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If Kevin Smith tried to write a teen sex comedy, the rough draft might
look something like this movie. Luckily for us, Smith left the tired
genre alone. And so, here we are in 2008, and along comes Superbad.
We've seen Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
We've seen Porky's.
We've seen American Pie.
We've seen the thousands of other movies that have adopted this formula (annoying teenagers trying to get laid + alcohol = hijinks).
So where else is there to go with this kind of a movie? Nowhere. A teen sex comedy is a teen sex comedy, period. This movie goes way too far in its desperate attempts to sway the viewer into thinking it's something deeper. It isn't. It's a parade of unlikable teenagers on a quest for booze and sex with a nice little moral at the end to make us feel like we weren't wasting our time. At least the aforementioned movies didn't kid themselves about their intent.
This isn't a terrible movie, but it's certainly not very good. There are a few genuine laughs along the way. But its silly little "social commentary" and its insistence on developing empty, one-dimensional characters are nothing short of pitiful.
Don't believe the hype.
There are some movies that are bad.
There are some movies that are downright terrible.
There are some movies that are so utterly unwatchable that they will undoubtedly etch themselves into the top tier in the history of the worst cinema every conceived.
And then, there is Super Troopers.
Super Troopers is one of those movies that is so ill-conceived, so dreadfully unfunny, so frustratingly unsatisfying that it seems criminal. It is astounding to me that this movie has a 6.8 rating as I write this, and that so many people find it to be such a hilarious "classic". Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate dumb comedies (Dumb & Dumber is one of my favorite comedies) but this is sub-retarded material here. I wouldn't have even found this funny at thirteen years old.
The plot involves a bumbling Vermont highway police force who happen upon a drug smuggling ring. They, along with their sworn enemies, a local police squad who seem to have everything going for them, battle it out to try and crack the case first. Terminally unfunny antics ensue.
I don't know much about Broken Lizard, the comedy troupe responsible for this celluloid torture, but if this is their best work, as many fans claim it is, then I'd hate to see what they're followers consider to be average. The fact that this has a cult following will forever be a mystery to me.
Recently divorced Myles Berkowitz has an idea for a movie: date twenty
different women, film the encounters, and hope to God that there is a
real spark between him and one of the subjects. Remarkably, his agent
Richard seals a deal with bigshot producer Elie Samaha, and Berkowitz
is given $60,000 to make his movie. So goes the plot for "20 Dates", a
comic "documentary" about finding love in LA. Note my usage of
quotation marks around the word documentary.
This is indeed a fake documentary--at least a majority of it is--but it is not fake in the same sense as movies like "This Is Spinal Tap" or "Best in Show" are fake. This is a serious attempt to dupe the viewer into believing they are witnessing actual events with genuine, spontaneous human interaction. Fans of filmmaker Huck Botko will know exactly the type of movie I am talking about.
Having said that, I am actually a big fan of films that manipulate audience perception, and this film does a great job at it. Unless you have some inside information about film legalities and some background on the producers of this film (which I did) this could very well pass as an honest-to-goodness documentary. It's actually quite believable, especially during the first half-hour or so.
As long as you aren't angry or taken aback at the notion of being deliberately misled, then you will probably find this film to be very funny and enjoyable. It's not four-star material, but it is certainly very clever and loaded with some funny, memorable dialogue.
After the box office success of Friday THE 13TH in 1980, scores of
uninspired filmmakers sought to cash in on its popularity by producing
their own low-budget versions of Friday, replete with the tired old
"slasher-in-the-woods" motif. These formula films usually borrowed
liberally from (read: shamelessly ripped off) the original film,
sometimes scene for scene. JUST BEFORE DAWN is an unremarkable example
of such a film, and had it not been for today's cult/horror DVD
distributors' compulsive need to re-release virtually everything they
can get their hands on, it would've remained in the realm of obscurity
where it belongs.
In JUST BEFORE DAWN, five twenty-somethings travel into the wilderness to check out some newly acquired property. They set up camp, despite multiple warnings that some deadly, unnamable horror lurks within. They ignore the warnings, of course, but before they have time to meditate on their mistake, the party begins getting picked off one at a time by a machete-wielding maniac.
JUST BEFORE DAWN isn't really a bad film, it's just bland and unoriginal in every way. Every conceivable cliché that we've all come to expect from these types of films is here in spades, including a crazy old farmhand who tries to warn the kids of danger, plenty of false "jumpy" scares, and an obligatory skinny dipping scene. Of course, the morally impure die first, setting up the climax for the one naïve, innocent girl to fend for herself against the murderous madman. And, as one would expect, there are lots of point-of-view stalking scenes, and even those oh-so-clever shots where the killer's massive boot steps dauntingly into frame as he stalks his prey.
There are a few glimmers of creativity peppered throughout the film, but they are few and far between. An interior shot of the killer hoisting himself up onto the roof of an RV unbeknownst to its passengers provides a brief instance of genuine fright, as does a scene where the hapless heroine clings helplessly to the top of a tall tree as the killer slowly chops it down. The actors, though not great, are unusually dedicated to their roles, often performing some pretty risky stunts, like rolling down a steep hill at full speed, tumbling over a waterfall, and running across rickety rope bridges.
There is somewhat of an unexpected twist towards the end of the film, and the final scene is well-composed and chilling (the absence of soundtrack except for the cheery singing of birds was a wise choice), but it can't compare to the brilliantly conceived, heart-stopping conclusions of films like Friday THE 13TH and SLEEPAWAY CAMP.
Speaking of SLEEPAWAY CAMP, fans of SC might be interested in seeing Mike Kellin (who portrayed the camp's irresponsible camp counselor Mel) play an eccentric old coot named Ty, and older generations will be amused by Oscar winner George Kennedy's performance as the forest ranger Roy McLean. Other than that, JUST BEFORE DAWN may be of interest to hardcore horror fans with a taste for the obscure, but others will find it to be a waste of time.
Peter Jackson has achieved the impossible with the LORD OF THE RINGS
trilogy. He has crafted a motion picture that is not only technically
perfect, but visually mind-blowing and immensely entertaining in every
respect. And what's more, Jackson has not only accomplished this feat
once, but three times in a row! THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING and THE TWO
TOWERS were exciting, breathtakingly beautiful motion pictures, and THE
RETURN OF THE KING is no different. Like its predecessors, RETURN is
rich with dazzling special effects; a haunting, melodic score; and
hundreds of amazingly well-choreographed battle sequencesall set
against the stunning backdrop of rural New Zealand.
The series flows seamlessly from one film to the next, yet each film stands on its own as a unique, original work of cinematic art. In THE RETURN OF THE KING, Frodo and Sam carry on their trek to Mount Doom to dispose of the One Ring, while a seemingly endless war for the future of Middle Earth rages on around them. Meanwhile, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli all venture to the Cursed Mountains to seek assistance from the lost souls who forever dwell there; as the beautiful elfin queen Arwen is torn between her father's wishes of joining her people for eternal life and her own desire to sacrifice her immortality in order to be with Aragorn.
There's a lot going on in the LORD OF THE RINGS films, and unless you're already familiar with the story (I wasn't), it can be difficult to keep track of the many characters and subplots. Broken down, the LORD OF THE RINGS storyline is nothing more than a good-versus-evil tale, albeit a complex, multilayered one. The pacing is suitably evenhanded, allotting equal amounts of screen time to the various colorful characters and journeys taking place within Middle Earth. THE RETURN OF THE KING never once falls into the trap of showing too much or too little of a certain subplot, and it never progresses too far without providing ample information about what is taking place elsewhere.
Though I was impressed with virtually every facet of the RINGS trilogy, what strikes me most about these films is Jackson's astounding attention to detail. Every shot is impeccably executed, right down to the last frame. The set design, costumes, weaponry, and even the traits and mannerisms of the different races of characters are perfectly and meticulously conceived. The amount of time and dedication invested into these films is truly unfathomablejust take a look at the credits! The computer-generated characters are some of the most impressive I have ever seen, particularly the subtle movements and detailed facial expressions of Gollum. However, the CG creatures still lack the naturalism of organic movement, and at times their interaction with human characters seems too obviously staged. There's a certain fluid, overly smooth quality of their movement that makes it seem artificial. We certainly have come a long way in the field of computer animation, but we still have quite a ways to go to combine it with live action and make it seem completely believable. This is not to say that the CG in LORD OF THE RINGS isn't great, just that it's not perfect. Still, it's probably as close to perfection as is humanly possible at this point.
THE RETURN OF THE KING swept the Academy Awards in 2004, raking in a well-deserved, unprecedented eleven Oscars. Not bad for a guy whose first foray into feature film-making was a low-budget gorefest about flesh-eating aliens!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Ridley Scott's ALIEN is an immensely terrifying film. But the terror
that it instills within the audience is of a kind that is sadly unknown
to most viewers today. These days, what passes as "horror" is a
mishmash of hyperactive editing, cheap scares, bad rock music, and
explicit death scenes. ALIEN is the antithesis of all that.
ALIEN is a classic exercise in substance over style. Granted, it *is* a remarkably stylish film. It's hard not to notice the flashy visuals, the exhaustingly intricate production design, and the terrifying creature effects. But what's unique about ALIEN is that it never actually depends on any these elements to scare the viewer. It's already a frightening movie at its core; it just uses these elements to enhance the scares and add more believability to the story. Whereas most other big-budgeted horror titles rely solely on their special effects and lavish production values to frighten the viewer, ALIEN doesn't have to--its enthralling storyline, crafty camera-work, and masterful direction are effective enough on their own.
What makes the horror of ALIEN so successful is that it sets up a feeling of anxiety and dread in the very beginning, and continues to slowly and gradually pile on the tension until the explosive climax. There are long, lingering shots where nothing seems to happen and characters don't communicate with one another--yet, the amount of tension in these scenes is unbearable. You *know* something just isn't right. The film creeps along rather slowly, even after the alien life form is discovered and makes its way aboard the ship. The entire time, you're expecting the worst; and yet, oddly, you never see it coming.
After twenty-five years, ALIEN still succeeds in being an exceptionally nerveracking picture. But there are a handful of areas that appear dated or otherwise out of place. Most obviously, the "futuristic" computers and electronics onboard Nostromo are clunky and primitive--almost laughably so. But since personal computers were still in their infancy during the time of production, an issue such as this is easy to overlook. What's puzzling, though, is the discontinuity regarding the special effects. In most of the SFX-intensive sequences, the effects are carried out with striking realism, even by today's standards. But in other scenes, the creature appears to be nothing more than a rubbery hand-puppet, or in a couple instances, a guy ambling around in an alien costume. There's also a startling jump-cut that substitutes a prosthetic head for the actor's real head that is more distracting than effectual. While none of these unbefitting visuals ever actually detract from the quality of the film, one must wonder why these few instances of special effects artistry are so mediocre while the rest are nothing short of amazing.
Parts of the plot were hackneyed and predictable, particularly the false scare involving the cat and the entire subplot about science officer Ash being a robot bent on destroying the crew and transporting the murderous alien to Earth for the United States government. I found this part of the story to be totally forced and completely unnecessary, even detracting somewhat from the perfect simplicity of the plot up to this point (although it did make for some interesting anti-governmental themes). And I'm all for on screen titillation, but were those prolonged Sigourney Weaver underwear shots really necessary? Still, despite these minor gripes, I still consider ALIEN to be among the greatest and most well-made sci-fi/horror films I have ever experienced--not to mention one of the scariest!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL seems to be the quintessential example of
early science fiction films imbued with thoughtful social and political
commentary. It was written, shot, and exhibited during a time of
extreme political tension: the beginning of the Cold War, when the
second wave of anti-Communist paranoia was back in full swing. On the
surface, this bit of history may seem irrelevant to the subject matter
and the message of the film, but having an understanding of the state
of the world at the time it was made will allow you to appreciate its
content that much more.
In THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, the people of Earth are alarmed when a flying saucer lands in Washington, D.C. As the otherworldly spacecraft descends onto the lawn of the Mall, the army and the police force have their weapons at ready. "Every eye, every weapon is trained on that ship," says a news anchor, seconds before the door to the ship slowly draws open and a benevolent life form named Klaatu emerges. Klaatu states his intentions of "peace and goodwill" and cautiously approaches the crowd, then produces an unknown object from his spacesuit. Without hesitation, one of the trigger-happy guardsmen fires. Klaatu, having committed no crime other than looking suspicious, then lay on the ground injured with hundreds of weapons still aimed at him, ready to be fired. This provocative image sets the tone for the rest of the movie.
What I found most interesting about this film was that it focused more on the human populace's reactions to an alien's arrival on Earth, rather than on the arrival itself. There are a few exciting moments of special effects and out-of-this-world technology that we have all come to expect from science fiction movies, but a great deal of it concentrates on Klaatu's concealment of his identity as a "spaceman" as he interacts with a typical suburban family. From the conversations he has with these well-meaning but ignorant people, we are introduced to the hysterical and destructive nature of the American middle-class, and for all intents and purposes, the rest of the world. In one memorable scene, a discussion over dinner (with the disguised Klaatu present) reveals that some people, including one of the family members, are suggesting that the fugitive "spaceman" be destroyed because he is actually a Communist spy!
As the story progresses, we learn of Klaatu's intentions for arriving on the planet Earth: to prevent our usage of newly acquired atomic weaponry from destroying neighboring, inhabited planets. After organizing a summit for "the world's greatest thinkers" (that is, high-level scientists from every field), Klaatu presents an interesting, albeit flawed, ultimatum: disarm your atomic weapons and live in peace, or else suffer complete annihilation. What had previously been a completely anti-violent movie was now tripping over its own logic. The good intentions of this "peaceful" race of "more advanced" life forms were now marred with a very primitive, humanlike flaw: the threat of violence to solve problems. Perhaps this was writer Edmund H. North's way of saying that violence, no matter how despicable, is also inevitable, perhaps even a necessary evil? Whatever the intent, I was fascinated (but quite honestly, disappointed) at Klaatu's conflicting messages about violence and destruction. However, even though these themes put a damper on what would have been the perfect anti-war story, it does force its viewers to think about humans' (and by extension, perhaps even aliens') predilection towards justifying violent behavior, and the backwards idea many of us have that by threatening violence, we will somehow prevent more violence.
This early effort from the now-famous cult animator Bill Plympton tells the mournful story of a curious little ear of corn named Lucas who gets separated from his mother and sent off to the city to be sold as food. The crude artwork looks to have been made with crayons and construction paper, and the animation is primitive and shoddy, but that's what gives this amusing little number its charm. The voice acting surpasses the animation in terms of quality, with Lucas's mother sounding appropriately affectionate and nurturing, and Lucas himself having a cute and innocently inquisitive voice. LUCAS, THE EAR OF CORN is very unlike any of Plympton's more recent work in both style and content, but it does demonstrate his knack for originality and the darkly bizarre, almost dadaist sense humor that is consistent throughout all of his animation.
I should start out by saying this: I am not much of a fan of adventure
movies. Though the swashbuckling swordplay, flamboyant costuming, and
retooled good-versus-evil story lines are exciting to many moviegoers,
I find the whole genre to be mindless, hokey, and tiresome. Having said
that, there are still a few films that are so unique, they almost
persuade me to abandon my anti-adventure film prejudice altogether. THE
ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD is one of them.
So what sets ROBIN HOOD apart from the other corny adventure yarns of its time? The answer is quite simple: it's just really damn good. Errol Flynn brings the title character to life in a way that has since been unmatched. He is bold, funny, charming, loyal, and athletic, though not completely without weakness. Flynn pulls all the punches to make the outlaw hero jovial and likable, despite his shameless overconfidence. You can't help but to root for him. In short, Flynn's performance was utterly perfect. It's impossible to picture a better Robin Hood.
The rest of the cast did an equally amazing job: Olivia de Havilland was enchanting as the radiant Maid Marian, Melville Cooper was consistently funny as the bumbling High Sheriff of Nottingham, and Claude Rains had the subtle, bitter disposition of Prince John down to a tee. Even the uncredited townsfolk were believable.
The real star of the show, however, is the brilliant use of the Technicolor process. The costumes, set design, and art direction were all specifically tailored to bring out the brightest, most dazzling colors, and they all succeeded unequivocally. Even now, where color is the standard, I have rarely seen such a striking array of reds, greens, blues, and yellows. Heck, even animated films aren't this colorful! ROBIN HOOD won a well-deserved Oscar for its editing, which is speedy yet deliberate. There is no lag in the action, and the film wastes no time with unimportant dialogue. But at the same time, it isn't dizzying or unpleasant to watch. Still, I did find myself looking at my watch towards the ninety minute mark. It's about this time when the movie goes a little overboard with the climactic fighting scene, which was clearly intended for those who enjoy the nonstop, bustling action that these kind of movies are meant to provide. Even so, the fact that I, a person who typically cringes at the thought of watching a swashbuckler, enjoyed THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD as much as I did really says something about how successful and influential this film is.
I saw a stripped-down version of this mini-documentary (simply titled
"HALLOWEEN: UNMASKED"--minus the "2000" part) on the second tape of my
nifty "20th Anniversary Collector's Edition" two-tape set from Anchor
Bay. It basically consists of Dee Snider (of Twisted Sister fame)
narrating a brief history of the 1978 horror classic HALLOWEEN,
followed by interviews with Jamie Lee Curtis, Moustapha Akkad, Nick
Castle, and Debra Hill. Oddly enough, John Carpenter--nor any of the
other cast and crew, for that matter--was not featured in the version I
The interviewees are likable and fun to listen to, and it's clear that they really do have a genuine fondness for this cult classic, but they don't reveal anything that the die-hard Michael Myers fans don't already know. Nick Castle's segments are probably the most entertaining, especially when you consider that this laid-back, goofy-looking guy is the same man who horrified millions as Michael Myers in the original HALLOWEEN film.
As a whole, though, this documentary is pretty standard "DVD extra" fare. It isn't really engaging enough to pique the interest of the average viewer, and it isn't nearly insightful enough to satisfy the die-hard HALLOWEEN fanatics. Actually, I found the deleted scenes and the trailers (also featured on tape 2) to be much more interesting and entertaining.
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