Lake Mungo (12/26/12)

Lake MungoMovie Two Hundred Ninety Eight

In Lake Mungo, after their daughter drowns, a family begins experiencing strange happenings and investigate.

Sixteen year old Alice Palmer (Talia Zucker) drowns and after her death her family feels an eerie presence in their house. After catching several ghostly images on video, they hire a psychic to investigate further. Their son confesses to staging the whole thing but the odd occurrences continue. The family then finds that Alice had kept several secrets from them and during their investigation after her death, they learn more about their daughter than they expected.

Lake Mungo is a hard film to classify. It’s easy to write it off as a horror film or a found-footage type film but it’s neither, at least not completely. Lake Mungo is filmed like a documentary with all of Alice’s family and friends being interviewed and then showing various pictures or video clips. It’s a very effective method of storytelling but the story itself is kind of meandering and at times lacking. Lake Mungo also isn’t a scary film, though it had some moments that caused the hairs on the back of my neck to prick up.

Where Lake Mungo succeeds is its very low-key approach to telling the story of Alice Palmer. The way that the film plays out is done incredibly well and the story probably wouldn’t work if done in a traditional way. If you came into a room that was playing Lake Mungo it would be easy to mistake it for an actual documentary. It feels so real that, at times, I was kind of thinking this was an actual event that had some ghost parts added to it, almost like a dramatization. For a tiny film crew out of Australia, I was actually quite impressed.

However, when Lake Mungo is wrapping up I wasn’t fulfilled by the story. I’m not sure if the horror elements that were added aided the film or held it back. In the end, it’s not so much a ghost story as it is a story of a family trying to deal with the premature loss of their daughter. It’s an interesting film, but Lake Mungo will probably not stand out from the sea (or lake…) of similar films, especially considering its dull title.

I give it 3 actual Lake Mungo scenery out of 5.

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Highlander (12/22/12)

HighlanderMovie Two Hundred Ninety Four

An immortal is being hunted by another for the ultimate prize and there can be only one, in Highlander.

In present day, an immortal named Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) is attacked in a parking garage by another immortal. Upon beheading him, MacLeod is given his powers. In the 16th century, we see clan MacLeod preparing for battle with clan Fraser, led by Kurgan (Clancy Brown), who wants the right to kill Connor. In the present again, a metallurgist named Brenda (Roxanne Hart) is looking into the identity of the immortal killed in the garage through his sword. She finds herself entwined with Connor but Kurgan is still pursuing him for the final battle to win the prize.

Don’t judge me too harshly, but somehow I had avoided watching anything related to Highlander all my life up until this viewing. There’s no good reason for it, I just never really got around to it and now here we are. I think I just kind of assumed I knew everything about the story and there was no good reason for me to watch Highlander. Turns out I knew next to nothing about Highlander and I’m really glad I finally watched it. I’ve heard very mixed things about all the sequels and spin-offs, so I’m not sure if I’ll be diving headfirst into the greater Highlander mythology, but I can finally mark ‘watch Highlander‘ off my things to do list.

I will say that the lack of any nostalgia-factor of Highlander did not detract from my reaction to the film, in fact, the so incredibly 80s appeal of it is still wholly intact. The soundtrack is synthy and awesome, there are montages, and the dialog probably wouldn’t do well if analyzed, so the film works in the same vein that all 80s action do. Highlander is definitely a film that I regret not seeing sooner but at least I finally took the time to see it.

If there is anyone else out there that has never seen Highlander, I have to ask: did you think a sword was important in any way? For some reason I did, like it gave them powers or something. Just curious.

Highlander is the type of film that you put on to turn your brain off from the distractions of real life. It’s not terribly deep, though it does have its moments, and the action is pretty great. I was definitely smiling more than rolling my eyes, a sign that I consider Highlander a success.

I give it 3 why was Sean Connery written to be Spanish when he’s clearly not? out of 5.

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The Queen of Versailles (12/15/12)

The Queen of VersaillesMovie Two Hundred Eighty Four

The Queen of Versailles follows the lives of one of the richest families in the US as their fortune falls from under them during the economic downturn.

David Siegel is the owner of the largest time-share business in the United States. He has become insanely wealthy from his business ventures and along with his former beauty queen wife, Jackie, the two plan on building the largest single house in the country at over 90,000 sq. feet, nicknamed Versailles. Before the sprawling mansion can be completed, the real estate bubble bursts and the Siegel family, along with their 8 kids and many dogs, are hit hard financially. This documentary follows the Siegels during their rise and fall.

The Queen of Versailles is an interesting documentary because while the economic hardships that befall the Siegels add a different layer to the film, it seems the original intent was simply to show how a family this wealthy lives. If you’ve ever wondered “what kind of people could afford to build a 90,000 sq. foot mansion?” The Queen of Versailles has your answer.

Most of the film centers around Jackie, who I believe is 48 but acts like she is still in her late teens. Her kids run rampant, as do her dogs, and outside of David, the family has no regard for their money as if it comes from a faucet. Oddly, Jackie came from very humble beginnings but has lost herself in the lifestyle of being so incredibly rich. When the business begins to falter, the family is unable to cut back – mind you, they are still incredibly wealthy – and live even a remotely modest life.

In the same way that reality television is so fascinating, The Queen of Versailles is a train wreck. It’s a great little documentary that has deservedly gained lots of press and is surely a contender come awards season. The Siegels are easy to hate but also incredibly humanized at times. There are certain scenes with the family that could take place in a small shack somewhere, but instead take place in a huge mansion in Florida. I was glued to the screen during The Queen of Versailles and I almost want a trashy reality television series to come out of it, because I’d watch that too.

I give it 4 shots of Versailles, USA out of 5.

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Bad Ass (12/10/12)

Bad AssMovie Two Hundred Seventy Six

A YouTube celebrity dubbed “Bad Ass” takes matters into his own hands after his best friend is gunned down.

Frank Vega (Danny Trejo) is a Vietnam vet that has struggled since returning home. One day, while riding on the bus, Vega stands up to a pair of skinhead thugs and is recorded knocking them out. The video becomes an Internet sensation and Vega becomes known as “Bad Ass” and is a local celebrity. After his mother passes away, Vega moves into her house with her dog and invites his best friend, Klondike (Harrison Page), to stay with them. Klondike tells Vega he has an important flash drive and then goes out for cigarettes where he is gunned down by men looking for the drive. Vega, now embracing being Bad Ass, must avenge his friend since the police do not seem to care.

Let me get this out of the way…Yes, Bad Ass is based on the Epic Beard Man video that was storming the Internet a few years ago. Yes, they made a movie based on that. Are you going to trust me when I say Bad Ass is actually a pretty solid movie?

Obviously inspired by other revenge films like Dirty Harry and Death Wish, Bad Ass doesn’t always take itself seriously. There are a few not-so-subtle nods to the original video (the fanny pack, Vega’s neighbor is named Amber Lamps, and there are at least two or three times someone says “you’re leaking!”, just to name a few) and it’s ludicrous to think that a YouTube video could be drawn out into a full length movie and I was scoffing about the entire thing myself until I watched it. It’s a dumb movie, no doubt about it, but I actually enjoyed it.

Danny Trejo is an actual bad ass so I’m glad he was cast as the lead in Bad Ass. If Charles Bronson was still alive I would have much preferred him, obviously, but I like Trejo a lot and he doesn’t get the love he deserves. My only real complaints about Bad Ass are that it tries to be funny in a few spots – and fails – and the neighbor/love interest and her son bugged the hell out of me. I’m sure the love interest was added to be more stereotypical of this brand of film, but it bogs everything down. If they had cut that (or even trimmed it) Bad Ass would be one of my new favorite brainless fun movies in a world where no more Charles Bronson films will ever be made.

I give it 3 videos that started it all out of 5.

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The People Vs. George Lucas (11/28/12)

The People Vs. George LucasMovie two Hundred Seventy Four

The People Vs. George Lucas covers the intense feelings towards George Lucas over the years.

This documentary, loosely in the form of a courtroom debate, gives both sides of the debate about George Lucas’s recent changes to the  beloved Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises. Many die-hard Star Wars fans abhor the changes made to the original trilogy and also the newer prequel trilogy, but some fans argue that Lucas has artistic license to make these changes. The film also gives a brief biography of Lucas himself and the release of Star Wars.

I am a huge Star Wars fan, my basement is littered with memorabilia and I’m not ashamed of it. Since I grew up with Star Wars, many assume I hate the prequel trilogy which isn’t true. Yes, they are disappointing films and pale in comparison to the original trilogy in my mind, but I’m not going to get worked up about it. Same goes for the changes made to the original trilogy over the years. Do the changes ruin the film? Not for me. However, at its core, what The People Vs. George Lucas is really asking for is the release of the remastered original trilogy in their theatrical forms and this is a viewpoint I share.

The People Vs. George Lucas is fairly interesting, as a Star Wars and Indiana Jones fan, but for non-fans I’m not sure it would be much more than “wow, look at those nerds get so angry about nothing”. Well, even I was kind of thinking how I was glad I wasn’t at that level of nerdiness that I would throw a tantrum just talking about George Lucas. The back-and-forth between differing viewpoints in The People Vs. George Lucas is interesting and works really well given the largely strong contrast between opinions but the entire thing goes on slightly too long and the filmmakers opinions start to become evident through what is portrayed.

The only people I would recommend The People Vs. George Lucas to are fellow Star Wars nerds. The downside is that we all have our own opinions and the film does nothing to persuade, only presents the opinions on both sides. It’s interesting, for sure, but it’s probably a limited interest group that would care to watch The People Vs. George Lucas.

I give it 3 HAN SHOT FIRSTs out of 5.

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Beyond the Black Rainbow (11/27/12)

Beyond the Black RainbowMovie Two Hundred Seventy Three

A woman is held captive by a strange corporation and a strange doctor in Beyond the Black Rainbow.

[I was having difficulty recounting the plot, so here is Wikipedia‘s version]

“In 1983, deep within the mysterious Arboria Institute, a beautiful girl (Eva Allan) is held captive by a scientist, Dr. Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers). Her mind is under the influence of a sinister technology (a mysterious pyramid-shaped light). Speechlessly, she waits for her next session with the deranged Dr. Nyle. She eventually escapes her cell and journeys through the darkest reaches of the Institute – but Dr. Nyle won’t easily part with her.”

Do not watch Beyond the Black Rainbow, it has few redeemable traits. When I first saw the trailer for Beyond the Black Rainbow I was mesmerized by its 80s style and unique feel, but the film itself is a true exercise in patience. The synthy 80s soundtrack is mostly a droning buzz, and it is nearly constant throughout the movie. This may not be so annoying except that there is very little dialogue and after 15 minutes of nothing but droning synth fuzz, I was gritting my teeth – then I had to make it to the end of the movie. The plot is also pretty nonsensical, which doesn’t help.

The only thing Beyond the Black Rainbow really has going for it are the admittedly cool visuals and 80s sensibilities. It’s a film that hearkens back to films like 2001 but with a dark twist. I would swear there was a VHS-like grain added to the whole film too, despite watching it in high definition. It’s true to its roots on a visual front, I do applaud it for that. However, as a film it’s a mess. I can sit through some pretentious stuff and sometimes come out enjoying what the director was aiming for, but Beyond the Black Rainbow seems to have no aim other than the visuals and soundtrack. Not good enough. What a shame too, because even watching the trailer now makes me wish this was a better movie.

I give it 2 watch the trailer and forget the full movie exists out of 5.

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Bug (11/9/12)

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In Bug, after a woman is introduced to a friend during a night of hard partying, the two spiral into a world where they may be infested with bugs.

Agnes White (Ashley Judd) is a waitress living in a shoddy motel room, receiving strange phone calls from someone she believes to be her abusive ex, Jerry Gross (Harry Connick, Jr.). After a night of partying with her friend, RC (Lynn Collins), and Peter (Michael Shannon), a drifter, Agnes and Peter form a bond and together being to descend into delusion. One morning Peter wakes up claiming to have been bitten by bugs, aphids, specifically. He convinces Agnes of the bugs, among other things and the two become dependent on each other, each feeding into the madness together. When its discovered that Peter may be mentally ill, the line of reality and delusion becomes even fuzzier.

Bug is quite a mixed bag. On the one hand, every performance given is spectacular; Judd and Shannon, especially. Even if you have complete disinterest in the plot, it’s hard to look away when either character is on screen. Since most of the film takes place in a tiny hotel room, it makes their performances all the more huge. However, I found Bug to be almost completely nonsensical at times. Obviously, Bug is supposed to be schizophrenic but there is a line that needs to be drawn so that the plot still makes sense. When Judd or Shannon are ranting it’s easy to tune out and just watch them.

William Friedkin, who has given us many great movies over the years like The Exorcist and Sorcerer, does his best to make Bug an interesting affair. Though the set piece of the motel is small, there are a few tricks visually that make it seem unnatural, like black lighting outside under the eave, and the unusual green tint that permeates much of the film. We are taken for a wild ride through insanity and Bug doesn’t really let up, though it stumbles over itself at times.

In thinking what would have helped Bug be a better film, I’m honestly not sure. The performances were great, the story is ambiguous and gives a sense of insanity the main characters struggle though, and the setting is claustrophobic. Maybe that all makes Bug sound like a horror movie but I never thought to classify it as such, except maybe when Shannon is pulling out his teeth. It’s a film that tries not to be bound by genre and in doing so fails to really be anything. Bug is not a bad movie, just a sloppy one with great actors in it.

I give it 2 crazed Michael Shannon in blue light out of 5.

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