How I Met Your Mother is one of the best shows on television right now and, in a television landscape where the elite are defined by dramas (Mad Men, Dexter, LOST, Friday Night Lights…), the fact that HIMYM is still among the top shows (with a laugh track no less!) is nothing short of incredible. Its wonderful writing, unique story-telling methods, and pitch-perfect actors combine to form a show with genuine laughs, characters, and human moments. Its Arrested Development meets Friends, and I can’t get enough of it.
This season has been utterly fantastic, with only a few episodes approaching subpar for the series. It’s also advanced the plot of Ted Mosby actually finding his mother more than the other four seasons combined. Message boards across the Information Superhighway® featured a number of users who were positive that the anonymous mother was Rachel Bilson (who would have made an excellent choice) but, as we saw this week, the ex-OC-star was a red herring. The mother’s identity remains a mystery.
Figuring out this mystery is not an easy thing to do. At this point, the choice has to be perfect. Think about it: Ted Mosby has dated Robin Scherbatsky (Cobie Smulders) and Stella Zinman (Sarah Chalke), and even briefly courted Amy Adams (the one who made Enchanted halfway bearable), yet none of those worked out. So it has to be someone better than Robin, an amazingly awesome character who (despite the first episode) we all assumed was the one, better than Amy Adams, who continually dazzles critics and is often singled out from asstastic movies as the one shining point, and better than Stella, who starred on Scrubs as Elliot (who was arguably the most perfect combination of smart, funny, sexy, and vulnerable ever to appear on TV).
So, what are the qualifications? Well, the actress who ultimately plays the mother has to be:
1) Someone recognizable. After the recent guests and the shows popularity, the days of Victoria from Season 1 are long gone.
2) Someone already likable. Similar to the first requirement, the actress has to be someone well-liked by TV audiences. After Robin and Ted broke up, I was disappointed and ready to attack the next girl who Ted dared to date; after all, how could she compare to Robin?? But then Sarah Chalke appeared and all was forgiven. She carried the likability from her (ongoing) stint as Elliot on Scrubs onto the show, and it worked wonders. There was no need for writers to try to make her uber-awesome or ideal – she had been doing that for seven years already.
3) Someone the right age (Ted Mosby just turned 30). This seems fairly obvious, but it does make the search that much more difficult. Sophie Marceau is amazing, but she’s also out of the age range. On the other edge of the spectrum, Keira Knightley might pass the “half your age +7” rule, but her dating Ted would be all kinds of creepers.
As you can see, this is not an easy decision. But it’s one that I wanted to figure out, with the help of Jay-Jay Trubs. Here are some possibilities:
Why it might be her: Ummmm…It’s Natalie Portman and she’s perfect. *shakes head*
Why it’s probably not: It might be hard for her to jump from film to TV, especially if it’s something other than a small (near-cameo) role.
Why it might be her: Jessica Alba is hot (especially Into the Blue Jessica Alba. Yeah, that’s right, I watched the movie. I even own it! BAM!). Plus she made a foray into TV on The Office (another great show) and could probably use a break from filming a Meet the Fockers sequel. For reals.
Why it’s probably not: Jessica Alba is not the shiniest coin in the fountain and makes Hayden Christensen’s acting seem decent by comparison. She’s got nothing to offer HIMYM but looks, and there are plenty of actresses who can do more. I mean, if we’re going on hotness, why not just get that girl from Time Crimes. Oh yeah, and one more thing: Jessica Alba is not funny. She’s a beautiful woman who has been told that she is funny, which is all kinds of worse.
Why it might be her: Mila Kunis is (obviously) attractive, but she’s also hilarious. She was wonderful in Forgetting Sarah Marshall (which also starred Jason Segel), she’s the right age, and would make an ideal choice…with one possible exception.
Why it might not be her: Kunis was wonderful as Rachel Jansen in Sarah Marshall, but most people still remember her as Jackie from That 70s Show. Rachel was awesome, Jackie was annoying. That would probably be the only hesitation (other than scheduling conflicts).
Those actresses definitely all have potential. However, they didn’t make the cut.
As near as Jared and I can figure (after much discussion and debate), there are two finalists who would be fantastic:
Why it could easily be her: Kristen Bell was also in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and she was also hilarious. She is beautiful, has great comedic timing, and was born in 1980. Jackpot!
The other one (and my personal favorite):
Why it could easily be her: She’s a cutie and, while she was great in Wedding Crashers (her breakout role) she was also wonderful in The Lookout (talk about underrated film!). HIMYM has had its share of dramatic moments, and someone like Fisher would have no problem playing an actual character rather than a face that appears for the first time on the final episode of the series. She’s funny, genuine, and has just enough of a low profile to be a wonderful unexpected surprise.
Much like Lily’s “front porch test,” I could easily see her with the rest of the gang at McLaren’s. I hope it’s Fisher, but knowing HIMYM it will probably be someone I’ve never even considered…and who’s better than I could have ever imagined.
Three years ago, my former roommate (and current cousin) decided to hold a movie competition. We got together, ordered pizza, and each watched our submissions. Jake’s was Gymkata, a film filled with combat so bizarre that Cracked actually featured it as the best fighting style “too awesome to actually exist.” Mine was Dracula 3000, featuring Casper “Hard Jaw” Van Dien, the long-lost Coolio, and one of the most bizarre endings in movie history. This was followed by much Patron, drunk dialing, and even drunker karaoke, and by the end of the night I was the winner. I had found that year’s best worst movie.
When asked what makes a great movie, legendary director Howard Hawks said, “Three good scenes and no bad ones.” If you think of the great films out there, Hawks is surprisingly spot-on. Unfortunately, it’s easier to find a great movie than a great bad movie.
The trick is that the bad movie has to be enjoyably bad, not just bad (like I’ve talked about scary movies). As wisely discussed on the fantastic How I Met Your Mother, when people think of the worst movie ever there are two main camps: Plan 9 from Outer Space and Manos, the Hands of Fate. Both groups have great arguments, but no consensus is ever made because they are talking past one another. Watch either one a few times (without help from the MST3K crew) and it’s clear that both movies are horrible. However, Manos is painfully bad – the plot is painful, the dubbing is like watching a foreign film without subtitles, and the film itself doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do. Plan 9, on the other hand, is the best worst movie because, at some level, it’s actually enjoyable. It’s got heart. Ed Wood was clearly going for something – he just took Suck Ave. to get there. The effects are hilarious, not pathetic. The acting is poor, but earnest. The plot is ridiculous, not stupid. And as a result, the film provides an opportunity for others to mock it (in a non-resentful way).
Jake and I tend to lean more toward the Plan 9 format. So, for our annual competition, the bad movie has to be enjoyable (e.g., Commando (which I argue is the best worst movie ever made) or Death Wish 3). As an extra twist, the movie also has to feature at least one recognizable actor/actress.
My entry this year was Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, which is a gut-wrenching tale of a mega shark fighting a giant octopus. For reals! Obviously, there’s a lot more to it than that. I mean…there’s the…ummmm…I mentioned the shark, right? And the octopus? Yeah…that’s about it. Think of it like Boa vs. Python, but instead of a boa and a python, it’s an overgrown shark and a huge octopus. Awesome!
Needless to say, it’s a great bad film. It features, among other things, the giant octopus swatting a helicopter out of the air using a tentacle and it even has the mega shark attacking the Golden Gate bridge. For reals!
And, for an extra bonus, it has one of the most ridiculously awesome scenes in the history of cinema. Check it out, you won’t be disappointed:
All kinds of craziness. Throw in the odd performance of Lorenzo Lamas and the romance between characters (featuring the most erotic scene since Leslie Bibb and Joshua Jackson showered together in Skulls), and I thought I had victory all but guaranteed.
Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. While Jake was blown away by the aforementioned ridiculous scene (he just stared at me in disbelief and said, “Are you going to win again this year, you SOB?”), the movie’s ridiculousness peaked too early (that scene was within the first half-hour), and so it didn’t have the impact of my epic victory from last year: Shark Attack 3: Megalodon.
It didn’t help that Jake’s film was Howling III: The Marsupials, which was hilariously bad. Granted, it didn’t feature a recognizable actor, but that was because last year my entry didn’t contain a recognizable actor (though I maintain that the actor Ryan Cutrona was recognizable, given that he was Betty Draper’s father in Mad Men, and was also in Changeling, 24, and a commercial for Cancun). This is an ongoing feud, as it was my response to the first year when Jake said his recognizable actor in Gymkata was that the film was directed by “the director who also directed Enter the Dragon.” Nice try, jackass.
IRregardless, next year we’re back on track with actor name-recognition and bad movie hilarity. One year to find the next best worst movie. I had better get started.
Forgive the lengthy introduction, but this is not the first of these entries I hope to make.
Good science fiction is tough to track down these days. You have horror movies trying to be science fiction (and failing at both), which results in The Happening (only tolerable if you watch with Rifftrax), superhero movies trying to be science fiction (sorry, Will, but Hancock was rough), and science fiction that we all wish wasn’t science fiction (I dare you watch Hayden Christensen in Jumper. Seriously. I dare you.).
Some science fiction tempts you by starting out strong; Event Horizon had great potential and Sunshine was gearing up to be one of the best science fiction films ever made until the last 20 minutes (imagine Episode I disappointment without the suck). And then there are some science fiction films that approach perfection for the entire length of the film and receive the critical praise they so richly deserve (WALL-E and District 9 immediately come to mind).
But this entry is about underrated movies, and I’ve selected to highlight a little film released in 2000 called Pitch Black, the story of a group of passengers marooned on a planet where they struggle to survive on a sun-scorched world. Featuring Vin Diesel, the movie was met with indifference: $39 million at the domestic box office and 36% approval with the Cream of the Crop. The effects are a little dated, no one threatened to sweep the Oscars with their performances, and you won’t find this film on any Top 10 lists.
So what’s to like? What makes this movie so underrated?
With the possible exception of Vin Diesel, no actor or actress stands out in this movie. And, when it comes to science fiction and horror, that can be a good thing. Quick, name me an actor not named Wilford or Kurt in The Thing. Someone not named Sigourney from Alien? Hell, name one actress from The Descent.
A strong story negates the need for a strong performance—everyone just needs to do his/her job. Pitch Black is no different. Because no one takes it over the top, the cast fuses into a plot delivery device that is neither memorable for being good…or for being bad. As a result, the actors disappear and the characters emerge; characters without boisterous secrets or petty dramas, but with personal issues they prefer not be made public. They react to the situation, not the script, and don’t bore us with their petty problems. It is refreshing.
By far the strength of this movie, the ship crashes on a (seemingly) deserted planet. But this isn’t like most films where the surface is surprisingly like earth except with a slightly higher Nitrogen count or whatever. This is a truly alien landscape, complete with three suns, no water or plant life, and a ringed planet on the horizon. To quote one Ted Mosby, it is hauntingly beautiful, without some bullshit oasis or friendly humanoids to help these survivors out of their bind. There’s only a colony, long-deserted (though not voluntarily).
There are no flora, but plenty of fauna on this seemingly lifeless planet; this ultimately serves as the threat to the population. In a precursor to Peter Jackson’s epic King Kong remake, the creatures themselves have clearly evolved. It’s not one dominant life form, but multiple forms on different parts of the planet. There are the slugs donning exoskeletons and a phosphorescent glow nestled safe in the ground.
The winged, blue-blooded creatures who rule the skies, fighting one another after they’ve run out of torsos:
And the monsters who stalk above the ground, seared by light but immune to everything else (except for Vin, of course).
There is even evidence of other creatures who were clearly not fit to survive long-term on the surface, with huge, hulking skeletons bleached by the suns as a reminder of their downfall due to docility.
And, best of all, this is all information that we gathered as audience members. There isn’t some scientist who’s studied these beasts, some survivor who learned how these brutes think. It’s purely visual evidence, giving us the freedom to construct our own narratives. Subtlety and imagination triumph—Michael Bay fans need not apply.
Finally, some real tension. Without the stock characters that plague these monster movies, survival becomes a genuine uncertainty. The monsters remain in the dark, where our minds can create far scarier demons than any CGI bullshit. Instead of looking for flaws, we can focus on how the scene unfolds; we replace skepticism with escapism, something that is sorely lacking in most modern horror movies.
Pitch Black won’t change your life and you might not even want to recommend it to your friends. But Netflix it and you just might be pleasantly surprised.
I hate to be “that guy” and rip on a movie that I’ve haven’t seen before. So I won’t.
The movie I won’t tear into is Old Dogs, the latest winner from the dynamic comedy duo of Robin Williams (RV, License to Wed) and John Travolta (Lucky Numbers, Wild Hogs). In case you’ve been fortunate enough to miss the god-awful previews, here they are.
I’m not going to attack a movie that is essentially a giant steaming cliche, with writing that’s so tired that they actually write out the characters’ descriptions to save time like it’s some sort of a Sweet Valley High book (Jessica is a wild child, Elizabeth is studious!). For reals:
It’s like watching a preview for a Tim Allen movie – all that’s missing is a botox joke. Just to be sure, let’s run down the list:
√ Shot to the nuts (and you’re to blame)
√ Supporting actors who are funnier (Seth Green, Justin Long, zombie Bernie Mac…)
√ Fainting at the sight of kids (See!? He’s not ready to be a father!)
√ Prescriptions with unlikely side-effects consumed through a totally believable plot device?
√ When animals attack
√√ Second nut shot (“Football in the groin!”)
_ A heartfelt lesson? Only one way to find out!
Oh, but if you are feeling like watching this piece of crap, you may not want to check out this article (especially the last paragraph). BAM!
I’m not going to go on a rant about how horrible horror movies are these days–I’m not that old. More importantly, no era is impervious to criticism–for every Halloween there are 50 Kingdom of the Spiders.
That said, it seems that recent horror movies have glommed onto certain ideas about how to scare audiences, and those ideas are failing miserably. The Unborn, A Haunting in Connecticut, One Missed Call…the list of suck just goes on and on.
I think the underlying problem is that the writers and directors of these films have confused “scary” and “startled.” Being startled happens when something occurs on-screen that surprises you: someone appears in a mirror or behind a door, a dark shape moves across the background accompanied by a loud blurt from the soundtrack, or a human-like figure is shown with unusual attributes.
I’m going to geek out for like a paragraph or so. Children go through three different stages in terms of fear. From ages 3-8, kids are frightened of unrealistic, fanciful stimuli, such as monsters, mutants, or supernatural creatures; in other words, things that do not typically appear in the world. From ages 9-12 (of course, these ages are approximate and are not steadfast for everyone), children are scared of more realistic stimuli in the form of bad things (murder, abduction) that could happen to them or loved ones. Children ages 13 and over scared of more abstract stimuli, typically on the psychological level. They’re scared of physical harm as well, but overall their concerns have spread to include people everywhere. In short, the progression goes from discomfort of the initial image to a deeper fear of something bad happening to anyone, including strangers.
Looking at these recent films, it’s easy to see that they’re only accessing that first level of fear, which is normally restricted to young children. Those disturbing images of malformed victims don’t frighten adults–they startle adults. But, the more those images are on the screen, the more time our brains have to work on figuring out why this individual doesn’t look like others. The most logical conclusion (which is also most-easily reached) is that the image is fake. And, suddenly, the movie isn’t scary, just annoying and insulting.
So here are my random thoughts for scary movie filmmakers(albeit incomplete and jumbled) on how to fix the horror genre:
1) Develop tension. Seriously, it’s actually not that hard. Create a character that’s moderately likable (hell, sometimes it doesn’t even take that) and build some tension. Give us viewers some information that the characters do not have. Let us see the person lurking in the background (as opposed to a loud musical screech as a shadow rushes by in the background). Take your time. Slowly pan the camera around slowly. Let us see that something in the room has changed. Subtly give us a clue instead of beating us over the head with the obvious.
2) Enough with the mirrors. We get it–the character looks down to wash her face, she looks back up and OMG THERE’S A PERSON IN THE MIRROR!!!11!!1!!1! Yeah, you’re not even trying anymore. At least, if you do it, have the guts to play with the audience a little bit (like in the underrated Orphan).
3) Technology still exists. At some point, a meeting was held with all of the horror movie producers and directors to address the fact that it’s not 1999 anymore and everyone now has cell phones (including potential victims in the films). Unfortunately, the meeting lasted only 12 seconds, which was just enough time for someone to blurt out, “Yeah, sure, but what if they lost service?” and for everyone else to agree on the genius fix. Seriously, the “no service” solution has to be the laziest script remedy since amnesia. Unless you’re in the middle of Montana with a Zach Morris cell phone, you can get service. Period. You’re being ridiculous and you’re embarrassing yourself. Find a way to adjust.
4) Nicholas Cage sucks. Nothing to do with horror movies. I’m just saying.
5) Enough with the CGI. Did you learn any lessons from The Haunting?Â When you use CGI, it doesn’t look real. Period. And, if you start out the horror movie with CGI, most directors use the effects more and more as the movie continues, often building to some sort of epic tornado of suck, like if Carlos Mencia and Tyler Perry were hanging out at Nickelback concert. So, while the CGI effects were a bit bothersome, they become so annoying that you end up resenting the movie.
6) Kids aren’t scary. With very exceptions, kids are not scary. Giving them a bowl cut and slapping on some mascara doesn’t make them scary any more than having an old lady swearing in a movie makes it funny.
There are plenty more, but this should get you started. Work on it, Hollywood.
As evidenced by my lengthy discussion of The Descent, I love a good horror movie. There’s something about the creepiness and the ability to tap into fears effectively really fascinates me, and I’m always on the lookout for a good, underrated horror film (I’m looking at you Isolation and Vacancy). In that ongoing quest, Claire and I checked out The Strangers this past weekend, a movie I had seen advertised and, from the look of the trailer, had really strong potential. Jared was not a fan, but what does he know?
Apparently, a lot.
Strangers starts out with the claim, “inspired by true events.” Now normally this is a phrase reserved for Lifetime Original Movies or some Disney knockoff, but when you drop those words on a horror filmwellthat means something. Or at least I thought it did.
The movie’s premise is that a couple has just made it back to a house in the country after attending a wedding, only to be terrorized by strangers (Hey! Just like the title!) for no apparent reason. The first 30 minutes or so had great potential—the couple was dealing with a marriage proposal rejection (Hello worst nightmare, what are you doing in this movie?) and the setup for the scary moments was definitely effective. But what I liked most was that the director went to great lengths to kind of lay out evidence (presumably like a crime scene)—the discarded engagement ring, bloody knife, shattered car window. They even started with a 911 call about finding the bodies. It was a lot of fun trying to figure out how the police pieced together the series of events in real life.
Well, the last half hour got to be a little much. Then they tacked on an ending that was so heavy-handed it read like a seventh grade essay about hypocrisy. Then they let Liv Tyler actually live. It really went downhill fast.
Oddly enough, the movie’s real downfall occurred when, out of curiosity, I wiki’d Strangers to find out about the true events that inspired the story. Apparently, “the film was inspired by an event from director Bryan Bertino’s childhood: a stranger came to his home asking for someone who was not there, and Bertino later found out that empty homes in the neighborhood had been broken into that night.”
So, just to recap: The “true event” that inspired the story is that some people broke into some homes when no one was home? What. The. Hell. Thanks for nothing, Strangers. I award you no points, and may god have mercy on your soul.
This should speak volumes about my relationship with Claire: we watched The DescentÂ together this weekend. BAM!
As we all know, The Descent holds a special place in my heart. That was the weekend we were in Bloomington, IN, visiting Nate for Snakes on a Plane. Well, not all of us were there but, despite missing the fourth, we had a blast playing catch, grilling out, playing a marathon game of Mille Bornes, and watching one of the best horror movies ever made.
The movie is incredible. Seriously. Just incredible. The only man in the entire film (except for Scar) is impaled and killed three minutes in. The entire movie is 95 minutes long, but the crawlers don’t appear for 47 minutes. Juno’s affair with Sarah’s husband is telegraphed in three looks, each less than two seconds: Juno to Paul, Beth to Juno, and Paul, Juno and Paul again. It’s mercilessly graphic without being grotesque, gritty without being disgusting, and poignant without being cliche. It is completely, relentlessly compelling, from start to finish.
Interpretting films is a large part of my field. Bordwell & Thompson argue that there are four levels of interpretation, with the fourth (symptomatic) being the most complex, representing a manifestation of a culture’s ideology. In other words, a movie often represents a lot more than a literal translation of what is on the screen.
So, how to interpret The Descent? There are so many questions. Most notably, what’s with the faces, the eyes keeping a silent watch on the characters in the film (and, at times, the viewer). Here’s a picture of a face when Sarah enters the cabin:
And here’s another, a little more subtle. This one happens after Sarah has a disturbing nightmare and sits up abruptly in her bed in the cabin. After she lays down, this is visible (even more so in dark lighting):
These eyes are disturbing and (I would argue) deliberate on the part of the director. My friend Jared has also pointed out a face-type shape in the bullet holes on a road sign. What are they supposed to mean? Furthermore, what about the crawlers? Peter Travers of Rolling Stone openly wonders “Are they inbred mutants or the longtime grudges among the women made creepy flesh?” This point is made all the more salient by the fact that the crawlers have no vision and can only kill based on sound–fascinating in a group of friends where each has issues with the other (the affair, guilt of lying about the affair, the sister rivalry, a hidden lesbian crush) but are left unspoken.
Clearly, there’s something more than just spelunking going on here. This becomes all too clear with the theatrical ending (Juno in the car) and the dvd-release ending (Sarah with her daughter in the cave). Well, I stumbled on a review (and some miscellaneous comments) that had some interesting suggestions:
• Sarah’s friends each represent a part of her psyche
• Sarah was mortally injured in the car wreck and the film is about her “descent” into death (with Sarah mentally killing off each of her friends as she grew closer to dying)
• Sarah never regained consciousness after falling into the hole (when she was knocked out) and therefore hallucinated about all of her friends being killed. This means she woke up at the end, mentally unbalanced, and settled in to eat cake with the image of her daughter (possibly dead, possibly just giving up in order to die).
The most intriguing is the idea that the crawlers never existed. The reviewer suggested that Sarah murdered all of her friends in the cave, which would explain why she was covered in blood. The reviewer asked us to see her like we would see the lead in Carrie, an outcast pushed too far. While initially I was against this idea (hardcore against it, actually), it’s a lot of fun and has some merit. For instance, Sarah wasn’t around when the other friends were killed–she was only physically around for Beth and Juno, both of whom she was responsible for killing. Furthermore, Sarah is not hurt by the monsters and actually begins crawling around silently like one (as evidenced when she temporarily rescues Juno).
I don’t know if I completely buy any of these, and I certainly dismiss one or two. However, by taking bits and pieces of what we know, we can assemble our own take on what really happened. Ultimately, it’s what we think that truly matters. As one reviewer wrote: “That’s what makes these kind of films so much fun. They may mean nothing at all (as unlikely as that is in this case), but they so carefully lay the groundwork to believe the exact opposite, that we’re fools not to give it a go.”