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The Desolation of Peter Jackson
So here's the main points.
1. The actor who plays Thorin did a video commercial for the DVD of the movie that you just paid to see in the theater suggesting that you should pay more now so that you could get some wondervision DVD at some later date when it becomes available. It looked eerily similar to those videos of terrorist hostages talking about how America blows. Nice job Hollywood.
2. Like the first installment of this three movie one book epic there are action scenes of infinite length that, basically, are set up so that the dudes that make the Lego video game of the Hobbit don't have to think too much.
3. Speaking of action scenes, in the "barrel ride" scene something really weird happened in my theater. I think the projectionist kept mixing in video of his family's white water rafting trip from last summer. Either that, or they just forgot to bring a film camera the day they shot the close ups of frothy water. Maybe Peter Jackson made a selfie movie on his cellphone of him splashing around in his bathtub and stuck it in thinking no one would notice.
4. The studio or whatever must have finally gotten the note that they forgot to put any black people in Middle Earth because they put one whole black person in this one. Sure it was just one extra in a Lake Town scene, but at least they kept cutting back to reaction shots of her face for awkwardly long and obvious takes. Now no one can say that Middle Earth isn't racially diverse.
5. They could have given an actual speaking role to a black person. Like Bart. I don't think Tolkien ever said one way or another if Bart was white or not. Instead, they appeared to give Bart's role to Jean Claude van Damme made to look youthful through the magic of CG.
Incidentally, Jean Claude van Damme once told me that he could kick me in the eyeball without getting up from his seat across the dinner table after I told him that I really liked his performance in Monaco Forever. Nice to see you again Jean Claude!
It's not the worst movie ever made intended to help stretch a single, fairly lightweight fantasy book into three seven hour movies but it's not the best either.
The Hunger Games (2012)
Not as Good as Tommy Wiseau's The Room
Let me tell you why this movie blows.
It's too damn long. It's like a long made for Lifetime movie with a bigger budget. In the 1980s. And, also, that Gary Ross dude should not be allowed to make any movies no more.
Cuz he kinda sucks. Dude can't help himself but to try and make every scene in the movie the most awesomely important moment in the history of the movies ever.
Basically he made the perfect movie to promote on the Jay Leno show. Because Jay Leno sorta blows in the same way that this movie does.
Did I mention it is too damn long? Oh I did? But it's still true so it's worth saying again. I heard that they got these people that work on movies that are supposed to edit them or whatever. Where was that guy on this movie? Did he go out for a bacon sandwich when he was supposed to be doing that? There's no way he was in that little room with a pair of scissors snipping up this movie because every scene went on forever.
Not that I care about it. It's not like I read these books and liked them. They are for teenagers so I didn't read them at all. Never read them straight through in like three nights. That's not my thing.
Oh. And one more thing...
Can people stop bringing little sick babies that cough and kids who are four years old to movies about teenagers who have to cut each other's heads off and stab each other and break each other's necks?
I only say this because I guess that message hadn't gone out before my showing of the movie.
Even Wings Hauser Couldn't Save this One
Three stars for the use of Wings Hauser. One star for a bitchen' self-guided tire effect.
All the other potential stars for this movie have been loaded onto a Chinese long-range satellite and exploded into the atmosphere where they will wander the inky blackness of space never to return.
So the movie starts promisingly when a sheriff emerges from a car trunk and talks directly to the audience about the movie that's about to begin.
But even as he talks he promises that this movie will be an homage to No Reason moments in movie. You might think this is a fake-out. That eventually you will see that No Reason moments do have some source and meaning in some spectacular moment late in the film when everything comes together.
But nope. He's for real about the No Reason thing. Because there isn't a reason. Well. There's probably a reason. I think the director wanted to see the starring actress nude and so he built an entire movie around a brief shower scene.
I get the "life is full of no reason moments" idea. But here's the thing--most of the examples of No Reason in movies were also highly entertaining or extremely provocative or meaningful No Reason moments.
Which this movie intentionally avoids at all costs. In spite of as much Wings Hauser as you've seen in ages and some really nice shots of a tire rolling by itself, this movie manages to sidestep all semblance of value. Because the makers of the movie confused value and reason. I don't need reason at a movie but I do want a little bit of value.
A missed opportunity to make audiences identify with a tire.
Like Re-Living Film School
There's really two movies included in one DVD here. And, in these topsy-turvy days of crappy high-margin products trying to take as much of your money for as little in return as possible, that's a real value.
The first movie is the one that's advertised. A throwback 1950's drive-in creature feature complete with all the requisite characters and plots. It's a fun, innocent, frequently funny send-up of a genre that almost doesn't exist any more.
It's charmingly and disarmingly innocent while at the same time it's smartly written with a lot of clever references to movies and movie making--particularly the bygone era of small- budget horror. And, yeah, it's bad. In a good way. On purpose bad. Campy and fun.
For anyone who loves horror movies, this is one of those that you'll keep close to the DVD player for the nights when you're not out at the bars trying to pick up on members of the opposite sex (or same sex as the case might be.) The Creature is the movie you can kick back with and get nostalgic about the kind of movies that used to show up on the vampire-hosted local channel spooky show.
And if you've ever made a movie yourself--or been a student that tried to make a feature-- that's where you'll find the second film to watch on the same DVD.
For a spot on accurate comic tale of what it is like to be a student filmmaker trying to make a full-length feature with a long list of compromised assets, turn on the commentary track and watch The Creature from Lake Michigan over again.
The film's writer and producer takes you on the hilarious, epic, labyrinthine journey of making the Creature while at film school. Scene by scene, the commentary track is a literal treasure trove of tragic pitfalls that are standard issue for novice filmmakers. Most of us in that community started by making shorts and non-narratives. Three minute films that you shoot on a bolex with a single roll of Plus X. But all of us, at one point or another, said, "Hey. How hard would it be to make a 90 minute film? With dialog? And actors? And a plot?" And there were the dreams about making your feature, taking it out to festivals and writing your own ticket in Hollywood.
Some of us took up the challenge of making one of those movies.
And a smaller number of those actually finished them. This movie with Hardison's commentary track definitively answers that nagging, naive student question, "how hard would it be?"
Turns out--totally hard. This film was initially shot back in the 1990s and only decades later, through sheer force of will on Hardison's part, did it actually get completed. That is a labor of love even Proust shake his head at.
Bad actors, money problems, fights on the crew, friendships destroyed, great loves created-- the story behind The Creature is easily as entertaining, funny and, perhaps, far more dramatic, than the one that's up on the screen.
If you've ever made a feature on a shoestring or even thought about it, watch this movie with the commentary. For those that have been there, it will remind you of every last minute of your shoot and have you laughing at the absurdity of such an immense undertaking and for those that are thinking about it, this is an essential primer, a warning and a free education.
Old Dogs (2009)
A movie that molds the broke
Let's start with a disclaimer. I saw Old Dogs while on an American Airlines flight from Portland to Miami. This is not the ideal environment for watching a movie. I know that. Watching a film on a tiny screen suspended above a narrow aisle inside a metal tube flying through the sky over the deafening noise of buzzing jet engines and the constant interruptions from a captain intent on informing us of the weather in Miami every ten minutes while smelling the poisonous gassy cloud of fart emitting from the sleeping passenger next to you, can be distracting.
But in the case of Old Dogs even the toxic fart cloud was more engaging than the movie.
I think an airplane viewing is never a good test of how good a movie is but it certainly is a great way to grade how bad it is. Because if you want to stop watching the movie and instead smell farts and listen to weather updates that never once change, that's bad.
Maybe it's not fair to rip on Old Dogs but let's call it what it is--a symbolic whipping boy for the worst crap Hollywood has to offer. It takes every broken, tired, overused convention the film industry has to offer and turns it into a worthless cookie cutter of bland garbage storytelling.
Don't get me wrong--I like bad movies sometimes. But they have to be endearingly bad in a unique and special way. They still have to entertain. Like Tommy Wiseau's The Room. There's a bad movie anyone could love.
But Old Dogs is so spectacularly pedestrian in its crappy-ness that there's not one thing to even mildly like much less love.
And, frequently, there are moments in the movie that leave you cringing with shame as Robin Williams feebly attempts to catch relevancy by the tail with gut-wrenching tries at channeling the spirit of more contemporary comedy performances seen in Judd Apatow films, in movies like Wedding Crashers and the film personas of Steve Carrell and Will Ferrell.
Robin Williams' character gets his chest shaved and tattooed in one scene a la Carrell in 40 Year Old virgin and gets naked down to his undies which has become a staple of Ferrell's film work (to the degree that everyone is already tired of seeing even Ferrell's obligatory strip downs to his hilariously flabby form.)
But there's something desperately sad about watching Robin Williams try to pretend that he's a hip, younger comic actor with fresh ideas even as the movie is about two over-the-hill guys confronting their lack of connection to their own emotions and other human beings.
And what about John Travolta as the crazy, id-driven, comic ladies-man pal to Robin Williams more uptight straight man?
In a word? Yuck.
This is not another Pulp Fiction revival of Travolta's career. It's not even Look Who's Talking Too. It's an equally desperate attempt to borrow from a younger, hipper, somewhat current, actor--Vince Vaughn. And it is every bit the failure you might expect.
I can't blame Travolta and Williams exclusively, however. Any more than I would blame former sports stars coming out of retirement to try for one more great season and failing spectacularly. I get where they want to be cool again.
The blame really lies with the writers in this case and the Disney development process that churned this paint-by-numbers disaster out. There was a large group of people who all likely had a hand in shepherding this movie from badly formed idea to the still-worse final product that is the movie.
Oh. I almost forgot. Here's the plot. Poor uptight loser is driven to impulsive acts by his charming, libidinous, id-driven buddy and accidentally knocks up a one-night stand in Palm Beach that, in reality, would never, no matter how drunk she was, have slept with this short, hairy grandpa hobbit. Buncha years later, during a hectic and believable-less "ultimately important business deal" the knocked up lady comes back with the now young twin kids from their unholy union and saddles the uptight loser with them while she goes to jail for some completely virtuous protest act. Hilarity and complications ensue. Eventually all the characters learn valuable lessons and carve out new and more enriching lives for themselves.
You don't want to watch this movie. Even if you're trapped in a metal tube that smells like fart.
The Room (2003)
It's like sitting on an atom bomb that's about to explode
I have now seen Mr. Tommy Wiseau's cinematic tour-de-force, 'The Room' three times. With each viewing, 'The Room' becomes more complexly entangled in and inseparable from my own life. I no longer know where The Room ends and I begin. It is, without question, the worst film ever made. But this comment is in no way meant to be discouraging. Because while The Room is the worst movie ever made it is also the greatest way to spend a blisteringly fast 100 minutes in the dark. Simply put, 'The Room' will change your life. It's not just the dreadful acting or the sub-normal screenplay or the bewildering direction or the musical score so soaked in melodrama that you will throw up on yourself or the lunatic-making cinematography; no, there is something so magically wrong with this movie that it can only be the product of divine intervention. If you took the greatest filmmakers in history and gave them all the task of purposefully creating a film as spectacularly horrible as this not one of them, with all their knowledge and skill, could make anything that could even be considered as a contender. Not one line or scene would rival any moment in The Room. The centerpiece of this filmic holocaust is Mr. Tommy Wiseau himself. Without him, it would still be the worst movie ever made, but with him it is the greatest worst movie ever made. Tommy has been described as a Cajun, a Croatian cyborg, possibly from Belgium, clearly a product of Denmark, or maybe even not from this world or dimension. All of these things are true at any one moment. He is a tantalizing mystery stuffed inside an enigma wrapped in bacon and smothered in cheese. You will fall in love with this man even as you are repelled by him from the first moment he steps onto screen with his long Louis the Fourteenth style black locks and thick triangular shoulders packed into an oddly fitting suit, and his metallic steroid destroyed skin. Tommy looks out of place, out of time and out of this world. There has never been anything else like him. Nor will there ever be. The Room begins with 'Johnny' (Tommy Wiseau) and his incomprehensibly evil fiancée 'Lisa' (played by a woman with incongruously colored eyebrows and a propensity for removing her shirt) engaging in some light frottage, joined by, Denny, (played with a deft sense of the absurd by Phillip Haldiman), their sexually confused teenage neighbor who is clearly suffering from a form of aged decrepitude. When Denny, who looks like the human version of Gleek the monkey from Superfriends, says, in a slightly creepy yet playful tone of voice, 'I like to watch!' as Johnny and Lisa roll around the bed in a pre-intercourse ritual revolving around rose petals, you know you are in for a very special movie. After a lengthy lovemaking scene (not to worry if you miss it the first time, they show it again in its entirety later in the movie) in which Tommy's bizarre scaly torso and over-anatomized rear-end are lovingly depicted over and over again as he appears to hump Lisa's hip, we discover that Lisa, for no particular reason, has become bored with Tommy's incessant lovemaking and decides to leave him. Just when you think the movie might lapse into an ordinary, pedestrian sort of badness, Johnny's best friend Mark, a man who's job seems to be to wear James Brolin's beard from Amityville Horror, shows up and electrifies the screen with a performance so wooden that it belongs in the lumber section of Home Depot. Incidentally, Mark is played by Greg Sestero, who, in addition to being described as a department store mannequin, was also the line producer on 'The Room' and one of Tommy Wiseau's five (5!!!!!) assistants on the movie. Lisa forces Mark, amid his paltry, unconvincing protests, to have an affair with her on their uncomfortable circular stairs. For no apparent reason Lisa decides that she is made of pure evil and wants to torture her angelic and insanely devoted fiancé, Johnny. Lisa receives pointed advice from her mother who casually announces that she is dying of breast cancer and then never mentions it again. But Lisa is determined to make Johnny's life a living hell, in spite of the fact that she, according to her mother, "cannot survive on her own in the cutthroat 'computer business'". But not before they recycle the sex scene from earlier in the movie where we get another bird's eye view of Johnny's ludicrous naked body. Denny gets into trouble with a drug dealer. Mark shaves his beard. Tommy gets drunk on an unusual cocktail made from mixing whiskey and vodka. Lisa lies and tells everyone that Tommy hit her in a drunken rage. A balding psychologist appears out of nowhere, offers some advice, then apparently dies while softly falling on the ground in an attempt to catch a football thrown by Mark. All of these seemingly disparate events build up to two cathartic moments. The first is when Tommy expressively yells at Lisa with the line 'You are tearing me apart Lisa!'. You will cheer at this line as you realize that the film has been tearing you apart the whole time. And the second is at Tommy's birthday party where the worst actor that has ever been born plays a unidentified man wearing a silk shirt who utters a phrase that perfectly describes the experience of watching The Room, 'It feels like I'm sitting on atom bomb that is going to explode!' The shocking ending will leave you pleading for some kind of sequel. See this film at all costs. See it twice. Or three times. Or as one kid that I met from Woodland Hills has, 12 times! See it until you can recite every precious line of dialogue this movie has to offer. Let The Room become your new religion and Tommy Wiseau your prophet preaching the gospel according to Johnny. My dream is to someday buy a theater and run The Room 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until the print disintegrates. I hope it becomes your dream as well.