So remember how I praised 'Dahmer' in my last review? It did a great job of working on the audience psychologically by getting us into Jefferey Dahmer's head. It was dark, atmospheric, disturbing, suspenseful, and showed us Dahmer the person a little more than Dahmer the psychopath. Something like 'Gacy', on the other hand, is an example of one of the films I mentioned that drags the factoids across your eye from start to finish and then you think to yourself "I could have seen a much better documentary about this".
We kick things off here by seeing Gacy as a child on a fishing trip in 1953 with his abusive father (Adam Baldwin) to see a very brief example of the abuse he suffered as a kid. Fast-forward to 1976, and we hit the ground running so quickly that we almost trip over ourselves. Gacy and the family are constantly interrupted by neighbours who complain about the foul stench coming from his crawlspace. So there's really no lead-up to anything at all, and it all takes place a little more near the end of everything associated with the Gacy murders. The interesting thing about it, however, is that as famous as Gacy was as Pogo the Clown; an image even used for the film's poster, there's basically NO Pogo going on in this, save for a few home videos and a couple of slight nods to it.
I realize how that must sound, considering the film is about the man and not the clown, but I have to say I'm a little surprised at how little of it there actually was. And my God, when you see him in the clown makeup for the first time, it's actually kind of hilarious when it's supposed to be creepy. He's a little more reminiscent of the intoxicated clown from 'Uncle Buck', and it's all made even funnier when you realize Gacy is played by Mark Holton; someone we know a little bit more from comedies, but is above all else, Francis from 'Pee-Wee's Big Adventure'. So just think of Gacy saying something like "I know you are, but what am I?" and it's very hard to take him seriously here.
As far as the rest of the film goes, it's pretty much a Hollywood adaptation of what we know, and like 'Dahmer', it changes things up a little bit to make it a work of fiction, but everything you need to know about Gacy is still there. Considering this, it's much easier for me to recommend a few documentaries on the actual case much, much higher. I could say the same thing about 'Dahmer', I suppose, but at the very least, 'Dahmer' provided a good story that one could latch onto out of interest in the case. 'Gacy', in a way, moves too damn fast. It covers bare basics, and perhaps what stood out most as a difference was the quality in acting. 'Gacy' feels a little more like a college play.
One big reason for these comparisons to 'Dahmer' is the fact that they come from the same source of DEJ Productions. They pretty well both open with the same, or at least very similar text as well, stating in so many words that "the following is an act of fiction based on real events". So, as with 'Dahmer', I'll give it credit for that, at the very least. But the fact of the matter is, that's just not enough to save it. This wasn't anything truly psychological (although it tried at several points) so much as it's just a movie about a killer who we all know is doing the killing as he hides in plain sight. So my basic conclusion is, quite honestly, that there's extremely basic thriller entertainment value to this one, and just about every doc I've seen about the case overshadows this so heavily that it might as well not eve be there.
I'm gonna go ahead and clear the air about something before I get into this. Typically speaking, I don't think the serial killer biopic is a genre that's all that great. I find, in general, they tend to get a few facts right and sort of glorify all of the kills more for horror purposes than anything else. That sounds dumb, I know, but think of it this way - typically, you're getting a Jason or Freddy in the form of a real-life serial killer, but the only thing really scary about anything is that these people once existed.
So what is it I want from a good serial killer movie? I'm gonna go ahead and say I want something like this! 'Dahmer' is a film that gets us inside the killer's head in a big way, and that's the thing that makes this movie scary - as long as you can ignore the fact that Dahmer is played by Jeremy Renner, or as we all know him now, Marvel's "Hawkeye" (or former Hawkeye, anyway). I can see that adding to some idea of not being able to take him very seriously here, but trust me when I say he pulls off the role incredibly well. If you've ever wanted proof Renner can really act and not just be an action hero, this is it.
The film itself follows Jefferey Dahmer, living alone in Milwaukee, WI, as we are essentially shown how he did what he did. We get several flashbacks throughout the film that go back to his teenage years. One such memory involves his first kill in Bath, Ohio, and more consist of his relationship with his parents; namely his homophobic father, and his alcoholism. The main focus is generally the present day when Dahmer brings back a young man named Rodney (Artel Great) to his apartment with the intent to kill, but it also shows a firm example of his, shall we say, mixed feelings towards his murders, as there's clearly something between them.
Now, to make one thing clear about this film - it is a very uncomfortable film, both in the atmosphere and a lot of the physical activity going on, on different levels. It's darkly lit for the most part, with eerie music throughout, and the tension keeps building through it. But there's also almost a sort of twisted artistry to it. Now, I can stand to sit through a lot, but this does provide a pretty good test of the viewer's nerves. It's sincerely not even something I'd dub a horror movie so much as it is a dark drama, but I have to say, there were some scenes that made me squirm here. But the beauty of it is that it was all done without him just being some angry dude with a gnarly weapon. We really get to know Jefferey here, and it's great to see another one (like the last one) that isn't just a list of facts acted out (like the next one).
I'm going to suggest this mostly to anyone who is really into any sort of true crime involving high-profile serial killers. If you're interested in Dahmer in particular (duh), I'd recommend it even higher. But truth be told, it's quite a bit to get through. It's not long, but it's very dialogue-heavy with a lot of disturbing scenery within. This one seems to be made to play on the psyche with the way Dahmer thinks much more than to say "Hey, here's what he did". It's also one the critic will probably appreciate more than the average moviegoer, but I think this has the potential to appeal to the right audience. Either way, if you have yourself a Prime subscription, it can be found over there right now!
No Man of God
I seem to have picked a pretty good place to start with this month's theme of real-life serial killers brought to the screen in some way shape or form. Therefore, I'd like to take this opportunity to state that if you're no fan of true crime, or indeed, if any of this may be triggering in any sense of the word, one may wanna skip over these next four reviews. However, I will try to refrain from such things as much as possible. We kick things off with a release from just last year, 'No Man of God', centring on who may very well be the poster boy for serial killers in general, Ted Bundy.
There are a few Bundy titles out there, but this one grabbed my attention after hearing it referenced on a certain true crime podcast I listen to. What struck me about it was the idea of it being based on real transcripts chosen from conversations between Bundy (Luke Kirby) and FBI Special Agent Bill Hagmaier (Elijah Wood), ranging from 1984 to 1989. The pair form a complicated relationship during Bundy's final years, and here we see a pretty damn solid case of hero-relates-to-villain, as seen perhaps most famously in the movie 'Heat', but has been done a number of times before.
Having said that, I should probably say that as far as the hero and villain in this case are concerned, the film does a wonderful job of humanizing them both. There are moments they just have a laugh, moments that almost (they don't though) allow you to empathize with Bundy. One great moment in the film involved Bundy asking Hagmaier if he could ever kill someone, and I won't spoil anything, but let's just say the response is rather interesting. And again, don't get the wrong idea here, Bundy's where he needs to be right now. But this does provide an interesting look into Bundy's psyche, which is what it's all about, to begin with.
Right off the bat, I'm going to say that this is a film for the real die-hard fans of true crime who could be interested in something like this. While there's a nice change of pace from the typical Hollywood glorification of these serial killers here, there was something very real about this one in that it's pretty much all talking. The film is essentially one long interview, stitched together with a whole bunch of metaphorical imagery, giving the film a very artsy feel in a sense. But if you can allow yourself to sink into it, the performances are well worth the trip. Luke Kirby does an amazing Ted Bundy here, and Elijah Wood does a good job of flexing his acting muscles here, not so much being the Frodo he's become known as.
I think of all the movies I have on this particular list, this is the most real, and far away from any sort of "Hollywoodification". If you're interested in true crime stuff and have any sort of particular interest in Ted Bundy, then this could very well be the film for you, being just on the edge of documentary-style, and above all else, using real transcripts of the convos between these two. It's a pretty neat delve into the human psyche altogether - not just into Bundy's, but I do have to warn that it is very dry. When I say it's like one long interview, I do mean that. There's a break here and there, but if you want to see a serial killer movie for any sort of thrill, this is not the one to pick. Personally, I was pretty lukewarm to it. It's very interesting stuff, but I can't deny getting bored along the way either. So where's the line for me? The next film is a pretty "Dahm" good example of it.
Here's a rather hilarious title that still floats under the radar for most people I talk to about it. This comes to us from writer/director Chris Morris, who, if you can't quite place the name, played Denholm Reynholm in 'The IT Crowd'. Also, if you've never watched 'IT Crowd', do yourself a favour and check it out - bloody hilarious.
But getting back on track, 'Four Lions' focuses on a group of radicalized British Muslim men living in England who want nothing more than to become suicide bombers. So right away, one might want to think of this as a sort of British 'Team America'. It's very much a satire on the average terrorist mind, and it does it all very unapologetically. One might call it "edgy", but if you know anything about Chris Morris, this will come as no surprise. Also bear in mind that no one actually gets harmed in this movie. A sheep is credited to have been harmed, but be at peace that this is a fake credit.
Among the four are Omar (Riz Ahmed), our story's lead who's very critical of Western society; the bad-tempered Barry (Nigel Lindsay), the token dimwitted character, Waj (Kayvan Novak); and the ever-naive Faisal (Adeel Akhtar). Just to give some faces to these characters, Ahmed was Bodhi Rook in 'Rogue One', Akhtar was Naveed in 'The Big Sick' and Lestrade in the recent 'Enola Holmes', and one might recognize Novak as Nandor in the 'What We Do in the Shadows' series. Lindsay's a bit harder to place as this is the only thing I would probably know him from, but rest assured, his character is one of the best parts of the film; short-tempered at everyone else, but keeps screwing up, himself.
While Omar and Waj "answer the call", and head to a training camp for al Qaeda in Pakistan, Barry attends a conference and recruits a fifth member by the name of Hassan (Arsher Ali - who I'd probably only know from 'The Ritual'). Disaster hits the training camp by Omar's own hand (in a pretty hilarious scene, I might add), bringing the pair back to Britain, but Omar with a new attitude of authority with the group. The rest of the film pretty well involves them bumbling with plans for a bombing while ideologies are constantly clashing. But what takes you by surprise is some of the underlying concepts the film has to offer, like bringing Omar's loving wife and child into the story.
So, I'm not going to say that the film is "full of heart" while being a knee-slapping comedy, because it's definitely the latter first. I might also say that at this point in time it could be considered "dated", but it's comedic, slap-stick look at terrorism without causing any actual harm to anyone but themselves is almost something to be admired. It's not saying "look at these terrible people" so much as it's saying "look at these idiots". The way the film ends, as well, is (at least to me) enough to redeem a lot of the edgy, dark humor throughout the film. It proves the film still has some heart, and is actually still asking a lot of the same questions we've been asking about terrorism this whole time.
This might not be what I would consider a masterpiece of comedy like so many other reviewers seem to be doing. It's not something I'd be able to throw on just any old time, and I feel like I'd have to be in the mood to watch something along the lines of "World's Dumbest Criminals" to do so. But it does a good job at satirising something that, in essence, is mostly untouched in a comedic fashion. Again, 'Team America' is about all I can think of, and even then, the satire leans more on the American side of things. It's worth checking out if you want a good laugh based on this sort of thing.
This one represents the directorial debut of a more common actor, Peter Stebbings, who one might know from a variety of TV dramas such as 'Murdoch Mysteries' (as James Pendrick), 'Nurses' (as Dr. Thomas Hamilton), and 'Bates Motel' (as "Trespasser"/"Bob's Employee"). Interestingly enough, this one predates the more popular 'Kick-Ass' as the portrayal of a "real-life" superhero, using nothing but wits along with little fighting skill, and getting his ass kicked appropriately in the process.
'Kick-Ass', however, still has a very comic-style feel to it. As "real" as it's meant to be, it's still an obvious work of fiction. There's something about the genuine harshness of 'Defendor' that stands out, making it really quite realistic all over. It even gets pretty deep at times and speaks to some out there who would love to get away with being a superhero. To be quite honest, despite any of its brutality, the bottom line of the film is actually pretty inspiring, as if to say even us little guys can be heroes. All it takes is the right frame of mind, and the understanding that the word "hero" doesn't have to be attached to the word "super".
The film opens with a man named Arthur Poppington (Woody Harrelson) talking to a psychiatrist named Dr. Park (Sandra Oh). Arthur has been sent to see her and be interviewed about his assault on a Mr. Debrofkowitz. The story is then told as a flashback interview, where we see Arthur taking on the role of "Defendor"; a hero out to stop his nemesis "Captain Industry", whom he believes is responsible for his mother's death. This leads him to a corrupt detective named Dooney (Elias Koteas), who Arthur thinks must work for Captain Industry.
After a confrontation and a good beat-down from Dooney and his friends, he meets a prostitute named Angel (Kat Dennings). Angel, not living up to her name, convinces Arthur that she knows who Captain Industry really is, and leads him on a not-so-healthy path, all the while spending Arthur's money. Meanwhile, Arthur's friend and boss, Paul (Michael Kelly) becomes increasingly concerned about Arthur's well-being, both mentally and physically. Eventually, it leads the viewer to question whether what "Defendor" is doing is really wrong or perhaps just a little justified.
While one is bound to go into this expecting much more of a comedy (again, similar to 'Kick-Ass'), what we get instead is actually a bit of a pleasant surprise. This movie takes into consideration things like the mental health part of a superhero. While Batman is quite often said to have issues or be "crazy", it's never really analyzed on a level quite like this. Beyond that, it's a matter of how far one would take the hero role before getting into trouble, and indeed, is any of the vigilantism he displays actually justified? It's a pretty interesting character study altogether.
When it comes to James Gunn's early work, a lot of people would probably suggest 'Slither' as being the cult hit of his past. However, he did have another that doesn't get referred to nearly as much (probably because it's his lowest-ranked title), and that's 'Super'. I still think that it has its following, but its timing is extremely unfortunate.
When you watch this, it's basically a cross between 'Kick-Ass'; released the same year and infinitely better, and 'Defendor', released a year prior and also often seen as much better. The thing 'Super' had working for it more than anything else seemed to be its cast of familiar faces. Again, at the time, James Gunn was still a pretty fresh face, so his name didn't mean a whole hell of a lot quite yet. In other words, to be fair, this isn't about to be equated to 'Guardians' or the latest 'Suicide Squad'. This is a little more on-par in quality to 'Slither'. Perhaps even a bit less.
Frank Darbo (Rainn Wilson) lives a life of insecurity and refers to the two best moments of his life for inspiration. First and most important is his marriage to his wife, Sarah (Liv Tyler), and second, was pointing out a perp's location to a cop, thus illustrating his interest in crime-fighting, or at least, the law. His humility is a little overwhelming, however, causing Sarah to leave him for a club owner named Jacques (Kevin Bacon). Frank sees this as more a kidnapping than a loss, however, and wants to get Sarah back one way or another. It doesn't help at all that Sarah is a recovering drug addict and this Jacques character seems to have plenty of them.
Soon, Frank has a vision in which he's visited by the Holy Avenger (Nathan Fillion), who pretty much tells him that he should become a superhero. Due to the messenger being the Holy Avenger, Frank takes this as a message from God, and does his research on powerless heroes at a local comic store. With the help of comic store clerk, Libby (Elliot Page), and her suggestion for someone out there to become a superhero in real life, Frank takes to the streets as the Crimson Bolt. The thing is, his way of avenging society isn't exactly by the book. And as he quite literally tells crime to "shut up" with his pipe wrench, his mission to save his wife (who may or may not even want saving) remains his primary goal.
Between this being a black comedy that's almost too dark in its look at comedy, and being overshadowed by 'Defendor' (to be reviewed next) and 'Kick-Ass', it's sort of easy to see why this got swept under the rug. It is interesting, however, to remember this being sort of a big deal for a short time. In fact, this practically paralleled 'Defendor' in a "Coke/Pepsi" sort of way for a bit as the lesser-known "realistic" hero. It basically comes down to taste. Personally speaking, I find this one to be a lot sillier than 'Defendor', and the message at the end is a bit of a "wait a minute..." kind of message; one you need to second-guess. I wouldn't recommend any movie in this "real hero" category above 'Kick-Ass', myself. But like I said, this does have a cult following, so maybe it's another case of me just not wanting to be part of that cult.
The last Grindhouse flick on the list is the sequel to 'Machete', brought to us once again by Robert Rodriguez, but sadly, with less effort put in. While 'Machete Kills' starts off with a great new fake trailer for 'Machete Kills Again... In Space', the rest of the movie does not quite feel right. The rest of the Grindhouse movies make this extra effort to feel somewhat crappy in old school quality, but this doesn't quite pull that off. This is more like a Grindhouse movie with a budget, and a lot of it is just bringing in names - two of whom people were already quite iffy about back in 2013, and you'll know who when their names get their credits as I go through this.
First I'm going to have to admit that I had a tough time trying to follow it. This is one of those titles you try to keep up with, but then wonder why it matters, as it's supposed to be a Grindhouse movie. So I'll do my best, but if things don't make sense, blame the damn movie. Anyway, it opens with Machete (Danny Trejo) and Sartana Rivera (Jessica Alba) from the last movie, teamed up in an attempt to intercept weapons dealers who have ben supplying the Mexican drug cartels. A fight breaks out, and many are killed, but then another team enters the battle, killing Rivera (spoiler alert) and arresting Machete. During the attempted hanging of Machete where he doesn't die, US President, Rathcock (Charlie Sheen - as "Carlos Estevez") intervenes, offering Machete American citizenship if he does a job for him.
The job is to take out Marcos Mendez (Demián Bichir) who is threatening to nuke Washington, DC if America doesn't put an end to the drug cartels in Mexico and government curruption. Machete takes the job which leads him to his handler, Blanca Vasquez (Amber Heard) who leads him to a girl named Cereza (Vanessa Hudgens) who knows how to find Mendez. From here it becomes a bit of a mess as things unfold, and this is where it becomes a bit more action a bit less sensical. Along the way, Machete meets the likes of Cereza's man-hating mother, Madame Desdemona (Sofía Vergara), Medez's associate, Zaror (Marko Zaror), the Chamelion (Walton Goggins/Cuba Gooding Jr./Lady Gaga/Antonio Banderas - guess what this character's talent is) and Zaror's corrupt benefactor, Luther Voz (Mel Gibson). I mean, the names and roles are enough to say "hey, things get a bit confusing" when some of them don't really need to be a part of things.
I did mention that 'Hobo with a Shotgun' might be the lowest of the bunch, but now I have to change that opinion. The charm of 'Hobo' comes with the fact that it's sort of "Grindhouse at its most Grindhousey" - it's a brutal movie full of shock value, and it makes sense that it belongs in that Grindhouse category. With this, it's a solid R, but you almost wonder if they could have gotten away with PG-13 here. As far as Grindhouse goes, this is probably the easiest one to sit through as far as brutality goes. This one relies a lot more on names, and the extreme cheese side of things. There is a bit of fun to it, if you want to just watch it because it's goofy. I mean, to be perfectly fair, there is supposed to be an element of "bad" here, and the film uses bad CG to make a lot of it happen. The problem with that, however, is that CG shouldn't even enter into things for a Grindhouse era movie. Granted, there's modern material through the fil, but so much of the charm of the others is the terrible, low-budget quality taking place before CG could "fix things".
Personally speaking, I would probably consider 'Machete Kills' the throwaway movie of this group of five, and highly recommend the first one far above this one. I think if I had offer up this list as a Top 5, from top to bottom, I'd say 'Planet Terror', 'Machete', 'Death Proof' (with a new appreciation), 'Hobo with a Shotgun' and 'Machete Kills'. That said, opinions are most definitely bound to differ, and it could be that others get more from this one than I did. But one thing to consider is that this is the only one on the list, unanimously disliked on both "tomatometers". So, if you're ever in the mood to do a Grindhouse marathon of any kind, this is the one title you could potentially omit. Again, it doesn't even fully feel right for what it's supposed to be, and despite a few cheesy but fun lines of dialogue as well as moments, this one is the weakest link.
A Mexican Fed named Machete Cortez (Danny Trejo) and his partner open the film on a mission to find and rescue a kidnapped girl. In the process, Machete finds himself with a dead partner, a knife to the leg (compliments of the kidnapped girl), and betrayed by his chief to Rogelio Torrez (Steven Seagal); a powerful drug lord who, let's just say, has it in for Machete and his family. Fast-forwarding three years, Machete finds himself alone, down on his luck, and managing to get by with landscaping work.
Machete is approached by Michael Booth (Jeff Fahey) who explains that Texas State Senator, John McLaughlin (Robert De Nero) is threatening to cut down on the number of laborers by sending illegal immigrants out of the country. He then offers Machete a fine choice between $150,000 for the assassination of McLaughlin, or death - a reluctant Machete accepts the former. Soon enough, the assassination attempt turns into a setup, and Machete finds himself as the subject of a conspiracy that caters to McLaughlin's strong stance on illegal immigration.
In the meantime, Agent Sartana Rivera (Jessica Alba), a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent, is sent to find and capture Machete. However, long story short, she finds herself in the middle of things, torn between sticking up for her brothers and sisters and doing what she has been hired to do. During all of this, Machete teams up with a taco truck waitress, Luz (Michelle Rodriguez) and a priest named Padre (Cheech Marin) to seek revenge on Booth, who set him up. So it's a pretty basic revenge film that takes the whole illegal immigration scenario to an extreme, and as a Grindhouse film, it pretty well does the job.
This is the first of the Grindhouse fake trailers to eventually become a real movie, and being that it was also directed by Robert Rodriguez (along with 'Planet Terror') you definitely get the wonderous "dude porn" he's so well known for (in other words, his movies are incredibly "manly"). I have to admit that I'm a bit of a sucker for his movies, as sometimes, speaking as a guy, sometimes we just need that no-brain adrenaline full of explosions, violence, and sexy but totally badass women - something found in the characters themselves as opposed to them just being eye candy. These Grindhouse movies are all pretty solid for these reasons, but this is probably one of the better of them.
This also serves a a good fan service film for Rodriguez fans. Danny Trejo is the lead, sure, but further cameos pop up from some of our Rodriguez film favourites like Tom Savini, and to a lesser extent, an uncredited Rose McGowan (whose scenes were sadly deleted). But if you're a Rodriguez fan, and appreciate his slant towards a bit more of the hardcore, then this movie works out pretty damn well. One could even say this is as much a look into his basic formulas of filmmaking much like 'Death Proof' could be seen for Tarantino fans (although this was much more fun).
In the weird world we live in nowadays, I might suggest this as being a step forward in film, even if it's going somewhat backwards. We're so dead set on our mainstream 80s and 90s nostalgia, but there's definitely an audience for the more hardcore movie-makers out there like Rodriguez, Tarantino, Roth, Zombie, hell, even my hero Edgar Wright puts some extremities in his "Cornetto Trilogy". So I have to admit that I'm certainly a part of that cult, albeit perhaps on the lighter side (Zombie and Roth films are just too torturous for my taste).
I might go so far as to say 'Machete' represents the Grindhouse movie series at its peak. The next film, 'Hobo with a Shotgun' wasn't quite as well received, nor was it quite as fun as the first three. Then 'Machete Kills' seemed to have put the nail in the coffin, but more on those titles soon enough. As for 'Machete', I highly recommend it to the hardcore fans of Robert Rodriguez, and might suggest any fan of that particular cult of directors might have fun with it. However, it's important to keep in mind that there's a few extremities to this as a Grindhouse film, so it simply won't be for everyone. I have fun with it, but it also touches on some pretty controversial subject matter for this day and age. So nowadays, there's basically gonna be offended people, or people who get way too into it - but then, I suppose that's a grindhouse flick doing its job...
This one comes to us from the Oscar nomination list of 2018, which included nominations for 'Ferdinand', 'The Boss Baby', 'The Bread Winner' and Pixar's 'Coco' taking the win. I didn't see everything on the list, despite the fact that it would have been my first Annual Oscar Special. However, I do remember saying that by the looks of things, if 'Coco' ever had a real competitor, it had to be the groundbreaking 'Loving Vincent'; a beautifully animated mystery film, hand-painted all the way through by 100+ painters. It was a very big deal as far as the industry goes, but its brilliance has since been swept under the rug.
The film takes place one year after the death of Vincent van Gogh (Robert Gulaczyk), who died two days after attempting suicide by shooting himself in the chest. A postman named Joseph's (Chris O'Dowd) son, Armand (Douglas Booth), is tasked with delivering Van Gogh's last letter to his brother, Theo (Cezary Lukaszewicz). Finding the suicide suspicious, Joseph sends Armand to Paris, and as Armand reluctantly agrees, he ends up interviewing most of the people who knew Van Gogh, each with their own take on the subject to tell. This essentially ends up being 'Citizen Kane' or 'Courage Under Fire' as far as its plot goes - but the artistry of the animation is truly unique and frankly kind of breathtaking.
This is a film that splits itself into two in a certain way. Before actually sitting down to watch it, I only ever saw this as something that was probably good for what it was, but sort of artsy-fartsy all the same. I can like artsy stuff, but I'm also very particular about some. I really don't like movies like 'Tree of Life' because I think they're just too much, but at the same time, somehow I love movies like 'Waking Life', which some might consider more to take than the prior. I suppose one could say my taste lies more in "dream-like" stuff that can really take me away, and this does that in spades. But the other side of the coin tells a really cool story. This could have been done without the overlaying animation and still have been really good; like potentially up for a Best Picture Oscar that year good.
Perhaps what I found most interesting about this movie is how much it made me think about "art" in general. As things unfold, and you see the brush strokes flow, the moods are set in such a way that the realms of canvas paintings and cinematography cross over and you are watching a painting come to life, quite literally. The stylization of the art is, of course, very reminiscent of Van Gogh's work as well, giving a whole new appreciation for the artist - not to sell the story short, of course. As mentioned before, though, this really is a dream-like movie. It's one of those films where when the credits started rolling, it almost felt like waking up - not because I fell asleep during a "boring" movie, but because I was that far sucked into the film's world. Very few movies have accomplished that, but if they ever do, I can't help but praise their accomplishment, even if others don't get the same effect.
Last but not least, this is a film that familiarizes a general audience with the consequences of having certain mental health problems. When you learn more and more about what Van Gogh was going through in his life, you feel more towards his character and see him less as "that crazy painter guy who once gifted his ear". It does get a little intense at times, but it's certainly not a movie that tries too hard to pull on the heartstrings. It's a good, proper dramatic flick with a great cast of performers, and an even better cast of artists. This is altogether one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen, speaking as someone who thrived in art class in school and learned that every painting tells a story. This is one painting that does it in the literal sense, and does it extremely well. Cheers to directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman who's work I am certain to check out further!
The Ice Harvest
For the month of December, of course my focus is gonna be on films that float under the radar around Christmastime. We kick things off with 2005's 'The Ice Harvest', directed by Harold Ramis, and its probably one of his darker movies; although it maintains a sense of humor. Indeed, this is one of those movies where a lot of the humor lies in the darker aspects of it, like working for the mob and all that entails.
As the film opens, we're introduced to a couple of criminals; mob lawyer Charlie Arglist (John Cusack) and a pornographer businessman named Vic Cavanaugh (Billy Bob Thornton). They have stolen about $2 million from mobster Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid), who also happens to be their boss, and are amped for an easy getaway. However, an icy rain comes along making the roads far too dangerous for driving. Vic takes the money for safekeeping, and they both try to evade capture and potential torture from Roy Gelles (Mike Starr), one of Guerrard's thugs, through this bitter Christmas Eve night. With Guerrard finding out their scheme, it seems to be only a matter of time.
The main backdrop of the movie is the Sweet Cage strip club, which Vic owns, run by Renata Crest (Connie Nielsen), the object of Charlie's affection. There's a whole "take the money and run" subplot going on with them, as she finds out about the money and essentially wants to get away from the lifestyle she's living. There's another subplot involving Charlie's friend, Pete (Oliver Platt), who happens to be married to Charlie's ex. Honestly though, it's hardly worth mentioning, as it's kind of crowbarred into the film. There is a reason for it, but by the end of it all it seems almost unnecessary. There's not a lot of charm to the Platt stuff, not so much because of Platt, but because his character is just perpetually drunk for laughs; he's the guy who doesn't know when to stop.
A lot of the stuff involving Charlie and whatever it is he wants to do with the money, is pretty good stuff though. There's not a whole lot of laugh out loud moments here, but it certainly got a few giggles. I generally really enjoy a good dark comedy, but this is one of those movies you have to be in the right mood for. A lot of it feels more serious than it probably should, and as a movie with a Christmas backdrop, it doesn't really use it a lot other than people humming Christmas carols the odd time. Not that a movie like this should feel "Christmassy", but it doesn't use enough elements from the holiday to consider it any sort of Christmas movie. I refer readers to 'Die Hard' which uses Christmas all throughout its action as a prime example of how to do it right.
The film is not, however, without a certain charm to it. It was interesting seeing Ramis take a darker look at things, and the weather sets the mood for the film almost perfectly. For those of us familiar with the idea, a winter rain is just awful. It's cold, wet, grey, slushy, slippery, and even dangerous under certain circumstances (like driving). It's the type of weather that has snow-haters saying "I wish this was snow". To be honest, I can't think of a lot of movies that use this type of weather for atmosphere, so points for originality. It's a good way to trap everyone in the same town and have to wait things out.
The performances here are pretty 50/50. I wasn't a fan of Platt's drunken schmoe character, and I didn't think there was a whole lot of personality to Renata other than being that "tease" type towards Charlie (in more ways than one). But I did enjoy Charlie, as this sort of awkward character who didn't fully know what he was doing, and Vic was just about as Billy Bob as Billy Bob can get, which is always great - imagine 'Bad Santa', just without all the alcohol. So, while the main cast and overall setting is enough to keep things entertaining, it's not entirely a must-see either. Not much sticks out, it's a touch forgettable, and I kind of get why it's a film located "under Santa's radar". Give it a shot if you have an hour and a half to kill, and your curiosity gets the better of you - just remember that it doesn't necessarily have to be seen around Christmastime either.
If you have access to Amazon Prime (Canada), you can go ahead and check this one out right after reading this review. I don't want to over-hype it much, but I'd be lying to you if I said I didn't enjoy this as a whole. I know I squeezed this into an Action Movie Month, but one should probably know that though the action is minimal, when it's on, it's pretty sweet.
The film is really more of a character study on the lead, David Collins (Dan Stevens). I have a friend by that name, so it added to a bit of the overall enjoyment of everything. David comes to the home of the Petersons, and the Mother, Laura (Sheila Kelley) invites him in after he claims to have served with her recently deceased son. Further evidence of this is seen in a photograph of the unit they served in together. The father, Spencer (Leland Orser), is reluctant, but eventually accepts him as a guest in their home. Meanwhile, daughter, snooty daughter, Anna (Maika Monroe) and bullied around trope of a son, Luke (Brendan Meyer) don't know what to make of the situation.
As the movie unfolds, we learn more and more about David's past. That's interesting enough, but the film tests its audience in a way. All in all, David becomes a very likable character, but in the same way someone like Hannibal Lecter is likable. He does some pretty brutal things to people, but we can't help but route for him a little just because who he's doing it to is a terrible person. The test the film gives you is, who is the terrible person? Is it David, who he attacks, the people who are tracking David down for reasons unknown, or could it even be one of the family members? We get a loose answer around the climax, but it does keep you guessing a little bit.
If I have any criticisms about this movie, they are pretty minimal. A lot of it is kind of cliche, and some of the answers end up being sort of obvious once revealed. But I'll be damned if I didn't have a good time watching this, nonetheless. For an idea, it comes to us from a hit-or-miss team; Director, Adam Wingard and Writer, Simon Barrett ('You're Next', 'V/H/S' 1 & 2, 'Blair Witch' 2016, and the 'Q is for Quack' segment of 'The ABC's of Death'). Just about all of their stuff hits this note where, while fun to watch, it's really just a cool execution of a just okay concept - 'Avatar' being the prime example of such a film. I love it, but I can't deny that it's been done before. This is definitely in that category.
Some things to point out that give it that extra bump for yours truly begin with the fact that this is a story that takes place around Halloween. That mixes with this moody soundtrack, that in and of itself could be labelled as a Halloween soundtrack. In some ways, this is indeed a Halloween movie. The only thing is that the concept isn't exactly creepy in a Halloween way so much as a Who do I Trust kinda way. The movie isn't something that'll necessarily get you in the mood for the holiday, but the soundtrack just might. I dunno how to describe it, but maybe the darker side of synthwave and techno but with lyrics? Anyway, the point is, the soundtrack is as much a mood-setter as the cinematography - which is also solid here. The action sequences are nice and fluid, not much shaky cam, it's good stuff.
So, if you happen to have Amazon Prime, I recommend popping over and checking it out. It's about an hour and a half, and interesting enough for what it is. It's not the best, but it's good for a movie to sit down with a tub of popcorn with and lose yourself to. As mentioned earlier, when the action is on, it's pretty well done. Beyond that, you have a suspense thriller that keeps you guessing (somewhat). I think I'll end up enjoying this one a little bit more than most due to certain biases I have, but I don't think anyone would watch this movie and say it was terrible... of course, I have been wrong about that before. Anyway, if you're looking for something new to watch for Halloween that isn't horror, it's worth a look.
Although I think most people have at least heard of this title, it is one that seems to have been swept under the rug for whatever reason. It's in that same realm as the original 'Flatliners' in that if you mention it nowadays, it'll sound familiar, but a lot of people haven't seen it. It actually comes to us from writer/producer James Cameron and director Katheryn Bigelow - the once married couple who once battled for an Oscar between 'Avatar' and 'The Hurt Locker' (which won).
If the pair behind the film wasn't interesting enough, there's also the rather original plot. I do have a bit of a bias when it comes to "dream-like" material, but the concept here involves a drug dealer type who deals in "dreams", so to speak. These are essentially someone else's real-life memories that can be fed into a machine through their cerebral cortex, and later transmitted back to another user. The user can therefore experience sex without having to think about all that comes with an escort, or the adrenaline from a bank robbery without the danger, or skydiving without having to leave the ground. It's a believable concept. The only catch is, as one might imagine, some of it ends up being "snuff", or as they refer to them, "blackjack clips".
A former cop named Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) deals in these illegal mind recordings, buying them up from his supplier, Tick (Richard Edson). In his spare time, he longs for a former escort named Faith (Juliette Lewis) by using his own SQUID (Superconducting Quantum Interference Device) to relive, shall we say, fond memories. Lenny also relies on emotional support from his two friends; Max Peltier (Tom Sizemore), private investigator, and Lornette "Mace" Mason (Angela Bassett), bodyguard and limo driver, who has an unrequited love for him.
Meanwhile, another escort named Iris (Brigitte Bako), former friend of Faith's is chased by LAPD officers Burton Steckler (Vincent D'Onofrio) and Dwayne Engelman (William Fichtner), seemingly after her to destroy some sort of important evidence that we learn very quickly she's trying to get to Lenny for research having to do with a mysterious and creepy killer who's using the SQUID during his crimes. The whole thing turns into a sort of noir detective film, with a slight dose of comedy to take the edge off. It's not quite one of those movies you feel like you need a shower after watching, but it's often shady and uncomfortable.
Perhaps most interesting is that the story takes place within the final two days of 1999 (this was 1995, so at the time, it was a "near-future" concept) in Los Angeles, where criminal activity has reached an all time high. As you cruise down any street, it's a riot in progress, and it's all race fueled; much of it inspired by the 1992 Rodney King riots. This is all pretty much background stuff, but the importance of it comes through at the end. It's pretty heavy stuff to watch nowadays, mostly because the same message we're trying to get through to everyone now was very present in this movie from 25 years ago.
There's actually so much more to say about the film and how it all ties together, but I'd sooner just highly recommend watching it if you haven't yet. It's James Cameron's story and screenplay, sandwiched between 'True Lies' and 'Titanic' in order of release - the latter two titles clearly taking the fame. Although keep in mind, Cameron didn't direct this, Kathryn Bigelow did, the director known for 'Point Break' at the time. It hasn't received very high ratings, and it's often admittedly very odd, and maybe even a little uncomfortable, but for what it is, I really enjoyed it. It was imaginative and dark, but often fun. It was a pretty good balance, but definitely mostly leans toward dark and gritty. I say give it a shot if you like that kind of thing. I found it rather worth it.
I feel like I'm taking a bit of a chance with this review, considering certain conditions nowadays, and the fact that this is about a "maniac cop". However, considering this is the next Campbell movie on my list to review, famous in the Campbell subculture and has two sequels to cover, I'm going in, chin first. This is only meant to be a review on a film from 1988 for fun, and is not meant to stir up any controversy.
This one comes to us from writer Larry Cohen (probably best known to a broader audience as a writer on 'Phone Booth' or 'Cellular') and director William Lustig (best known for either a few underground thrillers, or a wide range of horror/thriller documentary production). The pair give us an effective low budget slasher, much more in sync with something from the '70's. To compare, by this time Freddy was up to his fourth film, Jason was up to his seventh, and Michael Myers had only just "returned". While things were getting turned up in pop culture horror, this came along under the radar. It makes me think of the effectiveness of horror films closer to the first 'Halloween', in which our imagination showed us more gore than what was actually on screen. It's a friendly reminds that often less is more.
In New York City, innocent citizens are being brutally slain by who appears to be a severely disgruntled NYPD officer. With a rising body count, Lt. Frank McCrae (Tom Atkins - who some may know best from 'Halloween III') ends up being told by his superiors to cover it up, and to head the investigation. Meanwhile, panicked New Yorkers are avoiding cops as much as possible, sometimes by killing them.
We soon meet Jack Forrest (Campbell); a man with spousal problems at home, as his wife, Ellen (Victoria Catlin) suspects him of being the killer. She eventually follows him to a hotel, where she catches him cheating on her with his fellow officer, Theresa Mallory (Laurene Landon). Distraught, Ellen flees the scene, one thing leads to another, and Jack suddenly becomes suspect #1. Mallory, who was with him that night, then works with Jack to hopefully find the help he needs to clear his name.
For as big a name as this is within the Campbell Community, I'm not sure that I particularly found much in this. It's in a weird situation where its greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. I find it cool, and respectable that this was a film that did harken back to the early slashers of the 70's, giving horror fans that "less is more" reminder. But that coming into play at the same time effects were starting to take off, and become a really big part of horror isn't effective. Mainstream horror movies were really brushed up, offering a few cool new practical effects, so this was probably pretty boring for its time. It might only be now that one can look back on this and appreciate it for what it was.
So, while it's definitely not my favorite Campbell movie, I can appreciate that it did what it did on its low budget with some pretty solid underground players. Other than Campbell, the name Tom Atkins was one that really stuck out for me. He's from the non-Myers 'Halloween' movie, which I find gets similar appreciation to this one, in that it's far better to look at it nowadays (though maybe not right now) as a hidden classic rather than something that just "sucks". It may not have done much for me, but I can say that at the very least, it was an interesting piece of homework on Bruce Campbell's early stuff.
Kicking off the Summer of Campbell is a film I'm truly surprised I didn't know existed. Did anyone else know that Bruce Campbell co-produced a film directed by Sam Raimi, who also wrote the screenplay along with the Coen Brothers? I was actually gonna give this one a pass at first, as Campbell plays more of a side character, but the people involved otherwise pretty much forced my hand.
This one is completely off the wall, and plays out as a very Looney Tunesque concept. Although it's deemed a comedy/horror of sorts, the comedy certainly takes over as the main genre, and the opening tells us all we need to know about what we're about to get into; a car full of nuns racing down the street! They are listening to a news report on the public execution of Vic Ajax (Reed Birney). As he's being led to the electric chair, he recaps the story of how he got there in the first place.
He once worked at a security shop for Donald Odeguard (Hamid Dana) and Ernest Trend (Edward R. Pressman), and finds out that Odeguard was going to sell the security shop under Trend's nose to the greedy and overconfident Renaldo "The Heel" (Campbell) who plans to turn it into a gentlemen's club. He then makes Trend out to look like the real culprit, stating he'd have done anything to save that business, including hiring an extermination company who takes out such things as "rats, mice, bats, roaches, men and ants".
The exterminators, Faron Crush (Paul L. Smith) and Arthur Coddish (Brion James), are two of the cartooniest live action characters you'll ever see. One could compare Crush to 'Popeye's Bluto, and Coddish to perhaps one of the weasels from 'Roger Rabbit'. While they're meant to be our "horror villains", the real creep here is who we came to see, Renaldo, who plays a constant romantic competition to Ajax. He's pretty much playing the role of Ash the way he played it in 'Army of Darkness', he's just not fighting off any evil here. While the exterminators are a couple of bumbling murderers, Renaldo is just a straight up asshole.
The film offers up a ton of laughs, and it seems to be incredibly self-aware, much like 'Evil Dead 2', 'Army of Darkness' or pretty much any Bruce Campbell movie you could watch. It blends all the fantastic cheesiness of 80's slashers with cartoon comedy, and it's so much fun to watch. The only real downside is that it's damn near impossible to find. Cards on the table, this was one I had to download, and even the downloaded copy I have is pretty rough quality. But it wasn't so bad that i didn't enjoy it. I would love to see it made widely available, because fans are missing out on some of the great early work of everyone involved.
If you can get your hands on it, and have the desire to go braindead fo about an hour and a half and just laugh at silliness that's attempting horror, this is a great watch. Honestly, it's one of the strangest yet funniest things I've seen in quite some time, and it even does it all somewhat artistically. There are shades of things like 'Creepshow' here as well, when it comes to the film's execution.
Although this isn't exactly the best example of a Bruce Campbell film, as hhe's not really in it that much, it is a very interesting and fun watch. It had me laughing throughout, but largely in the same way I'd laugh at something like 'Beavis & Butt-Head'. It's a ridiculous movie, but the fact that it's so self-aware and hilariously stupid makes it kinda awesome, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to see how Raimi and the Coen Brothers would collaborate on a film. That's what sold me!
All About the Benjamins
For anyone who may have seen the movie 'Next Friday' - the follow-up to the 1995 stoner flick, 'Friday', you've seen the chemistry between the tough-as-nails Ice Cube, and the jittery but hilarious Mike Epps. I have to admit that while their movies aren't amazing, they generally make for a fun time. They're not going for any Oscars, they know their audience, and that's satisfactory enough for yours truly.
'All About the Benjamins' gives us bounty hunter, Bucum (Ice Cube), pronounced "book 'em", which I hope isn't supposed to be a coincidence. In pursuit of con man, Reggie Wright (Mike Epps), the un likely pair find themselves working together in order to locate a stash of diamonds that Bucum is after, along with a missing, winning lottery ticket that Reggie is after. Along the way, Gina (Eva Mendes) and Pam (Valarie Rae Miller), Reggie and Bucum's respective significant others, join them in the search.
Added to the batch of characters is our villain and diamond thief, Williamson (Tommy Flanagan) who's a bit over the top at times, but every time he was, I laughed a little. But it's that kind of laugh that you know not everyone would join you in - almost awkward in a way.
This one kind of exists in the same vein as something like 'Bulletproof' or 'Nothing to Lose' - a comedy duo action movie that doesn't exactly shine, but it can make for a fun time, nonetheless. There's nothing entirely new or different about it, but it doesn't exactly fall under "guilty pleasures" either, 'cause it's really not that bad.
So, we've got a short review here on a movie that's a bit of a throwaway. I can't imagine ever owning it on DVD or blu-ray, but if it comes on TV, I might still sit and watch it for something to do. It offers some decent laughs, some decent action without going full Michael Bay (although this was Kevin Bray), but completely lacks any sort of wow factor. I say this about a lot of movies, but once again, this one is kinda just "there". Something to watch in passing as opposed to something to get excited for.
The Newton Boys
In a stray away from his usual, Richard Linklater decided to write and direct an adaptation of a book, telling the story of the Newton Gang - the most successful bank robbers in history.
For those unfamiliar, this was a group of brothers who staged bank and train robberies throughout the early 1920s. They claim a total of 87 banks and 6 trains. And they did it all non-violently, also claiming that here was never any bloodshed during these robberies.
Our respective performers, portrtaying the Newton brothers are Matthew McConaughey (Willis), Skeet Ulrich (Joe), Ethan Hawke (Jess), and Vincent D'Onofrio (Dock), so we have a pretty damned solid cast of actors here, all doing their performances very well. However, it's doing well with what the actors have to work with. While the overall true story is pretty fascinating, it kinda just translates to screen as some sort of typical, bank-robbing western. It's neat at first, but eventually starts to drag a bit. It ends up being one of Linklater's more disliked films among audiences, and that might be mostly because its a stray away from his usual, whether it be teen angst, deep thinking or a combination of both.
The movie is by no means bad, it's just kinda... there. At the end of the day, it's a title I could pretty much take or leave, and certainly wouldn't make my "Linklater Top 5". In some ways, it even comes across as something that may have been made for daytime television.
With that said, it's sort of a fascinating one to go back and have a look at, considering there's quite a few big names to it. And as I said before, everyone does a great job here with what they have to work with. I'd even say it's one of McConaughey's finer dramatic performances while still including what he shows up in today.
It's sort of hard to flat out recommend this one, even to fans of westerns and biopics, due to its slow pacing. However, apparently it's pretty historically accurate, overall. There's even a whole bit through the end credits where the real Willis and Joe show up to speak on the subject - Joe on an episode of Johnny Carson. That's sort of a formula they have for biopics nowadays, but for 1998, the idea was still pretty fresh.
I'd probably just say check this one out if you find yourself curious about it - in other words, treat it like any new movie you see sitting on the rental shelves that don't exist anymore. If the cover story gets your attention, check it out. If not, I can't say you'd be missing out on a whole lot. Linklater's library is full of movies that represent who he is as a director, with style and substance. As I said before, this movie's okay, but it's just kinda "there".
A Cat in Paris
Here's a title from the 2011 Oscars; admittedly an interesting year with no Disney and/or Pixar films in the category, and between this and another one called 'Chico & Rita', it was actually relatively diverse as well.
'A Cat in Paris' tells the story of a... cat in Paris who lives a bit of a double life. By day, he hangs out with his loving owner and friend, a young girl named Zoe (Lauren Weintraub). By night, he heads over to a cat burglar named Nico's (Steve Blum) house to assist him with his thievery. This all makes it sound like a fun children's adventure, but make no mistake with this one. It's a great film, but it gets rough, and one can see what got it nominated.
They tackle the very serious issue here of a little girl straight up dealing with her father's murder. Zoe has become a mute due to this, and seemingly her only friend is this cat. The murder is carried out by a mobster named Victor Costa (JB Blanc), and Zoe's mother, Jeanne (Marcia Gay Harden) is actually a cop who worked with the father on the force, and is chasing down Costa in an effort to put him away for good. So, in other words, it's kind of a movie where all of this intense stuff is going on, but it's through the eyes of the cat... and Zoe, really.
Although the animation might have a tendency to look a little, how shall I say it.. "art-housey"? The story here is pretty engaging, considering how dark it all actually gets. The villains tend to be a little more on the bumbling, cartoonish side of things, so there's still some humor to it as they play off the otherwise very nasty Costa.
By the way, in case you've made it this far and you're wondering what's up with this cat burglar I mentioned, well, he plays the role of a subplot in which a lot of jewelry goes missing, and Jeanne is working that case as well. I won't spoil anything much, but he does serve a bit more of a purpose than I make it sound.
All this said, I probably wouldn't recommend it so highly to the young-young crowd. There are various parts here that could be kinda scary, and there's even a bit of language being used. But if you're good with all that, check it out for yourself. It's actually quite good, and it has a short running time of just over an hour. Perhaps not the family-friendly animated film the Academy might have been looking for that year, but time well spent altogether.
Being that this has been one of the most talked about films that has floated under the radar (at least as far as some sites I visit go), I had to give it a chance. I watched the trailer, and it looked like it could be a fun, gritty time. On top of that, it looked like Mr. Sparkle, himself, Robert Pattinson, is taking on a rather serious acting role here. Thankfully, he's pulling a Leo DiCaprio, also known as a Ryan Gosling, and breaking free of that teen-girl-crush stereotype.
The movie follows two brothers, Connie (short for Constantine, and the guy Pattinson plays) and Nick, Connie's mentally challenged brother (portrayed by one of the directors here, Benny Safdie). In the opening of the film, the two try to pull of a bank robbery. It goes over well until they are confronted by cops and a panicked Nick runs for it. Nick gets arrested, but Connie manages to escape. He then tries using the robbery money to try to secure a bail bond for his brother. Unfortunately, it's not enough, and the rest of the movie is a stylish and tense portrayal of Connie's search for the rest of the money. So, it doesn't sound like a lot, and fairly unexciting, but the basic plot isn't what ends up making the movie enjoyable.
First of all, let's talk about Pattinson. Truth be told, he's pretty much acting his ass off here, and his performance has actually allowed me to look at him in a brand new light. I never hated the guy or anything, but I had yet to see the performance that would sell me on him being a great actor. This happened to be that performance - albeit, at times, this is a very sleazy and uncomfortable character. You develop a love/hate thing with him. You love him for trying to get his brother out of jail, but you hate him when... well, I'm just gonna say it 'cause it's very uncomfortable... he takes advantage of a 16-year-old girl of color... which, yeah... it was overall unnecessary to any sort of plot, and was seemingly just thrown in to mess with us and make us feel terribly uncomfortable. So you could say that this wasn't 100% enjoyable to yours truly, and it's made even worse by what's happening in Hollywood right now. I would assume that our discomfort was the point, but like torture porn, it's not something I particularly like to sit through. At the end of it all, it's a pretty dynamite performance though.
Onto other things, I had to give the movie credit for having the characters feel very real, and it does a good job at setting a very intensely suspenseful atmosphere with things like lighting and the score. Now, the score DID get on my nerves after a while, but I can't deny that there was an odd effectiveness to it. It's very much just dark, synthesized tones that get more intense as the suspense picks up. So, though it managed to get under my skin, personally, I can still understand why people are seeing it as one of the movie's better qualities.
The only things I have generally negative to say about it are that it's just too simple of an idea, and none of the characters themselves were particularly likable. For the most part, you end up just getting a kick out of them making stupid decisions that lead to things getting worse for them.
So, I really didn't love this like so many people did because I just didn't get what was INCREDIBLY appealing about it. But for the things about it I did manage to enjoy, I enjoyed a lot. It's a very small, independent film though, and it just is what it is. You'll love it, you'll hate it, or you'll be like me and meet somewhere in the middle.
Here we have a primary example of a film that went over with critics pretty damn well, but I just plain was not a fan of. The film is widely seen as this sort of "genius" illustration of the uneasy ride into insanity. I saw it as a pretty cruel and unusual film that crosses the borders a few too many times. But I may have other more personal reasons for not getting as much out of it.
The story centers on a guy named Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) who has some mental health issues. They seem to revolve around childhood trauma, and the result is that he has conversations with his dog, Bosco, and his cat, Mr. Whiskers. Sounds like it could be fun, right? Ryan Reynolds talks to animals? Well, it gets deeper. The animals (also both voiced by Reynolds) sort of serve as his conscience. The dog represents the good, the happy, the positive and the cat represents the bad, the malicious, the negative... and is Scottish for some reason. Still sounds like an interesting enough concept on paper, but there's more.
Jerry falls for a girl he works with named Fiona (Gemma Arterton), while another coworker named Lisa (Anna Kendrick) sort of starts falling for him, but less obviously. One evening, however, Jerry accidentally murders her when he gets into a sort of panic state. From there, the rest of the movie is pretty much the cat trying to convince him to kill again. As a cat, he understands how alive it can make you feel. The dog, meanwhile, keeps trying to convince Jerry he's a good boy and these problems can be solved if he just does the right thing. All in all, the film is considered a "dark comedy", and it DOES have some neat ideas, but there's major setback. It's just not funny. Like, REALLY not funny.
The best laughs I got were subtle giggles at how dark the cat could get. Otherwise, it's just a harsh movie about the rather psychotic mind of a killer and the unfortunate past that led him here. It sucks 'cause I love both Reynolds and Kendrick, and they were actually both good in this with what they had to work with. In fact, as far as Reynolds goes, this is easily one of his best performances. The sarcastic 'Deadpool' player we know him to be kinda just vanishes here, and instead he's a timid, insecure, shy guy who seems to cry at the drop of a hat. But that doesn't change the fact that these two in a movie feels like there should be a heavier comedic aspect to it. But the whole thing plays out more like a disturbing serial killer biopic than... well, a dark comedy.
To look at this from another perspective, consider for a second that my favorite genre is horror/comedy. So many have done it well, using their horrific concepts but combining them well with laugh out loud moments. This was just... killing, disturbed mental thoughts, blood, gore, and cruelty. Anything that was supposed to be funny here pretty much fell flat or got overshadowed by the rest of the film's almost too dark tone. It doesn't really take the horrific side of things and make light of it all so much as show you the dark side of things and how much darker they can get.
But, again, this is one I seem to be far-separated from the critics on. I'll give it Reynold's performance, as he did a fantastic job in convincing me there was something truly wrong with him. It almost seemed too real. The concept the the "conscience pets" is really neat too. But the overall film is perhaps just too damn twisted for my taste. If you care to judge for yourself, however, the film can be found on Netflix (at least in Canada) so have at it and see if you find anything I didn't.