Stop Giving Roland Emmerich Money...

...or he'll keep making crap like this. After the dubious accomplishments of directing Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow and 10,000 BC, his streak of dreck continues with the abysmal 2012. What's shocking is not that it's a complete and total failure; what's shocking is that legitimate talent like John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt and Danny Glover all signed up to go down with this ship. Woody Harrelson's in it, too, but remember, I called it a list of "legitimate talent."

While not as aggressively and angrily incompetent as Transformers 2, this nonetheless deserves to give that piece of trash a run for its money at the Razzies, awards given out for the worst movie of the year. 2012 is so earth-shatteringly moronic that for much of its brutally overlong runtime (2 hrs and 40 mins) I sat, slack-jawed and stunned, as untold millions of CGI wizardry went to portray John Cusack driving or flying away from a series of escalating earthquakes and doomsday fireballs, only to save humanity by unwinding a rope caught in some oversized gears.

This is about where I'm normally subjected to a variant of the "hey, it's a big summer movie, it's not supposed to be smart" argument. No. Because in a world that's recently delivered blockbusters like Star Trek and Dark Knight, it's no longer acceptable to ignore idiocy as long as it "blowed up real good." So be smarter than I was, resist the money shots in the trailers of cities being destroyed on an unimaginable scale, and avoid at all costs. Waste of time, waste of money.



9 is Not a 10

It's prolly more like a 7. Maybe an 8 if you're feeling charitable. Oh, and it's not to be confused with District 9 – don't take the kiddies to that one; this one's scary enough. No, this is the Little-Big-Planet-Meets-Pinocchio-Meets-Those-Robot-Bad-Guys-From-The-Matrix "9." The titular character is a stitched-up burlap animatron given the spark of life, the last creation of a benevolent scientist amidst a post-apocalyptic world ruled by machines.

I gotta say, I'm a little tired of post-apocalyptic worlds ruled by machines. You'd think by now that everyone's seen enough movies to know that the second you make an artificially intelligent machine, the government will swoop in to use it as a weapon, then the machine will make more machines, which will in turn rise up and destroy us all. As, apparently, their thanks for creating them. And why is the machines' next task to immediately make the world as dank and unattractive as humanly (or machinely, I guess) possible? Did we not program them to like nice things?

Anyway, as post-apocalyptic worlds ruled by machines movies go, this one's not bad by any means. But for a movie dealing with questions of soul, it's kind of lacking one itself. It's hard to get too terribly invested in the numerical heroes – they're well animated and sort of awkwardly appealing, but basically cyphers instead of characters (ha!) There's the brave one, the shy ones, the dumb one, the mean one, etc. Actually, I guess it's the brave 9, the dumb 5, the mean 1, but you know what I mean.

And their struggle is somewhat ill-defined. There're a couple big metal beasties to get away from, a hazily explained quest to understand their identity, and something about pressing buttons on an archaic-looking version of Simon. They trek from one place to another and back to the same place and all of a sudden, 88 minutes are up and you're kinda scratching your head.

If you're a tech demo head or a Tim Burton guy, you'll likely love it. The world is pretty beautifully realized (even if it in itself is ugly) and the CGI is well-executed (with the possible exception of the fact that the little burlap people don't exactly move like they're made of burlap, more like you clicked on the burlap texture in Photoshop). The action scenes, battling the remnants of the machines, are spectacular, altho they're representative of the gap – and trap – this flick falls into. It's prolly too scary for kids, but it's definitely too light for adults. And teens aren't gonna think the characters are cool, so who's this movie made for?

Blu-Ray, perhaps, where the stuff'll be less scary and tech geeks can pore over what I can only assume will be countless hours of special features dissecting the 3D modeling and every step it took to evolve 9 from an Oscar-nominated short to a feature film. For the rest of the world? It's ok. If 9 is a 7, it'd equate to a C. An 8, a B. I'll give it a 7.5... C+. Worth a watch... ish.


Rinse. Repeat.

Unfortunately, the most memorable moment of Jay Leno's new(ish) show wasn't the much-ballyhooed "comedy at 9," unless you count confronting a somewhat catatonic Kanye West with what his dead mother would've thought of his behavior a barrel of laughs.

There was nothing really wrong with The Jay Leno Show, but nothing particularly breakthru, either. Perhaps it suffered from several months of non-stop promotion or too many "revolution in television" stories, but regardless – the show came off as basically the same stuff that used to air an hour and a half later, just without a desk for most of it.

And that's not bad, if Jay's your thing. Monologue's the same, segments like Headlines are standard crowd-pleasers, etc... If he's not, the "format experiments" aren't likely to be enough to draw you in. Plus, they seemed mostly lifted from other, edgier shows. The Dan Band segment was funnyish albeit overlong and the faux interview with President Obama had a couple moments, but you've seen both correspondent comedy and interviews assembled via Avid done better on The Daily Show and Colbert Report.

Aside from the intentional awkwardness injected into the Kanye conversation, the sit-down segments seemed pretty standard Tonight Show – Jay's fairly good with his friends, altho seemed to miss the desk, as there was some "which leg do we cross now" fumbling. A staged bit around the idea that Jay couldn't book Oprah for his show but Jerry Seinfeld could get her for his segment fell flat.

Overall (and admittedly based on one airing), it's ok. Regular Jaywatchers will be pleased, die-hard Letterman fans won't be interested, and people without a late-night affiliation will prolly enjoy a comedy bit here and there. The best hope for the future comes from the correspondents – even tho it's not a new idea, they may have the ability to connect with a younger audience the way Jay mostly won't. One almost feels bad not being a big fan; Jay is genuine and sincere, but so far not the innovator the world sold him as.


Review Roundup

Been extra-busy lately, which unfortunately means being less bloggy. "Less" as in I missed much of July and all of August. Sigh. Will try to pick up the pace for the fall TV season, but in the interim here's a quick catchup on the rest of summer cinema...

First up, Harry Potter and the Half-Assed Script - a poor adaptation of one of the least successful novels. The book was largely a 600-plus page setup for the Deathly Hallows finale, but at least opened and closed with some spectacular magic scenes that would've played great on screen. Unfortunately, the filmmakers opted to cull most of that excitement in order to include a series of minor moments designed to show the kid cast's emerging acting skills. True, they've rarely performed better, but the lack of action means that the series has rarely moved slower. Plus, the entire movie looks as if it was digitally graded by turning the "drab" setting up to 11. Worth a watch from a completist's perspective, but a wasted opportunity even tho it made a ton of money.

Wha'dya know? GI Joe, coming from a questionable pedigree and plagued with rumors of horrendous testing, turned out to be pretty good and fairly fun. It's eminently disposable, but executed with such upbeat style that after it zips by, you find you've had a smile on your face the whole time. Saying it's Stephen Sommers' best movie (he of The Mummy and Van Helsing "fame" isn't exactly high praise, but it represents a step up from the slapdash trash he's assembled before. Surprisingly worth a watch.

Meryl Streep's always, well, Meryl Streep – so it's no surprise that the biographical portions that show how Julia Child the somewhat adrift wife became Julia Child the household brand are terrific. She could've come off as a caricature, but instead is a fully-realized and wonderful character. What's a little less compelling is the modern-day portion of the movie, watching Amy Adams as Julie cook and blog her way thru Julia Child's cookbook as a way of dealing with mounting depression. Given that not a lot's at stake (by now we know that both Julie and Julia turn out ok) it goes on a bit long, but overall it's frothy and fun. Worth a watch.

Definitely the strangest movie of the summer and one of the oddest I've ever seen. Labeled alternately as audaciously bold alternate history and revenge porn that plays to the basest of instincts, Inglourious Basterds turns out to be, well, both. Anyone expecting a WWII-era Kill Bill-ish romp will be sorely disappointed – while there's gore to spare, it's queasy and unsettling, and while Tarantino sprays around oodles of his trademark conversational banter, to say the humor is black isn't painting with a wet enough brush. It's a brazen bit of filmmaking, and definitely watchable (depending on your constitution), but it's one of those flicks where you don't exactly feel good about the fact that you think it's pretty good.

Part political satire, part science fiction action, pretty much all awesome... District 9 is an absolute eye-opener of a movie. It's an unsettling examination of South Africa's apartheid policies set against the backdrop of an alien ship of refugees on the brink of resettlement that grabs you from the first documentary-style shot and keeps upping the tension, barely giving you a chance to breathe until the credits roll. You'll squirm plenty, tho, as the aliens themselves are an odd combination of off-putting and endearing and the overall vibe simply gets under your skin. Shot on a shoestring under the producing arm of Peter Jackson, Neill Blomkamp has created a breathtaking and breakthru piece of intelligent entertainment. Worth a watch... and prolly more than one.

Look, I liked it. There are many moments in the movie that are crazy funny. A ton of 'em, in fact. But I prolly waited a little too long to see The Hangover, so by the time I did, I didn't love it. Comedies can be very "of the moment," in that so much depends being surprised that when you hear rave upon rave about something being "the funniest movie you've ever seen" it can't help but underwhelm a bit. If, by any chance, you're waiting for Netflix on this one, rest assured – the tale of this trio waking up in Vegas is plenty funny. It's worth a watch – just don't expect it to, you know, cure all society's ills and you'll be fine.

And everything else, from Angels & Demons to Year One, slipped thru to DVD. Ah well, moving on... Melrose Place premieres tomorrow. Not expecting much.


Full Frontal Funny

Say what you will about his style of ambush comedy, but you can't deny that Sacha Baron Cohen's got balls. Because you get to see them. Frequently. Along with everything else.

Much like Borat, Bruno is a thinly plotted series of sketches where Cohen admirably keeps in character through largely unscripted interactions with celebs and regular people meant to expose prejudices and biases we'd rather not confront. And also like Borat, it's shockingly, blisteringly and bravely funny.

Instead of ethnocentrism, this time the target is homophobia, altho Bruno does take a bit of a shotgun blast approach, scattering some laughs toward celeb and pop culture as well. The movie doesn't vary too wildly within its 86 minutes, sticking with the basic setup of Bruno sticking his... ah... nose into unprepared situations and pushing the joke far past any arguably point of good taste.

So while some of the jokes hit harder than others (the scripted setups that advance the story are less illuminating and amusing), pound for pound it's consistently and painfully funny. I wasn't around for classic comedians like Lenny Bruce, but I have to imagine that Cohen represents that spirit for this generation. Debased, dangerous and definitely worth a watch.