Last week I took a daring trip into the unknown, facing two potentially unbearable pieces of cinematic dreck, films jettisoned by their studios into the faces of filmgoers everywhere, too mainstream and seemingly formulaic to earn the respect of the intellectual elite, with perhaps too broad a focus to attract the eye of even the dumbest redneck searching for the next popcorn-muncher to bide the time between giant robot splatterfests.  I’m talking about the two movies you failed to see this past weekend, Date Night and A Nightmare On Elm Street.  In a single sitting, I stomached both of these cinematic monstrosities, wrapped my brain (and palpable ego) around them, and have returned with the knowledge of their respective quality.  Why is this such a big deal?  Because I found both films to be so surprising that their reviewership could only be handled by one massive double-review double-feature entitled:


(The FIRST, and preferably last, INSTALLMENT)

And away we go.

Review the First: Date Night

It should be assumed that the comedic coupling of Tina Fey and Steve Carrell will produce laughs, but based on the cinematic offerings of either thusfar, the pickings for genuine humor are slim.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m as big a Mean Girls or Anchorman fan as anyone, but by the same token, you wouldn’t expect me to grab my Baby Mama or Evan Almighty blu-rays when company arrives for movie night.  Both Fey and Carrell have proven in their television careers that they are capable actors and writers with an innate sense of comedic improvisation.  Oftentimes their performances are so subtle and character-based that their laughs get handed off to bigger, broader performers, the Tracy Jordans and Dwight Schrutes of the world.  As a comedic improviser, writer and performer myself, I cannot help but applaud their commitment to character in the face of  cheesier choices towards easier laughs.  It’s the sort of comedic determination that separates the Carlos Mencias from the Sacha Baron Cohens, the difference between a placating purveyor of fart-jokes and a comedian committed to performing in the skin of a different human being, choosing the reality of the character’s universe over the potential for easy one-liners.  That is not to say that Ali G was free of fart-jokes or that Dwight K. Schrute is anything less than the finest partially-improvised character currently on television.  In order to be the primary or focal character in a comedy series of the modern era, a Leslie Knope or a Michael Bluth, the parameters and regulations of the character’s personal philosophy dictate his potentiality for obtaining laughs, and not the other way around.  Sound overly scientific?  It’s my opinion- and the opinion of this Board of Study- that comedy is equally as scientific, if not moreso than drama.  The building of tension in drama is more of an art form than most methods of expression, but the precision necessary to sustain laughter and accentuate the humorous in a comedic situation is much akin to the construction and deconstruction of chemical compounds.  And I say this not just as a humble blogger of thoughts, but also as a big fan of technical jargon that Walt might use to analogize on Breaking Bad.

All that psychobabble notwithstanding, Date Night is a shockingly likable comedic effort from a cast of characters who probably should be granted free reign to work together and improvise with each other in front of cameras for the next few decades.  Like it’s buddy cop movie roots (yes, that’s right, I did not say rom-com) Date Night works best when its central characters are playing with each other to the point where you can see the authentic smiles of the actors underneath, like those moments in Midnight Run when through sheer irritation it seems like Charles Grodin has actually gotten through Robert DeNiro’s shell to his core on a human-to-human level.  There are brief glimpses of actual attraction and romantic chemistry onboard in Date Night, but they are usually too far-flung or fleeting to underscore the movie with any real heart.  Those looking for a movie packed with equal parts comedy and romance will be surely disappointed, but those looking to be surprised by a scene in which two cars fuse together in a wholly illogical but mostly enjoyable display of movie-physics are in for a delightful ride.  I happen to like the sensible yet mainstream tone of this picture, and I think the person(s) in charge of casting this movie should be commended for their efforts.  All of the bit players in Date Night get moments to shine (some far too often in Marky Mark’s case) but the whole thing does revolve around a simple mistaken identity premise, so don’t expect much in way of story beyond “we’ve gotta get to the next set piece!”

There’s an authentic charm to Date Night that stems from the warmth of the lighting and the genial way in which director Shawn Levy portrays New York City and family life in general.  It’s certainly a step in the right direction from his portrayal of D.C. in Night at the Museum 2, wherein he accurately recreated the city’s economic turmoil by taking a shit on a pile of studio money.  In spite of its broad and ridiculous situations, the likeability factor really outweighs a lot of the silliness at play here, and it’s often just fun to hear Fey and Carrell comment to one another as they run from one misadventure to the next, like the endless patter between the stars of It’s Always Sunny.  I would say that had this movie actively made an effort to be more of a romantic comedy than a buddy cop / action movie, it might have had the potential to affect more people’s emotions or stick with them longer than the next comedy movie.  In a way, Date Night is the straight-edge equivalent of Pineapple Express, another movie where bumbling buddies are thrown headfirst into the world of professional criminals.  You can’t count on Date Night for the same kind of broad but offensive laughs as Pineapple Express, but you can be sure that it will go toe-to-toe with that movie in the charm department any day.  Date Night has so much good will that it’s hard for me to fault its meager middle-of-the-road aspirations.  This might be as close as we can get to an intelligent American comedy these days, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.

Grade:  B

Surprised, no?  I was too.  Let’s move on to the next review, a midnight opening night viewing of the new horror remake…

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Let me get this out of the way right off the bat:  I was never a fan of the original movie in this series, never saw it when I was young enough to be scared by it or drunk enough to appreciate it for its camp value.  The only movie I really liked in the original series was Dream Warriors, just because it stars a young orderly by the name of “Larry” Fishburne, a.k.a Morpheus, and features teens traveling into Freddy’s hellish dreamscape so they can conquer him with “dream powers.”  That’s right, twisted bizarro dream-land superheroes.  You heard it here last.  I was always more of a Friday the 13th guy, not much fandom beyond the first one, but for the original movie’s genre-defining story structure, gratuitous Kevin Bacon sex-murder, and Tom & Jerry style dispatching of its (surprising) final villain, it will always hold a place in my heart.  When I saw last year’s Friday the 13th remake I thought it was hilarious that they decided to take a huge risk and blatantly sequelize the original film they were “remaking,” starting their new movie immediately where the original left off, creating one of those weird Superman Returns-style narrative parallel dimensions where the series can be watched in multiple terrible ways and will inevitably lead to mass message board continuity hysteria and Kool-Aid based cult suicide.

But I digress.  A Nightmare On Elm Street is back and I would argue better than ever.  There’s nothing beyond the shallow exterior of Freddie’s dream-based quips and subsequent murders, but there’s something unmistakably cinematic about the choices of movement, framing and mis-en-scene in this remake, making each shot or sequence of Nightmare deeply unsettling, jarring and occasionally nausea-inducing.  Director Samuel Bayer’s experience in music videos definitely allowed him to transport his characters easily from their narrative reality to Freddie’s hellish dream landscapes, making a smooth transition from calm to eerie on a regular basis.  He also has a great capacity for sustaining tension over the course of numerous scenes, making it unclear whether the audience should prepare for another scare or finally relax.  In most circumstances the moments that should make people jump actually deliver, and I think the real quality of this picture will come down to how many people are willing to invest emotionally in the semi-corny premise that has been around for three decades already.  Freddie’s a not-so-trustworthy children’s caretaker who returns from the dead to torment his former daycare kiddies with dream-like murder scenarios, all with brutal effects in the real world.  The movie does little to reinvent Freddie as a character or justify his supernatural existence in any legitimate way.  It simply presents the scenario (within three minutes of the movie’s opening) and let’s the claws fly.  If you’re not onboard with the premise from a Nightmare On Elm Street sold-on-name-alone kind of way, there will be little to win you over to the franchise.

For fans of the franchise and fans of camp-horror alike, there is much to be enjoyed.  The scares delivered consistently for me, and I was pleasantly surprised by the inventiveness (or referential nature) of the kills, especially the one they saved for last.  There’s a really strange narrative structure at work here that adds to the general unsettling feeling.  You’re never quite sure who your main characters really are until the third act, a would-be moronic decision for any genre other than this one, in which the chapter-to-chapter jumps in focus from one character to another serve to underscore its already unsettling tone.  Without certainty as to whose fate is secure, it becomes easy to take each scene as a possibility for terror, and while I understand that the lack of traditional narrative might produce boredom in others, it worked for me in an experimental way rather than a flawed one.  The Friday the 13th remake was so lazily formulaic in plot structure that it actually resorted to weed-humor to liven up its proceedings.  I liked this remake’s sense of self-importance and I dug its visual style.  I think Jackie Earle Haley’s Freddie is better than the original.  I also think this is a real easy sequel, assuming people give it enough of a chance to actually enjoy it.  There are some people who prefer utter darkness and brutality in their horror, those fans of the Saw franchise and others, but I personally prefer a little bit of comedy in mine, whether tongue-in-cheek or not.  Freddie’s one-liners are enjoyable, and the ridiculous brutality of some of the kills raises Mortal Kombat-level questionability as to how serious the movie takes itself.  Are the kills hilarious punctuation to all-too-melodramatic scenes of dialog?  Is Samuel Bayer in on the joke?  These questions are too cerebral to be answered within the haphazard constraints of the screenplay, but the director’s own talent level and personal ability shine through when the acting and dialog do not.

On opening night at midnight, plenty of young geeky gentlemen were adorned in creepy Freddy sweaters, and it seemed like the film school crowd was really excited to welcome back the franchise.  There was this weird girl sitting next to me who kept trying to rub her leg against mine during the scary parts, but other than that, it was a pretty fun experience.  I felt really bad when this big guy who works at The Farm restaurant next door fell down on his knees while he was walking up the stairs, but the same sense of schadenfreude that allowed me to chuckle under my breath at his misfortune also allowed me to enjoy the frightening situations the characters faced in Nightmare.  So maybe my sadism is a good thing. If you have any sick side of your personality that loves quips, gore and blood galore, this flick might be for you.  It was clear that I was seated in an audience destined to enjoy the movie, but I can easily envision a not-so-scary 4 pm Saturday matinee in a mostly dead house, forced to endure the loud but justified sighs of a not-unlike-Al-Gore gentleman sitting midway to the back of the theater.  If you want it to work, it will work, in a way similar to Paranormal Activity but unlike Orphan.  It’ll terrify you triumphantly if it’s taken with a pinch of salt.

Grade:  B-

And that concludes our brief foray into the unknown.  Not too scary right?  Well, some parts were pretty scary, like when that guy almost fell down the stairs and died.  But anywho, I hope you enjoyed the reviews.  If you did, please leave a comment so I can obsess over it or respond immediately and try to out-quip you.  Whoever leaves the best #hashtag wins!  Go!

Music Review: Moses Cleveland – The Corner of Uncool and Care Avenue

Music Review: Moses Cleveland – The Corner of Uncool and Care Avenue

I have to preface this by saying I don’t usually write music reviews, so if I sound particularly out of my element, that’s why.  My friend Adam Rowings is a musician living in Chicago and he asked me to take a look at his latest album and let him know what I thought via this blog.  Eager to hear what my buddy had been working on for the past year or so, I of course agreed.  Granted this was a few months ago, so I fully expect Rowings to be shocked that I ever came through and then furious that I don’t know a damn thing about music.  That being said, I’ll be happy to share my honest thoughts about the album right here, right now.

Rowings and I have both been long-time fans of The Hold Steady, Craig Finn’s lyrically brilliant master-class on bar room rock.  You can check out a few of my favorite jams from their latest album here and here.  It’s clear that Rowings is patently influenced by Finn’s lyrics and The Hold Steady’s ability to deliver thoughtful yet honest music in a hard rock package.  That being said, Moses Cleveland is hardly a direct knock-off of the Hold Steady (although if you’re going to ape somebody, Craig Finn is not a bad choice) and it definitely has some really killer jams that are worthy of note based solely on their own merit.  Never having written a review like this before, I’m just going to go down the track list song by song, as that makes the most sense to me:

1.  The Story of Mack – This song has a nice little surfer rock lick to it, but the occasionally nasally parts of the vocals are a little grating.  Once the song kicks into overdrive it’s a fun little jam, but I’m just not a fan of hearing my friend in a higher register when I know he can really belt it out in a lower growl.  Rowings is a loud motherfucker when he wants to be, and I like hearing the power behind his voice resonating from his chest rather than his nasal cavity.  Leave the whiny screams for Billy Corgan and keep it low, brother.

2.  Torch – This is where the album really starts for me.  Rowings is doing speak-singing in his normal register and the lick at the beginning leads into a really cool vocal refrain.  Everything about this jam works for me, and you can really envision people singing along in concert (or at the bars, as the case may be).  The guitar part is a sultry mix of blues and bluegrass and the vocals hang right in between both styles perfectly without ever seeming forced or too stylized.  While echo and reverb can sometimes be a cheap effect used to make a song seem more layered than it actually is, here the deep sound quality slides right into place.  Nice.

3.  The Corner of Uncool and Care Avenue – The refrain is what really does it for me on this song.  “We all get drunk, do drugs and sing songs,” is repeated over and over during the course of this number.  This is where Craig Finn-spiration really comes into play.  These lyrics could easily be trite or contrived if they were delivered by a less talented songwriter, but here they work in perfect synthesis with the hard rock pumping along in the background.  Rather than serving as a promotional tool for face-value hedonism, the lyrics are more of a confession shouted to the Almighty from a human being set in his ways.  Rowings is almost taunting an unseen deity with his words, asking God to strike him down if He actually does exist.  There is pride in Rowings’ confession, in spite of the connotation it carries.  I like that the lyrics really give voice to a character with a unique perspective, and that it’s not just an act or affected voice put on by Rowings.  It’s an extension of his life experiences and speculations anthropomorphized by what he’s singing about.  The phrasing of this track’s title (as well as the album title) is a little forced and admittedly awkward, but this song is so passionate that it entirely makes up for that.  I love that there’s a part at the end where a bunch of voices come into play, joining the refrain and giving it a real barroom feel.  That’s where it’s at, man.  I definitely have to say that this is my favorite track on the album.  When Rowings is belting it out from his chest, his vocals are at their absolute best.  The passion of the music overrides everything else and makes this one a song to remember.

4.  The Circus – Lyrics referencing “clever people” and “party people” definitely feel inspired by Craig Finn, but the tone of the music is distinct from Hold Steady and much of the other music on the album.  Lyrical repetition and a less interesting guitar part draw unwanted comparisons to Stroke 9, especially when the licks and lyrics are so familiar by the end of the five minute song.  Rowings’ vocals really hit a good spot by the four-minute mark, but by that point the song is mostly over.  I would have preferred less repetition and musical breaks, as they give the listener unfavorable amounts of time to dissect what is already a moderately scanty concept.

5.  Two Step Timmy’s Traveling Blues – This song reminds me of Doolittle era Pixies.  That is in absolutely no way a bad thing.  The lyrics are super catchy and the guitar part is all hells of strong.  I don’t think the Pixies comparison is necessarily intentional.  It’s more a reflection of just how quality the song is. Here Rowings is again making himself distinct from his inspirations, proving that he is a talent capable of delivering a unique sound.   The music drops out at the end perfectly, leaving listeners with no choice but to immediately blast to this jam again like they’re craving a nicotine fix.  Runner-Up for best song on the album.  Fast, short and deliberate.  Great song.

6.  Terrorize – A little bit of Rage and a little bit of Smashing Pumpkins musically.  The vocals are great, but the fact that this song isn’t quite as catchy as the one that precedes it, added to the fact that they are both very similar in tone does both jams a disservice by drawing all-too-clear comparisons.  In the wake of Two Step Timmy, Terrorize just can’t compete.  I would put this one earlier in the album, and maybe open as well as close with the intense rocking that ends the track.  It’s not super shocking to hear an intense jam session at the end of a hardcore number (and any song called Terrorize damn well better have some hardcore influence), so making it more of a constant could up the song’s runtime as well as make it distinct and memorable.

7.  Unmodest Marilyn – Here Moses Cleveland slows it down to a sexy little ballad.  There’s as much influence from Hold Steady’s First Night as there is from Rowings’ love life.  I like the fact that Moses Cleveland is ready to prove to their audience that they are versatile and capable of keeping the energy up even when the tempo is reined in a little.  I can easily imagine this as part of a movie soundtrack, in the same way I can imagine that every car commercial in the business will be chomping at the bit to buy Two Step Timmy as soon as they hear it.  Certain songs have an ability to create a specific mood immediately, and this is one of them.

8.  So Say You – Starts out as a ballad then loses a little bit of its oomph as it transitions into weird sitar-style hallucinogen rock.  The lyrics and vocals are strong until the transition, and then the weird background noises call into question what sort of vibe Moses Cleveland wants to leave the audience with.  Rowings sounds particularly badass screaming “Hit Rock Bottom!” at the end of the song, but I really wish we didn’t have to sit through so much weird filler noise to get to that point.  Some bands need cool audio tricks to reel in an audience, but Moses Cleveland isn’t one of them.  The music and lyrics are great at standing alone and apart from other bands on the scene.  As soon as the music swells back into its original tone, that point is hit home hard.

Well, that’s the full album.  Overall I really liked it and was very impressed with what Rowings put together in spite of a few minor glitches along the way.  Hopefully he’s not too mad at me for being nitpicky and will still let me come to his kickass New Year’s Party when I’m in Chicago next week.  One thing’s for certain, I damn well better get to hear Corner of Uncool and Care Avenue live while I’m there!

Grade:  4 out of 5

Movie Review: The Fantastic Mr. Fox

Nothing's foxier than superhero S&M

No question about it, I am a diehard Wes Anderson fan.  His last two movies Life Aquatic and Darjeeling Limited were visually stirring but deeply flawed works, and although I’d be hard-pressed to actually sit and watch either of them sober, I can still get drunk and defensive about them when prompted (and believe me, prompts are always welcome).  Thankfully Anderson’s latest film The Fantastic Mr. Fox is a family-friendly masterpiece of sorts, combining Anderson’s trademark visual fair with a more restrained and focused approach to storytelling.  There are still little moments of twee goodness, inexplicable and ambiguous scenes of a near-masturbatory nature, but rather than sticking out like a sore thumb they dovetail nicely into the storybook world he’s created.  It seems that the more confined Anderson is by the parameters of a PG universe and the necessary limitations of an adapted work, the better he becomes at passionately and creatively devising ways to be unique within a box, and the outcome is quite fantastic.

Based on a Roald Dahl book, The Fantastic Mr. Fox is the story of a father and son who both dream of being more amazing than they already are.  Neither animal is satisfied in complacency and they both scheme simultaneously to prove to themselves and friends and family members that they are bigger and better than the rest.  Mr. Fox (George Clooney) is a thief by trade, stealing and killing chickens to provide for his home.  His son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) is a bit of a runt but dreams of being spectacular someday, even though he’s not particularly certain where his talent lies.  In an effort to prove to Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) that he is capable of settling down as a family man, Mr. Fox gives up his life of stealing chickens and starts writing a mostly unread column for the local paper.  When the Foxes hit an economic crunch, Mr. Fox plans one last big score on the farms of Bean, Boggis and Bunce, three cold-hearted businessmen, thereby providing his kin with money to afford a better home.  Trouble arises when Ash’s cousin Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson) comes to visit, providing Ash with constant comparisons to a seemingly superior relative.  Mr. Fox’s obvious favoritism towards Kristofferson causes Ash further anguish, and the same sort of openhearted neglect towards his son is likewise reflected in Mr. Fox’s increasingly bullheaded and risky maneuvers while stealing from the three farmers.  Once the humans decide to retaliate, the “cuss” hits the fan, leading to an exciting and beautifully animated adventure.

What I especially like about Fantastic Mr. Fox, aside from its often breathtaking visuals, is that Anderson takes care to portray a distinct difference between his human and animal characters.  Thanks to a particularly soft-hearted and intimate vocal read from Clooney, Mr. Fox is often easily anthropomorphized to a human level.  Yet when he chows down at the breakfast table, it’s clear that this creature is still a beast deep down.  Similarly it was interesting to discover how a character whose skill set presupposes a personal affinity for killing chickens and robbing humans blind could be portrayed as a hero.  Repeatedly Anderson reminds his audience that Mr. Fox is an animal, and these are the things that animals do by nature.  Even when we see him biting a chicken’s neck to kill it, the innocence of the picture is far from lost, and that’s a remarkable balance to be struck in any movie, particularly one designed with children in mind.

The animation, sets and character design are again quite beautiful.  It’s fun to watch Wes Anderson’s tactical shot framing and eloquent staging play out in a fully handcrafted universe.  In a way this movie is as subtly dramatic and charming as The Nightmare Before Christmas, but while that was a work designed by several complementary visionaries, this one is clearly Anderson’s brainchild (even in spite of complaints from the crew).  The voice performances are top-notch, especially Clooney’s and Schwartzman’s.  Both actors treat the roles as well as some of their finest live-action work, and the attention to vocal nuance and detail really shines. All the characters are fascinatingly deep to a typical Wes Anderson degree, satisfying Rushmore and Tenenbaums fans’ desire for quirky yet believable dialog.  Parents can be satisfied to know that all potential swear words are replaced with the synonym “cuss” throughout the picture, meaning there’s a lot of humorously censored and easily quotable lines throughout.

I highly recommend this picture, and the longer I’ve thought about it the more it has grown on me.  While Pixar’s Up is beautifully designed and a wonderful sight to behold, it still followed a trademark Disney formula down to familial death, wacky sidekicks and a nefarious villain.  Mr. Fox is happy to throw the audience dramatic curveballs all along the way, and there’s a particularly charming moment at the end when Mr. Fox encounters a wolf that serves as a microcosm of what makes this picture and Anderson so great.  Whether we can put the feeling into words, there is no question that the sensations and realizations felt by the characters are real, sincere and work perfectly in the universe.  Now if the Fantastic Mr. Anderson can take what he’s learned here and re-apply it to films that exist in the real live adult world again, I’d be a happy clam indeed.

Grade: A

Movie Review: 2012

The Day After The Day After Tomorrow

Apologies all around on the delay for this review (as well as the others to come, which will hopefully arrive later this evening).  I’ve been in the process of finding new web hosting for my blog and also trying to figure out the design/parameters for my new website.  In any case, I thought I would treat you to a neat retro-view of one of this summer’s loudest blockbusters, 2012.  It’s the story of a struggling writer (John Cusack) hell-bent on reconnecting with his recently divorced wife and kids at the exact moment when the entire world goes to hell.  The reason for this implosion of catastrophic proportions?  The same Mayans that inspired the geniuses behind Beverly Hills Chihuahua foretold a separate but equal disaster: The dawn of the Apocalypse in the year 2012.  Since we all know that Mayans never lie, writer/director Roland Emmerich spends a majority of the film’s six-hour running time bandying about sciencey-sounding words until the point when the geological naysayers in the audience are supposed to go, “Oh, now I get it.  That is plausible.”

Ancient religious prophesies aside, there’s enough made-up technological mumbo-jumbo here to please even the dumbest of Michael Chrichton fans, especially those who couldn’t be sated by sweet in-book maps of the Congo or needlessly intricate drawings of DNA.  Because Roland Emmerich learned that audiences tend to kill the messenger when it comes to his bullshit premises (cough, Day After Tomorrow, cough) the writer/director cleverly uses deeply-nuanced performer Chiwetel Ejiofor (yes, that is a real name- look it up) as the mouthpiece for his half-assed ideas.  Ejiofor, who seems incapable of a lousy performance even in a movie with so much CGI nonsense exploding all around him, spits out mountains of technobabble so devious in size and scope they would make the Martians from Plan 9 blush.  Other talent wasted in this film includes Danny Glover as the President, Thandie Newton as the President’s daughter, and Oliver Platt reprising his role as the obnoxious guy from Lake Placid.  Amanda Peet is also in this movie, and as punishment for not showing her breasts ala The Whole Nine Yards (p.s. does anyone else remember that movie?), Emmerich sentences her to the near-mute portrayal of Cusack’s ex-wife.  It’s every actress’s dream to play a doting wife and mother, especially one with no other personality traits.

But you know what?  In some weird way, this movie is vaguely entertaining.  Maybe it’s the fact that actors like Ejiofor and Cusack decided to expend some effort rather than phoning their performances in (for the latter see Martian Child, probably in-flight) that keeps this movie from sinking below Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen as this summer’s stinkiest crapfest.  Even Woody Harrelson seems to be having fun hamming it up in his brief cameo, and although his work is nowhere near as strong as it was in Zombieland, it still infuses the movie with a light enjoyable energy.  Other performances worth mentioning include the jerk-ass Russian guy and his skank-ass wife.  I won’t dignify these actors enough to look up their names, but I will credit them for taking terribly written type-characters and making them barely watchable.  That’s a triumph in itself, especially whenever Cusack’s not onscreen to subtly apologize for the movie via his performance.

The real culprits here are the bloated script and runtime.  In typical Emmerich fashion there are too many characters and too many explosions, yet somehow not enough time to make any of them interesting beyond a base level of voyeurism.  But what do you expect?  Even Emmerich’s best movie Independence Day is the same basic formula.  Shit hits the fan and unrelated characters from around the world band together to save the day.  Much like that movie, it’s the special effects and performances that are the last line of defense against the movie’s devolution into a writhing semi-conscious terd.  God knows it isn’t the writing or plausibility factor.  ID4 was a story about a fighter pilot, a redneck, a cable repairman and the president taking down an alien mothership.  That doesn’t sound so great on paper either, but throw a couple hundred million dollars his way and Emmerich can occasionally sculpt something satisfying out of the dirt pile he’s concocted.  I’ll admit that after two years of terrible Los Angeles traffic, there was something oddly cathartic about watching the 405-freeway snap in half and all the cars descend into a fiery chasm.  The first 45-minutes of 2012 are packed with non-stop CGI madness, but much like Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, once the initial chaos ends we’re left with the human drama.  And neither 2012 or War of the Worlds has a script bankable enough to sustain that much close-focus on its minimally interesting characters.

The effects are intricate and some of the performances are decent, but ultimately the movie is way too long and squanders any of its goodwill by the grueling conclusion.  It’s a nice surprise to find out midway through the movie that we’re never fully certain who is going to live and who is going to die (although it wouldn’t take a genius to start placing bets), but besides the enjoyment factor of watching a badly written character bite the bullet, there’s not a lot of emotional content here.  Roland Emmerich is a brand in the same way that Michael Bay is a brand.  We should know what to expect at this point.  It may be entertaining, it might be visually stirring, but at no point is it ever going to be satisfying beyond a visceral level.

Grade:  C-