>> Camille (6/10)

CamilleSomeone please pick my jaw up from off the floor.  I have just witnessed one of my new favorite bad movies of all time, the James Franco/Sienna Miller rom-com, Camille.  Wow.  I’ll try my darnedest not to get too spoiler-heavy (no guarantees), but let’s just say that by the time Franco climbed onto the back of a blue horse with a zombiefied Sienna Miller that took off into the air while rice rained down from the sky, i wasn’t quite sure if I had just witnessed an actual film or if someone was playing an elaborate prank on me.

The most amazing thing is that no matter how weird (very weird) the screenplay gets, the director seems completely unaware that he’s making something this strange.  Camille has slightly less artistic flash than a movie made for basic cable.  Its peppy country music soundtrack attempts to compliment its normalcy, a sweet little cute love story about two mismatched newlyweds on their way to Niagara Falls.

Except that (and excuse me if it feels like a spoiler) Sienna Miller plays a zombie.

Early in the film, Franco’s character accidentally crashes them into a tree, killing Camille (Miller).  She’s resurrected in a glow of light, then begins rotting shortly thereafter.  i know I can’t convey the tone of the film in this review, which really is a huge part of what makes Camille such a choice piece of work, but first, imagine the most banal, saccharine romantic comedy you’ve ever seen.  Make sure the soundtrack is all country music.  Then add a zombie.

Aw, screw spoilers…I know I already mentioned the finale, but another favorite scene of mine is the one in which Franco gives Miller a formaldehyde sponge bath in bed after all of her hair has fallen out.  I literally could not believe my own eyes.

This is an amazing movie, completely out of touch with how misguided and bizarre it is.  I still don’t know if it was well-intended garbage or accidental genius, but, yeah, I’ll be talking about this one for a while…I can feel it.  Camille is genuinely quirky without ever intending to be so, which makes it all the more entertaining (and not in a good way).  It’s a clumsy film–every moment of drama or humor falls flat, the romance is not believable, the dialogue is bad, the acting is inconsistent–but then, there’s Sienna Miller allowing David Carradine to dye her dead, pale skin a bright orange, then dressing up in a Dale Evans cowgirl outfit so she can dance with her husband next to a giant strawberry, and I fall in love with it.  i am still shaking my head in disbelief hours after I watched it.

6 on a 1 to 10 scale

>> 007: Quantum of Solace (7/10)

007 Quantum of SolaceLast night, almost directly after seeing the new James Bond flick, Quantum of Solace, I posted the following on a message board that I frequent:  “Well, it’s definitely a James Bond movie, but it feels like a minor step back from the emotional gravitas of Casino Royale to the almost nonsensical high-octane of the Brosnan Bonds.”  It’s a wordy way of trying to get a whole review down to one single sentence, but it’s true.  Quantum of Solace is disappointing, despite delivering all of the action you’d expect from a Bond film, because it lacks the things Casino Royale had going for it, and never replaces the loss of those elements with anything new.

Craig returns, but the fiery-eyed thug of Casino Royale seems almost lifeless here.  He’s still a killing machine, slightly more bulletproof and unstoppable than Casino Royale, which frankly strips him of the haunted humanity we saw in that film.  He’s a much more generic character here.  When M (Dame Judi Dench) tells him at one point that he is fueled by rage, you just don’t see it in him, not like you did in Casino.  Judging from the screenplay, it’s obvious that he’s written to be the Casino Royale Bond, but director Marc Forster directs Craig as if he’s in any other Bond film.  He’s just a guy in a tux with a cool phone that is really good at beating the ever-living crap out of people.

Why am I griping about characterization in a James Bond movie?  Because Casino Royale had it.  I just assumed it was going to be part of the new and improved James Bond films, and I was apparently wrong.  It’s back to the simple thrills of bouncing bullets, globe-trotting espionage, and big explosions.  For most hardcore James Bond fans, that will probably be enough to satisfy.

In Quantum of Solace, Bond goes rogue (seemingly a standby plot for James Bond films), driven to discover exactly what led to Vesper Lynde’s death.  He basically stumbles across Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), a greedy environmentalist (MR. GREENE!  I get it!  LOLZ!) with connections to a worldwide shadow agency called QUANTUM.  Bond allies himself with Greene’s rebellious ex-lover Camille (Olga Kurylenko, the most petulant and annoying Bond girl in recent memory), and the two work together to uncover the true reason behind Greene’s large-scale land purchases in Bolivia.

Let me take a second to talk about the secret behind those large-scale land purchases without spoiling the movie.  It is probably the wimpiest, least evil act of villainy ever committed by a James Bond antagonist.  When the moment happens in which Greene puts his plan into effect, all I could do was repeat to myself, “Really?  REALLY?”  It’s not completely unbelievable; it’s completely mundane.  It’s almost literally like a villain telling you your cell phone bill is going to double.  It sucks, I guess, but was it really worth a trail of dead bodies?

Okay, so I realize I sound harshly critical concerning this film, but that’s really only based on how jazzed I was to see Bond take a new, more mature direction in Casino Royale.  I wanted a continuation of the things that set that film apart, and I didn’t really get it here.  Really, If you want to see a better-than-average action movie, Quantum of Solace works very well.  But, if Casino Royale was a great steak, then Quantum of Solace is a cheeseburger.  To Quantum‘s credit, it’s a cheeseburger made from that great steak, and served on fine china in a fancy restaurant, but, still, it’s a cheeseburger and not a steak.

7 on a 1 to 10 scale

>> Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa (6/10)

madgascar 2I refuse to believe that there are Madagascar fans out there among us–people who cite the first film as one of their all-time favorite films ever.  If those people existed, then their Christmas is truly here, three years later, in the form of Madagascar 2:  Escape 2 Africa.  To me, Madagascar was wholly unremarkable.  Madagascar 2 is more of that, so if you liked that, well, then, here comes a second helping of comedy by committee.

All of the talking animals you vaguely remember (Ben Stiller as Alex, Chris Rock as Marty, David Schwimmer as Melman, Jada Pinkett-Smith as Gloria), including ones I didn’t even remotely remember from the first one (the effeminate chimps) leave Madagascar to return to New York, but their plane crashes on an African wildlife preserve.  Alex is soon reunited with his long-lost parents (Bernie Mac and Sherri Shepherd), and discovers that he is next in line for jungle royalty.  If he wants the position as the Alpha Lion, he must first prove himself against his father’s scheming rival, Makunga (Alec Baldwin).  Meanwhile, Marty deals with identity issues, while Melman struggles with his feelings for Gloria.  The penguin antics take a back seat to the antics of a returning character from the first film–one that nobody asked for–the old Jewish woman who beats Alex with her handbag.  She’s stranded in Africa as well (imagine that), and is ready to beat the crap out of more animals with her handbag.

There’s some really funny stuff in the first half hour or so, then things get predictably lame and dramatic as each character goes through their own personal life-altering life lesson.  They really should’ve kept the gags flowing because, honestly, no one watching is going to care about the unrequited romance between a cartoon hippo and a cartoon giraffe, or whether or not Alex’s father can ever fully accept his son’s dancing as a useful skill.  It’s so much wasted animation–pretty animation, clearly designed to be viewed in 3-D, but still wasted.

Madagascar 2 is competent, time-wasting cinema product.  If it ends up becoming your favorite film of all time, please do yourself a favor, and don’t tell anyone.

6 on a 1 to 10 scale

>> Changeling (6/10)

changelingChangeling, the new film from director Clint Eastwood, is an unabashed melodrama.  What exactly does that mean?  Webster’s defines it as “a work (as a movie or play) characterized by extravagant theatricality and by the predominance of plot and physical action over characterization.”  Wikipedia gets a little wordier:

Melodramas tend to be formulaic productions, with a clearly constructed world of connotations: a villain poses a threat, the hero escapes the threat (or rescues the heroine) and there is (generally) a happy ending. However, the term is also used in a broader sense to refer to a play, film, or other work in which emotion is exaggerated and plot and action are emphasized in comparison to the more character-driven emphasis within a drama. Melodramas can also be distinguished from tragedy by the fact that they are open to having a happy ending, but this is not always the case. In the 1970s onward, melodramatic films were often targeted at female viewers, and the terms were nicknamed “tearjerkers” or “weepies”.

In Changeling, the heroes are models of purity and goodness.  The villains are 100% evil with no shades of grey.  The plot completely overrides any characterization, and it could thoroughly be described as a weepie.

Distractingly skeletal Angelina Jolie plays Christine Collins, a single mother whose child mysteriously vanishes one day in 1928 Los Angeles.  Roughly five months later, the LAPD (represented here by Jefferey Donavan and Colm Feore.  BOO.  HISS.) gives her a new kid that they steadfastly claim is her son, despite the fact he clearly isn’t, and then ignore Christine’s cries for the truth at every turn.  She finds an unlikely ally in a crusading radio preacher played by John Malkovich’s mustache and wig who commits himself to uncovering the truth and finding justice and closure for Ms. Collins.  The story is based on the true case of the Wineville Chicken Coop murders (consider what lies behind that link a spoiler), a scandal that rocked Southern California in the late 1920’s, involving long-standing corruption in the LA police force.

The true story at the heart of the film is compelling, but the film is a soap opera with higher production values.  It smells like a Lifetime original movie, but looks like Oscar bait.  Eastwood makes downright clumsy directorial decisions (a small list of offenses that come to mind right now:  cutting from the chop of a beheading to cigarette ash falling on the floor in slow-motion, cross-cutting  between two different trials right when the film really needs a climax that will pay off, filming all of the mental hospital scenes like his only research was watching bad movies that had mental hospital scenes in them).

Jolie and Malkovich don’t play characters; they play one line of dialogue over and over.  Jolie’s is “Where is my son?”; Malkovich’s is “The LAPD will be brought to justice.”  Jolie gets great mileage out of her one line, and is skilled enough to deliver it in so many different ways that you’ll almost forget it’s the only thing she’s been given to do in scene after scene (after scene).  The supporting cast is varying degrees of awful.  A handful of kids are given lengthy monologues whose dramatic reach is so far beyond their grasp it borders on comical.  Jeffery Donavon as the evil police captain affects an Irish accent so full of winsome blarney that it sounds like a parody of a cop from the 20’s, and is so dispicably evil (and completely lacking a reason as to why he’s so evil) that it’s ridiculous.

I know it seems like I’ve complained quite a bit, but consider it more of a warning and less of an outright complaint.  Go into this knowing that you are seeing a melodrama, and it is completely serviceable.  The story is full of twists and turns, but the film jerks into the turns roughly, disrupting any sense of tension or tone.  Changeling is maudlin, even borderline campy, but it never gets boring during its lengthy running time.  The film’s mystery drew me in despite the heightened theatrics, but it started to immediately lose its lustre as I left the theatre.  Honestly, it’s just not one of Eastwood’s best.

6 on a 1 to 10 scale