Archive for July, 2013

The Conjuring (2013) – James Wan (Dir.), Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lily Taylor, Ron Livingston, Joey King, the Children of the Corn: Female Edition, and a Creepy Fucking Doll

Worst. Santa. Ever.

Worst. Santa. Ever.

Um…guys…can you, um, switch on the lights? Please? Like…like…all of them?

Guys? Why isn’t the light switch working? *Click, click* Guys? This isn’t funny.

HOLY FUCKING SHIT. WHAT WAS THAT? Did that door open by itself? Guys, I’m being serious right now. Fucking stop it.

JESUS MARY JOSEPH AND THE OTHER ALL THE OTHER PLANETEERS, WHAT WAS THAT?

Oh. It was just a camera getting really close to my face. Get out of my way, camera. Why are you so close to me? Why are you focusing just behind my head and not on my face? And why is it so silent all of a sudden?

Wait…wait…should I look behind me? I’m gonna look…I’m gonna look behind me…right…now…

WHAT THE…?

…CONSTIPATION CURED.

(Commercial Voice) Talk to your doctor today about The Conjuring to help with your dyschezia. If you suffer from backed-up bowels The Conjuring might be for you. Side effects include: Mild Heart Failure, Spontaneous Urination, Close-Up Camera Fatigue, Acute 70s Nostalgia, Exorcist Deja Vu, and Bat-Shit Lily Tomlin Syndrome (BSLTS or BathSaLTS). If you or any loved ones suffer nychtophobia, insomnia, sciophobia, wiccaphobia, pediophobia or Vera-Farmigitis, please consult your physician before trying The Conjuring.

Oh the horror (genre). The horror…(genre). What a silly beast you are. My love for you is as undying as your supernatural antagonists and the rage you cause me is comparable to transforming me into a machete-weilding hockey-masked demon and slicing up my Netflix Account (side note: does anyone know a quick fix for “Machete in Your PS3”? I googled it, but there’s nothing helpful). It is a genre that has produced perhaps some of the greatest and certainly the most turd-ulent of cinematic terrors. On the one hand, we have The Shining. On the other…Paranormal Activity 4. In the ‘good’ category, there’s Rosemary’s Baby and in the bad there’s, well, everything else. Other than the annual Spielbergian Oscar grabs, there is no class of movies more emotionally manipulative or as formulaic. While, for the most part, the directors of these schlockfests usually depend upon cheap scares and the cinematic equivalent of ‘Gotcha’ Journalism, sometimes horror movies can be more effective than most at delving into deeper questions about the fabric and quality of humanity. While a soul-searching, uplifting drama of nauseating optimism might champion the strength of the human spirit, horror can venture equally far into the darkness. As they say, the brighter the sun, the darker the shadow. And if they don’t, they should (even though it makes no physical sense).

"WHO ATE ALL OF MY FUCKING COOKIES?" ~ Vera Farmiga, alpha.

“WHO ATE ALL OF MY FUCKING COOKIES?” ~ Vera Farmiga, alpha.

Mr. James Wan, the director of this quaint little ditty, is a fascinating fellow. His career, though short, is as storied and perhaps more grotesquely marred than Nick Nolte’s DUI record. His first film, Saw, the Rosa Parks of torture porn, if you will, transformed the terrorscape forever more, shifting mindless zero-budget BS from the hack-and-slashers of what I call the “80s Hangover”, towards the direction of the openly misogynistic (Hostel: Part II), the purely sadistic (The Human Centipede: Full Sequence) or the utterly pus-ridden and mind-melting (Saw III). Since then, he’s explored the failed career of Donnie Wahlberg as he fights dolls (Dead Silence), Kevin Bacon getting angry (Death Sentence) and the utterly bemusing and more-tonally-inconsistent-than-a-dubstep-appreciation-concert Insidious. It was that last film that clued me into a long lost talent, residing hidden below the surface of jump-scares and nonsensical scary mask design. The first act of Insidious is careful and tense, allowing shots to linger and the silence to infest. It employed Actors (with a capital A) such as stage veteran Patrick Wilson and so-deadpan-you-need-to-check-for-a-pulse Rose Byrne. There were shocks and genuinely disturbing imagery gradually seeping through each frame, growing to a throbbing and spine-tingling crescendo… And then the second half begins and subtlety is thrown to the wind, like a pair of panties captured after a Revenge of the Nerd-esque undergarment raid. We have mediums and ghostbusters and battles in the land of the spirits, not to mention an out-of-the-blue plot point that derails the story faster than you can say “Where the fuck did that creepy old lady come from?”

Now, we have the next stage of his horror opus, The Conjuring. This little ditty tells the tale of Ed and Lorraine Warren, two of the most famous real-life demonoligists this side of the River Styx, as they tackle a tormented house in the backwoods of Rhode Island (and, yes, Rhode Island has backwoods, no matter how small you think it is. Well, it’s more of a back ‘garden’, but you get the idea). Now, these two were the ones brought in to exorcise the Amityville Horror back in the day (though they couldn’t exorcise some fucking profit from the 2006 remake. BOOYAH!) and their work inspired the so-straight-forward-it-might-as-well-be-a-fucking-ruler titled A Haunting in Connecticut. You thought that stuff was scary? No? Well, neither did anyone else, BUT, and that’s a massive Kardashian-sized heiny, this is the scariest tale of them all. Or, at least, the Polanski-esque credits tell us so in the opening frames. Wilson, taking a second crack at a decent movie with Wan, is back as Ed and the delectable and inexplicably frilly-caped Vera Farmiga joins the crew as Lorraine. They hold the center of this tale, their chemistry unmistakable; and they offer a beating heart that is so often lacking in this sort of by-the-numbers ghost story nonsense. The family, on the other hand, does their best to exemplify the classic American Unit, though there’s so many of them (all female) that 1) it’s impossible to distinguish any of them, other than the one that was in White House Down and 2) they look like the Children of the Fucking Corn. I half expected them to transform into some kind of satanic Wicker Woman and cover Patrick Wilson in bees. The parental units are the targets, however. Lily Taylor, an actress who has already slogged through the supernatural sewer in 1999’s Owen-Wilson-gets-decapitated classic The Haunting, has once more drawn the short straw. Throughout the course of the film, along with Ms. Farmiga, she is dragged through metaphorical and literal hell. Meanwhile, Ron “That Guy Whose Career Stalled After Office Space Because He Only Speaks in Semi-Concerned Monotone” Livingston gets off almost scott-free as the kinda distant, mostly clueless father.

"What? Is it my hair? It's my hair isn't it. I look like a Ken doll, don't I? WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME HOW DUMB I LOOKED BEFORE WE LEFT THE HOUSE?!" ~ Patrick Wilson, oblivious.

“What? Is it my hair? It’s my hair isn’t it. I look like a Ken doll, don’t I? WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME HOW DUMB I LOOKED BEFORE WE LEFT THE HOUSE?!” ~ Patrick Wilson, oblivious.

Alright, what’s the plot? Fresh off the case of the Freakiest Demonic Doll You’ve Ever Fucking Seen, the Warrens are called in to investigate the Perron family. They’ve been plagued with night after night of knocks and claps and smashing things and closing doors and opening doors and odors of rotting meat. The Warrens show up and Farmiga immediately goes into “Pressurized Eyeballs Being Sucked From Skull” mode. Shit ain’t right. After about 10 minutes of research, they discover that a witch literally sacrificed her child to Satan and then hung herself on the property about a hundred years before. Since then, there have been suicides and murder-suicides in store for any family unlucky enough to file a mortgage on the place. At this point, Ed Warren literally says, “Well, that explains a lot.” No joke. Anyhoo, the hauntings become worse and Bathsheba (yep, actual name) possesses the poor and haggard Ms. Taylor, who then spends the latter half of the movie acting like hemophilic Beatles fan. The haunting escalates faster than a moving walkway on meth and soon they have no choice but to exorcise the spirit without the Vatican’s help.

"NO! DON'T TAKE ME BACK TO THE HAUNTING! I CAN'T TAKE ANYMORE LIAM NEESON! PLEEEEEASE!" Lily Taylor, damaged.

“NO! DON’T TAKE ME BACK TO THE HAUNTING! I CAN’T TAKE ANYMORE LIAM NEESON! PLEEEEEASE!” Lily Taylor, damaged.

To be clear, there is nothing, I mean nothing innovative about this movie. You will most likely walk from the theater muttering, “I’ve seen all that before.” But your knees are still shuddering and you still check behind every goddamn door in your darkened home before slipping into bed. It seems that this is James Wan’s attempt at pure quality rather than creative depth. Almost every frame is referential to every decent horror film for the last 30 years, most notably The Exorcist. But the references don’t plague the film. They’re subtle emotional cues that, for those that notice them, usually act as harbingers of anxiety. This movie is tense. Wan knows that he only has about three tricks in his shallow tool bag, but he knows how to use them. Where Kubrick employed color tone and long, static lingering shots, Wan keeps things close, dark and unbroken. So often he keeps the take going as long as humanly possible, no doubt orchestrating some kind of graceful choreography behind the scenes to catch us off guard at every moment. It would have been nice to see this story, set in the mid-70s, to have been filmed on actual film rather than HD digital. But, alas, such things are of the past for money-minded studios. Along with that, one of Wan’s most beloved fallbacks is his creature design. He can’t help tossing in a creepy doll here and an old-lady face there. The film is truly unnerving when the threat is only suggested, much as Spielberg discovered in Jaws. Luckily, Wan’s visual indiscretion doesn’t become apparent until closer to the end, when the witch begins popping into frame with increasingly pointless frequency, a pale imitation of a Sam Raimi prosthetic. Until you see it, though, the movie is tenser than Thanksgiving Dinner after Grandma Sally brings up ‘The Negroid Problem’.

"Quick! Get this woman a plastic surgeon!" Vera, helping.

“Quick! Get this woman a plastic surgeon!” Vera, helping.

James Wan, for all of his earlier career faults, is gradually growing into a solid delivery boy of scares. His talent may seem limited to a few predictable fall-backs, but he manages to keep his direction tight and focused. I held my hand over my eyes for a good many sections of the movie. I DON’T DO THAT. EVER. For me, most scary movies are about as unnerving as a fucking squirrel in a tutu. Usually all I do is laugh and then question the humanity of dressing up a rodent in a ballerina outfit. Wan’s skill increases dramatically with every feature, both figuratively and literally. While his next movie might be the seemingly tepid sequel to the bat-shit Insidious, the feature following is the seventh addition to the brain-explodingly brilliant Fast and Furious franchise. Perhaps there he will discover a new set of tricks, what with abs and biceps and carburetors flying about the frame, before returning to horror with a set of terror-inducing weaponry to truly create something magnificent.

Godspeed, sir. Godspeed.

Pacific Rim (2013) – Guillermo Del Toro (Dir.), Charlie Hunnam, Charlie Day, Idris “Charlie” Elba, Rinko “Chuck” Kikuchi, Burn “That is His ACTUAL Name; Also Charles” Gorman, Ron “Chaz, Chuckles, Charmeleon” Perlman

Jaegers vs. Kaiju. German vs. Japanese. It's like the opposite of World War II!

Jaegers vs. Kaiju. German vs. Japanese. It’s like the opposite of World War II!

I have a very tenuous and strange relationship with Guillermo Del Toro’s almost-pornographically eponymous epic of robots-battling-ocean-aliens, Pacific Rim. It has been years since the genius Mexican director (literally. IQ is off the charts) has been offered a chance to actually make a movie. Ever since Hellboy: The Golden Army, he has been flush with enough cinematic deals to make even Spielberg balk and, like Clint Eastwood’s erectile ability, his career has steadily deflated over the last five years. First it was Halo, the video-game adaptation that only the masculine-minded adolescent high-of-hormones and the verbally-flatulent begged for. That fell apart. Then there was The Hobbit. But, like some kind of Gollum, Peter Jackson kicked the hefty hispanic auteur from the project screaming “MY PRECIOUS!” and, like the Ring to Rule them All, it perverted something beautiful and delightful into a 3 hour tonally inconsistent J.R. Tolkcle-Jerk. Finally, Del Toro’s last attempt at salvaging what was once an Oscar nominated run in the Hollywood whore-dome, he was greenlit to adapt H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness with a $200 million budget, an R-rating and Tom Cruise. Guess which aspect of that fell apart? Oh, right, all of it. And so, the endlessly talented Mr. Del Toro has been wandering from studio to studio begging for work, a latter day Nikola Tesla, once a pioneer genius and now dying alone penniless in a New York hotel.

And now! Finally! He has returned! Pacific Rim uses up all of those pesky Cthulu drawings he did for the Lovecraft movie and transforms them into immense beasts labeled, according to the opening credits (sponsored by Merriam-Webnerd’s Dictionary), Kaiju. These things have come out of a dimensional rift in, you guessed it, the Pacific Ocean, and are gradually laying waste to the terrified citizenry of earth. To combat them, all of the nations of the world  came together (HA. Like that would ever happen) to build Jaegers, skyscraper-esque fully-loaded androids piloted by two people (I’ll get to that in a second). And that’s about it. I mean, there is a plot that extends past that…technically. But, in essence, it boils down to ROBOT SMASH. We have the deflated and utterly uncharismatic lead character, [INSERT WHITE MALE HERE] who is looking for a new co-pilot after his brother played by [INSERT ANOTHER WHITE MALE HERE] was killed in again, all the while butting heads with [INSERT YET ANOTHER WHITE MALE HERE]. Overseeing it all is Idris “If Morgan Freeman Ate Cigarettes” Elba, as the passionate and grumbly General (and this is not a joke, this is his actual name) Stacker Pentecost. Bang Bang from The Brothers Bloom (Rinko Kikuchi) shows up as the only character with even the most minute amount of depth and takes over as the emotionally questionable co-pilot for Charlie Hunnam, who you might recognize from shooting Julianne Moore in the throat during Children of Men (SPOILERS). Also, they find a feral Philly boy (Charlie Day), give him a medical degree and then link his brain into a Kaiju’s. Aaaaaaand no Del Toro movie is complete without Ron Perlman strutting in like some kind of heavenly pimp and shooting off the best lines in the fucking movie: “I’m Hannibal Chau. I took my first name from my favorite enemy of Rome and my last name from my second favorite Chinese restaurant.” People die, things explode, Charlie Day yells about things and the day is saved.

These are three of the leads. From left: Bland, Blander and Vanilla Ice

These are three of the male leads. From left: Bland, Blander and Vanilla Ice

How did this film come into being? The intrinsically cynical side of my movie adoration assumes that the studio meeting went a little like this: Mr. Del Toro, after months without work and eating nothing but stale popcorn and pasta with cheese, sat in the waiting room with the blueprint for a fantasy epic. It would be a tour de force, spanning both medieval and modern European history, pulling in mythology and thematic resonance from every possible culture, all coalescing into a beautiful whole before building to a thought-provoking and cathartic end. However, when he stepped into the room and, in moderately broken English, described what could be a latter day Jason and the Argonauts or perhaps a cinematic Ulysses, the executive, who, in my brain, is smoking a cocaine-laced cigar and his feet resting on an unpaid sex-tern (indeterminate gender) stops him mid-word and says, “That’s gay. Gimme something else.”

So, Del Toro, terrified he might have to return to his job of playing Michael Moore’s doppelganger at Bar Mitzvahs, looks around the room and says, “Um…how about…uh…robots…?”

Executive (chewing hemlock), “I LOVE IT. It’s like Transformers! Or Real Steel! Or Barbara Streisand’s face! Go on.

Del Toro, “And, uh, monsters…big ones…from outer…”

Executive (autoerotically asphyxiating), “Space? Boring. You’re losing me, SEÑOR.”

Del Toro, “From the ocean! And they fight! And the robots could be controlled by two pilots so that their dreams and memories are combined allowing us to explore…”

Executive, neck pulsing from an overdose of amphetamines, “IT’S LIKE POWER RANGERS THE MUTHERFUCKING MOVIE! WHY HASN’T ANYONE MADE THAT YET? TAKE ALL THE MONEY YOU NEED!”

Thus, Pacific Rim was born. Now, this may seem like I didn’t enjoy the movie. I did. Thoroughly.  It is, in essence, the culmination of a young child sitting in a toy box and smashing his plastic figurines about, a pint-sized wanton and ruthless god, torturing his minute Mattel minions. I was once that child. I was once the arbiter of imaginary obliteration for my army of defenseless Ghostbusters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, G.I. Joes, and Barbies…I mean, not Barbies. I didn’t play with Barbies. And they totally didn’t have weddings to the G.I. Joes with 21-gun salutes. And military soirees. And they totally didn’t role-play the “Your Husband Died in Action Fighting Teddy Ruxpin”, which would have totally won the Andrew’s Imaginary Playground Oscars if My Little Pony hadn’t developed ovarian cancer while dealing with a fucking divorce from the Care Bears. NONE OF THAT EVER HAPPENED.

I wish I had more friends growing up.

"WHY WASN'T I IN A LOVECRAFT MOVIE? DAMN YOU STUDIO POLITICS!" ~ rough translation.

“WHY WASN’T I IN A LOVECRAFT MOVIE? DAMN YOU STUDIO POLITICS!” ~ rough Kaiju translation.

Anyhoo. The robots are big. The monsters are bigger. The explosions are eruptive and might jostle your bowels. And yes, that little boy that lives inside of us all (not literally…unless you’re pregnant) gets to rollick and roil in the theater seats as big things go boom. Even though, in some misguided attempt at thematic meteorological metaphor or pathetic fallacy (literary term. Ask my mom) or just because it’s cheaper, every fucking battle happens at night and in the rain. Am I to expect it’s ALWAYS monsoon season in Hong Kong? I’m pretty sure they have daylight at least 14 hours a day, but that’s just me. This movie, in the hands of a novice or an idiot, could have been essentially Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla 2: Hong Kong Boogaloo. Del Toro ain’t slow. In almost every aspect of this thing, his quality and creativity seeps through, whether he wants it to or not. While the characters are about as interesting as the climax of Drying Paint: The Motion Picture and the script was most likely, at one point, scribbled on the inside of a bathroom stall during a particularly strenuous coke-hooker-and-ass triumvirate, Del Toro holds this thing together, delivering an exciting and compelling piece of schlock. It’s dumb. But goddamn is it pretty. As always, the art direction is impeccable and the creature design is fancy enough to make Ray “Harry” Harryhausen suffer incontinence (but then again, everything does. Because he’s old. Or dead. One of the two).

Perhaps the most bemusing and delightful aspect of the movie is its utterly incongruous comedic subplot following the man simultaneously voted Least Likely to Get a PhD and Most Likely to Electrocute Himself, Charlie Day, as he sprints through Hong Kong hunting down an intact Kaiju brain in order to discover the ins and outs of their hive-mind-based species. While blandy Mc-Vanilla-face (Charlie Hunnam) beats the shit out of Cloverfield with a fucking freighter, Day’s antics both provide a respite from the visual over-stimulation and illuminates the intelligence subtly humming under this movie’s surface. Del Toro, like most boys with proclivities of the comic-book variety, are no strangers to sci-fi world building. In fact, I would guess that his favorite part of any new project isn’t necessarily Spielbergian emotional manipulation, but the world-crafting essentials. I’m willing to bet that he has notebooks filled with the history of the Kaiju, the details of their societal structure, the basics of their biology as well as the history of the Kaiju war in its totality. I mean, come on, the guy defines words in the first frame. He makes up dumb terms like “Neuro-Drifting” and “Shatterdome”. No great sci-fi can ever be without nonsense word-copulation and this does not disappoint. This feels like a fully-realized conflict, rather than the ho-hum idiocy of the Transformer movies.

Charlie: "Awww man, I wish I got to wear a crazy costume like you." Ron: "What costume?"

Charlie: “Awww man, I wish I got to wear a crazy costume like you.”
Ron: “Costume?”

It is a shame, however, that Del Toro is reduced to the Hollywood sidelines. He is quickly becoming analogous to the scarily phonetically-similar Terry Gilliam. Del Toro demonstrated with The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth that he is capable of brilliant historic and magically realistic storytelling that resonates on a pure, human level. It’s no secret that some of that emotional subtlety was lost on Pacific Rim. There are flashes, however. Perhaps the most compelling concept hiding under the smash and boom antics is the concept of ‘Drifting’, where two pilots, incapable of controlling a Jaeger by themselves, need to link neurally to share the load. All dreams and memories are melded and, if the link isn’t stable, the two can be caught in a maelstrom of mental disarray. In these moments, Del Toro’s narrative abilities shine through, tiny rays breaking out of the overwhelming clouds of AWESOME. If there was anyone who could bring pathos to a tale such as this, it is that man. He doesn’t quite overcome the limits of the passable script, but he makes the thing, for the most part, coherent (Some of the fight scenes were more confusing than a badger on acid…but, full disclosure, I watched this after seeing Despicable Me 2 and brought enough booze for myself, my girlfriend and another friend but, after my GF fell asleep and my friend bailed, I drank all of it myself. So…that might have contributed to the bemusement).

I beg the Hollywood Idiocracy to grant Del Toro the chance to flourish as the great filmmaker he’s meant to be. He could make something great, something new, something timeless. He could offer children the next Star Wars or Indiana Jones. J.J. Abrams is proving himself to be the Zooey Deschanel of directors, pretty and intriguing, but you kind of get sick of the shallowness after a while. GIVE DEL TORO A CHANCE, HOLLYWOOD!

Unless they hate Mexicans for some reason. I mean, they let Robert Rodriguez stick his thumb up his ass, why can’t they let Del Toro do something good?

Abduction (2011) –  John Singleton (Dir.), Taylor Lautner, Lily Collins, Maria Bello, Jason Isaacs, Alfred Molina, Sigourney Weaver, Michael Nyquist, Dylan McDermott

I think e.e. cummings wrote that tagline during his CAPITALS period.

I think e.e. cummings wrote that tagline during his CAPITALS period.

In our second episode (well, third, but we got WAAAAAAAAY too drunk to show our episode on Mirror Mirror) we explore the brilliant, genre-defining, ab-defying, franchise-igniting epic that is Taylor Lautner’s Abduction. Erin’s choice may or may not have fried our brains out of our earholes. From random white men getting shot in the face to a surprise cameo from Not-The-Rock, this movie was everything that we never wanted. How many times can you claw out your own eyes?

Will this cinematic treat lead to a second, ab-ier Bourne trilogy? Can Taylor Lautner act? How many drugs was Maria Bello on during filming? Why is Lucius Malfoy a good guy? Was Alfred Molina in any movies where his spinal cord is inextricably attached to four metal arms that try to kill Tobey Maguire? All the answers you seek lie in our second episode of our award winning (not really) webseries, Whine & Cheese.

Despicable Me 2 (2013) – Chris Renaud, Pierre Coffin (Dir.), Steve Carrell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt, Russell Brand, Steve Coogan, an adorable child, and the directors mumbling French gibberish

This poster is oddly illustrative of this movies utter lack of concern for anything other than the minions. And I'm okay with that.

This poster is oddly illustrative of this movies utter lack of concern for anything other than the minions. And I’m okay with that.

Inevitability is an odd thing. There are some choices that, though we avoid like some kind of bubonic plague, manage to follow us throughout our lives, dogging us at every turn, ready to infect us with pus-spewing boils. They become the emotionless body snatchers, one by one removing the populace from their willful ignorance and turning them into one of the horde. For so long I was the Donald Sutherland, the Naomi Watts, if you will, of this horrendous trend, this insidious reign of unmitigated mediocrity, this scattegorically-obsessed prepackaged product designed to melt the minds of children into a susceptible mush of malleable marketability. I am, of course, talking about non-Pixar digital animation.

Yes, ring the snob alarm, if you please. Douse me in two day old caviar and flat champagne. Perhaps beat me with a Prada bag, whatever you please. But, yes, I hold children’s movies in extremely high regard. Children are simultaneously the dullest and the smartest creatures to ever spread across the face of the earth. Their minds and imaginations are, for the most part, blank slates ready to be sketched upon. I firmly believe the media we consume from an early age directly influences whether that sketch on that slate is something more akin to a Rembrandt or one of those things that a 3 year-old hands you that looks like a sausage covered in hair and the words “tHis my doGG”. For example, while watching this movie, there was a child behind me who spoke almost every line of the film in unison with it until his father begged him to stop. He’d seen it once. Was this child Rain Man? Fuck no. He’s a child! I still have awkward sound cues and snippets of dialogue from The Nightmare Before Christmas branded into my memory. Children are sponges and, if they even half-enjoy something, they will gorge upon its contents like a rabid Furby.

That being said, in the most pompous fashion possible, I’ve been in an unadulterated love affair with Pixar since Toy Story 2. Not only is their animation and direction fucking amaze balls, but their stories and themes strike deep at the heart of myriad emotional trials and tribulations. We have the tale of an overbearing father learning to let go while his son realizes he isn’t as weak as he thought (Finding Nemo), how to let go of our childhood and pass it on to the next generation (Toy Story 3), the dangers of pollution and the friendship of cockroaches (Wall-E) and how to be a really fast car that talks (full disclaimer: I’ve never seen Cars). Basically, with a few hiccups ignored here and there (I probably won’t be seeing Monsters University any time soon) their record is almost immaculate, culminating with one of the most heartbreaking tales to ever be told in 10 minutes, Up.

Hey children, interested in a new way to use Dad's poorly guarded golf clubs?Look and learn!

Hey children, interested in a new way to use Dad’s poorly guarded golf clubs?Look and learn!

So, after years of poopooing anything digitally animated lacking the Pixar stamp, turning my nose up at such harrowing classics as A Shark’s TaleOver the Hedge, Shrek 4: The One with JT and Ice Age 12: Now With More Rappers, I finally gave in and watched Despicable Me. Immediately, it is riddled with symptoms of lackluster kids movies. We have a mainly R&B soundtrack put together by a talented and completely child-unfriendly artist (Pharrell Williams),  a celebrity cast that looks like the guest list to a Woody Allen Young Woman Appreciation Party (and all of them timidly accepted) as well as already dated, over-the-head pop culture references that no child would ever understand (there is a joke about Lehman Brothers. I shit you not. What child, Doogie Houser aside, knows who the fuck Lehman Brothers is? I barely do. Shit!) Honestly, Despicable Me was utterly charming, for the most part. Yes, the minions, spouting their French nonsense (is that redundant?) while giggling and blowing each other up is chuckle-worthy. And, okay, yes, I let out a ‘Ha’ when Russell Brand’s Dr. Nefario creates a Fart Gun after mishearing directions. AND HOLY SHIT, AGNES IS FUCKING ADORABLE.

Here’s my issue with Despicable Me: everything that isn’t the main characters. They spent a great deal of time and energy upping the cuddle-factor, making Steve Carrell’s Gru a sort of Beauty and the Beast-like anti-hero that, for all of his nefarious deeds, like that one magical hooker, has a heart of gold. It’s everything else that’s the problem. The plot concerns Gru trying to get a loan from a bank to pay for his plan to steal the moon. Yes. Loans were involved. I get hives when even considering the concept of higher level interest rates. How the fuck is a kid going to understand that? Meanwhile, the bank manager instead gives the funds to his pear-shaped son, a villain who tries, and miserably fails, to create his own catchphrase. Sorry, guys, in a world where we have “Yippee kai yay, mutherfucker”, “I’ll be back”, “Use the force,” “You shall not pass”, and “I drink your milkshake”, the phrase “OH YEAH!” isn’t going to cut it. Especially when those words are coming from the mouth of Jason “I’m Over it” Segel. The guy sounds like he rolled out of bed, lit a blunt, and hurriedly spewed every line of dialogue into a fucking dictaphone, sent it to the studio and cashed a check large enough to make my bank account weep with shame.

"Did Barney the Dinosaur just have an accident on your face, or are you just happy to see me?"

“Did Barney the Dinosaur just have an accident on your face, or are you just happy to see me?”

It was Shrek, that feast of anachronistic fairy tale oddities, that began this trend of inserting famous people into voice acting roles. Yes, we know why you hire Eddie Murphy. We have all seen Delirious (except me. I haven’t. Oops). We also know that, once upon a time, Mike Myers was a bankable talent (shudder). Even John Lithgow has a voice that make bowels loosen and widows faint. But Cameron Diaz? Her? The lady’s strength is her looks. Once you strip that away, all you have left is a tepid and grating personality. It’s like, why the fuck do you cast Taylor Swift in an animated movie? So you can make sure she sings over the end credits? You might as well just hire out a speech therapy clinic for the afternoon. At least those people know how to string words together. If you notice, Pixar never, never lists their cast over posters or the opening credits. Why? Who the fuck cares! Voice acting is a different beast altogether. Here’s something that will blow your noggin: Mark Hamill, remember him? Luke “What Happened to My Career and My Face?” Skywalker? You know what his meal ticket has been for the last twenty years? And I’ll give you a clue, it ain’t Lucasfilm royalty checks. He plays the Joker in the iconic Batman: the Animated Series. Yes, the fucking Joker. Perhaps the greatest incarnation of the character until Heath Ledger ate too many popsicles and covered his hair in bacon grease. Voice actors are voice actors. Why, oh why, would you pay money for Jemaine Clement to voice a minion, when all you’re going to do is mix it into oblivion to sound like all the other minions?

Well, after all that, why don’t we talk about Despicable Me 2? This time around, Gru has become a full-on single parent of the three orphans and left his life of villainy behind. However, there is a new threat to the world and he’s the only person the Anti-Villainy League (yep, no prizes for originality there) can rely on to discover who is behind a plot to create an army of purple, indestructible super-beings. By his side is the new and utterly unpredictable Lucy (Kristen “Sitting on the ‘Tina Fey Throne of Female Comedians'” Wiig) as a super agent with a penchant for being simultaneously completely clueless and infinitely resourceful. While his minions are being picked off one by one and transformed into a purple army of crazed Eraserhead impersonators, Gru and Lucy open a fake bakery (or fakery, thanks Weeds!) in the inaptly named Paradise Mall. From there, we have childhood romances, adventures with jam, an insane guard chicken, and dangerously-close-to-racist antagonist.

DO YOU SEE? DO YOU SEE?

DO YOU SEE? DO YOU SEE?

It seems that the charm factor has blown itself into oblivion once more. While Agnes isn’t offered too much of the spotlight (with the gigglicious exception of that one scene in the trailer with her and Gru), the focus is on the infinite stream of precocious minions and their increasingly bizarre and gender-bending exploits. Also, remember that fart gun? Yes, it comes back. They milk that puppy for all it’s fucking worth. And, once more, the cavalcade of b-listers continues with the omnipresent Ken Jeong showing up for one bemusingly sexual scene in a wig shop and Kristen Schaal as an indestructible Barbie-doll during perhaps the most surreal and vestigial section of the entire fucking film. Let’s take a moment to go over it: Gru, while trying endlessly to avoid his neighbor’s attempts to set him up with a lady, agrees to go on a date with boobs-mcgee because…he has a wig now? And they go to dinner where Schaal proceeds to do one arm push ups and scream in his face (boobs everywhere) and then finally breaks into full rabid-nutso mode until Lucy shows up and shoots her with moose tranquilizer. The rest of the segment involves Gru and Lucy bonding over smashing the Rohypnol-ed vixen face-first into anything they can find. What the fuck?

Ultimately, the movie was fun. It was as deep as a claustrophobe’s spelunking threshold, but it kept the giggles coming. It was nice to see characters of other race in the film (the bad guy is a mexican wrestler)…though they all end up being evil. Also, it’s nice to have so many women on screen…though three of them are children and the last, Lucy, is about as mentally stable and coherent as Finnegan’s Wake on acid. Is she incompetent? Overly competent? A child? Obsessive compulsive? A manic pixie dream girl? But yes, there were dance sequences including a mildly subversive YMCA booty-break-down and the finale was both hilarious and secretly referential (World War Z, anyone?). All in all, my axe grinding shall halt a moment. I’ll place it on the ground and, perhaps, select a spoon with which to sup upon this light meal. It won’t last forever. It’s no Incredibles. Its imagination maxes out after ‘Three Stooges’ level horseplay. But, it’s a treat. It won’t give you a heart attack or diabetes. It’s harmless and delightful. And, for now, I’m simply going to willfully ignore everything from Pixar until The Good Dinosaur finally materializes in theaters. Let’s hope it’s a little more interesting than The Land Before Time 19: the Search for Spockasaurus. 

White House Down (2013) – Roland Emmerich (Dir.), Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, James Woods, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Richard Jenkins, Jason Clarke, Jimmy Simpson, that black guy from LOST, no, not that one, the creepy thin one, well, I guess he was in Fringe too, but I never saw that.

From the man who brought us Evil Shakespeare, Danny Glover as the US President, global warming chasing Jake Gyllenhaal down a hallway and Will Smith punching an alien in the fucking face.

From the man who brought us Evil Shakespeare, Danny Glover as the US President, global warming chasing Jake Gyllenhaal down a hallway and Will Smith punching an alien in the fucking face.

There are two ways to review this movie. Firstly, as the obsessive schadenfraude-loving schlock-queen I never wish to admit that I am; and secondly, as the shrewdly opined writer of screen reviews. There were a number of choices leading to the viewing of this sure-to-be-classic of the bargain bin. Perhaps the most impactful of all was that, in the spirit of the White House’s codename in IPA being Whiskey Hotel, I consumed what might be considered a Hotel California’s amount of whiskey in order to stomach all two hours. And boy, was it worth it. The secondary choice, which only made itself apparent the following day, was seeing this movie during perhaps the most celebratory Pride Weekend since the US government decided burning gay people at the stake isn’t really a good idea. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

So, what is White House Down? Oh so many things. Is it an action movie? Well, there’s certainly some action. Is it a comedy? I did laugh. A lot. Is it a political thriller? Well, it was thrilling. Political? I think this movie understands as much about US democracy as a two year old diabetic understands about chocolate milk. She likes it. She douses herself in it. However, after a little too much, she starts shaking and needs to be taken to the hospital. In the end, as I shambled from the movie theater, my friends hooting and hollering with glee at this giddily flamboyant pastiche of horrendous cliches mashed together into some kind of nauseating and soul-consuming patriot-paste, I had no earthly concept of what I had just witnessed. Whatever this movie might be, there is one unmitigated fact resting at the center of this mind-bending maelstrom. It is a film by Roland Emmerich.

What’s the story? Well, there’s this fellow John McClane, I mean, Who-Gives-a-Fuck-Please-Just-Take-Off-Your-Shirt-Because-We-Know-It-Will-Happen-Eventually or, as you may know him, Channing Tatum. He plays a New York cop bodyguard to the Speaker of the House who is trying to become a Secret Service agent and simultaneously gain back the trust of his estranged wife daughter by hanging out with her at Nakatomi Plaza the White House. However, due to our hero being in the wrong place at the wrong time, terrorists take over and, with a computer hacker, a crazed madman and Alan Rickman James Woods (who looks as though a bald eagle took a shit on his scalp. Seriously, what’s with old dudes with terrible crewcuts in movies these days? First Sam Shepard then this? When I hit sixty, will I suddenly be overcome with the insatiable need to make my head look squarer than a geometry student’s wet dream?) they attempt to force Mr. Takagi President Schmarak Schmoschmama to open his vault the nuclear football. What follows is a frolic through the fields of excess so excessive you’ll have to excise it from your exithole before you leave the theater. But seriously, this script was basically the presidential Mad Libs of Die Hard. Beat by beat, it steals from possibly the greatest contained action movie of all time. From the ‘hiding above the elevator’ technique, to the scene where McClane, I mean, Channing “Sounds Like a Potato Dish” Tatum has to kill the terrorists on the roof to stop them from blowing up a helicopter. They even have a section where a tank is blown up with an RPG before it has a chance to ram into the building. I shit you not. However, I will admit, if you’re going to steal, steal from the greatest.

Oh yes. Maggie Gyllenhaal is in this, basically channeling the scene where she gets blown up in The Dark Knight...just more boring.

Oh yes. Maggie Gyllenhaal is in this, basically channeling the scene where she gets blown up in The Dark Knight…just more boring.

All of that bellyaching about the script has little meaning, however. Because, whatever this crapfest was on the page, is was turned into something else when it fell into Roland “Yes, He References Blowing Up the White House in a Previous Film He Directed IN HIS OWN MOVIE” Emmerich. Now, this is where the Pride Weekend comes in. I’m not sure if it’s okay to call Emmerich ‘King of the Gays’, but he has to at least be Archduke of the Gays. While Michael Bay might spend his Herculean and Dionysian efforts visually molesting his onscreen hotties and thereby frying our braincells in the process, Mr. Emmerich is up to something slightly more subversive. While he isn’t necessarily overtly misogynistic on the same level as, say, Mr. Bay, Emmerich rarely populates his films with too many women because, honestly, who needs all those jiggly bits flopping about? (I imagine Emmerich attempting to bat several double D boobies out of the way with an expression of deep concern and dread). This is a straight man’s movie, by all outward accounts. There are no obviously gay characters. There is no blatant homoeroticism a la 300. Rather, the flamboyance exists in every frame, subverting expectation at every turn. It’s as though Emmerich is making a John Waters film without any of the actual words or characters or things that happen in them. On paper, pretty much everything is blander than a bottled water tasting, but Emmerich ramps up every dial possible. In the aforementioned scene with the helicopters, when Delta Force is inevitably shot from the air, the soldiers falling from their ropes in slow motion look more like an aerial dance display than highly skilled killers falling to their fiery dooms. You’d think tumbling to their deaths they would lose some balletic grace, but not in an Emmerich film. And, not to give away the ending (I’m totally about to give away the ending), instead of Channing Tater Tots simply shooting James “He’s Always the Bad Guy, Why Would You Expect Anything Else?” Woods in the face with, you know, a regular gun, he obliterates him with a fucking gatling cannon after running him over with the president’s car IN THE OVAL OFFICE. I kind of wish we could go back in time and make this entire film with Divine instead of Chandra Taterskins. But, alas, we cannot. Yet…

"Careful, Mr. President, there's Deadmaus in there. Watch out for douchebags. They'll fistpump you into oblivion."

“Careful, Mr. President, there’s a deadmau5 rave in there. Watch out for douchebags. They’ll fistpump you into oblivion.”

While Emmerich’s other movies might be more epic than a bro’s night out after accidentally stumbling into Skrillrex’s coke-wagon, this one looks as though his budget was about as thin as my patience. It was so cheap that it seems he wasn’t able to hire a fucking cinematographer (the lighting is about as dynamic as a Mitch McConnell Comedy Tour) or more than three sets (ninety percent looks to have been filmed on green screen, while the other ten percent was probably filmed in Emmerich’s sex cauldron home). Emmerich does what he can with what he has. From a road-runner-esque chase in the presidential motorcade on the White House’s back lawn to the necklace of grenades Chapstick Tattletale gives to the unfortunately visaged Jason Clarke (the man looks as though he cut off a baby’s face and stapled it onto his own, Hannibal Lecter-style), to Jamie “Why Does he Have Two X’s In His Last Name?” Foxx playing what I can only assume is Black Bush from that one Chappelle Show sketch (the Blackest President Ever actually says ‘Get your hands off my Jordans’), Emmerich milks this sucker for all it’s fucking worth. I mean, the insane white supremacist’s name is ‘Killick’. Like…come on. Come. On.

"I wonder if now there's an African-American president we have to call it the Black House." ~ Channing Tatum: thoughts.

“I wonder…if now there’s an African-American president, do we have to call it the Black House?” ~ Thoughts by Channing Tatum.

It is an interesting juxtaposition for me. Having inundated myself with political commentary of late, from the Daily Show to Armando “Best Name Ever” Ianucci’s brilliant Veep to the blahfest that was House of Cards, the US government is slowly making it clear that nothing can get done in this fucking country. From Congress to the Senate to a lackluster President, this country is becoming a paragon of agonizing inaction. So, thank you Mr. Emmerich, for shoving about thirty tons of TNT up its butt and giggling while you light the fuse (side note: due to the obvious snub by the destruction of Congress in Mars Attacks, Emmerich gets his own back by obliterating the mutherfucker. Take that Boehner!)

It is not a good movie. It is a great one. It is not skillfully made. It is greatly made. It will make you giggle every second it is playing, whether or not it’s intentional. And, I think, for Emmerich, it was. Why not make fun of gross hetero-male power fantasies by reducing and ridiculing? Also, way to make Obama seem like some kind of rap artist. I get the distinct feeling that Foxx probably thought to play President Sawyer as more Morgan Freeman than Kanye West, but ‘The Roland’ had other plans. At least it isn’t as racist as Transformers 2. I mean, what can you expect from a German dude who loves America more than he loves stuffed zebras? Well, he doesn’t love America that much.