The Act of Killing (2013) Review

I rarely review documentaries and there’s a very good reason for that. I don’t watch that many documentaries. It takes either a great doc or a topic I’m very interested in to get me to engage in a documentary and those tend to be rare. However, since 4 out of the 5 Oscar nominees for Best Documentary Feature are on Netflix, I thought I’d give them a go. First up is The Act of Killing, a debut film for director Joshua Oppenheimer.

The Act of Killing documents the making of a film about the 1960s hunt for Communists in Indonesia, but what’s intriguing is that it’s made by the gangsters who tortured and killed said Communists. Our main subject is Anwar Congo, a man who undergoes shocking personal growth concerning the atrocities he’s committed as he reenacts them for the film. Thats not all to this film as in the background we see the truth behind the corrupt government, ignorant and afraid populace, and the paramilitary groups that rule the streets.

Let me start off by saying that this is probably the most important documentary to come out this year in terms of its subject matter. It’s a topic not previously sensationalized by the media like The Square, a look at something we already had inklings about like Dirty Wars, and it’s definitely not a small film like Cutie and the Boxer (Keep in mind I haven’t seen these yet, these are just broad statements based on trailers/plot summaries). It provides a shocking look into a topic we in the West know little about and it shows it with honesty and with the consent of the subjects. They offer up this info very willingly and their image is like an afterthought, but the image they want is very much the truth of what they are. It’s a brilliant examination of crimes both past and present and how one society can be so fucked over by itself.

On the other hand… this is really slow. It’s very slow for the purposes of letting it’s images sink in, but for me at least the themes and ideas were very basic and didn’t need the considerable time given to them. What really dragged the film down from a story perspective is the plight of the subjects and the making of their film. Watching these blundering fools stumble through filmmaking just isn’t that interesting to watch and only occasionally are important monologues with interesting stories placed over them. These people just didn’t engage me as interesting subjects. Anwar’s growth as a person was still amazing to watch and especially towards the end of the movie do we get a real resolution and feeling of accomplishment, but the whole “second act” is a drag to watch. For me at least.

I would be absolutely fine with this winning Best Documentary, but I think it’s appeal to a mainstream audience is limited. Despite the paradox, I must conceit that you should absolutely watch this movie, even though you won’t really enjoy it. It’s a shocking examination of cruelty and self-proclaimed sadism in the real world. This isn’t a horror movie, or a mob movie, this is real life and I think everyone should see this to understand the kind of dark things that are actually out there. As stated before The Act of Killing is on Netflix Instant.

Sharknado (2013) Review

Sharknado. The title is a genius move on its own. It makes the movie everything stand out amongst all the crap coming out these days. It’s so grand of a name that it pushed the movie into the eye of pop culture, making it a social media phenomenon. While this cultural anomaly is worth examining, that’s not what I’ll be talking about. Instead I’ll be making the case that Sharknado is a good movie. Well, a good bad movie.

Every film has its purpose. Has its goals. Has a reaction it’s trying to illicit from an audience. A comedy wants to make you laugh, a drama wants to get you invested, a documentary wants to make you informed. And when one judges and critiques these films there is rarely a cross-breeding of expectations. You don’t criticize the documentary for not being funny enough and you don’t criticize the comedy for its lack of effective scares. However there is one thing all these movies have in common: they are trying to be good. Judging whether something’s good or not is the foundation of movie criticism and it really only in the past decade has started being challenged on that.* The idea of the so-bad-it’s-good movie has been around for awhile, but now quite a few filmmakers are striving to achieve that status. To make a movie so bad that it’s good.

This is where Sharknado comes in. Now right off the bat we can pass off the idea of the filmmakers unintentionally making their movie as bad as it is. When you sign on to a movie called Sharknado you know exactly what you’re getting into. There is no way you’ll make a movie called Sharknado the horror drama of the year because audiences can’t take it seriously. So why not just go balls to the wall? Make it a piece of shit, but an entertaining piece of shit. So with us throwing out the standard of examining if it’s good, we now have to examine if its bad qualities make it entertaining. And holy shit is Sharknado entertaining.

The story of Sharknado is that of bar owner Fin, who embarks on a quest to save his ex-wife (Tara Reid) and kids when a hurricane/water funnel/tornado full of sharks hits LA. Along with him for the ride is his Tasmanian best buddy Baz, his waitress/love interest(ish) Nova and frequent bar attendant George (John Heard). It’s obviously not the greatest of stories and the pacing can be uneven, but for the most part it is a non-stop thrill ride of shark attacks. What is important is that it’s rarely boring. You never have long 25 minute stretches like in other asylum movies where you want to tear your eyes out, which is really a mark of how good this bad movie actually is because it avoids the ultimate sin of filmmaking: boredom.

The acting is, of course, really bad. However, even if you got George Clooney and Meryl Streep to star in this movie no one would buy their performance as soon as they uttered the word “Sharknado.” So the acting is appropriate, with just enough cheese from some actors to balance out the woodenness of others. Tara Reid stands out as the complete brick wall of the movie and her asshole boyfriend gets the overacting award. The dialogue is really cheesy (of course), but it does attempt a little character development and is never confusing or misleading like in other films.

The actual directing and other camera work is adequate to sub-par with most of the movie being average and certain scenes so clumsily shot that it’s painful to watch, but you still get a sense of what’s going on. The continuity is a nightmare, with the either cloudy or sunny background being humorously swapped back and forth and especially with the copious amounts of stock footage.

The effects are hilariously bad, being the bastard child of a malfunctioning CGI computer. I don’t want to give away too much, but they are used effectively in the death scenes to create a mixture of awesomeness and cheesiness. They may be run of the mill for The Asylum, but a fresh audience will be taken aback by how blatantly bad a lot of the sharks look and how obvious the money shots of the movie are.

Sharknado is probably one of the most fun and entertaining recent movies to watch, especially with a group of friends. Not because it’s got the suspense of Jaws, but rather the opposite. It hits all the right notes of a bad b-movie without breaching into boredom or (on the other end of the spectrum) being too over the top. It does exactly what it intends to do and because of that I stand by my statement that Sharknado is a good (bad) movie. You know what you’re expecting if you want to see this and Sharknado delivers on those expectations. Sharknado recently became available on Netflix instant, and Amazon prime, as well as an upcoming DVD release from The Asylum.

*I’m aware that plenty of intentionally cheesy movies have existed before the 2000s, but with the internet and the independent movement, these films have exploded in number and popularity.

Christina’s House (1999) Review

Christina Tarling (Allison Lange) is a teenage girl who lives with her unstable father James (John Savage) and her younger brother Bobby (Lorne Stewart) in the family’s new home. While Christina is trying to sort out her feelings for both Eddie (Brendan Fehr), her boyfriend, and Howie (Brad Rowe), a handyman she’s become infatuated with, she soon discovers she has bigger fish to fry: there is a stranger in the house who begins leaving messages and gifts for Christina — and who isn’t averse to the idea of killing people in order to make an

Christina’s House is a VHS I found at a second hand store for 40 cents. The back stated that its plot twists were shocking. Having been burned by Shyamalan and enraged by other shitty teen movies, I figured that this was ripe for the riffing. And ooooohhhh my it was. Christina’s House was delectably bad, with nonsensical story-telling, terrible acting, and… just plain weirdness. It’s not terrible like Dick Tracy where it enrages you because it’s terrible nature comes from how unfunny it is, but rather this film is fun for all from beginning to end because it’s bad moments hit all the right notes.

The movie centers around Christina (big shocker) who’s a whiny teenager with a dumbass younger brother, an horny asshole boyfriend, a creepy father, a ditzy best friend and a shy handyman. Weird things happen in Christina’s house, such as loud noises, random visits from her boyfriend and the inability of anybody to approach her without grabbing her from behind. The movie’s plot isn’t exactly the strongest, with those so called plot twists being just random events that Christina puzzles over while her boyfriend and dad fight over her. The appearance of a dead body means that shit gets real… sort of. The killer is revealed an hour later, but it’s really not a surprise and… well we stopped caring by that point. The movie really does just meander along, hiding so much from us that it doesn’t end up showing us anything and instead just lets us chill with the red herrings. If anything does happen, it’s because the characters acted even more stupid then they already are or the movie just said “fuck it” and screwed both continuity and logic. The killer’s reveal at the end makes no goddamn sense, with none of the kills or strangeness being explained by it.

The killer (who I won’t spoil out of courtesy) is brilliantly acted, not because it’s good, but because it’s sooooo weird. It makes no sense, but the killer’s ramblings and inconsistent behavior are a ball to watch. The rest of the acting is, of course, shit, but also shitty to a degree that made me wonder why they didn’t do another take. It makes me cringe to think those were the best. That being said, all of the performances stand out for being, again, so weird. The dad in particular is so borderline incestual, so much so that your brain is yelling “Bad Touch!!” whenever he starts to pet her. The boyfriend is a complete asshole and throughout the whole movie is fighting Christina on having sex. It makes you wonder why there a couple in the first place if they disagree on such a key issue and have nothing else in common. Sure the actors aren’t good, but the director clearly didn’t know what he was doing, as even the experienced actors can’t get their shit together.

The movie takes itself way too seriously, trying to pass little noises as huge events and characters freaking out over little things and doing random shit as if it was… well logical. To be at least partially fair to the writing, there are some points where there are clear cuts to the movie, and if those scenes had been left in, maybe some of the nonsense could have been… slightly less nonsensical. Character interactions might have been a little clearer and plot holes might have been solved. That’s not to say you won’t be able to follow along, rather it just means you’ll have a couple things to raise an eyebrow at. Christina’s House suffers from the post-Scream syndrome, where horror movies stopped being horror and became thrillers, and this is a detriment to it. If it had more gore and a better designed slasher finale, then this movie could have become a cult favorite. Instead it relies on plot twists that make no sense and a mystery it gives no clues for and doesn’t give a shit about until the finale.

Christina’s House is nowhere close to a good movie; in fact some could call it a bad one. It comes down to the clearly amateur filmmaking, as I got the same vibe from this as I did Devour. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch it. If you’re tired of watching Final Destination 5 for all your horror movie giggles, then give this a viewing. It’s a film you should definitely watch with a few companions, because you will make jokes. Its just gonna happen. If you can find this movie then buy it, because it’s b-movie badness at its best.