About Me

Warning you about crappy movies since 2008.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Bad Teacher

Bad Teacher is just plain bad.

Which is unfortunate, because there's really nothing funnier on film than a teacher who's just in it for the meager paycheck. Jack Black created the definitive bad teacher with his Dewey Finn in School of Rock. Dewey (a.k.a. Ned Scheebly, Dewey's schoolteacher/ roommate whom he impersonates) is a lovable loser who lives to get stoned and rock out. He ultimately comes to life -- and his humanity is revealed -- when he ignites a love of music in his students.

Elizabeth (Cameron Diaz) doesn't have any such kindness hidden within. She's a superficial bee-atch who's out to land a rich husband and get a new set of ta-tas. Falling asleep or sneaking a swig at her desk are mildly funny at first. But, screenwriters Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg have no other tricks up their sleeves. Seeing Elizabeth slumped at her desk for the fifth or sixth time is just tiresome.

Justin Timberlake has a few cute scenes as the substitute with a big family inheritance whom Elizabeth sets her sights on. Other generally funny performers are generally wasted in this bland flick. John Michael Higgins, Phyllis Smith (Phyllis from The Office) and Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family's Cam) try their best, but they're given too little to work with.

Even the affable Jason Segel, the school's gym teacher and Elizabeth's hapless suitor, flounders his way through the material. If you've seen the trailer, you've seen not just the funniest bits of the film. You've seen the only funny bits to be had. Skip it.

Bad Teacher

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Super 8

J.J. Abrams's Super 8 can't decide what it wants to be.

On the one hand ...

... it's a sweet, coming of age tale and an homage to both filmmaking and to producer Steven Spielberg's E.T. and other kid-focused films of the same era. Young Elle Fanning and young newcomer Joel Courtney deserve award nominations for their unself-conscious portrayals of lonely, motherless adolescents fumbling with their feelings for each other. Both are along for the ride with the kids who are in love with filmmaking and secretly shooting a movie at a train depot one night. They happen to be filming when a train crashes -- and not by accident -- and then they have a mystery on their hands.

Dogs in their little town go missing, the military gets involved and seems to be covering something up and the amateur filmmakers are forced to become amateur detectives.

On the other hand ...

... the cargo aboard that derailed train turns out to be hundreds of very uncuddly, white blocks resembling Rubik's cubes. Hardly the heir to E.T. These little blocks, that can hurl themselves through walls, aren't even the heirs to gremlins. At least the gremlins started out cute. The sweetness evaporates, and we're suddenly hit head-on with a violent, fiery, smash 'em up, sci-fi stew. It's dark (both the mood and the lighting), and there's hardware flying everywhere. Abrams doesn't seem to know where to take it.

In that respect, it reminded me a little of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a movie I never could get hyped up about. That much-lauded film felt to me like a lot of build-up that led to a big let-down.

Since Super 8 really felt like two competing movies, my advice is, of course: See it/Skip it.

Super 8


Please see this movie.

See it if you love horses. See it if you love people. See it if you hate people, because BUCK might make you start to like them again. Or, at least like this one gentle cowboy.

Buck Brannaman is happy man, despite all odds. He survived a childhood so rough that a childhood friend who witnessed the pain Buck suffered can't talk about in middle age without crying. Buck is a mostly solitary figure who spends nine months of every year on the road as he travels from one horse clinic to another. He's got a loving (and lovely) wife at home and two grown daughters. He also has a teenage daughter who spends summers on the road with him.

His life consists of driving from one town to another helping, as he says, "people with horse problems." Buck believes a horse is just a mirror of who we are, so as he says, he usually ends up "helping horses with people problems."

He's a real-life horse whisperer. A shy, sensitive soul engaged in the manliest of professions. How sensitive? He may be the only cowboy who will admit to watching Oprah.

Everywhere Buck goes, he teaches horse people how to gently, but effectively, coax their animals into doing what they want them to do. He also ends up teaching people about themselves, and they don't always like what they see. "This horse tells me a lot about you," he says to one woman who has an out-of-control stallion. He's right, and she has to face some harsh facts about her own out-of-control life.

Regular folk and famous stars alike praise Buck as a model horse trainer and humanitarian. Buck got to know Robert Redford when he  consulted on The Horse Whisperer. Wait'll you hear how Buck saved the day when the trained "actor horse" couldn't get a crucial scene right.

Buck, the man, is such an inspiration that I almost think anyone could've turned on the camcorder feature on a phone and made a great movie about him. But, thankfully, this movie was in the hands of a pro. The cinematography, the music, the probing questions asked and honest responses shared -- they all serve to pay tribute to an ordinary, but extraordinary, human being. I can't recommend it highly enough. See it!


Monday, June 20, 2011

The Tree of Life

While I haven't seen the script for Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, I can't imagine it could look much different from this:

Bible verse

Postman brings bad news.

Anguished cry. (Music plays.)

More crying.

Brad Pitt clenches jaw.

Jessica Chastain stares out window. A lot. Walks through woods.

(Shots of trees. Show from lots of angles.)

Sean Penn looks bored, sullen. (Show him walking around and moping. He mopes inside a beautiful modern home and again inside a beautiful modern skyscraper. He looks up at buildings and trees.)

(Music plays while cells divide, water flows, jellyfish swim, hammerhead sharks swarm, blades of grass move, lava flows, waves crash, the heart of a fetus beats.)

Dinosaurs frolic.

Curtains blow.

A baby is born.

A dried-up leaf blows away.

Brad Pitt turns out to be a jerky dad. His wife stays silent through most of the movie, including while he rips into sons -- especially eldest.

Eldest son starts to resent Brad Pitt.

Brad Pitt clenches jaw more.

Family eats dinner, goes to church, dad goes to work, but isn't all that successful.

Everyone from generations past winds up walking around on a beach.

(Music plays while cells divide, water flows, blades of grass move, lava flows, waves crash.)

The End.

I kid you not. This goes on for nearly two-and-a-half hours. The theater manager joked with me after the show that they're going to start passing out stickers that read, "I survived The Tree of Life." There's a handmade sign they've put up at the theater entry -- just for this film -- that reads something like, "We cannot give refunds because you don't like the film. Please educate yourself about this film before coming to see it. Thank you for your understanding."

It is an awful, pointless bore. A series of visually beautiful vignettes with no story to tie them all together. It's not enough for me to advise you not to see it. Warn your friends that they shouldn't see it, either. Skip it!

The Tree of Life

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Double Hour

So, there's a suicide (a hotel guest who jumps off her balcony), a lovely hotel maid with a mysterious past who meets a world-weary, widowed former cop at a speed dating event, a tentative romance, some surveillance equipment and ...

To say more would spoil the multiple surprises in this twisting and turning psychological thriller that Hitchcock might have made, had he lived in Turin, Italy during the age of speed dating and high-tech surveillance.

We're never sure who's good and who's bad, what's real and what's a dream (or supernatural), and that's part of the dark fun. Just when you think you may be on the verge of figuring it all out, screenwriter Alessandro Fabbri throws you another curve.

The title refers to the hour when the numbers on the clock are doubled, like 11:11. The cop tells the maid that's allegedly the hour when anything can happen -- when you can make a wish and have it come true. "Does it work?," she asks. "No," he tells her. But, some pretty crazy things happen at the double hour during the movie.

In fact, the concept of time is a major theme at work here. Our protagonists meet during a three-minute speed date. After their meeting, everything seems sped up and slightly off-kilter. We're never even sure where we are in the movie. Some critical events recur, and we're not sure if we're in a dream world, in the past or in some eerie version of the present.

If you can suspend belief and be comfortable with some questions that don't get answered, The Double Hour is bewitching. See it.

The Double Hour

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Art of Getting By

I saw this one -- mercifully -- for free, and I took my friend, Pamela, along. She drove us out to the megaplex way out in the 'burbs, and now I feel like I owe her gas money. Here's what I recall of our conversation as we left the theater.

Pamela: Wow, I wonder what made Alicia Silverstone take that small part as an English teacher. It's as if she said to the director, 'I want to be sure my vision for the character matches yours. I don't want to look even remotely attractive in this film. I want to be frumpy and wear an oversized cardigan in every scene. Is that how you see her?'

Chronic Critic: No kidding. I wonder what made anyone take a part in that movie. It was really pretty awful.

Pamela (pointing toward me): I really want to get the opinion of a professional movie critic.

Chronic Critic: I'm sure all the pros -- including moi -- will agree that this one sucks. There was no story there. But, they didn't leave out a single cliche. You have the gruff, elderly art teacher with a vaguely European accent, a shock of white hair and the requisite tiny ponytail.

Pamela: Yes! And, even though George (Freddie Highmore) is a total slacker with no respect for his teachers or his courses, everyone sees some glimmer of greatness and is willing to give him chance after chance ...

Chronic Critic: I know! It's like the principal (Blair Underwood) and all the teachers in the private school have nothing else to do except ensure that this one existential slacker succeeds. Speaking of existential, did you see what George was reading in the scenes where he has a book? The Stranger! Sorry, but that one's been done to death. There wasn't a single original notion or prop in this movie.

Pamela: And, what a ridiculous ending. [SPOILER ALERT] If even one of those overly dramatic things in that perfect storm -- the coupling of George's dream girl, Sally, (Emma Roberts) with the man he had chosen as his art mentor, the uncovering of the failure of George's stepdad's business, the stepdad/stepson brawl that sends one of them to the hospital and ... and ... Emma Roberts's floozy mother up and moving to Texas from New York -- hadn't happened, do you think George would have been able to cram a year's worth of work into three weeks and then graduate on time?

Chronic Critic: Never in real life. Only in a poorly written script could that happen.

Pamela: And what about that dialogue? How could those kids speak those lines with a straight face? Kids don't talk like that.

Chronic Critic: Probably not even wealthy ones living semi-independently in Manhattan. Such a crock. I'm sorry I gave you a free ticket to this.

Pamela: Well, dinner at the Kebab House was good.
Skip it.
The Art of Getting By

Friday, June 10, 2011

Midnight in Paris

I can't think of another filmmaker who delights and disappoints, in equal measure, as consistently as Woody Allen. I love approximately every other movie he makes ... and want to walk out on the rest. You never know if you're going to get the brilliant (Annie Hall, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Match Point) Woody or the dull (Cassandra's Dream, Celebrity) one. You can only hope.

And, I had high hopes for his latest effort, which has gotten stellar reviews. Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams are adorable and always winning, and the film is a cinematic love letter to the Paris of the 1920s. So far, so good. But, it's a great concept (and cast) that falls far short of what it could've been.

And, it's the screenwriter Woody's fault. This is a great notion that's just not well-executed.

Here's the plot: Gil (Wilson) and Inez (McAdams) are engaged and tagging along on her dad's big business trip to Paris. No one is happy to be there, except for Gil, a successful screenwriter and would-be novelist. Gil is in love with the romantic ideal of what Paris must've been like during the days Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Picasso and other artistic and literary greats held court there.

Inez is a real harpy, and we have no idea why a romantic dreamer like Gil would've proposed to her. Gil wanders the Parisian streets alone one night and is crazily transported to his favorite era, where he gets to meet the artistic giants of the day. And, guess what? They're boring!

Dali, Scott and Zelda, Man Ray ... such charismatic characters and, yet, so flat in this depiction. They're nothing but caricatures. It's such a waste of Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Marion Cotillard and other outstanding actors.

It doesn't feel like Woody knew what to do once he got Gil to the Paris of the 1920s. Gil is happier there than he is in present-day Paris with his complaining wife and her awful parents. Sadly, the audience isn't so happy in either the past or the present. Skip it.

Midnight in Paris

Monday, June 6, 2011

Bill Cunningham New York

You wouldn't think a documentary about a New York Times fashion photographer could leave you feeling upbeat about the state of humanity, but that's just what the lively and remarkable Bill Cunningham New York does.

The bicycle-riding octogenarian has spent his long career chronicling the fashion victories of everyday men and women. He's never shot a "Glamour Don't"-style photo. He's much too nice for that.

He shoots what he thinks looks fabulous. And, he's much less interested in what celebrities wear, since they get their clothes for free and have stylists dressing and accessorizing them. What catches his eye isn't typically straight off the runway. He believes some of New York's "bag ladies" have incredible style, and some of his photos justify that belief.

In a city and an industry known to be temperamentally cold and fickle, Bill is unusually warm and steadfast. A genuinely nice guy who has, improbably, risen to the top of the fashion photography food chain, he even earns plaudits from the notoriously cold Anna Wintour. "We all get dressed for Bill," she says.

This delightful old gent has to hustle to get the photos he wants and get them ready for his two weekly style columns. He still uses film, so the time it takes to get that developed adds to the time it takes for him to ready his column -- and adds to his colleagues' good-natured frustration with the old-fashioned perfectionist.

A documentary that focuses on a single person typically allows us to get to know its subject well, but Bill remains a mystery. Even the high society people who admire him and believe they know him well (Tom Wolfe, Annette de la Renta, in addition to Wintour) admit they don't know if Bill has friends or family or if he ever gets lonely.

We see Bill's spartan Carnegie Hall apartment (a closet-sized room with a mattress on the floor and filing cabinets everywhere else) and his spartan wardrobe (a blue lab coat, often held together with duct tape, and khakis) and wonder how a man so drawn to beauty and whimsy can need so little of both in his own, personal space.

Bill's an enigma -- to those whom he considers friends and to those of us in the audience. But, that's part of his self-effacing charm. He doesn't want to talk about himself. He wants to talk about the personality regular folks reveal when they get dressed each day. See it.

Bill Cunningham New York