Sunday, July 12, 2009

"Yes Man" / "Babylon A.D." / "Roger Dodger" / "Ikiru" / Awful B-Movies

*As you can see from the title of this week's post, I watched a lot of different things recently, none of them new films. I planned on watching Bruno, but I don't watch movies by myself (not until I get paid to do that, anyway) and all of my friends were either unavailable or uninterested, so I'm just going to write about these random movies I've watched lately. This will probably not get much better, over the next few weeks, either. Harry Potter comes out next week and I have no interest in that. After that it's pretty desolate until August when G.I. JOE (not sure if I want to watch that one, though) and Inglourious Basterds (definitely watching that one) come out. So expect some very random reviews in the coming weeks.

Yes Man - Directed by Peyton Reed, starring Jim Carrey, Zooey Deschanel, and Rhys Darby - Rated PG-13

This movie just plain, which is never good for a comedy.

First off, the order of these reviews is not from best to worst or vice versa. It's going from most recent on down (except for the B-movies, which I just felt belonged at the bottom). So don't assume that Yes Man is getting some kind of top billing because of how great it is.

Yes Man, which is basically Liar Liar with a slightly different premise, is the latest in Jim Carrey's attempt to make the most generic, unoffensive comedy that appeals to everybody yet no one really enjoys. When I look at this film that way, it's a mild success to me because it actually contains a few moments that made me laugh. Carrey does get to go crazy a few times and it ends up being funny more often than it's annoying. But that doesn't mean that this is a good comedy or anything. It's just not as bad as, say, Fun with Dick and Jane.

The saying yes to everything gimmick is funny at times (like when Carrey gives a hobo a lengthy ride home and then gives him all of his money), but it feels more like an idea that would be better suited for a SNL sketch rather than a feature length movie. I think the filmmakers realized this and threw in Deschanel as the quirky love interest. That adds to the blandness of the whole affair, however, as Deschanel has played the quirky love interest in seemingly every movie she's been in. I don't mind that all that much, though, as her wide eyed reactions are kind of amusing. There are quite a few recognizable faces in the film, but Rhys Darby is the only that sticks out to me. Fans of HBO's Flight of the Conchords should at least check this out for his performance. Darby has some funny, awkward moments as Carrey's boss and he just has a way of provoking laughs from his expression. Hopefully he gets bigger and better parts in the future.

I want to delve into Carrey's career a bit more. I mentioned Carrey's dull comedies of late and this truly bothers me. I once considered Jim Carrey to be one of my favorite actors (in my younger days because of Ace Ventura, Dumb & Dumber, and The Cable Guy), but now I don't even consider watching his movies in the theater and I don't even rent them the week they come out on DVD, hence the weeks late review of this movie. Carrey's attempt to throw in family friendly fare followed by misstep after misstep in dramatic films (except for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) is very annoying. The man is capable of making some edgy, absurd comedy while staying within the confines of the "family friendly" PG-13 rating. My favorites mentioned abover are all PG-13, so it is not an issue of him doing gross out or adult comedy. It's an issue of choosing quality scripts over the broad, safe scripts that he's been eating up lately. I don't think it's going to get any better, but I have some hope left in Jim Carrey. The thought of what he could be added to the problems I had with this movie. I was just waiting for Carrey to be truly funny. Unfortunately, I'm still waiting.

Babylon A.D. - Directed by MathieuKassovitz, starring Vin Diesel, Michelle Yeoh, and Mélanie Thierry - Rated PG-13

This sci-fi flick isn't awful, but it definitely isn't good.

Some of you might be rolling your eyes when you see that I'm even reviewing this movie. That might be because it stars Vin Diesel or because the director basically condemned his own film upon its release or because the preview looked completely stupid. These thoughts were definitely with me as I watched this, but I don't really hate Vin Diesel as much as most people and I'm always willing to give a sci-fi movie a chance since they seem to be few and far between these days. Babylon A.D., about a mercenary named Toorop (Diesel, doing his badass thing the whole movie) who has to escort two women from a convent (Yeoh and Thierry) to America in a kind of post apocalyptic world. Well, Russia seems to be post apocalyptic while America seems to be doing okay. Anyway, the story is overly complicated and vague and I ended up not understanding the ending at all. What was so special about the young girl Aurora? Sure, she was pregnant, but this isn't Children of Men, so why is her pregnancy so important? This question is not answered in the theatrical cut. Apparently the cut dialogue that explains her importance was one of the many problems that the director had with the film, which is why he condemned it.
The unrated cut does include the dialogue and it gives a decent explanation. The issue here is why the dialogue was cut. It couldn't have been for time because the cut dialogue is less than a minute long. I just don't understand why they would cut it. The movie isn't good or anything, but to leave a major plot point that vague is plain stupid. I mentioned Children of Men above, but that is not the only movie that this film borrows from. It's basically a poor man's combination of Children and Blade Runner. The references to Blade Runner are way too obvious. Skyscrapers feature moving Coke ads! At least change the brand name if you want to pay homage to a better movie, don't just copy it completely. Oh, and I don't care if this is based on a book, Diesel's character should've have undergone a name change. Toorop? Everytime I heard the name I thought I was watching 10,000 B.C.

Babylon A.D. isn't the worst movie out there (I'm told Bangkok Dangerous is much worse), but it could've been much better. Maybe if the studio had just left the director alone. Instead, you get a mishmash of sci-fi ripoffs with a lot of ridiculous action and fight scenes that try to be cool. Sometimes it works (I actually enjoyed the snowmobile/rocket scene) but it mostly fails (about five too many slow motion rocket blasts). But sci-fi with a decent budget is hard to come by these days, so if you're into that kind of stuff, this might be worth a rental. Just make sure that rental is the unrated version.

Roger Dodger - Directed by Dylan Kidd, starring Campbell Scott, Jesse Eisenberg, and Elizabeth Berkley - Rated R

Some of Roger's tirades are as brutal as Cigurh's business methods.

I'm reviewing this movie not only because I re-watched it recently, but also because I'm pretty sure this film flew under a lot of radars over the years and maybe somebody will check it out after reading this.

Roger Dodger is about an arrogant, smooth talking ladies man named Roger (Scott) and his attempt to educate his 16 year old nephew (Eisenberg) about the art of picking up women. That might sound like the set up for a comedy, and though this movie is hilarious at times, it is also dark, depressing, mysogynistic, cynical, and even hopeful. The handheld/close up style adds to all of this as the camerawork makes you feel like you're sitting at the table with everybody. So all of the elements come across in a very personal, intimate way.

Campbell Scott is the glue here. I don't understand how this movie didn't catapult him into stardom. His performance (and character for that matter) is reminiscent of Christian Bale's Patrick Bateman (American Psycho), though Roger is not as insane as Bateman. He rattles off to women and tells them everything about themselves in such a matter of fact and derogatory way that it ends up being exhausting and completely believable. Even though he does treat women solely as sexual objects, I actually liked him at times. In his own mean way, Roger really is looking out for his nephew on their night out on the town. He might throw him in uncomfortable positions without warning, but that's part of the learning process. Roger isn't one note, though. This film is really a character study because he shows Eisenberg this pick up tricks the same day that he has been dumped by his quasi girlfriend (Isabella Rossellini). He doesn't really hate women, he's just a confident man used to getting everything he wants and he lashes out in very negative ways when things go wrong. This doesn't mean he's a hero or anything, but he's certainly not a villain in my eyes.

Because of the more misogynistic elements of Roger's character, this may be a polarizing movie for some people (women), but I think Scott's performance will make it all worthwhile. Scott doesn't carry this movie on his own, though. Jesse Eisenberg serves as a great counterweight. He looks uncomfortable and nervous throughout and it's fun to see him learn a bit and start to stand up for himself. Elizabeth Berkley, Rossellini, and Jennifer Beals are all very good as well and they certainly make this movie more than a mysogynistic film about picking up women. Berkley and Beal are not drunk floozies that can be talked into anything. They, like Rossellini can see through most of Roger's crap, though he does succeed every now and then.

If you couldn't tell from the review already, this is a low budget, independent film. It's pretty much all talk from start to finish. So even though I compared it to American Psycho, it is not nearly as entertaining (or disturbing) as that film. But it is interesting and I think most people will come away pleased with the film.

Ikiru - Directed by Akira Kurosawa, starring Takashi Shimura - Not Rated

Not Kurosawa's best, but it's still Kurosawa.

I'll keep this one short because Kurosawa already has his fans and you either think he's a genius or you can live without him. I suppose I fall into the "he's a genius" group, though I am not exactly a die hard fan of his (I don't own any of his films). I'm mentioning this film only because I watched it this week and I wanted to share a few ideas/complaints/praises about it.

Ikiru (To Live) is about a government worker, Kanji Watanabe, who gets stomach cancer and realizes, with only a few months to live, that he has been sleepwalking through his life for years. Watanabe decides to spend the rest of days living. This is the kind of existential material that Kurosawa excels at and he handles it here as well as any other film. What makes it stand out, though, is Shimura's melancholy performance. He truly conveys impending death at one moment, and tragic hope the next. The other aspect that makes this film stand out is Kurosawa's depiction of bureaucracy. The busywork and overall lack of functionality in the government serves as a perfect backdrop for a man with a wasted life.

This is where I have a problem with the film, though. I think Kurosawa gets to be a bit long winded in his approach in this film. The montage of the neighborhood women trying to get a cesspool turned into a park goes ona couple minutes too long. They get the run around, being sent from one office to the next, but Kurosawa shows them going from one office to about fifteen more. I get it; nothing gets done at these offices. Maybe he was going for viewer exhaustion with this bit to try and convey what the women must be growing through, but it just annoyed me. Also, this film could probably lose about twenty minutes. Near the end, I don't want to spoil anything so this is going to be vague, when a group of people are trying to figure out who was responsible for getting the cesspool turned into a park, the film takes way too long to show about a dozen people have a realization. It just went on and on.

On a side note, I think it's interesting that the recent Amy Poehler show, Parks and Recreation, is basically a drawn out comedic version of the side plot about turning a cesspool into a park. I guess that show is deeper than I thought it was.

Also, if you plan on getting into Kurosawa, I would suggest checking out Yojimbo, Rashomon, or Seven Samurai before watching this one.

Awful B-Movies: Bad Taste (Unrated), The Return of Swamp Thing (PG-13), The Toxic Avenger (Unrated)

These movies are so bad they're funny, just like "The Happening." The difference is these movies are meant to be funny.

I've been trying to figure out where a cheesy line from 80's movie came from recently (if anyone out there can tell me where the line, "I'm gonna cut your pecker off, and put it on a keychain," comes from I would be much obliged) and that led me to The Return of Swamp Thing. While there are some funny/stupid lines in Swamp Thing it did contain the line I was looking for. Somehow, watching that film got me in a crappy B-movie kick, so I watched the other two movies from above.

I don't want to go into details because these movies don't deserve much attention. Bad Taste is funny in a no-budget gory kind of way. And it's interesting to see how far Peter Jackson has come over the years. Though his screen presence really annoyed me in this film. I suggest Dead Alive (aka Braindead) if you want to see a gory and fun Peter Jackson film.

The Return of Swamp Thing is really only worth watching for nostalgic purposes. I slightly remember it as a kid and it made me laugh quite a bit as my memory came back with each scene. The comedic relief kids are quite hilarious ("But that's my dad's camera!") and it's all just plain awful. There are so many funny bad movies out there, though. There's no reason to pick this one over any other when you're in the mood for crap. Unless you're a Heather Locklear fan, that might add to the enjoyment to see her in an early film role, especially since it's such an awful film.

Finally, I watched a bit of The Toxic Avenger on Netflix watch instantly. I didn't watch it all but I got the gist of it. For one thing, it's a Troma movie, and Troma movies pride themselves on being cheap, gory, awful on purpose. This movie fits in perfectly. I only mention it because I found the fitness freak characters so funny. These guys smoke joints while they do sit ups, freak out for no reason at the dimwitted mop boy (the eventual Toxic Avenger), and their idea of a good time is getting a bottle of whiskey and driving around trying to kill pedestrians. In a reference to Death Race 2000, they have a scoring system. Not only do they enjoy killing random people, but their girlfriends take polaroids of the kill. It's so crazy and stupid that it's funny.

I'm not into B-movies all that much, so my enjoyment of these was kind of low, but I can see where some people would love this stuff. So please, someone find out where that quote came from, so I don't find myself watching a trio of films like this again.

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