Archive for April, 2014

the dirties (2013)

Posted: April 17, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

Image

Two best friends are making a film for their high school media class; a dark comedy that sees them taking brutal revenge on a group of school bullies they dub the Dirties. When their film is rejected for being too violent, one of them jokingly suggests doing it all for real…

First time director Matt Johnson’s unique take on the school shooting genre is an incredibly assured debut from a real new talent. Presented documentary-style, the fly on the wall conceit takes us into the lives of these characters, letting us get to know them as people, subtly exploring their mindsets and focussing almost entirely on the journey to the inevitable conclusion rather than the event itself.

Johnson also takes the lead in this film, and is an electrifying presence as he straddles the line between charming sociopath and deluded, hyperactive child. At times incredibly annoying in his childishness, it is a testament to his performance than you end up not only sympathising with him, but feeling actual empathy. He is no monster, just a confused kid lashing out, someone who has lost sight of the borders between healthy fantasy and reality. It is all too easy to see how he got there, and still be charmed by him. Owen Williams gives a more naturalistic performance as his best friend, cowed by life as well as his showy, exuberant buddy, and is equally as effective, the emotional heart of the film without ever succumbing to trite pathos.

The interplay between the two is believably light and frothy, and we see all their silly plans and personal in-jokes. In another film film their behaviour would be the basis for broad comedy as they get up to typical misguided teen shenanigans, but here it is often difficult to laugh knowing where the film is going; serving as a melancholy reminder of the humanity of the characters. These are not the cold, troubled teens that the media tells us of, but laughing, joking buddies whose single-minded nerdiness has alienated them from their peers during that awkward period when children lie on the cusp of adulthood.

The documentary style is not the most dynamic way of telling a story, with “found footage” increasingly synonymous with low-quality and lazy film-making, but it becomes increasingly necessary as the film unfolds, perfectly playing into the theme of distancing yourself from reality. As the movie goes on the possibility begins to hang in the air that you are not watching a faux-documentary, but a fantasy, the characters seeing themselves through a non-existent lens, life feeling no more real to them than the plots of the films they devour. This ambiguity, the questioning of what is “reality”, takes it to another level, the film increasingly becoming a study of mental illness rather than a salacious reinterpretation of the similar terrible events that periodically dominate the news.

“The Dirties” may well draw comparisons with the similarly themed “Elephant”, but where that was a cold, heartless journey towards a final act, this is a warm film about how characters got to where they are. The somewhat abrupt conclusion sums up the differences between the two; rather than making hay from the brutality like Van Sant’s film, this culminates with a personal moment between the two leads, telling us everything about where they are as characters at that moment. While it does have many of the flaws that bedevil “found footage” films, Johnson has crafted a brave and intelligent film does well to rise above it’s low-budget limitations. It is a credit to the makers that this is as enjoyable a watch as it ultimately ends up being, while it is encouraging to find a movie from first time film-makers that tackles a controversial topic not with the intent of assigning blame or generating shock, but of promoting understanding and provoking thought.

Advertisements

Image

Princess Evie is deposed by the evil sorcerer Jerak, and now roams the wilds incognito. When she crosses paths with the famed swordsman Deathstalker, they join forces on a quest to reclaim her kingdom.

Although nominally a sequel to 1983 sword and sorcery cash-in “Deathstalker”, “Deathstalker 2: Duel of the Titans” couldn’t be much more different from it’s Conan rip-off big brother. While the original took itself incredibly seriously, the sequel is essentially a wild-eyed parody of that film, a scattergun spoof that never takes it’s tongue from it’s cheek.

Replacing Rick Hill, the meat-headed lunk who portrayed Deathstalker in the first movie, is John Terlesky, having an absolute whale of a time. He keeps the character’s nonchalant attitude, but turns him from brutish barbarian anti-hero into a wise-cracking rogue hiding a soft side, a sword wielding cross between Groucho Marx and Han Solo. His enthusiasm for the role is genuinely infectious, and his performance alone makes this by far the best film in the Deathstalker series.

Former Penthouse model Monique Gabrielle takes on the duel role of the deposed Princess as well as her evil doppelganger and she simply can’t act. Not even a little bit. Still, she is so innocent and charming that you really don’t care, and her lack of skills become part of the fun, whether it be staring blankly into her cheap knock-off crystal ball, hilariously attempting to channel the voice of the bad guy or angrily throwing objects at midget musicians.

The film was directed by B-movie stalwart Jim Wynorski, best known for the terrifically fun “Chopping Mall”. He also had a big hand in the script and is the man to thank for the film’s endearing light-heartedness. He knew exactly what type of film he was making and ramped up the campiness, striving to make everything as much fun as he could. Much like the ZAZ comedies of the time like “Airplane” and “The Naked Gun”, the film openly spoofs other movies by using their most famous scenes in an incongruous setting, with humorous nods to “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, “Goldfinger” and even “Rocky” as well as many more. It is one of these moments that provides the film’s only major bum note, an overlong parody of a pro-wrestling match that drags on interminably, an idea that may have seemed good at the time but doesn’t work in practice.

Although flawed, “Deathstalker 2” is a cheesy, campy, over-the-top spoof of itself, fully aware of it’s failings and all the better for it. It may be incredibly low-budget, and fairly badly made (look closely and you will find footage from the original “Deathstalker” filling up it’s runtime and even a parked car popping up in the background of one shot) with performances that often dip toward incredibly inept, but it is quite simply a ridiculous amount of fun, a real 80s B-movie treasure. Stick around for the end-credits out-takes too.

stagefright (2014)

Posted: April 8, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,
Image
 
10 years after the murder of her actress mother, Camilla is working as a cook at a musical theatre camp for teens. When the decision is made for the campers to stage a revival of her mother’s last play, Camilla decides she wants to try out, but a mysterious figure seems hell bent on halting the production. 
 
“Stagefright” (not to be confused with the excellent 1987 Michele Soavi slasher movie of the same name) is a modestly budgeted light-hearted musical-horror written, directed and scored by first-timer Jerome Sable.
 
Although light in tone, “Stagefright” is more a film with a ridiculous concept played outrageously over-the-top than an actual comedy. It is a shame that more of the silliness couldn’t be translated into genuine humour, as although the film feels like it should be a comedy, it never really becomes one, despite raising the odd chuckle. 
 
The best realised aspect of the film is definitely the music. Sable clearly has a genuine affection for traditional musical theatre as well as an understanding of the medium, with one song in particular being a well constructed ode to the restorative power of showtunes that packs in references to musicals past in loving fashion. The songs used for the in-film musical are accurate pastiches of the form, although again, they are mostly played strangely straight, being more a reverential homage than parody. A rare exception is the film’s first big number, a high-school musical spoof that packs more laughs into it than the rest of the film combined, setting a tone that the film never quite lives up to. 
 
Although infrequent, the horror elements are quite well done when they do happen. A few of the murders are surprisingly graphic, particularly the early death of a cameoing Minnie Driver as Camilla’s mother. While a late surge in violence redresses the balance somewhat, the horror, like everything else, takes a back seat to the musical elements for too long, making this feel like an extra long episode of “Glee” with one or two gory moments and the occasional laugh, rather than the true genre hybrid it was intended to be.
 
“Stagefright” is a bizarre curio with a great, original idea, but it is too uneven in tone to  be truly satisfying and doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Credit must go to director Sable for at least trying to do something a little bit different in an era where taking chances is becoming increasingly rare, and the film does have moments where it delivers on it’s promise. It is a shame that it didn’t really come together, because no matter how much you genuinely want to like the film, when all is said and done it is a bit of a mess; a movie that tries to be several things without ever quite managing to be any.  
 

bad johnson (2014)

Posted: April 5, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags:
Image
 
Rich is a personal trainer who blames his inability to remain faithful on his penis. One day he wakes up and it’s gone, roaming the streets in human form.
 
“Bad Johnson” is a broad low-budget comedy directed by one of the writers of “The Last Exorcism”, Huck Botko. Botko’s previous experience behind the camera has mainly come in mock-documentary form, and, while it is hard to praise his work here, he is assured enough for someone helming their first proper movie. 
 
While the acting is uniformly bad right across the board, with actors seemingly cast because of mild resemblances to established stars delivering performances that would be shameful in a porn movie, the biggest issue here by far is the script. 
 
The basic idea is actually a lot of fun, perfect grist for a big dumb comedy movie. Sadly when writing this, first-timer Jeff Tetreault forgot to include anything that was actually funny, relying on the premise providing it’s own humour and hoping that the material could be elevated by an able cast. The jokes he did write are unsubtle, unfunny and charmless, leaning heavily at times on hideous racism. The end result is a sub-Farrelly brothers high concept gross-out sex comedy that forgot to include any gross-out moments, sex or comedy. 
 
“Bad Johnson” might have been an amusing three minute Youtube skit, or better left as a silly trailer for a non-existent film. As a full length feature it commits the cardinal sin of film-making: it is plain boring. You are left scratching your head and wondering how exactly you can take a concept as completely out-there as this one and make it brain-achingly, stultifyingly dull. This is the type of film where you spend the majority of the run time looking at your watch and calculating how long is left, while repeating to yourself “let it end, dear god please, let it end”.
 

lesson of the evil (2012)

Posted: April 1, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,
Image
 
Hasumi is a teacher at an exclusive Japanese school, the Shinko Academy. Outwardly he seems the perfect educator, adored by students and fellow teachers alike, but he hides a dark side that puts those around him in grave danger. 
 
Takashi Miike is the very definition of a cult director, most well known for films that intentionally shock and polarise opinion but with a vast variety of genres under his belt. With around 90 films to his name he is never less than prolific, and “Lesson of the Evil” (“Aku no Kyoten”) sees him return to the horror genre for which Western audiences know him best.
 
Initially “Lesson of Evil” is a gripping thriller, a chilling character study played out at a leisurely pace. Hideaki Ito is excellent as Hasumi; charming, handsome and oozing charisma. The more we get under the skin of the character, the more frightening he becomes; Ito’s cold, dead eyes exposing his true nature and the terrifying boredom with the world that lies beneath his cheery facade. The battle of wits with the students and a teacher who suspect him that makes up much of the first hour of the film is brilliantly done, the tension building to nail-biting levels with Ito’s performance leaving you unsure who to root for, no matter what he does. 
 
A sudden turn around halfway through shows you just how far the character will go as the film leaves behind the trappings of a psychological thriller and devolves into a much more standard slasher film filled with an absolutely ludicrous amount of bloodshed. Miike ramps up the nastiness and even tosses in a bit of humour, perhaps to remind us that films are not meant to be taken seriously, especially when dealing with the extreme cinema that Miike specialises in. The violence is genuinely relentless, at times even monotonous as the film grinds on; a remorseless cavalcade of death. 
 
Miike introduces subtexts to justify the severe narrative turn, most obviously a message about not trusting figures of authority simply because they are in charge, no matter how charming or honest they may seem on the surface. Tied in with this is a fairly unsubtle anti-American sentiment, with the final-act slaughter taking place against a backdrop of casino style facades, a representation of the moon landing and, most tellingly, big bold letters stating that “The World is Yours”. The weapon of choice for the killer, a shotgun that talks to it’s wielder in a broad American accent, really hammers the message home; especially for a movie that comes from a country where gun-crime is so infrequent. 
 
As the film becomes more outrageous Miike also takes the opportunity to mock certain horror tropes, such as the current found footage fad and the enduring craze of sequels to films where all of the story has been told. While the violent turn does give Miike the opportunity to say things that he couldn’t in the more sedate confines of a character study, that doesn’t make it any easier to watch. There is always a rawness to the violence, a reality than borders on repetitiveness, that makes it extremely unpalatable. Although that was clearly Miike’s intent, many will think that he has finally gone too far given the identity of the victims and the cold-blooded remorseless nature of the slaughter. 
 
“Lesson of the Evil” may not be as graphic as some of Miike’s other films but it is ultimately as shockingly bad taste as anything he has served up. While nicely performed, stylishly shot and a spellbinding watch up there with Miike’s best work, it is still hard to recommend this film, as you really do need to be completely desensitised to cinematic violence to get past the fact that it is essentially a movie about a grown man arbitrarily murdering children. Those that can accept the unpleasantness of the premise will find one of Miike’s more effective films, and a rare example of him having something to say beyond his urge to shock.