Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Goddamit George.

As if any more were needed, here is the latest evidence that George Lucas has gone completely batshit insane:

Vader Yells No In ROTJ

For those of you too scared to follow that link (and who can blame you) that is a clip of the sequence in Return of the Jedi where Luke is being tortured by the Emperor and Vader finally rises up to stop him. In the original film, Vader does this in total silence while the music rises amazingly, because that entire scene is just plain an amazing example of combat as metaphor and storytelling.Hell one of my favorite moments from the entire trilogy is the moment where Luke snaps and starts attacking Vader.

In the updated scene Vader shouts 'No...NOOOOOO' before attacking the Emperor, utterly destroying the subtly and being entirely out of character for Vader. And there's not even a good storytelling reason for it, it's just a massive middle finger to everyone who pointed out how fucking stupid the big 'NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO' at the end of Revenge of the Sith was. God fucking dammit George.

You know, I've no problem with updating a movie after release, but the Special Edition bullshit just drives me up the fucking wall. It's not restoring a movie damaged by Producers in Post-Production like Blade Runner or Metropolis (or if you want a great example, see the Kingdom of Heaven Director's Cut. It's like an entirely different movie). It's not even adding stuff to the story like the Lord of the Rings Extended Editions. The additions at best don't damage the film, at worst ruin important scenes or character arcs (Han shooting second in New Hope actively DAMAGES his character arc, because it makes his move from criminal to hero less meaningful, and yes that's still there) and not one of them has actively helped. This obsession with shoving CGI shit into the margins of nearly perfect original films is indicative of his whole attitude towards the films, and his steadfast refusal to abandon them (I own a DVD set with the Special Editions as the main features and the theatricals as a special feature) is indicative of his attitude toward his audience.

Blah. I'm not sure where I was going with that. Call it a rant.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Missed Movies Number 9

This particular Missed Movie was supposed to be posted Friday, but the Hurricane put a nix on that (I'm fine by the by, fled inland tuesday morning) so here it is only 2 days late. This one is based around movies that are, one way or another, kind of weird but still exceptional movies.

Omitted From List: The Entire Works of David Lynch. Minus Dune.

Sleepy Hollow

It's very easy to mock Tim Burton putting Johnny Depp in 2/3rds of his movies, and at least 2 of them are genuinely bad, but it makes it easier to overlook when the movies the two of them have done together reads like a laundry list of their respective best works. Ed Wood, Sweeney Todd, Edward Scissordhands, Corpse Bride (last one mostly to break up the line of movies named after a person) and while Sleepy Hollow isn't quite up to that level, it's a good piece of offbeat entertainment.

The story is a reworking of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but really just keeps the main character's name and the concept of the Headless Horseman, here a real spirit sent to behead certain targets around the village of the title. And while the movie itself has a certain level of silly gore (one guy's head spins when it gets cut off), the script is solid, ALL of the actors are putting in great work (especially Christopher Walken as the Headless Horseman when he still had his head) and the film itself is pushed forward by a unique and interesting mystery. It's not a masterpiece, but it's worth watching.

Mr. Vampire

With the scourge of modern Vampire films sucking, it's important to look to older vampire films, and in particular the vampire films of other countries, such as Let The Right One In or Nosferatu and indeed Mr. Vampire. But being a Chinese Vampire, the rules are distinctly different. For example, a Chinese Vampire can't see you if you don't breathe. No really. And that's just the tip of iceberg (wait'll you see how they get around). AND it's still cooler than the Twilight vampires.

The plot is concerned with a Tao priest who, while performing a reburial finds that the corpse is actually a vampire, that his bumbling students unleash, and spend the rest of the film trying to stop. The film itself is an amusing mix of horror, comedy and martial arts, that's more than worth watching. It's not an entirely perfect film, but it's a unique bit of Chinese culture that's more than warrants a look. If you can track it down.

Being John Malkovich

This is one is, to put it simply, completely weird. The plot it concerned with a puppeteer getting a job at an office and discovering a tunnel that leads one into John Malkovich's head, allowing you to see what he sees and do what he does. Not John Malkovich the person, although the character of John Malkovich is played by John Malkovich (confused yet?). Believe it or not it just keeps getting weirder and weirder until it's reaches it's zenith of weirdness...about 10 minutes before the end of the movie.

This sort of movie would be insufferable if it wasn't handled right, but Being John Malkovich isn't just handled right, it's handled damn near perfectly. This movie has enough ideas for at least 10 movies but it breezes through all of them like it's nothing. The script is amazing, the actors all perfect in their roles, the story unique and intriguing, the direction manages to find a nice middle ground between the weirdness fueling the story and the human drama of the characters (something which a lot of weirder movies and a lot of movies in general ignore). It's damn near a perfect movie, so if you have to choose only one of these movies to see, make it this one.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Second Age Reviews: Heavy Metal

Back in the early 70's there was a French comic book called Metal Hurlant (literally Howling Metal) that promised sci-fi and fantasy stories with absurd amounts of blood and nudity. So naturally it sold like hotcakes. While one of the guy's behind National Lampoon was in France to to launch a French version of National Lampoon discovered it and bought the rights for an American version which they called Heavy Metal. It proceeded to sell like hotcakes in America as well. So an animated film version became imminent, made in Canada with mostly unknowns and TV actors as the voice actors (though not entirely).

Of course, coming out in the 80's before the advent of the internet and promising gratuitous nudity, the film became something of a cult classic, only increased by the licensing fight over the music which prevented it from hitting VHS making it big with the bootlegging business. This status as cult classic in addition to extreme nostalgia blindness keeps it from being objectively examined. So how is it objectively?

Not good. It's not without it's charms and it's certainly interesting as a cultural touchstone. But it's riddled with numerous story, artistic and technical flaws that keep it from ever progressing beyond a novelty item. In the end, it's got the same problem that many animated genre films of the early 80's had: Big ideas without the budget (or in many cases including this one, talent) to realize them.

The story, such as it is, is primarily an anthology of stories based around the framing device of...a glowing ball of evil telling a teenage girl how evil it is. Now as framing devices go, that's a pretty weak one, made weaker by the fact the it barely comes up in the actual story. Seriously, with the exception of acting as the magic plot-kicking-off device in the first 10 seconds of two of the stories, and being the macguffin that everyone's chasing in another, the ball might as well not be there. And in at least one story, I don't think it is.

But there will be plenty of time to rag on the story when I'm done bashing the technical aspects of the film, and there are more than a few things to rag on. The animation quality seems a good way to start, as it goes up and down rapidly from segment to segment, and with the exception of one segment about zombies on a fighter plane, it's all pretty bad. It only really finds it's level during a pair of comedy segments where everything is drawn as absurdities or a caricature, and even then it barely reaches the level of older episodes of Futurama.

Of course if that was it's only problem, it'd probably be acceptable. But the editing is choppy, the voice acting never rises above average (and frequently drops below it), the lip synch is pretty bad and the score is pretty forgettable. Of course as the trailer proudly touts, there's a soundtrack consisting of some of the bigger artists of the day (Journey, Black Sabbath, Stevie Nicks...Devo?) which all sounds quite impressive on paper, but the song choices could have stood to be better and the music itself is poorly utilized.

Now we get down to the story, which is where even more problems come in. The stories themselves tend to read like they were written as parodies of various pulp sci-fi cliches but never got around to inserting the elements that would identify it as a parody. The only exceptions are a really solid horrorish short near the middle, and a pair of comedy shorts. Of course since it's an anthology show built around pulp sci-fi, it goes essentially without saying that the characters are barely one dimensional and the writing is terrible.

The end result is a film that never comes together in any real way and feels scitzophrenic and thinly spread, and all of it is leading towards a piss-poor final ending that tries to tie everything together and fails so miserably it's actually kind of shocking. I can't really recommend that you put any real effort into seeing it unless you're really interested in the kitsch aspect.

Next time on Second Age Reviews: A Clockwork Orange

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and no one should ever say 'You are in my power' seriously unless they're hypnotizing someone.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Second Age Reviews: Caged Heat

One of the hardest things I'm forced to tell people of a certain film persuasion, particularly devoted Tarantino worshippers, is that while exploitation and grindhouse films may be indicative of the time they come from, they themselves are almost never good films. That isn't to mean that there aren't films that can trace their roots to exploitation films or concepts (Freaks, Straw Dogs, Deliverance), but that the films themselves are almost never good (the only exception I can think of off the top of my head is Shaft and even that's kind of iffy).

The roots of this can be in the way exploitation films come about, as low budget films with low budget hooks to draw in as many people in before people figure out it's shit (the fact that people to this day insist that they aren't is deeply disconcerting to me). This doesn't necessarily mean that the films HAVE to be shit. After all, lots of films have their roots in junk movies: Star Wars, Jaws even The Godfather are all based on old trashy films that their directors were fond of. But they treated said concepts with intellect and care, which is something exploitation films are most certainly not interested in doing. What most exploitation films are interested in doing is shoving as much blood and tits as they can into the margins.

Technically there are about 1,000 different subgenres of exploitation films, classified by everything from what precisely their exploiting (which can range from Blacksploitation to Dykesploitation to even Hixploitation) to the times they came out (Grindhouse films were primarily from the 70's drive in scene, whereas Cautionary Films were popular in the 30's and 40's) but they all more or less share these elements.

Today the exploitation films have been more or less split off into multiple groups. The overly sexual aspects split into the softcore porn you see on cinemax at 1 in the morning (although how that maintains financial viability in the face of, you know, the internet is something I'll never know). Another companies, The Asylum, alternates between absurdly silly giant monster movies (most notably Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus) and incredibly low budget ripoffs of blockbusters with marketing and stories so close to what they're ripping off that I'm surprised they don't get sued more often than they do.

If you want to see the closest thing the modern film has to a direct exploitation film (as opposed to films like Hard Candy which in another age would have been an exploitation but manages to skip out on it with a fantastic mix of good direction and great acting), go check out the works of Takashi Miike. I don't outright like his movies half the time, but he's a near perfect example of what I'm talking about, putting out 5-10 films a year, most of them completely formula with an injection of some absurd elements or his signature insanity.

This nearly full page introduction is meant as a long form defense against how short this review is going to be otherwise, because reviewing exploitation films is ultimately pointless. I could have spent that page pointing out all the straightfaced cliches in Caged Heat, or commenting on the more or less useless script and paint-by-numbers direction, but it's pointless. Caged Heat is a women in prison film, which means you can probably predict everything, from the character arcs to it's directorial choices to it's stories, from the moment you see the fucking poster.

So how is it as such things go? Eh, not so bad. There's surprisingly little lesbian sex and what little there is is clearly consensual, which puts it head and shoulders over most women in prison's portrayal of lesbians, so there's that. The plot's free of any major holes, save for one 'wait, what?' moment of character action. And while there's a disconcerting amount of rape (seriously, I'm pretty sure every male character in this damned movie rapes someone or tries to) at least it's played for drama rather than titilation (yes there are exploitation films with rape played for titilation, still wondering why the genre itself isn't good?) Oh and hey, Linda Blair is in it. Remember she was the possessed girl from The Exorcist? Well yeah.

I can't really recommend you seek out Caged Heat, and if you wanted to I have no idea where you'd start. It's not really any better or worse than a dozen other women in prison films, but if you have a jonesing to watch one for whatever reason, yeah I guess you could do worse than this one. Or if you have some burning desire to see Linda Blairs tits.

Next time on Second Age Reviews: Heavy Metal

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he kept hoping Linda would insult one of the other prisoners with 'Your mother sucks cocks in hell.'

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Review: Another Earth

It occurs to me as I'm writing this review, that Another Earth is being billed, in places, as a sci-fi/science-fantasy film. Having now watched the film, I can tell you with certainty that these are LIES. That doesn't mean that Another Earth is a bad film; on the contrary, it's quite a good one. But it's primarily a human drama, with a few fantastical elements on the margins serving the story.

The story is concerned with a woman named Rhoda who is out 'celebrating' her acceptance to MIT. When she drives home she takes a few seconds too long to look out the window of her car at a star which is reported to be a new planet in the same orbit as Earth...and slams straight into a car going the opposite direction. 4 years later she is released from prison and takes a job working as a janitor in a local high school. She then goes to the only survivor of the car wreck's house and tries to apologize to him, only to lose her nerve when she finds how much his life has fallen apart and instead ends up acting as a maid for him. And that's barely the first act.

All the things that need to be in place for a character oriented drama are in place in this one, in particular the acting. More or less newcomer Brit Marling is something close to a revelation, managing to relate Rhoda's guilt and self flagellation perfectly, despite a near lack of dialogue in the first act. It's somewhat understandable that strong work from William Mapother gets overshadowed, as while his role is just as important it's oftentimes much more straightforward. None of the other actors get a noticeable amount of screentime, but special mention must go to Kumar Pallana, shining in a tiny role.

The writing and editing are the next major stars, in particular the quiet understated grieving and guilt roles that the two main characters occupy. It's easy to forget the thin sci-fi elements exist until they come up in the plot, but don't think they're there just to make the poster more interesting. The sci-fi elements do come into play in the third act, in a way that helps the story immensely, but I really can't tell you how without spoiling it (and in a movie so story driven, spoilers are poison).

The editing and direction do their job admirably, emphasizing the characters and their emotions beautifully. A pair of sequences stick out in particular, one involving playing a saw (no, really) and the see the movie, if it's as good as I think it is, you should be able to recognize it immediately. The music is beautifully written and well utilized, often standing in for dialogue in the early parts of the film.

The flaws are clearly there, but never enough to hurt the film as a whole. Firstly there are some very odd directorial choices here and there, especially near the middle. The pace is a little wonky between the first and third acts, slowing down a little too much and then speeding way up. And finally, while it didn't bother me, the ending is going to bother a lot of people, simply because it comes out of nowhere.

Like with Tabloid this is an obscure art film, and I can't promise how much longer it's going to be in theaters or where. But while I'd recommend Tabloid ahead of this, if you get a chance you should really see Another Earth, if only because there's absolutely nothing else worth seeing out. At least, besides other art films. Come to think of it, I saw the first 2 minutes of The Future the other day and that looked good. Hm. See you next time.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and the Wii nearly redeemed itself in this film for a good bit of visual metaphor.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Review: Tabloid

I think, when all is said and done, that the influence of Bowling For Columbine and Supersize Me on the modern documentary, cannot be understated. Whatever you think about the films themselves, or their message and politics, you cannot deny that their styles of engagement and information can be seen in everything from Waiting for Superman to Inside Job. This comes in on what the films wanted to say as well, because most modern documentaries are about big issues; Health, medical care, the bank bailouts, gun control, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, education, all have been documented in modern style. So when I say that Tabloid, a film with very little in the way of a larger point to make about society or culture, is easily on the best documentaries I've seen in years, you know I'm not fucking around.

The movie documents the story of Joyce McKinney, a woman who fell in love with a Mormon Missionary named Kirk Anderson. After he disappeared, she sought him heavily and eventually tracked him to England where, according to the tabloids and Kirk, she kidnapped and raped him (she naturally, tells a different story). Interviews are held with Joyce herself, 2 tabloid reporters for rival newspapers, one of her accomplices and a former Mormon missionary who explains the psychological aspects of the case. And there's one other person, but we'll ignore that for fear of spoilers, and yes there are spoilers. For those film minded among you, this film is directed by Errol Morris, who's previous works include some truly must-see documentaries like Gates of Heaven, The Fog of War and Mr. Death.

As stated earlier, this is not a film about a big event or important issues. In order for this film to work, two things need to be in place: The story itself has to be interesting and the presentation has to be engaging. The story itself is deeply unique and engaging, managing not only to tell us Joyce's story (not just during the story, but before and after), but the story the press and Kirk told, the story of the dueling tabloids over this story and even the more-than-slightly creepy aspects of Mormonism. And to the movie's credit, it never judges or tries to state which version of events it thinks is correct.

But the engagement is almost scarily well executed. Aside from spicing up the simple interviews with constant switching of camera angles (and has another documentary done that? I can't think of one) the film presents the testimony alongside evidence such as photographs and new clips, to the point where someone's statements are occasionally presented alongside evidence which outright contradicts them. And the technique of having two interviews running against each other (though not simultaneously I should add) adds bits of tension that are usually absent in most documentaries. Call it Rashomon syndrome, but the fact that no real truth is revealed is far more interesting than if they could have and did tell us what really happened.

What I find most fascinating is the presentation of Joyce herself. Combining her own, often disconcertingly convincing testimony, with the often damning testimony of people around her (one person hired by her tells of something that essentially damns her all on it's own), it's clear that she is a sincere and intelligent person, who truly believed that what she was doing was the right thing. It's also clear, despite a sympathetic portrayal, that she's paranoid and more than a little unhinged. Some of this can be chalked up to her ordeal, which was considerable, but if her own testimony is to be believed, she was never entirely together.

To say that it's not about important events isn't to say it has nothing on it's mind. A good portion of the movie is, as the title might suggest, given over to the tabloid coverage of the case as told through two tabloid reporters from rival papers who took violently different approaches (the story was apparently HUGE in the UK, but apparently never really hit the ground in the US). Again, in a masterstroke, the two of them are presented as either naïve and overly trusting or slimy and cruel, but never states which of them should be considered in the right, if either. And while it was clearly not in the film's intent, you can see many parallels between this case and the recent phone hacking scandal in the UK.

I don't know how many theaters are going to be playing Tabloid (I myself had to hit NYC to see it) and if they are I can't promise it'll be in theaters for much longer. But if it's playing near you, you really should make an effort to see it. It's a uniquely made and masterfully crafted documentary, and a sure contender for one of the best films of the year.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he wonders if people who follow celebrity news will like this movie as much as he did.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Oscars and Nolan rant

I dunno how many movies I'm going to see this month, or rather how many mainstream movies I'm going to see this month. I'm hoping to see Another Earth and Tabloid this week and I might end up seeing The Help this weekend, but the only one of those that's close to mainstream is The Help. Generally, there aren't many mainstream films I feel like seeing right now, that I haven't already seen. And most of my attempts to see Art House films fall through (I still haven't seen Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold).

The reason for this lack of mainstream films I want to see isn't hard to gage: It's August and while good things occasionally hit in August (District 9 for example), most of the big hollywood films hit in June and July, and since I'm not getting paid for this, I really can't justify going to see films I don't want to see.

But I'm still looking up, and not just because I begin classes at the NY Film Academy soon. No because in 2 weeks it'll be September and that means we start Oscar Season. One of the things that really sets me apart from many members of the 'geek side' of cinema is I actually adore the Oscars. No, I'm not kidding. It's not that I don't have problems with them, they tend to ignore the edgier films, they have terrible taste in foreign films and me talking up the genre bias is kinda irrelevant at this point.

Oh and then there's their guilt complex (this began as a simple sentence, but ballooned into a full paragraph so shut up). In case you're unaware of this, you'll occasionally see the Oscars give a Best Picture or Director to an older, well established nominee who hasn't won yet, even if it's not his best work or if there are more deserving nominees (I was going to bring up The Departed because the Best Picture winner that year SHOULD have been Pan's Labyrinth but I'm tired of that rant). The reason for this is guilt. See, even though they were always well liked at the time, everyone recognizes that Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick (and others, but we're focusing on them, because they're the biggest) were incredibly important, influential directors who both went to their graves without a single Picture or Director and the Oscar voters feel guilty about this. This makes the Oscar voters terrified that a really important actor or director will die without winning and they'll have to feel even more guilty.

Wow that turned into a fairly lengthy paragraph. Sorry.

But that all ceases to matter because of Oscar Season. I want you to go back and think of the films that came out in 2010 in and around Oscar Season. Oh you need some refreshers? Black Swan, True Grit, The Fighter, The Social Network, The King's Speech, 127 Hours... you get the picture. I mean, all of those films are pretty far outside the mainstream, and as Winter's Bone proved, even a small budget doesn't insulate you from failing at the box office.

So how do they get made, you ask, if they're outside the mainstream? Well the main way these movies get made (okay, besides being from Europe) is by saying, at some point in the pitch, 'It's Oscar Material.' I guarantee you in every one of those movies, from Black Swan to The King's Speech, the person pitching said at some point 'This movie could get nominated for an Oscar.'

That's why I love the Oscars, for all of their flaws. Because if they didn't exist, if the main film award was the Golden Globe, do you think these more intellectual, better made, more challenging films would even get funding? Hell no. But because every studio wants to be the big Oscar winner that year, they let these films get made. So that, above all other reasons is why the Oscars matter.

Incidentally (and this is beside my main point), I haven't made many comments about The Dark Knight Rises, but I feel this needs to be said, because bashing publicity around it is starting to become an annoyingly common pastime. See, I'm gonna go ahead and reserve every bit of my judgement for when it hits. Why, you ask, am I not going to condemn it when I'm often prepared to condemn films based on their premise, much less trailers (though I still give them a chance: The trailer for Source Code completely underwhelmed me, and it's still sitting large as the best movie of the year).

Because Christopher Nolan is directing. Now I'm not saying that I'm going to like the movie no matter what, but you know what? His last 4 movies were, in order, Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight and Inception. You do 4 movies in a row like that, I tend to be willing to trust you know what you're doing. Incidentally, this is why I generally trust whatever the Coen Brothers are working on, because they've done such incredible movies with such alarming regularity that I just sort of assume they know their shit, no matter what. Apparently they're working on a remake of Gambit. And that's cool with me.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Shaking it up a little

This rant is in lieu of a review of  Troll 2. See, I've actually been meaning to do this for a while, and avoiding doing a review of Troll 2 is a perfect way to do it. So today, I'm gonna do something a little different. Rather than inform you, as you probably already know, that Troll 2 is an absurdly terrible film, to the point where it becomes hilarious, I figured this would be a perfect opportunity to explore the concept of 'So bad it's good,' because there are several traits common to these films that I find interesting.

Trait 1: Odd dialogue delivery

This one appears to be universal among the 'hilariously bad' movies. From Troll 2's flat, disengaged dialogue, to Torgo's awkward stilted delivery, to Tommy Wiseu's untraceable accent, all hilariously bad films seem to feature weird delivery on simple dialogue.

And in a way, I wonder if that isn't part of their appeal. After all, we can go anywhere to hear awkward dialogue. But we have to go to The Room to hear Tommy Wiseu deliver that awkward dialogue (love is blind in his accent becomes 'Lauve is bloind'). It adds an extra layer of hilarity to already absurd films.

Trait 2: Nonsensical Actions

The villains in Troll 2 are defeated by a bologna sandwich. No really. And when the main character gets ready to eat it the villainess can clearly be heard to say 'Think of the cholesterol.' No. Really. That sort of nonsense is common place in Troll 2 and it can be seen elsewhere in movies on this list. In The Room events rattle off unrelated: a good 2/3rds of the movie could be removed without the plot suffering at all.

This is similar to the first one, as it adds a layer of extra amusement that wouldn't be there in a run-of-the-mill terrible movie, like Transformers 2 or Disaster Movie. I can predict, moment for moment, what will happen in something Alone in the Dark but Showgirls kept me guessing, because none of it made any damned sense. This makes the film more amusing, as you can point out plot holes, or just gape at the sheer stupidity of it all.

NOTE that being unpredictable is not necessarily a good or bad thing, and being unpredictable is not relegated only to bad movies. I couldn't predict Black Swan or Source Code at all, but that was because they were good and intellectual films that took interesting turns as the plot went on. At the same time I could tell at least 2 scenes in advance what was going to happen in Hanna but it was still a good movie, because it was well executed.

Trait 3: Poor Filmmaking

For all of the (well deserved) bashing it takes, the cinematography in Batman and Robin is quite good, and while the way it's shot ruins much of it, the CGI in the Transformers films is actually quite impressive. On the other hand, the Goblins in Troll 2 are clearly just midgets in burlap sacks, with Halloween store masks on their head, and during the end of the film rampage in The Room, when Johnny knocks over a picture it literally leans against the camera.

Good filmmaking put into bad movies is annoying, because it speaks of wasted potential. When I watched Transformers 2 I was practically pulling my hair out thinking 'Goddammit Michael, if you'd just get a screenplay that wasn't shit and cut back to 20 cups of coffee a day, you might make a good action film' (The closest he's come so far is Bad Boyz 2).

No, for a movie to be truly 'so bad it's good' it must be incompetently executed at every step. That way we're not laughing at a young up-and-coming filmmaker who just caught a bad cast. We're giving someone a well deserved laughing out (I think I may have just mutilated my english there, but what the fuck do I care, I'm on a roll). The backgrounds must be obvious greenscreens, the screenplay must be an unforgivable piece of shit, the characters must be bland and one dimensional, the cinematography must be either flat and inert or fucking crazy. Think of Battlefield Earth's insane use of Dutch angles, of Manos's sudden switches to the makeout couple or the guys wandering into the woods and walking back without investigating. Think of The Room's terrible continuity or Plan 9's obviously fake graveyard. Terrible filmmaking in our terrible films assures us that the filmmaker deserves our scorn and can also serve to entertain us: If you put Battlefield Earth at regular angles throughout the film, the cinematography would be incredibly flat. As it is, you can mock it and try to find the scenes where they don't use Dutch Angles.

Trait 4: Unwarranted Self Importance

Did you know that, to this day Claudio Fragasso (the director of Troll 2, he goes by Drake Floyd in the credits) maintains that his movie is not only a masterpiece but an 'Important movie,' and will flip out at you if you point out it's shit? Or that Tommy Wiseu and some other guy are fighting over directing credit of The Room (personally if I directed The Room and someone wanted to take credit away I would thank christ).

This is the final and most important ingredient in a movie that's so bad it's good. The idea that despite being nearly unsalvageable, the movie is so full of itself as to think it's an important piece of cinema. Showgirls for example is so full of itself that if it wasn't so incompetent it'd practically be an art film. This aspect can make a merely bad film insufferable (looking at you The Island) but in a movie that fulfills the other requirements, it adds that extra layer of pretention that makes it complete.

So that's more or less it for my analysis of 'hilariously bad' movies. Hope this was an interesting break from me telling you that a movie is hilariously bad for 10 minutes.

Next time on Second Age Reviews: Chained Heat

Friday, August 5, 2011

Second Age Reviews: Rabid

The problem with older horror movies, especially body horror films, is that the special effects that impressed so much at the time of the film's release have problems aging. There are of course exceptions (The Thing being a prime example) but a lot of older special effects do not age very well. Prime example, the otherwise solid horror film Rabid has more than few special effects that clearly do not hold up as well as they clearly used to. But ignoring that it's still a solid piece of cinema.

The plot is concerned with a woman named Rose who is horribly maimed in a motorcycle accident and given an experimental skin graft inside her body (not sure how that works, but we'll roll with it). When she wakes from a month long, she's lusting for blood that she gets by giving people death hugs (you'll see what I mean) and the victims who survive the hug end up with a bad case of a zombie.

This is, put simply, one weird movie. Half the movie is given over to Rose's bloodlust in what is a fairly tame body horror plot (by Cronenberg standards, this guy did The Fly and Videodrome). The other half is a well executed, if formulaic, zombie outbreak storyline (although this was in 1977, so the formulas of the zombie genre were still getting set down, so it can be forgiven).

That earlier statement about the special effects aging is probably the closest the film comes to a real problem, because most of it's technical details are great. Okay, the soundtrack is still a little too loud and jarring like many 70's and 80's horror films, but it never hurts as much as it could. The cinematography is nice and bleak, the gore and makeup well applied and well used. As I said, the effects used to realize the body horror haven't aged very well, but they never look so bad to detract from the film as a whole.

The acting is mixed, Marilyn Chambers does a solid job despite being primarily known for Behind the Green Door a full on porn movie. The main male character is the big drag, he spends most of the film in a coma until the last few scenes where he tries to act...and fails miserably. The other actors are mostly competent if a bit bland, but that's more than you usually get with horror films.

The screenplay is a solid piece of work, with most of the dialogue and character actions being well thought out and believeable. One part of the film that gets shoved off to the side is the gradual move to martial law to contain the zombie outbreak (they never get called zombies, but shut up I'm making a point) which is interesting but mostly gets relegated to the margins. The pacing is mostly good, though I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that the ending comes out of fucking nowhere. Not even exaggerating, the plot just sort of stops and moves on the denoucement.

What's weirdest to me is that the zombies themselves have no real metaphor attached to them. While vampires can only ever be a metaphor for sex, zombies can be (and often are) metaphors for essentially anything, from AIDS to pandemics to consumerism to even rape in one movie. But with the exception of the obvious rabies metaphor, there seems to be a suspicious lack of symbolism involved with these zombies.

I'm not gonna say that Rapid is anywhere near as good as most of Cronenberg's work, but it is a solid 70's horror flick and has very few ambitions beyond that, so if that appeals to you, give it a look. And I'll see you next time.

Next time on Second Age Reviews: Troll 2

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and his favorite part of this movie is when the mall Santa gets shot.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

More Shameless Cross Promotion

My review of Rabid will be up in the morning, but since I'm finally remembering to give this place a shout out to this place.

At the horror films showing at the Avon two awesome people, Captain Cruella and Brian Solomon, will often show up from the The Vault of Horror, an interesting horror blog based in Connecticut. If you like horror films, retro reviews (that are a LOT more official looking than mine) or just plain like reading film blogs, you should give them a look. And not just because I like them.

Did I mention that Captain Cruella shows up in zombie garb? Yeah that got your attention. Give 'em a look.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Missed Movies Number 8

Of all the genres of film that I despair for, horror is up there near the top, because lately it's been driving itself off a cliff. Not that schlocky horror with over the top gore hasn't always existed, but lately blood guts and gore seem to the end, rather than a tool. I won't name names, because I don't want you seeking these things out, but lately it seems that films have been desiring to throw stuff on screen that would make the Marquis de Sade blush without any point behind it. I'm all in favor of pushing the envelope (I own a copy of Irreversible for example) but it seems like once they push the envelope out to these points I'll be the one standing there going “Okay, we're here. Why did you want to get here?” I mean, for fuck's sake, even Cannibal Holocaust had a point.

And I hate Cannibal Holocaust.

Ugh. That absurdly long paragraph is intended as a long-form introduction to this edition of missed movies, aimed at obscure horror made in the last 10 years that I do think are worthwhile. There are others, naturally but these will do for now.

I want to put a warning attached to this one: Women with sexual assault triggers should definitely avoid this one. Also men who get freaked out by emasculation, probably should keep away. Otherwise, people on the horror scene (or the drunk college scene with one horror fan in the group) will remember this as the major 'endurance horror' film of the last few years (until the heavily overexposed and completely worthless new one came along, and no I won't name it, you know what I'm talking about).

The film is fairly upfront with it's concept: A teenage abstinence advocate is nearly raped and finds out she has vagina dentata (teeth in her vagina for those of you who can't figure it out or are too scared to look it up). No really, that's the premise. And while it's not quite The Exorcist the film pushes this concept for all it's worth, working on a slightly cruel sense of humor and a grim undercurrent of light parody. It can get physically hard to watch at times (it's not coy about it's results), but a smart screenplay, solid metaphors and good acting do some heavy lifting. It's not quite a masterpiece but it's unique and inventive, and isn't that usually enough to warrant a look?

Home Movie
Hooboy this one is gonna take some explaining. In some woods in...some state, I don't remember if they specify or if it's important, a family is trying to live their lives. Problem? Their 10 year old twins are completely psychotic. As in, they would make Damien from The Omen freak out. Hell they could probably give Freddy Kruger a run for his money.

The film is a found footage movie, a genre I usually detest, but the incredible performances from the creepy twins (apparently twins in real life) does a lot to make up for it. And it wisely works the camera into the action, especially towards the end in ways that ramp up the horror. It also goes for the gore and horror full bore, and is completely unafraid to make horrible things happen to anyone and everyone. Most of the 'creepy kid' movies this side of The Omen remake have been garbage, or at best passable (not counting Let the Right One In), but this one really hit it out of the park, and it's probably the most genuinely scary movie on this list. It's also hard to find, so if you get a chance, don't miss this one.

Trick 'R Treat
This one is primarily known in horror circles for it's incredibly annoying journey to find a distributor. Technically finished in 2007, it waited until Halloween 2009 until release despite being widely praised at every festival it screened at. And now that it's out, everyone can see why.

Trick 'R Treat is largely an anthology film, centered around 4 stories taking place in a small town on Halloween, with a creepy kid in a mask as a unifying centerpiece. While I don't want to spoil anything, I will say the stories themselves are well tied together, well written and well executed, working on some clever concepts and subversions of expectations. It's also takes a large amount of quality from it's class, being constantly willing to keep a large amount of the gore offscreen. Like Teeth it's not quite a masterpiece, but it's a good Halloween scare film, so if you see it on Netflix or whatever you kids use these days, give it a look.