Live Free Or Die Hard

die_hard_4.jpgrating-2.5I have to admit, I thought this movie would suck. The trailers pretty much announced pure suckiness and I wasn't really a fan of the first three. The first Die Hard film was okay for an 80's action movie, but it was too self-aware, somewhat silly and lacked the dull-witted comedy of a Schwarzenegger or Stallone movie. The second Die Hard was nearly a parody of the first which I had no interest in and the third was pretty obvious in how it had been retrofitted to be a Die Hard script, doing a decent job of entertaining but not being exceptionally impressive in its dragged-out action one-uppery. This movie is a continuation of the trend, somewhat revitalized by a long hibernation, but mainly the same old thing.

The trailer does its damnedest to make the movie look annoying and overdriven, but the worst parts of the movie really are in the trailer. Justin Long manages to be fairly un-irritating throughout the movie and I didn't even want to stab him in the face with an iMac. Bruce Willis looked and acted, of course, like a grizzled dried pig's ear chew toy for a dog, providing an endless stream of bitter and old stares and sneers as he bloodlessly dispatched endless goons.

The movie itself had a somewhat interesting though grossly unrealistic and cartoonish plot, revolving around computer hacking and domestic cyber-terrorism, one of the more elaborately unrealistic scenarios played out since Hackers. On top of that, the PG-13 rating gave the movie a strange and slapdash feel, every death feeling like a crash test dummy being tossed aside and the language being trimmed down to one line overlapping another to avoid obsceneties, pretty much going against everything the series was established for.

The once violent, vulgar, and comedic Willis is reined in and kept on the tight leash of a teen film, playing the overprotective father, quietly staring, shooting, or bleeding. It all feels rather rote and the action is the only thing that breaks the monotony of the character setup, doing fairly well but building to the point that I just wanted the movie to be over.

The amount of action material and stunts in the film is definitely a bargain, but it's a bit far over the top and it eventually gets to the point that you really grow numb to the ever-more-improbable explosions and escapes.

Timothy Olyphant makes a decent villain, fuming away in the background, but he's a bit wasted on this movie.

The entertainment may be in here, but it's far from an enjoyable ride.

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The Notorious Bettie Page

bettie_page.jpg rating-3.0Being interested in Bettie Page and being a big fan of Mary Harron & Guinevere Turner's work on American Psycho, I was intrigued to see how The Notorious Bettie Page had worked out after years of planning and filming.

The biopic does a good job of portraying Bettie's life with a charming dignity and a feeling of real humanity, particularly through the instrument of Gretchen Mol's performance.

The film is a calm journey through the life of Miss Page, a free-spirited Southern belle who went to town, got involved in the playful side of the S&M modelling world, found herself in the midst of scandal, decided her faith was more important, and returned to rural life.

Mol plays the character beautifully and, in a way, you fall in love with Bettie while watching her, despite the various trials and tragedies faced, and it never stoops to make Bettie seem weak or abused by them. She is a strong and beautiful character, never broken by the world around her, instead seeming to find joy wherever she goes.

The surrounding cast is all excellent and the movie features a variety of great actors in smaller roles. Every movie should pack this kind of excellent ensemble cast.

The plot is simplistic, but tells Bettie's tale in a more than adequate way, despite its saddening focus on Bettie's faith. But one can't change life and her life is in its way beautiful. There are no shocking revelations and it isn't in any way tawdry or explicit.

The film is driven by the subtle charm of the actors and the presence of Gretchen Mol, who carries the movie in the palm of her hand. She helps us better know Bettie in a way few actors can imbue their subjects.

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The Devil Wears Prada

devil_wears_prada.jpgrating-2.5Movies about the world of fashion would generally be outside the realm of my tastes, but I like Anne Hathaway and we all know, deep down, that this film isn't really about fashion.

Anne plays Andy, a young journalist looking for an in into the writing world. She, of course, ends up with an impressive position under a fashion editor-in-chief known for her power, vision, and moody bitchiness. And, of course, Andy is also totally unfashionable, disinterested, and has no clue as to the variety of famous designers out there.

What follows is the rote tail of the young girl working hard to fit in at her new job, trying to take the opportunity of her situation somewhat seriously, discovering her inner fashionista, and becoming the workaholic protege of her boss, before finding the real Andy within.

Yes, as you might imagine, there's more that goes on in there, but you get the general jist: she's a girl trying to find herself in the realm between fresh-faced college graduate and hardened corporate drone, while surrounded with a bitchy boss, snarky co-workers, irritable friends, a pathetic boyfriend, a scheming lover, and company backbiting. As a satire of the corporate and fashion worlds, there is a certain amount of well-constructed commentary, but for the most part the film is nothing more than your average coming-of-age tale burying in designer lingo.

The cast is sturdy, though the plot is somewhat unimpressive, so that slightly darkens their achievements. Anne Hathaway is as good as always, probably a shock to people only familiar with her Princess Diaries movie work, but she's always been a strong actress, in those films, Havoc, and (so I'm told) Brokeback Mountain, the film that convinced Meryl Streep that she could play the part. Streep is, as always, very strong and delivers a good performance in the role of the strong, manipulative, and cruel coroporate overlord. There are other stand-out performances from Stanley Tucci, finally avoiding the embittered dickhead roles, and Emily Blunt. The one really unfortunate bit of acting was the always-annoying Adrian Grenier, who isn't even interesting in "Entourage," much less as Hathaway's whiny boyfriend.

Otherwise, the film is mainly a shrug, providing simplistic entertainment, though not of any major merit, and delivering light comedy. Really, the interplay between the actors and the strength of Hathaway are the only reasons to watch the film, the rest being of no major signifigance, though it kills the time.

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conjure.jpgrating-0.5Knowing a certain amount about a movie, its maker, and the process of its making will invariably color the tone and level of your perception of that particular film.

That being said, Conjure is a terrible movie and Matt Busch is a terrible director. This should not take away from Busch's incredible talent for art in any way; it's just a statement of fact about the content, quality, and decision-making of Conjure's construction.

The film, shot on video, is obviously a handmade production, lovingly constructed by Busch, but it comes across as dull, amateurish, and slapdash.

The film begins with a 9 minute intro that serves as nothing more than a bio reel for Matt Busch, who casts himself as the main character of the film, an easy enough part to play, but the backstory delving into his entire life, his dreams, motivations, and career path are easily the most self-indulgent thing I've ever seen on film. What could have easily been established through context clues or a short piece of voiceover is instead buried in 9 extra minutes of information totally unrelated to the film's plot.

When the proceedings finally do get underway, we're left to trudge through an awkward beginning, as shaky and unnatural dialogue and plot points spill out onto the screen to sit for nearly a half hour as our protagonists, Matt and his girlfriend Sarah, sit around the house after ghostly happenings begin in their home, including the moving of objects and the setting off of burglar alarms, all seemingly faciliated by Matt's finding of the picture of a "castle" (a large house in no way resembling a castle) while trudging through a snowy graveyard.

After some ghostly happenings (and a collage of footage), Matt and Sarah are pulled into his painting of the "castle," where they investigate, see more ghostly images, and eventually work their way back to their house somehow to experience encounters with ghostly women from Matt's art who harass them before finally being dispelled at the film's end. It then, of course, features another epilogue that continues the stream of biographical self-indulgence.

Sadly, my description, though short, is easily one hundred times more interesting than the actual film.

The great faults of the movie begin first and foremost with an almost laughable, uninteresting, and paltry plot, barely held together by its threads of development. This is compounded by the stiff and unnatural dialogue and the rough acting skills of Busch, though his acting is Shakespearian in comparison to then-girlfriend Sarah Wilkinson, who delivers every line with a detached tone that leaves you to wonder how she can play herself so badly.

The movie lacks any sense of atmosphere, though it's hard to blame Busch given the financial and technical limitations given to him, but there's many, many ways these problems could have been worked around but were not. The "castle" for example is decorated in a mix of weird truck stop knick-knacks and items whose humorous nature totally undercuts any tone the film might try to build. Busch also would have done well to avoid shooting so much in the bright sunlight of day, making all the more atmospheric parts of the movie filmed at night look bad in comparison.

The direction and choice of shots isn't terrible and Matt draws some interesting material out of the ether, but the editing is an abomination and already dully-written scenes stretch on in silence towards infinity, the cut coming minutes too late to save the film's movement. The moments that should be frightening often linger so long on screen that any magic they could have possessed becomes entirely laughable and interesting design is wasted, not to mention the dozens and dozens of jump cuts to second-long shots of crazy shit with blasts of noise that serve only to be weird.

The use of ghostly figures transposed onto the shots is actually fairly clever and the way in which these "ghosts" are used is actual decent for such a lo-fi, low-budget production, but the plot services none of this in any way and the whole movie is pure shoeleather, wasting time until it fills feature length. Also, though it was overdriven as hell and irritated my receiver, the sound design for the movie is fairly well constructed and uses some very nice cues and scoring on top of the crazy ambient noises. Kudos to him on that note.

If I could tell Mr. Busch one thing, it would be to come up with a tighter, more easily accomplished concept to set his sights on, if ever he were to make a film again, though I would advise him to stick to art, conceptual design, or production and leave the work of direction, editing and acting to the semi-professionals.

Of course, if I were offered a chance to tell him two things I'd say that, no matter how hot Miss Wilkinson is (and she is a very cute girl), some people just can't act and shouldn't be put in front of a camera. The right tool for the right job, Mr. Busch.

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An American Haunting

american_haunting.jpgrating-1.0An American Haunting sets new records for incompetence of creation and boring content.

Written for the screen, produced, and directed by Courtney Solomon, a twat whose only film credit is the Dungeons & Dragons movie, that legendary clusterfuck is overshadowed by this tremendous turd.

Some might raise an eyebrow at that contention and, surely enough, Haunting lacks Dungeons & Dragons' low production value, unintelligible story, terrible acting, totally inappropriate subject matter, and lack of any atmosphere. But, at the same time, Haunting is one of the most dull, stagnant and pointless movies ever to be filmed.

If you hadn't heard, this movie features the totally for real tale of The Bell Witch, so real that even totally fucking crazy shitbag former President Andrew Jackson attempted to hunt and exorcise the demonic presence himself. (Though fans of the legends are quick to point out that nothing in the movie is even really based on any of the dozens of conflicting tales, instead basing the whole thing off of a recent dramatized novel of the legend.)

So, this is of course a movie for the foil-hats, people who believe in ghosts, curses, and evil spells: total cunts and 14-year-old girls.

To make a long story short and "ruin" the movie for you, the plot is thus: father and neighbor get into land dispute, which most legends claim is the reason for the curse; daughter starts suffering from ghostly attacks; teacher who is too close to daughter helps to stop it; creepy ghost is unstoppable; everything goes bad; people sit around and perform in tedious, boring, and obscenely stupid scenes; turns out the ghost is a "protector" spirit, revealing to the others that the daughter has been raped by the father.

All this is bookended by another retarded modern day tale where the same thing is happening to another young girl, the spirit being the ghost of raped daughter, warning the mother of her ex-husband's molestation of their child.

So, essentially the legend of the Bell Witch is nothing more than the stupidest episode of "Ghost Hunters: Special Victims Unit" that you could ever see.

The whole affair is deeply filtered in blue lighting and tries deperately to appear modern and trendy, but leaves out everything good about movies, such as story, pacing, editing, and direction. The acting is a decent attempt and young Rachel Hurd-Wood does her best to believably portray the ghost-stricken girl, though Donald Sutherland and Sissy Spacek appear to be reaching the bottom of the barrel on their careers (particularly Sutherland, who burns up the glory of his Beerfest cameo with this terrible nonsense) and James D'Arcy does himself no favors by being involved in the shitheap.

The direction is nothing but cobbled together scenes of nothing, boring talking, and spooky ghostly scenes where the effect of flashing from color to black & white are severely overused to the point of eyestrain.

The whole movie is an abortion of the highest order and everyone involved should be flogged or killed, if not sent to study under Uwe Boll.

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