Archive for the Independent Cinema Category

BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (2012)

Posted in 2013, Art Movies, British Horror, Compelling Cinema, Enigmatic Films, Giallo, Independent Cinema, LL Soares Reviews, Psychological Horror, Unusual Films with tags , , , , , , on July 9, 2013 by knifefighter

BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

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The sense of atmosphere in BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO is so thick, you could chop it with a machete, and that’s a big part of what makes it so fascinating. More a character study (and a study of a specific time and place in film history) than an outright horror movie, Peter Strickland’s BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO nonetheless has a pervading, unsettling mood throughout.

Toby Jones (probably best known for playing Truman Capote in 2006’s INFAMOUS) plays Gilderoy, a mild-mannered Englishman who seems to have mostly done sound for children’s shows and nature programs back home, is somehow plucked from his small existence and inserted into an Italian horror movie studio. The vibe is completely 1970s, at the high of the giallo craze. Gilderoy is a fish out of water, and there’s more than a little Kafka in his situation. Many of his co-workers do not speak English. Those who do, specifically the film’s producer Francesco (Cosimo Fusco) and the mysterious director, Giancarlo Santini (Antonio Mancino), are tall, intimidating men whose comments to Gilderoy can sometimes seem more like threats.

Gilderoy is not really sure why he was chosen for this project, especially based on his previous work, but, as Francesco tells him at one point, there are people dying to do his job for free, so he should be happy to do it. The implication being that he should be willing to do it for no money, which he isn’t. But trying to get reimbursed for his flight to Italy alone is an ongoing dilemma, as he keeps getting shuttled from Francesco, to his secretary Elena (Tonia Sotriopoulou), to the Accounting Department. It’s quite clear that the studio isn’t very eager to pay for anything unless it really has to. At one point, the guy in accounting tells Gilderoy that there was no record of a flight leaving England the time he said he flew, and that they cannot pay him back. By then, Gilderoy is so frustrated (since he clearly was on this supposedly non-existent flight!) that he begins to lose his cool, and the worm finally begins to turn.

For hardcore film fans, BERBERIAN is a fascinating look at a side of cinema we rarely see. Sure, we’ve seen the making of a film from the actors’ point of view, or the director’s, but this movie finally gives us entrée into the studio where the sound engineers and foley artists do their thing. We get to see which vegetables and fruits, when smashed or otherwise destroyed, make for the best sound effects, and how a scream can be amplified and manipulated to set your hair on end.

I thought the technical aspects in BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO were fascinating. But I didn’t find much of a plot here. Not that this is particularly detrimental in BERBERIAN’s case. As his ordeal goes on, Gilderoy feels more and more cut off from the outside world, and the movie does a good job of making us feel as claustrophobic as he does. The only people he sees every day are Francesco and the other sound guys. Occasionally Santini stops by to strut around and tell Gilderoy how wonderful he is for the project (meanwhile laughing behind his back in Italian with Francesco). There are also actors and actresses who come and go, spending time in sound booths to either dub dialogue or make vocal sound effects. Or scream.

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It is one of the screaming actresses, Veronica (Susanna Cappellaro)  who befriends Gilderoy. She’s the only one who really seems interested in him as a person, and who confides in him that Santini has been sexually harassing her (as he seems to be doing with all his actresses, some of whom are more responsive to his advances), when he’s not treating her and her co-stars like garbage when they don’t scream just right for his satisfaction. She decides to get revenge on Santini and the production in a way that is very effective (if bloodless).

There are scenes of menace. One particular scene involves Gilderoy waking up to someone thrashing his door and wildly shaking the knob. When he grabs a knife to investigate, he wanders out into the hall, eventually finding himself in a screening room, where the projector starts running and plays footage on the wall behind him of everything that had just happened (inside his room!).

The film the crew is making, concerning 16th century witches who rise to fulfill a curse, and who are in the tunnels beneath an equestrian school—the Italian title translates as “The Equestrian Vortex—bares more than a passing resemblance to Dario Argento’s classic SUSPIRIA (1977), which involved witches and a girls’ dancing school. Of course, we do not see much footage from the film. Early on, we see the opening credits. But the rest of the time, we only know the story based on the recitation of lines by the actors in the sound booths.

Gilderoy is clearly uncomfortable with the subject matter of the film. Whether he is ripping radishes from their stems to replicate the sound of hair being torn from a witch’s head, or listening to women scream over and over (as they are forced to do retakes), he clearly is not thrilled with what he’s doing, even if he realizes it is a unique opportunity for someone who has only done sound for films for the telly back in England (and, despite his age, who still lives with him mum).

His only contact with his former life is in the form of letters from his mother, which start out mundane enough, and which get stranger as time goes on. When an actress recites the contents of one letter, line for line, in front of him, you know something sinister is afoot.

As he is forced to redo sound for scenes over and over, we start to wonder how long this job is going to last, and then wonder if he will ever be allowed to leave. We never see him go outside. He is either in the studio (which is most of the time), or in his room. If there is horror here, it’s the horror of being trapped in an unpleasant place without knowing if you’ll ever escape. Because the longer Gilderoy stays there, the more it seems he won’t be permitted to leave.

The cast is quite good, led by Jones, who is one of those gifted actors who, because of how he looks and sounds, will never be a traditional leading man, but who you want to see more of. Aside from playing Capote in INFAMOUS, Jones’s Hollywood career has amounted mostly to small roles as a character actor (like playing one of the commentators in THE HUNGER GAMES, 2012),  so it’s nice to see him take center stage again in this smaller, British production.

The emphasis on technical details and atmosphere and subtle menace makes this a little different from the usual horror-related film. As I said early on, it’s much more interested in giving us a glimpse into one man’s life than scaring us, but the sense of dread is strong here, and seems quite real.

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Director Strickland has created a unique film that reaches in the direction of art. While it won’t appeal to everyone (it does move at a slower pace than most summer blockbusters), the audience that will appreciate it will obviously have a good time with it. I know I did.

I give BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO, three and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

(Note: BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO has been having a very brief run in arthouse theaters in some cities. It is also currently available on some cable OnDemand services)

LL Soares gives  BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO ~three and a half knives.

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Takes on DEADLY PREY (1987)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2013, 80s Movies, Action Movies, B-Movies, Bad Acting, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Exotic Locales, Grindhouse, Independent Cinema, Just Plain Fun, Tough Guys!, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , on June 6, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

DEADLY PREY (1987)

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Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

The 1980’s offered a veritable cornucopia of action heroes at the drive-ins and the grindhouses.  If you had a good set of muscles, an unidentifiable accent, and a glorious mullet, you could star in your own action movie.  We saw the likes of Dolph Lundgren, Rutger Hauer, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, Oliver Gruner, Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, and, of course, Arnold Schwartzenegger.  You also got Ted Prior.  “Who?” you may ask.

Ted Prior’s brother, David Prior, was one of the owners of Action International Pictures (you know, the other AIP that made ultra-low-budget flicks).  When you are also the head screenwriter and director for the studio, what do you do to help your family?  You make them into action stars, foisting them onto the general public like huge slabs of meat.  With mullets.  Ted had starred in a few other low budget movies, including SLEDGEHAMMER (1983), KILLER WORKOUT (1987), and SURF NAZIS MUST DIE (1987), all of which I recommend, but his career was stalled in direct-to-video-Hell.  David wrote a screenplay for him, a FIRST BLOOD (1982) rip-off called DEADLY PREY (1987).  Shot on the extremely cheap, this must be one of the greatest bad movies of all time, the kind you can watch dozens of times with friends and (hopefully) a few cases of beer.  You will never forget it.

We open on a man in rags, fleeing from a small group of what look like National Reserve members in a thin forest.  As the terrible synth music pounds away, the rock-band-meets-military-looking group close in on the man, shooting and throwing hand grenades. One of the hunters shoves a gun into his navel, claiming, “You’re dead meat, fat boy.”  The fat boy hits him with a rock, knocking him out, but soon a black-tank-top-wearing, Rayban-sporting, mulleted guy shoots him and then shoots the poor jerk he hit with the rock!

David Campbell (KILLZONE, 1985, THE KILLING MACHINE, 1994) plays Colonel Hogan, who recruits men who like to hunt other men for fun, recruiting them for his own private army of mercenaries.  However, they need practice, so they randomly kidnap people so the new recruits can stalk and kill them through the aforementioned thin forest.  He tells Black Tank Top Guy to go find another victim, “a mean one this time!”

This prey fights back!

This prey fights back!

Mike Danton (Ted Prior), complete with the greatest mullet ever sported in any movie, is awakened by his wife Jaimy (terribly played by Suzanne Tara).  Half asleep, he takes out the garbage wearing tiny cut-offs and a long sleeved t-shirt.  The evil dudes hit him over the head and throw him in a van as Jaimy watches.  She runs inside and calls – no, not the police – her father, played by the great Cameron Mitchell (CAROUSEL, 1956, THE TOOLBOX MURDERS, 1978, NIGHTMARE IN WAX, 1979, WITHOUT WARNING, 1980, and over 225 more movies and TV shows!).  He’s an ex-cop, and he tells Jaimy he’ll see what he can do.  The actress playing Jaimy can barely remember her lines.  She is truly dreadful, and Cameron Mitchell just looks like he wants to strangle this bimbo, like he is yearning for the times when he co-starred with Jayne Mansfield.

Meanwhile, Col. Hogan gets a visit from the man who pays the bills, Don Michaelson, played by the a sleep-walking, barely awake Troy Donohue (A SUMMER PLACE, 1959, MY BLOOD RUNS COLD,-1965, and CRY BABY,-1990 ), who gives Hogan three months to get these mercenaries trained…”Or else!”

Black Tank Top Guy has taken Mike Danton’s shirt away, leaving him in just his cut-offs.  He growls, “Run.”  Mike growls, “You’re gonna die.”  But, he does run, and the rest of the movie is pretty much Mike running from these mercenary-wannabes and setting traps and killing them off by what seems like the hundreds!  You see, Mike Danton was a Vietnam Vet ex Green Beret (never mind that he looks about twenty-three years old).  He starts leaping out of bushes, and from behind trees, stabbing them one at a time until only one man is left alive.  He questions the terrified man, and it turns out Mike knows Col. Hogan. 

Another group of soldiers is sent out after Mike, looking suspiciously like the actors in the first group.  I think they could only pay twenty stuntmen, so they just keep reappearing.  This time, Mike is hurling sharpened sticks and twigs at them, killing them like flies.  Curiously, he never takes their guns so he could shoot at his enemies.

More than once, Mike is four feet off the ground in a tree with no leaves and nobody sees him until he leaps on them.  Sometimes, he wears a little garland of leaves as a disguise, but sheesh, people!  Look up sometimes…or at least raise your eyes.  You’re supposed to be soldiers!

Cue our clueless bad guys!

Cue our clueless bad guys!

Coming across a couple dozen bodies, Col. Hogan remarks, “I know this style.  Mike Danton?”  Black Tank Top asks, “You know him?”  Of course, the music swells, and the Colonel answers, “Know him?  I trained him.”  Cue audience groaning.

Meanwhile, Mike drowns some guys, pops out of hiding holes in the ground to growl at people, shove more twigs through men’s chests, snap his dislocated shoulder back into place, eat a live worm for nourishment (ew), and, in one of the greatest scenes in movie history, he rolls a bunch of obviously Styrofoam boulders off a ridge at a mercenary.  The rocks miss the dude, but he looks around, probably embarrassed, and then just falls over dead.  I suppose the boulders scared him into a heart attack!

There’s even a touching part where Jaimy sits by her fire at home, yearning for her husband, while Mike sits by a fire, roasting a rat he’s caught.  Ah, romance!

Mike sneaks up on Hogan and threatens him, though he doesn’t look too scary in those cute little cut-offs.  Instead of killing the head bad guy, he talks some trash then leaves him alive so he can return to the woods and slaughter a few hundred more mercenaries.  If you think I’m kidding, you haven’t seen Mike Danton in action.  This movie must have one of the highest body counts in the history of crappy action flicks. 

At one point, a mercenary actually shoots Mike, but his pecs deflect the bullets.  There’s also a Rambo-esque scene in which Mike rises up with a machine gun from the water and blasts ten men away. 

These pecs deflect bullets! In DEADLY PREY

These pecs deflect bullets! In DEADLY PREY

Yes, Jaimy’s going to get kidnapped.  Yes, her father will try to infiltrate the compound.  Yes, one of the mercenaries will switch sides to help Mike because he saved him back in Nam.  No, nobody ever does call the cops, who could’ve easily handled the situation. 

But who needs cops when you have Mike Danton?

DEADLY PREY is chock-full of bad acting, hilariously clichéd dialogue, dubbed gunshots,  ridiculous fight scenes, terrible synthesizer music, headbands galore, continuity errors (the director couldn’t keep track of who was dying either, as bodies move position and the same soldiers keep popping up), and mullets galore.  There’s really nothing good in it—and that’s what makes it so ludicrously wonderful!  Everyone acts like they’re making SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993), the screenplay delivered with such gravitas and earnestness that it ratchets the film up to a whole new level of awful.  A glorious level!  I mean, there’s this huge compound with tanks and trucks and helicopters everywhere, located seventy five miles from Los Angeles, and nobody’s suspicious?  Mike fights five bad guys, but when we cut back to them there are now seven and when we cut back again there are five!  Not to mention the speech Cameron Mitchell gives about the way the rich treat the poor in a vain attempt to add some kind of theme to the film.  Or the trap Mike sets in which a soldier steps into a lasso, the rope tightens around his foot, pulls him across the ground, and then flings him into a tree full of spikes!

AAARRRG! Our hero in action!

AAARRRG! Our hero in action!

And according to IMDB, later this year, Ted Prior and David Campbell will be reuniting for a sequel, DEADLIEST PREY!  Be still my heart! 

I wonder if he can still fit into those cut-offs?

I give DEADLY PREY three and a half mullets out of four. 

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

 

KISS OF THE DAMNED (2013)

Posted in 2013, Art Movies, Gore!, Highly Stylized Films, Independent Cinema, Indie Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Vampire Movies, Vampires, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , on May 28, 2013 by knifefighter

KISS OF THE DAMNED (2013)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

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For fans of vampire movies, these have been trying times. The TWILIGHT movies have pretty much defanged undead bloodsuckers for the time being, and aside from a few indie flicks, there hasn’t been a lot of hope that vampires will regain their former glory.

The new independent film KISS THE DAMNED tries to correct this, but unfortunately it’s just not strong enough to do the heavy lifting required to save the genre. That said, it’s a pleasant enough film regardless.

Josephine de La Baume stars as Djuna (pronounced Juna—“The D is silent,” as Jamie Foxx would say), a modern-day lady of mystery who sleeps during the day and comes out at night. She seems a little too eager to avoid contact with other people, but this intrigues screenwriter Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) when they first see each other in a video store. She immediately feels uncomfortable when he returns her gaze, and flees the store, but he follows her outside. After some heated make-out sessions get cut short (Djuna is determined not to let things go too far), Paolo refuses to just walk away and demands to know why she won’t let their relationship go any further. At this point, she relents, and draws him into her world. Unfortunately, this involves him getting a couple of fangs in his throat, and being “turned” into something not quite human.

But Paolo is cool with losing his humanity, and seems to be the perfect mate for Djuna, who has been lonely for decades and hasn’t had someone to share her “life” with for way too long. Their love affair seems to be going in a good direction, until Djuna’s sister Mimi (a very sexy Roxane Mesquida) shows up.

Where Djuna is mature and afraid to get too close to anyone, Mimi is more reckless and violent. Djuna has sworn off hunting humans to get the blood she needs and has turned to animals, something she tries to instill in Paolo as well, but Mimi just doesn’t consider it dinner unless it’s running on two legs.

Mimi has come to stay with her sister for a week, while her “new place” in Phoenix (some kind of vampire version of rehab) is being readied for  her. The house the three of them “live” in is owned by another vampire, the successful actress Xenia (Anna Mouglalis, another standout here) who seems determined to give the wild child Mimi a second chance. Djuna, on the other hand, wants nothing to do with her sister and finds the new arrangement completely unsatisfactory, especially since she’s trying to start a new relationship with newbie vampire Paolo and all.

Djuna (Josephine de La Baume) initiates Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) into the world of the undead in KISS OF THE DAMNED.

Djuna (Josephine de La Baume) initiates Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) into the world of the undead, after some strenuous sex, in KISS OF THE DAMNED.

Of course, Mimi shows that Xenia’s trust in her was misguided, and Djuna was right all along, but not before she turns all of their lives upside down. One scene, where Mimi even tricks the totally-in-control Xenia into breaking one of her rules, is especially riveting.

KISS OF THE DAMNED is clearly a homage to the kind of European vampire film that was prevalent in the 70s and 80s, by filmmakers like the French master Jean Rollin (who gave us such classics as 1971’s REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE and FASCINATION, 1979), Spanish director Jess Franco (who gave us the classic VAMPYROS LESBOS, 1971) and Harry Kumel (Belgian director of the unforgettable DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS, 1971). Most, if not all, of these kinds of movies focused on female vampires with European accents. From the stylized cinematography by Tobias Datum to the original score by Steven Hufsteter, KISS OF THE DAMNED clearly wears its influences on its sleeve and is intent on “bringing sexy back” to the vampire genre.

Director Xan Cassavetes (full name Alexandra Cassavetes, daughter of indie legend John Cassavetes) does a good job here, capturing the mood and the inherent claustrophobia of the nighttime blood-drinking set. Xan previously directed the documentary Z CHANNEL: A MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION, about one of the first pay cable stations to focus exclusively on art films in California and its many devoted followers, and acted in such films as ALPHA DOG (2006) and, when she was younger, some of her father’s films like A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE (1974) and MINNIE AND MOSKOWITZ (1971).

The cast emphasizes the European flavor of the proceedings. French actress Josephine de La Baume was previously in movies like ONE DAY (2011) and JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN (also 2011). Roxane Mesquida, also from France, was previously in such diverse films as the Catherine Breillat films FAT GIRL (2001) and SEX IS A COMEDY (2002), as well as Greg Araki’s KABOOM (2010) and Quentin Dupieux’s RUBBER (also 2010).

American actor Milo Ventimiglia will probably be most familiar here to American audiences, mainly for playing Peter Petrelli in the TV series HEROES (2006 -2010). He’s also been in some interesting independent flicks since, like the horror film PATHOLOGY (2008), which I liked a lot. With a dark beard and smoldering eyes, Ventimiglia is a strong presence here, and holds his own quite well with the attractive women he plays opposite. There’s also a small turn by actor Michael Rappaport (COP LAND, 1997, and DEEP BLUE SEA, 1999) as Paolo’s clueless agent, Ben, who shows up unannounced at one point, wanting to see how Paolo’s latest screenplay is coming.

I’m a fan of the kinds of movies Xan Cassavetes is clearly trying to recapture here, and I think she does a pretty good job evoking the same sense of time and place, but I never had the feeling that KISS OF THE DAMNED was adding anything new to the genre. It all seemed like things we’ve seen before, and while it’s a stylish throwback to the days when vampire films were both sexy and chilling, it doesn’t have enough of an original voice to stand out.

Still, I’d rather see something as visually appetizing as KISS OF THE DAMNED than a hundred TWILIGHTs, so I don’t want to be too negative. I just wish it had been more ambitious and tried to do something different with this kind of storyline. As KISS OF THE DAMNED ended, I found myself wanting more of these characters, and at the same time realizing that they really didn’t have all that much to say.

I give KISS OF THE DAMNED, three knives. Not perfect, but it will still wash the foul taste of TWILIGHT out of your mouth.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

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LL Soares gives KISS OF THE DAMNED ~three knives.

SIGHTSEERS (2012)

Posted in 2013, Art Movies, Bad Behavior, Dark Comedies, Independent Cinema, Serial Killers, Unusual Films, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , on May 21, 2013 by knifefighter

SIGHTSEERS (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

Sightseers Poster NZ.inddBen Wheatley’s 2011 movie KILL LIST was my favorite film in 2012 (of course it took a year for it to finally get a theatrical release—and a very limited one at that—in America). So when I saw that his next movie, SIGHTSEERS (2012), was coming, I had to check it out. While I don’t think it’s in the same league as KILL LIST, I enjoyed it a lot, and was happy to see it get a real theatrical release, even if it will be hard to find for people who don’t have access to art house theaters.

SIGHTSEERS is Wheatley is a slightly more jovial mood. While it’s a comedy, it’s a very dark one. It’s the story of Tina (Alice Lowe) and Chris (Steve Oram). They’ve been dating for about three months when they decide to pack up the RV and go on a sightseeing tour of the countryside for a week.

Tina lives with her mum, Carol (Eileen Davies), an unpleasant old woman who still blames Tina for the unfortunate death of their dog, Poppy (when the movie opens, Carol is looking at pictures of Poppy and screaming in a shrill grief-stricken voice). Carol pretends to be much more frail than she is, to keep Tina close, and since Tina is Carol’s caretaker, it’s amazing that she’s allowed to go on this holiday at all, considering how guilty old Carol makes her daughter feel about just about everything. But once Tina gets out on the open road with Chris, things go smashingly…

Well, not really.

The trouble begins when Chris backs up and purposely hits a litterbug who earlier shared a tour bus with them. This kind of a casual murder shocks Tina at first (Chris claims it was all an accident and that he was horrified by it all, when they speak to the police), but she eventually warms to his way of dealing with annoying people. As they hit the various points on their itinerary, they also leave a trail of bodies in their wake (a man who says he will report them for not cleaning up after their dog; someone who is rude to them; a girl who comes on to Chris when Tina is in the ladies’ room, etc.), and we slowly realize that Chris may have been a serial killer all along, and Tina is more than happy to become his apprentice. After all, the people they kill deserve it, don’t they?

Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) go on their first vacation together in Ben Wheatley's SIGHTSEERS.

Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) go on their first vacation together in Ben Wheatley’s SIGHTSEERS.

Along the way, they acquire a new dog that looks an awful lot like the deceased Poppy (the new one is called Banjo) and a nice new camera. And Tina realizes that she may have just found her soul mate after all.

SIGHTSEERS has a pretty simple premise and carries out its carnage in a light-hearted way. Whether you find Tina and Chris amusing or annoying may vary, but I found myself really liking the duo, even if I often disagreed with their actions. At first, it seems like they’re doing what they do for clear-cut (if extreme) moral reasons (well, Tina might be a little bit dumber than Chris, so it takes a little bit for her to catch on), but as their reasons for killing become more and more petty, it’s more difficult to root for them. But they’re so likable, you just might find yourself cheering them on, despite yourself.

The script is by lead actors Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, with Amy Jump (she also co-wrote KILL LIST with Wheatley). It’s a pleasant enough way to kill 90 minutes, and Lowe and Oram are quite good in their roles here.

While I do not consider it to be a major work like the still amazing KILL LIST, I do think that SIGHTSEERS makes Wheatley a director still worth watching, and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives SIGHTSEERS ~three knives.

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UPSTREAM COLOR (2013)

Posted in 2013, Art Movies, Bizarro Movies, Enigmatic Films, Experimental Films, Independent Cinema, Just Plain Weird, LL Soares Reviews, Low Budget Movies, Mind Experiments!, Something Different, Weird Movies with tags , , , , on April 16, 2013 by knifefighter

UPSTREAM COLOR
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

upstream_color_xlgBack in 2004, director Shane Carruth made his debut feature, PRIMER. It was a little indie film about four guys trying to start their own computer company in a garage, and mysterious storage lockers, and time travel. The movie is told in such a way that you only figure it out a little at a time, but it was a terrific first film, and it made Carruth a director to look for. Unfortunately, it took him until 2013 to release his second film, UPSTREAM COLOR, and it is in very limited release in just a few cities. I hope it’s not as long a wait for his next one.

For some reason, I just like the title itself. UPSTREAM COLOR. Just a really cool name for a movie. So what is it actually about? Well, that’s a little tougher to explain. But I’ll try.

Carruth has a talent for enigmatic films that you need to really think about. In this vein, he’s a lot like David Lynch or David Cronenberg, although Carruth’s films are nothing like theirs. How much you’ll enjoy UPSTREAM COLOR depends on how strongly you feel you have to have all the answers, and how open you are to new experiences.

UPSTREAM COLOR begins with some kids drinking some weird concoction made from little grubs harvested from plants by a mysterious guy. Is he some kind of mad scientist, or something else entirely? When the kids drink the liquid, they are able to read each other’s minds – or it looks that way. When one kid tries to hit another, the other one is able to know exactly how to deflect the blow. Two other kids close their eyes and do the exact same hand movements in synch. What exactly are these grubs?

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The guy then kidnaps a woman at a bar named Kris (Amy Seimetz, who is actually quite striking in some scenes), using a Taser. He makes her ingest one of the grub/worms and then brings her back to a house where he proceeds to brainwash her. He convinces her that ice water is most wonderful reward she can get, simply by telling her it is so. He tells her she cannot look into his face, because it is made of the same material that makes up the sun, and it is too bright to look at. He makes her copy out long passages from Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden”  and fold the papers into links to a giant paper chain. He also gets her to take out a loan on her house and withdraw all of her money from the bank and give it to him.

At one point, when she’s in bed, she sees worms running under her skin, and tries to remove them with a kitchen knife.

We are then introduced to another odd gentleman, called simply The Sampler (Andrew Sensenig) in the credits. He performs an odd operation on Kris involving her and a small pig, the grafting of some of the pig’s flesh onto Kris’s body, and what looks like a blood transfusion between them. The Sampler also runs a pig farm, presumably stocked with pigs that have been used in similar operations. The Sampler gets his name because when he isn’t tending to his pig farm, he is wandering around the woods with a microphone and a synthesizer, recording all kinds of strange noises and sampling them to play back later.

After her bank account is drained, Kris gets away and tries to adjust to normal life again, but it’s hard to go back. She loses her job, and her personality becomes almost robotic. It is then that she meets Jeff (director Carruth) on a commuter train and they begin having conversations that eventually lead to a romantic relationship. And then she begins to realize that maybe Jeff has experienced a similar abduction in his past, because he has the same kind of knife marks on his leg that she does…

So what do Thoreau, pigs and the ingesting of strange worms have to do with each other? You’ll have to see UPSTREAM COLOR for yourself, and it may take some work to figure it out. UPSTREAM COLOR is the kind of movie that does not provide ready answers, but that’s okay. There are so many movies that try to explain every little detail of what’s going on, that it’s a relief sometimes to find a movie like this, that refuses to make it easy. I’m still not one hundred percent sure about every aspect of the movie, but I do know that I found the film to be very compelling, and I’m sure I’ll see it again at some point.

Kris (Amy Seimetz) undergoes a strange abduction in Shane Carruth's UPSTREAM COLOR.

Kris (Amy Seimetz) experiences a strange abduction in Shane Carruth’s UPSTREAM COLOR.

The direction by Carruth (who also wrote the script) is quite good, as is the cinematography (which, it turns out, is also by Carruth). It’s a visually interesting film, with minimal dialogue in its first half, and yet it might just captivate you from the moment it begins. Just go in expecting something completely different, and you won’t be disappointed. This is not like the typical Hollywood film. It’s another animal entirely.

And for that reason, because it plays by its own rules, I give UPSTREAM COLOR three and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives UPSTREAM COLOR ~three and a half knives.

SPRING BREAKERS (2013)

Posted in 2013, All-Star Casts, Bikini Girls, Compelling Cinema, Controverisal Films, Crime Films, Exploitation Films, Femme Fatales, Gangsters!, Hot Chick Movies, Independent Cinema, James Franco, Just Plain Fun, LL Soares Reviews, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , on March 26, 2013 by knifefighter

SPRING BREAKERS (2013)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

Spring-Breakers-International-Movie-Poster

If you think this is going to be just another Spring Break teen sex comedy, then you are in for a surprise. SPRING BREAKERS is another kind of animal altogether, and it’s the kind of pop/art hybrid that will be playing at your local arthouse theater, as well as the nearby multiplex. The arthouse crowd will have some idea what they’re in for, as soon as they see the director’s name, Harmony Korine. The multiplex audience will have no clue, and might just get their heads blown.

So who is Harmoney Korine, you ask? Well, when he was 19, he wrote the screenplay for the movie KIDS (1995), still probably the most notorious project he’s been associated with. But he went on to become a director in his own right, with weirdo masterpieces under his belt like 1997’s GUMMO and 1999’s JULIEN DONKEY-BOY, two movies that will seriously screw with your head. The last movie of his I saw in a theater was 2007’s MISTER LONELY, which is about a Michael Jackson impersonator who goes to live on an island populated by nothing but celebrity impersonators, and there’s Werner Herzog as a skydiving priest. I think there were five people in the audience when I saw it. In contrast, the theater was pretty packed when I saw SPRING BREAKERS.

SPRING BREAKERS is an underground film with above-ground stars, and what an interesting collection of celebs we have.

The movie begins with four girls wanting to go to Spring Break and escape from their boring lives as hard-working college students, but they don’t have enough money for the trip. Fed up with being deprived of fun, Candy (Vanessa Hudgens, who your kids might know from Disney fare like 2006’s HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL and the TV series THE SUITE LIFE OF ZACK AND CODY), Brit (Ashley Benson, currently playing Hanna on the ABC FAMILY series PRETTY LITTLE LIARS)  and Cotty (Rachel Korine, who also happens to be Mrs. Harmony Korine, and who was in the previously mentioned MISTER LONELY, among other films), decide they are going to Florida for the time of their lives, no matter what. So they don some ski masks and rob the local chicken shack, armed with a realistic looking water pistol and a heavy duty hammer. They get enough money for the trip, and bring their virginal friend Faith (Selena Gomez, another Disney star, from the series THE WIZARDS OF WAVERLY PLACE) along for the ride. Faith is sweet and religious and doesn’t seem like the other girls at all, but she goes along for the ride, even after she finds out how they got the money.

Once in sunny Florida, the girls go wild, and then some, everyone but Faith, who has some naïve idea of this being a chance to bond with her girlfriends, when the others are just thinking about drugs and sex and booze.

The stars of SPRING BREAKERS (from left to rigth) Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine and Vanessa Hudgens (standing). Behind them, James Franco.

The stars of SPRING BREAKERS (from left to rigth) Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine and Vanessa Hudgens (standing). Behind them, James Franco.

When a particularly out-of-control party they are at gets busted by the cops, the girls end up in jail. Without money for bail, they are rescued by a rapper, drug dealer, and gun hoarder named Alien (James Franco, who we saw just a couple of weeks ago as OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL). With his corn rows, tattoos and mouth grille, Franco is a force of nature here, and steals every scene he is in.

Alien (“My real name is Al, but I’m out of this world”) is so much the polar opposite of OZ that it’s amazing this is the same guy, and yet Franco works his magic without having to try. Just what does he want in return for springing these cute college girls from the hoosegow? Well, Faith gets so scared thinking about that one that she takes the next bus home (no big loss, since she was the least interesting girl anyway), and the other three find that chicken shack robbery to be just the start of their life of crime, as they take part in a violent crime spree, this time with Alien leading the way.

SPRING BREAKERS is chock full of bikinis, bongs and guns. There’s also lots of Spring Break nudity (although  Rachel Korine is the only one of the main girls to really let it all hang out), and violence. So if you go into the theater expecting to just see some typical drunken behavior, you’re going to be in for a surprise.

Korine’s direction (he also wrote the screenplay) is all quirky and cool, shooting some scenes in slow-motion with musical accompaniment by Skrillex (along with Cliff Martinez, they did the soundtrack). Mainstream audiences might be scratching their heads by the time the end credits roll, but I was completely hypnotized by this one. As a long time Korine fan, I would have seen this one anyway, but the added pleasure of a rip-roaring, bigger than life James Franco, and good performances by the girls, just multiplies the pleasures.

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The girls turn in good performances. I really liked Rachel Korine a lot  as Cotty, the most uninhibited one of the group, and Ashley Benson and Vanessa Hudgens turn in super-intense performances as the two most violent ones, a dynamic duo who even scare Franco in one scene. (Hudgens may have gained fame on the Disney Channel, but she was also in the controversial movie THIRTEEN in 2003 and was in the slightly edgy but ultimately disappointing SUCKER PUNCH in 2011. So she’s not completely new to this “edgy” thing.  As for Benson, she’s my favorite of the female leads here, hands down).

By the time Alien starts taking the girls on missions to rob other college kids at gunpoint (and a wedding!), and Alien’s arch-enemy Archie (Gucci Mane) feels he needs to put Alien in his place and starts some violence that needs payback, we have reached the point of no return, and the drunken parties have become a faint memory, replaced by the barrel of an AK-47.

One especially fun (and demented) scene features the three bad girls in pink ski masks singing along with Alien (who is playing piano beside his swimming pool) as they do a group rendition of Britney Spears’ song “Everytime.”

If the Disney girls climbed aboard this project to change their images, they succeeded,  and Harmony Korine succeeded in churning out his first potential hit with mainstream audiences since he wrote KIDS back in the 90s. And like KIDSSPRING BREAKERS will probably seem like a horror flick to some parents (especially of daughters), a nightmare about what could happen during those Spring Break vacations.

SPRING BREAKERS is big and loud and out of control. And I found myself really digging it. In fact, this might just be my favorite movie of 2013 so far.

I give it three and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives SPRING BREAKERS ~three and a half knives.

THE COMEDY (2012)

Posted in 2012, Bad Situations, Cult Movies, Dark Comedies, Disturbing Cinema, Independent Cinema, Satire, Something Different, Strange Cinema with tags , , , , , , , on December 28, 2012 by knifefighter

THE COMEDY (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

TheComedy

As THE COMEDY opens, a guy named Swanson (Tim Heidecker) is having a drunken party with his friends, which evolves into nudity and outrageous behavior. This occurs during the opening credits. It’s a good introduction to this man and his world of debauchery and idiocy.

When we next see Swanson, he is verbally harassing his father’s male nurse (Seth Koen), whose lack of reaction reveals that he’s endured this many times before. Swanson’s father is in a coma in his bed at home, and Swanson is clearly conflicted about his father’s condition. This conflict lasts a few minutes. Then he goes out for a day of mayhem.

This involves such weirdness as walking by a group of landscapers working on someone’s yard and suddenly chipping in to help. When the house’s owners come outside, he takes advantage of the fact that the workers can’t speak English, and pretends to be their supervisor and asks if his men can take a dip in the pool, creating a really awkward moment until the owners agree. At this point, Swanson just goes along his merry way, having accomplished a moment of anarchy. Later, he ends up in a bar where he is the only white customer, saying offensive things that could lead to a beatdown. Later still, he and his friends harass a cab driver for not having a working radio, and partake in some sophomoric behavior inside a church.

Swanson and his buddies (Eric Wareheim and James Murphy) create mayhem in a church.
Swanson and his buddies (Eric Wareheim and James Murphy) create mayhem in a church.

Just about everything Swanson does is meant to offend and piss off someone. To put it in a nutshell, Swanson’s behavior shows that he is a complete asshole, and the title of the movie has an ironic ring to it, because while some parts of this movie are funny, just as many parts are uncomfortable and even unpleasant. This is not really a comedy, after all.

Swanson lives on a boat, and spends most of his time drinking (and often puking overboard). He does whatever strikes him at a given moment, like suddenly entering a restaurant and applying for a job as a dishwasher (even though he’s about 40). It’s clear that he is well off and doesn’t need to work, yet he does these things on a lark, knowing that if he grows bored, he can always just walk away.

Somehow, despite his arrested development, Swanson is able to get girls. He “seduces” one woman at a party with banter about how feudalism could have worked if given more of a chance, and that Hitler may have had some good ideas “if you take away the killing part.” Another woman, who he meets at his dishwasher job (the first time they meet, he tells her he’s a registered sex offender), ends up back at his boat and he watches with mild curiosity as she unexpectedly has an epileptic fit.

Tim Heidecker plays an unlikable bastard who lives on a boat in THE COMEDY.

Tim Heidecker plays an unlikable bastard who lives on a boat in THE COMEDY.

He also, surprisingly, has lots of friends, all of whom seem as idiotic as he is. These include Eric Wareheim (Heidecker’s cohort on the late night Adult Swim series TIM AND ERIC, AWESOME SHOW, GREAT JOB!), stand-up comic Neil Hamburger and musician James Murphy (of LCD Soundsystem fame).

So it’s not like Swanson is an isolated loner with no friends or girlfriends. He’s found lots of like-minded people to hang out with. And yet, he appears to have complete disdain for people in general and the world around him. He has no desire to work a real job (and clearly doesn’t have to) and has no desire to take on any kind of responsibility.

By the end of the movie, chances are good that you will want to punch Swanson in the face. And you’ll wonder why someone doesn’t punch his lights out every day of his life.

And yet, for some inexplicable reason, I found myself liking this movie.

I’ve always enjoyed comedians who sought to make their audiences squirm more than laugh, and THE COMEDY is this kind of comedy. It’s not laugh-out-loud kind of stuff (although there were a couple of times when I did laugh); it’s more like, “how much can Swanson get away with before someone decks him” kind of humor. Director Rick Alverson does a great job of making this work. Without a skilled director at the helm, this movie could easily have deteriorated into the story of a really annoying guy, which would just be a waste of time. There are scenes when you actually wonder whether or not everyone onscreen is “in” on the joke (like that scene in the barroom, where you can feel the tension building up, the more Swanson talks). And despite his complete obnoxiousness, there are moments when you feel something for Swanson as a human being, even if most of the time that feeling is repulsion.

Tim Heidecker is amazing (and fearless) in the lead role here, and he seems to be the perfect choice for this kind of thing. His Cartoon Network/Adult Swim series with Eric Wareheim is known for its bizarre, off-the-wall style that is often more weird than funny. But if you haven’t seen that show—or aren’t aware of it—then you’ll have an even better reaction to THE COMEDY.

 Tim Heidecker plays one of the most unlikable lead characters in a movie in years in THE COMEDY. Yet, somehow, it works.

Tim Heidecker plays one of the most unlikable lead characters in a movie in years in THE COMEDY. Yet, somehow, it works.

You may like this movie; chances are more likely that you will completely hate it. But it will get a reaction out of you. And director Alverson has stated that that was his main mission in making THE COMEDY, to get a reaction out of moviegoers who are usually lulled to sleep by brainless blockbusters. If you “get” what’s going on here and enjoy your humor especially dark, you might see this as a work of bizarre brilliance. If you don’t “get” it, you may want to jump through the screen and kick Swanson’s butt. But be forewarned, you will have a reaction. That is guaranteed.

So Alverson’s mission is a clear success.

I hesitate to rate this one.  I enjoyed it in a perverse way—but then again, I’ve always had an affinity for unlikable characters —but I bet most of the people reading this review would hate it.  So instead of a rating, let’s just say, if this sounds like something you’d want to see, see it. If not, then you will probably avoid it anyway.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares