Tuesday, April 29, 2014

When Movies Become More Than Movies

Movies are changing in so many ways, one of the most overt being the way they are presented to us. The old days gave us movies straight – just a stand-alone hour and a half to two hour flick, no adornments, no extra stuff attached, just the straight film as it was. Now, though, that’s different. Now, it almost seems like the traditional forms of movies just aren’t enough to please moviegoers anymore. Movies are going interactive.

DISCLAIMER: Most people who watch movies are not this attractive. Picture from movietwatch.blogspot.com.

That sounds like a rather extreme conclusion – obviously plenty of movies today are still very traditionally done, and people enjoy them fine. However, a large portion of the big movies in theaters now don’t seem content with just being movies. They have to try to be something else – like, say, a comic book. The most blatant example of what I’m talking about is Marvel’s Avengers series.

For the whole two of you that aren’t up to date, they’re basically reconstructing the entire way we see movie franchises, sequels and tie-ins. They’ve taken their four big box-office draw superheroes – Thor, Captain America, Hulk and Iron Man – and crammed them into one big movie in The Avengers. They’re also making individual films for each one, and sequels for all of them, in between each Avengers movie. The effect is a constant whirlpool of hype and – somewhat cynically so, perhaps – box office dough.

Hot chick in her underwear destroying everything? That's two cliches in one. Picture from businessinsider.com.

By doing this, Marvel has changed the way we watch movies. We have to keep watching each one as they come out if we want to keep up with the storyline that will eventually be shown in Avengers 2 in 2015 or so. The little clips and easter eggs they sprinkle in after the end credits in each individual hero’s film only makes it more necessary to see each one if one wants to get the whole story.

The style of marketing has made the series of films play out more like a series of comic books. We get multiple films that act as “comic book issues” for each character, then a big multi-spanning tie-in adventure with all of them in one. Which is appropriate, seeing as all of these tights-and-spandex crusaders originally spawned from the ink-pen page anyway. Things are coming full circle with the way these Marvel movies are playing out. Back to the roots – which is a trend all its own.

This was a natural outcome. Naturally films are changing in style and approach. As the world has grown more interactive, movies have changed in approach – this all reflects the 24/7, interconnected mentality going on. Everything has to be at full-speed all the time. There’s no room for downtime anymore in the news and the hype-train has to keep going at full speed, no stops until Bedlam, miles to go before sleep. Hype has to keep going. As cynical as it sounds, that IS a big part of why movies are so inter-connected and span so many various titles now. Money!

You can see more examples of movies trying to be other things in how we do young adult movies now. Three huge Y.A. franchises – Harry Potter, Twilight and the upcoming Hunger Games: Mockingjay – split up their final films into two movies, so as to make more money---cough, cough, I mean, preserve the integrity of the stories. You know. By making sure you see all the details the author of the book intended. That's why they had to stretch out The Hobbit into three movies, you know; because otherwise it just wouldn't have integrity. It wasn't about making money at all.

Picture from thewrap.com.

Personally I like movies better when they’re movies. The way these franchises are making out, it’s like they think they’re making books with visual accompaniment. The Hunger Games and Harry Potter films are structured like books rather than movies. They have chapters and cliffhangers, and people want to keep watching because they’re unsatisfied until they can see the rightful end of the story. That’s not how movies used to work (not all the time, at least, like now) – it’s interesting that they’ve changed to become this way.

"But...I wanted to see the rest!" Picture from vampirediaries.alloyentertainment.com.

It’s also interesting that so many book-to-movie transitions have gone so well these days. Between comic book adaptations like Watchmen to the aforementioned Hunger Games as well as more contemporary novels like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, filmmakers are trying harder to keep true to the source material when they adapt into movie forms. For die hard fans, that’s a great thing – if you really, really wanted to see a visual representation of Lisbeth Salander slicing up some pervert with no changes from how she did it in the original book, the movie will work perfectly for you – either version, Swedish or American.

Picture from stevenspielberg.wordpress.com.

Call me a heretic, but I always enjoy seeing a creative, visionary director make changes to a story for the silver screen. I find it interesting to see different interpretations of a story. Of course, many of them are crap, but you do get gems such as Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining here and there – that’s worth it.

Jack's happy. Why can't you be? Picture from blogs.indiewire.com.

Most scriptwriters or directors won’t go that route – with the increased Twitter and Facebook communication between creative artists and fans, it’s easier to know what fans want. Thus, there’s no excuse for dissonance between an artistic personality and his or her fanbase anymore – there should be no confusion. Though, I admit I could be partaking in some wishful thinking here.

Overall, the way movies are done now – in a more interactive format for the fans – isn’t good or bad, it’s just different. We will always have traditional, movies-for-movie-fans films, but now we have something else. Now we have movies that interact with the audience and sprawl into larger creations, becoming more than just a self-contained film. The Avengers movies are parts of a whole, and they act like issues of a comic book series. The Harry Potter/Hunger Games movies are visual reflections of their respective books – they have multiple chapters.

Movies aren’t just a fourth wall between the makers and the audience anymore – we’re not just consumers anymore. We play a more active role now. We commit ourselves to these sequels and we’re suckered into seeing all of them, even when we don’t like some of the ones that have come out. Movies are becoming a larger thing now – as they evolve, movies are experimenting with the format of filmmaking and release, and becoming something more epic and immersive in scope, if not necessarily in storytelling.

I hope the storytelling can reach the same quality as the effort put into arranging these films over multiple years, franchises and directors. That would be great. Right now though, things are in the hands of the people making the money. That can’t be denied. Personally I just hope this kind of experimentation with how movies are released doesn’t just degenerate into pure commercialism, as there are plenty of good films still coming out under what I’ve talked about here.

Case in point: Captain America: The Winter Soldier is an amazing movie that everyone should go see. Get on it now! What the hell are you waiting for, the fucking second coming of Christ to tell you to go see it?! Isn't my word good enough anymore?

Picture from fansided.com.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (2009)

Some of you – the whole three of you that read this site regularly – may have been wondering where I have been recently. Well, last month I saw a movie called Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. A 2009 remake of a 1956 crime thriller, it looked promising simply due to having Michael Douglas in a starring role – an actor I always hold in high esteem.

However, upon viewing the film, I had to retreat to a monastery of Buddhist monks to try and gain inner peace over my mind – for there was no other way to accurately talk about this film. Otherwise, I probably would have burst into flames with blood shooting out my eyes and snakes coming out my ears trying to talk about everything bad in it. I would have been rabid. You would have had to send over Animal Control with a tranc gun and a fucking fishing net – there would have been no way I could have formatted my thoughts into a coherent review.

After weeks of intense mental mastery and calming of my spirit, I have returned. With me, I bring the story of this film. What a twisted and macabre tale it is.

Director: Peter Hyams
Starring: Amber Tamblyn, Jesse Metcalfe, Michael Douglas

This is a movie about a couple of journalists who plot to get implicated in a murder just to prove the D.A., played by Douglas, is corrupt. If there's a difference between this movie and a garbage dump, I really haven't found it yet. Except the garbage dump is actually useful to society, and this is not.

We kick the movie off with our main “hero” C.J. Nicholas, played by Jesse Metcalfe. He’s about as douchey of a main character as you’ll ever find. I’m sure Metcalfe is a nice guy, but his performance here is just god-awful, and the character is one of the most annoying and pretentious I’ve come across since Bad Kids Go to Hell. In fact, I spoke to the writers of Bad Kids Go to Hell while researching for this review, and they told me they would have been ashamed to be associated with characters like this. Ouch!

So we get Nicholas, a journalist, watching a court trial where District Attorney Michael Douglas presents evidence to put a guy behind bars for murder. Nicholas approaches Douglas’s assistant, a beautiful woman named Ella Crystal, to try and get some files on Douglas. I think that’s the first plot hole of the film – Ella Crystal? Is she missing her shift at the local sleazy topless bar to appear in this movie?

Anyway, this character is also horribly written. I’m sure actress Amber Tamblyn was trying, but the script once again turns the character into an unlikable and wretched one. Nicholas flirts with her and asks her out. At first she acts uninterested, like a regular girl would – but within the span of two seconds, she suddenly changes her tone and is totally ready to let him rip her clothes off and ravage her in bed.

What? You think I’m kidding? No, seriously – like a few scenes later they’re fucking and she’s spending the whole night at his place and having breakfast with him in the morning. It’s like the relationship version of those pills lazy people take to try and get fit in place of actual exercise. We don’t need any of that pesky character development or interesting dialogue. Just show them giggling for two seconds at a table with food, then fade to them fucking at his house. That’s all you need!


The whole thing is just so retarded. There’s no better word! She’s an interesting female character for about two seconds, then becomes a cardboard cut-out waste of screen space only there to defend her man.

I guess there’s some backstory about how Nicholas got famous for making some news story about a black pregnant prostitute who got kicked out of her house. Or some shit like that. I dunno. Just go watch Precious instead.

When he isn’t boning the cardboard cutout this movie passes off for a love interest, Nicholas spends his time doing retarded things with that guy from Bones, Hatchet and a billion other things and you still can’t remember his name:

Oh, fuck it – his name is Joel David Moore. No, this movie will not be a step up in his career from The Hottie and the Nottie. He does OK I guess, but really what does he have to work with anyway? He’s pretty much just a plastic ‘best friend’ character with no thoughts or independent will of his own.

Together these two morons plot to implicate Nicholas in a murder case just so Nicholas can prove Michael Douglas makes up evidence in order to get a conviction. That’s a monumentally dumb idea! But they go ahead and just do it. Taping everything they’re doing, they go ahead and frame Nicholas for the murder. They get a knife so it looks like he bought a knife (real stretch there!), buy a dog just to have it bite him on the leg and a whole bunch of other nonsense that I won’t bother going over.

"Durrr, awesome, we're on a crime scene, that totally makes this a legit serious crime thriller now. Look at how relevant and meaningful this is to the world!"
That fat guy behind the counter is my favorite character in the movie, just because he's the only one who doesn't let Pretty Boy McDouche there just take whatever he wants. 

These scenes are just padding. They aren’t really referenced again in the rest of the film, and mostly just serve to be as bland as humanly possible. Good films can make even the filler scenes seem important and vital, through strong acting, directing and writing. Bad films just have scenes for the sake of scenes. Get to the next scene you bimbos! Time is money! Pfft.

So after a couple more scenes of the writer jerking himself off by making the love interest character perfect and subservient to Nicholas in every way, Nicholas finally gets arrested. Love interest girl shows up at his jail cell and starts immediately swearing to quit her job and help him on the defense team, acting flabbergasted that he suggests she choose her career over him. Because you know, women don’t really have goals or lives of their own. They just exist to pamper and serve douchebags who put themselves in prison on murder charges, on purpose.

"I have no personality, and I'm OK with that."

Apparently the plan Nicholas and his buddy have goes like this: they have a secret videotape locked in a safe at a bank that can prove Nicholas’s innocence and also prove that Douglas plants evidence to cheat murder trials. Why not just have the tape on you when you walk into the courtroom? Wouldn’t that save time? It probably would – which is why the movie doesn’t just do that.

Instead, we get a loooooong drawn out scene of poor Joel Moore running around with his head cut off, scrambling to make it back to the courtroom on time to show the tape. He gets into a stupid conversation at the bank with a really annoying employee, who of course can’t just do her fucking job and has to draw out everything pointlessly with banal conversation – a prime example of the poor writing this movie regularly displays.

I’m really not sure why Moore is hurrying so much – just to make it look more natural for Nicholas and his defense lawyer? I mean, there’s not so much of a time constraint that you can’t slow the fuck down and be safe. Unfortunately,  speed does kill, and one of Douglas’s lackeys gets Moore into a car accident and kills him. Yes, this is turning into a bad James Bond parody.

Yeah! Next remake Twelve Angry Men and put in a five minute sex scene and some ninja fighting. That oughta do it!

So the movie doesn’t really dwell at all on Nicholas feeling bad about losing his best friend. Instead he gets sent to jail and sentenced to death row. The girlfriend then becomes the main character, and sets about trying to clear Nicholas’s name. She finds some tech support place that can look and see if crime scene photos are doctored. There, she finds out the shocking truth – Michael Douglas really does falsify evidence to win his cases! Guess how? I’ll give you a second to think.


Done? OK. Get ready for this. It’s going to blow your mind, the ingenious scheme he came up with to cheat the system and frame people for crimes they may not have committed. Are you ready for this? He takes the crime scene photos and just edits in whatever he needs to make it look like they did it. For example, he edits in a cigarette smoked by the suspect into the crime scene photo, thus making it look more convincing that they actually did murder the victim.

Oh, and of course they can't even just have a normal lame exposition scene, they have to include two lab techs who clearly have never seen a woman in years and are in the running for worst characters in the movie. These characters are so annoying, I find myself wondering if this whole thing wasn't just some kind of horrible schadenfraude. Some kind of punishment!

How has nobody ever caught this? Shouldn’t it be pretty goddamned obvious? What happens; does he just buy off the lab techs and the police who take the photos and the defense lawyers who have to look at the same photos? Does Michael Douglas just have a magical ray that turns everyones’ brains to pudding when he’s working a case?

Oh well. It’s not like his character is really anything special. He’s so un-subtle as a villain, you might as well add horns, a tail and fangs to him. In fact...


That's better!

So love interest girl, with this new knowledge, leaves to set everything right. However, in the parking garage, she’s confronted by another cliché: the henchman guy tries to kill her in his car to prevent her from talking.

How would he explain that in the morning anyway? “Whoops, she accidentally got killed outside of a forensics lab where several other people knew the same shocking secret she did about a prominent public figure and were not killed! Oh, and her blood got on my car by accident. I guess it’s just one of those weird coincidences!”

This whole thing is so fuckin’ dumb. A fucking car chase scene, are you kidding me? It’s as cheap as thrills get. There’s no entertainment value in this; it’s like putting a random topless dance scene in the middle of the next Halloween remake. Oh, wait, Rob Zombie already did that in both of the other remakes, and it was about as pandering, cheap and banal as this is.

So the henchman gets shot by the Helpful Black Cop (a cliché that is never over-used!) and Douglas gets arrested the next day. Nicholas is then free to come make out with love interest girl, thus fulfilling her only purpose in life.

The couple that nobody was thinking about finally gets together at the end. Hooray?

But wait! Because love interest girl saw a photograph of the girl’s hands who Nicholas was accused of killing, and matched up the tattoos on her hand to the ones in that video of the prostitute Nicholas did a story on, she realizes he DID kill that hooker for REAL! DUN DUN DUN!

So apparently he killed the hooker for real because she was the same one he did that story on. Only the story was actually made up, and now she was trying to hit him up for money. Clearly murdering her in cold blood was the only option. I so love the creative process when it can serve up absolute garbage-bin-level trash writing like this. It just makes me so warm and fuzzy inside.

Plus, killing a hooker for real, then faking evidence, all to get publicity? Awesome plan. Right up there with the underwater electrical socket and the camouflage after-dark running outfit.

Love interest girl calls the cops and leaves his place, looking back at him only to say “fuck you!” I haven’t been this burned since grade school when a girl with pigtails told me I smelled! What a great ending line. If you're nine years old and addicted to Grand Theft Auto. In which case your parents should be flogged in the public square a la Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Eugh, douche chills, just looking at this.

Really, though, it’s all a bit of a moot point, because in real life, anyone who wasted the court’s time “going undercover” framing themselves for a murder trial, would be locked up in jail anyway. To suggest otherwise, as the movie does, is so ludicrous I can’t even begin to make a comparison to courtroom movies equally terrible. There’s nothing else this dumb. This wins the prize. For pure cliché, low-brow tripe, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt wins. In other words, fuck YOU, movie.

This is the kind of thing that just makes society dumber. There is so much pandering in this thing, to the lowest common denominator possible. The dumbass romance subplot, the explosions, the car chases - all garbage filtered in and spoonfed to a pre-supposed audience, as if the court drama intrigue wouldn't be enough. The movie didn't even have enough confidence in itself to stand alone without selling out to every cliché imaginable. It's not like the actual plot was done any better. The courtroom scenes are laughably poor and the ending plot twist is done in the worst way possible, with very little build up or reason for it. None of this is in any way educational or useful to society. If it was entertaining, maybe that wouldn't matter, but that ship sailed long ago.

I literally can't think of even one redeeming factor. It's the kind of movie that takes serious issues like crime and corruption in the justice system, pulls down its pants and farts in those issues' faces.

Images copyright of their original owners; I own none of them.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Why Prisoners is the Best Crime Film in Years

Last year’s Prisoners was a hell of a crime film. When I saw it earlier this year for the first time, my eyes couldn’t be pried from the screen without the use of a crowbar. It blew open the gates for what I hope to be a ‘silver age’ for the modern crime film – after so many years of just absolute crap, nothing but the worst, I really think Prisoners was a huge breath of fresh air.

Prisoners is a long, dense and dark trip. Its story revolves around a father, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), whose daughter disappears on Thanksgiving dinner along with the daughter of a friend of his. As the detective on the case (Jake Gyllenhaal) races to find the kidnappers within the boundaries of the law, Keller grows impatient and begins to take matters into his own hands.

Picture from apersistentvision.blogspot.com. 

It’s just a brilliantly done film. Every plot twist just makes everything darker. The world the movie gives us is just so brutal and harsh. As much as Keller tries to make things better and return them to the status quo – i.e. with his daughter safe and sound – the worse and worse things he has to keep doing. He turns to kidnapping and then torture to get what he wants.

Picture from kianfai87.blogspot.com.

The film builds up to a blood-boiling climax – fast-paced and tense. I don’t want to spoil too much of it here, as you should go out and see this movie yourselves. With its macabre atmosphere – rife with grey skies, rain and tall trees – and the palpable fear of losing one’s child, Prisoners takes a simple, direct story and makes it an absolute heart-stopping thriller. It’s a simple back-to-basics crime story that hits you where you live.

Picture from filmschoolrejects.com. 

So, what makes it so much better than its competition?

The difference between a good crime film and a bad one is often just a matter of degrees. I mean, sure, you can measure some of them by the usual standards – bad acting, sloppy directing. But oftentimes, it’s harder to discern, and even comes down to a simple matter of opinion at times. Crime films are a pretty bare-bones subset of movies. They don’t require heavy special effects and imaginative creation of new worlds like sci fi and fantasy, and you don’t need to have the inventive scares and atmosphere of a horror film.

All you need for a crime film is the basic storytelling skills to put together a compelling mystery or ‘good guy catches bad guy’ tale.

Throw in some moral grey area, a bit of human darkness – and voila, you have a good crime film.

It’s all in the writing. It’s a meat-and-potatoes genre that you really need talent to write. In the past few decades, we’ve had some really, really good crime films. Se7en. L.A. Confidential. The Pledge. Mystic River. Dirty fuckin’ Harry – practically the genesis of modern crime films. Zodiac – what a godlike film.

Picture from youtube.com.

Recently, however, we’ve been experiencing a drought of them … with craptacular films like Law Abiding Citizen, The Call and Black Dahlia clogging up the arteries, it seemed the crime film had become a lost art. These films relied on cheap gimmicks and trashy sex and violence to reach points that were, at best, completely muddled and incoherent – if not absolutely deplorable like Law Abiding Citizen.

Because you know how it is, if your family gets killed, it's totally OK to go slaughter a bunch of lawyers and jail guards just doing their fucking jobs. Picture from westerngazette.ca.

The reason for this seemed to be the same thing that happened to horror films after Freddy and Jason caught on big back in the 80s: the dumbing-down effect. It’s the same thing that happens any time a particular subset of entertainment catches on – things get over-saturated.

SCALPS IN A FRIDGE AARRGGRRRHHRRRGGGG ... but seriously, this still pisses me off. From my review of The Call. Go check that one out for my full rant on this.

People right now are obsessed with crime stories and serial killers. Maybe moreso than before. They want more, so they get more – the only problem is, a lot of what we’re getting now just sucks. As the law of averages goes, if you continue adding in more and more of something, eventually the quality begins to slip, and as with anything, you get more and more hack writers and directors just trying to make a buck. This is unavoidable.

And yeah, don’t get me wrong – there were always crap movies in this genre. Just look at this early film from acclaimed director Christopher Nolan (its title accurately describes what it will cure), or Deadfall, which I reviewed here years ago – a dreadful film. These days though, the signal-to-noise ratio is getting way too unbalanced for my liking. I think this trend started with Dexter – this trend of mental junk-food serial killer stories. Dexter was a pretty awesome show. For what it was – a pure dumb, fun show with some cool characters and exciting plots – it was great. Just a blast to watch.

Picture from morbidlyamusing.com.

There’s the cincher though – how dumb can entertainment be before it just becomes groan-worthy rather than fun?

I think you need a certain balance between the two. There’s something to be said for ridiculously over the top stories and unrealistic plots, as long as you can still make people believe in the world and characters you’re showing them. With Dexter, you did get to do that. The characters were all likable and you got into their stories and the world at large. You cared – you wanted to see more.

That’s why Prisoners is so good. You care about the characters so much that your blood curdles when the girls go missing in the first ten minutes. While you don’t get much insight into their inner souls as characters, you don’t need that. The characters are written like normal people, and written well – they could be your next door neighbors or your in-laws or your best friends. You don’t really need that much character development if you have such a good command over your writing skills that you can make the characters come alive and seem like real people just through their actions and daily lives.

Picture from nextprojection.com.

Prisoners also had a lot of atmospheric depth and nuance in the story. Whatever your connection to the film – as everyone will have a different reaction – it’s bound to have some impact. Prisoners is an engrossing and well-made film in its genre.

Unfortunately, not every film in the genre has such high standards. Many of them are content with gimmickry and cash-in, flashy writing in place of actual substance. You go beyond the point of entertainment when you can’t get into the world and the characters, when the plot holes and dumb-ass nature of the storytelling simply becomes too much. It’s a point everyone will need to define for themselves.

However, I for one hope people start to pay more attention to Prisoners. I also hope we continue to get more good films in the same vein. Let’s usher in a new era of amazing, well done crime films, ladies and gents!

Until then, I will be taking you all to the dark side of this coin when I review one of the worst films I’ve ever seen later on this week…

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Taste of Things to Come

Coming to an Internet near you this summer from the world-renowned and critically appraised movie review site Cinema Freaks...

And more!