Sunday, September 25, 2016

When Jaws dies, nobody cry


No, seriously: what about the words "Dino De Laurentiis" and "Jaws with an orca" does not compel you to see it for yourself?

Directed by Michael Anderson
Written by Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Donati, and Robert Towne (based on the novel Orca by Arthur Herzog)
With Richard Harris (Nolan), Charlotte Rampling (Dr. Rachel Bedford), Will Sampson (Jacob Umilak), Keenan Wynn (Novak), Bo Derek (Annie), Peter Hooten (Paul), Robert Carradine (Ken), and Yaka and Nepo (the Orca)

Spoiler alert: high

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Joe Dante, part II: Lost river


Well... plastic fish being rubbed on a bunch of appliances representing human flesh is kind of scary.  I guess.

Directed by Joe Dante
Written by Richard Robinson and John Sayles
With Heather Menzies (Maggie McKeown), Brad Dillford (Paul Grogan), Kevin McCarthy (Dr. Robert Hoak), Keenan Wynn (Jack), Shannon Collins (Suzie Grogan), Paul Bartel (Mr. Dumont), Dick Miller (Buck Gardner), Bruce Gordon (Col. Waxman), Barbara Steele (Dr. Mengers)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Friday, September 23, 2016

Joe Dante, part I: If it's a good picture, it's a Miracle


Most directors' first films aren't great ones.  Maybe most directors' first films aren't even particularly good ones.  But somehow, when that filmmaker is Joe Dante, you'd expect more than this.  Hell, you'd expect more if the filmmaker were Roger Corman—but even by that standard, Hollywood Boulevard remains a piece of questionably moral trash.

Directed by Allan Arkush and Joe Dante
Written by Danny Opatoshu
With Candice Rialson (Candy Wednesday), Rita George (Bobbi), Tara Strohmeier (Jill), Dick Miller (Walter Paisley), Pat Hobby (Jeffrey Cramer), Paul Bartel (Eric von Leppe), Roger Doran (P.G.), and Mary Woronov (Mary McQueen)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Reviews from gulag: Komedy round-up!

Two frighteningly bad, one pretty damn good: our catch-up with 2016 continues apace, with a sequel to a pair of romantic comedies, that's worthless even within the context of its half-crappy franchise, Bridget Jones' Baby; a backstage melodrama about comedy, that's even more worthless than that, Don't Think Twice; and one utterly delightful eco-comedy, The Mermaid, which is the sort of miracle that reminds you that comedies don't have to be completely terrible after all!

BRIDGET JONES'S BABY (Sharon Maguire, 2016)
Twelve years on, Bridget Jones (Renee Zellwegger) is still single, because we're apparently ignoring the living shit out of how her last film ended up, with her engaged to Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), her greatest love.  But where there's life, there's hope, and Bridget manages to get herself impregnated, either by the random (yet implausibly dreamy and rich) tech guru she recently met at a musical festival (Patrick Dempsey), or—surprise, surprise—by one Mr. Darcy.  Can you guess how this all will end?  You can; you almost certainly already have; and therefore there's absolutely no reason for you to waste two hours and two minutes of your life seeing it play out in what amounts to excruciating slow motion.

There are lazy sequels, and then there are lazy sequels.  Bridget Jones's Baby is a dictionary-definition version of the latter.  It is the latecoming third offering in the series which began reasonably auspiciously in 2001 with the success of Bridget Jones's Diary, and continued three years later, with Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.  As such, it had no particularly great expectations to live up to, given that its immediate predecessor was already pretty bad—and the franchise's progenitor, itself, is likewise not any gold-plated kind of good.  Simple mediocrity, then, would have put it completely on par.  BJB doesn't meet even that minimal standard; it is handily the very worst of the lot.  Now, those first two films burned through a whole laundry list of sins—the sins of being instantly forgettable, of being terrifically pandering, of not being especially funny, of calling Renee Zellwegger fat every ten minutes, and (above all) of condescending totally to their target audience with a heroine who is, at best, only vaguely likeable, and, at worst, a mildly annoying nonentity, yet is still somehow the romantic focus of two loosely-drawn dream boys.

But those first two Bridget Jones pictures redeem their sins a little bit, because the farcical, almost magical-realist tone they each whip up manages to serve as a pleasant backdrop to an ongoing romantic triangle that, whether or not it's more than marginally credible, and whether or not it's particularly heartfelt, does still manage to be kind of actually enjoyable.  They did this through the expedient of giving its two wish-fulfillment figures to Hugh Grant and Colin Firth, who performed their one-note roles with capable aplomb.  Grant played up everything scummy about his tantalizing bad boy; Firth, meanwhile, was busy being the Firthiest version of himself he could be—which is more-or-less to say, he looks absolutely miserable that he even chose acting as a career in the first place.  But since this is exactly why we like Colin Firth, you can't say you never had any fun with him here.

Obviously, it would be unfair to say Renee Zellwegger herself had nothing to do with the films' (apparently) tremendous appeal.  And I would be the last person to say it.  To the extent that Diary (and its derivative and racist follow-up) ever wind up featuring a worthy protagonist, it's almost entirely due to her efforts at forging a human being out of the shards of ignorance and ill-judgment that constitute the simulacrum of singlehood called "Bridget Jones," so that what we actually saw was a woman whose major tragic flaw was that nobody had ever bothered teaching her the story of the Scorpion and the Frog.  And this went an awful long way to covering up the films' problems, explaining why she kept getting angry at her two lovers for, essentially, being the vacant romantic comedy archetypes they were.  (And, of course, it also helped explain why she kept stinging Mark Darcy right in his fucking neck—two films running!—when they were already halfway across the river.)  The point is that Daniel and Darcy were very well-opposed forces, and this lent their films a certain watchability.  Well, in Bridget Jones's Baby, the notion of Daniel shows up—while Hugh Grant emphatically does not—only so the screenwriters can savagely execute his character offscreen.

But, because this is a Bridget Jones movie, and because reinventing the wheel at this point would be way too much work, he inevitably does have a replacement.  And this man is categorically unacceptable, on pretty much every level possible, except that "he is an attractive age-appropriate partner for Bridget"; but maybe that's just as well, too, since the premise is even more unacceptable still, for once BJB gets going (it takes something like fifty minutes) every last thing in this film comes to turn entirely upon a question of paternity that, with our science, ought to be answered within a couple of weeks.

It is not answered, however, because Bridget is squeamish and refuses an amniocentesis.  (And she really shouldn't be squeamish about it, because not only is Bridget herself getting old, both of her prospective sperm donors are a lot closer to their graves than they are the maternity ward, too.  Incidentally, the only person to escape BJB with honor is Emma Thompson, as Bridget's OBGYN.)  But, of course, "responsibility" and "consequences" and "agency" have never been tremendously big issues in the Jones universe.  And never less so than now, when the script commits fully to its conceit of not one but two possible fathers, neither one of whom so much as raises an eyebrow, let alone a voice, over the fact that Bridget is willfully refusing to disclose which one of them is the guy who knocked her up.  And so the pandering has reached, in this third installment, the level of crazed pornography.

The worst of it is, it's the sort of thing that could be effortlessly handwaved away—Bridget tries! there's complications! and now she's legitimately afraid—and the writers would have actually made the melodrama tighter for their effort.  But effort is the last thing anyone was putting into this.  Even Firth is just on Firth Autopilot—which is still kind of funny, but it's not that funny.  Especially not when BJB's sense of humor can be summed up by its trailer-ready "setpiece," a lamaze class with two men, wherein Dempsey's watery billionaire and Firth's stolid super-lawyer are (gasp!) mistaken for a gay couple—and this is supposed to be amusing, for despite all the wear-and-tear you can see on the actors, it's pretty clearly going to be 2001 forever in Bridget Jones's boozy bourgeois rendition of the hellhole called London.

But, you know, at least this gag has the decency to have a punchline, even when that punchline is not really anything more profound than Firth in a reaction shot, easing us back into laughing at some unpalatably stale homosexual panic, with a look that's (cunningly enough) a lot more weary than it is actually anxious.  Unfortunately, most of BJB's efforts at comedy only get to the set-up, before they stop.

So, behold: there are vile hipsters running Bridget's tabloid media show now, and, boy, do they ever have some stupid facial hair!  (That's the joke.)  Thrill, as Bridget goes into labor and must hitch a ride with a pizza delivery truck, which is itself delayed by a feminist protest, and isn't that some value of ironic!  (That's the joke.)  And laugh, I guess, when BJB goes completely out of its way to set up a potentially delightful farce, wherein our heroine must doublespeak to both her men at once—and to a perfect stranger, too!—in order to keep the uncertain paterntity of her baby a secret, but then, presumably because good farce turns out to be hard to write, just has her vomit out the truth, about thirty seconds after she's told the brown guy to buzz off, because, sadly, he won't be needed for this bit.  (And, yes.  That is the joke.)

Finally, then, just die a little bit inside, as the screenplay tries quite desperately to convince you that the billionaire's utter lack of personality and charisma—these are replaced by his invention of a dating website and a so-called "love algorithm"—is supposed to have the mildest thematic value.  (Should I have mentioned that the billionaire's name was "Jack Qwant"?  Why, do you think that's funny?)

Well, in case these examples don't make it entirely clear, this whole movie is obnoxiously tilted toward some of the flimsiest and most hypocritical generational warfare you'll have the chance to see this whole damn year.  (Not enough examples?  How about "Bridget gets fired by her hipster bosses, which is bad, somehow, even though she was fired for being demonstrably unethical and bad at her job"—and, obviously, this seemingly-important plot element has virtually no plot ramifications.)  Now, it is never once as labia-out offensive as Edge of Reason's third act detour into a Thai prison—mostly because almost no movie is, up to and including The Temple of Doom—but it is one whole hell of a lot more consistently grating, in its general disdain for Millennials as well as the year it's supposedly set in.  I half-expect the editor's working title for this film was Bridget Jones's Snide Insert Shots of Trendy Beards.  This fucking movie voted for Brexit.

But, of course, this is the same movie that can't so much as bother alluding to how the ending of Edge of Reason came undone in the first place.  So you just can't claim anything like real surprise when it doesn't wind up putting any of its boundlessly-lacking energy toward being actually humorous or insightful, rather than just being generally blithe and intermittently playful, kind of like a cat that has cancer.

In fact, when the offscreen death of Daniel Cleaver is also the funniest joke BJB ever manages to make land, that should probably serve as some kind of warning in its own right.  Indeed, it ought to have served as a warning to the filmmakers themselves: because if you can't even get Hugh Grant to sign up to your lousy movie in 2016, then why in God's name are you bothering making it at all?

Score:  3/10

Thursday, September 15, 2016

There is a place where dreams survive


It's my birthday, and I can indulge if I want to.

Directed by Nelson Shin
Written by Ron Friedman and Flint Dille
With Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime), Judd Nelson (Hot Rod), Lionel Stander (Kup), Robert Stack (Ultra Magnus), Neil Ross (Springer), Susan Blu (Arcee), John Moschitta, Jr. (Blurr), Gregg Berger (Grimlock), Eric Idle (Wreck-Gar), Frank Welker (Megatron), Chris Latta (Starscream), Frank Welker (Soundwave), Leonard Nimoy (Galvatron), Frank Welker (Wheelie), and Orson Welles (Unicron)

Spoiler alert: high

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Coens, part I: What I know about is Texas, and down here, you're on your own


Though not without a few rankling problems with its plot and staging, Blood Simple is almost too good to be a pair of inexperienced brothers' first time at bat.

Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
With Frances McDormand (Abby), John Getz (Ray), Samm Art-Williams (Meurice), Dan Hedaya (Marty), and M. Emmett Walsh (Loren Visser)

Spoiler alert: moderate, considering it's also 31 years old
Note: this review is based on the very slightly re-edited "director's cut" of Blood Simple released in 2001

Monday, September 5, 2016

I'm not even ovulating, you idiot


Close to ideal for what it aims to be, most of the issues that Don't Breathe has comes from writing itself into a corner, then writing itself out with a sticky keyboard.  And let's call them issues, because "problems" might overstate the matter, simply because this movie's so nuts, and I'm terribly loath to condemn a preposterous thriller like this just for going nuts.  As for the rest of it, outside of one or two annoying characters and a yawning gap or two in its premise—hey, did you not see those two words, "preposterous thriller"?—but other than that, well.  It's damn near unimpeachable.

Directed by Fede Alvarez
Written by Rodo Sayagues and Fede Alvarez
With Jane Levy (Rocky), Dylan Minnette (Alex), Daniel Zovatto (Money), and Stephen Lang (The Blind Man)

Spoiler alert: moderate? high?