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Drag Me to Hell

Drag Me to Hell - A Bit of a Drag
After all the hype surrounding this film, I was expecting a good old-fashioned reel of celluloid madness in the '80s horror tradition, and instead I got a contemporary cop-out. I remember when I first saw Sam Raimi's Evil Dead flicks. The trilogy is an exercise in camp, which is acceptable on the grounds that none of those pictures were intended to truly be horror movies. Bruce Campbell's comical turn as Ash Williams,a hapless defender against satanic zombies that somehow infest a backwoods cabin, is entertaining and even inspiring (plenty of E.D. knock-offs ensued) but far from horrifying, and minimally suspenseful. Back then, the aim was to cheese, and to cheese with a marked lack of substance so self-indulgent that eventually, two decades later, cinephiles would come around to the simple genius of Raimi's grime & slime vision.

It was on the foundation of Raimi's subsequent directorial works, combined with the slew of positive reviews surrounding Drag Me to Hell, that I walked into this flick expecting real scares. After all, Raimi is capable of fine craftsmanship - A Simple Plan was probably the most underrated film of the '90s, just ahead of Renny Harlin's The Long Kiss Goodnight. But Drag Me to Hell pales in comparison to both those pictures. Somewhere along the way (I suspect while making Spiderman) someone convinced Raimi that CGI special effects were a suitable replacement for, well, actually filming something.

Drag Me To Hell suffers very early on from the sort of CGI baloney so commonly seen in PG-13 "horror" flicks these days. An opening scene where an unimportant character is quite literally dragged to hell losses all impact for one reason and one reason only: we're allowed to see it. This fatal error, based it seems on the cinematic canard that seeing is believing, carries itself through the entire film. Which is a shame, because this movie seemed to have potential for real, down-to-earth horror elements. Alison Lohman as the ordinary, petite blond Christine Brown turns down the disgusting Mrs. Ganush, played convincingly by Lorna Raver, and sends the hag away without a third extension on her mortgage payments. From there I hoped events would crescendo to real horror proportions. They didn't.

Instead Raimi somehow meshes visually unconvincing CGI with actual film footage (see the scene in the parking garage) and lets Mrs. Ganush reappear in those sporadic flashes we've all come to expect from movies that rely on the audience's jumpiness when there's a deficit of actual thrills. When all the "gotcha" moments pass, all that's left are a handful of painfully mediocre scenes between Lohman and her boyfriend Clay, played unimaginatively by Justin Long. Throw in an over-cooked seance, which is probably the only part of the movie that directly hearkens back to The Evil Dead - you'll see why - and all that's left is the promise of more poorly-conceived CGI effects, and Justin Long placating Lohman's redundantly terrified, two-dimensional character.

Drag Me to Hell is rated PG-13, and although there are times when that rating is stamped on an R movie for marketing purposes, this isn't one of them. Consider the rating a warning. Raimi might have been better served to study another film from the '80s, one that eschews the usual demon formula for an eerie old woman. It's called The Woman in Black. It doesn't have a single frame of CGI. And frankly, it's 100 times scarier than Drag Me to Hell.

Everything's Gone Green

Everything's Gone Wrong
Films like this infuriate me simply because they don't deserve the funding that enables them to end up in my DVD player. This movie is ambiguous in its jacket blurb and even more impenetrable in its casting choices (why is Ms. Song a romantic interest? Did they just want an Asian woman in there, or does her unconvincingly wise character actually lend this "message" movie's story a fresh perspective)? One has very little to go on in approaching this film, and even less as the story unfolds. But a good hour into the proceedings, I realized the dull casting is all the casting agent could dredge up, the unconvincing character studies are the result of writers' brain-fart, and the story is amorphous and plagued by unsubtle references to the woes of capitalism, materialism, and getting ahead in the postmodern world. Towards the end of this film, just before I nodded off and missed the last two minutes, I got the sense that "Everything's Gone Green" is a product of "connections" in the world of film - someone with very little talent knew someone with very little directorial skill, knew someone with absolutely no marketing sense (but plenty of disposable ego) and out popped this dull and inefficient attempt at whimsy and humor-with-a-conscience nonsense. And this is what is most maddening - how many infinitely better scripts were passed over in favor of this almost unwatchable tripe? Skip this film, and feel good about yourself for doing so.

Slumber Party Massacre II

More '80s Gold
Not as much nudity in this one. Interestingly enough, these films are a byproduct of '80s culture, not a main point. There's something free and surreal about the classic slasher, and this one really lets its hair down with a rocker phantom drill-killer, bit fixed inconceivably into his flair guitar. Let's go this way - see this movie and think past your gut reaction to the last half. When it's over, consider the elements as they've been presented. Movie starts out very quietly, and then uses the "burp" machine to make its point - little spastic moments of hallucination, always suffered by the main character. These build rapidly into a crescendo of unlikely, unexplained events. They teeter into a final moment of couch potato misery unlike any I've witnessed in a long time. This film tries, but ultimately fails, and altogether sucks. But that's just my opinion.

The Slumber Party Massacre

80s Gold
This movie is like a cinematic equivalent of getting into a Ford Taurus and driving to Kansas. It's a boring vehicle that takes you to a boring place. Formula, '80s style, let's see - five or six teenage chicks who take their clothes off frequently (check!) Maniacal killer on the loose (check!) What else is there? A few stupid guys to mix things up a little. That's what's so great about these kinds of golden flicks: they don't even try. But why try when you can put boobs on it? Watch this when your movie-watching needs meet the following criteria: (a) you're doing an '80s slasher marathon Halloween party, (b)you're stuck in the house on a rainy eve with absolutely nothing else to watch, the cable's blitzed, and you're tired of porn, or (c) you're a film student pretending to study feminist influence in postmodern film. When really you're just interested in watching boobies, '80s style.

Hot Fuzz

couldn't even get through it
Look, I've seen a lot of movies in my time. I've even seen a lot of horrible movies, truly awful, stick-my-finger-in-my-eye-and-swirl-it-around bad, bad stuff. I started watching "Fuzz" right after the notoriously putrid "I Spit on Your Grave" and vile "Cannibal Holocaust". Both of those twenty-seven year old films have more depth and character development than a single minute of "Hot Fuzz." Don't believe any of the good reviews for this movie - it's a waste of precious time and energy just putting it into your DVD player. And here's the best thing I can say about it - after an hour of watching, I finally got up and left, and the movie didn't stop me. I walked away from this abysmal mess of a film, this slick fecal-matter bruiser of a bomb, feeling a bit like film makers have finally gone and done it this time: they've given up on real movie-making altogether and sold their greedy souls to special effects, and when they're not animating things, mimicking Saturday morning cartoons with cheesy computer generated effects, they're scribbling scripts in pencil on sugar paper and rehearsing for two minutes before committing their laziness to celluloid. All the big-name cameos in the world couldn't save this steaming turd of a movie, so why should I say anything about it, other than that it sucks. England should be ashamed to be making movies like this, and we should be ashamed to give these kinds of amateur-hour British imports the time of day.

If you're reading this and astounded by the ferocity of my review, and curious about this movie, then let me assure you - after an hour of it, you'll get up and leave, too.

Tourfilm: R.E.M.

With Feathers
If you've seen REM's early music videos, you understand what happens in Tourfilm. The eighties were bursting at the seams with pop rock bands sporting linear visuals, so REM's was a departure aesthetic that gets better instead of worse with time. Yes, the visuals in Tourfilm are jerky, often in black and white, and couched in artsy effects ranging from the "static shock" look to artificial grain. Yes, the band is usually hard to see. But when you do see them, Berry, Buck, Mills, and Stipe give you brief glimpses of themselves crowning the eighties and ushering in the nineties with the final performance on their Green tour, and some of the strangest, catchiest tunes ever penned.

Art majors appreciate REM for their contributions to post modernism. Tourfilm is a fitting precursor to the '91 release of "Out of Time" which had gallery-worthy cover art (hey, I had to pay a ticket to see the original piece, okay?)and the song "Low" is partially played somewhere in Tourfilm's middle. Stipe becomes an eighties front man for the first and only time in his career - previous performances lack the charisma seen here, with the strongest first. "Stand" is the opening song in the movie, and the famous organza suit makes an appearance, with a nod to the Talking Heads. While the visuals may sway, the music matches them: crunchy to jangly guitars, Berry's premeditated beat, and Buck doing backwards hops and spins as he pretends to be the greatest guitar player ever. No one will ever accuse him of this, but in Tourfilm he makes an impression.

The nineties were the last great decade for REM, but Tourfilm takes us back to a better time - a time when an American alternative rock band could define cool with over-sized sunglasses, stone-washed jeans, and bridge-less, pricelessly sonic anthems. Don't over think it. Listen, move your eyes rapidly, and you'll feel fine.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off

An Accurate Reflection of the Decade of Grim Optimism
I think there's three movies produced, filmed, and released in my lifetime that fall into the category of greatness: Schindler's List, Pulp Fiction, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Don't see this movie for the hype. See it because you lived through the eighties. If you didn't live through the eighties, see it because this film gives you the spirit of the decade on a silver platter. You'll learn something.

The eighties were about grim optimism, and this sort of semi-nihilistic veneer is expressed in the scene where Cameron and Sloane discuss their interests.

Sloane: What are you interested in? Cameron: Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

And they chuckle it off like it's no big deal to have no interests in life. Their outlook is positive despite themselves, or in spite of themselves. Meanwhile Ferris lip syncs on a parade float and the world is there to catch him before he falls.

The Eighties and the Fifties had many cultural similarities, and let me just point out that Matthew Broderick is the first and only male lead since Johnny Weissmuller in "Jungle Jim" to effortlessly pull off animal prints. Bueller sports two: his vest, and in one scene, his swim trunks. Does this embody coolness? Probably not, but it works here.

This film is fun, entertaining, but more importantly it's the best Hughes had to offer us. You know you want to see it. Oh, yeah.

How to Murder Your Wife

No Lemon Here
By 1965 Lemmon had already been in "The Apartment" and won critical acclaim for his ability to carry a dramatic comedy, and notably one loaded with difficult scenes - but then Lemmon was a master of comic timing. In "How To Murder Your Wife" the comedy gets broader, the pacing sputters a bit, and there's Virna Lisi (love her or hate her.) This film is dated, but there's two kinds of dated in the movie world: Annoying Dated and Charming Dated. This one falls in the second bracket. Yeah, it's charming, and therefore one can endure the somewhat chauvinistic bachelor theme. Yeah, its leading lady can't speak a lick of English, but Lisi fills the part to the T. There's better Lemmon films out there. But if you have the time between watching "Some Like It Hot" and "The Odd Couple", you should give this one its 118 minutes. You won't regret it.

Match Point

Mediocre Acting Makes a Good Movie
Match Point is typical Woody Allen method neatly fitted into an atypical Woody Allen film. Instead of New York, we're in London. Instead of humor, we're in a series of serious situations, with tensions building from the outset, when Chris Wilton dates Chloe Hewitt but desires his friend's fiancée, Nola Rice. I was taken back to "Crimes and Misdemeanors" while watching this film, and if you're familiar with Allen's dramas you'll recognize in Match Point a very common thread: the protagonist is indeed a Hellenic muse and gets away with a heinous crime, though not without tragic psychological consequences. In this case, long story short, Wilton is caught between the woman he's married (Chloe) and the one he's impregnated (Nola) and has to choose a life with one of them. He devises a rather hackneyed plan to murder Nola and successfully follows through with it, although his actions are visibly stilted by the emotional strain such action wreaks on his character. He fumbles with the murder weapon. He isn't prepared to full unscheduled quotas of collateral damage. And he disposes of the evidence carelessly. Wilton executes a crime that he certainly should be caught for. But Allen carefully threads this needle by making Wilton guilty before he murders Nola, and then cool and crafty after the fact. The script is also careful to express that Wilton's main motivation is fear - fear of losing the comfortable, upper-crust lifestyle he's ensconced in with Chloe and her family, and fear of being publicly dishonored through evidence of infidelity.

As with most Allen films, Match Point has unscripted, ad-lib moments, and here is where the acting rolls consistently downhill and into puddles. Take, for instance, the initial meeting of Chris Wilton and Nola Rice. He's wandering about the Hewitt's mansion when he happens upon Rice playing - and winning - table tennis. What ensues is five minutes of awkward improvisation, and with other actors it would sink. With Scarlett Johansson and Jonathan Rhys Meyers it swims, mainly because Johansson is sexy (okay, maybe not classically beautiful) and Meyers is the picture of icy, predatory lust. It's easy to forgive the ridiculously dated mobster-flick marbles that roll out of their mouths because they pretend to be tough, sensual entities with utter confidence, and this confidence (barely) saves the scene. Eventually this kind of pretending fades back to acting, but it goes in and out - in another scene with the same characters, Nola has bombed an audition, and drunkenly asserts that men desire her because they want to see what it would be like to have her. Johansson overplays this moment, Meyers looks like he's talking to himself, and the whole Allen method begins to scrape against the walls. But a minute later we're out of the smoky, uncomfortable bar scene and back out on the open English countryside, and the editing here lets us breath again.

What is most refreshing is this change of scenery. London suits the script and the story. It could work in New York, but with London the emphasis on class and its trappings has a greater resonance. The murder motive is terrifically believable. There aren't any jokes. And there is no happy ending. But when the end credits roll, they're chasing a film that struggled a bit to convey its message, and succeeded all the same.

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