Tag Archives: 2.5 Star Movies

Movie 43 (2013)

Though hardly a consistently funny film, “Movie 43” is, astonishingly, not a complete and utter miss. It is a hit-and-miss spectacle around the lines of 2013’s “The ABCs of Death,” with a comedy rather than horror theme. At it’s worst, it’s still a lot better than the worst “ABCs of Death” had to offer.

The plot is loosely and crudely constructed, with an emphasis on ‘crude.’ The jokes consistently base themselves on shock value and poor taste, with sometimes funny results. This is an anthology film, and the segments all base themselves around this premise- wimpy schmuck Griffin (Greg Kinnear) listens as obsessed screenwriter Charlie (Dennis Quaid) pitches a script to him- a tasteless opus that Griffin quickly dismisses. Undeterred, Charlie holds Griffin at gunpoint and tries to force him to sell the script. The following shenanigans are the contents of this screenplay.

The first segment, “The Catch,” is actually pretty funny as Kate Winslet tries to figure out why no one seems to notice the giant ballsack hanging from her date Hugh Jackman’s neck. Don’t judge me, I laughed. The second one was pretty funny in an ‘ashamed of yourself but laughing’ way, it actually plays on the stereotypes about homeschoolers, as a homeschooled young person I appreciated that.

The only other really funny short in this collection is the grossly inappropriate iBabe. The others range from pretty mediocre to pretty bad. The one with Chloe Grace Moretz, a talented young actress, is just embarrassing and awkward as a teenage girl is humiliated by her inopportunely timed first period and the incompetence of her male audience. The one with Anna Faris was gross and pointless, and is only funny if you like poop jokes and third rate sitcom humor.

Some of the shorts were mesmerizing in their strange tastelessness, “Beezel,” with it’s homosexual cat jacking off to pictures of his owner in swimtrunks, is a startling example. I didn’t find the short about the black basketball players particularly racist, but I didn’t find it funny either.

“Movie 43” doesn’t really utilize it’s all-star cast, but you could do worse for a late-rainy-day distraction. If you get to watch it free, and want to laugh a few times and think ‘hmm, that’s strange,’ then go for it. It’s not the abomination people have made it out to be, but it’s no classic comedy. Just remember to think for yourself!
                                

Mozart and the Whale (2005)

In many books and movies dealing with autism and Asperger’s,  a related disorder, a scene is added where a person, generally a psychiatrist, explains the situation to another character.

This is most likely not added to aid character or plot development. Probably this part is there to help people who are not in the know about it, in other words, people who don’t get what these conditions are, so they’ll understand the story better.

In Mozart and the Whale, the main character, Donald (Josh Hartnett), pauses in the beginning to talk about life with Asperger’s. One might think these would be interesting, and a good departure from the “shrink explains” cliche, but actually it becomes rather irksome.

Judging from this movie, people on the autistic spectrum like nothing more than to sit around and discuss their conditions. Mozart and the Whale is a romantic drama based on the memoir of the same title, which I’ve never read. The main characters, Donald and Isabella (Radha Mitchell) have Asperger’s Syndrome and meet during a support group meeting. The film chronicles how their relationship begins and the difficulties of trying to coexist in a romantic situation on the autism spectrum.

Well, I’m guessing some people might have no clue what Asperger’s is. I suppose, though, by telling you, I will be making the same mistake the film did and boring people who already understand it. I guess the difference was that Donald was discussing this with fellow Aspergians who were already in a support group and probably didn’t need instruction.

Then again, maybe you don’t either. In that case, skip the following paragraphs and cut to the chase. Asperger’s, in short, is a difference in the mind that cause difficulties relating to people, and in some cases, uncommon reactions to certain stimuli. It’s related to a more commonly known condition, autism, but tends to be milder. People with Asperger’s have problems with social skills, have certain interests they dwell on, and don’t easily “change gears.”

Some of them are introverted, and others try to relate but come off as sort of odd. Introversion, possibly, could be a reaction to being misunderstood. Generally they are gifted and grow up to live more independently than people who are autistic. In the beginning of  Mozart and the Whale, Donald meets Isabella, a new addition to the support group. Isabella is a bright, excitable, and socially challenged artist who immediately tells fellow group members about being raped as a teenager.

Obviously she is angered when a severely autistic woman displays a grossly inappropriate reaction and begins laughing, although she doesn’t understand the woman’s problems or her own flawed behavior. Infuriated, she is stopped from leaving by Donald, who convinces her to keep going to meetings. One of the group members has a nervous crush on Isabella, but she is more interested in Donald. Soon, she invites him to a costume party, which he doesn’t arrive for.

She comes and knocks on his door dressed as Mozart, and he joins her to walk with her, him in a whale costume (hence the title). They spend time together, and even a near-breakdown from stimulus overload at the carnival doesn’t ruin the night. Before departing, they have their first kiss. After their bond deepens and they move in with each other, they start having problems in their relationship. Several times they leave each other but get back together.

However, problems arise when Isabella feels that Donald is unaccepting and is trying to”‘normalize” them for the outside world, and she and Donald break up. The two of them feel lost without each other and Isabella becomes suicidal, but they’re afraid to get back together. Mozart and the Whale is a okay movie, although at times it becomes irritating, especially at the beginning.

When we are first introduced to the main characters, the director seems to be afraid we’ll forget the condition of the group members, so we’re constantly hit atop the head with “autistic” symptoms. The characters mention their disorder just about every five minutes, and their “interests,” such as mathematics or art, seem so hackneyed that it’s difficult to relate to many of them.

On the plus side, the movie is made so that each person, in many ways, is vastly different from the others. Although they share Asperger’s, their general personalities and mannerisms are their own, though at times overdone. Actually, Donald and Isabella are not very alike, although they both lack proper social skills.

All in all, Mozart and the Whale seems like more of a tool to explain Asperger’s than a proper story. I don’t have the book to judge from, but the film is well-intentioned but plods heavily at times. It’s definitely not the worst view of the autistic spectrum, but it’s far from the best.

 

Cronos (1993)

“Cronos” is a film that starts out promising, then kills itself dead much to the horror of the viewer. Director Guillermo Del Toro is one of today’s most impressive filmmakers, but even he couldn’t resuscitate this dud after a certain point.

   Initially, we are given an interesting premise: pleasant, aging antiques dealer Jesus (Frederico Luppi, who would later go on to play in Del Toro’s great “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Devil’s Backbone”) comes upon a a strange discovery hidden within a statue of an angel in his shop.

   This discovery, as it so happens, is a golden scarab tucked away with the hopes, presumably, of never, ever, being found. Meanwhile, loutish thug Angel (Ron Perlman) is looking for the scarab, which in turn, is doing strange things to Jesus.  

   The scarab contains the secret to eternal life, wherein lies the big question: would you like to live forever, regardless of the consequences? To watch history unfold, but to see your children, your grandchildren age and die before your very eyes?

   Unfortunately, the film trades pathos for kitsch and camp. At times it displays the worst qualities of American cinema: stupidity, coarseness, and crisis of tone. Also, child actor Tamara Sharath plays the completely unbelievable character of Jesus’ granddaughter, Aurora. 

   I mean, this girl is a trooper. She deals with mutilation, injury, a beloved family member coming back as one of the undead with nary a sniffle, let alone a tear. Are we supposed to believe that little girls behave this way, even brave little girls?

   What’s more surprising to me than Guillermo Del Toro’s name on the film is the fact that it was released on Criterion Collection, distinguished as “important contemporary and classic” films from around the world. This is not even a particularly good film, let alone a important or classic one, so crowning it as such boggles the recesses of my mind.

   Please, don’t let this review stop you from seeing Del Toro’s later films. I am in the minority in that I actually like his spooky ghost story, “The Devil’s Backbone,” better than the Oscar winning “Pan’s Labyrinth.” This is, to be fair, Del Toro’s first feature-length film.

   Remember when you couldn’t draw very well? (Maybe you still can’t draw very well, but I digress.) Maybe you drew stick figures, and your mother hung them from the kitchen wall like you were a virtual Van Gogh. Well, this is Guillermo Del Toro’s stick figure to his later Auguste Renoirs, and a reminder that the best of us were amateurs at one time.
                                          

Them (Ils) (2006)

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Horror filmmaking, a visualization of things no one wants to happen to them, can be morbidly fascinating, or even lyrical. Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In, particularly, told its story brilliantly and in some ways transcended the vampire genre. Them, a slight trip into depravity  advertised as “the movie that terrified the French,” is not. It is tripe. The film doesn’t stand as much as a worthy story with characters as a gaudy set-designed ego trip, with meticulously designed dark corners, piercing screams, and convenient pitfalls.

When the heroine, schoolteacher Clementine, chose a place in the attic of her sprawling isolated home to escape from the home invaders of the film, of course it is an otherwise empty section with cellophane hanging in clumps from the ceiling, each one vaguely looking like a cloaked face. Of course Clementine and her boyfriend Lucas live in an isolated manor. And finally ,of course the isolation is broken by a “annoying” dog, who barks to warn them too late.

I was warned. When a teenage girl feuding with her mother gets run off the road by a unknown being, I heard her, just as it began to rain, segueing from a irate calls to screams, more and more desperate “Maman! Maman! Maman!!!” The car? It doesn’t start. The rain obscures anyone from view, as does the trunk her mother ignorantly poked around in. The cell phone shakes in her hand, and she can barely release a squeak, much less a “help.”

After the inevitable death, the film focuses on Lucas, a writer who does his best work playing arcade games, and Clementine, a frustrated primary school teacher. For a period of about fifteen minutes, the two exchange a stream of smooth and natural dialogue, in such a way I mistakenly started hoping that I would care what happened to them. After that, the script runs out of such dialogue, and settles on standard horror talk. I started laughing out loud at the banality of it, a bad sign with a film that wants to be taken this seriously.

“______!” (insert name, repeat 20-30 times.)
“I’ll go check.”
“What was that sound?”
“Don’t leave!”

The acting in the film is decent, the performers pounding on the one note the director brings to the table, mostly comprised of frightened shrieks and tear stained faces. The plot is a series of grotesque occurrences, putting the characters through horror and trauma. It’s plotlessness is “compensated” for with a couple of jumps (it barely succeeds). The slashers are barely frightening and completely nonsensical.

Simply put, it is a series of close escapes and killings, too premeditated and shallow to provoke much reaction.  I learned something, though. Nothing about safety, nothing about human nature. I learned that a film’s cool cover art, cinematic pedigree (foreign), and being spoken in a pretty language (French), does not make it very much superior to American money mongerers. Nor does it classify it as high film-making. That is all.

The Last Circus (2010)

Mine is a simple truth — clowns are scary. The Last Circus takes full advantage of that, combining clownsploitation with surrealism, graphic violence, and scenes so bizarre they approach dark comedy. Then it falls apart. Halfway through the depraved goodness and spectacle of oddity, it takes a nosedive and lands directly in the loo. And flushes itself.

The setting is Madrid, 1973. Javier (the pot-bellied, goggle-eyed, and grim Carlos Areces) becomes a clown, but not the kind you might expect. Rather than making his living on gleeful gags and slapstick, he is sad in life and on stage.

When Javier arrives at the broken-down circus with which he seeks employment, he meets a group of oddballs: a stuntsman, two quarreling animal owners, and a man enamored with his highly aggressive elephant.

And Natalia. Against his own best interests, Javier falls for Natalia (Carolina Bang), despite the fact that her boyfriend Sergio (Antonio de la Torres) is a woman-beating drinker … and his boss. And he doesn’t stop at women. A foolish decision, yes. But Javier isn’t the first man to get stupid over a woman.

Sergio is the worst kind of useless so-and-so, thoroughly convinced of his own love for Natalia. Natalia seems to like being hurt, which is true of some women, but the film seems to approach misogyny as Natalia continually lays herself down at Sergio’s feet and puts Javier in danger.

It could have been good. the violence, the relentless strangeness, the depiction of Javier’s degradation at the hands of Sergio and others and his resulting inhumanity,  but as the film releases a bombastic onslaught of clown fights, machine gun fire and explosions, it increases in both pretentiousness and implausibility. By the time Javier becomes the vengeful clown, there is no character to root for and no reason to care.

Although lead actor Carlos Areces is decent and Antonio de la Torres (Sergio) is plausibly repugnant, Carolina Bang, as the love interest, seems to be taking overacting lessons from the Daniel Radcliffe and Megan Fox school of acting. Her scream is grating enough to make you want to smack her, and the fact that I made that statement about a victim of dating violence is saying something. I’m not ruthless; she’s just that annoying.

Pair the beginning of  The Last Circus with just about any other conceivable ending and it becomes a winner. Give it this ending, and it fails. The ending is ludicrous, incomprehensible, and quite simply, a bore. You have been warned.

Julien Donkey-Boy (1999)

“Julien Donkey-Boy” is an occasionally emotional, mainly tedious foray into the art of Dogme 95, laden with grainy visuals and non-existent plotting. It recalls the much better film “Buddy Boy,” which came out the same year. “Buddy Boy” director Mark Hanlon knew how to engage your interest and make you care about his main character, despite his shortcomings.

Julien is a 20-something paranoid schizophrenic played by Ewen Bremner, one of the most underutilized character actors of today. Julien lives with his equally disturbed father, younger brother, and sister, who he has impregnated before the film’s beginning.

Uncomfortable yet? The whole movie works to make the viewer feel discomfort while also invoking sadness and emotion. At this it is only moderately successful. The dialogue is often random and directionless. The experience of the film is akin to having hundreds of puzzle pieces of differing shapes and sizes, none of them fitting together in the least.


While watching, you come to a crossroads- should you spend a indefinite amount of time trying to put together the pieces, or should you leave the goddamned thing for somebody else to solve? The visuals of “Julien Donkey-Boy” are willfully awful, presumably shot on a home video camera bought from the bargain bin of Best Buy for a total of five dollars.

Ewen Bremner does an excellent job as Julien, but although Julien isn’t innately evil or unlikable, it’s hard to emotionally invest in his plight. In fact, the movie has its meaningful moments, but most of what is has to say isn’t particularly innovative or profound, and it’s hard to feel many emotions other than bewilderment and disgust.

Meanwhile, “Julien Donkey-Boy” functions more as a curiosity item than a movie, with famous filmmaker Werner Herzog playing Julien’s gas-mask wearing, cough syrup- guzzling father, who offers to pay Julien’s younger brother (Evan Neumann) ten dollars to dance with him in his dead mother’s dress. Meanwhile, Julien’s sister Pearl (Chloe Sevigny) prepares to have her brother’s baby.

The film is dedicated to director Harmony Korine’s schizophrenic Uncle Eddy, and although I hate to criticize a personal film-making project (unlike the soulless Hollywood money grabbers I love to have a go at), I must. “Julien Donkey-Boy” is hard to sit through and willfully incoherent, like a cross between a David Lynch throwaway project and a bad acid trip. It is one of the few movies I can honestly say had very little point, and isn’t that a shame? Not for the majority of sober filmgoers.

Wild Tigers I Have Known (2006)

“Wild Tigers I Have Known,” Cam Archer’s visually striking but somewhat self-indulgent debut, is an abstract and meandering portrayal of teen angst and burgeoning sexuality. Its youthful protagonist, Logan (Malcolm Stumpf), seems perpetually caught between a daydream and and the harsh, uncaring real world.

Sounds kind of like Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Except that movie actually had substance. Oh well. This movie at least looks pretty, and art-chic-happy film students might find more to love in the film than I did.

13-year-old Logan is lonesome soul, given to walks on the beach and recording himself going on a abstract tangents. He also is in the midst of discovering his sexuality (gay as a maypole) while harboring a crush on Rodeo Walker (Patrick White), the most popular boy in school.

Does Rodeo feel likewise? Maybe so (“girls make me want to go to sleep,” he tells his youthful admirer), but whatever the case, Rodeo isn’t telling. Seeking Rodeo’s affection, Logan creates a female persona named ‘Leah.’ ‘Leah’ calls Rodeo up promising a wild night, but Logan’s naivete is apparent.

I “get” Logan’s inability to connect to, or even maybe occupy the same universe as, his junior high classmates. I go to a school of hundreds of students, and 99% of the time I feel like I’m off on my own planet.

But although Logan is intriguing, the film collapses under its own pretension, with scenes that have no clear dramatic purpose and dialogues that are laughable in their bloated sense of self-importance. And isn’t Logan’s mother’s response to the fallen groceries a little… psychotic? Nobody who’s still on the sanity wagon would react that way.

“Wild Tigers…” sports beautiful cinematography and a couple of well-known actors (Fairuza Balk as the mom, Kim Dickens as the school counselor,) but in the end, it hardly matters. Seeming long at 88 minutes, “Tigers…” ultimately seems like a bit of a chore, never a good  impression for a film to make. Logan entices us but the film keeps us at an arm’s length.

The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) (2011)

Is it nuts to expect more from a movie like “The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence)? With a premise and set-up like this, what can you expect, except for a few good scares and a whole lotta gore? But with an intriguing killer like Martin, I was actually hopeful, and disappointed by the never-ending, and I suppose inevitable, stream of torture that followed.

I guess I would have liked to have seen more Martin, less of the centipede. More scathing black humor, less of the gore? Crazy? Maybe. But my love of all things fuck-upedly psychological led me to wish for an entirely different movie.

I’ll be honest and straight-up and admit that I haven’t seen Tom Six’s controversial original (and at this point I don’t think I’ll bother.) But to those uninitiated few, I’ll describe the original premise to the best of my abilities. Sensitive readers, stop right here. It only goes downhill from here.

In the original “Human Centipede,” two pretty American tourists’ car breaks down while traveling in Germany (of course, the car), and they seek help at the home of an incredibly creepy German doctor, who proceeds to serve them a drugged drink and reveal his master plan (you’ve never seen that one before, right?)

The doctor intends to make a Siamese triplet out of the frightened girls and a third party. Okay, this is where it gets real messy. Using the magic of surgical precision, the the good doc will sew them together mouth to anus, therefore creating one entity. I guess you’re starting to understand the controversy behind these films, eh?

So. “The Human Centipede II.” Listen, now, because the premise is actually pretty creative. Martin, a short, creepy, obese security guard (Laurence R. Harvey) who lives with his abusive mother (Mommy issues- where have I heard that one before…? Okay I’ll stop now) is INSPIRED by the original “Human Centipede” and sets out to make one of his own, but suffers from poor health and limited resources.

Martin, whose father sexually abused him, and whose mother blames Martin for sending hubby to jail (I call it “Precious” syndrome. but it definitely happens), has led an agonizing life full of brutality and misery, and, as it so happens, has a sexual fetish for “The Human Centipede.” On top of that he has a psychiatrist (Bill Hutchins) who wants to have sex with him (ew.)

SO what can Martin do except to make the people around him suffer? And so he does, in a spectacularly brutal manner. And may I just say, Laurence R. Harvey is a FABULOUS actor. Not only does he cope with the fact that Martin doesn’t say a single word throughout the movie, he makes it an asset.

Harvey also makes you feel sorry for Martin, at moments, throughout the movie. And I think that’s where he really excels, making you feel sympathy for such a beastly character. Unfortunately, Laurence R. Harvey (and Martin) are stuck in a movie that doesn’t deserve them, and Vivian Bridsen (who plays Martin’s mother) is as incompetent as Harvey is adept.

The first half of this film is pretty good. It’s deliberately illogical at times (Martin hits his victims full-force with a crow bar and still manages to only knock them out), but the film has a devilish, nightmarish feel, and makes good use of black & white photography. The dialogue is often bizarre and implausible, but this only reinforces the fact that we are living in a nightmare.

After the first half, though, we are thrown into forty minutes of torture which is not only gross, it’s also boring. How do you make torture boring? For dragging it on forty minutes, that’s how. I know, I know, I’m watching “The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence),” not “My Dinner With Andre.” Dialogue isn’t the film’s strong point. But is it too much to hope for a little… more of it?

If there’s one thing I got out of this movie, it was Laurence R. Harvey’s performance. I really, really hope this guy makes it. Otherwise, skip this weakly plotted torture fest. Next!

 

Tideland (2005)

“Tideland,” Terry Gilliam’s fantastical horror brain child, is an undeniably original, unmistakably repulsive journey into the life and mind of one troubled little girl (Jodelle Ferland.) To say it outstays it’s welcome it an understatement, the film clocks at over two hours and leaves an undeniably bad taste in one’s throat. The characters are hard to comprehend, much less like or understand.

All this would be bad enough without the bizarre intro by Terry Gilliam, who vaguely informs us that children ‘bounce back’ from situations such as these and tells us ‘don’t forget to laugh.’ But what is there to laugh at in a disgusting horror show such as this?  it’s as if Dave Peltzer of ‘A Child Called It’ fame had promised us a knee-slapping good time.

Between the role of Jeff Bridges as the girl’s junkie father, who sits down in a chair to shoot up, dies, and spends the majority of the movie in various states of decomposition, our prepubescent heroine trading ‘silly kisses’ and sexual curiousness with a mentally retarded man (Brendon Fletcher,) and Daddy (prior to his death) instructing his daughter to prepare heroin for him, I found very little to laugh at in this revolting freak show.

The fact that Gilliam expects us to laugh and see this whole travesty through the eyes of a child speaks volumes on the man’s mental stability. What does he think we are? Animals. Sub-human cretins who are all-too-eager and willing to laugh at the mental and psychological destruction of a child? Apparently, if Gilliam should have his way, we will be laughing at child endangerment through the eyes of that child, oblivious to the adult consequences of such atrocities. Mmm-kay.

After her harpy mother (Jennifer Tilly) O.D.’s Jeliza-Rose (Ferland), ten or eleven or so, is swept away from the squalid tenement she calls home by her druggie father (Bridges,) and tries her best to adjust to her new home in her father’s childhood house on the massive prairie, far away from anything. When Dad dies, Jeliza-Rose acts much as if he was alive, talking to his corpse and exploring the prairie, where she meets local freak Dell (Janet McTeer) and her brain-damaged brother, Dickens (Fletcher.)

Dell, who as it happens, bangs the stuttering grocery delivery boy (Dylan Taylor) in exchange for food, takes a liking to Jeliza-Rose and invites her and her doll heads (Jeliza-Rose frequently talks through her collection of severed doll’s heads, did I mention that?) to live in her and Dickens’ family home.

“Tideland” often references Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ as Jeliza-Rose ‘falls down the rabbit hole’ from one bizarre situation to another. Although technically well-made in many respects, “Tideland” is yucky, overlong, and had me begging for it to end by the halfway point.

Jodelle Ferland turns in pretty good performance as Jeliza-Rose (although I found her Southern accent exaggerated) and Brendan Fletcher gives a decent supporting performance as Dickens (who, through no fault of his own, reminded me a bit of Ben Stiller’s ‘Simple Jack’) but overall the film is a fail. I would recommend you watch “Alice” by Jan Svankmajer as a dark take on “Alice in Wonderland” rather than this. It is less sickening and doesn’t make you feel like you’re watching for hours on end, but hey, that’s just me.