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Chuck & Buck (2000)
I can only assume people enjoyed this film because it gave them some kind of emotional response and it offers the illusion of depth and complexity where none exists, but "Chuck & Buck" is the kind of film that's more or less throttled independent cinema in its crib and paved the way for similarly dire work.
"Chuck & Buck" handles very serious issues: homosexuality, adolescent sexuality, obsession, and so on. I wouldn't dream of denying a filmmaker access to this kind of material, but the filmmaker should be using these tools to plumb actual depths, to say something or have some kind of viewpoint. This is the failure of "Chuck & Buck," and it's what makes the film irresponsible and frankly, bad. These issues are easy ways to push an audience's buttons, but the film reads like the tree rape scene in "Evil Dead:" it serves no purpose but to unnerve you.
It gets worse: the film isn't even competently made. While the acting is fine, the script is rife with implausibilities and inconsistencies, and Miguel Arteta's direction is painfully one note. The film makes no attempt to explain Buck's living situation at all and refuses to diagnose him. Buck exists as a halfway point between a fleshed out character and a cipher, and this unwillingness to commit to what the hell is actually wrong with him makes it impossible to deem him plausible or not.
Characters throughout the film will do things that seem utterly contrary to either themselves or common sense, and the infamous scene between Chuck and Buck late in the film is where it lost me for good. Likewise, the denouement of the film is far too pat for something like this, and mars an already stretched-thin credibility.
If the film had been merely bad I could ignore it. But it becomes more or less offensive when you consider the messages it essentially offers on homosexuality and to a lesser extent, women. "Chuck & Buck," whether intentionally or not, essentially equates homosexuality with mental illness and discomfort and never changes that tack. Likewise, the only female character the film seems to like/favor is Beverly, essentially a sexless, matronly creature.
My classmates seemed to enjoy the film, but I found it too reprehensible and poorly made to respond with anything other than absolute disdain. Avoid.
No Country for Old Men (2007)
"No Country for Old Men" is many things, but it's not a complete film.
It's beautiful to look at. It has a lot of intelligence on display. But unfortunately, it just doesn't come together. I have no doubt this is exactly the film the Coens intended to make, and you could certainly mistake this for a profound and complete film, but it has one crucial problem: everything about it is completely disjointed.
The shots themselves are framed so beautifully that each one is a portrait, but the problem is that they don't cut together well at all. There's seldom a sense of place; characters exist largely in vacuums, either occupying a frame whose background is out of focus or is otherwise somehow confined.
Scenes have the same problem, as do character motivations and continuity, and I suspect this all stems from the film being an adaptation of a novel. The people I watched the film with were constantly impressed by the intelligence and cunning shown by the characters in the film, but the problem is that there are so many gaps that their foresight borders on precognition. People are places simply because the script says so. They cross paths because the script says so.
The film ultimately feels like a distillation of all the pieces we really like about films. The Coen brothers have burned away the "excess," leaving us with pure scenes and pure shots. The problem is that in the process, what's been burned away are the threads the connect these things and make an experience feel complete.
The ending is more or less what one would expect from the disjointed film that precedes it, but it feels like an exclamation point placed on the film's central problem: how arbitrary the whole thing feels as a result of its lack of cohesion. The ending is fairly arbitrary but perhaps most damningly, is the kind of hackneyed stuff Academy awards are made of.
It's enjoyable to watch, but like so many Academy sweethearts, "No Country for Old Men" falls apart under scrutiny.
The Looney Tunes of the Alien and Predator franchises.
9 stars out of 10 seems pretty ridiculous for a movie that has the most threadbare of plots and the most two-dimensional of characters. Make no mistake: AvP:R is a terrible, terrible film.
But it is an AWESOME movie. Anyone who goes to this expecting anything other than absolute, mindless, relentless carnage deserves what they get. Those of you who really just wanted to see a movie with aliens and predators wrecking crap and each other will have a blast.
The movie is a checklist of clichés, gimmicks, and devices. But more than that, it's a checklist of all the superficial crap fans want to see. Ever wonder if an alien's retractable jaws can punch through a safety helmet? NOW YOU KNOW! There is no logic or sense, rhyme or reason to this movie. But it IS loaded to the gills with violence. It's ridiculously, over-the-top, gloriously violent. Every time you get sick of the plot or characters, something dies. Even if you count JUST kids in the movie, there are still five kills (counting kids in utero at least) alone. Let me be clear: they killed pregnant women and children. It is hilariously, cartoonishly violent.
This is the Looney Tunes of the Alien and Predator franchises. It is modern grand guignol. It is GLORIOUS.
I Am Legend (2007)
Half an incredible film.
Do yourself a favor. The instant the "Anna" character appears, leave the theatre. At that point you will have experienced a remarkably potent, emotionally devastating film.
After that, the movie takes such a stunning nosedive that it's almost impossible to believe that's how it was originally meant to end. Indeed, there are even scenes in the trailer that suggest a completely different (and vastly superior) direction to the film, and there are plot elements through the film up until this point that corroborate that direction.
And then Anna shows up. And it all goes to hell. Suddenly there are bright lights, explosions, deus ex machina for miles...the movie is completely destroyed. If you hated the ending of "28 Days Later," try to imagine that instead of the ending being five minutes of disappointment, it's the entire third act.
I really hope we get to see how this movie was supposed to end at some point, because I can't fathom the original script just randomly sucking as much as this one did at the end.
28 Weeks Later (2007)
It doesn't work.
Honestly, my friend and I turned this off about a half hour in.
"28 Weeks Later" has a hell of a pedigree to live up to. Danny Boyle's "28 Days Later" was a breath of fresh air, and one of the best and smartest horror films to be made in the past decade at least.
If it wasn't following Boyle's film, "28 Weeks Later" might've been passable as mediocre horror entertainment. But because it follows that film, it has certain rules to live up to, and a standard of quality. It fails miserably.
As a horror fan, I get used to the absurd. I get used to the ridiculous coincidences required to make a movie go. But I could NOT suspend my disbelief here, and I'm the guy willing to believe the judge in "Ghostbusters II" didn't notice the giant marshmallow man destroying New York City five years prior. Simply put, the way the outbreak...uh...breaks out again does NOT work. It requires a series of incredibly stupid decisions to get to where it is. I can handle plot holes, I don't expect a movie to be perfect, but if you're setting up your film as a serious horror film following a serious horror film...well, the movie doesn't play by the rules established for it. Characters need to be idiots to make it go.
There's no logic here. The instant you present the film with any scrutiny at all, it crumbles to dust.
Unless you're really certain you can shut your brain off, avoid this film at all costs.
Eastern Promises (2007)
Would be solid if it wasn't a Cronenberg film.
Make no mistake: "Eastern Promises" isn't a bad film. It's engaging enough and works well enough. The problem here is that Cronenberg's style, subversiveness, and panache are by and large nowhere to be found. Instead, we have something more mundane that probably would've been better suited to a more classical director.
The problem is that the script is just not that interesting, and the story is predictable. Twists that occur toward the end of the film serve no real purpose. Naomi Watts is given a rote character, but the biggest crime may be the film's subtle and steady defanging of Viggo Mortensen's Nikolai, a character who could've been ranked among some of the most terrifying men ever captured on film, but instead is degenerated to the rank of a hit-man with a heart of gold and then worse.
And the much talked about scene where a nude Viggo Mortensen fights with two men? I've read it being hailed as one of the most visceral fight scenes captured on film and indeed, parts of it do make the grade, but as a whole the only notable aspect of the scene is the fact that Viggo is nude through the entire thing. This scene is one of the few points where Cronenberg shows his teeth, but it lacks the force and brutality that made "A History of Violence" so effective.
The movie wouldn't be such a drag if Cronenberg's name wasn't plastered on it, but we've come to expect thoughtful, subversive, and challenging films from him. I've searched this film for some of that thoughtfulness. I haven't found it. Unusually banal for a director of his talent; better luck next time.
The Hamiltons (2006)
Interesting, but deeply flawed.
"The Hamiltons" has a great premise, and the ending of the film is inches from being extremely satisfying. On its own, an excellent ending...it's getting there that's the problem with the film.
The fundamental flaw of "The Hamiltons" is that it's caught between being a serial killer film and a family drama, and unlike "Suburban Nightmare" - which was similar, also an indie, and much better in my opinion - "The Hamiltons" refuses to commit to its characters. It wants you to empathize with them at the same time it paints them as violent sociopaths. In doing this I found the ending disingenuous, and most of the movie was simply too scattered.
There ARE strong points to the film. The main character, Francis, is easily the most well-developed character. Although he gets too whiny and, frankly, useless at times, he's able to make the transition into action with aplomb. His relationship with one of the women being held in the cellar of the house is particularly well-written and potent.
The problem is that the movie feels forced to bend to genre conventions, and in doing so it makes the other three members of the family unsympathetic in the extreme. The characters of Wendell and Darlene are written well as sociopaths, but the problem comes when the film wants you to identify with them and accept them as part of this family, and you can't imagine why anyone would love them even if they WERE family.
The film is worth watching, but the script really could've used another run through editing to work out the kinks.
Penny Dreadful (2006)
The only reason this got a 2 is because the killer's appearance IS fairly chilling when he's actually revealed, and because it actually does a semi-effective job of conveying panic.
Of course, the movie itself is absolute dreck. What we have is a short film that has been extended to feature length for no discernible reason other than "hey, maybe we can make some money on this!" The main character, Penny, has a phobia of cars, something I'm sure we can all identify with. What? You can't? Well, there's your first problem.
The turning point of the film, as shown in the trailer, is when her therapist runs down a hitchhiker, so they pick him up. I'm sorry, but if I ran that guy over, I'd keep driving. He's really obviously creepy looking; well, more, he looks like Emperor Palpatine while he still has the hood on. Either way, when I saw him on the road, I thought, "Wow, I'd pick up Rutger Hauer before I'd pick up this guy." This was a stupid, stupid moment where no one, no matter how dumb, how intoxicated, would possibly think to pick this guy up. Since this scene is necessary to make the movie work, the whole thing just collapses.
There's a second plot thread involving other characters that exists entirely to pad running time and ultimately winds up having no discernible effect on the plot concerning Penny or even any relevance at all.
Most of the blame for the film can be placed squarely on the character of Penny, who is basically a futile, sniveling lightweight that seems actively afraid to do anything to help herself.
Unfortunately, she's really the fatal flaw of the film. She has a phobia you can't identify with, and she spends the entire film in this heightened state of tension, from literally frame one. You have to build your film, you can't just start up there and expect the thing to stay there, people will get tired and bored. More than that, she spends most of the film crying, screaming, and just generally being useless. From the get go she behaves like this infantile individual even though she's a young adult, quickly robbing the audience of any patience or concern they might have had for her well-being. You WANT her to die.
You don't identify with her because you're not like her, because you're proactive. You'd be trying to survive. Penny is a liability to herself, to everyone around her, and to entertainment.
Avoid this movie at all costs.
Tomie: Revenge (2005)
For Tomie buffs only.
If you're a "Tomie" fan you'll find something to like here. If you have no idea what "Tomie" even is, well, how the heck would you get here anyhow? Now that it's available in all its English subtitled glory, I've had the opportunity to view "Tomie: Revenge" and to experience the kind of disappointment that's all too familiar to "Tomie" fans. The "how could they screw this up?" feeling.
To summarize the plot of "Tomie: Revenge" is an impossible undertaking simply because there really isn't one. Most of the film's ideas are scattershot, thrown to the winds. The threads that connect the characters are painfully thin, and this film has easily the worst Tomie in the series (at least until I see "Tomie: Beginning.") There are some very good scenes and concepts here, and a few exciting parts, and for what it's worth, the film does try to at least tie all the "Tomie" films together. But that's not worth much; even the source material keeps little continuity between the incarnations of Tomie.
This is the most disjointed film I've seen in a long time. Characters appear and disappear with little motivation. Tomie's personality is radically different from the manga and the previous films; so badly written and acted this Tomie is, that the most exciting scenes involving her are the ones where people are talking about her. The ones she isn't even actually in.
If you're a "Tomie" buff you're going to see this movie no matter what I say, so go for it. Just don't show it to your friends.
The Ring Two (2005)
Enjoyably headless blunder.
I give it a 6 because that's only what the movie deserves. For me, it's near an 8 or a 9.
The beauty of The Ring Two is that having been a fan of the Japanese franchise, and learning this would be a completely new film, I had no idea where they were going to take it. The trailers were very interesting but again, offered no clues as to where the film was going.
There's a reason for that.
You see, the filmmakers and I had something in common. I had no idea where they were going to go with this film, and neither did they. The film is a confused mess with barely a plot thread stringing it together, certainly a hallmark low for hack writer Ehren Kruger.
But that's the charm of it, I guess. It's so confused, and wants to show you all kinds of cool stuff, that the movie itself has been lost. It's no more a clone of the original film than of any of the other films in the Ring canon.
But it IS entertaining, and charmingly bereft of a real plot. On the one hand, it's disappointing - the concept of the original is rife with possibilities for a sequel - but on the other, it's sort of grand in its utter inability to capitalize on anything.
It's a curiosity of a film that should be seen, if anything, for its utter confusion.
I loved it.