EPIC MOVIE (2007) / Comedy-Fantasy

Running Length: 85 minutes
MPAA Classification: PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, language, and some comic violence.

Cast: Kal Penn, Jayma Mays, Adam Campbell, Faune Chambers, Jennifer Coolidge, Darrell Hammond, Fred Willard, Crispin Glover
Directors: Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer
Producer: Paul Schiff
Screenplay: Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer

Watching Epic Movie is a lot like having someone repeatedly hit you over the head with a frying pan whilst telling the same unfunny joke over and over and over again. Calling it a ‘movie’ would be a gross exaggeration; it’s more or less a series of crude, overlong skits strung together by a repertoire of gags that work less than zero percent of the time. Seriously, you’d find more entertainment value in a colonoscopy.

For the most part, parodies stopped being funny after the release of Scary Movie in 2000, which wasn’t a great movie, but there were enough laughs in it to satisfy the average movie-goer, and in the end, it got the job done. Since then, there have been nothing but misfires, and a majority of them – if not all of them – have come from the trashy film making duo of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. Epic Movie may just be their worst outing to date.

The plot is comprised of events from a multitude of films, but the two most notable are Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Our heroes (if they can be called that) are Lucy (Jayma Mays), Edward (Kal Penn), Susan (Faune Chambers), and Peter (Adam Campbell), who all happen across “golden tickets” inviting them to Willy’s Chocolate Factory. Upon their arrival, they realize that not a whole lot is right about the mysterious factory – (it deals with a certain ‘special ingredient’, if that’s of any help) – and the four end up escaping by means of a wardrobe, which leads them to Gnarnia. (Oh my God, do you get it? It’s a silent ‘G’! Haha!) There, the White Bitch (Haha!) is threatening to take over all of the land, and it’s up to the four of them to help the innocent fight back.

To be as blunt as possible, Epic Movie is a malefic, contemptible piece of garbage that’s an attack on all five of the senses and a kick in the balls. If there’s anything worse than an unfunny comedy, it’s an unfunny comedy that thinks it’s hilarious, and this is a perfect example. It’s absolutely shocking how consistently unfunny this thing is. Joke after joke misses, and though a large part of it may be due to the fact that the actors are horrendous, the majority of it stems from Friedberg and Seltzer’s lack of talent.

Besides the fact that it’s disgusting, despicable, and overtly laugh-free, my biggest problem with Epic Movie is the reason for its conception. The sole reason that it exists is to inflict upon its audience as much crudeness and raunchiness that its PG-13 rating will allow. That’s it. The goal here is not to provide a worthwhile movie-going experience, but rather an experience that will leave you sprinting towards the nearest shower and/or confessional after it’s over. There is not an inch of talent in front or behind the camera, and that’s still not even the most horrific part. How a studio saw anything in this is absolutely beyond me, so, for those of you that would like to know, Epic Movie was financed and distributed by Regency Enterprises. I’ll repeat that name again. Regency Enterprises.

There is such thing as a ‘watchable’ dumb movie, but Epic Movie threatens to cause brain damage. Friedberg and Seltzer, I hope the measly amount of money you make from these ventures is worth having the rest of the world despise you.

Final rating: no stars (out of ★★★★)

© 2011 Stephen Earnest


BRICK (2005) / Crime-Drama

Running Length: 109 minutes
MPAA Classification: R for violent and drug content.

Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nora Zehetner, Noah Fleiss, Matt O-Leary, Lukas Haas, Brian J. White, Richard Roundtree
Director: Rian Johnson
Producers: Ram Bergman, Mark G. Mathis
Screenplay: Rian Johnson

At first glance, Brick is some kind of subtle masterpiece. It’s essentially a film noir set in present-day California suburbia. The plot, characters, and dialogue come straight from the pages of a Raymond Chandler novel. Except the characters have been replaced by teenagers. And most of the action takes place around a high school. Everything else remains the same.Oh golly, parents are going to have start paying more attention to what their kids do. It’s amazing what teenagers can get away with in Rian Johnson’s neo-noir debut, Brick.

Our lone hero is Brendan Frye (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, (500) Days of Summer), filling the shoes of the Bogart character. Brendan is out of place at school. He doesn’t sit with the popular people at lunch and spends most of his time by himself, and at the beginning of Brick, he’s staring at his dead ex-girlfriend, lying in a storm drain. This launches Brick into a hardboiled detective story, with Brendan playing detective. He wanders the streets — or halls — looking for information on his dead ex. Gordon-Levitt is sturdy in the role. He’s a real charmer, doing what is necessary to keep your eyes on him at all times. Like Bogart, he comes close to danger countless times, slapping around a stoner, fighting with the schools biggest jock, and coming within inches of being run over.

Rian Johnson holds nothing back. He never slips up or falters once with the whole “noir” feel, even though you’ll doubt the likelihood of any of these events ever occurring at a high school. He keeps everything serious. Yes, even when the most bad-ass drug dealer on the block lives with his mom. There’s a couple of times when the story will lose you and go just outside the realm of possibility, but then Johnson will reel you right back in. He’s one of the more promising new film makers in recent years, showing a fresh and original visual style.

Now, you can’t deny the talent involved here. The score evokes memories of classic film noir. The cinematography is exuberant and kinetic. A lot of the time it practically puts you in Brendan’s shoes. There’s just so much style and originality here that you’ll actually find yourself wanting to like it more than you actually do. Regardless, it’s still great.

Final rating: ★★★ (out of ★★★★)

© 2011 Stephen Earnest

BLUE VELVET (1986) / Crime-Thriller

U.S. Release Date: September 19, 1986
Running Time: 120 minutes

MPAA Classification: R for abberant sexuality, nudity, some strong violent content, and language throughout.
Cast: Kyle MacLachlan, Laura Dern, Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper, Hope Lange, George Dickerson, Dean Stockwell
Director: David Lynch
Producer: Fred Caruso
Screenplay: David Lynch

With Blue Velvet, David Lynch presents to us his most mainstream story yet. The plot is coherent enough to make it appealing to the masses, but there is still enough of that typical “Lynchian” behavior to make it disturbing and eccentric. There is some humor in it, but only those with the darkest sense will laugh.

The hero of our story is Jeffrey Beaumont (MacLachlan, “Twin Peaks”), a college kid back home from break and visiting his hospitalized father, who recently suffered a stroke. Lumberton, the city in which Jeffrey grew up, is the ideal American city. The neighborhoods are identical and are filled with cookie-cutter houses, white picket fences, and perfectly manicured lawns. One day, on the way home from the hospital, Jeffrey cuts through an abandoned lot and finds a nearly decomposed ear hidden in the field. Curious, he brings it to the police station and Detective Williams (George Dickerson) says that he’ll take a look at it.

Eventually, Jeffrey meets Williams’ daughter, Sandy (Laura Dern), who tells him about the case. Apparently, the severed ear has something to do with a nightclub singer named Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), who happens to live not very far from Jeffrey’s house. Becoming increasingly curious, he decides to do a little investigating of his own.

Jeffrey begins to have a secret affair with Vallens, but soon learns that she is a masochist as well and gets off on being raped and abused. During their first sexual encounter, she begs for him to hit her, but he is unwilling to. Eventually, Jeffrey obligatorily gives into her demands and, as the film progresses, is led into a world of which he does not know or understand.What Jeffrey learns is that Vallens is involved in a sadomasochistic relationship with an abusive psychopath named Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper). Booth is responsible for kidnapping Vallens’ husband and son and is holding both of them hostage. In order to keep them safe, Vallens must put up with Booth’s both brutal and sexually violent nature.

In using elements of film noir and surrealism, Lynch makes Blue Velvet all the more eerie and hallucinogenic, giving it an atmosphere that truly defines the term “Lynchian.” Most people will find Blue Velvet hard to watch. That’s not hard to believe; it features some of the most depraved and disturbing scenes in cinematic history. Lynch shows the viewer a harsher look at life, a darker side. Most of the time, the nature of the content is more graphic than the content itself.

But there is more to Blue Velvet than it seems. At the beginning, images of the “American Dream” flash across the screen: sunny skies, friendly faces, and bright green grass. But underneath the grass are bugs. Beneath every innocent exterior is a deeper and uglier secret. Such is the secret that Jeffrey comes to discover. When Sandy explains her dream to Jeffrey, she says that when the robins come, so does all of the good. And at the end, when the robin does finally come, clenched in its beak is an ugly, stinking bug.

While there a couple of standout performances, the one from Dennis Hopper stands out the farthest. MacLachlan brings a sort of innocence and boyish charm to his character, so naturally, his character is easier to identify with as he makes the downward spiral. Laura Dern plays the preppy, all-American girl, oblivious to the evils of mankind. Isabella Rossellini probably has the most challenging character to play. Most of her scenes involve self-depravity and humiliation. There’s even a scene that has her stumbling around completely naked, bruised and battered. But Hopper as the foul-mouthed and drug-addled psychopath Frank Booth is one of most terrifying performances I’ve yet seen. He’s like a volcano that’s ready to burst at any second but never does. It’s the kind of psychotic behavior that puts you on edge, always wondering when he’ll finally snap.

There’s a good chance that you won’t be able to comprehend much of Blue Velvet upon a first watch. (I sure didn’t.) It requires a couple viewings to fully grasp the film’s meaning and understand the symbolism that Lynch so heavily incorporates. While I won’t necessarily deem Blue Velvet a “masterpiece”, it is a fine work of cinematic ingenuity and the most impressive film that Lynch has offered to date.

Final rating: ★★★ 1/2 (out of ★★★★)

© 2010 Stephen Earnest