Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Tusk: Kevin Smith's Misguided Stab at Horror-Comedy


Director: Kevin Smith
Writer: Kevin Smith
Stars: Justin Long, Michael Parks, Haley Joel Osment, Genesis Rodriguez

In this first installment of the “Yesteryear” posts, we’ll be tackling Tusk, the newest film from Kevin Smith that came out last year. When I heard about this movie, I was really excited—I normally love Kevin Smith’s films, and the whole premise sounded pretty funny. You’ll notice that I said I normally love these flicks. That’s because Tusk left me utterly confused as to what genre Smith was shooting for here.

 Tusk tells the story of a foul-mouthed podcaster named Wallace Bryton (Long). He and his friend, Teddy (Osment), run a podcast show called the “Not-See Party,” where Wallace watches a weird news video and explains what’s happening to Teddy, who doesn’t even see the video (hence the “Not-See” part of the podcast’s title). Wallace travels to a small town in Canada to interview a viral video sensation, but when his potential podcast story falls through, he needs to find another piece of weird news. In the bathroom of a Canadian bar, he finds a cryptic, handwritten letter pinned to a bulletin board; following the instructions on the letter, he arrives at the mansion home of an eccentric, wheelchair-bound man named Howard Howe (Parks). Howe’s stories seem too good to be true, which Wallace soon finds out. When the mysterious Howe takes Wallace as a prisoner, Wallace’s girlfriend, Ally (Rodriguez), and Teddy desperately search for him.

The genre of this movie was the most confusing thing for me. Smith’s heyday was in the 1990s, and most of his movies—if not all—were comedies. One of my favorites was Dogma, a hilarious poke at religion featuring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, but he’s probably most known for his black and white Clerks. Smith’s comedies are absolute gold with endlessly-quotable dialogue and quirky, memorable characters. I didn’t get the same vibe with this movie, though, because Smith tried to make a horror-comedy…emphasis on the tried part. There’s a fine line between horror and comedy, and it takes a delicate balance between both genres to make it work. I recently watched a movie called Zombeavers—radioactive zombie-beavers attack a group of college students. Also, see Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, where two hillbillies go to the lake and accidentally run into some college students who are convinced the two yokels are Deliverance-style murderers. I thought both of these movies were great, simply because they didn’t take themselves too seriously—they knew that they were couching a horror movie in terms of a comedy, or vice versa, and they were okay with it.

I feel like Tusk went too deeply into each of these genres instead of blending the two together. There were plenty of parts that I thought were purely horror instead of trying to make a horror scene funny. Part of the issue there lies with Parks’ performance. In many of his scenes, he actually comes off as a genuine psychopath, which was actually pretty scary, and Howe’s dialogue toward Wallace is frightening. The cinematography of Parks’ character during some of these scenes reinforces that menacing portrayal. For a horror-comedy, things got a little too real during the scenes showing Wallace's abduction and captivity at the hands of Howe.

Another seemingly miscast role was Justin Long. There are certain roles where I think Long is a decent comedy actor—he was great in Dodgeball as a geeky teenager, and his similar role in Accepted as a smart-mouthed college kid was enjoyable. Smith has used Long in a cameo role previously in Zack and Miri Make a Porno, portraying a gay porn star, and I found that incredibly funny. A lot of these roles were pretty over the top in the comedy stuff, and comedy is right in his wheelhouse. Tusk, however, represents a role way out in left field. The seriousness of some of the horror scenes don’t fit Long’s acting style at all—as he tries to spin a comedic character, he’s painfully unfunny. For having just met Howe, a mysterious old man who Wallace plans to interview, Wallace speaks with a disgustingly-unamusing candor, almost like Long (or Smith as the writer) was trying too hard to inject some laughs into the mix.

The pendulous way Smith swings from horror back into comedy feels really jarring, and again, it’s hard to tell if he was trying to make a horror film, a comedic romp, or a horror-comedy. Instead of blending the two genres together, we get a comedic sequence followed by a horror scene, then back and forth and back and forth. After one scene that’s actually pretty disturbing where Howe drugs Wallace and experiments on him, the audience is snapped back to Teddy and Ally’s search for Wallace—a search that’s supposed to be hysterical, but ends up being the same trying-too-hard string of jokes. The whole movie hinges on Canada jokes and Canadian stereotypes, and as I watched, I felt secondhand embarrassment for any Canadian viewers. These drawn out sequences absolutely rag on our lovely neighbors to the north, and it was, again, painfully unfunny.

This is, in all honesty, the first Kevin Smith movie that I’m not happy that I watched. There was a laugh or two that I got, but most of the humor in this movie just grated on me and didn’t even make me smile. This movie was based on a “smodcast” from Smith, and a friend of mine said she really enjoyed Tusk since she’d been listening to the movie take shape through these smodcasts. Part of me wonders if it wouldn’t have been better if Tusk had just remained an idea that floated around the smodcast studio and nothing more.

Now that that painful review is over, you may have noticed a small addition to the top-right corner of this blog. I've registered Ticket Stubs and Popcorn Tubs with Bloglovin', which makes it easier for you to follow your favorite blogs and search for new blogs that pique your interests. Give it a shot!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Ant-Man: Another Marvel Movie with a Boring Baddie.


Director: Peyton Reed
Stars: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Corey Stoll, Evangeline Lilly

I’ll throw this out there: I’m a Marvel drone. If it says that Marvel produced the movie, if there’s a cameo from Stan Lee anywhere in the film that makes me laugh, and if there’s an extra scene during the credits, I’m all in. I won’t lie to you, though, my dear reader—I didn’t read the comic books. I never read the comic books. I never had access to them growing up, and it’s only since this latest explosion of superhero movies that Marvel has really piqued my interest. That being said, I felt like 
Ant-Man was a little different than the other Marvel movies. I certainly don’t mean to say that this is an entirely bad addition to Marvel’s ever-expanding cinematic universe—it just felt different.

Ant-Man is a superhero origin story that begins with the release of a prisoner, Scott Lang (Rudd). Lang struggles to find work on the outside, since he's considered a felon—a cat burglar, to be more exact. When the struggle to find a job becomes too much, Lang falls back into old habits and expertly burgles the house of Dr. Hank Pym (Douglas), a scientist who allegedly worked on shrinking technology that reduces the space between atoms. Upon breaking into Pym’s vault, he discovers a red suit, and, being the curious type—fitting for a cat burglar, I suppose—Lang puts on the suit and becomes the Ant-Man. Pym’s former assistant, Darren Cross (Stoll), and Pym’s Daughter, Hope (Lilly), are working on that same shrinking technology, however. Cross develops a suit—named the Yellowjacket—that has the same atom-shrinking abilities, though he sees his weaponized suit as one that will end all wars and make him rich in the process. Lang, Hank, and Hope team up to take down the Yellowjacket to stop the shrinking technology from falling into the hands of the military.

With Ant-Man coming out after the massive release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, it seems like this movie isn’t getting nearly as much hype despite a good amount of advertising. A big part of that is most likely that people like me—people who haven’t read the Marvel comic books—aren’t really sure who Ant-Man is. Iron Man is a huge Marvel character who’s had several movies already, and the same goes for Thor, Hulk, and Captain America. Even before their movies came out, though, I could tell you who each of those characters was, but Ant-Man? I’d never even heard of him before. I think that’s how a solid chunk of movie-goers are going to react to this movie.

Being released after Age of Ultron isn’t going to do Ant-Man any favors, either. With the massive blockbuster success of the second installment of The Avengers, it’s almost like getting sloppy seconds with Ant-Man. Age of Ultron was talked about extensively, and there was a decent-sized advertising campaign, which probably led to its $191 million opening weekend. According to the Internet Movie Database, Ant-Man pulled in just $57 million in its opening weekend. Again, I’m sure there were plenty of avid Marvel fans who have all the comic books lining up at the doors for Ant-Man, but for the average fair-weather Marvel fan like me, I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into.

Like I said when I started, Ant-Man isn’t entirely a bad movie—it’s just different. With Peyton Reed in the director’s seat, I remember a little bit of backlash from the fanbase. Age of Ultron’s director, Joss Whedon, is known for quick-witted dialogue between his characters (just look at his cult television series Firefly) That sharp-tongued humor seems like a good fit for the Marvel cinematic universe if we take anything from the Iron Man movies as well as Guardians of the Galaxy. With Ant-Man, it seems like they were stretching that humor pretty thin. There were funny parts throughout the movie, but none of them seemed as raucously funny as Age of Ultron was. The biggest stretch for humor was the inclusion of Lang’s bumbling crime-buddies who help him set up the heist of Pym’s house. They were a little too slapstick for my taste, and I was a little disappointed that that same level of quick-witted humor wasn’t in this movie. I think the biggest laugh I got was from Stan Lee’s cameo.

My one big complaint was 
Ant-Man’s villain, Darren Cross/Yellowjacket. I get it: 99% of superhero movies dwell on the “good vs. evil” idea, and Ant-Man isn’t an outlier. Yellowjacket is just a foil to Ant-Man in this regard, and neither Yellowjacket nor Cross really get that much character development throughout the whole movie. Hank explains early on that a biological organism must be protected by a special suit when going through the shrinking process, lest the suit’s fuel start fiddling with the chemistry of the organism’s brain. From Cross’s first scene, we already know that he’s the bad guy, since he’s trying to use this astounding technology (A) as a weapon and (B) to make himself stinking rich. I was really miffed as to why the director didn’t flesh out this brain chemistry thing—Hank brings up this idea to Cross just before Cross dons the Yellowjacket outfit, but it seemed too little, too late at that point. Even if there was one quick sequence of Cross using the shrinking technology that tried to show the audience how it altered his mental state, it would have felt less like a loose end while also giving this character more (much needed) depth. I thought Graeme McMillan summed up the issues with Marvel’s villains pretty well in this article.

Will I be rushing out to pick up a copy of Ant-Man when it comes out on blu-ray? Probably not, but it might be nice to have a Marvel movie collection one day. Was it still an enjoyable movie? Sure, if you’re in the mood for a generic villain who you won’t remember once the credits roll.

Now for some house-keeping. I’d like to write here more than I do now, but I don’t have the means to go to the movies on a weekly basis at roughly $15 a pop. Therefore, I’m going to write posts about random movies I find and title it “Movies from Yesteryear.” There are plenty of movies on Netflix and Amazon Prime that I simply haven’t gotten to yet, and when they originally came out in theaters, I thought, “Wow, that’d be cool to write about.” Then they went out of theaters, and I completely forgot about them…until now! Hopefully, by writing about all movies and not just new releases, it’ll give me a little more fodder. Have any other ideas? Let me know!