Disturbing Behavior (1998)

Hypothetical Netflix Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This was one of the first rated R movies I ever saw. I loved it then, I’m fond of it now. Watching it again kinda reminded me of that line in Pulp Fiction “You thought your ass would age like wine. If you mean it turns to vinegar. It does. If you mean it gets better with age, it don’t.” That pretty much sums it up.

Disturbing Behavior centers around high school age James Marsden, you know, Cyclops, and his family who are moving to a small island town after the tragic suicide of his older brother. His first day of  school, he’s taken under wings by Gavin, played by Nick Stahl, you know, That Yellow Bastard. Or John Conner if you’re not a fan of Sin City. Gavin lets James Marsden into the secret of the island; the preppy kids are actually under mind control by the powers that be. These kids are prone to extreme acts of violence basically every time their hormones kick in, which is all the time being as they are horny teens. From there it’s up to Cyclops to stop the evil mind control plot without the aid of his fellow X-Men and to a soundtrack of late ’90’s Pop-Rock. Oh, and Katie Holmes is there too in her pre- Tom Cruise days. She plays Cyclops’ love interest.

So, something I learned researching this movie; this 84 minute movie had an orginal cut closer to the two hour mark. The studio heads at MGM cut this movie several times after just as many test screenings. The director, David Nutter, was so upset about these edits and his total lack of control in the project he started, that he wanted his name taken off the film entirely. This of course didn’t happen as the Hollywood machine loves it some scapegoats. But there was no need for a scapegoat, the movie made $2 million back over its budget.

Nutter hasn’t directed a movie since. Not to worry though, he’s doing alright. He directed the pilot episodes of Arrow and The Flash, as well as six episodes of Game of Thrones, a couple episodes of Band of Brothers, you get the idea, home boy moved to the small screen. The point is, Nutter found his home, which is awesome.

As far as the movie he made, Disturbing Behavior, goes it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever seen. It plays as a quick, punchy, teen thriller and as far as that genre goes this shit is gold. Like a golden turd. Made of vinegar.

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The Girl in the Photographs (2015)

Hypothetical Netflix Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I can talk at great length about why I love the horror genre. The beautiful symmetry of the three ACT structure. The formation and destruction of tropes breaking like waves against jagged rocks, rocks that surely someone had fallen to their deaths upon. That fleeting sense that all is, and will be, right with the world. Poetry. Such is The Girl in the Photographs.

What on the surface plays as a standard slasher flick, has much more at work. The set up is simple: a girl in a small town is left a series of photographs of dead girls, cops think they’re fake, the killer continues to stalk her, blah, blah, blah. Right? Naw. Kal Penn shows up as a bespectacled photographer would happens to be from the same small town where these photographs are being found. He acts as the audience in a way, poking fun of the procedures of the horror genre all the while trying to foil the killers plan. Oh. The movie also tips its hand pretty quickly as to who the killer is so you get to see these three story lines play off differently then they would normally in a horror movie.

For example, instead of the bulk of the tension coming from the mystery of who the killer is in the second ACT, the tension instead comes from the interactions of the revealed character with the rest of the cast. Basically, it’s the same old story tilted on its head in a way that plays as multi-layered. I really want to talk about the ending now, so if you plan on watching this, stop reading now, lest it be spoiled.

Fair warning was given. Now, the end totally plays as your run of the mill slasher third ACT. You have your cast together, party setting, sex, drugs, rock n roll. You have your survivor girl and her hero boy. You have your killers. Yeah, I said killers. Spoilers mother fucker, who’d you think was holding the camera? Also, you find that out in the first five minutes. Way off track. The killers come in, start offing the fornicators one by one till it’s just survivor girl and hero boy. Hero boy buys it. And survivor girl? Oh, the killers take her. They keep her alive, photographing her with all the dead bodies from massacre. There’s no fight. No chase. She’s just taken. This is a much more disturbing ending than your standard fare. This is what elevates this movie to nigh film status.

 

 

I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017)

Hypothetical Netflix Rating: 4.4 out of 5 stars

I first heard about this movie when it was making the festival rounds. I wanted to see it right then and there, but it dawned on me that I would have to wait till summer when it would get a theatrical release. Luckily, Netflix bought the rights and this film was brought into my life that much sooner for the fact. So…thanks man.

I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (which is a mouthful of a title, I know, but totally worth talking about.) tells the story of Ruth, played by Melanie Lynskey, whose house is broken into. Feed up with a world full of “assholes and dildos,” her words not mine, she takes justice into her own hands after the police tell her that there are more important crimes to stop beyond a missing laptop and some silverware. On her crusade, Ruth enlists the aid of Tony, played by Elijah Wood with a rat tail. Together, the two track down the asshole who broke into her house.

What really drew me to this movie was the social commentary it provides. Though at times heavy fisted, for the most part it comes off as funny. “What is the commentary?” you might ask. The message is that we’re all assholes, focused only on the small, personal world we build for ourselves. It brings into question, what makes a person good or bad, what is the point of morality when death is sudden and unjudging, and how deadly is a throwing star really. Seriously, rat tail Elijah Wood has throwing stars, and he’s not afraid to use them.

This film the first directorial effort from Macon Blair, who is best known for his acting chops (if you haven’t seen him in Blue Ruin yet, do yourself the solid). Blair, who also wrote the film, has a wonderfully grounded sense of reality that plays well when outlandish things happen, making them that much more believable. On top of that, his sense of humor fits the tone perfectly.

As I was watching this film, I couldn’t help but pick out people I recognized from other things: Gary Anthony Williams (who’s lost a bunch of weight since Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle) and Jane Levy (who has grown her hand back since chainsawing it off in the Evil Dead remake) managed to add depth to their roles as side characters which really gave the film a sense of reality.

I really can’t say enough good things about I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore.

Just go watch it already. It’s on Netflix.

Moana (2016)

Hypothetical Netflix Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Moana manages to be, at the same time, an average run of the mill Disney movie and a metaphorical outsider. Moana herself is a princess of sorts, though when called such, she corrects the title to Chieftain. There are plenty of catchy songs that will get stuck in your head. And there is of course the love interest. Not. For once, Disney has a princess, sorry, chieftain without a prince. I know what you’re gonna say, “but in Brave that ginger girl doesn’t pick a prince.” Yeah, but that was still a central theme to the movie. Moana doesn’t even bring up trying to get the title character hitched. I smell a test passer.

The story centers around Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), duh, who was raised on this island and taught never to past the reef because the sea is a violent place full of death and the island is safe. As a child, she’s told the story of Maui, a demi god who long ago stole the heart of a goddess and in turn lost the heart in the sea. Then, little tiny Moana walks on the beach and the sea, which is alive in this movie so maybe think twice next time you pee in a body of water, opens up and delivers onto her the heart (it’s a tiny glowing green stone, not an actual heart. Just to clarify.).

When Moana gets older, things start going south on the island; the coconuts are rotten, the fish aren’t as plentiful. This is all happening because the heart of the goddess was taken.So are grandmother tells her the truth about her people. They were explorers who never intended to stay on the island forever, it just sorta worked out that way. So she sets out to find Maui and return the heart so that things can go back to being not terrible for her people.

Dwayne”why can’t we just call him The Rock” Johnson plays Maui, who wields a magical fish hook which allows him to change into different animals. Moana finds him on an island and he is the manifestation of twelve bags of douche. He straight up locks Moana in a cave and tries to steal her boat. If her name wasn’t in the title, she would have died in that cave. While Moana’s story focuses on coming into ones own and embracing ones true self even when the odds are greats stacked against you, Maui’s story is about how not being a sack of shit is better for everyone, even if there is a personal cost attached.

The animation in this movie is spot on. Maui’s big musical number is great because of the fact that it blends three different animation styles into the same frame which is a simple enough of an idea, but mind blowingly awesome on screen. It’s that sense of awe and wonder that makes the visual aspect of Disney movies enjoyable for children of all ages…even the ones pushing thirty.

 

My Dinner with Andre (1981)

Hypothetical Netflix Rating: 4.3 out of 5 stars

So this is it. The movie that made me want to start writing this blog again. Good job movie. Here’s a hypothetical cookie. You earned it. Before I sat down and watched this movie, everything I knew about it came from the season two episode of Community where Abed invites Jeff out for a birthday dinner and Abed was secretly re-enacting My Dinner with Andre. I of course re-watched the episode after I watched the movie and Danny Pudi nails everything about Andre, including what he orders, making jokes about how they don’t have the exact menu items from the movie. Genius. But I’m not reviewing Community.

The thing that jumped out at me from the every beginning of My Dinner with Andre was Wallace Shawn, who you might know as the guy in Princess Bride who says “inconceivable” every other sentence. (He says “inconceivable” in My Dinner with Andre and I about shit a brick.) Shawn plays himself in name only. The film starts with his monologue about his life as a playwright, about the troubles of life in the city as an artist. Shawn also talks about Andre, a friend and former colleague of his who he had talked to in a while because of Andre’s recent life choices. Andre had sorta dipped out of the rat race of city living and he in turn traveled the world.

Once dinner starts (about ten minutes into the film), it becomes clear that Wallace wouldn’t be getting many words in. Andre talks and talks and talks and talks. And my god is it gripping stuff. To try and explain the magic that is this dialogue driven work of art would be to do it a disservice. One of the main things I took from this movie was the state of art in modern society.

With both characters playing themselves as characters and talking about how art is both a reflection of real life and a work of fiction simultaneously makes the film function as a sort of meta piece where the two actors could very well be talking about their honest to god thoughts and feelings while still delivering practiced lines. In this respect, I found the film compelling.

The only thing holding this film back from being a true five star is the fact that it is a talking heads piece. It did take a small bit of effort to watch at times because of the fact that absolutely nothing happens during the course of the film. This was clearly intended to be a stage play (after all, Wallace “never get in a land war in Asia” Shawn, was a playwright). Well, there’s that and the directing. Not a whole lot going on in that department. To be fair, Louis Malle, didn’t exactly have much to work with. After all, it’s just two dudes having dinner.

All in all though, this movie is highly entertaining. It really got me thinking about the state of society and the constructs that are put on us all really without much of thought on our parts as to why.