Thursday, July 28, 2016

Internet Famous - Review

Five internet stars head to Los Angeles in order to compete for the award of Best Web Star of the Year and earn a chance to have their own television show. Why the most of them want to give up their cushy laissez faire lifestyles, earning thousands of dollars from each individual video they post online, for a grueling job with less pay and a high chance of failure is never answered and is the less of this film's glaring problems. INTERNET FAMOUS is a dreadful mockumentary that not only steals the filming style of Christopher Guest but quite shamelessly plagiarizes BEST IN SHOW for all that it can. It's a movie destined to evaporate with the sands of time, as it rests entirely on you knowing and still caring for viral video people like that guy who did "Chocolate Rain" or that girl on Vine. It's also a complete corporate product: the film is produced by Maker Studios, a leading internet video network, poorly directed by Michael J. Gallagher, who's a co-founder of Maker, and headlined by Shane Dawson, who just so happens to be one of Maker's leading "celebrities". Dawson spends his entire time trying to be edgy, mixing his character's prima donna behavior with dark humor about Hurricane Katrina or being in a shipped romance called Hamas. Too bad he's one-note and tiresome, just like the majority of the cast and their individual stereotypes like dumb dad, booby lady, pretentious filmmaker and horny Latino. The only one who seemed to shine from this gutter, even beyond the slumming talents of Missi Pyle, Michael Lerner and John Michael Higgins, was Wendy McColm as an aspiring actress who's haunted by a bad dance video that was remixed by a different user and blew up. She clearly has good comic timing but she is unable to often show it because the film spends its energy severely dumping on her with bad news and bad breaks. Do not give this a thumbs up nor subscribe to its pathetic ideals about the future of media talent.


Monday, July 25, 2016

Batman: The Killing Joke - Review

BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE has to be the very worst DC Comics animated feature to be produced by the comics giant and Warner Bros. That's really saying something when you have to remember that someone in the animation offices thought SUPERMAN/BATMAN: PUBLIC ENEMIES would be a good idea. Given a mighty opportunity to be seen on the big screen for a limited engagement through Fathom Events before its eventual home video release, it presents itself to be a flat, archaic retelling of the seminal yet still controversial Alan Moore story coupled with a new, ugly original opening half that was seemingly stripped from the fan fiction of a perverted mind. When the Joker declares "I didn't expect this to be boring" at one point, I was nodding in agreement. Seeing this in a theater filled with gullible fanboys might seem to juice up my ire and distaste for it but with a clear critical mind, anyone can see that this is an ungodly mess.

As stated, before you can get to the main attraction of the feature, you unexpectedly have to watch acclaimed comic book writer Brian Azzarello bequeath a shockingly gross section where nearly every misstep in screenwriting 101 is presented within the ink and paint. Batgirl (Tara Strong), a.k.a. Barbara Gordon, starts off with overbearing narration that of course does not pop back up in the latter half of the picture, nor does it ultimately make sense from a story standpoint because she is later placed on the sidelines while the men do all of the dirty work. Enjoyed that bit of sexism? Well, get used to it because this piece of the plot is purely toxic in its deeming attitudes towards women. Batgirl fails in apprehending a narcissistic gangster literally named "Paris France" and wants to chase after him. Bossy Batman (Kevin Conroy) says no and further goes on to say that she literally is not an equal to him. Not only is Batgirl angered by the strict rules of the caped asshole but she strangely also has intense sexual feelings for her way too old, fatherly guardian of the night. She obviously needs to confide and receive relationship advice instead of, you know, battling bad guys so she spends several scenes at her workplace and chatting with her gay best friend. I'm not kidding, this is all really happening in a superhero movie in 2016 and even after that great SNL skit of what a Black Widow solo pic would really be. I was waiting for some microwave popcorn and red wine to appear at any moment. Anyway, all of this trouble comes to a head when the two partners-in-crime-fighting have a repugnant, pointless, quasi-incestuous sex scene on a rooftop, with their cowls off. There you have it folks, a moment far, far worst than the "Hallelujah" porno scene in WATCHMEN. This forever-to-be-infamous lovemaking is immediately followed up with Batgirl going crazy as she's given the cold shoulder by Bruce and told to continue to sit out because she's "off the case!"

Though Tara Strong tries to give it her all to the classic heroine, just as she did during the later Batman animated seasons, and try to flesh her out into a real being, she can't overcome the vulgar work done to Batgirl here by Azzarello, director Sam Liu, and whoever else had a hand with the film. The makers might try to say that her bitter rivalry with Paris France is supposed to mirror Batman's relationship with the Clown Prince but they don't really explore it beyond Batman going on about "entering into the abyss" and being overcome by the horrors of what men do. Instead, they would rather bask in Paris' misogynistic cracks at Barbara and his clear obsession to pretty much rape her. The animators get in on this action as well, as there is a frivolous moment when Barbara goes for a run and the camera takes a second to get a good shot of her buttocks and breasts. You have to sit there and take in all of this tripe and betrayal of the Batgirl character, right before the film finally takes the inevitable turn to "The Killing Joke" storyline and her unfortunate meeting with The Joker.

For those not in the know with famous comic book tales, "The Killing Joke" has The Joker committing his ultimate evil plan: taking Barbara Gordon out of the picture, driving her father Commissioner Gordon to insanity, and seeking to cause Batman to kill him in order for Bats to break his code. It's a story tapped with the vast history of The Joker and his battles with Batman. It's also filled with ambiguous flashbacks to the creation of The Clown Prince and ends with one of the coldest codas put to paper which still is open to debate today. I have some minor issues with it but as it truly stands, it is a magnificent work of art. This famous story, however, is nearly marred by the unworthy makers, who besmirch nearly every major moment or act too faithful to a fault with the classic tale. The Joker himself doesn't not appear until halfway in the movie, never alluded to or mentioned at all before, so you need to come in with the knowledge of the character before watching this. Even though most of us already do know about him thanks to American pop culture and the legacy of past Jokers in movies, as a filmmaker, you still need to make sure that your viewer knows how evil The Joker can be and why Batman is always close to murdering him. Take BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD for example, which literally starts with The Joker killing Robin and showcases the quandary of arresting or killing criminals to a far greater effect. A simple montage of The Joker's evil exploits right before Bats enters that fateful crime scene could have easily solve this structural problem.

Even if you forgive this issue, you still have to listen to Alan Moore's words coming from all of the characters' mouths. What works on the page, and helped along by Brian Bolland's amazing artwork, sadly doesn't really work on the screen, as every less-than-stellar animated scene becomes too wordy and overbearing with philosophy. On its own, the dialogue here could fine to the ear but you just sat through a badly written section that doesn't even try to match up with the grimness and dark wordplay of Moore. The pieces that really suffer the most, both in dialogue and animation, are the famed "flashbacks". They all retain the old 1940's look to them, colored in a grayish brown instead of black and white, which clash heavily with the far more modern setting this is all taking place in. Worse, everything is played absolutely straight, sapping all of the mystery of whether or not this is true to believe. Mark Hamill does his best to bring some ambivalence and he really does nail some key lines but he can't make every long paragraph about reality or the human psyche work. Despite all of this disappointment, the real kicker to this middling adaptation isn't the bland take on the ending or the "duh, of course she becomes Oracle!" mid-stinger tacked on but the unnecessary musical number that appears out of nowhere during the biggest genuinely disturbing moment of the entire story.

I could continue on about how this whole thing falls apart fundamentally since Batman does kill some people but I think you can get the gist. If this was just "The Killing Joke" story with some padding to make it feature length, I would still have my points of contention but would be fine with overall. Instead, I had to bare witness to the "fireworks factory" dilemma and horrible treatment of Batgirl. I really hated this picture, more so that BATMAN V. SUPERMAN. Zach Snyder may have expectedly flunked out with it but at least he was able to make a few bits of dark entertainment with Batman, let alone have a competent heroine. At least I can fall back on BATMAN: YEAR ONE or THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS to see well made animated adaptations.


Monday, July 18, 2016

Weiner-Dog - Review

A cute lil' dachshund has a hard time finding the right home, as she is passed around the entire U.S. through a series of depressing human owners. WEINER-DOG sadly doesn't have the juicy, acidic humor of previous Todd Solondz films, instead being a straight up, no chaser misery factory. The few laughs it does possess come solely in the first story, where a rich couple speak way too candidly to their cancer-surviving kid about their doggy discrimination. The rest of the picture is nothing but bleak human dramatics with the dog being less important to the plot with each passing minute, all being handled in an unwieldy manner by Solondz's deliberately messy direction. The first half has a clear storytelling approach when weaving the doom and gloom with the hand-offs of the canine but the movie then brings forth a soul-sucking intermission break before then presenting two concluding segments where the dog is suddenly there and largely hanging out in the background. The small and talented cast tries desperately to make it all work but are often undermined by the random flairs of the director. Even the very best story, where Danny DeVito gives a quietly powerful performance as a NY film professor (wink, wink, do you get it?), falls apart when you ultimately break it down. Despite its vicious take at higher learning, this chunk of film is nothing more than Solondz creating a field of straw men just so he can rant and rave about unambitious millennials, entitled blowhards, and those that wish to make superhero movies. I frankly do kinda admire the film's somber tone and idiosyncratic ways but I truly know that I will more than likely never watch this again, nor give it a recommendation beyond the DeVito segment.


Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Shallows - Review

A short trip to a secret beach in Mexico becomes an unending nightmare for a female swimmer (Blake Lively) when she accidentally crosses into the feeding zone of a great white shark. THE SHALLOWS is a tight simple thriller for those that want to be scared of the water again. Director Jaume Collet-Serra practically makes you taste the salty water at all times, thanks to the lush cinematography during the more happier moments and his slow handling of the protagonist's desperation on an inescapable rock. Though your gut and innate knowledge of films might cause you to believe that everything will work out in the end, Collet-Serra keeps you on your toes thanks to some grisly killings, underwater trauma, and several impromptu medical procedures that will make you wince. He and his screenwriter also circumvents the possible tedium of being completely trapped with one character by bringing in a small companion in the form of a disabled seagull, who often steals the show right out from the resourceful and engaging Lively. The movie does trips itself up by being a little too flamboyant however, namely its opening third where FaceTime calls and digital photos are displayed on the right sight of the frame or the just plain weird surfing montage set to Neon Jungle's "Trouble". The minor subplot with Lively's mommy issues also had me rolling my eyes severely. Nevertheless, this is a quality genre flick and a perfect induction into the canon of ocean terror movies.


Friday, July 15, 2016

Ghostbusters (2016) - Review

Two former friends/co-authors of a book on paranormal studies (Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy) reunite when they are beckoned by strangers into investigating spiritual entities that are beginning to pop up all over New York City. They find sisters-in-arms in the form of an oddball techie (Kate McKinnon) and a MTA worker (Leslie Jones) and begin to establish themselves as the Big Apple's only known ghost-hunting force. After a year's worth of hysteria from all corners of the internet, GHOSTBUSTERS premieres to ultimately be seen for what it truly is: a fine, not great movie. The epitome of the word "meh", the film is a bitter clash of styles, as Paul Feig's improv-friendly direction collides with Sony's harsh drive to make a quick buck off of old material and bland CGI theatrics. Unfortunately for the audience, both fail in their individual endeavors. Feig snaps his amazing streak of female-led comedies here, mostly thanks to the sheer dumb decision to have the talented Wiig and McCarthy play straight for most of the film. The two barely have any chance to be funny during the entire film, as they are constantly settled with doing stale exposition dumps or flopping like dead fish when dealing with the severely undeveloped subplot of their damaged friendship. Feig himself is also at fault for the film's messy nature, from the the long ad-libbed scenes that are never humorous in the slightest to the poor editing and continuity. The biggest proof of mishandling, however, comes right at the end, when the film ends on a low "that's it?" note, only to deliver a barrage of mid-credit scenes and overlay the commendations of the cast and crew over a musical number that was clearly ripped out from the film's climax.

Sony is not off the hook for this less than stellar effort. They failed at handling the promotion of this movie but they really were at fault with the making of it. Not content with having a practically scene by scene remake of the 1984 classic, Sony's gross corporate hand left many oily fingerprints on the picture. Product placement is obnoxious and downright horrific, as our female heroes just love to operate Sony cameras and computers. The quartet also love to have Papa John's Pizza be in the center of the frame during one of their serious discussion scenes. But the one that drove me right up the wall is when McKinnon is munching on Pringles during her first encounter of a ghost and tells Wiig how utterly delicious they are. Can you imagine Bill Murray or Harold Ramis doing that with the librarian specter? I also believe that the production company, looking to gauge a lot of dough overseas, were the ones insisting on the ho-hum finale, where a sea of computer-generated human wraiths, conveniently hiding themselves behind a computer-generated fog, descend on the real-life protagonists. All of the action in this part is a complete blur and just leaves the viewer with too many unanswered questions, including how can the proton streams now be used to disintegrate phantoms and why is this taking place in a 1970's vision of Times Square?

Despite all of my anger and disappoint at the shameful behavior of the film's makers, I still found myself enjoying the completely average flick. In a world where ROBOCOP now is a bore in black and TOTAL RECALL now has a stupid train running through the center of Earth, this re-imaging of a landmark sci-fi film does little to no damage to its property because it fairly moves along and sprinkles in the occasion nugget of joy. But what really got me engaged with the film beyond the new ghost gear, mildly terrifying creatures and dark paraphernalia were three actors: McKinnon, Jones, and Chris Hemsworth. McKinnon is the only one who keeps making you smile, as she wildly contorts about and knows when to pull a funny face or talk in a funny voice. Her flamboyant take as the Egon of the group absolutely shines. Jones is also a nice revelation as the assertive and more than capable Patty. I frankly hate her work on SNL, where she often ruins skits due to her cue card reading, but her film work always is a joy, with this being her best role to date. And rounding up the rear is Hemsworth as Kevin, the group's dimwitted receptionist. Though he sadly never takes his shirt off, he scores major laughs whenever he messes up talking on the phone, has something "deep" to say, or simply giving a simple warm wink to his exasperated employers.

I may grow to dislike GHOSTBUSTERS little by little in time thanks to its head-scratching creative decisions. Hell, the movie honestly just faded quickly in my mind once I walked away from it. But I do feel that this is a movie I could sit through on a lazy Sunday down the line and be happy to see a modern picture where more than one main female character is a part-time ass kicker. If busting makes you feel good and you're freely willing to give it a fair shot, a matinee screening or a rental could be worth it.


Monday, July 4, 2016

Abbas Kiarostami - RIP

Just off the heels of losing one of the biggest modern auteurs, we sadly lose another. Abbas Kiarostami died today after a shift battle with cancer. He was 76 years old.

The most famous movie director to come out of Iran, Kiarostami was known for his poetic, avant garde style and unique visions of storytelling. He first gain critical notice in 1987 with Where Is the Friend's Home?, a simple and slow look at Iranian rural life all the while a kid runs around to find and give his friend his missing homework book. His stature further spread in 1990 with Close-Up, a half dramatization, half documentary of the true life story of how a man impersonated a famous movie director in order to con a family. But his biggest moment came when he won the Palme D'or in 1997 for Taste of Cherry, a polarizing feature upon release that has nevertheless become a critical darling of the decade and often considered by many as one of the best films of all time.

Though it was always hard to top his reign during the 90's, Kiarostami continued to draw raves up to today, with the most favorable being the Juliette Binoche-starring Certified Copy.

He will be missed.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Fifty Shades of Black - Review

Hoping to lampoon something that has already been mocked since its inception, Marlon Wayans and his band of misfits bring forth another terrible parody film by trying to skewer FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, only to fail unspectacularly like most Wayans works. FIFTY SHADES OF BLACK takes a now-unpopular movie that was hellishly boring and makes it aggressively annoying and ribald to a fault. Normal eyes will shun it quickly thanks to some distasteful jokes about Bill Cosby, Black Lives Matter, waterboarding and equating the sexualization of whipping with certain famous movies about slavery. If they made a swipe at Chris Brown, however, my bingo card of bad taste would have been complete. Instead, the makers wanted to give that scumbag a pass in order to promote his song contribution to the film without any retaliation. Since I have sat through tripe like this before, I was not shocked by the gross-outs and the vulgarity because I expected it all. I knew when the "n" word would be uttered, when a black woman would again be called a bitch or a slut, when something would be licked extensively, when a rubber dick would come into play, and when another du jour reference would be said and date the picture even more. My skills of predicting bad comedy is so advanced at this point that when there's a scene where Christian was trying to hide quotes from Cuba Gooding Jr. movies to no avail, I noted that the final punchline would come from SNOW DOGS and was positively correct. This pathetic excuse of a parody will quickly die as they often do these days so I really don't need to tell you further that you should avoid this plague.