Sunday, September 30, 2012

October Again!

Once again it's October, my favorite time of the movie viewing year.

Starting tomorrow, we begin our annual 31 days of horror.

As usual we'll hit some classics, some recent fare, even a comedy or three and a list somewhere in there.


Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Good Old Fashioned Orgy

Directed by Alex Gregory and Peter Huyck.
2011. Rated R, 95 minutes.


Lake Bell
Michelle Borth
Nik Kroll
Angela Sarafyan
Lindsay Sloane
Martin Starr
Rhys Coiro
David Koechner
Dee Dee Rescher

Eric (Sudeikis) is the de facto leader of a group of guys and girls who live together, during the summer at least, at a house his father owns. They have been close friends since high school. Occasionally, they throw hugely popular theme parties. In fact, we meet them during the “White Trash Bash.” The next day, daddy (a cameo by Don Johnson) shows up with his way younger girlfriend and informs his very grown boy that he’s putting the house on the market. His realtors are pushing hard to have the house sold very shortly, making the upcoming Labor Day the gang’s last chance to have a party like no other.

Thankfully, this isn’t a dance flick or a kiddie movie. Therefore, there is no mad dash by our heroes to raise enough money to save the place. Instead, they’re resigned to their fate and merely want to come up with a theme for the final blowout. Eventually, Eric and his sidekick Mike (Labine) decide it best to not invite any outsiders to their last shindig but still go out with a bang, quite literally. They want to have an orgy with their housemates. As you might imagine, this is a hard sell to people who’ve never engaged in such activities. Even if they agree to it, going through with it is something else entirely.

Despite a good deal of raunchy dialogue and situations, A Good Old Fashioned Orgy is only funny in a few spots. Only the no holds barred scene inside real life mattress store Fred’s Beds stands out as true comic gold. That’s in the unrated version, of course. I don’t know how much of what I saw made it into the theatrical version. Most of the rest of the humor is of ho-hum caliber. Still, it’s got an odd sweetness to it. I know it’s hard to imagine a movie about group sex having such a quality, but it is there. It’s not that we’re enthralled by any of the characters, but we do sorta like these folks. The director helps out by handling things about as delicately as possible while trying to live up to the title.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of flaws. These people we sorta like really are just types rather than rounded characters. This includes Tyler Labine doing his best Jack Black impersonation. The sidebar of a love story between Mike and Kelly (Bibb), the younger realtor, feels extraneous in its execution and rushed in its resolution. Ditto for the plotline involving the house itself. With all the pros and cons balancing it out, AGOFO manages to tread water. Occasionally, it musters enough strength to do a little better than that.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Sitter

Directed by David Gordon Green.
2011. Rated R, 87 minutes (unrated version).

Max Records
Landry Bender
Kevin Hernandez
Ari Graynor
Kylie Bunbury

Noah (Hill) is a college dropout who doesn’t have nor want a job. He’s sorta in a relationship with Marisa (Graynor). To say it’s a one-sided affair is far beyond putting it lightly. It consists of her persuading him to perform oral sex on her after which she finds some excuse to rush him out the door. He slinks home to his video games. It should go without saying that he lives with his mom. She’s divorced but going on a double date with a neighborhood couple, the Pedullas, who are setting her up with one of their friends. When the couple’s normal sitter can’t make it, Noah’s mom asks him to step in. He agrees, but only because he wants to see her have a good time. As expected, the three children he is to watch are merely different levels of nightmare. This is only the beginning of his problems. The catalyst for his other issues is a phone call from Marisa during which she promises they really will “go all the way” if he does her a huge favor: go see her dealer, Karl (Rockwell), score some heroin and bring it to the party she’s attending. Since Noah is way past desperate, he agrees. No, things don’t go smoothly at all. Hijinks and shenanigans involving children and drug pushers ensue.

The Sitter simply wants to be a raunchy comedy featuring Jonah Hill as a slightly older version of characters he’s played in the past. This would be fine if it weren’t all so utterly unfunny, predictable, and arguably offensive in its depiction of minorities. Most of the jokes are both unoriginal and telegraphed from a mile away. Likewise for any and all plot twists. Yes, you will know in advance when he (or one of the other kids in one case) will teach the children valuable life lessons and exactly what they will be. Unsurprisingly, all of the various storylines are tidied up in an overly simple manner.

Within the plot and jokes we already know are a gathering of stereotypes. Noah’s mom and the parents of the kids he’s sitting are cardboard cutouts of the parents from every other similarly themed movie. Marisa is the hot, but not so good for you girl. There’s also Roxanne (Bunbury), the friendly girly who’s been there all along. Rodrigo (Hernandez), the Hispanic kid the Pedullas adopted is a heavy accented pyromaniac. Our hero inevitably winds up in a bar where all the patrons are black thugs. Finally, there’s Karl, the super macho but possibly homosexual drug dealer played by Sam Rockwell. His lair looks like a gay porn set for those with a muscle fetish. Incidentally, the way this character is portrayed clashes pretty badly with one of those life lessons.

Thankfully, The Sitter clocks in under 90 minutes. It still manages to drag since it’s so predictable and just labors through cliché after cliché and bad joke after bad joke, never doing its own thing. The very few laughs to be had are spread pretty far apart. They drown in an ocean of uninspired writing that sends waves of flat punch lines crashing into us.

MY SCORE: 3/10

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Grey

Directed by Joe Carnahan.

2011. Rated R, 117 minutes.

Dallas Roberts
Joe Anderson
James Badge Dale
Bren Bray
Anne Openshaw

Liam Neeson, I mean, Ottway and a bunch of other tough guys who work at an Alaskan outpost all board a plane heading south to Anchorage. Since it looks like it’s more fit for dusting crops in Alabama than carrying commuters through severe arctic weather, the plane shakes, rattles, rolls, and eventually crashes in the middle of an extremely cold nowhere. The survivors, Neeson included (screw it), in case you were somehow wondering, try to stay alive long enough to be rescued. Realizing the prospects of that are dim, our ragtag bunch starts walking in hopes of reaching some form of civilization. In addition to the cold, shortage of food and water, there is one other wee little problem: a pack of unbelievably large and hungry wolves is hunting them down and picking them off…dun dun dun…one by one.

I’ve told you everything you need to know. This is both the best and worst part of The Grey. It’s the best because you will get what you came for if you saw that the trailer and thought “cool!” On the other hand, despite all the dime store philosophizing done by the characters, this is a highly repetitive experience. The guys bicker about what course of action to take before settling on whatever Liam Neeson says. When they get to a stopping point they exchange stories that ineffectively try to get us to care about the various cardboard cutouts with which we are spending time. This is interspersed with Neeson’s atmospheric flashbacks and him telling us how smart the wolves are. Indeed, they seem to have studied “The Art of War”. Shortly thereafter, someone gets eaten. Rinse, repeat.

Predictability aside, The Grey can be fun to watch in a morbid way. The excitement lies purely in guessing who’s next to die and seeing how they perish. Even this wears thin after a while. Tone may be to blame, here. It strikes a pretty joyless one, having no sense of humor whatsoever. It behaves as if it’s not only made us care about a roster full of bland archetypes but made some great revelation about the spirit of man when it has done neither. Instead of being the dissertation on man’s resourcefulness in the face of extreme adversity it wants to be, it’s an overly serious slasher flick with gigantic Twilight-esque wolves collectively playing the Jason role and Neeson that of the final girl.

MY SCORE: 5.5/10

Monday, September 24, 2012

Friends with Benefits

Directed by Will Gluck.
2011. Rated R, 109 minutes.
Jenna Elfman
Bryan Greenberg
Shaun White

Boy meets girl. Again. This time, both have just been dumped by other people. Boy is hotshot art director Dylan Harper (Timberlake). He’s just been hired to fulfill that role for GQ magazine. He got the job because he was recruited away from his own highly successful blog by Girl, Jamie Rellis (Kunis). Boy moves from LA to NY for his new gig and becomes platonic besties with Girl. The two confide in each other that they miss sex, but not relationships. Of course, they do the only rational thing and hop into bed together after laying a few ground rules. Pardon the pun. As you might expect, feelings neither wanted ensues.

Surprisingly to me, the first half of Friends with Benefits is a joy to watch. This is due, in large part, to the fact it looks like our two leads are having so much fun they can barely contain themselves. After all, they’re two attractive people who get to do a lot of rolling around naked together. It also helps that this portion of the picture is dedicated to ridiculing all we know romantic comedies to be. Our two lovebirds in denial say all the things we say about such movies. This gives it a wonderfully self-aware vibe.

The second half undermines the first by becoming precisely what the earlier parts rail against. It tries to maintain its edge by blatantly acknowledging that it has devolved into the same grandiose moments of romantic gesture as just about every other flick in the genre. Despite its embracing of its own descent into mediocrity, it still feels like a letdown since up to about the midway point it seems like a well done spoof that’s going to introduce a twist on the norm. Instead, the overall effect is that the movie says “Other movies do ‘this’ so we will, too.”

As rom-coms go, this is a little above average. The expected story arcs are fully intact. Before any of it actually happens, we know where jealousy, misunderstanding, break up and make up are all going to come in. For good measure, there’s Richard Jenkins in the ‘wise crazy person who let his true love get away’ role to impart sage advice at the pivotal moment. He has some interesting moments and is typically excellent but pales in comparison to the hysterical performance by Woody Harrelson as Tommy, Dylan’s too openly gay buddy. You’ll just have to see it to understand what I mean by “too openly”. Even though the only real reason for his character’s existence is that he owns a boat, many of the movie’s funniest moments are his. He, and the thing we come to realize as the film progresses elevates it above its contemporaries: at least this one knows it’s lame.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Ranking the Batman Movies: #1

1. The Dark Knight (2008) 
Directed by Christopher Nolan 
Batman…Christian Bale 
James Gordon…Gary Oldman 
Alfred…Michael Caine 
Rachel Dawes…Maggie Gyllenhaal 
Lucius Fox…Morgan Freeman 
Harvey Dent…Aaron Eckhart 
The Joker…Heath Ledger 
Sal Maroni…Eric Roberts 
The Scarecrow…Cillian Murphy 

For my money, this is not only the best Batman movie but the best superhero movie of all-time and it’s really not that close. A huge part of it is that even as it is giving us what the fanboys want it goes against the grain of what we know superhero movies to be. It works as a crime drama, challenges our notions of right and wrong, gives us one of the best villains in cinematic history, consistently pulls us to the edge of our seats, has a phenomenally unnerving score and wraps it all up by giving us the most daring ending the genre has ever witnessed. In every other comic book flick, the hero is the clear cut winner when all is said and done. The only variation to that is when we see the bad guy is still alive to possibly come back for the sequel (or the emergence of another villain who’ll wreak havoc in the next movie). Even then, there’s no doubt that good has triumphed over evil. In The Dark Knight Batman’s victory is pyrrhic, at best. The cost of it is so great that it comes tumbling down around him in The Dark Knight Rises. Watching it for the first time, you can’t feel good about where our hero is headed when it’s over. Still, Batman, or even Bruce Wayne is hardly the central character. It could be argued that he’s the third most important character behind Jim Gordon and The Joker. Speaking of Joker, I’ve already mentioned that this version is a truly great villain. That’s thanks, in no small part, to the note-perfect performance by Heath Ledger. This Joker is what the die-hards have envisioned for decades and one casual movie goers were suitably horrified by. Gotham City deserved a better class of criminal and he gave it to them.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Footloose (2011)

Directed by Craig Brewer.

2011. Rated PG-13, 113 minutes.

Kenny Wormald
Julianne Hough
Miles Teller
Ser’Darius Blain
Ziah Colon
Patrick John Flueger
Ray McKinnon
Kim Dickens

On their way home from a party, Bobby and four of his friends are killed when his car has a head-on collision with a truck. It just so happens that his dad, Rev. Moore (Quaid) is not just the only preacher in town, he also holds lots of clout in the local politics of the small town of Bomont. In what has to be the mother of all overreactions, the good reverend successfully leads a charge to ban dancing by minors anywhere in town except at church functions. Now, wait a minute. I was actually paying attention to the beginning. Sure Bobby took his eyes off the road to give his girl a smooch, but it’s not like they danced out into the middle of the street and got run over. Besides, it’s apparent that no one has ever questioned the truck driver who, from the looks of the accident, is at least as much in the wrong as Bobby. I digress.

Fast forward three years and Bobby’s little sister Ariel (Hough) is now a high school senior. Due to his never-ending grief, dad is still an unrelenting prick. Wait…what? Did I say that out loud? Anyhoo, he’s evidently blind and/or no one in town talks to him because he knows nothing about what his little girl is only kinda sorta hiding. Despite daddy’s iron-fist approach, or perhaps because of it, she’s hanging out with a sleazy racecar driver who looks to be at least 30. Okay, maybe 25 but having lived a hard life. That the rev knows nothing about this is however somewhat plausible given that the whole town is way too distracted by the shiny new object in their midst to pay much attention to Ariel. The incandescent bauble they focus on is Ren (Wormald), a kid from Boston who quickly gets a rep as a devil-worshipping troublemaker when he…gasp…plays his music too loud for the sensitive ears of Bomont’s finest. Just never you mind that this high quality audio is blaring from an iPod rigged to fit the stock stereo system of a rotting forty year old VW bug. He further cements his status as a rebel when we find out he’s not afraid to get his boogie on in public. Oooooh! Stick it to the man!

By the way, there is very good reason I’ve mentioned Ariel and Ren in the same paragraph despite my former English professors chomping at the bit to slam the cursor down behind the word “life” and hit enter twice. It’s my more-subtle-than-the-movie’s way of implying what it all boils down to: Boy meets Girl. If you don’t know what that means in regards to this cinematic endeavor, you are beyond my help.

If you’re younger than the racecar driver, you may not be aware that this is a remake of the eighties flick of the same name that made Kevin Bacon a star. I wonder if that whole six degrees of Kevin Bacon thing works with the kids in this movie. All right, I’ll explain it to the babies in attendance. No, that’s not condescending at all and this sentence isn’t sarcastic, either (the emoticon that winks goes here). Allegedly, just about any actor can be linked to Bacon within six other actors. As an example, let’s use Colin Farrell. He was in SWAT with LL Cool J who was in The Last Holiday with Queen Latifah who was in with Bacon. Get it? There’s even a site that does the work for you: oracle of bacon.

Hey! Play with that on your own time. Let’s get back to the remake since that’s supposedly what you’re here for.

You know what? You might get back to that site sooner than you think. I don’t want to spend too much time on this. Suffice it to say that everything happens pretty much right on cue. After boy meets girl, he realizes she is already dating old racecar guy. He likes to drink beer and fight. Nope, not at all a redneck stereotype (yes, place another emoticon here). Boy also has two guy friends, one black and one white. How’d you know the black friend, along with all the other black kids in the movie, is a dancing whiz? I’ll bet you couldn’t guess the white friend can’t dance at all. No stereotypes here, either (you know what to do). Yup, this means there is a semi-comedic, drawn out, Rocky styled training montage for our double left-footed pal. Finally, our hero has to deal with that pesky ban on dancing.

Honestly, you can stop reading and go back to playing with the Bacon site. I’m merely amusing myself at this point, sating my inner pontificator, and have nothing more of value to say. I know it’s debatable that I’ve said anything of value at all. If you want to know how this compares to the original, I’ve no idea. That one is one of those movies I’ve seen in small bits and pieces of over the years on basic cable as I’ve flipped channels. I’ve got the gist of it and have probably seen it all but I’ve never actually sat down and watched it from start to finish. I’m in no rush.

How is this one on its own merit? I’ll not even dignify my own rhetorical question with a typically lengthy reply (isn’t this review too long, already?). I’ll put it like this: the story is better than any of the Step Up sequels I’ve seen (having not seen part 4, just yet), but the dancing isn’t as good. Decide accordingly.

MY SCORE: 4.5/10

Friday, September 21, 2012

Ranking the Batman Movies: #2

2. Batman
Directed by Tim Burton
Batman…Michael Keaton
James Gordon…Pat Hingle 
Alfred…Michael Gough 
Vicki Vale…Kim Basinger 
Alexander Knox…Robert Wuhl 
Harvey Dent…Billy Dee Williams 
The Joker…Jack Nicholson 
Carl Grissom…Jack Palance 

Believe it or not, the prevailing thought in Hollywood was once that comic book movies don’t work. Sure, there were the Superman movies but they were the exceptions. Anything not involving the man of steel flopped at the box office. Worse yet, any studios interested in making a Batman movie wanted to make it along the lines of the 1966 movie. Eventually, in the early 80s it was agreed upon that The Caped Crusader deserved a big screen treatment more in line with the way the character was initially conceived by Bob Kane way back in 1939. By the end of the decade, director Tim Burton brought it all to life. Heading into theaters we were skeptical of noted comic actor Michael Keaton getting the lead role. Thankfully, he nailed it. However, as seems often to be the case, The Joker is really the star of the show. It’s pretty obvious he would be since he’s played by the world’s greatest Lakers’ fan, Jack Nicholson. The old pro gives us a Joker that’s part Cesar Romero and part Jack Torrance (his character in The Shining). Batman himself was appropriately humorless, as was the overall tone whenever Joker wasn’t on-screen. The most enduring part of this movie’s legacy is that it forever changed the way studios, critics and the public viewed comic book movies. Not only was it an event before it ever hit theaters, it lived up to the hype earned massive amounts of money and was generally praised by critics. The fact that superhero movies dominate the theaters every summer can be traced back to this film. By the way, it’s also given us what I consider to be the coolest Batmobile (if a bit impractically designed) and the best soundtrack (courtesy of Prince).

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Win Win

Directed by Thomas McCarthy.

2011. Rated R, 106 minutes.

Alex Shaffer
Amy Ryan
Bobby Cannavale
Burt Young
Melanie Lynskey
Sharon Wilkins
Margo Martindale
David W. Thompson
Nina Arianda

Mike (Giamatti) is a lawyer struggling to keep his practice afloat. One of his clients is Leo (Young), an elderly gentleman whom the state deems incapable of caring for himself. They want to move him into a rest home. His only relative, an estranged daughter is nowhere to be found. Of course, Leo thinks he’s perfectly fine and wants to keep living in his own house. Mike is going along with the state’s program until he learns that Leo’s guardian is paid $1500 per month. He himself assumes guardianship under the pretenses of making sure Leo’s wish will be granted and he will be well taken care of. He then dumps the old man in a home, anyway and begins collecting the monthly checks. Things are going according to plan until Leo’s 16 year old grandson Kyle (Shaffer) shows up out of the blue. No one, including Leo, even knew of the boy’s existence. Since he’s obviously a troubled kid, and to keep his lie going, Mike takes him in.

Despite his issues, Kyle is a nice, quiet kid. Eventually we find out his mother Cindy (wonderfully played by Lynskey) is both alive and a drug addict. This has obviously taken its toll on the boy. He wants nothing to do with her and she seemingly wants nothing to do with her father. It’s no wonder Kyle enjoys being part of Mike’s family. Shaffer handles the role well. It is also well-written. Kyle and the other kids actually feel like genuine teenagers as opposed to an adult in an adolescent body as is the case in plenty of movies. Much of his communication to adults is eerily similar to that of many real teenaged boys including my own son, through shrugs and nods. It is a subtle, yet effective performance.

Less subtle is the work of Paul Giamatti. That he turns in an excellent portrayal should go without saying to anyone familiar with him. Admittedly, Mike is a character that’s right up his alley: a guy who is often exasperated, slightly sweaty and prone to loud verbal outbursts. Still, he makes Mike convincingly simple in motive yet complex in action. In another actor’s hands, the character may have come across as too dastardly. Giamatti makes him believable as a guy who, for the most part, is on the straight and narrow, but the desire to feed his family leads him to try slipping something past the world.

The two main characters combine to make Win Win a tricky proposition. Our empathy clearly lies with Kyle. How we feel about Mike is not such a sure thing. We’re not certain we like him but we want him to come out victorious in what becomes a custody battle over both Kyle and Leo. Whether or not he’s a great choice is debatable. What is not debatable is that he’s better than the alternative. Still, the alternative has at least as much right as he does.

Win Win navigates these complex issues without becoming complicated itself. Instead of pouring out every ounce of melodrama it can muster, it does most things in a matter-of-fact manner. Supporting players provide comedy and Mike’s family gives us cuteness while the story holds our interest. The key to it all is something I’ve already said: we feel for Kyle. We really care what happens to the kid.

MY SCORE: 8/10

Friday, September 14, 2012

Ranking the Batman Movies: #3

3. Batman Begins
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Batman…Christian Bale
James Gordon…Gary Oldman
Alfred…Michael Caine
Lucius Fox…Morgan Freeman
Rachel Dawes…Katie Holmes
Henri Ducard…Liam Neeson
The Scarecrow…Cillian Murphy
Carmine Falcone…Tom Wilkinson

If the old Adam West TV show and movie ruined Batman’s rep, the epic failure that was Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin murdered it. Batfans were rabid for a more serious treatment of the character and his universe. Eight years after that debacle, director Christopher Nolan delivered the goods with this sparkling gem. While Tim Burton’s 1989 movie gave us the basics of how a man decides to dress up as a bat and fight crime, Nolan’s flick really digs deep into the matter. It has long been accepted that Bruce Wayne goes off to foreign lands for a number of years to train and then comes back to Gotham and becomes Batman. For the first time, we get to see what he experienced during his time abroad. As such, Batman Begins becomes much more a story about Bruce Wayne than Batman. Two other characters are also explored more fully than in any Batman movie before it: James Gordon and the city of Gotham herself. Gordon is elevated from a flat sideline player to a fully formed man and secretive partner of Batman. Gotham is a more fully realized, more unique place. We can feel the love that our characters have for her. What makes all of this work is that it’s plain ol’ good storytelling.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Eagle

Directed by Kevin Macdonald

2011. Rated PG-13, 114 minutes.

Jamie Bell
Tahar Rahim
Denis O’Hare
Dakin Matthews
Ned Dennehy
Julian Lewis Jones

Some years earlier, his father led a group of Roman soldiers into the wilds of 2nd century Great Britain. They were never heard from again. Also lost was the gold eagle each unit takes with them into battle. Now, Marcus Flavius Aquila (Tatum) is himself a garrison commander in the Roman army. He volunteers for a tour of duty in Great Britain in hopes of recovering the eagle and/or his father. As luck would have it, he is severely injured in battle and involuntarily discharged before he even embarks on that mission. After recuperating, he and a British slave who’s life he saved venture out on their own to complete the job he came to do.

The Eagle wants to position our two buddies as having an uneasy relationship. It wants us to think that the lowly slave Esca (Bell) may not be trustworthy. However, the way things play out, we never get that feeling. That’s a major issue for a movie banking on that aspect. It saps the entire production of any tension it might have had if this angle had been better executed. We never feel that our hero is in any serious danger. Even when things seem most bleak we know that his sidekick is merely biding his time.

Our hero is also problematic. Part of this is due to star Channing Tatum and part to the way his part is written. It seems the writers couldn’t make up their mind how great a soldier he is, or isn’t. The same goes for his fluctuating intelligence. He’s smart or dumb depending on what the plot requires at any given moment. It’s much the same for his soldiering skills. For instance, there’s a moment early on where the very faint sound of his enemies wakes him from a dead sleep. Presumably, his quarters are a ways from the fort wall from beyond which the noise is coming. In fact, no one standing guard on the wall itself hears anything. Initially, I’ve no problem with this. It helps establish him as a superior combatant. However, later on he can’t hear or see more enemies only a few feet away when he is on his own with Esca in the middle of the woods and should be at his most alert. It’s a frustrating about face in character. As for Tatum, I just couldn’t buy him as an Ancient Roman commander with a burning passion for recovering a symbolic bird in an effort to clear his family name. I harbor no hatred for Tatum. If you’re movie is set during contemporary times with a suburban/pseudo urban setting and your lead has to be a white guy with a solid street vibe about him, he’s your guy. As a leader of men during the sword and sandal days, not so much.

There are solid and bloody fight scenes so The Eagle isn’t a total loss. However, the dreadfully serious tone combined with a lack of tension means the movie fails to engage us. We’re not particularly enthralled with this man’s quest. Therefore, the movie trudges past on its way to the inevitable ending with precious little in the way of humor or fun.

MY SCORE: 5/10

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Project X

Directed by Nima Nourizadeh.

2012. Rated R, 88 minutes.
Thomas Mann
Oliver Cooper
Jonathan Daniel Brown
Kirby Bliss Blanton
Alexis Knapp
Dax Flame
Brady Hender
Nick Nervies
Peter Mackenzie
Rick Shapiro

Thomas (Mann), Costa (Cooper) and JB (Brown) are a trio of friends who’ve had a pretty non-descript high school existence. They plan on changing that tonight. Thomas’ parents are going out of town for the weekend and the boys have already planned to throw a major party in hopes of becoming known as cool and getting laid. After all, it is Thomas’ birthday though he is understandably a bit reluctant. He’s afraid things might get out of hand and then he’ll be in big trouble. Still, he goes along with the program. Costa acts as promoter. Against his buddy’s better wishes, he invites anyone within earshot. It soon becomes apparent he’s invited everyone else, too. JB is mostly just along for the ride and to be insulted by the obnoxious Costa. Dax (Flame) has been hired by the boys to film the whole thing for our viewing pleasure so yes, we see everything through the lens of the video camera he’s holding.

Anything else I might say about the setup is just an unimportant detail. Our boys go around inviting more and more people and try to secure some booze and weed for their “little” get-together. Eventually, we get to the party. During this time we meet the hot chick Thomas lusts after and of course, the girl who’s always been there. No surprise as to which one he’ll wind up with.

Unless you’re at the point in your life where you’ve only recently been allowed to watch rated R movies, nothing about any of the above is new to you. However, Project X makes no pretenses of being about anything other than teenaged testosterone-fueled debauchery. It merely aims to multiply the chaos present in the previous films of its ilk. At this, it succeeds wildy. In fact, the only place Project X differentiates itself is in scope. The ensuing party is exponentially more massive than anything dreamed up by those other movies. Literally thousands of revelers pack a suburban block while dancing, drinking (or indulging other substances), fighting, breaking things and/or setting them on fire. In this particular movie, spectacle equals substance.

With no purpose other than being “bigger” than other teen sex comedies, Project X progresses as such movies must. The boys worry when no one shows up right at the time the party is supposed to start. After a while, a couple dozen folks arrive all at once. They’re soon followed by waves and waves of drunken humanity. Things quickly get out of hand and keep spiraling further out of control. For us boys of all ages, emphasis on the word ‘boys’, it’s a blast to watch. It’s all aided by an obvious violation of the movie’s own rules that we don’t really mind. Our loan cameraman often seems to be in several places at once and have several different types of cameras even though we only see one. In short, we’re getting nothing other than hyperkinetic visuals and crass humor. Those are the same two elements that make up the Transformers movies. However, this doesn’t wear us down the way those flicks do. Where Mr. Bay’s two and a half hour jackhammers pound us into submission, this doesn’t last much more than an hour and taps into our truer youthful (i.e. immature) fantasies. Smashing robots together as a kid was great but we really wish we could’ve thrown a party like this.

Also like a Transformers movie, I’m not sure how much appeal Project X has for the ladies. It may have even less since the nostalgia of the 80s toy line and cartoon isn’t there and is replaced by children behaving badly. More precisely it’s the little boys behind the camera projecting bad behavior onto the little boys in front of it in order to impress even more little boys. They’re trying to win the biggest pissing contest. It’s about showing they had the most property destruction and naked girls at their party and got away with nothing more than a slap on the wrist. Simply, it’s a depiction of our wildest lies about sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. It is nothing more. It offers no great insight into the adolescent male mind. It’s story and characters are wholly derivative. Given that now, perhaps more than ever before, some viewers are driven to emulate pop culture and pine to draw attention to themselves, it’s socially irresponsible. If anyone wishes to condemn this movie on these grounds, I can’t argue with them. That said, Project X exists to titillate and does its job.

MY SCORE: 7/10

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Ranking the Batman Movies: #4

4. Batman: Under the Red Hood
Directed by Brandon Vietti
Batman…Bruce Greenwood
Robin…Vincent Martella
Nightwing…Neil Patrick Harris
James Gordon…Gary Cole
Alfred…Jim Piddock
The Joker…John DiMaggio
Red Hood…Jensen Ackles
Ra’s al Ghul…Jason Isaacs
Black Mask…Wade Williams
The Riddler…Bruce Timm

Someone using the name Red Hood, one of the Joker’s old aliases, has taken over the Gotham drug trade. However, the Joker is locked away in Arkham Asylum, having killed Robin, the Jason Todd version, five years earlier. There is also a whole host of other things going on involving Ra’s al Ghul, Black Mask and the Riddler. Luckily, former Robin Dick Grayson, now called Nightwing is around to help out his old pal. He also gets under Batsy’s skin noting that if he had the same issues then the Joker would be dead by now. In all, it’s a marvelous mystery and character study that rises above its medium. Best of all, it delves into The Bat’s psyche without recounting his origin story (yet again). It all adds up to an amazing Batman tale. In short, I think this is the best of all the Caped Crusader’s animated features.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Opposite Day

Directed by R. Michael Givens.

2009. Rated G, 88 minutes.

Billy Unger
Ariel Winter
Pauly Shore
Colleen Crabtree
French Stewart
Dick Van Patten
Renée Taylor
Nadji Jeter
Kristen Combs
Dylan Cash
George Wendt

There are hints that we are about to witness an evil that threatens man’s very existence before the movie even starts. The first thing we notice is the DVD cover for Opposite Day proudly displays the image and boldly printed name of Pauly Shore. We remember there was a time when he was inexplicably thought to be funny. We remember how he parlayed our misplaced trust in his comedic ability into multiple, horribly unfunny movie roles. We shudder as a coldness descends our spine; a warning that this may in fact be an actual depiction of the apocalypse masquerading as a benign family comedy.

We know it’s a family comedy because the full cover features Shore and an adult woman on the right wearing youthful looking outfits and goofy “Hey, I’m a kid!” looks on their faces. On the left we see two actual children, a boy and a girl sporting faux-stern visages and more adult clothing. We give them the once-over because they are children and remind us we have some of our own waiting to watch what we’re sure will be crap piled higher than anyone’s ever seen before. We choke back angry tears, lamenting the lengths to which we go to please our offspring. We told them we’ll never break a promise so we curse the Most High that sitting through this is one of the ones we made.

The blurb on the back of the cover informs us this is a zany “switch” movie. In this case a thingamajig operated by a bumbling scientist causes all of the adults and children in a generic town to switch roles. In other words, the children do all of the things adults normally do: parent, hold jobs, drive, etc. while adults play hop scotch, video games and destroy things. We think back to a promise we must break to honor the one to our kids: one made to ourselves. We recall that after suffering through an earlier movie in which children and adults switch identities we vowed to never again subject ourselves to such an experience. We know that they are almost always terrible, painfully so. Yet like Pharoah, with a hardened heart we refuse to heed God’s warnings, Pauly Shore, dippy outfits and the like, and let the show begin.

As expected, Opposite Day is a nightmare of biblical proportions. The plot, dialogue and acting by the almost all child cast is unfathomably bad and punctuated with an exclamation point by that icky scene where the young brother and sister wake up in bed together as if…never mind. The movie is so horrendous, our children aren’t laughing. It’s so loathsome we become riddled with guilt as if this whole thing were our idea. We pray our punishment will be swift and just. We happen a glance out the window. Sure enough, we see an elder bearded gentleman with a reluctant look on his face waving a staff and hear wind gathering to incomprehensible speeds.

MY SCORE: 0/10

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Ranking the Batman Movies: #5

5. Batman: The Movie
Directed by Leslie H. Martinson
Batman…Adam West
Robin…Burt Ward
James Gordon…Neil Hamilton
Alfred…Alan Napier
The Joker…Cesar Romero
Catwoman…Lee Merriweather
The Penguin…Burgess Meredith
The Riddler…Frank Gorshin

While it’s not the strangest or most experimental and certainly not the darkest, this is the most unique entry into the canon. While there is humor to be found throughout the franchise, this is the only all-out comedy. It’s also one that most serious Batman fans loathe. They blame it for ruining the character’s image, and of comic books in general, for decades. For that reason and its incorrect labeling as stupid kid stuff will lead many of you to shun me for ranking it this high. Even I felt that way once upon a time. Revisiting it with more mature eyes so many years later, I see it for what it was intended to be: a brilliant spoof of popular serials of the 1930s and 1940s and of Batman himself. It is also chock full of double entendre, slyly slipping lots of dirty talk past the censors of the day. It is a spoof of the highest order, not made to be taken seriously. It makes Batman the one thing he rarely gets to be: fun.