You know, it’s hard being a film criti… BWA-HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…!!!
Okay, it’s not that hard being a film critic. You know what’s hard? Getting to be a film critic. Working your butt off for many years for absolutely no pay whatsoever, constantly risking your day job because you keep having to shift your schedule around to accommodate last-minute screenings, and barely managing to keep your sanity together as you ponder night after night why you didn’t just go to law school. But once you’ve actually got the gig and can make a living doing nothing else, you don’t have much right to complain. Even so, there are little pet peeves that crop up now and again, and one of them is what this week’s B-Movies Extended is all about.
Yes, it’s hard to see every single film in a given year on time, and frustrating to have to prioritize one movie review over another. Sometimes movies just slip through the cracks, and you have to catch up on them weeks after the release date or even (GASP) on home video. This week on B-Movies Extended, I’m going to review all the films I’ve seen this year that I haven’t got around to yet. Why? Because Witney Seibold’s on vacation – something I don’t ever get, by the way – and it seemed rude to follow this week’s B-Movies Podcast (our eightieth episode, aka “The Unobtainium Anniversary”) with a one-sided rant about how much The Bourne Legacy sucked, despite his objections to the contrary.
All In: The Poker Movie
If my poker face had an emoticon, it would be 8-D, followed by a series of exclamation marks. So I don’t play very often, and that’s okay: I have a movie like All In: The Poker Movie to make me feel better. Douglas Tirola’s informative ode to everyone’s favorite card game reveals poker’s long history, its perceived relation to the American dream and the recent legal issues over online gambling, but also manages to wrangle a genuine Rudy moment by illustrating the unlikely journey of Chris Moneymaker (his real name) from a nobody with a dream to the winner of the 2003 World Series of Poker. Tirola’s film may be a little longer than necessary, but if you have any interest in the game, it’s probably a must see. That’s no bluff.
Beneath the Darkness
If Beneath the Darkness goes down in history at all – an unlikely prospect if ever there was one – it will be for Dennis Quaid’s enjoyably mad, against-type performance as an undertaker who can’t let go of his mummified wife. If the movie had the testicular fortitude to follow Quaid’s dorky yet perverse antagonist all the way through, we could have had something truly special. Instead, Quaid plays second fiddle to a cast of forgettable teens trapped in a lame Shadow of a Doubt riff, unable to convince the townsfolk that the kindly E-Cigarette-smoking widower down the road is actually a necrophiliac murderer. Beneath the Darkness may be Rated R, but it feels like they were going for a PG-13; the whole movie seems afraid to really let loose… except, again, for Quaid, who probably deserves some kind of sympathy award for making the most of this undercooked potboiler.
Todd Solondz’s latest film is such an assaulting experience I feel like I could realistically press charges. Jordan Gebler plays Abe, the latest in a long line of movie man-children who live with their parents but dream of more. Unlike your typical Adam Sandler or Seth Rogen comedy, however, Abe is a horror of a human being. Solondz really seems to hate this guy, and by extension an entire generation, whose sense of worthy outweighs his actual list of accomplishments. The acting is strong, but the message is so clear – and so damning – that you exit the theater feeling like you were found guilty just for growing up in the 1990s. Screw you, Todd Solondz. Screw you and your excellent, powerful movie.
The very nature of the sports movie tends to elevate the underdogs to “great man” status (or “great men,” or “great women,” or what have you). So it’s refreshing to see a movie like Goon, about a guy whose only skill in the hockey rink stems from his ability to both take and dish out a punch. Seann William Scott is likeable though hardly remarkable in the lead role, as a man who understands his limitations, accepts that he’s a small part of a greater whole and just does the best he can to earn his position. The film surrounding that pleasingly mild premise is merely droll and the rest of the cast, with the exception of the always-excellent Liev Schreiber as Scott’s arbitrary nemesis, simply get by on the understated screenplay. A sports movie that deserves a slow clap, but maybe not the rousing cheer that comes afterward.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
I’m not the first one to say this, but Jiro Dreams of Sushi will make you very, very hungry. This documentary purports to be about the making of gourmet sushi, and by god is that sushi shot like a high-class porno, but more importantly it’s about the dying Japanese work ethic and the importance of lifelong effort over raw talent. That’s not much of a story, but director David Gelb manages to frame the very straightforward events in such a way that it feels like a real tale has been told anyhow. A fine film, and the best friend your local sushi joint has ever had.
The Legend of Awesomest Maximus
I have admittedly discussed this film (and the next one) before, in my list of The Worst Films of 2012 (So Far), and my opinions have not changed: The Legend of Awesomest Maximus, despite the lowered standards inherent to a straight-to-video release, really is one of the worst films of the year. Will Sasso from The Three Stooges stars as the title character, a supposedly great warrior who’s actually fat! Get it?! These are the jokes, kids. These are also the jokes: women are all whores, gay people are awful and National Lampoon doesn’t believe in second drafts. What an ugly, unfunny film this is. It makes That’s My Boy look sensitive and subtle in comparison.
One for the Money
In this other holdover from my Worst Films of 2012 (So Far), Katherine Heigl desperately tries to develop a franchise from Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels, which I haven’t read, but which surely have to be better than this. Heigl plays a New Jersey underwear clerk who takes up bounty hunting, a job she is comically unqualified for, and quickly finds herself pursuing her ex-boyfriend, a cop framed for murder. The pacing ruins most of the jokes, and the laughable plot finds the heroine repeatedly face-to-face with her quarry, holding him at gunpoint, and vowing to catch him “one day” before letting him go every single time. Throw in some odd incest jokes, unironic sexism and some truly awkward dialogue (Plum actually says “Now it’s personal,” even though she was already gunning for her ex, whom she intentionally ran over with her car years ago), and you’ve got a hot steaming mess of a film that, by all rights, should have been a fun bit of female empowerment.
The Secret World of Arrietty
Mary Norton’s wonderful children’s book series The Borrowers gets a predictably handsome adaptation courtesy of Studio Ghibli, the production company behind My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away. The story is thoughtful and dramatic, but more than anything else director Hiromasa Yonebayashi sells the scale of the fantasy, which is about a family of three-inch tall scavengers living in the isolated home of a Japanese family, and fleeing for their lives when a terminally-ill boy discovers their existence. The size of the Borrowers’ world, from the threatening sounds of human beings walking to the adventures to be had with a single flower, are a genuine wonder. As heartwarming and enchanting as any Ghibli effort, but also one of their most magically produced.
Sound of Noise
An unexpected entry on my Best Films of 2012 (So Far), this strange fantasy-heist movie kind of snuck up on me. I left my first viewing of Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjarne Nilsson’s film, about a group of revolutionary musicians who stage dangerous public performances that befuddle the police and terrify the establishment, with quiet appreciation. As time went by, I found myself revisiting my memories of Sound of Noise more and more, until I discovered that it slowly became one of my favorite movies in quite a while. It’s that rare music-based film that actually increases your appreciation of the art form, instead of just making you dance in your seat, and it’s a nifty little crime thriller to boot. Find it, see it, thank me later.
Fred Topel ran our official review of Seth MacFarlane’s overgrown manchild parable, in which Mark Wahlberg plays a boy whose magical talking childhood toy has followed him into adulthood, and I largely agreed with his sentiments for once. Ted is a very funny movie with an uncomplicated but smartly conveyed message about friendship, maturity and finding love with somebody who wants the best for you and not just themselves. I won’t dwell: Ted is one of the most consistently hilarious movies in years. Well-acted and very memorable.
Despite being straightforward to a fault, I found myself rather liking the independent horror drama The Tortured, which takes the Torture Porn genre and removes that pesky “porn” part. Erica Christensen and Jesse Metcalfe play the parents of a murdered child. When the justice system fails them they kidnap the murderer and keep the bastard tied up in the basement to torment whenever they feel the need for catharsis… which is all the time. A genuinely squirm-inducing and honest depiction of the cyclical nature of cruelty, but ultimately undone by mediocre performances, pacing issues and an unnecessarily confusing ending. Not a good time at the movies by its very nature, but a pretty good movie despite its flaws.
21 Jump Street
I laughed quite a bit at 21 Jump Street, an implausibly good action-comedy based less on the old Fox television series and more on the nostalgia for crime programs of a similar ilk. Jonah Hill (who also co-wrote) and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops at a high school who discover that times have rapidly changed, and that the “cool” kids of pop culture’s past are actually shunned under modern social constructs. That’s most of the joke, and it’s pretty funny, but I’m actually surprised at how little I actually remember about this motion picture less than six months later, which might be the greatest criticism of all. It’s a diverting movie but not a particularly impressive one.
Walk Away Renee
Tarnation director Jonathan Caouette returns with another chapter in his life, which began under the care of a mentally ill mother named Renee. Whereas his first film, an incredible documentary if ever there was one, focused on his development into a functional adult under amazing circumstances, Walk Away Renee switches focus to his noble attempts to care for Renee in her old age, desperately trying to give her the medical treatment she needs while enduring heartbreaking ethical dilemmas about what’s truly best for her, not to mention himself. Caouette elicits our sympathies and raises some vital questions, but doesn’t quite capture one’s attention as clearly as he did in Tarnation. Perhaps he no longer has as much to prove, which is impressive on a personal level but a little less involving cinematically. Nevertheless, a fairly strong follow-up to a remarkable debut.