July was a mixed bag of DVDs. Some great. Some awful. Some comedy, Some drama. Some romance. Some documentary. Some martial arts. Some science fiction. Some good. Some evil. Some Sarah Silverman. Some Russell Crowe.
And some really good movies and some really bad ones.
Here are five quick reviews and one long rant that I will not be apologizing for.
To the reviews…
A Million Ways to Die in the West (Universal Pictures)
Directed by Seth MacFarlane
You know how Family Guy hasn’t been good in a while. How the jokes have been increasingly cornball and toilet-based. Or how the writers and performers seem to be phoning it in. You know how Family Guy just plain sucks now? Well… A Million Ways to Die in the West is all of that suckiness but in movie-form.
There are maybe three good jokes (and they are very funny jokes) in the entire movie. All of the surprise jokes are spoiled in the trailer and in the ads. The direction is horrible. The timing is off and Seth MacFarlane is not a leading man, not even in a comedy. He’s a funny writer. He will get better as a director but as the star of the movie he is flat and unlikable.
Everyone else in the movie is brilliant even with the bad jokes. Charlize is great. Sarah Silverman is great. Giovanni and Neil Patrick are sensational and even Liam Neeson gives a pretty good performance as an outlaw, but the movie is awful. Not very funny. I couldn’t help but compare it to Blazing Saddles and…well… copies of A Million Ways to Die in the West don’t even deserve to prop up the floor display for a re-release of Blazing Saddles.
Skip it. (Not funny. Not Blazing Saddles. Go rent Blazing Saddles instead)
Next up… one of my favorite books.
Winter’s Tale (Warner Bros. Picture, Roadshow Entertainment)
Winter’s Tale is a fantastic fantasy novel by Mark Helprin that I read a couple of decades ago and really enjoyed. While Akiva Goldsman captures some of the magic from the book, the movie is flat and lacks cohesion. As usual with directors who direct their own screenplays, Akiva has brought his script to the screen without giving it much of a life.
He leaves a couple of my favorite themes from the novel out of the movie all together but I understand that there’s a limited amount of time. (Winter’s Tale would make a great TV series) But he doesn’t fill in the holes. He doesn’t bring the two parts of the story together and in fact makes it feel like they have nothing to do with each other.
And while he captures the romance between the two main characters and the supernatural aspects, he leaves out the author’s romance with the city of New York and the winter weather. So without the connection between the first girl and the second and the romance elements of a city buried in snow, much of the magic of the book is left off the screen. And I don’t blame the writing. I blame the direction. (same guy, I know) His script is good. His movie is not.
And Winter’s Tale is still a good story even if it is flat on-screen. The cast is superb. Russell and Colin are two of my favorite actors and Jessica (from Downton Abbey) is wonderful. Even Will Smith is fine as Lucifer. The movie just needed a better director. Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard or Francis Ford Coppola. Someone with a better sense of New York and its history, while still being able to bring the fantasy and the romance in spades. I wish it were a better movie. I really do.
Skip it. (Read the book. Read the book. Read the book)
Next… a kind of creepy but very funny movie.
Bad Words (Focus Features)
Directed by Jason Bateman
Written by Andrew Dodge
Bad Words is a very funny movie about a grown man competing in a spelling bee with 9 and 10 year olds. The man is an angry and despicable human being that the director wants you to like and root for in spite of his behavior. And you do.
Jason Bateman is the perfect actor for this task because even when he is behaving like an offensive spoiled old man who should not be allowed around children, he is amazingly likable. Though I regret that the subject and the story made me a little uneasy, because he is such an evil man, I still laughed at his grossly inappropriate behavior.
The director, also Jason Bateman, does a really good job of softening the edges of this curmudgeonly cynic. And the ending and the eventual reason for his massive public tantrum is satisfying and like I said, the movie is very funny and very sweet. As the poster explains, The end justifies the mean.
If you can get past a 40-year-old man doing and saying sexually inappropriate things to 9 and 10 year olds, it’s a good movie. Jason Bateman does a good job as star and director and the rest of the cast is enjoyable and hilarious.
Rent it (It is a surprisingly good, sweet and honestly funny movie)
Next up… One of the greatest action movies ever made… seriously.
The Raid 2 (Sony Pictures Classics, Stage 6 Films, Entertainment One)
Written & Directed by Gareth Evans
The Raid 2 is even better than the first Raid. It picks up where the first one left off and It has all the stuff you loved from the first, plus women, a better story and even cooler fights in more cramped places. Hell they go as cramped as you can get without fighting in a closet. The choreography in these two movies is so freaking good I can’t even begin to tell you. All I can say is The Raid 2 is even better than the first one.
But the choreography in this one is like another character. The joy is in watching the evolution of the fight scenes up until that last fight which is so fucking EPIC that it is like a movie all on its own. It has romance and intrigue and politics. There is adventure and laughter and emotion. There is history and mystery and suspense… and I remind you… I’m talking about ONE fight here. Beyond epic. The movie climaxes in a fight for the ages.
The Raid 2 is phenomenal. If you haven’t seen the first one, go watch that one first. It is amazing and in my opinion, the choreography style should be introduced to you before you add this cool story to it. The first movie is amazing but it is just two hours of fight choreography. Some cops enter a building complex and fight their way up to the top. And that is the best introduction to this fighting style and kick-ass choreographer. Because The Raid 2 turns that up a notch. To almost superhero levels. Which can suck in some martial arts movies but not when the choreography is this good.
The Raid 2 is the perfect follow-up to the first movie. It is the most action-packed and kick-ass martial arts film I have seen in a long long time and I can’t wait for Raid 3. Bring it.
Next up… another Scif-fi Romance but this time with computers.
Transcendence (Warner Bros. Pictures, Summit Entertainment)
Directed by Wally Pfister
Written by Jack Paglen
This movie is surprisingly cerebral. Even given the subject. Transcendence is another movie about “The evils of artificial intelligence” but it’s more of a meditation than a movie. It is slow. So very slow. And it offers more questions than it answers. I can’t say I liked it but I can say that there are some good things about it. It makes you think.
There is an epic romance at the center of transcendence and there is a lot of science (or science fiction) with far-reaching flights of fancy. But the movie is kind of boring… thought provokingly boring. I can’t say I liked it. It was intriguing and I couldn’t look away because of the sci-fi elements. So if you like a good sci-fi romance, I would say… maybe… rent it.
But if you want something more. There is really nothing more here. The movie takes pains to not pick a side in its own debate. You know how I hate that. There are no good guys and no bad guys. Everyone is just right in the middle. You know how I hate that. And I find that boring. I don’t like movies that take on heady subjects but don’t take them anywhere.
Skip it (Unless you’re a stone cold science and science fiction fan. There is some interesting stuff here, but I can’t say I liked it)
Next up… A really good documentary that really fucking pissed me off.
Jodorowsky’s Dune (Sony Pictures Classic)
Directed by Frank Pavich
Jodorowsky’s Dune is a great movie about a lot of talented people attaching themselves to a fucking idiot. That’s the best way I can put it. I love the story of this creatively insane idea for a movie taken way too seriously because the person in charge has absolutely no talent except for the ability to convince people that he’s a genius. GAH!!!
Jodorowsky mentions Salvador Dali, Mick Jagger and Orson Welles as actors in this monstrosity and they all agree to join in on this clusterfuck where the casting is more important than the characters. And in all of the interviews they talk about the great things that this humorously awful potential crap has inspired and all I can say is, well… yeah.
If you combine Moebius and Giger and Dan O’ Bannon, they will come up with ideas that none of them would want to waste on a movie that had no chance of being made. Jodorowsky is a lovable lunatic and everyone in this film who treats him like some kind of genius is delusional. Hopelessly and helplessly delusional.
And he loses me early on. Jodorowsky had decided to do this grand adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. (An excellent idea… I hope someone actually does it) And in the very next breath admits that he has never read the book. NEVER READ THE BOOK. That he had written his screenplay based on what a friend had told him about the book.
He changes themes. He changes the ending and then has the gall to suggest that having no respect for the source material is the best way to make an adaptation of a great work. Readers of my blog will know that this is the precise moment when I got off the “genius” train. You haven’t read the book?! He then convinces talented young people to drop their lives and join him in this outrageously over-reaching attempt at greatness. And Jodorowsky proceeds to create an impossibly ostentatious and absurd Dune-like Frankenstein’s monster and is surprised when no studio will give him a blank check.
Later, he admits that if today someone were to try to make his film version of Dune they would have to do an animated version… TODAY. He wanted to do this live-action star-studded special effects driven extravaganza in the early 1970’s. The man was an idiot. A talentless, deluded, narcissistic hack. Jodorowsky’s Dune was a failure of epic proportions. Jodorowsky’s Dune (the documentary) is a really good film about a very bad film idea and a jackass who never even read the book.
Rent it. (If you want to see how one person’s creative ambitions can dwarf reality, finances, common sense and their own talent. Otherwise stay away)
So to recap…
We had two movies where a madman tries to play god; Transcendence and Jodorowsky’s Dune, Both thought provokingly interesting and equally action packed except that one of them is a documentary.
We had two movies where a superhero tries to save himself from an overwhelming force of evil; Winter’s Tale and The Raid 2, One of them romantic and action-packed, the other with action packed on top of action.
And we had two movies where a wise cracking a-hole tries to win a contest of skill with the help of a beautiful woman, directed by its lead; Bad Words and A Million Ways to Die in the West, the first one with a very funny likeable lead character & good director and the second one… without all of that.
Go rent some movies,