Thursday, December 11, 2003
The second of the day. Tomorrow is a travelling day, so I'll be back early on next week with all those other reviews I've mentioned earlier today. By the way, scroll down for my Gothika review posted earlier today. Enjoy. Keep watching the good stuff.
Review by Jon Waterman
Two con men go from city to city every holiday season to rob malls. One dresses as Santa and the other as an elf. On the last day of employment, they rob the mall of all the money and merchandise they can carry, which holds them over until next year. This year things are different. The cops start to get a little wise and “Santa” has to live with a kid who’s parents are no where to be found.
One point kept resonating in my head throughout the picture. The movie is called “Bad Santa.” Why isn’t it actually Santa doing and saying these things? It’s the movies, you can do anything you want. Instead it’s a con man. He has no experience with kids. It’s pretty much expected that an alcoholic criminal such as him would constantly mouth off, look for sex and do virtually whatever he felt like. The story would have been much more entertaining had it been Santa going bad because of something bad that happened in the North Pole.
Because it was just two normally bad individuals, most of the jokes fell flat for me. Most of the audience was laughing in a “how could he say that to a little kid” kind of way, but I wasn’t feeling the shock value. However, even if you’re like me and don’t laugh at the situational humor, there’s still plenty of jokes to be enjoyed. The writers John Requa and Glenn Ficarra (“Cats & Dogs” and it’s sequel) filled the movie up with enough different kinds of humor to make it play to all kinds of audiences. There are surprise sight gags, reveals, the aforementioned failed situational humor and plenty of insults. The insults between adults are usually funnier than between child and adult. However, frustration can be funny and when the kid starts asking hundreds of questions, the build up to the stare-inducing insult works well.
Billy Bob Thornton and Tony Cox have a good give and take and great comic delivery as the con men combo. I wish BBT would have put more effort into the narrated parts of the film, because they were flat, uninteresting, unnecessary and unfunny. Bernie Mac and John Ritter (in his last film) try to create funny characters, but the main stars overshadow them easily. The kid (played by Brett Kelly) does a good job playing dumb and acting like an inquisitive kid in need of parenting.
The story is far fetched and how he doesn’t get fired for some of the things he does makes no sense at all, despite the poor attempt at rationalizing it. But it’s a comedy and a movie, so it doesn’t totally have to (although it would help). Go in not expecting a whole lot and you’ll come out happy. Just don’t bring the kids. There’s a lot of swearing and vulgarity and unless they’re old enough to handle it, leave them at home.
Hey all. Going to keep on writing today and bring you a couple more reviews pretty soon. Look for Bad Santa, Old School and the older film Dream With the Fishes. Keep checking back. And for all of you waiting for The Matrix, I'm having some player problems, so I'll try to get that worked out and get that review as soon as I can. I know you're all at the edge of your seat.
Review by Jon Waterman
A mental institution’s top psychiatrist heads home one night. Out of nowhere a girl appears in the middle of the road before her. She crashes her car in a ditch to avoid hitting the young woman. The next thing she knows, she’s back in the asylum – as a patient. Now she has to convince her former coworkers that she doesn’t belong there (at least not on that side of the glass cell) and that she didn’t kill her husband. But more importantly, she must convince herself.
Halle Berry does a good job with the role. It would have been very easy to just “phone it in” and give the bad horror performance we’re used to getting from the genre. Robert Downey Jr. also shows more thought into what he does and says. But the big standout was Penelope Cruz. Her time on screen was relatively limited, but she showed the most range. Halle basically went from afraid to angry and sometimes both at the same time. Cruz got to play the wise ass, the maniac, the victim and the teacher. Every time her character showed up, it took on a new meaning and personality. The only real sore spot in the cast was John Carroll Lynch. He hammed it up and took it upon himself to bring that suspense genre-acting stereotype back to the forefront.
Despite the above average performances, not much else makes the movie stand out. The storyline had problems. Writer Sebastian Gutierrez tried to cram a bit too much in at the end to wrap everything up. It all got to be too crowded and laughable. The film was fine when it was just about Berry trying to figure out if she actually was in her right mind (even though that got tiresome). Then it had to add all this other stuff that I won’t go into. It all seemed like a cheap way out of a plot that started getting redundant.
The film made use of camera tricks to some extent, but luckily they were limited. The music brought nothing of interest. The whole structure screamed typical to me. Swell the music and then stop it. Bring in something to scare in a second afterwards. There really was only one scare in the whole movie and I certainly don’t remember those musical conventions being involved. If a movie is marketed as a scary-type movie, then put a few more legitimate scares in there for us.
The film had some potential. It could have broken away from the conventions of the typical thriller and become more of a think piece. All the normal moves were there. The audience was given no credit. This could have been a great psychological film, but no one (not even the characters) was allowed to analyze anything. We were not meant to try to figure out what was going on in Halle’s mind. That seems like a big mistake to me. Very average fare. Don’t rush to see it.
Monday, December 08, 2003
Well, I took the weekend off, but rest assured that I will get caught up. It may be that I won't get anything else written until later in the week, so don't feel sad if nothing new shows up until then. I'll do my best to keep writing for you loyal readers. From filmbrats.com, have a happy Monday!
Review by Jon Waterman
A troubled young woman longs to do something with her life. She’s tired of people treating her like a porcelain doll just because she happens to cut herself to alleviate pain from other areas of her life. So, she goes out and gets a job. She uses her typing skills to get a secretarial position with a lawyer. Soon, their relationship takes an unusual turn and the troubled young woman no longer has to cut herself, instead preferring a different form of punishment.
Both the lawyer (Mr. Grey) and the secretary (Lee) have their own little taboos (or big – depending on your mindset). The film centers itself around watching them deal with their problems within the office setting and seeing Lee try to adapt hers into normal daily life. Lee has a new boyfriend whose ignorance and inability to understand her wants and desires just furthers her condition. Mr. Grey wants to make sure he doesn’t go off the deep-end and do something he’ll regret later. The movie is called “Secretary” which means we essentially only follow Lee and her inner-struggles, and that’s fine…it works well. I wouldn’t mind seeing another movie showing the exact same story from Mr. Grey’s perspective. His character is just as introspective and interesting as Lee’s. Perhaps it’s even more intriguing, because we never get any solid background as to why he acts the way he does.
One of the most unusual things about the film is not the personality quirks of the two leads (Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader); it’s the size and the look of the lawyer’s office. His building seems to be unnecessarily huge with long hallways. I’m sure that could all be rationalized reasonably, but in the office is something that made me wonder. Instead of law books lining the walls, he has a mini-nursery and other luxurious items. We also never see him work. Maybe it would have made the movie boring, but it also would have helped to explain how he got such a nice space. If we see Spader alone, he’s usually either circling mistakes on a paper or staring off contemplatively into space.
Both Spader and Gyllenhaal give great performances. The film is all about feelings and so being able to read facial expressions is crucial. When Mr. Grey is talking to Lee and explaining to her that she’ll never have to cut herself again, you can hear the confidence in his voice, but look into his eyes and his fear shows up. He’s afraid because the cycle is starting again. On the other end, Lee’s eyes show admiration and trust coming through the shame, because she’s only really listening to what he’s saying and not paying attention to his eyes. The two continuously play off each other appropriately like this for the entire length of the film. All the actors do a great job with their parts.
“Secretary” was wonderfully acted, written and filmed. What makes it so good is that it doesn’t try to pretend like the main characters are unusual people. They’re normal, but they just happen to also prefer to do certain things. The audience is never meant to (or allowed to) pity Lee or Mr. Grey because they suffer from a condition. Instead, we laugh at the implementation of their personality differences. There is quite a bit of humor in this dark comedy to alleviate any tension. The movie makes for an interesting topic, so now let’s see the complementing piece, “Boss.”
Friday, December 05, 2003
Check it out. I'm getting caught up ever so steadily. Watch out, because I don't have tests until Wednesday at the earliest. Wooeee! Review, Baby, Review.
Die, Mommie, Die
Review by Jon Waterman
Angela Arden used to be a big time singer. She made a killing with her sister with her voice. Now, she’s making a killing again. She murders her demanding big shot producer husband in order to get back into the business and finally be free. Family issues won’t make her life easy after all. Her daughter is on to her and is looking for proof, or better yet, revenge.
Charles Busch (“Psycho Beach Party”) stars in this homage to the screen legends of the golden age of cinema. He plays Angela. I couldn’t decide whether he was the lead because he wrote the play (and the script) and it was always intended for him or if there was an extra little parody factor involved. Since Charles is a man playing a woman, was he doing so to say that some of those leading ladies were looking man-ish? Either way, it all paid off. He did a wonderful job. I’d be concerned if he didn’t since he knows the material so well.
Director Mark Rucker handled the parodies and the style very well. I won’t pretend to get most of the more subtle references that may be in the film, but I can at least recognize the more outstanding elements. It’s easy to enjoy the Vaseline on the lens for Angela’s close-ups or the extra shimmer of light placed on her face at all time. Everyone has a good laugh at the exceedingly fake backdrops and the exaggerated facial expressions. The vibrant Technicolor coordinated costumes and the overly purposefully awful acting add to the hokey old movie film feel they’re trying to capture.
The plot gets to be ridiculous. That’s okay, though…it’s supposed to. Just when you think the film is heading somewhere it switches directions, then it switches again, then heads back because it forgot something at point B. Throw in a bunch of unnecessary subplots and time spent with characters that never get fleshed out and you end up getting a “what the –“ ending that can only make you chuckle and appreciate the movie a little more.
If you watch a lot of classic movie channels or are a film buff from the baby boomer generation, then you will really get a kick out of this film. Film students of my generation may have fun and enjoy the concept behind it, but not fully understand it. If you’re a casual movie watcher who basically sees only contemporary films, then this one won’t be for you. The film won’t send people out to the video store and make them want to rent a bunch of classic movies – which is a shame. However, the movie does what it intends to do. Just make sure you’re the right audience for it.
Thursday, December 04, 2003
Alright. School has slowed down now. I will have more time to catch up. Here's what's to come. Die Mommy Die, Secretary, Gothika and Bad Santa. Also later, I will try to get around to watching and reviewing The Matrix (the first one) and The Animatrix (just to complete the series for you all. So, keep checking back and I should be getting more stuff up for you.
School of Rock
Review by Jon Waterman
When Dewey Finn gets kicked out of a band he started, he becomes disillusioned in his dreams to become a full-time rocker. With rent and expenses piling up and pressure coming from his roommate’s girlfriend, he finally breaks down and gets a real job. He steals his roommate’s identity as a substitute teacher and takes over a class in a preppy private school. So, he teaches these kids the only thing he knows: Rock.
It’s very important to understand that Jack Black is the lead of this movie. There are a lot of parts that make it seem like the role was written especially for him. To me, that makes the movie less funny, because the humor isn’t coming from Black’s comedic acting, it’s coming from someone else writing in Black’s acting style. Basically he plays the same character as in “High Fidelity” except with heart (and also we’re expecting a good performance this time around whereas it was a shock that he was such a stand out in “Hi Fi.”). However, if you are not familiar with Black from that film or from his band, Tenacious D, his wacky antics and his toned down, nice approach to Sam Kinison-like screaming may hit your funny bone a little harder.
As for the other actors, they’re virtually all kids. They are also virtually all bad. I hope these kids don’t read reviews, because I don’t want to really hold back. However, I feel that they probably picked the children more on their musical talents rather than their acting ability. I can’t really say I blame them. I prefer this casting method. It’s better to have kids that can play their instruments than ones that are truly outstanding actors. Children aren’t expected to wow us with their performances, especially in a comedy.
How was the comedy, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. It was okay. It took a little long to get any good laughs going. Once they started, the movie did a pretty good job of keeping them coming steadily enough to keep the entertainment level up. Writer Mike White (who also plays Dewey’s roommate) also keeps tabs on the plot. It all flows very nicely without repeating too much or putting unnecessary elements in there just for extra laughs. It focuses more on telling the story effectively than making the audience laugh, thus accomplishing both.
It may not be the funniest movie of the year, but comedy is hard. The story telling mixed with the charm and humor of Jack Black make it one of the better comedies of the year anyway. I’d say this one’s worth a rental.