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Pride and Glory (2008)
A cliché, dumb script not worthy of the good performances.
"Pride and Glory" is a lot of hot air and self importance but not a lot of substance, Norton's and especially Farrell's performance (who blows his costar - who'd have ever predicted that? - out of the water) belong in more original, gripping, intelligent and better paced work.
Some people effervesce talking about Voights 'award worthy' performance. I thought he was horrible! I've lost all my respect for him. "Transformers", "Tomb Raider", "National Treasure" were all terrible career moves. Not since 2004's "The Manchurian Candidate" has he performed adequately.
I can stand cliché comedies and formula thrillers, but rehashed drama's annoy me. I find it impossible to get sucked into a drama if I don't buy the characters. Had this not come out only one year after "We Own The Night" I wouldn't have attacked it as much I suppose.
I went into my theater with huge expectations since I am both a huge Norton and Farrell fan. I came out wondering why Norton tries these action roles (shouldn't he be utilizing his talents for works of art?) and why Farrell followed up the terrific "In Bruges" with this dud.
Revolutionary Road (2008)
Uneven melodrama with terrific performances.
Revolutionary Road features such astonishing acting that you almost forget to keep your critical eye focused on the film as a whole. I have to begrudgingly conclude that Mendes' work fails to break a whole lot of new ground.
The comparison with American Beauty isn't completely fair since there's a fifty year gap between both, that's especially important for the concept of "the American dream" and the role of women in society. April's ache stems partly from her obligation to be a housewife. "The American dream" in the 1950's seems to consist mainly of martini lunches, monkey suits and "darling" houses on wide avenues. In American Beauty, the same goes for Carolyn's version, but Lester considers juvenile values holy, the laws of rebellion, freedom, rock'n'roll and recreational drugs.
Both of Mendes' films are poignant but unquestionably Revolutionary Road isn't half as relevant as American Beauty. Mendes' work isn't diminishing in quality, but it is stagnating. RR definitely outranks the passable Road To Perdition but never outclasses American Beauty, except maybe for the astonishing confrontation where Di Caprio's freak out made my heart stop for about half a minute. I believe it's only fair to hold every new film up to the light of an artist's best work. He does seem very skilled at bringing out the very best out of his cast, Di Caprio, Shannon and foremost Winslet impress . Especially the scenes where she lashes out at Frank are great, those wide, ruthless eyes are really against her natural acting style of more warm, genial characters.
The scenes with John Givings were subtle (and welcome) comic relief from the constant tension between the couple, and his observations helped the audience understand the relationship better. The dialog did well in cutting to the chase without being too theatrical. David Harbour performed admirably but neither his side character nor any of the others worked for me. They're purposely over the top and clichéd, which worked much better in the black comedy of American Beauty then it does in this serious drama.
Another problem for me: the lack of ambiguity. I realize April has an unstable nature, but she is by no means bipolar. She was right in all arguments, though her obvious flaw is the cowardice of avoiding confrontation( which destroys a marriage in the long run). I suspect the film's intention was to spark dialog, as in: some agree with Frank, others with April. I did not feel it reached that goal at all. For a movie dealing with such a poignant moral problem, it should have been less black and white. The plot was by no means completely predictable, but I knew from the instant they talked about going to Paris that he would get an opportunity at work and that she would get pregnant. I wouldn't dare claim I guessed how the third act would play out, I'll be honest, that shocked me.
The characters were so unlikeable, it felt like watching a Neil LaBute movie sometimes. April had some admirable qualities but I only felt sorry for Frank and the other characters caught in suburban hell. Maybe they should have granted us one or two scenes in between the meeting of Frank and April and the play, scenes of a happy marriage. I desperately wanted to empathize with the characters but had a hard time doing so. Another problem with the story for me, was the expected heavy drama at the end. The movie would have done just fine without the tacked on ending, cutting right after the breakfast scene.
All things considered, Revolutionary Road means a step in the right direction for director Mendes, and a confirmation of his exceptional talent, but it's not the timeless classic American Beauty is and I hope the director can live up to his dwarfing theatrical debut someday.
Gran Torino (2008)
Less impressive than 'Changeling' but it has the heart in the right place.
Clint Eastwood's thinking about anything but retirement as he released no less than two movies this year. It's rumored that this will be his swan song when it comes to acting. And he's very good in a role that brings back memories of his past famous characters, most distinctively 'Dirty Harry'. The film's equipped with yet another heartbreaking, beautiful score and quality songs (golden globe nomination already in the bag), again an own composition from the hands of Clint and son Kyle.
The movie itself definitely lacks ambition and the narrative sort of strolls along a lot of the time, I'm not too crazy about the overdose of moralistic lessons either. Especially the religious theme I couldn't stand. The movie opens when Walt Kowalski's wife passes, and he's left to live alone in his neighborhood, a part of town ridden with immigrants. He forms an unusual friendship with a local Asian-American boy, he becomes the boy's mentor and teaches him about manhood and the importance of hard work.
The movie's sweet, but almost sickly so, which annoys a lot of movie fans, who are usually a darker kind of people. Never the less, the movie's features a great soulful Eastwood and an uplifting message. Don't be surprised if you catch yourself chuckling once in a while too, some of the dialog hits your funny bone, luckily it's intended that way.
Oh and remember, a racist character never ever means a racist movie, quite the contrary.
Unaccomplished remake, a waste of Connely's talent and time.
Jennifer Connely, Keanu Reeves and young Jaden Smith (son of Will) head up the cast for this remake of the 1951 sci-fi classic where an extra-terrestrial robot visits Earth to turn the human race away from their own annihilation, warning them that the continuation of their warfare will instigate it. Much like other highly applauded films inspired by politics ('The Manchurian Candidate' for instance) the relevancy and strong message procure half the artistic value. Back then, the crisis was named Cold War. Now, it's called Global Warming.
Unlike 'The Manchurian Candidate's' remake, this one doesn't work very well. If I say 'The War of The Worlds' by Spielberg outclasses TDWESS, some alarm bells should be ringing. While Connely occasionally lifts up the level, the internal logic of the story annoys. The fact that Klaatu only reveals it's true purpose (saving 'earth' from mankind) late in the movie can only stem from shortage of plot. Which makes the abrupt and unfulfilling ending even more bizarre and laughable. On one hand you have enough time to stretch Klaatu and Connely's character's interactions with an unnecessary road trip, on the other hand the storyline's ending is sloppy. The last scenes are supposed to be the most engrossing but left us only shrugging our shoulders. Other elements that should have everyone scratching their heads...an underpass is hardly enough protection against a storm of death. It doesn't help either that the supposed strong suit (and the only praise I read about it as of yet), the CGI makes the robot a rather laughable stick figure instead of a terrifying, indestructible alien.
Countering those major flaws are a masterfully acted cameo by John Cleese as a Nobelprize winning scientist and the occasionally conveying all the world's worries, eyes of Jennifer Connely. Good remakes are few and far between. Especially compared to 'I Am Legend', that other recent Apocalyptic recreation of a Classic, it comes out looking poorly.
4/10, and I'm really not being too harsh.
Pushing Tin (1999)
Filled with small pleasures and gentle comedy.
John Cusack stars as Nick 'the zone' Falzone, an air traffic controller who orchestrates thousands of safe plane landings every year . The flame of his marriage dimmed out a little throughout the years but basically he's got all his ducks in a row, having mastered his job and being the undisputed king of his workplace. A series of opening-scenes document Nick as a popular jester and a charming womanizer. Confidence, popularity and fulfillment are the keywords. He's always been the pilot of his life, skilfully steering it away from near-crashes or even turbulence, however it goes into a tailspin when new colleague Russell Bell (Billy Bob Thornton) joins his work group. Their rivalry drives both men to the edge of lunacy, they strain every nerve to annoy each other and what starts out as innocent taunting turns into mean-spirited attacks. When Nick sleeps with Russell's wife(a seductive turn by Angelina Jolie) both marriages threaten to fall apart and Nick's fear of reprisal combined with the high stress factor of his profession - uneasy lies the head that wears the crown - start to prevent him from competently executing his job and lives hang in the balance...
The setting's well-chosen for the mind games, it's conceivable that battles for the alpha-male position take place in stressful, highly competitive work environments, in this case air traffic control, where the air is loaded with more testosterone and adrenaline than among firemen or wall street traders. Anti-stress devices and methods grace the screen abundantly, from biceps-training hand pumps and stress relieving squeeze balls to zany ailments such as letting a landing plane overhead; the turbulence causing one to spin right off the ground into a sort of whirl motion (making for one of the movie's best scenes).
A couple of problems stare you right in the face, first of all the rivalry between Cusack and Thornton never takes a sufficiently interesting form. Sure, the relationship isn't completely frictionless but it's hard to believe Cusack ever threatened Thornton's masculinity, whereas it more or less works the other way around. Cusack being his usual smooth-talking charmer seems harmless, and when Tornton admits near the end of the movie he loathed Cusack's character to such degree he scared himself, literally wanting to kill his rival, I didn't believe him for one second.
With 2 hours runtime, the film still appears too short to be able to work out all plot lines, the marriage issues subplot never reaches takeoff speed which causes the ending to fall totally flat. If one can turn a blind eye to the less than satisfying resolution, you'll find plenty of subtle comedy treats along the way. 'Pushing Tin' isn't the kind of comedy one can enjoy watching with one eye on the screen whilst doing something else. The fun usually lies in half-sentence jokes, looks between characters and charming one-liners you need to prick up your ears for to catch all subtleties. The sharp dialog ("If you ever want to sleep at night, don't marry a beautiful girl. ") and the cast's performance gives this lukewarm rom-com an edge over it's peers.
Saving Grace? Platt.
I'm going to avoid the irony here by steering clear of pretentiously reviewing 'Huff', the self-aware trendy title that forebodes the show's predictability, lack of inventiveness and genuine emotions. Above all, 'Huff' remains the little engine that couldn't. One can experience the creator's (Bob Lowry) ambition and goals slowly fade away, likely due to an overdose of people putting in ideas. 7 directors? Really??!! "Huff" contains a lot of ingredients out of which a creative mind could fashion a great television drama. The first few episodes the faults are hard to find in a murky sea of outrageously over the top, contrived plot lines and a large amount of (intentionally?)unlikeable characters. But watching a great deal of episodes in a row quickly makes the concrete faults bubble up to the surface: semi-intellectualism and manipulation.
Faithful fans of the similar, horrifying and unwatchable 'Grey's Anatomy' and other air pollution, will certainly gobble this up, however I don't like to be spoon fed. Life is hard and if somehow you feel yours seems like less of a mess by watching talking props having an even harder time...be my guest. But don't be naive and pertain to the notion that 'Huff' is genuine in it's emotional scenes or tasteful in it's attempts at comedy. 'Huff' never slows down long enough for people to realize they're conned into feeling something for narcissistic, overbearing, smug, hypocritical and - above all - cold characters. The writers opt for the use of new dramatic events every episode, instead of working out plot lines properly and letting characters evolve, it's like one of those car wrecks where cars keep slamming into one car and end up in a pile-up of twenty cars and you can't even tell what exactly happened but boy, if it isn't dramatic.
It's gratuitous nudity and other R-rated content doesn't help either. I have nothing against nudity in film, but who in the world ever thought a woman sticking her finger up a man's a.. is a hoot. If you want that kind of sexual, no boundaries humor, but executed with more taste and god forbid a sense of humor, watch 'Californication' instead. This is the last straw for 'Huff'. Even the flamboyantly funny Oliver Platt can't save it from being a train wreck. The only enjoyable moments come from him and the interactions he has with some of the other more likable characters such as his secretary or the clueless Kelly. His character and the schizo Teddy are the only two characters that made me want to watch the last season 2 episodes. 'Huff' contains just that handful of interesting stories to make me mourn the waste of them. Teddy finding love despite his illness aroused my interest, and Tupper's run in with Sharon Stone's character surprised me as well. Perhaps the most interesting segments of all were the interactions with Anjelica Huston's delightful (and wonderfully portrayed) character, the fellow shrink (who, I must say, is thrice the shrink 'Huff' is) There are plenty of terrible ones too that should never have seen the light of day. Who honestly cares about miraculous healing from cancer(which I'm sure angered a lot of people who had the bad luck of coming in contact with the big C), the badly acted character of Paula(the religious nut with her stone-age beliefs and the self-righteousness to boot), or the whole Mexico fiasco? Who ever understood the necessity of the spat between 'Huff' and his wife. They're both so unreasonable and demanding, how are they ever going to work their issues out in a healthy way? I feel the writers are almost blessed not having to solve those puzzles.
The Dark Knight (2008)
'The Dark Knight'...the first title of a Batman-film without the actual name of our beloved hero. Even though this masterpiece is wrongfully titled after the masked crime fighter's nickname, the whole movie revolves around it's villains: Harvey "Two Face" Dent (portrayed skilfully by Aaron Eckhart) and "The Joker" (who has no known name other than his alias). The first task of the special effects and make-up department: make the villains look menacing. "Two Face"s visage's heavily disfigured by a burn wound, the wound looks like it's only just stopped smoking a second before we lay eyes on it, Dent's stare is unsettling as he's forever horribly grinning. Quite an other approach than the unintentionally funny melted plastic mask of Tommy Lee Jones.
Director Nolan (The Prestige, Memento) plays out his trump cards optimally by not overexposing him on the screen, Heat (well, the joker actually, Heat ceased to exist as he made himself vanish into thin air, the ultimate method actor) steals the whole film, he stares right into your soul and describes the ugliness he sees in all of humanity (it's unpleasantly accurate) - it's hard to describe exactly how he accomplishes that, as I said before countless times, excellence is hard to describe - his madness crawls under your skin so deeply, you never doubt for a second the authenticity of this dangerous mad man. He's a sadist through and through, one that appears to need others' pain and suffering like oxygen.
"I had a vision, of a world without Batman. The mob ground out a little profit and the police tried to shut them down, one block at a time. And it was so... boring." (Joker about Batman)
"You are just a freak, like me!" (Joker to Batman)
A strange relationship comes to be between the arch rivals. Not necessarily one of mutual respect but of understanding, banished out of a normal life, called 'freaks' by citizens, the need to keep each other alive is almost as great as the one to annihilate each other.
Every single little detail of Ledger's portrayal works, the nervous ticks (the smacking of the lips), the way he growls and bites (the last syllable) of his words, that bone chilling high pitched giggle. One of the absolute highlights - a stroke of genius - is the scene where a fake Batman's tortured by "The Joker", Ledger doesn't even come into frame, solely the sound of his voice manages to send shivers down my spine. Absolutely terrifying and deeply disturbing. This masterful eye for detail achieves that "The Joker" becomes more than merely the sum of his parts. It's not so much his weapons that provide him with great power but his mind games, we witness as he manipulates Batman and Dent by beleaguering them, and succeeds in pulling them down to his low morality level, it's fascinating to see the evolution of the characters. His madness lingers throughout the whole film, even in scenes where he's absent, we descent deeper and deeper into the darkness to end up at a scene beyond brilliance: the disorientating (the whole film the camera movements scream 'chaos!!!') 180 degrees camera movement of Nolan when "The Joker" dangles upside down out the window of a skyscraper, and then that evil, demon laugh resounding into the night air, psyching out every single member in the audience.
The Dark Knight's an experience beyond cinema.
The Lookout (2007)
Now, I argued with myself about rating this a 9: I sooner award an imperfect ambitious effort with a lot of good intentions with some extra credit than a lesser effort from an experienced and famed director. We can only keep benefiting from acclaimed directors' work for a little time, the search for new talents to refuel audience members' creative needs is a road with more let downs along the way than rewarding and invigorating watches.
'The Lookout' is one of those movies that fills you with hope. Not only does it know how to be subtle and how to pace, it's an economic production, fresh without being far fetched, without trying too hard to be quirky it succeeds to become that way through only a few lines of dialog by Jeff Daniels' sightless character. His character illustrates that handicapped people have every bit as much a right to be flawed (impolite, inconsiderate) than the rest of us. Daniels' sells his lines with such a seeming ease that you wonder why he bothers making comedies of questionable taste (RV).
First time director (but long time screenplay writer) Scott Frank puts his faith into the hands of Joseph Gordon-Levitt to carry the movie, and those who keep an eye open for the next generation of Academy Award winners will know that household name well already (Brick, Mysterious Skin). It's rare to find young actors with such a great deal of exciting movies on their belt, with that in my mind, it's still crystal clear that 'The Lookout' is a - for the time being - career-defining performance. His portrayal of the frustrated, tangled up amnesiac Chris Pratt borders on perfection. His face going to stone, heart nearly stopping, when a friend of his painfully reminds him of the restrictions and impossibilities in his love and professional life. A forced smile, sad eyes looking at us from out of the mists of despair. It becomes painfully clear to him that he's treading water when he's denied a minor loan by his dad. He ignores all his instincts and is exhorted by Gary Spargo into a 'business' deal. Gary's a self-declared friend of his sister's, though when asked about, she has no recollection of him. Chris agrees to help a gang of thugs rob the bank he's employed at, but when he does a volte-face on the plan at the last minute, his bridges are already burned and the misplacement of his trust in two-faced Gary dawns on him. As he rises above his weaknesses (he can't sequence events, has trouble with short-term memory,...) and saves his roommate's life, he takes a first step towards getting his life out of the tailspin...
'The Lookout' entices with it's sincere message of hope, impresses with it's performances (both Daniels and Levitt pull out all stops) and amazes with writing that makes your head spin (the pacing in particular is masterful). Movies that explore extremes can fascinate, but the road 'The Lookout' takes, the one in between emotionally intelligent and intelligent in the more narrow sense of the word (brainy), can lead to excellence too when the right urgency's present in the writing and acting, a little bonus on top of that is the simple, pretty cinematography. Despite the similar sounding premise, 'The Lookout' is nothing like 'Memento'. Nolan's brilliant thriller's script is monumentally intellectual, it's goal is to explore that extreme, while 'The Lookout' ambitions to move it's audience without forced emotional moments whilst also providing a clever plot.
Swing Kids (1993)
An insightful movie told from a refreshing perspective; the realistic and less than perfect characters are the film's strong suit.
Robert Sean Leonard, Christian Bale and Frank Whaley give stature to the "Swing Kids", a movement of German teenagers who rebelled against the Nazi-ideology by playing an dancing to swing music in clubs( forbidden for being 'black and Jewish music'). The threesome comes from substantially different standing and differ as night and day in personality as well. Bale brings to life another extrovert character(Thomas), dancing tightrope on that slim line between self-confidence and arrogance. Whaley's character (Arvid) is intelligent and musically gifted, yet bruises like a peach, his emotional fragility a result of a crippled leg which condemns the artist from ever dancing to the music he loves and plays (the tragedy of the deaf composer and the blind painter all over again). These two characters occupy two ends the scale, and are both dangerously unstable, unlike our third and main 'kid': Robert Sean Leanord's character (Peter), an ambitious and idealistic youngster, a type commonly referred to as a 'golden boy', the whole world awaiting to be conquered by him. Yet he also has an Achilles' Heel: his father's death early in his childhood.
As often the bond between the gang seems stronger than it is, everyone gets along great when there isn't a care in the world, theirs only consists of smoking cigarettes, guzzling drinks and dancing with girls in hip clubs. When they try to lift a radio in another one of their mischievous antics, Peter gets captured and his hand is forced into joining the 'Hitler Jugend', Thomas happily tags along stating 'we can have the best of both worlds, HJ by day, Swing Kids by night'. Arvid, the most insightful of the gang, warns them of the dangers of getting brainwashed by Hitler's foul propaganda but it could not be helped, soon Thomas takes a turn for the worse and tension in the once so close-knit group mounts. Playful remarks regarding Arvid's handicap turn into insults of impurity, Thomas is so caught up in the world of cool HJ gadgets and perks that he neglects to notice he's being manipulated.
The thriller elements don't form the core of the movie, they're useful as a means to an end, to keep the viewer focused so he doesn't miss a second of the interesting characters, the interactions and dialog are really what matters the most. The lack of attention for politics makes 'Swing Kids' special in the war-drama genre. It's a bold yet smart choice. This approach (and the soothing swing club intervals) made it easier to watch than most in the genre, which I think keeps the movie from alienating young audiences. It's pleasant to watch the history of pre-war Germany through the eyes of rebellious young citizens and subsequently (as a young man) being able to identify more with and relate to the characters. The government in place at that time was accepted, just like we accept the supreme command now, it's highly plausible kids could see more light in standing up for a sort of symbolic value namely 'Swing Music' (rather than forming political movements), which of course is connected with freedom of arts...and so forth with freedom of expression.
'Swing Kids', though certainly engrossing and accomplished, is fairly uneven and at times loses the audience's attention with gratuitous melodramatic scenes. Near the end the focus strays from intelligent dialog and interactions towards silent melodrama. Paired with Robert Sean Leonard's underwhelming performance (yet again), it's a small blemish on an otherwise highly recommendable film.
Cruz is monumental in this musing about mortality, monogamy and love.
Astonishing at times, a lot of a very impressive Kingsley's scenes are stolen by a monumental Penelope Cruz, this is her finest work yet. Inexplicably 'Elegy' still isn't cut out to be a grand masterpiece, the instant Cruz vanishes from the screen the film's urgency slowly fades, only to return in the last couple of scenes when she does. What is grand about it are the dialogs, in particular in the first half of the film there are memorable lines galore, the second half holds some beauties as well: all the exchanges between Hopper and Kingsley are pure gold, as they scope women and talk about regrets and getting old. They're a pair of womanizers with an unusually precise ability of self-evaluation and display a moving honesty in that judging.
Other elements that stood out: the meditations about aging and monogamy, love and life, are very well done. The film tries very hard not to manipulate but instead observe and let the viewer do the thinking. It's very rare to find a movie that possesses such a quality.
Even the best script in the world makes for a lousy film without the actors to sell it, besides Cruz being a tad old for the role the casting is inspired, Patricia Clarkson also leaves an impression as Kingsley's ever-giving yet never-demanding lover, perhaps the only woman who ever understood him, it's a beautiful character and Clarkson portrays here with grace and dignity. It's about theme these actors got the opportunity to star in a film that deserves their talent, especially Kingsley hasn't done anything memorable in way too long.
For those among you who in the meantime have gotten the impression that 'Elegy' is just another depressing, humorless, grotesque excruciating drama, don't worry, you're way off. Except for the ending the film never gets preachy or alienates it's viewers through pretentious cinematography, unnatural dialog or a series of unrealistically dramatic scenes following one another from beginning to end.
If you'd look at the film, or the book, again in a couple of years it'll have considerably changed. As a youthful guy, reviewing a film about mortality, I can impossibly estimate how my perception will change as the years pass, but I suspect it'll become an even more interesting (yet probably more painful to watch) piece of art.
Don't miss this one!
Righteous Kill (2008)
Makes my heart bleed...
'Righteous Kill' not only disappoints, it's an epic failure. And I mean wanna-punch-everyone-involved failure. Re-watching that one petite coffee-house scene with De Niro and Pacino in 'Heat' will jolt more electricity into you than this whole waste of celluloid. 'Righteous Kill' is a movie that actually accomplishes to have both De Niro and Pacino hand in a performance so far under their usual level, I'm still in disbelief over it. A healthy suggestion: avoid all films by this untalented hack not worthy of the title 'director'. For example, he also made Pacino look bad in the stinker '88 minutes', a straight-to-cable thriller meets 'Phone Booth'.
Shouldn't these two legends make use of their golden years to partake in interesting movies, why doesn't Pacino make another Lumet (see: Dog Day Afternoon) or why not team up again with Mann again (Heat). Surely they have the power to pull the tablecloth toward them when it comes to getting roles in prestigious projects? Why they rather star in a movie that kids 'you can lick my balls any time' is beyond me.
If you think I'm being too dramatic, go see for yourself but don't come crying to me when you get your heart ripped out and served on a platter as well...
Secret Window (2004)
Todd Downey thought that a woman who would steal your love when your love was really all you had was not much of a woman. He, therefore, decided to kill her.
'Secret Window' has been criticized due to the end twist; a kind of 'surprise' which became predictable for one reason and one reason only...it's overdone. I checked the 'spoiler' box but I'll still warn you...MAJOR SPOILER AHEAD: Ever since Hitchcock launched the terrifying arrow named 'psycho' at the public, our understandable fascination for one of the strangest of diseases has dimmed down; time and time again it served as an easy way out of a complicated mystery much to the intelligent viewer's frustration.
Nevertheless, the Stephen King novella 'secret window, secret garden' (published in 1990) came before the second wave of twist endings, unchained by the release of 'Fight Club', 'The Sixth Sense' and 'The Usual Suspects' in the nineties, it's unfortunate but true that since then not many have blown our heads back like those.
Luckily for Secret Window, and for us, the movie relies mostly on the wonderful quirkiness of Depp and the atmosphere; the mood is set right from the start with a great opening scene and an impressive tracking shot accompanied by a tenebrous score, at the end of the shot we're introduced to our Byronic hero, popular horror novelist Mort Rainey. His life's caught in a tailspin; suffering through a divorce from a woman he still loves and tortured by the subsequent writer's block, caused by the loss of his muse. He isolates himself in a lake cabin, killing most of his time napping and exchanging wits with his cataract-stricken dog. In the midst of his anguish, a deranged man, John Shooter comes knocking, spewing accusations of plagiarism. This man is determined that Mort make amends to satisfy his cruel soul, backing up his demands with threats to kill and a warning not to go to the police...
...I liked how the story continued, Shooter's actions begin to make less and less sense. He's promised a magazine by a deadline he sets, only to harass Mort before that time, which anything but motivates Mort into giving in to Shooter's demands...namely changing the ending. 'Mine's perfect...it's the ONLY ending' Shooter said in the form of John Turturro, the accent with which he says the words and the way he almost seems to stare through Mort (those icy looks, the eyes never blinking; the stare of a psychopath). We can conclude from the context that Shooter's ending's radically different from Mort's own, oh yes...Mort Rainey did, when he penned down the ending for 'secret window', in fact write his last happy ending...
Here's Shooter's version: "I know I can do it," Todd Downey said, helping himself to another ear of corn from the steaming bowl. "I'm sure that in time, every bit of her will be gone and her death will be a mystery... even to me."
And so it shall be, fiction becomes truth. By the way, the similarities between Mort's short story and the events of the plot are fun to observe on a re-watch(so's the relevance of the lines typed at the end of the tracking shot right after the title appeared on screen in blood red).
What kept 'Secret Window' afloat as the plot unwinds into the predictable last couple of scenes (double murder) (I'm not talking about the very last scenes, the bookends are fantastic), is a sense of inevitable doom that chokes (and fascinates the darker minded ones among you) the viewers. No miraculous rescue, no escape. Mort is (meaning dead and death in French) a powerful representation of the grim reaper, portrayed with grandeur by a Depp clearly having a lot of fun. Notice the cracking of his jaw, a very discomposing nervous tick, it disconcerted me. Also the braces somehow make Depp seems as dangerous as Jaws, how'd they do that?! He's at the top of his game, his facial reactions are marvelous (you can watch the whole movie muted and still be entertained), this movie's worth the price of admission or rental for the acting alone.
My only regret is the lack of more wonderfully dark voice-overs...in the spirit of:'This is not my beautiful wife. This is not my beautiful house. Anymore' or the opening lines 'Turn around. Turn around. Turn the car around and get the hell out of here. Right now. Don't go back. Do not go back there.'
Inner dialog of tortured characters can be so fascinating when done right and they obviously know how to, they chose not to put too much in. As far as I'm concerned, that's the only thing I'd done different had I directed it.
For me 'Secret Window''s (almost) perfect just the way it is, no attempt at a masterpiece but an unpretentious, fun thriller.
Citizen X (1995)
May be the best TV-movie ever made
Citizen X' is not just another serial killer movie. The movie focuses on acting and dramatic impact rather than on improbable plot twists (like most do). The whole ensemble really does a good job. I've seldom seen so many great character actors in one film. Not one pretty boy or girl to please the crowds, just fine actors, some of them relatively unknown, which adds to the realistic feel of the movie.
The movie isn't gory or bloody, yet I find it to be disturbing. Some even label it as a horrorfilm. I think the scenes just have a greater impact because there are so few violent ones and because of the way the director shows them. The camera doesn't shy away in the last second of the kill, like it does in so many other PG-13 horrors/thrillers.
I'll make this review short, because the plot is rather complicated and I don't want to ruin the whole thing for you. Basically, we follow a Russian forensic expert, who has been named detective temporarily, in the hunt for a uncatchable serial killer who spreads his killings over several years. The whole story is set in Soviet Russia, and it's at least as fascinating to follow the bureaucratic mess that was the SU , than it is to watch the hunt.
The last thing I want to add is that the story is based on real events and real people, though there were some dramatizations of course. See this, if you like dark movies and great acting.
A more than worthy follow-up to 'The Memory of a Killer', reminds me of those great stylized keep you guessing thrillers of the '90s such as The Game.
The movie takes a while to pick up steam but soon enough the director takes us on exactly the kind of roller-coaster ride we want out of a whodunit thriller. The story's very sly and just when you think you've figured it all out, it slips away from you, it's like trying to hold on to a wet bar of soap. Van Looy's greatest accomplishment is avoiding the sin most of the movies in this genre make: neglect the characters. Without losing pace, we manage to really get to know the pawns in our chess game, and as each one's motivations start to sink in, even the most unlikely become suspect.
We see here assembled a who's who of Belgian stars, the dream team cast, even the smaller roles are given to top class actors (Jan Decleir). The film's lighter on it's feet than Van Looy's previous, we (on first sight) get to deal with far less tortured souls, which makes some room for humorous intervals, I fear a lot of these will get lost in translation.
As in all stories, but even more so in plot-driven thrillers, the end's the most important part. It delights me that they didn't choose a ridiculous, nonsensical ending as so much postmodern thrillers shamelessly do these days. I can't give anything away of course, but I for one didn't see it coming at all and yet it adds up when you replay previous scenes in your head.
Go see it, it merits national and international attention.
The Butterfly Effect (2004)
"I'll send you a postcard when I've made everything perfect again."
The Butterfly Effect is a sci-fi thriller that centers around four childhood friends: Evan, Kayleigh (the girl he secretly loves), Tommy (her jealous, violent brother) and Lenny (an overly shy, slightly mentally unstable kid). The four kids encounter a series of traumatic, life determent/changing events together. Evan, the son of a mental patient, has blackouts chronically and he has suppressed all those traumatic events, until one day (fourteen years later) he reads one of his old journals. He discovers he can go back in time and tries to right the wrongs of the past but every time he tries to do so he ends up making it worse. Nothing goes as planned and the actions he undertakes in the past (how slight they may seem) have grave consequences in the present
Whilst being obviously plot-driven, the acting wasn't too shabby either. I can appreciate Ashton Kutcher's comedy roles but assessing his career at the moment, I think he desperately needs to get back into more serious roles. He's good, probably never will be Oscar-good, but still. Knowing Melora Walter's phenomenal tour-de-force in 'Magnolia', she's a tad under performing in TBE. There really can't be any complaining about the any of the 'flashback' casts either, especially teenage Evan left an impression. When youngest Evan started talking trash I admit to having trouble taking him seriously and repressed a laugh out loud.
Paired with this is the more than solid and mention-worthy soundtrack, a good mix between sounds (like the flutter of a butterfly's wings theme) and songs (like Oasis' Stop Crying Your Heart Out at the end) to create the appropriate atmosphere for the kind of cool, fast-moving thriller TBE is. The visual look: blue tones dominating, modern, accentuates the cool vibe even further.
Timetravel films form a tricky business. This amazing ability provides the protagonist unavoidably with tremendous power, which in turn can take all of the tension out of the story. In order for us to be biting our nails during a film, we have to think that there's no way out of the box, and so the screenwriters need to think out of the box. The concept of the 'butterfly effect', where all changes in the past directly and substantially affect not only your own but everyone's future is very useful. Not only does Evan have to battle his present obstacles, but also his past ones. The fact that you can't see the events the first time (because he blacks them out) also keeps you eagerly awaiting and guessing.
In 'The Butterfly Effect' we get dragged into a whirlpool of plot lines and characters ever changing with each 'trip', which provides potential for confusion. However, in order to counteract this the writers often verbalize plot points or thoughts: we see Evan talking to himself after he discovers his mother's lung cancer "You started chain smoking after I blew myself up." followed by "If I hadn't blown my arms off, Mom never would've started smoking in the first place." That kind of dialog rubs me the wrong way, we hear the wheels of the plot turning more often than we should...but on the other hand I realize it's a movie developed for a broad audience.
Some segments captured my interest less than others, the whole 'prison' storyline clearly being the weakest although I do see the motivation for putting it in the script. It's the only time (except for the beginning/ending) where he's literally cornered himself. The greatest parts involved a dramatic explosives incident, the outcome of which reverberated well into the future and it clearly held the key to 'making everything perfect again' ( JASON: You can't play God, son. It must end with me. Just by being here, you may be killing your mother. EVAN Bullshit. I'll send you a postcard when I've made everything perfect again.) A real surprise here when all of a sudden - just when you think you figured out how far the scriptwriters were willing to go drama-wise - we see Evan without arms. The movie becomes darker and darker, the greater his actions in the past the graver the consequences in the present/future, and the happy end thus came as a surprise to me. They had to stretch believability (home movies have the same effect as journals?) and undermine their own philosophical/moral lessons that have been laid out throughout the movie for it. The movie is quite dark and cynical (you can't play God!) and the ending is totally the opposite. Reading about the director's cut, it sounded more logical to me. Nevertheless, I'm fond of the original ending...because I didn't see it coming.
A fun, cool thriller I recommend to lots of people. 8/10
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
The best comedy of the year: smart humor in a story with substance.
In "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" 'How I Met Your Mother's Jason Segel plays Peter Bretter, a man-child musician who's entire existence is overshadowed by his successful actress girlfriend, Sarah Marshall. She's egocentric, possessive and emotionally unavailable but naive Peter somehow oversees that, and when she dumps him codependent Peter's heart is left to shreds. Enter Brian, his brother-in-law who aids Peter in his quest to 'forget' Sarah Marshall. Well, he tries anyway. Little does he know when he advices Peter to take a trip to Hawaï, Sarah's there too. And with a new boyfriend from hell, bold rocker Aldous Snow (portrayed by British comedian Russell Brand)...
The plot's a lot more than just a clothe hanger for jokes, in this film the interactions between the characters really captured my interest. Admittatly the usual generic jokes that come with a situation like this do occur, the plot takes surprising twists which open up doors for original humor and engrossing scenes. It's sometimes tough seeing Peter get so easily manipulated and his feelings toyed with by his ex. It's though to let go, even if you know it's the right thing to do, so I'm sure many of us understand the fiber of the story.
The movie's not at all that dramatic as I may have led you to believe though, it's genuinely funny in conventional ways as well as weird ways. Plenty of absurd figures come marching by, Paul Rudd plays a totally 'cool' surf instructor who seems to have a very loose connection with reality. In one scene he 'philosophises' with Peter out in the water: 'if you get bitten by a shark, you're not just gonna give up surfing, are you?' Peter, who doesn't really get him and neither does anyone else, replies (dry): '...yeah, probably'. Then there's the puppet lovin' bartender, the prude Christian on his honeymoon who gets a lot of laughs with one liners such as 'Let me just say that if God was a city planner he would not put a playground next to a sewage system!' and I'm sure I'm forgetting a few memorable side characters.
During the second half, the laughs are dialed down a bit to make room for some pivotal scenes that are nicely handled by first time screenwriter Jason Segel. Despite Segel's involvement, FSM still screams Judd Apatow and the formula might get old soon if he doesn't move some stuff around in his next feature. It's hard to rank up FSM with 'Knocked Up', 'Superbad' or 'the 40 Year Old Virgin', most likely it depends from person to person because they all contain a lot of quality material. Neither of them is very easy on it's main protagonist, which is a nice change from the rest of comedies with substance but it does leave that sweet/sour taste in our mouths. All things considered FSM is the sweetest story out of the 4 and the most conventional, it'll not rank the highest in the esteem of hardcore Apatow fans but the direct opposite is true for those who aren't big fans of the man and his colleagues. FSM will appeal to a lot of folks and it'll hopefully end up on a lot of 'favorite comedy' short lists by the end of the year, I know it'll be on mine!
Quid Pro Quo (2008)
Farmiga does justice to a great script.
Vera Farmiga (playing 'Fiona') and Nick Stahl (bringing 'Isaac' to life) get two endlessly interesting characters thrown their way by first timer Carlos Brooks, and they know what to do with the material. Fiona's part's the most fleshed out and she hands in the greatest performance I've seen in quite some time; I have to scrape some long term memories together to conclude I can't remember seeing an equally great performance in at least half a year, that one being Jason Patric's in 'Your Friends & Neighbors'.
'Quid Pro Quo' deals with a difficult subject, namely paralysis: Stahl's semi-paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair since involved in a brutal car-accident at age 8, during which he lost both his parents. He's a radio-journalist whose work one day brings him in contact with Fiona, she's charming, endearing and very sexy but she makes some unexpected revelations about herself: she feels she's a paralyzed person confined to an able body. We follow Nick as he further descends into the subculture and Brooks passes us some insights about paralysis along the way.
I couldn't help reminiscing about 'Spider ' and other Cronenbergs when viewing, QPQ's style's not totally unlike the fore-mentioned but if some reading at the moment fear 'boredom' (I would never dare to call Cronenberg 'boring' but I can understand why some might would be inclined to), I can assure you QPQ makes for a very accessible film.
You know how every great song seems to be over far too soon and how every time you eat a great meal the plate seems to be smaller than it used to be, well as interesting and entertaining as 'Quid Pro Quo' is, it could've used a cherry on top of the icing. Carlos's script does bravely take the road less traveled, I must admit to myself maybe a thriller dealing with the subject would've pleased me more. QPQ's a very pleasing (albeit not that deep) character drama, but I saw a brilliant thriller lurking inches underneath the surface. However, for a drama, QPQ 's surprisingly light on it's feet: no vast array of manipulative long shots of Isaac suffering from his condition, no indoctrination to the writer's vision. Instead we get 'Magic shoes', comedic bantering between Isaac and his doorman and a realistic ending. All of these elements, make the film very easy to watch yet it doesn't leave you feeling indifferent.
If you have a brain and a heart you'll enjoy this very fine debut by Carlos Brooks, I'd advise anyone with a passion for cinema to keep an eye on him.
First Snow (2006)
I saw... no more roads. No more tomorrows.
I really enjoyed 'First Snow', it's not totally unlike No Country For Old Men, has a little bit of a Stephen King like feel to the story ( a little pulpy, simple but powerful and entertaining). Also, it can be described as noir-ish (which usually helps a thriller greatly if done right), and the always cool Aussie Guy Pearce plays the lead, he's as close to a quality guarantee as is possible in cinema today, in that sense he resembles Edward Norton and Christian Bale.
The existential theme goes only skin deep (the film biggest problem) and it can be called simplistic but all that doesn't make it any less effective, I felt the confinement the lead was going through, a dark sinister atmospheric cloud slowly formed throughout the film as the impending inevitable fate crawled closer by, Pearce's naturally emaciated look aided the believability of the character.
A satisfying little film, a psychological thriller that's not the classic it could've been, but still a can't miss near-classic. 7.4/10
This is how good comedy can be !!
There's not really much to say about the technicalities of 'Snatch'. Pretty standard direction and other production values, the acting's good but nothing Oscar worthy (Pitt is awesome make no mistake about it).
The fact is...in my opinion 'Snatch' is definitely one of the funniest movies of the last decade. It's all very much an acquired taste of course...the British humor of Guy Ritchie might not be understood by anyone. I've never been a fan of American comedy so 'Snatch' was definitely a welcome change for me ...a comedy that actually had me laughing the whole time...
The story is very ingenious, the jokes are original and the delivery is very good. Brad Pitt proves his versatility, he's just as good playing a high-class guy as he is playing a madman (see 12 Monkeys for example).
To sum it up: everyone should give the movie a chance, if you don't like it you will know right away and if you do like it...definitely see 'Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels' too. Same director, 'Snatch' is a little better but both are brill...
War, Inc. (2008)
Too silly to have maximum effect on the viewer as critical assessment of current politics, but it's a hilarious movie with more substance than most.
As everything changes during the (only seemingly) endless passing of sand through the hourglass, so does my taste. Say three years ago, I never ever would've enjoyed this, but I have become a Cusack fan and what do you know, nearly everything he does turns into gold. So did this political cartoon, in which he has a writing credit btw, and I really rarely find a movie this hilarious. Always smart, not always subtle, but mostly funny. The only thing I regretted was the last few minutes, which felt rushed and poorly executed in comparison to the rest of the movie. I'm not going to write a plot premise since if you're reading this, you've prly seen it. Hope you'll like it as much as I did, regardless of your political beliefs :-).
Chaos Theory (2008)
The 'Chaos Theory' credits just started rolling here, actually having some pre-viewing excitement, the writers left me out in the cold. A vast array of smug movie 'experts' utilized the title to point out the movie's big flaw, namely a lack of straight-lined writing. Seeing that the script lacked the necessary hilarity to make it a pure comedy, I'd found it better if they'd stuck with a drama, and it could've been a great one too, that's the sucky part. Round the characters more, explore the potentially great plot lines and you've got a wonderful film script, well worth a watch.
You can divide films I dislike into two categories: films that are simply of poor quality (have one very bad aspect or are bad or mediocre all around) or films that waste their potential. 'Chaos Theory' is the latter, I really liked the premise which is why I watched it in the first place: an over-organized guy, with a perfectly fine job, wife and daughter finds his life turned upside down from one day to the next. The situation so it seems, is out of his control. He has made the safe, smart, responsible decisions all his life yet he winds up in a really messy relationship problem, which convinces him to throw all of the principles he clung onto his whole life overboard. He lives, as a he calls it, a life of 'whim', 'chance' and 'passion'.
Sounds good? Well, it did to me too...too bad it's only a 6/10
Futurama: War Is the H-Word (2000)
Hilarious 'starship troopers' spoof provides great lines for Zoidberg.
Loosely based on Starship Troopers, this episode contains one of the highest good joke/minute ratio of the series. A giant load of hits and few if any misses. The war hospital scenes blow most of the rest out of the water:
Zoidberg: "I'm afraid he's gone" Patient: 'Whoa doctor I'm not dead' Zoidberg: "I believe I'm the doctor"
The voice actor's delivery gets the maximum out of the writing, the funniest character for me will always be Zoidberg because the writers go into all kind of directions with him, pitiful, childishly honest, just plain weird, vulnerable, clueless, attention hungry, he's all that and much more. If anyone could be the 'Homer' of Futurama, it's Zoidberg. Although Professor Farnsworth and Bender come close to absolute hilarity too. 'Leela' will always be the slightly nerve-wrecking voice of reason, the 'Lisa' if you will.
I've always adored the end of the episode, where Bender tries to guess the word that'll detonate the bomb inside him...euhm...dare I say...anticking?
Some of the episodes most memorable jokes to go out on.
- Bender's top 10 most used words: 8. Yours 7.Up
- Zoidberg: Scalpel (short pause) Blood Bucket (short pause) Priest
- Brannigan: Look at this sissy Kiff. While others were fighting and dying pointlessly, he was hiding in a hole wallowing in a pool of his own cowardice. Fry: That wasn't cowardice!
- Nurse: leave doctor Zoidberg alone, he's got twice the training you do! Other surgeon: Yeah, he's a doctor and a butcher (chuckling while the sedated patient he's operating on chuckles heartily too).
- Brannigan: here lies the bravest soldier I've seen since my mirror got grease on it. I hereby order that in Bender's honor, he be melted down and made into a statue of himself.
I bet you got in the mood to revisit this episode now. :-)
Vantage Point (2008)
Poorly crafted episode of '24'
Actionmovies and improbabilities - there's a controversial relationship. Now I don't mind people jumping through fiery rings while dodging bullets from 3 machine guns and somehow managing to land without getting a scratch on their macho stubble bearded faces, replacing intelligent writing with adrenaline rush entertainment can be a fair trade. Sadly, I can't say 'Vantage Point' entertained me very much, and it's chock full of highly implausible events. For one, I'd assume the secret service'd employ more than just a handful of men to guard the president, especially when the threat alert level has been raised high. And why doesn't anyone seem to wear flack jackets?? Brushing aside the ridiculously dull (and formulaic) storyline, the director just bored me with his action sequences. I kept waiting for this sub-par episode of '24' to improve, but I waited in vain.
It doesn't help of course that the incredibly annoying Dennis Quaid got way too much screen time in this debacle, he possesses two facial modes: angry and not angry (but usually it's angry). I love Matthew Fox on 'Lost' but unfortunately we see way too little of his character for the actor to really make an impression. Pete Travis wastes most of the good names on the cast list (Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt), Forest Whitaker is the only A-grade actor that is given a decent amount of screen time, but he never appears to find his character, instead he gives us a mixture of some of his earlier characters (the gentle hearted man in The Crying Game, the calculated reasonable man in Phone Booth).
For me, the hardest films to review are the ones that excel and those who plummet deep into failure, I mention this to explain why this review may sound dull and uninspired, it is born out of the mediocrity of the film. Do yourself a favor dear reader, far craftier action movies and TV-series await you, pass up on this one.
I just finished the movie, viewed it on a nice quality screen. Still, I think it's not quite the same as the cinema experience.
Maybe then, I would've enjoyed it a sufficient amount (liked it enough to warrant the ticket/rental price). I'm almost inclined to resort to conspiracy theories, there's got to be a Doug Liman twin out there, an evil one, who sullies the name of a director who brought us 'The Bourne Identity' and 'Mr and Mrs Smith' (but I probably shouldn't yell the last movie title out too loud, what a mediocre action movie).
The biggest problem - besides the casting of airhead Rachel Bilson - imo is the choice to butcher a much longer film to a scarce ninety minutes. It doesn't take a genius to notice the giant gaps between scenes, maybe one day we'll get to see an extended cut. Like Spider-Man 3, you can clearly feel a director's cut would be an infinitely great improvement.
The story (actually based on a novel, believe it or not) entails an in all ways selfish protagonist, with NO redeeming qualities, furthermore there's a bag of undealt issues from the past, which of course (as in any cliché-ridden screenplay) affect his present state of mind. That's as far as the audience gets to a rounding of characters, 'Jumper' bored the hell out of me except for a couple of scenes in the second half of the movie.
How did they go wrong?? Not exactly inventive, but at least an exciting concept, a $85,000,000 budget, and a popular novel combined with an acclaimed director, it all ends up in this mess.
Mediocre crime thriller that has it's moments.
Randy Feldman, who worked as the writer and producer on this movie, has four theatrical releases on his belt, the other three being the painfully bad horror flick 'Hell Night', the Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle 'Nowhere to Run' (which I have not seen but can only assume it's as bad as any other of Van Damme film) and the eighties cop flick 'Tango & Cash', which received some audience acclaim. To state 'Metro' is by far his most memorable attempt at a screenplay isn't really a compliment, it seems he always kept the 'screenplay writing for dummies' book by hand during his writing sessions.
We have the typical hero-cop; underpaid, under-appreciated by his boss, personal problems galore,financial troubles to boost, a smirking sense of humor, and of course a personal investment in the investigation ('now it's personal :-)). So we have the good cop with a revenge motive, but the chase isn't enough to fill the runtime. No, we also are forced to suffer - surprise, surprise - the obligatory (but in this case unfortunately also clumsily set up) love interest played by a young Carmen Ejogo. Sure; she's very easy on the eyes but as an actress she's sub-par. Then we have a fellow cop, lifelessly portrayed by Art Evans, and it must be said the poor fellow's been typecast, his role in the script is mainly to be victimized(also see: Die Hard 2 for an almost identical role). His monotone delivery and robot-like autopilot acting certainly didn't lift this film to a higher level, neither did Denis Arndt's one-dimensional police chief, the villain whose dialog consisted primarily of grunting or the gross of the side-characters for that matter. They are mainly present for giving us some insight in our lead's personal life (and some perspective) and of course to pitch for Eddie Murphy's jokes. The only roles that still spring to mind as I recollect on the movie today are Michael Rapaport and Donal Logue, both competently playing their respective roles.
Other clichés for the fanatic cliché-spotters among you, the rain suddenly appearing when a tragic event happened: both when Murphy's friend is murdered, as when there's an attempted murder on his girlfriend. Speaking of which, there's one cliché scene to build up the tension before the attempt, where we see Ejogo in a shoulder-shot frame as she puts on perfume in front of a bathroom mirror. She opens and closes the mirror/cabinet two times, with tense music playing, as if any moment some creep will appear behind her (the best use of that sort of scene can be found at the end of 'Candyman').
The action scenes felt very standard. The soundtrack bugged me to a lesser degree, it really couldn't make up its mind. The other big flaws are an OD of love story, a waste of plot opportunities (a lot more tactical SWAT stuff would've been welcome) and a lack of funny scenes (especially with the cop partners). But it is precisely that humor that keeps 'Metro' from totally falling apart, I'll never be Murphy's biggest fan but as a comedian he's far from mediocre (although we don't see his best work in this movie). I did appreciate the way they threw us off track time after time: as to who (or what) Troy is, the restaurant scenes (with the implied marriage proposal) and the hostage negotiation training scene. Those scenes, and the opening hostage situation, made up 90% of the enjoyment level of 'metro' for me.
In the end 'Metro' can be summed up as painfully (almost insultingly) mediocre but still enjoyable because of the humor involved.