Movie Reviews. From the Hip.


"What should we see this weekend?"

"Will that be any good?"

"What would DORIEN SAY?"

... Here's what DORIEN SEZ.

Welcome to the premiere movie reviewer that JUDGES FILMS BEFORE THEY COME OUT! Armed only with a few previews and a crack-shot snap judgment, I bring you the most succinct, accurate, and cocksure film reviews this side of the River Wild... which sucked!


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

ACT OF VALOR (Feb. 24th)

Man alive, I could never sit still through those awful pre-movie ads/operettas for the armed forces.  Something really chaffs me 'nethers about selling military enlistment to young people with images of high-tech adventure, community support, and stoic guardianship of peace in the world, all shot and cut by a poor man's Michael Bay and set to the passionate jams of Kid Rock.  But who knew those were only teasers for the full-length feature!  What began as a recruitment video for the U.S. Navy has become Act of Valor, a war movie starring real, active duty Navy SEALs.  Combining extensive footage of SEAL training exercises with dramatized action and "story" scenes, directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh have created less a film than merely a bigger, more expensive, and potentially more effective recruitment ad.  This time, though, there's no Kid Rock to be found.  He was hard enough for the Army, but he's not SEAL material.

A. of Valor is being promoted as a new kind of movie experience, as the hands-on involvement of the SEALs ensures a level of detail and realism unprecedented in previous films of the genre.  While the story is as familiar as an old puke stain outside your bar (SEALs rescue a kidnapped CIA agent and thwart a terrorist plot), there is something neat about seeing the real guys pretend to do it.  You get all the bloodlust of a Commando or Rambo, but without some shirtless actor pretending to be a tough guy; these are the actual tough guys, and if mindless action is your goal, why not let them show you how it's done?  Beyond that novelty, however, it's business as usual: it's set in a fictional universe of black-and-white ethics, unambiguous moral lines, and an us-against-them viewpoint so cockeyed it makes Forest Whitaker look surprised.  It's not a movie that dwells on the morality of killing or the consequences of war, and it doesn't pretend to be.  For these filmmakers, it's simple: the world is dangerous, Americans must be protected, and terrorists need killing.  Glorification of war is an understatement.  This movie blows war and likes it.

The soldiers portrayed in Act of Valor are old-school patriots and family men who want only to do their duty, serve their country, and get home to their pregnant wives.  But as there is no "I" in SEAL, so are there no characters in this movie, only cliches and archetypes of the dullest variety.  (The brave one, the quiet one, and the quiet but humorous one.)  Nabbing the writer of 300 was a perfect move -- nobody has proven more adept at cobbling a shallow story around violent action scenes, or at reducing things like honor, courage, and brotherhood to hollow buzzwords.  Combining dope weapons technology with the adrenaline rush and sweet kills of Modern Warfare 3, the filmmakers' primary concern is to showcase America's military might, and to portray its foreign policy as necessary and justified.  The Navy is clearly banking on this film to boost enlistment and improve P.R.; plus, it never hurts to start the psychological training early.  Nothing dehumanizes warfare and desensitizes us to violence like an action movie, which is why the heavy use of "helmet-cam" was a touch of genius.  You're right there in the firefight, shooting-'em-up alongside a squadron of real-life heroes!  This might be the life for me!

The Navy SEALs are enjoying some well-earned clout, and it's only natural that a few movies will be made about them.  The shame is, had these men been included on this level in a film that actually asked questions about what it means to serve and to take life for country, it could have been something special.  But then, that could never have happened.  And now, after a ten-year occupation of Iraq and with the ongoing fighting in Afghanistan, it seems a tasteless time to perpetuate the myth of clean and uncomplicated war.  Films about the "war on terror" are notorious for being sub-par, or at least box office disappointments, but sir.  This is not the answer, sir.  I wonder what our poorly equipped and vulnerable troops will make of this depiction, or for that matter, veterans who have suffered severe psychological and physical injury.  Had it featured real-life Black Water security forces instead of U.S. servicemen, perhaps people would more readily recognize it for what it is: propaganda you must pay to see.  And if the movie's a hit, a Pandora's trunk of military-produced cinema may just be opened.  We could be subjected to a new era of recruiter-tainment: sleek, polished action from the Marines, gritty tales of valor from the Army, high-flying Air Force epics... even independent fare from the National Guard!  We musn't support these endeavors.  Shame on them.  I'm grateful to have never seen war first hand, but I'll wager it doesn't look like this.

Dorien Sez: F
Watch the Trailer:

Thursday, February 2, 2012

21 JUMP STREET (March 16th)

I'm not a praying man, but someone needs to convince the Lord to put the kibosh on frivolous, pansy remakes like 21 Jump Street.  There is no justification for this one.  The TV show was neither beloved, nor classic, nor good.  It was not an interesting story that could use an updated retelling.  A brand is alls it is, a mostly forgotten bit of pop culture whose name recognition survives -- and some Hollywood dickfingers saw two golden words and decided to cash in: remake and 80's.  Both are very big right now, and we've seen them combine for some real shitty cinema (The A-Team, Conan the Barbarian, Clash of the Titans).  You can add 21 Jump Street to that pile, and while you're there, vandalize and burn it as well.  It's a buddy cop movie by the numbers, and a lot of humorless nonsense.  If this is what passes for buddy action-comedy these days, color me red... with self-inflicted wounds!

There are two rookie cops.  They are friends, but they enjoy to break the balls of one another.  They are also humorously mismatched, Channing Tate-them being a muscle-bound oaf, and Jonah Hill a bookworm weakman.  Amazingly, despite their inexperience, gross incompetence, and flagrant ignorance of police procedure, they are selected for an undercover assignment in a high school, posing as students to bust an illegal drug operation.  Let the comedic mayhem begin!  To be fair, there are some laughs to be had in 21 JS.  Jonah Hill has his moments, and even the Big Guy delivers some well-placed humor punches.  Ice Cube is charming and foul-mouthed in the supporting cast, and Rob Riggle is once again funnier than the material he's been given.  But for the most part, the predictable "jokes" are of the potty, dick, or drug variety, mixed in with the occasional punch, crash, or other funny violence.  There's nothing wrong with a bit of low-brow humor, but it should needs actually be funny.  When it's done this badly, I'd prefer to have no brows at all.

Things really take a wrong turn in the third act of this film, when the "plot" takes over, and we're subjected to odd moments of stylized action: diving gunfire, explosions, slow-mo tracking shots of the guys strutting toward camera as white doves flutter by.  Are these scenes meant to parody action films?  To be funny for their shear absurdity?  No, actually -- they're intended to be awesome.  Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller have made the bush league mistake of trying to infuse a little bit of sleek Hollywood sweetness into a ridiculous, adolescent comedy.  Like The Longest Yard and Starsky and Hutch before it, 21 Jump Street gets a bit genre-curious: aware that it's a remake, it references and pokes fun at the original (including a Johnny Depp cameo), yet has moments when you'd swear it was taking itself seriously.  Screenwriter Michael Bacall's previous work, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, sucked for similar reasons.  If kitsch and goofiness are your film's selling points, don't try to sneak "cool" into the formula too.  It won't work, and it always makes me boo.

Despite its likable stars and occasional burp of comedy, this film is formulaic, bland, and easily forgotten.  Sometimes it seems like there are just too many movies.  When someone inquires, "Doesn't 21 Jump Street suck?" you should not have to ask which one.

Dorien Sez: C-
Watch the Trailer:

Sunday, January 29, 2012

JOHN CARTER (March 9th)

Well, ass my face!  I'd never heard of these books.  It turns out that in 1912, some guy (Edgar Rice Burroughs) began a series of novels about a Confederate soldier who gets beamed up to Mars to discover crazy humanoids, creatures great and small, a princess in danger, and high adventure on the red sands!  There were something like a dozen books written over several decades, and the first has now been adapted into a major motion picture, Disney's John Carter.  Taken at face value, it's a poor man's Avatar (which is so poor it doesn't own shoes), only with sepia tones instead of blue.  But look a little closer and you'll find some nice doo-dads going for it: there's sweet battle action, the cast is top Knox, and the excellent creative team knows how to tell a fun visual story.  But look closer still -- the most close -- and you'll see the truth, bright as Orion's pin head on a winter's night: between the bullshit dialogue, silly little creatures, and a predictable, annoying tone, John Carter comes up short.  Short as that skirt he wears.

I like leading dude Taylor Kitsch.  He was reliable as Riggins in Friday Night Lights to turn in the wisdom and machismo, even if he was a bit even keeled for five seasons.  I hated his Gamibt in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but then one can hardly blame the piglet for drooling sour milkbutter.  That whole thing was fit for the shitter.  As John Carter, he is a perfectly adequate action hero: naturally likable with a southern man's attitude problem, he'll punch you out, jump over your house, flip-kick your gardener, and piss on your property as soon as stand for a threat or rebuke from an adversary.  The crowd will go nuts for his high-flying antics and dry cool.  Unforch, beyond being a scantily clad badass, the character's not all that interesting, and like Neo before him, he's far less charismatic than he should be, considering how great everyone thinks he is.  Nevertheless, as you might have guessed, J. Carter becomes the warrior-savior of a scruffy, peace-loving race, and leads them to battle against evil oppressors.  (You've seen this song and dance before, and if you're like me, you want the bum to move along, and take his show elsewheres.)  When Carter finally gets around to the obligatory, pussified rally speech before an army of funny-looking tallmen, one can't help but remember the Gibsons, Mortensens, and Crowes, whom we've already seen do it much better.

Andrew Stanton has proven himself a whiz-man by co-writing the Toy Story series and directing Finding Nemo and Wall-E.  At the very least, he knows how to tell a gripping story with spectacular cinematics.  But that's why it's curious that so much of John Carter seems stitched together from unused Attack of the Clones footage, from the sandy pit-fight with goofy monster in stadium, to the rubbery, soulless CGI characters.  Like that other filth, John Carter proves that the combination of epic storytelling and hasty writing makes for a very long and ridiculous movie.  The styles of Bryan Cranston and Ciaran Hinds can do no more than elevate their own particular scenes.  Thomas Haden Church, meanwhile, is very good at acting like an alien, in that it seems like he doesn't know where he is, or the meaning of what he's saying.  And Mr. Stanton should have known better than to cast Willem Defoe as Tars Tarkas, Carter's combatant-turned-blood brother, or Wind In His Hair to Kitsch's Dances With Wolves.  On top of goofy animation, Defoe's randy voice and over-the-top readings would make Shakespeare sound cartoonish, let alone these nonsense lines.  I liked him better when he played that fish.

For me, Wall-E was one of the best movies of the last ten years, and my hat and shoes are off for Andrew Stanton to see.  That was a Pixar movie though, and John Carter is all Disney.  Like the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, it's got an elaborate look, big stars, and a formula so played-out it's fumbling with its inhaler, heaving for breath.  Plus there's a stable of sequels waiting to be unleashed.  We all might best AVOID THIS ONE, lest we invite Disney to pound us, Carter-style, with more of this foolishness for the decade to come.

Dorien Sez: D+
Watch the Trailer:

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

BEING FLYNN (March 2nd)

Sure, ohh sure, we've seen movies like this before: a father/son coming-of-age drama with a literary zag that deals with issues of abandonment, art, family, and forgiveness.  There are few surprises as far as story arc goes, and the love/hate/resent/admire relationship between dad and boy has been done aplenty -- up the ying yank, in fact.  But if the execution is honest and the performances compelling, cliches may be overcome, and the result can be a very good movie.  Happily, Being Flynn is damn fine, thanks to a screenplay faithful to the compelling source memoir, and the acting stones of Paul Dano, Julianne Moore, and father to us all, Robert De Niro.

P. Dano plays Nick Flynn, a poet and writer who has been estranged from his father nearly all his life, until he encounters him while volunteering in a homeless shelter.  Jonathan Flynn (Bobby D.) is an alcoholic con man, a bum who ran away from his responsibility to his family decades ago, spent years in prison, and is now living on the streets of Boston.  (We haven't seen Bob looking this shabby since his ransom photo in Killer Elite.)  The chance encounter forces Dano to face his complex feelings about his father, and in spite of his anger, he reaches out to form some kind of relationship.  What results is a powerful experience for them both, and a roller coaster thrill-ride of subtle emotion for the audience.  I've met Dano haters in my day, and I disagree with them.  Paul held his own alongside Double-Down Lewis in There Will Be Blood, and he likewise delivers a sincere and controlled performance here.  No one plays a sensitive, desperately sad woman like Julianne Moore, and she once again shows herself to be brilliant as the dead mother.  Plus, fans of righteous ass-kicking will be happy to find Wes Studi as a punishing office administrator!

In the role of Old Man Flynn, Mr. De Niro proves that you can't keep a good dog down, even one who's clearly enjoyed resting these past few years.  The 21st century has not boasted the finest films of his career, and even those in which he gave great performances (Men of Honor, Machete, Stone) failed to surpass the good-but-forgettable quality bar.  But Being Flynn is a reminder that despite his endeavors as a producer, director, restauranteur, and all-around gentleman, Bob De N. remains the god damn acting king.  His portrayal of Flynn is moving, complex, and electric like a taser.  He is at once charming, despicable, pathetic, and funny, and as he veers into madness and spontaneous outbursts of extreme emotion, we are grateful to see the master in a role worthy of his ability.  And for those who love to quote angry Bobby D. rantings from his films, there are some hilarious new gems!  ("YOU ARE ME. I MADE YOU. YOU! ARE! ME!")  Classic!

This is director Paul Weitz's best film, but that's not saying much.  American Pie speaks for itself; Little Fockers is damn near unwatchable; About A Boy? about some bullshit; and no non-clown has ever seen and enjoyed Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant.  Alas, Being Flynn is just a little too polished for its own good.  Certain moments would do better without the queueing of a stirring musical underscore, and some of the emotional loose ends are tied up a bit neatly for my taste.  They also should never have changed the title from Another Bullshit Night In Suck City.  Even so, this film's a good'un.  It'll throat-lump fans of the father/son drama, and while it might not nab De Niro his next acting trophy (we'll have to wait until Sean Penn's The Comedian for that), it's great to watch the Maestro at work.

Think about it this way, guys.  Being Flynn is to Finding Forrester what minestrone soup is to vomit: it looks kind of similar, but it is much, much better.

Dorien Sez: B+
Watch the Trailer:

Monday, January 23, 2012


On one of the more shameful days of my life, I purchased a ticket to Clash of the Titans -- in 3D, by myself, with real money from my pocket.  I watched the movie, beginning to end, and then I left.  I can't fully account for these actions, but what's done is done.  I paid the price in dollars and headache, and I suffered the awful writing, terrible direction, and Sam Worthington's inane per-bore-mance like Caviezel on the cross.  Well, it turns out that donkey shit can have babies!  Wrath of the Titans is the sequel to the mythology-inspired schlockbuster, and it's even worse than the first.  The screenplay is once again a jumble of badass utterings and pseudo-mythical nonsense, the action sequences are noisy and convoluted, and you'll see more compelling acting in any given episode of According to Jim.  The whole movie is a familiar and shitty mess, and I'm getting tired of finding messes like this in the movie-toilet of my life.

Worthington returns as Perseus, half-mortal son of Zeus and slayer of beasts and such.  He killed the monstrous kraken ten years ago, and now wishes only to live quietly, and raise his son in peace.  (Which is odd, seeing as while doing so he seems grumpy -- all the time.)  But, as fate and lazy writing would have it, Perseus is swept back into a dire undertaking: rescuing papa Zeus (L. Neeson) from the underworld, lest dominion over the earth fall to the likes of Hades and the Titans.  The Titans are big, scary types, and I think they might be half-gods.... my 8th grade mythology unit was a long time ago, and it doesn't matter anyway.  The plot is an empty frame upon which to hang gnarly greenscreen action.  That's a harmless enough endeavor, and a lot of the especial effects are impressive, but without the distractions of decent dialogue or halfway interesting characters, it's hard not to focus on the absurd spectacle of grown men in leather dresses play-acting like they are brave friends doing battle!  It's embarrassing.  And as stiff, humorless heroes go, Sam Worthingman takes the cake, stabs it, then breathes heavilhy.  His scowls, impassioned speeches, and heartfelt chats with his Woman will leave you trembling... with indifference!  Worthington is Unworthing of my respect!

We sometimes need a little dumb entertainment, but this film makes Radio look like I Am Sam.  That is to say, it's fucking dumb.   It trumpets itself as the overblown sequel it is: Bigger!  Better!  More Special Effects!  Mind-Blowing 3-D Action!  Maybe so, but we've seen it all before, and all it amounts to is a loud and furious wanking.  I was raised better than to watch that kind of thing in public.  So save your cash, enjoy your dignity, and do a good deed today: do not see Wrath of the Titans!

Dorien Sez: D
Watch the Trailer: