Month: August 2015

FROGS

1972 – Unpatriotic swamp creatures completely ruin an old man’s 4th of July birthday party.

This movie is like a less shitty version of The Happening, where animals begin to rise up and systematically exterminate humans because we litter and use pesticides. As our hero, Pickett Smith (played by a mustache-less Sam Elliott) states, “Frogs attacking windows? Snakes in chandeliers? These aren’t exactly normal things.” One would be hard-pressed to argue.

Yes, frogs do attack in this movie (sorta), but most of the dirty work is done by creatures that have no business being in Florida in the first place, like tarantulas, scorpions, rattlesnakes, and Gila monsters. The frogs just sit on each other, hop about, and croak. The real star of the film is Jason Crockett (Ray Milland), a crippled old bastard who has to go down as one of the most crotchety and unreasonably stubborn figures in cinematic history.

Gruff-yet-environmentally-conscious photographer Smith ends up on Crockett’s private island just in time for the grouchy geezer’s annual birthday extravaganza. The rest of the Crockett family is there, including the ’70s-hot* Karen (Joan Van Ark), various cousins and uncles, and a couple of put-upon black servants. The wildlife, angered at the family’s attempts to poison or shoot them, becomes hostile, and the body count is startlingly high.

* ’70’s hot = a huge, frizzy hairdo and the body of an anorexic 12-year-old

Unlike many eco-horror film antagonists to follow, Crockett doesn’t ignore the animal menace because it’ll cost him money or give him bad publicity. He’s simply hellbent on having his lame birthday party no matter how many family members die. “I won’t let anything interfere with today’s schedule,” he opines after half the attendees are dead. The schedule, by the way, involves everyone sitting on the lawn, listening to a phonograph, and… whatever the Hell this is:

It's a fun game.

It’s a fun game.

Crockett keeps sending his henchmen out to eliminate the swamp creatures, but opines, “With all this technology and all my money we still can’t get rid of these frogs. Interesting, isn’t it?” (It’s not). Smith, of course, realizes the danger: “What if nature was trying to get back at us?” he suggests. “NONSENSE!” Crockett bellows.

When his only remaining grandchild and his freshly orphaned great grandchildren decide to leave, he acts like it’s a massive act of betrayal: “If you wanna leave go, go on, get the Hell outta here! Just stand up and be counted. That means you’re with me or against me, ya understand?” Like they can’t just hold the party somewhere else? He actually chides the family for wanting to disrupt the celebration because of “one death.”

I’m proposing a new party game called “Crocketting,” where you select famous historical disasters and insist that everyone ignore them. Mr. Crockett! The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor!

"No reason to disrupt MY PARTY because a few yahoos are dropping firecrackers on us!"

“No reason to disrupt MY PARTY because a few yahoos are dropping firecrackers on us!”

Mr. Crockett, terrorists have destroyed the Twin Towers in New York!

"No reason to put a damper on MY PART because a few buildings decided to fall down!"

“No reason to put a damper on MY PARTY because a few buildings decided to fall down!”

Try it with your friends!

Here are some helpful hints if you, like the characters in this movie, ever find yourself attending a birthday party on a remote island and various critters begin a violent anti-human revolution.

#1: Do NOT accidentally shoot yourself in the leg

#1: Do NOT accidentally shoot yourself in the leg

Because, Murphy’s Law, you’ll end up falling right beneath a tree infested by huge tarantulas.

Frogs poison

#2: Do NOT leave gigantic bottles of piss-colored poison on high shelves, no matter how clearly labeled they are

Did you know that lizards are immune to poison and can survive in an atmosphere toxic to humans? And can, apparently, read? And have knowledge of advanced chemistry? Well, they do.

#3: Do NOT suck at seeing things

#3: Do NOT suck at seeing things

The guy gets eaten by an alligator moments later, and it serves him right.

Toward the end of the film, Crockett is sitting alone in the house and the phone rings. There’s nobody there. Not only that, but the line is dead (it was cut, presumably by the frogs, at the beginning). I don’t understand this… there’s absolutely no reason to have the phone ring in this scene. Was it the frogs prank calling him? They should have strung it out, in that case, maybe had the frogs ding-dong ditch him or put some dog shit in a bag and light it on fire.

It’s been a few days since I’ve seen Frogs, and it’s growing on me. Pair this one with Zombeavers for a delightful double feature.

KILL ME THREE TIMES

Kill Me Three Times dune

2015 – Various unsympathetic characters get involved in a surprisingly uncomplicated series of violent crimes.

On the off chance that he gets drunk one night and decides to peruse obscure blog reviews of movies he was involved with, I’m going to lead off by saying that I’m a huge Simon Pegg fan. The entire “Three Flavours Cornetto” trilogy rank among my favorite movies of all time. If there was one guy I could pick to hang out with and talk movies, writing, and comedy with, it’d probably be him.

So, when I saw that he’d be playing a ruthless hit man (with an absurd mustache), I went all in on Kill Me Three Times. Even the title had me pumped – it just sounds so COOL. I envisioned a slick, funny, violent crime film – something like Grosse Pointe Blank (another one of my favorites… although I wouldn’t want to hang out with John Cusack because his tiny little mouth is very unsettling).

It didn’t take long for mild disappointment to sink in. The movie wasn’t bad, mind you. It was just… unfulfilling. It has the trappings of a black comedy but fails to deliver the laughs. It has the characteristics of a crime thriller but presents a simplistic, unexciting plot. Perhaps worst of all, it mimics the look, sound, and feel of an early Quentin Tarantino flick while feeling even more empty and derivative.

Here’s the plot: a Bar Owner (I’m skipping the character names since they all blended together after a while) hires Pegg to kill his Cheating But Virtuous Wife (CBVW for short). At the same time, Gambling Dentist and his Bitch Wife (who is Bar Owner’s sister) are being threatened by Corrupt Cop because they owe him money. They decide to kill CBVW in a staged car wreck, disguising the body as Bitch Wife so they can collect on an insurance policy. But there’s a twist: CBVW doesn’t die.

That is the movie’s ONLY twist. For all the promise of its amazing title and charismatic star, Kill Me Three Times barely qualifies as a thriller. The only characters out to get each other are exactly the ones you’d expect – there are no surprise double-crosses, hidden schemes, or mind-blowing revelations. Along the way we get plenty of 60s-sounding music, retro cars, and swearing, but nothing to really hold the attention.

Instead of a clever and engaging plot, the movie just does the Tarantino show-the-events-out-of-order thing. The only mild surprises the movie provides come from it being shown in a sequence of 2-1-3 instead of 1-2-3. The other day I was doing possibly the whitest thing ever and watching a Youtube video of Peter Bogdanivoch talking about Orson Welles… I mean, look at this:

Kill Me Three Times whitest thing ever

THE EXCITEMENT!

Peter (the slightly more boring-looking guy on the right) says: “I really hate films that they make now which are told backward, or from the ending forward or from the middle, or you have to really be a genius to follow it…” You don’t have to be a genius to follow Kill Me Three Times, but what does the movie gain from being shown out-of-order? It’s a crutch to cover up the fact that, if we actually watched everything in the proper sequence, there would be no interest at all.

One of the few things I really enjoyed was the Hot Fuzz stabbing reference:

"How's the hand?" "It's a bit stiff."

“How’s the hand?” “It’s a bit stiff.”

I must also note that, although the movie is called Kill Me Three Times (the “me” being the wife everyone’s trying to kill), there’s really only one murder attempt (and it’s only shown twice, from two different perspectives). So what’s with the “three times” thing?

This movie gets a 9% on Rotten Tomatoes. Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 has a 6%. Come on, people. Have a little perspective.

THE STATION AGENT

Station Agent poster

SO QUIRKY!

2003 – ……….(squinting)……….(smoking)……….(brooding)……….

I wanted to like this movie. I really did. Netflix had it rated very highly, and it’s 95% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes (another reason never to trust that site). Unfortunately it turned out to be a dull, boring slog that feels much longer than its 89 minutes. I know, I know, it won all kinds of Sundance awards. It’s still bad. I knew I was in trouble as soon as it started:

ART.

ART.

Signs a movie is going to be bad: when the first scene is of a dwarf, standing alone on a rooftop, smoking.

Tyrion Lannister plays Fin, a train-loving little person who retreats to an isolated station after his only friend dies. Although the Netflix plot summary says that he intends to live the life of a hermit, it’s never really explained what he’s up to. Is he fixing the station up? Is he doing something with the abandoned train cars? Why does he like trains so much in the first place? We never find out. When I watch a movie, I usually expect my main character to have a motivation other than getting a book from the library and watching trains go by. Maybe I’m old-fashioned that way.

Nevertheless, Fin quickly runs into a purportedly delightful assortment of oddballs, including annoyingly chatty vendor Joe (Bobby Cannavale), depressed artist Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), and pregnant librarian Emily (Michelle Williams). There is no shortage of drama fodder here. Joe’s dad is seriously ill. Olivia’s young son has died and she’s separated from her husband, Mad Men’s John Slattery. The father of Emily’s baby is a deadbeat hick. These stories only lurk in the background, however, cropping up at irregular intervals but mostly buried by long, loooooo-o-o-o-ooong periods of silence and melancholy guitar strumming.

There are two kinds of scenes in The Station Agent: very short ones where the characters actually talk (but the talk is pointless), and very long ones where they barely speak (and nothing happens). Expect a lot of exchanges like this one, when Fin first meets Joe:

JOE: I’m Joe Oramas. What’s your name?

FIN: Fin.

JOE: Fin?

FIN: Yeah.

JOE: Cool. Hey, your place around here?

FIN: Yeah.

WOW! Oscar-worthy screenwriting there. It doesn’t help that, due to how soft-spoken and mumbly the entire cast is, I thought his name was “Vin” the entire time. Since this movie features a little person, expect plenty of almost comically exaggerated moments where the crass and uncaring normal-sized people stare, point, make Fantasy Island references, and take pictures of him. A kid of about 13 or 14 yells,”Hey buddy, where’s Snow White? Grumpy or Sleepy over there, huh?” #1, a kid that age would never make that reference. #2, WE GET IT.

It's the make-out scene the public was craving.

It’s the make-out scene the public was craving.

The problem is, the movie wants it both ways. We’re supposed to hate the closed-minded locals who shun Fin because he’s a dwarf, but we’re supposed to love the “good” characters who seem to be drawn to him because… he’s a dwarf. Why else do they want to hang out with him? He’s not a particularly magnetic character. He’s not funny or charming. He barely speaks. It’s just poor storytelling (the acting, though, is very good across the board).

None of the storylines get wrapped up in any satisfying way. Will Emily leave her abusive boyfriend for Fin? Has Olivia really gotten over the death of her son? Will Joe’s dad be okay? What will Fin’s life be like at the station? Instead of a real conclusion, the movie ends with Fin asking when zeppelins were invented, which elicits the following exchange:

JOE: You can go down to the library and ask that little hottie [Emily].

OLIVIA: She is cute.

JOE: It’s the librarian fantasy, man. Glasses off, hair down, books flying.

FIN: She doesn’t wear glasses.

OLIVIA: Buy her some, it’s worth it.

THE END. What. The. Heck. This wasn’t a movie, it was two-thirds of a movie. I wanted Joe’s dad to regain his health and open a second food truck. I wanted Olivia to have an art show to signify her return to society. I wanted Fin to headbutt some hick in the balls and dance with Emily inside the train car he was secretly reconditioning this whole time. Instead they’re just sitting on the porch smoking, and the happiness they’ve found seems exceptionally tenuous and temporary.

More like The Station Lame-gent, am I right?

THE OUIJA EXPERIMENT

Ouija Experiment poster2011 – An unlikeable, bickering group of idiots randomly decides to SHOCK THE WORLD by playing with that most terrible of forbidden artifacts, a ouija board (available for $19.99 at Target).

Is there any format more loathsome than “found footage”? I hate the way the camera jitters around. I hate the cheesy “video distortion” effects. I hate the constant thumping, creaking, and clicking in the audio track. Most of all, I hate the way that filmmakers use it as an excuse for poor cinematography, slipshod production, poor acting, and bad writing.

The Ouija Experiment is guilty of all these failings and more, but I have to admit that it’s an almost delightful failure. You’d be hard-pressed to find a cast of characters more absurd: Calvin the Promiscuous Black Guy (Eric Window), Lynette the No-Nonsense Black Chick (Swisyzinna), Shay the Ditzy Asian (Belmarie Huynh), Brandon the Obnoxious Youtuber (Carson Underwood), and Michael the… uh… Guy (Justin Armstrong). Taking their cue from slumber parties everywhere, they decide to play around with a ouija board. Dire consequences ensue.

The adventure begins with one of those “this shit is real” warning message things:

Ouija Experiment warningPffffff. Scientists. With their “science.” When will they learn?

We’re quickly introduced to the movie’s trademark laughable dialog. As Brandon films the introduction to his latest attempt to create a viral online video, he remarks: “We are in Dallas Texas. I don’t know if too many people are familiar with that and what takes place down here. I don’t really know either.” What the hell? Who doesn’t know about Dallas? And what exactly “takes place down there” that is so unique?

May I ask: does nobody know how a camera works? Shay’s first line, as she flips on the camera, is, “Is this thing even ON?” Then: “How do you use this thing?” THIS THING??? It’s a video camera! When Brandon meets Michael, the latter’s first question is, “What is that?” Later, Shay spots another camera in Calvin’s bedroom and demands, “What’s that?” She then notes that she knows how to tell if it’s on: “I’ve learned about that from Brandon! That red dot right there.” This is just ridiculous. How stupid are we supposed to think these people are?

The mere appearance of a ouija board causes characters to flee in terror.

The mere appearance of a ouija board causes characters to flee in terror.

Next question: is a ouija board really this much of an exotic item? When Michael reveals that he’s called everyone together to play with one, Brandon replies with a breathless “OH MY GOD are you serious?” Like nobody has ever heard of this. Michael’s board is wrapped in white paper and string, as though it’s an arcane artifact and not a board game available from almost any retailer.

One more quick note: the character of Calvin is supposed to be “a player” with the ladies, but his excuses are hilariously inept. Caught having a phone conversation with a second girlfriend, he tells the group he was talking to his “mother”… but can’t come up with her name. Another time he’s discovered trying to film sex: “That’s a toy store camera, I was playing with toys in the house today.” When asked why the red light is on: “That’s just fingernail polish!” This guy is among the worst.

I don’t want to be unfair to the actors… it looks as though most of them were appearing in their first film here, and their performances, while not Oscar-worthy, wouldn’t seem as bad if the material they had to work with wasn’t so horrendous. Still, The Ouija Experiment fails not just as a horror movie but as a coherent story, period. I suppose it’s unfair to expect too much from the writer/director of 2010’s Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives, but there’s a flashback sequence… in a found footage movie. Who was back there recording it in black and white? Not to mention the fact that one of the people in it is a dead ringer for the Angry Video Game Nerd:

Ouija Experiment nerds

“He’s gonna take you back to the past / To solve a mystery that sucks ass!”

Credit where credit is due: no opportunity for a “whoops that was unintentional” cleavage or butt shot is passed up. There are a few jump scares that work and a genuinely creepy “little ghost girl” sequence midway through, but horror movie fanatics won’t find much meat here. Unless you and your friends are really committed to mining this one for it’s unintentionally hilarious script, I can’t recommend it very highly.