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Sushi Girl (2012)
I had hope
I have been following this project since I saw the panel at Comikaze long before the film was coming out (they have since gone back to Comikaze). I remember watching the trailer with a high degree of hope and optimism.
Truly, I thought, this could be something special. A good cast, interesting idea, and seemed to have some talent attached to it.
Ultimately the result has been a disappointment. I give credit for the attempt, but there are several problems with this film from the beginning.
First and foremost, the music. It's an odd place to start, but stick with me: the music is formulaic, tinny, and lacks the timing to know when to fill the space with notes and when to let the ambient sound give us time to breathe. I don't know whether to blame the filmmaker or the composer, but I know the composer is responsible for the lackluster scoring. There was no vibrancy and life to the music, so it seemed to siphon the energy from the film too.
The cast was fine, although uneven. Specifically, Mark Hamill plays a very odd character that never quite seems the fit into this gaggle of characters.
The pacing is definitely a problem too. After about 30 minutes in we paused to note how long had passed with almost nothing happening. The character introductions dragged and weren't very engaging. The writing is primarily responsible, as the dialogue lacks the same vibrancy that the music does. It feels cheap, in the same way a movie of the week is cheap. And this is not an issue of budget, as I've seen other films do much more with much less. When you don't have the budget to support you, you need to have the script be sharp as a bladed diamond or the audience will drift.
The whole film seems like echoes of Pulp Fiction, as realized through a narrow, uninteresting lens. I realize that on a small project like this the filmmaker likely reads these reviews, so I want to say something specifically to him: I remember you from the panel, and how enthusiastic and excited you were. I could feel the same excitement and energy from the whole cast (except for Hamill, who exudes this persona of a disinterested deity, which suits him). I'm glad you were so invigorated and excited, but this is not the best you could have done.
The script should have been more polished with more engaging dialogue and situations. The editing was at times to frenetic, giving talking scenes an unnecessarily jumpy quality more reserved for action sequences. And the music was really poorly done, and there's no nicer way to say that.
I feel like there are better things for you on the horizon, but I'd be lying if I said this was a great start. You have better projects ahead of you, but you need better material to work with, and better people to help with the creative process, from writing to production. I do believe you have some really interesting work ahead, so don't let negative reviews discourage you. Take them under advisement, ignore the ones that are petty and useless, and become a better filmmaker.
I want to see what you can do next, so show me something.
Battle Los Angeles (2011)
If Independence Day were Shakespeare...
I have a whole new level of respect for Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin. Sure, Independence Day might not have been great cinema, but at least it was FUN cinema. The build-up to the invasion, the famous shadows of the ships, and the diverse and amusing (if occasionally goofy) characters added to its popcorn-movie charm.
Battle: Los Angeles has none of these things. It makes ID4 look like Hamlet.
Where to begin with such a frantic mess? How about the characters, of which there are...I'm not sure actually. They're all so disposable that they blended together after awhile into a uniform military mass of gray. They are so thinly realized that a slight breeze could blow them away like torn tissue paper. Even Aaron Eckhart, who was one of the highlights of Dark Knight, is slumming here. His character, if you could even call it that, becomes more ridiculous over time, leading up to an absurd speech near the finale that had the audience in stitches with how poor the dialogue was.
And just how much product placement was in this movie? I counted at least a dozen, if not more, products or services put throughout. I was beginning to think the only reason they picked LA was because of how easy it would be to give screen time to the products sticking awkwardly out of every crevice of the film. And O'Doul's? Really? What was everyone thinking? If this is the output of writer Christopher Bertolini, then he is a hack. No wonder his last produced feature screenplay was in 1999 -- BECAUSE HE'S TERRIBLE.
But director Jonathan Liebesman deserves a huge amount of credit for descending this all into Hades. Never has the use of shaky-cam been so annoyingly overused. I was beginning to think the entire camera crew was cursed with Parkinson's. It didn't make me motion sick, but the talentlessness did make me nauseous.
The aliens were the least realized I've ever seen in a film. They act as distantly-viewed antagonists, blowing the living crap out of everything in a search for...well, I won't spoil it, but suffice to say that it's as terrible a revelation as in Signs, and makes just as much sense. At least Signs was good for about 3/4 of its length, where as this was miserable from the first frame.
After an interminable period of time, I just began to actively think every 15 minutes or so, "Surely it can't go on for much longer." And then IT DID. By the end I was about ready to burn down the theater, just to leave a smoldering crevice behind as a marker of how awful it truly was.
So why two stars and not one? A one-star film is one that should never have been made that actively insults the audience. But a two-star...that second star is a reminder. It's a reminder that throwing a lot of money and a few stars at something makes it neither workable nor good.
I urge -- no, I BEG -- do not see this movie. Tell your friends not to see this movie. Tell everyone that you ever cared about that this is a soul-sucking experience, a waste of two hours that you will never get back, and could be better utilized by sleeping or staring directly into the sun.
The Screening (2007)
...and lives to tell about it
This is the closest to an on-screen abortion that I've ever seen. Cameron Romero has apparently inherited his father's recent decline, without the ascent to give him a reputation.
The characters are all forgettable, the plot is simplistic and has been done better many times before (for example, in Cigarette Burns, part of Showtime's Masters of Horror). Basically, the films of a man named Borgia have been shown to cause riots, and an old copy has finally been found to screen. As it begins to show to a packed theater, madness and murder ensue.
I saw the film awhile ago, but just decided to post about it now, so I can't quite recall the characters - mostly because they are trite and forgettable - and I'm also a horror aficionado, and this wasn't even a blip on the radar. Even bad horror movies have some redeeming qualities, but this was just unbelievably awful in every respect. Troll 2 was a "good" bad movie, while this was just a BAD bad movie.
The deaths - arguably what you would be paying to see - are miserable and lackluster. The only one with the slightest bit of innovation occurs in a bathroom, and even then it borrows from other, better films.
More important than the deaths is that you don't care if anyone dies. They are all expendable, and not even in a fun teenage-slasher way, but in a boring kind of way.
Finally, Romero's direction is lackluster at the best of times. The way the camera swings around and bobs and weaves nearly gave me a stroke, not to mention the awful color filters he uses throughout, making it appear like we're viewing the film through a rotating child's lamp.
Wonder why this thing has been around since 2006, but no one has picked it up for distribution? Because it is so blisteringly bland, so maddeningly vapid, and so unbelievably stupid that even the marketing behind the name "Romero" could not sell this piece of trash to anyone.
Avoid at all costs.
Grizzly Park (2008)
Not worth the DVDs it was burned on
Grizzly Park is about a group of miscreant youths that are forced on a hiking trip through the eponymous park as part of their sentence (or something, I didn't really care).
The film is both written and directed by newcomer Tom Skull. Few good writers also make good directors, and unfortunately he is neither. The visual look of the film is passable, but the artistry of the shots and footage is bland and uninteresting.
And the writing is often uneven and boring, not to mention filled with dumb lines like this: "If a tree falls in the forest, do you hear the tree? I mean, how do you know it's been more than ten minutes, can you tell time by the sun or something?" A potentially important plot line of an escaped rapist/killer makes a cursory appearance and two homicides, only to be ended before it affects the main storyline in any real way. While his dispatchment might make sense if the ultimate direction of the movie wasn't clear from the beginning, here it just seems sloppy.
Add to that fact that all the characters are completely unlikeable, save for the ditsy Bebe (Emily Foxler) and Ranger Bob (Glenn Morshower, slumming here). This is a combination of the bad writing and mostly poor acting, but especially the writing. For instance, a buff, white-power twentysomething seems almost polite for the majority of the film, even towards Ty, the requisite black character.
Finally, this film commits the cardinal sin of horror movies: it was boring. At a scant 91 minutes (including credits), it should move pretty briskly, but the opening drags on, treating us to not one, not two, but three introductions to the characters, including a totally unnecessary cut to their mugshots. By the time the action gets going in earnest, some hour and seventeen minutes in, I just don't care anymore.
Nick Nunziata, founder and now-infrequent contributer to CHUD.com (which I refuse to read now since Devin Faraci took over and ruined the site), co-produced this film, and I must say that I'm disappointed in him. After running one of the most successful movie websites, it should be clear to him what works and doesn't work in a movie, but he seemed to strap rose-colored glasses on for this. Perhaps his next outing will be more productive.
Bottom line: Don't see this film.
Black Sheep (2006)
How did it go wrong?
This film would seem to have everything going for it: competent direction, excellent score, effects by the masters at WETA, and carnivorous sheep. So what happened? The acting, while occasionally good, is often terrible. I understand the importance of an all-indie cast, but couldn't they have found good actors? But perhaps they aren't as bad as it seems, what with the terrible script. It appears that writer/director Jonathan King (who should stick to the directing and leave the words on the page to someone else) was trying to make a film like those of early career Peter Jackson (think Bad Taste and Braindead): horrifically gory but shockingly funny; and he failed on both counts. While there were a few moments where I laughed, most of it was forced and often just terrible writing ("The Feng Shui in this room is terrible!"). Sometimes the jokes would have worked if the timing of the actors and the editing was better, but that, apparently, was too much to ask. He should have jumped right into it, making everything gory and shocking and funny at the same time (for instance, there could have been a freaky if hilarious scene where Angus could have mated with the pure white sheep, instead of the one-off "animal husbandry" line). I was really hoping this would be good, but it wasn't. A disappointment.
Interesting but too long
While this f*cking documentary (har har) is interesting and informative, even at 90 minutes it runs a little long for my tastes. I gradually found myself getting bored by the subject matter. This could have been a thorough examination of our culture of censorship over time, but instead only touched on those subjects in a superficial way. Most of the film was spent in a lighthearted and comical fashion, which suits the way they tackled the subject.
The best parts of the film are the interview subjects, which are entertaining for several reasons. Often, when they are actors or comedians, they are always "on" and funny for the most part. Some, like Pat Boone, are unintentionally hilarious, along with the likes of Michael Medved, both of whom seem to advocate limiting the eponymous word in some way.
Recommended for a once over, but only for amusement. I don't think I'll be revisiting this anytime soon.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Here, as I see it, is the problem with the film: Flaws. Not a spectacular amount, but enough.
For starters, there is no initial tension between Ennis and Jack. It almost seems like they just decided, due to an accidental embrace in the night, to have sex. There was almost no sexual tension between them from the start, and their bond seems forced throughout the rest of the movie. I never felt like there was real passion there.
The biggest failing of the film, however, is its length. This would be a great 100-minute film...unfortunately, it's 134 minutes. Some of the characters seem two-dimensional and some of the plot threads dangle like parts of a badly-woven sheet. For instance, the man who invites Jack up to the cabin for "fishing" appears just a little too convenient.
Undoubtedly, the best part is centered just before the end, when the friction building between Jack and Ennis comes to a head, and concludes with Jack's death. Ang Lee, however, doesn't let it end shortly after that. He drags it on, much like the rest of the film, until any sense of emotional connection with the characters drops off and the viewer is left with a disconnected feeling of confusement. Confused, as in "Why did I spend over two hours on something this banal?" Perhaps with a little more time in the editing room, a better build-up to the relationship, and less time prattling, this could have been a really quality film.
Unfortunately, the politics surrounding it force this film to be spectacular, rather than merely bad love story. So be it, hindsight, such as it is, is 20/20.