speaking of editing, Kevin Smith did a really terrible job here.  He usually edits his own movies, but he’s usually been editing comedy up until now.  And he just can’t do it.  Weird cuts, odd take choices, it’s all bad.

So, as per the usual, the film is weighed down by Smith.  The story and dialogue is too weighed down by it’s preachiness (about religion and government), the actors held down by thin characters, and the action held down by poor shooting and editing.  Not a moment of the final sequence is thrilling or tense or interesting.  And, ultimately, not a moment of the film as a whole is compelling.

D

The Three Musketeers

It seems a bit unusual for a movie like this to be released in Germany seven weeks before it comes out in America (where it opens October 21).  But then again, it shot in Bavaria and is chock a block with big European actors.  So there’s that.

Anyways, THE THREE MUSKETEERS is pretty awful all around.  It’s a very loose, almost steampunk adaptation of the story with a lot of visual flair, but is overwhelmingly hollow.

Paul W.S. Anderson is a terrible filmmaker.  Absolutely terrible.  He’s yet to make anything halfway decent.  So while I was intrigued by the trailers, seeing his name there led to some very low expectations going in.  And his usual problems are all there.  Wretched dialogue (and I mean wretched), flimsy story, odd performances, and action that while competent, is just so-so.

Each time these characters open their mouths things just get worse and worse.  There are some of the usual action movie eye-rolling one-liners, but in Anderson’s hands they’re just punishment instead of being par for the course.  I can’t imagine what he does with his actors, but they all deliver all their lines just…wrong.  Oddly said, poorly timed, and almost non-human.  Some of their dialogue wouldn’t be so bad if it had been delivered more naturally, or by actors with personality.

There are a lot of actors here who speak English as a second language.  That’s not an automatic problem of course.  Milla Jovovich and Christoph Waltz both do fine when speaking English.  But the rest.  Wow.  There’s a reason they haven’t broken through into English speaking movies.  Odd voices and no grasp of how to properly pace the words.  Til Schweiger especially (he’s sort of the German George Clooney, he’s huge here).

As I said before, the action is so-so.  It’s certainly not as awful as the rest of the film.  It’s not jarring or choppy or hard to follow (which is always a plus in 3D), like so many other films.  Chris thought, as far as swashbuckling goes, the action was pretty damned good.  I felt it’s certainly watchable, but lacks any real tension or oomph.  It has all the excitement of a theme park stunt show.  Everything looks carefully and painstakingly choreographed and executed.  Which of course it has to be, but usually you can stage it and edit it so that you’d never know.

The film is, however, gorgeous.  Really fantastic art and production design.  The locations, costumes, and props are all amazing to look at.  I still can’t tell if they actually shot at Versailles, or just had really great sets/matte work.  I know most of it was shot in Bavaria and Potsdam, but it sure looked authentic.  The special effects as a whole are pretty good, save for a couple of shots here and there that are pretty terrible.  There’s an explosion near the end that’s downright laughable.

But, man, is this movie just terrible.  And it never approaches the so bad it’s good neighborhood either, which is a shame as those are few and far between these days.

So when it does come out, just skip it.  Please.

D

Attack the Block

I’ve been hearing about ATTACK THE BLOCK for many months now.  People (internet people, that is) going on and on about how amazing and awesome this sci-fi action movie is.  It’s the genre film of the year!  Hilarious!  Scary!  Action packed!

Turns out it’s none of these things.

First things first, the film’s fatal flaw is its main characters.  They’re assholes.  Terrible, unrepentant dipshits.  And I’ve long found that films that follow characters like this are impossible to enjoy (one reason I’ve never enjoyed most Wes Anderson films).  One has to root for one character or another, especially in a survival-type action film.  It’s impossible to be in their corner though, so you almost root for the aliens to kill them all.

The film opens with our protagonists, a small group of teenage kids, led by 15 year old Moses (how original) as they proceed to rob a young nurse on her way home from work.  They do this at knife point.  They steal everything she has and she only escapes after an alien crashes into a car next to them.  They then proceed to chase the alien into a shed, kill it, and carry it around like a trophy.   They then generally talk about how awesome they are while tossing out all the robbed nurse’s possessions.

It tries to frame it as these kids have no choice but this behavior, and tries to strong arm some social commentary in as well.  The problems of the lower-class and all the bullshit that comes with it aside, nothing can force you to mug people, deal drugs, and just generally act like assholes.  That’s your own choice.  And that’s all we see of these characters, and it never really gives them room to redeem themselves.  They continually act like little, careless dipshits in the face of everything.

The closest we get to any kind of redemption is Moses telling the nurse, after they’ve later invaded her apartment and forced her to treat one of their wounds, that they never would have robber her if they knew she lived in their building.  She rightly points out that reasoning is bullshit, but it never clicks with them.

The other peripheral characters, the non-teenage dipshits, have little reason to even be there.  Most people, one would think, in a situation like this, would likely flee or hole up somewhere safe unless compelled otherwise.  The nurse decides to come with them because….well no real reason is given.  She’s not safer with them.  In fact, the only time she’s been safe is when they’re not around.  It just doesn’t work.

It’s not a total failure though, the film does have things working for it.  There are several action scenes that are pretty darn good.  Compelling, tense, and well shot.  So it’s got that going for it.  The aliens are interesting as well.  Black, feature-less creatures (the one in the above picture is different) with only rows of glowing blue-green teeth visible.  It makes for some good setups where they appear at the end of a dark hallway, or in a window, and so on.  They’re physical effects as well, not CG creations, which is almost always a better choice.  But, at the same time, they’re also not terribly threatening.  Hell, at the end, once they realize what they actually are, they become almost completely non-threatening.  It sucks out all the danger.

The gore is quite visceral as well, the few times it happens.  This makes a small percentage of people out there (internet people especially) go apeshit.  It felt mostly unnecessary here.  Almost out of place.

I’m sure some people found it terribly witty and funny.  I’m not sure what those people are thinking.

So I was mightily disappointed, and I don’t think it was a case where my expectations were just too high.  It’s just not inventive, not scary, not very stylish, and not that original.  It’s just sub-par all around.

C-

Ein Jahr Bereits

On this day last year we landed in Frankfurt, took a delayed train to Göttingen, and started our time here.

It’s sort of surprising it’s been a whole year.  Sure, they say time flies when you’re having fun, but we’ve spent most of that time here just killing time at our computers.

I certainly haven’t started to really hate Germany yet (Chris does), but I’m also not exactly in love with it anymore.  It’s nice, we’ve seen a lot, would love to see more, but we’ve been ready to pack it up and come on home for a while now.  Can’t really tell how much longer we really have either as things change and Chris is often cryptic (never a good sign), but I know he wants out of here as soon as possible.  Maybe once that final horizon is within view things will seem more exciting again as then the question becomes “where do we go next?”  It’s a good question.  One without even the slightest hint of an answer.

Hal is coming to visit in a few weeks, as part of a whirlwind European tour to take photos of everything.  I’ve nearly lined him up a job here and we plan to go to Hamburg as it’s the last major city we haven’t seen and I’d like to before my train discount card expires at the end of October.  After that, train travel is just outright prohibitively expensive on our current income.

I’m also getting excited for the Weinachtmarkt again.  I just love the Christmas market.  That coupled with the snow, makes for enjoyable times.  The candied almonds are amazing.  Can’t wait.  Sure, I wish the snow would pack up and leave with the rest of the market come New Year’s, but oh well.

Still, it’s been a year already, which is crazy in and of itself.  I thought it would feel like forever before we reached this point.  I hope time continues to fly at this pace until it’s time to leave.  Hopefully long before this day next year.

Oktoberfest

Oktoberfest just started down in Munich (aka München).  We’d love to go and experience it.  But man, is it an expensive prospect.  A ton of money for the train ride, a lot for the hotel, and even more to just go and do things there (a glass of beer is around $12).

Anyone want to send us $500-$600 or so?  I mean, look at these pictures!

Marge, it’s uterUS not uterYOU

Fox is currently considering creating a cable channel that only airs The Simpsons.  And nothing else.  According to this story.

Can you imagine?  If said channel were to exist I would probably just leave it on in the background when home.  In every room.  What a glorious, wonderful idea.  They’re already close to 500 episodes, so there’s enough content to last a long, long time.

I hope it happens…

Sorry for not blogging as of late.  Since I tend to do things in phases, I’m not really watching movies right now.  I’m sure I’ll start watching again eventually.  Recently I’ve been glued to the Xbox as we got Deus Ex: Human Revolution recently.  But we already finished that (I beat it once, Chris beat it three time before I finished my one go-around), so now I’m replying Batman Arkham Asylum because, well, why not.  Playing it on hard mode this time, which is frustratingly difficult.

Haven’t heard back about that last job interview yet, even though he promised they’d be getting back to me “soon.”  I realize things tend to operate a bit slower here in Germany, but I would still consider “soon” to be under a week.  Whatever, who knows.  He could call day before training starts and ask me to head out.

Other then that, life is boring at the moment.  As per the usual.

*UPDATE* And just like that, an e-mail saying I didn’t get the job.  Can’t say I’m surprised.

Also, got that tickly feeling in the back of my throat that just screams “you’re about to get sick.”  Yay!

Hesher

HESHER is the kind of movie that’s all sorts of…well…nothing.  It’s the kind of disaffected crap people my age tend to write while moody.  Which is a lot, of course.

Hesher, played surprisingly unconvincingly by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is a kind of heavy metal washout.  Just mooching off the world while raging against it at the same time.  He ends up forcing himself into the life of TJ, a young kid who just lost his mom in a car accident.  TJ’s father, played unsurprisingly unconvincingly by Rainn Wilson, has crumpled up into a depressed ball and ignores both his son and his elderly mother who takes care of them.  Natalie Portman works at a grocery store.  Her character doesn’t have much of a point.

That’s more synopsis I like to give in these reviews.  But there’s some setup there for some emotional goings-on with our main characters, but it just flounders.  Each character is interesting on their own, in theory, but together they just don’t gel.  You just can’t make sense of why these people are bothering with each other, and all of their interactions are strained and uninteresting to watch.

Long story short, it sucks.

D

Teeny Tiny Burning Man

Check out these insane aerial shots my friend Hal Bergman took of the Burning Man festival.  Amazing.

Hal, besides being an all-around great guy, is one of the most amazing photographers around.  No debate about that.

He’s trying to plan a trip to Europe.  I can’t imagine what kind of photos he’d take of Europe.

You can see all the photos on his blog at this link.  Enjoy.