Thursday, May 31, 2007

Lucky Number Slevin (2006)

Hi, my name is Paul McGuigan. I have directed a film called... you know what? Fuck this. I hate this film so much I can't even do the shtick. McGuigan directs this for all he can, but he's defeated (as he usually is) by the godawful screenplay. Credited to one Jason Smilovic, Lucky Number Slevin nonetheless plays out like it was written by a computer that had been fed Tarantino films and told to spit out a screenplay just like that. The words are there but not the music -- the garrulous stretches of digressive dialogue are plenty, but Smilovic misses the empathy, careful character touches and sense of cosmic unity that distinguishes Tarantino. It's clever for the sake of cleverness. So when Smilovic has Josh Harnett tell Lucy Liu, "You have a deceptively tall knock," it doesn't mean anything -- it's just an aimless one-liner. The screenplay is constructed almost entirely of moments like that (if overwriting were a crime, Smilovic would be strapped to an electric chair right now). The people in this film don't talk or converse, they riff, regardless of whether it's appropriate or whether they should be more terse or whether they should be pretending that there's other fucking people in this movie. The worst offense in this regard is when Morgan Freeman delivers the line, "He was my son," and then has to spend five full minutes explaining that he said "was" and not "is," the reason behind which should be obvious to anyone paying even the slightest bit of attention. This crass, dumb moment is proof that the makers of Lucky Number Slevin hold their audience to be mouth-breathing morons who need the film's tidal waves of pseudo-profundity and neo-noir plot gimcrackery explained at every moment; from the looks of it, they'd probably prefer that there was no audience at all and they could marvel in their own wit and intelligence in peace (quite possibly while jerking off into their own mouths). This film has no reason or purpose outside of its own existence; it is a dead zone where attitude goes to hang out and flaunt its genitals at passerby. I'm done with you, McGuigan. And I hope you stay stuck writing for quickly canceled television shows, Smilovic.

Grade: D-
Equinox (1970)

Dumb creature feature more important for its DIY ethos and the careers it launched (including FX genius Dennis Muren) than its actual content. The hey-guys!-we're-making-a-movie! spirit, admittedly, is infectious, and the special effects (heavy on the stop-motion) are astonishing considering they cost maybe twelve bucks. That in mind, this is still goofy as hell, with the Satanic park ranger Asmodeus being either the silliest villain ever (the faces he makes! the eyebrows! the halting declamatory delivery of Jack Woods!) or my new favorite movie character, I haven't yet decided. Pretty bad, but fun in its own way, so does that make it a success?

Grade: C
Chaos (2005)

Infamous for its extreme content already, this sadistic sack of shit pretty much defeats the purpose of criticism: If I'm talking about it, even as a nauseating waste of time and good celluloid, at least I'm keeping its name out in the ether. Bad publicity is still good publicity when a film like this is concerned, so I'm not going to bother explicating how wretched, sad and ugly this thing is. Being sad and ugly doesn't necessarily make a film worthless anyway -- plenty of striking works, from Salo to Cannibal Holocaust, have found artistry, however dubious, in baseness and nihilism. The real reason this film is so completely useless is that it's already existed in an even more infamous form since 1972 -- Chaos is a bald, point-by-point rip-off of Wes Craven's Last House on the Left except with a new ending that proves the filmmakers didn't (maybe couldn't) understand what Craven, however crudely, was trying to say with his film. (Helpful note: I acknowledge the importance and influence of Last House even as I think it's schizophrenic junk.) That the lead-lined minds behind this could steal from a work so thoroughly and still miss its soul, to me, is even more offensive than the film's disquieting violence or its embracing of hatefulness.

Grade: F
Crisis (1946)

Modest B-movie, centering on a young woman and the two matriarchs in her life, has enough charm and panache to keep it from fading into background noise. It may have been forgotten by history anyway were it not the directorial debut of Ingmar Bergman, who would go on to make sharper, more important, more scintillating work; still, we all gotta start somewhere, and Bergman's first bow is thankfully free of embarrassment. The melodramatic aspects of the stock plot are well-handled, with overstatement kept at a minimum, and Bergman even seems to be having a little fun with the film's (obvious) origins as a stage play, what with the opening narration that speaks of "pulling back the curtain." Stig Olin as the seedy, secretly needy Jack is the film's live wire -- his presence promises to push the film in unexpected and fascinating directions. That it stays mostly within the well-trod path of '40s female drama isn't his fault, but his occasional gooses to the proceedings are welcome. (His exit scene is pretty awesome as well.) Again: Not world-shaking, but a good start.

Grade: B
The Cocoanuts (1929)

Debut film for the Marx Brothers is a step below their subsequent slices of hysteria, up to and including A Day at the Races; a lot of the film kind of sits there, hampered by the inadequacy of early sound technology, and I can kind of understand why the Marxes might want to have this thing burned. (The crummy, spliced-up print used on Universal's DVD release doesn't help.) Even a subpar Marx Brothers comedy, though, is generally superior to the top-flight work of others -- this has enough chuckles to make it worth a sit. Plus, there's the famed "viaduct" routine, and the auction setpiece kills.

Grade: B-

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Shadowboxer (2006)

I have no idea what was going through producer Lee Daniels's head when he decided to make this script his directorial debut, but it must have been a fascinating process. Somehow, he must have convinced himself he could find a way to reconcile the trash signifiers littered about the story with his Indie Tradition-of-Quality impulses that led to Monster's Ball and The Woodsman. Something about the convoluted tale, involving hitperson partners played by Cuba Gooding Jr. and Helen Mirren who are not only lovers but stepmother and stepson as well as the fallout from a botched hit on a pregnant woman, must have spoken to him, and he thought to himself, "Ah! I can transform this into boundary-pushing art!" Oh, how wrong he was. Daniels tried his hardest to make this respectable, but this thing is crazier than a shithouse rat in the summer sun. Daniels's heavy solemnity keeps the lunacy from soaring for a while, so that Shadowboxer appears at first to be the kind of funereal junk that is both completely ridiculous and not ridiculous enough. But at the fifty-minute mark, the floodgates burst with a goofy, overheated sex scene between Gooding Jr. and Mirren, and there's not much one can do besides gape in awe at the madness that washes out during the aftermath. Mo'Nique smoking crack? Stephen Dorff shooting people while wearing nothing but a condom on his flopping cock? Cuba in drag? Dorff singing "O Christmas Tree"? Another sex scene between Mirren and Gooding Jr. that defies all sense, logic and taste? It's all here in the second half of this fiasco, and there's more where that came from. Shadowboxer is pitched at a level of hysteria that can only be achieved by people who aim high and dream big. Maybe Daniels thinks he's saying something profound with this hilarious farrago. I think the true message is that one should beware of the vanity projects of hot young producers. (Also, there's the message that one should never ask Cuba Gooding Jr. to play stolid -- he looks like he's in the film against his will, possibly at gunpoint.)

Grade: D+
Fuck (2006)

"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion." This quote, spoken by a random man-on-the-street type, comes midway through Steve Anderson's rambunctious free-speech document and expresses a common sentiment; what a shame, then, that Anderson's film seems to negate that sentiment. Even if you agree with Anderson's point, as I do, it's still possible to be embarrassed by his deck-stacking. I mean, really -- arguing the side for discretion in language usage are such straw men as Michael Medved and Pat Boone. Anderson knows that nobody generally cares about the opinions of fuddy-duddies like Medved and Boone, which I guess is the point; what he fails to do is explain to me why I should ignore, say, the conviction and reasoning of someone like Boone or Alan Keyes (both of whom, all things considered, actually come off pretty well) while giving weight and credence to the pro-F-word cheerleading of Ron Jeremy or Tera Patrick. How do the opinions of a couple of porn stars add anything to Anderson's thesis? Futhermore, Anderson also undermines his cause with cutesy Michael-Moore-style titles and animations -- the reason these intrusions work in Moore's films is because they help to leaven the heavy, depressing issues with which he deals -- and a free-range approach to collation that looks more like a desperate lack of focus the longer the film runs. (I mean, seriously -- what was the point of the Swedes who fuck for the rain forest onstage?) If there's anyone who should be sympathetic towards this film's pro-"fuck" stance, it's me, a guy who uses the word like punctuation; that I'm not says something about Anderson's total failure as both a polemicist and a documentarian.

Grade: C+

Monday, May 28, 2007

Dr. Sex (1964)

Light, slightly dull sex comedy (with a huge helping of sexism) about a couple of psychiatrists who sit around and discuss their oddest patients. This being a nudie cutie, all of said patients have bizarre sexual hangups. The film peaks early with a strange tale about a pretty young thing being spied upon by an unknown peeper (whose identity is meant to be a sting-in-the-tail surprise but becomes pretty obvious pretty quickly); this segment garners some wonderful stupid laughs thanks to its overwrought narration, several superfluous close-ups of an oddly terrifying stuffed rabbit and the worst eye-pop effect on record. After a while, though, the lack of effort becomes numbing -- the girls are cute and well-developed, but there needs to be something else there before we can call this a proper movie and no amount of jiggling titties can stave off disinterest in a film that doesn't care whether it has an audience to watch it.

Grade: C
Wanda the Sadistic Hypnotist (1969)

It's rare that I find a film's framing device more interesting than its main body, but that's what you get with this meager, confused grindhouse offering. There's more padding in this film than a 13-year-old girl's training bra -- director Greg Corarito couldn't milk enough from his scenario to fill even an hour, so he uses an it's-only-a-movie frame and throws in a nudie-camp short to boot, just to get his film over the feature-length mark. There's even a wraparound stinger that hearkens forward to the time-bending shenanigans of Nude for Satan. These accouterments, though obvious time-wasters, are fun in a cheesy sort of way. They also serve the function of distracting from the actual film, a horrid piece of shit about a guy in a car accident who is abducted and used as a love slave by the worst actress in the world and her lesbian gal pal. Until he isn't. But then he is again. Meanwhile, there's a rapist on the loose and a party where the lead shows off her mad hypnosis skillz and I haven't even gotten to the LSD yet but the story's already spun itself into incoherence and tedium. It's one of those obnoxious exploitation features where the director assumed the audience would be too busy being shocked by his supposed offensiveness to notice or care that the film is more or less a collection of scenes shown at random; I, however, being a thinking individual, could only sympathize with the framing-device moviegoer whenever Corarito would cut back to him looking vaguely bored or befuddled. Funniest credit: Apparently, this slim thing was a novel (also by Corarito) first!

Grade: D+

Monday, May 21, 2007

Just a note: I've switched over to Blogger comments, being that YACCS is deader than Hoffa. Everything else (i.e. the lack of updates) will continue as normal.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters (2007)

This quasi-feature film based on the successful Cartoon Network show is, quite simply, one of the damnedest things I've ever seen in a theater. I've seen enough episodes of the show to be familiar with both the characters and the cracked sense of humor that defines them; even so, I was still taken aback by how goddamn weird this thing is. Non sequitors and absurd asides abound here, so much that the digressions more or less become the joke, and as expected the success rate is highly variable. For every bit of business or offbeat line that kills (the Mooninites are always funny), there's another that just sort of lays there. (The odd subplot about Frylock's gender, shoehorned in as an afterthought presumably, falls into the latter category.) The laughter is intermittent, yet I'd be lying if I said I didn't laugh as hard at a few things in this as I have at any film in the last couple of years. In particular, there's the opening sequence, a musical number so off-the-cuff brilliant and lung-crushingly funny that it should appear before every movie from now on. In the face of such perverse, willful singularity, a letter grade seems inadequate. The grade below represents my doubts about this kind of weirdness holding up on a second viewing. It does not, however, really represent the volume or frequency of my laughter. Time will tell whether I made the right call.

Grade: B-
Experiment in Terror (1962)

Well-mounted, sturdy crime thriller, made at the point when the genre had long since passed through its anti-hero noir iterations and was thriving as a place where square-jawed, stout-hearted cops could triumph over evil again and again; while I prefer my crime thrillers with more ambiguity and moral blurriness, I'll admit that sometimes it's satisfying just to see the wicked get theirs. It helps that Glenn Ford is around as the conscience of the law -- if you need a guy to play square-jawed and stout-hearted, you can't do much better than Glenn Ford. The rest of the cast is good, too -- Ross Martin, seen mostly in shadow, makes for a memorable psycho while Lee Remick does fine as a woman who's scared but not too scared find ways to do the right thing as a way to extricate herself from the situation. The screenplay is thus elevated beyond its programmer status by solid acting, a welcome modicum of intelligence and unfussy, professional direction by Blake Edwards. Edwards knows when to amp up the menace and darkness (note the Expressionistic lighting in the abandoned factory near film's end), but he also knows that occasionally daylight fright can be just as effective. Also: The climax occurs during a SF Giants-LA Dodgers night game, which was a big treat for an old-school baseball fan (and longtime Dodgers fan) such as myself. Don Drysdale, we salute you!

Grade: B
Torment (1944)

Even Ingmar Bergman had to pass through the juvenilia phase, as the screenplay for this film shows. Bergman's first produced work (directed not by him but by Alf Sjöberg) is a mediocre potboiler about the adversarial relationship between a cruel, apparently manic-depressive Latin professor (Stig Järrel) and a rebellious student (Alf Kjellin). Torment contains all the grumpiness, cynicism and distrust in human nature that Bergman would later plumb to great effect in his career, but the sharp observational powers and yearning for unattainable transcendence have yet to flower, so what we're left with is a sour film about sour people doing sour things. Järrel's noir-inspired direction, all heavy shadows and canted angles, at least lends an air of visual inspiration to the film and provides an interesting contrast to the hard-eyed naturalism that would characterize the forthcoming directorial work from Bergman. Furthermore, the acting is pretty good, with Mai Zetterling especially worthy in a role that would defeat many actresses. The writing, however, is fatally uninspired; at this point, Bergman had little to say beyond, "Jesus, I hated school." The spark that would light the career of one of cinema's most important auteurs, apparently, was yet to come.

Grade: C
The Godson (1971)

Silly softcore cash-in on the popularity of The Godfather doesn't look like anything resembling a good movie, but that rather comes with the territory. The standards needed to judge a film like this, in which things like acting, story and dialogue are secondary to the prevalence of flesh, are different than those used for films with actual aspirations. So what do we get? There is indeed copious nudity, mostly female though the occasional pasty male butt or cock shot also wanders on frame, so there's that. The sex is unerotic, but it is quite amusing, what with the hilariously "spicy" post-dubbing and the frantic, sweaty gyrations being so amped up. Furthermore, the acting and dialogue are just funny enough to enjoy in a back-handed sort of way without becoming tiresome or annoying. On the downside, the film's ninety-four minute running time is too extended, especially considering the plot is all suggestion, tenuous connections and the occasional burst of exposition. Also, it is mostly, y'know, crap. But taken in terms of the genre, this isn't too bad. A couple of beers, a couple of wisecracks and before you know it, the film's done.

Grade: C