Rings (2017)

Hypothetical Netflix Rating: 2.9 out of 5 stars

So you’re probably sitting there thinking, “Hey man, why’d you watch the third installment to a film franchise that lost it’s steam a decade ago? It’s probably going to be a piece of shit.” To which I say, “Why not?” And you wouldn’t exactly be wrong in your summation that this movie is shitty. It’s just not a total piece of shit.

For those who slept through 2002,  the basic plot is that there’s a haunted video tape that when you watch it, a little girl calls you and says “seven days” then you die at the end of those seven days. The twist is that this time around Johnny Galecki (Big Bang Theory) watches the tape and, being a professor, gets the bright idea to do experiments revolving around the afterlife. He starts showing the video to students, telling them to copy it with the promise that he’ll find someone else to watch their copy. This goes all well and good till it doesn’t. That side of the story I was totally fine with. The main problem this movie has is that Johnny Galecki is only a minor character.

The real story centers on Julia, “played” by Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, who has more names than acting chops. She gave hands down one of the most hollow performances I’ve seen in a major studio release in years. I couldn’t tell if it was the language barrier holding her back (she’s Italian) or what, but she acted little a strawman the entire time. Her boyfriend Holt, played by Alex Roe, was not much better. It was like the cast agent said, “Meeh, they look alright. They got the part.” “Do you want them to read any lines before you give them the job?” “No, they’ll be alright.” I’m getting way off track here.

Julia and Holt are a couple who can’t act. Holt is off to college where he gets messed up with Professor Galecki and watches the tape. Julia goes to find him, she watches the tape, but her version has bonus material. She follows the bread crumbs and from there the movie actually manages to recapture some of the charm the original had.

That was actually the saddest part of the movie for me; the story wasn’t that bad. There were was a good amount of plot development and jump scares to keep me interested. The two lead actors torpedoed this movie so bad, it over powered all the good things this movie had going for it. Seriously, the acting is laughably bad at parts, which, again, kinda saves it for when it is unlaughably bad.

Watch it if you dare.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)

Hypothetical Netflix Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I’ll just come right out and say it: Forest Whitaker is the fucking man. Writer/ director Jim Jarmusch wrote the role of Ghost Dog for Forest Whitaker, which at first sounded very strange to me being that I always thought of Forest Whitaker as the dude from the Last King of Scotland and Panic Room. I never thought of him as a hit man with a code akin to a samurai, but he totally pulls it off. He’s fantastic. And deadly.

The film follows Forest Whitaker, who after completing a hit in the first ACT, is put on the mob’s radar as someone who needs to be taken care of. Not in a “awww, he’s sick and needs soup” taken care of. I mean, “let’s put bullets in him” taken care of. Thus begins Forest Whitaker’s path of vengeance.

For such a straight forward plot, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, is unbelievably engaging. The characters introduced are incredibly interesting and rich. Ghost Dog has two friends: a man who only speaks French and runs an ice cream truck, and a little girl who he trades books with. Ghost Dog does not speak French, which actually creates some good moments of levity. Jim Jarmusch did a great job writing this film if only for those moments.

The real take away from this film is the actually code of the samurai that Forest Whitaker dispenses via voice over and text cards. Not only do they fill in all the holes in the character of Ghost Dog, they also act as chapter markers, telling the audience what’s about to happen. It’s a really neat idea that gives one pause, because the teachings of the samurai are cross applicable to every culture even modern day New Jersey or New York or where ever the hell this movie is supposed to take place. They never give you that piece of information. Anywho.

This movie made me want to become a modern day samurai. Ten bucks says you will too after watching it.

In a Valley of Violence (2016)

Hypothetical Netflix Rating: 3.2 out of 5 stars

In a Valley of Violence tells the story of Ethan Hawke, a man so to himself he talks to his dog more than any other character in the first ACT. In this western, Hawke is making his way to Mexico after peacing out from the war effort. You know. The Civil War. Because it’s a western. He abandoned the cause because of all the innocent Native women and children he killed. Because it’s a western. Also there’s a rattle snake. Because…you get my point.

For a director and writer who I admire very much for his work in the horror genre, Ti West didn’t really bring anything new or interesting to the western genre. Which you think he would have, being that you can’t spell “Western” without “West”, but instead what he gave us was a series of tropes blended with the themes of other movies, mostly First Blood and John Wick. Yeah, you totally read that right. Take the PTSD themes from First Blood and the revenge plot from John Wick, set it in the most stereotypical old west you can think of and you got yourself In a Valley of Violence. It was like Mad Libs for movies.

But that doesn’t mean I hated. No. If I hated it, it wouldn’t have scored above a 2. Come on people, you should know how rating systems work by now, you’re…adults? I actually don’t know you. Maybe I’m projecting. I digress.

This was actually Ethan Hawke’s first western. Although Magnificent Seven got released first, turns out In a Valley of Violence finished wrapping first. Isn’t Hollywood fun?  Anywho, he actually did a pretty good job playing old timey John Rambo-Wick. Kinda weird how “John” is pretty much very action hero’s name. I guess his name was Paul in this one, if you wanna be technical. Whatever whatever. Ethan Hawke did well. The rest of the cast did great too.

Quick run down: you got John Travolta as the Marshal, Taissa Farmiga as the only one on John Wick’s, I mean Paul’s side, James Ransone (who was in Sinister with Ethan Hawke) as the douche bag who hates Rambo out of boredom, Karen Gillan as James Ransone girlfriend who is also a douche for no good reason, Burn Gorman as the drunken priest who acts as an ACT marker in the movie getting only two or three scenes, and Larry Fessenden as Larry Fessenden. I like Larry a lot. He pops up in a couple of Ti West’s films in little bit parts as well as Ti West type movies. Something about the shape of his head is oddly appealing to the eye. That made me sound like a serial killer and I apologize Larry. Please don’t tell the cops about those letters…which I totally didn’t send by the way. Anywho.

I was really looking forward to watching this movie, and this could very well be one of those situations where expectations didn’t meet up with reality, so that’s what really brought this movie don’t in my mind. I can’t be sure. Either way, it’s worth the watch if you got nothing better to do.

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.

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.

Mascots

Hypothetical Netflix Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Christopher Guest is one of those filmmakers who has found the perfect comedic niche is the mockumentary genre. Since staring in This Is Spinal Tap (1984), Guest has directed four mockumentaries, the fifth one being Mascots (2016).

The movie follows a group of semi-professional sports mascots who enter a competition. The characters are set up similarly as Best in Show(2000). You got the bickering couple (Zach Wood and Sarah Baker), you got the guy with the funny ascent (Tom Bennett), you got…the other guy with the funny ascent (Chris O’Dowd). Alright, so the characters aren’t exactly the same as in Best in Show, mostly because Guest’s usual cast is rotated back into the wings, playing much smaller parts. Veteran Guest co-star Parker Posey is the only one who is a mascot…come to think of it, her story is a lot like Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara’s. Come to think of it, those two are the only ones missing from Mascots. Weird.

What I find so interesting about Guest’s directorial style is he shoots ten minute scenes, letting the actors improvise and grow the scene organically. He complies something like 60 hours of film for each movie, then edits them down to the realistic hour and a half.That’s, I think, really important for movies like Mascots that real depend on the characters being crazy, funny people doing crazy, funny things.

Having said that, everyone did a great job of being funny. One of the funnier bits in the movie comes from a person in a bunny suit, which is funny. Can I say “funny” any more? No?

I think, much like with Krampus, Mascots just wasn’t as good as some of the other movies that came before it. That’s not to say that certain jokes in the movie didn’t get me, because they did, it’s just that it doesn’t have the same charm it’s so clearly trying to recapture.

Krampus

Hypothetical Netflix Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

After seeing writer/director Michael Dougherty’s first film, Trick ‘r Treat(2007), I was impressed enough to give this guy movie theater movie money when his next movie, Krampus (2015) hit theaters. I decided to give it a second viewing, what with my total disregard for holiday awareness.

The story centers around Max, a young boy whose parents are Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) and Toni Collettte. His family, including his sister and grandmother, is hosting relatives for Christmas. The relatives (David “Champ” Koechner, Allison “Fargo” Tolman, Conchata “I probably didn’t get paid enough to put up with Charlie Sheen for as long as I did” Ferrell, and some kids) are not the classiest people in the world. It’s your normal dysfunction till Max summons Krampus, who is what happens when you misspell “Santa” as “Satan”. He crashes their Christmas, picking them off one by one with a Santa theme.

I don’t hate this movie. There are a lot of things I think could have been done better, but I think kinda get the impression that the studio might have pushed for the PG-13. Dougherty had a pretty good gore factor to Trick ‘r Treat which I was kinda surprise he didn’t pull over for Krampus. This movie has the same cynical tone as his first, but is lack a little bit of the charm. It could be that it doesn’t have the element of the unknown that Trick ‘r Treat had–in Krampus, you know a character named Krampus is going to coming in and fuck up the family’s Christmas, but with Trick’r Treat, all you know is the theme going in.

Ultimately, I guess by biggest beef with Krampus is that it didn’t living up to it’s older brother. I’ll still give Michael Dougherty another movie to prove himself to me, but so far, he’s on track to go the way of Neill Blomkamp, a breakout star who can’t help but try to outdo himself.