Mini Reviews (February 2009)
Mamma Mia!, Donkey Punch, Friday the 13th, Working Class Rock Star, In the Electric Mist, He's just not that into you
Mamma Mia! (February 6/09)
Based on the popular stage musical, Mamma Mia! follows a young woman (Amanda Seyfried's Sophie) as she invites three men (Pierce Brosnan's Sam, Colin Firth's Harry, and Stellan Skarsgard's Bill) to her Greek-island wedding after learning that one of them might be her father - much to the chagrin of her quirky, free-spirited mother (Meryl Streep's Donna). It's an awfully thin premise that's used as a springboard for a myriad of ABBA-inspired musical numbers, which effectively ensures that the film ultimately works only in fits and starts - as certain sequences are inherently far more affecting and engaging than others. The enthusiastic performances go a long way towards holding one's interest through the periodic lulls, however, as Streep and her various costars attack their respective roles with an ebullient gusto that's generally impossible to resist. Phyllida Lloyd's competent yet bland directorial choices ensure that the film is never quite able to transcend its stage origins, although - to be fair - the stunning scenery does prove effective at compensating for the less-than-enthralling camerawork. And while it's hard to deny that the movie hits something of a lull as it passes the one-hour mark, Mamma Mia! benefits substantially from the inclusion of a rousing and energetic finale that essentially guarantees that the whole thing concludes on as "up" a note as one could possibly envision.
Donkey Punch (February 9/09)
Though it's hard to fault the movie's premise and performances, Donkey Punch has been infused with an egregiously plodding sensibility that effectively renders its few positive attributes moot. The storyline follows seven young adults (including Julian Morris' Josh, Jaime Winstone's Kim, and Tom Burke's Bluey) as they embark on a weekend of fun and debauchery on board a luxury yacht, though there inevitably reaches a point at which things start to go horribly wrong - with the titular sexual act triggering a series of violent episodes amongst the increasingly paranoid characters. There's little doubt that Donkey Punch boasts an opening half hour that's as deliberately-paced and flat-out tedious as one might've anticipated, as director and co-writer Oliver Blackburn initially places the emphasis on the central figures' sordid activities aboard the expansive boat. It's incredibly repetitive stuff that the viewer is willing to overlook based primarily on the promise of a dark, downright brutal third act, yet the film's hopelessly stagnant midsection - which revolves mostly around the arguments and double-crosses that ensue between the guys and girls - proves effective in lessening the impact of the admittedly uncompromising final 20 minutes. And while there are a few appreciatively gruesome bits of business contained within the movie's climax, Donkey Punch ultimately boasts the feel of a perfectly serviceable short that's ungainly been padded out to feature length.
Friday the 13th (February 16/09)
Armed with Marcus Nispel's thoroughly incompetent visuals and an overall vibe of dreariness, Friday the 13th ultimately comes off as an unpleasant, downright needless re-imagining of Sean S. Cunningham's horror landmark (which doesn't hold up terribly well, admittedly). The movie's promising opening - which effectively sums up the resolution of its 1980 predecessor - inevitably gives way to a woefully tedious slasher that grows increasingly oppressive as it progresses, as Nispel bogs the proceedings down with set pieces that couldn't possibly be less compelling (ie the majority of the kill sequences are just lame). And while it's hard to argue with the simplicity of the storyline - a group of young adults (including Jared Padalecki's Clay and Danielle Panabaker's Jenna) embark on a weekend of frivolity and are subsequently terrorized by Jason Voorhees (Derek Mears) - the relentlessly dour atmosphere ensures that Friday the 13th ultimately bears more in common with the Saw series than its eponymous inspiration (ie any trace of the goofy fun that defined the original and its nine sequels has been done away with by Nispel). It's not until the third act rolls around that the film becomes a truly disagreeable experience, as the action moves to the egregiously seedy confines of Jason's underground lair (which is itself awfully reminiscent of the Sawyer clan's subterranean bunker from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2) - where the viewer's inherent disorientation is exacerbated by Nispel's head-slapping reliance on shaky camerawork. The end result is a hopelessly self-serious endeavor that's probably no worse than the majority of Platinum Dunes' aggressively mediocre output, yet there's little doubt that the film finally comes off as their most disappointing effort to date - as it places an iconic horror character within the context of an almost mind-numbingly dull storyline/scenario.
Working Class Rock Star (February 21/09)
Working Class Rock Star is an uneven yet sporadically intriguing documentary that details the efforts of several unsigned heavy-metal bands to support themselves and their families, with an ongoing emphasis on the continually evolving nature of the music business. Though none of the acts profiled by filmmaker Justin McConnell possess even an ounce of mainstream appeal - ie these groups make Black Sabbath look like a bubblegum-pop outfit - McConnell generally does an effective job of opening the film up to viewers with little or no interest in this extremely specific subset of the rock genre. And while some of the behind-the-scenes tidbits regarding the record industry are admittedly pretty interesting, Working Class Rock Star, as becomes clear almost immediately, is at its best when focused on the day-to-day trials and tribulations of its musical subjects. In particular, there's something awfully compelling about the professional and personal struggles endured by the members of hardcore death-metal act Bloodshoteye - as the band keeps on chugging forward despite a whole myriad of unfortunate setbacks (ie their drummer quits during a high-profile tour). It's likewise not surprising to note that the movie's most effective (and affecting) scenes follow Bloodshoteye members Jessica DesJardins and Shane Ivy as they attempt to maintain a relatively stable home life for their young daughter, and one subsequently can't help but wish that McConnell had gone the traditional documentary route by focusing entirely on their exploits. Still, Working Class Rock Star primarily comes off as an eye-opening peek into the inner workings of the music business - albeit one that will likely hold more appeal for viewers who have actually heard of some of these groups. (And, if nothing else, it's impossible not to get a kick out of Gwar member Dave Brockie's rationale for performing night after night: "Where I get off is standing up in front of 2000 fucking people, eviscerating the President of the United States while Paris Hilton is consumed by her own dog, and then ramming a sword through a giant robot's head.")
In the Electric Mist (February 26/09)
Atmospheric yet muddled, In the Electric Mist casts Tommy Lee Jones as Dave Robicheaux - a grizzled Southern detective who finds himself drawn into an elaborate conspiracy while investigating the murder of a local prostitute. Director Bertrand Tavernier - working from a screenplay by Jerzy Kromolowski and Mary Olson-Kromolowski - does a superb job of capturing the exceedingly seedy environs of Robicheaux's Louisiana-based territory, with the authentic vibe certainly cemented by Jones' gritty, downright engrossing performance. The deliberate pace with which Tavernier has infused the proceedings is subsequently fairly easy to accept, although there inevitably reaches a point at which Robicheaux's egregiously meandering inquiry simply becomes too much to take. It certainly doesn't help that Kromolowski and Olson-Kromolowski have placed an increased emphasis on the almost eye-rollingly quirky figures within Robicheaux's midst, with the detective's ongoing dialogue with the ghostly apparition of a Civil War-era soldier (Levon Helm's General John Bell Hood) certainly ranking high on the movie's list of entirely needless elements. And while the supporting cast has been populated with a number of admittedly compelling performers - John Goodman is especially engaging as a shady mobster nicknamed Baby Feet - the progressively convoluted storyline ensures that one's interest slowly but surely peters out as the movie sluggishly inches towards its underwhelming conclusion. The baffling final shot - which has seemingly been cribbed directly from Kubrick's The Shining - introduces a supernatural element into the proceedings that is sure to leave most viewers scratching their heads in confusion, and it's not surprising to note that In the Electric Mist ultimately can't help but come off as a disappointing misfire (a well-made, well-acted misfire, to be sure, but a misfire nonetheless).
He's just not that into you (February 27/09)
Distinctly overlong yet ultimately rewarding, He's just not that into you follows a myriad of young adults (including Ben Affleck's Neil, Scarlett Johansson's Anna, and Bradley Cooper's Ben) as they jump in and out of each others' beds and navigate the perilous waters of contemporary relationships. The film, based on the best-selling book by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, generally comes off as an affable endeavor that's consistently buoyed by the almost uniformly appealing performances, with Affleck's effortlessly charismatic turn as the commitment-phobic boyfriend of Jennifer Aniston's Beth standing as an obvious highlight. There inevitably reaches a point, however, at which screenwriters Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein seem to be spinning their wheels, as the movie slowly-but-surely falls prey to spurts of repetition that are surely a result of the unfortunate (and entirely unwieldy) two-hour-and-nine-minute running time. It consequently becomes increasingly difficult to overlook the various deficiencies within the script, including dialogue that seems to have emerged directly from a self-help relationship book and the creeping realization that virtually all of the male characters are jerks (initially, anyway). The movie remains relatively watchable even during its most superfluous stretches, however, and it's impossible to deny that some of these stories (ie the Affleck/Aniston subplot) ultimately pack an unexpectedly romantic and flat-out emotional punch as they're resolved. Stripped of at least a quarter of its length, He's just not that into you certainly had the potential to establish itself as an above-average entry within the romantic-comedy genre - yet there's little doubt that the movie generally succeeds as a diverting, unapologetically sitcom-like bit of escapism.