Greetings! Have you ever wondered if a movie's worth blowing the money on to see at the theater or what to add next to your NetFlix queue? Then you've come to the right place! Enjoy!

Basil Exposition Must Die!!!

Last night was the preview of Touch, the new series created by Tim Kring (Heroes) and starring Jack Bauer himself, Keifer Sutherland. It was potentially interesting and I'll be watching it when it starts in earnest in March, but there were some instances of clunky writing that drove me up the wall. When discussing it with my girlfriend afterwards, she responded to one of my points with, "I knew that would bother you. Damn skippy! I've touched upon this sort of hackery before in my Avatar DVD review but seeing this junk happening over and over requires further discussion.

In case you're unaware, Basil Exposition is a character from the Austin Powers series of films played by Michael York who comes in and delivers the necessary expository (which is NOT something you stick in your butt!) background information in an info dump so the plot can get on with the gags. It's terrible writing, but that's the joke of it. What's not funny is to see so many shows which can't do this elegantly and heed the first rule of screenwriting: Show, don't tell.

As an aspiring screenwriter who has read a lot of books on the subject to help order my thinking and get a read on what a proper script looks like, over and over certain things are hammered upon, beginning with show, don't tell. It means don't have someone say, "Neo is the best kung fu master in the Matrix," when you can SHOW Neo opening a crate of whoop-ass on a hundred Agent Smiths.

What set me off on Touch was the ham-handed way Keifer's backstory was covered. When we meet him, we see him at his baggage handling job at JFK, but he used to be a newspaper writer. He has a son who has "mutism" (not sure if this is a real condition or not) and has never spoken in his entire 12 year life and doesn't like to be touched. His mother died in the World Trade Center on 9/11.

OK, that's the core of what needs covering. Widower dad, special needs (but magical) son, career changes, dead wife. How should that be presented? What Kring does is James Cameron/Basil Exposition level bad, using a social worker who has come to take the kid away as the mouthpiece to inform the audience. She comes in as a scold and then flat out states, "You used to be a writer for the New York Herald", in the context of sneering at Jack's (I'm gonna call Keifer "Jack", OK?) manual labor jobs that he can't keep because of the demands of raising his son. Later in the scene, Jack tells us that his wife was a stock broker and that's why they have a nice loft in the packing district. It's all very Basil Exposition. Later, he visits his wife's grave where we see the tombstone with the date of her death on it.

UPDATE: Here is where you can watch the full episode. (Link stays active until Feb. 21, 2012 or so due to the stupid setup online.) Jump to 13:30, after the first commercial break, to see what I'm talking about. I'll wait...

You back? Good. Moving on. The information isn't the issue - we should know about these people - but the manner in which it's conveyed is sooooo clunky; it would fail muster in an aspiring screenwriters class, so coming from a veteran show runner, I don't get it. How would I have handled this scene? Glad you asked. Something like this:


There is a KNOCK at the door. Jack  answers it to find SOSHA WORKAH. He lets her in.

I'm from Child Protective Services and
I'm here to take your kid away.


She looks at her files and then looks around the luxurious loft, taken aback. Jack notices.

It says here that you're
a construction worker?

That was three jobs ago. I work
at JFK handling baggage now.

She raises an eyebrow.

JACK (con't)
My wife was a stock broker.
She worked in the North Tower.

She acknowledges this and stops and looks at NEWSPAPER AWARDS on the bookshelf.

You were with the Herald?

Yes. Before.

I'm sorry.

Jake had to come first.

I've changed none of the plot points that Kring made, but in my not-so-humble opinion think it's much more subtle and subtextual. I wish I could include the clip so you could compare. As with the Avatar scene, there is no reason the writing needs to be this bad on anything after a first draft. With the army of craftsmen who come together to produce a movie or TV show, how is it that no one seems to recognize how lousy this stuff is?

As for Touch, I'll watch it when it comes back on, though the Magical Numbers conceit is already being worked by Ben and Jesus' Protective Services Agency, I mean Person of Interest. A lot of people hold the crashing and burning of Heroes against Kring like Star Trek fans spit when they hear the names of Rick Berman or Brannon Braga - I gave up on it about three episodes into the third season when I realized that, writers strike or not (which cut Season 2 short), they had no idea where they were going with the show. That it dragged on into a 5th season was surprising.

"Killer Elite" Review

I almost forgot to review that I saw this movie. (It's two days later.) That pretty much sums it up, doesn't it?

Jason Statham and Robert De Niro are mercenaries in 1980. After a rough gig, Statham quits the biz and moves to Australia where he is repairing an old schoolhouse and making googly eyes at the chick from Chuck (whom I didn't recognize) whom I think he went to school with or something. A year after his retirement, a package arrives with a photo of De Niro showing he's being held hostage. He was hired by a sheik in Oman and failed and Statham has to complete his mission to kill three British SAS (the British version of Delta Force) men who killed the sheik's sons in battle. For some reason, Statham has to get confessions from them and make their deaths look like accidents. When one of Statham's crew is overheard nosing around a SAS bar, a local secret society of ex-SAS men dispatches Clive Owen to investigate and stop the killings. Little does he know that it's all going to be so dull.

I don't even care to hash out everything that's wrong with the misleadingly-named Killer Elite other than to say its neither. The politics of the caper are too obscure. It says it's based on true events, but we all know that means that England and Oman are real countries and everything else is BS. I found it hard to remain engaged and even the usual Statham ass-kicking antics don't elevate the proceedings much. I'm done here. Move along.

Score: 3/10. Skip it.

Watching the trailer now really makes me marvel at how misleading it is. It really implies waaaaay more action and interaction than really happens. Heh.

"Man On A Ledge" Review

The reviews for these types of movies are so easy to write. Why? Watch this:

What do you think happens? Do you think he clears his name and is able to escape the conspiracy against him? Do you think that his brother and his superhawt girlfriend, played by Genesis Rodriguez, who looks like this...

...will be able to put off a jewel heist worthy of an Ocean's film to clear his name, thanks to just about everyone reacting exactly as necessary? Duh.

Man on a Ledge is a competently-assembled, sturdily-performed movie that's meant for watching on cable on a lazy, rainy day. It moves along the rails, checking off the requisite trope check boxes, and hopes you don't stop and wonder just how the hell they have the skills to pull off the caper. Also, what are the ramifications of breaking and entering and doing phenomenal amounts of damage in the name of clearing an innocent man's name. They don't care to think that deeply.

While I wasn't bored, the only thing that struck me as neat was when The Clash's "Police On My Back" started to play to segue into the end credits.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.

"The Thing (2011)" Review

John Carpenter's 1982 remake of The Thing is a horror classic. Kurt Russell trapped at the bottom of the world, menaced by a shape-shifting monster - the landmark work of Rob Bottin - from outer space. Good stuff. It opened with a dog running across the snowy plains of Antarctica, chased by a helicopter with someone shooting at it. Why were they shooting at the dog and what happened at the Norwegian research station they find abandoned and burned out?

This. (Watch the trailer to see the movie without the monster shots.)

In this totally unnecessary prequel, also titled The Thing, we get an almost beat-for-beat remake of Carpenter's Thing, which is pretty coincidental considering the storyline of an organism that mimics its host to near perfection. The only real changes are the addition of a couple of women, including star Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and the use of mostly CGI instead of foam latex to make the new (old?) monsters. Otherwise it's the same old song and dance. Who's the alien? BOO!!! There are a couple of BOO! jolts and a few good effects, but it doesn't really work, especially at the end with the alien ship and its jigsaw Tetris-looking thingie. How does a lifeform looking the way it does create and use a giant spaceship? Wouldn't it suffice to be just an organism with extraordinary infectious properties? The movie isn't interested in exploring the myriad ways for the world to be observed or building chills, it just runs a checklist of things the original remake did. (e.g. Remember that axe in the wall in Carpenter's film? Now you know how it got there. Put it on your resume.)

Half remake, half prequel, all unnecessary.

Score: 4/10. Skip it.

"Fright Night (2011)" Review

I never saw the original Fright Night, but I was familiar with the concept: A kid suspects his neighbor is a vampire. Hijinks ensue. It's a small-time horror-comedy (I think) classic, not really demanding a remake, but they did it. They shouldn't have bothered.

Anton Yelchin (Chekov in the Star Trek reboot) lives in a subdivision outside of Las Vegas with his cougar real estate agent mom. (No, that doesn't mean she sells land to mountain lions.) Though he's nerdyish, he's got an inexplicably hot girlfriend (Imogen Poots - whatever happened to Hollywood renaming actors whose names sound like they fart?) in the Disturbia vein. One day, his former best friend, McLovin (played by McLovin from Superbad), tells him his new next door neighbor, Colin Farrell, is a vampire. Anton doesn't believe him and tells McLovin to get lost because he's no longer into his nerd games. When McLovin disappears, Anton realizes something may be up with Colin and Colin lets Anton know that he knows that Anton suspects that...wait, where is this going? Oh, yeah....hijinks ensuing!

The real surprise of this lumpy tale is that the script was by Marti Noxon, writer of 23 episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The structure is very awkward, with McLovin warning Anton and then getting knocked off in the first 20 minutes and then a short pause followed by one chase after another, all of it pretty much predictable. Farrell has a little fun sinking his campy teeth (heh) into the role, but if felt like warmed over Bullseye. Sofia Vergara's less-endowed-but-still-hot sister has a bit part and one of the recent Doctor Whos is funny as a Cris Angel/Russell Brandish magician/vampire hunter with a show at a casino. On the plus side, it's nice to see vampires stick to the rules for a change and blow up in sunlight and not have reflections. Take that, sparkly abominations!

On a Motion Captured podcast around the time Fright Night and some other remakes were coming out, Drew McWeeny was saying that instead of wasting money on IPs that aren't really aching for remakes, Hollywood should be just ripping off the themes for newer ideas without the the baggage of an old movie. With that in mind, after watching this, I pitched my girlfriend this idea: A kid suspects his next door neighbor is a vampire and try to prove it. Little does he know that there are vampires across the street and they're framing the neighbor. Hijinks ensue!

She liked it. She also fell asleep during Fright Night. It's not terrible, just needless and mediocre.

Score: 3/10. Skip it.

"Melancholia" Review

Happy New Year! The Mayans say that the world ends this year, so we decided to kick off the last year of Earth with Lars von Trier's Melancholia, in which the Earth is destroyed by the titular planet. Based on this movie, perhaps ending the human race would be a good idea because when the first movie of the year has guaranteed itself a spot at the top of your Worst list, how much hope can you have?

Gawd, where to begin? Opening with a series of Kubrick-wannabe imagery with soaring Wagner music, we see the Earth annihilated. Some of those images will be reprised later, but, oddly, many aren't. Then we get an interminable scene of a stretch limo unable to navigate a tight country road turn. In the back are newlyweds Kirsten Dunst and Eric from True Blood. When they finally walk up to the reception, they're two hours late and everyone has been waiting for them. Didn't they call? Couldn't have someone picked them up? Doesn't von Trier have a tripod for that shaky camera?

It doesn't get better as her father is doddering; her mother sneers a toast about how she doesn't believe in marriage; she has depressed moments which lead her to disappear to take a bath; her boss is there demanding her to create a tag line for an ad campaign; none of it seems real and no one acts remotely like a person on this planet. When she's too bummed out to consummate the nuptials, the marriage is effectively over at that moment. Didn't he notice her moods before proposing and buying her an orchard or did they meet two days earlier? REAL PEOPLE DON'T ACT LIKE THIS!!!!

The second half focuses on her sister (Charlotte Gainsbourg) whose husband, Jack "DAMMIT!" Bauer, paid for Dunst's pooch (and intern; don't ask) screw of a wedding as she takes in her now-crippled-by-depression sis while the mysterious planet of Melancholia (so named because "El Destroyo" would've been racist) closes in for the End of the World®. Yawn. As the end nears, the previously catatonic Dunst becomes functional and everyone else falls apart. There's something about a horse not crossing a bridge and you get to check out Dunst's ginormous snoobs (link NSFW, so make sure the boss/kids/girlfriend aren't around), but by the end, you will have wished they'd ended the movie after the overture.

I've never seen a Lars von Trier movie before and now have zero plans on picking up his previous work. What is it about this garbage that attracted this cast? There isn't a single realistic character in the whole mess. Jack Bauer owns an 18-hole golf course and enormous mansion, but we have no idea how he's made his fortune. The wedding reception appears to last all night until the dawn and there's a trailer serving soup on the golf course and I can count the number of times I've even heard of such a thing happening on zero fingers. There's a little boy who doesn't react to anything crazy that's going on; no, "Hey, mom. Where's daddy? Why is it hailing? What's that gigantic planet in the sky? Didn't you have enough of von Trier after he had you cut your clitoris off in that last movie? Can I have the new Pokemon?" None of that.

Dunst won Best Actress at Cannes for her unimpressive performance; it's really limited by the script, but I guess if you cry and show your boobs, you can win. (Anne Hathaway joked about her nudity in Love and Other Drugs and how she thought it was supposed to get an Oscar nomination and after seeing this, she's got a legit beef.) The supporting players are similarly crippled, so I suppose if they made any impression, it's due to their talents and not von Trier's craptastic "writing" and direction. Someone needs to hit him with a planet to spare us all the misery of any other films.

Score: 1/10. Cue the asteroid!

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