Tag Archives: awful

Failure to Land; ‘Baggage Claim’ (2013).

15 Oct

Baggage Claim posterWatching Baggage Claim is kind of like being slapped in the face with an insultingly wet fish. First off, it expects you to buy the carved-out-of-marble-gorgeous Paula Patton as a hopelessly single spinster. Secondly, it offers a selection of such innocuous jokes, only a toddler might mistake them as comedy. But it’s the film’s odious and distasteful ridiculing of its predominantly female audience that brings Baggage Claim’s crashing out of the sky, not even thirty seconds into flight time.

Montana Moore (Patton) is an incredibly beautiful flight attendant who finds it impossible to get a date. And, to compound Montana’s fuckless life, her younger sister is getting married in a month’s time, thereby beating her to the altar of heteronormative happiness! So, using her airline connections, our drop-dead gorgeous heroine ‘accidentally’ runs into all her past boyfriends in a last-ditch effort to track down the elusive ‘Mr. Right’ and get hitched before her little blister.

If the premise of a thirty-day time limit sounds ridiculously arbitrary, that’s because it is. Nonsensical and dripping with conceit, the self-imposed challenge is so artificially contrived, it’s doesn’t even tick the Looney Tunes comedy box. Why is it thirty days? Dreadful writing, that’s why, complete with unfortunately, frivolous and clunky plot devices that are merely the tip of the iceberg of wrongness that haunts this film.

Baggage Claim compounds all its silliness with an air of childish innocence. Take the character names, for instance: Jill Scott plays Montana’s sexually liberated bestie, Gail (because every black woman’s best friend is named ‘Gail’), whose surname is none other than ‘Best’; while the calm and collected neighbour (Derek Luke) is known as… wait for it… Mr. Right. It was genuine surprise to this writer that the obligatory male flight attendant was called ‘Sam Gay’.

While we’re on the subject, Sam (Adam Brody) is the sole believable character of the whole affair, which speaks volumes because he’s a walking (nay, mincing) stereotype. He remains eminently watchable, which is an achievement in itself given that everyone else, down to the extras, is a cartoon character. When Patton’s not convulsively twitching her face or gesticulating weirdly, she’s running to catch a flight, swinging her roller-bag in the air; just as air hostesses really do. Don’t they?

All of the goofiness would be fine if Baggage Claim was in any way funny. However, the only laughs stem from Taye Diggs’ would-be congressman character. Trying and failing to be the quintessential politician’s wife, before storming out Patton yells: “I don’t trust black Republicans!” A lump of satire floating in a sea of doltish buffoonery, it’s a welcome deviation from the gag-inducing gags that abound in this misfiring comedy.

At best, Baggage Claim is a moronic, profoundly dumb exercise in how to bore an audience for 96 minutes. At worst, it’s an offensive dose of misogyny, hammering home every archaic, outdated and plain ole bad cliché about single women Hollywood ever trotted out. Rest assured, total racial equality in making pointless, terrible romantic comedies has been achieved.

Simon says: Baggage Shame.

[Written for GCN]

‘Grown-Ups 2’ (2013) and the wider problem of Adam Sandler.

11 Aug

Grown-Ups 2 posterI’m not going to waste your or my time talking about Grown-Ups 2 in detail, for there’s simply nothing to talk about. Adam Sandler, Kevin James, David Spade and Chris Rock all show up, record themselves dicking around doing absolutely nothing interesting, go home and eventually cash their paycheques. The fart, urine and shit jokes (‘shit jokes’ in both senses of the phrase) are bad enough on their own, but the fact they are rolled out a good four or five times each somehow makes the overall experience even worse. All of the women are there to be ogled, and there’s even a gay panic scene. That’s all one can say about this shit heap.

But today I’m here to talk about Adam Sandler himself. A veritable juggernaut of modern ‘comedy’ films, his movies are a regular staple on cinema listings these days. He trots out roughly one of his own features every year, while lending his goofy visage and characteristic Brooklyn drawl to other roles – often those with his cast-mates in Grown-Ups 2 at the helm. A former host of the immortal Saturday Night Live, Sandler was educated at NYU and previously enjoyed a successful career as a stand-up comic. The man is, according to Wikipedia, speculated to have a net worth of around $300,000,000.

Adam Sandler is a genius. Yep, you read that right; a genius. Why so, Simon? Well, he somehow manages to coax Sony to fork out a good seventy or eighty million dollars to make these movies. From the horrendous That’s My Boy to the frankly terrifying Jack and Jill, with the possible exception of Punch-Drunk Love, his output is categorically awful. Swamped with dreadfully unfunny scatology, a breathtakingly offensive sense of white male privilege and the universal lameness of the “family is important” message, the only thing worse than his films are the low-functioning adults who buy the damn tickets.

He may look harmless, but make no mistake; this man is waging a war against cinema as we know it.

He may look harmless, but make no mistake; this man is waging a war against cinema as we know it.

Despite the guaranteed critical panning, his movies do attract widespread audiences. The original Grown-Ups grossed over $120,000,000 in the USA alone. His rom-com Just Go with It made almost $215,000,000 at the box office, and even the horrifying That’s My Boy, a movie that undeniably normalises and almost glorifies paedophilia, made well over fifty million. While they rake in the dough, their expenditure remains low; all of his productions are filmed on a set somewhere, with minimal use of special effects, so they can’t cost anything to make. Throw into the mix the shameful amount of product-placement in his movies, and that’s another however many mil into the coffers.

Adam Sandler works the capitalist machine to a tee. He’s a smart, suave businessman who knows exactly what the masses want, delivers precisely this with minimal effort and at the lowest costs possible, and makes off like Al fucking Capone. He doesn’t care about the artistry behind film-making or acting. He knows full well that people will settle for this subpar, bonehead humour, and earns a killing in profits as a result. Sandler is literally an evil genius… All he’s missing is a twirlable moustache and a helpless damsel tied to the train tracks.

Simon says: STOP GIVING ADAM SANDLER MONEY. YOU’RE PART OF THE PROBLEM IF YOU DO THIS.

‘Only God Forgives’ (2013), or ‘Grumpy Gosling Stare 4’.

3 Aug

Only God Forgives posterTell me, dear reader, do you recall that film in which Ryan Gosling spent the majority of his time wistfully staring into the distance, as if contemplating none other than life itself? If you’re a Gosling connoisseur then your answer should be a bewildered “which one!?”, for the charismatic actor we all knew and loved has seemingly been taken over by some sort of moody doppelgänger. He was a dour so-and-so in Drive, a sinister sergeant in Gangster Squad and a menacingly introverted crazy person in The Place Beyond the Pines; but Only God Forgives wins the prize for Broodiest Gosling Yet.

Only God Forgives reunites the star, director and composer of 2011’s strangely popular Drive. While that movie contained odd flashes of brilliance, it was in no way the objective masterpiece that many would seemingly have you believe. Thus the reconstructed amalgamation of Gosling, director Nicolas Winding Refn and sound guy Cliff Martinez is a shaky idea at best, but the results are surprising: not only is this movie  worse than their previous effort, it’s much, much worse.

Ryan Gosling runs a Muay Thai boxing gym in Bangkok, but it’s secretly a front for his drug peddling. His paedophile rapist murderer brother is a less-than-charming man played by Tom Burke who swiftly earns his comeuppance in the nastiest of ways. Upon learning of her eldest son’s death, their mother Kristin Scott Thomas flies over from the States to exact her revenge. The local masochist, who also happens to be a police chief, gets involved and limbs are severed, eyes are gauged and people gaze longingly more than they speak.

This is an art movie in the absolute worst sense of the term. People complain about avant-garde films being too oblique, obtuse, obnoxious and countless other adjectives beginning with ‘O’, but regardless of pretentiousness these movies generally have something to say. Buried deep within the compounded layers of cryptic symbolism, crazy colour filters and peculiar dialogue is some sort of point, some meaning, some lesson to be learned; be it a societal critique like Gummo or a genre satire like Blue Velvet, there’s usually some sort of delicious chocolate filling that requires a bit of chewing to reach.

Seriously, he makes this face in every damn scene he's in.

Seriously, he makes this face in every damn scene he’s in.

But Only God Forgives offers no reward for such digging. It’s as if everybody involved shared a copy of “How To Make Art Films for Dummies” and went to town. The film is very artfully lighted, and makes heavy use of red and purple filtering. Long shots force the camera to hover in the one spot for minutes at a time, and there are more intense ‘meaningful’ stares than actual lines of dialogue. Random karaoke, tacky wallpaper and general wacky surrealism are all textbook art movie tropes, yet it’s all handled with such a palpable lack of deftness that the experience is a mundane and confusing one.

The acting, oh lord the acting. The producers clearly leant Kristin Scott Thomas a few seasons of Jersey Shore and said “Be that!”; her general trashiness and the more than implied incest make hers a bizarre performance. As previously mentioned, Gosling is still in zombie mode, and it’s really starting to edge into self-parody at this stage. I miss the days of Crazy, Stupid Love and The Ides of March when he, you know, actually talked and acted.

Work went in to this thing, but there is absolutely no narrative mortar to hold the arthouse bricks together. As it stands, this movie feels like the sort of film David Lynch would make post-lobotomy.

Simon says: not even a supposed God could forgive this shit heap.

‘Snitch’ (2013); a boring-ass film with a righteous message.

24 Jun

Snitch posterWith about as much tact as you’d expect from a film starring The Rock, Snitch kicks things off with the battle cry of ‘mandatory sentencing laws are BAD!’ as Jason (Rafi Gavron) gets ten years in the slammer for selling narcotics. Knowing his son was set up, Jason’s truck company-owning father John (Dwayne Johnson) must go undercover and infiltrate the drug rings to sort things out. Aided by wily lawyer Joanne (Susan Sarandon), Special Agent Cooper (Barry Pepper) and reformed junkie Daniel (Jon Bernthal), The Rock gets rolling to clear his son’s name and secure his release.

The film has some interesting points to make about the archaic nature of mandatory sentencing laws, but it does so in the most amateurish way that the half-baked result undermines any and all attempts at a coherent message. Director Ric Roman Waugh desperately wants to inform us that ten years for drug distribution is too much, that the system is draconian and flawed. Of course, what with the real-life systematic imprisonment of drug dealers/users in the USA being as financially motivated as it is, Snitch tackles this relevant problem head-on.

But in doing so it misses its target by several hundred feet and crashes into a brick wall, leaving a disfigured and unintelligible mess in its wake. Tell me, if you were to cast a timid, inexperienced ‘nice guy’ who must turn to crime to save his son, who would you not choose for the role? Definitely not a retired wrestler! This may be one of Johnson’s more thoughtful performances, but he could still be out-acted by any common house plant. His name being brilliantly symbolic of both his charisma and personality, he is an actor for big dumb action movies, and nothing more. But here we’re supposed to be worried for him – he’s about eight feet tall and built like a cathedral!

An already-small gun is rendered tiny in the hands of the Mountain Man.

An already-small gun is rendered tiny in the hands of the Mountain Man.

Gavron, Pepper and Bernthal are all complete nothing-characters, thin as wallpaper and twice as boring. Sarandon stands out not only as the sole female of any consequence, but also as the only competent actor of the bunch. Her presence is welcome but undermined by the tangible feeling that she’s only showing up so she can cash a paycheck later – there’s a reason she usually lands better roles than this one.

The story is clichéd and breaks absolutely no new ground whatsoever. The Rock beats people up, the other leads occasionally come in useful (but not very often), the dialogue induces mass squirming in the cinema and nothing even remotely interesting happens. Concluding with statistics which show that first-time drug offenders serve longer sentences than rapists, Snitch is one of those ‘message movies’ that beat you over the head with its agenda in the least subtle way possible.

A ham-fisted attempt at tackling a major political issue, Snitch is plagued by story problems, bizarre and scatterbrained casting choices, and simply fails to excite on any level whatsoever. It’s long, boring, badly-made and not worth any of your time or money.

Simon says: I wish people would just accept that The Rock can’t act.

Dumb and dumber: ‘The Purge’ (2013).

9 Jun

The Purge posterMuch like giving battleaxes to infants or letting lobotomy patients ride motorbikes, stupid things in the hands of stupid people is never a good idea. Since battleaxes look great with a vintage suit of armour, and as any fans of Ghost Rider or Street Sharks could testify to the awesome potential of the motorcycle, the problem lies not in the product themselves; rather, it’s the people who are at fault. While not as catastrophic as either of the above examples, The Purge is a dumb film built on a promising if goofy concept by people who clearly have no idea what they’re doing.

It’s 2022, and or one day a year, in the USA at least, all violent crime is legal. You can sharpen that old machete of yours and hunt down your asshole boss, you and a few buddies could have a few beers and play a real life game of Call of Duty – the possibilities are endless! Officials claim that annual crime figures are down and the economy is booming as a result of this yearly onslaught, but the film hints at the possibility of the whole idea being nothing more than a way to rid the streets of its least productive members of society – a ‘spring cleaning’, as it were.

Enter James Sandin (Ethan Hawke), a businessman who’s made his fortune off of selling home defence systems. The entire neighbourhood is pimped out with his protective wares,  and as a result he now presides in what is basically a palace overlooking his fellow suburbanites. Here he lives with his placid wife Mary (Lena Heady), stereotypically difficult teenage daughter Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and introverted young son Charlie (Max Burkholder). However, it’s quite possible that each actor is actually a painted mannequin or perhaps a robot, as every single character has the personality of a dried squid.

They lock up for the night, and of course things almost instantly take a turn for the worse. Thanks to a series of nonsensical and completely silly events the family is separated, the power is gone and people, both inside and outside the house, want them dead. The Purge is a pants-on-head crazy movie which makes absolutely zero sense, yet doesn’t seem to be aware of this. You’ll want to shake the protagonists and interrogate them on why they don’t behave like human beings, you’ll wallow in your own frustration for each twist being visible from light years away, and, most damningly, you’ll be bored out of your tree.

Ethan Hawke; a great actor wasting his time.

Ethan Hawke; a great actor wasting his time.

Ignoring the wacky concept for a moment, the main problem with this film lies in the script. The Purge is guilty of some of the most brazenly shameless foreshadowing of events in recent memory – which is a tough feat, as virtually all lower-budget horrors commit the same filmic crime. You see a gun in Act 1, so you know it’ll go off in Act 3; a neighbour less than subtly informs Mary that everyone hates them, so it’s hardly a mystery that they’ll show up later… You get the gist. It’s annoying for the viewer, and really telling of a shoddy production.

What comes out of their mouths is almost as dire as what actually happens. The dialogue is atrocious – while we shouldn’t expect Shakespearean levels of dramatic monologues or soliloquies, I’m fairly sure I could have written a better script in Double-Dutch, a language whose existence I’m not even sure of. Each character is inherently unlikeable, the villain(s) are loony but not threatening, and every supposedly “tense” moment, of which there are many, lacks any and all effect as the movie telegraphs each surprise. This film is a mess.

The Purge could have been an interesting film. The premise is philosophically interesting: do we harbour so much pent-up anger that an annual release could be justified? In more talented hands this movie could explore the issue, but as it is The Purge kiboshes any vestige of anthropological introspection by making a sub-par thriller that fails to thrill.

Simon says: ‘survive the night’ by doing something, anything else than seeing this.

‘Evil Dead’ (2013): an advertisement for avoiding the woods forever.

25 Apr

Evil Dead posterDirector Fede Alvarez is walking a tightrope with Evil Dead. As he perches on the pedestal, waiting to tip-toe across the wire, he gazes down below. His eyes meet the stares of the crowd: film critics, horror lovers, die-hard Sam Raimi fans and general cinema-going folk. They collectively chant: Don’t mess this up! Don’t ruin our beloved franchise! PLEASE don’t be terrible! Alvarez shuts his eyes, breathes deeply, and darts. Unfortunately, he gets knocked off almost instantly… By a tree root.

If you’ve seen the original 1981 horror classic, then you know the deal. Five kids (David, Eric, Mia, Olivia and Natalie – cool, huh?) all head out for a relaxing getaway to the great outdoors. However, instead of toasting marshmallows and telling ghost stories, they decide to explore the incredibly creepy basement. Amongst the dead cats they find a book bound in human skin. Ignoring the blood-written warnings to NOT read the incantations, which are scattered throughout the pages alongside pentagrams, goats and general unpleasantness, one curious party member just couldn’t help himself. Hell proceeds to open up and bits of people fall off.

While the new Evil Dead doesn’t feel like a betrayal or an insult to the original, it’s still awful. It absolutely bombs as a horror film: I was not scared even once. This movie takes the modern screechy and unsubtle approach to horror: it fails to inspire any sense of actual dread. But all of the scares are so telegraphed, you could see most of them coming from the lobby – every damn time the music stopped, something jumped out at you moments later. It’s tiring, annoying and I’m bloody sick of it at this stage. Actually, ‘bloody’ is the right word – Evil Dead is gory as hell… The sound effects are so gruesome I was squirming in my seat.

Aww heya.

Aww heya.

BUT… I laughed for 70% of the movie. As soon as the proverbial shit hits the proverbial fan and good ol’ Beelzebub infects the female lead via unwanted floral penetration, the violence is so over the top that it’s hilarious. The dialogue is dire, the acting is terrible, and the script could have been written by the demon itself – none of the characters have personalities (aside from one, whose defining characteristic is that she ‘is a junkie’), they act like chimps for no good reason (and they’re not just dumb – one’s a doctor!) and the film implies that one of the two sibling leads turned their grandfather into a dog.

I liked Lou Taylor Pucci, the gloriously-named actor who plays an ex-member of The Black Crowes called Eric, and I thought lead actress Jane Levy (who looks like a Kristen Stewart/Emma Stone hybrid) did a decent job, considering she spends much of her role trapped in a cellar, yelling. The rest of the cast was made up of blank slates – Shiloh Fernandez is no Bruce Campbell, all Jessica Lucas does is shower and get puked on, and words cannot describe how horrendous Elizabeth Blackmore is as Natalie.

Evil Dead has me upside-down. On the one hand, it’s a terribly-made, laughably ham-fisted attempt to remake what is essentially the Citizen Kane of horror movies. But on the other, I had such a good time cackling like a hyena at how awful it is. Fans won’t be insulted, horror aficionados won’t be scared, but everyone should have a blast at this.

Simon says: groovy. 

Why ‘The Human Centipede II’ (2011) is a vastly inferior film to the original.

6 Apr

The Human Centipede II posterI am a huge fan of Tom Six’s The Human Centipede. Easily the most talked-about horror film of 2010, though perhaps more for the subject matter than the actual movie itself, its concept gained infamy as it spread through the internet like wildfire. But upon my declaration of love for that film, I’m usually greeted with uproar – “that film is disgusting!“; “you absolute weirdo!” and “I thought you said you didn’t like torture porn?” are the typical responses.I remain a staunch defender of the original, however; it was a gorgeously shot, artful horror movie that was teeth-grindingly tense. The only crude element was the idea, which Six got around by making an elegant movie, that held punches and was never gratuitous.

The sequel, however, grabbed any notions of subtlety and catapulted them to oblivion; The Human Centipede II is torture porn, torture porn, torture porn! Everyone knows the story by now – a creepy dude abducts a few unsuspecting people, knocks them out, sews them together ass-to-mouth and observes their suffering. He is inspired by the mad scientist from the first one, and watches the movie on repeat throughout the day (sometimes enjoying it a little too much, if you know what I mean). Working in a car park, he captures around twelve unsuspecting people, ties them up, brings them to a warehouse, strips them down and… You can guess the rest.

With quadruple the number of victims, The Human Centipede II certainly ups the ante from the original. But that’s all it does, and unfortunately it’s at the cost of virtually all the factors, including any style, tension and exuberant cinematography demonstrated by the first Human Centipede. There is a tendency among genre movies of this kind (Saw, Hostel etc.) to outdo one another; it’s as if there’s some kind of hushed competition among these film-makers to determine who exactly can make audiences retch the most. What does Tom Six bring to the table with his latest offering? Pregnant women. Pregnant women at the front of the damn centipede.

One twelfth of the biology experiment from Hell.

One twelfth of the biology experiment from Hell.

It’s shocking for shock’s sake alone, and everything just feels so arbitrary. There are people whose heads get bludgeoned to an unrecognisable pulp, the neck of which still squirting blood, as if there was any head left. Children are involved, sexual abuse abounds, severe depression haunts Martin’s mother and he even masturbates on screen. The Human Centipede II is the kind of film where most of the actors spend the majority of their time writhing about naked on the concrete floor of some empty warehouse, thinking of their loved ones and just waiting for their death.

There’s no rhyme or reason to the killings – at least Jigsaw from Saw alleges that the unfortunate souls he imprisons are morally corrupt in some way. Martin, on the other hand, abducts an aggressive white couple, a charming black couple, the asshole who lives upstairs, a friendly businessman, a pair of drunk women and a creepy guy with a foot in the child pornography industry. This blending of the good with the bad makes it impossible to understand the madman’s motive; yes he is inspired by the first one (so much so, he keeps a scrapbook) but is that all there is? The first film hinted at Six being a talented, clever director, being able to transcend disgusting ideas by making a well-crafted film, devoid of scatological absurdities.

But that’s all we’re given here, and the result is boring as hell. Of all things, I hadn’t expected to be bored by this movie, but so much of it is taken up by Martin capturing unsuspecting lab rats, leaving them at the pseudo-laboratory, going back home to bed, and repeating the cycle the following day. He utilises the same method of abduction (shooting them, before promptly bashing their heads in with a crowbar) each time, and it just gets so repetitive. This is eighty-eight minutes of duck-taped people wriggling about the floor, and it’s really, really dull. The black and white is a small mercy, in that we can’t see any colours of the various bodily fluids (until they hit ‘the camera’, which infuriates me because it’s so bloody tacky), but ultimately it only adds to the monotony.

The star of the show. Creepier than Dieter Laser? Infinitely.

The star of the show. Creepier than Dieter Laser? Infinitely.

Another thing that many people appreciated about the first Human Centipede was the alleged ‘medical accuracy’; now I don’t claim to know anything about medicine, but I do know that its sequel is unrealistic to the point of just being silly. Forget the ludicrous concept for a second – people survive having their heads repeatedly bashed in, and losing impossible amounts of blood. I simply do not believe that Martin’s employers couldn’t have noticed that strangers were disappearing en masse from their car park and not realised he was the one working the cameras. It just makes no sense, and while the first one was bananas, at least it was somewhat plausible.

If any praise is to be given to this movie, it must be directed towards Laurence R. Harvey, who plays Martin, purely because he is one of the most unsettling antagonists I’ve ever seen in a film. Without being outwardly horrifying, it’s obvious from his appearance that vast quantities of screws are loose; years of psychological and sexual abuse have resulted in a morbidly obese, balding midget who regularly soils himself and masturbates to human centipedes, all the while being covered in a thin layer of sweat which I could practically smell. He genuinely resembles an insect, with those bug-eyes, which is an interesting comparison given the film’s preoccupation with centipedes.

The first Human Centipede was shot beautifully, and featured an elegance to the simplicity of the storytelling, which was at odds with the screechy, blunt, unashamedly unsubtle standards of ‘modern’ horror movies. The Human Centipede II, on the other hand, is the exact opposite: loud, obtuse and entirely unnecessary. I wish it’d just sprout wings and fly away…

Simon says: a nonsensically gratuitous drag, and very disappointing for that reason. 

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