A Thousand Cuts (2012) Review


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.

The Faculty (1998) Review

The supernatural teen drama can come in many forms, such as the cheesy super hero styled Smallville, the melodramatic shit-fest Twilight or the slow-ass “thriller” Disturbing Behavior. The supernatural teen “insert genre here” really started to take off in the late 80s-early 90s. The Faculty is yet another one of these and I swear I didn’t plan these two to be together, but it seems to be a much better version of Disturbing Behavior. It’s by no means perfect, but there is an endearing charm to it that I can’t help but feel attracted to.

The Faculty is the story of a high school whose teachers begin to act strangely and soon Elijah Wood and his friends discover that this is due to an alien invasion. So the chase is on to somehow stop the invasion, but that’s pretty tricky when all your classmates, teachers and parents are against you. Oh and there’s some teenage drama character stuff but nobody gives a shit about that.

The story of The Faculty is definitely the product of its time, relying heavily on tropes and themes we’ve seen before. It even throws in some meta-sci-fi referencing cause, you know, Scream was a thing. The story requires some intense suspension of disbelief and even then there are still plenty of plot-holes and stupid decisions that will have you groaning. Nonetheless there are still a few genuinely good moments of suspense, but I think we can mainly attribute that to director Robert Rodriguez. The plot does seem to be weirdly paced, picking up a lot at the beginning and then slowing down a lot after that. However, unlike Disturbing Behavior, the story does keep moving forward during these parts. The flashforward at the end is probably the most objectionable part of the story (and that’s saying a lot) with characters ending up in downright impossible situations. Speaking of which…

The characters are all stereotypes… to an extent. Like in a Hughes project, the characters all start out as their respective clichés, but then as we get to know them, we find they aren’t that cut and dry and we inevitably find ourselves actually slightly invested in them. They certainly aren’t memorable, but for the duration of the movie you won’t hate them (which is a plus compared to the horror/thriller movies of today). The acting ranges from good to bad, with mediocrity being the standard. The adults mostly ham it up, and the kids either do a good job or overact. Elijah wood and Josh Hartnett and Jon Stewart (fucking what!) are highlights in my opinion.

The technicals are all pretty solid. The actually directing/lighting/sound/etc… are all fine. It’s the effects that are going to bother people. Now there is a mix of CGI and practicals, which is nice, but the CGI looks really dated. In my opinion, practicals couldn’t have done much better, so either way you’re stuck with a distraction. This is a nitpick, but the introduction of the characters have each of them with their names on screen. This is stupid since their names are said quite quickly after or repeated a lot over the course of the movie.

The Faculty is, above all else, fun. Its mediocrity is evident, but it nonetheless manages to partially captivate and completely entertain. If you’re a fan of Buffy, Smallville, or Roswell then this will be familiar and comfortable territory for you. It’s sure as shit superior to Disturbing Behavior on every level, but then again that’s not saying much. The Faculty is available from Amazon, iTunes and Netflix instant for your popcorn munching pleasure.

Disturbing Behavior (1998) Review

Disturbing Behavior is an inept thriller, completely lacking in thrills, a solid story and any sense of pacing. But before I get too ahead of myself I should probably say that Disturbing Behavior is the 1998 sci-fi thriller starring James Marsden, Katie Holmes and Nick Stahl and is brought to us by a good chunk of the X-Files crew, including director David Nutter.

Behavior brings us the story of Steve whose family has recently moved to island town Cradle Bay. New to the school, Steve finds himself thrown together with Gavin, UV, and Rachel, three rejects who show him around and warn him about the Blue Ribbons, a group of A+ students who suck up to adults and look down on everyone else. Gavin tries to convince the others that these Blue Ribbons are brainwashed former students who now occasionally go batshit crazy whenever they get turned on. After Gavin gets turned into one of them, Steve and Rachel start to investigate the mysterious project of Dr. Caldicott.

Behavior really does feel like an X-files episode. And not a good one. The script itself seems like a rejected episode and the actual content of it probably would fare better in the 45 minute time slot. It has the same formula of an opening scare and an ending cliffhanger, but without any of the charm of our favorite FBI agents and with the same flimsy supporting characters taking up more screen time.

As stated before, the script is incredibly flimsy with the story really only taking up about half of it and the rest easily being superfluous. Sure you could call it character development, but then I’d have to laugh in your face. The pacing is ungodly slow, with the actual investigation of the mystery not starting until an hour into the movie. The first hour is just the characters stewing in this predicament and it slowly getting worse, but they still refuse to do anything until the movie pulls a Scream 3 and they find a videotape of Gavin reiterating what he already told them, but this time it gets them off their asses. There are entire scenes and sequences that could be removed and no one would care. For example the scene with the girl going insane because she really what to fuck Marsden doesn’t fucking matter. The whole subplot of the janitor doesn’t need to be there, he just needs to be a genius, that’s all. The subplot of the horny Blue Ribbon hitting on Rachel serves its purpose in that it adds “scares” but if the plot was actually more substantial, it wouldn’t need to do that. The actual investigation/climax moves at such a quick pace you almost get whiplash and it becomes incredibly obvious that the writer did not think it through. There are tons of plot holes and the “resolution” of the story is so poorly explained, that we know there are still Blue Ribbons out there before the movie itself pulls that dumbass twist. Now this could have worked in an episode of X-Files, because you don’t notice such things as easily during a TV show, but its so painfully obvious here because any suspension of disbelief got thrown out two jock fights ago.

The acting ranges from hammy/campy to mediocre/flat. James Marsden occasionally presents a real emotion, but for the most part he just walks around looking at things. Not that I really blame any of the actors, since the character flaws are very script related, and to be honest their goofy performances did make it more entertaining.

The movie is solid on a technical level, extremely indicative of it’s crews origins. Alas if only they had the story to back it up. I would have loved for The X-Files to kick off an era of really good sci-fi/fantasy thrillers, but alas Dangerous Behavior is just another example of how that rarely works out. If you’re looking for a fun riff, I might recommend this movie, but for anybody else steer clear and just watch X-Files on Netflix. Dangerous Behavior is only available on DVD, not that you should go looking for it.

Ghost Hunt (2006) Review

Amongst all the paranormal “reality” tv shows out these days, it’s refreshing to find a show honest about its fictionality. The anime Ghost Hunt certainly does cover a topic not often shown in anime, and the eastern perspective is rather refreshing for a paranormal aficionado such as myself. However, Ghost Hunt is little more then a mediocre anime, good for a casual watch, but forgettable at best.

Mai is a high school student (of course) who accidentally interferes in a paranormal investigation and the surprisingly young and narcissistic man in charge named Naru employs her as an assistant. From there they and a team of spiritualists help victims of haunting and possessions, growing closer together in the process. The show follows a case-by-case format, with cases taking between 1-5 episodes to solve. There’s no overarching plot, just small subplots carrying between the cases, and none of those are ever resolved (spoilers!). The cases themselves are predictable as hell and you’re often two steps ahead of the characters. On a few occasions there are twists and turns that are unexpected, but these aren’t nearly as plentiful as I would like. The show is generally engaging, but there are far too many times that I got easily distracted while they were just talking back and forth explaining everything.

Mai serves as our entry level character, allowing all the spiritualists to explain to her and the audience everything thats going on. Besides her ignorance, she also has an obnoxious can-do attitude that leads to her constantly complaining when things don’t go her way. Her high-school drama outlook constantly deflates any tension the episodes start to build and her crush on Naru was annoying to me, but I could see how it would be endearing to younger fans. The rest of the spiritualists are all fairly unique and engaging characters, and a few of them do develop by the end of the show. Naru is the quiet badass, who never does much except solve everything and explain it in a Holmesesque monologue. His backstory is very slowly revealed and most of it in the final episode, leaving you wanting more Naru and pissed that he could have been cool anytime before this. If you let yourself get invested in these characters, the show will pay off in a few touching moments.

The animation isn’t bad, but it certainly isn’t the show’s strong point. What does stand out about it is the way they chose to visualize the various spirits and demons. It was a treat to look at and made me appreciate the capabilities of an anime vs a live action show. The music is fine, it serves well to create the atmosphere, but there are far too few tracks and you end up hearing the same songs over and over. The intro is probably one of the worst I’ve ever seen. It’s nothing more then a mediocre song played over various “spooky” images. There’s nothing interesting there to see and it lasts for far too long.

Now as much as I’ve ragged on this show, there is a certain charm about it that I like. It’s something I haven’t really seen before. It’s a ghost hunting procedural show and surprisingly there aren’t really any shows like that, at least not ones as realistic as Ghost Hunt. Sure you have The real Ghostbusters and Supernatural or even Ghost Hunters, but none of those really show the more realistic type of spirits while investigating like a cop show. I also like how religion is portrayed in this show. Catholicism, Japanese occultism, Chinese practices, and science all work together to achieve various things and common goals. Every religion is on equal footing and that’s something I’ve always subscribed to, but never experienced in the christian heavy western world.

Ghost Hunt is an ok show, with some eye-rollingly stupid moments in it, but if you’re looking for something light to enjoy on and off as you wish, then maybe this is what you’re looking for. It’s very open, go read the manga ending will be infuriating to most, but with all the shitty endings American TV shows are getting these days you should be used to it by now. If you’re into the paranormal then you should definitely check this show out, and even if you just like watching SyFy shows, there will be something here for you to enjoy. You’re not going to want to go out and buy the blu-ray of this show, but some good times will be had. If you really like it, I recommend you check out the manga. It’s not necessarily better, but it does continue the story further and develop the characters a lot more. Ghost Hunt is available for streaming on Netflix, Funimation.com and Hulu.

Dimension Bomb (2008) Review

AMVs are a fascinating combination of fan appreciation and artistic expression. They can be low quality collections of just a handful of scenes put to whatever song strikes the creators fancy or they can be derived from dozens of anime, tied together with original animation and accompanied by a song carefully and meticulously chosen. “Binary Overdrive” is one of the best AMVs I’ve ever seen. Its fantastic use of the images it pulls from as well as the editing of said material to the music really made it stand out. However, what drew me to it the most were the images themselves. Pulled from an anime I had never heard off, the animation and visual style were just so stunning that I imagined an epic story with dynamic characters and incredibly unique ideas. The anime, Dimension Bomb, is in reality a 20 minute surreal look into the thoughts of a heartbroken boy… or is it? Imagine if David Lynch took some antidepressants and moved to Japan and you’ve got a good idea of what this short film is like.

First and foremost, we need to talk about the animation. It’s fucking gorgeous. The visual style, character models and environments are all incredibly unique. The randomness of this dreamscape is portrayed beautifully here, even if a few of the symbols could have been tied a little more closely together. The film is originally part of the anthology Genius Party, or rather the sequel Genius Party Beyond, because it wasn’t completed in time. Well thank the lord for that, because many of the shots (especially when it kicks into slow motion) are pure eye candy and worth the extra effort. The soundtrack also deserves note since it accompanies what’s on the screen beautifully without distracting from it.

Now lets talk about the story… or lack thereof, as Dimension Bomb takes the approach of not telling you what’s going on as it flashes images in front of you. It’s a film that truly needs to be experienced rather then explained because a good number of interpretations can be pulled from it. For me it seems to be this: A boy who has felt like an outsider his whole life and who masks his true self finally meets a girl who likes him. She’s a bit strange but they have lots of good times together. One day she up and decides she doesn’t like him anymore and he can’t handle it so he buries all of his emotions, putting on the mask that she managed to pull off. Then he finds out that she’s leaving town and as he rushes to the train station on his busted up bike, all the emotions he had paw up to the surface. It’s a confusing mess of love and hate. In a single moment before he crashes his mind releases this emotion in a dream of sorts. He gets up and keeps going, only to crash again. It seems like the universe… like she… like he himself… don’t want him to get there and he’s left completely alone, but better for the experience. That’s my interpretation from the story, but really anything could be pulled from the plot I suppose. And maybe that’s its biggest detraction. That while it’s jumbled storytelling is unique and open to interpretation; it’s too open for anyone to gain any satisfaction from once they interpret it.

With its beautiful animation, well-placed soundtrack and unusual viewing experience Dimension Bomb is an anime to watch… a few times. It’s only 20 minutes long and for that short amount of time, it certainly packs a punch. Not only is this memorable, but it also makes good debate material for you and your friends. However, if you prefer a more straight forward story or aren’t a fan of analyzing your viewing material then… maybe you should just stick with the AMV instead.

Exit through the Gift Shop (2010) Review

Despite my fascination with art, it is rare that I actually go in depth with it. That is until I heard an NPR story a few months back about Banksy, a British street artist whose ambitious works of art provide fascinating social commentary. This inspired me to look into the unusual displays of art he had and he’s now one of my favorite artists (next to my girlfriend of course ;). So when I discovered Exit through the Gift Shop on Netflix, I had to check it. Strangely enough, this isn’t a documentary about Banksy, but rather the man who “tried” to make a documentary about him and in the end proved to be just as fascinating on his own.

Thierry Guetta is a man with a fascinating psychological urge to record everything and every moment. In the early 2000s he starts tagging along with his graffiti artist cousin “Space Invader” further and further into the world of street art. As he falls down this rabbit hole he decides to make a street art documentary and that the crown jewel of this film will be an interview with the world famous Banksy. Eventually he gets his chance, and his ensuing friendship with the Graffitist allows him to get the ultimate street art thrill ride. With attention on Street Art rising, Banksy urges him to finish the film, but when he does the result… isn’t exactly pleasing. While Banksy is busy remaking the movie, Guetta is allowed to start creating his own art and from there launches a massive campaign under the name “Mr. Brainwash.” Through his connections Guetta takes the LA art scene by storm, despite his insane business decisions and his derivative work.

Thanks to its unique framing, the documentary works extremely well. It’s told with the thousands of hours of footage Guetta has recorded over the years and is accompanied by interviews with Guetta, his family, Banksy and several colleagues. As we follow this mans life we’re mystified by the fact that no one saw his true nature… not as a seeming documentarian, but as a mentally scarred man. He asks the dumbest questions, he does the most intrusive things, and all around acts insane, but somehow he manages to capture the hearts and minds of the street artists who just want a log of their work. Guetta is a thoroughly unlikeable character in my opinion. He goes from being this naïve, but interfering nitwit to this self-centered exploiter who ignores his family and abuses his friends’ work because he wants to be just like they are. It’s clear once he becomes a “street artist” that he has no artistic vision. What gives the simplistic pop art or the unusually designed street art its artistic merit is not just the image itself, but the thought behind it, the intent. Guetta has no concept of this, simply making changes to pre-existing images (like a studio executive does to a script) and then handing it off to someone else to actually create, loosing any artistic merit for even creating the image itself since it’s not his. Yet somehow… you don’t really hate him. He’s just a goofy man riding on a trend. He’s extremely lucky, but if it wasn’t him it no doubt would have been someone else.

What Banksy wanted from Guetta was an accurate portrayal of what street art was supposed to mean during a time where it was being sold for thousands of dollars. What he got in return was a 90 minute nightmare trailer. Hence him sending Guetta off to do something else. While Guetta’s film failed, I think that this movie does, through contrast, establish what Street Art is supposed to be. We see that the people around Guetta have clear passion and that carries through to the moments in Banksy’s studio where we see the real processes behind the creation of these pieces. However, it’s not until we see Guetta in his studio and at his gallery that this message really clicks. Guetta is almost the opposite of what a Street Artist is supposed to be and by using the inverse of him, as well our impressions from the previous artists, we can gain a clear image of what those weird pieces of Graffiti are supposed to stand for and who the people behind them really are.

Exit through the Gift Shop is well made, but with all documentaries it’s the content that counts and Guetta provides no shortage of fascinating content. The art on screen is beautiful to look at, the artists are fun to watch, and Guetta’s commentary both behind and in front of camera is addicting to listen to, like watching a train crash. The moral of the film is clear and in my opinion an important one that pertains not only to the world of Street Art, but Art in general. If you are vaguely interested in Graffiti, have heard of Banksy, or are just looking for a good character piece then Exit through the Gift Shop is definitely worth checking out.

Battleship Potemkin (1925) Review

A dramatized account of a great Russian naval mutiny and a resulting street demonstration which brought on a police massacre.-imdb.com

Battleship Potemkin is a technical masterpiece as it was an experiment in “montage” and its editing techniques remain influential to this day. As a propaganda film it exceeds expectations, presenting a story that’s deeply emotional even for a foreign audience. There is no question that Battleship Potemkin should be seen by every film student, but is it as mandatory for a more casual viewer?

Let’s face it; Battleship Potemkin is a propaganda film. It portrays the government as rats and does nothing to redeem them. However, this is no worse then the way The Empire is portrayed in Star Wars or Loki in The Avengers. There are no real characters to attach to, because this movie isn’t about characters. It’s about a general population and their struggle to have rights and that story is done incredibly well, both for a 1925 film and even for a film today. The story evolves and evolves taking you places you wouldn’t expect, and this makes the film actually a unique watch. For how old this movie is, its story isn’t that cliché and it’s really quite refreshing.

The solid story wouldn’t be nearly as strong if Sergei Eisenstein hadn’t been able to encapsulate the emotion like he did through editing and cinematography. The staircase scene, the fight on the battleship, and the ending scene are all monumentally tense and effective. The staircase sequence alone is shocking enough, especially if you go in with 1920s expectations. Going from a more basic movie like a Chaplin or Keaton work to this will make the film all the more effective. While those movies work just fine, Battleship Potemkin exceeds all expectations and destroys all comfort you may have. The violence used and the shocking portrayal of humanity being destroyed is something that wouldn’t be done today, let alone back then.

Where this film does fail is the uneven pacing. There are plenty of points in-between the more dramatic scenes where the movie just hits a brick wall. People are just standing around talking, or they’re just doing… stuff. Getting ready for war or protesting bad meat, all at a slow pace and with nothing particularly interesting to look at. The soundtrack helps a little as it’s generally very dramatic and nice to listen to, but that doesn’t completely rid you of the creeping sense of… boredom.

If you can make it through the movie, and odds are you will, there will be no doubt that what you watched was totally worth every moment and that you won’t forget it any time soon. Battleship Potemkin is a masterpiece of a movie. Not without the typical pacing problems of the time, it’s still a great watch and in my opinion something that even a more casual viewer can enjoy.

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.

Chain Letter (2010) Review

A maniac murders teens when they refuse to forward chain mail.-imdb.com

In an attempt to come up with a horror movie that would actually scare this generation, I stumbled across the concept of using our technology against us. The idea of being hounded or even abandoned by this crutch of life would, if played right, make for some good scares or at least a thought provoking story. Deon Taylor, director of Chain Letter, has taken this concept and twisted into an old man’s rant at teens for their “new-fangled technobizzy” then proceeded to shit all over it and smash it to a pulp not unlike how I want this film to look after I get my hands on it. Chain Letter is a poorly made, mean-spirited mess of a movie that fails to live up to its pretentious message.

Now for being a 2010 low budget horror film called Chain Letter one should not expect the acting to be good or the characters developed. And believe me, expectations are met, however one would expect that the teenagers would look less like they were fresh out of college and more like they are oh… I don’t know… high school students! The accentuated racks on these “girls” are only rivaled by those in High School of the Dead and the men have facial hair that should be in an Old Spice commercial. The characters are… big shocker… fucking obnoxious! It’s that annoying cliché that has continued to survive through this decade where we refuse to develop people we actually care about and rather have targets that we can enjoy seeing getting slaughtered. The writers and directors always seem to forget that we have to spend a whole movie with these people, and the best they can offer in compensation is someone so bland they leave no impression at all, rather then a bad one. The movie is adequately made, but its more artistic flairs are all annoying. The overuse of chains. The overly long title sequence. That’s used twice. Seizure inducing cutaways that in a TV show would signal a commercial break. Special effects that awkwardly alternate between goofy and grotesque. These continually failed attempts to be stylistic end up getting no more of a reaction then a raised eyebrow and a disgruntled sigh.

Where this film ultimately and truly fails is the writing, both in the plotting and its message. Taylor seems to be using the anti-technology motivations of the killer not to satirically promote technology or provide a cautionary tale, but rather as a scorning of the current generation for being so arrogant. This mean-spiritedness, whether it was intended or not, is interwoven throughout and as a member of that generation I was taken out of the movie by it. I don’t needed to be ranted at that I’ve lost so much privacy and that I’m trusting the internet too much and that I can be tracked with my phone and that every bit of personal data could be stolen by a hacker. I’m aware of the consequences of my actions on the internet and a good chunk of my generation are too. Don’t get me wrong there are still plenty of people who act like complete assholes on the internet or bully or what-have-you, but they at least know that hey, I could get hacked. The idiocy of all the characters that “abuse” technology and the outstanding cleverness of those who don’t (yet do since they use it to start the chain letter) is a marked indicator of this, but odds are I’m just reading too much into amateur writing.

I dislike my generation, but to see us represented by a director who has no idea how teenagers act is weirdly insulting. The concept of a video game lounge, studying at an arcade and two girls calling each other “slut” and “bitch” are all the exceptions, not the rule when it comes to any generation, not just ours. We’re not all spoiled rich kids, and for someone who “is up to date on the state of technology” you would think that he would notice that it’s actually the opposite with the state of the economy. If it weren’t for these grandiose claims about technology and generalizations that are made, I wouldn’t care about any of this stuff but, like plot holes, you notice these things when the movie can’t get you to be immersed in it. In fact the very premise of how the killer operates seems nonsensical, after all how is it that those who blindly follow technology and just forward chain mail are those worthy to live? And as for surviving the email, why wouldn’t you just forward the chain mail to people in a foreign country? The killer’s not there now is he? But nooooo that would be far too much logic for these idiotic characters and this idiotic movie.

Chain Letter is not worth your time, unless you feel like being condescended to by a toddler. The pretentiousness required by a filmmaker to put a Nietzsche quote before their low budget email slasher movie is ridiculous. The plot is inadequate, requiring complete stupidity from characters to push it along. Luckily there’s a large supply of that thanks to the either boring or obnoxious over-age cast. The message is convoluted, exploiting serious issues in today’s society just so it can shit all over them. Don’t watch this, and don’t let your friends watch this, it’s not even riffable and for a slasher film, that’s saying a lot.

Pumpkinhead (1988) review

A man conjures up a gigantic vengeance demon called Pumpkinhead to destroy the teenagers who accidentally killed his son. -imdb.com

Pumpkinhead is the directorial debut of Stan Winston, special effects master, and it unfortunately shows. The movie has a strong premise: A demon brought against a group of city kids by a vengeful father whose son’s death they caused, however its execution is a disappointment even if some enjoyment can be derived.
The movie starts out with likeable characters in the father-son duo, making you think that they are the rare likeable protagonists in a horror movie. However, this is not the case with the son having the life span of a red-shirt, cut down in an unfortunate biking accident. The rest of the characters are stereotypes and 2D cutouts, with the acting having about as much inspiration, mostly due to the inexperience of the actors and director. However none of this really makes it a bad movie.

When watching it the stylized lighting and eerie soundtrack combine with the action on screen to create a tone that is rarely seen these days. It combines with the grit of the 90s technology and VHS quality to create a atmosphere that is indescribably horror. It’s that horror feel that we’ve all seen, be it on a random DVD rental, Netflix pick or late night TV viewing. It’s a tone that has been lost in the polished world of digital cinema that we live in now. It is actual shadow and grit, not artificially created shadow and grit.
Speaking of creating, the special effects are, as expected, amazing. Pumpkinhead looks alive, both in his movements and his appearance even if it’s fairly reminiscent of Alien. The practical effects put any CGI monster to shame, with the very presence of it giving the same effect as a Freddy or Jason has, and that’s something that’s hard to achieve with CG. CGI is best left for the fast moving monsters, because practical effects, by this example alone, have got everything else covered.

Alas, we must get back to why this film doesn’t work. As a director, Stan Winston has most of his technical bases covered, but he fails to create an essential aspect of horror films: Tension. It’s the bread and butter of Hitchcock, Craven, Carpenter, and any other director who has tried to instill fear. It’s what gets your blood flowing before the gory climaxes and what makes jump scares worth doing. It’s hard to explain exactly why it’s absent here, but in general it comes down to a combination of a few things. The stalking the creature does is not emphasized enough with the monster disappearing for large chunks of the movie. The killings aren’t powerful either, not that there needs to be more gore, but that they aren’t dramatized or made a big deal of. We should always feel the power of a death, even if we don’t care for the character being killed or doing the killing. Instead all we have are the character’s reactions, which aren’t strong due to the writing, acting or directing, but even if they were good it would most likely not be enough to convince us since we weren’t affected by the act itself. While not perfectly correlated, there is also a noticeable lack of dialogue. This is nice because we often hear characters whine and spit curses more then we should have to, but in this case it leads to having no idea what the characters are really thinking or feeling, since the acting just can’t support it.

Overall, Pumpkinhead is a nice atmospheric movie that while it delivers little scares can either provide some laughs for you and your chums, or some nostalgia, depending on what mindset you go into it with. It’s not a great movie, but if you’re a fan of horror or miss practical effects, you definitely should check this one out.