The Minnesota State Fair ended its run last week, but it wasn’t the close on just any old year. 2009 represented a record run for the annual “Great Minnesota Get-Together,” pulling in an astounding 1,790,947 people over 12 days to experience caloric thunderstorms and blinding state pride. I even added a few twists of the turnstile on my own, making a short pilgrimage to my beloved place of birth to enjoy a state fair like no other around.
While an update of the 1983 chiller “The House on Sorority Row,” the shortened “Sorority Row” brings its own special facepalm inanity to the party. Reducing slasher ingredients to their most flavorless appearance, “Row” is a total wash-out, a contemptible pile of malarkey that takes modern horror to new lows of boredom and sluggishness, not to mention unfettered annoyance. Imagine being trapped inside a pungent shoebox with the over-caffeinated morning shift of Forever 21 while an inept epileptic captures the small talk with a camera he lost the instruction manual for. That’s “Sorority Row,” and it’s one repellent motion picture.
Last winter, Tyler Perry suited up inside his Madea character and made a fortune. “Madea Goes to Jail” was a box office smash for Perry, bringing his cross-dressing, slang-heavy shtick close to the 100-million-dollar barrier required for worldwide box office legitimacy. Smelling blood in the water, Perry has hastily brought back the character for “I Can Do Bad All By Myself,” though the sassy, gun-toting, breast-swinging matriarch carries more of a cameo role here (shhh, don’t tell the Lionsgate marketing squad). Without or without Madea (ideally without), “Bad” is the same old moldy dish of melodrama and misbegotten salvation, spoon-fed to the Perry faithful without much care for appealing artistic development.
Many films register as forgettable. “Whiteout” is practically the definition of the word, not actually requiring a viewing to sense a distinct worthlessness to this cinematic endeavor. Purportedly based on a beloved 1998 graphic novel, this Antarctic thriller is a dreadful sleeping pill, marching into production with the best intentions in the world, but coming out the other side a jumbled, incompetent, ludicrously underlined whodunit.
On the eve of massive park information about to be released to the public (around 9/15), construction continues at an amazing pace.
Rock superstardom is a rare achievement, never requiring actual talent, but crack timing and blind persistence to seep into the public consciousness, along with at least one passable tune. The status of rock god is an entirely inimitable designation. These men and women showcase barnstorming creativity that’s second to none, along with a unique career longevity that’s survived the worst of artistic disasters. More often than not, they also carry a guitar, wielding it with Excalibur-sized supremacy.
Containing a backdrop quilted with uneasy depictions of emotional scarring and stalker psychology, “White on Rice” is perhaps the most lightweight, instinctive, and jubilant indie comedy I’ve seen this year. Co-writer/director Dave Boyle devises a brisk play of ridiculousness, though plunging the action into charismatic Japanese-American cultural aesthetics, providing the film an engrossing identity to go along with its flavorful laughs and skillful performances.
I appreciated “Amreeka” for its heartfelt approach, which unfortunately also runs the picture into a few walls. An immigrant tale placed carefully in the long shadow of 9/11, Cherien Dabis’s debut feature has earnest energy to spare, along with a marvelous evocation of itchy Arabic behaviors marooned in a profoundly paranoid America. It’s a fine film with much on its mind, and while suffering from occasional missteps, it holds together as a terrific expression of worry and relocation, inspecting the less illuminated side of the American Dream.
Shane Acker’s “9” could be easily praised as a visionary fantasy film, using lavish CG environments to conjure an alternate reality of robotic monsters and misguided heroism. It’s a gorgeous film. However, it’s not always the most convincing motion picture. Expanded from Acker’s celebrated 2005 short film, “9” feels unnaturally fleshed out and overthought, dampening the excitement through extensive padding, making a concept that was once based in mystery feel exaggerated beyond its natural comfort level. It’s captivating eye candy, but something of a dramatic spinout.
Snickers Fudge is the latest in a long line of “Limited Edition” candy to hit store shelves, encouraging sales beyond the norm. Just something to catch the eye and freshen up old caloric favorites.
Here’s a scorching idea for the producers of the “Saw” franchise: a “Sandra Bullock Slapstick Comedy” death trap. That would surely send audiences into a full-blown panic. Too bad “All About Steve” beat the infamous horror series to the punch, erecting its own contraption of suffering with a smirking, fluttery eyed, stumbling Bullock as the main attraction. I wasn’t morally shaken by “Steve,” but it’s a mercilessly odious comedy, not to mention skating on thin ice in the taste department. There are few nightmares in the world that can rival Bullock in funny mode, but “Steve” and its liberal drizzling of witless behavior is oddly eager to match its star in the cringe department.
Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor are the masterminds behind the “Crank” franchise of cynical, 8-bit, head-smashing entertainment. “Gamer” is the duo’s first foray outside of the suffocating Statham kingdom, but I could scarcely tell the difference. A rude, crude, deafening valentine to overkill cinema laughably passed off as muffled social commentary, “Gamer” is ideal for fans of the nauseating “Crank” series, as it traces along the same old lines of chaos, revealing that these directors, credited simply as neveldine/taylor, are two of the most inept minds working in the industry today.
I’m sure there will be much hullabaloo accompanying the release of Mike Judge’s “Extract,” as the film is a return to the workplace blues genre that made Judge a cult hero with the 1999 picture, “Office Space.” The comparison needlessly reduces “Extract” to an afterthought when it’s actually a sturdy, uproarious comedy that solidifies Judge’s voice as a relaxed filmmaker with impeccable timing and a valuable interest in blending the absurd with the awkwardly real.
No matter how many times the producers reboot, reimagine, or remake the “Halloween” series of horror films, it doesn’t erase the fact that there have been 10 of these pictures, with true creative clarity bled out of the material long ago. This is why I don’t hold a grudge against writer/director Rob Zombie, who seems consumed with turning the bland knife-wielding bombardment of Michael Myers into a psychological dark ride of supreme violence and everlasting eccentricity. “Halloween II” is going to infuriate many, especially those who like their slasher treats served up nice and unassuming. While a direct continuation of his finely scattered 2007 retread, Zombie’s “Halloween II” is a demented, uninhibited sequel that tears off in a vividly lunatic direction. Zombie’s making this one for himself, folks, and either you succumb to the experience or every single scene is going to feel like multiplex imprisonment.
I’ll give “The Final Destination” this much credit: it cuts straight to the chase. The fourth installment of this dubious horror franchise brushes away story, characterization, and suspense to plunge straight into the squishy gore zone. And, for this round of splatter, the nightmare has been augmented by random 3-D effects. “Final” is a colorful package of scares and snickers, but it’s pure routine, handled anemically by filmmakers more interested in shameless profit than invigorating genre creativity.