Monthly Archives: August 2016

Love and Death Review

I don’t think there’s anything about this film that amazed or surprised me.  I’m not even sure it really impressed me.  I don’t think I have much praise for this movie that I haven’t given to other Woody Allen movies, and I’m not sure that it really  stands out among his other works.  So why give it such a high review?  Because it feels like coming home.

When I watched Love and Death about a month ago, it had been about a year since I watched a movie that Woody Allen directed, and that particular film was rather disappointing.  This summer, however, I watched Antz, which reminded me just how much I love Woody Allen’s cinematic doppelganger (whom I shall refer to as “Movie Woody” henceforth).  This film lets Movie Woody do his thing and run wild the whole time – he does his Groucho Marx shtick, his pessimistic paranoia, and his philosophical/theological pontificating.  I think Movie Woody is a better representative of who I am inside than it is of the real Woody Allen, so watching this film was like finding myself again.

The homages to the Marx Brothers were absolutely perfect, and the nods to Bergman felt just right for establishing the dark and bizarre tone of the film (and showing how Woody can take the works of art that receive the utmost praise from intellectuals and still find the stupid absurdity in them).  Woody’s witty quotes paired with the hilarious physical performances from Woody and Diane made for some great laughs.  Woody’s response to the old phrase “warms the cockles of my heart” made me explode with laughter.  I felt giddy like a child again, all because I was with my good old friend Woody, who was doing what he does best: turning brutal (and nonchalant) honesty about how miserable and pathetic life is into a special kind of joy.  Love and Death is beautifully depressing and painfully euphoric.

130 Love and Death

Masters of the Universe Review

Yes, I know this movie is crap, but hear me out.

There are times in life when we need a certain kind of movie to deliver a certain kind of experience.  Very often for me, the experience I’m seeking is a movie that consistently bounces back and forth between being excellent . . . and being so bad it’s good.  The area in the middle is obviously dangerous territory – that’s where all the bad movies live.  But once in a blue moon, there’s a film that has many very strong elements, but its weak elements are so laughable that they don’t harm the movie at all; instead, they add to the film’s charm by being silly and dated.  I seem to have the easiest time finding this experience with cheesy ’80s movies, and I picked up Masters of the Universe from the library because it looked like a fairly standard example of an ’80s movie.  As luck would have it, this movie is the most ’80s movie I have ever seen – in all the best and worst ways – which makes it the perfect example of a movie that prances gracefully across the valley of mediocrity, leaping right from excellence to nanar and back again.

Let me be more specific about what makes it so bad (which I think paradoxically makes it delightful).  First of all, this is immensely cliché, to the point that they even stole elements of their story from Spaceballs (as was pointed out in the Nostalgia Critic review) and made all of the villain’s soldiers look just like Darth Vader.  The actors don’t give great performances for the most part, and everything feels scripted and rehearsed.  At times it feels almost as though they were trying to make the movie as underwhelming as possible, by moving the plot from a fantasy world to friggin’ New Jersey suburbs.  The logic of the film also makes no sense, as there are several occasions when the people of New Jersey should have noticed the crazy magic going on around them – and don’t even get me started on how ridiculously illogical that ending is.  (I mean, the ignorance of the obvious “grandfather paradox” problems makes the ending almost unbearable in a way.)

On the other hand, this movie looks gorgeous.  It’s one of the best looking I’ve seen because of its perfectly ’80s use of light, color, makeup, and old-fashioned special effects.  The movie fully embraces how ridiculous it is, and offers plenty of over-the-top performances, which only get better when James Tolkan (Mr. Strickland from Back to the Future) arrives on scene, making the movie even more ’80s.  The villain is so perfectly extravagant, and gives a wonderfully satisfying post-credits scene.  The story is also very focused on music, particularly from synthesizers, so at this point I think I might be overdosing on ’80s nostalgia.  And did I mention how awesome the color looks?

However, at the end of the day, I can understand why someone wouldn’t like this movie.  I can especially understand why a fan of the original TV series would hate this movie.  On the other hand, for those who want to inject deadly amounts of retro, nostalgic ’80s fantasy into their eyeballs, this movie delivers.  Enjoy responsibly; don’t drive while high on ’80s.

129 Masters of the Universe

Antz Review

Why the heck do we keep making movies about creatures as unlikable as ants?  Currently, my house has been suffering from an extremely severe ant infestation takeover, and it makes me hate, hate, hate them.  With that in mind, I’m naturally not inclined to get invested in a movie about an ant inventor who mistake circus entertainers for warriors, and then finds himself in a cliche “liar revealed” situation.  On the other hand, a movie about the ant doppelganger of the most individualistic, self-absorbed, and wimpy person on the planet – Woody Allen – who accidentally becomes a war hero?  That’s a really interesting set-up.  Why?  Because I’ve learned from fighting a way against ants myself this past month that their defining quality is the strength they have in their numbers, and this movie plays with that idea very, very well.

It had been a long while since I’d watched a movie that had a really Woody Allen character in it, so it was nice to come back to his persona in a situation that’s completely different from any Woody Allen movie.  I mean, it’s a DreamWorks CG movie about bugs, and his co-stars are Sylvester Stallone, Jennifer Lopez, Christopher Walken, and Gene Hackman.  This makes it an instantly fascinating specimen, and the combination of all these different elements and performers come together in a way that works oddly well.  Some of the humor is a little bit hard to enjoy for two reasons: firstly, I find CGI is consistently caustic to comedy, being too dimensional for cartoon humor while too digital for physical comedy; secondly, this movie is awkwardly dark and adult.  It’s supposed to be a family film, but the characters use loads of profanity, and there are massive amounts of death.  It’s almost horrifying how many ants end up dying, and one of the bee characters dies in a way that’s rather uncomfortable to watch, but then the movie makes it even less comfortable by playing it as comedy instead of drama.

So, yes, it feels awkward.  It doesn’t all fit together perfectly, and much of it is painful to look at because of the early CG.  Some of the visuals, however, are surprisingly beautiful, which makes up for the bad visuals.  Some of the jokes are really strong, which makes up for the adult elements.  Some of the music choices are really good, which makes up for the times when the tone feels weird.  It all works out to make for a very pleasurable film that this self-absorbed, wimpy individual gives two thumbs up.

128 Bowfinger