Review – Splice

Posted June 7, 2010 by David Messmer
Categories: Movies, New Movies, Reviews

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Remember, I generally hate movies.

Splice was no exception.  I didn’t actually know that much about it going in, but it’s been such a dreadful summer for movies that when I saw that it hadn’t gotten awful reviews I decided to go for it.  So, yes, once again, Hollywood got about $10 0f my money because I just wanted the experience of going to the theater, quality be damned.

The irony is that I usually don’t like horror movies (I know, I know, I don’t like any movies – but I really, really, don’t like horror movies).  Basically, a horror movie can result in one of two things: it succeeds and I’m scared (I don’t like that), or it fails and I’m not (I don’t like that).  There’s no good outcome.  Unfortunately, “no good outcome” is a perfect description of this whole summer movie season, so Splice it was.

This movie falls into the second of the categories that I just outlined for horror films – it is an abject failure that didn’t scare me a bit.  While that’s okay with me on an emotional level, on an aesthetic level it’s a complete let-down.

The closes the movie ever came to actually being frightening occurred towards the beginning.  During this scene (they actually show most of it in the trailer) the lead scientist (Sarah Polley) is in the room with her new splice-monster, but she doesn’t know where it is.  Meanwhile, her scientist husband (Adrian Brody) has turned away from the viewing window, and can’t hear her as she calls for him.  This two minute sequence is the one and only truly tense, suspenseful moment in the film.

Unfortunately, it is completely derivative of another film: Aliens.  Not only is it derivative, but it is also vastly inferior.  The thing in the room with her isn’t a face hugging, orally raping, chest bursting, killing machine, it’s a human spliced with animal DNA that will turn into a faux little girl.  And the guy whose attention she can’t get isn’t a corporate goon secretly setting her up, it’s her husband, who helps her raise the little splice-monster girl into a splice-monster adolescent.

Fortunately for the adoptive couple (and for the director), the splice-monster matures very quickly, and it’s adoptive mother is in possession of an abandoned farm that is perfectly suited to raising a splice-monster.  And so, that’s what happens – they head out to the country where we get to watch the loving couple learn the various pratfalls of raising a Splice-monster daughter.  It’s kind of like Three Men and A Baby, only there’s one man, one woman, and the baby has a tail.

All of this goes on for an hour and a half.  The splice-monster throws fits, won’t eat its food, wants to have a pet, learns how to spell, deals with puberty, etc., etc.  When the splice-monster threatens to jump off the roof, only to change its mind and run into its “dad”‘s arms when he says “I love you,” I felt like I was watching a feel-good Disney movie rather than a horror flick.

But then, the movie finally took a turn.  Sure, it took way too long to get there, but I will admit that the final few sequences in the film were at least pretty remarkable, though I still wouldn’t classify them as remotely scary – or good.  I won’t spoil what happens, but I will say that it transcended the monotony of the first three-quarters of the movie and at least started to become interesting – although in a totally disturbing, repulsive sort of way.

Unfortunately, it was too little too late.  Had the movie gone in this disturbing direction from the start, I would have left the theater feeling a little weirded out, but at least feeling something.  Instead, I felt like I had sat through a whole lot of boredom for a payoff that wasn’t nearly worth the effort. In the end, this was a horribly written mash of pseudo-science with fifteen minutes worth of interesting ideas stretched into a full-length feature film.  At one point in the movie, the splice-monster uses some Scrabble tiles to spell out “tedious.”

Well put, splice-monster.

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Review – The Human Centipede

Posted May 9, 2010 by David Messmer
Categories: Movies, New Movies, Reviews

Tags: , , , , ,

Remember, I generally hate movies.

Following a bit of a hiatus, I’m back.  And what a movie to get things going again!

After seeing The Human Centipede, I had two different, but related reactions: I liked the movie, but I didn’t necessarily like myself after realizing that I liked the movie.

Of course, I was already a little skeptical of myself for wanting to see the movie at all.  The premise of the film is frighteningly simple, shockingly original, and absolutely repulsive.  I might come to hate myself if I actually type a description, so I’ll just rely on the trailer to relate the premise for me:

So, yes, it’s a film about a guy who attaches people’s mouths to other people’s anuses to form a human centipede.  And that’s about it.  There’s really no character development (two of the characters can’t even speak because their mouths are, well, occupied).  There’s not much of a narrative.  There’s no real sense of surprise (the opening of the film makes it clear that the film was made under the assumption that its audience already knows what it’s about).  The entire film is really nothing more than a vehicle for the aforementioned conjoining of mouths and anuses.

And such is the movie’s charm.  I went to see the movie at a sold-out midnight showing and everyone in the theater already knew what was coming.  We weren’t there for the normal reasons that people go to see movies, we were there to see a human centipede.  This wasn’t really a movie, it was a freak-show.

And it delivered.  Sure enough, about half way through the movie, three people are attached to each other via digestive track (which is a fancy way of saying ass-to-mouth).  And, sure enough, it’s pretty remarkable in its own right.

But what was still more remarkable is how many other good things there are to say about the movie.

First, there is the performance of Dieter Laser as the mad scientist who, having retired from his career as a leading specialist at separating conjoined twins, has decided to spend his golden years conjoining things – especially digestive tracks.  Laser seems to revel in the role – giving it a delightful blend of creepiness and tongue-in-cheek (no pun intended) campiness.  The delight he expresses when he creates “my centipede!” and the sense of relief and indignation he conveys when he declares to his misbehaving victim “you will be my middle piece!” are simultaneously repulsive and hilarious.

And this fits very well with the second excellent aspect of this film.  The premise of the movie is, needless to say, disgusting and disturbing.  But the film doesn’t do much to amp up those qualities.  Director Tom Six seems confident that the premise alone will satisfy shock-cinema fanatics, and thus doesn’t try too hard to put terribly graphic images on the screen.  Throughout the movie, the image that probably got the strongest “ewww” from the audience was the shot of Laser’s naked body as he swims in an indoor pool.

Instead of shocking images, then, Six puts his energies into making sure that the film is fun.  And, at almost every turn, he succeeds.  There is a palpable sense of humor running throughout the movie – from the tombstone marking the final resting place of “My Sweet Three Dog,” to the scientist’s moment of slapstick as he crawls along the floor after the human centipede stabs him in the leg.

Even the image of the human centipede itself, rather than emphasizing the gruesome nature of what is going on, instead turns the whole thing into an extreme and twisted form of scatological humor.  Throughout the film I was no more repulsed than I was when I first entered the theater, but I was always thoroughly entertained, from the opening shot of the scientist acquiring his first victim to the delightfully surprising and twisted ending.

All this amounted to a pleasant surprise.  I still think a little less of myself for going to see the movie.  And I’m not sure what it says about me that I enjoyed it.  But I can say that what could have been a couple hours of drudgery mixed with the occasional horrific image turned out to be a hilarious romp through the darkest of dark aspects of human behavior.

At one point, I laughed out loud as the scientist licked a puddle of blood and feces off the floor.  Getting a laugh out of such a thing is either a filmic accomplishment, or a disturbing comment on my mental well-being.  I chose to believe that it is the former.

Reasons I Hate Movies #4: January-April

Posted February 18, 2010 by David Messmer
Categories: Movies, Reasons I Hate Movies

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I like going to the movie theater.  As this blog proves, I don’t always like the actual movies I see there, but the experience of going to a movie theater is pleasant in its own right.  It’s not enough, though, to warrant going if I don’t think there’s at least some chance that the movie I’ll see is at least decent.

Which is why the first four months of every year are so miserable.  There is nothing worth seeing this time of year.  The movie studios save all of their big blockbusters for the summer so that they can cash in on all of the teenagers who are out of school and searching for something to do with themselves.  They save all of their “quality” dramas for the fall so that these films will still be on people’s minds come Oscar season.  So, since making films that don’t fit the blockbuster or Oscar formula is absolutely out of the question, come January there’s nothing left.

Of course, theaters can’t afford to shut down for four months, so they have to show something.  So what do movie studios do?  They run all of the movies that they’ve held onto because they either wouldn’t be a big box office draw or weren’t good enough to get Oscar buzz.  In other words, they release all of their stored up crap.

Take, for instance, last year’s He’s Just Not That Into You.

This was a movie based on a book that Oprah made famous back in 2005.  Trying to capitalize on the popularity of that book, the studios rushed to make a romantic comedy based on its premise.  So they lined up an all-star cast of B-level celebrities, made some references to trendy new pieces of pop culture like Myspace and text messages, and prepared to rake in the cash as masses of people lined up to see the “feel good movie of the year.”  The only problem is that by the time the movie came out, the book that it was based on was yesterday’s news and Facebook had made Myspace obsolete.

So what happened?  Apparently, even the studios seemed to realize that this movie was crap – and that’s saying something.  But, they’d already made the thing so they were stuck with a multi-million dollar dud that wouldn’t make a penny in theaters if it went up against special effects blockbusters or films that were getting Oscar buzz.  So they held onto it and waited for a time when it wouldn’t have to compete against any films that anyone even remotely cared about.  That time was last February.

Sadly, the strategy worked.  He’s Just Not That Into You hit #1 at the box office and went on to make almost $94 million domestically.  Never mind that it wasn’t even a remotely decent film.  Never mind that its references and even its title were completely dated before the film even came out.  Like a college student getting excited to eat a microwaved pizza that’s been in the freezer for several months because it breaks up a steady diet of Ramen noodles, desperate audiences flocked to the theater to see Jennifer Aniston and Drew Berrymore go through the motions and pick up giant pay checks.

And this has become a yearly ritual.  I haven’t been to the theaters in a couple months.  I’d really like to go.  But I just can’t bring myself to see Wolfman or Valentine’s Day no matter how desperate I am.

In fact, the trend of dumping bad movies on audiences this time of year is so pervasive that even movies that I might normally be interested in, like Scorcese’s Shutter Island, make me nervous.  Sure, it’s a Scorcese (I don’t care what anybody says, his name should be pronounced “score-cease”) film, but why is coming out now?  Why would a director whose films usually generate Oscar buzz come out in February?  There can only be one reason – it isn’t good.

So, I’ll do my best to resist.  As much as I miss the theater, going now will only reinforce the movie studio’s bad behavior.  Instead, for the next few months, I’m putting them in time out.  Yes, I’m treating them like I would a naughty child.  And, yes, that is what they deserve.  And yes, that is another reason that I hate movies.

Academy Award Predictions

Posted February 5, 2010 by David Messmer
Categories: Movies, Uncategorized

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So this year’s Academy Award nominations are upon us.  Having seen the list I have come to the conclusion that the sole goal of the Academy is to piss me off.

The first thing to stoke my ire was the the decision to include ten nominees for best picture.  At first I thought maybe some of the excellent small budget films that can’t afford to campaign against the big-studio blockbusters will actually get some recognition for a change.  Unfortunately, that isn’t how it worked out.  Rather than rewarding unconventional or non-mainstream films, the Academy used their bloated nomination format to give still more hype to mediocre big studio drivel.  

The Blind Side, for instance – a movie whose sole purpose is to exchange expensive movie tickets for some cheap sentimental tears – clearly benefited from the overblown nomination list while an excellent and original film like Moon still can’t get any Oscar attention.  There is no way that The Blind Side is better than Moon.

Then, of course, there are the two atrocities that continue to make cinema in 2009 a colossal joke.  Somehow, the tripe that is Avatar tied for the most nominations , including best picture, while the year’s best film, Where the Wild Things Are got none.  I’ve ranted on both of these topics enough in the last few months, so I won’t go into it again.  I don’t want to bore my readers, and, frankly, I’m emotionally spent.

As much as this year’s nominations have let me down, though, I still feel that, as a movie blogger, I have to offer my predictions.  So, since I’m convinced that the Oscars are nothing more than a giant, star-studded hoax whose aim is to fill me with rage (no, I don’t think I’m exaggerating and yes, I really am that narcissistic), I’m going to assume that the winner of each category will be the winner that will most piss me off.  Here, then, are my choices:

Best Original Screenplay – From what I’ve heard about Inglorious Basterds the writing was simply fantastic, so there’s no way it’s going to win.  Up was great, too, so it doesn’t stand a chance.  A Serious Man was not only a terrible movie, but the Cohen Brothers are my filmic nemeses, so they should be a lock for this one.

Best Adapted Screenplay – The fact that Where the Wild Things Are didn’t get a nomination here is enough to get me riled up, but I’m sure the Academy will top off this indignity by giving the award to the inexplicably over-hyped Up in the Air.

Visual Effects – This should be the one and only award that Avatar wins, and it probably does deserve it.  That, and the fact that every time I hear the word Avatar now I cringe, makes this one a no-brainer.

Sound Mixing – In making the Transformers movies, Michael Bay has taken a Megatron sized dump on my childhood.  I’m sure the Academy will follow suit by giving Revenge of the Fallen a gold statue.

Sound Editing – Since I have no real investment in this category it seems like a great chance for the Academy to slip in yet another punch to the gut by rewarding Avatar for completely wasting three hours of my life.

Short Film (Both Live Action & Animated) – I don’t know anything about the nominees, nor do I care to.  My guess is that, knowing this, the Academy will waste my time by giving the awards to whoever will make the longest and most incomprehensible speeches, as seems to be the case every year.  I mean, come on, we’ve never even heard of you or your film, why on earth would we want to hear you thank the film crew and your parents?   Just grab your phallic statue and get off the stage.

Music (Original Song) – I don’t know about the winner, but I’m guessing that we’ll get an uninspired performance of each song during the ceremony so that the Academy can fill more time and sell more commercials.  In fact, this is probably the safest bet of the night.

Music (Original Score)Fantastic Mr. Fox‘s music was interesting and memorable and actually contributed to the tone of the story, but Karen O didn’t get a nomination for her work on Wild Things, so I can only assume that the Academy doesn’t reward that kind of thing.  I’m guessing throw away orchestral music is more the Academy’s speed, so Avatar should get this one.

Makeup – Like the short film categories, this one is best when the award goes to someone giving a short acceptance speech.  Therefore, I’m assuming that this year it’ll be a three way tie and we’ll get to hear three people we’ve never heard of talk about how much they appreciate what their third grade teacher taught them about eyeliner.

Foreign Language Film – I haven’t seen any of these, so I’m going to guess that it’ll go to A Prophet since it’s French.  I have a complicated relationship to all things French.

Film Editing – Given the inordinate and unnecessary length of Avatar I refuse to believe that they did any editing at all.  This three hour monstrosity should have been 90 minutes max, and yet they’ll get the award even though all four of the other films are clearly superior in this category.

Documentary (Short Subject) – See other short film categories.

Documentary (Feature) – It would take someone pretty naive not to know how screwed up the U.S. food industry is.  I’m all for doing what we can to make a difference, but Food, Inc. was poorly made and didn’t really tell me all that much that I didn’t already know.  This is an extremely important issue, but I just didn’t think that this was an extremely important documentary.  In other words, it’s just what the Academy is looking for.

Costume Design – This award is the whole reason that we have to endure at least one melodramatic period movie every year.  The Young Victoria should keep that trend going.

Cinematography Avatar‘s cinematography happened in three dimensions, which has never been done before!  James Cameron invented 3-D film technology, so he deserves this one for sure.  Oh wait, 3-D movies have been around since 1922?  Eh, he can have the award anyway.

Art Direction – Jungles with giant trees in them apparently pass for imagination in today’s Hollywood.  Chalk another one up for Avatar.

Animated Feature Film – Wow, the Academy actually can’t go wrong here.  This was a great year for animated film and, for the first time in years, Pixar isn’t a lock to win it (even though Up is one of their very best movies). I predict that the Academy will lose the envelope and there will be no winner.

Actress in a Supporting Role – Anna Kendrick’s performance was awful, and having to share the screen with George Clooney and Vera Farmiga, both of whom were excellent, just highlighted that she wasn’t up to the task, so I would say that Kendrick’s going to get it.  However, watching Farmiga try to act happy for her inferior co-star would be pretty amusing, and the Academy doesn’t want me to enjoy anything about these awards.  So, I’m going to say this one will go to Penelope Cruz, whose existence perpetually annoys me.

Actor in a Supporting Role – This is another one that the Academy inexplicably got right.  Every time Woody Harrelson has success, though, it makes it harder for me to picture him as Woody Boyd from Cheers, thus slightly diminishing my enjoyment of the greatest sit-com of all time.  For that reason, I think Harrelson will take it.

Actor in a Leading Role – Much like Harrelson’s success tarnishes my enjoyment of Cheers, Clooney’s makes it hard to think of him as George Burnett, and thus The Facts of Life falls a bit in my esteem.  He’ll win the award to spite both me and Tootie.

Actress in a Leading Role – Meryl Streep gave a wonderful performance in Julia & Julia (has she ever not given a wonderful performance?), but the film was just so bad.  As long as “yeah, the movie was terrible, but [insert great actress/actor here]’s peformance made it worth watching” is a common phrase in movie culture I just can’t support giving Streep the award.  Which means she’ll get it.

Director – As James Cameron walks towards the stage to accept his award, I’ll be posing the knife above my heart…

Best Picture – …and when Avatar wins Best Picture I’ll plunge it in.

Why Avatar Is an Over-Rated Pile of Dung

Posted January 22, 2010 by David Messmer
Categories: Movies, Reviews, Why [classic movie] is an over-rated pile of dung

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As I said in my last postAvatar has earned the dubious distinction of becoming a part of my “Over-Rated Pile of Dung” series even before it has left theaters for the first time.  This represents a concession: Avatar will go down as a classic.  Just writing that made me pull out half my hair (I’m saving the other half for when Avatar wins the Academy Award for Best Picture).  So, I’m preemptively going to explain why it doesn’t deserve to be a classic and should, instead, be permanently stricken from pop-culture.

Since I reviewed Avatar so recently, I don’t want to just repeat the critiques that I outlined there, so I’m going to take a slightly different approach.  I’m going to humor all of the idiots out there (Steven Spielberg among them) who have favorably compared Avatar to Star Wars.  So, let’s look at the similarities that the two films share – I’ll start with the praise:

1.  Ground breaking special effects – This is the one place that I will say Avatar shines, although even then it’s largely over-rated.  I will admit that the technology that allowed James Cameron to capture the performances of living actors and then transpose those performances onto CGI characters was original and impressive (whether or not any of those performances were worth capturing is another question).

What so many fans of Avatar seem to forget, though, is that James Cameron didn’t invent CGI or 3-D film-making.  Sure, he might have pushed the limits of what CGI had done before, but so has just about every major CGI movie of the past decade or so.  And 3D movies have been around for decades.  In both of these regards Avatar just seems like an incremental step rather than a paradigm shift.  The special effects in Star Wars changed the way movies were made.  The special effects in Avatar will do nothing of the sort.

2.  Original Aesthetics – It’s easy to forget since we’ve seen so many copies of it in the past thirty years, but Star Wars‘ “used universe” look was completely original back in 1977.  We hadn’t seen anything like it.

The colorful jungles of Avatar?  Nothing new.  The Jungle Book, Pocahontas, the Star Wars prequels, heck, last summer’s Up all used some variation of bright saturated colors in natural surroundings to try to give a simultaneously familiar and exotic look.  The overall color palate was eye-catching, sure, but so is the color pallet of Lady Gaga’s wardrobe, that doesn’t mean I want to stare at it for three hours.

3.  Imagination – Wookies, TIE-Fighters, Lightsabers, R2-D2, Jawas – Star Wars was full of iconic characters, vehicles, and creatures.  Sure, George Lucas has been grasping at straws ever since but, for a brief period in the late 70s and early 80s, his mind seemed to be bursting with completely original ideas that are still instantly recognizable as belonging to the Star Wars universe all these years later.

Avatar does nothing but recycle old ideas.  Sure, the creatures that the Navi ride have six legs and nostrils in their necks, but at their core they’re still just horses.  The flying creatures are just pterodactyles with an extra set of wings.  The giant land creatures that run crashing through the jungle are just overgrown bulls with hammer-head shark noses.  And if 18th century caricatures of Native Americans ever somehow mated with Smurfs, and someone pumped the resulting love-children full of growth hormone, the Navi just might be the result.  Cameron’s imagination is so used up that he even recycles the mechanical suit that Ripley uses to fight the alien in Cameron’s own Aliens.  That’s right, he’s had twenty five years to come up with something new but, apparently, was too busy giving Celine Dion an excuse to make overly-sentimental soundtracks to actually have an original idea.

4.  Politics – Okay, most of us don’t think of Star Wars as a political movie, but it did contain some simple political messages.  It’s a celebration of the power of the individual and the inner self over a mechanized society aiming for homogeneity (meaning that, thirty years later, we could still learn something from Star Wars).  Sure, as a message it’s pretty simple.  But that’s what makes it effective and enduring – Lucas realized that the archetypal, pulp entertainment aesthetic of his movie wasn’t conducive to complicated political interventions.  To try to force it would just be laughable.

Which is exactly what Avatar‘s politics are: utterly and completely laughable.  Big corporations are bad!  Oh no!  Everyone in the military (except the token woman) is evil!  Oh my!  Nature is good!  Hooray!  Science will save us!  Yippee!  Colonization is dastardly!  Oh dear!  When Cameron incorporated lines straight out of Dubya’s mouth I just cringed.  I’m sure there are plenty of pseudo-liberals who just gobbled that stuff up (most people in Hollywood, for instance), but its lack of sophistication and complexity ultimately fails to make any kind of meaningful political statement.

And, really, how could it?  The problems that we’re facing as a society are complex, detailed, and specific.  The simple black/white, good/evil dichotomies of Avatar just aren’t up to the task of engaging the current political moment any more than Star Wars was equipped to take on The Vietnam War or Watergate.  Lucas new this, and steered clear.  Cameron didn’t, and ended up insulting liberals and conservatives alike, not to mention Native Americans, who Cameron apparently still thinks are nothing more than nature loving noble-savages.

Of course, the similarities between Star Wars and Avatar go beyond the praise that people lavish upon them.  They also extend to some of the common critiques of the films.  Here are some examples:

1.  Predictability – It doesn’t take long for most audiences to figure out the basic narrative trajectory of both films.  Lucas, though, gets away with it because the predictability was part of the point.  He was consciously drawing on archetypal narratives following his discovery of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  Then, he combined that with his love of matinee serials like Flash Gordon.  The story was supposed to be predictable.  What kept Star Wars fresh and exciting was all of the imagination that I’ve already mentioned.  We’ve seen the hero’s journey before, but we’ve never seen that hero accompanied by a Wookie and a beeping three-legged trash can of a robot.

Star Wars also benefited from Lucas’ sense of pacing.  He knew that his narrative arc was familiar, so he kept things moving.  There’s some kind of action almost every ten minutes, but the action never lingers – the heroes get out of one scrape and then land in a new one.  Furthermore, he didn’t overstay his welcome – Star Wars clocks in at a very reasonable 120 minutes.

Avatar is almost three hours.  Cameron doesn’t keep things moving.  He lingers.  And lingers.  And lingers.  It isn’t just that we know how the whole story is going to end, we know how individual scenes are going to end, sometimes twenty to thirty minutes before they finally, mercifully come to a close.

But the reason that we know how they’ll end has nothing to do with an homage to classic pulp narratives or to Cameron’s understanding of archetypal figures.  We know how they’ll end because James Fenimore Cooper wrote this story two hundred years ago.  Then Kevin Costner made a movie out of it in 1990.  Then Disney turned it into a cartoon in 1995 (and got a lot of criticism for their portrayal of Native Americans, I might add).  This recurring noble-savage/Pocahontas story isn’t grounded in archetypes that have been around as long as the act of storytelling, it’s grounded in racism that’s been around since the establishment of our country.  As such, this isn’t a narrative that needs to be retold any more than it’s a narrative that takes three hours to tell.

2.  Bad Dialog – Maybe this is why Cameron chose to quote Dubyah – the woodenness of the former President’s speeches fits seamlessly with the woodenness of Cameron’s script.  On this point, though, I will admit that Star Wars isn’t any better.  The dialog in Star Wars is often quite bad.  So congrats to Avatar, it finally matched Star Wars in something.

3.  Bad Acting – Again, congrats to Avatar, it is the equal of Star Wars on this point as well.  That being said, Harrison Ford brings a natural charisma to his role and Alec Guiness was superb as always.  The closest thing Avatar can boast is Sigourney Weaver, who gives it an honest effort but doesn’t have enough screen time (and when she does, she usually has to fight through a CGI Smurf suit) to carry what is otherwise a horrible collection of acting talent.  Carrie Fisher could blame it on drugs – I’m waiting to find out what the cast of Avatar will use as an excuse.

So that about does it.  Avatar resembles Star Wars in only the worst ways.  Ironically, Star Wars was a low-budget film, costing roughly 10 million dollars, whereas Avatar had a bloated (and wasted) 280 million dollar price tag.  While Lucas made film history through ingenuity and creativity, Cameron made the most technologically advanced film ever by simply buying the most advanced technology.  Apparently he also bought a few Golden Globes and, probably, some Academy Awards to boot.  None of this, though, will change the fact that Avatar is an Over-Rated Pile of Dung.

Reasons I Hate Movies #3: Award Shows

Posted January 19, 2010 by David Messmer
Categories: Movies, Reasons I Hate Movies

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The Golden Globes are behind us and they have proven, once again, that award shows have no positive impact on film whatsoever.  Which isn’t to say that the shows themselves can’t have some entertainment value – Ricky Gervais was, after all, hilarious.  But what made him funny was that he constantly took pot-shots at the actors and repeatedly used his sarcasm to point out just how unimportant these multi-millionaires that we shower with awards and attention really are.

Unfortunately, that irony seemed lost on the many undeserving winners.

And such is the irony of award shows.  Presumably they exist to reward good film making but, instead, all they do is keep bad movies and unimportant actors in our collective conscious far longer than they deserve.  Sure, there is the occasional deserving win – No Country for Old Men for instance – but those movies would have stood the test of time with or without an award.  Those movies don’t benefit from the award nearly as much as the award benefits from them since it acts to validate the accuracy of the award.  But once they secure that validation it seems that award shows remain intent upon spending it on crappy films that we should all forget but that, because of a Best Picture Oscar or a Best Director Golden Globe, people will continue to talk about for years.

And such was the case last night.  A movie like The Hangover was fine for what it was – a mildly amusing way to lose two hours of a Sunday afternoon.  But an award winning film?  That’s ridiculous.  But now it won’t simply laps into obscurity as it should since it has inexplicably changed from a throw away comedy to an award-winning piece of cinema.

Which brings me to my two biggest complaints about last night’s show: the almost complete exclusion of Where the Wild Things Are from the nominations, and the infuriating celebration of Avatar.

I’ve already chronicled my love of Where the Wild Things Are, but I realize that it isn’t everybody’s cup of tea.  It is unusual and unsettling and asks a lot of the viewer on a narrative and emotional level.  In other words, it’s a provocative and original film.  Maybe it doesn’t deserve to win many awards since it didn’t achieve widespread appeal, but it definitely deserved at least a nomination – after all, it takes something truly remarkable to polarize audiences the way Wild Things did. It doesn’t, though, take anything remarkable to try to get some cheap laughs out of a few Mike Tyson gags, yet that apparently warrants not only a nomination, but a Best Comedy or Musical Award.  Love it or hate it, Where the Wild Things is an affecting experience.  The Hangover is nothing of the sort.

And then there’s Avatar.  I’ve already chronicled my disdain for this film, so I won’t go into it here.  Instead, since the acclaim that it’s achieved is so colossally undeserved I’m going to give it a very dubious honor: it will be the first movie to ever become a part of my “Why [classic movie] is an over-rated pile of dung” series before it even leaves theaters.  This will be the subject of my next post.

But the very notion that I could already be objecting to the “classic” status of Avatar brings me back to my initial objection to award shows.  The Golden Globes that Avatar won for Best Director and Best Drama, and what I fear are the inevitable Academy Awards for Director and Film that I foresee coming in March, will make Avatar, like Gladiator and  Crash before it, an instant classic, event though it is a horrendous piece of trite and unimaginative garbage.  Without award shows, the novelty of 3D would eventually wear off and everyone would probably come to realize what a bad movie Avatar really is.  But with the backing of a bunch of gold statuettes, the movie-going public will continue to erroneously believe that a technological marvel (which Avatar admittedly is) is also an artistic marvel (which it definitely is not).

But mark my words.  Award shows aside – in twenty years, love it or hate it, viewers will remember Where the Wild Are on a level that Avatar isn’t even sophisticated enough to know to try to achieve.  I just hope that means more to Spike Jones than silly trophies do.

Decade in Review – Random Awards

Posted December 29, 2009 by David Messmer
Categories: Movies, Uncategorized

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Having already covered the best and most overrated films of the decade, I’ll use my decade-ending post to offer a few specialty awards.  The specificity of these categories makes a long list of films a little unnecessary, although there were multiple contenders for some of them.  I’ll start with the most dubious award of all:

Worst Film of the Decade – Birth (2004)

This one almost went to Catwoman.  After all, any film that features Halle Berry in fetish gear and yet still bores me is a pretty retched movie.  But, in the end, Catwoman does boast that aforementioned fetish gear, while Birth just features Nicole Kidman molesting a child.  Add to that a ridiculous and completely implausible plot, some of the worst film music ever (seriously, it made me want to gouge out my ear-drums), bad acting, and bad directing and you have the worst film of the decade.  It was creepy when it was supposed to be moving, boring when it was supposed to be tense, and funny when it was supposed to be dramatic.  Awful.  Just awful.

Biggest Disappointment of the Decade – Spiderman 3 (2007)

Following a solid first movie and a genuinely excellent second installment of the franchise, it seemed that Spiderman 3 had all the makings of a spectacular ending to that rarest of breeds: a quality comic book movie trilogy.  Instead, the trilogy ended with a spectacular, Superman 3 sized turd.  The action sequences were completely incomprehensible and extremely, mind-numbingly long.  Meanwhile, the plot never cohered into a compelling story.  By the time Black-suit Spiderman/emo Peter Parker showed up I was ready for the whole affair to be over, but, alas, it went on for another hour and a half.  All of the actors looked bored out of their minds and who could blame them?  They should have walked off the set just like I should have left the theater.

Worst Repeat View of the Decade – Iron Man (2008)

I really liked this movie the first time I saw it.  So, when I got my first Blu-Ray player and thought about what movie would really benefit from the 1280p that I had just invested in, Iron Man jumped to mind.  But upon further review, something occurred to me: this movie focuses way too much on building super-suits.  First, Tony Stark makes a suit as a hostage in a terrorist camp.  Then he makes a suit in his lab and becomes Iron Man.  Then his nemesis, Dr. Evil Iron Man Suit Guy makes a suit.  Then they put on their suits and fight.  The superior acting and interesting special effects carried me through the film the first time, but the second time all this suit building added up to a giant bore.

Most Needlessly Overblown “Epic” of the Decade – King Kong (2005)

Fresh off the beautifully epic Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson apparently felt compelled to follow with another epic movie.  The problem was, his subject simply wasn’t epic.  The plot of King Kong is, in fact, disarmingly simple.  Not to be deterred, Jackson did everything he could to make the movie feel a lot bigger than it was.  During the excruciatingly long journey to Skull Island, Jackson used foreshadowing, dark music, wide camera shots, and tons of over-acting in a vain attempt to build tension and suspense.  The problem was, we all knew what was on that island: a giant ape.  And we all know what happens to that ape: he climbs the Empire State Building and gets killed by some airplanes.  It doesn’t take two and a half hours to tell that story.

Most Likely to Make Me Kill Myself – Dancer in the Dark (2000)

 

I left the interpretation of this category open – it could have been a film that made me want to kill myself due to its awfulness, due to its being disgusting, due to guilt, or whatever.  In the end, Dancer in the Dark was the runaway winner for just being a gut-wrenchingly depressing and emotionally brutal movie.  Watching this movie was like getting punched in the gut for two hours… by Bjork (in other words, I felt like that reporter in Thailand).  In the end, I think it’s a great movie, but I’m not sure that I’ll ever put myself through watching it again.

So far these awards have been pretty dark – so I’ll end the decade on a more positive note.  Here are a couple of more affirming categories:

Most Underrated Film of the Decade – King of Kong (2007)

When I ask people if they’ve seen this movie, far too many answer “no.”  Any documentary that can make its viewers actually care who holds the title of Donkey Kong Champion of the World is clearly the work of a rare and exceptional talent.  Seth Gordon pulls it off while always maintaining a sense of the absurdity of it all.  Not to mention, this movie introduces the world to one of the most intriguing villians – ne human beings – in all of film: Billy Mitchell.  The free Donkey Kong machine in the lobby was the icing on the cake.

Most Pleasant Surprise of the Decade – Burn After Reading (2008)

I’ve had so many issues with Coen Brothers movies that it was nice to finally feel like I was in on the joke.  Rather than the usual cleverness of Coen Brothers films – a cleverness that overwhelms their potential funninessBurn After Reading really went after the humor of the script, and all of the actors followed suit.  Any film that features a dildo chair and that can make me laugh at someone getting brutally murdered by a hacksaw is a film worth seeing.

And so ends the decade.  I’d feel a little sad except that I’m sure the studios are already hard at work on another decade of bad movies for us all to spend our money on.  When they do, I’ll be sure to point out their awfulness.

Happy New Year!