Tag Archives: Indie

Bone Tomahawk (2015)

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Rating- B+/ Normally, I’m not the biggest fan of Westerns. I occasionally like to watch one with my dad, but they’re not typically my favorite genre, or my second favorite genre, for that matter. That said, the premise for Bone Tomahawk immediately caught my interest. A western? Pfft. With hill-dwelling cannibals? Huh. With cannibals and a bit of the old ultra-violence? Gentlemen, you had my curiosity. now you have my attention. I just had to watch it.

My level of interest was increased exponentially by the presence of Richard Jenkins, a veteran character actor I’ve loved and admired since my early teen years, when I saw him in Burn After Reading and The Visitor. But really, like any other of the ubiquitous American character actors that blend into small roles in big movies every year, I’d seen him so many times before that. And let me tell you, this movie started out with a bang.

Rather than being a straight-out slow burn, Bone Tomahawk starts out cuckoo and then slows down around the middle to reflect on it’s themes and characters, then becomes balls-out sadistic in it’s final act. Some people think the 2/3 part drags, but I would not be among them. How can a movie drag with such a great cast of actors and characters. If you want to flat-out categorize this as a horror-western, then Bone Tomahawk has something 99.9% of contemporary horror movies lack- it makes you give a damn about it’s protagonists. Which is something in this day and age as rare as Aztec Gold.

Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell) is the cool-as-a-cucumber man of the law in a tiny town in the old West ironically dubbed ‘Bright Hope,’ this moniker being ironic because three people have just been abducted from Bright Hope by feral hill people who also happen to be inbred cannibals.  Arthur (Patrick Wilson) is the happily married man and former cowboy whose wife Samantha (Lili Simmons) is abducted by the psychos.

This comes at a particularly bad time for him (not that there’s any particularly good time to have your wife kidnapped by cannibals) because Arthur has recently broken his leg falling off a roof and must decide whether to go after her in his current condition or stand by impotently while the love of his life gets eaten by hill people. Except for Arthur, there’s no deciding about it. He’s going, man.

Arthur and Hunt are accompanied by Brooder (Lost‘s Matthew Fox), an racially biased flirt and Chicory (Richard Jenkins,) a chatty eccentric and Hunt’s right hand man despite his rapidly advancing age. Together they have no idea what they’re getting into, and personalities clash when Brooder’s abrasive nature, lack of compassion, and casual racism butts up against the others’ surprisingly Liberal values. Added to the explosive mix is Arthur’s hotheadedness when it comes to saving his wife his way and his powerlessness when dealing with his broken leg. Not to mention how fast the posses’ horses get stolen by Mexican bandits. How could this situation go wrong? Add conflict, injury, and homicidal cannibal nutcases and stir well. Let simmer.

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Bone Tomahawk is an exceptionally well-written and well-thought out horror movie that happens to have a few scenes that rival the fucking Human Centipede in gore factor. And I’m not talking the surprisingly tame Human Centipede I. I’m talking Human Centipede II, with Martin tearing out peoples’ tendons, baby. Except this movie offers more in the dialogue department than the THC movies. Not that that would be hard.

The conversations the characters have in their blooddrenched journey is fairly idiosyncratic, a little Tarantino-esque, but with a verve of it’s own. Subjects such as flea circuses and reading in the bath might seem a little random and out of context until you realize no, they make more sense than you originally suspected. Slowly, the pieces of the narrative start to fall into place, the good, the gory, and the weird.

And boy, is this movie gory. There was one death in particular (you’ll know it when you see it) that had me squirming in my seat. And I am not a prude. Depending on your threshold for really bloody movies, this might have you cheering or running in the other direction. The violence is really raw and sadistic, definitely not for everybody, or even most people for that matter. But it’s not all about the gore here. The filmmaker, a first-time director named S. Craig Zahler, has more tricks up his sleeve than just wanton brutality.

Although the characters’ lack of true shock and horror at the events unfolding rapidly in front of them seems kind of unlikely given the circumstances (they seem disturbingly calm after having someone disemboweled in front of them, not a likely reaction for anyone who isn’t a hardcore psychopath,) this movie is for anyone who’s wanted to see the Western genre done a little differently, but with a deft hand in terms of dialogue and character development.

The miracle of Bone Tomahawk is that it utterly keeps your attention and your investment in it’s characters alive for it’s 2+ hour runtime. That’s no mean feat for a first-time director who allegedly was told my many people prior to filming that this movie couldn’t be done. Maybe they should have spent more time making their own movies and less time arguing that Zahler couldn’t see this project to completion. But as Taylor Swift wisely said, the haters gonna hate, and this film is evidence of their failure to sway the dream of a potential-packed filmmaker with a bright future.

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The Road Within (2014)

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So, I did the unthinkable last night, I watched a remake of a foreign movie before viewing the original. The Road Within is a remake of the 2010 German film, Vincent Wants to Sea, and I’ve heard it is a very faithful adaptation. Anyway, if that is the case, I might as well cross Vincent off my itinerary. The Road Within may be an independent film, but it feels as pedestrian as they come.

Let’s cut to the chase; the real problem here isn’t the script (trite and hokey as it is,) but Dev Patel. Fucking Dev Patel, man, Robert Sheehan plays Vincent, a Tourette’s Syndrome victim with a anger management problem in this movie, and he’s quite good. He’s making a monumental effort against a weak script with his solid performance.

Following his alcoholic mother’s death, Vincent is sent to a behavioral therapy program by his cold-hearted  politician father (Robert Patrick) and so sooner has he been dropped off and virtually abandoned by pops he befriends a flirty pixyish anorexic (Zoe Kravitz) and hits the road in his therapist’s stolen car to scatter his  mother’s ashes at sea.

Of course there’s one small problem, besides that whole ‘wanted felons in a stolen car’ thing. Vincent and the Anorexic, Marie have taken Vincent’s annoying roommate, Alex (Dev Patel) with them, quite forcibly (to prevent him from narcing them out to the doctors at the facility,) and that’s where the film really falters.

Don’t watch this if you’re an Obsessive-compulsive Disorder victim like me; it will just infuriate and baffle you. Alex is a pedantic clean freak who suffers from OCD, and that’s where the filmmaker’s development of his character ends. His character more often than not provides some kind of ghastly slapstick, his eyes bulging out like a deranged Marty Feldman incarnate, jumping about comically like a spastic and screaming about ‘poo’ and ‘contamination’ whenever someone touches him.

It’s pretty much the tackiest OCD stereotype one can imagine, and I felt almost embarrassed for the actor and the filmmaker in that (a they treated a complex and serious illness this way and (b that they thought people with OCD actually act like this. While Sheehan’s part is underwritten and pretty cliche as far as depictions of Tourette’s Syndrome go (choosing to portray the uncontrollable cursing that sometimes- but not typically- goes with the illness,) his character is written with some finesse and sympathy, and the actor creates a somewhat likable protagonist with admittedly limited resources. He seems, more or less, like someone who could exist in the real world.

Contrary to this movie’s depiction of OCD, people suffering from the illness are not psychotic or retarded (we may in fact be borderline crazy, if ‘insanity’ is defined by having an unfortunate mental condition that hinders our day-to-day functioning, but I desist.) The director, Gren Wells, could just as well have hired Adam Sandler (Happy Madison productions Sandler, not Punch-Drunk Love Sandler) to play Alex and it probably would have been just as convincing a portrayal. Patel’s shtick gets old fast, and by fast I mean the minute he’s introduced into the movie.

Besides the unfortunate depiction of certain psychological conditions, the setup of The Road Within is painfully standard, with characters apparently reaching recovery from a healing road trip and lots and lots of big discussions about the trio’s illnesses effect on their lives. Robert Patrick does a good job (and actually has a touching monologue near the end) but his character is just too unbelievable, going full circle from uncaring jerk to genuinely loving dad thanks to a few short conversations with Vincent’s shrink (Kyra Sedgwick.) The transformation just isn’t plausible with you consider the father, Robert’s years of being a total asshole to his son.

It all ties into a neat tidy bundle at the end and despite some good scenes and performances, ultimately has little to say about the character’s conditions. Comedies, whether convivial or dark, about mental illness can be effective; just look at Benny & Joon, The Silver Linings Playbook, and The bizarro black comedy The Voices. The Voices was offensive as offensive can be, but it didn’t try to be anything other than a pitch black comedy. The Silver Linings Playbook performed the high wire act between being light and funny and not trivializing the characters’ illnesses. The Road Within has it’s moments, but ultimately it’s just not a substantial flick, obtaining cheap laughs from the character’s  respective maladies and telling a well-meaning yet tired story with no real surprises.

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Halloween (1978)

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It may seem unconventional to review a slasher movie called Halloween in the midst of the Yuletide season, but I’ve never been much good at these things, so please, bear with me.

On Halloween night fifteen years ago, a six-year-old boy and very sick cookie named Michael Myers stabbed his older sister to death with a steak knife. Cut to present day, it’s Halloween once more, and Myers is on the prowl again, returning to his native town of Haddonfield, Illinois in search of new blood. The only thing that stands between brainy teen Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and unspeakable evil is the dedicated shrink Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence.) Loomis thinks Myers is sick, incurably sick and he’s determined to stop him from killing again if it’s the last thing he does.

Of course, a killer in a film has to have victims, and these are helpfully provided by Laurie’s ditzy, slutty friends (Nancy Kyes and P.J. Soles,) who go down in a classic scream queen fashion- usually partially or entirely undressed. What Myers didn’t count on was Laurie being a startlingly formidable opponent and knitting needle-assassin, doing her best to keep herself and the kids she’s babysitting (Kyle Richards and Bryan Andrews) alive while Loomis rushes to get there in time.

  Halloween has an absurdly simple premise and it’s done on a modest budget, but it’s one of the most successful horror movies of all time. Why? Well, John Carpenter’s sleeper has a few killer tricks up it’s sleeve, including spooky cinematography, a chilling score, and an extraordinary final girl in Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode. It lacks the graphic gore and  showy bodily dismemberment of it’s peers, doing well by keeping most of the carnage to your imagination.

Rather than being a fallible human  opponent or tragic victim of childhood mistreatment (as he is portrayed in Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake of the same name,) Michael Myers is a unstoppable force of nature- an entity of almost supernatural evil who is determined to kill… and kill again, no matter how many bullets and sharp implements pierce his malevolent hide.

Poor, long-suffering Loomis has his work cut out for him- and his toil continues for an extensive line of sequels. Myers’ unbeatable and ambiguous nature makes him both a fresh and terrifying villain and a bit of an annoying plot device; a villain who can’t be killed puts Loomis and Strode in a kind of a frustrating position, and the audience in a bit of a bind themselves- what the hell is he? That odd bit of uncanny might be invigorating for some horror fans, but for me it kind of boggled my mind in a bad way, and I tended to annoyance at his invincibility and often wanted to scream “Die, you fuck, Die!” at my big-screen TV.

However, Halloween is a shining reminder that you can make a superior movie with an inferior budget. The actors shine (with the frustrating exception of Nancy Kyes as the more aggravating of Laurie’s two friends, who’s mannered inflection and practiced flaky attitude in the stuff of nightmares.)

    Halloween has it’s truly creepy moments and the film managed to introduce three iconic characters- Myers, Strode, and Loomis, who is dedicated to cleaning up a shitstain of a situation- somebody has to- but is not without his moments of humor, like when he stands outside the Myers house and scares the crap out of some adolescent boys; just for funsies (!)

   Halloween isn’t the best or scariest horror movie of all time, but it’s a vital addition to a genre that doesn’t always contain the most high quality or intelligent movies. For all it’s slashings and demented antics from a masked, seemingly motiveless killer, it is a smart film; it knows what scares you, and incorporates those fears into an utterly ordinary suburban environment, where nice middle class citizens work and play.

The idea, of course, is that if it happened to them, it could happen to you; a chilling concept partially or totally absent from horror films with more fantastical elements. If you have a soft spot for horror but don’t like loads of blood and Hostel style torture over atmosphere and restrained terror, look no further than John Carpenter’s spooky classic, the sleeper that defined a genre. No horror fan’s collection is complete without the movie that started it all.

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Tangerine (2015)

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Trashy people doing trashy things, set to the score of an interminable Dubstep soundtrack. The most interesting thing about this movie (shot on a cheap cell phone camera) is how it got the critics jizzing their pants over it.

I won’t deny that Tangerine is probably a pretty accurate reflection of a certain way of life, but in the process of portraying a transgendered working girl’s gritty urban existence, the film makes commits two unpardonable filmmaking sins- it completely lacks a interesting narrative or characters worth investing your sympathy in. The actors possess a certain naturalism and finesse for a movie with a budget this low, but who gives a shit about this story? The non plot combined with an instantly unlikable protagonist make Tangerine tedious as just over eighty minutes long.

Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez)- seriously, that name- is a transsexual prostitute (and still the possessor of male sexual organs) who get out after a short stint of jail to find out from her bestie (Mya Taylor) that her man and pimp has been screwing around on her. The entire movie concerns Sin Dee traipsing around L.A. trying to find her guy (James Ransone) so she can raise some hell. An admittedly much more interesting subplot concerns an unhappily married Armenian cab driver (Karren Karagulian) with a preference for trans hookers that still have their cocks intact. Unsurprisingly, this causes some tension with his wife and mother-in-law.

However, this plotline is never resolved as the narrative focuses on the unbearably catty and self-absorbed Sin-Dee as she spends Christmas Eve in Los Angeles seeing her quest through. Sin-Dee talks, looks, and acts like a character in a reality television program and I can imagine most people would only play along with her bullshit for so long. You keep your hands off her man, you hear, or otherwise she might just have to bust you up! Some viewers might find her sympathetic, I didn’t. It’s not that people like her don’t exist, they emphatically do, but I was utterly disinclined to watch her throw a hissy fit for eighty minutes.

If there’s a discernible plot to this movie, I’d be enthralled to know what it is. There’s some sex, some drug abuse, a catfight between Sin-Dee and her boyfriend’s new lay (Mickey O’Hagen.) There’s a lot of Sin-Dee wandering around the ghetto spewing profanities and man-handling various people. It’s hard to care about a story that goes absolutely nowhere and harder still to care about a trashy queen with a flair for drama and seeing others anxious or upset. If you want to see a trans woman struggling with her gender identity in an inner city environment, watch Gun Hill Road. That was an amazing film that grabbed your heart and didn’t let go.

I’ll admit, Tangerine looks passable compared to other independent films shot on cell phones. it even has an element of realism, and I don’t fault the actors one bit for my utter disinterest in the film as a whole. They took what they had to work with and they ran with it. But Tangerine  is not funny and it is not dramatically satisfying. Being that Sin-Dee scarcely shows a sympathetic human side, instead choosing to bask in drama and the heartache of her friends and neighbors, it’s really hard to like or empathize with her. I admire the good ideas this film incorporates into it’s script, but it’s so hard to sit through as a whole. A film needs a plot to carry its characters to a chosen destination, and it is in that area that Tangerine seriously lacks.

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People Places Things (2015)

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Will Henry (Jemaine Clement) is a socially awkward graphic novelist and a native New Zealander living in New York whose world caves in the day of his twin daughters (Audria and Gia Gadsby)’s fifth birthday parties, when he heads upstairs during the festivities and catches his longtime girlfriend Charlie (Stephanie Allyne) banging her pudgy, affable lover Gary (Michael Chernus)

One year to the day, and Will is still feeling majorly bluesey in the wake of his big break-up. Reluctantly allowed to see his girls on weekends, Will is teaching graphic art at a local college but really doesn’t have his heart in it, preferring instead to immaturely lecture his students on why life, and people in general, totally sucks. Kat (Jessica Williams,) a blunt but good-natured student introduces the lonely Will to her attractive divorcee mother Diane (Regina Hall,) and after a rocky start sparks begin to fly.

However, Will still has feelings for his moody, fickle, and completely exasperating ex, who’s having doubts about her marriage to the girlfriend-stealing Gary, and Will must choose to get over his bitterness and self-doubt and find out how to best serve the interests of not only him, but also his daughters, and ultimately move on.

“People Places Things” is one of those little movies that has completely flown under the radar, and unless, of course, you have a soft spot for the Kiwi funnyman Jemaine Clement, you’re likely to go your whole life without hearing about it. This is a shame, because “People Places Things” is good and true in a way that few American films aspire to be. Will is a very believable character, sometimes delightful, sometimes infuriating, I found myself dubbing him a ‘loser’ over his immaturity and unprofessionalism and at the same time admiring his undeniable love for his kids and his creative spark.

This movie should be called ‘When Nerdy College Professors With Too Much Knowledge and Not Enough People Skills Fall in Love.’ The humor in “People Places Things” is not as much of the ‘laugh-til-you-cry’ variety and more wry, subtle, and oddly relatable, there are no huge happenings in this film and we don’t hold that against it in the least. There is a refreshing lack grand comic misunderstandings in the arguments between Will and his love interest, Diane, they are all messy disagreements that not only very often happen in the real world, they do, every day.

When Will and Diane first have dinner together, Diane callously dismisses graphic novels as an art form. This understandably miffs Will, it is important in a developing relationship for someone to care about the things we’re passionate about, or at least try to understand why we like them. They part on less-than-friendly terms, and the viewer patiently waits for their lives  to converge again, because, hey, maybe these two could have something here. After all, the majority of movie lovers start out on relatively shaky grounds.

The actors do an outstanding job with the material they’re given, and that includes the two child actresses, whose performances are smooth and unforced. They share a genuine comfortableness with Clement, a naturalism that makes us believe they are kin. Jemaine Clement plays a man for whom social skills do not come naturally without the over-the-top ‘geek’ theatrics of popular television programs like The Big Bang Theory and Chuck. He played a similarly awkward protagonist in Eagle Vs. Shark, but his Will is infinitely more relatable and more sympathetic than Eagle…‘s creepy, maladjusted Jarrod.

People Places Things is one of the relatively ‘small’ films that get ignored yearly in favor of bigger, more robust productions. For a bit of wry real-life observational humor, don’t let this charming little comedy pass you by.’

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Clean, Shaven (1993)

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Writer/director Lodge Kerrigan’s Schizophrenic protagonist, Peter Winters (Peter Greene,) doesn’t say an intelligible word for the first fifteen minutes or so of “Clean, Shaven.” He seems to be in a perpetual state of great agitation, guided by voices in his head and his own determination to find his young daughter, Nicole (Jennifer McDonald.) It is clear he is in no position to care for a child, but in a sick, sad way, we want to invest in him, even as we suspect him of unspeakable atrocities.

“Clean, Shaven” is not a pretty movie. It portrays the hellscape of a psychotic break in an immediate, confrontative way that has rarely been touched upon in the world of film. Peter has a psychological obsession with removing his body hair. He cuts himself to the quick, nicks his scalp with bloody results, and at one point peels his own fingernail off before the appalled viewer.

All this is shown in agonizing close-up, as Peter embarks on a tormented journey to find his daughter, who his mother (Megan Owen) put up for adoption years before. Peter’s auditory hallucinations are brought to life in the form of jarring sound mixing. There’s nary a relaxing or cathartic  moment in “Clean, Shaven,” so determined is it to capture daily life from a madman’s perspective. In harsh contrast to a movie where every element of character and backstory is offered up under no uncertain terms, “Clean, Shaven” leaves nearly everything to subtext and the shadowy recesses of the imagination.

We see the events much in the distorted, kaleidoscopic way Peter would see them, without context or explanation. Meanwhile a less-than-savory detective (Robert Albert) is on Peter’s trail, and the manhunt leads to a ugly confrontation where no one will emerge unscathed.

“Clean, Shaven” is supposed to be an extremely accurate clinical depiction of a person suffering from a psychotic disorder. I wouldn’t know. I’m fortunate enough to not have faced a Schizophrenia diagnosis in myself or a loved one, though anxiety disorders are all too well known for me. For viewers who get subversive pleasure from watching the dark side of the human mind offered up on film, “Clean, Shaven” may prove to be a rare delight.

For what it’s worth, Peter Greene gives an unforgettable turn as the deeply disturbed Peter Winters. He slips so imperceptibly into the skin of someone suffering form a severe mental illness that he could just as well be a loon on the street, not an actor getting paid to portray the terrifying illnesses that can beset the mind. Every tic, every twitch, every seemingly misplaced whisper and mutter seems so real you could be watching a documentary about mental illness rather than a piece of fiction.

The ending leaves the viewer to puzzle out what it all meant, rather than offering easy explanations. The best way to describe the film altogether would be harrowing, but also sometimes tedious. It is hard to truly care about the characters in a movie when next to nothing is revealed about them. Take Peter’s mother, Gladys. She seems distant, even cold, and her only act of maternal concern is bullying her son into eating a sandwich she has fixed when he comes by looking for his daughter.

But was she a devoted mother at one time, before psychosis took her son from her? Does she love him, even now? There’s a distinct lack of heartfelt monologues, emotive testaments to  the character’s relationships. “Clean, Shaven” is as uncomfortably clinical as an instructional film on Schizophrenia. Lodge Kerrigan provides a lean, mean, ice-cold critique on what being psychotic might feel like; like Michael Haneke, he doesn’t exactly endear his characters to us; unlike Haneke, he doesn’t revile them either.

They are what they are, and Kerrigan doesn’t sentimentalize them or make them appear to be any more or less than than that. They’re there, and they’re hurting. Anything else that might be gleaned from their personality is strictly subtext.

“Clean, Shaven” is worth watching at least once by film fans, for it’s unflinching realism and sharp observation. It’s not for everyone; to say it is not a popcorn flick would be putting it mildly. There’s no easy answers, it fearlessly plumbs the depths of the lead’s insanity. The premise will ensnare you, but it is Greene who will haunt you for days with his wracking portrayal of psychological torment.

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Fido (2006)

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In “Fido”‘s candy-colored, whimsical 50’s-esque  world, zombies are obedient servants of mankind and as gentle as a family dog- just keep those pesky electronic control collars turned on so your faithful friend stays domesticated and servile! Zombie-phobic Bill (Dylan Baker,) haunted by the years when the undead ran rampant before the collar was invented, is not pleased when his ditzy wife Helen (Carrie-Anne Moss) brings home ‘Fido’ (Billy Connelly,) a amiable walking corpse to serve their every need.

Timmy (Keysun Loder,) their son, quickly makes friends with Fido, but Bill’s worst fears are realized when Fido eats Timmy’s crotchety old next-door neighbor Mrs. Henderson (Mary Black) in a freak accident. But, gee, Mrs. Henderson wasn’t a very nice old bird, and Timmy is determined to keep his best pal there at home with him, where he belongs, and is willing to cover up Fido’s kill and the carnage that follows.

“Fido” is very funny, cute and charming (in a dark, sweetly diseased way,) and a wicked satire of 1950’s manners and customs. I honestly don’t know why it didn’t get more attention at the box office. The costumes and sets are eye-poppingly colorful and stand sharply in contrast with the decomposition of the monsters. And Billy Connelly- who knew that an actor could make his character of an occasionally flesh-eating zombie a lovable and empathizeable character?

I’ll admit it, guys- I was rooting for ‘Fido’ to get away with his massacre of the next door neighbor all the way through. With a masterful mix of body language and facial expression, Billy Connelly creates perhaps the only zombie worth squeeing in adorableness for in the history of cinema. If you’re anything like this slightly wacked viewer, by the end of this movie you’ll want to envelop Fido in a warm hug- cautioning, of course, that his collar is fully functional.

Carrie-Anne Moss and Dylan Baker are a riotous pair as they provide a send-up of 50’s values with a dark and homicidal twist. Tim Blake Nelson delivers as a oddball neighbor with an overly familiar relationship with his female zombie (it’s not like it’s necrophilia… right?) If “Fido” pales in one respect, it’s that zombies are an overused cultural icon and it seems to dim slightly in comparison to the truly great zomcoms like “Shaun of the Dead.”

It’s not particularly novel in terms of it’s themes theme (either as a satire of nondescript 1950’s suburbia or a comedy featuring zombies as some of it’s main players,) but it delivers on it’s oddball premise with some great gags and jokes. There’s an uncanny weirdness lurking behind it’s goofball amiability- maybe this outwardly silly satire is darker than it lets on. But the inherent corniness of the violence- like a wacky midnight movie- ensures that “Fido” should be enjoyed by viewers of twelve and up- especially those who are seasoned on slightly edgier horror fare.

You may have overlooked this movie when it passed through theaters (not with a bang, but with a slightly piteous fizzle,) but “Fido” has the potential to become a cult classic if it gets attention with lovers of cheesy horror and slightly subversive cinematic oddities. It’s dry, dark humor earns it a place in my heart- even if it’s not as memorable as “Shaun of the Dead” or even “Zombieland,” it’s the little movie it could with some actual thoughts in it’s twisted little head- a sad rarity in modern horror. For an opportunity to root for the zombies and their unholy cravings, watch “Fido.”

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Still (2014)

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A note to curious viewers looking for the next great revenge flick- make no mistake, “Taxi Driver” this is not. Also, movie goers expecting Aidan Gillen to go all “Dead Man’s Shoes” on a group of thugs will be sorely disappointed. Aidan Gillen is no Paddy Considine (it’s okay, Gillen- we love you anyway) and “Still” is a drab, painfully slow-moving exercise in banality.

Tom Carver (Gillen) plays Tom, a middle-aged photographer barely developed beyond his long-standing grief at the death of his teenaged son in a hit-and-run, his mean streak (displayed toward his ex-wife Rachel (Amanda Meeling,) and his substance abuse problem. When a gang of youths rather abruptly begins terrorizing him, engaging in behavior that predictably leads to the assault of his girlfriend (Elodie Yung,)

Tom is unsure of what to do about the attacks but his journalist friend Ed (Jonathan Slinger ) convinces him to take action, spewing Republican rhetoric (‘these are minors! They’ll get a couple of years tops in a cushy facility with a big-screen TV and an XBox! An XBox!’) while getting himself and Tom plastered. Tom finally decides to man up and get brutal revenge on his tormentors. But at what cost?

Too much exposition, too much talking (blah-blah-blah) and not enough substantial dialogue… oddly, one of the biggest problems about “Still” is the color scheme. Obviously a low-budget flick (that’s putting it nicely,) this film has a dull, flat palate and a few scenes are appear to be shot through a reddish color filter that is just distracting. Color filters can be effective and arresting, look at “Cold in July,” based on a novel by Joe R. Landsdale. Those colors grabbed you and didn’t let you go. The colors in “Still” are lifeless and sometimes seem simply arbitrary.

Aidan Gillen is okay (sporting an inflection weirdly reminiscent of his character in “Game of Thrones” and his trademark smirk) but Elodie Yung and Sonny Green (as the lead hood) leave a lot to be desired in the acting department. The real travesty of this movie, however is the ending. Let me set the scene (spoilers, obviously.)

***Spoilers***Spoilers***Spoilers

The teen criminals have gang-raped Tom’s girlfriend, put a flayed cat on his doorstep, and beaten a little boy Tom has befriended, almost killing him in the process. Tom abducts one of the boys and prepares to put him on a nightmarish (and potentially fatal) high, when the teen begs for mercy and drops a bombshell. Apparently, Tom’s son ran with the gang and died (surprise!) not in a hit-an-run, but in a game of chicken with his group.

To put the icing on the cake (drumroll, please,) Tom’s dearly departed son was involved in the murder of a woman when he was alive. Isn’t it convenient that the gang that randomly targeted Tom were also directly associated with his son. The boy’s ultimatum is this- if your son was a piece-of-shit thug like me, why can’t you have mercy and spare my miserable life? The problem is, Tom has already given the little schmuck the killer injection. And, thus, the poor lad (and animal abuser, rapist, and bully) dies in the sobbing Gillen’s arms. And the credits roll. No shit.

Seriously, fuck this movie. You wait the whole fucking film for Gillen to get an awesome and well-deserved revenge, and he ends up offering unconditional forgiveness to the kid through a plot contrivance for something that is irrelevant (so, my son was a shit. Does that make you any less of a shit?) Forget the rape, forget the assault of a young kid, forget everything. Just bask in the emotion of the moment. Fuck 😛

The thing is, I’m not a glutton for sadistic retribution. I’m pretty Liberal in a lot of ways. But I was expecting a revenge film with themes of grief and sadness. Not fucking grief porn, and pretty poorly executed grief porn at that. There was no reason Tom should have let a turd-squirt like that off the hook. Thus, the film is a massive let-down. So it’s not just the cheap quality, or the dodgy acting, or the total lack of likable characters. It’s everything. It’s all of the above.  Plus the shitstain of an ending. Pity.

***End of Spoilers***End of Spoilers***End of Spoilers

I love Aidan Gillen, including his low-budget roles (“Buddy Boy,” “Treacle Jr.”) But this movie is a fail. Maybe if I’d gone in with slightly different expectations it would have been a passable experience. Alas. This movie is not totally terrible, but it’s hardly worth bothering with. Pass, dear and few readers. Definitely pass.

Afterschool (2008)

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Best described as a ‘Haneke film that is not by Haneke,’ “Afterschool’ is just good enough to make you respect the filmmaker while wishing he would adopt a style of his own. Mostly though, it makes you think that director Antonio Campos has seen “Cache” and Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant” way too many times, and has tried to copy their approach with middling results (although “Afterschool” is less boring and better acted than Van Sant’s supposed classic, he doesn’t hold a candle to Haneke at his best.)

In a world of prep school jerks and uncaring adults, disaffected Robert (Ezra Miller) is just trying to stay afloat while dealing with violent tendencies and teen libido- we first meet him wanking to a particularly exploitive porn video. It’s hard to feel partial to him after that. His mom is overly preoccupied with him being ‘okay’ (not applicable for medication or an extra minute of her time) and not in the least concerned with him being happy. In his fancy-schmancy boarding school, he simply floats through life- barely regarded by his group of friends, engaging in schoolwork he could care less about- he is dulled. deadened, and perhaps worst of all, bored.

Robert has a preference (I hesitate to say ‘passion’) for videos of all kinds- from laughing babies and jokester cats to videotaped schoolyard fights and amateur pornography. He is a symbol of our short attention-spanned, gratified-at-the-click-of-a-button society. Seeing these clips, the footage of giggling children seems equally as ‘wrong’ and voyeuristic as the more hardcore videos. They are rendered eerie and uncanny by the context of the movie. When two young girls (Mary and Carly Michelson) OD while Robert films, he is sucked into a fallout among the students and staff- but with how much is Robert complicit?

You won’t necessarily find the answer within this film, but “Afterschool” does prove to be an interesting (if well-worn by more established directors) experiment. Known for his roles in films such as “We Need to Talk About Kevin” and “The Perks of being a Wallflower, then- barely pubescent Ezra Miller is eerily apathetic and effective here. While I’d argue that the last shot was a example of breaking the fourth wall (Robert is ‘filmed’ by the complacent audience,) there’s enough of a mystery element to the conclusion to keep the viewer thinking if they wish.

However, “Afterschool”‘s preoccupation with being deliberately obtuse makes it quite a frustrating experience, and the social commentary is a little obvious for this kind of film. It’s  showy in the way of “Funny Games” (Haneke’s weakest film)- they’re pushing the bumbling incompetence of adults, the apathy of our kids, and the brokenness of our society in our faces. In the end I didn’t care too much whether Robert killed the girls or whether his friend Dave (Jeremy Allen White) was to blame- I didn’t long for it to be over, but I wasn’t exactly sucked in by it either.

Ultimately, while Campos’ cold, calculating cinematic method and long, still shots of nothing happening at all might appeal to Haneke fanboys, I found it to be too derivative of that filmmaker to be anything of consequence. It’s okay- but movie like this (art, not entertainment) can’t be just okay- it really has to pull you in, making its world yours. If anything, this movie will just make you develop a further distaste for entitled rich kids and the preppy mischief they make.

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Creep (2014)

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Warning: “Creep” is only horror in the very loosest sense. On the other hand, if you have a sick, supremely fucked-up sense of humor like me, it will be revealed to you as a superbly executed black comedy. Shot on a cheap handheld camera, featuring only two actors and a couple of sets, “Creep” doesn’t seem to have a terribly high potential for being watchable, but a uproarious performance by Indie darling Mark Duplass, a pitch-black sensibility, and a generally eerie mood throughout ensure that it will keep your eyes glued to the screen, if only in horrified fascination.

Actor/director Patrick Brice plays Aaron, a naïve amateur filmmaker who meets a guy on Craigslist who wants Aaron to meet him at his woodland cabin and film him for unknown purposes. Seems legit…? Being the wimpy, eager-to-please guy he is, Aaron departs from his home in the city and visits Josef (Duplass),) who reveals that (1 he is dying of cancer and (2 he wants Aaron to film him as a video diary for his unborn son, ‘Buddy.’

That’s when things get weird. Between Aaron somewhat homoerotically filming Josef splashing in the bath engaging in ‘tubby time’ (“my dad used to have tubby time with me,” Josef confides, “and it was the best… time… of… day”) to Josef doing an extremely creepy song-and-dance routine as ‘Peach-fuzz’ the benevolent werewolf, Josef reveals himself to be a seriously sinister human being. That Aaron is fascinated and to some degree encourages Josef is one of the strangest ideas the movie gets in it’s twisted little head. But I don’t think the movie would work if Aaron wasn’t slightly skewed too.

Creep

“Creep” sometimes gives off the impression of a dark, dark home movie, and although there’s some stupidity pertaining to the found-footage genre (Aaron traipsing through a back alley while being stalked by Josef and rolling his video camera all the while) the concept and execution of this project are surprisingly workable. Duplass is oddly effective as a likable sociopath, while Brice brings some sympathy to a character who is aggravatingly passive and foolish at best, a complete idiot at worst (within how much time of a man in an isolated locale joking about killing you with an ax would you get the hell out?)

The humor seems most akin to Ben Wheatley’s British black comedy “Sightseers.” The laughter “Creep” evokes hits a sour note, because the topic of the humor is human depravity- the unlimited potential for insanity and senseless destruction among the human race. It’s dark stuff, and if you don’t find mirth in the blackest of comedies, it might be too much to swallow. But if you find batshit crazy people to be funny (in the movies, not so much in the headlines-) Patrick Bateman, Jack Nicholson’s The Joker, “The Voice”‘s Jerry Hickfang.- this movie will ring a chord within your black, black soul. Plotholes and unanswered questions aside, this movie might be the best mentally ill homosexual stalker comedy since Miguel Arteta’s “Chuck & Buck.”

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