Thursday, September 4, 2008

“Charlie Bartlett” & “Be Kind, Rewind” – They Suck!

Are we down to one shaker cinema? In that case let me save time and give you two-for-one: a high school afternoon special and a video store fiasco.

In “Charlie Bartlett” (2007) we are supposed to find this Richy-Rich lovable ala Ferris Bueller. However, outside of the irony of Robert Downey Jr. as a principal trying to warn kids off drugs, this film is ridiculous and flat. Anton Yelchin as the title character tries hard and with his wealth and crazy mom alludes to “Harold & Maude” right down to a song plucked from that film that no teenager on earth would be singing. Besides borrowing from better coming of age films, the heavy handed moralizing on teen drug use, authority and personal identity are just too awkward and stagey. While I give it credit for trying to be a step up from the gross-out films of the teen comedy genre, this one is just the wrong prescription. “Superbad”, “Election” and the oldie “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” show us how serious issues can be covered in a high school setting without sacrificing the laughs.

Speaking of high school, “Be Kind, Rewind” (2008) is set in Passaic, NJ which is next to my hometown hood of Clifton. However, that city will not be sending the filmmakers a “thank you” note anytime soon since the city is played up as being a major slum which is a slight exaggeration. Writer-director Michael Gondry who gave us the very good “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind “and the very bad “The Science of Sleep” puts another in the bad column. Mos Def is just not funny and Jack Black is occasionally funny but not allowed to shine. The story of a store that has all its' VHS tapes erased. (Yes Passaic has also just heard of DVDs) only to have our two heroes replace them with shorter parodies of their own making should be hilarious. Yet only some of the parodies are even funny, and they only come after an overlong setup which involves evil city officials and Fats Waller. (Don’t ask!) This film actually looks like it was slapped together by the two idiots themselves and goes from bad to almost unwatchable. How did Danny Glover, Mia Farrow and Sigourney Weaver get pulled into this mess? Be kind to yourself and miss this and re-rent “Clerks”.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

09.02.08 “Ginger Snaps” (2000): And I Snap Back

Years ago, when first auditioning for one of my agents, we had an interesting discussion about monologues. “Never do a monologue about a dead dog,” she said, referring to the monologue performed by the actor who had auditioned before me, leaving her disgusted and completely turned off.

Within the first two minutes of “Ginger Snaps,” we encounter a mother and toddler discovering the bloody, dismembered body of their dog. To alleviate any doubts as to what you are seeing, the camera then moves slowly over the bloody, furry pieces (inner and outer) of what remains of the dog.

Now I know what my agent meant. Fictional films that start out with bloody murdered dogs belong in the same amateur trash pile as monologues about dead dogs. Think I’m just being sentimental? Read the screenwriting book, “Save the Cat,” by Blake Snyder. Think I’m being overly critical of an obvious werewolf horror flick? Well, I kind of feel that story trumps all, subtlety is gold, and no one has yet been able to surpass the dark, heart-breaking beauty of John Landis’ 1981 classic, “An American Werewolf in London.”