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July 21, 2007

Movie Reviews of All the Crap On PPV and DVD

All "Do not want," alas, except for Reno 911.

Reno 911 In Miami Or whatever it's called. Three stars. Funny stuff. Not hilarious, but consistently funny. The DVD, I think, is unrated, and promises lots of gratuitous nudity, but I saw the theatrical version (I think) of PPV, and while there was some nudity, it really wasn't as much as I was hoping for.

Most members of The State show up for cameos, as do some other fairly big stars. Nick Swardson reprises his role as the painfully gay rollerskating hooker, with a twist. Patton Oswald and Michael Ian Black show up, of course, but not in their roles from the show. Paul Rudd, who must love giving comics handjobs, has a prominent role as a Scarface-like Cuban gangster. As usual he's pretty funny. But seriously, when did it become a law that Paul Rudd had to appear in every comedy made? I'm not complaining; I like him. I'm just curious when this law was passed.

I just liked this movie. If you like the show, and maybe even if you don't, give it a rental.

Dead Silence One star. Don't believe the commercials, which promise a creepy, visually-arresting horror movie. The movie is visually quite good, as the filmmakers strain to jam in every creepy image from 100 years of horror. Abandoned theaters, spooky lakes with requisite fog (and a long-disused boat that just happens to have a working oil lantern on it to get that image of a silhouette holding a light as he crosses the lake), graveyards, mansions. It's like every Hardy Boys book every made, but with a psychotic ghost and her demonic dummies subbing for conterfeiters and smugglers.

Trouble is, the script is frigging stupid and witless and the acting is atrocious. The lead has nothing go on in his eyes. Nothing. Dead eyes, like a doll's eyes, which you may think has some intentional resonance with the material, but no, you're wrong. He's just a blank, a nonentity. I remember hoping he'd die early -- the old Psycho twist where the presumed hero is just the first victim -- but no such luck. Just seems like a bad actor, and not a very smart bad actor either. I was so pissed when I realized I had to sit through this guy's bad acting for the whole movie.

Donnie Wahlberg, who has done some decent acting lately, is awful as a stupid cop who seems to have cribbed all his lines from bad TV cop shows and has the idiotic character-quirk of always shaving himself -- always, even while he's interrogating a suspected murderer -- with an electric shaver. And yet he always looks like shit and always has a five o'clock shadow.

Although I had some hopes for this movie, I remembered a rule of horror movies: Filmmakers are convinced that ventriloquists dummies and dolls make for good horror villains, and keep trying, but they're always wrong and always will be. A brief shot of dolls or clockwork automatons is a creepy little image; but they never, ever work as actual figures of menace. As a bit of scenery, fine. As a villain? No. It never works and never will work.

And it doesn't work here. These Saw guys try to pull off a Big Surprise Ending but it's completely stupid. And there's not much foreshadowing to it. In fact, while the plot of the of the movie seems to have been designed to lead to the "twist," the plot points involved seem to have been cut out of the movie. I think what must have happened is that they had some of that plot in the early cuts, but it made the ending far too obvious, so they cut them all out. So the ending is a (weak) surprise but has a completely random feel to it.

The entire plot is cribbed, incidentally, from Freddie Kruger. Violent psychopathic killer of children is murdered by vigilantes and now the ghost of the killer murders the children of her killers. In their dreams, no less. And there's even that stupid nursery-rhyme about the killer swiped straight from Freddy Kruger, except I guess the filmmakers got embarrassed at the degree of their theft, so they insist on calling it a "poem" to differentiate from Freddy Kruger's nursery rhyme -- but they can call it poem all they like, it's plainly a nursery rhyme.

Really bad. Even by the low standards of horror. Pretty pictures aplenty -- hadcore cinematography fans will find something of value here -- but not a scare or even jolt in the whole movie. The only decent actor is the hero's fire-engine red muscle car, which is lovingly photographed (and pushed to the red, whereas the red is usually desaturated from everything else). Every time that car was on the screen, it was magic. Such a giving actor, elevating the performance of everyone sharing a scene with him.

But other than that -- zilch. Stay far away.

Why is it that people with a good eye for visuals seem to be utterly retarded when it comes to the verbal/logical/dramatic parts of movie-making?

Premonition Two stars. Critics savaged this movie, which was unfair in away but in another way quite fair. Fake but accurate reviews, as it t urns out.

The problem is not, as the critics would have it, that this is technically a bad movie. It's not a bad movie. Sandra Bullock does some fairly decent acting as a woman losing her mind, the script's okay, and the direction is all right if a tad too subtle for it's own good. The problem is that it's also not a good movie. Not good enough to be worth your time, and yet also not bad enough (as I'd hoped) be be enjoyable as a tour-de-force of cinematic incompetence.

The premise is that Bullock has become, like Billy Pilgrim, unstuck in time. As the film opens, she's told her husband died in an awful car crash. The next day, she wakes up to find him alive; she's actually living a day from a previous week. Then the next day he's dead again and she has to attend his funeral; the following day, it's a past day, and he's alive. She subtly (too subtly, again) goes slightly bonkers as she stumbles in confusion from past to future, never knowing what is actually the "present" or what is actually real.

This sets up a potentially interesting race against time as she tries to prevent (in the past) the future she knows is on its way. But the simplest solution -- prevent your husband from taking the trip during which he's killed -- doesn't seem to occur to her until pretty late in the movie, and further, she barely tries. She just says "Don't go," he says "I'm going," and that's that.

Then they try to ratchet up the Serious Thoughtful Drama Quotient by revealing he's having an affair -- no, wait, he's too nice a guy to have an affair; he's on the verge of having an affair -- and we get some not-terribly-convincing stuff about how she might just let him die after all, to punish him for his not-yet-accomplished sins. It's supposed to be "dark" and "realistic" as Bullock wonders if she lets him die, does it make her a killer? But really it just feels contrived and shoehorned in to give a silly sci-fi thriller a bit of philosophical heft.

In the end, precisely what's been going on is never really explained, which didn't bother me but seems to have bothered critics. A priest is consulted to get some lame exposition and hints about what's causing this (a lack of faith in God, it seems, or at least that's his speculation) and offer some safely-vague nondenominational platitudes about faith and hope and love and and "knowing what's important in life" and other gay shit of this nature.

But it's the actual ending that really sucks (though the rest of it is hardly great, either). I don't want to give anything away, but it all seems, again, to be a contrived stab at "deeper meaning," when really the subject matter is just too jackass to support any pretensions of philosophical import. Somewhere along the way they forgot they were making a silly little sci-fi-ish thriller with some potential for fun and mistakenly thought they were making a serious drama of the magical realism sort.

The whole fun in these sorts of movies, by the way, is seeing that things we see early in the movie were actually caused by the hero in the past (this being revealed later). Done right, these sorts of revelations provoke an enjoyable "Ohhhhhh-ooooohhh! reaction: "Oh right, that call we saw in the beginning of the movie was actually placed by Sandra Bullock, but in the future!" or whatever. Deja Vu, the decent (two and half stars) Denzel Washington thriller, had a lot of these "Ohhhhhh!" moments. Premonition strives for this effect, but it's all pretty lame and pretty obvious. Like-- the reason the page of a phone book has been torn out and is now in the trash? Surprise -- in the past we'll discover Bullock tore it out and threw it in the trash. Not only is this pretty obvious immediately, but it's hardly such a major reveal that even if we were surprised by it our reaction would be, "Eh." Pretty weak execution of a potentially enjoyable plot contrivance.

See it if you've really got nothing else to watch, but be aware the pleasures of the flim are slight. Better yet, see Deja Vu, which does all this sort of thing much better. That's hardly a great movie either, but it's diverting enough.

So the critics are right -- this movie is not worth your time. But not because it's awful. Just because there's nothing here that rises above the level of inoffensively mediocre.

Shooter One star if you can't get past the film's unhinged leftwing paranoiac Dick-Cheney-assassination-fantasy politics; two stars if you can.

I was able to put aside my political objections to this movie, having been prepared for them. And also: Because I like, a lot of the time, cynical movies about our government conspiring against us and a single lone hero taking all the corrupt bastards out.

This premise works as a fantasy, as in, for example, The Long Kiss Goodnight. When a movie decides to take this premise seriously, and handle it "realistically" (btw, this movie is no more realistic than Rambo), it doesn't work for me. Let's just say that not only did LBJ kill Kennedy in this movie's fictive universe (and the framing of Wahlberg closely parallels the supposed framing of Oswald, by quite heavy-handed intent), but every military action the US has ever taken is all to put oil pipelines through third world countries. Along with the necessary massacres of hundreds or thousands of innocent dusky-hued peasants.

And when Wahlberg opens up his Internet news service and says, "Let's see what lies they're telling us today," we have little doubt he's on a Truther website. It's not identified as such, but the whole tone of the movie -- the entire plot, really -- suggests that 9/11 was an inside job. In this universe, it must have been; the government does nothing but manipulate us into war for their precious oil pipelines.

I didn't like Rambo because the movie was a comic-book fantasy, and yet the plot concerned a real-world (well, debatably real-world) problem: POWs still being held in Vietnam. It just never works when a comic-book superhero is sent out to solve real problems. Fantasy superheroes should solve fantasy problems; realistic problems should probably be avoided, but if one must feature them in a movie, at least let them be solved by realistic heroes. If Rambo was a rightwing fantasy intruding into the real world -- with the incongruity and problems of tone that creates -- then Shooter is just a leftwing Rambo.

Though I could politics aside for this movie, I still couldn't help being annoyed that what could be for me a more appealing Conspriacy Theorist Fantasy was ruined by director's insistence that this was no fantasy, just the way the world works, brother. All this shit right here is real, yo.

Ummmm... no.

Getting on to the actual movie, Antoine Fuqua is one of those directors who feels compelled to digitally manipulate every attribute of his images in order to achieve a "unique look," except it's not unique, because most other directors with pretensions of brilliance are doing the same exact thing. Colors are supersaturated, unless they're being desaturated; light is artificially increased except where darkness is being artificially enhanced; clarity is boosted wherever graininess isn't being pushed, all to achieve the effect of heightening reality never letting you forget you're watching a fakey movie.

The plot is weak, with several big plot holes apparently created due to chopping out scenes to get this thing down to a reasonable two hour running length (who's sending the FBI dude those IM clues? Is that Wahlberg? What is the relevance of the "Delta level" clearance the FBI guy gets, and how does he get it, and what, exactly, is the benefit of having such clearance?). The acting is adequate, though Wahlberg really can't pull this stoic loner role off; stoic loners need to have some sort of internal struggle to make them interesting, and Wahlberg couldn't fake an internal struggle to save his life. Danny Glover for some reason has a speech impediment, and that Russian/Eastern European dude shows up because he won a lawsuit against Hollywood stating he must appear in any military/spy thriller for the next 50 years.

Moving on to the actual action: It's just not very good. The problem with a sniper movie is that when a sniper is in his element, honestly, he is like "God" from Navy Seals -- he is the bolt from the blue that cannot be avoided. So this movie features lots of ballistically-exploded heads, which are fine and all, but when Wahlberg's a mile and a half away capping people in their brains, it's not an "action sequence" so much as an "execution montage." In many situations he's not in any danger, and when he is in danger (i.e., up close and personal, inflitrating/stealthing around bad-guy hideouts) he just swipes all of Rambo's moves, including Rambo's psionic power to detonate pre-planted explosives at the exact moment necessary to blow pursuing heavies to hell.

A gritty, realistic thriller? A smart, taut action movie? Definitely -- to the exact same extent Rambo was. Sorry, liberal critics -- just because you like this movie's leftist bent and despise Rambo's rightwing tack, it doesn't make any of this nonsense any more realistic than Rambo blowing up half of Vietnam with what seem to be nuclear-tipped arrows.

There's one somewhat clever bit near the beginning, when a twice-shot, losing-blood Wahlberg resorts to a neat bit of improvised surgical prep (recalling Rambo stitching himself together in First Blood -- I dig these improvised surgery scenes) and a couple of helicopters taken out via rifles (one helicopter too many if you ask me, and both are taken out the way they've been taking out dozens of times before), but on the whole it's very, very eh, baby, and very been-there-done-that.

Honestly, if you want a leftwing movie about snipers, see the absurdly pro-Communist Enemy At The Gates. At least that has cool costumes and scenery and Ed Harris as a legendary Nazi sniper who can give our Valiant Communist Hero of the People a run for his money.

Let's face it, Hollywood has completely forgotten how to make a decent action movie. Indeed, they seemed to be only good at for five or six years, the magical mid-to-late-eighties period that brought us Die Hard, Midnight Run, Robocop, Lethal Weapon, Aliens, Terminator I and II, etc. Shooter is not a good action picture in any way, but it is, at least, a not awful one, so if you're desperate for sneaking around and garroting bad guys and blowing their heads apart like casaba melons from a mile away type behavior, it's barely worth a rental.

Just try not to be too put off by the obnoxiously in-your-face leftwing messaging, and you can get through it easily enough, even feeling something close to entertained from time to time.

But only close to entertained.

Spoiler on Shooter: I need to discuss the ending, as it's so utterly stupid. And nonsensical. This isn't really a spoiler, because the ending is so bad I can't spoil it; there's nothing to be spoiled. Nevertheless, if you get upset about such things, here's your warning.

Wahlberg gets -- of course! -- a full taped confession from one of the conspirators, evidence which, while perhaps not legally admissible against the other conspirators, would get him absolved of the crime he's accused of.

What does he do with this tape? He burns it. Why? 1, to convince the other conspirators he's no longer a threat to them, and will leave them be, and 2, because, in this universe, you can never get the bad guys at the top of the villain food chain, they're untouchable, and everyone's so corrupt the evidence would be destroyed anyway by someone in law enforcement. So why not cut out the middleman?


1) This is retarded.

2) Walberg in the very next scene accuses all of the conspirators of murder in front of the Attorney General. Hey, what about that idea you were just going to let sleeping dogs lie, so no one had any reason to come after you anymore? Whoops, guess he changed his mind five minutes after burning the tape.

3) This is retarded.

4) This is also cribbed from Escape From New York, where Snake Plisskin does something similar just to show what an uncaring, anarchy-loving anti-hero bastard he is.

5) It was retarded there, too.

6) It's retarded here as well. Not sure I mentioned that.

On to the next stupidity. Having destroyed the evidence that would clear him, Wahlberg magically conjures more evidence to clear him (and also to implicate the bad guys, which, again, was the whole point of burning the tape, to convince them he wouldn't implicate them).

His evidence? Well, his rifle was planted at the scene of the crime to frame him.

But now he reveals -- tah-dah! -- that whenever he leaves his home, he takes out the firing pin of every rifle he owns (and he owns, it seems, hundreds), and replaces them, for some reason, with a shortened firing pin which looks like a working firing pin but, in fact, cannot ignite a round. In other words, the rifle the bad guys planted to frame him is a non-working rifle, and always has been.

Okay: This rifle has been in the possession of the FBI for a week or two. More like two. And no one ever test-fired it for ballistic comparison purposes, or to see if the rifle was capable of making such an amazing shot as it was supposed to have done, or to even see if, you know, the fucking thing even is capable of firing a bullet.

Which it isn't.

No one fires it. The revelation that the gun simply won't fire leaves the entire Department of Justice and FBI with their jaws hanging, saying "Whhhhaaaaaa....?"

They try to slip in an explanation for this absurdity -- the bullet that killed the victim was destroyed on impact, so no meaningful ballistic comparison is possible -- but there are still other reasons to fire it, including the possibility that another round, a missed shot, might be recovered from the crime scene, and etc.

Want more stupidity? The movie's premise hangs upon a bullet which matches the rifling of Wahlberg's being used to commit the crime, thus framing the rifle and thus framing Wahlberg. Wahlberg consults a survivalist lunatic gun expert as to how this could be accomplished (short version: get a bullet fired from the rifle you want to frame, wrap it in paper, and shoot it out of another rifle; the bullet will retain the striations from the gun you're framing).

So the whole plot requires the bad guys to get such a bullet fired from Wahlberg's gun.

Do they, as one would expect, fire his rifle into water or ballistic gelatin to get a bullet matching his gun's rifling pattern? No, they can't, or else they would realize his gun simply doesn't fire, and therefore they would modify it back again with a firing pin which would cause it to fire, which would ruin Wahlberg's big surprise evidence at the end.

So since the plot says they can't do that, what do they do? They search the mountainside where he lives for a round he shot earlier (when the gun did work) through a can of beef stew.

Not just fire the gun themselves -- no, they search a fuckin' mountain for a bullet they weren't even around to witness being fired in the first place, so they wouldn't even know it was fired or where it was fired.

And a bullet shot through a steel can, by the way, which seems like it would probably fuck up the bullet, again suggesting that maybe they should just fire the gun into water to get the bullet they need.

One more stupidity:

This exonerating evidence was available to Wahlberg from the very beginning of the plot against him and yet, for some reason, he chooses to keep silent about it after being pursued across the country by law enforcement and special-ops mercenary killers, riddled with bullet wounds, just so he can have his big surprise at the dramatically approrpirately moment.

And one last stupidity: Rather than go through this whole absurd business of getting a bullet from Wahlberg's gun (which the bad guys have possession of) and then shooting it through a different gun -- hey, here's a fucking idea that's a bit simpler -- Why not just actually use Wahlberg's gun to commit the crime in the first place? I have to stress-- the bad guys have it all along. They set the gun up to frame him the moment after the kill-shot is taken. But they use an entirely different rifle for that shot.


Just so Wahlberg can reveal the gun doesn't even work at the end. Something everyone was unaware of, because at multiple junctures when they would have fired it for one reason or another, they went to a great deal of jackass effort to avoid ever using the thing.

Actually, it get stupider and stupider. Even if you were doing all that insane nonsense, you'd still fire his gun, because cops can tell how recently a gun has been fired by its smell. How much cordite is wafting out of it.

Wahlberg's gun hasn't been fired in a week. But they plant it in that state anyway, not even bothering to shoot off a round just to give it the smell of a recent firing.

Again: Just because. Just because the "big reveal" at the end is that the gun couldn't fire even if they bothered pulling the trigger, which of course no one does.

About 100 people -- seriously, around 100, including all the conspirators framing Wahlberg and all the LEOs determined to convict him -- have been in possession of this non-working gun, all of whom had spectacular reasons to fire it, and yet none of them did. None of them. Ever. Not even once.

Talk about a conspiracy theory. A conspiracy of contrivances.

"Smart, taut, realistic thriller."


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posted by Ace at 06:58 PM

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