Sunday, September 22, 2013
Happy 2nd Birthday to The BackLOG! Here's the official announcement for The BackLOG 2014! New location, new movies, new...microwave? That's right, I'm getting back to basics and I'm really determined to make this a huge success this year! Even building a webpage: backlogmovies.com! So share around, enjoy the journey and let's have some fun! And by all means, play around this page a bit to see all of the other reviews from the first BackLOG and the experiments that followed! This is going to be great! Here we go!
at 5:09 PM
Saturday, September 7, 2013
We all have guilty pleasure movies. Ones that we know are bad for numerous reasons, but something about them seems to resonate just the right way like that awkward rotation of your shoulder that you know can’t possibly be good for you but maaaaaan…it just works through your whole body. For me, the biggest and worst offender is the Wachowski’s Speed Racer, but there are others that fit the bill. I don’t like adding to this list; it feels dirty and shallow, but here comes Now You See Me, an insulting mess of a film that for some unknown reason just stayed captivating enough to enjoy.
Now You See Me is a heist movie, despite the fact that it’s focused around a group of magicians. Like with combatting loneliness where some people resort to alcohol or writing movie reviews, here, magic is merely a tool used to complete a series of tasks for a group of street performers that call themselves “The Four Horsemen.” With the sellout shows that they do, the question isn’t so much “how did they do that,” but “why did the show end with everyone getting a ton of money…and how exactly did they obtain it?” As fun of a question as this might be to answer, the majority of the action is spent in a cat and mouse chase where the cops try frantically to figure out the Horsemen’s next move when they really could have just checked StubHub. Alas, intelligence is merely an illusion here.
This film follows the same formula as Se7en, where incredible things happen, cops try to unravel what’s going on, we are quickly preached to by Morgan Freeman that it is part of some grander plan that is “beyond anything we can comprehend,” and eventually we just accept the fact that we’re going to have to wait this one out. Unlike the masterful Se7en however, Now You See Me doesn’t allow us to get wrapped up in the mystery as its happening.
Despite that it wasn’t a “magic” caper like The Illusionist or The Prestige, I still would have like to be allowed to guess from time to time, but unfortunately, like some crappy M. Night Shyamalan film, Now You See Me has an insatiable desire to rub in your face that it’s smarter than you. Morgan Freeman’s character is a debunker who tags along like the creepy kid down the street that your mom forced you to invite to the movies who knows every plot twist and can’t wait to blurt it out. Be it a magic trick or some secret to the scheme, within minutes of being introduced to some new turn in this film, Freeman was standing there giving the play-by-play and taking away from the mystery.
Along with numerous plot errors that the movie chose not to spell out in crayon for the drooling masses (don’t get me started on the romantic story or “the secret world where magic is real”), Now You See Me didn’t have much in the way of characters either. Magicians tend to be smug assholes because that’s how they get you to do what they need you to do in order for their tricks to work. Some do this well and don’t make you feel like an idiot in the process (Penn & Teller) and others are basically one step away from diva status where they would crush the audience like bugs, but the sound would be “mildly uncomfortable” (Criss Angel and everybody in this movie).
The Four Horsemen are not pleasant people to listen to off-stage and the charisma is non-existent in the middle of their act. They merely parade around shouting “looky what I did” and then move on to go bolster their ego somewhere else. The chemistry between these characters is only visible through snide comments and overall; everything just seems a bit too forced. Jesse Eisenberg (or, that guy from The Social Network) can’t seem to get away from just sounding like a dick every time he opens his mouth. He has that same tone as Ellen Page but I’ve seen her smile and heard her laugh before so I know there’s a shred of humanity there; these guys seem to just operate on a completely different wavelength.
Don’t expect an amazing experience out of Now You See Me if you’re looking to be amazed. You won’t be; at most, you’ll be interested because, as I said, this is a guilty pleasure movie. Despite everything that is blatantly, painfully wrong from an analysis standpoint, somehow I stayed curious how everything was going to end up and what it all meant. The twists, for those fleeting moments before Morgan Freeman crashed the party, were good ones and kept me engaged enough to keep trucking along and doing so was actually kind of fun. Once it was over, despite my better judgment, I still thought that it wasn’t half bad…but lord knows I can’t defend that statement if someone wants a deeper answer than “it just was.”
In perhaps its greatest trick of all, Now You See Me does what women pray to do from online dating sites and pulls a 7 from a 4. If you glance at other reviews and check out other scores, the mediocrity that will be suggested by them will be pretty much dead on, but I still say give this one a watch, let your mind wander for a bit and perhaps this grand illusion of a good movie might find some way to captivate you enough to enjoy as well.
at 10:47 PM
Sunday, August 18, 2013
2013 - Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
I hate movies whose trailers leave you on the border of “this might just be a little boring” and “this looks like it could be worth the watch.” It’s even worse when it’s in the middle of the summer that put the “bust” in blockbusters. If you’ve been reading, I haven’t had the best of luck lately and when that happens, the best thing to do is turn to independent film, in this case, the just-charming enough The Way, Way Back. Though not as immediately captivating as some of the more recent indie surprises such as Safety Not Guaranteed or The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Way, Way Back gave me exactly what I was hoping for: a lot of rich content and no crap that was thrown in to squeeze a few extra ticket sales.
In a film filled with perhaps one too many stories, Way Back focuses around young Duncan, who has about as much depth as a soap dish except the soap dish probably has more friends. It’s not that he’s socially inept, he’s socially inexperienced, so much so that not only is everything awkward to him, giving him control of any amount of attention makes everyone else in the room uncomfortable. He’s angsty, bitter, and sits in the way, way back of the Let’s Make A Deal station wagon driven by his mom’s new boyfriend to the summer home he’ll be trapped at for the next few months.
Setting the tone for the relationship he has with his new “family” is the opening conversation where Trent (Steve Carell, aka mom’s new boyfriend) expresses his disgust with Duncan by saying that, all things considered, he rates as a 3 out of 10. I’ve had some experience with 3 out of 10’s lately, I’m fully aware of how low a blow it is. Not to say that Trent is trying to be a bad guy. In fact, he’s a bit right at this point, but it’s clear that his character dynamic is drastically from the 14-year old’s and it’s leaving a nasty taste in his mouth.
The Way, Way Back plays a lot with drastically different character dynamics, but everyone who’s able to connect with each other does so because of other slight nuances. It’s clear that Duncan’s mom, who is also very shy and a bit isolated, feels a sense of openness she probably hasn’t had before when around the overly social Trent, even though you can tell it scares her to death. Duncan’s sorta “love interest” is able to connect with Duncan as the result of understanding what it’s like to be part of a broken home and finding a certain solace in being left alone. The next door neighbor Betty connects with everyone because, after being rejected for another man, apparently your best option at her age is to drink like crazy and force acceptance onto everyone. Obnoxious? Yes. Does it work? …Yes. However, the charm of the movie lies in the connection between Duncan and local water park owner Owen.
Owen, played expertly by Sam Rockwell, is, in my opinion, what turned this movie from “just a little boring” to “worth the watch.” Not foreign to playing the oblivious rebel who loves to be the center of attention, Rockwell ACES this role and serves as the perfect antithesis to everything holy, sacred, and therefore, fundamentally wrong with Duncan’s world. After honestly believing that he has to leave the water park because he is having so much fun it makes other guests uncomfortable (he was sitting alone at a picnic table), Duncan gains the interest of Owen, who clearly gets off on breaking someone out of their shell. Determined in his quest, Owen offers Duncan a job and we’re all treated to the hilarious sanctuary of the Water Wizz water park.
There, Duncan starts to gain a little more confidence in himself and for a little while almost looks like someone who won’t grow up having to give women his credit card number before talking to them. The moments are sweet and fun and I smiled watching the shy Duncan nervously react to having to talk to people without making them feel like it was an inconvenience. Everyone connects with each other in a way that almost looks like it should be a sitcom and Duncan’s home life story is saved for “the one episode where something serious happens.”
Though throughout all of this, something felt a bit unnatural. Perhaps the tone inside and outside of Water Wizz was so drastically different that I expected a much more satisfying moment when the two finally clashed. This didn’t feel like “the summer where everything changed,” but instead “the summer that didn’t COMPLETELY suck.” I wasn’t convinced that anybody really learned anything, but instead learned that they COULD learn something. As I mentioned earlier, perhaps there were just too many stories happening at once. Those little revelations where Duncan was a normal 14 year old kid were too few and far between, quickly diverting back to the rapidly crumbling home situation as mom and “dad” begin to realize perhaps they aren’t so good for each other after all. The “big moment” where Duncan has to be the hero of the situation and be the new man that the summer turned him into was a bit underplayed and anti-climactic then quickly tossed aside with something straight out of a children’s movie.
The Way, Way Back wasn’t really overwhelming and not really underwhelming…but since “whelming” doesn’t actually mean the area between those two, once again I find myself stuck on the border. Amazing that a movie like this is the brain child of Nat Faxon, known for his work on silly Fox sitcoms and moron college comedies, and Jim Rash aka the dean from Community. This was an enjoyable watch, but I didn’t walk away feeling like that was nearly as good as it could have been. In BackLOG speak, that means 7 dustbusters out of 10.
at 9:46 PM
Friday, August 16, 2013
It’s not very often you come across a movie that has so little faith in its own scenes that even it refuses to finish them before moving on to something it hopes will be slightly more interesting. Paranoia is a film where its title only refers to its own self-inflicted feelings that someone will realize by minute 2 that this movie doesn’t have an ounce of wit and intelligence. To think that I was actually excited to see Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman go at it again but, oh wait, clearly those who wanted to see a smart corporate espionage battle between two distinguished veteran actors isn’t the target demographic. Hmmm…who would look good either in a snappy suit or with their shirt off?
Liam Hemsworth plays as Adam Cassidy, an ambitious moron who, after fumbling a pitch so bad (I guess…) he gets his entire team fired, decides to blow $16K from the corporate account on drinks for himself and 4 other people (do the math and it sets the tone nicely for the rest of the movie). Threatened with jail by his ex-boss Wyatt (Oldman), Adam gets charged instead with the task of infiltrating and stealing a cell phone prototype from his rival, Goddard (Ford), and so the game begins. Outfitted to be the perfect candidate with a new car, apartment, wardrobe and other movie-trailer materials, Adam lands an executive job and starts his spying ways.
Juggling the demands of Goddard and Wyatt, Adam eventually realizes just how much of a pawn he is, but what tries to be an elaborate chess match plays out like a game of Candy Land, with all of the key players chugging along an obvious, boring path waiting for someone to get stuck on Gloppy the Molasses Monster so they can point and laugh that their grand strategy is working. The big issue I had with the plot was that there was never a tense moment, a creative move, or any action that required an ounce of brainpower. It was “get in and get the thing” and that’s really all that Paranoia felt would be good enough to get its story across as if it were the first movie about espionage ever made and the audience would have zero knowledge of what to expect.
When the film isn’t drudging through its lackluster attempts at suspense and mystery, it tries to develop a romance between Adam and head marketing girl Emma, whose chemistry together is like that of oil and bricks. Clearly an object and nothing more, Emma’s backstory as “the woman who busted her ass to succeed in a man’s world” is completely wasted as her only scenes involve pointless (and incredibly dull looking) sex or her wondering if everything is ok only to have the scene skip to Liam lying in bed with his shirt off again.
She, like Adam, like Wyatt, like Goddard, all lack any sort of personality, as if they are aware there is a script behind everything going on and they are merely going through the motions. The dialogue is lazy and the double-crosses (not a spoiler…it’s an espionage movie…) can be seen from a mile away; I was amazed that every key moment didn’t end with “and I bet you didn’t see that coming.”
I have to make note of the editing here. The flow of Paranoia is like a high-def live stream on a 1G connection. Scenes randomly and uncomfortably just end, leaving you wondering if it was intentional or if the director couldn’t get a single good take and just cut out what wasn’t working. The movie tries the digital-twitching effect from time to time and the overly generous “security camera” shots stop having meaning the second you realize nobody was actually doing anything of value with them. Perhaps to get big name actors like Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, and the almost completely ignored Richard Dreyfuss, the movie had to make some cutbacks…like color.
This movie wasn’t just bad, it was obnoxiously bad. From the ludicrously pale and unrealistic exchange between Wyatt and Adam that starts this nonsense to its 10 minute voice-over at the end that basically says nothing more than “and I was ok,” I can’t help but feel that Paranoia knew early on that it was wasting your time, but was really hoping that you’d be too stupid to notice. I can’t help but feel a little bit offended.
Do yourself a favor and skip this one. If you’re craving a good corporate espionage movie, filled with wit and charm and engaging characters that pull you into a great story and don’t treat you like it’s your first day out of the womb, I urge you to watch Duplicity instead. These types of movies should really be left to the big kids and Paranoia is a perfect example why. Paranoia gets 3 out of 10 from me only because I really needed to catch up on sleep and this coma-inducing crap is exactly what can help get me there.
at 10:40 PM
Sunday, July 21, 2013
2013 - Guillermo Del Toro
There are some movies that you go into knowing that you aren’t going to be amazed. Everything about it looks like a joke: the trailer, the cast, those snippets of dialogue that are just fun enough to get you saying “that was a good line,” but not good enough to make you go see the movie (Nacho Libre, anyone?). Yet for some reason, I still go see these films. Call it being a glutton for punishment. Call it some glimmer of hope that I’ll walk away surprised and captivated. Call it a lack of air conditioning in my apartment. Whatever it was that made me utter the phrase “let’s go see Pacific Rim,” I can safely call it the stupidest thing I’ve done since setting even mediocre expectations for Man of Steel.
Deep beneath some crack in the tectonic plates in the Pacific Ocean lies a dimensional portal to a world of aliens that are seeking to eradicate life on the planet so they can…something. Pacific Rim doesn’t care; you didn’t come for a plot. Bottom line, big monsters keep coming out of the ocean at an increasing rate to do…something…and the world has gotten together to create giant robots not known as mecha so they can engage in fist fights with the creatures not off the coast of Tokyo to save the world in a way that’s not a poor attempt to create a live action anime, honestly.
As a moviegoer, critic, and hell, even a nerd, I was hoping for a little effort from the teams not involved in post-production. But between the NUMEROUS plot holes, disregard for logic, overwhelming amount of “human interest” clichés, and some of the laziest script-writing I think I’ve ever heard, Pacific Rim cancels out its “cool factor” by committing the cardinal sin of this genre: trying to take itself seriously. Everyone has some haunted past, everyone has to overcome it right now for the sake of humanity. The hero is too reckless, the heroine is too damaged, but it works because it’s dysfunctional to the level of perfect. The distinguished commander is dying, the hotshot misses his father’s approval, the comic relief is looking to be the hero, and if all else fails, you can simply clear your mind and whip out a giant sword.
It’s difficult to not look at this movie from a fanboy perspective, because I can’t honestly see any other feasible demographic. “For people who liked Transformers, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Power Rangers as a kid, check out Pacific Rim. We merged everything that you may have liked about those and crammed them into some really cool action scenes with the hope that you’ll completely ignore everything else and then defend your appreciation of this movie with lines like ‘well, what did you expect exactly?’”
I think Pacific Rim honestly felt like it was getting away with not having a tangible plotline or characters that anyone cared about. It tried to grab at your heart by traumatizing the hero early, it almost wove a neat story about the aliens, and the whole mind-melding robot pilots concept could have carried some weight if it was ever actually explored with some creativity. However, even it seemed to realize that…well…there are robots on the next scene…who cares about depth?
But I have to ask, in that instance, if you’re a screenwriter who knows this going in, why not have a little fun with the areas that aren’t the eye candy people came to see? Play with the dialogue a bit, crack a few jokes, if you’re going to be ridiculous, be OVERLY ridiculous and then make fun of yourself for it (a great example: the non-use of masks in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol).
Pacific Rim is an action drama that would have done better as an action comedy. It was so ludicrous that it would have been funny if it played into that, but instead the movie was just horrible because it wanted to have its audience “really connect with what it would feel like if subterranean aliens wanted to exterminate us and we built giant robots to deal with it.” It’s the same problem I had with Man of Steel. Trying to approach something so off the wall insane with an incredible sense of reality doesn’t enhance the movie…it just makes it awkward and bad.
I can’t recommend Pacific Rim to anybody. I can’t even give you a palette cleanser if you have seen it because the obvious choice is Transformers and that’s a slippery slope to something equally bad. This film was just absolute crap from start to finish and I desperately pray that SOMEBODY gets this genre right (preferably in movie form and not while succumbing to a serious case of depression, NGE fans). I shut my brain off going into the theater and the awfulness of this movie even broke through that and got me banging my head against my chair.
But it did have giant robots. And they did punch big monsters. And what did I expect, exactly?
3/10. At least it wasn’t an offensively bad action movie like Gamer.
at 11:03 PM
Sunday, June 16, 2013
There have been a lot of reviews lately criticizing Man of Steel’s lack of the light-heartedness and fun that has graced much of the Superman franchise, but let me just the record straight. Man of Steel shouldn’t be criticized because of these faults, it should be criticized because it’s just a damn horrible movie. A long, two hour snoozefest filled with dialogue that was terrified of itself, meaningless flashbacks and over-exaggerated action sequences that I can only gather were as ludicrous as they were because the film felt it needed to make up for the first 90 minutes of nothing that we were forced to endure.
In DC Comics’s never-ending attempt to one-up Marvel, Man of Steel takes a slightly unique but dreadfully dramatic approach, as Clark Kent finds himself in a constant battle between whether or not he should reveal his abilities. This leads to many instances where he says “screw it” and does so anyway (thankfully, amidst small towns that haven’t invented cameras or journalism), forcing him to ride off into the loving arms of another location with a job opening requiring that he wear tight shirts. On occasion, he travels back home so he can get called an idiot by his emotionless father and get a hug from his mother that was clearly told to just stay out of the conversation. There were a few moments that got a smirk or a laugh, but even sitting in the theatre, these felt like over-reactions to a bad joke from people desperately seeking a tone that wasn’t sappy and whiny.
Ultimately, he’s a character that fails to connect with anybody, including the audience. We like him because he’s Superman and know this as we drudge on from scene to scene. However, Man of Steel’s hero is a boring, depressing character. His dialogue is stale and unimaginative and sounds like it came straight out of the comic books this adaptation is trying to ignore. His chemistry with those around him, including Lois Lane, feels unnatural and forced and his revelations about his past come with the same sense of awe that a child gets when they visit the zoo for the first time. It was the same problem that I had with Green Lantern and John Carter, where an entire, amazing new world is opened up to the character, but they just glaze over it and move on, un-phased, because there’s more to be seen.
As a film, Man of Steel spends its entire runtime desperately searching for its movie trailer. The same thing that made Armageddon such a crap film is done worse here, where every 30 seconds looks like it could have been part of the advertising campaign. The same dull questions asked over and over, plot points spelled out in crayon repeatedly behind a new lens flare backdrop and once the action finally set in, it looked like a live action re-creation of the video game Rampage, with Superman and Zod trying to rack up points by creating big explosions and knocking over buildings as if they could just hit the reset button when it was all over. It was cool for about 20 seconds then it just got laughable; DC apparently wants to make it absolutely clear that in the battle of Superman vs. Wall, Superman wins every time.
The latest string of superhero reboots has aimed to be more respectful to the potential reality they would create, and we’ve gotten amazing films like X-Men: First Class and The Amazing Spiderman. What made these movies so great is that they stayed aware to the fact that this was fiction and it could tease the audience and play with the improbability that this would ACTUALLY happen. We got characters that felt real, that were enjoyable to watch and it was fun to watch even the smaller roles respond to this intriguing new thing unfolding before their eyes. Man of Steel takes that too far and pleads the case “if the world actually had a superhero, it would be the most socially awkward thing in history,” and for that, it just became terrified to embrace the world it was creating.
This was a chore, an endurance test and I squirmed around and literally banged my head on the chair at some moments because I was so frustrated. You’ll notice I didn’t talk a lot about the plot because it just didn’t matter. It felt like an after-thought and made absolutely no sense.
I urge you to save yourself the trouble; what you saw in the trailers is pretty much the entire movie.
at 10:34 AM
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
The tricky thing about making a movie about a story that everybody should know is that it requires you to also make a movie that everybody should watch. It’s Hollywood doing its part to make history classes that much easier to teach by creating a week long film lesson that’s only justified because everyone has to fill out a worksheet on the concepts it was trying to get across (the cruel bastards). For this week’s lesson kids, we’re going to learn the answer to life, the universe, and everything: Baseball…errr…42.
The story of Jackie Robinson is one that’s looked as the beginning of the end for racism; not a strikeout but more that nasty curveball that the batter let go past that urges the pitcher to see what else he can get away with. It was threatening, dangerous to the integrity of the game to let a black man share the field with white folk, and 42 made sure to rub that in every chance it got with boos and hisses from the crowd, Branch Rickey repeating that “no, it really wasn’t dangerous” every single line, and the N-word being thrown around like it was the next great meme. Whereas this led to some incredibly great moments with some really powerful lines, I struggled with the overall tone and composition of this movie and I can’t really say it’s a “MUST watch,” though I still recommend it.
42 had a lot of stories it wanted to tell but never seemed to settle on which one it liked best until it realized there was only one avenue left to go down. It was like Neapolitan ice cream where, yeah it’s great to combine all the flavors and see how much they synergize and harmonize, but after a while you realize that you’re just left with the crappy strawberry to sit in the freezer ‘cause nobody eats JUST strawberry if they can avoid it. Was 42 about racism in baseball? Or was it about Jackie Robinson? Was it about the Brooklyn Dodgers accepting a black man in the ranks all Remember the Titans style? Or was it about Branch Rickey’s goal to win the pennant? Was it about money? Or was it about getting people in the seats? Yes. Yes it was, but you can sort through all that, we have more ominous trumpet music to play and Harrison Ford is solidifying his Best Actor win for next year.
I have to admit, for being a movie about racism, especially at this level, I felt 42 took it a bit passive. The amplification of the danger for Jackie as he moved towards big league ball was never really touched on. Like a zombie apocalypse game where the developers don’t add new complexities but instead just send more zombies at you, 42 left the racist-cliched fear of violence and the death threats in the filing cabinet (literally) and just decided on “we’ll use the N-word a whole lot more.” If that’s how it ACTUALLY happened…I can’t say anything really convinced me. It looked too much like it was holding back, perhaps to stay in that PG-13 range.
I can’t help but feel the same way I did about The Stoning of Soraya M. where the film was banking on me coming in with pent up anger and rage at the injustice so they felt it didn’t need to help it along. As a result, those moments of triumph weren’t looked at with the same prestige and accomplishment, they were just kinda “atta boy” moments, doomed to fade to black as quickly as the scene.
However, despite all that, those moments were cool to watch, tearjerkers of sorts because I do know of the injustice. I grew up in the South and learned about Jackie Robinson before I learned about MLK. I got my glimpses of racism watching my friends spout slurs and, thankfully, never felt the urge to jump on that wagon. But for those who don’t know, where racism at that level is now merely (wonderfully) a chapter in their American history books, I can’t feel this gets whatever job it set out to do done to completion. Too much was done only 90% and though it was a good 90%, I walked away feeling something was either missed or lost.
To me, sports are the greatest creation since humanity itself. Sports fans are the only group of people that, when the world needs to be uplifted, are eager to set aside their differences, from rivalries to life choices, to stop and simply celebrate their ability to be. We look at the events of the last week in Boston and I take note of TD Garden, in unscripted unison, belting out the Star Spangled Banner when the Bruins hit the ice again. The entire London Marathon stopping to take a moment of silence for their fellow runners across the ocean. And, of course, the New York Yankees, burying the hatchet for one day and playing Sweet Caroline as the fans sung along happily when, on any other day, that would have been the punishment for losing a bet on karaoke night. There is nothing more inspiring, more positive, and more effective at spotlighting how meaningless petty prejudices are than sports, and the story of Jackie Robinson is, perhaps, the best proof.
Sadly, I don’t think 42 did the best job of showing it. What it showed was good, really good, but it just didn’t flow and started to feel a bit stale and though it is one of the greatest stories in sports, that doesn’t mean you get to throw it on the screen however you want and it’s suddenly an iconic movie for the ages. I will watch it again. You should watch it. It’s a great biopic and worth a satisfying 8 dustbusters out of 10 from me.
at 11:30 AM