Monday, July 18, 2011

My Time with Netflix - Part Three: Streaming Mistakes

     I'll be up front and admit that all of the Watch Instantly activity of my now defunct Netflix account was done through my laptop; no gaming console or other device that allows the service to work with the television.  Because of that, I tended to view it as computer watching and not analogous to being a replacement to broadcast/cable television, and it occupied the times when I didn't want to watch 'television'.  It also had the benefit of being readily dismissible; if I had started watching something truly horrible [Moby Dick 2010 (2010)], I could abandon it early on and feel that I was still in control of my activity (unlike suffering through the disappointing DVDs).  Still, I managed to make it to the end of some movies that I wouldn't recommend to anyone; they are detailed below.

The Streaming Mistakes
The Alphabet Killer (2008)
     I guess I became aware of this movie because somebody, somewhere mentioned that Eliza Dushku has a brief "nude" scene  in it.  That isn't much of a selling point to me, but it did manage to keep the title in my head.  When I saw it in in the Watch Instantly category for Suspense movies – with Dushku, Timothy Hutton, and Carey Elwes – I thought it would be, at worst, a middling project.  It kind of is, but what makes it truly disappointing is that the script by Tom Malloy decides to use the trappings of the real-world "Alphabet Murders" as a framework for an underwhelming tale focusing on Det. Paige (Dushku) with quasi-mystical abilities...except that those abilities are really just the manifestations of psychosis.  There may have been a good movie idea in here, but it is hard to watch as Elwes and Hutton both give performances out of their standard repertoire (they may as well have been pulled from other movies and dropped in here) and Dushku plays emotionally troubled as even more detached and distant than her normal, limited range.  As for the "nude" scene, it is oddly superfluous.  Det. Paige is changing clothes and there is a millisecond shot of the side of one of her breast's.  Why is it included?  It doesn't serve to titillate (one of the primary reasons to include nudity), and it doesn't serve to soften and make to seem more vulnerable a hard or tough character (which I think is a better use of nudity in legitimate films).  Reading about the actual "Alphabet Murders" was a more rewarding experience, as I imagine watching the Discovery Channel documentary would be.

Carriers (2009)
     If I needed to be reminded that I don't enjoy seeing Piper Perabo at work, I could always watch Carriers again.  While it is a somewhat regular take on the end of the world – there is a fatal virus that has wreaked havoc on the majority of the population leaving very few survivors (which is surely cheaper to film) – there is very little sense of urgency among the characters in the movie.  Characters are fastidious in regards to avoiding any infectious blood, saliva, or mucus, but otherwise wander around without much of in the sense of worry.  It isn't a horrible film.  It just isn't very engaging, and it doesn't offer anything that hasn't been done before.  They may as well have titled this movie "We need gasoline and bleach to survive the end of civilization". 

Centurion (2010)
     I think this same movie has been made multiple times.  Small group of Roman legionnaires goes north of Hadrian's Wall and fights savages.  Sounds a little like King Arthur (2004), has some vague similarities to The Last Legion (2007), and a lot like The Eagle (2011).  I became aware of Centurion because one of the less imaginative minds involved with Living Arcanis posted a link to the trailer on Facebook (because, I believe, this is how he imagined Arcanis).  Well, with Henry Lopez taking Arcanis in a direction that holds no interest for me, I decided to take a look at what some other players thought was a good representation of the old story.  What I received was a thorough disappointment.  There is no attempt to develop the characters or portray the actual historical setting.  Instead, one bad (opportunistic) legionnaire stirs the ire of the evil Picts, and when the "good" guy makes it back to base camp, he gets betrayed and has to fight all over again.  Just an utter waste of time.

After.Life (2009)
     Much like The Alphabet Killer, After.Life is largely known as a movie where the star is naked.  In this case, it is Christina Ricci and she is bare for an overlong portion of the film.  It is an example of a movie that is too clever by half in trying to constantly allow for both the possibility that Anna Taylor (Ricci) is dead and that she is alive, but being held captive and being prepared to die by Eliot Deacon (Liam Neeson).  Neither version of reality is particularly engaging.  The entire tone of the film is too bleak and plodding (too Eastern European?), and when paired with the extremely restrained performances it leaves the audience wondering if writer-director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo had decided where to take the story before shooting wrapped.  If nothing else, Neeson continues to take roles that make his portrayal of Briar Gates in Next of Kin (1989) seem a career high.

Stan Helsing (2009)
     Yeah.  Steve Howey made good use of his time on the sitcom Reba (2001-07), but he could do little here.  Writer-director Bo Zenga cannot create a consistent tone or find a good pace, nor does he seem to know how to end a scene.  Even Diora Baird, normally very attractive, adds nothing any regard.  This is a must avoid.  Sorry, Steve.

George A. Romeo's Survival of the Dead (2009)
     A handful of "soldiers" go to an island and get involved in some sort of Irish clan war.  And a zombie eats a horse.  Other than that, we've seen it all before and with better production values.  Personally, I prefer the remakes of Romeo's work: Tom Savini's Night of the Living Dead (1990), Breck Eisner's The Crazies (2010), and Dawn of the Dead (2004), Zach Snyder's best movie to date.  Romeo works too cheaply and seems too pleased to offer C+ grade stories with his B movies.  However, I tend to give end of the world and zombie movies a chance, and I stuck with this one until the end.

Killer Movie (2008)
     I don't want to slam  Killer Movie, because it isn't as bad as it should be.  It is, however, an incomplete story and cannot decide if it wants to be a hip slasher film or a critique of the ridiculousness of celebrity-driven reality television with a horror background.  One of the London brothers (Jason London) – and if you can tell the difference between Jason and Jeremy from just watching them, then you are paying much more attention than I am – plays the local cameraman with a nice watch.  Kaley Cuoco (of The Big Bang Theory) plays the celebrity trying to rehab her image by appearing on a reality show about a North Dakota hockey team.  Paul Wesley plays the once heralded director reduced to making said show.  Everybody else is a victim.  Not particularly scary or funny.  It isn't horrible.  Given the right mood, one might enjoy it.  But it is just bad enough to make this list.

George Carlin: It's Bad for Ya (2008)
     I would wager that 70 year old Carlin had already said everything worth saying by the time he got around to It's Bad for Ya.  He comes off as angry without being insightful.  Where his previous assaults against sacred cows were well thought out, he only offers quaint pseudo-philosophy here.  I smiled a few times during the performance, but never laughed.  Shockingly, this very show won a Grammy for Best Comedy Album.  I have to think that was a make good for Carlin having died that year.  I recommend Carlin on Campus (1984), Carlin at Carnegie (1982), and Complaints and Grievances (2001) for the HBO specials worth watching.  Avoid It's Bad for Ya if you want to remember Carlin as a smart, vibrant voice against unquestioned hypocrisy and conformity.

Salt (2010)
     I can't think that Tom Cruise would have made this movie better, but it couldn't have been worse.  And they're making a sequel.  Salt is another example of a filmmaker trying to out think the audience.  Instead, everything is telegraphed and to little effect.  I was kind of rooting for Liev Schrieber to go all Russian Agent on the production team and keep the film from having an ending.  No such luck.

The New Daughter (2009)
     You want to criticize me for giving a direct-to-video (DVD) Kevin Costner movie a chance?  I'll own that.  But this movie could have used more Costner.  Or more shots of the bug-people/aliens who are at the root cause for the possession of the daughter in question.  I would guess this story works far better in print form, but it is perfectly reminiscent of other Spanish horror films I've seen.

I've already covered Black Death (2010).  And as tempted as I was to include Trick 'r Treat (2007) and The Signal (2007) on this list, neither was bad or boring enough to make the cut.

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