4 Film Reviews: Bridge To Silence, The Chocolate War, Kiss The Bride, Wedding Daze


Last week, I watched six films on This TV.

Which TV?  No, This TV!  It’s one of my favorite channels.  It’s not just that they show a lot of movies.  It’s also that they frequently show movies that are new to me.  For instance, last week, This TV introduced me to both Prison Planet and Cherry 2000.

Here are four other films, two good and two not so good, that This TV introduced to me last week.

First up, we have 1989’s Bridge to Silence.

Directed by Karen Arthur, Bridge To Silence was a made-for-TV movie.  Lee Remick plays Marge Duffield, who has a strained relationship with her deaf daughter, Peggy (Marlee Matlin).  After Peggy’s husband is killed in a traffic accident, Peggy has a nervous breakdown.  Marge and her husband, Al (Josef Sommer) take care of Peggy’s daughter, Lisa, while Peggy is recovering.  However, even as Peggy gets better, Marge still doesn’t feel that she can raise her daughter so Marge files a lawsuit to be named Lisa’s legal guardian.  While all of this is going on, Peggy is starring in a college production of The Glass Menagerie and pursuing a tentative romance with the play’s director (Michael O’Keefe).

Bridge to Silence is one of those overwritten but heartfelt melodramas that just doesn’t work.  With the exception of Marlee Matlin, the cast struggles with the overwrought script.  (Michael O’Keefe, in particular, appears to be miserable.)  The film’s biggest mistake is that it relies too much on that production of The Glass Menagerie, which is Tennessee Williams’s worst play and tends to be annoying even when it’s merely used as a plot device.  There’s only so many times that you can hear the play’s director refer to Peggy as being “Blue Roses” before you just want rip your hair out.

Far more enjoyable was 1988’s The Chocolate War.

Directed by Keith Gordon, The Chocolate War is a satirical look at conformity, popularity, rebellion, and chocolate at a Catholic boys school.  After the manipulative Brother Leon accidentally purchases too much chocolate for the school’s annual sale, he appeals to one of his students, Archie Costello (Wallace Langham), to help him make the money back.  Archie, who is just as manipulative as Leon, is the leader of a secret society known as the Vigils.  However, Archie and Leon’s attempt to manipulate the students runs into a roadblack when a new student, Jerry Renault (Illan Mitchell-Smith) refuses to sell any chocolates at all.  From there, things get progressively more complicated as Archie tries to break Jerry, Jerry continues to stand up for his freedom, and Leon … well, who knows what Leon is thinking?

The Chocolate War was an enjoyable and stylish film, one that featured a great soundtrack and a subtext about rebellion and conformity that still feels relevant.  John Glover and Wallace Langham both gave great performances as two master manipulators.

I also enjoyed the 2002 film, Kiss The Bride.

Kiss The Bride tells the story of a big Italian family, four sisters, and a wedding.  Everyone brings their own personal drama to the big day but ultimately, what matters is that family sticks together.  Directed by Vanessa Parise, Kiss The Bride featured believable and naturalistic performances from Amanda Detmer, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Brooke Langton, Monet Mazur, and Parise herself.

I have to admit that one reason why I liked this film is because it was about a big Italian family and it featured four sisters.  I’m the youngest of four sisters and, watching the film, I was reminded of my own big Irish-Italian family.  The movie just got everything right.

And then finally, there was 2006’s Wedding Daze.

Wedding Daze is a romantic “comedy.”  Anderson (Jason Biggs) asks his girlfriend to marry him, just to have her drop dead from shock.  Anderson’s best friend is afraid that Anderson will never get over his dead girlfriend and begs Anderson to not give up on love.  Anderson attempts to humor his friend by asking a complete stranger, a waitress named Katie (Isla Fisher), to marry him.  To everyone’s shock, Katie says yes.

From the get go, there are some obvious problems with this film’s problem.  Even if you accept that idea that Katie would say yes to Anderson, you also have to be willing to accept the idea that Anderson wouldn’t just say, “No, I was just joking.”  That said, the idea does have some comic potential.  You could imagine an actor like Cary Grant doing wonders with this premise in the 30s.  Unfortunately, Jason Biggs is no Cary Grant and the film’s director, comedian Michael Ian Black, is no Leo McCarey.  In the end, the entire film is such a misjudged failure that you can’t help but feel that Anderson’s ex was lucky to die before getting too involved in any of it.

Film Review: Factory Girl (dir by George Hickenlooper)


Oh God.  Factory Girl.

Released in 2006, Factory Girl was a biopic about Edie Sedgwick, the tragic model/actress/artist who was briefly both Andy Warhol’s muse and one of the most famous women in America.  Before I talk too much about this film, I should probably admit that I’m probably the worst possible person to review a movie about Edie Sedgwick.

Why?

Allow me to repost something that I wrote when I reviewed Edie’s final film, Ciao Manhattan:

“In the late 60s, Edie Sedgwick was a model who was briefly the beautiful face of the underground.  Vogue called her a “youthquaker.”  She made films with Andy Warhol, she dated the rich and the famous and for a brief time, she was one of the most famous women in America.  But a childhood full of tragedy and abuse had left Edie fragile and unprepared to deal with the pressures of being famous.  She was fed drugs by those who claimed to care about her, she had numerous mental breakdowns, and, when she was at her most vulnerable, she was pushed away and rejected by the same people who had loved her when she was on top of the world.  Edie died because, when she asked for help, nobody was willing to listen.

 

Edie Sedgwick (1943 — 1971)

I guess I should explain something.  I don’t believe in reincarnation but if I did, I would swear that I was Edie Sedwick in a past life.  Of all the great icons of the past, she, Clara Bow, andVictoria Woodhull are the ones to whom I feel the closest connection. (Edie is the reason why, for the longest time, I assumed I would die when I was 28.  But now I’m 29, so lucky me.)”

(Incidentally, I wrote that two years ago and I’m still alive so, once again, lucky me.)

Anyway, my point is that I’m always going to be a hundred times more critical of a film about Edie Sedgwick as I would be about any other film.  If you’re already guessing that I didn’t particularly care for Factory Girl, you’re right.  However, there are some people whose opinions I respect and some of them love this film.

Anyway, Factory Girl is a biopic that’s structured so conventionally that it even opens with Edie (played by Sienna Miller) narrating her story to an unseen interviewer.  I can count on one hand the number of successful biopics that have featured someone telling the story of their life to an unseen interviewer.  It’s a conventional and kind of boring technique.  Anyway, the film follows all of the expected beats.  Edie arrives in New York.  Edie is spotted by Andy (Guy Pearce).  Edie makes films with Warhol.  Her famous dance in Vinyl is recreated.  Edie becomes Andy’s platonic girlfriend but then, she meets and falls in love with Bob Dylan…

Oh, sorry.  He’s not actually Bob Dylan.  According to the credits, his name is Folksinger.  He says Bob Dylan type stuff.  He rides around on a motorcycle.  He carries a harmonica.  Oh, and he’s played by Hayden Christensen.

See, the first half of Factory Girl is actually not bad.  Sienna Miller gives a pretty good performance as Edie, even if she never comes close to capturing Edie’s unforced charisma.  Despite being several years too old, Guy Pearce is also credible as Andy Warhol.  The film itself is full of crazy 60s clichés but, even so, that’s not always a terrible thing.  Some of those 60s clichés are a lot of fun, if they’re presented with a little imagination.

But then Hayden Christensen shows up as Bob Dylan and the film loses whatever credibility it may have had.  Hayden, who gave his best performance when he played a soulless and largely empty-headed sociopath in Shattered Glass, is totally miscast as a musician who once said that if people really understood what his songs were about, he would have been thrown in jail.  The film attempts to portray Dylan and Warhol as two men fighting for Edie’s soul but Christensen is so outacted by Guy Pearce that it’s never really much of a competition.  Even though the film makes a good case that Edie’s relationship with Andy was ultimately self-destructive, Guy Pearce is still preferable to Hayden Christensen trying to imitate Dylan’s distinctive mumble.

Anyway, Factory Girl doesn’t really work.  Beyond the odd casting of Hayden Christensen, Factory Girl is too conventionally structured.  In its portrayal of the Factory and life in 1960s New York, the film never seems to establish a life beyond all of the familiar clichés.  (Before anyone accuses me of contradicting myself, remember that I said that the old 60s clichés are fun if they’re presented with a little imagination.  That’s a big if.)  At no point, while watching the film, did I feel as if I had been transported back to the past.  If you want to learn about Edie Sedgwick, your best option is to try to track down her Warhol films.

Edie!

Back to School Part II #31: Empire Records (dir by Allan Moyle)


empire_records_poster

The 1995 film, Empire Records takes place in a fictional record store.  The store is located in a state called Delaware, which I’m pretty sure is fictional as well.  (Have you ever actually met anyone from Delaware?  And don’t say Joe Biden because we all know he’s just a hologram…)  Empire Records is a beloved institution, an independent record shop that’s as well-known for its lively employees as its amazing selection of music!

However, things are not perfect in the world of Empire Records.  The store is owned by a heartless businessman named Mitchell (Ben Bode).  Mitchell hates Empire Records and usually just lets the store manager, former drummer and Scott Stapp-lookalike Joe (Anthony LaPaglia), run the place.  However, Mitchell has decided to sell Empire Records to the soulless and corporate Music Town franchise.  Oh my God!  If Empire Records becomes a Music Town, the employees will have to wear orange aprons!  They won’t be allowed to wear anything too revealing or have any visible piercings!  And nobody will be allowed to dance in the aisles!

Over the course of just one day, can the staff of Empire Records find a way to save their store!?

It would be easier if not for the fact that a hundred other things happen over the course of that same day.  A shoplifter (Brendan Sexton III, who co-starred in the very different Welcome to the Dollhouse the same year that he appeared here) keeps trying to steal stuff and, at one point, he even shows up at the store with a gun!  Is it possible that he just wants to join the Empire Records family and is just hoping that he’ll be offered a job?

And then there’s Rex Manning!  That’s right — it’s Rex Manning Day!  Who is Rex Manning?  Well, he used to star on a show called The Family Way and his nickname is Sexy Rexy.  He has truly memorable hair.  Middle-aged people love him but most young people think that he’s a joke.  Rex is going to signing copies of his latest album at Empire Records and you better believe that he’s brought blue cheese salad dressing with him.  There’s a reason they call him Sexy Rexy and it’s not just that Rex Harrison is no longer around to object.  Rex is played by Maxwell Caulfield.  Caulfield steals every scene that he appears in and it’s hard not to feel that he’s playing a version of who he could have become if Grease 2 hadn’t bombed at the box office.

rexmanningday

And, of course, all the members of Empire Records staff have their own personal problems to deal with.  Fortunately, since this is a breezy and comedic movie, nobody has problem that can’t be solved within ten to fifteen minutes.

For instance, Debra (Robin Tunney) is suicidal and shows up for work with a big bandage on her wrist.  After clocking in, she promptly shaves her head.  Debra is depressed and troubled but guess what?  All she needs is for her friends to hold a mock funeral in the break room.  (And who is taking care of the customers while everyone else is eulogizing Debra?  Probably Andre but we’ll talk more about him in a moment…)

Berko (Coyote Shivers) appears to be Debra’s boyfriend but he doesn’t seem to be that good of a boyfriend.  Berko’s a musician and he wants to make it big.  Solution to his problem: an impromptu concert on the roof of Empire Records!  And you know what?  Coyote Shivers was not the world’s best actor but the song he performs, Sugar High, will stay in your head long after you hear it.

Eddie (James ‘Kimo’ Williams) has no problems, probably because he also works at a pizza place and he makes the best brownies in the world.  Except, they’re not ordinary brownies … hint hint hint….

Mark (Ethan Embry) only has one problem: his character, as written, is pretty much interchangeable with Eddie’s.  But, fortunately, Embry gives such a totally weird performance that you never forget who he is.

Lucas (Rory Cochrane) tried to help Joe out by taking the previous night’s cash receipts to Atlantic City.  Lucas, however, is not a very good gambler and ends up losing all of the money at the result of one roll of the dice.  Lucas’s problem is that Joe is going to kill him.  The solution is to spend almost the entire movie sitting on the break room couch and making snarky comments.

Gina’s problem is that everyone thinks that she’s a slut, mostly because that’s how the character is written.  Fortunately, Gina is played by Renee Zellweger and she brings a lot of depth to an otherwise underwritten role.  One of the film’s best moments is when Gina and Berko perform together because Zellweger really throws herself into the song.  Watching that scene always makes me want to sing along with them.  It’s funny that Zellweger has even a stronger Texas accent than I do and yet, she can really sing while I mostly certainly cannot.

sugar-high

Then there’s Andre!  Andre’s problem is that he ends up getting cut out of the film.  However, he’s still listed in the credits, which is how we know that he was played by Tobey Maguire.

A.J. (Johnny Whitworth) is an artist.  How can you not love a struggling artist?  His problem is that he’s in love with Corey (Liv Tyler) but Corey is obsessed with losing her virginity to Rex Manning.

Actually, that’s not the only problem that Corey has.  Corey, who is in high school but has recently been accepted to Harvard, is a driven overachiever.  Occasionally, we see her popping a pill.  Oh my God, is she using speed!?  Of course. she is.  How else is she going to be able to both study late and maintain her figure?  If I don’t seem too concerned about Corey’s pills, it’s because I pretty much take the same thing to keep my ADD under control.  They’ve worked wonders for me!

But not so much for Corey.  In fact, they cause Corey to kinda freak out and attack a cut-out of Rex Manning.  Fortunately, the solution to her drug problem is pretty simple.  She just has to splash some water on her face.

As for her virginity problem, well … it is Rex Manning Day!  Judging from this film and Stealing Beauty, it would appear that film goers in the mid-90s were obsessed with Liv Tyler losing her virginity.

Anyway, there are like a hundred overly critical things that I could say about Empire Records.  I’ve seen this film a number of time and there are certain scenes that always make cringe — like Debra’s funeral or when Joe starts banging away on his drum set.  A lot of the dialogue is overwritten and the whole things occasionally seems to be trying too hard.

And yet, I can’t dislike Empire Records.  In fact, I actually really like it a lot.  It’s just such an earnest and sincere movie that you can’t help but enjoy it.  Meanwhile, the cast has so much energy and chemistry that they’re just fun to watch.  This is one of those films where it’s best just to shut off your mind, say “Damn the man!,” and enjoy what you’re watching for what it is.

Add to that, I love that ending.  Everyone dancing on top of the store?  Perfect.

Quickie Review: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (dir. by Neveldine/Taylor)


Ghost Rider has always been a niche character for Marvel Comics. The character was born out of an earlier Marvel character named Night Rider. After Marvel writers Roy Thomas and Gary Friedrich and artist Mike Ploog had rein-visioned the character into Ghost Rider during the early 70’s it has always remained on the extreme fringes of the Marvel Comics universe. This wouldn’t stop Sony (which owned the film rights to the character) to go ahead and adapt it for the big-screen. 2007’s Ghost Rider by Mark Johnson was the first and failed attempt to turn the character into a film franchise. It still made enough money despite a near-universal panning of the film by critics and audiences alike. This turn of profit is why Sony once again dipped into the Ghost Rider well and come up with 2012’s Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.

This “sort of” sequel ditches Mark Johnson and brings in the dynamic (and I’d say somewhat insane) directing duo of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor to helm the film. It brings back Nicolas Cage for the role of Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider. Working from a script by Scott Gimple, Seth Hoffman and David S. Goyer one would think the film had nowhere else to go but up especially with the wacky and frenetic filming style by Neveldine/Taylor. To say that this sequel failed to do anything but finally give this film franchise a final nail in it coffin would be an understatement.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance ditches pretty much most of what transpired with the first film and tries to retcon things for the sequel. I’d say this would’ve been a good idea seeing the first film was truly awful, but what the sequel ended up doing was confuse things even more. The film tries to turn the Ghost Rider persona from just a spirit of vengeance but an angelic being called the spirit of justice which had become corrupted. We get the Devil in the form of Roarke (played by Irish actor Ciaran Hinds) searching for the young boy Danny who is to be his perfect vessel.  Johnny Blaze comes into the picture after being recruited by a drunk French warrior-monk by the name of Moreau (Idris Elba whose performance was one of the lone highlights of the film) who promises to exorcise the demon from Blaze in exchange for finding and saving Danny.

This would’ve been a good premise if it had several more drafts of it worked on. Though there’s still a chance the film would’ve still sucked in the end. Even the direction from Neveldine/Taylor (Crank, Crank: High Voltage, Gamer) failed to add any heat to the proceedings. They come up with some unique camera angles and action sequences, but gone was the hyper-realistic and frenetic style they’ve become known for. Their previous films were not stuff to write to one’s film critic circles about but they at least had a sense of fun built into them even if their stories defied any sort of logic.

Even the performances by the cast seemed to be something that barely reached the level of one-dimensional. Nicolas Cage tries to channel his inner crazy by way of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, but it’s too little too late to save the film which never found any sort of footing on the side of competent. Really, the only good thing worth of note was my previous mention of Idris Elba as Moreau who chews the scenery every time he shows up on the screen like it was his last meal. This performance alone wasn’t enough to save the film or even make it somewhat entertaining.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance was not worth seeing in the theater (especially in 3D though that part of the film was actually quite well done despite being a post conversion) and I’d be willing to admit that it’s still not worth seeing on video unless it was for free. What could’ve been a restart to the series with the inclusion of Neveldine/Taylor instead gives this franchise it’s death-knell and most likely help Marvel get the rights back from Sony. Here’s to hoping that the flaming skull rider stays on the fringes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for decades to come.

Trailer: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance


Ok, the first Ghost Rider wasn’t what one would call something great or even good. I’d say that in the scheme of how we judge films that one was quite awful. Yet, it also had a certain charm which made watching it on cable. Maybe not paying to see it makes it more enjoyable in a “guilty pleasure” sort of way. The fact that 2007’s Ghost Rider actually made a profit is why we have this sequel now set to come out in a couple months.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance was suppose to be a sequel, but people involved in the project say it’s a sort of retooling/reboot. Whatever they need to do to make themselves justify this second film is ok by me as long as it’s entertaining in the end. From looking at the trailer, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance has less of the camp of the previous film and is all about action. Some of the action scenes look to be ludicrous, but cool looking and having directing-duo Neveldine/Taylor of Crank series and Gamer controlling the project means be prepared for even more over-the-top action.

If this film can be entertaining in a grindhouse way despite it’s flaws (like another early year film of Cage’s in 2011, Drive Angry) then I’d say making this second film would’ve been worth the price of admission (at least a matinee-ticket).

Film Review: Limitless (dir. by Neil Burger)


This review is a little late.  I saw Limitless last Friday and I was hoping to write up this review on Sunday.  Unfortunately, I ended up 1) not sleeping at all between Saturday night and Sunday morning and 2) having a massive, life-threatening asthma attack between Sunday night and Monday morning.  Anyway, this all led to the usual Emergency Room hijinks (I’m on a first name basis with a lot of the nurses now and it was nice to get all caught up with them once I finished nearly dying) and then I came home a few hours later, intent on writing up my review but then I was ordered to rest and anyway, it all boils down to this: the review is late.

In Limitless, Bradley Cooper plays Eddie.  Eddie is a writer who is suffering from a terrible case of writer’s block.  He’s divorced, he drinks too much, and his tiny apartment is seriously so filthy that I would never step foot in it, even if it was owned by Bradley Cooper.  In short, Eddie’s a loser.

However, one day, Eddie runs into Vernon (Johnny Whitworth).  Vernon is Eddie’s former brother-in-law but even more importantly, he’s a drug dealer.  After hearing about Eddie’s troubles, Vernon gives Eddie a pill which is designed to allow Eddie to use 100% of his brain as opposed to just 20% of it.  (Wisely, the film doesn’t spend too much time trying to explain how exactly the drug works but essentially, it’s the strongest ADD medication ever.)  Reluctantly, Eddie takes the pill and, half-a-minute later, he’s the smartest man on the planet.

(Actually, the film’s advertising is deceptive.  The pill doesn’t make Eddie smarter as much as it just allows him to focus his mind and remember all of the thousands of little lessons that we learn everyday and lose track of almost immediately.  Director Neil Burger does something very clever here, making use of flashbacks to illustrate the difference between Eddie’s mind on drugs and his mind while sober.  Most importantly, the film doesn’t make Eddie the smartest man on the planet, just the most focused.)

After one day on the drug, Eddie wakes up to discover that he’s a dullard again.  He goes to Vernon to try to get more of the drugs but, during the visit, Vernon is murdered by persons unknown.  Eddie manages to escape with Vernon’s stash and quickly finds himself both addicted and succesful.  He finishes his book in a matter of days.  He makes a fortune on the stock market.  Eventually, he is hired as a financial advisor by a ruthless business tycoon (Robert De Niro) and he transforms himself into the center of the universe.

At the same time, Eddie grows more and more dependent upon the drug and, with Vernon dead, he has no way to replenish his own dwindling supply.  As he tries to find someone else with a supply, he discovers that everyone else who has tried it has ended up dying as soon as their supply ran out.  He also discovers that someone knows about his supply and they’re determined to take it away from him.  As well, he soon starts to suffer from black outs as time and space apparently skips around him.  One morning, he discovers that a woman he vaguely realizes was murdered during one of his blackouts.  Is he the murderer?  Or is there a greater conspiracy at work?

As a film, Limitless is definitely uneven.  It meanders a bit in the middle, Robert De Niro is wasted in a role that seems more appropriated for an actor like Frank Langella, and there’s a lot of plot points that just seem to vanish after they’re introduced. 

However, flaws and all, Limitless is still an enjoyable little thriller that on a few very rare occasions manages to suggest something deeper going on beneath the surface.  The premise is intriguing and, though I could have done without some of Cooper’s heavy-handed, off-screen narration, the film is intelligently written and even has a few moments of genuine wit.  Director Neil Burger does a good job contrasting the drabness of Cooper’s life as a sober loser with the vibrancy of his existence as a victorious addict.  Burger also does a good job of visualizing those moments when Cooper’s mind starts to skip through time and space.  Speaking as someone who has had similar experiences while taking dexedrine (which I take for ADD, it’s all legal), these scenes ring surprisingly true.

Much like Inception, Limitless is fortunate to have an excellent cast.  Everyone in the film seems to be taking his or her role seriously and works to keep things compelling and relatable no matter how outlandish the plot might occasionally get.  Abbie Cornish (who starred in one of my favorite films of all time, Bright Star) doesn’t get to do much in the role of Cooper’s girlfriend but she does get one great scene where she has to take a pill in order to escape a pursuer.  (And after seeing that scene, I’ll never watch ice skating the same way again.)  Johnny Whitworth oozes a potent combination of sleaze and charisma while Anna Friel has a poignant cameo as Cooper’s ex-wife.  Playing a Russian mobster, Andrew Howard is both funny and scary (which is saying something since the sarcastic Russian mobster is such a familiar character archetype that I now roll my eyes whenever I hear a Russian accent in a film because I know exactly what’s coming up).

However, the film truly belongs to Bradley Cooper and he probably gives his best performance to date here.  I have to admit that I love Bradley Cooper.  I’ve loved ever since I saw the Hangover.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t love him because he was the guy making snarky comments in Vegas or encouraging his friends to be irresponsible.  Quite frankly, those scenes could have been acted by an actor with a cute smile.  No, I fell in love with Bradley Cooper at the end of the film when I saw his character at his friend’s wedding, holding his film son in his lap.  There was something surprisingly genuine about Cooper’s performance in those scenes that it forced me to reconsider everything that had happened in the film up to that point.  Those scenes offered a hint that Cooper is the type of talented movie star that Limitless proves him to be.

Review: Gamer (dir. by Neveldine/Taylor)


No one will ever mistake the writer-director duo of Neveldine/Taylor (Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor) as the next Coen Brothers, but they definitely have made their mark in creating entertaining films which some have called exploitative, pandering to the lowest common denominator and exercises in excess. Maybe these critics are right, but they also seem to view the films by these two filmmakers through the narrow-minded lens of their elistist and so-called cineaste sensibilities. They won’t be the next Coen Brothers but they’re way ahead of other so-called filmmaker duos such as The Spierig Brothers (Undead and the pretentious and awful Daybreakers) or The Strause Brothers (AvP: Requiem and the awful Skyline). They came onto the scene with their cult classic action thrillers Crank and it’s sequel, Crank: High Voltage.

Their third film took the gaming influences so inherent in their first two films (which for all intents and purpose were video games that happened to be film) and went the next step. Gamer is all about a near-future world where two games with on-line social media foundations have become the rage of the entertainment world. One is a game called “Society” that looks to be the nightmare evolution of privacy advocates everywhere to the on-line virtual world Second Life and The Sims. It is the other game in this film which makes up the foundation of the film’s plot. “Slayers” takes the ultra-popular multiplayer on-line experiences of games such as Call of Duty and HALO to the next level by allowing gamers to actually control real people (inmates sentenced to death) to act as their avatars in a real-life battlefield arena with real weapons and real deaths.

These games which have become the obsession of hundreds of millions of people worldwide are the brainchild of the film’s antagonist. Michael C. Hall plays the creator of these games and his performance looks to combine the sociopathic charm of his Dexter character with that of Steve Jobs is the latter was openly honest about his douchebag tendencies. Playing his opposite is the character of Kable who happens to be the reigning champion of the game Slayers and who knows a secret that could tear down the billion-dollar empire created by Castle. Gerard Butler plays the desperate but very capable inmate Kable who just wants to survive past the final match and earn his freedom thus return to his wife and young daughter on the outside.

Gamer posits the question of how far are we willing to go to experience realism in our games and entertainment. With the game Society people pay to be able to control other people in a social setting (albeit in a controlled area). These so-called avatars will do anything and everything their real-life controllers tell them to do. In the film these avatars get paid to become virtual slaves and with most people signing up for the job being the socially desperate. Their situation is not so dissimilar from the condemned inmates who populate the game Slayers. The film hits the audience with a sledgehammer that these virtual entertainments have become popular worldwide because people have stopped looking at these “volunteers” as real people. Morality has been replaced by the need for instant gratification by way of these virtual on-line systems.

The film doesn’t make any apologies for the heavyhanded delivery of it’s message and also doesn’t skimp on the entertainment side of the equation. Neveldine/Taylor have shown that they have a certain flair for creating visual chaos and action on the screen. Their unique visual style does look like something out of a video game especially those from hyperrealistic shooters such as Call of Duty and its ilk. The filmmakers have always accomplished the high-quality visual look of their films despite the low to modest budget given to them by the studios they’re working for. Gamer is no exception and the film benefits from the decision by these two filmmakers to continue working with the Red One digital cameras thus allowing them to add in the visual effects right into the shot scenes the very same day of shooting.

It’s this very style of hi-tech guerrilla filmmaking which makes Neveldine/Taylor this current era’s Cormans. Unlike most low-budget filmmakers they don’t use the size of their budget to dictate how their films turn out visually, aurally and narratively. The first two this film succeeds in ways that makes an audience think the film was higher budgeted than it really was. The third would depend on the viewer whether the film succeeds or not. For those who seem intent on viewing every film as if they were made to be worthy of high awards and accolades would probably dismiss and hate this piece of exploitation cinema. Gamer succeeds in a narrative sense because it delivers on the promise of telling a story about a world where free will has been seconded to control in the need of a population in search of a the next virtual playground. It’s a heady premise that has been explored in past films such as the Matrix Trilogy and another film similar to this one which came out weeks later in Surrogates.

Gamer doesn’t have the philosophical and existential sermoning in combination with futuristic action sequences as the Wachowski Brothers’ trilogy, but it does have the same visceral action DNa as those three films and also more entertaining than the Bruce Willis vehicle Surrogates. This film will appeal to the very people who it condemns as sheep to the rising tide of on-line control in entertainment, but then that’s what all exploitation films tend to do best. Cater to the very people it uses as examples of what’s wrong in society and build an entertaining film around them and what they represent.

The film’s cast revolves around Gerard Butler and Michael C. Hall and the roles they play. Whether its Amber Valletta playing Kable’s desperate wife who has sold herself to become a controllable avatar in Society to try and earn enough to get her young daughter back or to Logan Lerman playing the role of Simon the gamer who controls Kable during the Slayer matches. They all do enough with their roles to keep their characters from becoming less than one-notes. Again, for some having a film with characters that are quite basic and one-note might make for a bad film, but when put into context of the story being told they’re quite good and needed to become motivators for Butler’s character.

In the end, Neveldine/Taylor have made a modern day exploitation and grindhouse film in Gamer without having to resort to the visual tricks used in the Rodriguez/Tarantino grindhouse homage film Grindhouse. A film doesn’t need to have film scratches, overexposed film stock, scratchy audio track or missing film reels to be grindhouse. It just have to espouse the very nature of the films which made up the kind of films which became prime example of grindhouse/exploitation cinema. Gamer won’t win any awards, but I suspect that more people who saw it were entertained by it’s blatant, in-your-face entertainment than would normally admit to it. It’s a film that has cult status and guilty pleasure written all over it.

Plus, this film is definitely worth at least a curiosity viewing if just to see the musical number performed by Michael C. Hall at the climactic sequence near the end of the film. I don’t think any film has ever combined gratuitous violence, musical dance numbers using bloodied death row inmates and Michael C. Hall singing Frank Sinatra’s “Ive Got You Under My Skin“. That sequence alone is worth a rental or Netflix Instant streaming.