“Godzilla” (2014) Review

What can you expect from a Godzilla movie? The legacy of Japan’s top giant monster has had several interpretations. The mean, green machine has been the horrific creation of science gone wrong, an opponent in giant monster wrestling matches and even a hero of the people. So which route do you take? Well, this 2014 remake managed to find a way to make Godzilla the hero of the day without turning the film into a campy kaiju wrestling match. So, just to get the initial question out of the way, this is a much better film than Roland Emmerich’s 1996 disaster of a Godzilla flick. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, but it helps to know our country managed to do Godzilla right.

I really dug how the first act of this film keeps Godzilla aloof. We don’t even mention the iconic monster for that section outside of some quick shots from a distance in the opening credits. All we’re really told is that something is moving underground and causing havoc in the form of massive earthquakes. More importantly, we see the real human consequence of these attacks. A nuclear plant is attacked where scientist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) loses his wife to a dangerous radiation leak. Many years later, Joe’s son Ford (Aaron-Taylor Johnson) has joined the military service and made a family for himself. Meanwhile, Joe stays in Japan as a conspiracy theory nut stalking the quarantined disaster area of the plant. He ropes his son into his investigation where the two uncover the Japanese government has been secretly keeping a giant monster contained. And it just woke up.

The monster is dubbed MUTO and consumes energy like candy in addition to setting off EMP waves. The unstoppable creature plows through anything and can make jets fall from the sky with his abilities. The MUTO travels from Japan all the way to America to find his mate concealed by the US government. Once they meet, they plan on getting busy and having a kids with an ill-equipped military standing in their way. So where is Godzilla in all this? He’s our triumphant savior who steps in to beat the snot out of these two uglies honing in on his turf (the planet Earth). He has one brief skirmish with one of the MUTOs before the grand two-against-one brawl. And while it seemed like there was a lot of useless build up to that point, the final fight ends up being one of the best Godzilla matches of all-time.

Gareth Edwards takes a much different approach to Godzilla than any other director. Similar to what he did with his previous film Monsters, Edwards teases us with the giant monsters. You don’t see Godzilla almost an hour into the film and when you do see him it’s very brief. Godzilla shows up in Hawaii to fight one of the MUTOs, but you only see some quick news segments. Do we get a CGI disaster fest when a MUTO plows through Nevada? Nope, we only get to see the aftermath. It gets to the point where you start fuming over the lack of giant monster money shots. But, I assure you, it’s well worth the wait for the climactic clash.

The slow burn by Edwards keeps the plot interesting by only giving you a taste of the action here and there. The excuse of a human story used to get to the giant monster fights is pretty average for a disaster flick. It gains our attention right away with the whole conspiracy angle, but is swapped in the second act for delivering a nuke to the creatures. Thankfully, by that point, you’re more invested in keeping an eye out for these monsters and the quick shots of carnage they unleash. The good news is that while this is your standard tropes of the epic disaster genre it doesn’t feel as lazy or forced as Roland Emmerich’s vision of making every human comic relief.

Watching this new Godzilla gave me the satisfying experience I expected along with the new vision was hoping to see. All you need to know is that Godzilla is back, he looks great and has finally gotten the movie remake he deserves. Would you believe that American audiences would be cheering for Godzilla in the theater when he unleashes a mighty roar? It’s one of my favorite moments to be in a cinema with a crowd. Edwards may not have completely started from scratch for the Godzilla franchise, but he’s done right at making a pleasing movie for fans and newcomers alike.

“A Haunted House 2” Review

‘A Haunted House 2’ is the biggest middle finger of a sequel I’ve ever seen. It refuses to take any new chances, try out new material or even write something different. The term rehash would be too kind in describing this “horror satire” which struggles more than any other film of this sub-genre for a laugh.

Marlon Wayans returns as the overly-talkative protagonist once again thrown into a creepy house where haunted hijinks ensue. The plot plays out as a direct sequel with his character dumping his previous love interest for a new white wife. I mention she’s white because his character will not shut up about how taboo it is to have an interracial relationship. Even though she tries to reassure him that it’s not a huge deal in the 21st century, he keeps harping on it. Here is a perfect opportunity missed for comedy as Wayans could’ve been seen as a backwards man alone in his misconceptions of the world he bases on stereotypes. Sadly, he is entirely justified by the usual tired and often racist depictions of different races in this picture.

The horror parodies are nothing all that special. There’s a running satire of the plot from 2012’s ‘Sinister’ with the killer from that film failing at his murders and getting assaulted by his victims. It’s mildly amusing as a sort of revenge against horror films, but then again this is nothing new for the sub-genre. The longest running joke involves the creepy doll from ‘The Conjuring’ which Wayans has a strange love affair with. This is a film where for five minutes we watch Wayans go off on an inanimate object and have sexual relations with. I never once cracked a smile during these scenes as they just never seemed to end despite the quick-cut editing style. That’s an even creepier thought to imagine there is more footage of Wayans making out with a wooden doll. This is the cry of someone who desperately needs a writer since he clearly can’t handle improv comedy.

The cherry on the top of this awful mess is the heavy racism. Wayans has written an extremely backwards world where Mexicans are gardeners, white people refuse to even acknowledge black people and African Americans are depicted either as gangsters or drug abusers. Needless to say, this is not biting or challenging comedy. Most of the film just seems to be improv from Marlon Wayans flopping around set with his loud and often annoying mannerism. The result is a film that is unfunny, tired, offensive and just not an enjoyable experience making it one of the worst films of 2014 by far.

“Blended” Review

Adam Sandler’s new romantic comedy Blended is a cliché and formulaic romp with that touch of Sandler’s juvenile wit. To his credit, this film isn’t anywhere near as offensive as his earlier works like That’s My Boy, but that’s hardly a glowing recommendation. I guess I’m just pleased that there was nothing heavily racist, sexist or foul this time around. That still doesn’t excuse the tired comedy and sitcom level writing for this feature film.

Sandler and Drew Barrymore both play single parents with multiple kids who are somehow able to have such easy jobs as being a closet designer and working at Dick’s Sporting Goods. I’d love to know which retail position there allows you to afford such a large house. Not only do they apparently have enough to support their families, but apparently enough to whisk themselves away to an African vacation for seemingly no reason! But they just happen to end up together at a couples themed family resort where the reluctant parties have to share a romantic suite. Thus begins their African adventure where Sandler and Barrymore learn to connect with the kids and each other through some painfully written resort activities intended to be romantic.

Blended was actually shot in Africa in which we are treated to some beautiful locations, but the movie fails to take full advantage of that. Why would go to all the trouble of filming in Africa with real animals when the film resorts to computer generated monkeys to play musical instruments. Come to think of it why would you even want to have computer generated monkeys playing music in the first place? I guess it’s just a-typical of Sandler’s blend with his trademark sight gags and verbal wordplay. And of course it just wouldn’t be a Sandler film without some potty jokes.

Sandler and Barrymore are decent as the cute couple we know that will end up together, but the rest of the characters are all gimmicks and cartoon characters. The kids are okay actors, but they only really serve one purpose to push to the two leads together and then just sort of disappear. Several of Sandler’s usual troupe of actors pop up as well for some moments of awkward and ineffectual bits. Terry Crews keeps popping up as the singing narrator that everybody can see and hear. The first two times it happens is mildly amusing. The fifth time it happens is tedious. After all these attempts at making the film funny, ‘Blended’ tries to turn itself around by making the relationship more emotional for the kids. But since it doesn’t play this card until the third act, you feel nothing for this new development so late in the game.

What perplexes me most about this movie is just who is its target audience. It’s far too childish for a romantic comedy and too adult to be a family comedy. I can only assume that it was intended for young adults and college kids to see on a date night. But, I don’t know, I’d like to think that those audiences are smart enough to know that this film is bland, tired and not challenging or entertaining enough for what they want out of a movie. It’s not the worst film Sandler has ever made, but it’s far, far, far, far far away from being a film I’d want to come back to again.

“Under the Skin” Review

Under the Skin is the type of film that is simple enough to describe in its story, but maddening to comprehend in how it was presented. Scarlett Johansson plays an alien living in the skin of a human body. She is not a creature that specifically has plans of world domination nor is she particularly seen as a frightened child curiously trying to understand Earth’s culture. Johansson’s character is more perplexed about her identity and examination of human beings from a silent mental analysis. She wants to learn more about the human race and how she herself can or cannot mend herself into the folds of its fabric.

The very first shot pulls back from an iris as we hear the female voice struggle to pronounce and enunciate the English language. She sounds out simple words slowly and in repetition to get it just right. After her presumable motorcycle assistant hauls a female body out of a ditch, the setting switches to a sterile, white plain where the nude figure of Johansson’s character strips down the dead woman who looks exactly as she does. Though now concealed in clothing, she knows that there will be others who may discover her secrets. Her identity as Laura must be flawless less her alien presence be discovered.

For the entire film, Laura drives around Scotland in white van talking to various men with the motorcyclist not far behind her. Some of these men are simple strangers, some of them are violent punks. One of which is a lonely man with the disfigurement of neurofibromatosis (a series of facial tumors of which the real actor is afflicted with).

What follows is a dance of temptation and examination as she lures in men to her flesh. The world literally turns into a black canvas as she strips and the men follow doing the same. The farther the men progress, the deeper they literally sink into the inky black below. It’s eerily quiet in these moments with a piercing, lone violin on the soundtrack. We see little of what actually happens to these men once they are sucked under into the dark void. All they leave behind is a floating sheet of shed male flesh that wavers and contort. The mind reels at just what is trying to be said about sexuality or the perception of sexes.

What I found most intriguing about the movie is that it’s a jigsaw puzzle that never ends. You watch it once and think you have it all pieced together for what is being said. But then you watch it a second time and notice something new in the visuals. Maybe its message is less about man’s fear of the opposite sex, but a woman’s physical repulsion to the fragility of sexual congress. Or perhaps those scenes of dark intimacy seem to suggest an indescribable separation between the two sexes. Or maybe Laura’s journey is meant to symbolize the mutating morality and mortality of humanity. Or is it really saying nothing at all?

This is the type of artistic film that is enough to drive a viewer mad. It’s a rubix cube that keeps changing colors and shifting directions where the easily frustrated will chuck it at the wall in anger. For that reason, I completely understand why many would hate such a film as it was booed at the Venice film festival. Critics were divided. Some called it laughably bad while others hailed it as one of the best films of the year. It should be clear from its inclusion on this list where I stand as I tend to favor a film that challenges its viewer with subtext. I don’t claim to get the movie because the thrill of the entire experience is trying to comprehend its meaning.

The key to this whole experience lies in Johansson’s acting. The blank look that many criticize her for plays to her advantage. Her character is one that internally struggles to comprehend the body she occupies and the environment it lives in. After a brief sexual encounter, she immediately leaps out of bed to shine the lamp on her genitals. She is both frightened and amazed at the sensation and change in her physical form. Later on, she simply stares at her naked form in a mirror, slightly moving various muscles to see how they all work. She is infatuated with the human form in a way that appears both curious and mysterious. It’s a startling vision of an outsider’s eye on the human race in how we seem and communicate with others.

The last form of Laura’s true alien form is one of creepiest sci-fi moments I can think of in the last decade. Johansson sits in a snowy forest slowly peeling back the exposed skin from her head. Ripping off the flesh exposes her true alien form that appears black. Her last moments in the film find her cold, vulnerable and in pain.

Most of the time we have aliens in movies they come down for one of two reasons: they either want to say hello (E.T., Starman) or they want us out of the picture (War of the Worlds, Independence Day). We’re never revealed Laura’s true intention for this journey in a human body. Perhaps her race is intelligent enough to not presume too much about Earth before revealing their true forms either start a dialogue or start invading. Maybe they picked up our transmissions of various alien invasion movies and decided to go ahead cautiously with exploring humanity.

This is an elusive piece of movie art I find endless infatuation for its evocative and quiet tone. The best movies in my mind are the ones that present something visually challenging and leave you questioning the picture long after the credits have rolled. If I were still in college, it’s the type of film I’d stay up until 4am arguing with my roommate over various theories until we start dissecting the picture frame-by-frame.

For that very reason, I can only recommend the movie with a disclaimer. Those who are seeking some simple entertainment of an alien discovering Earth culture will be sorely frustrated to the point that they shout “what the hell was that?”, stop the movie and forget about it. But those who want a piece of cinema art that dares you to define it will whisper “what the hell was that?”, rewind the movie and watch it endlessly. Any movie that can leave audiences that divisive and perplexed is just damn good moviemaking in my book.

“Batman: Assault on Arkham” Review

The villains of Batman tend to be much more intriguing than the title hero and now a handful of them have been given their own animated film. But rather than admiring their pathos, this film is more a Dirty Dozen deal. The villains are not spruced up to be more redeemable protagonists and are instead given the reluctant rouge angle. They’re all still evil characters, but just evil enough to be likable for the rather violent mission forced upon them.

The secret government organization known as Suicide Squad takes in villains and offers them a chance to shave off some time from their prison sentence. In exchange, they must complete a secret mission for the government. If they fail, being captured won’t be an issue as the explosives attached to their necks will explode. And, naturally, these missions are not voluntary. The group selected for this mission includes the keen-eyed assassin Deadshot, the witty Captain Boomerang and the overly eccentric Harley Quinn among others. Their mission is to break into Arkham Asylum and take out the recently captured Edward Niggma. But once the group starts questioning the reasons behind the secret murder, they try to stay one step ahead of Suicide Squad supervisor Amanda Waller. And with The Joker running loose inside the asylum and Batman hot on their trails, they’ve got their work cut out for them in addition to dealing with the security.

While the villains we follow for this story are mostly B and C listers of the DC Comics roster, they’re still very fun to follow in a darkly comedic way. It helps that the film is setup with this tone similar to that of a 1970’s mercenary ensemble feature. I was reminded of those 1980’s mercenery ensemble pictures if not for the music and editing than for the slick introductions given to our key players. The manner in which they proceed to carry out their tasks while retaining their despicable behavior is incredibly entertaining. I guess I was just more impressed that film did not dial back on the villainy. This is a group that while reluctantly working together still will not hesitate to kill one of their own if they can get ahead. There is just enough backstory given to Deadshot where we identify with him the most and hope he’ll make it out alive.

It may sound strange writing this, but Batman and Joker are the weaker links of this movie. The Dark Knight manages to pull off shreds of good detective work, but his master plan for infiltrating the Suicide Squad could be seen a mile away and wasn’t all that surprising when it was revealed. The twisted love triangle between Joker, Harley and Deadshot was not as strong acting as a setup for the third act showdown. Joker manages to get in some mildly amusing bits, but nowhere near as entertaining as the relationship between Killer Frost and King Shark or the sly wit of Captain Boomerang. This group manages to hold their own in this thriller of bad guys working for people are far more worse.

While ‘Batman: Assault on Arkham’ does have a thriller angle to uncovering the secrets of the Suicide Squad program, it’s much more enjoyable for its bombastic directing. It’s ruthlessly violent, scandalously sexual and a clever script to boot. This all manages to come together in a fun, almost campy appeal to prisoners breaking into a prison. It manages to be vastly different from DC Comic’s previous direct-to-video animated films which all seem to follow a similar template. For being so wildly different, I can’t help but recommend such a movie even with our title character missing for half the film.

“The Wind Rises” Review

The animated films of Hayao Miyazaki have always been one step above the competition in animation and storytelling, humbling even the best directors at Disney. So you can imagine my excitement and sadness to discover that The Wind Rises will be his final film. Even though this isn’t the first time he’s made this announcement since all the way back in 1997, this latest animated feature seems to have all the signs of a final curtain.

Unlike Miyazaki’s other features, The Wind Rises takes place in a realistic time focusing on the real life of World War 2 fighter plane designer Jiro Horikoshi (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). This is not a war movie, however, as it mainly focuses on Jiro’s dreams and aspirations of designing planes. Air combat does appear in his dreams, but most of his visions are that of speaking to famous plane designer Caproni (Stanley Tucci). In his dreams, Jiro discusses his career aspirations with Caproni as the two of them float and walk along various aircraft in flight.

This continuous inspiration helps fuel Jiro’s desires for becoming a top-notch aircraft designer. Not even the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 that mostly decimated his school could hold him back. All Jiro could think about was how to make a design soar faster and better, despite limited materials. He spends most of his lunch breaks in college looking at fish bones trying to find the perfect curve for his masterpiece of engineering. While every waking moment seems to be obsessed with his craft, he still manages to find time for love when he crosses paths with the beautiful Nahoko (Emily Blunt). And though they spend most of their lives separated by tragedy, their romance stands the test of time.

It should go without saying that the latest film from Studio Ghibli is nothing short of a masterpiece. The animation completely wraps you into the setting with lush green landscapes and bold aerial visions with a painterly quality. The musical score composed by Joe Hisashi matches the majesty of the visuals. I don’t honestly find this to be one Ghibli’s best productions, but even their lesser films are still a massive cut above the rest. There really is nothing like them, even for a film as down to earth as The Wind Rises.

It’s clear why Miyazaki chose such a story for his final film. He identifies with Jiro’s desire for perfection and getting the most out of one’s life. This makes The Wind Rises one of his most personal films that honestly feels more like an examination of how Miyazaki recognizes his lifetime than an analysis of Jiro Horikoshi’s legacy. He inserts several elements from his previous films that captured the wonder of imagination and the human spirit.

That’s not to say that the story of Jiro doesn’t stand well enough on its own. It’s amazing to watch both his career soar and his love for Nahoko develop. Though I must admit we spend much more time inside Jiro’s head than we do with his love interest. This makes the romance feel a little rushed and slightly inorganic given the large amount of time the two spend apart. Uneven as it is, the moments where the two connect are touching and overflowing with emotion more than any other animated couple I’ve ever seen.

At one point Jiro is invited to Germany to examine various aircraft and is thrilled with the experience though heavily censored by officials. As I said, this is not a war movie so you won’t hear much mention of the Nazis or tension with the United States. This is a more personal look at one’s life during rocky times in the background.

If the film had to be classified, it would have to be a romance. This is for both the tragic love story between Jiro and Nahoko as well as Jiro’s passionate obsession with perfection. In one of his visions, Caproni tells Jiro that he’ll only have ten years in the sun. After living through a decade of triumphs and failures, the icon of Jiro’s dreams asks if it was worth it. He agrees as he watches his designs soar off into the sunset. It’s a fitting final scene and a wonderful way to remember one of the greatest animation directors of all-time.

“Zero Charisma” Review

While shows like The Big Bang Theory seem to emphasize that geek is chic, Zero Charisma doesn’t shy away from the destructive personalities of the culture. It may seem like a dated perspective, but the truth is anyone who frequents comic & game shops is aware of this exact individual. He’s the self-righteous game master who thinks so highly of himself that a mere pebble thrown at his towering ego will unleash a storm of dork fury. We may choose not to acknowledge him in the “cool geek” crowd, but he still exists and makes for the perfect destructive character in this film.

Scott doesn’t have much to look forward to in his life. He works part-time at a Chinese take-out joint, lives with his bitter grandma and his flaky mother is attempting to sell her house to pay off her debt. The only thing Scott lives for is his original tabletop roleplaying game which he spends the majority of his time assembling each week for his gaming group. When one of his members departs due to marriage problems, he seek to bring a new player into the fold. Enter Miles, the hipster geek who happens to be an outgoing journalist and comic artist. He is charming enough to work his way into the hearts of the D&D group and begins taking the gaming group in a different direction. It isn’t long before his warm personality and talent breed jealousy within Scott turning him into his rival. And with everything else in his life going downhill, Scott’s rage boils over into insanity as he alienates and attacks everyone in his wake. He can start fights so effortlessly over the most trivial of matters. This soon turns into a battle of the casual geek versus the hardcore geek.

This film is essentially a portrait of a self-destructive individual born within the realm of basement dwelling fantasy lovers. He has become so dedicated to his craft and routine that any altercation sparks his own personal war. This makes him both frightening and hilarious. You hate to see somebody go through such anguish, but you also feel that he’s painted himself into this corner. And you just can’t help but laugh at the fact that Scott lacks the proper mentality to deal with these issues. His life is a mess and he lacks the tools to clean it up. This does, however, provide an interesting enough conclusion that doesn’t take the Taxi Driver way out. Rather, it brings an air of uncomfortable truth and resolution to social relationships in these small-knit communities. Scott is given some heart, but just enough so he doesn’t make any wild leaps in personality.

The script for this project has a biting and insightful wit as when Scott grows irritated by Miles showing him up with his geek knowledge. Scott claims that arguing over starship speeds is irrelevant, but Miles brings references and math into the equation to solve it. Scott at one point claims he was the original writer of The Matrix to which Miles buries his statement in the dirt with several sources. There’s even some strange and uncomfortable bits as when Scott attempts to pop a zit on his pal’s forehead in a rape-esque moment. Scenes like that took me out of the picture, but the hilarious dialogue that goes on at these D&D gaming sessions kept winning me back over. In its own morbid little way, Zero Charisma is a triumph of nerd depiction that I sure hope echos within the various communities to which it plays off of.

“Son of Batman” Review

I fear that Warner Brothers may have exhausted their Batman animated movie ideas if they’re now resorting to estranged child plots. Such a concept seems like something more common for a television program in the twilight of its run. It’s a move that one would have to be very brave and very capable of pulling off to make for an entertaining movie. This is not that movie as the whole idea is given a very lukewarm presentation.

Damien Wayne has grown up far from his father Bruce Wayne in the mountain HQ for the League of Assassins. His entire life has been spent on intense warrior training with his mother Talia and his grandfather Ra’s. Terror strikes, however, when the evil Deathstroke descends on the stronghold with his highly-trained minions to destroy the League. When Ra’s is murdered in the scuffle, Damien vows swift revenge for the death of his grandfather. His quest leads him to Gotham City where he finally comes face to face with his father. Naturally, being the dark knight, it isn’t long before Damien takes an interest in the Robin costume and the dynamic duo takes on a father-son relationship.

The two are polar opposites, however, with Damien being more of a killer than a crime fighter. Growing up with assassins, he’s been taught some rather nasty lessons that Bruce must now rectify with his more humane approach to vigilantism. He shows him the ropes by following the trail of clues that leads them to some fights with Killer Croc and a gang of Man Bats. Those fight scenes are decent, but never really ascend past the level of television animation. And the final showdown between the two and Deathstroke is so underwhelming for a fight with swords and martial arts. These three are supposed to be masters of their fighting craft and here they’re pulling out amateur moves and mistakes. This could have been an impressive display and instead it just feels like another uninspired moment.

What’s really so disappointing about the film is the very poor choice in voice talents. None of these voices really fit all that well. I couldn’t buy the emotion of Bruce Wayne, the cruelness of Damien and the evil of Deathstroke. All of the voice acting either feels ill-fitting or phoned in with a dry delivery. The animation looks decent, but does appear to be a step down from Warner Brothers’ previous direct-to-video animations. It has that sort of stylized jerkiness you’d see on ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’. For television, it looks great. But as an animated film for video, this needs an upgrade. I wasn’t entirely uninvested in the film as there are some great dialogue exchanges between Bruce and Damien as well as some fun lines for Alfred and Nightwing. As a whole, however, I was more distracted by the dip in quality for just about every department. In the canon of these direct-to-video DC Comics movies, this is certainly not a highlight and may be one of the worst they’ve made.

“Better Living Through Chemistry” Review

Even great actors can falter in a film if they’re not used properly. Take Sam Rockwell, a fantastic personality who can ooze charisma for any upbeat role. The only roles I could not buy him in are the sad wimp or the aggressive bully. ‘Better Living Through Chemistry’ likes to think he can fill both designations and lets the trainwreck unfold in a terribly hateable script. Sam Rockwell is a great talent, but even he can’t save a comedy so vile and unlikable that’s devoid of almost all humor.

Doug Varney (Sam Rockwell) is the meekly innocent pharmacist in a town packed with jerks. His wife is a neglectful health nut, his son is a school shooting waiting to happen and everybody he knows more or less walks all over him. It isn’t until he meets lonely housewife Elizabeth Roberts (Olivia Wilde) when he actually feels needed and appreciated. Fed up with both their lives leading nowhere with little appreciation, the two have an affair behind closed doors or in a car when presumably nobody is watching.

Then, in a strange jump, Doug decides it would also be fun to start pilfering pills from the pharmacy he runs. I guess he figured that if you’re going to be unfaithful you might as well commit felonies and get high in the process. He also uses these pills to his advantage in order to beat his wife at a bike race and then ravish like never before in the bedroom. He’s also finally able to connect with his son, but only through cussing and causing public property damage with ninja stars.

I know this whole experience should be seen as a warped way for Doug to gain some backbone, but it’s more of the makings of a villain ala Falling Down. You wish you could be happy for Doug, but it’s hard to root for him when he sinks down lower than the awful characters who spit on him. It isn’t long before Doug and Elizabeth decide to off her old man so they can runaway together. By this point you naturally don’t expect the plan to work and look forward to the inevitable downfall of the character.

But guess what? That moment never comes and were instead treated to a happy ending via left-field accidents that resolve everything. Such an ending would imply that we like the character of Doug and want to see everything work out nice for him in the end. It’s a little hard to feel that when the character is committing all these illegal and immoral acts with a devilish sensibility. You’d almost feel sorry for his dark descent if it weren’t for the fact that he got away with everything. Instead, you just end up hating Doug the same way you despise all the other characters. He sinks to their level and succeeds.

I’m still hung up on how he decided to make the massive leap from having an affair to stealing prescription drugs. Maybe if he’d actually fantasized or considered it at one point in the film it would actually make sense. Heck, the film had a perfect opportunity to use his drugged up and party-boy delivery assistant as an inspiration. It wouldn’t make Doug anymore likable with this added in, but it would at least make some sense of his actions.

There are some early moments where I was convinced that this could be an acceptable dark comedy. In a scene similar to ‘One Hour Photo’, Doug explains the various customers of the small town and the secrets he keeps on all of them. That right there would’ve been a great starting point for the story, but it’s rarely taken advantage of in the movie. We’re instead led down a not-so-likable path of drug abuse and wild sex, but not the kind where anybody gets hurt. After all, that would ruin all of Doug’s “fun”.

I know that Geoff Moore and David Posamentier were aiming for dark comedy here, but I fear they have forgotten the comedy part. Every character just ends up becoming so over-the-top in their mean-spirited nature that they all turn into cartoonish villains. These two writers just cannot conceive likable characters with a script like this.

Doug bursts into his anti-social son’s room and gets on his good side not by being a dad, but trying act cool with foul language and encouraging violence. If my dad did that to me when I was 12, I would’ve called the cops on him. Instead, Doug’s kid learns to trust his dad and confess what’s wrong at school. And all it took was some illegal acts of destruction to get on his good side.

What’s really disheartening is that all these characters are so vile that you don’t feel anything for any of them. Then when the movie actually wants you to feel some emotions when the characters are sweet or placed in jeopardy, you couldn’t care less about how things play out. Then you see how things actually play out and you’re pissed at how lazy the writers were with the conclusion. This is one of the few films with an ending so terrible you may want to bolt yourself to the couch to prevent your fist from flying through the screen.

‘Better Living Through Chemistry’ never really delivers on being either a dark comedy or an uplifting tale of gaining confidence. If it weren’t so ridiculous in its plot and motivations, it could almost pass for a drama. But the combining of the two genres for a good-pharmacist-gone-bad story just doesn’t work here. The film has about two or three decent chuckles and maybe one or two moments of satisfying revenge, but nothing more than that.

“Best Night Ever” Review

Sometimes a filmmaker can surprise you. Take the writing/directing duo Adam Seltzer and Jason Friedberg for example. Up until now, they’ve only made awful parody films such as ‘Epic Movie’, ‘Disaster Movie’ and ‘Meet the Spartans’. But their latest film, ‘Best Night Ever’, is their first original film. There are no cutaway movie references or pop culture satire gags in sight. I’m impressed as I didn’t think these two could ever conceive a film without relying on making fun of films. And guess what? They’re still the worst filmmakers ever.

Told in the popular found-footage format, ‘Best Night Ever’ follows a bachelorette party bound for Las Vegas. When they arrive, however, a case of stolen credit card info leaves the four girls without a swanky room in the city of lights. Deciding not to let this set back their partying, they check in to a low-grade motel on the bad part of town. It’s then that the movie starts struggling to find things for these characters to do by throwing them into wild scenarios.

At one point they decide to buy cocaine from a valet. The valet then robs them and the girls are forced to find money via strange acts such as mud wrestling. The mud wrestling could’ve been interesting, but it’s entirely cut as it proceeds straight to the bloody aftermath. And then it’s just one forced scene after another including taking drugs they swiped from an ambulance because they literally do not know what to do next. This is a plot so bad even the characters know it.

As for the characters, you care for none of them because they never get proper development. All the ingredients are there as you have an uptight wife with criminal tendencies and a new mom who wants to be a party girl. Those are both great foundations to work from, but they never build to anything. You don’t make us care about characters by just slapping them with traits and then never using them. Without any characters to become attached to on any level, all we’re really watching is a bunch of crazy women running around Las Vegas doing stupid and illegal acts. No story, no character, no great lines; just random acts of stupidity and vulgarity.

The one good thing I can say about the direction is that Seltzer and Friedberg are committed to the found-footage format. They make sure a character is always holding the camera at some point with no weird or out-of-place shots. Everything else is a mess.

For making so many comedy films, Seltzer and Friedberg have zero sense of timing. Towards the end of the film, the girls run afoul of a naked, obese black woman that chases them through a hotel. That type of shock humor only has a lifespan of 30 seconds max. But, no, we follow her for what seems like forever in a chase scene that will not end.

But the worst moment by far is a sequence that lasts over 10 minutes in which the girls dash around Las Vegas fulfilling the bachelorette party scavenger hunt. These scenes are not scripted nor do they have any dialogue as that would detract from the annoying overlaying music. There are some films that feel like they were made just so the celebrities involved would get a chance to travel. It’s clear that these actresses were doing this for a chance to run around Las Vegas like loons and we get to watch them have fun without any acting.

Is it really a surprise that these guys don’t know how to write either? They may have done their best to stay original with the script, but their unfunny nature and terrible ideas remain intact. There is no real story or characters present in this movie. There are components that if properly assembled could make at least a cohesive story, but why use any of that when you can just cram in as many vulgar jokes as possible. Oh, and because they’re women partying, make sure they scream and squeal as much as possible at the top of their lungs.

Also, was I supposed to laugh at the scene where they kidnap the wrong guy who ripped them off, raid his house and then urinate and defecate on his face? Is this what comedy has come to in this day and age? I know some women would like to praise this film for being a raunchy comedy with an all female cast, but do you really want to bestow that progressive title on a picture that involves pooping on people’s faces for revenge? Even ‘The Hangover’, for all its vulgarity, still had some standards. Chalk this up to Seltzer and Friedberg’s inability to write women, characters, gags and comedy movies in general.

This is ground zero for humor. It’s as if an A-bomb of awful went off in this movie leaving nothing but plot-puppet characters dancing around Las Vegas. I know I’ve said this with every film they’ve ever made, but Adam Seltzer and Jason Friedberg need to stop making movies. There is no hope for these two as they’ve been making terrible movies for years and have shown zero sign of improvement. Move over, Ed Wood and Uwe Boll. Seltzer and Friedberg have secured their spot as the worst directors of all time and this being their first original movie ensures that title.