cliches

CRIMSON PEAK

Note: Despite its size, this house is comprised of no more than 5 rooms

Note: Despite its size, this house is comprised of no more than 5 rooms

2015 – Heiress Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is swept away to an obviously sinister mansion by the equally obviously sinister Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Everything you expect to happen, happens. 

“But basically what it is is a really, really, almost classical Gothic romance ghost story, but then it has two or three scenes that are really, really disturbing in a very, very modern way. Very, very disturbing, it’s a proper R rating. And it’s adult.” For those keeping score, that’s four “really”s, four “very”s, and two “disturbing”s dropped by director Guillermo Del Toro, who is trying really, really hard to make us think this movie is very, very good.

It’s not.

Allow me to get a little English major on you by telling you about an author named Anne Radcliffe. She blazed the trail for the Gothic novel, which were stories about innocent heroines trapped in big, scary houses filled with creepy people and, possibly, ghosts. Her books sold incredibly well… in 1794. Nowadays, they’re derided for their reliance on stale, predictable tropes (despite the fact that she invented most of them).

Crimson Peak plays like a straight Anne Radcliffe novel. It has absolutely no awareness that every one of its “twists” and “turns” is a cliche that has been telegraphed to the audience well in advance. If you’ve read any fiction or watched any movie in the past 75 years or so, there are no surprises waiting for you.

For instance: in the opening scenes, a young Edith is visited by her mother’s ghost, who warns her to “beware of Crimson Peak.” Later on, after she’s moved into the world’s most preposterously awful house, Sir Thomas casually mentions that all the red clay in the soil led to the place’s nickname: Crimson Peak. There’s an ominous rumble of music. Our heroine is shocked. The savvy viewer is left wondering whether the filmmakers actually thought this was a surprise.

The movie is littered with non-shockers like this. The “stray” dog that shows up. The tea that the Sharpes insist Edith drink. The way Lucille is so concerned with whether Thomas and Edith have slept together yet. All the luggage in the off-limits basement. Duuuuhhh gee, what could dese tings mean?

Del Toro seems to have lavished so much attention on the baroque atmosphere and extravagant costumes that he forgot what the hell was happening in his own movie. One character is killed by having his head repeatedly bashed into a sink; the other characters conclude that he “slipped.” It’s repeatedly mentioned that the house itself is slowly sinking into the red clay; this fact never comes into play.

Crimson Peak is a scary ghost story with no scary ghosts; it’s a psychological thriller with no psychology or thrills. Spend your two hours on a couple Twilight Zone episodes instead.

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STAR WARS EPISODE VII: The Force Awakens

2016: [See the plot of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope]

Setting: JJ Abrams’ throne room. Nubile young women carry sparkling wines, gourmet cheeses, and exotic fruits on golden trays. One man, Writer 1, kneels reverently at Abrams’ sandal-clad feet. Another man, Writer 2, stands further back and seems perplexed by the entire scene. 

Writer 1: Oh great JJ Abrams, creator of Alias and LOST, we come before you to hear what new creations you prepare to reveal!

Writer 2: …Yeah, hi JJ. You did say to be here at 1:30, right?

Abrams: Arise, my servants. Just as Felicity unleashed my greatness upon the Universe, so shall I now unleash a new cinematic vision upon the unsuspecting populace!

Writer 1: Glory be!

Writer 2: …We’re here for the specs on the new Star Wars movie. You know, fans have waited a long time for a good Star Wars – since 1983, in fact. We’re hoping you can deliver.

Abrams: Can I deliver! You’re speaking to the mastermind of Super 8 and Star Trek Into Darkness! Does that answer your question?

Writer 2: It actually raises more questions, for me.

Writer 1: Don’t pay him any attention, JJ. Just blast a hot load of Star Wars plot on us and we can die happy men.

Abrams: And so it shall be, my friends, and so it shall be. Envision, if you will, a strange alien galaxy full of adventure and magic, full of heroism and villainy, full of wonder and whimsy and romance and daring-do!

Writer 1: My God! It’s beautiful!

Abrams: But all is not well with this galaxy.

Writer 1: (gasps)

Abrams: Yes. The Empire has fallen, but a virtually identical force has replaced it, and the only things standing in its way are the New Republic and the Resistance!

Writer 2: Wait, hold on… the New Republic and the Resistance? What’s the difference between these two groups? What happened to the Rebellion?

Abrams: SILENCE! You’ll miss the best part… the Resistance obtains valuable plans that will help defeat the forces of evil. These plans are concealed in an adorable, spunky little droid, who ends up on a desert planet in the hands of a most unlikely hero.

Writer 1: It’s a triumph of the imagination!

Writer 2: I’m sorry… are we discussing the new movie? Because this sounds an awful lot like –

Abrams: SILENCE I SAY! Clench your buttocks, because you might lose control of your bowels when you hear this next innovative twist! Our heroes will be stalked by a black-clad masked menace who is skilled in the Force!

Writer 2: So, like, a Darth Vader-type character?

Abrams: Oh, God, no. Who wants to see that? This character will be a wispy young thing portrayed by some big-nosed long-haired emo-looking douche, and instead of choking people he’ll get all pissy and smash stuff when he gets upset.

Writer 1: My spine is tingling with fear!

Writer 2: I have to say, this villain doesn’t seem like he’s in the same class as Vader or even Darth Maul… will we have some really strong heroes to oppose him?

Abrams: Your hopes have been realized, for I have devised heroes destined to be just as legendary as Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi!

Writer 1: Oh my…

Abrams: BEHOLD! I give you… a girl and a black guy! KAZAAAAAAAM!

Writer 1: Holy SHIT.

Writer 2: This sounds kinda pandering, to me. I mean, what next, this random girl will turn out to be so incredibly bad-ass that Han Solo will say something like, “Kid, you’re a damn fine pilot, why don’t you join me on my ship even though it’s always just been me and Chewy…”

Abrams: Excuse me, “this random girl”? I put a scene in there where she fixes something on the ship! It’s like, “Oh, I re-routed the capacity through the auxiliary drive matrix” or some shit. Boom, instant street cred.

Writer 1: Oh, you’re the king, JJ, you’re the best there is, best there was, best there ever will be!

Writer 2: (Sighs) Alright, so the unlikely heroes are on the desert planet with the robot, what next?

Abrams: Well, you’ll never see this coming, but it turns out the evil militaristic space organization –

Writer 2: – like the Empire –

Abrams: – NOT AT ALL like the Empire – is commanded by a sinister, robe-wearing figure whose mind is as twisted and corrupt as his body!

Writer 2: …like the Emperor.

Abrams: NOT AT ALL like the Emperor! In fact, this evil mastermind’s name… IS

Writer 1: Here it comes.

Abrams: Supreme Leader SNOKE.

Writer 2: You’re kidding.

Abrams: SNOKE. Doesn’t that name just inspire fear and awe? Say it with me. Say, “SNOKE.”

Writer 1: I can’t! I’m that afraid of this guy!

Writer 2: It sounds like a sock puppet from a kids’ TV show.

Abrams: Perhaps your impudent tongue will be silenced when I tell you that Snoke will be an entirely CGI character! Oooh, aaah, the magic of film-making!

Writer 2: Who’s going to play him?

Abrams: Well, he’s an all CGI character created after 2003, so…

Writer 1: Andy Serkis?

Abrams: Bingo.

Writer 2: Oh, come on. You know, JJ, the Star Wars franchise used to be a bastion of unrestrained imagination and creativity. This sounds like a tired old re-hash of every trope that we’ve seen a thousand times before. I’ve read Star Wars fan-fic more creative than this.

Abrams: Oh ye of little faith! Was it not I who rescued the Star Trek franchise via the never-before-explored avenue of TIME TRAVEL? Wait until you hear my finest plot innovation yet!

Writer 1: I don’t know if I’m worthy to hear this.

Abrams: It turns out that the non-Empire has… a gigantic space station capable of destroying entire planets!

Writer 2: …So, the Death Star.

Abrams: No, bigger than the Death Star. Like, colossally bigger. And, therefore, different and better.

Writer 1: That’s a fact.

Abrams: In a thrilling race against time, our heroes will have to infiltrate this massive space station, disable its shield, and attack its weak point for massive damage!

Writer 2: Wait, wait, wait… wait. This is literally the plot of both Episode IV AND Episode VI. You can’t be serious.

Abrams: Oh, can’t I?

Writer 1: JJ, I’m not blowing smoke up your ass when I say this… but you are literally the Jesus of franchise resurrection.

Abrams: And the best part is, all of this is set 30 years in the future, so we get to see the stars of these magical films of our childhood as haggard, wrinkled old sacks who can barely run for two seconds on screen! Remember hot Princess Leia in the slave costume? Well now you get to see her visage wracked by age, and hear her old lady denture voice!

Writer 1: It’s like all my dreams have come true at once!

Writer 2: In what world would anyone want to see the exact same story played out with vastly inferior new characters and old, sad versions of the original characters?

Abrams: You’re so short-sighted. You’re forgetting how legendary these original characters will be. They’re like mythical heroes now. Some people don’t even believe they exist. They’ll be like living legends, something out of a fairy tale.

Writer 2: 30 years in the future people don’t even believe they’re real? 1986 was 30 years ago. That’s like saying people today think Jack Nicholson and Ronald Reagan are just legends or fairy tales. How short are people’s memories in this universe?

Writer 1: Man, don’t you have anything positive to say?

Writer 2: Well… maybe it’s just growing pains. I’m sure the second installment will be better.

Abrams: I’ve already got an idea! It begins in this frozen wasteland…

Writer 2: I quit.

Girl Most Likely – 7/2/14

2012

Girl Most Likely is to Kristen Wiig what every movie since Anchorman has been to Will Ferrell. I imagine the writing process for it went a little something like this…

Setting: writer’s room for Girl Most Likely. The room is strewn with empty cans of energy drink and cigarette butts.

Time: around 2:43 AM.

Writer 1: I don’t know… I’m still a little confused about our main character. I mean, she seems completely unsympathetic. She’s pompous, egotistical, deluded… she has no real friends, and right from the beginning she seems pretty annoying. Maybe we should give her some kind of redeeming quality.

Writer 2: Aren’t you forgetting something? She’ll be played by Kristen Wiig. From Bridesmaids. Remember her character from that movie? It’s pretty much the exact same one here.

Writer 1: Yeah, but you could actually understand her motivations in that one. Here she just comes across as a spoiled, self-entitled bitch.

Writer 3: IT’S A COMEDY!

Writer 2: Exactly. So anyway, the scene is set: Kristen’s boyfriend is breaking up with her, so to get him back she decides to stage a fake suicide attempt. But then – and this is what the audiences will love – she somehow messes up and attempts suicide for real!

Writer 3: Comedy gold!

Writer 1: Wait, what? I didn’t think we had decided on that yet. It sounds… I don’t know… not really that funny. It actually sounds really cheap. Besides, what kind of awful person tries a ploy like that? It seems like one of those ideas that only looks funny on paper.

Writer 2: Listen, suicide is hilarious. And remember, on the big screen it won’t be just anyone pretending to attempt suicide but accidentally doing it for real – it’ll be Kristen Wiig from Bridesmaids.

Writer 3: I’m laughing already!

Writer 2: So, because of this hilarious misunderstanding, she’s forced to go live with her family…

Writer 3: Oh boy!

Writer 2: …which is just a grab-bag of ridiculous characters!

Writer 1: I see here you have written, “Slutty Mom.”

Writer 2: Yes. Her mom will be a former stripper or something. Basically the worst mom of all time – chronic degenerate gambler, neglected her children, big whore. But eventually Kristen will discover that her mom was really pretty great all along.

Writer 1: How so?

Writer 3: IT’S A COMEDY!

Writer 2: Exactly. And the mom’s younger boyfriend will be a real nut. He’ll claim he’s in the CIA and have all these crazy stories about his adventures.

Writer 3: Oh man, don’t tell me! Don’t tell me what HILARIOUS twist you’ll have in mind for THAT character!

Writer 2: Oh, let’s just say that perhaps his ridiculous claims may not be as outlandish as you at first suspect!

Writer 3: HA! You’re a genius!

Writer 1: And you have another character marked as “Awkward Brother.” Let me guess: That’s her lovably awkward younger brother who provides a lot of innocent screwball-type humor?

Writer 2: Correct. Imagine him being played by Zach Galifianakis… but we can’t afford him, so we’ll get some guy nobody’s ever heard of to sort of do the same thing.

Writer 1: Oh, God. Who is “The Other Young Guy Who Lives In The House But Isn’t Her Brother”?

Writer 2: Right. You’re never going to guess this, but he turns out to be Kristen’s love interest. I say you’ll never guess it because, although he’s the only other unattached male character in the film, they don’t seem to hit it off at first. At all. In fact, they may be openly hostile to each other. But then it turns out that they really get along. Complete surprise, right?

Writer 1: How do you figure out that they get along?

Writer 2: They sleep together. After he gets her drunk.

Writer 1: WHAT?!?

Writer 3: IT’S A COMEDY!

Writer 2: So a bunch of stuff happens, yadda yadda… Oh, right. The big reveal is that Kristen’s father, who you think is dead the whole movie, turns out to be alive. The whole “death” thing was a story thought up by the Slutty Mom to spare the kids the agony of divorce.

Writer 1: Fine. Sounds great. Perfectly logical.

Writer 3: And funny. Funny in the kind of way that will make people laugh like, “Oooooh-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoooooooo!”

Writer 2: Don’t worry, though. The dad turns out to be a real elitist scumbag. So there’s some more zany hi-jinx, Kristen’s boyfriend insults her old Uncaring Superficial Friends, and everyone becomes successful and happy. That’s the end.

Writer 3: Flawless. Now let’s get started on Anchorman 2.

VIOLET & DAISY – 5/8/14

Toronto International Film Festival in 2011, released in US in 2013

Three things in the opening moments of this film immediately tag it as the most despicable of all movies: a Quentin Tarantino rip-off. But more on that in a moment. The three things were:

1.) Numbered “chapter” screens with quirky names.

2.) A teenage assassin telling a long, quirky story on her way to a hit.

3.) A quirky oldies song playing during a gunfight.

Violet (Alexis Bledel) and Daisy (Saoirse [no, that’s not a typo] Ronan) are a pair of 18-year-old professional killers sent by their boss Russ (Danny Trejo, in what is basically a two-minute cameo) to get rid of a man known only as “the guy” (James Gandolfini, not dead yet). The girls quickly and predictably start to form a bond with their target, which makes the job a lot more time-consuming and dialog-heavy than they initially thought.

The whole thing sounds like a good premise, but, to paraphrase Pink, “it tries too hard, it’s a waste of my time.” This movie wants so bad to be Pulp Fiction, but forgets that Pulp Fiction was made almost 20 years ago and was, itself, made a hundred times 20 years before that.

I have to warn you – I am not a fan of Quentin Tarantino. In real life, the guy is an insufferable poser. Has he made good movies? Absolutely – Jackie Brown is one of my favorites (although it probably helps that it was based on an Elmore Leonard novel and not a QT original). My main gripe about him is that he makes the same movie using the same tired old tricks every single time – the “people talking about everyday stuff while doing something bad,” the “story shot out of sequence,” the “goofy chapter title every ten minutes”… It’s distracting, for me, to watch one of his movies knowing that HE probably watches it, chuckling proudly, saying, “Oh, this is CLASSIC Tarantino right here” every couple minutes. They’re just too self-aware.

That would all be bad enough, but his movies are just smug re-hashes of the schlock exploitation flicks of the 1960s and 70s. That’s fine – everybody likes a little sex, violence and swearing every now and again. But don’t act like it’s art. Don’t laugh at the old-fashioned zooms and sound effects as though it’s some kind of satire. If it was satire, Tarantino would make a different kind of movie eventually. But he can’t.

All this is to say that Violet & Daisy has the distinct feel of a copy of a copy – ripping off a rip-off artist is not something a movie should aspire to. It tries to be too cute for it’s own good – when Daisy is asked how she makes her money, she replies, “Making hits. Vi says it’s better than data entry.” The main characters are 18 but act 6 – they play paddy-cake, have pillow fights and do hop-scotch. There are a bunch of flashbacks, segments where characters tell long stories, and unnecessarily harsh language. There’s also a scene featuring a rotary phone with an answering machine – what time period is this again?

My advice: if you want to see a movie about “the lighter side” of professional killing, check out Grosse Pointe Blank instead.

One of the minor characters is Artie Bucco from The Sopranos.

THE AVENGERS – 4/14/14

2012

Alright, so… where do we go from here?

This movie is 143 minutes long (counting the 6-minute end credits). That’s almost as long as There Will Be Blood. Does the story of The Avengers really need that long to be told? Exactly four things happen in this movie: the bad guy shows up and steals a doomsday device, the good guys assemble their team, they capture the bad guy but he escapes, he turns on the device and the aliens from Halo attack New York City.

Mixed in there we’ve got an aircraft carrier that both flies and turns invisible, we’ve got Iron Man fighting Thor, we’ve got Thor fighting the Incredible Hulk, we’ve got giant flying alien monsters, and we’ve got long, LONG talking scenes that “develop” characters who have all already had at least one movie completely to themselves.

My eyes hurt and my brain feels like it’s ready to ooze down into my jaw. These superhero movies have become so big, so bloated, so overblown in scope and self-reverence, that they literally numb the senses. By the end, the sight of a gigantic space monster’s fin gouging a big hole in a building was actually dull. That sight – a wonder, a marvel produced by movie-making technology it took over half a century to develop – was boring. Seeing said monster crash into Grand Central Station and die was routine. I kept checking the time – “Still 45 minutes left?” – and wondering why I had to see yet another scene where a guy punches another guy through a wall.

The plot sloughs from one city-crushing CGI battle to another with tedious inevitability. Will Tony Stark get hit in the balls and utter a wry quip that belies his physical pain? Will the Hulk do something incongruously zany to lighten the mood? Will we get slow-motion shots of stuff exploding and people running away? We sure will! And I hope you liked them, because you’ll be seeing them again. And again.

There is no unifying style, no “look.” Everything is slick and shiny and cold. Colors that should be bright – Captain America’s shield, Iron Man’s armor, Hulk’s skin – are dulled and grimy-looking. When you turn on one of the Tim Burton Batman movies, you know it’s a Batman movie. You see the urban decay, the almost liquid shadows, the flashy, twisted outfits of the villains. Watching these modern superhero movies, they could be anything. Loki and Thor might have wandered out of Lord of the Rings; Black Widow looks like a Bourne escapee.

When Superman came out in 1978, its tag line was “You’ll believe a man can fly.”  There was a genuine wide-eyed sense of awe at seeing a comic book superhero brought to life on the big screen. Now we can see a man not only fly, but intercept a nuclear missile in mid-flight, take it through a space portal, use it to blow up an alien mother ship, and fall back to Earth without batting an eye.

What happened to us?

8 Movie Cliches I’m Really Tired Of That Appeared In The Avengers

  1. Samuel L. Jackson. Can he not be in every movie playing the cool, intense guy who shouts a lot? Thanks.
  2. People saying “With me,” and having other people fall into line behind them as they stride purposefully down a hallway.
  3. People saying “Talk to me,” when they need information in a tense moment. What next, will someone say, “In English, please,” when they don’t “get” technical jargon? (Someone does)
  4. Asian scientists. Come on.
  5. English-sounding bad guy. Loki is a Norse god. Why does he speak with an English accent?
  6. Bad guy intentionally letting himself get captured as part of a ludicrously complex scheme. Unfortunately it seems like every bad guy is going to do this after The Dark Knight. See also: Skyfall.
  7. Bad guy in a cell playing mind games with the people who come to visit him. Haven’t we seen enough of this one? I kept expecting Loki to ask the Black Widow about the lambs she had as a child.
  8. The speech at the end where people talk about how the heroes will always be there for them.