Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ticket Stubs: Jennifer's Body

Why is Jason X such a likable movie? Good? Debatable. Likable? Absolutely. For reasons unknown and unneeded, people of the future decide to freeze the comically brutal serial killer Jason Voorhees and then awaken his corpse in the 25th century IN SPACE! Yes! As every individual with two brain cells can deduce, Jason still wants to murder everyone in sight. Unfortunately the highly trained scientist-astronauts only have one brain cell to share among themselves. Seriously, rent it. It’s awesome.

Now let’s look at Jennifer’s Body. Jennifer is a hot popular girl (Megan Fox) who gets possessed by a demon and decides to eat and kill her fellow classmates. In many ways high school is just as silly of a place as space, thus I was drawn to this premise. Throughout the film, it pulls off the proper level of fun. Characters who we aren’t invested in get eaten in a silly, sexy manner. A character has a hook for a hand for no particular reason. Students are setting up posters for Whatever Happened to Baby Jane: The Musical!. Yes! But…this is only one piece of the movie.

The other spices in this bizarre recipe are what give this movie such a bitter aftertaste. The harshest tasting ingredient is easily Diablo Cody’s cringe-worthy dialogue. In Juno the amped up witticisms were appropriate because Juno was using these phrases as part of defense mechanism to hide her insecurities. In Body everyone talks like this! They aren’t even fun phrases. Every use of “you’re so Jello” or “cheese ‘n fries” pulls the audience out of the film so powerfully that it feels like we’re attached to surprise zip-line wires.

Also there’s a problem with the pacing of the movie. Jason X has a body count. Jennifer’s Body has you count the bodies on one hand. Now this doesn’t have to be a problem, but the large spaces between the killings are usually quite dull. Sure, Amanda Seyfried saves most of the scenes she’s in by adding a surprising amount of depth to her character. Yet it almost feels at times this movie wants us to take it somewhat seriously. Why? Why in the world would we do that? Jennifer isn’t a likable character in the slightest.

We don’t want to hear her talk or explain herself. In fact the worst scene in the whole movie is this long unneeded exposition scene with almost no new information. Also I’m not even going to bother with a transition for this comment: For a teenager so hip and “in”, why does Seyfried go to the library for demon slaying research? Google escaped her pop culture lexicon?

In short, Jennifer’s Body is no Scream. It’s also no Heathers or Carrie either. And it’s certainly no Jason X.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ticket Stubs: 9

In many ways 9 is all about potential and living up to it. Its characters and its filmmaker, Scott Acker, each want to accomplish something personal to them. As an observer to their quest, I can’t help but conclude that they all failed. Yes, the film is stunning in many regards. All who have seen the trailer can comment on its unique visual setting and intriguing cinematography. I hate using clichés, but it’s been a while since I’ve had a perfect example for “style over substance.”

With the right advisor, this movie could have used those components to create a masterful and memorable tale. Instead the movie slowly unveils a mythology that begins as compelling and quickly evolves into something that is insultingly dumb.

9 begins with the birth of number 9, voiced by Elijah Wood. 9 is a robotic sock puppet that was created with special care. His name comes from the numeral painted on his back. He awakens in a house full of potential inquires. Instinctively, 9 instantly goes to the window and finds the entire world in dystopian despair. As he explores he eventually meets up with 1 through 8, who each have their own distinct personality traits. Some of the miniature robots are afraid of this world, while others don’t want to live in fear.

Soon a robotic antagonist emerges, who—get this!—has a giant red “eye” in its center. I have never ever ever seen that in futuristic sci-fi film before. Ever. However, this one rips out souls. Okay, that’s new and rather disturbing. This entrance of this enemy begins the steep descending spiral where plot holes multiply like rabbits and the structure of the film feels like a boring video game. (Go to Level 2 to collect the ______!)

The role of the creator in this movie was, at one point, the greatest thing about this movie. The scientist who created this set of robots is barely on screen, but I kept thinking about him and his intentions. In a world this dark, why would you create life? Were their souls manufactured or immaculate? Is the movie suggesting biblical parallels? If so, with man in a God role, are they implying that God is flawed or is this simply the evolution? The movie could have easily left the audience with these questions, but instead decided to answer all of them in a rather ridiculous way. The party I was with unintentionally laughed and was left in awe of where it concluded.

I’m criticizing this movie quite a bit and I only feel one ping of regret about this. For I don’t know what is worse: a movie not being ambitious at all or a movie trying to be ambitious and then failing. It is very easy to respect one of them, but I have to think about where the audience is a week later. The former will quickly become forgettable, but the promise of the latter can be haunting to those who love movies. So I suppose the next question is do I wish that 9 was less ambitious or more competent?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

EARLY Review: Juliet, Naked

“Naked” is a powerful word. I have read three different books with that word in the title and each time I received a reaction from people around me. “You’re reading The Naked Typist? Pervert.” (Why am I called the pervert and not Parnell Hall?) “Haha! Austin’s reading Naked! Get it? Get it?” (Yes. I get it.) Now with this book it’s a whole dialog:

Dude: What are you reading?

Austin: Juliet, Naked.

Dude: Yeah, you are!

Of course in this sense of the word, “naked” refers to the musical definition. Yet in the context of the book, the naked element still gathers a powerful reaction. Tucker Crowe is a musician with a small cult following. He was big in the 80s, but mysteriously hasn’t released any music for over twenty years. Then out-of-the-blue an acoustic version of his most popular album Juliet is released entitled Juliet Naked. Duncan is among the cult of Crowe, yet he’s more of an obsessed fanboy. He completely gushes over the new album and immediately rushes to the Internet to spread his opinions. (Loser.) His long-term girlfriend, Annie, has been growing tired of being the second love in Duncan’s life and doesn’t see what the big deal is about the new album.

Nick Hornby has always been an author who has created a realistic feel for older twenty-somethings. He’s almost a John Hughes for an older British crowd. He returns to more of his themes seen in High Fidelity but in a fresh way. His creations of Duncan, Annie, and Tucker were so strong that I wasn’t bothered the novel wasn’t too heavy on plot. I was satisfied in all of their actions and reactions, especially the book’s finale. I don’t want to say this is a return to form for Hornby because I don’t think he ever went astray. Let’s just say this: Not since his early work, have I enjoyed one of his novels so much.

Juliet, Naked comes out on September 29th.

Book Review: The Accidental Billionaires

No one quite understood it, but the eruption of popularity of Facebook is something that can’t be denied. It seemed to be the right thing at the right time, but most importantly for the right people. It has since evolved beyond just a networking site for college students into one of the most popular websites on the Internet. But where did it begin?

The simple answer is Harvard. The complicated answer is The Accidental Billionaires. Unfortunately it’s not complicated enough. Billionaires tells the remarkable story of the rise of Mark Zuckerberg, a shy computer genius. After creating an accidentally popular Harvard version of a “Hot or Not” site, he begins work on As the subtitle suggests, there is a lot of betrayal on the rise to the top. Yet I felt I wasn’t getting the full story. I never really understood Zuckerberg at times and that could partially be because he refused to be interviewed for the book.

Too often the book just feels overwritten as Mezrich attempts to create a scene, which distracts from the core storyline. Although before it was on bookshelves, Billionaires was on the fast track into being made into a movie. David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Zodiac) is going to direct an Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, Charlie Wilson’s War) screenplay. Hopefully they provide the proper reworking to this book, because at its heart it really is one hell of a story.

This review is “for” Larry D. Sweazy. Check out his first novel, The Rattlesnake Season, on October 6th.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Ticket Stubs: Departures

Like most film nerds, I watched the Oscars with a lot of anticipation and predictions. So when the Best Foreign Film category came along, I was hoping The Class was going to beat out Waltz With Bashir because, as I mentioned, I’m a nerd. Yet Departures went home with the golden statue, which left all of America saying, “What in the world is Departures?” It only played at the Hawaii Film Festival in 2008, which qualified it for the Oscars and is only now starting to trickle to theatres across the country.

So now that I’ve seen it, I can safely say: Yes, it deserves the prize. There are a lot of movies about death, but there aren’t many movies that show it in a beautiful light. Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki) is a cello player whose orchestra was dismantled so he has to find a new job. He misinterprets an advertisement in the paper and assumes that “departures” refers to a travel agency. It turns out the job is asking for someone to help prepare the dead for their casket. The job is not the most respected in Japanese society, but the pay is incredible so Daigo takes it. However he keeps it a secret from his wife, Mika (Ryoko Hirosue).

Something that I found intriguing was how this process is really an art. The opening scene jumps forward in time when Daigo has been with the job for a while and you see him treat this with the same care and passion as he did with the cello. With this act, the family watches as he prepares the body into their final attire and applies makeup. An act like this could easily be portrayed as tragic but as I alluded to earlier, it’s beautiful. The entire movie is rich with bright blues and greens. The classical music throughout is powerful, but never dark.

It’s a remarkable perspective the movie maintains and is only heightened by the performances. Motoki occasionally trails into cartoonish expressions, but for the most part the nuances he gives in facial expressions is pitch-perfect. Also Hirosue! Seriously, if you don’t fall in love with this performance I’m worried that your heart may be too cold to beat. They could have easily made her a one-note character with her optimism, but she is often confronted with conflict and the way Hirosue handles these situations is just wonderful.

So unlike the tales of Ingmar Bergman or even the second half of What Dreams May Come, this movie shall not leave you with a fear of your own mortality, but a feeling of acceptance and understanding. So definitely search for this one.