“All The Boys Love Mandy Lane” AKA All the Bland Love Blandy Lane, Review By Case Wright


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IT’S OCTOBER!!!! WOOHOO!!!! The Most Wonderful Time of The Year!!!!

All The Boys Love Mandy Lane….for some reason.  Let’s begin by admitting Amber Heard is pretty, but …. love at first sight obsession?! Word?! Word?!  This film was written by Jacob Forman who went on to …. not much.  Jacob Forman does have a few recent credits as a special thanks over the last few years, which means he let someone sleep on his couch or something who was making a movie.  I wonder if the film deserved to make enough money to afford the futon that he used to get those special thanks.  But it’s on Netflix; so, if you’re on an elliptical and have already caught up on your YouTube subscriptions…. I guess this would be a choice that you could make … on purpose.

Jonathan Levine (director 50/50) directed this mess and he’s a very talented director for … Dramatic Comedy and Drama… Horror…not so much.  It was one of his first films (2006) and didn’t get a US release until 2013 … for good reason.  He’s very good at filming true to life couch conversations, which was certainly evident in 50/50, but in a Horror/Thriller the camera work/direction has to act as another character to pull us into suspense and punch us with payoffs.  This piece uses a lot of shaky cam in a 1980s style with artsy cuts that never allow us to feel worried about anyone on-screen.  The direction is like someone constantly spilling water on your charcoal as your trying to get the barbecue going.

The exploitation premise is simple enough: A bunch of boys try to corrupt a naive virginal archetype – Mandy Lane (Amber Heard).  Mandy is kind of bland and has a friend Emmet who everyone picks on and gets even by somehow convincing a guy to jump off his roof into a pool and he dies.  It’s weird.

After the pool incident, Emmet is a pariah. Mandy, on the other hand, is apparently the paragon of the feminine ideal because every man within 100 miles will give up his eternal soul for a tryst with her.  She agrees to go to a ranch in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of dudes and girls who are equally boring.  They arrive at the ranch and there’s a ranch hand on the property who is supposedly a Gulf War veteran even though he’s 27 and not in his later 40s.  Sigh.  Mandy Lane and all the other girls are obviously smitten with the ranch hand and why not….the ranch hand defies time and math itself!!!  As the song goes, every girl crazy for a …. man who defies the space-time-continuum! [Sung as ZZ Top]  The ranch hand is bored with the teens and returns to his home sweet shed.

Later, the teens start doing a ton of drugs and booze and Emmet or someone (dun dun dun) arrives and starts murdering everyone.  They are pretty gruesome deaths and it does border on torture porn at one point, which makes sense because it was written around 2004/2005 when Hostel was all the rage.  Even though people aren’t returning, all of the guys continue to try to make out with Mandy in the creepiest ways possible.  Mandy Lane has 20 lines of very bland dialogue total in the film and there is a slight twist at the end that fails to thrill.

What bugged me about this film is that horror is always treated as the Red-Headed Stepchild of film.  Everybody seems to think the genre is easy to write and do and this film is proof that both of those assumptions are false.  First, you need to at least have some sympathy for the people getting killed.  Second, you need to explain in someway at the halfway why they don’t just leave.  In this film, it’s not clear why the dudes want Mandy to stay at the halfway point of the film when it’s clear that she’s not interested in any of them.  Third, the camera work and direction to pull you into the house and into the story to ratchet up tension; otherwise, it’s just boring.

I’m glad that Jonathan Levine found his voice soon after this. Amber Heard did a fair enough performance for what she had to work with.  There was good performance by Melissa Price, but from IMDB, it appears that this film probably tanked her career.  In any case, I’m crazy excited that October is here!!!

 

Sundance Film Review: Alpha Dog (dir by Nick Cassavetes)


The Sundance Film Festival is currently taking place in Utah so, for this week, I’m reviewing films that either premiered, won awards at, or otherwise made a splash at Sundance!  Today, I take a look at 2006’s Alpha Dog, which premiered, out of competition, at Sundance.

Sometimes, I suspect that I may be the only person who actually likes this movie.

Alpha Dog is a film about a group of stupid people who end up doing a terrible thing.  Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch) is a 20 year-old living in Los Angeles.  His father, Sonny (Bruce Willis) and his godfather, Cosmo (Harry Dean Stanton), are both mob-connected and keep Johnny supplied with the drugs that Johnny then sells to his friends.  It’s a pretty good deal for Johnny.  He’s got a nice house and a group of friends who are willing to literally do anything for him.  Johnny, after all, is the one who has the money.

When Johnny’s former best friend, Jake Mazursky (Ben Foster), fails to pay a drug debt, things quickly escalate.  When Johnny refuses to accept even a partial payment, Jake responds by breaking into Johnny’s house and vandalizing the place.  (Just what exactly Jake does, I’m not going to go into because it’s nasty.  Seriously, burn that house down…)  Johnny decides that the best way to force Jake to pay up is to kidnap Jake’s younger brother, Zack (Anton Yelchin, who is heartbreakingly good in this film).

It quickly turns out that Zack doesn’t mind being kidnapped.  Everyone tells Zack not to worry about anything and that he’ll be set free as soon as Jake pays his debt.  Zack decides to just enjoy his weekend.  Since Johnny is better at ordering people to commit crimes than committing them himself, he tells his friend, Frankie (Justin Timberlake), to keep an eye on Zack.

And so it goes from there.  While Johnny leaves town, Frankie introduces Zack to all of his friends.  Everyone laughs about how Zack is “stolen boy.”  Zack’s going to parties and having a good time.  However, Johnny returns and reveals that he’s been doing some thinking, as well as talking to his lawyer.  Regardless of whether Zack’s enjoying himself, both Johnny and Frankie could go to prison for kidnapping him.  Frankie argues that Zack won’t tell anyone about what happened.  Maybe they could just pay him off.  Johnny thinks it might be easier to just have him killed.  Frankie’s not a murderer but what about Elvis Schmidt (Shawn Hatosy)?  Elvis is a loser who desperately wants to be a part of Johnny’s crew and he owes Johnny almost as much money as Jake does.  How far would Elvis be willing to go?

(While this plays out, the film keeps a running tally of everyone who witnesses Zack not only being kidnapped but also held hostage.  In the end, there were at least 32 witnesses but none of them said a word.)

Alpha Dog is based on the true story of Jesse James Hollywood and the murder of 15 year-old Nicholas Markowitz.  Hollywood spent five years as a fugitive from justice, hiding out in Brazil and reportedly being protected by his wealthy family.  He was arrested shortly before the Sundance premiere of Alpha Dog.  Since it was filmed before Hollywood’s arrest and subsequent conviction, Alpha Dog changed his name to Johnny Truelove.  Johnny Truelove is a good name but it’s nowhere near as memorable as Jesse James Hollywood.

Alpha Dog sticks close to the facts of the case, providing a disturbing portrait of a group of aimless wannabe gangsters who, insulated by money and privilege, ended up getting in over their heads and committing a terrible crime.  Emile Hirsch gives one of his best performances as the sociopathic Johnny Truelove while Ben Foster is both frightening and, at times, sympathetic as Jake.  Justin Timberlake is compelling as he wrestles with his conscience while Shawn Hatosy is properly loathsome as the type of idiot that everyone knows but wish they didn’t.  The dearly missed Anton Yelchin is heartbreaking and poignant as Zack.  And finally, there’s Harry Dean Stanton.  Stanton doesn’t say a lot in this movie.  Often times, he’s just hovering in the background.  The moment when he reveals his true self is one of the best in the movie.

As I said, I sometimes feel as if I’m the only person who likes this movie.  It got mixed reviews when it was released and, in the years since, it rarely seems to ever get mentioned in a positive context.  Personally, I think it’s a well-done portrait of privilege, stupidity, and the lengths to which people will go to avoid taking a stand.  In the end, no one escapes punishment but it’s the rich guy who, at the very least, gets to spend at least a few years enjoying his freedom in Brazil.

Previous Sundance Film Reviews:

  1. Blood Simple
  2. I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore
  3. Circle of Power
  4. Old Enough
  5. Blue Caprice
  6. The Big Sick

Here Are The Winners of The 2015 Hollywood Film Awards, Whatever The Hell Those Are.


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Oh my God, y’all — the Hollywood Film Awards were held on Sunday and a bunch of potential Oscar contenders were honored!  Which all leads to one very important question:

What the Hell are the Hollywood Film Awards?

As I pondered that question, I realized that I had vague memories of sitting through the Hollywood Film Awards last year.  The ceremony was broadcast on CBS and it was distinguished from other awards shows in that there were no nominees.  Instead, only the winners were announced.  It was so amazingly dull and I can remember watching it and thinking, “Awards season has finally jumped the shark.”

(And this was even before Sasha Stone and Jeff Wells had their annual breakdowns…)

Anyway, the Hollywood Film Awards for 2015 were given out on Sunday and I’m assuming they weren’t televised.  (I was busy watching A Student’s Obsession anyway…)  You can find the winners below.  For the most part, it’s a pretty boring list (and why give out awards in November?) but it does allow us an early glimpse into some of the films and performers that are contending for Oscar gold.

Here’s the list.  Along with a gif of a kitty showing just how excited he is over Awards Season…

YAY! AWARDS! I'M SO EXCITED..I'M SO EXCITING...I'M SO ... SCARED!"

“YAY! AWARDS! I’M SO EXCITED..I’M SO EXCITED… I’M SO … SCARED!”

Career Achievement Award presented to Robert De Niro by David O. Russell.

Producer Award presented to Ridley Scott (“The Martian) by Russell Crowe.

Director Award presented to Tom Hooper (“The Danish Girl”) by Amber Heard.

Actor Award presented to Will Smith (“Concussion”) by Jamie Foxx.

Actress Award presented to Carey Mulligan (“Suffragette”) by Jake Gyllenhaal.

Supporting Actor Award presented to Benicio Del Toro (“Sicario”) by Reese Witherspoon.

Supporting Actress Award presented to Jane Fonda (“Youth”) by Laura Dern.

Breakout Actor Award presented to Joel Edgerton (“Black Mass”) by Johnny Depp, Dakota Johnson.

Breakout Actress Award presented to Alicia Vikander (“The Danish Girl”) by Armie Hammer.

New Hollywood Award presented to Saoirse Ronan (“Brooklyn”) by Ryan Gosling.

Ensemble Award presented to “The Hateful Eight” by Quentin Tarantino.

Breakout Ensemble Award presented to “Straight Outta Compton” by Ice Cube.

Comedy Award presented to Amy Schumer (“Trainwreck”) by Selena Gomez.

Breakthrough Director Award presented to Adam McKay (“The Big Short”) by Steve Carell.

Screenwriter Award presented to Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer (“Spotlight”) by Mark Ruffalo.

Blockbuster Award presented to “Furious 7” by Kurt Russell.

Song Award presented to “Furious 7” (“See You Again”) by Vin Diesel.

Animation Award presented to Pete Docter (“Inside Out”) by Amy Poehler.

Cinematography Award presented to Janusz Kaminski (“Bridge of Spies”).

Composer Award presented to Alexandre Desplat (“The Danish Girl,” “Suffragette”).

Documentary Award presented to Asif Kapadia (“Amy”).

Editor Award presented to David Rosenbloom (“Black Mass”).

Visual Effects Award presented to Tim Alexander (“Jurassic World”).

Sound Award presented to Gary Rydstrom (“Bridge of Spies”).

Costume Design Award presented to Sandy Powell (“Cinderella”).

Make-Up and Hair Styling Award presented to Lesley Vanderwalt (“Mad Max: Fury Road”).

Production Design Award presented to Colin Gibson (“Mad Max: Fury Road“).

"Yawn. These awards are boring..."

“Yawn. These awards are predictable and boring.  You disappoint me…”

Trailer: Magic Mike XXL (Teaser)


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I will be the first to admit that Soderbergh’s journey into the world of male strippers wasn’t on my radar when it was first announced and even when it finally premiered. Then again I don’t think I was the core audience.

Now, Lisa Marie did go see Magic Mike and to say that she enjoyed it would be an understatement. Her brief (no pun intended) but succinct review of the film could be summed up by it’s introduction:

“After me and my BFF Evelyn saw Magic Mike, I hopped on twitter and I tweeted, “Memo to single guys.  Go hang out around the theater when Magic Mike gets out.  You will get laid!”  Yes, Magic Mike is that type of film…”

So, we’re now three years removed from Soderbergh’s film. A sequel has been filmed and ready to be unleashed on the millions out there waiting to get back to the world of Magic Mike. While Soderbergh doesn’t return as director (he does go behind the camera as the sequel’s cinematographer and editor) the sequel does get Gregory Jacobs in the director’s chair. He was first asst. director during the first film and a frequent collaborator with Soderbergh (he pretty much has been Soderbergh’s asst. director in all his films).

Will Lisa Marie enjoy this sequel or will she return with a reaction of “seen it before” ennui? We’ll find out in a couple months.

Magic Mike XXL unveils for all this July 1, 2015.

Back to School #64: Friday Night Lights (dir by Peter Berg)


For the past three weeks, I’ve been looking at some of the best, worst, most memorable, and most forgettable high school and teen films ever made.  I’ve been posting the reviews in chronological order and, as I look back over the previous 63 Back to School reviews, one thing that I can’t escape is football.

It’s funny.  Despite being a Texas girl, I know very little about football and, whenever I have found myself watching a game, I’ve usually end up getting bored out of my mind.  I’m not a huge fan of sports films, either.  It’s just not my thing.  And yet, as a result of doing this series of reviews, I’ve watched more football films over the past month than I had probably seen in my entire life previously.  Some of the films that I’ve reviewed specifically were football films — The Pom Pom Girls, All The Right Moves, and Varsity Blues, for example.  However, even the film that weren’t specifically about the sport often featured scenes set on the football field.  Just think of Forest Whitaker in Fast Times At Ridgemont High or the socially conflicted jocks from Dazed and Confused.

For a lot of films, football and high school seem to go together.  And one of the most acclaimed high school football films is 2004’s Friday Night Lights.  Now, I have to admit that Friday Night Lights is not one of my favorite films.  It’s a football film, I’m not into football, and therefore, Friday Night Lights is a film that I respect more as a well-made film than like as a source of entertainment.  Perhaps the best thing that I can say about Friday Night Lights is that I understand why so many people who do love football also happen to love this film.

And I do have to say that I appreciate that Friday Night Lights is also a film about Texas that actually manages to realistically portray my home state without resorting to the predictable clichés that dominated Varsity Blues.

Taking place in Odessa, Texas, Friday Night Lights follows the 1988 season of the Permian Panthers.  As opposed to most sports films, Friday Night Lights does not focus on a team of lovable underdogs.  Instead, the Panthers are already known for being a championship team.  As the season begins, Coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) is under tremendous pressure to continue that winning tradition.  However, when the team’s star player is injured during the first game of the season, the Panthers suddenly find their pre-ordained winning season in doubt.  Gaines finds himself being alternatively celebrated and demonized depending on how the previous night’s game has gone and his players find themselves under tremendous pressure from everyone in town.  The film features a great performance from Billy Bob Thornton and a really good one from Derek Luke, playing a player who abruptly goes from being a future superstar to a present could-have-been.  In fact, the entire film is well-acted with even country singer Tim McGraw giving a surprisingly multi-faceted performance as a former player-turned-drunk.

In short, Friday Night Lights is a lot like Varsity Blues, except that it doesn’t suck.

(Incidentally, Friday Night Lights did inspire a TV series.  I never watched it.)

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Scenes I Love: Drive Angry


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“Gentlemen, aim for their tires.”

Drive Angry came out in early 2011 and it was one of those films which everyone thought was going to flop and flop hard. It did flop like a dying carp on a desert dune, but it was also one of the most fun flicks of the year. People just didn’t get what the film was about and trying to do. I, for one, was of the minority that got “it”.

This film starring Nicolas Cage going the subdued crazy route had so many funny and WTF sequences that it was difficult just to pick one, but pick one I shall.

I think the sequence where William Fichtner’s supernatural bounty hunter, The Accountant, chasing and assisting the undead John Milton on his vengeance ride against a Satanic cult leader, and to the tune of the KC and The Sunshine Band’s “That The Way (I Like It)” classic song was a major favorite. It emphasized just how over-the-top Drive Angry turned out to be, but in a fun and hilarious way. William Fichtner just chews the scenery in this scene. I also like how Tom Atkins, himself a veteran of grindhouse flicks, matches Fichtner chew for chew.

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: The Rum Diary (dir. by Bruce Robinson)


My sister Erin and I went and saw The Rum Diary on Tuesday and wow, was it ever a disappointment.  The commercials make it look like a wild comedy featuring Johnny Depp looking all sexy and decadent but, in reality, the film is kind of a mess that is almost schizophrenic in its attempts to be more than the sum of its parts.

Johnny Depp plays Paul Kemp, an alcoholic writer who goes to Puerto Rico in the early 60s and takes a job writing horoscopes for the local newspaper.  The job leads to him drinking a lot and hanging out with characters who are sweaty and so generally grimy that it’s borderline revolting to even see them on-screen.  (Giovanni Ribisi, giving a distressingly bad performance, is the main offender.)  Paul also ends up kinda befriending (but not really) a businessman named Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), who you know is a bad guy because he’s the only character who dresses in pastels.  Anyway, Sanderson has a girlfriend named Chenault (Amber Heard) and Chenault really has no purpose for existing other than for Paul to fall in love with her and save her from a terrible future of being married to a rich, handsome man.  The film starts out as a comedy and then, after about an hour, it suddenly turns all serious and preachy.  It’s as if the film can’t decide whether it wants to be an unfunny comedy or a laughable drama.

Luckily, Johnny Depp is on screen for nearly the entire film and, as we watched, Erin and I quickly learned that the best way to enjoy The Rum Diary is just to allow yourself to be carried away by the Deppness of it all.  Don’t think about how the film’s kind of a mess and how Aaron Eckhart is more of a designated villain than a real villain and ignore the fact that Chenault is a sexist fantasy and tune out the preachy dialogue and try not to think about how everyone appears to have had more fun making the film than you’re having watching it, and just concentrate on Johnny Depp being all kinds of sexy.  

If you do that, The Rum Diary is a tolerable 2 hours.