Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Spring Breakers

I don’t have a problem when a filmmaker attempts to be different in order to stand out in an ocean of cookie cutter romantic comedies and dumb action movies. I have a problem when a filmmaker attempts to be different and goes the pretentious music video route and wastes my time. Spring Breakers is one of those movies.

The story follows a group of four college girls (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine), who have been friends since grade school, travelling to Florida for spring break. They hook up with a wannabe gang banger/drug dealer named Alien (James Franco) who enables them to live out their darkest fantasies and violent urges.
This will be a short review due to the fact that I don’t want to dwell on this shit stain of a movie any longer than I have to. It’s a horrible, horrible excuse for a film that fills every frame with unlikable characters and insipid situations that annoyed me beyond belief. It is phony and pretentious, filled with cheesy repetitive voiceovers (the amount of times I heard Franco half-sing the phrase “spring break” made me want to punch him in the grill), little actual dialogue outside of inane banter or the singing of Britney Spears songs, endless slo-mo shots of partying college students as well as overused Final Cut filters, camera tricks and blacklights. There is nothing in this movie that I can say I genuinely enjoyed, not even James Franco’s much hyped performance. Well, I did like the Skrillex songs, so take that as you will.

I have seen my fair share of “Good Girls Gone Bad” gimmick flicks where the actresses cast were known for being goody two shoes types and play completely against type (Neve Campbell in Wild Things, Elizabeth Berkley in Showgirls, Reese Witherspoon in Freeway, Christina Ricci in Black Snake Moan, etc.), but Spring Breakers features not one, but two Disney alums (Gomez and Hudgens) and teases the audience with the prospect of seeing them topless to get butts in the seats. Whoever fell for that ruse was shafted since Gomez disappears halfway through the film and Hudgens used a body double. I wanted a good story, not a bunch of pointless nudity in place of it. When a movie has to rely on that aspect to sell itself you know you’re in trouble.
The movie is absolutely pointless. There was no script as far as I can tell and zero direction. The story aimlessly drifts from scene to scene (if you can call them scenes), there is absolutely no character development and the plot is non-existent.  Indie auteur/writer/director Harmony Korine seemed to just let the cast improvise everything therefore nothing makes a lick of sense. And all the faux arthouse touches (juxtaposing horrific images of violence against the character’s voiceovers where they wax poetic about how nice their trip has been, how many awesome people they’ve met and the beauty of Florida), like blacklit fluorescent ski masks, horrifically overblown colored lighting (this flick used the color blue in the way Battlefield Earth used purple), weird shotgun sound effect laden transitions and morphing montage garbage… ugh! If his intention was to make me feel like a filthy voyeur he succeeded, as well as giving me a constant urge to shut the damn television off.

The acting is bad (yes, I thought James Franco was embarrassingly awful) and I just couldn’t understand the hype that the film was receiving. There are no redeeming qualities to this flick at all. The female characters at the heart of the (so called) story start off as horrible people (robbing a diner for spring break money), do extremely horrible things (become a bikini clad hit squad) and stay horrible people when the film ends (steal a dead person’s car). Therefore the film has nothing to offer in terms of a through line or character growth.
Fuck this movie. Fuck it in its wannabe arthouse cornhole. Twice.

0 out of 5

Thursday, July 25, 2013


SyFy Channel Original Films made by The Asylum; we all associate them with pure shittiness and for the most part they are. The majority of their films are “mockbusters”, which are obvious rip-offs of big budget Hollywood films, and the rest are usually ridiculous monster/disaster flicks. Once in a while they might create something that’s somewhat enjoyable on a guilty pleasure level (Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies), but for every watchable one there are fifteen that are absolute garbage (Titanic II, Battle of Los Angeles, Almighty Thor, Transmorphers, Princess of Mars, MegaFault, H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds). And then there’s the absolute social media circus that was Sharknado.

A hurricane that strikes the L.A. coast brings with it a deluge of sharks that wash inland and begin to attack the general populace. Bar owner Fin Shepherd (Ian Ziering) ventures out into the fray to ensure the safety of his family (Tara Reid, Chuck Hittinger, Aubrey Peeples).
Yeah, that’s the general premise of this flick. What really happens is that there’s a hurricane that washes sharks closer to the shore which in turn flings them inland to cause havoc which causes massive flooding which allows the sharks to swim through the streets which also causes a number of tornados filled with sharks to demolish/devour anything in their path. Say all that in one breath.

If there’s one thing I can say that is absolutely positive about this film is that it is never boring. The pacing rarely lets up and there is always something going on. That something is usually pretty ridiculous like someone getting flattened by a falling shark or a house crumbling to the ground due to a shark infested flood. From the beginning the ball gets rolling with an illegal shark fin business deal going awry at sea thanks to the brewing storm and keeps the momentum going until the end credits roll.
Director Anthony C. Ferrante may not know how to direct an actor or properly block out an action scene that makes sense, but he obviously knew that his film was going to be beyond insane and ran with it. I give him props for not taking any single bit of is seriously and always playing it up for laughs. He succeeded in making one of the most off-the-wall “WTF?!” movies that actually works (another in that rare category, Ninja III: The Domination, was recently released on DVD/BluRay and will be reviewed soon). Honestly though, I feel like the planets aligned and he got lucky in more ways than one, because any part of this flick could have derailed the entire train, but he somehow managed to keep it on track.

Anyone watching these movies for the acting is deluded beyond belief. The shit performances are usually one aspect that makes these so damned entertaining. We all know Tara Reid is a talentless bimbo and she does nothing here to change that fact. In one scene her boyfriend gets devoured right in front of her and it doesn’t phase her one bit. She wears the same constipated expression on her face for the entire film, just like she does in every other one in which she stars.
Ian Ziering, on the other hand, seems to be enjoying himself and actually puts a lot of enthusiasm into his performance. If it wasn’t for him I’m sure most of the movie wouldn’t have worked, but he sells all the batshit insane crap going on like a pro. The same goes for the rest of the cast.

But these are only the good aspects. It’s the bad ones that make watching these movies so much fun. The script by Thunder Levin (seriously?!) is a big clusterfuck of random ideas and fromage that combines a disaster movie with a monster movie. The intentional humor falls flat and there is absolutely zero character development. Dialogue is stolen directly from Jaws (Robert Shaw’s Indianapolis speech), chainsaws act like katana swords and people eaten whole by sharks survive without a scratch.
Everything looks cheap and there are lots of clues as to how the filmmakers kept the budget under $1m. For example, all the scenes in the Humvee were shot with the rear window smashed up to the point where there is nothing visible from the outside, therefore all the crazy shit going on around the characters is described by them instead of having to use greenscreens and CGI to show it.

The editing is also piss poor. There are scenes that were horribly edited for content, such as Ziering ramming a shark’s eye with a surfboard to stop it from attacking his buddy. We see him rush the shark with the board, then hear a loud squish sound effect and cut to a shot of the shark swimming away. But on the flip side we see someone unload shotgun blasts point blank into a shark’s face with no cutaways. It’s an odd mix of violence that we get to see and not see, but I’m sure we will get an uncut version on home video.
Additionally, the special effects look like they belong in a PS2 game, the actor playing Ziering’s son (Chuck Hittinger) looks like he’s the same age as his father and the fact that the sharks are able to survive outside of the water for hours and hours defies Mother Nature’s design. But it’s all in the name of a good time.

This movie has no reason to exist, yet it does. Am I cool with it? Hell yeah! It’s flicks like this that keep me entertained when I’m down in the dumps or just need a mindless diversion from life. Sharknado is “so bad it’s good” fun through and through. Bring on the sequel and spin-offs!

3.5 out of 5

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Conjuring

How did the person responsible for beginning the uber-violent torture porn sub-genre become the reigning king of the low key horror movie? I liked Saw just fine, but James Wan’s two follow-ups, Dead Silence and Death Sentence, were extremely disappointing. Who am I kidding? They were shit. So a few years back I won tickets to see an advance screening of his newest attempt at making a horror flick, the PG-13 Insidious. Being that they were free I went regardless that the trailers I had seen were not all that impressive. Holy shit did it come out of nowhere and knock me on my ass!

So when Wan’s newest venture into the world of scary flicks was announced I was extremely excited. If he can knock a movie out of the park like he did previously, where he showed off a significant amount of growth as a storyteller, The Conjuring was going to be awesome.

And it was.
Based on the true story of a husband and wife team of paranormal investigators, The Warrens (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), who take on the case of a haunting that has turned violent toward the victims, the  Perrons (Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy and Kyla Deaver).

If there’s one thing James Wan has certainly learned over the course of his career it is how to properly build suspense and a sense of absolute dread. It’s in overdrive for the entirety of The Conjuring. This flick kept me on the edge of my seat to the point that I was tapping my feet against the floor in anticipation of something to happen. 95% of the scares are effective and most are not of the “boo” variety. The aspect I liked the best was that Wan used the audience’s expectations against themselves by setting up cliché situations where any other generic horror flick would toss in a cheap scare and build up the suspense and then that stinger never comes. But then a few moments later a totally different kind of jolt occurs that takes you completely by surprise. Everything is expertly choreographed and handled. Smart work there, James!
The other area I will say he’s greatly improved is in his ability to direct his actors. Each film has seen some progression, but as far as I’m concerned he has finally hit the mark with The Conjuring. Each and every single cast member is phenomenally awesome in their role, be it one of the girls from the opening scene involving the Annabelle doll to the youngest daughter of the Perron family. There is not one performance that I can find at fault, and that’s saying something truly spectacular for a horror movie where the acting is never a high point.

I have to admit, I was worried when I saw that 90s indie queen Lili Taylor was cast in this film. Back in the day she was amazing in each and every low budget flick she starred in, from I Shot Andy Warhol to Four Rooms to The Addiction. However, whenever she crossed over to big budget Hollywood films her talent seemed to disappear. Just look at her in The Haunting, Ransom or Public Enemies. Goddamn did she suck in those (Pecker too, and that was an indie!). I dreaded her turn as the tortured mother, Carolyn Perron, but in the end she wowed me just like she did when I first saw her in Mystic Pizza. You can tell she put her all into the part and the movie benefits greatly from it, especially in the final act of the film.
Patrick Wilson, who starred in Wan’s Insidious and will reprise his role in the upcoming Insidious: Chapter 2, seems to be right at home in these types of films. I never liked him all that much after his craptastic performance in the film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, but I began to warm up to him beginning with Hard Candy. He is great here as ghostbuster Ed Warren, and when teamed up with the phenomenal Vera Farmiga, who is one of my all-time favorite actresses (ever see her performance in Running Scared?), as his wife Lorraine, the chemistry they share leaps off the screen and just grabs you.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that Ron Livingston, who is primarily a comedic actor, took on such a demanding part such as Roger Perron. He manages to pull it off thanks to some great chemistry (I’m thinking Wan cast this film based on that fact alone) with Lili Taylor and the young actresses who play his daughters (I’m telling you, Joey King is going to be the next Dakota Fanning).
The script by Chad and Carey Hayes moves at a steady clip, is never boring and features a large amount of characterization for a movie that will be dismissed as just another run-of-the-mill horror flick. While I did like the characters, I do feel that some of their developments resembled events from other scary movies of the past, most notably Poltergeist. There are some ideas ripped right from that script, be it the family no longer wanting to sleep upstairs and campimg out in the living room to the youngest girl being drawn into her closet. Sure not all of these developments turn out the way they did in that masterpiece, but the fact that they were so close irked me a bit. The same goes for the Annabelle doll, which is part clown doll from Poltergeist and part Jigsaw doll from Saw. Thankfully that development never went the route I figured it would have because that would have been a deal breaker for me.

I won’t ruin any of the scares, surprises or twists that make this movie as frightening and awesome as it is, so I will just say that not only does The Conjuring contain an ample amount of the spooky stuff audiences want nowadays, but it also features some of the best acting I’ve seen all summer and some of the slickest and most restrained directing from James Wan yet. It’s well made, doesn’t rely on gore or violence (why it’s rated R I have no idea as it is virtually bloodless and features no harsh language) and knows exactly what it takes to scare an audience as efficiently as possible.
This is an awesome flick that got under my skin and stayed there for its two hour run time. If you want to be scared, this is the flick for you. I hope Wan and company make a sequel since there’s plenty more stories about the Warren’s paranormal investigations. I mean, did you know they were the ones who originally investigated the Amityville haunting? Now that would be the shit! I am now eagerly awaiting Wan’s Insidious sequel and an excited to see how he handles the big budget franchise picture Fast and Furious 7 next summer.

4 out of 5

Saturday, July 20, 2013

13 Eerie

In my review of WorldWar Z I stated that in my opinion the movie should not have worked. Big budget + big star + big problems behind-the-scenes + PG-13 rating = a disaster in the making. Strangely enough the movie worked for me on many levels and was a pleasant surprise for the summer of 2013.

So here we are now with 13 Eerie, a low budget Canadian zombie film featuring a cast of recognizable, yet not-ready-for-primetime players and no rating restriction. This movie had genre gold written all over it! Unfortunately that ended up not being the case at all…
A professor (Michael Shanks) takes a group of forensic undergrads (Katherine Isabel, Brendan Fehr, Kristie Patterson, Brendan Fletcher, Jesse Moss, Michael Eisner) to the abandoned island known as the Eerie Strait for an evaluation of their skills. Little do they know that the island was once the site of gruesome biological experiments on death row inmates that has turned them into bloodthirsty zombies.

So we have a cheesy set up, a group of good looking twenty-something actors and a huge outdoor playground where the gory goodness will go down. All the pieces are there for a fun time at the movies, but unfortunately the script is the one chunk of the puzzle that it missing. This thing is ridiculously stupid and features some of the worst writing I’ve ever seen for a movie of this type. Yes, even worse than some of those goofy Italian horror movies from the 80s.
Here’s an example - One character, while running away from a zombie through the woods, gets stuck in a very lightly thorned bush. She pretty much stays there waiting for the zombie to catch up and eat her. I’m talking looking behind her to see how far away the other actor was in an impatient fashion which said to me “I can’t keep screaming all night you bitch. Hurry your punk ass up!”  I in turn was screaming at the screen, “Fuck your t-shirt! Take it off and run dumbass!” There’s a lot of dumb shit like this floating around in 13 Eerie. I won’t go into them all for the sake of my sanity.

Although this scene in particular probably wasn’t written exactly the way it’s presented in the finished film, it was the director who turned it into the insanely ridiculous joke that it ends up being. This is director Lowell Dean’s first feature and it shows. While he does get some decent performances out of his cast (Katherine Isabel is always on point no matter how shitty the flick) and wrings some tension out of a couple of the lame set-ups, he has no real style and relies on overblown gore to sell the horror and not genuine scares. When faced with a problematic scene, like the one I described above, he just seems to back off and pray for the best. Sorry dude, that’s not how you make a film.
I enjoyed the idea behind the zombies being death row inmates that were experimented on, so the script isn’t a complete bust. There are a limited amount of zombies (if I recall correctly it was a trio) and each of them has a particular style about them. If the director got one thing right it’s that he gave the zombies a bit of personality which allows the audience to tell one from the other through their similar make-up. Seeing Michael Shanks (Daniel Jackson from Stargate SG-1) in a film is always a treat since he’s a very likable actor. Casting horror vets like Brendan Fehr and Brendan Fletcher was also a nice touch since they know their way around this genre about as much as Isabel (Fletcher and Isabel starred in Freddy vs. Jason together). Some of the kills were gruesome and the make-up was decent.

It’s just too bad the aspects that make a movie watchable were left to the curb. The dialogue is horrid, the characters are mostly written as douchebaggy idiots that don’t have an ounce of self-preservation or common sense between them (except Isabel’s character since she’s the lead). The deaths are predictable and are telegraphed in advance via inane direction. The cinematography is capable in some scenes and unintelligible in others. The editing is horrible as well. The thorn bush scene could have been mildly suspenseful if only it were cut differently.
Long story short, the inexperience of the filmmakers brought this project crashing down upon itself in the worst way imaginable. I understand it was a low budget indie horror movie, but I’ve seen plenty of films that fall into that category go beyond their restrictions and become something special and notable. This was not one of those films. It’s amateurish, boring and a waste of time. And the anticlimactic ending – the diarrhea icing on this shit cake.

0.5 out of 5

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Is it just me or are comedies getting less and less funny as time goes on? Back in the mid-2000s you could count on a movie starring Steve Carell to be pretty hysterical (well, maybe not Evan Almighty), but lately his films have either gone the serious route (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) or are just lame (Date Night). The makers of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone probably noticed his inability to carry a film on his own recently and managed to snag a great supporting cast to play alongside him, not unlike the one used for Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, to lend an assist. Sadly, it didn’t help. This is a painfully unfunny flick front to back.

The Las Vegas magician duo of Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) has broken up and lost their long running show due to the arrogant antics of Burt and the increasing popularity of shock illusionists like Steve Gray (Jim Carrey). Can Burt get his act together and rekindle his relationship with Anton?
When I watch a movie, be it a comedy or any other genre, I want to like the main character or characters. If I cannot get behind them there is no point in even watching the film. So when I say that Burt Wonderstone is one of the most unlikable characters I’ve seen in a comedy since Seth Rogen’s Ronnie in Observe and Report, you best believe I mean it. There were times where I was shaking my fist at the screen, saying that if I ever met someone like that in person I’d “kick them square in the taint”. Everything that comes out of his mouth is horribly racist, sexist or insulting in some way or another. Why would the writers intentionally create a character like that? In the end he learns his lesson about friendship and all that, but he’s still a complete jackass. What were they thinking?!

Steve Carell seems to be taking great pleasure in playing such an asshole, so maybe it was this aspect that drew him to the character since he usually plays a well-meaning and awkward sort of guy. Whatever his reasons were, the character grated on my nerves like no other. I’d say he gave a great performance because if that was his goal he certainly achieved it and more.
The rest of the cast is serviceable. Steve Buscemi as Burt’s long suffering co-star is quite amusing and Olivia Wilde… well, she’s smokin’ hot as always. She made me cackle out loud when she was forced to assist the main characters on stage last minute and stumbled awkwardly around like a lost puppy. Jim Carrey still annoys the hell out of me after all these years. He gets a couple of good moments but outside of that I wanted to sucker punch him as much as Wonderstone. The late James Gandolfini (I will miss seeing him on screen) was just okay. I couldn’t tell if he was trying to be funny or not. The standout… Alan Arkin as has been magician Rance Holloway. He is written as an asshole of sorts as well, but he plays it in such a way that it isn’t annoying. He actually comes off as a charming douche, especially when he (wink wink) “dies”.

Writers Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis Daley beat around the bush too much and can’t seem to find a decent balance between good natured and insulting humor. The scale tips too deeply into the latter and the script suffers greatly due to it. Sure they do come up with some clever parodies of Las Vegas, Siegfried & Roy and Criss Angel, but when the story focuses on the characters outside their stage shows they are uninteresting and dull. And that final show scene? Is that the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever seen or what?!
Director Don Scardino, who is mainly a television director (Cosby, The Mindy Project, Rescue Me, 2 Broke Girls) shows that he doesn’t have much in the way of a style or vision that doesn’t include the standard tricks you see used in every other movie out there. You can see he’s trying to wring viable comedy out of the cast, but the script blocks that from happening at every turn. I’m not going to say the debacle the film ends up being was completely his fault, but he sure didn’t help matters any.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone isn’t a very funny comedy, plain and simple. Golden opportunities are wasted along with boatloads of raw talent. While there are some fleeting moments of random hilarity this flick is a big whiff. I was genuinely disappointed at how this turned out in the end.

1.5 out of 5