Friday, June 27, 2008

REVIEW: The Village

After this movie, Shyamalan was still "The Creator of Signs, Unbreakable, and The Sixth Sense."

I’d tell you about the best plot twist ever in a movie, but it would ruin the movie and the twist, and they’re both so great that I just won’t do it. It was a great plot twist for one reason: you didn’t even think there was going to be a twist. You thought it was a damn good, but straight-forward drama with emotional highs and lows and some good characters. Then BOOM! The movie smacks you with a twist ending so awesome that you need to watch the whole movie all over again, now aware of what it‘s secretly building towards. As I said, I’d be ruining the movie to even mention its name to all five of you who haven’t seen it, but if you want to see the movie, you’ll find it at the video store under “S.”

"I want to express my deep regret for this incident to my family, my teammates, to the fans..."

And it’s not The Sixth Sense either.

But that movie does also have its own plot twist, and a pretty good one, one that I’m not so worried about spoiling since by now, everyone knows that if it’s an M. Night Shyamalan movie, you’ll get a twist ending, sure as you’ll get a half-can of soda and no leg room on a Northwest flight. The Sixth Sense had a twist, Unbreakable had a less-known, but better one, and Signs turned from a claustrophobic story of surviving against the unknown to Rodney King-with-a-Roswell alien in the span of about a minute, which I guess constitutes a twist.

Oh, I get it. Someone finally made a horror movie about public speaking.

When trailers for 2004’s The Village started coming out, everyone was ready for Night’s latest twist. After all, the minimalist concept just begged for one. There’s a small town of pilgrims or luddites or something surrounded by forest in every direction, and if any of them go into the woods, the monsters who live there will get pissed off, kill them, and raid the town for good measure. Apparently, the town elders have a truce with the monsters that they’ll respect each other’s territory; it’s never clear if they spoke English, Monster, or Esperanto at those meetings. So everyone lives in their little technology-free, definitely-not-modern day clearing, willfully ignorant of the nature of the monsters because they’re so terrifying, or so someone has described them. Some people think that this movie was intended as a crack at the George W. Bush “policy” of “fear-mongering,” but then, a lot of those same people probably thought that Crystal Pepsi was Halliburton‘s fault. Dude, it’s a movie.

Joaquin Phoenix is a fairly old-looking young guy in the village who falls in love with a sweet, wise, courageous blind girl (Is there any other kind?) played by Bryce Dallas-Howard. Unfortunately, she has a village idiot of a best friend, played by Adrian Brody with a perfect blend of obnoxiousness and irritation. Joaquin and Bryce fall in love, blah, blah, get engaged, blah, blah, idiot friend stabs Joaquin out of jealousy before running off into the woods (It’s been a while since I’ve seen the movie, all right? I sure as hell ain’t going to watch this one again.). With Joaquin bed-ridden and his wound getting infected, the village elders (played by a tired William Hurt, as Bryce’s character’s father, and the mummified remains of Signourney Weaver) cautiously agree that the only way to save him is to send someone to a town across the woods to get medicine. Who best to undertake a perilous mission through the monsters and the unknown woods than the completely blind girl?

One of these people is blind. The other has horrible eyebags. Place your bets.

Before I get to the final act, let’s discuss the monsters briefly. They look like Kuato from Total Recall dressed up as Red Riding Hood, and aside from splashing streaks of red paint on people’s homes to let them know they’re going to come and kill them (which is a step they could have cut out since they apparently had already made the trip to their houses), nobody really ever dies or even has to fight them. It’s the Amish production of Assault on Precinct 13, as our heroes fight off waves of invaders--somewhere between one and three of them by my estimates--by running to their homes, futzing with doors, and hiding in their basements until the beasties lose interest and wander off. Oh, and the monsters get pissed off by the color red, but are warded away by the color yellow, which I think is some kind of… ahm… it means… err… metaphorically… Oh wait, I know what it means. It means it’s the DUMBEST WEAKNESS FOR A MONSTER SINCE THE ALIENS FROM SIGNS WERE REPULSED BY TAP WATER! I guess Night is a big Green Lantern fan.

The monsters are also afraid of garlic, shouldn’t eat after midnight (GMT), and die if they see their own reflections. I’m making that up because why have an underdeveloped monster with a dumbass rule when you can have a monster with tons of dumbass rules? They should have just gone the anachronistic action-comedy route, called this Ghostbusters, Harrisburg Division, 1650 AD, and sent the blind girl out in a yellow robe with a cross, a silver-topped cane, garlic cheese biscuits from Red Lobster (they’re delicious and repel the Minions of Hell!), a tank of liquid nitrogen, and a belt full of Blade’s ultraviolet light bombs.

Back-Slash for Vendetta

Anyway, it’s a moot point, because shortly before Bryce begins her quest to retrieve the miracle medicine that Joaquin is guaranteed to live if he gets and guaranteed to die if he doesn‘t, Hurt reveals to her that the monsters are just costumes the elders wear to scare the younger villagers away from leaving town. Hey, maybe this plot development is some ham-handed criticism of the War on Terror, but did Night have to reach it by resorting to a Scooby-Doo formula?
Bryce goes on her little mission, using her Daredevil-like sonar to keep a consistent bearing and avoid smacking into every branch and tree trunk along the way. Before long, she starts getting harassed by a monster! Uh, don’t we already know those are fake? Oh, but William Hurt said there might be real monsters out there after all! D’oh! In a better movie, Bud Abbott would be hilarious in this scene. By the way, if the village elders were okay with going into the woods for the sake of coming out of them in monster drag, why didn’t they get off their lazy asses and go into the woods to get the damned medicine themselves?

Bryce somehow kills the monster by leading it into a ditch, making one wonder how threatening this thing would be to someone with a weapon, some upper body strength, and maybe a little vision. But don’t worry folks, it wasn’t a real monster! Fooled you again! This was retarded Adrian Brody again, dressed up in a stolen monster costume and thinking he was playing some kind of game with her. So you might be furious at the stupid story and feeble attempt to get you with the same plot twist twice, but at least you didn’t just witness the most pathetic monster since the 2 MPH caterpillar/carpet from The Creeping Terror.

There is no Dana, only Zuul.

So she makes it to “town,” and if you are capable of beating Adrian Brody’s character in a game of Stratego, you’ve guessed by now that this is actually modern-day America. Man, I never would have guessed that this wasn’t the past, what with the total lack of reference to history, lineage, or specific religion. Bryce is greeted by a very confused park ranger, who nevertheless gets her some medicine, learning from his supervisor that the village elders have actually formed an isolationist community in the middle of a nature reserve (!). The supervisor himself (played by Night, whose Hitchcockian cameos have grown to full-blown Best Supporting Actor bids) tries to pack in as much exposition as possible before this turns into the talky epilogue to Psycho:

Who: A bunch of people who formed a support group after they all suffered some kind of traumatic loss because of society’s violence.

Where: They pooled their apparently formidable funds and bought out some space in a nature reserve (!) curiously devoid of wildlife where they can create their own perfectly violence-free, luddite society and isolate it from the rest of the crazy world. All the younger people in the village are presumably ignorant of the real world altogether. Oh, yeah… the village elders weren’t just rich enough to buy a publicly-funded nature preserve and employ some invisible security system to keep the 60 Minutes reporters out, but they were rich enough to buy their own personal no-fly zone right above their heads! I’m not making this up! Your flight from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia has a connection in Albany all so that William Hurt can convince 100 idiots they’re in colonial times!

Little Red Riding Hedgehog

Why: Because the outside world is so crazy, where a tiny minority of the populace attempts to murder people. Inside, there’s no violence at all. Except for the jealous revenge stabbing committed by Adrian Brody, but everyone really wanted to shun him anyway.

How: Apparently, with enough money, you can maintain even the most asinine, impossible-to-maintain illusion. If one of these people was Bill Gates, they probably could have paid the rest of Eastern Pennsylvania enough to go back to living in log cabins and churning butter (we do NOT all do that anyway, wiseass) to make the whole sham a little easier to maintain.

Sorry. I ran out of images from the movie that were interesting enough to make a comment about.

At this point…

No, I’m done. Go away.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

COMING SOON: The Village

Based on the terrifying best-seller by Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

REVIEW: The Island

Congratulations, Michael Bay. You got a guy from NBC-TV to call your movie "entertaining."
Hollywood isn’t out of ideas so much as it’s just figured out that spending big money on original movies isn’t worth it, and all you damn fan boys (and me) are to blame. Yes, you (and me). You’re the ones (as am I) that scour the internet for that first official image of The Joker in makeup, essentially giving Warner Bros. and The Dark Knight massive publicity for the cost of a Polaroid, 30 minutes of Heath Ledger’s time, and some smudged Halloween makeup. If Universal had a month earlier released the first shot of The Court Jester from their 100% original blockbuster The Sable Pikeman, you wouldn’t have given half a crap. Jerry Bruckheimer doesn’t want to expand your mind; he wants you to buy a ticket, then buy the DVD because it at least makes use of your $2,000 sound system. Face it, if the movie has a name, the movie gets attention. When the Dukes of Hazzard movie comes out, you probably know it’s going to be bad, but you’re at least a little curious.

Oh my God. They've finally done it. They've remade Moonraker. Nooooo!

So why on God’s green Earth, if you’re going to remake something, would you choose to remake a 1979 low-budget stinker best known as a forgettable Mystery Science Theater episode?

Yes, the requisite scene where you've got a good guy and an identical-looking bad guy, and another guy has to figure out which one to shoot. Mind-bending.

That’s right, 2005’s The Island isn’t so groundbreaking as director Michael “Blunt Force Trauma” Bay and his trio of screenwriters would have you think. Before the whole thing turns into one big Surge commercial about 1/3 of the way in, it’s a ripoff of 1979’s would-be-shocker Parts: The Clonus Horror (yes, a non-porno movie from the ’70s called Parts). Both surround a peaceful community of na├»ve man/woman-children who are kindly cared for by smiling armed guards in an isolated facility. If they do something daring, the guards kindly tell them to get the hell back in line and don’t ask questions and have a nice day. If they’re really, really good, our curious uniformly-clad heroes and heroines will be taken from their current stress-free communal paradise to an even better stress-free communal paradise (“America” in the original, “The Island” in the 2005 film -- no word on whether the island in The Island comes equipped with bald men pushing buttons in hatches). However, our heroes (Ewan MacGregor and Scarlett Johansson in Bay’s version) are extra-curious and find out that they’re actually clones of rich people, living parallel lives so that they can be harvested for their 100%-compatible organs if the richies happen to need them. And judging by the number of people who seem to be headed to The Island, there must be quite an uptick in the debilitating injury rate for fabulously wealthy 25-30-year-olds in the near future. I guess there’ll always be Kennedys.

Oh yeah, there's nothing more terrifying than a middle-aged man with a cell phone... and glasses!

In both versions, the guy and the gal both go Logan’s Run and escape to the outside world beyond their isolated compound, where they have wacky interactions born of child-like ignorance about the real world, and get chased by corporate goons hired by the evil CEO of ComOrganTech (Sean Bean in the remake), who’s bent on stopping the horrifying secret from getting out. In The Island, the chief goon is mercenary Djimon Honsou; watch the movie knowing in advance that his character is eventually going to grow a conscience for no particular reason and turn into a good guy. I hope the families of the dutiful cops he kills throughout the movie are comforted to know that this guy actually has a heart of gold and will finish the movie holding hands and skipping down the meadow with the freed clones. Love it when movies do that. Remember: if you’re not quite as horrible as the evil CEO, you’re okay by us.

Get used to this angle. I'm pretty sure Michael Bay is two feet tall.

Many ultra-destructive chases through Los Angeles ensue, and since this is the future, Michael Bay throws in some halfway-to-Star Wars vehicles to liven things up, like a hover bike and a big truck that is hauling ginormous barbells (Perhaps LA has a football team once again in the future). By this point, you might as well just rename the film Destructive Chase Movie #527B, because there ain’t gonna be any philosophizing about genetic hooey anymore. You’ve got a manly man and a hottie who’ve got to run away, then come back and infiltrate the big facility and break the big device that powers the thing that they need to go down (and which has no redundancy system), and you’ve got various minor and major goons they’ve got to get through.

Red team has the flag!

Yeah, you know that unlike the original, which had an unhappy ending (entirely mitigated by your own personal happiness that the film ended), the remake will end with them freeing all the clones, but only after a final, surprisingly challenging fight with the sit-on-his-ass CEO on some kind of collapsing platform.

Damn potholes.

The Island’s pretty much summarized as 70% brain-dead popcorn action movie and 30% generic smart sci-fi movie, and I mean “smart” as what it thinks it is more so than what it accomplishes. I think Michael Bay felt the wet blanket of mortality drawing upon his empty life, so he decided he was going to make a smart, meaningful movie before he died. So he watch THX-1138 and A Clockwork Orange, then watched Parts: The Clonus Horror when Netflix sent him the wrong DVD instead of Barbarella, and decided that the producers of Parts would be less likely to cobble together a competent lawsuit after he rips their freaking movie off. It worked: he got sued, but made the type of movie that Entertainment Weekly and 12-year-olds with blogs would consider thought-provoking sci-fi. After all, it has a moral dilemma (even though nobody in the movie or the audience is remotely conflicted on moral grounds), an innovative premise (innovative in that it had minor story differences from both Parts and 2000’s also-stupid, but less self-absorbed The Sixth Day), and a whopping 40 minutes or so of dialogue and build-up before Michael Bay just couldn’t take any more and had to vomit loud music, crashing cars, and saturated colors all over the theater.

Tiiiime to start running!

The movie was too dark-toned and technically impressive to be sufficiently hammered by the critics, but it didn‘t do so well at the box office. I imagine Michael welcomed the opportunity to drop all pretentions of cleverness and timeliness with 2007’s Transformers, where he could just tell computer geeks to throw 1980’s toys around and be done with it. Screw originality: ker-SHPLAM! Du-du-du-du-PLOW! Bwam-bwam-CRACK! Mix in some funny black guy stereotypes, and everything‘s right in Bayworld again.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


Thanks for visiting Satan's Jockstrap, where bad movies finally get the verbal beat-down they deserve. As you can tell, even the catch-phrases are under construction. When this blog gets going, expect to see some thorough demolitions of films ranging from big-budget sci-fi blockbusters to art house darlings to Best Picture winners at the Oscars. No one's safe, that is my sacred vow. The Ed Woods of the world have been smacked around long enough. Now, they're going to have company.

I expect that within a week or so, we'll have our first review up. Until then, feel free to send me ideas for movies that you'd like to see me take a crack at. Here are the criteria:
  • It should be on DVD and available from Netflix, both so that I can easily see it if I haven't already, and so that I can take DVD screenshots of it. If it's a movie in theaters now, I'll probably review it later on.
  • I have to DISLIKE it enough to want to talk about it here, and moreover, it has to be worthy of ridicule. So movies that simply aren't my taste won't work. Probably you won't get a sense of the movies I like to review here until I get some reviews up, of course.