Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Gamer, Night of the Living Dead 3D

Cinema reviews for 24.9: Dickens meets McConaughey, video game incoherence, and 3D zombies
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past
Rating:

Directed by Mark Waters. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Michael Douglas, Emma Stone, Breckin Meyer, Lacey Chabert, Robert Forster, Anne Archer, Daniel Sunjata, Noureen DeWulf, Rachel Boston, Camille Guaty, Amanda Walsh. Written by Jon Lucas & Scott Moore.


A competent melding of Charles Dickens and light Matthew McConaughey rom-com, the awkwardly titled Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (there´s only one Ghost of Girlfriends Past, the other two are Present and Future) is proficient if little else. As you might infer from the title, director Mark Waters´ film uses Dickens´ A Christmas Carol as a basis of sorts, and I suspect it´s this storyline that keeps the movie afloat.

McConaughey stars as womanizing fashion photographer Connor Mead, kind of a US version of Alfie – though McConaughey is no Michael Caine (or Jude Law, for that matter), and the character, as written, is so explicitly misogynistic and unappealing I can´t imagine what all these women see in him. In one of the opening scenes, he dumps three women simultaneously via teleconference, and then jumps back in bed with his current date, who is all-too-eager to continue despite witnessing the whole thing. Uh-huh.

Moving on: he shows up for his brother´s wedding rehearsal, just in time to plead with Paul (Breckin Meyer) to think things over, and gives a big ‘love isn´t real´ anti-marriage speech at the rehearsal dinner. The wedding is being held at the deceased Uncle Wayne´s estate; Wayne (Michael Douglas) shows up as a ghost and tells Connor that he´ll be visited by three more, etc. We all know where this is going, right? As is later revealed via flashbacks, it was Wayne who raised nephew Connor to become a playboy after both his parents were killed in a car accident.

First up is the Ghost of Girlfriends Past (Emma Stone), who transports Connor back to the time that he was a sweet young kid in love with best friend Jenny Perotti (Jennifer Garner). Coincidentally, Jenny also happens to be the Maid of Honor at his brother´s wedding; I wonder if…? Strangely, these flashback scenes are filmed awkwardly, so that Connor and the ghost are usually never in the same frame as inhabitants of the flashbacks; it´s almost as if it was conceived as a straight flashback, and then the ghost stuff was added later. While I´m sure that´s not the case, it´s a strange and distracting technique; usually you´ll see the Scrooge character try to physically prevent his younger self from making the wrong decision; here, Connor just watches from the sidelines and makes snide comments. Bizarre.

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The Ghosts of Girlfriends Present and Future show up (briefly – those flashbacks ate up a lot of screentime) and show Connor how he affects those around him and how lonely his life will turn out. And the film resolves itself exactly as you would expect. Though there´s a scene halfway through where Connor accidentally ruins the wedding cake that struck me as entirely pointless; he´s already done enough to put the wedding in jeopardy, why accidentally add more?

McConaughey and Garner have zero chemistry together. There´s some sweetness between the young actors who play the characters at various ages, but then a big void between the adults. I don´t mean to accidentally praise the Matthew McConaughey-Kate Hudson rom-coms, but at least those two felt like they deserved each other. Douglas seems to be playing famed producer Robert Evans circa The Kid Stays in the Picture, and he´s clearly having fun; his scenes are the best in the movie. Robert Forster is also amusing as the father of the bride (and the minister).

While I didn´t really buy Connor´s character arc – either from sweet young kid to Matthew McConaughey, or womanizing McConaughey to anything else – Dickens´ underlying story is so solid that it keeps the film watchable. McConaughey and/or rom-com fans should enjoy.

***

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Gamer, Night of the Living Dead 3D

 

Gamer
Rating:

Written and directed by Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor. Starring Gerard Butler, Amber Valletta, Michael C. Hall, Kyra Sedgwick, Logan Lerman, Alison Lohman, Terry Crews, Ramsey Moore, Ludacris, Aaron Yoo, Brighid Fleming, Johnny Whitworth, Milo Ventimiglia, John Leguizamo, Keith David, Lloyd Kaufman, Efren Ramirez.

Imagine the Troma-inspired Crank movies, drained of all the fun and taken dead seriously. That´s where Crank makers Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor´s inexplicable Gamer lies. It´s a loud, incoherent, and ultimately tortuous sit that compares to Transformers 2, though it´s an hour shorter; it´s a miserable experience, but the directors are trying here. I have to give them that much.

The two underlying ideas are solid. First we have a vision of the not-too-distant future: Bill Gates-like software billionaire Ken Castle (Michael C. Hall) has created a mixture of reality and online worlds: in a ‘game´ called Society, online participants control real-life actors/avatars through implants in their brains. Morbidly obese Gorge (Ramsey Moore) controls pretty Angie (Amber Valletta) in this manner, dressing her up in skimpy outfits, taking her to raves, hooking her up with characters called Rick Rape. Angie took this gig because she needs the money, trying to regain custody of her young daughter.

Next there´s the old Running Man/Death Race plot. Another of Castle´s creations is the game Slayers, in which players control death row inmates who battle each other in a war-like video game simulation. If they win 30 rounds, they´re freed from prison; good for Angie´s husband Kable (Gerard Butler) who is controlled in the game by young Simon (Logan Lerman) and has survived 28 rounds so far. This is nothing new – and the worldwide crowds cheering on the action feel particularly repetitive – but it´s usually entertaining.

Not in Gamer, though, where you´ll have to battle through wave after wave of incoherence just to figure out what´s happening on the screen. In an actual video game, coherence is key: you need to be fully aware of your surroundings in order to play. When games in a three-dimensional setting first came about, developers quickly learned that camera placement and editing were stumbling blocks that needed to be handled deftly so that gamers could actually play the game.

This is something many of today´s filmmakers tend to ignore – audiences, they think, don´t need to understand what´s going on, as long as they can feel it – and Neveldine & Taylor are the epitome of this mindset. In the Crank movies, the rat-a-tat action came in short bursts; in Gamer, nearly half of the film seems to take place in the Slayers game, and you will have no idea what is going on during these scenes: who is shooting who, who lives and who dies, what or where the goal is. It´s a deafening bore sitting there in the cinema amidst explosions on the screen and gunfire through the speakers, and the least-involving moviegoing experience imaginable.

If that isn´t enough to sink the movie (and it is, but this thing can dive to lower depths), the tone is all sorts of wrong, sour and sullen when it should be campy fun. Why this mess takes itself more seriously than most actual war movies, I do not know. At least the Paul W.S. Anderson Death Race film got it half-right.

You might recognize Hall from his television roles on Six Feet Under or Dexter; he´s the one bright spot in the movie, and features in its one inspired scene, a riff on Sammy Davis Jr.´s I Got You Under My Skin. The rest of the cast is profoundly dull, including Butler in the lead, who here lacks the charisma of even a B-level action hero. Jason Statham is missed.

The Crank movies have more than their share of detractors, but I´m an admitted fan. Still, I can´t imagine anyone getting much out of Gamer. Here´s hoping for better things next time around.

***

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Gamer, Night of the Living Dead 3D

 

Night of the Living Dead 3D
Rating:

Directed by Jeff Broadstreet. Starring Brianna Brown, Joshua DesRoches, Sid Haig, Greg Travis, Johanna Black, Adam Chambers, Ken Ward, Alynia Phillips, Max Williams, Cristin Michele. Written by Robert Valding, from the 1968 screenplay by George A. Romero and John A. Russo.

 

I guess there´s not enough material to justify that shiny new digital 3D equipment in Prague cinemas. So local distributers have resurrected the rotting corpse of Jeff Broadstreet´s 3-year-old 3D remake of George A. Romero´s classic Night of the Living Dead for a semi-wide release in Prague. I wrote the following 2 years ago after seeing the anaglyph 3D version of the film available on home video (it screens in polarized 3D in cinemas):

George A. Romero´s original Night of the Living Dead has famously fallen into public domain purgatory after (supposedly) his distributers failed to place a copyright on the film upon release (copyright laws in 1968, apparently, weren´t quite what they are today). This has lead to, seemingly, hundreds of home video versions of the film on the market, including colorized versions, a cheapie 3D conversion, and even a notorious 30th anniversary edition which spiced in some terrible newly-shot footage.

But, surprisingly, few direct remakes, though there have been so many rip-offs I wonder if the original makers would sue if they held the copyright. Previously, the only remake was Tom Savini´s bloody and effective 1990 version. Now there´s Jeff Broadstreet´s Night of the Living Dead 3D, a cheap cash-in trying to capitalize on the name of the original and the recent resurgence in 3D films.

You´d go in with low expectations given the treatment of Romero´s original; this one easily surpasses them. It starts off adequately, mimicking the original, with Barb and Johnny arguing in the car on their way to the cemetery. There´s some decent 3D work in these early scenes; the cemetery background actual has some dimension to it. Then the zombies show up.

And, well, director Broadstreet has precisely zero feel for the genre. There´s no terror, no suspense, no atmosphere; I think they were going for camp value here, but there´s none of that either. Just a bunch of extras lurching around in poor prosthetic masks. The 3D is mostly dropped after the initial scenes, barring the occasional bloody hand or shovel or spliff sticking out at the audience.

The screenplay deserves some blame too: it´s as if they made a checklist of everything Romero did right in the original, and then make sure to do it wrong. Social commentary is removed, zombies are mentioned by name, the reason for the zombie outbreak is painfully explained. Ben, the strong African-American hero of the original film, is now a white, boyish pot dealer. The Cooper´s are now marijuana farmers.

Acting is porn-level amateurish, though most of the cast has the excuse of playing characters that are presumably high. Apart from the 3D, the technical credits are as poor as could be. This was filmed around semi-rural SoCal locations and looks it; that last shot of Barb, shot outside someone’s apartment building, is an embarrassment. We´re watching a student film here…in 3D!

This isn´t just your average bad film, nor is it just another remake that insults a classic original a la van Sant´s Psycho or Zombie´s Halloween, which were at least technically proficient. It´s not even on the level of many a student or amateur film that might lovingly mimic an original. This is a cheap cash-grab that shows a saddening level of contempt for both the original film and its audience, and it deserves to be held in contempt in return.


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