Tuesday, February 13, 2007

An Epically Crappy Weekend and Roeper Returns!

I wish I could say that I have a great reason for the lack of posting over the last week, but the reality is that I'm simply still trying to recover from a weekend in which Norbit (staring Eddie Murphy, Eddie Murphy! and Eddie Murphy!!!) not only took home the top spot, but brought in $34 million. I would say that everyone who attended a screening of the film should be ashamed of themselves, but clearly, they have no shame.

Going into the February 2nd weekend I joked that we might be looking at a new all time low for combined Rotten Tomatoes scores among the weekend's top five films, the previous all time low having been set the weekend before at 23.8%. Well guess what, I was right. Headlined by The Messengers, my predicted number one, that weekend had a combined 18.8% on RT. Pretty good right?

But those poor films hadn't reckoned on the sheer awfulness of Norbit. Like a slow motion car-wreck, involving a fat-suit of course, Norbit led an even classier group of five films that captured audiences' attention with a combined 18.6% score at Rotten Tomatoes. Let me be the first to congratulate Norbit, Hannibal Rising, Because I Said So, The Messengers and Night at the Museum. You accomplished something terrifically crappy this past weekend, and now no one can take that away from you. (Sidenote: Night at the Museum somewhat artificially inflated each of the past two weeks scores with its 45% rating. Otherwise, the top four from both weeks would have come in at a staggering 12.3 and 12 respectively.)

It's also been some time since we visited with our good friend Richard Roeper. Now, it almost seems hard to believe, but Rotten Tomatoes has only uploaded five new Roeper reviews in the past month. What is this man doing all day? I mean, I understand he's a big time columnist and all, but doesn't he realize there's a nation of movie-goers who count on his sterling words of wisdom and insight? Even more upsetting is the fact that he wasn't sent to watch any of the real pieces of shit everyone seems so intent on paying money to see. No Epic Movie, no Because I Said So, no Norbit, not even any Messengers. Utterly unbelievable. But without further ado, here's a somewhat tardy version of This Week in Roeper:
  • Alpha Dog - "Justin Timberlake has what it takes to be a genuine movie star."

  • Arthur and the Invisibles - "Strange and kind of meandering."

  • Alone With Her - "Alone With Her plays like an extended voyeur video with nothing new to say about hidden cameras or stalkers or anything."

  • Catch And Release - "I was pleasantly surprised."

  • Seraphim Falls - "Though the chase threatens to go on too long, the suspense remains high because we don’t know which man is the real villain, or if there’s a villain at all."

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

World War Z Wrapup

About a week ago, I finally got around to finishing Max Brooks' zombie fest, World War Z. Initially, I was really blown away by the book. It's unique in its structure as well as in its subject matter. As I discussed earlier, the author's depth of knowledge on the subject was impressive. Brooks literally thought of every zombie related situation imaginable and found a way to work it into the book. Because of its unique, interview-based structure, World War Z easily incorporates even the most bizarre or esoteric zombie hijinks.

Looking back, it's obvious that this structure--in many ways the books biggest strength--was also its greatest flaw. While Brooks spends a great deal of time on some parts of the war effort, specifically the US's early struggles and eventual victory, he spends few words describing others. Some elements like the descriptions of zombies emerging from the oceans to attack unsuspecting vacationers were cool, but never should have been fleshed out into whole interviews. Others probably could have shouldered a lot more of the effort.

In total, World War Z really stands as an encyclopedia of sorts, relating to all things undead. Brooks took such a massive scope with this work that its hard to imagine what he might have overlooked. But beyond simply rehashing zombie lore, Brooks' global spin also saw the creation of many new conventions and themes: ferals, quislings, chain swarms, etc. The scope of his vision also allowed for a followthrough with regards to how a zombie outbreak would effect the world that would be virtually impossible in film. Romero's Land of the Dead tackled the idea of a world beset with zombies, but still kept its focus fairly tight. It will be very interesting to see how Plan B Entertainment, Brad Pitt's production house that won the rights to the book in a healthy bidding war, will bring WWZ to the screen as Brooks did the screenwriters few favors.

Brooks' novel ends on something of a positive note. Unlike many of the films that draw on zombie conventions, the survivors of World War Z have reached the end of the tunnel. Each speaker is sure to point out that there is a ways to go and that they are irreparably scarred, but Brooks allows readers a sense of hope for the future. He also never positions the zombies as any sort of deus ex machina that brings about world peace. Instead, we see the zombies as just another challenge that faces humanity, in some cases bringing out the best, while in others, the worst. Brooks illuminates both in a prose that varies with his speakers, but never falters. And like many genre texts that have come before it, be they movies, games or books, World War Z provides much fodder for analysis for any who pick it up in the future.

Monday, February 5, 2007

It's a Bottle Opener, Duh.

By and large the commercials during last night's Super Bowl were a pretty sorry bunch. Unlike past years, there really wasn't any one spot that had everybody buzzing. One could probably make an argument for the Federline-fast food worker ad for Nationwide, but that would mean we'd already spent too much time thinking about K-Fed.

Bud Light did manage to pull together one that is worth a second look though. Were they trying to piggy-back off the modest success of the recent Hitcher remake? Maybe. But either way it's a good laugh.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Brilliant Recuts All About Genre

There's been a number of these recut trailers over the last year and a half. First The Shining, then Jaws and then Brokeback Mountain hit and the whole trend sort of jumped the shark.

At their most basic level, these trailer remixes are all about genre; about leveraging the semantic elements of one genre into the syntactic elements of another. In most cases the humor comes from the interaction between the viewer's knowledge of the original source film, or at least knowledge of that film's generic underpinnings, and the reversal of expectations that comes with the re-edits. Usually, music (a semantic element in and of itself) plays the key role in shifting the focus.

In two of the three above examples, popular horror films were recut to play more like comedies (The Shining as romantic comedy, Jaws as the generic buddy film). Even if you don't know the original films, the editing and original performances are usually good enough to get a chuckle. In the case of the video below however, the artist has recut When Harry Met Sally, one of the strongest examples of modern romantic comedy, to look and feel like a thriller in the vein of Fatal Attraction or Sleeping with the Enemy. The trailer itself, devoid of prior knowledge of the film, is loaded with tension. But what takes it beyond the previous examples, in my mind anyway, is the manner in which the creator clings strictly to the generic conventions of the thriller and utilizes pitch-perfect cuts from the original, allowing the new and the old interpretations to play against each other perfectly. It's only within this context that the trailer shows its true humor.

And believe me, I realize that when you analyze things to this extent, they're not usually funny anymore, but watch it. It's still goddamn hilarious.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Hope You Weren't Planning on Hitting the Megaplex

Good sweet Jesus is this going to be an off week at theaters around the country. I certainly don't mean that in terms of box, although it might be that too, but it's shaping up to be a rare weekend in regards to the overall quality of movies that will be available to most of the country.

According to our old friend Rotten Tomatoes, not a single movie in last week's top five Box Office winners scored above a 45% (it takes 60% to be considered "fresh"). For the mathematically inclined readers, last week's top 5 averaged a pretty paltry 23.8%, led of course by last week's winner, Epic Movie, which clocked in at 3%. Yeah I know, I was shocked that 3% of reviewers liked it too. But, as I've said, I'm not one to quibble with audiences' viewing choices.

The real bad news for the discerning film going community is that it looks like things are going to get worse before they get better. This week we have two releases, both of which have received a nauseating amount of advertising run-up. As of this writing only one of the films has received any RT love, and let's just say, you might want to stay home this weekend. I don't know if anyone keeps stats on these things, but we might be looking at an all-time box office top ten shit show when it comes to RT scores. 23.8 is the number to beat, but I think these films are up to it.
The first of these cinematic gems is Because I Said So, which might be the most laugh-out-loud bad title this side of porn. Everything I know about this film I've garnered from watching the preview, but my guess is it doesn't get a whole lot deeper. Apparently Diane Keaton (why, oh why?) plays an overbearing mother to Mandy Moore's rambuncious 20-something. There's some tension, and, gasp, BOYS! And mom and daughter probably butt heads a lot only to realize that they really love each other at the end of the day. Critics seem to be referring to this as a "chick-flick," the generic implications of which I won't even begin to address at this juncture, but I'd dare anyone to find me five so-called "chicks" who are interested in seeing this film. I goddamn dare you. Oh yeah, and just so we're clear, Because I Said So is currently clocking in at an Epic-Movie-like 8% right now over at RT. Good times.
The back end of this weekend's shows some potential. The Messengers is a horror film, which obviously curries favor with this writer, but it's also a Ghost House film (Sam Raimi's production house), so there's hope that it won't be a total waste of time. John Hodgman actually discussed The Messengers a fair amount in his NYT Magazine story "The Haunting", (sorry NYT Select members only it looks like) which looked at the current state of horror in the US. Actually a really nice article if you can get your hands on a full copy somewhere. But I digress. There's one glaring problem here, and it's probably the first thing that jumps out to any fan of the horror genre: a PG-13 rating.

Does a PG-13 rating preclude a film from being scary? No, of course not. But what it does mean is that a large number of the conventions of the genre will be absent or woefully nuetered. Gore, sex, extreme violence? Sorry, go see The Hitcher again. Obviously, films have done pretty well for themselves without all those goodies--Poltergeist and The Ring are just the two that come most readily to mind, Jaws somehow got a fucking PG--but it's an uphill battle. And those exceptions had one thing in common for the most part: decent direction by Speilberg, Hooper and Verbinski. The Messengers is being helmed by two Hong Kong stars, the twin Pang brothers, but what kind of work they'll turn out stateside remains to be seen.

What The Messengers will do is get those pesky teens to the theater. You know, the not-quite-ready-for-Rob-Zombie crowd who still likes a good spook and enjoys a night away from mom and pop? They'll be out in numbers I'd expect. Probably even enough to put Messengers into number one. No guarantees of course, but it'd be nice to see because it would get some good traction going for Ghost House, who will be dropping two more horror ditties on us later this year.