Archive for the ‘Malarkey’ Category

I, Frankenstein (2014)...

I, FRANKENSTEIN. 

I, Robot (2004)

I, ROBOT.

FRANKENSTEIN JR.

I, FRANKENSTEIN JR.

(a Frankenstein who is also a Robot)

Robot and Frank (2012)

I, ROBOT & FRANK

BEN STEIN

I, BEN STEIN

(former Nixon speechwriter who talks like a robot)

Kissing Jessica Stein (2002)

I, KISSING JESSICA STEIN

Larry Fine

I, LARRY FINE

(At this point I tumble down the rabbit hole of watching Three Stooges cartoons all day, and completely forget to go to the movie theater.)

@jonnyabomb

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Lady In The Water (2006)

M. Night Shyamalan, the kinda-sorta auteurist filmmaker who rocketed to above-the-title fame with a couple movies only to struggle critically over the tail end of the past decade, has a new movie coming out this summer.  It’s called AFTER EARTH and it stars Will Smith, one of the last dependable movie stars, and his son Jaden.  The movie is a sci-fi epic about a father and son who return to Earth in the deep future, long after the planet has been abandoned by humanity.  I included AFTER EARTH on my list of 2013’s potentially strangest movies, which is totally a dick move on my part.  I mean, how much have I done with MY life to be sitting here taking cheap shots?  At least this guy is out there making movies, and making them with some of the world’s hugest stars.  In my heart, I’m really not a so-called hater.

Quite the contrary in this case, in fact.  I think there’s a particular angst for movie lovers when we start following a talented filmmaker who then makes a severe right turn down the off-roads of unfulfilled or squandered promise.  It happened to me with Kevin Smith, for example, a witty, bold, and perceptive writer who I always hoped would take an interest in learning what to do with a camera, but it turned out he’d rather pursue other interests besides visual storytelling.  By contrast, Shyamalan never had a problem being cinematic, but he certainly grew overly enamored of certain tics that precluded concise and coherent films.  I would have liked to remain a fan, but at a certain point I had to decide that I didn’t want to follow these guys up their own asses.

So here’s a chronicle of me falling in love with another man’s talent, and then rapidly falling out of it.  I wrote most of this piece back in 2008 but unfortunately my mind hasn’t much changed since then.

NOTE: This will not include anything Shyamalan did before THE SIXTH SENSE, because I haven’t seen any of that stuff. I’m most interested in the Shyamalan of self-created myth & legend, the Shyamalan we have come to know in the past decade, the one who – like a young Bruce Wayne in his study who looked up at a bat and gained an instant career direction – looked up at the RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK poster in his office and asked himself why he wasn’t making those kind of movies. That is the filmography I will be talking about here.

I also won’t be talking about anything after THE HAPPENING, for reasons that may soon enough become apparent.

The Sixth Sense (1999)

THE SIXTH SENSE (1999) – This one came out of nowhere in the summer of 1999 and blew most people’s minds.  It was a ghost story with the emphasis on story.  The dramatic twist near the end actually deepens the experience, and it doesn’t hurt that it makes you want to re-watch the movie with the twist now in mind.  This is an extremely solid movie about faith and the after-life and how those intersect and overlap. Is it maybe even good enough to one day sit on a shelf alongside another one of the director’s inspirations, THE EXORCIST? That may be going a little far. But it does serve as an answer to the most vehement haters, the ones who, burned by his later films, have rechristened him F. Night Shyamalan:

Anybody wondering why they still allow this guy to make movies should re-watch THE SIXTH SENSE. It was a massive financial success achieved with an actually good movie. The people who make the decisions are no doubt optimistic that one day, this guy will do that again. (So am I, for the record.)

But the movie itself does indeed hold up to revisiting. To prospective screenwriters like myself, I also recommend reading it in script form, if you can track that down, because it’s still just as affecting on the page. This movie is so solid that it has a good performance by Donnie Wahlberg.  That’s directing, son.

The truth is that Shyamalan’s filmmaking talent is very real. Every movie he has made since THE SIXTH SENSE has contained varying degrees of that copious cinematic talent. Key word: “varying.” It’s why his filmography is so frustrating. He wouldn’t be so widely discussed if he wasn’t so capable.

UNBREAKABLE (2000)

UNBREAKABLE (2000) – I loved this one when it was first released. Saw it twice theatrically and a couple more times on DVD. So I hope that earns me enough leeway to suggest that it does not really hold up viscerally eight years later. It’s slow as a turtle attempting to moonwalk. Okay, hang on–

Here’s a rule: You can’t make a movie that’s more boring than real life. You just can’t. It’s why — to take a random and unrelated example — BROKEN FLOWERS was so disappointing to me. No matter how much Bill Murray you pour into a movie, you can’t slow a story down so much that you leave out the space for narrative.

Anyway, that’s why Shyamalan’s “deliberate” pacing falls so often flat. It also plays into the cardinal mistake Shyamalan likes to make of turning lighthearted subject matter — in this case superheroes — into a somber and ponderous suite of melancholy. It’s true that comic books themselves have been doing this for years, and now comic book movies are doing it too, so Shyamalan can’t be entirely faulted there.  In a way, he was ahead of the curve.

On an intellectual level, UNBREAKABLE still works. It’s an interesting approach to the standard superhero/supervillain origin story. I just don’t want to rewatch it ever again. Unless…

You know what would solve all its problems? If the once-rumored sequel were to actually happen. Because as it stands now, UNBREAKABLE feels like the longest first act ever.  I would definitely be curious as to what happens in the second UNBREAKABLE movie if it ever happened, especially since the second act is traditionally where the majority of the actual story takes place.  UNBREAKABLE doesn’t add up to much without its MR. GLASS STRIKES BACK.

Signs (2002)

SIGNS (2002) – Forget the fact that it’s kind of impossible to look at Mel Gibson anymore without off-the-screen baggage.  He’s fine in the movie, really.  It’s the movie itself that’s the problem.  This is where the storytelling problems infecting Shyamalan’s arsenal start to rear up violently. Shyamalan’s technical skill is still crazy-impressive – every scene where those aliens appear (or don’t) is freaky and great.

It’s the other stuff that just plain doesn’t add up in a coherent way — first and foremost that ending — and there’s been enough cyber-ink spilled on the subject for me to not bother to add to it. But the movie still made tons of money, and enough people still inexplicably say they like it, which is no doubt precisely how the first out-and-out blunder came to pass.

The Village (2004)

THE VILLAGE (2004) – Or as I call it affectionately: Cinematic blue-balls.

There’s nothing wrong with the original premise – colonial village is surrounded on all sides by a thick forest and maintaining an uneasy truce with the horrible monsters who live there – in fact that’s a great goddamn premise! And the way those red-cloaked spiny creatures are set up is chilling. Even knowing how things turned out, I still get chills thinking of their first couple appearances in the movie, and trust me, I don’t scare easy at movies. The first half of THE VILLAGE does the tough part and brings the fear.

So why completely subvert it for a corny twist ending? I’ll tell you how I figured out the twist after the first five minutes of the movie: “Okay, colonial village, bunch of musty old white people, how are they going to work in a role for the director, a modern-sounding East Indian guy, AHA! – it’s actually set in the present day!” And sure enough, there he was, and so it was. Sorry to ruin the movie, but you’d be a lot happier if you turned it off at the hour-mark anyway.

Lady in the Water (2006)

LADY IN THE WATER (2006) – Even worse, somehow.  Massive folly. Near-unbelievable, but I didn’t see it alone, so I know for a fact it really happened.

Reading Shyamalan print interviews is one of my guilty pleasures. I’m just fascinated by how someone so smart and talented can so often be so misguided. I may risk sounding like an asshole to say so, but I truly find it illuminating. For a while there, Shyamalan was fond of defending his work by questioning why so many people criticize him and not his movies. Seems to me that one way to avoid that is to take a break from casting yourself in your movies. Right? Kind of hard to separate the two when, in this case, you’re playing the pivotal role of the man who will write the book that will change the world, even though it will mean he will die a martyr. And you can’t be so naive as to think that notebook-toting, detail-oriented professional film critics won’t pick up on the fact that the only character to meet a gruesome death, in an entire movie about the act of storytelling itself, is the cranky film critic.

The same way that you can’t complain about the way that people are always trying to figure out the twist endings of your movies when you keep putting twist endings in your movies. Right?

I particularly liked how the title character spent very close to the entire running time curled up in the shower. That was exciting.

And Paul Giamatti had the speech impediment coming and going, and that Latino dude with the fucked-up arm… (Now I’m getting confused again.) The wolf made of grass was pretty cool though. (Was I high?)  Wikipedia tells me there was in fact a grass-wolf. It was called a “scrunt,” which really isn’t a great word to have in what was intended as a children’s movie.

The Happening (2008)

THE HAPPENING (2008) – Okay. Okay.

It’s starting to become apparent that the director may no longer be interested in suspenseful stories about the supernatural, and has in fact now evolved into the maker of really, really weird comedies.

If you go into THE HAPPENING in this spirit, you will not be disappointed. If you are looking for a creepy edge-of-the-seater, you surely will. Without giving anything important away (I want to leave the half-hearted yet still insane ultimate revelation to the bravest among you), here are some reasons why I enjoyed THE HAPPENING:

  • “Filbert.”  Let me explain: The main characters are fleeing Philadelphia on a railroad train, which inexplicably stops. Someone ducks their head away from the window, and the name of the town in which they are now stranded is revealed: Filbert. FILBERT! Duh-duh-duhhhhh! No, God, please, no, not…      Filbert! Filbert! Dooooom! I don’t even care whether or not I’m the only one who laughed at that, because it’s still funny to me. Fucking Filbert, man.
  • I was NOT, however, the only one who laughed when the construction workers started walking off the building. Everyone in my theater laughed at that.  It’s mostly because the plummeting crazies are played by dummies. And if we learned anything from The Three Stooges and Saturday Night Live, it’s that dummies are the greatest of all comedy props.
  • I don’t know who in all of Hollywood I would cast as a science teacher and a math teacher, respectively, but Mark Wahlberg and John Leguizamo are not they. Likable and down-to-earth actors both, but far better casting for, say, the cranky gym coach and the wisecracking AV teacher. They do their best, but the dialogue they are given does them no favors.
  • I swear a couple times Shyamalan cuts away from the action to a reaction shot of Zooey Deschanel and it looks like she’s trying to suppress a crack-up. Shyamalan may not have noticed, but I’m sure I did.
  • Intentional laughs are in the movie for sure, to the point where it’s almost confusing when it happens – stay tuned for the scene where Wahlberg tries to relate on a personal level to a plastic plant. Expertly written and played, and I’m not being sarcastic at all.
  • Far and away Shyamalan’s best and most hilarious cameo in all of his movies to date happens in THE HAPPENING. If you end up going, please stay for the credits to see what role he played. It’s just got to be a joke. But one of those jokes that only the one making it gets; you know that kind.
  • The Lion Scene! Oh man, the lion scene. The lion scene is a horror-comedy classic of which an EVIL DEAD 2-era Sam Raimi would be chainsaw-wieldingly envious. Soon to be a YouTube staple, guaranteed.

So if you’re looking for scary, this is not your territory. Watch the news instead. But if you’re a certain kind of moviegoer in a certain kind of mood, grab a couple like-minded buddies and Mystery-Science-Theater away.

Now, I skipped Shyamalan’s 2010 movie, THE LAST AIRBENDER, because I didn’t think my brain could handle all the fart jokes I was destined to make about that title.  By every last account (except probably Shyamalan’s), I made the correct decision.  But I’m curious about AFTER EARTH.  Did the nasty thrashing he got over his last couple flicks make Shyamalan reconsider some of his more over-used quirks?  Does the presence of Will Smith, one of the most infallible choosers of successful projects of the last decade-and-a-half, suggest that Shammy has reclaimed his earlier mojo?  The AFTER EARTH trailer does not look overtly comical.  It’s somewhat well paced, and more importantly, it has hordes of monkeys in it.  That’s not any guarantee I’ll be able to stay away.

@jonnyabomb

MANKEY

Hey, what did the beat-up boxer say when his trainer asked him how he was feeling?

THOR!

Le Thor.

Le Thor.

So Thor‘s out on DVD and Blu-Ray today.  My review was pretty funny, if I do say so myself.  And I do. “So myself.”  Anyway.  Thor.  Let’s go back there together, shall we?’

______________________________________________________________________________

Here’s what I liked about Thor:

  

They had to change up Thor’s costume.  They couldn’t have gone with the winged helmet and the yellow hooker boots.  But that giant robot thing?  That’s the Destroyer.  And if you look at the above pictures, you’ll see that it looks a whole lot like the way Jack Kirby first drew it, almost fifty years ago.  That’s pretty cool.  The reason that most of us who grew up on superhero comics love them so much has almost everything to do with the drawings of Jack Kirby, the guy who created the looks of most of the most famous superhero comic characters.  Kirby’s drawings STILL leap off the page.  They have a sense of weight and a kineticism, a strange energy, that remains just as effective today.

And somebody at Marvel (and Paramount) had the good sense to not mess with Kirby’s vision too much.  How cool is it that, nearly fifty years later, we’re seeing a Jack Kirby character on the big screen, looking much the way that Kirby first designed it?  I’ll answer that.  It’s extremely cool.

To me, it’s so extremely weird that a major summer movie was made from one of the most esoteric of 1960s Marvel Comics that I can’t help but embrace it.  Thor was always one of my least favorite Marvel characters, but in my opinion this is as good a Thor movie as we could reasonably expect.

Here’s the Thor story really quick:

The world of Thor supposes that the characters of Norse mythology exist in our dimension as super-powered extraterrestrial beings.  Thor, the arrogant god of thunder, grows up alongside his half-brother Loki, the god of mischief, under their father, the all-powerful Odin.  Thor’s impetuousness sees him exiled by Odin, powerless, to Earth, where he has to prove his worthiness before he can lift his mighty hammer and wield the power of Thor.

Basically, that’s all here.  Chris Hemsworth plays Thor, and what I like about the character here is that Thor starts out as a total dick.  I like when he yells at an army of approaching Frost Giants (as much a Robert E. Howard notion as an ancient Norse one), I like when he does the whirling-hammer trick that you see on that Kirby cover up above, and I like that he gets Tasered by a flighty college student when he’s stuck powerless on Earth.  Hemsworth is good, even if he’s  hardly the most interesting character in the movie.

More interesting is Tom Hiddleston as Loki, who gets several more notes to play as a character who starts out as a friend to Thor and becomes his main antagonist – although the way it plays out, there are some real and almost understandable reasons why.

I also liked Anthony Hopkins as Odin, maybe because in his early scenes he looks like Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn.

At this point it’s a pretty generic idea to cast Hopkins in this kind of a role, but again the weirdness of the setting makes it more interesting than it could have been.  I like the scene where he goes into a strange hibernation that all the characters call “the Odinsleep.”  I’d love to start referring to my own need for napping as “the Jonnysleep.”

I liked Thor’s buddies, Lady Sif and the Warriors Three.  I liked Sif (Jaimie Alexander) because she’s pretty, I liked Fandral (Josh Dallas) because it was fun trying to figure out whether or not he was played by Matthew Modine, and I liked Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) because I honestly couldn’t tell that he was Ray Stevenson until his second or third scene.  And yes, I liked the big cameo, as a Marvel Comics zombie in recovery.  It was a blatant plug for the upcoming Avengers movie, but it almost makes sense.

I also liked Natalie Portman in this movie, and I really liked Stellan Skarsgard, as her very skeptical coworker who eventually becomes a believer.  It’s nice to have solid supporting players who can help a skeptical audience member like me start to take more seriously a truly ridiculous premise.

And Idris Elba, forever The Wire’s Stringer Bell, grounds some of the most ridiculous moments of all, as the guardian over the bridge between Earth and the world of the gods.  My man literally stands in front of a rainbow bridge (sounds like something Prince would sing about), in a helmet that’s taller than I am, and somehow manages to remain a convincing badass.  Let us remember him at years’ end for Great Achievements In Badassness.

RAINBOW BRIDGE

Is this a great movie?  No.  No, it is not.  For one thing, it has more distracting product placement than just about any movie in recent memory.  (I understand that this movie was a tough sell and they needed all the ad revenue they could get, but still:  I got contact-high brain-freeze from all the 7-11 logos on hand.)  More damningly, Kenneth Branagh’s direction inexplicably has more Dutch angles than any movie ever should.  Thor has more Dutch angles than Citizen Kane, though, to be fair, less than Battlefield Earth.  Why so many Dutch angles?  Was it some misunderstanding, considering all the Norse references at hand?  It’s really distracting, and pretty corny.  And the same issues that plagued Iron Man 2, where Marvel Studios is working too hard to shoehorn subplots for the upcoming Avengers movie into all of its movies, are present here, though not quite as distractingly as in Iron Man 2.

Overall, I enjoyed Thor, and way more than I ever thought I would.  As is very clear by now, I grew up as a big fan of Marvel Comics.  I don’t remotely have the same passion nowadays, but I can still enjoy a decent comic-book flick when they come around.  Thor to me is like when I was living in my most voracious comic-book reading phase –  it’s not a character I care much about, and it isn’t the best comic story ever told, but it’s a solid enough detour from my regular reading habits.  I may rather be reading about Spider-Man and Batman, but since I’ve already read their best stories over and over, this is an okay change of pace.

Seriously guys, follow me on Twitter already. This all happens there too.

Me on Twitter: @jonnyabomb