>> From the Web: Bad Movies I Love

I “guested” over on Bob Freelander’s blog with a list of ten bad movies I love (part of a guest series; I strongly recommend you check them all out — lots of treats in there).

It took me a really long time to come up with some, but I’m more or less proud of my list. I was the only person with Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas. The photo Bob chose has some irony — it’s from Corruption.Gov, a bad movie I’m in!

Check out the complete list here.

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Listen Up, Ebert! The Movie-Talkers and How to Avoid Them

Roger Ebert made a list explaining the reasons why he thinks movie theater revenue is down. One of the things Ebert said:

“Moviegoers above 30 are weary of noisy fanboys and girls.”

That bit stood out to me. “Fanboys,” in this context, usually means genre movie fanatics. I don’t think those are the people disrupting the movie with talking (“fanboys and girls” tend to be the most annoyed by talkers), so I tweeted:

“Ebert weirdly thinks movie “fanboys and girls” are the ones talking in theatres. He is so, so wrong. IT IS PEOPLE YOUR AGE, SIR.”

The tweet was quickly re-tweeted, by some of my more high-profile peers and friends, gaining me a bunch of new followers (hi!) and a dozen responses that pretty much said this:

“Everyone talks, not just old people.”

I know this is basically true, but I worked in movie theaters for roughly 13 years, and as an assistant manager for more than half those years (assistant managing a movie theater is unlike most assistant manager jobs — you run the floor every night but the weekends, and sometimes even then). Maybe what I should’ve said is that older crowds are harder to shut up.

There’s a noise level expectation if you’re playing something to kids. A movie like CHIPWRECKED is going to have some chatter. They’re kids; many of them haven’t learned any better. The problem is a movie like WAR HORSE is probably going to have the same low buzz of chatter throughout. Only, these are adults, and they should know better.

So, drawing on my personal experience, I decided to break down exactly who’s hardest to shut up at the theater and how to avoid them if attending a movie (in order of age).

1. Children

Parents are usually embarrassed enough to reprimand their chatty kid if they draw attention from other patrons or theater management. There’s the rare case of a parent who feels like you’ve singled out their kid or that, since it’s a kids’ movie, that means kids have carte blanche to run around the auditorium like it’s a playground. I’ve found those cases are rare. Typically, the worse a kids’ movie is, the more chatty the children are.

Avoid them by seeing family films and animated comedies at night. Never, ever go on a Saturday or Sunday during the day.

2. Pre-Teens/Young Teens

These kids will buy a ticket to whatever time is most convenient to them getting dropped off at the movies. What this means is that sometimes a dozen teens will be laughing and going in and out of the auditorium during a movie they aren’t interested in at all, pissing off the people that are there to watch that movie. The good news? They’re typically terrified of theater management and don’t want to get into any real trouble. So, while disruptive, are the least likely to talk back, and usually the easiest ones to kick out of an auditorium.

Avoid them by never seeing brand-new wide release PG or PG-13 rated films after 7pm on a Friday or Saturday.

3. Older Teens

Older teens can be a real pain in the ass, especially if their parents have raised them to be little entitled jerks. You might be able to kick them out, but they might also return with an angry mom or dad who wants your head on a platter for ruining their baby’s night. Older teens also sneak in to more movies than probably any other group, and they tend to like bad comedies and blockbusters. I’ve found that most older teens are respectful — I think they feel like grown-ups when they’re out at the movies; I know I did when I was 16. Cell phones can be an issue, but I can honestly say no one has ever fought with me when I’ve caught them red-handed and asked them to turn it off.

Avoid them by skipping comedies and blockbusters on opening weekend.

4. 20-50

This is a pretty wide age group, and their ability to shut up seems more directly tied to economic status more than a specific age. Trashy people act trashy, black, white, whatever. Generally, you don’t find a lot of troublemakers in this age bracket, and, if you do, they’re serious serial troublemakers, the kind of people you have to call the police to have escorted out of the theatre (which I’ve done a half-dozen times).

Avoid by going to the earliest show of the day or after 9pm on a weeknight. This is when theaters have the least attendance.

5. 50 and up

And we’re back to the kind of chatter one expects from a kids’ movie, with the same problem little kids have — a complete lack of understanding that their “whispering” could possibly be bothering anyone. If someone can’t comprehend how their constant comments or questions could be seen as intrusive to others, they’re incredibly difficult to deal with. You have no choice but to become a villain then, picking on someone for doing “nothing.” A lot of older people also believe that if they’re talking about the movie, then they’re doing no wrong. This might be fine in your living room, but living room rules do not apply at the theater.

Avoid by only going to movies geared toward adults Monday through Thursday and only after 7pm.

To re-iterate, this is only based on my work experience, and I realize I’m making broad generalizations and that there are exceptions, but there’s truth here (most especially in the “how to avoid” parts). And, remember, if you ever see a movie “fanboy or girl” talking through a movie, chances are they aren’t actually a movie fanboy.

Some Thoughts on SHAME

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(This piece contains “spoilers.”)

The critical response to SHAME has been slightly baffling to me. The movie has a brave performance by Michael Fassbender and a couple of scenes that feel remarkably true (Brandon’s attempt at a real date is the movie’s most insightful moment), but the film also displays a clumsy misunderstanding of its subject that can’t be ignored.  That particular discussion seems to have been disregarded in exchange for an embarrassingly wide pre-occupation with Fassbender’s sexiness — a weird thing to walk away from SHAME talking about, to be sure. It’s the equivalent of fixating on Jennifer Connelly’s degrading dildo scene in REQUIEM FOR A DREAM over its harrowing themes of addiction. Yeah, it’s sexual, but it’s not supposed to be sexy, guys.

SHAME hit its first truly sour note with me during a lingering shot of Brandon viewing his distorted reflection on the side of a bus. The shot is a cliched visual shorthand that says “On the inside, this person is not who they appear to be.” It’s the kind of weak somebody-already-thought-of-that trick that most filmmakers leave behind at film school. But, it’s in here, and it sucks — not enough to ruin the movie, but enough to act as a warning for what’s to come.

After an extended orgy (shot with the inappropriately titillating gusto of an episode of HBO’s REAL SEX), Brandon ends up trolling for sex at a gay club (shot like a horror film). The implications are ambiguous; we don’t know if this is something Brandon has done before or not. It shouldn’t really matter, since all of Brandon’s sex is an empty experience, sexual orientation is irrelevant, but in director Steve McQueen’s eyes this homosexual act is the end-all-be-all of sexual lows. It’s the scariest thing a (homophobic) straight male can think of — finding themselves so horny that they might let another dude touch them. Just conceptually, it’s an offensive way to portray a sex addict’s low point.

McQueen, who also wrote SHAME, flounders with this. It’s not dramatic enough to get Brandon to rock bottom, and he knows it’s not enough, but McQueen doesn’t understand why. So, he has Brandon come home after some anonymous gay sex to discover that his sister has attempted suicide in his own apartment. Besides the hilariously puritanical message (“While you were out getting your rocks off, your sister almost DIED!”), Brandon’s rock bottom is now his sister’s rock bottom. Brandon hits no rock bottom of his own, but the film would have you believe that this is it.

The attempted suicide has some shock value, but it’s also something that student filmmakers have a preoccupation with, because it’s an easy cinematic go-to to show that a personal situation is in dire shape. McQueen makes the mistake of tying Brandon to this moment as if it somehow would make him less compulsive and horny, and suddenly ready to love and commit. Though his sister is alive, he has a wailing catharsis on a pier, spurred on partly because he’d been incredibly crappy to her and partly because he was having empty sex while she bled out.

I’m still not sure how her personal rock bottom translates into being his rock bottom. Her suicide is something that could’ve happened if Brandon were attending church or out grocery shopping; it has nothing to do with his addiction to sex. Her lowest point can’t be his lowest point, because it’s happening only to her, and it’s happening to her in a way that he doesn’t have any empathy for. Do I believe that Brandon would be sad that his sister almost died? Yes. Do I believe this event is a turning point in his life? Not one bit.

A more satisfying ending would’ve taken more work from McQueen, getting to Brandon’s emotionally darkest place and exposing him in such a wholly naked, vulnerable way that he has no choice but to change. Instead SHAME goes easy, with a finale that makes the whole film inauthentic and immature. It’s a damned SHAME.

My Adventures in the Tallyteers Pt. 2: The Second 100 Films

I cleared 200 films!  Thank the Heavens for Netflix and such, because I haven’t been getting out to the movies much at all.  In fact, I only saw seven first-run theatrical releases since my last update in April!  Let’s dig into the second 100 movies I tallied (you can see the first 100 here)…

2nd 100:  Top Five Favorite Vintage (pre-1990′s) Movies I’d Never Seen Before 2011

I watched more vintage films this time around, but few were close to the quality of the films in the first 100. Here are the ones I liked…

1.  The Masque of the Red Death (’64)

From what I’ve seen of Corman’s films (the ones he actually directed, not just produced), this one is the best.  It holds up as a sinister, perverse ode to Poe, with Vincent Price’s slimiest performance.  Corman reveals an artist’s touch here that isn’t always evident in his work, and if you like classic horror films at all, this one is a must-see.

2.  The Living Dead Girl (’82)

Thanks to Netflix, I discovered French director Jean Rollin this Summer.  This was the first of his films that I watched, and it’s still my favorite as I dig deeper into Rollin’s work.  His films straddle a line between cheeseball softcore Euro-horror and atmospheric, artsy spine-tinglers in a way that beats many of his Italian contemporaries, who were also attempting the same balance.  Living Dead Girl, between its spurts of gore and rampant nudity, manages to actually have something to say about co-dependency.  Highly recommended to open-minded horror fans.

3.  Angel Heart (’87)

Its length robs it of some of its punch (and I don’t think there’s much of anything surprising about its mystery’s big reveal), but the movie has a timeless quality not found in most 80’s chillers.  Angel Heart looks like a period piece that could’ve been shot last year; it’s that air tight.  It’s fascinating to watch Mickey Rourke in this phase of his career.  DeNiro has aged gently over the past 20+ years (partly because he always had an “old” face), but Rourke looks like a completely different human being than the scarred, Easter Island-headed mug that shows up in The Wrestler and Iron Man 2.  This is a worthwhile watch, and  I know it has its fans, but I didn’t quite fall in love with it.

4.  Duck Soup (’33)

There’s just not enough time to watch everything, so I hope you’ll take that as a good enough excuse for me not to have seen a Marx Brothers film before this one.  Duck Soup was fun, particularly the trial of Chicolini — a masterpiece of comedic wordplay.

5.  Fright Night (’85)

Just in time for the remake!  Director Tom Holland finds that rare right-down-the-center tone that can turn horror into a crowd-pleaser.  Balancing comedic touches with adventure tropes (a hero, his mentor, a villain, and a damsel in distress), it’s easy to see why Fright Night was so popular for its time, and why it’s endured all these years.  Holland seems convinced the vampire film would get a PG-13 now, and while the tone is relatively light, it’s still an R-rated horror film to me, complete with peekaboo cheesecake and inventive gore.

2nd 100:  Top Five Favorite Modern Films (1990-2010) That I’d Never Seen Before 2011

1.  Fish Tank

I was pretty much blown away by Fish Tank, a character study that examines the uncomfortable space between being childhood and adulthood.  Katie Jarvis as Mia is probably not someone I’d like to know, but she’s incredibly real — an energetic bundle of insecurities and anger and a palpable frustration that’s forcing her down a path which she doesn’t seem to have any control over.  I can’t recommend this enough.

2.  Dark Days

This wasn’t quite the doc I expected.  I was looking for a broader film on the subject of tunnel squatters, and instead I was treated to a microcosmic study of one tight-knit community of homeless addicts, hustlers, and drifters making their nest in a NYC Amtrak tunnel.  I found it to be both grim and life-affirming, and first-time director Marc Singer captures some really striking black and white images (even if he admits a general lack of skill).

3.  Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everyone Talking About Him)?

I’m still haunted by this movie, and I can’t seem to articulate why.  This music documentary was recommended by two very different acquaintances (“Triple Kelly” of Wrestlecrap.com fame and Lars Nilsen of Alamo Drafthouse fame), and I’ll admit I was dismissive, based solely on the fact that I don’t like “Coconut” or the soundtrack to Popeye.  I’m glad I gave it a chance.  This is a story of how short-sighted self-destructive behavior can be, and that maybe surface talents can’t change the course of who a person is at their core.  The soundtrack opened up my eyes to Nilsson’s genius, and I can’t hear his songs now without being taken back to exact moments in the film.

4.  Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord, 1980

You have to watch 1974 before this installment in the Red Riding trilogy, but this one is superior, with a mystery more tautly drawn and dialogue that these American ears could (mostly) understand.  I haven’t gotten around to 1983 yet.

5.  Still Bill

Three docs on this list, and two of them are about music.  This would actually make an interesting double-feature with Harry Nilsson, because Bill Withers is also one of those people who’s created music that has already stood the test of time, and his story is almost the flip side to Nilsson’s.  Quietly stepping back into a comfortable family life while his career was still on fire, Withers stopped working to be successful and made his successes work for him.

2nd 100:  The Five Worst Movies I’d Never Seen Before

1.  Marilyn:  Alive and Behind Bars

Unscrupulous psychiatrists use mind-control to force a widower into kidnapping women for Arab slave trade.  Along the way, the widower discovers Marilyn Monroe is living in the top story of the sanitarium in which he stays, and they quickly fall for each other.  Also, WHAT???

2.  Carnival of Fools (aka Death Wish Club)

From the creators of Marilyn:  Alive and Behind Bars comes this story of a college “kid” who becomes obsessed with a nutty, infantile porn star.  She’s the moll of a bored millionaire and the two bide their time getting their kicks as part of a “death wish club,” where they challenge each other with unique Russian roulette-style games of death.  Repelled by this secret club, the college boy dumps her, breaking her heart and her mind.  She fakes her own death and re-emerges as male lounge singer tough guy Charlie.  Now, it’s up to the college dude and the millionaire to restore her sanity!  Also, WHAT???

3.  The Van

Hey, dude, I used all my college money to buy a custom van with a built-in toaster!  Wanna get raped?

4.  Predator:  The Concert (aka Grizzly 2)

In this sequel to Grizzly, a grizzly bear eats George Clooney, Charlie Sheen, and Laura Dern, and almost ruins a Toto Coelo concert.  Also starring John Rhys-Davies, who never met an American dollar he didn’t like, this film was never officially finished or released.

5.  Monster Dog

From the director of Troll 2, comes this tale of a music video shoot that all goes to hell when everyone starts turning into wolves.  Starring Alice Cooper.

My Adventures in the Tallyteers Pt. 1: The First 100 Films

“You must watch movies all the time?”  I guess?  Sort of?  Do I?  It doesn’t seem like I do.  Maybe more than most people, but not nearly as much as a lot of other people.

And it was that namby-pamby bit of soul-searching that caused me to participate in the Tallyteers, a group of Twitter users who obsessively track every single movie they watch.  Some write whole posts about each film, while others just keep adding films to ever-expanding lists.  In my namby-pambiness, I’ve chosen a method that straddles the line, and have decided to write about my viewing choices every time I hit the century mark.

My Top Five Favorite 2011 Releases (So Far)

1.  The Fighter

I’m a sucker for David O. Russell.  The man may be a complete a-hole, but he knows how to push my buttons as a movie-goer.  No big surprise then that I loved this.

2.  Super

I was surprised that I loved this!  I found it had more in common with ‘Watchmen’ than ‘Kick-Ass,’ and I think Gunn really gets to the heart of how males deal with unjust heartache.  Not that we run around and whack people on the heads with a wrench, but there’s still truth in there.

3.  Becoming Santa

I reviewed this for Cinematical:  “‘Becoming Santa’ has the goods to become an instant Holiday classic. It’s charming, informative, and, best of all, really funny. Think ‘Best Worst Movie’ for the Christmas season, and you have a pretty good idea of what (director) Myers has cooked up here.”

4.  The Green Hornet

Cue sheepish grin.  I know it’s not Top Five material, exactly, and I expect it to fall off soon, but I thought ‘The Green Hornet’ was a blast — a throwback to reckless 90’s Summer action-comedies.  It just didn’t seem to take with audiences, most of them out for blood with the very first hint that their beloved Michel Gondry might have gotten creative feedback from producer Seth Rogen or Sony.

5.  Sound of My Voice

This is the film in my top five that I’m most looking forward to revisiting.

My Top FIve Favorite Vintage (pre-1990’s) Movies I’d Never Seen Before 2011

1.  Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains (’82)

This insightful youth culture satire plays Austin every now and then, but I’d halfway dismissed it as not my thing (thinking it was a pseudo-doc about a punk band).  I watched it on a lark, and it was exactly my thing, and everyone should see it right now.  It’s like ‘Network’ for disaffected teenage girls.

2.  Marjoe (’72)

This marks the first time I’d ever watched a film in its entirety on YouTube.  It’s amazing that such a unaccomplished actor (Marjoe starred in ‘Star Crash’ and ‘Food of the Gods’) can manipulate a crowd so thoroughly, and you get to see that here in this documentary covering Marjoe’s phony evangelical roots.

3.  Night and the City (’50)

I programmed this as part of Wrestlephilia, a pro wrestling movie marathon, and it was the best (and bleakest) film of the night.  It’s classic noir with a centerpiece fight scene brutal enough to hold its own with anything coming out today.

4.  Tales of Terror (’62)

I’m rationing out the Roger Corman “Poe” films.  I’d never seen a single one until last year, and I’ve loved every one of them I’ve seen.  I’m trying my best not to breeze through them, because once I’m done, there aren’t any more.

5.  The Unholy Three (’30)

Oh, man.  This is the original “midget con man disguises himself as a baby” film (well, sort of — this is a remake of the silent version with the same primary cast).  I loved every second of this movie.  There’s a modern energy to the humor, despite its age, and the sight of Lon Chaney playing an old lady (in his first, last, and only “talky”) and Harry Earles (‘Freaks’) playing a toddler is hilariously weird in a way that you can’t look away from.  Highly recommended.

My Top Five Favorite Modern Films (1990-2010) That I’d Never Seen Before 2011

1.  Fair Game

Had no idea this was based on a true story before I sat down to watch it.  Is it just me or has Naomi Watts become more and more like Nicole Kidman — brittle and icy, delivering technically “good” performances that remain at arm’s reach from performances that connect warmly with audiences?

2.  Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows

This is a somewhat outdated doc, since Vince McMahon and Bret Hart have made up, but still interesting and a great time capsule of late 90’s wrestling.  I’ve never gotten behind the idea of Hart as the victim of some heinous atrocity, especially since he was quitting WWF right away to become a millionaire someplace else (WCW).

3.  Humpday

I don’t think of myself as a big “mumblecore” fan, based on the things I’ve seen with that label (‘Mars,’ ‘Greenberg,’ ‘Silver Bullets,’ ‘Cyrus’), but if they were more like ‘Humpday,’ I would be.  I liked how natural all of the performances were (particularly Alycia Delmore), making a lot of the film feel real in the best possible way.

4.  I Am Comic

If you’re interested in stand-up comedy at all, this is a must.  Almost every major comedian is interviewed here, sharing their stories of struggle and triumph.  These (very entertaining) talking heads are intercut with the story of Ritch Shydner, once a recognizable headliner in the late 1980s, now attempting to come out of self-imposed retirement.

5.  Topsy-Turvy

I reviewed this one for Gordon and the Whale:  “It’s a lengthy journey, but not without reward. Anyone who’s had any experience in putting on a play can appreciate ‘Topsy-Turvy’s’ backstage politics and opening night jitters.”

The Five Worst Movies of My First 100 Tallied

1.  Night Train to Terror

God and Satan trade asinine stories to determine the fate of a train full of dancing teenagers.

2.  Mutant Hunt

In the future, an evil corporation turns cyborgs into mutants by pumping them full of illegal drugs.

3.  Rockula

A teen vampire becomes a rock star to save the girl he loves.

4.  R.O.T.O.R.

The prototype for a robotic cop (NOT pictured above) is accidentally activated before it’s ready, and stalks a young woman for speeding.

5.  Dracula 3000

Casper Van Dien, Coolio, Erika Eliniak, and Tony “Tiny” Lister Jr. fight Dracula on a spaceship.

>> Obligatory 2010 Year-End “Least Favorite” List!

Tracy Morgan in 'Cop Out'

“Worst” is arguable; “Least Favorite” is not. These are just the ones that I saw, that I ended up hating. I’m sure there were worse films this year than some of these, but I pity the individual who watched them.

7.  The Back-Up Plan

From my Cinematical review:

Poop is also not high on my list of things I want from a romantic comedy. I’ve certainly seen comedies that were more gross than The Back-Up Plan, and the real crime here is that for a gross-out comedy, The Back-Up Plan is still too sugar-sweet to back up its own vulgarity. Just showing me a pile of puke is not really its own joke, so why even show it? Is the mere concept that doo-doo exists enough to make me laugh? Hasn’t been for a very long time. The Back-Up Plan wants to be Knocked Upfor the chick flick set, but an argument could be made that Knocked Up was alreadythat movie for the chick flick set — it does star Katherine Heigl, after all. That leavesThe Back-Up Plan struggling for a reason to exist, and, no, the two-second shot of Lopez in a thong is not enough of a reason.

Read the full review here.

6.  Legion

From my Horror’s Not Dead review:

The first angel-possessed person appears as a kindly old granny before spitting out a couple of unexpected f-bombs and scampering up the ceiling like a bug in a lunatic scene that provides about ten seconds worth of consideration that the movie might actually be entertaining.  When that attack is followed by one from an ice cream man, I started to wonder if the film would continue presenting goody-goody archetypes one-after-the-other only to shock you with the revelation that they were indeed monsters in disguise.  I was right.  The next attack featured a pretty little girl with a sundress and a balloon.  The one after that had an adorable toddler with an Eight is Enough Adam Rich bowl cut.

Read the full review here.

5.  The Spy Next Door

From my Cinematical review:

I understand fully that kids aren’t the most discriminating audience in the world, but adults should still hold filmmakers responsible for some measure of quality in regard to family films. The Spy Next Door, brought to us by comedically tin-eared director Brian Levant (Snow DogsJingle All the Way), is just plain lazy on all levels. Not content to rummage through the garbage bins of the action-star-who-can’t-take-care-of-kids subgenre, searching for uninspired gags like one in which star Jackie Chan can’t cook oatmeal, it also raids the waste baskets for the discarded bits from international superspy kid flicks (a subgenre long stripped bare of any of its original charm after never-ending waves of Spy Kids imitators).

Read the full review here.

4.  From Paris With Love

Jonathan Rhys Meyers gives one of the worst performances of the year (as an American!) in this excruciatingly retarded action-comedy, which features John Travolta as one of cinema’s least believable badasses.  The action is clumsy and cheap, and a good chunk of the comedy centers around a giant vase filled with cocaine that the characters alternately spill and snort ala Cheech and Chong.

3.  Vampires Suck

From my Cinematical review:

I’m just about ready to declare parody as dead, unless someone can come along and save us from fad du jour junk like Vampires Suck. At the very least, we need a moratorium on Jersey Shore references and running gags about the Kardashians and, yes, even Ken Jeong. There are few things worse than watching a comedy flatline for over an hour, tossing its “funny parts” into a vacuum of uncomfortable silence. Vampires Suck is almost bad enough to make me pity the Twilight film series for being the subject of such limp, toothless mockery.

Read the full review here.

2.  Cop Out

Pick your battles, Kevin Smith.  I’m not sure why Smith will poke fun at himself when it comes to Jersey Girl, but staunchly defend the wretched Cop Out (which he didn’t even write).  Smith is his own worst enemy as an editor here, allowing weak improvisational scenes to play out longer than necessary, and strangling whatever comedic timing the film might have had with generally bad editing.  It’s supposed to be an homage to 80’s buddy cop films, but, in truth, it feels more like direct-to-video 90’s crap, only with bigger stars.  Smith has worked hard to ingratiate himself as “one of us” who happened to get lucky, which is why he may take the criticism toward Cop Out so personally.  If he thought of his fans as actual friends, then he just had hundreds (if not thousands) of his friends tell him his movie blows.

1.  Make-Out With Violence

It’s a pretentious, grueling long-form quasi-music video about vapid twentysomethings hiding the zombie (!) of a popular, recently deceased girl.  Hermetically sealed in its own brand of stupefying, indie quirk, there’s not a single film on this list that I wanted to end as much as Make-Out With Violence.  Mind-numbingly dull with twee hipster characters, all of the cast too old for their parts, Make-Out With Violence takes a completely different approach to material covered in Dead Girl (another one of my least favorites, from 2008) and comes away even more empty-handed.

>> In Defense of ‘Yogi Bear’

What exactly are your expectations when attending a live-action, feature-length Yogi Bear film?  Do you lower your head, resigned, as if to avoid a rainstorm of poop jokes and instantly dated stabs at pop culture relevancy?  This is because you already know the drill.  Cartoon adaptations are a slog.  The animation is weird — glass-eyed and lifeless.  Actual jokes are substituted for passe youth culture catch-phrases.  The human actors look pained, paired with an x on a stick as their acting partner, forever concerned with maintaining the correct line-of-sight while playing straight man to some creature that looks like the nightmare offspring of a live animal and a human being.

Animators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera probably never envisioned their bears, Yogi and Boo Boo, shaking their rumps to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back,” and on its surface, I can understand how this sounds like the same kind of embarrassing, inappropriate humor that worms its way into every subpar kids’ flick.  In most of these types of movies, this moment would indicate that somewhere along the way (probably a studio note from a 60-year old producer), it was decided that (faux) hipness should rear its head every now and then, both for the cool kids and their cool parents.  A song is selected, hopelessly past its novelty expiration date (usually because it’s cheap), almost always borderline vulgar (how many times now have we seen George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” used in talking animal films?), and cartoon characters will shake their ass and spout off some eye-roller like, “Cats rule and dogs drool!”

Here’s where Yogi Bear is different.  Yogi and Boo Boo make their plea to Ranger Smith to allow them to entertain Jellystone patrons with a musical act.  Yogi signals Boo Boo to press play on an ancient boombox, and the two bears dance around like rank amateurs for about ten seconds before Ranger Smith blows a gasket and stops the music.  Surprisingly, the gag works, and the reason it works is because Yogi Bear is never, ever, not one single time in the film, presented as hip.  He’s a square bear, ripped straight out of 1958 (back when he was very hip, what with his rhyming skills, skinny tie, and relaxed morality about theft) and transplanted directly into 2010.  The gag is not calculated to be cool, but embarrassing, and it is, so it works.

Did I roll in the aisle with laughter?  Never.  Did I smirk?  Yes, and that makes a world of difference with films like these.  As it stands, Yogi Bear is good-natured and silly, which is about all Yogi ever aspired to be as a television star.  The biggest surprise for me was that it wasn’t nearly as painful as the trailers indicated.  Tom Cavanagh (as Ranger Smith) might not be having any fun, but Anna Faris sure is.  So are comedians T.J. Miller and Andrew Daly.  And the one having the most fun of all, and delivering a career-best performance, is Justin Timberlake as Boo Boo, Yogi’s long-suffering confidant and gently nagging voice of reason.  It’s a startling, almost-souful take on the character.  There’s actual humanity in Boo Boo’s eyes, and when coupled with Timberlake’s amazing vocal impersonation of actor Don Messick, it creates one of those rare, fully CG characters that I actually found genuinely warm and believable.

Even as kids, most of us could tell the difference between the really good stuff and disposable entertainment.  At five, I knew that Raiders of the Lost Ark was better than Yogi’s Ark Lark, and I know that the latest Pixar movie is better than Yogi Bear.  Of course, there are a lot of family films out there that are better than Yogi Bear.  But there are also a lot of family films far, far worse than the gently goofy Yogi Bear.  That shouldn’t be misread as faint praise, but a reminder that not everything is calculated to be anything more than what you see right up there on the big screen.  Yogi Bear is disposable entertainment, but I’m so relieved they got the “entertainment” part right this time.