Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Netherbeast Incorporated

I figured that the first movie I saw at the film fest would be an appropriate one to review on Halloween. Netherbeast Incorporated is an attempt to do for the vampire movie what Shaun of the Dead did for the zombie movie- kind of. Netherbeast is set in corporate America, revolving around a company run completely by vampires. Already this has potential for a very funny movie, with vampires in suits discussing profit margins, while drinking juice boxes of blood.

Darrell Hammond plays the manager as a blend of every Will Ferrell role ever, and Steve Carrel from The Office. There's nothing original about his performance, but it's still so funny. Something has happened to his brain, and he forgot that himself, and everyone around him are vampires. Because of this he inadvertently brings in an efficiency expert (Judd Nelson), and hires a new employee which they refer to as "a first lifer," meaning she's mortal. The office is thrown into a frenzy trying to hide their dark secret from these newcomers.

Steve Burns (you might remember his as Steve from Blue's Clues), plays Otto, the timid lead, who develops feelings for Pearl (Amy Davidson), the new employee. He tries to build a relationship with her, without revealing too much about the company. This leads to some wonderfully awkward scenes with him trying to explain to her the bizarre activities of their co-workers, and why he can only leave the building once every two months.

Most of the movie relies on the same joke over and over- they're businessmen, and they eat people. This results in some unnecessary, and not well executed gore. Also, they're not vampires per se. They don't follow all of the rules, and new restrictions apply. These are all explained through cut aways to power point presentations. These are clumsy, but they work. Finally, the main conflict comes from the "Netherstone" a chunk of rock they all need to survive. It has disappeared, and they need to find it- culminating in a final action sequence that is dull and amateur at best.

It is decidedly low budget, and clearly spent most of the money getting the cast (Dave Foley rounds out the lead roles). I think they put the money where it was best used. Sure it could have looked cleaner, and the action could have been tightened up, but that part wasn't even necessary in the first place. The saving grace of this movie is definitely the interactions between Otto and Pearl, as well as Turner (Hammond) interacting with everyone. This is his first real lead role, and he does it wonderfully.

It gets old, and some parts fall flat, but for the most part, it succeeds in what it sets out to do. Netherbeast is not necessarily a parody, because it doesn't skewer anything specific. It just completely re-invents a genre, and for the most part, does a good job.


Also, The entire short film it was based on can be seen here

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

100 Most Thrilling Movies

In honor of Halloween, here is my list of the 100 most thrilling movies (and one TV show, and one TV movie) of all time. Included are horror movies, thrillers, action movies, and just about anything that creates suspense. I spent about a month putting this list together, so please argue away.

100. The Stepford Wives (1975)
99. Hard Candy (2005)
98. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
97. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
96. Donnie Darko (2001)
95. Frailty (2001)
94. The Brood (1979)
93. Peeping Tom (1960)
92. The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)
91. Cache (2005)
90. Des Cabinet De Dr. Caligar1 (1920)
89. North by Northwest (1959)
88. Phantasm (1979)
87. Chinatown (1974)
86. Brokedown Palace (1999)
85. Memento (2000)
84. The Matrix (1999)
83. Last House on the Left (1972)
82. Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
81.The Sentinel (1977)
80. Scanners (1981)
79. Repulsion (1965)
78. Fight Club (1999)
77. Invasion of the body Snatchers (1978)
76. The Craft (1996)
75. Pi (1998)
74. Apocalypse Now (1979)
73. Funny Games (1997)
72. The Hitcher (1986)
71. Rosemary's Baby (1968)
70. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
69. The Wicker Man (1973)
68. The Usual Suspects (1995)
67. Scream (1996)
66. The Birds (1963)
65. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
64. Cube (1997)
63. The Blaire Witch Project (1999)
62. The Fly (1986)
61. Hellraiser (1987)
60. Taxi Driver (1976)
59. American Psycho (2000)
58. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
57. Touch of Evil (1958)
56. Natural Born Killers (1994)
55. 28 Days Later (2002)
54. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
53. A History of Violence (2005)
52. Don't Look Now (1973)
51. 12 Monkeys (1995)
50. The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
49. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
48. Manhunter (1986)
47. Carrie (1976)
46. Marathon Man (1976)
45. Eraserhead (1977)
44. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
43. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
42. Halloween (1978)
41. Black Hawk Down (2001)
40. Equillibrium (2002)
39. Interview with a Vampire (1994)
38. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
37. Strangers on a Train (1951)
36. The Game (1997)
35. The X-Files (TV show) (1993-2002)
34. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
33. Nosferatu (1922)
32. Rope (1948)
31. The Devil's Rejects (2005)
30. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
29. Jurassic Park (1993)
28. Freaks (1932)
27. Cape Fear (1962)
26. King Kong (1933)
25. Wizard of Oz (1939)
24. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
23. The Others (2001)
22. It (1990)
21. Suspiria (1977)
20. Alien (1979)
19. Deliverance (1972)
18. The Omen (1976)
17. Misery (1990)
16. Old Boy (2003)
15. Audition (1999)
14. Lost Highway (1997)
13. The Exorcist (1973)
12. The Sixth Sense (1999)
11. Jaws (1975)
10. Psycho (1960)
9. Event Horizon (1997)
8. Ju On: The Grudge (2003)
7. Jacob's Ladder (1990)
6. The Thing (1982)
5. Poltergeist (1982)
4. Rear Window (1954)
3. Silence of the Lambs (1991)
2. Se7en (1995)
1. The Shinning (1980)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Saw IV

The other day I was asked what series I thought would next make it to a tenth installment, and without hesitating, I answered "Saw." They are on their fourth movie, and the only thing that's changed is that the surprises aren't surprising (or don't make any sense), and it's gotten a whole lot gorier.

I'm going to tell you straight away that this is going to contain spoilers from the previous movies, so if you haven't seen them, well, you probably shouldn't see this movie anyway.

It starts out as the last one left off, after the death of Jigsaw. From the first incredibly graphic scene of his autopsy, a tape is found in his stomach, starting a whole new slew of tests that he somehow orchestrated before his death. Granted, everything is wrapped up at the end, in about a minute and a half of rapid fire flashbacks, but I don't really get much about this movie. On top of this, flashbacks to the previous movies, histories of new characters, histories of Jigsaw himself, and an apparent lack of concern for the continuity of time add to the confusion. Characters we previously thought were dead are brought back (at least with facial hair to indicate the passage of time).

I just want to grab these film-makers and yell at them. Making a horror movie more convoluted does not make it better. A twist only works if it makes sense. Nobody cares about a surprise ending when we're not led in any specific direction in the first place. Surprise, we revealed something that you don't even care about. On top of this, every shot is the most important shot in the movie. I hardly think walking around an interrogation room warrants speed effects, and a "whoosh."

I actually had to go onto some IMDB message boards trying to find help explaining some things in the Saw universe. The most common interpretations are that the movies are all intertwined, some parts happening at the same time. Maybe if you sat down one night and watched all four of them, you might be able to follow it.

I really tried to get swept up in this concept. I think it's very interesting, and actually enjoyed the low budget first installment. Perhaps they should have just kept it at that, though I suppose guaranteed box office returns wouldn't let them. It's a fascinating genre all unto itself, but unfortunately just collapsed under the weight of its own convoluted self-importance.

Jigsaw sums it up nicely "Time is an illusion." That's the truth, but when it comes to Saw, reality itself is an illusion.


American Gangster

This is the first out of my top 20 anticipated movies I was able to see. It certainly deserved a spot on that list. Ridley Scott again teams up with Russell Crowe, and this time brings in Denzel Washington into a bad guy role he's proven he can handle. The three of them together create a modern crime epic, that despite some resemblance to Goodfellas, feels very fresh.

American Gangster tells the true story of Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), a drug kingpin who builds an empire using army resources to smuggle heroin from Vietnam to New York. He manages to do all of this while remaining anonymous to the corrupt police. This is until they bring in Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) an officer notorious for honesty, and an outcast among his fellow officers. The honesty in his professional life is contrasted with his failing marriage. The brutality of Lucas' professional life, is contrasted with the way he takes care of his family. Washington, of course, gives a stellar performance. Crowe, on the other hand, just sounds like a Brit trying to sound like he's from Jersey. That's okay, he still brings character to the role.

Scott once again proves himself to be one of our best directors, never letting up on the excitement, or the character development during the entire movie. Who knew that watching characters evolve could be so tense. He could very well be gaining an Oscar nomination, but there's so many worthy directors this year, who knows. The reverse roles of Roberts and Lucas was made a little too blatant, almost telling us about that theme straight away in the trailers. And without giving away too much, it all wraps up a little too neatly and quickly at the end.

The atmosphere is gritty, really gritty. It's great contrasting the streets where Roberts and his team is living, and the upper class luxury Lucas enjoys. He feeds the addiction of the slums, all while staying clear of it. It's hard to sympathize with a character like this, but when you see him with his family, it's just as hard not to. Likewise, you know Roberts is a good guy, but when you see him with his wife, you think he's a sleaze.

The movie isn't flawless, and it probably won't go down in history like the Godfather, or Goodfellas, or even the Departed probably will. It is, however, a fantastic crime drama that actually has humanity.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

Savannah Film Fest

The Savannah Film Fest is this week, and unfortunately I could only get tickets to 4 screenings- most of them shorts. But expect a number of reviews following. Also, a bunch of movies on my top 20 list were released this weekend, so I'm going to try to get to those as soon as possible.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Hoax

The Hoax was a delightful, and overlooked film from early 2007. The movie is a dramatized account of Clifford Irving (Richard Gere), author of an exclusive autobiography of Howard Hughes. The problem? It was all made up. The movie follows the sometimes hilarious, and sometimes tragic efforts to keep up this ruse, and salvage his writing career.

Gere does in the Hoax what he does best. Takes a moderately sleazy character, and plays him with such charm, that you have to half believe what he says. He goes to great lengths to keep up the charade, creating absolutely vivid stories on the spot, and convince everyone around him. His writings even convince the only reporter to have in depth experience with Hughes, ("Capturing all of his mannerisms and speech patterns"). It's interesting how people are captivated by this struggling author only when they think what he's saying is true, as opposed to simply very good stories.

The character isn't all fun, however. As people begin to get more and more suspicious he gets more and mores desperate and paranoid. Veteran director Lasse Hallstrom includes scenes that force you to question whether their real or not. Does Hughes actually capitalize on this media frenzy as a distraction to his failing airlines? Does he use Irving to send a message to Washington that he's really still in charge? Or is all about Irving getting lost deeper and deeper into the character of Howard Hughes- so deep that he loses track of what's real? The audience is never shown for sure.

The best part of the movie was Irving's writing partner, Dick Suskind (Alfred Molina). He is the most truly conflicted character, drawn in by the promise of fame and money (and Irving's smooth talking ), but continuously second guessing the idea. After his rather human turn as Spider Man villain, Doctor Octopus, he's shown to apt at tackling some complex characters.

Interestingly, the real Clifford Irving did not like his portrayal in this movie (even though he signed off on it), saying that it made him look bad. That's actually kind of funny that a person who was made famous by making up someone's life is upset by his own portrayal. Indeed, some of the conflict between him and Suskind, and published, Shelton Fisher (Stanley Tucci) seemed a little tacked on. It worked in the story, but didn't seem very real.

Regardless of how accurate the story is, it's a captivating movie. Both Irving and Suskind are characters with a lot of depth, and the mystery behind how much Hughes manipulated the situation is just fascinating. Some of the side stories were a little contrived, but the bulk of the movie is only enhanced by the fact that this really happened.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Top 10 Car Chases

I've actually posted this before, but never on this site. I'm sure you'll hate me for some of them, but enjoy.

10. Bad Boys II- This movie was terrible, but the freeway car chase was fantastic, possibly the only good thing Michael Bay ever did. The cars falling from the back of the truck is honestly one of the most absurde things I've ever seen in an action sequence, but it works so well. Special commendations for the CG Mountain Dew product placement flying out of one of the crashing cars.

9. Ronin- This is one of the best shot movies on this list. The directing really is astounding. Doesn't hurt that diector John Frankenheimer was a grand prix driver, and he gave the instructions during the chases "I don't want to see no brake lights." Perhaps the most exciting moments are towards the end of the chase between the Audi S8 and the Citroen through the incredibly narrow streets is as good as they come.

8. The Italian Job (2003)- I may be strung up for this one, but I feel that the remake was better than the original. It was just as exciting, and less absurd (albeit only slightly). They kept everything important from the original- namely the mini coopers, and added a bit of flair that had been lacking. And the subway finish is just fantastic.

7. The Matrix Reloaded- Again, not a good movie, but an amazing scene. I include this scene because despite the tremendous use of CG in the rest of the movie, that kept in the tradition of using real cars in this scene. It's 12 minutes of excitment, and it's beautifuly shot. I will say, however, it's easily the least likely carchase to be seen in real life- though Bad Boys II does give it a run for it's money on that.

6. Blues Brothers- This was a tough call, but I'm including the mall chase over the Chicago climax. The mall is just so damn funny. Who would have ever thought that a car chase could be that funny- even more than Smokey and the Bandit and the Man with the Golden Gun. It's just a fun filled romp of destruction through a shopping mall, with perfectly timed, nonchalant, witty commentary.

5. Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)- This is the original, not the terrible Nicholas Cage remake. I am of course talking about the climactic chase at the end- or actually the entire second half of the movie. The chase scene nears 40 minutes long. It gets a little tiresom at times, but it's never repetitive, and keeps up the excitment the whole time. Allegedly this scene took 7 months to shoot, and I believe it.

4. French Connection- This has to be the most intense scene on the list. It has an interesting concept of Gene Hackman pursuing a suspect who hijacked an elevated train. He follows along on the streets below. There's very little actual destruction in this sequence, but just the intense acting of Hackman shows that he would stop at absolutely nothing.

3. Vanishing Point- As far as the actual story goes, this one is at number one. This car chase is essentially the entire movie. It's not like most where the chase is just fast and intense, these film makers knew how to build suspense. So much can be done in the lull between the major parts to to build the characters. This movie features the open road as its medium, as opposed to the crowded streets. It's almost more like a buddy picture between him and the radio DJ than an action flick. It really is just a fantastic movie, and one of the best endings of any car chase.

2. Bullitt- Steve McQueen really is the grand-daddy of all stunt drivers. It had been a while since I had seen this and I was a little skeptical of putting it on. But after watching it again, I remembered why it was so good. Actually driving at speeds over 100 miles an hour, this scene is really intense. And having it set in SanFransisco allows the cars to play off the landscape more than in and other setting. I will say it ends a little abruptly, but maybe that's because it only feels like half of the 10 minute length.

1. To Live and Die in LA- It's really tough to pick one for the #1 spot, and I really think the top 3 actually are a tie. I picked this one though, because I think it's the most real out of any of them. In this scene, the drivers arenn't perfect. They come to an obstruction that can't be crossed- they stop. It blends high energy, with necessary lulls so that the viewer doesn't get bored. The finale on the expressway is also one of the most amazing things I've ever seen on film. It doesn't look like a movie, it looks like actual footage of a massive pileup. I sill have no idea how they did it all.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The King of Kong

Hands down, the best documentary this year, and one of the most entertaining movies this year- period. If this doesn't get a Oscar nod, I'm boycotting the ceremony (not like I usually watch it anyway). The King of Kong continues a recent trend of nerdy activities given the star documentary treatment. I follows on the heels of relatively recent movies such as Spellbound, Wordplay, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (a movie about bowling, not Sean Connery's schlock fest).

King of Kong tells the story of the bitter rivalry between Billy Mitchell, Donkey Kong world champion of over 20 years, and Steve Wiebe, a middle school science teacher who took up playing the game in his spare time. The conflict in the movie doesn't begin until a ways into it, with Wiebe submitting a new record score, and having it rejected on suspicion of fraudulence. The problem? The organization doing the record keeping, Twin Galaxies, is under the iron fisted influence of Mitchell. So now it's a competition as to who can set the highest legitimate score.

At its core, this is not so much a movie about that rivalry, but a movie about the gaming community, and the gamers themselves. Unfortunately, I was a little weary about some of this. The movie painted Wiebe as a clear hero: straight arrow, honest, integrity, and kind of a push-over. While Mitchell was portrayed as a sneaky, underhanded, and manipulative weasel (though some of what he did and much of what he said seemed to fit that persona). I just hate to take whatever the film-makers say as the gospel without knowing about the situation myself. For example, Wiebe's wife and kids got quite a bit of screen time- painting him as a family man, while Mitchell's wife was only in one or two scenes, contradicting him.

This movie goes far beyond just the two of them. It encompasses the whole culture of competitive gaming. It features Walter Day, the founder of Twin Galaxies and grand martial of all competitive gaming in the U.S. He also happens to be a folk-singer on the side, so the movie , of course, contains the obligatory scenes with him standing outside singing annoying songs about games. It also features video game legends like Steve Sanders, Todd Rogers, and Doris Self (the adorable 80 year old travelling around the country trying to regain her Q-Bert record). It's almost inspirational seeing these social outcasts get their moment, and feel perfectly at home doing what they are so good at.

Whether you agree with what director Seth Gordon is trying drive home, this is a fantastically entertaining movie. It gets into the technical difficulties of Donkey Kong, as well as the emotional stresses put on those that play it. It covers the culture as a whole, while really getting you attached to individuals. It even has some moments that keep you on the edge of your seat as much as any action movie. I've waited months and months to see this, and now that I have, I was not disappointed in the least. One of the best movies so far this year.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Wrong Turn 2: Dead End

Occasionally I will indulge and watch an utterly horrible straight to video sequel. Well, more than occasionally. Wrong Turn 2 is just that. It is the sequel to a movie that should not have been made in the first place. Oddly, the sequel was actually better, albeit only slightly, completely based on the inclusion of Henry Rollins. No matter bad a movie is, it always gets a half-point bump when he's in it.

The first movie involved a family of deformed cannibalistic hillbillies (I mean that in the best possible way), who survives off of trapping passing travelers. The first one was actually a very serious, grim movie, with all the characters playing the roles straight. At least with the sequel, they realized what they were dealing with, and everything loosened up a bit. In Wrong Turn 2 (I'm not sure whether it's a sequel or prequel, but I suppose that doesn't matter in the Wrong Turn continuity) we are now witness to a new reality show. Right there you can tell that it's not taking itself seriously. The premise of the show, if I remember correctly, is that this group of contestants are the last survivors from a nuclear Holocaust. I know, almost hilariously obvious. Of course, it doesn't take long before they really are fending for their lives...and you probably already can guess the rest.

There's really not much at all to say about this movie, and in complete honesty, it's not worth the time to write (or read) a long review about a movie we've all seen a thousand times. The only thing (and I mean the absolutely only thing) that kept me actually watching to the end, was Henry Rollins. He is almost like a current Bruce Campbell.


Saturday, October 6, 2007

Year of the Dog

I felt like I was watching a Wes Anderson movie, while watching this debut from Mike White. He has had quite an illustrious career being yet another Freaks and Geeks writer, as well as collaborator on a majority of Jack Black movies. This was his first time in the director's chair, and he managed to craft a world filled with unhappy and desperately flawed characters. The thing that doesn't make it quite meet up with Anderson is that these quirky characters don't have the deep and witty undertones to make them compelling. Still, it was a very good effort.

Molly Shannon stars as a secretary who's life changes when her dog dies. She realizes how lonely she actually is, and she sets of on a journey of self-discovery. This involves getting a new dog, meeting men, becoming a vegan and an animal rights activist. It's debatable whether she really feels strongly about these causes, whether it's just to alleviate the guilt from her own dog, or whether it's to impress a guy. This struggle of motivation and morality adds an important level of death. Her character is a tragic one, but she's certainly not blameless. Shannon, an SNL alum and veteran of a slew of bad comedies does a wonderful job in the first real dramatic role I've seen her in. She has experience doing over the top zany, but apparently she can also handle subtlety very well. I'd like to see her team up with Noah Baumbach or Dan Harris.

John C. Reily and Peter Sarsgaard star as her love interests. Sarsgaard is the tree-hugging activist she's trying to impress, and Reily is the more down to earth, but not necesarilly an animal lover (he hunts). She has to learn to deal with her own inner demons, as well as the flaws of others. Sometimes she does so admirably, but other times she handles situations very poorly. That's what makes her real.

As the movie progresses, she descends further and further into herself, and into insanity. As her human relationships crumble, she takes desperate measures, and loses her grip on what's acceptable and what's not. Towards the end, the movie swiftly changes from an almost light-hearted character study into a deeply dark failure of inter-personal relations.

The only characters I didn't really understand were her brother and sister-in-law. They added a bit of light-hearted comedy, being the over-protective, allergen sniffing parents, but they didn't forward the plot much. They kind of functioned as a foil to Shannon's character, but her friend, Layla (Regina King) fulfilled that role much better. She was truly the most normal character to bounce Shannon's eccentricities off of.


Friday, October 5, 2007

Sweeny Todd Trailer

Here's the first official Sweeny Todd Trailer

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Ten

The Ten is another movie comprised of a number of shorts- in the same vein as Paris Je t'aime. This movie, unfortunately, was not nearly as good. It takes a comedic route, and gives us ten stories based on the ten commandments. There is a bit of overlap between the stories with the came characters appearing in several of them. Then Ten is a who's who catalog of second tier actors, and a few stars. Jessica Alba, Adam Brody, Rob Corddry, Famke Janssen, Ken Marino, Oliver Platt, Winona Ryder, Liev Schreiber, and Paul Rudd all have roles. Despite the potential, the whole doesn't quite add up to the sum of its parts.

David Wain (Wet Hot American Summer) creates a few very entertaining shorts, but only a few of them. The rest are rather stale, and never really come together. Adam Brody functions as a sort of narrator introducing each story, which also is a story about adultery. This method of tying everything together through these interludes doesn't really work.

Most of the stories are very loosely tied to the commandments they represent. It starts out with a story about a man who gets embedded in the ground after a sky-diving accident, and becomes a TV star (that's vaguely supposed to be about worshiping false idols). One of the segments was grotesquely animated, reminding me of mid 90's MTV animation. Neither of these parts are very good. Most of these just featured slapstick, foul language, and perversion.

Some of the segments were actually very funny. One dealt with a doctor sent to prison for willful negligence. His defense- it was a "goof" (joke). This concept of the goof carried on through much of the movie, and was consistently funny. Another part was about a feud between two neighbors which sparked a competition in buying CAT scan machines- each one trying to buy more than the other. If all the stories had been at this caliber (even the one starring Jesus as a Mexican handyman was good), the movie would have been great. Most of the shorts were not up to snuff.

Everything especially fell apart at the end. The last part was a musical number about men staying home from church- which was funny especially because they were all nude. But this then dissolves into an even bigger musical number featuring the cast from the other shorts. This turned out to be a very poor way to end the movie, and left the audience both confused and a little disillusioned.

I know most of this review was negative, but it wasn't all bad. You will laugh, quite a bit. Some of the segments were excellent, and most of them had at least a little funny. It just doesn't work as a whole piece. It seems that the concept of common themed shorts works better on the serious front- Paris Je t'aime, or Coffee and Cigarettes.