Finding a New Universe

Movie Title: Land of the Lost (2009)
Spoilers: No

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What does Land of the Lost sound like it's going to be about? If you had no idea that it was a comedy and that it had Will Ferrell in it, the title would make you think it was a science fiction piece from the 1950s where a traveling lot of short-haired men with military cuts and one or two pretty white women with long blond hair stumble into some dimensional portal to a secret universe and…get lost.

I can just see the exaggerated font of the oversized letters on posters in a café: “Land of the Lost.” In all odds, the acting would be terrible by our standards, whether it fit the time period it was released in or not. “The Valley That Time Forgot,” “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,” that’s how titles used to sound. ‘Twas an age of extravagant thinking that gave birth to the refined science fiction works of today.

Would that Land of the Lost, starring Will Ferrell, was some old, cheesy flying saucer movie from the fifties and not the floundering flop that it is. This one is a doozy, quite probably in the running for the worst films of 2009.

Will Ferrell is funny…or he can be funny. There are those who point to his few successful movies (“Old School,” “Anchorman,” and some would say “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby”) and call him funny, while there are those (like yours truly) who call him funny, but point to “Semi-pro” and say that he never should have left SNL. I don’t think movies are his thing. What more can I say?

Get ready because Land of the Lost is way worse than Semi-pro and worse than…well, a lot! It was terrible—under-packed with good humor and over-packed with a stupid storyline that involves over-sexed monkey-boys, bathing in dinosaur pee, and dislodging t-rex intestinal blockages. And it has wars between aliens, which may pay tribute to those 1950s scifi stiffs we mentioned earlier, but the way things are done here, they’re a lot less interesting.

Will Ferrell is Dr. Rick Marshall, a discredited scientific researcher who is looking for a way to travel to alternate universes. Everyone is taking stabs at him—from Stephen Hawking to Matt Lauer. Losing faith in his own work, he runs into someone willing to face the music of ridicule to show her support for him. She is Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel) and she believes Marshall is a genius.

And Dr. Marshall has to be a genius. After all, he not only invents a machine that opens up alternate realities in time and space, but the machine is waterproof and has a battery life of at least several days. And it has a built-in radio that always plays (I don’t know why, but it does!) On the way to test this new tachyon amplifier, they run into Will Stanton (Danny McBride), a Devil’s Cave tour guide. The three end up transported into a universe so odd that only Peewee Herman would fit right in.

The science fiction behind the story is much better than the humor in the story, though that’s not saying much. Not to disappoint comedy junkies who love to laugh at humor that should only appeal to Monster Truck Rally lovers and other degenerates, Land of the Lost offers hallucinating male-human-on-male-ape-man make-outs and ape-men that have a language with syntax and grammar that is understood, amazingly, by a human female from another dimension.

The idea of finding other universes to run around in is pretty cool. It would be fun, but right now, the only thing I can think about is finding a new universe to live in where Land of the Lost was never made.

(JH)

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Grade: D- (1 star)
Rated: PG-13
Summation: On his latest expedition, Dr. Rick Marshall is sucked into a space-time vortex alongside his research assistant and a redneck survivalist.
Director: Brad Silberling
Starring: Will Ferrell "Dr. Rick Marshall," Anna Friel "Holly Cantrell," Danny McBride "Will Stanton," Jorma Taccone "Cha-Ka," John Boylan "Enik," Matt Lauer "Himself"
Genre: Comedy / Adventure / Scifi

Going Up

Movie Title: Up (2009)
Spoilers: No

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Should you ever get tired of your surroundings and decide you want a change of scenery from the featureless lots that are your and your neighbor's backyards, you should try sending thousands and thousands of balloons up your chimney so that your whole house will float off of its foundation to a spot of your choosing. Once you get it off the ground, you just have to steer the thing (and make sure it doesn’t fall apart in route, but nevermind that concern).

Floating your house with balloons would, of course, never work in real life. For one thing, you’d need enough balloons to cover half the state of Wyoming. But it will work if done in your imagination. Alternatively, you could forego imagining and just watch the movie Up where an old and brokenhearted Carl Fredericksen (Edward Asner) decides to fulfill his childhood dream and the dream of his late wife by moving their house to South America in the spirit of the great adventurer, Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer).

In a creative and altogether imaginative endeavor, Up is heart-tugging and funny, complete with all the human nuances that Pixar has become known for clustering into their stunning works of animation. It’s thumbs up for Pixar, but thumbs down for the human actors today—so few of whom can sprinkle their performances with this much humanity.

In Up, you have an old man who is cranky and tired of life – as he should be at his age – and you have a young man who acts like a young man and not like some too-smart-for-his-own-good adolescent who needs to be slapped across the mouth. Russell (Jordan Nagai) is an 8-year-old boy scout, and he acts like it! Up manages to be both a blast from the past and a modern day epic tale at the same time. There’s something going on here!

You have an odd mixture of dinosaurs, dogs, an ambitious bad guy, technology, and an old man who is afraid of said technology. There’s a moral to the story, and yes, it has a little to do with friendship and happiness, but how many times have you seen those themes played out in a character who needs a walker with the traditional cut-up golf balls on the four pronged ends? You haven’t.

The humor is low-key, although memorable, but it is the plot that will be near and dear to many a heart. Up is not as funny as it is endearing, but the story is an adventure that grows in appeal the longer you watch. But when all is said and done, I’m going to give second place to the story and first place to the creativity.

You have to be pretty young (or creative) to appreciate an entire house lifting off of its foundation by balloons, but that is the true beauty of creativity—the laws of reality can (and should) take a back seat to unrestrained imagination so that those childhood fantasies of tiny, engine-less propellers powering huge plains can be appreciated, the same with superheroes picking up whole (intact) submarines without them breaking—if it’s going to happen, creativity’s got to do it. It is the sublime beauty of creativity by which we can escape this unimpressive and often miserably confining world and reach heights unknown—even if those heights happen to be floating a house somewhere in Venezuela.

(JH)

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Grade: A+ (4 stars)
Rated: PG
Summation: By tying thousands of balloon to his home, 78-year-old Carl Fredricksen sets out to fulfill his lifelong dream to see the wilds of South America.
Directors: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson
Starring: Edward Asner “Carl Fredricksen” (voice), Christopher Plummer “Charles Muntz” (voice), Jordan Nagai “Russell” (voice), Bob Peterson “Dug / Alpha” (voice), Delroy Lindo “Beta” (voice), Jerome Ranft “Gamma” (voice), John Ratzenberger “Construction Foreman Tom” (voice), David Kaye “Newsreel Announcer” (voice), Elie Docter “Young Ellie (voice), Jeremy Leary “Young Carl” (voice)
Genre: Animation / Action / Adventure / Comedy / Family

I'm Wondering

Movie Title: The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)
Spoilers: No

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Having never seen the original 1974 version of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, I am unable to compare it to the 2009 remake, starring John Travolta and Denzel Washington. The original had Walter Matthau as “Lt. Garber” and Robert Shau as “Blue,” the head of the color-code-named villains. Some things have changed in the latest addition, but the basics are still there: a subway train is hijacked and hostages are taken and will be harmed if a large ransom is not paid.

You are supposed to wonder how, even if the ransom is paid, the bad guys could ever expect to make it away. All the exits are blocked off. The effort seems futile. But I’m wondering a few other things, like why in this otherwise exciting thriller we have the usual routine of the cops sucking at their jobs and the terrorist leader “Ryder” (John Travolta) who decides he will only talk with newbie transit operator Walter Garber (Denzel Washington)—who happened to be named “Walter” as a tribute to Walter Matthau, the original Garber.

I’m tired of the sucky cop routine in movies. It’s for the birds. Why, I ask you, must the cops or the FBI as they arrive to take over management of a hostage situation suck at their jobs? I’m also wondering why no one informed director Tony Scott that confessing to a felony or any other crime under duress is not admissible as evidence against a person. And I’m wondering why such a wimpy job was done with the hostages’ “harrowing” ordeal of being kidnapped by these madmen. This isn’t how terrorized kidnap victims act. It’s supposed to be grueling, but little energy was put into making the experience an unforgettably one for the audience.

The kidnapped have their own source of inner-drama too, you might say. One man is getting a teasing from his girlfriend on the train thanks to wireless internet, but when he becomes a hostage, he wouldn’t return an “I love you” to his honey. See the drama? Do you want to see it? Not that kind.

Washington’s sharp “every man” quality makes him real. You probably work with somebody just like him. Travolta visibly fit the look of a good guy gone bad, a guy who made some wicked wrong choices in life, but his charisma is too high for the part. He threw around the word “motherfucker” enough times, but his hurt didn’t show through. He was too relaxed, too at peace with himself, especially toward the film’s end.

Stuff needed to be trimmed out, like melodramatic references that did nothing for the film, the lightly blabbermouth dialogue, a pseudo-quaint reference of bringing home a gallon of milk, an unnecessary police car wreck, and a rat setting off accidental gunfire…none of it helped. Two strangers building a relationship in a crisis worked in Diehard, but not as well here. The action doesn’t cover it up well.

(JH)

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Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: R
Summation: Armed men hijack a New York City subway train, holding the passengers hostage in return for a ransom.
Director: Tony Scott
Starring: Denzel Washington “Walter Garber,” John Travolta “Ryder,” Luis Guzmán “Phil Ramos,” Victor Gojcaj “Bashkim,” John Turturro “Camonetti,” James Gandolfini “Mayor”
Genre: Crime / Drama / Thriller

Maddening

Extremely hard work can do things to a man...bad things. A $6 pitcher of beer will do much worse things, sometimes making him do things (and withstand things) he otherwise wouldn't be able to.

It was last night when a day's worth of stress and agony, combined with a large pitcher of Miller Genuine Draft, resulted in my having some bragging rights. I listened to all 9 minutes and 31 seconds of this maddening video made by some fool with too much time on his hands.

I promise, I listened to the whole thing. Can you? Dare you try? Try the first 30 seconds. I bet you don't make it 2 minutes in...



(JH)

The Need for Postmenopausal Hormone Therapy

Movie Title: Drag Me to Hell (2009)
Spoilers: No

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To some of us, it’s a sad truth that mankind has not outgrown his craving for belief in the supernatural. This craving very often spills over into our choice of movies. Movies with supernatural themes can be big hits or otherwise held in high regard just because of their supernatural element. You have The Exorcist and Amityville Horror, both revered horror series’. And in another category, there’s the 1990 film Ghost, starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore.

When I saw Ghost in theatres as a young man, there wasn’t a dry set of eyes in the house, and that included my own. Everyone was so touched to see two lovers separated by the throws of death. But I remember something else that stuck with me and never went away—the terror I felt in watching two men dragged to Hell by those poorly drawn, groaning, black demons that grabbed onto them and took them to Hell for the lives of wickedness they lived. It was scary, terrifying even. Ghost was an excellent film.

Drag Me to Hell was not such an excellent film, and unlike Ghost that made inroads towards seeing people taken to Hell seem a touch more justified, this one doesn’t. It is a disgusting and visionless sadist’s thriller with the balls to build an entire movie with the primary intent being to portray suffering.

In Drag Me to Hell, young children who steal from gypsies go to hell, as do women who exercise their rights to foreclose on an old woman’s home as done within banking guidelines. The lesson here seems to be: there are a lot of inexplicably unforgiving old women out there who will curse you for damn near anything. Piss one off and you can be sent spiraling to Hell to burn for all eternity!

A bright and young “Christine Brown” (Alison Lohman) has a job as a loan officer at a bank. She has “a keeper” of a boyfriend “Clay Dalton” (Justin Long) and a cat she loves. She’s a good person until she rubs wrong “Mrs. Ganush” (Lorna Raver), an old woman who has down the handy art of putting curses on people that she feels have shamed her.

The entire movie is about how one innocent young woman, with a full life ahead of her, is forced to deal with a terrible curse as it makes her existence miserable and unlivable. Thanks to psychic “Rham Jas” (Dileep Roa), poor Christine has the added misery of knowing that in three days, if she doesn’t find a way to rid herself of the curse, she’s going to split Hell wide open.

She never shed blood or carried out ethic genocide. She didn’t violate any “moral law” or speak ill of a deity. But in Drag Me to Hell’s dark universe, you don’t need to do any of that to lose your soul. The sick deity that created a Heaven for his good kids and a Hell for his bad kids has no problem giving the keys to the realm of the damned to crotchety old women who obviously struggle with postmenopausal rage.

Forget God. Forget Jesus. Forget the Holy Spirit. Forget the Church. Forget purgatory and being bailed out of Hell by a priest or the prayers of the saints. Not a single reference to apostolic powers or “white magic” is ever made. At no time did she go to a local house of worship to have the powers of darkness vanquished like we are told Jesus can do. She didn’t even try.

Christine, eager for promotion at her place of employment, is successful and intelligent, but she will seek out an Indian psychic who believes in a really big goat demon who takes souls (assumedly at the bidding of Satan himself), but not a Christian priest. I found that omission way too odd.

Those who believe that God (any version of him/her/it) would torture his children, wayward or not, is unthinkable to me. But given the premise of the film, I wonder if a gypsy or a group of gypsies could curse the world or an entire race if they can curse to Hell individuals? Would it not have been done already if it were possible in this horrible universe? Could you, say, curse everyone with red hair? Could you collect DNA shared by the entire human race and curse us all?

And in this superstitious, unforgiving, menacingly dark universe of vengeful old women, who no doubt issued more eternal damnation curses than hairs on their heads, would there not be a chant or ritual or some “reverse curse” we would expect to find? Surely there was a need for one. Reason demands that there would be, but then, reason is not the faculty called upon to make or to enjoy horror movies.

To its credit, I was compelled to watch. So-so acting and soft slams against the bizarreness of older horror flicks is a continual presence, right along with these curses and mouthy old women, who, incidentally, love to come back from the grave and chew on the chins and stick their arms down the throats of the women they curse. This marriage of horror and hilarity was clever, but I didn’t find it funny. Horror and humor should never crawl into the same bed.

(JH)

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Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: PG-13
Summation: A loan officer ordered to evict an old woman from her home finds herself the recipient of a supernatural curse.
Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: Alison Lohman “Christine Brown,” Justin Long “Clay Dalton,” Lorna Raver “Mrs. Ganush,” Dileep Rao “Rham Jas,” David Paymer “Mr. Jacks”
Genre: Horror

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