Archive for September, 2009

Jennifer’s Body– Megan Fox throws up in your kitchen.

September 28, 2009

Jennifer’s Body features the equally lusted after and loathed Megan Fox as the title character, your typical mean girl of loose morals, taking a condescending tone towards friends and enemies equally. It’s a role perfect for Megan Fox, which is just sad and also not very impressive. It might also explain the lack of box office. Why pay to see Megan Fox be an asshole; just watch any of her interviews or read an article about her. What would have been more impressive? Megan Fox playing against type as a kind, good hearted person. You know, acting. At the very least it would have been interesting. Not to say that Jennifer’s Body is a woeful piece of shit. Nah. It is pretty mediocre though. The problem is that no one involved is working hard enough to transcend the genre’s they are inhabiting. A biting high school satire would have been neat. A twist on the horror genre? I love those! Whoops. The script is the main culprit with some terrible dialogue and a framing device that only works to drain the film of tension.

The plot revolves around Jennifer and her friend Needy(I know!) played by Amanda Seyfried. Needy is just that, a wallflower who hangs around Jennifer because Jennifer is cool and hot and all that. I was going to mention that Jennifer talks like a fucking idiot but so many of the characters do. Needy’s boyfriend Chip(I KNOW!) is a more levelheaded character who points out that Jennifer is an idiot and talks like an illiterate fool, but as my pal Justin has mentioned, when you have your characters pointing out how terrible your movie is inside your movie, your movie is still terrible. Am I supposed to take Chip’s observations as Diablo Cody’s attempts to play down her shitty writing? You know how you deal with bad writing? Write better. I’m sure someone important said that, and I apologize for not properly citing them. Where was I? Oh yeah, the plot of Jennifer’s Body. Jennifer and Needy head to the only bar in their small town of Devil’s Kettle to see the band Low Shoulder. As luck would have it, the venue explodes in flames due to faulty wiring and most of the viewing audience is engulfed in flames. Needy and Jennifer escape as well as the members of Low Shoulder. Nikolai Wolf, Low Shoulder’s frontman(charmingly portrayed by Adam Brody) invites Jennifer into his band’s van. Needy warns against this, Jennifer doesn’t listen and goes anyway. Except then she looks afraid right as the van doors close. Jennifer suddenly reappears at Needy’s home later in the evening, covered in blood and vomiting black slime, then vanishing just as quickly. The next day at school, Jennifer is in class looking fine and dandy and Needy is understandably shocked and surprised. Come to find out, Jennifer is now a flesh eating monster, thanks to a botched virgin sacrifice to Satan, performed on Jen by Low Shoulder. The sacrifice didn’t quite work, on account of Jennifer not being a virgin.

That’s isn’t a terrible set up for a horror flick, but the filmmakers don’t have much interest in making a scary film. All of Jennifer’s kills are rather blah, though the visual of Megan Fox slurping blood out of man’s open chest cavity has a slight “anything for a check” vibe. Worse, the too-clever-for-it’s-own-good script keeps getting in the way of any dramatic moments, be it between Needy and Chip, Chip and his mother, or between Needy and Jennifer during the climactic scenes. Here are two characters fighting for their lives and trading quips like dueling comedians. These are both excellent examples of how to make your conflict appear meaningless and giving your audience an excuse to leave early. But y’know, I might not have minded the one liners if they weren’t so clunky and obtrusive. Diablo Cody certainly writes in a stylized fashion, but unlike various other writers in film and television, her characters tend to converse in a made up code of English where words tend to mutate into un-meaning. For example, using “salty” as a descriptive for someone who is attractive doesn’t make sense, as “salty” is never used in a positive sense. If I refer to something as “salty”, I’ve had a negative, or at least less than positive response to it. Plus, “salty” is a description that is associated with a taste or an attitude, and having a “salty” demeanor is not a compliment. Using “salty” as a description for a attractive physical appearance makes even less sense. Every time Jennifer used her “salty” descriptor I wished for Regina George to bust onto the screen and tell Jen that “salty” was never going to catch on and to shut up about it already. Of course, Jennifer would go full monster and eat Regina, “because (she) goes both ways.” Hardy har. If Cody is attempting to tell us that Jennifer is using “salty” incorrectly because Jennifer is stupid, she has failed because everyone in this movie is stupid. It is possible to inject fear and dread into a horror film while maintaining a comedic edge AND still getting an audience to care about the characters. Hell, they managed to do it twice.

Jennifer’s Body is a horror movie without any scares and a teen comedy without many jokes.  From what I read on the day of the film’s release, Jennifer’s Body is an important film to many of the principals involved. It is Diablo Cody’s first film script since winning her Oscar for Juno, and it is Megan Fox’s first headlining role. After the film tanked, I read that it wasn’t actually that important, and that neither party will feel any particular sting. So good for them. Diablo Cody’s next project is a film based off the Sweet Valley High series of books. I’m sure it will be packed with characters explaining why they find one another “sour patch” and turning down prom invitations with a sharp “American I’d rather not”.

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Torture or Treat- Sex and Lucía

September 28, 2009

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Bad Guys Win takes your recommendation and decides whether it is Torture or a Treat.


Well, this was a convoluted mind fuck. Fantasy meets reality and bends back to right itself(fix itself?) in Sex and Lucía, a Spanish film with a lot going on, but not all of it mattering. Or maybe none of it does. While the film plays fast and loose with the idea of fiction and fact, I had a hard time believing a person could become a successful author and not be able to type without pecking at the keyboard, looking at the keys, and talking aloud as they wrote.

The story goes that Lucía is in love with a novelist whose work so touched her that she began stalking him. Emboldened one day, she tells him all this, and adds that they should move in together and fall in love. Considering that Lucía is played by Paz Vega, the writer thinks this is a pretty great idea and leaves with her immediately, blowing off his friend with nothing more than a point and a wave. This guy has completely forgotten bros before hoes. However, since the writer looks like this, he probably figured that his luck wouldn’t get any better. Returning to his apartment, Lucía and the writer, Lorenzo, engage in various sex games and some acrobatic intercourse. Soon enough, they’re doing stripteases for each other, taking Polaroids of themselves during penetration, and Lucía is taking off her panties and throwing them in Lorenzo’s face as they sit at an outdoor cafe. Lorenzo has hit the jackpot and is now inspired to peck away at his new novel, which until meeting Lucía, had been blocked. Lorenzo gives the finished work to Lucía and she thinks it’s…whatever. Lorenzo is crushed.

But hey, Lucía doesn’t care that the book isn’t that good. She loves Lorenzo, throws him a birthday party and keeps making “let’s fuck” eyes at him all the time. Plus she has a job of her own, so she’s a productive member of society. I think this is what your dad would call “a keeper”. In any case, Lorenzo’s buddy/editor Pepe, who looks even stranger than Lorenzo, has found out that one of Lorenzo’s one night stands has had a child by him and is living nearby. Yes, previous to meeting Lucía, Lorenzo met and banged a woman while on an island vacation. How good was the sex? Why, this woman proclaimed it “The fuck of her life”. Lorenzo, a piece of work. After their underwater coitus, Lorenzo refused to tell the woman his real name or anything about himself at all, except that it was his birthday. Lorenzo is a classy dude. Turns out Lorenzo isn’t just a great lay, he’s also extremely fertile. Like any good standing person, Lorenzo tracks down his abandoned child to a nearby playground, where he befriends his daughter’s caretaker. Wait, did I say befriend? Maybe that was Lorenzo’s intention in order to meet his child, but this chick is ready to go. That’s right, Lorenzo can’t go anywhere without a woman getting all up in his jock. Who wrote this? Lorenzo? (Kinda.)

At this point, I’d found myself fed up with Lorenzo but curious to see where all these disparate threads would lead. Sadly, they led nowhere. After meeting the caretaker, Lorenzo starts detailing their conversations into a new novel that Lucía secretly reads on his computer after he goes to bed. The film starts playing fast and loose(r) with the timelines at this point, and it becomes unclear what is actually happening. Which leads to a finale that insinuates that none of it happened(I think).

In the meantime, we are treated to a bevy of beautiful women disrobing for Lorenzo yet never judging him. By the films end, Lorenzo appeared to be responsible for child abandonment, infidelity, undue psychological stress leading to suicide, the death of a child; all the while Lorenzo is treated like some great catch and actually forgiven for this shit. Plus his hair is a bird.

Sex and Lucía‘s greatest crime is having none of its events have any consequences. This film literally ends with tears and hugs, when it should really end with a punch and a kick. I was actually reminded of Jon Hamm’s character on 30 Rock, a man who lives in a bubble due to his good looks. Lorenzo doesn’t look anything like Hamm(obviously) yet women can’t stay away from him and never hold him accountable for any of his dickish behavior.

Despite copious amounts of sex and nudity and charming performances from Paz Vega and Elena Anaya, Sex and Lucía is Torture.

Lorenzo's "O Face"

Do you have recommendation for Torture or Treat? Leave it in the comments.

Backspacer by Pearl Jam – Going through the motions

September 23, 2009

Pearl Jam used to be kings. They ruled the musical landscape and they did it by doing their own thing. No music videos, a fight with Ticketmaster, Pearl Jam were a band with an agenda, a group of guys who became giant stars pretty much by accident and never seemed to be interested in being stars. Look at their actions all through the 90’s, this was not a band with an interest in going with the flow and doing what was expected. And people loved them for it. When they did a tossed off cover of “Last Kiss” it became a radio staple. In the early part of this decade, Pearl Jam found themselves less popular but holding on to a devoted fan base that hung on every album track, b-side, and bootleg. But someone somewhere must have charged into a room and scolded the band. “You used to be the biggest in the world, now you’re just another niche group. Play to the cheap seats!” This would explain Pearl Jam’s self titled record in 2006. “Pearl Jam’s return to Rock”, I recall Rolling Stone crowing. Loud, angry songs with titles like “World Wide Suicide”, delivered by Eddie Vedder with the old familiar yarl. It was a goddamn snooze, pandering to the listeners and radio programmers who had lost interest in Pearl Jam’s later career choices. Which brings us to Pearl Jam’s just released Backspacer. The pandering dullness continues.

If Pearl Jam has recorded a more benign set of songs, I’d be very surprised. This is the sound of a band cashing a check, nothing more. The opening four tracks are the saddest examples of “Rock by Pearl Jam” that I’ve ever heard. Completely unmemorable but good enough for cleaning out your garage on a Saturday. Play these songs for the uninitiated and they’ll remark,

“Pearl Jam?”

“Yup.”

“Yeah, this sounds like a Pearl Jam-type of song.”

Backspacer is an unabashed play to a mainstream that this band never appeared to have any interest in in the first place. I had always been under the impression that Pearl Jam could do whatever they wanted. Right now, what they want to do is phone it in. Beyond the bland opening four tracks, a few songs (“Amongst the Waves”, “Unthought Known”) are vaguely reminiscent of heyday Pearl Jam recordings, more so for certain sounds than in the song writing, which remains benign and largely hookless. That might be the worst part, since Pearl Jam made their name on some tremendous choruses (think “Evenflow” and “Alive”) yet on Backspacer only the general momentum of their earlier work is cited. Backspacer is hardly the worst record I’ve ever heard, but it’s easily forgettable. Pearl Jam might move some units with this one, but they haven’t added anything to their recording legacy.

The Blueprint 3 by Jay-Z. Real Talk.

September 10, 2009

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I hold the opinion that there should be no such thing as a “bad” Jay-Z album. He’s the greatest rapper alive, he has access where others do not, how can he not keep dropping classics? The answer, most likely, is that Jay-Z is only human, and humans have been known to make mistakes. The Blueprint 3 is one such mistake.

I’m not sure why Jay-Z insisted on having a Blueprint trilogy. Sure the first one is a classic, but he already did this three album cycle shit back in the 90’s. And it’s not like The Blueprint 2 was screaming for a finale. I like that album fine, but the criticisms of a bloated nature are not at all out-of-bounds. Also it isn’t nearly as good as The Blueprint. That said, The Blueprint 3 is closer in relation both thematically and song-wise with Kingdom Come, which most people agree is Jay-Z’s worst album. The Blueprint 3 is better than that record, but only just so.

Let’s start with the beats, the bedrock of any great rap record. Jay-Z has long been fabled for his beat choices. Just see him suss out the beat for “What More Can I Say?” in the concert film Fade To Black*. It appears that much like on Kingdom Come, Jay has become less discerning in his tastes. Maybe Hov is just reading the labels and not really listening, but these Timbaland and Neptunes beats aren’t that hot. Timbaland’s “Reminder” might be one of the shittiest tracks he’s ever done that hasn’t appeared on Shock Value. The Neptunes’ beat for “So Ambitious” outdoes it with a weak shamble and a basis around video game sound effects. It sounds like it was sampled from the soundtrack to a The Legend of Zelda. Timbaland does a slightly better job on “Off That“, but the beat is all forward motion, no innovation. Did the guy blow his wad on FutureSex/LoveSounds? But when we’re talking about a failure of beats, the prize goes to “Young Forever“, Jay-Z’s attempt to get a foot in the door of the ever important high school senior class market. If this is any indication of Jay-Z’s next move, expect a freestyle over Toto’s “Africa” before his next album drops.

I’ve read plenty of criticism over the last few years since Kingdom Come that Jay-Z hasn’t really been bringing it lyrically and that his rhyming skills and flow are deteriorating. I had never agreed with this statement until hearing The Blueprint 3. Across the board, track for track, I don’t think Jay-Z delivers anything generally crazy, quotable, or with any sense of greater style. And the man’s only true competition is himself. Take a track like “Thank You“, which plays like a retread of The Black Album‘s “Encore“. Jay starts out saying it’s a song for his fans, but then quickly flips it into another attack on his critics, equating them rather clumsily to September 11th, with a strained metaphor of crashing planes into buildings. The beat is nice, but we’re two tracks into the album and he’s evoking terrorist attacks against battle rappers he won’t even name. Not to mention that the first song is an attack on his critics as well. Listen, I’m well aware of the fact that most Jay-Z songs are about how he is awesome, his critics can kiss his ass, and so on. The problem is that Jay-Z used to make songs like this that made such statements self evident. “The Takeover” is a track that slams Nas, Mobb Deep and a slew of other rap competitors by actually being an amazing track built around stellar rhymes, rhyming, and an insane, heavy beat. Jay-Z was telling everyone they weren’t as great as him and proving it at the same time. With The Blueprint 3, Jay is just saying it, taking his top status for granted. He used to show us he was the greatest, now he can only tell us about it. When asked in an interview whether Kanye West out-rapped him on “Run This Town“, Jay-Z responded with a non-committal shrug and instructed the interviewer to compare his overall work to Kanye’s and ask him who was the best. Well sure, if we play it that way of course Jay-Z wins. His hits vastly outweigh his misses. But if he keeps whiffing like this he might just screw up his average.(“Run This Town” is still terrible, by the way. Mostly, it’s Rhianna’s yarl.)

Nice things to say? Sure. Swizz Beatz proves his worth on “On To The Next One” with a wicked beat that is proto typical Swizzy but still energetic. “D.O.A.” isn’t bad, like a second rate “Roc Boys“, which I guess isn’t much of a compliment. Oh well.

I’m a little confused on the theme of The Blueprint 3. The original Blueprint was Jay-Z throwing down the gauntlet and letting everyone know he was a force to be reckoned with. No guests except for Eminem, production from mostly Kanye and Just Blaze**; shit made sense. The Blueprint 2 was more of a victory lap, which is why it felt a bit lazy. Yet, there were some top flight beats and Jay had some sharp rhymes to go along with them. This third iteration seems to indicate, “I’m still here, I’m still great”? A good chunk of the running time is devoted to this plot point, when not denigrating haters and critics, with a occasional aside to reference women from his past (“Venus vs. Mars“) or pay respect to every commercially successful rap act to come up in the last twenty years (“A Star Is Born”). “A Star Is Born” is treacle bullshit, sharing a motif with “Empire State of Mind”, also on The Blueprint 3. On “Empire” Jay lists random New York City locations, while on “Star” he lists random rappers. “Empire” is a little better, and the tracks might even work in with better beats, but the verses are snared between a god awful choruses. The message of these two tracks is “I love New York, also various rappers. Group hug.”

The great irony is that this record clearly cost millions of dollars. Millions in marketing, millions for the beats and studio time, all in the service of what turns out to be a relatively mediocre product(“On To The Next One” notwithstanding). Yet, for significantly less money, Hov is outclassed, on the same release day mind you, by Raekwon’s Only Built For Cuban Linx…Pt. 2. Great beats, trenchant and evocative rhymes, plus passion. Jay would probably argue that if you stack up his career against Raekwon and a blah blah blah. Hey Jay, let’s stack up your pre-retirement career against your post. Real talk.

*Watching this clip still gives me goosebumps, followed by giddy elation. Do you see the guy make that face at the end of the clip, that “Holy shit, Hov is killing it” face? In the first verse of  “On To The Next One” Jay raps that if we don’t like his new albums, go listen to his old ones. Gladly.

**Just Blaze has been unjustly ignored by Hov of late. Just had to footnote that.

Gamer

September 9, 2009

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I’m going to guess that the film company sat down with Neveldine and Taylor and asked them to make something “not so crazy”. So the guys gave them Gamer, which is just as wacked out as anything else they’ve done, but no one has public sex. Crank and Crank: High Voltage play like untainted id pieces, where everything Neveldine and Taylor wanted to happen happened. Gamer is fairly conventional in comparison, yet still features a character named Rick Rape. You can’t rein these horses.

You might have heard that Gamer is a ripoff of The Running Man. Sure, fine. Steal from the best I always say. The twist is that this time people actually control the players. The game is called Slayers and it features death row inmates who are remotely controlled by players. Live action video game basically, with live ammo and all that. Michael C. Hall is Ken Castle, the creator of the game and its predecessor, Society. In both games, people control other people. In Slayers, you control a killer in a game of kill or be killed on the way to the checkpoint. In Society, you control a person and basically make them do whatever you want. Gerard Butler is Kable, the best player in Slayers and the closest to winning his 30 games to freedom. The plot features plenty of familiar elements that has put off some people, but I enjoyed Neveldine and Taylor’s various tweaks.

Those tweaks include but are not limited to; villains who break out into song and dance, a child services worker who can’t contain his laughter, jokes about Barbara Walters being dead, and a steadfast refusal to not have the camera positioned in any typical way. There is a touch of Bay-ian style here, but with too many details and entirely too much wit. I particularly enjoyed the character of Simon, Kable’s seventeen year old controller. Actually played by a seventeen year old, I’d like to engage in hyperbole and say he’s the most realistic teenage boy to ever appear in a film. His use of slang is pretty accurate, his choice of video games over sex is so very very true, and he’s kinda funny without being that funny.

Gamer (Simon & Kable)

Michael C. Hall steals the show as Ken Castle, a sort of good ol’ boy Bill Gates with a jocular demeanor that is a perfect accompaniment to his less than savory goals. He’s the kind of guy who’ll give you a big hug just to stab you in the back. For all the Pathology fans out there, many of its cast members have small roles in Gamer, most notably Milo Ventimiglia as the aforementioned Rick Rape. I gotta admit, it showed some range from a guy I figured had none.

I think some were expecting Neveldine and Taylor to rewrite the action movie template with this one, which is silly since they already did that twice already with the Crank franchise. Gamer is more of a lark, with Neveldine/Taylor indulging in their love of video games and getting a chance to blow up some cars. I’d like to guess what their next thing will be, but I couldn’t even begin to predict it. Well, except that it’ll be great.

500 Days of Summer– Misogyny, the silent killer?

September 1, 2009

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When a film develops a backlash it can be for any variety of reasons. Some critic might say that The Dark Knight is an overrated action movie , another might claim that while Russell Crowe is effective in A Beautiful Mind Ron Howard’s direction is pedestrian at best. While I don’t necessarily agree or disagree with these statements and the reasoning behind them, they make sense when placed in critical establishment that is wary of summertime fare and the tepid work of Ron Howard. But what to make of the backlash now brewing against 500 Days of Summer? By chance I became aware of it the same day I saw the film. Researching reviews, I found most critics liked to loved it, and while the film does engage in some obvious clichés, it is not to the detriment of the whole. But this backlash goes further than simple clichés, pouncing on a theme much more sinister: misogyny.

Devin Faraci, a writer for CHUD.com, posted this gem on his twitter. “I feel movies like 500 DAYS OF SUMMER, that totally don’t get women and don’t present them as real humans, may be misogynistic.” This lead to a discussion amongst other critics and various people on the service to attempt to engage this extreme viewpoint. Faraci brings up the Nathan Rabin labelled Manic Pixie Dream Girl and that at the very least film’s that deal with this kind of character are chauvinistic. Devin goes on to point out that “All of 500 DAYS OF SUMMER talk isn’t to say it’s “bad.” Well made, well acted – just deeply suspect.” So, maybe it isn’t misogynistic? Faraci goes on to say “I suspect a lot of guys sticking up for it don’t have much experience w/ women.” Damn, son.

As much as I’d love to dog pile on Faraci some more(and why not, he appears to completely miss the misogyny in G.I. Joe) I would rather just say that based on my one viewing of 500 Days of Summer, I found it to be an entertaining romantic comedy that tended to be more clever and insightful than I expected. Detailing the 500 days of his on and off relationship with the titular Summer, Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Tom gives us his point of view on how things went down between the two of them. Their relationship is at times playful, guarded, and finally sadly ended, and mostly seemed pretty accurate to me. Getting into spoiler territory, Summer’s revelation of marriage to another man, after declaring wholeheartedly a lack of interest in a long term relationship, is something called real life. Real talk. People are flawed. They change their mind, break promises, say the unsay-able. If the character of Summer never feels as fleshed out as Tom, it’s because the film isn’t about her as it is about Summer’s effect on Tom, how their relationship and her choice to end it made him reevaluate his decisions. To get back to Faraci, perhaps all the women (and men) he has dealt with in his life have been very forward and honest in their feelings, and never got mum or evasive. That must be great. Tom is flawed, Summer is flawed, thus is life. And y’know, 500 Days of Summer isn’t even THAT realistic. But it felt more honest than one tends to find in a movie with high production values. Are we all sheep, prey for the hidden wolf of misogyny under 500 Days of Summer‘s sunny exterior? Or is it just a funny romantic comedy that doesn’t completely insult our intelligence and contains characters with actual good taste in music? If I wanted to find some misogyny, I would start with the last couple Katherine Heigl flicks.

Know your enemy

Know your enemy