Ready or Not, Review by Case Wright (Dirs. Matt Bettinelli and Tyler Gillett)


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The will to survive is a strange thing. Why do some people give up their wallet or purse to a mugger freely and others snap and fight to the death? Back in the days when I could jog, I was in Central Park early on a Sunday and a mugger tried to take my little POS MP3 player.  I could’ve done the smart thing and given it up, but something just clicked and I started punching and punching.  His face was total shock and he wandered off.  He wasn’t threatening my life, but it didn’t matter if he were, I would’ve acted the same. And Yes, my 93 tracks ranging from Springsteen to Modest Mouse remain safe to this day.  Ready or Not tests whether Grace (Samara Weaving) has the will to survive and she didn’t even have an ipod to protect.

The people hunting people is almost a sub-genre, but this movie had style.  It’s got horrible and quasi-incompetent murderers, a tough but vulnerable heroine, and lots and lots of BLOOD!

Grace is set to marry into a family of rich asshats who treat her like garbage.  Well, except for Daniel (Adam Brody) the brother of Alex – the groom to be.  Daniel thinks she should leave because she’s too good for his worthless family.  Daniel has a point.  The aunt is a mean spirited jerk and all of the people who enter the family are pretty desperate in one way or the other, making them agreeable to participate in their lethal affairs.

Grace decides to marry Alex anyway even though the family’s shitty personalities are on full-display.  The honeymoon begins and Grace must choose a card because she is entering the family.  A creepy box has a playing card and determines which card; sometimes the game is Chess, Checkers, or Hide and Seek.  If Hide and Seek is chosen, the family will hunt the new entrant to the family and sacrifice him or her to Satan- In-Laws … Am I Right?!!!

Grace picks hide and seek and the game is a foot….dun dun dun! This kicks off a lot of suspense and humor as Grace fights her in-laws to the death.  Grace asks her new husband Daniel why he didn’t warn her that his family is a bunch psycho killers?  His response: You would’ve left me.  Daniel, you suck! We all hate you Daniel…A LOT!

The family hunts Grace all over the estate and she gets hurt and screams….and Screams…AND SCREAMS! Samara Weaving’s screams are THE BEST EVER.  They are a mixture of gutteral staccato and high pitched terror and they are legit real.  All other scream queens before her must hail the new Queen.   Here is an example of Samara’s amazing scream queen skills:

RIGHT?!!!! She’s is legit awesome – a throwback and beyond to the glory days of horror. She’s a mix of vulnerable and badass, cunning and funny, basically she rocks this entire movie! Everyone should go see this movie tonight!

Yes, this review is a little brief, but I don’t want to spoil too much.  Enjoy!

 

A Movie A Day #322: CHiPs (2017, directed by Dax Shepard)


Based on the campy 70s cop show that will live on forever in syndication, CHiPs is about two unlikely partners who, after a rough beginning, work together to catch a cop’s killer and capture a gang of armed robbers.

Officer Jon Baker (Dax Shepherd) is a flaky former motocross champion who joins the California Highway Patrol to try to impress his estranged wife (Kristen Bell).  Baker pops painkillers like candy, throws up whenever he enters an unfamiliar house, and has a knee that randomly goes out.  Baker can’t shoot, fight, or think but he sure can ride a bike.

Officer Francis Llewelyn “Ponch” Poncherello (Michael Pena) is actually an FBI agent named Castillo who has been assigned to work undercover to investigate corruption in the CHP.  Ponch is a sex addict who is obsessed with yoga pants and who keeps accidentally shooting his former partner (Adam Brody).

Both Baker and Ponch are given one identifying characteristic.  Baker’s thing is that he always says the wrong thing and then apologizes.  Ponch’s thing is that he always says the wrong thing and then doesn’t apologize.  That is about as deep as things get.

I’m not really sure who this movie is supposed to appeal to.  Michael Pena and Dax Shepard have been good in other productions but they’re both awful here, let down by a script that does not have much to offer beyond tepid bromance and dick jokes.  The humor is too deliberately lowbrow and raunchy to appeal to the people who were fans of the quaintly innocent TV show but it’s also neither meta nor clever enough to appeal to the audience that made hits out of 21 and 22 Jump Street.  I guess the ideal audience for this film would be people who still find gay panic jokes to be hilarious because CHiPs is full of them.  If the last movie you saw was made in 1999 and starred Adam Sandler and David Spade, CHiPs might be right up your alley.

CHiPs is a terrible fucking movie but what really distinguishes it from other terrible movies is the amount of contempt that it seems to have for its source material.  The Jump Street movies might have poked fun at the TV series that inspired them but it was still obvious that the films were being made by fans.  CHiPs can’t even be bothered to use the original’s theme music as anything other than a way to punctuate a few cheap jokes.  Erik Estrada, the original Ponch, does have a cameo but only so he and the new Ponch can talk about eating ass in Spanish.  Otherwise, there is nothing that links the movie to the TV show.  A more accurate title would have been Two Assholes On Motorcycles, except the motorcycles really are not that important to the film.  So, I guess the title would actually just have to be Two Assholes.  That sounds about right to me.

CHiPs proves that not every stupid cop show needs a movie version.  Now, excuse me while I get back to work on my T.J. Hooker spec script…

Film Review: The Ring (dir by Gore Verbinski)


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(SPOILERS BELOW!)

This weekend, I will be seeing Rings, the second sequel to the 2002 film, The Ring.  (Of course, The Ring itself is a remake of the Japanese film, Ringu.)  Since it’s been a while since we’ve had a new installment in the Ring franchise, I decided to rewatch the first film tonight.

I have to admit that I had a few concerns before I rewatched The Ring.  When I first saw The Ring, it scared me to the extent that I actually had nightmares afterward.  Even after all these years, the image of that little girl emerging from the well and then crawling out of the television still makes me shiver.  But even with that in mind, I still found myself wondering if The Ring would live up to my vivid memories.

After all, it’s been 14 years since The Ring was released and, since that time, it’s been copied and imitated by literally hundreds of other PG-13 rated horror movies.  Would the shocks still be effective, now that I knew they were coming and that I would no longer be surprised to learn that the little girl in the well was actually evil?

Add to that, there was the question of technology.  In 2002, it seemed all too plausible that people could be trading back and forth a cursed VHS tape.  The Ring was made at a time when DVDs were still considered to be exotic.  When The Ring first came out, YouTube didn’t even exist.  But today, both VHS tapes and VCRs are artifacts of another era.  DVDs have been replaced by Blu-rays and Blu-rays are in the process of being replaced by streaming services.  For The Ring to work, you had to be able to relate to people watching a VHS tape.  Today, all of these people would be too busy watching cute cat videos on YouTube to fall into The Ring‘s trap.

In short, would The Ring still work in the age of Netflix?  And would the film still be as scary as it was when it was first released?  These were the question that I found myself wondering as I sat down to rewatch The Ring.

And the answer to both questions is … for the most part, yes.

Here’s the good news.  All the important things still work.  The performances of Martin Henderson, David Dorfman, Amber Tamblyn, and especially Naomi Watts hold up well.  Gore Verbinski’s direction is still effective and, as I rewatched the film, I was surprised to see how many odd and quirky details that Verbinski managed to work into the film.  (I especially enjoyed the magic-obsessed desk clerk.)  The cursed video was still creepy and compulsively watchable and I still felt uneasy while watching Anna Morgan (played by Shannon Cochran) comb her hair in that mirror.  Even more importantly, the little girl in the well, Samara Morgan (Daveigh Chase), was still incredibly frightening.

Admittedly, The Ring is dated and some of its effectiveness has been diluted by imitation.  Unfortunately, that’s something that happens with any financially successful horror film.  Beyond that, as effective as the entire film was, there were parts of The Ring that did feel undeniably silly.  There’s a lengthy scene in which Naomi Watts, while on a ferry, attempts to talk to a horse and the horse reacts by jumping into the ocean.  I understand that the scene was probably meant to establish that, as a result of watching that videotape, Watts was now cursed.  But, still, I kept wondering why Watts was bothering the horse in the first place.  I mean, I love horses too but I know better than to disturb one while on a ferry.  As well, the film’s opening sequence — in which Amber Tamblyn is menaced and ultimately killed by Samara — no longer felt as effective as it did when I first saw it, largely due to the fact that it’s been copied by so many other horror films.  Imitation may be the ultimate compliment but it does tend to dilute the effectiveness of horror.

But, in the end, The Ring held up well enough.  The film’s storyline — characters watch a cursed video tape and then, seven days later, are killed by Samara — was simple but enjoyable.  And, when David Dorfman delivered his classic line: “No.  You weren’t supposed to help her,” I still felt a chill run down my spine.

Will Rings hold up as well as The Ring?

I’ll find out this weekend!

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Playing Catch-up: Yoga Hosers (dir by Kevin Smith)


I have to admit that the main reason I watched Yoga Hosers is because I’m currently in the process of making out my “worst of 2016” list and everyone that I’ve talked to has insisted that Yoga Hosers happens to belong on that list.

Well, for once, I actually happen to agree with other people.  At the risk of losing my contrarian reputation,  Yoga Hosers definitely belongs on any list of the worst films of 2016.

I mean … Look, I get it.

I know that making crappy-looking films with juvenile humor has, in the past, worked out very well for Kevin Smith.  It’s made him an icon.  It’s won him legions of fans.  Some of my best friends love Kevin Smith and his movies.  I, personally, appreciate that he’s a fan of Degrassi.

And I know that there are literally thousands of interviews with Kevin Smith where he talks about the fact that he’s not the world’s greatest visual stylist.  He always pokes fun at the fact that he rarely moves the camera.  He’s open about the fact that he’s better at writing dialogue than filming it.  And I also know that he has regularly encouraged people not to take anything that he does too seriously.

I get all of that.

But here’s the thing … Yoga Hosers is really, really bad.  And Kevin Smith openly admitting that he’s not a very good director doesn’t make Yoga Hosers any less painful to sit through.

It’s actually kind of sad that Yoga Hosers isn’t better.  The film deals with two 15 year-old Canadian convenience store workers.  They’re both named Colleen and they’re best friends.  They’re also very well-played, by Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Depp.  In fact, they both give such likable performances that it actually makes the film just a little more bearable than it otherwise would have been.  And, hey — Kevin specifically made Yoga Hosers so that his daughter could have a starring role.  That’s more than my Dad ever for me when I was fifteen!

But, God, the movie is just so bad.

And by bad, I mean boring.  It’s not even so bad that it’s good.  It’s just a boring, bad movie.

Of course, If you just heard a rough outline of the film’s plot, you would probably think that Yoga Hosers was destined for cult immortality.  The Colleens are forced to spend a Friday night working at the store and they end up having to fight off a bunch of Nazi bratwursts, all of whom seeking to continue the hateful legacy of a Canadian Nazi played, in painfully unfunny flashbacks, by poor Haley Joel Osment.  Johnny Depp shows up as Guy LaPointe, a “man-hunter” who has a huge mustache and who speaks with a thick accent that’s obviously supposed to be hilarious.

But seriously, it takes forever for those little Nazis to show up. First, you have to deal with about an hour of the Colleens obsessing over their phones and saying “aboot” a lot.  This is one of the slowest films that I’ve ever seen and Kevin Smith is not the type of director to make a joke and then move on after he gets a laugh.  No, instead, he’s going to make a joke and then make it a second time and then keep pounding you over the head with it.  Watching Yoga Hosers is the equivalent of having Kevin Smith in your face for 90 minutes, screaming, “This is funny, right!?  RIGHT!?”

For instance, do you think it’s funny that Canadians say “aboot” and “oot?”  If you do, Yoga Hosers might be for you.  Or it still might not be, because how many times can you laugh at the Colleens saying “aboot?”  After the 10th time, you’ve gotten the joke but rest assured, you’re going to hear it a hundred more times.  Do Canadians ever get tired of Americans demanding that they say “aboot?”  I think I would.  I’m from Texas and I know I get sick of people from up north going crazy whenever I say “y’all.”

I think the main problem with Yoga Hosers is that Kevin Smith apparently didn’t trust his audience to pick up on all of the film’s comedic details.  Hence, the film never makes a joke without then beating us over the head to make sure that we understand that we’ve just heard or seen a joke.  For instance, it’s clever that, in Yoga Hosers, Canadian cereal is called “Pucky Charms.”  I saw one of the Colleens walking around with an open box of Pucky Charms and I smiled and I thought it was a clever little joke.  But it becomes less clever once Smith starts to have other characters specifically point out that Canadian cereal is called “Pucky Charms.”  Then it becomes just another mildly funny joke that quickly gets old.

I love Canada!  And I’m pretty sure Kevin Smith is a nice guy too.  But seriously, Yoga Hosers is the worst.

Shattered Politics #77: Thank You For Smoking (dir by Jason Reitman)


Thank_you_for_smoking_PosterI have always hated those Truth.com commercials.  Truth.com is an organization that claims to be dedicated to eradicating smoking.  Their smug commercials are essentially the height of hipster douchebaggery, a bunch of self-consciously cool people wandering around and harassing random people about whether or not they smoke.  And then, of course, there was the commercial where they all gathered outside a tobacco company and pretended to be dead.  Of course, the truth about Truth.com is that they are essentially the same people who, in high school, would get offended whenever anyone wore a short skirt.  I really can not stand people like that.  (And don’t even get me started on those assholes who appear in the Above The Influence commercials.)  Myself, I don’t smoke because I have asthma.  But, seriously, whenever I see a Truth.com commercial, I’m tempted to run down to 711 and start.

And so maybe that’s why I like the 2005 comedy Thank You For Smoking.

The hero of Thank You For Smoking is Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), a lobbyist for the tobacco industry, who is first seen appearing on a talk show and winning over a hostile audience by announcing that the tobacco industry is going to be investing millions in researching way to keep young people from smoking and shaking the hand of a teenage honor student who is dying from lung cancer.  Over the course of the film, Nick shows us how he does business, everything from defending tobacco companies on talk shows to convincing a former Marlboro Man-turned-cancer-patient to drop his law suit.  When Nick isn’t working, he’s hanging out with his best friends (who are lobbyists for both the liquor and the gun industries), trying to bond with his son (Cameron Bright), or having sex with a reporter (Katie Holmes).

Now, in most movies, Nick Naylor would be the villain.  However, in Thank You For Smoking, Nick becomes a hero by default, if just because everyone who disagrees with him is even worse than he is.  Add to that, Nick has the benefit of being played by Aaron Eckhart while all of his opponents are played by balding actors with ugly beards.

Another reason that I liked Thank You For Smoking was because the main villain was a senator from Vermont and it’s about time somebody stood up to the tyranny of Vermont.  Ortolan Finistirre (William H. Macy) has built a career out of campaigning against the tobacco industries and why shouldn’t he?  Who, other than Nick Naylor, is willing to defend them?  Finistirre’s latest plan is to change the law so that every pack of cigarettes has to be branded with a skull and crossbones warning.

When Nick and Finistirre finally face off, it’s a battle between those who believe in allowing people the freedom to make their own choices and those who hide their totalitarian impulse behind claims that they’re working for the greater good.

Thank You For Smoking was Jason Reitman’s first film.  And while it may be a bit too episodic and it frequently struggles to maintain a consistent tone, it’s still a lot better than both Labor Day and Men, Women, & Children.

Film Review: Lovelace (dir by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman)


About halfway through the new biopic Lovelace, there’s a scene where former porno actress Linda Lovelace (played by Amanda Seyfried) is hooked up to a lie detector.  The polygraph examiner explains that he’s going to ask Linda a few test questions to get a reading.

“Is your name Linda Lovelace?” he asks.

Visibly nervous, Linda replies, “Can you ask something simpler?”

It’s a great scene because it establishes the central mystery of both the film and the title character.

Just who exactly was Linda Lovelace?

A girl whose main talent was apparently giving head, Lovelace became a star in the 70s when she starred in Deep Throat, the first (and perhaps only) hardcore film to become a legitimate mainstream hit.  For a brief while, Lovelace was the face of the American sex industry.  However, her attempts to have a mainstream film career failed and Lovelace retreated into obscurity.

Several years later, she wrote a book called Ordeal.  In Ordeal, Lovelace claimed that she was forced, by her abusive husband, to perform in Deep Throat.  Whereas Lovelace, during her brief stardom, originally claimed to simply be a sexual adventurer who performed on camera because it was liberating, the post-stardom Lovelace presented herself as being a brainwashed victim.  Or, as Lovelace herself put it, “When you watch Deep Throat, you’re watching me getting raped.”  While several people disputed the authenticity of Ordeal, Lovelace herself passed a polygraph examination.  Lovelace then became an anti-pornography activist before, once again, descending into obscurity and eventually dying in an automotive accident in 2002.

Lovelace deals with the issue of figuring out just who Linda Lovelace was by basically telling her story twice.

During the first 45 minutes of the film, we see how young Linda Boreman first meets Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard).  Everything about Chuck — from his mustache to his perm to his flashy clothes — practically screams sleaze but, since he’s played by Peter Sarsgaard, he also has an undeniable charm.  (With this film and An Education, Sarsgaard has proven himself to be the definitive older man who your parents warned you about.)  Chuck and Linda eventually marry and, when they need money, Linda turns to “acting” in order to pay the bills.

Under the watchful eye of producers Bobby Cannavale and Chris Noth, director Hank Azaria, and co-star Adam Brody, Linda stars in Deep Throat and becomes the face of the sexual revolution.  While there are occasional hints that things might not be perfect (bruises are often visible on Linda’s arms and legs), Linda seems to truly love the spotlight.  Even Hugh Hefner (played by James Franco, who is way too hot to only have a cameo) says she’s going to be a huge star.

And then, rather abruptly, we jump forward six years.  Linda is now writing Ordeal and we once again see how she first married Chuck Traynor, starred in Deep Throat, and came to be a star..  However, we now see the story through her eyes.  We see that Chuck wasn’t just controlling but that he was also an abusive psychopath who would hold a gun to her head in order to get a performance out of her.  We see that, during the shooting of Deep Throat, she was regularly beaten by her husband.  We see Linda attempting to reconnect with her strict and tradition parents (played by Sharon Stone and Robert Patrick).  We see the ugliness that was hidden underneath the glamour.

Considering the subject matter and the talent involved, Lovelace should have been one of the most interesting films of 2013 but, unfortunately, the two separate halves of the film just don’t come together.  While the first half of the film does a good job of capturing the absurdity of sudden fame, the second half of the film falls apart.

Oddly enough, Chuck Traynor and Linda Lovelace only come across as real human beings during the superficial first half of the film.  During the second half of the film, both Chuck and Linda come across as one-dimensional ciphers.  Linda becomes such a total victim and Chuck becomes such a melodramatic villain that neither one of them is all that compelling as a character.  Instead of being disturbing and revealing, the second half of the film just feels like another generic film about the price of fame.

Most of what I know about Linda Lovelace and Chuck Traynor comes from two sources — the 2005 documentary Inside Deep Throat and Legs McNiel’s and Jennifer Osborne’s book The Other Hollywood.  In both the book and the documentary, Lovelace comes across as being a rather pathetic figure who was exploited by both the adult film industry and the anti-pornography activists who used her as a symbol.  Both the industry and the activists abandoned Linda once her novelty was gone.  Ironically, even though both the documentary and the book are rather critical of her, it is there that she comes across as a far more interesting, sympathetic, and ultimately tragic figure than she does in this biopic.

With all that in mind, Lovelace is not necessarily a failure as a film.  The 70s are convincingly recreated and there’s a few scenes that hint at the type of film that this could have been if the filmmakers had been willing to take a few more risks.

The film is also full of excellent performances.  Seyfried is sympathetic and believable as Linda and, up until the second half of the film requires him to abandon all shades of ambiguity, Sarsgaard perfectly captures the sleazy charm that someone like Chuck Traynor would need to survive.  As Linda’s strict mother, Sharon Stone  is surprisingly strong.  Just watch the scene where Linda’s mom explains to her that she has to go back to abusive husband because that’s what marriage is all about and you’ll see an example of great acting.  Even better is Robert Patrick, who brings a poignant sadness to the role of Linda’s father.  The scene where he tells Linda that he saw her on film is heartbreaking.

Lovelace is a film of hits and misses.  Sadly, it misses the big picture but a few individual parts and performances are strong enough to justify sacrificing spending 93 minutes to watch it.