Archive | June, 2017

Annie Hall (1977)

23 Jun

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Let’s address the elephant in the room first: Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” won the Best Picture Oscar instead of “Star Wars.” There’s not much I can add to that, so let’s move on.

Well…maybe there is. I’m not going to act like I can’t understand why “Annie Hall” took home the award instead of the ever-popular “Star Wars” (which is one of my favorite films, so calm down). “Annie Hall” was more than just a typical romantic comedy. Hell, it was the 1970s, when typical romantic comedies were the rarity until the 1990s, when “When Harry Met Sally” set a new standard in 1989…thus resulting in the “typical romantic comedies” I can think of, now that I think about it…

Where was I going with this? Oh yes, “Annie Hall.” It was more than just pure comedy. Sure, there are funny lines of dialogue and many unusual comedic sketches (such as a cartoon sequence, fantasy journeys through time and daydreams, and constant breaking of the fourth wall), but considering all of it as the mindset of the narrator, Alvy Singer, played by writer-director Woody Allen, the film is more than a comedy and more like a bitter exploration into his psyche. In that respect, while “Star Wars” was the most fantastic, inventive and fun movie of 1977, “Annie Hall” might have been the smartest and most insightful.

“Annie Hall” represents the pure use of comedy I admire—if done well, comedy can allow audiences to get a real feel for the characters. Comedy can set you up and draw you in, and before you know it, you’re learning more about the characters and also learning from them as well.

If it wasn’t clear from Woody Allen’s films prior to this (“Take the Money and Run,” “Bananas”), Allen is a sad, sad man. The questions he has about life lead to a non-stop pursuit of answers, he has a very low opinion on many aspects of life and existence, and it’s probably fair to say that his therapy in getting through life is by creating characters to live through and writing jokes; first for standup, then for cinema. (Allen has since made quite a few dramatic films later in life, and while jokes may not be a primary focus in them, the way he lives through his characters certainly is.) With “Annie Hall,” written and directed by Allen, the public got a pretty clear picture of Allen’s personality and how close his character of Alvy Singer is to the actual Allen.

Alvy, a comedian, has a very low opinion of himself. As the film opens, he addresses the camera with a couple jokes—one about how short and pointless life can seem and another which is attributed to Groucho Marx: “I would never want to belong to any group that would have someone like me for a member.” All uphill from here, eh?

The film is essentially Alvy’s recollection of previous relationships with women, particularly the one he had the most fondness for: Annie Hall (played by a fabulous Diane Keaton, who won an Oscar for the role). He tries to understand why he and Annie broke up a year ago, and we take this journey inside his head, figuratively speaking, experiencing memories and fantasies (all in non-linear fashion, by the way). We even see the source of his melancholy at a very young age, when he read as a child that “the universe is expanding” and often questioned his mother about the point of existence.

Alvy recalls many pleasant times with Annie, more so than with his first wife (Carol Kane), who disagreed with him about his thoughts on the JFK assassination (maybe Allen felt better when he saw Oliver Stone’s “JFK”), or his second wife (Janet Margolin), a writer who was unable to get an orgasm. Annie talked a little differently (“la-de-da, la-de-da, la-la, yeah”) and dressed a little differently (with a wardrobe that started a trend for a little while after this film’s release), but they shared many fun times with her: frantically trying to cook lobsters, making fun of men from her past, among other things. She feels a loving connection between the two of them, but when the two of them move in together, that’s when things start to get a little tense, leading to their breakup.

But it doesn’t stop there. From that point on, Alvy has bad dating experiences (and bad sex), he’s unsure of what to do with his career, and when Annie calls for him in the middle of the night, it’s to get him to kill a spider (“a spider the size of a Buick”).

Sometimes, the journey through Allen’s (er, sorry—Alvy’s) psyche takes detours. I’m not sure why they’re there, but I find them simply hilarious. For example, Alvy and Annie are standing in line at a movie theater and Alvy is very annoyed by the guy standing behind him and telling his friend about the works of Fellini and McLuhan and his opinion on them. What does Alvy do? He brings in McLuhan himself to talk down to the man, saying “You know nothing of my work!” Why is this there? I don’t know—maybe just to appease Allen’s annoyance of people who try to act smarter than they are, but it’s got nothing to with Annie, other than…she was there.

But then again, maybe this was never really about Annie after all. Maybe this was all just a way of making Alvy feel better about himself. That would also explain the scene in which he revisits his first-grade classroom (with 6-year-old Alvy there as well) and all his old classmates state what kind of adults they became. (“I’m into leather,” a girl states.) Is this a way of Alvy thinking to himself that he could’ve had a worse journey in life than ending up as a comedian? A way of making himself feel better? Could be.

“Annie Hall” is also somewhat of a love letter to living in New York City (something Allen recaptured in the arguably-better “Manhattan” two years later) as opposed to Los Angeles, where Alvy and Annie visit in the final half-hour of this hour-and-a-half film. L.A. doesn’t look very good here, and I think what Allen was trying to say was people in New York City think too much and people in L.A. think very little. Ouch. No wonder Woody Allen never attends the Oscars in Hollywood, despite his numerous wins and nominations for his screenwriting.

Basically, “Annie Hall” is all about Woody Allen. It’s his vision, his dialogue, his persona, his representation of how he feels about love and life in general. And amidst all the talk about how embittered he is about a lot of things and how unsure he is about himself (to the point where he can’t let good things be as good as they should be), there is a lesson to be learned by the end of “Annie Hall”: relationships can be painful, but they’re also worth the pain. He’s not telling us how to feel; he’s telling us how he feels. And maybe we can learn something from him in the process.

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

23 Jun

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Summer 2011: “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is released to theaters. I decide not to see it. “Really? What’s the point? We all know how it’s going to end.”

Spring 2012: I catch “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” on one of the satellite movie channels. To my surprise, it’s pretty good. I write my three-star review, stating one major problem I had with it: the ending. I write that the story grinds to a halt, obviously setting up for a sequel. “I guess the origin story isn’t enough to set up the events in the previous movies,” I wrote. (Though, in hindsight, isn’t it deliciously ironic to see a film where man’s defeat is the happy ending?)

Summer 2014: No, the origin story is not enough to set up the events in the other “Planet of the Apes” movies, for now we have “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” Let’s see how this one turns out… Well, that was one of the best sequels I’ve ever seen. I did not expect that…

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is the seventh entry in the “Planet of the Apes” film series. (Actually, it’s the eighth, but who wants to acknowledge the 2001 Tim Burton re-imagining?) Frankly, I think it’s the best in the series by far. It’s a solid sci-fi action film, but it also works effectively in its dramatic and allegorical elements.

The film is set a decade or so after “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” left off, when a virus plagued humankind, leaving much to ruin. A band of humans lives as one in San Francisco and an ape colony lives in the nearby woods. The apes, now more advanced than before, are led by Caesar (again played with stellar motion-capture performance work by Andy Serkis), who recalls the good in humanity more than most of his followers who were caged and horribly treated by their human captors. None of the apes have seen a single trace of humans until one day, when a small group of the San Francisco survivors enter the woods unexpectedly. They attempted to pass through to restore the power grid. Caesar has learned to speak, and so the group’s leader, Malcolm (Jason Clarke), reasons with him for help. But the mutual cooperation unfortunately doesn’t last long, as members of both man and ape clash, leading to the beginning of inevitable war.

The allegories of hatred and prejudice are done quite well in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” without getting preachy or too heavy-handed. There are blunt points that are made, but for the most part, it’s handled efficiently with visuals, interaction, and just the right amount of dialogue that helps get the point across. It makes for an intruging tragedy amongst the blockbuster-expected explosions and gunfire. And what helps even further is the characterizations of both the humans and the apes—the personalities that get the most focus are fleshed out. There are some humans and apes that see a mutual connection—they include Malcolm, Caesar, a nurse named Ellie (Keri Russell), Malcolm’s son Alexander (Kodi-Smit McPhee), and a wise orangutan named Maurice. (I’m not gonna lie—Maurice stole my heart.) But there are many of the other human survivors and many of the other apes who share a mutual hatred for each other and would like nothing more to see them exterminated if only for their own selfish desires of annihilation. The humans that represent it are Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) and Carver (Kirk Acevedo), and the ape that stands for warfare is Kobo, who often butts heads with Caesar, who tries to keep peace by keeping humans and apes separate in the beginning. But tragically, despite the sincere efforts of Malcolm, hatred breaks free and everything starts going to hell. The parallels of human and ape are effectively done and help make this allegorical tale even more powerful.

Andy Serkis is once-again outstanding as Caesar, hands-down the best, most compelling character in the whole “Planet of the Apes” series. He’ll always be known as the king of the CGI/human blend of acting, and someone at the Academy should give the man a special Oscar for his work. With his work in “Lord of the Rings,” “King Kong,” and now the “Planet of the Apes” reboots, I’d say he’s due for Academy recognition. Exaggeration, you may say? I don’t think so.

Director Matt Reeves (who is also making the upcoming sequel, “War for the Planet of the Apes”) does a great job with the action and gives the audience what they crave in a summer movie, such as a lengthy battle sequence on the streets of San Francisco. But he’s also very efficient in the quieter moments, particularly in the first 15+ minutes, which show the home life of Caesar and the rest of the apes.

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” did something I didn’t expect it to do: it made me anticipate the next “Planet of the Apes” movie. Will “War for the Planet of the Apes” be just as good if not better? I don’t know, but I’m willing to find out. If there’s anything I’ve learned from “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” it’s not to be cynical about a continuing reboot that comes my way.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001)

2 Jun

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Smith’s Verdict: Zero Stars

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I could start off this review by saying comedy is subjective, I don’t have to laugh at what you may find funny, I don’t have to like what you like, and so on. But instead, I’ll just say this: it’s unfair to call Tom Green’s “Freddy Got Fingered” the worst movie I’ve ever seen simply because I don’t find it funny and it made me feel unclean having watched it. After all, someone may admire it for being…different. Someone may even find it funny. So take that in consideration when I say this: not me.

“Freddy Got Fingered” is the film I personally hate the most. There are other movies that could qualify as “the worst movie ever made,” but I do enjoy “Birdemic,” “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” and “The Room” on campy levels. But that’s because they weren’t trying to be funny, and as a result of incompetence, they ended up being funny by default. “Freddy Got Fingered” is a comedy. It is trying to be funny. And if there’s anything that annoys audiences more, it’s when supposed-comedies don’t make them laugh. Not only did I not laugh at any of Tom Green’s antics in “Freddy Got Fingered,” but I shut down for a while after I watched it. I felt so unclean—not only did I want a shower, but I also wanted to gargle some mouthwash. (Maybe a colonoscopy wouldn’t have been so far out either.)

I despise “Freddy Got Fingered”—heartily and sincerely dislike it. Let’s get this over with…

Canadian comedian Tom Green became a hit with silly white-rap videos on TV, with a persona of a man-child rapping about childish things. Sad to say, this gave Green the opportunity to direct, write, and star in his own movie. The stuff he couldn’t do on TV with his “different” sense of humor, he could exploit to the nth degree with some of the most vile grossout humor ever brought to cinema. That’s just the way it works in Hollywood, I guess…

Why bother describing the plot? It doesn’t matter what the plot is, because it just gives Green an excuse to do whatever he wants. But essentially, it goes like this. Green plays a loser named Tom Green—er, I mean, Gord Brady—who wants to be a cartoonist and produce his own TV show. But things don’t work out for him, because he’s a screwup who scares the big-time executives away—er, I mean he’s an artist who thinks differently. He wants to win the approval of his stern father (Rip Torn), who sees him as nothing more than a disappointment, while his mother (Julie Hagerty) supports him no matter what. Meanwhile, he gets a girlfriend, Betty (Marisa Coughlan), who is wheelchair-bound and desperately wants to have oral sex with Gord…who of course has fun whacking her legs with heavy objects. Blah blah blah, hijinks ensue, Gord gets a show, everyone lives happily ever after…except for me.

Does the plot even matter? “Freddy Got Fingered’ is practically an hour-and-a-half-long geekshow attraction and the only point of it is for Green to be as off-the-wall as possible. And it just doesn’t work for me. Green was off-the-wall in “Road Trip” too, but he had some control and mildly amusing moments as well. But here, he’s the one in control. He wrote and directed the movie, and he takes center-stage as this odd, hapless protagonist, and I do not want to be in the company of this persona for another hour-and-a-half. He mugs constantly for the camera, he shouts many words/phrases repeatedly at a time hoping they’ll be funny, and he does the most nonsensical things imaginable, which is where the “highlights” of the grossout humor come in. For example, someone injures his leg in a skateboarding accident, Gord licks the open wound. Gord masturbates a horse and then an elephant (which ejaculates on his father). Gord comes across a dead deer, and, following the advice of “getting inside your characters,” skins the deer and wears the bloody skin.

Oh, and there’s another running gag involving a young child who always gets hurt and miraculously turns out OK…the punchline is more offensive than funny and pushes the limits of the R rating more than…oh no…it’s coming back to me…the worst part of the movie…

Gord visits a friend in the hospital and comes across a woman in labor. What does he do? He brings the baby out from her womb and, when it appears to be dead, brings it back to life by flinging it around the room with its umbilical cord. With so much blood being sprayed everywhere as a result, I have to wonder—what would it really take to bring an NC-17 rating in a mainstream comedy?

I get it. It’s shocking. It’s different. It didn’t make me laugh. It wasn’t for me. It made me mad. It made me uneasy. It made me unclean. And I could’ve turned off the movie at any time (thank God I didn’t see this in a theater), but I felt I had to keep going as a rite of passage for a film critic. I sat through it, and I can rest easy, with the full confidence that no matter how many bad movies I’ll continue to see in the future, none can be as hurtful as “Freddy Got Fingered” was to me.