Sunday, February 28, 2010

Random Movie: Phantasm II (1988)

Written by: PBF

So, in case you haven’t noticed, I have been on a cheesy horror kick lately. Since Jesusflix has the entire Phantasm franchise, I figured I might as well revisit that. While I would substitute “low budget, but decent” for “cheesy” in regard to the first Phantasm, I would apply the phrase, “utter disappointment” to this installment.

Phantasm II has us watching Liz thumb through a journal, talking to herself in her head, about Mike, whom she has only seen in her dreams. While she is doing this, the film cuts away to the end of the first Phantasm, with Mike and Reggie relaxing after the ordeal that they have just gone through. The flashback reminds us that they decide to hit the road and get a fresh start. However, things go awry when the Tall Man attempts to take Mike and turn him in to a dwarf slave, but is thwarted by Reggie who ultimately blows the house up, but not with the Tall Man inside. We flash forward a bit, and Mike is being released from a mental institution, agreeing that he had imagined the entire events of the first film. Because he agrees to this, he is let go, but the very next time we see him, he is in a cemetery digging up graves checking to see if there are bodies in them. There are not. You no doubt remember that the Tall Man takes dead bodies and turns them in to dwarf slaves. Mike is convinced that this is still happening and eventually so is Reggie, and thus begins their journey to find the Tall Man and stop him, and also save this blonde girl (from the beginning) that keeps appearing in Mike’s dreams. They arm themselves with an arsenal of flamethrowers, chainsaws and a 4 barrel shotgun. As they travel through various towns, they can see that they have been ravished by the Tall Man and left in ruin.

My issues with this film are many, but researching it, I realize that it may not be entirely the filmmaker’s fault. In the original, A. Michael Baldwin played Mike and Reggie Bannister played Reggie. For this film, Universal wanted the roles recast and made them audition for their own parts, but Don Coscarelli (Director, Writer, etc) wanted them for the sequel. I assume because they were cocks, Universal told Coscarelli that he could keep one of them but had to recast the other. He chose Reggie Bannister to stay, and James LeGros was cast as Mike. This did a couple of things: 1. Piss me off, especially since A. Michael Baldwin was in the rest of the sequels. 2. Made Reggie Bannister look like an even worse actor than he already was, because LeGros can act. Also, there were to be no dream sequences and Mike was to have a love interest. All that being said, I do understand that these limitations may have resulted in a final product that Coscarelli had not envisioned. But there was some other wacky shit going on. The pace was UNBEARABLY slow. In addition to that, I found the passing of time confusing at one point. Mike and Reggie are driving all over the place and at the same time, the movie will cut to a funeral taking place. Lines like “We have been on the road for a long time,” are uttered and I swear I saw it change from day to night, but the same funeral service is going on. This seems to be less of a horror film and more of a “let’s show off the huge budget we were given” film. I mean, there are 3 major explosions in this, and a lot of flamethrower and chainsaw action. It is a far cry from the indie spirit of the first one, which I preferred. One random thing I found hilarious, was that Liz shrieked when a rat runs by. However, she remained silent, and did not even look that upset after watching one sphere slice an ear off and drain a priest’s blood, or when a man cut his own hand off. There was also little dumb stuff, like the Tall Man walking by Reggie who was hiding (and not very well) and not seeing him, yet he is able to sneak up on people all the time, and Mike saying he was 19 when he clearly looks 26. It was just not very good. Even the sphere deaths were not as cool. I will say, however, that Angus Scrimm was just as good if not better as the Tall Man the second time around.

This installment is really not good at all, which is unfortunate. Coscarelli obviously loved making these movies and the first one was quite good. If memory serves, the franchise keeps going downhill, which I will either confirm or retract in later reviews. Right now however, I suggest skipping this so as not to sully the memory of the first.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Truth in Advertising

False advertising is a big deal when it comes to businesses and consumer products. The laws on the books act to protect consumers against being misled about the product or service they are buying from inflated claims, inaccurate results, or overall deception. The United States even has the FTC, a government agency whose primary purpose is to protect buyers from all kinds of shenanigans. Why am I talking about this? Well, I am angry that there is no entertainment based equivalent to the FTC which would prevent unsuspecting movie goers from shelling out money on crap films.

When I saw The Crazies this weekend, attached to the print was a new trailer for the upcoming Nightmare on Elm Street remake. As I previously worried based on the test screening reviews, this remake could very well suck balls and destroy my own personal, nostalgic 80s universe by further bastardizing the franchise already undone by the likes of Freddy’s Dead and Freddy vs. Jason. But, as I sat in the darkened movie theater and realized what movie was being previewed, my concerns started to dwindle. This new Nightmare trailer was chock full of jump scares, creepy images, and effective call-backs to the original. For just a moment, I had completely forgot about the nervous article I had written just three days before. As the trailer ended and the feature began, I did not have the time or opportunity to really dwell on it. Now, more than 24 hours after seeing that, I realize the new Nightmare will probably suck and I’ll likely hate it even more just because of that trailer.

Now, I certainly understand that the entire purpose of trailers is for marketing purposes only and not necessarily to give you an accurate idea or feel for the film at hand. In fact, it would be quite difficult to create a two and a half minute preview which addressed and covered all the relevant information for the upcoming movie. For the good or even decent movies though, the trailer gives you a good sense of what to expect for the full ninety minutes or more of the movie. For the bad movies, the trailer is the little white lie which spirals out of the control of its creators and takes on a life of its own, destroying lives in the process. Okay, maybe that was a bit dramatic but trailers for bad movies are especially evil as the best editors seem to work on those exclusively, trying to shrink two hours of fail into a minute and a half of passably decent scenes to sucker in viewers across the country. If you need an example, look at the trailer for the Friday the 13th remake and compare that to the final product.

Therefore, I propose we enact legislation to ensure that promotional materials for an upcoming release match the quality of the film itself. Just like it is illegal to sell a cream that claims it will turn you into Cyndi Lauper, it should be illegal to pass a movie off as hip and edgy and featuring music from Stabbing Westward if it does not (I’m looking in your direction Mod Squad)! So how do we quantify and equate the quality of the preview to the movie itself? Just put a bunch of movie fans and let them watch the feature followed by the preview. Is your movie not as funny as it tries to be? Let’s put one of those failed jokes right smack at the start. Is your top-billed star only in approximately thirteen minutes of the two hour movie? We can just go ahead and trim out every other frame of that actor to create a jarring effect that would eventually be rather common to film goers. It’s as simple as that. It would not cost the studios any additional advertising dollars and maybe then can we rid the world of actors who need to go away for good.

Now all of that having been said, check out the new Nightmare trailer.

Random Movie: American Splendor (2003)

Written by: Digger

I’ll be the first to admit that I love movies with car chases, explosions, big rubber monsters, and boobies, but every now and again I need a change of pace. Call it an escape from escapism. Some real life stories are worth experiencing just as much as fantasy, and everyone should learn about the man, the myth, the real life legend that is Harvey Pekar.

American Splendor is the movie I watch to remind myself that for all the brainless Michael Bay boom-fests and boring vampire meat market movies out there, a film can still be a work of art. Now, I know what you’re thinking, or at least what I’m thinking, but artsy movie doesn’t always mean boring, self-indulgent pile of crap, and some directors need to learn the difference. (I’m looking at you, Vincent Gallo)

The film opens with images of kids trick-r-treating on Halloween dressed as comic book superheroes like Superman and Batman, but one kid is dressed in his mild-mannered garb. When a house-wife distributing candied apples at her doorstep asked the child who he is supposed to be, he simply replies “I’m Harvey Pekar.” And thus begins the story of this underground comic book character and real life everyday hero. This film has the strange distinction of being both a biopic and a comic book movie, since the American Splendor comic books are based on Harvey’s everyday experiences. Paul Giamatti plays Harvey as his second marriage ends in disaster and the crushing weight of his meager, work-a-day existence presses down on him. To help him cope, and to leave his mark on the world, Harvey begins writing comics about the quirky nature of his life. With help form his friend Robert Crumb, played by James Urbaniak, he finds some success in publishing his underground comic book, but not enough to quit his day job.

This film starts with one of my favorite opening credit sequences. Harvey walks through the streets of Cleveland as our perspective shifts from panel to panel on a comic book page, several illustrated versions of Harvey let us know that he has been drawn many different ways by different artist, but that he is a real person, too. Paul Giamatti continues walking through the streets as a narration begins by the real life Harvey Pekar about what was happening in that particular time in his life. This sets the tone for the rest of the film as we have interview scenes with the real Harvey Pekar, scenes with movie Harvey, and introspective scenes with animated Harvey all sharing the same celluloid. The whole thing is directed, acted, and edited brilliantly with its own brand of story telling and dry humor. With all the many perspective shifts and transitions this movie could have become very confusing or could have gotten mired down in its own high concept fluff. Thankfully, it does not. This film is engaging, funny, and really lets you know about the strange and entertaining life of Harvey Pekar, and it does all this without car chases, explosions, big rubber monsters, or boobies. This movie is a friggin masterpiece and I cannot say enough good things about it.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Random Movie: The Crazies (2010)

Just days after we release an episode criticizing the prevalance of remakes in Hollywood, this gut-buster comes in and proves that we should just have a big tall glass of Shut-the-F-Up Juice and give the film a chance before crying foul about its origins. In fairness, PBF and I commented that this looked like a rather kick-ass movie which we had high hopes for. I am happy to report, along with many other reviews I’ve seen, that it does not disappoint.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Random Movie: Dragon Wars (2007)

Now THIS is the movie I was looking for! A low-budget, horribly-acted, crap movie to sit and just stare at in amazement. The amazement is born in the terrible plot, forged by lackluster direction, and cemented in the god-awful looking effects. To its credit though, Dragon Wars (or D-War as the cool kids would have called it if anyone else but me had seen this piece of trash) kept me entertained for a good ninety minutes. That’s more than I can say about many other films.

The plot (and I use the term as loosely as possible) centers around the strife between a good dragon and a bad dragon. Now, I spaced out during part of the exposition but from what I gathered, the bad dragon wants to have something that is for whatever reason stored inside a specific person every 500 years in order to rule the earth or get to heaven or something like that. During about 78% of the movie, this person is Sarah, played by Amanda Brooks, who was born with a birthmark in the exact and defined shape of a dragon. This means that upon her twentieth birthday, she will become dragon food … I think. Along to help her is Ethan, a Jared-Leto-looking reporter who was tasked with this duty years before by Robert Forster. As Sarah and Ethan (very) slowly catch up to the rest of the audience, the bad dragon is tearing his way through Los Angeles eating elephants and people but acting stealthy enough to only be seen by a zookeeper. The two must then find a way to ditch the bad dragon, meet up with the good dragon, and live happily ever after … I believe.

So, I was going to file this under the very underutilized crap category but I could not bring myself to do so. While this is a crap movie through and through, I get the feeling that it does not have pretensions to be anything else. In short, this is a movie stocked with B-grade actors, a C-grade script, and special effects that look cribbed from a 1995 Windows PC dragon game. Normally, this equation would equal an F for fail but there is a genuine attempt in this movie that just slightly elevates itself over other made-for-MST3K drivel (although if it were still around, whomever and the bots would have a field day with this one). Perhaps it is due to the inclusion of fan-favorite actors such as Chris Mulkey*, Elizabeth Peña, or Holmes Osborne; The Office’s Craig Robinson does not hurt either. Or maybe its charm is due to the extreme and over-the-top effects as the bad dragon annihilates downtown LA, which seems so out of place I would not be surprised if the producers had $20K left over in the budget and needed another fifteen minutes of film. The carnage is likely the most engaging aspect of the film as in one of the flashbacks (there are approximately three flashbacks within one if that makes sense) an army mounted on Tyrannosaurus rexs accompanied by giant slugs with mortar rounds on their back level an ancient village … in 1507! There were inconsistencies abound in this film that I could ramble on about but I will refrain as I am sure you get the point.

So, while I could riff on this film for days (caves in the greater LA corridor, military firing at a certainly occupied skyscraper to kill some winged things), I will concede that this was a fairly fun film to watch and laugh at. I suspect it would play better in a room with a bunch of drunken friends but I feel I would be better senseless if I suggest it so the world will never know. I don’t advocate you going out of your way to see this like I did but you shan’t need to actively avoid it. If it is on Sci-Fi on a lazy Saturday, you could certainly do worse.

*This makes two consecutive Random Movie appearances by Chris Mulkey. Maybe I should watch Ghost in the Machine for a hat trick. Eh, or maybe not.

His Name Was Boner

Reports are coming in that Andrew Koenig, son of Star Trek’s Walter Koenig, was found dead in Canada. Andrew played possibly one of the best named characters on a show whose main star was a devout Christian in real life, Boner Stabone, on Growing Pains. His father is reporting that it was an apparent suicide, but the cause of death has yet to be officially determined. Read more at the random news site I decide to link in this sentence.

Random Movie: The Children (1980)

Written by: PBF

You've heard the phrase "Hugs not drugs," right? Well, I urge you not to heed that advice. I am not advocating the use of drugs by any means, but just beware of hugging. Allow me to explain.

The Children is a delightful waste of time that begins at a nuclear power plant. The only 2 employees that are there must go find a drink so they leave. I assume that they have neglected something in their job description as some kind of leak happens and a big toxic fog forms. We then have a bus full of about 5 kids, having a merry time, singing the praises of the bus driver who approaches the dense mysteriously out of place fog with reckless abandon, and goes right through it. Later on, Sheriff Billy Hart finds the bus on the side of the road, engine running, but empty. The Sheriff then visits the parents of the missing kids to see if they have come home. They have not. What they have done, is turned into some kind of mindless gang of zombies, whose fingernails have all turned black (except for one kid, which I will get to in a minute). These kids then seek out their families and give them hugs, which burn them to death. But only their flesh, not their clothes or anything that would make sense like that. The majority of the film is us watching as the Sheriff and John Freemont (parent of Jenny, one of the hugging killers and Clarkie, who is unaffected because he did not go to school) discover bodies and piece together what is going on.

I fear that this review will not give you an accurate representation of how bad the movie is. It is laugh out loud horrible. It even screws up the most basic horror movie traits. You know the old "person is creeping around looking for someone, and gets scared by a house pet" trick that is designed to startle the audience? Well they try that, but the music and the animal are out of sync, so the dog shows up, the person jumps and there is split second of violin all in that succession. Embarrassing. Also, they try a similar gag where someone catches their reflection in a mirror, but there is no music that time, and the acting is so poor it just looks really awkward. Not one person in it can act. The audio is such garbage, it even has that clichéd record album sound where you can hear all the pops. The film skips in spots also. One thing about this film that I did not understand, is that all the kids but one, Janet, turn evil right away. She does not until near the end of the film. There is no explanation for that, but she does turn evil at a mighty convenient part of the movie. Also, AND THIS IS THE ONLY POSSIBLE SPOILER FOR THIS MOVIE: when John's wife gives birth to a baby, it's fingernails are black. What the fuck? How is that possible if it wasn't exposed to the radiation? Also, why doesn't the mother's flesh burn when the baby touches her? And speaking of the baby, possibly the most hilarious thing in the movie: While pregnant, John's wife lights up a cigarette, takes a huge drag, looks at her belly, rubs it and says, "Sorry." That scene and others displaying the deplorable behaviors of the killer children\'s parents serve as, I guess, the "moral" of this film. One kids parents are smoking pot, and as the mother says, "do not rise before 10." One kid's sister apparently is a slut. So I guess this is some kind of commentary on bad parenting. Well, The Children, I have a comment for you. Usually, when someone is shot or their hands get chopped off, there is blood. I mean, you can\'t fit corn syrup in your budget?

While this movie is utterly useless and has no redeeming qualities, I enjoyed watching those silly, huge grin wearing little psychopaths burn their parents alive. I saw this movie when I was very young and was never able to remember the name of it. Thanks to Jesusflix, I was able to stumble upon it, and gladly surrender 90 minutes of my life one more time.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Random Movie: Runaway (1984)

Pop quiz! When I say Michael Crichton what’s the first movie that comes to mind? Jurassic Park? Nice job! Twister? Not too bad! Sphere? Congo? Now you’re just messing with me. If you did not think of his smashing directorial success Runaway, I wouldn’t be surprised. This is such an old favorite of mine that I’ve never heard anyone else even acknowledge (excepting PBF who probably saw in theaters). A 1984 movie about killer robots? How original! Oh wait. Terminator didn’t have Tom Selleck’s mustache though.

Taking place “in the future” or some weird alt-history 1980s, Tom Selleck’s Jack Ramsey is head of the runaway squad, a group of police who deal with industrial and household robots that misbehave. Things start off rather uneventful until a servant robot decides to dice up two people and hold an infant hostage at gunpoint. Ramsey discovers the robot was purposely tasked to go off the handle by the over-the-top Gene Simmons to eliminate an engineer who developed the computer chips that overrode his robot’s commands. The rest of the story unfolds as Ramsey tries to catch up with Simmons’ Charles Luther to prevent him from producing and using the chips. Now, if this sounds all fancy and technical, it’s really not. The story, also written by Crichton, is actually fairly straight-forward and cliched. You could substitute computer chips for illegal guns, drugs, or Ferbies and have the plot for many scores of other action movies.

Where this film gets it right though is the direction. Sadly, Crichton did not direct too many films, presumably due to churning out a new book every few years. However, the composition of the film and the tension throughout is actually quite good, as long as you can suspend your disbelief of the “cutting edge technology.” Now, its unfair to judge the movie based on the standards of technology today as, similiar to Terminator, the story dealt with the fear of the increasing number of machines taking over for humans and what could happen if things went wrong. While I do not yet have a housekeeper robot who looks like a love child between a college dorm fridge and a boombox, we do have Roombas and unmanned drones and bomb disarming robots. So, while Cameron’s flick dealt with runaway robots on a global level (with the resulting death and destruction), Runaway focuses more on them locally and the havoc only a few rogue machines can do with the wrong Kiss member behind the scenes.

Almost all around, the movie is quite good compared to its relatively cheap 80s counterparts. Acting wise, Selleck and the MIA Cynthia Rhodes share quite a few good moments as they bond throughout the movie (even if Ramsey is the most densest action character in films, she wants to jump your bones!). Simmons is quite over the top in just his facial expressions alone but it works quite well as he comes off as a raving lunatic. Even GW Bailey, channeling Capt. Harris, fits in the ensemble well as the requisite hard-ass captain who wants results and is never happy. Kirstie Alley though? Never been a big fan and she reminded me of her shrill performances in those damn talking kid/dog movies. And for God’s sake, if Joey Cramer’s performance here stayed the same, things are not looking good for a revisit of Flight of the Navigator. The robots are pretty cool even if they do look quite dated. And you can’t beat those spider-ish things! They can scale walls, affix to the ceiling, jump at you, shoot acid in your face, inject you with it and then blow up! That’s bad-ass!

If anything fell flat, it would have to be the music. The normally good Jerry Goldsmith was apparently trying to sound futuristic with the all electrical score but it just further concretes the fact that you are watching a movie at the height of cheese from the decade of hair. And, while it might not be to the fault of the filmmakers, the brick-sized cell phone, the 8-color CRT computer screens, and the “futuristic” Ford Tempo police cars can be distracting if you let them be. But don’t. You’d be doing yourself a disservice. In fact, while we at Movie Scum bemoan the ever increasing tide of remakes, I would not mind a remake of this if only to make the killer robots a bit more close to home to the current century. Runaway certainly is not a perfect movie but with the right combination of makeup free Gene Simmons, Tom Selleck’s mustache, Kirstie Alley’s hair, and “futuristic” killer robots, Runaway is a classic comfort movie.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Random Movie: Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)

I was very disappointed in Exorcist II, the obvious follow up to William Friedkin’s 1973 classic The Exorcist. My aggravation with the movie though is likely different than the rumored reactions of audiences during the film’s premiere. Commissioned by PBF while reviewing Netflix’s awesome Watch Instantly collection, I went into the film expecting it to be quite horrid based on my readings of previous reviews about the film. Normally, I try not to have any preconceived notions about a film prior to watching it as sometimes it can be hard to separate what you’ve heard from what you actually see in the film itself. I am happy to report though that all of the bashers of the film hit it dead on.

Taking place four years after the original, Reagan (played by a remarkably cute Linda Blair) is undergoing psychiatric treatment to deal with repressed memories of her possession. During a really stupid looking hypnosis treatment, she is intertwined with Father Lamont who is investigating the circumstances surrounding Father Merrin’s death at the hand of the demon in the first film. As Father Lamont digs deeper into Reagan’s subconscious (and thus that of the demon possessing her), he finds a clusterfuck of seemingly unrelated plot points and developments with some rather deplorable writing. There may be more to it, but that’s about all I cared to get out of it.

Now, as I said, I expected this to be a horrendous abomination of a horror franchise and a complete failure of a horror film. In the end, I got all of that with the exception of the horrendous adjective. Now, don’t get me wrong. This is a bad movie, probably worthy of a good ripping from the folks at MST3K, but I’ve certainly seen worse films so I was disappointed that this movie just seemed to be incompetently made instead of butchered by a bunch of no-talent ass-clowns as I had expected. I fathom you can’t get the amount of talent on this film without at least starting good. From Richard Burton, Max von Sydow, James Earl Jones, and even all thirty seconds of Ned Beatty, there seems to be a good, or at least passable, movie desperate to get out. Whether this desire was squelched by director John Boorman’s incompetence (unlikely for a guy nominated for several Oscars), studio tomfoolery, or retooling of the film late in the game remains up in the air. Allegedly though, the only reason Blair appears was due to a contractual obligation to the production prior to heavy rewrites.

Ultimately, the film falls on many fronts. For starters, as a sequel to a quite renowned and genuinely scary movie, Exorcist II had all the scares of a five-year-old’s birthday party. On the film’s Wikipedia page, Boorman is quoted in a mea culpa of sorts stating he did not meet the audiences expectations for a scary follow-up, instead going for a theme of journeys and goodness. In and of itself, this is a notable attempt to create a new advancement of the story without copying the original, but it certainly failed as it should have. Even though the movie may be shoe-horned into the expected horror genre does not mean it has to be a carbon-copy, there just has to be logical thought put into how to do it correctly. There is also the problem of the crazy aspects of the plot that come and go at will and do not add a thing to the story. Reagan has ESP abilities now? Oh well, there is no further expansion except a fleeting line an hour later. Lamont disobeys his orders to fly half-way around the world and meet a guy on a big boulder only to have rocks thrown at him. Yep, that was beneficial. Even the aspect of Merrin being investigated as a Satanist is never really resolved or even mentioned for the final thirty minutes or so. And for a continuation of a movie about demonic possession, I had expected Reagan to relapse and start the head-turning and spewing again or the demon to jump bodies or something. I think there was maybe a total of three minutes dedicated to someone actually being possessed.

Mostly, it seems that almost everything about the original was deliberately cast aside. Instead of a core group of a few characters, we now have a sprawling cast of decent actors with pretty worthless characters. So the original was mostly centered in one house? Let us go around the world now just to learn about the behavior of locust swarms. Now, admittedly it has probably been about six years or so since I last saw the original but I would likely have been less forgiving of this sequel if I had revisited it. So, in the end, we have what has been called the worst sequel ever but certainly not the worst movie ever meaning that I just watched two hours of this dreck for nothing. Instead of being able to make fun of the abysmal acting or story, I was just baffled as to why this movie was green lit in its present state. I hear Exorcist III is a much more worthy follow up so hopefully that will be the case when I get around to that.

Random Movie: The Lovely Bones (2009)

Written by: Digger

Peter Jackson's directorial career has been one strange roller-coaster ride. I became aware of his work in the late 1990's when I and several of my friends discovered his early gore-fest movie Dead Alive (also titled Braindead) and became instant fans. My classmates in high school were always yelling lines like "He's got, THE BITE!" in between classes. It was like the first drop on a rickety old wooden monster of a coaster; rough, and a little nauseating, but a hell of a lot of fun. After that I road the shaky turns of Bad Taste and The Frighteners still enjoying every minute. Then, in 2001, I sped into the smooth, polished, metal loops of a whole different monster with The Fellowship of the Ring. Don't get me wrong, it was still a great ride, just a different kind of ride. After that trilogy concluded, the coaster started to slow down with Jackson's somewhat underwhelming remake of King Kong and then the coaster sunk into a dark tunnel with his most recent feature, The Lovely Bones.

I wanted to like this movie. I really wanted to like this movie. It should be good, shouldn't it? It's Peter Jackson adapting and directing a supernatural tale with unique, quirky characters played by talented actors with visuals produced by the effects artists at Weta-freakin-Workshop. It should be glorious! The story starts of with a young girl named Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) living a typical suburban existence with a somewhat typical suburban family, until she is brutally murdered by her less than typical psychotic neighbor George Harvey. (Stanley Tucci) After that is where the film starts to fall apart. Basically, the narrative forks into following Susie's soul hanging out in some strange waiting-room dimension between here and heaven, and the rest of the Salmon family as they try to come to terms with Susie's disappearance. The father, Jack, (Mark Wahlberg) obsesses over finding Susie's killer. The mother, Abigail, (Rachel Weisz) can't deal with her husband's obsession and abandons the rest of the family to become a migrant worker somewhere. The Grandmother, Lynn, (Susan Sarandon) tries to hold the rest of the family together by moving in and... smoking a lot of cigarettes, I guess. In the midst of all this family trouble, mean old Mr. Harvey is trying to cover his tracks from the murder investigation and throw off Jack's suspicions.

The problem with this whole set-up is that the audience sees all of this unfolding through spirit Susie's eyes. She is able to observe her family and Mr. Harvey in the world of the living, but cannot really communicate with or affect anything in that world, so she feels like a passive player in most of the film. Near the end, she does cross back over and temporarily possesses the body of another young girl to have a creepy make-out scene with her would-be boyfriend, but the less said about that, the better. When Susie isn't spying on the living, she spends her time frolicking around in her postmortem wonderland, filled with whimsical sleigh rides and other such cheery crap. The cuts between these fantastical scenes and the harsh reality of her family's turmoil were so frequent and jarring that I almost got whiplash watching this flick. Sure, all the scenes and post-production visuals are beautifully shot and rendered, but the tone throughout the movie changes so drastically from scene to scene that it seems like two different movies are fighting for the same screen time. I feel like the pieces of a good movie are all present and accounted for, but it's just not put together properly. The whole thing feels rushed, so maybe if the editor would have had more time, I might have had fewer problems. I am also not familiar with the structure or pacing of the original novel by Alice Sebold, but the movie should be able to stand on it's own. Unfortunately, The Lovely Bones, as it stands now, just falls apart.

Random Movie: Phantasm (1979)

Written by: PBF

Phantasm is bad ass and piss poor at the same time. But it is a good kind of piss poor.

Jody and Mike are brothers who have lost their parents. Mike is younger, 13. Not wanting to be alone, he follows his brother everywhere. Mike follows Jody to a funeral of his friend Tommy, and sees the funeral director, who is simply called the Tall Man, pick up Tommy’s coffin by himself and put it back in the hearse rather than bury it. This suspicious activity, coupled with odd visions and noises, start to freak Mike out, and in standard horror movie fashion, his brother doesn’t believe that these things are actually happening. Well, until Mike shows him a severed finger in a box. The two (along with Reggie, an ice cream man) discover that the Tall Man is taking bodies, bringing them back to life as dwarf slaves, and taking them to another planet. The gateway to this planet is in a room in the mortuary and is between 2 sliver poles. Yeah that’s right. Didn’t see that coming, did you?

This film actually is pretty good for the most part. The main plot of the movie really is not discovered until late in the film and it does a pretty good job of not foreshadowing anything. It is certainly not the usual horror plot that you have become used to. The movie starts out in a rather jarring fashion by just throwing the title at you with menacing music before anything happens. There is a death less than 2 minutes in to the film. Right away you get the impression that this will be a freight train of horror. Sadly, you get a train wreck of obligatory and boring exposition. It drags for a bit, but it does make the randomness of the events to follow that much more interesting. There are some parts of this movie that did make me jump a bit. Considering this movie is 30 years old, that is pretty impressive. I would be remiss if I did not mention the sweetest part of the film: the sphere. You see, the Tall Man, (Angus Scrimm) employs this metal sphere with blades and a drill in it to kill intruders. We get to see it kill a man in probably one of the best movie deaths ever. The sphere sticks itself in to this one fella’s forehead, and as the drill bores a hole in him, it spews his blood out the back of it like a fire hose spewing water. The man falls to his death and promptly pisses himself and the floor. Oddly enough, this is one of the worst edit jobs, as the gallons of blood seem to have disappeared after he hits the ground. This scene apparently warranted an X rating, but an L.A. Times Critic talked the MPAA down to R. The acting is pretty bad, but you don’t really mind it. The movie is so bizarre, you kind of pay more attention to the story. Angus Scrimm actually does a pretty good job of creeping you out as the Tall Man. Don Coscarelli wrote, directed, edited and was even cinemeaographer of this thing. He also wrote and directed all of its sequels, which also, is bad ass.

If you have not seen this film, which is largely considered to be classic, give it a watch. It is certainly not without its flaws, but it ultimately outweighs those flaws with its successes. It certainly surpasses a lot of garbage that has been released in the 30 years that have gone by.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Random Movie: Permanent Midnight (1998)

Written by: PBF

I bet if I were to poll a small group of people, and ask them to list 5 or so Ben Stiller films, Permanent Midnight would probably not be on many of those lists. It does not follow the usual mildly amusing, wafer thin plot, same character in every film formula that Stiller employs. He plays a heroin addict.

Ben Stiller plays Jerry Stahl, a real person, who wrote the book Permanent Midnight, a memoir of his descent in to and climb out of heroin addiction. This film is of course, based on that book. Stahl has written for the television shows Alf, Twin Peaks, Northern Exposure, Moonlighting and CSI among others. In fact, he wrote the 100th episode of CSI, which is apparently is regarded as one of the best episodes of that series. He also wrote the screenplay for Bad Boys II. The time period of this film takes place when he was working on Alf and Twin Peaks. That being said, the film is a glimpse in to that part of his life, in which at some point he has a $6000 a week habit. Yes, thousand.

On the whole, the film is pretty passable. I mean, I kind of hate pointing out flaws in movies that are like this; true stories of human suffering. I am going to do it anyway, but I get that this a personal story that someone needed to tell. While I can respect that, I feel like it was a film that wasn’t terrific, but just good enough to make you understand that heroin destroys lives. In that respect, it doesn’t really distinguish itself from the myriad of other films of this subject matter. Right off the top of my head, The Basketball Diaries, a film about the once heroin addicted (and now recently deceased) writer Jim Carroll, did a better job of getting the point across, but making a decent film from an aesthetic standpoint. A large part of Midnight is told in flashback; Jerry and Kitty (Maria Bello) are in a hotel room and he is telling her of his exploits in a weirdly forced exposition dialogue sort of way. Time skips around a lot in his flashbacks so there really isn’t a good illustration of his journey to his bottom. In fact, where other films would focus on his despair or consequences of his actions, Midnight merely mentions them and moves on. There really is only one part of the film that I can describe as disturbing, and that is when he takes his infant daughter with him on a drug run and shoots heroin in to his neck right in front of her. If I can only find one disturbing scene in a movie about heroin, there is something wrong. The problem is that the movie has no depth. For example, for the amount of time Kitty is in the movie, I should have established some kind of connection with her. I did not. In fact, later in the film when she is crying, I couldn’t care less. There are some really obvious errors as well. When Jerry (the character) is at the methadone clinic, the doctor (played by the real Jerry) asks a question from a form and checks off the answer that Jerry gives him, but the question on the form is completely different than the one that was asked. Also, Kitty writes Jerry a letter, and there is a voice over of the letter. In the voice over, we hear Kitty say, “See you later,” as the camera slowly pulls away from the letter. That phrase is nowhere in the letter. Stiller’s performance was actually really good, but none of the other characters (again) had any real depth, so there were no other standouts. The cast also includes Elizabeth Hurley, Fred Willard, Owen Wilson, and Janeane Garofalo.

This film is worth a viewing just to see Ben Stiller in this role, and actually doing a good job. You can definitely find better films of this type, but it is not without it’s merits.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

What Are You Still Doing Here?!

Still checking this page for new things? Well, knock it off! We've moved to a new site:! Brand new layout, and the episodes now go on for as long as we feel like it! Visit us!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Random Movie: Zombieland (2009)

Well, lookie what we have here! Another horror movie that successfully combines scares, tension, and humor. While initially it seemed odd to have another horror-comedy in the zombie sub-genre after the wildly successful Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland is extremely well done to stand alongside its cinematic sibling without infringing on it.

Prior to meeting our main characters, the film starts with a nice montage of random zombie attacks that show the time between the initial outbreak from a mad-cow laced cheeseburger to the present events of the film set to Metallica. We are then introduced to Columbus (or the name we know him as) who introduces us to the rules that kept him alive a few months after the zombie onslaught. Columbus is very neurotic and paranoid and while these traits ultimately helped him survive, he would be dead first in most zombie movies.

Tallahassee is a bit of a rough-neck with a burning desire for Twinkies but little else driving him other than the his disdain for the undead and his enjoyment of eliminating them as personally as possible. Wichita and Little Rock round out the cast as two sisters with the ability to make stupid men do stupid things. The story largely centers around their trip from middle America to the west coast to attend an amusement park and little else other than the banter between the characters and dealing with a post-apocalyptic world.

What sets the film apart is the great sense of humor. Unlike Shaun, this is not really a send-up of the zombie movie genre, merely a movie about zombies which happens to be funny. Columbus attributes his survival to a set of rules which do poke fun at some of the stupid things you would expect to see in a zombie film but have not yet. At least, I can’t think of another zombie movie with an attack in a bathroom stall (but then there are about ten thousand zombie movies I haven’t seen). Really it seems more of a standard survival-in-a-world-gone-awry movie as it could have worked without the zombies with a bit of retooling. But when the undead are onscreen, it is a good time between the abundance of blood and gore and Tallahassee’s aforementioned hatred for them.

Most issues you might have with the factual content of the film (can electricity really last for months without human intervention?; where are all of the 300 million zombies?) are easily ignored when watching the brilliance onscreen. While it may fail at scares, Zombieland is great for zombies and great for humorous characters in a humorless situation.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Movie Scum Episode #8 Promo!

We have a new site! Please go to the new and improved Movie Scum and watch Episode #8! Longer videos, now that they are not uploaded to YouTube! Please bear with us as we continue to make the site better and more user friendly. All new posts with be published on that site, and not this one.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

You Guys are Scum!

This week's episode will be posted later tomorrow than usual. Sorry about that, but we will make sure it is worth the wait. In addition to that, we have a surprise coming...