Saturday, July 07, 2007

Future Unrentables: The Hitcher

As if to allay any concerns that there might be something worthwhile about it, The Hitcher remake opens with an animated rabbit being crushed into roadkill by a passing car. The effects on the rabbit are so hideous, so plainly fake, that it destroys any possible surprise the splatter moment may have had. We know something horrible will happen to this computer-generated rabbit because otherwise they would have used a real rabbit.

Sophia Bush and Zachary Knighton (I don't remember either character's name, nor could I provide even a sketch of their background or personality) are starting off on one of those wild n' crazy young person road trips. You know, the kind of debauched coming-of-age journey, typically accompanied by screechy pop-punk, that always seem to lead nubile 20-somethings into these desert-encircled pits of hell in these movies.

It takes director Dave Meyers approximately 2.5 minutes of road trip to get Sophia Bush into her underwear. (Naturally, she has to change in the car.) Under normal circumstances, would be a good sign. But this is a remake of The Hitcher we're talking about here...It would take the entire female population of Van Nuys undressing simultaneously to save this shitkicker.

Sophia and Zach have a not-hilarious run-in with a gas station redneck who relates to them the charming story behind his lazy eye. (He was attempting to milk a donkey. Ba-zing!)

Then the titular Hitcher, played by Sean Bean as part of his ongoing World Tour of Shitty Genre Films, shows up needing a ride to a motel. There's absolutely no attempt to play said Hitcher as anything but a maniacal villain. He's creepy from Minute #1 and within four minutes of his introduction in the film, he's taunting the heroes with a switchblade. It's all handled in an extremely perfunctory manner. Zach and Sophia don't really even seem that surprised when Bean goes all mad-dog on them. "What? You're a serial killer! Oh, man, and I thought we were just giving a ride to some guy! Geez, leave it to me, you know?"

There's no thrill or intensity to this "reveal." Finding out that Bean's a total psycho is a revelation on roughly the same level as finding out Indiana Jones is handy with a whip.

Once Bean has threatened the lives of both heroes and they have managed to successfully kick him out of a moving car, Zach realizes they should "probably call the cops." Too bad the Hitcher has come away with his cell phone.

After a couple fake-out is-it-a-dream-or-isn't-it sequences, our heroes spot The Hitcher enjoying a ride in a family station wagon, causing them to freak out and crash their own car! In the middle of the desert! With a Hitcher around! Not to mention those Hills Have Eyes mutants and Sig Haig in clown make-up! So, in a delicious irony, the Hitchees have become the Hitchers! See how they did that?

That's interesting writing!

Zach and Sophia run into a hyper-religious family that The Hitcher has taken the liberty of butchering. They make a vain but valiant attempt to get the dying brood some medical attention, and of course get implicated themselves in the killings.

What's weird is, Zach and Sophia seem really upset to see the police, even before they know they're being set up to take the fall. They've just had their lives threatened by a maniac who proceeded to brutalize an entire family on an open stretch of road. I'd think, after this kind of experience, seeing the police arrive would be a welcome relief, even if it occurred to you (unlikely) that they might suspect you for the crime. Besides, other people have seen Sean Bean. He's not Keyser Soze or anything. They have every reason to believe the cops will listen to their story.

Instead, their initial suspicions turn out to be correct, and our heroes get railroaded by the cruel American justice system (which as we all know, is unfairly prejudiced against attractive, economically-secure white kids).

"It wasn't me, it was The Hitcher! Or possibly the One-Armed Man!," they plead, but to no avail. I'm starting to realize that this film has an extremely short attention span. No sequences or events really last beyond three to five minutes. A new obstacle presents itself, then The Hitcher kills everyone except the heroes, off-screen, then Zach and Sophia run away to be moderately creeped out another day. It's like the entire first season of a Chris Carter TV series compressed into 80 minutes.

So before long, these two are implicated in the murders of a nice Christian family and an entire police station worth of cops, which has got to be some kind of felony. The Hitcher was apparently able to slay a dozen or so officers in a matter of minutes. In a John Carpenter movie, that kind of mass slaying's gonna run you at least a couple hours, so you know this guy's good.

The guy from that "Boomtown" show no one watched shows up as a sheriff who's hot on the heels of Sophia and Zach, though he's skeptical that they were acting alone. Neal McDonough...he's old skool...he's a cop...He says things like "You've gotta be five-finger fucking me!" Full respek.

At this point, it's totally ridiculous that Zach and Sophie wouldn't turn themselves over to the cops and try to explain everything. Obviously, running away makes you look guilty, dumbasses! Instead, they wait to get caught and then try to explain. Oh, and then, in a carefully plotted masterstroke, they pull a gun on the cops. You know what? These two deserve to get taken down. The Hitcher's doing a public service, stopping two idiots before they can mate.

There's a big car chase between Zach and Sophia, The Hitcher and some police cars set to Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" that's, to my surprise, not entirely reprehensible. It's easily the best scene in the movie, though I have to say it looks exceptionally fake. If Michael Bay had shot it, I'm sure it would have cost $80 million more and included a lot of shrapnel bits flying directly at the screen, but you's not bad...

The big action-y chase stuff also kind of moves the film out of the realm of horror and into the realm of camp andexploitation. If they had gone more whole-heartedly in this direction from the beginning, The Hitcher would have been far more watchable.

Instead, it's a cop-out. Meyers sets up lurid exploitation scenes only to cop out immediately. We move in on Sophia Bush in the shower, but quickly cut away to a TV showing Hitchcock's The Birds. (What's with that reference? I don't get it...) Bean climbs atop Bush like he's going to rape her, but then passes on the idea for no apparent reason. I guess he felt it might make him too unlikable to the females, 18-25...

So rather than wanting her sex, Bean decides he wants Sophia to kill him, preferably in front of a bunch of police, so she will be implicated even further, which at this point doesn't even seem possible. Things go from bad to worse, and both The Hitcher and Sophia end up in the custody of Sheriff Buford T. Justice Neal McDonough. I won't reveal Zach's fate...but he won't be taking any more zany-young-person road trips any time soon.

The focus then switches to figuring out who this Hitcher guy is. We get an intense "interrogation" scene where Bean gets pumped for information. "I bet you liked killing those sick fuck..." That sort of thing. I mean, does it matter who he is or why he did it? He's a crazy hitchhiking killer guy. Stop studying his psychology and lock him up! This ain't Criminal Intent, and Neal McDonough, ain't no Vinnie D'Onofrio.

Following his sixth or seventh improbable escape attempt, I lost count, The Hitcher locks Sophia in a van and then blows it up, hoping to kill her in the process. He seems otherwise so willing to murder people face-to-face, real up close and personal like, it's odd that he would leave his main surviving nemesis alone in a locked van and simply assume the whole dying thing goes to plan. He's kind of asking for his last-minute comeuppance with that classic movie villain blunder...

Seriously, Are These Guys Insane?

Let's say, hypothetically, that Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman have no conscience or moral center of any kind. I's a stretch.

Okay, so putting aside all of the natural, human instincts that would make them realize that they must bring an end to the pointless slaughter of the U.S. occupation of Iraq...don't they worry about how they will be viewed by history?

I would think all public figures would have some awareness that their decisions have long-standing consequences, and would attempt to behave in such a way that future generations could benefit from their actions. Do these guys genuinely not care at all about such things? Is it just a completely selfish, more-power-more-money-NOW mentality, 24/7? I honestly don't know...

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), returning from a visit this week to Iraq along with his pro-escalation partner Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), offered the following assessment of the situation in Iraq:

“The military part of the surge is working beyond my expectations,” Graham said. “We literally have the enemy on the run. The Sunni part of Iraq has really rejected al-Qaida all over the country. We’re getting more information about al-Qaida operations than we’ve ever received.”

And then there's this...

As key Republican support for President Bush's Iraq war strategy begins to erode, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman today urged fellow lawmakers and the public to give the American military surge time to work.

"We've got to think not about the next election but the next generation," he told a Capitol Hill news conference. The U.S. military surge, Lieberman contended, has the enemy "on the run."

I mean...COME ON. At this point, lying to the American public about progress in Iraq is just MONSTROUS and shameful. It's beneath Joe Lieberman. And he's like a character from Salo to begin with, so that's saying something.

Random Music Videoness

A little Saturday night Ween...

And now, the real reason I've asked you all here this evening:

You have Sadly No! to thank for this.

To Whom It May Concern:

Dear Sir or Madam representing the Durex condom company:

This is in response to your announcement of 200 jobs in the exciting, growth field of professional condom testing. And I quote:

Durex said 200 adult Australians -- men and women -- are wanted to test a range of its condoms.

Presently, I live in the United States, but would be willing to move to Australia should one of these positions open up. While I would not say that I am an "expert" in this field necessarily, I do feel that my unique skills and abilities could be a tremendous asset to your firm.

While the successful applicants will not be paid, each will receive a pack of Durex sex products, a chance to win 1,000 Australian dollars ($857 U.S.), plus professional prestige, the company said in a statement.

I'd agree that this isn't so much about the money as the prestige. I'm not sure exactly WHAT effect having "professional condom tester" on a resume would have on a potential employer, but I would imagine it could only be positive.

Please consider me whenever you are holding your interviews/auditions. Personal references can be obtained for your perusal. Just not as many as I'd like.

I look forward to hearing from you.


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy 4th of July!

And to celebrate all that makes this country great, here's our Gangster-in-Chief explaining why he had to give his convicted felon buddy a pass on going to prison. The judge's sentence was "severe," you see. I mean, we can't punish convicted felons severely. That's just not cricket.

Go America! USA! USA! We're #1!


After the film finally exhausted itself, my friend Dean acknowledged the horror that is the Transformers movie, but added, "What else could they have done?" In a way, he's right. There was no chance a Michael Bay film based on a 30 year-old trinket-selling enterprise about outer space robots was going to be any good.

Of course, I knew this going in. The closest I've ever come to actually liking a Michael Bay movie was my relative acceptance of The Rock. And though I played with Transformers in my youth (I have specific memories of bringing Starscream with me to elementary school), I clearly don't have the intense and lasting fondness for these characters as some of my peers. So I was never really the film's target audience.

But would hope that a Steven Spielberg-produced massively-expensive mid-summer blockbuster would have some kind of entertainment value, particularly for someone who harbors some degree of old-school nostalgia for the source material. Right? Is that really so much to ask? I didn't think Live Free or Die Hard would be any good, and it was a pleasant surprise. Fantastic Four 2 wasn't anything too terrific, but it was better than average for a Marvel adaptation. So it's not impossible to turn a wacky studio marketing gimmick into a reasonably solid entertainment.

Instead, CLEARLY and VIVIDLY uninspired by his source material, Bay has turned in his most ruthlessly irritating, nonsensical, loud, ceaselessly stupid, pointless, awkward and boring effort to date. I hated Transformers from pretty much the first minute, mainly because there is nothing at all to like.

Before we go any further, I'd like to stress this one point so I don't have to reiterate it in the comments 10 times. I have nothing against a stupid, fun action movie. Live Free or Die Hard is a very stupid action film and I loved it and I gave it a positive review.

is a terrible action movie by any standard. You'd think Michael Bay could put together a decent action sequence, considering that putting together such sequences is his profession and he's quite successful. But he's just fucking bad. This stuff about him making dumb movies that have great action scenes has always been a myth. He has no fucking clue how to put together a scene that's fluid, comprehensible, intense or exciting. There's just a lot of blurry busyness on screen followed by some explosions and then it's all over.

Bay's filming scenes here on a massive scale. The extended climax involves huge robots engaged in a ferocious battle royale on the streets and in the skies above Downtown Los Angeles. (Why do so many action scenes happen in Downtown Los Angeles? Don't any other cities have cinematic downtown areas?) It's a real shame that he hasn't mastered the basics of action film direction, because these scenes at least could have been salvageable. Once every 20 minutes or so, Bay actually manages, possibly via dumb luck, to assemble a cool shot, though it generally lasts about 3 seconds. I'd describe the film's style as chaotic visual noise, a lot of whooshing around and flying shrapnel designed to give the audience the impression of big-scale action going on without actually showing them anything at all distinctly. You could get roughly the same experience by lighting a large firecracker and holding it directly in front of your face.

I don't know why Bay's so terrified of establishing shots, or any perspective on the action that can give the viewer a clear and accurate sense of the physics and motion in the scene. The best action scenes are precise; they are in many ways about the spacial relations between the adversaries and the movement between them.

Bay's films are just about fast editing and off-kilter angles, seemingly designed to leave the viewer clueless as to what's going on. We never once, for example, get to see an actual car transform into a robot. We see bits and pieces of the shift, from underneath, from the side, from above, in slow motion, starting from underneath and then spinning around from above in fast-motion and then twisting frontwards in slow motion at a 90 degree angle in a reverse barrel roll. I'd call it showing off but it's not in any way impressive. Just frustrating.

If Bay had managed to throw in four or five great bits of action, I'm sure the agonizing banality of Roberto Orci's and Alex Kurtzman's screenplay would be a bit more tolerable. As it stands, the film's turgid, seemingly endless scenes of military jargon and atrocious "comedy" featuring geeky teen Shia LeBouf and his wacky living used car, feel like some kind of punishment. Jon Voight plays the Secretary of Defense in the film, but I suspect the whole project was executive produced by Don Rumsfeld. If screening this back-to-back doesn't get those al Qaeda bastards talking, nothing will!

The film's so bad, it flirts with Snakes on a Plane dumb-for-dumb's-sake territory at times. But Bay's just not a funny filmmaker (his movies always try for comedy and fall flat), and the "jokes" provided by this script could not be lamer if they were cut from a "Mad TV" sketch. Optimus Prime crushes a car under his foot and says "My bad." A weird little Transformer guy gets his head blown off and screams "oh shit" in a canned digital voice. Bumblebee leaks lubricant on to John Turturro's head from what appears to be a pee-hole. And so forth. Snakes on a Plane had four or five genuine, intentional laughs. Transformers...not so much...

The sub-Herbie Goes Bananas shenanigans go on for a long time. So long, I began to suspect that the film was going for loopy comedy, as if Bay had accepted hundreds of millions of dollars to make an elaborate campy farce, a send-up of his patented style of overblown summer action movies. Alas, no, at around the 90 minute mark, he gives the comedy a pass (along with several whole plot strands) and gets down to the business of incomprehensible fights between indistinguishable Transformers that have no personalities.

I'm even surprised at this, as it would seem to be the one guaranteed success of a big expensive Hollywood film adaptation, but the designs of the Transformers are just poor. Their faces are unappealingly squishy. They neither look believably mechanical nor are they expressive, thus failing on both fronts. And their bodies all look so similar, it's impossible to tell them apart during most of the action, particularly when they are grappling in close contact with one another. I had no idea who was fighting who, and who was winning, during the entire climactic battle, which is the only fucking reason to see this horrible piece of shit movie in the first place. At one point, main baddie Megatron dispenses with a Transformer by ripping him in half, and I had no idea who it was until the final scene, when Optimus Prime says a tearful goodbye to the fallen Jazz.

Does the film do ANYTHING right, you may be asking by now?

A better question would be...what's more painful, Bay ripping off American Pie in a cruelly unfunny sequence in which Shia LeBouf's parents quiz him about masturbation OR Optimus Prime fumbling around a suburban back lawn in some kind of unholy nerd homage to Preston Sturges?

Well, okay, fine, the casting of Megan Fox represents some rare solid decision-making.

She's not any good in the movie. She's given a nothing character with no real reason for being there, and turns in a wooden performance. But look at her. She's gorgeous. At least there was something to stare at while all the extras were nattering on endlessly with bad movie military-speak.

"Get me Sat-Com on line. I need 3 R-92's at the PTV by 0900. Your go code is Echo Tango Echo Foxtrot November."

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Scary Mormons and Even Scarier Non-Mormons

So I'm reading this Des Moines Register article about conservative Christians meeting with Mitt Romney (helpfully linked by Oliver Willis), and it slowly dawns on me that the whole country has gone completely fucking sideways...

Many conservative Christians are quietly nervous about Romney's religion and the issue surfaced as Romney opened his campaigning at a forum in Pella, about 40 miles south of Des Moines.

Mary Van Steenis asked Romney how he would ponder important decisions as president and which source of inspiration he would seek.

"Where would the Bible be in that process?" she asked. "Would it be above the Book of Mormon or would it be beneath it?"

I mean...the guy's running for President. It's an important job. But I don't see how asking the candidates for this job to evaluate the world's great religions makes a whole lot of sense.

This is a complete moron's version of a "gotcha" question, because there's no correct way for Romney to answer. We know he's a Mormon, so we know that he thinks The Book of Mormon is right-on and correct. And the woman asking the question thinks otherwise. But if he were to answer that her book is actually the A-#1 absolute primo bestest scriptural type book, like, ever, he'd be basically admitting he doesn't believe in his own religion. Lose-lose.

I mean...seriously...what does this question even mean. Couldn't you use BOTH the New Testament and the Book of Mormon to guide your prayers, if you were into that sort of thing? Does it have to be one or the other. You either dig Joseph Smith and the plate bullshit or St. Paul and the cross bullshit. Pick your side and run with it, Mittster!

Facing an unanswerably fucking stupid question, Romney comes up with his usual heaping load of dogshit, helpfully scraped off the back of his car after driving to the townhall meeting with the family pet strapped to the roof of the car.

"I don't know that there's any conflict at all between the values of great faiths like mine, like yours, like other faiths, like Jews who don't believe in the New Testament," Romney said.

"People of faith have different doctrines and different beliefs on various topics of a theological nature. But in terms of what it is we are going to believe and also based on our values for our country, I think we come from the same place," Romney said.

And that place is...Bugfuck Crazytown, Population: Most of America

The answer did not satisfy Van Steenis.

"I asked if you had to look to one source what would it be? He didn't really respond to that," she told reporters after the event. "This is serious to me."

Yeah, this is serious. This is some serious stupidity. Mrs. Van Steenis, whose name was just DESIGNED to be the first line of a limerick, is just intent on turning a Presidential Election into a Deity Beauty Contest. A person who insists on their President being part of their particular BRANCH of Christianity is deeply, deeply confused about what it means to be American, yet presidential candidates (well, soon-to-be-former Presidential candidates) go and play right to these people, telling them that their erroneous view of the fundamental principles of our society is justified. It's not! It's completely nonsensical!

Live Free or Die Hard

In the first Die Hard film, detective John McClane proved considerably brave, resourceful and tenacious, but he was also something approaching a normal human being. It's not really a slur to say that most cops are not this clever or good with a handgun, but McClane was still essentially a regular guy caught in an elaborate, over-the-top situation.

Live Free or Die Hard completes McClane's transformation into a comic book superhero. He's still played affably by Bruce Willis in, let's face it, the most iconic, memorable and appropriate role of his long and storied career. McClane perfectly fits Willis' persona - the odd mixture of jocularity and steeliness that makes Willis Willis - and he knows it, and he's clearly come to relish the opportunity to play an Ubermensch version of himself. But McClane no longer obeys the laws that govern the rest of us. He can survive pretty much anything, he's capable of walking off any injury, he never lacks for confidence or resolve and he's never too out of breath to issue forth some kind of witty rejoinder. He's Captain America without a shield.

Mark Bomback's script follows the Die Hard formula with exactness and precision. Elaborate terrorist plot disguised as anarchistic do-goodery turns out to really be an elaborate robbery. A member of McClane's family is kidnapped by efficient cabal of calculating villains. McClane has to rely on amateurs and outsiders for integral information and assistance. Wave after wave of bad guys (McClane openly refers to them as "henchmen" in this outing) are cut down in uncomfortable ways. Wisecracks are...cracked.

Surprisingly for such straight-forward connect-the-dots affairs, these films are dense enough to actually contain a variety of running gags. The way McClane's face becomes increasingly bruised and his clothing bloodied as the film goes on, the way all FBI Agents are named "Johnson," the incredibly serious, brooding right-hand man whom McClane always must face down at the zero hour, these references have piled up over the course of four films now.

Live Free or Die Hard doesn't reinvent or even change any of this material. It diligently includes it, and then heightens everything, taking a franchise that was already pretty goofy and tossing in a hefty doze of pretzel logic along with repeated and blatant violations of the physical properties of our universe. This actually works really well, though I had my doubts initially. I think it's probably the second best film in the series, after the first one.

The film doesn't really open all that well. We find McClane essentially stalking his daughter (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), now a Rutgers student who hates her absent father. They have what's probably the longest conversation we've ever seen between McClane and a member of his family (they usually spend more time with their kidnappers than him in the films), and we immediately realize why there aren't more scenes like this in the other Die Hards. Cause McClane's family are not terrorists and are therefore boring.

McClane's about to go home, we can only assume to drink himself into a stupor, when he's called in at the last minute to pick up some hacker named Matt Farrell (Justin Long) who's wanted by the Feds. This simple errand naturally plunges John into the midst of a Fire Sale, the mythical hacker plot to interrupt America's entire technological infrastructure.

What begins with computer systems being invaded eventually turns into a full-scale blackout. No cell phones, no computers, no lights, nothing. The shadowy Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant), rumored to have once been an agent of the federal government, controls it all from his secret hideaway.

So it's up to McClane and Farrell to find Gabriel and blow him up, soundly and repeatedly. And that's pretty much what happens for 2 hours. Every action sequence in the film is well-shot, fun, satisfying and also incredibly stupid and impossible. Just incredibly so. It would be insulting, in fact, if it weren't so entertaining. Today, someone explained to me that, theoretically, a busted fire hydrant could knock a helicopter out of the sky, but all I know is, even in the heightened physical reality of this film, it looked insanely fake.

I'm not even sure this counts as a knock on the movie, per se. In fact, if I had to take issue with anything, it wouldn't be the utter and complete disregard for the properties of our universe. It would probably be the "performance" from director Kevin Smith as a hacker-genius known as The Warlock. Smith's doing some kind of accent (his character's supposed to be from Baltimore, but I know some people from Baltimore, and they don't sound anything at all like this), but really he's just talking in a weird voice that's annoying and doesn't suit him, and it's completely distracting.

Justin Long fares a good deal better. He's actually a decent foil for McClane, nerdy and out of his element but not shrill or annoying. (I was never actually that huge of a fan of Samuel L. Jackson in the third movie, whose character was just so big and angry and in your face, so I appreciated how Long was willing to take a back seat to Willis when appropriate rather than trying to take over every scene.)

Likewise, Maggie Q gets in a few scenes as Gabriel's kung fu fighting main squeeze Mai Lihn, who has a really intense, brutal fistfight against McClane inside an elevator shaft. It's one of the film's best sequences, and I'm really surprised this scene in particular got through with just a PG-13. Seriously, this movie is violent for a PG-13. I guess if you don't show a lot of blood or guts or boobies on screen, you can get away with all manner of senseless death. Good to know.

Len Wiseman (aka Mr. Kate Beckinsale) did a surprisingly good job with Underworld: Evolution, turning what could have been a super-lame werewolf vs. zombie effects orgy into an entirely watchable Hammer throwback that actually used effects well to realize an alternate horror-movie reality. Now, he's surprised me once again by pumping yet more life out of what I had always kind of thought of as a stillborn franchise - one great movie followed by a few inferior sequels. This entry's clearly still not up to McTiernan's stellar, classic original, but it's even closer to that goal than McT's second try - the jokey and overlong Die Hard With a Vengeance - managed to get. And let's not even discuss Renny Harlin's woeful Die Hard 2. It never happened...Just repeat that to yourself...It never happened...