rachelmanija: (Bleach: Parakeet of DOOM)
( Apr. 6th, 2011 12:42 pm)
Ages ago, when I auto-disqualified any works set during the Holocaust, slavery, etc from nomination in the YA Agony Awards, I threatened to do a second run-off based on the trashiest and most exploitative works involving real-life tragedies.

Before I go any further, I want to make it very, very clear that I am not mocking the Holocaust or any other real life atrocities! I am mocking works of fiction which make inappropriate, trashy, and/or ludicrous use of actual and horrible historical events.

("Springtime for Hitler" in The Producers is a deliberate parody of that sort of thing, and so doesn’t count. (The link goes to "I'm WET! And I'm STILL HYSTERICAL!")

I’m not sure if I’ll actually do a run-off, but a while back I had a conversation over email which I kept meaning to write up.

I wrote, “There was this whole genre of trashy Holocaust novels, popular I think in the 80s, which I kind of distilled into the cement truck Holocaust novel. [Link contains spoilers for Mockingjay.]

Some artists think of the Holocaust, and write The Devil's Arithmetic. Others think of the Holocaust, and write about traumatized telepathic lion tamer twins. Cut for somewhat disturbing content )

While Rebekka begins her hypnosis treatment, Ruda's ambition moves her to further crime; as their histories are disclosed, the twins are led to a final overwrought meeting under a Berlin bigtop.

That synopsis reminded me of the infamous Jerry Lewis movie, The Day The Clown Cried, in which he played a comedian in a death camp. You would not think that was such a great concept that it deserved to inspire not one, but three movies, but it also generated Life Is Beautiful, not to mention Jakob the Liar. I should note that lots of people thought Life Is Beautiful was a genuinely good movie. I have no opinion on the matter, because I can only stand to see one Holocaust movie every twenty years, and Schindler's List was it.

Speaking of controversial Holocaust movies, a number of parents I know were very, very ticked that Boy In The Striped Pajamas was advertised as a sweet story of friendship, with no mention of the fact that it’s a Holocaust movie and does not end happily. To say the least. All else aside, even if parents do want to take their kids to a Holocaust movie, most of them would like to know in advance that that’s what they’re doing. As it was, several family plans for ice cream after the movie had to be hastily switched to grief-and-trauma counseling after the movie.

Share with me your favorite examples of awful, exploitative, inappropriate, trashy, ridiculous, surprise!genocide or otherwise bad works of fiction attempting to springboard off of history. As in Life Is Beautiful, I realize that one person’s moving work of art is another person’s crass exploitation. Given that and the sensitivity of the subject, please be nice to each other in comments.
rachelmanija: (FMA: Ed among the ignorant)
( Jan. 4th, 2011 10:46 am)
Found: the ultimate smug liberal movie!

I was forced to watch this as part of a Psych 1 class. It has clear relevance to the class, but I wish the professor had just lectured us on the history of thought and on systems theory for two hours, which I probably would have actually enjoyed, rather than sitting there for the same amount of time wanting to claw my eyeballs out.

In Mindwalk, a smug poet (John Heard), a cliched politician (Sam Waterston), and an incredibly smug mystical physicist (Liv Ullman) discuss environmentalism, the history of Western thought on various topics, physics, and politics. Mostly, the physicist lectures, the politician makes very unconvincing arguments (he's a living straw man), and the poet occasionally spouts poetry or suddenly bursts out with something like, "BWA-HA-HA-HA! DESCARTES!!!"

I especially loathed this movie because it felt exactly like listening to people blither smugly at the ashram, while being unable to argue back. Literally, many of those exact same arguments and lectures were popular there. Also, I generally agree with many of the Voice of the Filmmakers' Physicist's beliefs, and this was especially infuriating because 1) I hated her, 2) she made many of the arguments very poorly, 3) with very occasional exceptions, no one made any of the good arguments against her. It was frustrating.

We're going to have to write an essay on this movie, so I took many notes. Below I copy the ones which were my commentary on the movie, verbatim as written but with context in brackets when necessary.

[Physicist is going on about the flaws of modern medicine and its lack of a holistic approach.]

Boy, is this a loaded argument! What about smallpox?

Someone needs to call the physicist [who refuses to vote] on allowing the world to get worse, piece by piece, in service to the abstract whole.

Poet is a sexist pig.

[Physicist rants about the male principles of domination and power taking over, vs feminine values of cooperation and interdependence.]

No actual feminist in the movie. Most feminists would say that defining concepts like active/passive and dominate/cooperate as male/female is sexist.

Power is male, AGAIN. ARGH why no argument against this???

Message: Young people are morons.

Interesting argument not actually made: Newtonian physics is democratic as theoretically, anyone could test principles. Ordinary people can't actually do anything with quantum mechanics.

My eyes are rolling so hard they are about to fly across the room.

This is so cheeseball! I'm not surprised the professor fled. [She bailed once the movie started.]

This is a deeply conservative movie disguised as a liberal one. Power is male and relationships are female. Young people are stupid, apolitical, don't care or know about history, litterbugs, etc.

[Scientists are responsible for the use made of their ideas. I don't think this is totally untrue, but the way it was argued...]

You are just as dead whether you're killed by a bomb or a bonfire. Is Prometheus responsible for witch-burnings?

Boy, is this a great demo of why the left is ineffective - at a basic level, it doesn't believe in politics or democracy. [Obvs, I don't think ALL leftists think that, but this movie does showcase the ones who do.] Interesting argument not made: is current US process inherently right-wing?

And then Jack [the politician, being swayed by the physicist's clear rightness] goes home and changes his name to Dennis Kucinich.

Think of the children!

How do YOU know the tourists have no words to describe their feelings, you pretentious git? Did you ask them?

[At the end, there is a rapidly spoken philosophical voice-over, while the [quite beautiful, Philip Glass] score rises. It was hard to understand. Though I'm sure I heard it wrong, this is what I heard as the movie's closing words:]

"Is it our footsteps in the sand? Is it the crippled, rabid nun?"

ETA: I have been informed that the line was actually, "The crippled wren; the nun." I was close!

Mindwalk [VHS]

ETA: The one-star reviews at Amazon make many excellent points which I agree with, but which didn't make it into my notes.
rachelmanija: (Avatar: Zuko's heart is withered)
( Jul. 17th, 2010 11:19 am)
Last night I went with friends to see Inception, which was quite good and which I will attempt to write up later when I have more time.

One of the previews was for some horror movie where people are trapped in an elevator, the lights keep going out, and something's attacking them. It looked like nothing special. Until this credit came up: "Directed by M. Night Shyamalan."

The entire theatre burst into derisive laughter, followed by a chorus of enthusiastic booing.

The preview continued, revealing that Satan was in the elevator with the passengers.

The audience once again laughed derisively, and once again booed! I have never heard anything quite like that since the spontaneous audience revolt near the end of... M. Night Shyamalan's The Village.
rachelmanija: (Avatar: Zuko's heart is withered)
( Jul. 12th, 2010 04:41 pm)
Poor [personal profile] cleolinda was forced to see the abominable movie created from the fantastic TV series of Avatar: the Last Airbender, and wondered how M. Night Shyamalan went from the excellent Sixth Sense to a trajectory straight downhill. I was reminded of my experience watching his dreadful The Village:

A friend and I were waiting in line, and we heard two people exiting the theatre saying, "That was the worst movie I've ever seen!"

We said, "Uh-oh. Why?"

One replied, "Because. Everyone. Talked. Like. This."

We thought, "Surely they exaggerate!"

Actual movie: "That. Is. In. The. Woodshed. Into. Which. You. Must. Not. Go. Lest. Those. Who. Dwell. In. The. Woods. Of. Which. We. Do. Not. Speak. Will. Get. You."

Audience member, spontaneously leaping up from seat: "I HAAAAAAAAAATE this movie!"

Rest of audience: (Cheers him.)

Then someone posted a clip from the filmic travesty.

I urge you all to take a look! It's not merely bad, it's astoundingly, shockingly, almost unbelievably bad. So bad that you cannot take my word for it!

I note...

Katara seems drugged to the gills.

What the HELL was that kindergarten-level folk dance/kickboxing routine required to lift one measly rock the size of pillow?

White people (not present in the actual series) are now lecturing and rescuing Asians - extremely stupid Asians to have not previously noticed that, as the film cleverly puts it, "You. Are. Standing. On. Dirt!"

The film seems to have been overexposed, so that Aang and some other characters periodically appear to be painted white.

Aang is masquerading as Little Red Riding Hood.

The fire is pasted on yay.

So is Momo.

The entire thing is acted, written, and directed to resemble the worst play you ever acted in when you were in third grade.

If the whole thing is like that, it is actually worse than The Village - a feat I would have previously not believed possible.

Go watch the real thing, the awesome cartoon series: Avatar The Last Airbender - The Complete Book 1 Collection
rachelmanija: (FMA: Ed among the ignorant)
( Feb. 27th, 2010 09:48 am)
This awful movie was based on a popular book which I haven’t read due to lack of interest in the subject matter and apparent aim at a younger audience than usually appeals to me, The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1) by Rick Riordan. I assume the books are at least somewhat better, because it would be nearly impossible for them to be worse.

Teenage Percy Jackson lives with his mom and his stinky, domineering, violent step-father. I got to the movie a bit late, and walked in just in time to catch Percy openly insulting the step-father. I was baffled by Percy’s demeanor, which in no way was that of a teenage boy mouthing off to an abusive adult, but was cocky and smug without a trace of underlying fear. At that point I thought that the writers and director were working solely from Hollywood clichés rather than attempting to reproduce even the suggestion of actual human behavior. Later I realized that while this was true, it was also true that Percy was a two-note character, and his notes were cocky and smug, with a side order of daddy issues. Imagine Jack from Lost recapping his most annoying moments and played by an 18-year-old who can’t act, and you’ll imagine Percy Jackson.

Percy finds out that he’s the son of Poseidon, and that his stereotypical and unfunny comic black sidekick is a satyr and his sworn protector. (Assigned by whom, given that Poseidon is out of the picture, is never explained.) Percy is attacked by a harpy, and he, the satyr, and his mom run off to a summer camp for the children of Greek gods. On the way, his mom is apparently killed before Percy’s eyes. Percy’s reaction to this is to look sullen and misty-eyed for about five seconds, then to smugly and cockily show off at camp for the next twenty minutes of screen time, without further reference to his mother who was just killed while he watched helplessly.

At the camp he meets the daughter of Athena, who is introduced as being an expert in strategy. (She does not ever strategize during the movie.) She spars with him, then informs him that she has strong feelings for him but she’s not sure if they’re positive or negative. If I could get past the issue of teenagers (and human beings) not talking like that, I’d still be hung up on the fact that to have strong feelings after one sparring match, the actors would need to have chemistry. They don’t.

Hades (character design ripped off from the Balrog in LOTR, except not actually cool-looking) appears and says he’s holding Percy’s not-dead mom hostage. Percy the Cocky and Smug, No-Personality Girl, and Stereotypical Black Dude go on a plot-coupon collecting mission to get her back.

I hated just about everything about this movie. It’s poorly directed, edited, acted, and written. The dialogue consists almost solely of unfunny Hollywood wisecracks. The action sequences lack suspense, the young actors are terrible and all look about twenty-eight, the old pros aren’t as good as they could be, there’s a total lack of genuine wit, and the characters are unlikable and don’t have clear motivations. Xena did this sort of story a lot better.

The magical elements are not well-explained. Once Percy gets to demi-god summer camp, he suddenly gains power over water, the power to heal, semi-invulnerability, and “I know kung fu” instant martial arts skills. It’s never clear whether he always had these abilities but wasn’t aware of them, or whether the summer camp is a magical space which catalyzed them in him, or what. He never struggles to access or use these abilities or seems surprised at them, which added to the lack of clarity of plotting and my lack of sympathy for him.

There’s a running joke in which Percy walks directly in front of archers lined up to shoot at targets. This might have worked if he was clearly doing it to mess with them. But since he just seems oblivious, it makes the hero look like a moron for the sake of a joke that isn’t even funny.

The worldbuilding is inconsistent. The characters sometimes know a lot about Greek mythology, but sometimes implausibly don’t so they can fail to figure out for ages that a bunch of statues of terrified people might indicate the presence of Medusa, and then seem like geniuses for figuring out that Medusa can be killed by a reflection.

There’s never any sense of jeopardy. Percy is given stacks of magical items without having to fight for, earn, or even learn to use any of them. (I count five: a magic shield, a magic sword, flying shoes, a magic map, and the eponymous lightning bolt.) He gets flung around in battles, but not only never acquires cuts or scrapes that way, he never even gets dusty or gets his hair messed up. I get that he’s semi-invulnerable, but a godly dust-protection shield? (The lack of cuts and scrapes is also part of the inconsistent magic, as he does get cut by swords a few times.) Much as Bond’s bloodied knuckles gave Casino Royale an unexpected sense of genuine danger, Percy’s airbrushed countenance drained even the chance of suspense from The Lightning Thief.

Speaking of fighting, it was terrible. The primary move is to spin around in circles, making yourself dizzy and exposing your back to your opponent, and then to smash your swords together. It was like watching eight-year-olds playing with light sabers.

I saw this with its target audience, several 12-year-old boys. They didn’t like it either.
This is a peculiar movie of jaw-dropping badness, a superhero musical comedy in which the writer mostly forgot to write in any actual jokes.

The movie opens with faux-newsreel footage of Captain Invincible (played by Alan Arkin, attaining new heights of unfunny) fighting Nazis and then being persecuted by the House of Un-American Activities Committee. It went on way too long considering how bland it was, but in retrospect was the third-best part of the movie. (The second-best was Christopher Lee, who is such a consummate professional that he made his presence compelling and his song funny, feats which no one else in the cast managed. The best was Captain Invincible’s epaulettes, which were giant silver chicken feet clinging to his shoulders.)

Captain Invincible vanishes for many years, then turns up as a washed-up drunk in Australia. I am tempted to write that the point of the next forty minutes or so of the movie was “alcoholism is hilarious,” but, again, it would have helped if there were actual jokes.

Meanwhile, Mr. Midnight (Christopher Lee), a white supremacist supervillain, steals a hypnotism ray which hypnotizes New York City’s “ethnic” people onto islands which he plans to blow up later. This kept verging on becoming either a genuine satire on racism or an attempt at genuine satire which lapsed into horribly offensive bad taste, but in the actual event, was mostly simply not funny. (See a theme here?) Another setting of the hypnotism ray makes men fall down laughing and women take off their shirts. Again, there may have been some vague thought at satirizing sexism, but it was hard to tell from the actual content, which consisted of topless women.

Captain Invincible is called back into service, but is an alcoholic with no control over his powers. For such a long time that it occurred to me that I might have discovered the origin of the phrase “glacial pacing,” he drinks, is drunk, accidentally makes stuff blow up, and hangs out with a blonde policewoman who is there because a superhero needs a girlfriend – the last is my interpretation, not the movie’s. Then he gets framed by Mr. Midnight, flees with the blonde policewoman, bitches about how America was better in the fifties (what, when he was persecuted by HUAC?), makes more stuff explode, and finally heads off to confront Mr. Midnight.

During all of this, the camera doesn’t move unless Captain Invincible is flying. If there is a scene where characters are sitting down, they freeze in place and the camera freezes in place. At first I thought this was meant as a parody of the over-intense Ready Room scene, but later concluded it was pure ineptness. The actors other than the main three seemed to have been instructed to either stare straight ahead without blinking at all times, or to maniacally switch their eyes from side to side, like a pendulum.

There are songs. It is a rule of comedy songwriting evidently not known to the director or songwriters responsible for this film that merely having characters incongruously burst into song is not, by itself, funny. The song itself also has to be funny. And has to be a good song on its own merits. A catchy tune doesn’t hurt. For instance, “What Would Brian Boitano Do?” from the South Park movie isn’t funny simply because it’s sung by foul-mouthed paper cut-outs, it’s funny because the lyrics are funny, the concept is funny, and the catchy tune is itself funny when considered in light of the ridiculous subject matter and the paper cut-outs who are singing. On the other hand, singing the word “Bullshit” over and over and OVER is not, by itself, funny. On the plus side, though his songs are boring, Arkin has a pleasant voice. (Christopher Lee does make his song funny, purely by force of showmanship.)

Possibly this movie would have been more entertaining if I’d watched it while stoned. Then again, if I’d been stoned, possibly my sofa would have been more entertaining.
rachelmanija: (FMA: Ed among the ignorant)
( Jun. 25th, 2007 11:05 am)
Netflix noticed that I like action movies, and told me that I would like this one. Even though I ended up resorting to extensive fast-forwarding when it got too painful, and only stopped when it looked like something interesting might be going on, this is still one of the worst movies I've ever seen.

A French hit-man named Leon (Jean Reno) takes in a Lolita-like twelve-year-old (Natalie Portman) when her family is murdered by a DEA agent (Gary Oldman, in the worst and most over the top performance of his career), and helps her study assassination and take revenge on her enemies.

...you know, that totally sounds like the sort of thing I would like. And I do like sentimental, bloody, over the top action movies. And yet, I did not like this one. Perhaps because it was so AWFUL.

1. Gary Oldman spends the entire movie twitching, sweating, popping pills, convulsing, thrashing, spasming, lurching, conducting an invisible orchestra, speaking dialogue that no human being would ever utter off a movie screen, and generally being floridly psychotic with a side of out-of-control epilepsy. And yet, we are supposed to believe that he is a DEA agent? No one who acts like that could hold down a job at McDonald's.

Also, he is not amusing, but annoying as fuck.

2. Creeeeeepy sexual overtones between the twelve-year-old Mathilde and adult Leon. Jean Reno plays Leon like he has no adult sexuality, which would be a relief if Portman hadn't had so many scenes where she's all creepily seductive and claiming to be his lover. (Eeeeeew.) The director also dresses her in really revealing outfits and has her dance around in bras and shoots her injuries in a really fetishizing way. YUCK.

This completely ruined my connection with the main relationship in the movie, because I kept thinking, "Get away from him" rather than being moved yet disturbed, which I think is what was intended.

3. The score. Sappy, overbearing, and trite.

4. The over-the-topness. Did not work. Rather than being swept away, I kept thinking, "That's dumb. That would never happen. I don't believe in this character. EW."

5. The action sequences. So-so. There is exactly one clever moment in the entire movie, which is the way Leon escapes from about a billion cops toward the end. Otherwise, meh. The moment when he swung by his feet with a gun in each hand, which is a better movie would have been fucking cool, instead was just ridiculous.

Incidentally, was I supposed to have watched it in French? Would that have made it better?
This is a meme. To participate, please list the five worst movies you have ever seen, with at least one sentence each that explains why they were so bad. Optionally, begin by listing your criteria for movie badness.

For a movie to make my worst ever list, it must be frequently or entirely boring. If it is stupid and bad in every other respect, and yet is consistently entertaining, such as Volcano "The Coast is Toast," it is disqualified.

Criteria I. Boring.

In addition, it must fulfill one or more of the following criteria. The more it fulfills, the more likely it is to hit the top five:

Criteria II a. The plot is stupid, nonsensical, requires all or most of the characters to be stupid or insane, or all of the above.

II b. The dialogue is not merely bland, but actively stupid or laughable.

II c. The acting is bad, incompetent, or non-existent, and/or actors are absurdly miscast.

II d. The directing is bad and/or pretentious.

II e. The movie is unintentionally humorous, or intends to be funny but fails. The latter is worse.

II f. Misc failings of craft: poor editing, bombastic or sappy score, bad CGI, technical inaccuracies, etc.

II g. Misc failings of content: purposeless and graphic violence, sex scenes that make the audience feel like they're getting a Bad Touch, racism, sexism, homophobia, miscellaneous prejudices, beating audience over their heads with a moral especially if the moral is something like "racism is bad," use of cute children for cheap sentiment, gratuitous gross-outs of any nature, gratuitous CGI, etc.

And the losers are... )
Eiger Dreams: Ventures Among Men and Mountains is a collection of essays by Jon Krakauer.

I didn't much care for the two dry articles that had been originally published in The Smithsonian, but the rest ranged from good to excellent. My favorites were "Eiger Dreams," in which Krakauer succumbs to mixed feelings part-way up a notoriously dangerous mountain; "Gill," a character study of the man who invented bouldering as a sport, though he does not regard as a sport but rather a form of moving meditation; "Club Denali," which, like "Eiger Dreams," is quite funny in a rather appalling way, about the extremely motley crew of semi-qualified eccentrics who try to climb Mt. McKinley one spring; and "Bad Summer at K2," which is more sparely written than the rest, a sober account of the summer when thirteen climbers died on K2. Unlike the Everest disaster chronicled in Into Thin Air, the K2 climbers were all highly qualified and cautious, but K2 is dangerous and their luck ran out.

Eiger Dreams didn't make me want to do any of the climbs it describes, except for bouldering and canyoneering, neither of which are dangerous, cold, or expensive, and both of which sound fun. But it does vividly convey what it feels like to do them.

Regrettably, though a few female climbers make brief appearances, the "men" in the subtitle is no mistake. Later I will discuss Annapurna: A Woman's Place, which is about women and mountains... and how men relate to the idea of women who climb mountains, which is somewhere between how Krakauer treats them, which is with respect when they appear but mostly not noticing that they exist, and how Clint Eastwood treats them, for which see below:

"Eiger Dreams" references a Clint Eastwood movie, The Eiger Sanction, which actually filmed on the Eiger. It was supposed to have good climbing sequences. It did have good climbing sequences. It was also stupid, annoying, racist, sexist, misogynistic, homophobic, and slow. And Clint Eastwood had stupid seventies hair. And the fights sucked.

Keeping in mind that a plot summary will probably make this sound more entertaining than it actually was... Clint Eastwood is a retired assassin who's become an art teacher. A female student comes on to him to get a better grade, because women are dumb sluts. He turns her down and pinches her ass. Then he's dragged back into one last mission, where he has to go to the Eiger and kill one of three mountaineers, only his albino boss Dragon who will melt or something if Clint turns on a reading lamp, doesn't know which one is the one who murdered one of Clint's old buddies. Except that the murderer has... a limp! Well, that should narrow it down.

Clint is waylaid by a sexy black stewardess named Jemima. She seduces him. Then she turns out to be one of Dragon's people. For the rest of the movie he keeps calling her a whore and worse. But she still loves him. Then he goes to train to climb the Eiger. Climbing sequences! Yay! A silent woman takes him running. Competent woman! Yay! Then she flashes her breasts, seduces him, and drugs him. Whoops, guess she's just another treacherous whore. There's also an evil, limp-wristed gay man, who Clint kills.

Now for the Eiger. One of the climbers has a wife who's a treacherous whore. Of course. Then they climb the Eiger, and spoilery stuff happens. The end.

In brief: Whore whore slut slut climb climb evil bitch die evil fag whore whore slut slut climb climb limp yay happy ending.
rachelmanija: (Default)
( Oct. 19th, 2005 08:38 am)
Yet another comment that I wrote in someone else's journal ([livejournal.com profile] rushthatspeaks's) which I'm reprinting here so I can have all my stories in one place:

My father and I once decided to attend a film festival in our hometown of Santa Barbara. Since we both loved film noir and gangster movies and we'd seen Reservoir Dogs three times, it was an easy decision to choose one described as "Small-time crooks turn on each other after a drug deal goes wrong."

The movies were screened in theatres that still had the marquee up for whatever was normally playing, and Dad and I both averted our eyes in embarassment from the regular headliner, Booty Call.

The drug deal film was one of the worst movies I have ever seen. Not only did the plot make no sense-- at the end, when everyone's true identities had been revealed, careful consideration revealed that the chief drug dealer's big deal, around which the entire plot had revolved, had been to sell a hundred grand worth of heroin to himself-- but about halfway through the movie, when all the characters had been holed up in a cabin in the middle of the desert waiting interminably for the drugs to arrive, one of them suddenly said, "Hey, let's get some hookers!"

They picked up the phone and ordered in several hookers. And then, as I sat beside my father, both of us slowly sinking lower and lower into our seats, the hookers and the drug dealers proceeded to enact an incredibly graphic orgy complete with full frontal nudity. It lasted about twenty minutes, which in film time feels like about an hour and if you're sitting next to your father, feels like a weekend vacation in Hell. At times they orgied in slow motion. Just when it looked like it was all over, a third hooker arrived ("It's our friend Kristy! Hi, Kristy!), did a strip-tease, and joined the action. Then the hookers got dressed, the drug dealers paid them and said, "Thanks and good-bye!" and the plot proceeded along its deeply stupid course. Needless to say, there turned out to be no plot-related reason for the 20-minute orgy scene.

When the lights finally, blessedly came up and Dad and I slunk out of the theatre, he stopped below the marquee. "Look at that," he said. "I guess we went into the wrong theatre, because I'm pretty sure we just saw Booty Call."
rachelmanija: (Ed among the ignorant)
( May. 25th, 2005 12:25 pm)
Some friends were visiting from Denmark and they wanted to see it, so...

We had dinner at my old Hollywood hang-out, the famous-in-Los-Angeles Thai noodle place Sanamluang Cafe. I had the pad-see-yu, flat rice noodles stir-fried with pork, Chinese broccoli, and lots of garlic. Peter had the cha-po, Chinese-style roast pork, deep-fried belly pork, and roast duck over rice, with dipping sauce. Anders chose the chili soup with fish balls, fish maw, fish cake, squid, and God knows what else. I nearly said something, but figured that if he was voluntarily ordering the fish maw he must know what he was doing.

While Peter and I dug into ours, Anders poked at his vat of bright pink broth in which floated miscellaneous unidentifiable objects: a white frilly thing, white sponges, gray golf balls, and white tentacles. "This reminds me of a movie I saw once," he said. "Dumpling... Dumpling something."

"Dumpling Master?" I suggested.

"No," said Anders. "This was an underground movie about a woman who makes stew out of aborted fetuses."

I gave Anders half my noodles.

Revenge of the Sith was much more entertaining than the first two movies. However, the first two movies were two of the worst movies I've ever seen. When people enthusiastically recommend something by saying, "It doesn't suck as much as the first two!" you know that you're not dealing with a work of art, but with a cultural phenomena.

Given that, I am not going to cut for spoilers. If you don't want to be spoiled, don't read, but this is really not the sort of movie where knowing what happens ruins anything.

Rachel's theory of Distance in Combat is once more in play: the closer the combatants are to each other, the more engaged I will be in their fight. Therefore, hand-to-hand is better than light sabers, and light sabers are better than guns, and guns are better than shuttle-craft. The movie opens with a shuttle-craft fight. I am not engaged.

The first bad guy we meet is General Grievous, whose friends undoubtedly call him "Bodily Harm." Like all CGI creatures in all the Star Wars movies, he appears to have no weight and no mass, and his movements are overly fluid in the wrong ways, so he does not appear to be a real creature, but a video game character. This is not a problem with the CGI creatures in Lord of the Rings. Nor is it a problem in Jurassic Park. It's a big problem here.

The ever-entertaining Christopher Lee makes a sadly brief appearance as Count Dooku the Sith Lord. For the benefit of my non-American readers, "dookie" is a word used by small children to refer to the substance whose letters can be rearranged to make the word "sith." This is why audiences keep snickering every time someone refers to Count Dooku. Well, one of the reasons.

During the obligatory fight scene, a large piece of ceiling drops unconvincingly on Obi-Wan Kenobi. Lucas can't even get a simple effect like that to look real.

I am having a hard time recalling exactly what the war is about, but anyway Anakin, whose girlfriend calls him Annie (no wonder he turned to the Dark Side), Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, who spends the entire movie looking like he'd rather be diving into the Filthiest Toilet in Scotland) and Senator Palpatine (notable for his strong resemblance to Pope Benedict II, and also for being the only actor in the entire movie who is actually giving a performance), return to somewhere or other. There is a horridly unconvincing reunion between Annie and Padme, who mouth awful dialogue about how much they love each other while looking like they can hardly stand to be around each other. They touch each other as if someone just off-camera was holding a gun to their heads.

Padme: "I'm pregnant! So I can't be a Senator! Because Senators are banned from getting pregnant! Or something!"

Annie (looking like he's getting an enema): "OMG! I'm so happy! Yay!"

Padme, incidentally, goes to bed wearing two strands of pearls wrapping around her arms, a huge spiky metal brooch between her breasts, and a giant metal butterfly clip in her hair. Astoundingly, Annie is the one who leaps out of bed in the middle of the night. Maybe he rolled over her pearls.

He's dreamed that she will die in childbirth. Oddly, he does not suggest that she get prenatal care or, say, an ultrasound which might reveal that she has twins, because we're not supposed to know that she has twins till the end, even though we knew that going in. Whatever.

Annie consults Yoda. Yoda tells him to let go of his desire for his wife to live. What the hell? Sensitive and compassionate Yoda is not.

Since the Jedi, throughout this movie, are depicted as a bunch of smug, self-righteous, hypocritical, controlling jerks, Annie goes to Palpatine for help. There follow a couple of scenes that are actually kind of good, as Palpatine seduces Annie to the Dark Side. Samuel Jackson, looking like he wishes he had a gun and some good dialogue, gets in a fight with Palpatine and wins. Ian McDiarmuid seizes the opportunity of lying on the floor and begging to overact like I've never seen before. Since nobody else in the movie is acting at all, this actually makes a good impression.

Palpatine turns into Saggy-face. Annie goes over to the Dark Side. Samuel Jackson goes out the window.

Meanwhile, Obi-Wan Kenobi rides an unconvincing CGI lizard and duels with Bodily Harm. Despite technology that can replace a person's entire body with prosthetics, all the bad guys have smoker's coughs and/or asthma. The price of the Dark Side seems to be bad lungs. Lucas wastes a potentially brilliant moment when Bodily Harm starts to duel Obi-Wan with light sabers in all four of his arms. The new and improved light sabers, unlike the old glowy broomstick ones, strobe, making all lightsaber duels hard to follow and headache-inducing to try.

Then Palpatine orders everyone to kill the Jedi. The Jedi all go down with barely a fight. They can sense confusion in Annie, but can't sense that their officers are all in the pay of the Dark Side and are about to kill them? The Jedi are not only hypocrites, but their mind powers and fighting skills suck. No wonder it only takes eighteen years for them to be completely forgotten.

Annie kills a bunch of Jedi "younglings." Oy. Show the scene, Lucas! Even if you can't stand to show kids being killed, at least show that young padawan going down bravely, desperately defending his charges... oh, forget it.

Meanwhile, Yoda's with the Wookies. This is actually pretty cool. Then Yoda duels Palpatine. Also cool. Then back to Padme and Annie. Uh-oh.

For some reason everyone shows up on Planet Lava, so that Obi-Wan and Annie can duel in the lava. Obi-Wan cuts off Annie's legs and stands over him, lecturing him and complaining that he used to love him, while Annie catches fire and writhes about, screaming in agony. Obi-Wan stands and watches him writhe in agony for a while, then, while Annie's still writhing and screaming and burning, walks off and leaves him to writhe and scream and burn till he dies. Exactly who are the bad guys here?

Obi-Wan collects Padme, who gives birth to healthy twins and is in perfect health herself, despite the lack of prenatal care. But she dies because she "lost the will to live." Obi-Wan does not scream at her to pull herself together and live for her kids, so she dies. Whatever.

Annie becomes Darth Vader. This was also pretty cool. Until his first words as Vader are "How's my pathetic weak-willed leather helmet-wearing wife, whom I just tried to kill? Gee, I really hope she's OK."

Can someone issue a law forbidding the line "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" No one has ever delivered that line well. Darth Vader wobbles around in an unmanly fashion-- well, what do you expect from a guy who used to be named Annie? Perhaps he was also traumatized by Obi-Wan Kenobi hacking off his legs and leaving him to burn and writhe and scream-- I'm sorry, but I'm having a little trouble letting go of that scene.

Baby Luke is delivered to Tatooine into the care of Annie's relatives, because that's the last place where Annie would look for his son. Well, clearly, it was, because he didn't. Darth Vader watches the Death Star being built, and presumably broods over Obi-Wan leaving him to slowly burn to death. And possibly over Padme, who first nick-named him Annie. A man will go to great lengths to leave that kind of thing behind.
rachelmanija: (Default)
( Jul. 31st, 2004 10:48 pm)
My friend Raven and I went to see M. Night Shyamalan's (Best Name Ever) THE VILLAGE tonight. While on the escalator to the theatre, we overheard this conversation:

White-Haired Woman Behind Us: "I hope no one here is going to see THE VILLAGE. My God, what an awful movie."

Gray-Haired Woman Behind Us: "Yes, terrible!"

Me and Raven: look at each other-- uh-oh.

Me: "Uh, we already bought our tickets. Is it really that bad?"

White-Haired Woman: "Oh, dear."

Gray-Haired Woman: "Everybody... Talks... Like... This."

Me and Raven: "Uh-oh."

CUT TO:

Ten minutes before the end of the movie.

Man in audience, loud: "I HATE this movie!"

Everyone else in audience: Cheers and applause.
rachelmanija: (Default)
( May. 15th, 2004 09:56 pm)
A friend dragged me to TROY, over my protests. Afterward, he pointed out that at least it hadn't been CON AIR, which he also dragged me to. I'm going to get back at him, though, and haul him to an anime, samurai, or kung fu movie, none of which are genres he enjoys.

I had been looking forward to TROY since seeing the first preview, which had no dialogue. Then I saw the second preview, which had dialogue, and decided not to see the movie. That sums up my reaction to the film. As long as no one speaks, it's pretty decent, and there are some beautiful and spectacular shots of Greek seas, burning cities, and Brad Pitt's ass. Then they open their mouths, and the groaning and the whispering of sarcastic comments to one's seatmate begins.

The only exception to this is a scene where Peter O'Toole as Priam begs Brad Pitt as Achilles for the body of his son. O'Toole's motivation was clearly "Oops, I'm old now and I haven't yet played King Lear." It's a good scene.

Otherwise, the dialogue is horrid: stilted, anachronistic, clunky, and generally embarassing. The sentiments and philosophies expressed by most of the characters are those of contemporary Hollywood screenwriters, not those of ancient Greeks or Trojans. The romances are uniformly heterosexual, with a nauseating blend of 1950s and 2000s genuflection to the Holy Family, and lead to one of the worst death scenes ever (you'll know it when you see it).

The movie, by the way, does not conform to the story, and the changes are ointless and stupid. For instance, they leave out Cassandra and instead devote a huge amount of screen time to a woman named Briseis whom Achilles falls sappily in love with. (Bleah.)

Orlando Bloom (Paris) is so awful here and boring in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN that I'm beginning to think his performance as Legolas was created by CGI. He and Patrocles posture and quiver and widen their eyes like the dueling pretty boys they are. Helen is blank and vapid as a photo of a supermodel. She's pretty enough, in a bland and unerotic way, but that face would have launched two ships at the most. Liv Tyler, now, she could launch a thousand without wearing makeup.

Brad Pitt, as Achilles, is also blank and vapid, but also smug and annoying. I think he's a talented actor, but he's only good in roles that require him to be a little edgy, a little crazy, or a scoundrel of some kind. He's a character actor with a flair for comedy trapped in a leading man's body: think TWELVE MONKEYS, FIGHT CLUB, SNATCH, even THELMA AND LOUISE. When required to be Important, as he is in TROY, he falls into a dreadful stiff pretentiousness, like a wax statue.

Sean Bean as Odysseus has very little to do, but on the other hand he and Eric Bana as Hector are the only people in the entire movie who are remotely convincing as soldiers. Bean in particular exudes "tired old campaigner" like nobody's business. Unfortunately, though people keep remarking on how clever he is, we never actually see him do anything clever. Brad Pitt is cut and buff and all that, but like a gym rat, not like the world's greatest warrior. Which leads me to the next problem: the fight scenes.

In LORD OF THE RINGS, I absolutely believed that Aragorn was a great swordfighter and Boromir was pretty darn good. I could see strategy and skill and how the fights were won and lost. In TROY, the fights are just people bashing each other, and there's no sense of why one person is better or cannier than another. Pitt proves that he's the greatest warrior of all by occasionally leaping into the air, generally without apparent purpose. "Wasted motion," I began thinking. "Someone should dart in and skewer him."

There's a shot at the end showing Achilles' heel that is prettily framed and has some visual wit for those who know the story. But wit, alas, is entirely absent from the rest of the movie.
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