THE FILM YAP » violence We Never Shut Up About Movies Fri, 21 Nov 2014 19:48:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Canyons Wed, 27 Nov 2013 23:00:40 +0000 Continue reading ]]> canyons - interior
A trainwreck meets a plane crash meets a fiery car accident, “The Canyons” is every disease-ridden plague you can fathom disguised as a Cinemax late-night romp.

Everyone involved with this will assuredly want it erased from their resume, most notably director Paul Schrader of “American Gigolo” and “Taxi Driver” fame. Lindsay Lohan, who seemingly has nowhere to go but up career-wise, is the lead horse in this carousel of hackneyed goofs.

The remainder of the cast is so void of any personality that it’s almost as if they’re all porn stars. Oh, wait, some of them are! James Deen, who plays alongside Lohan, has been awarded numerous accolades for his work in the adult film industry before crossing over to co-star in “The Canyons.” Lily Labeau, who has a minor role in the film, also has a lengthy resume in porn. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast simply has no excuse, they are unapologetically dreadful.

For a film that describes itself as an “erotic thriller,” there seems to be a shockingly inadequate amount of both thrills and eroticism. The film is unrated due to the excessive nudity but is never able to bridge the gap between what’s erotic and what’s simply a naked Lindsay Lohan. Because the film never differentiates between the two extremes, it ends up coming off as little more than a frivolous softcore soap opera.

The plot, almost too moronic to even put into words, revolves around young socialite couple Christian and Tara, and their tumultuous relationship living in the hills of Malibu. They are supposed swingers, but that angle is touched upon all of two times and never mentioned again. When Tara reconnects with former lover Ryan, the two men must up the ante on one another in order to bid for her affection.

What seems like scene after scene of pointless interaction and predictable twists eventually leads to a confusing climax and an even more convoluted final sequence. All in all, “The Canyons” plays out like an X-rated episode of “The O.C.” If there was a commentary on social class or abject materialism, it’s a muddled one at that, and any hopes for a real message are buried in obscurity amid porn stars and drug-addled tabloid socialites.

Despite the painfully awful plot, acting and concept, “The Canyons” is actually a massive disaster to behold rather than avoid. It’s not quite on par with Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room” in terms of outright hilarity, but it genuinely has an unknowingly schlocky tinge to it that makes for a hilarious first watch. Simply put, “The Canyons” is a horrid spectacle — one that you will never care to revisit but also never be able to wash from your memory.

Film: 1.5 Yaps
Extras: 3 Yaps

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Class of 1993: “This Boy’s Life” Fri, 26 Apr 2013 03:26:41 +0000 Continue reading ]]> thisboyslifeinside4

In the “Class of …” series, Nick Rogers takes a monthly look back at films celebrating either their 20th or 30th anniversary of initial release this year — six from 1993 and six from 1983. The rules: No Oscar nominees and no films among either year’s top-10 grossers.

Since 1993, plenty of leading men have written fascinating career narratives.

There’s Robert Downey Jr.’s unlikely recovery and amazing redemption. Will Smith transitioned from rapping sitcom star to Globally Bankable Action Hero. George Clooney floundered after “ER” before commercial and critical acclaim. Only in Johnny Depp’s fourth decade did eccentricities translate to billion-dollar box office.

But Leonardo DiCaprio’s accomplishments rank right beside them. And at just 38, a good 10 years younger than most of his contemporaries, it often feels like he’s just getting started.

Most famously, DiCaprio is Martin Scorsese’s muse now, and their fifth film, “The Wolf of Wall Street,” arrives this fall. He’s had six titles top $100 million in the last 11 years. He’s played cops, con artists, captains of industry and complicated heroes. And since 2002, he’s starred exclusively in films from Oscar winners or nominees.

That kind of pedigree makes “Titanic” seem oceans away. Plus, DiCaprio has plenty of time to grab awards that have eluded him — thrice nominated for an Oscar, each time amid shoo-ins or impossible competition.

His first shot came in 1993, for “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” (in which he played Depp’s younger brother). That was the year people who weren’t “Growing Pains” junkies or fans of straight-to-VHS “Critters” sequels took notice of DiCaprio’s gifts.

Less often remembered from that year is “This Boy’s Life,” in which DiCaprio was allegedly handpicked by co-star Robert De Niro to act beside him. It’s an adaptation of Tobias Wolff’s 1989 memoir, detailing the writer’s itinerant adolescence with his single mother and their disastrous detour in the Pacific Northwest with a small-town galoot named Dwight Hansen (De Niro).

More specifically, they move to a sludgy, industrial hamlet oppressively named Concrete. Here, Toby’s isolation and Dwight’s indignation harden into a malaise that also consumes Caroline (Ellen Barkin), Toby’s mother and Dwight’s new wife.

The film demands ominous electricity between Dwight and Toby, the latter of whom endures various and sundry humiliation and harm at the former’s hands. And there are times when DiCaprio doesn’t just go toe-to-toe with De Niro but feels just as tall.

DiCaprio’s turn is indicative of what must have been not only inviolable trust between him and De Niro but also his inevitable stardom. If not “Titanic,” it would have been another hit. In “This Boy’s Life,” DiCaprio acts as if announcing intentions.

He convincingly plays both his own age, and four years his junior, with intensity and authenticity. In one scene, his rage gives way to resignation, seemingly capitulating to his lot in life as a small-town loser. (Yes, that’s Tobey Maguire in the background.)

Earlier, he offers a dangerously wild-eyed, cathartic howling of “Summertime Blues” after stealing Dwight’s car. (It’s one of many shrewd musical cues in a film latching onto dark, yearning undertones of 1950s pop and the Great American Songbook.)

Although the lion’s share of the film belongs to DiCaprio, Barkin’s value is immeasurable. Despite maintaining a bazooka bosom and shapely legs, Barkin had phased out of erotic vixen roles. Instead, she finds new angles for a woman whose life is defined for the worse by her libido. Stuck between fate and flirtation, Caroline sees bad sex as an acceptable loss to stave off something far worse.


In an early scene when Roy, an old lover played by Chris Cooper, catches up with Caroline and Toby, she gives in to his advances. Director Michael Caton-Jones’s camera lingers long enough on her face for us to realize that while it’s not even remotely rape, it’s still a resignation to stave off some form of retribution.

Caroline takes it a step further when she marries Dwight, vows exchanged less for love than security and what she sees as a positive father figure for Toby. Unbeknownst to Caroline, Dwight allows sex only “on the side or doggy-style.” He’s also careful to point out that it’s at least a choice. Again, Barkin wordlessly conveys fright at the unexpected roughness of this marital bed and the idea that she has, in totality, traded her happiness for Toby’s.

And to paraphrase one of Dwight’s oft-repeated phrases, screenwriter Robert Getchell knows a thing or two about stories of domestic violence. Getchell was one of several writers on the much-reviled “Mommie Dearest.” Thankfully, he hangs this story on a notion of humanity much stronger than a wire hanger.

“This Boy’s Life” avoids campiness or relentless depression because it examines both the pitfalls and the potential of behavioral patterns. At one point, Toby worries he’s turning into a junior version of Dwight simply by osmosis. (“He’s winning, isn’t he?”)

When we first meet Dwight, he hardly seems sinister, more like a square divorcé trying too hard. He’s an ex-Navy mechanic with a supernaturally strong Zippo and an array of overly earnest cheeseball jokes that only work on weary women like Caroline. De Niro also gives him a nasal Yooper accent that seems like the antithesis of aggression.

Ah, but Dwight’s people-pleasing patois is just an artifice. Under Dwight’s surface is an inferiority complex that manifests itself in seething rage only after Caroline says “I do” and he carts her and Toby off to Concrete.

Caton-Jones might be a journeyman banished from Hollywood since “Basic Instinct 2.” But damned if he didn’t twice extract some of Robert De Niro’s best, most engaged performances over the last 20 years. De Niro’s underrated work in 2002’s “City by the Sea” somehow echoes a softer Dwight, a cop cowed into indecision by reluctance to dredge up his demons.

De Niro makes Dwight as frightening as Max Cady, the pedophile psycho in “Cape Fear” he earned an Oscar nomination for playing two years earlier. We never know when Dwight will snap. Much of that uncertain tension comes from De Niro’s crisp diction and litany of derisive phrases: “Kill or cure!” “Piss and moan!” “Shut your piehole!” and “hot shot,” his nickname for Toby that comes out like “hawt shawt.”

Even then, Dwight is sometimes more gullible than guileful. There are moments of light comedy in which he proves terrible both at shooting a rifle and playing a saxophone. But even those are couched in a culture of compliance he’s created in his house. Although Carla Gugino has a minor supporting role as his oldest daughter, you sense she’s long clung to dreams of escape. Meanwhile, as his youngest, Elisha Dushku immediately clasps Caroline’s hand like a security blanket.

The ideals of self-reliance and responsibility Dwight seeks to instill in Toby aren’t bad. They’re simply perverted by his unmentioned, but certainly troubled, past. Little is spoken of Dwight’s service, but you know he was the one pushed around and it is now his turn to be drill instructor.

Eventually, both Toby and Caroline concoct their own plans for escape — he through the pursuit of preparatory school and she through campaigning for JFK. And the film finds an unexpected beauty in its conclusion, Caroline’s flibbertigibbet ways working, finally, in her favor.

Before that, though, Dwight’s anger peaks in a final scene that starts with a mustard jar held to DiCaprio’s eye so forcefully, you’re sure it will crack and slice his cornea.

DiCaprio is said to be taking an extended break from acting to focus on environmental philanthropy, even with 25 rumored films on his slate. He’s been judicious and shrewd about almost every step for the last 20 years. As long as he remains true to the wily instincts on display in “This Boy’s Life,” his will be one hell of a second act.

For an instructive lesson on how patently awful movie trailers were circa 1993, get a load of what’s below — Bruce Hornsby sample and all.

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Class of 1983: “Videodrome” Thu, 28 Feb 2013 05:01:47 +0000 Continue reading ]]> In the “Class of …” series, Nick Rogers takes a monthly look back at films celebrating either their 20th or 30th anniversary of initial release this year — six from 1993 and six from 1983. The rules: No Oscar nominees and no films among either year’s top-10 grossers.


Many directors discuss the body’s capacity for sex and violence. For more than 40 years, David Cronenberg has dissected it — often quite literally, creating weapons made of human bone or shoving handguns into tremulous, vaginal stomach slits.

Such unpredictably invasive anatomical moments are just one part of Cronenberg’s aggressive tradition. Even in more recent, less fantastical work (“A History of Violence” and “Eastern Promises”), he rarely separates sex from violence — poking and prodding to seek potentially perilous similarities in the chemical reactions those acts cause.

In regard to that pursuit, he’s arguably the most fearless filmmaker there is — or, at least, the most fearless one who can usually find funding. He’s also one of the most frustrating.

Cronenberg’s early work often sputtered out his transfixing theses in somewhat self-congratulatory celebrations of how far his gore could go on a limited budget. Then, some of his later films (“Crash” [1996], “eXistenZ,” “Spider”) failed to find the right balance of cerebral and visceral, no matter how controversial the subject.

But Cronenberg couldn’t have achieved his stature without some great films along the way:  “The Dead Zone” (1983), “The Fly” (1986), “Dead Ringers,” “Violence” and “Promises.” Those films strip out his more cartoonish impulses for carnage altogether, their macabre moments more psychologically probing than they are simply wired for shock value. Nor are they without a strong degree of vulnerable humanity, which, in a Cronenberg film, should never ever be confused for sappiness.

As the last before Cronenberg’s trifecta of “Zone” (which this column will visit in September), “Fly” and “Ringers,” 1983’s “Videodrome” falls curiously in the middle.

Certainly, the film would rather stick orgasmically pulsating videotapes between the ribs of its protagonist than craft a cautionary tale that sticks to ribs in the audience. And although it’s stuffed with impressive effects work, “Videodrome’s” third-act rabbit-hole tumble starts to grow a little tiresome.

However, revisiting it 30 years later reveals intriguing and eerily prescient prognostications of many aspects of modern media and technology.


Just as Max Renn — the sleazy president of a Canadian TV station played by James Woods — feels compelled to pump up sex and violence to compete with his rivals, so, too, do the heads of U.S. broadcast networks against their cable brethren. Consider this winter’s primetime scene of a woman plunging a knife into her eye on Fox’s “The Following” an attempt to keep up with the sight of sawed-off feet in the current seasons of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” or FX’s “Justified.”

Then there’s Max’s ideological nemesis, stage-named Professor Brian O’Blivion, who communicates only via cassette, the monologue his exclusive method of discourse. After three decades, he’d fit right in on almost any 24-hour “news” network, regardless of its political leanings.

Cronenberg also works in brief digs at corporate malfeasance, religious fundamentalism and American perception of weakness in the Cold War. Plus, there are flickers of two of today’s commonplace media/technology critiques — the schadenfreude that has made reality TV more popular than scripted shows and how 24/7 interconnectivity can erode personal relationships.

“ ‘Videodrome’ has a philosophy, and that’s what makes it dangerous,” one character says of the film’s titular TV program — a pirated snuff-film feed said to emanate from Pittsburgh in which women are physically and sexually abused by hooded tormentors before being killed onscreen.

Oh, but if the movie ultimately shared that same danger of a potent philosophy. Most of the aforementioned metaphors are only teased, given a snippet of a scene before the story moves on. And once “Videodrome” becomes a conspiracy thriller in which “television is reality and reality is less than television,” it never gels into the brain-rattling mind-fuck it thinks it is. Still, this Cronenberg movie remains compulsively watchable even when it gets, well, weird for the sake of weirdness.

Its first act suggests a sturdier film than we ultimately get — an appropriately claustrophobic, scuzzy setup. (Retrospective essays reveal it was as much a function of budget as directorial intent; many scenes were filmed within one large building.)

Max’s channel is programmed with a cornucopia of cheesecake pornography — including a Japanese program that opens with wooden-dildo masturbation. But that soft-core stuff barely gets the brain’s sine waves going any longer. That’s why Max takes an interest in “Videodrome” when he sets his grubby eyes on a bootleg feed.

If ever a role was tailor-made for Woods, it’s Max. This leather tie-wearing cretin becomes Cronenberg’s mouthpiece for shrewd observations about desensitization and brazenly describes “Videodrome” as though it were a stock option: “Just torture and murder. No plot. No characters. Very realistic. I think it’s what’s next.”


Max also smugly defends himself on the news by saying his network provides “a harmless outlet for fantasies and frustration” before turning it into an opportunity to get radio DJ Nicki Brand (Blondie lead singer Debbie Harry) in the sack.

He does, but only after she insists watching “Videodrome” will get her stimulated. There’s then post-coital scene in which Max pierces Nicki ear in a close-up that speaks to cultural rituals. Maybe ours is overstimulation, Cronenberg seems to say, but then the story starts to spin sideways.


Save those early moments, though, Max is the rare Woods character suffocated by the story surrounding him. And the actor spends the final 30 minutes in a numb, flat-affect stupor, a brainwashed assassin for two opposing factions who would seek to control the “Videodrome” program. (The program, we learn, is actually a hallucination-inducing, tumor-causing signal that, if globally broadcast, will weed out the depraved who would watch it incessantly.)

Although it comes to overwhelm the film’s narrative, “Videodrome’s” effects work does provide some indelible, striking images.

In a film filled with hallucinatory moments, the most surreally unforgettable is a collaboration between special video effects man Michael Lennick and special effects director Frank C. Carere. Nicki appears to Max on his console TV, the top of which becomes an undulating, membranous erotic zone that responds to his touch. As Nikki’s lips fill the TV frame, a convex curve leaps off the screen and envelops Max.

Videotapes also feel convincingly alive, quivering like stimulated G-spots. And makeup guru Rick Baker — a year after winning the inaugural Oscar for Best Makeup and Hairstyling (his first of seven) — fuses a gun to bone and flesh in a scene as persuasive as “An American Werewolf in London’s” canine transformation.


But to what end is the ick for? Only the moments involving Max’s gun, embedded earlier in his stomach, potently speak to any sort of theme — how vengeance is in our veins or how we consume, digest, process and expel violence in our daily diet. Again, those are fleeting moments in scenes that exist to emphasize “Videodrome’s” prosthetics more than they do its scattershot psychological viewpoint.

(If a proposed “Videodrome” remake ever happens, it will, if it’s remotely smart, tackle the increasingly loud debate of entertainment’s effects on individual acts of violence. Or, it will just have Colin Farrell in the lead and call it a day.)

Taken on the terms of the films he’s made, Cronenberg’s fetishistic fascination with flesh has been for better or for worse. Earlier works like “Videodrome” show that sometimes, he’s a provocateur only to a point — boldly striding past boundaries of comfort but getting the heebie-jeebies upon approaching true profundity. But it also shows he wasn’t too far from figuring out which incisions could cut the deepest.

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Silent House Sat, 10 Mar 2012 03:32:20 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

“Silent House” is a patently false name for a horror film with so many loud, wild, untamed narrative animals tromping around. It might as well be called “Jumanji.”

There are leering, weaselly male characters whose gestures and utterances drip with shady secrecy. They lead us to the elephant in the room that something’s a little off about the hesitant, shifty-eyed way Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) acts with people. And a bull-in-a-china-shop climax boasts enough wildly embarrassing moments to cancel out what few things “Silent House” does well.

There’s just no other way to describe vaginal symbolism via blood-gushing urinal.

Too arty to settle for home-invasion scares a la “The Strangers” and too laughably literal for “The Descent’s” unsettling uterine subtext, all that’s left in “Silent House” is an impressive technical exercise.

Its lone distinctive trait is that it appears to be filmed in one single, continuous take over 88 minutes. There is surely digital trickery during occasional dips to blackness in an electricity-free house. But you’ll be hard-pressed to spot them amid enervating visuals, frequently lit by interrogatory LED lights that bewitchingly play off Olsen’s peach-sized cheekbones and spindly eyelashes. It’s a helluva business card for cinematographer Igor Martinovic.

Co-directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau are best known for 2003’s equally gimmicky “Open Water.” The ways in which that overrated thriller’s conceit of using real-life sharks trumped its content seems to have simply been a warm-up for the wackiness of “Silent House.”

In many ways, it’s a more exploitative version of “Martha Marcy May Marlene” — the enigmatic 2011 film that established Elizabeth as the only Olsen sister worth any continued attention. It isn’t just the scenes of Olsen on the water (clothed here, mind you), but in how its horrors are infected by a specific strain of violence.

“Martha” sustained a challenging air of mystery throughout. The first act of “Silent” goes so far out of its way to seem innocuous, we’re certain it can’t possibly be. The isolated, dilapidated summer home Sarah is helping her dad, John (Adam Trese), and uncle Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens) fix up has bigger problems than rotting mold we see or the vagrants we hear about.

Shortly after Peter makes a run into town, John is brutally bludgeoned by … someone. And Sarah must hide from the hulking, seemingly faceless figures that stalk her and swipe at her legs under tables and beds.

Sadly, Olsen is asked to do little more than simulate dread with pantomimed silent screams, rampant hyperventilation and snot-sticky mewling noises. Other than a key moment where she finds a curious balance between a cry and a cackle, Sarah is a run-of-the-mill blood-spattered damsel. Such roles are rites of passage that become ruts for unlucky young actresses. Let’s hope this is Olsen’s only wasted effort.

As “Silent House” drags on, Sarah and her story become increasingly illogical and unreliable. Every sneaking suspicion you have will come to pass. And in a visually striking sequence involving a Polaroid flash as Sarah’s only source of light, “Silent House” comes into its true focus — a film structured on style, not substance.

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Killer Yacht Party Sun, 22 May 2011 18:19:44 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Every so often a movie comes along that defies expectations and works its way into all of our hearts. Troma’s “Killer Yacht Party” is so far from being anything good, it’s ridiculous. Granted, Troma is known for churning out crappy exploitative films that feature large quantities of violence and sex, but director Piotr Uzarowicz apparently hasn’t watched a Troma film in his life because “Killer Yacht Party” is missing two of the essentials.

The movie centers on two friends, Monica (Kate Luyben) and Sandy (Renee Darmiento). Both girls are polar opposites. Monica is a promiscuous party girl who practically lives in the local nightclubs and Sandy is a Midwestern girl who feels most comfortable in jeans and a plaid shirt. After a night of partying in the local nightclub and Monica cozying up with the owner, the girls are invited to an exclusive yacht party the following night. What these unsuspecting girls don’t know is that something horrible is waiting for everyone on the boat. Or is there?

As a fair warning, there will be multiple spoilers ahead. I only warn you out of fairness if you want to see the movie, but I can assure you that you don’t want to waste such valuable minutes of your life on this movie.

“Killer Yacht Party” is a huge letdown. It took five years for this movie to be released and frankly that wasn’t long enough to wait. I could go on and on about the mediocrity of the plot or the horrid acting or idiocy of the twist ending — oh no, Sandy is the killer because she forgot to take her meds — but those are the things we’ve come to love about Troma movies.  They’re repugnant, disgusting, depraved and downright fun to watch but nudity and violence — the two key elements that make Troma movies — are missing.

The running time for the movie is 84 minutes. There’s one off-screen kill at about 25 minutes and then there isn’t any on screen gore until around minute 70. This movie promises gore and death, then doesn’t deliver. The killer has no range in deaths, using a hook for every killing except for one. At least the way Monica bites the dust is quite awesome. When confronted by the killer, she decides to jump into a large commercial dishwasher and shuts the door. It is then that her safe haven becomes her tomb.

The other disappointing fact about this movie is that the only nudity the audience is allowed is a little side boob from one of the more voluptuous actresses. Really?! They only thing that we’re given is a side boob? You’d think that on a boat full of drunken college kids, there would be more to show.

There is a standard that Troma has set and “Killer Yacht Party” definitely doesn’t even come close.

As for special features, the DVD release includes commentary by the writer and director and the trailer for the film. I wouldn’t waste your time on the movie, let alone the commentary.

Film: .5 yaps
Extras: .5 yaps


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Drive Angry Fri, 25 Feb 2011 23:11:36 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Let’s just get this out of the way. “Drive Angry” is a very stupid movie. It was so close to being able to walk the line towards a fun, entertaining film, but it isn’t as cool as it thinks it is. The movie is trying to feel like a gritty ’70s thriller with all of its cool cars, cheesy lines and irrational number of naked women. Yet it really fails more than it ever succeeds.

The first problem is Nicolas Cage as the main character, John Milton. (Yes, movie, I’ve taken high-school English too.) This Academy Award winner doesn’t have any expectations from the public anymore. Every once in awhile he reminds us that he’s talented in films like “Adaptation.,” “Matchstick Men” and “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call — New Orleans,” but most of the time he is just paying his massive amount of debt. Sometimes he’s entertainingly bad and can fill YouTube with his insane choices, but here he is just boring bad. He has clichéd action lines to say and he never can pull them off. He has no presence in this film. While everyone else is high-fiving and screaming “Yeah man!!!” he’s just looking out the window.

Part of it is because he’s secretly old; 47 is not actually old, but this movie considers that to be ancient. The plot of “Drive Angry” is that he escaped from hell to stop a group of devil worshipers from sacrificing his daughter’s baby. The phrase that stands out is “daughter’s baby.” They never say granddaughter or grandfather during this movie because that could possibly detract from the awesome.

The awesome is all of the fast cars (which can be used on occasion to drive angry), outrageous violence and attractive women. Amber Heard is the waitress who decides to travel with Cage for pretty much no reason. She’s seen as honorable in Cage’s eyes because she gave some muffins to a poor family, she has a Charger and she likes to punch people in the face. Honestly, she probably didn’t have to give away the muffins.

While Cage is chasing down the man who killed his daughter to save the baby, the Accountant is also chasing him. This is William Fichtner having a blast as a vulgar Mr. Smith from hell. At least he understands what movie he’s in and can make it entertaining. Sure, every one of his lines has a blunt curse word, which quickly starts to lose appeal, but at least it’s something.

There isn’t much spark in this movie at all. All of the actions scenes are standard, the 3D moments are groan-worthy and none of the lines are that cool. Most of that is because of lack of imagination, but some of it is because the budget is too high for its own good. Too many car scenes have obvious green screen, and all of the CGI makes it lose its cool. If it wants to be the supernatural “Vanishing Point,” be the supernatural “Vanishing Point.” It’s cooler and grittier if we actually believe these are real cars with real explosions. If it had that sort of sincerity, then a lot of the plotholes, clunky exposition, boring characters and ridiculousness could be excused, but alas, it’s just another dumb forgettable movie with nothing worthwhile.

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The Killer Inside Me Wed, 29 Sep 2010 04:22:57 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

This is not an easy tale. Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me is a classic crime novel that was noted for its dark and frightening protagonist. It is considered unfilmable, but director Michael Winterbottom took on the task. Winterbottom is known for his brilliant Steve Coogan comedies, including 24-Hour Party People and Tristram Shandy, and his more dramatic political films like The Road to Guantanamo and the underseen A Mighty Heart.

The Killer Inside Me is a curious middle ground where its incredibly dark subject material is seen as gritty reality but then it sometimes becomes dark comedy. Casey Affleck plays the sociopath Lou Ford. He is an officer of the law in West Texas who is called to talk a prostitute out of town. When he arrives at Joyce’s house he becomes physically violent with her, which ends up being sexually rewarding. Joyce (Jessica Alba) responds with the same acceptance and this starts a chain reaction of seeing how far Lou can go.

The violence in this film has been talked about to great length. It caused a physical reaction to people when it appeared at Sundance. It is unrelenting, difficult to watch and it was bold for Winterbottom to not shy away from this. As the insanity continues, the violence does not heighten. The audience has time to become adjusted towards the atrocities towards women and that is more frightening than anything presented on screen.

It is a bit of a controversial performance, but Affleck does a great job at underplaying the apathy and never trying to gain any sympathy for his actions. There is no remorse in his eyes; in fact it’s hard to tell what he is every really feeling. The problem is that disconnect is reflective of the film as well. There shouldn’t be an emotional connection with Lou, but morbid curiosity of where this will play out. That is missing from this film and that makes the film dissatisfying.

It’s relieving to see Winterbottom change up the format. In the noir and neo-noir genre, there are plenty of “Bad Decision” films. From Double Indemnity and, a recent example, The Square normal people make a criminal decision at the beginning and spend the rest of the film trying to correct it. They are filled with anxiety, paranoia, and fear. In this film, Lou is calm. He covers things up and continues going. It’s an interesting challenge, but it adds to the disinterest in the narrative. There are so many admirable things about this movie, but that still makes it difficult to recommend.

The bonus features are very laughable. Most IFC DVDs are bare, but this time they had three 3-minute featurettes focused on each of the three leads: Affleck, Alba, and Kate Hudson. It’s really just 2.5 minutes of the same clips but then the other 30 seconds are devoted to the actors talking about their role. Affleck is fine, but the other two are just embarrassing. Alba thinks the whole movie is a love story and Hudson gives us tidbits like actors think about their parts.

Movie: 3 Yaps

Extras: 1.5 Yaps

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Heroes of the Zeroes: Monster Wed, 21 Jul 2010 04:01:17 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

Rated R

Like an abused animal, prostitute Aileen Wuornos recoiled at affection. Trust isn’t easy for someone equating a touch with sexual transactions or violent trampling. But prey endures pain for so long before trying its hand at becoming a predator.

For Wuornos, self-defense spiraled into fugue states of insatiable fury and vengeance — believing it was her duty to murder anonymous men after projecting onto them the sins of those who’d abused her.

“Monster” is writer-director Patty Jenkins’ 2003 semi-fictionalized account of Wuornos’ crime spree, but those seeking true-crime titillation should go elsewhere.

By “Monster’s” end, nothingness replaces Wuornos’ ferocity — evidence of exhaustive efforts from Jenkins and Oscar-winner Charlize Theron to emphasize Wuornos’ fraying sanity, not her crimes’ sensationalism. Theron makes Wuornos’ delusions as terrifying and unnerving as her violence.

This isn’t mere awards-bait transformation, although Theron is rendered overweight and mottled, with rotted teeth and a shower schedule dictated by the weather forecast.

Wuornos never conjured a dream reality couldn’t kill, and her seeming second chance — a saucer-eyed romance with impressionable lesbian Selby Wall (Christina Ricci) — was a rest stop en route to annihilation.

Predestined doom doesn’t make their obliterated relationship any less heartbreaking. Ultimately, Selby escapes as a “victim” in a way Aileen couldn’t, both a reversal of Selby’s misfortune and strange reinforcement of Aileen’s mad love for her.

Wuornos’ last filmed words were, “Thank you, society, for railroading my ass” — a sobering sendoff showing that just as good can’t exist without evil, societal success can’t exist without tremendous failure.

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Heroes of the Zeroes: Kung Fu Hustle Wed, 16 Jun 2010 04:16:49 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Kung Fu Hustle”
Rated R

Writer/director/producer/composer/star Stephen Chow delivered easily the most exhilarating, breathlessly silly pure kung fu movie of the Zeroes in this 2005 U.S. import (originally released in 2004). It out-beautied “Hero” and easily outpaced the second “Kill Bill” in close-contact adrenaline.

Sing (Chow) is a gangster wannabe in 1940s Shanghai who inadvertently sparks a war between the Axe Gang and the shantytown community of Pig Sty Alley. While it seems the Axe Gang’s otherworldly ace in the hole — kung fu master The Beast — is unstoppable, Pig Sty’s landlord and landlady have their own skills, as does Sing.

Marvel at “Hustle” for both its crackerjack comedy and violent-ballet battles. It’s peppered with physical humor (Sing and the landlady become human Road Runners in a Looney Tunes-style chase), sight gags (The Beast’s magnificently ironic appearance) and self-spoofing (Chow referencing “The Shining” only because he has a long hallway and the sheer inclination to do so).

But “Hustle” also fused mysticism, music, mood and movement better than any live-action kung fu film since “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” A face-off between Pig Sty Alley’s unexpected heroes and supernaturally aided assassins delivered a roundhouse to “Hero’s” pretentious predictability. Plus, the epic “Matrix Revolutions”-style conclusion lightly poked at that film’s philosophy while delivering a heavens-shaking showdown that was every bit as exciting.

The mentality of genre-based grab-bagging doesn’t always work. But Chow used such wacky tools to forge so much mind-blowing fun that the last thing “Kung Fu Hustle” felt like was a phony con job.

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Heroes of the Zeroes: Intermission Tue, 01 Jun 2010 04:01:14 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

Rated R

“Intermission” is for women seeking a romantic comedy that doesn’t reduce relationships to cutesy-poo homilies. By adding shootouts and car chases, it’s for guys who are just not that into goo, either.

Alongside “Boy A,” John Crowley’s 2003 feature-film debut is a lark, but one in which the intersecting ensemble (exaggeratedly) takes lumps we all go through on the way to love we want.

“Intermission” attacks love’s neurotic, vindictive and violent edge with, to borrow his phrase, weight it deserves — a bloke-and-smoke spin on “Love, Actually” that can be unexpectedly and brazenly bloody.

Hair-trigger criminal Lehiff (Colin Farrell) opens the film with a fist to a helpless clerk’s face, a wallop to establish “Intermission” as both harsh and hardy-har-har. He’s part of an Irish motley crew brought together after John (Cillian Murphy) and Deirdre (Kelly Macdonald) break things off.

Entering the fold are a self-absorbed cop (Colm Meaney), Deirdre’s spurned sister (Shirley Henderson), a sexually vengeful abandoned wife and a close cousin to “Better Off Dead’s” paperboy, only with raving psychopathy.

“Intermission” fleetly jigs through its genres with a reedy, bantamweight swagger. Not long after the humorous hell of an aged singles club where Billy Ocean is still a hot groove, the story shifts to a bout of wild sex that turns legitimately harrowing with a sock to the jaw.

Attitudes flare, anger erupt, moods shift. These characters’ Irish eyes cry more than they smile in a film that depicts the truly downtrodden downtime between relationships rarely seen in all-star romances.

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