Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sex and the City 2

Sex and the City 2 represents everything that is wrong with American cinema. Where to begin. How about with full disclosure. I liked the show. A lot. I’ve seen every episode. Its frankness and unblinking candor toward female sexuality made it compulsively watchable.

Remember the episode when Carrie called Big and he rushed over to her apartment? Then we cut to black, only to fade open on the sight of them post-coital, resting among a thick haze of cigarette smoke, the entire room bathed in a deep, lush blue. That was sexy.

And then there was the episode when all the ladies went to Atlantic City. There’s a scene in that show (which ultimately was the highlight of the entire series), when Carrie watches the sunset while sitting on the boardwalk. An older couple sits behind her and Carrie can’t help but eavesdrop on their humorous-if-not-bickering conversation. She gives them an unnoticed look of complete contentment. “God, I wish I had that,” she’s thinking. That was endearing.

Sexy and endearing. Two characteristics the show handled so well, and two traits neither feature film has been able to grasp.

The biggest problem with the first film was its exhausting running time (which, not surprisingly, is no shorter the second time around.) We’re used to a 23 minute episode, not an exaggerated two and half hour disaster. But at least that film had some redeemable qualities (I’m being generous by using the word “some”).

From the opening “gay wedding” scene in the sequel, we soon learn we’re in some sort of horrific nightmare. The first time the film loses its dignity is during Liza Minnelli’s atrocious rendition of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” The performance may have you questioning if you’re in the right theatre, as it resembles something out of a horror movie.

Moving on.

Each lady, you see, is having problems at home or at work. Charlotte thinks her bread-winning husband may bang the non-bra wearing nanny. Samantha can’t out trick her age. Carrie is mad that her husband wants… time to relax (?), and Miranda, with the only reasonable issue, gets treated like an insect by her male boss.

With their troubles in mind, the ladies head to Abu Dhabi at the drop of a hat. And this, my dear friends, is where it gets really bad.

As the film progressed, I had a startling revelation: that this movie was one of the most culturally insensitive films I’ve ever seen. The women feed the stereotype of “dumb Americans” by, among several other things, flaunting too much skin in an ├╝ber-conservative country. Do me a favor and switch the scenario around. A movie about four Muslim women who travel to New York City on vacation. While in the Big Apple, they make fun of American’s by causing outlandish scenes in Times Square and pressing their religious and cultural views on everyone they run into. American film audiences would call them terrorists.

Aside from the cultural thoughtlessness, the movie is just plain boring. Really, who wants to watch a flick about four very rich women bitching about how much their lives suck? Ninety percent of the people watching the movie do not have as much money as the characters do, so they cannot, any in way, relate to their problems. Charlotte is the worst. A well-to-do, stay-at-home housewife who complains about her kids and the affair her husband isn’t having with the live-in nanny. Hey, Charlotte, get a goddamn job, or raise your kids yourself.

Two other things and I’m done. Despite its title, this film is neither sexy or takes place in The City. Samantha has two very brief, very unsexy encounters, and the shots of New York, namely in the grueling opening credits, look like something out of an American Express commercial.

Lastly, there is a scene early in the film when I said, almost aloud, “Oh my God, it could change, right here, it could get better,” simply because a new character is introduced. This is an actress that can display more emotional range with a single glance than the four leads can do throughout an entire movie. Yet, director Michael Patrick King only gives Penelope Cruz, what, two lines? I just don’t get it.

The ladies of Sex and the City 2 bitch bitch bitch, whine whine whine, only to have every single problem in their lives magically fixed in the last five minutes. Oh how utterly convenient.

In Roger Ebert’s recent review of The Human Centipede he said, “I am required to award stars to movies I review. This time, I refuse to do it. The star rating system is unsuited to this film. Is the movie good? Is it bad? Does it matter? It is what it is and occupies a world where the stars don't shine.”

That’s a very good point. Sex and the City 2 is beyond worthy of any grade. This year marks the beginning of a new decade, and we already have a film vying for the top spot as the worst movie made during the next ten years.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Human Centipede


I suppose the most logical way to approach this review is to first discuss the controversy surrounding this movie. Just two weeks ago, CNN did a feature story on The Human Centipede, asking if it was the “most disturbing movie ever made?”

But let’s add a little context, shall we?

The plot is nothing new. On a dark, rainy night, two American girls get a flat tire on a back road in anywhere Germany. Because this is a horror flick, the girls make the brilliant decision to walk through the woods instead of sticking to the road. They come across a lone house. Knock on the door. And are “welcomed” by a fantastically creepy German nut job (Dieter Laser).

The acting by the girls is awful. Plain and simple. But when one of them tells Laser that they are visiting from America, they way he slowly replies, as if offended, by asking, “You, are… tourists?” makes you know you’re in for one hell of a ride.

We soon learn that Laser is a mad scientist, obsessed with re-creating a failed “pet” project he constructed with three of his dogs. He drugs the girls, ties them to gurneys in his darkly-lit basement, kidnaps a Japanese fella and away we go.

Once all three subjects wake up, Laser delivers a monologue so chilling, so matter-of-fact, that it is easily the best moment of the film.

(Okay, this is where it starts to get bad, and to describe the controversy, I’m going to have to give away crucial plot elements. Read at your own risk.)

With no detail left unsaid, Laser explains that he wants to slice the subjects’ knees so they can’t walk, then attach one person’s mouth to the lead person’s anus, then attach another person’s mouth to the middle person’s anus, forming one long digestive track, thereby creating a human centipede. (For further analysis, see below).

After the procedure is complete, Laser makes the group crawl around his front yard, barking orders at them like he would his precious puppies.

That’s the worst of it. It isn’t blood and guts that makes The Human Centipede so revolting, but rather your imagination. When the man in front begins to apologize to the women behind him, explaining that he has to go poo poo, we finally get what all the fuss is about. Sure, that’s gross, but come on… it isn’t that bad. Definitely not the most disturbing thing I’ve ever seen on film. It’s not like we see shit oozing out of the seams from the girl’s mouth.

As a critique based solely on cinematic merit (even by horror-film standards) The Human Centipede really isn’t that good. Its interiors are well shot, but it isn’t going into any history books. So that got me thinking, what’s with all the buzz?

The seemingly never-ending rape scene in Irreversible is infinitely worse than anything in The Human Centipede (for the record, I called Irreversible one of the 20 best films made in the first decade of the 21st century). Salo is a film so repulsive, it defines shock cinema (for the record, no one needs to see Salo. Ever). Moments in Antichrist, Requiem for a Dream, and American History X can’t top The Human Centipede at its most grotesque moment.

In short, The Human Centipede is gross, yes, but it isn’t that gross. CNN headlines may peak your interest, but I’d say stay away. If you want to be disturbed, rent one of the movies I listed above. Either way, The Human Centipede should give new meaning to the expression, “take your head out of your ass.” Bottoms up. D

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Robin Hood

What you’ll get out of Robin Hood:

  • Tested patience during the endless first hour
  • Confused sensibilities by not understanding what the hell anyone is talking about
  • Worthless political discussions
  • Yet another Ridley Scott disappointment
  • A shirtless, bulky, if not slightly chunky, Russell Crowe in at least one scene
  • A bored Cate Blanchett
  • An even more uninterested Max von Sydow
  • Curiosity as to how old Max von Sydow really is
  • A kick-ass, but brief, fight scene finale

What you won’t get out of Robin Hood:

  • A coherent plot
  • Any sense that Robin is a ‘hood’
  • Hardly any mention of the Sheriff of Nottingham, who you thought was the main villain
  • A single scene well-acted with conviction
  • A decent action scene in the first two hours and 10 minutes
  • A feeling of time well spent, knowing that the final battle was too little-too late
  • A remote desire to see the sequel, which is shamelessly set up by the final title card
  • A lasting thought in your head regarding this movie

What you should do with Robin Hood:

  • Not see it…
  • …because if you do, you’ll know it deserves a D

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Iron Man 2

I concluded my review of the first Iron Man film with the kicker: “There’s no way the summer can keep up with Iron Man’s heat.” Looking back I’m reminded how well that film was made (and how hugely it was overshadowed by The Dark Knight only two months later). But being reminded is also a letdown, because Iron Man’s less-than-stellar sequel is far from scorching.

Robert Downey Jr. is back, and decent, as Tony Stark, a pompous billionaire who also happens to have single-handledly prioritized world peace as Iron Man. He’s feeding off his own narcissism when suddenly we learn (OH NO!) that weird thing in his chest that keeps him alive isn’t working well. He estimates he only has about a year to live, and that’s when things go cinematically stale.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Because it’s a sequel, we know we’re going to be given a slew of new characters. Mickey Rourke (gotta love him) plays the villain, a Russian badass who’s pissed that the Stark family screwed over his pops. Rourke begged director Jon Favreau to let him only speak Russian in the role. The two compromised, and we’re left with a nearly-silent Rourke, tearing shit up with scowls and heavily tattooed biceps.

The other notable newcomer to the franchise is Scarlett Johansson, who, rather surprisingly, kicks some serious ass as Black Widow, a spy sent in to protect Iron Man… I think.

That brings me to my next point. The first Iron Man succeeded because it treated all its viewers as equals. But if you don’t know much about the comic books (like me) then you’ll be lost in the sequel. I was constantly trying to catch up with the intentions of Black Widow and her boss Nick Fury (a one-eyed Samuel L. Jackson). It’s the same argument I have for the Lord of the Rings films. “Read the books and you’d like the movie better,” people tell me. That’s nonsense. How about making a more coherent movie for people who aren’t total geeks so that everyone can understand it.

Don Cheadle famously replaced Terrance Howard in the role of Stark’s best friend and soon-to-be partner in fighting crime. I was shocked that Cheadle, one of the very best actors of his generation, was given all the God-awful one liners. The drunken birthday party brawl between him and Downey Jr. is the beginning of the film’s downfall, which ultimately delivers little thrills and goes on way too long.

Iron Man 2 has its standouts (Rourke and Johansson, who are both underused) but when it’s all said and done, I doubt you’ll be looking as forward to the next film, as much as you were the first time around. C-

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Within the last three years, we’ve seen revamps of at least four classic horror films. Halloween was smart to focus on the back story, but got bogged down in the present tense. Friday the 13th had a great opening, but sucked from then on. The Last House on the Left was just… bad, leaving A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Here’s a noble idea, remake a horror flick, but this time, cast an Oscar nominated actor as the villain. Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Kruger actually does work, but the rest of the film, including the as-bad-as-a-70s-porno supporting cast, is what you’d expect from a contemporary horror remake.

Instead of discussing the film, which I honestly don’t even think horror-film fans will enjoy, let’s talk about the current state of the American cinematic terror factor.

Think about it, what NEW film, made in the last 20 years, can you possibly see as being remade… 25-30 years from now? John Carpenter’s Halloween is a classic, so naturally it gets remade. But what horror film classics have we seen recently?

Off the top of my head, I can think of just three potential, remake-able candidates. Scream, Wes Craven’s 1996 rebel horrorfest, could easily be redone two decades from now, which is interesting, because Scream not-so-subtly pokes fun at slasher flicks to begin with, plus, part four is coming out next year.

The other two are The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, the two most influential films of the genre in the past 11 years. Would the remakes suck? Of course. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they get made. (P.S., I considered 2005’s The Descent, but really, how many people actually saw that? And if you haven’t, do.)

Oh yeah, let’s give A Nightmare on Elm Street a frightful D-.