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Super Mario Bros. (1993)

23 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: *1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Super Mario Bros.” is an exhilarating race against time to get from one level to the other before running out of time, then the player has to start all over again. I am of course talking about the “Super Mario Bros.” video game. Its film adaptation is completely different in the sense that there doesn’t seem to be a race against time. It simply shows us two plumber brothers as they get from one place to the other without that much of a struggle.

That is one of many flaws in “Super Mario Bros.” One might expect that the popular video game’s first film adaptation to be as exhilarating and thrilling. But “Super Mario Bros.” is too busy trying to make itself look good that it winds up not being very good at all.

The plot is incomprehensible. When a meteorite struck the earth, the dinosaurs were blasted into a parallel dimension and evolved into dominant creatures. In the present time, the ruler of Dinohattan—King Koopa—wants to merge both universes and take over the world. But he needs to obtain a special piece of the meteorite and Princess Daisy, who lives in our universe and carries the rock around her neck at all times. So he sends two goofball cronies to capture her. Once Daisy is captured, it’s up to her boyfriend Luigi and his brother Mario, both plumbers, to go into the dimension and save her.

Wow. And all this is done without a strong narrative or well-developed characters. And worst of all, there’s no excitement. Maybe that’s because a) there seems to be no sense of danger with the situations the characters go through. And b) video game movies always strike the wrong note. When you play the Mario game, you control the little figure’s actions. But watching the movie, you just stand by and the character onscreen is not doing what you would do. I wouldn’t mind so much if the movie was just an hour and a half of pointless scenes and sequences and seeing that the filmmakers were trying to keep the movie different from the game.

You might be wondering who plays these characters. Well, some interesting casting choices were made. Bob Hoskins is solid, if unspectacular, as Mario, playing it straight throughout. John Leguizamo is Luigi, completely sincere. First he’s appealing but after a while, the sincerity becomes a bit annoying. Dennis Hopper is the film’s main villain Koopa, evolved from a Tyrannosaurus Rex. It’s obvious that Hopper just doesn’t care about his acting in this film. He’s so over-the-top that it’s almost embarrassing to watch. Samantha Mathis brings some appeal to the role of college-aged princess Daisy, but I felt sorry for the actress when she was forced to explain how her father was turned into fungus (I’m not even kidding).

The film looks bleak. The setting of Dinohattan is so unspectacular. It looks like actual Manhattan populated with weirder people. The visual effects are admittedly impressive, but even they can’t redeem this stupid script and bleak look. “Super Mario Bros.” was obviously not made for me, but it brings no imagination to kids, who may love this movie. Real little kids.

The Crucible (1996)

22 Apr

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NOTE (from 2019): I wrote this review 10 years ago, when I was 16…obviously, I didn’t get it. I did revisit the film recently–it’s better than I remember it…though I’m still not quite sure I’d recommend it.

Smith’s Verdict: *1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I’ve read the original play “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller for English class in the eleventh grade. Maybe it was just my sixteen-year-old mind, but I didn’t find it riveting or powerful at all. I just found it dull with unbelievable characters and a dreadfully confusing storyline. (OK, I didn’t say that, but you get the idea.) So why should the film adaptation of “The Crucible” be any different? It’s an obnoxious, dull experience that didn’t move me in any way.

It starts to go wrong at the first scene. The setting is Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, the year of the Salem Witch Trials. So with the guidance of women in Salem, how in the world did they get out of their homes unnoticed to share a ceremony in the woods in the middle of the night? This is a Puritan society and these women dance naked together around a fire. The scene is mentioned in the play, but put offstage. That was a wise decision. It made us ask if what they were talking about was true. And since we see this scene early on, I was bored already.

And then the story develops, like the play, into a series of false accusations of witchcraft, religious hysteria, and sexual lust. The town minister’s niece Abigail (Winona Ryder) is accused by an ill little girl of practicing witchcraft, and soon, the whole town is in an uproar. At the center of the story is a good man named John Proctor (Daniel Day Lewis). When Abigail was his servant girl, he committed adultery with the wench. Soon after, Abigail was thrown out by John’s wife Elizabeth (Joan Allen) and she never lets John forget their moment. She is out to cause misery for this man and John regrets their affair. He would love saucy, little Abigail to go away.

And so would I. Winona Ryder is a good actress, but she doesn’t create a credible presence here at all. She is painfully miscast here. And sadly, so is Daniel Day Lewis, who looks like he would rather be somewhere else, and is not particularly compelling as the lead role.

Soon, a witchhunter—Judge Danforth (Paul Scofield)—is brought to town to judge the trials of witchcraft that just about everybody, including Reverend Parris (Bruce Davison, not believable here at all), believes to have been practiced by the midnight frolickers. But as these trials continue and evidence is disappearing, Danforth’s patience is tested. He wants someone to be punished, whether someone is guilty of witchcraft or not.

All of this leads to a climax that I didn’t buy at all because I knew which of the characters are guilty and innocent, and frankly, I didn’t really care. There are only two characters in this movie that I find credible, three of which are well-acted—Joan Allen as Elizabeth Proctor; Paul Scofield as Judge Danforth; and Karron Graves as Mary, one of the women suspected of using witchcraft. They do very well at remaining plausible in this improbable situation. The other characters are stiff, unbelievable, and annoying. How annoying? About 85% of dialogue in this movie is panicked shouting. I wanted to yell at the screen to the characters, “Shut up!” That’s how “The Crucible” worked for me. I never wanted to yell that to any other movie, even though there are much worse movies than this one.

Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (2008)

21 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: *1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Harold and Kumar are appealing characters. They’ve certainly proved that in 2004’s “Harold and Kumar go to White Castle.” Harold is of Korean descent, Kumar of Indian descent, but they’re both living in America like every day Americans…and they get along great together because they smoke more pot than Cheech and Chong. In “Harold and Kumar go to White Castle,” they spent a night of funny misadventures trying to find White Castle and eat there like regular Americans. Along the way, they are met by racists who make them miserable. That movie had a heart to it. Their next movie, “Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay,” has no heart and I’ve been unable to locate its brain.

This is a mean-spirited, uninspired sequel to “Harold and Kumar go to White Castle” that is an insult to the eyes and ears of people who love comedy. It does have decent performances by John Cho and Kal Penn, reprising their roles as the likable potheads Harold and Kumar, but the script has nowhere interesting to go and the direction is heavy-handed.

We pick up where the first movie left off, as Harold and Kumar board a plane to Amsterdam to meet the girl of Harold’s dreams. What they didn’t count on was a racist old lady. Get this—what she sees when she sees Kumar on the plane is an Arabian terrorist ready to strike. And then she yells bloody murder and Harold and Kumar are arrested. You can already tell that this movie is going to blow.

Our heroes are accused of being terrorists and brought to the most unlikable character in the movie—a sleazy, slimy, evil-grinning, ultimately racist, hawkish government hotshot Ron Fox (Rob Corddry). There are so many wrong things going on with this character that it’s never funny. I wanted to punch a hole in the screen every time he showed up. What’s worse? Corddry plays the character so well. He locks the boys up in Guantanamo Bay, where no one “even heard of rights.” As the title suggests, Harold and Kumar escape from Guantanamo Bay.

Now, the title suggests at least some funny material. But no. It’s only five minutes out of this mess but an unfunny five minutes.

Anyway, Harold and Kumar are out to clear their name and have many misadventures involving hillbilly in breeders, a KKK rally, a bottomless swimming party, a conversation with an unexpected ally, and a tripping Neil Patrick Harris, played by…Neil Patrick Harris. Harris at least brings charisma to the mix but it’s too little, too late. All the other misadventures—especially the KKK rally and inbred Cyclops—are missed opportunities. And then there are two romantic subplots, but even they seem uninspired.

There is one funny moment that should be mentioned because I can only think of how better the movie would be if it was like that moment—it’s a flashback of the boys in college. Kumar was as uptight as Harold is and vice versa. That was funny and I just wish the movie took chances, like in that scene.

To sum it all up, THIS is what Harold and Kumar are reduced to? After getting to know them in the previous movie, which had laughs throughout, we have to see them be the targets of racism and that sleazy government agent? I mean it—Corddry deserves a punch in the face right now.

I heard there was going to be a third movie featuring Harold and Kumar—“A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas.” If that’s true, the filmmakers need better material to work with. “Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay” is an uninspired sequel and not even Cho, Penn, and NPH’s charm, nor that one funny scene, could save it.

NOTE: Long after writing this review, “A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas” has been released. I still haven’t seen it yet, though I suppose I should.

Armageddon (1998)

18 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: *1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

1998’s “Armageddon” shares the same premise as “Deep Impact,” which came out the same year as this one. Both movies are about a giant asteroid about to crash to earth and wipe out mankind. But if there’s one thing to be said about “Deep Impact,” it’s that it’s a much better film than this loud, obnoxious, boring, distasteful action movie/special effects extravaganza.

“Armageddon” is the best title for this movie. As Gene Siskel, of “Siskel and Ebert,” put it, “Armageddon is appropriately titled because while watching it, you’ll feel as though you’ve been in combat—visual combat and aural combat.” He gave this film a thumbs-up, but my review is much closer to what Ebert thought of it.

The movie is about the threat of an asteroid that is said to be the size of Texas that could wipe out the whole planet. “Nothing could survive, not even bacteria.” Billy Bob Thornton plays a NASA chief who has to find a way to save the planet. He comes up with a solution: hire a bunch of oil drillers to go up into space and drill to the core of the sucker and then blow it up. Bruce Willis plays the leader of the drillers Harry Stamper, who is said to be the world’s greatest driller (what a distinction). He has his own team with him and they’re all different types of people (so we can tell them apart) and they’re just a ragtag band. Included in the team are a sex-obsessed weirdo (Steve Buscemi), a bass-voiced giant (Michael Clarke Duncan), and the boyfriend of Harry’s daughter, whom Harry disapproves of, shown in a completely over-the-top tantrum beginning. The boyfriend is played by Ben Affleck.

I guess “Armageddon” is supposed to be entertaining because there are nonstop special effects, little human story, and shots that don’t even last twenty seconds. This doesn’t even feel much like a movie rather than an overlong trailer, to say the least. Once the characters are up in space, the movie just drags on and on and on and it got very boring. I kept waiting…and waiting…for something to make sense.

Then, the movie was over. The second half of this movie is full of very tightly-edited scenes of sci-fi action and it all felt like a dead zone as it ran for an hour and a half. There are a lot of action scenes and they don’t really pay off or add to anything.

The characters here are dull, with the possible exception of Liv Tyler. She plays Harry’s daughter and gives a piece of realism to the human story, as much as there is. But Bruce Willis is wasted here as the dull leader of the drillers. The same can also be said for Billy Bob Thornton, who is forgettable here. Ben Affleck isn’t likable here in the slightest—he’s just a jerk.

The movie has very cheesy clichéd scenes that have been done to death. We get the slow-motion walking shots by the heroes, the over-the-top save-the-world speech, and farewell scenes that are not touching or effective just overdone. I wouldn’t mind so much if I wasn’t so bored already.

The movie runs about two-and-a-half hours. Why? I’m guessing action-director Michael Bay would like this movie as a popcorn movie or maybe he didn’t even want it that way. Whatever he wanted to do, he failed doing it. On the comic relief side, there is hardly any humor that is intentional and that’s also not a good sign. Some of the jokes that the characters say at the beginning are missing punch lines. Just when it feels like there might be one, the scene cuts to another. The worst part is that the movie hardly stops to take a breath once in a while. Does Bay think that the audience has an ingenious attention span?

See if you buy this—the planet is in huge jeopardy, right? An asteroid the size of Texas is going to crash down and wipe out humanity, so the heroes have to blow it up. Well, if the asteroid is that big, then wouldn’t even a piece be enough to wipe out the United States? And also, the characters are drillers who must be trained to be astronauts. Wouldn’t be easier to have astronauts train to be drillers?

“Armageddon” is a special-effects mess.

Scream 3 (2000)

16 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: *1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Midway through “Scream 3” (the final chapter in the apparent “Scream” trilogy), we are informed of the rules of the trilogy by a posthumous video message from Randy, the film-knowing victim in “Scream 2” played by Jamie Kennedy. He tells the ways of the trilogy and references “Godfather” and “Jedi,” while saying plot twists are revealed, the past (preferably events in the first film) will haunt the characters, and basically, anything goes.

This video is viewed by returning characters Dewey (David Arquette), Sidney (Neve Campbell), and of course, the cutthroat (so to speak) reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox-Arquette). This is convenient because the killer in the Grim Reaper costume and ghostface mask is at it again and maybe for the last time. This time, the killer plans to finish everything and everyone. Randy’s video is help for Dewey, Sidney, and Gale, but not for the audience of “Scream 3”—what Randy forgot to mention was that the final chapter of a trilogy is sometimes the weakest one. That is certainly true of “Scream 3” itself, which is most disappointing. I really liked the first two “Scream” movies and found them scary and satirical of the slasher movie genre—the satire really worked. Here, in “Scream 3,” we get some amusing lines of dialogue (though the script is not written by Kevin Williamson this time, but by Ehren Kruger), a couple of funny cameos, and some points of somewhat true emotion. But ultimately, the movie sinks because it mainly just descends into the very clichés it was trying to satirize in the first place. The fun is gone. In a trilogy, nobody is safe and all bets are off. Don’t get me wrong—this could create a huge amount of suspense, but the story is not well-executed for us to be on the edges of our seats.

As you recall from “Scream 2,” a movie franchise was brought in, based on the events in the first film which were written into a best-selling novel by Gale. The movie-within-the-movie was called “Stab.” In “Scream 3,” we have “Stab 3” in development—strange how no one ever mentions a “Stab 2.” This brings the attention of another killer who strikes right before production is about to start. So now, young police detective Kincaid (Patrick Dempsey) recruits Gale and Dewey to help figure out what the killer will do now. This time, there are clues—near every body is a picture of Sidney’s mother who, if you recall from the previous films, was murdered four years before. What could they mean? And which of the actors in “Stab 3” is next to being killed? Are you still with me?

One of the problems with “Scream 3” is that the characters are so thin and dull that I didn’t care who lived and who died. Even Gale, who was so feisty in the previous films, is reduced to being just a target. Parker Posey does what she can, playing the actress who was supposed to play Gale in “Stab 3,” showing spunk and selfishness. And then there’s Sidney, the star of the previous films. Here, she is barely seen in the first half and is given nothing special to do when she shows up on the set of “Stab 3.”

And of course, you need to watch the previous films to understand much of what is happening here. But the better idea would be to just watch “Scream” and “Scream 2” and accept them as individual films because “Scream 3” has lost the series its energy.

Angels in the Outfield (1994)

13 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: *1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Angels in the Outfield” is a sports fantasy that is harmless enough for young kids to enjoy, but not smart enough to please adults. It’s a condescending, overly cute, and ultimately clichéd baseball film that makes the feel-good spirit of “The Natural” look like “Bull Durham.” It may even be insulting to kids who play Little League and/or keep track of major league statistics. They deserve much better than this.

It’s a baseball fantasy story, like “Field of Dreams,” in which a baseball team is redeemed thanks to a miraculous occurrence. It begins as an 11-year-old foster child named Roger (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is bummed because his deadbeat father says the chances of them being a family again are about the same as the last-place California Angels winning the pennant. Roger and his best friend J.P. (Milton Davis, Jr.) watch the Angels games and know that Roger’s chances are slim. So that night, Roger prays to God—“Maybe you could help them win a little.”

Roger and J.P. go to a following game where something amazing happens…depending on how you look at it. You see, a group of real angels—visible only to Roger—come down to deliver divine intervention to the game—lifting players in the air to catch fly balls, slowing down fastballs, and even pulling tricks to make the opposing team look foolish.

Divine intervention or cheating? Are you seriously telling me that God is taking sides on a baseball team just because Roger prayed for it? Wouldn’t it have made more sense for the players, who seem so worthless in the beginning, to gain some morale and momentum due to a current event that inspires them to play harder than they’ve ever played before? That would work for the kid’s prayer and you’d have a nice underdog story if done right. But no, we have seraphim rigging every baseball game. How special.

Also, the angels themselves are pretty tacky-looking. Putting a human face on a computer-generated glowing body just looks like some of the laziest effects you’ll see in a movie.

Of course, the Angels must make it to the Big Game, like just about every sports film does. The boss angel named Al (Christopher Lloyd) tells Roger that no angels will be helping the team out this time, because “championships have to be played on their own.” (That doesn’t make it any less offensive.) But the main problem is, this Big Game is ineptly shot that it just seems like it doesn’t care how it’s being shown. The preceding games are fast enough, but this game just goes on and on. The only memorable part of the game is when the over-the-hill pitcher Mel Clark (Tony Danza) tells his manager George Knox (Danny Glover) that he can’t do this anymore, and Knox gives him some helpful advice that causes Mel to believe that he can deliver the final strikeout.

Oh wait, I’m sorry. Knox tells him “You got an angel with you right now” and Roger flaps his arms around like wings, as J.P., the Angels, and EVERYONE IN THE STANDS joins in! And then Mel strikes out the player at bat, winning the game. Give me a break.

“Angels in the Outfield” is so heavy-handed that it just makes you want to throw up. It’s too sweet and sappy, trying to compensate for the fact there is absolutely nothing subtle about this film. The angels are just objects—as much as the characters talk about faith, the angels make it so difficult to accept that. So it’s hypocritical and belligerent, making for a maddening experience for those who think. And how can you not groan in disbelief at the press conference in which Knox is being relieved as manager by the team owner Hank Murphy (Ben Johnson). Why? Because Knox believes there are real angels helping his team. My question—why? What is the point? Well…it gives the Angels to stand up for Knox and having one of them say, “I won’t play for anybody but Knox,” meaning he’ll keep his job for the pennant and win the season.

By the way, this scene ends with the worst line in the movie, said by Johnson—“If there are angels out there, I hope they’re on our side.” Un-be-liev-able.

Now for the acting—Danny Glover’s Knox has a lot of screen time, as the crusty Angels manager who befriends Roger and gets his shot at redemption. He looks embarrassed throughout the film, like he would much rather be somewhere else. The same can be said for Brenda Fricker, who is wasted in the role of kindly foster mother for Roger and J.P. Then, there’s Christopher Lloyd, who plays the head angel. He’s fun enough, despite the sloppy writing he’s been given, in the scenes where he talks to Roger about the “rules” of the angels. The two kids aren’t bad—they’re merely adequate—and how often do you hear that Tony Danza gives an actually credible performance in a movie? Danza fits the role of over-the-hill pitcher nicely and is the only character that is believable.

Oh, I forgot to mention the slimy radio announcer Ranch Wilder, played by Jay O. Sanders. This guy is so despicable and so slick that I can’t help but laugh at him.

“Angels in the Outfield” is a mess. The baseball action is unexciting, the human-interest stuff is stale and unconvincing, and the views of religion—or its own rules of religion—are just so maddening that you wonder how this story would go down if it was written by a more spiritual writer? Well, people say Hollywood is full of skepticism and cynicism. That may not be entirely true, but this movie doesn’t prove that it isn’t.

The Change Up (2011)

12 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: *1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Not since “Your Highness” have I felt so unclean from a theatrical gross-out comedy in 2011. To get things straight, I am not against gross-out comedies. I’m only against gross-out comedies that have more “gross-out” than laughs. I mentioned “Your Highness.” That movie was obsessed with making sure that every single joke focused on one of two things—penises and weed. This movie, “The Change-Up,” released a few months later, is obsessed with making sure that when its story gets underway, every single joke is focused also two things—Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds switch bodies, and things get ugly.  

Yes, two people switch bodies in this movie as the main gimmick. This type of comedy has been used a dozen times—some to good use, some to bad. But to my knowledge, this is the first body-switch comedy with an R rating from the MPAA, implying that it’s aimed at adults. Well guess what, guys—there’s a difference between “adult” and “immature.” It’s like saying, Hey guys! Want to see projective poop shoot into Jason Bateman’s mouth as he attempts to change a baby’s diaper? Want to see exposed female breasts just for the sake of nudity rather than exoticism? Want to hear the “F” word repeated over and over and over until you realize it was written just to keep the “R” rating?

I don’t! When I saw that distasteful scene where Batman changes the diaper, I was saying to myself, “Wow, two minutes in, and already, this movie wants me to walk away.”

OK, I’m getting ahead of myself. But here you have it—the R-rated body-switch comedy. As is typical of body-switch comedies, you have to have the introductions to the characters that will the subjects of this change-up—show their jobs, show their homes, show their personalities. To the film’s credit, even in about fourteen minutes, those three are developed easily. We see Jason Bateman as Dave, a good-natured lawyer and a father of three; and Ryan Reynolds as Mitch, a lazy, wisecracking pothead. Since they envy each other’s lives and actually say to each other that one would prefer the other’s life, they get their chance to actually endure each other’s lives. Oh yeah, they make their wish while taking a leak in a public “magic fountain.”

So Dave’s mind is in Mitch’s body and vice versa. Mitch moves in with Dave’s wife (Leslie Mann) and takes over his job, but can’t quite cut it. Dave finds himself in the making of a “light porn” movie and hates how Mitch is now hitting on his wife, but he likes his newly found freedom because Mitch does practically nothing anyway.

OK, there you go with the story. Now for the humor—There are many gross-out gags, like getting a tattoo with Olivia Wilde as Dave’s co-worker (don’t ask where she gets her tattoo), but I just didn’t laugh very much. I mean, a few chuckles here and there, but when you have a gross-out comedy, it’s timing that matters. Not just simple gross-out gags. I felt dirty watching this movie—afterwards, I felt like taking a shower.  

I’m a fan of Jason Bateman’s dry wit that made him popular in TV’s “Arrested Development” and good movies like “Juno,” though I have to admit I have mixed feelings toward Ryan Reynolds—I liked him in “Definitely, Maybe” and in “Adventureland” and thought he was a legitimate good actor in “Buried,” but in many of his other comedies (“Van Wilder,” in particular), he comes off as just bland to me. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to see these two imitate each other in this movie in which these two…change up. (Yeah, “The Change-Up” is one of the most generic titles in recent memory.) But the problem is that once these two have switched personalities, there isn’t any promising material. I smiled when these two first acted off each other (as each other), but after a few minutes, it just wore off.

The biggest insult “The Change-Up” has to offer is the forced sentimentality that follows through in the final act. You know what I mean—basic sentiments are given, the guys learn things about themselves and other people they interacted with, and of course the soft music in the background that does the acting for the actual actors. Did the filmmakers forget that it was all followed by stuff like Olivia Wilde’s nudity, Leslie Mann’s intestinal disorder, Reynolds’ porn experience, and more? This has got to be the clumsiest adding-in of sentimentality I’ve ever seen in a comedy. “The Change-Up” goes out of its way to be vulgar and offensive and then it goes for the heart. Unbelievable.

“The Change-Up” had two good comic actors to make the idea work, and anything can be done well (see “Vice Versa,” see “Big,” see “Freaky Friday,” I could go on with a few others, I think). But the actors needed better material and the audience needed a break.

P.S. I just looked up body-switch movies and there are two others I can recommend, aside from the three I’ve already mentioned—“Peggy Sue Got Married,” starring Kathleen Turner; “Chances Are,” starring Robert Downey Jr.; and I kinda liked “17 Again,” starring Zac Efron. Oh, I should also mention “Being John Malkovich,” in which John Cusack became…John Malkovich.

Evil Dead (2013)

9 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: *1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Gore is not scary. Blood, slime, pus, etc. alone do not make a film automatically scary; if anything, it just makes it disgusting. Tension, suspense, atmosphere, etc. are the key ingredients to a successful horror film. I wouldn’t mind gore so much if the movies that go all out with them were either scary or even funny. The reason Peter Jackson’s “Dead Alive” (probably the goriest film ever, as far as I’m concerned) worked was because while it had all types of gore, it had a twisted sense of humor to back it up. (Whether or not that movie is for you just depends on your stomach. But I digress.) And of course, there are Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” movies. Same thing—with a lot of gore, there was also a lot of dark humor. Who doesn’t remember the possessed hand? Or Bruce Campbell’s one-liners?

The “Evil Dead” movies are a good time to be had, particularly the second one which I like a whole lot. Knowing that Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell were on board as producers for a remake of the first film, I was hyped to see this new version, aptly titled “Evil Dead.”

But as it turns out, “Evil Dead” turned out to be nothing more than a generic, pointless splatter film that is nothing more than a gorefest. Sure, there may be a lot of gore (and they do use practical effects for all the blood and gore), but that’s just it. That’s all there is to it—this “Evil Dead” is neither scary nor funny. It’s just boring.

Even though the original film, “The Evil Dead,” was more serious than its sequel, “Evil Dead 2,” you still couldn’t necessarily take it seriously—the gore was over-the-top, the acting was cheesy, and there were unintentional funny moments (even though the second and third “Army of Darkness” film were intentionally humorous). And thanks to heavy craftsmanship (given its low budget), there were actually a few scary, atmospheric moments as well. The remake never captures any of that—it’s more morose and bloody than anything else. And it never even tries to be funny or creative.

The premise is the same as in the original—five young people go to an isolated cabin in the woods, they find a basement full of secrets and a certain “Book of the Dead,” and they accidentally unleash a demonic presence that possesses them all until they die. In “Evil Dead,” it begins as David (Shiloh Fernandez) and his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), along with registered nurse Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and bookish smartass Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), stage an intervention for David’s younger sister Mia (Jane Levy), whose life has been screwed up by drugs thanks to a poor childhood. And here we have something I don’t think anybody was expecting to see in an “Evil Dead” movie—characterization. Too bad I don’t care much for who’s on screen—in particular, Natalie has no personality and just blends into the background half the time.

Anyway, in the dark, damp basement, they come across a room full of dead animals (mostly cats) and the Necronomicon itself, the “Book of the Dead” that contains evil spells. And wouldn’t you know it—Eric reads certain words from the book out loud, thus unleashing a fearsome demon.

OK, who would read something like that out loud in the first place?

But I digress. The five idiots are hunted by the demon, Mia is possessed by it, and is “infecting” everyone else. Why don’t these idiots just leave the cabin which is conveniently nowhere near other cabins? Well, because there’s a rainstorm that floods the only way out. How conveniently unfortunate.

With each horrific incident comes a lot of detailed gore—projectile vomiting, black goo, dismembered limbs, an arm cut off with an electric carver, nail guns shooting off at certain parts of flesh and bone, and lots and lots of blood. Director Fede Alvarez obviously cares more for gore than anything else, and to his credit, it all looks “right.” It’s all visibly, convincingly revolting.

The characters hardly gain any sympathy, so there’s hardly a reason for me to care about who lives and who dies (and who gets unbelievably hurt, in the case of Eric until he finally bites the dust).

“Evil Dead” is just conventional and generic junk that didn’t work for me in the slightest. In fact, I was surprised by just how many reviews pre-release stated that it was the “scariest movie ever made.” It just comes back to what I was saying in an above paragraph—gore is not scary. It’s shocking, it’s gross, it’s disgusting—but it’s not scary.

The only big pleasure I got out of “Evil Dead” was just after the end credits, which featured an unforgettable appearance by Bruce Campbell. I wish he had showed up earlier. His presence alone would have made things cooler. And you know you’re in trouble when the best shot in a movie is after the end credits.

Final Destination 2 (2003)

9 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: *1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

The original “Final Destination” was a good movie about teenagers trying to outsmart Death itself. They try to cheat Death’s design so that they will not die immediately in bizarre freak accidents. The twist was that Death seemed to be a fan of Rube Goldberg and that element gave a comic element. The serious element was that the teenagers talking amongst themselves about outsmarting this ordeal. So it wasn’t long before the obligatory sequel took place. And here it is, entitled “Final Destination 2”—the most thought-provoking horror movie title since “I Still Know What You Did Last Summer.”

Boy, is this movie a mess. It’s the same situation as before, the original cast (with the exception of two original cast members) is out of sight, the characters are dumb this time around, and the supposed horror is laughable beyond belief. You could call this movie a comedy instead of a horror movie. During the first half, the horror doesn’t work. And when horror doesn’t work in a horror movie, it’s pretty much doomed by the time the second half develops into more silliness.

One of the teenaged survivors of the original film—Clear Rivers (Ali Larter), who has since developed a strong persona and physique that resembles Linda Hamilton in “Terminator 2”—is back, respectively, to provide information for survivors of yet another freak accident that should’ve taken the lives of many teenagers (and a few adults) if the new main character hadn’t seen it first and intervened. Earlier in the film, the cute, smart Kimberly Corman (A.J. Cook) is driving down a highway with her obnoxious best friends in tow (two of them smoke pot and crack jokes, the other complains constantly). Suddenly, a terrible thing happens and there is a massive road collision that kills them and a few other people on that highway. That, of course, turns out to be just a vision for Kimberly to see. She blocks the on-ramp, saving the drivers behind her, and then the worst occurs on that highway. But, just like in the original movie, Death is not finished with those survivors yet and plans to finish them off right away in the exact order they would have died if they weren’t saved from the accident.

And just like that, many survivors die or come close to death in bizarre, horrific ways. One almost chokes in a dentist’s chair, one is flattened by a plate-glass window, one is decapitated by an elevator door, one is even killed by an airbag, and so on. There’s one particular sequence that brings the show to a halt. It shows one of the survivors as he gets his hand stuck in the sink drain, the microwave explodes, the frying pan on the stove starts a fire, he gets his hand out of the drain, fails to put out the fire, tries to escape through the window which is locked, he breaks it open, goes down the fire escape, tries to get the ladder to come down with him, lands on the sidewalk where a lot of glass is dropped, and he seems safe…but he’s not.

These deaths are so improbable that even Rube Goldberg would’ve had a thing to say about them.

Then there’s the basic question which is, “Do you care if the characters’ lives are in jeopardy?” My answer for the original was yes. My answer for this sequel is no. The characters are unpleasant to watch (with the exception of Larter and Cook, who shine despite the bad dialogue in the script) and I think they all deserved what they got. If I don’t care about the characters who I’m supposed to root for, I have no interest in them.

Then there’s that situation in which a woman who also survived the crash is pregnant and if she has a baby, the design will be ruined. But the question is, will the baby die? Or will the woman die? Or will Death double back on the other survivors after sparing one?

I did like A.J. Cook. She has a natural presence on the screen and although her character is a dud, she’s great to look at. She also has a voice that demands attention, but doesn’t often ask for it. Too bad she attempts to drown herself at the end before she has a chance to do something better with the character.

“Final Destination 2” is a mess. The original “Final Destination” wasn’t like this at all. I hope to see a better sequel from this supposed series. This is just flat.

Mr. Woodcock (2007)

7 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: *1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Billy Bob Thornton acts as yet another crude, hateful guy in “Mr. Woodcock”—he played pretty much the same character in “Bad Santa,” “Bad News Bears,” and “School for Scoundrels.” Here, he and other talented actors, including Seann William Scott and Susan Sarandon, are supposed to carry an engaging premise. But the script just kills it dead.

This is the premise—a best-selling author’s mother is about to be married to his old grade school coach who made his life hell growing up. The possibilities within this premise are endless but unfortunately, only a couple of them are added and even THEY aren’t very funny. Think of what the Coen Brothers could have done with this premise and you’d have a much better movie. But with “Mr. Woodcock” as it is, there’s hardly any hope for it at all.

We begin with an opening scene set in the time when the author was just a little fat kid in gym class. Mr. Woodcock pushes these poor kids to the limit—he tells an asthmatic kid, “Take a lap. Lose the asthma.” Then he makes the fat kid strip down to his underwear and attempt to do some pull-ups. What a guy. Cut to about twenty years later, when the fat kid (named John Farley) has definitely slimmed down and grown up to be a best-selling author about “letting go of your past.” He’s played by Seann William Scott, a good comic actor who probably hates being known only for playing Stifler in the “American Pie” movies.

John returns to his childhood home to visit his mother (Susan Sarandon). And boy does she have news for him! She’s engaged to be married to…Mr. Woodcock! Oh no!

This news turns John’s world of fame upside-down and the whole movie is either about him and Mr. Woodcock trying to bond or him trying to break up his mom and Mr. Woodcock. Well, it’s both, but it’s nothing I would really expect from a premise like this. I wish the filmmakers took chances with this instead of giving us what is supposed to be hilarity. There’s one point in the movie where John’s friend (played by Ethan Suplee) visits John, along with his brother who has a swollen eye. The friend tells John he has the solution to the problem—he pops in a videotape and it shows the little brother in a backyard saying unconvincingly, “No, Mr. Woodcock,” and a chair thrown right in the kid’s face. Was that supposed to be funny? Physical abuse to smaller children? There are also plenty of crude, vulgar jokes which are also not funny because the characters know what they’re in for, whereas in “American Pie,” the characters didn’t know what they were in for.

And of course, there are all sorts of slapstick in which a character gets hurt while trying to score a laugh—only one of them worked and it’s in the film’s trailer. It’s the part where John and Woodcock race on treadmills and John slips and falls back into the wall. That was kind of funny.

Billy Bob Thornton does play this role well but then again, we’ve seen him play this guy many times before. He’s the guy who finds your weakness and uses it for nearly sadistic purposes. He’s insulting, hateful, crude, vulgar, violent, and worst of all, uncompromising. (“You must like getting spanked, Farley. I guess it runs in the family.” Ouch.) Seann William Scott, on the other hand, is an annoying whiner and there’s no way I could believe his character could write a best-selling book. Susan Sarandon as the mom is nice, but she’s dumb to fall for Woodcock’s tricks. And then there’s Amy Poehler who plays John’s agent and girlfriend, does the bitch part over-the-top to the point where I wanted her to go away.

“Mr. Woodcock” is a missed opportunity. I would love to give it zero stars, but I’m giving it one-and-a-half instead because of the premise, that one laugh, and Billy Bob Thornton. The rest is just trash.