Horror Film Review: Buffy the Vampire (dir by Fran Rubel Kuzui)


Watching this movie was such a strange experience.

Now, of course, I say that as someone who grew up watching and loving the television version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Back when Buffy was on TV, I was always aware that the character had first been introduced in a movie but every thing I read about Buffy said that the movie wasn’t worth watching.  It was a part of the official Buffy mythology that Joss Whedon was so unhappy with what was done to his original script that he pretty much ignored the film when he created the show.

So, yes, the 1992 movie version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer showed how Buffy first learned that she was a slayer, how she fought a bunch of vampires in Los Angeles, and how her first watcher met his end.  But still, Joss Whedon was always quick to say that the film should not be considered canonical.  Whenever anyone on the TV show mentioned anything from Buffy’s past, they were referencing Joss Whedon’s original script as opposed to the film that was eventually adapted from that script.  (For instance, on the tv series, everyone knew that Buffy’s previous school burned down.  That was from Whedon’s script.  However, 20th Century Fox balked at making a film about a cheerleader who burns down her school so, at the end of the film version, the school is still standing and romance is in the air.)  In short, the film existed but it really didn’t matter.  In fact, to be honest, it almost felt like watching the movie would somehow be a betrayal of everything that made the televisions series special.

Myself, I didn’t bother to watch the film version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer until several years after the television series was canceled and, as I said at the start of the review, it was a strange experience.  The movie is full of hints of what would make the television series so memorable but none of them are really explored.  Yes, Buffy (played here by Kristy Swanson) has to balance being a teenager with being a vampire slayer but, in the film, it turns out to be surprisingly easy to do.  Buffy is just as happy to be a vampire slayer as she is to be a cheerleader.  In fact, one of the strange things about the film is just how quickly and easily Buffy accepts the idea that there are vampires feeding on her classmates and that it’s her duty to destroy them.  Buffy’s watcher is played by Donald Sutherland and the main vampire is played by Rutger Hauer, two veteran actors who could have played these roles in their sleep and who appear to do so for much of the film.  As for Buffy’s love interest, he’s a sensitive rebel named Oliver Pike (Luke Perry).  On the one hand, it’s fun to see the reversal of traditional gender roles, with Oliver frequently helpless and needing to be saved by Buffy.  On the other hand, Perry and Swanson have next to no chemistry so it’s a bit difficult to really get wrapped up in their relationship.

I know I keep coming back to this but watching the movie version of Buffy is a strange experience.  It’s not bad but it’s just not Buffy.  It’s like some sort of weird, mirror universe version of Buffy, where Buffy starts her slaying career as a senior in high school and she never really has to deal with being an outcast or anything like that.  (One gets the feeling that the movie’s Buffy wouldn’t have much to do with the Scooby Gang.  Nor would she have ever have fallen for Angel.)  Kristy Swanson gives a good performance as the film version of Buffy, though the character is not allowed to display any of the nuance or the quick wit that made the television version a role model for us all.  Again it’s not that Buffy the movie is terrible or anything like that.  It’s just not our Buffy!

Film Review: Live By Night (dir by Ben Affleck)


Remember Live By Night?

Released in December of 2016, Live By Night was one of those highly anticipated films that ended up bombing at the box office and leaving critics cold.  The anticipation was due to the fact that Live By Night was the first film that Ben Affleck had directed since Argo won best picture.  It was seen as Affleck’s next prestige picture, the one that would remind everyone that he was more than just the latest actor to be cast as Batman.  Live By Night was expected to be a huge Oscar contender.  As for why it bombed at the box office, that may have had something to do with the fact that Live By Night is not a very good film.

It’s a gangster film, one that takes place during prohibition.  Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) is the most boring gangster in Boston.  Or, at least, he is until he falls for the wrong woman and he ends up having to flee down to Tampa.  Once down there, Joe sets himself up as the most boring gangster in Florida.  There’s all sorts of themes running through Live By Night — racial themes, economic themes, even some heavy-handed religious themes — but ultimately, the main impression that one gets from the film’s story is that Joe Coughlin was a very boring gangster.

Anyway, Joe gets involved in all sorts of corruption and violence.  He brings down his friend, Dion (Chris Messina), to help him out.  Whereas Joe is rational and dull, Dion is violent and dull.  You spend the entire movie waiting for the moment when Dion will turn on Joe but it never happens.  I guess that’s a good thing since Joe and Dion are busy battling the Klan.  Joe may be a 1920s gangster but he’s got the political and cultural outlook of a 21st century movie star.

Joe knows that prohibition is going to end someday, so he hopes to make money through opening up a casino.  Standing in the way of the casino is a prostitute-turned-evangelist named Loretta (Elle Fanning).  Loretta is the daughter of the local police chief (Chris Cooper), with whom Joe has an uneasy friendship.  You keep expecting this plot to go somewhere but it really doesn’t.  Loretta’s just kinda there.  That said, we do get a hilarious shot of a tearful Chris Cooper repeating the word repent over and over again so there is that.

Zoe Saldana is also just kind of there, playing Joe’s Cuban wife.  Again, you expect a lot to happen with Saldana’s character but, for the most part, she’s mostly just a plot device who exists solely so that Joe can have some sort of motivation beyond simply wanting to get rich.

It’s a big, sprawling film that never quite feels like an epic.  A huge part of the problem is that Ben Affleck the director is let down by Ben Affleck the actor.  Regardless of what’s happening in the scene, Affleck always has the same grim look on his face.  At times, it seems as if he’s literally been chiseled out of a marble and you find yourself wondering if he’s actually capable of any facial expression beyond glum annoyance.  A gangster film like this need a bigger-than-life protagonist but, as played by Affleck, Joe always seems to be in danger of vanishing into the scenery.

I think part of the problem is that Affleck’s previous films all dealt with places and subjects that Affleck felt comfortable with, perhaps because he could relate their stories to his own personal experiences.  Gone, Baby, Gone and The Town both took place exclusively in Boston.  Argo dealt with the film industry.  Live By Night is a period piece set in the South and Affleck is obviously lost from the minute Joe arrives in Florida.

Live By Night, I think, could have been a good movie if it had been directed by someone like Paul Thomas Anderson and maybe if an actor like Colin Farrell played the role of Joe.  But, as it is, it’s just a rather stolid and uninspiring gangster film.

Playing Catch-Up: The Accountant, Carnage Park, The Choice, The Legend of Tarzan


Continuing my look back at the films of 2016, here are four mini-reviews of some films that really didn’t make enough of an impression to demand a full review.

The Accountant (dir by Gavin O’Connor)

2016 was a mixed year for Ben Affleck.  Batman v. Superman may have been a box office success but it was also such a critical disaster that it may have done more harm to Affleck’s legacy than good.  If nothing else, Affleck will spend the rest of his life being subjected to jokes about Martha.  While Ben’s younger brother has become an Oscar front runner as a result of his performance in Manchester By The Sea, Ben’s latest Oscar effort, Live By Night, has been released to critical scorn and audience indifference.

At the same time, Ben Affleck also gave perhaps his best performance ever in The Accountant.  Affleck plays an autistic accountant who exclusively works for criminals and who has been raised to be an expert in all forms of self-defense.  The film’s plot is overly complicated and director Gavin O’Connor struggles to maintain a consistent tone but Affleck gives a really great performance and Anna Kendrick reminds audiences that she’s capable of more than just starring in the Pitch Perfect franchise.

Carnage Park (dir by Mickey Keating)

I really wanted to like Carnage Park, because it was specifically advertised as being an homage to the grindhouse films of the 1970s and y’all know how much I love those!  Ashley Bell plays a woman who gets kidnapped twice, once by two bank robbers and then by a psycho named Wyatt (Pat Healy).  Healy chases Bell through the desert, hunting her Most Dangerous Game-style.  There are some intense scenes and both Bell and Healy are well-cast but, ultimately, it’s just kind of blah.

The Choice (dir by Ross Katz)

The Choice was last year’s Nicholas Sparks adaptation.  It came out, as all Nichols Sparks adaptations do, just in time for Valentine’s Day and it got reviews that were so negative that a lot of people will never admit that they actually saw it.  Benjamin Walker and Teresa Palmer play two people who meet, fall in love, and marry in North Carolina.  But then Palmer is in a car accident, ends up in a coma, and Walker has to decide whether or not to turn off the life support.

As I said, The Choice got terrible reviews and it’s certainly not subtle movie but it’s actually better than a lot of films adapted from the work of Nicholas Sparks.  Walker and Palmer are a likable couple and, at the very least, The Choice deserves some credit for having the courage not to embrace the currently trendy cause of euthanasia.  That alone makes The Choice better than Me Before You.

The Legend of Tarzan (dir by David Yates)

Alexander Skarsgard looks good without his shirt on and Samuel L. Jackson is always a fun to watch and that’s really all that matters as far as The Legend of Tarzan is concerned.  It’s an enjoyable enough adventure film but you won’t remember much about it afterward.  Christoph Waltz is a good actor but he’s played so many villains that it’s hard to get excited over it anymore.

Oh my God, the trailer for The Accountant actually looks good!


Oh my God, y’all!

Have you seen the trailer for The Accountant!?

It actually looks really good!  I have to admit that I’m a little bit cynical when it comes to Ben Affleck movies but The Accountant looks really, really good.

Will the movie live up to the trailer?  We won’t find out until November.  Until then, watch the trailer below and see what I’m talking about!

Suicide Squad Drops By the MTV Movie Awards


Suicide Squad

Let’s get this out of the way and just say that Warner Bros. executives and major shareholders are none too pleased by the reception from both critics and the general audience when it comes to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Not a very good start to their planned DC Extended Universe. While fanboys from both DC and Marvel have been going at it for weeks now, there’s at least some bright spot ahead for DC in their summer tentpole release Suicide Squad.

Even with rumors of extended reshoots to add more levity and fun to balance out public’s perception that the DC films are too dour and dark (grimdark even), Suicide Squad still remains one of the more anticipated films of the summer.

During this year’s MTV Movie Awards, DC and Warner Brothers released the newest trailer for what they’re hoping will sell the DCEU to the audience what Batman v. Superman could not and that’s a fun comic book film that understands dark and serious doesn’t have to mean not fun.

Suicide Squad is set for an August 5, 2016 release date.

Batman v. Superman Latest Trailer Drops


BatmanvSuperman

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice has been gathering steam and buzz since it was first announced a couple years ago at San Diego Comic-Con. The film is now just a little over 4 months away from release. The fact that we’re even talking about latest trailers and clips about this film was an accomplishment all on its own.

This was a project that had been talked about for so many years, but never got on track. While some DC fans might decry what I’m about to say I do think they should thank the success of the Marvel Studios-produced films for getting this film on the fast track to being made. It made DC and Warner Bros. realize they weren’t the big bully in the blockbuster block anymore and needed something monumental to catch up.

With Man of Steel dividing comic book fans this film had to be made whether it made sense narrative-wise or not. Another so-so Superman film would not do. So, what better way to juice up the Son of Krypton franchise than by pitting him against DC’s other juggernaut property: Batman.

So, without further ado, here is the latest trailer for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

So, I watched The Leisure Class…


leisureclasspic

Well, it had to happen sometime.

After 8 weeks of showing us how the film was made, HBO finally had to broadcast the latest Project Greenlight film.  Over the course of the series, we’ve watched the seemingly humorless director Jason Mann struggle to maintain his “artistic vision” while directing his first feature film, The Leisure Class.  We watched as he fought for and won the right to shoot on film.  We wondered if Jason would be able to pull off the film’s big stunt.  Even more importantly, we watched because we were hooked on the hostility between Jason and the film’s producer, Effie Brown.  Jason resented having to answer to Effie.  Effie resented having to work on something like The Leisure Class.  For 8 weeks, viewers were either Team Jason or Team Effie.

And through it all, we wondered — was The Leisure Class any good?

From the minute that Jason was named as The Leisure Class‘s director, I had my doubts.  A comedic sensibility is something that you either have or you don’t.  At first glance, there was nothing about Jason that suggested he even had a sense of humor.  Once filming started, nothing that we were shown looked all that promising.  The film’s trailer felt more frantic than anything else and I slowly found myself dreading the prospect of sitting through The Leisure Class.

But sit through it I did and … well, it was bad.  Unfortunately, it really wasn’t bad enough to be enjoyable.  Instead, it was just a bland misfire.  If the film was interesting, it was because I related each scene to what I had previously seen on Project Greenlight.  Wow, I thought, Effie sure was mad when they were shooting this scene.  A few minutes later: Is this the scene that Jason was worried would be underlit?  And then later: This is the scene where Bruce Davison wasn’t sure whether he should say pricks or dicks!  I’m glad they were able to make a final decision…

As for the film itself — well, how do you describe the plot of a film that really didn’t seem to have a storyline?  Charles (Ed Weeks) is actually William, a British con artist.  He is about to marry Fiona (Bridget Regan), the daughter of Sen. Langston (Bruce Davison).  At first, Charles was just planning on stealing Langston’s money but now he’s fallen in love with Fiona.  The day before the wedding, Charles’s alcoholic brother, Leonard (Tom Bell), shows up at the Langston estate.  He pretends to be Charles’s best friend.  And then, Leonard gets drunk and encourages a bunch of teenagers to skinny dip.  And then there’s the car accident.  (This is the big stunt that Jason was so concerned with.)  And then Sen. Langston gets drunk and there’s this amazingly ugly scene where he says a lot of nasty things to his wife and his daughters.  And then Langston nearly murders Charles and Leonard but Fiona ends up pulling a gun on him.  And then the next morning, Leonard draws on Langston’s face.  There’s also a prostitute, named Carla (Christina Lakin), who shows up for no reason but at least she gets a few funny lines.  The film doesn’t add up too much, with none of the characters or their actions making much sense.  The script feels like a first draft and, even at only 80 minutes, the movie seems to be way too long.

The overriding theme of Project Greenlight‘s fourth season has been that Jason has gotten nearly everything that he wanted while shooting his film.  Personally, it wouldn’t surprise me to discover that this season was pretty much edited to cast Jason in as negative a light as possible.  (Otherwise, the HBO execs would have to take responsibility of the train wreck that is The Leisure Class.)  Still, it’s impossible to deny that Jason fought a lot of battles and that none of them seem to have made much difference as far as the end product is concerned.

Jason fought to shoot The Leisure Class on film, as opposed to going digital.  He even turned down extra shooting days so that he could get film.  But visually, The Leisure Class is flat and boring.  It may have been shot on film but it still looks like a single camera sitcom.  (In fact, it’s hard not to feel that the film could have been improved if it had taken an Office or Modern Family mockumentary approach.  At least that way, the characters could have explained their often confusing motivation.)

Jason got the cast that he wanted but that cast is let down by a poorly conceived script.  All of the characters are so one-dimensional that it’s doubtful that there’s much anyone in the cast could have done to make them interesting.  I like both Ed Weeks and Tom Bell but the film let both of them down.  Meanwhile, Bruce Davison is reduced to bellowing out his lines.

Jason fought to find the perfect location and spent a lot of time talking about how the Langston estate was almost as important as the characters.  The house looks gorgeous but the film is directed in such a haphazard manner that you never really get to appreciate it.  For a director who spent so much time obsessing over minutiae, Jason’s film is unique for its total lack of interesting detail.

Let’s not forget — when the season began, Jason was selected to direct a broad comedy called Not Another Pretty Woman.  Jason is the one who suggested making The Leisure Class instead.  That said, I have a hard time believing, as some have suggested on twitter, that Not Another Pretty Woman would have been much of an improvement.

Ultimately, Jason seems to be an okay technical director.  He knows how to light a scene.  He understands the importance of moving the camera.  I imagine he could probably spend hours explaining why he chose to use a certain type of lens.  Unfortunately, there’s not a single scene in The Leisure Class that feels spontaneous.  There’s no humanity to the characters.  It’s a cold movie that feels more like a student film than anything else.

From what I’ve read, it appears that there will be at least one more season of Project Greenlight.  And I’m happy to hear that because the show makes for good drama.  I just wish that it would occasionally make for a good movie.