6 Obscure Films Of 2013: The Call, Copperhead, It’s A Disaster, See Girl Run, UnHung Hero, Would You Rather


Well, it’s that time of year when I look at the list of the films that I’ve seen over the past 12 months and I realize that there’s quite a few that I haven’t gotten around to reviewing yet.  Here are my thoughts on six of them.

The Call (dir by Brad Anderson)

Abigail Breslin is kidnapped by a serial killer.  While trapped in the trunk of the killer’s car, Breslin manages to call 911.  Breslin’s call is answered by Halle Berry, a veteran operator who is recovering from a trauma that — by an amazing and totally implausible coincidence — was caused by the same guy who has just kidnapped Breslin.

Before it became a feature film, The Call was originally developed as a weekly TV series and, as I watched, it was easy to imagine weekly episodes that would all feature a different guest star calling 911 and needing help.  For the first hour or so, The Call is well-made and acted but undistinguished.  However, during the final 30 minutes, the entire film suddenly goes crazy with Breslin running around in her bra, Berry turning into a blood thirsty vigilante, and the killer suddenly getting very verbose.  However, those 30 minutes of pure insanity were just what The Call needed to be memorable.  There are some films that definitely benefit from going over-the-top and The Call is one of them.

Copperhead (dir by Ronald Maxwell)

Copperhead is a historical drama that takes place during the Civil War.  In upstate New York, farmer Abner Breech (Billy Campbell) is ardently opposed to both the Civil War and the union cause.  In most movies, this would make Abner the villain but, in Copperhead, he’s portrayed as being a man of principle who, by refusing to compromise on his views, is ostracized and ultimately persecuted by the rest of his village.  Abner’s views also bring him into conflict with his own son, who is pro-Union.

Copperhead is a slow-moving film that features some rather good performances along with some fairly bad ones.  However, I’m a history nerd so I enjoyed it.  It certainly tells a different story from what we’ve come to expect from American films about the Civil War.

It’s A Disaster (dir by Todd Berger)

Of the six films reviewed in this post, It’s A Disaster is the one to see.  In this darker than dark comedy, Julia Stiles brings her new boyfriend (David Cross) to Sunday brunch with 6 of her closest friends.  During the brunch, terrorists explode a dirty bomb in the city.  With everyone trapped inside the house and waiting for the world to either end or somehow revert back to normal, long-simmering resentments come to the forefront.

To say anything else about It’s a Disaster would be unfair so I’ll just say that it’s a very funny film, featuring excellent work from both Stiles and Cross.  If Jean-Paul Sartre was alive and writing today, he would probably end up writing something very similar to It’s a Disaster.

See Girl Run (dir by Nate Meyer)

Bleh!  That’s probably the best description I can give you of this film.  It’s just a whole lot of bleh.

Emmie (Robin Tunney) is unhappy with her boring marriage so she runs back to her Maine hometown, stops wearing makeup and washing her hair, and pines for her high school boyfriend, Jason (Adam Scott), who works at a sea food restaurant.  Jason also happens to be friends with Emmie’s depressed brother, Brandon (Jeremy Strong).  It’s the same basic plot as Young Adult, just with no humor and a lot more talking.  In Young Adult, it was hard not to admire Charlize Theron’s wonderfully misguided character.  In See Girl Run, you just want to tell Robin Tunny to take a shower, put on some clothes that don’t look like they were stolen from a hospital storage closet, and stop whining all the time.

It’s difficult to put into words just how much I hated this movie.  This is one of those films that critics tend to describe as being “a film for adults.”  I have to agree — this is a movie for really boring, depressing adults who like to talk and talk about how their lives haven’t worked out.  If See Girl Run is what being an adult is like, I’ll just continue to be an immature brat, thank you very much.

UnHung Hero (dir by Brian Spitz)

So, this is not only the worst documentary of 2013 but it’s also quite probably one of the worst documentaries ever made.  The film opens with footage of Patrick Moote (who claims to be a comedian) asking his girlfriend to marry him.  As Moote goes on (and on) to tell us, she turns down his proposal and then dumps him because, according to her, his penis is too small.  Moote spends the rest of the film talking to various people and asking them whether size really matters.

Well, he could have just asked me and saved a lot of time.  I’m sorry if this endangers any fragile male egos but yes, size does matter.  If Moote’s penis really is as tiny as he claims it is, I probably would have turned down his proposal as well.  Then again, Moote could be hung like Jamie Foxx and I’d probably still refuse to marry him because, quite frankly, he’s the whiniest and most annoying person that I’ve ever seen.  He’s like an even less charming version of Morgan Spurlock.  What Patrick Moote never seems to understand is that size matters but personality matters even more.

Would You Rather (dir by David Guy Levy)

Would you rather have a root canal or sit through this piece of crap?  Having seen Would You Rather, I can tell you that it’s not an easy question to answer.

Jeffrey Combs plays a sadistic millionaire who invited a bunch of strangers (including Brittany Snow, John Heard, June Squibb, and Sasha Grey) to his mansion and forces them to play an elaborate and deadly game of Would You Rather.  Unfortunately, none of the characters are interesting, the film’s sadism is more boring than shocking, and talented actor Combs is totally wasted as the one-note villain.

Ghosts of Christmas Past #18: Sabrina The Teenage Witch 3.11 “Christmas Amnesia”


I had so much fun with yesterday’s Ghost of Christmas Past that I decided, “Why not see how Sabrina celebrated Christmas the next year?”

She celebrated it by accidentally casting a spell that made the entire world forget about Christmas!  Agck!

Christmas Amnesia originally aired on December 11th, 1998.

44 Days of Paranoia #28: The Departed (dir by Martin Scorsese)


For our latest entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, we take look at the film that the Academy named the best picture of 2006, Martin Scorsese’s The Departed.

The Departed takes the plot of the 2002 Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs and transports it to Boston.  For years, crime lord Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) has ruled South Boston with an iron fist.  However, police Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and his assistant, Sgt. Dignan (Mark Wahlberg) think that they have finally found a way to take Costello down.  They recruit police academy trainee Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) to go undercover and infiltrate Costello’s organization.  To help establish his cover, Costigan drops out of the academy and does time in prison on a fake assault charge.

Meanwhile, Costello has an agent of his own.  Years earlier, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) was specifically recruited and trained by Costello to become a mole inside the Massachusetts State Police.  Sullivan soon finds himself also working under Queenan.

While the amoral Sullivan finds it easy to deal with his dual role of being both a cop and a criminal, the far more emotionally unstable Costigan has a much more difficult time of it.  Not helping is the fact that Costello turns out to be a legitimate madman who spends half of his time dismembering people and the other half serving as a secret informant to the FBI.  While Sullivan smoothly works his way up the ranks, Costigan pops pills and becomes more and more paranoid.

Eventually, both Costigan and Sullivan are ordered to uncover the double agents in their respective organizations.  What they don’t realize is that, even as they both attempt to learn the other’s identity, they are both seeing the same woman, psychiatrist Madolyn (Vera Farmiga.)

In the scene below, which happens to be my favorite from the entire film, Costigan and Madolyn make love after Madolyn assures Costigan that she doesn’t have a cat.  That makes sense when you consider that Costigan is essentially a rat.

I have to admit that, as much as I did appreciate certain parts of the film, I was still disappointed the first time I saw The Departed.  It wasn’t so much that the movie itself was bad as much as it was the fact that it didn’t live up to the standard set by previous Scorsese films.  The film seemed to somehow be both conventional and overly busy at the same time, with the constantly moving camera and the propulsive soundtrack feeling more like they were more the result of a director trying to be like Scorsese than Scorsese himself.  While I appreciated the comedic relief of Alec Baldwin’s performance as Queenan’s rival on the force and I thought that Matt Damon made a compelling villain, both Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Sheen seemed to have been bitten by the overacting bug.  It was hard not to feel somewhat disappointed that, after waiting for over three decades to be honored by the Academy, Scorsese finally won his Oscar for The Departed.

However, with subsequent viewings, The Departed has grown on me.  Once I was freed up from the expectations that come from watching a Scorsese film for the first time, I was able to enjoy The Departed for what it actually was, a very well-made and entertaining crime drama that occasionally flirted with being something more.

Watching The Departed for a second time, I was better able to appreciate the sly humor of Jack Nicholson’s performance.  As played by Nicholson, Frank Costello becomes both the devil incarnate and a somewhat pathetic relic who is incapable of understanding that his time has passed.  Watching Nicholson for a second time also led to me better appreciating Martin Sheen’s performance.  Since Nicholson and Sheen are meant to the equivalent of the angel and the devil sitting on Damon and DiCaprio’s shoulders, it was necessary for Sheen to be as virtuous as Nicholson was demonic.

By the time that I watched The Departed for the third time, it was a lot more obvious to me that the entire film was, more or less, meant to be a satire.  What Nicholson’s criminal empire and Sheen’s police force have in common is that neither one of them works the way that they’re supposed to.  If there’s anything to be learned from the film, it’s that nothing means much of anything.  (The Coen Brothers would be proud.)

Finally, after multiple viewings, it becomes obvious that The Departed is very much a Scorsese film.  Even if his direction isn’t quite as showy as viewers have come to expect, there’s still enough little touches and details that remind us that this film was made by a master.  To cite the obvious example that everyone cites, just watch for the X’s that always somehow manage to appear on the wall or the carpet before anyone in the film dies.  With multiple viewings, It also became obvious to me that even if this film was set in Boston and not New York and even if the characters were Irish and not Italian, this film was still thematically pure Scorsese, dealing with themes of guilt, identity, punishment, and martyrdom.

Like all worthwhile films, The Departed is one that grows better with subsequent viewings.

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City
  22. Suddenly
  23. Pickup on South Street
  24. The Informer
  25. Chinatown
  26. Compliance
  27. The Lives of Others

Trailer: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes


Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

To say that 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes went a long way in washing out the taste out of fans mouth after having seen Tim Burton’s reboot of Planet of the Apes would be an understatement. Rupert Wyatt was able to bring the franchise back to prominence by actually treating the story as a sort of scifi allegory instead of a platform to once again exercise one’s filmmaking quirks.

It was a no-brainer that a sequel will follow up the success of the 2011 film. But with a fast-moving schedule there were several casualties. Rupert Wyatt didn’t think he had enough time to shoot the film the way he wanted to so he was replaced by Matt Reeves. James Franco is also gone from the project. Instead we get several veteran actors like Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Kirk Acevedo joining Andy Serkis.

The film seems to take places a decade or so after the release of the deadly virus at the end of the first film. Humanity has survived both the virus and the wars which followed it, but civilization as we know it now are a thing of the past. With humanity trying to rebuild it must now deal with a rising nation of genetically-enhanced apes led by Andy Serkis’ Caesar. With Gary Oldman on one side seeming to be the leader of humanity’s survivors I don’t see peace as being a goal in this film.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is set for a July 11, 2014 release.

A Glorious Fantasy, Part Three: Final Fantasy III


Once again I return to this ongoing series, in which I attempt to play through every game in the Final Fantasy franchise that I can get my hands on, from FF1 through FF13-2, and a variety of the spinoffs and other titles not included in the ‘main series’.

For those who are unfamiliar with my premise (read: probably everyone), here’s an almost comically thorough recap:

Most people have already played many/most/all of the games that I’m going to write about in this series (weirdly, as I compiled the list of games, I personally have not played a fair number of them). I don’t care. I’m going to look at all (most? I’m bad with structure, we’ll see how long this lasts) of the following things from these games:

– Some objective data. What version of the game did I play, and why did I select that one. Since it is now obvious to me that I’m going to play a fair number of ‘remakes’ in the early Final Fantasy games, I’m also going to research the differences and try to note some of them here. This was a big part of my experience with FF1, which I am now intending to revisit as a part of this series later.
– Is the game any good? Seriously! I’m sure some of these games suck!
– Is the answer to that question, “It just doesn’t hold up”? Why? <– This question is not going to last into the more modern games, but I suspect it could affect games even as recent as FF7, the graphics of which I'm afraid will hurt my brain.
– How would I place this game in a historical context? I want to watch the series evolve, devolve, side-volve and revolve as I go.
– Did I enjoy this game? What were the emotions and insane facial expressions I went through while playing it?
– How many times I frantically Googled maps for enormous maze-like dungeons because I no longer have the patience to solve them on my own?
– Was it… challenging? Were these games ever hard? Does the challenge ebb and flow?
– No MMORPGs. Sorry FF14 fans, I don’t ‘do’ MMORPGs anymore. Plus, the plan here hopefully doesn't involve spending a bunch of money acquiring and (especially) subscribing to games.

I think all of this is extremely important knowledge, and that the human race will be improved by my research.

FF3

Version played: ‘Unofficial’ NES fan-translation by Alex W. Jackson and Neill Corlett.

This time, I played Final Fantasy III – not to be confused with Final Fantasy VI, which was originally brought to North America and Europe as “Final Fantasy III” on the Super Nintendo (as was done with Final Fantasy IV, brought over as Final Fantasy II). No, this was the original Final Fantasy III, another game in the series that I had never played before (this is becoming a thing with me! And here I always called myself a ‘fan’!). After my experience with a questionable remake of Final Fantasy I, and the relative ordeal of playing a long JRPG on my phone, with Final Fantasy II… I decided that with this installment I would try to get the ‘true’ experience.

Much like Final Fantasy II, it’s not particularly surprising that I, and presumably many others, have never played this particular installment in the series. It was never translated in its original form, leading (ultimately) to the confusing disparity in the main series’ numbering, which in English releases goes FF1, “FF2” (actually 4), “FF3” (actually 6)… then Final Fantasy 7. I think everyone is familiar with this by now, but it’s worth pointing out. The very first ‘official’ translated release of FF3 in North America was in late 2006 (it was originally going to be released on the WonderSwan Colour… a system presumably no one ever actually owned). The 2006 release was over 15 (!!) years after the game was originally released. This version was on the Nintendo DS, and was a full remake, using 3-D graphics. My research indicates that they also re-balanced classes, changed the relative power of individual enemies, and created backstories for the heroes of the piece. Well, screw that noise, am I right?

No, I played the original NES experience.

The Onion Kid is an iconic Final Fantasy image... from a game many people have never played!

The Onion Kid is an iconic Final Fantasy image… from a game many people have never played!

Like Final Fantasy 2, Final Fantasy 3 uses the basic connective tissue of a storyline to take us from place to place. As is the case in the first five main series games, the plot revolves around elemental crystals, which have a dramatic impact on the world. In this case, the crystals were used by an ancient civilization, which was both advanced and powerful. Unfortunately, they inadvertently created a ‘flood of light’ which washed over the land. In order to prevent this from destroying the world, four Warriors of Darkness arose, countering the effects, and bringing the world back into balance. Prophecy speaks of a time in the future when the world will be threatened instead by a wave of darkness, and that Warriors of Light will go ahead and take care of that nonsense.

However, unlike Final Fantasy II, which does not really advance the premise of the game beyond its initial shell (Palamecia has declared war on everyone, watch out!), but simply takes us through a series of events related to it, the basic premise of Final Fantasy 3 evolves as we go along. While the player characters are still just proxies or avatars of the player (for the last time, at least in the main series) and lack distinct personalities or backgrounds, other characters in the world are fleshed out well beyond the basics. This game is also the first one of the series where the motivations of the villain are explored in any detail (it’s not much detail, but it’s definitely there). Later Final Fantasy villains are often explored in a great deal of detail (not all of them, but many!), so this was definitely something that struck me.

Final Fantasy 3 is much more significant, however, because it introduces the famous ‘Job’ system. While Final Fantasy 1 contains many of the same classes, they are picked at the start, evolved once in the story, and otherwise cannot be changed. Final Fantasy 3 introduces the concept that characters can change jobs at almost any time outside of combat. Each character gains levels within the specific jobs in addition to advancing in character level. The ‘job levels’ don’t do as much in this game as they will in later ones (notably Final Fantasy V, and Final Fantasy Tactics, among others), seeming to determine mostly damage dealt or healing performed. More jobs are unlocked as the player progresses through the game, culminating in the ‘ultimate’ jobs, Ninja and Sage, which are capable of using all weapons and armor and casting all spells, respectively. Also introduced in this game is the Summoner job! Yes! It’s the dawn of Chocobo, Ifrit, Shiva, Ramuh, Titan, Odin, Leviathan, Bahamut, the mighty summons which can have a dramatic effect on the battle. Bahamut, in fact, seems clearly to be the strongest magical attack in the game!

I really enjoyed this one, guys! I will admit that the game can be quite difficult. I found a number of bosses throughout the game that I was forced to grind before I could realistically challenge. This was particularly true of the final boss, who could be the most (unfortunately, mindlessly) challenging final boss in the whole of the franchise. I think that honour is generally considered to reside with Zeromus, but I honestly found the battle with Cloud of Darkness to be much more frustrating. Other bosses, I felt like I defeated with little more than dumb luck.

Also, unfortunately, jobs just not that well balanced… later jobs are strictly better. To an extent, this is understandable: as your party’s level increases, it’s fitting to gain more powerful abilities, but it’s to the point where there’s little reason to overthink your party composition. Aside from a couple of very specific challenges which can be made easier with specific classes, I found it was generally best to adhere to three powerful physical attackers, and one healer, until the very end, when it made sense to have two Sages since they can both Summon and heal. At times, my party actually consisted of four physical attackers with one off-healer and Hi-Potions serving as my only means of recovery… and I honestly felt like I was better off that way. Magical attacks in particular seem pointless after the first third of the game or so (this logic does not apply to Summons, which become one of the most effective forms of attack later in the game, especially against groups of regular enemies).

I spent a fair amount of time on Google for this game, but I would say definitely less so compared to Final Fantasy II or (especially) Final Fantasy I. I guess I just don’t like big maze-dungeons anymore, if I ever did… I like to know where I’m going, avoid some random encounters, and keep progressing steadily. I already spent enough time grinding in this game, so I’ll make no apologies.

Oh, and as for the game holding up? Obviously, the graphics are totally primitive when you decide to play the original NES version! However, the parts of this game that really feel a little ‘primitive’ (not the right word, I need a better one, one thing I really liked about this game was being able to see the origin point for stuff like the job system, the focus on the villains and their sad/tortured motivations, etc., that are hallmarks of many later games) were more mechanical. The job system here just isn’t as good or as fun as it is in later games where it becomes much more customizeable, and Xande and the Cloud of Darkness are certainly not going to rank among the ‘great’ video game villains of all time. The game was good, clean, fun though… I’d probably recommend it to any true fan of the JRPG form.

And that’s it for FF3. Comment away. Join me next time, when this ongoing series will take on a true juggernaut of the Final Fantasy franchise… Final Fantasy IV!