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Tick Reviews: Birdemic – Shock and Terror (2008)

Posted in Uncategorized on May 21, 2011 by Tick

I don’t think it’s a secret at this point that I love bad movies. I’ve made it abundantly clear. I know it may sound almost schizophrenic to say that with some of the negative reviews I’ve given to some horror movies on this blog, but that’s the trick to bad movies. Not just any old piece of shit can qualify as a “good” bad movie. I could probably write a thesis paper detailing the conflicting nature of bad cinema and “good” bad cinema and what separates them. There are lists of criteria, genres and subgenres, do’s and dont’s…..I could go on and on and maybe one day I’ll write an article here on the subject, but that is for another time. For now, let me just say that I know a “good” bad film when I see one and Birdemic is that film.

I was pretty skeptical going into this. Frankly, I’d been avoiding this thing like it was a Transformers film starring Kevin James and a talking CGI kitten voiced by Justin Bieber to go along with those insanely racist jive talking Autobot twins with the monkey faces. Birdemic looked that bad. I saw a couple of ridiculous clips that looked so awful that I assumed it had to be a joke. It looked sub-sub-SyFy and incredibly forced. Throw in the internet hype, the G4 coverage of the “premiere” at some crappy theater in LA, (It actually had it’s world premiere in 2008, but went ignored for almost two years) and mainstream press like EW declaring Birdemic as the new “it” cult film and it all just seemed too forced to me.

Birdemic seemed like a movie that was purposely made as awful as possible for the sole reason of manufacturing a cult hit, which are two of the most annoying things in filmmaking to me. Both things have to happen organically. You can’t force a cult following on a film and you can’t knowingly make a “good” bad film. You have a better chance of making a film for the sole purpose of winning an Oscar and achieving your goal than you do of achieving the other two. Fans of cult and bad films can smell a phony a mile away and will reject it with a vengeance. Birdemic was nudging me and winking about how clever it was. Fuck Birdemic.

Eventually, I heard the opinions of a couple of people whose views on film I trust and respect. They told me Birdemic was the real deal. VERY much the real deal and no matter how much I prepare myself for how incredibly bad it is, I’ll still never expect it to be THAT bad. So, I put it in my Netflix queue and waited for it to come.

holy…..fucking….shit.

It’s the real deal, alright. Saying that there is no way to prepare yourself for how truly, incredibly, awful it is, is indeed an understatement. Saying that it is probably the worst movie ever made, even worse than the legendary Troll 2, isn’t an exaggeration. It’s definitely now my favorite “good” bad movie by far. Best of all, this isn’t a joke. It wasn’t something that was purposely bad or made to gain cult status. Birdemic is a perfect, higher being of complete cinematic incompetence on every level and I mean EVERY level. Birdemic is a master class on film suckage. There is not one iota of filmmaking that isn’t horribly butchered in the worst way possible.  Let’s go down the list.

The Story – The plot here is simple. It’s a rip-off of the Hitchcock classic The Birds. Apparently, the nut responsible for Birdemic, James Nguyen, is obsessed with Hitchcock. He conned Tippi Hedren into making an appearance in his first film and his second film was a rip-off (he says update) of Vertigo. This is also an “update” of the classic. By update, I mean he forces in a non-stop parade of environmental issues to lecture us with(which I’ll get back to later.) Of course, Nguyen doesn’t bother to put any scientific facts, common sense or even any sense of reality into his bullet point lectures. At best it sounds like a grade school report that was cobbled together by lazily skimming some google search results.

So, I’m sure you can guess what the telegraphed cause of the bird attacks are. I guess. That’s what a hippy that lives in a tree and an angry scientist that hangs out on the beach tell us at least and that’s as close to an explanation as you’ll get. I’d like the scientist to explain some other things to me. Like, why is it specified that the only birds that are attacking people are eagles and vultures? Are there even that many eagles left in the world? Can eagles really cough up gallons of bright green puke at will and can said puke really dissolve human flesh?  Also, why do they seem to follow our main characters everywhere? More importantly, why do the eagles and vultures apparently come from the ocean? Explain that shit, Mr. Scientist.

The bad scientific explanations are hardly the only head scratching things on display. Birdemic is loaded with nonsensical dialogue and decisions. This is a movie so uninterested in making sense that after the characters are attacked every time they step outside, they decide to have a picnic on the beach…TWICE! They find people dead in their cars from bird attacks, but drive everywhere with the windows rolled down. They start out by fighting the birds with clothes hangers even though we later find out that one of the characters, for some reason, has an arsenal of pistols and assault rifles in his van. These are stupid, stupid people.

The thing with a movie called Birdemic, you’d think bird attacks would be the focus of the film, right? Not really. It’s a ninety minute movie and it’s almost an hour before the first bird attack. An HOUR. What happens before that? Sixty minutes of befuddlement as we get the longest character introductions in history. We watch Rod, a technology salesman (I think that was his official title. seriously) goes about his stupid, unbelievable life. We also get to meet fashion model Nathalie and watch her go about her equally stupid and unbelievable life. We also get to see them meet and then decide they want to be together forever after two really awful date scenes, even though any normal person would end a date with either one of them after a few minutes into it.

As ridiculous and unbelievable as the bird scenes are and Nguyen ideas of what are scientific facts, the first hour of “normal” life is even dumber. We see Rod in his really phony looking cubicle as he’s closing a sale with a customer. We hear him tell the customer that he will give him fifty percent off the sale in order to close the deal. He then announces that the sale was for one-million dollars. That means he also gave away one-million dollars. In what world do you give away one-million dollars and not get fired and maybe go to jail? Later we see Rod buy twenty-thousand dollars worth of solar panels for his house. He asks the solar panel salesman for a deal. The guy takes off one-thousand dollars immediately. Rod is happy. Rod should instead be taking notes on what an appropriate sales discount would be. It’s not one million dollars.

That’s just one of many scenes that are nowhere close to reality. We see Rod’s tech company that no one has ever heard of get purchased by Oracle for one-billion dollars. Apparently Dr Evil owns Oracle. We see Nathalie, who is kinda vaguely hot at best, learn she’s to become the new Victoria’s Secret cover model. We see Rod invent his own revolutionary solar panel technology in one afternoon and get ten-million in funding immediately from some random guy. These are the luckiest idiots that ever lived I guess and after an hour of watching this crap, I’m supposed to care about them. I don’t. Then suddenly the birds attack en masse and…eh…whatever. Just watch it.

The Acting – I saw an interview with Nguyen where he said he casts local amateur “talent”. No shit? Wouldn’t have guessed. There’s a lot of bad actors out there. Lots. None as bad as these. Seriously. From top to bottom, main cast to walk on one liners, everyone is atrocious. There is a waitress who cackles out something in some thick Euroscuzz accent that in no way resembles an actual sentence. There is a gas station attendant that mumbles so badly, you have no idea what he said. The two main children are so unenthused that they sound depressed and/or angry. The woman playing Nathalie’s mom obviously can’t remember her lines and is just ad-libbing everything. Several times someone obviously flubs their lines and it’s just left in. People can’t even scream with any authenticity.

The two leads, Alan Bagh and Whitney Moore, seem like they both thought that the best way to play their characters was to just go with vacant. Bagh does it by wearing a completely blank expression for almost the entire run time, occasionally upgrading to a look of confusion. He moves in slow motion most of the time, walking as if he’s in a trance. He speaks in stuttering stops, sounding like a kid in school nervously reading a report in front of the class. I’m pretty sure that Bagh considers personality to be a booger that he doesn’t want to get on him.

Moore goes the other way with her vacant routine. She’s impossibly happy for most of the film, even after the birds attack and she might die. She almost never stops smiling and her big dopey grin grates quickly. Her voice drips sugar with every happy go lucky bit of dialogue as if she were Snow White and the birds were singing for her. At no point does she seem more than barely aware of anything going on around her and I’m not even sure she knows she’s in a movie.

I sympathize that these people have to recite some truly awful dialogue that normal people would never say. Especially the crap that comes out of Rod’s mouth. The scene where Rod and Nathalie are about to have sex is a standout. Nathalie stands before him in her bra and panties and asks “How do I look?” Rod slowly looks her up and down and replies “You look fine” in a completely monotone voice. Nguyen also has some bizarre need to make everyone really polite all of the time. You could play a drinking game with this film, taking shots every time someone says Thank You and you’d be very fucked up by the time the movie ends. Still, these people are awful. At points I truly thought they were robots. Or maybe they thought that their characters were robots.

The Direction & Other Technical Stuff – James Nguyen isn’t just a horrible writer, he’s a horrible director. I’ve honestly never seen one as clueless on every aspect of filmmaking. This guy thinks the proper way to open a movie is to film a car driving impossibly slow on a highway for a good three minutes. It’s just scene after scene of a Mustang driving so slowly that it’s clearly holding up traffic and would get you killed if you actually tried it. There’s no reason for it. It adds nothing to the character or the story. But it just keeps going and going and going and when you think it’s done it goes some more. For no fucking reason.

That’s Nguyen’s idea for a scene. He does this sort of thing several times throughout the film. There are several more long slow driving scenes for no reason. There’s several minutes of filming a pumpkin festival parade for no reason. Before the first bird attack, we see many long pointless shots of houses and towns and farms that are supposed to punctuate the attack, but only bore and confuse. The guy has no idea how to compose a scene or edit one. Way too many scenes go on forever for no reason. There’s a scene where our couple are dancing to the worst song ever (really, wait until you hear it) and it’s just painful to watch. Nathalie dances in a way that is so insanely awkward and spastic that it makes Elaine on Seinfeld’s famous dance look like the finale of Black Swan.

He also has no idea how to block one out. He obviously couldn’t afford to shut down roads or parks for his film, which is understandable. However, if you want me to believe there in an apocalyptic event happening and people are dying and fleeing for the hills, don’t let me see them frolicking on the beach and flying kites in the background. Cut out the people riding by on bikes. Maybe on that abandoned highway where you find cars full of dead people, don’t show the many cars driving by on their way to a fun afternoon. I know Nguyen doesn’t know how to shoot a film, but I’m not even sure he’s ever actually watched a film.

The editing is choppy and sloppy. The sound cuts in and out, going from too loud to non-existent like they were recording with a playschool microphone. The soundtrack actually sounds surprisingly professional at times, yet is never appropriate to what is going on. It veers from something that sounds like it came from a cheerful family comedy to something that should be playing during a patriotic speech in a War movie. I’m pretty sure whoever scored this was watching other movies when they recorded the soundtrack. Either that or Nguyen just stole it from someone. As for the special effects….well, you saw the clip. These are Playstation one graphics. Worse, they’re actually retarded and like everything else in this film, it’s not connected to reality in any way. Birds hover in air, in one spot, for several minutes without moving their wings. Some birds can dive bomb into houses and make them explode while others can’t even get past a coat hanger. At times these things don’t even look like birds at all.

The Summation – Now, all this may sound like this is something I hated. Wrong. It may also sound like something that’s a chore to sit through. Double wrong. Birdemic is a fucking hoot. By the time you get five minutes into this, you’re rolling with laughter at just how truly bug shit crazy the movie is and you’re hooked. It truly is the most WTF movie that I’ve ever watched and it’s completely genuine. This isn’t a joke. It’s deathly serious and incredibly sincere. Nguyen is so serious about what he’s doing and what he’s trying to say that the movie is actually very preachy in parts, which would get sort of annoying if it wasn’t so clumsy and stupid in how it does it. James Nguyen is completely, utterly incompetent as a filmmaker. He has absolutely no understanding of films whatsoever. Yet, he is fully determined to make a great a piece of art and he’s sure he’s on the right path. That’s sort of endearing and absolutely entertaining. He’s at least achieved immortal status now, because Birdemic is now the best of the worst. Everyone absolutely needs to see Birdemic. I guarantee you’ll be entertained and awed by it.

Tick Reviews – Saw 3D (2010)

Posted in Uncategorized on March 6, 2011 by Tick

In the immortal words of Henry Rollins, I’m a liar. At the very least, I’m a hypocrite. At the very worst I’m part of the reason most horror movies are shit. Just a few weeks after My review of I Sell The Dead (https://thereservoirblogs.wordpress.com/2011/02/01/tick-reviewssort-ofi-sell-the-dead-2008/) where I eviscerate the current state of horror films, its fans and supposedly draw a line in the sand on what I will be watching, while asking like-minded horror fans to take a stand with me…….I break down and watch the latest chunk of flotilla from that cinematic abortion that is the Saw series. Yep, I am apparently that guy that is all bitch and no action with the flip-flopping moral stance that’s as shaky as Michael J Fox on a tilt-a-whirl. And yet….I feel only the slightest smidgen of shame because I have a few weaknesses in this genre and unfortunately Saw is one of them.

Now, that’s not to say I like the Saw movies. Quite the opposite, actually. I loathe them. I think they’re maybe the worst franchise in film history and the epitome of everything that’s wrong with the genre. However, they’ve become like the proverbial car crash that I just can’t turn away from. The Saw films absolutely fascinate me. They are awful in ways that have to be seen to be believed. Even better, it’s a horrifically evolving sort of awful that grows and metamorphoses in increasingly retarded ways as the series goes on. It doesn’t just get worse as it goes, it gets aggressively worse in moronically bizarre ways that defy all logic and are usually creatively bankrupt. I know I previously called out the misuse of anointing films so bad that they’re good in that last review, but Saw is the goods on this front. They’re so entertainingly horrible that you have to applaud their incompetence.

My semi-masochistic history with Saw dates back to the first instalment, which I saw in the theater. Before the first Saw came out, the hype machine on the internet would have you believe that the film was going to revolutionize the horror genre. From what was shown and said, there was no reason to doubt that. Saw looked like it was lean and nasty. It seemed far darker and more serious than anything the horror community had seen in years. It seemed to be original, boundary pushing and had a more respectable cast that you normally got (yeah, unbelievably, at the time Danny Glover, Cary Elwes and Monica Potter was respectable.) The word was this was as grim and vile as movies got. On the day it finally came out, my wife and I got to the theater to find out that the management had decided that the film was so disturbing that they wouldn’t be letting anyone in that was under twenty-one. We were shocked. Just how crazy and gory was Saw going to be? I took my seat excited and nervously anticipating what sort of genre changing assault I was about to witness.

So, imagine just how pissed off I was by the time the end credits ran. I had not witnessed an envelope pushing, genre changing, vile masterpiece. No. I had just witnessed one of the worst pieces of shit that I’d even been unfortunate enough to pay full price for in a theater. It was stale, unimaginative crap that pushed no envelopes and was actually tame not just for what it promised, but for what else was coming out in the months surrounding it. Saw made films like Hostle seem genius and daring. It was lazy, incompetent and flat-out had no balls. The story was insipid. The gore was mild. The acting was awful. It contains THE worst, most laughable bit of thespian train wreck that I’ve ever seen when Danny Glover begins to go “insane” and speak to his dead partner that isn’t there. I seriously challenge you to find a worse piece of acting in the history of cinema than this scene. You just can’t do it. Top to bottom, Saw is absolutely appalling.

So why would I ever watch another one? I don’t know. Chalk it up partially to the horror fan’s need to always give something another chance and chalk it up partially to morbid curiosity to seeing if Saw 2 could get any worse. Horror fans are half optimism and half pessimism. We’re walking contradictions that spill money and common sense in equal parts and we probably don’t have the ability to change even when we want to. Yet, we also are not only in on the joke, we’re usually several steps ahead of it. We love a shitty movie like no one else. Saw instalments have become the shitty movies to end all shitty movies and although there are mouth breathing window lickers out there that don’t get the joke and actually defend the Saw franchise, I like to think that most people are now watching these pieces of crap on an Ed Wood/Uwe Boll level. If nothing else, I know I am.

The Saw films are that bad. They’re Uwe Boll bad. They’re on the level of The Happening, Torque, the Postman, Showgirls and Waterworld. I own all of those DVDs and I will also own Saw 3D. You see, Saw 3D is the brilliant accumulation of every bone headed, incompetent, illogical thing that every other instalment of Saw has done wrong multiplied to the Nth degree. I’m going to explain why Saw 3D (actually Saw 7. Saw SEVEN. Let that really sink in) in the idiot savant in this family of Down Syndrome films and I will spoil some things because it really doesn’t matter. The film is too stupid and bug shit crazy to be able to ruin it with spoilers and most of the twists are predictable anyway. If you really don’t want to know anything going in, stop reading now. If you don’t want anything spoiled because you’re an actual fan of the Saw films and are involved in them, don’t ever read this blog again. Better yet, go tie a plastic bag around your head and pretend you’re an astronaut.

So, Saw 3D starts off with the end of Saw 6, with Detective Mark Hoffman (Costa Mandylor) surviving Jill Tuck’s (Betsy Russell) attempt to kill him. This followed immediately after he had attempted to kill her unsuccessfully. Jill is the ex-wife of John Kramer (Tobin Bell), who was the original Jigsaw, the psychotic and extremely judgmental serial killer, who’s modus operandi is to act like a third-rate James Bond villain. He’s the thoroughly uninteresting boob that the Saw films revolve around.  Hoffman is the protégé of  Jigsaw and now acts as the new Jigsaw because the original Jigsaw has been dead for the last four films, even though he’s been in every one of them. Hoffman is actually the third Jigsaw because the second Jigsaw has also been dead for several films because the first Jigsaw knew he couldn’t trust the second Jigsaw and secretly trained a third Jigsaw. Sound convoluted yet? We’re just getting warmed up.

Okay, so each Saw sort of centers around a main victim or victims that Jigsaw, whichever one that may be, has dropped into an elaborate trap filled maze where the victim will get a bunch of other people killed as he/she is taught valuable lessons and pays for whatever crime/sin/accident that offended Jigsaw. That offense varies from victim to victim and which Jigsaw is carrying out the punishment and which Jigsaw set up the trap and of course sometimes one Jigsaw thinks they’re in control, but it’s really another Jigsaw, so the victim may or may not be the actual victim. Each film has a different detective/special agent chasing after Jigsaw, because no cop ever survives more than one movie once they become the lead agent on the case. Unless they secretly survive only to be killed in a later movie. Or unless they’re secretly one of the Jigsaws.

SO, as we get to the new Saw, the main victim being thrown into an elaborate death filled maze is Bobby Dagen (Sean Patrick Flannery). Bobby is one of Jigsaw’s former victims who managed to survive and escape Jigsaw’s wrath and now makes a living off of the experience as a famous author, motivational speaker and talk show guest. Only, Bobby’s lying. He made the whole story up. This is not a surprise as it’s not only telegraphed, we know after seven movies that you only survive Jigsaw’s traps if you’re really one of the secret secondary Jigsaws or they need you to come back and die in a different Saw film. Or course, Bobby, his wife and his entourage are kidnapped and placed into Jigsaw’s newest maze so he can fight for his and their lives. We see through a flashback that Bobby met the original Jigsaw at a book signing before even the first Saw film took place. So, Jigsaw one planned out Bobby’s trap six films before this happened, told Jigsaw two to carry it out four films after he died, but she died too, although that’s okay because he must have also told Jigsaw three about it as well, because Jigsaw one was always four billion steps ahead.  Although, this is all conjuncture on my part since I’m not one of the secret Jigsaws, as far as you know.

Though, that could be a problem because Jigsaw three seems to be losing it. He’s far too busy killing off other people in ever complicated and now public displays of Rube Goldberg torture devices or trying to track down and kill Jigsaw One’s ex-wife. Because Jill was on board with Jigsaw One’s killing spree, but not so much with two and three. Or she didn’t like any of them. Or didn’t know and now she knows. That part is all fuzzy. Anyway, it’s okay, because as we find out, there’s also always been a FOURTH Jigsaw and he’s committed to the big picture so he makes sure Bobby and his people meet their fates. You see, Jigsaw one knew he couldn’t trust Jigsaw two, so he made sure that he had a Jigsaw three, so that after Jigsaw Two went crazy and killed Jigsaw One a trap would kill Jigsaw Two and then Jigsaw Three would take over. But he also had the foresight to know that Jigsaw Three would go crazy and kill his ex-wife, which would in turn activate Jigsaw Four to kill Jigsaw Three and become the main Jigsaw, at least until he goes crazy.

You have to assume that Jigsaw one is so smart that he has a Jigsaw Five in waiting to take over at some point, which is pretty cool since there was a point where there were at least three Jigsaws operating at one time without any of them noticing what was going on. I’m not sure how three fucking nutjobs all kidnapping people and murdering them in huge trap filled mazes at the same time while all thinking they’re they only Jigsaw can happen. Apparently they never see a TV or read a paper or run into each other at the Jigsaw union hall. You think you’d hear about the other murders and think “Hey! I didn’t do that one. There must be another Jigsaw.”  Doesn’t matter. Now there’s a fourth one.

So who is Jigsaw Four? Well, that would be Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) who was one of the two original victims from the first Saw that died. That clearly died. That they have reiterated several times in many movies that this guy absolutely died. Only he didn’t die. He was recruited by Jigsaw One to join his crew. Because that’s what you do when you’re a super successful, rich surgeon that has been kidnapped by a maniac that’s forced you to cut off your own foot with a dirty hacksaw and presumably murdered your wife. You realize that you’re a dick and start murdering people at his bidding. It makes perfect sense.

So, all the cop characters die AGAIN. Another victim escapes AGAIN. A new Jigsaw steps up as the old one dies AGAIN. But that’s okay. This is the last Saw. They promised us. Cross our hearts. Pinky swear. Except…..Yeah, that scene where Jigsaw Four kidnaps Jigsaw Three…well…..there’s two other people in pig masks with him, so those must be Jigsaw Five and Six. And, Jill did get out information on Hoffman that, along with a police station massacre should cause a massive manhunt. Also, Bobby survived so he’s either yet ANOTHER Jigsaw or he needs to get killed or he needs to seek revenge on Jigsaw Four through Seventy-Two. But, this is the last Saw. At least until the straight to disc series kicks off.

As awful and stark raving stupid as that all sounds, you can’t even begin to imagine it until you see it. The Saw films have gotten more brain-dead as they’ve gone and I thought they couldn’t get any worse than Saw 6. Various tasteless assholes around the net have praised Saw 6 for having a brain because it has a thinly veiled subtext condemning insurance companies and the American health care system. By thinly veiled I mean blatheringly spelled out. Yeah, it has brains. Have you ever been to a party and listened to some ultra stoned high school dropouts telling you about, you know, like, politics and stuff and how, like, the Dali lama is, like being persecuted and stuff. It’s brainy like that. Saw 3D is worse.

Writers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton aren’t the greatest writers working today. I’m pretty sure they’re near the bottom. I’m not sure how to grade them. They’re responsible for four of the Saw films, and that should get you on death row. I don’t care if you just want a paycheck or not. You can tie these ridiculous films together better than the outlandish leaps of logic and unbelievable ties that bind this garbage.They also did the Feast trilogy and The Collector which are at least entertaining and the original script for the first Feast is even better than what was filmed. They are obviously checked out by the time they got to Saw 3D. There might as well be a filmed testimonial interlude in the middle of the movie where they film themselves confessing to the audience that they just don’t care anymore. Thanks for the cash and go fuck yourselves. I’ve never seen a sequel where the writers were so glad to get it over with. I almost halfway think that they’ve been trying to sabotage the franchise since they started writing for it and that thought makes me sleep a little better at night. I won’t even mention the director since his only two important credits are Saw films. He’s obviously a non-talent.

The only thing that gets better with each passing film is the amount of gore. The first film promised untold sickness and delivered little. Yeah, I know, I also said last review that gore shouldn’t be enough for a horror film and I mean that. Mostly. It depends. Just shut up. Anyway, the gore in these damn things once you get to number seven? Tres magnifique. It’s absolutely outrageous. There are a couple of scenes that are just flat-out gross and if a hardened hardcore horror junkie like me says that, the rest of you better have a barf bag. The problem with the gore is that these deadly trap scenes have gone beyond ridiculous. There was a point early on in the series where the traps were sort of quaint and not too outrageous. At this point, they aren’t plausible by any stretch of the imagination. With the amount of money and engineering skill needed to make these contraptions, it would take the authorities a few days to track down Jigsaw because the list of suspects couldn’t be more than ten or twenty names nationwide. To make it even worse, traps are now being set up in the middle of public places that are high traffic areas. It’s finally satisfyingly sick, but it’s become so goofy that it’s on a Troma level. But, Troma taking itself seriously. Never a good thing.

And that is the biggest problem with the Saw films. They take themselves deadly serious. There is not one ounce of a sense of humor in these films. I appreciate that there are far too many jokey horror films out there, especially of the low-budget variety, but if you’re going to be serious, you also have to be at least semi-competent. Saw films never reach that level. Yet, that’s what makes these bags of shit so enjoyable to me. They are completely clueless. That’s why I have this disgusting love/hate relationship with them and, God help me, I’ll continue to watch as long as they continue crank them out. I just pray they keep getting even worse.

Director FAIL! List

Posted in Uncategorized on February 21, 2011 by Tick

What will probably be our most controversial list so far. The crew give their opinions on their five most hated films by their favorite directors. It’s sure to bring about some arguments, even if we’re right. Not all of us are. Do with this as you will.

https://thereservoirblogs.wordpress.com/the-list/

Tick Reviews(sort of):I Sell The Dead (2008)

Posted in Uncategorized on February 1, 2011 by Tick

Oh mediocre horror film, how I loathe thee…

I am a huge horror movie fan. I’ve established that on here in the past. I may love all types of film, but horror is my genre of choice. It’s my default genre when I’m channel surfing or streaming Netflix when I’m bored. It’s the genre that shaped me as a child and turned me it the film nerd that I am today. I may not be the guy in The Misfits shirt that’s standing in line at Horrorcon to get a copy of Fangoria autographed by Linnea Quigley, but I’m a horror fan to my very core nonetheless. Besides,  I’m glad I’m not that guy at this point. If I was that guy, I’d beat my own ass right now. My relationship with horror movies has turned into an abusive one and these people are the enablers that have made it all go bad.

But I digress. Or, actually, I’m getting ahead of myself. This rant needs to start with a small review of the film that broke the proverbial werewolf’s back. That movie was I Sell The Dead. I will have some minor spoilers in this and I don’t care. It won’t really hurt the film and in all honestly it’s better to know these things going in so that your bubble isn’t burst by the time you get to the pointless, predictable ending.

I Sell The Dead has a log line that reads pretty clever and actually pretty original. The film opens with a man being lead to the guillotine and executed before segueing quickly to another man sitting in a dank dungeon awaiting a visitor. The man is 18th century grave robber Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan) and we find out that the executed man was his partner Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden). Arthur is soon joined by a strange priest named Father Duffy (Ron Perlman) who wishes to speak with him and document his and Willie’s adventures as grave robbers, particularly their many dealings with the supernatural over the years. Thus begins the history or Arthur and Willie, told through flashbacks, as Father Duffy gets to hear tales almost too bizarre to believe.

From here, I Sell The Dead goes through a variety of tales that start out as fairly endearing to any horror fan. Where I assumed, and the trailer seemed to sell, this film being about grave robbers vs zombies, there’s actually far more going on than that. This is a world more akin to TV shows like Supernatural or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Our heroes have to contend with zombies, vampires, demons, sea monsters, aliens and bizarre gangs. It’s scattered hodge podge around the film, for the most part it’s handled well and, at the beginning, each reveal is a bit of a surprise.

Their first encounter is with, presumably at least, a vampire. The vampire, however, moves and acts like one of the deadites from the Evil Dead trilogy. It’s an obvious homage and it’s remarkably faithful in the mechanics and filming. I wasn’t expecting the nod and I actually liked it. If the film had stuck with this one idea, I would have been happy and I think it may have ended up the better film. This scene is perhaps the best part of the film, yet indicative of why it goes so wrong.

From there we are treated to the boys using the “vampire” to kill their evil employer, who’s played by Angus Scrimm, best known as The Tall Man from the Phantasm films. Once again, a wink wink for horror fans that goes nowhere and is more distracting than useful. We move to Arthur and Willie uncovering the corpse of an Alien Grey straight out of Area 51, a trip across sea monster infested water to retrieve zombies and a showdown with a rival gang of grave robbers that might as well be an 18th century super villain team, all before coming to an ending that everyone who isn’t already asleep will see coming a mile away.

Except for that ending, sounds at least intriguing, right? It could’ve been. Hell, it should’ve been. The setting, the basic plot and the way genre staples are combined are all fresh and the two leads give good performances with terrific chemistry. Instead it’s all wasted. What makes it even worse is, it’s not completely terrible either. It just….is. It has some good ideas, some lousy ones and a whole lot of meh. It’s somewhat…cute? Do you want a cute horror movie? I don’t. I sure as fuck don’t want a horror movie that starts out offering me a totally original premise, only to turn it into some half ass homage that wants to be everything to everyone without ever being anything at all. I Sell The Dead is watchable. It isn’t really terrible and if you caught it while channel surfing on the couch one rainy Sunday, you’d feel satisfied enough and probably wouldn’t ever think about it again. It really is, for the most part, inoffensive and slightly amusing.

Yeah, the Evil Dead homage was done really well and it did bring a smile to my face. The question is, do we really need to see another Evil Dead homage or do we desperately need to see a new voice bring something as original and exciting to the screen  as Sam Raimi did all those years ago? The main reason I was smiling was because I thought the film would be going in a different direction than I expected. It didn’t. The smile faded.

Yeah, the unexpected Area 51 corpse was a neat little idea that I didn’t expect. That’s all it was. An idea. It went nowhere, was quickly wrapped up in a way that made no sense and never held any significance, nor was it mentioned again. It was like an easter egg in a video game. A moment of “Hey! Look at that!” yet meaning nothing in the grand scheme. Just like the idea of the sea monster, which gets a nice back story and some sound effects, and then are never seen or mentioned again. They’re red herrings and the quest for the zombies is a Macguffin. Just like the grand legend of the rival Murphy gang and the detailed reveal of each member, including their sinister backstories and special powers mean nothing as they are anticlimactically dispatched a minute or so after finally meeting up with our heroes. I Sell the Dead, like so many horror movies now, are just throwing lots of things into a pot and hoping something works without ever really caring if they do or not. They gave us some touchstones and we should be happy.

So why would something that rates a five or six out of ten be the film that sets me off on a rant like this? Because I’m sick of mediocre, half-assed horror films more than I’m sick of shitty ones. I’m far more sick of indie film makers, who like to trumpet being “real fans”, shitting out quick cash and grabs than I am of seeing clueless studios do it. I’m sick of lazy “homages” and fan wank casting instead of originality and competent film making. I’m sick of genre smash-ups so someone can try and cover up the fact that they really have no story to tell. I’m tired of the “throwback” films and “gritty” films and brain dead gore just for the sake of gore. Most of all, I’m tired of being made to think that any of these things is enough for a horror fan to accept a film.

 

That’s my biggest problem with I Sell The Dead. Is it wholesale terrible? No. It’s just symptomatic of the larger problem within the genre. I Sell The Dead is a kitchen sink approach at film making. Take a bunch of cool ideas that don’t fit together and pour them haphazardly into the story. Add in sprinkles like other fallback categories of stunt casting, “homages” and genre mash-up and we have a cult classic that fan sites like Dread Central and Fearnet will lap up and do their best to make sure that other horror fans will drink the Kool-Aid. I say fuck that.

It’s time to stop watching crap films. It’s time to stop eating them up just because we don’t have anything better. Even more so, to bring up the abusive relationship analogy again, it’s time to stop watching them and making up excuses for liking them when they’re obviously terrible. No one is as masochistic as horror fans and not even Star Wars diehards are as big of apologists. We love to abuse the phrase “so bad it’s good” even when most of the time what we just saw is awful. We’ll decide an unwatchable movie is somehow cult worthy because it has great gore. We’ll watch something shitty, that we know full well is going to be shitty, just in the hopes that maybe we’ll be wrong. Sometimes for a second or third time.

Horror fandom has become one big fucking Ouroboros. A cynical one at that, eagerly devouring its same stale self as it pretends it’s feeding on something original. There’s not much original out there. Horror has become the least original genre in an industry that rewards the safe, the regurgitated and the rerun. Why bother giving us something that we haven’t seen before when we have such a Pavlovian response shopworn horseshit? Originality? That require work, and artistry and risk. Just trot out another jokey homage with some genre faves and some grue and some asshole will dub it a “modern classic.” Other assholes will immediately fall in line.

The “homage” and the fan castings have become the two things that have most come to signify everything wrong the genre as far as I’m concerned. They’re the things that piss me off the most because they were once things that I loved seeing in films. So did other fans. That’s why they’ve become such over saturated garbage. Hack film makers don’t understand how or when to use them properly. They’ve become substitutes for actual plot or fully formed characters. They become just flat-out masturbatory. Shit, they’ve become acts of self fellatio. They’ve become just another reason to bash Rob Zombie’s stupid fucking head in.

Hey, horror film makers, here’s a list of people I don’t want to see in another film for at LEAST a year – Sid Haig, Robert Englund, Bill Moseley, Ken Foree, Kane Hodder, Jeffery Combs, Lance Henrickson, Gunnar Hansen, Angela Bettis, Tiffany Shepis, Linnea Quigley, Debbie Rochon, Tom Savini, Andrew Bryniarski, Reggie Bannister, Angus Scrimm, Andrew Divoff, Doug Bradley, Karen Black, Tony Todd, Patricia Tallman or any Buffy the Vampire Slayer Alumni. Seriously. Enough already. It’s not like I don’t want them to work. I love most of these people too. These people have earned their stripes. Most of them are icons to the genre. That’s why we need to stop turning them into jokes by just needless piling several of them into bad horror films like it was a fucking clown car.

Ken Foree shouldn’t be made to play a jive talking vampire. I don’t want to see Robert Englund in a cameo just so he can smile at the camera and tell some idiot twenty-year old nobody that he hopes they don’t have a nightmare tonight. I don’t want to see Kane Hodder do anything at all. Do you fucking idiot film makers even understand who these people are or what made them genre favorites to begin with? If you do and you truly do love horror, quit reducing them to jokey, embarrassing cameos. Don’t make them a name I cringe at when I see it in the credits. Ken Foree is a good actor who turned in some great, fully realized characters before Rob Zombie turned him into a punchline. Use these people in real roles or don’t use them at all. Next time you decide to round-up four or five of these people for your film, go fuck yourself instead.

So, this is where we’re at. It’s time to stand up and do something about it. Stop feeding on the shit that they’re shoveling. Vote with your wallet and just stop watching. Go to the internet and speak out on message boards and Twitter and review sites. Create a backlash. I’m not expecting miracles. I know there will still be bad movies. I know we’ll still happily watch a lot of them. We just need to be choosier and clean up our own backyards. We need to make sure there aren’t a hundred new zombie films this year. We don’t need Pumpkinhead 6, Saw 9 or Hellraiser N Da Hood. We need to stop any more variations of vampire versus werewolf movies. We need to not have any more movies with the cast full of the usual suspects named above.

Horror fans know our genre has always been the shunned stepchild of the film world. We love that. It makes us proud. That doesn’t mean we can’t expect more. There’s no reason why films like Let the Right One In or [REC] aren’t the rule instead of the exception. Reward original, well made films that take genre conventions and turn them on their head. Shun the films that aren’t even trying. Don’t fall for the same old tricks and don’t accept what they’re selling just because you’re supposed to like it. No more excuses. Stand up and change the game. It surely would have helped I Sell The Dead if writer/director Glenn McQuaid had just stuck to his original ideas and not felt obligated to give into fan wank.

Tick Reviews – Black Swan (2010)

Posted in Uncategorized on January 9, 2011 by Tick

 

So what happens when one of our most talented living directors decides to, Bordello of Blood be damned,  make an episode of Tales From the Crypt? Short answer – You get Black Swan. That may sound dismissive, but I assure you it isn’t. Semi-simplistic film description in order to open up a review, maybe, but I’m certainly not trying to take away from the film, which is far and away the best film of 2010. When I originally sat down to write this review a few weeks ago (holidays, company and lots of booze put the brakes on it) I intended to be as vague about the true nature of the film as possible. Now, with commercials for the film giving away more than it should, I feel I should break it down a bit more than I had originally intended. No spoilers, just clearing things up to get the last of you sceptical bastards into the theater.

When word of this film first circulated, all anyone would say was “ballet film with lesbian scene.” Most comments I heard were either “boooooring” or “booooring, but I cant wait to see the lesbo scene on the internet.” Probably not what Aronofsky was hoping for. Since it’s actually come out, the word of mouth has been generally positive, but confusing as well. It seems that a lot of people don’t know how the hell to even describe the film. Not that the early ads have helped. A lot of ads are giving this some sort of Single White Female vibe, which isn’t what it is. It’s also not “over the top” as I heard some dipshit in the theater complain as the house lights came on. So, let me say this once again, even though it may conjure up some negative images and I’ll try to soothe your mind afterwards. It’s a fucking Tales From the Crypt episode, albeit the greatest, artiest, most brilliantly directed one you could ever imagine. Now let me try to clean up my own mess.

Black Swan centers around Nina Sayers(Natalie Portman), a prim and proper, extremely neurotic, lifelong ballerina who has toiled long and hard in the New York City Ballet Company without ever moving above the level of background dancer and bit player. Nina isn’t bitter. She’s a somewhat innocent, glass half full type of person and at least just a little naive. She works hard, looks up to the company’s star Beth Macintyre(Winonna Ryder) and bides her time until the day she’s noticed for her hard work and perfectionist attitude. Her day finally comes when company director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) decides to take this season’s series in a bold and controversial direction, which begins with jettisoning the aging Beth and casting Nina as the lead in his version of the classic Swan Lake.

Nina is surprised and overjoyed, but she soon finds out that her years of training and single-minded focus on her craft may not be enough. Leroy informs her that she will be playing dual roles as the virginal White Swan and as the lusty, duplicitous Black Swan. While Nina is told that she is the very embodiment of the White Swan and her perfect form works well, she holds none of the dangerous abandonment necessary for the role of the Black Swan. Leroy tells her that she is going to have to learn to let go completely and actually feel her performance or she will never be able be his Black Swan.

This is where things begin to go in a different direction. As we begin to discover, Nina is tightly wound on the best of days. Although she’s in her mid-twenties with a good career, she lives with her mother (Barbara Hershey), who provides a home that only serves as a Petrie dish for mental illness. Her mother is over bearing and over protective, usually sandwiching Nina between bullying and guilt trips. She’s the sort of woman that keeps her daughter’s decor full of stuffed animals and will not allow her to close her bedroom door. She’s a seriously damaged woman and Nina carries her mother’s psychological baggage as well as her own.

Enter Lily (Mila Kunis), a new ballerina to the company who immediately attempts to strike up a friendship with Nina. She also catches the eye of Leroy for although she isn’t the most technically sound dancer that he’s ever seen, she embodies the reckless abandonment that he wants Nina to give to her Black Swan. This in turn only adds to the pressure that is threatening to make Nina crack.

From here it gets dangerous to describe too much else that goes on in the film, but suffice to say it fits well within Aronofsky’s cannon of work. He’s long dealt, in one degree or another, with themes of obsession and people that are willing to drive themselves to any extreme over what they are most passionate about, usually to unhealthy conclusions. Black Swan, in fact, is almost a companion piece to his first film, Pi. Although it is miles away in its visual storytelling and Aronofsky is a much more polished and accomplished film maker now, Black Swan is every bit the intense spiral that Pi is.

If there is any word that best sums up Black Swan, it is definitely intense. Once the film gets moving, it’s unrelenting both psychologically and visually. There are moments when the film is almost suffocating in its intensity. Aronofsky is a master at filming scenes so that you feel the emotional weight as his characters are feeling them onscreen and that’s not an easy feat with some of the things that are going on with Nina. Yet Aronofsky is able to pull it off, making Nina’s rising anxiety and confusion a palpable thing. There were a few times where the packed house that I saw this with was audibly squirming in their seats. This is a film that makes you uncomfortable and it doesn’t do it with cheap tricks.

Black Swan is also Aronofsky at his visual best. Aronofsky reaches into his directorial bag of tricks and pulls out everything he’s ever shot before, plus an array of shots that he hasn’t used before. Black Swan has the handheld intimacy of The Wrestler, the hallucinatory dread of Requiem for a Dream and the quick cut paranoia of Pi all woven together with a diabolical ease. There are some sequences, such as the actual performance of Swan Lake and a forray into New York’s club scene that are especially brilliant. The club scene, in particular, is hypnotic and unsettling, almost making you feel as sweaty and disoriented as if you were there and two tabs into your own extascy trip.

As for the performances in the film, there isn’t a sour note hit amongst the cast. Mila Kunis is the least noteworthy, but she’s still solid and is mainly only asked to play a role that she’s played a few times before. She plays the role well, but she’s overshadowed by the cast around her. Vincent Cassel and Barbara Hershey, however, are tremendous. In the wrong hands, both of their characters could have come across as cartoonish, but both actors give the right touch to the two people who provide the catalysts for Nina’s troubles. Cassel gives Leroy the perfect counter balance of out of control ego and brilliant psychological insight to his Svengali like figure. Hershey, meanwhile, seems to be channeling Piper Laurie’s performance from Carrie, except she makes the character less religious fanatic and more of a fragile psyche that means well, yet is incapable of having a healthy relationship. The character is a pendulum of love and resentment that swings without rhythm. She plays crazy with a subtle intensity that is frighteningly believable.

The film belongs to Natalie Portman though and she owns every minute of it. Portman has always had great promise and her talent has never been in question. Yet, I feel at least, that she’s never seized the moment to be the star she was always destined to be. She’s been very good in most roles she’s played, great in others, but she’s never really risen to the level that we always knew she could achieve. That changes with Black Swan. In fact, the role itself is almost an analogy for Portman’s actual career as, like her character in the film, she’s forced to push herself in ways that she’s never had to push herself before. Like the other roles in this film, a lesser actress would have made the character of Nina a ridiculous caricature and in this case, absolutely destroyed the movie. Portman deftly nails every aspect of the character from the most sympathetic to the most over the top aspects and let me tell you, there are parts that skim a thin line near over the top, yet Portman always knows where that line is and always knows how to pull it back just enough. 2010 will be remembered as the year when most of the best and most memorable performances were given by women, but Portman should have little trouble getting the Oscar as the best of the best. My own slight prejudices against Portman are now gone and she finally sheds her nagging images of the wispy little girl. She’s the fierce, brilliant actress that we always knew she could be.

Aronofsky can also finally shake off his own shackles as the eternally up and coming next big thing. He can no longer be denied his rightful place at the table of greatest living directors. The man has proven his talent in all aspects of film making and can easily hop from genre to genre, never missing a beat. It’s interesting to see him tackle different types of film, particularly because he’s proven that he isn’t jumping from genre to genre as a stunt. He knows what he’s doing. He understands each genre that he works in. Black Swan incorporates many different influences from the afore-mentioned Tales from the Crypt to Carrie to, especially I think, early Cronenberg. Yet, his style is one hundred percent his own. I’d love to discuss the film in more detail, but to give away anything more specific would be spoiling the viewing experience. I hate giving away the fact that this is Arornofsky’s take on a horror film, but it had to be said and it won’t ruin what you’ll see by knowing that going in. I’ll just finish by reiterating that this is undoubtedly the best film of 2010 and the shot heard round the world that Aronofsky and Portman will no longer be overlooked.

Tick Reviews – Scott Pilgrim vs The World (2010)

Posted in Uncategorized on December 19, 2010 by Tick

Let me just get two things out of the way that are always good to dispense with early – hyperbole and disclaimers. In the hyperbole field I must say this is the greatest comic book movie ever made. I only log this as hyperbole because I’ve never read the Scott Pilgrim comic books, nor do I want to at this point, and fans of the book have had some grumblings about the screen translation. So, my opinion that this is the greatest comic book movie ever made may have its flaws. Facts are facts though. I like this better than The Dark Knight, Ghost World, American Splendor or other comic book adaptations that I thought could not be beaten.  On the disclaimer front, let me say that this is probably THE toughest review that I’ve written thus far. I do realize that this film is not going to be for everyone and I do not, desperately in fact, do not want to oversell the film. I honestly was completely taken by surprise by the film when I saw it in the theater. Slightly blown away. It was my favorite film of the year up until this weekend when I saw Black Swan and the more I watch it on DVD the more it creeps toward my all time favorites list. Yeah, if that’s not over selling it, I don’t know what is, but let’s take a step back and start the examination.

The story revolves around Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), ultimate all-around slacker and aspiring rock star who, along with his band Sex Bob-Omb, live out their unexceptional lives in Toronto, hoping to one day hit the big time, although they aren’t trying very hard to make that happen. Scott also has another problem in that he is a bit of a cad. He has left behind a long strand of ex-girlfriends who he was dated and dumped with little consideration. Up until his last girlfriend, that is, who crushed his heart and left him for dead. Scott hasn’t really gotten over her, but he’s trying. As the film opens, he’s currently dating the exceedingly innocent and naive high school girl Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). No one approves, especially his best friend/roomate, the snarky Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin).

Scott would be happy to continue on with this simple existence of dating girls without any real consequence, playing in his band without any real success and complaining about his ex-girlfriend Envy Adams(Brie Larson) and her super successful band The Clash At Demonhead without anyone really listening. It’s simple and it’s the path of least resistance, which suits him just fine. Effort and motivation aren’t well used words in Scott’s vocabulary.

Until the day Ramona Flowers(Mary Elizabeth Winstead) skates out his dreams(literally) and into his life.

It’s from this moment on that Scott finds something that he feels is worth fighting for. He pursues Ramona and finally begins to win her over only to find that he really is going to fight for her. Literally fight for her. Ramona has seven evil exes and all have vowed to kill Scott Pilgrim. In order to be with her, Scott is going to have to fight and defeat all of them in battle and each ex is more deadly than the last.

This is the plot point that the advertising for the film mainly keyed in on and it’s the part that is likely going to keep a lot of people away from the film. I get that. Frankly, the ad campaign for this film was one of the worst in recent memory. It sells Scott Pilgrim vs The World as some sort of cutesy fluff without any real substance. It looks like some sort of tepid one note joke that’s made for comic book nerds with nothing but video game references and lame hipster irony. I can understand why people stayed away. I had NO interest in the film either and had it not been for the name of director Edgar Wright on the credits, I might never have given this a chance.

I’m glad that I did. This is not a one note joke. There is no hipster irony here and you don’t need any comic book knowledge to get on board. More importantly, there is substance here. Edgar Wright has once again created a film that is unapologetic in it’s pure pop entertainment value, yet also hides a warm and emotional underbelly that catches you off guard. Wright has become the master of this sort of melange and he once again works it for all it worth.

Quentin Tarantino is known as the master of pop culture knowledge and how to cut and paste a thousand different influences and references and weave them seamlessly into his own work of art. I think Edgar Wright is furiously nipping at his heels for the title. God bless QT, but where he works much like a DJ, sampling and cannibalizing, scenes are occasionally obvious and self-conscious, nearly begging you to scream out the reference at the screen. Wright does things in a more laid back way, knowing and winking, hoping that you may get the reference but never let it take away from his ideas that are up on the screen. Where Tarantino wants you to be seeing the films he loves as much as he wants you to be seeing his film, Wright just wants to tip his hat as he tells his own story. Even so, he’s among the best out there at the Pop Culture 101 game and Scott Pilgrim is loaded with references from film, comics and especially video games. If you just went on a shallow surface level, Scott Pilgrim vs The World is expertly crafted and infinitely enjoyable just from this frame of reference as well as it’s sardonic humor.

The strength with Edgar Wright, is that he always has more on his mind than pop culture stew. If anything, they are often a means to an end thematically and I think that applies here more than anything he’s done since his seminal BBC TV show Spaced. Like all of his work (with the exception of Hot Fuzz, which seems more and more like an oddball as Wright’s career goes on) Wright works within the themes of growing up and hitting that decisive moment when you reach that crossroad where you have to make decisions that will change your life forever. Like Shaun of the Dead, which is truly it’s cinematic soul mate, this film revolves around how love forces you to change your life and the things you do to sabotage it.

Where Shaun of the Dead was about that stage of life in your late twenties/early thirties when you have to take that great leap of fully becoming an adult and throw yourself into life with your mate and not your “mates”, Scott Pilgrim is about that moment in life when you find your first real, serious love and must adapt not just your lifestyle, but your own mindset if you want to move forward. That’s where Wright once again show his gifts as a filmmaker. The video game style battles between Scott and Ramona’s evil exes can be seen as quirky and gimmicky, but they serve a purpose. Relationships are tricky and everyone’s lives come with baggage. Focusing on baggage and someone’s past is game playing and until you can conquer these things, as well as how you mentally deal with these them, you can’t progress in a relationship. The video games and exes as villains are metaphors for what we all battle when we fall in love with someone and as the film progresses, Wright deals with these issues more and more seriously without ever letting things get too on the nose.

Wright truly understands his themes and they obviously hit home to him. He’s worked them throughout most of his on-screen output and understands how to make an emotional impact without becoming some sort of maudlin after-school special. He isn’t so much trying to make a point as honestly show characters as actual people that learn and grow. Even if He’s trying to get a moral across, he does it with a deft touch and leaves it up to you as to whether or not you take something deeper away from his films. He’s content with just entertaining you and he’s yet to miss his mark.

Not to let it seem like things get to dour at any point. Once again, Like Shaun of the Dead, Wright has a deft touch. Things take a serious and/or emotional tone when it’s warranted and it’s never played heavy-handed. There are scenes that are genuinely romantic, but not in a cheesy way that feels forced or bogs things down. It’s generally played light and fast paced. The video games fights seem like they would feel stiff, but they’re actually endearing and exciting. Scott Pilgrim exists in the same sort of reality that musicals do. Instead of people breaking into song at random intervals, they break out into fantastical, super powered fights. Video game fans will be able to recognize each fighting game that is being referenced throughout the film and will get an extra giggle and a bit of satisfaction from it, but non-gamers should be able to enjoy the fight scenes as well. They are choreographed and filmed perfectly, never taking you out of the film. The first fight with Matthew Patel(Satya Bhabha) and the battle of the bands climax against the Katayanagi Twins (Keita Saitou,Shota Saito) are especially fun to watch.

Another plus is that, across the board, the cast is excellent. Michael Cera really shines in the role and it’s not exactly what you expect from him. He half plays the role as the Michael Cera that you know and love and/or are tired of seeing, but he also bring a different layer to his usual performance. He’s quite a bit more sincere and he’s obviously a conflicted soul fighting himself every step of the way. As the other characters state, Scott is a lady-killer and more than a bit arrogant and self-centered. Cera gives that edge to the character, but also lets us see the unsure, self doubting side of Scott, especially as he moves into undiscovered territory as he falls in love with Ramona. Kieran Culkin steals every moment he’s on screen as Scott’s droll and extremely confidently gay best friend and roommate. He commands every scene and basically serves (mainly) as the only person in Scott’s life that tells him like it is and tries to guide him in the right direction. It shouldn’t be a real surprise, I suppose, as every member of the Culkin family except Macaulay has proven they are pretty damn great actors.

Chris Evans and, especially, Brandon Routh also shine in their small roles as two of Ramona’s evil exes. Both fully throw themselves into fairly over the top roles and come through, delivering more character depth than they should be able to in their ten minutes, as well as some finely honed comedic chops. I have firmly believed that both of these two are actors that should have better careers than they’ve had thus far and unfortunately, this film probably won’t help them out. Evans and Routh both have higher profile comic book adaptations coming out and hopefully they’ll both get some bigger and more diverse roles from those.

The big breakthrough here, I think, is Mary Elizabeth Winstead. She’s been in a lot of films up to this point and in a quite a few thankless roles. I’ve always thought she was okay. Not great, not terrible, but serviceable. She’s pretty, but not gorgeous. A decent actress, but not someone you usually remember. Here, she’s a star and she plays her part effortlessly. Winstead, and what I’ve said about her previously, embody the character of Ramona Flowers. Ramona is supposed to be the sort of woman that brings men to their knees without trying. Winstead plays the role subtly, almost lazily, and nails just what Ramona embodies. She’s just strong enough to intimidate you, but vulnerable enough to melt your heart. She’s a survivor who’d never be easily defeated, but she’s damaged. She’ll always be in control but she’s secretly waiting to be swept off her feet. Winstead seems to get every beat and every quirk of this character and completely becomes her on-screen. I’ve never really paid attention to her before, but now her name might be enough to push me towards watching something that she’s in. She’s just one of many perfectly cast parts in this film.

Finally, there’s the soundtrack, and it’s one hell of a soundtrack. At the center of this film, regardless of the themes or plot or special effects, almost every character in this film is in a band and much of it centers around the music scene and bands trying to further their careers. A dumb filmmaker would have just filled in the blanks with shitty bands of the moment and their lousy, ill-fitting songs. Wright is not a dumb filmmaker. The music in this film was taken very seriously and it makes for a soundtrack that should work it’s way into your rotation. All of the songs for Scott’s band Sex-Bob-Omb are written by Beck and they’re good, 90’s alt-punk influenced songs that obviously ring of Beck’s cannon. It’s reported that Beck wrote several albums worth of songs just to get to the 4-5 songs performed by the fictional band in the film. They’re performed well by Beck himself, as well as the actual on-screen band members of Cera, Mark Webber and Allison Pill. I dare you to not tap your toes to songs like Threshold, Garbage Truck and Summertime. The other bands songs are performed quite handily by Broken Social Scene and Metric, whose song Black Sheep is believable as a massively popular chart dominating single. Background songs include The Rollings Stones, Frank Blank, T-Rex and Plumtree, so this is no lightweight soundtrack.

All things separate, Scott Pilgrim vs The World is full of many reason to love this film and only a couple of them should be enough to make this a summer blockbuster. All of them together make this easily one of the best of the year in what has been a pretty weak twelve month period. I understand that there was nothing in the ad campaign that should have brought in the people that weren’t already fans of the graphic novel, and that’s a shame. Studios increasingly make bad decisions and don’t have any idea how to market their films or even understand when they have something special on their roster. Now that it’s on DVD, I urge you to give this a chance. If you’re a true film lover with an open mind, I don’t see how you could be disappointed by this. Edgar Wright continues to prove that, in a world full of Transformers and Fokkers, he’s one of several directors that make this a truly exciting time to be a film lover.

Tick Reviews – I’m Still Here (2010)

Posted in Uncategorized on November 29, 2010 by Tick

 

It’s hard to watch a film with the same sort of subjectivity once it’s been spoiled for you, therefore it makes it difficult to write a review for said film. Unfortunately, I’m Still Here was not just spoiled for me before I saw it, it was spoiled for most of the world’s population. This film was admitted to be a hoax less than a week after it was released. Of course, the general speculation circulated around the rumor mill/blogosphere that the film was a hoax before it was even done filming. While I understand the need to finally reveal the truth about the film, especially when most people suspected it anyway, it would’ve been nice to ride it out for a little while longer. It would have been nice to have seen the film with the state of mind that was originally intended. Obviously fake or not, some level of doubt would have been nice.

For those of you that have lived in a cave, I’m Still Here is a “documentary” film that follows actor Joaquin Phoenix as he decides to retire from acting and pursue his dream of becoming a rapper. He’s talked into letting his brother-in-law Casey Affleck follow him around with a camera for months as he attempts to make the transition, slowly unraveling and becoming more temperamental as he goes. As he goes, so does most of his entourage, including his struggling musician/assistant that betrays him by telling the media that everything is a hoax.

Now, I will say, that I believe Affleck when he says that the film was never intended to be an outright hoax. There are some scenes, especially once the film starts nearing its conclusion, where the facade is stretched pretty thin. Phoenix simply plays a bit far too over the top in some instances and there are some goings on that I just don’t feel like any celebrity,even the most self-destructive of artists, would allow to be filmed. Then there’s that fact that, even if you were falling for the joke, the end credits confirm that the film was written by Phoenix and Affleck. I’m not sure how some of the critics that saw this film early on missed that point, but they did. Way to pay attention, people.

No, the film is obviously a performance piece that’s meant to tweak our tabloid media and the way we publicly perceive our celebrities as if we know everything about them, even though they’re complete strangers. For this, I do appreciate the film. Phoenix spent almost two years of his life playing this role and he dragged the rest of the world along with him the entire time. He simply took the public perception of himself as moody, odd and probably drug addled artiste and over-exaggerated it to the Nth degree. You look at it now and it seems obviously ridiculous, but a culture that relishes running down its celebrities is always hungry for this sort of public meltdown. The tabloid media couldn’t get enough of it and neither could the public. Everyone was all too eager to believe the hype.

Phoenix, for what it’s worth, did one hell of a performance for two years with, of course, the finest moment coming during his infamous appearance on David Letterman. It’s a pretty astounding piece of method acting to not break character for a two-year period, especially when you’re potentially harming your career in the process. Although, I’m sure Phoenix and Affleck had some profoundly triumphant moments as they watched their ruse take hold of the world stage. There’s a moment in the film when they show how much of a joke Phoenix had become, showing clips ranging from the Oscar telecast to every talk show host on TV to dozens of YouTube clips where Joaquin is mocked, made the butt of jokes or impersonated. He simply was THE punchline on everyone’s lips for several months at a time. They managed to punk the world, even as their own camp would leak to the media that this is all a hoax. They knew, even with that seed of doubt planted in everyone’s mind, we’d all still want to believe that what we were watching is real, because failure is far more enjoyable and much funnier. It’s also what we already halfway thought Phoenix was in the first place. In the end this all becomes more of the film holding up a mirror and showing us all just how petty and gullible we can be.

The problem is, all that we saw leading up to watching the film sort of sabotages the performance that only went on for the film itself. While the acting we saw in public was perfect, perhaps brilliant, the “private” footage is far too unhinged to be believable during some stints. I’m sure it’s a conscious decision to help the reveal that this was all just a performance and not reality, but that doesn’t keep it from being bad acting, nor does it keep it from hurting the film. He ranges from cartoonish hippy to petulant, pouty child and borders on total cliché with each aspect. He dumbs himself down to a point that’s just becomes unbelievable. I’m not going to believe you turned into a stonier version of Jeff Spicoli overnight. There are other moments though, that are genius. In between his claims of wanting to escape Hollywood and be a real artist, he throws tantrums over things like being in a minivan instead of a limo or getting a shitty hotel room. Watching him as he hangs on every negative thing said about him, be it from comedian or internet blogger is pathetically funny. He obsesses over every boo and each insult, taking them to heart and letting them fuel him awful lyrics, even as he begins to lose confidence. The moment he has a breakdown over his stupid decision would have been gut wrenching if you still had any notion this could be factual. He deserves credit for taking the role full tilt and being willing to completely embarrass himself to people who weren’t in the know, but so much is so far over the top that it just doesn’t work and overpowers the parts that do.

There’s also the problem that there isn’t a lot to latch onto. Most of the best bits are the parts where he’s pulling others into this pretend world without them knowing what’s going on and there’s very little of that which you haven’t already seen. Everything that happened publicly, including every rap appearance he made, was well covered in the media and by dozens of cell phone cameras. Every meltdown he had with a reporter or on a talk show or at a premier was well documented. The bits involving those not in the know that you haven’t seen, are too few and far between. The best involve P.Diddy, who Joaquin is trying to convince to produce his album. Diddy clearly isn’t comfortable with anything going on or the fact that it’s being filmed. It’s funny to watch him squirm as he shifts between trying to be as polite as he can be and being brutally honest. he obviously just wants it to be over with as quickly as possible.

This is where so much opportunity is wasted. There are just not enough scenes involving people not in on the joke. Ben Stiller, if he honestly didn’t know what was going on, is so much like he on-screen persona that it doesn’t play realistically. Edward James Olmos is so fucking weird that he makes Joaquin seem normal in the scene. Beyond that, you have the Letterman interview that we’ve all seen a zillion times and some random studio/agent types that could be in on the act and don’t do anything interesting. That’s sad, because Phoenix and Affleck stage some scenes that could have been brilliant had they shown how these Hollywood types actually act instead of just alluding to it. There’s a part of the film where Phoenix is show ordering hookers to his room and doing huge amounts of coke. It’s obviously supposed to spotlight how out of control a celebrity is allowed to get and how no one will step in to tell you no. However, when the only other people in the scene are in on the joke, it loses a lot of its power. A scene where Phoenix mourns that he’s broke, about to lose his house and no one cares plays sort of the same. There’s a lot missed opportunities here.

Finally, the major problem with the film overall is that it’s mostly dull. The fact that you know the whole story already from the reports as it was being filmed take away any real surprise. Knowing that it’s not real takes away the fascination that the is it or isn’t it factor would have provided. Some badly overacted moments and as well as ones that weren’t thought out enough leave you with too many things that pull you out of the film. That leaves you with a lot of filler that just isn’t interesting to watch. There’s just only so many times you can watch Phoenix mumble similar dialogue about how he’s being true to himself now as he smokes a cigarette.

This ultimately falls into that category of movies I appreciate, but don’t like. I respect Phoenix for doing this. It took incredible balls to jeopardize your career in order to get a point across. Unfortunately, it’s a lesson that I don’t think anyone really learned and in this twenty-four hour tabloid  news cycle that’s engulfed our country, the whole thing is already totally forgotten. Phoenix and Affleck bamboozled the media for nearly two years, and all of us with them, yet no one feels any dumber for playing right into their hands. If this had been done just a little better, maybe played a bit meaner in Borat fashion, it could have been a classic. It could’ve been the gold standard for meta-joke philosophizing on modern media and celebrity. Instead it ends up being just an inside joke sort of home movie that Affleck and Phoenix can get a chuckle out of for years to come. That’s not going to be worth it if this does indeed hurt Joaquin’s career.

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