Thursday, September 29, 2016

Don't Stop Beliebin'

Year: 2016
Director: Jorma Taccone & Akiva Schaffer
Cast: Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer
Run Time: 1 hour 27 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

I’ve never been a fan of The Lonely Island. I think many of you probably wouldn’t blame me for that. Their celebrity-packed rap-sung songs featured on SNL were designed for 12-year-old boys to get detention for singing them in the classroom. It’s no beef against them, that’s just not my demographic.

So imagine my surprise when I sat down to watch their movie and it was actually kind of awesome. The cumbersomely titled Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping was directed by Jorma Taccone and Akiva Shaffer (the Lonely Island guys on either side of Andy Samberg), and written by them and Sandberg, so this is a pure, undistilled vehicle for their comic stylings, but perhaps the focus required to make a feature-length film brought out the best in them.

Their talent is out of the box, so to speak.

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is a mockumentary, a comedy genre that has finally been reclaimed from the network sitcom trenches. It follows Conner Freal (Andy Samberg), a young pop savant who got his start in a boy band called the Style Boyz along with his friends Owen (Jorma Taccone) and Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer). He has now struck out on a solo career under the name Conner4Real and had massive success with his first album. The film picks up just before his second album drops. Owen is now the DJ on his world tour and Lawrence has abandoned the scene to become a farmer and grumble about Conner claiming credit for a famous verse he wrote.

We join Conner, his manager Harry (Tim Meadows), and his publicist Paula (Sarah Silverman) as the album drops… Straight off the face of the Earth. It turns out that abandoning his songwriter and beat mixer has resulted in a widely hated album, leaving Conner and his team scrambling to pick up the pieces.

Oh, and his team also includes Bill Hader for like 5 seconds.

Popstar is very much a Lonely Island film. Absurdity and filth rub shoulders here like they’re the finalists in an All-County Shoulder Rubbing Contest. It can be very juvenile and sophomoric, but if that’s your style, it hits some spectacular highs. My biggest problem with the trio has typically been the music itself, and Conner4Real’s tracks do share some of their biggest weaknesses (a tendency to repeat the central joke until it has been jackhammered into oblivion and a certain lack of musicality in the verses), but they frequently transcend themselves to become biting pop culture satire.

My personal favorite track is “Equal Rights,” a scorching parody of Macklemore’s “Same Love” that highlights the hypocrisy of straight white men inserting themselves into minority corners. And that sense of no-holds-barred mockery spreads throughout the entire film. It’s very Of The Now, so certain jokes won’t translate well even a year form now (a joke about hoverboards catching fire is already a bit dated), but the best kind of satire is birthed from a very specific cultural context.

Popstar’s net is cast wide, and almost no piece of cultural ephemera escapes its laser gaze: Justin Bieber (an easy target, and Conner4Real’s most obvious analogue), reality shows, awards shows, surprise album releases, vapid celebrity couples, TMZ (with a particularly funny Will Arnett cameo), and even the movie Flatliners for some reason. Plus, there’s more than a little bit of the real life narrative of The Lonely Island snuck in for flavor. It even goes so far as to mock the very type of movie that it is, all while skewering the self-involved social media culture that has been defining the charts in the 2010’s.

You can find more of such criticisms on my Twitter page.

That’s not to say that Popstar is a life-changing comedy. It’s not. It’s frequently just as shallow as the artists it parodies, but it’s a mostly intelligent piece of light fun that breezes by without overstaying its welcome. Sarah Silverman and Maya Rudolph shine on the sidelines, it keeps the laughs coming, and only in the final shot does the trio finally indulge in the worst kind of over-the-top absurdity that has come to define their brand.

If you’re up for a heaping helping of R-rated frat boy antics, then see Popstar immediately. It’s a shame the box office kind of ignored this one, because it certainly deserves better. It’s an excellent light snack of a comedy, and that should never be underestimated.

TL;DR: Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is a surprisingly sharp satire of modern pop culture.
Rating: 7/10
Word Count: 776

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

We Tell The Story

Year: 2016
Director: Travis Knight
Cast: Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Matthew McConaughey
Run Time: 1 hour 41 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG

I didn’t want to see Kubo and the Two Strings. Its trailers looked esoteric and incomprehensible, and nothing grabbed me. Luckily, I had a Sergio by my side, who always seems to have the exact opposite opinion about movie trailers. For once, he was right.

The fourth film by stop motion studio Laika (which debuted in 2009 with Coraline), Kubo and the Two Strings is a curious beast. It’s a Frankensteinian creation that grafts together half a dozen different family film genres into a lumbering, frequently clumsy monstrosity. And just like Frankenstein’s Monster before it, it might leave a trail of wreckage in its wake, but it snags your sympathies nonetheless.

Box office, bad.

In Kubo and the Two Strings, Kubo (Art Parkinson) lives in a remote village with his comatose mother, who only comes to life at night to tell him stories and remind him to always hide from the night sky, lest her sisters (both played by Rooney Mara) find him and pluck out his other eye. Oh yeah. Kubo is a descendant of the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), an immortal denizen of the sky who looks coldly down on humanity with blind eyes. Also, he stole one of Kubo’s eyes because this is a fairy tale and fairy tales are f**ked up.

Anyway, Kubo makes a living using his innate magical powers to animate origami figures with his guitar, using them to tell stories of heroic adventure to the townspeople, but he always has trouble coming up with endings. After attempting to contact his dead father on a spiritual holiday, he accidentally stays out too late and must escape the clutches of his pursuing aunts. His companions are Monkey (Charlize Theron), a protective totem given life as his mother’s final act, an origami samurai, and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), an amnesiac samurai who served under Kubo’s father and has been cursed with an insect body. They must find three pieces of armor that will allow Kubo to face off against the Moon King.

You know, quest stuff.

And that’s the short version of the plot. For most of the first act, Kubo doesn’t immediately explain what’s going on, plunging the viewer into the world and allowing them to learn the details as the story goes on. This feels like a fun, interactive storytelling style until it doesn’t. It keeps on going, right on into the second and third acts, revealing that it probably wasn’t an intentional choice, just a symptom of the irreparable damage that has been done to this script.

Kubo clumsily attempts to blend a grand quest storyline with categorically juvenile comedy setups, and a feint toward Pixarian heartstring plucking, but the cartilage linking these pieces together is severely eroded. Kubo’s powers flourish and fade according to totally inexplicable rhythms that are nowhere to be found in the actual story. The screenplay attempts to wring out two facile Grand Twists that it doesn’t notice are the exact same as each other, and which could easily be predicted by even the toddlers in the audience if the story was actually comprehensible. And the third act is utter nonsense, bringing the script’s didactic tendency to cudgel us over the head with its themes to the forefront for a wholly unsatisfying boss battle. Or maybe it’s a clever tie-in to the fact that Kubo can never finish his stories. Either way, it sucks. But in spit of all this, Kubo is still kind of great.

Look, our other option this year is Ice Age 5. We takes what we gets.

Although the film stumbles through the smoking wreckage of its narrative, nearly everything in the moment works spectacularly well. It helps to ignore the big picture, but look: This is a movie for kids, who I daresay possess that skillset in spades. 

First off, let me qualify my statement about that juvenile humor. That’s not a detraction, merely an observation that this is a family film of the purest variety, with squeaky clean wholesome material that doesn’t give into the “one for the kids, one for the adults” impulse of almost all post-Shrek animated films. It’s actually quite amusing, and it’s fun to see Charlize Theron converting her badass persona honed in Mad Max into a razor-sharp ‘straight-man” role. And Matthew McConaughey lets off some of that hyper-serious Free State of Jones steam with a  light, breezy vocal performance that reminds us he’s actually capable of nailing comedy.

But what Kubo and the Two Strings boasts above anything else is truly exquisite stop-motion. Next to Pixar’s short film “Piper,” it’s the best animation of the year (not that Sausage Party provided tremendous competition), rendering scenes so gorgeous you just have to sit there, mouth agape, as they wash over you. I’m thinking particularly about the water animation, which is impossibly precise and fluid, pushing the boundaries of what the medium is capable of. They also lean toward their darker impulses, sprinkling in healthy doses of nightmare fuel with the blank porcelain design of the Moon Sisters and a delightfully creepy skeleton monster. The only dark spot on the film is the rendering of the old woman Kameyo (Brenda Vaccaro), which seems to have been imported from some student film. And not even a senior student.

And then, like, there’s emotions and stuff. I’m not convinced Kubo comes by its teary dramatics honestly, but I was openly weeping for about 50% of it, so maybe I was just in a mood. Really, at the end of the day, Kubo is a fun, stylish (that living origami concept is rockin’) family adventure and while it’s a bit muddled, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

TL;DR: Kubo and the Two Strings is a deliriously haphazard narrative, but it makes up for it with exquisite animation and genuine humor.
Rating: 8/10
Word Count: 990

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Popcorn Kernels: Family Movie Night

In which we explore mini-reviews of movies my parents chose for me to watch.


Year: 1942
Director: Michael Curtiz
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid
Run Time: 1 hour 42 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG

A tavern owner in Morocco discovers that his ex-love has arrived in town with her husband and he has the means to help them escape, should he choose to let her go.

Man, I don’t even wanna touch this one. Casablanca is such a minted classic, even by regular people who think Citizen Kane is boring, that I was nervous about how I would receive it when I finally buckled down and watched it for the first time. And I have a notoriously cold heart when it comes to romance films. It might just be the fact that there tends to be a gulf between me and onscreen couples in terms of both sexuality and approach (if you stand outside my window in the middle of the night with a boom box, I will throw things at you until you go away because I need my sleep, dammit), but love movies need to clear a high bar before they even have a chance of touching my icy heart.

Casablanca almost gets there. The romance thrums and thrives in the chemistry between Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, but it’s far more present in the performance than its actualization. In their interplay, you get a perfect sense of a past Great love gone dark, but when they actually show flashback scenes of this supposed Great Love, frankly I’m not convinced. Perhaps it’s the toothless, Code-neutered interaction that dampens their physical attraction or the rather bland staging of their France apartment, but this romance only flourishes wen it’s dead.

But beyond that, Casablanca is, obviously, fantastic. Boasting a surprisingly funny script for a film – especially a drama – of its vintage, it’s a very layered piece that combines a patriotic wartime morality play with one man’s romantic struggles, played out over the various dives and skeevy locales of the border town Casablanca. It drops iconic lines like Liza Minnelli sheds boa feathers, which is even more remarkable considering that it was just a cookie cutter studio picture with a script being constantly rewritten as they shot it.

It’s incessantly remarkable how well this film works, and especially how well it still holds up today. Its dynamic lighting scheme forgives even its most ludicrously stagey setpieces, and the actors imbue their characters with personalities that stretch far beyond the scope of the screen. I’m going to leave it at that, because nobody needs another film blogger yammering about Casablanca, but I’m definitely glad I watched it.

Rating: 8/10

Unfaithfully Yours
Year: 1984
Director: Howard Zieff
Cast: Dudley Moore, Nastassja Kinski, Armand Assante 
Run Time: 1 hour 36 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG

When a famous conductor suspects his much-younger wife of cheating, he hatches a plot to murder her and her supposed lover that goes wackily awry.

The 80’s were a weird time for comedy movies. Despite an abundance of classic teen movies and high concept comic gems, there was also a massive vein of throwaway flicks to beef up video store shelves. One of these is Unfaithfully Yours, which takes a sheaf of fairly well-respected actors and applies them to a sitcom premise stretched to an unfathomable length. While Unfaithfully Yours could have been a good Halloween episode of Three’s Company, the endless padding it requires to reach feature length makes the tone of the dark comedy go haywire.

This is a movie that couldn’t be made today, at least to its exact dimensions. It leans so heavily on chauvinism and misogyny to drive its main character’s motivations that hopefully anybody in 2016 would see right through Dudley Moore like they have X-ray eyes to find the spiteful goblin he really is. It is massively unpleasant to spend time with this character, who is willing to straight-up exterminate his wife over a series of misunderstandings. This type of storyline could be played for laughs if the tone was managed properly, as it is in the opening monologue of the film, but the script seems unwilling to admit that its protagonist is a genuinely awful person.

Instead of harnessing It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s type of misanthropic comedy, Unfaithfully Yours takes a stab at Two and a Half Men by way of Alfred Hitchcock. Dudley Moore does a fine job of drawing physical humor from his character’s incompetence, but there’s only so much time I can spend with him before the film’s cheery attitude drives me to madness.

This scenario that has already run long endlessly unspools with an extended dream sequences that is then slavishly repeated in “reality.” It’s a tiresome tactic, but the really frustrating thing is that Unfaithfully Yours could have been truly great if it was a little less hammy and tipped more toward the darker, Death Becomes Her side of things.

Rating: 5/10

While We're Young

Year: 2014
Director: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver 
Run Time: 1 hour 37 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

A bored middle-aged couple befriends a young hipster couple who give them a new lease on life, but not everything is as happy as it seems.

Don’t you just love comedy movies that don’t really have any jokes? Aren’t they just the best? Noah Baumbach certainly seems to think so. I suppose you might call While We’re Young a “dramedy,” but the drama half is so navel-gazey and the comedy half appears so infrequently that it’s just a “…” 

A too-obvious attempt at satirizing aging dreamers too afraid to commit to their goals and the self-conscious hipness of youth culture, While We’re Young undermines itself by constantly pointing out what it’s doing. Whether it’s a pointed, inauthentic echo plastered over a key dramatic line that made me laugh out loud or the endless epigraph that opens the film using practically an entire scene from a play (this also showcases Baumbach’s lack of control over his visuals), While We’re Young is so exuberantly excited to share its trite ideas that it smothers them.

It’s a shame, because when While We’re Young is funny, it can be damn hilarious. A potential investor played by Ryan Serhant is one of the best broad comedy characters in years, with the snappy line deliveries of a young man with too much confidence and too few brain cells. A lot of side characters and little moments shine here, at least justifying the “-edy” ahlf of the portmanteau after much effort. The most consistent comic element is probably Adam Driver, whose performance precisely captures the physicality of a twee, hopelessly pretentious hipster douche. Maybe the character isn’t too far form his wheelhouse, but it’s a genius bit of over-the-top nonverbal acting that goes a long way.

But other than that, While Were Young is a bit of a dud. Stiller and Watts, as the older couple, are appropriately bristly, but nobody outside of Driver and Serhant is doing standout work here. The nuggets of comedy buried in the film make slogging through the drama worth it, but I’ll be happy if I never even have to think about watching this film again.

Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 1211

Friday, September 23, 2016

Popcorn Kernels: The Vampire Strikes Back

Please enjoy this savory sampling of mini-reviews from the second half of Scream 101’s vampire month.

Fright Night (For our Scream 101 episode about this film, click here.)

Year: 1985
Director: Tom Holland
Cast: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse
Run Time: 1 hour 46 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

A teen boy begins to suspect that his new next-door neighbor might be a vampire.

I’ve had a pretty bad run of luck when it comes to visiting classic vampire flicks I’ve never seen before. Sometimes a lack of nostalgia can be devastating, which seems to be the case whenever I watch Tom Holland movies. Just like Child’s Play before it, I found Fright Night terribly underwhelming. Although it has many of the 80’s horror trappings I’ve come to appreciate in a movie, it just lacks a certain oomph that would keep me invested.

The trouble is, I really get what it’s doing. Fright Night transplants gothic horror into modern suburbia, as literally represented by vampire neighbor Jerry Dandridge’s spooky giant mansion nestled between all the cozy two-story homes. It’s attempting to resurrect a legendary monster for the youth of today. Well, back when “today” meant 1985. But the execution stakes that concept in the heart.

Everything about Fright Night is inconsistent, from the acting (Stephen Geoffrey’s Evil Ed is a shrill, cartoonishly broad abomination) to the pacing (the  film lulls about every 20 minutes – it’s like a built-in naptime) to the rules governing what exactly its monsters can do (nothing is more frustrating than Dandridge’s live-in, totally-not-gay handyman, who can run around in direct sunlight unmolested, but is later revealed to be impervious to bullet wounds and weak against stakes to the heart – is he halfway through a vampire correspondence course or what?). And every scene lasts about three minutes longer than it should. This must be one of Paul Feig’s favorite movies.

The only instance where the execution is actually stronger than the concept is the special effects. When they come into play (and they take astoundingly long for a movie of his vintage,), they’re undoubtedly terrific, thanks to the work of I, Madman’s Randall William Cook. But they arise inorganically from the story, rarely if ever making sense in context. Fright Night stops dead in its tracks for these elongated sequences without seeming to realize that they belong to some other, better film. Fright Night is enjoyable enough, but it’s too all-over-the-place to be coherent. I definitely don’t get the mass appeal of this one.

Rating: 6/10

Vampyres (For our Scream 101 episode about this film, click here.)

Year: 1974
Director: Joseph Larraz
Cast: Marianne Morris, Anulka Dziubinska, Murray Brown 
Run Time: 1 hour 27 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

A pair of lesbian vampires lure men to their secluded castle, seduce them, and drink their blood.

One of the most influential subgenres in vampire cinema is the lesbian vampire movie, because horror films have almost always been made by men and men are almost always terrified of women. There was perhaps no better time for the genre than the 70’s, a time of women’s liberation and sexual awakening that was scaring buttoned-up menfolk out of their wits. Of course, when you’re dealing with a genre trafficking in softcore exploitation, the results are always one of two things: unintentionally hilarious or insufferably dull. Vampyres, the 1974 British entry in the genre, is emphatically the latter, British cinema being what it is.

What do you think of when you think of vampire films? Glistening fangs dripping in blood? Caped strangers turning into bats? Garlic and cross and silver, oh my? Well, you’re gonna get none of that in Vampyres, which I guess could be a refreshing take on the genre if it tried to tell any story whatsoever. Marianne Morris and Anulka, as our central couple seem to be acting according to their own private script. Perhaps it’s titled Real Housewives of Transylvania, because pretty much all they do is drink whine while they talk to or about men. And then they shower together sometimes. Y’know. Lesbian stuff.

Vampyres is trapped in an endless cycle of the two women walking to the road (every step is captured in hypnotic detail), flagging down men, having boring philosophical conversations, sleeping with them, and only occasionally killing them. While Vampyres utterly fails as a piece of erotica no thanks to its slipshod, handheld camerawork and acting flatter than the actresses’ resolutely fangless teeth), the centerpiece of its utter suckitude is its extreme lack of horror. The ladies barely exercise their vampiric nature (to the point that it could be argued that they merely think they’re vampires, á là George Romero’s Martin), and when they do the violence is all reactionary. There are no fangs piercing flesh, just two busty women licking blood off a previously injured man like he’s a Thriftee cone.

The tedium in Vampyres is scorching, and the lack of any decent sex or violence renders it literally and figuratively toothless. It fails to provide a single reason for it to exist, and it takes after its characters by completely lacking any semblance of inner life. In the film, vampires Fran’s life goal is to search for interesting people. I have a similar goal, to search for interesting movies. My advice? Look far, far away from Vampyres.

Rating: 2/10
Word Count: 870
Reviews In This Series
Fright Night (Holland, 1985)
Fright Night (Gillespie, 2011)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

It's All Greek To Me

Year: 2016
Director: Kirk Jones
Cast: Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Michael Constantine
Run Time: 1 hour 34 minutes 
MPAA Rating: PG-13

We’re living in such a topsy-turvy media culture of franchise resurrection that Arnold Schwarzenegger has a career again without even lifting a finger. But it’s still insane that My Big Fat Greek Wedding got a sequel. True, a follow-up would have been a no-brainer if it was – say – 2003, because the movie was an exorbitantly profitable indie feature. But fourteen years later, who was still champing at the bit for more Big Fat Greek antics?

Well, Nia Vardalos is probably at the top of the list.

In My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, the filmmakers pop in a DVD of the original film and invert the colors, hoping you won’t notice. Toula (Nia Vardalos) and Ian (John Corbett) are all grown up now and have a teen daughter named Paris (Elena Kampouris), who is a choker-sporting edgy girl straight from the halls of 10 Things I Hate About You. They’re overprotective of Paris, who is struggling to deal with the expectations of her massive Greek family.

When Toula’s parents Gus (Michael Constantine) and Maria (Lainie Kazan) discover that they’re not legally married, the family enters a state of emergency. Maria wants Gus to re-propose, but Gus doesn’t feel like he has to, because… oh, who cares. At least this movie has some semblance of a conflict.

But the intervening years have not helped to disguise the grotesque age gap between these two characters.

Remember all those jokes you liked so much in My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Well, so does My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, and it can’t wait to tell them to you again. It’s like a slightly drunk uncle milking his limited repertoire of party tricks for all they’re worth. But there’s only so many times you can watch a massive herd of Greeks pouring through a doorway like it’s a clown car before you begin to suspect that it’s not actually funny. And that Windex running gag was never funny, so no luck there.

The new material isn’t much better. The gags have a tendency to sputter around the room like a deflating balloon, more often than not flinging themselves into an absurdist tone that the low-key family comedy can not support. One that especially weighs heavily on the film is the business with aged great-grandmother Mana Yiayia (Bess Meisler), who becomes a sort of anarchist gremlin, boldly performing the weirdest act or emerging from the least expected place whenever the camera pans to her, like a heat-seeking wackiness missile. These antics reek of sequelitis, and they have no business in a movie operating in this register.

But then again, as a college-aged person, neither do I.

Like I said, the plot has a little more conflict than the blissed-out, loosey goosey original, which is always nice. But that doesn’t mean the structure is any good. Once again, the first act is a sprawling disaster, and the film focuses more on family tomfoolery than pacing. It worked last time, but the jokes were fresh last time. Now we’re just stuck with a pile of stilted dialogue (like John Stamos – of course he’s f**king in this movie – arriving to ask if he can bring his wife and child into the restaurant with him, something nobody has done in the history of the human race, just to set up a particularly insipid reveal) and crudely compacted incident (the movie exists in one of those fictional universes where kids get all their college letters on the same day).

Also (spoilers in this paragraph, I guess), can we talk about how My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 has the most vigorously useless gay reveal this side of Star Trek Beyond? Joey Fatone’s character is revealed to be a hommasexual (you know, those dudes who stare longingly at other dudes but never embrace, kiss, talk to, or otherwise interact with them in any way?) just so the family can nod sagely and prove their open-mindedness in a scene so hilariously maudlin you’d think he just told them he had cancer. I know Hollywood’s not great at this sort of thing, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t count as having a gay character if someone breathes in the direction of another man.

I literally can't find a photo of them together. A romance for the ages.

In short, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is an epic waste of your time. It highlights the many flaws of the original film by stripping away every last thing that made it good. I’m genuinely impressed they got the entire cast back, and Elena Kampouris is a lovely addition, but when you spend time with people you liked a decade ago, sometimes they’ve changed. They have in this instance, and it was definitely for the worse.

TL;DR: My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is the worst kind of sequel, endlessly repeating gags and in the process exposing the flaws of the original.
Rating: 4/10
Word Count: 844
Reviews In This Series
My Big Fat Greek Wedding (Zwick, 2002)
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (Jones, 2016)

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Popcorn Kernels: Movies I Missed (On Purpose)

In which we release mini-reviews of two fairly recent comedy films that managed to pass me by until now.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Year: 2008
Director: Kevin Smith
Cast: Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Craig Robinson
Run Time: 1 hour 41 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

In order to make enough money to pay their rent, two slacker friends decide to produce and star in a porn film, but how will this affect their relationship?

Pretty much any movie starring Seth Rogen between 2007 and 2010 was created explicitly to cater to the greasy, speckly daydreamers of the world who wanted to believe the busty blonde down the hall would find the lovable oaf buried deep beneath the Cheeto dust-crusted exterior. It’s the kind of nerd-fulfillment fantasy Judd Apatow has been trafficking in since day one, and the only person I can think of who is more suited to bring that icky feeling to life is Kevin Smith. …Enter Kevin Smith.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno is about Elizabeth Banks falling for Seth Rogen and while both are admirable performers, the spark isn’t even there on paper. I’m not even talking about their disparate physical attractiveness. Zack could be played by Hugh Grant and Miri’s interest in him would still be deeply questionable. It’s all in the writing, which is skeevy and sweaty in a deeply disconcerting manner despite the supposed sex positivity of the script. 

The film crows over the female form like a cackling magpie, exempting men altogether from its bone-chilling leer. This is a movie strewn with completely naked women that treats its one full frontal male scene like it’s something shocking and disgusting. Male perspectives in sex films are just the worst, aren’t they? Despite Banks’ attempt at creating a shaded, multi-dimensional human being, Miri is merely a prize to be won: a fun fair sack of flesh, blood, and mammary glands. 

And Zack and Miri treats its minor characters even worse, if you can believe it. Craig Robinson is forced to contort into every stereotype in the book, and some that have been scribbled in the margins (whipped sitcom husband, wise best friend, irrationally angry black man), and the rest of the porno cast are given no introduction, with personalities ranging from one-note (Jason Mewes’ clueless sex fiend) to topless window dressing to “no seriously, who are you?” Then they’re sent floundering through a fundamentally broken story with a distended first act that swallows half the run time, a bungled time jump that kills the momentum at a climatic juncture, and a central relationship that vomits out manufactured filler drama in an unending stream. There are such deep cracks in the narrative here that James Cameron wants to make a documentary exploring them.

Is it funny? I suppose. Justin Long has an excellent extended cameo as a gravel-throated gay porn star, and there are jokes throughout that work when they’re not being extravagantly racist, sickeningly misogynistic, or they completely miscalculate the film’s capacity for scatological humor. Zack and Miri aims to shock, and it succeeds, but hardly in the way it intends to. Its sex is too tame to be titillating, and it can’t sustain such a deeply disjointed story on a pocketful of dick jokes. I say Zack and Miri Make a Porno is a tremendously lazy film, and the Windows Movie Maker credits that grace its front and back end seem to agree with me. I’d love to see this material handled by another director, but unfortunately Zack and Miri – and especially Kevin Smith – just don’t turn it on.

Rating: 4/10

Year: 2015
Director: John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein
Cast: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo 
Run Time: 1 hour 39 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

A now grown-up Rusty Griswold decides to take his family on a road trip to Wally World in an attempt to smooth over their problems.

Now, here’s a movie I never thought I’d see, let alone like. A belated straggler from the 2000’s remake boom (seriously, other than Ghostbusters, who’s making remakes anymore? Remakes are so passé, sequels are what’s In this season), updating material that nobody has given a passing thought to in over a decade, Vacation seemed like the most obnoxious kind of family comedy. And to be honest, it doesn’t really try to be anything different. All the scatological gags, picked-clean sexual references, and oddly violent slapstick that you might expect are front and center, but Vacation prevails in spite of that.

I blame the cast. Ed Helms has always been a reliable comic presence, even if he doesn’t stand out in a sea of funny 40-something white guys. And he’s surrounded by a bevy of delightful professionals, first and foremost Christina Applegate. I’ve never paid much attention to Applegate beyond her cameo appearance on Friends, but she’s utterly brilliant here, wrapping up the classic Apatowian pent-up manboy archetype within the guise of a tired suburban mom. And then we have, packed in like sardines, Leslie Mann, Charlie Day, Caitlin Olsen, Michael Peña, Keegan-Michael Key, and f**king Chris Hemsworth, who Ghostbusters has taught us is a bona fide force of nature.

This cast elevates the mostly generic material, making it funny enough that when the script hits its patches of actual genius, they don’t seem out of place. The family car is a bubbling fount of hilarity with its endless absurdities and M.C. Escher-esque design, the young brothers are a wonderfully mismatched pairing, and there is a spot of psychosexual terror that cold-cocks your funny bone. It’s not highbrow, to be certain, but there are actual laughs here - laughs that Vacation comes by honestly, and that is a remarkable achievement.

Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 953

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Popcorn Kernels: Two-Stop Shop

In which I share mini-reviews of two comedies I watched over the course of a weekend with Sergio. He fell asleep during both of them, but I was only upset about it once. The other time I was jealous that he managed to escape.

Marci X

Year: 2003
Director: Richard Benjamin
Cast: Lisa Kudrow, Damon Wayans, Richard Benjamin
Run Time: 1 hour 24 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

A Jewish-American heiress struggling to protect her father’s reputation attempts to bond with an out-of-control rapper who is tanking his music label.

I love Lisa Kudrow. I think she is an underappreciated comic genius whose work on Friends was just the beginning of a career that included the farcical heights of Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion and the caustic, improbably hilarious The Comeback. But there’s a thing that happens when the peak of your fame was in the 90’s. Somehow, some way, the fates will conspire to dump you into a project like Marci X, a film that makes Soul Man look like a carefully thought-out racial tract.

The film is such a gargantuan miscalculation that it overflows the “offensive” reservoir almost immediately, spilling over everything until it pools around the “adorably quaint” drain. This might be a more effective defense if it had come out 43 years ago instead of 13, but it’s a perfect time capsule of Hollywood’s most embarrassing proclivities: Lisa Kudrow raps in the movie, you guys, and it is tremendous. If you approach this movie as a huge slice of camp rather than a film attempting to reflect any sort of truth about any ethnic or minority culture, it becomes a little easier to swallow. You’re still ingesting a whittled-down turd, but at least you’re not choking on it.

The real troubling thing is that I had so much fun watching Marci X. It’s a truly ludicrous movie, and its ability to completely ignore every last stricture of logic and decency makes for a madcap hullaballoo of completely unpredictable, off-the-rails filmmaking. It helps that pretty much everyone in the cast is genuinely talented. Damon Wayans might not be operating at the top of his game, retreating into half-assed, breathy line deliveries like a turtle hiding in his shell, but look at the comedy cavalry that’s assembled: Kudrow, 30 Rock’s Jane Krakowski, a very young Matthew Morrison, Christine Baranski, Richard Benjamin (who also directed)… No, it’s no Ghostbusters line-up, but they’re charming performers who convert a surprising amount of material into genuinely fun humor. 

Marci X is probably at its best when lampooning one-percenter socialite culture, not only because these moments are free of the lingering shame residue that comes any time the film even glances in the direction of hip-hop, but because it’s intentionally, satirically, successfully amusing. These upper class bubbleheads parade around disabled children at charity balls, assume they understand minority plights even better than the minorities do, and generally attempt to solve all the world’s problems without realizing that they are one of them. It might be low-hanging fruit, but they pluck it with vim and vigor.

Of course, in the third act the plot loses its goddamn mind and spirals blindly down a hundred narrative dead-ends before just sort of giving up and plastering over its missing ending with another ill-advised rap sequence. It’s a steaming bowl of nonsense, but the music (co-written by Marc Shaiman of Hairspray and Smash) is an apt stylistic parody of the worst of late 90’s pop (the flick may have premiered in 2003, but it was made in 2000 – I wonder what could possibly have held them up?), the fundamental misunderstanding of the rap scene is pitifully endearing, and the secret abundance of genuinely good jokes hiding in the wings make it a must-see masterpiece of Hollywood crap.

Rating: 7/10

Year: 1994
Director: Kevin Smith
Cast: Brian O'Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Marilyn Ghigliotti 
Run Time: 1 hour 32 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Two clerks at a convenience store and a video store bond over the course of an extremely long shift.

Indie flicks were such a Thing in 1994. Pulp Fiction immediately became the biggest movie in the galaxy and Clerks toddled along to prove that anyone could make a movie. Literally anyone. Kevin Smith was a convenience store clerk from Ass Nowhere, New Jersey, and he made himself a megahit using a cheap camera on his off-hours. It’s a truly inspirational story, and it wouldn’t have worked if Smith wasn’t an incredibly savvy creative mind, but damn if Clerks isn’t a slog.

Fans of cheap movies are used to forgiving such films their many technical flaws, but Clerks isn’t even a movie. It’s a staged reading of a screenplay. The screenplay is admirably sharp, to be sure, restaging Dante’s Inferno as a miserable day shift and casually tossing off some incredibly tight comic vignettes as it putters along. But there’s literally nothing else to Clerks. The camera is either hibernating on its tripod or whipping back and forth between its subjects like a rabid squirrel. The black and white cinematography is not a choice but a necessity, and it makes a drab, uncomplicated set look even less interesting. Which I guess emphasizes the theme of the narrative, but that’s certainly not on purpose.

With the script front and center and nothing waiting in the wings to prop it up, every tumble it makes violently topples the film. And let me remind you, this is the first script Smith ever produced. It’s inherently composed of stumbles. The dialogue tends to be both overwritten and underperformed, women are treated like interchangeable hogs on a spit, and certain chapters (oh yeah, the film is divided into nine segments with different titles) just dump a bucket of words on your head, hoping there’s a joke in there. And I’m sorry to say it, but Jay and Silent Bob are not commanding presences at this juncture in their lives.

There’s some genuinely funny stuff in Clerks (my favorite being an anti-smoking advocate inciting an in-store riot), but when it lulls as most comedies tend to do, there isn’t a white of redeeming quality to lean on. It’s a treacherous slog to get to the good stuff, and the good stuff is too laconic to really boost your energy and recharge your interest. It’s a clever debut film, but it wears its amateur status on its sleeve, which it then tears off and drapes over its entire face.

Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 1078

Monday, September 19, 2016

Into The Woods

For our podcast episode about this very film, click here.

Year: 2016
Director: Adam Wingard
Cast: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid
Run Time: 1 hour 29 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

I like the output of director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett more than I like the legacy of The Blair Witch Project. The 1999 found footage phenomenon was a masterpiece of grassroots viral marketing, but the film itself is only a passable entry in the genre. And the less I think about its quick and dirty follow-up Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, the happier I’ll be. So unlike many rabid fans, I am very open to new blood in this stunted franchise.

I’ve been a fan of Wingard and Barrett’s partnership since their 2013 magnum opus You’re Next and their bubblegum action smash The Guest. They tend to blend genres in an exciting, refreshing manner, and Wingard’s directing has been blossoming as his visual toolbox develops. When I heard they were both being plunked into a found footage shocker, I was skeptical about whether or not this stripped-down methodology would hinder their progress, but hoped it might allow them to focus on making a singularly terrifying movie, which is something they haven’t accomplished just yet.

It’s nice to want things.

In Blair Witch, film student Lisa Arlington (Callie Hernandez) is making a documentary about her friend James (James Allen McCune) and his unresolved grief. You see, his sister Heather disappeared in the Maryland woods some 15 years ago. When a tape of her disappearance surfaces online, he gathers Lisa and his friends Peter (Brandon Scott) and Ashley (Corbin Reid) to trek out into the woods to find the abandoned house depicted in the tape and hopefully find out what became of her. They reluctantly allow the local Witch-philes Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry) to tag along with them, because they know the location where the tape was found.

It’s only a matter of time before things start getting weird. They get lost, hear mysterious noises at night, see strange apparitions, and generally discover the reason why nobody should ever go camping.

Seriously, camping’s the worst.

Is Blair Witch a scarier film than The Blair Witch Project? Oh, effortlessly. But is it a better film? That’s where things get a little dicey. As a 2016 found footage film, it has the disadvantage of audience overfamiliarity, and it doesn’t do much to steer itself away from a lot of the clichés of modern POV horror. Why do these people keep filming when sh*t hits the fan? Who cares. (Their cameras are mostly head-mounted, which is a good excuse for recording during the climax, but the characters rather emphatically turn their cameras on for no blessed reason at the weirdest possible times so we can get valuable exposition.) And who invited this unpleasant extraneous couple? Well, we needed a higher body count. And where the hell is that droning, atonal score coming from that’s trying desperately to avoid being noticed? Well, I’ve never had an answer for that one.

The thing that sucks is that the silence in Blair Witch is so eerily, awe-inspiringly complete, it would be far more disturbing if all we could hear was the characters breathing and the whir of a camera. The sound design was good enough to have pulled it off, but the misstep of including any sort of score, no matter how subtle, reeks of a lack of confidence, exposing the movie’s artifice in the process.

Plus, being an honest continuation of The Blair Witch Project means you inherit all of its problems. Notably, the mythology of the Blair Witch herself gets a little fuzzy in favor of providing startling scares. Obviously, we’re not meant to truly understand how this shadowy, unknowable menace operates, but there are so many ingredients thrown into this stew that it just turns into mud. Combining ghostly apparitions, Satanic magic, creature features, body horror, and time warp sci-fi into a single narrative, Blair Witch completely fails to build a coherent menace, making it difficult to understand and thus be invested in the characters’ plights, even if individual moments are tremendously creepy.

Including, but not limited to, this guy’s uncanny resemblance to a loathed classmate of mine.

And thus concludes the section where I’m perhaps unfairly critical toward Blair Witch. Although it never feels quite like a unified whole, the sum of those parts is still pretty freaky. After ramping up with a punishingly long opening act, Blair Witch slips easily into pure terror, crafting images that harness the corner-of-your-eye imagination of the original film while giving the audience a sumptuous visual meal thanks to its higher budget.

There is some Gross. Sh*t. in Blair Witch, you guys. A lot of the most terrifying images are reminiscent of other horror favorites, but they’re presented in an electrifying new way that keeps you on your toes. The second and third acts do what a proper horror roller coaster should, keeping you reeling and cringing at a manic pace. There are a couple of longer setups with payoffs that fall flat, but it’s a heap of fun just the same.

I feel this need to temper most of my praise, because the problems in Blair Witch are numerous and frustrating, but they pale in comparison to its raw energy and power. It’s a fun campfire movie, and I wouldn’t take that away from anyone. It may not be changing the course of horror as we know it, but it’s an excellent Blair Witch Project sequel that manages to bring on the jolts, even if it’s hardly the all-encompassing phenomenon of the original.

TL;DR: Blair Witch is a solid, frightening sequel, even if it doesn't quite cohere.
Rating: 7/10
Word Count: 950
Reviews In This Series
The Blair Witch Project (Myrick & Sanchez, 1999)
Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (Berlinger, 2000)
Blair Witch (Wingard, 2016)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Popcorn Kernels: Funny Girls

In which we dole out mini-reviews to two female-led comedies, released 30 years apart. Let’s see how things have changed, shall we?

Valley Girl
Year: 1983
Director: Martha Coolidge
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Deborah Foreman, Elizabeth Daily
Run Time: 1 hour 39 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

A girl from the Valley falls for an LA dude with a bitchin’ bod, but her friends think he’s, like, totally grody. Will she choose him or get back with her old beau, Tommy?

I feel like such a traitor to the cause. Like, every cause. As a staunch feminist and an 80’s movie advocate, I’m always delighted when I find out that a classic high school movie was actually directed by a woman. But Amy Heckerling’s Fast Times at Ridgemeont High failed to wow me, and now Martha Coolidge’s Valley Girl has suffered a similar fate. Obviously, this has everything to do with the state of second-tier 80’s teen flicks and not women in the director’s chair, but I can’t help feeling like a heretic.

At least with Valley Girl, I can see why it became such a zeitgeisty hit, and it’s not just Phoebe Cates misplacing her bikini top. Simultaneously canonizing a parade of 80’s megahits, including Modern English’s evergreen “Melt with You” and calling into existence an entire lexicon of slang like an omnipotent pop culture deity, Valley Girl struck teen culture during a pivotal transition period. As a cultural artifact, it’s pristine, but as an actual piece of film narrative, it’s a major bummer.

Copping the classical “forbidden love” story arc so hard that our couple literally makes out in front of a movie theater marquee advertising Romeo and Juliet, Valley Girl assumes that the drama is baked in automatically and doesn’t actually bother to create its own meaningful conflict. It’s hard to care about a relationship that has lasted the course of a montage, but it’s even harder to believe that Julie’s decision is challenging in any way, because Tommy is such a collar-popping Cobra Kai asshole that it’s literally impossible to imagine that anyone would even give him the time of day without smacking that smug grin off his greasy face.

Plus, Nicolas Cage is obscenely attractive at 19 years old. He might be giving a performance bizarrely reminiscent of David Schwimmer, but he’s got the goods, and that’s something I never thought I’d say about the star of the National Treasure franchise. This extremely superficial narrative (which expends a lot of energy trying to emphasize how “different” this white dude from 20 miles away is) can’t even pick up on that, which is immensely frustrating.

The film’s emphasis on vérité conversational scenes that meander through halfheartedly improvised dialogue while straining to grab guerilla snatches of downtown LA betray its low budget, as does its lack of proper nighttime lighting. Far be it from me to punish a movie for being cheap, but it doesn’t cost money to punch up the script a little more. A whole lot of nothing happens in Valley Girl, and it takes forever to do it. 

I admire its veracity as an on-the-ground examination of the totally arbitrary class warfare of teen culture, but Deborah Foreman is a deeply uninteresting lead (her second biggest credit is the forgotten 1986 slasher April Fool’s Day, in which she’s also the least interesting presence), the story is lazy, and just like Ridgemont High, the film is packed with side characters and subplots that we spend an arbitrary amount of time with before they vanish. At least we’ll always have Nic Cage’s eyebrows.

Rating: 5/10

I Give It a Year
Year: 2013
Director: Dan Mazer
Cast: Rose Byrne, Rafe Spall, Anna Faris
Run Time: 1 hour 37 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

A newlywed couple struggles to make it through their first year of marriage, both presented with temptations in the form of romantic partners far better suited for them.

I Give it a Year is a curious beast. A small British alterna-rom-com nestled in the underbrush of the Netflix catalogue, you’d think you know exactly what you’re getting. And that’s what you get: A Spartan narrative with few twists and turns, a half-cynical but still heteronormative-monogamous takedown of love and marriage, and a revolving door of broad comedy stock characters. So why did I find it so f**king delightful?

Well, ingredient number one is Rose Byrne, a vastly underrated comedy actress who I would follow to the ends of the Earth. Hell, I would watch Paul Blart: Mall Cop in Space if she was in it. She has an uncanny ability to take an extremely sour character, sharpen her to a deadly steel point of hilarity, and swoop in with her natural charisma to tie you down and force you to care for her anyway. She handles all the film’s copious negativity with charm and grace, keeping the tone light and airy.

That’s not to say the rest of the cast don’t pull their weight. I mean, Anna Faris is in this movie. Her character is probably the most flat on paper, but she grabs her nebbish role by the horns to craft a lived-in character with more dimensions than scenes. And in the wings are the male leads; Rafe Spall to play cavalry with dunderheaded charm and physical comedy, and Simon Baker to project handsomeness and overconfidence all over the place like a fire hose.

Surround this cast with a battalion of British character actors, and you’ve got yourself an unforgettable movie. I Give it a Year is simple, sleek, unadorned, and pretty hilarious. It’s no classical masterpiece of the form, but it’s a ridiculously fun time that I would recommend to anybody who fancies themselves edgy and cynical, but is still a soggy romantic at heart.

Rating: 8/10
Word Count: 961

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

It Ain't Easy Being Green

[EN: Check out my collected writings on Wes Craven's works in the new "Wes Craven" page on the top bar or right here.]

Year: 1982
Director: Wes Craven
Cast: Louis Jourdan, Adrienne Barbeau, Ray Wise
Run Time: 1 hour 31 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG

The early 80’s were a tough time for Wes Craven. A decade or so out from his terrifying debut The Last House on the Left, and half that from his grisly but mediocre sophomore effort The Hills Have Eyes, he just wasn’t finding purchase in Hollywood. In 1982 he was only two years off from altering the face of world cinema with A Nightmare on Elm Street, but for now his CV boasted the meager one-two punch of Deadly Blessing and Stranger in Our House, a TV movie with Linda Blair (yeah, we’re gonna get to that one).

So when he was offered the opportunity to direct a high profile superhero movie based on the DC Comics character Swamp Thing, do you think he would say no? Of course not. Superhero movies didn’t have quite the caché that they do today, but Superman had crushed box office coal into diamonds, so who was Wes Craven to tempt fate? Now, was the grindhouse horror director remotely equipped to handle an action-oriented blockbuster with a studio breathing down his neck and slashing the budget to ribbons so savagely they probably inspired Freddy Krueger?

Of course not.

In Swamp Thing, government scientist Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau) is sent to a remote research lab in the swamp to replace an injured worker during the last week of the operation. There she meets and becomes enamored with Dr. Alec Holland (Ray Wise), who is working with his sister to create a recombinant cell with both animal and plant DNA for… reasons. Science reasons. When the wicked Dr. Arcane (Louis Jordan) storms the lab to steal the formula, Holland is accidentally coated in it and falls into the swamp. This transforms him into the monstrous Swamp Thing (Dick Durock), and he sets out to save Cable from Arcane’s clutches, while he attempts to recreate the formula and use it on himself.

I mean, wouldn’t YOU want to look like this?

Swamp Thing represents a lot of firsts for Wes Craven. His first superhero movie. His first action movie. His first Wilhelm Scream. Of course, it also represents a lot of lasts because he would never do any of those things again. And while I’m delighted that he got a shot at operating outside of his horror wheelhouse before his single true departure from the genre in 1999’s Music of the Heart, it’s for the best that his action career didn’t go anywhere.

The sequences in the first act that develop character and build the world are pretty solid, but Craven’s script flails once the actual Swamp Thing is introduced. And yes, Craven himself got to write the script on this thing, because literally nobody gave a rat’s ass about overseeing comic book movies in the 80’s. But I digress. Swamp Thing’s powers are ill-defined (we don’t find out a key strength of his until the final 20 minutes, in which Cable sedately repeats it to him as if we should’ve known this the whole time) and his heroism is poorly staged, as Adrienne Barbeau wanders vacantly through the swamp, gets captured, and twiddles her thumbs until he leaps from the reeds to her rescue over and over and over again. It’s like Groundhog Day if Bill Murray were a damsel in distress.

The action sequences are spectacularly hammy, too. There’s a decent boat chase at one point, but every fistfight is as lumbering and slow as an old Godzilla movie, using that 40’s cinema standby of people falling down even though their opponent’s fist is clearly a foot and a half away from them. What makes this even more embarrassing is that most of the fight scenes involve David Hess, a participant in Craven’s most luridly brutal and realistic depiction of violence, in 1972’s The Last House on the Left. It’s a major stumble for a director who had found his voice, but hadn’t quite locked down his visual mastery yet.

Watching Swamp Thing, it’s almost impossible to believe this was only two years later.

The second and third acts range from boring to dreadful, but when Swamp Thing is good, it’s at least amusingly campy comic book fun. Wise and Barbeau have enough chemistry that I’m willing to go along with their preposterous love story, and though Cable is hardly an empowered female character, she gets a couple opportunities to kick an appropriate amount of ass. Then the comic-y flair comes in with the absurd squiggly wipes Craven uses to transition between scenes. And it’s impossible to completely hate a movie that has a scene where a character grabs the corner of their face and removes their impeccably lifelike Mission: Impossible mask.

Probably the single best element of the film is Jude, a ten-year-old comic relief gas station attendant who accompanies Cable on her Act Two journey. This is almost certainly damning Swamp Thing with faint praise, because he’d probably be the worst thing in any other movie, but the characters (played by Reggie Batts) exemplifies the best of Craven’s occasionally lever, quippy, and warm screenplay. Too bad he’s shunted to the side for a grand finale featuring this masterpiece. 

And I didn’t think any Craven effect could be worse than the werewolf in Cursed.

As you can see, Swamp Thing is no charmer. It’s a parade of shoddy special effects and circuitous narrative, plodding endlessly through a flat, tedious swamp. And the cherry on top is the score by Harry Manfredini, who – as he has with every other film he’s composed since 1980 – liberally slathers the film with shrill outtakes from his Friday the 13th score, smothering it with blunt strings that completely ignore the tone of whatever scene they’re in, blasting it into sub-slasher oblivion. Swamp Thing is a disappointment, but so were most comic movies of that era (Hell, DC is still churning them out). I’m not shifting the blame entirely from Craven, whose hands were all over this project, but the director took a shot at material he was wholly incompatible with. It’s an admirable venture but an unsuccessful one.

TL;DR: Swamp Thing is an admirable failure from a director ill-equipped to handle the genre.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 1049