REVIEW: The Bad Batch

21 06 2017

Fantastic Fest

I watched Ana Lily Amirpour’s “The Bad Batch” late at night as the fifth movie in a single day at Fantastic Fest – and there was still one after it – so my grasp on its granular details is admittedly not as strong as usual. Yet experiencing the film in a state of altered consciousness where I had to fight against my body’s impulses to understand what was happening in front of my eyes feels oddly fitting.

“The Bad Batch” unfolds in a richly textured dystopian Texan wasteland where even the crows do battle. The authorities leave the condemned Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) to fend herself in this wasteland where she almost immediately becomes aware of its perils after a group of cannibals take her arm. Talk about initiation by fire!

From there, the film follows Arlen’s search for revenge and answers in the unforgiving territory. But Amirpour’s interests do not lie in mere plot progression. She’s all about exploring textures, details and atmospheres – far more than in the flat, staged tableaus of her debut “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.” The film amounts to more than just a series of thematically interconnected music videos. “The Bad Batch” is a sustained two-hour trip, wildly unpredictable, utterly gonzo yet completely controlled. I’ll have to revisit it in a more composed state of mind, although a part of me does wonder if that will tinker with its delicate chemistry. B+ /





REVIEW: Dumb and Dumber To

13 11 2014

If ever there were a walking contradiction of a film, it would be “Dumb and Dumber To.”  I remain confounded as to how a film can be so clever yet so inane at the same time.  Some jokes in the film are actually quite ingenious, but usually just when it registers, Harry (Jeff Daniels) and Lloyd (Jim Carrey) make some crack that would not even entertain the least discerning thirteen-year-old.

So what to make of the Farrelly Brothers’ latest comedy, an uneven blend of upper-middle- and low-brow humor?  It caters to two wildly opposite sensibilities, providing no real meeting point for them.  I have a feeling its median will be both happy or unhappy, depending on how tolerant a particular viewer is when they approach “Dumb and Dumber To.”

I would have been a little happier had the film not been so long; clocking in at a tumid 110 minutes, Harry and Lloyd, who are essentially glorified sketch comedy characters, really overstay their welcome.  It’s certainly not as if the plot sweeps us up because it amounts to little more than a skeleton onto which the jokes can graft themselves.  The wild, “Tommy Boy”-esque goose chase that ensues from Harry’s need for a kidney replacement brings a few good natural jokes, though the real laughs arise from the off-handed remarks and abundant malapropisms.

There are also far more laughs coming from Jeff Daniels, who rarely gets the chance to be this funny.  Carrey plays shades of his wacky, off-kilter Lloyd all the time; Daniels, on the other hand, only breaks out Harry once in a blue moon.  He usually waxes witty in everything from “Looper” to “The Squid and the Whale,” yet it is really a fun treat to watch him cut loose – even if the material feels beneath him at times.

And as a final post-script, whoever put in two seconds of Riskay’s “Smell Yo Dick” as Lloyd’s ringtone should pat themselves on the back.  I doubt they intended it to generate a big rise, but I caught the reference and got a wickedly perverse amount of pleasure from it.  Obscure semi-viral videos from 2009 should still have a place in our culture five years later, and better it be in “Dumb and Dumber To” than on another obnoxious nostalgia-exploiting clickbait BuzzFeed list.  B-2stars





REVIEW: I Love You Phillip Morris

5 11 2014

i_love_you_phillip_morrisIn his opening monologue at the Golden Globes in 2011, Ricky Gervais quipped, “Not nominated, ‘I Love You Phillip Morris,’ with Ewan McGregor and Jim Carrey, two heterosexual actors pretending to be gay.  The complete opposite of some famous Scientologists, then.”  I have nothing to say about said couch-jumper, largely because I’m not trying to get sued or anything.

But I do have plenty to say about the two straight actors playing gay.  Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor were, quite frankly, borderline offensive in “I Love You Phillip Morris.”  They play the broadest, most stereotypical feminine and weak homosexuals I could possibly imagine.  It’s these types of characters and performances that are undermining any sort of progress towards a more equal and accepting world.

Carrey’s idea of playing gay is to be the most over-the-top, female, scenery-chewing performer in the history of cinema.  He has succeeded in doing exactly what he set out to do, at devastating effect (for all the wrong reasons).  It’s as if he’s merely one of his other characters from his outrageously physical career, but on acid.  To Carrey, homosexuality appears to be a sort of affectation, trivializing it in the process.  McGregor is slightly better, but not by much as the bizarre energy of Carrey ultimately rubs off on everyone else.

The whole movie is just strange.  It’s a major misfire for Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the directorial team who gave us the hilarious and inspired “Crazy Stupid Love” after this disaster.  They take a tale that should be played as a tragedy and spin it into a comedy, largely at the expense of criminals and homosexuals, who take the brunt of the jokes.

What’s so funny about Carrey’s character, Steven Jay Russell, a closeted homosexual who lives a lie with his wife?  What’s funny about him leaving her devastated with his revelation, running off to Florida living an absurdly extravagant lifestyle with a male lover?  What’s funny about that lover, played by Rodrigo Santoro (Paulo Poops-A-Lot from “Lost”), later dying?  What’s funny about him falling into a life of crime?

What’s funny about him finally meeting the love of his life, Ewan McGregor’s Phillip Morris, only to be separated from him?  What’s funny about several people being stricken with AIDS, a disease that has ravaged the homosexual community like a plague?  This has all the makings of serious, touching drama.  But Ficarra and Requa see it as a comedy, why?  Because it has gay people?  Why give them feelings, why give them heartfelt moments?

In “I Love You Phillip Morris,” humanity for homosexuals takes a backseat to letting them traipse around effeminately in an attempt to prey on horrible preconceived notions for humor.  I am wowed by the insensitivity of this movie from the directors to the stars.  C-1halfstars





F.I.L.M. of the Week (December 31, 2010)

31 12 2010

I don’t quite know how to end a year in movie reviewing … that’s a little awkward.

But want to know something more awkward?  “Man on the Moon,” my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”  (And to close on a good note, F.I.L.M. stands for First-Class, Independent Little-Known Movie.)  Perhaps awkward isn’t the right word for it, though you’ll undoubtedly feel the strange sentiment many times while watching the movie.  It’s intelligently quirky and undeniably of the oddball variety, which makes it one of the most wonderful off-color movies I’ve ever seen.

The nomadic comedian Jim Carrey has never been so at home than here as Andy Kaufman, the comedian of the ’70s and ’80s who became an incredible enigma for audiences nationwide.  His unique style was meant to be, as he called it, an “experience” for the audience meant to drum up laughs, affection, and hate.  This roller-coaster ride of emotions wasn’t exactly something that sold, and his refusal to budge from his principles made it hard for him to get many jobs on TV.

The movie, directed by two-time Academy Award-winner Milos Forman, does more than just chronicle the bizarre career of Kaufman; it attempts to resurrect the man himself.  “Man on the Moon” gives us largely the same experience that Kaufman wanted his audiences to have.  We are meant to raise an eyebrow when he stands motionless for a minute on the first episode of “Saturday Night Live” or when he reads the entire novel “The Great Gatsby” instead of doing his routine for a rowdy college crowd.  We question his alter ego, the crude and crass Tony Clifton, a fat bar-singer parody.  And then we don’t quite know what to make of a lot of it, but his refusal to conform is often hilarious and always entertaining.

As movies like “Little Fockers” tear up the box office charts but inspire groans from the audience, this may be the perfect time to watch “Man on the Moon.”  Andy Kaufman, who dared to be different, found humor in silence – and his comedy is a wacky experience that no one has ever repeated since.





Random Factoid #490

30 11 2010

Cinematical reported an interesting tidbit: in a few years, new audiences won’t see “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” as a fantasy but rather as realism!  Here’s how:

Time reports that researchers at Johns Hopkins University think that by removing proteins from the brain’s fear center, they can permanently erase memories. This isn’t to stylishly morph memories at the whim of the rich, but rather “to enhance behavioral therapy for such conditions as post-traumatic stress disorder.”

In other words, they are developing a targeted memory erasure program similar to what creepers like Mark Ruffalo and Elijah Wood ran on Jim Carrey!  I really hope the people that market this technology don’t try to sell it using “Eternal Sunshine” because I sure as heck didn’t want to go erase someone from my memory after watching that movie.  There was almost a sort of cautionary tale nestled inside that script, particularly through the theme of destiny.  We are meant to meet who we meet and have the experiences that we have for a reason, and there’s no way to escape that.

So you will not find me signing up for permanent memory loss … even if Clementine Kruczynski was there.





What To Look Forward To in … March 2010

12 02 2010

There’s more to March than just the Oscars.  Finally, March arrives and we can stop dwelling on 2009.  In my opinion, March is usually a pretty decent movie month.  This year’s crop looks especially promising with new movies from Tim Burton, Paul Greengrass (“The Bourne Ultimatum”), and Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”).

March 5

After almost 3 months, “Avatar” will have to cede those illustrious 3-D and IMAX screens to Tim Burton’s twist on “Alice in Wonderland.”  The titular character is played by relative newcomer Mia Wasikowsa, who will look quite a bit older than the Alice you remember from Disney’s 1951 animated classic.  If that’s not a big enough draw for you, surely Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter (who will hopefully channel more of his glorious Jack Sparrow than his Jacko-esque Willy Wonka) will suffice.  No?  How about Helena Bonham Carter as the Queen of Hearts?  Or Anne Hathaway as the White Queen?  Perhaps Alan Rickman as the Caterpillar?  No doubt about it, this is one exciting cast, and I’m sure Tim Burton won’t have any problem distinguishing himself from the numerous “Alice in Wonderland” rip-offs that have sprouted over the past few years.

“Brooklyn’s Finest” is directed by Antoine Fuqua, helmer of “Training Day,” which was enough to get me interested.  However, it really looks to be little more than a mash-up of every cop movie ever made.  But hey, that may be your thing, which would make this your potpourri.

March 12

I’m excited for “Green Zone,” which looks to be a smart political thriller. See my previous post at the release of the trailer for more info.

On the indie side of things, Noah Baumbach looks to return to Oscar form after “Margot at the Wedding” underwhelmed with “Greenberg.”  The movie stars Ben Stiller as Greenberg, the grouchy misanthrope who finds a reason to be pessimistic about everything.  However, a special woman comes along and begins to melt his heart.  I’m looking forward to a double-edged performance from Stiller, one that can show off his dramatic chops but also give us plenty of hearty laughs.

Seth Rogen’s four roommates in “Knocked Up” were equally as funny as he was. Each of them have slowly gotten their “moment”: Jonah Hill in “Superbad,” Jason Segel in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Now, it could be Jay Baruchel’s turn. “She’s Out of My League” pits him similar situation: the uncomely guy getting the smoking hot babe. Hopefully Paramount gives this the push it deserves, maybe making Baruchel a breakout comedic star of 2010.

Could “Remember Me” get Robert Pattinson the Razzie for Worst Actor? After narrowly missing the cut for his two performances as Edward Cullen, this could finally be the one to get him the kind of awards attention he deserves.

Forest Whitaker is an Academy Award winning actor. What on earth is he doing in “Our Family Wedding?” For that matter, America Ferrera has won SAG and Golden Globe awards, and Carlos Mencia was once actually funny! This looks not only insufferable but almost racist. Plus, didn’t I see this movie in 2005 when it was called “Guess Who?”

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REVIEW: A Christmas Carol

29 11 2009

Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” gets the title “timeless” bestowed on it because every year at Christmas, some new version of his story is spawned.  Robert Zemeckis is the latest filmmaker to take a stab at the tale.  Rather than revamp, retool, or recondition the story, he simply uses modern technology to retell it in a fun way that stays true to the source material and keeps the soul intact.  His “A Christmas Carol” bottles up the real spirit of the holiday season like no recent movie and spreads it through the audience.  It really is an empowering feeling to walk out of a movie inspired to put that twenty-dollar bill in the Salvation Army bin, not in the cash register at the mall.

The story of Ebenezer Scrooge is probably the second most well-known holiday yarn, weaved into the very fabric of the holiday season itself.  We all know it: the old miser with a heart colder than the snow packed on the London sidewalks gets a wake-up call that changes him.  Prior, Scrooge scoffed at Christmas with a “bah, humbug.”  He scorned those who wanted to care for him and refused to give care to the people that need it the most.  He treats his employee like dirt and gives him wages that amount to little more than that.  But Scrooge gets a visit from three ghosts – the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come – that change his perspective by reminding him of the joy that the season used to bring, the plight of those less fortunate, and the bleak future that awaits him if he doesn’t change his ways.  The result is a more tender-hearted man who appreciates Christmas and the giving spirit that accompanies it.

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What To Look Forward To In … November 2009

7 10 2009

The holiday movie season begins to kick into high gear in the month of November, as does exciting Oscar season.  Accordingly, this post is longer than the previous monthly preview posts.  Brace yourself for movie mania coming your way in a few weeks.  Sit back, relax, and let Marshall guide you through the coming attractions.

November 6

From the mainstream movie perspective, the hot movie of this weekend will be Robert Zemeckis’ adaptation of “A Christmas Carol.”  Shot with the same motion capture technology that Zemeckis used to make “The Polar Express,” the movie will cash in on premium ticket prices from 3D and IMAX 3D screenings.  My main concern about the quality of the movie itself lies with its principal actor, Jim Carrey, who will act as Scrooge and all three ghosts.  I doubt Zemeckis will permit it, but I fear that Carrey will make a mockery of Dickens’ classic novel much in the fashion of Mike Meyers with “The Cat in the Hat.”  Regardless of what critics say, I will probably end up seeing this with the family for some good old-fashioned family fun at the movies.

“The Men Who Stare at Goats” is the first movie of the holiday season to which George Clooney lends his talents.  Here, he plays a a military man in charge of a secret unit that attempts to use psychic powers for military purpose.  One such activity is to attempt to kill goats just by staring at them.  The movie also stars Ewan MacGregor as the reporter who discovers it all; the cast also includes Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey.  The movie is directed and adapted by Grant Heslov, previously nominated for an Academy Award for his work on “Good Night, and Good Luck.”  The trailer seems to show Heslov’s approach as similar to the Coen Brothers who usually provide a fun-filled romp.  Maybe the film will be a bona-fide indie hit, and Overture Films will be able to claim their first movie to gross over $50 million.  But we’ll have to see.

I’ve already written about the Oscar favorite, “Precious,” in a previous Oscar Moment.  I’ll post the trailer here just for the sake of promoting it, but if you want to hear my thoughts, read the post.

Two thrilling movies also open this week.  First, “The Box” with Cameron Diaz and James Marsden, seems to have an intriguing premise: if you push the button on the box, you will get a million dollars, but someone you don’t know will die.  However, it looks to be more interested in cheap thrills than exploring moral issues.  The other, “The Fourth Kind,” looks downright scary.  If horror is your thing, this looks like the movie for you.  I saw the trailer at “District 9,” and even if you don’t want to see it, you have to ponder the validity of the “true story” behind the movie.

November 13

Disaster porn reaches its pinnacle this weekend.  “2012,” Roland Emmerich’s apocalyptic film, will have some of the biggest destruction and explosions the world has ever seen.  The trailer was so mind-blowing that I am willing to overlook all vices in the plot to see the world’s greatest landmarks get wiped off the earth.  My only comment is that if John Cusack somehow finds a way to stop the end of the world, I will be enraged.

The other major wide release of the week is “Pirate Radio,” a movie that Focus Features so desperately wants you to see that they changed the title from “The Boat that Rocked” just a few weeks ago to appeal to you. Are you flattered? You shouldn’t be. The movie seems like comedic Oscar Bait, but it didn’t do well Britain, the country of production. Focus scrambled to change their focus from awards movie to popular movie. So whenever this pops into a theater near you, be armed with the knowledge that “Pirate Radio” is merely a washed-up Oscars wannabe. But make the decision to see it for yourself.

New York and Los Angeles get the treat of watching Wes Anderson’s adaptation Roald Dahl’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox.”  I have the utmost respect for Anderson for not conforming to the growing trend to do all animation through computers.  Anderson’s film uses the stop motion technique, moving an object gradually to give the illusion that it is moving.  Even more exciting that Anderson’s eccentric style in an eccentric medium is the voice cast.  Clooney voices the titular character, the cunning Mr. Fox.  The cast also features Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, and Bill Murray.  What’s not to like?  (NOTE: The movie expands on November 20 and enters wide release on November 25.)

For those who like very obscure indies, “That Evening Sun” with 87-year-old Oscar bridesmaid Hal Halbrook has his latest shot at the gold.

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