2012

Vampira and Me (2012, Ray Greene)

For its protracted 106 minute runtime, Vampira and Me is a combination of tragic, frustrating, annoying, and enthralling. The problem with the whole project is writer, producer, editor, director, and narrator Greene. Well, okay, the problem with any project about Vampira (Maila Nurmi) is the lack of extant footage of her television show, “The Vampira Show,” which ran in the mid-fifties. Nurmi was an immediate hit—the first glamour ghoul—but broadcasts were live and no recordings were made. Watching Me, there’s just enough remaining footage to show Nurmi as an excellent early television comedian, who kept up and outpaced her costars, and it’s an exceptional bummer the footage just isn’t here.

Much of Vampira and Me is an at least hour-long interview Nurmi recorded with Greene when he was working on another project. Greene, as narrator, says Me is going to be all about how Nurmi isn’t “just” Vampira, so the Vampira in the title is a little weird… ditto the Me, actually, because Greene barely has any anecdotes about his friendship with Nurmi. Except one where he emphases her emotional problems. It’s a weird choice. But Vampira and Me is full of weird choices, like Greene using a bunch of unrelated but contemporary footage because none exists of Nurmi. So you’re watching some commercial from the fifties and supposed to pretend it’s Nurmi or something. Plus he then goes on to add sound effects to actual recordings of Nurmi monologuing. And there are sound effects all the time.

It’s annoying. Like I said, frustrating, tragic, enthralling, annoying.

Nurmi herself—based on the filmed interview material—is a natural raconteur. She knew Orson Welles back in the day and you can imagine they’d have done great banter if given the opportunity. She was also good friends with James Dean during his meteoric rise, which gets a lot of coverage in the film but very little insight. Nurmi was into New Age woo and Greene’s not a good enough interviewer to get through that murky pool to actual insight. The biggest bummer of the film itself is the interview, which a better filmmaker could’ve incorporated into a far better project. The lack of other interviewees is a big problem.

But then there’s Greene’s narrative construction. He jumps ahead to the sixties at one point, then pulls back to the fifties. The timeline wouldn’t be muddled if Greene just did a better job presenting it. He also doesn’t get anything out of the jump ahead and fall back. It also contributes greatly to the slog of the second half.

Then there’s Greene “killing off” his subject; at the beginning of the film, he implies this rare, exclusive interview is going to be the emphasis and everything else will serve to annotate it. Nope. Greene doesn’t cover a lot of Nurmi’s rougher days—she spent almost fifty years in abject poverty, screwed out of continuing popularity because of a dispute with the TV station (they wanted to syndicate with other Vampiras in local markets, she apparently wanted to be Vmapira in all of them—not clear because Greene didn’t think to ask, apparently). He’s got some line about how she went on to a somewhat happy ending at the end and then doesn’t show it or talk about it… she just dies and it’s funeral footage, which is weird.

Also weird is the clips of a dancing fifties girl who looks a lot like Carolyn Jones, who played Morticia Addams on “The Addams Family” TV show. Nurmi got her idea for the Vampira costume from the Addams Family cartoon strip. She was trying to get noticed by producers to do an Addams Family adaptation, not “The Vampira Show.” And given the Elvira vs. Vampira stuff, which barely gets covered—and Greene at one point makes it sound like Cassandra Peterson (Elvira) was a reluctant nemesis… you’d think he’d clarify. Nope.

But then it turns out Greene’s not a very honest documentarian.

He implies Nurmi’s “Vampira” show was up against “I Love Lucy” in the 1955 Emmy’s when Nurmi was actually nominated for a local Emmy. What makes that deception so galling is the James Dean friendship, which was in contention for years because of a Hedda Hopper book and Nurmi had to fight to be believed. Documentation backs Nurmi up, but it took decades.

Greene’s got a great chance to look at fifties Hollywood and the ephemera of television–the first viral sensations—and he has a handful of good observations, they just don’t go anywhere. And they’re really early in the film.

It’s a testament to Nurmi as a storyteller and personality she’s able to surmount this wanting “homage” just in the single camera interview and a few surviving clips.

1/4

CREDITS

Written, directed, produced, and edited by Ray Greene; directors of photography, Larry Herbst, Sean Peacock, and Greene.


Lockout (2012, Steve Saint Leger and James Mather), the unrated version

The funny thing about Luc Besson getting sued over lockout and losing—to John Carpenter, who sued based on the film’s similarities to Escape from New York and Escape from L.A.—is, yes, the film rips off Carpenter’s Snake Plissken duet, but it also rips off Die Hard and Die Hard 2 while seemingly reusing dialogue from Besson’s own Fifth Element. Every time action hero Guy Pearce drops a one-liner, you can tell they wish it could’ve been Bruce Willis, which just would’ve been creepier given the age difference with damsel in distress Maggie Grace. Pearce and Grace have a sixteen year age difference and zero chemistry and Pearce’s teasing never really comes across as flirting. Often because Grace responds with some flat rant about Pearce being sexist, even though you can tell he doesn’t mean it any more than he means anything else in his one dimensional performance. So she comes off like she’s exaggerating, which serves to de-power her. It’d be a lot more gross if Grace weren’t terrible. Since she’s terrible, it’s hard to take any of her performance seriously. She’s not bad at the terrified bit, but directors Saint Leger and Mather don’t utilize it, which is probably better anyway given she’s mostly just terrified of Joseph Gilgun’s rape threats.

Lockout is nothing if not efficient in its cheapness.

Grace is the president’s daughter, on a fact-finding mission to an orbital prison where all the inmates are cryogenically frozen. Lockout is a future movie, set almost a hundred years in the future but things mostly look the same because then the CGI animators can just reuse existing models. Lockout looks like an exceedingly competent sci-fi TV show, one where they cut corners by speeding through establishing shots instead of emphasizing the visuals. It’s not even until the end the significant cheapness catches up, when there’s a shot of a city skyline and it’s a static image more appropriate for computer wallpaper than trying to suspend disbelief.

But the technical competence works against—oh, right, they also rip off the Death Star run from Star Wars—the technical competence works against the film because then it never quite gets to be campy. And Pearce isn’t trying anything with his performance so he’s never amusing. Grace doesn’t even seem to be aware trying is a possibility, though maybe it’s not given the character. Again, she’s at least good at being terrified. Pearce isn’t good at anything. He doesn’t even fall right. Lockout has got some terrible stunt work and fight choreography. Saint Leger and Mather are real bad at their jobs. So bad. Watching them work makes you sympathetic not for Grace or Pearce, but the other actors who their managers represent because clearly they’re in need of better representation. No one should have done Lockout. Definitely not Peter Stormare, who’s the government heavy out to railroad Pearce. Lennie James is actually good as the fed who knows Pearce and defends him but he shouldn’t have done the movie. If you can be good in Lockout, you can be better in something else.

Further examples being Vincent Regan and Gilgun as the prisoners who take over when the opportunity presents itself. Gilgun’s good… enough you might want to see him in something else. Regan’s better in Lockout but less encouraging of other projects. He’s resigned to the role. He’s got more life in him than any of the good guys, but he’s still pretty resigned.

Peter Hudson’s not great as the President. Not sure how they didn’t think to get a name cameo for that part. Stormare, who’s terrible, would have at least given the casting some personality instead of generic Hudson.

I should probably just cut my loses and take it as a win the film didn’t continue identifying each location every third shot, which is always an establishing shot of a different location. Lockout’s very silly and very inept.

And plagiarism. It’s plagiarism. Lockout is pointlessly plagiarized from better source material.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Steve Saint Leger and James Mather; screenplay by Mather, Saint Leger, and Luc Besson, based on a story by Besson; director of photography, Mather; edited by Camille Delamarre and Eamonn Power; music by Alexandre Azaria; production designer, Romek Delmata; costume designer, Olivier Bériot; produced by Marc Libert and Leila Smith; released by FilmDistrict.

Starring Starring Guy Pearce (Snow), Maggie Grace (Emilie), Lennie James (Shaw), Peter Stormare (Langral), Vincent Regan (Alex), Joseph Gilgun (Hydell), Jacky Ido (Hock), Tim Plester (Mace), and Peter Hudson (The President).


Irreversible (2012, David Levinson)

Irreversible is blissfully unaware of itself. It’s the story of dude-bro Timothy Paul Driscoll breaking up with girlfriend Alice Hunter, then the story of their relationship in reverse. Get it, irreversible? Reversible? Get it?

How writer and director Levinson lifts the title and narrative device from another movie and not give it a nod is beyond me. Again, blissfully unaware of itself.

The short skips through various important events in the relationship, like the time after they had a pregnancy scare so Driscoll yells at Hunter to bring him more beer. Driscoll’s bro, Ryan Lagod, goes to help her, which eventually turns into them texting each other because they’re, you know, friends, which leads to Driscoll apparently having a call girl over right before Hunter gets there. The narrative gimmick isn’t particularly clear right off so it probably makes more sense on a second viewing.

Though a second viewing, even of the eight minute short, sounds like an irreversibly bad decision. Driscoll’s performance is real bad. It’s unclear if it’s Driscoll, Levinson’s direction, or Levinson’s script. Hunter’s fine, though she stumbles through some of the pat dialogue, and Lagod’s likable. Driscoll’s affectless and apathetic to everyone around him. There’s a particularly rough scene where he tries to charm Hunter with his game and he comes off like a bad guy in an early 1990s sexual harassment video. Again, the short’s blissfully unaware of itself.

There’s also this confusing scene where Driscoll’s snooping Hunter’s smartphone and she doesn’t have a passcode? I mean, it’s from 2012, sure, but it’s not from 1996 or something.

So with Driscoll it’s hard to say if it’s his fault or Levinson’s. Because Levinson’s got no idea how to execute his ideas, good or bad. Based on all available information, Driscoll’s obviously a shit stain of a human being yet the short demonizes Hunter?

Decent photography from David J. Markus. Collin Pittier’s editing can’t make the narrative structure make sense but who cares. It’s eight minutes you’re not getting back, not Time’s Arrow.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by David Levinson; director of photography, David J. Markus; edited by Collin Pittier; production designer, Jonathan David; produced by Levinson and Jon Rosen.

Starring Timothy Paul Driscoll (Ray), Alice Hunter (Cassie), and Ryan Lagod (Sam).


Frances Ha (2012, Noam Baumbach)

Frances Ha relies on exposition but depends on summary. Or it depends on exposition but relies on summary. One or the other. Director and co-writer Baumbach and star and co-writer Greta Gerwig move Frances in the summary. Even when the film slows down for a longer scene, the style and tone don’t really change, so it feels continuous. Time passes–the film takes place over a year or so–but is never particularly defined. Because Gerwig’s Frances doesn’t seem to particularly define time either.

The film’s a fractured character study. Baumbach and Gerwig’s script plays with the narrative distance a lot; they established Gerwig’s character as a somewhat unreliable narrator at the start–using comedic social awkwardness to call into question the degree of the unreliability–but as the film progresses, they further explore that unreliability. The film examines Gerwig, while–for the most part–she’s also the protagonist.

Though it’s not a traditional character study by any means. There’s a decided lack of melodrama, partially because Gerwig and her costars live in a carefree New York City, partially because Frances (film and character) willfully create that carefree New York City. There’s a varying narrative distance to the film’s four locations (New York, Sacramento, Paris, Vassar College) as well, as Gerwig experiences them. As the film moves along, more and more people come into it. Even if they’re background; New York, at the beginning, is entirely focused on Gerwig’s experience of it. In crowded rooms, for instance, the focus is all on Gerwig and the objects of her immediate attention. The film doesn’t show Gerwig around other people. Because she’s living in her head.

The film does have a structure, however. It has chapters with titles. Not the locations but Gerwig’s changing address. The first one doesn’t make much impression, but eventually they become a guide to the film. The narrative distance might be changing, time to adjust your attention. As a director, Baumbach is very intentional. He and cinematographer Sam Levy–shooting in black-and-white–keep a lot out of focus. They let shadows be too dark. They guide the viewer’s eyes, they cause them frustration. But that attention to detail might be surpassed by Jennifer Lame’s transcendent editing. Even when the film is at its most cloying–which isn’t bad, it’s just cute banter comedy, which is cloying for Frances–Lame is able to maintain that summary momentum. Not just the cuts in the actual montage sequences, but the cuts in expository scenes. Lame cuts for actors’ performances, whether they’re in the middle of a monologue or silent in a long shot. It’s a beautifully made film, as well as being utterly gorgeous to watch.

Gerwig’s performance is outstanding. And entirely overshadows the rest of the cast. The inciting action of the film is Gerwig’s best friend and roommate, Mickey Sumner, moving in with someone else. It sets things in motion, the things Gerwig’s aware of and navigating, the things she’s not.

Sumner’s okay. She gets a lot better in the third act, but she’s always okay. Adam Driver and Michael Zegen are Gerwig’s next set of roommates. Driver’s showy, but Zegen’s got a heart of gold. The performances are spot on. No one else really has much to do. Charlotte d’Amboise is the leader of Gerwig’s dance troupe, so she’s got scenes, but they’re all expository. Grace Gummer is another roommate and she’s around for a bit, but she doesn’t get anything significant.

And it’s fine. Because it’s Gerwig’s show. Both as actor and writer, she’s pacing out character development in an almost entirely passive character–in an almost entirely passive film. And she does it. And the filmmaking is there to meet her. Some aspects of Gerwig’s performance work apart from the filmmaking, just as some aspects of the filmmaking work apart from the script. Frances Ha perplexes, but in the best ways.

Truly awesome soundtrack too.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Noah Baumbach; written by Baumbach and Greta Gerwig; director of photography, Sam Levy; edited by Jennifer Lame; production designer, Sam Lisenco; produced by Baumbach, Scott Rudin, and Lila Yacoub; released by IFC Films.

Starring Greta Gerwig (Frances), Mickey Sumner (Sophie), Michael Zegen (Benji), Adam Driver (Lev), Grace Gummer (Rachel), Patrick Heusinger (Patch), and Charlotte d’Amboise (Colleen).


The Amazing Spider-Man (2012, Marc Webb)

The Amazing Spider-Man is melodramatic trifle, but not in any sort of bad way. I mean, it doesn’t succeed but it does try a lot. Director Webb really goes for a high school romance, with such saccharine effectiveness it probably ought to be an ominous foreshadowing for leads Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone’s burgeoning romance. Except, although Webb’s going for the melodrama and there’s a sappy, though heroic, and familiar in many parts James Horner score, John Schwartzman’s photography is super flat. It’s unclear if Webb’s messing it up or Schwartzman or some combination; I lean more towards Webb, if only because Schwartzman knows how to light J. Michael Riva’s early seventies style sets and Webb doesn’t know how to shoot them.

If The Amazing Spider-Man were a period piece set in the late sixties, with a lot more for Denis Leary to do in the first half of the film, it could’ve been something. Instead, it’s this weird mushing together of various ideas, from Spider-Man comics, from popular movies, from unpopular movies, probably something from a TV show. Webb and screenwriters James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves throw just about everything in. The heart shows. The film’s enthusiastically sappy.

And it usually works, because the good performances weather occasional weak scenes and subplots and manage to sell the sap. Martin Sheen can sell the sap, so can Denis Leary. It’d help if Rhys Ifans’s could sell it too, but he’s pretty terrible as the de facto villain. The writing on the villain stuff is terrible throughout, but Ifans still isn’t any good in the part. Sheen, Leary, and Ifans make up Garfield’s surrogate father trinity in the film, which should be important but isn’t.

Instead of continuing anything the first act threatens with daddy issues, as soon as the delayed second act is underway, the film quickly veers into mostly unrelated territory. The familiar Spider-Man origin has frequent, small tweaks. Usually so director Webb can avoid the action, but not the Spider-Man in New York stuff. Webb likes that stuff.

But the fighting? Webb’s fumbles it. Even when the special effects are good–which is never with Ifans’s CGI alter ego–Webb doesn’t know what he’s doing. Someone–either Webb, the screenwriters, or just the plain old studio–sets up action scenes ripe for video game realization. The action in the third act is almost like the target demographic is Spider-Man gamers. With the gaudy Horner music and Schwartzman’s flat, “realistic” photography, the sequences even amuse. The Amazing Spider-Man goes all out when it’s got an idea, good or bad.

It goes for it for over two hours. It goes for it to the point the narrative has two or three major shifts where previous subplots just get dropped. At some point, the film decides it just wants to set up Garfield as a pretty cool Spider-Man. And then everything builds towards it, sometimes with stupid stuff like C. Thomas Howell inexplicably having an extended cameo, like Tobey Maguire or Nicholas Hammond wouldn’t have been far better.

Great Stan Lee cameo though, during the one time the effects all come together and Webb goes along with it and it all works out. It’s a big high school fight sequence between Garfield’s CGI stand-in and Ifans’s CGI stand-in. It’s just fun, but with some danger. Amazing Spider-Man’s balance of danger to fun is one of its strengths.

The greatest strength, however, is Garfield. He’s socially obtuse and pensive, sympathetic without being lovable, occasionally justified in his insensitivity. And instead of losing his place once he and Stone get involved, Garfield just gets better. The fun flirting just informs later serious concern and chastely suggestive sequences. Especially one where Stone and Leary have this awkward family moment and it’s almost good enough, but Webb fumbles it. Stone and Leary try hard enough they get it to pass… but it should be better.

Like Stone. Stone’s underutilized. More Stone would make it better. But the script’s too busy. There are too many characters crowding Garfield. Stone’s just another one of them; after setting her up for her own character development time and again, the film just keeps cutting her off. It’s got no idea what weight to give to what character. Garfield’s just haphazardly visiting people who should have good subplots, but then they never do.

Despite it having nothing to do with anything, it’s got a pretty good ending. As far as melodramatic trifle goes. With the exception of Ifans and a little Leary, Webb’s good with actors. He relies on Garfield and Stone heavily throughout the film and the epilogue’s got some acknowledgement (even if not enough for Stone).

The Amazing Spider-Man has some heart to it, which helps it immeasurably.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Marc Webb; screenplay by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves, based on a story by Vanderbilt and the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; director of photography, John Schwartzman; edited by Alan Edward Bell, Michael McCusker, and Pietro Scalia; music by James Horner; production designer, J. Michael Riva; produced by Avi Arad, Matt Tolmach, and Laura Ziskin; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Andrew Garfield (Peter Parker), Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy), Sally Field (Aunt May), Rhys Ifans (Dr. Curt Connors), Denis Leary (Captain Stacy), Martin Sheen (Uncle Ben), Irrfan Khan (Rajit Ratha), Chris Zylka (Flash Thompson), and C. Thomas Howell (Jack’s Father).


Jesus Christ Superstar – Live Arena Tour (2012, Laurence Connor and Nick Morris)

Besides having an unwieldy title, Jesus Christ Superstar – Live Arena Tour does have quite a few things to recommend it. Within reason. It’s still just a video taping of a live performance–albeit an occasionally rather decent one, albeit with the ability to do complicated shots. Lots of crane moves and zooms. Unfortunately, taping director Morris isn’t very good. Melanie C gets some particularly bad shots during her solos and it’s clear she knows she’s being filmed, but apparently not from where.

Don’t tell me a Spice Girl doesn’t know how to make a music video.

And Laurence Connor, the director of this staging of the musical, integrates live video footage of the performance already. It’s on a big screen–it’s the Arena version after all–and occasionally you’ll see the timing on the big screen footage is better on the cuts to Morris’s version. There are five credited film editors–including Morris–so I’ll just make it easy by blaming Morris for all of that stuff. Especially all the religious imagery at the end, which is actually counter to how an audience member would be seeing the performance.

Got to make it a little more churchy for Morris, apparently.

As for the performance itself, there are ups and downs. Tim Minchin is good. There are occasional weaker moments, but he’s good. And he gives a great performance. He’s the only principal who acts. Mel C and Ben Forster (as Jesus)… well, I was going to say they perform but not exactly. Mel C performs. Forster just sort of mugs. He’s not good. Mel C is all right, but Forster is just bad. At performing and singing. And acting.

For the first act, I couldn’t stop cringing when he’d sing and then Morris would ineptly capture it.

The supporting cast has some real standouts. Alexander Hanson is awesome. Gerard Bentall is awesome. Pete Gallagher is pretty good, Chris Moyles is okay but Morris really flubs the Herod number. He also starts cutting to cheaper DV for some weak shots in the last quarter or so. Michael Pickering’s duet with Mel C is nice. He doesn’t stand out in anything else (at least, not in a good way), but their duet is nice.

I’m not exactly sure what a good taped performance of Jesus Christ Superstar: The Arena Tour would look like, but it’s not this one. Morris is either lifeless or incompetent. He’s annoyingly obvious. Though, then again, it’s not like Forster’s his fault. Apparently Forster is the fault of the great British public, who cast him through a reality show.

Connor’s production, Minchin, some of the supporting cast, they get it to the finish. The second act, even with Morris’s taping worse, is a significant uptick from the first.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Laurence Connor and Nick Morris; written by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice; lighting director, Steve Nolan; edited by Morris, Brett Sullivan, David Tregoning, and Guy Morley; produced by Dione Orrom and Sullivan; released by Universal Studios Home Entertainment.

Starring Tim Minchin (Judas), Ben Forster (Jesus Christ), Melanie C (Mary Magdalane), Alexander Hanson (Pontius Pilate), Pete Gallagher (Caiaphas), Gerard Bentall (Annas), Michael Pickering (Peter), and Chris Moyles (King Herod).


The Dark Knight Rises (2012, Christopher Nolan)

Much of The Dark Knight Rises is rushed. The film runs over two and a half hours and director Nolan can’t find anything he wants to spend much time on. He’s got a lot of characters to occupy that run time; they occasionally intersect, but rarely long enough to make an impression. Nolan seems to think the Wally Pfister photography can sell any scene, whether it’s one of the most boring chase sequences in a big budget film (but it’s at twilight and Pfister makes it look great) or if it’s ostensible lead Christian Bale and his romantic interest, Marion Cotillard, letting the rainy afternoon bring out their passions. Passions can be in the script, but there’s no chemistry between Bale and Cotillard. Though, again, rainy afternoon passion? Pfister can shoot it. Competent photography doesn’t make something any good, unfortunately.

And there’s not much good about Rises. Some of the acting is fine, some of the acting is bad, some of it is good. But the script’s so lame, Bale never has anything to do. It sets him up as physically incapable of being Batman (set some eight years after the previous entry). Bale looks awful too. So what does he do? He becomes Batman again. There’s no logic to it, just like there’s no logic to all the corporate machinations going on with an extremely lame Ben Mendelsohn as another businessman trying to take Bale’s company. Rises seems like it had an outline, but no connective tissue between events. Anne Hathaway’s “Catwoman” is shoehorned into the film. She’s pointless. Hathaway gives a technically good performance, Nolan just doesn’t have anything to do with her. She’s scenery and the occasional plot foil.

Then there’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who pops in as Gary Oldman’s sidekick. Real quick–Oldman’s awful in the beginning of the film and better in the second half, though he’s no William Shatner when he needs to be–Nolan always casts the wrong kind of ham. Michael Caine’s real bad. His writing is bad here, but he’s also real bad.

Anyway, back to Gordon-Levitt. He’s fine–he and Bale are great together too, but they only get two significant scenes together. It’s dumb. The mistakes the film makes with its characters are dumb. The whole thing seeks to reimagine the previous entries in the Bale and Nolan Bat franchise to fit this one’s needs. But being out of ideas is no excuse, ditto Nolan’s utter boredom with the filmmaking. Rises is like a bad James Bond knock-off, complete with a Bond villain in Tom Hardy’s philosopher brute.

Rises is also a New York action movie, only one where Nolan wants to pretend it’s about “Gotham City” while winking about how it’s really “New York City.” There’s even the obligatory insensitive 9/11 reference–Nolan really goes for the Americana here. Usually to roll his eyes at it. At its core, Rises is supposed to be about heroism. It doesn’t fail at it because Nolan’s a cynic, necessarily, it fails because it has a really bad, stupid script. With awful reveals. And a lot of poorly edited montages set to bad music.

Technically, other than Pfister, Rises is a joke. Hans Zimmer’s score is terrible, Lee Smith’s editing is ugly. It’s not just a poorly edited film, it’s ugly. It’s not all Smith’s fault either, he’s got no coverage from Nolan and Nolan’s got no rhythm.

As for Hardy, like most other things in Rises, he’s lame. It’s not entirely his fault, but maybe some of it is his fault. Did he do his Count Dracula-impression voice? Then that one is his fault. His face being so covered he has no visual affect? Nolan’s fault.

Nolan hopes his cast will earn enough interest to keep the film going–the way he cuts between Bale, Gordon-Levitt, Hathaway, Hardy, Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Cotillard–there’s a definite attempt to engender concern for the cast. Not concern with Hardy so much, but everyone else. Hardy’s supposed to be the toughest mother on the planet and Nolan’s action direction is so bad–not to mention his direction of Hardy as an actor–Hardy comes off less threatening than a villain on the Adam West TV show. Nolan purposely removes Rises and its characters from reality and from danger. There’s nothing to get invested in.

So instead of the movie making it because of Bale or anyone else, it makes it because you feel sorry for them. I didn’t know I was capable of feeling sorry for Bale, but I clearly am, because Bale showed up for work–probably was going to yell at some caterer or whatever–and Nolan didn’t.

The Dark Knight Rises is a bunch of underwritten, short scenes strung together–usually stuck haphazardly together with crap montages. Even more than Nolan’s direction, the problem is the script. It’s atrocious and it’s too bad. It isn’t just Bale who showed up willing to work, it’s just about everyone except for Michael Caine.

It sinks. And it stinks.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Christopher Nolan; screenplay by Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan, based on a story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer; director of photography, Wally Pfister; edited by Lee Smith; music by Hans Zimmer; production designers, Nathan Crowley and Kevin Kavanaugh; produced by Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas and Charles Roven; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Anne Hathaway (Selina Kyle), Tom Hardy (Bane), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (John Blake), Michael Caine (Alfred), Gary Oldman (Commissioner Gordon), Marion Cotillard (Miranda Tate), Matthew Modine (Foley), Ben Mendelsohn (Daggett) and Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox).


The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012, Peter Jackson), the extended edition

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is really long. Director Jackson’s greatest achievement with the film has to be making that length work. He runs out of ideas for action sequences (worst is when he repeats one just a couple set pieces later), he doesn’t give his actors anything to do (he’s more concerned with showcasing the makeup jobs on most of them); in fact, he barely has any enthusiasm for anything in journey.

He starts to wake up when Hugo Weaving arrives, but Weaving isn’t particularly good. Cate Blanchett and Christopher Lee show up just after Weaving, which is good, as they’re both great (and they lessen the load on Ian McKellen, who’s otherwise got to maintain the film himself). Not enough can be said for McKellen, who isn’t just excellent in an underwritten role (they’re all underwritten), but he’s also the only regular cast member who Jackson trusts. While Martin Freeman’s supposed to be the protagonist, Jackson doesn’t trust him. He gets around to it by the end of the film (after a number of aimless, if decently paced, adventures for Freeman) for Freeman’s scene with Andy Serkis. Or Serkis’s CG stand-in, which isn’t just the best performance of a digital character (by far), it’s the best rendering of a digital character. The film cuts between Serkis’s painstakingly rendered character and the rest of the party’s adventures in a video game. The CG isn’t ever so much cheap as boring.

Okay, the monster cats look cheap.

The party refers to thirteen dwarves. None of them make much impression, except the leader, played by Richard Armitage. His part’s poorly written and the script gives him a lot of bad dialogue and strange behavior–the best being in the film’s inert climax, accompanied by some real bad music by Howard Shore–but Armitage makes it work. He at least brings consequence to his performance. None of the other twelve dwarves bring anything–like I said, Jackson and photographer Andrew Lesnie are far more concerned with showcasing their makeup.

When he does get something to do, Freeman is likable, never exactly good. Jackson and his fellow screenwriters skip over character development, fully utilizing Hobbit’s position as an afterthought prequel to Lord of the Rings to get them out of first act responsibilities. Sadly, the exposition–and Journey has nothing but expository dialogue (except maybe between Blanchett and McKellen)–litters the rest of the film.

It could be a lot worse, though it should be a lot better (Jackson could’ve just done all CG for the amount of use he has for his human stars). And it is impressive how he manages to be boring overall but not from scene to scene.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Jackson; written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Jackson and Guillermo Del Toro, based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien; director of photography, Andrew Lesnie; edited by Jabez Olssen; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Dan Hennah; produced by Carolynne Cunningham, Zane Weiner, Walsh and Jackson; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Martin Freeman (Bilbo), Richard Armitage (Thorin), Ken Stott (Balin), Graham McTavish (Dwalin), William Kircher (Bifur), James Nesbitt (Bofur), Stephen Hunter (Bombur), Dean O’Gorman (Fili), Aidan Turner (Kili), John Callen (Oin), Peter Hambleton (Gloin), Jed Brophy (Nori), Mark Hadlow (Dori), Adam Brown (Ori), Ian Holm (Old Bilbo), Elijah Wood (Frodo), Hugo Weaving (Elrond), Cate Blanchett (Galadriel), Christopher Lee (Saruman) and Andy Serkis (Gollum).


The Watch (2012, Akiva Schaffer)

The Watch deals in caricature and stereotype. Ben Stiller’s the anal-retentive, Vince Vaughn (can anyone even remember when he tried acting) is the aging bro, Jonah Hill’s the kid in his early twenties who lives with his mom (and hordes guns, which dates the film) and Richard Ayoade’s the deadpan, socially awkward British guy. If anything, hopefully The Watch at least got one person to see Ayoade’s good work.

Oh, and Rosemarie DeWitt’s the sturdy, but doesn’t have enough to do wife (to Stiller). Actually, more than anyone else in the cast, Will Forte has the most to do as the dumb local cop. He at least gets to emote. Vaughn should get to emote because he has a whole (lame) subplot with daughter Erin Moriarty (who, like DeWitt, Forte and Ayoade, acts instead of apes), but it’s Vaughn and he doesn’t. Obnoxious charm is supposed to carry him, just like awkward charm is supposed to carry Hill and persnickety charm is supposed to carry Stiller.

Watching The Watch, I couldn’t help but think of it as ephemera. None of the jokes are smart enough on their own– Jared Stern’s script, with a credited revision from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, has no aspirations. Not even to be appreciated multiple times. The Watch is designed to amuse once and never too much. Thanks to Akiva Shaffer’s mediocre direction, comes off like an unambitious episode of “Home Improvement.” One with a lot of product placement.

But, thanks to the cast, it’s amusing enough. They’re good at their schticks and the movie does move rather well. It’s a little too forced with its attempts at edgy humor, but the whole thing is too forced. Shaffer’s doing an alien invasion movie without, apparently, any knowledge of any alien invasion film ever made.

Really bland photography from Barry Peterson doesn’t help anything and Christophe Beck’s music (which starts all right) doesn’t either.

In trying too hard to be dumb, The Watch occasionally succeeds. Though the pointlessness of Billy Crudup’s (uncredited) supporting role sort of sums up the entire misdirection of the film.

Everyone should watch “The IT Crowd” instead.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Akiva Schaffer; written by Jared Stern, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg; director of photography, Barry Peterson; edited by Dean Zimmerman; music by Christophe Beck; production designer, Doug J. Meerdink; produced by Shawn Levy; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Ben Stiller (Evan), Vince Vaughn (Bob), Jonah Hill (Franklin), Richard Ayoade (Jamarcus), Rosemarie DeWitt (Abby), Erin Moriarty (Chelsea), Will Forte (Sgt. Bressman), R. Lee Ermey (Manfred) and Billy Crudup (Paul).


The Cold Light of Day (2012, Mabrouk El Mechri)

The Cold Light of Day is not just any lame action thriller set in Europe with an American leading man (okay, Henry Cavill isn’t American, but he’s playing an American). It is a distinguished lame action thriller. Not only does it contain one of the worst car chases ever put on film (or digital video), it also features what has to be Sigourney Weaver’s worst performance. And if it’s not actually her worst, it’s her most inept. For whatever reason, she tries to chew the scenery. She fails, miserably. Painfully.

It’s not like director El Mechri is any good at directing actors either; lead Henry Cavill and his sidekick, played by Verónica Echegui, aren’t good either. But Weaver is excruciatingly bad. She gets worse as the film progresses too, which–combined with the terrible pace, lousy direction and bad script–just makes the film more and more unbearable.

By the second half, with most of the reveals out of the way–El Mechri saves a misguided cameo for the finish–Cavill and Echegui get a little better. They’ve hit bottom, but they’ve survived the film.

In addition to the bad script (from Scott Wiper and John Petro) and El Mechri’s bad direction, there’s also bad photography from Remi Adefarasin, bad editing from Valerio Bonelli and bad music from Lucas Vidal. Not even Bruce Willis and Caroline Goodall (miscast as Cavill’s parents) escape with any dignity.

The best thing about Cold is its six minute end credits. The “action” stops sooner.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Mabrouk El Mechri; written by Scott Wiper and John Petro; director of photography, Remi Adefarasin; edited by Valerio Bonelli; music by Lucas Vidal; production designer, Benjamín Fernández; produced by Marc D. Evans and Trevor Macy; released by Summit Entertainment.

Starring Henry Cavill (Will), Verónica Echegui (Lucia), Bruce Willis (Martin), Caroline Goodall (Laurie), Rafi Gavron (Josh), Emma Hamilton (Dara), Joseph Mawle (Gorman), Michael Budd (Esmael), Roschdy Zem (Zahir) and Sigourney Weaver (Jean Carrack).


Scroll to Top