The Vintage Revisits: A Blair Witch Double Feature

No, it’s not Halloween but it might as well be Christmas for me as the unexpected Blair Witch sequel directed by Adam Wingard will drop September 16th to a hungry public. Not that I’d consider myself a Blair fanatic, I was too young to partake in the hype during its initial run but I’ve enjoy Wingard and his writing partner Simon Barrett’s previous work, the home invasion blood bath of You’re Next and the stylistic, ominous thriller of The Guest. I have faith in a team that has kept with the genre and not jumped ship to do some Marvel movie to make a passionate sequel to this iconic property. I look forward to entering this new movie as blindly as possible (no trailers please!) but thought it worth while to reexamine the 1999 film as well as its lesser known follow up, Book of Shadows.

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I can’t believe how well this film holds up. For a low budget horror that turned into a blockbuster sleeper hit and immediately became over exposed in pop culture, you’d expect diminishing returns. Yet still, watching it in my room on a television during a quite Friday night, I was genuinely creeped out. What constantly gets overlooked is that this isn’t a movie about some Maryland urban legend, it’s about being lost in the woods. It’s what happens when three people who don’t know each other that well (how close are Heather and Josh anyway?) lose there way, are without food or guidance and have the slightest inkling that they might not be alone. With this watch I found myself particularly afraid of Mike with his angry outbursts and maniacal laugh as he reveals he kicked the map into the creek. He’s just sound guy being hired for this weekend gig, they didn’t do a background check or know what he’s like besides a lover of UTZ (and who isn’t.) As a woman, I felt completely weary of Heather’s safety as she doesn’t know what that man is capable of.

It’s still mind boggling to think a psychological thriller such as this could be a massive hit. There’s no jump scares or gore, it’s on you to project what could be lurking in the shadows. Is it a witch, is it the ghost of Rustin Parr or should these kids be afraid of each other? The ending, which is fantastic, you don’t see any apparition. You can’t even differentiate where noises are coming from as that scene is so disorienting as the film cuts back and forth between Mike running with the video camera and Heather following with the 16mm. Since only the video camera records sound, it throws the voices of characters so that you can’t distinguish where anyone is and you’re taking in this dilapidated house speeding by you. The final moment being Mike in the corner and the camera dropping to the ground is an unsettling hard out when you’ve barely had time to catch your breath. The film has racked tension all leading up to this point and even though so little happens, it amazingly pays off.

Part of the reason it was so successful was that it came during such a dead period for horror movies. Aside from Scream in ’96, the 90’s were dismal for the genre as Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street sequels were taking their final gasps, flailing at the box office and you were inundated with sleek Scream rip offs like I Know What You Did Last Summer and Urban Legends. Blair Witch is so counter cultural to these as it adversely has the unsexiest of teens and no blood splatter in sight. It’s one of the least exploitative horror movies ever. This is almost a fluke with it’s perfect timing for release but also that it’s an experiment in filmmaking. Send three twenty somethings into the woods, leave them directorial notes, have them improvise most of the dialogue then edit it together to create some kind of plot and suddenly Myrick and Sanchez have made a ground breaking horror movie that we still talk about today. It deserves all its praise and has earned its rightful place in the horror cinema hall of fame.

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Contrary to Gordon Gekko, greed is not always good. One of the purest forms of greed I encounter is that of a sequel. Rarely are sequels warranted. They shouldn’t be if your film is a cohesive and contained story. It shouldn’t need to be “completed” by another two hour, three act structure but studios want to make money and if they feel an audience is in place and will choke up their hard earned cash to see the continued narrative then they’ll find a way to make it happen. After the unprecedented success of The Blair Witch Project, Artisan who had distributed the film after Sundance wanted to keep that money train barreling onward and get a sequel in theaters faster than you can ask “where’s the map?” They had their sights set on a Halloween of 2000 release (the first film came out July ’99). It’s not unusual for a studio to demand such an expedited turnaround to capitalize on a successful property (see Friday the 13th Part 2 A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge or Hellbound:Hellraiser 2). Horror is cheap to make, filled with no name actors and if there’s gore and tits, teens will go. That seems to be the thought process of Artisan even though following that formula would negate the entire appeal of the first film.

Book of Shadows exists in this bizarro space as part of it wants to be truthful to the established style and the world of the previous film. While not found footage, camera POV and video tape play a major role in the action. In an attempt to keep with the reality that The Blair Witch was a true event and that Heather, Josh and Mike were murdered while making the movie, there’s an opening title that states this movie too is based on real occurrences and we’re watching a reenactment. No thought was actually put into that as the plot is so twisty and illogical there’s no conceivable way this is a “reenactment”. It has the elements of the shitty late 90’s films I complained about before but with a meta spin. A group of twenty somethings either with mid drifts or goatees take a Blair Witch tour led by Burn Notice’s Jeffrey Donovan as Jeffrey (note all actors play characters of the same name). Burkittsville has become a Mecca for goth thrill seekers hoping to see the witch in person or debunk the lore. This isn’t a bad concept because in all honesty where can you really go when you’re sequalizing a film where A) all the characters die and B) the titular paranormal entity is never shown. It makes sense to instead play off the culture surrounding the phenomenon. Sadly with such rushed development, there’s no effort into fleshing out that aspect aside from an indeed charming montage similar to the first film of documentary style interviews with the townspeople who are selling rock mounds and twig men to inept tourist who are obsessed with the macabre. That literally being the best scene which is no surprise, director Jim Berlinger is an award winning documentarian, but post-interviews it’s your run of the mill T&A debauchery as this ill managed tour group gets wasted while camping out at the Rustin Parr ruins.

I brought up Jeffery Donovan specifically not only because he’s the most famous actor to come out of this but that he’s such a maladministered character. I was confounded at how informal his expedition operation was because rarely do tour guides partake and supply the beer and weed. He’s also the only person with a backstory set up with a flashback (a poorly placed one that muddles the opening timeline) which illustrates his past hospitalization and mental health problems leaving us as an audience to believe his sanity should be questionable. This could have been an effective angle if the plot hadn’t so quickly become about everyone going crazy. After the night of camp site partying, the group of five including a clairvoyant goth, a grad student couple and a hot Wiccan, wake up to find camera equipment destroyed, thesis papers torn up and unfamiliar markings on their bodies. Trust has been broken as the group is desperate to find out who or what caused all this. The remainder of the film is spent at Jeffery’s homestead which is an abandoned mill converted to a black market bachelor pad. Characters unravel as they have visions of a drowned Ring-like girl and hear voices that pit them against each other. Within all this Jeffery never acts out on his crazy making it even clearer that his initial character development was most likely an afterthought. Where in the original film it is purely subtext that the “Blair Witch” is toying with reality and possibly manipulating characters, Book of Shadows makes that the focal center as we learn that these youths have unbeknownst to themselves been on a mass murder spree. Poorly constructed, that’s the major reveal of the finale as the characters left alive are held in custody and shown various surveillance footage as they kill friends, rival tourists and a judgmental convenient store clerk. Dumb as that is at least it fits into Berlinger’s filmography of wrongful convictions. The West Memphis Three didn’t do it, they were possessed by a witch!

The unsatisfying twist is the least of the film’s problem. As much as I’d like to be team Berlinger, he seems to have no idea how to build tension as the script falls flat at every turn and his shot like a cheap CW drama. I won’t make him take the complete rap for these missteps as it was reported the studio demanded more violence so frantically inter spliced amidst scenes are orange hued flashes of knives plunging into flesh and a chest being bound with rope. Those pointless additions hinder an already menial story. It’s an uncharacteristic slasher because there’s no formidable threat. No one is being stalked by a man in a mask. Aside from the occasional vision, there is no threat to these characters. You never feel like it’s building up to a grand conclusion, you’re just waiting for it to end. This blunder vindicates how genius the original film is because with so little in terms of money, cast and plot they made one of the most suspenseful films of all time and then it followed up with a $15 million budget sequel that has no idea what it’s doing. I don’t think it even understands its title. There is no Book of Shadows here! It’s as opaque as the witch’s motivations. It’s a slapped on title making clear the rushed nature of the endeavor that was doomed to fail.

If anyone has taken the time to experience the lapse in judgement that is Book of Shadows then you know whatever ever is released on September 16th will be exponentially better. Could this still be a cash grab? Maybe. If so, at least the got the best team in the horror biz to make it. Though proof by Shadows it’s a difficult movie to follow up, I’ve never been more confident that they will blow it out of the woods. Check back in a few weeks to see if I eat my words.

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The Hell of the West

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Hell or High Water falls in line with the rise cinema reacting to the 2008 financial crisis. On a grand scale we saw last Adam McKay’s Big Short tackling Wall Street’s poor handling of the situation but also the under appreciated 99 Homes which made my top 10 ten list for 2015 with Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon portraying Floridians profiting off of foreclosures. Hight Water relates more with the latter as they are very similar when it comes to focusing on how a particular family adapts with the dour circumstances and the dark deals they must make to stay a float. Both aim to capture the desperation of a community already disenfranchised about to lose the little they have. The hell that is faced in David Mackenzie’s film is two brothers played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster, who turn to robbing banks in an attempt to halt the repossession of their recently deceased mother’s ranch. As they journey through the plains of West Texas hitting the different branches of a local, mostly incompetent, bank chain they interact with other cowpokes and ranch hands whose livelihood is comparably gone. There’s such a downtrodden, melancholy tone not often teamed with the genre of crime/thriller. Mackenzie contrasts the beauty of the once idolized open range with the harsh reality as it is now a bankrupt territory with little benefit beyond the scattered pumpjacks on the horizon.

 
Don’t let the somber tone scare you, there’s still lot of action inherent with any crime story especially in a state so ubiquitous with guns. There are car chases and shootouts which keep up the pace so it’s not just a collection of long takes of empty highway with “Get Out Of Debt” signs. The boys are pursued by soon-to-be retired Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham). Alberto is also notably half Native American, half Mexican which the heavily white Texan Hamilton rags on. Race, specifically the Comanche population, plays a large part in the thematic elements. The discord between Native Americans and whites is a seamless allegory for the contention between property owners and the banks. The film’s biggest draw back is that it tends to overstate that premise. It’s one of those instances you wish the film trusted the intelligence of its audience rather than have Alberto spell it out. Hamilton is this beckon of justice as everyone around him is motivated by money as it has become so scarce but is also an antagonist to his so-called friend. Considering he’s the most middle class person we meet, he’s an embodiment of privilege, having the power to talk down to his partner and giving him the arrogance to believe he can outsmart these low class, hick robbers. As much as he tries, he can’t completely immerse himself in the mindset of the poor. To his detriment, he thinks he’s better than most of the small town folk which is a unique character flaw for the Ranger. Bridges still makes him likable because of course he’s got that “Dude” charm but he does leave a sour taste at times.

This is a doomed-to-fail plot from the start as even when the boys are on the up, feeling the high of the heist, there’s enough sobriety to understand what they’re doing is wrong but that maybe the ends justify the means. Toby (Pine) is in it for his family, willing to die to better his sons’ future. Tanner (Foster) sees no way out of this armpit of the south and is content going out in a blaze of glory. It’s refreshing to see the conscious of these outlaws even if Tanner is a little riskier with his tactics and respect for life. They’re already living with regret once it’s started. We’re dropped in mid-plan, the film opening with an early morning robbery and from that point on, there’s no turning back and from the constant look of anxiety on Toby’s face, it’s only going to get worse. The biggest stakes come from deciding whose side your on which is difficult when no one is blameless except for maybe Alberto who I’m fine with being the most unblemished. Every character, no matter how small is likable, often with folksy charm while toting a pistol. This is partially do to the utterly fantastic performances supplying complex pathos in every situation but also Taylor Sheridan’s script which is so in tune with the terrain. There’s definite first hand knowledge of theses one horse towns because by the end you feel entangled with the struggle and the changing times.

The film posits “we our lords of nothing” as this land and it’s inhabitants have been discarded and forgotten. Fields are burning and no one runs to stop it. It’s all worthless. So maybe not the feel good summer movie you were looking for but as the blockbuster season of excess comes to a close, this is the perfect film to wrap it up. A film that’s both despairing and exciting. It follows in the footsteps of Peckinpah as a more modern death of the West. The end of the way of the cowboy. The horses and blues music is on its way out, replaced by teens with muscle cars and metal. Every town seems to know this and are waiting to die out or continue the sickness of poverty that Toby explains. Mackenzie is completely sympathizing with this society which is now a shell of its former self. The movie is so captivating because it has a profound understanding of its people and surroundings and builds up from that. Quite an enlightening Western and much like 99 Homes before it, it’s on the way to my Top 10.

Sampling Surreal Cinema with The Greasy Strangler and Multiple Maniacs

 

I wouldn’t consider myself the most adventurous cinefile. The more strange and bizarre crevices of the cult film canon I shy away from, opting for the safer conventional narrative structures and cohesive storytelling. When I go see a genuinely weird movie, I leave feeling so uncool thinking “who is this for?” I realize there’s merit in pushing the limits of cinema and often these types of filmmakers’ goal is to break the mold. There are some instances where I can respect that like with John Water’s newly restored 1970’s black and white feature Multiple Maniacs with its counterculture sensibilities aimed to shake up the conservative suburbs he grew up in. The film’s guerrilla style tactics and raw production value provide a unique experience as you feel a part of this crew of Baltimore misfits, accomplices in their dirty deeds. Adversely, the horror/comedy The Greasy Strangler which draws heavily from Waters’ off kilter performances aesthetic paired with the deadpan delivery of Tim&Eric is aimless and egregious through gratuitous male nudity and consumption of grotesque substances. Maniacs works because of its place in film history as the unpredictable and untrained early emergence of independent filmmaking while Strangler is a sequence of “made you look” moments as characters’ dicks hang and farts rip.

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Multiple Maniacs is the best kind of amateurish filmmaking. The camera work is shoddy as it often drifts in and out of focus and every actor is delivering their lines at an unplacable pace and cadence. Yet even with budgetary limitations, the movie goes all out. The opening carnival of oddities wherein we meet our band of conning, drug addled, horny misfits is obviously some tents propped up in a patch of land next to a development of houses and yet is completely charming. You can tell everyone involved is just excited to make a movie. The young actors used to play the uptight observers of the unacceptable musings are noticeably breaking character as they fake appallment at two men kissing. This perverse story only escalates as the unconventional behavior continues to the most inflammatory sex ever to take place in a church pew intercut with reenactments of a slightly modern take on the Stations of the Cross. If that wasn’t shocking enough, the real astonishing scene is that of a monstrous, most likely paper mache, crustacean first attacking then presumably raping our antagonist, Divine, after she has brutally murdered everyone she knows. Nothing has blindsided me that intensely since the giant spider from Enemy which still haunts my nightmares. Amidst the madness, Divine scream/laughs her way through the whole ordeal with a grin on her face as she can’t even believe it’s happening.

It should be noted how engrossing Divine is as the cinematic focal point. The film knows as much as the audience that she is an icon to behold. The opening carnival is all leading up to her reveal which couldn’t be more perfect as she lies naked on a ottoman admiring her own beauty in a hand mirror. You inherently love her because everyone around her does. She is indeed larger than life as her sarcasm and wit emanate from the screen. You realize how important she is when all scenes she’s not involved in begin to drag underneath labored dialogue because to be honest, there’s not that much happening. Once she returns with her leopard print skirt and brash attitude you can’t look away. The narrative revolves around her unhinging, inspired by the Manson murders which is addressed head on within the film. Waters is clearly making a reactionary piece of ordinary people trying to make sense of those unimaginable killings in California. He presents the most profane and hedonistic collective who end up destroying themselves from within and Divine becomes this enraged beast rampaging through Baltimore as civilians run in fear. Not the smoothest allegory but what can you expect from a film crew constantly tripping on acid. It still gets in its winks and nods to the camera, aware of its insanity and reveling in it.

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The Greasy Strangler is its own branch of off beat comedy, a little John Waters mixed with Tim&Eric. The father/son pairing represent the latter as the plot centers around the constantly bickering characters as the elder, Big Ronnie (Michael St Michaels), is domineering and bossy while the younger, Big Brayden (a Eric Wareheim looking Sky Elobar), is timid, subservient and most prevalent hobby seems to be crying. Together they run a makeshift tour company scamming unsuspecting tourists as they dress up in bright pink outfits and present abandon warehouses, claiming it was historically significant in the world of disco. Often when customers are unsatisfied Ronnie hunts them down and murders them because he moonlights as a lard ladened serial killer. Yes, the film only spirals downward from here as a woman, Eastbound and Down’s Elizabeth De Rozzo playing Janet, threatens to tear the duo apart. All this set up seems to resemble a plot which gives it slightly as much narrative as Multiple Maniacs but at least that movie moves forward. Greasy Strangler is obsessed with repetition therefor scenes and conversations are repeated ad nauseam. This leads to massive stalls the plot as we have to pause for 5 minutes of yelling back and forth. Director/writer Jim Hosking believes in his own comedy rule of ten. There are instances where this works for example with the ethnically mish mashed tour group where we listen to an Indian man incomprehensibly pronounce potato or later when the men’s relationship with Janet turns sexual and as verbal foreplay they begin yelling “hootie tootie disco cutie” at an unflinching volume. These are the few jokes that entertained me but other than that any amusement relies on flagrant dick shots as Hosking’s is convinced a penis, no matter how big or small, will always get a laugh.

There’s so much intended shock value here that would make the Dreamland team proud. Aside from prosthetic appendages, grease does indeed play a large role in the plot as the title promises. The props department intensified every scene involving food with buckets of vaseline thick gravy that serves as grease which Ronnie craves. Whether he’s smeared in it or lapping it up, you can’t escape the substance. The grossness continues with the cartoonish murders in which eyes pop out skulls with ease and our artfully dined on by the killer. Even with a decapitated head being kicked around and sticking fingers into bloody faces, the food related repulsion got to me the most. The film devolves into a nonsensical ending which furthers my opinion that this has all been ultimately pointless. There’s little substance beyond the two leads bickering. If you find their animosity humorous as they shout “bullshit artist” at each then this is for you. De Rozzo does a great job being a neutral character between the grotesque men but it’s a bit too similar to her role in Eastbound as Brayden is equally as fragile and emasculated  as Steve Little’s Stevie. 

 
It seems unfair to praise Maniacs for it’s weirdness yet punish Strangler for the same reason but it comes down to the spontaneity and originality that Maniacs had on its side in the 1970’s. Niche cinema was still fresh then. In 2016 there’s many facets of absurdist comedy, some that I adore immensely like the filmographies of all The State members with their charming no sequiturs and silly antics but then there’s the rise of the Adult Swim peculiarities. That kind of forced insanity and vulgarity rubs me the wrong way. It wants you to wallow in its indecency and gross out humor. That plus the mean spirited nature which is apparent in Strangler, I find immediately off putting. There’s lots of people who will see this and claim it’s brilliant. I don’t want to be the censorship police as I’m glad there are films that go against the grain and break away from societal norms. That was John Water’s whole philosophy. It’s great that there are movies not made for the masses and are intended for a select few. I’m fine with being excluded from this one. It’s not that I don’t get it, I just don’t want it. Maybe I’ve become a square like those ogglers of Divine’s freak show. Fascinated enough to peek in but disgusted by what they see. Never thought I’d be my old-fashioned type but give me traditional gore and mutilation. I don’t need anything more vomit inducing than that.

Living It Up With Sausage Party

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There’s an expectation when creating an “adult” cartoon to be as edgy and as raunchy as possible. Part of the joke on the medium itself is taking an entertainment geared towards children and making it so inappropriate to that younger audience. Team America: World Police is the penultimate example of uncanny valley level human puppets in a 80’s action parody filled with sex, violence and vomit. While I appreciate that film as a post 9/11 satire, I never found pleasure in its aggressively unpleasant elements. Sausage Party, the new computer animated feature from the Seth Rogen collective, goes all in on sexual innuendos, drug use and harsh language brought to life by wide eyed anthropomorphic food. What gives this film legitimacy and where it derives a lot of its humor is that it specifically subverts Pixar established tropes. It begins with innocence and reverence until the characters face the harsh realities of the world and adapt to an existence turned sour.

The movie opens (and for the most parts takes place) at mega supermarket Shopwell as all the store’s inhabitants rise at dawn to sing praises of thanks to their unknown god in hopes to be chosen by a shopper and taken away to the “Great Beyond.” You’d never expect entering this film that it would be a scathing take on religion but that is the journey of our hot dog hero Frank (Seth Rogen) and his girlfriend Brenda (Kristen Wiig) as they get lost amongst the aisles and uncover the truth of their purpose. We bounce between the wonderment of the individual metropolises of each food isle with the appalling real world which Frank’s fellow wieners have been dropped into and immediately must escape. So many story elements coincide with Toy Story as the exploration of the store is similar to Al’s Toy Barn and the way in which wayward wienie Barry (Michael Cera) and other deformed foods utilize a shell shocked stoner to return home is quite reminiscent of an evil Sid. It never feels derivative as its partly a mash up of so many Disney/Pixar familiarities but paired with subplots of the Israel/Palestine debate personified by a Woody Allen-esque bagel (Edward Norton) and a floppy lavash (David Krumholtz) and the rape allusions from menacing super villain Douche (a literal douche voiced by Nick Kroll) as he forcible guzzles down grape juice and alcohol for his unprecedented strength.

All these big social and political choices work well in the Rogen style of comedy as its self aware enough to not be insensitive but dumb enough that you don’t have to take it too seriously. Many of the ethnic cuisines from salsa, curry to Canadian beers are presented as quirky stereotypes. It’s a lot of all equal opportunity shots at different cultures and even has Nazi sauerkraut yelling to “kill the juice” because why not! Like any movie from these guys, the primary goal is to be funny which is sourced from a plethora of food puns and as many dick jokes as you can squeeze from a hot dog. I was even more impressed with the actually shocking third act twists as the plot shifts in an unexpected direction that was thankfully never spoiled by marketing (and won’t be here).

The movie gets away with so much due to the success and trust studios and audiences have with Rogen features. He, Evan Goldberg and all the usual comedic talent collaborators consistently deliver unique and exciting content. There’s always warmth in their films and partially why the stereotypes work is because it’s not mean spirited. Even in an anti-religion movie, they still vocalize their respect for anyone’s spiritual beliefs. It’s intended for some good laughs and a few surprises. It’s the kind of sausage fest I actually don’t mind attending.

The Vintage Revisits: Dreamcatcher

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There’s a general consensus that Dreamcatcher is an abomination of a Stephen King adaptation. Since it’s release in 2003, it has been widely forgotten and the Matrix short that played before hand during its theatrical is its greatest contribution. I can’t recall what was going on with me during that year but I somehow totally missed it. Yes, I spent most of my teen years not knowing this movie existed even though at that same time I was enthralled with King’s novels. My initial encounter with Dreamcatcher was in 2010 upon my first trip to Cinefamily in Los Angeles where they presented their own house cut trailer which they were promoting for a late night screening. Their trailer promised a campy thriller with a man cheerfully rambling in a British accent on a snowmobile and I was appalled that I had yet to encounter such a gem. This unusual introduction has given me a more lenient perspective on this film than most because I’ve viewed it with this camp lens ever since.

The major flaw in a film about infectious aliens that implant slithering parasites into human hosts which they must violently poop out is that it takes itself painfully seriously. This should be aSlither scenario where you play up this freak occurrence and how poorly people handle it. Here their are alien induced burps and farts and their holding out for an emotional response. They’re not letting the audience laugh along with it just awkwardly laugh at it. At the core this movie thinks its a drama about friendship that gets wrapped up in science fiction elements. It’s focused on four childhood friends all at an impasse in their lives who meet up at a cabin to reminisce away their problems till all hell breaks loose. So much of this movie feels derivative of other King works like Itwhich brings similar childhood friends together over trauma, the flashbacks have the aesthetic of Stand By Me and the quarantine plus creature elements of The Mist. Add that with a life cycle of a xenomorph, you begin to see deja vu. The extra storyline added to this compiling of through lines is that of essentially the Men In Black as Morgan Freeman is running his own extra terrestrial sect of the military who is not too surprised by the slimy E.T. appearances. Though you may be more surprised by his bizarrely bushy eyebrows that dominate every scene.

Why I feel compelled to give this movie the benefit of the doubt is that I’ve encountered so many bad movies that are plain boring and Dreamcatcher is far from it. You’ve got some fantastic talent in the cast, I’d point out specifically Timothy Olyphant as Pete and Jason Lee as Beaver but I’m also immediately dismayed that the film kills them off far too early. The film finds some unique ways to communicate inner monologues and visualizations that lend themselves more to the novel. Characters do speak aloud often but it leads to the amazing scene I alluded to earlier where Jonsey (Damian Lewis) is quarreling with the alien Dr. Gray who has inhabited his body and has undertaken a proper British accent. There’s also the construction of Jonesy memory bank displayed as a personification of all the recesses of his mind which I find is a unique depiction. The downfall of this friend group is the movie relies too heavily on their in jokes and references from when they were eleven which you’d think by their thirties they’d have moved on from. We’re stuck watching them write “SSDD” on every surface as if their cute catchphrase is profound or means anything at all.

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As Cinefamily was trying to push, there is a realm whereDreamcatcher could become a coveted cult movie. You’ve got Morgan Freeman yelling “shit demon” and a scene where Jason Lee tries to contain one of the eels in a toilet bowl. It’s tone deaf approach makes it all the more laughable as characters like Henry (Thomas Jane) respond to Jonesy’s call for help by talking into a gun like a phone. I can never truly consider this bad with such strange moments like that. To me it’s a quintessential good/bad movie because it’s never dull and is viewed completely opposite than it was intended. You can’t help but chuckle as Jason Lee poorly reacts to the cgi creature or as Olyphant writhes in the snow as a parasite bites down on his exposed genitals. I guarantee you there are way worse King films that are overly cheesy or boring. Dreamcatcher has some life to it, that life just happens to be incredibly misguided.

The Vintage Defends: Rock of Ages

ROA

I’m still baffled to this day why Warner Brothers confidently bet so much money on the 80’s jukebox musical Rock of Ages. It wasn’t an unwarranted call on their part considering the recent success of Mamma Mia, a movie consisting of only disco hits from ABBA which grossed $600 million dollars on its comparatively large budget. The difference is while that film is equally silly and broad, the appeal is that it can be a bonding experience between mothers and daughters to share the sounds of their youth with a new generation. I’ve seen Rock of Ages multiple times and on Broadway and I still couldn’t tell you who the target demo is besides myself. It’s not a family show considering how much grimy bathroom sex plays a role in the storyline and it’s not that recognizable as I have yet to catch word of a local high school production. Warner Brothers was banking on the high profile draws of Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand and Catherine Zeta-Jones but mainly Tom Cruise as lead singer Stacee Jaxx and an audience’s nostalgia for 80’s music. The problem at least with that last part is that’s very, very incorrect. People have a love/hate relationship with that era of rock just like this movie is playing on the level of good/bad campy fun. Why Rock of Ages was such a financial flop is the marketing didn’t get across how nonsensical this movie is, instead the trailer presents an epic air and pushes the star quality of Cruise. It’s not epic, it’s karaoke on a soundstage and I’m here to tell you that it is the most fun karaoke I’ve ever experienced. I want to defend this movie no went out to see (aside from the two friends I dragged with me) and why it deserves way more appreciation than it has received.

To begin with the live musical, it is a show that is very self aware. Still the only musical on Broadway ever to serve jello shots, their goal was for the audience to be as drunk and wild as if they were partying at The Bourbon Room in 1987. They’re baiting you to sing along as narrator Lonny breaks the 4th wall, wisecracking about big hair and even bigger boobs. They know how over sexed, over masculine and overkill that decade was and they parody it well. All this fun and mayhem is nearly impossible to transfer to film as it’s not as quite an interactive medium. On stage you can play scenes big and cartoonish so those back of the audience out-of-towners can get a kick out of the stereotypical German accents and men in neon leotards. Inherently you have to tone this down for the adaptation but what I find makes Rock of Ages the movie so enjoyable is they really didn’t know how. The plot that nominally transfers over is that the rock n roll sleaze of the Sunset Strip is trying to be extinguished with the stronghold being the legendary music venue The Bourbon Room which is run by Dennis and his right hand man Lonny. They are in need for music’s biggest star Stacee Jaxx and his band Arsenal to play a final gig there to boost revenue and save the establishment. Caught in the crossfire are two young, smitten singers, Drew and Sherrie, both with dreams of making it in the biz. Aside from that basic premise and a plethora of song mash ups, there’s major overhaul as character traits and plot elements alter drastically for the big screen adaptation.

The most notable/important/exciting adjustment and what sold me on this whole movie is that of Stacee Jaxx specifically the Tom Cruise interpretation of this character. In the stage production, that role is much less a lead and more of a device to move both The Bourbon Room and the romantic plot line further. He’s a doofus, Dee Snyder looking guy who is rightfully laughed out of town (or fleeing to the border on statutory rape charges) by the end while in the movie he is a worshiped rock god so out of touch with reality that you’d think he was a Scientologist. I’m fine with this updating to make the new Stacee more like an alcoholic dazed Brett Michaels because Cruise is personifying those off kilter eccentricities he was known for by 2012. He creates this silent, brooding, bat shit crazy artist who weaves seamlessly into the film. His character is a great jumping off point for where this movie plays with its reality, at times taking itself too seriously, particularly with the Drew/Sherrie romance as they constantly sing longingly about each other either at the Hollywood sign or in the rain. It’s contrasted with the strangest choreography with the awkward fish like moves by Catherine Zeta-Jones and other angry church going, Stacee Jaxx hating women with “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and the mesmerizing hip sways between Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand in their love ballad “I Can’t Fight This Feeling.” The tone is constantly drifting in and out of “we know this ridiculous” and “this is a real emotional beat” which leads to its own laughable fascination.

rockofages-08

My stance is overall this movie wants to be campy but not cartoony. That’s why it cuts out all the hippie elements from Dennis’ backstory and of the city planner/protestor Regina as well as the German developers condensing them into the more believable, conservative politician Mike Whitmore (Bryan Cranston) and his wife, Patty (Zeta-Jones). Still, from the opening number with Sherrie (Julianne Hough) singing “Sister Christian” on the bus ride to LA and every passenger including the driver joining in, you know you’re locked in for a pretty illogical but poppy adventure. You have an entire sex scene between Stacee and Rolling Stone writer Constance (Malin Akerman) that includes Cruise singing into her panties and bra as they climax with their clothes on to “I Want To Know What Love Is.” Also there’s a monkey. The film version felt compelled to add a monkey. Almost because Cruise is playing it so subdued as he muses over “Wanted Dead or Alive” everyone else has to match that level of sensibility even when you have nuns and groupies belting protest songs against each other in the streets (“We Built This City”/”We’re Not Gonna Take It”) as a manic Will Forte dashes between the two.

There’s the perfect amount of actually funny writing with some of the best lines going to Paul Giamatti playing Stacee’s manager Paul Gill (“I wish the true part were falser”) and aging club owner Dennis (“Doesn’t anyone just want to work in the bar industry anymore”) but also the unintentional hilarity that comes from the movie hounding you with songs which is most of the second act as “Here I Go Again” flows into “I Can’t Fight This Feeling” then “Anyway You Want It” with not a moment to catch your breath. There’s the overwhelming charisma of the supporting cast which is crucial as the leads of Hough and Diego Boneta fall as flat as Cruise’s dad abs. The enjoyment of the actors emanates off the screen as they seem to be having a grand time making this expensive musical that probably included nice paychecks and high quality craft services. There’s a perfect balance of everything going right while obviously going completely wrong as they’re performing for no one. Giamatti’s poor vocals and Cruise’s faux cool hand gestures and poses are half in on the joke yet barreling forward with wholehearted sincerity.

cruise sing

My plea is that when I say I love Rock of Ages, I don’t want to be shot dirty looks. People assume it’s subpar Journey covers presented in a cheesy, contemporary Broadway fashion and they may be true but what’s the harm in that? This to me is Showgirls level bombastic fare that at every turn you’re bewildered by the tenacity of the performances and filmmaking of this $75 million dollar movie that would only make up slightly over half its budget. The tagline promises “Nothing But A Good Time” and it delivers on that 110%. There’s cult worthy status enjoyment here as you ask “why is there an unconvincing gay subplot?” and “why did they put so much pink lipgloss on Drew?” These irrational inquiries are part of the fun of watching. I just want everyone collectively to give this movie the chance it never got to show how much of a ridiculous romp through the 80’s it can be. If Cinefamily starts programming Rock of Ages sing-a-longs then I know I’ve done something worthwhile with my life.

The Vintage Lists The Best Performances since 2010

Look, everyone like lists. I usually prefer to write full reviews or some analysis over the most important of films (i.e. Dead Silence) but when you work a full time job and a part time job, time can be scarce. So on week when you’re working 12 hour days on a toilet paper commercial, you resort to the silly list game you conduct between yourself and your best friend in Tennessee. One of the more ambitious list challenges was scouring for the best performances over the last 6 years regardless of the quality of the actual film. 

Best Actor Performances

  1. Philip Seymour Hoffman- The Master (2012)Best Actor Hoffman

“Pig Fuck!”

2. Jake Gyllenhaal- Nightcrawler (2014)Best Actor Haal

“I feel like grabbing you by your ears right now and screaming, “I’m not fucking interested!”. Instead, I’m going to drive home and do some accounting.”

3.David Oyelowo- Selma (2014)Best Actor Owyelo

“What happens when a man says enough is enough?”

4.Leonardo DiCaprio- Wolf of Wall Street (2013)Best Actor Leo

“The real question is this: was all this legal? Absolutely fucking not.”

5.JK Simmons- Whiplash (2014)best actor simmons

“Not my tempo.”

6.Will Forte- MacGruber (2010)best actor forte

“I will suck your fucking dick, just join my team.”

7.Michael B Jordan- Fruitvale Station (2013)best actor fruitvale

“You shot me. I got a daughter…”

8.Oscar Isaac- Ex Machina (2015)best actor isaac

“I used to think it was death and taxes you couldn’t avoid, but it’s actually death and shit.”

9.Simon Pegg- The World’s End (2013)Best Actor Pegg

“Face it, we are the human race and we don’t like being told what to do!”

10.Tom Hardy- Legend (2015)Best Actor Hardy

“Me and my brother, we’re gonna rule London.”

 

Best Actress Performances

1.Cate Blanchett- Blue Jasmine (2013)BA Blanchette

“Anxiety, nightmares and a nervous breakdown, there’s only so many traumas a person can withstand until they take to the streets and start screaming.”

2.Amy Adams- American Hustle (2013)BA Adams

“Everybody at the bottom crosses paths eventually in a pool of desperation”

3.Tilda Swinton- We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)BA Swinton

“You don’t look happy.”

4.Charlize Theron- Young Adult (2011)BA Theron

“You’re the hate crime guy!”
5.Greta Gerwig- Mistress America (2015)BA Gerwig

“You can’t really know what it is to want things until you’re at least 30.”
6.Sally Field-Hello My Name Is Doris (2016)BA Field

“I hope I don’t end up like one of those weirdo New Yorkers who chokes on a peanut and dies and no one even misses me.”

 
7. Kate McKinnon- Ghostbusters (2016)BA McKinnon

“It’s 2040. Our president is a plant!”
8.Noomi Rapace- The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2010)BA Rapace

“Everyone has secrets.”
9.Marion  Cotillard- Two Days, One Night (2014)BA Cotillard

“I don’t want the kids to see me crying.”
10.Bel Powley- The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)BA Powley.png

“I had sex today… Holy shit.”