Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Sunday morning document dump

As the GVG isn't putting anything up, we might as well put it up here:

Aqua Teen Hunger Force
Colon Movie Film for Theaters

Written and Directed by
Matt Maiellaro and Dave Willis

Blame this on Pokémon. Back in the late 1990s, Warner Bros. released a theatrical version of the then wildly popular TV show/video game, and the thing almost broke a hundred million bucks, since then, there have been a number of other theatrical episodes of animated TV shows, and with the exception of “South Park: The Movie” which was brilliant, most were not and returns became lower and lower until the people at Warners’ decided to finally give up on the idea.

However, that didn’t stop the people at Cartoon Network from giving it another go. The people at the WB generously gave the film to First Look Pictures, who specialize in independent films with small runs, in other words they cater to the “art house crowd.” While this may play in a house, I can hardly call it “art.”

The makers of this film know who their audience is, and it probably isn’t you. It’s insomniacs who watch the TV version late at night on various types of intoxicating substances. Why this “movie film” is in theaters is a mystery. Who in their right minds would blow eleven bucks to see what they can watch for nothing on cable?

This is supposed to be an action epic that explores the origins of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force (better known as Master Shake, Frylock, and Meatwad), cartoon fast food products who save the world every episode, fighting the same evil aliens, and mad scientists (Dr. Weird and Steve) and whatnot in the theatrical version. God help us.

This time out, they discover an exercise machine from outer space [or is it millions of years ago? Who cares?] which threatens downtown Philadelphia. The plot, actually is something that only fans of the show would appreciate, although there are a few laughs here and there [I didn’t find any, but there were several chuckles resonating throughout the screening room] the whole thing is relatively incomprehensible. I guess ita bit too highbrow for the likes of me. If you don’t like the TV show, then don’t see the movie.


Directed by
D.J. Caruso

I was arguing with a friend about this film before either of us actually saw it. From the promos, it looked like warmed over Hitchcock. The basic plot is a rehash of “Rear Window,” and my friend was complaining how there’s nothing new in film anymore and why should one spend the bucks to see this thing if you can rent the original for a lot less? Well, he’s both right and wrong. D. J. Caruso and writers Christopher B. Landon and Carl Ellsworth have indeed ripped off Hitchcock to some extent, but it’s also quite original, and some of the visuals are breathtaking.

The film begins with such a visual. Kale(Shia LaBeouf), the protagonist, is out in the Pacific Northwest with his father(Matt Craven), it’s out in the middle of nowhere, and nothing much happens until just before the opening credits start, but we have ten minutes of great introspective acting in gloriously beautiful scenery. It’s a fake-out of course, which has both nothing and everything to do with the rest of the film and has a completely different tone than everything that comes later.

Dad, gets killed in a horrific car crash while talking to Mom(Carrie-Anne Moss) on the phone [car crashes are always fun], and BANG! We’re in a completely different movie, since our hero is now a prisoner in his own home after being sentenced to house arrest for punching his Spanish teacher(Rene Rivera) in the face in class, something we in the audience are manipulated into thinking is justified.

So Act One is bucolic lyricism and tragedy, Act Two is pure comedy. Bored out of his skull, Kale starts surveying the neighborhood with his sidekick Ronnie (Aaron Yoo), using the binoculars featured in the poster and that is kind of how he hooks up with next door neighbor Ashley (Sara Roemer) and the trio have some interesting misadventures within the confines of the house and front yard, speculating on, among other things, whether or not creepy and mysterious neighbor Mr.Turner (David Morse) is in fact the serial killer being talked about on the television. Of course he is, which leads us to Act Three, which is pure thriller.

Morse has never been better. He exudes an evil air that pretty much blots everything else out as he slowly begins to dominate the picture as the tone of the film changes from teen comedy to something else entirely. Le Beuf, Yoo and Roemer have great chemistry together and it’s easy to suspend disbelief.

Yeah, one can tell where much of the film was stolen from, but the repackaging is so good that it doesn’t really matter. It’s most definitely worth a bargain matinee.

Slow Burn

Written and Directed
by Wayne Beach

If you’re going to blatantly rip off something, you might as well do it from the best, and Bryan Singer’s “The Usual Suspects” is about as good as it gets. Unfortunately, blatant ripoffs are almost always inferior to the originals. However that doesn’t mean that it can’t be entertaining. This is a classic refrigerator film.

What is a refrigerator film? It’s a film you have a blast at, then you go home, and while you’re getting a snack out of the fridge when you get home, it suddenly hits you how awful it was. So I’m of two minds about this.

The film starts with Nora Timmer (Jolene Blalock) looking horrible in the pouring rain, and we find out exactly why extremely soon. It seems that the corpse(Mekhi Phifer) had a sexual relationship with her and so did her boss DA Ford Cole(Ray Liotta).

Nora claims that she killed him while he was raping her, but then, out of nowhere, comes Luther Pinks(James” LL Cool J” Smith), who claims that Isaac, the corpse, was completely innocent and that Nora is a ho. So Ford leaves journalist Ty Trippin(Chiwetel Ejiofor)
waiting in the lobby for the rest of the film while he goes fishing for red herrings, the chief of which is a drug lord named Danny. Either that or Keyser Sozé, I’m not sure.

So we get the conflicting stories and a number of nifty explosions, signifying very little and making for a film that’s lots of fun and rather confounding, but as I said before, it’s best not to think about it too much because it might give you a headache, which is why it’s been sitting on a shelf for almost five years [it was completed in ’03 and was shown at the 2005 Toronto film festival]. It’s a half way decent way to waste an afternoon on a bargain matinee, but no way is it worth full price.

Perfect Stranger

Directed by
James Foley

I’m surprised that the red herring isn’t extinct yet. It’s almost as if the makers of this film fished them all out of the sea and put them in this film. There are so many of them, Wow!

The film starts with investigative reporter Rowena Price (Halle Berry), posing as a lobbyist, where she’s showing Senator Sachs(Gordon MacDonald) some blackmail photos sent by a former gay intern to her newspaper. She has a scoop! But to the chagrin of both herself and her sidekick Miles Hailey (Giovanni Ribisi), the Senator is too powerful, and gets the story quashed. Both are furious, and Ro quits.

Just as she walks out of the door, she’s accosted by her old pal Grace(Nicki Aycox), who wants her to expose the sexual misconduct of powerful ad executive Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis), who had a brief affair with Grace, and had the audacity not to divorce his wife and give up his entire world for her! Thus he must be destroyed!

Of course Ro has no intentions of doing that, seeing as Grace had stolen her boyfriend Cameron(Gary Dourdan) some time before, that is until Grace turns up dead in the Hudson River. So Ro gets Miles to get her a job in Hill’s office, and the two of them begin looking for dirt, because obviously, Hill did it to save his marriage to the beauteous Mia (Paula Miranda), who owns 60% of his company. Or did he?

Like I said, this thing has so many red herrings in it that I’m afraid they might have fished them into extinction. There are lots of other suspects, and but that’s only misdirection. It’s clear that YOU did it, and at the end of the film the only people that don’t seem like total creeps are Hill’s two assistants(Patti DArbanville and Clea Lewis) and the editor of the newspaper(Richard Portnow). The twist at the end is a bit of a shocker, but it doesn’t help very much. The acting is great, but that doesn’t change the fact that the script is too dense and misanthropic. Don’t bother unless you like seeing Holly Berry almost naked.

Private Fears in Public Places

Written and Directed
by Alain Resnais

Exactly, what is it about depressing movies that people keep making them? I mean, who in their right mind would want to see a thing that makes you want to kill yourself at the end?

Thierry (André Dussollier) is a Parisian real estate broker and is trying to find an apartment for a shrew named Nicole (Laura Morante) and her drunk of a fiancée Dan (Lambert Wilson). He lives a lonely life with his sister Gaelle(Isabelle Carré), who doesn’t like him very much. She goes out every night to read at the local bistro and get away from him. The days aren’t much better, because his assistant Charlotte (Sabine Azéma) is a religious fanatic.

Dan spends most of his day at a hotel bar, where he whines to Lionel (Pierre Arditi) the bartender, who’s very patient with everybody, especially his aged father(Claude Rich), who’s a comic monster. Dad needs 24 hour care, and thus hires Charlotte as his part-time caretaker. This is supposed to be a comedy, so it’s obvious that Dan and Gaelle will hook up eventually. We watch people hurting for no reason and it’s all very painful, especially for the viewer.

This flick was based on an English play by Alan Ayckburn, and its clear that Resnais doesn’t understand how English drama works. First off, it’s too stage-y. While the camera travels around the various sets, it doesn’t do so very much, and thus it’s all rather boring visually. Second, the characters aren’t very interesting. All sorts of things are alluded to, but the filmmakers don’t get much beyond the surface, this is especially true of the Nicole character, who is just a bitch, nothing more, we want to know what it is that Dan did, and why Theirry doesn’t kick his sister out on her ear or confront Charlotte about the maguffin. But I guess that’s the point of the original play in the first place. T’ain’t worth the bucks.


Directed by
Andy Cheng

Stupid movies can indeed be fun. This is one of those scripts that appears to have been originally written by a twelve year old and is about crashing cars and baring breasts. There’s nothing actually wrong with that, but remember this is not “Citizen Kane.”

Apparently real estate investor Daniel Sadek financed the $26 million movie because he promised his car collection that he would make it a movie star, and so all those Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Rolls Royces and such are given as much love on the screen as are the human stars, which is something we can clearly see,

The plot: Nadia Bjorlin is Natasha, a rock star wannabe who’s day job is an auto mechanic on the NASCAR circuit, and can drive like nobody’s business. Dragooned into the illegal racing circuit, she’s forced to become the bimbo of an evil vegan counterfeiter(Angus Macfadyen), who wants her to drive in the next secret race, or he will kill her mommy, who for some reason is almost as hot as Nat is.

Of course Mom has to be rescued by someone, and our villain’s nephew Carlo (Nathan Phillips), a recently discharged Iraq vet, fits the bill. In the meantime, we get to watch lots of almost naked women cavort in a resort, and Eddie Griffin and Tim Matheson lose whatever credibility they ever had. While this isn’t the worst film of the year by any means, it still reeks. This must be seen only when intoxicated. Seeing this with a clear head will just make it ache.

Year of the Dog

Written and Directed
By Mike White

Before I begin I should make a confession. I’m prejudiced against vegans. I am not apologizing, being prejudiced isn’t always a bad thing. I’m also prejudiced against Nazis and pedophiles, and I don’t care if David Duke or Nambla are offended. Also, the comparison between vegans and Nazis is apt, for both are a bunch of intolerant fanatics. Mike White is a vegan and he’s made a propaganda film as hateful as it is badly made, which is strange because his resume is one of the best in Hollywood.

This is the spiritual journey of Peggy(Molly Shannon) is a nerd living in California. She works for a company filled with icky cartoonish people, her brother (Thomas McCarthy) and sister-in-law(Laura Dern) are disgusting bores who are far too concerned with their two kids and the only consolation she has from an awful world is her beloved dog Pencil.

One night, Pencil goes under the neighbor’s(John C. Reilly) fence and dies of “toxic poisoning [is there any other kind?]. Peggy is naturally devastated. Al the neighbor comes over and commiserates. It turns out that he’s a hunter who accidentally shot his own dog many years ago. So He’s evil.

Her family doesn’t seem much of a help, and her boss boss Robin (Josh Pais) merely gives her her bonus early and her best friend Layla (Regina King) tells her to get a boyfriend. Then she gets a call from the man of her dreams. Newt (Peter Sarsgaard) works for the ASPCA as community affairs liaison, and offers her a new dog as a replacement. He introduces her into the world of veganism and animal activism. The film then becomes an exercise in propaganda.

The film was ugly, boring and unfunny. the characters were badly drawn, poorly acted (and this with a killer cast, too), and the "it's hard to be a fanatic, but it's worth it" message was telegraphed in a particularly unappealing way. I think it's one of the worst films of the year. Pass this by, go to a restaurant and eat a dead animal instead. You’ll be glad you did.

Dreaming Lhasa

Written and Directed by
Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam

What was unexpected was that is film is not a documentary. It begins as one, kind of. Karma (Tenzin Chokyi Gyatso) is a filmmaker working on a doc about refugees from Tibet living in Dharamsala, North India, where the Dalai Lama and his court live in exile. The film begins with an extra telling the story of her escape from Chinese oppression, then another, and then the filmstock changes and Karma and her assistant Jigme(Tenzin Jigme), preparing the next interview.

This particular interviewee is Dhondup(Jampa Kalsang), who after his testimony is recorded makes an unusual request. He wants Karma to go with him to New Delhi in order to find a certain
Loga(Phuntsok Namgyal Dhumkhang), who was at one time the owner of a certain object that his dying mother asked to return.

Jigme, being a worldy type, thinks that Dhondup is just trying to get laid, but Karma doesn’t think so, and thus begins a wild goose chase across northern and western India trying to track the guy down. Meanwhile Karma and Jigme have other problems. She with her main project and husband back in the ‘States, and he with the usual third-world unemployment related stuff. He mostly hangs out with his friends in the local bar and plays the guitar while waiting for Karma and Dhondup to come back from wherever they went.

The film is as much about normal life for the Tibetan exile community as it is about politics and oppression. The characters are real people, not just archetypes, and the question of whether or not the missing person is alive or dead is open until the very end, this despite the predictions of a local oracle(Lobsang Choedon).

The film is actually worth paying full price for, although it’s getting a limited release and may play very long before going to DVD.

Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis

A Documentary
by Mary Jordan

Jack Smith was the enemy of art. He was a talented lunatic who according to auteur John Waters "bit every hand that could ever, ever feed him," and died of AIDS, something he deliberately contracted, broke and alone. Today he is mostly forgotten, a catalyst of an age gone by who influenced the likes of Waters, Andy Warhol, Federico Fellini and Matthew Barney, whether or not he deserves to be remembered is an open question, but this film is an argument in the affirmative.

This tragedy, for that’s what it is, reminds one of Jeff Feuerzeig's “The Devil and Daniel Johnston” another madman who had a brush with fame and influenced those who would do it much better and change the culture.

It was Smith who created Warhol’s “superstar system.” He had gotten into a hell of a lot of trouble for his 1963 pornographic feature “Flaming Creatures”, a phantasmagoric brew of Art Nuveau pornography that was banned in nearly half the country and was nationally notorious. Soon after he began to feud with his distributor and business manager Jonas Mekas, and although he did another feature, which he would re-edit every time it was shown, he never completed anything ever again, at least on his own.

So it was a bunch of bits and pieces that Mary Jordan had to work with and with interviews with a bunch of people who knew him back in the day, such as Waters, Mekas, Tony Conrad, Gary Indiana, Ken Jacobs, Judith Malina, Mario Montez, and Andrew Sarris, among others we get a portrait of sad and hateful individual who turned his back on that which he loved the most and wasted much of life.

Jordan uses the fragments to their best effect, giving the viewer a good idea of what Smith was all about. It might be interesting to find a copy of “Flaming Creatures” just to see if it had a plot, although this film kind of makes that unnecessary. The man needs a monument, and this is all the monument he needs.


Directed by
Marcus Nispel

It’s no wonder why Fox tried to bury this flick. It’s completely ahistorical and possibly racist. The seasons change back and forth and it’s really, really violent. Not only that the lighting is all wrong and you can’t see very much.

Now, I’ve never held any brief for the Vikings, they deserved their bad press, and were a bunch of bloodthirsty scoundrels in general. However, the Aboriginals they met were more than their match, which is why their attempted conquest of Newfoundland ended in disaster extremely quickly. A slight advantage in weapons technology couldn’t counter the 3000 to one Indian advantage.

But this is politically correct to the extreme, and the Peaceful People of the Dawn, led by the Pathfinder(Russell Means), who are perfect in every way except they live in an area that’s always covered in a smoky mist. Their peaceful utopian existence is disturbed by the Vikings, who try to kill everybody, but somehow are destroyed all except one boy, who is adopted into the tribe and named Ghost, in account of his pasty white skin.

Cut to fifteen years later, and Ghost(Karl Urban) is almost integrated into the tribe. Almost, as he’s still a recovering foreigner, although Pathfinder’s daughter StarFire(Moon Bloodgood) might have the hots for him and he’s not permitted to be a brave. That is until the Vikings(Ralph Moeller Clancy Brown, a bunch of others who speak a guttural Icelandic) come back and start massacring people left and right. Director Marcus Nispel’s first main gig was a remake of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and he’s rather adept at gore.

This is what we get. Blood and guts in the misty forest, more of the same in the snowy mountains, or is it the snowy forest and misty mountains? We don’t know because the climate keeps changing all the time and the lighting is so smoky we can’t really tell.

If you like slasher flicks, this will do just fine, but this is for genre fans only, which is probably why they didn’t let any but a select few critics screen this film prior to it’s release. I guess it’s better to have a snooty connoisseur of highbrow cinema pan this than a fan of the genre. Still, while it has it’s good points, it’s generally useless.

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