April, 2006


    Slither

Official Site | IMDb

    The key to making a movie like Slither watchable is to find actors who realize that the script is ludicrous, yet don't go over the top with the funny stuff. They have to take the material and play it straight. Slither delivers about all you could possibly ask it to. The slug like monsters are good, there are quality kills, there is humor, including the absolutely necessary comic relief character, in the form of the town's mayor, Jack MacReady (Gregg Henry), who gets to deliver the movie's best line in response to someone thanking God, "This shit's about as far from God as shit can get.". He also gets the second best line, "If I wasn't shittin' my pants right now, I'd be fuckin' fascinated."

Grade: B

    Lucky Number Slevin

Official Site | IMDb

   Slevin (Josh Hartnett) is staying at his friend Nick's apartment. According to his neighbor, Lindsey (Lucy Liu), Nick hasn't been around for a couple of days. Maybe the reason is that the local gangster, The Boss (Morgan Freeman) is looking for him. A couple of The Boss' heavies grab Slevin, thinking that he's Nick. The Boss has an offer. He's willing to pardon Nick's debt if Slevin kills the son of the town's other gangster, The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley). The Boss and The Rabbi used to be partners, but had a falling out. Now, they live on the top floor of buildings across the street from one another and glare back and forth from the balconies. Nick also owes The Rabbi, who has an offer of his own. Watching over the whole thing is Mr. Goodkat (Bruce Willis), who has been hired by both men to kill the other. Goodkat is the ultimate pro, he slips into town, does his job, and leaves again quietly. Most people don't even know what he looks like.
    There's two ways you can pull off the ultraviolent, quick fire dialogue, caper with a twist movie. You can go The Usual Suspects route and make it a dark and oppressive affair, full of characters you wouldn't want to meet on a bright, sunny street, much less a dark alley. Or, you could go the Nurse Betty, or, to an extent, the Pulp Fiction route and offset all the killing with a lighter, comedic (or darkly comedic) tone, full of wisecracking characters. Lucky Number Slevin attempts to plop itself down right in the middle of the two extremes. The result is sometimes entertaining, sometimes boring, mostly just dreary. It's not a dreary that draws you in. It's a dreary that makes you lose attention. A poorly chosen soundtrack adds to the effect.
    Also not helping is the movie's opening scene. Mr. Goodkat starts up a conversation with a stranger in an airport, and starts talking about something called "The Kansas City Shuffle". This leads into a flashback about a man who gets a tip about a fixed horse race which doesn't go as planned. He can't pay off his bet, and he and his family are killed as an example by the new mobsters in town. We all know these scenes don't exist in a vacuum, so it has to lead to some sort of payoff. In terms of telegraphing the twist ending, this one is more obvious than most. Twist endings are tough things. No movie will surprise everyone, but this flashback gives away a little too much. A higher percentage will spot the twist right away than you would normally like in a caper movie.
    So what does all this leave? There is some clever, if derivative, dialogue. You've heard the patter before, but you don't mind having it run past you one more time. You're also left with a wonderful, A list (well, maybe A-) cast that jumps into the material wholeheartedly. These are people who are having fun, and that translates to an audience.
    Lucky Number Slevin pans out somewhere near the middle. It has problems with tone and with its script, but the actors on screen are having a good time and seem not to mind, why should we?

Grade: B-

    Scary Movie 4 

Official Site | IMDb

    Scary Movie 4 made over forty million dollars in its first weekend. Given numbers like that, it's pretty easy to understand why it's not any good. There's a built in audience of teenagers and twenty somethings that will go no matter what anybody says. It's the cool, brainless thing to do on a Saturday. I'm surprised the producers bothered showing it to the critics.
    There is not a Wayans name to be seen anywhere in this movie, except for the credit that says "Inspired by characters created by...". It's a sure sign that quality isn't an issue when nobody connected with the original is still on board. You're riding the money train until it runs out of gas. In charge for part four are Jim Abrams and David Zucker, whose last comedic successes were with Naked Gun (from nearly two decades ago) and Airplane (from over a quarter of a century ago). Is a 61 year old guy really the person to turn to when writing a teenage comedy? I guess so if you're just looking to have a script cranked out and not get any lip from the author.
    Cindy (Anna Faris) is back yet again, twisted up in a parodied horror movie. If there is one good thing about this script, it is that it actually uses the parodies as part of the story and doesn't just jam as many in as it can. There are only six. Five (Saw, War Of The Worlds, Million Dollar Baby, The Grudge, and The Village) are worked into the plot. Only one (the obligatory Brokeback Mountain spoof) feels tacked on. The aliens attack while Cindy is living in a house where strange things are going on. The ghost of the boy tells her to seek out his father who lives in the village from The Village.
     After starting with a funny scene with Shaquille O'Neal and Dr. Phil trapped in the bathroom from Saw, the material goes downhill very quickly, offering little more than tired double entendre.  They did manage to snare James Earl Jones, Bill Pullman, Cloris Leachman, and Michael Madsen, but it is a truism that when you're relying on Leslie Nielsen to play the president, your movie is in trouble.

Grade: D

   Thank You For Smoking

Official Site | IMDb

    All that can be said: Satire, well done.

Grade: B+

    The Benchwarmers

Official Site | IMDb

    The Benchwarmers takes a noble idea and runs it into the ground. The local little league baseball establishment is beset by bullying. The jocks torment the nerds, who never get to play. Three grown up nerds Gus (Rob Schneider), Richie (David Spade), and Clark (Jon Heder) take on a team of bullies, three on nine, and win. Local billionaire Mel (Jon Lovitz) decides to have a tournament, the three old guys vs area teams, with the winner getting a new stadium.
    Richie and Clark are too much to believe. They are so inept in every aspect of their lives, that you're surprised they can dress themselves in the morning, much less hold down jobs. These two exist as fodder for material, not as characters. Gus can play, and plays as pitcher, and provides almost all of the team's offense. Not one opponent thinks to pitch around him, and he hits home run after home run.
    Jon Heder has apparently made the choice to be Napoleon Dynamite in every movie he makes. That should make this movie popular with the kids who inexplicably flock to that movie. I don't know if Heder is even capable of playing another character.
    I could tell pretty quickly how things were going, so I kept track. I cracked a smile four times during this movie, and only one of those instances could be described as a laugh. This is another script with no written humor, we're all just supposed to laugh at how stupid the nerds are. They try to make up for poking so much fun with an ending which went way beyond any semblance of plausibility (as if that were a concern) where the entire town roots for them and realizes that the new generation of nerds are just kids who want to have fun like everyone else.

Grade: D-

    Ice Age: The Meltdown

Official Site | IMDb


    If you're looking for an example of people not learning from experience, see Ice Age: The Meltdown. It suffers through the exact same problems as the first Ice Age movie.
    The planet is getting warmer. The paradise that our heroes settled in is getting some new features, like water slides and swimming pools. Sid the sloth (voiced by John Leguizamo) climbs to the top of the neighboring glacier and discovers a huge lake where there once was only a field of ice. Manny the mammoth (Ray Romano) sees the danger if the dam breaks and rounds everybody up to get to safety on the other side of the valley.
    The makers needed to allocate their time and resources more wisely. Again, every blade of grass and every tuft of fur is animated magnificently. Lots of programmers must have been working on some pretty big computers for a long time to achieve the effects. It's fun to look at. It all serves a plot, however, which is another, unimaginative let's-walk-from-point-A-to-point-B story. It's boring. Making it more boring is the funny cutaway scenes of the squirrel trying to get an acorn. A boring plot is one thing, adding funny bits, twenty seconds at a time, that have nothing to do with the plot is worse.

Grade: C+

   Silent Hill

Official Site | IMDb

    I savor not only the little things, but the anticipation of little things. In Silent Hill, I had the prospect of a video game movie with a good trailer that wasn't directed by Uwe Boll. If that alone isn't worth an extra letter grade or two, I don't know what is.
    Young Sharon DaSilva (Jodelle Ferland) sleepwalks. When she comes to, she screams "Silent Hill!" over and over again. Her mother, Rose (Rhada Mitchell) takes to the internet and discovers that Silent Hill is a ghost town, abandoned thirty years ago when an underground coal fire started. Being the responsible mother that she is, she drives Sharon to Silent Hill, hoping that the experience will shake something loose. On the way, she picks up a pursuer, leather clad, porn director's wet dream, motorcycle cop Cybil Bennett (Laurie Holden) who thinks something suspicious is going on. A phantom girl, straight from central casting, appears in front of the car, Rose crashes and wakes up to find Sharon gone.
    The second that Rose stumbles into downtown Silent Hill, all sense goes out the window. Maybe players of the original game will be able to explain the goings on, but I was kind of lost. A siren goes off, the town plunges into darkness, and there will be a jump in time where all sorts of creepy, CGI monsters attack. Rose later hooks up with the town's inhabitants, descendants of the witch hunters who founded the place. Apparently, much of the heartache thirty years ago stemmed from the fact that witch burning was still in vogue. Characters try to explain things, but the explanations are just words that sound pretty when strung together. I have no clue what happened in the last twenty minutes.
    Plot aside, I found the experience reminiscent of my recent trip to the Mammoth Cave Wax Museum. Director Christophe Gans and production designer Carol Spier dream up some great sets and photograph them well, but it never goes any further. It was like I was in the wax museum, looking at these elaborate tableaux, until I was done looking at them and moved on to the next one. There was a feeling of sitting around, waiting for something to happen.

Grade: C+