Archive for November, 2009

Gerard Butler’s choice to play the Phantom like Gerard Butler was going out on a Friday night for some stalkage may have been … unwise.

Christine Daae is the orphaned daughter of  a Swedish violinist.   Before he died, he promised her he would send an ‘angel of music’ to watch over her.   Christine is taken in by Madame Giry and her daughter at the famous Opera house in France, where no one actually has a French accent except for Madame Giry.    Christine loves to sing but has been too grief stricken to sing properly; until, that is, she hears a voice behind a mirror helping her.

Now begins the parade of idiocy that runs through this movie.  Most of the general populace, however brain damaged, stupid or downright idiotic would hear a voice behind a mirror and do two things:  1) run or 2) grab something sharp and pointy.   No, Christine believes her angel of music has finally arrived.

Madame Giry knows the truth, since she’s totally BFF with the infamous Phantom of the Opera, who’s really a sideshow freak that she let live in the sewer bottom of the Opera.    Sadly, it does not have a charming view but Gerard Butler’s Phantom seems well stocked on candles.   He seems to have nigh on two million; perhaps he is a candle collector?

The Phantom schemes to get Christine in and Carlotta, the diva who can’t really sing, out of the Opera’s shows.    The whole time he’s trying to seduce Christine, taking her on fun boat rides to his Sewer Palace and wooing her with his dark and mysterious pipe organ.   Uh … yeah.

The problem here is that while Gerard Butler may look hungover, in need of a shave and a shower and possibly not all there sometimes, he is not bad looking.   In fact, I’d wager that it’s hard to ugly up Gerard Butler (although The Ugly Truth did a good job of making him seem vile) and sticking a bit of molded plastic on his face doesn’t make him look like a monster who has to chat up a girl by kidnapping her to his Sewer Palace with his candle collection; it makes him look like a guy with a serious brain malfunction.   Oh yeah, and a creepy, perverted one at that.

Competing for Christine’s affections is Raoul, the Vicomte with a heart of gold and nothing upstairs.    If one were to crack open Raoul’s cranial cavity, it would probably contain bits of cardboard and dryer fluff, with  a few starving moths flying around.    He’s obnoxiously bent on Christine-directed chivalry.

Needless to say the Phantom doesn’t like this.   And he doesn’t like that the new Opera owners won’t pay him his extortion money.   … And he really doesn’t like that Carlotta lady.   Yeah, so some people die.

The main problem with Phantom is the cast.  Emmy Rossum is convincingly dim, but her eyes are so … dead.    Not to be mean, but everything I’ve seen her in she’s got the same look that salmon has at the fish counter.   And Gerard Butler can eke out the Phantom’s songs, he looks like he shops at L’Abercrombie & Fitch in his spare time.    He’s not menacing or scary or even remotely creepy; he’s just Gerard Butler, running around an opera and doing his best sexy-eyes at Christine.   The guy that plays Raoul is no better, and Minnie Driver as the divalicious Carlotta is just exhausting.

The real guilty pleasure in all this is the amount of detail lavished on the sets and costumes.   The Opera is stunning, the costumes magnificent and everything seems to be locked down to the minutiae.   Lloyd-Webber’s music is cool, if you view it through the lens of when it was popular on Broadway (the ’80’s) and very bombastic.

Overall, it’s not … good but it is a guilty pleasure, if only to laugh at the idiocy of the main characters and gaze upon some awesome sets and costumes.   … And to see Gerard Butler attempt to act as a conflicted, disfigured person with lots of emo rage.

I suggest you all run off and read Cleolinda’s Movies In Fifteen Minutes Recap of Phantom of the Opera, which is far more hilarious and much more in depth than I could write — you can find it HERE.


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Happy Thanksgiving!

I’m off to the wilds of east Texas for Thanksgiving but wanted to wish you and yours a very happy Thanksgiving.

And if you’re not American and you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, then have a very safe and happy Thursday.

(My New Plaid Pants has quite possibly the best Thanksgiving post ever.)



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(Absurdly Late) Halloween Movies: [REC]

I KNOW.   I know.   I’m so late.   I’m the White freakin’ Rabbit.

Angela Vidal is a Spanish reporter.   She and her cameraman Pablo work for a show called While You Sleep, which in addition to being the motto of the United Federation of Stalkers is a show that highlights the lives and times of people with night-time careers.   I’m sure the previous shows of While You Sleep are scintillating viewing.

Angela and Pablo are assigned to cover a firehouse.    They manage to muck around, interview some people and have some nice scenes of Angela freaking out about her hair, her makeup, her interview subjects.

When a call comes in, Angela and Pablo gladly hop a ride with the firefighters since the firehouse is so dreadfully dull everyone in there seems to be contemplating huffing some fire retardant just to have something to do.   They arrive on scene to find an elderly woman in her apartment.  They think she’s ill but really, she’s more in the realm of “totally fucking demented thanks to some zombifying virus”.    The elderly lady takes a chunk out of a policeman’s neck, attacks one of the firefighters and throws him over the balcony into the lobby below.

It’s not long before Spain’s version of the CDC shows up to lock shit down tighter than Fort Knox.    Inside, the residents and various first responders begin to panic.   Their only thoughts are of – what else – escape.    These thoughts only become more frenzied as the residents who have been attacked become violent and reanimate, even after they are dead.

In short terms, it’s Suck City, population two – Pablo and Angela.

[REC]‘s greatest strength is that it manages to take some very tired tropes and a sub-genre that’s becoming dangerously close to being played out and creates something fresh and exciting.    Quite a large portion of [REC]‘s scariness lies in jump scares and effective tricks, but they’re at least done well and not half-heartedly.

The bad part is that [REC] perhaps gives too much away.   Anytime I feel like a movie gives too much away, I think back to Vincenzo Natali’s brilliant Cube – a movie that has no real explanation for why the characters end up in the cube and is all the scarier for it.   While [REC] does something a little brave in giving the origins of the zombie virus a new history and spin, perhaps less is more.   Just the very thought of being trapped in an apartment building with your mutated, bloodthirsty neighbors is scary enough, surely.

The found footage aspect of [REC] is a little less obnoxious, mainly because a plot point is that Pablo’s a professional cameraman, so the footage looks cleaner and at times, less shakier than an amateur’s work would.    The incessant tricks – dropping the camera on the floor, Pablo and Angela rewinding the tape over and over – get old after a while.

The movie’s a lovely, solid effort though and good enough to make you wish we got more like it more often.    It feels fresh and thrilling, even with its faults, and it already has a sequel.    I don’t think anyone will begrudge it a sequel or two, given that if they get time to expand on the odd backstory, the franchise could go interesting places.

If you want to see it, Netflix has it and I’d recommend loading it into your queue and watching it with friends.   Perhaps not your neighbors, though.


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“This is not a democracy, it’s  a cheerocracy.”

Bring It On

Bring It On owes a lot to both Clueless and Joss Whedon.   It has that quality Clueless had of making vapid girls seem interesting and fun, plus the similar storyline of the pretty blonde falling for the smart brunette guy.   The dialogue is pretty much a mix of teen speak influenced by Joss Whedon – someone watched a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer before writing this.

Torrance Shipman is a cheerleader on a national championship squad.   When new girl Missy tries out for the team, Torrance discovers that her squad’s cheers have been stolen from an inner-city high school (she also discovers Missy’s cute, Clash-loving brother).    As the new captain of the squad, Torrance has to find a way to retain her squad’s prowess without compromising their integrity, all while dealing with a long-distance cheater of  a boyfriend and a squad of girls who would rather stab each other in the back and take the easy road than the right road.

The trick here is that Bring It On manages to poke fun at cheerleading in a way that highlights its weaknesses without being cruel and alternately celebrates it in a way.    It takes some trickery to do that without becoming mean or nasty.


The real pleasure in Bring It On is its infinite quotability, particularly in a scene with Sparky, a choreographer the squad hires to do a last minute routine.    Sparky admonishes the girls to do spirit fingers, as well as doing nothing but dealing in rudeness.     The mileage people still get out of spirit fingers jokes is amazing, considering Bring It On is nine years old.

Even more amazing was how successful it was, considering that Bring It On really always has struck me as the red-headed cheerleader stepchild of Clueless.   The movie’s spawned so many sequels that I’ve lost count of them; I think Hayden Panettierre was in one of them.     I guess people have some sort of sick fascination with bitchy, snarky cheerleaders?

Regardless, Bring It On is fun, mainly for the relationship between Torrance and Missy’s character.    The snappy and quick dialogue gives the characters more depth than at times they perhaps actually have.   Jesse Bradford’s character, Cliff – Torrance’s romantic interest – is oddly endearing.

Bring It On has entered that odd pantheon of teenage movies that we seem to watch over and over again and with some reason.   It’s an odd little high school comedy that stuck in our pop culture consciousness and has never left.     I always find it entertaining no matter how many times I watch it.

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I waited for a while on this one.

DownwithLoveDown With Love is like a bad date that goes horribly wrong three quarters of the way through.   A good time is had until a terrible faux pas is made, or someone gets food poisoning or your date turns out to be a recently released convict or something that totally derails the good time you’re having.

I desperately wanted to like Down With Love.   Ewan McGregor is a damn joy to watch in almost everything he does, and God bless us everyone that the good Lord saw fit to create McGregor in the first place.   Handsome he is, but save this movie he cannot.   Even Renee Zellweger, who normally relies on an obnoxious squint and something passing for sass to sail her way through movies, really tries here.   She’s very likeable and very sweet in a way I had never realized was possible for her.

It’s a shame that the actual story sinks the movie.

I get the guilty pleasure aspect of this one.  The supporting cast is equally as fun to watch as McGregor and Zellweger, David Hyde Pierce in particular.   The costumes and set design are brilliant and beautifully, tongue-in-cheek retro and it looks like everyone had a good time.

Zellweger’s Barbara Novak is an author who comes to Manhattan to promote her book, Down With Love.  It’s a book that advocates career promotion and happiness with self before falling in love with a man.  She and her editor concoct a scheme to promote her book by setting up an interview with Catcher Block, a playboy writer for a fashionable men’s magazine.   After Block repeatedly blows her off, Novak goes another route and becomes internationally famous, leading Catcher Block to have no dates and surrounded by women more interested in chocolate bars and their careers than him.   He swears vengeance on Novak by pretending to be someone else and romancing her in order to expose that Miss “Down With Love” is really all about love with some unintended consequences.

I’ve only seen bits and pieces of Pillow Talk, the movie that heavily influenced this one, but I’m fairly sure it was done with a little more finesse than this.  Certainly it had to rise above a late twist that’s absurd and unbelievable, breathlessly monologued by Renee Zellweger.    I can’t find much fault with Zellweger and McGregor at all, as they’re both effortlessly charming and the whole ’60’s sex comedy thing is sent up to great hilarious effect at times (although I have never confessed to be a connoisseur of ’60’s sex comedies, you know).    The whole thing feels weak, and it feels like a sham.

It feels like the investment you put into the movie is threefold what you get out of it and no amount of charm can squeeze Down With Love wholly into one’s heart, even if that’s where the movie desperately wants to go.   Instead, the faulty plot and contrivances, even if they’re send ups, send it straight to the discount DVD bin.

A disappointing waste of McGregor, Pierce and Zellweger is what this movie is.

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Pee Wee

I’ve never gotten Pee Wee Herman.   I understand the guilty pleasure of this movie, a movie wherein the titular character goes all over America searching for his beloved bike.   I understand that filtered through the nostalgia of childhood, Pee Wee’s cute and funny, but even when I was a kid, I didn’t watch Pee Wee’s Playhouse that often.

If you want to get all technical-like – and maybe some of you do – it’s not a bad movie.   Directed by Tim Burton early in his career and starring a multitude of zany characters, the only boring thing is the stretched-too-thin plot.   Pee Wee naively searching for his bike across the country and haphazardly interacting with ghosts, bikers and Hollywood execs gets surprisingly boring after a while.    I understand that it’s a kid’s movie but it does get tiring.   God, how I wanted this man to find his bike.

More than anything, Pee Wee Herman is a mystery, a man who appears to have suffered some sort of brain trauma that causes him to act like a little boy, something that feels disturbing.    He strikes me as the kind of guy that in real life, Mom would’ve warned you away from and Dad would’ve walked you past his house.   Even as a kid, something felt wrong about a grown man who played with toys and acted like someone had removed a big chunk of gray matter from his head.

That’s not to say I can’t understand how others might find it charming and fun; for God’s sakes, I watched a lot of weird-ass stuff growing up myself.   Something about Pee Wee sets my teeth on edge and  makes me a little freaked out.

Plus, he wears a bow tie.   No one trustworthy actually rocks a bow tie anymore.    Did this guy even have a job?   Or a life?   And how did he and Dottie seriously never get together?

Weird, I tell you.   Weird.

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Nick Cannon, please don’t take yourself so seriously.


Drumline isn’t actually half bad.   And speaking as a former band nerd, the marching bands are pretty spot on.

Nick Cannon plays Devon, a drummer who goes to an Atlanta college and joins the marching band.   He’s the worst kind of cocky as he’s so arrogant he can barely take criticism.   Devon chafes under the rules of a squad leader and the director of the band, Dr. Lee.    A moral crisis as well as a revelation regarding Devon’s musical knowledge (spoiler:  he can’t read music) lead Devon to grow up and become a better musician.

The thing about Drumline is that the marching bands are as much a character as Devon.   I grew up in football crazy Texas, where marching band is part and parcel of the Texan obsession with all things pigskin related.  (Halftime entertainment is taken very seriously.)   Drumline does convey a lot of the work and sheer grind of being in a marching band, as well as the strange customs and habits a lot of bands have.    Devon’s storyline can be downright exhausting, not to mention irritating.   His attitude problems wear thin after a while.

The bit players are often the most entertaining.    And Drumline features some interesting marching shows even if the plot, especially when it comes to the love story, is worn so thin holes are beginning to show.     It is still surprising that they made a successful movie out of marching band, given that I understand a lot of folks don’t really get the appeal of marching bands, but the director, writer and producers pulled it through.    The bands are fun and the band members aren’t geeks, something too often trotted through any movie since it’s such a simplistic, well-traveled joke.

That’s not to say Drumline doesn’t take itself too seriously at times, which makes it at points really laughable.  The story line between Nick Cannon’s character and his squad leader is alpha male macho bullshit in such a hilarious way, you have to wonder if they played it up for laughs.   It’s clear that Nick Cannon is ultra-serious about his role as Devon to the point of taking it too far at times, which makes his part feel less conflicted, overcompensating young man and more egotistical jerk, like that one person everyone knows who’s so into themselves everyone around them is aware of how silly they really are.

Overall, Drumline‘s not a bad movie but not a great one either; I would suspect it’s the kind of movie that’s fun to watch with friends and giggle at when you need something light-hearted and refreshing (after this spate of horror flicks, I certainly needed that).    Good, clean fun, as the grown-ups would say.

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For Clarabela of Just Chick Flicks:


Alright, guys, bust out your fans as soon as you’ve pulled yourselves back upright again.   I know.   That just gave you all the vapors right there.

Hugh Jackman – he sings, he dances, he kicks ass!   He’s Wolverine AND does Broadway.   I’m sure he’s nice in real life but is he ever fabulous as the snarly, grouchy Wolverine.    (He does a damn fine job as Wolverine, too.)

He was a a great Oscars host and he tries to be in a variety of acting roles.   I think Hugh Jackman is probably a lot of folks’ Imaginary Celebrity Boyfriend, am I right?

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You let that crazy shine on through, Nicholson!


Aspiring writer Jack Torrance has been paying the bills as a teacher, but he longs for more time to write.   After kicking booze due to a nasty incident where he injured his child, Torrance accepts a position as the winter caretaker for The Overlook Hotel.   He packs up wife Wendy and son Danny and heads for rural Colorado, where they soon get snowed in.   It doesn’t take long for the paranormal weirdness to start affecting Torrance, though.

The Shining is one of those horror movies that always pops up on Top 10 Horror lists and is cited by many folks as a movie that scared the hell out of them.   There’s a good reason for that.    If you watch The Shining, it’s a relatively bloodless movie, especially in comparison to some of the other movies I’ve watched recently.   Kubrick conducts a damn master class in suspense.   Most of the movie is actually build-up, rather than anything really happening.    And the scene that always freaks me out the most is the scene where Wendy (Shelley Duvall) discovers that the “book” Jack is working on is actually just page after page of “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” typed over and over again.

It’s odd because I’m not a huge Stanley Kubrick fan, but the sense of isolation and growing dread he subtly infuses is just genius.    The Shining is just the story of a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic patriarch filtered through the paranormal lens of The Overlook Hotel.   Even before Nicholson takes up residence in The Overlook, he already has the look of a man teetering on the edge of complete psychosis.   And Shelley Duvall porrays the poor put-upon wife, Wendy, so well as a woman desperately trying to re-weave the last tangled threads holding her family together.

The Shining wouldn’t work half as well if not for the spooky score and brilliantly constructed sets.    It’s a long movie, for sure, but an effective one.   Even with the creepiness of Room 237 and the scary looking twin girls, it was always Jack’s conversations with Mr. Grady, the previous caretaker who went nuts and chopped up his wife and twin girls with an axe, that bothered me the most.    There’s one conversation in particular that stems around “correcting” family behavior that’s eerie.

Shining 1

The concept of being snowbound with an insane family member, one you thought you knew very well a that, is scary enough, but when Kubrick adds in the specters and tricks The Overlook plays on its inhabitants, as well as the trauma sustained by Danny, Wendy and Jack’s psychically sensitive son with fanatically fine-tuned construction and planning, The Shining becomes a movie that shockingly transcends its source material.

That’s a big statement, considering Stephen King is probably the most popular American author living.   I refuse to give Dan Brown any credit, since King can actually write.    And most King adaptations have either been middling or just plain crap, with a few exceptions.   (Even King himself disowned the atrocious Lawnmower Man.)   Even though Kubrick’s version of The Shining deviates in major ways from King’s book, it’s actually all the better for it.   I think Stephen King disagrees with me, but The Shining is one of the few movies that feels very close to being pitch perfect.

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Take some lost kids look for a Doctor Satan, a completely insane hillbilly family, sprinkle in some inspirations from other horror movies and bake at 350 degrees for a few hours.


I don’t think Rob Zombie knows how to make a movie by Rob Zombie.   Sure, House of 1000 Corpses is gory and violent, but that’s all that Zombie really relies on to make it scary.    House of 1000 Corpses borrows so heavily from movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in style and substance that it’s hard to view it as its own separate movie.

I haven’t seen Halloween or its much panned sequel, both directed by Zombie, but my problem with Rob has always been that he incorporates too little original content into his own movies with no new spin or take on the subject matter.   It’s not hard to surmise that people are afraid of clowns (It), freaky weirdo rednecks (Deliverance), sadistic, cannibalistic families who torture and chop people up (Texas Chainsaw Massacre).    Zombie also has an unfortunate tendency to keep casting Sheri Moon Zombie, his wife, in his movies.   Moon’s Baby Firefly is never truly scary; she’s simply so annoying you wish you could reach through the screen and smack her.   Bill Moseley as the never-washed and ranty Otis is wonderful, but when you pair him with Moon, it’s obnoxious.

While House of 1000 Corpses is notable for the violence, I don’t think Zombie’s learned the element of leaving an audience in suspense or building tension.   Every scary thing about House of 1000 Corpses is the bloody messes the Firefly family leaves in their trail; the far more abysmal The Devil’s Rejects, which is the sequel to this one, relied too much on Otis and company torturing innocent folks to get the audience scared.   (The Devil’s Rejects, it should be noted, bothered me so much I only got through 20 minutes of the movie.)

I like Zombie a lot; I think he’s a person who genuinely loves horror movies and knows a fantastic amount about them, but I don’t think he’s mastered quite how to make them on his own without borrowing liberally from the men who came before him for inspiration.

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