Friday, April 20, 2012

Poltergeist (1982)

It's time to dust off a classic to give it another shot. I'd seen "Poltergeist" years before, and my reaction to it was rather lukewarm at best. So while once again finding absolutely nothing at the video store I was interested in seeing, I bopped on down to the horror section to find something I maybe had missed (unlikely), and "Poltergeist" caught my eye.

"Hey," I said to myself "I should watch that again. Maybe I just didn't appreciate it before. Maybe this time I'll like it, because I should like it, right? It's a classic."

Now believe it or not, there is precedent for this. The first time I saw "The Exorcist," I wasn't too impressed with the scariness of it, although I thought it was a good movie. On a second viewing a few months later, however, I found it to be almost unbearably frightening. I also enjoyed "Let The Right One In" far more on a second viewing as well, so it is possible for me to do a 180 on a film. On the other hand, I've also given second chances to "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "The Deer Hunter,"  among other classics, and I still hate those films. Sometimes I just plain don't like a movie, I guess.

So long story short, I still don't like "Poltergeist" that much. And it still wasn't scary, although the potential was there. On second viewing, I think I can determine that one of the big reasons I don't like it is because I'm not sure that "Poltergeist" knows what kind of movie it wants to be.

Ok, this scare is pretty good. I'll admit that...

Sure enough, it starts off really good. The opening scene is simply chilling and creepy as all hell, with the little girl, Carol Anne, coming downstairs in the middle of the night to talk to the spirits in the TV that only she can hear. I'm not going to lie, that scene sent shivers down my back. That's some messed up stuff.

Not too long after that, however, the movie really starts losing me because I felt like none of the characters are taking this seriously. It's almost like they're in a comedy or something with how nonchalant they are about things at times. The mother, Diane, played by the absolutely terrible JoBeth Williams, is of particular fault for this. "Oh yeah, our daughter got sucked into the TV and is being held captive by a thing called The Beast, but that doesn't mean I, as her mother, have to freak out about it."

After Carol Anne disappears, Diane really doesn't display too much terror or anguish or even willingness to do ANYTHING to get her back, at least not to the point where it becomes believable. And while that may be the fault of JoBeth's wretched acting, I also have to blame the script and its priorities in display real human emotion. I mean, I know plenty of mothers. Several of my best friends are mothers. The amount of fear that can result from something like a kid taking a bad spill is enough to set your average mother near the point of a stroke. That's not an indictment, that's just life. BE TRAUMATIZED ABOUT YOUR MISSING DAUGHTER.

Kevin Bacon IS JoBeth Williams as Sally Field in "Sybil 2: The Reckoning"

There are also comedic beats which, for me, utterly kill the mood of the film. Of particular note is a scene where Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams try to ask their neighbors if they've seen anything strange going on. The amount of stammering and restarting of sentences in this scene is enough to make Bob Newhart say "Get on with it." I think it's supposed to be funny, but I honestly can't tell. They just set a pail next to that premise and milked it for all it was worth.

So basically yeah, I don't like the characters, mostly because I never connected with them because I never got the feeling that the actors ever knew exactly how their character was supposed to be feeling, and the emotions just jump all over the place from scene to scene to the point where it's really distracting. One moment they're terrified, and the next scene taking place not 5 minutes in movie time later, they're sitting back, having a drink and chuckling. It's not a very well paced film.

Speaking of pacing, another big thing that bugged me is that it feels like some scenes were misplaced. There are big set-pieces in the first act that in any other movie would usually be saved for the end. And while that does imply greater things to come, in the end it's kind of a let down.

For example, about 30 minutes into the movie, there's the scene where the son gets attacked by the tree out in their yard, which tries to eat him. He is snatched from near death by Craig T. Nelson (off camera, by the way), and the whole time I'm thinking that it's a scene belonging at the climax, for two reasons.

Tree tried to eat the kid. And NO ONE SPEAKS OF IT EVER.

First is the fact that everything after a TREE TRYING TO EAT YOU is pretty small potatoes. The famous scene with the clown doll is saved for the obligatory "4th Act" that "Alien" made mandatory for horror films, and while it is a pretty well done scene...come on. It's a doll. You can't top "Man-Eating Tree" with "clown doll." There is no possible reason that those scenes shouldn't have been switched.

The second reason is that after a TREE TRYING TO EAT YOU, why in the name of all that is holy would you stay in the house? Carol Anne's abduction happens at the same time as the tree attack, when everyone else is helping the son, but at the very least, GET YOUR REMAINING CHILD OUT. There's no reason for the son to stay. None at all. But there he remains for a good chunk of the film. For me, that just helped to highlight the fact that I never just the feeling that these people really knew what they were doing, and it was really distracting.


I also never understood the concept of "The Light," and what that was all about. The keep going back and forth between yelling at Carol Anne to stay away from the light and telling her to run towards it. I could tell that there was a very good reason that they were doing this, but since the movie never explains it to us, that whole dramatic tension is completely wasted.

Also, if you're going to enter another plain of it to us. The biggest cop-out of the film is the fact the we never see where they went when they entered the spirit world. I was expecting that dimension in "The Real Ghostbusters" where they kept all the spirits they captured with their proton packs! That would have been sweet.

I think the most disappointing thing though, more than anything else, is that I felt feeling that had I been the one writing the script, I could made it WAY more scary. And that's not some ambiguous statement. There were scenes in "Poltergeist" that while watching, I started to get on the edge of my seat in anticipation of something truly scary happening, because I saw it coming. Yet these scenes never did happen the way I thought they would. Every time I would say to myself, "Oh man, if they go where I think they're about to go, that's going to be wicked messed up." But it never happened.

Me? I could have made this movie SIIIIIIIIIIIICK. And it would have rocked.

Oh, but look who I found in a little cameo role! Check it out! Billy is digging a hole! Now he's got to find a way out of it!

Anyone who got that joke is AWESOME.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Poltergeist" is probably one of those movies that you had to be there for back in '82. Maybe then it would have been more effective. It defiantly has Spielberg's grubby hands all over it, which makes sense since he wrote and produced it (and reportedly all but directed it, too, instead of Toby Hooper), and for that reason there are plenty of striking visual moments, particularly a very effective scene with Craig T. Nelson outside a cemetery. However, the cheesiness of Spielberg taints what could have been a really terrifying film. It's a movie everyone should see, since it's important to the horror genre, but it's far from the best out there. I would actually recommend Tobe Hooper's masterpiece, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" over "Poltergeist" for something truly disturbing.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Sitter (2011)

While perusing the new release wall at my video store, I saw Jonah Hill's vacant, glazed look staring out at me. Just look at him there. Look at the picture right to the left of this sentence. Do it. Is this not the most stock expression you've ever seen? What we have here is the quintessential "post-2000 comedy protagonist face." This is the face of our typical comedic protagonist for this century: the bumbling but well-meaning slacker who doesn't want anything to do with this wacky "fish out of water" situation they've gotten themselves into.

And that's why I can't stand most comedies, because they all feature this exact same character as our protagonist. Now, don't get me wrong, this character existed before, but back in the 90's, say, they weren't treated like they were "cool." Look at any Chris Farley movie. Every movie he was in, he was a total schmuck. Under no circumstances would you look at him and think "I want to be just like Tommy Callahan." Now we're supposed to look at these clods in movies like "The Sitter" with the mindset of "Man, they really know what's going on." It's irritating to me.

I kind of shot myself in the foot with this one. Since there was absolutely nothing else I was interested in seeing out, I saw the one Blu-Ray copy of "The Sitter" on the wall and said to myself, "If it's under 90 minutes, I'll watch it." I look on the back. 81 minutes.

Crap. Well, I've got no one to blame but myself.

"The Sitter" was exactly what you thought it was going to be. That's why they make comedies. They're easy. They're marketable. They do absolutely nothing new or unique. Just have a little kid swear and make sure to include gay jokes and you're all set. Comedy. Next, please.

Comedy. It's really just that easy.

So Jonah Hill is fat, he's a fish out of water, and the kids are all insane in their own quirky, loveable way, and along the way oh-we-have-so-much-fun. It all goes down as expected, but on a character level, I never really bought the characters as people. I know that their individual quirk is their only defining characterization, since Jonah Hill has to find a way to "fix" them by the end of the night (because remember, he's the loveable slacker who has a better handle on life than everyone else), but the quirks seemed a little unnatural since for two of the three, they had be taken so far over the top.

The little girl is supposed be emulating celebrities, but she seemed more like she was usually the foil to go to whenever they needed a kid to swear so they could be shocking. The kid's adopted brother Rodrigo honestly just came across as outright INSANE. And I don't mean zany, I mean this kid should be in a mental institution. Or jail. Or the mental institution inside a jail.

The only kid I liked was the oldest kid, Slater, played by Max Records. I think Max is a phenomenal young actor who really blew my mind in "Where The Wild Things Are," and not surprisingly he winds up being the best actor in the movie by a long country mile. He also is the only character with some sense of depth, and the only one with a story arch worth mentioning. His big scene where he's forced to come to terms with the realization that he is gay is actually quite well written and seems to just come out of nowhere, like a couple of pages from a good movie stuck in this tripe by accident.

And Max kills that scene. In the only occasion in the film where profanity is used to actual shocking effect instead of cheap gimmick, Max delivers what has to be one of the best, most heartbreaking and intense readings I've seen a kid give in the last few years. When he says "What the F#&@ are you talking about?!" when Jonah Hill tries to get him to come to terms with being gay, you really feel like this kid's brain is about to short-circuit.

If you can just watch this scene somehow, do it. JUST this scene.

Oh but we need to even out the good with the bad. Even though there was a very well done scene involving a gay kid, we need about 20 minutes of the most ridiculous, over-the-top, FLAMING stereotypes you can imagine to round out that goodness with stupid.

See, I was interested in seeing Sam Rockwell in this, because he's another actor I really like. He plays a drug dealer and amounts to the villain, but when Jonah Hill arrived at his place we are treated to a character who is so outlandishly, absurdly gay that he plays like if you crossed Serge from "Beverly Hills Cop" and Frank N. Furter, put him on roller skates, stuck him in hot pants and then told him to lose whatever dignity he had. This person leads Jonah Hill into Sam Rockwell's home, which is bursting at the seams with muscled dudes in speedos working out and sweating. I think we're meant to laugh at it.

Because he's gay, you see. And gay is funny. You find this funny. Laugh at the gay.

I mean, there's no way we can treat a gay character with dignity, am I right?


THE BOTTOM LINE - "The Sitter" may appeal to those who like stuff like "The Hangover" or "Pineapple Express" or any of the rest of that crap. I personally can't stand it. Notable for Max Records destroying that one scene, and the only line that made me laugh:
"Hey man, your balls are on fire!"
That was pretty funny. Other than that, skip it.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Beneath The Darkness (2012)

Do you think Dennis Quaid knows he's terrible? Maybe that's the reason he always looks like he's passing a kidney stone. It must just pain him to his core to be Dennis Quaid. I don't know, maybe I'm being too hard on him but seriously, it's just brutal watching this guy for me. He's not the "funny" kind of bad like John Travolta where he's such a big ham that he's hilarious, or the "misunderstood" kind of bad like Nicolas Cage or Christopher Walken where he's actually a really good actor but since he's so quirky and weird people are confused by him, or even the "cool" kind of bad like Bruce Campbell or Arnold Schwarzenegger where they're just so awesome that you can't help but love watching them.

No, he's just bad. And I hate to say that because I'm sure he's a nice guy, but when the best movies you ever stared in were "Dragonheart" and "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," it's time to rethink your profession.

When I describe a movie as painful, it's usually because I need to strap myself down or, in the case of Michael Bay, nail my hands to a desk to prevent me from hitting the stop button. It's the kind of pain where I start questioning my entire existence, and wonder what in the world I am doing with my life. That's what I usually mean when I'm referencing "pain."

I can't say that "Beneath The Darkness" hurt. Now, that's not saying it was good, because it wasn't. In fact, it was downright terrible. Awful. Wretched. But it didn't really hurt me, and I think it's because it was so uninspiring, so bland, and so boring that it really didn't do enough to cause me pain. It was basically like being in "time-out" for 90 minutes, like I've misbehaved and was forced to sit in the corner and stare at the wall for a while.

I can't really be enraged at a movie that just sits there. At least it didn't go out of its way to insult and torture me. It didn't care enough to do even that. And that's about the best thing I can say about "Beneath The Darkness": It was too dull to get mad at.

The story, as if anyone gives a crap, is about Dennis Quaid, a mortician in a small town that we see, at the beginning of the movie, is a killer. Then the film flash forwards to two years later when we meet our main characters, who are among the very finest in annoying jack-offs to be assembled in a teen "thriller." Through a little bit of harmless breaking and entering into Dennis Quaid's house, one of them ends up being killed because they forgot this is Texas and people have the right to kill anyone as long as that person is on their property. Oh, and Dennis Quaid's a crazy person. Either reason works really.

Your heroes, ladies and gentlemen. No refunds.

Anyways, the rest of the kids take matters into their own hands because none of the adults believe them and whatever. It doesn't matter. We already knew from the opening scene that Dennis Quaid is a killer, and we see that he's crazy on numerous occasions, so there is no tension because we know he really is the bad guy. And since this is a "thriller" for the teenies, we know from the moment the movie starts that the bad guy will get what's coming to him and the least macho of the boys will end up with the cheerleader at the end.

A more interesting film would have left it up in the air whether or not Dennis Quaid really was a killer until the end, or at the very least would not have had that as the opening scene. "Disturbia" had something of a similar concept, as did the movie it was inspired from, "Rear Window," and both those films had the benefit of tension, not because there's a scary killer in the room with you, although that does happen by the end, but because as an audience, you were in theory just as in the dark about the situation as the character was. That opens up a whole new avenue of ways to play with tension that "Beneath The Darkness" just threw away because there was never any doubt that Dennis Quaid was a crazy killer.

And seriously, what kind of killer smokes electronic cigarettes? Between that and his cute little sweaters, we're supposed to be afraid of this guy? Seriously? He dresses like Rick Santorum.

Look out, we got ourselves a badass over here...

THE BOTTOM LINE - A boring waste of time. Part of me did have fun with Quaid's absurdly forced "crazy" performance, as well as a handful of his howlingly bad one-liners, all delivered with an impressive poker face, but in the end it just wasn't worth it. There are plenty of better "entertainingly crazy" villains like Travolta's Vic Deakins from "Broken Arrow," Cage's Caster Troy from "Face/Off" and Walken's Gabriel from "The Prophecy" that I would much rather watch than Quaid's bumbling, giggly "someone PLEASE give me direction" performance. Skip it.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Wrath of The Titans (2012)

For anyone who saw the remake of "Clash of The Titans," they will remember it as a lackluster, boring mess with not nearly enough clashing or Titans. It was more like "Mild Scuffle of The Big Things." There didn't seem to be much room for improvement, either, especially after "Immortals" showed us that for some reason Greek mythology about monsters and Gods in titanic struggles for the Universe is generally really, really dull. I don't know what it is about these movies, but they can't seem to get a decent one going. The best case scenario we could hope for with the "Titans" sequel was a certain level of "not sucking."

And I got just that. It didn't suck. It wasn't that great, but it didn't suck.


"Wrath of The Titans" starts off about 16 or so years after "Clash of The Titans," and Perseus has gone back to his life as a fisherman and is raising his son since his wife died off camera in between films. In keeping with the story, the Gods are growing weaker since nobody prays to them anymore, and it's getting to the point where they are half a step away from being mortal and dying.

In their desperation, Hades and Ares come up with a plan to get their immortality back by doing something exceedingly silly like releasing Chronos, the ancient creator of the Gods, so that Chronos might grant them their powers again. And of course, Zeus is the only one who remembers that Chronos had tried to kill them all and destroy the Universe before they imprisoned him. One might cut Hades slack by imaging that it had probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but honestly, when the plan goes belly-up like it obviously would, Hades has nobody to blame but himself.

But he seemed like such a trustworthy fellow...

With Zeus imprisoned, Perseus has to save the day like always, and you can pretty much write the story from there. There are no big plot twists or anything not happening like you'd imagine they would. It's pretty par for the course.

So what is it that makes "Wrath of The Titans" better than "Clash of The Titans?" Well, that's an easy answer: Action. The biggest difference between the two movies is that the sequel actually has a decent amount of it. And while some of the same problems plagued "Wrath" as plagued "Clash," they tended to be less and not as frustrating in nature.

I've said that the first film's biggest problem was that it put Perseus up against creatures that were far too powerful. For that reason, Perseus can't really fight them properly, and has to instead go around looking for a one-hit-kill-loophole to exploit, which makes sense, but it tends to undermine the badassery of the hero. I mean, I'll bet Schwarzenegger would have at least found a way to punch the Kraken in the face.

Ngyaaaaah!!! You kill my fatha!! Eeyaaagh!!! Git to da Pegasus!!!

I seriously need to be in charge of all the movies, but my vision may be too much awesome for the public to handle. Anyways.

The good thing about "Wrath" is that Perseus actually does some fighting against things that aren't that ridiculous for him to take on. I mean, true he does fight Ares, the God of War and win at one point, which while a bit out there at least involved swinging swords, punches and headbutts. That's preferable to holding up a Medusa head and saying "Here, look at this." At least he's doing something.

The casting of "Wrath" is held over from the first movie, with Sam "Oh please James Cameron make Avatar 2 and 3 so people will care about me again" Worthington as Perseus, Ralph Fiennes as Hades, and my personal unapologetic man-crush Liam Neeson as Zeus. They're all pretty much the same as last time, only this time Zeus doesn't whine as much, and Hades doesn't wheeze anymore, so improvement all around on that front. Worthington is still way too English to be Greek.

One notable addition to the cast, however, and by far my favorite part of the movie was Bill Nighy popping in to play a crazy old outcast God, Hephaestus. I swear, I could watch that man act all day long. When he's given an odd, quirky character, he turns in some of the most unique performances of anyone I've ever seen every time he shows up. It's quirky yet never annoying.

And no, he's not "The Science Guy." I'm so tired of having to explain that. Watch "Shaun of The Dead" for crying out loud.

 He's quite alright. He ran it under a cold tap.

There were some problems, naturally. The biggest plot hole of the movie involves the final, ultimate destruction of Chronos, which was well within the God's grasp from the beginning...which begs the question why they never used it to finish him off. The other question that sprang to my mind is why nobody is praying to the Gods anymore after the events of "Clash of The Titans." I mean, that was some heavy stuff. Zeus basically came down and said "LISTEN TO ME OR I'LL KILL YOU." That didn't change any minds?

Oh well. I'm just happy something got punched in the face in this movie.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Wrath of The Titans," for all the good things I've said about it, wasn't a great movie. It was just OK. If you liked "Clash of The Titans" for some weird reason, you'll love this because it improves on it in every way. If you hated "Clash of The Titans," well, this one is better. It's not great, but it's better. Recommended for a rental and lowered expectations.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Burke and Hare (2010)

You know, I've been assaulted, yes - ASSAULTED - with so much crap lately, I need a break. I need a reprieve from the sugary sweet pretentiousness of Spielberg and the dry, boring, plodding dreariness of the spy "thriller." I've sat through kids movies using the director's pedigree to win Oscars. I've sat through greasy, slimy, Swedish rape. I've sat through Victorian England as re-imagined by the same guy who thought "Resident Evil" needed wire-fu. And I've had just about enough.

I need something that will make me feel joy. Something that can bring a smile to my face and put me in the mindset of someone who doesn't dread hitting the "play" button after they put the next disc in their PS3. I need...ENGLISH TALENT.

Enter the master.

Oh thank Crom for Simon Pegg. Simon is one of those guys who can just put a smile on my face from a thousand yards away, and I consider him to be one of my 3 Funniest People in The Universe (in No Particular Order). And even though I feel that his comedies are lacking since he came across The Pond and don't do any justice to him at all, he still has a better track record than most. I mean, he made a movie headlining Seth Rogen, The Unfunny Himself, tolerable. That's pretty impressive.

I had not heard of "Burke & Hare," and after doing a little research, I have a sneaking suspicion why. Here in the US, it played on 1 screen. For two weeks. It made a little over $6,000. True story.

You know, if you want to have a movie not exist, just don't make the damn thing. Now, granted, it made more money in the UK, where it ended up making about $5 million since it actually got a proper release, but I still don't see why it wasn't advertised and widely released in the US. "Burke & Hare," despite its Englishness, is sporting some pretty prestigious talent:

Simon Pegg is a known star now. He was in "Star Trek" and the last two "Mission: Impossible" movies for crying out loud. Co-star Andy Serkis, while being hidden by CGI in most movies he's in, is also thankfully becoming a recognizable figure. I mean, he was only Gollum in "Lord of The Rings." No big deal, right? Isla Fisher was arguably the most memorable character in "Wedding Crashers." Tom Wilkinson has two Oscar nominations! Tim Curry is in it! The Dark Lord himself, Christopher-freaking-Lee has a cameo! IT'S DIRECTED BY JOHN LANDIS! Do I even need to remind you of what's he's done? He only directed "The Blues Brothers," "An American Werewolf in London," "¡Three Amigos!" and "Animal House." Nothing special, really.

Add to the fact that this is the first real movie Landis has directed in about 12 years, and it really does seem like something they would have tried to make a big deal of. Hey, movie studios! Get your priorities straight! John Landis films starring this much talent should not be little-known IFC films.

I guess at some point I should actually talk about the movie, right? "Burke & Hare" is the true-ish story of William Burke and William Hare, two mass murders back in the early 19th century who killed 17 people, all so that they could make a living. You see, the medical field was really getting going then, and doctors needed cadavers to dissect and study. So grave-robbing was a pretty lucrative business, but the freshness was important. So in order to supply demand, these two guys, Burke and Hare, decided to create a product. And the product happened to be bodies.

It's the beginnings of capitalism, really.

What was interesting about the film is that at no point does it try and say that these guys aren't scum. You're never meant to sympathize with their actions, but at the same time, you sympathize with them as people. And as weird as that sounds, I think it's because they're shown as just that: people. There's nothing wrong with them in the head. They're not serial killers. They're not taking perverse pleasure in doing what they're doing. To them, it's just a job. And while you're not exactly cheering for them to kill people, you are cheering for them to "make it."

If anyone is meant to look worse than the other, it would be Andy Serkis as Hare. He's kind of the mastermind of the plan, and Simon Pegg's Burke is seen as more of a victim of circumstances of having to need money to eat, although at no point does he really put his foot down and say "no." It's more like he says "I'm not sure..." for a bit and then Hare flashes some money in front of him and Burke says "Well, I hadn't considered it that way."

So before you wonder too much about what kind of movie "Burke & Hare" is, it's totally a comedy. One would think it would be more in line with a horror flick, and in fact, there have been a couple of those made about these guys, one of them starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. But dark subject matter aside, "Burke & Hare" goes for the comedy angle of the story, and actually does a bang-up job of it, and manages to do something that I don't get often: It made me laugh. Quite a bit.

Mark this occasion down, students, because I tell you, this is a rare feat for a movie to pull off. I don't laugh at comedies often, but I found myself laughing out loud on numerous occasions. Sometimes it didn't even take a line, but merely an incredulous look on Simon Pegg's always straight-man face. I swear, that man's face has the greatest range of "frustrated," "shocked," and "offended" looks that I've ever seen.

I swear, all he has to do is make this face and I laugh. It's insane.

"Burke & Hare" was also notable for two other things. First was an historic event which marked the first time in Christopher Lee's prodigious career that his character died by being smothered by someone's butt. I'm serious. Andy Serkis kills Christopher Lee by sitting on his face while reassuring Simon Pegg's misgivings, waxing philosophical about how it's the way he would have wanted to go. It's hysterical.

The second is one of the best, overly sarcastic and cynical lines I've ever heard in a film, and I hope one day I will be able to use it in a conversation. It involves Simon Pegg talking about confidence and farts. I refuse to repeat it here, because it would lose all impact. You'll have to watch it.

If I had any complaints about the film, I would say it's probably the beginning and end. It's book ended by this forth wall obliterating executioner who directly talks the the audience about the story, and it doesn't really work too well, and it's pretty jarring. This is especially noticeable at the end, when we go back to him after having forgot about him about an hour and twenty minutes ago. He gives a little "Animal House"-esque casting call about where everyone in the story ended up afterwards, and while there are some surprises involving historical figures, it really feels out of place.

There's also a sidestory involving an all-female production of "Macbeth" which doesn't add too much to the plot, but it did bring about character motivations and development, so we can let it slide. It was just another thing that felt slightly out of place.

But you do get to look at this the whole time, though.

Other than that, this was a welcome vacation from the crap I've had to deal with lately. Thank you, English humor. Oh, I'm sorry. I meant humour.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Burke & Hare," won't make anyone's list of favorite movies of all time, but it's a surprisingly good comedy which has a ridiculous amount of talent. Heads above Simon Pegg's American comedies, and more in the style of his Edgar Wright collaborations, as told by the guy who did "Spies Like Us." And Andy Serkis isn't CG! Hooray! Not bad at all. Recommended.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

War Horse (2011)

I think my feelings on Spielberg have reached the point of full-out dislike. In the last 10 years, he's only made a single film that I've enjoyed: "Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull." And I'm not going to say that was necessarily a "good" movie since, make no mistake, it was hands down the weakest of the series, but it wasn't bad. I enjoyed it. But even though I liked it, almost nobody else did. Can't say that I'm not a rebel.

In fact, you could move that time table back another 5 to make it 15 years and it would only add one more film to the list: "Saving Private Ryan." Only a pair of decent films in a decade and a half is not a good track record. Anyway, the whole point I'm trying to make here is that it used to be that Spielberg coming out with a new movie used to be cause to get pumped. Now I just roll my eyes and groan because I know that eventually I'm going to have to force myself to sit down and be bored for 2 and a half hours. But I have to watch, right? It's Spielberg.

"Thank you. We enjoy Spielberg."

"War Horse" just irritated me. I think I could just leave it at that. It was irritating. And the biggest reason I found for the irritation was the fact that it was about a character that I felt nothing about. The horse is supposed to lead us through this journey which connects people across countries and war, but it just comes off as exceedingly forced, because nothing in the story comes across as natural. Now, some of this may be because of the fact that the acting in this movie is unbearably awful from all the humans involved, but another aspect is that IT'S A HORSE! Why is everyone totally enraptured with it?

What I never understood about the horse was that every single person who gazed upon it was immediately and inescapably entranced by it. People went slack-jawed every time they met him, staring blankly as they slowly reached up and stroked its mane like it was some siren or telepathic super-being. And it's to the point where they are willing to put their livelihoods and in some cases even their lives in danger, just so they can have the horse. And I never had any idea why, but I finally reached a conclusion. I know what the horse's deal is:

It's an X-Man. Or X-Horse I guess. My theory is that it's like Professor X and can control minds for its own diabolical reasons.

He gets this look every single time he sees that horse, despite having owned him for years. Dude, just have sex with it already. It's so obvious you want to. Just bite down and do it.

It's amazing the things people will do in this movie, just for a freaking horse. I know that plenty people have a thing for horses, but it really gets ridiculous. They spend their life savings to buy him when they didn't even need him (TWO people do this, actually). They rush into a firefight to save him. They disobey direct orders from their commanders, possibly risking prison or execution because they can't stand the thought of the horse not making it. Not only that, but people who are constantly SURROUNDED by horses look at this horse like it is Zeus come down from Mount Olympus and wearing a saddle while John Williams swells his hackneyed score over top of the proceedings.

And every single person who ends up in the possession of this horse, and there's a few, seem to have a clinical need to say "You can't!" after every single freaking occasion where any prudent person does something NOT in accordance with the horse's best interests. It gets really, really old and just winds up sounding really whiny. And in the end, it really does end up sounding like they're brainwashed. But at the same time, it does make it pretty funny to watch from the perspective of them being controlled by a telepathic Mr. Ed.

And I just had to keep coming back to the same question: Why?


Oh right. It's touching. Whatever.

There was only a single scene in the entire film which worked for me. It involved a British soldier going out into Dead Man's Land to free the horse after it got tangled up in barbed wire. In doing so, he is almost certainly at a 90% chance of being shot. (::eye roll:: "WHY?") After by complete luck nobody shoots him, a German solider comes out of the trench to help him cut the horse free. It's a good, touching scene about two people separated by war who might otherwise have been friends. And the only reason this scene works is because the conversation doesn't revolve around them fawning over the damn horse, like every other conversation in the movie does. The conversation is about "How are we going to work together to accomplish this?"

That is, until they cut him loose, the horse stands up, they fawn over its majesty and start arguing over who should get it. Great. I guess the horse's mind control doesn't work when the horse is lying down.

So basically the story ends up being about a magical horse. The horse is magical. Everyone loves it, and it touches the lives of everyone it meets. And it doesn't matter that it takes place during WWI, when millions of people are dying all around. At least the horse is OK. What a crock of cheesy crap. And I'll say the same thing about "War Horse" that I said about "Hugo" and "Tintin":

If they hadn't been directed by really famous directors, these would have been laughed off the screen and forgotten in a week. Hey Spielberg, make a good movie again or just shut the hell up.

If I want magic horses, I'll watch this, thank you very much.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "War Horse" was dumb, cheesy and waaaaay too long. Spielberg has now officially made my "Who Cares" list. Skip it.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy (2011)

This is going to be brief. In fact, I'm debating whether or not to even write anything about "Tinker, Tailor, BlahBlah, Whatever." The reason for this is simple: It holds a special distinction.

Now, I've seen a LOT of movies. I've sat through some vile, vile crap. But there are very few movies I've hit the "STOP" button on. I've fast forwarded through some, true, but very seldom have I just not been able to even bring myself to chapter skip to the end. I could probably count them on one hand.

Well, now I might need to use both thumbs.

I couldn't make it through this one, guys. I just couldn't. I'm shocked, honestly, because I really like Gary Oldman, but good gravy was this bad. And it wasn't even the good kind of bad where I could make fun of it. It was just BORING.

What puzzles me is that I've actually sat through movies that were more boring and dull and plodding than this one. For crying out loud, I sat through "Tree of Life," although that was a close one. I think main difference is that while a movie like "Tree of Life" is mindbogglingly boring and dumb, at least I "got it." It was a pretentious art flick. I got it.

What "Tinky Winky Dipsy Po" is though, is a spy movie. And I HATE spy movies. Unless the spy movie's poster contains the phrase "James Bond returns in..." I hate them. And while I can stomach spy movies to a degree, the plot of "Tipsy Turvey Drunk Stupid" is so murky, so understated, so cryptic and so meandering that every 5 minutes or so, I was forced to pause the film and recap the movie out loud to the best of my comprehension, just so that I could try and figure out what, if anything, the scene I was watching was talking about. And most of the time, I was unsuccessful.

After a while, I was ready to crack. It seemed like I had been watching this movie for 3 and a half hours, and at no point did I approach anything resembling a firm grasp on who was who or what they were doing. So finally, in desperation, I did what I always do when I'm not enjoying a movie: I hit the "select" button on my PS3 remote to see how much time was left.

I wasn't even an hour into the film. There was still about 60% of the movie left to go.

With a mighty roar of "Are you FRAKKING kidding me?!" I hit the stop button. I'm not proud of this, but it had to be done. I have better things to do with my life.

I know as a self-styled critic, it is important to watch movies. But there was really no reason for me to keep watching "Wynken, Blynken, Nod." It's every lousy spy movie I've ever seen, only on a morphine drip. It's so slow that "2001: A Space Odyssey" would lap it. You could clock the edits with an egg timer. Characters just seem to appear out of nowhere and start talking like they're vitally important, when I didn't have the slightest clue who any of them were. And finally, after seeing that I wasn't even halfway through, I realized there was no coming back. And I didn't care.

THE BOTTOM LINE - Skip, skip, skip, dear GOD skip it. The only conceivable way I could in good conciseness recommend this movie is if you are just a die-hard sheep who cannot physically get enough spy movies. If you thought something like "The Good Sheppard" was interesting or something...maybe. I just could not find the motivation to spend another hour of my life watching this crap.