Monday, October 26, 2009

Twilight, or The Looming Threat of the Sequel is Upon Us.

I've been debating with myself for a while now whether to start writing posts about films that aren't currently in theaters, and I really wanted to post an update about the Tooth Fairy trailer but I resisted the urge. But tonight at the bar, when someone mentioned that their Twilight: New Moon tickets had arrived in the mail today, I knew it was time to start revisiting the films of years gone by. In this case, a film of only one year gone by (I'm easing into it).

So, in a desperate attempt to avoid Saw VI, I watched Twilight and it inspired me to write an epic short story on film adaptations. I'm hoping to sell the rights to Paramount.

Hold on, Spider Monkey...


In 2008, the book Twilight was a living entity. Unfortunately, one night in a Border's bookstore, a DVD copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire snuck into the "teen angst" section and bit a copy of Twilight. As a result, Twilight was transformed, like the majority of the Harry Potter films, into a vampire.

When books become vampires, they don't thirst for blood. They thirst for box office earnings. And like most vampires, they are nearly unstoppable; no matter how hard us humans try to resist handing over our money. These newly formed creatures bear the same plot elements as their living book counterparts, but they possess super powers! Humans do not have to read them in order to learn what they are about. Instead, they possess the ability to travel incredible speeds of up to twenty-four frames a second and display themselves in full color while humans sit passively in seats...unable to resist...

However, being an empty shell of something alive has its low points. And in the case of adaptations like Twilight, the major downfall is simply that an empty shell of a film isn't very entertaining. These vampiric film adaptions have no heart, no soul. They are little more than stylish, animalistic, box-office killing machines, forced to suffer with their own monotony for all eternity...

The End.

I particularly like the ambiguous ending. But, I digress.

Twilight has terrible pacing, little character development, questionable character motivations, redundant and simple dialogue, and way too many time-wasting obligatory scenes that serve only to remain faithful to the book. There is more baseball in this movie than there is character development. Of course, the baseball scene is not an example of the previously mentioned because, after all, about fifty percent of the film's character development comes from the baseball scene.

So here is my call to filmmakers: Go ahead. Adapt the next best-selling book series into a film. But when you do, take the general idea of the book and throw the rest of the source material away. What drives me insane, is that the themes, characters, and rules of the diagetic world within Twilight (among other adaptations) could actually make a good movie; but not if you try to fit the entire book into two hours.
The problem with most book to film adaptations, is that the filmmakers tend to get so intent on making the book into a movie that they forget to add the content. So change it up! Make Edward gay for all I care. Or straight, I can't really tell which he is in the film. The point is, it is very unlikely that Hollywood is even capable of making a quality novel to film adaptation anymore and I'd appreciate it if you just took things in a new direction. Otherwise, we're just going to keep getting underdeveloped CGI-fests like Twilight, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings.

That's right. I said Lord of the Rings.

P.S. I've been waiting months for a chance to sneak the phrase "I digress" into one of these posts.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Where the Sleeping Theatre Goers Are, or Spike Jonze's New Music Video.

Dear Spike Jonze,

If I wanted to watch eight children argue, I would take up babysitting. Where the Wild Things Are will forever be my ultimate reminder why I do not.

Certainly you've captured the elaborate capacity of childhood imagination and accompanied it with a phenomenal soundtrack, but that, sadly, is about all the film has going for it. Perhaps you should have made a music video instead. Any relevant or entertaining content is so thinly disbursed between random fits of brattiness and fort building/dirt throwing/pile making/[insert random childhood action here], that I would classify Wild Things (Not to be confused with the Neve Campbell film) as surrealism if the events had any driving force behind them whatsoever. But nope; It's just some kids playing. Oh, and some of them happen to be giant furry things.

At least the climactic metaphor (Max's "birth" from KW) actually made sense and gave the film some semblance of closure, but every other action Max and the nonhuman characters partake in seems like an exercise in time wasting. Thank the heavens this was just over an hour and a half; any longer and I would have taken a nap. There's more indie music/random event combos in this than there were in Juno.

What bothers me the most is that the first fifteen minutes of Wild Things are great. Kid feels neglected, throws a hissy-fit and runs away: a fine articulation of childhood frustration. When Max arrives at the island, the frustration wanders off and is replaced with a mess of childhood imagination tied together by thinly veiled tidbits of Max's actual life. The problem with this, is that all the characters on the island are Max; in that they are figments of his imagination, and therefore cannot possess any capacity for thought or emotion beyond his own. As a result, all events on the island are shaped by a grade-school auteur, and the characters can do little more than behave like whiny children.

I held out with the hope that once Max returned home the film would dazzle me at the end (with at least a fuzzy moment to make me feel good), but no such luck. Max's final scene at home is shorter than the end credits. Apparently, when a child runs away he should be rewarded with cake.

P.S. KW is a total pothead.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Couple's Retreat: Vince Vaughn's Mid-Life Crisis.

Dear Vince Vaughn,

It's time someone said it: You might not have it anymore. It's okay! You had a streak for a while (Old School, Wedding Crashers, Dodgeball), but as of late, you've made mostly failures. In fact, I think you've been replaced by the Apatow kids. Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Jason Segal, and Paul Rudd have been picking up your slack.

So what is it, man? Are you starting to feel your age? The last two films that I consider "Vince Vaughn" films--that weren't related to Christmas--have been wishy-washy romantic comedies that couldn't decide whether to focus on the romance or the comedy. That's right, you remember The Break-Up. So what is it? Did you look back on your career and all of a sudden decide that it needed more dramatic weight? Wasn't the Psycho remake enough dramatic weight for one career?!

Now I'm not saying your attempts at combining believable drama and comedy are a bad idea. And though your execution is way off mark, I'm grateful that it isn't in another time zone like Funny People was.

In Couples Retreat, your characters are at the same time stereotypes and caricatures. Jason Bateman is so over-the-top enthusiastic and task-orientated that I wanted to slap him; Jon Favreau is your standard washed-up high school jock whose only goal appears to be partying with the twenty-somethings that for some reason find him attractive (not possible); Faizon Love is the standard overweight black friend; Kristen Bell is the puppy dog trying to please Jason Bateman; and Kristen Davis reprises her Sex and the City role.

Only you--Vince Vaughn, in case you forgot who you were during your mid-life crisis--and Malin Akerman have characters with any semblance of depth; a couple with a self-described "average" marriage and a lot of little relationship problems that you two didn't realize needed fixing. These characters are really the only two that are suited for the drama you attempted to squeeze into Couples Retreat, and that is why it feels so out of place.

Couples Retreat is, always was, and will forever be established as a comedy. Jon Favreau wouldn't be caught masturbating in any other genre. And while the film is funny, the attempts to include realistic dialogue regarding the characters' love lives weigh the humor down instead of enhancing it. You can't have a nearly naked yoga instructor comically dry-hump the female characters, and follow it with a scene of the ladies lecturing Charlotte--I'm sorry; I mean Lucy--about how inappropriate it was. They were all there getting dry humped themselves! Is one dry hump worse than another? What a lazy segue into "serious relationship talk" time!

This is how the film went:

1) Sctanley with a "c" humorously berates everyone.
2) Serious relationship talk time.
3) Faizon Love isn't wearing underwear.
4) Serious relationship talk time.
5) Vince Vaughn fends off sharks with witty banter.
6) Serious relationship talk time.
7) Jon Favreau and Charlotte try to get happy endings from their respective masseuses.
8) Serious relationship talk time.
9) All relationships are suddenly in epic turmoil!
10) Guitar Hero
11) Sexy Fun Time beach party
12) All relationship problems are resolved.

The thesis of your film is that Guitar Hero and beach parties solve all relationship problems.

There was one point in your film (I think that's all) where you combined comedy and drama perfectly. It comes when your character lectures Jon Favreau about Applebee's. Not only was it one of the funniest speeches in the film, it highlighted a greater dramatic issue (No one wants to spend their life going to Applebee's alone) without the characters trying to describe their painfully simple emotions to us in too many stupid words. You can sneak poignant thoughts into comedy without being so serious about it! Subtlety is largely underrated and underused these days.

The fact is, your tendency to juxtapose drama and comedy instead of combining the two throws the film off kilter. You can make references and thoughts about real-life relationships with your comedy, instead of forcing the audience to watch comedians attempting to emote. If you want everyone to sit down and talk about their feelings, write a drama. Don't sandwich it between a naked guy and Jean Reno. The beauty of films like Dodgeball and Old School is that they focus solely on comedy; romance is an afterthought, if even a thought at all. If you wanted to write a real romantic comedy on a tropical island, you should have had Jason Segel write your script. Do better next time.

P.S. I'm still convinced that once Kristen Bell found out that this wasn't Forgetting Sarah Marshall 2, it was too late for her to drop out.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Invention of Lying, or If You Didn't Find It Funny You Should Stop Reading This Blog.

Dear Ricky Gervais,

Let me start by saying that I'm fairly upset that I don't have any angry letters to write this weekend. Well, so far; I haven't seen Whip It. I have high hopes that it's terrible. But between Zombieland and The Invention Of Lying, I have to say I'm quite pleased. Unfortunately, due to the strength of this weekend, I'm worried that people are going to miss out one of the few original comedies in a long time.

Every once in a while, someone writes a comedy that is actually unique (Pleasantville, Adaptation, Enchanted) and The Invention of Lying certainly fits into that category. Alternate universes really are a nifty trick, and it's unfortunate that they're usually wasted on the fantasy genre. Lord of the Rings would have been much more interesting if all the characters constantly told the truth. Imagine...

Frodo: Gandelf, your size and your beard are intimidating.
Gandelf: I'm sick of bending over to look at you. You're so tiny and worthless.
Sam: Why are we going to Mordor, Frodo? Wouldn't you rather be in bed; gently caressing each other?

No, never mind. That's pretty much how it went anyway.

But, I digress.

While the concept of Invention of Lying is original, it's also incredibly simple. By changing one aspect of the world, you've opened up unlimited opportunities for original comedy and social satire: The extra awkward first date; the coke-addict traffic cop; the most disgusting ice cream flavors you can think of; etc. etc. Honestly, the concept alone probably would have been enough to sustain a pretty decent comedy. But you take it a step further.

When Mark creates the concept of an afterlife (in a world without religion) to ease his dying mother's fears, the plot evolves into something far greater. The film becomes more than a simple gag, and as Mark's status as prophet continues to climb, the film's hilarity and social relevance follow suit. Initially, my reaction to this plot point (one of the main focuses of the film, actually) was to insinuate that the film was calling religion out as false. Thankfully, you flesh out the concept and manage to handle one of the touchiest topics possible with an impressive amount of respect.

The religion in the film is created to bring the people hope. It is not created out of hostility or for personal gain, but is inherently good; which reflects your intent to be more than a cheap crack at religion (if it was a cheap crack, you can tell me). Religion couldn't exist in the world of the film before Mark because it couldn't be proven. The film's universe has no capacity for abstraction, which is also highlighted by Anna's refusal to pursue a relationship with Mark. In Anna's mind, the rational reasons for marriage are to create offspring with desirable traits. Mark, being short and fat, lacks the physical features that would be genetically-inclined to create successful children. She likes him, but she has no means to weigh the value of her emotions, therefore she focuses on features linked to success.

Unfortunately, the setup of society's superficial tendency is one of the film's weaker points. Surely, Mark gets made fun of by many people, but the audience is never driven to believe that all people are treated a certain way based upon their looks. Then, suddenly towards the end, it is revealed that everyone hates fatties. Don't they have computer geeks who grow up to be millionaires in this world?

If the plot and romance had progressed more fluidly, I'd be comparing Invention of Lying to Groundhog Day right now. But you're severely outmatched in the romance department, because after all the amazing religious humor, Jennifer Garner really seemed like an afterthought. Your return to the romance narrative is actually one of the most awkward transitions in the film, maybe one of the most awkward transitions I've seen in a while. Had the romance and religion been entwined and contrasted better, Invention of Lying would be on its way to becoming a classic.

Instead it's just the funniest movie of the year, which is no small feat either. Well, actually...have there been any funny movies in 2009? There really have only been a couple, but don't let that take away from the fact that Invention of Lying is one of the funniest films I've seen in a long time.

P.S. Thank you for celebrity cameos.