Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Box Office Predictions (10/02-10/04)

1. Zombieland - 17.8 Million - NEW
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs - 15.8 Million - -37%
3. Toy Story and Toy Story 2 in 3D - 13.9 Million - NEW
4. Whip It - 7.3 Million - NEW
Surrogates - 6.6 Million - -56%
6. The Invention of Lying - 6.4 Million - NEW
Capitalism: A Love Story - 5.1 Million - +2199%
8. Fame - 3.8 Million - -62%
9. The Informant! - 3.6 Million - -45%
10. Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself - 2 Million - -58%

This is quite an abnormal week for several reasons, the primary of them being that FIVE movies either expand (Capitalism) or open (Zombieland, Toy Story Double Feature, Whip It, The Invention of Lying)
into wide release, which not only means a flooded marketplace for the new entries, but likely steep declines for those already occupying theaters. Next of all, each of the five films have thus far received exemplary marks from critics, quite the rarity considering they will all face off against one another. The weekend should belong to Zombieland, but the weekend should have belonged to Drag me to Hell back in May, so if it's taught us anything, it's to not trust a horror/comedy at the box office. I'll make the leap, however, and say if fends off Meatballs, which will try and reign for the third straight weekend. The other openers should pull modest, if underwhelming business, despite looking fantastic. This includes Disney's re-release of Toy Story and Toy Story 2 in 3D, which are being sold as a double feature; one can only hope more re-releases will follow, but the +3 hour runtime may keep some families and their little ones away, so its business could be limited. Should be an interesting weekend, to say the least.

Check back next week when there will be only one opener: Vince Vaughn and a star-laden cast in Couples Retreat.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

JENNIFER'S BODY - (Karyn Kusama, 2009)

This December will mark 13 years since Wes Craven’s “Scream” was released into North American theaters and it’s safe to say horror hasn’t been the same since. Craven unleashed a clever, but detrimental beast in terms of the perception of horror to the mainstream and that detriment was only exacerbated by the sporadically clever onslaught of “Scary Movie” films, only the first of which was remotely perceptive in deconstructing the pop mores of a pseudo-subversive and goth culture. The ‘rules’ had been laid out. As dear as “Scream” is to me personally, essentially for nostalgic reasons, it precipitated a hurl of smug cynicism towards the genre, especially the impracticality of horror’s plot mechanisms. Horror was now something to laugh at.

This preface is a lead into “Jennifer’s Body,” a film which could have and should have been a further revisionist text in terms of both horror as genre and the monstrous-feminine, and toyed with the state of horror as something to be taken only half seriously or not taken seriously at all. No such luck though, as the sophomore effort script penned by Diablo Cody is first and foremost interested in peppering dialogue with needless, pointless pop referencing and positing high school as a sincerely painful phase of adolescent life, all filtered through her skewered, flesh fetishist perspective.

Cody, though, cannot be blamed for either director Karyn Kusama’s flat, tonally deaf direction or star Megan Fox’s artless turn as flesh-feasting Jennifer. However, it is Cody’s incessantly pestering dialogue that Kusama can’t figure out how to handle, which wrecks any cohesive feel. Yet even Raimi or Romero would be puzzled by Cody, whose idea of being subversive is having Jennifer get impaled by a pole in her stomach, then asking for a tampon. Or when Needy (Amanda Seyfried) asks Jennifer if she’s PMS-ing, she replies “There’s no such thing as PMS Needy. It was just created by the boy run media to explain how crazy we are.” Uh-huh. This is Cody’s game; faux-provocative assertions cloaked in camp or naivety, which might as well just be another useless reference, like when Jennifer figures out she has the ability to heal herself: “That’s some X-Men shit.”

The best part of “Jennifer’s Body” is her ass…I mean Amanda Seyfried, who brings the necessary vulnerability and spunk to counter the soul-crushing (and munching) Jennifer; a few scenes with them, especially one with the two of them alone in her bedroom, feel much more honest than anything else in the film, solely because Seyfried really sells the instantaneous sexual vigor Jennifer casts over anyone she talks to, or even looks at. “Jennifer’s Body” attempts to take high school seriously, however, which must be commended. Not in the laughable “One Tree Hill” sense, but there’s a level of existential beauty at work in a few small exchanges, which momentarily counter the thematic clashing, but the film ultimately never materializes into anything coherent. Even the chronology, which is given a frame narrative, the bulk of it being in flashback, is disorienting rather than poetic and only helps to jumble any semblance of a specific intent or purpose.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Box Office Predictions (09/25-09/27)

1. Surrogates - 18.3 Million - NEW
2. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs - 17.6 Million - -42%
3. Fame - 11.1 Million - NEW
4. The Informant! - 6.5 Million - -38%
5. Pandorum - 5.1 Million - NEW
6. Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself - 5 Million - -49%
7. Love Happens - 4.7 Million - -41%
9 - 3 Million - -46%
9. Jennifer's Body - 2.9 Million - -57%
10. Inglourious Basterds - 2.2 Million - -42%

Expect Bruce's fledgling status as an action star to be just enough to give Surrogates 18M this weekend, though it'll be close as to whether or not Meatballs drops enough to give him a first place finish. The other openers, Fame , Pandorum, should be pretty much dead on arrival. Fame will benefit from a built in fanbase, but even they might be turned off by this pathetic looking adaptation. A slow weekend, but things should pick up next week, as Zombieland, Whip It, The Invention of Lying and Toy Story & Toy Story 2 in 3D open, all must sees for yours truly.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

CRANK 2: HIGH VOLTAGE - (Nevaldine/Taylor, 2009)

As profound a piece of pop culture iconoclasm constructed this side of pre-activist Jean-Luc Godard, “Crank: High Voltage” is kinetic social reflexivity of the highest order. Surely to be taken by many as misogynist, bigoted and in poor taste, directors Mark Nevaldine and Brian Taylor tread a shockingly thin line between exploitive badassery and synthetic orchestration. They conduct an opus of visceral fireworks, but every single action or deed they film is tinged with a sense of irony. They aren’t merely making another balls-out action picture; their “Crank” films exist and function in terms of the society that created it. In other words, they one-up Tarantino by saturating their knowledge of not only the filmic realm, but of all kinds of stereotypes, consumerist culture and sexism and channeling it into a narrative that is seemingly effortless in the manner that it articulates modern mores and plights. In a profound paradox, it is society that has created their films, but it is they that consistently deconstruct (subtly at that) what not only film means as a form of artistic license and expression, but also the influence all of media exerts on one’s conception of their environment, particularly through advertising. It’s what Eisenstein called ‘Intellectual Montage.’ Nevaldine/Taylor are masters of it.

Where does one begin with a film which has its intertextuality and commentary so tightly woven into the narrative? I dare to say I cannot even think of another film that is remotely close to the “Crank” films, in terms of semiology not being adjacent to the narrative, but the narrative itself. It even transcends the bounds of allegory. It may be helpful to examine the perceived subject of the piece. What is “Crank: High Voltage” about? In purely surface terms, it’s about former hit-man Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) in manic pursuit to reacquire his heart, surgically removed from him within the first five minutes and replaced with a synthetic one. Whereas in the first film, Chelios had to constantly down adrenaline to keep his heart pumping, now he must consistently electrocute himself to keep his the synthetic heart working. If one wanted to construct even a simple symbolism here, it could easily be done. The paradoxical mundanity and artificiality of fast-moving inner-city life can only be subverted by a literal jolt to the system. But Nevaldine/Taylor are too cleverly making these assertions and providing such insights on the fly that the narrative, itself, is never bogged down by it. The narrative is the commentary, the commentary is the narrative.

Most brilliant about “Crank: High Voltage,” is that its precise narrative, will be construed by the haphazard eye as ‘trash’ because of its subject matter. Yes, the film does contain Asian, Latino, Black gangsters, red-neck pimps, eye-candy strippers, porn stars, spoken homophobia and racism, as well as an even more over-the-top public fuck scene than the first film. These elements should not suggest the film itself succumbs to such easy pigeonholing. Think of Nevaldine/Taylor as the new Paul Morrissey. Morrissey uses narratives of junkies, whores and johns in his thematic trilogy of late 60’s/early 70’s films (Flesh, Trash, Heat) but does not do so in an effort to romanticize or glorify. Nor does he chide them with pity and condescension. Morrissey, while politically opposed to such drug culture, sexual revolution and free love, treats his subjects with compassion and humanity, which he would continue with his satirical works “Flesh for Frankenstein” and his masterpiece, “Blood for Dracula.” “Crank: High Voltage” does comparable work, though it doesn’t quite nail the humanity like Morrissey does. Yet what it lacks in humanity, it makes up for through an understanding of human nature. Whereas indie claptraps like “Sugar” or “The Visitor” use a racial equality narrative as a means to pacify white guilt, or “The Hangover” pushes non-pc buttons without regard for consequence or conviction, “Crank: High Voltage” is positively profound. It is indicative of the pop mechanism that created it, by retaining such sensical representations of stereotype, be it visual or aural, and using it as urban deconstruction. In other words, earnest white liberal efforts to humanize the minorities they portray almost always result in pacified condescension. Knuckleheaded bro-culture retains the condescension, but refuses to mask it by removing the pretension. Perfectly equal, there is no sense of such ingratiating tactics in “Crank” because each character meets the other with a shared contempt, but mutual and honest respect and is defined by the shared misanthropy. This is what makes “Crank” so sophisticated, speaking just in thematic terms; the violence is both realistic and cartoonish (a more complex examination of pastiche than anything to ever cross the mind of Neil Blomkamp) which represents the confusion that over-saturation of violent pop art and media can cause, but the discourse is never boiled down to cynical calculations.

Intertextual, reflexive and adept, the film has it all. The opening news broadcast is certainly reminiscent of Verhoeven’s “Robocop,” another complex piece on the entanglement of technology, violence and modern society. Most interesting in terms of subverting the male gaze is an early scene with Chelios in a strip club. The camera moves and the shots cut to suggest simultaneous degradation and eroticization of its female subjects; it’s an ambivalent relationship, because nothing within the scene tells the viewer criticism is being made. But look at the low angle shots which feature grinning, sinister looking men dangling singles to place in the stripper’s g-string. The editing isn’t entirely unlike MTV objectification, but it certainly isn’t identical, given these subtleties. It’s eroticized only by the nudity; later in the scene, when an armed stripper has her breast implants shot out, the gun man gives a bit of a smile, and then flees. It’s a visually breathtaking juxtaposition, partially because the smile is so fleeting and brief. But it’s the lingering misogyny the viewer must deal with. The smile isn’t so much a celebratory indicator of such misogyny, but a well-placed signifier of how films, advertising, art construct what is expected or supposed to be funny. This applies also to the lesbian foreplay in the back of a police car. Chelios shocks his balls with a taser while it happens. The juxtaposition is irrefutable, as an indication of furthering degrees and combinations of pain and pleasure for sexual release. The later instances of eroticized homophobia and gender confusion further explicate such contemporary sexual politics.

Statham is Eastwood from the “Dollars” trilogy. He blithefully whistles the non-diagetic score which accompanies his walk throughout the film. Mull over the shot of him, bent over in the aforementioned strip club, gleaning information from a dieing man. It’s first rate homage and exemplary of the 1970’s psychological western, which employs a narrative of existential isolationism to mollify the pain of such loners. Chev Chelios embodies such malaise in his wandering pursuits for his personal holy grail and until he finds it, there’s only one thing he asks:

Juice me.