Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Random Movie: The Hitcher (2007)

Michael Bay’s production company Platinum Dunes has not been the recipient of much praise from the horror community and largely for good reason. Their last two outings took Jason and Freddy, iconic members of the decades-old slasher movement and modernized them in laughable and pointless rehashes. But, before raping 80s horror fans of their childhood and after churning out two uneven Chainsaw Massacre movies (according to PBF that is), Bay and co. turned their sights on the 1986 “classic” The Hitcher with Rutger Hauer.

The original was not necessarily a bad movie to my hazy recollection but it certainly did not have the prestige or fan base as some of PD’s other endeavors. In fact, I don’t recall much outcry when this was announced comparatively to their other projects. The story is largely the same in both versions, re-emphasizing the production company’s reliance on remaking instead of reimagining. Here, young couple Jim and Grace are traveling through the southwest to meet up with some friends. On the way, they almost strike a man standing in the middle of the road. Being in the middle of nowhere, Jim wants to stop and give the man a ride but Grace objects and the two carry on.

Later at a gas station, Jim is approached by the man in the road who introduces himself as John Ryder. He has hitched a ride with a trucker but now needs a ride to a motel. Jim agrees but not long into their trek Ryder goes crazy and threatens Grace with a knife before he is kicked from the moving car. Ryder targets the pair and begins a path of death and mayhem which he successfully frames them for. The bulk of the movie is Jim and Grace trying to not only stay away from the suspecting police but also the crazed mad man on a somewhat clichéd, but still terrifying spree.

We’ve already established with Battle: Los Angeles that I do not necessarily need my movies to be groundbreaking to be enjoyable. In fact, just like that movie, I could see most of the relevant plot points coming a mile a way. I just need something to keep my short attention span engaged and shockingly, The Hitcher actually delivers. There are a fair amount of car chases and shoot-outs to be had and even if some of the ancillary characters are incredibly stupid (cops who just look while being shot at), everything is fairly straight-forward and shockingly restrained considering this film’s remade cinematic brethren.

Sean Bean plays Ryder pretty terrifically as equal parts bat-shit insane and just diabolical. He is never really given a true motive or reason for targeting the couple but that does not matter much when random cars are falling from the sky and people are dropping dead every few minutes. The story by Eric Bernt and Jake Wade Wall start the action very early and the direction by Dave Meyers gives the film a frenetic pace as Ryder ups the ante while upping the body count as well.

Sophia Bush and Zach Knighton as Grace and Jim respectively portray their characters absent the standard clichés you would expect in this type of movie. Relatively speaking, they are proactive and smart and even have a nice chemistry together. When the shit hits the fan (or the torque of a tractor trailer), Bush is fairly convincing as a badass as well. Neal McDonough as the lead lawman pursuing the kids/murderousmadman/whichever is pretty entertaining with a few choice lines and a solid performance.

I must say that given the output of the production company, I expected The Hitcher to be a half-realized, shameless ripoff of a previous film. To an extent, it was but that doesn’t stop the film from being a tense, yet amusing way to kill an hour and a half.

Random Movie: Hatchet II (2010)

If there was any series I felt would have gotten better with age, it was Hatchet. Admittedly, the first took a few viewings to really get into but Adam Green‘s almost perfect balance of comedy, horror, and gore left me greatly anticipating his follow-up to the Victor Crowley saga. Alas, I guess I will be anticipating the just announced Hatchet III even more.

Picking up right where the first left off, Marybeth is battling Crowley when she manages to escape and head back to Reverend Zombie’s place where she learns of her family’s involvement in Crowley’s misfortune. Marybeth is determined to go back to the swamp to retrieve the remains of her family and exact revenge on ol’ Hatchetface. By the force of blackmail, Zombie agrees to accompany her with a gaggle of heavily armed rednecks. The story is cringe-inducingly forced but all we want to see is more blood, guts, dismemberments, and other acts of violence. In that manner at least, Hatchet II does not disappoint.

The biggest problem I had with the film was that it felt more like a straight-to-video release by a bunch of guys who liked the original but lacked any of the talent that Green had exhibited in the first (or even Frozen). It is even more sad that this movie came about from the same director, a larger budget, and even Danielle Harris! The somewhat fleshed-out characters that you might possibly care about or the great sense of humor and almost self-depreciating sense of the first are totally absent. Sure the over-the-top violence and large blood spatters are still present but it is impossible to give a shit when the characters are the annoying cinematic equivalent of cardboard cutouts. Well, given that I have seen the latter Friday the 13th movies, it is not impossible but damn difficult. There is even a fair amount of backstory in the film which is nice in theory but only served to drag down the story. I mean, Crowley is already messed up, do we really need to know it was because of a curse from his father’s dying wife?

Harris, whom normally I love, was quite annoying as the faux-Marybeth. The first Marybeth was tough and determined and while Harris is able to tap into that during a handful of scenes, the rest of the time she is just whining, quivering, or cowering. Tony Todd (whom normally I am ambivalent toward) as the esteemed Rev. Zombie was actually quite good. I worried that his shtick from the first would wear quickly but the real man behind the flamboyant makeup is cold and calculating. The rest of the cast consists of some notable names like Tom Holland and AJ Bowen who were okay in their roles but were wasted before they could really stand out. I realize that is a stupid argument in a slasher movie but compared to the random, yet still endearing, fodder from the first, these characters were as thin as tissue paper. Of course, Kane Hodder returns as Victor Crowley who is a frightening sight as he chokes a man with his own intestines or takes a belt sander to a skull.

On the technical front, this installment felt much cheaper than the original. Even with purportedly the same crew as the first, everything felt and looked off. Some of the background sound dropped out, the photography looked like it was filmed on the Movie Scum video camera, and overall the film just seemed more rough around the edges than it should have been. Green’s direction though still stuck out as he is fully capable of creating a horrendous and tense scene when everything comes together. Even some of the brief moments of levity were positioned just as they were in the first. The carnage though was much better this time around with more variety in the massacre. As it was released unrated in theaters last October, this film does not hold back when it comes to the blood and guts in a manner that is difficult to take seriously yet hard not to admire if you grew up on such things.

It is not a bad movie to say the least. Sure, there are some questionable choices pertaining to the casting and production but Hatchet was not concocted for a rich look into cinema. The most disheartening thing though was that this movie falls greatly in the shadow of its predecessor. I guess in a way, that is almost to be expected.

Random Movie: Eight Legged Freaks (2002)

It would be an understatement to say that Puck does not like spiders. Having a traumatic experience where a probably harmless spider dropped onto my pillow at the tender age of six or so and watching Arachnophobia shortly thereafter, I was terribly afraid of these eight-legged demons sent straight from the depths of hell. Fortunately, old age has calmed my general distaste for these abominations but sadly watching Eight Legged Freaks has resurrected this fear.

It is funny how horror is such a subjective term. On one hand, the thought of a random serial killer lurching out at you in an abandoned mansion or in the middle of the woods is silly because most serial killers are more methodical than that and not to mention I will never be in an abandoned mansion or anywhere outdoors. Spiders on the other hand are real and demonic and as such, this was one of the more horrific movies I have seen in a while. But then again, I am a wuss.

After Piranha 3D opened and relatively underperformed at the box office, I saw many mentions of Eight Legged Freaks and comparing the two films, at least in financial terms. They actually share a great deal of similarities as both films are in the same over-the-top, monster attack movies with a sense of cheesy throwbacks to a previous moviemaking era. Sure, just like Piranha, this is not an Oscar worthy film but what can one expect from a movie called Eight Legged Freaks?

With copious amounts of references to other films, Freaks offers a pretty humorous look at an incident where mutated spiders become the size of station wagons, willing to pluck any ostrich, chain-smoker, or biker without prejudice for sustenance. The humor not only comes from the self-referential qualities as Them! is playing on the Sci-Fi Channel (remember that?) but also from the absurdity of the story. If Scream was a satire of generic slasher movies, Freaks is a companion to many improbable scenario movies where the adults are reluctant to listen, the kids are always right, and most everyone else in the movie is just monster fodder.

The great thing about the movie though is that it is comical enough to not take itself seriously. This movie would have been pretty fucking awful if it were played straight with a tank-sized Tarantula toppling a mobile home. This probably cannot be said seriously too many times but David Arquette’s presence is perfect as he sells the absurdity of the film. His goofy, inept shtick that he carried over from the aforementioned Scream series works quite well here with him as the unlikely hero, the prodigal son, and the resident bad-ass all in one. The rest of the cast here is pretty amazing to be able to deliver such performances against largely CGI man-eating spiders and deliver it seriously but with the hint of a smirk just seconds away.

The film is somewhat by the numbers as the geeky kid Mike is introduced to a myriad of rare and exotic spiders by his creepy older “friend” Josh (an uncredited Tom Noonan) who explains the spiders are growing due to a local toxic waste spill. Unsurprisingly, the biggest name in the film and his parrot become dinner for the spiders who mutate into the hideous beasts featured in the film. But, whereas you might expect the butthead boyfriend, the major-dick mayor, or the dopey deputy to bite it by way of venom, writer/director Ellory Elkayem throws some curveballs at you while still racking up the rampant ruckus as townspeople are mowed down by the above-average arachnids.

Even for a film being 96% comedy, it still managed to throw in some decent scares as the spiders lurk in shadowy places (never turn your back to a tent!) and cocooned bodies fall at the most inopportune times. But, the horror here is more or less a by-product of the story where the comedy really stands out such as a cat being propelled into making a literal impression in drywall or Doug E. Doug playing the resident paranoid conspiracy theorist who believes the spiders are really aliens equipped with anal probes.

Not to mention the film features Kari Wuhrer and a young Scarlett Johansson who reign at the top of the most attractive on-screen mother-daughter combo ever.

Just like Piranha, Eight Legged Freaks is a movie that revels in its absurdity and is not concerned with logic, only with having an enjoyable time.

Mini Scum: Puddle Cruiser (1996)

Written by: PBF

Broken Lizard's first film, Puddle Cruiser is just not very good. It isn't funny and less silly than the later films. It's quite sloppily put together, the acting is deplorable and it's very uninteresting. Some of the conversations last way too long and a lot of the jokes are quite long winded and just unfunny. You can see the beginning of the troupe's rapport with each other start to form, but it isn't strong enough yet to pull the film off.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Random Movie: Easter Bunny, Kill! Kill! (2006)

Written by: PBF

I must hand it to writer/director Chad Ferrin. I was convinced that I would hate Easter Bunny, Kill! Kill! But, I did not. I actually liked it.

Mindy (Charlotte Marie) is a hard working single mother to Nicholas (Ricardo Gray), who is a sixteen year old boy that is stricken with “Mental Retardation Cerebral Palsy.” Mindy’s boyfriend, Remington (Timothy Muskatell) is a bit of a douche bag with a fondness for hookers and cocaine. He also dislikes Nicholas, and the feeling is requited. Easter is Nicholas’s favorite holiday, as that is when his father died. When he is given a bunny by a homeless fella, Nicholas names it Easter Bunny, and finds solace in telling him his feelings about Remington. On Easter morning, Mindy is called to work a double shift and must leave her son in the care of Remington who promises that the two of them will be best friends by the time she gets home. This however, is not the case. Remington invites a friend of his to come over to “play” with Nicholas in exchange for cocaine, and then goes out to find hookers to bring back to party. Did I mention that he likes hookers and cocaine? That’s when things turn violent.

The first sigh of relief I exhaled was when it becomes clear that the killer is not a real rabbit, but rather a person wearing a bunny mask. I had horrible preconceived ideas of a bad life size bunny outfit trying to be passed off as a real creature killing people. Also quite pleasing is that while the film was a bit comical at times, it wasn’t too over the top. This coupled with the fact that the deaths were also not over the top, helped make a horror film centered around possibly the last holiday one would pick as the focal point, quite as good as any other horror franchise.

The only inconsistency in the film (that one may care about) was the varied acting talent, but the other elements of it provided an evenness that was surprisingly satisfying. Ferrin is a talented director. There were many interesting shots and the budget of $90,000 was quite well spent.

The ending was quite an interesting twist that unraveled in to a cheesy, bizarre scene, but it provides an absurd, happy ending that really fits just fine.

This, by no means is cinematic genius, but it definitely avoids all possible avenues that would lead to a horrible film, based on the premise of an Easter horror film. For example, it could have go the way of, oh I don’t know…Thankskilling? Folks who really like the horror genre will find entertainment in this, however, those who stick to the mainstream will not appreciate it.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Random Movie: Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)

After the original was released and grossed roughly 7000x its budget at the ticket counters alone, it didn’t take long for a sequel to be greenlit. Now with the Saw series allegedly over, Paramount has positioned Paranormal Activity to take the crown for late October horror franchises that are likely to get beaten into the ground. It is pretty safe to say that if you liked the first PA, you will probably like this one too. But that is mostly because it is the same exact movie as the first with different choices in how it is shot and more characters. And a dog. And a monster robot pool cleaner.

While I didn’t dislike Paranormal Activity 2, I cannot really see where it can go from here for the already planned part three or beyond. The first worked well because it was different, not so much in plot or execution, but from what we were seeing at the time. The gimmick though is gone and it is almost as if the producers decided to remake the first movie to throw the audience off. After all, no one would expect to see the same thing, almost beat for beat, again. This time, we meet Daniel and Kristy, a married couple with a new baby, Hunter, and a teenage daughter from Daniel’s previous marriage. After someone ransacks their house, Daniel has a handful of security cameras installed … no alarm system though. These cameras as well as the family’s handheld professional-ish camera are awkwardly edited together to make up the movie.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Random Movie: Battle: Los Angeles (2011)

PBF again was quick to point out that Battle: Los Angeles was getting quite horrendous reviews. After Drive Angry, I see a trend emerging. The funniest review I have read thus far was written by Roger Ebert who basically advocated breaking all ties with someone taking you to this movie. It strives to be what Digger referred to as a “big, dumb action movie.” There is no characterization, no good performances, and nothing monumental or important is attempted. Even though it is offensively derivative, Battle: LA is a quintessential big, dumb action movie. Naturally then, I was entertained.

Let’s get this out of the way: do you remember Independence Day? How about Starship Troopers? Aliens? War of the Worlds? Any other battling against aliens movie? Then you know exactly what is going to happen. And by exactly, I mean you can see it coming like a bright red Mini in a vampire movie. Aaron Eckhart is Staff Sergeant Nantz, a grizzled Marine who has done his twenty years and has signed his papers for discharge. But then a cluster of “meteors” start falling into the oceans around major cities. And these are not “meteors” but interstellar vessels of a hostile race of alien beings. And the Marines get called in. And … you know what? I’m done here. In fairness, writer Christopher Bertolini probably said the same thing at this point too.

I may have said this before but for now, Battle: LA is without a doubt the most creatively bankrupt movie ever. Now, I give it props for not being a direct sequel or prequel to an established series, but it feels like every other type of movie in this genre to the point that it almost might as well have been a follow up. The characters are bland and have no identifiable traits other than the ominous warning signs of imminent death like a pregnant wife or idealistic son. They also might as well not even had names since other than Nantz, I wouldn’t be able to recall any of them even with their introductory title cards.

Eckhart is just all right here (I’ve certainly seen better from him) while everyone else is as generic as the characters they play. At the beginning there are far too many Marines to keep up with or care about since we can’t even tell them apart. This improves after the cast begins to thin out but not so much to the point that any characterization is really attempted other than cliched, heroic acts which save a life only to paint a big bullseye on themselves. There is, of course, some clunky dialogue and hammy, emotional scenes that threaten to shut down any momentum the movie has.

Fortunately, director Jonathan Liebesman and his DP are too busy trying to emulate Transformers that they don’t pay much attention to the “heavy” scenes. Almost as soon as the movie starts, you are in the thick of the attack and the movie stays in the Black Hawk Down meets Aliens mode solely with the main group. Granted, pretty much everything that happens in the course of the Marines trying to evacuate civilians and get out of the danger zone is laughably plucked from one movie or another. So, there is no one in the movie to begin to root for and there is no suspense as you see one plot point coming around the corner after another. But even with the alien-invasion/war-movie checklist being followed to a T, I kind of liked it. It’s big, loud, violent and it kept me entertained for its runtime. I can’t be too picky, can I?

The effects are pretty good even if the creatures and their ships seem cobbled together while the production design and set dressing betray the (comparatively) restrained budget. But ten years from now, Battle: LA will not have the notoriety of Independence Day because there just is nothing really worth reminiscing about. Even if you do remember it, you’ll likely mistake it for any of the movies it shamelessly cribbed from.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Random Movie: Buried (2010)

Written by: PBF

Ryan Reynolds certainly has come a long way since the Nickelodeon teen drama Fifteen.

Buried takes place entirely in a large wooden coffin buried a few feet underground in Iraq. Paul Conroy (Reynolds) is a truck driver whose convoy was attacked while working there. Children were throwing rocks at his truck, an IED blew up one of the other trucks, and the next thing he recalls is waking up in this box.  Also in the box is a Zippo, a BlackBerry (not his), a glowstick, a candle, a flashlight, a note written in another language, a knife, a pen and Paul’s anxiety medication. Damn Paul’s luck suffering from anxiety having been buried in a coffin alive.

This film could have gone horribly awry, what with the numerous possible plot holes, one of which being him buried with so many items that would be useful to him. Well, I assure you, he is in this box for a reason and each item serves a specific function essential to that reason. One of the other more obvious concerns would be having to spend an entire film in the coffin, but the 95 minute runtime ensures that we do not get irritated at the lack of scenery. As does Ryan Reynolds. He gives us a great performance, making sure we feel every bit of desperation, panic, et al. that he does. And his actions are plausible. He reacts and does things the very same way that you or I would. And I say you or I, meaning, as opposed to a trained combat soldier, which he is not.

Another point of concern is that since we wake up in the coffin with Paul, we learn little to nothing about his character, which in any other film, would detach us from his plight and leave us to not really care about him. But he is trapped in a box. He is not a jerk (that we know of). He is married with a child. He is innocent. This is enough for us to want him to live. He is like us. Or at least enough like us.

The only problem with a film like this is that it has no replay value. It goes through all the emotional journey. Desperation, anger, tedium, hysteria. And it does this successfully. Therefore, once  experienced in its entirety, there is no motivation to see it again. And not so much because you know how it will end, but rather simply because a journey is exciting because of the unknown events that will occur. “How will this get resolved?” “Who will he call?” Once you know the answers, the novelty is gone.

The film does a great job of being completely realistic, entertaining, and removing any doubt that being buried alive is quite a horrific experience (is there doubt?). It is definitely worth a viewing

Random Movie: Drive Angry (2011)

When I was talking with PBF saying that I wanted to see Drive Angry in theaters, he responded: “Why would you want to see that? I’ve heard it’s awful.” I would like to evoke his own defense in the Piranha review and say, well, yeah. That is kind of the point.

Before the interviews and commercials started, I knew approximately two things about Drive Angry. The first is that it is written and directed by the same team who made the new My Bloody Valentine, which came out well in advance of the spate of 3D crap floating around and was a pretty fun flick. Second, Nicolas Cage was in it. And this is ridiculously over-the-top Cage from such head-scratchingly good blockbusters as Con Air or Face/Off. Cage can be a downright boring actor when he is playing things straight. When he is not, well, I defer now to The Rock or any of the aforementioned movies for sheer entertainment value.

No one should be expecting grand cinema when walking into see Drive Angry, which the poster and commercials proudly proclaim was shot in real 3D. This is just another mainstream Hollywood movie with definite inspirations from the shlocky, grindhouse movies of the 70s. Cage stars as John Milton, as unoriginal a name if there ever was one, who escapes his sentence in hell to track down a Satanic cult leader who murdered his daughter and abducted his granddaughter. Milton reaches out for help to Piper (Amber Heard), an attractive waitress with a nice muscle car and no where in particular to go, for assistance in tracking down the nefarious cult. But, Milton is being hunted by The Accountant (William Fichner), a sardonically delightful bean counter tasked with bringing Milton back. So begins a semi-cross-country trek filled with gunfights, explosions, and car chases. What else would you expect?

If you were thinking full-blown and way off-the-handle acting courtesy of Cage, Fichner, and the lead cultist baddie Billy Burke, then I am pleased to announce you will not in any way be disappointed. If only there was a legitimate award given for acting that would be cringe-worthy in a normal movie, yet strangely satisfying in context, Cage would be a hands-down winner. Again, I go back to the Piranha defense. You want award-winning acting? Go see King’s Speech! This is Drive Angry! Fichner is the go-to guy in this though as The Accountant will go down as an audience favorite for years to come with his emotionless delivery of soon to be classic lines like “Hey, fat fuck!” Well, that is if anyone actually sees this. I was in an auditorium alone while watching.

Co-writer and director Patrick Lussier and other-writer Todd Farmer wisely do not ask much of their viewing audience. The narrative is kept pretty simple, the characterizations are kept pretty one-dimensional, and the action consists of what an ADD-riddled eleven year old would think is cool. Again, the movie in question is called Drive Angry. But there was something off about the movie that originally I couldn’t put my finger on. Having some time to reflect on it, there really is not much that is memorable. Sure, it is mostly fun during the movie even with a few unneeded character moments dragging down the pace but nothing really stood out. There are plenty of car chases but I couldn’t recall the details of them like I could for, I don’t know, The Rock or the Gone in 60 Seconds remake. There is plenty of gunfights but again, they mostly just blend together after the fact. Well, except the one with Cage drinking a bottle of whiskey, smoking a cigar, and banging a chick while in the middle of a gunfight. That one stuck out.

The main reason I wanted to see this in theaters (which judging by the returns on it, didn’t leave much time) was that I really wanted to enjoy a movie in 3D. I’ve made no qualms about my issues with the format before but even with Piranha, the 3D was just the extra over-the-top aspect that movie needed. In this movie, there were a few interesting shots in 3D but I could count those on one hand. The rest of the time I was sitting by myself, in a theater, wearing dorky glasses for no discernible reason. I was really open-minded for this one but I cannot justify paying so much to see it. I fathom it will play better at home though.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Random Movie: Waiting…(2005)

Written by: PBF

Ah, the restaurant industry. Definitely an excellent muse for a movie script. Rob McKittrick was working in a restaurant while he wrote Waiting… The result is an alarmingly accurate depiction of what it is like to work in the food service industry, with some exaggeration to try to appeal to those have never been gainfully employed in this vocation.

Honestly there really is not much of a plot. The film mostly takes place during one day at work at Shenaniganz, a casual dining restaurant. It’s like any other restaurant; filled with guests who can’t order steaks at proper delicious eating temperature, poor tippers, assholes that complain about everything. The only real continuous storyline involves Dean (Justin Long) who has been a server for 4 years. Much like many servers, he took the job as a temporary gig, while taking classes at community college, but somehow ends up there longer than planned. When his mother tells him of his former classmate Chet, who now has a Bachelor’s degree, Dean becomes a bit more disillusioned and questions his position in life. His friend, roommate and co-worker, Monty (Ryan Reynolds) has no qualms with being a server (and also a pervert who likes underage girls). Other than that, we wander through some hilarious, but sometimes a bit over the top dialogue, in a pretty competently directed film.

I should say, that I have worked in many a restaurant. Perhaps this is why the movie resonated with me. It really is damn accurate as to how it is to work in the industry. I should say, that I have never worked in a restaurant where there was a game that involves exposing male genitalia, and I have NEVER seen anyone mess with anyone’s food. However, as a guest, you should know, the latter is possible. The ultimate question is, can this film translate to someone who has never been there? I think it does. It helps that it has mostly established actors in it. If it were cast with complete unknowns, it may not. Ryan Reynolds definitely does his comedy Ryan Reynoldsey thing, but his character is like that so it works. In fact another character calls him out on it (“…your personality is one small punctuated joke after another.”). The film is full of vulgarity, alcohol and drug abuse. It really is like a sort of Animal House for servers.

Perhaps the funniest thing about a film like this, is how folks who have never worked in a restaurant may react to the events of the film. They have no idea what it’s like on the other side. The disdain for having to make the deserts. The hatred for having to sing “happy birthday” to a guest. The inability to understand the shitty attitude and tip one can receive no matter how good the service they provide. The inexplicable rudeness involved walking into a causal dining restaurant 5 minutes before it closes to sit down and eat as if you were in a Denny’s. What results is a seemingly thoughtless wacky comedy geared toward a specific demographic, but believe me, it is specifically pointed at all people who are inept at the unwritten rules of eating out. This is what makes it awesome. Sure it’s funny. But, be careful. It could be real.

This is a definite comfort movie. Just watch it. It’s funny.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Random Movie: Road Games (1981)

Written by: PBF

Road Games bares a strong resemblance  to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, only this one is on the road. This makes sense as the film’s writer/director Richard Franklin was a Hitchcock fan, and even directed Psycho II. While not nearly as good as Rear Window, at least it was better than the “update” Disturbia that was vomited onto movie screens years later.

Patrick Quid (Stacey Keach) drives a truck (“Just because I drive a truck, doesn’t mean I’m a truck driver”) and wants nothing more than to check into a motel and get some rest. He receives a call over the radio that he is needed to make an emergency delivery of meat to Perth. He reluctantly agrees when offered double time. At a gas station he notices a female hitchhiker the he passed on the road, who was picked up by a man driving a green van. They apparently take the last room at the motel while Quid was talking on his radio and he is forced to sleep in the truck with his dingo. In the morning, Quid notices the driver of the van watching the garbage men picking up the motel trash from his window. He finds this mildly suspicious but starts the long drive to make his shipment. Quid passes his time talking to his dingo and commenting on the other people on the road. He passes a different hitchhiker and is eventually passed by the green van on the road. Quid notices a cooler in the front seat. Quid is “tricked” into picking up a hitchhiker, Madeleine who says her husband left her on the side of the road. As they are playing a game to pass the time, they come across a man digging on the side of the road. It is the driver of the green van, who flees when he sees that he is being watched. Quid begins to put together that he must have killed the hitchhiker, threw some of her body away and was just burying the rest. This scares Madeleine, who runs from Quid, almost falling off of a cliff. Quid has another encounter with the green van before picking up another hitchhiker, Pamela (Jamie Lee Curtis), whom he calls Hitch. The two of them discuss the killer in the area, which Quid now obviously thinks is the other driver. Quid and the driver have several other encounters with the driver and while he is incredibly suspicious, the signs begin to point to Quid as having something to do with the disappearances and killings. For example, he is pulled over by the police and told that his name was on the register at the hotel, and they know he checked in with the now missing hitchhiker. He is let go and the encounters continue until the exciting (?) conclusion of the film.

Much like the road (and possibly this review), the film drags for a long time. We get decent character development and plot exposition, but it’s presented in a fairly uninteresting way. Perhaps a better script could have made it a little more interesting, as the dialogue is pretty boring. Keach and Curtis turn in decent performances (especially Keach), but the lack of suspense or interesting conversation is distracting.  This is no spoiler, but we know right away that Quid is not the killer and clearly the driver of the green van is, so that saps the suspense right out of the film. I suppose we are supposed to be pulled in by the fact that Quid could clearly be mistaken for the killer, and this is handled in quite a clever fashion, but it still was not enough. It’s odd that such a fan of Hitchcock would fail at suspense.

I hate films like this. It’s directed fairly well for what it is, solid performances, but just plain boring. It’s kind of like winning a free lunch at a restaurant that requires you to sit through an hour long business presentation. The food is free and good, but you really aren’t interested in the presentation.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Mini Scum: The Karate Kid (2010)

The (new!) Karate Kid stars Jackie Chan teaching Jaden Smith what is arguably not karate. Smith takes over for Ralph Macchio in the sunny vistas of China instead of SoCal with almost everything from the original present including the cute girlfriend, the mean thugs, and a slightly aloof teacher. It is a bit troublesome to see young boys punching and kicking like they are in Fight Club but this is a well-done movie with decent performances and a feel-good ending. It would have been better though with something other than the same feel-good ending from over twenty years ago.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Random Movie: Grown Ups (2010)

Do you want to know why Adam Sandler saw fit to bring the world Grown Ups? I wish I knew for sure but I have an idea. Sandler, coming off of a career high, eh … fifteen years ago, needed a major hit to elevate his Hollywood status. In the midst of co-writing and producing this farce of a motion picture, he saw so many of his former SNL pals out of work so he shoved them into the script but paying close attention to strip out any and all elements of humor from the otherwise moderately talented cast. Do you want to know why I actually watched this piece of shit? So do I.

Honestly, I have never seen a movie so consistently unfunny and inept as Grown Ups. Well, not since seeing Stan Helsing that is. At least Helsing had the daintiest of plots. There is no plot here, merely an excuse for Sandler, Kevin James, Rob Schneider, David Spade, and Chris Rock to get together, tell unfunny jokes, and laugh at each other. Watching the film, you can tell that the cast members had fun while making the movie. Why is it then that absolutely none of that came through on screen?

I really can’t fathom how hard it is to screw up a comedic movie this bad but somewhat competent director Dennis Dugan managed to do just that. Granted, I’m not a big fan of anyone in this movie but these characters are possibly the most offensively unfunny onscreen portrayals I’ve seen before. I might be a bit biased. But for a movie that runs in excess of an hour and a half, it produced not a single laugh, snicker, or chortle from me throughout its runtime. I have another theory for why this is. I imagine that a week before the release date, the final (and funnier) cut was on its way for distribution when a freak train derailment, tornado, or other act of God destroyed the only copy they had. Having to meet a deadline, the producers pieced together all of the detritus left on the cutting room floor to assemble the movie we have now. That is the only logical explanation I can come up with.

Far too much of the possible humor in the movie is ruined by the actors constantly laughing at each other. It’s like watching a group of improv actors bust into hysterics at something that wasn’t really that funny and unable to continue. This happens throughout the film. Also equally annoying is the reliance on a single joke and repeatedly bashing it on screen until it becomes pathetic. James’ wife, played by Maria Bello, is breastfeeding … wait for it … a 48 month old. That means he’s four! And way too old to still be breastfeeding! And Rob Schneider, a pretty horrific looking man here, has two incredibly attractive daughters who both make entrances to that damn Pina Colada song!

Sandler is basically playing himself and his kids are bratty and he’s married to the incredibly hot Salma Hayek! And he has a nanny and he doesn’t want anyone to know! Rock is normally a tough-talking wise-ass. Now he’s a stay-at-home, girl-scout-leading, Rachel-Ray-watching drama queen. James is married to Maria Bello even though he’s fat and unemployed! Schneider and Spade are just fucking annoying! The hysterics! And it isn’t even as though these characters are perpetually stuck in childhood like the title might suggest. They aren’t immature, they are just really fucking stupid.

I feel like I’m not really giving much detail to why this movie sucks so bad but trust me, this is a good thing. This is a film that plays things safe, even if safe condemns it to being really awful. All the characters act in exactly the way you would think them to from seeing the poster art. All of the lame jokes can be seen coming a mile away. There is a heartfelt moment at the end when everyone confesses some dark secret to their friends (it really is a nanny, shh!) followed by a triumphant basketball game to teach all of the characters a lesson in life.

Even more irritating though is the fact that this has a somewhat decent rating on IMDb and even Roger Ebert gave it faint praise in his review. Granted, this is the man that also gave Fight Club two stars but I’d be willing to forgive that oversight more than this. All told, I cannot in good conscience recommend Grown Ups to pregnant mothers, children under the age of 10, or anyone with even a modicum of humor in their body.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Random Movie: [REC] (2007)

Also contained within is a quasi-review of Quarantine.

For all intents and purposes, I have seen [REC] before by way of its almost shot-for-shot and beat-by-beat remake Quarantine which was in production before [REC] was even released. Apparently, the producers used a shooting script for the basis of Quarantine so many of the scenes, reveals, and mayhem all run in conjunction if you were to play the two films at the same time. Having not seen the remake of Psycho, I cannot say how this approach worked before but I would imagine that experience was as bizarre and fraught with deja vu as watching the original film to one I had seen before. Even with it being almost two years since seeing the Americanized-remake, many scenes, shots, and even scares were predictable but still some were not. Largely though, this did not hinder my enjoyment of the film one bit.

The film carries with a frenetic, cinéma vérité-style in the same vain as The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, and its ilk to sell the documentation of an real-life extraordinary event. Here, reporter Angela Vidal and her cameraman Pablo shadow a group of firefighters as they attempt to rescue a frantic, screaming woman trapped in her apartment. It doesn’t take long for the Angela, the emergency personnel, and the residents to realize that things are amiss as not only are they sequestered inside the building by threat of deadly violence but the inhabitants start showing the undeniable zombie-esqe symptoms of rage and destruction. Yes, Virginia, those are quasi-zombies not unlike those in Zombieland or 28 Days Later.

As a straight out horror movie, [REC]’s greatest strength lies in its unpredictability as the events that unfold are so rapid-fire that you barely have time to digest the previous onscreen events before some other crazy shit happens. Even having seen the story before (with very minor tweeks from my previous recollection), some of the shocks and jumps are literally out of nowhere as the situation spirals further and further out of control. The entire hand-held method of filming removes you from the safety of watching “just another horror movie” and pulls you into the fear that this is for real. Being that this is a Spanish film, you are not going to recognize the actors which further solidifies the weight of the events unfolding, even if you have just the slightest voice in the back of your mind to reiterate that this is just a movie. The entire cast from Manuela Velasco’s Angela to Ferran Terraza’s tough-as-nails Manu ground their performances in the story, jettising any semblence of a “just-an-actor” notion you might otherwise have. All of the residents, police officers, and firefighters act in the same manner that you or I would in a similar situation: cut and run and to hell with everyone else.

Now, as opposed to the other recent “found footage” zombie film, Diarreah of the Dead, which was so painstakingly framed and perfectly shot that totally removes you from the narrative (not to mention those damn, annoying ass kids), the camera work is literally all over the place here. With climbing many flights of stairs and running through dark and treacherous corridors, the camera, and thus your eyes, are never really fixated on a single thing. There is bouncing, jostling, and static in the video which would very likely occur in such an ordeal. Rather than the dickish and superficial motive for the main dude in Diary to keep filming in the midst of crisis, Angela and Pablo have a legitimate reason not only to document the happenings inside the multi-unit apartment building but also to highlight the complete disregard for their safety by the militant force keeping them in the building. Now, at a certain point, a logical person would drop the damn camera and run for their lives but their decision to stay focused on the documentation of the events pays off in the nail-biting final few scenes.

It is unlikely that the world will experience events as portrayed in a zombie movie so certain irrational and downright self-destructive behaviors by the characters can be forgiven. But, as this is a movie after all, writer/directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza unfortunately throw in some incredibly baffling plot points, narrative choices, and generic horror clichés that try to sabotage the overall strength of the film. You would expect in a lazy zombie film for someone to approach an obviously infected person gently and turn their back to allow carnage or for a random character to carelessly stand in front of a glass door, behind which is a person who has been bitten but these things seemed out of place here. And even more infuriating, the story comes to a screeching halt twice (TWICE!) for the purposes of exposition, one of those times being in the aforementioned nail-biting final few moments. Quarantine modified the story enough so that these particular grievances were minimized but their inclusion was disappointing to say the least, especially considering that a sequel has been made (and was likely was conceived fairly early) to appropriately address the origin of the infection or to survey the aftermath.

Regardless of these quibbles I had with the film (and they were very minor especially due to the break-neck pace of the rest of it), I can almost guarantee that even the most jaded horror fanatic will find something to like in [REC]. If you’ve seen Quarantine, there really is not too much different here for a casual viewer to warrant a viewing. For the rest of us, here we have a genuine experience of unknown actors facing unknown threats (seriously, the cameraman in Quarantine was on The Practice) that is sure to lead into a fantastic sequel taking place just moments after the conclusion of the first.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Random Movie: The Town (2010)

Ben Affleck’s first directing gig turned out pretty well, shocking many critics who had otherwise determined that his fame was fading. When The Town was coming out the question then became “can Affleck do it again or was Gone Baby Gone just a fluke?”

Affleck stars as Doug MacRay, the leader of a gang of professional bank robbers in the Boston suburb of Charlestown. Under the charge of Fergie the florist (Pete Postlethwaite), MacRay and his team take down banks, armored cars, and anything else with a large sum of money to be had. When friend Jim (Jeremy Renner) loses control during a job, beats a man, and takes bank manager Claire (Rebecca Hall) hostage, MacRay befriends Claire to see if she knows enough to turn them in. Now having started a relationship with Claire and under constant surveillance and pressure from FBI agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm), MacRay begins to consider leaving his life of crime behind.

The most interesting aspect of most heist movies can also be its biggest obstacle: the guys you want to root for are thieving, non-productive members of society. It is no different here as MacRay, Jim, and the other guys are not robbing banks to fight back against evil capitalists or to destroy a corrupt business but for plain ol’ greed. It can be difficult to root for a bunch of rapscallions that you normally are against. Based on the novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan, Affleck also as co-screenwriter is able to balance the good and bad of the group off of the leads. Neither MacRay, Jim, or Frawley is shown in absolutes, but in shades of grey.

MacRay is set up closer to a tragic hero than a typical bank robber. He does what he does begrudgingly as a way of honoring his incarcerated father but also as a means to escape the stranglehold he sees on his life. He is a far more sympathetic character than even Frawley, who is honorable but is portrayed in less than admirable light. The conflict exists with the excitable Jim, played excellently by Renner who even earned an Academy Award nomination here, who takes personal offense to the notion that MacRay is looking to go legit. Jim takes on a lot of the unsavory deeds which means that as an audience, we are more apt to dislike him making MacRay look better in comparison.

This movie was my first viewing of anything with Hamm in it and all of the good things I’ve heard about him were manifested here. He certainly is not only a fine actor but has a commanding presence, even if his character is unjustly vilified. Affleck is no slouch either which proves the man can act as long as someone competent is directing a half decent story. The bit performances by Blake Lively, Chris Cooper, and Titus Welliver are similarly well-rounded even though I did not understand the point of Lively’s character. A large chunk of the movie rests on Hall when heists are not being planned or executed. While the gestation of MacRay and Claire’s relationship felt a bit rushed, it also felt genuine to inspire MacRay to clean up his act.

As for the heists, this movie has drawn favorable comparisons to Heat, only set in Boston. The jobs themselves are quick, well-planned and well-thought out. Affleck composes these sequences with a lot of energy and a lot of tension and in their midst, you forget that you are watching the bad guys steal other people’s money and get sucked in by the proceedings. This is altogether a different type of movie than Gone Baby Gone but it is masterfully created and tightly edited to make the over two hour runtime feel shortened. If this is the type of output we can expect from Affleck in the director’s chair, I would strongly advocate that he stick with that as opposed to the next Gigli or Daredevil.