Walking Out


A father-son piggyback ride – with a twist.

(2017) Drama (IFC) Matt Bomer, Josh Higgins, Bill Pullman, Alex Neustaedter, Ken White, Lily Gladstone, Erik P. Resel. Directed by Alex Smith and Andrew J. Smith

 

The mountains are unforgiving. They are beautiful, yes, but formidable. One false step can leave you in a terrible situation. One mistake, one moment of lapsed concentration can make the difference between getting home safely and having your carcass gnawed on by animals.

Cal (Bomer) is an avid outdoorsman living in Montana. He is divorced with a child, 14-year-old David (Higgins) who lives most of the time with his mother in a more urban or at least suburban environment. Cal is about hiking, camping, hunting and respecting nature. David is about smartphones, chatting with his friends and videogames. Cal is 19th century, David is 21st century. Cal has some fairly concrete ideas of what it takes to be a man; David’s ideas are more fluid.

On his semi-annual visit to his Dad, David is less than enthusiastic but he’s a good sport and agrees to go hunting with his Pa. He proves to be a less than adept shot to his father’s frustration – and David’s own. Cal has quite a camping trip planned; he’s been tracking a moose in the high country and wants David to bag the animal as his first kill as a hunter. David would likely much rather play a hunting simulation game if he had a choice.

But David is the kind of kid who goes along to get along and depending on how charitable your view is, either sees how important it is to his Dad and gives in or simply wants to avoid a confrontation. Either way, the two head into the mountains where Cal hopes that this trip will bring the two closer together.

Things start to go wrong nearly immediately. They go after the moose only to discover that some rank amateur has already shot it and left it to rot which is a crime in Cal’s book. Looking for some other game to at least salvage the trip, things go wrong for the two men; horribly wrong in fact, leaving them stranded in the wilderness, one of them terribly wounded and no hope for rescue. They’ll have to walk out of the mountains on their own if they are to survive.

One of the words that best describes this movie is “simple.” In other words, the Smith brothers aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel here; they set up their shots without a lot of complication, the plot is straightforward and we are almost forced to concentrate on character interaction. This works for me particularly when the characters are interesting and the performers bring those characters to life.

The movie rests heavily on the shoulders of Bomer and Wiggins and to their credit they both do a solid job but we are given a pretty straightforward dramatic conflict; Dad = he-man outdoors type who likes to shoot things; Son = pampered Millennial with a chip on his shoulder. As winning formulas go, this is probably somewhere in the middle of the pack. Still, I grant you that this kind of relationship as we see here between Cal and David feels very much authentic, the kind of extreme gulf that exists between city folk and country folk. In a way the rift between Cal and David mirrors that between urban and rural in America.

The Montana scenery as lensed by Todd McMullen is as spectacular as advertised; there’s majesty, beauty and stark emptiness here. There’s a lot of snow, particularly when the movie switches from the prairies to the mountains but it’s a pristine snow of the kind you don’t find where people are. Even in all the whiteness there’s a kind of beauty that makes the audience shiver in sympathy and also feel VERY happy to be in a warmer climate at that moment.

The one Name in the cast is Pullman who plays Cal’s father in flashbacks when Cal describes his first moose hunt to his son. Pullman has hardly any lines at all and his appearances, all in a home movie-like sheen, are not enough to really make a difference here. The pacing of the film is pretty deliberate and after awhile watching the excruciating pain that one of the cast members is in gets hard to watch; as the two men make their way down the mountain, I began to wish the film would end quickly. Maybe ADD is catching.

Other than a few scenes this is a very talky affair with little action so people who might ordinarily be into this kind of survival film will likely be a lot more than a little bit put off by the film. Those into exploring relationship dynamics might see the adventure movie side to this and give it a wide berth. There is some promise here, not just the lead actors but also behind the camera as well. The Brothers Smith have a good eye, an ability to take a basic plot and make it their own. I suspect that I won’t remember much about the movie in the days to come but I’m much more positive that I’ll be remembering the directors in years to come as they craft movies that take story ideas, bring them to their essence and make a great movie around it.

REASONS TO GO: The scenery is beautiful. The father/son dynamic is unusually realistic.
REASONS TO STAY: Bill Pullman is wasted in his flashback-heavy role. At times the movie is hard to watch and at other times I couldn’t wait for it to end.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some bloody images of a mauling, adult thematic elements and some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Christian Bale considered the role of Cal but ultimately decided to pass because he didn’t want to be separated from his family on a remote location shoot so soon after the birth of his son.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/6/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews. Metacritic: 81/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Grey
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
Woodpeckers

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Phoenix Forgotten


A billboard you don’t want to see your image on.

(2017) Horror Sci-Fi (Cinelou) Chelsea Lopez, Luke Spencer Roberts, Justin Matthews, Florence Hartigan, Clint Jordan, Cyd Strittmatter, Jeanine Jackson, Matt Biedel, Ana Dela Cruz, Mackenzie Firgens, Jay Pirouznia, Marc Marron, Don Boyd, Tony Duncan, Richard Cansino, Hector Luis Bustamante, Joseph J. LaRocca, Larry Toffler, Cynthia Quiles. Directed by Justin Barber

 

Some may remember the notorious Phoenix Lights that on March 13, 1997 were witnessed by thousands of Phoenicians. Some in the UFO community consider it one of the most important sightings in history; others pass it off as military planes in formation dropping flares. Either way, it is still something of a mystery.

Three teens – Josh Bishop (Roberts), his crush Ashley Foster (Lopez) and their mutual friend Mark Abrams (Matthews) decide to head towards a remote area of the Arizona mountains to investigate the lights a week later. Their car was found abandoned by the side of the road but the three young people were never seen again.

Twenty years later Sophie (Hartigan), the younger sister of Josh, comes back to Phoenix to help her mom (Strittmatter) move. She comes across some of the videotapes her camera-obsessed brother took, including those of the lights themselves and decides to make a documentary of her brother’s disappearance. She interviews as many subjects as she can including her dad (Jordan) and other interested parties. At length she discovers a badly damaged camcorder found in the desert with the tape in it amazingly intact – which may solve once and for all the mystery behind the disappearance of the three teens.

The movie is in reality two separate movies; the story of the three teens told through their own videos, and Sophie’s investigation, which is a more standard storytelling method. The more interesting of the two is surprisingly the found footage. Barber has recreated it well, making it look like it was recorded on a camcorder circa 1997 complete with wavy lines, static and shaky cam. It looks real authentic as does the environment depicted; kudos to Barber for that.

The three “teen” leads are all as they tend to be in low budget horror movies attractive and do at least an adequate job of performing. Lopez in particular seems to have some screen presence and might well be on her way to a bright future in the business.

The thing here is that it borrows a little bit too much from The Blair Witch Project, even one of the character’s names is present. The plot is just about identical, adding elements from last year’s Blair Witch to sweeten the pot, substituting the Arizona desert for the Maryland woods. Imitation is of course flattery and in all honesty Phoenix Forgotten does imitate well, but if you’re looking for something more, you might end up disappointed.

Speaking of disappointing, the special effects are pretty poor for a film of this caliber – although they do get the aging of the found footage right. Mostly the effects consist of colored lights, wind machines and wires and it would have looked primitive back in 1997. In 2017, well, it’s simply not good enough. With maybe a little bit larger budget they could have done a more realistic job.

Still, the movie delivers where it needs to. I’m pretty sure I’m alone in this assessment; the movie disappeared without a trace (much like its protagonists) at the box office and the critical reception was less than enthusiastic. I liked it though; there was plenty that worked that I can recommend it to horror fans and to thriller fans alike. Sci-fi fans might have issues with the subpar special effects. Phoenix Forgotten is likely to be forgotten judging on the overall lack of interest in it (there are only six reviews up on Metacritic; most major releases have anywhere from 20-45) but it doesn’t deserve to be.

REASONS TO GO: The found footage is cleverly utilized, making it more palatable. I got a bit of high school nostalgia watching this.
REASONS TO STAY: The special effects are nothing to write home about.
FAMILY VALUES: There are scenes of peril and terror as well as a bit of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The footage of the Phoenix Lights was digitally simulated and then saved onto VHS tape. It was then converted back to digital. The analog effects are a result of this process and help to integrate the CGI into the era-proper technology.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/12/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 40% positive reviews. Metacritic: 33/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Blair Witch Project
FINAL RATING:7/10
NEXT: The Discovery

Buddymoon (Honey Buddies)


David Giuntoli and Flula Borg strike a pose.

David Giuntoli and Flula Borg strike a pose.

(2016) Comedy (Orion/Gravitas) David Giuntoli, Flula Borg, Claire Coffee, Brian T. Finney, Jeanne Syquia, Hutch Harris. Directed by Alex Simmons

Florida Film Festival 2016

Sometimes you just have to make the best of a bad situation. When bad things happen, our first instinct is generally to go into defensive mode; shut the world out and try to deal with it on our own. That isn’t always the best solution.

Former child actor David (Giuntoli) has had a bad week and it should have been his best week ever. Frankie (Syquia), the girl of his dreams, was supposed to marry him. She and he were then going to go hiking in the Oregon woods and end up in this fantastic lodge. It was going to be a week he’d remember for the rest of his life.

Instead, she’d dumped him a couple of days before the ceremony without any explanation. Now he’s wallowing, drinking up the wine they’d bought for the reception, stuffing his face with junk food and generally feeling sorry for himself – although if there is a situation better suited to feeling sorry for oneself, I can’t think of one.

His erstwhile best man Flula (Borg), a DJ from Germany, is determined not to let David wallow. He gives David the idea of taking the hiking vacation anyway only with Flula instead of Frankie. Even though Frankie had been more of the outdoorsy type which the two men are not, David decides to give Flula’s idea a whirl.

Flula’s endless optimism begins to erode David’s foul mood, and the beautiful scenery is inspiring. David, who is up for a major comeback role as William Clark in a motion picture about the explorers Lewis and Clark, reads from Clark’s journal and finds some parallels to his own journey. They meet up with a group of hikers that do the campfire song thing, and whose comely female hiker Polly (Coffee) takes a shine to David, although he is a bit embarrassed about his history as Robot Boy.

Even with all the positives, it is a grueling hike and soon Flula and David begin to get on each other’s nerves. Eventually the two separate to complete the hike alone. Only one thing could reunite them – the unexpected appearance of Frankie.

Giuntoli, who co-wrote the film along with Borg and Simmons (the three of them have been friends for years), is best known as the grim slayer of fantastical creatures in TV’s Grimm. This is a much different role for him. He definitely has big-screen potential, and he handles the comic actor role like a boss. This is an actor who has some pretty solid range, which bodes well for a future in movies if TV doesn’t keep him occupied until then.

Borg has good chemistry with Giuntoli and has excellent comic timing, something you just can’t teach. His fractured English syntax and malapropisms are occasionally a little uncomfortable, but generally the humor seems pretty light-hearted, poking fun at European stereotypes.

In fact, the movie isn’t above poking fun at itself. Both David and Flula are far from what you’d call intrepid outdoorsmen and in a lot of ways these aren’t the he-men hunks you usually find on movies about hiking in the woods (although I’m sure the ladies find Giuntoli plenty hunky). The two of them are at least early on pretty inept at trail life. That they get decent at it is a bit Hollywood-ish but at least they never get good at it. They’re able to hold their own.

The cinematography is spectacular at times; the Pacific Northwest offers some pretty amazing vistas for the cameraman to devour. It’s beautiful enough to encourage people on the fence about visiting the area to take the plunge. Occasionally the scenery does overwhelm the comedy, but wisely Simmons makes sure that the two generally work in harmony.

This is essentially a road movie on foot, and Borg and Giuntoli in many ways are Hope and Crosby. While the movie is short, it feels by trail’s end to be running a bit out of steam. Nonetheless, this is a very entertaining film that hopefully will move up the careers of all involved a notch. Definitely one of the better things I saw at this year’s Florida Film Festival.

REASONS TO GO: Giuntoli has big screen potential. Borg is a funny guy. Beautiful scenery is photographed lushly.
REASONS TO STAY: Runs out of steam near the end.
FAMILY VALUES: A fair amount of adult language, some sexual situations and some drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Claire Coffee has also appeared on Giuntoli’s hit TV show Grimm.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/30/16: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Walk in the Woods
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

A Walk in the Woods


Lost in the woods.

Lost in the woods.

(2015) Dramedy (Broad Green) Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Emma Thompson, Mary Steenburgen, Kristen Schaal, Nick Offerman, R. Keith Harris, Randall Newsome, Linda Edwards, Susan McPhail, Andrew Vogel, Derek Krantz, Gaia Wise, Tucker Meek, Chandler Head, Sandra Ellis Lafferty, John Schmedes, Valentin Armendariz, Danny Vinson, Valerie Payton, Stephanie Astalos-Jones. Directed by Ken Kwapis

All of us have a connection to the natural world. Deep down, we pine for it; while most of us will profess to loving the civilized life of home and hearth, every so often we get a yen to go out into the woods and pitch a tent. It reminds us of our connection to this planet, that we are born of it and part of it and that it is conversely part of us. Nothing clears one’s head quite so much as a walk in the woods.

Bill Bryson (Redford) is a semi-retired travel writer who has written some fine books but is about as socially awkward as a 13 year old at a state dinner. He says the wrong things at funerals, cracks incomprehensible jokes that nobody gets and grumps to his saintly patient wife Catherine (Thompson) that talking to people is just something he doesn’t do.

After being upbraided by a smarmy talk show host (Newsome) about having written nothing about his own native country, he chances upon a leg of the Appalachian trail near his New Hampshire home and struck by inspiration. Bryson hits on the idea of walking the entire trail from Georgia to Maine. Catherine takes about as kindly to the idea as she would about having a hole drilled in her noggin. When she sees she can’t dissuade her husband out of the scheme, she insists that he take someone with him.

The trouble is, nobody he knows is willing to go with him. That is until he gets a call out of the blue from Stephen Katz (Nolte), an old friend he had a falling out with a decade or so ago. He’s not choice A for the trip but beggars can’t be choosers so Bill gets himself equipped at the local REI (with Offerman making a cameo as a clerk) and before long Katz and Bryson are putting on their hiking boots.

Katz is, contrary to his self-description, woefully out of shape and is huffing and puffing away like a walrus before he’s gone ten feet. Still, the two manage to make progress although not as much as they probably should. They have to put up with rain, snow, never-ending hills, burying their dookie in the woods, annoying know-it-all hikers (Schaal) and bears. But most of all, they’ll have to put up with each other – and themselves.

Kwapis has a history of creating films that are audience pleasers more so than critical darlings and judging from the scores below has done the same this time out. And what’s not to love? A strong, well-known cast in beautiful settings, that’s for sure. The Appalachian Trail passes through some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet and Kwapis takes full advantage of it.

Redford and Nolte have only been in the same film together once before, that being the 2012 drama The Company You Keep and then they only shared a couple of scenes together. It’s a shame they haven’t done more together because they have amazing chemistry together; they banter like an old married couple and play off of each other like the two old pros they are. Their relationship holds the film together.

Nolte, in particular, is noteworthy; gasping like an asthmatic bear and growling in that gravelly smoker’s voice of his. He’s essentially the comic relief, making of Katz a kind of charming womanizing rogue gone to seed, cheerfully evading his responsibilities. Redford by contrast does what Redford does best; being likable even when he’s supposed to be a curmudgeon.

Which brings up a point. Both of these distinguished actors are in their 70s – in fact, Redford is 79 – but the real Bill Bryson was in his mid-40s when he hiked the Trail and so much of the book’s focus had to be changed. The movie spends much more time dwelling on the decrepitude of the leads than the book did on the inexperience of its leads. Lovers of the book (and there are many) might not be too pleased with that. They’ll be pleased that much of Bryson’s comic tone was retained. I haven’t read the book probably in 15 years or so, but my guess is that it was extensively re-written for the screen, so be warned on that score.

Da Queen really loved this movie; the bonding with nature and the friendship between Redford and Nolte really spoke to her; she proclaimed it her favorite movie of the Summer (I didn’t have the heart to point out that it wasn’t released until September 2nd, after the official summer release season had ended) which considering how delighted she was with Jurassic World is quite an accomplishment. I’m a little less enthusiastic about the film but found it to be genuinely entertaining, sentimental and only occasionally descending into schmaltz and cinematically beautiful.

In short, this is solid entertainment which will likely appeal strongly to an older demographic but those who appreciate movies with a heart will also enjoy  it. I do like an occasional nature walk although my condition prevents long hikes like this one but still it inspired in me a desire to walk the Trail myself. It won’t happen, but it’s nice to imagine that it could. If these two can do it, so can I, right?

REASONS TO GO: Beautiful scenery. Wonderful chemistry between Redford and Nolte. Some genuine laughs.
REASONS TO STAY: Occasionally clunky. Too many codger jokes.
FAMILY VALUES: A few mild expletives and some sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Originally, this was meant to be the third team-up between Redford and Paul Newman when the film was optioned in 2007; however, Newman’s declining health and eventual passing prevented that from occurring. Newman would have been cast in the role that Nick Nolte eventually filled.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/14/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 45% positive reviews. Metacritic: 51/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: :Wild
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Sci-Fi Spectacle Begins!

Life After Beth


Dane DeHaan explains to a hungry Aubrey Plaza that he is contractually entitled to first crack at the craft services table.

Dane DeHaan explains to a hungry Aubrey Plaza that he is contractually entitled to first crack at the craft services table.

(2014) Horror Comedy (A24) Dane DeHaan, Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Matthew Gray Gubler, Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser, Anna Kendrick, Eva La Dare, Alia Shawkat, Thomas McDonell, Allan McLeod, Paul Weitz, Michelle Azar, Jim O’Heir, Rob Delaney, Adam Pally, Elizabeth Jayne, Jenna Nye, Garry Marshall, Bechir Sylvain, Bonnie Burroughs. Directed by Jeff Baena

“Til death do us part” is an intense statement. The vow signifies that we will remain with that other person until one of us is called to the Choir Invisible. What happens though, if death doesn’t part us exactly?

Zach Orfman (DeHaan) is mourning the unexpected death of his girlfriend. Both are in high school although summer vacation was in full flower. She’d gone hiking in the Southern California hills by herself and had been bitten by a snake. The poison did her in.

A young romance tragically curtailed is hard enough to endure but Zach had the extra added bonus that the two of them had been having problems. Zach was the kind of guy who didn’t do things he didn’t want to do particularly and while Beth (Plaza) – the said late girlfriend – wanted to go hiking with him, and learn how to dance the flamenco, Zach wasn’t interested in either, or a thousand other things the young and vivacious brunette wanted to try out. So she had brought up the concept of splitting up, which Zach definitely didn’t want to do. While they were in this state of flux, she had decided to go hiking by herself since nobody would go with her and…well, you know the rest.

So Zach was dealing not only with the death of his beautiful young girlfriend but also with his own inadequacies as a boyfriend and it was proving very difficult for him to accept. His parents (Reiser, Hines) weren’t particularly helpful, being a little bit too distracted with whatever it was successful L.A. types are distracted with to give a thought to their brooding son. His older brother Kyle (Gubler) had plenty of time to devote to Zach, considering that he had the high exalted position of security guard for the gated community Beth’s parents Maury (Reilly) and Geenie (Shannon) lived in. Kyle seized the opportunity to make life miserable for his younger brother – after all, what else are older brothers for?

So Zach had taken to spending more time with Maury and Geenie, the three of them united by their numbing, overwhelming grief. They all understood what the others were going through and Zach found it somewhat therapeutic to go through Beth’s things, wearing a ski scarf of hers even though, as I mentioned, it was the dead of summer.

Then one day he goes over and rings the doorbell but there’s no answer. It’s weird because he can hear people inside. He checks the window – and sees a fleeting glimpse of Beth walking around the house. He pounds on the door and tries to get in but just in time his brother turns up and escorts him out of the development. There’s another thing older brothers are for.

Of course, nobody believes what he saw but Zach knows what he saw. He’s so sure that he breaks into their house and comes upon Beth, big as life and still breathing. At first he’s furious, convinced that Maury and Geenie were pulling a fast one, but no, they’re just as mystified as he. She had just shown up at the door and had no clue that she’d died. And Maury, quite frankly, wants it to stay that way.

Zach is determined to do all the things with Beth he’d never done – including sex, which is at the top of the list and Beth is quite frankly horny as all get out. She has no memory of the break-up – as far as she’s concerned everything has always been hunky dory. Except something’s not quite right. She’s prone to these rages and tantrums that were completely unlike her. And then again, she’s stronger than you’d expect for a slip of a girl. And gets sunburned really easily. Zach is sure she’s a zombie – Maury doesn’t want to entertain the concept. But yeah, she is and Zach is totally cool with it. At first.

Equal parts zombie apocalypse and romantic comedy, Life After Beth could be accurately deemed a Zom-com (catchy, no?) and given the popularity of the living dead these days I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a whole lot of them shuffling down the pike, arms outstretched and grunting.

There are a lot of things to like. DeHaan and Plaza make an odd couple but just the sort you’d find in your local high school, the sort who get drawn together in history class and make it official in drama club. DeHaan gives the character equal doses of gravitas, confusion and hormonal overwrought drama. If some teenage boy from your neighborhood had the same circumstances in his life, my guess is he’d act pretty much the same way as Zach does. As for DeHaan, his career has been taking off in the last few years, may not be available to do these smaller films much longer.

The same goes for Plaza. She’s been attracting a lot of notice in Parks and Recreation over the past few years and has quietly done some really strong work in roles large and small in offbeat films. I wouldn’t be surprised if she became the next big comedic actress a la Tina Fey and Kirsten Wiig, but I would be even less surprised if she became far more versatile than that. She captures Beth’s somewhat demanding nature and is able to convey fear, tenderness, sexuality and rage often turning on a dime to do so. She gives an assertive and assured performance, the kind that commands attention. It’s a safe bet that her work here is going to get her noticed for higher profiled roles.

The humor here is scattershot as it is for most comedies and occasionally swings and misses. There are some nice quirky touches – the only thing that calms Beth down is smooth jazz, a type of music that in her first life she used to despise. It becomes kind of a running joke throughout.

While the supporting cast is good, the last half hour of the movie turns into a kind of kitschy episode of The Walking Dead or more to the point, George Romero on an acid trip. Fun and funky is one thing but it doesn’t mesh as nicely the comedy and horror aspects do in the first hour. Still, this is some fine entertainment and Chris Hardwick and his Talking Dead nation are going to enjoy this one as much as I did.

REASONS TO GO: Will crack you up in places. Captures teen angst perfectly.
REASONS TO STAY: The comedy and horror aspects stop working together well in the last third of the movie.
FAMILY VALUES: Lots of foul language and some gore and comedic violence, some nudity and sexuality as well – and a scene of drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Dane DeHaan’s first comedic role.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/22/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 41% positive reviews. Metacritic: 50/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fido
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: The Drop

Sightseers


What girlfriend wouldn't make her boyfriend feel inferior with one of those?

What girlfriend wouldn’t make her boyfriend feel inferior with one of those?

(2012) Horror Comedy (IFC) Steve Oram, Alice Lowe, Roger Michael, Tony Way, Monica Dolan, Jonathan Aris, Eileen Davies, Aymen Hamdouchi, Tom Meetan, Kali Peacock, Kenneth Hadley, Stephanie Jacob, Christine Talbot, Richard Lumsden, Dominic Applewhite, Sara Stewart. Directed by Ben Wheatley

Florida Film Festival 2013

Everyone’s idea of a vacation is different. Some choose to travel, see different cultures and different places. Others want to go out and experience the gusto – get out there and go hang gliding, rock climbing or snorkeling. You know, the Type A personality stuff.

Tina (Lowe) and Chris (Oram) are far from the latter. Chris is an aspiring writer who is taking a trip in his caravan (RV to us yanks) to England’s Lake District to write a book on his travels there. Tina, his girlfriend, is a dog lover of epic proportions although she is mourning the accidental death of a beloved pet – a death her hypochondriac overbearing mother (Davies) blames her for and never fails to take the opportunity to remind her of it.

Mum is also trying to talk Tina out of taking the trip with Chris. Not because she’s got any real concern for her daughter, but that it might be inconvenient for her not to have Tina waiting on her hand and foot. If Leona Helmsley ever sponsored a motherhood award, Tina’s mom would win hands down.

So away they go in their RV to see the sights – a tram museum, a pencil museum, ruins of an abbey and the English equivalent of a state park. At first it’s the ideal trip. Tina feels as close to Chris as she’s felt to anyone – this might be The One. But there are some troubling qualities beginning to surface. He hates to be questioned, for one thing. He has a pretty explosive temper, for another. For a third, he’s a serial killer.

But he’s not just your average, ordinary run-of-the-mill psycho. He has rules. He only offs those who deserve it. Of course, his idea of those who deserve it might be a wee bit…stringent. For example, a lout who drops an ice cream wrapper on an antique trolley – he’s GOT to go, son. Uppity upper crust sorts who treat Tina condescendingly? So long, senor.

However far from being repulsed by this behavior, Tina attempts to join in and messes it all up. She goes after a bride who gives Chris a drunken smooch. Hasta la vista, baby.

Wheatley is an up-and-coming director who has a couple of pretty cool films already on his resume (Down Terrace and Kill List) and has been announced to be directing a couple of highly anticipated films coming down the pipeline (A Field in England and Freakshift as well as the HBO miniseries Silk Road). I agree with the praise being lumped on him – the man knows how to make a movie full of subtleties as well as being over-the-top – in the same movie.

Chris and Tina are so bloody ordinary that you can’t help wonder why they didn’t become serial killers earlier. Both of them have a different sort of ordinariness. Chris is a bit of a lummox from the surface but he’s actually quite clever and meticulous. Tina, who seems to be much more organized at first glance is rather more chaotic. One of the joys of the film is watching Tina and Chris switch places as the film progresses.

Lowe and Oram have some real chemistry and it goes a long way – right up until the final twist which is so organic, so unexpected that it’s a thing of beauty. I’d walk a hundred miles for an ending like that – they are quite infrequent in movies these days. The hardest thing for a writer to do is write a good ending.

The humor is a bit irreverent and some scenes will make you squirm while you laugh. It’s not that the gore is excessive – it isn’t but there’s enough there to be effective – but the situation might just make you go “am I really laughing at that?”

Chris and Tina do some rather unspeakable things. When you look at the acts themselves you might just recoil in horror but overall the two of them are lovable losers, enough so that you root for them in spite of yourself even though Chris has anger issues and Tina can be a shrill little harpy when she wants to be.

To top it all off there’s some beautiful cinematography of bucolic  landscapes, RV parks and quaint towns. I’m not sure I’d want to go to the pencil museum but I might just to buy the Big Pencil – a.k.a. Big Scribbler – in the picture above. But what can I say? The allure of oddball tourist attractions is like catnip to me.

This is the kind of movie that comes at you from every direction and you never know what they’re going to do next. Lowe and Oram deliver enough likability that when their characters go off the rails, you’re still invested enough in the that you don’t give up on them. Maybe you even get the vicarious thrill of giving a few sorts what you wish they’d get and might even deserve. I love hearing Chris rationalize that murdering these undesirables reduces the carbon footprint – so in fact serial killing is green. Which is what I hope this film sees plenty of.

REASONS TO GO: Offbeat and funny. A black comedy taken to extremes.

REASONS TO STAY: The foul deeds of the leads may be too much for some to generate any sympathy for.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is plenty of violence and some gore. There’s also quite a bit of sex and some nudity. There’s a fair amount of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Screenwriter Tim Macy also wrote the short story that the movie is based on.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/10/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 82% positive reviews. Metacritic: 66/100; critics clearly didn’t like this film a whole lot.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Natural Born Killers

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

NEXT: The Place Beyond the Pines

VHS


V/H/S

All in all, you might have been better off using Match.com

(2012) Horror (Magnet) Calvin Reeder, Adam Wingard, Lane Hughes, Hannah Fierman, Mike Donlan, Joe Sykes, Drew Sawyer, Joe Swanberg, Sophia Takal, Norma C. Quinones, Drew Moerlein, Chad Villella, Matt Bertinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Paul Natonek. Directed by David Bruckner, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, Radio Silence, Glenn McQuaid and Adam Wingard

 

While technology improves, some things stay the same. We can upgrade our recording systems but the images don’t change much. One vacation video is pretty much the same as another, whether it was taken in 1982 or 2012.

But these are anything but vacation videos unless you have a peculiar idea of relaxation, but let’s start from the beginning. An unknown party hires four small-time criminals who are known for making videos of women that they catch in parking garages and brutally show off their naked breasts. These make tons of money on the Internet, but their mysterious employer isn’t interested in boobs. He wants the gang of four to enter a house that’s more or less deserted (and it turns out to be less), and steal a videotape.

Break in they do and they enter the house to find a dead body and a pile of videotapes. As one of the group checks out the tapes to figure out which one is the right one, the rest of the group goes to investigate a series of mysterious noises – and you know that is going to end badly.

The first tape concerns a trio of frat boy-sorts who attach a spy-cam to one of the lad’s glasses and they go out hoping to get him laid. After some trial and error and enough alcohol to prove that these boys (save the one with the camera) are pretty much assholes when drunk, they manage to pick up a couple of girls. One of them passes out quickly but the other, named Lily, takes a shine to the cameraman (“I like you” she says repeatedly) but apparently one of the frat boys likes her a lot and decides to horn in on the action. Lily doesn’t seem to mind at first but, well, she’s a very special girl.

In the second, a newly married couple visit a southwestern tourist attraction – a wild west ghost town and do some hiking in the mountains. They are followed by a young woman who seems a little creepy, particularly to the husband. He really doesn’t know the half of it as some of the minor annoyances on their trip are her doing. But what are her intentions and why is she doing this?

In the third, a quartet of friends visit the home town of one of them who once they enter the woods around the town begins to act strangely. It turns out that there were some inexplicable murders there a few years earlier and that their friend knows more about the subject than she’s let on. As her creepy pronouncement that they’re all going to die there looks more and more likely, they’ll discover that the killer is still around and a creature like him they’ve never seen – say hello to Glitch Man.

The fourth is mainly the Skype conversation between a doctor and his girlfriend, who is convinced that the house she is in is haunted. He, being a rational sort is skeptical but he begins to see things too. Soon he’s more concerned about her situation than she is – she’s convinced that she can reason with the spirits and send them on their merry merry. But she may have miscalculated their intentions, particularly in relation to the mysterious bump on her arm.

The final tape shows a group of four friends who are invited to a Halloween party at an isolated house on the edge of town. Sounds like fun so the high-spirited boys and off they went to a very nice house in the middle of nowhere. When they get there, nobody’s there even though the house is unlocked and all the lights are on. While they speculate that this might be a Halloween attraction of some sort, however, it’s not the sort of attraction you’d want to spend money on and when the boys make it into the attic, all hell is going to break loose.

Anthologies are a horror film mainstay. It’s an effort to tell shorter stories that might deserve a telling without devoting an entire movie  In this case, each vignette is directed by a young up-and-coming filmmaker in the underground and mainstream horror genres. West is the best known, having directed the sequel to Cabin Fever which actually wasn’t all that bad for a direct-to-video effort and a really fine horror movie from last year called The Innkeepers. The rest are not as familiar to me so I didn’t really know what to expect. And pretty much as you might expect, the efforts here run from really good (the first tape) to not so much (the fourth).

The acting is as you also would expect rather uneven as well, although there are some finds. Hannah Fierman as Lily in the first movie is genuinely creepy. Her transformation from meek party girl to…well, I don’t want to spoil it but trust me it’s pretty spectacular and Hannah has a lot to do with it. If you see her in a bar near you walk on my friend, walk on.

The glitch man in the third vignette is also pretty nifty although the constant noise and jumpiness in the film gets really old really fast. In fact, one of the conceits of the movie is that they are all from videotapes so the quality of the images is pretty weak but that doesn’t mean the cinematography is bad, if that makes sense.

There is a gratuitous amount of gore and bare breasts, so if those things offend you my guess is you wouldn’t be interested in seeing a movie like this anyway. Everyone else, this is a solid and spectacular in places horror anthology that won’t completely win you over (the weak portions can be pretty boring and the movie at a little over two hours is about 20 minutes too long for my taste – a whole vignette could have been eliminated and they would have been much better off. Short of that, it’s available on VOD right now so if it isn’t playing near you, you can still check it out.

REASONS TO GO: Lots of gore and lots of boobs – mainstays for an excellent horror film.

REASONS TO STAY: Some of the vignettes are more successful than others.

FAMILY VALUES:  A load of strong and often gruesome violence, lots of nudity, a fair amount of bad language, some horrific images and a bit of drug use. Oh, and some sex

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Ti West grew up in Delaware and went to the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/27/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 52% positive reviews. Metacritic: 54/100. The reviews are as mixed as you can get.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Videodrome

HORROR FILM ANTHOLOGY LOVERS: This comes from a tradition of horror film anthologies, several tales (often with different directors) linked together by a single story; among the more recognized anthologies include Twilight Zone: The Movie, Creepshow, Tales of Terror, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, Trilogy of Terror, Cat’s Eye and The House That Dripped Blood.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Day 3 in the Six Days of Darkness 2012