Horror Film Review: Knock Knock (dir by Eli Roth)


 

Knock Knock starts out as a satire of vapid male fantasies before then becoming a vapid male fantasy.  It then transforms itself into a satire of vapid torture porn before then becoming vapid torture porn.  And, in the end, your main response will probably be, “Eh, who cares?”

Keanu Reeves plays Evan, an architect who has a nice house, a nice family, and a nice dog.  He also has an injured shoulder, which leads to him staying home while his wife and children spend the weekend at the beach.  Evan is looking forward to having the house to himself, especially when it starts to rain.  I mean, who wants to be at the beach in the middle of storm, right?  That night, Evan is relaxing in his home when he hears someone at the door.

Knock knock.

Two young women, Genesis (Lorenza Izzo) and Bel (Anna de Armas), are standing on his front porch, soaked.  They tell him that they’re looking for the address of a party and that their phone has gotten wet and could they please come inside for just a few minutes and get online and find the correct address?  Evan agrees.  Genesis and Bel enter the house.  They tell him that they’re models.  They tell him about their girlfriends.  They talk about their sex lives and Evan responds with a goofy smile.  They ask if they can take off all their clothes and toss them in a dryer.  Evan agrees.  “Uh, I’ve got some robes,” Evan says and it’s a funny line because Keanu Reeves sounds sincerely bewildered when he says it.

Anyway, you can tell where this leading.  It starts with a threesome and then it ends with the house getting destroyed and people getting buried alive and, to be honest, it gets a little bit boring after a while.  Perhaps if Evan was truly a loathsome character, as opposed to just an awkward Keanu Reeves, there would be some sort of joy in watching Genesis and Bel taunt him while destroying his home and destroying his wife’s artwork but instead it just amount to a bunch of repetitive taunting.  Despite all of their talk about how Evan represents the 1% and how quickly Evan was willing to cheat on his wife and potentially destroy his family, Genesis and Bel don’t come across as being revolutionaries or avenging angels.  Instead, they just seem to be overcaffeinated with no real reason for doing what they’re doing beyond the fact that there wouldn’t be a movie otherwise.

Keanu Reeves gives a strange performance in this film.  At the start of the film, he actually seems like he’s perfectly cast.  When Genesis and Bel first show up at his door, there’s some genuine wit to found in his confused reaction to the two girls.  But then, as the film progresses, Reeves has to start pretending to be desperate and that’s never really been his strong suit.  Perhaps because he’s trying to keep up with the hyper performances of Lorenza Izzo and Anna de Armas, Reeves starts to shout every single line and it just becomes rather humorous before then becoming rather dull.  “STOP IT!  I COULD GO DEAF!”  he shouts when the girls force him to listen to loud music.  Later, when he curses the girls, he sounds like a cartoon character talking about how much he hates Bugs Bunny.  I like Keanu Reeves but he’s just not a very good shouter.

I’ve defended Eli Roth in the past and I imagine that I’ll do so again in the future but it’s best to keep the door closed on Knock Knock.

Bruce Lee vs. The Star Whackers: Game of Death (1978, directed by Robert Clouse)


Billy Lo (played by archival footage of Bruce Lee and two stand-ins) is the world’s biggest film star and the Syndicate (represented by Dean Jagger and Hugh O’Brian) want a piece of the action.  When Billy refuses to allow the Syndicate to take control of his career, the Syndicate responds by threatening both Billy and his girlfriend (Colleen Camp).  After a Syndicate hitman sneaks onto the set of Billy’s latest film and shoots him in the face, Billy allows the world to believe that he’s dead.  Using a variety of disguises, Billy seeks revenge on the Syndicate and all of its assassins, including the 7 foot tall Hakim (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).

Lee’s original plan for the Game of Death was that it would feature him as a retired martial artist who, in order to save the lives of his family, had to make his way up a five-level pagoda, defeating a different guardian on each floor.  Each guardian would represent a different fighting style and the journey up the pagoda would allow Lee to discuss his beliefs regarding the principles of martial arts.  Serving as both director and star, Lee did during the making of the film, of cerebral edema though some said Lee was either murdered or that he had faked his own death.

Released seven years after his death, the final version Game of Death has little in common with Lee’s original vision.  Only about 11 minutes of footage from the original film was used in the revised version and most of Lee’s philosophical concerns were abandoned for a plot that, today, feels like it could have been lifted from Randy Quaid’s twitter timeline.  (Also, when watching the film today, it’s also impossible to watch the Syndicate’s assassins disguise Billy Lo’s shooting as an on-set accident without being reminded of what would happen to Brandon Lee on the set of The Crow.)  Game of Death opens with footage lifted from Lee’s battle with Chuck Norris at the end of Way of the Dragon and the other fight scenes are full of close-ups of Lee that were obviously lifted from other films.  There’s even a scene in Billy’s dressing room where a cardboard cut-out of Lee’s face has obviously been taped onto a mirror.  After Billy fakes his own death, footage of Bruce Lee’s actual funeral is shown, including a shot of Lee in his coffin.

If you can overlook the ethical issues of making a Bruce Lee film without the actual participation of Bruce Lee, Game of Death is actually a pretty entertaining movie.  Director Robert Clouse had previously directed Enter the Dragon and obviously knew how to direct a fight scene while even stock footage of Bruce Lee has more charisma than the average action star.  Best of all, Bruce Lee battles Kareem Adbul-Jabbar, in an epic scene that Lee himself directed for the original version of Game of Death.  When the 7’2 Kareem Abdul Jabber plants his foot in the middle of Bruce Lee’s chest, Game of Death achieves pop cultural immortality.

Thorny ethical concerns aside, Game of Death proves that Bruce Lee will live forever.

Playing Catch Up: First Daughter, Ice Girls, Raising The Bar, Walk Like A Man


So, this year I am making a sincere effort to review every film that I see.  I know I say that every year but this time, I really mean it.  Unfortunately, over the past two weeks, real life has interfered with my movie reviewing, if not my move watching.

So, in an effort to catch up, here are four quick reviews of some of the movies that I watched over the past two weeks!

  • First Daughter
  • Released: 2004
  • Directed by Forest Whitaker
  • Starring Katie Holmes, Marc Blucas, Amerie, Michael Keaton, Margaret Colin, Lela Rochon

Michael Keaton as the President of the United States!?  Now, that’s a great idea.  Michael Keaton plays President Mackenzie.  First Daughter was made long before Birdman so Michael Keaton doesn’t really have a huge part but, whenever he does appear, he is totally believable as a world leader.  You buy the idea that this guy could win an election and that he’d probably be a good (if not necessarily a great) President.  Someone really needs to make another movie where Michael Keaton plays the President.  Maybe President Birdman.  Just don’t give it to Inarritu to direct because he’ll make it too political…

Anyway, the majority of the film is about Katie Holmes as the President’s daughter, Samantha.  Samantha has been accepted to a college in California.  She’s excited because it means that she’ll finally be able to have a life outside of the White House.  The President is concerned because he loves his daughter and he knows that, if she makes any mistakes in California, his political opponents will try to use her against him.  Samantha goes off to college and tries to have a good (but rather chaste) time.  Making that somewhat difficult is her secret service entourage.  Fortunately, Samantha meets a guy (Marc Blucas) who loves her for who she is and not because her father is the President.

It’s all pretty silly and shallow but I have to admit that I get nostalgic whenever I see this movie.  Much like From Justin To Kelly, it’s definitely a film from a more innocent and less angry time.  To date, it’s also the last film to be directed by actor Forest Whitaker.

  • Ice Girls
  • Released in 2016
  • Directed by Damian Lee
  • Starring Michaela du Toit, Lara Daans, Arcadia Kendal, Sheila McCarthy, Taylor Hunsley, Shane Harte, Elvis Stojko

Struggling financially, Kelly (Lara Daans) is forced to move back to her hometown and move in with her sister (Sheila McCarthy).  Until she got married and gave up that part of her life, Kelly was once an up-and-coming figure skater.  Fortunately, her daughter, Mattie (Michaela du Toit), has inherited her mother’s talent.  However, a serious injury shook Mattie’s confidence.  Now, she says she doesn’t want to skate anymore.  Still, she’s willing to accept a job from Mercury (Elvis Stojko) at the local rink and it’s not too long before, under Mercury’s guidance, Mattie is skating once again.  Mattie also befriends another skater, Heather (Taylor Hunsley).  Heather happens to be the daughter of Rose (Natasha Henstridge), who was once in love with Kelly’s father…

It sounds like the set-up of a melodramatic Lifetime movie but actually, Ice Girls is a sweet-natured film about two ice skaters, one who has a mother who is too protective and the other who has a mother who is too driven.  In the end, both of them end up skating for themselves and not their mothers and that’s a good message for the film’s target audience of young skate fans.  The majority of the cast is made up of actual ice skaters, so the skating footage is pretty impressive.  It’s a predictable movie but I enjoyed it when I watched it on Netflix.

  • Raising the Bar
  • Released in 2016
  • Directed by Clay Glen
  • Starring Kelli Berglund, Lili Karamalikis, Tess Fowler, Emily Morris, Peta Shannon

I also watched this one on Netflix, a day after I watched Ice Girls.  (I was in an Olympics sort of mood, even though neither film took place at the Olympics.)  Raising the Bar feels a lot like Ice Girls, except that the ice skaters were now gymnasts and instead of relocating to Toronto, the family in Raising the Bar relocates all the way to Australia.  Once in Australia, Kelly (Kelly Johnson) finds the courage to re-enter gymnastics and ends up competing against her former teammates.

Kelly Johnson gives a good performance in the lead role.  Though it may be predictable, Raising the Bar is an effective and sweet-natured family film.  Perhaps the most interesting thing about watching the film was that I quickly found myself rooting against the American team.  Australia all the way!

  • Walk Like A Man
  • Released 1987
  • Directed by Melvin Frank
  • Starring Howie Mandel, Amy Steel, Cloris Leachman, Christopher Lloyd, Colleen Camp, Stephen Elliott, George DiCenzo, John McLiam, Earl Boen

Oh, what sweet Hell is this?

Okay, I’m going to try to explain what happens in this movie.  You’re not going to believe me.  You’re going to think that I’m just making all of this up.  But I swear to a God … this is an actual movie.

When he was a baby, Boba Shand (Howie Mandel) got separated from his family.  His mother and his father assumed that he was gone forever but what they didn’t know was that Bobo was found and raised by a pack of wild dogs.  For twenty years, Bobo lives as a dog.  Then he’s discovered by Penny (Amy Steel), an animal researcher who tries to teach Bobo how to be a human.  However, as time passes, Penny comes to realize that maybe she’s making a mistake trying to change Bobo.  Bobo is innocent and child-like and obsessed with chasing fire engines.  When he has too much to drink, he runs around on all fours.  And … PENNY’S IN LOVE WITH HIM!

Seriously, she’s in love with a man who thinks he’s a dog.

However, Bobo stands to inherit a fortune and his evil brother (Christopher Lloyd) is planning on having him committed.  Penny has to prove that Bobo is human enough to manage his own affairs while also respecting his desire to continue living like a dog.

I’m serious.  This is a real movie.

Anyway, making things even worse is the performance as Howie Mandel.  Mandel has always been a rather needy performer and the role of a man who thinks he’s a dog only serves to bring out his worst instincts.  Remember when Ben Stiller played Simple Jack in Tropical Thunder?  Well, Mandel’s performance is kinda like that only worse.  At one point, Bobo walks up to a mannequin in a mall and says, “I have to go pee pee.  Come with me,” and I nearly threw a shoe at the TV.  Oh my God, it was so bad.

The main problem with Walk Like A Man is that it wants to have it both ways.  It wants to be a wild comedy about Howie Mandel chasing fire engines but it also makes us want to tear up when Penny explains why Bobo should be allowed to live as a dog.

All in all, it’s a really bad movie.  And yes, it does actually exist.

A Movie A Day #213: Illegally Yours (1988, directed by Peter Bogdanovich)


This is really bad.

Richard Dice (Rob Lowe, wearing glasses and running around like a speed freak) is a loser who lives at home with his mother (Jessica James), his younger brother (Ira Heiden), and his mother’s boyfriend (Harry Carey, Jr.).  When he gets called for jury duty, Richard thinks that he will be able to easily get out of it but then he discovers that the defendant is someone from his part, even if she does not remember a thing about him.  Ever since the first grade, Richard has been in love with Molly (Colleen Camp) and now she is on trial for murder.  Richard lies about knowing who she is and gets selected for the jury.  When it starts to look like Molly might be convicted, Richard starts to investigate the murder himself.  His investigation leads him to two teenage blackmail victims (played by Kim Myers and Bodganovich’s future wife, Louise Stratten) and a tape of the murder being committed.  Illegally Yours attempts to be a screwball comedy but it just comes across as being frantic, with Lowe especially going overboard.  The actors all speak quickly but that can not disguise how lame most of the dialogue is.  The movie also comes with a clunky narration, a sure sign of post production desperation.

Made at a time when Peter Bogdanovich was mired in an expensive lawsuit over changes made to his previous film, Mask, Bogdanovich has said that he solely did Illegally Yours because he needed the money.  Bogdanovich has accurately described Illegally Yours as being the worst film that he ever directed.  Coming from the director of At Long Last Love, Nickelodeon, and Texasville, that is saying something.

Horror On TV: Tales From The Crypt 2.13 “Korman’s Kalamity”


Believe it or not, I was planning on sharing more than just episodes from Tales From The Crypt this October but seriously, these old shows are just so much fun!

For instance, consider tonight’s episode!  In Korman’s Kalamity, Jim Korman (Harry Anderson) is an artist who works on the popular and famous comic book … Tales From The Crypt!  (Needless to say, his name should also make you think of Roger Corman, as well.)  After his wife (Colleen Camp) orders him to take an experimental fertility pill, his drawings suddenly start to come to life!

Since Korman specializes in drawing monsters, you see how this could be a problem…

Korman’s Kalamity is a self-referential delight.  Needless to say, it’s all played for laughs and sentiment so be sure to sit back and enjoy!

This episode was directed by Rowdy Herrington (who also directed that cable mainstay, Road House) and originally aired on June 26th, 1990.

 

Back to School Part II #15: Joy of Sex (dir by Martha Coolidge)


Joy_of_Sex_Movie_Poster

Let’s say one positive thing about the 1984 “comedy” Joy of Sex.

The tag line on the poster: “Somewhere between virginity and senility, lies paradise,” is brilliant.  Whoever came up with it deserves a lot of credit because it sounds a lot better than anything that’s actually heard in the movie.

Let’s say something else good at Joy of Sex.  The two stars of the movie — Cameron Dye and Michelle Meyrink — both gave good and likable performances, even if their characters got a little bit annoying at times.  (Then again, just about everyone in Joy of Sex gets annoying.)  Also, there’s a subplot about an undercover cop (played by Colleen Camp) that predates 21 Jump Street and which occasionally shows off a few hints of genuine wit.

Otherwise, this is probably one of the worst of the 80s teen comedies that I’ll be reviewing for this series of Back to School reviews.  Joy of Sex is officially credited as being an adaptation of a sex manual that was popular back in the 70s.  According to the imdb and Wikipedia, Joy of Sex went through a rather tortured development.  At one point, it was going to be an anthology film, starring John Belushi and co-produced by National Lampoon.  However, Belushi died of a drug overdose, National Lampoon abandoned the project, and the final film turned out to be another high school film.  Imagine Fast Time At Ridgemont High … but really, really bad.

Leslie Hindenberg (Michelle Meyrink) is a student at Richard Nixon High School.  She’s the daughter of the school’s phys ed coach (Christopher Lloyd, playing what was probably meant to be the Belushi role) and, as a result, she is viewed as being untouchable, even by the sex-crazed boys of Nixon High.  The problem is that Leslie has recently discovered a mole on chest and is convinced that she has skin cancer.  Believing that she only has 6 weeks to live, Leslie sets out on a mission to lose his virginity.  However, she wants to lose it to the perfect guy and there aren’t many of those at her school.  (Can you really afford to be picky when you’ve only got 6 weeks to live?)  Add to that, everyone’s terrified of the coach…

Leslie’s lab partner is Alan (Cameron Dye), who is a nice guy.  He not only has a huge crush on Leslie but he’s also desperate to lose his virginity as well!  Problem solved, right?  Well, no.  See, Alan has been led astray by the new girl in school.  Liz (Colleen Camp) is tough, outspoken, and no-nonsense.  As soon as she shows up in school, she lets everyone know that she’s obsessed with two things — sex and drugs.  In fact, she’s especially interested in drugs…

A lot of students, of course, are suspicious of Liz.  She seems to be older than everyone else and speak in out-of-date slang.  “Could she be a narc?” some students wonder.  Well, actually, she is.  She is working undercover at Nixon High and is convinced that Alan knows who is supplying drugs to all of the students.  And, it must be said, that Colleen Camp really throws herself into the role.  As happens with most of the film’s subplots, the undercover narc storyline doesn’t really go anywhere but at least Camp made the effort.

Meanwhile, Leslie’s best friend has been kicked out of school because she’s pregnant.  Leslie approaches a local reporter, hoping to convince him to do a story about what’s happened.  And, while getting her best friend back into school, Leslie starts to wonder if maybe she’s found the right man to take her virginity…

(But wait!  We know she’s meant to be with Alan!  So, surely, the reporter will turn out to be a sleaze, right?)

But that’s not all!  Someone is running around the school and using superglue to play pranks.  Who could it be?  Will the crazy principle (Ernie Hudson) be able to maintain order until the big dance?  And will the portrayal of the school’s frequently confused foreign exchange student manage to get any more racist?

And what about Tom Pittman (Robert Prescott)?  Pittman is the most popular guy in school.  Pittman doesn’t really do a lot.  To make an undeserved comparison to Animal House, he’s kind of the Bluto character, just not as interesting.  Whereas Bluto smashed guitars and beer cans and gave inspiration speeches, Pittman tries to light his farts on fire and is something of a bully.  (There is a kinda funny scene where he’s suddenly nice to Leslie and everyone’s shocked.)  The most memorable thing about Pittman is that he wears thick black glasses which are held together by tape.  So, if nothing else, Joy of Sex is important chapter in the history of myopia in film.

Anyway, Joy of Sex has remarkably little joy and next to no sex.  I imagine that were riots in the theaters after this movie came out, as thousands of angry teenagers chanted, “We want joy!  We want sex!  When do we want them!?  NOW!”

There were a lot of great teen films released in the 80s.  Joy of Sex is not one of them.

Shattered Politics #93: American Hustle (dir by David O. Russell)


American_Hustle_2013_poster

“Some of this actually happened.”

— Opening Title of American Hustle (2013)

I have always been surprised by how much some people hate the 2013 best picture nominee, American Hustle.  Even two years after the film was first released, you’ll still find people whining that the film felt like David O. Russell’s attempt to remake Goodfellas (yes, I have actually seen more than a few people online making this idiotic claim) or claiming that the movie was overrated or that there wasn’t anyone in the film that they could root for.  While every film has its detractors, I’m always a little bit taken aback by just how passionately some people dislike this film.

Some of it, of course, is because the film that beat American Hustle for best picture was the universally acclaimed 12 Years A Slave.  As hard as it may seem to believe now, there were a lot of people who thought that American Hustle might actually beat 12 Years A Slave.  Strangely enough, a lot of online film bloggers tend to take a Manichaen approach to the Oscars, viewing each year’s race in terms of good and evil. The film that they want to win represents good and, therefore, every competing film must represent evil.  It’s a pretty stupid and immature way of looking at things but, then again, the stupid and immature approach has worked pretty well for Sasha Stone and Ryan Adams over at AwardsDaily.com so who am I to criticize?

Of course, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the majority of American Hustle‘s most strident online critics have been male.  I imagine that they watched the film and, in Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, they saw every unresolved crush of their adolescence.  When Amy Adams successfully fooled Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper, these critics saw themselves being fooled.  When Jennifer Lawrence called Bale a “sick son of a bitch,” these critics felt that they were being called a sick son of a bitch.  American Hustle is a film about men who don’t know how to talk to women and that probably struck a little too close to home for a lot of those online critics.

(I imagine that the majority of online American Hustle haters probably preferred Rooney Mara’s version of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to Noomi Rapace’s.)

Of course, the truth of the matter is that American Hustle was one of the best films of a very good year.  Of all the films nominated for best picture of 2013, American Hustle was my personal favorite.

Based, very loosely, on true story, American Hustle is a period piece.  It takes place in the late 70s, which of course means that we get a lot of great music, a scene in a disco, and clothes that are both somehow ludicrous and to die for at the same time.  It’s a glamorous film about glamorous people doing glamorous and not-so-glamorous things and how can you not love that?

Irving (Christian Bale, giving a brave performance) is a generally nice guy who also happens to be a con artist.  His unlikely partner is Sydney (Amy Adams), a former stripper turned Cosmo intern.  When Sydney is working with Irving, she takes on a totally different identity and tells people that she’s Lady Edith Greensly, a British aristocrat who has international banking connections.  When Sydney plays Edith, she speaks in a posh British accent and what’s interesting is that her accent is often (deliberately) inconsistent.  However, as Irving points out, it doesn’t matter whether her accent is a 100% convincing or not.  What’s important is that people want her to be Lady Edith Greensly and people will make excuses for almost anything as long as it confirms what they want to believe.

Eventually, Irving and Sydney are arrested by ambitious and highly strung FBI Agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper).  Richie, who spends a good deal of the film with curlers in his hair, lives with his mother and has a boring fiancée who he doesn’t seem to like very much.  (Richie is also briefly seen sniffing coke, which might explain a lot of his more extreme behavior.)  Richie wants to make a name for himself and he views Irving and Sydney as his way to do so.  He blackmails them into helping him set up and arrest crooked politicians and businessmen.  Richie also finds himself growing obsessed with Sydney, who he believes to be English even after she tells him that she isn’t.

All of this eventually leads to Irving and Richie setting up the Mayor of Camden, New Jersey, Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner).  Polito, who may be corrupt but who also seems to sincerely care about helping the citizens of his town, wants to revitalize gambling in Atlantic City.  Irving and Richie introduce him to FBI agent Paco Hernandez (Michael Pena), who is disguised as Sheik Abdullah and who they claim is interested in investing in Carmine’s plans.  This, of course, leads to a meeting both with a local Mafia don (Robert De Niro) and with several politicians who agree to help out the Sheik out in exchange for money.

(And no, the film did not lie.  This is based on a true story, believe it or not.)

Complicating things is the fact that Irving himself comes to truly like the generous and big-hearted Carmine and how can you not?  When the film was first released, Jeremy Renner was a bit overshadowed by Bale, Cooper, Adams, and Jennifer Lawrence.  However, Renner gives the best performance in the film, playing Carmine with a disarming mix of innocence and shrewdness.  He’s the type of guy who is smart enough to walk out on the first meeting with the fake sheik’s associates but who is still naive enough that he can be charmed by Irving.  When the fake sheik gives Carmine an equally fake knife as a gift, the look of genuine honor on Carmine’s face is heart-breaking.

The other big complication is Irving’s wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence).  Rosalyn is jealous, unstable, unpredictable, and, in her own way, one of the smarter people in the film.  She’s also a bit of pyromaniac and, when she accidentally blows up a new microwave, you’re really not surprised.  (And, when Rosalyn starts to obsessively clean the house while singing Live and Let Die at the top of her lungs, I felt like I was watching a blonde version of myself.)  When Rosalyn starts to have an affair of her own, it leads to American Hustle‘s satisfying and twisty conclusion.

(Again, a lot of the same online toadsuckers who irrationally hate American Hustle seem to hold a particular contempt to Jennifer Lawrence’s performance in this film, as if to acknowledge that Lawrence — as always — kicks ass would somehow be a betrayal of Lupita Nyong’o’s award-winning performance in 12 Years A Slave.)

Don’t listen to the haters.  American Hustle is a great film, a stylish and frequently funny look at politics, corruption, and the ways that people con themselves into believing what they want and need to be true.