SOUTHLAND TALES (2007)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 25 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language, Violence, Sexual Material and some Drug Content

Southland poster

Directed by: Richard Kelly

Written by: Richard Kelly

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Seann William Scott, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mandy Moore, Justin Timberlake, Miranda Richardson, Wallace Shawn, Bai Ling, Nora Dunn, Kevin Smith, Jon Lovitz & Amy Poehler

Richard Kelly has become a low-rent M. Night Shyamalan. He blew a lot of people away with DONNIE DARKO (similar to how Shyamalan blew everyone away with SIXTH SENSE) and was hailed as an interesting new filmmaker. However, he quickly squandered this reputation away by making crappy overblown movies (that looked good) and not realizing when his stories were in drastic need of a rewrite. The difference between Kelly and Shyamalan is that Shayamalan made three good films before disappointing audiences and Kelly let them down with his second feature. SOUTHLAND TALES premiered at Cannes 2006 to horrible reviews and booing (which isn’t necessarily out of the ordinary as even Quentin Tarantino’s PULP FICTION was heckled at the festival). It took a year for the studio to release this film afterwards to which I can only imagine their discussions were something along the line of “Just do it quickly…like a Band-Aid and then this pain will be over.” SOUTHLAND TALES is a colossal, mind-boggling failure of a film on every conceivable level. This isn’t so bad it’s good, this is so bad it will make you question what anybody on the set was thinking.

MCDSOTA EC005

Set in an alternative history, the United States has been forever changed since 2005 nuclear attacks on Texas. This led to a military regime taking over America, states being treated like individual countries, and harmful alternative fuels being created. It is now 2008 and the USA is on the brink of chaos. Boxer Santaros is an actor, suffering from memory loss, who has been sucked into a group of neo-Marxist extremists. Alongside another neo-Marxist (impersonating a police officer), Boxer finds himself in a confusing tangled web of conspiracy, power struggles, and all sorts of craziness. Oh, he’s also aided by a psychic ex-porn star and there are other sub-plots weaving in and out of Boxer’s journey. That’s the condensed version of this plot, because I really think Richard Kelly didn’t know what the hell he was doing while writing/filming this epic-length mess of a movie.

MCDSOTA EC025

I should have known that I was in trouble from the get-go as the story begins with a 10-minute-long prologue that spews exposition like it’s going out of style. Usually science-fiction films will introduce the world in a few short minutes and then incorporate the crazy technology and profound concepts into the story in an effective (sometimes, subtle) manner. That’s not the case in SOUTHLAND TALES as the lengthy prologue is just the tip of the iceberg. Justin Timberlake (who was fairly new to the acting scene at the time of this film) pops in and out to guide us through the story as best he can. His efforts are all in vain as this is entirely nonsensical and confusing. Some may argue that there’s a deeper meaning to everything in the film (right down the repeated phrase of “pimps don’t commit suicide”), but I’d argue that Richard Kelly didn’t have anyone to reign in his ambition on this project. He tried to cram way too many concepts, ideas, and plots into the space of one film. It backfired and the result is somehow simultaneously chaotic, stupid, and boring.

MCDSOTA EC016

Arguably, the plot isn’t even the strangest thing about SOUTHLAND TALES. That would come in one of the weirdest mismatched ensemble casts to ever hit the screen. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson tries to deliver his lines in a semi-convincing manner, but he doesn’t really seem to understand who his character is (I can’t blame him either). Seann William Scott attempts to take a semi-dramatic role as twin brothers (one’s an undercover neo-Marxist and the other is a racist cop) and seems confused (again, I’m not blaming him for the faulty characters). Sarah Michelle Gellar is playing a typical ditz as the psychic porn star. Meanwhile, lots of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE alumni show up for no discernible reason (including Jon Lovitz, Amy Poehler, etc.). Shawn Wallace is hamming it up as an oddball villain. Meanwhile, Justin Timberlake serves as a narrator who occasionally pops in for a pointless scene (including one baffling drug-addled musical number).

MCDSOTA EC023

SOUTHLAND TALES is also supposed to be a satire. Though I can see it trying to make political points and mock the state of our country, it doesn’t do either of these things well. In fact, every ounce of humor (including one brief joke from Timberlake about a Proposition 69) feels forced or just confused. The futuristic setting could have made for a neat world being brought to life, but it’s not fully explored as Kelly seems to focused on linking together bland characters and uninteresting plot threads. I can’t even call SOUTHLAND TALES an interesting failure, because it’s far too long for its own good and feels even longer than that. This movie drags to an unbearable degree.

MCDSOTA EC013

There are strange movies. There are weird failures of a film. There are also “WTF” moments strewn throughout many movies (just look at any David Lynch story). However, I think SOUTHLAND TALES takes the cake in being the ultimate WTF movie…and I don’t mean that in a good way. This movie is godawful and really makes you question how it got past the pre-production with a script this horrible and unfocused. This has made its way in my list of bottom three worst films that I’ve ever suffered through (right next to BRANDED and THE BLACK DAHLIA). The only possible way I could even recommend SOUTHLAND TALES on the tiniest merit is so people who sit through this epic-length failure will appreciate everything else they watch that much more.

Grade: F

THE PRINCESS BRIDE (1987)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 38 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

PBride poster

Directed by: Rob Reiner

Written by: William Goldman

(based on the novel THE PRINCESS BRIDE by William Goldman)

Starring: Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Chris Sarandon, Mandy Patinkin, Christopher Guest, Andre the Giant, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Carol Kane, Peter Falk & Fred Savage

In the realm of cult movies, THE PRINCESS BRIDE is probably one of the most well-known and highly regarded. In the realm of fairy tales, the film is probably the most meta and comedic out there. PRINCESS BRIDE is a story that should please pretty much everyone in the audience. Though some younger male viewers might be scared off by the feminine sounding title, they’ll find plenty of adventure and laughs to be had. Adults expecting heartfelt romance will also find a love story far more fleshed out than early Disney Princess flicks. With a sense of humor and clever attitude, PRINCESS BRIDE may not be a masterpiece (I’ll discuss my minor gripe with the film later on)…but it’s close to perfection nonetheless.

MSDPRBR FE006

A grandfather reads a book to his sick grandson. Thus we’re given an excuse for an old man narrating our actual plot/fairy tale. The main story follows Buttercup and Westley. The two fall head-over-heels in love with each other on a countryside farm, but Westley doesn’t exactly have the funds for marriage…so he travels out to sea to make a fortune and winds up presumed dead. Years later, Buttercup has gone from poor peasant girl to Prince Humperdinck’s fiancé. It’s a loveless union, because part of her died the day that Westley was killed. When Buttercup is kidnapped by a trio of criminals (a sword-wielding Spaniard, a fearsome giant, and a spit-filled strategist), a masked man comes to her rescue. Three guesses who the masked man is and true love is rekindled…though it faces opposition from the evil Humperdinck, his six-fingered torture-happy assistant, and rodents of unusual size.

MSDPRBR FE005

The colorful characters populating THE PRINCESS BRIDE turn what might have been a typical fairy tale into something unique. Supposedly villainous characters are fleshed out into people worth rooting for and our romantic leads are complex in their own ways (while also deeply in love with each other). These qualities make for a fantasy-romance unlike any that you’ve ever seen before. A narrative that jumps through multiple characters doesn’t necessarily become distracting in the fairy tale setting because they’re all so entertaining to watch. Each of their arcs (my personal favorite is the Spaniard’s quest for revenge against a six-fingered man) is interesting for a different reason. However, I find the structuring story to be a tad forced. I’m not talking about anything involving the fairy tale or the romance, but rather the grandfather reading to his grandson. The movie doesn’t just start and end with these segments, but keeps cutting back to them for comedic effect…and that doesn’t necessarily work well. Instead, it distracts from the main story at hand: the comedic fairy-tale romance. The segments interrupting the fairy tale don’t detract too much from the film overall, but remain annoying. I sort of wish that a fairy tale character were narrating the story as opposed to a grandfather reading to his grandson.

M8DPRBR FE002

The biggest strength of THE PRINCESS BRIDE is definitely its sense of humor. This movie never takes itself too seriously. There are laughs to be had practically ever minute. This is not mention that the dialogue is endlessly quotable. The comedic timing and meta-sensibilities come across in lines from the characters. These could be from a giant recognizing that throwing a rock at his opponent’s head isn’t very sportsmanlike or a wizard coating his miracle pills in chocolate to make them go down easier. These little touches create big laughs. The film is a self-aware fairy tale, but done in a way that isn’t lampooning the material…but rather celebrating it with uniquely comedic sensibilities.

MSDPRBR EC001

THE PRINCESS BRIDE is a movie that I really can’t imagine anyone hating. This is a crowd-pleasing, endlessly quotable, and laugh-filled fairy tale romance packed with adventure. The characters are all memorable as are some of the biggest laughs that the movie has to offer (the introduction to the Pit of Despair gets me every time). Well-constructed and entertaining beyond belief, even if it slightly suffers from narrative flaws, THE PRINCESS BRIDE is essential viewing.

Grade: A-

A GOOFY MOVIE (1995)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 18 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

Goofy poster

Directed by: Kevin Lima

Written by: Jymn Magon, Chris Matheson & Brian Pimental

Voices of: Bill Farmer, Jason Marsden, Rob Paulsen, Jim Cummings, Kellie Martin, Pauly Shore, Wallace Shawn & Frank Welker

Out of all the Disney characters, Goofy seemed like the oddest choice to center a movie around. This was especially strange, because Goofy’s feature film was being released at a time when Disney was changing its image in the midst of the “Disney Renaissance.” With the likes of ALADDIN, BEAUTY & THE BEAST, and THE LION KING having already made huge waves, I’m sure it seemed as if Disney was taking a step backwards with 1995’s A GOOFY MOVIE. However, their risk eventually paid off as this is one of Disney’s most underrated movies. It also bears mentioning that I do have serious nostalgia for this film, but I’m trying to be as non-biased as possible in this review. Taken on its own merits, A GOOFY MOVIE is a comedy unlike many that Disney has pumped out and remains refreshing to this day.

MSDGOMO EC020

One can only assume that A GOOFY MOVIE takes place after all of the previous hijinks with Mickey, Minnie, Donald and (of course) Goofy, seeing as Goofy and Pete have kids of their own. Max, Goofy’s son, is a typical rebellious teenager trying to catch the eye of his high school crush, Roxanne. He accomplishes this by crashing an assembly, but lands himself in hot water with the principal. With Goofy worried about his son becoming a juvenile delinquent (and “winding up in the electric chair”), he decides to take an impromptu road trip with Max. The only problem is that Max had a date lined up with Roxanne. In order to avoid humiliation, Max lies about the road trip and promises to appear on the stage of a famous rock star’s concert. Goofy and Max encounter turbulence on their wacky vacation, only to find that their father-son bond can get them through anything.

MSDGOMO EC035

Like many Disney films, A GOOFY MOVIE uses musical numbers throughout its story. Each of these songs sticks out for unique reasons, whether they’re wacky or sentimental or undeniably catchy. Some of these tunes have aged a bit seeing as this was the 90’s (mainly the opening number of “After Today”), but they are all enjoyable to some degree. You wouldn’t necessarily expect a moral in what some could consider a Goofy short turned feature film, you’d be surprised at how touching the overall message about fathers and sons really is. A GOOFY MOVIE mainly sticks to being, well, goofy, but there’s definitely a sweet and heartfelt side too. It’s all boosted by Goofy appearing as a lovable (though extremely annoying) father and Max coming off as a sympathetic teenager trying to live his own life.

MSDGOMO EC021

GOOFY MOVIE is also very, very funny. The fast-paced road trip plot gives an excuse to launch Goofy and Max into unexpected ridiculous areas, including a possum theme park and an encounter with Bigfoot. If there’s any film I’d compare A GOOFY MOVIE to, it would be Disney does National Lampoon’s VACATION. The humor is far less crass than that adult comedy, but there’s an edgier side to a few of the jokes that observant older viewers will catch. As funny as the wacky humor and funny lines of dialogue are, not everything works…especially Pauly Shore voicing a Mohawk-sporting, sunglasses-wearing punk (yet another sign that this was the 90’s).

MSDGOMO EC033

It may not be nearly up to the same level as ALADDIN or THE LION KING, but A GOOFY MOVIE is well worth watching for Disney fans. This was made at a time when Disney was trying a little too hard to be cool with their TV shows and that sort of translates to this film in its sheer 90’s-ness (fashion trends and Pauly Shore). As a result, GOOFY MOVIE isn’t necessarily great or close to perfect, but it’s one of Disney’s most underrated efforts. Don’t judge it, until you watch it. Two decades later (I can’t believe it’s been that long), A GOOFY MOVIE remains a solid film in Disney’s animated library.

Grade: B+

THE DOUBLE (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language

Double poster

Directed by: Richard Ayoade

Written by: Richard Ayoade & Avi Korine

(based on the novella THE DOUBLE by Fyodor Dostoyevsky)

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, Noah Taylor, Yasmin Paige, Cathy Moriarty, Phyllis Somerville, James Fox, Chris O’Dowd & Paddy Considine

Lynch, Cronenberg, and Gilliam. You don’t necessarily have to like their films to admit they’ve had a profound impact in creating surreal worlds. It’s no wonder that there’s at least one new filmmaker trying to emulate these three every year. Sometimes, it works out well (ANTIVIRAL, ENEMY) in telling an original untapped story in a viciously wild environment. Other times, you get something like THE DOUBLE. Richard Ayoade’s sophomore effort is trying far too hard to rank alongside classics like ERASERHEAD and BRAZIL. Not to point out the cruel irony of bad timing, but there’s already been a superior doppelganger film this year in ENEMY. Ayoade tries to inject dark comedy into his film but ultimately winds up with a bad flick…that happens to have good set design and atmosphere.

MCDDOUB EC082

In a depressing future, Simon is a young man being ignored and abused by everyone in his life. He’s worked at a bureaucratic company for seven years, but remains unnoticed by his co-workers. Simon also has a crush on Hannah, a fellow co-worker and neighbor, and can’t muster up the confidence to talk to her. Things change when a young man named James is hired on at Simon’s company. James and Simon are exact doubles in appearance, thus causing an odd friendship to form between them. As things go in doppelganger stories though, events take a nasty turn and they two find themselves at each others’ throats in complicated revenge.

MCDDOUB EC084

The nicest thing I can say about Richard Ayoade’s directing is that he knows exactly what kind of world he wanted to construct. The sets are simplistic, but also create a suffocating atmosphere. The color palette is a simple one. Everything consists of black, brown, white, gray, and puke colored variations of yellow and green. It’s a depressing industrialized future and this actually winds up being the best part of the film. It’s understandable why suicide is a common occurrence in this landscape. It’s a real shame that the lack of interesting characters and a familiar plot turn what might have been a successful homage to Gilliam into a boring endurance test. The main fault falls upon Jesse Eisenberg, who just isn’t compelling as either Simon or James. Eisenberg fails to elicit a single convincing emotion. He just comes off as phoning it in when he’s trying to be sad, funny or menacing. It may not have been Ayoade’s direct intention, but I didn’t care about Simon in the same way as those around him. I never once felt pity for his plights and actually wished the movie would kill him off quickly so it would end faster.

MCDDOUB EC097

THE DOUBLE has been billed as a dark comedy/satire by many, but I didn’t laugh once. Every punchline the movie threw out was the same one-note joke. James is more confident and everyone loves him, but they ignore or put down his physical duplicate Simon. The “funny” scenes fall flat. As the movie goes further along and James becomes an antagonist, things spiral through the been-there done-that formula of doppelganger stories. ENEMY used the same sort of approach with two exact doubles meeting and one becoming an antagonist, but that was executed in a far more creepy and believable way. I realize Ayoade was trying for a dark comedic angle, but none of it worked. About 40 minutes in, the film had become so tedious and boring that nothing may have been able to save it.

MCDDOUB EC083

THE DOUBLE has received a lot of praise from critics (following a festival run at both 2013’s Toronto International and 2014’s Sundance), but I’m going to side with the naysayers on this one. The sour taste left in my mouth after watching THE DOUBLE comes from a boring screenplay, bland characters, and ambition that doesn’t pay off. Ayoade has a knack for creative visuals, but maybe he should let someone else write the script next time or pick more original material. There’s a bleak world brought to life in THE DOUBLE, but I just wish the story was worthy of it.

Grade: D

CHICKEN LITTLE (2005)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 21 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

CL poster

Directed by: Mark Dindal

Written by: Steve Bencich, Ron J. Friedman, Ron Anderson

Voices of: Zach Braff, Joan Cusack, Steve Zahn, Amy Sedaris, Garry Marshall, Don Knotts, Fred Willard, Catherine O’Hara, Patrick Stewart, Wallace Shawn, Patrick Warburton, Adam West

Everybody is more than happy to talk about what a great company Disney is. So much so, that many people seem to forget that the studio also has its fair share of disappointments and just plain bad movies. CHICKEN LITTLE is one of the latter. The idea to turn the well-known fable into a computer-animated feature is a strange concept in itself. Throwing in some forced humor and unlikable characters causes the entire film falls apart in many respects.

CL 1

A tiny rooster sees a piece of the sky fall and rings the emergency school bell, which causes all sorts of destructive havoc to take place in the town of Oakey Oaks. Upon arriving at the scene, the piece of the sky has mysteriously vanished and the entire town believes that Chicken Little, the aptly named tiny rooster, imagined the whole thing. After a year has passed, the town still regards Chicken Little as crazy and his distant father wants nothing to do with him. Only three outcast animals are his friends. These being: Abby (a.k.a. Ugly Duckling), Fish (out of water) and Runt (of the litter). In order to make his father proud, Chicken Little joins the baseball team, but it appears that the sky may be falling again…

CL 2

One thing should be fairly noticeable in the plot description and that’s how tongue-in-cheek the names of Chicken Little’s friends are. It seems that the (three!) screenwriters were extremely desperate to throw everything they had at the wall and see what would stick. Most of it falls and falls hard! CHICKEN LITTLE is a movie that will entertain children (as it’s purpose really is first and foremost) but will bore teenagers and have many adults rolling their eyes. A good family film is one that the whole family can enjoy and not just a select age group. The visuals are frankly a bit ugly here and it adds to just how terrible most of the characters are. I understand that this is an important element in the story being told, but some of these side characters are just outright cruel (adults included).

CL 3

Besides the script being rather lame, the plot is also at a drastically rushed pace. We barely have time to register one scene before the next one comes barreling along at an out-of-control speed. New plot elements are thrown in without a second’s thought and the movie resorts to cheap jokes, rather than well-constructed ones. Disney can do many different kinds of stories right. They’ve executed plenty of imaginative fairy tales, re-constructions of well-known classics, and even science-fiction. The studio has even done stupid humor very well in their funniest film (by far) THE EMPEROR’S NEW GROOVE. This makes CHICKEN LITTLE feel that much more disappointing. I’d expect something of this quality from Fox Animation or even Sony, but definitely not Disney!

CL 4

With all my whining and moaning about how bad CHICKEN LITTLE is, you may wonder is there anything redeemable about this film. Actually, a couple of good jokes are set up well in advance. There’s also a cameo appearance (voice-wise) in the conclusion that had me laughing out loud. For a movie so ugly in visuals and dumb in story, the movie seems to capture the plotline of Chicken Little trying to make his father proud in a bit of an admirable light. Even if most of the other things suck, CHICKEN LITTLE does get this very important part of the plot right and it must be commended for doing so. It remains a bad movie and one of Disney’s weakest animated efforts. CHICKEN LITTLE is terrible and makes you wonder why anybody even bothered with it to begin with.

Grade: D+

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑