Monday, February 28, 2011

"I Am Number Four" Review

"I Am Number Four" is Number Two. A cheap joke, but it's just what this adolescent stinker deserves. Granted, nigh unwatchable cinematic misfires haunt the calendar's early months, amongst whose company D.J. Caruso's latest foray into teen actioners is admittedly a god among insects. Copping a Michael Bay aesthetic (Bay produces), "Number Four" does "Twilight" by way of "Transformers." The film is slick, glossy, and absolutely uninteresting.

Never mind that these characters are extraterrestrials from the planet Lorien, it's their blatant lapses in logic that seems most alien. After all, the good guys are identical to human beings (the bad guys have facial gills) in all but one key way. Cue our hero's warrior guardian with this hilariously hokey line: "When we love, we love forever." And that's "Number Four" in a nutshell: bleating sentimentality in the guise of a hip sci-fi thriller.

The set-up is compelling enough. You have a persecuted alien race taking refuge on Earth, with nine bastions of hope for their civilization being systematically sought and destroyed by the evil (wince) Mogadorians. The movie opens with an effective prologue in which an ill-fated Number Three is chased down by his aggressors. But following that breezy and exciting sequence, the threat dissipates. Enter a gangly Alex Pettyfer as Number Four, Ohio-bound under the tutelage of his protector Henri (Timothy Olyphant) and the brilliant alias, John Smith. Four has grown weary of his pull-up-stakes lifestyle and wants to settle into an average human existence; he, by choice mind you, wants to attend high school.

At just shy of two hours, the majority of "Number Four" has little to do with the role our hero will come to play in what studio executives are surely salivating to call the next big franchise. This lame origin story is as much about cookie cutter bullies and teen angst as it is intergalactic war. Probably even more so. Between romancing his love interest ("Glee's" Dianna Agron) and befriending a George McFly-esque dweeb, there are all the requisite puberty metaphors; at one point, Four's humiliating ability to shoot blue light from his palms prompts him to flee class for the comfort of a custodial closet.

It does, however, grant the audience time enough to reflect on how flimsy the premise is under any scrutiny. Why is this would-be savior staking his life on integration with human teenagers? Why anyone over the age of 16 should care if he has a girlfriend is equally mysterious. Bring on the alien bloodshed! We glimpse the (cringe) Mogadorians in pursuit of Four throughout the film, but that they pull stunts like scaring children in adjacent cars on the highway make them laughable villains. They eventually steward some middle of the road action for "Four's" finale.

Though the film is prettier than many mid-February releases, it ultimately earns its place among the calendar's infamous early months. Adapted from what, to all appearances, is a "me too" young adult fiction series, the big-screen version of "I Am Number Four" fails to distinguish itself in the company of "Harry Potter" and even the equally vapid "Twilight" saga. As little as I'd like to dwell on the latter, the characters are at least better realized. "Four" is populated by walking clichés and led by one of the most emotionally vacant action heroes in recent memory. They are the dull cogs that turn reluctantly beneath a shimmering veneer. "I Am Number Four" is a faulty piece of cinema, and a piece of something less pleasant still.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Episode 81: Recording LIVE! TONIGHT!!

Tonight's Line-up!

6:00 PM EST - Join Colin, Jon, and Kevin as they discuss LIVE this week's Top 5, the latest box office hit "I Am Number Four", and their WMDs
8:00 PM EST - The camera is off, but the chat will stay open for a live discussion of the 2011 Academy Awards
12:00 AM EST - FARCE/Film logs back on to wrap up episode #81 with a LIVE discussion of this year's winners

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Podcast Episode 81 Needs a Bailout

The best laid plans of mice and men and all that. Episode 81 of the FARCE Film podcast is being postponed until next Sunday, February 27th. Look forward to incisive reviews of I Am Number Four and our analysis of the 2011 Academy Awards.

Be sure to join us before the ceremony as we attempt our very second LIVE recording over at Ustream at 6:00 PM EST. Jot down your burning Oscar queries and stay tuned to the site this week for more info.

In happier news, Episode 82 will still follow 81.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"Biutiful" Review

I'm glad I went into "Biutiful" blind, which if you're reading this review may mean I'm robbing you the opportunity of. I'll try to give away as little as possible, suffice it to say the film isn't just your garden-variety drama. In fact, variety is the name of the game. If there is a criticism to be had of Alejandro González Iñárritu's new film, it's that the Mexican writer-director of "Amores Perros" and "Babel" is simultaneously juggling enough content for two or more films—at two and a half hours, "Biutiful" could almost be two films.

Here comes the spoiler warning. Of course, it may only be a spoiler if you knew as little about the film as I did going in. "Biutiful" contains elements of the supernatural; Javier Bardem plays a terminally ill psychic medium, but it's no tired rehash of "The Sixth Sense" or Clint Eastwood's recent melodrama, "Hereafter." We glimpse these otherworldly moments seldom and fleetingly. Some may find the stark contrast between them and an otherwise very grounded reality jarring, but I applaud the choice. That Bardem sees dead people is just one of the many facets of his character, no more important than his strained relationship with his children or his shady business dealings.

The creative impulse is so often to cater to extremes. "Biutiful" could have scrapped its allusions to the afterlife and been one among many well-made but virtually indistinguishable dramas. Or, it might have squelched its heart in favor of a tried-and-true ghost story. What Iñárritu attempts is so much meatier than those alternatives. He forces us into the unique world of the film, utilizing genre conventions as the story dictates rather than vice versa.

That's not to say there isn't extraneous content. Cinéma vérité is the modus operandi, and Iñárritu explores moments that "Biutiful" could truthfully live without. Nevertheless, the portrait he and Bardem paint of protagonist Uxbal is vivid and empathetic. Watching the character work, think, stumble, and succeed rarely bores, but that it does even occasionally is admittedly a problem. The pacing is aided by the brilliant cinematography of Rodrigo Prieto, who adds as much visual variety to the film as it has thematic.

And it would all be for naught if Bardem didn't deliver in the lead role. The actor has elsewhere proven himself in Woody Allen's "Vicky Christina Barcelona" and the Coens' "No Country for Old Men," but his performance in "Biutiful" is flawless. He doesn't have a shot at the Oscar he's nominated for alongside favorite Colin Firth, though in my opinion he's more deserving. The emotional gradient he undergoes is genuine and impressive. Uxbal is neither entirely good or all bad, and Bardem breathes life into an uncommonly realistic tragic hero.

Like it's protagonist, "Biutiful" is not perfect, but it has the ever-important spark of originality—a blaze by comparison to mainstream (and curiously beloved) dramas like "The Blindside." Alejandro González Iñárritu takes risks that will surely alienate some audiences; he toys with the rigidity of his reality without devotion to structure—those looking to stick to the typical two-hour itinerary will be wading through some deep waters. Viewers blessed with a modicum of patience will be rewarded with one of best-acted, most visually accomplished, and appreciably atypical films of the last year. Maybe my perspective skews high from lack of expectation, but one thing is certain: the less you know up front, the more opportunity Iñárritu has to surprise you.


Monday, February 14, 2011

FARCE/FILM Episode 80: Biutiful

00:00 – Intro
01:47 – Top 5
05:50 – Main Review: (spoilers) Biutiful (2010), Dir: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

35:26 – WMD
(Black Swan, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Manda Bala, Mortal Kombat, The Larry Sanders Show)
E-mail and Outro – 49:59
(Podcast File Size, Appreciation of Commercial Directors, Favorite Alcohol Marketing Campaigns)


Friday, February 11, 2011

"The Roommate" Review

Not every horror film can have us on the edge of our seats, but there was a point in "The Roommate" where I actually lifted my armrest to support a better slouch. I think that was somewhere around the climax. The Hollywood debut of Danish director Christian E. Christiansen is a relentlessly uninteresting endeavor from a filmmaker with a name to match. At barely 90 minutes, it's an eternity of ineffectual clichés filmed through an ugly, charcoal-tinted lens.

I'm not going to sugar-coat it—"The Roommate" is irredeemably awful, and not just because character motivation is out the window from Jump Street, or because it couldn't scare a six year old, but because it isn't even fun. From the belabored exposition to the clumsy, unmemorable finale, first-time screenwriter Sonny Mallhi (credited executive producer of "Shutter" and "The Strangers") fails outright. He's either in the wrong line of work or trying to make a quick buck—I'm not sure which is worse, but neither paints a very flattering portrait.

As someone used to hearing two-sentence synopses before consulting his checkbook, Mallhi knows a good premise. It isn't as if "The Roommate" was predestined to fail; there might have been something interesting here had he or Christiansen taken a few risks. The adolescent-friendly PG-13 rating isn't even a suitable scapegoat, though it's indicative of both the movie's content and its intellect.

Last year, Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher made a PG-13 movie about college students that treated the constituent twenty-somethings like adults. The characters in their film had adult motives and relationships, and spoke above an eighth-grade level. Granted, "The Roommate" is a very different type of movie, but there's no reason its cast should be this inarticulate and oblivious. It's almost as if Mallhi underwrote everyone else in order to make his bi-polar antagonist seem further off her rocker.

Blind to her roommate's glaring personality disorder, Sara (Minka Kelly) might as well have swerved past a flashing neon sign of dysfunction. She and Rebecca (Leighton Meester) become close friends despite their many expressed incompatibilities, and things go from weird to worse when her other acquaintances come between them. Meanwhile, Sara's Muppet-faced suitor Stephen (Sam Gigandet) squints and smirks his way through every scene like a constipated Jack Nicholson. Needless to say: not terribly compelling characters.

"The Roommate" represents just about everything wrong with the way modern Hollywood approaches horror. Produced as lesser entertainment by lesser artists, the genre thrives on bilking admission from just few enough patrons to recoup substandard budgets. Unimaginative showbiz bean counters like Sonny Mallhi penning screenplays is a creative travesty, and wooden directors like Christian E. Christiansen are exponentially lowering our expectations for what these types of movies should provide. His first English-language film is devoid of suspense, nuance, or even an intentionally funny joke. He treats each beat with undue gravity, slathering his scenes with listless grays that'll make you long for a nice teal or cyan hue.

There may be less competent films to pick on than "The Roommate," but even those have at least a modicum of personality, which this lifeless pseudo-psychological thriller lacks. Released within a week of last winter's equally indistinguishable "Wolfman," its most frightening implication is that I might have a lifetime of early February horror films to avoid. If I haven't yet convinced you that "The Roommate" isn't worth your time, at least see it in a theater with opposable armrests. You may need to slouch.


FARCE/FILM Episode 79: The Roommate

00:00 – Intro
01:05 – Top 5
02:56 – Main Review: The Roommate (2011), Dir: Christian E. Christiansen
33:26 – WMD
(17 Again, Glee, Deadwood, The Black Death, Party Down, Life of Brian, The Kingdom, Psych)
57:26 – E-mail and Outro

(Favorite sports movies and beers)
The Roommate

-- Discussion Question --

This week our hosts discuss The Roommate, which critics hated, but some audiences enjoyed. When you see a scary movie, would you rather be frightened or entertained?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"The Way Back" Review

In an age where the bankability of an adventure film is measured in gallons of oil exploded, Peter Weir's somber trek "The Way Back" is something of a revelation. Unlike his last film, the rousing but decidedly Hollywood nautical yarn "Master and Commander," Weir dials back star power and technique until all that's left is an uncommonly naturalistic interpretation of the supposedly true events that led political prisoners encamped at a Siberian gulag to walk 4,000 miles to India and their freedom.

First, a complaint: I don't mean to come off as a dick, but the fact that Weir preemptively dedicates this film to those men irks me. Not only because so much doubt has been cast on the validity of the story itself, but also because conventional wisdom would be to place that placard on the last spool rather than the first. It strikes me as a little self-serving to presume respect from an audience upfront for a struggle they haven't even seen yet, or on a baser level, to disconnect them from the story before it's even begun. I realize I may be belaboring a very minor point, but as with the superfluous historical preface and dodgy title card, "The Way Back" and I got off on the wrong foot.

Thankfully, there's no arguing with Weir's visuals. From the moment he drops us into the oppressive wind-swept Siberian winter, the director creates unparalleled atmosphere. From the suffocating soot of a hellacious mineshaft to the steep sea of dunes that comprise the Mongolian desert, Weir absolutely captures the mercilessness of his environments. That characters freeze and bake to death, or are reduced to near madness by hunger, underscores the mortal gravity of their journey better than most filmmakers manage.

But what really sets "The Way Back" apart is its humanity. Where many would settle for stifling melodrama, Weir finds a way to eke out a joke. Our companions are a good-humored lot in spite of the ubiquitous peril their mission entails. It keeps them sane and keeps the movie watchable. Jim Sturgess takes the lead as an almost naively optimistic outdoorsman, followed in tow by a battle worn pragmatist (Ed Harris), and a lone wolf with a knife to match—Colin Farrell in a surprisingly funny and endearing performance. The characters are our only recourse from the barren landscape, and they provide much needed color.

In spite of their contributions, "The Way Back" is still a long film. Perhaps even purposefully overlong; the way Weir depicts the cruelly relentless terrain would lose its impact under more constrictive narrative pacing. My only gripe is that the tempo Weir employs isn't always consistent. By comparison to our stint in the Siberian wilderness, the hike over the Himalayas feels like a disappointingly anti-climactic cakewalk, especially given that it represents the final threshold into India. The looming 133-minute run time doesn't make for 100% great cinema, but what Weir attempts is admirable despite the occasional missteps.

"The Way Back" represents an endangered species of storytelling, and it's no surprise that it went largely unseen in its sparse theatrical release. The film is definitely not your typical thrill-a-minute actioner, but it delivers on the ever-important human element. Weir continues to solidify his status as one of modern cinema's most unjustly unsung heroes, and his latest towers above many of its more popular contemporaries. It may not measure up in terms of barrels of oil exploded, but those sick of fireworks may actually want to see a show.


Friday, February 4, 2011

FARCE/FILM Episode 78: The Way Back

00:00 - Intro
01:09 - Top 5
06:29 - Main Review: The Way Back (2010), Dir: Peter Weir
25:59 - WMD
(Drag Me to Hell, Frozen, Teeth, Timers, Gutterballs, Sunshine Cleaners, We Were Soldiers, Family Guy: It's a Trap!, Help!, Fargo, The Fugitive, Singin' in the Rain, The Man with Two Brains, Taking of Pelham 123)
01:10:51 - E-mail and Outro

The Way Back