Archive for the ‘movie review’ Category

Harry Potter and the Strange Obsession

I’m not ashamed to admit that I, a grown man a hair’s breadth shy of 30 was giddy as a school boy as the film version of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince drew closer to opening.

I was initially prejudiced against the Harry Potter phenomenon.  Muggles and snargaluffs and Hogwarts?  What about that doesn’t sound like a bad Dr. Seuss project?   On the one hand I was delighted to know that kids were actually reading again; on the other, it just didn’t seem to suit my tastes.

Also there was the fact that the series bared a striking similarity to the Books of Magic series published by Vertigo in the 90s.  I would have rather preferred the Vertigo series.

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As it happened, my father rented the first two films directed by Chris Columbus.  I found them entertaining to some degree or another, but still not quite something to catch my interests.

Normally this might be the end of the story but not for some friends of mine who were going to see Prisoner of Azkaban and asked me along. Alphonso Cuaron’s darker, more majestic world seemed to seduce me.  This was not the fairytale world I expected.   Harry Potter was growing up, and the world was not so pretty.

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Afterwards, I attempted to read the next chapter, Goblet of Fire, but still found the book somewhat slow and impenetrable. Even so, I was now a fan and saw the midnight showing of the film on the first night it was out. By the time I saw Order of the Phoenix, I was hooked.  The next week I bought a soft cover copy of The Half-Blood Prince and devoured it within 4 days.   Overcome with a thirst for more, I bought the hardcover Deathly Hallows which had only recently come out at the time.  Hallows took me 5 days.  Like every other fan, the ending left me satisfied, yet saddened that it was over.

Since then I have been waiting, patiently for the arrival of the fourth film. It opened this past Tuesday at midnight.  Because of work, I begrudgingly waited until the next night to see it.  I’d spent the last two weeks re-reading the book to refresh my memory and ended up reading Hallows again as well because I couldn’t help myself.

So did it live up to the wait?

harry-potter-and-the-half-blood-princeI’d have to say, NO… but with one caveat.   I believe that reading the book as a refresher was a mistake.   Adapting a 600 plus page book into a lean, tight script isn’t just difficult; it’s impossible.  Material has to be cut out.  As such, by its very nature, the films are their own animal and should be judged as such.  They’re good films, this one included.

There were two way in which the film shortened the material: by abridgement, in which the original material was simply edited, and by rewriting scenes.  Of the two, I much preferred the rewritten scenes.  The abridged scenes felt rushed and glossed over, like they were only left in by mandate as an afterthought.  This is especially true of the scene which introduces Professor Slughorn.  Dumbledore brings Harry to meet him in the hopes that Slughorn will agree to return to Hogwarts out of curiosity about the infamous Harry Potter.  Yet in the film, we see none of this.  Harry and Slughorn are scarcely in the room together for five minutes, and he doesn’t seem to care either way.  Nonetheless he agrees in a rather dramaticly uninspired change of heart.  Similarly, the abduction of the wandmaker Ollivander (which will become important in the next films- maybe) are quickly and quietly thrown by; blink and you missed the mention of it.

Here is where those like me who re-read the source material are hurt the most.  The rushed moments feel emphasized, and almost mechanical.  It as though things happen because they are pre-ordained rather than because they fall that way.

By contrast, the scenes where the writer rewrote or added material flow wonderfully.   What particularly impressed me was the handling of Harry and Ginny Weasley’s burgeoning romance.   My one complaint about the final two books is that for all of her discussion of Harry’s feelings, Rowling scarcely has Harry and Ginny together for more than a few days.  As a big fan of the coupling, I felt rather cheated by the lack of time with them.  When a writer introduces a romantic interest into a story, he/she is almost required to properly explore the relationship as it pertains to the plot.   Without it, the reader is left wanting.  In the film, we are given much more of them.  In particular, the kissing scene works very well.   In the book, the kiss –while wonderfully done–  seems at least partly a product of overactive hormones.   Here the kiss is much more expressive of the feelings between them.  It may have been the best moment in the film.

As mentioned, a large amount of material was edited out.  Missing of note are subplots involving Rufus Scrimegour, Mundungus Fletcher and Bill Weasley & Fleur De La Cour’s engagement, all of which play heavily in the last book.  I can only assume they will be eliminated from the next two films as well (The Deathly Hallows will be adapted into two movies).   But perhaps the oddest scene missing involves Harry and Snape.   (Spoilers!)  Following a duel where Harry has injured Draco Malfoy, he is found by Snape who saves Draco’s life.  In the book, Harry is duly punished.   In the film, however, nothing happens.  It seems curious that you could almost kill a fellow student– particularly one that you have a well-known grudge against– and get away scott free.   The lack of comment is a bit distracting to watch.

In the end, I think I enjoyed Half-Blood Prince, though not as much as Order of the Phoenix.   I was slightly disappointed with it, but that has as much to do with my own anticipation and expectations as with the execution.  I do think that the film would have worked better with an extra ten minutes; time enough for certain moments to breathe.  Of course, many would argue that it’s already long, and they would be right.  However, one must remember that this is the 6th in a line of dense genre films, and most of the audience are bound to be fans.  It is unlikely that they would begrudge a few extra minutes of screentime, even at the expense of their bladders.

I would advise anyone going to see it to ignore the books.  This is an adaptation, and a fair one at that.  It’s still a fun movie.  And even after 8 years of conflicting visions and voices, they’re still magical.

A Love Letter to Fanboys

Fanboy: noun-  A geek; a fan of science fiction, comic books, or some specific element there-of.

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I’m tempted to begin with a joke about Fanboys being made a long time ago, in a land far, far away.  Because sometimes it feels that way.

The story of getting the film Fanboys on to the movie screen is nearly as epic as the journey contained within.

Fanboys is the story of 5 high school friends who travel across America to steal a copy of Star Wars: the Phantom Menace before it is released; fulfilling the last wish of Linus who is dying of cancer.   Despite the heavy subject matter, Fanboys is a comedy which was prepared to celebrate the joys of geekdom and the reality of being a fanboy.  The film was originally set to be released in August of 2007.   The trailer had debuted months earlier, leaving geeks across America salivating at the thought of a film of their own.   Sadly the movie was pushed back for nearly a year.  And then even further.  And further.   And of course their were cuts and recuts of the film.  It seemed like the film would never  be released.  And when it was, the studios gave it so little advertising and so limited a release, it came and went like a phantom.  … I swear that wasn’t an Episode One pun.

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It took me 2 and a half years to see Fanboys, oddly paralleling the wait that the characters– and indeed, all of us— felt for the coming of the newest Star Wars movies.   So was it worth it?

Yes, and no.    The film suffers from a lack of clear direction.  It doesn’t seem to know what kind of film it wants to be.   Is it a story of  best friends who reconnect before its too late?  Is it a road movie?   Pop culture comedy?  Geek-umentary?    The identity crisis can be distracting at times, as each scene feels fundamentally different from the next, making the quality of the movie a bit uneven.

I suspect that fact is due in large part to studio interference.   harvey Weinstein famously attempted to cut the story of Linus’ illness just before it’s final release, leading to fan protest and threats of boycotting Weinstein Company films.   I agree that scenes and elements of it needed to be cut, but that isn’t among them.  Linus’ story is the driving force (swear these aren’t puns) for the story.  And many of the scenes that address the illness are among the finest in the piece.    Rather than bring the story down, it brings a touch of humanity to it.   A comedy is a great thing, but if there is no heart in it, then it ultimately becomes irrelevent as soon as it leaves theatres (or DVD, I suppose).

I hate to say it, but what needed to be cut were the extraneous nerd elements and unnecessary cameos.  For instance, there was a scene which introduced Seth Rogen as the villainous Trekkie leader.  Now, I’m sure many a Star Wars fan has dreamed of roughing up some Trekkies (“That is a derogatory term.  The proper word is Trekker.”)— but the truth is the Trek/ Wars battle just feels cheap and amateur.  And while I dig Rogen, he wasn’t even mildly funny in any of his scenes.

Similarly the Harry Knowles scene feels weird. Harry Knowles is the creator of Ain’t It Cool News, and something of an web-media demigogue. He’s also notoriously over-weight and Hobbit like.  Here, he’s played by Ethan Suplee, who is a fantastic addition to any film, but appears much tougher than Knowles could ever hope to be.  Was Harry trained to fight at the Jean Claude Van Damme school of fake fighting?  The scene just doesn’t work.  Instead it feels like the filmmakers are kissing Harry’s rear in an attempt to get a favorable review.  Instead they make him violent and even more Hobbit-looking than ever.  These scenes could easily have been cut and abridged and it would have been better for it.

However, some of the cameos are great and not nearly as distracting.  The Star Wars cameos lend a bit of geek cred here, and even feel fitting.  Also, icons like Kevin Smith and even the SHAT himself feel a more natural fit.

And lastly, I take umbrage to the PG-13 rating.  This is another element that clearly is the result of studio interference.  When you strip away the cancer and the Fanboy dressing, it’s a road trip movie.  This is a genre that begs to be rated R.  And as you watch the movie, there are moments that were clearly intended to feature the gratuitous nudity that we all know and love.   By teasing the nudity and then neutering the shot, they’ve merely disappointed their audience.  I understand a desire to make a movie more available to a broader audience, but this is a movie set in 1998 and glorrifying scifi and comic book geeks— it’s target audience is clearly not the Jonas Brothers fan club.  And considering they basically tanked the film in advertising anyway, I don’t see the point.

Okay, so those are my —and I stress this— minor complaints.  So what did I like?  The casting for one.

Dan Fogler, Jay Baruchel, Chris Marquette and Sam Huntington embody every brilliant facet of geekdom.  They never once made me ashamed to be a Fanboy.  And as I mentioned, many of the cameos were great, and hilarious.   But the real gem of this film was only in it for about half of the running time.    The movie is at its best when Kristen Bell is on screen.

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Bell is, in my mind, the new Geek Goddess.  She’s Veronica Mars.  And there is no movie that cannot be made better by her presence.  I’ll even go a bit further. When George Lucas eventually remakes the original Star Wars trilogy — and don’t kid yourself, IT’S COMING— I think Bell should be the new Leia.   It’s not just that she wears the Slave Leia outfit better than anyone since Carrie Fisher.   There’s a scene wear she leans over in front of R2-D2 and says those famous words:

“Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.”

And just for a second, I felt like I could have been back watching A New Hope.   Additionally, she gets some of the best lines and scenes in the movie.

The script was a bit of a mixed bag, but when it works, it really works.  The jokes are hit or miss, but that is to be expected.   But most of the elements are there for greatness.  And thats the real tragedy.  It could have been great.  It could have been a big hit.  All Fanboys needed was a little more attention, a little less interference and a lot more faith.  “{Don’t}tell me the odds.”

But it wasn’t perfect.  Even so, it was a love letter to Fanboys.  It’s the sort of praise that we deserve.  Sure, they made fun of Trekkers, but — look at those people.  It’s okay to be a nerd, or a geek or a Fanboy.  It doesn’t matter if you spend 2 years debating whether Luke had the unholy hots for his twin sister, which is sort of like being gay for yourself.  (He totally did, by the way.)  Maybe you’ve mapped out the Summers/ Grey family tree or know every episode of Doctor Who and which version of the Doctor starred in it.  You might even be obsessed with Kristen Bell.   It’s okay.   Fanboys is a film about living life on your terms, and not letting society tell you who to be.

It’s a good message.  And a film worth seeing.

Wolverine: Spoiled Milk

For your viewing pleasure, I present the finished script to the new Wolverine film, condensed down to the essentials.

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Young James Howlett (that’s Wolvie’s real name in case you don’t remember it from the movie back in 2002) is being nursed by his father.   Random dialogue ensues before James Sr heads downstairs and gets shot by Jimmy’s *gasp* real father.

Young James:  Dad’s dead.  Time for me to look up at the sky and scream.  NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!  Woah.  I have claws and mutant powers even though I was just dying in my bed not ten minutes ago.  I must kill you now, birth father.  Time for me to make my angry killing noise while outstretching my claws.  RAAAAAAaAAWWWWWWWWRRRRRRRRRR!

Jimmy’s Birth Dad:  This sucks.  I just wanted a hug, motherfucker.  Bad enough your Mom’s a whore.

Jimmy’s Slut Mom:  Great.  Both my meal ticket and my stable boy are dead and my son has killer bone knives sticking out of his hands.

Young Jimmy:   Waaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!  Mom’s a slut and I don’t know who my Daddy is and my hands hurt and I think I just started puberty which means in a few years I will be known world round as the hairiest Canadian on Earth!

Victor Creed:  Jimmy!  WASSUP dude!  I’m really your brother.  Thanks for killing Dad.  I’m really angry and psychotic for no good reason, and that was kind of awesome.  I love you, man!

Young Jimmy:  I have a psychotic big brother?  Cool! Let’s go to America and kill shit!

Victor: Right on! We need a montage!

Cue montage of Victor and Jimmy killing a lot of people.  A LOT.   Also, Victor learns that he has the mutant power to jump in bizarrely sexual poses.   

While sitting in a prison in Vietnam, William Stryker pays them a visit.

Stryker:  Listen guys, I am by far the best actor here, but even I will not be able to figure out my motivation, so I’m going to need you and a bunch of other guys to kill a lot of people so no one in the audience notices.

Victor:  Will I get to jump all over?

Jimmy:  Will I get to strike roided-out action poses and yell RAWR?

Stryker:  Whatever tickles your fancy.

Victor and Jimmy: FUCK YEAH!

Victor and Jimmy are on an elite special ops team in a helicopter, surrounded by a ninja, a dude who looks like Test from the WWE and a rapper wearing a cowboy hat.

Wade Wilson: Hi folks! I’m comedic actor Ryan Reynolds.  They brought me in to be the comedic sidekick in the film… and also because I fit into Jessica Biel’s outfit from Blade Trinity.  So I’m going to make a few quips, become the only truly entertaining character and then disappear from the rest of the movie.  Got it?

The chopper lands in Africa.  Mutants jump out and kill people.

Random Asian Mutant Assassin:  WOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! I love the Matrix!   I have no visible mutant powers but I can shoot people in really cool, unnecessarily athletic ways!  WOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

The team storms a building.  Machine gun toting killers open fire.

Wade:  Time for me to Ninja the bullets with my swords in a way that could not possible work!

Stryker:  Awesome Ninja-ing Wade!   But you’re too funny, so you need to go do Van Wilder 3 or something.

Wade:  Ooh!  I heard the blond chick has implants now!  See ya.

Victor speaks swahli to a bunch of African indigenous people.  

Indigenous African:  Ummm… weren’t you mute in the first two X-Men movies?

Victor:  No, that was the other actor. I’m normally in much better movies than this.

Indigenous African:  You sure?

Victor:   BERSERKER RAGE!

Jimmy: Stop!  I was okay with helping you kill the other 5000 people, but its time I develped a conscience and thereby proved that even though we’re brothers I am not an animal like you.

Victor:  You can’t walk away from the team!

Jimmy:  Sure I can. I get a hot girlfriend in the next scene.

Victor:  Dude, we were gonna go to Applebee’s after this! Bros over hos!

As promised, Jimmy gets a hot girlfriend.

Jimmy:  RAAAAAaWWWWRRRRRRRRR!!!!

Kayla:  What is it baby?  Did you have a bad dream?

Jimmy: YES!  I dreamed that all I’ve done in the last couple of years is this and a Baz Luhrman film!  It was horrible!

Kayla:     ….  yeah.  that was… that was just a dream. 

Stryker:  Jimmy!  It’s been six years!  Time for some foreshadowing which you’re going to ignore and then will eventually regret it, sending you on a quest which actually is the beginning of the real plot

Kayla: Hi, I’m Jimmy’s hot Native American girlfriend.

Stryker:  But you’re white.  And doens’t your sister have blond hair and blue eyes?

Kayla: well yeah, but I need to tell a made up Native American myth that will lead Jimmy to naming himself Wolverine in my honor.

Stryker:  Ah.  well it doesn’t matter.

Kayla: Time for me to go get killed!

Victor jumps around and kills Kayla.  But not really.  It wouldn’t be suspenseful if her dead body riddled with claw holes wasn’t healable.

Jimmy: Kayla’s dead???  Time to yell No at the sky again.

xmen_origins_wolverine_movie_poster_international “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Jimmy finds his killer brother, Victor.  Sadly his, angry RAWR face is no match for Victor’s jumping power.

Victor:  I look better with an Amish man’s beard!!!!!!

Jimmy: RAAAAAAAAWWWWWRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!  Outstretched bone claws!

Victor wins.

Jimmy: I’m really angry with you sir.  You should have told me that my brother who I loved was going to kill the woman that I love thereby providing the obvious motivation for this unnecessarily convoluted plot.

Stryker:  Well I still don’t know my own motivation!  So even though you’re my worst enemy and could kill me as you are right now, I am going to make you even MORE dangerous!

Jimmy: Well whats your motivation for that?

Stryker:  I don’t know!

Jimmy:  RAAAAAAAWWWWWWRRRRRRR!!!!!

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Jimmy gets metal claws and is now named Wolverine.  It says so on his underwear.

Stryker: Now that we’ve made him into an unstoppable autonomous killing machine, we should piss him off and then kill a bunch of people who are nice to him.

Wolvie:  I heard that!  Time to start the killing again!   ‘Splode stuff!!!!!!!

Wolvie gets a leather racing jacket and then goes off to find rapper Will.i.am hanging out with a sweaty fat dude in a gym.

Will: Jimmy!

Wolvie: No, they call me Wolverine now.  Well… I would explain, but since you’re set to die soon, it won’t matter.

Will: Hey, you know that big fat guy down there?  That’s our old friend Fred!  Yeah, he’s fat!  But don’t mention that he put on 600 pounds, because he’s in denial about it.

Wolvie:  HEY FAT GUY, LETS HAVE ANOTHER POINTLESS FIGHT SCENE!

Fred:  Sigh. Okay, but if I die, try to remember me as the bad ass mercenary in LOST, okay?

Wolvie:  Only if you conveniently know the location of the next future X-Man who will take me to the last location in the movie.

Fred: Done.

Meanwhile, Stryker gets a visit from another General who wants to shut down this untraceable black ops facility and came alone.

General:  Stryker, I know that your son is an evil mutant.  You should kill me now!

Stryker:  Really???  HEY GUYS!  I FOUND MY MOTIVATION FOR ALL THE STUFF I’VE BEEN DOING!  Yeah! My son is an evil mutant who killed my wife, so I decided to clone another mutant and give him a bunch of different powers which will help him destroy the earth and…  wait… I still don’t get it.

Wolvie:  Yeah, why don’t we just start tossing in a bunch of random comic book characters with non-descript powers that even the fans won’t care about, until we can bring Wade back for the last fight.

Wolverine meets mutants, fights Victor and finds THE ISLAND.

Fred: No, not that ISLAND.  This is a different one, that is far less compelling.

Wolverine meets a killer mutant with no mouth and a messed up face with more plastic surgery than Dick Clark.

Wolvie:  Wade? Is that you?  How do you eat with no mouth?

Wade:   mmmrrrrffffmemkjjkjljlkjljljk!

Wolvie:  Also, how did you manage to get two samurai blades to pop out of your arms like claws?  I  mean, how could you possibly move your arms like that?

Wade:   MMMMMRRRFFFDDDDDDEMEMEMEMEME!!!!

Wolvie:  Oh, right. No mouth.  Well lets fight!

Victor: Can I team up with you in an act that goes against everything else that I’ve done for the past hour?

Wolvie: Sure; whats it going to hurt at this point?

Wade dies. Stuff blows up. More mutants.  

Gambit:  Hey, I’m one of the mutants that the reviewer lazily skipped over.

Wolvie:   Can you blame him?

Gambit:  … well anyway, everyone is dead.  You have no ties to the past. And now your name is Logan.

Logan:  Why?

Gambit: It’s written on your underwear.

Logan: It wasn’t a few hours ago.

Gambit: Whatever, listen, you don’t have your memories either.

Logan: So… can I forget I was ever in this dreck?

Gambit: Well, just until the next X-Men spinoff.  I mean, they can’t seem to write one that doesn’t focus on you.  You’re totally going to be the “surprise” cameo in the Magneto movie they’re making.

Logan: OHHHHHH! So that’s why they mentioned that I was a soldier in World War 2!

End movie.

Why You’ll Love-Hate Watchmen

I don’t envy Zach Snyder.  No matter what he did, he was going to get it wrong in the eyes of one majority or another.

The problem is that there are three parties interested in a Watchmen film.  The comics fans want to see the beauty of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons comic brought to life frame for frame, syllable for syllable, a frakking giant squid and black freighter; because anything less would be sacrilege in the face of perhaps the most important comic in history.  The consumer audience wants to see another mindless, pretty, action-packed Superhero flick; the next Dark Knight if at all possible.  And the movie studio wants another Dark Knight cash cow as well, only cheaper, shorter and more efficient; and they don’t give a damn if Watchmen is anything like the book.

At least one of these groups will be disappointed, and as usual, it’s the fans.  Projects do not transfer from medium to medium organically.  Some comics just do not work in film form. Changes have to be made.  For the majority of these projects I judge them by their story-telling ability and their handling of the characters.  However with some books, such as Watchmen, that just isn’t enough.

The studio wants an action movie that will bring in millions of ticket sales.  And so does the public.  But Watchmen is not an action film.  Nor is it really about Superheroes.   It is for precisely that reason it is so beloved by it’s fans.  The essence of the story is about what makes us human, and what is the nature of good versus evil, and ultimately about whether power gives one the right to decide the fate of others.  And really, it’s about much more than that. It’s a very dense read with an incredible amount of subtext.  But honestly no one wants to see a movie about that. Movies are often a lazy medium, one where the audience doesn’t want to think.

Which leads us to writer Alan Moore’s opinion that Watchmen is unfilmable.  But honestly?  He’s wrong.  I went into the theatre having read and appreciated (though not loved) the book.  And what I saw met most of my expectations, and exceeded a few.

It isn’t the book.  But it is a decent adaptation that meets the majority of needs for all three groups, as long as you don’t go in with any expectations.   I think the majority of consumers will be disappointed in it without ever giving it a chance.  The film has been mis-marketed from the start.  Watchmen is much closer to The Usual Suspects than X-Men in content and subject matter.  There is sex and violence in it, but not nearly as much as the trailers imply.  And yes, for you purists, the ending was changed slightly.  No giant squid.  But honestly, it works.  In fact, it makes more sense than the giant squid does.  Yeah, I know I just lost loads of nerd-cred, but it’s true.  A film-maker’s job is to simplify and fully realize (emphasis on the first two syllables of the last word) any adaptation.  Snyder did just that.  And what’s more, he did a damn good job of it.

The only complaints I have are minimal.  Some of the music is atrocious.  As much as I love Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah, the use of Leonard Cohen’s cover of it in the sex scene is so ridiculous that I went from sexual arousal to gut-busting laughter in the span of a second.   Likewise, the use of 99 Left Balloons at a key scene took me out of the film and made me feel like I was watching a romantic comedy.   Beyond that, the only problem areas occur because of the cinematography.  Watchmen’s style is meant to bring the comic to life.  It worked tremendously in 300, but here, there are a few scenes which feel cartoonish, particularly scenes with the Golden Age super-team, The Minutemen.  Not a huge problem, but it is a little distracting.

The bottom line is that Watchmen gets more right than it does wrong.  And like the book, it will merit multiple viewings to fully digest the menagerie of beauty and philosophy thrown at you, however precisely, like cogs in clockwork.  The bar previously set by The Dark Knight will probably not be exceeded here, in terms of revenue, style or fan response.  But honestly, I’m happier that way.  Watchmen couldn’t have been made any better by anyone else.  It is a tight, lean movie that moves at a decent pace despite it’s long run time and heavy psychological thoroughbred.  It works.

It’s not only filmable, it’s watchable.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

It’s a good time to be a geek in America.  There’s a lot of stuff coming out that makes for a constant geek-gasm.   Not that it’s all that hard an effect to create.  Pretty much anything with the words Star and Wars make us want to run home, drop our Scooby Doo underoos and lay a brick all over our life-sized, blown-up Slave Leia poster.  And speaking of fat American masurbators, Kevin Smith’s new comedy came out this week.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno.   What isn’t there to like about that?  In the words of Zack Brown, the lead character in the film, “Why the FUCK aren’t we watching that RIGHT NOW???”

Honestly, why aren’t you?  Well, I can think of a reason.  If you’re easily offended or just don’t have a flexible sense of humor, this isn’t the movie for you.  It IS a Kevin Smith film after all.  It’s EXACTLY as dirty as the title makes it sound without being inappropriate for… uhhh… anyway, let’s move on.

As a preface, I should mention that I am a Kevin Smith fan, without being a “Kevin Smith fan”.  By that I mean, I enjoy the man’s work.  But there are some people out there who seem to think he’s a god simply because he’s one of the few public figures who doesn’t look like Matthew McConaghey or Woody Harrelson who admits to smoking pot.  I’m not entirely sure why that’s impressive anymore.  We live in an age where our last two Presidents have been caught smoking pot and being a crackhead.  But there you go.

Kevin Smith is a really good writer who is hindered from being a great writer by his own sense of inadequacy and unwillingness to “go all the way”.  I think he really is holding himself back.  So basically, he’s a fat kid.  (I am too, so shut up.)   Chasing Amy was the first mature film he ever made, but it was still visually amateur.  I think the next step from great writer to great writer/ film-maker was Jersey Girl, a film that showed us a more adult (though not “Adult”) Kevin Smith. What’s sad is that film was panned by so many critics, and very much unfairly.  The hype surrounding “Bennifer” is really what hurt the film from an advertising perspective.  Nevermind that Lopez and Affleck were both great in the film, and that Lopez’s features played a part in Rachel Castro’s casting, which is turn was a great move on Smith’s part.  But it seems as though the sting of Jersey Girl’s critical rebuke has pushed Smith in the other direction, first with Clerks 2, and now with Zack and Miri.  The rubberband effect seems almost a statement on Smith’s part.  “Okay if they’re not going to accept me as an artist, fuck it, I’m just gonna be the funny fat guy I’ve always been and play to my audience.”  That’s kind of sad, because Jersey Girl is my favorite Smith film, no matter how funny the last two have been.

And Zack and Miri IS funny, make no mistake.  (Not to mention “Adult” without being adult.)  What’s still great about Kevin Smith films is that he has never lost that “movies can still be fun and have a story” element.  He isn’t trying to be an artist even when he IS being an artist.  He just makes movies for people who loves movies.  Or in this case, people who loves porn movies.

THE PLOT

Zack Brown and Miri Linkey are to lovable losers who have known each other since first grade and have been failures since the day they met.   When they finally hit rock bottom, they decide to make a pornographic movie starring each other.  And then they start to realize they love each other.  Hijinks and hilarity ensue.  Also, people fuck on camera.  A lot.

THE ACTING

How does one make a Kevin Smith film MORE vulgar?  Cast Seth Rogen.  I liken it to Smith casting a more contemporary version of himself.  The last time (technically the first time) Rogen was the lead in a film, there were mixed results.  He was really good, and you could almost see (alllllllllllllllmmmmmooooossstttt) why a girl like Katherine Heigl would take a chance on a slob like him.   This time you can absolutely believe the a girl as hot as Elizabeth Banks would sleep with him.  I think the friendship/ budding relationship element of the story worked them and ultimately lead to chemistry.   For all the filth of this fucking film ; )  their love story is heart of the film.  And the primary reason it works is because of both Rogen and Banks.  Elizabeth Banks is pretty hot in Hollywood right now.  She’s been in just about every other movie for the last year or so (and in fact she was in two of the trailers for Zack and Miri).  She’s worth every penny in my opinion, but she’s quickly becoming over-exposed.

The rest of the cast was pretty inspired as well.  Kudos to Kev for casting actual porn stars for the role of female porn stars.  The role of Stacy is FILLED OUT (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA—- HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH—- oh come on!  filled out?  that’s some good shit right there!) by current Adult film actress Katie Morgan.  Really no need to study for role as an anal loving porn actress, though I like to imagine she took on a high school football team just to be sure.   Seriously, I had a raging boner most of the movie.  And I’m not entirely uncertain that Jason Mewes didn’t actually do her in the movie.  It looked pretty realistic to me.  … Moving on.   I also have to give credit to Tracy Lords for playing the slightly more used actress, Bubbles.   I LOVE actors that are willing to poke fun at themselves.  Realistically, Lords’ attempts to recreate herself as a legitimate actress haven’t gone as planned.  Sooner or later she was going to be looked at for something like this.  She could either go on that VH1 show Has Beens Doing Coke For Peanuts Just So People Will See Them On TV and Remember They Exist (or whatever it’s called) or do Zack and Miri.  Good choice.

The one complaint I had is that at times, it felt like a Judd Apatow film.   For instance, as much as I love Craig Robinson  (the big black dude), I remember thinking at one point “It’s about time they gave him more air time!”   Except that he’s never been in a Smith movie before.

THE PORN

Top. Notch.  I totally rubbed one out when I got home.  (And incidentally, Katie Morgan was in THAT film as well.)

THE EXTRAS

This is one of those films that has a capper after the credits roll, so you might want to stick around.  It isn’t essential to enjoy the film, but it does put a nice bow on it.

Also there are a few surprise guest stars besides the already advertised Justin Long (who is reeeeeeallly good, by the bi).

OVERALL

I loved it.  I laughed.  I rooted for Zack and Miri to get together.  And I actually saw Brandon Routh (Superman Returns) in a role that I believed.    Good stuff.  Admittedly, I did think the film was over the top.  (There is one REALLY gross scene towards the end.)   Part of me wishes Kevin Smith would dig deeper and write the kind of film I know he’s capable of.  (Fuck Damon and Affleck!)  But if all he ever did was give me raging boners — you know what I mean— and make me laugh, well, that’s alright too.

Rachel Getting Married

When I first heard about this film, I was interested solely because Anne Hathaway has been a crush of mine since long before her newfound celebrity. Perhaps the most interesting I heard was when Ms Hathaway came to town to promote the film. That in itself struck me as odd. New Orleans is not a big market, certainly not worthy of personal promotion, especially since only one small theater which does not garner much profit or recognition (Canal Place) is showing it. Anyway, two radio morning jocks (Mike and Stacy) were discussing her arrival and said that the film was creating a buzz around the beautiful actress that was very much like the buzz about Heath Ledger from The Dark Knight. This struck me as not only a bizarre comparison, but an incredibly stupid one. Neither the films, actors nor characters are in any way similar or even referential. But it’s intriguing. Does it live up to the “buzz”?

Uh, no. No I have to say the film was shit and I kind of wanted to walk out.

There’s nothing worse than a film that hints at brilliance and implodes under the weight of its own self-importance. And thats exactly what happened in Rachel Getting Married. The film is a cacophony of noise drowning in it’s own hippie/ liberal/ politically correct bullshit.

THE ACTING

The thing is, Anne Hathaway is wonderful in the film. Perfect, really. Which is difficult in her case. There are actors that play themselves in every role, like jack Nicholson, or (a more contemporary reference,) Michael Cera. ANd then there are actors who give themselves over to a role, yet you are still very much aware that it’s them, such as Tom Cruise. And that is very much her situation. With actors like Hathaway, you feel as though you are seeing a completely different side of the person you’ve always known. It’s not a bad thing, or even a distracting one; just a fact. We’ve seen characters before like Hathaway’s Kim Buchman, characters whose blunt honesty is both terrifying and magnificent to witness. KIM (to her sister, Rachel): “you’re so THIN! I swear to God, you’re tiny! I would swear you were still throwing up every night!” How can you not love that?

The rest of the actors were actually pretty great as well. Especially the titular Rachel herself, Rosemary Dewitt and the less prominent, but vital mother played by Debra Winger. No, the problem is not with the acting.

THE PLOT

Kim Buchman (Hathaway) comes home from Rehab after 9 months to attend her sister’s wedding and figure out how to deal with her family and move on with her life. She spends the next 3 days making everyone uncomfortable. Including the audience. That’s pretty much it. Nothing wrong there.

OVERALL

So what is it that makes it all so bad? It’s the details of the film. You see, there’s plenty of good here besides the acting. The moments of discomfort when you know Kim is going to do something leave you squirming in your chair and feeling for the people she’s disrupting. But at the same time, you can’t help but emote with her as her family does everything it can to “handle” her and keep her out of their intended Norman Rockwell family picture. The central mystery that is presented is fairly heart-breaking. And the movie ends EXACTLY as it should. There is a LOT of good. The film is at it’s best when it sticks to the point. And that is the one thing that it does not do. This is a kitchen sink film, filled with every strange distraction you can think of. The writer (Jenny Lumet) and the director (Jonathan Demme) seem determined to show you how progressive and multi-cultural they can be, at the expense of their own point. The movie’s plot has nothing to do with post-1960’s liberal sentiment, yet it is overloaded with hippie culture. There are no less than 3 inter-racial couples present. That in and of itself isn’t a problem, except that I live in, bar none, the most multi-cultural city in America and I have never seen that many inter-racial couples in one place outside of a rap video about women washing cars with their breasts. But that isn’t a problem. There are so many other cultures needlessly present. There are two chinese people, clearly American in nationality, but curiously dressed like they’re actually from China. Now, I think that it’s good for the largely ignored asian community to get more screen time aside from movies involving ninjas, computer technicians or chess clubs… but in this case they are clearly there to show that these people will make friends or have sex with anyone as long as they aren’t from a suburban white family. They don’t even bother telling you the Asian guy’s NAME even though he has a speaking role in the film and he’s one of the groomsmen. And his wife/girlfriend/ sister/ who-the-hell knows isn’t even allowed to speak! At no time is it mentioned that the Buchman house has been turned into a hippie commune or a hostel for wayward pot heads, and yet inexplicably, there are drifters randomly laying about playing music at all hours of the day and night. And only once does anyone even make mention of them even being there!

Oh and let’s not forget the rehearsal dinner where former “Yo MTV Raps” Host, Fab Five Freddy shows up for no damn reason except to toss a little rhyme. And I’m guessing he was playing himself, but I don’t know because he popped out like a damn Jack in a Box and disappeared just as quickly. Maybe he was drunk and crashed the wedding. I don’t know! They don’t mention him otherwise! And then some crazy old black woman high off her ass on Metamucil starts rambling about how “This is exactly what Heaven is like!” Really? Heaven has recovering meth-addicts and Fab Five Freddy? Well, hell, sign me up!

Perhaps the most perplexing animal is the wedding itself. We have a white woman marrying a black man who appears to be entirely American, and yet for some reason they are married in a Hindu wedding presided over by a Rabbi. Now, the Rabbi sort of makes sense, since the central family is named Buchman, even though there is no other evidence of their ethnicity or religion. But… THERE ARE NO HINDU PEOPLE IN THE WHOLE DAMN FILM! And then at the reception there are brazilian style Carnivale belly dancers and a jamaican female rapper! It’s… retarded. There’s no sense to any of it. And there were plenty of other unnecessary elements. I just couldn’t keep track of them.

Good stories are rarely singular in nature. There are almost always subplots, whether explored or hinted at. It’s fine to hint at a characters backstory and move on as long as you never actually address it. But in a story, once you address a subplot you HAVE to finish the story. You CANNOT just leave it open. But they do it over an over again in the film. And sometimes at the expense of more relevant subplots, such as Kim’s possible love interest, himself a recovering addict.

Basically, do not pay to see Rachel Getting Married. Wait until it comes on Lifetime or Oxygen. (Believe me, it’ll be on one of them.)

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

I actually saw Nick and Norah at a free preview a few weeks ago.  Normally my reviews are prompt, but in this case I decided to reserve judgment.  People are always saying the same thing when you adapt a book to movie format.   “The book was better.”  Sometimes that’s true.  Sometimes its just that you read the book first and you expected it to be shot for shot the same thing.  Which doesn’t happen (unless you’re Frank Miller apparently).  So I decided to find out for myself.

I finished the book.  I saw the movie.   And the long and short of it is, the movie was better, but not by much.

That’s surprising to me, because I expected the book to be better.  You see, I like N&N, but it’s a movie that never gave me the impression that it strived to be anything more than an average teen comedy.  Just entertaining enough to be likable, but not funny enough to be extraordinary.   The book on the other hand strives (and briefly succeeds) at being brilliant and charming and whimsical.  The problem is that like most teenagers, it comes off as fake.  The book is often too clever for it’s own good and in the end, it’s kind of annoying and very distracting.

THE BOOK

The book was conceived and written by a male and female writing team who do a he said/ she said riff.   At first it seems to work, because they flow well together.  Nick and Norah thereby have distinctly different voices without being obnoxiously awkward.  Unfortunately by the third chapter, the difference between the two writers is obvious.   Nick’s chapter are the product of a more mature writers.  The witty hyperboles and smilies and constant pop culture references don’t come off as too forced.  It isn’t perfect mind you, but it’s a step in the right direction.  Norah’s chapters, however… suck.  Not majorly. But they are products of a writer who was published a bit too soon.  For instance, Norah has a tendency to go off on these (Extremely Annoying and sadly pathetic and poseur) rants about music and fighting the man and what Punk Rock is all about (something that she clearly is ignorant of).   The problem is that she goes into these rants at the most improbable and inopportune times.  No one goes off on a three minute tear about how they got pissed at their Dad for not signing some stupid indy-pop band full of drugged up losers with names clearly inspired by Stan Lee circa 1967 during the span of a 30-second kiss that supposedly blows her mind.  It’s stupid.  It’s okay to use that method of speech when you’re writing through a narrator about something that happened past tense.  But it’s ridiculous to do it in the present tense.

So yeah, half of it is poorly written.  That being said, it isn’t a bad book.  I liked it.  It’s charming in it’s way, and some of the characters work much better in the book than the movie.  It’s definitely worth reading; it just isn’t anything special.

THE MOVIE

First off, Michael Cera plays Nick, so right away it’s going to be different based on that alone.  Cera is a very fun, quirky actor (who curiously reminds me of Beak from the X-Men).  But he is very quickly becoming pigeon-holed as a one-note actor.  He’d better start distancing himself from these roles quickly or he’s going to end up more hated than Shia LeBoeuhuhuhffuh (sp?)  Kat Dennings, on the other hand, was perfect.  She’s clearly a star in the making.   What’s interesting is that when I read the book, I was picturing her as Norah the whole time.  Whereas with Nick, I just couldn’t reconcile Cera’s speech and mannerisms with the character.   I enjoyed Cera, don’t get me wrong; I just think he needs to try something new.  (Not everyone can get away with playing themselves for fifty years, can they Jack Nicholson?)

What’s interesting here is that the movie borrows very liberally from the book, almost to the point where you’re wondering if the screenwriter couldn’t make up his mind as to whether or not to ignore the book completely.  It isn’t a criminal act, just a weird one.  He randomly inserts plot points, scenes and characters into different points in the movie.  It didn’t matter much in watching since it was all new to me at the time, but I would imagine a book fan might find the randomness of it all very distracting. 

One of the few sinful acts of the movie is the handling of the “villain”, Tris.   While she is still kind of a bitch in the book, she is nowhere near the cartoonish stereotype that she appears to be in the movie.   In fact, once you get to the meat of the story, Tris is by far one of the most complex and interesting characters introduced.  It’s sad that they had to diffuse her personality to serve the 2-dimensional needs of a stereotypical audience.

OVERALL

I can’t really say which the average viewer would like better.  On the one hand, the movie is cheaper and shorter. On the other hand, people should read more.

 

PLAYLIST FOR READING NICK & NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST

  1. The Ramones- I Wanna Be Sedated
  2. Whatcha Want & Intergalactic- The Beastie Boys
  3. Kiss Me- Sixpence None the Richer
  4. Hey There Delilah- Plain White T’s
  5. Chemical Party- Gavin DeGraw
  6. How Blue Can You Get? -BB King
  7. Drops of Jupiter- Train
  8. That Thing You Do- A New Found Glory
  9. Hello- Lionel Richie
  10. Wild Horses- Mazzy Star
  11. Doing It -LL Cool J
  12. I Want to Hold Your Hand- The Beatles
  13. Midnight Train to Georgia -Gladys Knight