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Dreams from My Real Father (2012)
An Embarrassment For Legitimate Critics of Obama
At first, this brain-damaged hatchet job seems like an example of Poe's Law gone way too far. It is so outrageous that even most reasonable Republicans walk away in disgust, secretly hoping that this is either a failed parody/satire, or even better, an action by a Democrat Agent Provocateur type designed to make everyone to the right of Obama look like a lunatic.
But, instead, it is the work of a conspiracy theorist, and has been adopted by the "Obama is a secret Muslim/Communist" crowd. Every time a so-called conservative cites to this trash with approval, intelligent conservatives should hang their heads in shame, or better yet, take conservatism back from these imbeciles.
For those who are criticizing the GOP as "the party of stupid," they can point to this as Exhibit A.
Ying xiong (2002)
Those who talk about the lush cinematography, well-blocked fight scenes, and other visual details of this film are correct. Visually, it is a stunning film.
However, this is a pretty film with a deeply suspicious message at its center. The Emperor, who conducts offensive wars of genocide against neighbor kingdoms in the name of unity, and rules his own populace with cruelty and an iron hand in the name of order, has all of his actions rationalized and even glorified. The Emperor is also an unapologetic nationalist. In other words: having the streets run red with the blood of innocents is perfectly acceptable, even noble, as long as it is done in the name of unity and order.
It is probably no coincidence that a highly authoritarian government noted for brutal crackdowns on dissent and offensive wars against neighbor states in the name of "unity" (like Tibet) financed a film that glorifies its most egregious behavior. Unlike so many in the West, this insidious message was no doubt not lost in Tibet or Taipei.
Flip That House (2005)
Could This Be- the Most Evil Show Ever?
Just what the world really needed- a show that glorified the idea that anyone could get rich quick by buying houses, throwing a few improvements in them, and then turn around and sell them at a huge profit! Get in on all the fun, after all, everybody is doing it and you can, too! Don't worry, this is the 2000's. Nothing can go wrong. After all, housing prices are going to go up at least 20% per year, forever! Aren't they?
Actually, this show should have served as a warning about just how insane the feeding frenzy of the housing bubble had become. It did nothing except glorify the idea that anybody, even the most rank amateur, could get rich quick off of house flipping. Only time will tell how many actually saw a profit, and how many got burned and lost their savings on what should have been seen as a bubble. However, this show should never be forgotten- it is a relic of the stupid optimism and a warning for those who want to participate in the next "can't miss" asset bubble, whatever that is.
Brideshead Revisited (2008)
Does not stand up to the miniseries
Naturally, comparisons to the classic 1981 miniseries are unavoidable. Because of the choice to use the same location (Castle Howard) for Brideshead in the film as the mini, they become even more obvious.
With just over two hours, a lot of the story gets chopped out, along with a lot of the minor characters. In fact, the film is basically about a fifteen year long love triangle: Sebastian, Charles, and Julia. All of the aspects of the Flytes as a dying class (replaced by the Rex Mottrams of the world) and the Catholic themes are practically written out.
Perhaps the single most pernicious edit was the fact that Charles' conversion to Catholicism was edited from the film. Without that conversion, the whole Catholic element becomes just an impediment to the Charles-Julia relationship. Possibly the worst effect coming from this choice is that the film kind of drifts to a close without any closure, when it returns Charles to Brideshead in 1944.
On the plus side, Emma Thompson is appropriately manipulative and domineering as Lady Marchmain. Also, the cinematography is top-notch. Curiously enough, however, there is far less star power in the film than in the miniseries. Granada TV was supposedly using the mini-series to flagship their "quality" programming right before a license renewal, and they got some names: John Gielgud, Lawrence Olivier, Jeremy Irons. The new film has Emma Thompson.
Another problem with the short time involved is that the characters are not allowed to develop the same way they were in the 1981 mini. The character who suffers most from this is Sebastian. Anthony Andrews' Sebastian was a brat who got away with being a brat because he could turn on the charm and make anybody love him, at least in the beginning. Ben Whitshaw's Sebastian is still a brat, but he is not shown as the great charmer. The funny thing is, sometimes when they say the same lines, Andrews came off as witty, Whitshaw comes off as whiny.
Along those lines, Bridey is essentially a non-character. Simon "Arthur Dent" Jones' magnificently understated performance as an upper-class twit is sorely missed.
Also, in the miniseries, it is obvious that Charles falls first for Sebastian, and then for the entire Flyte family (except Bridey). In the film, one could get the impression that Charles is more in love with the building, than either Julia or Sebastian.
This isn't to say that Brideshead Revisited was a bad film; it was a good (but not great) film. However, not unlike film versions of Pride and Prejudice, there is too much Waugh for 135 minutes. In the case of this film, dropping both the class and Catholicism aspects in large part makes a good film, but not necessarily one fully in touch with Waugh's themes.
I Know Who Killed Me (2007)
Not "Gigli" bad, but still really awful.
I'm sure a lot of you have heard of this film.
This was known as "that Lindsay Lohan film that died at the box office." Well, some of us watch badfilm so the rest of you don't have to.
Let's start with Ms. Lohan herself. In a lame and obviously telegraphed "plot twist," Ms. Lohan plays identical twins separated at birth. One is raised by a WASP-y upper middle class family, and she becomes a glasses-wearing virginal artistic prodigy. The other is raised by a crack whore and is a stripper at the age of 17.
This gives Ms. Lohan the opportunity to fail miserably at playing two radically different characters. Many would expect Ms. Lohan to fail at being a frigid prodigy, but curiously enough, she also fails at being a sleazy stripper.
Which brings up an obvious topic in the film: Ms. Lohan's strip club scenes. Yes, they do exist. Naturally, they beg a comparison to that other classic badfilm with strip club scenes, Showgirls. Elizabeth Berkeley had an "enthused but hopelessly inept" vibe to her scenes as she did an uncoordinated naked strut about the stage with the pole. Ms. Lohan, by comparison, just didn't care.
First, the producers must have had just enough money to hire Lindsay Lohan to play a stripper, but not enough money to actually take off her kit and flash her boobies at the camera. So, while we get to know Elizabeth Berkeley way too up close and personal, Ms. Lohan keeps her outfit on. A complete lack of dedication.
This total lack of dedication is made all the more obvious by the fact that all her strip club dance scenes are in slow motion! Peeking behind the curtain of ultra slow-motion and lots of colored filters (and, gentle reader, if you watch this film ever, you will be sick of colored filters), the "sexy strip club" scenes are nothing but Ms. Lohan walking around a pole and crawling on the ground, slowed down in a lame attempt to make it look more sensuous. Is Ms. Lohan the only actress who can "mail it in" in a strip club scene? While we are on the subject of "mailing it in," let's talk about the scriptwriters. When not recycling clichés from every slasher pic since Halloween, they are, you guessed it, blatantly ripping off David Lynch and Twin Peaks! Note the significance, and endlessly repeated theme, of blue roses (ripped off from Fire Walk With Me). Also note the incessant cutting away to Owls in all outdoor night scenes (if you don't know where that is from, get off your stupid computer and watch "Twin Peaks" now). My compatriot, in fact, was of the opinion that even if Ms. Lohan tried, she couldn't have risen above the lame script.
No matter how bad Ms. Lohan's performance, it was eclipsed by the bad acting of the Jullia Ormund, who played her mother. Julia Ormond's descent into Hell is now complete. Either that, or she was just got lucky for a couple of years there in the 1990's.
There were torture scenes. The genius of Joss Whedon is that, in "Firefly," he made a torture scene funny. The anti-genius of this film is that it manages to make a torture scene boring. And the less said about the villain, the better. Jason and Freddy are characters of Shakespearean depth compared to this one. One would think that one could wring some sort of emotion out of seeing Ms. Lohan tortured, whether it is disgust or perhaps even Schadenfreude. No such luck here.
On the bright side: it is a fairly short film. It lacks the six fake 'em out endings of Gigli. Still, a film for veteran badfilm watchers only. I give it 2 1/2 martinis that you will need to make it through.
It Isn't a Train Wreck- it Moves too Slowly
OK, if you are reading this, you have probably already heard about the nightmarish details of this film. Carrie Fisher sings, badly, an "inspirational" version of the Star Wars theme. Art Carney shows way too much skin. Mark Hammill looks like a drag queen, and Harrison Ford looks like he was dragged on set against his will by a gang of thugs.
The "musical numbers" are bizarre, irrelevant, and bear no resemblance to anything else. I think I speak for everyone when I say that I hope that mysterious orifice on the top of Harvey Korman's head has one, and only one, use.
But, gentle reader, I do not criticize the painful individual moments of this disaster, no matter how many there are. I do not even criticize the fact that Wookies are made to look like either obnoxious twits or creepy perverts. No, I want to talk about pacing, or in this work's case, p-a-c-i-n-g...
Taken as a whole, there was about enough plot here for a 30 minute network special. But, that would not be long enough. So, the viewer gets 20 minutes of wookie-speak, which goes nowhere. And dance numbers, which go nowhere... And Bea Arthur singing, which might go somewhere we don't want to know about... The fact is, amazingly little happens during this thing's excruciatingly long running time.
Having a martini handy is a must. Just do not drink every time you get bored.
Oh, God, I Love This Movie!
This film is truly the finest hour of the young, aggressive, full-speed-ahead Peter Jackson. Check your squeamishness at the door and get ready for proof that splatter can be played for laughs.
Not all the laughs are splatter-based. The opening scene shows a zookeeper waving a permit to a tribe of hostile natives about to kill him, shouting out "per-mit! Per-mit!" From there, the film descends into the inspired, amused lunacy of the splatstick. Look for the cameo of a young, thin Peter Jackson as a mortician's assistant. Also look for the minor hilarious characters- the Nazi vet, the idiot football player, and most famous of all, Father MacGruder, he of the film's best one-liner.
Timothy Balme is excellent as the nebbishy mama's boy who ends up taking on the whole undead world by himself, with a couple of mechanical aids. He out-Ashes Ash! Like any good zombie film, the end features waves of zombies, but many with unique and twisted personalities of their own. The best is, of course, zombie baby. It is shocking and yet hilarious to see what zombie baby endures, and yet survives (perhaps to live on in the long awaited sequel?) Ten stars, and five out of five blood splats thrown up against the wall (during the last half hour).
King Arthur (2004)
A Bit of a Waste
What can I say? Well, for starters, I no longer think Kingdom of Heaven is that badly done.
Let's start with how this film gets rolling. In the "plot convenience theatre" department: Arthur and all his knights need to be sent out on a mission to rescue this VIT (very important teenager), a mission so important that getting him back is the last thing the Roman army will do before departing. So, this kid is hanging out at some isolated plantation on the wrong side of Hadrian's wall??? Ladies and gentlemen, our human McGuffin is in place.
And, in the same scene, what is it with the way Christians are being portrayed in these films? Is it some attempt to balance the fact that, fifty years ago, Christians were always portrayed as superior to Pagans, so now it is some kind of payback?
In Kingdom of Heaven, a lot of the Christians were portrayed as venal, violent, and dim. How could King Arthur do worse? Venal, violent, cowardly, dim, and to top it off, pointlessly sadistic! How sadistic? Well, they do this dorky "torture Pagan children just because" routine. How pointless? Well, they have Keira Knightley in a dungeon, and all they can think of doing is breaking her fingers. How pathetic- and uncreative. This is Keira Knightley...
Which brings to our film's antagonists: the Saxons. Let's play "You are the Saxon commander!" Despite apparently getting lost on the sea crossing and landing several hundred miles north of all the other Saxons, you have just come across a hastily abandoned Roman plantation. The plantation's carts and draft horses are gone, and the serfs have fled, but a fully furnished large luxury villa, outbuildings, tilled fields, and livestock remain. Do you say to yourself:
A. FREAKING GREAT! THIS is why we invaded England: free pre-built fiefdoms! They even left the tableware, excellent. Now for the hard decision: keep it for myself, or give it to one of my successful captains instead of having to pay him? OR,
B. WE HATE BUILDINGS! Burn! Burn the blasted thing to the ground. Kill everything that moves! We're Saxons- that's what we do! Sure, it is winter in Britannia, and the livestock we are pointlessly killing might come in handy to feed my army, but us Saxons prefer sleeping outside, on the ground, and eating- well, whatever. That's what makes us superior
Most historical Saxon commanders, in fact, chose option A. But, I guess Bruckheimer and company didn't think that invading land to take over and run things was eeeevil enough. So, the producers brought in the gang from "The Road Warrior," took away their dune buggies, and called them the enemy. Frankly, I suspect that their behavior would leave most historical Saxons going "huh?"
One thing a lot of Saxon commanders would have liked, though, was all the groovy crossbows they had. Did someone time travel to eleventh century Genoa and buy them all? If they did, it would seem easier to come back with Lee-Enfield rifles and solve all their problems. Must be one of those time machines that only allow for the transport of non-gunpowder weaponry.
The "am I watching a Godzilla film?" moment came after the rescue of teen McGuffin from the Saxon marauders and right before a battle on a frozen lake. Clive Owen gives an "inspirational" speech. The whole scene was re-dubbed from what Owen was originally saying, however, and the synchronization is horrible. Clive's lips start moving a full half second before we get any words. When I see that, I expect to hear Godzilla sounds or Hong Kong Martial-arts film sound effects immediately following. Hard to believe this film was done in English. Since Owen's speech was pretty cheesy, I shudder to imagine what Owen was saying originally, to be dubbed over with that cheese.
The "battle on the ice" itself- it is just like Alexander Nevsky, except for the fact that it isn't good. Just a badly shot muddle of people on the ice more reminiscent of the "Monty Python Women's League" battle re-enactments than Eisenstein.
After the Nevsky homage, we are treated a the most awkward, painful so-called "love scene" featuring Clive and Keira. There was a time in film when they would have just faded out when it was obvious what would happen. That would have been such an improvement. With these sort of scenes, do it right or don't do it at all! Poor lighting, camera angles straight out of "Battlefield Earth" and the old Batman TV show, enough camera movement to give some viewers motion sickness- even a porn film director could have done better.
Of course, any film like this needs a final, climactic battle. Okay, so you have the best fortification in Britannia in the form of Hadrian's wall, and you let them through, supposedly as part of a trap. It appears that for this plan to work, the Saxons had to charge past the fortress and into battle, instead of thinking that maybe they would want to keep the fortification and let the natives attack them while they had the nice building; it is a good thing these road-warrior Saxons hate buildings and fortifications. And where did all the petroleum for these fire-traps come from?
Lancelot was impressive, though. Why use a crossbow, if you can throw your sword forty feet and have it stick? And then, of course, the final wedding scene with the flaming arrows being shot into the sea (winner, 2004's most retarded Freudian image in film). But anyway, we have this great image of the wedding of Christian and Pagan, on the rocks. It just has a certain "love boat" kitschy quality to it which ruins any alleged message.
"Kingdom of Heaven" looked like a mish-mash when I first saw it. But, compared to this, it is a masterpiece.
84 Charing Cross Road (1987)
A very pleasant , very intimate film
I recently saw this film for the first time, as a chance to see an Anne Bancroft film I had not seen before. Bancroft and Hopkins are both excellent in this. And, more than almost any other film, they have to be excellent; their performances are the only thing this little film hangs on.
Everything about this film violates almost every "screenwriting 101" type rule. The two main characters communicate primarily through letters. Characters address the audience directly. There is no real conflict. Change occurs only with the natural passage of time in the characters' lives. No heroes, no villains. No romance, no violence, no adventures- just two people (one a writer, the other a rare-book dealer) living their lives and caring about how the other leads theirs.
And yet, the film works. Over the span of the 20+ years portrayed in the film, the audience gets to know and like both of the main characters, and their compatriots as well. And just getting to know them and their unique friendship makes it all worthwhile.
Also, the portrayal of the privations of the post-war U.K. of rations and food shortages is done very well. Michael Palin, amongst others, have addressed the tragicomic aspects of postwar rationing in the U.K., but in this film, it is poignant how even a poor American managed to make the entire bookstore's Christmases worthwhile with a well-timed shipment of Danish food.
The Panama Deception (1992)
Only Those Who Really Wanted To Believe Any Propaganda...
...could swallow this film wholeheartedly.
I am not living in a polyanna-ish world where the US administration's motives for invading Panama were absolutely pure. However, any valid criticism of the US administration that might have been in this film was lost amongst the bizarre, unbelievable paranoia the so-called documentary filmmakers chose to adopt as a viewpoint. Some of this material (like the bit about the US Army using random Panamanian civilians to test Area 51-type secret beam weapons on) landed somewhere between comic book and schizophrenic dementia. Oh, and the "everything was great until the US got involved" viewpoint- classic.
Sadly, I remember seeing this film with the kind of zombies who would cheer the filmmakers at every statement, no matter how outrageous or out of touch with reality. Goes to show that the hardcore religious right is not the only political orientation with a cadre of zombies willing to ignore facts or even the slightest contact with reality, as long as what they are being told fits in with their preconceived notions. One thing the far left and far right have in common: they will pay to have people tell them what they are already convinced is true!