Saturday, January 15, 2011

Not as GRIM as it looks...

GRIM (2010)
D. Adrian Santiago

This extremely low budget shot on video action flick has a lot going for it. The story has a nice bit of social satire, the violence is splashy and nasty and even the acting is above average for a movie of this type. The movie is way rough around the edges of course but any movie that proudly boasts during the end credits that it was shot for $2500 is going to be.  For a movie I went into completely blind, I was pleasantly surprised by GRIM, and even more so because of the embarrassing hard sell that TROMA is using on the dvd packaging and promotional marterials that tried to make it look like some ultra-gory, alternative/underground gore piece, which it isn’t. I was pleased to get instead a fun action movie with a bit of social satire. 

The movie opens like a million other revenge tinged action films. With a multiple murder by a group of extremly unpleasant villians. These guys drive a man, woman and twelve year old boy out in the middle of nowhere. To which they proceed to beat the man to a pulp with a pipe and wrench infront of his family and execute him. The mother folows suit but they inexplicably leave the boy, though they do konk him on the head. Figuring his extreme terror will leave him mum about the proceedings. He is found by a kind man who spends the next nine years raising him. During that time he teaches him to use weapons as well. 

Years later we find out this man used to be the Sheriff of the town and that he was forced to kill his own son when he joined the gang of the men who killed our hero’s family.  This is where we get some important background information that sets the movie apart. Turns out the movie is taking place slightly in the future where an economic collapse has occurred due to continued bail outs to Wall Street and corporations by the government. Seems the people marched on Washington and many were killed in the ensuing riots. So much of the United States broke off into Tea Party styled militia groups who simply took over and emancipated themselves. But naturally this lead to dictatorships, chaos and social discord. The story we are watching takes place in Texas where one such faction has taken over. Our hero Nicholas Grim  will now set forth into their clutches to find those who killed his family.

Along the way he will meet up with a shanty town ghetto of Mexican immigrants who will befriend him, as well a lot of bloodshed.  There will be barnyard bare-chested fights, brothels, pick up trucks full of dead bodies, strangling, finger nails pulled out, bloody shootings that look more like SHOGUN ASSASSION style blood spray and lots of speeches about ones place in the role of society. 

All in all GRIM is surprisingly ambitious, with a lot more on its mind that the last dozen Steven Seagal movies rolled into one. Sure the dialogue falls into preaching and speechafying more often than not, but that is to be forgiven just because at least the characters are talking ABOUT something, instead of just posing.  There are even a few fight/action scenes that are well handled, especially that barn barefist fight scene.

Where GRIM fall on its face is the technical side. Apparently director Adrian Santiago has taken a page from the Robert Rodriguiz playbook and done literally everything himself. Literally directing, writing, editing, and shooting the project. The problem is that the cinematography ranges from acceptible to downright terrible depending on the scene. The scene where the whole back story of the USA collapse has the worse camera work I have seen in a legitimately released movie possibly ever. There is no reason that couldn’t have been reshot as it is horrible and distracting. The editing is also not up to par. It is never terrible, but when it gets to where thigns need to be exciting, the editing is simply not keeping up the pace. So perhaps on the next project Santiago will be able to afford some collaborators in those departments. 

The DVD is typical TROMA with a completely useless intro by Lloyd Kauffman (does ANYONE even watch those anymore?) and a raft of Troma extras that have jack and shit to do with the movie including an embarrassing clip of Lloyd watching some home video footage of one of his (now former) employees at Cannes pissing in another employees luggage while they discuss it endlessly.  Yawn. And a rather cute “Tromette” talking about Chaucer and showing her boobs. Yawn again. Santiago has a commentary but I didn’t listen to it yet. Perhaps I will. 

I will say TROMA did a nice job with the painted cover art on this package. It reminds me of the work of Steven Romano and his book SHOCK FESTIVAL which I am sure was intentional. But I seriously could do without the tag line “The Most Fucked Up Film of the year” on the back. It isn’t even close and really is only selling this to the “hardcore” crowd and fifteen year olds. 

But I say check it out if you get the chance, rude, crude and rough around the edges, there is still a good deal to like about this GRIM outing. 

Review © Andrew Copp

Friday, January 14, 2011

Repo Chick returns to the well for Alex Cox

D. Alex Cox
Industrial Ent.
1.85 (Shot HD)

Director Alex Cox returns to the well that got him cult fame by attempting a pseudo-sequel to his first hit REPO MAN. But this movie is markedly different in every way. Where as REPO MAN had a dark comic punk edge, REPO CHICK has a candy colored, post modern, almost kids movie approach to the material. All the sets and props are made from kids toys or cartoons, and put in via green screen, the colors scheme is day glow and pastels and the comedy is broad and over the top. In many ways this is the mirror image of REPO MAN and not just in the gender switch of the lead role.

The movie opens with an explanation of how the biggest growth industry in the United States and maybe the world is debt collection due to the world being own be banks and lenders. Actual companies like GMAC are name checked as having lulled the working poor into loans they cannot pay back, where as the Repossession industry has bloomed. There is also an explanation about several crawler missiles that have gone missing and probably hidden in some lost trains or cars somewhere in the USA. But don’t worry this wont really play into the plot all that much, unlike the original film.  Then we meet our lead Pixxi De La Chasse (Jaclyn Jonet) a rich bitch socialite clearly based on  Paris Hilton who has been disowned by her family unless she can get a job. When her car is repossessed she ends up working for the company that takes it and becomes an overnight success as a repo man because she is ruthless at taking things from other people. 

Much more so than her soft-hearted bosses who have a tendency to bend the rules a little here and there. She becomes obsessed with finding a legendary lost train (that we as the audience know contains those missiles mentioned before) because the reward is a million dollars. Meanwhile a terrorist cell has vowed to eliminate Golf and plans to hijack the train. Naturally Pixxi will end up in the way, and the only possible savior of the country and leisure sports.

The movie is experimental in approach with all the actors giving stylized performances as if they are in an animated film. As mentioned before all of this takes place in front of a green screen which is less than effective in most cases. More often then not you are fully aware of the artifice of it all, (which seems to be the point most of the time) but it takes you out of the movie. 

The animation, use of models and outright toys for action and props is cute and endearing for a while, but once the movie gets to about the halfway point that wears off. I found myself wanting the movie to get to some sort of point. Instead a bunch of characters end up on the train as the film drags to a crawl. Characters come and go but not much of consequence happens, even if some of the political satire seems valid.

While sometimes amusing, occasionally cynical and funny, the movie never settle sin to have enough bite to sink in and be worthwhile. Maybe worth a rental of a curiosity look but not the cult classic the original is by a long shot.

Review © Andy Copp

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Best and worst of 2010

As I have been want to do I am doing eleven movies because I can. There were several I still have not gotten to see (EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP) and several that I liked a great deal but for whatever reason just cannot force myself to put in the top ten (BLACK SWAN I love you, but something, I am not sure what, is keeping you out of this room). So without further admonishment here we go… And I am going to alienate everyone and discredit my list right from the start…

11) A NIGHTMARE ON ELM ST. - Horror fans have come to the table with a hatred of remakes that is astounding and I am no different. Especially when Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes company is involved.  But I am convinced that the hatred for this remake is really directed at the fact it was made AT ALL rather than at the movie itself. Because out of all the horror franchises that have been remade this one was the boldest. Dark, brooding, ugly and returned the Freddy Kruger character to his horrific roots this film treads real life horror that most films would never touch.  It genuinely gets under the skin and the performances are almost uniformly solid to really good considering the tone of the material. Not perfect by a long shot, but so far above the awful reviews it gets, someone had to acknowledge it.

10) CENTURION - Director Neil Marshall legs go of the camp nature of his last film DOOMSDAY and goes for broke in this brutal sword and sandal epic that redefines how the genre should be done. I know that douche who made the CHAINSAW remake is doing CONAN right now. After seeing this it has become completely apparent who SHOULD being doing that film. Violent, dark, uncompromising and always exciting, this is how actions movies are supposed to be.

9) KICK ASS - I initially didn’t want to see this. The trailers underwhelmed me to say the least. I thought it looked like more of the post-modern, annoying teenage bullshit that makes me want to vomit. That hip, “this is so cool, that even the movie itself understands how cool it is” kind of crap (SCOTT PILGRIM anyone?) that sells movies to the kids.  Instead we get a vicious, hilarious and most importantly deeply heartfelt rip into what it would be like to really be a superhero AND a teenager. Surprisingly adept at both the action and emotional range needed to pull this off, KICK ASS stands up to multiple viewings which is more than most movies these days can do.

8) MACHETE - Robert Rodriguiz’s long awaited follow up to PLANET TERROR makes good on the  grindhouse content by delivering the goriest, most violent studio movie, possibly ever, but also jabs middle America in the gut with savage political satire too. Like the great exploitation movies of yesteryear MACHETE takes a modern political issue and wraps it in a blood spurting, lingerie clad bit of confection so it goes down easier. Any movie that finally gives Danny Trejo the starring role he deserves needs recognition, and thankfully MACHETE kicks ass.

7) THE SOCIAL NETWORK - David Fincher grabs hold of one of the year's best scripts and cuts loose on why we all are so socially disconnected, while longing to connect. A brilliant look at how social interaction has dissolved, changed and transmuted into something that each one of us pretends we are, but aren’t quite in reality. Jesse Eisenberg gives a career defining performance as Mark Zuckerberg the creator of Facebook as we watch him climb from a narcissistic and possibly autistic college genius dweeb, to a man alone, surrounded by those he has alienated. Sad, brilliant and very socially aware.

6) BROOKLYN’S FINEST - The most overlooked movie of the year. Seriously did anyone bother to see this at all? This interlocking trio of crime stories is director Antoine Fuqua’s sort of follow up to his critically well regarded TRAINING DAY. But this is better than that film in every single way from just general storyline to the trio of lead performances by Don Cheadle, Richard Gere and Ethan Hawk. Wesley Snipes jumps back into dramatic ground with great perf as well. Gritty and realistic, I simply do not understand why this went unnoticed.

5) IT CAME FROM KUCHAR - Jennifer M. Kroot made this inspiring documentary about George and Mike Kuchar the original underground American filmmakers. Both of them are still kicking around making movies and art after all these years, and luckily for us, and this film, both are hilarious an unique personalities. I can barely think of another movie about making movies that was this interesting, inspiring and flat out entertaining.  A huge part of that is the Kuchar’s work as it is just outright a ball to see, and the film is overflowing with clips of their movies. But Root shows a real flair for getting the boys to talk and share, so we feel like we have known them for years by the time it is all over. 

4) THE HORSEMAN - This ultra low budget Australian revenge film is one of the leanest and meanest movies I have seen in years. Lots of people call movies throw backs to the 70’s, but this truly is. Put this side by side some of the classic 70’s revenge action films and it would fit along side perfectly. With pitch perfect performances, tightly wound direction, and constantly mounting violence until it becomes almost completely unbearable. So rare do we get movies with real balls. This one has them, then tortures the shit out of them as the lead character looks for the people who put his daughter into a porn movie and let her over-dose. Gritty revenge fueled stuff.

3) WINNEBAGO MAN - Jack Rebney is known as the angriest man in the world thanks to his now famous video of him cursing up a storm behind the scenes of an industrial video shoot about Winnebago’s. Now twenty some years later filmmaker Ben Steinbauer has set out to find out who this man is and how he feels about his celebrity on the web. What he discovers is a man who has no idea what has happened and has a deep contempt for modern society at large. A bond forms between them as Ben pushed Jack to come down off his (literal) mountain and face his new fandom. This documentary starts out crazy when exploring the world of Viral Videos but ends up being  deeply heartwarming as this hard man discovers life. I got choked up man.

2) INCEPTION - A summer blockbuster that is a thinking man’s action movie. A layered stream of conscious movie about dreams, meaning of dreams and letting go of personal pain that haunts us. Some people felt the movie was longer than it needed to be, but I was held rapt for the entire running from beginning to end. And felt like not a moment was extraneous or wasted.  It has become cool to bash on the movie as it was hyped pretty heavily, but it was the rare movie that the hype was all warranted and the final movie was as good as promised.

1) ENTER THE VOID - Gasper Noe finds god. Well, not really but he takes a hard long look at what he might consider the after life with a huge helping of DMT hallucinations and being guided by the Tibetan Book Of The Dead. When our lead character Oscar is shot  by the police we journey with him as he transcends his body . We travel through his memories of childhood, then even further into the lives of his friends as they try to survive in his absence.  Trippy, weird, and transcendent this movie covers ground no other movie has done before. Some of it is hard as hell to get through as it challenges you to stick with it. But the last ten minutes of the movie pull it all together for a wrap up that is at once emotionally enrapturing and still down to Earth. This is one of those rare movies that soon as it was over I was exhausted, but at  the same time thrilled and wanted to watch it over again to see what I missed. I also found myself wanting to show it to other people. Clearly the earmarks of a fine feature film. 

Usually I have at least a top five list of the worst movies of the year. But honestly I didn't bother with too many movies this year I thought would suck. I felt like I didn't have time. There were couple of disappointments though.

1) THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE - After much hype about how hardcore and twisted this movie was I had prepared myself for some seriously outrageous horror. I hadn't prepared myself for one of the worst written film in recent memory. Even among no budget, indie horror this was a terrible script. Even taken at complete camp value the writing sapped it of any kind of enjoyment for me. I give it credit for pulling the trigger and actually making the title monstrosity at the midpoint of the film. But then the director can't figure out what to do with it. So the Human Centipede does such horrific things like fetch the paper or lick the doctors boots. Truly an embarrassment.

2) SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD - Loads of people love this movie. Most of them aged 25 or below. Which is fine, it is aimed directly at the demographic that has grown up glued to the video games as a form of communication. I can't rightfully call it a "bad" film as it is very well made and does exactly what it sets out to do. I just found it to be horrendously annoying for 95% of the running time with characters that I either A. couldn't give a shit about because they were vacuous assbags without souls, or B. would rather see getting run over by heavy machinery. The fact that the screenwriter nor director can't figure out if the main character is fighting for which  lead girl or why until the final act when the film's faux feminism flies right out the window so the lead character can save them anyway is just relentlessly confused at best. Bah.This thing isn't for me or old farts like me anyway. 

3) PREDATORS - Another movie that isn't rightly a "bad" movie. It just isn't a very exciting one. The first half is sluggish with rather ill defined characters (peopled with actors that deserve better). Then goes to batshit hell when Lawrence Fishburne shows up and chews up the scenery worse than Brother Theodore on a meth bender. Throw into the mix that twerp from THAT 70's SHOW in a completely unconvincing turn as a psychopath ( a plot twist you see coming from, well the moment he is introduced) and the movie feels way longer than it is. It finds its footing during the last reel for the final showdown but by then I was not caring so much.

4) WRONG SIDE OF TOWN - David 'The Demon Director of the most Brutal Film Ever Made CHAOS" Defalco returns to directing with this urban action flick staring all wrestlers. The biggest problem the film faces is that lump of petrified wood Rob Van Dam is the lead hero. He can't act, he has NO screen presence and when ever he is on screen the space around him threatens to be sucked into the void. His co-star is fellow wrestler Dave Bautista (who is featured prominently on the DVD cover) and he has significantly more on screen charisma. But is unfortunately hardly in the film. It is serviceable directed but never rises above the crap leads and terrible script to be more than mildly painful to sit through.

So that was 2010.

Reviews © Andy Copp