Latest Reviews
Friday
Mar132009

Miss March

Miss March is hands down the biggest surprise of the year thus far. Having never heard of it until a week before its release, I can't say I was particularly enthused to see what I was sure was going to be another early year trainwreck. Given the plot, I assumed it was yet another lame attempt to bring in the teenage male crowd who flock to the theater hoping to see some skin. Well, the film has plenty of skin for sure, but the surprise is that I actually found myself laughing. A lot.

On their senior prom night, Eugene (Zach Cregger) promised Cindi (Raquel Alessi) that they would have sex, but just before that, Eugene got drunk, tripped down the stairs, bumped his head real good, and was put in a coma. Four years go by before Eugene awakes and finds out that Cindi is now modeling for Playboy. So he and his friend, Tucker (Trevor Moore) trek to the Playboy mansion in the hopes of finding her.

Miss March is one of those movies that simply cannot be defended. Even if I wanted to make a case for it, I don't think I could. The film is rude, crude, over the top, and maybe even a bit offensive to the more sensitive crowd out there, but isn't that what these teen sex comedies are all about? There's nothing special about this picture. There is nothing here that separates it from the multitude of other films of this ilk, but I laughed, plain and simple.

Out of all of the films I've seen this year, Miss March is probably the second funniest, falling only to Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li. The difference is that this film is supposed to be funny and I thought it was, more or less. However, it does push the envelope, almost to the limit. You'll see some pretty gnarly imagery that many will find off-putting. Remember that zipper scene in There's Something About Mary? Well, amplify that by about 10 and you'll get the gist of what this movie is going for.

I also thought the two leads were quite good. They were charismatic and their characters didn't seem like carbon copies of other superior film characters (like the boys in College ripping off Superbad). While Zach Cregger pulled off his virgin routine competently, Trevor Moore stole the show, giving off a weird Jim Carrey like vibe, even going so far as to wear similar Hawaiian shirts à la Ace Ventura. At first this bugged me, but I soon realized that this kid is actually pretty funny. He brought the best elements of Carrey, mainly the stretchy facial expressions, and put his own spin on the humor. I bought it and I laughed.

I fear I will be in the minority on this one (especially considering the current 6% percent approval from critics), but I found Miss March to be much better than expected. Really, I have nothing else to say about this. Humor is subjective. What worked for me may not work for others. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that the majority of people who check this flick out will hate it. But I'm stupid, young, and immature and I laughed enough to justify a recommendation. Proceed with caution.

Miss March receives 3/5

Friday
Mar132009

The Last House on the Left

This is probably one of the hardest reviews I've ever had to write. Not because I don't know what to say or don't have a strong opinion one way or another. I'm just so torn between my admiration for what is technically a well made thriller and my hatred for the way it shamelessly subjected me to brutal rapes, stabbings, tortures, and murders all for the sake of "entertainment." This is not a horror movie. This is a snuff film. The Last House on the Left is a disgusting, vile piece of cinematic filth with a pessimistic bend to it that no human being anywhere should ever see.

If you've seen the 1972 original Wes Craven horror movie like I have, I suspect your reaction to the remake will largely be the same. If you enjoyed it, you will probably enjoy this one, but if you felt like you needed a shower and vowed to never ever watch it again, you should steer clear. As for me, I'm with the latter group.

The film follows two girls who are kidnapped, cut, stabbed, raped, and beaten by four people who eventually end up in one of their victim's homes with her parents. When their daughter stumbles in later that night, bloody and almost dead, the parents realize that they are housing the people who did that to her and seek revenge. Death ensues. So if you're fond of brutal, realistic, unnecessary violence and horrendous rape scenes that suck the life clean out of you to the point where you want to walk out of the theater, then be my guest. See this movie.

Personally, I didn't want to see it and I despised every second I spent watching it. In fact, I would have walked out during the rape scene if I didn't have to write this review. Nobody needs to be subjected to the nastiness shown here. Like I said earlier, on one hand I admire the film because it is technically well made, but does that really mean anything in the end? It's like a sculpture made of trash. You can call it art all you want, but at its core, it's still trash.

In my opening paragraph, I mentioned that the film had a pessimistic bend to it. Allow me to elaborate. What I mean is that it makes you feel like there is no good in the world, or at least none with any power. The only purely good people in the film are the two girls who get raped and beaten by their kidnappers. They have no power to do anything. Even when they do break free, they are quickly caught again. The movie shows no signs of hope for the girls, leading to a pessimistic view of the world. It shows that good is too weak to overcome evil. Only evil can overcome evil. Unfortunately, I don't share that same point of view.

You might be asking, "But Josh, don't the kidnappers get their comeuppance by the hands of the parents?" Well, yes they do. And do these rapists and murderers deserve what they get? Probably. It's a thin line really. But the movie doesn't make you feel like what they are doing is the right thing. You can say the parents are good, but then why do they kill their victims in the most heinous ways possible? They don't just use violence as a means of protection. They seek their victims out in the middle of the night while they are sleeping. That's not justice. That's murder. Evil is disguised as good in the film and I couldn't find it in myself to justify what the parents were doing, regardless of what the kidnappers may have deserved.

Honestly, I've never felt such a strong feeling of despair and hopelessness in a theater before. Much of that is due to the laughs and applause the film was getting from the audience watching it with me. Is this what our society has come to? That we laugh at murderers and rapists? That we cheer when someone is paralyzed and then tortured before dying a slow, painful death? It's a sad state of affairs and my heart aches to think that this is what we call entertainment.

This is a pessimist's movie wrapped in a revenge picture. While some may use irrational logic to justify what happens in the film as a good thing, others will see under its skin and expose the scum that lies beneath. The tricky thing is that I suspect it is trying to get this kind of reaction. If that is the case, then it succeeded. But does that mean we really need to watch it? Life is short and there are so many other great movies to watch, even in the horror genre, that don't unabashedly expose us to pure hatred and violence. Why waste your time with this one? Please, if you are a moral human being with a conscience, skip The Last House on the Left.

The Last House on the Left receives 1.5/5

Thursday
Mar052009

Watchmen

That's right. The long awaited film adaptation of the beloved graphic novel has arrived. So was it worth it? Do the fanboys really have a reason to get their geeky spandex costumes in a bunch? To tell you the truth, I can't answer the latter question because I'm not a fan. In fact, I had never even heard of Watchmen before this film was announced. I've never read the graphic novel, so I went into the film knowing absolutely nothing. I saw it with neutral eyes and gave it a fair shot. All I can tell you is if it worked for me. Well, it did, although I'm saddened to say that I don't think it is as good as everybody is hoping it will be.

Watchmen is set in an alternate 1980's, where America is on the verge of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Due to public outcry, superheroes have become outlawed. When one masked vigilante, the Comedian, is murdered, another hero, Rorschach, working outside of the law tries to unravel a conspiracy to kill off superheroes and tries to warn others.

That's the gist of the story, or at least the beginning. I really can't continue onwards because Watchmen creates a deep narrative where the flow of information never stops and to truly explain the plot would be giving too much away. Still, the story is expertly told, working around its slight flaws and the ending packs one hell of a final punch. Without giving anything away, the end really makes you wonder, not unlike Gone Baby Gone, whether or not what happened was morally right. It doesn't just give you a resolution like most movies. It forces you to contemplate the value of life and how far you would go to ensure peace and stability. It's a brilliant story that will captivate you.

However, I still have problems with it. While I enjoyed the narrative, it was way too long. The film is about 2 hours and 45 minutes, much longer than it should be. If Wikipedia can summarize the story in five paragraphs, then the filmmakers could have shortened the film by at least half an hour.

To be fair though, I must commend the director, Zack Snyder, for attempting to give equal screen time to all of the characters, but the simple fact of the matter is that there were just too many characters for him to juggle. I appreciated that he was trying to give them all personalities because generally, the more time an audience spends with the characters, the more they will care about what happens to them.

But the problem here is that some characters are more interesting than others. Dr. Manhattan was fascinating and his rhetoric was philosophical, brilliantly and alluring to the mind. Another great character is Rorschach, the vigilante superhero who exacts justice under his own terms, regardless of what anybody says about him. His story is captivatingly told through film noir style with excellent voiceover dialogue. The rest of the characters, as far as I'm concerned, were considerably less impressive. Although I'm sure fans will appreciate the inclusion of all of the characters, the thoughts of this uninitiated reviewer turned to the desire for more of Dr. Manhattan and Rorschach and less of the others.

Another big problem with Watchmen is the somewhat inconsistent tone. Some films can mash different tones together with success, such as a "dramedy" which mixes the saddening tone of a drama with the humorous tone of a comedy. But Watchmen worked best as a dark, gritty film and the switching tone didn't accommodate the rest of the movie. For instance, one scene would follow Rorschach, telling his story through an esoteric film noir, then the following scene would be of the lightheared romance developing between Silk Spectre and Nite Owl. It just didn't play to the strengths of the film.

Still, this is a visually arresting film, beautiful in its execution, unforgettable in its brilliance. Zack Snyder has always had a knack for gorgeous visuals and in his short three film career, he has already carved out a niche for himself as one of the most visually profound directors in the business. On top of that, the action was stylish, exciting and not overdone. In fact, much of the film is exposition, but when action erupted, it erupted big.

The acting is also terrific. Everybody in this movie was fantastic, especially Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach, who was easily the highlight of the film. Even Malin Akerman, who has never given a good performance due to her extensive filmography of garbage like The Heartbreak Kid, The Brothers Solomon and 27 Dresses, does a fine job here. As far as acting goes, I can't complain a bit.

I have other minor problems with the flick as well, including an excessive use of slow motion (if you were annoyed by 300, wait until you see this) and one line at the end that was too self aware to work in the grounded (albeit alternate) reality, but the film most definitely has more positive traits than negatives. Sure the tone doesn't always work, but the style of the film does. Yes, not all of the characters are equally interesting, but none are dull. The flaws in the film are sporadic, while the strengths are constant.

Watchmen is not the best graphic novel film adaptation we’ve seen, but it’s a damn fine flick that deserves a look, regardless of some missteps along the way.

Watchmen receives 4/5

Tuesday
Mar032009

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li

I liked how the opening title looked.

Now that I got all of the good out of the way, let’s move on to the bad.

As the latest video game adapted film catastrophe faded to black and the credits began to roll, I sat with my hands on my head, mouth agape, shocked at what I had just seen. I didn’t even know what to say because words could not articulate the dreadfulness of Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li. I could have used every negative word in the English language and it would not have properly conveyed the dismal quality of this film.

In a year where Street Fighter IV is setting a new bar for fighting video games, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li is setting a new low for action movies. It is easily the worst film of the year so far and it may very well be one of the worst films I have ever seen.

While the original 1994 Street Fighter film certainly wasn’t an award winner, The Legend of Chun-Li makes it look like Citizen Kane. Everything, and I mean everything, was wrong with this shockingly inept motion picture. I could have made a better movie with a camera, a tube of Rolos, and a sock puppet. It would take me hours to point out every flaw of The Legend of Chun-Li and, regrettably, I’m way too lazy to do that, so forgive my brevity.

There are two massive problems with the film. First, it is unintentionally hilarious. Thanks to what could go down as some of the worst dialogue in film history, my buddies and I sat in the theatre cracking up. I laughed so hard, I peed a little. No joke. I felt like I had just spent 24 hours on an abs machine because my stomach was hurting after all of the muscle contractions. In a sense, it’s almost so-bad-it’s-good. Unfortunately, I don’t consider unintentional hilarity a positive trait.

The second major problem is the acting. What the hell is Chris Klein doing in this movie? For that matter, what the hell is Chris Klein doing in any movie? Every second he was onscreen was so pitiful that I eventually got a crick in my neck from shaking my head back and forth in unadulterated shame. Klein gives one of the worst performances of the decade. Amusingly, the best performance is by Robin Shou who actually played Liu Kang in the rival video game series’ movie adaptation, Mortal Kombat. Oh, sweet irony.

The worst part? They set it up for a sequel. If this movie gets a sequel, I’m going to film myself on the toilet and pitch it around to movie studios because me pooping is infinitely more interesting than this trash.

What else can I say? The film is awful in every single way. The direction was poor, the action was bland and the characters were poorly written. To call them thin would be an insult to anorexia. I would rather watch my mother take a shower before ever watching this again. Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li is a disaster and the filmmakers should be ashamed. May God have mercy on their souls.

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li receives 0/5

Thursday
Feb262009

Two Lovers

WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW

While the world obsesses over Joaquin Phoenix's strange departure from acting to take up a career in hip-hop, I was lucky enough to check out what could very well be his last movie, Two Lovers. And what a beautiful movie it is. As I sit here and write this review and ponder over what I just saw, I've come to realize just how much I enjoyed this twisted look at love, loss, and the unhappiness that many people live with daily.

The film follows Leonard (Joaquin Phoenix), who attempts to kill himself by drowning at the outset of the film, only to give up and resurface. He's a troubled man, depressed after his fiancé leaves him. While his parents attempt to make sparks fly with Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), Leonard falls in love with a beautiful woman named Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow) who has just moved in next door.

What follows is a dark and in depth look at love and settling for somebody you know will never make you happy, all through the eyes of a depressed and bitter man. Love doesn't always work out and that crutch has been explored through other films, but rarely do you get to see a troubled man get worse. It was fascinating watching this guy descend deeper into loneliness, however saddening it may be.

While the title obviously plays to the fact that Leonard is seeing two women, Two Lovers also relates to Michelle, who is seeing Leonard and another older man who she says she is in love with. What this creates narratively is an ending that leaves the film at a crossroads. Despite being madly in love with Michelle, he is forced to settle with his second choice, which for him is no choice at all. Although he ends up with somebody who loves him and will take care of him, it doesn't negate the loneliness. At the end of the film, Leonard is still unhappy and the tear he sheds is for the loneliness that is still eating away inside of him. Just like his previous love, Michelle leaves him which forces him to follow the same circular pattern of never finding true happiness.

What really brings this film around to this type of quality are the extraordinary performances. In particular, Joaquin Phoenix does an amazing job with Leonard, a loser so pitiful that you might feel like abandoning him, but Phoenix's brilliant portrayal makes him a character that, despite his shortcomings, you can't help but sympathize with.

This is one of those rare movies that you can't watch and know exactly how to feel. Like films such as Gone Baby Gone, it never reaches a true conclusion and leaves it up to the viewer to decide how they feel. That is its strongest feature. When this movie was over, I knew I liked it, but in retrospect, I realized how great it was and I think it deserves to be seen. It's only in limited release right now, but if you can find a theatre screening it, I think you'll find a real hidden gem in Two Lovers.

Two Lovers receives 5/5