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December 31, 2007

Movies In Brief

Too sick to write real reviews, but...

The Simpsons. Eh. I had hoped for the equivalent of three good episodes from the Simpsons' golden years. Instead, the movie was three mediocre episodes from the Simpsons' post-prime period. Not a bad movie, but just not all that funny, either. If there are any memorable lines I'm having trouble memorabling them now. "Spider-Pig" was an attempt to capture the magic of, say, "Helper Monkey," but just eh at best.

Politics-wise, it was pretty heavy-handed. That didn't bother me all that much but it also didn't help, given the fact that I was only occasionally chuckling.

The Brothers Solomon. On the other hand I laughed quite a bit at this Will Arnett/Will Forte zero-budget movie. Maybe I just wasn't expecting all that much, and maybe I was just in the mood for some of Forte's goofy, somewhat conceptual comedy (he wrote the script), but I had a lot of fun watching this one.

I'm a little afraid to recommend it because I'm almost certain it's a niche-audience sort of movie and that no one else will like it. The movie's about two total losers with no social skills whatsoever -- but brimming with confidence, optimism, and spirit, so much so that you want to hit them. Usually you'd want to create some sympathy for the losers by explaining why they turned out this way... but the movie really doesn't, at least not for a while and only in a perfunctory manner. The blurb on the back of the DVD case explains it much better -- they were homeschooled at the North Pole, and never met a woman until their "high school graduation" when their dad got a couple of Eskimo women to come over to the ice station/high school to serve as prom dates. The movie sort of explains that but not really where you'd expect it, that is, in the beginning. I think this is some sort of dumb Rule of Comedy With Integrity Will Forte has or something, like "Never give an audience an explanation for weirdness" or something.

Anyway, it really doesn't matter why they're so ridiculous. This isn't the funniest movie, but it is chuckleworthy, or at least I thought so. Fans of Will Arnett will like this, I think.


The Break-Up. Sold as a mainstream romantic comedy, it's not any of those, really. It's not mainstream -- it has an indie feel and an indie preference for downer material and ambiguous endings. It's not romantic; it's really about a break up, and not about what you'd guess it would be about, a break up followed by a romantic re-kindling of romance. And it's not really a comedy either. Though it's frequently funny, it's more more frequently light drama.

Maybe Man Vs. Woman stuff is pretty obvious but damnit, they really seemed to get the dynamic here. I swear I've had these arguments six thousand times. And the male writers do a fair job, I think, of realistically writing the Anniston role; she's, um, well, as mysterious as mercurial and manipulative as real women are, but not in some awful way. She seemed real and her motives and frustrations are understandable; she just seems to have, as women do, an undo confidence that psychological games can bring a miscreant man into line. I think women play these games a lot, personally, and get even more frustrated when they don't work.

Which they don't. We're just not subtle enough that subtle manipulations result in the desired outcome.

Vaughan, for that matter, pretty much encapsulates what's wrong with men in relationships. I thought the flick did a pretty good job of handling the eternal war of man against woman in a pretty balanced and realistic manner.

Then again, maybe that's just the fever talking. I know this movie got pretty badly reviewed. But those reviewers who liked it also seemed to like it an awful lot.

One thing about Vaughan: He plays a lot of idiots, which is sort of an interesting move, because he himself never completed college and you might expect him to have some ego-driven reluctance to play characters lacking in education. Like Woody Allen, who famously dropped out of college in the first year but then spent the next fifty years playing hyper-educated intellectual types. You can sort of see Allen frequently overcompensating for his insecurity in that area by the roles he wrote for himself. Vaughan, on the other hand, plays the role of inarticulate dolt over and over again, apparently without any insecurity at all. I mean, obviously he's a very bright guy, so he doesn't really have reason to have insecurity in this area, but... Woody Allen's smart too but obviously still a little insecure about not having that diploma on his wall. Eh, maybe not worth mentioning. I guess I just think Vaughan's a serious talent and I'm looking for non-obvious ways to say so. I'm not sure I've seen a Vince Vaughan movie I didn't like yet.

Halloween. So catastrophically misconceived and witless I turned if off before Michael went on his Halloween night rampage. But that's almost an hour into the movie.

Rob Zombie's "re-imagining" of the classic is a gross misunderstanding of what made the first one work... and entirely obvious and stupid besides. What was Michael Meyer's "origin story" in the first one? He didn't really have one per se; he just went on an entirely unexplained and entirely unprovoked stabbing rampage.

What was the psychological tic that caused this? There was none. A man of science and psychiatry, Dr. Loomis, tells us repeatedly that Meyers cannot be explained by recourse to mundane psychological ideas but that he is, simply, pure, innate Evil. The man of science tells us again and again (and slightly heavy-handed, to be honest) that Michael Meyers is not your mundane sort of psychopath, but a being, essentially, of supernatural evil.

The original, then, sort of straddled the "monster"/psycho-slasher line. "The Shape" was superficially a man (a big, scary man to be sure), but the exposition suggested he was something beyond mundane understanding.

By the way, all of this took five minutes to show in the first movie. Then the stab-a-thon began.

So what does Rob Zombie do? He gives us fifty minutes showing the psychological roots of Meyers' psychopathy -- mom's a stripper, sis is a slut, the guy the mom lives with is a nasty and cruel alcoholic with pedophile tendencies, etc. Not only is all of this crap against the basic idea of the original -- here, Michael's evil is quite explainable by mundane reasons, same as any other twisted freak, rather than simply being a rampaging force of evil nature -- but it's entirely obvious.

What I mean is this: If I asked you to write a psycho-killer backstory, your first thoughts would tend towards the obvious, stuff you've read in a lot of serial killer books and seen in low-rent slasher movies. That's excusable; a lot of initial brainstorming consists of crappy, derivative, "I saw this in another movie" type thoughts. Usually these will be discarded in the effort to think of something better, something fresh and novel, something that hasn't been seen in a dozen bad serial killer movies starring Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman.

But for Rob Zombie, those first, bad, seen-it-a-thousand-times-before thoughts wind up in the final draft of the script and the movie itself. How cliche is it that serial killers torture animals in their youth? Well, sure, it's realistic -- many serial killers do this, but thats why it's a cliche in movies. Dude, we've seen that, read it, dozens of times by now. But for Rob Zombie, this is exactly the sort of fresh idea needed to show that Michael Meyers at age 10 has possible tendencies towards psychopathy.

How about thuggish guards raping a female patient at a mental ward? I've seen that in Frances and scholocky movies; I saw a minor variation of it recently in Kill Bill. Once again Rob Zombie delves deep into his imagination to show me shit I just saw in another fucking movie. (PS, why on earth would these redneck rapists think it's a good idea to rape the woman in Michael Meyers' cell, where he is entirely unrestrained free to attack them, while taunting the enormous killer who is now easily six foot nine and was able to kill grown men back when he was just a chubby, girlish looking ten year old? Does that make any sense? Did I mention the guards have no weapons except for nightsticks and maybe some pepper spray? Of course it's ludicrous, but it's convenient for Zombie to explain how and why Michael escapes from the asylum so he puts it in the movie anyway.)

And maybe even worse, Michael Meyers is given a deliberately sympathetic motivation. The film very heavy-handedly lets us know that while Michael is a serial killer, he's really doing it all to protect his cute baby sister (who I guess becomes Laurie Strode).

That's kind of disgusting. Yes, the villains in these movies tend to become the heroes, or at least anti-heroes, over time, but that's largely just because we wind up knowing them far better than their disposable, short-lived bad-actor teenage victims. But here Rob Zombie gives us Sympathy for the Devil from the very outset.

He's a bad director, full stop. He had no idea what he was doing in this movie and every single choice he makes is wrong, wrong, wrong. The only decent choices were Malcolm MacDowell playing the Donald Pleasance role and the enormous mountain of a pro wrestler playing Michael. (Though even there it's questionable: With Michael now so ludicrously large, again his power seems explainable by mere mundane reasons, i.e., he can kill anyone because he's just huge, man.)

Add to that that Michael, who was entirely mute-silent in the other movies -- silent villains are always creepier, as they evoke the notion that they are not quite human and do not have any reason to resort to human communication; they just do what they want and kill whom they want -- now gabs it up as a 10 year old, robbing him of much of his stone-silent mystique.

Every reviewer said this movie was bad. I knew it was going to be bad going in. I just didn't know how bad. I thought Rob Zombie would get something right along the way by sheer luck, just by the law of averages. Nope -- every choice he makes here is badly wrong and an insult to the original.

That said, hey, who knows, maybe the movie got really super-kewl later on. I wouldn't know. An hour's worth of this shit was all I could take.

Oh... He fucked up Dr. Loomis for good measure. Dr. Loomis appears in the original seemingly unhinged and crazy. This weird inversion -- the psychiatrist who has come not to peacefully talk his former patient into surrender, but to kill him whether the shooting is justified or not -- injects both some curious menace into the Loomis character and also alerts us to the true depths of Michael's demonic depravity. When a scientist-- typically the "let's seek to understand him" pussies of this sort of movie -- instead comes telling cops "The only way to deal with him is to put five bullets in his head, and if you don't have the guts to do it, I assure you I do," that sort of tells you something about the monster he's hunting.

Is that here? Is that in this one? No. Dr. Loomis is shown sympathetically trying to draw Michael out for a long, long tedious asylum sequence filled with exposition that exposes nothing and narration that narrates only what is perfectly visible in the scene itself. But what really annoyed me was Dr. Loomis' sweet good-bye to Michael when he finally decides, sadly, he can't help him, telling Michael, "After so many years, you're virtually my best friend... isn't that odd?"

Well, I grant you, it's an odd fucking choice to turn the Van Helsing to Michael's Dracula into Dracula's bosom chum.

And I think that on that line I decided, "That's pretty much all I need to see." I watched for five minutes more just to see some Michael-murdering that I should have seen in the first ten minutes, but on that line, I'd already decided to turn this godawful piece of shit off.

PS: I'm not a particular fan-boy of the original. I respect it, I think it's decent, I don't mind seeing parts of it when it plays on cable. But it's not a favorite or anything. So this isn't a review from someone who thinks the original is perfect and cannot be improved upon.

Here's an obvious way to improve it-- a movie set on Halloween in the northern midwest should maybe feature trees with leaves turning to brown and red, and not the full-summer-shoot green of the trees in the original. They throw some browned leaves on the ground once in a while to sell the autumnal setting, but, hey, every single lawn is verdantly green and every tree is flaming with bright green leaves. So, you know, either shoot it way up north in Canada or maybe try filming it in the actual autumn rather than high summer.

But I saw the trailer for the new flick, so I know that this is the one area where Zombie was faithful to the original -- he shot it in southern California around spring or summer, too, so once again, all the trees are in full verdant bloom. Smart.

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posted by Ace at 08:44 PM

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