American Mary (2012) Review

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As some of you may know, I frequently attend anime conventions, spreading the Gospel of Geek Juice through the handful of panels I do. One of my more popular ones panels is “Japanese Horror: Anime vs Film” where, as the title suggests, I discuss horror anime, or the lack thereof, and the tropes and history of J-horror in general. Inevitably I’m asked questions about my thoughts on Movie A or if I’ve seen Movie B, but there’s one question in particular I love to get asked: “What are your thoughts on modern horror and the state of the industry?” It always provokes great discussion, but no matter the path that discussion takes the conclusion is usually “Indy horror is where it’s at.” However, if you asked me to name a handful of great Indy horror films from the last few years I’d be hard-pressed to think of many. It’s partially because I haven’t seen much, partially because the majority of what’s out there is low quality and derivative, and partially because I rarely even hear names of good horror movies thrown around for me to blindly recommend. In complete contrast to this, American Mary is a title I’ve heard about since its release, and many people I respect have called it an amazing film. Directed by the Soska sisters, American Mary shines brightly as a great example of what Indy horror can and should be, giving me hope for the future of horror.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 6.44.45 PMAmerican Mary‘s titular Mary Mason is a med student who is severely lacking in funds. In desperation she turns to stripping, but doesn’t even get the chance to do that before her would-be boss Billy whisks her off to save the life of a friend of theirs, of course compensating her $5,000 dollars. Beatress, a… shall we say “unique” individual obsessed with looking like Betty Boop, hears about Mary’s skills and commissions her to perform some body modification on a friend. From here on Mary finds herself teetering on the edge of the wild world of extreme body modification, but isn’t pushed in until she’s drugged and raped by her professor, Dr. Grant. Mary and her world are now forever changed as she sets out to be a successful surgeon in a drastically different way then she had planned.

Ignoring all eloquence on my part, let me simply put that American Mary just works. The premise works. The characters work. The film itself works. The Soskas clearly have an understanding of the technicals of cinema and use various techniques to create effective and unique scenes. At the beginning of the film when Mary saves the life of the criminal, she rushes home, pausing when she enters. After the chaos and fast editing of the surgery sequence, the Soskas give both Mary and the audience a second to take in everything that just happened and in that moment we understand every thought and emotion running through Mary’s head. They take the very weird surgeries that make up body modification and pull them into the realm of horror, not through gore as most would, but by concentrating on the violation done to a body in the process.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 6.45.42 PMMary herself is the crowning achievement of the film, easily being one of the finest horror protagonists I’ve ever seen. She’s not only more human than almost every character I see in horror films these days, but also far more likeable and realistic than most modern protagonists in Hollywood films. Katherine Isabella brilliantly brings Mary to life, but unfortunately she’s not in good company because while the other actors play their roles just fine, they lack the certain energy that Isabella/Mary have.

The film is fairly well paced, cutting off the fat and showing us the essentials of Mary’s descent. Like in a Scorsese film the scenes feel like episodes that all add up together to create a completed story. Unfortunately, American Mary doesn’t hold up its pacing forever and in its second half stumbles, leaving you with an anti-climatic ending. For some this would ruin the film, but if you keep in mind the Japanese philosophy (going back to the beginning) that the journey is more important than the destination, then you’ll most certainly find the rest of the film worth it.

OScreen Shot 2014-07-14 at 7.01.49 PMne may want to push a feminist agenda onto this film due to the creators behind it and its content, but I never once thought about examining this film through that lens while I was watching it. Plot wise it feels like a standard, albeit improved, rape/revenge film and there are few scenes that provoke further analysis. There has been a notable lack of female directors in horror, but the solution to this problem is not to make feminist horror movies or prove that female directors are better. Rather, we need more movies like this one. Movies that prove nothing more then that the director, who happens to be a woman, can make a damn fine movie.

I may not have seen the largest number of Indy horror films, but I’d wager that American Mary stands out not just from all indy horror, but from all film. It’s cold without losing emotion, clinical without losing passion, and sophisticated without losing the rawness we expect from horror. There has come to be a large difference between the standards we judge modern Indy horror by and the horror classics by, but American Mary holds up against all standards. It’s one of the finest modern horror movies I’ve seen and one I’ll be returning to even when it’s considered a classic. It’s the kind of film I’m proud to bring up in discussion and I hope that inspires more directors to create films in its spirit, eventually leading us into a world where indy horror can stand tall and proclaim that it really is where good horror’s at.

What are your thoughts on American Mary or modern horror, Indy or otherwise? Sound off in the comments below!
This review and others like it can be found over at the ever amazing Geek Juice Media, for more movie and TV talk head on over to Buck On Stuff, and for more horror go to Hidden Horrors!
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A Thousand Cuts (2012) Review

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The debate over violence created by media has been a long and arduous one. It’s been fought in schools, churches, congress, and apparently little indy films such as A Thousand Cuts. Unfortunately, A Thousand Cuts isn’t a commentary on the state of the mentally ill in this country or the over-simplification of issues created by politicians, lobbyists and the news. Instead this is a hateful little film that wants to be a hell of a lot more clever than it ultimately ends up being thanks to the poorly thought-out writing.

A Thousand Cuts follows around narcissistic horror director Lance, played by Michael Newcomer, doing his best Ewan McGregor impression. The film opens on an overly long party scene where Lance drinks, harasses women, and brags about how much money his “A Thousand Cuts” franchise has made. The party is interrupted by a blackout, during which a sparkler with a picture of Lance’s dead mother appears. Lance is understandably angry, but not enough to let the party stop, that is, until another blackout turns out to somehow be the last straw. After all the attendees clear out, the only two people left are Lance and the electrician Frank (Michael O’Keefe). Lance invites Frank in for a drink and as the two talk, Lance slowly realizes that Frank may be up to something. He tries to leave, but Frank pulls a gun on him and explains Lance needs to be punished for causing the death of Frank’s daughter: Susan.

Thus begins the action for the next hour of the film: these two talking. Frank threatens that Melanie, Lance’s sister who Frank has locked away, will run out of oxygen before the cops could find out where she is. Stuck in a standoff, the two slowly exposit their backgrounds and debate whether Lance is at fault for Susan’s death. Susan was murdered by a serial killer inspired by Lance’s films and although Lance followed the trial, he never publicly apologized or stopped making films.

This is the argument that the film is very obviously making. Hollywood doesn’t give a shit about the consequences of its actions and while they are most certainly not to blame for the crimes of serial killers like the one in the film, that doesn’t mean they’re not assholes about it. The idea of making stupid movies for a general audience is also a major theme as during the party scene there are continual references to how you either make movies that sell or get critical acclaim. This angst against the state of film indicates that the filmmakers here are fresh out of college. On top of that, this film is amateur in how it’s made, written, acted, etc… and there are many lines of dialogue that make mention of snooty graduate students or how USC is the biggest school in California. Lance even got his idea for “A Thousand Cuts” from an artistic short film he made that clearly was too pretentious for modern audiences.

The film climaxes with a timid screenwriter (who had previously shown up to give Lance his script) returning to give him the correct draft. He unties Lance and Lance quickly finds out that all of Frank’s plans turned out to be fake. Melanie was in the other room, gagged up and he hadn’t done anything to her. In desperation, Frank tries to kill Melanie, forcing Lance to shoot him. When asked “Why?”, Frank replies “I wanted you to feel what it’s like to actually kill someone,” before expiring. This is completely inconsistent with the actions of the character up to this point, making this idiotic ending the bow on top of a poorly written, paced, and thought-out script.

I make it a point to never hate films, as they’re are made with passion and love by the filmmakers, no matter how bad they are. That is, except for films that have some kind of palpable disdain for someone or something. I hated Chain Letter because it hated technology and my generation, and I hate A Thousand Cuts because it hates Hollywood with all of the passion that it claims that Hollywood has towards the critical audience. Not only is it insulting to say that the masses will consume any garbage you put in front of them, but it’s idiotic to spread hatred against the people you’re pissed at for hating you. An actual criticism of Hollywood or commentary on the violence in our society “caused” by media would make for an interesting movie, but A Thousand Cuts does nothing but regurgitate the same arguments we’ve heard about violent movies before and re-portray the Hollywood assholes that have existed in film for decades. I’ll admit that it sticks to its morals by having little violence in it, but all that makes for is a boring and anti-climactic film that isn’t worth anybody’s time.

V/H/S (2012) 50th Review

There was a point in time when I used to be the angry internet geek, one who took the Nostalgia Critic’s word as gospel and points off a film for not meeting my ridiculous expectations. I had little respect for the filmmakers and a mean spiteful opinion of many movies without having seen them. Looking back at my Legend of Sorrow Creek Review you can see that, and while that is where I got my start and where many critics operate, I’m glad I’ve grown out of it. It’s important to look at not just plot holes and bad acting, but why those things don’t work for you in a movie. To see the film as a whole and as a work of art, not just it’s individual parts and as a piece of pure entertainment. To pay mind to the intentions of the filmmakers, as well as how I respond. While to an extent I’m still like that (the mere mention of Baz Luhrmann makes me twitch) there was a time when I was much worse, and during said time I was on a podcast called Podwreck. My co-hosts and I made an effort to review a movie each episode and on one episode we watched V/H/S, which I HATED with the burning rage of a thousand suns . I started to write a script for a video review of it and I made it about 5 full pages before losing interest and giving up. So what better way to reflect on 50 reviews of growth then taking a look at that bane of my existence: V/H/S.

V/H/S is the 2012 anthology horror movie that was (surprisingly) popular enough to warrant a sequel in 2013. Since it is an anthology, it’s hard to talk about the movie without examining it’s parts. So we’ll talk about each short individually and then how they compound to form a movie as a whole.

The first short “Amateur Night” is the story of three guys who go out clubbing, secretly recording the whole thing on a set of camera glasses they bought. The cameraman catches the attention of a mysterious girl who comes along with him and the others back to the hotel where sexual frivolity, and of course horror, ensues. This short is fairly middle of the road with no characters to speak of, mediocre writing and an interesting, (though predictable) twist. The effects are pretty fairly good and the idea of recording from glasses is an intriguing one (definitely ahead of its time considering how Google Glass just came out). My problem with this is that the characters are so obnoxious and unlikeable that the first half is hard to watch. However, once shit hits the fan (which I won’t delve into due to spoilers) it’s admittedly intriguing to watch.

The second vignette, “Second Honeymoon” is written, directed, and edited by Ti West (director of The House of the Devil) and is the story (if you can call it that) of a couple who are on a road trip out west and are unknowingly being stalked by a mysterious stranger. This is definitely the worst of the bunch, because it’s soooo boring. West’s characters aren’t likeable or intriguing, and there is so little going on that there’s no escaping them. The twist is out of nowhere, despite being painfully foreshadowed by a scene with a fortune-telling machine. The acting is mediocre, with some of the better performances of the film, but there’s little in the script to work with. There is an effective scene where the man is being filmed at night and then it pans over to the girl to show she’s not operating the camera, proving that Ti West is still competent. I think that if Ti West can get past his narcissistic auteurism and direct someone else’s script maybe he can pump out another quality work.

The third short ” Tuesday the 17th” is a perfect example of wasted potential in these anthologies. It’s the tale of a group of stereotypical teens who are invited up to a lake by one of their friends, only to end up as her bait for a mysterious killer. This is a great concept and a fantastic twist on the classic slashers, essentially being what would happen after a film like The Burning. However, it’s stained by the incredibly loathsome characters and the awful and cheesy effects. I understand the homage to the 80s, but this is clearly supposed to be some kind of deconstruction and therefore it should be played straight. I would have loved to see this script turned into a feature and put into the hands of someone far more competent.

The fourth vignette is the annoyingly titled “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger.” This will be our final venture into mediocrity, and it’s the chronicle of Emily and her boyfriend, who are long distance due to college. Strange things start to happen in Emily’s apartment and as they get worse it becomes clear to the boyfriend that there’s something wrong with her. This one is just bloody weird, and while I’ve got very few reasons to dislike it, I just do. The progression of the plot is fine and the twist is interesting, despite raising a ton of questions. It just feels hollow, like the writer didn’t think any further than what we saw on screen and never truly created a world for you to get immersed in.

The last short is “10/31/1998” and it’s the only record of a group of guys who, in search of a friend’s halloween party, enter a house and get far more than they bargained for: some kind of ritual in the attic. In every story up to this there’s been a lack of realism, a sense that you’re watching a shitty horror movie instead of actual footage, but this short manages to insert slightly more realism than the others. Despite the unlikeable characters, they still act like normal humans, and because of that the events progress much like one would imagine they would in reality. The effects are pretty good considering it’s budget and thankfully so, as they’re used for some of the most interesting and fresh ideas I’ve seen in horror in a while. This one hits a lot of the right notes for me and while it’s not perfect, it sure makes me wish I had directed it.

Then of course there are the interludes, titled “Tape 56”, and they provide the framework for the film with the story of a group of filmmakers/criminals who get hired to steal a VHS tape out of an old guy’s house. While searching they get picked off one by one, mostly while watching the collection of strange footage this now deceased man has. This one bothered me a lot as the camera work and editing were the most chaotic out of the lot and the characters the least likeable. We see them molest a woman, but we don’t even get to know their names before they’re picked off by the “creature.” It’s lack of explanation of almost everything we see from motivations to plot points set the tone for the underwhelming shorts to follow.

As a whole, despite it’s retro title, V/H/S feels very modern. It abides by the STUPID modern cliche of making your characters dislikable assholes and has a very rebellious/punk feel to it. It plays more on the ideas of the past then creating it’s own, as most horror does these days. The writing as a whole wasn’t very strong and I think that if maybe a few of the weaker shorts were replaced by more original ones, the film could have really risen above the rest of the indy slog. For me the film was summed up in its ending credits, which were flashy, stylized, and nauseating. It wanted to be cool, taking up the very important title of V/H/S (In the horror community VHS is a golden age), but it didn’t exploit its title to the fullest. It instead resorts to the tropes of today and falls flat on it’s face. V/H/S is worth watching if you’re a horror fan, but it’s a low priority one at that. It’s currently on Netflix instant.

Well after all that negativity, it’s about time we move onto something a little more positive. Thanks everyone for sticking with me through 50 reviews! We’ve been through some of the worst and best films made, not to mention a ton of really mediocre ones. We’ve been depressed about the state of cinema and excited for the future. Here’s hoping for not just 50 more, but 500!


Edited by Kelly Leung. Contact/hire her at kellyleung09@gmail.com

The Expendables 2 (2012) Review

Last decade brought us the reboots of 80s classics like Transformers and GI Joe, and it seemed that the internet as whole was awash in 80s nostalgia. In the 2010s though, we’re onto another decade: the 90s. This 20 year cycle really has an impact on pop culture, since corporations want to appeal to that 28-38 year old crowd that now controls the majority of the consumership. They of course use artifacts from their childhood (ages 8-18) to attract their nostalgic attention and now that the 80s people are getting in their 40s it’s time for the 90s kids to take the reigns. We already have seen a Pokemon anime reminiscent of the original games, rereleases of many 90s games, and plenty of 90s pop culture being smeared across the internet like a reoccuring nightmare. So it seems only fit that Stallone’s pet project The Expendables would try to tap into that 90s action movie nostalgia that that controlling demographic has. The original was an adequate film, with a good amount of fun inserted into it’s action, but it was dragged down by Stallone’s ego and inexperienced directing. The Expendables 2… now that’s a different story.

The Expendables 2 is the remarkably simple story of Stallone and his team who are hired by CIA operative Bruce Willis to track down a package in a safe. On the mission they’re intercepted by Jean Claude Van Damme, who kills Liam Hemsworth and steals the package. Out for revenge, Stallone’s crew tracks down Van Damme with a little help from Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chuck Norris.

Now I went through a long tirade to basically come to the conclusion that Drag Me to Hell was a decent and fun film. Let me cut to the chase here and say that The Expendables 2 is a more then decent and extremely fun movie! There may be plot holes the size of the explosions, and realism and physics that make Adventure Time look like a Ken Burns documentary, but god damn it this movie’s fucking fun. It’s everything from the 90s action films you could possibly want, including the great one-liners. What helps Expendables 2 transcend just a 90s rehash is that it’s aware of its origins and plays them up for very effective comedy. It’s a fine line to walk, but Expendables pulls it off mostly due to its genuineness.

It has the stars to back up the lines and it has the effects to back up the storyline. This movie solved the shitty action sequences of the first one by putting director Simon West in charge and he chooses the far more effective steady shots that showcase the action more then cut around it. The effects are top notch, even if there is some shitty CGI blood here and there. Again, it’s hard to care since you’ll be surprisingly engrossed in the story even if you can see every twist and turn from a mile away.

It’s a film that just happens to work through the very careful balance of all the right factors. It plays up it’s premise in the right way, pulls in the serious moments and lets loose the comedy all at the right times. Expendables 2 is a must see for anyone who’s disappointed in the recent works of it’s stars and it’s must viewing for anyone burned by the awful Die Hard 5. It’s no masterpiece of course, but these films rarely are, especially in this decade. If you like your action more serious, then stay away, but if you’re up for some popcorn-chewing fun, then strap in and suit up. The Expendables 2 is available from Netflix Streaming, and all the usual online movie places.

John Dies at the End (2012) Review

With all the adaptations, remakes, and sequels flooding the Hollywood screen it’s easy to say that there’s no creativity left in movies. Even independent movies tend to be homages or remixes of the same old tropes and stories. However, occasionally one can find a truly original idea, one that relies less on the cliches of the past and more on creating the cliches of the future. It’s rare, but John Dies at the End is one such film… ironically it’s an adaptation, but aren’t all the greats? Well even if you don’t consider John Dies at the End one of the greats, it’s still true that it’s one of the weirdest, most and random, and frankly unique films to come out in a long time.

John Dies at the End is the story of… well it’s complicated. Meet Dave, just an average guy, that is until a weird encounter with a jamaican leads him to have to rescue his friend John, who’s fine except he’s high on something called Soy Sauce, which Dave gets accidentally injected with and this causes him to be able to remember things that haven’t happened yet and pull down the curtains of reality, until he’s interrupted by a stranger who puts a slug in his shirt and did I mention he’s telling this story to a reporter? Actually I guess the real question is that the same axe you used to kill the nazi with?

No I’m not bullshitting you. Yes thats all in the movie. Yes I wrote that summary intentionally confusing. If by now you’re completely turned off then odds are you wouldn’t like this movie. In fact there aren’t many people that would. John Dies at the End requires the pinnacle of belief suspension and that can only happen if you go with the flow. Either you figure out what’s going on and let slide the things that don’t make sense because they don’t make sense or you don’t. If you can accept John Dies at the End for what it is, then you’re in for a roller coaster ride of weird-ass fun. It has genuine twists and turns in the story and you get so lost in the film that you honestly have no idea where it’s going. There’s no formula or cliches to rely on and predict, just… strangeness.

The actual writing of John Dies at the End is extremely witty and the characters all feel like people despite the alienating things around them. They react quite similarly to how you do and that brings you closer to them as you are both trying to figure what the fuck is going on. The acting is fine, it’s not Oscar-worthy, but it’s never distracting and thats the important part. There’s actually a few notable actors in the film including Clancy Brown (The bad guy from Highlander and Lex Luthor in the DC animated universe), Doug Jones (Abe from Hellboy), and Paul Giamatti (A bunch of stuff, I don’t know he’s just really familiar), as well as a few notable voice actors from various shows and cartoons.

This movie clearly had a low budget, which isn’t surprising since no investor would put money into this movie. It never really shows in the camerawork or production design or anything, but it massively shows in the effects. John Dies at the End uses a mix of both CGI and practical effects, which is actually becoming a rarity these days, especially for low budget productions. These effects don’t look great and a lot of the practicals are frankly laughable, but there are still plenty of points where you don’t even notice and that means they did their job. Where the effects really falter is unfortunately the climax, where the enter the world of green-screened backgrounds. I think the theory was that there was no way they could afford to make that look good, so they decided to make their other effects look better. Which I was fine with, since by that point you’re so taken by the story you don’t give a shit anymore.

John Dies at the End is one of the most unique movies I’ve ever seen and for me it hit a lot of the notes I love to see in films or TV shows. So while I tried to remain objectionable, I clearly didn’t since this is going to become one of my favourite movies to watch. It’s most certainly not for everyone since it’s so fucking weird, but for those who can suspend their disbelief or are just intrigued by the concepts, this movie will stick in your brain forever as a fantastic film. It’s surrealistic and cult-moviey, but it’s a ton of fun. I both want to and don’t want to see more films like this. I would love to see more films take on the unique concepts in this movie, but at the same time I want John Dies at the End to stand as a purely unique and untouched jewel in the analogues of moviedom. Anyways, John Dies at the End is available on Netflix Instant, Amazon Prime, iTunes and Redbox.

ABCs of Death (2012) Review

 

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I have a feeling this review will be short, since with the 26 part anthology ABCs of Death, inconsistency kills a good chunk of analysis without looking at each individual part. Let me make this simple then. Don’t watch this movie. This shouldn’t have been a movie. This should have been a youtube channel of 26 different videos so you could watch just the good ones and not have to sit through the 25 others.

The biggest problem with ABCs is that the time for each vignette is too short. It takes a certain skill to cram a quality story into a couple minutes and a lot of the times it’s just hit or miss. This leads to rushed exposition, nonsensical plot twists, and overall confusion. However, for every one I want to see more time given to, there is a short I don’t want to see extended because of how batshit insane or stupid they are. A lot of the shorts are so incredibly stylized and zany in their “story” that it takes a very specific taste to like it. With a lot of these, a twist is needed at the end because typical climax isn’t exactly an option. This stems back all the way to the EC horror comics. However, most of these twists are FUCKING STUPID. The lack of world building aside, some of them are just terrible ideas.

The technicals are meh most of the time. The camerawork is typically fine, but the effects are rather lacking and the CGI has that overachieving indy filmmaker look to it. Not really much to say on that front. But here’s a fun drinking game for you and your of age friends. Take a drink every time you guess the word the letter stands for at the end of the short correctly. Man, by the end of the movie you’ll be FUCKING SOBER. The title cards make no goddamn sense most of the time and there are even times that some sketches would have been better off under other letters.

A is for Asinine, B is for Bullshit and C is for Completely mediocre. Those are the 3 categories each of the 26 shorts falls under. They’re rarely effective as horror (X), uncommonly effective as comedy (N, Q), and barely ever plain interesting to watch (S, U). These few shorts are not worth the rest of the hour and a half to get through and even if you’re the biggest horror fan ever, the tone is so inconsistent that you’re guaranteed to be unentertained 50% of the time. If you want to learn how to do and not do short films, then by all means start taking notes, but other then that ABCs of Death is another waste of time in the flood of horror anthology films coming out.

Dredd (2012) Review

Dredd is the 2013 live action comic book adaptation of the long-time published “Judge Dredd” stories. “Judge Dredd” was also adapted into a Stallone-starring 90s cheesefest whose reputation is likely a big reason for this films low gross. Dredd is considered a box office bomb, but its considerable video sales leads one to take a second look at this movie. Can it really be passed off as a forgettable and shitty action flick like it’s predecessor? No, in actuality Dredd is a fairly clever and fun movie that manages to walk the line between gritty and self-mocking rather well.

In the post-apocalyptic future, humanity has been forced to create a mega city in order to survive. This city is riddled with crime, poverty and all around chaos. The only thing that stands between the citizens and complete anarchy are The Judges, the police force for this city. With their handy gadget equipped guns they both catch and punish criminals at their discretion. Enter Dredd, a long time veteran of the force who is required by his superior to field-test a rookie with unique psychic powers. On their day out, they respond to a triple homicide, which was caused by mob-boss Ma-Ma and her crew. In order to arrest Ma-Ma and stop her drug-trafficking, Dredd and the rookie fight their way to the top of the massive living block, facing a myriad of obstacles along the way. Standard action fare indeed, but what makes Dredd unique is the world it takes place in, the characters involved and satirical manner in which it point’s out its own flaws.

The world of Dredd is a surprisingly believable one. It has enough generic qualities for us to fill in the details, but it’s also unique enough that it doesn’t feel like we’ve seen it a thousand times. The Mega City has character and specifically the Block that the majority of the movie takes place in. You get a feeling for the relationships between the people, criminals and judges, even if the majority of it is delivered in extremely clumsy exposition. Hell, the monologue Dredd gives to tell us all about the city is so generic that the film decides to do it again at the end for funsies, but of course with even cheesier lines.

Speaking of funsies, this film knows that it’s not Apocalypse Now. It knows its tropes and while it doesn’t shove it’s knowledge of it in your face like You’re Next it does utilize humor to point out its more noticeable failings. The one-liners that Dredd gives are so cheesy they couldn’t have been written without intention. I’ve found lately that a lot of movies that know what they are and use a little “winkwinknudgenudge” over the course of the movie, usually end up being quite entertaining (ie. Sharknado) and maybe thats the key when it comes to doing adaptations of clearly generic material like Dredd is.

Rather unusually for a movie of this caliber, there are only three characters worth talking about in this movie. Ma-Ma, Dredd, and the psychic woman Anderson. Anderson is an odd duck, not really played for the naive, innocent rookie she could have been or the sensitive girl psychics usually are portrayed as. To the contrary, she’s quite brutal at times and even though her psychic powers clearly define her character, she still develops by the end of the movie. Ma-Ma is the generic villain, but her clumsily delivered back-story does give you a sense of meaning behind her actions and for that I applaud the actress for her mediocre, but still effective performance. Dredd is another story. He’s somewhere inbetween Batman and Punisher, but still has a unique enough of a flair to him that you can tell there’s a person behind that helmet and not a robot or Christian Bale. While he doesn’t develop per-say by the end of the movie, we do get to see a range of reactions from him that help us understand who he is. He’s a character I would love to see in another movie, even if he isn’t accompanied by Anderson.

Amongst the 3D craze taking Hollywood by storm, and to some extent driving it into the ground, it’s rather rare to find a movie actually made with 3D in mind and not just translated in post for extra cash. Dredd is one of these rarities, throwing all kinds of shit at the screen and utilizing slow motion for added effect. It’s a film in retrospect I think most would want to see in 3D, but maybe not for the price of 3D. The aforementioned effects are rather good. They’re not state of the art by any means, but they are utilized in a unique way and are ultimately effective, which is what counts. The visual style is also unique when it comes to the slow-mo drug or action sequences and this style really makes it feel comic-booky somehow, even if I’m not sure why.

If you’re looking for a fun evening with friends, then by all means check out Dredd. It’s a fun hour and a half with brutal violence and action scenes, but enough engaging story points and characters to keep you interested even when the guns aren’t firing. Dredd is an underrated gem in the rough and I think its cult following is only going to grow, even if a sequel is naught to be. Dredd is currently available on Netflix streaming and Amazon Instant, as well as Redbox and Blockbuster.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) Review

An introvert freshman is taken under the wings of two seniors who welcome him to the real world. -imdb.com

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is yet another coming-of-age film, this time not brought to us by John Hughes, but instead by Stephen Chbosky. Chbosky has taken his book and created a film that’s… different than the average teen movie. This is a coming of age film that reflects an entire years worth of growth, not a couple of days or random events. It departs from any semblance of a plot to show the arc of not just one character, but many. It shows real problems from a very specific perspective, and does so very seriously. It takes place not at the time it was released, but 15 years prior. All these things compound to create a film that stands out from its peers in its presentation, even if its themes and motifs are a mixture of Empire Records and The Breakfast Club.

The characters are all unique and easily attachable, partly because most of us have known people similar to them, but also because Chbosky takes advantage of every method he can to get you to like them and understand who they are. He uses snappy dialogue and even glorifying the two main supporting characters (Sam and Patrick) to get you to understand that they are awesome. This can be interpreted as a bad translation across mediums (which it is), but also as just Charlie’s perspective. He’s telling the story to us and since he saw them as these elite and special people, that’s how we see them. All the characters get quick simplistic introductions, either through exposition or key dialogue. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this, but for a character piece it could be considered a flaw. Any and all simplifications are easily compensated by the mostly strong and dynamic performances by the actors who all do their best to make their characters unique, even the purely cliché ones. The characters, particularly Charlie, are seemingly identifiable, because they would be in any other film, but this movie stands its ground and forces you to stop thinking of Charlie as the awkward kid that’s just like you were and instead as a person with his own severe problems. Odds are you won’t be able to identify with his life’s issues, as they are very specific and in fact all the characters here have rich white kid problems. That’s not to say that they don’t happen to other people, but if you’re not a middle class white person the chances of you identifying with these characters and their issues decreases drastically.

There is a years worth of story told here, which in a book is fine, but in a film requires more compression to get it into that 90 minute time slot. Perks picks up the pace by using mostly quick and snappy transitions to move between scenes that seem to have little correlation to each other. This actually works for the most part, as we understand the passage of time and the changes in the characters. These vignettes, for lack of a better term, that the film cuts between are merely presented, not really analyzed or gone into depth on. This is an unfortunate symptom of the compressed time, leaving you to do the analysis if you’re looking for anything more then reflection. Luckily the film knows this, and doesn’t try to do anything more then show you what’s going on. For the amount of plot it has to tell, Perks does a good job of getting that across. That is if you can call it a plot… Perks is more of a collage of different subplots, all with varying degrees of importance. The “main plot” is the romance between Charlie and Sam, but there are large chunks of the film that have little to do with that. This more aimless approach to traversing through a year may be off putting to some expecting a flat out “get to point B” plot or character arc.

The intertwining subplots are an attempt to show that every person has a story. That each student in the hallway and each fan in a crowd is a person with their own problems and own lives. Sometimes it takes a wallflower to see that or the forced clashing of people, like in The Breakfast Club. As I stated before, you have to be within a certain range of people to specifically identify with Charlie and his problems, but a lot of the themes and details surrounding Charlie are what are going to get you to attach to this movie. The concept of the past always affecting you is strongly represented by the Aunt Helen “subplot.” There are the usual high school tropes such as being an outsider, those cliché people that always pop up even in real life, and those school events that are all awkward. These are mainstays of the genre and emotional reaction is instinct, even if we understand how cliché they are. And of course, with all of these movies there’s the “getting away from it all.” Characters throwing away their problems for a carefree laugh with their friends. No past, no future, just a tunnel in-between the two where you are as big as you want to be, even infinite. That’s what being a teen is about. Facing that maturity of adult life and turning away from it, because fuck it you can.

Those internal feelings and experiences of what it’s like to be a teen, to go through high school, to leave high school, and all the times in-between are what make this movie special. It doesn’t hit every universal mark though. While its 90s setting does make it more timeless and cross-generational, it can be off-putting to the current generation who never had those big phones or even used a cassette. The more mature issues it tackles, such as mental illness, child abuse, and homophobia can be alienating as well to anyone whose life wasn’t as dramatic as that. A film like The Breakfast Club will work better on these people because the issues tackled are more basic, but Perks, when it hits home with its audience will surpass others because the issues are more intimate and thus, emotion-evoking.

On an exterior front it’s average because it’s appealing to a specific audience and its conflicted attempts to attract a larger one ultimately fail . On an interior level though, as a reflection (not an analysis, or a dissection, but a reflection) it succeeds better than any other film for its true audience. If you can identify with those feelings, if you knew people like that, if you’ve dealt with these issues then this will have the nostalgic and emotional power of every John Hughes film combined. I dealt with those issues, I felt that way, I knew people like that and I was that observer. Perks doesn’t hit every mark for me, but it hits enough that it pushes itself above the rest and makes the viewing experience one of the most powerful I’ve ever had. Watch it and figure it out for yourself, but if you find yourself discussing afterwards not the general themes, but instead whether or not it portrayed PTSD properly, then this movie wasn’t intended for you.

The Tall Man (2012) review

When her child goes missing, a mother looks to unravel the legend of the Tall Man, an entity who allegedly abducts children. -imdb.com

Any fan of the Slender Man web series will have heard of The Tall Man as being a Hollywood attempt to capitalize on this phenomenon. The people who think that haven’t seen the movie. No, the promise the movie makes in its hype, its poster, and its first 20 minutes are soon dashed by convoluted storytelling and a piss poor reveal.

The movie is well made, and on a technical level it does everything to par, but doesn’t shine too bright. It feels like X-files meets Supernatural meets Mothman Prophecies, and that’s a comfortable feeling for me. After all, this should be a more script driven movie, not an acting, directing, special effects or production design driven movie. And that’s too bad in this case since the script fails to deliver. It’s not scary, it’s not thrilling, and it’s very convoluted.

The movie tries to juggle too many character relationships in the beginning, leaving you lost as to what’s going on. By the time you catch up new characters are introduced and the process starts all over again. Jessica Biel does a fine job as the lead nurse Julia, but she becomes victim to a script that takes her character in confusing directions. She’s not the only victim, with many of the characters acting very stupid or very strange. The side characters are competently acted with many of the actors being TV faces, but there’s not enough to keep you interested when the movie goes off the rails. Speaking of going off the rails, about halfway through the movie takes a twist, leaving you not surprised, but confused. You’re forced to think through what you just figured out and reevaluate it. In the process we are left with no protagonist and nobody to particularly care about. Even the young mute girl Jenny has confusing motivations and actions and we just aren’t sure what to think of her. The action on screen is vaguely intriguing, not because the plots good or the characters are interesting, but because of the mystery of The Tall Man. The movie does a good job of setting up the mystery and leaving it vague as to its true nature. We want to know who The Tall Man is and for 40 minutes after the main twist we just sit and wait for an answer. This is where the film falls apart. If what’s going on doesn’t directly help solve the mystery, then we just plain don’t care. Filler isn’t a perfect word to describe these scenes since they do help explain some character motivations (better late then never), but they don’t service the plot as much as the movie would have you think.

The ending is where all this build up, all these twists and turns should pay off… and of course it doesn’t. An amazing ending could have saved this movie, but instead of the supernatural mystery we’re promised, we end up with the blandest, most disappointing reveal I’ve seen since The Box. It’s not worth waiting an hour and forty minutes to see, but just in case there is some poor soul who wants to, I won’t spoil it. It does leave a bitter taste in my mouth and when you look back at the film you can come up with a dozen better twists and endings.

The Tall Man is not something I recommend to anybody. It’s not a film you should follow something else up with, but rather it’s a movie you follow up with other, better things. For those who liked the paranormal beginning I point you towards Marble Hornets, Mothman Prophecies, and The X-Files. For those who liked the more “Town is Evil, twists and turns” aspects of the movie I recommend the short lived series Happy Town, the anime Higurashi: When They Cry or once again The X-Files. All these are far more worth your time then The Tall Man, but then again so is watching funny videos of cats so that’s not saying much.