Friday, August 04, 2006

A Passel of Movie Reviews For Your Weekend Enjoyment. Clerks 2, Hustle and Flow, Scoop, Hostage, You, Me, and Dupree (sort of), and Entourage

I finished the first season of "Entourage" this afternoon. I still hold with my original opinion after watching the first two episodes -- that it's a shallow depiction of the life of a star and his hometown hangers on with unappealing characters -- but I as the first season ended with Eric's change in title (and Eric's the only character I don't mind), I'm interested to see how he does next season. Also, the whole Aquaman saga and all of the James Cameron cameos have me interested in the second season. Damn them all. They even have clever ways to make me want to watch so-so television.

Anyway. I've been at my brother's place in Alpharetta the past couple days. Patty's a busy guy. Gets up a couple hours before dawn, gets home 12 hours later, goes to sleep a little while after that. And because he's naturally slobby, not having enough time to keep his place up has resulted in a stunning degree of squalor in an otherwise nice apartment. So I volunteered to help him out. So, Wednesday and Thursday, while he was at work, I did a bow-to-stern cleaning. And when he got home, he helped out, letting me know what went where, what was good to throw out, etc. So now, two days later, the place is 100% better than before, and he can see once more how cool a place he's got. At the very least, I think he has a good starting point from which to maintain a decent level of bachelor-level cleanliness. Anyway, after we were done last night, we watched a movie I'd wanted to see in theaters but missed called Hostage.

It's not a bad movie, nor is it particularly good. There's a lot of violence, and it's pretty visceral and disturbing to begin with, but as the Raoul of this movie (the quiet, sadistic member of a crew of criminals) becomes more and more psychopathic with each successive reel, and his killing proficiency becomes more in line with a high-priced hitman, the violence gets grislier but more cartoonish, and thusly less affecting. Silly, even. Also, the fancy house up in the suburbs of Los Angeles where the action is set apparently has a lot of ductwork that allows any character to secretly get from one part of the house to another. I know. What bullshit. And I thought even Hollywood had gotten the point that no one actually believes that crawl-through-the-ducts crap anymore. Guess some scripts fall through the cracks. On the plus side, Bruce Willis turns in some good acting work here.

A week ago I saw Clerks 2 at the drive-in. For some reason, I see almost every Kevin Smith movie, often in the theater. But I look back on his movies and the only one I liked even a little, (and I did only like it a little), is Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Just because it had some decent laughs in it. I think he may be one of the few filmmakers who make movies designed for one viewing and one viewing only. Because everytime I've seen a Kevin Smith movie a second time, I've hated it. Dogma is a perfect example. What an embarrassment. I'm embarrassed for everyone who had anything to do with that movie. Anyway, Clerks 2 is along the same lines. Same tin-eared dialogue as usual -- the kind that sounds like Smith wrote it on MS Word an hour before the day's filming, and the same awful, awful cinematography. But, as always, there are some laughs. Mostly from Jason Mewes' character, as usual. They do a riff on Silence of the Lambs that nearly killed me -- and the donkey show was kind of funny. But what's worst about Clerks 2 is that the heart of the story is so fundamentally ridiculous. For the movie to work, we have to accept that it's real and not ridiculous, which is impossible. The ridiculous thing is this: Brian O'Halloran, the guy who plays Dante, is in love with the manager of the fast food place he works at, Rosario Dawson. Sure, I buy that. Who wouldn't be? But here's the ridiculous part:

She loves him, too.

That's some fantastical BS right there, no? And why does Kevin Smith expect us to swallow this crap? Is it because the schlubby Kevin Smith managed to marry someone who's moderately good-looking (Jennifer Schwalbach Smith, who is also in the movie playing Dante's "hot" fiance)? If the schlub aspect is the common denominator, the difference between a famous movie director schlub and a guy who works at a fast-food joint schlub is so vast as to render the two schlubs members of different species. The bottomline on Clerks 2 is that there aren't enough jokes, and it takes itself too seriously for a movie that doesn't strive to be serious, or even good. And Randal's jailhouse speech to Dante at the end of the film is so gay and sappy and overlong and poorly-acted, I just thought, "This seals it. Kevin Smith sucks as a writer-director." Smith seems like a really nice guy, and he's smart and he can be pretty funny, but I think he should stop inflicting his movies on people like me, who'll go and see damn near anything because we're helpless not to. Please, Kevin. Stop. Just stop.

Immediately following was You, Me, and Dupree. Peggy and I watched that for half an hour at the drive-in and then we did a drive-out. As bad as you've heard it was, it was worse. I'm really tired of Owen Wilson coasting on his "type". Every movie he does these days he's just this easy-going, nice to a fault, slightly-eccentric surfer dude, and it's just tired. I think, if Owen's got a brain in his head, You, Me, and Dupree should represent the end of his coasting-on-his-good-personality phase. Because if he's not careful, he's going to go the way of Meg Ryan, who also coasted for too long on her on-screen persona and now currently resides in a state of hasbinnery. He needs to do an edgy indie movie again, or just something against type, because he's wondered a long way from Bottle Rocket.

On Sunday we went to the Tara and saw Woody Allen's latest offering, Scoop. You could safely sum up this movie as a kind of comedic version of Match Point, which was a much better film. Same setting, same lead actress, same upper-crust milieu, and there's murder to boot. Scarlett Johannsen has not lived up to her hype. Everytime I see her in a movie post-Lost in Translation, her failure to raise her acting level to the actors around her seems to get worse. I think it's just a problem of talent. She's just not good. In some scenes in Scoop, you can almost see her remembering the next line to recite as the other actor's finishing their line. She's gorgeous, so she'll keep acting for a lot of years, but it won't be because a director says, "We need a great actress for this part. What's Scarlett doing?" It'll be because a director says, "We need a hot chick for this role. What's Scarlett doing?" I think that if Scarlett's eyes were 2 millimeters further apart and her lips slightly smaller, straight-to-video Eric Roberts movies would be the best work she could hope for. As for the movie, I wasn't impressed. I was hoping that filming in England had put him on a new hot streak, and he could go out as the aging auteur, but Match Point looks to have been just a fluke. Oh well.

And finally, I saw Hustle and Flow on DVD on Saturday night. It's an excellent film. I had low expecations going in, what with that awful rap song from the movie winning the Oscar back in February, but all the praise it's had heaped on it since it blew up at Sundance was deserved, I think. Terrence Howard is fantastic. He's got amazing presence on-screen in addition to exceptional acting ability, and as good as the script and the direction is, Hustle and Flow requires the lead actor to carry this movie on his back, and he does it. The film's about artistic expression, the impulse to share one's vision of the world with the rest of its inhabitants, and the extraordinary meaures people will take to see that their voice is heard. The film tells the story of a rural Memphis-area pimp who works to record a demo track of rap songs. It has the feel of the first halves of Ray and Walk the Line, in that we're watching music history happen in front of our eyes, but Hustle and Flow's best scenes feel more vital, more intense than those other movies because the odds for Terrence Howard's DeeJay character seem so much longer. In their films, failure for Ray Charles and Johnny Cash meant dropping into lives of obscurity and stifled creativity, but with DJ, you feel that if his one shot at success doesn't work out, in his line of work, obscurity will be the least of his problems. Anyway, I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Up this weekend is The Descent and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Jimmy Bobby. Early word is that they're both good, so I'm optimistic. Anyway, next week will be a fuller blogging week. Have a good weekend er'rybody.

PS. Quick note: Peter and Daniele are traveling out to the West Coast today. Just wanted to say have a good trip guys, and breathe in a deep lungful of Los Angeles air for me.


Speck said...

Clerks 2 is a bad movie...but man is it funny.

And yes, its shot like total ass. He went back to his original DP, David Klein...and it just shows the dude has not grown as DP since he shot the original Clerks and that is just sad as hell. Although, I'm sure Smith wanted the look he got to have a sense of visual continuity between the two movies...its still ugly as hell.

The kid who played the LotRs nerd did a really good job, I thought anyway.

blankfist said...

Yes! Yes! Yes! Hustle and Flow is an excellent movie! Awesome, awesome flick. Especially when he kicks the woman out with the child. How hardcore - and much deserved. That kid is gonna rob us some day.

As for Entourage, well, everyone tells me its aweomse. I watched the first season when it came on, but I gotta tell ya -- it didn't draw me in. Even Pivins (as awesome as he is) didn't do it for me. Then I'd hear how awesome the 2nd season was. Then I'd hear how much awesomer the 3rd season was than the 2nd - and I thought I had to watch. So, I watched the last show -- and it was pretty freaking entertaining. Wow! So, I scrolled back through the third season on ON DEMAND and so far it's pretty decent. Not ground breaking, but good stuff.

The whole Aquaman storyline is weird, but whatever.

blankfist said...

Oh yeah, and I don't get K. Smith movies either. They kinda suck. Although I like Dogma okay - and I like Mall Rats, too. Jason Mewes drinks the shit out of Red Bulls - and when someone called him out on it because he was drinking like six within a halfhour, he said, and I paraphrase, 'this is nothing. I was a crack addict. This is just enough to keep me awake.'

And then he raped a cat in the ass while it was pooping in a liter box -- I'm just saying.

blankfist said...

Sorry for the 3-post - but, I just got off the phone with cheap tickect's customer service for OVER TWO HOURS. They're truly lying when they say 'Your call is important to us, please stay on the line'...

They might as well have a guy laughing in the background while he depleted your bank account.

On any account, I had a very pleasent filipino chick (who sounded as about as American as can be expexcted) servicing me - which isn't the type of SERVICING I expected being in the service. Is that dirty? Yes? Well, choke on this: I was on HOLD for over two hours. Which, oddly, was fine, because I was either blasting ACDC OR some purposely found INDIAN music onlne. Of course, all that 'SIM-SIM-SALABIM' shit didn't wok, because the CUNT-CUNT-CUNTABIM was from the filipines. I hate call centers with a big loving Nathan-is-a-defector boobie.

Yeah, that's as graphic as I go for a man who lives in a country known for its toys. What a 'toy factory'...

Captain Mike said...

"Damn them all."

"What bullshit."

"What an embarrassment. I'm embarrassed for everyone who had anything to do with that movie."

"...sounds like Smith wrote it on MS Word an hour before the day's filming, and the same awful, awful cinematography."

"And why does Kevin Smith expect us to swallow this crap?"

"And Randal's jailhouse speech to Dante at the end of the film is so gay and sappy and overlong and poorly-acted, I just thought, 'This seals it. Kevin Smith sucks as a writer-director.'"

"I think he should stop inflicting his movies on people like me, who'll go and see damn near anything because we're helpless not to. Please, Kevin. Stop. Just stop."

"As bad as you've heard it was, it was worse."

"I think it's just a problem of talent. She's just not good. "

"I think that if Scarlett's eyes were 2 millimeters further apart and her lips slightly smaller, straight-to-video Eric Roberts movies would be the best work she could hope for."

Sheesh, Crane! Such hostility! Not every movie can be "Hannibal." Take some happy pills this weekend.

JudgeHolden said...

Recalling bad movies and then writing about them makes me irritable. But I was nice to Hustle and Flow, wasn't I?

Anyway, here's a totally unrelated question. Heath and Mike and Speck. You guys all have nice little pictures next to your comments. Mine, by contrast, looks fuzzy and not so good. How do I get an image that's as crisp looking as yours? Tell me please. And then I'll take happy pills and recount to you the sublime pleasures afforded by the cinematic feast that is Hannibal.

noahkey said...

This is from the guy who likes Popeye.


Nathan said...

Nothing wrong with Popeye.

harwell said...

Popeye's poop is green.

Kevin Smith is a fine writer. Fine. Reading one of his scripts is a blast; they move at a clip and are always funny. Sit down with one of them for an hour and a half and you can just enjoy reading as the time flies by...

And then the movie comes out.

I read Chasing Amy and Dogma both before the movies came out and I was so unbelievably disappointed with how he had trasnlated his own material that I've never held him in the same regard as I did from Clerks and Mallrats (both of which I like). It felt, honestly, how I would translate my own material based upon my directing displays of incompetence at NCSA. I can do one thing better than the other - this isn't lost on me, nor anybody else I went to school with I'm sure.

Why it's lost on Kevin Smith is a bit puzzling. I even think he's a better actor than he is a director. But somehow he's made his name into a brand, not unlike his apparent hero George Lucas. And I think there's no coincidence that Lucas is a better dreamer than he is director as well (but God knows, not a writer!), just like Smith. The main problem I see with his direction is that there hasn't been that really discernable proof of growth over the years; his movies are still shot using the same sort of set-ups he used in Clerks, when we all that the bad direction was due to the budget and part of the charm that comes with blue collar nobodies. But six or seven movies later, and it just seems as if Smith actually likes that style of visual boredom.

In comparison, watch some David Mamet movies. He's certainly a better writer than he is a director, but the visual difference between Spanish Prisoner and Heist or Spartan is pretty significant. That dude's gotten WAY better at composing/staging a scene with a camera. Smith on the other hand seems to be content with recycling his past - and I'm sorry Crane but Jay & Silent Bob was AWFUL (wasn't it???) - yet he has no real pressure to do anything beyond that because his fans know his brand and he gives them what the want/expect. It's a different type of filmmaking than your average filmmaker's aims, I imagine, but it's made him a household name.

Now that he's done this, and really that is a damn big achievement given the modest aspirations of Clerks, I'm not sure if or how he'll break out of the mold that he's bit himself in. He may have to make a movie where he kills off some of these characters to give his fans their last bit of glory and then he can be free to do something else.

The first thing I'd like to see him do: write a script for somebody else to direct.


Speck said...

Every Kevin Smith movie since Chasing Amy was supposed to be the last "New Jersey" Movie he was to make. The LAST appearance of Jay and Silent Bob....but the fans clamor of more, and he knows how to write them.

I think the bombing of Jersey Girl set him back and made him afraid to attempt to tell different stories. Now, he just wants to tell stories he knows his fans will watch, and with characters he is comfortable with.

He even said in an interview the Weinsteins wanted him to do a huge Green Arrow movie, and he said no. Something about once he makes a movie like that, then he can no longer make fun of similar films. excuses.

Anyway, I like his movies for what they are. Good and cheap laughs.

blankfist said...

BOC! Get off Popeye's jock, dude! Geez-uz! It was (and maybe still is for nostalgic reasons) a great movie. The songs were awesome. It all seemed to fit nicely when we were kids, and I know you're younger than I am, so you telling me you hated Popeye when you were, what, five years old, dude? Seriously? Could you hate that movie when you were five? Do you also hate freedom? How about apple pie? You hate that too? America? Hate America? Hate Schmoo? Yeah, I bet you do.

And now this: Kevin Smith makes mediocre movies.