Archive for the Satire Category

PAIN & GAIN (2013)

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Based on a True Story, Cinema Knife Fights, Crime Films, Dark Comedies, Detectives, Satire, Tough Guys! with tags , , , , , on April 29, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: PAIN & GAIN (2013)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Pain-Gain-Poster

(THE SCENE: INTERIOR of the Sun Gym. MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES are working out on exercise machines)

MA: Welcome to another edition of Cinema Knife Fight. This time around, we’re getting some cardio, to get in the mood to review the new movie PAIN & GAIN.

LS: That’s funny. You told me we should go to the gym because a lot of hot chicks work out here.

(MA shushes him and then smiles for the camera)

MA: Why don’t you take a break from the treadmill to tell us a little about this week’s movie?

LS: Okay.

PAIN & GAIN is the new movie from Michael Bay, the director who gave us such cinematic “classics” as ARMAGEDDON (1998), PEARL HARBOR (2001) and the TRANSFORMERS movies. I have to admit, I’m not really a fan. But the trailer for PAIN & GAIN looked pretty good, so I was curious to check this one out.

MA:  I wasn’t sure what to make of the trailer.  I couldn’t tell if it was going to be a quirky comedy crime thriller with an edge, or just plain dumb.  Well, now I have my answer, but more on that after your plot summary.

And I certainly hope you were being sarcastic by calling the TRANSFORMERS movies classics.

LS: What do you think?  In the movie, Mark Wahlberg plays Daniel Lugo, a bodybuilder who also trains other people at the Sun Gym. He has actually done pretty well for himself, considering he spent some time in prison for fleecing elderly people out of their money.

MA:  Also considering he’s an idiot.  There haven’t been too many other lead characters to have an entire movie built around them who have been this stupid.  Inspector Clouseau comes to mind.  But this is an unfair comparison.  Clouseau was funny.  Wahlberg’s Lugo is just plain sad.

LS:  I don’t know, he made me laugh a few times. And I think that’s the point. That this really happened, even though Lugo and his guys were pretty dim bulbs.  But back to the synopsis.

Despite his checkered past, Lugo wows the gym’s manager, John Mese (Rob Corddry), during the job interview, even betting he can triple the gym’s membership or he will resign. Lugo makes good on his promise, and is climbing the corporate ladder at the gym. But he wants more.

He is also a big fan of Johnny Wu (Ken Jeong, from the HANGOVER movies), a motivational speaker who says the world is made up of “do-ers and don’t-ers” and Lugo is determined to be a “do-er.”

His plan to get the money and lifestyle he thinks he deserves involves kidnapping and torturing an obnoxious client at the gym named Victor Krenshaw (Tony Shalhoub, from the MONK TV series, 2002 – 2009), a very unlikable character who, nonetheless, has been very successful at amassing a fortune. The plan is to get him to sign over his money and assets to Lugo and his partners, since Lugo thinks he deserves the money more than Krenshaw does.

MA:  And Lugo thinks he can get away with this because, as he tells his partners, “I watch a lot of movies.  I know what I’m doing.”  That’s the level of competency where talking about here.

LS:  Once again, I think you’re missing the point.  It’s supposed to be funny.

MA:  Well, it would be funny if these guys were bumbling idiots, but they’re not.  They’re very dangerous men, mostly because they’re not too swift up here (points to his head) if you know what I mean, and they go about committing crimes like they’re experts, when in reality they’re sloppy amateurs.

And that’s the word that dominates this movie:  amateur.  Why in the world am I at all supposed to be interested in a group of guys who commit crimes who are strictly amateurs?  I really didn’t get this movie.

LS: What’s so hard to get? Don’t you ever laugh at police footage of morons who try to get away with crimes and screwing up?

MA:  Yeah, when it’s two minutes worth of footage.  But two hours and ten minutes worth of these guys?  Ugh!

LS:  I dunno, it went by pretty quickly for me.

Lugo’s partners include Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie), an African-American guy who also works at the gym and who is also obsessed with bodybuilding, and Paul Doyle (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), a muscle-bound ex-con who comes to the gym looking for a job. Paul has become born-again since his prison days, but that doesn’t seem to prevent him from going along with a plan that involves kidnapping and inflicting bodily harm.

The problem is, Krenshaw is a merciless jerk who won’t break under weeks of captivity and abuse, and it takes a while for our criminal trio to complete their get-rich-quick scheme. Afterwards, Krenshaw vows to get revenge, with the help of a very capable retired detective, Ed DuBois (Ed Harris). Lugo and his friends also get into some serious trouble when they get greedy and decide they want more money.

(ROCKY comes over)

ROCKY: Yo, like that’s the treadmill I use whenever I’m here.

LS: Good for you.

ROCKY:  It’s my favorite treadmill.

LS:  So?  What’s your point?

ROCKY:  Well, if it wasn’t too much trouble, I’d like to use it.  I’m training, and I came here to use my favorite treadmill.

LS:  Why don’t you go chase some chickens or something?  I’m busy reviewing a movie here.

ROCKY:  You know, you’re kinda rude.  (turns to MA)  Your friend has a big mouth.

MA (shrugs): Some people find it endearing. Anyway, I’m sure we can find another treadmill.  (turns to LS)  Hey, you don’t want to piss this guy off.  It’s Rocky Balboa, for crying out loud!

LS:  I piss off whoever I want to piss off.  It’s a free country!

MA (to Rocky):  We are in the middle of a movie review.  Would you mind coming back later?

(ROCKY glares at them for a few minutes, in stony silence, contemplating whether to pound them to pulp)

ROCKY:  You got five more minutes.  (Exits.)

LS: Go drink a protein shake or something.

ROCKY (outside gym door):  Yo, Mick.  Where did you put those chickens?

LS: Based on the true story of a crime that happened in Miami in the 1990s, PAIN & GAIN is both a crime movie and a dark comedy. The funniest aspect of the movie is that, as we already made clear, these three criminals are actually pretty dumb, and make some pretty awful mistakes along the way.

MA:  See, I just didn’t find this all that funny.  I found it painful.

LS:  Well, that’s good right? Pain and gain?

It is amazing they are able to get away with as much as they do. Their stupidity involves everything from Paul (Johnson) befriending (and being easily manipulated by) Krenshaw, when he is supposed to be keeping the man prisoner; to supposedly clever, elaborate plans that just aren’t very well thought out. As Lugo says at one point, they actually do their best work when they “wing it,” because thinking doesn’t come very naturally to these guys.

MA:  And that’s part of what I didn’t like about this movie.  It’s incredibly obvious that Paul is being manipulated by Krenshaw, so obvious that it’s anything but interesting.  The story here is just about as stupid as the three main characters.  I found this one hard to like.

LS:  Despite the fact that I wasn’t expecting much, since it’s directed by Bay, I found myself enjoying this movie. It has a good story, and some very funny moments, and the acting is probably the biggest plus going for it.

MA:  I can’t argue with you there.  The acting is all very good.  Trouble is, they’re playing characters I couldn’t stand.

LS:  Wahlberg has been in some good movies and some awful ones, but he really shines in a role like this one, and is spot-on as Lugo, who thinks he is much smarter than he actually is.

MA:  You’re right.  Wahlberg is spot-on as Lugo.  I can’t take away from his performance, because he succeeds in creating a character I couldn’t stomach.  My problem with PAIN & GAIN isn’t with the performers or the performances.  They’re all excellent, across the board.

LS:  Anthony Mackie is also good as Doorbal. But for me, some of the best scenes involved Johnson’s Paul Doyle. I really think that the man formerly known as The Rock has come a long way as an actor over the years. I find him very likable onscreen, and despite his intimidating size, he’s able to bring real humanity to a lot of his roles. The first time I really started becoming a fan was in the above-average revenge drama FASTER (2010), and while I don’t think PAIN & GAIN is as good as that movie, I thought it was a decent flick, and Johnson was my favorite actor in this one.

MA:  I have to agree with you yet again.  Johnson is excellent at Paul Doyle, and I also agree that he has a very likeable screen persona.  This role also gives him a lot more to do than in the last film I saw Johnson in, the awful G.I. JOE: RETALIATION (2013).

LS: Yeah, I’m sorry I missed that.

MA: Sarcasm, again?

LS: But of course.

MA: Sadly, this movie isn’t much better.  PAIN & GAIN is an ugly film with unpleasant characters who make boneheaded decisions.  Frankly, they have no business being in a movie that is over two hours long.

Again, I like Dwayne Johnson here, but he’s playing a character I grew tired of right after I got to know him.  Any one of these three guys might have made for a memorable stooge if some of the other criminals in the movie had some smarts, skills, or vision, but there’s none of that here.  These guys are all idiots.  It’s like watching Dumb and Dumber, and Even Dumber.

It’s like watching The Three Stooges become criminals.  Well, shouldn’t that be funny?  I don’t know.  If they start hacking up dead bodies with chainsaws and barbecuing severed hands on an outdoor grill, I’m not sure how funny that would be.

LS: I thought that stuff was funny!

Pain and Gain poster #2

MA:  You know, I wanted to laugh, and in another context I might have found this funny, perhaps if these guys weren’t complete numbskulls, or if the movie generated some style, some pizzazz.  It tries, but its attempts at being quirky are quashed by a general sense of simplicity that keeps this one from taking off.

LS: And I liked that it wasn’t afraid to get gruesome at times. But I get what you’re saying, and the movie isn’t a total success over all. But, for most of its running time, I had fun with it.

MA: I don’t mind gruesome, but in this case I just wasn’t laughing.

 (ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER comes over)

ARNOLD: I do not know why you like that big wrestling man so much. I was the Governor of California you know. I was a much bigger deal than him.

MA: That’s nice, but we’re not talking about you right now.

ARNOLD: Well, maybe you should be. I am much better than any of the new action stars. Just because I took some time off for politics doesn’t mean I’m not a big star anymore.

LS: Relax, Arnie, we’re not putting you down.

ARNOLD: And I want to use the elliptical machine. That’s the one I use every time I come to this gym.

MA: But I’m using it.

ARNOLD: It’s mine.

MA:  Could you wait just a few minutes?  We’re almost done with our review.

ARNOLD:  Let me hear you say that my movies are better than the one you’re reviewing today.

MA:  For me, that’s easy.  I didn’t like PAIN AND GAIN all that much, so yeah, I like your movies better.

ARNOLD:  I’ll be back— to use the elliptical machine.  (Exits)

MA:  Let’s not be here when he returns.  He looked a little agitated.

LS: Let’s go use the weights.

MA: Okay.

(We jump to the weight room, where LS is lifting a huge barbell over his head)

LS: Wow, I like it here in Cinema Knife Fight Land. I can lift 500 pounds without breaking a sweat.

MA: Yeah, we’re like superheroes here.

LS: Makes you think twice about going back to the real world, huh?

Anyway, back to the review. I was talking about the cast of PAIN & GAIN.

Ed Harris is another stand-out as private detective  Ed DuBois. He doesn’t appear in the movie until later on in the story, but he’s the kind of actor you can count on to elevate whatever movie he’s in.

MA:  I don’t know.  I thought Harris came into the film a little too late to be much of a factor.  I mean, I wanted to know more about him, but he doesn’t really do a whole lot here, so I can’t say I liked his performance all that much.  It’s hard to like what amounts to a pretty standard and very small supporting role.

LS:  And Bar Paly (previously in the horror film, THE RUINS, 2008) is extremely hot as Russian stripper-turned-co-conspirator Sorina Luminata, whom the boys trick into believing they work for the CIA.

I also liked the supporting cast, including Rob Corddry as gym manager John Mese, Rebel Wilson (who, after roles in movies like BRIDESMAIDS, 2011, and PITCH PERFECT, 2012, is on the verge of becoming a star in her own right) as Doorbal’s girlfriend (and eventually wife) and Emily Rutherfurd, who has some funny lines (even if she’s not onscreen very much) as Ed DuBois’s wife, Carolyn.

I didn’t think PAIN & GAIN was a great movie, but I thought it was a lot of fun, and I liked the cast a lot. This one surprised me, because I didn’t expect to enjoy this movie as much as I did. I give this one two and a half knives.

What did you think, Michael?

MA:  I think that this one suffers from a case of the stupids, and unfortunately, for me, there was nothing else about it to make up for the fact that its characters were unlikeable and its story unworthy of my time.  Even the film’s strong cast couldn’t save it.

We’ve already talked at length about the cast, which we both agree was good, so let’s get to the real culprit here, the writing.  Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely wrote the screenplay, and these are the same guys who wrote the screenplays for CAPTAIN AMERICA:  THE FIRST AVENGER (2011) and the NARNIA movies.  While I liked CAPTAIN AMERICA, I can’t say that I liked the NARNIA movies, but the point is these guys are capable writers, and their screenplay here is fine as well, in terms of dialogue and characterizations.

But the characters they create here- or at least write about—since it’s based on a true story, as we’re constantly reminded —are so difficult to like, I just couldn’t get into this one.  I found these folks unbearable to watch.  This movie should have been called PAIN AND PAIN.

I didn’t like any of the three lead characters, didn’t care what happened to them, and really just wanted to see them behind bars ASAP.  They’re a bunch of idiotic losers.  Even Dwayne Johnson’s Paul Doyle, the most sympathetic of the three, is such a sad character you just want him to go away.

That’s how I felt about all three of these guys.  Just go away!  I don’t want to watch a movie about you anymore!

And then, the guy they kidnap and steal from, Victor Kershaw, is the most unlikeable guy in the whole movie.  He makes the three demonic stooges seem like saints!  So, just who am I rooting for here?  I can’t even root for Ed Harris’s detective because he’s hardly in it.

LS: I dunno, why do you have to root for anyone? Why not just sit back and enjoy the movie.

MA: That’s a fair point.  I guess I just had difficulty enjoying a story about people who I didn’t like all that much.  I mean, if I were sitting at a bar listening to these guys talk, I don’t think I would have stayed there very long.  I would have picked up my drink and moved somewhere else.  They were just too shallow.

LS:  But that’s the point.  That these shallow guys actually got away with this crime, at least for a time, anyway.

MA:  But I also didn’t think the jokes worked.  Most of the laughs come from situations that are so ridiculously painful you can’t help but emit nervous laughter, like when Paul Doyle barbecues those hands.

LS: They looked kind of yummy to me.

MA: Any attempt at real humor doesn’t work here.  The lines and jokes just aren’t sharp enough.  When Daniel Lugo throws barrels containing dead bodies into the water and then doesn’t make an effort to make sure they go down to the bottom, I’m wondering why am I watching a movie about these clowns?

The best scene in the film is when porn king Frank Giga (Michael Rispoli) tells them he won’t do business with them because they’re obvious amateurs, and he tells Daniel that the things he says are laughable.  It’s the one scene in the movie that ring true.  And the one guy who speaks the truth in the film, Giga, is rewarded by getting his head smashed in.

LS: Maybe the truth hurts.

MA: PAIN & GAIN is a wannabe cutting-edge thriller – think Oliver Stone’s SAVAGES (2012) only without the stylish direction and edge-of your seat writing.  In that film, there were real characters and real threats.  Here there are just a bunch of idiots pretending to be criminals.

LS: Isn’t it ironic that SAVAGES was based on fiction, and PAIN & GAIN was based on magazine articles by Pete Collins about real-life criminals.

MA: You make a good point.  A good fiction writer will write solid well-constructed stories.  All kinds of weird crap happens in real life, a lot of it unbelievable, but just because it really happened doesn’t make it a good story.  And I think that’s the problem with this movie.

I can’t say that it worked as a comedy either.  The jokes aren’t very funny, the writing isn’t all that witty, and I found myself laughing only when things got so ridiculous it was easier than crying.

Perhaps I’ve missed the point of this one, and if so, I’m guilty as charged.  For me, watching PAIN & GAIN was like imagining what it would be like if The Three Stooges starred in an R rated crime movie directed by Michael Bay.

LS (doing Curly imitation): Coitainly

MA: Now, if the director was Quentin Tarantino, then that would be a different story!

LS: No argument there. Michael Bay is no Tarantino. But he’s also not as horrible as I previously thought. He is capable of making a decent movie, and PAIN & GAIN is a decent flick. But I understand your dilemma. If it didn’t work for you from the get go, then it probably felt like a long movie to sit through. I just was more receptive to it, I guess, and I thought it was a fun night at the movies.

MA: I give it one knife.

Okay, that wraps things up.  Thanks for joining us everybody.  We’re outta here

LS:  We’ll see you all again next week.

(ARNOLD returns.)

ARNOLD:  I’m back.  And I’ve brought my friends with me.  (A group of beautiful strippers accompany Arnold into the gym).  We’re ready for the ultimate work-out.

STRIPPER 1: Ready to work those abs, Arnie? (the other strippers giggle)

MA:  On second thought, maybe we’re not outta here.

LS:  I don’t think I’ve reached my target heart rate yet. It’s time to take a page out of Rocky Balboa’s playbook and chase some chicks around.

MA:  Er, actually he was chasing chickens, but I like your idea better.

(ROCKY pops his head in)

ROCKY (angrily): Yo, can I use my treadmill now?

—END—-

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives PAIN & GAIN~ one knife!

LL Soares gives PAIN & GAIN~two and a half knives.

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THE COMEDY (2012)

Posted in 2012, Bad Situations, Cult Movies, Dark Comedies, Disturbing Cinema, Independent Cinema, Satire, Something Different, Strange Cinema with tags , , , , , , , on December 28, 2012 by knifefighter

THE COMEDY (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

TheComedy

As THE COMEDY opens, a guy named Swanson (Tim Heidecker) is having a drunken party with his friends, which evolves into nudity and outrageous behavior. This occurs during the opening credits. It’s a good introduction to this man and his world of debauchery and idiocy.

When we next see Swanson, he is verbally harassing his father’s male nurse (Seth Koen), whose lack of reaction reveals that he’s endured this many times before. Swanson’s father is in a coma in his bed at home, and Swanson is clearly conflicted about his father’s condition. This conflict lasts a few minutes. Then he goes out for a day of mayhem.

This involves such weirdness as walking by a group of landscapers working on someone’s yard and suddenly chipping in to help. When the house’s owners come outside, he takes advantage of the fact that the workers can’t speak English, and pretends to be their supervisor and asks if his men can take a dip in the pool, creating a really awkward moment until the owners agree. At this point, Swanson just goes along his merry way, having accomplished a moment of anarchy. Later, he ends up in a bar where he is the only white customer, saying offensive things that could lead to a beatdown. Later still, he and his friends harass a cab driver for not having a working radio, and partake in some sophomoric behavior inside a church.

Swanson and his buddies (Eric Wareheim and James Murphy) create mayhem in a church.
Swanson and his buddies (Eric Wareheim and James Murphy) create mayhem in a church.

Just about everything Swanson does is meant to offend and piss off someone. To put it in a nutshell, Swanson’s behavior shows that he is a complete asshole, and the title of the movie has an ironic ring to it, because while some parts of this movie are funny, just as many parts are uncomfortable and even unpleasant. This is not really a comedy, after all.

Swanson lives on a boat, and spends most of his time drinking (and often puking overboard). He does whatever strikes him at a given moment, like suddenly entering a restaurant and applying for a job as a dishwasher (even though he’s about 40). It’s clear that he is well off and doesn’t need to work, yet he does these things on a lark, knowing that if he grows bored, he can always just walk away.

Somehow, despite his arrested development, Swanson is able to get girls. He “seduces” one woman at a party with banter about how feudalism could have worked if given more of a chance, and that Hitler may have had some good ideas “if you take away the killing part.” Another woman, who he meets at his dishwasher job (the first time they meet, he tells her he’s a registered sex offender), ends up back at his boat and he watches with mild curiosity as she unexpectedly has an epileptic fit.

Tim Heidecker plays an unlikable bastard who lives on a boat in THE COMEDY.

Tim Heidecker plays an unlikable bastard who lives on a boat in THE COMEDY.

He also, surprisingly, has lots of friends, all of whom seem as idiotic as he is. These include Eric Wareheim (Heidecker’s cohort on the late night Adult Swim series TIM AND ERIC, AWESOME SHOW, GREAT JOB!), stand-up comic Neil Hamburger and musician James Murphy (of LCD Soundsystem fame).

So it’s not like Swanson is an isolated loner with no friends or girlfriends. He’s found lots of like-minded people to hang out with. And yet, he appears to have complete disdain for people in general and the world around him. He has no desire to work a real job (and clearly doesn’t have to) and has no desire to take on any kind of responsibility.

By the end of the movie, chances are good that you will want to punch Swanson in the face. And you’ll wonder why someone doesn’t punch his lights out every day of his life.

And yet, for some inexplicable reason, I found myself liking this movie.

I’ve always enjoyed comedians who sought to make their audiences squirm more than laugh, and THE COMEDY is this kind of comedy. It’s not laugh-out-loud kind of stuff (although there were a couple of times when I did laugh); it’s more like, “how much can Swanson get away with before someone decks him” kind of humor. Director Rick Alverson does a great job of making this work. Without a skilled director at the helm, this movie could easily have deteriorated into the story of a really annoying guy, which would just be a waste of time. There are scenes when you actually wonder whether or not everyone onscreen is “in” on the joke (like that scene in the barroom, where you can feel the tension building up, the more Swanson talks). And despite his complete obnoxiousness, there are moments when you feel something for Swanson as a human being, even if most of the time that feeling is repulsion.

Tim Heidecker is amazing (and fearless) in the lead role here, and he seems to be the perfect choice for this kind of thing. His Cartoon Network/Adult Swim series with Eric Wareheim is known for its bizarre, off-the-wall style that is often more weird than funny. But if you haven’t seen that show—or aren’t aware of it—then you’ll have an even better reaction to THE COMEDY.

 Tim Heidecker plays one of the most unlikable lead characters in a movie in years in THE COMEDY. Yet, somehow, it works.

Tim Heidecker plays one of the most unlikable lead characters in a movie in years in THE COMEDY. Yet, somehow, it works.

You may like this movie; chances are more likely that you will completely hate it. But it will get a reaction out of you. And director Alverson has stated that that was his main mission in making THE COMEDY, to get a reaction out of moviegoers who are usually lulled to sleep by brainless blockbusters. If you “get” what’s going on here and enjoy your humor especially dark, you might see this as a work of bizarre brilliance. If you don’t “get” it, you may want to jump through the screen and kick Swanson’s butt. But be forewarned, you will have a reaction. That is guaranteed.

So Alverson’s mission is a clear success.

I hesitate to rate this one.  I enjoyed it in a perverse way—but then again, I’ve always had an affinity for unlikable characters —but I bet most of the people reading this review would hate it.  So instead of a rating, let’s just say, if this sounds like something you’d want to see, see it. If not, then you will probably avoid it anyway.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

BRANDED (2012)

Posted in 2012, Bizarro Movies, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Conspiracy Theories, Dystopian Futures, Giant Monsters, Just Plain Weird, LL Soares Reviews, Parasites!, Satire, Weird Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: BRANDED (2012)
By L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: L.L. SOARES is walking down a street in Moscow, when he sees a bunch of people running)

LS: What are you running from!

PEOPLE (speaking in Russian): Brand Names are trying to kill us.

(They are pursued by giant signs for MCDONALD’S and COCA-COLA. Watching this, LS scratches his head)

LS: Well folks, this is going to be a weird one.

I left the theater after seeing the new movie BRANDED, and I was scratching my head then, too. I am going to try to explain this one, but it’s not going to be easy. I am also going to have two ratings this time around. One for mainstream, normal audiences, and another for people who like movies that are especially…weird. Because BRANDED is not going to appeal to everyone. I’m still not even sure what I think of it.

First off, when I saw the trailer for BRANDED, I thought it was a science fiction movie where weird aliens were using brand name products and advertising to control and feed off us. I went in expecting scary flick set in a future where everything is out of control. (See the BRANDED trailer, here).

But, sitting through the first 45 minutes or so, I thought I walked into the wrong movie. Because nothing horrific happens; nothing bizarre takes place. Instead, we get a pretty standard story about an advertising firm in Moscow. Misha Galkin (Ed Stoppard) gets out of the debt of a failed advertising agency when an American businessman named Bob Gibbons (Jeffrey Tambor) buys him out and hires him for his new firm. In return, Bob asks Misha to record everything he sees when dealing with their clients. As Misha describes it, he’s kind of an “advertising spy,” and the whole thing is a little odd to him. But he’s doing well. He’s winning advertising awards, making lots of money, and hovering near a promotion. The one thing Bob insists is that Misha not get involved with his daughter, Abby (Leelee Sobieski), who has an eye for him. Misha says he won’t, but of course, he dives headlong into a passionate love affair with her. Bob goes nuts and fires him.

Meanwhile, a group of fast food CEOs are at a conference table in some kind of mountain retreat to see a kind of advertising demigod, called the Marketing Guru here (and played by Max Von Sydow), complaining that their profits are dwindling and people don’t seem to want fast food anymore. The Guru tells them he has a plan to turn their fortunes around. Instead of their changing to meet the needs of the world, the world will change to become more reliant on their products. They will make it “cool” to be fat, and burger joints will become desirable again. It sounds far-fetched, but it begins to work. They start out in three “third world” markets to test it out. One of these is Russia, where Misha is.

Fired from his job, Misha becomes the producer of a reality show Abby is putting on Russian television. It involves finding an overweight girl and having her undergo a series of surgeries to become thin. But something goes wrong, and she falls into a coma during the procedure. Public outcry causes the police to arrest Abby and Misha for a while.

Misha (Ed Stoppard) and Abby (Leelee Sobieski) are lovers in a world gone mad. Or is it just Misha who has gone mad?

After he gets out of jail, Misha decides to leave the city and herd cows for a living. Several years pass.

Eventually, Abby finds him again, but he has changed. After trying to convince him to come back with her to the city, and failing, she leaves.

It is up to this point that I was very puzzled about BRANDED. Just what kind of movie was this? Where were the strange monsters/aliens from the trailer? Was this just a straight-forward drama about advertising and disillusionment?

Misha has a dream. In this dream, he is told how to build a bizarre platform/altar to perform an ancient pagan ritual that involves the slaughter of a red cow. When he does it for real, he is overwhelmed by the power of the ritual and passes out. Abby comes back for him and brings him home to Moscow with her.

It is in this part of the movie that things start to change from normal to just plain weird.

Because of the ritual, Misha can now see “the truth” that no one else sees. And what he sees is living brand names that are controlling our lives and desires. Misha finds a very different world than the one he left. A fast food franchise called The Burger dominates the world. A majority of the planet’s inhabitants are now extremely obese (of course, Misha and Abby are still thin and attractive). Misha even finds out that Abby gave birth to a son he didn’t know he had – a dim-witted, obese little boy who is always asking for money for hamburgers.

Misha begins to freak out because he sees the “living brands” everywhere. They are horrible, gigantic monsters that attach themselves to every human being, and hover like behemoths above the city. Misha thinks he is going insane and almost kills himself. Abby and his son leave him. But then he has a change of heart and  goes back into advertising, intent on using his newfound knowledge of living, breathing brand names—the monsters —to start a war between the monsters. He begins by taking on a vegetarian Chinese food chain as a client, and taking aim at the creatures behind The Burger.

From here, the movie just gets stranger.

What the hell is going on in BRANDED?
“Don’t ask me.”

There are some interesting images in BRANDED. From that strange cow-slaughtering ritual (that seems like something out of an Alejandro Jodorowsky film) to the huge, balloon-like CGI monsters that Misha sees, sitting on the roofs of all the tall buildings in Moscow. There’s a weird scene where Misha walks out on a balcony during a rainstorm and just starts screaming all of a sudden. And there’s another strange scene where all of the advertising in Moscow disappears, making it look like an ancient city again.

Needless to say, BRANDED is not for everyone. It is not a conventional, normal narrative film. There is a narrator who pops up every once awhile to give us voice-over explanations of what is going on (the voice of Mariya Ignatova). And I think it’s trying to be more of a satire on the advertising business than a literal science fiction/horror film.

There weren’t a lot of people at the showing of BRANDED I went to. It hasn’t had a very strong promotional campaign—and after seeing the movie, I can see why. Several people in the audience I saw BRANDED with walked out half-way through. Many of the people who stayed were shouting at the screen by the end.

But I can’t say I didn’t like BRANDED. I’m a big fan of strange cinema, from the movies of David Lynch and Jodorowsky, to surreal odysseys like BEYOND THE BLACK  RAINBOW (2010),  to oddities like Tommy Wiseau’s THE ROOM (2003). So BRANDED struck a chord in me. I’m actually surprised a movie this quirky got a fairly wide release in movie theaters.

The acting, for the most part, is pretty good. I like Jeffrey Tambor (probably best known for his roles on the TV shows ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT and THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW), and Leelee Sobieski (previously in JOY RIDE, 2001, and the awful remake of THE WICKER MAN, 2006)  is pretty good in this one (didn’t she seem to disappear from acting for a while?). Ed Stoppard (also in THE LITTLE VAMPIRE, 2000, and NANNY MCPHEE RETURNS, 2010)  as Misha is the heart of the movie, and keeps you watching throughout. And how can you not love an appearance by the legendary Max Von Sydow? The script and the direction on the other hand are very strange. It took two people to direct this one – Jamie Bradshaw and Alexander Doulerain in their English feature film debut – and they both wrote the script as well. The production values are a little stilted at times. The CGI monsters are so unreal and weird looking, that it makes them look both very fake and sort of disturbing.

It’s rated R, but aside from a few f-bombs, there’s no real reason for the rating. Even during the movie’s most passionate sex scene, Stoppard and Sobieski keep their clothes on.

For mainstream audiences, I give this movie one and a half knives. I don’t think most people will like it. It’s just too strange. And I wasn’t even sure if I liked it at first.

For people who dig really weird movies, I’d give it three and a half knives. Just because it’s so off the map. A movie so far removed from the kinds of films Hollywood is doing that it deserves a look as a curiosity. Like going to an old fashioned freak show.

Personally, I think I liked it. But like BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, which I saw earlier this year, I can’t tell if it’s a bad movie made by inept directors, or a low-budget masterpiece that simply didn’t have the money to match its big ambitions. And therefore, it kind of ends up somewhere between the two extremes of bad and good.

I guess you can tell, based on this description of the film, whether or not it sounds intriguing to you. So it’s up to you whether you’ll be seeking this one out on Netflix when the time comes.

(LS’s cell phone rings)

LS: Hello?

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  It’s Michael. Where are you?

LS: I’m in Moscow. Where are you?

MA: Madrid.

LS: So I guess it’s an International Monday here at Cinema Knife Fight.

MA: So how is it there?

LS: A little weird. I’m reviewing the movie BRANDED. But, aside from a Coca-Cola sign ripping some people to shreds, it’s pretty quiet.

MA: Okay, meet you back at headquarters. See you next week.

LS: Later.

(The camera follows LS as he continues to walk down the city street. He suddenly raises an umbrella and opens it up, just in time to protect himself from a downpour of blood as a giant monstrous BURGER KING devours some customers)

-THE END-

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

For Normal Audiences, LL Soares gives BRANDED ~ one and a half knives.

For assorted weirdos and people who appreciate strange films, LL Soares gives BRANDED ~three and a half knives.

GOD BLESS AMERICA (2011)

Posted in 2012, Dark Comedies, LL Soares Reviews, Murder!, Satire, Twisted, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , on May 29, 2012 by knifefighter

GOD BLESS AMERICA (2011)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

Bobcat Goldthwait started out as a comedian, transitioning from stand-up to movie roles in stuff  like the POLICE ACADEMY films in the 80s (he played “Zed” in numbers 2 – 5), ONE CRAZY SUMMER (1986) and the talking horse comedy, HOT TO TROT (1988). His characters were odd, and he often made loud, phlegmy noises when he spoke. In other words, he wasn’t for everybody. Some people thought he was funny. I’m sure plenty of others thought he was annoying. As for me, I was on the fence. He was unusual enough to get my attention, but he was in a lot of movies that weren’t very good.

He began his directing career in 1991, with a strange and dark comedy called SHAKES THE CLOWN, which gave us a look into the personal lives of some very unhappy clowns. The movie opens with Shakes (yes, his name refers to the fact that he’s also an alcoholic) waking up after having spent the night with Florence Henderson (Mrs. Brady herself!). The movie got mixed to negative reviews when it came out, but I kinda liked it.

Along with movies, his directing career has also gotten him work on television shows like THE MAN SHOW (2000 – 2003), CRANK YANKERS (2002) and CHAPELLE’S SHOW (2003).

He’s been focusing more and more on movies for the last few years, and has had some success with independent comedies like SLEEPING DOGS LIE (2006), about a woman with a very embarrassing secret that ruins all the relationships in her life; WORLD’S GREATEST DAD (2009), where Robin Williams plays the father of a really annoying kid, who turns his son into a legend by writing a poignant and fake “diary” for the kid after he accidentally kills himself in a very embarrassing way; and now GOD BLESS AMERICA. Goldthwait has become one of our best directors of dark satire.

In GOD BLESS AMERICA, which has been making the rounds of some theaters in limited release recently, Frank (Joel Murray) is a lonely, divorced guy who just lost his job, and is on the fast track to losing his life as well—when his doctor tells him about an inoperable brain tumor he found. With everything falling apart around him, Frank gets out his gun, puts it in his mouth, and decides to end it all.

But the television is on (it seems like his television is always on), and there’s a reality show on about a horrible girl celebrating her 16th birthday, belittling her rich parents into spending as much money on the event as possible, and Frank suddenly finds a reason to live. Why just kill himself, after all, when he can take some of the world’s more loathsome people with him?

So he steals his idiot neighbor’s sports car, and tracks the girl down. Figuring he is going to die anyway, Frank isn’t concerned about breaking the law or its repercussions. He finds the girl, Chloe, in the parking lot of her high school (in one of the rare instances when she isn’t being filmed for her reality show), getting into the car that her parents just bought her (that she complained about, screeching, on television), and offs her. One of the witnesses is another girl, named Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) who, instead of being horrified by the act of violence, thinks it’s terrific, because she hates the self-involved reality TV star, too.

Roxy tracks Frank down to a motel room afterwards (where again, he’s about to blow his brains out) and convinces him that he’s onto something here. Why just stop at one horrible reality star, when there are so many more who deserve to die? Not only does she save Frank from killing himself, she gives him a final mission in life. And she wants to be his sidekick in his killing spree.

So they go around killing more despicable people, including that girl Chloe’s mealy-mouthed parents (Larry Miller and Dorie Barton), and a bullying, Bill O’Reilly-type political pundit, and as the bodies pile up, so does their glee at what they’re doing. Strangely, while the media covers the murders on the nightly news, no cops seem to be on their trail, and not until the end, in a scene on the set of an “American Idol”-type talent show, do they seem to be in danger of being arrested for their crimes at all.

As the movie goes on, their criteria for who deserves killing grows more and more trivial, as even talking in a movie theater becomes an execution-worthy offense. And what about when Frank finds out that he might have been misdiagnosed?

The acting here is top-notch. Joel Murray is one of those actors who you’ve seen in tons of things, but might not know his name. Most recently he had major roles in the Showtime series SHAMELESS, where he played another sad sack named Eddie Jackson,  and the AMC series MAD MEN, where he played ad man Fred Rumsen. But you might have also seen him on network shows like DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES and TWO AND A HALF MEN. While I was watching the movie, I kept thinking that he looked a lot like Brian Doyle Murray, who also has a huge list of television credits. When I looked him up, I found up that Joel and Brian are brothers, which means that Joel also has another, slightly more famous brother, named Bill! To think I’ve been a fan of Joel’s for all this time without realizing he was Bill Murray’s brother! Joel specializes in playing down-on-their-luck guys, and he’s perfectly cast in GOD BLESS AMERICA.

Tara Lynne Barr holds her own in the movie as Frank’s only friend and “sidekick” Roxy. Her acting resume isn’t quite as extensive as Murray’s, but she had roles on TV shows like CROSSING JORDAN (2005) and The Disney Channel’s THE SUITE LIFE OF ZACK AND CODY. Based on her performance here, I wouldn’t be surprised if she started getting a lot more movie roles. She’s that good.

Obviously, with this very dark storyline, GOD BLESS AMERICA is not going to appeal to everyone. Some people are just not going to ever find murder funny. But for those of us who have watched reality TV and totally despised the shrill, self-obsessed idiots who populate too much of  our “popular entertainment,” this movie has the potential to be a very wicked guilty pleasure.

GOD BLESS AMERICA is not perfect, however. The fact that nobody tries to stop them for weeks struck me as completely unrealistic, which just emphasizes the fantasy elements here. This is not the real world. And there are times when Frank and Roxy’s agenda (especially Roxy’s list of the kinds of people she hates) seems rather elitist, but I guess that’s the point, since, by the time they’re killing people for just being rude, things have reached an absurd level. There are, though, moments in the film when it just seems to be preaching at us, about what’s wrong with our society and popular culture, and it’s those moments that are the movie’s weakest. As a viewer, I don’t want to be preached to. Luckily there are only a few missteps in that direction. Not enough to ruin what’s good about the film.

Despite its flaws, I found GOD BLESS AMERICA to be pretty entertaining. And there are some very funny moments here. There’s a lot to like about this movie if your sense of humor tends to be dark. I give it three out of five knives.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

(Note: If GOD BLESS AMERICA isn’t playing in limited release in a city near you, you might also be able to catch it on Cable OnDemand)

LL Soares gives GOD BLESS AMERICA ~three  knives.