Monday, August 31, 2009

THE FINAL DESTINATION - A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW



David Ellis has been on my radar forever. I have been vocal for years that I am his biggest fan. He is one of the busiest men in Hollywood and has been for some time with a career that goes back to old-school Disney/Kurt Russell THE STRONGEST MAN IN THE WORLD territory. From there he did stunts in SCARFACE, he was an opponent in ROCKY III, he did stunts for LETHAL WEAPON, and was a stunt coordinator for FATAL ATTRACTION. The list is formidable. For keeners, his name caught a lot of attention for his second unit director work for THE MARTIX RELOADED. This means that he was involved with that fantastic highway scene. Ellis then did his own highway scene for FINAL DESTINATION 2 which I personally cite as one of my all-time favorite sequences of cinematic mayhem. Ellis also got a lot of attention for his direction of SNAKES ON A PLANE. The movie was a commercial failure, but everyone sure talked about it online, creating a powerful buzz for it. Next was another teen fright-film that absolutely no one saw called ASYLUM (“Once you are in you can never get out.”). Now Ellis is back in control of the Final Destination series with THE FINAL DESTINATION. This is supposedly the last film in the franchise, though with horror franchises, they tend to die rather hard.

The Final Destination series is simple and corny. The framework has been the same in every one of the films. A teenager gets a premonition that everyone around them is going to die in some particularly violent fashion, but when the foreseen catastrophe actually strikes, it tends to be muted compared to the vision. The teenager is able to “save” a few of those marked for death, and then the majority of the film involves the unseen force known as Death picking the survivors off one by one. This has been the pattern, and this latest installment follows through with it.

The most interesting thing about this series is the various methods used to kill the teenagers. The Final Destination series is no more than a creative twist on the classic slasher movie concept. There is no angry goalie or finger bladed pedophile though; everything is a potential killer in a Final Destination movie, and usually the deaths are extremely creative.

The rules of standard horror films apply to the Final Destination deaths as well. Jerkier characters get uglier deaths than the decent characters. A lucky character might survive one film, but they will be killed in the next. The point, however, is that ultimately, everyone will die…violently.

The violence continues in THE FINAL DESTINATION. The protagonist, Nick O’Bannon (Bobby Campo) has his death premonition at a race track. The ensuing deaths, while painful and vicious, are downright goofy. How does an engine block from a race car fly into the stands and land in someone’s lap? If there is one thing that Ellis has done in these films, it is a rewriting of the explosive nature of cars on impact. FINAL DESTINATION 2 had cars exploding and shooting flames in the air for any type of impact. Ellis follows a similar route in THE FINAL DESTINATION, but it seems like he held back a bit this time around. Cars do flip and throw their tires and other parts at the innocents, but the intimacy of the experience just isn’t there.

When Ellis was at the helm of FINAL DESTINATION 2, he showed us what was happening in each of the vehicles before he blew them all to hell. We understood the people who were driving and we understood the passengers. We were put in the eye of a completely unfair maelstrom and then detonated. THE FINAL DESTINATION keeps the mayhem in the race track stands, thereby generating a visceral detachment between ground zero and impact. This isn’t a problem with the plot, but it is a problem with the experience. Nick O’Bannon is able to save a few lives, a fact which unravels Death’s master plan of executing them all at once. This is the formula that has worked with the three previous films, but by this time around, we all know the drill, and it is getting tired.

Halfheartedly, there is an attempt to introduce new factors to the Final Destination plot framework. Nick has coded, symbolic death premonitions throughout the film (versus the standard one at the beginning), but this only gives us red herring after red herring and is more tedious than entertaining. The teenagers in this film are all relative newcomers to the Hollywood grind. The guys are model-quality handsome, and the girls are there to look good and maybe stand around in their boyfriend’s underwear. The key non-teens in this film are represented by Mykelti Williamson who plays George Lanter the security guard and Krista Allen who plays the MILF (serious, read the credits) named Samantha. Williamson and Allen both attempt to work with what they are given, but their roles are so basic and stereotypical that two nobodies could have been hired for less to round out this cast.

The actors all suffer and die violently as the pattern dictates. There is an obligatory sex scene which means a solid breast shot or two for the kids who snuck in. There is also a good portion of profanity. Unfortunately, this movie is lacking in the death department. Viewers of this series of films are expecting new twists and turns in the destruction of human bodies. But these deaths are mostly forgettable. Splatter is present, and we see hunks of flesh and lots of spray, but nothing fantastic or really noteworthy except a death at the bottom of a swimming pool that is reminiscent of Chuck Palahniuk’s short story “GUTS.”

THE FINAL DESTINATION offers nothing new. It has been done better before by the same director. David Ellis is capable of more. He knows how to choreograph mayhem, and his professional eye has brought some of the most beautifully exquisite moments of all-out chaos to the big screen. I went into this film hoping to see some more of the wonderfully cacophonous destruction that he has trained me to love. It isn’t in THE FINAL DESTINATION. My disappointment in this installment of the series, and in the director is paramount. Death has obviously come for this franchise, and frankly, he can have it.

-Mediasaurus Rex




Click the movie poster at the top to be taken to the review at MyMavra.com


Sunday, August 30, 2009

THE INFORMERS - A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW


Bret Easton Ellis is a wrecker. He is out to hurt you, gentle reader. On a whim, I read AMERICAN PSYCHO back in the early 90s, and I still sport the scar tissue. A friend of mine years later gave me a VHS copy of LESS THAN ZERO starring Robert Downey Junior which is based on Ellis’ debut book. The movie was so ugly that it confirmed my antipathy for Ellis’ work. THE INFORMERS is a film based loosely on Ellis’ 1994 book of short stories of the same title.

THE INFORMERS is an ensemble piece, much like Altman’s films NASHVILLE or SHORT CUTS. Set in 1983, THE INFORMERS contains about seven interweaving stories all put to an exclusively 80s musical backdrop. The players in this film are strong. Mickey Rourke, Kim Basinger, Winona Ryder and Billy Bob Thorton all deliver what is required of them. Chris Isaac also delivers a convincing, perpetually drunken role that demonstrates him as an actual actor and not some washed up crooner.

Opulence and decadence are at the center of this film about wasted, rich youth sexing and drugging their way through their listless lives. If that isn’t enough, the film shows how the parents and older relatives of this group pass their corrupt baton of self-centered amorality to their kids. It is almost like Bret Easton Ellis was so proud of the maniac he created (Patrick Bateman) in AMERICAN PSYCHO that he has found an excuse to make an entire crew of sociopaths.

There is nothing positive to be expected from Graham (Jon Foster) who has just lost his friend in a freak auto accident. Graham’s girlfriend Christie (Amber Heard) is a quaaluded out, polyamorous trinket that bounces between Graham and his friends. She is doing a lot of sleeping with Graham’s music video director friend Martin (Austin Nichols), and this is giving Graham a slight twinge of stress. But his discomfort is barely tangible because he is completely stoned most of the time.

Graham is dealing drugs, and it is never really clear why. He doesn’t need the money. His mother Laura (Kim Basinger) knows about his drug sales, but she is drinking herself into oblivion while sleeping with Martin and nursing a broken heart over her separation from her husband William (Billy Bob Thorton). William is playing like he is still interested in Laura so as to avoid a divorce that would likely bankrupt him. But his heart is actually lost to Cheryl (Winona Ryder) a local newscaster. Cheryl can’t seem to break completely away from William, and William can’t seem to get the message that Cheryl is trying to get away. Somewhere in this train wreck of lives, Les Price (Chris Isaac) a degenerate, drunken father, drags his son to Hawaii to reconnect over Mai-Tais. There is also a subplot about a band called The Informers, and their story is completely concerned with more of the same unhinged moral abandon that permeates this glossy meditation on garbage.

Underneath all of this R-rated soap opera fluff is Uncle Pete (Mickey Rourke) a pedophilic criminal straight out of the deserts of Barstow. In truth, and my pro-Rourke bias aside, Uncle Pete is the most interesting character in this film. Rourke upstages so hard that actors in surrounding scenes are sucked out of the movie by the force of his performance. He drives a serial killer van, dresses like a thrift store-shopping pimp, and has a girlfriend who is obviously a minor. Pete can’t be bothered with her age, nor does he even break his stride when he kidnaps a ten year old boy to sell into what seems to be a prostitution ring. Pete stashes the kid in a bathtub at the house of his off-kilter nephew Jack (Brad Refro).

THE INFORMERS is actually dedicated to Brad Renfro who died of a heroin overdose while the film was nearing the end of its production. It is unfortunate that Renfro died of a heroin overdose. It is even more unfortunate that this offensive film is his last piece of work.

When the convoluted plot finally stabilizes in the last scene, it is didactic to the point of irritation. The threat of AIDS isn’t just alluded to; it is hammered home to the viewer. This could have been an interesting film if there was a reason to care about the wasted lives involved. This movie is trash, focused on trash, and needs to be thrown away like trash.

There is a bright spot in all of this refuse though. The official movie soundtrack for THE INFORMERS pounds. 7Ray’s “SCARLET SKY” is a beautiful, synth-heavy tribute to everything good about 80s pop music. The Flock of Seagulls “I RAN” sounds as good as it did when it was slapped back to life for GRAND THEFT AUTO: VICE CITY. Like a good slathering of hot sauce, The Simple Minds, Gary Numan, Wang-Chung, and Men Without Hats all add wonderful nostalgic flavor to something inherently rotten.

The film works mostly in a negative direction and misses except for the acting and the soundtrack. The younger actors in this film carry the weight of the drama, but the elder, headlining actors cement the experience with roles of varying disturbance, showing how completely lost the generation was before the 80s. These actors all do their jobs convincingly enough, they just have nothing special to do but convey some sort of soul vacancy.

Bret Easton Ellis is a king at scripting bleak, opulent existence. Bret’s book sequel to LESS THAN ZERO is slated to come out next year, and honestly, I am tired of the world he wants us to see. It would probably be dangerous for him to consider writing human beings with souls because it would jeopardize his career as an expert on a loser sub-category of a specific era.

It is not clear what was going on when he and Nicholas Jarecki put THE INFORMERS script together. Apparently there was supposed to be a vampire subplot in this mess as well. However, when the producers dumped Jarecki as director and went with Gregor Jordan, he gutted the script and killed all aspects of the preternatural. The soulless spirit abides however. In truth, what were we supposed to expect from Ellis? This is a man who is out to hurt us. Fortunately, this film doesn’t really succeed in offending or inspiring an after-film coffee conversation. If anything, it is successful in being boring. THE INFORMERS is as vacuous as its characters. It is a film devoid of humanity.

-Mediasaurus Rex

More of my musings can be found here.

Questions? Email me here

INFORMERS THREAD in the MEDIASAURS FORUMS

INFORMERS OFFICIAL SITE

7RAY OFFICIAL SITE

Friday, August 28, 2009

KERBEROS - A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW


KERBEROS, directed by and starring Kely McClung, is the coolest independent crime drama you have never heard of. You will though. This is one of those special films that claws its way to the top and demands respect.

With the tagline of “The gates of hell go one way,” KERBEROS is named for the three-headed dog that guards those very gates. The film drags the viewer to that dog and forces a staredown. It is a protracted, visceral gaze into the abyss executed with devastating precision. As is typical for the genre, this gritty film has interesting plot twists and heavy dose of violence. But unlike a typical Hollywood crime drama, KERBEROS is human at its core. Its primary focus is the ambiguous nature of the human experience and the compromises we all have to make to function with personal integrity.

The complexity of the main character is evident in the first scene. The wide-angle that frames the opening shot in the rainy graveyard with Mike Finn (Kely McClung) standing over his daughter's grave sets a sad and poetic tone. His squared form is that of a brute. His face is handsome yet rough, and there is an air of thuggishness about him. But when Finn leans over to kiss the grave, it is clear that this is a man with regrets, a man of tenderness. As the camera follows the movements of his face, it reveals a very, very thoughtful individual.

Mike Finn lives in an apartment building across the hall from a corrupt cop, Tony Menacci (Stan Harrington). We first meet Tony sexually menacing a prostitute (Courtney Hogan) in a scene that firmly establishes him as a brutal scumbag. He is also abusive towards his wife and stepdaughter, Katie (Whitney Sullins). Sullins' performance and McClung's direction give Katie the luminous appeal of all that is good and unsullied.

Finn has a wholesome relationship with Katie. The teenaged girl playfully snaps Finn’s picture with her new Polaroid camera. The relationship he has with Katie is simple and platonic on par with that of a father to a daughter. Finn is saddled with self-loathing for his brutal past. But Katie knows that he is a good person and tells him so.

When Katie is caught photographing her crooked cop stepfather involved in two particularly brutal murders in an alleyway, the leash is officially off of this beast of a film. More and more criminal characters and elements are introduced, and many want a piece of Katie. Some want Katie for her photographs; others want her for her connection with Finn. As the film builds in its complexity, our comprehension of the characters and theirs of each other becomes increasingly confounded.

There are two things that are straightforward for the viewer, however. We learn that Finn went to jail for a bank robbery and that he has a way with his fists. Finn spends some of his free time watching and betting on FIGHT CLUBesque street fights. Several flashbacks to Finn in prison show the kind of fighting machine that Mike Finn actually is. Despite unfair odds, Finn has survived prison brawls unbroken; rather they seem to have made him even more determined. Determined for what? That is part of the beauty of this story. Finn has a secret. After prison Finn tries to go straight. But there are some evil people who want his secret exposed, and they will use the bluntest of force to get their answers.

Finn is forced to shrug off his attempt to be a decent citizen and embrace his inner violent demons when Katie disappears. And immediately it is made bone-crunchingly clear that no one is going to stop him from getting Katie back to safety. The beatings that Finn administers get rougher and rougher as the film continues. In some ways this movie builds like a gritty, updated and Americanized GAME OF DEATH. Finn has to fight his way up the chain of antagonists, and the audience has to hang on and unravel the plot as the bodies drop. We are well into the brutal third act before it is really clear what Finn is holding onto. This film is so thick that when it ends and the mayhem is over, the viewer is left with many scenes to reflect upon. And all of those scenes contribute to the air-tight plot.

As the story develops, the violence gets heavy. It will make you squirm. A tangible air of menace is hovering in most scenes. As smarmy, dangerous characters led with charm and smug assurance by Armstrong (Robert Pralgo) are introduced, the metaphoric assimilation of KERBEROS, the three-headed dog of the damned, is brought to completion. All of the characters in this film stand at the gates of their own private hell, and the majority of them are destroying each other as they jockey for some sort of power.

All of this violence looks real. Production values are high. This is an independent film with a limited budget, clocking in at well under $100,000 for production, and I will be damned if I don’t tell you it looks like something that cost well over a million. Executive Producer Brad "the coolest guy on the planet" Fallon is sure getting his money's worth. Details like gravestones, police vehicles, the snarl of a Mustang’s V-8 and the percussive sound of bludgeoning fists are all precise, reveled in, and demonstrate intimate levels of care taken in the making of KERBEROS.

There is a feel to this film that is McClung’s signature. His style is his own. It references Tony Scott, Antoine Fuqua, and Joe Carnahan, but does not completely bite their styles. In KERBEROS the camera perspective often alternates between extreme close-up and wide angle, between intimacy and distance. Also at times crucial elements are left offscreen generating suspense and paranoia. As a filmmaker, Kely McClung has stamped his own mark here. He has created a world that is his and feels like a place he could possibly return to with a different film.

Crime films are common. They are often badly made and so prevalent that they tend to be a nuisance. Clichés are rampant, and the implausible narrative elements that an audience is forced to accept have become ridiculous. KERBEROS is a film that recognizes these failings and compensates with sophisticated dialogue and a loose-end-free plot.

Even the relatively good movies that one thinks of when compiling a list of recent crime-thrillers are all trumped in one way or another by KERBEROS. Jason Bourne takes out a couple of traffic cops in THE BOURNE IDENTITY, but the beating is sterile compared to what Finn does to policemen. The Mexican standoff in RESERVOIR DOGS is trumped to such a degree that you will have to see it to believe it. The “get that gun out of my face” motif running through TRAINING DAY is trumped too. This film takes the traditional crime drama and adrenalizes it in new, unexpected ways.

Plus the characters are fleshed out. The actors act here. No one is limping through this production. They all have their own way about them, and none seem to be reflecting a standard template. All are compromised and negotiating painful lives. The will of several characters is violently tested, and lives are thrown away. The lives of those that aren’t completely snuffed are marred physically and spiritually.

Filmmaker Kely McClung has lovingly thrown himself at this project and come correct. KERBEROS is currently nearing the end of its post-production. I was able to view a first test screening at Indie Fest in Anaheim. Keep your ears open in order to secure a viewing. Mark my words: you are going to hear about this film again and again. You heard it here first.

-Mediasaurus Rex

Visit the official KERBEROS site here

Visit the KERBEROS at INDIE FEST site here

Watch the KERBEROS trailer here

Check the KERBEROS thread in the Mediasaur Forum

More of my musings can be found here.

Questions? Email me here

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

KERBEROS REVIEW TEASER




The teaser article.




I have a story for you.




It is a story about bolting 400 miles south to Los Angeles on a whim to meet Kely McClung, the director of the hardest crime film I have seen in a long time.




It is a story of myself having enough faith to get down there to see this film play at the Indie Fest. It is a story about a director who is not a director, but a filmmaker. It is a story of a mesmerizing afternoon with a man who breathes the very films he creates. It is a story about sitting down to watch a film done on a low budget and seeing how much dedication, love and skill was poured into the project.



This plot is thick, and it crackles. I woke up the day after the showing still chewing on it. KERBEROS is relentless, gritty and human. I absolutely loved it, and I really would like to see Kely McClung make more films of this caliber.




I am serious, if more filmmakers took a page from Kely's work ethic book, there would be such a positive change in Hollywood that it boggles my mind.




The truth of the matter is that KERBEROS is the coolest independent crime film you have never heard of.




More on this to come.




Curious?






Friday, August 21, 2009

WORLD'S GREATEST DAD - A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW


Every now and then a movie crawls out of the independent feature pile that presents a view of humanity so vile and atrocious that it forces the viewer to go introspective and question their own ethics and morality. A movie like THE DOOM GENERATION takes homophobia and runs violently amok with garden shears on the sensibilities. A movie like SPANKING THE MONKEY offers sleeping with one’s mother as an alternative to masturbation. The WORLD’S GREATEST DAD presents a similarly appalling take on auto-erotic asphyxiation. But it falls short of its attempt to jar the viewer to the core, and the gesture at the end towards redemption of all of the darkness is ultimately unsatisfactory.

A lot of critics have been trumpeting this film as the triumphant return of Bobcat Goldthwait, the twitchy, raspy-voiced slouch who got his big start in the POLICE ACADEMY movies. He has been scarce since his massive commercial flop SHAKES THE CLOWN back in 1991. SHAKES THE CLOWN has its funny moments, but it completely unraveles towards the end. The scene with a kid pissing in the hung-over birthday clown’s face is funny, but that is just about all the entertainment that the film offers. SHAKES THE CLOWN failed, and Goldthwait disappeared into the abyss of cartoon voicing and comedy sketch directing.

WORLD’S GREATEST DAD sees Goldthwait back in the director’s chair on a film that he has also written. As with SHAKES THE CLOWN, the third act unravel happens as if on cue. Goldthwait has written himself into a corner. He “Hollywoods” himself out of this corner by manually righting all of the fixable wrongs. But this feels artificial, and then the film is without direction for the final ten minutes. These are some of the most excruciatingly protracted minutes of film I have ever endured.

Furthermore, although the sight of Robin Williams’ genitalia and a baptism cliché suggest that deliverance might be at hand, it isn’t. The door to complete redemption is closed softly but clumsily in our face. Goldthwait can direct some pretty scenes, but he is more talented at fumbling a third act than Spike Lee.

WORLD’S GREATEST DAD stars Robin Williams, who plays Lance Clayton, a broken, nebbish high school poetry teacher. Lance has a son named Kyle (Daryl Sabara) who is an Internet porn crazed, offensive, uncreative teenager. Sabara is an amusing choice for this role considering his clean SPY KIDS past.

Lance Clayton is a failed writer. He has several unpublished novels under his belt, attendance in his poetry class is dwindling, and the class might get cancelled if he can’t inspire his students. Kyle, a discipline case at the same school, is inches away from being bounced into special education for his constant misbehavior.

Early on in the film Lance catches Kyle masturbating while choking himself out with a belt. Lance processes this disturbing revelation in a matter of fact way that characterizes him as completely milquetoast. He isn’t terribly troubled, and Kyle isn’t remotely embarrassed. Their relationship is portrayed as fraught, filled with parental concern and teenage contempt. Kyle is a jerk. There is nothing loveable about his character. Clearly, Kyle is written this way in order to propel the plot after he successfully kills himself with the previously mentioned masturbation technique.

The only bright spot that Lance has in his life is the sexy young art teacher named Claire (Alexi Gilmore) who acts like she is into Lance but is really interested in a younger more athletic teacher. It is very clear that Lance needs a catalyst for his life to take off in the direction that he wants it to. This catalyst is the death of Lance’s irredeemable son.

Upon discovering Kyle’s corpse, Lance stages a hanging suicide rather than the accidental jerk-off/choke-out death that really happens. He writes a really heartfelt, verbose suicide note for Kyle, the note is made public, and soon the whole school is mourning the loss of a great, intelligent, sensitive peer. Everyone is now claiming a piece of Kyle. Lance capitalizes on this outpouring of saccharine sentiment to secure his girlfriend and realize his own literary ambitions as a ghost writer for his dead son.

Sick? Yes. Cynical? Definitely. Tasteless? No question. But the real problem with this film is that none of it leads to any sort of meaningful insight. The conclusion of the film attempts to offer some closure, but it is unsatisfactory.

Humorwise, the jokes are far apart in WORLD’S GREATEST DAD and when they do show up, they are messy, disjointed, and lame. Bobcat Goldthwait is back in the directing chair, but seriously, he isn’t doing much there. The only thing that is going to keep this film from fading completely into obscurity is the subject matter. Goldthwait has pulled the same trick he did with SHAKES THE CLOWN. He presents a relatively novel idea and literally beats it to death before our eyes. WORLD’S GREATEST DAD is incomplete. It is the product of someone who has meditated deeply on the trash in the gutter and not figured out how to present it in a funny, dramatic, or entertaining way.

-Mediasaurus Rex

More of my musings can be found here.

Questions? Email me here

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

THICKER THAN WATER AND AN INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR PHIL MESSERER - A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW


THICKER THAN WATER, an award winning independent film by Phil Messerer, presents vampires as the monsters that they are. Vampire lore has been heavily compromised in pop culture of late. This film is a welcome return to the traditional portrayal of vampires as shadowy, heavily conflicted sociopaths that hunt and feed on human beings. Messerer presents vampire existence as painful and unenviable. But it isn’t all bleak. THICKER THAN WATER has some solid, quirky comedy embedded into it that works well with the dark subject matter.

THICKER THAN WATER has snapped up such notable awards as Best Director at the B-Movie Fest and Best Horror at the Indie Film Gathering. It has also received nominations for Best Actress and Breakout Star at the 2009 Action on Film Festival.

For months now, I have been on the warpath, hoping to secure a viewing of this film. It started when Herb West at MyMavra.com wrote a review for THICKER THAN WATER. I was so intrigued that I posted the following after the article:

Goddammit. I am on my Blackberry and I have the kid at the local video store at gunpoint. He doesn't know anything about this movie or anything else for that matter. I think I will snuff him and drive up the street to the next so-called "video store." It is gonna be a long night.

Messerer responded with the following:

Disclaimer: The filmmaker takes no responsibility for any violence towards video store clerks resulting from the unavailability of this movie. Unless they are vampires, in which case decapitation is the most reliable course of action. Thank you for your support.

After reading this retort from the director himself, I knew that this Phil Messerer guy was no joke. I also knew that he had a sense of humor.

And now I have seen the film. I am thankful that I didn’t have to actually smoke anyone to secure a viewing, and it was worth the wait.

I have had the opportunity over the past bit to pick Phil’s brain and get a feel for where he is coming from. Messerer’s take on vampire mythology is on-point. This man knows his stuff and exactly what he is doing. He gives a nod to the classic vampire lore while re-interpreting it in a fresh direction.

THICKER THAN WATER is the first installment in a trilogy of films that sets the groundwork for what promises to be a really solid vampire epic. Embedded within the first film is a narrative of the history of modern vampires. The main plot concerns the Baxter’s, a family in crisis. The parents are struggling in their relationship, their eldest is struggling with his sexuality, and the twin teenage girls (one who is goth and one who is popular) are struggling with a strong dislike for each other.

The catalyst comes when the goth sister Lara (Eilis Cahill) casts a spell upon her popular sister Helen (Devon Dionne). What is supposed to result in some acne triggers the death of Helen. The movie takes its vampiric turn when Helen comes back from the mortuary, covered with the blood of someone else.

The family is presented with a dilemma—how to receive their daughter in her transformed state. Religion dictates that Helen not be fed. But the religious mother of the family (Jo Jo Hristova) chooses to compromise her ideology in favor of her daughter’s survival. In scenes reminiscent of the original HELLRAISER, blood soon covers the walls of the family basement, and the body count climbs. Strange experiments are conducted, and a general fraying away of conventional family life is presented.

What is most striking about this film is the extreme attention to plot and detail. Writer/producer/director Phil Messerer has dug deep within himself to present this story with a lot of care. I want to say a lot about this story, but the parts that piqued my interest most violently are complete spoilers. There are smart twists in the story that will make you bust your thumbs as you fumble for the rewind button. Overall, the horror genre would be better if more films had this much care invested in the plot.


I had the opportunity to ask Phil some questions about the production of THICKER THAN WATER and the rest of THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, and he offered a lot of fun insight into the project.

From writing the screenplay to your last edit, how long did it take you to nail this project?

I wrote the screenplay in the summer of '03. There was an earlier draft that had been sitting around for about a year. I had a reading with a group of actors, and it wasn't very good. But it did get a few laughs. That's when I realized its greatest potential was dark comedy. We started shooting in the fall of '03. I got my last shots in the spring of '06. So production ran two and a half years. As you can imagine, I was cutting it as I was shooting, so I pretty much had a decent rough cut at that point. I fine-cut the film on a beach in Brazil that winter. In the summer of '07 we started our festival run. That ends this fall. This year I started getting it out there. The buzz started growing pretty quickly. Over 50 positive reviews in five months. It should have a proper release next summer. So basically it's a seven year project. Sure, life gets in the way; I mean it's like the ultimate “side project.” But I don't mind. We took our time, and I think we got it right.

There are a lot of religious themes running through THICKER THAN WATER. Were you raised in a religious home by any chance?

Yeah, my Mom was a devout Catholic. She would often cry in church. I could never really comprehend the depth of her religious devotion. I believe in God; in fact, I believe that I could never have made the film without God's help. But I'm not religious. I feel like I don't need a book or a church to be close to God. But as to whether God exists, well, the world is just too perfect. There is just too much order to the universe. And life, I believe, is the end purpose of the universe, not some random accident. Accidents produce chaos, not order.

How big was your budget?

I had two hundred grand. But it had to last. That's the hard part. Towards the end I was operating on fumes.

Tell us about that house that was wrecked during the shoot. Was it a rental? There is arterial spray on the walls and a lot of furniture throwing going on there...

Actually, we left the house untouched. It belonged to the parents of a friend of mine and I promised to take good care of it. Most of the gore takes place in the basement for a reason. If you know anything about architecture, you might realize that the Baxter house actually has no basement. I banked on the fact that most people don't know about architecture. The basement I got through a stroke of luck. Actually it was a disaster. But isn't the Chinese word for catastrophe the same as the word for opportunity? The townhouse I was living in caught on fire. The entire third floor burned down. My apartment was spared. But the owner used the insurance money to fix up the house including renovating the basement. I had a three week window to do my worst down there before they tore it up. One funny note is that the renovators just painted over the fake blood on the walls in the closet. The blood was made of corn syrup, and months later, when it got hot, it started seeping through the white paint. The poor girl living down there at the time was very religious and believed the walls were bleeding with Jesus' blood. The furniture I got at Salvation Army. It's always fun to destroy stuff. I think I want to destroy every set I build. Might as well, right?

Do you see yourself branching out of horror?

Absolutely. I don't really see myself as a horror filmmaker. Horror to me is a tool, like a close-up. It is something I'm not afraid to use when it's called for. But I don't really want to make horror for horror's sake. I am very bored by movies with slow creeping shots through dark corridors and stupid crap jumping out at you. I need a good story. That to me is far more important that figuring out what shelf the flick will go on at Blockbuster.

What is your honest opinion about the new teeny-bopper vampire phenomenon?

I don't know. I don't really see it as having anything to do with me. I'm certainly not trying to appeal to the Twilight crowd. They're a bunch of twelve year old girls dreaming of the perfect prom date--hardly your traditional horror audience. I think most Twilight fans will tell you they're terrified of blood. If you notice, not an ounce of it is spilled in the film. In a sense you have to give Stephanie Meyer some props. She made vampires accessible to a G audience without resorting to Abbott and Costello fare. And who knows, maybe some of these girls will go on to become horror fans. But no, my audience is a little older and a lot more diabolical.

What is your definition of fear, and when do you feel that it has best been communicated in film?

Simply put, cinema in general succeeds when it suspends disbelief. If it can make you forget, even for just a second, that you're watching a movie, then any emotional reaction is possible. Fear, especially, depends on suspension of disbelief. Realism is key. To me, the best kind of horror is the kind that might happen to you on the way home from the theater.

Every movie has a "crazy set story" what was yours?

We have a few. It's one of those indie productions that deserves its own movie. For one thing, there was no running water in the Baxter house. We were shooting in the middle of winter and the pipes had frozen. And we're working with blood. I'll never forget Devon, the vampire, getting in her car in the morning, still covered in blood and driving home. We were all praying she wouldn't get stopped. Ironically she was going to her day job as Cinderella for kids' parties.

Currently you are working on part 2 of THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, and then there will be a third part, what comes after that?

I don't know. I mean, I keep writing. And as a writer I don't limit myself. I've written a western, a mafia flick, a boxing flick and a kids' flick. I will definitely continue working with horror, but I'd like to continue to experiment merging genres. I think horror works best when it's not the main focus of a picture, when it appears almost incidental. My style is more dark comedy anyway. Thicker Than Water is equal parts horror, dark comedy, and drama. These are tough moods to reconcile. You kind of have to let one mood settle before moving on to the next. And you have to be careful they don't undermine each other. But if done right, I think they can seem very natural together. I think the best films have a bit of everything. Just like life.

Where do you see yourself as a filmmaker in 10 years?

Making a comic book flick for Marvel.
-Mediasaurus Rex

If you want to get your hands on THICKER THAN WATER: THE VAMPIRE DIARIES part 1 you can order it here:
https://www.createspace.com/245503

For more on THE VAMPIRE DIARIES visit the official website here: http://vampirediaries.wetpaint.com/

For the original review that got my attention visit MyMavra here:
http://www.mymavra.com/apps/blog/show/902099-the-vampire-diaries-thicker-than-water

More of my musings can be found here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

DISTRICT 9 - A SPOILER FREE BADASS MOVIE REVIEW



I was a big fan of DEAD ALIVE. But post KING KONG, the name Peter Jackson really doesn't do it for me anymore. With that project he seemed to have completely abandoned his irreverent horror roots in favor of becoming another corporate director of mainstream fluff. So when the hype started to trickle down several months ago that Jackson was producing DISTRICT 9, I was interested but not completely sold.

Because of my lack of faith in Jackson and the nonstop fanboy hype, I went into it ready to hate it. But the film won me over. I can safely say that DISTRICT 9 is the best film of the summer, possibly of 2009 so far.

How can I gush about this film without ruining it? Believe me, I am going to try.

The setting is Johannesburg, South Africa. An alien flying saucer has been stalled in the sky overhead for 20 years, the 1.8 million aliens on board moved into a concentration camp beneath it on the earth's surface. The South African government has been "taking care" of the aliens, but the conditions in the camp are poor. The aliens live in garbage and squalor, and the human residents of Johannesburg want the aliens gone.

Racism and greed are the key elements in this film. The people who they puppet are gnarled, vile humans, and the aliens are the victims.

In an interesting turn of the plot, some Nigerian gangsters run their crime syndicate and prostitution ring from inside the alien compound. What the film presents is the trump card to the "wretched hive of scum and villainy" presented with Mos Eisley in Star Wars Episode IV. The difference here is that the evil that is afoot in D9 is palpable and real, vs. completely satirized or downgraded.

The emotional connection to the viewer is made with Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) who is an agent assigned to oversee the relocation of the aliens.

The marketing of the film tried to hide how the aliens look, and it is no spoiler for me to tell you that they are plated, tentacled humanoid creatures that look like any number of aliens you may have seen in any number of films in the past. Unlike gimmicky films such as CLOVERFIELD, the substance of D9 goes way beyond what the monsters look like.

As Wikus gets deeper into the alien compound, darker secrets that the aliens and the humans harbor are exposed. Soon the film crosses the line from bizarre documentary to all-out horror show. Sharlto Copley does a fantastic job of portraying the changes and compromises Wikus has to undergo in order to comprehend the aliens that he is relocating. He shifts from a bumbling suit to a darker, more self-centered individual and then into someone who's humanity is completely compromised. It is wonderful and horrifying at the same time.

What is on trial here is the oldest question in the book: "What does it mean to be human?" Wikus's journey through this film chronicles this very question. Furthermore, Christopher, the alien Wikus befriends, is arguably the most "human" character in the film. He is a model citizen, following the rules of the land, and he is a good father watching out for his son. Just because these aliens look like fishy alligator men doesn't mean that they don't possess human qualities. Some of the aliens are "good," and some are "bad," just like human beings.

A similar notion was put across in the abysmally inferior 1988 James Caan vehicle ALIEN NATION. In fact the many similarities between D9 and ALIEN NATION could be drawn with several pen strokes. But in the end, D9 is a much more honest film.

Being a human is a lot more than having skin and a certain bi-ped look. Who is the "other" here and who belongs? D9 takes a violent look at this question and doesn't shy away from its findings.

This film starts off rather tame and ends on a similar note. However, the violent fraying of morality, senses, and most importantly humanity that happens in-between is jarring.

The splatter is steady, and the effects are solid. The film presents all sorts of ugly aspects of bureaucracy, from private government contractors to weapons manufacturing. Greed is the name of the game here, and the aliens are at the center of it all.

Devastator balls be damned. For a fraction of the TRANSFORMERS 2 budget D9 offers a level of conflict that the former couldn't secure. Furthermore,
D9 offers a crippling amount of truth and insight into the human condition. D9 knows what it is doing. This film looks deep into the eye of humans cohabitating with aliens on this planet and shows us what we need to fear, which is obviously, and not so obviously, ourselves.

The fanboys were right this time out. Completely. All of the hype is accurate. This is a fantastic film.
-Mediasaurus Rex

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

THE ORPHAN - A SPOILER FREE BADASS MOVIE REVIEW


I got knocked sideways by THE ORPHAN, and I LIKED IT. I intended to watch it because I am the biggest Vera Farmiga fan on the planet. I feel that Vera Farmiga is an extremely sincere actor, and I put that on Paul Walker’s RUNNING SCARED. But honestly, as a cynical thriller fan, I wasn’t ready for the humbling that I took or the fun that I had watching THE ORPHAN.

Two weeks ago a friend of mine told me that he was hearing nothing but good things about this movie. I shot back recklessly that I had heard nothing but trash about it. But the seed had been planted.

THE ORPHAN is everything that you don't expect it to be. From the previews it looks like a teeny-bopper PG-13, but it actually turns out to be a pretty rugged R. The previews also fail to suggest how strong some of the performances are in this film. Plot-wise, this film is clockwork. It is pieced together with care, love and a lot of thought for the seasoned thriller viewer.
The tagline "You will never guess her secret" is right; you won't. And when it is revealed, all of the loose ends in the film tighten up and cinch so violently that your head will be spinning for the next few hours. Mine was.

The plot is realistic enough. A well-off couple adopt a nine year-old girl, Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman). This couple has suffered through a series of tragedies. There has been an affair, alcoholism and most brutally, a stillborn child at the end of a pregnancy term. These are hurting people with a four year-old deaf daughter and an introspective son in elementary school.

As Esther is integrated into the family, the issues plaguing them are revealed incrementally. It is a brilliant device that keeps the audience empathizing with the family as you get to know them. It becomes apparent that a child like Esther is the last thing that these people need. When Kate (Vera Farmiga) spurns the sexual advances of her husband John (Peter Sarsgaard), it is off-putting until the news of the affair is revealed. When the two finally manage a tryst, we are watching, and so is Esther.

This sort of discomfort continues. The marketing and the title of the film, set us up to expect the worst out of Esther, and we get it. She is indeed a heartless manipulator. She kills a pigeon without the slightest wince simply to "put it out of its misery." She exacts violent revenge on a fellow student and manages to sidestep the consequences. And she plays headgames. She plays the kind of headgames that pit the other family members against each other.

Also, how does Esther know so much about the world around her? How come she is an orphan from Russia but there are no records of her birth? How is she such an accomplished artist? How can she play flawless Tchaikovsky?

If I have one complaint about his film, it would be regarding the limp-wristed, easily manipulated characterization of the adoptive father, John. He is inexplicably oblivious the chaos brewing in his own house. This is a plot hole so wide you can reach your hand through it and grab the writer on the other side. It is too easy that such blindness is given to the patriarch, a character who would otherwise be expected to regulate the situation. Esther's game is divide and conquer, and with a mark as easy as John, she is able to really run this family hard.

As the tension mounts, every scene contains a level of stress. When the secret is finally out, all hell breaks loose with such precision and finesse that you want it to linger as long as possible.

This thriller is good enough to see in the theater and it will be a fantastic DVD rental. I even woke up the other night and connected more dots from the film. The enjoyment that I have had as a result of THE ORPHAN is much more than I ever expected. This film is akin to going to a garage sale and finding a rare collectible in the 25 cent box. It was a treat to get humbled by a film that looks like a benign GOOD SON retread. THE ORPHAN is way out of the GOOD SON’s league. Do your best to stay away from the spoilers, and have yourself a great time.
-Mediasaurus Rex

ZOMBIELAND




It has been a slow week. Yes, last week was the big comic convention in San Diego, but seriously, the news coming out of there was lacking. Furthermore, the usual leaks have been plugged. I have had a beast of a time trying to lock down that IRON MAN 2 footage. When it shows, I will host it and front page it.



You doubt me? To back up the previous statement, I am posting a link to an unauthorized trailer for ZOMBIELAND. Lots of people are saying that ZOMBIELAND looks like SHAUN of the DEAD on the American tip. They might be right. However, this unauthorized trailer shows some promise. Woody Harrelson is a no-nonsense zombie destroyer, and it works. It is great to see Harrelson back and vicious. He hasn't had this kind of glint in his eye since NATURAL BORN KILLERS.



This trailer was up online for a few hours before it was yanked. It has pre-production marking all over it. Worth your time if you are even slightly curious.
*edit* If the above link is down, understand that it is the draft of the original RED_BAND trailer for this film which can be viewed here: