Sunday, April 26, 2009
I love mockumentaries. Mostly because, as a teacher, I relish spreading disinformation on a daily basis. I can watch films like "Incident at Loch Ness" or "Best in Show" ad nauseum and never grow weary of their rigmarole. However, I suppose every domain of film has its turkeys, and "Comic Book: The Movie" is a veritable bird big enough to feed the entire Zulu nation. Written, produced, directed, and starring Mark Hamill, the low-budget project follows a high school teacher obsessed with comic books on a whirlwind tour straight into the San Diego comic con. He's been sent as a studio liaison promoting the big-screen adaptation/abomination of his favorite comic book hero, Commander Courage. If you think the basic premise sounds contrived, then we're on the same page already.
I watched the film in hopes that live footage at the comic con would be exploited to its fullest potential, but, regrettably, it was not. In fact, the con is scarcely a focus at all, and the viewer is merely teased with glimpses of eccentric characters or panning shots of the dealer room, leaving you wishing that you were there instead of being forced to watch Hamill chew the scenery and regurgitate it out with his nasal-voiced geek schtick. This was a real disappointment to me. The very idea of filming a mockumentary surreptitiously in such an environment is a brilliant concept filled with potential. Regrettably, Hamill was more focused on showing off how funny he thought he and his friends were rather than taking advantage of his surroundings.
God, I can't believe it took me three tries to get through this. The whole time I was watching it, i could imaging Hamill siting next to me, laughing his ass off at his own antics, ribbing me in the side constantly in an effort to muster forth a laugh or two. The guy probably goes around to bars, picks up women by drugging their drinks and takes them back to his place where he forces them to watch his movie. And you know there's nothing more obnoxious that someone who goads you into listening to their new CD or watching their latest, crappy film. Speaking of which, did you know I completed my second length film last December? Trailers can be watched here and here.
Watch the Trailer
Saturday, April 25, 2009
How the hell have I never seen this? Granted, there are a lot of films on this list where people will see the title and think, "Beau's never seen that? Really?" But for the first time since I began this quest to see a new film every day, I found myself exclaiming it aloud as giant rats tore a Canadian yokel to pieces. I have a soft spot for animal attack films - they happen to be a favorite subgenre of film of mine. The hoakier the better, really. While some entries in this domain can be legitimately good ("Jaws," "Phase IV," "The Birds," etc.), most come off as preachy and "Food of the Gods" is no exception.
Our narrator and principle player is quite the introspective football player - a far-from-credible oxymoron of a character. He begins the film by rambling on about how his father believed that one day, nature would get back at mankind for its abuse of the world. And lo and behold, that is the very theme of the film (most animal attack films from the seventies focused heavily on environmental issue for such was the up-and-coming trend at the time). All the preamble in the world is unnecessary though, for the entire crux of the film is to watch giant animals eat people. That is the calling card of writer/director/special FX "guru" Bert I. Gordon (initials: BIG and big his antagonists are).
"Food of the Gods" features giant rats, wasps, caterpillars and, whimsically enough, roosters. A mix of actual animals against blue screen wizardry and giant puppets (which are actually pretty convincing, for what they're worth) are what assault the small band of humans stupid enough to visit the tiny, Canadian island where foolish farmers feed their livestock radioactive waste (or something akin to it). I absolutely love how Bert I. Gordon uses any angle possible to work a giant something into his films. And the funny thing it, they're all genuinely entertaining ("Empire of the Ants," "The Amazing Colossal Man," "War of the Colossal Beast," "Beginning of the End," "Earth vs. the Spider" ...the list goes on). There have been recent attempts to revive the "giant creatures" genre, with "Eight Legged Freaks" being the most worthy of them. However, when CG substitutes live animals and giant, puppet heads, you do gain a slight shred of "believability" but you sadly lose out on charm.
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Friday, April 24, 2009
Let me preface this by saying that I'm not a Neil Patrick Harris fan by any means. His cameos in the Harold and Kumar films garner a lot of guffaws by others, but I find myself thinking, "Meh." He seems to carry an air of smugness about him akin to that which I perceive from Ryan Reynolds - a vibe that says: "This scene is now funnier just because I am present in it, and I acknowledge that you feel the same"...or something like that. I can't say why, but he just rubs me the wrong way. So when I had this recommended to my by my friend Jeff, I was naturally reticent. That's why he forced me to watch it at gun point (I'm dead serious on that one).
I hate to admit it, but it was actually pretty damn good for a direct to Internet/DVD short film (it's presented in three installments at fifteen minutes each). The dialog is sharp and witty, and the songs are actually catchy. Not an infectious, stuck-in-your-head-for-the-rest-of-the-day sort, but toe-tapping all the same. That distinction sounds stupider upon reflection than it did while I was typing it. But I've gone too far, I can't go back now. The strength of the script is undoubtedly due to the fact that it is written by "Firefly" creator Joss Whedon. It should come as no surprise that an individual who excels at integrating the old west with science fiction would be able to parody superhero films and musicals at the same time. There are talks of a feature-length version, but I'd be skeptical of that. While the film holds up well at 45 minutes, at an hour and 45, it might seem as if the novelty is long played out.
Watch the Trailer
An individual at a camp is horribly scarred and allegedly killed. Woe and surprise to the counselors of the secluded camp when he comes back and methodically starts killing them in grisly and elaborate ways. No, I'm not referring to "Friday the 13th," but rather a film that's clearly riding on its coattails. Namely, "The Burning."
It only takes viewing the trailer to realize that the film is a blatant ripoff of its successful predecessor. However, despite this lack of originality, I found "The Burning" to be more enjoyable. For those who know me, the explanation is simple: there's a bevy of character actors in the roles of the counselors; actors who were unknown at the time, but are well known by me and few others at this time (congratulations). Jason Alexander is seen with actual hair! Holly Hunter actually looks attractive! And Fisher Stevens isn't running around with an Indian accent...which is actually kind of a shame. Plus, you factor in some gore that's obviously tongue-in-cheek by splatter king Tom Savini and you've got a great way to kill an hour and a half. There's nothing original - just slash and burn, so to speak - but it flies by a heck of a lot quicker than the occasionally tiresome "Friday the 13th."
Some friends and I broke in my new fire pit while watching this on my makeshift drive-in screen. My pal Eagle unwittingly caught his shoe on fire. The irony of the situation was as delicious as the hot dogs we were grilling.
Watch the Trailer
Saturday, April 18, 2009
In the wake of the success of "The Omen," Hollywood was evidently determined to cash in on the creepy kid genre before it would be ultimately stolen by the Japanese film industry. "Alice, Sweet Alice" is very much a look at how Veruca Salk would have turned out had she been born into a middle class family and had picked up mildly schizophrenic tendencies after her trip to the Wonka factory. Clad in a yellow raincoat and translucent face mask, she plays with cockroaches and torments all who know her. When her sister is killed and set on fire in the rectory (heh heh...ahem, sorry) of the church, all fingers point to the preteen bitch.
Halfway through, the film changes gears and suddenly becomes less enthralling. It's difficult to explain why without giving the plot twist away, but let's just say that the story becomes very confused as to where it wants to go and ultimately stagnates for much of the duration of the film. This turn of events is disappointing, considering the first half of the film was impressively directed for a B-grade horror film, both for unusual angle and camera shots, as well as the acting (which made cast members in Baz Luhrmann productions seem subtle by comparison). I could forgive the film for all of its shortcomings, for it featured this...
Meet Alphonso DeNoble (awesome name). Imagine if Anton LaVey had gained an excessive amount of weight so he could play the corpse victim for gluttony in "Seven," and along the way he had an affair with Paul Bartel, and through his Satanic powers bore their lovechild, and then that lovechild ate Victor Buono and absorbed his acting powers like a wendigo...that would be Alphonso DeNoble. He plays the landlord who lives below Alice's family and is a minor nemesis of the girl. However, most of the time he lounges about in an undershirt and boxers, sweating, listening to ragtime music, drinking tequila and playing with a half dozen kittens atop his belly. I mean, kittens? What the hell? The last time I saw an individual so fat and disgusting, yet hilarious, was the first time I watched "The Loved One" and was greeted with Mrs. Joyboy. I looked him up and it turns out that he only had two other roles in films before he died of being both fat and awesome. Needless to say that the reviews of those titles will soon appear here.
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The advertising for this film is one of the classic bait-and-switch deals of Hollywood - market a film as a comedy when it really isn't a comedy. Don't get me wrong - "Adventureland" has its fair share of laughs (mostly cranked out by the geekish Martin Star). However, it's more on par with John Hughes' "The Breakfast Club" when it comes to the tone of the film. So, undoubtedly, many viewers will enter the theater expecting zany hilarity commensurate with "Superbad" (writer/director Greg Mottola's previous project) only to be disappointed. I was pleasantly surprised at the mature turn the nouveau auteur has taken in his latest endeavor.
The film is excellently cast - drawing from a bevy of actors that resemble "real people" rather that vying to go for star power. While Jesse Eisenberg may be mo Michael Cera - an individual whose prowess when it comes to playing awkward teens is astoundingly accurate - he still succeeds at adding creditability and sympathy to James Brennan (a poor schmuck who graduates high school only to end up working at an amusement park rather than backpacking across Europe after his father loses his job). Bill Heder and Kristen Wiig are great as the misanthropic owners of the park and Kristen Stewart successfully channels Jena Malone for her character of Em. Ryan Reynolds has a supporting role, and he's certainly the man actor that the studio is pimping to promote the film. Yet he seems out of place. It's almost as if he's too smug and well-preened to exist as a handyman at a low-grade amusement park, regardless of the story you use to explain it.
My only issue with the film was that it wasn't eighties enough (my same problem with "Fanboys" - mind you, with it, there was an absence of "1998"). There were a few hairstyles and clothing choices, but for the better part, the time period seemed incidental and unnecessary. I think the only purpose it had was to help recreate Mottola's childhood with greater accuracy (the film being based on a summer he spent as a game worker at the titular amusement park). In my opinion, if you're going to set a film in a distinctive era, you should immerse the audience in it (a la "Dazed and Confused" for example). However, the running gag of "Rock Me, Amadeus" over the park's loudspeakers almost made up for this fact, but, alas, the song was absent from the closing credits - a perfect time to hit a running gag home.
Watch the Trailer
Sunday, April 5, 2009
Jesus...I think my friend Adam summed it up best when he said, "Who the fuck would ever give that guy money?" The guy to which he refers is none other than Tommy Wiseau, the scraggly writer/director/producer/star with a dubious background and a far more indiscernible accent. He's been infamous for a number of years in Hollywood for creating one of the worst films ever made. His notoriety soared when he appeared on Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job about a month ago. I'd planned on renting the film down the road, but then Adult Swim actually aired the film at midnight. Despite my fatigue at the time, I couldn't pull my attention away from the film. It was like watching a train wreck slowed down to the length of two hours.
Actually, I take that back. The best description of the film would be a soft core porno you'd buy in a dollar bin at K-Mart. The acting, script, the really bad ADR (dubbing in post production)...everything is so indescribably bad, it's laughable. To see what I mean, check out my favorite scene, Tommy's arrival at the florist. A couple of other notable scenes are when Tommy goes on a rampage and when his potential mother-in-law drops the bomb about her breast cancer. And it is funny at first, but soon the humor wears off as the film drags on. Trust me. Or don't. Go out and watch it, you masochistic bastard.
In the wake of all this publicity, Tommy has gone on to claim that it was made to be purposefully bad, but I honestly doubt it. Sitting down and watching the whole film, I'm convinced that everyone is trying to be as serious as possible, which is absolutely sad. Sadder still is that bastard is going to make so much money now that his film has been shown on cable TV. I guess this means only one thing now that this precedent has been set..."Team Switchblades" has a chance. Sorry, Bennett.
Watch the Trailer or just watch Tommy laugh
For those of you who are fans of Judd Apatow, I pity you, for I'd take Alexander Payne over the flash-in-a-pan director any day. His films are always well-scripted examinations of everyday characters that have an intimacy that many other comedies lack. I thought "Sideways" was a fabulous film before the taste of it became soured by all the pretentious wine aficionado poseurs born in its shadow. And "About Schmidt" was a wonderful turn of face for Jack Nicholson, and decidedly hilarious. So how I managed to never catch "Election," especially considering the setting of the film, is beyond my ken.
The film centers around a high school student council presidential election in a small Nebraska town. Mr. McAllister (Matthew Broderick) is the poor bastard in charge of the event, with three main competitors: the overachieving and obnoxious Tracy Flint (Reese Witherspoon), the lunkheaded quarterback for the football team, Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) and his anarchist sister, Tammy (Jessica Campbell). Mr. McAllister can't stand the undermining Flint, because she steps on anyone she can to get what she wants, including teachers, and tries to do what he can to take the glory of winning the school election away from her (including encouraging the wounded Paul to run against her). The more he dedicates himself to this act, the more his life falls apart. It's sad, tragic, darkly humorous and, incredibly enough, quite believable.
The film is an exercise in perfect casting, with disaffected teen actors working alongside homely adults. There are several elements that reflect public school mentalities perfectly, including Tammy's promise speech, where she rants about how assemblies for events such as school elections are inane and if elected, she would permanently disband the student government, only to receive boisterous cheering (from teachers and students alike). The passive-aggressive nature of student-teacher relations frequently surfaces too, in a manner that makes you hate Tracy damn near as much as Mr. McAllister does. And, sadly enough, the cruel end to the film has an inherent truth in it as well. An excellent screenplay and an even better directorial debut from Payne.
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This is the only film I've seen that elicits these two simultaneous responses from audience members - boisterous laughter and uncomfortable crossing of the legs. Provided, of course, that you're a guy. If not, only the former applies, for "Teeth," as the name indicates, is about a set of ravenous chompers. The component that makes this film stand out is the location of said teeth; they're known as "vagina dentata" to give you a clue. For those who weren't raised in the Catholic Hood as I was (i.e. the South end of Louisville) and lack a basic understanding of Latin, the teeth are found lining the poonanner of a teenage girl (no, I'm not fourteen, but I do lack ample opportunities to use such a silly bit of slang).
The film stars Louisville native (and Atherton High School graduate) Jess Weixler as Dawn, the virgin with a heart of gold and a vagina of cruel fate. Before you accuse me of being jejune, I have to point out that the film is immature in tone. This theme adds to the humor of the story being told simply because it could never be presented in a serious vein. After all, there is a scene where a gynecologist and Dawn are both screaming as he tries to pull his hand out of her and can't. The two writhe about until the doctor receives his hand back, sans four fingers. So is the film silly, stupid, immature and filled with blood-squirting, severed penes? Sure it is. But in my opinion, there's no shame in watching a film for sheer entertainment. I know that's a brief review, but at this juncture, you've already become dead set against watching the film or you've gone out to rent it already. Hopefully the latter. Pick up a hot dog to eat, too, for delicious, delicious irony.
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When Stanley Kubrick made "2001: a Space Odyssey," he created, in my opinion, a masterpiece. It was a methodically brooding piece of work that focused on the loneliness of space travel, filled with amazing visuals and a great score. To try and follow that up is no easy task, and for some time, I was hesitant to watch "2010" for fear that it would fail to live up to the Kurbick's film so badly that it would be unwatchable. The interesting approach that director Peter Hyams (whose filmography is not the most impressive) is he didn't try to incorporate any of Kubrick's influence into his film. He simply made a follow-up to "2001" and chose to give it its own sense of style and tone.
The film picks up where "2001" left off - a mission is being sent to Jupiter to figure out what happened to Bowman and the Jupiter II. Along the way, strange discoveries of life are found on one of Jupiter's moons and it soon appears that Bowman is not dead at all (though the term "alive" might be a gross error). The cast is great, with Roy Schieder, John Lithgow, Helen Mirren and teen heartthrob Bob Balaban making up the primary crew members. The special effects are pretty impressive for the era as well.
While the sequel could never compare with Kubrick's film, it stands excellently on it's own and still works when compared with the realm created in "2001." Many aspects of the plot from the first film are clarified, though there was one sticking point for me: the humanization of HAL. Initial examination of his circuits leads the crew to conclude that he was not entirely responsible for his actions against Bowman, Poole and the rest of the original crew on the Jupiter II. To me, one of the most unsettling elements of the first film was HAL's cold, logical elimination of the crew as a result of valuing the mission over human life. To try and rationalize his actions further make him seem more harmless and less villainous, a clarification I could have done without. All in all, a respectable sequel to a film that could be viewed as impossible to follow.
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This was a documentary that made me feel both young and old at the same time. Aged in the sense that I not only recognized all the Atari arcade games featured in the film, but had grown up playing them. Juvenile in the sense that I grew up playing these games, while the contenders in the politically perverse gaming world were receiving international recognition...within certain circles. Either way, I found the film both endearing (for its connection to the sentimental) as well as intriguing, for I never realized that competitive gaming in the realm of arcade games from the late seventies and eighties still existed (much less, in the heated spirit that the competitions seem to have).
The documentary focuses on an underdog, Steve Wiebe, as he endeavors to set the new world record for a high score on Donkey Kong. A large examination is also given to Billy Mitchell, the reigning champion, whose score had stood for almost twenty years. Every "name" in the competitive video game world was on the scene or took a hand in either in aiding and supporting Steve with his quest, or endeavoring to deter him from outdoing Billy, a veritable Boss Tweed of gamers. The pettifoggery of "gaming rules" when it comes to submitting new high scores was both fascinating and almost laughable. In short, these guys take gaming really f**king serious.
Steve is a great individual for director Seth Gordon, because the guy's a quintessential gamer "nerd" - introverted, a little autistic perhaps and non-confrontational, and he's pitted against his very opposite. Billy Mitchell is an overly-empowered man, his need to dominate others in life spawned from his title as world record holder for Donkey Kong high score. Between his faux mullet, his garish USA ties with mismatched shirts and self-run hot wing sauce industry, I found him so bizarre (and almost villainous), I wanted to see more of him. However, I can understand the director's reluctance to explore Mitchell - apart from drastically losing focus on the primary subject (Wiebe), it would be tough to get to the real Billy Mitchell. Every time he's on camera, it's as if he's trying to sell himself to you, never letting you know what he's really thinking. This seemingly disingenuous nature scarcely lends itself to exploration.
In summation, this was one of the most gripping documentaries I've seen in some time, moving me to dust off the old Atari 2600 and indulge in some Kaboom. It's still one of my favorite video game consoles and it just sickens me when I mention this in front of my students at school and they respond with: "What's Atari?" Goddamned kids, with your Facebooks, Hot Topics and...Glenn Miller...whole damned world is going to hell in a hand basket.
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Friday, April 3, 2009
Dystopia or utopia? That's the question I found myself debating after watching George Lucas' directorial debut. The film is clearly Lucas' take on George Orwell's "1984," with citizens of an unnamed country toiling for hours a day, not true slaves, but slaves of the state, so to speak. Furthermore, everything you say or do is watched by countless individuals sitting in front of computer monitors. Lucas even takes the similarities further by incorporating what can only be described as confession booths, where individuals can sit and pour out their greatest troubles to the giant head, known as OMM, as he responds robotically with "Yes" or "Go on" every few seconds. The latter example was clearly added for sheer satirical humor. Yet, despite all of this, everyone is employed and has a home with a medicine cabinet full of tranquilizer pills, so things ain't so bad...
The story follows THX (Robert Duvall) as he grows tired of living on sedatives and engages in intercourse with his roommate. As a result, he then finds himself an enemy of the state, going from prison cell to medical center to asylum and then ending up on the run. Donald Pleasance has a great role as an individual who befriends THX, a kinship with humorous, homoerotic undertones. Ian Wolfe also has a great cameo as a bombastic asylum inmate.
The main impression I had while watching the film is: "George Lucas is actually a good director." Granted, he tarnished his reputation long ago by "improving" the Star Wars trilogy, followed by a lackluster prequel trilogy and finally the bastardization of Indiana Jones. However, if you look at his first three films - "THX-1138," "American Graffiti" and "Star Wars" - it's hard to regard him as anything else but a great storyteller. It left me pondering what films he would have generated had he not fallen prey to the dark side of the film industry (seeking out wealth, fame and merchandising). Perhaps one day he'll direct a unique piece again, but I'm afraid that, for the time being, he's too content in the comfortable lifestyle his franchise has produced for him.
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This film would work as an excellent companion piece to Herzog's later film,"Fitzcarraldo." Both period pieces are set in the Peruvian jungle with a large portion of the film taking place on the river, and both star Klaus Kinski. Furthermore, the titular characters in both films are dreamers on a quest to fulfill their dreams. However, where "Fitzcarraldo" focuses on the blissful ignorance and idealism of seeking out an improbable end, "Aguirre" scrutinizes the madness that arises when an individual becomes hellbent on achieving a goal.
The feature takes place in the 16th century, as a Spanish caravan lead by Gonzolo Pizarro desperately seeks the mythical city of El Dorado. When rations run short, Pirazzo sends out a scout team to look for the city and/or supplies. Aguirre soon catalyzes a mutiny within the party and the rest of the film follows his power-hungry, egotistic quest for the legendary city of gold as his band of rebels are slowly picked off by disease, cannibals and the traitorous acts of one another.
Kinski undergoes an unsettling transformation throughout the film as Aguirre becomes more and more obsessed with riches as the odds build against him. He becomes the type of character where you find yourself cringing during much of his time on screen, because you never know what he's going to do next (commensurate with "Blue Velvet's" Frank Booth or "No Country for Old Men's" Anton Chigruh). There's an inherent sadness in watching the character as well, because unlike antagonists of his ilk, he cannot ever achieve his desires. The viewer knows that no such city exist and his treason, murder and madness are all for naught. To create such a mongrel of a man and then illicit sympathy from the audience may seem like an impossible task, but Herzog does so by creating a film so hypnotic, you often feel that you're watching a dream.
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Thursday, April 2, 2009
The trailer, and even the poster for this film fool you from the very start. The advertising leads you to believe that the picture is a guns blazing, action flick. Woe to the viewer that expects this for it never comes. I, however, was pleasantly surprised by the mature story by writer/director Martin McDonagh presented. Typically, tales of hit men are characterized by elaborate shoot-outs throughout the film and obsessed with upping the death count at every turn. "In Bruges" takes that stereotype and turns it on its head by preoccupying its gunmen with life.
Ray (Colin Farrell ) is a novice on the lamb after his first job went awry (he accidentally shot a young child in a church when taking down his mark. He and his mentor Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are sent to Bruges, Belgium to lie low until the smoke clears. While Ken relishes all the city has to offer, embracing life to its fullest as a tourist, Ray views the city as hell and contemplates suicide out of grief from his mistake. When their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) calls and demands that Ken "deal with Ray," the hit man is torn between killing a friend or losing his own life so that Ray can move on and learn to appreciate his.
Don't misinterpret my summary and assume the film is all introspection and depression (they're in Belgium, not Sweden). There are shootouts, plenty of dark humor and drunken midgets with hookers. But these almost outlandish elements are so exquisitely blended with the rest of the story, the film never feels uneven or forced. It comes across as a genuine love letter to the duo, as well as to their city of refuge.
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This film serves as a prime example that good science fiction need not be saturated with space battles or aliens as so many screenwriters in Hollywood believe. My statement might seem a little hypocritical and ironic, for there are aliens present in "The Lathe of Heaven," but their presence is in no way the crux of the film. In short, Bruce Davison plays George Orr, a man sent to obligatory analysis sessions after his drug abuse problem was discovered. His reason for taking various prescriptions? He wants to suppress his dreams, for he's prone to lucid visions that alter reality, a change that is never perceived by others for it changes them as well as their surroundings. At first his therapist doesn't believe him, but once he does, he keeps putting George into a state of hypnosis to control how reality is altered for his own personal motives.
A possible inspiration for Alex Proyas' "Dark City," though it lacks a major budget (it was a made for television film - though I can tell that the production had some pretty decent funding). The special effects are pretty good for both the era as well as the resources the crew had available. Many of the dream sequences were comparable with segments of "Altered States." The sets required constant alterations as George modified reality.
I was also impressed with the script. Such a premise sounds like the fodder for a half-hour episode of "The Twilight Zone," and not a feature length film. But is works and Davison works perfectly in the role of the socially-inept introvert with super powers (ten years earlier and the role probably would have been filled by Don Knotts - later, and it would have been Crispin Glover). Kevin Conway puts in an excellent performance as well as George's egotistic controller. The film serves as a great example of what a good script can do for a low-budget endeavor.
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What a silly movie. That's all you can think after it comes to a conclusion. I'm sure at one stage is was intended to be a legitimately scary, horror film. The problem is the special effects and creatures are so over the top, it's tough to regard "House" as anything but a dark comedy, very much in the vein of "Evil Dead II" or "Dead Alive."
For starters, our "hero" Roger Cobb (William Katt) is an alleged Vietnam War veteran, suffering from post-war trauma. This trauma could possibly be the cause of the strange things he's seeing, for the monsters and flying objects often stir him into a flashback (the jungles of Vietnam bear an eerie resemblance to a gorilla exhibit in a zoo). Such an angle would definitely be David Cronenberg inspired. Yet, the manner in which he "spazzes" about anything slightly weird occurs makes you wonder how he ever made it through the war alive. In addition, when demonic creatures attack him, he kills them and goes back to his daily routine as if nothing ever happened. A peculiar individual indeed.
The film has one other major asset: George Wendt. Yes, TV's lovable "Norm" shows up every night at Roger's door at the stroke of one o'clock with a six pack of Miller High Lives in hand and a conversation full of sorrows. I suppose Wendt is showing us the cruel side to being a solitary alcoholic, devoid of true friends. Now that's funny!
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As if Hollywood hadn't made enough Ed Gein-influenced pictures at this point, we get another formulaic tale of a man with a recently-deceased, overbearing mother, who realizes that the proper way to cope is to begin killing women and propping their dead bodies up about the house. The lead, Dan Grimaldi, is less appealing in his role as were his predecessors in similar parts (Anthony Perkins, Roberts Blossom, etc.). What the film does have going for it is a couple of new twists to the tried-and-true tale.
First of all, our starring sociopath, Donny Kohler, was tortured as a child. There are several flashbacks which seemed reminiscent of the child abuse scenes in "Sybil" (thankfully, there were no button hooks present). Donny's mother would punish her son my holding his arms over the lit burner of the stove, leading to a mild moral to the story: don't treat your offspring like prisoners during the Inquisition and they won't aspire to be the next John Wayne Gacy (one of those life lessons often overlooked in parenting classes in high school I suppose).
Second, our serial killer develops a pyromaniacal fetish as a result. He constructs a steel-plated "furnace room" in his home for the sole purpose of luring coquettish tarts in and scorching them to death with a flamethrower. Admittedly, I found myself thinking: "Well, I've never seen that before." Overall, the film was the general schlock that Hollywood has been cranking out en masse for decades. Had I not been with a group of friends, "MST3King" the film as it went, I shudder to think how tedious it may have truly come across.
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Within the past two months, I've had three friends recommend this film to me. Stranger is the fact that they're all guys. Stranger still is that they're all straight (allegedly), despite a love for Judy Garland musicals. While I can't say that I disliked the film (in all honesty, I find it hard to dislike anything filmed in three-strip technicolor), I don't see what's to love about it. It's simply a pleasant film, nothing more. A true exercise in cinematic happiness.
Actually, I think it's worth noting that the story excels in obsequious pleasantness. There are no antagonists, no climaxes, and no real conflicts (though when the premise of the film surrounds a popular song created two scores before the film, I shouldn't expect anything too complex). The toughest obstacles the characters must overcome is worrying whether the family's youngest daughter was abused, whether Judy's beau will have a tux in time for the Christmas dance or whether the family will move away from St. Louis before the world's fair. Each dilemma has about a two minute period of "tension" before everything is declared to be alright once more. Though it is worth noting that the film takes a very surreal turn as children "kill" their neighbors on Halloween shortly before a declaration of their disdain felt towards the victim. And no, I'm not making that last bit up.
The appeal to the film, I suppose, is its music. A number of songs, from "The Trolley Song" to "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" have a catchy quality about them, not unlike a fever. You want to get it out of your head, but you cannot. It's just best to let the song run its course (though none of them were as infectious as the smallpox of the movie world - "Mr. Peacock"). No, "The Trolley Song's" coming back! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!
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Wednesday, April 1, 2009
I want to begin by saying that this film is a fabulous concept: a road trip film about a group of Star Wars fans who decide to break into the George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch, so their friend that's dying of cancer can see Episode One before he departs the Earth. After waiting patiently for the film's legal troubles to settle over the past year, I was quite pleased to see it. However, the sensation I felt was bittersweet - ironically, similar to my initial impression of Episode One: Phantom Menace. While each film had their highlights and were an enjoyable watch, they each left me feeling a little flat - as if they could have been so much more, but never lived up to their potential.
As crazy as it might sound, I felt like there weren't enough Star Wars references. The jokes that cracked me up were the subtle gags (and the numerous guest cameos), where a character would effortlessly work a line from the original trilogy into their conversation. Most of the humor in the film was done with an inferred wink at the audience - a beat after a "good line" to let the viewers know that something funny was just said. I think the writers/creators were afraid of creating something that would be too much of a "fan film" if they peppered it with an abundance of "inside humor," so they made something a little more conventional - and as a result, something a little less unique.
The film would have worked well had the entire script been a parody of a Star Wars episode. Instead, it's merely a fair road trip/buddy comedy with Star Wars as a central, though not overwhelming, theme. I was also a little disappointed that the film didn't have more of a "90's feel." There were a couple of acceptable song entries and touches, but for the better part, it felt like a film set in modern day. Pity. Thankfully, there was talk of "What if Phantom Menace sucks?" within the film, giving the proper cynical nod to all Star Wars fans who walked away from theaters deflated in May1999. And in answer to the aforementioned question, I'll ask you to look up what happened on September 11, 2001, for that is truly the consequence of a weak resurrection of a beloved franchise. i just shudder to think of the aftershocks that will arise from "Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull."
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When I was watching this film, something felt off. I could never place what it was. I was too distracted by the fact that an awesome cast was giving mediocre performances. Patrick Stewart, Peirce Brosnan and Christopher Lee should not leave me feeling bored (I suspect it was definitely a situation of "wanting a paycheck" rather than a role in the film). It wasn't until I went to Imdb that the truth became evident - it was a made for TV movie.
Granted, there's no rule that says that such films are guaranteed to be lackluster. "Gargoyles" and "Trilogy of Terror" both stand out in my mind as excellent films. However, the action scenes in this film feel like fledged out segments from episodes of "MacGuyver" that were never aired. There's no characteristic style to the camerawork, the score is forgettable, the plot is so-so...in short, the film could be best summed up in one word: conventional. It's not that the film is intolerable - the concept of smuggling a nuclear bomb across continental Europe in a hijacked train is a lot of fun (though it does feel like an unnecessary rip-off of "The Taking of Pelham 123" at certain parts). I just think it was in the wrong hands when it came to direction.
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I've never seen the original version of this film, but if the sequel closely mirrors its predecessors basic story and atmosphere, I can pass. "Last House on the Left" pushes the envelope, not for what can be shown on screen, but for what can be in a film and it still receive an R rating. Between brutal murders and graphic rape, its scarcely a bring-the-family chucklefest. Yet, to my surprise, as well as to the surprise of the rest of my party (or should I say Eagle's party, since it was his "burfday") there were parents with toddlers and other young children present. Yes, have fun explaining why the "lady bled down there" or how "the microwave made man's head go boom." Actually, there were a couple of vocal individuals about two rows behind us who could easily do the job. Let me predict what the explanation would sound like...
Girl #1: "Shit! There was this girl Mary and this big-ass white dude who wanted all up in her so he took the girl and you wanna know somethin'? Ain't no man gonna touch me like that unless he wanna pull back a stub. You know what I'm sayin'."
Girl #2: "Mmmm-hmm"
Me: "That's straight up. You ain't trippin', gurl. Dat shit's of da hook, off da chain, off da wall, off da cuff, off da deep end and off da wagon."
Yeah...you can't tell that I'm white and socially inept. Nevertheless, this streaming, over-zealous logorrhea was prevalent through our screening. Had the plot been complex, I'm sure I would have been lost as a result of the distraction. I was not though, for the movie is about a gang of psychopaths torturing a family for two hours. If you didn't get the gist of that from the trailer, then ask the scarred toddlers who were in the audience to explain it to you.
Watch the Trailer