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In my post about Oscar movies I disliked that are now on DVD, I neglected to mention one other Oscar-nominated mess!

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, 2 nominations

The charm of the film’s weirdness wears off long before the end. I wonder if Terry Gilliam was too entranced with flash, style, and dreaming up some stunning visuals than story. A friend commented that it seemed like it was made merely for the costume and art direction… which is exactly what it got nominated for! And by the end, when you have long stopped caring about the characters or story, that’s about all you have to look at. Probably only worthwhile for Heath Ledger completists.

So now you know to skip this one, too! CRISIS AVERTED!

With the Oscars two months behind us, pretty much all the nominees and awards season players are finding their way to DVD. And there are so many we didn’t give full attention to here!

A few months back I highlighted critically-acclaimed films that I didn’t care for. They mostly didn’t find traction in awards season, but several more crappy movies did! And it’s so depressing to write about bad prestige films that we mostly skipped them on this blog. But no longer!

If you’re perusing the new releases on NetFlix and think, “Hey, that got nominated for some sort of Oscar, didn’t it? I should rent that,” make sure it’s not on this list or pay the price!

The Lovely Bones, 1 nomination

The deadliest of the deadly. The story follows a fourteen-year-old girl after she is murdered by a neighbor. She goes to some sort of “in-between” between Earth and heaven, where she watches as her family grieves and searches for her killer. Such a film hinges on the director’s vision for that “in-between:” what does it look like, how does she move through it, and how does she interact with those on Earth?

And all of that is awful. Peter Jackson brings out all his CG expertise to realize the in-between, which is colorful and beautiful but uninteresting and painfully literal. Even worse is how she interacts with the real world, which just comes off totally clumsy.

I loved the book when it dealt with the family’s grief, but that mostly gets pushed aside. The book’s supernatural elements really lost me; these parts were stupid enough in the book but in the film they are stupid AND confusing as they are poorly thought out and edited. I knew what was going to happen and some of it STILL came off as totally WTF. Finally, my favorite subplot, involving the girl vicariously experiencing growing up by watching her younger sister, is entirely absent.

Yes, Stanley Tucci is wonderfully creepy as the murderer. But unless you have a burning desire to check out all impressive cinematic villains, he’s not reason enough to watch. It also features another good performance by Saoirse Ronan, who we all really enjoyed a few years back in Atonement.

The Last Station, 2 nominations

I think we all agreed that if we were watching this at home we would have turned it off. It’s not as aggressively bad as The Lovely Bones, but it’s incredibly, notably tedious. Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren play Tolstoy and his wife in the last years of his life. Tolstoy’s followers want the rights to his works willed to them to advance his philosophies; she wants to keep them in the family.

The problem here is utter lack of context. There’s never any good understanding of why people care about Tolstoy and his teachings. His philosophy as presented is vague and sounds kind of awful. There’s no reason to care about the drama and intrigue. There are spies and competing allegiances all centered around a question I couldn’t care less about, which is pretty much the worst thing that can happen in a melodrama. Plummer and Mirren chew the scenery like no one’s business.

There’s vintage newsreel footage over the final credits, including some of Tolstoy interacting with the public. These seemed interesting! Why do people like Tolstoy? What impact did he have in the world? Who are the Tolstoyans and what was their place in Russian society? That’s what I want to see, not a film that assumes I know this stuff.

Nine, 4 nominations

What a stillborn movie. I pretty much immediately forgot it after watching it. Even musicals I wasn’t particularly fond of (Moulin Rouge!, Sweeney Todd) had a spark to them. Nine is just lifeless. I’m on record as saying that plot is less important in musicals, but here the plot is so bland and entirely uninteresting. And the music isn’t even good! It has two good songs, including the Marion Cotillard number that got the Original Song nomination. That scene is so terrific and passionate, how is the rest of the movie so dull?

Also, it got a bizarre nomination for Art Direction. The musical sequences take place on a minimalist set of scaffolding in a large warehouse. It gets used in a mildly interesting way, but it’s just scaffolding! And it got nominated for an Oscar!

The Blind Side, 2 nominations & 1 win (Best Actress)

This thing is one big, mindless cliché. You know what’s going to happen going in and it delivers. I was hoping for some sort of originality but I can’t say any element has an ounce of cleverness. Sure Sandra Bullock gives a fine performance, but part of what makes her so dominant is that everything else is so weak. I don’t think it’s worth checking out just for her. Unless you like being emotionally manipulated, in which case please go ahead and see it.

It also shamefully sidelines the Michael Oher character, the black football player. He’s made one-dimensional and really deserves more.

The Young Victoria, 3 nominations & 1 win (Costume)

By no means a bad movie, but dull. It’s very nice to see a royal intrigue film where the heroine doesn’t constantly bemoan the repressions of her society and her inability to love the man she wants and instead uses the system – of which she is of course a major part – to her own benefit and to lead. Unfortunately the way it’s done here isn’t particularly compelling. It’s also pretty confusing for someone without a good knowledge of the time period. My goodness, which prime minister candidate shall the Queen support in the 1839 parliamentary elections? The pulse quickens!

Also it got a Makeup nomination so maybe you should check it out if you like Oscar-nominated hairstyling. Which of course you do.

I’m about to write hundreds of words concerning  a movie I’m guessing no one (save for maybe you, stray internet visitor who hit “next” on google enough times) has seen.  So I’d understand if you want to skip this one.  But if any of the following interest you, maybe consider giving the post a skim:

  • Boy Meets World
  • Danny Trejo AND Kathy Griffin
  • Celebrity romance
  • Jennifer Love Hewitt as a tomboy
  • Teen sex comedies
  • Films that make less than $1000 at the box office
  • Fandango dance competitions

Staying at my parents’ house for Passover, I was surfing through the On Demand movies when I happened across Trojan War.  Now, I know a thing or two about teen sex comedies, so I was surprised I never heard about the film, which stars Will Friedle (Eric from Boy Meets World), Marley Shelton (the lifeguard from The Sandlot), and Jennifer Love Hewitt.  When I saw the film’s total gross was $309, stemming from one theater in late September, 1997, well, I was hooked.

Here’s a Swedish trailer!

And if you want to follow along, the movie is pretty easy to find on youtube, or this fan video has most of the important scenes.

As with most teen sex romps, the film’s plot isn’t exactly what one might call “twisty.”  About five minutes into the film, we find out that Friedle plays your typical high school character: not really in any clique, desperate to have sex, has a few minions/friends, and desperately in love with the class beauty (played by Shelton).  Friedle’s been madly in love with her since middle school, though she doesn’t know he exists.  Until, for reasons totally unrelated to a plot contrivance, Shelton asks Friedle to come over to help her study science.

At which point Friedle’s best friend (Love Hewitt clad in impressively gender-neutral clothing) gets all pouty and asks what he sees in Shelton.  Now, BIG SPOILER ALERT here.  You might want to sit down for this one.  Go ahead, take a few breaths and get ready.  You good?  Love Hewitt is secretly in love with Friedle.  I know!  Now, just in case anyone missed this delightfully unsubtle turn of events, it is going to come up one or five more times.

Including later that night, when Friedle is getting ready for his big study date.  He ends up showing Love Hewitt his patented Move (which, if I remember correctly involves a Crayola crayon metaphor).  She’s outwardly skeptical, but oh-so-desperate and as Friedle finishes his monologue, leaning in for the kiss…but no, of course they can’t kiss there, because we wouldn’t have a movie.

Quick sidebar.  It is fascinating to me that imdb lists Can’t Hardly Wait as JLH’s very next movie.  Because in that one, of course, she plays the class goddess.

Anyway, Friedle goes over to Shelton’s house.  There’s an obnoxious boyfriend, some studying, some comforting after obnoxious boyfriend makes a hilarious insult, and then whoa now, MARLEY SHELTON IN A BRA!  Man, I don’t want to say she’s easy, but her panties must drop at the sound of the doorbell.  But just as things are getting hot and heavy, where’s a condom when you need one?  And you know what?  Good for you, Trojan War.  If you are going to promote high school sex, might as well promote safe sex.

Just as a warning, here’s where the hijinx are about to ensue.  The structure of the movie is somewhat akin to, say, Better Off Dead.  Not exactly, but I make the comparison because some truly bizarre stuff is about to happen, and part of the genius of Better Off Dead are the screwball antics.  So where were we?  Ah, yes, our hero was in desperate need of a condom.  So off to the convenience store he goes, where we get a creepy scene of dudes (and a grandma) checking out condoms.  But as he’s checking out (including buying some flowers for the lady, awww), he realizes he left his wallet in his car.  Which has been stolen.

From there we get a batshiat insane bus driver (Anthony Michael Hall, because why not) who leaves Friedle in the ghetto.  You can tell it is the ghetto because it is dark, there are gunshots, and we get our first glimpse of minorities.  And what do Hispanics like to do?  Compete in fandango danceoffs!  Here we finally get to Danny Trejo, whose big-boned sister takes a liking to Friedle.  Unfortunately, Trejo doesn’t get to  do much more than translate for his sister and force Friedle to dance with her.  They win, of course, and Friedle get some MacGuffins bucks as a reward.

Then we run into some black people who, in a complete coincidence, turn out to be gang members.  Who commit horrific acts of graffiti.  I know, what is the world coming to.  One lewd act of public vandalism  at the high school later, our hero remembers there is a condom in the school.  After a run-in with a wannabe martial artist janitor (I think a slo-mo shot of a slop bucket was involved in the fight), it seems we may have made some progress.  Except, sadly, the film’s entire special effects budget was blown when the janitor inexplicably lets loose with the fire hose.

I’m gonna skip over (for the time being) some scenes with Jennifer Love Hewitt, fast-forward through buying clothes from a hobo, and the return of crazy Anthony Michael Hall.  Friedle triumphantly returns to his paramour’s house.  Finding it locked, he does the only normal thing, climbing a tree in the front yard.  Somehow he ends up losing the condom and crashing the tree into the house.  It is unclear which is worse.  Unfortunately, Shelton left a note saying she was at the big party (which I didn’t mention earlier, but come on, I think a big party is pretty much assumed in this sort of film).  It was nice of her to leave the note.  Not entirely certain how she expected Friedle to get to it without breaking into her house.

At this point, Friedle goes into a convenience store for some condoms, and upon realizing he has no money, tries to sweet talk Kathy Griffin into giving them to him, by telling her his sob story.  But Kathy Griffin will have none of it!  Just when all hope is lost, his old friends the graffiti artists hold up the very same convenience store, taking him hostage.   One car chase later (passing by the party), and our hero ends up in jail.  Fortunately Lee Majors (as Office Austin.  Get it?) is the officer in charge and it doesn’t take long for Friedle to be cleared.  What with him being white and all.  And in case you didn’t get it, as Majors is tossing Friedle a condom, the Six Million Dollar Man music plays.

Let me pause here to note that there were a few subplots I left out.  The highlight of which is probably Friedle’s parents out spending the night at a charity disco event.  Yup.

Because I’m a sucker, I always find the secretly-pining best friend parts in these movies to be pretty compelling.  The fact that they tend to be played by attractive women is not at all related.  Unfortunately, this movie tends to repeatedly beat you over the head showing you how much JLH loves Friedle.  Subtlety is something this film drinks with crumpets.  However, a pretty effective device is that since Friedle’s car was stolen, he has to keep calling Hewitt to drive him all over, picking him up so he can go back to sex up Shelton or getting him from jail so he can go to the party to sex up Shelton.  And because she’s his best friend (and madly in love with him), she has to agree to ferry him around to be with someone who isn’t her.

So as Hewitt (who is depicted as too mature/insecure to hang out with the cool kids) is getting ready to go to the big party (which she doesn’t want to go to, but Friedle will be there and she is madly in love with him), she’s trying on clothes, with Friedle’s two minions/other friends (one of whom is Danny Masterson) there as well.  (There’s a subplot involving one teaching the other how to pick up chicks, but it really makes no sense.)  And as she changes from her sexless attire to one more appropriate for a high school party, one of them utters the immortal line, “You have breasts!”  Which, fair or unfair, isn’t necessarily the most inaccurate description of Hewitt’s acting career.

But it would be inaccurate to describe her singing career.  I don’t know if anyone remembers, but JLH actually has released three albums.  She contributes two songs to this film’s actually pretty decent soundtrack.  There’s some Letters to Cleo, Peter Murphy, and a Fountains of Wayne track from their first album.

OK.  Party.  Everyone’s there.  As JLH drops off Friedle, she can’t quite get out the speech professing her love she’s rehearsed over and over again.  Which is kinda poignant, by this movie’s standards, at least.  But she sees Shelton taking Friedle upstairs and so storms off, only to find her car blocked in.

Meanwhile, Shelton and Friedle are alone in a bathroom, things are getting hot and heavy, and this time Friedle has a condom.  Thanks, Trojan!  But, it turns out Shelton doesn’t remember Friedle’s name and isn’t interested in a relationship.  She just wants meaningless sex to get back at her boyfriend.  Friedle, like any horny high school boy desperate to lose his virginity to the class hottie he has been dreaming about for years, goes right for it.  Heh, no, of course not.  He has second thoughts  and rushes out of the bathroom to find someone (but who?!)

He proudly tells JLH he didn’t sleep with Shelton.  I so desperately wish telling one girl I didn’t sleep with a second would get me chicks.  So, so desperately.  Anyway, she’s mock upset, then melts, then everyone lives happily ever after.

I still can’t quite figure out why this film couldn’t crack, you know, $1000 at the box office.  I mean, I know if I had a film open, my mom alone would buy enough tickets to sell out a theater.  As a teen sex comedy, it isn’t exactly good, but I was probably a little too snarky above.  It has a decent enough framework and if it isn’t funny or sexy enough to overcome its flaws, it was mostly watchable.

Oh, I promised some celebrity romance, didn’t I?  Well, apparently, after this film, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Will Friedle dated for awhile.  Which, presumably, led to the classic Boy Meets World episode I enclose below:

April 2010