Friday, July 15, 2011

My Time with Netflix - Part Two: The DVD Mistakes

     One of the tasks I didn't like with Netflix was assembling a list of movies I wanted enough to see that I would be willing to watch them soon after they arrived.  At the beginning, I was just adding titles that I might want to watch under the right circumstances.  Then I started adding movies I knew I missed in the theatre, hadn't bothered to rent from Blockbuster or RedBox, and had a vague interest in seeing.  Neither of these strategies proved to be very good.  Below is a sampling of what I consider to be wasted viewing experiences.

The DVD Mistakes
The Reeds (2009)
     I had just finished reading "The Willows" by Algernon Blackwood and was somewhat hopeful that a horror film titled The Reeds would at least, even if by accident, embody some of the flavor of that short story.  Sadly, that didn't happen.  I want to stop short of calling The Reeds a bad movie, because somewhere within its complicated mythology and economy-level special effects there just may be an interesting story.  But what I remember is that it had a long and plodding build-up, one in which I didn't feel the audience was being introduced to the characters (so we can care about them and what happens to them) as much as we were witnessing them doing uninteresting things.  Then things happen in such a manner that we know that time isn't a set concept in the titular reeds, and that goes from being interesting to a cop-out used to end the film on an indefinite note.  The movie isn't scary, it doesn't evoke a consistent mood of impending menace, and the cast is quite unremarkable. All in all, I guess I consider The Reeds to be a mistake largely because it was the first DVD Netflix sent to me and I just didn't enjoy it.

The Invasion (2007)
     Yes, I had both heard and read that The Invasion was a lifeless remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956; 1978), and not being a tremendous fan of the source material, I knew I was taking a risk.  But I know that both Kidman and Craig can act; I've seen it.  How bad would the movie have to be in order for me not to be able to find some reason to enjoy it?  The answer, it would turn out, would be just about the level of bad that The Invasion is.
     This is a movie that steals all of the life and passion from its characters before the invaders ever get a chance to do the same thing.  Kidman is either very poorly directed or just is incapable of displaying any kind of restrained emotion. She is reduced to having to say what she feels, or to hyperventilate to display any sense of danger or panic.  For all of the danger involved to the human race, the movie makes it seem inconsequential.  The scale of the story doesn't fit the mood evoked.  It has good production values, so there is that, but I was expecting a lot more than for it simply look professional.

Inception (2010)
     I know that I am advocating some kind of heresy when I say that Inception, like the 300, is the kind of film that I feel insults my intelligence.  There is no meaningful plot in Inception.  It has a grand total of one likable character – a meaningless role written in to allow for ongoing exposition – played by Ellen Page.  The rest is just an excuse for over-wrought special effects sequences – which have all of the verisimilitude one expects from a Roger Moore era James Bond film or the old G.I. Joe cartoon (1985-86) – or a novice's attempt at pondering the nature of reality or causality.  That anyone found it deep or meaningful truly shocks me.  It is a huge budget disaster, a paean to giving the audience nothing and getting them to believe that it must be great because it is meaningless and loud, with lots of action sequences and explosions.  I won't say it is the worst movie associated with Leonardo DiCaprio; it is on equal footing with Shutter Island (2010) and Gangs of New York (2002), and nowhere near as awful as The Beach (2000), Romeo + Juliet (1996; just an unwatchable disgrace that does everything it can to ruin Shakespeare), or What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993).  Inception is just another reminder, for me at least, that DiCaprio movies are of questionable quality and enjoyability.

Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)
     I don't want to take up much time with this one.  I have seen the first three live action Resident Evil movies and figured it wouldn't hurt to watch the latest one.  It didn't, but there is just so much wrong with the story – and special effects for their own sake – that I became as frustrated as I was bored by Resident Evil: Afterlife.  Like The Reeds, time is a fluid concept in the Resident Evil series, but not intentionally.  There is also the notion that the last few surviving humans are engaged in an all out war with another batch of corporately sponsored intent on killing the first group because said group knows the second group is responsible for the end of the world, but it's okay because it's entertainment.  Another reminder to be careful about what went in the queue, but one I didn't heed.

Jonah Hex (2010)
     "Is pathetisad a word?"  If not, the sentiment behind it is perfectly captured in Jonah Hex.  This movie is worse than Wild Wild West (1999) to the power of David Lynch's Dune (1984).  At least Josh Brolin took home a decent paycheck for having this stain attached to his name.  I mean, I knew it would be bad, but I assumed it would be the kind of bad that is still enjoyable.  Not the case, not even a little.

Tron: Legacy (2010)
     What would happen if somebody made a movie that posited all of the answers that mankind has been in search of since time in memoriam – the definitive formulations of epistemology and metaphysics – could be found in a computer world created in the mid-1980s?  And that this computer world had an evil ruler who plotted and planned for a take over of the physical world?  The result should be something better than Tron: Legacy, a movie supposedly redeemed by its 3D effects and soundtrack.  Now, I watched it in 2D and except for the scene that incorporates Daft Punk into the visual action, I found the music to forgettable background filler.
     I was, and continue to be, a fan of Tron (1982).  It operates as I feel Science Fiction movies should in that it marries a moral message to special effects aided action.  It also has its themes operate in both the real world and the computer world.  And it has a young, studly Bruce Boxleitner saving the day as Tron.  What Tron: Legacy has a severe lack of is, in fact, Tron.  Garrett Hedlund portrays Sam Flynn as an unlikable, spoiled, but loyal and preternaturally agile heir to (Kevin) Flynn.  Flynn-the-elder has been missing in the computer world forever, where he created the evil ruler to help him manage things because running a world is hard work.  The evil ruler gets rid of Tron, and thus any real investment the audience should have in this movie.  If you have to watch it, just watch the light cycle scene and then turn it off.  You'll be better off for it.  Otherwise, this was just a long and painfully boring effort marked by an immature effort to work some kind of deeper context to a 'guy goes in and gets the girl' story.

Buried (2010)
     I like that Ryan Reynolds continues to work in smaller projects.  He doesn't seem hell bent on turning himself in a giant movie star and only taking huge paychecks for sleepwalking through would-be blockbusters.  However, I really feel he was the wrong choice for Buried.. The movie itself is an awkward and largely uninformed assault against the evils of war and the corporations that profit from them.  Those topics are ripe for a movie, but it should be a good one like Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers (2006).  Reynolds spends the movie in a really big makeshift coffin trying to drum up a huge ransom to satisfy his captors – who are identified as just regular guys pushed too far by the effects of the U.S. invasion of their country – and encountering either bureaucratic incompetency or soulless corporate maneuvering to minimize fiscal costs by not valuing human life.  You will feel like the heavy hand reaches through the screen and slaps you repeatedly.  No subtlety here.  And Reynolds just doesn't have the ability to play the minor changes, so everything is played too big

Machete (2010)
     I view Machete as a revenge fantasy against White America, or at least the power structure of White America.  I can handle that.  There is a lot to not like, and probably a metric shitload more if you're not a white man living in America.  But Machete suffers from bad pacing and uninteresting characters, and then doesn't even have the decency to make the violence for the sake of violence scenes visually interesting.  I'm glad Danny Trejo got the lead in a project, but I wish it hadn't been so awful.

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