Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) – Movie Review

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is supposed to be a lament, but it just sucks. Visually, the film is great; there’s all sorts of neat tricks with lighting, camera movement and special effects to conjure the illusion that two drug addicts stumbling about is somehow interesting, but, unfortunately, the illusion’s effectiveness quickly fades and all that is left is the bad script. The script is so bad that they should have called it Dull and Boring in Las Vegas instead.

There isn’t really a plot. We follow two druggies, Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) and his attorney, “Doctor” Gonzo (Benicio del Toro), as they engage in a chemically-induced assault on the Las Vegas strip. Duke is supposed to be there to write on a bike race in the desert, but is instead inspired to write about the American Dream and the failure of the 1960’s counterculture. However, the narration Duke provides only makes the film seem pretentious as if he’s trying to make the things depicted on screen seem more significant than they actually are. It’s a shame for the premise had potential; perhaps the problem lies in the source material, Hunter S. Thompson’s 1971 book of the same name, but I haven’t read it so I cannot say.

Anyway, I don’t really have much to say about this movie so I’ll let another do the talking. Here’s what one Ron Wells says of the film, when it first came out in 1998:

For all of you idiot film reviewers, do the two main characters, Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) and Dr. Gonzo (Benicio del Toro) really look like they’re having a grand old time? I don’t think so. Like Hunter S. Thompson’s classic tome, we see the ugly downside of the drug revolution. Revolutions tend to end in anarchy and pointless bloodshed. Instead of a higher consciousness, we get Duke, and we get a ringside seat for how meaningless and cruel the real world is, and a close look at the demons within himself. “Fear and Loathing” does for psychedelics what “Boogie Nights” does for cocaine; displaying in graphical detail the ultimate failure of drugs as an escape route. You feel the psychic thud as our anti-heroes hit bottom. It ain’t pretty.

Okay, maybe I should add my two cents here. Yes, the film displays the “ugly downside of the drug revolution,” but the problem is is that it hardly does anything more. There’s the narration, as mentioned before, and some images that try to heighten things, but they mostly fail because the “insights” Duke provides aren’t exactly mind-expanding. And the images are quite blatant in their meaning as we see, during one of Duke’s more potent highs, Richard Nixon’s distorted head on a television screen along with Jimi Hedrix’s rendition of Star Spangled Banner juxtaposed in the background. During that same scene Gonzo offers Duke more cocaine that he sprinkled on his knife, then seconds later he offers more but on his gun, then Duke’s mind molds him into the Devil. A bit obvious, no? But even then, the emphasis is still on how “crazy” Duke’s and Gonzo’s shenanigans are. Wells goes on:

It’s a valid complaint since we barely see what the poor bastards are like when they aren’t binging, so no level-headed base line is ever really established. These guys didn’t end up this way overnight, though. They worked their way down. “The Truman Show”, one of the best films of the year, doesn’t make a lot of sense without knowing the conventions of television. However, we all know about sets and cues and product placements. In this case, uneducated about drugs, these bozos look like a couple of joy-riding assholes pissing on anything standing in their way. They aren’t exactly doped up on any judgement enhancers. Duke and Gonzo’s understanding of the repercussions always comes too late. They have no guide for their descent into hell, just the psychic corpses of everyone they ran down on the way to mark their way.

This is just Wells making excuses: It’s not the movie’s fault, but your own for being too square to understand the psyche of a junkie, okay? Seriously, the film really is just “a couple of joy-riding assholes” with a message merely tacked-on. That’s it. It could have worked if the film had more to rely on than just the visuals. Oh well. So, what else does Wells have to say?:

Now this is a damn funny film, but it’s not some Bill Murray flick. Vegas is surreal enough, without turning into a cross between Sid Vicious and Otis, the town drunk. You can either laugh at the buffoonery and/or cringe with recognition from your own experiences. I know I did. Duke, Thompson’s alter-ego, has moments of clarity throughout the film. He knows the 60s are over. Like a lot of habitual users, though, he’s always trying to move the bottom of the well lower to prevent hitting it on the way down. The drugs may expand your mind, but sometime you’ll look down and see only the filth you’re standing in.

Notice how he doesn’t mention any specifics concerning the humor in the film. Yes, the movie attempts to be funny, but mostly fails. For one thing, Depp’s performance is silly at first, but it’s, in the end, too cartoony. All he does is stumble about, make jerky arm movements and eye-twitches. There really isn’t much of a character to laugh at, but rather a collection of traits and eccentricities that are seemingly designed to illicit laughter. I’m not saying there should be a deep characterization, but at the same time this isn’t a 1930’s slapstick; the film is established in reality (or, rather, crashing through it) so there at least needs to be something a little bit more to the character that we can laugh with/at. There are also a number of scenes and moments that try so hard to be funny, like the scene in which Duke is pulled over by a cop (played by Gary Busey) which ends with the punchline of the cop wanting a kiss on the cheek.

Also, note how Wells defends the film for what it depicts, instead of how it depicts it. Now, what he describes can also describe almost every movie about drug usage and addiction. This reminds me of another “review” by wannabe internet celebrity Jeremy Jahns where he calls The Avengers an amazing film, but says so because it featured superheroes who didn’t get along at first. What’s silly about this is that every movie about a team assembling to save the world, or whatever, starts the same way. Just because certain tropes are present doesn’t mean the movie is “better” or “more believable,” but it’s in the way in which the tropes are used or whether if they work for the film. Wells concludes his review:

What kind of moron thinks this film glamorizes drugs? “Die Hard” can be a lot of fun to watch, but I wouldn’t want to live through it. “Fear and Loathing” is a sort of psychedelic action film. It’s a blast, but I wouldn’t want to be there, either. If you want an easy rush, get on a roller coaster. The other stuff is just pants-shitting terror. Buy a ticket, take a ride.

He’s right in that the movie doesn’t glamorize drug use, but one also can’t deny that the movie expects us to be intrigued by it; perhaps, this isn’t an unrealistic expectation for there are the sheltered who will be drawn to such “dangerous behavior and lifestyles”; however, drug usage and its predictable outcomes aren’t immanently intriguing. And this is, again, the film’s greatest flaw; it’s almost nothing, but druggie shenanigans even with the inclusion of Duke’s narration. Shenanigans can be interesting, but with Fear and Loathing we just get the same shit over and over that’s about as exciting as a ride on the Ferris wheel. However, as much as I like to rag on critics, especially “professional” ones, they, overall, seemed to had gotten this movie right when it came out, perhaps for the wrong reasons (maybe reasons Wells was originally trying to counter in his review,) but whatever. This movie is lousy and I don’t know why I wasted two hours on it. I guess maybe because it’s one of those “cult films” that are supposed to be once-neglected gems, but now have been pulled from the muck. But after watching this, I’m hoping there are more deserving films out there, ready to be truly seen.

Things I Watched This Week

Here’s a bunch of movies I saw recently that I don’t feel like writing in-depth reviews of:

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013):

Everyone on earth has already seen this movie so at this point it would be superfluous to write a review of it, so here’s a (short) review of it. According to ninety-eight percent of the globe this movie is a “modern day classic”, however, it’s mostly just fluff, albeit entertaining fluff. People have made the obvious comparisons to Goodfellas, but it’s not nearly as good, in fact, I would argue that it rips off that earlier classic in a number of ways (either Scorsese now, somehow, lacks confidence, or has become lazy.) The best scene in the film is when Jordan Belfort (Leonardo Dicaprio) is trying to “play” and bribe an FBI agent (Kyle Chandler), but has his head so far up his ass he doesn’t realize that the agent is merely playing along. At the end of the scene Belfort tells the agent and his partner to go screw and as they’re leaving he starts flipping bills into the air in a pathetic attempt to affirm his status. However, for the most part, the film gets too repetitive and the characters simply aren’t that interesting. The ending also isn’t very good, with the camera panning toward the faces of people attending a “get rich” seminar Belfort is speaking at, which is supposed to be a commentary on how people want to be like Leo’s character despite everything. It’s a bit too blunt and forced. Still a fun movie, but even if an hour were trimmed-off it still wouldn’t be as great as Goodfellas for we never get much insight into Belfort’s character.

The Piano Teacher (2001):

Another overrated film, but even more so than The Wolf of Wall Street for, while that movie is at least good, The Piano Teacher is a mediocrity. It’s about a repressed, manipulative woman (Isabelle Huppert) who teaches piano at a music conservatory. She’s obsessed with the music of Schubert whom she spouts highfalutin nonsense about in order to make herself seem like she has an exclusive relationship with the music. She’s also a pervert, making regular visits to a porno shop–later, she scolds one of her students after she catches him there, looking at magazines–she also becomes obsessed with a handsome student (Benoit Magimel) who is smitten over her. It starts out as an interesting character study, but then devolves into a trite depiction of obsession and psychosexuality; the ending is also lousy. I guess what saves the film are the performances and some good moments throughout that give insight into the characters. Not nearly as bad as some other critical favorites, like Lincoln (more like Nixon, if you ask me! Actually, Nixon is pretty good so never mind) and American Beauty (more like Boring and Shitty!), but I’m baffled by all the praise its received.

Dead Ringer (1964):

Old Bette Davis film that’s well-crafted and entertaining. A woman, played by Davis, kills her wealthy twin sister and takes on her name and life. It’s a nice little thriller with some decent characters that aren’t merely cardboard cutouts. However, as well-wrought the script is, there are some holes in the plot, the biggest at the end where the main character is sentenced to death for killing, not her sister, but her sister’s husband (who, ironically, she loved); the problem is that the evidence for her involvement is circumstantial, at best, yet she still gets the gas chamber. It’s a movie that’s probably not going to “stay” with me for very long, but at least it succeeds at what it sets out to do, for the most part.

Amazing Spiderman 2 (2014):

Finally saw this one and it was terrible. Jarring cuts, wretched symbolism and cliches up the ass. The plot is nearly the same as Spiderman 2, except that movie didn’t have to rely on ham-fisted scenes to get its point across, scenes like when Peter Parker is on a building’s ledge, watching her girlfriend crossing the street below only for him to turn and see a building on fire. He has to choose between his girlfriend and his duties as Spiderman, decisions, decisions. Can we stop it with the comic book films for a while? Even the supposed “good” ones like The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy are merely passable. The recent X-Men film was good, but I still think that Hollywood should try milking some other cow to death, you know, to spice things up a little.

Goodbye World (2013) – Movie Review

The main issue with Goodbye World is that it’s basically a teen soap opera set during the apocalypse. No, none of the main characters are teenagers in high school, but their conflicts (and how they deal with them) are like those of a generic high school romance flick. This is problematic because (aside from the fact that the characters are adults) no one really gives a shit about watching people moan about infidelity and who-kissed-who when the world is collapsing. It also doesn’t help that the characters are poorly-sketched and wholly generic. There are a number of other issues which are more minor like some of the heavy-handed symbolism, such as an image of a giant bubble bursting shortly before one of the characters coming by and telling everyone that the world is ending (unfortunately, this symbol is also reused at the end, except we don’t see the bubble bursting, signifying that everything’s going to be a-okay.) The film dabbles with the same tropes that other “end of the world” movies are defined by, and is suffused with numerous cliches. You’ll see what I mean once you read the plot:

The movie opens up with the wealthy Palmer family who live self-sufficiently in a cabin in the mountains of Northern California. The father, James Palmer (Adrian Grenier) tells the audience that he predicts the eventual collapse of civilization. But before the collapse we see a bunch of his friends from college: Nick (Ben McKenzie) and his wife Becky (Caroline Dhavernas) are heading to see the Palmers who they haven’t seen in years due to James buying him out of the company they founded together. We soon find out that, aside from merely making amends, Nick wants to steal James’s wife, Lily (Kerry Bishe), whom he was engaged to in the past, either as an act or love, or revenge, or both. We also see Benji (Mark Webber) an activist who went to jail for five years for burning down a factory (or something, I forget and don’t care) who now lectures at colleges and eventually fucks a student, Ariel (Remy Nozik) who he, later on, brings to the Palmer’s cabin. We’re also introduced to Lev (Scott Mescudi) a suicidal computer hacker and Laura (Gaby Hoffman) who loves democracy so much that she fucked a senator.

Soon, everyone in the country starts receiving the text, “Goodbye World” then the power grid is knocked-out, prompting the country (or the world’s) collapse as people begin to riot. All of the main characters, fortunately, huddle together at the Palmers’s cabin which has a well and solar panels, allowing them to survive alone for a couple of years. It’s not a bad set-up, but we start running into some problems. For one thing, everyone seems way too calm given the circumstances. There’s one scene where they’re all having dinner together as they go around, stating what they’re going to miss most about civilization. Everyone comes off a bit glib, as if they’re talking about their favorite amusement park closing down, not the end of days; I’m not saying that they should be in hysterics, but not only does this scene (from the way it’s written to the acting) seems unrealistic, but it doesn’t help create any sense of tension, if anything it alleviates it. This alleviation of tension also makes things more predictable for now the viewers are preparing themselves for something to bad to happen. Like in the next scene when we’re introduced to a couple of soldiers who want to quarter the cabin. There is no ambiguity that these guys are bad given the ominous music that plays once they leave (after Becky tells them that they cannot force themselves in because of the Third Amendment) and also when they’re checking out Ariel lounging in a bikini. Again, more predictability, and also stereotyping as we see them later on drinking and making demands like a couple of thugs.

So the movie comes off as a generic apocalypse film, but it turns out to be an even worse soap opera. Cliches abound, such as the exchanges between Nick and Lily. They kiss and then are interrupted when Becky calls for her husband. He hides and Becky enters, asking if Lily’s seen him around. Lily then proceeds to tell her how great of a man she is and how lucky she is to have him:

Lily: Becky, you’re really lucky to have him. He’s kind and he’s loving; he listens. James fell out of love for me when he fell in love with Hannah [Lily and James’s daughter–did I forget to mention they had a young daughter? Whoops.] He wouldn’t even notice if I was gone.

Becky: I’m sure that’s not true.

Lily: I really don’t belong here…

Becky: You know it’s your home–you can make it whatever you want it to be…

No, I’m serious, this is actual dialogue from the film; I swear I didn’t rip this from a dull soap opera (though I might as well have.) Not only is it terribly cliched, but it’s all the worse considering that the characters are dealing with the end of the world; should they really be giving a shit about such dramatics? One might argue that the point of the movie is to show how petty people are regardless of their situations, but the movie legitimately wants us to care about such melodrama; they even play sappy alt-rock when Lily and Nick are kissing, unironically. And even if the point of the movie was to show how petty people are, then the movie fails for, even if people are that petty, they’re still going to prioritize. There are some good (bad) lines that are contained within the preceding scene as well, like when Nick reveals that he’s co-owner of the cabin and they argue (yes, they’re arguing about finances) Becky chimes in with a stunner: “We’re in the middle of an apocalypse, the property value’s going to shoot through the roof!” Again, with no irony.

It should come to no surprise then that many of the characters are poorly-wrought; there’s the aforementioned soldiers, but also Lev who is a character with zero substance. The only thing that he has going for him is that he’s a techno-whiz and has a gun, also he may or may not have caused the whole end-of-the-world debacle (there’s a terrible scene where James asks Lev, in the most flat, bizarre manner, if he’s a terrorist or not–he later tries to justify this by saying he was trying to catch him off guard, but it still doesn’t change how comical the delivery was.) The movie probably would have been better off without him and have Benji adopt some of his traits instead. We already know that Benji is (or was) a radical and, even though the audience would still doubt his involvement, it would at least be a little more compelling considering that Benji is a more fleshed-out character.

Another frustrating aspect of the film is that characters often do stupid things to propel the action. Benji, for example, feeling inadequate as a “revolutionary” decides to confront the soldiers, who have taken control of a nearby commune, after one of them molests Laura and points a gun at Lev; he does so by grabbing a baseball bat and marching into the woods. While it makes sense that he wants to do something about the soldiers I doubt anyone would be dumb enough to think he can take a couple of armed solders on with a stick. But this is quickly resolved when he steps on an animal trap, leading Becky to help him out and eventually want to fuck him. There’s also James who also decides to confront the soldiers and  try to convince the commune that he’s the good guy (they’re mad that he’s hoarding medicine and supplies,) but he doesn’t come with a gun and expects everyone to listen to reason. This might be a bit more forgivable considering that he had just found out that Nick kissed Lily and that they still love each other and his reasoning might be clouded by his emotions, but it’s still frustrating to watch.

Some positives: the acting is decent, overall. The weakest performances come from the guys who play the soldiers, Lev, Becky and James, but it’s really the writing that lowers the characters. The cinematography also isn’t that too shabby, especially with the opening shots. Some symbolism is decent, such as when they’re trying to fix the antennae on the television, they only receive a staticy/distorted image of President Obama speaking; it’s obvious, but it’s still an interesting way to encapsulate the nation’s overall downfall, both societal and technological. Some symbolism sucks though, like the bubble, but also the giant, stuffed bear that Nick and Becky brought Hannah as a gift. For whatever reason, the filmmakers tried to make the image of the bear deeper than it actually is; the attempts are too obvious and almost cringe-worthy (especially at the end where Becky grabs the bear, sits it down in front of a tree and says goodbye to her family and the world before getting on a motorcycle with Benji.)

No, the movie isn’t terrible, thus it’s undeserving of its 24% score on Rotten Tomatoes, but it’s barely mediocre, almost falling into the “bad” category. What’s odd, however, is that I watched this movie after trying to watch the show Jericho on Netflix. What’s interesting is that that show is hardly better than Goodbye World, yet is lauded by critics and people on the internet. So while I think the internet is right to think this movie isn’t “the tops” I wouldn’t take that as a sign that people, in general, know what they are talking about; even when they are right it’s almost by chance. So would I recommend this movie? Not really. Even if you like soap operas and post-apocalyptic whatever, you’re more likely to find (if not better) more entertaining examples of both elsewhere.

Interiors (1978) – Movie Review

Woody Allen’s Interiors is a film that could have easily fallen into melodrama. The characters and situations presented in this film can be found in other, lesser and more watery films, but Allen elevates them. What’s also curious about Interiors is that it doesn’t seem like a Woody Allen film, or at least it doesn’t match the stereotypical view of his work; as I was watching I had completely forgotten that this was made by the same guy who just a few years prior did Sleeper and Love and Death. Yes, Love and Death contains complex ideas and issues, but they’re mostly there because the film is lampooning the ways Russian novels presents and addresses them. Annie Hall was released a year prior, but it’s still recognizably Woody Allen, of course because of his being in the film, but also because of the comic touches. Interiors has almost no comedy. In fact, while people laud Annie Hall, after seeing Interiors I can say that the former is not only inferior, but seems more like a transitional work, bridging Allen’s comedic work toward his deeper, dramatic films.

The movie centers around an upper-class family dealing with the divorce of Arthur (E.G. Marshall) and Eve (Geraldine Page,) an interior designer. Arthur feels suffocated by the controlling and passive-aggressive Eve and one day declares that he wants a mere “separation” (i.e. he wants to get the fuck out of there); Eve is shattered and attempts suicide. The grown daughters–Joey (Mary Beth Hurt,) Renata (Diane Keaton,) Kristin Griffith (Flyn)–are shown having to deal with their father seeking to marry a floozy and their mother’s mental descent, but they themselves also seem to be broken, because of their marriages and lack of satisfaction toward themselves. Joey is the favored daughter by Arthur, but has trouble with commitment, passing from job to job, while her husband Mike (Sam Waterson) wants to start a family, perhaps believing that having a child will mend their relationship. Renata is a successful writer who has lost her faith in writing while her husband Frederick (Richard Jordan,) also a writer, is an alcoholic embittered by critics who’ve panned his latest work. Perhaps the most “level-headed” in the family is Flyn, the youngest and a television actor, but even though she seems vacuous at first she later reveals doubts over her acting abilities and an awareness about how others see her, but this could just suggest that she suffers from the same tendency toward self-doubt as her sisters.

So, I think what I’ve just described is basically the same story as most melodramas (sans the superficial differences,) but everything is pushed upward both by Allen’s writing and directing, as well as the excellent acting. There are a number of things that keep Interiors from dropping into melodrama, one is the realism. Renata and Frederick could have easily have become stereotypical suffering-artist types, and in some ways they still are, but they’re made interesting because they’re well drawn-out and allowed depth. A scene that could have been execrable is when we see Eve attempts suicide, but instead of dramatic music and waterworks and mad screaming, we get a methodical Eve taping-up the openings and creaks of doors and windows, and turning on the gas stove. She then walks into the room and lies on the couch; no close-ups. Instead of going all “Hollywood” the suicide attempt is displayed realistically. Another typical scene made real is when a drunk Frederick attempts to rape Flyn, but like the scene with Eve’s attempted suicide, there is no flaring music and melodrama. There is also no visible aftermath of the scene as questions remain about the consequences. Other movies, specifically melodramas, would have milked all this drama, but Allen simply depicts its happening while not providing a resolution as we don’t see Flyn go to her sisters (will she ever mention what happened?) and it’s never mentioned at the end–life just goes on.

Allen also shows that he’s a great artist through the character of Pearl (Maureen Stapleton) the “floozy” that Arthur brings and wants to marry, despite only knowing her for a month. To Joey, she is insufferable, but at the same time Allen could have easily have just written her as a stereotype, but he avoids this. No, the character is not particularly complex or “deep,” but she’s real and presents different angles that one wouldn’t normally anticipate in a film. Especially at the terrific ending, one sees that Allen doesn’t take the easy way with her character, placing her in a position one wouldn’t expect.

Even though it’s a movie that is a tightly wound analysis of these relationships there are some nicely-composed images and shots that stick in the mind, like a scene where Renata and Flyn are walking on the beach that represents an atypical way to shoot such a scene, but is perhaps more effective for it. Okay, while this review has strayed on the things this movie is not I should restate that this movie is frigging great art. It’s not something I would normally watch, but I can only think of a few films that so thoroughly, and with depth, cogitate on things like love, psychology and relationships. Overall, it’s a film whose excellence, despite one’s likes or dislikes, cannot be denied. And while I didn’t particularly “like” the film myself, I was grateful that I watched it for it reminded me how movies can still engage the mind through unexpected means.

Hustle and Flow (2005) – Movie Review

Hustle and Flow? Sounds like my last bowel movement.

But seriously, why all the bad movies? It’s not like I haven’t seen any good ones recently. The last movie I saw in theaters was the recent X-Men film, but the thing is I don’t have much to say about it other than, despite being flawed, contained more depth than the majority of comic book films. So I don’t actively seek out bad films to review, in fact there are some bad films I’ve seen recently and have nothing to say about them. But with Hustle and Flow, I feel,  I have enough things to say to waste people’s time with.

Actually, let me clarify something first: It’s not a bad film, just a rather mediocre one. It was also controversial when it came out. Now nobody could give a shit. The only remnants it has in public consciousness is as the “It’s hard out here for a pimp” movie. You know, because it featured a song by the Three 6 Mafia about the hardships of pimping that ended-up picking up the Oscar for “Best Original Song”. This stroked a lot of people’s fury-boners because it “glorified” pimps or whatever–who cares? It’s not a good song and it won most likely because the Academy are usually made of PC liberals obsessed with anything ghetto, and also wanted to have, like, a historical moment by giving the Oscar to a rap song. I mention all this because this movie, despite being released less than a decade ago, is hardly remember aside from a generic rap song.

So the movie is about DJay, a pimp and hustler living in Memphis played by Terrence Howard. But he’s not one of those “bad-guy” pimps, but rather a somewhat sensitive guy who wants something more from life. We know this at the very beginning when the opening shot is on his profile as he’s asking someone off-screen (we quickly find out it’s one of his biatches) what they want to do with their life, or something like that. Later on, he buys a tiny Casio keyboard from an old bum. There’s a pretty bad scene that soon follows where he’s trying to calm one of his girl’s baby by playing random notes on the keyboard. This is supposed to be symbolic not just of his realization, but of the way kids can finally escape oppression, by doing something with their lives, like becoming a musician. A nice thought, but the way it’s framed is what I have issue with because it’s all presented in this trite manner that it’s hard to take seriously or not be bored by.

Things happen. We discover early on that a successful rapper called Skinny Black, played by Ludacris, is coming to town on July 4th. DJay, after realizing what he wants to do to escape, wants to make a mixtape for him to listen to in the hopes that he’ll rocket out of his lifestyle. A large problem with this movie is its predictability, especially toward the end when he tries to hustle Skinny Black. It seems like he succeeded but, to no one in the audience’s surprise, it doesn’t exactly work out. There is then some awful commentary made by Djay’s friend, Key (Anthony Anderson), at the end of the movie as well as some awful commentary made by the film about the music industry involving blowjobs.

So this movie is pretty ham-fisted and rather uninteresting. It makes one wonder how such a largely forgotten movie managed to cull so much adoration and controversy back when it came out. There are actually a couple of good scenes here and there, like when DJay is recording some of his music with Kay in a makeshift studio in DJay’s house, but even some of those scenes seem to drag and revel in cliche. So for the most part, this movie is just, meh, okay. It doesn’t fucking offend me like Lincoln for some reason nor is it as awful as Basquiat, another movie about a disenfranchised black guy who finds success, albeit that movie is about him dealing with that success. Also that movie sucked my balls (how many reviews have I mentioned that particular turd already?)

The acting is also, for the most part, just okay. Terrence Howard isn’t the greatest actor ever, or the most subtle, but he isn’t hammy here. He’s convincing for the most part, but the script doesn’t give his character a whole lot of nuance to work with. Anthony Anderson is pretty decent despite some of the lines he has to say. Perhaps the most memorable performance comes from Taryn Manning (of Crossroads fame) as Nola, one of DJay’s girls. But her character is wasted on a subplot that mirrors DJay’s conflict, where she wants to finally “take charge” of her life. It’s not a bad idea, but like the rest of the movie, is painted in the broadest strokes, with very little fine detail.

Would I recommend this? There are a few scenes that might interest fans of rap music, but for everyone else this movie is boring. So, so boring. I guess you can say that they should have Hustled for a better script because the ending is somewhat Ludacris and, ah-fuck it.

Lincoln (2012) – Movie Review

Steven Spielberg might be the most overrated director of all time.

Yes, he has a handful of good films like Jaws, Duel and the Indiana Jones movies, but those movies were good because they lacked pretension and were mostly decent B-films; this works in Spielberg’s favor because Spielberg, in his essence, is a child with a camera–while his action films work, his dramatic films do not for they present only a child’s idea of how a “serious” or “dramatic” film should work. His B-movies (or the movies he made that have little pretense toward being taken too seriously) mostly work because, in their core, are the things that excite kids the most; Spielberg was able to tap into his inner-child easily and bring its ideas of what good entertainment represents and create it with his good technical skills as a director and filmmaker. This combination make his blockbusters work because they are made well and genuinely appeal to the child within us all.

His dramatic films, while held in high-esteem, also represent what a child thinks of as “film” but the problem with this is that a child usually understands what elements are supposed to theoretically be in a film in order to be “serious” but don’t understand the subtle or complex foundations that make such elements function properly and give them meaning. In Lincoln, there’s the outburst Abraham Lincoln has in front of his cabinet. This is supposed to be a big “moment” in the film, but the reason why it doesn’t work is because there’s little depth to give such a “moment” meaning. A child knows that dramatic movies are filled with such “moments” but don’t truly understand the deeper reasoning behind them. Spielberg’s B-movies work because such films thrive on just “moments” alone with only shallow and functional character developments and arcs to make the audience care; there is little depth necessary, but in a good drama there needs to be something more than spectacle.

Despite all this critics and movie-goers are more than willing to give praise to mediocrities like Lincoln, a movie about the final months of the president’s life as he tries to help the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. Let me address some common myths about the film, perpetuated by both critics (who should really know better) and movie-goers:

1.) “See, Lincoln actually humanizes the guy which makes the movie more interesting! Because it has depth!”

Yes, Lincoln attempts to make Lincoln less of a symbol and more of a human by granting him flaws and allowing us to watch him make hard decisions, but note that I say attempts. Lincoln fails to capture the humanity of its subject due to both the script and Daniel-Day Lewis’s overrated performance. Despite the accolades, Lewis’s acting never rises above mimicry, the kind one can witness from most annoying Abraham Lincoln-impersonators. There are two modes he adheres to: either he is too hammy, or he offers little depth to his character; even in the more quiet scenes we’re not given much of an “in” to Lincoln other than basic motivations. What could have been a complex and compelling portrayal is whittled down to onscreen banality–but Lewis ain’t the only one that should be taking the blame; there’s both the script and Spielberg. For one thing, as mentioned before, Spielberg is a child and Lincoln is a child’s idea of what a historical drama should be materialized. The script is completely surface-level, lacking in both subtlety and insight. So, no, Lincoln, in Lincoln, never truly becomes human, but merely a shadow on the wall who has adopted the mannerisms of a human. Here’s another common claim by the apologists:

2.) “Lincoln shows Lincoln doing less-than-ethical things. This totally makes the movie more intriguing to watch and shows that Spielberg isn’t just interested in hagiography. It doesn’t play it safe.”

Okay, yes, the movie takes on a “riskier” approach to Lincoln, I guess, by depicting a different side to him, but that doesn’t automatically make the movie good. Here’s an excerpt from a review by “Dan the Man” taken from his blog:

“I think what really intrigued me the most about this flick was how it shows just how hard it was, and probably still is, to get a bill passed and all of the twists and turns that come along with that mission. Abe had to talk to a lot of people, had to plan out a lot of ideas in his head, had to win over a crap-load of people, and most of all, had to still keep it in his mind to do the right thing. It’s a very hard, especially in today’s day and age of politics, to not only do the right thing but also keep with that idea in your head and never mess-up on that. Abe never gets dirty with where he gets with his mission to abolish slavery, and it’s really fresh to see considering this is a guy that America still reveres to this day.”

Yes, the movie is about Lincoln’s attempts to get the amendment passed–that’s the plot; what makes a movie good or bad, however, is how it presents the plot, not merely what the plot is. Dan summarizes his opinion with thus:

“Consensus: Lincoln may take some people by surprise to how it plays-out, but if you can handle a bunch of talking, then it will definitely keep you watching from beginning-to-end with a spectacular lead performance from Daniel Day, and a message about doing the right thing, no matter who gets in the way that is still relevant today, especially in the world of politics.”

First off, Lewis’s performance is anything but “spectacular”; any Lincoln-impersonator could have given the same performance. Secondly, just because the message is nice doesn’t mean the movie is good.

Plus, does Lincoln actually do anything that would be considered “dirty”? Sure, he prolongs the war, but it was all to get the thirteenth amendment passed. If Spielberg really wanted to compel the audience by showing them a side of Lincoln not often depicted, then maybe he should have placed the movie just before the war, or in its early stages, when Lincoln allowed the suspension of habeas corpus for those who spoke-out against the Union. Now that would have made for an interesting drama as we get to witness Lincoln’s reasoning and dilemma, but no. See, Spielberg couldn’t have done that cause he likes to have his cake and eat it too. What I mean is, Spielberg gets credit for showing a “darker, more human side” to Lincoln without exerting the actual effort. See, Spielberg is a mediocre filmmaker, at best, who lacks any vision; he only knows how to deal within convention–that’s why the approach that he used is actually safe and ends up offering little insight to the titular subject.

3.) “The ending worked because it’s not about how Lincoln died, but his final days and what he accomplished within them.

Fuck no. That ending blew a big one. Let me show you: so the last scenes take place in a theater during a performance, setting up the expectation that we’re about to see Abraham Lincoln getting fucking shot in the head, but instead we see his young son then a man comes on stage and informs everyone that his father was assassinated in a different theater. Why? Why show this? Was the trite subversion necessary? If the movie is, as one claims, about Lincoln’s life, not his death, then why show this at all. One might argue that it was to show the son’s reaction (Lincoln was a father after all, not just a symbol!) This would be fine except it doesn’t work because we don’t see much of Lincoln’s relationship with his younger son with the exception of some bland scenes; as a result the audience neither understands or cares about the son’s reaction. After we see the dumb kid’s reaction we are then treated to some truly sublime imagery: a flame juxtaposed in the foreground with Lincoln’s corpse in the background, then after a few seconds a dissolve to Lincoln giving a speech. What an utterly hacky, schmaltzy way to end. Just, ugh!

Then there are some other scenes throughout that are especially irksome, like whenever Lincoln tells a story, usually to someone in a panic, or the hideous “comedy” scenes with the hackiest music that tells the audience that ha-ha this is funneh!

Here’s another attempt from “Dan the Man” in defending this film:

“This whole movie is filled with a supporting cast that will probably shock you by how many names it really does have and to be honest, there’s a bit of a problem with that. See, there are so many damn people in this movie that even though they are all so good with each and every one of their own, respective roles, it becomes a bit of a waste to see such good talent in roles that sometimes don’t show-up on-screen for any longer than 5 minutes. Having a huge, supporting cast is great if you want to make sure every character is well-done, and every performance is good but after awhile, it sort of starts to tick you off once you realize that half of these people can do some quality work in their own flicks, they just aren’t given the chance all that much. Still, it’s great to see such big names show up in a production together and show how much people still want to work with Spielberg.”

I kind of feel bad for picking on Dan (still) for he seems like a cool guy, but I feel his review in particular represents, what I think, is the problem with many reviewers, is that even when it seems like they’re going to start criticizing the thing they’re reviewing, they seem how twist back and offer another compliment; look at the first two sentences. I also take issue with  that last sentence as well. Of course they want to work with Spielberg and it’s not because he’s an “artistic genius”– it’s cause they like getting Oscars! Everyone knows that Spielberg movies are a fucking Oscar-factory because the Academy are usually made-up of either dumb apes or victims of blackmail. And no, the supporting cast isn’t all that memorable. Sally Fields? Meh, she’s okay and Tommy Lee Jones has some good scenes as Thaddeus Stevens (maybe the movie should have been about him?) as well as some ham-fisted ones. But also note the tone of Dan’s writing. This isn’t a guy that appears to be interested in giving an objective analysis of a film, but someone who’s a total fanboy. But the sad thing is a lot of the professional critics’ reviews aren’t a whole lot different, just a bit less blatant in their fanboyism. Seriously, is Spielberg’s dick that irresistible? Maybe I’m missing something…

Actually, let’s dwell on this a bit, no, not the fellatio, but online reviewers and bloggers in general. See, the only reason to read them is to get a perspective outside the mainstream, a perspective unfettered by a bias for oscar-bait and the conventional just because a certain names are attached. However, I’ve found out that most bloggers offer little different from most professional critics which is problematic considering that most “professionals” know very little of the field that they claim to have expertise of. This reminds me how members of certain online poetry communities despise “the System” yet turn around and endorse poems that are of similar ilk to those that are published in the lit-mags they claim to disdain.

This all leads me to why Spielberg is ever-so beloved: the average person says he that mainstream music is shit and pines for the music of the past for it had more “meaning,” yet they listen to garbage like The Eagles and Nickleback. At the same time, music critics unanimously crown The Beatles as the greatest rock band ever when they are, in fact, they were a decent pop group adopting trendy musical ideas and attitudes rather than innovating or doing anything of more depth than mere pop-ditties, unlike truly great bands like Pere Ubu or The Pop Group. People claim they want something “new” and “challenging” yet gorge themselves on mediocrity instead. This is both because they have no idea what great art is nor do they really want to be challenged, and the critics who are supposed to be educating the masses chose instead to engage in groupthink, in fear of being ousted as “wrong”. This is why culture is going downhill, and online bloggers have the opportunity to resuscitate the whole damn thing because most are not being paid-off, however, most don’t take the opportunity because many, unfortunately, are average people themselves and don’t know any better. This also means that good and great films aren’t given the attention they deserve because they’re either called “bad” for not fitting into the mold of what people consider “good”. Whoops.

And this is why mediocre films like Lincoln, as well as Spielberg’s other movies like Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan (hey! Did you know that the Nazis were bad guys?!) are so highly praised. Cause people are stupid and don’t like different things even though difference, they claim, is why they like Lincoln. It’s fucking frustrating that bloggers aren’t doing anything to change people’s perceptions as to what constitutes good and bad–shame many are too heavily embedded in a culture that prizes the middling.

Anyway, would I recommend this movie (in case you’re still wondering)? Eh, no. Not really. It’s not a “shit-film” for it’s nowhere near as pretentious and offensive as such monstrosities as Basquiat and American Beauty, but suffers because of its trite script. The acting (overall) is passable and the cinematography is decent craftmanship; these factors allow the movie to rise above awfulness, but not by much.