By Adam Donato
Devil was supposed to be the first of a trilogy of stories based on supernatural happenings in a modern urban society titled “The Night Chronicles”. The sequels never happened and we are left with just the one: a movie about five people who are trapped in an elevator and one of them is the devil. The film easily outgrossed its $10 million dollar budget in the first weekend and went on to make $60 million at the box office. The critical reception was mixed, which for Shyamalan at the time was a good thing. He did not direct Devil as he was making the most infamous blockbuster of all time, The Last Airbender. Oh, what a year…
As the title states, this movie is being judged like a nothing horror movie dropped in the middle of September. Compared to The Godfather, Devil is terrible. As far as low-budget horror films go, this movie is a crowd-pleasing delight. It’s the whole package. You will be scared, you will laugh, and by the end, you may feel a bit emotional. The best horror movies have something that most others don’t even bother attempting, a character arc. Devil has two.
Trapping the main characters in an elevator is a great way to force the movie to stay short and character-driven. With an eighty-minute runtime, Devil spends half of its time forcing the trapped citizens to interact and reveal interesting details about themselves. The other half of the movie follows a depressed, no-nonsense detective as he tries to get them out alive. This balance helps to keep the movie feeling fresh, without compromising either storyline.
The cinematography is worth a mention as Devil’s is Tak Fujimoto. The same guy who did the cinematography for Silence of the Lambs, The Sixth Sense, and Signs (the last two being directed by Shyamalan), is doing a cheesy, low budget horror movie. His choices are brilliant, considering the movie he is making. The close-up, Dutch angle shots while in the elevator help to convey the claustrophobic paranoia of the scenario. Also, say what you want about how ridiculous the opening and closing shots of this movie are, but it works. Yes, it’s cute having the movie being bookended by flipped shots of the Philadelphia skyline. Wait a minute, Philadelphia? Isn’t that where all of Shyamalan’s movies take place? That’s cute.
Speaking of cute, the completions of the two character arcs in the film. The shady male in the elevator, who ends up being the final survivor, confesses his sin of committing a hit and run on a mother and her son. As it turns out, that mother and son were the families of the detective of the elevator case. The detective volunteers to take the lone survivor in and, on their ride, he reveals that his family was the victim of a said hit and run. Forgiveness is given as the narrator says “if the Devil is real, then God must be real, too.” Both arcs come to completion as they come together. The film, which is, for all intents and purposes, just a cheesy horror movie, to end on such a profound and optimistic note is wildly impressive and unprecedented in today’s general horror fare.
The movie is cheesy to the max. The entire cast is full of extreme stereotypes and they are all connected in the most outrageous fashion. The biggest indication of cheesiness in the movie, despite the villain being the actual Devil, is the “jelly side down” scene. One of the building’s security guards claims that there is something supernatural going down in the elevator as he sees an evil face in the elevator security footage. He goes on to test this theory for the skeptical detective by throwing a piece of jellied toast in the air. When it lands jelly side down, he loses it and actively starts praying as this is a sign of the Devil for bad things to happen when he is around. Gold.
Part of the fun of the movie is betting on who in the elevator is the Devil. At the end of the movie, it is revealed to be the old woman. This is an odd twist as the second person to be killed is the old woman who was hung with the elevator chords. Is it possible that the Devil possessed multiple people in the elevator throughout the movie? Then again, it’s hilarious if the Devil pretended to be an old woman, and on her way to kill some people decided to steal a random person’s wallet. The movie does a good job of spreading the evidence amongst all the suspects in the elevator as each person gets a turn on the hot seat.
The horror genre is not given as much credit as it should because the market is saturated by low-budget, non-scary crap. A lot of horror movies don’t work on any level, so to see one that not only succeeds as a horror, but also as a comedy with characters who arc. This isn’t high brow material, but it knows exactly what it is. Devil is unabashedly itself and for what it is, it’s a masterpiece. Not only that, it deserves to be brought up in the conversation for the most underrated horror movie of all time.
By Adam Donato
1990’s Darkman stars Liam Neeson and Frances McDormand, two all-time talents, and is written/directed by Sam Raimi. Raimi is one of the greatest horror and superhero directors of all time. Darkman brings both of these elements together and nobody talks about it. This was a year after Burton did Batman in 1989. The film did turn its $16 million budget into $33 million at the box-office but isn’t brought up when people talk about underrated comic book movies. Is it just not that good or are people not aware that Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy was not his first superhero project?
Darkman is the story of a scientist who seeks revenge against the goons who physically mangled him while trying to find his way back to his old life with his girlfriend. Neeson carries the movie as the titular character and is so much fun to watch on screen. In interviews, he’s spoken about how the character’s inner turmoil and overall self-hatred is what attracted him to the role. Raimi speaks of how the character started out as a normal dude, then seeks revenge, and has to face the monster he feels he has become. Darkman is an anti-hero as he spends the majority of the movie murdering people, but then again, those people are bad people. He also lies to his girlfriend, which prohibits them from moving forward together. References to The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Phantom of the Opera are big influences on Darkman. His inner conflict is a sympathetic one, while his external conflict is a formidable opponent.
Robert G. Durant, played by Larry Drake, and his goons are fun villains to watch. The opening sequence of the movie shows an even larger gang of thugs being taken out by Durant’s group thanks to a fake leg that is a gun and a cigar cutter that is used to cut off the fingers of his enemies. One of the goons is played by Ted Raimi, who is popular for working at the Daily Bugle in the Raimi Spider-Man movies (“It’s hip, it’s now, and how?”), and it’s always a joy to see him pop up in his brother’s movies. The complaint, if any, about this movie is that the action sequences are lackluster due to the villains just being goons. Darkman can’t feel pain and has the ability to change his appearance, so while a movie about him fighting just goons is a good starting point, it would be interesting to see him fight a villain with a more interesting skillset. That being said, the action scenes are not bad by any means. There’s balancing on steel beams and even Darkman hanging from a helicopter. It’s a wild ride for such a small scale hero.
The love interest is Julie Hastings played by soon-to-be Oscar winner McDormand, who is a step above the rest when it comes to superhero love interests. Not only is she extremely likable, but she’s also an active part of the plot apart from her relationship status. Her noticing of the memorandum is what puts the wheels in motion as Strack has to cover up his misdoings by taking her out. The relationship between Peyton, Darkman’s alter ego, and Julie is compelling in the sense that you want them to be together, but you understand why they can’t. There’s a beautiful scene where Julie is visiting Peyton’s grave when Peyton confronts her. The cavalcade of emotions in this scene is touching as we see her go from shock to horror to sadness to relief in his embrace. You want Peyton to get the girl, but you see the monster that he has become in his actions. This point is hammered home when Darkman chooses to leave Julie at the end of the movie, proving that nobody will ever judge us more than ourselves.
The special effects are great, but that’s no surprise as Raimi is known for it ever since The Evil Dead. Darkman looks terrifying, but you can still identify the man under the gauze. Neeson talked about how he struggled to speak as he wanted the fake teeth to move as little as possible. Part of the fun of this kind of movie is where special effects weren’t used. When Darkman is wearing a mask of one of the goons, their performance as Darkman wearing the goons as a mask is fun to watch. The holograms in the movie look good considering that this movie came out in 1990.
Anytime Danny Elfman does a score for a movie, it deserves to be brought up. The film is given life thanks to Elfman. He not only heightens every single action scene, but he also makes the credits fun to watch, which is an accomplishment. It was very cool to see that Elfman worked on this movie in hindsight due to his future works with Raimi on the first two Spider-Man movies.
So it’s a forgotten gem of a movie. It still has that Raimi cheesiness to it that makes such a dark movie so enjoyable to watch. The whole cast knocks it out of the park. The movie pulls everything off from special effects to score to characters and themes. The ending is the icing on the cake for any Raimi fan. As Julie chases after him, Darkman gets lost in the crowd. His mask, an unknown man played by Bruce Campbell himself. Not only that but left with the tragic feeling of losing oneself as Darkman embraces who he has become. Please do yourself a favor and check this one out.
By Adam Donato
The Cornetto Trilogy, affectionately titled, is the baby of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost. After making Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Wright went on to make an adaptation of the popular graphic novel, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. The film’s lead is Michael Cera, star of comedies such as Superbad and Arrested Development, and is supported by what is now an all-star lineup. After completely bombing at the box office despite its critical acclaim, the film has persisted in the hearts of fans as a cult classic to be remembered.
Edgar Wright can’t make a bad movie. There are arguments to be made, but all five of Wright’s directorial features are great in their own way. Ranking them has to come down to a personal preference of genre as each installment in his filmography is near flawless. Go ahead, say this is over-hyping Wright and his movies. Jordan Peele makes two great movies and he is the next Hitchcock. Shyamalan was heralded the next Spielberg after three great movies. Wright is at five great movies and only Baby Driver grossed over $100 million. What’s the problem? He’s worked with notable stars and received plenty of critical praise. None of his movies is more criminally underappreciated as Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.
How good is Scott Pilgrim vs. The World? 2010 was a big year for movies and Scott Pilgrim belongs up there with the greats: Inception, Toy Story 3, The Social Network, and The King’s Speech. If that is your top five for the year, you’re not wrong. There aren’t many movies quite like Scott Pilgrim. It feels like a video game movie had a baby with a comic book movie. The action is over the top and usually borrows the look of a combat video game. The comedy is fast paced and utilizes on-screen speech/thought bubbles to get inside the head of Scott Pilgrim. Obviously the film is an adaptation of a comic, and therefore not classified as a video game movie. This means that Scott Pilgrim is in the same club as Wreck-It Ralph, the best video game movies not based on a video game. Utilizing the strengths of a genre with untapped potential? Well played, Wright.
Writing a piece detailing the outstanding quality of Scott Pilgrim is complicated. To the active film fan, this is a film that is regularly heralded as underrated due to the low initial audience viewership. If you love movies, you know how good Scott Pilgrim is. The problem is that there are too many people who have never even heard of it. So yes, here is another declaration of love for Scott Pilgrim. Maybe one day the rest of the world will join us.
Arguably, the best part of the movie, besides Wright’s stylized fight scenes and quick-cut comedy, is the characters and the cast who embodies them. Back when this movie was being cast, a lot of these actors hadn’t become household names yet. Honestly, the only actor not to peak after this movie was Brandon Routh (Superman Returns was not his fault!). Brie Larson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aubrey Plaza, Anna Kendrick, and Chris Evans all dominate in this movie and most of them went on to be superheroes. Other established talents like Alison Pill, Jason Schwartzman, and Kieran Culkin all stand out in a movie full of memorable names. Everyone has a distinct style and personality. All of the seven evil exes are unique in their fighting styles. Even the names that are not known still kill it with Mark Webber, Ellen Wong, and Johnny Simmons making their mark.
Let’s talk about the love triangle. Scott starts out the movie with Knives who is, in fact a high-schooler (which is weird). So when he ends up with Ramona, it is a relief. That being said, the alternate ending where Scott ends up with Knives over Ramona doesn’t seem wrong. That way, the film would start and end in the same place, except Scott is now proud of his earned relationship. He loses Ramona who he should lose due to his overt jerkiness. Then again he cheated on Knives more than he cheated on Ramona. Honestly, Scott shouldn’t end up with anyone. He earned the power of self-respect, but there are consequences to playing games with the feelings of the people you hold closest. That’s the closest thing to a flaw in this movie. Of course, Scott is a human being and him getting a second chance with the girl of his dreams isn’t completely wrong.
Michael Cera is perfect for this movie. His soft-spokenness and general “Charlie Brown energy” make his portrayal of the title character generally likable. Apparently Cera already knew how to play the bass guitar and is very good, which is impressive. Also, the fact that someone who looks like Michael Cera can lead an action movie full of fistfights featuring himself is quite impressive. It’s sad to say, but it’s arguable that Cera just isn’t a marketable name in Hollywood. Maybe Jonah Hill is what really sold Superbad. A decade later, what has Cera starred in since? Not much. It’s a shame.
The best thing about this movie, it’s good to see Edgar Wright can thrive all on his own. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is fast-paced and fun. The jokes are funny and memorable. The action stands out in a day and age full of big-budget, CGI action sequences. The romance is easily bought as the viewer is whisked away through open doors to the song “Ramona”. Scott's arc is poignant and does a good job of standing out in what is primarily a love story. How can you support someone else if you can’t support yourself? His reward for discovering self-respect, he gets the girl he fought seven evil exes and himself for. If you love this movie, buy it on DVD again to show support. If you haven't seen this movie, please, do yourself a favor: it's the best video game movie that's not a video game movie. Sorry, Ralph, but at least you got a sequel...
By Adam Donato
The film animation industry is limited in its big players. Pixar and Disney lead the charge while secondary studios like Dreamworks, Blue Sky, and Sony Animation struggle to consistently produce animated movies of high quality. In 2010, Illumination Entertainment burst onto the scene with Despicable Me. A familiar story of a villain enjoying being bad before going through a change of heart inspired by the kindness of others. With a relatively cheap budget for an animated movie, $69 million, Despicable Me exceeded expectations, making $543 million worldwide. Thus, a new franchise was born, and more importantly, the Minions became a staple of pop culture.
People who are annoyed by the Minions, which can be justified, shouldn’t be shocked to hear that there is a large fanbase for the stupid yellow Tic-Tacs. They have been heavily featured in three Despicable Me movies and even got their own spin-off film, which is getting a sequel. The Minions are in the billion-dollar club, twice. Despite what the Minion brand spread into, they’re a good comic relief, sidekick for this movie. Their basic appeal is undeniable. They don’t speak any real language so there’s no cultural barrier. They don’t even have a discernable race since they are all yellow. They barely exhibit the male gender, which if they didn’t have predominantly male names like Kevin and Bob, it would be up to more of a debate. Their humor is very childish with all of the physical pain they inflict upon each other, but appeals to adults with their obvious pop culture references and musical cues. The character design is simple, but distinguishable. The Minions in the movies, at worst, are annoying and unfunny. The cause for the Minion hatred is the “relatable” Minion Facebook memes. In the movie, it is enjoyable watching them bond with the girls and it’s less annoying the first time watching them get into shenanigans because they’re stupid. The Minions, at a base level, work.
Now about the rest of the movie, it’s surprisingly good. Revisiting it a decade later, it’s surprising to see how the emotional moments hold up. The bond between Gru and the girls is genuine and watching Gru struggle to be evil as his heart is being warmed is touching. For some reason, every animated movie for kids ends with a dance party with the entire cast (even the villain), but it feels like a crucial payoff of his character arc in this movie as he is experiencing love probably for the first time. This is done in the simplest way possible, as who doesn’t sympathize with adorable orphan girls.
The story, as stated in the opening paragraph, is by no means original. This is another classic example of two of the same basic movie coming out in the same year, as Dreamworks’ Megamind can out only five months after Despicable Me. The two differ in that Despicable Me is more of a spoof on these ridiculous James Bond-esque villains and Megamind focuses more on superheroes. The point being that Despicable Me comes at a regular story from an interesting angle, but doesn’t stand out with quality in comparison to even the animated films of the same year. Toy Story 3 and How To Train Your Dragon came out earlier that summer and it was no question that the Best Animated Feature Oscar was a two-horse race. For an Illumination movie, Despicable Me is great. If it was a Dreamworks movie, it would be one of the better ones. If it was a Pixar movie, it’s only really better than Cars 2. What sets Pixar and Illumination apart?
Quality. Pixar pushes boundaries and is constantly evolving its technology to create animated movies with beautiful visuals that complement their mature storytelling approach. Since 2006, Pixar has averaged a budget of $150 million per movie so they can have the time, resources, and talent necessary to set the standard for what animated movies should be. The mission statement for Illumination seems to be: Make a movie that is as commercially viable as possible with as little money as possible and in as short of time as possible. So while the success of Despicable Me is an achievement, it’s detrimental to the animation industry as the quality of the films will be sacrificed for an easy buck. The symbol for this cynicism, the Minions.
Speaking of villains (and getting back to the movie at hand), Despicable Me sports one who is fun and full of personality, Vector. Jason Segel really brings it in this voice performance so much so that he’s unrecognizable without knowing that it’s him. He acts as a good foil for Gru, as they’re both cheesy villains, but come for opposite backgrounds. Gru was denied love and came from a poor background where he had to work for everything. Vector was handed everything to him on a silver platter by his father, Mr. Perkins, who runs the bank, brilliantly voiced by Will Arnett, who actually gained weight to voice act this character. There is a visual gag in the movie that is so dumb that it’s brilliant, and it’s not the squid launcher. Vector steals the Pyramid of Giza and hides it in his yard, but in an attempt to hide it, he paints it sky blue with a cloud on it. Never fails to get a laugh.
In short, Gru is an endearing protagonist, whose change of heart is authentic. The girls he adopts are cute and sympathetic. The minions aren’t annoying yet, actually being one of the highlights of this movie. The villains are fun and full of personality. The animation is good enough. The emotional moments all land surprisingly well and the jokes are consistently funny. Judging this movie on its own, not comparing it to other studios or the movies that followed in the franchise, then it’s a very solid animated family movie. Despicable Me was never going to win Best Animated Feature at the 2011 Oscars, but throw it a pity nomination. It’s good enough to deserve that.
By Adam Donato
One of the most prolific and celebrated shows from Nickelodeon is Avatar: The Last Airbender. The first of what was supposed to be a trilogy of movies was made, spearheaded by M. Night Shyamalan. The blockbuster cost about $150 million, not including marketing, and was released on July 1, 2010. The film was barely a success at the box office and the negative response to the movie, from critics and general audiences alike, was overwhelmingly bad. Today, it is remembered as one of the worst movies of all time.
Obviously, The Last Airbender is a bad movie. There is no denying that. Acknowledging one of the biggest faults of the movie off the bat, in an effort to get it out of the way for the purpose of highlighting Shyamalan, is the source material for the movie. There’s a reason why the show is so beloved to this day and the reaction to the mistreatment of their story in the film was so bad. The show has fun and lighthearted comedy, but also features a story with mature themes and genuine characters. The pacing is fast, but dedicates most of the storyline fleshing out the characters and focusing on the story. The action looks very cool as it features martial arts, but also feels fresh as new bending techniques are shown throughout. The main trio, Aang, Katara, and Sokka, is up there with Harry, Ron, and Hermoine, as they play off each other well and have interesting dynamics. The villains are either complex and sympathetic like Zuko, or over the top and charismatic like Iroh and Zhao. The world building is immersive and the creatures they encounter are all imaginatively designed. The 2D animation helps the show stay light, keep the fights fast, and lends itself well to the colorful atmosphere of the world. The show is a work of art and the movie pales in comparison. For the tenth anniversary, let’s judge the movie on its own and focus on the filmmaking from Shyamalan.
When it comes to movies about famous filmmakers, Shyamalan would make a great one due to the rollercoaster nature of his career. Imagine getting your first shot to make a movie of your own after working on a few smaller pictures. You’re an overnight success as the movie is not only a hit, but goes down as one of the greatest movies of all time. Then you make three other movies that are box office successes and are generally favored critically, but not to the extent of the first. Magazines call you the next Spielberg, despite your movies dropping in quality every time. You have an idea for a fairytale movie for your children, but Disney won’t give you creative control. After betting on yourself, the movie is a colossal flop both critically and at the box office. In your next movie, you’re forced to do rewrites for the first time and it still ends up being a total failure, but this time it’s comically bad. Finally, your child introduces you to cartoon show that you decide to make into a huge, big-budget trilogy. Caught up? The Last Airbender is arguably one of the biggest tests of Shyamalan’s career as the $150 million budget of the blockbuster is over twice as much as his usual $50-$60 million range. It’s also his first feature that is based on another person’s work. This is the first time he’s making a movie intended for children and is heavy with special effects. So, how did he do?
Horribly. What did he get wrong about the source material? For some reason, he chose to change the pronunciation of all the names, which is the first thing anyone who is a fan of the show would say. Speaking of the characters, all the ethnicities are changed, even to the extent of whitewashing the main trio. The show deliberately made the different benders into races to explain why they are the way they are and to reflect their culture. Usually, changing the ethnicities from the source material would be done so that they could cast higher-profile American talent. The main trio that was whitewashed was mostly unknown at the time. The role of the title character is even played by someone who has never acted before, but was chosen due to his exceptional martial arts skills. Dev Patel, hot off of Slumdog Millionaire, is the most known member of the cast and he plays the movie’s villain, Prince Zuko. This is a good thing considering the fact that Jesse McCartney was originally cast as Zuko.
The show had plenty of time to flesh out the characters and their relationship, whereas the movie feels rushed and skips over many necessary beats. To make up for this, there is a great deal of expository narration. Shyamalan’s first draft of the script was initially seven hours long, but the studio made him cut it down, for obvious reasons. Still, condensing an entire season into just over a hundred minutes is gonna feel rushed. The relationship between the characters has time to develop and the training seems progressive in the show, but in the movie, it just feels forced.
The special effects get knocked a lot in this movie, but they’re not that terrible for 2010 standards. Appa looks very convincing, but it’s fair to say that Momo looks a little creepy. The bending scenes look cool, it’s just the timing that doesn’t make them land. Shyamalan chose to have Aang exclusively talk to one spirit and in the form of a giant, blue dragon. It’s hard to call the movie out on how bad it looks because one could say it’s a spirit so it’s not trying to look real. The lizard creatures that the fire nation ride look great and watching them crawl over walls is a joy. It’s fair to say the special effects would be complained about less if they were supported by a better story.
The editing is atrocious. The movie is rampant with jarring scene changes that have no inherent flow. Since the movie is trying to condense a whole season into one feature length film, it feels both rushed and slow at the same time. The story is breezed by as if the development, that was supposed to be going on, didn’t matter. Shyamalan has a way that he paces scenes so that you can really sit with the characters in the moment. Since the movie does not bother to properly build up these characters, these scenes just feel empty and boring.
One thing that is necessary to bring up when reviewing this movie is the cinematography. The weird part about it is that it’s clear that they are trying really hard to make the movie look good and pull off some impressive shots. Andrew Lesnie is the cinematographer of fantasy hits such as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong (2005), and I Am Legend. He has an Oscar. There are so many impressive one-take shots that are pulled off in The Last Airbender that make you have conflicting feelings about this movie if you’re a camera enthusiast. Or at least it would, but these one-take shots are usually the most laughable moments in the movie. How could that be?
The Last Airbender is one of the worst-acted movies of all time. The star of the movie, Noah Ringer, who got cast as Aang because of his martial arts background, has never acted before. Big shocker that he’s terrible, which Shyamalan has no excuse for in that he directed one of the greatest child performances of all time with Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense. Watching Ringer attempt to deliver dialogue, convey emotion, or even blink is absolutely painful. Nicola Peltz’s only other big movie besides The Last Airbender is a lead role in Transformers: Age of Extinction, which tells you all you need to know. Jackson Rathbone plays Sokka in the most disrespectful fashion as the performance is devoid of any kind of humor that the character is known for and has absolutely zero chemistry with his forced love interest in the movie, Yue. No wonder he won two Razzie Awards in the same year (the other was for Twilight Saga: Eclipse). Dev Patel tries his best, but ultimately ends up as a shadow of the character in the animated show. Maybe if the scar on his eye was more pronounced or if he had the ponytail. It’s just a shame considering he is the most talented actor in the film. Shaun Toub plays Uncle Iroh with no semblance of the humor the character had in the show. Aasif Mandvi is not intimidating in the slightest as Commander Zhao and he mentions that he stole scrolls from the library every single time he is on screen it seems. Cliff Curtis is in the movie as Fire Lord Ozai, which is weird since his character does not show up physically during the first season of the show. Nobody is good in the movie. The one-shots don’t work because they hold on the characters for so long and the actors are not good enough to pull it off. It’s impressively bad.
Shyamalan has always had a weird style, though. His humor has always felt off, which is why it’s weird he took on a project that has comedy as an essential feature. The film is just over a hundred minutes long, which is normal for Shyamalan, but the content requires something more akin to The Lord of the Rings. These characters and the story needs more time to breathe. He talks in interviews about how the pacing is part of his language, but it’s important for a filmmaker to adapt to the material. The Last Airbender just proves the critics who label Shyamalan as a one-trick pony. Dramatic thrillers with fantastical elements and the signature twist ending. That last part being left out of this movie.
It’s funny that the story behind the production is that Shyamalan found out about the show because his daughter wanted to be Katara for Halloween. He bought the entire first season and his family watched it all together. At the end, Shyamalan said it would make a great movie. The creators of the animated show, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, were initially given plenty of say, but were ignored during much of the production. It’s fair to say that ego is the downfall of Shyamalan in the making of this movie. Taking someone else’s property and changing many core features that made it so great in the first place. Making a blockbuster starring mostly unknown actors. Even having the gall to imply this movie would be the first third of a trilogy. He was out of his element with this property as it played to none of his strengths. This is why he had somewhat of a resurgence post-After Earth by returning to smaller-budget thriller fair with The Visit and Split.
There is value in watching The Last Airbender. It’s fair to say that the movie is so bad that it’s good as a lot of the acting is laughably bad. If someone was a fan of the show, they should not watch the movie as it is a degradation of a story that was handled with so much care. If someone was a giant Shyamalan fan, this movie is an essential watch. It’s by far his lowest low and shows off a lot of his limitations as a writer, director, and producer. Say what you want to say about The Last Airbender, it will be remembered in movie history. There is a legitimate argument to be made for why The Last Airbender is the worst movie of all time and as a film enthusiast, that makes it pretty special. Movies are made to give people an experience and leave them with something to talk about. The Last Airbender is atrociously enjoyable and is certainly an interesting case study of one of the most prolific filmmakers of all time.
By Adam Donato
Batman Returns is a good movie. While it wasn’t a commercial success to the extent of the first movie, it still made over three times its budget and was generally favored by critics. The controversy came in the form of the dark tone that parents felt was too much for children and McDonald’s threatening to drop out of the marketing for the third movie if Tim Burton was to come back to direct. Burton dropped out to do Ed Wood, so Joel Schumacher was brought on to direct. He had a vision for the movie that was also dark and drew a lot of inspiration from Batman: Year One, but Warner Brothers insisted on a lighter tone to have more of a wide appeal. Keaton didn’t care for this direction and was replaced with Val Kilmer. The history of how this movie was made says a lot about the final product of the film. Batman Forever was criticized for being the silly commercial product that it is, while simultaneously being a fun departure from the creepy and gothic previous installment in the franchise. Twenty-five years later, how does Batman Forever stack up in the strong history of Batman films?
As a movie, especially in comparison to most of the superhero films that would be released in the next decade, Batman Forever is a cheesy romp in the best way. The action is fun and shows off Batman and his gadgets in a fantastical way. The special effects are cartoonish which matches the tone, along with some amazing sets and practical effects. The colors and tone are a refreshing change of pace as the previous installment was fully saturated in Burton’s gothic style. Not to knock the previous films in any way, but they are not as fun as this movie. The cast is great and certain member really go for it. The story introduces Robin well and gives Bruce Wayne a decent arc. The villains are definitely memorable, which is one of the most important aspects of a superhero movie. Worst case scenario, it’s not Batman and Robin.
One of the most topical points to bring up when discussing a Batman movie is who plays the titular role. It’s a hard role to peg who is the best because it is essentially two characters. Some actors are good Batmans, but bad Bruce Waynes, and vise versa. Val Kilmer certainly isn’t the best at either, but he does a serviceable job at both. His Bruce Wayne is interesting to watch solve riddles and argue with Dick Grayson. He’s very serious and handles the scenes of internal conflict well as he struggles with the death of his parents (still) and the problems with his duality of self, but doesn’t reflect the suave, playboy facade that Bruce Wayne is known for. His Batman has weird lips and makes terrible one-liners. Kilmer does succeed in being stoic and does the best with the lines he was given. While this third installment in the franchise is meant to be somewhat of a reboot of the franchise, it does make an attempt to give a sense of finality in what was a trilogy at the time. It’s nice seeing Bruce Wayne embrace both roles in his life as a choice and overcome the nightmares of his past. This happens through his rehabilitation of Dick Grayson as Bruce sees him as a younger version of himself. It handles the dynamic between Batman and Robin with dignity in a way that feels like a natural progression in the series. Batman Forever succeeds from a character perspective with its titular character.
Robin is a tough character to adapt for the big screen. How does one justify Batman taking an orphaned child under his wing to fight crime with him? Chris O’Donnell’s Dick Grayson seems to be a legal adult as the actor was 25 when the movie was released. His persistence to be partners with Batman is well developed and their relationship is one of the best parts of the movie. O’Donnell’s performance has no distinguishable faults, but fails to stand out, which is unfair considering the villains in the movie. Robin has his parents murdered by Two-Face and swears revenge upon him in the form of death. His arc finds him with the opportunity to kill Two-Face during the climax and he takes the moral high ground by saving him from falling off a cliff. Robin’s suit during his circus days call back to his original outfit in the comics, which is a nice nod that makes sense in the context of the story. His updated suit at the end is a muted version of the colors in the original suit and works very well next to Batman.
The most iconic superhero movies have memorable villains and if that’s the case, then Batman Forever is one of the all-time greats. This is very much so a matter of taste as the villains are both over the top and zany. Jim Carrey was one of the biggest movie stars of the nineties and really gave his all to the role of The Riddler. If you like Ace Ventura or The Mask, then you will love this movie because it’s just Carrey being an insane person. All of his mannerisms and speech are all done to hilarious effect. His costumes are inspired as he is constantly covered in question marks with the most obnoxious color of orange for hair. It’s cartoon-like in the best possible way, which matches the tone of such a ridiculous character. Not to mention, The Riddler found out the secret identity of Batman, which is cool because it hasn’t been done by many of Batman’s villains.
Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face is also an insane person in this movie. This is more of a shock as Jones is more often known for his dramatic work, even in his other blockbuster family movies, Men In Black, he plays the straight man. It’s great watching him really go for it as he tries to keep pace with Carrey. There’s a scene where Two-Face is repeatedly flipping his coin so that he can kill Batman, which totally defeats the point of flipping the coin, but watching him desperately fighting with himself for the right to kill Batman is a joy. The make-up and costumes are full of goofy contrast and works as a good visual metaphor for his character. The bromance between The Riddler and Two-Face is beautiful. The scenes where they go trick-or-treating and play Battleship will have you shipping them by the end credits. Batman Forever falls into the trope where if there are two villains, then one of them has to die. The Riddler rotting away in Arkham Asylum is great, but condemning Two-Face somewhat undercuts Robin’s character arc.
Rounding out the rest of the supporting cast is Nicole Kidman as Bruce Wayne's love interest in this movie. This plotline has her being indecisive on which of the two she wants to be with. This results in Kilmer making the creepiest smile while in the Batsuit. Schumacher was lucky to nab the now star actress as this movie came out right before she made it big. In the DVD commentary, the big debate over her casting between Schumacher and the studio was whether or not she was hot enough, which is as dumb as it is demeaning. Saying Kidman does a good job in Batman Forever sounds like a silly statement in comparison to the rest of her roles, but then again, it’s Nicole Kidman so she’s great. Michael Gough and Pat Hingle both return in this movie and do the same great job they always do. Drew Barrymore and Debi Mazar show up as Sugar and Spice, respectively. It’s weird seeing Barrymore in such a small role, but she makes a very good impression in her short time on screen.
Batman Forever is nowhere near the best of the Batman films, but it certainly is not the worst. It’s better than any time that Batman appears in the DCEU, but it doesn’t touch anything Nolan did with the character. It honestly just comes down to taste when putting it up against Batman Returns. The two are similar in quality, but have a stark contrast in tone. Schumacher made Batman fun and cartoonish like he was during the days of Adam West. One can say it’s disrespectful to the intended darkness of the character, or that it revels in the inherent silliness of a character who dresses up as a bat and solves riddles. Batman Forever has personality out the wazoo and deserves to be remembered fondly as one of the more delightful installments for one of the most iconic superheroes of all time. Thank you, Joel Schumacher.
By Adam Donato
The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl is a child’s masterpiece, literally. Robert Rodriguez wrote this movie based on the story from his son, Racer Rodriguez. The main character is named Max, which is Racer’s middle name, and follows his adventure through the dream world with the help of his two favorite superheroes. Sharkboy and Lavagirl was a flop at the box office (maybe due to the fact that it was competing against Madagascar and Revenge of the Sith) and was absolutely panned by critics. Why is such an innocent movie made by a father for his son so reviled?
The father on trial for making this movie is Robert Rodriguez, as he appears a whopping fourteen times in the credits. He was the writer, director, producer, visual effects supervisor, director of photography, editor, camera operator, composer, and performer. Who says the days of the auteur are over? The big gripes with this movie are about the story and the special effects, which is honestly surprising. The story was written by a child and it really feels that way. As a kid, this movie feels extremely genuine. A child would have crazy dreams with an overactive imagination where he defeats his bully with his superhero friends while eating cookies along the way. It’s pure pre-adolescence and if you can’t enjoy that as an adult, then sorry, but The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl is not the movie for you, obviously.
Self-awareness is critical for a movie and Sharkboy and Lavagirl has it in abundance. It recognizes how juvenile the concept is and how ridiculous literally everything in this movie is. The movie really thinks it’s cute as it's packed to the brim with obvious metaphors for Max’s life in the dream world. Also, in case you didn’t know the movie is about dreams, the word “dream” is said 188 times in the movie. The themes are likewise very obvious; so much so that the film starts with a quote saying “Everything that is or was, began with a dream…” which is of course from Lavagirl. Dreams are good and it’s important to be selfless.
The best part of the movie is the cast and they really go for it in this movie. Taylor Lautner and Taylor Dooley play Sharkboy and Lavagirl, respectively. All of the stunts done by Lautner in the movie were improvised as he grew up as a martial arts expert apparently. His musical number, affectionately titled “Dream, Dream, Dream, Dream (Dream, Dream)” is an absolute bop. He plays the role with so much intensity, which would feel out of place in the movie if he didn’t randomly do a superhero pose every five minutes. Dooley is absolutely insane in this movie. The amount of close-ups of her creepily smiling is sure to give kids nightmares. She’s still the most badass of the group as she has the coolest hero shots. Cayden Boyd plays Max, the protagonist, and is easily hateable in this movie. It evens out as he’s constantly being hit in the nuts and zapped with electricity.
Max’s parents, played by David Arquette and Kristin Davis, are weird. They’re very clearly going through a divorce, which might explain Max’s overactive imagination as a coping device. Arquette plays an out-of-work writer, which if this movie is about Rodriguez’s kid, then way to paint yourself in such a negative light. He’s played as childish and sometimes pathetic, which just comes across as sad. There’s a scene where Max is complaining to his mom about how he doesn’t want to go to school because he gets bullied and his mom responds by telling him that his parents are not compatible. As if to say “Don’t worry about getting bullied, your father and I are getting a divorce.” At the end of the movie, they realize how much they need each other when they both get sucked away by tornadoes. Of course this is resolved by Sharkboy and Lavagirl saving them.
George Lopez plays one of the greatest villains of all time. Mr. Electric has so many quotable one-liners and more bad puns than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze. The decision to make him a robot ball with just a close up of his face is gold. Anyone who grew up with Lopez’s sitcom knows that the size of his head is a comedic target. He also has a daughter who is a nerd like Max, but when Max tries to befriend her, Mr. Electricidad gets upset because that’s his daughter. It’s as if he is upset because he thinks Max’s intentions with her are romantic, which is weird because Max is ten. If George Lopez is Darth Vader in this movie, then Jacob Davich is basically The Emperor. Davich’s character of Linus is like if Draco Malfoy could actually get things done. Linus does so much more than tatle on the Max. He actively runs the most effective bullying syndicate in the school. Max gets bullied from the exact moment he steps on the school campus. The scene where he directs the bullies to surround Max on the playground really shows the true might of his ruthless dictatorship. Not to mention, the scene where Mr. Electricidad calls the bully “Minus” instead of Linus is true poetry in action.
The backstory for Sharkboy and Lavagirl is absolutely insane, which fits the tone very well. Seeing the CGI shark talk in that deep voice is nightmare fuel, but it’s immediately counteracted by seeing Sharkboy feel his new gills, which are very clearly not real. While the movie goes in-depth with Sharkboy’s backstory, Lavagirl just shows up, while Sharkboy is swimming in the shower (you read that right). Their stories are wrapped up in equally as insane fashion. Sharkboy searches the depths of the ocean for his father, while Lavagirl realizes that she is light? There’s a robot named “Tobor”, which is just “Robot” spelled backward, that’s also voiced by George Lopez for some reason. If one was to pick apart the story of this movie, they wouldn’t be understanding the point.
The CGI is terrible... or is it? Obviously, it doesn’t look realistic, but was it trying to be? It’s a ridiculous children’s movie. It’s fair to say that it was going for a cartoonish feel. If one was to complain about the color of the movie, that’s more of an issue with the 3-D, which is a whole different thing. If you’re fortunate enough to own this movie on DVD and have a couple of pairs of custom Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3-D glasses, then you’re in for a treat. Not only are they stylish, but the movie directs the audience when to wear the glasses. The scenes in the real world are in 2-D, while the scenes on Planet Drool are in this disgusting 3-D that turns everything kind of grey. It’s worth it as the 3-D gags in this movie are top-notch. Move over Avatar, this is the real cinematic experience.
It’s very fair to say this movie is dumb and cast it into the pit of obscurity. It’s a mid-2000s flop that relied on the cheap 3-D trend. There is a small cult following for this movie as it’s ridiculousness puts it up there with the likes of The Room when it comes to movies that are so bad it’s good. The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl is the type of movie you watch late at night with a group of friends and make fun of how crazy it is. Call it nostalgia, but watching a young Jacob from Twilight fight the guy from the show that plays the “Low Rider” song is true bliss. Would a child watching this movie for the first time enjoy it? Yes, it’s filled with imagination and characters with personality. Remember how Will Smith made After Earth just so his son could star in a big summer blockbuster? This is the less cynical version of that. This may be a minus of a movie, but it was a child’s dream, so just enjoy the innocent insanity.
By Adam Donato
Disney took its first step into the computer-generated world of animation with its first blockbuster of the 21st century: Dinosaur. This movie was almost directed by the man who made Robocop, Paul Verhoeven, and was supposed to have a much darker tone with practical effects. Dinosaur was thrown off course due to the successes of other dinosaur movies — The Land Before Time and Jurassic Park. What audiences received is exactly the kind of dinosaur movie that would be expected from Disney. Is that such a bad thing?
Dinosaur is undeservingly forgotten in Disney’s animated film history. The special effects are beautiful, especially for its time. The landscapes are live-action as they were taken straight from gorgeous countries like Venezuela. With the dinosaurs being animated in such a lifelike fashion, they feel like they belong in the world they inhabit. Seeing how these larger than life creatures move around is worth the cost of watching alone. Due to the limitation of non-animated backgrounds, the shots do get repetitive. Take a drink every time a dinosaur runs at the camera or shoves its head into the foreground of a shot. It’s easy to nitpick two decades later, but this was a technical achievement at the time. Almost makes you happy they didn’t use practical effects for the dinosaurs. Funny how Disney was inspired to go fully animated after seeing how well it worked in Jurassic Park. The best looking parts of that movie aren’t computer-generated. Still, very impressive for what it is.
The big knock on Dinosaur is said to be the story. This must be a result of the “Disney-fication” of the movie. It’s said that the original concept for the movie was to be much darker and end with a battle between the humble iguanodon and the ferocious tyrannosaurus rex. The outcome did not matter due to a meteor wiping out all life besides the lemur who was to evolve into mankind. There was also a great deal of religious metaphors with Aladar initially being named Noah, the bad iguanodon named Cain, and the lemur sidekick being named Adam. It’s hard to defend the studio for playing it safe with what is now the ending of the movie. Even the television sitcom Dinosaurs had the guts to have a realistic ending. It’s safe to assume that children know the dinosaurs went extinct. Ignoring what the story could’ve been, what was actually adapted is an uninspired and generic tale. It’s entirely functional as a movie, but pales in comparison to even other Disney animated fare.
When it comes to a Disney movie, it really does come down to the supporting cast to give the movie its personality. The Lion King is iconic in part because of characters like Timon and Pumba. Even if one had just walked out of seeing Dinosaur, it would be impressive if they could remember Eema and Baylene. Aladar is virtuous and unchanging as a protagonist, which would be okay if the impact he had on the supporting characters was more impactful. The characters who opposed Aladar died regardless of whether they changed and the characters being given hope by Aladar continued to embrace said positivity. Kron, the antagonist, is mean and continues to be a jerk up until he is unceremoniously killed by the carnotaurus. Speaking of the carnotaurus, what a terrifying monster. Literally just a t-rex, but red and with devil horns. That’s nightmare fuel, kids. It’s also weird how some dinosaurs just don’t speak, like the carnotaurus. It would’ve probably been weirder if the carnotaurus did start talking at the end, which apparently almost happened. Aladar has a love interest in Neera, but their relationship feels rushed, much like everything in this movie. Also, Zini is supposed to be the comic relief. The keyword in that sentence is supposed.
All these complaints about the story and characters are half-hearted. If this was a Dreamworks movie, it would be in their top five, easily. It just sucks that this is Disney’s entry in the dinosaur genre, but even Pixar had trouble. The journey to the nesting grounds is very rewarding. After trekking through the desert for the majority of this movie, it feels nice when you’re finally reimmersed in the lush beauty of the nesting grounds at the end. The themes about sticking together and finding a new family in people that are different than you is nice. When the herd confronts the carnotaurus together, it’s a nice payoff following the cruel “only the strong will survive” attitude the herd had prior.
The best part of the movie is hands down the opening sequence labeled by the soundtrack as “The Egg Travels”. It perfectly encapsulates the tone that the original concept was going for. Holding onto the darkness originally intended with the terrifying carnotaurus stomping on the poor mother iguanodon’s eggs. The scene follows the only surviving egg as it is passed from dino to dino, allowing the audience to experience the beautiful landscapes that they call home. None of the dinosaurs speak in this sequence as all we hear is when they roar and the music. The score for this scene, and the rest of the movie, is phenomenal. James Newton Howard is a pro and really brought it to this project. This scene really sets the stage for the rest of the movie and presents how grand these creatures really are. The trailer was comprised mostly of this sequence, which maybe gave audiences higher expectations for this movie. This could’ve led to disappointment, for nothing in this movie quite compares to this sequence.
Maybe if another studio would have made Dinosaur, it would have retained the dark tone and lack of dialogue that the feature was intended to be. Then again, what we got wasn’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination. Disney delivered what was their darkest movie to date, if you go by death toll. Still, the movie is breathtaking with its score and special effects. There’s also a badass ride at Disney World’s Animal Kingdom that’s definitely worth checking out. It goes without saying that it’s in the top ten dinosaur movies of all time. If you’re wondering if there are more than ten dinosaur movies, The Land Before Time franchise has 14 installments that went straight to DVD. Dinosaur is a mature children’s flick that’s sure to stand the test of time. Just like dinosaurs themselves, this movie should not be forgotten.
By Adam Donato
Video game movies are infamously bad, and Disney is no exception (Wreck-it Ralph doesn’t count). Prince of Persia is a very notable video game franchise about, to put it simply, a Prince going on adventures in Persia. The series of games has a long history with a supposedly large fanbase. Disney sought to replicate the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise with Jerry Bruckheimer producing the film. Indie darling Jake Gyllenhaal stars with Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, and Doctor Octopus himself, Alfred Molina. The film was given a budget of $200 million, not including marketing, and didn’t make its money back. Is this another good movie going criminally unseen or did it follow the trend of video game movie that would be better if you had a controller in your hand?
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is fine. It’s a big, dumb blockbuster wannabe that is perfectly digestible. There’s a lot of reasons to root for this movie to be a success, while also having so much going against it. That’s usually the recipe for a controversial movie that everyone is sure to have an opinion on, but nobody saw it. Even if one did see Prince of Persia, it’s so unspectacular that it’s hard to have an opinion on it in general.
On one hand, It’s a video game movie in the best way. People who played the game have noted how a lot of the action is very reminiscent of the source material. Speaking of action, this movie is full of it. If you like parkour, then this is the Casino Royale of video game movies. The budget is very high so of course the action is quite the spectacle. While it may look too animated at times, it gets away with it thanks to its video game roots. The cast is full of talented actors. Gyllenhaal headlines the cast and they couldn’t have picked a more likable leading man. He makes Dastan, this one-dimensional hero, into a somewhat interesting protagonist. Needless to say, you’re rooting for him. Arterton, also starring in the Clash of the Titans movie in the same year, was very hot at the time (pun intended). Kingsley is always a pro. Steve Toussaint, Toby Kebbell, and Richard Coyle all do well in the movie, but none of them steal the show quite like Molina. Sheik Amar is the most memorable character in Prince of Persia and it’s not even close. He would’ve been the Jack Sparrow of the movie, but his character was not given nearly enough screen time. It’s a very light movie that’s fun for the family and is graciously just under two hours.
Literally everything else is not good. The cast, while great, does not fit the movie whatsoever. This is Ghost in the Shell level white-washing and it’s just sad. Indy Mogul questioned why the movie didn’t go full Bollywood and it’s not a bad idea. Gyllenhaal wasn’t even a bankable star at the time and honestly still isn’t. The main gripe that people have about the movie is the script. It’s not terrible, but it is very standard. At least it has themes, despite how shoved down your throat they are. We get it, the movie is about destiny and brotherhood, but the movie still puts “destiny” on the screen at the beginning and end so that you get the message. It’s one of those scripts where if you ask any questions about the internal logic of the story, it falls apart. The romance is whatever. It’s hilarious watching the main couple kiss while the world is crumbling behind them. The villain is fine. Have you seen literally any other movie ever? Then you’ve seen this movie.
Prince of Persia did have the disadvantage of being put through development hell through the 2000s. It had to maneuver through the Writers Guild of America strike and the Screen Actors Guild strike. It’s also fair to say that Bruckheimer has a fifty percent success rate and his Disney family films are more often than not bad. During an interview for Spider-Man: Far From Home, Gyllenhaal jokes about how Dastan may not have been the best role for him to take on. It honestly might be for the best as Gyllenhaal has one of the best track records during the 2010s. It’s not hard to see how Disney would think Prince of Persia would be a big success with its recognizable franchise, notable talent involved, and $200 million budget. The poor movie was up against Sex and the City 2 and Shrek Forever After. It never stood a chance. Maybe if it had better word of mouth.
It’s sad to say, but chalk this box office bomb up as yet another video game movie that just didn’t translate to the big screen. The 2010s had a small string of video game movies that seem to be trending the genre upward, but only ever so slightly. One could make a solid argument for Prince of Persia as the best video game movie. Alas, it feels like a cross between the worst Pirates of the Caribbean movie and the worst Mummy movie. Look at the bright side, if it was a success, then Gyllenhaal would’ve been too busy doing tired sequels instead of starring in critical successes like Source Code, End of Watch, Prisoners, Enemy, and (maybe the best of them all) Nightcrawler. Don’t watch Prince of Persia, but if you do, maybe you won’t hate it. It’s definitely a movie.
By Adam Donato
In 2005, Paul Haggis managed to write, direct, and produce Crash, a movie that tries to tackle racism with interconnected stories about people of different ethnicities coming into conflict with one another over their differences. The film was only able to get off the ground due to its ensemble cast of recognizable names like Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, and… Ludacris. Domestically, it made about $50 million at the box office and doubled that number with its overseas haul. The Oscars ignored the critical controversy around the film by giving Crash three Oscars for Editing, Original Screenplay, and Best Picture. Fifteen years later, it’s interesting to see the decline in popular opinion of what was one of the best movies of 2005.
In 2006, Jack Nicholson announced Crash as Best Picture at The Oscars over the heavily favored Brokeback Mountain. In 2019, when Green Book won Best Picture, it was compared to Crash, as both are movies that have obvious themes about racism and didn’t deserve Best Picture. When sub-par movies are put on a pedestal or given accolades over more deserving features, they get labeled as overrated. The worst thing that could’ve happened to Crash is winning the Best Picture Oscar. This raises an important question that this review won’t be able to fully answer: What makes a movie worthy of Best Picture? Crash had the support of the Screen Actors Guild due to its all-star cast. Haggis had written the screenplay for Million Dollar Baby, the Best Picture of the previous year. It was about a prevalent social/political issue. The conception of the movie is an underdog story for the ages, with Haggis having to use his own car and house as sets. So it’s understandable, in hindsight, why Crash won Best Picture. The last thing that makes a movie worthy of Best Picture (which should be the first, but we don’t live in a perfect world), is the quality of the movie itself. This begs the question: is Crash good?
No. Crash feels like the type of movie that you would show to middle school children in an effort to explain what racism is. The characters in the movie are either redeemed despite their previous bigotry or left in tragedy despite a previous track record of doing their best. A great deal of the dialogue, while probably is said by people in real life, is laughable. Characters throw around racist slang terms as insults and it usually lands in a comical fashion. Some of the scenarios the characters are put in are entirely contrived in the most ridiculous way. It’s hard to take the movie seriously when Ludacris is giving a monologue about racism, all the while playing into the stereotype he’s arguing against. The movie mostly comes across as preachy as it beats you over the head with racism. Filmmakers are supposed to manipulate the audience, but audiences don’t like knowing they’re being manipulated. Some people don’t care for the ending of Toy Story 3, because of course it’s upsetting to see your childhood toys accept death together as they are about to descend into the fiery pits of hell. It’s a cheap scare, like when a character quietly walks into a dark room and gets frightened by their cat in a horror movie. The same principle applies to Crash. The sheer volume of obvious racism in the movie is overkill. It’s fair to say this movie is catering towards the Academy voters with its shoehorned Los Angeles setting and heavy-handed morality tale.
Now, with all that being said, yes. All the negative things the previous paragraphed detailed about Crash are true, but it’s also very good in a lot of ways. The film's lack of subtly kind of makes it brilliant. It’s very possible to watch this movie as a comedy by laughing at all the cringe-worthy dialogue and insanely coincidental story. Let’s go one step further and actually pick out the good in the movie. The movie is very well-edited. The ability to find a way to connect all these stories so that the overall picture makes sense is the saving grace of this picture. No character feels like they’re gone for too long and the emotional beats are hit quite consistently. The entire cast does an amazing job, considering what they’re given to work with. Sometimes, the performances feel over-the-top, but it works because the movie is already so excessive. The soundtrack of the movie sets the tone perfectly and In the Deep by Kathleen York and Michael Becker was very deserving of its Best Original Song nomination at the Oscars. The movie is shot competently enough by cinematographer James M. Muro. Lastly, it’s clear that Haggis made the exact movie he wanted to make, which is endearing after everything he went through to make this movie happen.
The themes of the film are very complicated. In fact, that last word kind of sums of the point of the movie — it’s complicated. To err is human. There are no good or bad people in this movie. Characters, who are prejudiced learn a lesson and are redeemed. Other characters who seem virtuous discover they’re not as clean as they think and suffer for it. Just like the Avenue Q song, everyone’s a little racist. Human beings often let their differences lead to conflict, but through compassion and understanding, we can see the best in people. It’s hard to break barriers without crashing into them.
Crash is anything but subtle. It certainly is a movie that gets people to react. Whether they’re laughing or crying or angry, they feel something and that’s all the movie is trying to do. Cheadle’s character has an opening monologue about today’s people having to crash into one another just to feel something. After the Oscar backlash, Haggis admitted the movie wasn’t the best movie of the year, but it was one that stuck with people. As a person who watches movies all the time, it’s nice to watch one that sticks. If Crash makes people reflect on themselves and see the prejudices they have that prevent them from connecting with others, then that sounds like a pretty important movie. Maybe even one deserving of Best Picture.
The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.