by Brett Parker
Picture an Oscar-winning acting legend trapped in a clumsy high school production and you’ll get a feel for what watching 88 Minutes is like. The always-wonderful Al Pacino finds himself in a thriller so crude and cheap that we’d be laughing if the script weren’t so insulting to our intelligence. Everything about this film is a mess, from the acting right down to the music. When early reviews trashed this film, I asked “could it really be that bad?” Yes, it is that bad! This is hands-down the worst Al Pacino movie I’ve ever seen.
Pacino stars as Dr. Jack Graham, a forensics psychologist who, as the film opens, helps to put an alleged serial killer named Jon Forster (Neal McDonough) behind bars by testifying at his trial. Through Graham’s expert opinion, the court is able to find Forster guilty and sentence him to death. Years pass and Graham now teaches his trade at a local university. One day on his way to class, he receives a phone call from a distorted, threatening voice informing him that he has exactly eighty-eight minutes to live.
This turns out to be the least of his problems. People in Graham’s life start to turn up dead, very much in the same fashion Forster killed people. Evidence is manipulated to make it look like Graham is up to something murderous. Graham believes whoever is trying to mess with him has strong connections to Forster, or in fact could be Forster himself. He tries desperately to figure out the chaos around him all while the clock ticks down to his alleged death.
All of this may sound like an intriguing plot, but 88 Minutes manages to fail miserably at every aspect of this production. Most of this is due to the fact that we are presented with one of the worst serial killer schemes in recent memory. The mystery killer doesn’t really execute a well-planned, precise death trap so much as hurl random mayhem in Graham’s direction. So many sloppy curve balls are thrown at Graham that there’s no way the audience can keep track of everything. It seems impossible for the killer’s plan to hold up. If we gave every development a second thought, we’d probably be able to see all the holes it truly has. When the mystery killer is finally revealed along with the big scheme, we realize once and for all that this enterprise is too preposterous to be plausible. I guess that’s one interesting way to look at the material: most thrillers contain plots around criminal masterminds. Here’s one centered on a criminal idiot.
It’s hard watching a movie where characters with highly-skilled personas make incredibly stupid decisions. The acting certainly doesn’t help. This movie is filled to the brim with laughable performances. I can’t remember the last time I saw so many unconvincing secondary performances in a single Hollywood film. These third-rate performers look even worse while standing next to Pacino, who also seems to be phoning it in. In a mediocre film, you can always depend on Pacino to add color and fire by hamming it up when need be. Here, we don’t get so lucky. Pacino is way too relaxed and casual, looking desperately like he wants to be elsewhere. It’s not a focused, realized performance, nor does it have the colorful dialogue or explosive delivery of his over-the-top fun roles. The only performances that work come from William Forsythe as Graham’s straight-forward police colleague and Benjamin McKenzie as one of Graham’s suspicious students. I also give serious credit to Alicia Witt who is competent while playing a character with an absolutely ludicrous background.
I found frustration at pretty much every turn in this movie. From the rushed editing to the distracting soundtrack (Backstreet Boys, Limp Bizkit, and Bubba Sparxxx don’t exactly fit in a serious thriller, do they?), it’s almost astonishing the ways in which this thriller fails. How they ever got a talent like Al Pacino into this project is beyond me. He may have had some misfires before, but even Gigli was more realized than this disaster. This makes I Know Who Killed Me look like a Hitchcock film.
by Brett Parker
by Brett Parker
One of my biggest pet peeves is movies about guys who cry over their ex-girlfriends. It’s annoying watching pathetic slackers whine over their girlfriends leaving them when it’s pretty obvious why that happened: because they’re pathetic slackers who whine! It’s this very reason that I had my fears about watching Forgetting Sarah Marshall. I enjoyed Jason Segal in Knocked Up and on TV’s How I Met Your Mother, but a whole movie about this guy balling over a break-up could have me groaning in frustration for two hours.
I’m happy to report that the movie is more than just that and is actually an enjoyable comedy. To be sure, Segal does do a great deal of crying, but as his tears dry up, hilarious comic gags and nice relationship scenes begin to spill out. The film isn’t exactly the powerhouse break-up film you’d expect it to be, but it makes a valiant effort to achieve that goal and you can’t help but admire it.
As the film opens, we learn that Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell) is one of television’s hottest stars on a CSI-type show. She appears to be in a happy relationship with her musician boyfriend Peter (Segal) who composes the musical score for the show. Things between them seem great, until the day Sarah dumps Peter for British rocker Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). Devastated and heartbroken, Peter needs to find an escape from his environment that constantly reminds him of Sarah. His step brother Brian (Bill Hader) suggests that Peter take a trip to Hawaii to clear his head.
The problem? Sarah and Aldous decide to take a holiday at the same exact hotel Peter is staying at on the island. Instead of running away crying, Peter decides to stand his ground and enjoy his vacation as best he can. Pretty soon he meets a chorus line of wonderful characters, including the beautiful Rachel (Mila Kunis). As Peter begins to open up and feel better, Sarah throws some emotional complications his way and he is forced to re-examine the relationship that has caused him so much heartbreak.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall wants both to be a hilarious comedy and a thoughtful break-up film. Its biggest problem is that these two ideals often get in the way of each other. Its goofy tone takes away from the authenticity of the relationship scenes and those very scenes aren’t as deep and involving as they strive to be. Yet in its efforts, it creates some enjoyable stand-alone moments. While this film isn’t as funny as The 40-Year-Old Virgin or Knocked Up, it does hold some scenes of feel-good hilarity (a scene where Peter makes a “Hawaiian breakfast” is one of the funniest gags I’ve ever seen). The relationship scenes don’t exactly reach the level of insight and honesty as High Fidelity, but it has far more brains than most cookie-cutter romances. The scenes in which Sarah and Peter talk honestly about their relationships are the best, for it brings more dimension and sympathy to Sarah and makes Peter realize that he’s not as victimless as he feels.
I also can’t tell you how much I loved Dracula: The Musical. Peter has spent a great deal of his musical career writing a rock opera about Dracula…with puppets! A great musical moment comes when Peter sings one of the Dracula songs for a Hawaiian bar. He performs the heartbreaking tune with a dead-on Transylvanian accent and touching sincerity. The song isn’t just a silly comedy tune but a well-written show tune that could exist in real life. Even a performance of the show towards the end proves that it would be one hell of a way to re-invent the art of puppetry, much the same way Broadway’s Avenue Q has done. The Dracula bit is one of the most inspired ideas I’ve ever seen in a romantic comedy.
It helps greatly that the performances are focused and realized. This movie is wall-to-wall with funny supporting characters. Jack McBrayer, Davon McDonald, and Russell Brand all bring funny and memorable impressions to their characters. Kunis proves to be a gorgeous and sincere leading lady who seems more genuine than most actresses in this genre. I also admired Kristen Bell for doing more with the Sarah character than just making her a high-maintenance ice queen. Yet the real surprise here is how Segal transcends our expectations of the role and makes Peter a likeable guy. In spite of his whining and self-pity, he manages to not only be funny, but to paint Peter as a good-hearted person who wins our sympathy and even our affection. I thank the Movie Gods that Peter doesn’t resemble Mark, the pathetic lunatic from Ethan Hawke’s awful break-up film, The Hottest State.
Break-ups are usually a depressing and emotionally draining aspect of everyday life. Therefore, most break-up films leave you feeling the same way. What I liked about Forgetting Sarah Marshall is the way it had me smiling the whole time and leaving the theatre with a good feeling. Underneath the plot, the filmmakers cheerfully convey the message that there are so many happy and enjoyable things one can do with themselves outside of romantic relationships. While I’ve seen better films convey this message more gracefully, I admire finding that message in such a silly comedy and appreciate the filmmakers for reaching beyond their grasp. I could name you a dozen better relationship movies right now, but with Hawaii and singing puppets, what’s not to enjoy?
by Eric Szyszka
Heist films set in
It seems as if this is a formulaic heist movie that is trying to give it a girl power vibe which falls slightly on deaf ears since in order for her to pull off the crime and win one for the little people, she has to rely on a man. While this man is low-class with a smile, it still projects the under current of while a woman can be intellectual, powerful, and has potential for success, she still ultimately needs a man or some male visage to get any work done.
By the film's mid-point Laura's pro-active character takes a back seat and she takes the role of the audience. She merely tries to figure out what is going on. And so are we. Her objective is no longer a robbery but to decipher the intentions of her superiors as well as what Mr.
Watch and find out. Then think about how the movie goes from a perhaps strong female driven story to the typical thing the start of the film was resisting. It is time for a real feminist film that doesn't rely on a man; a film that doesn’t allow him to take center stage and become the highlight and main focus as well as point of it all.
The movie even starts and ends with an interviewer looking for strong women of the 1960's and goes to Laura for this purpose [beware Demi Moore in 1960 The Time Machine-like Morlock "old person" make-up]. Once Laura tells her story it just makes me think that reporter should look elsewhere for that strong role model. There are surely better ones out there than this.
As for entertainment value, although slow in parts, Flawless is an interesting story. It just seems to deflate itself in areas that could've been explored in more depth and better light.
Torture porn is at once one of the most profitable and most controversial film genres ever to grace the local box office. With films like Saw, Hostel, and Captivity, young audiences are lining up to watch cheap and stylized exploitation films in which people are brutally tortured for entertainment value. Youthful audiences are paying top dollar to see these films while critics are labeling them as the end of taste and decency as we know it. Now comes Funny Games, a film that some critics are branding as the worst torture flick of all while I feel it just might be the most brilliant and thoughtful of the whole bunch. Certainly the film is aware of its own brutality and forces the viewer to fully understand what exactly it is that they’re viewing.
The film is a shot-by-shot remake of the 1997 Austrian film of the same name by the same director, Michael Haneke. As the film opens, we see a married couple named George (Tim Roth) and Ann (Naomi Watts) taking their son George (Devon Gearheart) to a summer home by the lake. This family represents your typical white bred, upper-class American family. Shortly after arriving, a young man named Peter (Brady Corbet) knocks on their door and asks to borrow some eggs. Peter appears to be a clean-cut kid with perfect manners, so Ann happily agrees to help him out. After an awkward episode in which Peter keeps dropping eggs, another young man named Paul (Michael Pitt) shows up. Irritated by Peter’s clumsiness, Ann asks both of the boys to leave. They downright refuse and after George tries to intervene, Paul breaks his leg with a golf club.
It soon becomes clear what Paul and Peter’s true agenda is: they wish to keep the family captured and play torturous games with them. They drop subtle and horrifying hints that they will kill them one by one before sunrise the next day. Over the course of the evening, the deranged duo will suffocate, beat, strip, gag, and shoot at the family in a twisted psychological fashion. The family keeps demanding explanations for the pair’s behavior but they vaguely give durable answers. It becomes tragically clear that they are doing this for their own personal amusement. At one point, Ann asks “Why don’t you just kill us?” and Peter grinningly replies: “You shouldn’t forget the importance of entertainment!”
Remember the scene in 1408 where Samuel L. Jackson practically begged John Cusack to stay out of a haunted hotel room? I feel like I received a similar warning from critics to stay away from Funny Games. The film has been getting whipped with half-a-star to one-star reviews on numerous occasions. Critics feel the audience faces more abuse than the tortured family in the film and a fellow colleague of mine snarled, “Who cares about the underlying meaning? There’s nothing entertaining about people getting tortured!”
I agree that the film is very disturbing and hard to get through. It’s an uncomfortable moviegoing experience, but it might also be an important one. Usually, I only get offended by an exploitation film when it is created in a cheap fashion that lacks skill or thought. Despite its shocking content, it’s hard to deny that there is skillful thought behind Funny Games. The film’s American genesis and self-reflexive nature make it obvious that Haneke is trying to make a serious statement about the torture porn “boom” in American culture. After viewing this film, you’ll realize there’s no turning back and it’d be too terrifying to move forward from here.
Consider the motivations for this remake. I have not seen the original Funny Games, but I have read in numerous articles that the updated film is a shot-by-shot remake of the original with hardly any changes, except for the actors and the language. Therefore, the original must be just as disturbing as its current incarnation. Why remake a sadistic foreign film for a mainstream American audience? Haneke probably sensed that the message of the film desperately needed to be heard amongst the current torture porn craze in
The key to unlocking the film’s themes are within the characters of Paul and Peter. Take a close look at them. Here are two clean-cut teenagers that are well-dressed with perfect manners. They are nihilistic and cold in the face of mindless violence and take amusement in watching strangers suffer. Could that perhaps be a way to describe the very target audience that turns up for torture porn? Notice the way they prefer hard metal music and snacking while observing their victims suffer. Notice how Paul is the only one who acknowledges the audience and even seems to relate to us. The similarities between these psychopaths and teenage moviegoers are not only accurate but frightening.
Like Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Haneke uses his characters to force the audience to reflect upon themselves, bringing a depth to how torture porn is viewed that has been absent before.
I remember giving a negative review of Hostel, feeling that the film was too cheap and cheesy. I thought if a torture film had a more serious, solemn tone, it would make for a truly gripping horror film. Be careful what you wish for. Funny Games is exactly that and is one of the most white-knuckled and fearful moviegoing experiences I’ve ever had. It certainly isn’t for the faint of heart and only brave moviegoers will be able to fully endure it. The big question is whether or not a cruel entertainment like this one is necessary. I feel it is. Haneke has used his film to highlight a cancerous aspect of cinema and force the viewer to question the morality and flaws of its nature. It’s rare to see a film brilliantly pick apart a specific genre that could ultimately lead to its very undoing. Plus, it’s hard to see how the film’s message could’ve been conveyed without going to the belly of the beast. While I don’t condone the film’s content, I believe in the cause the filmmakers are fighting against and I hope future filmmakers and American audiences will get the true message.
by Andrew Jupin
Back in 1988, Chuck D and the rest of Public Enemy were adamant when they told their fans ‘don’t believe the hype.’ I say the same whenever I hear people going on and on and on about a movie they just watched and how funny it was or action packed or terrifying or how absolutely incredible and unbeatable the film is. I tell myself and others not to believe the hype because everyone sees movies in different ways and there is no way you’re going to absolutely agree with someone on a film and thus will be let down time after time. About three months ago, I first heard of this film, Inside (À l’intérieur), and the hype was exactly the same. Expressions used to describe the film at the time were things like, “mind-blowing” or “the best horror film of the last twenty years.” [That last statement is obviously ridiculous because it means whoever said it never saw Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. Kidding.] I know I myself am hyping up the introduction in this review. You’re probably waiting for me to say something like, “Well this time, kids, believe all the hype you want.” Well I’m not going to say that. But what I will say is this: the hype comes close.
Inside starts with our heroine, Sarah (Alysson Paradis), sitting dazed in the aftermath of a horrible car accident. She sits, pregnant and bleeding, while her dead husband lay next to her. The film jumps to four months later; it is Christmas Eve and Sarah is still very much pregnant and due the next day. Is there anything more precious than giving birth on Christmas day? Don’t ask Sarah. The aftermath of the car accident and the death of her husband has left her very cold and distant. She is incapable of sadness or crying. She seems more or less ambivalent about the fact that she’s about to have her first child.
She turns down a Christmas Eve dinner invitation from her mother (Nathalie Roussel) in favor of going home, watching the news (the immigration protests in France are commented on in the background of this whole thing) and going to bed. As she tries to relax and wind down, there is a knock at the door. Here’s where you need to sit down or hang on to your hat or whatever it is you need to do when really terrifying stuff happens.
Enter the Girl (Béatrice Dalle). She knocks on the door, asking if she could come in and use Sarah’s phone; apparently she is having some car trouble. From here on, the film becomes one big game of Cat and Mouse. Or in this case I should say something more like Tyrannosaurus Rex and Mouse. The film traps us inside the house with Sarah and the Girl and for the next hour and a half, poor Sarah is beaten, bashed, abused and tortured. Why? Because the Girl is on a mission to cut Sarah’s unborn child out of her.
I will and cannot say anymore about what goes on in this film, nor should I. What I can say is that Inside smashes any sort of boundary you put in its way. This is not a PG-13, Sarah Michelle Gellar, J-horror remake; it is also not some sort of Eli Roth, torture porn flick. This is something new. An artistic, well thought out, beautifully shot, terrifying piece of cinema that will be at the front of my mind for a long time to come. It’s not so much a horror movie as it is a terror movie. The events that take place in the film are indeed horrific, but the situation itself is just so incredibly mind-bending to sit back and think about because, theoretically, this could actually happen to you.
The DVD does not provide much assistance in the way of any sort of justification for the madness. Everyone who participated in the production of the film seems very balanced, well-adjusted and kind. The actress who plays the Girl, Béatrice Dalle, is still slightly unnerving to watch during interviews—especially after what you’ve just watched her do over the course of the film. But all the filmmakers are very genuine when they say that they wanted to direct a beautiful looking film but at the same time wanted to spatter the entire house with blood.
Aside from the ‘Making Of’ featurette, all we are left with is a theatrical trailer which is funny because the only theatrical release the film seems to have received was via random Horror film festivals throughout the world. I’m not saying rush out and rent this movie, but for a select few, you may be intrigued. The first half hour is worth the rental price alone.
NOTE: In all honesty and seriousness, if you have any semblance if a weak stomach, please go watch something else.
Inside is out on DVD today.