Friday, 31 July 2015

50 / 50

Title:  50 / 50
Director: Jonathan Levine’s
Released: 2011

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Seth Rogan, Anna Kendrick, Anjelica Huston, Matt Frewer

Plot: Adam (Gordon-Levitt) a Seattle based radio researcher, whose sole problems seem to be a lack of sex with his Artist girlfriend Rachael (Dallas Howard), getting to work on time and what seems like some minor back problems. It is soon the latter which throws his world into turmoil as he discovers that it is being caused by a malignant neurofibroma-sarcoma schwannoma (try saying that after a couple of drinks) a rare form of cancer with a survival rate of 50 / 50

Review: It’s probably safe to say that Cancer isn’t exactly the most prime of choices for comedy and judging by how noticeably empty the theatre was when I originally saw this film, it seems that a lot of people had seemingly come to the same conclusion. Still with a script by Will Reiser who himself battled and won his own fight against “The Big C” he has here crafted a fantastic script based on these experiences which certainly doesn’t tread on eggshells around such delicate subject matter.
While certainly a grim situation its one that Adam doesn’t have to fight this battle on his own, as he finds support from his long term friend and full term slacker Kyle (Rogan), who also frequently uses Adam’s conditions, to their…..well mainly his own sexual advantage to pick up girls, while also receiving support from trainee councillor Kate (Kendrick) and for whom he is only her third patient and from whose sessions an unlikely friendship begins.

Following Adam throughout his battle, he maintains a largely positive front despite soon discovering that his girlfriend is dealing with things slightly less well, clearly having signed on to be his girlfriend and not his nurse, while still feeling the pressure to stand by her man yet she refuses to attend his treatments allowing her own personal dislike of hospitals to take precedence and generally struggling to deal with the situation, leading to best friend Kyle proving to be the unlikely pillar of support even as Adam’s situation grows increasingly grim. Rogan here clearly drawing from his own experiences as the best friend of Will Resier you have a real sense that the role was written specifically for him to play, especially when so many of their shared experiences make reappearances here and while Rogan might be pulling out the same stoner chic which he has carved a living from over the last few years made his calling card, here it more of a throwback to “Knocked Up”  as he tones down his usual frantic energy to allow the natural humour to shine through.

The humour throughout never feels forced outside of the occasional outrageous one liners which are unsurprisingly given to Rogan, yet at the same time it feels wrong to mark this as a comedy, for humour is shown frequently here as shown more as a coping method of handling the situation, than anything resembling cheap laughs from which is essentially an extremely grim subject and it’s a black veined humour which runs throughout this film, which such memorable quips including “The more syllables it has, the worse it is” as joked by prostate cancer patient Mitch (Frewer) during a post chemo chat over hash macaroons a man who is almost like the living representation of acceptance, the fifth and final step on the “five stages of grief”, the stages of which Kate struggles to guide Adam through as she battles her own confidence issues, having still not earned her doctorate and not having the experience to provide all the answers with Kendrick herself describing this character as “the worst therapist in the world”.

With Kate and Kyle providing Adam with his main support Adam also finds himself receiving slightly less wanted support from his mother Diane played here by the always fantastic Anjelica Huston, who again makes such a small role still memorable, as she is already caring for her Alzheimer’s stricken husband yet still is insistent on dropping everything to move in and care for her son as well, while Adam’s attempts to subtly break it to her about his diagnosis by opening with the questionable “Have you ever seen Terms of Endearment?” easily being one of my favourite moments of the film.

Levine has assembled a great cast with Gordon-Levitt once again pulling off another memorable lead performance, while maintaining his indie charms despite recently making more mainstream movies as his profile has risen in the last few years and receives great support from the rest of the cast, who are all equally believable in their roles so that you actually care for these characters, especially during some of the darker moments and Levine effortlessly manages to shift the tone between these moments

“50/50” is yet another great film to come out of the fantastic year for cinema that 2011 turned out to be and while it’s subject matter left it to be truly only discovered once it was released on DVD, much like director Jonathan Levine’s previous indie gem “The Wackness” and again like my review for “Drive” I feel I that I’m truly not doing it justice with this review, even more so when I came home from having watched the film and tried to explain to my wife about the film, only to be greeted with confusion over how a film about cancer could be both funny and not drowned in the usual over emotional tones and as such I can really only urge you to go and watch it yourself to truly understand just how good this film really is.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Cam Girlz

Title:  Cam Girlz
Director: Sean Dunne
Released: 2015

Plot: Documentary looking at the women who work as webcam models and the empowerment, intimacy and creative self-expression they find all from the comfort of their own homes.


Review: A documentary which I’ve wanted to see since it was featured in “Vice Magazine” and more so as here appeared to be a documentary without the side order of shame, that so many of the recent spate of documentaries focusing on various aspects of the sex industry have come with as seen with the likes of the unfocused “Hot Girls Wanted”.

Directed by documentarian Sean Dunne who previous directed “American Juggalo” looking at the followers of the “Insane Clown Posse” attending “The Gathering of the Juggalo’s” and a director whose back catalogue I’m now more keen than ever to work through after seeing this film which once again sees him turning his passive lens onto another outsider subgroup.

Funded through Kickstarter, Dunne his the road to meet with a large number of cam girls from not only a variety of backgrounds, but ages and body types seemingly intentionally avoiding the stereotypical painted blondes that most would assume a cam girls to be as here he once again challenges societies view of something they would already claim to know about, more so when cam girls have been a prominent part of the internet experience since someone first figured what a great outlet for pornography it would make.

Due to the variety of models featured, let alone how insightful and frequently intelligent his subjects come off the film this film frequently proves to be a fascinating watch, especially when Dunne once more frames his subjects so well with his usual visual flair, while at the same time allowing the girls themselves to explain their individual motivations for getting into camming and what they get from it. At the same time Dunne avoids the use of title cards or info dumps to highlight any particular facts or aspect of camming, preferring instead to allow his interview subjects to provide tell their stories in between footage of the girls performing for their individual audiences.  The downside to this being that we don’t get to learn anything of the mechanics of Camming, with Dunne instead choosing to focus on the girls themselves and their stories which for some might prove to be frustrating especially when faced with what on the surface appears to be a show reel for these girls.
Still what a show reel it is as many of these ladies don’t just settle for taking their clothes off in front of their web cam, as many use it as an outlet for many of their other skills such as singing, playing the game of thrones theme on an accordion or even some very random ventriloquism! At the same time the variety of interview subjects means that the documentary goes deeper into this world than most documentaries would and really opens the viewers eyes to the world which these ladies have created for themselves. Sure we have the expected pretty girls and alternative models, but these stand alongside the likes of Alella who puts on her own erotic mime performances, while we also meet the older cam girls like Ginger Meadows and Khylaa who while she might be the oldest interview subject proves once again that age shouldn’t affect your sex drive, as she shares details of her very active sex life she shared with her husband and whose sudden death lead her to starting Camming as a way to replace the loss intimacy in one of the more emotional sections of the film.

At the same time the documentary as to be expected also heavily looks at the girls at work and while it does mean a lot of spanking footage, while also a lot of surprises as we see one group of girls playing around in morph suits and most amusingly Marissa Frost being dared by her audience into having pizza delivered to her in the nude, which is surprisingly greeted with a lack of surprise from the delivery guy, who might just be the most professional pizza delivery guy in the world to handle the situation the way he does.  

While the documentary might be lacking depth in some areas such as the previously mentioned mechanics of their industry, but at the same time the reasons each of the girls have for getting into camming are interesting to listen to, much like what they all take away from it making it much more than about their audience getting their rocks off to them taking their clothes off. Infact Dunne pulls as fast one on us at one point as he turns the camera around to interview several guys who frequent cam girl sites, with one of these subjects describing the experience as the same as hanging out with a group of friends only there happens to be a naked girl in the room. Elsewhere another of these subjects shares the confidence boost he gets from these interactions, knowing that he would be too shy to speak to these girls in the real world. This off course shatters the general image of Cam sites being sleazy and a place solely for perverts. I wouldn’t go as far to say that this is completely untrue but what Dunne does here though is to finally provide a counter argument which hasn’t really been seen before even in these supposedly more open minded times.

Another great addition to Dunne’s directing C.V. this really is the sort of film which feels more like an experience, much like “American Juggalo” and while it might have those gaps in background information and general facts let alone a sense of repetition which might for some mean that the film runs 45 minutes longer than necessary. That being said the subjects are frequently so fun or creative, this film provides the sort of insight into this world that might not have been seen by most viewers who otherwise continue to have a set idea about this world an image that this film will most likely shatter for those who can get into it.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

The Guest

Title: The Guest
Director: Adam Wingard
Released: 2014
Starring: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Leland Orser, Sheila Kelley, Brendan Meyer, Lance Reddick

Plot: The Peterson’s are still struggling to deal with the loss of their eldest son Caleb, who was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan. However when David (Stevens), a soldier who claims to have served with Caleb turns up unexpectedly on their doorstep, he initially appears to help provide them with closure, while they remain unaware that he hides more than a few dark secrets.


Review: Here we have one of those films which for one reason or another exploded into the attention of the blogging / cult cinema fan collective so that for a period it seemed that all everyone was talking about this film, so much so it seemed that I couldn’t log onto my Facebook without seeing at least one post about it. At the same time it has also become an incredible fun film to come up with analogies for as D.J. from “Simplistic Reviews” described it as “Halloween if Michael Myers was Jason Bourne”, while Greg of the “DebatablePodcast” gave me the equally great “Rambo: First Blood, if Rambo was a C.K. model”. As for myself though I saw this film more as “Terminator as directed by John Carpenter”.

Seemingly coming out of nowhere this a film which manages to be fiercely original while at the same time retro throwback to the John Carpenter movies of the 80’s which hits you right from the title card and synth heavy soundtrack as here director Adam Wingard proves that his previous film and standout Mumblegore entry “Your're Next” wasn’t a fluke while at the same time clearly not wanting to try something different rather than try an duplicate his previous film.

Starting off as a little bit of a slow burn as David randomly shows up on the doorstep of the Peterson’s, he is polite and well spoken, while sympathetic to the loss of their son, who while claiming to know him doesn’t seem to have any emotional attachment to the Peterson’s lost son. Despite perhaps seemingly a little off  the mother Laura (Kelley) invites him to stay with the family, hoping it seems that it will help to heal some of the wounds left by her son’s death and its not long before David has worked his way firmly into the family.

Of course its not long before things start to seem a little off with this houseguest as David’s true self starts to slowly reveal itself as he helps out both of the Peterson’s children, first by helping Luke (Meyer) deal with a group of bullies while saving Anna’s friend Kristen (Shaun) from her aggressive ex-boyfriend. Both are issues he resolves with maximum violence and an icy cold disregard for the aftermath of his actions which makes these action scenes so great to watch especially when David despatches them with such ease and almost robotic style, it’s easy to understand why so many other critics have been so quick to draw comparisons to “The Terminator”. That being said David is not a mindless thug as in the aftermath of him beating the hell out of the bullies who have been taunting Luke, trashing the local bar in the process he uses his knowledge of the law to blackmail the bar owner into now reporting what happened, rather than the film using the usual movie logic were actions come with no consequence unless it’s important to the plot of the film.

The action scenes are all handled well with Wingard managing to include a Peckinpah style shoot out without somehow sacrificing the tone of the film. Its only made the more suprising to have this scene, especially when the tone of the film is generally one of a slow burn thriller and its Wingard’s refusal to stick to any one genre let alone his ability to effortless switch between them is really one of the things which makes this film so special, especially when combined with the films tight script which knows exactly what to reveal and what to leave as a mystery and certainly when it comes to aspects of the film such as David’s past it only further works to the films advantage.

Performance wise this really is Steven’s film as he holds your attention every time he’s on the screen with his model looks, baby blues and well-spoken demeanour, while its clear that something isn’t quite right about him. Of course when he does reveal his darker side its just as believable as what was assumed to be the real him and never played with any kind of over the top theatrics even when he goes full blown psycho. The rest of the cast are equally enjoyable to watch though you can’t playing things more toned down though Sheila Kelley is truly believable as the grieving mother, struggling to deal with the loss of her son.

A great film which more than lives up to its hype, while much like “Drive” borrows retro styling to truly make a unique viewing experience and one which will leave you frustrated that there are not more films like it. This is a film which is truly worth tracking down.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened?

Title: The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened?
Director: Jon Schnepp
Released: 2015
Plot: Documentary charting the development and eventual collapse of the failed 1998 Superman project “Superman Lives”

Review: Back before Superhero movies took over the box office with the cine-universe’s of DC and Marvel, superhero movies were few and far between with studios not seeing these kinds of movies as bankable, even despite the few standout movies such as the original Christopher Reeve staring “Superman” movies and most noteworthy Tim Burton’s “Batman” and “Batman Returns” which surprisingly didn't as expected lead to a host of imitators.

A project most people know about thanks to Kevin Smith regularly regaling audiences with his contribution to the project as the original screen writer as part of his Q&A sessions whenever given the chance. More recently though this project has generated a lot of discussion because it would have seen Nicolas Cage taking on the iconic role, but until now there’s never been any real attempt to explain what happened to the project outside Smith’s tales and that costume test photo of Cage in his Superman costume. Still funded through kickstarter, here Schnepp meets with all the major plays involved in the production with the exception of Nicolas Cage, whose contributions are shown instead through archive footage including footage of the costume tests which projected that photo as he attempts to find out what happened and why this project was ultimately scrapped so close to the start of filming.

Its kind of fitting that a production as messy as this one gets an equally disorganised documentary like we get here, let alone one which essentially insults its target audience by opening to Schnepp referring to them as “Nerds, Geeks….Sweaties”. Nice I know, but like so many of these documentaries funded through crowd funding this is a film which has more than a few flaws, while at the same time this documentary joins the recent spate of documentaries charting failed / troubled productions as it joins the likes of “Jodorowsky’s Dune”, “Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four” and “Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr Moreau”. This however falls at the later end of the scale as despite a wealth of interesting footage and some interesting stories it falls short as Schnepp’s film feels as if he could have benefited from a decent editor to trim some of the fat.

One of the other main problems here is that at no point does Schnepp attempt to explain the proposed plot of the film or any kind of outline, leaving those unfamiliar with the project to try and piece things together from scene descriptions as well as ideas for characters and sets which are discussed throughout. Yes we get numerous mentions of the film being based on “The Death of Superman” the Superman story which revived the series, by killing Superman, but again for those not familiar with these characters outside of the movies, it could have done with perhaps five minutes just to outline what the “Death of Superman” is about. As such I would recommend checking out the rather excellent Max Landis short film “The Death and Return of Superman” to give you more of a background than is offered here.

Interviewing seemingly everyone he could find who was attached to the project, the interviews vary greatly in what they add to the documentary with Kevin Smith on his usual fanboy form, while here finally gets to go further into the key scenes of his script while at the same time working in those more well-known parts of his involvement, which he reels off like a true raconteur and his sections in the first half of the documentary are easily amongst the most entertaining. Equally entertaining and more surprisingly is director Tim Burton, whose is seemingly more than happy to discuss the project, while it would seem looking at some of the footage may have been the one responsible for providing a lot of the test footage. At the same time he doesn’t seem to have any real answers as to why it fell apart.

The real key interviewee here though is producer Jon Peters, who could be seen as being villianised by the stories told by Smith, but here surprisingly admits to pretty much everything. At the same time it’s hard to tell if Peters believes he is portraying himself differently than how he comes across here which is as every bit the force of nature you’d expect him to be. Here he openly admits to choking out production team members, as part of his efforts to inject energy into them…..still not sure how that works, while the best thing is to hear him actually admitting to  his obsession with working a giant spider into the script for Superman to brawl with.

While certainly entertaining in places and showing enough behind the scenes footage, production sketches and props to satisfy those curious about the film which could have been, while the sheer scale of the ideas being covered in the script only makes it more frustrating that the film was cancelled so close to production. At the same time the film does feel that it runs too long and could have benefited from losing around 20 minutes of its runtime, rather than trying to work in every scrap of footage and every interview he could get. As such its ultimately works against the film making the last quarter feel sluggish and bloated. Still despite the flaws its worth giving a curious look if only to satisfy your curiosity as to what could have been or if only to see Nicolas Cage in his Superman costume.

Friday, 17 July 2015

The Wolfpack

Title: The Wolfpack
Director: Crystal Moselle
Released: 2015

Plot: Documentary about the Angulo brother’s who were confined to their four-bedroom apartment, homeschooled by their mother and whose only knowledge of the world outside of their home came from the movies they obsessively watch and recreate.


Review: Falling somewhere between “Be Kind Rewind” and “Tarnation” this documentary is a hard one to place, especially when it paints its picture in such broad strokes of raw creativity as we see the brothers recreating their favourite movies using home made props with a stunning level of detail, while at same time subjecting the audience to the brothers telling depressing tales of years were they’d only get to see the world outside of the apartment once a year if at all.

A documentary really created by accident when director Crystal Moselle who here makes her directing debut, chanced upon the brothers while they were walking down the street, taken by their unusual appearance with their waist-long hair and dressed like the cast of “Reservoir Dogs” she decided to find out more. She went on to become friends with them and set about filming them for the documentary, while combining it with home movies as well as footage from the brother’s various film making projects.

The brothers are a friendly and frequently entertaining group and every bit the wolfpack of the title, while their younger sister who appears sporadically throughout the film seemingly chooses to live in a world of her own, which the same could also be said for their father who spends most of the film asleep or drinking locked away in his bedroom and when he does finally appear seems to offer little reasoning for why he would choose to lock his sons away from the outside world. The boy’s shy mother meanwhile seems to unquestionably follow Oscar’s rules, while the boys themselves see him as generally an old hippy and why he views the world the way he does, while enforcing them we are told with his aggressive temper.

The brothers love of movies is clear throughout, as they take down the scripts of the films they are recreating, not by downloading from the internet but rather by frequently pausing the film and writing it down, a process it doesn’t bare to think of how long this takes to do. The props and costumes they create meanwhile are also incredibly impressive, especially when you look at things like their cardboard guns complete with slot in clips or their Batsuit made out of egg boxes.

When it comes to their taste in movies, it seems that the brothers tend to lean towards films featuring macho or strong confident male characters naming the "Godfather" parts 1 & 2 as their favourite, while we also see them recreating scenes from Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" and "Reservoir Dogs" aswell as Nolan's "The Dark Knight Rises" perhaps looking to replace the absence of a strong male figure in their own lives. At the same time its during their explanation of their film making process that often gives the biggest insights into their lives and more often their childhood growing up in this almost cult-like environment that their father has created in their housing project apartment.

With such equal time being dedicated to the brother’s love of films as it is to their unusual situation, it does make for an uneven viewing experience which leaves you never sure how you should be feeling about the film. At the same time when Moselle started documenting the boys it would seem that they were already making steps to finally entering the real world and as such tends to shoot them with a restrained style, almost as if she didn’t want to do anything which might affect their path to recovery and essentially living some kind of normal life. The film however does capture many of these first steps with the brothers frequently falling back on their film knowledge to handle these confused feelings as they compare big trees to “The Lord of the Rings”, while their naivety shines through frequently as they comment after going to see “The Fighter” that they are happy their cinema ticket money is going to Christian Bale.

An interesting documentary and one which contains numerous fascinating moments, but at the same time lacks anything to deserve giving it a return watch, though you may find yourself wanting a follow up documentary to see how the boys do, especially when it ends on the positive note of them finally venturing into the real world and finding their own sense of identity. The real question now though is how Moselle will follow it up, especially with the pressure of the film winning the grand jury prize at Sundance I would be interested to see if she sticks with documentaries or moves into making some movies of her own.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015


Title: Popcorn
Director: Mark Herrier
Released: 1991
Starring: Jill Schoelen, Tom Villard, Dee Wallace Stone, Tony Roberts, Ray Walston, Derek Rydall, Malcom Danare, Kelly Jo Minter, Ivette Soler, Elliott Hurst, Freddie Marie Simpson,

Plot: A group of film students putting on an all-night horrorthon at an old cinema soon, find themselves being stalked by a crazed serial killer.


Review: One of those surprising films which haven’t for one reason or another managed to gain the cult status it deserves, this was a film I was recently introduced to by Jason from “Your Face” who picked at as one of his two films when he came on the podcast. Unlike his other selection “Sorority Babes In The Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama” this was a film which immediately grabbed me unlike the previously mentioned film which honestly might have killed this blog had it not been for this film.

While the film has a simple slasher premise, were the film really stands out is with the films which the students have chosen show, all of which come with their own William Castle inspired gimmick! These films include

Mosquito – a giant bug movie and throwback to b-movies like “Them”, the film uses Castle’s “Emergo”
gimmick from “House On Haunted Hill” replacing the Skelton which whizzed on a line above the audience’s head with a giant mosquito.

The Attack of the Amazing Electrified Man – A bizarre movie featuring scientists devising a serum to survive the electric chair (not sure why but still) only for the test subject to turn into a human dynamo who electrocutes anyone he touches. This film uses the gimmick of “Shock-o-Scope” which is essentially Castle’s “Percepto” he used for “The Tingler” and gives viewers an electric shock to their chair at a key moment.

The Stench – a badly dubbed Japanese movie, which uses the Smell-O-Vision, one of the few gimmicks not used by Castle, but was used in “Scent of Mystery” aswell as with the scratch and sniff cards issued for John Waters “Polyester” were everyone essentially paid Waters to sniff a fart.
Better still we get to see parts of these films throughout as they are used as films within a film, with each of these films being real cornball spoofs of the b-movies they are paying homage to and with the first two certainly give the film frequent bursts of fun.

Meanwhile the main plot of the film suffers not only due to a lack of pacing, but also from trying to combine a number of random plot ideas into the same film as film student Maggie (Schoelen) suffers from a strange reoccurring dream of a strange man trying to kill her, which she’s also attempting to turn them into a screenplay. The group meanwhile find a short experimental film called “Possessor” whose creator killed his family on stage when the film was originally shown.  On top of all this and the b-movies being shown we also have the serial killer who has the ability to turn himself into anyone he wants using latex masks.  This of course is the simplified version, as we also get a number of random scenes such as Maggie’s mother going to the movie theatre and being hit by letters which fly off the marquee which are then replaced by the title “Possessor”. Things only get stranger when she enters and the film playing on the screen starts talking to her, seemingly indicating that something supernatural is happening in the theatre, which of course its not making it you wonder all the more why these scenes much like the character of Dr. Mnesyne who shows up and then randomly disappears without a reason ever being given.

It’s hard to say were the blame for the flaws in the film lye especially with the films original director Alan Ormsby being replaced by Mark Herrier during filming and for whom this remains his sole directing credit. Ormsby meanwhile still directed all three of the films featured within while Herrier handled all the present day footage. It of course only makes me wonder what Ormsby would have done different had he directed the whole film, especially when his b-movie segments are amongst the strongest parts of the film.

Filmed in Kingston, Jamaica not that you would realise it, this does however go some way to explaining the two random reggae interludes, which seem to go down well with the kids in the theatre, even if it does seem out of place, much like when the reggae band showed up in “Never Been Kissed”. Also for such a niche movie going experience they manage to attract a full house of people many in random monster costumes which have nothing to do with any of the films being shown.

As a slasher there are some great inventive kills here, with most tying in some way to the film being shown, such as being impaled on the giant mosquito. The most creative though sees one of the teens being wired into the control board which controls which seats are given electric shocks. So while the shocks are being given out, he is trying to escape before the switch connected to his own chair is triggered. We also get a random scene of a character panicking that he is stuck in a toilet with an activated stench capsule, when there is clearly room to either climb over or crawl under the door!

As I mentioned already the film suffers heavily with its stop start pacing, which really stopped me from enjoying what is when it works a pretty fun film and one I would rate higher if there wasn’t so many scenes which seemed to do nothing but slow the film down. Still as a homage to the gimmicks of William Castle this film really has some nice touches, while the killer’s gimmick of using masks to impersonate members of the group is really great even his motive  ultimately feels slightly convoluted, especially when you see his final game plan. Still if you want a slasher with a side order of schlock then this much overlooked film could be for you.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Elwood's Essentials #11 - Chef

Title: Chef
Director: Jon Favreau
Released: 2014
Starring: Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, Scarlett Johansson, Oliver Platt, Bobby Cannavale, Dustin Hoffman, Emjay Anthony, Robert Downey Jr.

Plot: Carl (Favreau), a head chef bored with churning out the same old classic dishes and wanting to innovate his cooking soon finds himself fired after running afoul of the restaurant owner Riva (Hoffman). Now heading back to Miami he hits upon the idea of running a food truck, before heading off on a cross country road trip with his son Percy (Anthony) and his best friend Martin (Leguizamo) in tow.


Review: Here we have one of those rare films which like “The Darjeerling Limited” I want to watch again as soon as it ended, but also one which I instantly knew deserved a place on my essentials list.

Perhaps it was due to the source material, having grown up in a family were for the guys knowing how to cook was an essential life skill to be mastered, with my father having originally trained to be a chef only to then decide that he didn’t want to be one once he’d completed his training much to the dismay of my grandfather, a legendry cook in my family in his own right. Needless to say having grown up learning to cook with my father, it was inevitable that one of the main storylines here which see’s Carl bonding with his son over cooking which resonate with me.

A film crafted out Favreau’s desire to work on a smaller scale project after having spent the last few years working on big budget features, which lets not forget saw him as the first director to kick off the Marvel cinematic universe by directing the first two “Iron Man” films, it is nice to see Favreau returning to his independent roots mirroring in many ways his character’s journey we follow in the film.

Seemingly drawing inspiration from chef / author Antony Bourdain, Carl is head chief who loves his industry, a passion which makes him popular with his fellow chef’s, though at the same time has been at the cost of his marriage and connection with his son who he currently has an estranged relationship with.  Interestingly it’s not his ego which initially causes his downfall as you would expect, as he clashes with his boss Riva (here played by Hoffman in a rare villainous turn) over the type of dishes to serve when Carl calls out food critic Ramsey Michel (Platt) whose dismay at the dishes being served leads Carl to a very public meltdown in one of the few moments were he loses his cool and in this case his career.

It’s this fall from glory and his journey back to the top, were the real heart of the film lies as Carl returns to his hometown and buys himself a banged up food truck, which he fixes up with his son and partner in crime Martin, here played by Leguizamo with his usual vibrant energy. At the same time this new beginning marks not only a new start for Carl’s career, but also a chance to reboot his relationship with his son as they start to bond over cooking, with such great scenes as Carl buying his son his first cook’s knife and explaining the responsibility that comes with it, as well as disciplining him over wanting to serve a burned sandwich highlighting a standard he refuses he maintains regardless of the level he’s working at. At the same time Percy furthers their renewed connection by handling the social media promotion for the truck, as he attempts to educate Carl how to use Twitter which bizarrely is so heavily featured throughout I had to wonder if they were sponsoring the film.

Unsurprisingly for a film about cooking, there is some serious food-porn action happening throughout the film as we get to see various dishes being created from high end culinary dishes through to the equally tasty Cuban sandwiches which form the foundation of his return to the top. The film also takes in real life restaurants such as “Café du Monde” in New Orleans French quarter and “Franklin Barbecue” in Austin, Texas which only add to the experience with Favreau citing “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” amongst the films which inspired him and when it comes to how food is presented and shot here, these inspirations are clear. At the same time Favreau embarked on a crash course in French culinary schooling aswell as training with food truck chef Roy Choi who also served as a consultant on the film and here Favreau's schooling pays off as he looks perfectly comfortable in the kitchen while it adds a level of realism to proceedings not usually seen in these kinds of films.

Favreau here has assembled a great cast, while at the same time using his little black book of celebrity contacts, as we get cameo’s not only by the aforementioned Hoffman, but also by “Iron Man” alumni Scarlett Johansson and Robert Downey Jr. who put in good performances for the brief  but memorable appearances that they make here, much like the underrated Oliver Platt who as food critic Ramsey Michel and whose brother is actually a food critic, manages to have the audience view his character one way when we first meet him, while managing to pull a reversal by the time we meet him again at the end. Elsewhere Sofia Vergara appearing as Carl’s ex-wife who he maintains a friendly relationship with, brings her usual Latin charms while essentially playing the same role she always does, which isn’t a bad thing, especially when she is always so fun when she is on the screen.

The film could be criticised for its lack of high drama, as Favreau concentrates on the fun of the journey and Percy discovering the joy of cooking, but when the journey is packed with so many colourful characters and delicious sights and latin fused soundtrack there is little longing for anything which might distract from these things.  If anything this is the sort of film which makes you long for the days of scratch and sniff card or a 4D viewing especially when the film is shot in such an immersive style. Still for now I can only hope that Favreau continues this interest in making low budget, especially if this is any indication of the sort of films he would be making as I’d certainly love to see him doing more films like this than another big budget feature, especially if they are this tasty.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Jennifer's Body

Title: Jennifer’s Body
Director: Karyn Kusama
Released: 2009
Starring: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons, J.K. Simons, Amy Sedaris, Adam Brody

Plot: Needy (Seyfried) is a nerdy and reserved bookworm who has an unlikely friendship with the popular and arrogant cheerleader Jennifer (Fox).  Things however take a turn for the strange when Jennifer is turned into a man eating succubus.

Review: Despite originally hating this film when it was originally released I was convinced to give it a re-watch after Christine Makepeace (Author of “Wake Up Maggie” let alone one half of “The Feminine Critique” podcast) named it as one of her picks on “The Under the Radar Movie Draft” we recently ran on the “MBDS Showcase”. So after hearing her fight for this film I thought it was only fair that I re-watch it to see if perhaps I had been wrong with my initial impression of this film.

Directed by Karyn Kusama who made her debut with the fantastic but sadly overlooked “Girlfight” before getting her first big mainstream film with the disappointing “Aeon Flux”. Still despite the negative reviews there was a lot of excitement surrounding the release of this film, especially with Diablo Cody on scripting duties, who was also coming in hot from her Oscar win for “Juno”, hoping that lightening would strike twice with her script for this film, especially being a self-confessed horror fan.  Still what got though was a film filled with flaws and misfires which is only made the more frustrating when there is clearly a good movie in here, only one which is being buried by the numerous issues the film has.

Opening with Needy confined to solitary confinement in an insane asylum, were she proceeds to narrate the story of how she came to be there. Worryingly this is the high point for the film with Seyfried clearly relishing the chance to play something different than her usual romantic leads, especially when here she gets to be classified as being a kicker, a title she fully justifies during this opening sequence when she send an orderly flying across the room with a single kick.

Flashing back to the start though we still get to enjoy Seyfried playing against type with Needy being essentially the complete opposite of what we’ve come to expect from here, while she shows a willingness to dress down which really makes this character rather than just doing the usual Hollywood thing of putting the hot girl in glasses, here she goes the whole hog. Fox meanwhile gets to play her usual type of role as the hot popular girl, only here she does get alittle more meat to her role thanks to Cody’s script which includes such witty gems as

“Yeah, right. I’m not even a backdoor-virgin anymore, thanks to Roman. By the way, that hurts. I couldn’t even go to flags the next day. I had to stay home and sit on a bag of frozen peas”

Fox equally makes for the perfect succubus, especially having the looks which make it easy to understand why it’s so easy for her to find men to devour. This being said the real strength of her perferomance here is playing the role with her eyes which frequently seem to hold an hypnotic quality especially during the scenes in which she moves in for the kill or the memorable nude swimming sequence.

Gore wise the film saves most of its tricks for the final quarter, with Kusama teasing out the kills with sudden cut-away, usually as Jennifer is going in for the kill. We do however get some colourful descriptions for her victims remains with "Lasagne with teeth" certainly being at the top.

Sadly though for all the sharp quips and pop culture references  Cody’s script also suffers from her usual flaws in that while she happy to craft strong and whitty female characters, the male characters are seemingly only there to either be emasculated chumps or over sexed sleaze bags with no characters in the middle ground bar perhaps for an early Chris Pratt appearance which is essentially a glorified cameo.  The chief offender amongst these being Needy’s boyfriend Chip (Simmons) who is written so irritatingly weak he can’t seem to do anything unless it’s with Needy while she spends the film stringing him along with the prospect of sex when she feels his interest might be wavering. At the same time is shown having zero qualms about going with Jennifer when given the chance. Bizarrely the fact that he cheats on Needy is never shown in any kind of negative light, even if he does get punished for his actions.

The thing which killed this film dead for me though was Adam Brody, who here playing the lead singer of the band “Low Shoulder” who uses Jennifer as a human sacrifice to Satan in order to achieve fame and success. However going off the description Needy’s voice over gives us, it would seem that this character was supposed to look more like an early Nine Inch Nails Trent Razak than a winey emo kid that Brody carries himself as while once again wheeling out the same performance he’s been giving since he first showed up in “The O.C” were he was interesting for the first season and then wrongly given main billing for the seasons which followed when he should have been left as the funny sidekick. Yes there are other actors such as Michael Cera who get away frequently with such performance recycling but Brody is not one of them. Here his smarmy performance and date rapist charm, made me wish I could climb into the film, if only to punch him in the face for the sheer irritancy that caused me throughout this film. Here despite supposedly being this evil force, it is never conveyed with any sense of believability with Brody once more just coming off as irritating (much like their one song we are frequently subjected to) than any kind of threat, while his aswell as the band’s comeuppance has the feeling of an afterthought seeing how it comes during the credits.  

As much as I wanted to love this film, the flaws far outweigh the positives and making it much more of a chore to get through, while I could see it being a more enjoyable experience if it hadn’t featured Brody who as I mentioned already kills this one stone dead stopping what could have been a fun yet disposable teen horror and instead meaning we end up with more of a stumbling misfire that no amount of Faux lesbian antics is going to correct.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Punishment Park.

Title: Punishment Park
Director: Peter Watkins
Released: 1971
Starring: Patrick Boland, Kent Foreman, Carmen Argenziano, Luke Johnson, Katherine Quittner, Scott Turner, Stanford Armstead, Mary Ellen Kleinhall, Mark Keats, Gladys Golden, Sanford Golden, Normal Sinclair, Sigmund Rich, Paul Rosenstein

Plot: A pseudo-documentary set in an alternative 1970, with President Nixon declaring a state of emergency giving federal authorities the power to detain persons judged to be a “risk to internal security”. Now these detainees are faced with either serving their full conviction time in federal prison or three days in Punishment Park to win their freedom.


Review: You’d be forgiven for going into this expecting another “Turkey Shoot” or “Battle Royale” as this film is pretty much the opposite despite the setup. Here instead we get a commentary on the social and political tensions of the time, as British director Peter Watkins draws inspiration from events such as the Kent State shootings, the trial of the Chicago Seven aswell as political polarisation to craft his alternative history which unsurprisingly was released to much criticism at the time, especially with a British director making a film essentially designed to highlight the American political problems in a time of crisis, while it also managed to also spark claims of Communism.

Shot in a cinema verite style using hand held cameras, aswell as a shoe string budget of a mere $95,000 Watkins really sells the faux documentary style even if Watkins here also playing the role of the narrator does sound like Eric Idle’s documentary maker Nigel on “The Simpsons” which proved kind of distracting but perfectly suited the tone of the film he’s making while frequently providing the voice of the audience especially towards the end of the film when he starts becoming more vocal in highlighting the flaws in this openly corrupt system.

Despite existing on an alternative history timeline it is one which is still familiar, let alone one which still rings true even years after the film’s release. Splitting its attention between two separate groups with one being filmed as they face a civilian tribunal to decide their sentence , the other group being filmed at the start of their time in Punishment Park . This second group we soon learn are faced with playing what is essentially a game of capture the flag, as they have to get through 53 miles of the California desert in three days without food or water, while at the same time being used for field training for the Nation guard and police tasked to chase and stop reaching the target American flag at the end of the course. If any of the group is captured by either of these forces they will have to serve their sentence in federal prison.

These groups are mainly made up of what was considered to be the biggest threats at the time, so anti-establishment hippies and draft –dodgers none of which acts as any kind of mouthpiece with Charles Robbins character, one of the few who attempts to fight back against this corrupt tribunal system almost immediately is gagged and handcuffed by the military police in attendance. As such we get scattered bits and pieces, of the individuals beliefs and reasons for them being sent here, but nothing to really define any one person as being a hero or villain of the piece as Watkins maintains the audiences place as that of the onlooker.

The scenes in Punishment Park are gruelling to watch as the group are essentially sent on a death march across the desert with nothing in way of supplies, while only being further taunted by the system who promise water and supplies at the half way point only for the group to soon discover said water is nothing but a tap stuck into the ground and not actually connected to anything. It’s frustrating to watch especially when you remember that these people are only here because of the fact that they choose to believe different than what the government feels that they should conform to. At the same time none of these individuals are able to provide any kind of clear idea for creating the kind of Utopia that they seemingly stand for creating with their actions which landed them in this situation.

The only clear cut idea we do get here is that of force as the solution as the military police and soldiers taunt them with attack dogs, while using billy clubs and random executions to enforce their will. These individuals clearly viewing the world in a more black and white sense were those who oppose the governments will must either conform or face being re-educated via the use of violence and intimidation. Unsurprisingly its only a matter of time before these tactics create a division in the group, with half attempting to fight back with violence against their guards only to bleakly be quickly quashed, leaving the other group to continue to try and beat the game by following the rules being enforced only to essentially suffer the same fate by the ending which comes with a bleak sense of hopelessness which might not sit well with some, but one which perfectly suits the tone of the film.

The only real character we see (or should that be hear) evolve over the course of the film is the narrator, who starts off with a detached style as he makes bland observations about weather conditions, temperatures in the desert and names of characters as the camera singles them out, while at the same time providing just enough information on the situation happening around to keep the viewer as confused as they informed about what they are watching. However as the flaws in this system start to be uncovered he starts to become more objective about what he is seeing with the film being to him hysterically shouting at Sheriff Edwards (Bohan) whose men are ruthlessly beating down and killing the group members, only to find him viewing the situation with chilling disregard even when informed that their actions are being filmed by the documentary crew his response is only one of

“I’ve been on film before, that doesn’t make a bit of difference to me”

A scene which only further reinforces how true these enforcers believe their actions must like the government they represent to be.

Something of an obscurity the film makes for a interesting watch, even if it is far from the most action packed film, it handles its political theme a lot more coherently than many of the protest / political films of the period such as Jean-Luc Godard’s abysmal “Sympathy For The Devil” making it worth hunting down if only to further your film education.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Wild Beasts

Title: Wild Beasts
Director: Franco Prosperi
Released: 1984
Starring: Lorraine de Selle, John Aldrich, Ugo Bologna, Louisa Lloyd, John Stacy

Plot: A large quantity of PCP finds its way into the local water supply, which also happens to be the main supply for the city zoo. Now driven wild the animals escape and wreak havoc in the city


Review: One of the best creations for film fans in recent times especially for bloggers / critics looking for their next watch is the site “Letterboxd” which essentially provides the same service as “Good Reads” only for movies instead of books. Ok it might seem alittle random to be opening with a recommendation of a film site, but honestly without it I would have never have stumbled across this little slice of deep fried animals gone wild fun!

Just looking at the plot alone makes this worth giving it a curious watch, so it only makes it all the better when it lives up to its premise. True it might be essentially the same as every other film in the genre with man once again finding a way of screwing up and inturn enraging the local animal population and being forced to pay the price when said animals strike back. The only thing which honestly sets it apart from the numerous other films in the genre is the fact that its drugs driving the animals wild than the usual environmental threats such as sewage or construction encroaching on the animals territory.

An oddity on director Prosperi’s resume having spent most of his career directing Mondo movies (documentaries focusing on shocking subjects) and crime drama’s and despite the film opening with a title card assuring the audience that no animals were harmed during filming, its soon clear that Prosperi hasn’t drifted from his Mondo roots as the film does in fact feature scenes of real rats being set on fire and a lion set preying on a cow to name but two scenes which seriously question this claim. Thankfully this is no way the same ballpark of animal cruelty like “Cannibal Holocaust” with its nightmare inducing turtle scene while they are equally so brief that they don’t detract from the film like that scene did.

Unlike so many other films in the genre the animal attacks are pretty frequent here and not spaced out with questionable plotting to pad out the runtime. This however is not to say that the plot is any better here as cult cinema favourite De Selle gets to take a break from her usual shockers like “Cannibal Ferox” and “House at the Edge of the Park” with this film being notably lighter as here she appears as Dr. Laura Schwarz who has to team up with Super Mario look-alike and zoo keeper Rupert (Aldrich) to stop the rogue animals while trying to get to the bottom of what’s driving them crazy. We also have the random plotline concerning Laura’s daughter who’s attending a ballet class while the city erupts into chaos and which serves little purpose outside of setting up the films finale.

The plot is pretty non-existent and generally serves to get the film from one animal attack set-piece to the next, while Prosperi still managing to find a number of random moments to scatter throughout the film such as shots of piles of syringes in the opening which have nothing to do with the PCP getting into the water supply which bizarrely never get explained as to how it got in the water in the first place. We also have scenes such as Laura phoning her daughter only to have the kid randomly have a frog puppet squawk down the phone. The standout moment of random plotting though has to be the ending which takes place at the dance school, were the film suddenly switches into a psycho child movie thanks to the dance school students really loving that water cooler!

The real selling point here though is animal attack scenes which are numerous to say the least with Prosperi certainly making the most of the premise starting with a group of rabid rats preying on a couple making out in a car in a scene which also sees a cat also falling foul to these rats. From here Prosperi seems to constantly be looking for a way to top the last scene as we get the expected scenes of zoo keepers being attacked by wild cats alongside more random scenes like a girl trying to outrun a cheetah in her bang up beetle and my personal favourite the girl having her head squashed by an elephant, the same elephants who in perhaps a cinematic first are also responsible for a jumbo jet crashing when they stumble onto the runway.

While not as shocking as some of his earlier films, Prosperi still includes a few shocking scenes, especially in terms of the animal cruelty but ultimately this is a fun romp and certainly one of the few examples of this kind of movie which manages to live up to the hype selling it. Yes the performances might be frequently questionable and the saxophone heavy soundtrack certainly a product of its time. However when the animal attack scenes are so much fun and inventive it’s easy to look past a lot of the issues here while fans of these kinds of movie will unquestionably find much to enjoy here making it well worth hunting down.
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