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An Apology and an Announcement

August 16, 2011

The ugly thing about not writing is that, after a while, it becomes natural, and next thing you know, you haven’t posted on your blog in over four months. I could blame the usual suspects (school, etc.), and while they sure didn’t help, this is very much my own doing. Sorry for the lack of update, really.

The good news is that I’m back on the saddle, as they say. I’ve actually decided to start a new blog, for a number of reasons, but primarily because this one has become kind of a bastardized thing with no clear purpose. Over the past year or so, it’s turned into a blog dedicated primarily to cinema, with the occasional unrelated post. While I love writing those, they felt more and more out of place.

My new blog, therefore, will be entirely dedicated to cinema (after thinking about calling it “Attack the Blog” for a while, I’ve settled on “Acid Cinema,” because apparently I’m more self-referential than an episode of Community). I’ll repost the occasional entry from this blog, but it will mostly be new content, hopefully on a more regular basis than here.

I haven’t decided yet what will happen with this blog. I might post non cinema-related things every once in a while, or I might just let it disappear into internet oblivion. We’ll see.

Anyway, here’s the new blog. It’s a work in progress, so if you have any comment about the design (or anything else), don’t hesitate to post (either here or there).

Thanks a lot for reading, and see you there!

A short public service announcement

April 5, 2011

Note: this post was supposed to go online on Sunday night. It didn’t, for a reason I don’t understand (probably has something to do with the fact that my computer skills are way overrated). Anyway, here it is.

I, along with a bunch of other writers, contributed a piece for fellow blogger and Philadelphia Phillies fan Nick Duval’s website, about some of our favorite film endings. You can read the entire thing on his blog, which you should totally check out anyway. We don’t always agree about movies (how one could not like True Grit I still can’t understand), but his reviews are always insightful.

Normal operation will resume shortly over here. Perhaps with a review of Just Go With It if I can muster the necessary vitriol, perhaps with a non-film related post (if I haven’t forgotten how to write those).

Review: Waste Land (2010)

March 28, 2011

Lucy Walker’s Waste Land (which lost the Best Documentary Feature Oscar to Inside Job a month ago) is a film that takes the longest time to figure out what it really is about, and arguably never manages to do so. What would be (and is) a major weakness, however, ends up turning into what may be the film’s biggest strength, as the choices it makes (or fails to make) raise much more interesting questions than its subject otherwise would.

The film’s focus, at least at first, is visual artist Vik Muniz, who was born in Brazil but has lived and worked in the United States for the past twenty-odd years. An overview of his work informs us that he is mostly famous for making portraits out of everyday materials; for instance, in the mid-90s he received critical acclaim for his “Sugar Children,” portraits of children working in sugar cane fields made entirely out of sugar (like many a contemporary visual artist, Muniz loves himself some questionable puns). For his next project, Muniz informs us, he has decided to make art out of garbage.
As it turns out, the head of his studio in Rio de Janeiro has found the perfect place to do so through a Youtube video: Jardim Gramacho, one of the largest landfills in the world, right in the middle of the favelas of Rio. Standing in the living room of his fancy New York apartment, Muniz explains that there is a social aspect to his work, and that he hopes that it will help draw attention to the living conditions of the people of Jardim Gramacho. “The worst thing about Brazil,” he explains, “is classism, how the rich think they are better than the rest of the country simply because they are rich.” Then he goes back to his computer to skype with his assistant, and they both agree that working in Jardim Gramacho might be dangerous “because there probably are a lot of junkies there.” I hope you’re enjoying the irony there.

Jardim Gramacho turns out to be nothing like Muniz expected, apart from the fact that it does look like a giant junkyard. Its people are neither junkies nor criminals, but honest workers who, for the most part, are proud of the job they do. The “catadores,” as they call themselves, go through the garbage looking for recyclables, which they then sell to recycling companies. They’re organized into a union, the ACAMJG, headed by one Tião Santos, an energetic and enthusiastic young man striving to make living conditions better for his fellow catadores.
Walker soon realizes that Santos, along with the few other pickers who agree to work with Muniz, is a much more interesting subject than the artist himself. Soon Muniz disappears for entire 10- or 15-minutes stretches, because Walker would rather let the catadores talk about their lives and film them in their most private moments, such as when an 18-year-old mother of two goes back to see her children, who are being raised by her mother in another favela. Waste Land, though, never addresses the question of its own voyeurism; when one of the workers breaks down because she can’t imagine going back to work in the landfill after her experience creating art with Muniz, the camera keeps rolling. Muniz’s own borderline exploitative behavior towards the catadores is brought to light if never explicitly called out, but Walker doesn’t seem to realize that she is basically doing the same thing.

To be fair to Muniz, he does stop to think about what he is doing every once in a while. The film’s most interesting sequence is a talk the artist has with several of his assistants, during which he wonders about the ethics of waltzing into those people’s lives, giving them a glimpse of an entirely different world, before disappearing forever and leaving them to sort everything out for themselves (though the scene is pretty short, the editing makes it clear that the discussion went on for a while). Even then, Muniz’s team seem unable to grasp the reality of the situation. “When we got here,” his assistant says, “I thought they seemed very happy about their lives. Now I realize it’s probably got a lot to do with denial.” Nuanced thinking doesn’t seem to be their forte–either the people of Jardim Gramacho are junkies, or they are the most beautiful people in the world; either they are genuinely happy, or they are in denial. (The obligatory “where are they now?” segment at the end of the movie nicely contradicts that simplistic analysis: while some of the workers did leave Jardim Gramacho, some stayed, and one even left then came back because she missed her coworkers.)
The parallel between Muniz’s actions and what she herself is doing yet again seems to escape Walker–or at least she refuses to confront it, preferring to turn the focus back on Muniz as he visits his parents back in São Paulo. This, predictably, is the weakest segment of the film, only saved by Muniz’s finally coming to terms with his own prejudices and admitting that, had his life taken a slightly different turn during his childhood, he might have ended up at Jardim Gramacho, too. Then it’s back to Muniz’s makeshift studio, where we see him and the workers of Jardim Gramacho (the latter doing most of the heavy lifting, make of that what you will) create giant portraits out of garbage. The film’s lack of focus is compounded by its late attempt at being a reflection on modern art; unfortunately, it has little to say that hasn’t already been said better by Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop (though Tião Santos’s reaction upon running into a Damien Hirst installation in a London gallery is at once hilarious and refreshing).

“What happens in the world’s largest trash city will transform you,” the Waste Land poster (above) says. It may be the cynic in me talking, but taken at face value, Waste Land is little more than yet another “we’re all humans after all”/”art really can make people’s lives better” documentary, and I’m always somewhat surprised, not to mention disappointed, that we actually need documentaries to remind us of those simple facts (yes, the cynic in me also happens to be an idealist). What makes Waste Land more than your run-of-the-mill “inspirational” film is the questions it raises about the genre of the documentary itself. What prevents it from being a very good film is its failure to actually confront those questions head-on and try to address them.

Review: Battle: Los Angeles (2011)

March 20, 2011

There’s a moment in Battle: Los Angeles when a soldier, thinking that he and his fellow marines have finally defeated the aliens who just invaded L.A., shouts, “It’s over!” For a second I shared his joy and excitement, though while he was celebrating the aliens’ demise, I was merely happy that this awful movie was finally coming to an end. Then an alien spaceship rose from the earth, and his hopes, and mine, were crushed. The horror and consternation on his face nicely mirrored my state of mind throughout the film.

After a brief opening sequence in which a random general explains that “we can’t afford to lose Los Angeles,” the film cuts to “24 hours before contact” and to a nice establishing shot of L.A. (just in case the movie’s name had us confused about where it’s supposed to take place), set to 2Pac’s “California Love.” I took that as Jonathan Liebesman’s way of saying he wasn’t even going to try, though I guess there’s always a chance he thought he was being clever. But given that a minute and a half of “California Love” is by far the best thing this movie has to offer, I guess I shouldn’t be too critical.
We are then introduced to the characters of the movie (if we can call them characters), starting with Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart), who is the only one to get any kind of real backstory. He’s been a marine for 20 years and is getting tired of it, and is said to have been somehow responsible for the death of his men during his last tour of duty in Iraq. Don’t expect much more detail; Liebesman’s got a dozen more characters to showcase before the real fun begins, he can’t spend more than a couple minutes on any of them, now can he? To make it easier for the audience (an honorable endeavor given the overall complexity of the rest of the movie), screenwriter Christopher Bertolini gives each one of his toy soldiers a defining trait to distinguish them from one another: you’ve got the Nigerian medic who signed up so that he could become American, the smartass from Jersey, the Asian rapper, the guy recovering from PTSD so well that it’s never mentioned after the opening segment, the 17-year-old virgin (just try to guess how many “dude’s a virgin” jokes Bertolini managed to cram into the first hour of the film, before getting bored with them himself and blowing his comic relief to pieces), the young lieutenant whose wife is pregnant, the guy whose brother was killed in the line of duty while under Nantz’s command (ooh, drama!), etc.
Liebesman seems to think that’s still a little too much information for the audience to take in at once (and he may very well be right, given that by the time the movie ended, I couldn’t remember half those people’s names), so he helpfully provides captions that give us every single character’s name and rank as they appear on the screen, as if Battle: LA were a documentary. Not that I would ever accuse Liebesman of putting that much thought into it; this is a pragmatic choice, not a stylistic one. When Tech Sergeant Elena Santos (Michelle Rodriguez) appears, some 45 minutes into the movie, she gets no caption–presumably because the screenplay simply referred to her as “the Michelle Rodriguez character” until the very last minute. (In what is perhaps the only surprising twist in the entire movie, Rodriguez actually manages to make it to the end alive).
Once we’re finally done with what Bertolini and Liebesman must refer to as “that boring introduction crap,” we move on to the good part, or what I refer to as “that boring exploding crap.”

So Eckhart and friends venture into the ruins of Los Angeles to kick some alien butt. As they do we learn, through carefully inserted news clips playing on the various TVs the soldiers encounter along the way (now that‘s an innovatice narrative device), that the aliens are invading Earth because having ugly-looking monsters as your bad guys means the audience will instinctively identify with the soldiers, thus letting you skimp on that pesky characterization thing. Also, they’re after our water. Apparently they use it as a source of energy. Does that remind you of anything? Well, it sure doesn’t Liebesman. Which is really for the best: the last thing Battle: LA needs is to have a simplistic, poorly thought out Iraq metaphor tacked onto its simplistic, poorly thought out plot. (That’s not to say that the film’s ideological content isn’t problematic as it is, though, but it’s more fun discussing the film’s other numerous shortcomings.) Liebesman’s aliens are ugly (the CGI looks awfully cheap at times), overly aggressive, and devoid of anything resembling a purpose save serving as targets for shooting practice. At some points the marines spontaneously start to refer to them as “ants,” possibly a misguided attempt at a District 9 shout out. But the point of Blomkamp’s film was to get inside its aliens’ heads, to ultimately strip the “prawn” nickname of any meaning; the only thing that’s getting in an alien’s head in Battle: LA is an M-16’s bullet.
And an awful lot of bullets are fired in this film. From the moment the marines set foot on the battlefield to the end of the movie, not five minutes go by without there being some kind of fighting. Bertolini and Liebesman seem to have very little understanding of the concept of pacing, which makes Battlefield: LA a physically exhausting movie to watch (that it clocks in at just under 2 hours doesn’t really help, either). What’s worse, Liebesman also has no idea what to do with a camera. Everything is filmed the same way, in extreme close-ups that make the action indecipherable–especially since Liebesman’s weapon of choice is, unsurprisingly, a badly misused handheld camera, which means you’re just as likely to be looking at a close-up of someone’s shoulder as at anything that would actually help understand what’s happening. To say that Battle: LA is a visual mess would be like saying that Transformers 2 was a bad movie; after a while, I just wanted the aliens to whip out a secret weapon that would let them wipe the surface of the planet in seconds just so that the movie would end and the pounding in my head would stop.
The one good thing about this film is Aaron Eckhart, who once again proves that he is a fine, fine actor, even when working with awful material. (The way he somehow manages to be convincing as he delivers the film’s one attempt at an emotional speech reminded me of Chiwetel Ejiofor in Roland Emmerich’s 2012, another preposterous but otherwise much more enjoyable movie.) Someone give this man a role in an actually well-written soldier film and watch him run away with it.

As the lights came back on in the theater, a group of people (all men in their 20s, unsurprisingly) sitting a few rows behind me clapped and cheered. Battlefield: Los Angeles cost $70 million to make, and made half that on its opening weekend in the US alone. If we are ever actually invaded and wiped out by aliens, they’ll be able to look back and point at this film as proof that we had it coming.

Postscript: Sorry about the lack of update over the past month. I was once again ambushed and beaten up in a dark alley by real life (still in the form of my thesis). I’ll try my best to have at least one other post up before the end of the month.

Review: Incendies (2010)

February 10, 2011

It all begins with a death. One day, Nawal Marwan (Lubna Azabal), a Canadian citizen who emigrated from the Middle East some twenty years ago, decides she’s had enough. She doesn’t say or do anything. She stops talking, stops eating, and a few days later, she dies in her hospital bed. To her children, twins Simon (Maxim Gaudette) and Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin), who were only infants when they arrived in Canada, she leaves bizarre burial instructions, along with two sealed letters. One is addressed to a father they thought was long dead, the other to a brother they never even knew they had. Simon, who’s had to deal with Nawal’s erratic behavior ever since Jeanne left the family home, says “screw it” and decides to go back to his life. Jeanne can’t. She consults her friend and adviser at the university where she studies advanced mathematics, before deciding to go back to her mother’s birthplace in search of her lost family.

It all begins with a death alright. Nawal is pregnant with Wahab’s child, but Wahab is a muslim refugee, while Nawal’s a Christian. Love doesn’t care for that sort of things. Nawal’s family surely do. The lovers make plans to leave together, but are intercepted by Nawal’s brothers, who summarily shoot Wahab and are about to avenge the family honor by doing the same to Nawal when the grandmother intervenes. Not that the woman approves of her granddaughter’s relationship with a muslim stranger anymore than Nawal’s brother did; once the baby’s born, she forces Nawal to give it away, before sending the girl off to her uncle’s in the city (a move that seems to backfire somewhat, as the uncle turns out to be supportive of the oppressed muslim population). Once the war that’s been brewing inevitably breaks out, though, Nawal decides to take advantage of the confusion to go look for her son.

Denis Villeneuve’s Oscar-nominated Incendies, based on the play by Wajdi Mouawad, tells the story of the Marwan family, and of the parallel trajectories of a mother looking for her lost son and of a daughter looking for a mother she never really knew. Most of the film’s action takes place in a Middle Eastern country that remains nameless throughout but whose troubled history is reminiscent of Mouawad’s native Lebanon (with Nawal’s character based in large part on the real-life Souha Bechara), a place scarred by years of civil war and religious violence. While Jeanne retraces her mother’s steps, armed only with an old photograph and a simple cross necklace, a series of flashbacks show us how Nawal’s quest to find her son soon got derailed by the very violence against which she originally campaigned.

Incendies can be a grueling experience at times. I left the theater physically exhausted, partly from crying so much (believe me, you will cry), partly because of the incredible tension that permeates every scene. There are moments in the Nawal segments that can be hard to stomach, as Villeneuve makes it a point to depict the horrors of civil war in a very direct and brutal manner, from the gunning down of an entire bus by militia men to the random sniping of children in a post-apocalyptic-looking ruined city (a scene made all the more terrifying once we learn the identity of the sniper). The point isn’t shock for shock’s sake, nor is it to provide the spectator with cheap thrills. No fancy camera effects, no slow-motion, nothing that would get in the way of our experiencing violence the way the people on the screen do, in sudden, unpredictable, and devastating outbursts. What Villeneuve aims to capture with his camera–insofar that it can be captured–is the reality of civil war, of what it does to people and what it makes people do. (As an aside, and given that I’ve expressed my admiration for Yang Ik-june’s Breathless for much the same reason, and have at times ranted about the “everyone should be able to fight like Jason Bourne” mentality that seems to permeate recent Hollywood action movies, I wouldn’t fault the reader for thinking that I don’t like films that choose to depict violence in more stylized ways. However, nothing could be further from the truth–my love for any and all action films starring Matt Damon, for instance, is well-documented, and sometimes comes through in my reviews of other, lesser films. But I digress.)
It’s not only the physical violence, though. Jeanne’s trip through her mother’s home country is often just as traumatic, both for her and for the audience, as Nawal’s first-hand experience of the war. Twenty years after Nawal’s departure, the country is now at peace, but that doesn’t mean the war is over. It continues in the silences of the women who knew Nawal but refuse to help Jeanne, in the threatening presence of militia men who have traded their AK-47s for suits and concealed handguns, in a former prison guard’s insistence that he is nothing but the local school’s janitor. People whose extreme reticence to even talk about what happened during the war betrays just how much they’re willing to let the past run their lives. “Sometimes you’re better off not knowing,” the “janitor” tells Jeanne, echoing the advice she’s gotten from everyone so far, including her own brother. Not that she listens, of course. The only way for her to come to terms with the past is to face it, and part of what makes Incendies so devastating is that we learn things not before Jeanne does, but at the same time she does, thus removing a potential filter between her experience and ours (only once is the audience let in on something before Jeanne learns about it, but by then we empathize with her enough that waiting for her to learn what we’ve already guessed only makes the scene more heartrending).

Given how organically cinematic Incendies feels, with its gorgeous shots of ruined landscapes and its seamless shifting between two parallel stories (helped in large part by Lubna Azabal’s heroic performance as Nawal and the almost uncanny resemblance between the two female leads), it isn’t hard to forget that it was first a play. Something remains of that first incarnation, though, in the film’s scope and structure. As Cocteau puts it in his play La Machine infernale, the tragedy is “one of the most perfect machines devised by the infernal gods for the mathematical destruction of a mortal”, and in that sense, Incendies is very much a tragedy (the fact that Jeanne studies mathematics isn’t at all a coincidence). This machine is not a divine one, but its logic is no less implacable, even as it loses all sense in its insane obsession with the destruction of an individual. Every act of violence leads to another, every horrific revelation paves the way for the next one. This is a film that turns the question “one plus one equals two, right?” into a bone-chilling one. Mathematical indeed.
Yet this is a film of great hope and courage as well. If Nawal’s quest to find her son, as we know from the start, is bound to fail, it is it that gives her the strength to keep on living (rather than just surviving) through the war, and it is ultimately taken up by her daughter. The past is not necessarily an inescapable prison, but for it to be anything else, one has to be brave enough to face and accept it. Whatever the cost, I believe Jeanne Marwan would add.

Review: También la lluva (2010)

January 20, 2011

Costa (Luis Tosar) and Sebastián (Gael García Bernal)

At the heart of Icían Bollaín’s También la lluva (Even the Rain), which was recently shortlisted for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, lies the age-old question of the politically committed artist. Can one’s commitment be solely limited to one’s art, she asks, or should it extend to one’s life as well?

The artist is Sebastián (Gael García Bernal), an idealistic young Spaniard directing his dream project, an epic about the revolt led by Hatuey against the Spanish conquistadors in Cuba in the early 16th century. Filming is done on location, though due to budget constraints, not in the Caribbean. Instead Sebastián’s producer Costa (Luis Tosar, in a scene-stealing performance) leads him to Cochabamba, Bolivia, where life is cheap and extras can be paid next to nothing. As luck would have it, the crew arrives just as tensions between the people of Cochabamba and private entrepreneurs involved in the management of the city’s water supply are escalating (the real-life Cochabamba protests). Things get even messier when Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri), the local Sebastián cast as Hatuey, turns out to be one the leaders of the protests.

Paul Laverty, who wrote the screenplay for También la lluva, has collaborated with Ken Loach on many a project (including The Wind That Shakes the Barley, another film about an anti-colonialist uprising), and Sebastián seems in many ways to be a sort of Spanish Ken Loach. He’s not really interested in Christopher Columbus, played in his film by grizzled veteran and alcoholic Anton (Karra Elejalde). His focus, rather, is Hatuey, as well as Dominican friars Bartolomé de las Casas and Antonio de Montesinos, who first argued in favor of the natives. He truly believes in the power of his film to change the world–should he be able, of course, to finish it.
The opening scene has Sebastián and Costa arrive to Cochabamba only to find a long line of people waiting to be auditioned to play Taino Indians in Sebastián’s film. Costa, mindful of time constraints, argues that Sebastián should just choose the ones he likes best and send the rest home. However, after Daniel energizes the crowd with a short but rousing speech, Sebastián decides to disregard his producer’s advice and to audition everybody. It seems at once that También la lluva is set up as a triangular relationship between the compassionate and idealistic Sebastián, the cynical and pragmatic Costa, and the rebellious Daniel. Thankfully, things aren’t that simple.

The main strength of the film is Laverty’s screenplay, with its multi-dimensional characters painted in different shades of grey (which clashes with the vibrant cinematography, if you’ll pardon the pun). Sebastián doesn’t mind wasting a few hours auditioning a hundred people, and while he’s sympathetic to the people of Cochabamba and their trials, Daniel’s involvement in the protests is an endless source of anguish for him, as it threatens the completion of his film. The young filmmaker’s contradictions are best exposed when he meets the mayor of Cochabamba and tries to argue that “people who make two dollars a day can’t afford a 300% in the price of water.” “Funny,” the mayor says, “I hear that’s what you pay your extras.”
Meanwhile, Costa comes off as cold and determined to do everything for the movie to be shot for as cheap as possible. In a painful early scene, he brags on the phone to American investors about how little he is able to pay the locals, unaware that Daniel, who is standing right next to him, speaks English. Yet it is Costa, not Sebastián, who remains in contact with Daniel and the other extras day in and day out. If Sebastián lives in an ivory tower, Costa does not have that luxury.

The film within the film plays an important role as well, and Icíar Bollaín makes some interesting choices when it comes to incorporating it into the narrative. Sometimes we see Sebastián and his crew shooting, or rehearsing key scenes, like Columbus’s first stepping foot on Hispaniola. Sometimes we’re presented with the finished, fully-edited product, inserted into the main film in much the same way as in Karel Reisz’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman, as if we had not so much two films as two different timelines, with the same actors playing different roles.
Of course, Daniel’s role as Hatuey echoes his role as leader of the protests in real life, but the similarities don’t end there. Juan (Raúl Arévalo) and Alberto (Carlos Santos), the actors who play Antonio de Montesinos and Bartolomé de las Casas, seem to take their roles to heart. Like Sebastián, they believe that the film they’re doing serves a social and political purpose, and aren’t averse to speaking out in favor of the people of Cochabamba. Antón repeatedly challenges them to put their money where their mouth is as he correctly senses that their dedication to the locals’ cause is one that’ll remain on an intellectual and theoretical level. When things start to get truly dangerous, Juan and Alberto aren’t exactly standing on the front lines.
Not that Laverty and Bollaín judge them too harshly. Their point is to show just how difficult the decisions those characters have to face are, not to award brownie points. Juan and Alberto are far away from home and facing a dangerous situation that doesn’t impact them directly. Most of us would react the exact same way they do. That they don’t rise up to the challenge and become heroes doesn’t make them cowards. It just makes those who do all the more heroic.

Review: The Green Hornet (2011)

January 18, 2011

Kato (Jay Chou) and Britt Reid (Seth Rogen), looking ridiculous

Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) is a tool. That’s really his one defining trait. He’s a spoiled brat, smug and self-absorbed (when he has absolutely no reason to be either), and he seems unable to keep his mouth shut for more than three seconds at a time. He talks. And talks. So. Damn. Much. Like a Hallmark card, he’s got a one-liner for every occasion (hell, he’s got ten of them!). As for his redeeming qualities… well, he doesn’t seem to actually have any of those. It’s as if Rogen, who co-wrote the screenplay to Michel Gondry’s The Green Hornet with Evan Goldberg, felt guilty for writing himself into virtually every single scene, and decided to make his character insufferable to balance it out. No, that doesn’t sound like such a great idea to me either.

Reid’s dad (Tom Wilkinson), the owner of Los Angeles’s Daily Sentinel, kicks it, and Reid inherits the newspaper. He also inherits his dad’s mechanic and coffee maker, Kato (Jay Chou), who turns out to be an incredibly gifted martial artist with some sort of time-slowing super power, and after they almost accidentally save a random couple from being mugged, the two of them decide to use their wealth and talent to fight crime (three guesses as to who’s got the wealth and who’s got the talent). Reid’s one idea is for them to pose as criminals, because he can’t be bothered with having to actually do good. He’d much rather take out gangsters the old-fashioned way–with a car that shoots bullets and has a built-in flamethrower. Also, by kicking them in the nuts. Reid sure loves himself a swift kick to some poor guy’s nuts.
Any good superhero movie needs a good villain; I suppose every bad superhero movie needs a bad villain. The Green Hornet‘s Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz) is as bad as can be. Waltz proved in Inglourious Basterds that he’s great at playing villains, being able to shift from subdued menace to all-out hamminess and back several times in the same scene. Unfortunately, Rogen is no Tarantino, and Chudnofsky is no Colonel Landa. His role here seems limited to angsting over the fact that he’s no longer as scary as he used to be, which gets old halfway through his first scene, and sending his underlings to die in pursuit of Rogen’s spaz of a superhero.
Oh, and there’s a love interest in there, too. Of course there’s one. Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz) is Reid’s new secretary, and we’re told she’s very smart in addition to being very hot, but that’s about all there is to her character. She mostly serves as a way to drive Reid and Kato apart when the screenplay needs the superheroic pair to split, which makes her a tad redundant considering just how big a tool Reid is. Seriously, I don’t even know why Kato ever comes back. Probably because it says he has to in the script.

I have a confession to make: I’m a fan of Gondry’s. As a kid growing up in France in the ’90s, I could not help but be exposed to his music videos, many of which were incredibly well thought-out little gems. I think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Minds is one of the very best films of the past decade, I liked The Science of Sleep a lot, and I believe Be Kind, Rewind to be way underrated. The Green Hornet simply doesn’t feel like a Gondry movie. All his other films have a deliciously lo-tech quality to them, an ingeniosity that simply isn’t here. The Green Hornet is all slick metal and shiny plastic (or not-so-shiny plastic, given how much 3D–as usual–dims the picture), and looks like any other superhero movie out there. The fight scenes, all ugly slow-motion and awkward camera angles, could have been directed by Zack Snyder, and the amount of stuff getting blown up would make Michael Bay proud. Don’t expect anything more revolutionary than an extreme split-screen scene (albeit a pretty neat one, I have to admit).
To be fair, there are a few laughs to be had during the two hours that the film lasts, but not many. Given that Reid makes about twenty jokes a minute, there’s bound to be a handful of effective zingers in there. Chudnofsky’s lieutenant Popeye (Jamie Harris) has some nice moments as the voice of reason. And the ubiquitous James Franco (here in an uncredited cameo) is great as Danny Clear, the dealer who explains to Chudnofsky in an early scene just exactly how un-scary he is. That is, until Chudnofsky pulls an ugly double-barreled handgun on him, and you realize you’re watching the kind of movie in which apparently successful drug dealers are dumb enough not to frisk the local crime boss before admitting him into their nightclubs. Given how much The Green Hornet feels like a parody of superhero movies written by people who know next to nothing about superhero movies, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.


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