Why: I love movies and theater, and think writing is fun.
How: My love for movies began when I was young and would pretend to be Sleeping Beauty‘s Prince Philip in my parents’ basement. Throughout college and graduate school, writing has always been a hobby. When Brightest Young Things had a call for contributors, I jumped at the opportunity. Since then, I’ve written reviews, covered festivals, and interviewed several Academy Award winners. And I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon.
Posted: September 18th, 2009 | Filed under:Uncategorized | Comments Off
Welcome to “Another Movie Guy?”! The job of a film critic can sometimes be tedious, particularly since writing a review of a mediocre movie is not too rewarding . The most fun is when you feel strongly about something – whether it’s a movie you love (Julia, Inglourious Basterds) or a movie you hate (Synecdoche, New York). I had an inkling I would not love Jennifer’s Body, so I secretly hoped for a strong negative reaction. I wasn’t disappointed.
Jennifer’s Body is a horror-comedy that’s neither horrifying nor funny. The talented Diablo Cody does not live up to the high school horror that clearly inspired her. Like her earlier Academy Award-winning screenplay, Cody peppers her dialogue with winking-hipness and abstract references. While character development and solid performances anchor Juno, Jennifer’s Body features mediocre acting and broad caricatures. Jokes fall flat, and frequent blood splatter becomes tiresome. Even die-hard Megan Fox fans should avoid this stinker – they’ll find more amusement in an issue of Maxim.
The first act is all-too familiar. Jennifer (Megan Fox) is the bitchy hot girl, and Needy (Amanda Seyfried) is her plain best friend. They share a bond of insecurity, much to the disappointment of Needy’s boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons). Popularity bores Jennifer, so when upcoming band Low Shoulder comes to town, she jumps at the opportunity to fuck the singer (Adam Brody). At the show, strange events are afoot. The venue burns down, killing locals, and Jennifer wanders into Low Shoulder’s van (ok, that part isn’t strange). Needy heads home and later finds a blood-soaked Jennifer puking up bile. Her worrisome behavior doesn’t stop there. As townsfolk grieve over the fire, Jennifer oscillates between euphoria and desperation. Of course, there’s a connection between Jennifer’s euphoria and the grisly murders of assorted high-school stereotypes. Jennifer and Needy remain BFFs – the former eventually confides a dark secret to the latter. Oh, and Jennifer conveniently omits the part about Chip being her next target.
Horror-comedy is a difficult subgenre to pull off successfully. Punchlines undermine thrills, which is exactly what happens with Jennifer’s Body. Needy wanders through her unlit home and Jennifer eviscerates boys, and these sequences never generate suspense. Director Karyn Kusama probably could achieve serious scares, but is more intent on plodding the story along. The gory scenes are halfhearted, so there’s no need for comedy to undercut tension. Some sequences are downright awkward. Kusama juxtaposes Needy’s big sex scene with Jennifer’s big murder scene, with little to say about their supposed connection. As the de-facto villain, Adam Brody tries his hand at macabre whimsy, but lacks the chops for such a delivery. Still, he’s nowhere near as awful as Megan Fox, who lacks any acting prowess. At one point, a character marvels at a change in Jennifer’s eyes. It’s clearly a special effect, as Fox is incapable of expressing emotion. It’s no surprise her character’s lifelong friendship feels inauthentic. Seyfried is a talented actress – unfortunately, the screenplay requires little more than the occasional scream. When the big showdown finally arrives, it culminates with cumbersomely vulgar dialogue more horrifying than any on-screen viscera.
With Jennifer’s Body, Cody attempts to lampoon the bizarre morality of 80s-era slasher flicks (under no circumstances could anyone take “Don’t trust indie bands. They may worship Satan” seriously). Amidst Cody’s barbs, there is a severe absence of compelling material. Don’t bother with this tepid nonsense – it fails to function even as eye candy. Earlier this year I reviewed The Girlfriend Experience, in which porn star Sasha Grey convincingly portrayed a melancholy call-girl. Given the respective talent of Grey and Fox, perhaps these stunning actresses should switch professions.
Posted: September 14th, 2009 | Filed under:Uncategorized | Comments Off
Welcome to “Another Movie Guy?”! Once again, here are two movies that couldn’t be less alike: one is CGI science fiction, the other an observant character study. There is, however, an interesting contrast. Whereas 9 is for geeks, Big Fan is about geeks.
Shane Acker’s 9 showcases the plight of anthropomorphic dolls in a stunning post-apocalyptic hellscape. The dolls, a combination of lenses of textiles, have a WALL·E-esque capacity for human expression. Despite the similarity to Pixar’s robot, don’t think 9 is appropriate for adults and kiddies alike. The movie is bleak, with fleeting moments of genuine terror. Ultimately its peculiar tone proves an inadequate substitute for a lackluster story.
9 (Elijah Wood) awakens in the office of a dead scientist, and finds he cannot speak. Left with no alternative, he picks up a bizarre talisman and wanders into the decayed wasteland, one devoid of human life. Soon 9 meets 2 (Martin Landau), an inventive chap who fixes the vocal problem. A large, angry machine interrupts their introduction, and while the machine takes 2 and the talisman, 9 finds sanctuary in a gothic church. In the church, 1 (Christopher Plummer) leads a small band of survivors, and has little interest in adventure. Undeterred, 9 sets out with 5 (John C. Reilly) to rescue 2. Soon the inexperienced 9 inadvertently turns on a loathsome spider-like machine. Nicknamed the Beast, it makes more machines ad infintium, so the survivors have no choice but to fight.
If the preceding paragraph is any indication, 9 employs an economical screenplay. Characters speak in ominous pronouns, hinting at intimate familiarity with their horrific world. 9 and his buddies are uniformly one-dimensional (such a story requires little else), yet the voice work conveys adequate depth. Plummer, who played the villain in Pixar’s Up, excels as a dolefully experienced leader. As 7, Jennifer Connelly ably combines competence and world-weary pragmatism, and creates a familiar sci-fi archetype. In fact, much of Acker’s universe will be familiar to any genre devotee (Mad Max and The Matrix come immediately to mind). Acker combines these influences to create an arresting, if not original, universe. Action scenes, in which each subsequent machine is more menacing than the last, are mechanically inventive and slim on suspense. The kinetic acrobatics are eye-catching even if one cannot empathize with a rag doll incapable of pain. Through flashback and archival footage, Acker hits on common themes of man vs. machine, and gives his world an allegorical context. The ending, which examines mysteries of the human soul, is oddly inert when it should be moving.
9 began as a silent short film, and if the feature is any indication, should have stayed that way. The director has considerable talent and can create a deeply evocative image, yet falls short in narrative drive. Unless the phrase “stunning post-apocalyptic hellscape” intensely piques your interest, you should skip Acker’s full-length debut.
It should come as a surprise to no one I’m not an avid sports enthusiast. Yet whenever my buddy regales me with tales of his college tailgating days, I feel pangs of regret. Mid-day boozing in a crowded parking lot sounds like a superlative experience, one I could remember fondly. Perhaps unsurprisingly, nothing was lost if my buddy didn’t attend the game. I’m sure he’d agree, however, that the tailgaters of Robert Siegel’s Big Fan are sad sacks of shit. As fans flood the East Rutherford stadium, the titular fan and his lackey watch the game in an empty parking lot. It’s a potent image for a movie about someone whose devotion is borderline psychotic. Siegel and his star Patton Oswalt unflinchingly skewer fandom, and offer a bleakly comic view of the lower middle class.
Paul Aufiero (Oswalt) loves the Giants, and little else. Even at his parking attendant job, he composes a pro-Giants screed for AM sports radio. Constantly interrupting his on-air calls, Paul’s mom (Marcia Jean Kurtz) is his nemesis (even if she provides food/shelter). Fellow caller Philadelphia Phil (Michael Rapaport), a dreaded Eagles fan, is Paul’s arch-enemy. It’s a pathetic existence, so when Paul and his friend Sal (Kevin Corrigan) spot their favorite player Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm), they compulsively follow him to a Manhattan strip club. A dedicated fan like Paul has no time for tact. When he introduces himself to Bishop, it does not take long for violence to ensue. Paul wakes three days later in a hospital, is told he underwent brain damage, yet only cares about the Giants score. He’s clearly devastated that Bishop is under suspension. When a cop turns up, Paul pretends he doesn’t remember the incident, much to the chagrin of his litigious brother (Gino Cafarelli). The Giants suffer without Bishop, and Paul’s world begins to unravel, particularly when bizarre headaches set in. Unhinged behavior seems inevitable.
Unlike The Wrestler, Siegel films his subject with more sympathy than scorn. Long close-ups give a sense of Paul’s profound isolation. Even in a crowded sports bar, his unwavering single-mindedness separates him from fellow fans. The scope of his fandom sometimes elicits laughter, but mostly feels pathetic and even frightening. Anyone familiar with Oswalt’s stand-up knows he must find Paul contemptible, yet the actor never wavers. Other critics used words like “fearless” to describe the performance, and that sounds about right. Oswalt makes no attempt to sympathize his character, and plays him completely straight. Few full-time actors could pull off what he accomplishes here. Siegel’s attention veers elsewhere – with frequent sight gags, he portrays the Aufiero family as prideful and sometimes crude. Paul’s sister-in-law, for example, thinks nothing of giving her seven-year old a 50 Cent birthday cake. Little touches like this add to Big Fan’s authenticity, and leaves audiences befuddled. Many in the theater (myself included) were caught between laughter and admonishment. Siegel deftly juxtaposes tone, and causes audience discomfort right until the unnerving climax.
I suspect fans like Paul really exist. Past perusals through online fora unearthed similarly maladjusted weirdos. With Big Fan, Siegel argues superfans cling to their obsession because any semblance of normal life has long passed by. The police and family ruefully comprehend why a battered victim, fan or not, would decline to prosecute. Thanks to Siegel’s unsentimental, weirdly entertaining portrait, we understand Paul better than he understands himself.