Saturday, May 29, 2010

Top and Bottom of the Aughts - #4

Memento (2000)
Leonard is on a mission to track down and kill his wife’s murderer. The only real hitch is that he has been unable to make new memories since the night of his wife's death. Writer-director Christopher Nolan plunges his audience into Leonard’s world of confusion by telling the story backwards, starting at the conclusion and working his way back to the beginning. Instead of being a gimmick, this device keeps the audience on the same page as Leonard as neither one knows what happened five minutes ago. Memento is full of narrative twists and turns, keeping the audience guessing through the very end, or beginning as the case may be.

10,000 BC (2008)
After watching the trailer and seeing the billboards, I knew this would be a bad movie, and the movie did not disappoint. The characters are poorly defined with no one even approaching likeability. The geography is highly improbable, as our band of “heroes” travels from a tundra-like region, crossing snow-capped mountains, through a rainforest at the base of the mountains, ending up in the desert, traveling all of that distance in about a week. Each region is filled with giant CG creatures, none of which are terribly convincing. The climax of the film is anything but thrilling, and surprisingly small considering the rest of the movie’s epic aspirations. But the real kicker of the movie is that it is The Ten Commandments (1956) remade by Nietzsche. Instead of God rescuing a nation of slaves from tyranny, the slaves themselves rise up against and kill “God” (really an alien) and then go off to live their lives as they see fit. Ultimately, 10,000 BC passes over the “so bad it’s fun” designation into “so bad it’s painful.”

Coming up next: two water movies.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Top and Bottom of the Aughts - #5

Minority Report (2002)
Steven Spielberg creates a wonderfully realized futuristic film noir in which advertising has run horribly amuck and murders are stopped before they happen. There are jet-packs, snazzy holographic computer interfaces, and cars that drive themselves. There are thrilling chases, nail-biting suspense sequences, and some interesting questions about the nature of free will. It all adds up to an immensely fun ride with some very unexpected plot twists.

D-War (2007)
Where do I start with a movie like this? The story is silly, the screenplay is laughable, the acting is almost entirely wooden, none of the characters act believably, half the scenes end abruptly without any sort of reasonable conclusion, and to top it all off, it’s a story that is about Korean mythology with reincarnated Koreans, that takes place solely in modern day Los Angeles, with only one (minor) Asian character (who may or may not even be Korean). But wait, there’s more! Not only is Los Angeles being attacked by two dueling dragons, there is also an ancient Korean overlord (who looks as un-Korean as everyone else) whose sole purpose is to look menacing as a Sauron wannabe while he makes the blade of his sword appear magically from its hilt. He also commands hoards of undead soldiers that appear inexplicably out of nowhere and headquarters in a castle (also suddenly appearing out of nowhere) that is another complete ripoff of Lord of the Rings. I am very pleased that my prediction that there would soon be a Rifftrax for this derivative mess came true.

Coming up next: a little independent movie and a big-budget disaster.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Top and Bottom of the Aughts - #6

Wall-E (2008)
One of the things I love about the Pixar shorts is that they each tell a complete story without the use of dialog. Now we have Wall-E, a feature length film which has no dialog (except for a few commercial voiceovers) for the first half of the film. What results is a masterpiece of character animation and it is almost a disappointment when the humans show up and start talking. Not since Buster Keaton has a character shown so many emotions with so little facial movement. Also of note is the fantastic work of Ben Burtt who created such a lush soundscape for the film and gave Wall-E his voice, all against the backdrop of Thomas Newman’s beautiful score.

You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (2008)
I knew this would be bad, being chock full of Adam Sandler “humor.” What I was not expecting were countless shots of Sandler’s bare behind and an overdose of perverse sexuality as Sandler’s Zohan has sex with every woman possible. And he is considered endearing for it! And then there are the numerous jabs a Mel Gibson. One or two might have been kind of funny and topical, but when they kept coming they were just beating a dead one trick pony. I think the Jews should be up in arms at Sandler’s cartoonish portrayal of their culture.

Coming up next: an intriguing vision of the future and a fantasy that is unbelievable at every turn.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Top and Bottom of the Aughts - #7

Children of Men (2006)
The camera work in this film is exquisite; the scenes containing the greatest dramatic tension are each played out in a single shot. In a world where women have lost the ability to give birth, civilization decays as humanity dies out. And then Theo (Clive Owen) meets a pregnant woman and must find a way to bring her to a safe place where her baby will be cared for and not exploited. There are many wonderful, beautiful moments in this film, but the one that stands above the others, and impacted me the most emotionally, is one in which Theo escorts the newborn baby and her mother through a crowded apartment building, past soldiers and guerilla fighters alike, all stunned in amazement at hearing the sound of a baby’s cry for the first time in almost 20 years.

Southland Tales (2006)
This movie is one giant mess. Nothing makes sense and writer/director Richard Kelly goes haphazardly from one scene to another with each new scene having little bearing on those surrounding it. And every time he tries to explain something it only makes everything more confusing. The characters are all either dull or so over the top that they are completely unbelievable. And since there is glaring Budweiser product placement in almost every scene, it felt like I was watching the most bizarre, confusing, poorly written, poorly acted, inconsistent, unbelievable, and downright dirty beer commercial I have ever seen.

Coming up next: a heart-warming post-apocalyptic film and a soul scarring comedy.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Top and Bottom of the Aughts - #8

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
The visuals are wonderfully evocative, from a mysterious stone maze to a twisted old tree to an exquisitely crafted faun. The film takes some pointers from George MacDonald in that while there is a fairy world just beyond our own, it is fraught with danger and peril all its own, especially for humans improperly equipped to survive in a world run by different rules. This fact is brought frighteningly home when Ofelia, our young heroine, encounters a creature who keeps his eyes in the palms of his hands in a scene that is truly terrifying. And yet it is completely understandable that Ofelia wants to escape into the fairy world despite its dangers, since she lives in the middle of civil war torn Spain, with a cruel step father who cares less than nothing for her. As a kid I often dreamed that, even though I had nothing against my parents, I would learn that my parents were not my real parents and that my real parents were powerful, most likely supernatural, beings, and were ready to take me home to a fantasy world of wonder. This actually happens in Pan’s Labyrinth.

Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter (2001)
I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but I was definitely not expecting an amateur production with unexciting slapstick fights, vampires preying on lesbians, Jesus joining forces with a Mexican wrestler, and the occasional musical number from out of the blue. The production values are shoddy, the script is on par with your average student film, and overall the film is more dumb than sacrilegious (which is saying something since its theology is pretty wretched).

Coming up next: two apocalyptic visions of the not-too-distant future.