The Platform (El Hoyo)

Release: Friday, March 20, 2020 

→Netflix

Written by: David Desola; Pedro Rivero

Directed by: Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia

In any other year the Spanish-produced, dystopian horror/thriller The Platform would still be an interesting albeit nauseating allegory for the dog-eat-dog world in which we live. Now, in the era of a global pandemic, with priorities shifted and critical resources running in drastically short supply, the depiction has become chillingly timely.

The Platform (original title El Hoyo) is the feature directorial debut of Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia and it is an angry one. He isolates his cast in a brutally violent, multi-floored metaphor for the imbalance of wealth in a capitalist society. This exceedingly grim tale of survivalism plays out entirely in a brilliantly designed high rise prison complex in which inmates are paired off on each floor, and the lower the floor number (i.e. the closer to the top of the structure) the better off you are. Each concrete cell has a large, rectangular hole carved out in the middle of the floor, through which a platform carrying a mountain of delicious foods descends every 24 hours from the Michelin star-worthy kitchen located on the top floor.

Ostensibly there’s enough food to go around but it proves very difficult to convince those above you to ration what they consume. You have a couple of minutes to dine before the platform makes its way down through the mist of an unfathomable depth, where those on lower levels must contend with the leftovers . . . of the leftovers . . . of the leftovers, until the spread is reduced to scraps and bones. Beyond that, self-preservation really starts to kick in and the desperate resort to cannibalism. Welcome to the Pit or, if you’re a part of the Administration, “vertical self-management center.” This is a place that makes Shawshank look like the Marriott. A place where suicide by way of hurling one’s self into the yawning abyss seems like a good alternative to death by starvation — or indeed, being eaten by your roomie.

Subtlety is not one of the strengths of David Desola and Pedro Rivero’s screenplay. Instead it revels in symbolism and sadism. They provide an audience surrogate in Goreng (Ivan Massagué), a young man who becomes a focal point of a revolt. His interactions with his cell mate Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor) give us an intriguing entry point into all this madness. While everything is “obvious” to the jaded elder, who is nearing the end of a 12-month sentence, Ivan struggles to get a grip on this new reality. He stashes an untouched apple in his pocket for later, only to discover hoarding is a punishable offense.

In the opening moments Trimagasi assures us where we are now (Level 48) is not such a bad place to be. In fact it’s pretty good, considering there are at least some 150 levels and you only spend a month on any given level. At the end of that period, prisoners are gassed and sent to a different one, which could be good news or it could mean a month of starvation. It’s like Chutes and Ladders but with bloody consequences. The filmmakers take a sadistic pleasure in playing with this motif of awakening into the unknown.

The delirium brought on by the Pit is filtered entirely through Ivan’s point of view. However the story also provides several different characters for him to feed off of. The screenwriters are not really interested in personalities. Instead they deploy the supporting cast more symbolically: There’s Imoguiri (Antonia San Juan), a former Pit authority figure whose terminal cancer diagnosis has inspired her to seek change from within; Baharat (Emilio Buale), a black prisoner who only ever gets shit on for trying to move up a notch; and a number of other contributors convey the varying psychological states of being on a higher or lower level.

The most fascinating character however is a woman named Miharu (Alexandra Masangkay) who freely roams through the prison supposedly in a desperate search for her missing child. Her agency becomes a vital piece in this puzzle of understanding what Ivan is and will become and, ultimately, what this movie is suggesting about society and class structure. While the ending is bound to frustrate those who are expecting the movie to continue to spell out everything, there is enough here to extract something positive out of this otherwise insanely dark and disturbing descent into human despair.

Recommendation: Not for the squeamish, nor for those who are bothered by English dubbed dialogue (that was a hurdle I personally had to overcome). With that out of the way, I’m now pretty eager to see Vincenzo Natali’s sci fi/horror Cube from 1997 — a movie that this Netflix offering has been compared to by a number of critics and bloggers alike. And vice versa, if you’re a fan of that cult classic I’d imagine you’re going to have some fun with this one. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 90 mins.

Quoted: “This is not a good place for someone who likes reading.”

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Photo credits: IMDb; The Maine Edge 

The Perfection

Release: Friday, May 24, 2019 (Netflix)

→Netflix

Written by: Eric C. Charmelo; Nicole Snyder; Richard Shepard 

Directed by: Richard Shepard

Thanks to Twitter, The Perfection will be remembered more for its gross-out moments rather than what it’s actually about. The notorious Netflix horror/thriller certainly does get messy and intense, but it is more skin-crawling in terms of its thematic content. The outpouring of “I’m physically ill” tweets has you believing it’s a new Tom Six offering (of The Human Centipede infamy), when really this is closer in spirit to Kill Bill — only with cellists, meat cleavers and gorgeous dresses instead of assassins, katanas and yellow-and-black jumpsuits.

So, what is it about? The Perfection, directed by Richard Shepard and written by himself, Eric Charmelo and Nicole Snyder, is essentially a revenge tale about two exceptionally gifted musicians who come to terms with what they have had to sacrifice for the perfect performance and embolden themselves to seek justice against those responsible for ruining their lives.

Charlotte Willmore (Allison Williams) was once a promising talent; in fact she was the very best cellist the Boston-based Bachoff academy had to offer. She withdrew from the program to take care of her terminally ill mother. After her passing Charlotte reconnects with the academy’s leader Anton (Steven Weber) in Shanghai to help him and his wife Paloma (Alaina Huffman) select a new student. There she meets Lizzie (Logan Browning), a prodigy who apparently “replaced” Charlotte, and two shooting stars collide. A night of passion begets a seemingly genuine friendship, with an insanely hungover Lizzie insisting Charlotte join her on a trip through rural China to clear her head.

(Here’s where Twitter goes berserk.)

The admittedly pretty unpleasant bus ride scene is where the writers really begin playing with the fabric of reality, where we learn something new (and again in seemingly every other scene henceforth) about the central dynamic binding Charlotte to Lizzie, and the two to Anton. Where the tango between admiration and jealousy begins. Where, depending on how critical you are of a moment or two of histrionic performance, you either lose your trust and/or interest in the narrative completely or dig into its sordid twists and turns with fervor. The dueling performances of Williams and Browning are the best things about The Perfection, though they’re not perfect.

Though that might be debatable in a psychological thriller that increasingly becomes about the message. As the hysteria leads to an impressive amount of body parts being sliced and diced Williams and Browning ratchet up the intensity to match the environment. Your sympathies are constantly — and compellingly — reconfigured on one side or the other. The subtext is of course less about the historical significance of music than it is about men controlling, dominating and abusing women, and their subjugation to if not irrelevance then Second Place (it is no coincidence — at least, I hope not — that the movie samples/references Mozart, Bach and Handel as opposed to Kassiani, Mendelssohn or Schumann).

In The Perfection a woman’s gotta go to some pretty gnarly extremes to break free of her literal shackles. This is not a subtle message movie, but given its timeliness perhaps we are well past the point of being subtle. However the stylistic flare is sometimes laid on too thick, particularly with the tape literally being rewound to update you on specific developments. Triumphing over the flaws is the intensity of the protagonists’ rage, specifically born out of the roiling, woke wake of serial sexual harassers Harvey Weinstein/Bill Cosby/Larry Nassar (anyone else I’m forgetting feel free to add — and curse as you see fit — in the comments below). For all of its narrative gimmickry and occasionally OTT acting, it would be me lying bald-faced to say the violent comeuppance isn’t perfectly satisfying.

Silence is golden.

Recommendation: So the hysteria surrounding the film itself proves to be, once again, ridiculously overblown. Yeah, it features some gross-out moments in the beginning but more so at the end but I wouldn’t say the aesthetic punishes without purpose. The Perfection is very entertaining, and disgustingly timely. 

Rated: hard R

Running Time: 90 mins.

Quoted: “I made a mistake.”

“Yes, you did.”

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

Wounds

Release: Friday, October 18, 2019 (Hulu — U.S./Netflix internationally)

→Hulu

Written by: Babak Anvari

Directed by: Babak Anvari

The word ‘wounds’ really makes me feel icky. It’s a trigger for me like ‘moist’ is for others. (Sorry if I just made you wince.) I hate. The word. Wounds.

Masochist that I am, I chose to watch a movie with that as the title. Appropriately it grossed me out, but not always in a good way. It’s a weird, nasty, inexplicable (also not-in-a-good-way) psychological/possession thriller set in The Big Easy, featuring a likable cast including Armie Hammer, Dakota Johnson, Karl Glusman (yes, that Karl Glusman) and the rising Zazie Beetz and costarring cockroaches — thousands of ’em. All of a sudden my college days at 2305 Highland Avenue seem not so bad.

W****s is the second feature length film from British-Iranian director Babak Anvari. I wasn’t entirely bowled over by his previous effort, the 2016 Tehran-set thriller Under the Shadow but unfortunately his follow-up only serves to make that one look superior. The story follows Will, a perpetually boozing N’awlins bartender played by Armie Hammer, as his week goes from bad to worse to just plain disgusting after he takes home a phone left behind at the bar he keeps. It belongs to one of the underage college kids who fled the scene when a brawl broke out between a few of the regulars (Brad William Henke as Eric; Luke Hawx as Marvin — good ole boys with the builds of a former NFL player and pro wrestler respectively).

What at first appears to be a cautionary tale about the dangers of being careless with one’s phone — a creepy scene suggests just how easy it is for the wrong person to unlock all the wonders hidden within our personal devices, no matter how sophisticated the lock screen pattern — evolves into a lackadaisically paced, occasionally head (and armpit)-scratching descent into madness and obsession that finds Will and his girlfriend Carrie (Dakota Johnson) battling forces no one, including the audience, can hope to understand.

A hammered Hammer does well with a script that characterizes men as confrontational bulls incapable of showing affection and maybe even unworthy of it and women as the bane of their existence . . . or at the very least, the source of their emotional w****s. (Aha! I see what you’re doing, Mr. Anvari — your movie title is a double entendre.*) Johnson does what she can as Carrie, but her arc is so rushed in development it’s stunning how anyone could have thought this was sufficient. She’s too good for Will, who prefers living in the moment to moving up to the next level in life. While Carrie’s actively trying to better herself — she’s writing a term paper that bizarrely gets sidelined when she becomes consumed by the mystery of what’s on that stupid phone — Will spends almost the entire movie lusting after his bar friend Alicia (Zazie Beetz), whose boyfriend Jeffrey (Glusman) struggles to assert himself as a tough guy.

Writer/director Babak Anvari, as he proved with his début effort, is good at establishing and sustaining an ominous atmosphere. Events take their sweet time to live up to the vibes telegraphed perhaps too early by the soundtrack but eventually they do, particularly in a memorable, if vomit-inducing climax that leaves as big a mark visually as it does aurally. Anvari also takes advantage of setting, turning the host city of Mardi Gras into a ghost town where oversized bugs seem in greater abundance than people.

However, his inability to elucidate why any of this supernatural/sacrificial gobbledygook matters proves catastrophic. The transformations of our (quite honestly unlikable) protagonists makes less than no sense. Tertiary characters surface in weird ways only to be unceremoniously kicked to the cockroach-infested curb, though the product placement for the Dodge Charger is not to be understated. Frustratingly that shocking, gruesome final scene is far better than anything that has come before it in terms of delivering the horror. In a better movie though it might have been the rule, not the terribly obvious exception.

* Okay, so technically his movie is based on a novella called The Visible Filth. Why, oh why couldn’t they have just stuck with that name?! That’s so much better than . . . ugh, I can’t even type it. 

Recommendation: Cockroaches, cockroaches and, oh, what’s this? More cockroaches. Wounds‘ shock value is more like shlock value. Your time is too valuable to waste on a movie that fails to justify itself. The most shocking thing about this movie is how it attracted a cast this good. Though I wonder how much worse this might have been without it. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 95 mins.

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

Little Monsters

Release: Friday, October 11, 2019 (Hulu)

→Hulu

Written by: Abe Forsythe

Directed by: Abe Forsythe

With the horror-comedy Little Monsters, Australian director and actor Abe Forsythe is empowering teachers and children alike, arming them with brains and bravery as they try to survive hordes of flesh-eating zombies — the slow kind, not the fast kind. It’s a really admirable concept that turns tradition on its rotting zombified head, a survival tale that’s more feel-good than feel-dread.

Despite the fact there are many youngsters running around underfoot this is very much a movie for the grown-ups. Little Monsters has a positive message to send about people learning to take responsibility for themselves and for others, but the visual aesthetic is hardly divorced from the gruesomeness native to the ultra-popular genre. When a zombie outbreak occurs in an American testing facility in the Land Down Under and threatens a petting zoo full of tourists and children (and lambs! No!!) things indeed get gory AF. The dialogue is laden with vulgarities and there are moments where adults regress to an embarrassingly infantile state. These are fairly pronounced elements that jettison Forsythe’s savagely funny subversion of the zombie apocalypse well out of family-friendly territory.

Dave (Alexander England) is having a tough time when he and his girlfriend split up. She wants kids, he doesn’t. An amusing montage opens the film showing the couple in a ruthless fight that endures everywhere they go. The wannabe rockstar finds himself crashing on his sister Tess (Kat Stewart)’s couch and right now it’s not possible for him to care less about anything. He’s rude and obnoxious around everyone, including her son Felix (Diesel La Torraca), who is at one point exposed to the humiliation of Dave discovering his ex getting it on with an older man — a man “more in touch with his feelings” than Dave ever was.

In danger of being kicked out of his sister’s place Dave obliges in taking Felix to school the next day, where he meets the effervescent kindergarten teacher Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o). He immediately develops an infatuation with her — so much so he volunteers as a class chaperone on a field trip to a farm/petting zoo in order to spend more time with her. But that ring finger offers a brutal smackdown. Making matters worse, a popular kids show host named Mr. McGiggles (an incredibly annoying Josh Gad) is on site to film an episode. He is also smitten by Miss Caroline. For some reason kids are drawn to this Jared the Subway Guy archetype. His issues are a shade less awful than that admittedly. Mr. McGiggles has a thing for moms — all moms, not just “the hot ones.”

You suffer through this awkward trudge through self-pitying, slapdash character development to get to Little Monster‘s much more entertaining (and bloody) second half, where a once pleasant scene becomes overrun by the hilariously inept, disgustingly gurgly undead. Forsythe, who writes, directs, and appears briefly as a zombie, plays the encounters with these gack-covered extras for pure comedy, while finding little teaching moments here and there as the situation escalates, the group getting pinned down in the visitor’s center, surrounded by a group of sauntering, sloughy-skinned specters.

Nyong’o gets an A+ as her character faces down her worst fears — not of her own mortality (not that that’s ever really in question here) but rather of failing to protect her little ones. She’s also more than a soft-spoken educator, showing off her dulcet tones and ukulele skills. Miss Caroline can also defend herself, evidenced in a tense scene wherein she has to retrieve Felix’s epipen before he goes into shock. Back on the ranch, England’s rather OTT “woe as me, my life is shit” performance breaks into something readily agreeable as he comes into his own as a protector. It’s a pretty radical change but one that’s really welcomed — if anything it’s optimism to offset the insanely obnoxious, frankly embarrassing Mr. McGiggles.

Little Monsters may be pretty clunky in places; the juxtaposition between the plight of the main characters and the cuts to the military personnel arming up for battle is jarring and some of the dialogue is cringe inducing. However one of its absolute strengths is that it doesn’t condescend to the kids. It’s a major spoiler to reveal it, but suffice to say newcomer Diesel La Torraca gets one of the most adorable stand-out moments you’ve seen in a zombie movie. In fact, and in spite of the more annoyingly, patently obvious attempts to go for that R rating, that’s how I’d categorize Little Monsters — an adorable little zombie movie. Yeah, it’s kind of weird to actually write that — but tell me I’m wrong.

Recommendation: Little Monsters is kind of a strange one because while it most definitely is a positive message movie, it’s also outfitted with so much adult language and gory imagery it’s one best to throw on after you’ve put your kids to bed. A fun, Australian-flavored zombie romp that leans far more towards comedy than horror that gives Hulu just a bit more clout. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 93 mins.

Quoted: “It’s part of a game. The zombies are not real.”

“Like f**k they’re not!”

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

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

A Cure for Wellness

cure-poster

Release: Friday, February 17, 2017

[Theater]

Written by: Justin Haythe

Directed by: Gore Verbinski

Gore Verbinski, the punk-rocker-turned filmmaker who coughed up the mess that was the 2013 reboot of The Lone Ranger, returns with an icky horror epic about a hot-shot Wall Streeter who travels to a remote rehab facility stashed high in the Swiss Alps to retrieve his company’s seemingly AWOL CEO. When he arrives there, he discovers his mission won’t be as simple as he had hoped.

Dane DeHaan gets to play the ambitious young stockbroker Lockhart who must find a man named Roland Pembroke (Harry Groener) and return him to New York City to sign off on a massive merger that is about to make everyone filthy rich. The problem is, Pembroke, like many of the patients at the facility, isn’t in a hurry to leave. There’s something about the fresh Alpine air and the soothing aqua-therapy treatments that makes it really hard to return to the grind of modern living.

Lockhart suspects something is afoot as soon as he arrives but he isn’t exactly the altruistic sort. He isn’t even that interested in the welfare of his CEO. He’s preoccupied with saving himself from ruination after his higher-ups discover his unscrupulousness and send him off to Switzerland to complete a simple task. When Lockhart becomes involved in a car accident he wakes up in the treatment facility as a patient, one of his legs seemingly broken. A Dr. Heinrich Volmer (Jason Isaacs) assures Lockhart that through a steady intake of clean drinking water and a sampling of the facilities, he’ll be back to normal in no time.

A Cure for Wellness deals almost exclusively in vaguery and abstraction, a creative decision often hazardous to the film’s own health. Contradictory, disturbing and often downright baffling imagery complements as much as it detracts from the journey to find a cure for “man’s sickness.” Throughout we are beaten over the head with decreasingly effective reminders that the outside world is sick, not so much in a physical sense, but rather in a psychological or emotional one. Perhaps even in a philosophical sense. Whatever sounds the most grandiose.

Avarice is what’s ailing Lockhart, apparently. He’s an unlikable brat for whom sympathy is nearly impossible to gain. But that’s less of a problem when we come to realize this isn’t a character-driven piece, that Lockhart is really just a plot device rather than an actual human being for whom we’re supposed to feel something — perhaps pity. A screenplay by Justin Haythe (of aforementioned Lone Ranger infamy) recycles and rehashes and reemphasizes the movie’s already familiar themes and fails to excavate any emotion out of the myriad perversities.

In A Cure for Wellness, DeHaan’s inconsistencies as an actor become fairly obscured by the film’s hypnotic, gothic sheen. In a movie that deemphasizes performance and characterization in favor of communicating big, heavy themes, the actor can (sort of) get away with a shallow portrayal of Wall Street filth. He’s serviceable in what might be considered his most unique career choice yet.

Yet his involvement in the story is confusing. It is unclear whether he’s meant to be the ambassador of all mankind or just the one-percenters who do what they must in order to remain at the top. Verbinski’s ambitions beg for a stronger character-oriented story. Instead the film leaves DeHaan adrift in an observational role that barely justifies our access to the specific rooms and the specific experiences that Lockhart finds himself wading through haphazardly. The end result is a meandering, emotionally hollow cinematic experience.

I don’t want to harp on the running time too much because I find it’s not really the length that’s the problem, but rather the way the time is spent. Cohesion is certainly a problem and the cure might have been to trim a few segments here and there. Ultimately though, it’s the circles we end up running in as Lockhart slowly puts the puzzle pieces together and attempts to free himself from a world much more twisted than our own.

In an attempt to distract from the lack of substance he has to back up his thesis on the folly of modern society, Verbinski hypnotizes with a barrage of visuals that are as gorgeous as they are often off-putting. It’s what I would describe as lazy filmmaking and it left me with the queasy feeling that I just sat through a nearly three hour movie that had nothing to offer at all — other than the sorts of breathtaking vistas only the Swiss Alps can provide.

mia-goth-and-dane-dehaan-in-a-cure-for-wellness

2-0Recommendation: A Cure for Wellness offers curious viewers a visually spectacular but somewhat empty cinematic experience. There are a few truly compelling sequences and some stuff that might not let you sleep for a day or so, but more often than not the movie is entirely unsurprising and not very involving. Dane DeHaan fans might be pleased to see the actor branching out, however. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 146 mins.

Quoted: “Do you know what the cure for the human condition is? Disease. Because that’s the only way one could hope for a cure.” 

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 

Baskin

'Baskin' movie poster

Release: Friday, March 25, 2016 (limited)

[Vimeo]

Written by: Can Evrenol; Ogulcan Eren Akay; Cem Ozuduru; Ercin Sadikoglu

Directed by: Can Evrenol


This review is my latest contribution to Mr. Rumsey’s Film Related Musings. It’s another underground foreign film that I have heard few, but interesting, things about and I’d like to thank James for the opportunity to talk about it.


Eye-gougings. Keyholes in foreheads. Buckets of frogs and portals to Hell. Welcome to the mad, blood-soaked world of Baskin, the debut feature from Can Evrenol, one of only eight Turkish films ever to receive distribution in North America. If you want the truth, there’s no good way to prepare yourself for the craziness that awaits once you decide to enter, and given its incredibly nasty conclusion, perhaps only the most ardent of gore hounds will emerge unscathed from the visceral stylings of this extended version of Evrenol’s 2013 short film of the same name.

Baskin (Turkish for “police raid”) centers around a squad called upon for back-up at a remote location where they encounter a scene so shocking it puts even the most heinous of FBI and DEA crime scenes to shame, a blood-splattered dungeon inhabited by the film’s big bad, a satanic cult leader referred to as Father Baba (Mehmet Cerrahoglu, whose rare skin condition mostly affords the character his creepiness). This nameless pit is an infinitely grim place where torture and misery run rampant and to which the majority of the production budget was clearly funneled. Unfortunately it’s also one of the only bright spots in a film constantly drowning in its own mess.

Thematically, it’s tough to get a sense of what Evrenol is trying to convey here. (Satanic cults are hazardous to your health; try to stay away from them, mmmmmkay?) Overt religious imagery does not on its own constitute thematic depth or innovation. Granted, not every horror flick has an obligation to deliver the goods in symbolic fashion, but if they have any interest in staying competitive, they must then rely much more heavily upon the novelty of the story being told, not to mention whatever evil lurks in the shadows. In the case of Baskin, the story’s not quite solid enough to justify the work we have to put in to make sense of what’s going on. As for the villain? More on that later.

One of the cops in this group is the young Arda (Gorkem Kasal), who to this day struggles to overcome haunting memories from his childhood. He possesses some kind of telepathic ability that’s never properly explained, giving Evrenol free range to implement extremely interruptive flashbacks that kill the momentum being built in the present. If it’s Arda’s perspective from which we’re meant to derive any meaning here, it’s not established enough to make any impact. If we’re meant to be watching this all play out from the otherwise omniscient camera angles, those aren’t employed effectively enough either. In short, we’re left with a confused point of view that doesn’t improve even when we descend into what appear to be the bowels of the Underworld.

If there’s one thing Baskin excels at it’s shock value. The violence is so great so as to threaten comedy, but fortunately it stays on just the right side of exploitative. Torture never descends into parody, though it’s so nasty you’re desperate to force out a fake chuckle or two. At the heart of the evil is Cerrahoglu’s hooded Father figure, a vile creature who explains to his captives that Hell isn’t necessarily some place you go to. It’s “something you carry with you” at all times. Father Baba is an unequivocal nightmare, one of the more original-looking and genuinely terrifying villains in recent memory. James Wan may conjure up some good scares in his haunted houses but he could learn a thing or two about creating truly nasty baddies.

Indeed, if there’s any real takeaway from the chaos that becomes Baskin‘s slide into total depravity it’s that first-time actor Cerrahoglu has a promising future, should he decide to pursue acting further. He makes for a truly unsettling presence in a film that struggles to create much in the way of suspense and intrigue. There are some interesting ideas at play, including telepathy, but none of it is capitalized on with a story that prefers ambiguity over logic and coherence.

Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 11.24.36 PM

Recommendation: Baskin is somewhat of an extreme film, though comparisons to contemporary boundary-pushers like Gaspar Noé and Tom Six might be in themselves extreme. Can Evrenol’s film certainly can be looked at as a depressing, nihilistic work and its denouement gives viewers the same sense of hopelessness that John Carpenter’s The Thing gave audiences decades ago. Though this is neither body horror nor the kind of dread-inducing cauldron that Carpenter’s picture has been cemented in history as, nor is it quite as gross as Human Centipede, Baskin sits somewhere in the middle — a purgatory of nastiness that is likely going to struggle to find a fanbase. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 97 mins.

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

TBT: National Lampoon’s Van Wilder (2002)

Panic time is now over as I have finally found something to talk about this Thursday. (Why don’t I have a DVD plan with Netflix yet? That would surely eliminate some of this stress of finding movies I want to see only to be denied by a limited viewing availability. Oh, wait. That’s right. It costs more money. Yes, I’m poor — I can’t afford that kind of an upgrade, and yes, I will allow you to snicker at me. That’s totally fine.) But once again my DVD library saves me and I don’t have to skip out on

Today’s food for thought: Van Wilder.

National Lampoon's Van Wilder

Refusing to graduate since: April 5, 2002

[DVD]

It might be surprising to some that a film like Van Wilder, a male college freshman’s wet dream, shares the umbrella title ‘National Lampoon’ with the likes of comedy classics such as the Vacation films and Animal House. How could the company have allowed such a degradation of their comedic appeal to happen? Of course, I hold my judgment for what came after the Ryan Reynolds vehicle. There’s a movie floating out there called National Lampoon’s Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj which extends Kal Penn’s redemptive story arc from this film into a full-length feature in which he grows into his own at a fictional England-set university. The less said about that one though, the better.

No, the National Lampoon name wasn’t properly sullied until that film debuted (to an audience of silent crickets) in 2006. Truthfully its reputation may have been done in even before this, as the early 2000s gave birth to a litany of unrelated, increasingly juvenile concepts such as Barely Legal and of course, who can forget N.L. Presents: Cattle CallVan Wilder isn’t particularly revolutionary comedy, demonstrating a keen interest in sexual conquest à la the American Pie franchise while consciously veering away from the more creative situational comedy that produced the Griswold family. Still, with Reynolds starring as the big man at Coolidge College and an emphasis on raucous party-hosting, at least the atmosphere vaguely recalls the scent of John Belushi’s frat house.

Walt Becker’s Van Wilder represented a bright spot in a dark decade when J2 Communications bought the license to the Lampoon name. Even the Chevy Chase-led Vegas Vacation couldn’t bring about the kind of success the original family outings had. The story concerns a young man who, afraid of life after college, perpetually puts off graduating despite a seven-year undergraduate career. He frequently refers to his stay at Coolidge as a “dare to be great” situation, implying that his undecided status is not only intentional but beneficial. How else do you sample all that a major university has to offer?

Of course, his attitude doesn’t sit right with everyone, most notably his father, Van Wilder Sr. (Tim Matheson) who promptly puts a stop on tuition checks when he discovers his son has spent the better part of a decade at Coolidge without earning a degree. Forced to take action to ensure his continued flourishing, Wilder enlists the help of his foreign exchange student/horny assistant Taj Mahal Badalandabad and longtime friend Hutch (Teck Holmes) to plan a semester filled with fundraisers disguised as extravagant bacchanalias. (I still feel like I missed out on the ‘Sue Me, Screw Me Soiree.’)

In full control of his own destiny, Van Wilder is a thoroughly likable young man and that’s wholly due to Reynolds’ comfort in the role. He oozes charisma, optimism and yes, okay, sex appeal but he’s also generous and surprisingly altruistic for a supposed party boy. His knowing winks at the camera — ‘Oh wow, you guys didn’t think that I could pull that off? Me neither!’ — lend the film most of its appeal. Daniel Cosgrove’s Richard Bagg makes up for what Reynolds cannot provide: the film’s obligatory antagonism. Someone has to try to knock the King of Coolidge down a notch or two, right?

As president of Delta Iota Kappa (that’s DIK for short, get it?), Bagg sees Wilder as a threat to his future of attending the prestigious Northwestern University to become a doctor having learned his girlfriend Gwen Pearson (Tara Reid) has been associating with a different social circle when she’s assigned to cover Van Wilder for a story for the campus paper. Cosgrove goes all in, expending a good deal of energy playing this pig of a frat president who winds up on the receiving end of two of the film’s most notorious pranks — one, a scene involving Twinkies and dog sperm (yummy!) disguised as goodies in a false waving of the white flag; the other a highly amusing use of laxatives. The rivalry between Wilder and Bagg is gross and juvenile and ultimately pointless, but damn it if it’s not entertaining stuff.

The most thoroughly unbelievable aspect of Van Wilder is Reid’s journalist Gwen. Not that her stories are outlandish, or that pretty women can’t be journalists. Reid simply doesn’t convince. I buy her story of her movie brother playing hockey for the New York Rangers more than I buy her as a member of the press. But what does any of this really matter anyway? Are we really supposed to believe Wilder’s refusal to graduate is the x-factor in how Coolidge comes together as a community? Would this many people bother to rally around a single student’s cause? A cause that’s in no way health-related nor beneficial to the greater social good. We need look no further than how Van Wilder ends to understand what this particular movie is lampooning.

Becker clearly enjoys mocking the bureaucracy behind higher education. A raucous Hawaiian-themed blow-out brings closure to Wilder’s daddy issues, unites Taj with the girl of his dreams, and finally throws Gwen right into Van’s lap, even if this was a foregone conclusion the moment we first saw the two interact. That the film ends in spectacular party fashion says much about what is expected of the average college student.

Recommendation: It may not rank amongst National Lampoon’s best but Van Wilder is a solid enough addition to the film franchise that expanded the reputation of the humor-based magazine of the same name. From the opening scene this film launches an all-out campaign to offend and disgust in the name of poor taste. If you’re not a fan of that kind of stuff you may as well ignore this. If that stuff sits right with you, this might have been a film you watched over and again before you left for college. Or maybe that’s just me.

Rated: R

Running Time: 92 mins.

TBTrivia: Ryan Reynolds only saw a rough cut of the film before it came out. He hasn’t seen the film since.

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Photo credits: http://www.alchetron.com; http://www.veehd.com 

TBT: Saw (2004)

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Returning to my self-imposed hell by revisiting effective horror films from back in the day, we move onward through October rather painfully. (And of course this month would have FIVE Thursdays in it.) Still, at least today is a film that A) I’m far more familiar with than the previous entry and B) I actually really enjoy, although I don’t go back to it at all anymore. Not even in October. Nope. No siree. However, getting to review today’s film brings back some good memories from freshman year when my good friend Patrick and I, all crammed into those tiny little dorm rooms on campus with nothing but bottles of Captain Morgan and a flimsy DVD player, watched it over and over again. I guess we hadn’t really discovered it much before then. At least I hadn’t seen it until right around that time. Still, it’s a rare “horror” film — okay, more like a torture-porn — that I loved watching time and time again. The twist never got old. Not to me and Patrick. Nope. No siree.

Today’s food for thought: Saw

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 3.52.30 PMRelease: October 29, 2004

[DVD]

Nothing shouts ‘horror film’ more than shitty lighting, even worse acting. . . and an obvious lack of funding. Faced with all of these realities and more, then-amateur filmmakers James Wan and Leigh Whannell knew that their first stab at horror wouldn’t quite be the typical film festival entry; they also had no idea how much of a sleeper hit they had tucked underneath their armpits at the time, either. Brutal, dark and grotesquely thought-provoking, the pair’s 2004 slasher-slash-psychological thriller rose to cult-status in a hurry after its nationwide debut in theaters, later spawning a run of sequels that’s close to being unprecedented in film history (please keep it up, Fast & Furious!).

I could just as easily create a post about the entire series of Saw films here; but. . . meh. As much as I was swept off my twisted feet with the original, the immediate sequels (2 and 3 are the only ones I’ve seen) I didn’t much care for, and any subsequent releases became so painfully obvious as a marketing gimmick (annual releases around Halloween for seven years straight) that I don’t even want to acknowledge their existence.

The very mention of anything Saw– or Darren Lynn Bousman-related in the years after I witnessed the “first trilogy” conclude pretty much made me ill. The once-brilliant, granted perverted, conceit that was crafted by the Aussies had indeed succumbed to being one of its own tortured, wayward victims, soon to be corpses. A final gasp of breath offered up a 3-D gimmick in 2010. Who wants to see people getting hacked up three different ways to Sunday in such a format — is it more convincing if body parts are actually flying outward at you?

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But seriously, how can anyone enjoy such violent stories? What’s the point?

If you were into horror, 2004 was an exciting time to be accustomed to seeing blood, gore and suffering on the big screen. The arrival of the Jigsaw killer and his ‘games’ marked a new era in filmmaking; granted, the subculture that grew out of this production might be even more cause for concern. It’s a disconcerting thought to have: knowing there are crazed fans for all types of forms of entertainment and the genres within. I wonder what that implies about the die-hards of things of this nature. . . shudder

Nonetheless, this particular film is brilliant, if not rough around the edges, and might be the most polarizing film made in the last decade. Why does one like Saw? Simple. The justification behind the violence. The victims picked in this film supposedly deserve the places to which they are exiled. I suppose depending on your worldview, the number of people “who deserve” any of this will widely vary — either that or your tolerance for humanity’s capacity for erring will completely inhibit your enjoyment of it at all, which would be understandable as well. The whole point of the misery is for the betterment of those suffering; those who are in these traps are meant to survive them and learn from them.

That concept’s a tough sell for a good number of viewers, but clearly Wan, Whannell and company are not concerned about that. And neither are followers of the Saw legacy. Ha! The legacy. What a joke. At least, I’m not concerned about the criticism myself. I can really side with both parties on this movie in all honesty.

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 What’s the deal with the Jigsaw Killer? He’s just a sick man, that’s all. . .

Again, polarizing. I bought into the set-up here, though. The fundamental principles of what this guy was doing in the very beginning (this film is maybe the best example of why sequels to horror films never should be approved) made sense to me. I wouldn’t exactly consider myself a psycho, though. Please don’t mistake me.

Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) is an enigmatic figure, who, after discovering he has a terminal form of cancer, goes about creating vicious traps to put people he deems “unworthy of the life they are given” into, in an attempt to save them from themselves. One can sit and argue all day whether or not the guy has any right to put people through such trials or to even judge their lives, but then that’s all part of the thread of morality spinning itself through the gory story.

By now, Jigsaw’s one of the more memorable characters ever created in horror and the acting on the part of Tobin Bell is what largely makes the complex character such a satisfying watch. Plus, the way he is introduced into the story is quite possibly one of the most inventive and hair-raising turns ever created in the genre. It’s simply amazing the first time you experience it and seems to remain riveting on each return visit.

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The traps. . .? Can someone explain this to me, this stuff is just messed up. 

This element of these films is probably the most controversial of them all. First of all, it takes something of a warped mind to conceive of such devices from a writing standpoint — so a round of therapy might still be in order for Whannell and Wan at this juncture. But I digress. The traps are the tests for each character, meant to symbolize or reveal that person’s greatest weakness or flaw.

The most classic example revolves around a woman named Amanda, who is kidnapped by Jigsaw and, upon awakening, finds a metal bear-trap-like device on her head. She must remove it in something like a minute or so, or the trap will permanently snap open. In each of the traps (at least, in the original few films that I’ve seen anyway) a television set and a recording of this creepy-as-f**k clown on a tricycle accompanies the victim, which explains to them exactly their predicament and what they need to do in order to escape. The combination of the psychological element associated with the delivery of this information and how they potentially are going to die, along with the sickening originality of their plight has tempted many a horror director to try and incorporate similar extremes into their own repertoire (The Collector/The Collection; The Human Centipede). There may have been some success, but I haven’t much been interested to investigate beyond this one.

All the same, the traps invariably became more complex as the franchise’s budget became more lavish as time went on. As such, it became increasingly difficult to believe that Jigsaw was the man behind all these fancy killings; how does he exactly construct half of these things if his motif has been to build devices out of only items he has in his warehouse?

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4-0Recommendation: Well this most definitely has its devotees and it has its strong opponents. There will be very little to convince either to switch sides; it’s not like playing Red Rover here. Even still, if you haven’t yet exposed yourself to this, and are able to handle gratuitous violence and bloodshed, Saw is worth a watch for the compelling psychological element that lurks in the background. It’s a strong debut effort for the Australians, besides.

Rated: R

Running Time: 103 mins.

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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

We’re the Millers

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Release: Tuesday, August 6, 2013

[Theater]

And Clark Griswold thought the time he had spent with his family on vacation was difficult. Jason Sudeikis stars alongside Jennifer Aniston in a film that thinks its a family comedy but what it’s more like is a raunchy, ill-parented spoiled brat of a comedy. It may otherwise be viewed as an hour-and-forty-minute-long reason to see Jennifer Aniston strip down and do a dance to convince everyone that she’s a stripper. To each audience persuasion their own.

While that’s a true highlight, We’re the Millers makes leading the domestic life look about as difficult and stressful as performing last-minute neurosurgery during a power outage. That may sound funny, but that’s not what the film is unfortunately. In fact, it’s insanely weird and uncomfortable. Rawson Marshall Thurber, responsible for Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, was tasked to direct this film and also unfortunately this feels nothing like the spirited, “we’re screwed but we’re going to still enjoy the moment anyway” brand of humor that washed over Dodgeball‘s cliched storyline; the direction here feels hesitant, unsure and quite frankly amateurish. There is hardly any excitement going on at all and while there are funny parts, the vast majority of this film is almost painful to watch.

Regard the somewhat interesting premise: David Clark (Sudeikis) gets his pot stolen from him one day and realizes he now owes his guy (Ed Helms) — a wealthy drug dealer who’s quite the prick — a good amount of money that he currently can’t get back to him. Helms’ Brad Gurdlinger offers David an alternative: ‘If you go across the border and tell the guys there’s a pick-up for Pablo Chacon, you and I are all good. It’s just a smidge of weed. Okay, a smidge-and-a-half.’ Naturally, David knows he himself is too sketchy to cross international borders to retrieve “a smidge of any drugs,” so he quickly comes up with a plan to falsify a family and act as if they are on a vacation to Mexico. He recruits a couple residents of his apartment building, including Rose (Aniston) who is a stripper and will be his wife; and a really dorky, awkward kid named Kenny (Will Poulter) as the son. Kenny turns out to be quite hilarious, as a matter of fact.

He also recruits a young girl who seems to be living on the streets at the current moment — a girl named Casey (Emma Roberts), who also thinks Kenny is like, so major dorky. Perfect for a sister. They all fake their way across borders to “smuggle” (not deal) drugs — there’s a difference — and they become mostly successful. The whole thing really is quite a fun gimmick, but the script simply lacks weight and the story comes across as flat as any rodent David could have potentially converted into roadkill along his highly illegal journey.

Still, can’t go on throughout this family affair without mentioning performances. In spite of the weak script, Aniston is pretty damn good here, and is a funny, strong character who is a good match with Sudeikis, surprisingly. Even though the script most of the time didn’t allow any real romance develop between them (even though it tried), you could see it being a decent re-edit of the film that is currently released. If this movie had received some touch-ups, this might have been a very decent movie.

I really just can’t move on beyond how suffocatingly bad the script was. I’m like, so totally over, like, not good writing, gosh. . . .

Sudeikis as David has moments of being funny, but mostly he’s just a jerk and unlikable. The real winner, and a big source of the guffaws in We’re the Millers, is within Kenny’s dorky teenager trying to break out of his shell. I enjoyed him quite a bit, and far more than Sudeikis. Helms is more or less a nonsensical jackass (which I suppose we have gathered from his Office repertoire) that is not likable at all, either. The movie’s sophomoric writing and plot development basically makes all of these would-be-funny characters wooden puppets, slaves to the strings of bad writing that limits the funny moments to a few every half hour — even that might be generous.

There is some underlying merit to the film, despite how impish the script was in trying to spin the thread of morality that was obviously there from square one; how so many jokes failed in adding to the story much beyond raunchiness. At the heart of the story is something heartwarming, a weird attraction that ends up pulling all these formerly random individuals closer together to the point of actually desiring a family life together. The experiences they go through — as contrived, artificial and damn tedious as they are presented — establish legitimate relationships between the characters, and that was also rewarding.

We’re the Millers satisfies on some kind of mindless entertainment level, but if that’s a compliment, I don’t mean for it to be.

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Shameless. So I have to share.

2-0Recommendation: Though the film really means well, I feel there is far too much potential wasted in this movie for me to recommend it fully. Dollar-theater material, people?

Rated: R

Running Time: 110 mins.

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

Movie 43

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Release: Friday, January 25, 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

Two or three months’ worth of frenzied anticipation. . . . . for THIS?!?! What a waste of my time, and of an excellent cast! As if the audience reactions (or lack thereof) aren’t enough to drown this gross-out “comedy,” then we’ve gotta think bigger: how the heck are the stars of this film reacting to how Movie 43 was put together? I mean, what were they thinking getting involved?

All the previews, community buzz and generally negative reviews thereafter couldn’t prepare me for the sheer stupidity of this sprawling mess of a movie. While I understand that is kind of the whole point to Movie 43 — I sensed a mocking, if not altogether disdainful view towards not just Hollywood (hence Dennis Quaid’s role in this film) but the entire human race given the level of gruesomeness — there simply must have been at least a baker’s dozen different and far better ways to shape this rebellious beast. In the weeks and days leading up to its release, the talk about this film’s potential reached epic heights. I’m not sure if people knew what was coming. . . . .like, they actually could sense the incoming turds about to hit them in the face with this raunchfest, or what the dealio was but the faces of moviegoers nationwide as they go into the film and then exit could compare to something like pre- and post-homicide mug shots. If my point hasn’t yet been clear enough, don’t go see Movie 43 if you’re not into tasteless tastelessness.

Only go if you’re willing to subject yourself to shameful, mostly pointless rants on the state of. . . . .you know what? No. No, no no. I can’t do it. I cannot defend any part of this film by using some description that would maybe give you the impression that there is something of substance to watch here. Maybe I’ll defend its raunchiness, like so: only if you are among the most hardened of gross-out comedy veterans may you find it funny how Movie 43 throws decency out the window like a broken television from the top story during a balls-out teenage party that galvanized 80s and 90s punk-rock movies. Those moments when you are just going all-out just to fail and fall harder and harder each time. You could think of this like Jackass, in some ways (hey, yeah even Johnny Knoxville is getting in on this action!) and then if you do, realize that when Knoxville does get his turn, it’s probably one of the stronger moments in the feature.

Yikes.

Let’s see, what kind of a cast do we have here that Johnny Knoxville may have upstaged (read: in the five minutes or so he got to be a part of this)? Well, you’ve got Kate Winslet, Hugh Jackman, Dennis Quaid, Greg Kinnear, Kate Bosworth, Justin Long, Richard Gere, Halle Berry, Josh Duhamel, Elizabeth Banks, Common, Seth Macfarlane, Liev Schrieber, Naomi Watts, Anna Faris, Katie Finneran, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Sean William-Scott, Uma Thurman, Jack McBrayer, Kristen Bell, Chloë Grace Moretz, Patrick Warburton, Gerard Butler, Stephen Merchant, Jason Sudeikis, Emma Stone and Kieran Culkin. My apologies to all those who I have left off that list. . .

I find most insulting of all about this gag-a-thon (not ‘gag’ as in “hardy-har-har” slapstick. . . .I mean more like the two-girls-one-cup kind) the fact that the MANY producers and directors could not make this thing work better with an ensemble like this. In fact, that might be the crowning achievement of it all: utter failure. To get back to that question I asked up top in my introductory comment(s), what must it be like to be one of these stars who were (un)lucky enough to be a part of this? Why did they get involved, other than to show the rest of the world that each of them, bless their little overcompensated souls, has the ability to say dirty and rude things like the rest of us lowly non-celebrities? Is this film really trying to purport that we are all alike as human beings, especially when we talk nasty and speak of and do stupid, ridiculous things? Is this meant to be the cherry-popping daddy of all gross-out films?

I see no other motive behind the testicles dangling from Hugh Jackman’s chin, or Kristen Bell admitting to her excessive pubic hair at a speed dating event. Cramming this many A-list names onto one bill was meant to be a buffer from (or, even more pathetically, as an enhancement to) the bizarre nature of gross-out comedies. Squirming in your chair from disgust potentially could be more fun if you trust the people saying it. We’re meant to be thrown by Emma Stone all of a sudden talking dirty (and I mean, dirty) to an ex-boyfriend in a grocery store, while the nearest microphone picks up the entire conversation for all the patrons to hear.

In reality, the only thing we’re thrown by is the discombobulation of everything put together. (Bonus points go to me since I finally get to use that word in a review. . .)

The movie is a damn mess and has literally no point to it. None. You can check out the plot on IMDb or on movie reviews elsewhere, because that alone will not tell you anything about this film at all. Here’s a brief run-down: Dennis Quaid is pitching his last-ditch attempt at being a good film director, and he’s got several skits planned out that he’s going to put together that will form a “heartwarming story.” Hah! These skits, in turn, are acted out by the vast cast and its pretty much downhill from there.

I will admit that I found myself laughing pretty hard more than a few times. I’m still not sure if these laughs were produced by what I was seeing or more from me coming to realize how ridiculous this film was intent on becoming. There are a couple of bits here and there that serve as light-hearted breaks amid the onslaught of buffoonery put forth by every one of its actors. (Et tu, Liev Schrieber??? What the hell, man?) Surely, this film could have benefited from a little bit of contrast now and again — more than the one or two skits developed that weren’t as offensive as possible. Movie 43 proves that one doesn’t need to be yelling the entire time to have their voice heard. We’ll get the idea if you just talk to us, treat us with some respect. As a viewer, you’re probably going to feel a little like an animal just for sitting through the whole movie.

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Richard Gere’s face says it all

0-5Recommendation: I would say stay away. Wait for the DVD, because shelling out $10 for this one is simply nuts. I don’t regret it, since my curiosity about how atrocious a gross-out comedy can be was the only thing that led me to this point. I can no longer say that the bigger the cast, the better the movie, which is a shame.

Rated: R (for ‘ripoff’)

Running Time: 97 mins.

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