Archive for July, 2009

Pathology (or Neveldine & Taylor Cannot Lose)

July 31, 2009

Neveldine and Taylor are the writing and directing team behind the Crank franchise. They are brilliant. They could hang it up right now and be assured of their legacy. But great minds cannot be caged, so they continue to create. They wrote Pathology in between Crank‘s and while it lacks their fast and loose directing and cinematography, it fits snugly within their body of work.

For the poster, they made Alyssa Milano's lawyer a doctor. Also, Milo appears to be cradling the same woman who is standing on the left.

Pathology follows Ted (Milo Ventimiglia), top of his medical class at Harvard(probably in the same graduating class as Silas and Jamal!) and now a resident at a Washington D.C. hospital. He meets a crew of brash pathology residents who suffer from a combination of god complex and plain old crazy. How crazy? One of their less shocking antics is reenacting the Katz’s Deli scene from When Harry Met Sally with cadavers. You know, med school. The other crazy thing they get up to is killing people and then having the rest of their group guess how they did the killing. Which is kinda neat. I could see how you could get caught up in that. Well, no, I can’t. But Ted falls in with this completely insane group of people because OH THE POWER A DOCTOR WIELDS, IT CAN WARP YOUR MIND! Also, the redhead in their group is Ready To Go, if you pick up what I’m putting down(if she isn’t eye-fucking you, then she’s fucking you). The film stumbles on this one aspect, for while the redhead is indeed fetching, Ted is engaged to the very rich Gwen. It’s indicated at one point that he can’t be honest with Gwen and is only marrying her because her family is loaded. Fair enough, the guy joined a murder club, what’s one more prick move on his part, right? But Gwen is played by Alyssa Milano, who is very hot. If she were dirt poor, men would be lining up to make her rich. A super rich Alyssa Milano? Don’t tease me, movie. I will admit that the redhead(Lauren Lee Smith) has to hit quite few different levels of crazy, sad, and naked fucking while Milano mostly just looks concerned or sleepy, so they cast for skill. Also, Milano’s character has sex with her bra on. I know. The redhead indulges in some lipstick lesbianism and has some acupuncture sex, amongst other things I’ll get to.

Pathology is a sneakier effort from Neveldine and Taylor. It slowly moves for the first half hour or so and then BOOM, insane sex/autopsy montage. Open chest cavities to go with exposed chests and asses. Pathologists smoking crack(This was my favorite)! It’s hilariously over the top, especially when Ted and the redhead kill a man, and then immediately fuck on the floor. Nothing gets the ladies hot and bothered like killing Durant. Milo Ventimiglia gives a performance at the intersection of Keanu and Stallone. He tends to be stone faced whether he’s having a friendly beer or having sex on an morgue slab. To give him the benefit of the doubt, I haven’t done the latter, so perhaps the two situations are surprisingly similar. At one point he has to express fear, guilt and regret, which involved plenty of huffing, sighing, gritted teeth and literal hand wringing.   The villain of the piece, Jake Gallo (Michael Weston) has the right kind of creepy to him, and he pretty much owns every scene he’s in. His drunk act at a cocktail party is perfectly awkward, topped off by smashing a tray of champagne flutes off a waiter’s tray, catching one, attempting to drink out of it, finding it empty, and appearing even more pissed, now at himself. I clapped. Pathology did have one scene that felt completely true to life. The redhead surprises Ted in the lobby of his apartment building and attempts to blow him. In the lobby. Ted takes a moment, notices that he is in full view of cars and pedestrians passing the doorway of his building and says, “No go.” He’ll have sex with you in front of a dead body, but there are some things a man just won’t do. Justin knows what I’m talking about.

Have some crack!

Have some crack!

The big finale is actually three parts, which I won’t spoil here. I will mention that the economy of characters is something that people should always remember and that nods to Mission Impossible 2, intentional or otherwise, are always welcome in this house.

While not a Crank level success, Pathology succeeds as a sleazy thriller. A little more humor never hurt anybody, but I was never bored(did I mention the hooker grandma? No? There is a hooker grandma), and by the time you get to the film’s final moments, Ted’s stoic demeanor becomes morbidly humorous. Pathology also fits well with the Neveldine/Taylor template of loathsome protagonist who must fight even more loathsome antagonists. College.

Make a wish!

"Make a wish!"

Dipping the Wick

July 30, 2009

Hi, my name is Lorin. Welcome to my new blog, Bad Guys Win.  I want to thank Justin Muschong for helping name this blog. The man used to be shit for thinking of titles, and then he drops solid gold right in my lap. Thanks, J. I had been trying to develop a mission statement for this blog, and Justin’s title perfectly suits it. Despite what film and television tell us, the bad guys usually win, and I aim to take the kind of sarcasm and cynicism that rises from that viewpoint and use it to examine the aspects of our culture that fascinate, thrill, and infuriate me. You know, like any other blog. Sticking out of the morass is tough enough in real life, let alone on the interweb. So we’ll see how this goes. I’m a pretty optimistic guy.

(Author’s note: All entries dated before July 30th 2009 were imported from a now deleted Vox blog. So you know why the format is fucked the fuck up.)

Public Enemies: A Review

July 16, 2009

Michael Mann seems to be at odds with what a movie is supposed to do. Throughout his filmography, one can find numerous instances of choosing the least entertaining aspect of a subject as his main focus and shoving it at the viewer saying, "This is real fucking life! Deal with it." It happened in Ali, it happened Miami Vice, and it happens rather egregiously in Public Enemies. I'm the last person to begrudge anyone of attempting to throw some realism into their films, but there is real, and then there is dull. And Public Enemies is real dull. 

I went into Public Enemies thinking myself a pretty hardcore Mann apologist, with an unabashed love of Miami Vice and a great enthusiasm for The Insider, which I would easily slot as a Great Film. But walking out, all I could think about was all of the criticisms that people have leveled against those films, and how they perfectly apply to Public Enemies. Michael Mann loves to tell stories about professionals placed in unprofessional circumstances and see how they handle it. Johnny Depp's Dillinger is presented as a professional of sorts, but his plight isn't approached in a way to make me care. He's slick, but he's not that slick. That about sums Dillinger up, and that's too bad. Perhaps after hamming it up for three years at Jack Sparrow, Depp wanted to just chill. The entire film is about the downfall of this man, the steps towards his death, and he plays it pretty obliviously. Some scenes appear to exist without cognizant knowledge of their predecessors, so Dillinger is cautious one moment, flippant the next, like he woke up the next morning and thought it was all a bad dream. 
Public Enemies also lacks a sense of place. I know it takes place during the Depression, but besides some brief lip service, there isn't any indication of what type of place America is at the time, and more importantly, what Dillinger means to the people. The film makes repeated mentions to Dillinger's folk hero status, but basically that's it. Someone says he's a folk hero, but I never got a sense of what type of notorious celebrity John Dillinger was. This just adds to an overwhelming case of "Who cares?" Dillinger is an inspiration to people we never meet in an era not properly portrayed. Roger Ebert, in a review much kinder than this one, makes mention to some of Michael Mann's detail choices. 

Mann redressed Lincoln Avenue on either side of the Biograph Theater, and laid streetcar tracks; I live a few blocks away, and walked over to marvel at the detail. I saw more than you will; unlike some directors, he doesn't indulge in beauty shots to show off the art direction. It's just there.

I don't know if I needed beauty shots, but perhaps a few more details to explain and illustrate this era. Which leads me to this films biggest problem; it looks and sounds like shit. Michael Mann is big proponent of filming with digital cameras, and up to this film, I was a big fan. His use of digital on Miami Vice and Collateral is sharp and clear, and the sound work on both is top notch. Not the case with Public Enemies. Visually, the film often looks amateurish, with visible makeup on the actors and Depp's knuckle tattoo's plainly visible in many scenes. But also the action takes a hit, with sequences deflated because of an apparent defiant need to "show it like it happened" that tends to only deflate thrills, which movies I've heard are supposed to have. The sound is atrocious, with dialog lost and garbled amongst random music stabs that sound like someone is still choosing music cues. Or sometimes you just can't understand what people are saying. I thought it might have been just me with these sound issues, but Justin experienced the same thing when he saw it. 

Speaking of Mann's decision to deflate thrills, I chalked this up to a slavish devotion to fact which, while it's tough to enjoy, I can respect. Hey, if that's how it went down, that's how it went down. But reading up afterward, I found that much of the film is fabricated and the timeline rearranged, which throws that entire rational out the window. By all accounts, the scripts historical changes were done for cinematic reasons, but they don't work anyway. If anything, they reveal the Dillinger story to in fact be even less exciting than presented, which questions why it was even made to begin with. 
The few bright spots are when the film decides to have a little fun; a scene where Dillinger jokes and bates the press, a tense escape for a military guarded jail, or any scene with Billy Crudup as J. Edgar Hoover. Crudup's performance is a fine one, evoking not just a person but also a sense of the time period that person existed in, with his posture and way of talking. Johnny Depp could be just about anybody when he plays Dillinger, while Christian Bale is essentially a non-entity, with a performance exactly 180 degrees from his overheated John Conner performance in Terminator: Salvation. Not a good look. Marion Cotillard can't maintain an American accent, which is too bad since her character is half Native American. Oh well, she looks nice I guess. 
Michael Mann is capable of making entertaining films, but with Public Enemies he indulges in all his worst tendencies, leaving us with a rather bland film that delivers some faint traces of people I can only assume were much deeper. 

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Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen makes me tired.

July 10, 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a tough movie to describe. Overlong, hyperactive yet crushingly dull, sexist, racist; Michael Bay hasn’t made a film this this since Bad Boys 2.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is interesting in it’s general lack of interest. When presenting scenarios like the discovery of alien life forms or the massive destruction of aircraft carrier’s and submarines, the lack of detail and care about these events is galling and sad. If the filmmakers are going to all this effort to present such a convoluted story involving the Transformers and their working relationship with the American military, along with the entire population of the Earth finding out they are not alone in the universe, shouldn’t these be handled in a significant way? This might be the only film I’ve ever seen where the revelation of extraterrestrial life is treated with shrug and a yawn. During it’s entire excessive runtime (150 minutes, goddamn!) I could not stop thinking about these details. Why introduce such a crazy scenario (Decepticon’s reveal selves to world, threaten destruction) and have no one comment on it? I should mention that they do comment that the Decepticon’s demand the World turn over Shia or face reprisal, so all anyone can talk about is that Shia’s face was all over the news. “We are no longer alone, our concept of the universe and our place in it has been forever changed. Who was the kid with the dirtstache?”

The plot is needlessly complicated, with Autobots working with the government, Decepticon’s bringing other Decepticon’s back to life, Decepticon’s hiding weapons to blow up the sun, just because. It’s tough to care because the Transformer’s are boring. Their sole purpose in life is to fight other Transformers. When one character actually points this out, Optimus Prime gets all mad. BUT HE’S RIGHT, Optimus Prime! What else do you do? You’re a giant alien race that has gun arms. Denial isn’t just a river. (Speaking of Transformers, why so ugly? When they’re vehicles, they’re shiny and detailed and look like nice, new cars, but then transform into garish monstrosities with the appearance of badly shaped aluminum. The whole point was that when they looked like Robots, they looked like Robots, and when they looked like cars, they looked like cars. Now they look like they turn into shit.)

As far as spectacle is concerned, Michael Bay can still blow everything up. He has not lost this ability one iota. I had to smirk as he worked his way through the film, destroying a library, a college dorm, a forest, parts of the Smithsonian, an aircraft carrier and finally the Great Pyramids. Though much of the time I smirked so as not to cry.
Do you think Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich get drunk together?

I can imagine someone saying, “Well Lorin, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen wasn’t made for you. It was made for children and teenagers.” In that case, I would use my own anecdotal evidence of the behavior of the teenagers and young children during the screening I attended. Not quite halfway through the teenagers began talking loudly, the film no longer holding their attention, and during the credits clapped for so long that even if it wasn’t irony it became so by default. The young boy seated in front of me with his mother kept leaning over to ask questions, which meant that I wasn’t crazy with my issues with the film either. Granted, he could have been telling her how awesome it was. Y’know, he probably was. He also got up a bunch of times to go to the bathroom. I knew a kid in elementary school who pissed his pants during Home Alone. So there’s a barometer for you; elementary school kids refuse to piss themselves during Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

I think someone called Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen “cinematic nihilism”. That sounds about right. I realize that I didn’t touch on the sexism or racism, but yeah, it has that too. I’m just tired.

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