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Archive for March, 2005

Cursed

Posted by CinemaPsycho on March 2, 2005

Directed by Wes Craven/written by Kevin Williamson/starring Christina Ricci, Jesse Eisenberg, Joshua Jackson, Judy Greer, Michael Rosenbaum, Shannon Elizabeth/Dimension Films

A brother and sister…damn, I’m having the hardest time writing this. What the hell is this movie about, anyway? It’s a werewolf movie, OK?

Wes Craven is one of those guys I want to root for, in spite of everything. His work has always been hit-or-miss with me, and it seems like for every good movie he’s made, he’s churned out at least three clunkers. I’m fully aware of this. But I keep going to his movies anyway, in the hope that they’ll at least be interesting to watch, and maybe a little more if I’m lucky. Some would say I’m cautiously optimistic, others would call me foolish. I wonder what the difference is.

And so it is that I wandered into Cursed, knowing full well the buzz has been horrendous. The film was delayed several times. They started shooting, stopped halfway through and rewrote the script and reshot everything, essentially making a completely different movie. Then they cut it down from an R to a PG-13. Good Christ, did I actually think this was going to be good? Well…no. Not really. But I thought it might be interesting.

I was mistaken. Cursed is a complete failure, but not an interesting one. I don’t know what they originally intended, but it couldn’t have been much worse than what they wound up with. I can pretty much guarantee that I would rather have seen their original idea, whatever it may have been, than what wound up on screen.

Cursed is so bad that other bad movies should build a shrine to it and pray to it at night.

This misguided mess is about (if it’s about anything) two siblings, Ellie (Ricci) and Jimmy (Eisenberg) who don’t look at all like products of the same gene pool. They live in LA and their parents are dead. Ellie works as a segment producer for The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn (which should already give you some idea of how dated this movie is), and Jimmy is your typical high-school geek. Ellie is dating some guy (Jackson) who’s opening a hip new club with a wax-museum theme. Because the kids just love hokey old wax museums.

One night Ellie and Jimmy get into a car accident with some random girl who looks like Shannon Elizabeth, and as they attempt to rescue her from the car she is dragged away by a big hairy beast that we can’t see, even though we all know what it is. Ellie and Jimmy are scratched by the you-know-what and start going through gradual changes. Jimmy becomes more powerful and confident, despite the fact that he’s still half the size of every other guy in school. Ellie suddenly becomes more attractive to men, despite the fact that she looks exactly the same as she did before.

Of course they soon realize what’s going on. Jimmy believes it at first, but Ellie doesn’t, and he has to convince her and blah blah blah. Jimmy gets all his info on werewolves from books and the Internet – why he doesn’t just rent one of the dozen of werewolf movies that have come before, I don’t know. Given that this was written by the guy who wrote the Scream movies, he should have just rattled off what happened in the Wolf Man, An American Werewolf in London, The Howling, Ginger Snaps, Dog Soldiers, etc. Where’s Jamie Kennedy when you really need him?

You probably think you know exactly where this is all going – and you do. Ellie and Jimmy have to find and kill the head werewolf before they fully transform. They never consider the possibility that being werewolves might be better than their current situation, which pretty much sucks. Not that I’d really want to be a werewolf, but it only seems to improve their lives and make them happier. So what’s the problem?

OK, so it’s pretty straightforward stuff. That in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s the execution of the idea that stinks up the joint. Craven and Williamson don’t seem to know what they want this movie to be, so it winds up being nothing in particular. If they intended Cursed to be a postmodern, Scream-style riff on the werewolf subgenre, they failed because it isn’t particularly funny and doesn’t have anything new to say about werewolves. If they intended it to be a straight horror flick, they failed because it’s not the least bit scary or even vaguely disturbing. I’m sure that cutting the gore scenes didn’t help in this regard, but I doubt that leaving them in would have saved the movie either.

The problem is, Cursed really isn’t about anything. It doesn’t have anything to say about its characters, who aren’t particularly interesting, and it doesn’t have anything to say about werewolves. It seems like they chose the monster at random – it could’ve been a vampire or a demon or a poodle with rabies.

Don’t get me wrong, I know what they were going for. The theme of the movie is “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, and I only know this because that’s the tagline on the movie’s poster. Ellie starts out the movie as a pushover, becomes more confident after the wolf scratch, then goes through the ordeal of killing the werewolf that, I guess, makes her stronger in the end. At least that must be what we’re supposed to think. Most people would probably be traumatized for life by this experience (“what doesn’t kill you fucks you up for a really, really long time”), but this is a horror movie, so it’s cool. Same thing goes for Jimmy. Fine, we get it.

The problem is, the movie isn’t very effective at getting that across. That’s not a theme, that’s a bumper sticker. Ellie and Jimmy are weak characters, not because they’re weak people but because they’re one-dimensional and boring. Then again, so is everyone else in the movie. Apparently we’re supposed to root for them to assert themselves and “take charge of their lives” and all that self-help nonsense, but we don’t because everything that happens in the movie seems so random and thrown together from various teen-horror movie clichés. We recognize that this is what we’re supposed to be feeling, but we’re not actually feeling it.

It might have helped if Williamson had bothered to give his characters some interesting backstories or original traits. We don’t really know anything about Ellie and Jimmy, other than the sketchiest of outlines. For instance, we know that Jimmy likes alternative music, but only because he has a ton of posters and stickers on his bedroom wall. We never see him listening to music or hear him talking about music. We’re just supposed to fill in the blanks ourselves. That’s just lazy writing. It’s like identifying someone based on the kind of T-shirt they wear. “Now you know everything about this person!” Isn’t there some kind of “alternative” crowd at his high school he could hang out with, based on common interests? I guess they never thought about that. Is he an aspiring musician or music journalist? Or does he just collect posters and stickers to have something to put on his wall? We don’t know.

The acting in the movie is mostly flat and lifeless, with much of the young cast looking miserable and/or grateful for a paycheck. Not that they have actual characters to play or anything, just “types”. The entire cast seems picked at random, like the casting director just took the first relatively well-known young actor who’d work cheap. They seem stranded by the material, like they’re not even sure what they’re supposed to be doing. And there are some good actors here that are completely wasted, like Rosenbaum (some girl in the audience actually yelped, “that’s Lex Luthor! Oh my god, he has hair!”) and Greer, who’s actually a very funny and talented actress (but not here). Joshua Jackson, a veteran of Williamson’s Dawson’s Creek TV series (which I never actually watched a whole episode of myself), looks like he just got out of rehab and he’s desperately searching for a drink. Ricci and Eisenberg are just annoyingly petulant whenever they’re on screen together, which is much of the movie. I know a lot of guys find Ricci sexy, but all I can see when I look at her is little Wednesday Addams. I’m such an old man.

The way the plot plays out alternates between thunderingly stupid and head-scratchingly bizarre. There’s a lot of talk about relationships without any of the characters actually having one. It’s like WB-drama material circa 1997, acted with all the subtlety of a badly directed high-school play. The one clever twist in the entire thing is when the homophobic jock wrestler who’s been bullying Jimmy comes out of the closet (there, now you don’t have to see the movie), but even that doesn’t actually go anywhere. There’s a lot of pseudo-drama over Jimmy’s crush on Brooke, the gay wrestler’s girlfriend (go figure). She’s cute and you can understand the kid’s attraction to her, but if she’s so smart and cool, why does she hang out with such assholes? Dude, she’ll probably make your life a living hell. And why is the jock so convinced that Jimmy’s gay when he’s obviously interested in Brooke? I’m no expert on gay men, but I’m pretty sure most of them won’t hit on your girlfriend. I could be wrong.

Then there’s the coup de grace, the one thing that makes Cursed stand out as not being just a bad movie but a truly Bad Movie. In its woeful attempt to be hip, Cursed actually has an unnecessary subplot featuring…Scott Baio. Yeah, Scott Baio. As himself. Because the kids today just love that Chachi! Seriously, what the hell were they thinking? If they had him playing an actual character, a little cameo as someone’s Dad or something, that might have actually been funny and/or cool. But the movie’s big “celebrity cameo”, the guy Ellie has to pre-interview for an appearance on the Kilborn show, is Scott freaking Baio? I’m actually stunned by this. Craven expects this movie’s target audience to recognize someone who stopped being famous before they were even BORN? If this was meant to be an inside joke, it failed miserably. (To his credit though, even Baio looks embarrassed to be in this movie.)

By the time we finally find out who the werewolf is (a revelation that’s supposed to be a big shocker like the endings of the Scream movies, but is more like a Murder She Wrote episode), we really have lost all interest. Which is good, because it seems like they picked the identity of “the killer” out of a hat. When so many of the supporting characters are such cookie-cutter red herrings, it really doesn’t matter who the monster is. It could be anybody, and really, who cares? Although I was half hoping it would turn out to be Craig Kilborn, that at least would have been a novel twist. And it would explain his early departure from his show. Don’t give up your day job, Craig. Whoops…too late.

How are the effects? The effects suck. The CGI sucks. The lack of gore and nudity sucks. Everything about this movie sucks. There is really no reason on Earth to see Cursed. I appreciate movies like this when they are done well. Cursed is not done well. Not at all. I wonder if Dimension gave Craven such a hard time that he just stopped giving a shit. It’s a good thing he’s already shooting his next movie, because a flop like this could kill off his career once and for all.

But I will say this…it’s still better than Vampire in Brooklyn.

* 3/2/05

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Oscars 2005: It’s All Over But the Cryin’

Posted by CinemaPsycho on March 1, 2005

I’ll skip the preamble and get right to my random thoughts:

Who the hell does Martin Scorsese have to blow to get himself an Oscar? Seriously, man. I thought the poor guy actually had a shot this year, but that may have been wishful thinking on my part. I was hoping they’d just …give it to him! You know, I like Eastwood, loved Million Dollar Baby, and I can’t say it’s an undeserving film. But I honestly think that, in the years to come, The Aviator will be recognized as the superior film. Just like Raging Bull is now considered better than Ordinary People (another film that I actually like quite a bit) and GoodFellas is practically film canon whereas Dances with Wolves is all but forgotten (again, liked it too, but come on). The same thing’s going to happen here, I’m sure of it, and I don’t think I’m the only one. Give it 5 or 10 years, and people are going to wake up and go, “hey, Marty was robbed! Dammit!” I really admire Million Dollar Baby, but I think it’s one of those films I won’t feel the urge to revisit time and time again throughout the years. Especially with that trick ending, once you’ve seen it…you’ve seen it. The Aviator, on the other hand, if the DVD came out tomorrow I could watch it again. Just my opinion. But at least he didn’t lose to, you know, Spanglish or something.

OK, we all know Sideways had no shot at Best Picture or Director. Didn’t expect it to. But I was really hoping they’d throw it a bone here and there and maybe give Virginia Madsen and/or Thomas Haden Church a nod. Again, wishful thinking, and I certainly can’t say Blanchett and Freeman weren’t deserving. In the end, Sideways got nothing but Best Adapted Screenplay – exactly what I predicted it would. Go figure. At least “the girl from Candyman” and “the handyman from Wings” now have careers again. Good for them.

I didn’t even realize Morgan Freeman had never won an Oscar before. Funny, I guess I’d just assumed he’d gotten something by now! Some film geek I am, huh?

I think Chris Rock is a brilliant stand-up comic, but as an Academy Awards host he was mediocre at best. His opening monologue wasn’t bad, but he just got more and more grating as the show went on. OK Chris, you’re black…we get it. A lot of his routines showed a startling hypocrisy and ignorance of the movie industry. It’s one thing to make jokes about how lousy movies for black audiences generally are (“Barbershop, that’s not a movie, that’s a location”) – point taken. But then he turns around and does that segment from the Magic Johnson Theater where he interviews “average moviegoers” who haven’t seen any of the nominated films. Never mind that he essentially spit in the face of every nominated person in the audience (people would rather watch crap like White Chicks than the great work you’ve done). If anything, that segment just revealed what mindless sheep most of the general moviegoing audience (black and white) truly are. Of course these people haven’t seen Sideways or Finding Neverland – those movies don’t have black comedians in drag or rappers flying airplanes. Chris, if you want better movies for black audiences and better parts for black actors, tell those people to stop buying tickets to obvious crap. They’re the problem, not Hollywood. Better yet, buy them all tickets to see Hotel Rwanda – you can afford it. That would’ve been a great way to end that segment, actually.

Look, it’s one thing to take playful jabs at the industry – that’s expected. But do it with some taste and class, for God’s sake. And try to sound like you know what the hell you’re talking about. Yeah, Jude Law is no Clint Eastwood, but Chris Rock is no Johnny Carson, OK? Let’s get real. Rock is more suitable to host something like the MTV Video Music Awards or maybe even the Grammys. That’s his element. They only hired him because they wanted “the kids” to watch. So if you want to lower the demographics (but not the standards) how about someone like Jon Stewart or Will Ferrell next year? They can rein it in and still be consistently amusing. I’ll give Rock a little credit though – he was better than Whoopi. Then again, Jar Jar Binks would be better than Whoopi.

I’m not saying at all that Jamie Foxx didn’t deserve his award (hell, I would’ve given it to him for Collateral), but I have to wonder if Don Cheadle would’ve gotten the same kind of support if Foxx hadn’t been nominated. Let’s be honest here – Foxx’s win is a victory for Jamie Foxx, and maybe his agent and publicist. No one else. He wasn’t the first black actor to win in that category, and he won’t be the last. Don’t get me wrong – I have no problem with black actors being nominated. My problem is with the black pseudo-celebrity sycophants like Oprah, Star Jones and even Spike “I wish I were Scorsese” Lee, who insist that a black actor MUST win if nominated, or else all black people everywhere are being “robbed”. I can’t wait until an Asian-American, a Hispanic-American, a Filipino-American, an Indian-American and even a Native American finally win some acting Oscars, so we can all just get over ourselves and focus on who gave the best performance. Did we hear a collective cheer from poor white people who live in trailer parks when Hilary Swank won? No? Didn’t think so. It’s really too bad that the great Don Cheadle’s nomination was completely ignored by the media while they tripped all over themselves to congratulate Foxx months in advance. Maybe next year, Don. If Tommy Davidson doesn’t get there first.

Making the nominees line up on stage like a second-rate beauty pageant just SUCKS. Announcing the winners from the middle of the audience and not letting them take the stage is even worse. The message here is obviously that some awards (and by extension, some jobs) are more important than others. Screw that noise. I don’t care if it “moves the show along”; the awards are the whole point of the damn thing. Notice that they don’t make the actors get herded like cattle – they’re more important than the people who actually WORK on films, right? The Academy apparently thinks that the audience can’t be bothered to spend a goddamn minute watching the “little people” without whom the industry wouldn’t exist. God forbid. Maybe some people don’t care about who wins Best Animated Short Subject or Best Costume Design – but why are those people watching the Oscars anyway? These artists have worked their whole lives to be where they are. Let them have their moment in the sun, god damn it. Is this about celebrating excellence in cinema or is it just another celebrity ass-kissing event? Make your minds up.

Speaking of celebrity ass-kissing, the half-hour “red carpet” show is a complete waste of time. Start the show at 8 and get things rolling – then maybe it won’t bother people so much if it runs a little long. Save the fashion show for the likes of Entertainment Tonight and the E! Channel. We can all see what people are wearing during the actual program. And if you actually care, I feel sorry for you.

I’ve never understood the need for the annual “tradition” of the pre-Oscar Baba Wawa special. Seriously, what sets this woman apart from all the other narcissistic, self-promoting celebrity journalists out there? I just don’t get it. No matter who she’s talking to, it’s all about her. When she kicks off, they’ll probably give her spot to Oprah, god help us all. I might feel differently if she were actually interviewing more than one of the nominated actors in any given year. I like Will Ferrell and Teri Hatcher, but what the hell do they have to do with this year’s Academy Awards?

Who elected Beyonce this year’s Oscar mascot? Why was she called upon to sing no less than 3 of the nominated songs? I’m sure the singers and musicians who actually PERFORMED on those songs would’ve been more than happy to be featured on the show. What, Minnie Driver isn’t “hip” enough for the MTV crowd, but Antonio Banderas is? Come on. Strangely enough, it seems Beyonce can actually sing – I can only wonder why that ability isn’t reflected in her own music. And why was Puff Daddy even allowed in the building? What has he ever done that wasn’t direct thievery of someone else’s work and talent? Christ, I guess I should be happy that they didn’t ask Paris Hilton to introduce Best Cinematography. (There’s a joke in there somewhere, but I’m not going near it. I have a little too much self-respect.)

Am I the only one who grasped that Sean Penn was trying to take the opportunity to pay a compliment to Jude Law, his co-star in the upcoming All the Kings’ Men? Misguided as it may have been at the time. OK, maybe Penn really doesn’t have a sense of humor, but I thought Rock embarrassed himself much more than he did. “My accountants want to talk to you?” That doesn’t even make any fucking sense. Penn was just trying to pay someone some respect, and picked the wrong time to do so. Let’s get over it.

I honestly believe that the audience should hold their applause during the “death list” until the end. I think it’s really offensive that the most famous actors get the most vocal appreciation upon their passing, while the “little people” who worked in the industry get stony silence. Once again, some people are just more important than others, right? Only Hollywood can turn even death into a popularity contest. Why can’t they hold off for a goddamn minute and then give everyone their deserved applause? Sometimes I’m really, really glad I don’t work in the entertainment industry.

Overall, I thought the show was pretty lousy, but it has nothing to do with the awards themselves and who won them. See, I’m old enough that I remember when the Oscars used to really mean something. They weren’t just another awards show – they were THE awards show. It’s not supposed to be about demographics and star-fucking. The Oscars used to be about celebrating excellence, and doing so with class, elegance and most of all, respect. It seems like those elements have been slowly eroding as time goes on, and that’s a really sad state of affairs.

I don’t give a flying fuck if the show takes 4 hours and bores the audience to tears. It’s not about “the kids”, goddammit – it’s about the nominees and the films. It’s THEIR special night, and they deserve to be treated with a lot more respect than they were given this year. Everything about the show, from the host to the presentation to the lack of reverence, practically screamed, “Nobody cares, and why the hell should they!” I’m not saying the Oscar shows have ever been perfect. But I really, really miss the days when the film industry, at least for one night, seemed to actually give a damn about quality. Maybe they still do, but it sure as hell wasn’t reflected in that show.

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