Jack Reacher is Hilarious

Louis CK told me to be judicious with “hilarious,” but Jack Reacher was hilaaaaaarious.

It was also ugly, with a prison rape joke in the first stanza of dialogue, but mostly it was hilarious.


Just look how big they ‘Shopped his noggin!

Yes, it was a functional action movie on the level of an above-average James Bond. Well put-together. Capably shot and acted. Densely plotted in a way that makes everything feel clever and agreeable until you start walking home.

But I got beefs. I got beefs like Burger King.

The plot problems are funnier, so let’s get the character stuff out of the way.

I haven’t read any Jack Reacher novels, but the character in this movie is split-personality to the point of actual mental illness. This is no crime. As written, he should spend some scenes as a charming jerk (rebuffing the advances of a woman 30 years his junior) and others as a dead-eyed sociopath (telling a baddie he’s going to “drink [his] blood from a boot.”) No problem. He also gives a few sincere, heartwarming pep talks. Er, all right. Workable. The Lethal Weapon franchise is proof of this.


The Back to the Future school of poster cast accumulation

Alas Tom Cruise plays every scene as “badass.” He’s like the first D&D character a middle school kid rolls up that takes a bonus in Intimidate and never touches Diplomacy or Bluff.

(Rampant spoilers ahead, which shouldn’t interfere with your enjoyment of the movie with the inevitable RiffTrax.)

This choice is boring, and it forbids engagement with the character. The scene with the very young flirting woman, Sandy, has a lot of unmotivated nastiness that would at least land softer if he were smiling through it. Later he shows up at Sandy’s work to find her (she’s conveniently at Reacher’s first guess, just as she conveniently shared her workplace info with a stranger she has been led to believe is a creep). Some Bluff or Diplomacy would go a long way here, but instead he threatens her boss, barges his way in, corners Sandy in an office and menaces her there. For a guy who prizes anonymity, this is pretty stupid.

He also menaces attorney and District Attorney’s offspring Helen (Rosamund Pike). He yanks her around by the arm. So does Helen’s dad(!), the aforementioned DA. Also topless Jack Reacher makes Helen all shuddery with lust (ha ha ha ha). Also super-young Sandy can’t stop hitting on him, even while crying, even after Jack has told her “the [women] you don’t pay for are the ones [he] can’t afford,” because in that scene he talks like Elmore Leonard fanfic. Also Jack asks Sandy why she runs with such a bad crowd, and she says, “That’s just what girls like me do,” which is a thing no one has said ever and is also a brainless answer, like the writer dropped in some temp dialogue and never went back to fix it.


Exposed to bad writing at a tender age

Oh, and later Sandy gets felt up by the camera a little more before getting creeped on by a baddie and then slowly murdered.

So it’s safe to say this movie is a rough watch for the ladies.

Anyhoo.

You know that rad scene from the trailer? Where Jack slips out of a police chase and into a crowd? And a cool older dude gives him his ballcap? Yeah, there’s no reason for the crowd to do that. His face isn’t famous. They haven’t seen him do anything heroic. There’s no undercurrent of cop corruption that would cause citizens to automatically abet a chased stranger. It poops on the trailer like nine pigeons on a balcony.


HE KILLED FIVE GRANNIES FOR ALL YOU KNOW

So that’s why this movie didn’t connect as an action film.

Here’s why it totally connected as a comedy:

  • The inciting incident is that one elite sniper frames another slightly less elite sniper at the behest of a Huge Evil Corporation who wants to disguise one woman’s murder as part of a random mass killing. No, wait! The woman interfered with Huge Evil Corporation’s plan by refusing to sell her business. This resistance is somehow a dealbreaker for HEC’s master plan. So instead of Diplomacy, Bluff or even Intimidate, HEC goes straight to Murder. I hope the woman’s company isn’t inherited by a hardheaded son or daughter, or this family’s next reunion is going to have a skimpy turnout.
  • In order to kill this woman, who seems to have made the troubling decision recently, the HEC arranges for an evil elite sniper to befriend a troubled but redeemable elite sniper. This befriending has been going on so long that they’ve taken multiple trips to a remote shooting range together. How does such a friendship begin? “Hello, I see you are also an elite sniper. Do you like Thai food?”


    I like shooting dudes in the eye. Do you like shooting dudes in the eye?

  • The HEC is evil because it builds pointless things, like “bridges to nowhere” and “highways nobody uses.” They have done this in multiple countries. I don’t understand how this is a working or profitable scheme. Would it not be sufficiently evil if they used muscle to win, like, legitimate contracts? Isn’t a pointless bridge as expensive to build as a useful one? EVIL CORPORATIONS ARE A SILLY THING IN GENERAL.
  • I understand it’s hard to marry white-collar crime to wetwork. What you need is some character that occupies both worlds. A Patrick Bateman. A Stringer Bell. Not Werner Herzog as a hyperbolic one-eyed, one-fingered Siberian gulag survivor who doesn’t actually do anything, isn’t connected to the plot in a way I could follow, and turns up for the final shoot-out even though HE DOESN’T DO ANYTHING and he HAS NO FINGERS so he can’t even HOLD A GUN. Why is he here? I think it’s just “look spooky” and “be German,” which he does very well, but oh my God it’s so silly.


    I really should not have come to this shootout

  • Rosamund Pike pretending to be overwhelmed by Tom Cruise’s topless physique is the funniest thing I’ve seen in a month. It’s just such a young adult novel thing to happen. Tom Cruise is plenty physically fit, but he is 50. Rosamund Pike is 33. There are only three reasons a woman that age would be overwhelmed by carnal feeling for a man his age:
    • She is drunk.
    • They have formed a deep romantic bond over many weeks and many incremental personal revelations.
    • He smells like Cinnabon.
  • Someone dressed Rosamund Pike in multiple low-cut shirts. Cleavage is not a crime, but it is a funny fashion choice for a character who should have been dressed like Rose Byrne in Damages. Perhaps Helen prefers stretch fabrics because she gets yanked around by the arm all the time.


    This bosom had more screen time than Werner Herzog

  • As mentioned previously, Jack Reacher tells a baddie, “I will drink your blood from a boot.” Alas he doesn’t then literally do it, which I believed was the only reason anyone would ever say this. I AM DISAPPOINT.
  • Jack Reacher asserts “there’s a bus station three miles away and I can walk there in twenty-four minutes.” I can run an eight-minute mile if I am pushing it and slightly afraid. For funsies, the Olympic racewalk 5K record, set in 1995, is 18 minutes and change. I invite you to imagine Tom Cruise elite racewalking right… now.


    This, but in jeans and a leather jacket

    (No disrespect to racewalking, where competitors walk faster than I can run on my best day with two cups of coffee and everything, but there is NO WAY this is what Jack Reacher means, which makes it comedy gold to debate what he is asserting.)

  • Jack turns a blind corner to outshoot a dude peering through a lock of Helen’s hair. If you were expecting Bluff, Diplomacy or even a shoe mirror to solve that standoff, YOU ARE DISAPPOINT.
  • Robert Duvall plays an eighty-year old elite sniper because this movie has elite snipers like my house has loose dog hair. In the final shootout he kills like nine dudes with his own registered rifle. How he is going to deal with the legal fallout of all this remains unclear. If you were hoping for a one-liner about how he is eighty and just needs to drag the trial out a few years, HAVE SOME DISAPPOINT.

Just for fun, I went to Wikipedia and got this description of the books’ Reacher:

Reacher’s demeanor is stoic, and he does not talk much. He has a propensity for saying “that’s for damn sure”. Reacher frequently does not answer when people make statements or ask questions, nodding or shrugging, preferring the other party to fill the silence… Reacher is 6′ 5″ tall (1.96 m) with a 50-inch chest, and weighing between 210 and 250 pounds (100–115 kg). He has ice-blue eyes and dirty blond hair. He has very little body fat, and his muscular physique is completely natural (he reveals in Persuader, he has never been an exercise enthusiast).

Ha ha ha ha ha. I will say if this movie starred John Cena as a dude with half the dialogue who pretended not to work out, everything else in the movie would have made total sense.


I will drink your blood from a boot… ladieeees.

A-a-a-a-a-and SPENT.

If you like thoughtful heckling, you might also enjoy:

23 Silly Things about The Dark Knight Rises


Alfred, that is a lot of silly things

(Thanks is due to many co-hecklers in the production of this heckle.)

Nolan’s Batman saga is like a coin.

The first side features breathless cause-and-effect (Batman Skyhook-extradites a businessman because that businessman eloped with crime boss money because Batman/Bruce Wayne bookends are too good at what they do because Batman.)

The second side features wild coincidence (in a besieged city of 12 million, Bruce Wayne encounters Selina Kyle on a bridge) and wild oversight (Batman never investigates how to mess up the thing that lets Bane, you know, breathe.)

The first side offers great lines (“And you want to blackmail this person?”) and moments of humanity (“Bats are nocturnal!”)

The second side offers extended lectures about what characters want (“I’m Gotham’s reckoning.”) without actually explaining what they want (Reckoning for what?).

The first side has Michael Caine.

The second side has one-armed bicep curling a Liam Neeson.


Bring him a ruby the soize… of a tangewine.

This installment leans heavily toward the second side.

I didn’t have a problem with Bane’s Sean-Connery-doing-a-Bill-Cosby-impression voice (try it!) I thought Anne Hathaway did a fine job even if her character was confusing. But I think close-up fistfights are silly and on-the-nose dialogue is silly and vague pan-Asian torture spirituality is silly so I thought a lot of this movie was silly.

Here are the top twenty-three silly things in The Dark Knight Rises (SPOILERS AHEAD).

– Batman AND Bruce Wayne go on hiatus for eight years. Does anyone make the connection? No, until…


I put the Bat-suit on ice… LI-TE-RA-LEEEEE!

– John Blake (Joseph Gordon Levitt) intuits that Bruce Wayne is Batman because they had similar orphan upbringings and John Blake relates to Batman a whole bunch. Bruce Wayne makes no effort to deny this. The ease with which Blake figures it out and Wayne concedes it makes Commissioner Gordon look really, really dumb.

– Miranda (Marion Cotillard) and Bruce show up to abandoned Wayne Manor at the same time. I missed why. Because it is raining, they make out. Maybe this is because Miranda just picked up Bruce’s framed publicity still of Rachel Dawes, which reminds him what a great idea it is to get romantic.

– Speaking of figuring out who is who, Bane drops a bombshell on Gotham by revealing Harvey Dent killed two people eight years ago. However it’s hard to understand who in Gotham gives a rat butt about this since they are UNDER THREAT OF NUCLEAR ANNIHILATION and locked in their homes like I Am Legend and probably dead because I don’t know how they’re getting food into the city with all the bridges blown up.


This is a thing you still care about, right?

– Also, Bane thinks the Harvey Dent news is big, but when he finds out he doesn’t announce WHO BATMAN IS.

– I don’t know what Bane wants or why his death-willing followers are so loyal. It is probably some vague pan-Asian torture spirituality thing, but it is unclear.

– Gotham PD responds to a bomb threat by sending three thousand cops into stadium tunnels. WORST PD EVER.

– When these cops get trapped, a radio dispatcher tells new Detective Blake “every cop in the city is trapped in there!” Then Blake says, “Not every one!” And then there is a cliche singularity and Brett Ratner becomes self-aware.


What am I doing? My job!

– There’s a nuclear bomb that, according to Designated Science Guy, will go unstable and detonate in 5 months. That five months turns out to be about 90 days (according to TV-screen countdowns).

– Batman needs to recuperate because Bane beat him in a fistfight. Batman got into the fistfight because he was tricked, which is like Spiderman getting sneaked up on. He has the fistfight because he must have left his Bat-everything in his other Bat-pants. He uses no strategy or implements whatsoever against topless, breathing-impaired Bane, but maybe there was a reason and I missed it because I zoned out during this part so hard.

– Batman recuperates in a super death prison… somewhere… deserty. Somebody is running it for some purpose and feeding this prisoners a lot of protein. Also it gets electricity and satellite TV. Also a heueueueuuge amount of backstory gets delivered at this place, about two hours into the movie, plus a Liam Neeson cameo and Christian Bale re-enacting every platformer video game.

– Bruce Wayne climbs out of super death prison and there’s no guard or nanny-cam at the top. If there was ever a time for a nanny-cam, it is when you have Batman in super death prison.

– Bane’s regime forces the condemned to walk across a frozen bay. Nobody gets on their bellies and does the walrus. I woulda got on my belly and done the walrus.

– I’m not going to get into how crazy cold it would have to be for Gotham’s body of water to freeze and how in the non-bay scenes it looks like September, but that is a thing.

– Wayne Enterprises has a code repository for its Bat-Heli-Harrier, and Bruce Wayne commits code to that respository, and his username is “Bruce Wayne.” Also, that is not a terribly active project, because nobody noticed for six months. Also, depending on whether you believe Bane has been in charge for 5 months or 90 days, Bruce Wayne may have committed that code before he knew the Bat-Heli-Harrier existed. WHOA.

– Did the mayor die? Did Bane? I assume so.


I’m the Bat Manuel

– Miranda has the most snerkable death scene since Queen Amidala died of ennui.

– The ensuing here-I-go-to-die chit-chat with Selina Kyle and Commissioner Gordon are the most snerkable here-I-go-to-die chit-chat since ever. There is a nuke about to detonate. If ever there were a time for meaningful glances and a removed mask, THAT TIME IS NOW.

– Former-Detective John Blake throws his badge in the bay. That seems… frowned upon. Also, that bay is frozen, so that seems… ineffective.

– Three minutes later, Commissioner Gordon asks Blake, “I can’t change your mind? About leaving the force?” Which is a pretty great example of the IS THIS CLEAR ENOUGH? dialogue in this movie.

– Speaking of, someone outs John Blake’s real name as “Robin.” First, OW MY NOSE. Second, NONE OF THE ROBINS IS ACTUALLY NAMED ROBIN. Third, IF THAT WERE YOUR REAL NAME WHY WOULD YOU PICK IT AS YOUR ALTER EGO NAME?

– There is one more OW MY NOSE and it is Alfred’s cathartic cafe scene. You have been set up to know exactly what this scene means, so it would have worked better like Monsters Inc to have Alfred look up, smile, and cut to black. BUT NO.


It got all sneefy in here all of a sudden

A-a-a-and spent.

If you like thoughtful heckling, you might also enjoy:

Splitting Hairs with Brave

I’d have to be a total jerk to criticize Brave.

It’s fleet, entertaining, funny and charming. It’s eye-shatteringly beautiful, exquisitely animated and perfectly performed.

Its heart is in the right place. The slapstick is good-natured. It reestablishes bosoms and buns as comedy gold.

Even the pickiest of hair-splitters would merely be praising it with faint damns.

Yup.

Well.

That hair-splitter’s going to be me.


No hair puns please

Spoilers ahead.

From the advertising for Brave, I figured the movie was about a plucky heroine who runs away from home and inadvertently tangles with dark forces. Or maybe is called upon to defend her kingdom. Definitely something where she’s swording and arrowing it up in the black forest.

So I was a skosh surprised that Brave is a buddy movie about Merida and her mom.


I’m not even in the posters!

Also, weirdly, it’s her mom that has a literally transformative experience. It’s her mom that’s forced to see things from a new perspective. It’s her mom that has a change of heart as a result. Merida has a shallower arc, where she becomes sort of willing to make a sacrifice (but doesn’t have to) and remembers she really loves her mom. This latter part works and is the reason the story succeeds overall, but I still have beefs.

(Brother Bear (2003) is the other Disney animated feature where someone learns compassion after being turned into a bear. After a day at Disneyland, of [former] Bear Country and Country Bear Jamboree and Grizzly Peak, I am forced to conclude Walt Disney just really liked bears, and now it’s in the studio’s DNA.)

So. Beefs.

Stakes unclear. Merida’s external conflict is she doesn’t want to get married, and her mother wants her to for the good of the land. There are plenty of reasons for a fifteen-year-old not to be real jazzed about an arranged marriage, but while Merida complains it’s “not fair,” she doesn’t quite express what her problem is with it. Is it that she doesn’t want to be told what to do — especially not something as significant as marriage? Fair enough, but not quite expressed. Is it that she’s afraid of losing her small portion of freedom? It’s never stated that marriage would end this. Is it that she wants to fall in love on her own time? That’s the conclusion Merida’s mom, Queen Elinor, reaches, but since Merida never stated this as her beef, it’s not clear that they really came to understand each other — rather than Elinor just giving Merida what she wants.

And what happens if Merida refuses to marry any of her suitors? Ostensibly there will be war, but the clans as presented just sort of squabble in amusing and harmless ways. It’s difficult to imagine Merida’s actions provoking them either way: to get along or to wage bloody war. Merida’s mother tells her a story — one time, a brother went his own way out of pride, and it caused war — but it’s not clear how that relates directly to Merida’s situation.

It’s possible at least one of the clans in Brave should have been menacing instead of funny. It would have paralleled the four clans in Merida’s mum’s story and helped establish the stakes.

Too many helpers. Several times, Merida gets helped out of a dead end by Will-o’-the-wisps, a witch AND her three mischievous brothers. They’re all rad, but story-wise the wisps are plenty. The witch isn’t foreshadowed and disappears after playing her part. The brothers are highly entertaining but don’t contribute to main story (plus Merida doesn’t seem terribly alarmed that they’ve been turned into bears.) What these three do is solve Merida’s problems on the regular. Trying to escape castle with bear-form mom? Brothers. Can’t find witch’s cottage? Wisps. Can’t figure how to undo spell? Witch. Locked in a tower? Brothers. Even though Merida’s rock-climbing has been established! Oh well.


Thanks, brothers!

Another bear subplot. There’s a baddie bear named Mordu. He’s an artifact of Queen Eleanor’s story-within-a-story, but I’m not sure he’s necessary, except to motivate Merida’s dad to really, really, really hate bears. It’s not clear why this bear has been laying low for ten years, or why he decides to start roaming the countryside again just because Merida falls in his den. Mordu’s existence does culminate in a fight with bear-form Queen Elinor, which is violent and scary and should fill up /r/AskReddit “What childhood movie traumatized you the most?” threads fifteen years hence.


This one. This one did.

Red herrings. Queen Elinor gives Merida a necklace, which turns out to be valuable enough to buy the witch’s service. It never shows up again. There’s an enchanted Stonehenge-like-circle that frightens Merida’s horse, but aside from that and being a wisp hangout it demonstrates no magical properties. And! Merida’s horse Angus is established and compelling and then disappears after the first 30 minutes. Angus!

Thematic messiness. The last act oddly involves Merida wielding a sword to protect her bear-form mother from her father. Her father refuses to believe the bear is Queen Eleanor transformed, and that’s typical movie hard-headedness that I don’t really have a problem with (though I would have liked to have seen Merida try a little harder to convince him.) Having Merida physically fight her dad, however, who has always been loving and understanding before, just has an odd flavor to it. She could have just thrown herself in the path of dad’s sword, a la Pocahontas or Fox and the Hound. This would have supported the theme of personal sacrifice, not called upon Merida to suddenly be apt with a sword, and not weirded me out.


One awkward conversation later, things were fine again

My West Coast Heckling Partner and I bounced story ideas back and forth with the idea of, well, what would a Pixar fairy tale be? It should take tropes and put them on their ear! Some ideas:

– Let the princess start off as a TOTAL COWARD. (It’s called Brave, after all!) As a little girl, she was foolishly fearless, until she endangered her family by breaking the rules. Now she’s overcompensating by being waaaaay too cautious, even carrying around a little abacus to calculate risk before even eating breakfast. When a Big Bad attacks her kingdom, she hides! She emerges to find her kingdom turned to stone/ice/bears/sleep. Now she’s the only one left! Can she use her math skills to undo the Big Bad’s spell before her kingdom shatters/melts/hibernates/is eaten by wolves? Will she learn to be BRAVE?

– Show a wish-granting antagonist (who in normal fairy tales is forever demonstrating to be careful what you wish for) as having good intentions — but just being overly helpful. This troll/fairy/witch might feel hurt and unloved when no one seems to want her spells. You said you wanted it never to rain again! WHY ARE YOU SO MAD AT ME?


I JUST WANT TO BE LOVED.

I had the idea to write up the story in this heckle, but then I think we got onto something and I think I’m just going to what we came up with as a standalone.

So.

You got that to look forward to.

A-a-a-a-and spent.

If you like thoughtful heckling, you might also enjoy:

Prometheus


Might solve a mystery… or rewrite history!

What what.

What what what.

Prometheus is exquisitely made and beautifully acted. The art direction will melt your face. The cinematography will scorch your scalp. But the story is a fractal of mess, where you approach the general shape of the mess and find jutting mini-messes all the way to infinity.

NONE OF THIS MOVIE MAKES ANY SENSE.

It is a Rorschach test of confusion, where you can reflect on it for hours with a heckling partner, comparing notes on which morsels jarred your brain the worst. It is a Master’s Thesis of confusing, contradictory and silly. This is a movie with more red herrings than regular herrings.

Here there be spoiling pretty much everything that happens, and it is graphic, so be warned.

The primary mess is that, in Prometheus, a race of massively muscled translucent white “Engineers” started life on earth, which evolved into humans. Some tens of thousands of years ago, these beefy dudes visited various groups of people and persuaded them to kindly depict a space map on cave walls and whatnot so as to direct humans to a certain planet once they become space-faring. Then about 2000 BC the beefy dudes (and they are all dudes) get SO MAD at us they want to wipe us out. WHY they get SO MAD goes deliberately, infuriatingly unanswered, but if you buy this critique (link from Oddernod) it was because we killed Space Jesus.


Also they have Greek statue faces. Allegory direct enough for ya?

Alas we humans don’t know we made the beefy dudes SO MAD, because we kill pacifist prophets basically as a hobby. So we go on our merry way until about 2089, when a very nice married couple of archeologists (some guy and Noomi Rapace) discover the shocking pattern of space maps, because by 2089 humans have developed shocking advances in CAVE EXPLORING and LOOKING AT STUFF.

Anyway, a megawealthy corporation takes interest in their assessment that an alien species created humankind and left these maps so we could find them. The revealed goal is that the head of this corporation wants to meet the creators of humankind so he can live forever.

It turns out the beefy white dudes got SO MAD they created a new kind of biological weapon — hostile seeds of life itself — to send to earth and wipe us out. They created this weapon on a planet other than their home world. This also happens to be the planet they directed us to before they got SO MAD. But they also put ships on it to ferry these horrible weapons to earth.

Uhhh… so ten thousand years ago they left us maps to a barren planet. Maybe this was intentional, in case they decided later they didn’t like us? But then as soon as we killed Space Jesus, they were like, “Forget it — let’s waste ’em.”

Ah, frick, I don’t know what’s going on.


Or why they sculpted a giant head in their spaceship/military base/welcome station

Anyway, the seeds of life itself kill all the beefy white dudes on this installation (pretty much). And the other beefy white dudes ostensibly on their home planet or wherever don’t make any attempts in the intervening two thousand years to rescue their fellows or nuke the doomed planet or keep trying to kill humankind or anything.

So all the nastiness and spaceships are still on this doomed planet when archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her posse come to town.


I heart caves!

For a funny critique of this narrative, go here (link also from Oddernod).

Now.

Stuff that was cool:

– Replicant David (Michael Fassbender) dyes his roots blond. Not only does this imply that his hair grows, which is SUPER interesting, it characterizes a robot who wants to look other than his predetermined look. That is SUPER INTERESTING. Don’t worry — not explored further.


Also he eats food! No, David! You will break!

– Idris Elba smokes, plays a musical instrument, flirts and generally acts like a human being, which is nice.

– The spaceships look cool.

– The landscapes look cool.

– Biologist guy wears a future hoodie. It looks kind of cool.

Mess:

– Characters plainly stating their intentions. A geologist proclaims, “I’m not here to make friends.” Don’t worry — this proclamation is not confirmed or disproven at any time. He is quirky Giger fodder and disappears quickly.

– Science-types on a strange planet ALL TAKE THEIR HELMETS OFF. Quickly, with limited discussion. There are no holdouts.


Loo lee loo loo… helmets are for suckers

– The science-types do not act like scientists. They aren’t cautious. They don’t take notes. They don’t measure or document. The geologist doesn’t look at any rocks. The biologist tries to pet an alien snake — like REALLY tries to pet it and doesn’t take no for an answer — like the dumbest dummy that ever dumbed. Even at Yosemite you keep wildlife wild, yo.

– Science-types dissect an alien noggin with no protective gear but gloves. No goggles. They have masks around their necks, which is not a useful place for masks.

– Also the alien noggin is “incredibly well-preserved.” By that, science lady means that, despite having been sitting in an earthlike environment in the presence of mealworms for two thousand years, it is fresh as a daisy. Why? NOBODY ASKS.

– Oh, and there are flying probes that detect life, but they don’t detect all the mealworms. They COULD have detected these mealworms, and everybody looks around and says, “Oh, it’s just mealworms,” so the crew starts to ignore the probes, BUT NO.

– Deliberately flimsy reasons for stuff. Why are nice married archaeologists along on this multi-year adventure? Because Daddy Weyland is “superstitious” and wanted a “true believer.” Really? And “true believer” means what exactly? No one asks, and it doesn’t pay off. The archaeologists are surprised by this. Is this not something you might ask BEFORE embarking on a four-year mission? THEN why is cool blonde Vickers along on this ride? According to her, she didn’t want to stick around the board at Weyland-Yutani trying to figure out who should be in charge, which is apparently a complex issue because Daddy Weyland (Guy Pearce) is still alive. THIS MAKES NO SENSE. If you want to be in charge of a company, you don’t leave it for four years! While the real CEO is gone! In space! Where you decided to join him! AAAAARRRRGH.

– Husband archaeologist is all moody and depressed because they traveled two years and only found evidence of multiple kinds of advanced alien life and biotech, including terraforming. But since there are no living aliens, he can’t ask his important questions! Because archaeologists rely on talking to living beings to get their questions answered. BLARGH.

– For some reason David infects archaeologist husband with alien black slime, because… I dunno? Possibly so he will impregnate Shaw, the archaeologist wife, with an alien entity? This is what happens, but why? This has NOTHING to do with David’s prime directive, which is to put wannabe-immortal Daddy Weyland in front of one of the beefy dude Engineers. I watched this movie like three hours ago, and I seriously have no idea why David infects one, or whether he even intended to impregnate the other. SO BLARGH.

– Also Shaw reminds her husband at one point that she’s infertile. So it’s weird that she gets pregnant (is it truly conception, or implantation?) Don’t worry — this isn’t explored at all.

– When Shaw realizes she’s pregnant and immediately wants to get it out of her — which is at least a thing that makes sense — David drugs her. Two other scientists show up in hazmat suits (protective gear FINALLY) to put her in cryosleep. Why? What did David tell them to persuade them to cryosleep her? Is this just a thing they do? “Hey, you’ve got a bad headache; we’re gonna throw you back in cryosleep.”

– Rather than TALK to the scientists, or TELL ANYONE AT ALL EVER that she’s got an alienfetus inside her, Shaw fights them. Apparently she knocks them both out, because they don’t pursue her. Also apparently she KILLS THEM, because they never appear again.

– Then Shaw sprints off to the Chekov’s gun of Vickers’s surgery pod. We learned in Act 1 that only twelve of these were made, and one is sitting in Wickers’s quarters because she’s safety-minded (FLIMSY REASON.) Shaw requests a C-Section (what), but she has to summarize the procedure because the machine is on a “male” default setting. WHY is this machine set to “male”? WHY is it set to either gender? IT’S A FREAKIN’ POD THAT DOES SURGERY. And WHY is it set to male when it lives in a woman’s quarters? Did Wickers not go through the user’s manual? If anything, it should be set to Charlize Theron’s exact biological description, and short Noomi should have to stretch to seem 5’9″. AAAARRRRGH. (Ohhh. Heckling partner has read that the surgery pod was possibly pre-set for Daddy Weyland, not Vickers, which also explains why its along for the trip at all. OK, but still — gimme a main menu!)

– So now we come to the C-section. Why, why, why does Elizabeth request a C-section and not, you know, AN ABORTION. I think no matter your opinion on abortion you will pretty much agree to a woman’s right to get things out of her uterus that AREN’T HUMAN. But no! She asks for a C-Section, and she gets what, like, George Lucas imagines a C-section is: one long lateral incision, and then a claw machine lifts out the amniotic sac. Handy! Then another device staples her skin shut, and then she’s up and sprinting with the best of them. ALL OF THE BLARGHS. There is a scene from The Fly that should have been here.

– In great pain, Shaw flees down a corridor and happens up on the room where Daddy Weyland is being secretly kept. Was this an accident? Coincidence? Was she looking for someone? No idea. David’s there, and she doesn’t seem too steamed at him about him for drugging her and condemning her to cryosleep while she begged to be unpregnant, so that’s mighty forgiving of her.

– Shaw takes a moment to ask Idris Elba’s captain what he believes in, but does not mention the whole horrific alien pregnancy thing, or that the alienfetus is still flailing around Vickers’s surgery pod. Man, some people just won’t open up.

– Vickers turns out to be Daddy Weyland’s kid. So she has a different last name from him, and that’s progressive, and I’m down, but how did that happen? Wouldn’t she want to keep that powerful last name if she wanted to run the company? But that’s a small potato here.

– The great question of how we made the beefy dudes SO MAD is not answered. It’s left as a cliffhanger, because after two hours and fifteen minutes we did not earn the answer. COME ON.

Stuff that happens but does not pay off in any way:

– Vickers and Captain Elba get it on. This is never mentioned again.


Look out! A story point with no consequences!

– At the beginning, Shaw gets a super-short backstory showing her religious Africa-exploring dad. An hour later David casually mentions that dad died of ebola. This does not come up again AT ALL.


A whole world of random things to mention

– One of the sacrificial scientists (I seriously don’t even know which one) comes back to the ship as a charred heap folded backward on himself. He reanimates, kills some dudes, and they set him on fire some more. I guess they just needed to kill off some crew members, because nothing comes of this later.

– Shaw risks her life to get the giant, “incredibly well-preserved” head back to the ship. She and Lysa Arryn Ford (Kate Dickie) dissect it, and it explodes. A lot of screen time and suspense is applied to the head, but after exploding it never comes up again.

I’m sure there’s more but my brain feels squishy and bad. So.

Spent.

In Defense of Battleship

Battleship pleasantly surprised me.


Successfully selling shlocky dialogue, SIR.

It’s not that I have a soft spot for “E for effort” action movies. Of the Transformers movies (with Rifftrax), I found the first one decent and the latter two punishingly bad. I slept through half of Battle Los Angeles, and War of the Worlds and I Am Legend bored me numb. Even John Carter, with its game actors and healthy sense of humor, annoyed me overall.

What separates a bad-bad action movie from a good-bad action movie? What flaws are forgivable? Why would I be more likely to watch Battleship again than any other of the above? Why would I categorize this movie with Independence Day and the other movies with a dull headache?

(Your mileage may vary.)


Pretty sure this is a still from Battleship

Let us start with the TERRIBLE:

Anything military Despite my occasional pretending, I really don’t know much about military dress or procedure — all I can do is complain about haircuts and hats. But there are so many lolwuts that the complete lack of trying is entertaining in its own right, such as when Sam and Max visit a Philippines “drawn without reference material.” For example: on the way to RIMPAC exercises, our hero Lieutenant Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) engages in some fisticuffs and gets dressed down by his admiral. The. Admiral. This is like screwing up at work so bad that President Obama comes to chew you out.


Starboard the aft mainsail deck!

Later Lt. Hopper’s commander brother warns him, “They’re going to kick you out of the Navy. The day you get back.” Not now, but later. No court martial or anything. And not a fancy term like “dishonorable discharge.” Just “kick you out,” like the Navy is a big floating Key Club. Silly.

Also there is a tendency in this script for sailors to argue with their superiors. Again, not Key Club. At most, a crazy order warrants a well-timed, incredulous “sir?” But then generally captains in movies are cool heads with clever unfolding schemes, instead of meatheads.

Anything logical The alien baddies attack only what they perceive as threats, as informed by their color-coded HUDs: green means go, red means destroy. This means they will knock a dude to the floor but then turn their back on him. Not only is this very silly (you are punching me! I punch you back! You stopped punching me! OK, we’re done here!), and raises odd questions (are the aliens a hive mind? Is “threatening-ness” determined programmatically, so that on-the-ground aliens don’t have to face the day-to-day question of what dudes to punch?), but it’s also self-contradictory. Red: industrial equipment, freeways, cars sitting in traffic, battleships not doing anything. Green: dude as soon as he stops punching you.


I can see your Ha-lo… Ha-lo… Ha-lo… Ha-lo-o-o…

Character design Predator they ain’t. The alien baddies are beige, doughy and have big square teeth (SQUARE!), so they look sort of like Shrek with a beard. They have angry eyes, you know, like the snake in Anaconda, but if you’re going to drop in aliens with no clear objective (colonize the planet? sack it for resources?) it helps if they look dangerous. Like, at all. These space-bros look like they’re just down for beer pong and courting Princess Fiona.


Shaved alien

Can we stop doing the angry eyes thing? It is not scary. Like at the end of Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, where the alien is melting Cate Blanchett’s brain, and he leans in one last time and makes an EXTRA mean face, and it’s so silly you want to die of carpet burn?


Now THAT’S a bad movie

Love interest Brooklyn Decker plays Lt. Hopper’s girlfriend, Sam. I hesitate to blame Decker for the performance lodged in this movie, irritating and unpalatable, like gristle in one’s teeth after a steak sandwich. I don’t think she picked the tank-top, short-shorts, dangly gold hoop earrings she’s forced to wear for most of the movie, which is the outfit she wears to work… as a physical therapist… for disabled vets. Because when helping 250 lb former soldiers with missing limbs, you want as many self-inflicted wedgies as possible.


These are my physical therapist earrings

In Sam’s few scenes, we learn much about her. We learn she is rude to pushy drunks until they commit crimes for her, and then she likes them a lot. We learn she enjoys compliments and making out. We learn that even if a big strong hard-headed veteran of the war in Afghanistan says he won’t do a thing, she’ll be all like, “You’re gonna do it,” and then he’ll do it.


Gregory D. Gadson as Lt. Col. Mick Canales, here to destroy cutesy acting

It would have been neat-O if, in this scene, she had shown her powers of persuasion, or knowledge of medical science, or understanding of his condition, or wisdom of experience, but no. The script does not rise to the occasion, and this scene is a terrible galling waste. A more experienced actress might have been able to make it work, but, as Decker was sent to set that day in dangly hoop earrings and short-shorts, she may not have received much helpful direction on her character’s motivation.


Peter Berg just said to make this face a lot

(Spoilers imminent… If you have any plan to watch this movie, I advise you not to read. The warm glow of Battleship‘s pleasures is not so bright as to survive a spoiling.)

Random dead people Cities are destroyed. 9/11 imagery is evoked. A skyscraper gets chopped in half, and a whole freeway gets flung to bits by some chainsaw Langoliers. Weirdly I am able to forgive civilians getting killed for my amusement more than I am military personnel getting killed for my amusement. It bothered me less when all of Hong Kong was demolished than when Lt. Hopper’s brother’s ship got blown up. This reminds me that, in response to the death of his brother and countless others, Lt. Hopper gets this reaction shot of “aw, dang!” I understand it is hard for a cartoony action movie to take the time to depict grief, but then maybe it would be better if it didn’t blow up ships full of people ‘n’ stuff.

Now the lollable:

– When an alien encounters Hawaiian horses, its HUD helpfully identifies them with a horseshoe. What. What. What. *head asplode*

– Admiral’s daughter is successfully hit on by law-breaking drunk meathead who looks like he doesn’t smell great. If this were written into the character — that she is secretly super into drunks, meatheads and not smelling good, and has been looking all her life for the right man to give her dad nightmares — well, that would have given her a characteristic, and that would have been nice.

– At the last moment, the cowardly nerd arrives to save the Army vet and the love interest. This is dumb and makes no sense, which in this movie is forgivable, but it’s also unsatisfying, which is less forgivable.

Now the kind of great:

– Rihanna. Totally game. Totally effective. Exactly what she needed to be in this movie. I sort of wish she had played both her rifle-loving role and the love-interest — like, they happened to be identical twins. No, it wouldn’t have made sense. No, that wouldn’t have mattered.


Standing by to blow up Shreks, sir.

– Acknowledging, casting and characterizing disabled vets. Hell yes. It is cruel that Gregory D. Gadson’s naturalistic performance as Lt. Col. Mick Canales is so often paired with Brookyln Decker’s prohibition from doing anything unpretty. However it leads to him bodily beating the daylights out of a space-Shrek, and I found this tremendously satisfying.

– A multiculti cast! With women! And old folks! This is the kind of movie where a Japanese captain reminds American meathead Lt. Hopper that “The Art of War” is Chinese — and Hopper doesn’t have a snotty comeback. Where a white petty officer’s Colonel-Sanders-resembling whiteness is worth remarking about — and there is someone of color around to do it. Where an alien smacks around Rihanna, so she blows him up with a missile (very satisfying.)


Right between the angry eyes

– The entire movie as excuse to take the USS Missouri for one last spin? To honor the vets thereon? To show quintessential young buck rock star Rihanna eagerly taking instruction from them? To the strains of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”? On some level I hoped this sequence would take us all the way to the credits, a la Death Proof: nothing but old timers blowing the living crap out of an evil spaceship while AC/DC songs played. Well, the movie slows down and has a normal ending, but I still enjoyed it.

– Speaking of inclusion, this movie has an American meathead and a Japanese slightly-less-meathead teaming up IN HAWAI’I and ON THE MISSOURI in order to defeat a greater evil. Come on. COME ON. Admit you were not expecting subtext from Battleship.


SATISFYING

This is why I think Battleship works where others fail. Transformers‘s stupidity serves a racist, sexist, mean-spirited and childish product. Battleship‘s stupidity serves an inclusive, multi-national, good-natured and childish product. Transformers is a thirteen-year-old boy who talks back to his mom and flames strangers on CoD. Battleship is a thirteen-year-old boy who visits his grandparents and offers to help with the dishes.


Come on rude boy boy, I will blow you up

A-a-a-and spent.

John Carter of Mess

Disney’s John Carter brought me out of heckling retirement.


Too many Tharks on the dance floor

John Carter (not a princess, not of Mars) is a convoluted mess, but to my tastes a more palatable mess than, say, Avatar. It saves the cat and passes the Bechdel test. It has funnier bits, and its story failings are less infuriating (f’rinstance, John Carter doesn’t instantly tame a superbird and earn back everybody’s trust in the third act just ‘cos he is WAY AWESOMEST!!1one!)


Although he *can* spontaneously fly things

Also Stanton didn’t put boobs on the lady Tharks, and for that I am eternally grateful.

But it is because some morsels are so tasty that the gristle of confusion sticks my craw. It’s easy to criticize a hundred-year-old story chopped into a Disney script and puréed in the editing room. And that’s why I’m doing it.


They’re having an ab contest and everyone is winning

Spoilers abound.

PROBLEMS:

  • Too many baddies. You got superpowered, shapeshifting, laser-beam-using Therns, chief among whom is Matai Shang (Mark Strong), who is sort of aloof but sort of not, and sort of meddling but sort of not. Then you got Sab Than (Dominic West), who rules a moving city that destroys other cities. We don’t see Sab Than do anything more villainous than the usual sanitized sci-fi battling, and due to he is McNulty it was difficult for me to understand he was a baddie until he curled his lip a few times. Even so, he seemed like the kind of baddie who would see the light later, or rebel against being a pawn in Matai Shang’s plan, or have his own motivation beyond “conquer shizz.” Nope. Meathead.


    McNulty: Pants Optional

    Which brings us to…

  • Don’t know what the baddies want. There is a source of power called the “ninth ray.” Mark Strong Matai has this. The Princess of Mars, Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), is hot on the trail of discovering it, because she is sciencey, which I enjoy. However, in order to prevent Dejah and the smarties from having this power, Matai… uh… gives it to McNulty Sab Than and the meatheads. Ostensibly this is because Matai’s people “have a plan for [Mars],” and the meatheads are easier to control.

    Also Matai wants Sab Than to marry the princess so… uh… Matai can kill the princess later… to keep the smarties from having the power Sab Than already has.


    I apologize for the live-action “Last Airbender” reminding I’m doing right now

    Did I mention Matai is a superpowered shapeshifter telepath? Who can murder and destroy with his blue laser beams? Also he is corporeal and has no qualm about acting directly (Guardian of the Universe he ain’t.)

    And what is his plan for Mars? Apparently it is to make the planet a wasteland full of meatheads. It’s hard to understand why he’s peeved with John Carter for messing up his perfect plan for… wasteland management.

    My stance is there’s no need for the Therns at all. As Matai himself puts it, he has “no dog in this fight.” In general, it is probably prudent to figure out what characters don’t care about stuff and take them out.

  • Don’t know what would happen if the baddies won. My John Carter heckling partner pointed this out. We never see, f’rinstance, the smoldering ruins of a city previously visited by Sab Than. This would be mighty handy for convincing the not-taking-sides John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) to take sides. Especially if he encountered a tableau of death that echoed the one he found in his own home on earth.

    Did I mention John Carter has a dead wife and kid? No? Funny that hasn’t come up yet. Brings us to…

  • Flashback backstory. This movie is about a meathead cavalryman who blunders onto and through Mars. He has zero diplomacy, zero reaction to baby Tharks, and he solves all his problems with jumping and stabbing. Which is fine. It is a perfectly valid arc for a hero to realize there is more to life than jumping and stabbing. (In the case of Conan the Barbarian, not even this is required.) His lone fatherly intuition — recognizing that one character must be another’s daughter — is 1) blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, and 2) not clearly derived from the fact he was once a father, more than, say, he is just a person who ever interacted with other people ever.


    But the compositing was Thark

    Sidebar: to be believable, a fantasy world needs kids, trash and laundry.

    Yet his previous life’s fridged wife and kid are literally shoehorned in, and I say “literally” because the only way this cut could exist was if a producer beat an editor over the head with a shoehorn. Surely somewhere in development a version of this movie existed where the wife and kid were introduced, enjoyed, and then fridged. Then John Carter would be a grieving family man (and this would not be a Disney movie). But all his choices are informed by “meathead” and not by “grieving family man,” so why bother?

    Now, ostensibly his wife and child were killed by… something… because he chose sides… or something… so that’s why he refuses to choose sides on Mars. This isn’t really explored (no “with great power comes great responsibility”) and doesn’t pay off (he doesn’t change his mind because he sees the consequences of indifference; he changes his mind because he has a supercrush on Princess Dejah. Which is fine.)

    It’s like if you took Gladiator, removed the family prologue but left in all the flashbacks. And then the people who killed Russell Crowe’s family had nothing to do with the rest of the movie. And then you took out the stuff with Richard Harris because it was too slow. And then Joaquin Phoenix was two characters. BLARG.


    Sh. I’m having a flashback.

  • Why was a Thern on earth? John Carter gets zapped to Mars because a Thern shows up (randomly) in a cave on earth (and John Carter kills him). For the superpowered, laser-beam-wielding, long-term-plotting Thern, isn’t earth a way tastier victual than wasteland Mars? Why was that one Thern there? Is he missed? Is there a consequence for his death? The Thern raises many boring, irrelevant questions like this. I would have preferred:
    • McNulty Sab Than has traveled to earth to kill John Carter — in an effort to thwart a prophecy. However he succeeds only in killing John Carter’s family (if one insists on leaving this bit in) and inadvertently opening the door for John Carter to get to Mars. All in one go, you get evil Sab Than, heroic John Carter and accessible Mars. Yeah, self-fulfilling-prophecy is a trope, but it works.
    • (Suggested by my heckling partner:) With her science dabbling, Princess Dejah opens the portal between earth and Mars. Perhaps she sussed that someone on earth might be able to help her fight Sab Than. Perhaps she gathered together the energy to transport just one person, and this is her only shot. Maybe she even aimed for a scholar and ended up with a meathead. In any event, it leaves out the Therns and secures her relationship to John Carter.

      Speaking of…

  • Not enough time with the romance. That is because there’s so much Thern and mythos and Mars religion to chug through, not much is left for actual plot-significant affection between John Carter and Princess Dejah. Even Neytiri got to teach Jake Sully how to shoot and ride and shizz. Here, Dejah reads him a wall, and then later she reads him a floor.


    “By gelfling hand or else by none…”

    Wasted opportunity! John Carter must be introduced to Martian food! Martian sanitation! Surely he will have wounds that must be lovingly tended, like Britta did Jeff’s on that Community episode I can’t Google ‘cos all I get is fanfic. Maybe Dejah might try to fight John Carter, to win him over by force. Even a little discussion about the aforementioned “with great power comes great responsibility” with a dash of “all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Any deep thought at all for John Carter to chew on.

    Sidebar: a fantasy script should not demand more than two made-up words per sentence.

So, yeah, reconstituting Edgar Rice Burroughs “A Princess of Mars” into a fully successful single sitting of movie would require ripping out major threads that would be missed, with hurt and confusion, by fans of the book. It would probably obviate the cool and fun and Thern-requiring narrative wrapper. It might require less Bryan Cranston, which is shocking to say aloud. And to me the movie that got made was not so bad as to warrant these desperate measures. But maybe future epic movies can take a leaf from this convoluted book and leave out the extra baddie who doesn’t care about things.

A-a-a-and spent.

The Last Exorcism

SPOILERS ALL OUT OF CONTROL.

I enjoyed The Last Exorcism. Up until the last three minutes it was packed with good conflict, good ideas, good acting and good suspense.

The last three minutes were… um… NONSENSE. And nonsense stark in contrast to the pretty sophisticated, faux-documentary story that preceded it. There’s no way the current ending was the one originally scripted. NO WAY, MAN. But there was so much other good stuff that I’m still satisfied with the movie.

FRIIIIIG!
The power of linen compels you!

GOOD THINGS:

– Deeeeep back story for protagonist Cotton Marcus (Southern!), which made him relatable but not sympathetic — like every character on Mad Men. This is pretty much exactly what you want in your horror movie main dude. Thus he can dig himself deeper with morally ambiguous choices, and you’re unsure whether the story developments will save him or kill him.

– Really good acting. Patrick Fabian as Cotton is damn good, and Ashley Bell as demonically-troubled Nell Sweetzer is FREAKIN’ PERFECT. Like SO PERFECT. Like so cute and charming in her pure normal state and so SPOOKY TIMES in her possessed one. I mean, she’s Academy Award good, if the Academy didn’t frown on movies with turble, turble endings.

– Effective suspense/twistiness/curiosity derived from offering alternate explanations for the same behavior. (Is it real, or is it Demonex?)

– Effective exploration of classic exorcism movie themes, like

  • Whether someone is really possessed or mentally ill, they’re still damn dangerous
  • Well-meaning strangers can’t fix family problems
  • Reality is subjective (if a fake exorcism triggers psychosis/possession, it’s hardly fake)
  • When you stare into the abyss, the abyss also stares back and whatnot

and kisses on some new themes I’d like to see explored further like

  • Evil plays to the camera (Sentient evil recognizes technology as a new vector to spread itself — also touched on by theatrical ending of Paranormal Activity)
  • Family contending with demon as allegory for family contending with addiction
  • Documentary filmmakers embodying Heisenberg uncertainty principle — they are unable to measure their subject without changing it (symbolized by the Doc Martens the producer gives Nell)

There are so many more jokes to make but I MUST STIFLE.
Let she who has not woken up covered in cat blood cast the first stone

.

BAD THINGS

– Social services might have been called at some point — perhaps they would refuse to respond, but still. Maybe when they found Nell chained to her bed. Just saying.

– At one point, one of our three heroes suggests they all take a nap at the same time. And they do. Perhaps they could have slept in shifts, with one nodding off inopportunely. Or one could sleep while the two others stole off to argue. But all three honk-shuing at once? Bad documentarians. Bad.

– The climactic exorcism scene is cut weird. It’s cool to show only glimpses of the spooky stuff, and Lord knows this movie’s not afraid of racking focus or obscuring frame. But the choppy editing interfered with the tension at a moment when a steady single shot would have been hella effective.

– The actual ending, for those who dare to read it: with new assurance of wrongdoing, the filmmakers return to the Sweetzer house. There — after offering many possible reasonable explanations (delusion, psychotic break, actual possession) — they find a Satanic cult in the back yard that delivers Nell’s demon baby. Yup. Yuppppers. Bit disappoint-O.

Satanic cult, eh? Then why does Nell’s brother tell the crew “don’t leave her alone with him” — meaning Nell and her dad. Is he just sowing confusion? Why does Nell tell a story so easily disproven? How did the cult get access to her when she’s been homebound for two years?

Really I could just use a nice cuppa.
Thank the Lord for Settlers of Catan

So for your moviegoing enjoyment I provide this

ALTERNATE ENDING:

If you must watch this movie, STOP as our three heroes are back in the truck, heading back to the Sweetzer house at sunset with threatening clouds in the sky. They have just learned that the tidy conclusion they came to is not true. They must bring this knowledge back to Daddy Sweetzer and figure out what the hell is going on.

Nightfall. The three arrive at the house. No lights. No signs of life. Camera man guides their path with the camera light.

They climb the porch. Front door open. Let themselves in.

Searching the house. Producer woman calls 911.

A sound upstairs. Cotton insists they check it out. The other two refuse, so he goes alone.

They wait at the bottom of the stairs. And wait. “Cotton?”

Eventually Cotton returns, calling out, “Nothing! There’s no one.”

Then, from the ceiling falls a SEVERED ARM! Screamytimes! There’s the wedding ring (foreshadowed!) — it’s Mr. Sweetzer. Wherever the rest of him is, he’s hella dead.

The three run screaming from the house.

Once the three are safely outside, the house bursts into flames! Why not? It’s an exorcism movie! Wooo! Burny explodey house!

Camera man spots Nell’s body in the woods. They go to her. She is covered in blood, but looks peaceful and fully human. She has her mom’s crucifix (foreshadowed!!1!) around her neck.

Says she: “I got it out. I got it out of me.”

Got what out? What?

“But now I don’t know where it is.”

OH NOES. There’s a terrible, Evil Deadular sound in the woods. And the camera, which heretofore has been very shaky and spazzy, becomes quite steady.

More questions from Cotton and the producer: What do you mean? What happened to your father?

Now the camera weaves from side to side. Camera man’s breathing labors.

Nell glances up at the camera and SCREAMS! Cotton and producer SCREAM!

Camera hurtles down. BLACK.

.

OR

.

The demon leaves Nell to possess Cotton, because an evangelical pastor with a camera crew is the most primo habitat a demon could hope to find. He goes home to his lovely family and his lovely town and is evil incarnate and no one notices but us.

Pretty moishe any other ending would have worked better.

Aaaaaand spent.

The Last Airbender

How can a movie be both repetitive AND confusing?

Like Jeff Goldblum had a baby with DESPAIR
Kissing fun goodbye since 1999

One might suggest that M. Night Shyamalan is not experienced with action or heavy green-screen. I think Shyamalan had a BLOOD GRUDGE against his editor, and felt so much seething hideous death-hate that he was willing to scuttle a hundred-million-dollar movie based on a beloved property THAT ALREADY EXISTS IN CINEMATIC FORM. Why else would the following occur?

No establishing shots (BAM! You’re in tent in a village you’ve never seen before!)

No transition shots (BAM! Prince Zuko’s unconscious in the woods! BAM! He’s standing next to his uncle on a ship! Then to fill in the gap that A SINGLE SHOT OF PRINCE ZUKO WALKING would have helped, his uncle has to ask something like, “Where have you been the last four days? Are you the weird dude in a blue suit who showed up over the last four days? No? Okay, I’ll take your word for it. I wasn’t really interested anyway, because I’m getting a foot massage.”)

We don't need no water let the next script pages burn
And it burns, burns, burns…

Almost all action scenes handled in a fluid master. You know what fluid masters are great for? NOT ACTION SCENES.

An entire two-minute dialogue scene (between Sokka and the northern water tribe princess) handled in a way-too-close two-shot. No cutting. Then go to another scene. Then come back to Sokka and the princess and they’re still in the same two-shot. HELP WE ARE STUCK IN THE TWO-SHOT!

Another two-minute scene handled with TWO shots (Whoa! Hold your horses, Kubrick!) — a way-too-close two-shot of Katara and Sokka and a REALLY WAY TOO FRICKIN CLOSE-UP of Aang. Like, from his eyebrows to his lips. I have never seen a shot like that in a Hollywood movie before. Maybe Shyamalan was trying to convey the nuanced emotion of Aang explaining “we should save more villages and stuff, and I bring this up because the audience will never see us actually doing the thing I am describing.” The editor seems to know how unbearable the freaky-close-up is to watch because he cuts to Katara and Sokka listening silently and just stays. And stays. The editor should not have murdered M. Night’s entire family or whatever he did to make M. Night SO FRICKIN MAD at him, that’s all I know.

And there’s more.

– The voice-over. Oh, God, the voice-over. The movie starts with a text crawl that then IS READ ALOUD to you. EVERY EPISODE of the show starts with the same short montage getting you up to speed. You don’t even have to storyboard it! IT’S ALREADY DONE.

*loud sigh*
But if I didn’t have voice-over I’d hardly be in the movie at all

– There’s a scene where Aang and Katara are practicing their water-bending tai chi moves by a creek. You’re supposed to get that Aang is not as good as Katara. However, THERE IS NO WATER BENT. It’s like this shot just never made it to the effects artists! I didn’t have a problem with the 3/4 of the movie that weren’t in 3D, but COME ON SHYAMALAN YOU DIDN’T EVEN WATCH THE FINAL CUT.

– Much has been rightly made of white actors being cast to depict characters of color. But when the white Sokka and Katara return to their tribe — where EVERYONE LOOKS INUIT except for them, you realize that only Sokka, Katara and their grandma are white, and these are also the only speaking parts in the tribe, and your chin falls on your chest. Whitewashing is one thing. Making WHITENESS A REQUIREMENT FOR BEING ALLOWED TO SPEAK is another. And that thing is SUPER RACIST.

– The “Last Airbender” cartoon is funny. Funny a lot. Like, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, season two. There are three attempts at funny in this movie. One is botched because the coverage is wrong (Katara screws up a water-bend and accidentally entraps Sokka in ice, and instead of cutting to reveal this we just paaaaaaan on over. Furthermore Sokka’s actor has apparently been informed not to squirm or try to escape [as his character would naturally do] because, I dunno, the digital ice around him would be harder to animate?). Another is Aang showing personality, which might be a useful thing to put in the first act instead of IN A FLASHBACK IN THE MIDDLE OF THE CLIMAX. The third I don’t remember, but I’m pretty sure there was one. I guess. Somewhere.

Wheeeee!
Check out my capacity for joy!

Some nice things to say:

– The kids were good at the physical stuff. They were able to sell the bending movements, even if no one could sell lines like “we need to show them we believe our beliefs as strongly as they believe theirs!”

– Aasif Mandvi was pretty good, even when asked to stand on a ship, stare into space, and read lines like, “Say, Prince Zuko’s uncle Iroh, I sure am sorry various members of your family died hideously at intervals I will now describe to you.” He made it work, chewed a little scenery, had a little fun. I envision M. Night pulling him aside over the whole shoot being like, “Aasif, take this seriously. Less fun. I need less fun from you.” And him being like, “Sure, Night, whatever you say,” and then having fun anyway.

There’s more but I think I’m done for now.

Aaaaaaand spent enough.