Thursday, June 28, 2012


We’ve all woken up next to a hot Spanish chick after a wild night of, how can I put this tastefully, “drunken what-have-you”. Well, maybe not. But the opening to Extraterrestrial makes this FEEL perfectly plausible, not to mention relatable. The awkwardness. Not knowing the other person’s name. Pretending to be good friends with the other person when visitors show up. We can relate to individual moments even if the big picture eludes us (donde estas las senoritas por favor! Aye papi!). The cable, phones, and internet are even out, making things even more awkward. You can’t even call a cab, and instead have to ask the other person to drive you home. If that wasn’t enough, the streets are completely devoid of people and there’s a giant UFO hovering above. I HATE it when that happens! 

No, wait a second. That NEVER happens. In fact, I wish it DID happen. Besides the scientific revolution that would come out of meeting aliens, it would be totally awesome. I could teach the little grey dude how to high five and maybe how to do the electric slide, and hopefully he’d let me dick around in his spaceship for awhile. I know what you’re thinking; aren’t you afraid of aliens? Frankly, no. I refuse to believe that an advanced race that invented something as technologically awesome as a spaceship would want to spend time shoving a wand up my butt. Let me put this way; do you think Albert Einstein spent his free time trying to jam things up the butts of strangers? Probably not. Maybe, but probably not. Actually, that would be awesome if he actually did, but I doubt it happened. 

The astute reader would’ve paid special attention to my mention of the fact that the streets have been vacated. Surely a UFO hovering above a vacated city portends ominous developments for those stragglers left behind. Maybe everybody’s been zapped and turned into space cola syrup? No, not exactly. Rather, the military ordered everyone to high tail out of the city on account of the saucer thing. You see, the military are simply not as hopeful as I on matters of random butt intrusion, so they prepare for the worst in humanity (or alien, in this case). However, our two good looking leads Julia and Julio (Michelle Jenner and Julian Villagran, respectively) were too busy getting drunk and doing the horizontal shuffle to notice that the entire city is preparing for an alien invasion. Or where they actually boinking? As it turns out, Julia’s boyfriend Carlos (Raul Cimas) shows up, making things even more awkward, but he doesn’t really expect anything unsavory. Even though there is clearly sexual tension between Julia and Julio, this may have been a case where Julia was thinking about cheating but never went through with it. However, don’t tell that to next door neighbor Angel (Carlos Areces, who was “El Supremo” in The Last Circus), who is clearly jealous of Julia and her hot bod, and fully believes that she has cheated on her longtime boyfriend. Angel therefore becomes poised to be a tattle tale. 

While Carlos clearly has his mind on the UFO business, the other three are more interested in their own high school-esque sexual drama. Have you ever heard that one about the guy that learns that a meteor will destroy the earth in two hours, so he uses this as an opportunity to quickly drive over to Hooters and ask one of the crying Hooters girls “hey, we’re all gonna die soon, so why don’t you and I spend our final moments doing the nasty in the back seat of my Toyota Corolla?” Well, maybe you haven’t heard that one, and probably because I just made it up, but the point is that most men are pigs looking to use any opportunity to get laid, even if that opportunity is the destruction of the human race. 

Now, the situation in Extraterrestrial is not that dire. However, these incredible circumstances are ingeniously interwoven into a story of sexual dynamics and human pettiness without the movie ever really being about a presumably benign alien visit. Sometimes a movie will use a genre backdrop even though the movie is really about human relationships and could’ve jettisoned the genre elements and still remained mostly intact. The flip side would be to have a story about how a small group of people directly deal with something extraordinary. However, Extraterrestrial kinda falls somewhere in the middle, where the UFO stuff subtlety but consistently affects this comedy of manners. For example, is cheating still cheating if there is a small chance everyone could be getting vaporized soon? Are you really gonna be keenly worried about whether or not your girlfriend is cheating on you when a UFO is hovering above and their might be a military afoot? If subtly utilizing UFO paranoia could help you get in the sack with a fiery Spaniard, would you be able to resist the temptation to do so? And so on and so forth. 

Perhaps the film is more simply described as a French-style drawing room comedy under the strain of mild UFOria. It also feels like a sci-fi play made cinematic, much like director Nacho Vigalondo’s previous film Timecrimes. However, Extraterrestrial is more concerned with human behavior than typical science fiction problem solving (although the two are more thematically and structurally similar than it would initially seem). If that sounds boring or incongruous, the film manages to flow naturally (and comedically) thanks to Vigalondo’s script and direction and the spot-on performances. Look at it this way; both sex and UFOs can drive people crazy, so why not combine the two? Wait, that sounds like some porno movie. Well, you know what I mean. Pervert. 

P.S. This was my 300th post!  Maybe that doesn't sound like a ton, but as longwinded as I am, that's like 4 books worth of stupidity.  Why someone would want to fill 4 books with stupidity I will never know.

Sunday, June 24, 2012


Some people give all the credit for Meatballs to Bill Murray, as if it was a documentary about him dicking around at a summer camp. No, this was an ensemble piece constructed by hard working Canadians aiming to ACHIEVE. However, director Ivan Reitman used Meatballs to springboard himself into Hollywood, leaving behind his homeland in the process; a trail of trampled maple leaves left in his wake. 

In the meantime, Meatballs struck a chord with audiences (probably a power chord), what with its blend of camp hijinks and Bill Murray antics and hot chicks wearing cut-off jean shorts so cut-off they are more like jean Speedos. Of course, the mighty dollar proclaimeth that cash-ins needeth be made, so out came Meatballs Part 2 and Screwballs and Beach Balls and Screwballs II and Meatballs III (which I know I’ve seen, yet I remember absolutely nothing about). Looking at all these “balls” movies, I’m surprised there was never a movie called “Monkey Balls”, where a summer camp is forced to secretly relocate inside of a zoo and animal hijinks ensue (like the stoner kid waking up on a rhino’s back and not realizing it). Anyways, of all these Meatball rips, perhaps the most obscure is Oddballs, which has yet to receive a DVD release in North America and has only even been seen by a handful of cretins. 

The plot resembles any number of 80’s summer movies, with the evil J. Frothingham Skinner (a great name worthy of a villain in a W.C. Fields movie) wanting to turn Camp Bottomout into a parking lot. He enlists the help of his idiot son (who wears a Lacoste polo with an actual mini crocodile on it; so complete is his descent into preppiness), who has to infiltrate the camp in order to get sweet with the owner’s granddaughter Jennifer (the smokin’ hot Konnie Krome). This is somehow supposed to inspire the camp owner, old Mr. Bassett (Foster Brooks doing a solid and somehow more sauced up W.C. Fields impersonation), to sign on the dotted line, and thereby ruin summer for an entire generation of young Canuckleheads. Either way, it doesn’t matter. None of this matters. 

Meanwhile, our teenage hero Chris (Wally Wodchis) and his token fat friend with braces and his token black friend who wears a beret and has a French accent (okay, maybe he’s not THAT token) agree to a pact to lose their respective virginities. Chris has the hots for the college aged Jennifer, so that’s where he sets his aim, despite being underaged and all. So, will the kids join together to save the camp? Will these 14-year-old boys make it with hot bikini babes? Will evil preppyism prevail? Will hijinks ensue? You know what folks, I’m gonna go ahead and spoil it for you; hijinks do in fact ensue. I apologize to those that were held in the grip of suspense on that one. 

Well sure, there are hijinks, but I don’t think that quite encapsulates the lunacy of Oddballs. There’s zany and then there’s Oddballs. It appears that the filmmakers were going for an Airplane-style spoof of the summer camp movie, but instead it just feels like a generic summer camp movie stuffed to the gills with absurdities, visual puns, and random strangeness, without any notion of how these bits fit into an overall comedic piece. As much as Airplane might seem to be a case of a director throwing gags in there without rhyme or reason, it is anchored by the two leads and also maintains a certain tone and direction as a spoof of disaster movies. 

Oddballs has no such comedic anchor, which makes it dysfunctional as a comedic spoof but brilliant as an extended piece of absurdity. There are your standard groan inducing puns and slapstick gags, like someone slipping on a banana peel supplemented with a cartoon sound effect, which would seem more at home in a show aimed at 5-year-olds,. However, there’s also the reoccurring gag where Mr. Bassett keeps accidentally firing a gun into the sky and hitting a flying character, whether Mary Poppins or the Wicked Witch of the West. When some kids arrive in their cabin, there’s a corpse in a bed and a boy Dracula sleeping in a trunk. A mummy knocks on someone’s door in a flashback (?), and even E.T. has a cameo (Meatballs Part 2 revolved around an E.T. character, but Oddballs actually predated it in its use of inexplicably dropping E.T. into a summer camp movie). Did I mention a dinosaur shows up at one point? Oh, and a Bruce Lee impersonator? A second space alien that is apparently not from the same planet as E.T.? To describe the movie is to simply make a list of things that do not seem to belong together. 

Hell, the opening of the movie is an animated parody of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which then turns into a live action parody that ends up with fake Indy being run over by a bus hauling kids to camp. This gag is a good encapsulation of the humor of Oddballs. The driver wipes the corpse of Indy off his windshield as if it was a common occurrence. Why is Indiana Jones being treated like a bug? Why does he start off as a cartoon? What does Indiana Jones have to do with spoofing summer camp movies? Even the most absurd humor needs a focus or point, but Oddballs eschews this and, as a result, becomes a strange combination of the extremely conventional and the wholly absurd, as if random insanity has been absorbed by normality and all bets are off. I know that’s a bit abstract, but it’s the best I can do under the circumstances. 

Part of the weirdness also stems from an uneasy combination of depravity and children’s humor. Mr. Bassett regular draws his machine gun on the kids (in fairness, if W.C. Fields had a machine gun, he would’ve done the same), and the kids are also awakened in the morning by a guy running into the cabin and firing a machine gun (a different machine gun). Camp counselor Laylo (comedian Mike MacDonald doing his best Bill Murray impression) spends the entire movie trying to teach these teenaged boys how to get laid, even taking them to a club called the “The Meat Rack” in order to help them pick up chicks. Our 14 year-old hero has somebody kick him in the balls so he can have his package inspected by a busty nurse (one of two busty nurses, for the record). There are even jokes about child molesters and stag films. Yet the whole thing has an innocent vibe, as if it was squarely aimed at kids. The end result is a movie aimed at no one in particular (which is where I come in). 

In summary, Oddballs is more of an endless source of amusement and invention than guffaws. The movie is filled with little visual gags, so much so that it would probably take 3 or 4 viewings to really catch everything. However, on first viewing, it is a bewildering comedic exercise that nevertheless feels very Canadian. Hmmm…you know what, I think I got it. Imagine some depraved hoser was locked in a room with nothing but a giant bong, a typewriter, and copies of Cracked magazine, forced to write a summer camp sketch for You Can’t Do That on Television. What resulted was so stuffed to the gills with random absurd gags that it had to be expanded out to 90 minutes. Voila…Oddballs. If someone ever bothers to release it on DVD, they can throw that on the back of the case and move some goddamn units. You’re welcome. 

P.S.  This was originally written for the wonderful folks over at Video Tape Swap Shop.  Check it out people.  For this version, I have added exclusive GIFs for my fine readers.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


People often try to make the distinction between a cult and a religion. It would be easy to say that a religion is just a giant cult, but then, using that logic, isn’t a cult just a tiny religion? Well, I think I just figured it out. A religion is only creepy some of the time (insert tasteless joke about pedophile priests), where as a cult is creepy ALL of the time. Remember that Heaven’s Gate cult that committed mass suicide so they could all get on a spaceship to heaven, with $5.75 in their pockets to cover the travel costs? That’s a special brand of crazy. I mean, I couldn’t even get a cab ride for six bucks if you include the tip. If I met one of those guys at a party and got forced into a conversation, I’d quickly develop an exit strategy, maybe head to the bathroom or pretend to take an emergency call about my cousin being in the hospital after getting run over by a Vespa. However, it might not be too bad to get locked into a conversation with a devout Catholic who tells me how much he likes to go fishing on the weekend. I’d just take the boredom hit right between the eyes and move on with my night, no worse for the wear. 

I guess the reason why cults tend to be smaller than religions is that the creepiness factor seems directly tied to how insulated they are and how much power the lead nutbar has. The actual doctrine seems to be irrelevant. There could be a small group called “The New Sphericals” where bald dudes in robes talk about love and enlightenment, but if a powerful leader insulates the group from the outside world, the whole thing will descend into a rotting spiritual mess. Such is the case with the cult compound (Arboria) at the center of Beyond the Black Rainbow. Elena (Eva Allan), a young woman with the power of telepathy and other brain wave shenanigans, is being held captive in a cult compound that looks like a cross between a spaceship and a futuristic hospital from hell (I mean “from hell” in a Richard Lewis sense and not a literal sense). A slimy nutball doctor and cultist named Barry (Michael Rogers) is experimenting on her, as she is apparently the stepping stone to some enlightenment thingamajig. Will Barry reach enlightenment? Will Elena escape? Will crazy shit happen? SPOILER ALERT: yes to that last question. 

Sure, there are other scenes, like the doctor talking to his wife or talking to some old dude (who might be the head honcho of the cult, but he is clearly on his last legs). There’s even a flashback scene that shows Barry being baptized into the cult, ending with him crawling out of what looks to be a tar pit. I don’t know about you, but I refuse to belong to a club that would only have me for a member if I agree to submerge myself in a pit of tar. I visited the LaBrea Tar Pits once and was nervous the entire time that I was going to trip and fall in. That’s all the tar related excitement I need for one lifetime. 

If that sounds like a slim plot for a feature, I guess it is, but Beyond the Black Rainbow is more of an aural and visual meditation on that insulated culty creepiness I referenced earlier (I know the phrase “aural and visual meditation” sounds like an exercise from a very pretentious cult, but I honestly couldn’t think of a better description). The rad music is mostly of the synth drone variety, with some minimalist synth thrown in for good measure (yes I will make that distinction). The visuals seems influenced by the aesthetic of 70’s and 80’s sci-fi movies (like THX-1138, for example). This is to be distinguished from a movie that merely rips off scenes or plot elements from older science fiction films. Rather, certain visual elements (whether creepy bald heads, leather space suits, spaceship interiors, a combination fog machine and brain control unit disguised as a giant prism, or lots and lots of fluorescent lights) are borrowed and fetishized to create something new. It sort of reminds me of the movie Amer, which used the aesthetic of giallo movies to do something else, rather than being simply a modern version of a giallo. 

So, the results resemble a science fiction film without really being sci-fi in the conventional sense of being about ideas related to technology, although maybe I was just confused (in fairness, I am often confused). I suggest just rolling with it, as Steve Winwood would say. If you go in fishing for plot or logic, you’ll probably just end up with an old boot, or a pair of dentures, or god forbid the corpse of some poor bastard that lapsed on his teamster dues. Myself, I don’t mind a creepy sci-fi synth drone music video stretched out to feature length and dipped in bad acid. As a man who keeps his temple clean (beer and booze and Monster Energy Drinks do not count of course), I don’t actually know what it’s like to smoke the good acid, let alone bad acid, but sometimes I gotta rely on speculation and guesswork when adjectives fail me. 

P.S.  The soundtrack also includes the following SSQ song over the end credits, and there is a Venom song thrown in there for good measure.  Awesome.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


If you think fairy tales are all about smooching a hunky prince and bumping into cute critters and living happily after, go re-read some of those old German fairy tales sometime. Most of them seem to center on the murder of children for minor offenses (like sneezing without covering your mouth, or wearing white shoes after Labor Day or whatever) in order to teach them important life lessons about being seen and not heard. Also, you can bet your sweet ass somebody’s organs are getting ripped out at some point, whether it’s because a wolf man gets hungry, or because little Gunter has to pull out his own pancreas in order to pay a ferryman to cross a river of blood or something. You know what, that last bit might actually be a lyric from a heavy metal song and not from a fairy tale. I forget. Anyway, my point still stands. 

Of course, Disney came along and Disneyfied "Snow White" with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, just like they Disneyfied 42nd Street by getting rid of the crack and the hookers and the porn theaters and the hopelessness (that may be an oversimplification, but we have to point the finger at somebody). Since then, most people’s idea of what constitutes a fairy tale have been perverted ever since. 

I’d do a plot synopsis for Snow White and the Huntsman, but instead I’ll go ahead and assume that you’re familiar with the original story (if not, you can just go find it online and read it while I wait; it's really short). Instead, I’ll just highlight the key differences. It might seem at first glance that the movie is a “return to the source”, and that’s sort of true and sort of not true. The movie does have a dark tone, but it is less a case of the fears and anxieties of children manifesting visually (Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves did that very well) than it taking place in a grimy dark ages-esque world where evil holds sway. 

The story is mostly similar, but with a couple of key differences. For one, the evil queen (Charlize Theron) has a creepy albino brother sidekick (Sam Spruell) that helps her perform her evil biddings. I guess he presents a direct physical threat to Snow White (Kristen Stewart), and him being an albino is shorthand for evil, just as it is in most movies. For once, I’d like to see a movie where the creepy albino dude shows up and helps a little old lady cross the street. Then again, maybe if you don’t have any pigment, you are so cruelly teased growing up that you eventually want to kill people for revenge. Could be. 

Anyway, the other differences are a bit more interesting. Even though the liquid gold dude that comes out of the queen’s mirror (that’s another small difference) pays lip service to Snow White being “the fairest of all”, her “fairness” is more a function of her toughness in the face of adversity. She isn’t a precious porcelain doll with milky white skin, but instead is often covered in dirt. She displays feistiness and fortitude throughout (I know “feistiness and fortitude” sounds like a terrible WWF tag team, but I’m sticking with it anyway), stabbing the albino dude with a rusty nail in order to escape. She is also forced to tough it through the sewers and later the deadly dark forest (isn't it always). 

The “love triangle” between Snow White, the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), and the son of a duke (Sam Claflin) is really downplayed, and the result is that she isn’t really an object of love to be attained like she is in the original story. The biggest difference is that the movie ends with Snow White leading a Joan of Arc-esque charge against the evil queen (I’m not giving anything away, as this seems to have been the crux of the advertising campaign). These scenes feel like a forced addition (more on that later), but I guess it’s part of an overall effort to make Snow White a “feminist” heroine. Sure, that sounds like a bit of a stretch, but maybe, just maybe, a young female Twilight fan will wander into the movie and walk out inspired to take control of her own life. You gotta start somewhere I guess. 

For me, the overriding effect of these changes is that it alters the notions of good and evil from the original story. Instead of a “pure” version of good and evil, the queen seems to become morally warped by her vanity and desire for power, and Snow White’s “goodness” is more of an internal toughness and quiet sense of justice. This provides a through line for the movie on which moody visual enchantments are hung. I know that last line is a terrible description, but trying to expound on “moody enchantments” is like trying to describe why a trendy restaurant has “ambience”. 

However, this world is not tonally consistent, but plays more like a series of scenes linked together. There are certain scenes that seem to take place in a realistic approximation of the dark ages, filmed with a shaky cam, and then there are scenes that seem straight out of The Lord of the Rings (the troll encounter seems to be in the movie solely to help sell it as a LOTR-type fantasy). Charlize plays the evil queen as brooding and quietly spiteful early on, but later becomes a raving camp version of the character, screaming and stomping her feet. When Snow White awakens from her slumber, she immediately turns from a reserved but plucky young woman into a vocal leader of an army. The movie feels like it wasn’t really directed with any kind of guiding hand. It wasn’t surprising to find out later that this is the first film by Rupert Sanders, who had previously directed commercials. I guess he was hired to bring visual flair to the movie, which he does, but doesn’t really create something thematically and tonally consistent. 

Having said that, the movie mostly works despite being tonally inconsistent. Part of the reason is that the shifts in tone are mostly small and are spaced out over the movie. The scene of Snow White playing with wood nymphs (or whatever those little guys are called) would seem incongruous if it was butted up against scenes of her leading a horse charge a la Joan of Arc, but they aren’t that jarring considering the different points at which they fall within the narrative. I guess you could argue that the movie plays like different chapters in a storybook that aren’t supposed to be consistent with each other (and maybe that’s why the movie works in spite of itself), but I’d prefer a consistent tone and a world where the fantastic elements are clearly defined throughout. The movie begins and ends as a realistic take on a fairy tale, but in between are scenes of magic spells and fantastic creatures. 

Snow White and the Huntsman has an interesting variation on a well worn story at its core, and, despite a wobbly narrative and tonal incongruities, still manages to create its own world with the help of some very talented people (in terms of cinematography, production design, and even special effects). Despite my lugubrious nitpicking, I still found the movie enchanting on some level, maybe as a brooding approximation of 80’s fantasy movies (somewhere between Willow and Dragonslayer). At least it’s not Mirror Mirror, or whatever that bullshit was called.

Monday, June 11, 2012


A young girl (Virginia Newcomb), who frankly looks frightened out of her gourd (I’m gonna assume that if you can be coked out of your gourd, you can be frightened it out of it too), seeks refuge in the “Theatre Guignol”. I know that sounds like a bad idea on paper, but I can see how watching a modern variation on the Grand Guignol might be a safe way to relieve anxiety. However, a rotting mannequin version of Udo Kier comes on stage, and that causes me to rethink my stance. Nothing against the great German actor, but I think it’s probably a good idea to simply run away whenever you see a rotting mannequin version of Udo Kier, even if he has a briefcase full of money to hand to you. Better safe than sorry. 

Anyway, this is actually a linking device (directed by Jeremy Kasten), as creepy doll Udo introduces six different stories while creepy doll people act creepy on stage. It’s rather perfunctory as a linking device, but I guess every horror anthology has to have one for some reason. However, creepy doll people are awesome enough to where I can give them a pass for being perfunctory. 

The first story, “The Mother of Toads”, is about a good looking American couple (Shane Woodward and Victoria Maurette) who are sightseeing in an ultra rustic part of France, where paganism still exists and the crème brulee recipes are probably not up to date (sacre bleu!). The dude buys his girlfriend a pair of earrings, even though he notices that they are modeled after the elder sign from H.P. Lovecraft fame (it’s both a hot look and a red flag). The creepy pagan lady (Catriona MacColl of The Beyond) selling the earrings invites him over to her place to check out her rad book collection. Specifically, she claims to have a copy of the Necronomicon, and dude is into that kind of stuff, while his girlfriend would rather go swimming. Needless to say, things break bad. Specifically, the pagan lady is the mother of a race of toad people. I hate it when you go looking for the Necronomicon and freaky monster people ruin your day. Never again. I’ve learned my lesson. 

“The Mother of Toads” is not the campy Evil Dead ripoff you might expect from the description. Rather, the setup is an excuse for director Richard Stanley to assault the viewer with pagan psychedelic imagery in a way that’s not too stylistically different from his earlier films (like Dust Devil). Watching it is like dropping acid in the middle of a pagan toad ceremony or something. Not that I would know. However, if that’s your average weekend, you might as well skip the segment as it will just seem redundant. 

“I Love You” is the next story, and it’s about a German dude (Andre Hennicke) living in Berlin who wakes up one day and notices a giant cut on his arm. If that wasn’t bad enough, his cold French wife (Suzan Anbeh) shows up, trying to find a way to tell him that she is leaving him for an American guy. He can’t understand what he did to deserve this, but she just tells him that it’s her fault; that what she needs is “to be fucked with a scream…our penis and vagina never liked each other.” As a result, she has “cheated behind (his) back at every opportunity and laughed about it”. I’m no expert at relationships, but maybe there’s a better way to break up with an angry German dude. I guess French women are just frank about sex. God bless ‘em. Anyway, their relationship, shall we say, “breaks bad”. Let’s just leave it at that. 

Directed by Buddy Giovinazzo, this feels like a very European (both literally and stylistically) variation on themes in his earlier films like Combat Shock and No Way Home; that is, desperate men in emotionally desperate situations that end in shocking ways. The central performance is a bit too overdone (maybe Mr. Hennicke isn’t used to acting in English), but this is a well done slice of character-based psychological horror with a stylish and shocking ending. 

The third story, “Wet Dreams”, starts with some hunk (James Gill) being led around by a hot naked chick, only to end up castrated by…well, how do I explain this…you’ll just have to watch it I guess. Thankfully, it was all a nightmare. Phew. However, he wakes up screaming and accidentally elbow smashes his wife (Debbie Rochon) in the face. Thankfully, he realizes that if he is haunted by castration fantasies (both waking and dreaming) to the point where he ends up breaking his wife’s face, it’s probably time to see a psychiatrist. So, he goes to see psychiatrist Tom Savini (another red flag), who sarcastically diagnoses his dream as “not too Freudian”. Savini then asks him if he’s ever raped his mother in his dreams. I guess that’s pretty vital information to have if you’re trying to figure out if someone is crazy. 

However, this is all a "dream within a dream within a dream" structure where our “hero” is subject to castration nightmares (usually of the torture porn variety) that arise because of guilt from cheating on his wife. Directed by Tom Savini, this is more of a cool and amusing effects reel (as you might imagine) than a normal story, but maybe it had a definite structure and I was just confused. I dunno. 

The fourth story, directed by Douglas Buck, is entitled “The Accident”. A mother (Lena Kleine) is trying to explain death to her young daughter (Melodie Simard) before she goes to sleep, intercut with remnants of an accident earlier in the day involving a motorcyclist and a deer from the daughter’s point of view (“Mommy, is that man ever going to wake up again, even as a zombie?”). The biker’s living friend is even forced to kill the dying deer with a knife in front of the daughter. That’s messed up yo. The short is an elegiac and fairly beautiful portrayal of a young girl trying to process the horrors of death, belonging more to the likes of The Spirit and the Beehive than some torture porn movie. 

Up next is “Vision Stains” by Karim Hussain. This one is about a young woman (Kaniehtiio Horn) who lives on skid row in some faceless metropolis (and this is the real hardcore “dead bodies covered in trash” kinda skid row). She is interested in telling the stories of hopeless people (even more hopeless than her). She does so by taking a needle full of eye juice from people while they are dying, and injecting this eye juice (sorry, I’m not a doctor) into her own eye. Well, that’s certainly an innovative way to get to know somebody. I guess interviewing somebody with one of those little tape recorders is old fashioned. Anyway, this allows her to see the memories of the now dead person, and she furiously scribbles what she sees in notebooks in order to chronicle the lives of those lost to society. That’s admirable on some level (although not admirable enough to cancel out the murder part), but things get less admirable and more uncomfortable when she wonders what would happen if she tried to inject the memories of somebody who doesn’t actually have any memories. I'm not saying things break bad, but they don't exactly break great either. I’ll just leave it at that. 

Sort of a gutter poetic Outer Limits episode (VERY gutter), this story manages the mean feat of being disturbing while being built around an original an interesting idea that is unpredictable, but manages to seem somewhat logical in retrospect. Maybe my favorite of the bunch, if you care. 

The last story, “Sweets” by David Gregory, is about a couple (Lindsay Goranson and Guilford Adams) who both have an insane junk food fetish, yet don’t seem to put on any weight (maybe they both do Tae Bo religiously). However, their relationship is turning sour, and she tells him she “needs her space”. Better that ‘ole chestnut than hearing the truth, I guess. So, they decide to attend some ultra fancy modern art party for gluttons, and things break good. Just kidding. They break bad. It’s against the rules of horror movies to have people just sitting around eating the entire time. That’s not gonna fly on the message boards. Even though it’s stylistically pretty cool, this is my least favorite story, as whatever “food as metaphor” thing the director was going for didn’t really work for me, and it felt a little long and pointless as a result. 

 The party has this cool band though, if a guitarist and a cellist can be called a "band".
In summary, if you go in expecting Creepshow, you’ll probably be disappointed. The Theatre Bizarre seems like a case where a group of interesting filmmakers were given free reign to do whatever they wanted, as long as it vaguely fell under the rubric of horror (and even then, maybe only the first story can be said to be a straight horror film). Other than that, there is no real unifying factor, story wise or aesthetic wise. It sort of reminds me of recent arthouse anthologies like Paris, je t'aime, which strings together a bunch of interesting short films whose only connection is that they take place in Paris. I don’t even think every short was about love, but they might have been. I guess love is everywhere when you’re in Paris anyway. 

The results are very refreshing, as each story is unique from each other, both in terms of narrative and style, as well as being unique when compared to other horror movies and shorts. It also hums along, as there are seven stories (if you count the linking segments as one story) jammed in there, although it kind of fizzled out for me considering my least favorite short came last. Either way, I’d much rather see this kind of approach to horror anthologies than the typical fourth rate Creepshow ripoffs you normally see. We get it, there's a hook killer out on lover's lane, and a ghost seeking revenge, and a heavy breather harassing a babysitter. I liked it back when it was done well, thank you. I'd get off of my soapbox, but it has long since collapsed under the weight of my pretensions.

Saturday, June 9, 2012


Your average student film is pretty much the most boring thing ever; somehow even more boring than your typical Emerson Lake & Palmer concert. They usually revolve around a subject that might signify “importance” to a film professor (think footage of homeless people), and are shot in such a way as to show off what the student has learned ins school (ooooh, a dolly shot!). Maybe they’ll throw in a shot of a kid holding a flower because, you know, innocence or whatever. 

However, Gilbert (G.J. Echternkamp) is a student filmmaker who wants to go against the grain and do something EXCITING and WHAM BANG. Specifically, a documentary that chronicles the life of someone trying to kill themselves. Yeah, maybe “exciting” is the wrong word, but it certainly sounds interesting and maybe not-coma-inducing. You know, that plot description reminds me of the plot description for Alejandro Amenabar’s The Sea Inside. According to IMDB, the film chronicles the “life story of Spaniard Ramón Sampedro, who fought a 30-year campaign to win the right to end his life with dignity”. Now, I know this will make me sound like a cold hearted bastard, and keep in mind that I haven’t seen the film and I’m sure it’s wonderful, and I’m sure that the true story, of which I know nothing about, is inspiring, but that plot description made me laugh out loud. I mean, that’s a lot of living for somebody trying to kill themselves. I doubt I could fight for a cause for more than a couple days before I gave up, and I’m not even suicidal. 

Needless to say, the Los Angeles film school that Gilbert is attending has a problem funding a movie where the lead actor is hired because he’s willing to kill himself on camera. Gilbert is shocked and incensed that the “man” is holding him down as an “artist”. You know, if someone dropped a couple of F-bombs into their final thesis, they’re not going to graduate, and you think you can kill a guy on camera and have it sneak under the radar? Really dude? 

Of course, he decides to drop out of school to finish his masterwork. Stick to your guns brah. It should be noted that A Necessary Death is a faux-documentary about the making of Gilbert’s faux-documentary. If you get confused into thinking this stuff is real while reading this review, just keep repeating to yourself: it’s only a movie-within-a-movie, only a movie-within-a-movie, only… 

So, how to go about finding a fresh suicide victim that also looks good on camera? Well, you take an ad out, of course! A wave of people jump at the chance to “star” in the film, so Gilbert has to conduct interviews in order to weed out people to find the one true subject worthy of being weeded out. Unfortunately, most of the candidates that Gilbert interviews are not remotely believable (considering this shit is supposed to be real). There is one woman that mentions that she’s been getting into arguments with her husband lately. You know, maybe I’m warm hearted, but I refuse to believe that a woman would be reading the newspaper and see an ad looking for someone to star in a prolonged snuff film and think to themselves “Hey! An opportunity! You know, my marriage sucks anyway, so why not? Besides, I’ll try anything once!” Bullshit. 

If this sounds morally dubious, I completely agree (I mean, within the reality of the film). If you already know somebody who is completely locked into killing themselves, you can film a documentary about them and see what happens. Maybe they kill themselves, maybe they don’t, but you try to remain at arm’s length. However, if you invite someone to star in a documentary about them killing themselves, made with the exclusive understanding that the ending is pre-determined, you have now become part of the process of their decision to kill themselves. 

Gilbert defends himself with a tossed off line, saying that he is not for suicide, but rather the option to commit suicide. However, people usually commit suicide because their life sucks, and once they are being filmed, knowing that people will see this “star vehicle” after they’re gone, their life completely changes. The movie and the life of that person (and subsequent death) become inextricably linked. Besides the potential legal problems that might arise, I don’t believe a sensitive young film student would drop out of film school to pursue such a morally repugnant (not to mention ghastly) project, no matter how anxious he is to make it in showbusiness. Gilbert only seems to show guilt when people find out he is trying to sell the ongoing documentary to a T.V. station before it is finished. Where is the line between art and, like, making money and stuff? Isn’t the purpose of art, like, to provoke or whatever? Oh shut up. 

Backtracking a bit, the eventual leading man in Gilbert’s progressive documentary is a dude with a terminal brain tumor named Matt (Matt Tilley). He only has a few short weeks before he’ll be bed ridden in horrible pain, so he wants to off himself anyway before things get too hairy. He doesn’t want to break the news to his mom, as his father died the same way, so he decides he wants to be part of a documentary that helps explain to his mother why he will eventually kill himself. You can see why a conversation like that would ruin a family brunch at IHOP. Oh, he’s also well spoken, British, and lives in the greater Los Angeles area. You know what, he’s a little TOO perfect, but hey, there’s no movie without the guy, so I’ll let it slide. As they say, the show must go on. 

The movie works during the scenes where we get to see Matt go through the ritual of preparing for death, whether picking out his casket, or deciding what to do with his CD collection, or trying to find a good building to jump off of. That last bit is sort of important; you don’t want to screw up your own suicide so badly that you end up paralyzed and unable to attempt suicide again. You’ll have the rest of your life to just sit around and think about what a fuck up you are. Once you get past the convenience factor, Matthew Tilley’s performance as Matt makes you really believe this guy is suffering from a brain tumor and resigned to dying. There’s even one great scene where he visits his mother, and she spends time with her son thinking she is part of a “day in the life” documentary, completely unaware that her son plans to kill himself in a couple weeks. However, even this central character is ruined when he is forced into a subplot that plays like a clip from The Real World (seriously). 

What surrounds this emotional core is a film that is not only poorly thought out, but completely disengenous. I can handle ineptitude, but don’t pretend that your movie is about life and death and then, on the other hand, hit us with a poorly made faux-documentary exploitation movie. Of course, there’s the requisite forced twist ending that might be the most cynical moment of all (and I don’t mean “cynical” in a cool Taxi Driver kind of way; I mean it shows contempt for the audience). There are even the requisite montages and faux-important dialogue scenes you find in real student films, but this time as part of a fake documentary about a fake documentary. It just goes to show that, just because you make a movie with a clever found footage gimmick, that doesn’t mean you are exempt from having to make a decent movie. Truth and reality are not merely postures; they have to be earned. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012


A voice tells us about the current state of the world; how there is darkness and light, and there are women AND men, and there is food…and a bunch of other stuff. In order to convince of this, we are also shown footage of men and food and women and darkness, right along with the voice over. I know this seems pedantic, but ask yourself this…what unites these images? Answer: they are from all over the world! Duh! 

The point is that, no matter what country you live in, it’s got women and food and darkness and everything else. So, we are really all the same, basically. Van Halen made a similar point with the song “Humans Being” on the Twister soundtrack, albeit with way more guitar solos. So, maybe this is a boring way to kick off a movie, but we get to see Eva Green’s tits in the next scene. The nudity is actually a flash forward to the point at which the characters Susan and Michael (Eva and Ewan McGregor, respectively) already have a relationship. I guess the opening is meant to setup the dynamic of the film; that is, humanity as a whole is about to experience something, but we are ultimately going to experience it on intimate terms with this couple. The cynical might say that the nudity is forced in there to hook the audience, but I’m not cynical. Not meeeeee! 

Ewan plays a chef at a fancy restaurant in Glasgow, and helping him in the kitchen is Spud from Trainspotting. I know I may be in the minority on this one, but I’m glad they finally sold out and embraced leisure wear and matching luggage. Heroin is, if I remember correctly from my DARE education, “a dead end street that will only end in tears”. Anyway, Susan lives right near the restaurant, and they meet one day when he asks her for a cigarette on his smoke break (me thinks he came unprepared). Of course, since this is a romance, this has to be a scene where she is annoyed by him and doesn’t want anything to do with him. That way, when Michael charms her the next time they meet, the audience will feel like he accomplished something. I think it’s pretty much illegal not to have a scene like that in a romantic movie. 

Susan is a hot scientist that is dealing with a unique problem; there is some sort of pandemic that is causing people to lose their sense of smell! Needless to say, this fucks over the restaurant where Michael works, as people aren’t going to pay good money for food when they have problems tasting stuff. However, it doesn’t end there. There are different symptoms that affect human beings around the world at the same time, as the disease has several different stages. There’s a montage where everybody suddenly becomes angry, and this is conveyed with Youtube clips of riots and people punching other people in the head. There’s a point where suddenly everyone becomes so hungry that they eat anything in sight, leading to a laughable (and vaguely sexual) scene of Eva Green munching on a bouquet of flowers like a hungry dog on PCP (or just a hungry dog). Another symptom is that people become really sad and fall over and start crying, leading to a montage that would pass for a pretty good parody of R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts”. 

However, everything is DEAD serious, as Susan gives vague and portentous voice over about human nature during the many montages, accompanied by a mawkish score that pounds you over the head (although the music would be very good if listened to on it’s own, sort of like how the Twister soundtrack is pretty rad when divorced from the dumbass movie). Instead of giving us specific information and context about what is happening on a global scale (Soderbergh’s Contagion did this very well), these montages ultimately tells us very little. Susan is a scientist dealing with the situation, but her remarks offer absolutely no insight on the matter. Susan could have been an interesting character, a scientist trying to get to the bottom of the plague while being affected by it on a personal level, but it seems that making her a scientist dealing with the plague is merely an exposition device. She never has any insight on the plague, nor a noticeable drive to find out what is really going on (apart from science montages, and I don’t count those). 

It seems like the filmmakers were trying to focus on the human effects of this mysterious disease, and therefore, be a “humanistic” plague movie. However, the “plague” itself becomes an extremely forced way to hammer home the point that “we are all the same”. It’s like a noble sounding arthouse version of a pandemic that causes supermodels to want to take their clothes off and wrestle in Jell-O. Anybody can come up with a worldwide plague that has a bunch of random effects that sends home whatever postcard bullshit you want to convey. The key is to make it specifically defined and scientifically plausible. You are not exempt from this just because you make your movie seem “important”. 

In order to really be a humanistic plague story, it needs to focus on specific humans and their specific situation and reactions to a specific threat, not have a voice over saying “it makes people sad” and then cutting to someone crying while some sad music is playing. The story does try to focus on how the plague affects the relationship between Michael and Susan, but we don’t get much background of the characters or their relationship. It seems like two good looking people in a romantic tryst, and occasionally some random magic power causes them to do something weird, like cry or start yelling or break things, and this negatively impacts their relationship. I imagined a version of the film where a well-developed couple is truly in love when a mysterious plague causes them to lose a single sense. How will it affect their relationship specifically? Their intimacy? Will they become angry or scared and take it out on their partner? The storytelling is nowhere near that specific or defined. 

They could have had two isolated characters being affected by a plague they don’t understand, but the movie includes constant worldwide updates by an omnipresent scientist. Yet the movie itself seems not to understand anything that’s going on. You can’t have it both ways. It’s either mysterious or it isn’t. These worldwide montages are inexcusable from a filmmaking standpoint, but they also take away from the relationship, both by cutting away from it and by not leaving more time for it to develop. 

Having said that, there are some nice scenes between the two actors, and some cool little ideas that actually seem logical, like the scene where Michael visits a music club after everyone goes deaf, and the band is playing low frequency instruments that can be felt rather than heard. However, the film is ruined by the vague science fiction storytelling and the insistent hammering home of Hallmark platitudes. It’s like listening to someone ramble on in a coffee shop, saying “you know, if things went bad around the world or whatever, people would, like, come together and stuff and realize what’s important.” Maybe, maybe not, but show me a story where this happens; don’t just fucking talk about it for 90 minutes. Also, please lose the beret. We’re in Starbucks, not a café in sixties Paris. Asshole.