[25 December 2006]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Ouch! Not so loud! SE&L is still nursing a massive holiday hangover, a pain perpetrated from processing all the potential titles one could count on to bolster their gift giving acumen this festive fake-out. Not only that, but we’re also trying to decide what to do with the iridescent blue tie, the Rocky Balboa party mug, and the “World’s Greatest Weblog” statuette we got as part of our Christmas swag. While the thought of returning such fine, thoughtful gifts would never cross our mind, it’s interesting to note how the crack commercial distributors have held back on three big summer releases for just that very reason. Don’t like the matching potholders your aunt insisted would perk up your kitchen? Horrified by the pair of plaid wool socks your spouse thought would make your season bright? Bewildered over how to respond to the ‘Fat, Bald and Sexy’ t-shirt your kids gave you? Easy, trade in said tacky trinkets and head on over to your local brick and mortar for a little digital healing. Nothing says self-satisfaction better than a DVD you picked out for yourself. So wake up early, get in line, and contemplate these 26 December releases. It will help make the lack of legitimate customer service that much more bearable:
Brian DePalma, once a Hollywood heavyweight with his Hitchcock homage style, has fallen on some substantial hard times as of late. Going back to 1984’s Body Double, his career has been loaded with fine, if flawed, efforts (Casualties of War, Carlito’s Way) and outright cinematic stool samples (The Bonfire of the Vanities, Femme Fatale). Resting somewhere right in the middle is this LA Confidential retread, a routine reading of James Ellroy’s novel about the mysterious murder of a Hollywood starlet. The true story is so riveting, so loaded with ominous ideas of death and dismemberment (the ‘Dahlia’ was found cut in half, face lacerated from ear to ear) that to have it take a backseat to more ‘good cop/bad cop’ showboating seems silly. But that’s exactly what this movie does. The Dahlia murder is more or less an after thought, thrown in randomly and resolved in one of the kookiest, over the top denouement’s ever filmed. Not a total waste of time…nor a return to form.
Like Borat a while back, SE&L just doesn’t see what the rest of the movie going public perceive about this Neil Marshall mess. The storyline has potential – a group of friends decide to explore a series of mysterious caves – and the set up has some startling notions about friendship and loss. But once our heroines go spelunking, the narrative literarly falls apart, moving through a series of false scares, claustrophobic contrivance, and attacks by creatures that are as unispired as they are hard to see. Marshall obviously believes in the Spielberg theory of shocks – he barely lets us witness any of the terror we’re supposed to experience. Instead, this is a creature feature as shell game, a one dimensional diversion that’s neither as scary as the hype projected, or as inventive as many fright fans have claimed. It’s just a routine thriller disguised as something more daring. About the only truly masterful element of the entire movie is the stunning soundtrack by David Julyan.
It’s more stunt silliness from the incredibly successful MTV madmen. Taking his inspiration from Tom and Jerry cartoons, and the adventures of one Wile E. Coyote, Johnny Knoxville has once again abandoned the Hollywood mainstream to attempt more scatological silliness for the extreme skate rat demographic. While the execution remains the same, some elements originally intended are missing here. Prior to his arrest on pedophilic-like charges during a Colorado appearance, Don Vito, Bam Margera’s etiquette impaired butterball of an uncle, was heavily featured in several set piece skits as part of this financially mandated sequel. Now, his scenes may or may not be part of this DVD release. In addition, so much footage was shot for the redux that a direct-to-digital offering or another big screen presentation is being considered. It just goes to show you that people can’t get enough of guys acting inappropriate and showering their private parts with potentially deadly ideas. Toilet humor was never so entertaining.
The reigning prince of post-modern male ennui, Zach Braff, stars in this tale of a mid-life crisis sped up by twenty years. Facing the fact that this longtime girlfriend is now pregnant (presumably with their child), Braff’s architect decides the best way to face his pending responsibility is via a roll in the hay with a local co-ed. He now must deal with the quandary such a triangle creates – baby or booty, biology or the dirty boogie. In the less than capable hands of actor turned director Tony Goldwyn, what wants to be incisive and deep ends up being intolerable and dreary. It’s not bad enough that Braff is having these growing pains so late/soon in life (it’s a human hissy fit usually reserved for the 15/45 year old demographic); no, he must whine about them incessantly in the kind of Paul Haggis scripted screeds that make you want to slap some sense into the character. Spending two hours with such a wuss is not worth anyone’s time.
The Legend of Boggy Creek*
For many a kid growing up in the ‘70s, this was one exploitation creepfest that really sent the spine into massive shivers. Drive-in moviemaker Charles B. Pierce crafted a docu-drama doozy out of an Arkansas style Bigfoot and a lot of bayou atmosphere, telling the tale of the notorious Fouke Monster and his skunk ape spree among the residents of a blinkered backwater burg. Perhaps the most effective element of the movie, the various shots of the Sulfur River swampland where the beast typically treads are accented by a supposed beastie bellow that’s so unsettling, it still makes the hairs stand up straight on the back of one’s neck. Over the years, this movie has fallen out of favor with fear fans, many dismissing it as another example of Pierce’s problematic oeuvre (he’s also responsible for The Town that Dreaded Sundown and The Norseman). But there is something unnerving about the way in which he handles this material, making schlock turn to shock with undeniable effectiveness.
Monarch of the Moon/Destination Mars*
Setting itself up, Lost Skeleton of Cadavra style, as a recently discovered lost remnant of the 1940’s cinematic serial scene, this dandy Dark Horse production has its issues, but actually does a bang up job of recreating the episodic feel of the long lost genre. Sure, some of the jokes are obvious – the Yellow Jacket character appears to be spewing speeches lifted directly from a certain George W.‘s jingoism – and there are moments when the lampoon looses its focus and disintegrates, but like a recent release from Tempe Entertainment – the terrific World War II superhero homage Project: Valkyrie – Monarch makes its devotion to the past both sincere and symbolic. Sure, all the “undiscovered artifact” advertising can grow a bit tiresome (some of us are still smarting from all the Blair Witch bullspit), and no one can accurately recapture the look and feel of films made over 70 years ago, but the effort put into this pleasant production more than makes up for the publicity propaganda.
What Alice Found
Borrowing elements of the Dogma ‘95 school of filmmaking with the seedy story of a lost woman forced into a life of truck stop prostitution, A. Dean Bell’s independent effort is all the more impressive for the cinematic standards it fails to embrace. With subject matter this tawdry, one would expect a scatological softcore sleazefest overloaded with crudeness, corruption and carnality. Instead, thanks to lead actress Emily Grace’s braveness, and her title character’s dogged determination, it’s all more dramatic than dirty. Through the use of digital video and a series of found locations, Bell brings a coarse realism to his tale, an authenticity that many movies of this sort more or less miss. While some have complained about the length of scenes and Alice’s inherent naiveté, what remains most effective is the sense of hopelessness and despair among the characters. Even the individuals responsible for Alice’s awful lot in life have issues that make them both disgusting and desperate.
And Now for Something Completely Different:
In a weekly addition to Who’s Minding the Store, SE&L will feature an off title disc worth checking out. For 26 December:
The cover art says it all – and it has to, since it’s near impossible to find any information on this film either on the Internet Movie Database or the World Wide Web in general. One source confirms that this is a tale about a desperate couple searching for a mad scientist responsible for the creation of some mutant mice. Cool! Indeed, how can you resist a DVD that offers a large, menacing rodent head, a beady evil eye, and the caption “The New Sound of Terror”. In general, most killer animal movies are awful, more campy than creepy and overloaded with amateurish acting and derivative directing. Scratch could be guilty of all these filmic flaws and many, many more. Still, the notion of reprobate rodents getting their gory groove on has a genuine genre jive to it. So lock up the wee ones, break out the popcorn, and cuddle up on the coach – this will either be a horrifying hit, or a hilarious hoot. Here’s betting on the latter.