Wednesday, April 16, 2008

movies are mostly bad, sometimes good, mostly bad...

I haven't been going to the movies too much lately, which kinda sucks, since, as you might have gathered from reading this blog, it's something I generally enjoy. Last weekend I made it out with a couple of friends to catch a brand new, first run feature in the theatre, the first time for me since "Eastern Promises" last year. Lame, I know. Do I? Yeah, I pretty much do. Anyway, one of my most regular bad movie compatriots, her boyfriend and my co-worker all stepped out to catch "the Ruins," a new horror picture directed by Carter Smith (no relation), written by Scott B. Smith from his novel (same guy what wrote "A Simple Plan"). I was expecting the worst, I mean this really isn't the kind of movie I go for in a big way, and ultimately I didn't, but also ultimately it wasn't all that bad. I don't know if I'd call it good, but it wasn't all that bad.

"The Ruins" starts off like every other horror movie I hated that's come out within the past 3-4 years, with a bunch of American college kids on vacation in a foreign country (here it's Mexico), drinking and dramaing and generally setting themselves up for some kind of horrible comeuppance. Fortunately, where every other movie like this veers into torture country, "the Ruins" takes a different route by stranding the kids on the titular ruins, a Mayan temple overgrown with some kind of (unexplained) sentient vegetation. Their escape is blocked by a cadre of armed locals who don't want the infectious foliage getting off the site and under their skin.

No, it's no magnificent masterpiece, but it's a handsome and appropriately atmospheric production. The characters aren't amazingly fleshed out, but they're not as unlikable as in films like "Hostel," and some good acting fills a lot of the blanks. The cast is mostly recognizable- Jonathan Tucker from "Virgin Suicides," Jena Malone from "Saved!," and Shawn Ashmore, from "X-Men" and "Smallville" make up three of the four leads, but it's really the relatively unknown Laura Ramsey, as the girl who gets the worst of the jungle infection, and seriously freaks out about it, who steals the show. In one of the film's best, most harrowing and goriest moments, the other three stumble upon Ramsey performing some hysterical self-surgery, slicing the meat off her leg to get at the vines underneath.

In general, the gore in "the Ruins" is pretty effective and appropriately cringe-inducing. Aside from the aforementioned self-mutilation, there's another bit of impromptu surgery, a rather primitive double leg amputation, that's really pretty uncomfortable and gross, but also kind of hilarious, since it's just so over-the-top. In general, there are unintentional laughs aplenty to be found in "the Ruins," which kind of made the night for me, and for once I was glad to be among a typically noisy and disrespectful NYC Saturday night megaplex crowd, since my companions and I were pretty much howling all the way through this one with nary a shush or nothing.

So, yeah, "The Ruins" was good when I thought it was going to be awful. Meanwhile, a film I didn't think I'd like much but got a alot of attention and good press that I found almost unbearable was "Juno," which I also watched this week. My laundry list of complaints about this one might be a bit annoying to read, but in general I found this film to be pretty horribly overwritten and awkwardly staged. It's sort of this cutsey-poo self-important over-precious post-Wes Anderson bullshit hipster bullshit filmmaking. A new rule I'm instituting for all filmmakers is that if they want to use a song by the Kinks in their movie, they need to get permission of my friend Justin, a die-hard Kinks fan from way back (he even likes their late-70s/early-80s stuff). I always liked the Kinks but it was Justin who got me really enthused about them and even took me to see Dave Davies once, which was alot of fun. Now I'm like a hardcore Kinks fan, and I'm continually annoyed by the use of their songs in cute movies like this.

Speaking of the soundtrack, the general unwatchability of "Juno" is greatly heightened by the excessive, and I do mean excessive, use of Kimya Dawson songs throughout the film. I'm just not really into her music, and the filmmakers here lay it on thick. Really thick. Like every other scene. It's totally annoying. Some well placed pop tunes can certainly accentuate a film, but the post-Wes Anderson motif seems to be complete and total more overkill, and the feyer the pop tracks, the better, or, if you're me, the worse. Seriously, it's over-the-top. Knock it off, ya knuckleheads.

The only saving grace of "Juno" is the acting. I really liked Ellen Page in "Hard Candy" and she's still pretty good here, despite some of the stupid things she has to say. Ditto "Arrested Devlopment's" Michael Cera. One of the film's best performances, surprisingly, is from Jennifer Garner, who I've certainly never minded (I was admittedly kind of an "Alias" fan), but actually seems here like she might actually be a pretty good actress, if she's ever do a halfway decent movie. JK Simmons, who I normally like, seems kind of bored with his role (as the dad), and Jason Bateman, who I also generally enjoy, isn't given much of anything to do. In general this was just a pretty trite and uninteresting kind of a film. The fact that it got so much attention I think is indicative of how desperate filmgoing audiences are for something even remotely different from the usual drivel. Too bad the alternative is turning out to be pretty much drivel as well, from "Little Miss Sunshine" to this, these movies just aren't that good. Oh, and "Juno" has this total pro-life vibe that's just kinda...wrong.

Speaking of movies that aren't that good and should never have been made, there's a direct-to-video remake of Brian DePalma's "Sisters" that just came out. It sucks. Remaking "Sisters" is kind of a bad idea to begin with, as that film is centered around two visually brilliant, irreplicable setpieces- the split screen murder/post-murder of the intro, and the psychedelic nightmare sequence of the finale. The remake, which stars Stephen Rea and Chloe Sevingy (y'know, I really kind of don't like her, as an actress, anyway), doesn't try to match the opening of the original, but it does attempt to replicate the mind-bending finale, with pretty mediocre results. In all, the new version lacks everything that made the original interesting, including its' humor (this version is virtually humorless) and the character development of the female protagonist reporter character (played by a wonderfully neurotic Jennifer Salt in the original, and a virtually comatose, moribund Sevingy in the remake). I won't get into the whole spiel about how stupid it is to remake classic horror films in the first place, since it's been said before and I don't really care that much, but take note- this film, which is based on a really good movie, went straight to video with almost no fanfare, while the remake of "Prom Night," a pretty bad movie, is currently tops at the box office. Not that I think the remake of "Prom Night" is going to be any good, or that box office results are a mark of cinematic quality, but, well, I kind of forgot what I was saying. Something brilliant, no doubt.

Meanwhile, without giving too much away, I'd like to note that, for the sake of proving that I'm not just a pisser and a moaner (though I am quite the pisser), I'm readying my first movie project in a few years. Actually it's not a movie but a series of shorts that'll probably go up on the web somewhere, but I didn't want to say film project since it's being shot on HD. Anyway, I don't want to say too much at this early stage. I'm hoping production will start next month. The series is a mix of elements from film noir with comedy. I'll chart its' progress to some extent here on Negative Pleasure. Meanwhile, I'm going to New York Comic Con this weekend, which is bound to be a stinky, nerdy experience and one that I'm kind of looking forward to. I've gone the past two years and had a decent enough time. Anyway, if anything interesting happens I'll write about it.

Anyway, that's it for now. Until next time, don't take any wooden nickels, or something...

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