Horror doubleheader

THE WOMAN

Here’s a film that will make you appreciate your family. A rural psychotic husband/father takes in a feral woman from the woods and tries to civilize her. In the process he alienates his wife and daughter, but forms a strange bond with his son.

I would have given the film higher marks if it didn’t go into self-destruct mode in the last twenty minutes. The film is quiet and restrained for the majority of its running time before it goes completely crazy. Usually I like crazy in my films, especially when they test my patience the way this did. It’s got a two hour running time and honestly this would have been a much more effective short film had the director condensed its best elements. The stuff at the end just nullifies everything that preceded it. It makes watching this movie feel like a waste of time.

But hey – it happens. Sometimes when you make movies about abducted feral women you have to fly off the handle a little. Spoilers the rest of the way.

I was buying the idea of this crazy father trying to “civilize” the woman – until the discovery that he’s also got a feral daughter in his barn. That is what plummets the whole movie into irrelevancy. Because the whole family is involved with that one – not just the father. And we know so little of the backstory to it, that it’s pointless having it in there. You might as well keep a giant monster in your barn. It will have identical implications for your story. All that says to me is, this whole family is sick and they have bigger issues than just a sociopath for a father.

For awhile you think that’s where the story is headed. How will they deal with this crazy father figure ruling the roost? But if everyone is to blame for keeping a family member in the barn, then which member of this family can we identify  with? They have a little 5-7 year old girl who’s just about as innocent as they get, so there is some hope for the future of this family. But it’s not looking good.

On top of it all, it’s just not fun watching abusive families in movies. Especially when the outcome is so uncertain, as it is here. The son is in alliance with the father. He’s as sick as his old man. The older daughter is as spineless as her mother. It’s all so sad and hopeless. I was surprised by the tone of this film – I anticipated something more entertaining. It just became a big downer of a movie.

TUCKER AND DALE VS EVIL

A good antidote to the sad tone of The Woman are the two best characters in horror to come around in a long time: Tucker and Dale!

This movie meshes funny characters with a great concept to create a gory and wildly entertaining time in the woods. I feel like this is the movie that’s been missing from the horror genre. Even though it is a comedy with horror movie conventions, even down to a climactic third act chase. This is a real clever spin on the genre, where the “killers” are actually just bumbling hillbillies who are mistaken to be more dangerous than they are. Brilliant concept! This is funnier than Scary Movie, more intelligent with its gags, and bloodier too. So why isn’t this a major release?

It’s not a perfect movie by any means. But this is the first feature from Eli Craig. It’s still competently made, the comedic timing is perfect, and the casting was excellent. So I am pretty confused why it didn’t get more love in theaters. I suppose like with many movies it will find its audience on video and on demand. I have no doubts about that. This is just too good to pass up. See it immediately.

Better left buried

HATCHET

The tagline for this horror film by Adam Green is, “Old School American Horror”. So there are tits all over the place, tons of gory scenes, and cameos by Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees and the Candyman.

I guess this is like what Pepsi is doing now with their Pepsi Throwback sodas, using real sugar instead of that “unhealthy” corn syrup. Instead of CGI effects, Adam Green wanted to go back to the practical days of horror, using makeup and prosthesis to tear off people’s limbs. Overall it’s a pretty decent look. Most of the film is shot at night, in the woods, and that deters from some of the fun – but there’s a reason the old school horror works better than the new school horror. As consumers, we want real stuff. Not the artificial crap.

But even if you say your movie is “old school”, that’s not entirely possible. You aren’t really old school unless you’re completely sincere with your audience. If you’re winking at them, you can’t be that old school. It’s the problem horror films have today – specifically slashers. The audience is several steps ahead already, so winking at them constantly alleviates some of the crushing burden you have as a filmmaker to deliver the goods.

“Hatchet” is not the most creative, or original slasher film. But it tries to have fun, almost to a point where it’s vigourous about it. Saying this was boring could be the worst criticism against the film. The dialogue is what keeps it going. The cast they put together – the band of “survivors” that get knocked off  – is mildly entertaining to watch. None of it is scary, or suspenseful. That is the major issue with the film, since it’s hard to call something a horror film when it’s just trying to make you laugh. Every time Victor Crowley shows up, it’s like watching an oversized kid terrorize a bunch of grown ups. I appreciated the backstory to his character, where we get the flashback to his crappy childhood, and eventually, the cause of his “death”. But things like Victor never really die. They live on as legends, like Jason, Freddy, and the Candyman.

It’s what’s so interesting about slasher movies. They start with a legend. A campfire tale. Something is buried. Or sitting at the bottom of a lake. And then it comes to life, so the legend can live on.

“Hatchet” doesn’t re-invigorate the genre. But it is a successful franchise in its own right. It spawned a sequel and a third one is coming. Viewed together as a trilogy it is one big tip of the hat to the slashers we grew up on. But it feels more like a fan of those movies made his movie to commemorate those movies. Will Adam Green make 7 more sequels, just to pay homage to the fact those movies spawned that many too? It’s the only reason I could see him making more sequels.

What laziness and greed looks like

LITTLE FOCKERS


My dad told me a story over the holidays about his first job in New York, after he moved there from Poland. He couldn’t speak English, but his apartment manager hired him to do some maintenance work, which included sweeping the sidewalk outside.

Dad was proud of his work. My mother loved him before they moved to New York, but I think I know what she saw in him. He would sweep the sidewalk and be proud of the fact it was the best looking sidewalk on the street.

I could imagine it: It’s the early 80’s. The lower east side, New York City. Dad sweeps the sidewalk, clearing the detritus out. Getting rid of all those cigarette butts, broken beer bottles, and used syringes. A guy gets shot down on his sidewalk, he cleans up the dried blood the next day. A guy crashes his station wagon into the nearest light pole. Dad sweeps up the glass and metal pieces.

It is the story of an immigrant who is proud of his work, no matter how trivial it seems.

It’s one of the most important things I’ve learned from my dad.

Making the third installment of Meet The Parents isn’t exactly the equivalent of sweeping a dirty sidewalk in the lower east side of  New York in the 80’s. With all the millions of dollars involved, there’s more at stake. But I think it’s understood this is not the most coveted job for a filmmaker.

And they made it as if that was the understanding. They didn’t go out there and commit to a solid effort. Everyone – from the director, down to the actor, was just phoning it in like it didn’t matter.

Doesn’t matter to who? The people who pay money to see movies and want to enjoy themselves. They don’t want to sit through the kind of garbage that gets pegged as “family entertainment”. It’s an unwise, contemptible practice to disguise a film that’s supposed to be funny and enjoyable, and then make it suck balls.

Director Paul Weitz has struck out in the business of making movies far more than he’s made any hits. “American Pie” was his debut film, which brought him longevity that he would then use to make lazy films. He is a lazy filmmaker who deserves no other opportunity for success. Someone should have fired his ass after “About a Boy” and told him not to come back.

Mr. Weitz is the kind of person (yes, I’m going after his character) who will not do a good job sweeping the sidewalk. It’s not important enough to him.

“Little Fockers” felt like it was unimportant. When the top man feels that, it trickles down to everybody and it affects the entire production.

People who want to hire Mr. Weitz for any future endeavors should consider this. Personally I’ll be watching his name carefully and avoid everything he touches from this point forward.

What a disgrace.

Are you eating it, or is it eating you?

THE STUFF

The Stuff begins innocently enough. A miner at a quarry finds some white goop that looks like a cross between yogurt and Elmer’s glue bubbling up from the ground. Whether invited by curiosity or an uncontrollable appetite, he reaches down, scoops some of it in his fingers, smells it, decides to try it, and discovers he really likes it.

I don’t know about you, but I did that a lot when I was a kid and then at some point, probably later than I’d admit, stopped that bad habit. Was it premature of this miner to taste it from the ground, given his expertise of what’s down there? Probably. But I’d be hard pressed to find a better opening to a movie.

The Stuff. It becomes a phenomenon, like Coke. It’s low in calories. It’s organic. It tastes great. No one seems to know exactly what’s in it though. And that’s where David “Mo” Rutherford comes into the picture. He’s on a mission to find out. David, or “Mo”, is played by the enigmatic and always underappreciated Michael Moriarty. His height is intimidating. He carries himself unlike most actors in films. There’s a looseness about him. A casual air of indifference that’s fun to watch. His hair and plain Canadian features might subtract from his potential sex appeal, but there’s also his Lone Star accent. In a different universe it might have propelled him to being an A-list star. But in that same universe we never would have gotten The Stuff or Q: The Winged Serpent.

When I first saw The Stuff in college, I didn’t know who Michael was. My friend had an appreciation for him and after we watched The Stuff and Q, I developed a good appreciation myself. I don’t think he’s so cult that people follow him like Bruce Campbell. For instance, he was in about 80 episodes of Law & Order (R.I.P.) but he isn’t known for playing ‘that guy in Law & Order’. If a retrospective documentary is ever made on Michael, Larry Cohen will be interviewed a lot more than Dick Wolf.

There are a lot of movies from the 80’s that could have only been made during that time. In that way, The Stuff is quintessentially 80’s. It’s an overt, on the nose attack on consumerism that mixes up its story with 2/3rds humor, 1/5th gore while the rest is just basically bad filmmaking. From its premise, you expect it to be a very ritzy, colorful affair as most 80’s movies tend to be. I love the lighting in 80’s movies. But because it’s so low budget, they cut some corners. A lot of the picture is really muddy and dark. Even the commercials that advertise The Stuff in the movie don’t look very vibrant. I think if the cinematography was handled with a little more attention to detail, this movie might have exploded into the mainstream.

There are a couple of interesting performances worth mentioning. Danny Aiello plays a guy who works for the FDA. Mo comes over to his house to ask questions about the ingredients in The Stuff. The whole scene is shot really badly. I mean, you could have asked some retired lady vacationing in Boca Roton to come in for a day and she would have done a better job. Aiello is a great actor. Everybody who’s seen Do The Right Thing knows this. But somehow they make him look totally incompetent. And I love it. It’s hilarious. The blocking is horrible. The actors don’t know where they’re supposed to be walking, and the DP doesn’t know where the camera is supposed to go. On top of that, Aiello looks like he forgot all his lines. He tries really hard to convey that he’s afraid of his dog (because the dog also eats The Stuff). As a viewer you’re not making the connection he’s afraid of his own dog until the scene is almost over. It’s really weird. I can’t even talk about this scene without sounding retarded. Just imagine how it must have felt to film it.

Another performance for the record books is from Paul Sorvino. I don’t know what it is about this guy, but he always looks like he’s just snorted five lines of coke. He’s always sweating. Always talking with that stiff upper lip. He’s an army colonel that Mo visits which sets up the climax of the movie. He convinces him that there is something far worse than communism in the U.S. that must be stopped: The Stuff. Why? It’s turning people into zombies! It really doesn’t take much to push him over the edge and get all his men together. It’s funny that he only has a half assed interest in doing it though. His other interest is women. For half the time he’s with Mo, he’s trying to steal his new girlfriend away from him.

One of the key ingredients to movie success in my opinion is logic. Even if it might not make sense in the real world, as long as the movie has its own interior rules and plays by them, I’m cool. But somehow, The Stuff evades both real world logic and interior movie logic.

Great example: there is a young boy whose parents and older brother pressure him to eat The Stuff.  He knows it’s bad, because he saw some of it move in the middle of the night when he peeked in the fridge. He complains that it’s wrong, but they don’t listen. They’re “Stuffies” now.

So he asks his parents if he can finish The Stuff in his room. That way, you think, he’ll just throw it away and they would never know the difference.

Right? Except he doesn’t do that!! He goes to the bathroom, flushes it down the toilet, and then believes there’s an additional step to the process. So he fills the rest of it with shaving cream. Then returns downstairs, and eats the shaving cream in front of his parents to convince them he likes The Stuff. Your own parents already told you it was okay to finish it upstairs. And you’re coming back downstairs risking getting caught.

Some reviews of this film I’ve come across: “Delightful.”/ “Tasty schlock.”/ “Quirky.” / “80’s Time Capsule”. Let me add some of my own: “Retarded”./”Kind of darkly lit”./”Danny Aiello’s never funnier”.

I don’t think it is quite the 80’s time capsule many believe. It didn’t get mainstream enough for that. It never had the money to really go all out with the style, and even the gore. It’s still heavily edited. So the gorehounds might not be greatly impressed.

That said this is a great Michael Moriarty movie. Paired very nicely with Q: The Winged Serpent.

Eat up kids.

Schadenfreude

DATE NIGHT


Shadenfreude is a German word that means “to derive pleasure from the misfortunes of others”. It’s the reason why gossip sites are so popular and why going to the movies is so much fun.

I wish I knew the German word for “deriving pleasure from the misfortune of others and the satisfaction you feel after they’ve overcome them and grown as people”, because I would use it to describe why Date Night is such a propulsive, interesting movie.

I’m just messing with you. I only wanted to use this new German word I just learned.

Steve Carrell and Tina Fey play a married couple who decide on a “date night” to try and spice things up. They get a lot more then they bargained for by taking someone else’s table at a fancy restaurant where you need to make reservations at least a month in advance. Admittedly, it was probably a mistake on their part to just show up cold and hope to get a table. So they wait at the bar, thinking about what to do next. There’s a long, awkward moment where Steve’s character just stands there like an autistic person– it’s not a stretch for him–and debates whether or not he should just take a no-show’s 2-person table. Since the film is called “Date Night” and most of us saw trailers for the movie, the audience is already familiar with where the premise is going. We know what Steve is going to do next. Which is what makes that moment of indecision even more awkward and protracted than it should have been.

So they’re finally seated. Things are going great. The night is off to a wonderful start. We think this is the only real hiccup in their marriage: their inability to go out into the town, let loose on the streets of Manhattan for a couple hours and just forget the kids.  But then, these two creeps come up to them in one of the best sequences of the movie. They think they’re being removed from the restaurant because they stole someone else’s table. They’re led out into the alleyway, and in one of the worst sequences of the movie (it can change that fast) they realize these goons want some kind of flash drive to give back to their mob boss. If this wasn’t a broad romantic comedy, that alleyway scene would have probably taken a much darker, more disturbing turn. But since it is, they lead these goons on a cat and mouse chase through Manhattan. Thankfully, a lot of it is really funny. Carrell and Fey make a great comedic team and this is the type of movie that’s really suited for them.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. There are a lot of rough spots here. I’m thinking about really dramatic moments, where the laughs stop and a serious point is supposed to be made. Carrell puts on his serious business, autistic face, looks Fey into her eyes and says something along the lines of, you know what, just once I’d like it if you had some faith in me to get things done. And she looks at him and says well I’m busting my ass around the house and you never help me out. So they have deeper domestic issues that we would have never known about–that they would never have known about–unless these two mob goons showed up and ruined their night.

I can see what a marriage counselor might think of that. “A dull marriage can impose lots of problems. You need to get out of your comfort zone. Look I know this really big mob guy. Give him a call, tell him you have his flash drive. He’ll set you two straight.”

One of those 80’s gems I haven’t seen in a long time is Adventures in Babysitting, which is what Date Night reminded me of. I loved it as a kid. I think my nostalgia for it helped fuel my enjoyment of this one. So if you liked Babysitting, give this one a try. If you didn’t, you must not be a fan of deriving pleasure from the misfortune of others.

God is a lie?

THE INVENTION OF LYING


Over the weekend I used a Redbox kiosk for the first time. Now I realize why they are taking off like wildfire. You can pre-order from the internet and know exactly which movie is available from a designated kiosk. Once you find the movie you want and reserved it, you drive down a couple blocks to the nearest McDonald’s and pick it up. The interface on the touch screen is so simple. You tap a button, scan your credit card and out comes the movie. The next day you bring it back. And it’s only $1.00. Of course it was right outside McD so I also bought an Oreo McFlurry for dessert. A movie, dessert, and I’m still under the price ceiling that I would have cleared going to Blockbuster. This is the future of movies.

The Invention of Lying however, is not the future of movies (see what I did there). It’s a couple steps back, especially for a comedy starring Ricky Gervais, who I think is a truly talented and funny guy. I enjoyed Ghost Town a lot, and I think most critics did too.  And I think no one appreciated him hosting the ’10 Golden Globes as much as I did. Which is good – gigs like that and the lukewarm responses will only keep him pushing more. There comes a point for comedians where they can coast downhill in neutral for awhile. I believe when The Office came to America and had a longer, more successful run than his British counterpart, that probably set a fire inside of him. Maybe it made him more bitter. Whatever happened as a result of that (besides making him richer than God), he’s been making movies lately that have a higher than high concept to them which anchors him squarely as the outsider, the guy who doesn’t belong in it because he’s one of us, the everyman. In Ghost Town, it’s the ability to talk to…Ghosts. In Lying, it’s the ability to talk but not say the whole truth or misrepresent it entirely aka lying.

Between these two projects I guess Lying was the trickier one to pull off. You just go with the premise, and hope it leads to funny moments. It kept me engaged the whole time, since I was constantly analyzing the lies versus what they would have said in our world, where we do nothing but lie all the time. I think I caught myself enjoying some of that. After about an hour or so in, the plot shifts gears a bit and it feels like it begins to digress.

It’s when Ricky addresses God, or The Man in the Sky. Ricky tells his dying mother she’ll be reunited with her loved ones and join the Man in the Sky. She’s scared, he says it to calm her down but doesn’t actually believe it. It freaks everybody out.  He gets very popular and people demand to know more about what’s waiting for them. So he creates two tablets from Pizza Hut boxes to address what he knows about The Man in the Sky. He holds an outdoor conference of sorts to go over things. So what this movie is saying, I think, is that in a world where no one ever lies, God would not exist. God is a lie. This concept creates a great drinking game for the viewer. The rule is simple: go back through the movie and find anything that seems like it could be inspired by God, which did not exist until Ricky said He did. When you find one, take a shot of motor oil or vodka, whatever. The most immediate example I can think of is the church at the end of the movie. But it seems like it was built after Ricky talked about the Man in the Sky, or he actually commissioned the construction himself because there’s a stained glass painting of Ricky holding his two tablets. Regardless, I’m sure there are plenty of other examples before that.

One quick word about Rob Lowe’s appearance in this as the slimy Brad Kessler. Rob tends to get cast as the slime ball in most of his roles because he’s just that damn good at it. And in most movies he’s usually ruining relationships by marrying someone. Look at Paul Barish from Tommy Boy. He marries Tommy’s mom. Or his turn as Benjamin Kane in Wayne’s World. Wayne has to save Cassandra from marrying him. And here again he comes dangerously close to tying the knot with someone he shouldn’t be tying the knot with. If there’s any other movie I neglected to add that features Rob Lowe as a slimeball marrying someone when he isn’t supposed to, please let me know. I think there must be some subconscious association for casting directors since they keep putting him in those roles. I just want to go on the record about this and say I have begun seeing a pattern here.

In the long run I’m sure Gervais will have, this movie will be more of a minor note than his others. But in no way does this change how I feel about him as a comedian. Go get ’em Ricky.