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Sunday
Mar142010

She's Out of My League (2010)

Mo' Titties!!!

I’m beginning to question the wisdom of running guest reviews. While it’s flattering to think that there are actual fans of Kicking the Seat who are willing to contribute their own opinions, I must say I’m concerned by the caliber of writing and thought that goes into them. Presented here, in its original, unedited form, is another write-up by titfan69_67 (who reviewed The Haunted World of El Superbeasto last November).

I should note that there is no truth to the rumors that titfan68_97 and I are the same person. Though we briefly shared a cubicle at a telemarketing call center and, through a series of bizarre coincidences, took the same girl to the Benet Academy Turnabout Dance in 1994, I can assure you, dear readers, that we are very different people.

Y’know, I was kinda worried about She’s Out of My League cuz there’s a bunch of critics out there who’ve been giving it like really good reviews and stuff; guys I usually consider really stupid cus they like analyze films and talk about characters development and plot mechanisms or whatever—these guys have been saying this movie is good—that its not like those other guymeetsgirlfallsinlovewithgirlloosesgirl movies, it’s smart and funny an real. SO i was thinking it’s gotta be shit if they like it. But my buddy Dana concinved me to check it out cuz the girl in it’s got these huge mellon titties and since its “R” she might show um and stuff. So me an Dana we checked it out and I gotta tell ya, fuck those critics, cuz this movie isn’t smart at all. I loved it.

The main guy kinda sucked cuz he’s only been the geeky backup geek in movies like Knocked Up and the other Jud Appatow movies—he’s this skinny, baby chested nerd named Jay Baruchel and he’s playing Kirk in the movie who works at the airport. He reminded me of the dad from American Pie (I think his names Ugene Levvy. But he’s like that guy if that guy was fourteen and had like a nervous twitch all the time while he was shitting his pants all the time.

SO any ways, Kirks one of those losers who has a bitterness complexs against anyone whose attractive or sucsesfull and he just wines alot with his looser friends who also all work at the airporta nd they rate girls and guys on a scale of 1 to ten and they’r e all like 5s except theyr’e threes. So any ways, Kirk meets a girl named Molly who leaves her phone at security and he keeps it for her and gives it back to her at this party she has later on and she’s got these huge teeth and bigger than life boobs; i mean like the kind you see in national georrgrapic but white and you just want to buy the unrated dvD now so they might have a scene were she maybe accidentally shows one of them gorgeous globes.

But she’s a real person with feelings and the whole movie is her trying to prove that to Kirk and him just thinking he’s a loser and wining about it; they’ve got wacky friends and family who all act like their in these bad sitcoms (even the mom from That 70s Show shows up and plays the exact same part). I liked how the writers didn’t feel like they had to try coming up with new lines and jokes/ they just had people swear alot and reference Disney movies and thought that would be enough to be a comedy. And I was high as shit off this Elmers that Dana’d brung in from the Ace Hardware, so ya, I laughed alot.

I also like that the movies almost 2 hours long. I no some people think comedys have to be really smart and sharp to sustane that kind of time, but not if you have titties and people playing hockey and guys cumming in they’re pants just before the girls’ parents come over—that shits’ funny enough for like six hours.

They a[so don’t bother with making you know why the tow main charcters are in love; you just know by what kind of movie it is that she’s fucking hot off the presses and hes a bitter nerd and theyre gonna end up together so you just go along for the ride. I’ve seen this shit a billion times before so you pretendious assholes who need originally in everyhthig can SHUT YOUR fuckiNG MOUTHS ALREADY.

The coolest part Of sHE’s OUTtta My League was that it takes place before 9/11. At least I think it does cuz in the climax (heh) when everybody’s running through the airport to declare their love or whatever, one of the wacky friends yells at his boss at the security checkpoint and threatens to kick his ass—and another guy takes out a big wrench on the runway and sabotages a plane so it cant take off—and there isn’t one FBI guy or security guard or cop anywhere; in any of the scenes; not one. And I thought 2 things: times were simpler then, and wouldn’t it be cool if the cast werent ALL WHITE PEOPLE but instead like they looked like the cast of Slumdog Millionaire? Man, that’d scare the shit out of the audience if they did any of the shit they do in this movie.

At the end of the day, this movie isn’t for the critics. Its for people who know that sometimes you just need to enjoy a movie that if you were to think about it and intellectuallize it you probly wouldn’t watch. Its one of those ones that you see on cable and you have it on while your surfing the net or doing bills. Comedy doesn’t always have to be funny to be good. Thats why Shes Out of My League is the most hilarious movie i’ve seen in like ten years—that and that Molly girls’ got some amazing tits.

Sunday
Mar072010

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

A Tale of Ordinary Madness

Besides Cop Out, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland is the most frustrating, boring movie I’ve endured in months. Both films nearly defeated me. There were several moments when the aisle and the exit sign called out to me, and it took every ounce of faith that things could get better to stay in my seat. If you’ve seen either of the Chronicles of Narnia movies, The Golden Compass, The Wizard of Oz, Return to Oz, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or any of the animated or live-action iterations of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, there is literally no reason for you to waste your time and money on this under-done Big Mac of a motion picture.

I’ve been thinking about that hamburger analogy a lot lately, as it applies to Tim Burton. He was once a gifted visionary who made challenging, risky films that happened to pay off for the Hollywood studios. To think of the director is to instantly recall Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Batman. Watching a Burton picture then was akin to biting into a perfect filet mignon for the first time (for my vegetarian friends, I gladly substitute a barbecue black bean burger from the Daily Bar & Grill in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood). In recent years, though, his aesthetic and narrative quirks have become a reliable, generic formula—to the point where you can predict everything that will appear on the screen just by looking at the poster; much like a McDonald’s hamburger, Burton now makes disposable comfort food that bears only a passing resemblance to what it’s supposed to be (it may also give you an awful stomach brick two hours later).

Ironically, one of my biggest gripes with Alice is that Burton tried something different. This movie is not a retelling of the classic Lewis Carroll story, but rather a sequel. Alice, you see, had her wonderland adventure and went through the Looking Glass as a child; now, thirteen years later, she’s a an allegedly rebellious young woman who dreads her impending arranged marriage into a wealthy British family. During the engagement party, she spies a rabbit and follows it, eventually falling down a hole into—

Hey, this sounds an awful lot like the original story! She finds herself in a room with a tiny door, and must consume shrinking and growing potions in order to pass through it. Later, she meets a blue caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat, and the Mad Hatter, and eventually comes into conflict with the Red Queen. All of this is presented as “new”, though, because Linda Woolverton’s screenplay plays up three very tiresome conceits: A) the whole experience is a dream, B) she doesn’t remember most of the people/creatures she comes into contact with, even though she’s had recurring nightmares about them for years, and C) the rest of the Wonderland (sorry, “Underland”; stand back) crew don’t believe that this Alice is the same Alice from before.

This becomes a real problem from an audience member’s standpoint, because we know going in that A) the experience is not a dream, B) we already know most of the characters—and the new ones are so uninteresting that they don’t matter anyway, and C) we know from the film’s opening that this Alice is the real Alice. Had Burton and Woolverton actually created a story or at least an atmosphere in which all of the above were in doubt, then maybe it wouldn’t be such a chore to watch the same variation on this conversation:

Alice: But none of this is real! It’s only a dream!

Bizarre Creature/Human with a CG-Enhanced Large Head and/or Eyes: No it’s not!

Sidekick Creature: Doesn’t matter! She’s not the real Alice!

Alice: Yes, I am! But none of this is real! It's only a dream!

Bizarre Creature/Human with a CG-Enhanced Large Head and/or Eyes: No it’s not!

(In the spirit of the screenplay, I copied-and-pasted that last line, instead of typing something new.)

There’s also the matter of a prophetic scroll that clearly shows Alice fighting the Jaberwocky, a fierce, fire-breathing dragon. The Audience knows it’s Alice, but none of the characters believe it, and that conversation keeps popping up as well; and because the movie’s two hours long, all moviegoers can do is settle in for a long, candy-colored slog towards an inevitable, under whelming Epic Battle. Guess who wins.

I guess if you’re an eight-year-old kid, this movie would knock your socks off. I can see Alice and Wonderland becoming this generation’s The Dark Crystal. But the sad thing is, that’s about the extent of this film’s audience appeal: kids who don’t know any better and adults who still give Tim Burton a pass because his visual tricks are literally more than they can imagine themselves (the same people who were “amazed” by Avatar after the first twenty minutes).

The script is shit, and the look of the film is equally uninspired. In terms of invention, there’s nothing here that you wouldn’t expect to see in a Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland movie—from the bare trees with the curlicue branches to the brightly colored, overdone everything else, this movie is flat, flat, flat. I didn’t bother to see it in 3D. I knew going in that I’d be more stimulated by saving $3.50 on the special glasses and instead buying a medium popcorn whose kernels I could just hurl at my own face.

But you may be thinking, “Wait, Ian, Johnny Depp’s in this movie...AS THE MAD HATTER! It’s gotta be worth seeing for that alone!”

Nope. Not even close. Johnny Depp is a fine actor, and he’s done some really interesting things with the performances he’s turned in for Tim Burton in the past (the high water mark for both actor and director being Ed Wood, sixteen years ago). But in this movie, he’s nigh unintelligible, switching between a swishy knock-off of Robert Downey, Jr. as Sherlock Holmes and a gruff Scottish accent that makes The Simpsons’ Groundskeeper Willy seem less stereotypical. He zips about and changes moods and personas, mumbling or yelling made-up words; it’s the family-friendly version of an unrestrained performance; the effect is not intriguing—it’s annoying. It’s problematic when your second lead character seems to be working without a script or a hook. And there’s no way to portray genuine madness in a Disney film, so I guess this is what we get instead; kind of like asking Ron Jeremy to play an abstinence-only advocate in a Focus on the Family recruitment video.

And what of Alice? That’s a harder call. Because her character’s main job is to stand off to the side of the screen so that we can better see the special effects, Mia Wasikowska is kind of a blank slate here. I mean that literally, as her skin is so pale I had a hard time distinguishing her face from the daytime sky in some scenes; I guess this is fitting given the anemic film in which she stars. But, seriously, she didn’t make much of an impression. I’ve seen her part and her performance in all of the movies I referenced earlier.

In fact, all of the great actors in Alice in Wonderland are either miscast or underused. How does one lure Crispin Glover out of his sheltered life of directing art films starring the mentally challenged? Surely, it had to be something more enticing than his stooge role as Stayne, the Knave of Hearts. This felt like a faux-weird decision by a Disney exec to pull in the hipsters—except that a weird actor in a nothing role is not quirky, it’s just sad and forgettable. Glover’s scenes with Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen are so strained that I thought I was watching a pair of celebrity cameos in a Muppets movie. Lastly, there’s Anne Hathaway as the White Queen, whose performance was overshadowed by the positively ghoulish manner in which she carried her arms and hands, bent permanently at Fairy Tale Princess Angles—as if her limbs had locked while modeling the Happy Meal toy version of herself. I hope each of these actors takes their big-time studio cash and uses it to support themselves while making good movies.

If you’re looking for a real fantasy/adventure film, stay home and rent Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are. That’s a challenging, imaginative picture whose every beat cannot be predicted. It features well-crafted, subtle special effects and a lead actor in Max Records that compels, repulses, and intrigues in the most honest ways possible. You may feel weird when it’s over, as the story delves into some harsh, dark areas, but I can almost guarantee you’ll be satisfied. Unlike Alice in Wonderland, you won’t suffer from psychic indigestion and nausea.

Friday
Mar052010

Orgazmo (1997)

Grime Capsule

Orgazmo reminded me of a line from The Beany and Cecil Show: “A [movie] so terrible, it couldn’t have been released—it must have escaped.”

This is a tough film to review because I can’t recommend it as a straight comedy. However, for fans of South Park and the adult entertainment industry, it’s an indispensible time capsule of late-90s low culture. It feels like a dumb, filthy, ninety-minute in-joke, and I can’t believe that Universal Pictures put it in theatres.

Orgazmo is the titular star of a new adult film. When the actor playing him breaks a finger during shooting, he’s replaced by a young Mormon named Joe Young (writer/director Trey Parker), who just happened to be witnessing in the neighborhood. The movie’s sleazy director, Maxxx Orbison (Michael Dean Jacobs), convinces Joe that he could both star in the picture and stay true to his religious beliefs by using a stunt double for the actual “love” scenes—he also offers Joe $20,000, which would pay for his wedding to the lovely Lisa (Robyn Lynne Raab) back in Utah. Under the condition of anonymity, Joe takes the job and embarks on a glamorous acting career.

Unfortunately, Orgazmo becomes the unlikeliest cross-over mega-blockbuster ever, and soon Joe’s masked face is plastered all over Time Magazine and the AVN Awards. Adding to his troubles, the owner of his favorite sushi bar is being harassed by the mobsters who own the dance club next door, and who want to demolish the restaurant for purposes of expansion (three guesses as to who the mob boss is). With the help of his on-screen sidekick, the diminutive Choda Boy (Dian Bachar), Joe becomes a real-life version of Orgazmo—complete with a fully functioning “Orgazmorator”, an arm-mounted canon that induces uncontrollable pleasure in its targets, man, woman, and animal.

The first twenty minutes of Orgazmo are pretty rough. I didn’t crack a smile, and felt no guilt over pausing the film a couple times to get some ice cream and use the bathroom. The jokes fell flat, the acting by everyone except Parker was unforgivably bad—cheesy not in the porno movie sense, but in the porno-stars-trying-to-act-outside-of-porno-movies sense. However, Choda Boy’s introduction marks a distinct turn in the feel of the film. At the outset, we only had Parker’s aw-shucks, one-note character to root for, and he was contrasted by overbearing sleaze-ball stereotypes. Dian Bachar brought a spirit of fun and mischief that, frankly, carried the rest of the picture (he certainly brought Parker’s character to life).

From that point on, the jokes in Orgazmo hit maybe half the time. There are a lot of misfires in the movie, but the bits that work really, really work. One sequence in particular, in which Choda Boy shares the origin of his “Hamster Style” fighting technique had me laughing hard. It’s a stupid bit, but one that’s executed with the subtlety and precision of an Airplane gag. Honestly, most of the porn-industry-centric jokes—the ones that are supposed to be shocking and hilarious—are just kind of sad.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone (who pops up as Dave the Lighting Guy) were working on Orgazmo, I’m pretty sure, when they inked their deal with Comedy Central to do South Park. I find it amazing that they made this movie before they rocketed to super-stardom. Orgazmo is the kind of failed vanity project that usually comes after a comedian has proven himself commercially viable (Parker and Stone had one of those, too, called Baseketball). What’s great about this movie is that one can see the dirty seeds of the humor they would soon perfect, and I wonder if all of the juvenile material that fell flat was purely their doing, or came from studio interference. Whatever the case, their talent is evident here, but not as much as one might suspect going in.

Additionally, this movie is fascinating for people who are fascinated by the adult entertainment industry. Not only can you play “Spot the Porn Star” (aka “Where’s Dildo”) with many of the extras, but you can—if you’re so inclined—reminisce about the more innocent days of mass-marketed sex. This was 1997, when everything was teased hair, mile-long thongs, and a pseudo-mainstream studio system that focused on storytelling; rather than the desensitizing, perversions-on-demand Internet Age of compilation videos and “sexting”.

By the time the movie had ended, I was kind of itching for a sequel. Yes, Orgazmo is a bad movie, but the earnestness of the main cast and the likely accidental homage to 80s crime-fighting movies made me smile. Hell, I wouldn’t mind seeing a remake, scripted with the well-honed, devious wit that Parker and Stone have cultivated in the thirteen years since this film was released; and Mormons are as funny as ever.

Wednesday
Mar032010

The Crazies, 2010

Hell is Other People

In the last few years, two kinds of movie have run their course: zombie films and horror remakes. Sadly, like the walking dead, neither seems to know when to give up the ghost. So imagine how astonished I was to have walked out of Breck Eisner’s update of George Romero’s The Crazies last night, feeling uplifted and satisfied. Maybe it’s because this is based on a little-known cult film, or because the story’s monsters aren’t technically zombies; either way, the movie feels—for the most part—like original horror, and I’m all about going for a ride I haven’t taken before.

Set in Ogden Marsh, Iowa, The Crazies tells the story of David and Judy Dutton (Timoty Olyphant and Radha Mitchell), the town’s sheriff and doctor, respectively; they’re happily married, and recently found out they’re expecting a baby. What they weren’t expecting was a downed government cargo plane that crashed in a nearby swamp, leaking a biochemical weapon into the Ogden Marsh water supply. When people drink the tainted water, they go murderously insane. The trailer might lead you to believe that this is another “town-besieged-by-zombies” movie, and it kind of is, but mostly isn’t. In the Romero tradition, it’s about human relationships, incompetent and untrustworthy government, and everyday fears magnified to the nth degree.

Seriously, it’s not a zombie movie. In fact, the military sweeps into town very early after the madness breaks out and evacuates all of Ogden Marsh. David and his deputy, Russell Clank (Joe Anderson), return to rescue Judy, who’s been improperly diagnosed as being a crazy-in-waiting, and locked up in the high-school-turned-mental-hospital. For the rest of the movie, the small band of survivors—and a few other people who pop in and out—must make their way to the town limits and avoid trigger-happy soldiers as well as the few crazies who weren’t swept up or executed in the raid. There are no ghoulish hoards here; no scenes of people boarding up doors; and no re-animated corpses, either—when a crazy gets shot in the head, that’s it for them.

Two things make this a very successful movie. The first is that the screenplay by Scott Kosar and Ray Wright goes far in establishing the small town community of Ogden Marsh. Tired archetypes are scrapped in favor of natural characters that one might encounter on a trip through the heartland. It would have been so easy to paint David Dutton as either a macho hero or a down-on-his-luck shlub in need of redemption, but as written—and as performed by Olyphant—he’s a perfectly average guy who likes the people for whom he keeps the peace. And those people aren’t portrayed as rubes, either, which is also refreshing. The normalcy of the townspeople makes what happens with the weapons spill both tragic and terrifying.

The second selling point is Eisner’s direction. I’d be surprised if he hasn’t watched a lot of horror movies, because he seems to go out of his way to avoid the genre’s sillier cliches and fake-outs. He gradually turns up the heat on his characters and lets the story unfold naturally. The Crazies is not a showy picture, but rather one that creates genuine suspense. Eisner’s gift is that he doesn’t cheapen that tension with flashes of gore or pointless jump-scares; more often than not, there is no “payoff” for the build-up.

A prime example is an early scene in which a woman goes into a barn, where her husband has started up the thresher at three in the morning. The way the camera fetishizes the gleaming, whirring blades and switches between wide shots of the machine and close-ups of the woman, the outcome is inevitable, right? Not in this case. I won’t spoil what happens, but it’s a great use of direction and mis-direction.

Granted, I didn’t love The Crazies; though I liked it a lot. There are a few moments where Eisner calls back some of the scares that worked in earlier scenes, but to a lesser effect. Also, I don’t buy the film’s climax at all. Then again, I’m neither an expert in geography, physics, nor small-grade nuclear weapons; suffice it to say, if you bought the idea of a refrigerator shielding Indiana Jones from the effects of an atomic bomb, you’ll probably be okay with this film’s final action scene. In fact, it is followed by an effective ending that almost made up for the previous two minutes. Then again, this is followed by a credits-sequence coda that makes absolutely zero sense, and feels like a studio executive’s note. These are nitpicks that mostly bothered me after I’d left the theatre; while the movie was going on, I was full on-board with the story and the suspense.

It’s ironic that George Romero has released two zombie movies in the last five years—with one in the can, awaiting release—and neither of them are as good as two remakes of his earlier works. The new version of The Crazies and Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead update from 2004 prove that remakes—or re-imaginings, or whatever the hell market researchers are calling them this afternoon—don’t have to be lowest-common-denominator bores. These two films, though not original ideas, have distinct voices and are aimed, I think, at moviegoers who don’t necessarily love horror movies. Eisner and Snyder know that thrillers should thrill, and not get weighed down in confused political messages or special effects (they also have a penchant for opening their movies with Johnny Cash songs). If only more remakes were about vision rather than brand recognition, I think we’d see an ironic end to the argument that Hollywood is creatively bankrupt.

Note: My dear friend Meghan made me aware of a phenomenon whereby some moviegoers require a bit of "liquid courage" before going to see horror films--I guess it keeps the nerves from getting too rattled. For my money, I'd say The Crazies is a two-shots-of-Patron motion picture.

Sunday
Feb282010

Couples Retreat, 2009 (Home Video Review)

Have I Got a Long Way to Run

Couples Retreat is a pretty terrible movie, but not for the reasons I’d suspected when I sat down to watch it the other night. I’d avoided it in theatres due to the negative word-of-mouth, but figured it was worth a rental. The best endorsement I can give is that you should wait for it to come on cable, and keep flipping channels.

The premise is sitcom-simple: four couples with varying degrees of marital troubles agree to vacation together at an all-inclusive Caribbean resort. Three of the four don’t realize that with the free drinks and massages come mandatory marriage counseling sessions and trust building exercises. If you’ve seen the trailers, you’ve seen the set-ups for all the gags: the buff yoga instructor with the inappropriate moves; the shark attack that Vince Vaughn blows out of proportion; the wacky marriage counselors. This is the Mad Libs of Hollywood studio comedies, except without the chuckles or edgy humor.

What’s interesting about Couples Retreat is that the first hour is kind of engaging. It fails as comedy, but the dialogue between the spouses sounds like real people working out real issues. It reminded me of a lighter version of another Vaughn film, The Breakup, which I loved for its willingness to challenge the audience by luring them in under the pretense of wacky comedy and then bombarding them with an occasionally funny but ultimately depressing look at modern relationships. There’s a sliver of that in Couples Retreat, but hour two is nothing but masturbation jokes and gay masseuse gags.

Another thing I found fascinating was that the cast all played one-dimensional stereotypes who, when combined together, actually formed one believably messed-up couple. It was like watching the John Cusack thriller Identity, except set in the tropics and (unfortunately) without all the killing. You’ve got the high school football hero and head cheerleader couple, living unhappily ever after; you’ve got the over-achieving power couple who prefer spreadsheets to bed sheets; you’ve got the older guy rebounding from a failed marriage with a party girl twenty years his junior; and you’ve got the normal couple with kids and mild communications issues. On second thought, forget what I said about believability. These folks are all cartoons.

The movie’s only selling point is the cast, but the script doesn’t serve them well at all. Watching Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau in Swingers was a hilarious revelation of male bonding; here, they’re just doing bits and collecting paychecks. Kristen Bell was spunky and smart on the underrated TV show Veronica Mars. Couples Retreat reduces her to the neurotic shrew that can’t get pregnant. And Jason Bateman just revives his role from Hancock, which was a third-generation Xerox of his role on Arrested Development to begin with. The cast look like they’re having fun—and who wouldn’t, shooting a movie in paradise—but it’s more important that the audience enjoy themselves; otherwise you end up with movies like this and Ocean’s Twelve.

In the end, Couples Retreat is a joyless, silly waste of time. If you find the idea of Jean Reno popping up as the resort owner, prancing around in a Speedo and generally “being French” to be knee-slapping hilarity, then you’re just the rube this movie is aimed at. If, on the other hand, you’re offended and bored by easy cultural stereotypes and fictitious gender paradigms, you’ll want to look elsewhere for an evening of laughs.