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Awful waste of time
I honestly can't remember the last time I was so angry that I wasted my time watching a movie as I was with this one. The story concerns a young women who returns home for the first time since she was a child and her mom died, convinced that her violent drunk of a dad killed her mom and determined to somehow prove it.
Lead actress Julianne Michelle seems to basically have two expressions--smiling and not smiling--she doesn't even come close to having the talent required to be a lead in something like this, not that it ultimately matters since the filmmakers completely sabotage their film with one of the most thoroughly destructive surprise endings I have seen since Alexandre Aja's High Tension. In the unlikely event that you somehow found Samantha and her quest for answers dramatically involving the ending will punish you for that mistake.
I seriously cannot emphasize this enough--do not waste your time watching this movie. Awakened is a train-wreck that seems to go on forever before completely self-destructing at the end. It's really bad but not in a way that's in any way entertaining. The songs over the end credits actually felt like salt being thrown in my eyes--so the punishment doesn't end even as the credits run. Again, just don't watch this movie. If you do prepared to be angry by the time it's over. Consider yourself warned.
Seed 2 (2014)
Normally a sequel to an Uwe Boll movie that isn't directed by Uwe Boll can be counted on to be at least a slight improvement on the original film--but Seed 2: The New Breed is the exception. This movie is so dreadful it actually makes Boll look good, sort of.
Fans of the original Seed, if there are any, will likely be disappointed that this seems to have virtually nothing to do with the original film. Actually, it feels more like an unofficial Hills Have Eyes sequel than a follow up to Seed.
Seed 2: The New Breed appears to have been shot on digital video, really badly. Most of the film looks ugly and over-bright. The acting and dialog are beyond bad. The movie is clearly meant to be transgressive and disturbing (the opening scene involves a gun barrel being shoved between a squealing young woman's thighs) but the movie is simply too incompetent to make an impact beyond inspiring a strong desire to turn it off.
Me, Natalie (1969)
Frustrating comedy drama was made after the creative and critical debacle of Valley of the Dolls and seems to have been intended primarily to rescue Patty Duke's career as a potential movie star and re-establish her as the adorable and sweet screen presence that she was before Dolls. Hiding Duke's natural appeal under bad hair, a putty nose and Jerry Lewis teeth clearly wasn't the path to movie stardom because she only top-lined one other theatrical movie after this one, the underrated You'll Like My Mother. The bigger problem with Duke's love-me-please performance in Me, Natalie is that she doesn't do the character or the movie any favors. The basic plot involves an ugly duckling girl looking for her place in the world as a young woman. The problem with Duke's performance is that it feels shallow and gimmicky--she never captures her character's genuine pain and longing (at one point when a favorite uncle she hasn't seen since childhood comes to visit she flees through her bedroom window because she feels so awful about her looks). Patty Duke and the movie also largely ignore Natalie's negative qualities such as her complete lack of empathy for other people, her shallowness and her judgmental nature. At one point after leaving home she finds out that her dead uncle's former fiancé has died from a drug overdose and all she feels is that it's a great opportunity for her to get her first apartment. The movie seems to think this is cute and quirky but in reality it's sad and probably a little creepy. Natalie shows a similar obliviousness to anyone's feelings other than her own when she attends a former best friend's wedding, sees that the bride to be is pregnant and not marrying her boyfriend and then leaves the church without ever saying anything to her friend to even let her know that she was there. This was an opportunity for Me, Natalie to confront the main character's shallow belief that beautiful people always have beautiful lives and the movie completely flubs it by not giving Natalie and her former best friend a scene together. Natalie eventually engages in an affair with a neighbor that doesn't ultimately go anywhere because the main character is too immature and indecisive. I'm sure that wasn't the intention the filmmakers had in mind with the ending but that's about the only thing you can really take away from it. Some people might find this movie of interest as a period curio or because Al Pacino turns up for one scene in his big screen debut. I can't watch Me, Natalie without feeling sad for the big screen career that Patty Duke should have had--she probably squandered more talent than any other actor or actress from her generation. How many other actors went from winning an Academy Award to doing guest spots on The Love Boat and Hawaii Five-O?
Peculiar psycholigical thriller
I'm not really sure what to think of this one. Peculiar thriller/drama starts off with scenes of a strained teenage girl and her mother who clearly don't get along driving together. When the girl is in her room it turns out there is an escaped convict dressed only in his undershorts hidden in her closet who she feeds, does provocative exercises in front of and flirts with. Given the unlikeliness of the situation you figure at first that the man is a figment of the girl's imagination, but then he turns up at one of her mother's adult education classes and talks the older woman into letting him sleep on the pull out sofa as a guest, which the daughter has extremely mixed feelings about. The only other character in more than a couple of scenes is the girl's remote, estranged father who is a doctor and who left the family for reasons that are never fully made clear. Without giving any more of the plot away by the end of the movie I really didn't know what was going on or if the escaped convict was even that, since he seems like he might actually be the most psychologically healthy person in the film. The final shot is undeniably creepy, but like the rest of the film it begs more questions than it answers. The actresses who play the mother and daughter and both excellent and go a long way towards making their characters seem credible even though none of their actions really is. If you're looking for a head-scratcher this will likely fit the bill just fine, but audiences expecting a thriller will likely be bored and disappointed.
Until Death (2007)
This is a remake and nobody noticed.
I watched this on DVD today and was stunned to see that it's a nearly scene for scene remake of one of my favorite Hong Kong films, the 1995 crime melodrama Loving You (ok, bad title) directed by Johnny To that starred Lau Ching Wan and Carman Lee. I don't understand why the original Hong Kong flick is mentioned nowhere in the credits but nearly every single scene and plot element and much of the dialog comes directly from the Hong Kong film. Until Death wasn't bad, but the problem is that Jean-Claude Van Damme isn't half the actor that Lau Ching Wan, the star of the original is and director Stephen Fellows is no Johnny To. The love story between the recuperating police officer and his pregnant wife is handled much more effectively in the original. I highly recommend that anyone who enjoyed Until Death (and can tolerate watching movies with English subtitles) seek out the original version, which was released last year on DVD in Hong Kong and can purchased from places like Ebay. It's a much better movie.
The Island (2005)
Dopey action thriller
Big budget action flick about a young man and woman in a Utopian society whose only purpose is to be as healthy and fit as possible before winning a lottery to go to a paradise called the Island, the last inhabitable place on the planet is for all practical purposes a remake of the low budget thriller Parts: The Clonus Horror, which had an identical premise and many of the same plot twists. Strangely, The Island supposedly isn't a remake of Clonus, which means a lawsuit is likely. I'm generally skeptical of plagiarism suits in Hollywood--everything has already been done and there aren't any truly original stories left to tell, but in the case of The Island the thievery of Clonus is so blatant that the people who claim this is an "original story" deserve whatever they get. How is it possible that The Island got approved and filmed and marketed and released without a single involved party noticing that their movie bore a troubling resemblance to another film that was previously released theatrically, shown on television (and ridiculed on MST3000) and even released on DVD? Didn't people who make 120 million dollar Hollywood B movies watch B movies themselves as kids? Well, somebody involved with the story and script for The Island clearly did, because the similarities between The Island and The Clonus Horror are too great to be a coincidence.
Of course, that doesn't address whether The Island is actually any good. Clonus had a clever premise but lacked the budget and talent to pull it off. The Island has all the money and talent anyone could hope for, but as a movie it really isn't any better.
The problem is that while the premise is perfect for a provocative and intelligent thriller, the director is Michael Bay of Armageddon and Bad Boys 2 fame. Bay doesn't make intelligent or provocative thrillers. He makes mindless big-budget crap where stuff gets blown up. Lots and lots of stuff.
The Island starts off great, even if the early scenes feel like they've been largely lifted from the earlier film, but as soon as the action leaves the confines of the facility where the clones live and enters the outside world the action scenes kick in and the movie gets dopier and dopier, leading to a happy ending so cringe inducingly awful you just know Steven Spielberg had to have a hand in this somewhere. Who wants to bet that if Spielberg had produced or directed Armageddon Bruce Willis would have somehow gotten off the asteroid alive? Spielberg could never resist a tearful reunion between Willis and his daughter. The botched endings to Spielberg's War of the Worlds and Minority Report provide all the proof anyone could need. The ending for The Island isn't just bad, it's Spielberg bad, it's the kind of happy ending that ignores all of darker implications of what came before for superficially uplifting images that make little narrative sense and completely insult the intelligence of the audience.
In the case of The Island we have one character who spends the entire film causing mayhem and killing innocent people changing sides (that's going to make me forget all about the civilians and police he and his men killed in pursuit of the clones) while the clones themselves escape to freedom at the top of a mountain. End credits. Hurray. Everyone leaves happy. No wait, the cold-blooded mercenary looks at the clones escaping to freedom and smiles, suppressing a tear in his eye. Now everyone leaves happy. (Unless like me you leave nauseous).
Of course, none of the clones knows anything about the real world and it would be interesting to find out how the world reacts to the news of what was going on in the lab, particularly since the clones are all of people who are rich and influential, including the president. Would there be a scandal? Would the government cover everything up? Would the government hunt down the clones or leave them be? Would the clones try to find their sponsors or take over their sponsors lives since they are identical and have many of the same memories? There are so many interesting directions that The Island could have gone in, the fact that it ultimately turns into a mindless explosion fest is more disappointing than usual. Bad Boys 2 never really had the potential to be anything other than what it was, a mindless big-budget action comedy destined to make money but be forgotten as soon as it left theaters, but The Island could have been a classic. Instead it just feels like another Michael Bay movie.
War of the Worlds (2005)
What went wrong? From a purely technical standpoint War of the Worlds is fine--the special effects are first rate and this is the type of material Steven Spielberg can direct in his sleep. His film-making is taut and he stages some of the finest action/suspense sequences that audiences are likely to see this summer. War of the Worlds could have been a classic--so why did it leave me feeling indifferent and cold and why does everyone I talk to seem to leave the movie kind of underwhelmed? I think the problem is the script. Spielberg and writer David Koepp decided to focus entirely on three characters--Tom Cruise's deadbeat dad Ray and his two children. The whole movie follows them from one calamitous event after another as they try not to get zapped by the aliens. There aren't even really any other actors that are on screen long enough to really qualify as characters.
There are a couple of problems with this. First, it makes the story unnecessarily narrow. This is a movie about the destruction of the planet and we spend all of our time following 3 characters. The other problem is that we're pretty sure Spielberg isn't going to kill Tom Cruise or his kids. That creates basically a feature length version of the raptor chasing the kids scene from Jurassic Park--how do you generate suspense when you know the characters who are being threatened with death are never going to get killed? After a while watching the same 2 or 3 characters narrowly escape from the aliens gets to be monotonous and that's pretty much all that War of the Worlds has to offer--one special effects oriented action scene after another after another. There's no plot, too few characters and no soul, just a lot of action and special effects.
There's also a really lame happy ending, which seems to be Spielberg's Achilles heel these days, that unfortunate need to please. He doesn't completely betray the material like he did with Minority Report, but only because there isn't nearly as much to betray. The ending here is ludicrous and stupid but I didn't mind because at least the movie was over.
How far the horror genre has fallen
After seeing Saw, which played at the Sundance Film Festival and actually has received some glowing reviews, the absolute best thing I can say about it was that it wasn't boring.
It also wasn't even in the least bit suspenseful, looks so much like a bad heavy metal video during the thriller sequences that you would swear it was directed by a member of Spinal Tap, and features a script that not only completely squanders a fairly nifty premise but also becomes embarrassingly stupid after a while, filled with lapses in logic and gaping plot holes that are pretty unforgivable when you consider that the movie barely even has a plot to begin with.
The simplest way to sum up the movie is this: Saw is to Seven what Urban Legend was to Scream.
The best part of the movie actually was the trailer at the beginning for the French slasher pic High Tension, which is supposedly coming out for Valentines's Day. High Tension is the genuinely visceral, squirm inducing movie that the makers of Saw wanted their flick to be, so in that respect, at least, a theatrical viewing of Saw gives horror fans some reason for hope.
Team America: World Police (2004)
Hugely disappointing comedy by South Park creators is only intermittently amusing and generally plays too much like a real Jerry Bruckenheimer movie. Parker and Stone apparently thought it would be funny to do a Bruckenheimer film where the characters are played by "wooden actors" rather than wooden actors, but that joke can only carry the movie for about ten minutes.
The songs nearly save the day--too bad this wasn't a musical like the South Park movie. But much of the comedy is flat, mean-spirited, uninspired and, I hate to say, remarkably right-wing. While the opening scene in which Team America destroys Paris during an anti-terrorist operation gives the impression of a satire of American aggression and the inability to take into account anyone's interests or perspective other than our own, the filmmakers' sympathies are ultimately very squarely in Team America's corner. Stone and Parker ridicule the idea that American actions abroad might actually encourage terrorism, a key criticism of the consequences of the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq. It's hard to view the ending as anything other than a ringing endorsement for the Bush administration, which might explain why their TV program That's My Bush was so toothless and lame--these guys are closet right-wing Republicans. Maybe if Comedy Central ever cancels their show they can take their act to the Fox News Network.
One local critic said that this movie could have been written by Donald Rumsfield. I wouldn't go quite that far, but Team America isn't the even handed satire that Parker and Stone are claiming in interviews. It's far to the right of the original South Park movie, which maybe wouldn't matter that much if it was funnier.
Bush apologists and people who think entertainers are too stupid to have valid political opinions should get a kick out of Team America. Me, I'll stick with Orgazmo and the South Park movie. Even Cannibal The Musical was funnier than this.
Shall We Dance (2004)
Entertaining but stumbles badly during final reels (spoilers)
This remake of a 1996 Japanese film works surprisingly well for much of its length, a fast-paced and funny piece of work about a middle-aged man (Richard Gere) bored with his life who decides to take dancing lessons after seeing a pretty teacher (Jennifer Lopez) staring out the window of the studio while taking the L home.
The film is shameless but effective in wringing laughs from the uptight businessman slowly discovering the joys of dancing and loosening up, keeping the lessons from his family who notice that he is happier lately and that he seems to come home late every Wednesday night with a different excuse. The man's wife (Susan Sarandon) becomes convinced that her husband is having an affair.
The movie chugs along effortlessly for its first hour, hugely entertaining. Then during a dance competition after one character stumbles badly so unfortunately does the movie. The pacing becomes jerky and trips under unnecessary and pointless narrative complications. Unfortunately pretty much every decision the filmmakers made during the final reels is completely wrong, none more so than the ending. After showing us for an hour how dancing brought pleasure back into the businessman's life there probably isn't a person in the theater who would actually want him to give up dancing at the end, but that is essentially what happens. The film creates a false choice between dancing and marriage that is never justified or believable (even his family doesn't want him to quit).
Maybe the filmmakers shot multiple endings and this was the one that test-marketed the best but it really doesn't work. It's a shame. For most of it's length Shall We Dance is graceful, funny and effortlessly charming, but the last half hour is a terrible mess. Still, the preview audience I saw this crowd-pleaser with seemed pleased enough, cheering during the end credits and smiling and chatting on their way out of the theater, so maybe the flaws aren't serious enough to keep this movie from becoming a modest hit.