Justin Ellis (of the Portland Press Herald) and I run down the week’s new stuff (10/13/09)

You know it’s an off week for new releases when Will Ferrell is in the dog house, and yet, here we are. The legendary ‘SNL-er’ is in very real danger of slipping into Mike Meyers comedy limbo. Fortunately Videoport Jones and I can take solace in a few solid horror flicks, one from Sam Raimi and another from local boy Kyle Rankin.

Land of the Lost

"Wait, there's no script?  No, none at all?"

"Wait, there's no script? No, none at all?"

Videoport Jones: “Hey Justin, remember last week when we were talking about a former ‘SNL’ superstar who seems to have lost his way? Well, while Will Ferrell is nowhere close to the edge of the Eddie Murphy ‘I just feel sorry for him’ phase of his career, it’s films like this, a completely-unnecessary movie version of the truly awful 70‘s kids show, which are going to wear out his cinematic welcome if he’s not more cautious. Now, while it’s not an immutable law of the universe that a movie remake of a television show is going to be a sad, soul-sucking experience for all involved, well, I’m trying to think of an example where it wasn’t. Umm…nope. It is an immutable law of the universe; perhaps only the abyss of horror that is ‘movies based on video games’ has a worse track record. Anyway, ‘Land of the Lost’ is about as weak as you might expect – terrible script (‘How many bodily fluids can we douse Will Ferrell in?’ Quite a few as it turns out.), jokes that don’t pay off and adequate but uninspired cartoony special effects. It’s exactly the sort of half-baked premise and execution that serves Will Ferrell the worst. I love Ferrell; his unique brand of humor, equal parts satirical macho posturing, vacant-eyed panic, with just a smidge of pathos, all enlivened by an improvisational gonzo vibe, can be absolutely a force of nature (as in ‘Talladega Nights,’ ‘Old School,’ and, of course, ‘Anchorman’). However, that same comic force can turn, when left to carry an underwritten, slackly-directed project like, say, ‘Blades of Glory,’ ‘Semi Pro,’ or, well, this movie, into an unseemly spectacle of shrill mugging that is pretty off-putting. In this movie, the strategy seems to have been, ‘Will will save us,’ and, while he certainly gives it his all, this is the sort of career choice that’s edging him closer to Murphytown. Ferrell, teamed up here with a similarly-wasted Danny McBride (another funny guy left to flounder around) and a love interest who brings absolutely nothing to the table, tries hard to keep this one afloat, but he’s chosen a very leaky ship.”

Justin: “Let’s call it the law of diminishing Ferrells. I’m a very, very big Ferrell fan and ‘Anchorman’ is in my top 10, possibly top 5 movies of all time. No debate. Having said that, I still think his schtick can be very one-note at times. It’s the man-child thing over and over, from Ron Burgundy to Ricky Bobby to Jackie Moon to Brennan Huff and now Dr. Rich Marshall, adventurer. We get it, he’s a grown man who sometimes doesn’t act that way. What makes that schtick work is a good script, a good premise/setting and great surrounding players. You give him all of that and just let the improv fly. ‘Land of the Lost’ is just a big question mark when you consider those factors. I like McBride and Anna Friel (still crushing on her a little from ‘Pushing Daisies’), but it seems like they’re not stranded in this place out of space and time, but in a bad movie. Bad effort, bad concept (the TV remake/update), and it’s a recipe for bad outcomes. I think there may come a day when a TV update or remake can win (come ON ‘Mama’s Family!’), but the track record is pretty bad here. I think Will needs to be put on notice and fast cause he is sliding into a bad place. Maybe another John C. Reilly team-up or ensemble role is in order. While Will Ferrell will never slide into oblivion, he could wind up in that weird comedy limbo where Mike Meyers now lives.”

Drag Me to Hell

Well, it HAS been a while since I messed some stuff up...

Well, it HAS been a while since I messed some stuff up...

VPJ: “Director Sam Raimi is one of those guys, like Peter Jackson, who film geeks like me can claim as one of our own. See, we nerds worshiped Raimi way back when, when we saw his first film ‘The Evil Dead’ and proclaimed him our geek god. Made for a pittance against long odds, ‘The Evil Dead’ revealed Raimi to be a born filmmaker – energetic, original, and ghoulishly-inventive. And so, when Raimi was finally given the keys to a mega-budgeted tentpole franchise like the Spider-man series, we were vindicated; our scruffy little genre film hero was being recognized by the masses, and Sam, true to his gifts and our hopes, turned in two and a half (the third movie got away from him) fun, profitable, and exhilarating superhero movies that we could all be proud of. Still, those of us who were there at the start, who talked the man up at patience-trying, date-torpedoing, length to whomever we could corner, longed for Raimi to get back to his roots, to get down and dirty again in the horror flick trenches. And now our wishes have come true:

Now, this is what I would do to Bruce Campbell...

Now, this is what I would do to Bruce Campbell...

‘Drag Me to Hell’ is everything we could’ve hoped for (unless he had brought Bruce Campbell back in the lead). Hilariously over-the-top, wittily manipulative, soaked in gooey gore (don’t let the PG-13 rating worry you) and running at full speed from start to finish, this movie is obviously the work of a guy out to have fun again, and to make his audience squirm, shriek, laugh, and repeat. Have I forgotten to mention what the film’s about? Doesn’t matter – if you can’t appreciate this one, you have no business calling yourself a horror fan.”

JE: “Testify brother Jones, testify! Yes, before he was the man that brought Spidey to the world, Sam Raimi was a guy who made twisted, weird (and at times gory) stuff that had an odd humor to it. He was the guy who introduced us to Bruce ‘The Chin’ Campbell. Watching ‘The Evil Dead’ is like having your eyes open (pried open by demons maybe) to a whole new world. It’s like watching baseball being played for the first time (maybe baseball played with chainsaws). How someone can make a movie that is ridiculously over-the-top yet still frightening and suspenseful is beyond me. And you know I am not the world’s biggest horror fan, but I love me some Evil Dead franchise. To this day one of the best experiences of my life was seeing Bruce Campbell talk after a screening of the movie during college. Epic. So now Sam’s back to what he does best, telling simple tales of things gone horribly, gorily, hilariously wrong. In the case of ‘Drag Me to Hell,’ it revolves around messing with gypsies. And as a buddy who saw this movie said to me, it reinforces one of life’s simple rules: ‘Don’t mess with gypsies.'”

Infestation

VPJ: “Speaking of fun, throwback horror, this new film from Portland native (and former Project

Local boy makes good (movie).

Local boy makes good (movie).

Greenlight victim, I mean winner) Kyle Rankin (longtime partner Efram Potelle is still on board, but as special effects supervisor this time), made me think of cheesy 80s monster semi-classics like ‘Tremors’ or ‘Arachnophobia.’ And that’s a good thing. Chris Marquette (‘Fanboys’) brings his Paul Rudd/John Cusack-lite comic timing to the lead character, a slacker-y loser who finds himself inexplicably fighting for the future of the human race when yucky alien bug-things start spinning cocoons and mutating the hell out of everybody. It’s pretty fun, with the ever-welcome Kyle and Efram pal Ray Wise doing his ever-welcome comic turn as the kid’s gung-ho dad, and nicely-gooey gross-out effects, along with some decent performances. Obviously shot on a budget, ‘Infestation’ is nonetheless a welcome addition to the cheesy monster comedy genre.”

JE: “I’m sensing a theme here. No, not horror flicks or Jonesy’s love of gore (I know, I know, we’ve talked about it), but horror films that don’t take themselves too seriously. We touched on it before with ‘Trick ‘r Treat,’ the tongue-in-cheek revival of the horror anthology that was decidedly not heavy-handed. With so many horror movies going after a hard ‘R’ rating and playing a weird arms-race for violent or disturbing plots (that don’t always make sense or for good storytelling), it’s nice to see some people step back. Big

And Ray Wise...just because.

And Ray Wise...just because.

scary bugs? OK. Done. You know what you’re getting there. Also, I’ve said it many times, but you have to credit people (be it in TV or movies) who know exactly what they do, what they’re capable of and do just that. If you’re doing a budget horror film and you’ve got a suspenseful but slightly goofy premise, then run with it. Why would you take yourself seriously. Give some credit to the local-boy done good for the effort and for scoring Ray Wise. That’s a win in my book.”

Adoration

VPJ: “Another icy, thought-provoking drama from Canadian auteur Atom Egoyan, this one about a high school student who, as a writing exercise, reveals that his father was a suicide bomber. Or was he? I ain’t tellin’, because, as with much of Egoyan’s films, much of the pleasure comes from the slow reveal, and what the reveal, well, reveals about the connections among the characters. Egoyan’s a tough case for me, one of those obviously-talented directors whose ambition I admire, but whose films leave me cold. Apart from the wrenching ‘The Sweet Hereafter’ (which is the one Egoyan film most people might know), his movies seem to come from, and remain in, a singularly personal space from which he doesn’t seem interested if they ever escape. I can respect that sort of artistic integrity, but it doesn’t necessarily make for great viewing. Another lonely, cold puzzle for the adventurous.”

JE: “So cold, detached dramas are not good enough for you Jonesy? I thought I knew you man. But when you do step back and look at Egoyan’s films you do see something of a pattern of misdirection, ambiguity, secrets and, well, pain. That was certainly the case with ‘The Sweet Hereafter,’ as well as ‘Ararat,’ and ‘Where the Truth Lies,’ where you as the viewer are not sure what’s going on, but you’re not entirely sure the characters are either. I happen to like mysteries, particularly those that unfold with some time trickery by the filmmaker. Egoyan’s films may be a bit dense at times, but typically worth watching if you want a puzzle that ultimately may not come together for you as a viewer. This is not an altogether bad thing, they’re just not exactly dissatisfying, but not necessarily gratifying. Really have to watch to make up your mind.”

The Proposal

VPJ: “Looking back, I recognize that I often give the fans of the high-concept romantic comedy short shrift; I crack a few jokes at the expense of your Matthew McConaugheys, your Jennifer Anistons, or whichever of the blonde Jessica’s is making goo-goo eyes at each other that week, make a dismissive remark that no boy should be expected to watch this, and move on. I apologize, but, really, what is there to say at this point about this sort of movie? The set up: Sandra Bullock is a high-powered executive who’s all mean and stuff to her underling, especially hunky, younger assistant Ryan Reynolds. Unfortunately for her, she’s also Canadian (not that it’s unfortunate to be Canadian, but you’ll see), and she’s going to get deported unless she takes an American husband! If only she had a pretty underling just rattling around who she could make a marriage of convenience to! I mean, it’s not just me, right? I have nothing against a high concept movie, nor anything against the romantic comedy per se; I just expect a little extra effort for my trouble, and ‘The Proposal’ is content to simply serve up a lukewarm slice of premise pie. I sort of like Reynolds; his deceptively-bland good looks hide a nice, mildly-edgy comic persona (he was pretty good in ‘Adventureland’), and Bullock is as spunky and cute as ever (although her playing ‘hard-nosed’ is about as convincing as a puppy with a spiked collar), but there is absolutely no romantic chemistry between them, and the movie tries to distract us from that disastrous fact with shrill, silly busyness. ‘The Proposal’ is serviceable, if your standards are that low, I guess. Sorry to be dismissive, but movies like this make themselves so easy to dismiss.”

JE: “Didn’t Renee  Zellweger just do a movie like this? Or Reese Witherspoon? Or any number of Hollywood’s off-the-shelf romantic comedy pixies? What the heck has the world come to my man? We’re running out of words to describe these efforts or how they make us feel. It feels exhausting just to berate it at this point. But I’m glad you enumerate the reasons why these type of flicks don’t move the meter for us. We’re not just in this to bash chick flicks, it’s not that we’re out of the target demo, it’s not that we’re movie snobs (Have I mentioned how much I like ‘Smokey and the Bandit?). No. It’s just bad movie making. If we’re calling Will Ferrell in ‘Land of the Lost’ bad, then we’ve got no choice but to call this one out too. The worst part is that I really dig Ryan Reynolds, he’s on the verge of entering my man-crush club house. A funny guy who is at ease in any kind of comedy, lightens up any scene he’s in, and, for the ladies, not too bad to look at. But he’s gotta lose points for this. And Bullock? It’s time for her to rejuvenate the career with some TV work and leave the silver screen behind. As for the romantic comedy dilemma, I think we need to convene a podcast where we break down chick flicks in a style that is equal parts John Madden and Tom Servo. America demands no less.”

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Published in: on October 14, 2009 at 8:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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