REVIEW: The Mist

Attention: American Moviegoing Public: You do not deserve great movies. You do not even deserve GOOD movies. Have you looked at a boxoffice listing lately? You should be ashamed of yourselves. Pure, freshly-prepared brilliance keeps getting laid out right in front of you (Grind ::cough:: House ::cough::) and you keep tripping all over one-another in a mad rush past it en-route to the bottom of the bell-curve. It’s enough to make any Film Geek worth his salt wonder if it’s even worth the continued effort at this point – after all, it wouldn’t seem that hard to simply make like the good guys in “Atlas Shrugged” and just cut our losses: Head off for some secluded self-made paradise, take all the unappreciated greatness of moviedom with us and just wait it out until Michael Bay, McG, Tyler Perry and the (depressing) majority that somehow finds them tolerable innevitably naturally-select themselves into oblivion.

But, since I don’t see John Galt hanging around anywhere yet, I suppose we’re still stuck with one another which means the usual routine is still in effect: Good movies continue to come out, and movie geeks do their part to TRY and alert the rest of the populace to them in the continued hope that they’ll turn decent business and get MORE good movies made. So on with it then: “The Mist” is a hundred times a better movie than a moviegoing public that just gave Michael Bay’s obliteration of the “Transformers” 300 million bucks deserves, but here it is anyway. Lucky you. Now go see it. Seriously. Go. NOW. Don’t finish reading this, because it might spoil parts of it for you. Just get to the damn theatre as soon as possible so you can say you did something worthwhile with your ten bucks for a change.

Minor but TONALLY-IMPORTANT Spoilers from here on. Go see THE BEST DAMN THEATRICAL AMERICAN HORROR MOVIE IN POSSIBLY A DECADE FIRST, then come back here and read it. You have been warned.

“The Mist,” both in it’s original form as a short story and a feature-length film, can be easily summed up as “Stephen King doing H.P. Lovecraft,” which calls to mind nothing so much as a large cast of tragically-flawed characters dodging otherworldly tentacle-flailing monsters somewhere in Maine. That’s essentially the case, but like all the best of Mr. King’s output it’s at once much MORE but never anything LESS than what it seems: Most bigger-scale entries of the horror genre can only ever manage to be either visceral crowd-pleasers or subdued intellectual exercises, but this Stephen King adaptation (from legendary “serious” King adaptor Frank Darabont) actually manages to carry-over it’s author’s signature knack for being both – it’s as good when it’s about societal microcosms breaking down under stress as it is when it’s about man-eating bugs and giant killer octopi; and it’s great when it’s about both.

The setting is another of King’s small Maine coastal towns, specifically it’s local supermarket. Following a freak storm, a pale, soup-thick mist engulfs everything in sight and shortly reveals itself to be a mere harbinger of bigger problems: An apparent legion of horrible monsters have come with it, using the inclement weather as cover. Soon enough, a cross-section of humanity is stuck in the market fending off the unexplainable threats outside; and it isn’t long before social decorum breaks down factions start to form. It boils down to a Disaster Movie, really, though one where the disaster is an assault by creatures of ever-increasing size and hostility.

The whole point of any disaster movie is to observe the actions of humanity as a whole under stress through a collection of individual examples, so the fact that the gaggle of Cthulu-chow-to-be that turns up here is largely the same that shows up for every cinematic disaster doesn’t so much indicate lack of overt-originality on the movie’s as it does lack of tremendous change on humanity’s part: When George Romero more-or-less originated this subgenre with “Night of The Living Dead,” an unpopular war was raging abroad while clashes of Civil Rights and Social Values were tearing the homefront apart. Today, well… you get the picture. Art reflects the world in which it’s created, so here we are once again with a diverse group of people trapped by the boogeymen and choosing up sides: The stubborn rationalists work their nerves raw denying the obvious, the cowardly and the easily-led turn to religious zeal and the level-headed problem-solvers try to keep themselves alive… and find a way out before the first two groups start getting everyone killed.

Thomas Jane has the Gene Hackman “Poseidon Adventure” role as the defacto leader of the “good guys,” a movie poster artist (in alarmingly athletic shape all things considered) who’s brought his son along. Andre Braugher has the “bah, monsters!? Nonsense! And let me walk out into the mist to prove it!” role… which come to think of it is the same part he had in the remake of “The Poseidon Adventure.” Heh. Marcia Gay-Harden has the showy part as Mrs. Carmody, the villian of the piece: An unstable holy-roller for whom the mist and it’s monsters MUST mean the End of Days – i.e. time for her to get about the business of saving the sinners… at knife-point, if necessary.

There’s been a bit of carping in the critical in regards to Mrs. Carmody as a character, or rather the film’s unsubtle implication that The Faithful can be a lot more hateful and deadly than even the creepiest-crawler. To those folks, I reccomend that they hit up Google and take a fresh look at that big freaking crater in the middle of Manhattan. Yeah, Carmody is a being of one-dimensional evil, a “human” entirely void of humanity thanks to their singular devotion to spiritual self-righteousness… and the world is crawling with them. What makes her scary is that she’s entirely recognizable – even if you don’t want to admit it. What makes her possibly the best Bad Guy of 2007 is that Harden pulls it off.

Aside from telling you the important stuff – that the movie is slam-bang terrific, that the monsters are legendarily cool, that the gore is sublime, that it’s scary-as-hell, that it offers one of the most expertly-cathartic “hell yeah!” moments of the year, that it’s the best (scary) Stephen King adaptation since “The Shining,” that it’s going to kick your ass like almost no theatrically-released American movie has been willing to kick your ass in a looooong time – you’re not gonna get much more out of me. There’s a lot of surprises to be had here that I wouldn’t dream of spoiling… including The Big One. Just please trust me that “The Mist” is boasting what will likely become one of the most talked-about endings in horror movie history and you owe it to yourself to see it the right way before some jerkoff ruins it for you.

This is the best horror film to run in theatres in decades, the best horror movie PERIOD of 2007 and (after “Gone Baby Gone”) the #2 Best Movie of The Year. It’s playing near you, it’s damn-near-perfect, and when you see it on HBO later you’re going to wish you’d made it in theaters. You NEED to see “The Mist.”


REVIEW: Hitman (2007)

Oddly enough, a bad movie like “Hitman” is the kind of bad movie that depresses me the most. It’s tough being a ceaseless advocate for the high ideal that ANY material can make for a good movie when the material most-often cited as evidence against that keeps getting made into picture-perfect circumstantial rebuttals: How can you defend making video games into movies when this continues to be the result? And let’s not even get started on how one is supposed to justify basing movies off toy-lines after “Transformers.”

The problem with 95% of movies based on games is, frankly, that they keep filmming the wrong games. There’s original material out there in the medium, but there’s also a ton of derrivative regurgitation… and adding to that, most of it’s derivation comes FROM movies to begin with. It’s not hard to imagine making something worthwhile out of originality-excreting franchises like Mario, Metroid, Ninja Gaiden or a less-than-half-original like “Halo.” But “Hitman,” while not a “bad” run of games in it’s own right, sits in the same boat as “Grand Theft Auto“: They’re basically un-official knockoffs of popular movie and TV cliches. Making a movie out of them is pointless, a copy of a copy.

The lead here is Timothy Olyphant, sporting a shaved head and a not-conspicuous-at-all UPC barcode tattoo (ooooh, what a poignant visual statement… that was in “Soldier” ten fucking years ago) as “Agent 47,” one of an apparently limitless number of nameless super-hitmen working for a shadowy secret organization. During his latest assignment, the asassination of the new Russian president (“Political stance: Moderate,” 47’s hillariously-precise mission directives helpfully inform us,) he finds himself set up for a fall. He must track down and protect the only witness who can help him sort out the conspiracy (a clingy, sarcastic and overly-affectionate Russian prostitute. You’re shocked, I can tell), set things right and battle his fellow bald n’ barcoded teammates.

The action scenes aren’t interesting, Olyphant either looks confused or ridiculous in his hitman getup (imagine an inexplicably tall newborn wearing a cheezy suit,) and the wannabe-labyrinthine conspiracy plot doesn’t make a lick of sense. At least “Shoot ‘Em Up” had a certain amount of invention going for it, this is just a generic waste of time.

REVIEW: No Country For Old Men

What sets the Coen Brothers apart from not only other indie-scene mainstays but most other modern American filmmakers is – apart from the astonishing surplus and consistency of talent – that their BEING American filmmakers is unmistakable… In an age of pan-globalization where the whole notion of a “national cinema” is fading away from country after country, where Toronto, Manhattan and Prauge routinely stand-in for one another on the basis of “eh, one downtown looks enough like another; Joel and Ethan Coen stand out from the pack by focusing a great deal of their attention and affection on the unique vibe and atmosphere of their own native soil.

It’s this “homespun” grounding, I’d posit, that’s responsible for so much of their frequent mainstream-crossover appeal: Offbeat, unconventional, strange or even just plain DARK works aren’t often going to have great “legs” outside of the arthouse scene… but when it’s playing out in familiar settings realized with unparalelled authenticity, suddenly it’s not quite so impenetrable. “No Country For Old Men,” taken from a novel by Cormac McCarthy, has a lot of the same pitch-black story beats and catharsis-denying ambiguity that many audiences would find alienatingly, well… alien in the heady Euro/arthouse sources they more often occur in; but offer the relatability of a genuine-feeling Southwestern backdrop as a recognizable point of entry.

Here’s a movie that starts out looking like a modern-day western, then begins to look like a caper flick before eventually revealing itself to be a kind of Monster Movie… though one where the rampaging, nigh-superhuman creature is technically human: Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is a psychopath killer-for-hire who does his duty with a nasty slaughterhouse air-gun, suppressed-shotgun and a Sir Lancelot haircut that seems more like a dare than a stylistic decision on his part. He’s been hired to run-down Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) a resourceful Southwestern everyman who’s 2 Million dollars wealthier after stumbling onto the remnants of a drug-deal-gone-bad shootout involving the asassin’s employers. Chigurh’s methodology, such as it is, is to go everywhere that Moss has been or might be going and do massive amounts of damage to people and property just to let his quarry know what’s waiting for him. Some tangential storylines involving a world-weary sherrif (Tommy Lee Jones) and a criminal middle-man (Woody Harrelson) fill-out some of the more specific plot points, but this mainly boils to a two-man chase flick.

This being a Coen Brothers movie and, on top of that, something of a thriller, there’s not much more that can be said without venturing into spoiler territory. Suffice it to say, it’s a fine piece of work with a great mood and a killer cast; with Jones especially doing the same kind of great work he did in “In The Valley of Elah” but now in-service of a superior film. And Bardem, as you’ve heard, is one of the all-time 2007 bad guys as Chigurh. Go see it before people spoil the surprise parts for you.


REVIEW: Beowulf (2007)

Hear me, professors of English Literature and other assorted Classicists who (for some reason) may be part of my readership: The liberties taken and themes revised by this new reworking of the Olde English epic of record have a high probability of making some of you bang your heads against the wall. However, you should get that done with quickly and cheer up – not just because, revisionism and all, it’s a DAMN good little picture; but for the added bonus that you will never, ever have to spend an entire class period JUST on how to properly pronounce these characters’ names.

Robert Zemeckis’ “Beowulf” is a collision of two absolute extremes: A story so literally older-than-dirt it was probably already old when it was written down in the Olde English manuscripts it was first rediscovered in centuries ago… rendered for the screen using a technology so NEW it practically arrives onscreen still moist with it’s own afterbirth. Most major advancements in the art and technology of filmmaking are first glimpsed AFTER the rougher, experimental spots of it’s evolution have already occured, but not so “Beowulf;” we meet it at the water’s edge as it drags itself up from the Primordial Sea and watch as it struggles – and finally succeeds – with breathing oxygen.

Zemeckis has been evangelizing both the return of 3D movies and the use of actor-assisted “motion capture” computer animation for years now, and fired the first salvo with his well-intentioned but colossally misfired “Polar Express.” The techology – a CGI cousin to the ancient technique of “rotoscoping” which involves hooking live actors up to computers to translate their body and facial movements to their photo-realistic ‘cartoon’ counterparts – has gotten yards better, certainly, but the more vital component is that this time he’s working from a script worth filmming regardless of the style: A complex, brawny, bawdy, action-heavy and darkly-humorous retelling of the familiar Epic Poem from Roger Avary and Neil Gaiman.

They’ve kept the important parts: With the Dark Ages in full swing, the Dane subjects of King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) are under seige by Grendel (Crispin Glover) a marauding, man-eating troll who is driven to fits of rage by the Danes’ penchant for nighttime merriment. From across the sea comes a platoon of Geats (Swedes, basically) under the command of Beowulf, (Ray Winstone,) a boastful warrior of legendary strength and bravery who vows to slay the monster and soon finds himself also contending with the creature’s much more-powerful mother (Angelina Jolie.) In this telling, that’s just the beginning of the proud hero’s problems…

The tone of all this is roughly equivalent to “300,” another deliberate re-dressing of The Heroic Ideal into modern-day WWE machismo, but this time around the screenplay adds a healthy degree of introspection, cynicism and depth that becomes a unifying theme: Beowulf may be a walking legend, but he’s a braggart and bullshit artist of the highest order who never misses an opportunity to exaggerate his own feats and abilities – a mighty task in and of itself, since he’s already strong enough to beat a monster twice his size to death with his bare hands naked in reality. He does his strutting not among a stoic lineup of good and Godly medieval lords but rather two nations of hard-drinking, hard-partying, harder-fighting dark age pagans who at their best moments resemble nothing so much as a fraternity of old-school Hells Angels. The Spartans may have known how to die, but clearly the Geats have the market cornered on how to live.

Avary and Gaiman’s script is so good, giving these ancient characters a much more cinematic level of depth and relatability and finally solving the issue of how to tell the whole story (yes, the Third Monster is in here) in a way that’s both dramatically-connected and workable within a traditional three-act structure, that it’s kind of unfortunate that it’s admirable qualities are destined to be overlooked (at least for now) in favor of the startlingly odd but effective manner in which the film is rendered visually: A starkly realistic medieval world is here created, and populated by characters who’s physical appearance exists in some neutral space between cartoon characters and photo-real human beings.

Adding to the slight eeriness of this effect is the decision to have some characters resemble their actor dopplegangers with alarming familiarity: Hrothgar really does look like a frightfully out of shape Hopkins, while John Malkovich’s syconphantic (and yet sympathetic) Unferth looks like… well, John Malkovich with a weirdly enlarged head. And while Grendel’s Mother is in this version a shape-shifting demon sorceress, she spends most of the film looking exactly like an all-but stark-naked Angelina Jolie because, well… what the hell are you going to “improve” there? Give credit where it’s due: Rebuilding a digital replica of Angelina Jolie to prove your prowess at animating the human form is a bit like trying to prove your ability as a painter by creating an exact duplicate of the Mona Lisa; and they basically succeed – dubious distinction or not, this is the most deliberately sexy (nominally) animated character to grace a mainstream movie screen since Jessica Rabbit.

The smart script and entrancing visuals make this a great movie, but if you can see it in 3D you’ll get the added fun of a rollicking “ride” as well: The process is best for creating depth of field and giving a greater sense of scope and movement to the kinetic, brawling fight scenes; but Zemeckis knows his book of tricks and keeps a steady stream of classically lowbrow 3D touchstones flying (literally) in our faces: Yeah, arrows whiz by our heads and spearheads come right up to our eyes, but also be prepared to be “splashed” by torrents of spilled demon blood, feiry explosions and even an extended moment of heaving 3D cleavage. Clothes drop, eyeballs explode, skin shreds, bosoms bounce, muscles ripple and blood gushes… it’s probably the most violent, ribald PG-13 movie ever made, and every drop of it is coming right at you.

A great looking movie with a smart script and unique vibe all it’s own. Mature-themed animation has struggled to find an audience in America, and “Beowulf” is so good it could very well be the project that finally turns it into a viable genre. This is one of those moments when filmmaking as an industry and as an art form takes a step toward the future, folks, and you really ought to see it.



“P2,” an above-average and wholly watchable stalker thriller, comes to us as the debut directing effort of Franck Khalfoun. And while Mr. Khalfoun arrives as a worthy wringer-of-suspense from a cleverly-minimalist setup the name that’s put the film on the “horror” radar (and it is, finally, a horror movie even as it’s also a traditional thriller) is that of his writing and producing collaborator Alexandre Aja – the Mad Frenchman who’s “Haute (High) Tension” and “The Hills Have Eyes” have already made him a one-of-a-kind creature of cinema: The premier French creator of American-style horror. “P2” isn’t the most interesting thing he’s ever been attached to (that’d be “Tension”) or the most entertaining (“Hills”) but it IS the most consistent and solid as an overall film. Funny how that works out.

But enough about him, at least until “Pirhana” (yay!) comes out. This is Khalfoun’s show, and it’s a come-out-of-nowhere mini-gem. That means we’ve got us a New Face on the horror scene, kids: so get attentive. Here he’s got two lead actors for 90% of the movie, a not-on-it’s-face terrifying location and a play-on-basic-fears hook for a premise to work with… and that’s it. From this, he delivers a finished film which (while probably not a classic) has more than enough right with it and nothing especially wrong with it. David Slade had the same kinds of tools and the same kinds of results with last year’s “Hard Candy” and went on to helm THIS year’s most-excellent “30 Days of Night,” for comparison. Bottom line: This is what first-time mid-scale genre entries are supposed to be like, at their best. No small feat.

The premise: A young businesswoman is trapped in an otherwise-deserted underground parking garage by her stalker – a psychotic security guard who by virtue of his job controls all the utilities, cameras, exits and keys. It’s Christmas Eve, meaning the office above them and the Manhattan streets around them are equally empty; and there’s no telling exactly what this creep ultimately plans to do or when he ultimately plans to do it. That’s it.

Wes Bentley, aka “Guy From American Beauty,” aka Jake Gyllenhaal version 1.0, is the stalker. Bentley has by now perfected an effortless-seeming air of unassuming menace – we never quite find out exactly what’s “really” wrong with this guy; but he creates a definitive persona that while enigmatic always seems to be acting “in-character”… whatever it is. It’s pretty clear, for example, that he suffers no delusion that his “all-powerful” stature in the situation is a momentary illusion of circumstance and posession of a few key items, but whether this makes him less or more dangerous is less readily discerned.

The female lead is Rachel Nichols, a model/actress whom you may remember from smaller roles in “Shopgirl” and “Alias” as “The One With The Astonishing Breasts.” Yeah, roll your eyes. Look, I don’t want to sound crude – but you gotta report on what you saw: Nichols is a fine young actress who demonstrates a real range here, (a scene involving a coerced phonecall is a real above-and-beyond moment,) with big expressive eyes and sweet-natured ‘good girl’ demeanor perfect for the genre; yes, absolutely. BUT go see the movie and then tell me what kept her on your mind immediately afterwards. She’s a stunner, is the thing, and has a natural ability for stalking through cavernous shadows in nothing but a nightie and a generous splatter of stage-blood that indicates a potential Scream Queen in the making.

Factor in the genuinely eerie vibe the film elicits from the garage locale, a well-staged and inventive elevator sequence and a pair of well-played “money shot” kills and you’re looking at a real winner of a genre pic: Creepy, scary and overall a good bit of fun. Reccomended.


REVIEW: American Gangster

Minor Spoilers, the movie however IS based on real events.

Hey, look! An R-rated hit? What the hell happened? Well, turns out you CAN talk an audience into an intelligent, worthwhile film after all… providing, of course, that you’ve got huge stars, a huge director, a reliable genre and most-importantly NOTHING to do whatsoever with anything current: Mr. & Mrs. America are, demonstrably, ignoring Iraq, terrorism etc. for free at home, so why expect that they PAY to ignore it in theatres?

Sorry, sorry. Rant. And unfair to “American Gangster,” which really is an excellent film that you should see right away. Just already profoundly sick of the current meme that the welcome and incredibly pleasing success of “Gangster” is some kind of concrete confirmation of the idea that Da Folks’ ignoring of the fall Adult Dramas so far was based on some noteworthy political reaction to “the liberal media” as opposed to the usual Ostrich Impersonation. Give me a break. Yes, good, an Oscar-worthy crime epic from Ridley Scott throttled a Dreamworks Animation celebrity-voiced family-movie cash-in, fantastic news – but, sorry, this hardly absolves The American Filmgoer for “Transformers.” Broken clocks and all that. Good first step, though. No question. But y’wanna really impress me? Let’s see this kind of turnout for “No Country For Old Men” this weekend (OVER “Fred Claus”) or “Beowulf” the week after that. THEN we might have something here.

Deep breath.

Okay, so then, to “American Gangster.” Let’s be brutally honest, people: Ridley Scott directing Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe in an epic biopic about the rise and fall of a 1970s Harlem drug kingpin (Washington) and the no-nonsense cop out to catch him (Crowe.) Was there ever really a question of whether or not this would be any good… or was it merely a question of HOW good? Would it be “Goodfellas” perfection or “The Departed” great? High expectations can be a killer, but this time you can rest easy: It’s very, very good.

Ridley Scott is one of those directors, along with Peter Weir, James Cameron and others, who frequently excells at the often difficult task of making genuine artistic achievements out of “guy movies:” Taking subject matter (gladiators, soldiers, sailors, gangsters, cowboys, etc.) that can and usually does get by just on testosterone and blunt-force bravado (looking at YOU, “300”) and infusing it with actual intellect and gravitas. Got a “man’s man” in your life? Chances are Ridley Scott directed one of his favorite movies.

Speaking of which, got a guy in your life who’s DEVOTED to hard-bitten crime movies (i.e. he owns one or more pieces of merchandise related to “Godfather,” “Goodfellas,” “Scarface” etc that’s NOT a copy of the movie itself)? Say hello to his new favorite movie for at least the next year. This is going to be a big, big, sustained hit – and even bigger on DVD. Within two years, rappers will be acting out scenes from it in videos, and probably within one wannabe “gangstas” will be dressing like Washington’s Frank Lucas as THE new “urban trend.” Trust me on that.

The clothes, y’see, are a vitally important part of Lucas’ character and his operation: Formerly the driver and confidant to legendary Harlem crime kingpin Bumpy Johnson (himself the subject of the under-appreciated “Hoodlum” years ago,) Lucas calculates that he can work more successfully and more securely than any other Harlem boss before him by acting more like a businessman than a crook. So he eschews the flashy clothes and jewelry of other black gangsters (“that’s a big sign that says ‘ARREST ME!,'” he tells an underling) and takes a basic capitalist approach to his goal of wresting control of Harlem’s heroin trade from the Italian mob; traveling directly to Vietnam to score pure “Blue Magic” powder from the source and smuggling it back under cover of the U.S. Army. He moves his extended family, mother and all, up from South Carolina to join the team in a sprawling New Jersey manor, marries a Puerto Rican beauty queen and – for awhile there – manages to dominate the entire game (even the mafia!) so unassumingly that it isn’t until he turns up with good seats and a chinchilla coat (the wife’s idea) at a Muhammed Ali fight that the special police task force investigating HIS operation even knows he exists at all.

Leading that task force is Richie Roberts, (Crowe) a cop who’d rather be a lawyer who takes up running the special squad when his unflappable honesty (he found a million dollars unmarked in a suspects car and turned it in) makes him a pariah in the ultra-corrupt department. As it happens, in fact, the dirty cops are more the villians of the piece than Lucas is – in particular a New York alpha male detective (Josh Brolin) determined to make sure Lucas knows his place and rough Roberts up enough so that that place remains unthreatened.

It’s not so much that the film breaks a lot of new ground (it doesn’t) as it is that it works the genre and these new players IN it exceedingly well: We’ve seen Washington’s slick no-nonsense hardcase before, just as we’ve seen class-act gangsters like Frank Lucas before – we’ve just never seen them worked into the same organism, and the result is dynamite. Likewise, Crowe’s honest-to-a-fault Richie Roberts owes a lot to Crowe’s honest-to-a-fault Jim Braddock (the “Cinderella Man”) – and it’s doubly interesting how much sense this style from this actor makes transplanted into a schlubby 1970s street-cop archetype. See also: Just when you think the “montage of criminal process set to iconic period music” bit has been done and redone to oblivion, here’s Ridley Scott and company to prove you wrong with a bravura stunner to the tune of “Across 110th Street.”

It also has to be noted, for whatever it’s worth, that while this isn’t the first film to try and create – for lack of a better word, “the Black Godfather” (this would include the film actually CALLED “The Black Godfather”) it IS probably the first one to genuinely succeed: Frank Lucas emerges instantly as one of the all-time Hollywood gangsters, black or otherwise. For better or worse, he’s an American original – and the film’s repeating theme of his remarkable capitalist instincts are already reverberating into the real world: Still alive, (though confined to a wheelchair,) and not prohibited from profiting from his criminal history since he was convicted before the “Son of Sam Laws” were passed, the real Frank Lucas is to launch – what else? – a “gangster” clothing line. American Gangster, indeed.


REVIEW: Bee Movie

As it turns out, not even Jerry Seinfeld is immune to the “Seinfeld Curse,” i.e. the innevitability of an embarassing but non-fatal career stumble following the end of his titular sitcom. It’s just that the other three regulars had their moments right afterwards, while Jerry himself has waited until right now – “Bee Movie” is a dud. Generic-looking, middling and only occasionally funny on purpose, it’s the sort of bland animated fare that would barely be passable debuting as a Sunday Afternoon time-waster on Cartoon Network; so exactly WHAT it think it’s doing as the capper to a year’s worth of elaborate, stunt-driven marketing hype is anybody’s guess.

The overriding flaw, oddly, is something that more-than-often winds up as a benefit for films like these and STILL gives this one it’s only notes of real interest: A total lack of direction or consistent tone. It’s all over the map, an episodic collection of ideas that all seem to come from entirely different variations on the main story: It strains for the absurd anarchy of the Looney Toons or the pop-culture referentiality of “Shrek” in some spots, while in others it reaches for the schmaltzy melodrama of old-school Disney or the philosophical maturity of Pixar – it never finds a singular unifying beat to groove to on it’s own. As such, only the overly-complicated storyline keeps it from drifting off into heights of unhinged insanity like those of “Aqua Teen Hunger Force”… except not funny.

The story, by the way, concerns Seinfeld as Barry B. Benson; a Central Park honey bee who’s feeling apprehensive about starting his culturally-mandated lifetime employment as a honey-maker. He’s sure there are bigger things waiting for him outside the hive, so he hitches a ride-along with the Pollen Jocks (here seen as the bee equivalent of macho Air Force studs) and winds up lost in New York City. It’s there he’s rescued by – and instantly smitten-with – a lovely young florist named Vanessa Bloome, (Renee Zellweger,) who so entrances Barry that he practically falls all over himself in a rush to break Bee Law #1: Don’t let humans know bees can talk. Zellweger, it must be said, rescues what there is to rescue in the film by virtue of being the only well-realized, enjoyable character: The animation and vocal-performance (at the proper tone, Zellweger’s voice is one of the sexiest in the business) work in subtle ways to let us know that, while a sweet and intelligent creature in her own right, Vanessa is just this side of crazy. Crazy enough, at least, that she segues rapidly from accepting that a bee can talk to entering into a (chaste, one assumes) romantic relationship with said bee.

It’s through hanging around with Vanessa that Barry learns what (to him) is a Shocking Truth of “Soylent Green” proportions: That humans harvest bee honey by force and profit from it (A brand of “Select Label” honey’s celebrity endorser provides the film’s single funniest joke.) After a visit to a honey farm which looks uncomfortably (and not in the way they probably intended) like a concentration camp, Barry decides to sue humankind for equal rights on behalf of the bee community. Yes, really. And for a moment there, it looks as though the film is going to take off to the wacky heights of “Aqua Teen” or even vintage “Bullwinkle”… except that it doesn’t get any funnier. In the midst of all this, it still finds time to beat every bee pun in the book into the ground, trot out a smattering of unfunny celebrity cameos and completely waste the great Patrick Warburton.

It’s just not very good, is the problem.