Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Good Pen Pals Like Today's Video Daily Double!

 Salutations, my Educationeer compatriots! Your Cap'n returns for another splendid and informative Video Daily Double. As I surmise, many of you have experienced the jubilant and enriching practice known as composing letters to your "pen pal." They abide in distant locales, breathe unique air, and regale you with exploits heretofore unknown to you. In return, you must be expected to share your idiosyncratic outlook on the world, and this is where yours truly comes to the rescue. Presented for you enrichment are two cinematic features designed to improve your penmanship and embolden your utilization of our fine language.



 Our first short subject, Writing Better Social Letters, ought to bolster your communication skills and keep that "pen pal" of yours anticipating the latest correspondence.

 Our second film, Build Your Vocabulary, will make your speak better. Your write, to.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Retro Double Feature Review: Being John Malkovich and Dogma

 Let's jump back to November of 1999, somewhere in the greater Guilford County area of North Carolina. A young Cap'n was a... sophomore (?) in college*, living on campus in a dorm with like-minded film geeks and friends nearby with similar interests. We had some friends in town, some cars available, and The Janus Theatre not far away. They just so happened to be showing both Being John Malkovich (just opening) and Dogma (out for a few weeks). We had internet access, were acutely aware of both films and the buzz surrounding them.

 One one hand, music video director Spike Jonze's first feature film, dealing with puppeteer John Cusack discovering a tunnel into the head of John Malkovich. On the other, Kevin Smith's fourth film, comparatively epic in scope, about the descendant of Jesus trying to stop two rogue angels from wiping out humanity. The Catholic League had already condemned one of the films, and strangely it wasn't the one about being able to control another person by inhabiting their mind, or even the moment of meta brilliance when Malkovich climbs into the tunnel and enters his own head.

 You already know all of this, because I doubt there's a person reading something called Cap'n Howdy's Blogorium that hasn't seen both films - probably several times. We were a jubilant bunch of college kids ready for a fun time with some pals from out of town, and it only made sense to stick around and watch them in one night. Not everybody stayed, but those of us that did were in for an experience. Want to venture a guess which one we saw first?

  If you guessed Dogma, you would be smart to think that. We weren't so smart, so we watched the decidedly unique, eccentric Malkovich first, and then stumbled into Smith's Dogma, gobsmacked by the fiercely idiosyncratic debut from Jonze. Oops. Looking back on it now, knowing what I know about each film, I would have flipped the order (if not removed Dogma altogether, but we'll get to that), but the reason we went to The Janus in the first place was to see Being John Malkovich. That Dogma was playing there, in such close proximity, scheduling-wise, was an added bonus for Kevin Smith-philes who wanted to stick around. Malkovich was always going to come first, and regardless of how into Kevin Smith you were, there's no comparison.

 Let's say that somehow you knew exactly how Being John Malkovich unfolded, with all of its unexpected turns and "Ma-Sheen" cameos. Even knowing all of that, including how it plays out with Malkovich the puppeteer or the baby with John Cusack trapped inside, you still wouldn't be prepared for how well Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman unfolds this madness and compounds it as time goes on. It's such a joyfully strange movie, a curio that pays off with repeated viewings and paved the way for Adaptation and the Kaufman / Michel Gondry team-up that produced Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and the eventual solo Kaufman magnum opus Synecdoche, New York (not to mention the tonally similar Be Kind, Rewind, Where the Wild Things Are, and even The Science of Sleep).

 After a few friends took off, we went back in to see Dogma, the hotly anticipated, apparently forcefully recut, dropped from one studio because of backlash from religious groups and picked up by another fourth film from Kevin Smith (Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy). To say that we were massive Kevin Smith fans in 1999 is frankly an understatement: I firmly believe we watched Clerks as frequently as we did Army of Darkness and Cannibal! The Musical on weekends and followed any and everything that Smith said online. In fact, during one online chat, young Cap'n managed to get a question in about working with comedians and improvisation to the slacker auteur, and he answered it. It was as close a brush with greatness as when Henry Rollins let a good friend of our grab his butt (true story).

 So anyway, Dogma itself. Oddly, but the thing that sticks out from that screening was seeing the trailer for American Psycho for the first time - I didn't really know who Christian Bale was (sorry, Empire of the Sun fans, the Cap'n was ignorant) and was vaguely aware of Bret Easton Ellis' novel and the film's turbulent production history. And then Dogma started.

  Do you remember how you tried to convince yourself that you liked The Phantom Menace or House of 1000 Corpses even when you secretly understood it sucked? How you couldn't process looking forward to something so much that when it didn't live up to lofty expectations (or even the deliberately lowered expectations that come technically from a Kevin Smith fan in the 1990s)? If you were like me, you probably kept talking about things that were immaterial to the quality of the film itself: like how it was pro-faith without being pro-organized religion. It lampooned Catholicism as an institution but not faith in principle, etc. That's true. It also had a shit monster, Jason Lee shooting people, some hockey playing teenage monsters, more vaguely homophobic comedy, more sex jokes, a contrived and tenuous connection to John Hughes as a means to get Jay and Silent Bob into the film, and a runtime of 130 minutes.

 The longer version that doesn't actually exist because Smith decided he liked keeping the additional deleted footage deleted doesn't necessarily make much of a difference. At two hours and ten minutes, Dogma is too long, to leisurely paced, and not funny or interesting enough to sustain interest. Not that I didn't keep trying for another three or four years after that. It wasn't until a point well after Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back that I went back and realized that between Clerks and Clerks 2, I didn't actually enjoy any of the Kevin Smith films as much as I told myself I did. I've been down this road before so I'll keep it brief, but Dogma was possibly the moment that began the shift in perception. I may have told myself I really liked it, but I can't remember what it was about Dogma that sent me out of the Janus happier than after Being John Malkovich.

 I sure miss The Janus - it's no longer in existence, and while the "Bistro" section of the Carousel tries to replicate it's atmosphere, it's off by a mile. The Screen in Santa Fe came close, and possibly the Colony or Mission Valley are similar, but I do miss that theatre. It split the difference between arthouse theatre and multiplex very well, and we saw some fantastic films there.

 Talking about all of these double features really makes me want to have another one, if I could think of two movies I really wanted to see playing closely enough together. That, and finding friends who have the time to do that (increasingly difficult) or want to spend that much time / money on what can often be seen as a calculated gamble. Seriously - ask anyone who went with us to see Idle Hands.

* Second year for sure, but I'm not positive the credit hours would technically count me. Hrm...

Monday, February 27, 2012

Blogorium Review: My Week with Marilyn

 My Week with Marilyn is a good enough to pretty good movie that I just didn't really connect with. It's a well made movie, and it's a compelling - and true - enough story: Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) invites Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) to come to England to shoot the movie eventually named The Prince and the Showgirl (hands up if you've ever seen it - I wasn't even aware of it before this film). Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) is the child of a family of distinction who wants to make it on his own, so he moves to London to work in pictures, eventually working his way up to third assistant director under Olivier.

 Monroe, who arrives with new husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) and entourage including Milton Green (Dominic Cooper), Arthur Jacobs (Toby Jones), and Paula Strasberg (ZoĆ« Wanamaker) her acting coach, begins behaving erratically almost immediately, to the consternation of Olivier. He objects to her inability to arrive on time, her Method acting style, and her mood swings. Clark is making the best of being the assistant to the assistant - David Orton (Roger Portal) - to Laurence Olivier. He is briefly involved with Lucy (Emma Watson), the costume girl, before becoming infatuated with Monroe, who takes a shining to the young man and insists her bodyguard Roger Smith (Phillip Jackson) arrange to pick him up and bring Clark over to the country home he found for her.

  The film is based on Colin Clark's diaries, detailing his experiences with Monroe, Olivier, and the film industry during the making of The Prince and the Showgirl, and that should make a more compelling film knowing that this happened, but I often found myself comparing My Week with Marilyn to An Education. Both films are about British youths finding their way in the world, getting involved with someone older despite being warned by nearly everyone else around them that this isn't going to work out. Of course, it doesn't work out, because it couldn't possibly work out being involved emotionally with someone married (something I might visit again when I get to reviewing The Descendants, a much better film about complicated relationships), but our protagonists plunge headlong and yet seem totally unscathed by the end of the film.

 I didn't enjoy the fact that despite the title An Education, Jenny (Carey Mulligan) didn't learn anything, nor did she appear to change in any way while insisting everybody around her was wrong. Eddie Redmayne's Colin Clark is very much the same, blatantly disregarding everyone he looked up when they tell him not to fall for Marilyn's "little girl lost" act. Olivier recognizes it as the strength of her natural acting ability, Milton Green tells Clark he had a similar infatuation that crashed and burned, but Colin won't listen. He's so delusional that he genuinely believes he can talk Monroe into giving up acting despite the fact everything she tells him explains that she needs him to play the role of someone "on my side" during the production.

 Like An Education, My Week with Marilyn ends without Colin seeming to have learned anything at all, encapsulated in a scene when he tries to rebound with Lucy. She asks him if Monroe broke his heart, and Colin smiles and says "a little." That Lucy says "good" and walks away is a hollow comeuppance for the guy we're supposed to relate to. I can't imagine the film failing in a more spectacular way than making the "ordinary" protagonist who brushes with greatness during the story of My Week with Marilyn exiting the narrative very much the same way he entered it. This has no direct bearing on the actual Colin Clark, but more likely tied to writer Adrian Hodges and director Simon Curtis, who are directly responsible for the film based on his diaries. Well, and Eddie Redmayne, who plays Clark as basically the same person from beginning to end. I can't help but think that there must have been a better way to portray Clark instead of an obstinate young man who doesn't seem even bothered when Marilyn Monroe inevitably pushes him away.

 Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh are certainly fine in this film, and there are lots of other famous names in tiny parts: in addition to Dougray Scott and Toby Jones, you'll see Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, and Julia Ormond in the film (Ormond, in fact, plays Vivien Leigh, Olivier's wife who strongly suspects her husband wants to leave her for Monroe early in the film). It's a nice looking movie and I think the performances helped ease my distaste with the lack of character progression. It's entirely possible that many of you will enjoy My Week with Marilyn more than I did, and I do recommend it for Williams, who taps into the vulnerability of Monroe while never reducing her to the caricature everyone seems to expect in the film itself. It's the sort of performance that overcomes the weaknesses of the film and keeps you invested, even when you don't want to be.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Academy Award Trailer Sunday

The Descendants


My Week with Marilyn

Chico & Rita

The Artist

The Tree of Life

Midnight in Paris

War Horse


A Separation

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy



Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Blogorium Review: Absentia

 There were a number of happy surprises for the Cap'n at Nevermore this year, but I'm giving the top spot to Absentia from writer / director Mike Flanagan. Why? Because had I not given this film a chance because of the horror film festival last weekend, I wouldn't have ever considered watching Absentia.

 It's not because the film doesn't sound interesting: Tricia (Courtney Bell) welcomes her sister Callie (Katie Parker) into her Los Angeles apartment at a critical juncture in both their lives. Callie has been struggling with addiction for years and is finally clean, and has come to support her sister as she finalizes papers to declare her husband Daniel (Morgan Peter Brown) dead in absentia. Daniel has been missing for seven years without any trace of where he might be or what happened to him. Tricia is pregnant, possibly due to a subdued relationship with Detective Mallory (Dave Levine), who kept an eye on her during Daniel's unexplained absence. Finally ready to move on, Tricia and Callie discover something more sinister behind Daniel's absence, something ancient and unstoppable. But can the sisters save each other, themselves, or anyone else?

 Absentia begins as a domestic drama with a hint of "ghost story." Tricia, troubled by the thought of giving up on Daniel, begins to see his malevolent spirit when she sleeps and meditates, and he isn't happy about the direction she's taking without him. Had the film continued on this path, I guess it would have been okay, but thankfully the phantom Daniel is just that - a projection of Tricia's neuroses. Her meditation helps, as Callie's newfound Christianity helps her overcome demons... for a while. Nevertheless, there's more to the story than just Daniel, and as we slowly learn what happened to him (and a number of other people), what a tunnel under the highway might have to do with it, and the factors that prevent anyone from believing Callie when the truth manifests... ah, but I'm saying too much.

 One of the pleasant surprises of watching Absentia was not knowing where things were headed. I had a good idea that it had everything to do with the tunnel, and was silently making "Death Tunnel: The Tunnel That Eats" jokes while the plot slowly unfolded. Fortunately, there's more to it than just that - the plot drifts away from strictly a horror film and heads in a "fairy tale" direction midway through. It has a kicker of a final shot, very good performances, and some great atmosphere for a low budget film. And I probably never would have given it a shot.

 Why? The poster / cover / artwork does Absentia NO favors at all. I see a lot of artwork for horror movies I've never heard of before, and the one above really turned me off. For starters, it really does make the film look like ghosts dragging someone (I guess that could be Callie, but honestly I wouldn't have guessed that without putting photos Katie Parker side by side with the poster) into the Death Tunnel. It's the kind of poster that sells a different kind of movie than the one I saw, and it frankly didn't make me want to watch Absentia.

 Sure, it's (no pun intended) gripping, but it looks like the poster for Filth to Ashes Flesh to Dust, so much so that I forgot they were for two different movies until I started looking into Absentia. I have no idea what Filth is about, but the same "being dragged / trying to escape from something horrible" artwork did nothing for me. Absentia's looked like a "haunted torture porn" film, and I was happy not to think about it again. In fact, when I went looking for Absentia's poster, I found two more that are more reflective of the film's tone (foreboding with a touch of horror "action"). They aren't as exciting, per se, but they made me rethink initial conceptions I had when I saw the "catchy" poster for the first time.

Well, my rant about misleading artwork took up more of the review than I'd planned. Absentia is a rather effective, if leisurely paced, horror film with a heavy dose of "fairy tale" in its menace. There's plenty of opportunities for Absentia to go one way and instead it goes in another direction, ending with an appropriate and satisfying (if inevitable) conclusion. Bell, Parker, and Levine are all very good and the film never feels hindered by its budget (around $70,000, funded in part by Kickstarter). In fact, its strengths come from what you don't see but simply hear. When it comes out, I hope the poster above isn't the cover you see on DVD shelves, but if it is, overlook what feels like a generic horror flick and settle down for a pleasant surprise.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Blogorium Review: Some Guy Who Kills People

 Some Guy Who Kills People threw me for a loop; it was playing at the Nevermore Film Festival, which leaned heavily in the direction of horror films. It was under those expectations that I sat down to watch the film, of which I knew nothing. I'd deliberately avoided looking at trailers or reading the synopsis on Nevermore's site and the Internet Movie Database, just as I had with Absentia. There are times when title artwork or general assumptions based on "indie" horror films can work against the actual quality of the film. In fact, we'll discuss the terrible cover art for Absentia in that review, but let's get back to Some Guy Who Kills People.

 The first thing you should know is that Some Guy Who Kills People isn't a horror movie. It shares some DNA with slasher films when it comes to the "Kills" part of the title: the murders are rather violent, the gore outlandish, even with a small body count. The film is, however, a black comedy that has more in common with a film like Heathers than, let's say, The Prowler. Now, if\ I'm willing to compare a film to Heathers favorably, you should have some idea that the genre switcheroo didn't bother me too much.

 That's not to say I wasn't a little lost at first - either I was distracted or just missed some critical introductory scene, but for the first ten minutes or so the Cap'n felt like I was behind the curve, narrative-wise. After a flashback / dream sequence where Ken Boyd (Kevin Corrigan) is being tortured by high school students, Boyd wakes up and realizes he's late for work. He arrives at the ice cream parlor where his boss Al Fooger (Lou Beatty Jr.) chastises him for being late and his buddy Irv (Leo Fitzpatrick) asks what's up. Ken doesn't say much, but he does get the luck of the draw and has to cater a birthday party for one of the guys who tortured him while Boyd wears an ice cream cone costume. He also meets Stephanie (Lucy Davis) before being recognized by the now adult terrorizer, and then the film cuts to said jerk being chased down and slaughtered with a knife.

 Now we do eventually learn that Ken tried to kill himself ten years before Some Guy Who Kills People takes place, and that he was in an asylum. He's working for Al because Irv helped him get the job, and Ken lives with his mother (Karen Black). Ken has a notebook he doesn't show anybody, mostly because he uses it to draw pictures of the horrible ways he's going to enact revenge on his tormentors. I was a little confused because some of the people who end up dying are played by younger actors in the flashbacks, but Corrigan seems to be the same age despite the fact that this happened when he was in high school. Anyway, you get past that quickly and move on to the "ah, he's going to be killing off these jerks while the police try to figure it out."

 Speaking of which, the Sheriff, Walt Fuller (Barry Bostwick), is a totally daffy sort of guy that finds the strangest things to fixate on while investigating crime scenes. After one guy is hacked to pieces in a drive-in parking lot, he asks his deputy if there's enough popcorn for both of them while they survey the carnage. He also seems to have total control over the Mayor (Ahmed "Jar Jar Binks" Best) and has an ongoing relationship with Ken's mother. The stage is set for a bizarre cat-and-mouse game between nutty killer and nuttier cop, and then writer Ryan Levin and director Jack Perez throw the kind of curveball that really makes Some Guy Who Kills People interesting: Ken has a daughter.

 Before going to the nuthouse, Ken knocked up Janet Wheeler (Janie Haddad), and now that he's out, his daughter Amy (Ariel Gade) runs into him by total coincidence. Boyd is in his ice cream suit again, being abused by passers-by and Amy helps him pick up flyers that nobody wants. When she discovers that guy is her father, she promptly decides to move in with Ken and his mother, who have no idea what to do with her. She's everything he isn't, it seems: she's a star basketball player, gets along with everybody, and recognizes immediately that Stephanie is into her dad in a big way. Of course, Ken has other plans, shall we say, and this unexpected intrusion into his scheme takes Some Guy Who Kills People in different directions.

 There are some more unexpected surprises, ones that I'd rather not spoil, so instead I'll talk about Kevin Corrigan, who anchors a world populated with people who all seem to be crazier than he is by being a total vacuum in the charisma department. He alternates between irritated and catatonic, revealing on one or two occasions that he was happier in the asylum because it had more structure than the "real" world. I'm not sure that Some Guy Who Kills People would be as entertaining if the main character didn't temper the lunacy of nearly every other character, and aside from Lucy Davis' Stephanie, Corrigan's Ken Boyd is ironically the most "normal" character, despite a predilection for brutal murder and antisocial leanings.

 In closing, I'd like to add how very surprised I was to learn that director Jack Perez went from making Wild Things 2, Monster Island, and Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus to Some Guy Who Kills People. I didn't see that coming; the film is light years of an improvement over those stinkers. Kudos to him. Also, while it's nice to see John Landis' name attached (even as producer) to this film, it did remind me that he recently directed Burke and Hare, which does not earn kudos. But I digress: check out Some Guy Who Kills People - it's right up your alley, providing you like movies with slightly askew logic.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Drink Your Milk... or Else!!! (A Video Daily Double Special Report)

 Howdy, Educationeers! The Cap'n is not feeling spectacular (he has a sinus infection) so I'm passing on the healthy living tips to all of you in the only way you should learn them - from sixty year old sponsored education films! Whether you're in school or at work, heed the advice of these films... or else!!!

 Or ELSE!!!


 Our first film, It's All in Knowing How, is about maintaining your pep at school and in life. You see, it's all in a healthy diet, composed almost entirely of dairy products!

 Our second film, Ulcer at Work, is about managing stress at work before an ulcer and pressure drive you insane. And it will!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Retro Review Double Feature: Death to Smoochy and Panic Room

 Or was it Panic Room and then Death to Smoochy? It's so hard to say these days, as memories get hazy... in fact, it's been almost ten years since both films were released. On the same day (March 29th, 2002), which was why we determined that it MUST be a double feature we attended. Who is we? Well, it was broken up into two groups - the folks who went to see Death to Smoochy and the folks in for the long haul: all 221 minutes, plus trailers, ads, and the period in-between films at the Grande*.

 It was necessary to make this a double feature for the following reasons:

 1. Panic Room was David Fincher's follow-up to Fight Club, a movie we'd seen three years before and been blown away by. While the two films only featured one actor (Jared Leto, who suffers brutal disfigurement in both movies), Panic Room was being described as Fincher's "Hitchcock" and we were on board.

 2. Death to Smoochy starred Edward Norton (Fight Club), Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich), Danny DeVito (Batman Returns), Jon Stewart (The Faculty...?), and Robin Williams, who would go on to have a banner year by adding One Hour Photo and Insomnia for a "comedian playing psychopaths" hat trick. Oh, and DeVito directed Death to Smoochy, an R-rated film about children's television.

 3. I love double features. As time goes on, it's probably become abundantly clear that's the case, but even now it's something I consider a luxury in theatres. It's certainly not cheaper now, but I'd like to try one again sometime soon if the right movies were playing in conjunction. Anyway, that's neither here nor there in a Retro Review. We went to see these movies because they looked like fun, like it would be a twisted / suspenseful / hilarious double feature. There was nary a hint of irony in seeing two disparate genre entries (black comedy and thriller), in spite of our post-Phantom Menace / pre-Attack of the Clones malaise.

 Death to Smoochy had the great benefit of being unable to accurately portray what a filthy, irreverent, at times brutally violent, and profane film in its trailers. This can work against many R-rated comedies, and I believe it had an adverse effect on Shaun of the Dead, Bad Santa, and Pineapple Express initially. They all had word of mouth and the internet to help with that, but Death to Smoochy is still kind of regarded as a stinker. It sold itself as goofy, only to welcome audiences with a litany of profanity as soon as Rainbow Randolph (Williams) was no longer on camera. The mean-spirited nature of the film turned critics and audiences off alike.

 We loved it. The film is unabashedly cruel to all of its characters from beginning to end, and if you like movies like Heathers (or later, World's Greatest Dad) about misanthropes being horrible to each other in bitterly funny ways (as opposed, to say, anything Lars von Trier ever made, which is exactly the same without the "funny" part), Death to Smoochy is for you. It's probably very easy to find out DVD, so go pick it up.

 Panic Room, which I really think was the second film, was our first brush with disappointment and David Fincher. After Seven, Fight Club, The Game, and even Alien 3 (which many of us argued was flawed but more interesting than Aliens) seeing a young director stumble wasn't much fun. Panic Room isn't a bad movie necessarily, but it's not a very good one either. At nearly two hours, it drags out the tension for too long and doesn't do enough to keep viewers invested in the narrative. Yes, the cast is pretty good: Jodie Foster, Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam, Jared Leto, and a pre-Catch That Kid Kristen Stewart are all pretty good. The visual trickery, camera angles, and seamless digital effects are all cool beans, but for the life of me I can't get or stay excited about Panic Room.

 Fincher bounced back in a big way with Zodiac in 2007 and I liked The Curious Case of Benjamin Button even though most people I know won't even watch it. Everybody seemed to enjoy The Social Network (including the Cap'n) and I haven't seen The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo so I can't comment on that. But Panic Room? I haven't seen it all the way through more than once since then. I hesitate to even suggest I DID see it again because while I know (as a completist) I owned both the "Superbit" and 3-Disc "Collector's Edition" of the film, I don't remember wanting to sit down and revisit Panic Room. By comparison, I've seen Seven, Fight Club, Alien 3, and The Social Network more than once since initial viewings.

 I've seen Death to Smoochy again since as well, and am wondering if I should drive over to a local used cd / DVD store to see if I can find a copy tonight or tomorrow.... Hrm...

 Next week I'll jump even further back, to an even more improbable double feature: Being John Malkovich and Dogma.

 * That's my way of saying "I don't remember exactly who was there for both films." Sorry.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Nevermore Film Festival Blogorium Recap

 This past weekend Cap'n Howdy had the distinct pleasure of attending the 13th annual Nevermore Film Festival in Durham, NC. How it was I made it thirteen years without knowing this festival existed, twelve of which I lived less than an hour away, I do not know. I've been to downtown Durham - although never to its Carolina Theatre - numerous times, and while I was vaguely aware of a horror film festival that happened there, I could have sworn it was in the fall. Either way, I'm happy to report that I did make it this year and it was chock full of pleasant surprises.

 I'm going to focus this article on the short film collections (They're Coming to Get You, Barbara! and Pandora and That Damned Box) from Saturday and provide reviews for the features I saw on Friday later this week. For those curious, I saw Absentia (a great low-budget horror film / fairy-tale), Some Guy Who Kills People (a loopy black comedy along the lines of Heathers) and The Whisperer in Darkness (an H.P. Lovecraft adaptation from the creative team behind 2005's The Call of Cthulhu). I've previously covered Ti West's The Inkeepers and Fred Dekker's Night of the Creeps*, and didn't see Marathon Man or the double feature for Rosemary's Baby and The Sentinel. Uwe Boll's producer credit kept me away from Eaters, although the buzz around it was that it was silly, though not "good."

 While I didn't catch Wrath of the Foreign Invaders, the third collection of short films, I will try to track down those films online (either from their websites, YouTube, Vimeo, or anywhere they might be uploaded). They're Coming to Get You, Barbara! was a collection of short films anywhere from 6 to 15 minute running times, and Pandora and That Damned Box contained longer shorts, usually around twenty minutes. All of the films are worth checking out, and even the ones that didn't knock me off my feet are worth locating. Let's take a look at the Barbara lineup:

 Carpool - an entry from the 48 Hour Film Festival about a young woman pushed too far by her obnoxious boss, and then anyone else who gets in the way of her car. Very short, but mines a lot of humor as the violence increases. Carpool was one shot away from being a classic, and while I can totally understand the impossibility of getting that shot, it missed living up to its title by just a smidge.

 Devilling - a disturbing short film about a mortician with an unhealthy obsession, but not with the dead. No, it's much more unnerving than that, with an ending that left the audience silent. Very creepy, very dark, and very well made.

 Incubator - remember the urban legend about waking up in a bathtub with your kidney missing? This film deals with a different scenario, one that pushes the term "body horror" into uncomfortable territory, to say the least. This was by far the most viscerally extreme film I saw, and while I'd love to find it, I'm not sure how excited I am to watch it. Great special effects, great sound design, and it ends exactly when it needs to.

 Flush with Fear - if you ever thought to yourself, "they can't possibly find a way to make a demonic toilet work," the makers of Flush with Fear respectfully disagree. With clever homages to H.P. Lovecraft and Sam Raimi, it manages to be simultaneously funny and creepy. Believe me, you'll be hesitant to read any bathroom stall graffiti after Flush with Fear.

 The House of the Yaga - told entirely using narration over paintings, this short film tells the Baba Yaga story in a way you haven't heard it before. It's a haunting take on the fable, and its execution is novel and really quite cool to watch.

 Psycho Therapy - I only didn't love this because it seemed like this film was going to go one of two ways, and it did. It didn't go the way I was expecting, and the second half of the short is firing on all cylinders (it's a fantastic mini-slasher and the actors really sell the ending), so I enjoyed it. The beginning takes a while to get where it's going, but once the patient heads home things improve dramatically.

 Dummy - is this the tale of a ventriloquist dummy that has a mind of its own? Is it the story of a blowhard director's inability to make anything work in a film about a ventriloquist dummy with a mind of its own? Or is it both? Played strictly for laughs, Dummy has a few out-of-left-field touches that had me chuckling all the way to its chainsaw-wielding conclusion. I'd love to put a link up for it, but I can't any links to it anywhere. It isn't even mentioned on the producer / director's IMDB page. Sorry.

 Desert Road Kill - a film about a family who pick up a hitch-hiker in the middle of the desert who may or may not be a killer suffered (for me) because it was apparent that the film had a twist and what the twist was. Like Psycho Therapy, it's saved largely because of its novel approach to the ending, which extends into the credits. It made the experience more palatable, although to be honest you're going to be less likely to see where things are going unless you watch TONS of horror movies. That's going to improve the experience overall, I'd say.

 Pandora and That Damned Box is comprised of four shorts, all of which you should find. Two of them are fantastic, and the other two are effective, if imperfect. Let's take a look, shall we?

 Worm - the film is told almost entirely by the interior monologue of a high school teacher who is considerably more disturbed than we think. As the story rolls along, we move further into depths of his psychosis, his desires, and eventually, what he keeps in his briefcase. It's climax and denouement don't quite live up to the build and the tension built preceding it, and there was a general sense in the audience of being underwhelmed. It's a shame, because the ending, while appropriate and (probably) more realistic, doesn't deliver on the promise of the rest of Worm.

 Impostor - I really liked Imposter when I didn't know where it was going. It's very unclear based on the poster what the short film is about, and for a while the character study of a man who wants to be anywhere and anyone other than who he is is promising. Then his identical twin brother arrives to stay with him, and then things become crystal clear. The hapless hero has a crush on his neighbor, and his brother immediately hits it off with her. When the Lothario twin runs afoul of a waitress' boyfriend and ends up in the hospital, Imposter becomes an episode of Tales from the Crypt with a twist that has a lot in common with Dexter. It's all very well done, and the cinematography and performances are great, but I just couldn't quite get behind it.

 Enter the Dark - Okay, the producers who keep making Paranormal Activity films need to watch this short film. Enter the Dark is an eerily effective variant on "found footage" movies, alternating between an objective third-person camera and the night vision on a camcorder. A guy at his wits end invites a friend over to help him confront the "spirit" terrorizing his apartment, and the skeptical buddy quickly becomes a believer when coincidences make a turn to deliberate messages from something else in the apartment. Everything about Enter the Dark works: the tension, the spooky messages, the slow build, and the final, haunting ending with a well-earned "jump" scare. This would have been my favorite film of Nevermore entirely, had it not been for the next short...

 The Headless Lover - holy crap! I mean, just wow! This short from Denmark, the first of a series for The Book of Horror, is a Tales from the Crypt inspired slice of horror comedy. While the site specifically mentions Crypt, I'd say that The Headless Lover, a twisted tale of infidelity, lounge singing, burlesque dancing, and the need to, um, "finish," is more in the vein of Creepshow. There are specific shots and effects in the short that reminded me a LOT of Creepshow, and if this is any indication of where The Book of Horror is headed, that's a welcome comparison. Alternately gross, hilarious, and extremely violent, the twisted narrative and cartoony effects are a winner from beginning to end. I HIGHLY recommend you click on the link and watch the film (subtitles are included).

 So that covers the short films, which are the kind of discoveries you can only make at festivals (I can attest that it is NOT easy to find these films online, even with direct searches). It's one of the reasons I was so gung-ho to see those particular collections. I'd also like to mention that vintage commercials that played between films in the Carolina Theatre, ranging from toy ads for robots to Carnation Instant Breakfast spots that promised "as much nutrition as two strips of bacon." It's given me many ideas for ways to augment the Horror and Summerfest experience, and I look forward to putting them into practice this summer.

 * Okay, that doesn't really count. I'll rectify that soon.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Nevermore Film Festival Trailer Sunday

(to be followed tomorrow with a few thoughts)


The Whisperer in Darkness




Rosemary's Baby

Enter the Dark


Marathon Man

Some Guy Who Kills People

The Sentinel

The Headless Lover

Night of the Creeps

The Innkeepers

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Blogorium Review: Cowboys & Aliens

 I like westerns. I like movies about alien invasions (usually). I like Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, Clancy Brown, Walton Goggins, and Keith Carradine. I like almost all of Jon Favreau's films (I haven't seen Elf or Made). On paper, this concept can't lose - you've got cowboys, and you've got aliens. Aliens are attacking cowboys. Cowboys don't know what they are, because they've never seen flying machines or armband laser guns or you know, anything that might register on some level if this move took place after the 1800s. So what happened?

  Jake Lonergan (Craig) wakes up in the middle of the desert with no memory of how he got there. His only souvenirs are a wound to his abdomen and a strange metal bracelet on his arm. He wanders into town, where a preacher (Brown) patches him up. While having a drink at the local saloon, Parcy Dolarhyde (Dano) starts harassing bartender Doc (Rockwell) and shoots a deputy when Sheriff John Taggart (Carradine) tries to maintain order. Percy is the son of Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford), a rancher who practically owns the town, so when the Sheriff arrests Percy, he rides into town to take him back. When Dolarhyde is informed that Lonergan (who was a wanted man and was also arrested) is with him, he decides he'll take both of them back. And then the sky lights up... aliens attack, burning the town and capturing friends and loved ones. Lonergan, Dolarhyde, and the surviving townspeople band together to track the "demons" down, with the help of mysterious stranger Ella Swanson (Wilde), but will they find them before it's too late?

 More importantly, will anyone still be paying attention? I found myself drifting away from the screen repeatedly as Cowboys & Aliens wore on, growing impatient with the unnecessary side trips and phony "character development" for people who don't really change at all during the course of the story. I was a little flabbergasted that Cowboys & Aliens is such an anemic, lifeless affair. All of the right pieces seemed to be in place, but the end result is so underwhelming. Almost nothing about the film works.

 Cowboys & Aliens has five credited screenwriters (Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby) and "screen story" credit (Steve "yes, the 'Thumb' guy" Oedekerk) before we get to the "based on" credit for Scot Mitchell Rosenberg's graphic novel, which has to have something to do with why this movie is so slapdash. Let's take a look at our two... "protagonist"s as examples of why nothing ever means anything in the film.

 Starting with Daniel Craig's Jake Lonergan, a character who doesn't remember anything. He's a wanted criminal who apparently did something bad, but he can't remember it, so there's no reason to care what the mystery was. Even when we discover what he did (rob a carriage and rip off his criminal associates to start a life with his new love), it doesn't seem to be such a bad thing. In the flashback when he realizes what happened to the gold and his lover, she's chastising him for stealing it. He did it to make their lives better, blah blah blah. Anyway, so even when we know what Jake did, he's still been behaving heroically up to that point and his "crime" appears to be altruistic, if misguided.

 From that point forward, Jake doesn't change ANYTHING he does. At first you think he might go back to his gang (actually, you don't, but at that point in the film it's getting boring so we need more laser fodder) but instead they just leave and continue going about their "rescue" mission. Later, when they find the ship, and Lonergan leaves to do... something, there's a big to do where Dollarhyde gets angry at Jake for abandoning them. Except as an audience member, I KNEW he wasn't abandoning them. Why? Because as hard as Cowboys & Aliens tries to cram this "redemption" theme down our throats, Jake Lonergan never once behaves like a man that's going to leave the rescue mission "high and dry." There's not a hint of moral ambiguity in his actions, even though we're told repeatedly about the terrible things he did.

 Harrison Ford's Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde is even more of a mess, because there's no real redeeming to be done. He starts the film as a gruff jerk and ends the film as a slightly less gruff jerk, but the character himself doesn't have an arc. It's evidenced by the fact that the gaggle of writers keep throwing subplots at Dolarhyde to trick you into thinking that his character does anything more than conveniently turn "heroic" in the last act

 There's the "two sons" subplot with Percy and Nat Colorado (Adam Beach), his not-actually-son-but-might-as-well-be-since-he's-a-better-son-than-Percy; there's his hatred of the government, his interactions with Emmett Taggart (Noah Ringer) where he gives the kid a knife and tells him to "grow up" which have no actual bearing on how the boy uses a knife to kill an alien later; there's his distrust of the Apache chief and warriors because he doesn't trust Native Americans but he works with them anyway and I guess it's okay because they're friends or something. Oh, and I forgot the thing with the doctor that Dolarhyde thinks serves no purpose but then Sam Rockwell learns to shoot just in time to save his life. All of these are subplots which a) go nowhere, or b) have very little to do with Dollarhyde until the script ABSOLUTELY needs a reason for Dolarhyde to appear "heroic" or "humble." The character's arc is built around contrivances, many of which don't directly involve him until Ford is needed to do something. You'd be surprised how much of the film is spent with Harrison Ford in the background reacting to other people.

 I can't say that I cared about much of anything that happened in Cowboys & Aliens, from the cardboard cutout characters to the story that fails as a western and as a science fiction film (let alone a mashup of the two). I didn't care why the aliens wanted gold, so the half-assed "it's as rare to them as it is to you" explanation bounced right off of me. By the time Ella dies and comes back to life, revealing herself as another alien, I had already checked out. The aliens are bug-eyed hulks with claws that kill things so quickly one ought to wonder why they'd need laser cannons and arm blasters. I say "ought" because by that point in the film, I no longer cared.

 Cowboys & Aliens isn't interesting enough to keep your attention from wandering, not odd enough to keep you invested in anything, nor pulpy enough to overcome its ho-hum story. If you want a movie that delivers Cowboys and Aliens, and nothing else, look no further. You just found something to stare at for two hours. If you expected anything else at all from the movie, be prepared for disappointment. That is, if you still care enough to be disappointed by the end.

 For anybody curious, I watched the "extended" edition, which clocks in at 135 minutes (sixteen minutes longer than the theatrical version). Why? Well, I figured if I was going to watch an overlong film that fails to engage viewers from the moment the aliens appear, I might as well see all of it. No sense in wondering what I might've missed out on.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Post Valentine's Day Video Daily Double Gives Your Something to Think About

 Greetings, Loveducationeers! I gather that you all have a lovely time wooing your sweeties yesterday, but now that the afterglow is fading and the candy is oxidizing (or going stale or whatever) and the flowers begin to wilt, we need to think carefully about what it is you want from your funny valentine. Fortunately, Cap'n Howdy is here with a very instructional Video Daily Double to unfog the brains and chastitize those loins.

 Zip it up!


Our first film, Going Steady?, wants you to seriously consider what it means to "get pinned," and whether that's something you want to do as an irresponsible teenage monster. But what do I know?

Our second film, Molly Grows Up, is something you might be considering if the answer to the first film's question is yes. I'm not saying - I'm just saying.

 Now if that doesn't scare you away, I'll trot out some films about the REAL meaning of VD! Keep that in mind before you follow those filthy, filthy urges.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Retro Review: Planet of the Apes (2001) and Final Fantasy - The Spirits Within

 I can't really remember how or why it happened, but Planet of the Apes and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within ended up in an improbable double feature some time in late July / early August 2001. It certainly wasn't intentional - I know this because I saw two different films with two different people. The end result, appropriately, was the same: why the hell did we watch that movie?

 Let's start with Planet of the Apes, the remake that began my slow decline in interest for the films of Tim Burton. After Sleepy Hollow (which I really liked), I was interested (if wary) of his remake of a movie I happened to also really like. It feels like I should have put a colon after that and then typed "Planet of the Apes" or the name of some other movie that Tim Burton would later remake (badly), but I'm so past the point of being bothered by every announcement of "The Tim Burton Players Present ______ (insert name of TV show, musical, movie, or comic book you hold dear)" that the joke didn't seem worth it.

We've all seen his Planet of the Apes. Some of us heard the story about how Burton was rushed into completing the film by Fox's July 2001 release date and that the script (particularly the ending) hadn't been settled on during production. (I was generally under the impression that Burton was a late choice for director, but doing some research for this review, it seems like he was on board with the script written in 2000, so either I'm remembering this wrong or it's been whitewashed from film history) The end result is a film that looks pretty cool, doesn't make any sense most of the time and REALLY doesn't make sense with it's "Ape Lincoln" twist ending.

 I haven't really watched Planet of the Apes all the way through since. Well, the 2001 remake; I watched the 1968 Planet of the Apes not too long ago, before watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I'm not as obsessed with the series as Cranpire is, but I do watch the original films semi-regularly. When I try to watch Burton's "re-imagining" I usually get bored quickly - I'm not sure if it's Mark Wahlberg's "eh" performance or Estella Warren's vacant gaze, or the apes that look cool but get dull quickly. And we're talking about apes played by Tim Roth, Paul Giamatti, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Clarke Duncan, David Warner, Glen Shaddix, and (briefly) Charlton Heston. The makeup by effects guru Rick Baker is top notch, the sets look great, but nothing works. The movie never seems to have any momentum or story or characters that do anything that makes sense. When I try to watch the film again, I usually turn it off shortly after Wahlberg is captured and sold to Limbo (Giamatti) because it isn't worth investing two hours in. There's always something better to watch.

 While I can't remember who I saw Planet of the Apes with (it was either my brother and his friends or another friend that should have been in Connecticut, but maybe was home for break), I do remember driving to Raleigh to pick up Neil to see Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Remember that movie? The "all CGI photo-realistic" film that was going to blow everybody away? I didn't think so. It's sort of a footnote in the CGI cinematic evolution, one remembered for not being very good but that it looked all right and is probably still something Final Fantasy fans watch.

 The rest of us? Well, I'll be honest and say I've seen Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within once - nearly eleven years ago. This is what stands out in my memory: characters who look like specific actors but with voices of different actors (like Alec Baldwin playing a guy who looks just like Ben Affleck) and that the spirits were... ghosts? Stars in the sky? Geez. Beats me. They weren't aliens - no wait, they were ghosts of aliens... hold on.

 Here, this is copied directly from Wikipedia:

In the year 2065, a future Earth is infested by Phantoms: alien life forms capable of killing humans by physical contact. The remaining humans living in "barrier cities" all over the world are engaged in an ongoing struggle to free the planet. After being infected by a Phantom during one of her experiments, Aki Ross (Ming-Na) and her mentor, Dr. Sid (Donald Sutherland), uncover a means of defeating the Phantoms by gathering eight spirit signatures that, when joined, can negate the Phantoms. Aki is searching for the sixth spirit in the ruins of New York City when she is cornered by Phantoms but is rescued by Gray Edwards (Alec Baldwin) and his squad "Deep Eyes", consisting of Ryan Whittaker (Ving Rhames), Neil Fleming (Steve Buscemi) and Jane Proudfoot (Peri Gilpin). It is revealed that Gray was once romantically involved with Aki.

Upon returning to her barrier city, Aki joins Sid and appears before the leadership council along with General Hein (James Woods), who is determined to use the powerful Zeus space cannon to destroy the Phantoms. Aki delays the use of the Zeus cannon by revealing she has been infected, and the collected spirit signatures are keeping her infection stable. This revelation convinces Hein that she is being controlled by the Phantoms. Aki and the Deep Eyes squad succeed in finding the seventh spirit as Aki's infection begins to worsen and she slips into unconsciousness.

Aki's dream reveals the Phantoms are the spirits of dead aliens brought to Earth on a fragment of their destroyed planet. Sid uses the seventh spirit to bring Aki's infection back under control, reviving her. To scare the council into giving him clearance to fire the Zeus cannon Hein lowers part of the barrier shield protecting the city. Though Hein intended that only a few Phantoms enter, his plan backfires and Phantoms invade the entire city. Aki, Sid and the Deep Eyes attempt to reach Aki's spaceship, their means of escape but Ryan, Neil and Jane are killed by Phantoms. Sid finds the eighth spirit at the crater site of the alien asteroid's impact on Earth. Hein escapes and boards the Zeus space-station where he finally receives authorization to fire the cannon.

Sid lowers a shielded vehicle, with Aki and Gray, into the crater to locate the final spirit. Just before they can reach it, Hein fires the Zeus cannon into the crater not only destroying the eighth spirit but revealing the Phantom Gaia. Aki has a vision of the Phantom home planet, where she is able to receive the eighth spirit from the alien particles in herself. When Aki wakes, she and Gray combine it with the other seven. Hein continues to fire the Zeus cannon despite overheating warnings and unintentionally destroys the cannon and himself. Gray sacrifices himself as a medium needed to physically transmit the completed spirit into the alien Gaia. The Gaia is returned to normal as the Phantoms ascend into space, finally at peace. Aki is pulled from the crater holding Gray's body and looking into the newly liberated world.

 No joke: I did not recognize any of that. I remember laughing during the movie, and laughing even more on the way back home, but the specifics of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within? Nah. That sounds like it might be a watchable movie, but that doesn't fit with my experience of this film. Square Pictures went on to make one more short subject: The Final Flight of the Osiris, a part of The Animatrix / prequel to the equally unwatchable The Matrix Reloaded. They then disbanded and I guess someone else made Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, which I also didn't watch.

 As you can see, neither film made much of an impression in the long run for Cap'n Howdy. Tim Burton made Big Fish, which I liked, and then Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and Alice in Wonderland. I did not like any of those movies, which is why I sincerely doubt I'm going to like Dark Shadows, a full-length animated Frankenweenie, or the in-discussion Beetlejuice sequel. I'd love to be wrong, but again, from 2001-2011, he's one for six in Cap'n Howdy's book. That's not so promising.

 Next week, we'll look at a much more interesting double feature: Panic Room and Death to Smoochy. I did see those on the same day with the same people and while one of them isn't so great, it does make for a nice story...

Monday, February 13, 2012

Blogorium Review: Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

 Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is the latest entry in what I like to call the "killbilly" genre: I guess you could say it started with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre but it's more like the I Spit On Your Grave / Deliverance / Wrong Turn kind of movie about some upstanding young college victims kids on vacation who, for no apparent reason, decide to go camping in the middle of nowhere (often in part of the Appalachian region) and are terrorized by killer hillbillies. It's a culture clash: the richer, douchier party guys and their girlfriends vs the interchangeable sometimes inbred but always bloodthirsty hill folk. Why? Because horror excels at perpetuating stereotypes and it does it well. The Wrong Turn movies might not be high art, but those mutant cannibals sure are scary. I don't think there's a person in this country that doesn't shudder a little bit at the phrase "squeal like a piggy!"

 So it's refreshing that Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is what high falutin' film professors call an "inversion" of the subgenre: the protagonists of the film are our title characters, two generally harmless guys looking to spend a weekend fixing up a "vacation home" that Tucker (Alan Tudyk) bought. Dale (Tyler Labine) is so harmless he has trouble fishing, but their weekend of kicking back and drinking beer is cut short thanks to some college students. Generally speaking, we'd follow the college students all the way as they slight the killbillies, then run into them again, and are slowly picked off until they decide to fight back.

 Technically speaking, that does still happen, but through a series of misunderstandings, Tucker and Dale appear to be a lot more threatening than they are. While out fishing, they save Allison (Katrina Bowden) who falls off a rock and hits her head while everybody is skinny dipping, but to her friends, it looks like they knocked her out and kidnapped her. Despite the very reasonable solutions posed by some members of the college kids, their suggestions are ignored by Chad (Jesse Moss), the psychopath that brought all of them out to the woods. He knows that twenty years ago the same campsite was the home of a killbilly massacre, so the combination of leaping to conclusions and being, well, more dangerous than anyone else in the film, makes Chad leap to the conclusion that Tucker and Dale are "Evil."

 You'd think it would be simple to straighten this out, and it would if the college students weren't both idiotic AND proactive in trying to rescue Allison. It turns out to be a lethal combination, as the unwitting Tucker and Dale keep witnessing the twenty-somethings accidentally kill themselves in horrible ways. Like the Wrong Turn films, if you can think of a way to die in the woods, you'll see it in this film: tree-impaling, spearing, death by woodchipper, burned alive, wood with nails to the skull - they're all there. I give credit to director Eli Craig and co-writer Morgan Jurgenson for keeping things fresh and funny. We've seen these beats before, but Tudyk and Labine are so likable that the horror is magnified when they unwittingly find themselves having to clean up the mounting body count around the dilapidated cabin.

 Speaking of the cabin, Tucker and Dale don't seem alarmed at all that the new "vacation" home previously belonged to someone who loved hanging animal bones from the ceiling and collected newspaper scraps about the massacre. Dale sees the board games and is happy: Tucker is proud to own such a large cabin, and it just needs a little elbow grease to make it more "homey." You can imagine what it looks like to the college kids, who don't so much fit into "types" as they are indistinguishable: aside from Chloe (Chelan Simmons), the "dumb blonde", I couldn't tell you much about Jason (Brandon McLaren), Naomi (Christie Laing), Chuck (Travis Nelson), Todd (Alex Arsenault), Mike (Joseph Sutherland), or Mitch (Adam Beauchesne).

 I think Mitch is the voice of reason impaled by a tree while running from Tucker (who made the mistake of running a chainsaw through a bee's nest), but I can't even necessarily connect a name with a face beyond that. Beyond Tucker, Dale, and Allison, Chad is the only character who really registers. There's the nameless Sheriff (Phillip Granger) who meets an accidentally horrible end while trying to understand why Tucker and Dale didn't kill these kids, and a pre-credits sequence that kind of hints at a sequel, but most of Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is about finding amusing ways to present a "redneck" slasher film from another angle.

  It's a testament to Craig and Jurgenson that they stretch what should be a one-joke premise into a (nearly) ninety-minute film. They're helped by Tudyk and Labine, the latter of whom carries most of the movie. Tudyk's Tucker is a punching bag of sorts, who suffers nearly as much as some of the kids without the instant death that accompanies it. Bowden is also very good as Allison, who realizes quickly what's actually going on but can't seem to convey that to her friends. As a psychology major, her "therapy" session between the title characters and Chad fails miserably. Jesse Moss' Chad starts out as a generic "asshole" type, the kind of guy who usually bites it in a horrible way, but gradually evolves into something much more dangerous than the "Evil" he has to fight. When it's finally clear WHY Chad came to the woods (along with another twist late in the film), it's a minor miracle Tucker survived at all.

 So is Tucker and Dale vs. Evil a parody of "killbilly" movies? A deconstruction of the subgenre? Is it a clever gimmick? An inversion of the tropes of slasher films? Well, yes. I suppose it's all of those. The film works on those levels, but also on the most important criteria: it's funny. You don't need to be well versed in slasher films to enjoy Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, but it's not going to hurt you if you are. It's degrees of laughter, so look at it this way: as a comedy, it succeeds. As a slasher movie, it succeeds. As a "killbilly' movie, it's leaps and bounds better than the Wrong Turn films. You win any way you look at it.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Cowboys and Aliens Present Trailer Sunday

The Cowboys

The Magnificent Seven

For a Few Dollars More

Cowboys & Aliens


Invaders from Mars


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Blogorium Review: Star Wars Episode One - The Phantom Menace in 3-D

 How would I know? I didn't see it. I was too busy picking up my copy of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part One to be bothered with garbage like Star Wars. Like, duh!

 Oh, you wanted more than that? You don't believe me, you say? "Of course you'd say that, it sounds just like the kind of excuse you'd make up, Cap'n" you say? Well, you're right. It does sound just like the kind of excuse I'd make up, even though you all know I'm a Twi-Hard and have been for as long as that term existed, and probably even before that just because it was cooler then before Summit made all those movies and Twilight got all commercial and crap. Back in the good old days when you could ask somebody about Twilight and they'd be all "what?" and you'd feel cool. Yeah, that's the ticket.

 "Besides," you say, "we all know you didn't go see Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace LAST night, dummy! You saw it on Thursday at the midnight showing because we totally drove by The [insert name of nearby theatre showing The Phantom Menace in 3-D] and saw you in line with your fancy lightsaber you bought when you were working at that toy store but told everyone it was 'too expensive' so don't even front, homeskillet."

 As though I'd be the only thirty something waiting in line to see The Phantom Menace in theatres again and relive my early twenties as an obnoxious fanboy. As though I couldn't have just stayed home and watched Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace on Blu-Ray while wearing 3-D glasses and being all "great graphics" like Freddy Krueger said in the Nightmare on Elm Street movie where Freddy dies (in 3-D) even though in that scene he was actually referring to a video game he was playing with his "power glove" which also begat the line "NOW I'M PLAYING WITH POWER" like the real Nintendo Power Glove that Nintendo wouldn't let the makers of Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare use so they made the joke anyway. I could have done that. But you know you're right: I didn't.

 Actually though, that's a really good idea. I don't know why I didn't think of that while I was watching Hostel Part III. I'm going to try that right now -


 You know what? Never mind - that was a horrible idea. Now my head hurts and I think my eyes are bleeding and I'm only halfway convinced that's because of the glasses. I guess I could review the Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part One Special Edition Two Disc Blu-Ray / DVD / Digital Copy that I got that came with a replica of Bella and Edward's wedding invitation and the special replica(s) of Bella's engagement and wedding rings I bought on Target dot com for $24.99 (what a steal - am I right or what Twi-Hards???) or the guy they hired at Target who looked JUST LIKE Taylor Lautner but who would only sign copies of Abduction... wait... maybe it was Taylor Lautner. Huh.

 Anyway, I could totally do that, or I could review Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace in 3-D (short review: It Sucked... in 3-D!!!) which, you're right, I totally saw on Thursday and put up a review of Hostel Part III at roughly the same time to trick all of you. I mean, duh, it's STAR WARS. I was into Star Wars before I was born - that's how far back I go with that. I had totally memorized the Journal of the Whills before most of you were like "R2-D what now?" and yeah, Greedo TOTALLY shot first. What is wrong with you people? Do you really think that HAN SOLO is a COLD BLOODED KILLER? Come on, people. Why would a cold blooded killer go to all the effort to get Chewbacca back to Kashyyyk for Life Day? I mean, Life Day is just a made up Wookie Holiday anyway. It totally didn't exist before 1978.

 Sorry - where was I? Oh right, I was going to tell you about how you should not see Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace in 3-D and get your own awesome Pod Racer 3-D goggle glasses things. I mean what else are you going to do this weekend? See Journey 2: The Mysterious Island? One of those boring Oscar nominated movies? Yawnsville! Yeah, I bet seeing Hugo is really going to enrich your life or some crap like that. Well does Hugo have its own Jar Jar? I don't think so! Game, set, match: you lose, Scorsese. Lucas for the win. Now if you'll forgive me, there's a special interview with Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart about the wedding of the century I need to be partaking in. What the hell kind of Blogorium Review could I give you on Monday if I hadn't seen that?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Blogorium Review: Hostel Part III

 I feel like there should be some kind of criteria for reviewing direct to video sequels. See, they're almost never going to "hold up" to their theatrical brethren, and even when they do people seem surprised, like it's not possible. I blame Disney for a lot of this, so bear with me here: while DTV isn't by any means new, and the house that Walt built isn't entirely responsible for this, they did unleash a wave of direct to video sequels to their newer, successful films. There were the Aladdin sequels, the Little Mermaid sequels, the Beauty and the Beast Christmas movie, then The Fox and the Hound II, Pocahontas II, Peter Pan: Return to Neverland, The Lion King 1 1/2 and 2, Lady and the Tramp II, Cinderella II, Cinderella III, and even a Hunchback of Notre Dame II.

 What these unwarranted, unasked for sequels all have in common is the same thing that most DTV sequels have in common: they look cheaper, they feel half-assed, and they aren't very good. Disney keeps pumping them out, and parents looking to satisfy their kids' appetite for something new (but old at the same time) keep buying / renting them. The same thing applies for action, science fiction, comedy, and especially horror fans when it comes to DTV: we know it's not going to be good, but what the hell, right?

 In the case of Hostel Part III, we're looking at a trifecta of "uh oh"'s heading in: it's DTV, it was made without the participation of Eli Roth (who wrote and directed Hostel and Hostel Part II but apparently didn't even want to produce this one), and aside from the Elite Hunting Club, has nothing to do with the first two films. I understand that very few people are of the same mind as the Cap'n when it comes to Hostel and Hostel Part II, but I think they're a step about the Saw films and other so-called "torture porn." I feel that the first one plays some interesting games with our sympathies and expectations, and that Part II takes any lingering expectations and turns them on their heads again, both with a gruesome sense of humor while simultaneously generating some serious discomfort during the "kill" scenes.

 Therefore, I walked headlong into Hostel Part III, not knowing much about the film nor wanting to know a whole lot about the "starting from scratch" plot. There are no shortage of terrible DTV sequels (American Psycho 2, any of the Children of the Corn or The Howling) but every now and then there's an unexpected (if unrequested) sequel that surprises you, even with lowered expectations. Hostel Part III is in league with the likes of 30 Days of Night: Dark Days as a movie I was pleasantly surprised by. They aren't great, and to be honest I don't know that the world would even notice if they didn't exist, but for what they are you aren't going to feel ripped off (like, say, Hellraiser: Revelations).

 Hostel Part III's secret weapon is its director, Scott Spiegel. You might not recognize the name, but he was / is a long-time collaborator with Sam Raimi and also directed Intruder and From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money, which is also a "well, that was kind of fun" DTV sequel from the turn of the millennium. Spiegel is a big fan of strange camera angles and uniquely gory effects, one of which fits in really well with the Hostel series, which he produced (hence the connection).

 In fact, taking the Elite Hunting Club out of Eastern Europe and dropping it into Las Vegas might be exactly what the series needed to keep Hostel Part III from being "more of the same, but less." Once you remove the concept of visitors in a foreign land unknowingly walking right into a trap (what I'd call the "Texas Chain Saw Massacre" template) and put it in "Sin City," where people go to do horrible things and no one ever finds out (for the sake of comparison, let's call that the "Hangover" template), then the stakes have changed. The American assholes out to use the "old country" as their personal playground is gone and now they're wittingly setting themselves up for whatever horrors await.

 This time around, instead of vacationing students, we have some buddies going on a bachelor party: there's the groom, Carter (Kip Pardue), his best friend Scott (Brian Hallisay), his married pal Mike (Skyler Stone), and the guy with the crutch, Justin (John Hensley). After leaving his bride-to-be, Amy (Kelly Thiebaud) behind, Carter is informed by Scott that they aren't going to Palm Springs, but to Vegas where he's hired some "special" company in the form of Kendra (Sarah Habel) and Nikki (Zulay Henao) at a special club off of the strip. If you've seen Hostel, you can imagine where this is going.

 And while you'd be right (eventually), you're going to be wrong almost every other step of the way: Spiegel and screenwriter Michael Weiss are constantly misdirecting the audience, playing to what you assume is going to happen only to discover that they turned left instead of right. It's actually more fun than annoying, because instead of trying to guess what's coming next you just take every possible clue as either a trick or not and wait to see where Hostel Part III is taking you. The only thing you can really count on for sure is that there IS an Elite Hunting Club facility, it is in a run-down building, and that they still manage to sneak in some foreign accents.

 The other contribution to the overall Hostel series is that Part III adds another level to how EHC operates: because they're in Las Vegas and not some decrepit warehouse, the club allows executions to be performed in front of an audience (on the other side of a glass wall) who place bets on tactics victims will use to stall their killers, what kind of weapons, and in one scene how many arrows it will take to kill a guy. Everything is overseen by Flemming (Thomas Kretschmann) and Travis (Chris Coy), along with a couple of overzealous guards (Derrick Carr and Frank Alvarez) who give a different kind of personality to the operation than we saw in Hostel and Hostel Part II. Sure, at this point it's well beyond being "faceless" and terrifying as an "unknown" entity, but that's really something Roth started with the second film.

 Spiegel also doesn't let down on the kills (mostly): there's a "while they're still alive" facial surgery, bugs being poured down someone's throat (with inside-of-mouth POV shot as the bugs crawl in), some skin carving, and death by cattle prod (to be fair, that doesn't happen IN the execution room, but there aren't actually that many of those in Part III). The characters don't amount to much, but instead of douchebags or innocent art students, these guys come off as losers who are trying to be cool but just don't have it in them. They're constantly doing things that should, by all rights, have them killed well before they make it to EHC, but at least you aren't rooting for all of them to die immediately after meeting them.

 Maybe the ending stumbles a little bit, if because it's one of the two possible twists they could have gone with considering the propensity for tricks. Then again, I guess I'm already judging Hostel Part III on curve, so I can't go too hard. I'm comparing it favorably to From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money, for crying out loud: it's not the kind of movie you're ever going to put on for friends who want to see a "scary" horror movie or who are in for a new experience. It's more the kind of movie you'll rent one night, be reasonably happy with, and maybe mention it to a buddy that's into watching all kinds of horror movies, even DTV ones. By that criteria, I feel like Hostel Part III will be a nice respite from the normal crap passing itself off as a "sequel".

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Beer and Sandwiches and... Gas? A Very Special Video Daily Double

 Hello again, my devoted Educationeers! I'm sorry that the Cap'n lost his temper last week - sometimes I get so wrapped up in making sure you're prepared for the future that I lose sight of how young and manipulable impressionable you are. Let me make it up to you with a kinder, gentler, more confusing Video Daily Double. It's delectable and educational!

 Follow me to education!


 Our first film, Let's Make a Sandwich, is about eating, but more importantly about what makes that possible. Hint: it's not what you would assume it is.

 Our second film, As We Like It, is for when you're a little older. Specifically the age that your state, territory, or holler allows you to imbibe alcohol. Until then, there's only one film this week. Definitely do not watch this if you are too young.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Retro Review Repost (By Popular Demand): Star Wars Episode One - The Phantom Menace

 While everybody is not talking about Red Tails or the impending re-release of one of the most hated sequels of all time (along with Batman and Robin, Blues Brothers 2000, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), it occurred to me that like many movies I hold near and dear I've never given them the fourth - or first, if you're REALLY a stickler - Star Wars film a proper write-up. This still won't really be a proper write-up for The Phantom Menace, but I do want to continue the thread I began in the triple feature review of Rush Hour 2, The Siege, and Star Trek: Insurrection. In that I laid out the pattern of an obsessive Star Wars fan (one who'd gone batty at seeing the Special Editions but was old enough to have seen at least one film the first time around) and this is the payoff. This was what it all boiled down to: no more teasers, trailers, leaked audio from ADR sessions or pictures or crazy rumors / script reviews*; it was time for the real thing, at midnight.

  May 18th, 1999 came too soon - I didn't have tickets for the midnight showing because I'd just returned from school an hour-and-a-half away and hadn't been able to procure any. Even working for a local theatre proved futile in getting to see The Phantom Menace on opening day. I was convinced it would be sold out by the day before (and I say the 18th because most of this takes place before midnight, May 19th, 1999) and was scrambling to find anybody who had an extra ticked. A friend of my brother's had one at the appropriately named Imperial Cinemas (now it's the Galaxy), and I got there around... 9:30?

 Young, delusional, and buying into the hype, I was convinced that the massive line would already be happening in short order, so two-and-a-half hours early seemed like a good idea**. I was probably the seventh or eighth person in line, which gives you some idea of the level of fandom for The Phantom Menace and the futility of my fears. By the time 11:45 rolled around (when they opened the doors), there was a line wrapped around the front and side of the building, although it was nothing compared to the one I was in for Revenge of the Sith, where we were in a parking lot for the grocery store next to the theatre two hours before the film started.

 We all piled in, got our popcorn and drinks, had a seat (third row) and waited for new Star Wars. Holy shit, can you believe it? NEW Star Wars! The sensory overload, the crowd's adrenaline, and the glow of lightsabers sustained two hours of wooden, stilted line delivery, personality-less characters, dumb jokes, and soulless fight scenes. We were too overwhelmed by the event to care that the movie didn't live up to its tremendous hype, let alone to the minimum expectations of a competently made film. For days, I would continue to delude myself into thinking that The Phantom Menace was a film that needed to be, one that I was better for having seen.

 The fundamental flaw of Episode One isn't any of the litany of illogical plot developments or the "kiddie" tone (for that, I direct you to the notorious Mr. Plinkett reviews of the prequels, which are hilarious, brutal, and often illuminating). The problem is one inherent in any prequel: you already know where the story is going. New characters introduced are going to be killed off or shoved to the margins in order for the characters the audience already knows ARE in the original films to step forward. So unless you really want to know HOW Obi-Wan Kenobi came to train Anakin Skywalker or WHY Yoda decided to go into exile on Dagobah, there's not a lot for you in these films. But we were willfully ignorant of this, and I did ruin at least one person's experience by casually mentioning that Qui-Gon Jinn was going to die before the movie ended.

 I watched The Phantom Menace in its entirety four times that summer: the midnight screening, twice with friends, and once with my Dad, who was unimpressed. I kept trying to convince myself that it wasn't the disappointment that everyone said it was (and that I knew deep down was true) by sneaking off during breaks at the movie theatre I worked at to watch the Obi-Wan / Darth Maul lightsaber fight. I'd time breaks so I could walk in just in time to see it. All this time, this interest, invested for naught? It couldn't be. Twenty year old Cap'n Howdy couldn't believe that. It can't be true; it's impossible.

 But search my feelings I did, and I knew it was true. You could hear it drop like the proverbial turd when The Phantom Menace dropped on VHS. Already Lucas had made changes - extending the Pod Race and including a longer sequence where our heroes fly through Coruscant. Why? Because he felt they "improved" the experience. The really just made the film longer, and without the big screen and crowd enthusiasm, The Phantom Menace was as bad as I knew it was. I just couldn't pretend otherwise.

 I tend to think of that experience as the point at which I became more cynical about the hype surrounding films - I'd been burned, and so had many other geeks my age. Sure, we went to see Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith (sometimes at midnight), but more out of a grudging sense of completion, a "let's get this over with." The excitement turned to caution, then dread, then relief. The scratch had been itched, and I was no longer outraged by Lucas' incessant tinkering with his films on DVD (and now Blu-Ray); this was the man who brought us the Prequels, his undiluted vision of the Star Wars universe, and they were not good. They were barely watchable, and I don't own them any more. It grouses me a bit knowing that if I want to see the bounty of extra material Lucasfilm has been ferreting away for decades that I'll have to own them again. I tried watching the end of Revenge of the Sith on TV yesterday and howled with laughter at how bad the writing was.

 At this point, I don't really feel like it's worth piling on to George Lucas for his rotten prequels, but they are the reason that I have to temper expectations for movies I really like. Last year's Attack the Block review is a great example - I really enjoyed the movie, but don't want the film to get bogged down by people who think it's going to fix their car or something. Somehow we got on this kick that any movie that's better than "pretty good" has to be elevated to transcendent levels, and a lot of that has to do with the built-in cynicism that came for geeks in a post-The Phantom Menace world. Half of the geeks automatically assume something is going to suck because "they" will "mess it up," so the other half pushes too hard to counter that attitude and movies suddenly have to be the second coming to be worth seeing. I remember going to see just about everything pre-Godzilla and The Phantom Menace with a blissful ignorance of whether it would be good or not - The Big Hit? Lost in Space? Suicide Kings? The Faculty? We were there. Hate it, love it, going was fun. I think that The Phantom Menace took some of that away, or at least changed the way I looked forward to movies.

 And now it's been converted to 3-D gimmickry, because instead of being the "future" of movie-going as James "Yes, I'm converting Titanic to 3-D!" Cameron keeps claiming it is, we're going to continue to see movies that weren't conceived, composed, or shot for the third dimension getting an extra price-hike. Why? Because running it into the ground in the 1950s and 1980s wasn't enough; it's time for one more go-round of "everything old is new again" as long as there's a penny to be made in the meantime. And because we haven't seen the sequel-remake-3D-IMAX-"experience" yet. Once that happens, and heads explode, we can wait for The Phantom Menace to be beamed into our dreams. Jar Jar while you sleep! Until then, take your kids to see the movie that ruined Star Wars for your budding geek twenties.

* Like this one, for example. I can't find the one on Ain't It Cool that goes over-the-top about a SPOILER that can't be revealed - and I've been wracking my brain trying to figure out what people coming into this movie could have been "spoiled" by. On the other hand, I don't think Jeffrey Wells feels too bad about his column now, or even six months after the release of The Phantom Menace.
** True story: on a whim, two friends drove by Mission Valley and Park Place 16 to look at the lines for The Phantom Menace only to find empty parking lots.