Lasso


Skyler Cooper gives an electric performance.

(2018) Horror (Epic) Sean Patrick Flanery, Lindsey Morgan, Andrew Jacobs, Benedita Pereira, Karen Grassle, Steven Anthony Jones, Molly Goode, Monique Bricca, Don Demico, Tony Vella, Zoe Swenson Graham, Joe Sobalo Jr., Thomas Cokenias, Travis Andre Ross, Halliny Ferreira, Todd Myers, Skyler Cooper, Seldor Helderman, Michael Gomes, Heather Mignon, Melissa Tracy. Directed by Evan Cecil

 

What could be more all-American than a rodeo? Although the name (and the concept) is derived from the Spanish, we have adopted it and turned it into something that represents what many believe is the epitome of being an American – the cowboy. But like all things American, there is a dark side to it.

An active seniors group is going on an outing to the Hackett Rodeo. Young and perky guide Kit (Morgan) and her less-enthusiastic assistant Simon (Jacobs) bring them to the faux Western town where there are games of chance and of course plenty of shopping. Then there’s the rodeo arena itself, where bronco busters, calf ropers and creepy clowns entertain the crowds.

But as the crowd thins out the senior group dally a bit too long and they witness a grisly murder by a dark cowboy with a barbed whip that rips out the innards of a young woman, and then the carotid artery of their driver. Panicked, Kit escapes with most of her charges but Simon – who had gone back to find a lost hairbrush for imperious Lillian (Grassle) – is left behind to be captured and thrown into a pen with one-armed cowboy Ennis (Flanery), muscle-bound African-American Trish (Cooper) and rodeo queen Rosheen (Mignon).

A mysterious rodeo clown (Gomes) helps them escape from their cell but they discover that Hackett (Cokenias) and his rodeo personnel are all tweaked on horse steroids that are not meant for human consumption and has not only made them muscular but also psychotic. The ‘roid ragers are putting on a show for their own amusement and are taking clues from Grand Guignol and Herschell Gordon Lewis, murdering strays in grisly ways having to do with the rodeo (as in one girl being roped by the feet and arms and being pulled apart by a couple of dark horsemen).

In the meantime, the seniors’ bus has overheated and stalled near the entrance of the ranch. Kit is desperately trying to fix the bus but her charges are decidedly unhelpful. What they don’t know is that they are being stalked by cowboys; while some of them are going to be set aside for the show, some of them won’t make it to the arena. Fame, she is fickle, no?

I actually really like the concept and to be honest, some of the murders are truly clever. If you like gore, you won’t leave this one disappointed. However, there is almost zero character development, Simon is one of the most annoying heroes ever as he botches plan after plan, and the most interesting characters tend to be killed early on. Poor Ennis is the most luckless character you’ll ever see; he survives some horrific injuries but like the Energizer bunny, he keeps on coming back for more. I like the idea that one of the good guys is unkillable instead of the maniac.

Having two separate groups being threatened by the cowboys is unnecessary and causes the movie to run a little longer than it should. Personally, I would have gone with the seniors – that would have made for a much more interesting movie, although Flanery as Ennis gets a gold star for his work. In fact, it is impressive that all the actors buy into the silliness with a straight face. There is some humor here but this is primarily and defiantly a horror film and it doesn’t apologize for being one. It doesn’t pander to horror fans either, which is unusual for a lot of horror films these days.

The last couple of years has seen an influx of really talented directors in the genre and movies that have pushed the envelope of scary. This isn’t necessarily one of those but Cecil shows a great deal of promise and there are a lot of things to like about Lasso. It misses a few too many opportunities to get a rave review, but it takes advantage of enough of them to be recommended.

REASONS TO GO: As far as I know, this is the only slasher film to ever be set at a rodeo.
REASONS TO STAY: Given the opportunity for doing something different, the movie is fairly cliché.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence and gore and a fair amount of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Cecil is a veteran television director making his feature film debut.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, iTunes
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/11/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 71% positive reviews. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Trip With Teacher
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Pledge

Baghead


There's nothing creepier than a friendly half-naked guy with a paper bag over his head in the woods.

There’s nothing creepier than a friendly half-naked guy with a paper bag over his head in the woods.

(2008) Dramedy (Sony Classics) Ross Partridge, Steve Zissis, Greta Gerwig, Elise Muller Jett Garner, Cass Naumann, Jennifer Lafleur, Darrell Bryant, Anthony Cristo, Jen Tracy Duplass, Heather Hall, David Zellner, Dan Eggleston, Spencer Greenwood, Stephanie Huettner, Amy Quick Parrish, Vincent James Prendergast. Directed by Jay and Mark Duplass

The creative process isn’t something you can really force. It happens or it doesn’t. However, sometimes it helps to shut out the distractions of your daily life and just get to it.

Four wanna-be filmmakers/actors are attending a film festival – Matt (Partridge) who is in his 30s and is still awaiting the stardom that he’s sure is coming his way; Chad (Zissis) who is beginning to watch his hairline recede and is desperately in love with Michelle (Gerwig), the youngest of their group and a budding alcoholic who is less interested in Chad than she is with Matt. There’s also Catherine (Muller) who has had an on-again, off-again relationship with Matt which might be on or it might not be. She’s not really sure.

While at the film festival they watch a really bad feature by pretentious director Jeff Garner (playing himself) play with some acclaim, they come to the bitter realization that they’re not going to ever make the movie that will be the vehicle to establish their talents unless they write it themselves. Matt suggests heading to a cabin in the woods to write a film about four young people being stalked in a cabin in the woods by a guy with a bag over his head. It would be a slasher film spoof with a modern allegory of….oh, it’s crap.

But as the complex relationships between the four rear their ugly heads and create the kind of tension that they were trying to escape from in the first place, it becomes clear that they are being stalked by a guy with a paper bag over his head. Is it life imitating art or just a horrible coincidence?

For many, this is a mumblecore classic – the first of the genre to get distribution from a label affiliated with a major studio. Like most mumblecore films, very little happens here other than listening to people bitch and moan about their lives and loves. The budget is microscopic, the cast necessarily compact and the acting fairly naturalistic. But this is no Scream, mumblecore-style.

Zissis is the most appealing character here. Chad doesn’t have Matt’s ego or Catherine’s insecurities or Michelle’s immaturity, although he is a bit of a lost puppy. He also has a hopeless attachment to Michelle who is unlikely to return those feelings. Most of us at one time or another have been in a similar situation so we can watch Chad flail away futilely for the brass ring and nod in sympathy; we’ve all done it.

Gerwig, who is in many ways the face of mumblecore, is at her very best here. Her characters are generally flaky yet warmhearted and that is no different here. Don’t get me wrong; these characters can be annoying over the course of a 90 minute film but when played less for quirkiness and more for a terminal case of youth then we end up in her corner instead of irritated. Gerwig isn’t always successful at striking that balance but she does it here.

The other two performances depict rather unpleasant human beings, although of the two Partridge’s Matt is a bit more well-defined. Muller’s character is pretty one-dimensional as written but she gamely does what she can with it.

The problem with movies like this is that they have to grab our interest a little bit more strongly than other sorts of movies either with clever dialogue, an engaging plot or terrific performances. Baghead falls short in all three categories. I can only take so much self-absorption before I start getting the screaming meemies. I can respect the mash-up of genres here, blending romance, slasher horror, supernatural thriller and Hollywood indie and I can admire the tight craft that the Duplass brothers bring to the table – for a second feature this is incredibly self-assured. However, I can pretty much leave the hand-held camera gymnastics. I shouldn’t need to take anti-vertigo meds to watch a DVD.

WHY RENT THIS: Zissis and Gerwig have a sweet chemistry.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Nothing much happens. Not always as interesting as it thinks it is.

FAMILY VALUES: The language is a bit foul in places. There’s also some nudity and sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The second of five films directed by the Duplass brothers and the first to get a major studio release.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s an entertaining interview in which the Duplass brothers supply both frequently asked questions and answers, as well as a brief short called Baghead Scares.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $140,106 on an unreported production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Adaptation

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

The Stepfather (2009)


The Stepfather

Dylan Walsh has a point to make.

(Screen Gems) Dylan Walsh, Sela Ward, Penn Badgley, Sherry Stringfield, Jon Tenney, Paige Turco, Amber Heard, Nancy Linehan Charles, Braeden Lemasters. Directed by Nelson McCormick

Family is at the core of our value system. Everything we do, all of our decisions are made for the benefit of our family, at least so goes the theory. Of course, there are families and then again there are families.

David Harris (Walsh) wants a family in the worst way. He seems a nice enough man and when vulnerable divorcee Susan Harding (Ward) wanders into the grocery store he’s shopping at, they strike up a conversation, which leads to romance. David is a widower whose wife and daughter died in a car accident at the hands of a drunk driver, something that gets Susan’s nurturing instincts going into overdrive. Everyone, from the neighbors to Susan’s kids, think David is a heck of a guy.

The only one who doesn’t is Michael (Badgley), the eldest Harding. He’s been away at military school for some unspecified troublemaking and has just returned home. Something about David just doesn’t ring true to Michael, whether it’s the fact that David can’t get his daughter’s name straight or that he seems to have a creepy unnatural fascination for Michael’s girlfriend Kelly (Heard). Either way, Michael’s got his eyes on David and it isn’t long before he figures out the terrible truth.

You see, David is actually a serial killer (not a spoiler kids – this is revealed in the movie’s opening moments) who insinuates himself into a family, then butchers them when they don’t live up to his high standards of what a family should be. He also has no problems offing anyone who gets in his way, whether it is a nosy neighbor or Susan’s boorish ex (Tenney). It isn’t long before David begins to think it’s time to take care of his new family and find himself another.

This is the remake of a 1987 movie that starred Terry O’Quinn (John Locke of “Lost”) in the title role. That movie attained cult status after a mediocre theatrical run due to word of mouth video rentals, enough to spawn two sequels (one with O’Quinn and the other without). Invariably, this is going to be compared to the original.

The makers of the remake also were responsible for the Prom Night remake, which bodes ill for this one. Part of the problem is that they’re going for an entirely different audience; rather than hitting hardcore horror aficionados, they’re going for more of a teen audience, which means that they have to go for a PG-13 rating. That makes for bloodless horror, which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but this is the kind of story that becomes more effective when you are a little more visceral.

While the cast is made up of broadcast and cable TV veterans, some very good (Walsh is excellent in “Nip/Tuck” while Tenney is a standout in “The Closer”) and some less so (Badgley in “Gossip Girl,” Turco in “The Agency”), Ward excels as the mom who is blinded to her new man’s darker side. Walsh does his best, but in the end he isn’t able to carry the role of the evil stepfather as well as O’Quinn did 20 years ago; in defense of Walsh, he isn’t exactly handed a whole lot to work with.

The results here is a movie that doesn’t really have the kind of cachet to interest teens, nor does it have the scares and the gore to capture a horror film fan. It therefore becomes neither fish nor fowl, satisfying neither audience. If I had any advice to hand out to the filmmakers, I’d tell them that when handed a horror movie, don’t hide behind terms like “psychological thriller” to justify your decisions; just go for the gusto and you’ll not only make a better movie, you’ll get more butts in theater seats as a reward.

WHY RENT THIS: The young cast certainly looks good in bathing suits.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Far too bland and bloodless for its own good, it’s a psychological thriller with few thrills.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some violence and a little bit of sex, as well as a few naughty words here and there. Mostly, the problem here is thematic and the images which can be pretty rough on the sensitive or the immature.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The star of the original The Stepfather Terry O’Quinn was offered a cameo in the remake, but declined. 

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The Blu-Ray comes equipped with the Sony movieIQ feature that periodically puts pop ups of trivia and factoids related to the scene you’re watching or the general movie overall.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World