Hell and Back

'Hell and Back' movie poster

Release: Friday, October 2, 2015

[Netflix]

Written by: Tom Gianas; Hugh Sterbakov; Zeb Wells

Directed by: Tom Gianas; Ross Shuman

Hell and Back is the result of a very goofy experiment. It manifests as Tom Gianas and Ross Shuman’s crude mash-up of Beavis and Butthead‘s juvenile sense of humor with Team America‘s suggestive (offensive?) usage of stop-motion animation.

The long and short of it? If you’re a fan of things like South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut or even just the episodes of the show where Satan plays a prominent role in the narrative, this gleefully profane trip to the bowels of the underworld is going to be right up your alley. You probably won’t even mind the fact that ultimately the farcical adventure succumbs to being just too stupid — most of the time you’ll be so caught up in the visual oddity, the spectacle of buffoonery that it really is, that you will have missed the memo about anything making sense here.

Three . . . I guess you could call them friends . . . work at a shabby theme park that is about to be foreclosed upon due to its being just a total POS. There’s the hipster/punk Remy (Nick Swardson), chubby Augie (T.J. Miller) and the conniving Curt (Rob Riggle) who is really good at bumming things without paying back. When he once again callously thieves a mint from Remy after taking a blood oath, he finds himself getting dragged down to hell via a portal that opens up in the tent of the bizarre Madame Zonar. Remy and Augie chase after him by jumping in to the same portal.

The sooner you accept this development as the catalyst for the rest of your viewing entertainment, the better, because Hell and Back is very adept at upping the ante when it comes to the bizarre. Hell is depicted as a (spoiler alert) miserable place where souls are tortured without mercy, and Satan (Bob Odenkirk) rules like a badass while trying to impress the beautiful Angel Barb (Susan Sarandon). This is a world filled with degenerates and supreme underachievers . . . and H. Jon Benjamin-voiced trees that happen to be sex offenders. On the matter of torture, it can be hard to watch: there’s the Taco Bell/Pizza Hut split restaurant where you can’t buy pizza, only Taco Bell products; neapolitan ice cream is available but only the strawberry flavor and the escalators don’t work so you have to use them like stairs.

The adventure pits Remy and Augie against hell’s aggressive demons and myriad other dangers but they also find assistance in the form of Mila Kunis’ Deema. With her the pair set off to find Orpheus (Danny McBride), a Greek legend who can remove mortals from the depths of hell. They believe he’s their only hope of finding Curt and escaping with their lives. Unfortunately when they encounter him Orpheus is loathe to help as he claims to have retired from the game of saving mortals. (More on his story if you so choose to watch this film, but I won’t ruin it here.)

Hell and Back is a patently absurd production, and the deeper we venture into it the more the guys behind this seem to revel in the weirdness. Though it lacks a lot of the really pointed criticisms of contemporary society that Trey Parker and Matt Stone infuse their work with, this collaborative script is a relentless parody of Biblical cliché where the jokes (and swear words) flow freely and the visuals complement the material disturbingly appropriately.

When it comes to the impact of said jokes this is certainly a case of quantity over quality but that’s not to the complete detriment of the film as a lot of them land and land hard. A superb range of voice talent brings a ridiculous cast of characters to life, and while the story does sag like something I can’t mention here, when all is said and done, reveling in the weirdness is just too fun.

Curt chillin with Satan

Recommendation: Fans of Beavis and Butthead, South Park and Family Guy need apply. Delightfully tacky yet unrefined (wait, whoops), Hell and Back fits the bill of a guilty pleasure for those with a more cynical sense of humor. Some pretty good fun to be had here.

Rated: R

Running Time: 86 mins.

Quoted: “I’m so scared my shit just shit its pants.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.dailydead.com; http://www.aceshowbiz.com 

Nebraska

nebraska_xlg

Release: Friday, November 15, 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

“Back in my day, sonny, black-and-white films were all we had. You had no idea if it meant a film was going to be good or not. But you always knew that corn was going to be.”

With Nebraska being the great Alexander Payne’s follow-up to The Descendants — a gorgeous film which happened to snag an Oscar trophy for Best Screenplay in 2012 — it’s natural to assume it will be a product of the utmost quality. That’s a safe assumption to make, by the way, because this 2013 effort from the Nebraska-born director — one that provides a beautiful yet somber cross-section of life in the corn belt — is, for the lack of a better word, brilliant.

Every film has its own rubric for how it shall be remembered. No matter how effective or ineffective these are, there’s always going to be that one element that sticks out like a sore thumb, the one thing that the overwhelming majority of filmgoers will remember about their experience. Some works like to boast their visual effects (what’s that one movie that Alfonso Cuarón just did. . .I hear it was a good one), while others tout their A-list cast as if it were a banquet of performances on which worldwide audiences shall feast (American Hustle; Out of the Furnace; Lee Daniels’ The Butler being some of the prime examples this year). Others still bank on the strength of their screenplay to achieve a desired effect. In these cases, the talent of the cast can range from questionable to award-winning, but ultimately the performances will fall second place to the story at hand as characters function more as chess pieces on a massive game board (The Hobbit, anyone?).

While films certainly will have great strength in other areas — the second installment in the Hunger Games franchise is a great example of a strong cast executing a spectacular story (even if it’s not an entirely original one) — at the end of the day, one element tends to outweigh the rest, becoming the take-away, ultimate last impression. Especially when talking about the casual movie goer. In the case of Nebraska, while it’s no journey to Mt. Doom or Battle Royale, Woody Grant (Bruce Dern)’s mission to get to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim his prize money of one million dollars in any way possible is very much a moving story that uses actors who don’t necessarily jump off the screen but are perfect fits for the narrative at hand.

Never before has sleepytown U.S.A. seen such excitement. When Woody comes rolling through Hawthorne, Nebraska on his way to collecting what he thinks are his earned winnings via some random sweepstakes, he finds himself quickly becoming the talk of the town. Old friends, family members and neighbors alike come out of the woodwork to “congratulate” Woody on this news. Fortunately his sons David (Will Forte) and Ross (Bob Odenkirk) reflect our concerns about his delusion. However, after seeing his father on multiple occasions walking dangerously down busy roads in an attempt to reach his destination on foot, David reluctantly drives the fragile, stolid man to Nebraska, fully aware this is a wild goose chase. In an attempt to divert Woody’s attention for just a brief bit, he stalls in Hawthorne and the family has a big get-together, mostly to see Woody. Considering his deteriorating mental and physical state, David has no clue how long his old man will be around for and figures a family reunion could end this obsession with the sweepstakes coupon.

It is in this ever-eroding town, a culture that is ingeniously enhanced by Payne’s decision to shoot in grayscale, where the problems begin to arise. It’s one thing for Kate, David and Ross to be concerned (read: frustrated) by Woody’s ignorance here, but quite another for an entire town to be let in on the secret. Despite David’s best efforts to keep it quiet, the least perceptive viewer should realize that it’s a matter of inevitability before everyone knows about Woody’s sudden good fortune.

The story is deceivingly complex, and equally so enriched with humanity. While the primary thread is about Woody trying to get his cash, this is more importantly a study of a way of life in the American mid-west that seems to be on the verge of extinction. In multiple beautifully captured shots, one can sense the dust and cobwebs climbing up and over everything, burying underneath it a longstanding history of humbled tradition, one that prides itself on its dedication to manual labor and small-town mom-and-pop business. Obviously, corn is a priority. But that’s not what the big picture is here. What’s more startling than anything is how much these places seem to have fallen by the wayside with the advent of technology in the 21st Century. This is a film set in present day, but it could just as easily have been set in the 1960s; the forties. There’s something about Payne’s choice of location that is timeless — not in the romantic sense, per se, but more so in the dog-with-three-legs kind of way.

But that last paragraph is more extrapolation than anything else. What really runs deep is the journey to discover what makes the Grant family tick.

In a place where gossip spreads like wildfire due to a lack of other avenues of entertainment, the biggest challenge facing the Grants concerns the town’s potential reaction to what we all might assume is the reality of his situation: he’s not a millionaire. He’s just a sad, confused man, desperate to cling on to something, anything in his last years. In the process of getting to Lincoln, there is so much to be discovered about the relationships between father and son, between wife and husband, and perhaps most troublingly, that of the one between Woody and his friends. . .namely, Ed Pegram (Stacy Keach), a man he enlisted in the Korean War with.

Payne continues to refine his ability to balance gloom-and-doom with comedy in this Bruce Dern-led drama. This film brings tears to the eye as effortlessly as it wrings laughter from a deadpan script. A great deal of the comedy stems from Squibb’s disproval of her husband, but these moments never feel anything less than genuine. The same can be said about the particularly low moments. There is heart ache abound in this low-key drama about the true despair of aging and the importance of family. At the end of the day, Nebraska is one great example of a film relying on the strength and authenticity of its storytelling. Audiences are going to latch on to many aspects of this movie (the performances are truly excellent), but in this case, the most resonant aspect is the crushing blow to the ego that lotteries and sweepstakes provide more often than not. The money (especially the lack thereof) doesn’t necessarily make the man.

nebraska-2

4-5Recommendation: While it helps to be a follower of the Alexander Payne school of film, Nebraska is a thoroughly well-made film that deserves a wider audience than it’s getting. Quiet, unassuming and surprisingly emotional (surprising, given the setting), the story of Woody Grant is extremely touching. One of this reviewer’s favorites of 2013 to be sure. Go see it.

Rated: R

Running Time: 114 mins.

Quoted: “C’mon, have a beer with your old man. Be somebody.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com