Friday, April 27, 2012

REVIEW: The Roommate (2011)

Hey, guys, I’m here today to talk about the great new PG-13 lighthearted comedy, The Roommate! I don’t know why it has 4% on Rotten Tomatoes! It’s such a fun-filled romp! It’s got charmingly pretty characters, a nice college setting that will show your pre-teens what college is going to be like and lots and lots of hi-larious jokes and slapstick/body humor, as well as a nice romance on the side to keep you hopeless romantics suckered in. What could possibly go wrong?

Director: Christian E. Christiansen
Starring: Leighton Meester, Minka Kelly

The Roommate starts out with some happenin’ modern rock music as our main character Sara gets to college in her shiny yellow car on a bright, sunny day with lots of other smiling, hair-gel-infested Dawson’s Creek rejects. She’s so cool that she goes to a party the first night and turns some guy down at first, yet kisses him anyway when he helps her drag her drunk friend to the elevator:

He goes so far as to spill beer on Sara just to talk to her, then has to help her carry her drunk friend away and he STILL doesn't get laid!

I’d call her a slut, but The Roommate takes a twist and has these two become boyfriend and girlfriend for the rest of the movie! Because every romantic comedy needs a couple to focus on and nothing says romance for a college frat boy like drunken debauchery and the girl turning him down and yet teasing him in a really bitchy way anyway...well, actually I shouldn't be sarcastic about that, because it's probably really true.

Then we meet Rebecca, Sara’s roommate. Rebecca doesn’t want to have a nickname, so that must mean she's insane:

"We oppose anyone who doesn't like nicknames!"

Sara starts going out with the other girls to clubs and parties and stuff, and hijinks ensue when one of the girls leaves her there on her own even though she doesn’t know the area! Rebecca comes to meet her later, and she and Sara go walking around town, taking pictures for their Facebook profiles (which will never actually be shown, considering the makers of the movie could not pony up enough money to use Facebook’s likeness in the film). Then Sara reveals that she tattooed her sister’s name onto her chest in remembrance of her tragic death several years earlier! Ha ha ha! Oh, how silly…wait, I think that was supposed to be a serious part…maybe…?

Rebecca then takes things into her own hands and attacks the one preppy partier girl in the shower, threatening her if she ever comes near Sara again. Gee. This scene could have almost been in a horror movie if she had actually done anything harmful to the girl, but all she does is pull out her belly ring and say “You’re a bad influence on her!” Ha ha! Oh, man, that is over the top.

Then Sara finds a cat outside and takes it back to her dorm, naming it Cuddles, because every romantic comedy needs a good cute animal. After that, Rebecca starts to do all sorts of nice things for Sara to show her affection, like putting up posters of her favorite movies and buying tickets to see art shows she likes. However, Sara already has plans – romantic plans!

Don't worry, it's a PG-13, so you won't actually see anything during this scene...

This leaves Rebecca alone in the room to call Sara's ex boyfriend, pretending to be Sara and telling him to stop calling her all the time, which he has been doing all movie up until now. Oh the hijinks that could possibly ensue from to admit, though, it is pretty stupid how the ex boyfriend can't seem to tell that it isn't really Sara on the phone. That's stretching things a little too far.

And then because Sara wants to move in with some other friend of hers, Rebecca kills the cat by putting it in a dryer:

The Roommate: it advocates the killing of kittens!

You know, I would cite this part as one of the movie’s flaws, except frankly I’ve seen worse in Will Ferrel movies anyway.

Then it’s statutory rape fun time as their teacher Billy Zane puts the moves on Sara and kisses her, and as she tells Rebecca very calmly, Rebecca forms a plan. She then immediately goes and seduces him, records the whole thing on a random tape recorder she happens to have on her at the time and twists things around to make it look like he came onto her instead of what actually happened. This is clearly one of the cleverest scenes in the film, showing Rebecca's almost Bugs Bunny levels of trickery as she gets the teacher to quit his job the very next day! Odd. This could almost be a serious plotline, if handled in a more dramatic film, but The Roommate just uses it as a comedic device to make us laugh.

The Roommate: it advocates statutory rape!

Afterwards, Rebecca cons Sara into going back home with her by pretending to get stabbed and beat up – hilarious! – and they go to meet her parents. There we see that in another wacky twist, even though they’re her parents, they’re scared shitless of her. She also takes Sara out around the town and we see that every other kid in town is scared of her, too, even this one girl who she drew a ton of pictures of and stalked, or something, I guess...maybe. I don’t exactly know what this scene is going for, it's incredibly confused and poorly explained, but since it’s got almost no drama or weight to it, I’ll assume it’s a funny scene again just so I don't have to think too much about anything. Hallelujah for that!

Also note that Rebecca’s mom asks Sara if Rebecca has been taking her medication, which Sara and her new boyfriend find later hidden in a drawer! Apparently she hasn’t been taking it at all! So yeah, this crazy girl who goes around killing kittens in dryers and manipulating everyone around her while obsessing over various girls who give her attention, SHOULD HAVE been on medication this whole time! Is the movie suggesting that anyone who is on medication, if taken off, would become a psychotic serial killer? And for that matter, how did she even get into college if she was this ready to fly off the hook for no reason, without being provoked or anything? Shouldn’t she have been in a mental ward somewhere? This movie had better handle these delicate matters tastefully. Hmph. I expect nothing less from a teen comedy film.

Back at school, Sara’s ex boyfriend who has been harassing her over the phone the whole movie comes to visit her. How suspenseful; a love triangle! Finally the more romantic side of The Roommate comes to light. I was beginning to think this was one of those movies where the romance was just phoned in and contrived…can’t imagine that with The Roommate though.

So long story short, Rebecca kills him with a knife while pretending to be Sara, imitating a scene from Single White Female as much of the movie has done so far…ew, what are these horror elements doing in my teen comedy? That's just grotesque and not funny at all.

Reminds me of a scene in Black Christmas. Odd for a teen film...Black Christmas was pretty brutal at times.

But what is funny is lesbian sex!

What, you really think it’s cheap to use this as a throwaway gimmick this late into the film? Pfft. You PC wimp. Don’t be such a prude.

Sara gets a text from her friend who she’s living with, who is also the same woman Rebecca was hitting on at the nightclub, telling her to come to the apartment. There, she and Rebecca end up in a hilariously over the top shouting match in which Rebecca shouts at Sara for not appreciating her wonderful attempts at friendship like killing Sara's cat and ex-boyfriend…see what I mean? This movie is the cutting edge of ludicrous, bizarre comedy. It's almost like some kind of weird black indie comedy or something. It's nice to see the movie playing around with genre conventions a bit and giving us at least something new.

The fight that ensues is almost as funny, with a lot of it centering on having Sara dangling from an open window ledge…somehow, I guess. Sara tells Rebecca they aren’t friends, stabbing her in the back metaphorically, followed by stabbing her in the back physically with a knife! Oh The Roommate…always playing with my expectations. Then the movie ends with happy music and Sara deciding that she “doesn’t want to have a roommate for a while”…get it? She's underplaying the seriousness of the situation by giving a lighthearted ending quip! That's a considerate way to end the film, as now we won't be depressed due to the deaths of several people as well as an innocent kitten.

So yeah, all in all, The Roommate wasn’t bad and actually took a few risks for a teen comedy, like having dark almost horror-movie-esque lighting (in fact it's...almost hard to see anything at times) and introducing some deviously placed scenes that could have possibly been tense or dramatic, but playing with our expectations and making them lighthearted and comedic instead. The film also sneaks in some more risque jokes, like trying to make us think it's believable for Rebecca to think the terrible things she did to Sara are signs of a good friendship. That's pretty daring for a teen movie intended for kids who aren't even old enough to drive yet.

But most of the movie is still pretty conventional, and tells the classic story of a crazy girl falling over her feet and going to ridiculous lengths to please her dense and un-knowing new roommate. It's got some light laughs and a few pretty clever moments. Sure, the acting isn't great and there are a few plot holes, but mostly it's passable enough. I mean, it's not like this movie was trying to be serious or anything! Imagine if The Roommate was intended to be a horror movie, for example. Then it would have just been a horribly cliched, emotionally stunted, poorly written and hacked up pile of steaming wretched manure with no taste or class.

Luckily it isn’t intended to be serious at all. Luckily.

All images copyright of their original owners. I do not own any of them.

Friday, April 20, 2012

REVIEW: Hannibal (2001)

Okay, all bets are off, people. This is the big one. One of my most hated movies of all time. I did a short one paragraph thing for this movie the last time I saw it, but I really don’t think THAT did this heinous thing justice at all. So let’s dig into this virtual layered cake of everything wrong with cinema, Hannibal.

Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore

Where the first Hannibal Lecter movie with Anthony Hopkins, the great Silence of the Lambs, had characters, even the most minor ones, with depth and texture to them, a compelling story and a fascinating psychological undertone, this movie has phoned in joke characters, subplots that go nowhere and take up the majority of the film’s run-time and psychology that is mostly relegated to ‘playing classical music while showing montages of Anthony Hopkins doing things.’ Formula for a train wreck? You bet!

It starts off in the way I think everyone wanted a Hannibal Lecter movie to start, with a side character from the last movie talking to a diseased Muppet crack baby played by Gary Oldman:

You see this less than a minute into the film's runtime...isn't that just wonderful? Isn't that the best way possible to start off a sequel to one of the defining serial killer movies of the 90s?

…what, you didn’t think that would be a good set-up for one of these movies? Well then, you simply have no taste!

I guess the story is that this guy, Mason Verger, was once tricked by Lecter into doing hard drugs and savagely removing his own face with broken mirror shards, and that somehow made him paralyzed from the neck down as well. Probably just because this series loves having people bound so that they can’t move any part of their body below the neck. Are we seriously supposed to be invested in this? Oh, boo hoo, you did some drugs and did stupid things while on them? Cry me a goddamn river you whiny little freak.

What is his plan, anyway? We see that he “collects” Lecter memorabilia for some strange reason, but his main goal seems to be to torture and kill Lecter for revenge. However, THAT falls flat almost in the same scene when he admits that he’s “glad” Lecter did what he did to him, because it allowed him to awaken spiritually, or some bullshit like that. So which one is it? Is he obsessed with Lecter or does he hate him? MAKE UP YOUR MIND.

A drug fueled binge of madness? Yeah that sounds about right with how THIS movie was made...

Oh well. Oldman’s performance is deplorable and irritating, and the writing is just garish – this character is not an intimidating villain, he is Miss Piggy’s wart removed from the bottom of her foot. He’s pretty much only here to serve as a foil to Lecter to get him back into America.

He calls Clarice to his house because he saw on the news that she shot some drug dealer lady who had her baby strapped to her chest (just go with it…), and is now taking heat for it. There, he questions her about God and whether or not she has accepted Christ as her savior. This subplot is…never brought up again? What? Why? What was the point of bringing it up then?! It’s incredibly forced and contrived! Did the filmmakers just go “hey, we need something DEEP in this next scene! How about we have Verger ask Clarice about her opinion of Jesus Christ! That means our movie is SUPER INTELLIGENT!!!” Ugh.

But enough of that; we still have Clarice Starling’s character to butcher! In the original she was played by Jodie Foster, who gave an exceptional performance and really breathed life into the character. Here, and I can’t imagine why, she has not returned, making way for Julianne Moore, whose performance is about as bland as can be, but hey, at least she’s trying – it’s mostly the fault of the writing that she isn’t believable at all as Clarice. In a sensible sequel, the viewer would feel the weight of her years on the force and sympathize with her when she gets kicked off the force despite trying her best to follow orders. However, THIS movie just makes it all kinda ‘eh’ and presents it in a relatively bland way. How am I supposed to be invested in this Clarice? I know almost nothing about her. The atmosphere of the film and her personality are almost entirely different from that of Silence of the Lambs. With more insight into her inner character this could have been an arresting performance, but I guess that would have actually made the movie good, so the filmmakers couldn’t do that! Oh no.

We do however have stupid scenes set in Florence, Italy, where Hannibal himself is now residing, played by an Anthony Hopkins who I am betting got through this movie by smoking copious amounts of weed before each day of acting. He looks pretty zoned out:

"I'm sorry, I took more than my usual dose of Ritalin today..."

He’s…mostly OK, I guess, but the abysmal writing screws that up, too. He desperately wants to come out of retirement and start killing again, and yet he’s spending all his time, energy and resources applying for the position of curator of a museum? What the hell is stopping him? We clearly see later that he has no qualms with killing when provoked. Why doesn’t he just kill whenever he feels like it? Would that make too much sense? Does he just suffer from the fatal Plot Convenience Disease?

But never fear, for as soon as Clarice appears on the news for a relatively minor screw up, he writes her a letter all the way from Florence – because that makes sense how he would watch the American news all the way from there, right? Was he just doing that for 10 years straight just in case Clarice showed up in distress on the screen? Again, Plot Convenience Disease! It’s a killer!

There’s also Ray Liotta, who pretty much plays some horrible wretched douchebag put on Earth solely to torment poor Clarice. He’s a homophobe – he calls Hannibal gay because he enjoys classical music and tea time food – and he’s a sexist, as evidenced when he openly objectifies and harasses Clarice right to her face, with no shame whatsoever. Real great character guys! Maybe you should have him kick puppy dogs and tie girls to train tracks next!

"Hey, what, do you expect me to actually act like a human being that wouldn't have been beat up or killed in the real world yet? TOO BAD!"

But this is all really just window dressing for the movie’s real passion. You thought this was going to be a sequel continuing on the original’s premise of Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter in a mental battle of wits with a third plotline mostly in the background? No! THIS MOVIE’S main focus is one Detective Pazzi, a rude, fat, frumpy, pissed-off looking guy who smokes a lot and yet somehow has a hot, charming wife who begs him in a seductive voice to take her out to the opera…nope, sorry movie, I’m not buying that for a second. There’s NO WAY a guy this annoying, bad tempered and fat would get a woman like that. NO WAY.

Anyway, he catches onto Lecter’s real identity and starts to try and capture him to get the FBI bounty on his head. This would be OK if, oh, I don’t know, HALF THE GODDAMN MOVIE WASN’T SPENT WATCHING HIM DO THIS. I don’t know if you know this, movie, but this character is grating as hell. He’s really not a good character at all. And we literally sit here for like upwards of 45 minutes watching him blunder around Florence, acting like a jackass, getting innocent people killed and shrugging it off like it’s nothing and just generally being a despicable excuse for a human being…? Do you people know anything about how to entertain an audience? Do you have any concept of what it means to tell a story that people want to pay attention to? GOD.

Oh, except when we have Lecter giving pretentious speeches about sin and Dante Aligieri and Judas Iscariot…Christ, I don’t think I can make it through this. How is it even possible to make something this unenjoyable? The answer to everything isn’t just putting ominous classical music on in the background, you know. That doesn’t exactly make your movie deep or anything; just more annoying and pompous.

So, yeah, after god knows how long, Lecter finally kills Pazzi by hanging him from a tall window tower and slitting his belly open. It’s actually a good scene and beautifully shot, but how much do you want to bet they just cease to care about the Pazzi character, his friends and family and Florence altogether after this? If you put money on that, well, you’d be sitting pretty right now.

It is just incredible how asinine this is. “Hey, let’s take an hour of the movie’s runtime to establish the character of Pazzi and make him the focus of the film. But after he dies, there’s no real point in resolving the story or anything; no no! Just act like it never happened at all! Great filmmaking!” What is this, the third or fourth time I’ve used that joke of imitating the movie’s creators? I’m sorry, but there just isn’t much else to do with this one. There’s nothing else here!

But maybe the movie will redeem itself with its last act or so. Maybe I’m being too quick to condemn it. After all, there’s still the plot with Verger, who despite looking like something a cat puked up, actually does have sort of a main goal, even if it is incredibly confusing. Maybe he’ll surprise us and pull out a truly cunning and sinister plan…

Yeah, this is stupid. Look at those dumb sunglasses he's wearing. Look at the boars just running around out there waiting to eat people alive. He really thought this was the best plan he could do?

…OR he’ll just do the dumbest thing possible! I mean my God! You can’t seriously tell me THIS was his only option! “Hmm, I want revenge on this guy! I think I’ll feed him to a bunch of savage boars!” It doesn’t add up! There are a billion more dignified and cool ways to kill someone! How on Earth did Hannibal attract the one person in the entire world whose chosen method of killing and torture was BOARS? It’s so stupid it’s radioactive! You could see the asininity coming off this plot from outer space. Outer! Space!

On the bright side, though, it’s finally clear to me exactly much of a joke this movie was to its creators. I mean, there’s simply nothing else here but crappy one-shot jokes turned into elongated pseudo-serious plotlines. I feel sorry for a lot of these actors, actually – especially Gary Oldman; man that makeup must have taken a long time! And it wasn’t at all worth it.

So they kidnap Lecter and strap him to another board so he can’t move his body at all; told you this series had a fetish for that. Verger says “Bet you wish you had fed the rest of me to the dogs too, huh?” Because, you know, it’s not like Verger said earlier that he was glad that Lecter tricked him! Oh wait, he did. Is it really that hard to have a character even a little bit consistent in his motive and mental processes?

Clarice comes to save Lecter at the last minute and gets shot, so Lecter saves her and walks out. But not before convincing Verger’s butler to throw Verger into the boar pit and kill him! This could have been a compelling plot point – a sort of ‘servant turns on the master’ gig. But the way the movie plays it, the whole story just didn’t matter, as nothing is ever resolved of it and we learn nothing about Verger, his butler or any of the other villains that make this movie any more compelling. But at least we got to see a guy eaten by boars! Hur hur…

Ha ha ha...finally, I get to see this terrible character pushed off a ledge and eaten by boars! My oddly specific wants are satisfied!

Lecter stitches up her wound and dresses her up in the skimpiest dress he could find, which shows off as much of her tits as possible:

Yeah, at this rate, why don't you just go full stop and dress her in her underwear or something? I didn't know Lecter was this much of a lech.

She goes downstairs and finds they’re at Ray Liotta’s house, which Lecter…found somehow, I guess. He’s scalped Liotta and is, well…it’s too dumb to even write down, so I’ll post a picture:

"Goodfellas? Meh, that was alright. THIS is my true passion in acting!"

Yeah, our finale for this movie involves Julianne Moore’s tits and Anthony Hopkins eating Ray Liotta’s brain! You know, the biggest flaw with THIS scene is that Hopkins is indeed eating Ray Liotta's brain. Ray Liotta has a brain? I think this scene is factually inaccurate.

So long story short, Lecter escapes and feeds some brains to a little boy on a plane. The end! Was it worth it? I don’t think so.

I mean man, this is a heinous piece of work, a sorry excuse for a film, a sad attempt at a sequel to something good. It’s practically unwatchable in how dragging and directionless it is. Plots are brought up and dragged out for ungodly amounts of time, as if they’re actually important, but then they’re just dropped for no reason and never resolved at all. There are opportunities for character development and psychological intrigue, but they are shelved in favor of terrible one-off jokes and attempts at being gory.

The characters are mostly indefensible, especially the awful Ray Liotta and the confusing mess that was Gary Oldman’s Mason Verger. The only good parts involve just Hannibal and Clarice together, only even they don’t seem terribly invested – hell, just look at the half-assed script they had to work with and you can completely sympathize. There’s just nothing good about this movie. There is simply no way they could have possibly screwed up a sequel to something good more…

Okay, well there’s that. But this is still terrible!

I guess some people like this movie for reasons I will never even begin to comprehend, but…yeah, keep this thing as far away from me as possible. Eugh. You know, why did I even bother elaborating on this? Looking back, my original review was fine and summed up everything I've said here except in about 1/10th the length! What was the point; what was the purpose?! Excuse me...I need to go meditate on my life.

All images copyright of their original owners. I do not own any of them.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

REVIEW: Highlander 2 (1990)

This sequel to the 80s bastion of moldy cheese that was Highlander is reviled by many fans of the original movie for reasons that...well, let’s be honest, the reasons why people hate this sequel become apparent about a minute and a half into the movie. Maybe even before that. But is it really one of the worst sequels of all time? Is it really such a travesty? Well, why don’t we do that thing I always do and figure it out together?!

Director: Russel Mulcahy
Starring: Christopher Lambert, Virginia Madsen, Sean Connery, Michael Ironside

So before we even get to the actual film, how about the Netflix envelope? This movie is so half-assed and confusing that even the envelope it comes in from a movie rental service is apologizing for it, admitting that it is so stupid that nobody could for even one second find it credible. These are the words, printed verbatim from the outside package, that come with Highlander 2: “This sequel to the cult sci-fi action film largely discards the original’s premise of mysterious immortal swordsmen, revealing Connor McLeod and Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez to be long-lived aliens.”

Yeah, “largely discards the original’s premise.” As if they’re just warning you not to rent this crap! And yes, this is real; the Highlanders are aliens, complete with a plot about what amounts to saving the world from global warming. Are we still in the same universe? How does this have ANYTHING to do with Highlander? And it’s by the same director as the first one?!? Did he just get a surprise back-alley lobotomy in between films? There’s only a three year difference! What the hell happened? Well, I guess we’ll never find out if we just sit around bitching about it all afternoon.

The film begins with a text scroll explaining that the ozone layer just mysteriously deteriorated so much by the year 1990 something that scientists had to construct a “shield” to protect humanity from radiation poisoning, which eventually backfired and almost entirely eclipsed the sun. Now an evil corporation controls the “shield” and uses it to blackmail the public. Yeah, sounds like Highlander to me, too! I guess this could be a good plot for an entirely different movie, but for a Highlander sequel…this is just out of left field.

And remember how the last movie started with a wrestling match flashing back to medieval Scotland? Well, this movie starts out with an opera:

…and then flashes back to the warlike planet Mars as alien tribes ready themselves for battle! And no I swear I am not making this up:

Yeah, apparently the Netflix envelope was telling the truth – Connor McLeod (Christopher Lambert) and…well, Sean Connery, since let’s face it, none of you are going to call him by his character name…are aliens in some space war, captured by this alien warlord Highlander guy named Katana. This character is played very poorly by Michael Ironside, a great actor stooping to an almost unheard of low by acting in this dreck. He banishes McLeod and Connery to Earth, where the events of the first movie transpire over hundreds of years.

…you know, there are just some things that remained better unexplained. Honestly, who ever thought the story of the first Highlander involved aliens from Mars? Nobody, because IT’S A DAMN TERRIBLE IDEA. It’s like pretending the story behind Michael Myers from Halloween involves ancient voodoo rituals and Pagan crap…oh, wait. Carry on, then.

So McLeod, apparently, became mortal for some reason after the events of the first movie and before the whole “shield” debacle started. He is living out his days as a crusty old man with just about the silliest old-man voice imaginable. I don’t really have a sound clip, but seriously, just picture the goofiest old man you ever heard in a Nickelodeon cartoon – McLeod is worse. It’s a really bad sign when I can’t take the MAIN CHARACTER OF YOUR MOVIE seriously for even one damn second.

I'm just a doddering old fool! I should probably be in a nursing home, but hell, it's the future! We've outgrown those primitive institutions. So now I just walk the streets getting harasseed by everyone.

But it’s OK, because Michael Ironside is ready to one-up this ridiculousness as he commands his two BDSM Cenobite minions to go and kill McLeod. They point out that he is so old that he will die on his own soon anyway, but since we wouldn’t have a movie in that case, Ironside rejects that sensible idea and tells them to go to the future and kill him anyway. Hooray for illogical decisions!

Ha ha ha...they look like something Tim Burton would dress his kids up as for Halloween. Edward Scissorhands-lite.

They attack him and he fights them off really well for an old coot, and then he even turns back to his younger immortal self, because the two goons messed with the time stream or something. Now, this begs the question…if they can just go anywhere in time, why not just go back to when they first put him on Earth and cut his head off before he awakened his powers that first time? Or why not just go back to when they had him enslaved at first and kill him while he was bound in chains? Oh, wait, because then we wouldn’t have a movie. Silly me!

Is he really riding on flying shoes? Seriously? That's really lame...I don't even have any other jokes.

Also, I’m SO GLAD Ironside sent his two goons back to kill McLeod thus bringing him back to his younger and more powerful state! This guy is a GENIUS!

To distract you from the stupidity of the movie, we then see McLeod having hot steamy sex with a woman he doesn’t even know, the head of some kind of terrorist organization that was only written into the script as an afterthought:

I really can’t even describe how strange this scene is – not with just still pictures. She confronts him after his fight with the two goons and asks what happened, and then he…hypnotizes her, I guess, to start making out and screwing him right there on the spot. It’s less “sexy” and more “incredibly uncomfortable and creepy.” Mostly just makes you feel like you need a shower.

But if THAT wasn’t ludicrous enough for you, apparently McLeod can bring back the dead Sean Connery by just…shouting his name at the sky, as he returns like he never got killed by The Kurgan in the flashbacks of the first movie. He interrupts a performance of Hamlet and doesn’t seem to realize it’s a show:

Truly how Shakespeare was meant to be performed, with the added inclusion of a buffoon who has a Scottish accent but whose character and name are supposed to be Spanish.

So they just never had minstrel shows or anything in old Scotland, then? I’m calling bullshit on that. But it does give us a stale and unfunny attempt at a comedic scene, which is pretty much all you’ll be getting from Connery for the entire film. Oh, he’s confused and doesn’t understand modern slang and technology? HOW INVENTIVE AND GENIUS! Great comedy! Well, about as funny as my grandma’s leftover spinach from three weeks ago.

And then we see Michael Ironside’s grand entrance to Earth as he just falls from the sky and crashes right through a subway train moving by:

I didn't have space in the review itself, but there's a part where he goes up to someone on the train and says "We're not in Kansas anymore," or something like that. How does he know that reference? Bad 90s writing of course! Man I need a drink. Of the alcoholic persuasion.

Okay, for one, how did he not do that more elegantly? Nobody else we’ve seen teleporting in the movie is that clumsy – hell, even Ironside’s minions did it better! And two, if he had the ability to do this, WHY DIDN’T HE JUST DO THIS FIRST INSTEAD OF LETTING HIS MINIONS DO IT? Oh yeah, because there would be no movie that way! Silly me!

So Ironside goes on a joy ride with the train in which he tries, and fails miserably, to reach the hammy heights of the Kurgan from the last movie. He’s pretty silly, yeah, but you just can’t beat a big muscular bald guy sitting in a church and making faces at the preachers. Or a crazy after-dark ride with an old lady. But I digress – the main reason Ironside pretty much sucks is because after his joy ride, in which he kills pretty much every passenger of the train, he opens the door looking all frazzled like a cartoon character and says “Last stop?”

Seriously, this shit is like Wile E. Coyote written by people with no grasp of comedy. IT’S AWFUL.

Oh, what’s that? You want more garbage comedy attempts puked out of the collective depths of the writers’ bowels? Well, how about like three different scenes of Sean Connery on a plane with the subtitle “Somewhere over the Atlantic” – which makes no sense seeing as it should only take him a few hours, and yet at least a day’s worth of events happens in the movie’s time and he still isn’t there – making chit chat with the passengers and flirting creepily with women?

She was paid a lot of money to laugh at Connery in this movie...

I also really love the future's airline etiquette: they don't show the safety video that tells you to buckle your seatbelt and that your seat can be used as a floatation device until NOW. Yeah, they wouldn't show it before the plane took off - they'd wait until the plane was "somewhere over the Atlantic" to inform the passengers of what to do in case of an emergency!

Yes, to keep the passengers as calm as possible, this airline shows a video of people panicking and the plane crashing IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FLIGHT. Gee. I didn't know United Airways went downhill so much in the future!

So McLeod goes to visit this old professor friend of his who helped him back in the day with that shield thing that stopped the ozone from killing everyone. The weirdest part is that the friend doesn’t realize that McLeod has de-aged. He just thinks McLeod “got a face job” or something…how is this guy a scientist again? I wouldn’t trust him to bag my groceries.

But apparently the government doesn’t trust him either, as they have him arrested and thrown in jail for possibly knowing that there could be clean unpolluted air outside the shield, and the exact coordinates at which one can find it. McLeod, however, is busy fighting Ironside, although the fight is not actually resolved so much as just…temporarily stopped. The movie then fades into McLeod’s new love interest sleeping – I really don’t think transitioning from a fight scene into someone sleeping is a good way to get your audience hooked.

McLeod finally meets up with Connery again after the longest plane ride in history. The two take the love interest chick and run off to save the world! They find Mr. Unreliable Scientist Friend and tell him everything is OK, and then he just dies right there, like his life’s purpose is complete. How sad…? No, sorry, I really can’t get emotionally invested in any of this. If it seems like I’m rushing this review, I am – there’s too much to talk about and not enough space to do so.

So some more really boring sword fight scenes – like you have no idea how boring these things are – McLeod and Connery make it through the maze. Connery sacrifices his life for no reason. McLeod and Ironside finally square off right by the generator machine, and Ironside is beheaded in typical Highlander fashion. Connery’s voice narrates from beyond the grave somehow and says they must work together to destroy the shield and break down the walls under the sky.

Now, keep in mind, this generator thing has been BUILT UP TO ALL HELL before this scene, with everyone saying it was impossible to get to and acting like it was completely impenetrable. So HOW does McLeod finally beat it? Get ready for the most exciting, nail-biting, ground-breaking, intense scene to EVER…yeah, he just walks in and then the shield is destroyed:

What the---?! How---?! Why---?! Oh, screw it, there was no thought put into this, so I’m not going to waste my time. He seriously just…walks in and everything is fine. That’s how easy it was the whole time to return the Earth to normal! How did the ozone layer just randomly return itself to its normal state and make the air habitable again? Who cares, the movie is over! I’m happy with that as it is!

This movie was stupid. Everything was so convoluted and such a mess that the film just collapsed under its own weight. This series isn’t that complicated, guys! It’s immortal swordsmen duking it out until only one remains. How did all of this bullshit about aliens from Mars and global warming and the ozone layer get filtered into the mix? Not to mention the awful “comedy” from Sean Connery and Michael Ironside and the contrived romance, along with the terrible special effects - pretty sure even the first movie had better special effects than the ones here.

It’s really no wonder that future Highlander sequels disregard this film entirely as part of the series canon, and that almost every fan hates it with a passion. I won’t say it’s absolutely unsalvageable, as there are a few good ideas here and there (I kind of like the whole idea that McLeod tried to save the world but ended up backfiring with the shield, causing everyone to hate him), but the haphazard way the story is put together as well as the numerous plot holes just makes it too much to bear. Highlander 2 is a dud.

What’s that? You want me to review a sequel that is equally, if not more so, horrible, that people actually LIKE? Well, okay then. See you next week!


DISCLAIMER: I have nothing against United Airways.
DISCLAIMER 2: The pictures in this review do not belong to me. They are copyright of their original owners.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

REVIEW: The Hunger Games (2012)

This is the newest young adult novel phenomenon, The Hunger Games, originally written by Suzanne Collins. The book was good and while the premise wasn’t anything too original, it was a solid, well done story for the young adult demographic. Now we have the movie, and it is a huge, searing epic with a ton of great things about it – I mean damn. I don’t remember being this blown away by something based on a book I had already read in a long time. The Hunger Games rules, and I am here to tell you why, so let’s do that, shall we?

Director: Gary Ross
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson

The story is a dystopian tale of a world far in the future, where each year young children are randomly selected from their ‘districts’ to fight to the death in “The Hunger Games,” which is passed off as a grand and fun-filled celebration of sorts by the corrupt, spoilt “Capitol” government city. The lead character is Katniss Everdeen, who subverts the usual and volunteers to be the tribute for her district so her younger sister does not have to. She enters into a strange relationship with fellow tribute Peeta and the two have to fight off 22 others in a game for their lives.

The main reason this works so well as a movie is that The Hunger Games was a very visual story, even in the book – it required you to see a lot of the things happening to get the full effect. I’m not one to decry the power of imagination and the benefits of a good page-turning book, but the massive effect The Hunger Games movie has on the viewer is just undeniable – everything feels big. There is a big epic undercurrent here that turns this rather bleak dystopian story into a swinging, mighty hammer of destruction that will just demolish you.

The action is a full-throttle festival of mayhem that works despite the sometimes overly shaking camera, and the dramatic moments are heartfelt and truly tragic at times. At one point a character, a young child, dies, and the effect is absolutely heartbreaking in how they present the scene. I won’t spoil too much, but I always think tragic moments like these are the cornerstones of a great epic, adding much needed weight to the situation. Everything feels like it matters, and because the people making the movie were so clearly into it, you will be, too.

The acting is just great, with Jennifer Lawrence, previously of Winter’s Bone, giving one of the best lead-heroine performances I’ve seen in a movie in the last few years as Katniss. She is a kick-ass lead, tough as nails, but also capable of being kind, and endowed with certain flaws that make her human. It’s the subtleties in this performance that really make it shine, like her conversation with Gale (Liam Hemsworth) in the beginning – their relationship is very well detailed and shaded, and it feels like two very real people in the midst of something abnormal and hard to deal with.

The fact that this is a dystopian story with a highly un-relatable plot and a futuristic setting is never a deterrent to the excellent characterization, and Lawrence’s Katniss is charismatic, relatable and believable. Much better than crap like the Children of Men movie, which pretty much took the good characters from the book and dialed them way down into the background as cardboard cutouts – ugh. This is a much better dystopian-world story.

Other great performances include Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, their trainer and mentor for the games. In the book you get to see a lot more of him, but the movie makes use of his shorter screen-time very well. He is a character haunted by the past, having survived a Hunger Games some time long ago, and though he hides it a lot by drinking, you can tell he’s hurting inside. He feels desperately sorry for the two tributes and resentful toward the Capitol making them do this in the first place. One of Harrelson’s best performances in years. Josh Hutcherson as Peeta is good, and he conveys the lovelorn-but-tough boy character very well, although he seemed a bit subdued at times – most of the focus was on Lawrence/Katniss a lot of the time.

The directing is pretty raw, and contains a lot of shaky-cam visuals, which I admit is a good tactic to make the whole movie seem more gritty and hard-assed. But sometimes during the really intense action scenes it gets a bit too much, and just feels like the cameraman was having a seizure in the studio. The special effects are top notch – witness the scene where the forest burns down, or the one where Peeta and Katniss ride out on their chariot, endowed in black leather and burning flames. Great stuff.

Now, of course this is a commentary on voyeurism and the blood-thirsty nature of much of today’s reality television – that much is obvious. It’s not a new message, but it’s delivered competently and the conviction with which it is presented is chilling and poignant. A lot of these scenes and characters feel so real that you will begin to feel that you shouldn’t be watching and propagating this kind of violence yourself. But the over-arching purpose is meaningful and necessary – and should not be missed.

This is a great film for its huge presence, and it makes you feel like you are literally in the middle of the battlefield. Most fantasy/sci fi movies can’t do that this well. The Hunger Games boasts brutal action, astounding acting talents from young up-and-comings, some chilling social commentary and as icing on the cake, some really wonderful visuals and special effects that make the whole thing a treat for the eyes. Hell, this was just a superb start to the “Blockbuster season,” and I can’t wait to see the sequel hopefully next year. If you like action movies or dystopian science fiction, The Hunger Games is about to rock your boat. Absolutely awesome.

Friday, April 6, 2012

REVIEW: The Stuff (1985)

I’ve been sitting at the computer, stumped now, for several minutes, unable to think of ANY coherent way to start this one. What am I supposed to say? What kinds of words could even begin to describe the sheer insanity of this film? It is a nonsensical and blundering piece of hack work with so little logic and thought put into it that it becomes a virtual black hole of anything forgivable. Moldy, stale, rat-bitten 80s cheese has never before been seen before the awe-inspiring ludicrous crap and a half depths of THE STUFF.

Director: Larry Cohen
Starring: Michael Moriarty, Paul Sorvino

"Everyone's gotta eat shaving cream every once in a while."

Yeah, The Stuff, real creative name, right?! It’s about evil ice cream and…no, there’s nothing else you need to know. Start the review!

The film wastes no time in setting up its absolutely brilliant plot by starting with some crazy old guy, never identified or seen again in the entire film, walking around in the snow and finding a mysterious bubbly, white substance on the ground. Now, we’re going to play a game, readers…if you find something like this on the ground:

What would you do?

a) say “ew,” and walk back to wherever you came from,


b) lick it eagerly and readily, without even smelling it, showing it to anyone else or doing any research?

If you answered “b,” well…you’re probably the writer of the film, because that’s what happens. Seriously, what kind of retarded inbred hick would ever just lick some random crap he found on the ground? Usually that’s the kind of thing that STARTS some mental deficiency. This isn’t exactly Of Mice and Men where you have reasonable characters to balance out the stupidity, either, oh no…because after THAT, we see that the whole world catches onto this phenomenon and makes a new dessert snack out of it called, you guessed it, ‘The Stuff.’

…has everyone lost their minds? IT’S JUST SOME CRAP A CRAZY OLD MAN FOUND ON THE GROUND. HOW DOES THAT EQUAL WORLDWIDE PHENOMENON? Pfft. Next you’re gonna be telling me the rival candy companies are actually going to hire some doofus to investigate The Stuff for them and figure out what it’s made of...

The blank-eyed stare, the slightly parted lips...yup, this guy is our main character, and he looks like he was dropped on his head as a kid. Get used to every god-forsaken horrible thing about him because he gets the most runtime of any character in this thing! Hooray!

Oh, come on! Is it really that big of a deal? Well, I guess it is. The guy they hire, named Mo, is some reject from a Flannery O’Connor story or something, who constantly talks in a fake Southern accent and spouts out stupid lines. Don’t believe me? Well, when one of the hoary old businessmen says “You can’t be as stupid as you look,” Mo responds by saying:

“Believe me: nobody is as stupid as I look.”

What does that even mean?


Oh well. We’ve got more important things to focus on! Like…this other storyline about a little boy named Jason who for some unexplained reason catches onto the fact that The Stuff isn’t what it appears to be. He tries to warn his family, but they seem to be possessed by The Stuff, so instead he just runs to the local supermarket and starts smashing every carton of The Stuff he can find. If you can believe it, it actually takes THREE GROWN MEN to finally hold him down and stop him – truly a great security team this grocery store has.

Somehow, I'm not sure this incident is going to be something these guys talk to their wives and friends about later. "Hey, it took me and two other guys to subdue a little kid!" "Did you at least get him before he did anything harmful?" "...well, he wrecked about half the store and put a real scare in a bunch of people first..." "You're a failure, Billy. A failure."

And what is Jason's punishment for this? He gets grounded…yes, really…okay, we’re just going to move onto the next scene, or else I’ll be going all night.

Basically Mo goes to this middle-of-nowhere town where he gets ambushed by a crazy black man:

This guy tells him that he used to be the head of The Stuff company, until he got swindled out of it by the current owners. We never really find out if that’s even true at all, but hey, if you can’t trust the word of a crazy man who attacks you for no reason, who CAN you trust? And why did he even attack him in the first place? Because he thought he was one of the guys who swindled him out of his old position. So, basically, he was just waiting in that one spot in this middle-of-nowhere town for one of the people from that company to come by so he could attack them…Christ, I’m never going to get through this! Nothing makes sense!

After that we get the most subdued apocalyptic breakout in movie history as our two “heroes” get chased down by a bunch of “Stuffies” (that’s literally what they call the people infected by The Stuff’s magical powers):

It's just so strange how little this scene is played up. It doesn't actually feel like it's supposed to be exciting and intense. It's played out like a really minor event.

Alright, so I guess after that they split up for some reason and Mo goes to visit this one guy from the Food and Drug Administration, who doesn’t really give him much useful info at all. Mo leaves, and then the Food and Drug Administration guy gets killed by his dog because they don’t have enough of The Stuff left in the fridge.

No, seriously. That’s what happens. I kid you not. The guy even screams “I’LL BUY MORE!!!” before the dog rips out his throat…am I on Earth? Tell me. Did I just get transported to some bizarre-world other dimension where nothing makes any kind of logical sense?

One thing I didn't mention in the review itself: before the dog kills him, THE DOG CUTS THE PHONE LINE TO PREVENT HIM FROM CALLING FOR HELP. HOLY CRAP. THIS IS INSANITY. I don't know if that's the best or worst thing ever put on film.

After that we go back to Jason again. His family tries to force him to eat The Stuff, as it is obviously possessing them at this point and making them insane and evil. He gets away by substituting shaving cream for The Stuff and eating the shaving cream instead, only his dad figures it out and they all chase him outside, where Mo arrives in his car, having heard about the supermarket incident earlier that day. Jason gets in the car and tells him about what happened. Mo, ever a master of diction, responds with the following verbal poetry:

“Well, everyone’s gotta eat shaving cream once in a while!”

What the?!---no! No!!! No they don’t!! Well, I guess that DOES explain Mo's character a lot more now.

Oh and by the way, that subplot with Jason's family going evil due to The Stuff’s influence? Never brought up again – this was their final scene. Is he going to get any character development that will let us see how he was impacted by the loss of his family? Nope! Oh The Stuff, you wretched excuse for screenwriting…

Then they team up with this chick named Nicole who used to advertise for The Stuff, I guess, but was turned over to Mo's side in an instant by his charm and character…or maybe just because she has the personality of a piece of cardboard and is incapable of making her own decisions. Either way. They go to the plant where The Stuff is created and leave Jason on an airplane. He almost gets killed by The Stuff, so he runs away and…okay, time for another guessing game.

Do you think he…

a) runs into the woods, like a smart person would do, to remain out in the open and able to find help,


b) hides in an enclosed gas tanker in the middle of the enemy base in which any number of unpredictable and likely bad things could happen?

If you answered ‘b’ again, well YOU’D BE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT. This kid is a moron! How did he even manage to get dressed in the morning by himself?

You're a stupid little boy!

Never to be outdone, though, Mo and Nicole COMPLETELY IGNORE JASON'S EXISTENCE AND FORGET ABOUT HIM. I’m not even kidding – they don’t ask about him at all or anything. They’re just dandy without him! They don’t even question whether he’s even alive at all. In the previous scene they left him asleep on the airplane and told the pilot to look after him – and now they just don’t even bother asking if he’s alright during the middle of this supposedly really dangerous epidemic?! Shouldn’t they at least be a LITTLE BIT CONCERNED about the life of a YOUNG TRAUMATIZED CHILD?! I seriously don’t understand who wrote this movie. Were they just actively trying to make as little sense as possible? How is it so hard to make just enough sense so the viewer’s head doesn’t explode?!?

But hey, I guess it’s easy to get distracted when something like this happens:

Be honest, didn't you have a night that ended this way in college?
I thought so.

…yeah, I’d describe exactly what it is you’re looking at, but frankly I have no idea myself.

So FINALLY they save Jason and Mo takes them all to go see an old army buddy of his who owns some radio station or something, I guess. The army buddy is played by Paul Sorvino, who had some roles in minor movies like Goodfellas, but also in CLASSICS like Repo the Genetic Opera! Splendid!

Clearly stoned off his ass, but then again how can you blame him?

Sorvino does nothing but flirt with Nicole, presented in such detail that the film practically becomes a romantic comedy for a short period. Because that’s really what I wanted in a movie called The Stuff; a fat balding middle aged man hitting on a woman. Truly they picked the right focus for this picture. Oh and there’s a few minor parts in there about The Stuff coming to life and killing people…but that doesn’t matter too much…

At the radio station, the black guy from earlier comes back; remember him?! He shouts a lot about how he wants to bring down The Stuff company and how they wronged him and blah blah blah. Then they take him in the back to go on the air, but his head explodes in the same way that those who have eaten The Stuff do:

Uh, sorry, I don't think using your 8th grade detention doodles as special effects was the BEST possible idea...

Wait a minute, what? Wasn’t the whole point of his character that he HATED The Stuff? Why would HE consume it at all? The people who made it STOLE HIS CAREER! Why on Earth would he ever eat enough of it to make this happen? And he had already seen the effects of it before when he first came into the movie so it makes even less sense...god, this is too much. This movie can’t even follow its own logic anymore! Ugh.

Okay, so basically the radio broadcast goes on the air. We then flash forward to a later time where the girlfriend character is standing in front of a TV and broadcasting that people just believed them all the sudden about The Stuff and stopped eating it, burning all of it in the streets like some kind of Ray Bradbury Fahrenheit 451 shit or something. So it was that easy to convince everyone to just stop and go back to normal? What about the kid’s family, who were so far gone that they were ready to kill their own child? What about all the people who were going crazy and exploding and attacking people? Never brought up at all, never resolved in any capacity. Everything is just peachy now!

Oh, and it isn’t over yet, either! We have another scene where Mo and Jason going to the office of the people who made The Stuff. Only two of them are there, even though earlier in the movie there was a whole board of them. They force the executives to eat the rest of The Stuff they’ve managed to salvage from the mass-burnings of it in the streets, and that’s it. Now everything is cool.

Except for, you know, how did they save that much of The Stuff without it going crazy and rising up to kill them again?

Oh, right, THIS MOVIE IS HORRIBLE. Certain movies get a lot of their garbage excused just for being “campy,” but The Stuff is inexcusably heinous in almost every aspect. Yes, it was trying to be funny, and I’d be lying if I said the absurdity of it all wasn’t entertaining in some ways, but it’s entertaining in spite of itself, not because of any actual jokes or good, sensible humor, like Ghostbusters or Killer Klowns from Outer Space used. The Stuff is just crap. The characters are annoying when they’re not ungodly stupid, the story is full of gaping plot holes and inconsistencies and there are a million things that are never resolved or explained at all. It’s all just too much. While you’re trying to wrap your brain around one ridiculous plot-hole, about a dozen more jump to take its place. There’s no sense, no logic and no brains to any of this.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go check myself into a mental institution. I don’t feel quite right in the head anymore after this…

All images copyright of their original owners.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

REVIEW: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011 Remake)

Okay, let’s get it out of the way up front – this movie was only made because Americans are too stupid to read subtitles. There. I said it. Now, are we uptight prudes who are going to condemn this great film because of that dire fact, or are we appreciative of masterful cinema by one of the greatest directors in the business?

Director: David Fincher
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara

Yes, I’m certainly a David Fincher fanboy, and I love pretty much everything he’s done (okay – Panic Room was pretty shit). He’s proven himself a master of several genres and adaptable to pretty much any storytelling template he puts his mind to. His shots are stylish and hard-hitting, and the way he conveys a story is just as good now as it was back in ’96 when he put out Se7en.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo maybe didn’t need a remake just three short years after its original Swedish debut, and it’s made even more dubious by the fact that everyone in this film speaks with a heavy Swedish accent anyway – begging the question as to why they didn’t just touch up the original film and give it some DVD extras or something – but the inarguable fact is, this is an awesome story. Who cares if it’s necessary or not? This is just another alternative along with the original book and the original movie, and there is always room for more quality, gritty, hard-assed detective stories.

This isn’t a shot for shot remake either, and contains fistfuls of great atmospheric shots and nifty storytelling devices. Really all that’s changed is that this isn’t as raw as the original, and feels much more fine-tuned and professional, much more American-style polished, which is neither good nor bad – just different. Your mileage may vary. Me, I think it’s fine, and the whole thing feels more epic and immense. The original was great for its odd, scrappy rawness, but this is still a very viable new direction.

The story remains intact, a dual journey of a disgraced journalist who accepts a strange assignment to look into the disappearance and murder of a young girl 40 years in the past and of a cold and violent but brilliant young woman on a search for connection. Daniel Craig has never much impressed me before, but he does a great job here and really gives an intense, vehement performance as Mikael Blomqvist. Rooney Mara had a lot to live up to as Lisbeth Salander compared to original actress Noomi Rapace, but she does an awesome job and captures the essence of the character perfectly. She is cold, calculating and subtly angry, but not without the hints of a more emotional core below the surface.

Christopher Plummer as Henrik Vanger is really excellent and so is Stellan Skarsgard as Martin – even better than the original in the latter case, as he is vicious and commanding. We don’t get to see as many flashbacks in this version, which I actually like better, as it lets the story flow as a more cohesive whole. They also changed the ending twist, and that I was not expecting (I won’t spoil it here for you), but it does make a little more sense now, as opposed to the wild original version. The story is still a chilling and sprawling social commentary on the secret abuse of women and how little society does anything about it.

People complain endlessly about Hollywood being nothing but a chain of remakes and sequels nowadays, and sometimes they have a point (witness the endless stream of uninspired horror remakes), but other times I think they’re being too nitpicky. Films are the modern equivalent of campfire folk tales, and they have been ever since their initiation in the early 20th century. They can be told and re-told as many times as is the storyteller’s whim, and with a good, confident voice and a strong vision, it’s interesting at the very least to see what each new director adds to the tale. Fincher’s Dragon Tattoo is a grade-A film. Go see it.

Image copyright of its original owner.