Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Ocular Optometrical - Junk Food Movie Round-Up

Between trying to manage my disappointment with LOST & Battlestar Galactica, and working late a lot, my finely honed film snobbery is getting kind of soft. I've been plopping myself in front of the boob-tube while I do some design work and, even though I have a lot of wonderful cinema classics backlogged on DVD, I'm mostly catching films off of On-Demand and whatever FX or AMC decides to throw my way. Because I'm seeing most of these films as background noise while I push pixels, I'm not really giving them my full attention, so if you're looking for answers on how I could have possibly given Scooby-Doo 2 a poor review, maybe that's the reason. I don't know what's going to have to change for me to get back to the rewarding worlds of Fassbinder or Bresson, but currently my lifestyle is unfit for much weighty fare.

Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull (2008)
- Every review I've seen of the film, positive or negative, begins with that question, "Did George Lucas & Steven Spielberg mess this up or is the magic of my youth still intact?" I'm your average red-blooded American boy in that I too loved "Raiders Of The Lost Ark," but it seems that every commercial property of the 80's is now being conflated by marketers as a defining aspect of my childhood. I'm not going to deny that I ate up all of the sugary cereals, action figures & animated bliss, but will my self-identity forever be tested as Hollywood mines every last toy property and mildly successful action film for revival? Haven't we paid enough for our pop culture gluttony by swearing in Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor of California? Transformers, G.I.Joe, He-Man, Thundercats, M.A.S.K., Star Wars, Indiana Jones... what property will next compete with the vaseline-smeared lens of my nostalgia and take a thwak at my adolescence? I enjoyed this film. It's not a great film, but then, beyond the first film, it was never that strong of a franchise either. It exceeded my low expectations in that it didn't consist of 2 hours of CGI fart jokes. All of the actors put in some good hard work, battling a junky script that felt more like a scavenger hunt for action sequences than an actual mystery. Yeah, I prefer the Jason Bourne films now, but certainly I'm not so dead inside that I can't get a little joy out of people sword fighting in moving jeeps, or a lightning-lit dig in a spooky tomb. - 3/5

Before The Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)
- Legendary film maker Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Failsafe) at the ripe age of 82 directed this story of vile human beings behaving contemptuously. It stars Ethan Hawke and Philip Semore Hoffman and Marisa Tomei's breasts, and they all play their parts admirably, but the film is overly melodramatic and meandering. While the biggest crime is the way that the characters frustratingly take problems and bumble them into crises, the film also indulges in one of my biggest pet peeves, the unnecessary shuffling of scenes chronologically in order to create false tension. I wish I'd watched Dog Day Afternoon again instead. - 2.5/5

Grindhouse (2007)
- I was stoked to find the theatrical version of Grindhouse on On-Demand, since i'd missed the full experience in the theater. I really enjoyed the DVD version of Death Proof last year, and even though i was perfectly happy to skip Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror, i was disappointed to miss out on the trailers i'd heard so much about. I actually ended up enjoying Planet Terror quite a bit. Having sat through a ton of 70's B-movies, i was really impressed with the way Rodriguez really nailed the tone of the films. He definitely delivered the more faithful interpretation of the Grindhouse premise with a real attention to the stilted staging, hammy acting, gory practical make-up effects and overly long takes. Death Proof still ended up being the more captivating film, but props to Rodriguez for a fun little film. The cut of Death Proof in this version is weaker, with the DVD version really filling in a lot of motivational beats, but did thankfully cut out a bunch of Tarantino's cameo scenes where his dialogue really annoyed me to death. The gestalt Grindhouse experience is probably a little long, but i did enjoy both films and the package is full of awesome little touches like old school theater graphics and the fun trailers from Edgar Wright, Eli Roth & Rob Zombie. I think i'd recommend the DVD version of Death Proof first, but this definitely has its merits. -3.5/5

The Puffy Chair (2005)
- This is an earlier film from one of the writer/actors behind Hannah Takes The Stair. Where I praised that film for being a part of the off-Hollywood digital revolution, this film felt more like its film school roots. The characters felt more 2-dimensional and exaggerated, and while there are some good, honest moments sprinkled throughout the interractions, the simple premise is piled upon with unbelievable situtations. It's not a horrible debut, but the talents are obviously not fully cooked. - 2.5/5

Dark Water (2005)
- The movie sets up a very effective atmosphere and Jennifer Connelly delivers one of her stronger performances in recent memory, but all of the potential is squandered. Despite long, poorly lit hallways, and the pervasive dread of an endless rain, nothing frightening ever happens. There is just no payoff. - 2.5/5

Recount (2008)
- A weak TV-movie production about the Florida recounts during the 2000 presidential election, the sort of Hollywood-agenda film that does more to discredit the side its arguing for than it helps. Directed by the guy behind the Austin Powers films, it's not shocking that the proceedings aren't very subtle, or that he doesn't get the most nuanced performances out of actors like Kevin Spacey, Ed Begley Jr. and Laura Dern. Because the movie does do a good job of sticking to the facts surrounding the event, including the less sexy procedural details, and doesn't resort to making the Republicans into a secret cabal in a smoke filled room, i think there is probably a decent script underneath it all, but its brought down by broad acting, wooden direction and a pervasive, smarmy, self-righteousness. 2/5

Lars And The Real Girl (2007)
- The premise is overly cutesy and impossible to accept on its own merits, but the writing and acting performances really pull this up out of the schmalzy gutter and deliver a sweet, melancholic comedy. This could have been really bad if they hadn't snagged Ryan Gosling. 4/5

Scooby Doo (2002) - 2.5/5
Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (2004) - 2/5
- I had Sunday off, and so i treated it kind of like a sick day, laid up in bed, trying to recharge a little, watching terrible movies on TV. ABC Family treated me to a double-feature of the 2 Scooby Doo movies. I have to say that they were a lot better than they needed to be. Scooby was handled well as a good compromise between a realistic & cartoon great dane. The color palette & costuming matched the cartoon to a tee without coming off as too surreal. Obviously the problem is that there was never any real call for a live-action Scooby-Doo movie, so, aside from a few post-modern jokes at its own expense, the story doesn't have any real point.

Transporter 2 (2005)
- It's so refreshing to have an action franchise that's not high-concept. - 3/5

Juno (2007)
- I watched this on DVD because i really enjoyed it in the theater and wanted to check out all of the bonus features. It really stands up. Whenever the over-the-top, smart-alic style seemed like it might ruin an important, emotional moment, everyone dialed it back. - 4.5/5

Jarhead (2005)
- If this movie didn't spend half of its time comparing itself to Apocalypse Now or Full Metal Jacket, i could probably have enjoyed it more on its own merits. Jake Gyllenhaal is a great young actor and he does a solid job, even if the film itself was a little schizophrenic. 3/5