Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Beaver (2011)

After Mel Gibson's drunken anti-semitic rant, Alan Smithee found it hard to look at his stupid face, and when Gibson returned to film in Edge of Darkness (2010), he skipped it. Fortunately, it looked lame.

The Beaver starts intriguingly, with Gibson's Walter Black turning to puppetry to cope with his unsatisfying life. Gibson doesn't immediately nauseate, perhaps because he sounds less dumb with an English accent, and perhaps because the role feels like a punishment. Watching a drunk Mel berate himself with a beaver puppet feels satisfying.

The film takes a wrong turn in the second act, devolving from a quirky independent film with potential psychological insight into something a lot like Magic (1978). The film tries to be about Walter Black's relationship with his oldest son, but it doesn't contain the scenes to accomplish that.

Could this film help Mel win back film lovers disgusted by his bigotry? Alan Smithee must admit that he is a little less sickened by Mel after watching this. Kudos, weirdo.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Skyfall (2012)

The reviews for Skyfall were almost unanimously positive, which can only mean one thing: with the continuing decriminalization of marijuana, more people are high than ever.

Skyfall is nothing special. Alan Smithee lost track of the number of times someone had a clear shot of the bad guy and didn't take it (let's discuss things first!). And he was bewildered by the lengthy and boring fight-atop-a-moving-train, the approximately ten-millionth in film history. He also wondered: why did the latest Bond girl have to die (spoiler alert), especially as 007 killed every bad guy in the scene seconds later. Any reason he couldn't do that before the hottie got shot in the head?

Javier Bardem manages to provide some moments of entertainment, but only about 20 minutes worth (out of 143). If, however, you just need a break from the events of your life, Skyfall gives the most minutes per dollar of any current release.

Why did I have to die?

Monday, October 08, 2012

Looper (2012)

Alan Smithee reveals what makes Looper a great science fiction film.

1. The premise, which initially seemed only moderately promising, but which yields much more than Alan Smithee predicted.

2. The acting. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis each do that thing each of them does, but it's Emily Blunt who is the heart of the film and who you remember after the film is over, and not just because she's purty.

3. The ending, which took Alan Smithee by surprise, but which he immediately understood was where the film was always heading.

Comparisons have been made to many films, including The Terminator (apt), The Matrix (inapt), and The Sixth Sense (somewhat apt: the ending does reverberate back through the film, but not in a Shyamalan kind of way). Go see.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Broken English (2007)


Here's one I rented solely because Parker Posey appeared in it, which has always been sufficient reason to watch a film in the past. I would otherwise never have discovered the astonishing Josie and the Pussycats (2001).

Besides Posey's adorable-enough character Nora, there is unlikeable movie star/one night stand Nick (Justin Theroux), unpleasant best friend Audrey (Drea de Matteo), and unwatchable French love interest Julien (Who Cares). The viewer is supposed to root for Nora to throw caution to the wind and fly to Paris to find Julien, whereas I could never get past his hat.

It seems the only cure for American neuroticism is the happy-go-lucky romanticism of the French. Fortunately, flights to and from Paris can be booked, canceled, and rebooked, as whim dictates, for apparently modest cost, at least if this film is to be believed.

For fans of Parker Posey only, and even then, bring a book.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Persepolis (2007)



Alan Smithee is aware that what The Man tells us about the country of Iran does not square with what he knows of Iran from the films of Abbas Kiarostami, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Jafar Panahi, and others. A viewing of Kiarostami's Ten (2002) should be enough to throw doubt on The Man's current characterization of Iran. Americans in particular should be wary when anyone equates the character of a nation with the policies of its government.

Persepolis began as a "graphic novel," and it went a long way toward showing the gap between the values of Iranian people and their fundamentalist government. But where the cartoon was funny, touching, and educational, the film is preachy and confusing. And Marjane, the heroine of the book, comes across here as insufferable; she seems unable or unwilling to get along with anyone, and is disdainful of everyone except her immediate family.

The animation looks great, but that doesn't make Marjane any more likable.

Alan Smithee recommends you go see WALL·E (2008); if you've already seen it, then today would be a good day to stay sober and read Persepolis on the couch. It's worth it.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Brown Bunny (2003)



Alan Smithee used to have a DVD player that allowed him to view films in fast forward with sound. It was perfect for the obligatory music video segment that is part of almost every movie made since 1990. It also converted The Brown Bunny from 93 minutes of tedium into a mildly entertaining 46.5 minute film.

Vincent Gallo directed the wonderful Buffalo '66 (1998); if you haven't seen it, Alan Smithee recommends you rent it now, then return here and read the rest of this review. Mr. Gallo made it clear in interviews that he thought an awful lot of himself, and when The Brown Bunny was poorly reviewed, he quit filmmaking to adore himself privately.

At standard speed, Alan Smithee must agree that The Brown Bunny is not a very good film. In double time, however, it ain't half bad. Interminable scenes of Bud (Gallo) riding his motorcycle become merely a little long, and perhaps even create the meditative rhythm that Mr Gallo was trying for. The ending is still unnecessarily graphic (and ludicrous), but it lasts half as long.

Alan Smithee wishes he could remember the model number of that DVD player for those who wish to recreate the experience described above. It might have been a Toshiba.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Final Destination 3 (2006)



Final Destination (2000) was groundbreaking if only in that it introduced in its plot a new reason for killing teenagers: They were supposed to die in a plane crash, but they didn't. Now Death is angry/confused/resorting to mathematical formulae. FD3 is a shameless reworking of earlier moods, but it's still better than Cold Mountain.

Yes, it asks us to believe that the human body is composed largely of red goo with a soft outer shell that bursts on impact, but what wonderful things result from such a belief! Our intrepid heroes, who are trying desperately to warn The Others, keep witnessing their deaths, and, in the process, get repeatedly splattered with the gooey insides of their multicultural friends. (It's true - we are all the same on the inside!) It's vaguely pornographic, and it satisfies.

Inasmuch as this reviewer thinks about his death, he can't help thinking that a quick, splattery head-smooshing wouldn't be a bad way to go. This film gives him hope.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

2 Days in Paris (2007)


After Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004), Alan Smithee got the impression that Julie Delpy was interesting. With 2 Days in Paris, which she also wrote and directed, she demonstrates otherwise.

The film opens with an annoying couple (Marion and Jack) trying to hail a taxi. Almost immediately, one doesn't care. Then, just as one is preparing to press eject, the pair arrives at Marion's parents', and the film suddenly entertains. A sister arrives shortly after, and the ensuing scenes at Marion's house are the best in the film.

Unfortunately, Delpy miscalculates. The film follows the couple around Paris, to the dismay of all. We are supposed to be learning something about love, but in case we aren't, Delpy provides a voice-over, where we are told, among other things, that breaking up "hurts so much." You get the idea.

The entertaining parents are played by Delpy's actual parents, both actors, and one presumes they were not consulted during the editing process.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Taken (2008)



Liam Neeson's implausibly virginal daughter is kidnapped by men with accents, and he must use his CIA training to get her back/kill them. Alan Smithee expected to simply enjoy this revenge fantasy and not worry overly much about how stupid it was or wasn't. But Neeson's single-mindedness is the film's undoing.

Alan Smithee got that Neeson's daughter, who is scheduled to be sold into prostitution, is super precious to him, but all those other kidnapped hotties have dads too! Neeson pops his head into each of their curtained sex cubicles ("Nope, not my daughter") but doesn't lift a finger to help them. Would a quick phone call to the authorities kill him? But the worst action film faux pas: he drives 100 miles an hour the wrong way down the road, risking the lives of hundreds of motorists! You have to be saving the world to justify that kind of safety violation. No one daughter is worth all that, no matter how adorable she is.

Alan Smithee isn't spoiling the film when he tells you that the daughter is returned to her loving family (and birthday pony!) in the end. It's supposed to be heartwarming, but Alan Smithee was wondering Isn't anyone going to do anything about that huge prostitution ring?!

To be avoided.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)



A bunch of small town hotheads get themselves worked up after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and kill the local Japanese-American farmer. Four years later, a one-armed army vet named Macreedy (Spencer Tracy) shows up in town, and the hotheads worry he might discover their secret. They try to run him off, but he don't scare so easy, see. Tough guy Coley (Ernest Borgnine) turns to violence, but one-arm gives him an ass-kicking unlike any other on film. It satisfies.

This is a must-see film. Alan Smithee is embarrassed that he hasn't appreciated Mr. Tracy's work enough, when really he should be more embarrassed about the fact that he hasn't had a steady job in over two years.

Should be watched with beer on hand, as usual.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Penelope (2006)



Penelope is another well-made, well-acted film that only needed a much better script. The idea was a good one - Penelope has a pig nose and no one will love/marry her and lift her curse. She sets off to see the world and finds that she only ever needed to love herself. Sounds good, right?

Two problems: one, when Penelope finally learns to love herself, her reward is: she gets a normal nose. Huh? This mixed message brought to you by writer Leslie Caveny ("Everybody Loves Raymond"); two, Christina Ricci looks absolutely adorable with a pig nose. Alan Smithee almost freeze-framed his DVD and kissed his TV screen. Who wouldn't want to marry that?

Some pluses: Reese Witherspoon and Peter Dinklage are both excellent, and the art direction is fantastic. Still, you might want to get out some knitting or start a filing project while watching this one. Best of luck.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)



This movie doesn't so much suck as blow. Perhaps I should have seen it in the theater; on a standard 4:3 television, the image is the size of a business envelope. I suspect that on the big screen, the look of the film partially makes up for the boring, Harry-centric story, the lackluster performances, and the dragon-bashing.

Kids will love it, of course, but then kids love when you fall down or someone farts. Avoid at all costs.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Friends with Benefits (2011)


What do you want? It was 100 degrees today. Alan Smithee needed somewhere to escape the heat, and this showing of FWB was conveniently timed.

This film should have been called Friends with Benefits and Emo Music given the amount of whispery songs about feelings it contains. Mila Kunis, who stood out in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, does an adequate job, and Justin Timberlake matches her competence level. Only in the opening scene, when Kunis is intercut with Smithee favorite Emma Stone (and pales in comparison), do we notice something lacking. The numerous sex scenes are, like all sex scenes, boring, even more so because they take place between creepily buff young people and/or their butt doubles.

Like a lot of mainstream films these days, the supporting players (Patricia Clarkson, Richard Jenkins, Woody Harrelson, Shaun White) make the whole thing watchable. Harrelson in particular, as a butch gay man, entertains.

"Alan," you ask, "should I pay good money to see this in the theater or just wait 'til they show it for free on cable?" Given that this type of film attracts an audience of texters, talkers, and other sociopaths, Alan Smithee would advise you to wait.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Serendipity (2001)


This film is part of Alan Smithee's voluminous Christmas movie collection; any film in which one or more scenes take place during the Christmas season can gain admission into the collection, provided the film also fills one with Christmas spirit, and provided one can follow the story after a large glass of wine.

Serendipity stars the always likeable John Cusack, as well as Kate Beckinsale, just six years after her magnificence in Cold Comfort Farm (1995). After a ludicrous set-up, the film settles into a long and satisfying middle section, which entertains in large part because of supporting players Jeremy Piven, Molly Shannon, and the delicious but large-headed John Corbett. Shannon and Piven, as the best friends of the two main characters, nearly steal the film, which turns conventional in the final act. I usually plan my alcohol inhalation so that I am unconscious by the final scenes, which play out much as one would suspect.

Those who live in New York City can visit Serendipity the restaurant, from which the film takes its name, and witness the line of tourists waiting outside in the cold for a table. Why? Because it was in a movie. It truly is the darkest age of Man.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Knowing (2009)

Alan Smithee has a high tolerance for hokum in science fiction films. Knowing starts compellingly, with a creepy/cute elementary school student fifty years in the past who scribbles strings of numbers on a sheet of paper. Enter modern day physics professor John Koestler (Nicolas Cage), who sees the paper and deciphers the pattern. Turns out Koestler has some world-saving to do, and Cage's patented hysteria is perfect for the role.

Koestler spends the middle section of the film trying to prevent various disasters, to mildly entertaining effect. But then things go horribly wrong. Alan Smithee was willing to ignore the fact that the bad guys (or are they good guys?) look like members of a German techno band. He was willing to ignore the superfluous biblical references that attempt to infuse the film with metaphysical import. But he could not ignore the ludicrous and profoundly unsatisfactory resolution, topped by a final shot that perhaps the filmmakers thought would warm viewer's hearts but which Alan Smithee found puzzling and terrifying.

Alan Smithee recommends you catch this one on cable and, after the scene in the subway, change the channel to anything else.

Nicolas Cage's Professor John Koestler meets the techno band

Monday, May 16, 2011

A few short reviews


Bridesmaids (2011)
The greatest film of 2011 so far. Can someone get Alan Smithee Kristen Wiig's phone number (also a job and some attractive personality traits)?

Boots Malone (1952)
When Alan Smithee was young, he used to hang out in the stables at the racetrack. Surprised? He is qualified to say that this film about a washed-up agent training a young jockey for a big race is full of realistic details of life at the track. William Holden is a bit too screamy at times, and the ending contains exactly zero surprises, but overall, the film entertains.

Triple Agent (2004)
Alan Smithee has always enjoyed the chatty films of Eric Rohmer, but as the chatter in this film is about 1930's European politics, a subject about which Alan Smithee was poorly schooled, this one was a tough slog.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

An Alan Smithee Film Festival, May 4 - May 10, 2011

Three Kings (1999)
Alan Smithee attended a screening of Three Kings when it was released, and he remembers enjoying it, so he thought it worth a re-viewing. There's no doubt it entertains. It goes slack in the second half, and loses its sense of humor, but overall, it satisfies. This was the first film in which George Clooney successfully controlled his distracting head-wagging, and shedding that one tic paved the way for his transformation to Hollywood mega-superstar. Recommended.

The Crazies (2010)

This slightly above-average film is made substantially more watchable by the presence of Timothy Olyphant, who is on Alan Smithee's list of men he would consider switching teams for. Alan Smithee is currently prepared to cuddle with Mr. Olyphant should he request it. Anything more, and Alan Smithee would have to think about it.

Up (2009)
Pixar has made two masterpieces, Monsters, Inc. (2001) and WALL-E(2008); there is a good argument for calling Up their third. Alan Smithee saw Up in 3D when it was released, so he was curious whether it would entertain in RegularD. For those wondering: it does. Pixar has only made two turkeys, Cars (2006) and Ratatouille (2007). Yet their next scheduled release is Cars 2. Explain.

The Search (1948)
An honestish and frank look at post-World War II orphaned children. This was Montgomery Clift's first film, and it's clear he meant to bring a "naturalness" to his performance. He seems to be in a different movie than everyone else, for better or worse. The New York Times wrote that Clift brought "precisely the right combination of intensity and casualness into the role." Alan Smithee found the casualness at odds with the tone of the film. Recommended for its sensitivity to the subject matter, and for its setting; the film was shot in the ruins of post-war Germany.

The Cat's Meow (2001)
This moderately well-reviewed Peter Bogdanovich film doesn't add up to a lot. It picks up in the second half, if you make it that far, when Edward Herrmann, who Alan Smithee remembers fondly from TV's Gilmore Girls, finds an opportunity to entertain. To be watched if you are home sick and don't have the energy to change the channel.

Back from Eternity (1956)
A standard adventure film made above-average by excellent acting from Robert Ryan and Rod Steiger (the New York Times called their performances "outstandingly conventional"). William C. Mellor, who was cinematographer on Giant, Bad Day at Black Rock, and many others, contributes much to the film's atmosphere.

Tarzan's New York Adventure (1942)
Surprisingly, TNYA was well-reviewed by several sources. The film has about 1,000 percent more chimpanzee shenanigans than any person over the age of six would care to view, and a little bit of Johnny Weissmuller goes a long way, however, the scenes featuring a scantily-clad Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane make it all worthwhile.
You see what I mean

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1968)
Life is miserable for everybody, and then they die. Here's a film about that.

My Gun Is Quick (1957)
Old B-movies were often filmed on location rather than in the studio to save money, and that can give them a kind of realism not found in A-movies. My Gun Is Quick, however, was filmed at Allied Artists Studio, a so-called "poverty-row studio." The sets look cheap, and they're almost barren. Add to that a dull script (though with one or two zingers) and you have a decidedly boring affair. The acting, surprisingly, is not terrible. Better than Johnny Weissmuller.

Lured (1947)
How can you go wrong with a cast that includes George Sanders, Joseph Calleia, Boris Karloff, Charles Coburn and Lucille Ball in a film directed by Douglas Sirk? This is a fun little film, shot with flair, that becomes less interesting near the end as it focuses on the solution to the murder-mystery. Recommended.

The Illusionist (2010)
During Alan Smithee's formative years, he and his father made regular pilgrimages to two great Sacramento movie houses, The Showcase and The Old J (both now defunct). At some point, he saw the entire Jacques Tati oeuvre, so his hopes were high for this new animated film from the director of the creepy The Triplets of Belleville (2003). Fortunately, Chomet's penchant for grotesque characters is kept in check, and he is unable to ruin the bittersweet story by Tati.

Millennium (1989)
The weak link in this sci-fi movie, as you might guess, is Cheryl Ladd. I hate to say it, as she was my favorite Angel. Her acting is oddly better when she plays her character in the future, but Alan Smithee is splitting hairs - she still stinks pretty bad. Still, it holds the attention, and it's better than My Gun Is Quick.

This concludes the Alan Smithee Film Festival. Now, isn't it time for your own film festival?

An Alan Smithee film festival

From Wednesday, May 4, to Tuesday, May 10, there will be a marathon film viewing session Chez Smithee. Watch this space for reviews of all the films.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bad Movies


There are certain movies that They always cite as examples of "bad movies," and Ishtar (1987) gets mentioned more than any other. Yet I remember liking Ishtar when I first saw it. I re-watched it a few years ago, in case I was high the first time, and despite a bit too much tomfoolery, and the inclusion of a Superfluous Love Interest, it still entertains. The leads (Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty) play off each other well, and the "bad" songs (by Paul Williams) are the best part of the film. Writer/Director Elaine May said it best: "If all of the people who hate Ishtar had seen it, I would be a rich woman today."


Anything Else (2003) was panned by many critics who were put off by Jason Biggs' and Christina Ricci's impersonations of Woody Allen and Diane Keaton, respectively. But, once, when Alan Smithee found himself stuck waiting for someone in a strange apartment in New York City, he read the only book he could find, "Tuesdays With Morrie." Anything Else is the only antidote to that book he has ever found. Jerry (Biggs) receives advice from father-figure David (Woody Allen), except the advice is always terrible. Hilarity ensures.


As long as we are discussing good bad movies, Alan Smithee would like to mention a bad good movie. Saving Private Ryan (1998), which was very well reviewed, was as emotionally manipulative a film as has ever been made. You can see the calculation in every scene, and as a result, the film is awfully predictable (or maybe that was because we'd seen some of the scenes before, in Full Metal Jacket and other films). Many veterans of D-Day remarked how realistic Saving Private Ryan was, which only proves that realistic films are not necessarily good ones. Spielberg has always been a master technician, and he has occasionally used his talent to stunning effect (as in Minority Report (2005)). But this film is an insult to the viewer's intelligence.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ten (2002)



Alan Smithee is aware that what The Man tells us about the country of Iran does not square with what he knows of Iran from the films of Abbas Kiarostami, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Jafar Panahi, and others. A viewing of Kiarostami's Ten (2002) should be enough to throw doubt on The Man's current characterization of Iran. Americans in particular should be wary when anyone equates the character of a nation with the policies of its government.

The film captures ten conversations between a female driver in Tehran and the passengers in her car. No one is chasing her and nothing explodes. There is no nudity. The soundtrack contains no Indie pop. A voiceover is not present to explain things. You will have to do some paying attention and maybe some thinking with this one.

Yes, the entire film takes place in a single day inside one woman's car, but why should that stop you from watching it? New and different things can be scary, but Alan Smithee knows you can do it!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (2011)

Alan Smithee is predisposed neither toward nor against this type of film. He enjoyed the first Harold & Kumar film, but passed on the second. AVH&K3C did not make him laugh much, nor did it give him a Christmassy feeling, two failures he cannot forgive it for.

In the first moments of this film, Kumar jumps into Santa's lap and says to the parents in line "your son will get his chance to rub his ass on Santa's cock in a minute." The joke is only funny in an OMG-he-said-Santa's-cock way, which is to say, not very funny. It's a problem that plagues much of the film. To paraphrase Dr. Waxling in Search and Destroy, "Just because it's outrageous, doesn't mean it's funny." One of the most entertaining moments in the film is when Kumar blows 3D pot smoke into the audience's face. That should tell you something.

Here are some things Alan Smithee liked: Danny Trejo's Christmas fetish; Thomas Lennon's portrait of the nervous father; Neil Patrick Harris as the straight-actor-pretending-to-be-gay. Here's what Alan Smithee didn't like: Paying $16.

Skip AVH&K3C, stay home, and watch Bad Santa again.

Correction: Alan Smithee also liked Jake M. Johnson as Jesus

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Iron Man 2 (2010)



Peter Travers of Rolling Stone called Iron Man 2 "A total blast." A.O. Scott of The New York Times said IM2 is "More of the same, with emphasis on more." Roger Ebert called it "a polished, high-octane sequel." All lies.

The truth: Alan Smithee favorite Robert Downey coasts through most of the film, though the writing doesn't give him much to work with. Scarlett Johansson tries once again to get by on her alleged sultriness and fails (and bores everyone). The story comes alive only sparingly, in between all the flying/shooting/yelling, as when Tony Stark discovers and synthesizes a new element.

Some other bright spots: Sam Rockwell and Mickey Rourke emerge from the muddle to entertain. Gwyneth Paltrow (who needs to hire a nanny so she can get back to work entertaining the world) is given more to do this time, and we appreciate it.

But Alan, you ask, this bitch is long - is it worth my time? First of all, call me Mr. Smithee. Second of all: no. Alan Smithee was able to make it through IM2 because he was transfixed by the aforementioned exceptional performances, but the film as a whole kinda sucks.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)



Sometimes, Alan Smithee is lured to the local multiplex by the not terrible reviews of the latest major studio release. If he is lucky, there are enough amusing moments in one of these committee-made, personality-driven films to make it worth the matinee price.

As you may know, multiple writers often work on the scripts for these films—many anonymously—so that every element deemed essential to box office success is present. The result is that every audience member enjoys something in the film (but the film as a whole is a failure).

Hot Tub Time Machine is yet another product of this process. It has something for everyone, except those who enjoy excellence. John Cusack is present to lend the film a patina of intelligence (and he is conspicuously absent from the stupidest scenes). All the usual archetypes are there—the amusing black friend, the nerdy teenager—and the writers exploit them for the usual jokes. Did you know that young people spend lots of time using new technologies? Isn’t that hilarious?

Alan Smithee admits that he enjoyed this film, primarily because it distracted him from whatever meaningless crap he was wasting his time thinking about.

Sometimes, hours after Alan Smithee has seen one of these movies, when he's completely forgotten the experience ever happened, he’ll overhear young revelers walking home from the multiplex talking about a movie they’ve seen in their loud and belligerent voices. Through all the cursing, he’ll realize that they’re retelling scenes from the very movie he saw, and inevitably, it’s the stupidest ones.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Crazy Heart (2009)



Critics are unanimously praising Jeff Bridges' performance in CH, but really, when has he ever not given a great performance? He's one of the only reasons to see this film, besides the excellent scenes with Robert Duvall. Maggie Gyllenhaal, not a Smithee favorite, brings her cool-girl aura that always manages to repel. The story is trite; nothing happens that we haven't seen in countless other films. But the small town details have a naturalistic feel, due in part to excellent work by all the bit players, and Bridges makes it worth seeing, as always.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Alan Smithee Selects the Best Films of the Year - Whatever Year It Was - and Then Lists Them One After Another

Up in the Air
Ever since George Clooney learned how to hold his head still while acting (approximately 2000 A.D.), he's become much more effective, and UITA is a perfect vehicle for whatever it is he does. It has a tendency to hold the audience's hand a bit too much, but Alan Smithee forgave it that because it was so entertaining.

Fantastic Mr. Fox
After the self-indulgent and unfunny The Darjeeling Limited (2007), Wes Anderson bounced back with this original and entertaining film that no one saw. FMF is wry and touching - possibly due to the collaboration with Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale (2005)) - and visually delightful.

Up
Up joins Monsters, Inc. (2001) and WALL·E (2008) as one of Pixar's masterpieces. The talking dog collars alone are worth the price of admission.

The White Ribbon
Didn't see it. Was it good?

District 9
Alan Smithee chose to ignore the inconsistent portrait of the aliens in District 9 and enjoy the visceral sensation the film creates, which stays in your memory for a long time.

Whip It
No one ever remembers comedies like this at award and end-of-the-year listmaking time. But Whip It, which reminded Alan Smithee of Breaking Away (1979) (it even features BA's Daniel Stern - very effective as the father) was one of the best of the year.

Duplicity
An above average espionage film made more intriguing by its clever structure.

Most overrated films of the year - whatever year it was

(500) Days of Summer was structurally interesting, but otherwise creepy. It almost ruined Zooey Deschanel for Alan Smithee, but her recent cameo on TV's "Bones" won him back.

Away We Go - Alan Smithee has long had a thing for Maya Rudolph, but AWG (co-written by Dave Eggers) felt shallow and elitist - proof that novelists don't necessarily make good screenwriters.

Avatar just looks like it would be terrible.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

District 9 (2009)



Geoff Berkshire of Metromix called District 9 "a late summer sleeper that puts most of Hollywood to shame." Alan Smithee would like to agree, but as soon as this film began, a man in a nearby seat began discussing it loudly with his wife (or possibly daughter) in a sociopathic fashion, causing Alan Smithee to lose focus.

After moving back several rows in the theater (the only effective way to avoid loud talkers), Alan Smithee became engrossed in an early scene involving the eviction of aliens from their blighted township. The scene so engrossed the young couple behind Alan Smithee that they felt compelled to discuss it. They used whispers, but still.

After another move, Alan Smithee tried to reengage with the film, but a young man in the row ahead began texting someone on a device with a rather large and bright screen. This is of course against theater policy (as well as rude), but young people never worry about how their behavior affects others (or themselves). By shifting one seat over, Alan Smithee managed to remove the texting device from his sight line.

The film seemed compelling, but Alan Smithee can't be sure until he's seen it in its entirety without some motherfucker opening his fat mouth. Will keep readers updated.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Two Independent films


Lars and the Real Girl (2007) received some good reviews, but Alan Smithee was afraid it would be too precious, so he avoided it. But Lars looked good enough for Alan Smithee to put in his Netflix queue, especially when he couldn't think of anything else.

When Lars works, it works because of Ryan Gosling's unwinking performance. It is at its best when the townspeople take Lars' Real Girl seriously as his girlfriend. But scenes such as one in which the Real Girl reads a story to a class of children border on the quirky and threaten to derail the central conceit. Ultimately, the film holds it together and, most importantly, entertains. Plus the doll was hot.


(500) Days of Summer (2009) received uniformly good reviews, which only demonstrates the biases of film critics. Structurally, the film is interesting. Alan Smithee admits to being predisposed to enjoying anything with Zooey Deschanel, but this film managed to make her creepy. Her Summer Finn would make Alan Smithee run very far away in search of anyone else. I blame the script, because I'm not capable of blaming Zooey, and because it was the script.

The film's message, that there's one Special Someone out there for each of us, may be true, but do we really want our films to have messages?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Up (2009)



At the urging of an acquaintance, Alan Smithee attended a showing of Up in Disney Digital 3D. The acquaintance praised the impressiveness of the 3D effect, which is created digitally, unlike with 3D films of old, such as The Tingler (1959).

Alan Smithee was wildly entertained, but he is unsure what percentage of the effect was due to imaginative storytelling and what percentage to the 3D effect. It certainly made action sequences come alive. If only one could apply a digital 3D effect to certain life experiences, perhaps they might not be so soul-deadeningly dull.

The experience was worth $15, especially when you remember that one day you will be dead, and $15 can't change that.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Pecker (1998)



As Alan Smithee gets older, he realizes that there are only a handful of contemporary American directors who have a distinctive voice that one can identify in their films and that can be satisfying in way that is independent of the other qualities of a film. Some examples are Woody Allen and Robert Altman, as well as younger directors like Wes Anderson and Todd Solondz.

John Waters is a distinctive comedic voice, and with Pecker, he reined in some of his more camp tendencies and made what Alan Smithee feels is his most satisfying film. Here's a classic Watersian comic moment: Pecker is an amateur photographer who makes it big in the New York art world. When his girlfriend Shelley catches him kissing the gallery owner, she screams "I hate modern photography!" Alan Smithee has observed that even those weaned on modern Hollywood comedies are capable of understanding and enjoying Pecker. And for those with some discernment, it satisfies.

Alan Smithee finds that re-viewing the work of the aforementioned directors brings him comfort as he ages. The world around him grows increasingly more generic, but their voices remain undiluted. They are American treasures.

Monday, April 20, 2009

City of Ember (2008)


Movies made from books face the challenge of being true to the original story while still succeeding as movies. Usually, they are most successful when they jettison those parts of the story that do not serve the film. The astonishing Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004) distilled events from the first three books in the Snicket series into a wildly entertaining film that inexplicably did not win the hearts of the millions of youngsters who read the books.

City of Ember begins compellingly; within minutes, you are absorbed in the story and its characters (all well-played, with Bill Murray relaxed and playful). An early scene in which the young citizens of Ember are assigned their jobs perfectly captures the look and feel of the imaginary world. And the film manages to sustain nearly this same level of interest for another hour, give or take.

The final third of the film, however, devolves into a play-by-play of the children's escape. And when they are finally free, a moment that should inspire awe passes so quickly that the credits are rolling before the viewer has taken it in. At only 90 minutes, the film could easily have taken five or ten more minutes to satisfactorily conclude. A missed opportunity, but still worth seeing.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Last Chance Harvey (2008)



Over the last few years, Dustin Hoffman has been quietly giving some of the best performances of his career. As the mob boss in Confidence (2003), he was sinister in new and delightful ways. He was a big part of what made viewers give in to the delicious nonsense of I ♥ Huckabees (2004). And in the titular role in Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium (2007) he was playful and eminently entertaining. So Alan Smithee came into Last Chance Harvey with high hopes. The film has problems, but it is still much better than one might suspect.

The first half hour deftly depicts just how disappointing and humiliating life is for most people, most of the time. In the central love story, Hoffman and Emma Thompson play off each other well, and though Alan Smithee isn't sure he ever quite believed them as a couple, he cannot deny he was entertained. Refreshingly, the film takes place in a world much closer to the real one than to the world of Romantic Comedy. One example: both main characters have normal jobs just like real people; there are no architects, fashion designers, writers, or art gallery owners in the entire film!

The film is in "limited release," which in this case means it is playing in just 16 theaters, because movies are a business, and no one wants to see a movie about old people. Luckily, Alan Smithee lives in a large metropolis in which four of those theaters are located. Readers are encouraged to add it their Netflix queue (Availability Unknown).

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)



Alan Smithee rarely sees a film that makes him think. This is partly because most films aren't trying to say anything (or they're trying, but failing), and partly because Alan Smithee only has a short window of time each day during which he can do heavy thinking, to wit, the period beginning after his morning coffee kicks in up until the time when he needs to go down for his nap.

Even with limited time to think, Alan Smithee understood that Happy-Go-Lucky is not "an exuberant comedy," and the main character, Poppy, does not have "an innate effervescence that plays off beautifully against adversity." (Entertainment Weekly)

Something else is going on. The viewer gets to know Poppy by watching how she handles different situations. Though she is "happy-go-lucky," she still has to be an adult in the world, and the viewer can almost see her making decisions at crucial moments. The film fascinates because, to borrow from Flannery O'Connor, everything is rendered, nothing is told.

The critics have praised Sally Hawkins' performance, but take note of the uniformly excellent work by all the supporting players. Alan Smithee fell in love a little bit with Poppy's relatively jaded roommate Zoe, but he is almost fully recovered now.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Tropic Thunder (2008)


Just when Alan Smithee thought Tom Cruise was irrelevant - his last palatable performance was John Anderton in Minority Report (2002) - he dons a fat suit and generates some of the most memorable comic moments in Tropic Thunder. Alan Smithee laughed hard when Cruise's Les Grossman finished a video conference and screeched at his assistant "Diet Coke!" The seductive dance he does for Matthew McConaughey's Rick Peck was so entertaining that he reprised it for the credit roll. For sheer gonads, the performance ranks with his inspired turn as motivational speaker Frank Mackey in the otherwise ludicrous Magnolia (1999).

It's easy to forget when watching Ben Stiller, Jack Black (and others) how good they are at what they do. The public tends to get bored with actors if they don't up the ante after a while. So the film, while very funny in parts, doesn't feel funny enough. A scene in which Robert Downey Jr. analyzes Ben Stiller's acting as he is being forced to perform for his captors is so clever, it makes one realize what is missing from much of the rest of the film. Still, with this many great actors all doing excellent work, one cannot say one didn't get one's $9 worth ($11.00 in New York City).

And while Alan Smithee thought Robert Downey Jr.'s performance as an African American platoon leader was inspired, the things he said were often not that funny.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

A Short Film by Alan Smithee (2008)

for D. Chedwick Bryant

Written, Produced and Directed by Alan Smithee
From an idea by Alan Smithee
Cinematography: Alan Smithee
Editing: Alan Smithee
Set Decoration: Alan Smithee
Unit Manager: Alan Smithee
Costume Design: Alan Smithee (gowns)
Music: "Melancholia" by Edward Kennedy Ellington

Friday, August 01, 2008

The Dark Knight (2008)



The reviews for The Dark Knight were uniformly good, something that always makes Alan Smithee suspicious. Film reviewers also tend to overpraise any performance when it's an actor's last. All this left us unsure how to proceed: is the film good or no?

Alan Smithee is here to tell you: don't be afraid, the film is good. Heath Ledger's performance is not the life-changing event the reviewers claim, but it is very good, and very entertaining. The action sequences, especially the capturing of a Bad Guy from an office building, are tons of fun, and if Alan Smithee had fun, then just about any unmedicated person will.

The film has an odd tendency to cut away from the action, especially violent action. Perhaps this was how it managed its PG-13 rating. But overall, it is very well-made. There is some very effective cross-cutting that creates tension at key moments, and all the actors do excellent work.

The best part: TDK is over 2 1/2 hours long. For those who, like Alan Smithee, are desperately seeking a moment's relief from their miserable existence, it's like an extra hour's break from the brain's relentless jabbering for the price of a regular ticket!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

WALL·E (2008)



After Cars (2006) and Ratatouille (2007), this reviewer had almost given up on Pixar Animation Studios. Their first films (Toy Story I and II, A Bug's Life) were never less than entertaining, then with the wildly imaginative Monsters, Inc. (2001), they astonished. No one who saw Monsters emerged unchanged.

Finding Nemo (2003), and The Incredibles (2004) were a return to earlier form, but the latter day films have been Disneyesque and largely lame. Now comes WALL·E.

The film opens on a devastated earth some 700 years in the future. WALL·E the robot dwells there seemingly alone, and the early scenes beautifully depict his lonely existence. When a female robot named Eve arrives, WALL·E falls in love. Alan Smithee didn't find Eve particularly attractive - sure, she has a great personality, but she's shaped like an egg - but to each his own.

The good news is the film has stretches of Monsters-like brilliance, as well as an engrossing visual style. The story isn't particularly funny, but one hardly notices. Alan Smithee did not hear any children in the theater complaining, so WALL·E must somehow have captivated them without pop culture references, "humorous" sidekicks, or inane physical jokes. Perhaps things are getting better.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Go Orange!

Alan Smithee is honoring June 5th Go Orange! with a review of either A Clockwork Orange (1971) or Orange County (2002). Since much has been written about A Clockwork Orange, and since Alan Smithee has difficulty untangling ACO from his earliest memories of watching it illicitly on the Q Channel, failing to understand it, and noticing only the holes that were cut in a shirt to reveal part of a woman's breasts, he has decided to focus on Orange County instead.



Orange County, a just-okay teen comedy, featured the offspring of both Sissy Spacek and Tom Hanks, either because they are stunningly talented performers, or for some other reason known only to Hollywood insiders. Alan Smithee frankly can't remember Sissy Jr.'s performance, but she takes a nice 8 X 10 glossy. It is interesting to note that she has not continued in film, and recently began recording an album. It must be nice to have options.

Colin Hanks has not fared as well. He lacks some of his father's goodish looks, and much of his talent. He continues to get work, but not in anything you would have seen. But Alan Smithee wishes him well, for Tom's sake, and for the sake of all super-rich sons who live in the shadow of their fathers.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Iron Man (2008)



Alan Smithee couldn't give a crap about the Iron Man comic, and he is unfamiliar with the original story. He went to this movie solely because of his well-documented love of the performances of Mr. Robert Downey Jr.

Mr. Downey Jr. plays Tony Stark, a wealthy industrialist who - frankly, Alan Smithee didn't care. As long as Downey Jr. was on-screen, all was well. Gwyneth Paltrow, long a Smithee favorite, brings pizazz to her disappointingly small role, and director Jon Favreau keeps the action rolling swiftly along.

Iron Man is at its best when documenting Stark's construction and fine-tuning of his creation. The film culminates in an overlong battle between Iron Man and Who Cares that introduces the first moments of boredom to the film, but that was to be expected. Iron Man fans and those who fetishize special effects, however, will cream their jeans.

While giving Robert Downey Jr. a large amount of money is probably, in the long run, a bad idea, if the result is films like this, then Alan Smithee feels that sacrificing the life of one actor for the entertainment of millions is the right thing to do.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Made of Honor (2008)



Alan Smithee admits that his life right now is not scintillating. That explains why he prefers attending first run movies of questionable quality to whatever it is he does when he is not at the movies.

The critics said Made of Honor was a "cookie-cutter comedy," a predictable "paint by numbers" movie. They receive a generous salary for telling us what we already know. Romantic comedies are based on a tired formula, but some do entertain. We need to know if this is one of them.

Alan Smithee is here to tell you: it is not. "Made of Honor" is one of those double entendre titles that has no second entendre. Who or what is "made of honor" in the film? Answer: nothing. That should be a hint of the level of brainpower behind the script.

The actors are more than up to the task, and the film is well directed, but Alan Smithee found that it could not hold his attention, and he began to recall the details of his life outside the theater, precisely what he goes to the movies to forget.

Depressing, at best.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Charlie Wilson's War (2007)



We put this film in our Netflix queue before we saw Enchanted (2007) and fell deeply in love with Ms. Amy Adams, whom we like to refer to around the house as Amy Adams-Smithee. So we were surprised to see her here playing Congressman Wilson's administrative assistant. She is given little to do in the film, but that's okay, because Philip Seymour "How's the Peepin" Hoffman does enough entertaining for both of them, and Tom Hanks finally earns those Oscars he received for whatever crap he received them for. He breezes through this film, leaving in his wake pure entertainment.

Those who normally fear any project involving "writer" Aaron Sorkin need not worry. Either the original source material was so good as to be incorruptible, or Mr. Sorkin is improving, in which case there is hope for mankind.

Julia Roberts is adequate, as usual.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Atonement (2007)



M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense (1999) introduced a new kind of surprise ending to film, and since then, filmmakers, including Shyamalan himself, have attempted to duplicate it, with varying results. Remember the atrocious Identity (2003), in which the surprise ending was so lame that it succeeded in diminishing the entire film?

There have been numerous other failures. Atonement is not a failure, but it comes close. Before you object and say But Mr. Smithee, Sir, Atonement is based on a famous book, let me just say that I don't care. A film must stand on its own merits, if any.

The first act is intriguing; we see the same event from different points of view, and the film seems to be getting at some sort of truth. But the second act devolves into a Spielbergian technical exercise that, while never less than entertaining, does little to advance the story.

Then we get the surprise ending, in which the meta-story is chosen over the story. The move is supposed to elicit emotions, whereas to this viewer, it felt more like a cheap trick. We feel a sense of loss, but mostly for the film that never was.


The filmmaker's attempt to make Romola Garai look plain also fails miserably, much to the viewer's delight.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)



Sometimes we go to a film because we have a thing for the star. Alan Smithee is only human. After Enchanted (2007), was it really possible for a grown man to think about anything other than Amy Adams? Also, could that man be expected to refrain from daydreaming about meeting and wooing Ms. Adams (provided he has finally gotten a job and a haircut)? Alan Smithee won't pretend to understand what floats other men's boats; he can only say that love of the kind he has found with Ms. Adams in his imagination is rare indeed.

As for the film, with an excellent script and so many fine actors, one must fault the director for the flatness of the picture. Mr. Nalluri's last outing was the made-for-TV Tsunami: The Aftermath (2006), both nights of which Alan Smithee watched, which gives you an idea of how fulfilling life is in the Smithee household.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Oscar Pre-show



The "news" at this year's Oscar pre-show, according to Access Hollywood, The Boston Herald, and other sources, was Gary Busey's "wacko" and "berserk" behavior on the red carpet. Alan Smithee finds it interesting that it is considered normal for actors to wait in a line to be interviewed by a television personality with no apparent knowledge of movies primarily to plug the names of clothing and jewelry designers and answer inane questions about their pregnancies, while it is considered odd or "unnerving" to ignore the artificiality of the event and hug people.

Gary Busey has always been enthusiastic, and he has never pretended to be like everyone else. If he had recently starred in a major motion picture, his behavior probably would have been laughed off. What Hollywood really can't abide is actors who step out of their place, who won't simply disappear when they aren't needed.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Alan Smithee Selects the Best Films of the Year and Then Lists Them One After Another



One of the best films of last year - whatever year it was - was Enchanted. Amy Adams astonished, especially when imitating the movements of cartoon ladies, but she never had a chance at an Oscar nomination. Critics are not permitted to praise films of this type too highly, whereas they creamed their jeans over Dreamgirls (technically 2006), a musical composed largely of unlistenable songs.

Zodiac astonished in its willingness to take its time and tell a story. Even the presence of pretty boy Jake Gyllenhaal did not detract from this masterful film that was released too early in the year to receive any nominations.

No Country for Old Men didn't make any sense, but it was beautiful to look at and enthralling from beginning to end. Alan Smithee would have excised Woody Harrelson and made it a slightly better film, but no one asked.

The Simpson's Movie. Critics said it was just like a long episode of the TV show. Perfect.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets wanted nothing more than to give you your money's worth. You weren't likely to have any serious thoughts during this movie but, like Raiders of the Lost Ark(1981), you were entertained in a quite silly way. The critics largely made fun of it, because they are so very very sophisticated.

Across the Universe was also thoroughly entertaining from beginning to end. Some confusedly thought it was attempting to realistically portray the 1960's, and so they refused to enjoy themselves. And in a surprise move, Bono demonstrated that he could be entertaining.

Eastern Promises boasted the best performance by an actor last year, Viggo Mortensen playing whomever he played. Go see.

(And in case you're counting, Zodiac: 0 Oscar nominations, Norbit: 1 nomination)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Jesse Stone: Death in Paradise (2006)



Recently, when Alan Smithee was recovering from food poisoning (again), he happened upon a Magnum, P.I. (1980-1988) Marathon on cable TV. After watching several episodes, he remarked this isn't nearly as lame as I remember! Tom Selleck was always entertaining, but with the Jesse Stone movies, he surprises by being genuinely interesting.

Stone Cold (2005) was an above-average TV movie with Selleck subdued and occasionally menacing. But Jesse Stone: Night Passage (2006) astonished. Bleak and unrelenting, JSNP was better than several theatrical films Alan Smithee has seen of late, though he has not yet been to Ratatouille (2007).

Jesse Stone: Death in Paradise, then, was a step backward. Selleck is credited as a co-writer, and he demonstrated why good films use professional writers. His Jesse Stone had stopped drinking, and he was far less interesting for it. Alan Smithee began to wonder if all involved were unaware what was interesting about the first two films.

A viewing of Jesse Stone: Sea Change (2007) should determine the direction the franchise is heading. Night Passage may not be as great as I remember. Perhaps I simply had too much cough syrup again.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Little Children (2006)



Little Children, like American Beauty (1999) before it, thinks it has something really deep to say about modern suburban life: things are not as they seem, there's something sinister just underneath the surface, etc., etc., etc. But without Kevin Spacey to entertain, all that remains is the unpleasantness and the contrivances.

Critics responded to the film's patina of seriousness, ignoring its conventional plot and heavy-handed symbolism. Meanwhile, they panned masterpieces like Sky High (2005), one of the best films of the '00s, simply because it is about a high school for teen superheroes.

And though Alan Smithee has admired Jackie Earle Haley since his unaffected performance in Breaking Away (1979), viewers should also take notice of Noah Emmerich's portrayal of the disgraced policeman. Astonishing.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Zodiac (2007)



Alan Smithee has written here before about his appreciation of the film performances of Mr. Robert Downey Jr. If Zodiac has a weakness, it is the too-early departure of Mr. Downey from the film.

To its teaspoon of Downey, Zodiac adds a full cup the delicious Mark Ruffalo and subtracts three heaping tablespoons of Jake Gyllenhaal who, though not a Smithee favorite, is used to not wholly unpleasant effect.

If, like Alan Smithee, you feel you just can't go on, pop into the theater for a matinee of Zodiac. 2 1/2 hours later, you may not even remember that you had completely lost your way.