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The Mist (2017)
An insipid ride into mediocrity
*Minor Spoilers Ahead*
In the age of 'hyper saturated content' -- that is, this over- mediated world in which a rush of new digital innovations have made television production infinitely easier and content much more plentiful as a result -- a television show has got to deliver the goods. Be it through hard hitting action, biting satire, or tear- jerking drama, the modern television show has to play (and play early) to specific sensitivities and sensibilities of viewers. For many content providers, this has meant hybridizing the traditional genre-pic (such as a creature feature) with upfront social themes and modern realities. And for many shows - displayed abundantly in Breaking Bad's scathing subtext about the American health care system - this synergy really works.
In the televised version of 'The Mist', there is an upfront thrust right at the start of the series, even before the action has gotten started, to infuse a series of social themes. But here, instead of coming off as genuine and additive to the story, these themes absolutely fall flat, and worse, seem seriously out of place. Perhaps the biggest reason for this is that the content's creators really don't care about any of the issues they are presenting. Unlike a series such as Black Mirror, where serious themes are presented with a certain conviction that hit viewers hard, themes presented in this series are merely thrown in as flimsy plot points, their only value being to cheaply grab the attention of viewers at various points in the series.
With the potential for a major expansion of the content presented in the original Stephen King story (at least beyond the limited format of the film version), a poor infusion of social themes would not normally condemn this show to the 'do not renew' column. But the series does nothing to redeem itself otherwise, as it falls off early with a combination of a weak and unlikable collection of characters, a meandering and often confusing script, uneven horror sequences, and the interweaving of backstory elements which really seem to add nothing to the story, beyond furthering the viewer's contempt for everyone involved with this production. At one point, we're treated to some nonsensical story about how everyone loved the wife of a central character, how she's now somehow hated by the whole community, how she appears to be principled and taking a stand as a married mother and a teacher -- and after all this, her dialogue reveals that if she hadn't met her current husband, she'd still be 'sleeping around and going from guy to guy'. A woman in her early forties would still be jumping into the bed of every man in town if she hadn't been married? It simply doesn't make any sense.
But perhaps one of the most reprehensible aspects of this show is its revival of the 'evil gay' character -- that long discredited (but at one time common) movie villain I certainly hoped I'd seen the last of long ago. The gay villain was at one time a stereotypical bad-guy character; effeminate, always looking to seduce straight men, and hiding his true (often murderous) intentions, the evil gay was a quick way through which weaker writers could draw a bunch of common events together in a plot by adding in a sinister presence, all the while pushing the old idea of gays as immoral and wicked. Amazingly, The Mist revives this character to the letter -- complete with his seduction of a straight man, his false emotional moments to hide his evil intent, and his ultimately violent and murderous turn.
In essence, The Mist is a failure from the start - but the show's descent down a path to mediocrity is about more than a combination of exploitative themes, poor overall production, and offensive stereotypes pulled right out of the pages of the worst old-time cinema writers. The Mist fails because it absolutely can't get itself together long enough to deliver any serious goods -- and in this hyper-content era, especially drawing from the work of an acclaimed author as well as a well received film -- this series is simply not good enough that anyone should consider watching. Skip this one and watch the film version instead.
A fun, network-television superhero show
Part of the issue with any program these days featuring a female lead is that - unless the show sticks directly to expected gender roles for a woman (eg, the male idea that Supergirl is just expected to be hot blonde in a skimpy outfit that fights crime but on the side should be nothing more than a mindless bimbo), a horde of men will flood comment sections just to decry anything they see as proof of a feminist agenda. Skewing comments sections just to take on a self-righteous, anti feminist pulpit not only demonstrates the absolute weakness and insecurity which many Western males have fallen to, but also obscures anything promising about a new program, especially this show which is not half bad.
Looking past the vast insecurities of many commentators, this is actually a very fun program which (although flimsy and somewhat aimless in its first couple of episodes), builds into an enjoyable super-hero themed drama/comedy program. Mixing good special effects, decent action sequences, above-the-board villains, and yes a bit of social commentary (albeit general commentary, and nothing resembling anything close to a feminist agenda), the show grows on you, especially if you are a white male like myself who does not have deep seated anger towards women, and doesn't feel threatened by the idea of a female hero.
Overall - watch this program, as it's comparable to anything in the network-TV produced hero genre. A great little popcorn show for general entertainment.
Overblown, Hyper Technical, Underdeveloped Head Scratcher
Batman vs. Superman had the potential to deliver more than the standard, high-special effects blockbusters that we've come to expect the Hollywood system will churn out, year after year --- like money-grabbing eye candy simply designed not to liberate your mind, but more so your hard earned cash from your wallet. It had the potential to be more than the typical "hero meets hero, fights hero, teams with hero, fights badguy with hero(es)" comic book films which seem to saturate the genre. And it had the potential to deliver a lot more than its solo progenitors (eg Man of Steel) had given us. Yet for all it's potential, for having a great team, for being technically superior, and perhaps most significantly - for having a relatively superior cast of actors - the viewer is left feeling like they've just been shoveled a mass of hot, steaming lava -- brilliant and hot to the touch, but noxious and blinding at the same time.
One of the film's biggest flaws is its attempts at intertextuality, all of which fall flat. While making reference to prior events that are neither explained, nor sufficiently fleshed out, the viewer is left feeling confused at best -- and at worst, wondering if the cutting room floor somehow yielded a trove of scenes that likely should have been in the film, for no other reason than to make sense of what was going on.
Pacing was fairly lacklustre as well. While never boring - and with some exciting (albeit too fast, and 'blockbuster conventional' in their explosion-per second way) scenes, the film's script never finds any kind of balance between the dramatic and the action. Character relationships appear more or less tacked on to give Ben Affleck and the other big players some professional screen time, and the shift to the action scenes is less exciting than it is jarring and unnerving.
Overall - if you're looking for anything dramatic and gripping in the sense of the Dark Knight, it would be best to avoid this -- a movie which is definitely on the action-only side of the Super Hero genre. On the other hand, going to this movie after having a few beers, with a full box of oh-so-buttery popcorn in hand and a good sense of humor, this is guaranteed to be entertaining. The Citizen Kane of superhero movies was likely achieved in the Batman Series - but as Hero-genre answer to Vin Diesel's XXX, this little number works just fine. Just make sure you've got plenty of beer and popcorn in you - plenty.
Ruby Sparks (2012)
Pictures of Ruby...
In the new age of romantic comedies, the game has been elevated --- no longer are film producers content to create cute, irreverent, quirky comedies featuring two people inadvertently falling in love amidst a hilarious series of events. The standard for today's romantic comedies include - as one might expect in an age when we've purportedly 'seen it all' - the infusion of intense drama, deep character studies, moments of the unexpected and - above all - the attempt to tie characters to the basic triumphs and failings of the ordinary person.
No film in recent memory better encapsulates this new 'value added' approach to romantic comedies than Ruby Sparks. At once, as much a side splitting comedy as it is a charming fantasy and an emotional story about human longing for the unobtainable, Ruby Sparks takes the viewer on a ride which transcends the bounds of a simple genre - quite simply, it is a new wave romance/comedy/drama/tragedy, one that delivers - and delivers well - a range of emotions in a well-wrapped package.
Watching the picture, I was reminded of an old song by the famed musical group, The Who, called 'Pictures of Lily' - about a young man with growing pains whose 'childhood problems' are solved by beautiful images of a woman whom he could only be with in his imagination. In a sense, the film treats viewers to an emotional, and somewhat agonizing, depiction of one young man's growing pains and the images he conjures up (real or not), to be able to cope with having been thrust into an adult role long before he should have, and to deal with a mind which - though brilliant - is perhaps not yet emotionally mature enough to understand women. These growing pains form the basis of what is both an idyllic fantasy, and a lesson in the perils of the not-fully-developed mind of a genius.
Ultimately, Ruby Sparks is a great film - not solely for its added value, and not solely for the great way in which it deftly handles its subject matter. It's a great film because it touches on the themes of human connection, of coming of age, and of loving and losing so well. In this bold new era of film, pictures are supposed to be much more than then genre would normally allow - Ruby Sparks delivers, because it is more, much more, than the viewer expects, and ventures so far beyond what was once classified as a romantic comedy.
Tim and Eric are at it again... With somewhat satisfactory results.
Tim and Eric are back, several years after the demise of their regular program on adult swim, and have somehow found their way to the big screen. With all of the offensive gusto, in-your face silliness, and revolting subject matter they can muster, they manage to stretch their form of ridiculous sketch comedy out into a feature length production with mixed results.
By its very nature, Tim and Eric's regular show barely lends itself to a half hour time slot, let alone a full length feature. Thus, the results of their first foray into film is not far removed from other recent, 'short term sketch comedy' experiments on the silver screen, including Macgruber, most of which have been largely unsuccessful. Many of their regular gags are brought in here -- but stretching these gags out merely makes the film seem long and uninspired.
For die hard fans of Tim and Eric, however, there are some laugh out loud scenes, such as the unexpected explosion of a few characters toward the end of the film. John C. Reilley also delivers a sufficiently pathetic performance as a sickly mall maintenance worker, and other supporting actors ham it up with funny results.
Ultimately, Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie is a mixed bag at best. For fans of the show, it should partially please with some of the right elements, but will no doubt fail to satisfy, as many of the gags have been seen already on the show. For non fans, it's best advised that you skip this one, as it will likely confuse and revolt you more than anything.
The Entrance (2006)
A film with some ambition, but too little edge
Independent films need to push boundaries. With limited budgets, often times little known lead actors and a small chance of distribution, these are the films - of any - that need to 'stand up and be seen', by delivering to the audience something exciting and exceptional. When it comes down to it, the domain of the independent film is one that is ripe with boundary pushing potential; we expect the independents to come in armed with an edge, much more so than their big budget Hollywood Cousins.
The central issue with The Entrance is that it's an independent film which wants to have an edge, and wants to present us with something we haven't seen before -- but in spite of its ambitions, it essentially falls flat. In spite of a somewhat original story, the potential for a good scare or two, an attractive and appealing lead actress and the promise of supernatural horror, we're left with no pay off, even after all of these elements are introduced into the film.
As a prime example of the film's difficulties in translating horror into terror for the audience, we're presented with a number of scenes --a strange woman alone and crying in a creepy, abandoned parking garage, a weird, freaky, wide-eyed old man speaking in strange tones, even people being snatched up and dragged away by an unseen demonic force... But none of these elicit anything from the audience, as there is no edge (little blood, little real suspense and virtually no mood) in each. The audience is left waiting for an eye popping moment, but will likely be unable to do much but shrug as the films slowly progresses.
Another issue lies in the use of the lead actress, Sarah Jane Redmond. While Sarah Jane is a more than competent actress, and delivers the only watchable performance of the film, she is not used to her full potential. There is a certain sensuousness emanating from Sarah's character, a certain sexuality which, as the film alludes to, has been shaped by past events. But this is never explored, and the film largely plays the character as a straight cop, with no deviations. This is not to suggest that Sarah's character needed to get nude, but that different aspects of her physical self and mental self should have been explored - they should have given her character an edge, which she lacked throughout.
More than anything, what really stands out for me was the lack of focus in this picture. In a film with an edge, you'd expect much more of a narrow focus, a certain direction. As this film seems to wander from one scene to the next, and leaves scenes open ended, you never get that razor focus you'd expect in a competent horror film, such as Saw.
Ultimately, the indies need that edge - and this film, though coming with seemingly all the right elements, fails to deliver with any kind of edge at all. It's a shame, considering the energy and work that went into it.
Operation Repo (2007)
Scraping the bottom of the barrel
To say that Luis Pizarro doesn't have an inventive bone in his body barely begins to explain the failure of Operation Repo, a program well in a league with the worst shows currently on television. Filled with unrealistic scenarios, ultra-predictable, clichéd moments and extremely repetitive plot lines, this 'reenacted reality' show fails to deliver on all levels.
So basic is the format of this one-trick pony, that every episode can easily be summed in one sentence: Several large, non attractive people drive around looking for a vehicle to repossess and quickly enter into a conflict with an entirely non-believable caricature of a person or persons after which they drive away and repeat the same cycle.
Programs like this used to be confined to once-per-week, late night viewing, in timeslots which would ensure few people would ever tune in. It's a testament to how baseline television programming has become that this would air during the early evenings on any station.
Overall, if you are looking for a mindless, unfunny, thinly-believable show in which you might find Latin American repo-men freaking out at the sight of tinfoil swords possessed by a gang of medieval, role playing geeks, or in which taxi drivers - about to have their only source of income repossessed - suddenly start moonwalking backwards and singing the best of Michael Jackson (that's exactly what happens when people have their backs against the wall, right?), then watch this show. If you have a hard time believing that a group of uniformed, high school football jocks, in the middle of practice, would suddenly pull out handguns to protect their buddy's car, then you're probably too smart for this show.
Gambling, Gods and LSD (2002)
Interesting journey piece suffering from a lack of direction
Gambling, Gods and LSD is an interesting journey piece which provides some good visuals, thought provoking moments and useful food for thought. At 180 minutes, there is more than enough in this film to satisfy lovers of scenery and imagery.
One of the key flaws of this picture, however, is it's lack of focus and direction. As the film progresses, an absence of momentum becomes clear, as statements are made to the effect that the film makers are just starting to figure the direction they will be taking with this picture. Earlier journey pictures such as Baraka have a clear premise - that is to capture the totality of life in the present, to present a day in life, etc. Gambling Gods and LSD seems to have - at best - an identity crisis in terms of a plot, and this is clear throughout.
Good attempt at a journey film, but not on par with other films of its genre. In an era where we are faced with an excess of information glut, most viewers don't have time to sit through 180 minutes of footage with no definitive direction.
Zombie Strippers! (2008)
Okay horror comedy with some redeeming features
Uneven horror-comedy fails to deliver consistent laughs, but is highlighted by some above average gore effects and imaginative makeup. Taking the often-visited zombie sub genre and injecting it with good levels of sexuality, the producers of this film have created a piece that should appeal to most fans of the walking-undead sub genre.
Robert Englund, as usual, delivers a suitably hammy performance, while Jenna Jameson is perfect in her role as a standoffish lead stripper. There are a few memorable lines in this one, especially when it comes to the exchanges between the dancers and the sleazy club owner (Englund).
Campy horror films such as this usually find an audience, and this one is likely to be no exception. An overall good film to watch on a rainy afternoon, especially with like-minded friends.
Competent and original psych-thriller with a few major flaws
This was a well acted, well shot horror piece with a good script, well thought-out ideas and an all around competent cast. Visual imagery was impressive, and those concepts that seemed 'borrowed' from other films of its ilk still appeared fresh and original.
The one area where this film was lacking was in pacing - using an uneven mixture of uninvolved flashbacks and main story scenes, this film at times felt like plodding cross between the Twilight Zone and the Red Shoe Diaries, as opposed to a legitimate psychological thriller.
Recommendations would be for the release of a re-cut version which picks up the pacing and delivers far more of the main storyline, cutting down on the heavy load of unnecessary flashbacks and needless dialog.
Plague Town (2008)
Standard "Bad Things in the Backwoods" horror pic
This is yet another horror entry featuring the well-trodden plot line of ordinary folks taking a stroll through the countryside, only to be menaced by odd and ghoulish happenings. As with others of its ilk, this one relies on a familiar formula and features the standard subgenre motifs of pasty faced weirdos, creepy children and malicious townsfolk.
As this has been done innumerable times, and with much better results, this one largely falls flat. There are some above average makeup and gore effects, but these are lost in a picture which fails to differentiate itself from a plethora of other "Bad Things in the Backwoods" type films which dominate the throwaway bin at your local video store.
The Last Winter (2006)
Snowed in thriller thaws out and goes stale quickly
An exploratory crew operating on behalf of an American oil company runs afoul of arctic nasties.
A standard entry in the "mysterious thing in the arctic" subgenre of horror films, this one starts interestingly enough, but is quickly weighed down by a lack of overall development and some weak performances by the cast. Squandering the opportunity to create a suspenseful horror film with an ecological slant, Larry Fessenden and his team let this one melt down in a very unsatisfactory fashion. The ending in particular displays an amazing lack of effort and imagination.
Yes, this is one for the waste-paper bin. This cartoon, possibly among the worst animated features of all time, reeks of cut-corners, rock-bottom production values, and sheer laziness. I have a good vision of Steve Ditko and Stan Lee throwing their hands in the air by the second or third episode and leaving the production company to carry the entire, failed project themselves. No thinking person could ever claim, let alone want to claim, responsibility for this embarrassment. The theme song is, as stated by other users, about as pleasant as a five-inch hornet lodged in your eardrum, and the "style" of animation they used makes us long for the professional, superior quality of shows like "Kevin Spencer" or "South Park". Possibly the worst part about all of this is that this trite, sub-amateurish show now plays on the Cartoon Network (Canada), and that classic programs such as Rocket Robin Hood, Spiderman and Hercules still aren't getting the running time they deserve.
A Half Hearted Attempt Ends in Big Screen Vomit
From the get-go, this was a study in bad. Bad acting, bad directing, bad pacing, bad special effects... Even Martin Sheen looked terrible in this tepid, spat-up loser of a movie. The CGI graphics and special effects look as if they were concieved by some fifth-rate graphic designer who was just fresh from failing out of the Delaware College of Design, and the poor handling of the (read all) action scenes in this one made me bite my nails - not out of edginess, but more out of a desire not to tear the tape out of the VCR and stomp it underfoot. Avoid this one if at all possible.