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March 2013 Review Roundup

A really light month as most of my spare time was spent playing the terrific Tomb Raider reboot/retcon on PC (too bad nVidia got fixed drivers out a week after I'd beaten the game) and I watched Torchwood: Children of Earth to see what all the acclaim was about. Sadly, I haven't been to a movie theater in almost five months other than The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey around Christmas.

March 10 - John Dies At The End (5/10)
March 23 - Killer Joe (2/10)
March 30 - Red Dawn (2012) (5/10)

Most Enjoyed: John Dies At The End
Least Enjoyed: Killer Joe

Month's Movies Watched: 3
Previously Unseen: 3
Theatrical: 0
Home: 3
Year-To-Date: 17
YTD First-Timers: 17
YTD Theatrical: 0
YTD Home: 17

"Red Dawn (2012)" Review

This remake of the Cold War-era minor classic of the same name was held up for a couple of years due to the combined factors of MGM going bankrupt (also holding up The Cabin in the Woods) and having to perform massive digital surgery, replacing flags and logos, to change the original invading army from Chinese to North Korea, because that's more plausible and oh wait no, it's to avoid offending or soon-to-be-overlords. The results are the same, though; a mediocre muddle meandering through meadows of mehness.

A pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth leads a ragtag band of guerrilla fighters including pre-Hunger Games Josh Hutcherson, Connor "Tom and Nicole adopted me, thus the total lack of resemblance" Cruise in Spokane, Washington. He's a Marine on leave with experience in Iraq, so he's the default leader not that his surly and erratic brother, Josh Peck, seems to appreciate as he screws things up frequently with is impulsive behavior.

While there are some nice explosions and it's fun to spot the locations in downtown Detroit and (mostly) Pontiac, MI where they filmed, it never catches fire because the beats are familiar to anyone who's seen any "resisting invasion" flick whether another country or aliens from outer space. (I probably haven't seen the original in a quarter-century, but recognized the trap door ambush they use.) If anything, in the translation from ChiComs to Norks something has been lost because it prevents any sense of what they're up to, not that the script had anything much on it's mind in the first place.

It's also oddly muted in its patriotism when you'd think Team America's "America, F*ck Yeah!" would be the Wolverines anthem. Since Hollyweird equates pro-American patriotism as "jingoistic imperialism," it's not too surprising that they wanted to keep such rabble-rousing thoughts from entering the audiences mind, ending up with a bland pablum unable to rouse or incite anyone to thought or action.

Score: 4/10. Catch it on cable.

"Killer Joe" Blu-ray Review

What's the difference between a dirty joke that's funny and one that's offensive? A: Whether you laugh or not; if you laugh, it's not offensive. That's the best way I can explain why I found Killer Joe to be not the pitch-black comedy a LOT of critics seem to have found it because it simply crosses too many lines too egregiously to get a pass and I'm speaking as someone who considers American Psycho and A Clockwork Orange to be comedies.

Emile Hirsh is Chris, a white trash Texan with a loan shark problem that he thinks can be solved by having his mother killed. His sister Dottie (a frequently naked Juno Temple who was Catwoman's sidekick in The Dark Knight Reloaded) is a child-like young woman who I'm guessing is meant to be retarded from the same mother trying to smother her as a child, but is lucid enough to think it's a good idea. She's also the beneficiary of mom's will and lives with Thomas Haden Church (playing a dumber version of the Lowell character he always does) and his new wife, Gina Gershon. Everyone seems casually on board with the scheme. To do the deed they hire Joe Cooper (a serpentine Matthew McConaughey), a Dallas police detective who decides to take Dottie as a retainer when Chris can't pay the necessary up-front fee of $25,000. He's entranced by this simple girl with the ripe body and her amoral family doesn't seem to mind the seamy arrangement.

There are so many ways Killer Joe goes off the rails that I'm going to need several trains to cover them all. First off, none of the characters are compelling. Hirsch is a moron; Church is dim; Temple's best assets are external; Gershon almost makes something of her thin character, but suffers the most. And suffering is the fatal flaw here - the brutality and degradation suffered by Hirsh and Gershon is repellent because it's gratuitous. William Friedkin, the director of classics like The Exorcist and The French Connection had an insane defense of the violence which pulled an NC-17 rating by saying to cut the violence would destroy the movie in the same way the Vietnam War was sold as needing to destroy the country to save it. Huh? Get over yourself, Billy.

If you've heard anything about Killer Joe, it's probably a reference to "the chicken leg scene" in which Gershon simulates fellatio on a piece of "K Fry C" and with her sexy background in films like Showgirls and Bound, that sounds like fun (amirite?) but NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO, it's not fun at all! At this point late in the movie, the murder plot has naturally gone sideways and bass-ackwards and tensions are running high. In an explosive bit of violence, McConaughey smashes Gershon in the face, bloodying it badly and then forces her to suck the chicken leg has he holds it in his crotch. That a lot of critics and people I've noted online raving about the movie were so cool with this level of depravity really says a lot about how our society has slid into the ravine.

It's all a matter of tone. My girlfriend was very disturbed by the movie, but she's a huge David Lynch fan and tried to equate this to Blue Velvet. I haven't seen that since it's release in 1986 in a theater full of skeeved-out suburbanites, but I think the difference is that the people in Lynch's fantasia clearly don't exist in this world - if someone like Dennis Hopper or Dean Stockwell does exist, I want off of this rock, stat! - and violent stupid people in trailer parks do. Contra Friedkin's whining, it wouldn't have harmed the movie if they'd toned down this scene and an earlier beating Hirsch takes. It's not like watching zombies stabbed in the face on The Walking Dead, you know?

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play? Well, since we never see the mother alive, we don't know what it's so important she be dead. Gershon's character is seeing the mother's new husband and the two apparently are orchestrating everything, but I'm not sure how Joe gets wind of the caper. The movie seems satisfied with believing smug attitudes towards hicks is enough and perhaps those who like this movie are responding to that. Also, if the cop cars didn't say Dallas Police on the side, there is nothing to indicate this isn't set in some podunk Texas plains town because you never see the city.

Needless mean and brutal and nowhere near entertaining enough to make the misery worth the feeling you'll need a shower after watching it, Killer Joe is a heap of woe thinking it's the peak of whoa. It's too bad because the performances are actually decent as far as the script allows. Between this,The Lincon Lawyer and Bernie, McConaughey's career has taken a turn into respectable thespian territory - no Surfer, Dude here - but his menace is overexposed. A judicious edit wouldn't have made this into a good film, but it sure would've been less disgusting.

Score: 2/10. Skip it.

"John Dies At The End" Review

I suppose there are some people who would take the extreme difficulty in describing the plot of John Dies at the End as a plus, but they shouldn't because despite some occasional gross-out laughs in an Evil Dead 2 sense, the movie is a scattered, inconsequential mess.

Opening with a weird series of scenes involving killing a guy, hacking his head off with a hatchet, breaking the handle, replacing the handle, chipping the head, going to the store to replace that, then the dead guy showing up with his head sewn back on with monofilament, JDatE opens with buzzy WTF energy as we're introduced to the very Caucasian David Wong played by the familiar-looking-but-new Chase Williamson. He's talking to newspaper reporter Paul Giamatti about some drug called "soy sauce" that he's on which gives him visions of different points in time and how his pal John and he deal with aliens from other dimensions and spider monsters and the ability to read other people's dreams and some other crazy stuff.

The problem with providing a plot synopsis is that the time frame and levels of reality jump all over the place meaning nothing is ever what it seems and after you realize that none of this matters; it's all just a pastiche or random collage of occasionally nifty moments like the monster made of meats stored in a freezer or how John (who died in the middle but is alive at the end thus the title is a lie) communicates with David via a bratwurst. But it never amounts to anything. I've heard rumbles that you need to read the source graphic novel, but that just means the movie has failed all the more because you shouldn't have to read the source material to appreciate a movie. (See The Lord of the Rings for a prime example.)

Directed by Don Coscarelli, the man behind the Phantasm series and the equally wildly-overrated Bubba Ho-Tep, JDatE gets a nerd pass from the easily-entertained nerds for just being odd, but while there are some interesting concepts rattling around, they don't add up. Bubba Ho-Tep had a similar problem in that the basic premise - Elvis (played by Bruce Campbell) is alive (it was an impersonator who died), but living in a nursing home with JFK (played by Ossie Davis!) and they have to battle an Egyptian spirit - was cool, but it didn't go anywhere. It felt like they stopped once they said, "Bruce Campbell is Elvis and JFK's an old black man."

John Dies at the End falls into my "not terrible, but not any good" zone where stuff like The Crazies lives. It's not so bad that I need to warn you away from wasting your time, but there's not much to recommend you spend the time on watching it. The less impressed you are by random weirdness, the lower your need to seek this one.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable while multitasking.

Why Not Let The Viewers Pick The Television Shows?

Some background: I posted the following on an item announcing the cancellation by ABC of a series called Zero Hour after only three episodes. One of the writers there was calling it the "wackiest show on television that no one was watching" in the car crash sense, not that it was particularly good. I tried to watch the pilot one night and gave up after the first couple of acts; it just didn't interest me.

How this show - and others which seem to utterly tank leading to their sacking after a few episodes - got on the air in the first place has been a point of curiosity for me for a while and what follows is something I've discussed with a few people during bull sessions. I put it as a comment on io9, but since it was pretty long and relevant to what goes on here (yes, it's not a movie I watched, but it is commentary), I've brought it home. Enjoy.
Here's a crazy idea that's just so nuts it makes total sense: Instead of clueless network executives picking the series, how about putting the pilots online and letting the people who will actually be watching the shows decide?

We know darn well that a lot of shows are picked up from pilots because the producers/creators are pals with the network suits or the suits want to "maintain the relationship" with that creator in for some reason (e.g. past success; they murdered a teen hooker with a Senator in the Dominican Republic; frat brothers) but none of these matter to the folks who just want to be entertained by the boob tube after a hard day's labors.

Instead of risking millions of dollars on some coked-up suit's decision, why don't the networks put the pilots on their sites and blare, "HELP US PICK YOUR SHOWS!" It's free advertising and market research as people would comment that "The show's pretty funny, but the kid playing the son is an annoying brat" or "What the hell is this show about? Nazi clocks? Is Anthony Edwards ill? He doesn't look well." Whether pilot buzz online will turn into actual viewers in the fall (see: Snakes on a Plane) is unknown, but it can't be any worse than how the nets can't seem to pick a winner to save their butts.

Several years ago as part of e-Rewards, I was surveyed on a pair of TV shows. One was an episode of Private Practice which was already running and was a trip in a couple of spots because the visual effects weren't in so it was just green screen. (It was the view from Kate Walsh's beach house deck; the beach and ocean were fake; I caught the episode when it aired.)

The other was some horrific alleged sitcom pilot called Never Better starring Damon Wayans and Jane Lynch. Even though I was literally being paid to watch this, I wanted death for all involved but Lynch, who was funny like she was in 40-Year-Old Virgin. I think I even filled in a comment that "Everyone involved in the making of this show should be forbidden to work in the entertainment industry again or killed. Except Jane Lynch; she was funny." It never aired and for a time it wasn't even on IMDB; I'm surprised it was on now.

Imagine that instead of paying for market research for a small sampling the networks applied the same methods on their own with a much larger sample. Use the same demographic info collection and code the pages to verify people watched the whole thing (e-Rewards could tell if you switched browser windows) and use the method YouTube does to track how far in people watch. If you get a bunch of good feedback from a small demo but the overall stats show people are turning off after 15 minutes, that means you've got a loser. I remember trying to watch the first episode of the Charlie's Angels reboot a couple of years back. My girlfriend called and asked if I'd watched it and I replied, "I shut it off after 12 minutes. If hot girls with guns aren't holding my attention, you're doing something terribly wrong."

I'm sure some are thinking, "It takes time for shows to develop and find their voice. Agreed. Joss Whedon at his best needs about 6-12 episodes to get his shows roaring; The Vampire Diaries didn't get really interesting for 6-8 episodes; Star Trek series seemed to take two or three SEASONS to get going; but networks aren't giving shows much of a first chance, not a even a second chance these days. Series which may have been absolutely awesome after their 5th episodes are strangled in their cribs after two. Hill Street Blues would never have survived today and the only reason it was left on for a season back in the Eighties is because NBC simply had nothing to replace it with so they just let it continue.
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