Ass

Che! (1969) Or: See Jack Palance Chew a Cigar and Give his Worst Performance as Fidel Castro by  Ismael Santos

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“An enormous amount of pressure has been brought to bear on this film – both for and against the subject. Each group is afraid we’re going to favor the other. The picture will be a character study, and I will only say that it is neither pro nor anti Guevera. The printing of his diary caused only minor changes to the picture… I consider our sources for information impeccable and I cannot tell you who they are.” Richard Fleischer(before filming started)

Che, for lack of a better term, is a polarizing figure; revolutionary, mass-murderer, freedom fighter, martyr: the man, if nothing else, was intrinsically interesting and bound to cast a pall of hero-worship/extreme hate over. More than anything else, a film trying to both depict the realities of Che, his part in the Cuban revolution, and his demise in Bolivia, must also be honest with itself and its main subject.

Whereas the Steven Soderbergh directed film, starring Benicio Del Toro, is both ample time to its subject, and analyzes the world around him and the world he created, and is a film worth taking time to watch, at least once, there was another Che film that is, for lack of a better term, fundamentally strange.
Che! Is a 1969 Hollywood production: keyword here is Hollywood, as everything is wrong in this film. There is not a single shot worthy of retaining in your visual memory, beyond what NOT to do in a film, let alone a “historical drama.”

Omar Sharif, rest his soul, tries his hardest to lend some credibility and respect to this film as the eponymous title character “Che”, and he’s the highlight of this film, easily. With lines so horrid and third-rate to say, such as “The peasant is like a flower, and the revolutionary is like a bee. Neither can flower nor propagate without the other.

“We are doing purely the story Che, the person, not the movement. We want to show what happened with the people who touched his life.” Sy Bartlett

The above quote is not only a middling defense of the movie’s own intentions, but it’s also a caution, and a warning to anyone interested in making historical dramas: if you are going to do such a project, then you must COMMIT. TO. SOMETHING. ANYTHING. This movie does nothing, nada, not a single thing is remarkable, except for the miscast: not a single actor, besides Omar Sharif, is of a different nationality. Really, these are just Americans, Englishmen, Italians playing silent Cubans lost in the jungle.

The production, going for a pseudo-artistic-docudrama-confused mess approach, decides to intersperses scenes of Fidel, Che, and their rebels in the fields of grass during the Cuban Revolution to faux-newsreel interviews where old characters, now aged with makeup, speak directly into the camera, trying its hardest to give a semblance of “reality” to the production, to Fidel and Che hanging out in Fidel’s hotel room to Che’s fortress castle, to Che’s struggles in Bolivia and the jungles. Not a single thing works, and what’s more aggravating is the newsreel-type interviews: they break up the immersion of whatever scene is on the film, because the moment that skirmish or that guerrilla battle scene ends, we have yet another lame “interview” telling us about Che, but not SHOWING US: film is a visual medium, SO WHY SOMETHING ABOUT THE CHARACTER ON SAID SCREEN.

What these newsreel-interviews show is that the people in charge of this film, directors on down, did not understand the use of said device in Citizen Kane, and how it is effective, in the first place: In calling this film a “Character study”, they never do any studying of said character, whereas the interviews/framing devices of Citizen Kane are ALL ABOUT Charles Foster Kane. “Che!”, from the title on down, does not work.

“All this movie inspires toward the Cuban Revolution is excruciating boredom, accompanied by nausea.” Roger Ebert, in his review of “Che!” http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/che-1969

The biggest reality here, and the most awe-inspiring in terms of sheer lunacy, inadequacy, and laughability, is Jack Palance giving his worst in this film, playing Fidel Castro. From the squinty-eyes, face grimaces, chewing through the scenery, mumbling his words with a cigar stuck to the side of his mouth(never lit, always seemingly the same one), it is amazing to consider: a white man like this, famous and rich, portraying the dictator of Cuba, Fidel Castro.

If this isn’t comedy, then I don’t know what is: every single detail, every single motive, especially in his interactions with Omar Sharif’s Che, speak of a man unable to deal with getting his tooth pulled out, let alone being in charge of an island like Cuba. The “noble” Che, excluded from a meeting between Fidel and the strangely English-sounding hoity toity “USSR” Russian ambassador, the Fidel portrayed by Jack Palance is a toothless dog, with no bite and little bark and no brains and little sense. It is a performance that both incites laughs and deflates the film completely, the same with any other scene or edit in this film.

This film does not work. I can’t say that enough, but it’s true. This film does not work. This. Film. Does. Not. WORK.

Short and To The Point: A Haunted House 1 and 2

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I normally try my best to not be a grouch or a big old cynic when it comes to films: this means I try and review, and enjoy and appreciate, some great films. However, this is one case where I feel the need to be short, sweet, succinct, and to the point when it comes to two films, and even an entire genre that has become lackluster and substandard, at best. Further critique will come, but right now, I’m centered on A Haunted House 1 and 2.

These films are centered on skewering horror films, although it tends to ramble into stereotypes of blacks, hispanics, whites, women, men, teenagers, demons, ghosts, and priests snorting cocaine and shanking people. When the best part of your film is Cedric the Entertainer, then I think it’s time to take a step back, relax, and end the franchise before any more sins are committed to millions of eyeballs out there.

The jokes fall flat, at best, and disintegrate into numbing stupidity, at worst. The characters are not human, not sympathetic, and the ghosts and demons are written with  more care and empathy. Everyone and everything is buffoonish in this film, and Marlon Wayans is the one responsible for this mess, because he should know better: he has talent, and yet keeps churning this garbage out.

I have written to Marlon Wayans, on Twitter no less, about how he “deserves better than a Haunted House.” It seems like an odd dream that this same man, who was dynamite in Requiem for A Dream, turns in garbage like these two films.

I tend to try and stay away from films that would make my blood boil, but sometimes, you just have to say it: these films are not good. AT. ALL.

The main reason to review these films, as quickly as can be done because any blocs of text is just repeating the point, is this: These films are not good. I don’t mean “not good” like “Ed Wood bad”, which is enjoyable because the director Ed Wood BELIEVED in the power of film making, even if he never quite cracked open the film making process into making something decent.

A Haunted House 1 and 2 fill me with the same dread I feel when I hear the names Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg, of “Date Movie” and “Epic Movie” infamy: this is an all-out contempt for the film going audience, a hatred of the source material, and an ability to burn money faster, and waste it even worse, than if you put it in a barrel and set it aflame.

I would like to say these films are an anomaly, never to be successful or are just MacGuffins that don’t matter in the end of things, but I cannot do that. I cannot do this for one simple reason: audiences lap this garbage up. What does that say about a film industry, that the most popular franchises like this, like Scary Movie, end up making millions with little writing worth mentioning, frequent Mandingo party references, stereotypes heaped upon stereotypes, and gags that don’t so much go for the gross out factor as they do the annoyance factor(A Haunted House 1 and 2 “Sex scenes with toy bears/wooden dolls.)

There are so many better parody  movies out there, so if you ever feel the need to watch a parody movie, just pop in Spaceballs or Young Frankenstein or Blazing Saddles or just some toothpaste commercial with Mel Brooks face on it, and you’ll be saving yourself hours of time, with something worth watching.

Free and Easy

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Review by Ismael Santos

Woe has fallen onto Buster Keaton and his career, only a measly six years after signing his first MGM contract: from The Camera Man and Spite Marriage to this garbage is quite a fall. Add to this by being his first Talkie movie, and what a major travesty in film history.

I wrote on Facebook a while back, while watching this film, that I had always figured the sale of MGM studios into Sony Pictures as a major historical loss: so many important films coming out of one major studio is important, no doubt about that.

free-and-easy

That is, until I saw Free and Easy, and now I want to throw a parade for the closure and sale of MGM studios.

Horrible misuse of Buster Keaton, and just not that good or interesting. Even depressing: so depressing to see a great comedian reduced to this filth, with no escape from a corporate contract.

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Remember Dorothy Sebastian and her funny antics and fantastic performance in Spite Marriage? Well, she shows up here for a coffee break and literally just sits in a chair while Buster Keaton gets chased about the set.

Remember Cecil B. Demille, the same director who pushed the standards of his day by directing The Ten Commandments, violence and all? He shows up here, talking to some other directors, barely kept in focus by the camera and, as soon as you recognize who he is, he is gone from the movie.

Some of the longest musical numbers I”ve ever seen in my entire life, and some of the most painful, to boot. The only decent musical numbers are at the very end, with Buster Keaton in full swing giving his all to this horrid turd of a picture. Just a mess, everywhere.

Such a contrast from The General, The Cameraman, and Spite Marriage: here is a Buster Keaton artistically castrated by a major movie studio.

Here is a film devoid of any intelligence, with witless dialogue and musical numbers that are just filler: nothing works here, and nothing makes sense. There is not a single sympathetic character in the film, and Buster Keaton is written out to be a bumbling fool, without the charm nor even the moments of triumph over the system or situation at hand.

Story-wise, it’s about Buster’s character, Elmer, acting as the bumbling manager for a would-be starlet played by Anita Page, who is spineless and approaching the characteristics of a blank slate/Mary Sue, and the overbearing Mother that bulldozers her way through the money, with about as much subtlety as a junior high teenager expressing their rebelliousness to their peers. Just nothing here, folks, plain and simple as that.

I was so angry watching this, so depressed at this abomination, that I literally screamed at my TV, wanting it to stop. The last scene, with Buster Keaton dangling from strings and caked in makeup, the man as a puppet in this scene, is so sad to watch: I can’t tell if it’s a fictional movie at this point or a snuff film, because this is murder.

This is the murder of a great comedian’s career at the prime of his life, at his proverbial peak, and MGM squandered it. Why? God knows why, it’s MGM.

Free and Easy (1930)

The last shot of the film, with the villain getting the girl because Elmer was too nice of a bumbling fool and Buster Keaton’s sad clown face, like a spitting image of the sad clown Pagliacci, is neither funny nor insightful nor clever nor rewarding. It is a cop out.

Avoid this movie like the plague, and if you find any bootleg copies around, burn them in a bonfire and watch the classic Buster Keaton silent films, instead: you’ll be doing a service to humanity, that’s for sure.

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American Pie Reunion

Review by Ismael Santos

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I’m not going to be subtle in this review, so I might as well get it out of my system: American Reunion, and the entirety of the American Pie series, is garbage. I have never found them funny, well-acted, well-shot, and never even musically-interesting.

Who pays for a Jason Biggs movie? Maybe when he was an unknown back in ‘99, but again and again? Are you gluttons for punishment? Do you like pain? He’s only been serviceable in Orange is the New Black, and even then none of his scenes in any of the episodes eclipsed a total of ten minutes, tops. What is wrong with you? Jesus.

Ahem. Sorry for going off track here, but it’s like a trigger word: Jason Biggs is just something I cannot stand beyond one lone Kevin Smith film, and that had Jay and Silent Bob to compensate for his woodenness and energy sapping presence.

Before I go off on yet another tangent, I’ll state the positive aspects of it: Sean William Scott, Eugene Levy, and a few of the cameos work out for the best. The acting, for the most part, is serviceable enough. The lighting is decent, the camera work is not too grating, the sound is pretty sharp, and the music they selected is all-around good quality stuff.

That’s all of the positives I can think of, because this movie, just like the others and the spin-offs and the never-ending quadrilogies, is a waste of time, money, and patience.

The humor is the same vulgar, shit-obsessed mundanity as any of the previous movies, along with the movies it helped inspire into existence: Stifler shits in a cooler for “revenge”, a naked teenager is in Jason Biggs car, lusting after Sir Jason, and so on. Even the opening scene is garbage: Alyson Hannigan mumble mouths her way off-screen, while Daddy Biggs, still a functioning idiot even with children and supposed “life experience,” can’t even masturbate with any sense. Let’s forget, for a moment, of the other films and of any film logic or comedic timing joke: what man, what HUSBAND with a shriveled sense of self-worth, would blast hardcore pornography on their laptop when their wife is a few feet away? This movie now exists and purports in the age of technology and smartphones and iPhones and Hummers, yet they don’t know anything about headphones or the simple ways of human interaction? This is not a movie. This is whole economies of The Third World being wasted on a bunch of manchildren for the sake of its sequel-salivating core audience.

“You just don’t get it, man.”

Yeah, because American Reunion is the Citizen Kane of the mainstream, these days.

If “not getting it” means not enjoying seeing Jason Biggs penis two times, and two times too necessary for this writer, then so be it, I guess. I’m okay with it. Some of you might be shaking your heads and wondering why I can’t understand. I was a happier soul before ever seeing the manhood of Mr. Biggs, and now, until my last breath gives away, all I’ll see in my nightmares is that man’s junk with Alyson Hannigan’s sour acting face superimposed over everything, like a scornful deity looking down on you for not doing as you’re told.

God, who allows such tripe into existence? Does Hollywood have no shame? Who am I kidding here, they MADE this franchise, so, of course, they have no shame.

Remind me to never exist when such garbage becomes the hugely cerebral cinematic opus of the good ole’ days. If it’s this bad now, who’s to say it won’t be celebrated by our children’s children?

The horror of it all makes me want to stop typing, and I’m sure this sounds over-the-top and ridiculous, and a bit of blowing smoke up my ass, but this is how I feel: this is the truth when you sit down, after watching and wasting your time, and realizing just how garbage and antiquated and idiotic this all is.

Hell, it commits the cardinal sin of most garbage comedies these days: It’s just not that funny. All of the jokes are old, all of the insanity has been done and done better, and all of the performances were easily better around fifteen years back or so.

What is more irritating, in my opinion, is the fact that this movie really didn’t need to exist, same as with American Wedding/American Pie 3 or American Pie 2 or Band Camp or whatever: it’s all a retread. A barely functioning, barely written, barely anything to write home about downer of a “comedy.” Not even the supposed group dynamics of the piece can help out: some of the players, like Eddie Kaye Thomas as Paul Finch, are reduced to veritable walking dead cameos, while others are just dropped in and then forgotten about, all for a paycheck.

The worst offender of this is what they have done to Stifler, Sean William Scott’s character: once the life of the party, and one of the only parts to look forward to in any of these films, is neutered in this film. He is nothing but a loser, and, story-wise, I could see why they went that way: in real life, a man like Stifler is a loser and an egomaniac. However, to pick and choose reality, the filmmakers have dropped the ball and destroyed their funniest character. What a waste, and the fact that Sean William Scott and Jason Biggs were executive producers is astounding: Jason Biggs sucked up the air for a paycheck, and Sean did nothing but take up space and neuter a character for nothing. There’s no plot, but there’s no logical point to shoehorning a “loser finding his roots again” story if it’s anyone but Jason Biggs milquetoast character. You don’t do that with Stifler, at least not as much to kill his comedic way of helping the movie along. Just squeezing out everything for a few dollars more.

In short, unless you like torturing yourself or, God forbid, are a Jason Biggs/American Pie fan, just forget this movie ever exists. Burn every copy from the face of the Earth, and spare the public, and yourself, on yet another unfunny comedy. This is Ismael Santos reporting from the dreck side, and I hope beyond hope that this franchise is dead now.

Editor’s Note: The author, now notified of the development of American Pie 5, committed ritual death via sexual intercourse with an exploding strawberry pie. His last words were as follows:

“God, I hold you responsible for Jason Biggs.”

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