Friday, August 31, 2007

Season of the Kitsch: Rob Zombie Takes a Stab at “Halloween”

I will say this upfront: After much deliberation I’ve decided to give this film a letter grade of B-. This is technically one of my most difficult grades to give because I’m very torn. The original Halloween is my fourth favorite film of all time and watching a remake seems both appalling and intriguing. So therefore I must warn that fans of the original film are most likely not going to enjoy this version and fans of horror in general will find likes to like and dislike. Fans of director Rob Zombie will probably find this to be one of his most accomplished works, which of course, isn’t saying a whole lot.

It’s unfair to the new film to make direct comparisons to the original. Yet it’s an insult to the original for it to be completely ignored. So, having said that, I will try to be fair to both versions. But that really implies that this new film is a standard remake and it’s really not. It has enough new content to qualify it as a prequel. I appreciate Zombie wanting to go back to the beginning to make Michael Myers scary again, whether he actually succeeds, I haven’t really decided.

It’s part prequel part remake (pre-make? re-quel?) It’s really two short movies shoehorned into one and it doesn’t quite gel. Zombie expands the original film’s opening into half a movie that doesn’t really work. What makes “The Shape” (true fans know what I’m talking about) stand out amongst the Jasons and Freddys is that not knowing why he kills his sister when he’s eight years old is what’s so frightening. And this was at time in the sixties when crimes like this shocked millions. Today, we live in a society that continually breeds crime and violence (although it’s been awhile since we’ve had a well-known serial killer on the loose ala Bundy or Dahmer). So when we see little Mikey Myers kill his sister and several others it’s not completely shocking or particularly scary. We see little Mike’s (Daeg Faerch) grungy homelife. Sheri Moon Zombie plays his somewhat sympathetic stripper mom. And Mike not only kills is older sis, but her greasy boyfriend, and his stepfather as well. Oh yeah and he beats a kid to death in the woods. And we finally get to see Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) council little crazy Michael.

Zombie gets a few things right. I had heard awhile back that he wasn’t going to use Carpenter’s famously simply and creepy score. It’s been remixed here by composer Tyler Bates. The mask is finally a lot closer to what it looked like in the original film. And frankly the film is much better than parts 4, 5, 6 & 8. (I don’t even count part III and since I love post-modern horror movies like “Scream” I found “H20” to be completely enjoyable, if also completely ridiculous). Part II is definitely the best sequel because it’s most like the original. This “reimagining” seems more along the lines of “Halloween” meets “Hostel” in that the violence here unlike the original is very gratuitous. And I think every female character under 20 shows her breasts before being sliced and diced by the hulking adult Michael Myers (Tyler Mane) and dragged across the floor.

I enjoyed the nods to the first film. (“See anything ya like?” “Totally” Laurie still likes Ben Traemer) For a short time Michael Myers actually stalks and hunts instead of just killing everyone in sight. Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) stops by the Myers house to drop off paperwork for her real estate agent father and she meets up with little Tommy Doyle who insists that the boogeyman is for real. Laurie’s oversexed friends Annie and Linda totally show up here as well. Laurie isn’t as much of a spazz as Jamie Lee portrayed her in the original (she doesn’t knit or dress like a 70 year old woman) and now she’s fitted with some hip new frames. Whether she’s as sympathetic as in the original, that’s up for debate. She’s still the undersexed virgin and her friends have been revved up into superslut mode mostly because by the time Laurie is introduced almost an hour has gone by. And Annie actually gets to do it with her boyfriend Paul before meeting her end.

It’s impossible to not compare this to the 1978 classic. I saw it when I was a little kid and I’ve never been the same person. Will this new Halloween do the same when it airs on October 31st on basic cable? I doubt it. Rob Zombie is an honest “Halloween” fan and who wouldn’t want to make the ultimate Halloween movie? While it’s not nearly as bad as the most unnecessary remake of all time (Gus Van Sant’s “Psycho”) Zombie’s film will blissfully fade from memory without any harm done. If anything there is a purpose for this film: it will make you appreciate the original even more. And as long as it as a reason for existing, that’s not really a bad thing. GRADE: B-

PS: Why does every male character in this movie appear like he’s about to attend a White Zombie concert with grungy shoulder-length hair? Oh wait, never mind.

PSS: If this is supposed to be a remake of the first film, why does Zombie still go with the horrendous Halloween II plotline of making Laurie Strode Michael’s little sister. Even Carpenter himself admits that was a lousy idea in the first place.

PSSS: And what I really don’t get is why little Michael Myers would choose to dress as a circus clown for Halloween when he walks around wearing a KISS t-shirt?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Freaks & McGeeks: The Teen Comedy “Superbad” is Super Good

Some of the best comedies take place over one night or day. The granddaddy of spoofs “Airplane!” takes place during one wacky flight. “Wet Hot American Summer” is the last day in the lives of campers and their crazy counselors. “Adventures in Babysitting” transpires during a long evening of misadventures in Chicago. Even “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” takes place in a day. I could go on forever and it’s possible that film historians have written about the merits of films that take place over a short period of times in the characters’ lives. There isn’t much time to show a character’s lifetime, but the best movies can develop a character within minutes with expert dialogue and some gut-wrenchingly hilarious scenes. “Superbad” from producer Judd Apatow is a guaranteed soon-to-be-classic of the teen sex comedy genre. You’ll be McLovin’ it.

“Superbad” is a rare specimen. It’s the rare comedy that has its heart in the right place along with its brain. Seth Rogen who you’ll gladly remember as the good-hearted doofus who got Katherine Heigl pregnant in “Knocked Up” co-wrote this with his friend Evan Goldberg. They allegedly wrote this script years ago and is semi-autobiographical in nature. And a reason this film works on the level of smart comedy is that there’s a bit of truth in nearly every scene. Director Greg Mottola uses actors who actually look like they’re about to graduate high school and geeky teens who actually appear to be geeky. And where on earth did they find that McLovin kid. He’s God’s gift to summer comedy.

Evan (Michael Cera) and Seth (Jonah Hill) are have been buddies since they were little (and both actors are in fine form). They’re both kind of geeky in an “oh look at those cute virgins” sort of way. Of course they aren’t prudes. The way they speak could make Howard Stern blush. Okay, maybe not, but you get my point. These boys’ mouths will offend most adults (within minutes of starting the boys discuss which porn website to buy a subscription to). And the point of their vulgar talk isn’t just to be funny and offensive. I believe this is how teenagers these days speak. And frankly the more teenagers talk about sex the less they actually do it. This is smart observation of the teenage experience disguised as dumb raunch. But for every bit of bawdy humor there is just as much humanity. This is also a film that is really more about male friendship than about guy & girl love. These guys are getting ready to move on in their lives and it’s a frightening and awkward reality.

The plot here is simple which includes their attempt to get their hands on booze for a girl’s house party. This entails many wild and unpredictable misadventures. They plan to use their friend Fogell’s (terrific newcomer Christopher Mintz-Plasse) new fake ID to score the alcohol. A robbery at the liquor store lands Fogell in the hands of two ridiculous cops played by Rogen and SNL’s Bill Hader. They love that this kid’s name on his ID is McLovin and decide to give him a ride home after they make a few police calls. Like all teen comedies the adults are always portrayed as inept loons and “Superbad” is no exception. These officers are straight out of “Car 54 Where Are You” and while they do provide solid laughs (mostly because they’re with McLovin) their scenes are so silly and unbelievable they’re almost from a different movie.

I think Mr. Rogen is having the best summer of his life. Everything he’s connected with has just the right doses of hilarity and humanity. This film almost plays like a prequel to “Knocked Up.” Now we know where the Ben Stone character came from. And whether Evan and Seth ever get to that party in hopes of losing their virginity is something I’ll never tell. This is the rare gem of a film that actually gets you to care about its characters instead of just knocking you over the head with humor. Although McLovin deserves a movie of his own. GRADE: A-

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Kentucky Fried Bible: While Thy Film Isn’t 'Wet Hot American Summer' Thou Shalt Enjoy “The Ten”

You have to love any film that mocks religion. Well “The Ten” doesn’t so much mock religion as much as it just acknowledges it with raunchy humor mixed in guaranteed to offend many. Frankly, this film’s audience is not going to be the likes of Mother Superior or Pope what’s-his-name. The true audience for this film is the small cult followers of the director David Wayne’s hilarious previous entry “Wet Hot American Summer.” That was an irreverent look at 80s camp comedies that was as subversive as it was funny. “The Ten” is an ode to God’s Ten Commandment’s one of life’s first countdowns. VH1, MTV and E! have a lot to owe the man upstairs and a really funny film to witness. Here I present to thee, “The Ten” a film chock full of funny bits that are mostly hit or miss.

The film’s structure is really simple. Paul Rudd introduces the film in front of two large CGI stone tablets with the list behind him. He introduces each segment but not before introducing us to a fight with his wife played by Famke Janssen. If anything, this is the weakest part of “The Ten.” Rudd is a funny guy (see Knocked Up, The 40 Year Old Virgin, heck even Clueless) but here his laughs are mostly scattershot and when the film comes back to him, we most just want to get back to the commandment segments. These segments rate on a scale of hilarious to funny to odd. But it’s always entertaining. But frankly, this film's slick production values don't really work as much as Wet Hot American Summer's low budget appeal.

It’s difficult to describe all of them and guess what there are ten! The first has to do with “thou shalt have no other Gods before me” and it revolves around The OC’s Adam Brody gaining a Christ-like following after becoming stuck in the ground after a skydiving mishap. Winona Ryder plays his overreacting, jealous girlfriend. Ryder also plays in another segment (as most of the actors do) regarding, you guessed it, “thou shalt not steal” in which she becomes obsessed with a ventriloquist’s dummy and must steal it to satisfy her love of, um, puppet love. Probably the most random vignette is for “honor thy father and thy mother” in which two black twins question their white mother about their white father’s paternity. She insists her sons’ biological father is none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger. The boys’ respond with “How does that explain the dark color of our skin?” That’s how random this movie is. The only real throwaway part is an unfunny animated sequence whose only highlight is seeing silly cartoon characters having sex.

The film really does work when it’s at its most random. The jokes are sometimes taken literally such as those black boys asking their mother to spell it out to them. And then she literally s-p-e-l-l-s it out for them. The dialogue is as smart as anything found in a ZAZ parody film. And why shouldn’t it be. Wet Hot American Summer worked as well as any spoof possibly could. David Wain and co-writer Ken Marino have crafted their film as an ode to the great sketch comedies of the past. “History of the World Part I,” “Kentucky Fried Movie,” and “Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask” all are in fair play.

Wain has assembled such a great cast including Live Schreiber (who covets his neighbor’s goods), Gretchen Mol (uses the lord’s name in vain), Jessica Alba (as a homewrecker), Bobby Cannavale (keeps the Sabbath Day holy by hanging out naked with other guys), Oliver Platt (as a celebrity impersonator), Zak Orth (defending the thou shalt not murder guy), Rob Cordy (wants the thou shalt not kill guy as his prison bitch), Justin Theroux (plays a Mexican Jesus Christ) etc but it’s a little disappointing that “Wet Hot” alums Michael Showalter, Janeane Garofalo and Michael Ian Black just show up in minor roles. Molly Shannon and Amy Poehler are nowhere to be found but that’s ok. I say count your blessings and see thy film! GRADE: B

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Strip Cheese: Lindsay Lohan is Lindsay No-Hand in the Unintentionally Hilarious “I Know Who Killed Me”

I never thought Lindsay Lohan could stoop this low. That is until I heard she proclaimed the cocaine found in her pants wasn’t hers. They weren’t even her pants! Yeah, Linds keep snorting that booger sugar. While Lindsay makes her way to rehab for the third time (third time’s the charm) I’m still wrapping my head around what can only be described as the most bizarrely horrible film of 2007. Although I never said it wasn’t entertaining or side-splittingly hilarious.

But it’s not fair to bring up Ms. Lohan’s (who can act, just not here) unfortunate real life traumas when there’s something a whole lot worse happening to her on the big screen. That would be “I Know Who Killed Me” (a film that would be the result of a threesome between “Saw,” “Showgirls,” and “The Parent Trap”) a horribly conceived mess that’s supposed to be, I’m guessing, an erotic thriller? Come on, after being held captive by a serial killer Lohan’s limbs get chopped off and the doctor gives her a robotic mechanical hand and an electronic prosthetic leg. How is the audience really supposed to take this seriously? In case you care, Lohan is Aubrey a nice high school journalist whose theme color is blue. She writes stories about Dakota, a slutty stripper, (is there any other kind?) whose theme color is red. When Aubrey is kidnapped by a serial killer and left for dead minus two limbs, it is Dakota who emerges much to the shock of Aubrey’s parents. So is she Aubrey or Dakota? What is her favorite color, blue or red? And when will Lindsay Lohan get her life back together?

I think Ms. Lohan got confused when she read the script. She probably figured that many actresses who have gone slutty have won awards. Even Oscars. Take cinematic hookers Mira Sorvino and Kim Basinger. Both played prostitutes and then both nabbed Oscar gold. Of course, they didn’t play serial killer stripper victims who get fitted with mechanical hands. Seriously, I’m not kidding: Lohan gets a mechanical hand. It’s worth the admission price just for that scene. I’m going out on a limb here (natch!) but I’m guessing half of the crew was high when they actually accepted this job.

Everything here is shoddily done. The editing is lumbering and evident. The camerawork is just plain average. This movie looks like it should be premiering at 1AM on Cinemax (no offense to pay cable channels). And the film has about the same class as a crack mother teaching kindergarten. Did anyone actually read novice Jeff Hammond’s script before signing on because the writing is horrible as well. The acting isn’t as atrocious as say “Showgirls” (Elizabeth Berkley is still the Worst Actress Ever reigning champion) but it’s not exactly good either.

Oh and did you notice how everything in the movie is the color blue. Oh my good, if I never have to look at the color blue again I’ll die happy. Gimme a break people! Hey director Chris Sivertson, have you ever heard of subtlety? (Obviously not, because after all, this is the movie where Lindsay Lohan gets a mechanical hand!) And how am I supposed to keep a straight face during the “intense” finale when Lindsay’s prosthetic leg keeps beeping because the battery is running low? Is that supposed to help create suspense or something? It doesn’t do anything but create chuckles from the people in the audience who are kicking themselves for paying to see Lindsay Lohan get a mechanical hand.

And the film sets up what we think is going to be a revelation that both Dakota (red Lindsay) and Aubrey (blue Lindsay) are in fact the same person (split personality?) but no, the writer had to come up with something even more ludicrous. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, surprise, it does! The revelation of the killer is mind-numbingly stupid, not to mention pointless.

You know what? “I Know Who Killed Me” is probably one of the most entertaining bad movies to come out in a while. Wait until it comes out on DVD, invite your friends over, open a six-pack and just let ‘er rip. This movie will be coming soon to a bargain bin near you. Yes, I told you a mechanical hand! GRADE: D- *

*(or an A- for sheer entertainment value)