Jeff gets good and bad news about Vivian
A little more comedy this time around in the first sequel to SLEEPAWAY CAMP. And a lot more Angela!
Jeff figures out the P-word. Later, he meets his wife's new man.
GET OUT is the perfect allegory for 2017, as unchecked white liberal racism does nothing good for anybody.
The Hospital. 1971. Directed by Arthur Hiller. Screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky.
Starring George C. Scott, Diana Rigg, Barnard Hughes, Richard Dysart, Stephen Elliott, Donald Harron, Andrew Duncan, Nancy Marchand, Jordan Charney, Roberts Blossom, Frances Sternhagen, & Katherine Helmond. Simcha Productions.
Rated PG. 103 minutes.
Arthur Hiller is probably most well known to people through his directorial work with the comic duo of Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder, on such films as See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Silver Streak. Of course he’s done much more, but many will know him from those. I’d seen a few of his movies before ever getting the chance to see The Hospital. Then there’s the great writer Paddy Chayefsky, whose Network I also saw before ever seeing his previous work on this film. And boy, was it ever a treat once I did get the chance.
The Hospital is a rare type. I’m not saying there aren’t any other movies like it. Not at all. What I mean is that it’s not exactly the kind of thing you’d see even today, let alone in the early 1970s. But such was the spirit of filmmaking then. The indie directors and writers were looking to change things, to show a different side to themselves, to America, to the world. Chayefsky’s story hones in on the touchy subject of suicide, at the same time he takes on the bureaucratic nature of hospitals and the stress of morality under the weight of that bureaucracy. There’s a whole ton of smart insight within the dark package presented. It’ll make you laugh. It will have you pondering the effectiveness of the American healthcare system, one that hasn’t changed (too) much since ’71. It will reassure you of the greatness who was George C. Scott. And Chayefsky has never been so funny or so on point. His brand of honesty has not been seen since in American screenwriters, though there have been plenty of great writers. Just the way his words cut to the core of the subject is truly art.
I mean, I’m likely in the minority here but I believe Chayefsky is at his sharpest, darkest, wittiest here all in one fell swoop. The first moments let us know that while we’re dealing with life and death, literally as we’re situated in a hospital as the constant setting, this is a story rife with comedy. Dark, yes, but comedy nonetheless. Network is a god damn classic. One of the single most poignant entries in American cinematic history, as far as I’m concerned. However, The Hospital has a certain quality that struck me the very first time I had the pleasure of watching it. The open honesty of the suicidal thoughts Dr. Herbert Bock (George C. Scott) feels is at once a little shocking and all the same incredibly refreshing. The performance is one thing. Chayefsky’s writing another. He makes Bock into someone intense and brooding while simultaneously a fucking riot. Scott only furthers that to chuckle-worthy ends. There’s a truthfulness in how Chayefsky depicts suicide, the thoughts of suicide, and everything surrounding the concept. He finds the absurd. His screenplay for this film juxtaposes actual death and the idea of death in close quarters. There’s often the trope of someone close to death confronting it somehow, then discovering they truly want to live. Meanwhile, Dr. Bock is busy trying to figure out the best way to off himself, so as to cause the least amount of grief, and a possible serial killer, or terrible employee, is walking the halls underneath the nose of everyone present. A genius lot of writing that’s aided by the properly jaded Scott in one of his greatest roles, as well as a well-rounded cast that lifts Chayefsky’s words right off the page into hilarious life.
What I love about Bock so much is that he’s sick and tired of the actual discrepancies in the world. He hates his own son because of the boy’s insistence on being a hypocrite, whether he knows that himself is another thing. He hates the place where he works because the healthcare system is backwards as all hell; medical technology, even in ’71, was hurtling through innovation all the time and people, mainly the disenfranchised like the African-American community, the gay community (et cetera) were out in the streets dying. He hates life – not only does his impotence involve the penis, it involves his “purpose” and all he “ever truly loved” and that’s a desperate sadness. There’s a brutal honesty in the character that makes this movie so rare as a whole.
Scott makes you wonder how a man can become so many different characters so flawlessly over time and not lose his mind. He is one of the greatest; ever. Even just watching him sitting in a chair, acting drunk, his talent is immeasurable. One of those national treasures that America ought to relish like the flag. He was an actor’s actor, throwing himself to the role as an actor should. The desperation of Dr. Bock comes across vividly in the way Scott tumbles him further, further, until we’re not sure what kind of ending this man is going to find for himself. Chayefsky fleshes the character out well enough, then Scott takes him for a ride. In the quietest scenes, his face does more acting than half of the so-called superstars today combined. Once the scenes get intense he rages, as I’ve come to love from Scott, but also he rattles you. It isn’t just empty screams or over-the-top emoting. You really feel grabbed by his character. So convincing and genuine. One of my favourite roles of his, right up next to his character in Dr. Strangelove.
I’m actually not a huge one on comedy. Anybody that frequents this site will now that. That isn’t because I don’t like to laugh. Those who actually know me know that laughing is one of the things I love most. I laugh too much sometimes, like an idiot. The Hospital is just my brand of funny. Dark comedy, the stuff that hits too close to home, that makes you cringe while also making you question things: this is what I dig. I can get down with foolish comedies, too. Those are few and far between for me; best examples are Dumb and Dumber and Step Brothers, both of which endlessly kill me. But the darkness, it’s always what draws me. I love horror and disturbing thrillers, so maybe it’s only natural I’ve gravitated towards comedy that’s more unsettling. Still, Chayefsky’s writing isn’t only darkness. It is poignant work. It throws social themes into a story about a suicidal doctor in a hospital that may or may not be stalked by a serial killing maniac. There’s a wildly effective mix of things happening. You almost expect it to fall flat. Only this movie is nearly a perfect bout of comedy and drama.
The Hospital may not make all the big lists or get mentioned too often. Who cares? The damned thing is genius.
He Never Died. 2015. Directed & Written by Jason Krawczyk.
Starring Henry Rollins, Booboo Stewart, Kate Greenhouse, Jordan Todosey, David Richmond-Peck, James Cade, Steven Ogg, Elias Edraki, & Walter Alza. Alternate Ending Studios.
Rated R. 99 minutes.
Immortality is an interesting concept. There have been so many books and films on the subject, many fictional characters we’ve come to know, love, hate. So when a fresh, unique take on a subject such as immortality comes around, it’s always at least a little fun.
He Never Died tackles the concept in a way you’ve likely not seen. Not to say the story or the writing reinvents the wheel. At the same time, there are so many different ideas explored through the lens of immortality in Jason Krawczyk’s film.
With plenty dark comedy, an odd family drama, plus a hefty dose of revisionist biblical history, He Never Died has a unique sense of horror that’s made even better with the inclusion of Henry Rollins in the lead role. You can find better written films, though, Krawczyk puts his heart into the darkness and the complications of this story, which ultimately make it exciting and filled with macabre oddities.
The unique aspect of the story is its human element. We consider immortality and many realize it’s a dreadful prospect. Yet do we ever consider the actual logistics? Think of possibly fostering a family, then having to deal with losing them as you keep living, and they keep dying. Jack is a man whose enjoyment in immortality ran out a long, long time ago. He now has to contend not only with justifying his existence to a daughter. Furthermore, being an immortal cannibal is even worse than all that. You’ve got to get whatever’s necessary to stave off the appetite. So to watch Jack go through the human drama of life mixed with the intensity of being immortal is really something. Putting him with a daughter like that is clever, fun writing. Part of it is tragic, too. As Jack struggles with his own life, introducing a daughter into the whole shambling, messy affair that is his lie does nothing except exacerbate his already tough world. He keeps himself at arm’s length from everyone, family or otherwise. Because falling in love, caring, it only means pain down the road when he can’t die and those around him eventually will, no matter what happens. It isn’t just trying not to eat people that proves difficult. Just having an everyday life is bad enough when you’re immortal. Everything gets old after awhile. The routine and the tics of Jack’s life are continually intriguing, as they’re not the typical depictions of an immortal character in fiction.
Now I’m starting to question whether some of the people at Bingo in the local hall are immortal beings, passing the time away in the easiest places to not find an interest in people.
Apart from the emotional qualities of the story, there’s a nice dose of horror here. The first time we actually see Jack eating some human meat it’s a pretty gruesome affair. Definitely a nasty, violent scene. The action pieces are excellent, which showcase Jack’s fighting ability, as well as his resilience being incapable of, y’ know – dying. This renders him virtually indestructible.
My only complaint is that, almost immediately, I knew that Jack’s character had to be some kind of angel, or a similar entity. Not only does the cover art reveal much of that, his heavy-handed scars are a tell-tale sign. This doesn’t ruin anything because there’s a constant mystery shrouding Jack overall, so it isn’t a negative. At the same time, perhaps more mystery would’ve done the plot better justice. As we watch the events unfold it’s interesting to try determining what or who Jack is truly. If his back wasn’t so vivid in a close-up early on, the idea that he’s some sort of angel (or whatever) might hold a hard punch. Instead it’s not so much a revelation, but a bit of fun. The writing is mostly good, definitely entertaining. Personally, I only wish there was more of thrill to this aspect, and that they left it a while later to reveal. Of course we don’t discover who he is until later, but that one early shot is a dead giveaway as to his origins. His need for blood is something that certainly held out awhile, something we don’t see and fully figure out until a nice way in. So there are parts of the story and plot that came together well. Other portions could’ve used more tightening. Despite the few narrative flaws, He Never Died has a quality screenplay from Krawczyk.
Absolutely a 4-star affair. While there are certainly places in the script Krawczyk needed to tighten and get more subtle early on, he still does a fine job executing the subtleties he does include. With Rollins giving an awesome, moody, cold (in the right way) performance as the main character Jack, there’s a lot of weight held up. Anybody else might not have been capable of making him into the right sort of immortal entity required. But Rollins plays the man fed up with eternal life almost to perfection. Alongside that we’ve got some blood, a bit of action, all that dark comedy and the familial drama and the other interesting not usually covered aspects of immortality. So there is a lot to enjoy. Give this little flick a watch and find out what’s so intriguing about Jack and his inability to just lay down and die.
House of 1000 Corpses. 2003. Directed & Written Rob Zombie.
Starring Sid Haig, William Bassett, Karen Black, Erin Daniels, Joe Dobbs III, Dennis Fimple, Gregg Gibbs, Walton Goggins, Chris Hardwick, Jennifer Jstyn, Irwin Keyes, Matthew McGrory, Jake McKinnon, Sheri Moon Zombie, Bill Moseley, Robert Allen Mukes, Walter Phelan, Tom Towles, Harrison Young, & Rainn Wilson. Spectacle Entertainment Group/Universal Pictures.
Rated R. 89 minutes.
I don’t post on message boards. Although, I do frequent them to see what people are saying about films. On IMDB particularly, so many people rag on Rob Zombie. But I love him. His music with White Zombie influenced some of my own music I used to write as a teenager. When I first heard he was making a movie it had me sold before it was finished. All the same, House of 1000 Corpses is not near perfect. There are definitely flaws. What Zombie’s debut feature does have is the power of nostalgia.
None of this is ripped right out of other movies, as some will have you believe. The love Zombie has for horror films out of the 1970s shows strong and proud. Equal parts Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, add in a bit of Beetlejuice and Tod Browning’s Freaks to boot. Not only is there plenty of horror, but Zombie gives us plenty of his trademark sense of humour, macabre and over-the-top alike.
The night before Halloween in 1977, a group of friends – Jerry (Chris Hardwick), Bill (Rainn Wilson), Mary (Jennifer Jostyn), & Denise (Erin Daniels) – head out on a roadtrip to find roadside attractions that are, let’s say… different. When they come across a gas station and proclaimed Museum of Monsters & Madmen, a rough-looking man in clown paint named Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) tells them all about the legend of a supposed Dr. Satan. He even draws them to a map where the doctor is said to have been hanged.
Along their way, a young woman hitchhiking in the rain gets into their car. Her name’s Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie), and she invites the group to her place a short drive away. A tire blows, so Baby and Bill go on to the house.
Later, once the friends are all there, Baby introduces members of her family. First, Mother Firefly (Karen Black), then her brother Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley). We meet them all. Dirty ole Grandpa Hugo (Dennis Fimple). Even some deformed babies in a jar, as well as the deformed giant Tiny (Matthew McGrory).
From there, the legend of Dr. Satan begins to get all too real.
This movie was never going to be for everyone, not that any truly are. Yet Zombie’s style as a musician all but guaranteed his movies would follow similar suit. His style is pervasive, in that it never surprised me how his first horror feature turned out. A lot of the film has a very Tony Scott-MTV-ish sort of feel, which is not necessarily bad. Some people might find that too frantic or fast paced. There are times where it doesn’t work, as if we’re trapped in a music video instead of a proper film. And then other scenes I’m drawn into the way Zombie uses different choices of edits, between the lavish frames sometimes recalling the technicolor vibe of Mario Bava, and the handheld home movies of the Firefly clan. Some of the Otis digressions in the handheld style are truly terrifying. Both he and Baby are disturbing characters, so seeing them in those little videos is unnerving. I dig it especially because apparently Zombie sort of did that off on his own, just him and the actors. So there’s also an admiration I have for his way of indie filmmaking. The commentary on his DVDs is usually pretty great, and he gives insight to some of the ways to try and do things old school, practically, which in turn always helps on the production side of things; no studio or financier could be unhappy with a director who hands money back after wrap. Again, there are flaws, a good deal of them. But House of 1000 Corpses is charming enough to be forgiven. Using homage, Zombie crafts his own version of the creepy house with the even creepier family inside. It comes alive with interesting, weird characters and the use of practical effects to keep things feeling oh-so-70s.
A lot of people don’t find this scary. When I say something’s scary, it isn’t that I’m cowering behind the couch, or staying up at night all due to the terror. Here, I mean disturbing when I say that this is a scary film. Zombie takes his homage, particularly to TCM, to another level. He amps up the strangeness – more TCM2 than the original. But also, there’s the end of the film. Once Otis and the family take the remaining victims out to the fields for more madness, things become viciously unsettling. As they lower two of them down into a hole in the ground, Aleister Crowley (I believe) speaks the words “Bury me in a nameless grave” over and over on a recording. And it’s incredibly perfect for the moment. After that is when the movie gets totally creepy to the ultimate degree. I won’t spoil any further. There’s simply something so dark and sinister about it all. Especially once Dr. Satan arrives. Despite maybe being a bit campy, he actually terrified me. The design of the set for his lair, his physical look, all those mechanical contraptions around hi and the laboratory; so morbid, so impressive, too. Great work went into this aspect, I only kind of wish there were more of the nasty doctor. Maybe someday Zombie will revisit him, tell his story in another film. Please, Rob? Please? Terrify me more.
With an ending I actually expected when first seeing The Texas Chain Saw Massacre nearly two decades ago, Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses is a definite 4 out of 5 stars for me. Like I’ve said, the movie is not at all perfect. There are pieces which could’ve come off much better, as well as some of the acting wasn’t near what you’d hope. Yet the charm and the homage, the creepy eccentricities, all the things we now see as staples of Zombie and his directorial style, they make this a fun modern horror. The actors, particularly Bill Moseley, really do ham it up during some scenes with their darker than dark comedy, but knock you dead with horrific glory during intense moments. Don’t be overly critical. Zombie didn’t try to reinvent the horror wheel, it’s clear he wears his influences on his sleeves, bright and brash, garishly enjoyable. Have a bit of fun with Zombie’s house of ’70s horror.
Beetlejuice. 1988. Directed by Tim Burton. Screenplay by Michael McDowell & Warren Skaaren.
Starring Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Michael Keaton, Catherine O’Hara, Jeffrey Jones, Winona Ryder, Annie McEnroe, Glenn Shadix, Patrice Martinez, Sylvia Sidney, Robert Goulet, Dick Cavett, and Susan Kellermann. The Geffen Company. PG. 92 minutes.
Tim Burton doesn’t always appeal to everyone. His style, as far as I’m concerned, makes him an auteur. Even in his less cartoony, gothic-styled films, there is always an ever present sense of Burton and his unflinching vision of the stories he tells. Most of his movies I do enjoy, though, some I’m not huge on. Either way I can’t help deny my major love for a few of his movies.
One such title is the 1988 fantasy, quasi-horror, full-on comedy Beetlejuice, which later toned down into the 1989-1991 cartoon series of the same name. This is one strange piece of work, at the same time it’s amazingly near perfect in other ways. With a refreshingly innovative take on the afterlife, hauntings, the “life” of ghosts on the other side and tons of fun Burton-like imagery and makeup effects, this is one hell of a fun film. Beetlejuice has a bit of everything: death, suicide, laughs, calypso music and dancing, and Micheal Keaton.
After a tragic car accident, Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin/Geena Davis) find themselves back at their house… only a little removed from reality. They find a book in their attic – The Handbook for the Recently Deceased – and then eventually discover a way into the waiting room of the afterlife, where a case worker named Juno (Sylvia Sidney) explains they’ve died and are contracted to remain in their old home for many, many years. Tasked with scaring out the new owners – Charles and Delia Deetz (Jeffrey Jones/Catherine O’Hara) along with their young daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder) – Adam and Barbara eventually come across an unethical ghost named Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton) who would much rather kill the new owners than just scare them out. And once Betelgeuse sets his sight on Lydia to be his wife, the newly deceased couple have to decide whether they’re ready to give up their home, or give up the life of an innocent young girl.
So much to enjoy about this slice of Burton work.
One of my favourite sequences of the film happens early on when Adam (Baldwin) and Barbara (Davis) try to scare the new owners, before they’re initiated into the world of being dead. First, Barbara hangs herself in the closet, then rips the skin off her skull when Otho (Shadix) and Delia Deetz (O’Hara) look inside, yet to no avail. Then, Barbara stands – knife in hand – with Adam’s bloody, decapitated head in the other, trying to look sinister. Nothing works! But the kicker is when Adam tries to run up and lock the attic door, with no head, and he’s banging into things, bumping every object nearby. Riot, love it. Awesome few scenes here, especially in terms of makeup effects and horror imagery; the skin off skull bit is nasty and cool.
The waiting room scene is another perfect bit. We see the various dead people sitting around until their name is called: one man is a hunter of sorts, his head shrunken to a prune; another merely charred remains of a man smoking a cigarette; a guy who choked to death, chicken bone still sticking through both sides of his neck; an attendant showing patients in whose body is hung on strings, flattened out from tire tracks; and a man hung by the neck, on the same track as the other attendant, passing files off to a secretary while he’s carted about the office building. What a great and also tragic sequence. This is also part of why I’m so in love with Beetlejuice; because of its unique charm in the face of death.
Lydia: “My whole life is a dark room; one… big… dark… room.”
What I dig most about Beetlejuice overall is its take on the afterlife. On one hand, you’ve got all the “regular” ghosts who are merely regular people moving onto another plane. On the other hand, there’s Beetlejuice himself. But it’s the little handbook, for the recently deceased, the waiting room, the giant sandworms, and so on, which intrigues me. Such a neatly cartoonish and macabre world for Burton to play around in. At the same time, I find the way it portrays ghosts pretty unique. So underneath all Beetlejuice’s gnarly exterior and vulgarity, beneath the story of a haunting, there’s a genuine attempt here to dissect what a true afterlife might be – instead of the idealized heaven or hell, Burton’s film taps into a more satirical approach to being dead and trying to move on. Plus, seeing things from the side of the deceased doesn’t hurt either. While we’re right alongside the Deetz family, even in the scarier moments after the Juice runs loose, much of our perspective comes from Adam and Barbara, as well as later a similar yet different perspective from the still-living Lydia. All in all, the way this movie presents death and the afterlife is both hilarious and fresh.
There’s plenty of creepy horror stuff going on, but the dark and sometimes raunchy comedy is very much happening here. For instance, even in the morbid scene where Lydia (Ryder) contemplates her suicide writing a note for her family to find later, there’s a downright funny, laugh out loud moment as she rearranges the words, choosing better ones to put in place to make the note sound more appealing. The whole character of Lydia is fun and funny at once. She’s simultaneously deep and gothic while also playfully satirizing the whole goth lifestyle.
When it comes to comedy, though, obviously Michael Keaton as Beetlejuice is the centrepiece of this entire thing. Clearly, right? Even more than you think. For those who don’t remember properly, Beetlejuice is a dirty dude, both physically and in his speech. In the original screenplay, the character was much darker and more violent; he wanted to rape Lydia, here it’s toned down slightly to a creepy crush. But the darkness all around, from his actions to his comedy, is still quite present. Keaton brings Beetlejuice to life from one moment to the next. He’s mostly hilarious, yet always with the chilling side directly under the surface, every now and then coming out into the open fully. Some of my favourite bits are when Beetlejuice is still stuck in the tiny model town, in its cemetery; Keaton did a nice bit of improvisation, if I’m not mistaken, which is awesome because he did a great job with the character.
Beetlejuice: “I’m the ghost with the most, babe.”
Even with the changes inflicted upon the original screenplay, the toning down, the film’s finale remains pretty dark. Regardless of the cartoon-ish, at times, quality Burton gives the story and its visuals, there are equal amounts of very macabre and eerie sequences. When Beetlejuice is called back into reality by Lydia the final time, in order to try and save Adam/Barbara, the movie turns into a dark carnival. This section starts out in a sort of lighthearted horror-comedy way. Then, slowly, it moves towards treacherous territory, as Beetlejuice attempts to take Lydia as his bride. I mean, it’s sketchy! Very creepy, unsettling stuff. Delia’s sculptures come alive to hold the witnesses in place for their impromptu ceremony, which are super weird and gothic through Burton’s eyes. Just cannot get enough of this effective finale. Also, the very last couple scenes are a whole ton of fun capping things off on a more lighthearted ghost story note.
Totally a 4.5 out of 5 star film for me. Always loved this and truly feel it’s an effectively dark comedy using shades of horror in the best way. Plus, it’s a satirical look at the traditional ghost, which makes the comedy work that much better. Combining the eccentric talent of Tim Burton with a couple of great performances, namely Michael Keaton as the titular ghost with the most, Beetlejuice elevates itself from just another comedy to something near legendary.
I’m beyond excited there’s going to, hopefully, be a sequel with Burton, Keaton, and Ryder all supposedly onboard for the ride! With that team, as well as the spirit of the original at heart, I bet a sequel could be almost as spectacular this time around as it was the first. Watch this for Halloween; great to put on any time, but even better around the fall season as the 31st approaches on the calendar.
Sightseers. 2012. Directed by Ben Wheatley. Screenplay by Alice Lowe & Chris Oram; additional material by Amy Jump.
Starring Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, Eileen Davies, Roger Michael, Tony Way, Seamus O’Neill, Monica Dolan, Jonathan Aris, Aymen Hamdouchi, and Tom Meeten. BFI/Big Talk Productions/Film4/Rook Films/StudioCanal.
Rated 14A. 88 minutes.
I’m a hardcore fan of Ben Wheatley. Some say he’s the best thing to happen to British film in a while. I say he’s one of the best directors to come along in a while, period; not just British, but all over. I think there’s something I enjoy about Wheatley because all of his films are, at their core, fairly simple. Not meant in any way negatively. What I enjoy is that he can take those simple, smaller premises and turn them into something big and exciting.
Even in this case a couple’s week-long trip in caravan, under direction of Wheatley, becomes an intriguing and unexpected story. What could easily be something dull – and I’m sure there are detractors who say it is – turns into a tense and weird ride alongside an equally tense, weird two lovers. Not only is there tension happening, Sightseers is one hell of a riotous black comedy.
Until now I had no idea Edgar Wright was an executive producer on this film. Turns out the screenplay by stars Alice Lowe and Steve Oram had been turned down for years – too dark, they said – and Wright came along to greenlight the project. I think this fits so well with Wright’s own style as a director that it’s no surprise he was willing to get onboard.
With the purposefully awkward and tense atmosphere, dark laughs, added to excellent directorial choices, I really think this is one of the best comedies I’ve seen in the last 5 years. A highly underrated film, at least on this side of the pond. I’m sure the British film fans have been ALL over this already.
Little moments which make this so funny, often in a dark way, make the movie so memorable.
For instance, even right after they’ve cleared everything with the police following Chris running over a stranger by accident, killing him, Chris tells his girlfriend Tina “he’s ruined this trip for me“.
Later while Chris and Tina are having some fun, getting the caravan all setup at the campsite, they all of a sudden notice a bright splash of blood on one of the hubcaps, abruptly interrupting their laughs. It’s in the way Chris responds I get a kick, how casual and unassuming he is about the whole thing. Gets me every time.
Then there are the tensely awkward bits of which I can’t get enough. Like the first encounter Chris and Tina have with another couple out in their caravan. Right from the beginning it is so incredibly painful to watch, but in the right way – these two are socially inept, they’re both on the fringe of life in so many ways. However, as the caravan holiday wears on, Chris and Tina find themselves becoming less and less awkward, while becoming more and more sinister. The comedy coasts along with them, only it gets progressively darker and more unsettling; at the same time, it also gets foolish with great effect.
The whole bit of the film with Martin testing his mini-caravan is ABSOLUTELY HILARIOUS! So awkward and weird and way too funny. Even from the first scene, as Chris leaves after talking with him and then Martin gets into the mini-caravan only to roll away down the hill chaotically; I burst laughing at this moment. There are a bunch of these great bits.
Something I love about Wheatley’s films are the way in which they’re edited. The are a couple other editors on this film, including Amy Jump and Robin Hill, aside from Wheatley. Hill and Wheatley have worked together ever since Down Terrace; the trio have edited together on Kill List, this film, and A Field in England. I totally dig how these three edit films. There are countless examples of how well they work.
WARNING! SPOILER AHEAD!
My favourite here, I believe, has to be the scene where Chris sneaks up on the writer he and Tina met; Vanilla Fudge’s excellent cover of Donovan’s “Season of the Witch” plays, as Chris follows him along the highlands, creeping behind, then smashes him in the head with a rock. The great part is how it’s edited with cuts of both Tina, as well as the writer’s wife. In particular, the wife is interesting – she steps on a piece of broken plate, one Chris tipped over purposely earlier, then hauls it from her bleeding foot. I thought this was just a genius bit of editing, snapping between these quick cuts at times. Not sure what it means, other than Chris sort of hurting them both simultaneously – albeit one worse than the other; the writer husband more actively, the wife inadvertently. But either way, how the editing cuts here I find is extremely effective.
HERE ENDETH THE SPOILER!
For me, the greatest part of Sightseers is the juxtaposition of the comedy and its awkwardness with horrific murder at the hands of both Chris and Tina. Every excellently hilarious segment seems to come along with a heart dose of violence.
The best scene of murder, and in turn makeup effects, comes when Chris murders a man chastising Tina for leaving dog shit at a public historical site. Building up to the violence, there’s this funny moment when Chris and Tina sort of land on the same page; if only for a moment. Then Chris traipses up behind the man, who decides to walk away instead of pursue an argument with this manic couple, and proceeds to bash his skull in with a big, heavy walking stick. When we get slight glimpses of the leftover face, it is HEINOUS! In the best possible horror-ish sense.
But this leads me to another part of Sightseers I found interesting. There’s a strange sort of awakening in this scene, as Chris and Tina become closer. While Tina watches Chris bashing in the man’s head, though she appears to be slightly traumatized, not long after she seems to be totally in on it, willingly; a radio report they hear in the car prompts her, and Chris, to go mad with glee. Then later, Tina herself joins in on the murder without even being coaxed into by Chris (except for the dumb and thoughtless flirting he engages in). They become, tenuously, a murder couple.
So it’s this weirdly violent story undercut with a romantic tale. The ending is the ultimate undercutting of the romance, however, there’s still a love between Chris and Tina. It reminds me of the real life story of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley who committed the Moors Murders – as in, if Tina had never gone on that caravan holiday with Chris, she’d probably never have killed a person in her life. Yet Chris and his personality, his actions, draw her into murder. It’s no secret Tina is a bit slow, in many ways, so I’d venture to bet she would probably have lived at home with her mother until the end of time had she not met him.
This is absolutely a 4.5 out of 5 star film. While at times it might seem there’s nothing going on, plenty happens under the surface and right in front of us. Dark comedy comes as immediately obvious, but underneath it all there’s the story of two damaged people. Chris and Tina are the victims of unfulfilled expectations – most of all, Chris hates himself and everyone around him who are either more competent or more successful than he is. This is where the violence originates from. However, it’s interesting to see how Tina latches onto Chris and sort of supports this vicious, animalistic side to him; for her, being a muse to his violence is equal to or even greater than being the muse to some writer. It’s only once Chris sort of messes it all up by shamelessly flirting that Tina turns against him, using her own violence to then turn the tables. Without ruining the ending, Tina gets a major last laugh that I’d not expected whatsoever, personally.
If you’re a fan of Ben Wheatley, then absolutely see this as soon as possible. Great black comedy, burnt like toast. As well as there’s a real horror aspect at times, between the violence and a trippy little dream sequence. I’m a huge fan of Kill List, as well as the vastly different A Field in England and Down Terrace. Ultimately, though, I’m beginning to think my favourite of his work is Sightseers. The performances from Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, also the screenwriters along with frequent Wheatley collaborator Amy Jump, are so unbelievable and it’s as if they’re being completely natural; so much so you’d almost have a hard time separating the actors from their characters’ personas. This has got a bit of everything, from a road trip-like feel of adventure, to awkward and dark comedy, and even a nice dash of horror for good measure.
What’s not to like?
If you’ve got any SENSIBLE and thoughtful comments about Wheatley’s film, drop one below and let’s chat!
Rampage. 2009. Directed & Written by Uwe Boll.
Starring Brendan Fletcher, Shaun Sipos, Michael Paré, Matt Frewer, Lynda Boyd, Robert Clarke, Malcolm Stewart, Steffen Mennekes, and Katharine Isabelle. Event Film Distribution.
Rated 18A. 85 minutes.
So I’ve been dying to review a couple of the Uwe Boll films that I find are actually decent. As I mentioned in my review of the intense and wild Stoic, I don’t think Boll deserves all the hate he gets online and otherwise. I know that many people see him as an arrogant, egocentric fool, but I don’t see him that way. Sure, he takes the haters by the horns, especially lately with his mad rant online after his funding campaign for a new Rampage instalment failed. I just don’t see why people have pushed him to that point. I agree not many of his movies are good. However, I think filmmakers, and artists in general, ought to be given a chance to get better. Is it easy to make movies? No, it’s not, though fans seem to think it is by the way they treat directors and actors who make subpar movies.
With Rampage, I believe Boll has crafted a damn good action thriller that’s a lot more interesting than so many other movies in that category as of late. There’s a good deal of crazy action, yet what interests me most about the film is the premise Boll has come up with for the main character and what he eventually begins to do as the film goes on.
Rampage is the story of Bill Williamson (Brendan Fletcher). Ole Billy, by all accounts, is what I would call a real slacker. He’s living at home with his parents (played by the fantastic pairing of Lynda Boyd and Matt Frewer), whom he gives a hard time, as if they’re meant to usher him from a boy to a man. Bill works at a garage where he’s not treated how he would like to be treated. Outside of home and work, he beats around with his equally slack buddy Evan Drince (Shaun Sipos who did an excellent job in Boll’s other fairly solid 2009 movie Stoic). The two of them eat chicken and play paintball together.
Lurking underneath all the normality, Bill is a troubled man. Inside him brews a combination of childishness and being unprepared for life, crossed with the injustices of society both actual and perceived. This develops into a boiling rage. Bill pieces himself together a full bodysuit of armour made of Kevlar, as well as the guns and ammo and toys to boot, then heads out onto the streets: the rampage is on and no one is safe. Least of all the structures of society, which Bill – misguided or not – takes aim towards, blasting hard as he can.
There are definitely a few faults in the movie’s own logic. Perhaps this has more to do with the fact the script for Rampage was officially only about 10 or so pages long and less with any lapse in reason. Maybe the fact so much improvisation went into the filming made some of the plot get muddled. Either way, there’s not enough plotholes or anything in this movie for me to be turned off. Boll does a pretty good job with the material he brainstormed going in.
What I do enjoy quite a bit is the character of Bill. Not in the sense I agree with the verbal manifesto Bill Williamson pours on us through the camera’s eye throughout Rampage. I think, in my opinion, Bill is ultimately representative of dangerous right-wing logic. Others will say he represents something different, but I think the juxtaposition between Bill Williamson and Evan Drince at so many points speaks volumes. You can tell how Bill is so completely driven by the media, by right-wing flawed logic, and so on, as the television clips & radio stations flick by in the background, like they’re lodged in his brain.
You can tell so perfectly what Bill is setting up as he switches the bag of fake money in for the one with the real stuff, then burns the fake money declaring it is the worst problem of the world. You see how he’s not any kind of left-wing extreme activist. He’s the sort of person who we might see in any school or military complex or theatre, as is so often seen in America today – a sad, lonely, pessimistic soul who only wants to drag the world down to their level. My opinion is that Uwe Boll is making more of a statement about the people who commit these vicious rampages, armed to the teeth, than anything else. While maybe some of the opinions spouted off by Evan are more relatable, Bill Williamson represents the antisocial man in society, the one who just wants to watch the world burn, if I might steal a better written line than I’ll ever write. Even though Bill is an awful person for his crimes, the character is still interesting and I think Bol does well with making statements about this sort of madness. Honestly, he needs to move further away from video game adaptations more and more. If he can do more stuff like Stoic and Rampage, I’d gladly support him even more than I already do.
Bill: “You think people are equal. They’re not.”
Not sure what the budget on this film is, but I’ve got to admit some of the action is great work. As Bill stalks the streets of his city, first disabling the police station with a van loaded up on bombs in its trunk, he starts to mow down anyone and everyone in his path. There are points where I was more than impressed with the raw action Boll was giving us. One scene Bill gets hit with a couple shots from the police, but his Kevlar bounces the shots off him and then he responds with his own gunfire, ripping the cops apart. Vicious, savage action. Got to love some of that!
While disturbing, it’s actually a little funny – of course in a pitch-black sort of way – to see Bill confront a barista in the coffeehouse where he’d earlier been snubbed and insulted by the same man. It’s tense and terrible in the end, however, a brilliant little scene to watch.
There’s a bunch of dark comedy mixed in. Though, most of the film is highly serious. Pretty grim, yet exciting all the same.
What I like most of all, though, is Brendan Fletcher. The first time I can remember seeing him was way back now, about 15 years ago. I was watching Showcase and a film called Rollercoaster came on; he blew me away with his performance. After that, I made sure to catch any film or television show I could find him in. He has this incredible capacity for emotion, as well as a knack for dark roles. Here he displays several bits and pieces of those qualities. The mocking way he treats people, walking around town and blasting the citizens to bloody chunks, it’s truly macabre to see. Coupled with the action, its intensity, I think Fletcher’s work as the lead actor helps Boll make a solid thriller out of the material. Not sure how much of the character of Bill Williamson came from Fletcher, and what came from Boll. Regardless, I get the feeling the work well together and I’d like to see something outside of the Rampage movies where they work together. I know Fletcher has been in other Boll stuff, but I’d like a new film; maybe similar tone to this stuff, just a different story altogether. They appear to have similar sensibilities at times.
I can’t not give this 4 out of 5 stars because I really do enjoy the film. Sure, there are moments I bet having a script, as I mentioned before with Stoic, might have been a benefit in the end. Although, I believe having an actor as solid as Brendan Fletcher playing the central role is something which ultimately helps the fact much of the “script” comes from improvisation. I’d like to hear the commentary on this film some day, perhaps more would be explained on that side of things.
The best part of it all is what I perceive to be Boll’s take on those who view right-wing extremist policies as the appropriate way to go, and what all these Kevlar, assault rifle toting gun lovers seem to be thinking in their heads. Bill Williamson is in no way a character fighting for the rights of every citizen, he’s fighting both society and the citizens in it. He just wants to tear it all down.
Either way, if you’re looking for something a little different and you’re secretly rooting for Uwe Boll, with every one of his films, to finally come out with something decent, you ought to check out Rampage. You might be pleasantly surprised with the end results.
Cheap Thrills. 2014. Dir. E.L Katz.
Starring Pat Healy, Sara Paxton, Ethan Embry, and David Koechner. Pacific Northwest Pictures. Rated 14A. 88 minutes.
Cheap Thrills begins as Craig (Pat Healy) loses his low paying job. On top of that, he and his wife, as well as their new baby, are on the verge of being evicted from their property. After losing his job Craig heads to a bar for a few drinks. He ends up running into an old friend from high school, Vince (Ethan Embry), and the two catch up. They also come into contact with Colin (David Koechner) and his young wife Violet (Sara Paxton) who begin a friendly little game of wagers for big money. Seemingly the answer to both Craig and Vince’s problems, the two down-and-out old buddies go along with the childish little games Colin comes up with for cold, hard cash. Eventually, however, the games get darker, and more sinister. At first it begins with Craig getting knocked out by a bouncer, but soon it ends up with he and Vince breaking into houses. The evening gets crazier until the two former friends start wearing thin on one another, each of them becoming more aggressive with the other as the challenges get more intense, and they soon begin to regret what they’re willing to do just for money.
I think the two big performances here are most definitely from Ethan Embry and Pat Healy, both of whom I really enjoy in other movies. Embry plays a great character – at first you really find him fun and a bit wild, but eventually you start to see what kind of guy he really is and it is not nice. Embry really gets into it. I’ve been a fan of his since the show Brotherhood specifically, and he does very well with dark material, or at least characters who have some sort of darkness in them; great actor. Healy does a fine job, as well, playing Craig. The evolution of his character from beginning to end is wonderful. In the beginning, he is a truly meek individual, but by the end (especially the last shot which may be my favourite of the entire film) he really comes out the other side as a bad ass dude.
There are a couple really laugh out loud moments in Cheap Thrills and I think one of those is absolutely when Craig has the incident with his finger. I don’t want to ruin anything more than I already have, but this is just absolutely priceless. Between the way Vince acts, how Craig reacts to the finger incident, and Colin screaming “fuck yeah motherfucker” – it’s all just way too damn funny. I laughed my ass off during that scene.
While most of the comedy is quite dark, this is the sort of comedy I really love the most personally. There’s something really great when filmmakers can capture the hilarity behind grim situations. E.L Katz really could have done this as an outright horror movie, and believe me there are a few moments worthy of horror in here (maybe this could be called a psychological horror in some respects). Instead he keeps this a real dark comedy with dramatic elements and certainly a good dose of crime. I think the driving force behind Cheap Thrills has two significant parts: the friendship between Craig and Vince, as well as the overall competition in which they engage. Everyone can probably think of someone they might have a relationship with from high school similar to Craig and Vince – maybe not as contemptuous, but definitely someone you may not have as great of a relationship with in the present as you did in the past, and one that may cause tension. This just cranks those types of relationships up another notch. Combined with the fact these guys are desperate enough in their current life situations to go in on an increasingly dangerous and twisted game, this makes for great drama.
I think the whole game for money with Colin and Violet really works as a modern tale about greed. Although this is mainly meant as a great and thrilling dark comedy, it really does work on deeper levels. Similar to the recent film 13 Sins, Katz does a great job telling a story that relates to our modern society – a society filled to the absolute brim with people who will do anything they can, aside from work for an honest living, to make as much money as possible in as little amount of time as possible. The increasingly sick nature of the things Colin suggest for Craig and Vince to do is really unsettling. One part I really thought was a little funny but also sad, in regards to the game itself, is when they’re dared to eat a dead dog – they tie in the end and Vince asks Craig to open his mouth to prove his finished, to which his friend replies maniacally “I’m finished“, opening his mouth with an “ahh” noise to verify. It makes you chuckle while also feeling disgusted with these two guys. And it only gets worse.
This is absolutely a 4.5 out of 5 star film. To be honest, while he wasn’t bad at all, I think David Koechner was a weak link for Cheap Thrills. If someone else had played this character I may have been more intrigued. He did not do bad whatsoever, I just didn’t really get into his performance specifically. I suppose he served his purpose well enough. The whole movie is just great, though, and his performance didn’t at all take away from it in any real significant sense. I cannot recommend this film enough. Ever since I first saw this I’ve been raving to others about how great of a movie experience this provides. A lot of fun. Albeit, a bit of sick fun along the way, but totally worth the ride. Two amazing central performances and a lot of gritty, dark laughs make this a must-see film. One of the best releases in 2014 my way. I hope others will enjoy it as much as myself.
Poker Night. 2014. Dir. Greg Francis. Screenplay by Dough Buchanan & Francis.
Starring Beau Mirchoff, Ron Perlman, Titus Welliver, Halston Sage, Ron Eldard, Corey Large, Giancarlo Esposito, and Michael Eklund. XLrator Media.
Not Rated. 104 minutes.
I’d anticipated this movie just because of the trailer. Now, sometimes this can come back to bite me in the ass. I’ve been known to be duped by an interesting trailer, or even a bit of great artwork from posters, covers, et cetera. However, Poker Night really surprised. It’s got a phenomenal ensemble cast while also containing a pretty good central performance by young Beau Mirchoff, who I’ve never really seen in anything particularly great. Not to mention, the story of the film is really fun, and the way director Greg Francis chooses to show it play out, how the plot unfolds sneakily at times in front of our eyes, really helps this become more than just a VOD film. This really deserves respect. It’s a pretty good crime-thriller with awesome bits of action, a drop or two of pitch black comedy, and a nasty villain.
Poker Night takes the form of a titular card game – a group of veteran detectives get together to play poker, as they have for a decade, and use this as an opportunity to not just bond with rookie detectives, but to also instill them with lessons in the form of them all telling a story from their career’s past. The young rookie, Jeter (Mirchoff), is not just the new guy – he was involved with Amy, the young daughter of one of the veteran detectives (played by the always excellent Titus Welliver) who has recently gone missing. Despite this, they get together for their card game, and the older guys on the force try to help Jeter become one of the elite. After the card game, though, Jeter ends up taking a call. This turns out to be a trap sprung by the man who has taken Amy. Soon enough, Jeter wakes into a world where he needs to use all the advice given to him and the stories told by the veteran detectives at poker night to make it through this situation. From here, the twists and turns come flying.
I think this could have easily been a by-the-numbers thriller. Instead, this has a bit of everything. I realized this would be a pretty damn good movie once the villain was introduced. He has this great introduction when he explains himself to Jeter – the director throws in this really great dark comedic bit where the villain talks about his former life, and all the while in a flashback he’s dressed in suit and tie, still with his creepy mask on. I thought it was so funny, and also really disturbing; when he lays out his ‘2 rules’, I actually dropped my jaw a little because it was so forthright and brutally honest. Very dark subject matter at this point. Really dig it. There are times when films go for the dark, creepy vibe and instead it comes off more in a cheesy, typical way rather than being fresh. The fact Francis steers the villain into real vile territory works well because, coupled with his later violence particularly towards Jeter, he seems like an actual maniac. Even with an obviously fabricated mask, it’s still scary. He does seem funny at times, but intentionally. He doesn’t come away as a cartoonish type villain, like some of those included in franchises such as James Bond. There are a few moments with the villain that were admittedly a bit of a stretch imagination-wise. Overall, though, I really enjoyed this character.
The most interesting part about Poker Night is how the stories become the framework of the entire film. For instance, while Jeter listens to each detective tell his own story/lesson, he himself actually goes through the memory; in this sense, he’s literally putting himself in their shoes cinematically. It’s a really effective technique. Not only do we watch Jeter experience these stories firsthand, as I mentioned before he has to put these experiences to use in order to escape the villain and hopefully save Amy. It could have turned out real cheesy had the director sort of carbon copied the stories into exact situations from which Jeter had to escape. On the other hand, he sticks with the moral behind each lesson from the detectives – example: never give up even when things are stacked against you, or when you’re on your own do whatever you can to get yourself out of a bad situation, and other such bits of advice. This prevents the movie from feeling too hokey. While Jeter uses all the advice, the situations he encounters where the advice needs to be used aren’t too on-the-nose. Not for me, at least. All of this really makes Poker Night unique.
Some may say the flashbacks within flashbacks, techniques like this, cause disorientation or confusion. My opinion is that if you can’t follow this movie, I don’t know what sort of plot you’re looking for to stay entertaining. This is not hard to follow. It’s a unique film, but it’s not confusing in any sense. Pay attention from the get-go and you will have no problems whatsoever following the plot. The flashback sequences and the bits involving Jeter walking through the detectives stories are refreshing. They keep things exciting and a lot of fun at times, especially depending on which detective is telling the story (Eldard & Welliver’s in particular are both cool but also pretty funny).
I found the cast great. While not all of them had their rightful chance to do a whole lot, they were all pretty wonderful together. The chemistry between them all during the card game scenes is just fantastic. If any of you have ever sat around a card table, you know much of the banter, policemen or not, goes on just like this between a bunch of men. The way they ribbed one another and joked, it was all so natural that I couldn’t help but get attached to the characters. Mirchoff and Perlman had some pretty good chemist as well during other scenes. I just love Ron Perlman, anyways, so to see him play a tough, no nonsense type of cop is really great; he gives bits of his dramatic chops up, and also plenty of his comedic talent. Altogether, the cast really makes things work. If there were a bunch of people who had no chemistry this whole thing would’ve come off very flat. Instead, it’s raw, fun, and exciting in equal doses. Plenty of great laughs.
Overall, this is a really good movie. Absolutely worthy of a 4 out of 5 star rating. There was a lot of darkness in this thriller. While we get some great comedy and drama mixed into the pot, the dark angles of the film really help this standout. At times, there’s a Tarantino-esque influence happening, and I can also feel a bit of Joe Carnahan’s influence in there at times, honestly. One of the best things about Poker Night is the villain. I really loved his flashbacks in particular, as they never once gave up his identity by keeping his weird mask on during those scenes, even when it’s downright awkward and hilarious. I sort of knew who would be the villain just because of the cast, and the guy who plays him is really great at darker roles, but regardless I thought it wasn’t so much about his identity anyways – it’s not like there’s a twist involving him (or maybe there is? Muhuhaha). The villain really made this something special. Lots of good dark comedy, but mainly a great deal of sadistic violence and mayhem. You should absolutely check this movie out! Great and dark crime thriller. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. It isn’t a perfect film, but in a sea of really average films, especially crime thrillers if we’re being honest, Poker Night stands above it with some exciting characters, good dialogue, and a wholly interesting premise.