short film reviews, criticism, and occasional musing.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Drag Me to Hell (2009, USA)

Drag Me to Hell is easily the Raimiest Sam Raimi movie since Army of Darkness. Animated corpses! Demonic possession! Popping eyeballs! Vomiting! Laffs! As much as I enjoyed the first two of his Spider-Man movies, this is the Raimi I really love. There are so few directors who know how to scare effectively and simultaneously go for cheesy laughs, and with another decade and a half of filmmaking experience under his belt, it’s great to see what he can do with a sharpened skill set and some extra money. One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is Raimi’s tendency to punish his lead. Poor Allison Lohman. I hope Bruce Campbell took her out for a beer before shooting started to let her know what she was in for.

Slightly off-topic, I’ve heard some rumblings about a supposed Raimi-helmed redo of The Evil Dead. Seriously? I could bitch and moan for a bit about what a weird and unnecessary idea this is, but essentially – when he (and Ivan) can still make a movie as scary, hilarious and awesome as Drag Me to Hell, what’s the point? If he’s jonesing for a return to horror comedy, I’m sure he and his brother aren’t short of fresh ideas. Then again, if the rumored Spider-Man 4 is any indication (not to mention the profusion of things that get vomited on Lohman in Hell), Raimi might not always know when to leave well enough alone.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Hangover (2009, USA)

Despite some of the best sight gags being featured in the trailer (I hate when that happens), The Hangover is pretty damn funny. And while Bradley Cooper brings the smarm and Ed Helms blusters amusingly, most of the film rests on the pudgy shoulders of Zach Galifianakis. I love Zach Galifianakis. I watched Out Cold because he was in it. Seriously. As awkward man-child Alan, Galifianakis toes that same line that Steve Coogan does in movies like Hamlet 2 – so over-the-top that he’s simultaneously hilarious and disturbing. Galifianakis gets away with it more easily than Coogan, probably because he’s not so effeminate (As long as Seth stays out of it. Parts of Live at the Purple Onion get really, really weird.), and also because his delivery is generally so deadpan. Comedians like Coogan and Will Ferrell are hyperactive, pushing so hard that they make comedy look like work. Galifianakis, on the other hand, is at his best when he’s laconic, because unlike those other guys, he looks like he believes every single insane thing that comes out of his mouth.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Brothers Bloom (2008, USA)

I’m a fan of Rian Johnson’s Brick – in fact, it may be the most recent theatrical release that I’ve bothered to pick up on DVD – so I was disappointed by how shallow I found The Brothers Bloom to be. For all its style, its rambling about stories and storytelling, and the cheeky visual cues, I felt that Bloom was, in essence, much ado about nothing. Everyone’s playing to type, too – Mark Ruffalo gets the best lines (with the best delivery – “That’s my new favorite camel” is a winner), Adrien Brody broods soulfully, Rachel Weisz is adorably madcap, and Rinko Kikuchi is, um . . . Japanese?

To be honest, the characters really started to bother me the more I thought about them. I’m used to, and rather tired of, the little boy lost routine, even when it looks as good as Brody does it here (the man should not be allowed to wear contemporary clothing. You’ve seen the internet. You know what I mean.), but it ended up being the ladies that really bugged. Weisz’s Penelope is essentially a mid-30s version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a blank slate that Brody’s recovering con man can write his future on. I give Weisz credit for infusing Penelope with as much life and agency as she could, but on paper, the character is a mess. I kept hoping for a third-act reversal that would give Penelope some depth, but no such luck. And perhaps the less said about the eternally silent Bang Bang (Kikuchi), the better. She doesn’t even get to speak in her own language – rather, she sits around looking adorable in kooky couture, trading meaningful looks with the boys and occasionally blowing things up when called upon. Manic Pixie Dream Girl, killer geisha version 2.0.

I’m disappointed in Johnson. The females he wrote in Brick were certainly types, but they were types that he pulled out of the noir films and the high school movies he was toying with, and they rated a lot more attention and care than either Penelope or Bang Bang get. Bloom feels as if a newbie director got in a bit over his head. He wrote himself into a movie that he couldn’t quite figure a smart way out of, and he lost some of his strengths – language and plotting among them – along the way. Still, it’s a sophomore stumble, and I don’t doubt that Johnson has the skills to see his way back to more assured filmmaking.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Terminator: Salvation (2009, USA/Germany/UK)

It’s been almost a week since I’ve seen Terminator: Salvation, because I just haven’t been able to summon the will to write about it. What is there to say? Why does this movie exist? Apart from the generally-accepted awesomeness of giant killer robots, there is pretty much nothing about T:S to recommend it. Even the dependable Christian Bale phones it in, probably coasting off of his Batman cred to the point that he didn’t realize there wasn’t a script for this movie. When the tone shifts abruptly mid-film from action to plot, there are absolutely no characters to align with – even the now-mythic figure of John Connor is only barely sketched out. We’ve never seen him as an adult before, post-Skynet, so why not make it interesting? Never mind – Salvation doesn’t want to push the envelope, relying instead on middling special effects (with the notable exception of the Schwarzenegger bit), cute nods to the former films (wow, we’ve come a long way since Use Your Illusion II), pretty faces blustering through bad dialog (why does Bryce Dallas Howard get the only shower in the apocalypse?), and stock figures standing in for actual characters (cute black kid and kindly old grandma, I’m looking at you). And don’t even get me started on Helena Bonham Carter. The worst part of T:S is that it leaves the door wide open for yet another Terminator film. After the rapidly diminishing returns of the third and fourth movies, here’s hoping they leave the franchise for the history books. Or the bargain DVD bin.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008, USA)

Nick and Norah is a pretty rote exercise, a pseudo-indie teen rom-com that lazily tries to hide its pedigree under a veneer of in-the-moment music scenesterism. It’s going to feel terribly dated in about a year, and seem a relic in two. What’s worse, Nick and Norah pretty much wastes the comedic talents of its stars, Michael Cera and Kat Dennings, with a lame script and ineffectual direction. The two have some chemistry, but no spark, and in this context, it was a really, really bad idea to name them after one of the most dynamite screen pairings of all time (at least as far as snarky banter is concerned), William Powell and Myrna Loy in the Thin Man movies.

That said, there are some funny bits here and there. Cera’s delivery, as always, works on lame lines that other actors just couldn’t pull off. I also liked his gay band friends, though I wasn’t quite sure why being the only straight guy in a gay band equals instant hilarity. (However, John Cho in suspenders and a t-shirt reading “Challah Back” absolutely equals instant hilarity.)

But mostly, I liked Ari Graynor as Norah’s party-girl friend, Caroline. Caroline’s that girl who arrives at the party at 10:00 and is totally wasted by 10:02. Playing the drunk must be a lot more fun than playing the prude, and Graynor rips into it, leading the crew around Manhattan in search of her dumb ass, and totally owning the best scene in the movie, a Port Authority bus-bench exchange with a mute Kevin Corrigan and a turkey sandwich. I’ve only ever seen Graynor in a secondary role on the T.V. series “Fringe” and a couple of short stints on other network shows, but it looks like her upcoming projects include Drew Barrymore’s roller derby movie, Whip It! and the long-gestating Youth in Revolt. My doubts about both projects aside, I hope they’ll give her the opportunity to do more comedy.