Archive for the 'At Home' Category

Roulette

Friday, December 20th, 2013
It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (1 People gave this 5.00 out of 5)
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Suicide is such sweet sorrow.

Roulette

The H-Bomb:  Three strangers sit at a living room table, passing around a bottle of liquor.  They are members of a suicide support group who have decided to try an alternative form of therapy.  Wheelchair bound Dean (Mike Baldwin) was a perfectly content landscaper who was about to marry a beautiful young woman when a mysterious ailment robbed him of the use of his legs.  Richard (Will Haza) is an assholish office drone who’s just been passed over for a promotion at work, is trapped in an unhappy marriage, and has started drinking heavily as a result.  Sunny (Ali Lukowski) is the obedient daughter of a fanatical Jesus freak father, who goes very astray when she meets and falls in love with a young artist who introduces her to a world outside of her previously sheltered existence.

At first, these three disparate souls seem to have nothing in common, aside from their hitting rock bottom, and their shared affection for the bottle.  However, as this little group therapy session wears on, they discover that their lives are connected in more ways than they initially realized.  Eventually, when the bottle itself is no longer enough, they start passing around a revolver, and a very real game of Russian Roulette commences.

If there was ever a film to reaffirm my devout lack of faith in humanity, it would be this one.  Written and directed by Erik Kristopher Myers, Roulette is a compelling, if mercilessly downbeat, mosaic of misery that is easy to admire, albeit not so easy to enjoy.  Don’t get me wrong, that is in no way intended as a backhanded compliment.  Roulette is, across the board, an impressively well-crafted film, especially for one made on such a modest budget.  Just about every aspect of the picture, particularly the lead performances, are top notch and make it worth a look, just don’t expect it to brighten your day.

To an extent, Roulette reminded me of the work of Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, both in its non-linear structure as well as its sheer bleakness.  In particular, it brought to mind his 2003 film 21 Grams, another tale of how the lives of three strangers are linked together by tragedy.  That’s not to say, however, that Roulette is in any way deritive of that film, because it isn’t, at all.  It’s a highly original work that follows it’s own path to a very unpredictable and shocking climax.

For his debut feature, Myers does quite the commendable job.  Not only is his script complex and emotionally charged, but his direction is also solid.  He has a strong visual eye (it’s nice to see a young director go for actual compositions instead of simply hand holding every bloody shot) and does an absolutely incredible job of amping up the intensity all the way to the film’s finale.  There were a couple of minor script issues that I had, such as the scene between Dean and a psychiatrist that struck me as rather odd. What kind of fucked up shrink would talk to his patient like that?  It just didn’t seem right.  But such nitpicking aside, Myers does show himself to be a filmmaker with promise.  I read a disappointing little blurb in the IMDb trivia section that states that Myers has sworn off of movie making after working on this film.  I have no idea if that’s true, or just a bit of Internet bullshit, but if it is true, I implore him to reconsider, as he does have real potential.

As I stated earlier, the three lead performances in Roulette are terrific.  Each actor inhabits their role flawlessly and brings their characters to life, which consequently makes the film more difficult to watch, as their descent into hell becomes all the more real and affecting.  Even a character like Richard, who, as written, is a contemptible drunk and a douche bag, I was able to feel some iota of sympathy towards, because the actor, Haza, managed to bring out the humanity in him.  Baldwin also puts in a stellar showing as Dean, a rather… confused character who isn’t quite what he seems.

Special mention, I feel, needs to be made of Ali Lukowski, who absolutely kills it as Sunny, the good little Christian girl who goes very bad.  Now, at the insistence of my editor, I have to make a full disclosure here, I know Ali Lukowski.  I went to college with her back in the day, and it was her involvement with Roulette that drew me to it.  Now, you can think that I’m just sucking up and kissing ass with what I’m about to say, and that’s fine.  You’d be dead wrong, but that’s fine.  So, my disclaimer out of the way, Lukowski gives the performance of the movie.  When her Sunny starts to lose her shit, she is downright harrowing.  I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it, Ms. Lukowski is definitely an actress to keep an eye out for.

This, oddly, brings me to a negative I have.  While Lukowski is indeed fantastic, her character does something, I won’t say what, during the film’s climax, that is so fucking heinous it really affected me in an adverse way.  It didn’t ruin the film, and I do ultimately believe that it was dramatically honest, but it was an act that, overall, was so entirely unpleasant that, for me, it crossed a line and left behind a rather sour taste.  That major hang up on my part aside, I can’t recommend Roulette enough.  Again, it’s a challenging film that’s certainly not easy to watch, but is, at the end of the day, a compelling and rewarding one, and is very much worth taking a chance on.

 

 

Roulette

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013
It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (3 People gave this 4.00 out of 5)
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God is a sadist . . .  

Roulette

Swift shot: Vulgar, disturbing, ugly, and yet a very compelling critique of hypocrisy and how the sins and the choices we make define us. A small disclaimer is needed here, as I matriculated with Ali Lukowski at Flagler College. I was also in a small “student film” shot by our very own H-Man. So, yes, I wanted to like this film, because I like Ali. But, I sure didn’t like her character, Sunshine. Mind you, I know Ali (in real life) and I still found myself disgusted with her character at certain points in the film. That’s all you can ask of any actor, make the audience fall in love with the character or loathe the character. Ali delivered, and then some, many times I forgot that was my buddy on the screen.

Russian Roulette (not to be confused with Polack Roulette) is a game of life or death for people who are too chicken shit to just do the deed, and when we meet the main characters, they have taken that down another notch, using liquor shots instead of head-shots to muster up the courage to pull the metaphorical trigger to end their lives.  But, as one character says it, “Russian Roulette, that’s our lives.  It’s the odds that keep it interesting.”  In other words, hey, we are all going to die anyway, so, what’s the point?

A morbid trio makes up the cast.  Dean (Mike Baldwin) is a landscaper who is confined to a wheel chair and has his world crumble almost immediately after he proposes to his fiancee.  Richie (Will Haza), whose wife and boss call him Richard, is a man who just can’t seem to make life like what it is “supposed to be.” And, Sunshine (Ali Lukowski) is an adolescent in a 25 year-old’s body. They each face their mortality in different ways. But, they might all deserve to be punished for different reasons. While Dean is the apparent ring-leader, Sunshine is the zealot who continues to drive the action . . . and has the most balls.

She lays out the rules of the drinking game, you flip a coin, heads, you bite the bullet, tails, you live another day. As they “play” the game, we learn about the actions of each character that led them to Dean’s broken home. In a methodical series of well timed and paced flashbacks, each vignette reveals more about the characters, developing a balanced character for the audience to either despise or empathize with. You may find yourself switching allegiances throughout the film choosing who you want to die and who you want to live – I know I did!  Every time the gun goes – Click – you want to look away, but you just can’t help watch.  And at that moment wonder, do I want this fucker dead yet?

Dean reveals a darkness that has been tormenting him, dormant, which has emerged again as he tries to move forward with his life.  It is a secret that may cost him everything.  Richie is a self-centered, self-described asshole, but he feels that there is a sickness within him that is outside of his control.  While Sunshine is a product of her intolerant, religious upbringing, that she can’t reconcile as she finds passion (perhaps lust) controlling her actions when she meets Leon (Jan-David Soutar).

Suicide is a touchy subject, and so is abortion, religion and even love. Director/Writer Erik Kristopher Myers pulls no punches with his frank dialog, where wives tell husbands where to put things and how wet they are for those things. If you are prudish, this film is definitely not for you. It’s designed to disturb you. Like the cylinder of the five-shot revolver, the story spins around for each character and is part of one weapon, one tool, to enact final judgement.  When will the end come for them?

Erik Kristopher Myers delivers a surreal psychological opera.  With each measure passing, minute by minute, a steady crescendo reveals more for the spectator to gawk at, like a deity who enjoys watching fools dance to their demise.

Here is the trailer; definitely check this film out if you like mental thrillers with a controversial payoff:

Passion

Monday, November 25th, 2013

***

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (2 People gave this 4.00 out of 5)
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“There’s no backstabbing here… it’s just business.”

Passion

The H-Bomb: The 2000’s, for the most part, have not been kind to Brian De Palma, the high style auteur of such modern classics as Carrie, Scarface, and Dressed to Kill. Yes, in 2002 he did bring us Femme Fatale, which is a personal favorite, but he was also responsible for the super dumb Mission to Mars, the wretched Iraq War film, Redacted, and the astonishingly awful train wreck, The Black Dahlia, which I’ve ranted on in the past..

It goes without saying that for the last decade or so, De Palma has been way off his game. I would even go so far as to say he’s lost a step, except his films have always been hit or miss with me. So, after taking a six year hiatus, no doubt to air out the stench caused by the double stuffed shit-bomb that was The Black Dahlia and Redacted, the director returns to his roots with Passion, a relatively low key, Hitchcockian thriller, the kind of which defined his early career. Is De Palma back in fighting form, or should he have just stayed in retirement? We shall see…

A remake of a 2010 French film, Crime d’amour, Passion tells the story of conniving advertising executive, Christine (Rachel McAdams), and her seemingly naive subordinate, Isabelle (Noomi Rapace). Both women are incredibly ambitious, Christine ruthlessly so, which is made apparent when she takes all the credit for a brilliant ad campaign idea that Isabelle concocted. Isabelle, understandably, is completely livid, even though Christine assures her that it’s not backstabbing, it’s just business.

But, of course, it is backstabbing, and Isabelle isn’t about to forget it. This sets the stage for a series of double crosses and betrayals between the two. Eventually, Christine’s oily, womanizing boyfriend, Dirk (Paul Anderson), and Isabelle’s all-too-dedicated assistant, Dani (Karoline Herfurth), get caught up in the back and forth as the rivalry escalates to the point where it’s no longer about business, it’s bitterly personal. I would discuss the plot in more detail, but in this case, saying any more would be saying too much, so I won’t.

While Passion is not among De Palma’s best efforts, it’s certainly not among his very worst, either. For me, it ranks somewhere in the upper-middle of his body of work. It’s a slick, stylish exercise that’s fairly entertaining, but is also, like many of De Palma’s Hitchcock knock-offs, very thin on substance, and overall, just isn’t particularly memorable.

The first two thirds of the film are carried by the intriguing-yet-uneasy chemistry between McAdams and Rapace. There’s definitely some love/hate tension in the air, with some less-than-subtle lesbian overtones, but the hate ultimately wins out, and for a while, the constant mind games and dirty tricks made for a fiendishly fun watch. I was truly invested and curious as to how all the cat-and-mouse antics would ultimately play out. Then, at the end of act two, the movie abruptly switches gears and turns into a whodunit. A whodunit that’s as illogical as it is predictable. It doesn’t ruin the film, per se, but I would have much preferred to see it take a different path, instead of turning into some half-assed Giallo.

Still, De Palma does keep it reasonably enjoyable, with some truly striking camera work and lighting by cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine, which become progressively more stylized as the story turns increasingly melodramatic. De Palma certainly hasn’t lost any of his visual luster, I’ll give him that. As for the performances, I’d say McAdams is the one to write home about. She inhabits this backstabbing bitch on wheels so flawlessly, that you’ll find yourself wanting desperately to see her get her comeuppance, she is that detestable.

Less convincing is Rapace as the meeker of the two. She isn’t bad by any means, and I’m sure this has everything to do with my having seen her in the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, but I just couldn’t quite buy her as meek, or as anyone who would take shit off of someone like McAdams. She does play crazy quite well, though, when her character is finally pushed to her breaking point. She gets scary dangerous, and that’s where she really shines.

The mostly impressive lead performances aside, Passion is merely a minor score for De Palma. Like I said, it stands head-and-shoulders above his last couple of outings, it’s visually gorgeous and fascinating to a point, but there just simply isn’t a whole hell of a lot to it. Casual moviegoers will probably be put off by the first two thirds of the film, which are rather European in its minimalism and its pacing, whereas die hard De Palma fans will love it when he goes crazy with his signature camera tricks in the final act, and will probably rate this higher. For me, though, Passion is just all right. I was hoping for something more than all right, as this is Brian freakin’ De Palma we’re talking about here, but all right was all I got. Perhaps I should simply be happy with that, because judging from his more recent track record, it could have been far, far worse.

V/H/S 2

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

***

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (Give us your rating!!)
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Getting warmer . . . 

vhs2

The H-Bomb: Earlier this year, I reviewed the found footage horror anthology, V/H/S, which wasn’t entirely uninteresting, but ultimately, I didn’t care for it. The first half hour featured characters so thoroughly obnoxious and unpleasant that it made the film nearly unwatchable, many of the vignettes seemed half-baked, and the overall execution was just sloppy. Nevertheless, the film won enough fans in the horror community to make it a success, and now we have the inevitable sequel, V/H/S/2, a sequel that has, to an extent, improved upon a number of the original’s shortcomings.

Like the first film, this is an anthology shot in various styles of found footage, some of which are a bit contrived, but hey, you have to allow for that kind of thing. This time we are given four shorts of gruesomely gory mayhem, as well as a wrap around story. The wrap around, featuring two private investigators searching for a missing person, and finding themselves in a creepy house with stacks of VHS tapes, is pretty damn weak and only serves to bridge the stories together. The private eyes are given zippity-doo-dick in the way of personalities, and we’re never made to care about them or the case they’re investigating. Fortunately, this takes up very little screen time, as it’s the vignettes that are the main attraction, and for the most part, they do deliver.

First up is “Phase 1 Clinical Trials”, directed by Adam Wingard, about a young man (played by Wingard) who has revolutionary eye surgery after a car accident. As a result of this surgery, the man now has a camera in his eye, a camera that is recording everything he sees. Sure, it’s a major invasion of privacy, but that’s a small price to pay for having his vision restored. However, he will soon realize that the lack of privacy is about to become the least of his worries, as this new camera eye allows him to see things… things that were never meant to be seen by the living. For the sake of spoilers, as will be the case for all of these, I’ll keep the description to a minimum. I’ll merely say that this one provides your typical ghost movie jolts, albeit well executed, and serves as a nice, if unremarkable, appetizer for what’s to come.

Next we get “A Ride in the Park”, which comes to us from directors Gregg Hale and Eduardo Sanchez (co-helmer of The Blair Witch Project), and man oh man is this where V/H/S/2 really starts to one-up its predecessor. It begins with an outdoors enthusiast (Jay Saunders) going for a bicycle ride in a picturesque state park with a camera mounted to the top of his helmet. It seems like a beautiful day for a bike ride, but things quickly go south when our biker comes upon a woman who appears to have been stricken by The Walking Dead virus. The biker is bitten by this rabid she-bitch and becomes infected by whatever this bug is that ails her.

From here, things kick into a higher gear of awesome, as a zombie rampage ensues, all of which is recorded by the camera atop the zombie’s head. Now, normally I think zombie stories have been done to fucking death (I don’t watch The Walking Dead and have no interest in ever doing so), but in this particular case, having it all unfold from the zombie’s point of view makes it seem fresh and novel to where I was able to have a blast with it, despite my being bored fucking stiff with zombie movies. That it doesn’t skimp on the guts and carnage only made it all the better.

After that comes “Safe Haven”, co-directed by Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Evans, the latter being the director of The Raid: Redemption, one of the most kick ass fucking awesome action flicks ever. This story follows a documentary film crew as they go inside the compound of an apocalyptic religious cult in Indonesia to interview its delusional nut bag (and potential pedophile) of a leader. However, as we soon realize, perhaps the cult’s leader is neither delusional nor a nut bag, as a crap load of crazy Satanic shit unfolds. This one, for me, is easily the very best of the lot, as it is the creepiest, the most balls out insane, and has by far the best ending of any of the shorts. It also features the best up the nose snot shot since The Blair Witch Project.

Finally, we come to the last story, directed by Jason Eisener, “Slumber Party Alien Abduction”, and the title pretty much says it all. A bunch of bratty kids, as well as a couple of douche bag teenagers, are having a sleep over at a lakeside house while the parents are away. They record all their prankster hijinks of the night with a video camera… just because, when all of the sudden, strange loud noises are heard, followed by bright flashes of fiery light. Next thing the kiddies know, much to their horror, the lakeside house is besieged by extraterrestrial beings who mean to harm them. Man, what a fucking buzz kill. This final segment, sadly, just kind of sucked. The characters were incredibly annoying, and the alien attack itself mistook loud and shrill for scary and exciting. And V/H/S/2 was doing so well… damn it. At least, this alien invasion does have the distinction of being filmed mostly from the point of view of a dog.

Overall, despite being far from perfect, and despite the last vignette sort of blowing, I’d say that V/H/S/2 is a massive improvement over the original in just about every way, shape, and form. The stories are much more well thought out, more consistent, and more successfully executed, with endings that make the viewer go “ah ha” instead of “huh?” The fact that it clocks in at a reasonable ninety minutes, as opposed to an un-Godly two hours like the original, also helps quite a bit. It’s not what I would call great, and some of the stories, again, work better than others, but as far as horror anthologies go, this is a decent effort, and now that it’s streaming on Netflix, I say definitely give it a look, if you’re into this kind of thing.

Sunlight Jr.

Monday, November 11th, 2013

**

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (Give us your rating!!)
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SUNLIGHT JR.

Swift shot: I really, really wanted this film to just end. I am not sure where to begin with why it was so unpleasant. Naomi Watts is getting blasted by other critics for her accent in Diana, and in Sunlight Jr., I really can’t say what she was going for as a convenience store clerk who is trapped in a circle of her own selfishness. I didn’t like her character, and as the film ended, I loathed her character. If you can find a more selfish character in film, please, let me know. You’ll see what I mean once you get to the “donuts” scene. Like she deserved even one donut? I’m rambling, but, hey, if you like that sort of thing, then Sunlight Jr. is perfect for you. It’s a rambling, boring story about characters I could care less about . . . and did I mention one was in a wheel chair and paralyzed from the waist down? Even that guy, I didn’t care about.

Melissa (Watts) is a cashier for the “Sunlight Jr.” convenience store, and she lives in a crappy motel with her disabled boyfriend Richie (Matt Dillon). They seem, at first, to be very much in love, and very much on the losing spectrum of life in general. I don’t recall ever finding out why Richie lost his ability to walk, but I think it had something to do with being a drunk loser. Melissa’s ex-boyfriend, Justin, is played rather well by Norman Reedus, who plays a real shitty human being . . . who also happens to be a father. He’s spreading his hatred of the world through his very impressionable son.

Wrapping up the clan of calamity is Kathleen (Tess Harper). She is Melissa’s mother, and to make money off the “system” she fosters a bunch of kids that she barely sustains on ketchup and noodles.  She does have plenty of money dedicated to keeping her with a near-permanent buzz, though. She pressures Melissa to dump Richie and get with a real hero, Justin.  Also in Melissa’s life is her boss, who sexually harasses her, because she is always late, doesn’t care about her job, and he lords that fact over her and permits her to work there so he can have fap fantasies of her in the freezer.

In short, her life pretty much sucks. It is the despair, and lack of anything in the way of levity (unless you count the weirdest sack race in the history of modern recorded time) that destroys this film. The sack race was tacked in probably because the story was so boring and depressing that it needed something fun to cheer up the audience. When you write a story, you have an obligation to the reader, and when you tell a story on film, you have an obligation to the audience . . . be worthy of their time. It’s like someone thought about a great story and instead settled for mediocrity.  The dialog was as depressing as the characters.

The characters were not compelling, the drama was less than intense, even when something dramatic was happening, it felt . . . silly. I kept waiting for something interesting to happen. Granted, there is one murder in the film, and then as a reward, the murderer gorges on donuts.

Perhaps the one saving grace for Sunlight Jr. is that it is a veiled “message” movie about responsibility, parenting, and the actions we make having real consequences. Well, that is until things get too tough, then we just quit and run away, apparently. I really think Melissa was mentally retarded, or maybe slow (squared) is a better description.

I would write more, but I am late for a sack race. So, unless you must see Naomi Watts nude or Norman Reedus play a bad guy, this film won’t leave a mark.

I Spit on Your Grave 2

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

½

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I spit on this movie.

I Spit on Your Grave 2

The H-Bomb: Naive Midwestern girl, Katie (Jemma Dallender), is an aspiring model trying to make it in NYC, and isn’t having much luck. After being told that her portfolio is a bit too… rustic, she decides it’s time to get some new photos. Problem is, professional photographs are just so damn expensive. But, fortune smiles on Katie, as she happens upon an ad for free photos from an up and coming photographer, in exchange for her modeling services.

So, Katie shows up to the shoot to find that it’s being run by three Eastern Eurotrash creeps. Any sensible girl would have turned and left the second she heard those sinister accents coming out of their mouths, but Katie really needs these pictures, so she sticks around. It’s only when the photographer asks Katie to remove her clothes for some ‘nudie’ shots that she finally catches on to how obviously shady these Bulgarian fucks are and leaves.

Before Katie can plan her next move, modeling wise, one of the Eastern European goons shows up at her apartment, and after some back and forth, he beats her up and rapes her. Then, next thing she knows, she’s chained up in some dank, disgusting dungeon, where the other two guys from the photoshop show up, and take turns raping her. Then a complete stranger shows up, and he rapes her, as well.

This wild n’ crazy rape romp goes on for what feels like an eternity, then Katie manages to escape, only to find that she is far, far away from home. But, truth be told, Katie isn’t so interested in going home just yet. See, all those days (or perhaps, weeks), of getting rammed, reamed, and rodded have left our leading lass a tad pissed, and she is just yearning for some payback. Some sweet, violent payback. And if you think I’m spoiling too much here, then tough shit, because I’m really doing you a favor by taking away whatever reason you might have for subjecting yourself to the insufferable waste of celluloid that is I Spit on Your Grave 2.

Good God, never, in the four and a half years that I’ve been a critic, have I ever swung so wildly from one extreme to the other. No more than a day after I reviewed what is hands down the best film I’ve seen this year, I find myself watching this anal sludge. I won’t say that I Spit on Your Grave 2 is the very worst film of 2013, as that honor still goes to Movie 43, but damn does it come close.

I Spit on Your Grave 2 is a thematic sequel to the 2010 I Spit on Your Grave, which itself is a remake of the infamous 70’s exploitation flick, Day of the Woman. I say that it’s a thematic sequel, because while none of the characters from the previous movie appear in this one, it is essentially about the same thing, a woman being brutally assaulted and taking revenge in the most gruesome ways imaginable. Though the 2010 film was no great shakes, it is a fucking masterpiece in comparison to this vile, ugly, monotonous dreck.

Whereas the first movie had a rape sequence that was lengthy, this one has several of them that make up the bulk of the film. Director Steven R. Monroe, who helmed the earlier film, doesn’t seem content with just giving us more of the same, he wants to give us a lot more of the same, subjecting his young lead actress to endless amounts of torture and degradation, over and over and over again, making us the audience suffer right along with her, to the point where we finally become numb to it all. Monroe appears to truly relish the non-stop cruelty he inflicts on this girl, and to that I say, fuck him and his movie.

Speaking of the lead actress, I really do feel horrible for Jemma Dallender, not just for what she has to endure at the hands of this sadistic prick of a filmmaker, but also because she is obviously a talented actor who is giving a much better performance than the movie deserves. She really is quite good, and admirably fearless, it’s just a shame that her skills are completely wasted in this filth. I can only hope that someday she will find a more worthy showcase.

And with that, I really don’t have much more to say about I Spit on Your Grave 2. It’s an extremely unpleasant, agonizingly dull, and stupefyingly repetitive pile of dogshit that is about as entertaining as a colonoscopy. There is no good reason for this movie to exist, nor is there any reason whatsoever for you to see it. Maybe I’m sounding like Roger Ebert when he went on his tirade against the original Day of the Woman so many years ago. I didn’t agree with him, but I now can understand how he felt. This is a detestable motion picture that has taken 106 minutes of my life that I will never get back. Please, I implore you, do not make the same mistake I did!

American Mary

Monday, October 7th, 2013

***½

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (1 People gave this 3.00 out of 5)
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“Wanna make five grand?”

American Mary

Swift shot: A desperate college student turns to a dark world and becomes transformed into something that even the dark fears – a woman scorned.  What makes American Mary so watchable is that you have no idea what is around the next corner.  Much like Mary (Katharine “Ginger Snaps” Isabelle) herself, you find yourself daring to go on.  Be warned . . . you may be scarred by this film.  The old adage of what has been seen cannot be unseen comes to mind.  

Jen and Sylvia Soska wrote, directed, and starred in, American Mary, and their twisted story follows a struggling med school student who needs some help paying her bills.  She happens on a site looking for a leather entertainment worker, no sex, just jiggle work, and her life becomes immediately unrecognizable.

At the club, she meets Billy Barker (Antonio Cupo) who is willing to hire her, but he finds out she is in school to be a surgeon . . . a slasher.  Tonight, he is short one, and tells her she can make five grand if she’ll help him attend to one of his guests.  With mounting school debt, and a professor, Dr. Grant (David Lovgren), who tolerates zero bullshit excuses, she seems trapped to say yes.  But, no, there is something hidden in Mary that she would never admit to her Nana (who serves as the only truly sympathetic character of the film).  Mary wants to see what’s beyond the normal.

From that moment on, her life is never the same.  And when wind of what she has done reaches the body modification community, she is again offered a job as a slasher.  Here is where the film really started freaking me out, as I had no experience with this whole world.  I had heard of a few people scarring themselves and getting extreme piercings and the like, but nothing to this degree.  When you first meet Beatress Johnson (Tristan Risk) and Ruby Realgirl (Paula Lindberg) it’s a bit jarring.  Beatress looks a little too much like a certain cartoon sex symbol from yesteryear, and Ruby wants to become as close to a real doll as possible.  Mary is a bit reluctant, at first, to even meet with them both.  Again, the money, and the thrill, prove too great to refuse.

Mary learns about the true nature of the dark, that it hides best in the light, as she is deceived by someone she used to respect.  The deception transforms Mary, psychologically, as much as her blade modifications changed her clients/patients.  After the darkness takes over her, and after the one thing keeping her grounded in reality is lost, Mary becomes a bloody visage of her former self.  There is no body mutilation she won’t perform, and she even keeps a little diary, of sorts, to sharpen her skills.

With an increasing crescendo of apathy, Mary becomes a perfect nightmare.  American Mary deserves a place in horror-iconography as a woman you most definitely should never cross.  The classical music sutures everything together nicely to give the film a sense of foreboding and dread.

I caught this one on Netflix, and I sure hope it is available for you to view for Halloween, because it really is worth a watch.  Some of the romantic tension was wasted on me, but I am not about to start slashing this film by Jen and Sylvia, who make a disturbing cameo.  I think their bite would leave a mark I couldn’t easily forget.  And, Mary makes Liz Salander look like Hello Kitty!

The Iceman

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

***

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (2 People gave this 3.50 out of 5)
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He cometh . . .

The Iceman

The H-Bomb: A few years back, a filmmaker friend of mine showed me an HBO documentary about Richard Kuklinski, who worked for nearly 20 years as a hit man for the mob. What made Kuklinski so unique, aside from his versatile methods of killing, and the way he disposed of his victims’ bodies, was that during his entire career as a contract killer, he had a family that had not the slightest idea what he did for a living. This whole set up would seem way too far-fetched if it wasn’t true… however, it was.

What I found most chilling about Kuklinski, who was interviewed in prison for the documentary, was how casual and dispassionate he was when recounting his crimes. He would tell a story about killing his victims in the same way that anyone would tell any old anecdote. He was a man with no conscious, no soul, and when he passed away in prison back in 2006, the world lost nothing of value. The impossible challenge facing co-writer/director Ariel Vromen in making this feature film version of Kuklinski’s life, is creating a character who is equally as frightening as the real man. Did he? No, however, he and his lead actor, the ever formidable Michael Shannon, come just about as close as anyone could have.

Starting in the mid-1960’s, The Iceman covers, in a rather straightforward manner, Kuklinski’s career as a professional killer. From how he goes from making and selling copies of porno movies, to being recruited by gangster Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta, playing the same kind of big mouthed hood he’s been playing since Goodfellas) as an assassin, after he witnesses a flash of Kuklinski’s violent side after one of his thugs tries to get rough with him. In his new role as a hit man, Kuklinski has found his true calling. He is efficient, he is ruthless, he is cold as ice.

Kuklinski is also successful at keeping his profession a secret from his nice wife, Deborah, and his two lovely daughters, who think that he works as a currency exchange broker. Living an ideal life in an ideal suburban home, they are blissfully ignorant when it comes to how daddy puts food on the table. Eventually, Kuklinski meets a fellow hit man, Mr. Freezy (Chris Evans), who conducts business out of an ice cream truck. Mr. Freezy teaches Richard some new and creative methods with which to take out his targets, such as cyanide, and a new way of disposing of bodies. A method that involves the ice cream truck, and that earns Richard Kuklinski his infamous moniker, The Iceman.

Our two killers fall into a cozy arrangement in which Freezy sets up the hits, and Kuklinski carries them out. Pretty simple. But what would happen if Kuklinski were to have a falling out with Roy the gangster, and Roy the gangster in turn made a threat towards his wife and children? Even worse, what if the cops discovered a partially frozen corpsical, thus catching on to the Iceman’s disposal methods? Kuklinski’s neatly ordered world may just start to fall apart around him…

As I stated earlier, Michael Shannon does as good a job bringing this unabashed sociopath to life as anyone could. In fact, he does better than good… much better. For most of his career, he’s played characters who fall outside of what we would consider normal, and here, he delivers a performance that could go down as one of the all time greats. He completely inhabits Richard Kuklinski and brings every facet of the man, from the kind family man, to the stone cold killer, so vividly, that he almost, not quite, but almost made me forget about the real Iceman. That calm yet intense stare that he would use on his unsuspecting prey, and his sudden switches between pure tranquility and violent rage were especially unnerving.

In case I haven’t made it clear, Shannon is nothing short of brilliant in the role, no question, and he’s surrounded by a first rate ensemble, including Ryder and his dutiful wife, who begins to suspect that her husband is not what he seems, and Evans, who is often funny in his solid supporting turn as a rather mellow assassin. Even James Franco makes a lasting impression in his few minutes in which he plays a sleazy pornographer who the Iceman is tasked with dispatching, as does David Schwimmer, who is surprisingly good as a low level mafia flunky.

If nothing else, The Iceman has a pitch perfect cast. Unfortunately, that cast is much better than the film itself, which is merely all right. Director Vromen captures the look of the 60’s and 70’s to a T, and really nails the seediness of the underworld from the era. He depicts the violence with a brutal, unflinching eye, and he keeps the film clipping along at a decent pace, considering the amount of ground he has to cover, but, at the end of the day, I simply was not as involved with the story as I knew I should have been. The whole thing is shot in a pseudo-documentary style, with a certain cold, dry sense of detachment, and it was that distance that kept me from being fully caught up in the characters and immersed with what was happening on screen. It’s difficult to put my finger on it, but there was just something missing… some sense of emotional involvement that would have made this good movie great.

But, what The Iceman does not lack is an exceptionally strong central performance. It really is a shame the overall film isn’t better, because Shannon absolutely kills it with a true award caliber showing, and it is his uber-disturbing performance that makes The Iceman a must see. Ever since World Trade Center back in 2006, Shannon has proven himself to be an actor worth paying attention to, and here, with this sick, true life character, he has delivered a performance that I can easily, with all the confidence in the world, say is his best.

On the Road

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

**½

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (1 People gave this 3.00 out of 5)
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And what a flat road it is.

On The Road

The H-Bomb: Jack Kerouac’s 1957 novel On the Road is a seminal literary work of the Beat generation, a post-WW II movement defined by youthful rebellion, artistic expression, sexual liberation, and drug use… lots and lots of drug use. A sort-of prelude to the hippie era, if you will, with jazz in the place of rock n’ roll. The semi-autobiographical book chronicles the adventures of Kerouac surrogate Sal Paradise (played in the film by Sam Riley) on his various journeys across and around the U.S., from New York, to Denver, to San Francisco, to New Orleans, down into Mexico, and wherever else the open road takes him. He travels on the fast and cheap by car, bus, and if all else fails, hitchhiking.

Sal’s companion for many of these journeys is one Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), a slick, easy going dude with an affinity for weed, liquor, and sex (with girls and guys). He’s a life of the party type who can charm the pants off of almost everyone he meets (an ability he exploits to no end), and who possesses a rather cavalier attitude towards life. This is made perfectly clear when we find out that Dean has left his wife, Camille (Kirsten Dunst) and their baby in San Francisco so he can go gallivanting around the U.S.A. with his girlfriend, Marylou (Kristen Stewart).

Sal and Dean come across a vast assortment of individuals throughout their travels, including a couple of close encounters with humorless traffic cops, as well as an extended visit with their heroin addicted, gun-toting mentor, William S. Burroughs stand-in Bull Lee (Viggo Mortensen). The two form a special kind of bond on the road, even though Sal is fully aware that Dean is, for the most part, bad news. But hey, if nothing else, Dean will provide a vast amount of material for that book Sal is thinking of writing, provided he ever makes it back to New York in one piece.

The film adaptation of On the Road is perhaps second only to John Carter (of Mars) in terms of how long it has loitered in development hell. Francis Ford Coppola has been attached to the project for at least a couple of decades, and remained on board as executive producer. The directing reigns were finally handed to Walter Salles, who after making the exceptional Motorcycle Diaries, seemed like the ideal man for the job. While I’m no aficionado on Beat literature, I did read the novel On the Road some years back, and while it’s been too long for me to do a step by step comparison, from what I do remember, the film does stick pretty close to the source material. Unfortunately, while Salles’ film is mostly faithful to the novel, something most definitely was lost in the translation.

Or, perhaps not. Because, while I quite liked the book, when I heard there was a film in the works, I remember having my doubts as to whether it would make a good film. Now that I’ve seen that film, I feel I can say that my doubts were indeed well-founded. There was a romanticism, a sense of discovery and adventure in Kerouac’s book, as well as a clear understanding of who Sal was and where he was coming from. None of that carries over into the film. Here, the characters basically bounce around from place to place, drinking, smoking, fucking, dancing to jazz music, and drunkenly sharing their poetic musings with each other. Intersperse that with the odd scene of them driving down some picturesque back road, and you have the movie. It gets repetitive as hell, with no discernible point to any of it.

Another aspect that hurts the film is the behavior of our two protagonists. While some hipsters may find how they act to be admirably free spirited and romantic, I do not. I find their behavior, particularly Dean’s, to be boorish, selfish, and downright hedonistic. While they claim that they’re rejecting the conventional values and materialism of old in pursuit of finding some “deeper meaning,” I say they’re full of it, that they only use that philosophy as an excuse to avoid any kind of societal responsibility, so they can just go off and do whatever the hell they want whenever they want.

Also, if this Dean is so damn charming and likable in the eyes of all the other people in the film, why is it the actor who plays him, Hedlund, is so completely devoid of any kind of charisma whatsoever? This may be more the fault of Jose Rivera’s screenplay, but the Dean I’m seeing is a shallow, manipulative asshole who is absolutely dull, to boot. As for Riley, who plays our narrator/tour guide to this boozy, hazy world, I found him rather bland and boring to watch, as well. Considering these are the two mainstays for this episodic, humdrum journey, some effort could have been made to make them a bit more engaging.

Oddly enough, it’s Bella Swan herself, Stewart, who breathes life into this picture with a sincere and spirited performance. The downside to that is, her doting girlfriend character is woefully underwritten, as we never understand why she’s so head-over-heels for that douche bag, Dean. Oh, and you may have heard, this is the film where Stewart frequently appears topless… take it from me, folks, you’re not missing a thing. Dunst, as Dean’s scorned wife, is also quite good, but like Stewart, she’s underused. Amy Adams’ appearance (as Bull Lee’s ill-fated wife) is so fleeting that she barely registers, and Mortensen, doing a pitch perfect Burroughs impersonation, is solid as Old Bull Lee, but like all the other good ones, the movie needed more of him.

While I’m on the subject of things that actually worked in the film, I should note that the cinematography by Eric Gautier is quite splendid, and worth seeing in high definition, and that the period detail, from what I could tell, was spot on. So, kudos to the production designer and the camera guy, they did their jobs well. Everyone else kind of fell short. It’s not that I think On the Road is a bad film, it just leaves a lot to be desired… like a compelling dramatic arc, or even a point. As far as self-discovery road movies go, I’d say that Sean Penn’s Into the Wild, as well as Salles’ The Motorcycle Diaries, are both far superior films, and more worthy of your time. When On the Road finally got to the overdue end credits, I was left with one thought… not every book is meant to be a film. Some stories only work on the page.