Wednesday, January 7, 2009

2008 part 6...

Hey, Negative Pleasure just reached 17,000 hits. That's kind of awesome. Thanks to everyone who has been reading...
Here are brief notes on ten more films from 2008. I'm starting to get a little bit of not-old-movie fatigue on this one, but I'm sort of determined to see at least 100 films from last year. I feel a little guilty that I haven't gotten around to watching more of last year's foreign films. There's no particular reason I haven't, I just haven't, yet. blah blah blah
Here's the movies:

1. The Cook- This direct-to-DVD horror flick may not quite scrape the bottom of the barrel, but it comes fairly close. Which isn't to say this is entirely awful, except it kind of is, but it's kind determinededly aggressively smut-minded in a way that's almost, but not quite endearing. Like, there's no real reason to see "The Cook," but if it walks up to you and jumps in your laps, there's no real reason to avoid it either. Actually, there's plenty of reasons- bad acting, bad script, dull visuals, choppy annoying editing, no real story, unrealistic characterizations, killer has no motivation, humor isn't funny etc. But it kind of shines when compared to something like "Ninja Cheerleaders," as reviewed below...

2. Ninja Cheerleaders- See, "The Cook" is a bad movie, but it's basically a hybrid sex comedy-slasher film, and it contains reasonably copious amounts of both nudity and gore, so when it presents this very low-minded aesthetic, it lives up to that, and in that sense is at least stylistically consistent, and also delivers what it promises. "Ninja Cheerleaders" is a movie about college age cheerleaders working their way through school as strippers (and who are also study martial arts), and yet it contains no real nudity or violence. Which would be totally fine, if it were a good movie, but most of the acting and production values, not to mention the dialogue, direction etc., are more-or-less on a porno film level. So yeah, if you like watching porn but would prefer it without all the sex and nudity, "Ninja Cheerleaders" is the movie for you. Except it's not, because porn without sex would probably be kind of weird and campy, and this flick is just stupid and pointless. For some reason George Takei is in this too, which would make me feel kind of bad for him had he not done a bunch of other projects last year too, including the higher profile, more mainstream tv show "Heroes" (which has become awful, but still, I don't begrudge any actor taking a job on it, because obvisouly tons of people are still watching). But I hope he at least got a decent paycheck out of this one. Like, it'd be nice to think that working on "Ninja Cheerleaders" provided the funds for some very elaborate catering at Takei's much-publicized wedding to his life partner last year. Michael Pare, also in the even more worthless "Seed" last year, is also in this, which leads me to believe that he possibly just isn't as good an actor as I thought he was, or perhaps simply doesn't give a fuck what he's working on as long as he's working on something, or owes a lot of really bad filmmakers a lot of favors, or something. Max Perlich also appears, which is kind of depressing as well, since he's long been a favorite character of mine. But whatever, fuck "Ninja Cheerleaders." If you can't make an even remotely interesting movie about cheerleaders, you're a fucking idiot...

3. SemiPro- I have nothing against Will Ferrell comedies in and of themselves, some of them I like, but this one is dull and unfunny, and that's all there really is to say about it.

4. Doomsday- Extremely silly, ultimately pointless, considerably overlong but intermittantly entertaining sci-fi/action/horror film from the director of the much more interesting "The Descent" and the somewhat overrated "Dog Soldiers" (which got a lot of hype but I found pretty boring), Neil Marshall. Marshall, who also wrote the script, cribs liberally from "Escape from New York," the Mad Max films and almost every apocalyptic cinematic vision in-between, which largely has the effect of reminding us how much better those movies are than this one. Sure, it's somewhat energetic (when it's not bogged down with fairly pointless plot elements which drag sections of the movie out interminably) and splattery, but it's hard to take any movie seriously when a significant portion of the cast appears to have been specifically styled to look like Keith Flint of the Prodigy and action sequences are set to Frankie Goes to Hollywood songs. The typically fairly wonderful Malcolm McDowell is wasted in a small role that's basically little more than an extended cameo, and which doesn't really let him get to flex his wonderfulness too much, but Bob Hoskins has a larger, meatier role which reminded of how good an actor he was. Lead actress Rhona Mitra (who played the woman randomly felt up by invisible Kevin Bacon in Paul Verhoeven's "Hollow Man") is certainly easy on the eyes but she's got a boring, standard steely eyed stoic badass female asskicker part, and it took me a while to realize she wasn't Kate Beckinsale. "Doomsday" is basically totally forgetable, but it's better than I thought it would be, so that's something, but not very much...

5. "College"- I fully expected to hate or possibly just never see and never miss this teen fart comedy type movie, but I'm glad I decided to watch it, because all in all I found it pretty enjoyable. Now that I think of it, this almost a remake of 1994's "PCU," another stupid movie I like probably more than I should. A group of nerdy high schoolers go out to college to visit for the weekend, and wind up having all kinds of wacky misadventures with booze and women. In this case, they also clash with some frat guys as well, which is cool because I feel like films like this are pushing towards making the more aggressive alpha male characters the protagonists, and abandoning the familiar yet welcome trope of having misfits in the lead, presumably as our culture becomes stupider and more aggressive. The leads (Drake Bell, Andrew Caldwell and Kevin Covais as the boys, Haley Bennett, Camille Mana and Nathalie Walker as the girls) are all generally appealing and funny, there's actually some laughs to be had here if you can go in for the lowbrow stuff, y'know, it's not a movie that's going to change anybody's life, but I've spent 90 minutes doing worse things this week...

6. Diary of the Dead- George Romero is one of my favorite filmmakers, and yet for some reason I kind of avoided this one, which is too bad because it's actually pretty good and now I'll never see it in the theatre, although the way it's presented visually, it makes more sense to watch it on TV anyway. Some seem to consider this a lesser Romero film but it makes more sense as a sequel to "Night of the Living Dead," "Dawn of the Dead" and "Day of the Dead" than the dramatically tonally inconsistent "Land of the Dead" did. That film, obviously made on a bigger budget than this, amped up the more comic book-y elements of Romero's filmmaking, not a bad thing at all, but "Diary of the Dead" just feels more like a Romero zombie movie, and lacks the marquee value actors who were some of the weakest points of "Land." What's a "lesser" Romero film, anyway? "Monkey Shines?" "Bruiser?" I liked both of those, I like everything the guy has ever done. Romero approaches his social commentary pretty directly- here, he's talking about visual culture, the public sphere, television, media, persona and basically a bunch of other stuff I got my masters degree in, so I felt, y'know, connected to the material, as I always seem to do with Romero, he's just a filmmaker who I view as a kindred spirit, someone who shares a smiliar world view, similiar lefty politics, similiar love of horror movies etc. In all, "Diary of the Dead" is pretty fascinating and culturally valuable, and really looking back watching it made me realize what a great year for horror films last year was, with this, "The Signal," "The Ruins," "Stuck," "Tokyo Gore Police," "Eden Lake" and "Decampment."

7. "Strange Wilderness"- This is kind of flipside of "The House Bunny," which shares the same director and producers (including Adam Sandler). Whereas that film strived for some semblence of respectability and wound up simply not at all funny, plus with a repressive and unprogressive message, this is just a straight-up gross-out movie, which insomuch as it has any message at all has the message "be yourself, even if you're a total fuck up," and it's actually pretty funny. Like "College," the humor is lowbrow, so if you're a big snob or whatever (which we can all be at times, for sure), it might not be your thing, but I found it reasonably entertaining and like Steve Zahn as the lead. Also, it seems like Justin Long, between this (in which he plays a dumb stoner) and "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" (in which he plays a gay pornstar) is taking only roles which counteract his "I'm a Mac"/"Die Hard 4" persona, which is neither here nor there, just something I noticed. And Jonah Hill, kind of a ubiquitous presence in stupid comedies nowadays, is much funnier here than in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." Jeff Garlin, somewhat squandered but still pretty funny in anything, also appears, and if you watch the extras on the DVD you can catch a remarkably uncomfortable moment where Long cracks up 90-year-old Oscar winner Ernest Borgnine by asking him (in character) if he'd ever "finger fucked" Mama Cass Elliott, followed by Long and the crew's discomfort at having said to someone so old and resonably respected, which I guess means they all missed Borgnine's TV appearance this year where he credits his longevity to frequent masturbation. Anyway, if you find any of this at all amusing you'll likely enjoy this movie, otherwise you'll probably hate it. Again, it's not something that's going to change lives, but it's better than a punch in the nose...

8. Harold- Directed by first time filmmaker T. Sean Shannon from a script by Shannon and Greg Fields, "Harold" is a charming and often very funny comedy starring young Spencer Breslin as a 13-year-old who is bald. The joke is that Harold acts like an old man as much as he looks like one, although we see from his interactions with other kids that there is a part of him that doesn't full grasp, or wants to deny, how much of an outsider he truly is. When this had a brief theatrical run in New York reviewers compared "Harold" unfavorably to "Napoleon Dynamite," but personally I find the two films very different. "Harold" is a much more sincere story. "Napoleon Dynamite" positioned it's narrative on the outside of its' characters, so that the audience could be detatched and laugh at the various cartoonish weirdos on display, even as the film made them the heroes of the story, it was still clear that most of the characters in "Napoleon Dynamite" were basically idiots worthy of an audience's derision and mockery. "Harold" is actually told from the main character's point of view, giving us some narration and occasionally breaking the fourth wall to speak directly to the audience. We are made privy to his often humorous struggles with his roles as both child and adult, and it's very endearing. That the film has a certain amount of wit and cleverness makes watching this all the more enjoyable, and there's a good supporting cast including Ally Sheedy as Harold's single mom, Cuba Gooding Jr. as a school janitor who befriends the boy (and has to repeatedly reiterate to everyone that even though he is a strange janitor making friends with a young boy, he has no intention of raping him), Colin Quinn, Chris Parnell, Dave Attell, Nikki Blonsky, Stella Maeve and Elizabeth Gillies. This is a light film but a good one and I think it would resonate with young teens and adults who were a little different when they were younger, at least it did for me. Anyway, I liked it.

9. Pineapple Express- For all the hype this movie got, I was expecting...actually, I was totally expecting it suck, because I hate Judd Apatow produced movies mostly (admittedly, I liked "Superbad" ok, but for the most part...), and it does kind of suck. Yes, parts of it are funny. James Franco is sometimes really funny, and he and Seth Rogan work well together, and with co-star Danny McBride. But as a comedy, "Pineapple Express," by former indie director David Gordon Green, from North Carolina, takes itself much too seriously. Or not even that, it's far too self-confident. Scene after scene degenerate into just Rogan and Franco getting stoned and goofing around, which adds at least like 20 minutes to the running time that could have been pretty easily excised. There's a black and white introduction scene at the beginning (featuring James Remar, which is kind of cool) that's supposed to set something up, but the actual joke never materializes, we just see the same location again later on. And, like the "Dark Knight," this flick is way too violent for what it is. I kind of felt like they were going for like an Edgar Wright-Simon Pegg "Hot Fuzz" kind of thing, but those guys have discovered the magic forumla for tempering humor with gore, and the makers of this film do not have it, so it's basically a stoner comedy where alot of people get shot and murdered, some of them by the main characters. Like, if you were watching a Cheech and Chong movie and suddenly Tommy Chong turned around and shot someone in the head. It's kind of fucked up. They try to reconcile this somewhat at the end with some dialogue, but basically it's too little too late, as "Pineapple Express" fails to reconcile its' realistic elements (the relationship between Rogan and Franco) with its' fantasy elements (the whole action movie scenario). And it's also just not THAT funny. I mean, it's funny, but like, I dunno, it's not great. I don't see what people were falling over themselves to heap praise on this one for. Granted, I have smoked weed in years and years and years, but I can still laugh at dumb dope jokes, more or less, but in this, like in much of joke humor, just the presence of weed in a situation is substitution for any kind of actual punchline too often. Oh, and there's this whole subplot about Rogan's character dating a high school girl that just gets totally dropped, because women, in these films, don't really matter, which is kind of fucked up, not just philosophically or politically, y'know films can just be about guys, that's cool, but they devote a lot of time in the first half to setting this whole thing up and then they just drop it, like Rogan has this relationship with this girl, this very young girl, and when she pushes for commitment, he just walks away, but meanwhile he grows incredly close with his male drug dealer, Franco's character, and kind of devotes himself to that relationship. If this film had any guts, maybe they'd actually have Rogan and Franco, like, really get together or something, or there'd be some kind of inclination as to why one relationship is so easily discarded while another is so easily affirmed, aside from "bros before hos," or whatever. Anyway, I wasn't impressed, even if it did have an original theme song by Huey Lewis.

10. American Teen- "American Teen" is a very interesting film in that it seems to walk a very fine line between documentary and drama, and mabye that's just, like, my perception of it, but it felt very strongly structured visually for a documentary film, with different camera angles and cross cutting between people in different locations communicating via phone, text, computer...But that said, whether viewed as a represntation of reality or a restructuring of reality into drama, I really wound up enjoying this film and getting into the four or five teen characters it follows. This is really a movie that could be picked apart for contemporary trends and themes, particularly in relation to media and communications. Like, these kids, all very different kids (cool indie rock girl, queen bee type girl, nerdy guy, sports hero and a few others), they all have like "media personas" insomuch as they're willing to allow really personal moments to play out in front of the camera with some degree of confidence. This would play great on a double bill with my other favorite documentary of the year, "Pressure Cooker," which is in some ways a more conventional film, but also a more reliable one in terms of the filmmakers keeping a certain distance from the subjects and allowing the story to shape itself rather than the more narrative-based techniques used in "American Teen." But even with that element, all the situations these kids experience ring true. There's an extended sequence on the DVD where the nerdy kid is with his date after a dance and it's clear that she wants him to kiss her, and he just doesn't have the confidence, or somewhere deep down doesn't totally realize that he can, and the scene goes on and on and it's just like physically painful to watch because it's so true and so obvious. I also felt alot of empathy for Hannah, the indie rock girl with an interest in filmmaking, who in some ways is the primary subject of the film, or at least the most interesting, especially in a long sequence in which she struggles with depression, watching this film kind of made me depressed because it's like, man, fuck, you can never go back and fix all the mistakes you made back then, y'know? I don't tend to dwell on my adolescence too much anymore as it becomes more and more a distant part of my past, but, y'know, hindsight is 20/20, and sometimes that's really painful and fucked up. But anyway I liked "American Teen" a lot and found it generally kind of fascinating and worthy of further viewings and futher critical investigation, so yeah, good flick...

More to come...

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