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Reviews of the week (and weeks past)

First, the long one:

Waiting … begins with a drunken party and ends at almost exactly the same place. The script ignores the standard “three-act” formula, with little structure and virtually no character arcs. Many of the dilemmas that are established never pay off, and there is no clear protagonist or antagonist. To make matters even murkier, the movie is poorly shot in visually uninteresting locations with constant soft focus.
That said, it’s also damn funny. Clearly inspired by Clerks and Office Space, it’s worthy to stand alongside them as a new classic of the “sucky job” subgenre.”

Full review HERE

click “More” below for a whole bunch of quick takes, recent and not-so-recent…

With the success of The Fighting Temptations and the godawful Diary of a Mad Black Woman, it seems that the African-American gospel movie is becoming quite the viable cinematic subgenre. This latest entry deals with a “prodigal son” of sorts, a raunchy R&B star named David Taylor (Boris Kodjoe) who fled the church following his mother’s death, furious at his preacher father (Clifton Powell) for focusing more on ministry than family. But now dad’s dying, and his likely successor is David’s now-egomaniacal childhood friend (Idris Elba). Can David rediscover his Christianity in time to redeem himself and everyone around him? Well, what do you think — the movie isn’t called The R&B. Liberally interspersed are new numbers from contemporary Gospel musician Kirk Franklin, and unless you’re a big fan of his, you may find these interludes too frequent. The acting’s pretty decent, so if this kind of thing floats your boat, you’re far better off seeing it than supporting any of Tyler Perry’s nonsense.

A would-be modern-day fairy tale that looks like a soap opera, Matia Karrell’s movie is pleasant but not much more. Set on a Caribbean island ruled by a benevolent but clueless Commandante (A. Martinez), it’s the story of his spoiled rich daughter (Charlotte Ayanna) and her eye-opening experiences when she meets a guy (Kuno Becker) from the poor side of the island. That the “poor” side looks no worse off than the “rich,” or that the various inhabitants of this small island never seem to encounter one another, is a big part of the problem here. The women are beautiful and the men handsome; if this were a porno, it’d be worth checking out, but as romantic comedy, it offers nothing novel, except a blind gypsy woman with a pet goat who occasionally propels the story forward with a magic spell when logic won’t suffice. Martinez is amusing, but that’s about it.

The title says it all. Mobster Carmine Pasquale (Mark DeCarlo) gets caught following a botched heist, and agrees to testify against his boss. Into the witness protection program he goes…and ends up in small-town Utah where he and his family are known as “the Cheesemans.” Mildly, inoffensively wacky hijinks ensue. Writer-director John E. Moyers is known in the LDS community for scripting The Singles Ward (an LDS acquaintance calls that movie “Airplane! for Mormons”), and undoubtedly his fans will enjoy the gentle humor here, provided they aren’t offended by mild epithets like “crap” and “P.O.’ed.” As the pious neighbor who welcomes the newcomers, Scott Christopher — who seems to appear in every LDS movie ever made — is saddled with some unfortunate physical shtick, but gets a good chemistry going with DeCarlo. Those outside the Mormon fold may be mystified by some of the running jokes — just what is the big deal about scrapbooks to these people?

Sadly, this movie has nothing to do with either the ‘80s metal band or the symbiotically clad Spider-Man foe; instead, it’s an ill-timed slasher set during the rainy season in a Louisiana bayou. When a well-meaning but badly scarred trucker (Rick Cramer) tries to rescue a voodoo woman from a car accident, he inadvertently ends up opening her magic briefcase filled with evil CGI snakes containing the sins of various dead people. Naturally, they bite him and he becomes a zombiefied mass of walking evil, stalking and killing the local teens with a crowbar. Notable among those who oppose him are the voodoo woman’s granddaughter Cece (Meagan Good) and local burger waitress Eden (Agnes Bruckner). Supposedly based on a video game called Backwater that has yet to be released, Venom boasts some nifty atmospheric cinematography by Steve Mason (BASEketball), but for an R-rated movie it really skimps on the gore. The final showdown between sole survivor and killer is sufficiently well-done that you wonder why the rest of the film didn’t measure up.

Director Jeff Wadlow, nephew of Katie Couric, made this movie for a million dollars, yet it’s almost indistinguishable from dozens of other Hollywood horror movies that cost over ten times as much, which is some kind of achievement. But Robert Rodriguez he ain’t. In a private prep academy, teenagers (portrayed by actors in their twenties) conspire to create a fictional serial killer to see how many people they can fool with their lie. Only problem is that the killer becomes real…or does he? This was a better movie back when it was called Gossip…Oh, wait, no, that sucked too. An orange ski mask just isn’t that frightening, sorry. And putting glasses on Jon Bon Jovi does not make him look like a journalism professor. Wadlow should easily have saved the money on the gratuitous helicopter shot and hired a decent writer; as is, this is one of those movies that requires the villain to be able to predict every single move of the hero, even if said hero is a newcomer completely unknown to the killer.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon inspires an intense devotion in many sci-fi geeks, most of whom have undoubtedly seen this feature-length sequel to his cancelled Firefly TV series twice already. But what about the rest of us? I never watched an episode of Firefly, and prefer the campy Buffy movie — that Whedon more-or-less disowns — to the TV show.

The good news is that you don’t need to know anything about Firefly to enjoy Serenity, so long as you pay attention. Set 500 years in the future, following a space conflict reminiscent of the American Civil War, it’s the story of ex-rebel “brownshirt” Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) [edit: Sorry, "browncoat." Thanks Brian.] and his crew of mercenaries, who have unwittingly taken two fugitives from a government weapons lab aboard their ship. As you might expect, one of them (Summer Glau) is a beautiful free-spirited girl who kicks major ass whenever a subconscious trigger is activated. She’s also psychic and has absorbed some dangerous classified information; as a result, a nasty government agent (Chiwetel Ejiofor) with a samurai sword is hot on the crew’s tail.

Whedon’s dialogue is a love it or hate it proposition, and I hate a lot of it. He’s created his own future slang that’s mostly voiced by Mal and annoyingly actressy engineer Kaylee (Jewel Staite). Clockwork Orange it isn’t — a functional line like “pass the salt” would probably be rewritten by Whedon as something like “I’m hankering for some seasoning on my sustenance — might you morph it over my side?” The simplest characters are the best: Glau’s crazy/beautiful waif, Adam Baldwin’s gun-loving tough guy, and of course Ejiofor, who blows them all offscreen.

Still and all, it’s nice to see a sci-fi movie with an intricate plot. Whedon should chill the hell out on the verbiage, but his direction isn’t bad at all.

What you see is exactly what you get in this hourlong documentary about Russia’s famous opera/ballet house. Richard Thomas narrates, walking us through a ballet production of Sleeping Beauty (is there anyone that doesn’t know that story?) and a new-age staging of the popular Soviet opera Boris Godunov. There’s also a very brief crash course in modern Russian history that even the casual moviegoer likely already knows — basically, there were Tsars, who were overthrown by the communists, and then communism eventually fell. Fans of Russian ballet may be enthralled, but might as well wait until the movie inevitably ends up on PBS.

When an eccentric American director (Peter Coyote, suitably weird) who also happens to be a religious Jew, comes to Paris to make an all-Yiddish movie version of The Merchant of Venice, a group of French actors suddenly rediscover their religious heritage in an attempt to obtain the coveted role of Shylock. Maurice (Stéphane Freiss) seems to have it in the bag, until a big-name actor suddenly becomes available. But Maurice’s wife Perla (Bérénice Bejo) is very ill, and he fears that the bad news will hasten her death, so he pretends that the role is still his, and enlists the help of all his friends to maintain the elaborate charade. Director Steve Suissa balances the comedy and the tragedy of the material effectively — it’s hard to get laughs from a story in which the hero’s beautiful and devoted wife is dying, or for something as politically sensitive as Jewish identity. Yet the film ultimately feels like a crowd-pleaser; certainly more so than the similarly themed Good Bye, Lenin!

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8 comments to Reviews of the week (and weeks past)

  • Huh. I haven’t even heard of a lot of those… s’what I keep you around fer, Luke.

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  • ED209

    I enjoy Joss Whedon’s verbiage — which was one of the primary reasons why I first tuned into the WB show, “Buffy” and stayed with it until its end (as well as “Angel,” of course). You could hear a bit of it in the campy film that preceded the TV show.

    I only saw the first three episodes of “Firefly” when it was on FOX — and even though his writing was still intact — it was difficult for me to get into it. I don’t think there will ever be a better sci-fi space show since “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” in my opinion.

    But, the trailer of “Serenity” makes me laugh because of his verbiage. Besides, Whedon’s not as complex as Kevin Williamson’s as he writes adult conversations into Joey’s and Dawson’s mouths. That was so distracting…again, in my opinion…

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  • See? I told you Ryan Reynolds was funny.

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  • Julie, just putting my two cents in on Ryan Reynolds, again… Thank you. haha

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  • Ryan Reyonlds rocks, and Luis Guzman rocks harder, and Anna Faris ain’t no slouch, but their three powers combined won’t get me near Waiting.

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  • sean (connery)

    there’s already a better space show than ds9, the new battlestar galactica, conveniently written by ds9 writer ron moore.

    this is of course open to some debate, as luke doesn’t like it much at all, whereas i LOVE it.

    as for whedon’s verbiage, in the case of mal and kaylee, their style of talking flys back to firefly’s goal of being a space western. to an extent, complaining about that would be like complaining about the flowery prose in shakespeare.

    although shakespeare at least had the advantage of living in his time, while whedon’s old-west speak is an affectation.

    anyways, i love the way mal talks and the way whedon writes, and if both of us can enjoy this movie despite differing viewpoints on that, then it’s a winner.

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  • LYT

    “although shakespeare at least had the advantage of living in his time”

    That’s exactly why it ISN’T like complaining about Shakespeare’s verbiage.

    But for what it’s worth, I’m not a big Shakespeare fan — I do think the verbiage gets in the way of the story.

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  • Eric

    You DID get that a lot of that “slang” that was peppered into the mouths of the people in Firefly/Serenity was in Chinese, right? People would talk mostly in English but slip sometimes back and forth because the unstated assumption in the world Whedon created was that China was a major colonizer of Space back before “Earth That Was” had to be abandoned.

    He figured it wouldn’t make sense for 1/5 of the world’s population not to have a linguistic influence on the “Final Frontier.” (If you want to answer me send me an email because I probably won’t be back.)

    [LYT says: Yep. that's not what bothered me. It's stuff like "'twixt my nethers" that grated on my nerves]

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