Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Men at Work Review

For whatever reason when someone suggested I watch the Iranian film Men at Work, I assumed it would be a serious, brooding drama. 

This is the beauty of not doing your homework before taking the test: you end up being delightfully surprised by a satirical allegorical comedy. Even though I was prepared for the opposite, subtle and clever humor tasted pretty delicious instead.

Four old friends are driving back from a skiing trip when they randomly come across a bizarre, impossibly positioned rock at the edge of a cliff. They try to push it off for no other reason but for their own entertainment and yet it will not budge no matter what. It must be connected to something, they assume, and yet after further research that isn't the case. 

These men can't give it up. They can't move on. Finding a way to move it becomes an obsession.

The rock sure is phallic looking and watching these four men furiously try to push it around is a lot more fascinating than it sounds like on paper, as I can imagine telling people to watch a movie about dudes trying to push a rock over doesn't scream with entertainment appeal. I was reminded of the recent Oscar nominated feature Wild Tales, more specifically of just one of the segments of that work involving two men in a road rage encounter, an example of the absurdity of male testosterone leading to reckless and irrational decision making. Men at Work is absolutely similar thematically, as I kept thinking, just move on with your lives. Just drive home and forget about this rock, yet the men absolutely could not. How idiotic is it to have to prove your physical strength in order to be considered a man?

A gigantic rock penis ascends from seemingly nowhere and these four men are intimidated by it. They must find a way to knock it down, even when it wastes all of their time and risks their safety to do so. 

Overall I still felt Men at Work was a bit light in material, even for a mere 75 minutes, as it felt like a concept that would have been brilliant for a short 30 to 45 minutes rather than at feature length, but I was still amused by the extremely clever yet simplistic concept and I admire a film from a culture that isn't used to portraying their characters in this way breaking through the typical stereotypes.


Monday, September 28, 2015

Phantom of the Paradise Review

There is a scene in the film Phantom of the Paradise in which a crowd of people all are chanting "BEEF! BEEF! BEEF!". At this point I had already realized I was going to enjoy the hell out of this film, but in that moment I fell in love.

A buddy of mine asked me to watch and review this one and he provided me a Blu-ray copy in order to do so. I literally read nothing prior to pressing the play and the only indication I had of the strangeness that was to ensue came from the colorful and odd cover of the case. Never expected what I saw, and I mean that in a terrific sort of way.

You have to understand, I only recently experienced Scarface for the first time so I am still bathing in the glow of Brian De Palma and his brilliant camera work, which is again on display here, but tonally Phantom of the Paradise took me in a strange, unsettling yet joyous direction that I never could have anticipated. It's weird, it's ridiculous, it's a rock opera horror comedic drama that tickled me in every way I am eager to be touched. Cinematic speaking, of course.

Winslow Leach (William Finley) is a composer and singer who has his music stolen by the mysterious producer Swan (Paul Williams), and when Leach arrives at Swan's record label to find out what happened he is abruptly and oh so rudely thrown out. He attempts to sneak in and he sees a group of women performing his music, one of which is the beautiful and talented Phoenix (Jessica Harper). Winslow knows she is perfect for it. Anyone listening would hear it too. Their connection is more than that though, it's deeper than just her voice and his melody, but before anything can truly develop again Swan has him removed and beat up and framed for a drug crime.

I don't want to spell out every detail of this wacky and wonderful piece of cinema, but Winslow winds up getting a life sentence and he is sent to Sing Sing prison where they pull out all his teeth, some crazy shit happens and he ends up being disfigured and out for revenge. He also is literally walled in by bricks and concrete at one point. 

It's completely absurd and yet here I am, embracing the absurdity. It's something that must be done with surreal and strange cinema and Phantom of the Paradise fits into that category. De Palma has a vision and he brings it to life beautifully, 

Watch this film and don't complain about it being "weird". Embrace the absurdity. Let the Phantom into your heart.


Friday, September 25, 2015

Project Almanac Review

Why do they film everything?

Perhaps at the ripe old age of 31 I just don't understand. Perhaps the current crop of high school students actually film every damn moment throughout the day as if something important or meaningful will be worthy of documentation. If this is the case, if by some chance Project Almanac is a realistic representation of what it is like to be an adolescent in 2015, then I have some advice for you young folk out there: put the fucking camera down and live your life. Why? Because it's really annoying and ridiculous even in the realm of fictional cinema. I can't even imagine someone not putting the damn camera down in reality.

This isn't an awful film, but it's impossible to like because of the found footage aspect. Project Almanac has some interesting ideas and a few decent performances, but the entire way it is presented, with this frustrating, jittery and completely phony camera work that ironically tries to portray these events as "real" because of the illusion it is being filmed by one of them, this is a movie that never had a chance. I did my best to push aside the fact that I totally hated the every stylistic decision by filmmaker Dean Israelite, and the occasional scene is mildly entertaining and compelling, but as a whole I couldn't ignore the festering turd that is found footage haunting every frame.

It seems unfair to declare the entire sub-genre dead, because every time I wrote it off in the past a surprising movie seems to pop up that makes me rethink my stance. The Blair Witch Project is still a go to must watch every October for me, a film that was ground breaking upon its release and scared the living shit out of me the first time I witnessed it. The original Paranormal Activity didn't wow me the way it did so many others but it was a pretty decent picture, certainly good enough. Chronicle was one I judged too early based on the trailer, I assumed the worst and ended up really enjoying it. 

Project Almanac suffers from everything I loathe about the ones that don't work, that feeling that everything I am seeing is total horseshit from start to finish. Why do they film everything? Why? I mean, I get why someone would film major events like testing a time machine for the first time, but every lunch? Every banal conversation? Every class? 

Put the damn camera down, and no, I don't just mean the teenagers depicted in the movie. That goes for all the directors who think movies like this are still a good idea.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Station Agent Review

A lot of people are lonely, but that doesn't mean they have to be alone.

I can't quite put my finger on it. The Station Agent feels like a film that shouldn't work. It feels like the type of story that will end up being saccharine, a narrative pandering for a forced emotional response. It tells the story of a man named Fin afflicted with dwarfism (Peter Dinklage) with a passion for railroads who loses his only friend in the world. In the will he is left a property in rural New Jersey and on the land is an abandoned train station.

He leaves his world behind in order to occupy this land and live in this station, hoping for solitude. Hoping for peace and quiet, away from the mean spirited comments and looks regarding his appearance. Hoping to be left alone.

Soon after he arrives, he encounters a man named Joe (Bobby Cannavale) and a woman named Olivia (Patricia Clarkson). One clearly wants to befriend him, much to the chagrin of Fin. One very nearly literally runs him over twice while driving in the road. Not exactly what he had hoped for when he inherited a place seemingly perfect for the lonely who only mean to stay that way. 

What follows is a story of three people who really need someone to talk to and count on and they find it in each other. They all have their troubles, their pain, their stories, and the screenplay written by Thomas McCarthy (in his filmmaking debut) is absolutely top notch in its ability to be kind and gentle and honest and so damn real with the characters, who feel like actual people. 

McCarthy, who has redeemed himself for The Cobbler which, inexplicable, was the first of his work I had seen and I now forgive him, does nothing flashy with the craft of The Station Agent. He doesn't have to. This is a film with a pulse and its heart was beating through me the entire time as I cared deeply for the plight of these people and their simple but profound connection. 

When I said earlier that I couldn't quite put my finger on it, what I meant is how the hell McCarthy took what sounds like pure sap on paper and made me melt with its authenticity instead of roll my eyes. Not all credit should go to him though, because while his words came across like pure magic, they had to be delivered by talented people in order to completely sell it. Dinklage just naturally exudes an honesty to his pain and vulnerability, and even when he was keeping his poise and demeanor level when faced with mean spirited comments, you could see a hint of sadness behind his eyes. Cannavale is spot on for the role of an annoying neighbor but only because he could really use a friend, someone to walk with, someone to talk with. A part of me watching wanted to close the door on him just like Fin did early in the film, but the rest wanted to open it wider and let him in. Clarkson, who is always great, plays Olivia in a way that is very similar to Fin in that when she lets people in, it's begrudgingly rather than with enthusiasm. When they eat together she verbally declares that it's okay for them to enjoy the food without speaking, but it doesn't come across as rude. They seem like people who have little to say but are genuinely happy to have someone to sit next to.

A lot of people are lonely, but that doesn't mean they have to be alone. I was left with this thought after watching The Station Agent. Too often the concept of loneliness is tied directly to a lack of romance in life, and those that are afraid of rejection would rather hide in the shadows than open themselves up to be hurt. This is a picture that doesn't force in a perfectly happy everyone finds their soulmate and lives happily ever after type of ending. That's not what it is about. The Station Agent is about those people who try to leave the world behind them, but an open door or even a meal without talking can bust down their walls.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Conversation Review

It's fascinating how little I hear about The Conversation. I would imagine it being released during the very same year as The Godfather Part II is at least somewhat responsible for this lack of deserved attention. The two films aren't similar, with The Godfather Part II being a grand, sweeping epic and The Conversation being a much smaller in scope film about a man hired to run surveillance on two people. The amazing thing that both of these pictures have in common is that they are both directed by Francis Ford Coppola. 

Released in the same damn year. 1974. That's ridiculous, especially when you consider one of them is considered to be one of the finest films of all time, and the other is pretty damn great itself.

Oh, and The Godfather and Apocalypse Now were also both released during the 70's. A pretty iconic decade from Coppola.

Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) is a man who is paranoid of the very thing he does for a living. He lives in fear of his privacy being violated, his personal space being visited. Is it a direct fear of simply someone listening in, or is it a reflection of the guilt he feels for the work he does and what has happened as a result of it? He locks his doors and he won't take any calls. Harry puts walls up around his life, only living through the tape recorders and the sounds that flow through them.

Everything changes, the fear deepens and an obsession flourishes when they capture evidence of a potential murder on the recordings, and thus a dramatic picture littered with ethical questions and deep rooted paranoia also becomes a wonderfully tense thriller, It's remarkable how relevant The Conversation remains today as even 40 plus years later our world is filled with discussion on the morality of eavesdropping and the dangers of our security being a little too secure. Upon its release it was dripping with the suspicious residue of Watergate. Today it will bring about the name Edward Snowden and the fear that when we send a private email, the intended recipient may not be the only person reading it.

While obviously immense credit goes out to Coppola and the entire crew for making The Conversation such a wonderfully crafted film, the most memorable aspect I am left with when looking back at it is the outstanding performance from Hackman. The way his character felt resonated through the screen throughout, as every aspect down to the slightest mannerisms portrayed an honesty and authenticity that was needed to make the material sink its teeth into the audience.

I think I am going to go have a conversation about The Conversation. More people need to see this terrific film.


Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Last House on the Left Review

"We don't wanna off someone first night out. I mean, it'd be a shame to get this floor all messed up with blood."

Even in this desensitized cinematic world we live in today, a world where franchises like the Saw or Hostel films are financially successful and widely appreciated by audiences, The Last House on the Left is shocking and totally fucking brutal. Frankly, it's hard to watch at times and the content is not for the faint of heart, which to be honest is kinda the group I belong in. I don't watch the Saw films beyond the original, and even that one doesn't exactly resonate with me in a way that makes me want to relive it. I have not and will not visit a Hostel, you can hang a big sign on those movies that simply reads "Not Interested" on my behalf. 

I like to enjoy watching a film, not dread every passing minute and lose my appetite over senseless, horrifying violence. It seemed I was destined to loathe rather than love my journey to The Last House on the Left.

I kinda did loathe it. I kinda loved it too though.

Totally fucking brutal, but that is basically the point of this work by the late great Wes Craven. Released in 1972, Wes was known for being a bit of an anti-war activist at a time when combat was the front and center story in the news every single day. As Vietnam raged on, Craven came up with a concept that would shock and repulse an audience with ease and I have to wonder if anyone watching at the time laid awake that night with the realization that rape and murder weren't to be tolerated regardless of the setting or their political allegiances. Perhaps witnessing such atrocities first hand was more damaging than beneficial for the progress of humanity, and those people fighting would never be the same again. Perhaps no one actually "wins" a war.

Where The Last House on the Left loses me a bit is with the strangely imbalanced tone of the entire experience, as one minute we are watching the follies of a couple of idiotic police officers with absurdly silly music playing, and the next we are witnessing innocent people be horrifically attacked by evil personified in the form of deranged human beings. It's hard to gauge whether I should be laughing at characters that feel lifted from Smokey and the Bandit or be terrified and nauseous due to senseless violence.

I probably will never watch The Last House on the Left again, but I don't think it is a grotesque perversion that deserves to be ignored either. I believe Craven had a point and he made it, albeit via some pretty poor performances and a painfully cheap aesthetic that feels extraordinarily dated. It does look and feel dirty though, which is appropriate and at least in terms of setting the right mood, an audio and visual upgrade would actually detract from the experience rather than enhance it. 

I kinda loathed it. I kinda loved it. I don't really know where I stand. All I really know is, I will remember my one trip to The Last House on the Left for more right reasons than wrong. 


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Queen of Earth Review

On paper it doesn't sound very exciting, does it? A film about two women visiting a lake house, a means to get away from it all. Two best friends escaping the world only to realize what they really need to escape is each other. The destruction of a deeply personal and formerly meaningful relationship before our eyes. Sounds exhausting.

Yet somehow, through all the anguish and the tears and the hatred, I wasn't exhausted at all by the time Queen of Earth came to an end. It's a picture that is small in scope yet enormous and heavy thanks to the emotionally charged, outstanding performances from Katherine Waterston and especially Elisabeth Moss. I couldn't take my eyes off of them even as the dialogue became harder and harder to listen to. When the psychological nightmares were playing out in the frame, I was still marveling in the glow of actors working at the top of their game. 

While I am floored by Elisabeth Moss and her difficult-yet-delightful to watch turn here, raving about her isn't meant to discredit the outstanding work by the film's director, Alex Ross Perry. It isn't a sign of a lack of talent that he created cinema that thrives due to its performances, quite the opposite actually. It's a sign that a man had a vision for the kind of film he wanted to make and he knew exactly how to execute it, filming and framing these damaged characters with such confidence and finesse that it allowed them to shine even brighter. 

Queen of Earth is so masterfully done from start to finish, I actually watched it over a week ago and yet just having the opportunity to put a few words down is allowing me to relive the tension and the palpable uneasiness that lingers over scene after scene after scene. 

Just two women in a lake house, a means to get away from it all.

Sounds exhausting. Perhaps it is, but that doesn't mean you won't be glad you saw it.


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Don't Look Now Review

Nothing connects me more to the emotional core of a film than a child. Nothing. As far back as I can remember I have been a man who has no qualms expressing my empathy and compassion for humanity, both those suffering in reality and the characters born of fiction. I was and continue to be easily moved by the plight of people, but ever since my daughter was born eight years ago I find myself more and more shaken by the combination of tragedy and youth. 

My stomach hurts. I feel nauseous. The tears well up in my eyes. Even knowing full well that what I am witnessing on the screen in front of me is merely actors acting, I find myself thinking of all the terrible things that happen to children all across this world and there are no cameras there filming. No director yells cut.

These feelings, they linger for days, sometimes weeks. Honestly, I still haven't been able to shed the weight of the cinematic experience that is Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity, but with that film I don't want it to go away. I was so moved and inspired by the metaphorical journey of a woman attempting to transcend and move past horrific grief that the stomach pain, the nausea, and the tears are all welcome and feel soothing, healthy and important. 

Not all pain is equal. My stomach hurts. I feel nauseous. The tears welled up in my eyes, but I want this feeling to go away. I want to stop picturing the look in his eyes when he realizes all hope is lost, when he realizes that her lifelessness isn't temporary but rather permanent. I want to stop seeing the vibrancy of the color red and thinking of the coldness of death rather than the fiery warmth of life. 

I don't want it anymore, but the power of outstanding cinema is that even when it doesn't feel soothing or healthy, it still can feel important if only because of the admiration of the craft. I don't want to think about the dangers of the world around me and the fragility of life while looking at the beautiful girl who is both my best friend and the love of my life. I want to believe in happiness and normalcy and that each day will merely seamlessly blend into the next and the one after that without any chance of it ending.

I can't though because I can't stop picturing the look in his eyes, and this is all just from the first few minutes of the film Don't Look Now by Nicolas Roeg. 

Despite the fact that the vast majority of the picture went beyond the opening tragic sequence, when my absolute biggest fear plays out on celluloid it's not easy to analyze what follows. I tried my best though because the work of Roeg deserves that much, and the man films and frames this movie with a brilliant touch. Making an entire movie work isn't a one man show, and everything on display here from the stirring, jarring performances to the unnerving score to the photography that produced such chilling imagery, it's all so damn great. 

What I found fascinating about the first half or so of the picture is the way grief is portrayed through different people both suffering and trying to cope but in vastly different ways. John (Donald Sutherland) is taking part in the restoration of a church and perhaps being surrounded by the religious symbols or maybe just the comfort many find inside those walls helps him deal with the horrific loss. Laura (Julie Christie) relies on a level of numbness and calm that can only be achieved through medicinal options to maintain an emotional balance and sanity until one day she encounters two older sisters, one of which claims to have the ability to communicate with the dead and has seen their deceased daughter. 

Laura has not been this happy and content in a long, long time because she wants to believe in the unbelievable because it provides comfort and hope and it opens a realm of possibilities that makes the concept of mortality something that should not be feared. Her little girl was gone but never forgotten. Perhaps she is not even actually gone?

John doesn't buy it. He perceives their spiritual communication as nonsense and he isn't willing to open his mind and find peace the way Laura has found it. He is a pessimist but also a realist, and his acceptance of logical truths helps him move forward rather than look back and experience that awful day all over again. 

What feels like a story of a marriage trying to survive a tragedy, the type of loss that can often times split up two people who previously felt a deep and profound love for each other, ends up becoming a very eerie, supernatural tale that finds new ways to haunt and fascinate beyond those opening minutes. Those damn opening minutes. 

Don't Look Now is a powerful, strange and frankly upsetting piece of cinema that allows me to officially declare myself a fan of Nicolas Roeg. I previously has only seen his film Walkabout and goodness it is terrific, but one special experience hardly cements a fan of a man behind the lens. Throw in a second, equally as confident and powerful work and I can safely say that Roeg had a special eye for top notch filmmaking. 

I want to forget that look in his eyes yet I don't. I want him to save her before the water fills her lungs but he won't. 

I just want such moments to only live through a fictional narrative. When I look at my daughter I see the beauty in this world and much like Laura, I believe in miracles. When his eyes and the devastation in them come flooding back to me, it hurts. It really hurts.

Don't Look Now hurts, but it's impressive and important. I suppose I am okay with the pain.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Bran Nue Dae Review

I never thought I would enjoy musicals. I always found the concept of characters singing and dancing rather than just speaking dialogue to be rather awkward and it removed me from the experience rather than letting me truly invest in the story and buy in to its authenticity. 

Then I saw Singin' in the Rain. It's one of the greatest films I have ever witnessed.

So perhaps this musical thing is for me after all. Maybe, just maybe, the door to my cinematic heart had been closed off unfairly to the genre for all these years and it would burst open to all sorts of new and different joyous experiences.

That is still a possibility. I am still open to the idea that my cold anti-musical heart will be warmed by more than just Singin' in the Rain. The Australian picture Bran Nue Dae is not the one to do it though.

It isn't a bad film nor is it one I hated, but I was reminded of the old days of musical negativity during the entire movie. I just didn't care, I didn't buy it. I was turned off by the songs and the dancing and the general vibe of the experience, but I kept a level headed and found ways to appreciate the bright spots shining through my dark, gritty drama loving soul.

It's a well made film with plenty of charm, and kudos to the extremely talented Geoffrey Rush for finding a way to entertain in the midst of all the various sequences that just didn't click for me. Here is my best way to sum up the problem I had with Bran Nue Dae: throughout the whole movie, I kept thinking about how I should watch Singin' in the Rain again soon. Not enough of what was happening on the screen in front of me held my interest. 

I will keep trying though. I won't give up. There must be musicals out there that will put a smile on my face and make me want to jump to my feet and dance. 


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Sunset Boulevard Review

I live a pretty normal, quiet life. I'm not complaining nor am I envious of the limelight: in fact, I am just the type to avoid it. I love my normalcy. I love the quiet. I am the guy in the back of the theater with all eyes pointed up front. 

I don't fear losing a step or a bit of my luster. I don't dread fading away. I never asked to shine in the first place.

For some, though, the spotlight is everything. They thrive when they sparkle surrounded by a world that can be so dark and dull. They don't want to stay grounded. They want to fly as close to the sun as possible without burning up.

Sometimes I wonder what that must be like, to fly too close. To stand in front of an audience only to end up in the back of the room. To get high off the lights and the looks and the noise only to eventually be cut off and feel so low. Sitting in silence, just wanting to feel it all again.

Norma Desmond loved it. She lived for the glow of the light shining upon her as the whole world watched. All of that is over now though. The past. Now she just wanders around her mansion, living in exile. Watching her own films and dreaming of those days. Dreaming of a return to glory.

Sunset Boulevard is a film about Norma Desmond, played with a brilliant intensity by Gloria Swanson. She had a perfect grasp on just how theatrical and desperate and delusional the character should be. It's also a film about Joe Gillis (William Holden), a writer who is much younger than Norma yet he not only finds himself wrapped up in her world, he literally feels trapped inside it. Joe was a man in need of work and Norma had exactly that to offer, the chance to fix a screenplay she had written that isn't exactly up to par. 

We already know things don't turn out well for Joe. We spend the entire film waiting for tragedy, but that knowledge doesn't ruin the journey to get there at all. It doesn't haunt over every scene. It's too easy to get distracted by the show that is Norma Desmond, to be mesmerized by a performance from Swanson that comes ever so close to tipping over the edge of silly, more of a parody of such a fallen Hollywood star but she never does. Just when I thought about laughing at her theatrics I was brought right back down to earth by a look, a movement or the way she delivered the dialogue. While inside her mansion she is searching for the spotlight, the irony is that she absolutely owns it as a character in Sunset Boulevard. I couldn't take my eyes off of her. 

Every since I first started to learn about and explore cinema, I have had an immense appreciation for noir at it's finest. Sunset Boulevard is a perfect example of this, with the legendary filmmaker Billy Wilder delivering a picture that has not only stayed relevant during the 65 years since its release, it essentially is the exact opposite of the character Norma Desmond. Sunset Boulevard initially soared, with critics falling in love early and often and 11 Oscar nominations to recognize the greatness of the film. It never crashed back down though, as it still today is considered one of the finest achievements in the history of the medium.

I don't know where it ranks for me personally, but it is a movie that feels flawless. I watched it over a week ago but I took my time writing this review because I wanted the experience to soak in to see how it would resonate. I can't stop thinking about Sunset Boulevard. It is a masterpiece.

I never wanted to fly high enough to feel the burn of the inevitable fall from grace. I never wanted the stage of the spotlight. I will gladly watch and study characters like Norma Desmond instead.


Sunday, September 6, 2015

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders Review

Feel like watching something low key this evening? Searching for a bit of cinematic normalcy, the type of storytelling that will keep your head level and allow you to shut your mind off and simply enjoy the ride?

If you answered yes to either of those questions, I do not recommend the Czech New Wave picture Valerie and Her Week of Wonders. I don't recommend it to you at all.

If you are a fan of a fever dream, a weird and wild fantastical story about the sexual awakening of a young lady as she embarks on her journey into womanhood, then go find a copy of this bizarrely beautiful film as soon as possible and give it a spin. 

I would be lying if I claimed to comprehend the vast amount of symbolism on display here, but the fairy tale feeling and strange tone of Valerie and Her Week of Wonders kept me invested and fascinated throughout, even through some of the duller periods that tarnished but didn't derail the experience. 

Valerie is young and beautiful and beginning her transition from the innocence and simplicity of being a child to the confusing yet exciting changes one experiences when they become a teenager, so toss in a pair of magic earrings and, well, who the fuck knows? It's surreal and terrifying, yet somehow also strangely optimistic even through all the evil imagery and unsettling moments, and there are quite a few.

Looking for vampires and other mythical creatures? In the mood for some lust, including a dash of incest?

If you answered yes to either of those questions, I recommend the Czech New Wave picture Valerie and Her Week of Wonders. I can't recommend it fast enough.

Don't feel guilty if you are intrigued. You should be. It isn't a perfect film but it is one that utterly fascinates and entertains and at an extremely slim 73 minutes, I am left scratching my head with this movie and yet knowing I witnessed something completely unique and pretty damn great.


Friday, September 4, 2015

All Superheroes Must Die Review

The credits roll, and I turn the television off. So many thoughts dancing through my head, and all of them are negative.

Take a second and think about the experience. Really think about it.

So many thoughts dancing through my head, and most of them are negative. 

Wait a little bit longer. Don't start writing a review yet. It would just end up being an off-putting, angry rant about everything the film did wrong. The type of write-up that I would end up regretting a bit later because I failed to give at least a bit of credit where credit was due.

So many thoughts. Still mostly negative. 

Fuck it, let's write.

So here is the thing with the film All Superheroes Must Die. It's clearly made on a very small budget and to be fair, it tried so hard to be interesting. Essentially it's the result of putting Watchmen, Saw and Kick-Ass in a blender, except you would have to extract all of the talent that was involved in the production of those films in order to truly get the flavor right. 

James Remar is cool and he did his best, but his best almost felt like a flaw here. It's like watching an impressive enough magic show directly next to a school bus on fire. Sure you figured out my card, it was the six of diamonds, but I am a bit distracted by the window I need to break in order to save that kid. Why do the magic show here and now? Why not save it for a set of circumstances more fitting for the admiration of slight of hand and the wonder of possibilities? 

The performances of these other actors in the film, my goodness. One time I made a short little movie with my friends on a camcorder when I was in middle school, and there was a scene in which I was supposed to dive behind a counter. I did it, a beautiful epic flight through the air, soaring like the majestic creature that I am. The problem was when I landed and a bunch of folded up chairs leaning against the wall fell on top of my head. That's sort of what the non-James Remar performances in All Superheroes Must Die are like: they are giving it their all and for a split second it seems like they can fly, but then the chairs fall on their heads. 

The dialogue is terrible but the delivery of it is worse, and the real problem with this is the fact that these are the characters that are supposed to be superheroes. It's really hard to take someone seriously as being both "super" and a "hero" when they have the screen presence of an old pair of shoes. I never bought these people as anything more than dipshits in silly costumes, because in order for me to give a flipping poop about the fate of the main characters, I can't be put in a situation where I roll my eyes every time they open their mouths and speak. 

All Superheroes Must Die isn't an awful train wreck picture because it tries really hard to be something cool while working with such limited resources. It's a rad idea gone wrong, but at least it's a rad idea. The last act has some really cool music and it is filmed with some confidence that I admired.

Those damn chairs though. They just kept falling on their heads.


Thursday, September 3, 2015

Army of Darkness Review

"Yo, she-bitch. Let's go."

Ash has come a long, long way since his terrifying nights stuck in that cabin in the middle of nowhere. He is a man struggling with the plight of the mundane, a battle with an uneventful existence of normalcy. He is a discount-store employee, which kinda sucks, but at least he isn't being hunted and attacked by the dead anymore. Those days are a thing of the past...


What happened? Ash is suddenly warped though time to a medieval setting. The year is 1300 A.D..

At least he has his boomstick. 

The Sam Raimi horror trilogy started as just that, horror, and it was pretty darn great. The Evil Dead. Next was an outstanding satirical blend of the horrors of horror with the hearty laughs of comedy. So damn good. Evil Dead II. 

Now Ash must take on an army. Army of Darkness. What an imaginative and friggin' fun way to close out a pretty terrific set of films. Bruce Campbell elevated his game to new, charismatic levels with his absurdly on point performance in Evil Dead II and his ability to steal not only scenes but every damn frame he is in continues here, with his comedic timing and delivery of dialogue reaching new heights. He was limited to essentially a single set piece during both of the previous films, which made it all the more impressive when he was able to bring such life and energy to the pictures. Army of Darkness gives him a whole lot of room to showcase his talent and he takes advantage of the opportunity, even if it is over the course of only a slim 80 minutes. 

I have been asked by multiple people recently which of the trilogy is my favorite, and after revisiting it is a really tough decision. I find the original to be a great film yet it would probably be at the bottom, basically because it didn't allow Campbell to show his amazing potential to entertain, but even so I probably wouldn't change a thing about that movie because I think the contrasting tones of all three are a blessing to the whole experience rather than a curse. 

Army of Darkness is such a blast and a deliciously fast paced treat to enjoy on a night with a craving for comedy but not a lot of time to kill, but I feel comfortable stating that Evil Dead II is the crowning achievement of the three. Such a frenetic, fantastic piece of cinema, especially considering how limited the experience seems like it should be yet somehow isn't. Every single time Evil Dead II felt like it should go downhill, it somehow managed to keep going up.

Regardless, you can't go wrong with any of these Raimi - Campbell collaborations. If you like your cinematic dish a little lighter on the gore and the horror and heavier on the laughs, Army of Darkness is just what you are looking for.


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Evil Dead II Review

The original Evil Dead took me deep into the woods again, back to the cottage tucked into a corner of nowhere. A place where the silence was both soothing and unnerving, where the rustling of the leave outside was both beautiful and ominous. The original kept me up at night as a kid.

Evil Dead II lacks that feeling of dread, that nostalgia of the woods, the memory of silence, the sound of leaves. The sequel doesn't really take me anywhere.

So a disappointing second installment, right? Wrong. Despite those missing components, Evil Dead II is actually the superior film. 


Filmed with a confident intensity and a wonderful sense of humor, Ash is back and Bruce Campbell is better in every possible way this time around, as he fully embraced the ridiculousness of it all which is why this film works so damn well. Sam Raimi took what was originally straight horror and elevates it by realizing the potential of the material as satire, and it really is a joy to watch, an entertaining blast of cinema from start to finish. 

The film kicks off with a pulse of energy that was missing the first time around and it doesn't feel sustainable, yet somehow Evil Dead II gets better and more and more over-the-top as it goes along. Paced perfectly and with such a short running time of around 80 minutes, I would never dream of checking the clock during this film wondering when it will end. I am always left wanting more no matter how many times I see it. 

So cartoonishly gory, so hilariously evil, so much fun. Does Evil Dead II fill me with the dread of nostalgic trips to a small log cabin in the woods? No, it doesn't. I'm not laying awake at night fearing the sounds of silence after screening the sequel. Instead, I fall asleep with a smile on my face and visions of Ash dancing through my head. 

"I'll swallow your soul! I'll swallow your soul! I'll swallow your soul!"

"Swallow this."

Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell have never been better. A delicious devilish delight of a picture.