Monday, September 28, 2009

TRICK R TREAT - A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW


TRICK R TREAT - A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW

TRICK R TREAT is a trip back to the solid horror fare of the 80s. It hits those same old-school horror notes that HATCHET hit a few years ago. Written and directed by Michael Dougherty (Screenplays for X2 and SUPERMAN RETURNS), TRICK R TREAT is delivered with a playful, dark precision. There are four stories running through TRICK R TREAT, but it feels like there are ten. The stories are so well detailed yet open-ended that they leave the viewer wishing for more. The timeline is chopped and reworked so that images from one scene suddenly take on new meaning later on in the film. All of these subplots flow and mesh masterfully within the dark and playful storytelling.

When Henry (Tahmoh Penikett) tells his wife Emma (Leslie Bibb) not to blow out the candle in their jack-o-lantern, he says that “there are rules. You might upset someone.” Well that someone is Sam who looks like a kid with a burlap sack over his hydrocephalic head. Emma blows out the candle, and as Sam approaches Henry and Emma, we see with his burlap vision that he has now taken a creepy interest in this couple.

Sam isn’t the only menace in this sleepy Ohio town. A popular neighbor named Steven (Dylan Baker) is steadily poisoning kids with his candy and quirkily burying them in his backyard. His neighbor, Mr. Kreeg (Brian Cox), crudely interacts through the fence with Steven but has problems of his own and ignores what is really going on.

Sisters Maria (Rochelle Aytes) and Laurie (Anna Paquin) prepare for a Halloween party in the woods. Laurie is a virgin, and her sister and her sister’s slutty friends seem a little too eager to help her get a date. At about the same time as the sister’s party preparations are taking place, Macy (Britt McKillip), Schrader (Jean-luc Bilodeau) and their group of costumed friends are trick or treating and stealing jack-o-lanterns.

The flavor of Halloween is captured well in TRICK R TREAT. Autumn leaves blow by, and the costumes worn by all are not completely over-the-top-Hollywood but grounded in some sort of easy-going, small-town vibe. Candy is consumed and sprinkled throughout the film; it looks sweet, and it is dangerous. This is a Halloween film where an all-day sucker can potentially kill you.

Think of the EC Comic vibe in 1982’s CREEPSHOW with less Stephen King corniness and more of a cynical twist. TRICK R TREAT is a movie saluting the Comics Code-free horror comics of the 80s. It is built on the land somewhere between EC and HEAVY METAL. The subplots in TRICK R TREAT resonate with the CREEPY and EERIE comics that your parents warned you about. Comic book backdrop and lettering is used throughout the film.

The themes that run through the different storylines feel horror-film-familiar. When Laurie the wallflower can’t secure a date but shows up at the party anyway, a line from “Cry Little Sister” from the LOST BOYS plays, and it fits. As Mr. Kreeg deals more and more violently with sack-headed Sam, he says at one point, “You’ve gotta be f*cking kidding me.” It is no mistake that the same line was uttered in John Carpenter’s THE THING when the alien started to really act up.

The darkest kernel of storytelling has to do with a school bus full of special needs children and how Macy, Schrader, and company attempt to scare the simple Rhonda (Samm Todd) with the history. The passage is pulled together with a pacing that is almost perfect. This group of kids is trick-or-treating, and the houses they visit are getting more and more bizarre as they make their way through the neighborhood. The carny-esque ugliness delivered by the adults around them harkens to some seriously dark imagery straight out of THE SHINING and THE FUNHOUSE. By the time Macy and her crew have stolen their eight jack-o-lanterns and converged on an outdoor service elevator, you know that something is coming. You don’t know what it is, but you do know it is weird, pissed-off, and unmerciful.

TRICK R TREAT delivers the supernatural, the cursed, and a healthy dose of splatter without focusing too long on the destruction created. TRICK R TREAT shies away from a lot of the intimate gore-shots that dominate modern horror and leans more heavily on foley work and the reaction of the people in the vicinity to generate tension. This makes for good storytelling and frees the creatures of the Id to really do their work.

Most interestingly is that Sam, the bubble-headed mascot of this film, isn’t the main baddie here. Halloween is presented as bringing the worst out of certain people, and Sam’s behavior is synonymous with any number of miscreants without strange heads or pumpkin innards. Everyday people demonstrate their levels of horribility, Sam just happens to have some preternatural skills in his toolbox. The Halloween season has had Michael Meyers as its version of Santa since the 70s. Rob Zombie’s merciless de-stabilization of that franchise has really forced the need for a new Halloween movie mascot. Sam is that mascot.

With enough material packed into its lean 89 minutes to demand a second and third viewing, TRICK R TREAT satisfies. It is a shame that this film has been in limbo for two years and is going straight to DVD. This is the kind of old-school horror that should be enjoyed onscreen in a packed movie-house at midnight. It is, however, the DVD to have and fire up every Halloween season.
-Mediasaurus Rex

Sunday, September 27, 2009

THE HAUNTED WORLD OF EL SUPERBEASTO - A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW


THE HAUNTED WORLD OF EL SUPERBEASTO - A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW


Rob Zombie has been on cinematic thin ice for years now. His highly anticipated first film, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, was a critical failure. However his next film, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, is a great horror film. In fact it is one of the more respected horror films of recent history. But since then Zombie has maintained failure after failure. The Zombie HALLOWEEN reboot was the point-blank wasting of a franchise, and personally, I am not going to bother with his critically eviscerated HALLOWEEN 2. Between the back-to-back HALLOWEEN productions Zombie worked on a straight to DVD, R-Rated cartoon called THE HAUNTED WORLD of EL SUPERBEASTO. Honestly, I went into this thing hoping to find something worthwhile about Mr. Zombie. I have come up completely broke.

THE HAUNTED WORLD of EL SUPERBEASTO is as garbled and mindless as its overwrought title. This is a movie that arguably shouldn’t have been made. Rob Zombie obviously has some rabid fans that demand this sort of diseased filth from him. The fan-power drives the producers, the producers ante up, and viola: crap. Zombie no doubt makes a lot of money squeezing out these turds, but there is nothing of significant value in SUPERBEASTO.

SUPERBEASTO is a well-animated exploitation flick that seems to be aiming in the same controversial direction that Ralph Bakshi aimed in 1975 with his blaxpolitation opus, COONSKIN. Things are going to get complex for me here because I have always maintained that COONSKIN is a deviant work of racist offal. Since viewing Zombie’s SUPERBEASTO, I have been forced to reconsider what it is that COONSKIN actually stands for. There is truth in Bakshi’s film. He is holding a mirror to racial and sexual politics and presenting it all, sans censors and taste. If only Zombie could draw on such intelligence! When propping a piece of warm feces like SUPERBEASTO up against the deeply offensive COONSKIN, the latter looks like a genre-defining STAR WARS.

The plot in SUPERBEASTO is about as basic as it gets. A mouthy, lothario luchador named Superbeasto (Tom Papa) films porn, hangs out in the strip-bar, and drives a hotrod straight out of the MUNSTERS. He is detestable, crass, and useless. Set to the backdrop of more animated breasts and buttocks than I could bother counting, Superbeasto somehow finds a purpose for the rest of the movie. His mission? He sees Velvet von Black’s (a foul-mouthed, chain-smoking Rosario Dawson) striptease and is mesmerized by her boobs that protrude violently when she pushes air into them. When von Black is kidnapped by a talking gorilla with a screw in his head, Superbeasto gives chase. The bulk of the rest of the film is his attempt to find and save von Black. He recruits his buxom, blonde, squeaky-voiced, innuendo-dropping, full-frontal nudity showing sister Suzi X (Sheri Moon Zombie) to help him on his quest.

The quest takes Superbeasto, Suzi X, and Murray (Brian Posehn), Suzi’s transforming lust-droid/grope-mobile, into the lair of Dr. Satan himself (Paul Giamatti). Waitasecond! Wasn’t there a Dr. Satan in HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES? Also there are several animated faces in this film that look completely familiar, but I couldn’t place immediately. It appears that Zombie has run out of ideas. In a way, Zombie is a tacky renaissance man. Like some other currently popular filmmakers, he is recycling past film ideas, but the material he is reworking is a lot of compromised monster movies and drive-in sleaze, and what he does with it is unoriginal and weaksauce.

Zombie’s porn-fueled, blood-spattered, profanity-laden film is packed with every B-movie reference possible on its tedious journey to nowhere. It opens like FRANKENSTEIN, and there is an amusing nod to Zombie’s own WEREWOLF WOMEN OF THE SS trailer in GRINDHOUSE. Hitler’s head is also kept in a jar in an unnecessary nod to the completely lame THEY’VE SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN. The musical numbers (one which spoofs SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK) are shockingly not funny at all. Zombie reaches hard and gets no purchase. The audience is even encouraged to masturbate during a song featuring a protracted topless “catfight.” More familiar images flutter across the screen in rapid succession throughout SUPERBEASTO. Edward Scissorhands, Jason, The HR Geiger Alien, Nosferatu, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Fly, Jack (Nicholson) Tors, Tura Satana and even Sid Haig’s Captain Spaulding all show up for short cameos. Even Zombie’s own re-appropriated Michael Meyers from the HALLOWEEN movies is a victim of Superbeasto’s hotrod antics. All of these things are failed attempts at actual humor. Even with a mirthless running “Mr. Roboto” joke from Styxx, there is nothing to do but watch this canned, animated train-wreck finish choking on its own vomit.

If the unoriginality isn’t enough, this cartoon is also a complete embodiment of mainstream misogyny. I am more than capable of levying this kind of judgment with films like REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS and SIN CITY in my past. The rationale always offered to excuse the misogyny and objectification of women in these films is that the women kick ass and are thereby empowered. I would agree that these women have been empowered with weapons and foul-mouths, but their function is still to serve as objects for the projection of male desire, specifically rutting or ogling. The role of Suzi X is a particularly disturbing one. Zombie’s nonstop objectification of his spouse in his films smacks of John and Bo Derek put to sloppy, over-sampled heavy metal. Rob Zombie isn’t the only guilty party here; his wife seems to be agreeable to her own objectification.

THE HAUNTED WORLD of EL SUPERBEASTO is a complete waste of time. I didn’t laugh, smile, or snicker through the whole thing. Believe me, I went in hoping to. In my takedown of this film, I have read several different reviews, and people tend to praise this film for its animation. I am willing to agree that the animation is solid and that the art is definitely well-done. Some of the explosions and visual effects are rather dizzying, but they don’t make up for the nerve damage that you are going to take as you attempt to figure out what the hell the point of this film is. There is an underlying theme of “I was a total wimp in high school, and I never got over it,” an autobiographical admission perhaps?

Some might argue that there isn’t supposed to be a point, that I am digging too hard, and I should relax and just enjoy the movie. Perhaps they are right. I am willing to accept that the movie is pointless, but there is nothing to enjoy here. Furthermore, there is absolutely no point to 99% of Rob Zombie’s movies, his music, or the man himself for that matter. THE HAUNTED WORLD of EL SUPERBEASTO finalizes it all. I am completely done with this clown.

-Mediasaurus Rex








Monday, September 21, 2009

MODERN FAMILY - A BADASS TELEVISION REVIEW

Modern Family – A badass television review

MODERN FAMILY which premieres on Sept 23rd is sharp enough to attract a regular following. Think of a more realistic ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT filmed documentary style like THE OFFICE and you have it. Edgy writing and a penchant for the taboo propel its three main plotlines fluidly. For a sitcom, MODERN FAMILY had to come on strong and hard to pack all of its characters and plotlines into this ticking 22 minute pilot.

The ten individuals in the extended family form three separate nuclear families that orbit around each other well. Even though it isn’t revealed until the end of the pilot that these people are all related, the edits from one household to the next are smooth. This show is an obvious twist on the classic big family television shows, however, it doesn’t have them all Waltonized in one house.

Ty Burrell who has put in big-screen time with DAWN OF THE DEAD and THE INCREDIBLE HULK brings a level of dorkiness to his role as the wannabe-hipster father Phil that feels sincere. When Phil is staring down his the older boyfriend of his daughter Haley (Sarah Hyland), he obviously has no idea what he is doing. His wife Claire (Julie Bowen from LOST and BOSTON LEGAL) tolerates Phil’s ridiculousness because she is so completely overwhelmed with her immediate life and her misspent youth. As the show continues, Haley’s growing exasperation with her parents is shown to be justified. But this isn’t a family that is on the verge of collapse, it is merely a family that needs a serious shot of time-earned wisdom. Phil and Claire have been married for 16 years and are distracted and clueless but managing somehow to ward off complacency.

Spacey and befuddled, Jay (Ed O’Neill from MARRIED WITH CHILDREN) is the mid-life crisis surviving patriarch of the entire family. His sexpot Columbian wife of six months Gloria (Sofia Vergara from ENTOURAGE) really loves him but wants to see him out of his boring, old-man shtick. Gloria brings to the marriage her sensitive son Manny (Rico Rodriguez) a hopelessly romantic 11 year-old with an eye for slightly older women.

Possibly the most entertaining members of this family are the reality-grounded Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and his flamboyant boyfriend Cameron (Eric Stonestreet). They have been a couple for five years and have just returned from Vietnam with their adopted infant daughter, Lily. Mitchell is struggling with the concept of introducing his daughter to his father because of his sloppy way with Mitchell’s homosexuality.

MODERN FAMILY is solidly grounded in the comedic exaggeration of day to day issues (homophobia, teen angst, mid-life crises) and manages to poke fun while not lecturing. The subject matter is somewhat vulgar, but the show comes off without wallowing in the muck, as ITS ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILEDELPHIA would. With FRASIER’s Christopher Lloyd and JUST SHOOT ME’s Steve Levitan writing this show, the timing and the laughs run like a well-lubricated machine. There is enough subject matter with its ten main characters to run this show hard for a several seasons. For a pilot, MODERN FAMILY comes on pretty strong. This has all of the trappings of a television hit.

-Mediasaurus Rex


Check in on the MODERN FAMILY thread in the Mediasaurs Forums

Saturday, September 19, 2009

ZOMBIELAND - A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW


Click the above picture to be taken to the review at MYMAVRA.COM. The review is spoiler-free and tells you what you need to know!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

THE GOODS: LIVE HARD, SELL HARD - A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW


THE GOODS: LIVE HARD, SELL HARD is funny. It will sneak up on you and win you over. Directed by Chapelle Show regular Neal Brennan, THE GOODS is crude, stereotypical, and presents gross levels of human ugliness. Somehow underneath it all, it finds an excuse to justify all of this irreverent mayhem and deliver one of the best R-rated comedies on the market today.

THE GOODS stars Jeremy Piven. The first time I noticed Piven was in 1993’s horrible Denis Leary/Everlast thriller JUDGEMENT NIGHT. In that dismissible film, Piven played a completely hateable sleazeball. I have seen Piven in multiple roles since, and sleazeball seems to be this man’s best acting suit. That was my opinion, so I asked friends and family what they think about Piven. The general consensus is the same: everyone agrees that he is a sleazeball. Piven has completely mastered the sleazeball niche.

There is no surprise whatsoever in Piven’s starring role as Don Ready, a car selling mercenary/hustler in THE GOODS. A close friend of mine recently told me that when he looks at Piven he sees a man who snorts cocaine and smacks women. Perhaps such an accusation is harsh, but a man taking roles like the role of Don Ready should be read for such assumptions. I am pretty sure that Piven revels in it.

Piven’s Don Ready isn’t the only culprit here. Car salespeople all take a festive lampooning in THE GOODS. Ben Selleck (James Brolin), of Selleck’s Motors has seen his car lot reduced to a place of violent confrontations and vulgar silliness. When he tells Wade Zooha (Arrested Development’s Tony Hale) that he is thinking about calling in a mercenary to sell some cars, Wade’s reaction is paranoid panic. It should be. The business card that Ben pulls out of his wallet simply says, “Don Ready – I move cars, M*therfucker.” Piven hasn’t even been onscreen yet, and Don Ready is already introduced as a crude problem-solver.

When Ready takes Selleck’s phone call in an Arizona stripclub/breakfast bar, we get to meet the rest of his scruffy team. They are undeniably ugly-spirited. There is Babs (Kathryn Hahn) who uses sophisticated pornographic suggestions to sell cars. Then there is Brent Gage (David Koechner) a morally ambiguous, quasi-racist on a strange ego-trip. Lastly there is Jibby (Ving Rhames) an aging, soulful ladies man who has never actually “made love” to a woman. The team “still smells like customer” from slanging “metal,” but Ready commits them all to a Fourth of July weekend sale at Selleck’s Motors in Temecula, California.

Free hot dogs and an inflatable gorilla attract a crush of potential buyers reminiscent of the running zombies in Snyder’s DAWN OF THE DEAD. The sales are on, and the questionable antics of all of the sales team bleed to the surface for the rest of the film. As an ensemble comedy, this is where the movie really shines.

Don Ready and crew all have personal revelations as the film progresses. Ready’s team continually references “The Kirk” which is a mysterious piece of recent history that almost destroyed Don Ready. The story behind “The Kirk” is undoubtedly the funniest most irreverent, twisted gag of the film. It features an uncredited Will Ferrell appearance and is what this film will be most remembered for.

THE GOODS is the kind of comedy that just might land itself a strong cult following. The cast is large and they are all doing what they do best. Ed Helms plays Paxton Hardy, a grown man in an all boy band. His shtick isn’t that far off of what he does when he plays Andy Bernard on THE OFFICE. Another OFFICE regular, Craig Robinson plays Deejay Replay, a character similar to Darryl, the role he plays in THE OFFICE. The familiar pacing of the actors makes the whole production move forward smoothly and naturally. There was an obvious chemistry between all of the cast members.

THE GOODS will make you laugh out loud. There is new life in Hollywood for the R-rated comedy. OLD SCHOOL, THE HANGOVER, THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN and ZACH AN MIRI MAKE A PORNO are all examples of the new R-rated comedy ensemble film. I would go so far as to call THE GOODS a contemporary CADDYSHACK.

Overall the film is raunchy and bad-mannered, yet somehow a few morals regarding personal commitments and universal value systems were slipped into the raucous storyline. The didactic elements work to balance the portrayals of decrepit characters with blown moral compasses. Without them the film would just be too ugly. THE GOODS is badass. It is rough around the edges and pushes the envelope far but not off the table.
-Mediasaurus Rex

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

BLOOD TIES: A BADASS MOVIE REVIEW




BLOOD TIES is an independent, raw, beat-‘em-up from filmmaker Kely McClung. The hand to hand combat that this film showcases is a definite strong point. But the plot harnessed underneath it all is also ripped and muscular. It drives the action, beatdown to beatdown, with subtle and not so subtle revelations of what is really propelling the ass-kicking machine known as Jack Davis.

The movie opens with Jack Davis (Kely McClung) walking in a David Banneresque loner fashion through Roanoke Valley in West Virginia. Heavily armed military operatives are tracking him. Fists pummel faces and boots spin heads on necks. There are bullets, knives, two compound fractures, and a broken neck. For an opening scene before the credits, it is quite apparent that this film isn’t going to follow the standard linear action-movie arc. BLOOD TIES takes many turns in its plot, all while heavily dosing the viewer with some of the most dizzying fight sequences you will ever see in an independent film.

The relationship between Jack and his brother Jim (Robert Pralgo) is the foundation that supports the savagery of the fighting sequences. When Jim is kidnapped, the force of Jack’s will to save him is unstoppable. The disturbing genesis of this sibling dedication is explained through flashback. Their connection is unshakeable as is their commitment to one another.

The motivation behind Jim’s kidnapping is explained in a series of sparse, fragmented scenes of exposition. We are given few narrative details to go on. A twenty million dollar military investment in Jack and his disappearance fuel the mystery. Jack has a deeply buried military past. He is an elite killing machine. Someone killed Jack’s wife, and he left the program. Jack is literally “the turd in the punchbowl.” He is a mess that needs to be cleaned up and flushed. The military’s mission to find and detain Jack is so completely broken that they resort to having Jim kidnapped in Bangkok in order to entice Jack out of the country.

Jack takes the bait and proceeds to put in work, hammering his way through bodies as he makes his way towards the fight with his final antagonist, Markus (Erik Markus Scheutz), who is just as “off the books” as Jack. Scheutz, a champion Thai boxer, comes to this film with a role in the modern classic ONG BAK under his belt, and he is straight-up formidable.

Although it is an action film, BLOOD TIES is beautiful to look at. While grounded in some reality, the surreal elements that have been introduced keep us on our visual toes, Tony Scott style. Bangkok looks alluring, cluttered, and dangerous. All of the necessary Bangkok touches are in place, including a slugfest at a dojo and a Tuk-Tuk chase sequence.

All of the extra touches to this film really make it stand out. It is broken into four separate parts each with witty titles. The film is fun. The direction is playful at points, even borrowing from (and definitely topping) the old BATMAN fight sequences on television (Blammo!).

Kely McClung plays Jack the way he needs to be played, stoic, with a dash of humanity. His reunion with his brother-in-law is particularly raw and real. But when it comes time to handle business, boots, fists, and anything he can wield as a weapon are used with concussive precision. McClung brings a black belt rank in a half dozen karate systems to the table. He also was the International Full Contact Stick Fighting Champion of the World. Robert Pralgo as Jim puts in his work too. He is tied up and beaten for the entire film. He manages to quip one-liners between crushing blows to the head and the rest of his body. The pounding that Pralgo’s Jim takes is really something to behold. He may not be a trained killer like his brother, but he is obviously made of some of the strongest stock available.

It is no wonder that this film has earned so many awards (Best of Festival at Indie Film Fest and Action Film of the Year at the Action on Film Festival for example). BLOOD TIES is the kind of action film that we need more of. The plot is subtle, but thick, and to follow it, you must pay close attention. Facts are relayed through sharp, jargony dialogue, and the film has deeply embedded twists and turns that demand a second viewing.

The action sequences are forceful and fast. They are well-edited, quick, and ruthless. This isn’t some of that Steven Segal “show the same punch three times from three different angles” stuff. This film is on some “don’t blink or you’re gonna miss it” type action.

BLOOD TIES is still on the independent festival circuit run. It has more guts and heart than most mainstream action films. It is refreshing to see an indie film push as hard as this one does.
-Mediasaurus Rex