The Movie Binge

May 2007

The Movie Binge II

Yep, we're coming back for another summer. The fall just didn't feel right. While we're gearing up behind the scenes, I thought I'd check in with the folks who are still checking our feed or popping by (hello!). Before we get going, I wanted to tickle your brain.

What did you like/dislike about last summer's Binge? Are reviews enough? Was the site easy to use? Should I shave my chest hair into a caricature of Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker? These are all questions that, when answered, could change the world site.

You can leave a comment or drop an email. Either way, thanks. Oh, and don't forget to get out this weekend and see the biggest blockbuster to come out this year, Jamie Kennedy's Kickin' It Old School. I heard it cost $500 million to make.

Let the Binge Begin!

Our first film (The Boss of it All) came out yesterday, which means the fun has officially begun. Unless you're reading this via our feed, you've noticed that all of this summer's films are up on the site. We'll updating data throughout the coming months, but we have a crapload of links there to make your movie-going a little more manageable.

More importantly, if you haven't visited the site yet, you're missing out on our most entertaining feature (no, not the reviews silly) — the rotating subheadlines for "The Movie Binge 2"!!! We've got about 10 rotating now, with another 20 or so I'll be adding tonight. If you have your own you'd like to add, leave them in the comments.

Finally, you'll notice we dropped the psuedonyms and added a whole bunch of new writers (sadly, we lost a couple). Be sure to check out the about page for more details, but our new writers are Kyria Abrahams, Dan Beirne, Erik Bryan, Lia Bulaong, Bryan Charles and Meghan Deans. Todd Serencha is kind of new too, as he came in during our ill-fated Fall 2006 stint. Together, we write six or seven million blogs, give or take.

And now I shall shut up and let the reviews roll in. You can expect the first one to arrive on Monday.

The Boss Of It All

Still from Boss of it All

Given his reputation for dour, misanthropic polemics, one does not reasonably expect light-hearted comedy from Lars von Trier. He seems to be aware of this — he appears in the opening scene of The Boss Of It All to assure the viewer that what they are about to see is "a comedy, and harmless." He is, of course, totally full of shit. Sure, the movie is funny and not anywhere near as heavy as anything else he's directed in the past ten years, but von Trier's office farce nevertheless betrays his rather grim and cynical outlook on humanity.

As the film begins, an office manager hires a pretentious stage actor to play the part of his company's CEO when an Icelandic mogul intent on buying the company insists upon his presence when signing off the required paperwork. However, "the boss of it all" has always been entirely fictional — the manager is in fact the owner of the business, and he created the character as a convenient scapegoat in an attempt to indefinitely avoid conflict with his employees. Hijinks ensue: The manager has neglected to properly inform the actor of his numerous conflicting lies, and so he's forced to improvise in ways that only end up humiliating him and alienating the workers. The actor is vain and delusional, and his obsession with a mad Italian playwright fuels his eagerness to remain believable in his part no matter how much he does to inadvertently demolish his own credibility.

Even though von Trier swears that he has never seen an episode of The Office, the film can't but resemble Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's sitcom franchise on a superficial level. Likewise, the dilemma of his lead elaborates on an undeveloped yet key theme at the core of Gervais' David Brent character: Management as a perverse form of performance. Both projects arrive at more or less the same point — authority figures are not meant to please or entertain their subordinates, but cowards in executive positions will do most anything to play a part in order to retain their power and save themselves the trouble of actually doing their own dirty work.

The avoidance of conflict is common to office politics around the world, but von Trier is primarily concerned with how that milieu highlights the meek character of his Danish countrymen. The only Danish character who ever snaps out of a default passivity is a mustachioed ex-farm boy named Gorm, who erupts into brief, hilarious fits of violence twice in the film before abruptly reverting to a state of inert submission. This is contrasted with the fiery, openly antagonistic antics of the Icelandic businessman, who refuses to let go of his grudge against the Danish for their rule of his people for 400 years, and berates the leads with profanities when he learns of their malfeasance.

Like all of von Trier's projects, The Boss Of It All is the product of a formal experiment. This time around, he shot the film using a program that essentially acted as a computerized cinematographer. The results are choppy and odd, and often quite unattractive. Images suddenly disappear from the frame or haphazardly cut away from the action, lending the film a somewhat jarring appearance that mostly seems like an experiment that has little to do with the actual content of the piece.

Group Review: The Pirates of the
Caribbean: At World's End

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Ed: Your prayers have been answered! For the second year in a row, we're gonna kick off the first week of the Binge with a group review. Not everyone is taking a crack, but you'll take what we're offering and you'll like it. No, you'll love it. Or else. Enjoy!

What say ye, Erik?

My father used to tell me that you can make God laugh by making a plan. This movie would have Him clutching His ineffable belly as He rolled cackling for breath in the aisles. The characters make more strident and complicated plans than your health insurance provider every chance they get. I gave up trying to follow the plot of the film somewhere in the middle when it finally struck me that not only is it completely irrelevant, but the plot changes every ten minutes. If you don't like the plot you're watching, just sit tight because it'll be completely redirected, most likely in the service of fulfilling whatever pirate-related cliché they haven't already completely run into the ground by this third installment, which is few.

Which is not to say that the film isn't enjoyable. Its merit lies in every opportunity it takes to cut through the irksome seriousness of its continually convoluted plotlines with a well-placed reaction smirk, usually supplied by the monkey. The monkey, named after Depp's still-entertaining leading captain, is by far the best part of the movie. The monkey handler deserves a lot of credit for his or her work. If only Knightley and Bloom's handlers could have put in as much. Their tepid romance continues to be the least credible aspect in a slew of remarkably incredible events. Whenever they attempt a longing look into each other's eyes, the audience suffers for having all the fun sucked out of the theater. Their impromptu marriage amidst the spectacular final battle was the most extravagant and unnecessary of all of Pirates' extravagant and unnecessary set pieces.

The best scene was a glimpse into Captain Sparrow's afterlife in Davy Jones's Locker. If Depp is the most consistently entertaining part of the movie, then why not multiply his effectiveness by introducing, like, 30 more of him? As captain to a whole crew of Sparrows stuck on a landlocked ship, bickering, ordering, and killing each other at whim, the film's senseless absurdity, for a few enigmatic moments, actually reaches a kind of inspired lunacy. It's also one of the few sequences in the film where the increasingly cloying supporting cast doesn't get in the way of Depp's hilarity. Once Sparrow departs from this death-defying madness, however, the reality of the film returns to it's tedious plot-driven inanity with only brief flashes of wit and much needed self-mockery.

Oh yeah, and Keith Richards is in it. They obviously didn't know what to do with him, which is why for half of the three minutes of screen time he gets, he's stuck idly strumming a guitar. Come on.

What say ye, Dan?

I know a lot about pirates. I know they wear bandannas. I know they're comfortable with having dreadlocks. I know they love the water. But I saw the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie this weekend, and learned some things I didn't know:

1. Pirates will always double-cross you. Even if they've done it literally ten times before. They don't get tired of it.
2. Pirates are way smarter than they seem. I know they sound drunk when they talk about Davy Jones' Locker, and Calypso the weather witch, and the edge-of-the-world waterfall, but they're right about all of that stuff. None of it's wrong.
3. Pirates, though completely removed from regular society, and constantly facing their death head-on, are very good at controlling their sexual urges. They're damn noble, in fact.

Being more of an expert on ships, I only learned one thing about ships:

1. There are ropes everywhere, non-essential ropes, that are strung so tight, if snapped, they will launch you 50 feet into the air. That happened like 8 times in the movie, so I'm guessing it's pretty common.

I also got confused at one point in the evening (and I do mean my entire evening, and most of my scheduled sleep-time); I thought it was last summer and I was watching X-men. I've prepared a picto-chart to show you what I mean: Will is just like Cyclops 'cause they're both boring and yet they're like the leader for some reason, Sparrow is like Wolverine 'cause they're both named after vicious animals and they're the one everyone wants to watch, Calypso is like Storm because they both control the weather (and racial reasons), and that one hairy pirate is like Beast because they look the same (their facial reasons).

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What say ye, Matt?

You will not be surprised to learn that the newest Pirates installment included swashbuckling, swords, rum, wooden prostheses and a touch of habberdashery (there was more, but budget cuts will leave us forever wondering). If you are at all familiar with Jerry Bruckheimer, you will also not be surprised to learn that there is a shoddily tacked-on romantic subplot that 98% of the audience couldn't give two shits about. In fact, if you ignored any conversations that involved both Will Turner (Bloom) and Elizabeth Swan (Knightley), this was a damn enjoyable film. Unfortunately, the At World's Mend edit hasn't shown up on the internet yet, so we're left wondering why Bruckheimer, and to be fair, every other blockbuster director, insists on inserting worthless love stories into action movies.

Let's look back briefly at Bruckheimer's history. Recently we have Nicholas Cage gettin' his mack on with Diane Kruger in National Treasure and Angelina Jolie in Gone in 60 Seconds. Traveling back further we have Lawrence and Smith loving all the ladies while they blow shit up in Bad Boys and Eddie Murphy finding time for some loving in Beverly Hills Cop. I think the only time it worked, and I really shouldn't admit this, is in Armageddon. It's safe to say this is the quintessential Jerry movie since he somehow made a tryst between Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler appealing. That takes talent, people.

As for At World's End, Brucky is just getting lazy. There was a slight whiff of romance between the lovebirds, but most of the time they were trying to kill themselves to save their fathers, not sneak away for some pirate nookie. About two hours into the film, during the ultimate battle sequence, someone at the editing bay woke up and decided it would be a good time for a wedding. Er, what? It was ridiculous at best and soul-crushing at worst. Thank God for both Jacks (the monkey and pirate) as they balanced out this nonsense. If they do indeed make a fourth Pirates I propose they ditch every other character and name it, Pirates of the Caribbean: A Monkey, a Drunkard and a Lifetime in Davy Jones' Closet of Hallucinations. You'll thank me.

What say ye, Meg?

If the first Pirates was like that day your nastiest co-worker brought in cupcakes, and the second was like that day your boss told you that this .04% raise was completely out of his control but hey there's always bonus season right, then the third is like the day a band of jungle faeries from just beneath the Earth's crust just up and bashed your office window in for the sake of spiriting you away to a new career riding jockey for the finest ostrich-polo team yet assembled in the galaxy. I'd go so far as to say that Misters Verbinski, Elliott, and Rossio (our director and our writers) are nutbat crazy, except for how it's become clear that all along they've just been staging an elaborate live-action Merrie Melody. (Don't tell Disney about that part.)

The francise's best asset is not just Mr. Depp's ability to set up camp, live in camp, strike camp, and then set up a newly ironic camp a few beats later. The films now have a full set of morally ambiguous protagonists, all of whom can apparently do whatever they want for whatever reason they want and not explain it so long as they have a chill CG effect nearby. The result is a script that loves absurdism more than characterization and an experience not unlike the original Pirates of the Caribbean ride. There's a slow ride in a creaky boat, a couple of scary drops in the dark, some questionable portrayals of women, and a really, really creepy song. Plus that dog with the keys. He gets me every time.

Review: Angel-A

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When it comes to selecting a movie to watch, I have a complicated rubrick of criteria. It's a mix of the cast, the crew, the setting, the subject matter, sentimentality and buzz. I'm sure there are point values assigned in the deep, deep depths of my brain, but I couldn't retrieve them with all the peyote in the world. As an example, the equation for the new Pirates goes something like this: Johnny Depp (awesome) + Keira Knightley (hot) + Geoffrey Rush (duh) + tons of pirates (also duh) + a cute monkey (whee!) + positive memories of the first two = definitely won't miss it. The equation for Angel-A went: Jamel Debbouze (Amélie!) + Luc Besson (Two nuanced films, The Fifth Element and The Professional!) + some hot girl + French cinema - crappy buzz = I'm in, but my guard is up Luc. After all this internal math, the hope is that I've laid down $11 for a movie I'll enjoy seeing, but it doesn't always turn out that way. Before I start opining, let me tell you about the plot.

André is the sort of lowlife who prefers lies to the truth and can't get his act together any more than he can find time for a weekly shower. His ambitions are selfish and trite, but he has a sweet demeanor and that counts for something, right? After borrowing a metric ton of Euros from seedy characters, he's prepared to jump off a bridge when a beautiful, leggy vixen swoops down and distracts him from his suicide attempt. She has zero inhibitions and a seemingly weak moral fiber, but she's willing to do anything to help André get back on track. Her name is Angel-A and, sadly, her name is indicative of the plot's complexity.

From the moment Angel-A appears with her bleach blonde hair and nearly translucent complexion, you inevitably wonder if — or hope that, in my case — her role as an angel is purely metaphorical. For at least half the movie I was left wondering, which was obviously Besson's intention. While it was amusing to think that a woman with legs that go up to her pupik and a willingness to sleep with or punch anyone for cash would be an angel, this film was about an infantile adult learning to survive and was not an over-the-top Kevin Smith comedy (see: Salma Hayek as a muse in Dogma). So when it was revealed that Angel-A was indeed an angel, I began to question my rubrick of criteria.

Angel-A is a redemption film and it shouldn't matter who is helping the protagonist find his way, but it turned out that wasn't even her true intention. Once André began trusting her, we learned Angel-A had problems of her own. After some time, it was clear she just wanted to be loved. Her desire allowed André to ignore all of his newfound mantras of self-reliance and succumb to his infatuation. In other words, both characters failed to fulfill their central roles, but they had love and that should provide satisfaction enough. It was a lazy copout and a total disappointment.

While Angel-A had some of the nuance of Mathilda in The Professional, Besson ended the movie with a catch-all solution. I think my rubrick would have been more accurate if I had visited his IMDb page before the screening and seen that almost all of his work since The Fifth Element has been mindless action. Then I could have allocated a potential minus towards his ability to provide satisfying closure for a complex character.

Review: Bug

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There was a time, or so the old-timey CD-ROMs tell me, that film was all but kept alive on the sweats of the brows of the New York literaria. Before God invented screenwriters, He chose to poach playwrights and lure them into His service, buying up their plays wholesale and filming without so much as a tweak to the scene constructions. 'Twas a time when any decent seat-filler of a play could get itself a movie deal — a time that sounds so damn pretty, well, it's a true shame that we don't talk so much anymore. Nowadays, Broadway steals from Hollywood, no longer the vice versa, and the well-regarded plays that do get cineplexy tend to be stinkers (Closer was an Olivier Award-winner; Proof a Pulitzer winner).

So here stands Bug, a movie whose former life was as a successful Off-Broadway play that ran many many months at New York's Barrow Street Theater. Playwright Tracy Letts was permitted to stay on and write the screenplay; he brought with him Michael Shannon, who starred in the Barrow Street run. Why, they've even pulled a couple of oddball casting coups: Harry Connick, Jr., who himself has molded a new career as a Broadway heartthrob after a lengthy run in a Pajama Game revival; Broadway favorite Brian F. O'Byrne in a godforsaken role; and Ashley Judd, who's really good at looking desperate and sad and pretty and like she should be in another movie all at once. At the director stick is William Friedkin, who I'm told directed The Exorcist. That would be really cool, except he also lent his visionary abilities to Jade.

Anyway: Michael Shannon plays a gentleman who doesn't talk much until he goes a little nuts, and he goes a little nuts after hanging out with Ashley Judd for awhile. Ashley Judd has her own issues, mostly that she can't look at empty shopping carts without taking a dramatic pause (something about her missing son, I don't know) and also she's either married or not married to an abusive, sweaty-muscular Harry Connick, Jr., which right there is enough problems for any woman. Oh also she might be a bit of a lesbian, or at least she kisses another lesbian on the mouth a couple of times, and she's also really good at getting abused! So good at it! Over and over and over!

Then there are the bugs, which either do or do not exist, and in fact the bulk of the drama of the playmovie is apparently built on this question. Do we believe this hotel room is infested with blood-feeding aphids somehow spawned out of the unholy union between QuietCrazyEx-ArmyGuy and the comely Ms. Judd OR do we believe that this movie would be a hell of a lot more interesting if there was even the slightest chance that he's not just crazy? Because that's it, you know? He's crazy at the beginning, and he's crazy in the middle, and (SPOILER SPACE) he's crazy at the end, so not once do we even get to rig up a few wires and pulleys to get to that belief-suspicion thing.

All told, it's not even really a horror story, and the whole damn thing almost never switches locations and still rotates firmly around a seam-showing act break. I have little doubt that the play plays better as a play, in a small and dark space where your sound designer can rig up the creepy-crawlies right on your audience's shoulder. At times, you can still hear pockets of lines playing the satisfying cadences they must have played onstage, these friendly little islands of wit and entertainment. You've just got to feel for (longtime Steppenwolf company member!) Letts, whose teeth were clearly cut on the rigors of theatrical pacing, and whose work is now absolutely dead & discredited by virtue of the film's sloppily-composed staging, repetitive insert shots of a rattling air conditioner, and overuse of aluminum foil as set dressing.

Better luck next time, theater.

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