St. Vincent (2014)

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Directed by: Theodore Melfi

 St. Vincent made me cry. I seldom cry at films, and if I think long and hard, I can’t think of many films off the top of my head which have made me shed a tear. Perhaps ‘Homeward Bound’, that is the most obvious one I recall. But what was it about St. Vincent? Maybe it was Bill Murray’s marvellous performance. Murray for me is an actor on equal footing with the late Robin Williams, an actor who has always been there throughout my film watching life.

I suppose St. Vincent slots into Murray’s melancholic late renaissance. ‘St. Vincent’ stands next to ‘Broken Flowers’, ‘Lost in Translation’ and ‘The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou’. Murray plays Vincent, an alcoholic, foul tempered Vietnam veteran. The character reminded me a lot of Charles Bukowski, only without Buk’s ability to write about his painful existence.

Vincent at first appears to have few redeeming qualities. He sleeps with a pregnant Eastern European slipper, has run up a host of gambling debts and snarls at anyone who crosses his path. The power of Murray’s performance is that he can make that kind of character likeable, even before we begin to see the good qualities of Vincent.

There are a few troubling things about this movie that will divide opinion, and I suppose one is quite a big part of the film which I’m reluctantly to give away, so let’s get on to Naomi Watts’ performance as Daka, the Eastern European prostitute. Watts puts on the kind of ‘Russian-ish’ accent that your best friend would do after knocking back several shots of cheap vodka. I really have no idea if she’s brilliant or terrible in St. Vincent. It’s a real marmite performance. This continues a strange, but exciting period for Watts, in that she appears to be deliberately acting terribly in really good films. See also her overwrought role in ‘Birdman’.

The supporting cast in ‘St. Vincent’ really bounce off Murray; one of the big surprises is Melissa McCarthy who plays Vincent’s new neighbour. McCarthy has perhaps unfairly received a whole host of shit for being cast in the ‘Ghostbusters’ reboot, but her role in this film is a fine rebuttal to all the haters. This isn’t your usual brash and crass McCarthy performance; she tones it down several notches and convinces as Maggie, the struggling single Mother. Her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) is also excellent, as the kid who melts Vincent’s icey exterior.

Yes, ‘St. Vincent’ is sentimental, but it’s an old fashioned feel good movie that’s really been lacking of late. It reminded me of classic films like ‘Uncle Buck’ or ‘As Good as it Gets’, a rogue’s redemption story.

– RJW

8/10

 

St. Vincent on IMDB

 

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We’re The Millers (2013)

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Here, I am proving something: I don’t just watch science fiction and fantasy movies. I also watch fairly terrible comedies.

While We’re The Millers is not a terrible film, it really, really wishes it had been produced by Judd Apatow. And it really, really wasn’t.

This follows the exploits of a drug dealer who has all his money stolen before he can pay his supplier. In order to avoid some serious harm, he agrees to smuggle some marijuana across the border from Mexico into the United States. In order to provide cover for the job, he hires a stripper, a homeless girl and the slightly weird kid who lives next door to be his fake family. The idea is that they hire a motor home, fill it with weed and then drive it across the border, because no one would suspect a family on holiday to have a shit ton of green on board. Cue hijinks.

"The 'hijinks' are just palpable."

“The ‘hijinks’ are just palpable.”

I don’t have a lot more to say about it, other than it was entertaining and gave me a few chuckles.

Most of the actors in this film have a background in TV comedy. It has Jason “Saturday Night Live writer” Sudeikis, Jennifer “Friends” Anniston, Ed “The Office” Helms, and Nick “Parks & Recreation” Offerman in it. All are proven, quality comedy actors. The failing here is just that it just isn’t that funny.

"Jennifer Anniston earned enough money from doing Friends that she never needs to work again. Maybe that's why she doesn't need to make good movies... *rimshot*"

“Jennifer Anniston earned enough money from doing Friends that she never needs to work again. Maybe that’s why she doesn’t need to make good movies… *rimshot*”

Comedy is probably the hardest gig in Hollywood. My idea of good comedy is I’m Alan Partridge, Arrested Development and Community, all of which are fairly niche products. In terms of generally popular comedy, I love The Inbetweeners, Friends and Parks and Recreation. Friends being one of the most globally popular TV comedies ever made, which it absolutely earned. The last film I saw which I found genuinely funny was Ted (and that was largely because it was aimed squarely at nerds of my age group). My point here is that your list of what constitutes good comedy is probably very different to mine and that’s why comedy is so hard: if you want general appeal, you risk being so bland, you’re not funny, but if you want highbrow, you risk alienating people.

I name dropped Judd Apatow earlier because the comedies he has produced (not the ones he has written and directed), such as Stepbrothers, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Superbad, Drillbit Taylor, The Five Year Engagement and a ton of others, were all pretty decent films with a similar vein of humour. You know, the slightly wrong, cleverer than it ought to be character based humour. And this film clearly wants to be one of those movies. And it’s almost there, the actors are good and the story has the chops to carry you through, it just doesn’t have the script.

"And there you have it: probably the funniest joke in the film."

“And there you have it: probably the funniest joke in the film.”

One thing the movie does do really well is show the fake family becoming a real family through shared experience. Face it, as soon as you read the words ‘fake family’ earlier, you knew exactly where the plot was going. And while obvious, it was actually done well and for once, I actually bought them coming together as a family unit.

I think the problem with this film is that it doesn’t have the edge that Judd Apatow movies generally do. Whether it is his direct influence or some other reason connected to him (maybe he has a crack production team he re-uses? Or just crack?), the comedies I name-checked earlier all have a certain something about them. It’s too ‘feel good’, even down to the nicey-nice ending.

So We’re The Millers. It’s not awful but it’s just not very good either. It’s too risqué to be a family movie and too upbeat to be offbeat. I guess, given the subject matter, you either go full bore or you go home. I’m guessing Jennifer Anniston wishes she did.

"I know at least one person who has some 'ragrets' from this movie, you know what I'm saying."

“I know at least one person who has some ‘ragrets’ from this movie, you know what I’m saying.”

TL:DR “Comedy movie which goes too far to be family friendly but not far enough to be genuinely funny. Not without its moments but there aren’t enough.”

King Frat (1979)

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I feel I need to mention, before we get going – any praise of anything in this movie is not agreeing with the activities taken part in or views expressed within it. One must laugh at this film as often as you laugh with it.

It’s Florida in 1979. A film crew rolled into town with the ambition of making a few dollars from idiots at drive-in cinemas. The flavour of the month they were ripping off was “National Lampoon’s Animal House”, so to save as much money as possible, they just hired local actors, which is one of the many reasons you may not recognise any of the fine thespians who plied their trade in “King Frat”. Whereas I’ve seen “Animal House”, an undeniable classic, maybe twice in my life, I’ve seen “King Frat” at least ten times. I don’t know why.

Its simultaneous biggest flaw and biggest plus is the complete lack of any morals whatsoever. And I’m not talking about any film of the last 20 years you’ve seen which claims to be crass and tasteless, which usually just involves a bit of mild nudity and a joke about religion; “King Frat” has a seemingly pathological need to cross every boundary imaginable, to offend everyone it can, to take every funny idea from “Animal House” and dial it way up. Whether this results in a laugh or a horrified gasp seems not to bother these people.

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Yellowstream University, named by the local Native Americans for exactly the reason you are already imagining it’s named, is home to Phi Kappa Delta, the scummiest fraternity imaginable. We’re introduced to them as they drive their hearse with the number plate “HEY 4Q2” round the campus. They fart on the Principal, which kills him immediately – later on, they put a burning block of weed in the ventilation of the church where his funeral is being held, steal his body and leave it in their toilet for the rest of the movie. There’s sort of a plot, with them being threatened with removal from campus by the Assistant Dean and the “preppie frat”, but it’s all pretty irrelevant.

Main student at the frat is “Gross-Out”, played by John DiSanti, who was 41 at the time of filming and looked every minute of it. To deal with the sensitive issue of rampant alcoholism in the Native American community, they have a white guy in crappy facepaint as “Chief Latrine”, who we’re introduced to passed out on the front steps of the frat house in the middle of the day, and who remains blackout drunk throughout. The rest of the frat is a sort of undifferentiated mass of beer-devouring humanity.

The main thread of the first half of the movie is a farting contest. It’s a big deal, drawing a large crowd, and Gross-Out is expected to win of course. Lots of people bending over, strained expressions on their faces, with microphones held down there; Gross-Out’s ex-girlfriend competes (she was too gross even for him); and a dog accidentally drinks some “farting juice” and lets rip with such vigour that it’s thrown across the room. In the second half of the movie, we’re treated to a scene where one of the Phi Kappa boys is in a gorilla suit in the back of an ambulance, and the nurse in there notices he has an erection. Rather than literally any other action, she decides to make use of it, mounts him and gets stuck in the zipper of his outfit, where they’re discovered on arrival at the hospital. Plus there’s a trip to a local brothel where the new pledge finds his wait-til-marriage girlfriend working as a “masseuse”. This is merely a taste of the rich buffet of delights that “King Frat” represents.

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If you’ve sat through every minute of this masterpiece and not exchanged at least three shocked glances with your viewing buddy (seriously, don’t watch this on your own, what’s the point?), then you’re a monster and ought to be ashamed. This really is as repellent as teen raunch movies got – basically no plot, just a series of “sketches”; repetitive beyond even my ability to enjoy farting and drunkenness jokes; stupendously racist towards Native Americans (although not towards black people, oddly enough); and genuinely thinks the only way to be “better” than Animal House is to be louder, dumber and drunker. The tagline?

“#@!! the rules, #@!! the Dean, #@!! the college, #@!! everything… it’s beer time!!”

Yet I love it. I don’t know why, but I do. Its mindlessness probably works in its favour – drunkenness and sociopathic behaviour ages well, it would seem. It’s the worst of the worst, the pits, but there’s something gleeful about it. They love what they’re doing, even if they probably shouldn’t.

Rating: thumbs up

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Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)

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“Gremlins” was an enormous success, but director Joe Dante didn’t feel like doing a sequel. Instead, he made some of the 80s most entertaining movies – “Explorers”, “Innerspace”, “The Burbs” and large chunks of “Amazon Women On The Moon”, and was only enticed back when all the studio’s other choices pulled out, and they agreed to his demands to let him do whatever he wanted. And that carte blanche gave us this.

Billy (Zach Galligan) and Kate (Phoebe Cates) have moved to New York, to work at Clamp Towers. Clamp is John Glover, one of the great sleazy villains, and any resemblance between him and real-life evil scumbag property developers with 5-letter names ending in “mp” is no doubt entirely coincidental. Mr Wing is the last holdout in his neighbourhood, refusing to sell to Clamp, but when he dies Clamp swoops in, and in a fortunate coincidence a worker from the genetic engineering lab in Clamp’s building, run by Dr Catheter (the great Christopher Lee, who has a surprising knack for comedy) finds Gizmo and takes him.

Billy realises Gizmo is there and gets him back fairly quickly, but thanks to Gizmo, honestly, being a bit of a nosy asshole, the whole horrible chaotic mess starts again, this time based entirely in Clamp Tower, the world’s most advanced office building. All this is really just an excuse for Joe Dante to hire everyone he ever loved, to recreate scenes from his favourite movies, to pack every scene with in-jokes, obscure references and just plain stupidity. The gremlins this time are designed by effects master Rick Baker, and they’re more diverse and interesting than the gang in part 1, plus, having him on board means that when they discover the genetic engineering lab and all the cool mutagens in there, you’re going to get some great-looking monsters. Brain Gremlin is a brilliant character, for instance.

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There’s so much stuff happening that you’ll notice a little reference in a corner somewhere, and IMDB’s “trivia” page is stuffed with them – my favourite is a sign for Dr Quatermass, a reference to the British sci-fi character of the 1950s and 60s. There’s the famous scene where the gremlins actually cause the film to break, cutting to a cinema showing “Gremlins 2” where a woman (who also played a small part in the first movie) walks out of the theatre and complains to the owner, played by the great Paul Bartel, who then goes and gets Hulk Hogan to force the gremlins to show the rest of the movie. There’s the appearance by movie reviewer Leonard Maltin who actually reads out his real unfavourable review of the first movie before being attacked by gremlins. I’ve not even scratched the surface, but if you see an older actor, chances are he’s a guy who used to work for Roger Corman way back when (Dante got his start with Corman) and Dante is giving work to one of his old buddies.

The actual film itself seems almost irrelevant when you can just enjoy the steady stream of references, recreations of other scenes (my favourite – a gremlin sat on a mockup of the Empire State Building, swatting at toy helicopters, from “King Kong”) and ridiculous sight gags. But they make an effort, occasionally – Clamp becomes a human being of sorts, the old creature-feature host who helps Billy has a nice arc, and Billy’s boss, the never-more-beautiful Haviland Morris, shows her human side too. I’d say it’s a heartwarming movie, but the vast majority of it is the exact opposite – it’s a cartoon movie, with the same joyful lack of morality and respect for the laws of physics that those classic cartoons had.

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There’s a debate in our household about which is better – my wife preferring part 1 (even though this has a scene in a Canadian themed restaurant, and she does love a good Canadian gag), and me just wavering on the side of part 2. For me, it was the moment where Phoebe Cates told a story which directly mocked her own incredibly dark tale from part 1 that pushed this over the edge – such a clever move, and an example – of which there are many – of the mockery of sequels and its own prequel that this film loves so much. The awful inventor father from part 1 becomes the constantly malfunctioning tower in part 2, for an example of a really clever little gag. And yes, there’s a group of characters who pick the “3 rules” apart!

The gremlins themselves, despite being better models in this, still have the same glee over death and destruction, and are always funny. Gizmo gets a training montage after watching “Rambo” on the TV, and even puts on Rambo’s bandana – the permission to use the footage and the likeness given willingly by Sylvester Stallone, apparently. See, I’m just listing the awesome stuff this film did again.

Provided your kids are old enough to not mind a bit of fairly gross gremlin violence (no humans are killed, as far as I can tell), pop this on over the festive period and have yourself a good old time. Perhaps it’ll take them a day, as it just took me, to realise it’s not actually set at Christmas. Whoops!

Rating: thumbs up

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Dark Rising: Bring Your Battle-Axe (2007)

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I feel like I’ve stumbled down a dark alley into an alternate universe, one where a sci-fi/comedy franchise can get to three films, one TV series with another in the pipeline…and it can fly completely under the radar of a hardcore fan of both those genres like me. Maybe Canada wanted to keep it to themselves?

It really doesn’t start well, which might be a reason it didn’t travel too far. After a “whoops my Dad opened a portal to Hell” opening featuring a young girl, we meet Jason, a sort of bland everyman and Ricky, his sleazy friend who films adverts for sex phone lines. They’re organising a camping trip along with their friend Renee so Jason can try to reconcile with his ex-fiancee Jasmine – only problem is, she decided she was a lesbian three weeks ago and brings along her new girlfriend Marlene. The three women are also witches, but Jasmine and Marlene are more bothered about sort-of kissing than they are witchcraft.

That sounds stupid, doesn’t it? The acting is really, really bad here, with Jason and Jasmine by far the worst. It’s not remotely believable or funny, with the only bright spot being non-actor Jay Reso, best known to wrestling fans as WWE superstar Christian, as Ricky. The problem is, the film thinks all this is hilarious, and tells us so by using that stereotypical “comedy” music – hard to describe, but it’s a light plinky-plonky thing which you’ll recognise as soon as you hear it. Handy of the film to tell us when the comedy sections are happening, even if it’s not 100% accurate.

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In between this, Renee “dreams” of Summer Vale, who disappeared 10 years ago. Hey, didn’t we see a kid disappear at the beginning of this movie? Anyway, she buys an old book full of demon incantations from a mysterious book-seller (which once belonged to Summer’s dad, implausibly enough) for $15. What? A huge old interesting-looking book and he’s only charging $15 for it? Sorry. She buys a book, reads an incantation, portal is opened, demon comes out, so does Summer (who we realise is the warrior-woman we’ve been seeing in demon-world training to become the best fighter ever, throughout the film).

So we have a forest, some young people, and a mysterious demon bad guy. The first half of the film is so plodding that I could forgive you for abandoning it, but towards the end it starts to warm up. When they don’t have time for stupid “comedy” scenes, the humour flows more naturally from the situation…and the monster at least gives the film a reason to exist, operating like your traditional slasher movie villain.

I would imagine the people who made this film either wouldn’t care or would try and spin it the other way, but the treatment of women is pretty laughable in this. Summer Vale, who’s been fighting supernatural evil for a decade or so, luckily could only afford an armoured bikini to wear, and the lesbian scene was so unerotic, unfunny and un-entertaining that it ought to be used to correct the psyche of lesbian porn addicts. I’d normally say at this point “no-one’s watching a sci-fi comedy film about demon portals to see lesbians”, but literally every review on the IMDB says “and it’s got a lesbian scene too! What more could you want?” I’m fighting a losing battle, readers, and I’m sorry for that. But it does get boring watching a film like this just recreate the worst stereotypes of women, coat them in a sheen of wink-wink knowingness and pretend like they’re not being sexist. That the director is married to the woman playing Summer is even more baffling.

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But I did mention it sort of being okay, didn’t I? As the annoying characters are killed off, and Jason finally is told that his fiancée is now a lesbian (well, and possessed by a demon), the stupidity lessens enough to allow enjoyment. I mean, it’s a long way from being great, or even good, but it’s probably worth continuing with the series to see what pops up. Colin Mochrie, legendary Canadian improv comedian, pops up in a later instalment, as do several moderately more famous / decent actors.

Don’t spend more than a few seconds pondering any of the variety of plot holes and weird errors this film commits, as that would ruin the film. Just try and squint through the garbage, and let’s all keep our fingers crossed that the later TV series and films at least give Summer (installed as co-hero of the franchise, come film’s end) a little more to do.

Rating: thumbs down

Stress Position

STRESS POSITION: HOW BAD COULD IT BE?

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“FASCINATING AND THRILLING… A NEARLY FLAWLESS DEBUT FEATURE” – Film Bizarro

“A DEEPLY DISTURBING FILM THAT SEEMS ALL TOO REAL…. TRULY PSYCHOLOGICALLY TERRIFYING” – Toronto Film Scene

“TWISTS AND TURNS THAT SURPRISE AND HORRIFY” – Examiner.com, Lindsay Waite

BrinkVision is set to release the award winning, critically acclaimed, psychological experiment thriller comedy Stress Position on VOD and limited edition DVD on August 26th. Stress Position is a genre-bending film about two close friends who make a bet to see which of them can withstand a week of psychological torture at the hands of the other. Director A.J. Bond and longtime collaborator and friend, David Amito designed personalized torture regimes aimed at breaking each other’s will, but without causing any severe physical pain. Set entirely in and around an avant garde torture chamber custom built in an isolated warehouse, the film captures the surprising trajectory of the experiment from both sides of the cell as the two friends play both victim and oppressor, not to mention actor and director.

A Documentary? An Experiment? Torture Porn? What the F#*k is Stress Position?

Synopsis:

Inspired by a flippant remark about the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, filmmaker A.J. Bond made a bet with his close friend, actor David Amito, to see which of them could withstand a week of psychological torture at the hands of the other. What begins as a bizarre and darkly humorous experiment gradually spirals out of control, testing the limits of their friendship.

Trailer:

YOU CAN BUY STRESS POSITION BY CLICKING ON THIS LINK

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L

BRINKVISION HAS PICKED UP THE NORTH AMERICAN RIGHTS TO THE CULT COMEDY FILM “L” FROM THE WRITER OF OSCAR NOMINATED DOGTOOTH ON VOD & DVD AUGUST 26TH!

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IT’S ABSURD NOT TO TRUST ME

“Brilliant… Bizarre and Unique” – Twitch

“Delicate, Funny and Beautiful” – FilmInk

Official Selection of the Sundance Film Festival

BrinkVision has picked up North American rights to the cult comedy film “L” to be released on VOD & DVD on August 26th! L premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and has gone on to win several awards, and screen at numerous festivals worldwide.

L was written by Efthymis Filippou, the writer of the Oscar nominated film, Dogtooth, as well as Alps, and the upcoming film, The Lobster.

L Stars Aris Servetalis from the film Alps.

Synopsis:

A man lives in his car. He is 40 years old and although he does not have a lot of free time, when he has, he chooses to spend it with his family. He meets his wife and two children at a specified day and time in car parking lots. His job is to locate and bring the finest honey to a 50-year old man. A new driver shows up and the man gets fired. Disappointed, he decides to leave his car behind. The man’s life changes, and he finds it absurd that no one trusts him anymore.

Trailer:

Wasting Away (2007)

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Without zombies, sharks and kung fu, my reviews for this site would be few and far between. When modern zombie films are discussed (which is surprisingly often in my group of friends) this gets brought up, with sensible people going “it’s pretty good, you know”, so I decided to check it out.

Zombiedom this time comes from a government experiment, and we see the black-and-white video of a group of military top brass stood round a test subject, who’s treating this as if he’s going to become a super-soldier. The only bit of colour in this scene is the serum they’re about to inject, and it’s bright green. So, we’ve been reminded of “Re-Animator”, a classic of the genre, along with a nod to the Captain America comics (this being made in 2007) in the first five minutes. Unfortunately, the serum turns our brave subject into a super-strong zombie, so the top brass decide to…dump their remaining supplies of the toxin into the bay. I’m no scientist, but that just seems deliberately wrong. Why so, scientists?

One of the barrels on its way to the bay gets loose and ends up, leaking, outside a bowling alley-cum-bar in a fairly run-down neighbourhood. We’re still in the world of black-and-white by the time we meet our heroes there, and they immediately differentiate themselves from just about every low-budget zombie movie of the last decade by being able to act. One of them is Matthew Davis, who fans of high-quality TV will remember playing Alaric in “The Vampire Diaries”. They’re fairly archetypal – the joker, the lovestruck everyman, the girl next door, and the over-achieving career woman; but their friendship is sketched out well and you find yourself caring about them from the off.

Right about here is where the film gets interesting. Readers of ISCFC will remember my fairly gushing review of “Warm Bodies” – https://iscfc.net/2013/02/10/warm-bodies-2013/ – and this film seems to be its direct forebear, just lower-budget and played more for laughs. The serum makes its way into their ice cream serving machine, and they all take a big bite, and collapse to the floor…only to wake up in colour!

The gimmick of the rest of the film is that we see it from two different perspectives – colour for the zombies, who appear to themselves to be completely unchanged but see everyone else like they’re watching a video on fast-forward; and black-and-white for the rest of the world, who see the zombies like they appear in so many films, moaning, shuffling monsters. It’s a really clever idea, and although it’s a gimmick that gets stretched fairly thin throughout the rest of the film, it’s certainly unique.

Our four friends get sucked into a plan first to combat the disease that the rest of the world is apparently suffering from, then to find a place for them and their zombie brethren to call home. But that’s just boring plot stuff. There’s a nice running joke where being really drunk slows your brainwaves down to such a degree that you can communicate with zombies, including a scene where our heroes try to keep an entire bowling alley full of people plied with booze.

They’re obviously trying to discuss some questions about humanity here, with colour being reserved for being undead and so on; but I think it got lost on the way to the screen a little. Ultimately, it’s a surprisingly good comedy about what would happen if you became a zombie and didn’t know, and any wider thoughts about society are just an added bonus, if they come through. It’s such a relief to see a zombie film that isn’t mostly set in the woods or in a deserted parking lot, to be honest. There’s also quite a few scenes lifted to a greater or lesser extent from other zombie movies, so it’s got that element of loving homage to a whole genre too.

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Wasting Away on IMDB
Buy Wasting Away [DVD] [2007]