Posted tagged ‘movie reviews’

Review – Splice

June 7, 2010

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.

Review – The Human Centipede

May 9, 2010

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.

Why The Big Lebowski is an Over-rated Pile of Dung

December 11, 2009

Remember, I generally hate movies.

Also, I am aware that The Big Lebowski has a large and passionate following, and that this post might put me in danger of physical mob violence (or would if mobs of people actually read my blog – needless to say, I’ll sleep easy tonight).  As such, I decided to re-watch the movie just to make sure that I wasn’t missing something the first time I saw it.

I wasn’t.

In fact, rather than finding anything new I actually found something entirely and disappointingly familiar.  Lebowski is, when all is said and done, a stoner movie.  Nothing more, nothing less.  I don’t think I realized this the first time I watched it because it’s a stoner movie hidden underneath a pretty thick veneer of faux-wittiness and clever (not the same as funny) film-making.  But in the end, this is simply a stoner movie.

As such, it suffers from the same flawed premise that hinders most stoner movies: while it is often inherently funny to be high, it isn’t inherently funny to be around someone who’s high – in fact, it’s often incredibly dull and/or frustrating.

Now, I realize that there is actually not a lot of pot smoking going on in Lebowski (the White Russians get a lot more camera time), but Lebowski (or “The Dude”) himself is clearly a typical burn-out: he likes to drink/get high, he’s a dead-beat, he’s harmless, he finds everything a little bewildering, and he’d get along with everyone else a lot better if they’d just be as chill as he is.  So, yes, he’s a burn-out.  And, no, that isn’t funny.

I also realize that the rest of the characters don’t fit the burn-out mold.  In fact, they are really anti-burn-outs; characters who are so un-“chill” that their manic intensity (whether it be about bowling, artistic pretensions, or Vietnam) stands in stark contrast to The Dude’s complete lack of ambition.  Their humor lies in their being foils to The Dude and what he represents.  As a result, the film simply wastes their potential for humor since they are meant to highlight the inherent funniness of The Dude – a funniness that isn’t there.

Take, for instance, one of the film’s most beloved characters.  I’ll be the first to admit that the notion of a brightly dressed pedophile who calls himself “The Jesus” and takes his bowling way too seriously is ripe with comedic potential.  In fact, just writing that last sentence made me chuckle.  But, ultimately, the film doesn’t do much more with this notion than my sentence did.  Instead, it uses The Jesus and the absurd passion he has for crushing his bowling opponents to further highlight Lebowki’s nonchalance.  In other words, The Jesus only exists to make us more aware of The Dude as a burn-out.

Which isn’t funny.

And this was, repeatedly, the problem I had with the movie – the humor of each character was dependent on that character’s interaction with The Dude and the The Dude just wasn’t interesting or original enough to bear that burden.

This was even true of the movie’s visual style.  As I’ve said before, the Coen brothers have a special talent for capturing unusual aesthetics and finding beauty in what we would normally consider the mundane.  In Lebowski that aesthetic centers around the bowling alley and I will be the first to admit that this is probably the most beautiful (and yet still genuine) depiction of a bowling alley I’ve ever seen.

But the question remains: why should I care about a representation of a bowling alley?  Again, the answer is the The Dude.  The film’s striking (no pun intended) representation of the bowling alley highlights Lebowski’s desire to be left alone to waste his life rolling a ball at some pins.  Once again, I don’t find that inherently funny and so, once again, the film wastes its own potential on a flawed central character.

I do want to be clear about one thing, though.  I don’t think the failure of The Dude is in any way a comment on Jeff Bridges’ performance, which was outstanding.  In fact, all of the performance were outstanding.  As were so many other aspects of the film.  Everything was well done and cleverly (again, clever and funny aren’t the same thing) put together.  But, in the end, all that this effort accomplished was to very effectively convey what it’s like to be around a burn-out.  Unfortunately, that means that the film left me a little bored, a little frustrated, and intensely aware of wasted potential.