Tag Archives: 2.5 Star Movies

Boy Meets Girl (2014)

boymeetsgirl

As progressive as Boy Meets Girl might be for featuring a romance between a transsexual in the midst of making the transition from male to female and a young sexually ambivalent woman, it’s pretty much a bust in terms of pure filmmaking. I have to say, the Southern accents of the characters really threw me off. They were awful. However, the most dire thing about this movie is the way it presents it’s message with the force of a blunt sledgehammer. It’s a worthy message, one of inclusion and tolerance, but there’s a marked lack of subtlety in the way it’s delivered.

The film (a kind of ‘transsexual love triangle romantic comedy’ for the supposedly young and hip) involves Ricky (Michelle Hendley,) a young transgendered woman living in rural Kentucky who dreams of being a successful fashion designer. Ricky still has guy parts, and finds herself disenchanted with her romantic endeavors with men. Her lifelong friend and confidante is Robbie (Michael Welch,) a guy’s guy and womanizer with whom she owns a small coffee shop. When Ricky meets the Christian, wealthy, and very engaged Southern Belle Francesca (Alexandra Turshen,) the two buck expectations by becoming feverishly attracted to each other. But Francesca’s uber-masculine and homophobic marine fiance David (Michael Galante) looms over their chance at happiness.

Michelle Hendley is an actress who deserves a better movie. She’s fairly natural and actually pretty enchanting as Ricky. She’s really transgendered, so maybe that helps her relate to Ricky’s experience (although of course every trans person’s experience is different.) However, I can’t say the same for the other actors. Turshen is just so fake as Francesca, smiling madly and forcing her way through the entire film. As Robbie, Welch’s accent is dreadful, and although he steps up his game acting-wise about halfway through the movie, his very presence leaves a certifiable bad taste in one’s mouth.

Another problem is the matter of the fiance. David is made into the biggest a-hole possible for most of the movie; just an over-the-top racist, homophobe, and judgmental prick to justify Ricky and Francesca sleeping with each other. Nothing that comes out of David’s mouth seems genuine, it just seems so artificial. Granted, there are bullies and generally awful people in this world, but shouldn’t they be portrayed in movies as people played by capable actors and not one-dimensional cartoons? Of course, after Ricky and Francesca break it off David has a big-time road to Damascus, in other words, exactly when the plot requires him to.

The characters in Boy Meets Girl are caricature-like and shallow. Francesca’s the daughter of a rich politician (Christopher McHale,) and the moment we meet him he’s bitching about Obama to his wealthy Republican friends, just to show us how conservative he is and how out of her element Ricky is. As if fiscal beliefs and values about gender identity and sexual preference have jack shit to do about each other. This movie is just too one-dimensional and too strident in it’s attempts to be cute. Nothing comes off as being real or genuine. The characters sound like extensions of an inexperienced script writer trying to send a message. And the revelation about Galante’s character halfway through the film? Just… don’t. Did they pick this one out of Gay Movie Cliches 101? That’s just lazy script-writing. Boy Meets Girl has a decent idea, but in the end, it’s just another God darn failed opportunity of a concept  that could have been great

boymeets.

The Death King (Der Todesking) (1990)

deathking

There is a moment in Jorg Buttgereit’s shockfest anthology “The Death King” where a man arbitrarily blows his girlfriend’s head off when she comes back from shopping and scolds him for not attending a party. Like this scene, much of the film is random and lacks context, it is literally seventy minutes of people killing each other and themselves. It certainly commands your attention (for a while at least) by beating you over the head with a bit of the old ultra-violence, but for a movie primarily about suicide, it ultimately has as little to say about people who take their own lives as it does about human nature.

While avid fans of underground and ‘transgressive’ films will probably love this movie to bits, for me it seemed like a whole lot of nothing. The premise is absurdly simple- a death-themed short for each day of the week. The shorts range from surprisingly decent (the first one, with the goldfish-loving man poisoning himself in the bathtub) to the totally WTF (the retarded man in Captain America underwear literally beating himself senseless in a small, windowless room where he is presumably (?) held prisoner) and the acting is quite spotty. Many of the actors don’t seem to be acting at all as much as just looking vaguely at the camera while blandly delivering their exceedingly few lines.

So, this movie isn’t big on acting and dialogue, you say? What does it excel in? Well, The Death King does make use of a limited budget and includes some really creepy editing/sound effects. It’s not much, but it might be worth a view by people who are into weird for weird’s sake and low-budget experimental film making. I like weird movies, but I just couldn’t get into this bizarrofest; give me an compelling plot, a character I can care about, anything. Pure experiment can be intriguing, but Eraserhead this is not. It’s actually quite boring, despite all the sadistic violence and eerie sound effects and people offing themselves.

The director claimed in the intro on my DVD that The Death King is a film against suicide. “Of course,” he adds, almost as an afterthought. But how can a movie that offers it’s victims no development and no other alternatives be against suicide? The movie is less an attempt to bring light to a misunderstood act of desperation and more a eager attempt to shock the viewer into thinking it’s ‘deep.’ I can just picture Jorg getting all his friends together, and saying, “Hey guys, let’s make a movie of people waxing themselves. We’ll call it… The Death King.” And his friends, not being entirely sober themselves, let out a collective “Whoa… that’s rad.”

I’m not disturbed by this movie. It takes a lot more than an amateurish attempt at cringe cinema like this to shock me. But The Death King is roughly acted, written, and directed, like a film school project, and above all it gives you no reason to fucking care. I’m not asking for a sentimental and pedestrian motion picture on suicide where the kind, gallant hero goes all ‘Goodbye cruel world,’ leading to an epic confrontation with the film’s antagonist and a tearjerker ending. I like edgy. But if you’re going to make a movie, have something to say. If you’re a self-proclaimed fan of the dark and disturbing with a Salo; 120 Days of Sodom poster on the wall of your college dorm who attributes depth to the arbitrary and grotesque, this movie’s for you. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.

deathking2

Phenomena (1985)

phenomena

There is one great moment in Phenomena, Dario Argento’s frustratingly Schizophrenic fright flick. In this sequence, which stands head and shoulders above the rest in an otherwise incomprehensible movie, a pet chimpanzee named Inga rushes to warn her human daddy John (Donald Pleasence) that a killer has broke into his house. Alas, John is paraplegic, and as he slides down the stairs on his device built for wheelchairs to let the poor simian in, the killer, cloaked in shadow, pushes the button on the control panel to trap  him on the staircase.

It’s a tense moment, punctuated by the screams of the frightened ape. But the rest of the movie is a shoddy mess, with jarring metal music and terrible acting. This is my first Dario Argento horror film. Maybe I should have started with something else? There are times that Phenomena is so bizarrely put together, like a pastiche of hellish themes and images, that is almost becomes so bad it’s good. Almost. Argento had an amazing idea, but it’s ultimately all for naught. Could this be a classic horror movie actually in need for a remake? Purists would shudder to think of this film being refurbished, but I think it is actually a distinct possibility.

-phenomena-30-years-on-335085

Jennifer (Jennifer Connelly, in a very poor performance) is a teenaged schoolgirl neglected by her wealthy actor father. She is sent to boarding school at the beginning, and while she might seem like your everyday debutante with too much money on her hands and not enough to do with it, she is anything but ordinary. Firstly, she is much more down-to-earth than the other girls in the academy, but that is not what sets her apart. Jennifer can communicate telepathically with insects, and this might come in handy with a serial killer on the loose. With girls dropping like flies (no pun intended), Jennifer befriends John (Pleasence,) an entomologist studying the part bugs play in the decomposition of corpses. Not creepy at all, right? He also has a pet monkey, who’s kind of important, as she turns out to be much more deserving of the title ‘hero’ than Connelly is.

Phenomena has an abundance of imaginative images and ideas, but ultimately it comes off as an unintentional comedy. Part of this is the acting; while Pleasence is competent at his craft as always Connelly can barely deliver her lines in a convincing manner and the rest of the cast is  just terrible. Heavy metal songs by artists such as Iron Maiden and Motorhead cut into the action at the most unsuitable times, and the film has a definite MTV vibe to it. You practically expect Beavis and Butthead to be commentating in the background. Yeah, Jennifer Connelly is… hot. Motorhead is… cool. Uh-huh-huh. In fact, America’s two favorite idiots would be easier to take seriously than this movie. Forget how powerful Connelly was in Requiem for a Dream. Watching her here is positively painful. It’s like seeing the ass-to-ass scene from Requiem a billion times back-to back. You just want to cry for her. And not because of her aptitude for the craft, either.

The last twenty minutes are almost worth watching just for the crazy turns the plot takes, but they’re not enough to sit through a hole-filled, badly acted, and yes, boring story. Why is this school open when girls are constantly dropping dead? Why does John send Jennifer to find the killer all by herself? Why does the killer kill? No seriously, did someone just happen to overlook the villain’s motivation? Why can Jennifer talk to insects but not larvae? Why does the little boy look like that? The reason for all of these, of course, is because. Because that’s the loony-ass direction the plot takes. Terrible actors, dated music video-style sequences, characters we don’t give a damn about; Phenomena is a muddled mess. It’s high point is that it should provide some unintentional comedy for undiscerning viewers. No wonder the ape was the only one I liked.

phenomena2

The Road Within (2014)

road within

So, I did the unthinkable last night, I watched a remake of a foreign movie before viewing the original. The Road Within is a remake of the 2010 German film, Vincent Wants to Sea, and I’ve heard it is a very faithful adaptation. Anyway, if that is the case, I might as well cross Vincent off my itinerary. The Road Within may be an independent film, but it feels as pedestrian as they come.

Let’s cut to the chase; the real problem here isn’t the script (trite and hokey as it is,) but Dev Patel. Fucking Dev Patel, man, Robert Sheehan plays Vincent, a Tourette’s Syndrome victim with a anger management problem in this movie, and he’s quite good. He’s making a monumental effort against a weak script with his solid performance.

Following his alcoholic mother’s death, Vincent is sent to a behavioral therapy program by his cold-hearted  politician father (Robert Patrick) and so sooner has he been dropped off and virtually abandoned by pops he befriends a flirty pixyish anorexic (Zoe Kravitz) and hits the road in his therapist’s stolen car to scatter his  mother’s ashes at sea.

Of course there’s one small problem, besides that whole ‘wanted felons in a stolen car’ thing. Vincent and the Anorexic, Marie have taken Vincent’s annoying roommate, Alex (Dev Patel) with them, quite forcibly (to prevent him from narcing them out to the doctors at the facility,) and that’s where the film really falters.

Don’t watch this if you’re an Obsessive-compulsive Disorder victim like me; it will just infuriate and baffle you. Alex is a pedantic clean freak who suffers from OCD, and that’s where the filmmaker’s development of his character ends. His character more often than not provides some kind of ghastly slapstick, his eyes bulging out like a deranged Marty Feldman incarnate, jumping about comically like a spastic and screaming about ‘poo’ and ‘contamination’ whenever someone touches him.

It’s pretty much the tackiest OCD stereotype one can imagine, and I felt almost embarrassed for the actor and the filmmaker in that (a they treated a complex and serious illness this way and (b that they thought people with OCD actually act like this. While Sheehan’s part is underwritten and pretty cliche as far as depictions of Tourette’s Syndrome go (choosing to portray the uncontrollable cursing that sometimes- but not typically- goes with the illness,) his character is written with some finesse and sympathy, and the actor creates a somewhat likable protagonist with admittedly limited resources. He seems, more or less, like someone who could exist in the real world.

Contrary to this movie’s depiction of OCD, people suffering from the illness are not psychotic or retarded (we may in fact be borderline crazy, if ‘insanity’ is defined by having an unfortunate mental condition that hinders our day-to-day functioning, but I desist.) The director, Gren Wells, could just as well have hired Adam Sandler (Happy Madison productions Sandler, not Punch-Drunk Love Sandler) to play Alex and it probably would have been just as convincing a portrayal. Patel’s shtick gets old fast, and by fast I mean the minute he’s introduced into the movie.

Besides the unfortunate depiction of certain psychological conditions, the setup of The Road Within is painfully standard, with characters apparently reaching recovery from a healing road trip and lots and lots of big discussions about the trio’s illnesses effect on their lives. Robert Patrick does a good job (and actually has a touching monologue near the end) but his character is just too unbelievable, going full circle from uncaring jerk to genuinely loving dad thanks to a few short conversations with Vincent’s shrink (Kyra Sedgwick.) The transformation just isn’t plausible with you consider the father, Robert’s years of being a total asshole to his son.

It all ties into a neat tidy bundle at the end and despite some good scenes and performances, ultimately has little to say about the character’s conditions. Comedies, whether convivial or dark, about mental illness can be effective; just look at Benny & Joon, The Silver Linings Playbook, and The bizarro black comedy The Voices. The Voices was offensive as offensive can be, but it didn’t try to be anything other than a pitch black comedy. The Silver Linings Playbook performed the high wire act between being light and funny and not trivializing the characters’ illnesses. The Road Within has it’s moments, but ultimately it’s just not a substantial flick, obtaining cheap laughs from the character’s  respective maladies and telling a well-meaning yet tired story with no real surprises.

roadwithin

Home (2015)

HOME-2015

For lightweight, innocuous entertainment to put the kiddies in front of while you get some work done, look no farther than Home, Dreamworks’ latest star-studded offering. However, if you want something a bit more emotionally challenging and satisfying for adults as well as toddlers, then you might be better off looking for something in the annals of Pixar studios for while Home looks beautiful and is a harmless enough way to spend 90 minutes, it is ultimately like the film’s race of aliens that benignly attempt to invade earth- well-meaning, but silly, shallow, and happily average and unextraordinary.

The extraterrestrial Boov might not be the brightest lights to grace the galaxy, but they’re really good at one thing- skedaddling. In fact, the leader of the Boov, Captain Smek (voiced by Steve Martin) as made a special point out of running away from whatever scares him. They also have little use for individuality, though they do have a group of supposedly super-intellectual Boov with  giant-sized swollen heads whose job it is to come up with ideas in times of discord.

The Boov could use some ideas right about now. They’re escaping their mortal enemy, the Gorg, which brings them to earth, a baffling planet they benignly take over, benevolently colonizing and herding the humans onto a reservation-like floating island. Then there’s that Boov that nobody likes, the gregarious, overenthusiastic Oh (Jim Parsons.) Oh becomes a most wanted fugitive  when he accidentally sends a intergalactic housewarming party invitation  to the Gorg.

Oh narrowly escapes Boov capture and meets Tip (Rihanna,) a feisty human preteen and the single escapee of a mass earth-wide capture of humans. Tip wants nothing to do with Oh’s kind, being single-mindedly concerned with rescuing her mother (Jennifer Lopez) from the Boov’s incompetent clutches, but they predictably bond and go on the adventure of a lifetime while teaching each other pithy life lessons about tolerating those different from yourself and fighting for what you care about, all to a peppy Rhianna and Jennifer Lopez pop soundtrack.

Home has it’s charming moments, I’ll give it that. It looks good visually, has some good messages, and contains some cute humor regarding Boov’s use (or rather, misuse) of common household objects. I guess everyday life and culture would look baffling to an outsider. But the movie is also dominated by cliches, corny sentiment, and trademark Dreamworks crude humor that detracts more than it brings to the overall viewing experience (I am not a prude, however, I am also not three years old, which is why I was less than impressed with a gag about a an alien drinking restroom ‘lemonade.’)

Every cliche is here; the candid talks while looking out at the sunset, the unlikely friendship which grows from distaste to mutual respect, even the gotcha ‘I thought you were dead’ moment so ubiquitous in modern animated films. Dreamworks seems unwilling or unable to deal with risky emotion or pathos, instead speaking in platitudes and refusing to delve too deep,  which is why it will, always, always be behind Pixar in my opinion.

Pixar delves daringly into real-life issues. Up had the strength to deal with Ellie’s death head-on. Inside Out showed us the emotions of a prepubescent girl, and rang true to anyone who remembered being young. Home doesn’t really have a lot of humor that would tickle someone over twelve’s funny bone, and it really doesn’t have a lot going for it. I got occasional chuckles and an incessant pop soundtrack to punctuate the ‘aaww’ moments. It all rings a bit hollow, and even young kids who are older at heart might see right through it’s flimsy plot cliches and flat characterizations.

Now, I’ll give Home an utterly average rating, but I’m not going to try to dissuade you from watching it with your kids, who might find it perfectly delightful. It’s not a bad movie by any means (better by far than the studio’s 2013 effort The Croods,) just perfectly standard, without anything particularly new or innovative to offer. I just couldn’t bring myself to feel anything, least of all wonder, definitely not emotion. Neither terrible nor particularly worthy of anyone’s time or energy, Home is primarily a Rhianna vehicle (how strange to hear the adult singer voicing a eleven-year-old girl)-  and might serve as a pleasant diversion if you don’t bring up your expectations too much.

home-dreamworks-animation

 

Tangerine (2015)

tangerine-poster

Trashy people doing trashy things, set to the score of an interminable Dubstep soundtrack. The most interesting thing about this movie (shot on a cheap cell phone camera) is how it got the critics jizzing their pants over it.

I won’t deny that Tangerine is probably a pretty accurate reflection of a certain way of life, but in the process of portraying a transgendered working girl’s gritty urban existence, the film makes commits two unpardonable filmmaking sins- it completely lacks a interesting narrative or characters worth investing your sympathy in. The actors possess a certain naturalism and finesse for a movie with a budget this low, but who gives a shit about this story? The non plot combined with an instantly unlikable protagonist make Tangerine tedious as just over eighty minutes long.

Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez)- seriously, that name- is a transsexual prostitute (and still the possessor of male sexual organs) who get out after a short stint of jail to find out from her bestie (Mya Taylor) that her man and pimp has been screwing around on her. The entire movie concerns Sin Dee traipsing around L.A. trying to find her guy (James Ransone) so she can raise some hell. An admittedly much more interesting subplot concerns an unhappily married Armenian cab driver (Karren Karagulian) with a preference for trans hookers that still have their cocks intact. Unsurprisingly, this causes some tension with his wife and mother-in-law.

However, this plotline is never resolved as the narrative focuses on the unbearably catty and self-absorbed Sin-Dee as she spends Christmas Eve in Los Angeles seeing her quest through. Sin-Dee talks, looks, and acts like a character in a reality television program and I can imagine most people would only play along with her bullshit for so long. You keep your hands off her man, you hear, or otherwise she might just have to bust you up! Some viewers might find her sympathetic, I didn’t. It’s not that people like her don’t exist, they emphatically do, but I was utterly disinclined to watch her throw a hissy fit for eighty minutes.

If there’s a discernible plot to this movie, I’d be enthralled to know what it is. There’s some sex, some drug abuse, a catfight between Sin-Dee and her boyfriend’s new lay (Mickey O’Hagen.) There’s a lot of Sin-Dee wandering around the ghetto spewing profanities and man-handling various people. It’s hard to care about a story that goes absolutely nowhere and harder still to care about a trashy queen with a flair for drama and seeing others anxious or upset. If you want to see a trans woman struggling with her gender identity in an inner city environment, watch Gun Hill Road. That was an amazing film that grabbed your heart and didn’t let go.

I’ll admit, Tangerine looks passable compared to other independent films shot on cell phones. it even has an element of realism, and I don’t fault the actors one bit for my utter disinterest in the film as a whole. They took what they had to work with and they ran with it. But Tangerine  is not funny and it is not dramatically satisfying. Being that Sin-Dee scarcely shows a sympathetic human side, instead choosing to bask in drama and the heartache of her friends and neighbors, it’s really hard to like or empathize with her. I admire the good ideas this film incorporates into it’s script, but it’s so hard to sit through as a whole. A film needs a plot to carry its characters to a chosen destination, and it is in that area that Tangerine seriously lacks.

tangerine              

Enter the Void (2009)

enter-the-void

Life after death as the ultimate trip, as envisioned by Gaspar Noe. Epileptics need not apply.

it is safe to say that Enter the Void is unlike any movie I’ve ever seen before, but it’s an experience I have very mixed feelings about. My emotions throughout this movie ranged from excitement and wonder to tedium and at long last, utter boredom and disgust. The first hour or so of this polarizing feature had me at the edge of my seat, it was an experience of startling uniqueness and innovation akin to watching Eraserhead or A Clockwork Orange for the first time.

The next thirty minutes my attention began to wander, but by the last half hour, as we are treated to an interminable scene of people in a sleazy Tokyo hotel getting it on while a strange light emanates from their genitals, my reaction wasn’t quite so charitable. “Please God make it stop,” my inner critic groaned. And at long last, when the constant love-making (although to call what these broken people share ‘love’ would be pushing it big-time) and psychedelic headache inducing-visuals were over, I was all too happy to retire to my bedroom to go to sleep.

To call Enter the Void, despite it’s visual verve, low on plot and lacking direction would be to make epic understatement. One thing’s for sure, I don’t think there’s ever been a motion picture where we saw less of the protagonist’s face. That’s because Oscar (Nathaniel Brown,) an addict and dealer slumming it in Tokyo, is mostly behind the camera as we see his life, and eventually his death, through his own eyes. Oscar is a ne’er-do-well who lives with his seductive younger sister (Paz de la Huerta) in a dive apartment and is in denial about his full indoctrination into the druggie lifestyle. Neither sibling seems like a particularly bright light, each talking in a bland, deadpan drone, and Oscar has less than familial feelings for his sister and late mother (Janice Béliveau-Sicotte.) The girl, Linda, a stripper, also seems eager to get in on in a less-than-sisterly way with Oscar, unless making bedroom eyes at your brother while cooking food for him in your panties is a regular way for siblings to behave.

Enter-The-Void01

After his loving parents’ brutal death in an automobile crash, Oscar has promised unreservedly to look after and protect his vacuous but weirdly sensual sister. Being that he can’t be arsed to get a regular job, Oscar runs drugs for the strangely philosophical Alex (Cyril Roy.) At the beginning of this film Oscar takes a shitload of DMT and goes on an epic high, as we hear his thoughts and witness a storm of swirling shapes and colors. He goes off to a dive club to meet the sniveling Victor (Olly Alexander,) which turns out to be his last hurrah, so to speak, as Oscar is shot by the Tokyo police through the door of a shit-stained urinal and dies shortly thereafter. But, to Oscar’s shock and relief, he discovers death is not the end. For the rest of the movie, he floats around Tokyo and witnesses the people in his life converge in unexpected and disturbing ways.

This is my first Gaspar Noe film, and I think he had an amazing idea and a totally legit way of visualizing it.  But ultimately Enter the Void is too long and has too little to say, with ponderous scenes that go on… and on for seemingly hours. I love the way The Tibetan Book of the Dead is incorporated here, I think it’s really smart and clever. I would have liked to have seen it used more or to better affect. But how many hazy aerial shots of people screwing can you watch before a movie like this begins to feel like an extended music video? We get it, Gaspar Noe, you have some talent maneuvering a videocamera, but please stop showing off and give us a story, a conflict, a set of characters that behave in an interesting or believable way. Enter the Void is probably an unmitigated wonder while you’re blitzed on magic mushrooms or hungrily devouring pot-laced brownies, but in the end it’s about as profound as the average TV quiz show. Oh, it’s pretty to look at. But Ohmygod is it tedious. And it’s a tedium that goes on for 2+ hours.

I’m not a prude. Sex and violence have their place in a story. But none of the characters in this film are remotely likable or sympathetic. They’re simply bad people doing bad things. Enter the Void is like a stoned guy at a cocktail party who momentarily gains your attention. He tells crazy stories without a single ounce of credibility, and for a while you’re sucked in by his colorful, gregarious bullshit. But then after two hours you kind of just want him to come back where he came from and take his gear with him. Nihilism has never looked so gorgeous and yet so empty and shallow. At one point, the stripper sister in this film says she can’t stand another minute being amongst these horrible, horrible people. Funny. The sober viewer can weirdly relate.

Enter the Void