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My Friend Dahmer (2017)
Somewhat slow but powerful all the same, and full of brilliant performances
I'm a fan of Derf's graphic novel about his teen experiences in the late '70s with Jeff Dahmer -- as a result I had mixed feelings about a film version. On the one hand, I was excited, but on the other was quite curious how the relatively brief story could be turned into a feature length film.
In terms of storytelling, the movie works. Yes, as a reader of the graphic novel may have suspected, the pace ends up being a bit slow, but it's still compelling stuff -- the viewer is there just as Dahmer arrives at a fork in the road of his life. Which way will he take? Will he end up just being an eccentric, or will he take that other, infinitely darker road?
We all know the answer, and of course the movie has a strong tragic element to it. It's all the more tragic -- for Dahmer's victims and their families, but also for Dahmer himself -- when we see that there was just enough to the guy ... just enough potential ... to make him possibly go the other way.
At times watching the movie can be tough going, but not for the reasons you might think. Watching a kid as painfully awkward and then as deeply depressed as Dahmer go through the torture of Middle American high school can be truly excruciating, all the more so because it seems to be happening in slow motion, like watching a car crash. But make no mistake -- it is absorbing human drama, quite unique in our age of comic book heroes and lurid reality TV.
Even if you don't particularly like slow-burn drama, see the movie anyway, for the performances. Lynch doesn't say a lot but he's truly engrossing to watch. Anne Heche is virtually unrecognizable as Dahmer's mother skating along the lip of sanity -- her manic performance is brilliant and unforgettable. And as usual Dallas Roberts impresses as Dahmer's father.
Highly recommended -- but don't go expecting a serial killer flick.
Amateurish snoozefest of a pseudo-doc
Diluted pseudo-doc that leans heavily on ominous music and blurry photography to hint at awful activities on the Arizona/Mexico border. It tries to present itself as a hard hitting expose doc, complete with iconoclastic investigative reporter, but it's flat and lame because we know it's all phony and there isn't much success at suspending the sense of disbelief. When we finally get glimpses of what really happened it all looks very high school play, and you will roll your eyes in disappointment.
The pic also tries to be a statement about US discrimination against Mexican immigrants but the analogy is a bit heavy handed and not very thoughtfully presented.
All that aside, and that's a lot to try to put aside, this amateurish production commits the cardinal offense for a horror movie: it's not in the least bit scary and is deeply boring.
My sense from the IMDb rating that suckered me into renting this is that it was logrolled by people involved in the production. I'm sure as more people see it and roll their eyes the rating will come down but in the meantime, don't make my mistake.
Very well done Youtube movie
Saw this linked in a discussion on "Bloody Disgusting" so I thought I'd give it a watch and I have to say it's a pretty good movie in its own right, which is something of a surprise considering it's on YouTube! I will say without hesitation that it's better made and more entertaining than many theatrical release horror movies I've seen.
It features two skeptics who interview people who report paranormal occurrences in their home. This time around they travel out to the suburbs to meet a woman who feels there's something strange going on in her home, especially with respect to her young daughter. The skeptics are there to just document what she feels is happening, but as they do so and begin to witness events they also can't explain, they get pulled into the situation.
It's a bit rough around the edges but as a found-footage film that actually enhances its appeal. Remember though -- it's a *found footage paranormal horror film* so in order to be effective, it HAS to be slow burn. Don't watch it if that's not your thing -- it's pretty far from being non-stop action. But yeah, definitely watch it. I saw it on YouTube and that's where you'll find it too I assume.
By the way this is not one of those logrolling reviews by someone who knows the movie makers! I don't know these guys and this is my objective opinion.
Classroom 6 (2015)
Middle-grade amateur effort
Typical amateur effort of a found footage film. The production values are not terrible, though little is asked of them. The acting is not great, so there's no suspension of the sense of disbelief and as a result you feel the whole time like you're watching a college film. You don't get lost in the story like you would in a better FF film like Blair Witch or Paranormal Activity. It feels false throughout.
Another problem is it relies on the same old tired tropes that were once interesting in FF, but no longer are: the rumbling sound when something supernatural is about to happen, accompanied by the video blurring and skipping; infighting between the trapped victims; the evil spirit using the voices of already-dead victims and other people to trick the trapped victims; the tearful sign-off right before the last girl is killed. Sound familiar?
The film feels forced, is badly acted and has nothing new to say, so I wouldn't pay for it if I were you. Even if it's free it doesn't have much to say.
Phantom of the Woods (2013)
High IMDb rating, low number of votes probably equals ...
... kick-starter supporters and production members (and their moms) inflating the rating.
This is strictly an amateur production, folks. The cinematography is good but the movie is dull and not very frightening, which is a problem for a horror movie. Delaney Hadley is a pretty and capable lead actress but most of the other acting doesn't measure up and several performances are simply terrible.
The modest effects overreach and just make the film feel even more like a high school project.
Kudos to the people making the film for seeing the kick-starter through, but when judged compared to professional films it really doesn't measure up.
Slew Hampshire (2013)
Strictly amateur hour. No scares, actually kind of embarrassing.
This is one of those movies that thinks it's winking at you and being playful with the genre, sort of the way Scream did. But it's strictly amateur hour, so badly acted and written that the effort just ends up being embarrassing.
Let me put it this way. It's one of those movies that distorts the picture and plays ominous music all the time (and I do mean ALL the time) so as to telegraph to you that something scary is happening, when nothing scary is happening.
It's not a matter of it being low budget, as they actually seem to have had some money. (And some of the scariest movies are super-low budget.) It's not a lack of money, it's a lack of the basic ability to frighten or otherwise entertain.
Crybaby Bridge: The Legend of Elizabeth (2013)
Bad acting and laughable ghost ruin "NRA Witch Project"
I like found footage horror so I was ready to cut this some slack but I'm afraid this has too much of an amateurish feel to be very scary. The acting is pretty bad and the movie's "bear" (frightening thing) is way overexposed, and very obviously just a garishly lit, rather frumpy woman in an old-fashioned nightgown.
The movie-maker really should have taken a cue from classic FF movies and kept the shots of the ghost to an absolute minimum. The shots are much more effective when she's just flitting across the screen for half a second than when she's right there staring into the camera, which just made me smile and ruefully shake my head -- "are they kidding?" Is all I could think. The final confrontation on the bridge is a howler, feeling very much like a home movie attempt at horror rather than a theatrical film. It was an epic face palm moment.
I'm not completely disappointed I watched it, because I'm a found footage completist, but I think that's the only reason anyone would want to watch this, to be perfectly honest -- to say they've seen every FF movie, EVEN Crybaby Bridge.
Texas Killing Fields (2011)
More of a film fragment than a coherent film.
Just caught it last night and was pretty disappointed. There are some strong performances, especially by up-and-comer Chloe Moretz, who gives an amazingly understated performance, and during the short time she's on screen Jessica Chastain is also wonderful.
I wasn't very impressed by Sam Worthington, however, particularly his East Texas accent, which sounded like he'd just eaten a live squirrel and was called upon to speak while he was chewing the still-struggling animal.
But the good performances here have nothing to anchor themselves on, so they don't really speak to us. We just watch them float away.
The main flaw here is the story. Movies are stories and it's generally (but not always) important that the tale makes sense and holds together. This seems to have been either badly vetted or revised so often that it became indecipherable, or perhaps the editing job was butchered, but regardless of the cause you will finish this movie without much of a sense of what it was about, what you've just been watching, or why anyone would expect you to sit through it.
The message that the movie makers should take away from this is, it's important to let the audience in on the story, and it's also important that there be a story in the first place.
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2010)
Comparing the remake to the original (spoilers)
(This review has SPOILERS to both the original and the remake) I saw as a kid and was really spooked by the original TV movie from the 70s, with Kim Darby. So I awaited the remake with great anticipation, particularly because the original little monsters were so corny looking and could really do with a face-lift.
Overall I thought Del Toro did a good job of updating the story, and improved it in some ways, but in others I think I prefer the feel of the original better.
First, I'm of two minds about the switcheroo making Sally a child. Yes, the sense of danger is greater, the fear for the child. But the downside of that is there are too many people in the mix -- in the original it was just the husband and wife but now there are two protective adults and so the feeling of isolation isn't as strong, and they have to be pretty contrived in putting the little girl by herself over and over again. In the original the husband is often out and very often it's just the adult Sally at home, all by herself, with her suspicions and fears, which I found to be very spooky.
Second, all the back story. It sets the creatures up better, I suppose, and gives Kim the ability to do the detective thing with the groundsman and at the library, but does this really build tension or make the story scarier? I didn't think so -- having a person (especially a child) menaced by ugly little scampering creatures is plenty, and I actually found all the back story something of a distraction.
Being Del Toro, he just had to add a magical secret garden. What is it with this guy and secret gardens? I saw all that overgrowth and the pond and the Koi and knew that it would play a part in the final act of the story, but it didn't. It was completely superfluous! I think GDT needs to get over his magic garden fetish and stick to the story.
The cheesiness of the original creatures actually was a benefit, as they didn't show them too much. Here we see these obviously CGI creatures constantly. I am amazed that someone who likes the supernatural as much as GDT does not realize that what we don't see scares us far more than what we do. Likewise, having things explained to us takes the fearfulness of them away immediately. Human beings are first and foremost afraid of the unknown. (This is why so many primitive cultures independently invented "God.") To show something, to explain it, is to take the fearfulness away from that thing. As soon as the creatures take over the screen time, the movie stops being a thriller and becomes a monster movie, and my interest immediately wanes. "Insidious," anyone? That recent movie was quite scary until the trainwreck that was the big explanation in the last act, which drove a stake right through the heart of the picture.
One final thing -- that self-conscious playfulness that GDT sometimes uses in his stories is not so cute to people who also have some background in the same story. In the original, Kim Darby played Sally. Here Sally is a girl, but the adult woman watching over her is named ... wait for it ... KIM. As soon as I heard that I thought, "ah, she's going to be taken instead of Sally," as Kim Darby got taken in the original. And sure enough, that's exactly what happened. That lessened the tension of the story for me immediately.
Well, this ended up sounding more negative than I really meant it to be, as I am a fairly critical person. I should say that I actually enjoyed the remake, I thought it kept a good level of suspense, and it was quite an eyeful as all of GDT movies are -- very handsome and evocative. Bailey Madison with that chubby round face and big eyes was absolutely adorable, and she's also quite a talented young actress -- she did a wonderful job maintaining a sense of mournfulness over her family situation, which explains perfectly her mindset in unlocking the terror from the walled-in room. Katie Holmes has a familiar girl-next-door affability undiminished from her time on "Dawson's Creek," and she's just about as good to look at as she was back then as well. I was a little surprised that an actor as accomplished as Guy Pearce gave this two-dimensional performance, but it could be argued that he had little to work with -- this movie belonged to the girls.
I have to say that I'm very glad that GDT is no longer associated with "The Hobbit." I think he's wonderful at painting supernatural tableaux, but truth be told, he's not a particularly good storyteller, and The Hobbit, despite the dragons and were bears and all that, is all about the story. In "Don't Be Afraid" he already had a pretty compelling story from the original teleplay, and it still manages to hang together well, but despite its cheesy teevee movie production values, I think there are more scares to be had in the original. That said, go see this one too, if only for the female leads and the beautiful camera-work.
Better than it holds itself out as being
Pelt was a throwaway for me, a way to kill a few hours while doing something else, and I almost turned it off after the first five minutes, but I'm glad I stayed with it. Ultimately I put aside what I was doing and gave it my full attention.
Those who tuned out after the first five minutes can hardly be blamed. The movie tries very aggressively to make you dislike the characters in the opening sequences, which is inexplicable as the most effective and memorable horror movies set up the victims as real people so that you actually care about them (think "Audition"). Very bad move making the girls obnoxious cock teases and the boys frat-boy jerks -- I guess this was done to make you want to see them killed? To lighten up the savaging to come? Definitely a misstep, as the movie has lots of work to do to overcome that initial distaste -- it really opens like a revenge of the nerds type scenario, except without the nerds, only with the arrogant popular and beautiful snots.
But I hung with it and it quickly evolved into a tight little stalker flick, the characters shedding their one dimensional arrogance and actually assuming fairly human traits -- surprisingly human in fact. Of course the conceit of the plot is nothing new -- the stalkers are your typical back woods stalkers, and they are even doing what hick serial killers seem to most aspire to, but that doesn't really matter.
What matters most in a movie like this is watching a person or a small group be hunted and trying to deal with that situation, trying to survive. This movie does that remarkably well, and once the action begins will keep you engaged and interested, with more than the normal share of jolts.
I wouldn't be reluctant to suggest that you just skip the first 15 minutes of the movie altogether, as it's aggressively loathsome, and I suspect that's the reason that the movie has such a terrible rating. It might be a 3 for the first 15 minutes but it quickly becomes an 8 once the action starts.
The Lovely Bones (2009)
Good effort at extremely challenging adaptation
In navigating the torrent of negativity to which this movie has been subjected, one thing to keep in mind is that it's an adaptation of a very widely read and popular book.
The book itself had a rather sunny disposition, which is ironic as it often was somewhat grislier in detail than the movie. That's because events can be described in words in a grisly way but still be part of an optimistic universe when you are reading -- it works. That doesn't quite happen when you actually see things with your eyes, film is much more literal (strange to say) that literature.
Considering the subject matter, the murder of a young girl, it's a bit unfair to go to the movie and expect to see the book come to life on the screen.
The problem in making the movie, as in any adaptation of magical realism concerning dark subjects, is how to capture the magic without having it jar too much with the realism. That was extremely difficult to do here considering how grim the subject is. So when Jackson uses special effects to invoke heaven, people tend to completely flip out, without really offering their own alternative about how that "should" have been done.
All this adds up to a book that perhaps shouldn't have been adapted for the screen at all. That said, I think the movie is quite a fine one, especially because of the magnificent performances of the two leads, Ronan and Tucci. Thanks to the sweet-faced and deeply affecting Ronan, you'll never forget Susie Salmon. The music is also just fantastic, not surprising as Brian Eno did it -- it's very disappointing that the soundtrack is not available, as it's beautiful and haunting.
I'd suggest seeing it and just let yourself decide if it's a worthwhile experience or not. I found it to be a very good try at adapting a book that by its nature is extremely hard to film. Actually the best way to go at it would be to watch the movie, then read the book, then try to figure out for yourself how you would have done it differently. I suspect that you'll gain a new appreciation for Jackson's movie if you do that.
Son of the Beach (2000)
Howard can be funny, but they made a huge mistake giving him so much creative input on this show. Most of the schtick on this show was painfully unfunny, the kind of stuff a 12-year-old would roll his eyes over. It's Howard at his most annoyingly infantile, and it's embarrassing to watch. Stern can pull it off himself, and has in fact parlayed that into a hugely-prominent career, but having him put it in the mouths of other people, universally terrible actors, is a disaster on wheels.
The problem with parodying "Baywatch" is that it's already a parody of itself. It's too obvious a target, and already something that shouldn't be taken seriously. Parody is meant to make something serious into something silly, and of course "Baywatch" is already silly.
This show is strictly for Stern fanatics, the kind of people who undiscriminatingly like everything he does whether it's any good or not. You know the type.
Feux rouges (2004)
Two thirds of a good thriller
Red Lights does not disappoint for artful cinematic tension, mining the rich resources of the French thriller -- no one can craft a thriller like the French. As the story unfolds, the viewer is driven increasingly into unease by the movie's primary conceit: the sudden unraveling of the milquetoast male lead before and then during a road trip into the country (in the throng of traffic during French vacation season) to pick up the couple's kids from camp. This ultimately has disastrous consequences for both husband and wife, despite their separating early in the story.
There are very effective touches here, unique to the French thriller. I especially liked Kahn's fearless willingness to run a protagonist straight into the ground so we can watch him grossly err and see him swerve into disaster, a risk most American directors wouldn't have the guts to take. He infuriates us and we are in total fear for him all at the same time. I also liked the way that Kahn can imbue simple sequences, like a series of phone calls, with utter tension.
What I did not like was the encroachment of pat, storytelling elements. The resolution is purely canned, and in particular there is one coincidence in the movie that is so Hollywood -- so Jerry Bruckheimer -- that it made me wince in embarrassment. It almost seems that, at the end, another director altogether stepped in to take the helm.
Red Lights is definitely worth seeing, but Kahn should have stayed the course with his somber, bold storytelling, rather than chickening out as he did. A good movie that could have easily been better.
Ying xiong (2002)
Admit it. It sucked.
Received opinion to the contrary, "Hero" is a lethargic and contrived movie, and not contrived in a clever or otherwise forgivable way. It also is full of odious and ham-handed authoritarian ideology that I'd think would be roundly condemned by American audiences (if we ourselves weren't currently engaged in an orgy of government-power worship, that is).
The twists and turns, meant to make a Rashomon-like movie engaging, are in fact flat and uninteresting. The human drama is mawkish and uninvolving.
I'll readily admit that it's quite an eyeful, but even then the combat sequences wear on the viewer after a while, and floating warriors who fight off millions of arrows with their pinky strain the credulity of adult Western moviegoers very quickly.
I have a sense that the curse of American self-consciousness is at play here -- that people are simply scared to criticize a foreign movie which takes itself very seriously for fear of being seen as unsophisticated or not "understanding" the movie. Admit it. It sucked.
The Village (2004)
Shyamalan's odd-numbered films are great (spoiler-free)
And "The Village" is an even-numbered film. Not to say that "The Village" and "Unbreakable" aren't good movies, but they aren't up to the caliber of "The Sixth Sense" and "Signs." It's not coincidental that their box office performance bear this out.
That said, "The Village" is a good movie. It's well acted, beautifully filmed, and directed with the solid virtuosity we've come to expect from M. Night Shyamalan. Besides his plot twists (more on this later), Shyamalan's trademark is his ability to set the right mood for genuine terror in the aisles. And he delivers in this movie. As with all his thrillers, excellent character development has a lot to do with this. Shyamalan is often accused, wrongly, of delivering B-movie horror thrills, but in fact he does exactly the opposite, as B-movie thrills aren't very thrilling at all. If you don't care about a character, you don't fear for the character, and you care about his characters. When Ivy is in peril, you are terrified for her. (Howard is terrific as Ivy.) Shyamalan also knows how to frame an image that is so primordially scary that you feel the fear no matter how much you tell yourself it's just a movie, like Graham in the cornfield at night in "Signs."
Another hallmark of M. Night's movies are sillinesses that you just have to get over to enjoy the picture. And there is a lot to enjoy once you do, but you have to get through that shell of plot contrivance. You have to believe that an adult male child psychologist will approach a child patient for the first time walking down the street alone. You have to accept the fact that aliens who can travel from other planets can't get through a wood door barred with a shovel. But if you can put yourself off skeptic-mode and not sweat the small stuff, you will be riveted. (And if you can't, there's no way you could have enjoyed Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark, for instance.) This is true of all of his movies, and it's true here too. Just relax -- it's worth it.
The big problem with The Village are the twists. I won't reveal what they are, but there are two here, and while they are sufficiently effective to move the story along, they aren't particularly moving or unsettling. In fact, they are a bit flat (even predictable). One in particular is considered by many to be very silly, but I think that's a little ironic, considering that it's not nearly as far-fetched as the idea of the existence of superheroes, the idea of an alien invasion or a supposed ability to see ghosts.
That said, movies are for keeping your attention and interest in the theater, and this one will definitely do that, trust me. I look forward to the next odd-numbered movie, though.
Love Her Madly (2000)
There is an excellent reason that you've never heard of this movie before. Don't for a minute let the IMDb rating fool you -- it seems clear that Manzarak's friends are the only ones to have actually voted for this. Pay more attention to the fact that, as I write this, seven people have paid enough attention to actually vote for the movie.
"Love Her Madly" has the feel of one of those porn movies made by a director with pretensions to making a more "serious" film -- it's every bit as dull, silly, poorly written, and badly acted as the non-porn sequences in something that Jack Horner might have made in "Boogie Nights." And "Love Her Madly" doesn't even have the porn sequences.
The script is especially mortifying, written by someone not half as clever as he thinks he is. The acting and cinematography are strictly soap opera stuff -- to amplify that a bit, strictly Latin American soap opera stuff. One should anticipate cringing in embarrassment on a regular basis on behalf of everyone involved in the making of this. That's not what I call my brand of entertainment, but your mileage may vary.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, a former member of The Doors knows a beautiful girl when he sees one, and there are periodic sequences involving the simply stunning Jennifer Lothrop undulating scantily clad (for artistic reasons, of course). Let it suffice to say that this is strictly, and I do mean strictly, for those who can't get enough of Lothrop on FX Network's "DVD on TV" program, and the movie will test the endurance of even these fanatics should the sound actually be left on.
Others may find themselves resisting the urge to blow their brains out after about ten minutes of this. A must-avoid film.
Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
An exquisite, ridiculous movie
Once Upon a Time in America is Sergio Leone's epic tale of the lives of four Jewish gangsters in New York City. The period spans decades, ending in the 1970's, but focuses on three periods - the childhood of the gangsters on the Lower East Side, their young adulthood and the old age of the survivors.
The protagonist, in a manner of speaking, is Noodles (Robert DeNiro), who along with Max (James Woods) calls the shots for the gang. The story focuses on their odd friendship and their relationships with the other gangsters (William Forsythe and James Hayden), and with Fat Moe (John Rapp), a non-gangster friend from the neighborhood.
Watching Once Upon a Time in America is a very strange experience. Director Sergio Leone directs with the same eclectic, erratic style he employed in his better-known `spaghetti westerns' starring Clint Eastwood. The result is an exquisite, ridiculous movie.
At least it's a thing of beauty to look at, and this gets you half-way there. At times, the movie has overwhelming visual impact -- when Leone films the actors close-up, they look like portraits painted by the Great Masters, and in wider shots he frames the actors so that they interact electrically with the locations or sets. And the sets are themselves beautifully produced - his reconstruction of the Lower East Side, for instance, is vivid and incredibly detailed. It's all wonderful to see.
Leone also skillfully uses music to set the scene and convey emotion. True to form, his melancholy theme music is hard at work in the movie, and it performs yeoman service. Now and then he trips up, however -- his trademark use of pan-flute solos is even weirder here than in the spaghetti westerns, and, to be frank, when the Beetles song `Yesterday' popped up at one point, I laughed out loud, so out of place was it, so cloyingly sentimental. For the most part, though, Leone's characters are amazing to look at, set in vivid backgrounds and propelled forward by terrific music.
Unfortunately, the plot and the writing are terribly clumsy, and so the movie does not make it all the way to the status of a great film. It's a bridge half built, which can be more frustrating than no bridge at all.
Actually, the movie's premise is intriguing at first, and the fatuous dialogue doesn't get in the way too much. Noodles has been driven out of New York and has lived in exile, hiding for more than 30 years until he receives a mysterious invitation to return to New York for an unknown reason. But the screenplay itself is a toxic brew of histrionics and adolescent bravado, with an almost comically-exaggerated sense of its own gravitas. It was clearly written by a staff of writers, and what's even more clear is that all of them spoke English as a second language. The movie is reminiscent of a story written about adult life by a teenager -- it is not nearly as deep as it thinks it is.
Troopers all, the very talented actors weather the implausible situations and hokey dialogue as best they can. As the hours roll on (I watched the four-hour long `director's version'), and the story marches toward its unsurprising conclusion, the viewer begins bracing for this with a mixture of dread and relief. At the end, the disappointment is all the more palpable because the cast, sets and cinematography are so good, and some of the initial scenes held great promise.
The fact that the movie is itself mostly about rough people is absolutely no excuse for any of this, as Martin Scorcese's phenomenal Goodfellas readily proves. Likewise, the fact that the movie is set amidst a haze of opium at certain points is even less excuse for shoddy characterizations . The simple truth is that the movie is trite and makes little or no sense, long version or short.
Leone assembled an impressive cast of young talent to act out the story of Once Upon a Time in America. As mentioned, most of them try very hard to make the fatuous story float, and some - particularly Woods and Tuesday Weld as Max's sometimes-moll - are terrific. DeNiro himself is strangely out of place and not terribly convincing as a Jewish gangster, although he is good in his scenes from the 1970's. Elizabeth McGovern does what she can with the role of Deborah, but it's probably the worst-written role in the movie, and again her strongly-Celtic face doesn't exactly conjure images of a first-generation Jewish immigrant.
Received opinion has it that Once Upon a Time in America is a great movie, possibly because it is a very long gangster movie (like those other ones), or because it was an epic work of passion for Leone, or because DeNiro is in it (again, like those other gangster movies), or maybe it's a combination of those elements. But here, as is often the case, received opinion is mistaken. Once Upon a Time in America is a mess, though an often-beautiful one.
Jersey Girl (2004)
Typical junk from Kevin Smith
Unlike what's been said about Jersey Girl in the media and by Smith fans, Jersey Girl actually isn't much of a departure for Kevin Smith.
In fact, it's terrible in the way that all his other movies are. He evidently doesn't understand people, the way they interact, the way they talk to each other. He's like a teenager trying to write movies about grown-ups. He's clearly just guessing about his subject.
The best indication of this is the way he overwrites his scripts. His characters say things so ludicrous and baroque that it's completely impossible to take them seriously for a second, even for entertainment's sake. They never for a moment exist beyond characters written by some guy.
I'll ignore the always-irritating Ben Affleck, and simply note as Exhibit A the way Smith misuses Liv Tyler -- who can be either utterly passive onscreen, not making any impact at all, or absolutely captivating and memorable. All it takes for a winning but passive actress like Tyler is a strong director to make her deliver that potent charm -- and the fact that she barely makes a wave on-screen in Jersey Girl speaks for itself.
Fortunately, eventually Smith will expend the last of his ill-earned 90's indie creds and he'll disappear from the industry altogether.
The Hebrew Hammer (2003)
Lame and obvious, but with a few funny Shaft references
The Hebrew Hammer is a clever idea wasted, as the execution is weak. As if often the case with iconoclastic humor, it relies overly on outrage to generate laughs, which simply isn't enough. Poor-taste humor has two elements -- poor taste and humor -- and both are needed here, but the humor is pretty scarce. As a result, it is often painful to watch, all the more so because of good attempts on the part of the performers, particularly Adam Goldberg as the HH himself. The Shaft references are funny, though, but only to those who know those movies, and they certainly don't carry The Hebrew Hammer.
Another problem is that many of the jokes rely on knowledge of American Jewish culture, and many in the audience will simply not understand the jokes.
Hey Monie! (2003)
Hip, real, funny, and for everybody
I came upon this great little show by accident while channel surfing, but I'm glad I did. It'll put you in the mind of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" filtered through "Doctor Katz, Prefessional Therapist." Monie is an attractive young woman on her own in a big city, and (generally) patiently suffers the day's little trevails while trying to find love. Yvette is her funny and slightly crazy best friend.
Rather than barraging you with non-stop one liners, the show develops Monie's daily experiences in a way we can all relate to, giving up the constant little chuckle for a broader smile from situation to situation, in much the same way the shows previously mentioned did.
Angela Shelton and Frances Collier voice the main characters, and their rapid-fire, witty banter is just pure enjoyment to listen to. They are very appealing leads.
Try to catch it on BET if you can -- it's worth the half hour. The show features African-American characters but is great fun for all. Apparently it's featured on Oxygen too.