Archive for July, 2013


I guess being an amateur, unpaid, armchair movie critic with at least something of an online following occasionally has its perks — from time to time, for instance, somebody (who I may or may not even “know” particularly well via, say, facebook or twitter) will unexpectedly send something interesting to my email inbox and I’ll discover an unexpected little gem that I otherwise would’ve known nothing about. That’s always nice.

On the flipside, however, once in awhile somebody will afford me the opportunity to watch, ahead of its release date (via means I shan’t discuss) something like the coming-straight-to-home-video-in-a-few-weeks, Italian-produced cheapie Zombie Massacre — which is also circulating under the obvious rip-off title Apocalypse Z in some territories where, apparently, the hope is that audiences are even more gullible than they are here in the US — and that’s just plain flat-out cruel.

Not that I hold sending this my way against my nameless “benefactor” in any way, shape, or form , mind you — the name of this blog is Trash Film Guru, after all, and if there’s one thing Zombie Massacre can lay more than fair claim to, it’s being trash — but I will say that this is one gift horse whose tooth-decayed, yellowing, halitosis-oozing mouth I’ve looked into and found to be a yawning, gaping, putrefying abyss.

But then, what do you expect? I’m told that most horses don’t floss regularly.

So here’s the deal — while I wasn’t exactly blown away by this summer’s mega-blockbuster zombie epic World War Z, whose coattails this flick is so obviously as desperately trying to latch onto (not that I particularly disliked it it either, mind you — it was just sort of there), it positively comes off as an undead Citizen Kane  compared to this mess.

The writer/director team of Luca Boni and Marco Ristori has a lot to answer for here, from the deplorable choices made vis a vis their no-name (for good reason) cast to their insipid storyline revolving around a failed US government experiment to create a “super soldier” (not actually in the US, mind you, but in eastern Europe) that results in a zombie-plague outbreak that some privatized mercenary army is brought in to “put down” by means of nuking the area, which will then be sold to the public  as  a radiation leak at the local atomic power plant (or something) to the bargain-basement CGI on display (although, in fairness, some of the “real” makeup effects they employ aren’t too bad) to the general amateur-but-not-in-a-good-way tone to the entire proceedings, but let’s be honest — whenever Uwe Boll is close at hand, some of the blame’s going to end up, fairly or not, attaching itself to him, as well.

Yes, friends, the creative “mind” behind the likes of House Of The Dead and the BloodRayne “franchise” is on hand here, serving as producer and turning in a cameo as the least-believable president of the United States in cinematic history, and his unique brand of excruciatingly-uninteresting Z-grade moviemaking oozes from each and every slimy celluloid pore of Zombie Massacre, regardless of who really directed the thing. If it looks like a Uwe Boll film, plays like a Uwe Boll film, feels like a Uwe Boll film, and most importantly smells like a Uwe Boll film, then goddamnit, it is a Uwe Boll film, at least in my book. no matter what the credits say.

I honestly don’t know how Boll so consistently does it — by all rights I should love his films, since they’re crap, but they’re always such dull and pointless crap, you know? Needless to say, this is no exception.

But don’t take my word for it (or better yet, do) — if a thirtieth-rate production of Blackwater vs. zombies sounds good to you, rest assured that this flick — under one of its titles — will be available for your home viewing edification any day now.  I’ve done my part by warning you, from here on out you’re on your own.

As the tagline on the poster so rightly says — “There Is No Hope.” Truer words were never spoken.


The first (and only, since I already wasted nearly two hours of my life on this flick and don’t intend to give it the satisfaction of sucking up much more than that)  thing we need to talk about when discussing director Robert “guess I should have done Red 2 after all” Schwentke’s abominable R.I.P.D.  (based, apparently, on a Dark Horse comic that, thankfully, I’ve never read) is the potential for two lawsuits its release on a viewing public that can only be saying to itself “Dear God, I know we’re stupid, but what could we have possibly done to deserve this?” has ushered in — one against the studio that put it out, Universal, for blatant plagiarism of intellectual property, the other against yours truly for saddling this review with the most heavy-handed and overly-obvious headline one can possibly imagine. Let’s take both in order, shall we?

First off, Barry Sonnenfeld and anyone and everyone associated with the venerable Men In Black blockbuster franchise should be calling up every lawyer they know and seeing if there’s grounds for suing the fuck out of the “brains” behind this film, since it’s basically a big-budget, but decidedly low-rent, MIB 4. Okay, sure, we’ve got ghostly undead spectres hiding in our midst rather than aliens, but whatever. Jeff Bridges is essentially playing Tommy Lee Jones plus a beard while Ryan Reynolds is on board as a melanin-free Will Smith. Everything else is the same — young hotshot teams with older crotchety partner to blast the bad guys only they can see with special guns that will kill their targets in plain view for all to see — except, of course, people can’t  see what’s going due to the advanced technology of said weapons. Throw in a nominal semi-romantic interest in the form of Mary-Louise Parker and have Kevin Bacon on hand to be — well, Kevin Bacon — and maybe you can fool a few of the more thick-skulled dunderheads out there for a few minutes, but even they’re bound to catch on to what’s happening here before too long. In short, this movie doesn’t even attempt to disguise what a blatant rip-off of a better idea it is because that would take more effort and originality than anyone was willing to bring to the proceedings.

As to the second potential claim to legal action, that’s a bit dicier since, while my headline is admittedly lame and bereft of anything resembling cleverness, there’s no law against being lame and/or cleverless (is that a word?), and besides, it’s still nowhere near as bereft of originality or intelligence as is R.I.P.D. itself. Therefore, I think, I’m off the hook. I deserve your scorn and derision, sure,  but no jail time.

Still, maybe some kind of penalty is in order for your lazy host here. You could always choose to go see R.I.P.D. just to spite me, I suppose. But the only person you’d be punishing is yourself.


So the other day when I reviewed the atrocious, sophomoric, egocentric, and decidedly unfunny This Is The End, I served up some pretty full-throated condemnations on the state of movie “comedy” in general these days. I think all the points I made were entirely correct — even if I do only say so myself — but still, something told me to give Hollywood funnymen another chance. They surely can’t all be idiots, right?

Kevin Hart is clearly no idiot. In fact, he strikes me as being a reasonably bright guy. Most of the stand-up material he delivers in his new film, Kevin Hart : Let Me Explain is fairly funny stuff. It’s mildly topical, and while it doesn’t break any new ground — or even cover old ground in a way that hasn’t been done before — his timing is good, his delivery is well-executed, and his stage presence is undeniable.

That being said, I’d only recommend seeing this thing if you’re a die-hard fan. Directors Leslie Small and Tim Story — who filmed this live performance of Hart at a sold-out Madison Square garden gig last year — are so clearly mailing it in that their lackadaisicality (did I just make up a word there?) actively detracts from one’s enjoyment of the material being presented. They’re prone to overly-obvious, half-assed editing, sloppy transitional material, ham-fisted jump-cut segues, and even the sound mix is a total clusterfuck mess. The tacked-on bit of ego-swollen sketch humor at the beginning doesn’t help matters much, either. All in all, while Hart’s generally-good-but-far-from-consistently-good stage material is no silk purse, these two have managed to make a sow’s ear out of it anyway.

Not sure what else to say beyond that, really. There’s no way to properly “recap” a live stand-up recording without giving away the jokes, so — I guess I just won’t go there apart from saying most of ’em were alright.  Hart seems to be making quite a name for himself in the comedy world right now, and that’s probably well-deserved, but the rank amateur nature of this film probably won’t win him any new converts. Next time just point a camera in his face, leave the room, and let him take it from there on his own.


Before you say it, trust me, I already know — I’m pretty late to the party with this one. Anybody who was likely to see writer/director James DeMonaco’s The Purge in theaters (and apparently that’s a big bunch of “anybodys,” since the film did quite well and a sequel has already been announced for January 2015) has already done so, which means that most folks who end up reading this will be doing so either in advance of, or upon, its home video release, but what can I say? I just saw it today (at the last place in town it’s still playing), and I like to write about a movie when it’s still relatively fresh in what passes for my mind.

And truth be told, The Purge offers viewers a lot to think about. I know, I know — that sounds well-nigh impossible for a flick that’s come from Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes production house, but nevertheless, there you have it.

In a way, too, my late timing in getting around to this one is actually kind of fortuitous — I know, I know, I would say that —simply because I think this is a movie that takes on greater import in the wake of the ludicrous acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s cold-blooded murderer (and self-appointed vigilante guardian), George Zimmerman. And before you accuse me of bringing that whole subject up again too soon after my last rant about it during my Pacific Rim review the other day, please allow me to explain —

The basic gist here, as you’re probably already well aware, is that in the year 2022 some unnamed right-wing faction has taken over the US government and has adopted the most draconian measure for dealing with homelessness and unemployment one can imagine — they’ve instituted a program called, you guessed it, The Purge, which legalizes murder for one night a year. Okay, sure, they’re small-“d” democratic about it and anyone’s free to kill anyone else regardless of race, creed, color, or economic class, but you know how something like this is bound to play out — those with enough money to arm themselves to the teeth are going to go after the low-hanging fruit that can’t afford to do so.

At this point you could be forgiven for thinking that this flick sounds like it could join the likes of ConvoyAmazing Grace, and Eye Of The Tiger (to name just a few) in the wildly disparate movies-derived-from-songs sub-category, with the tune in question here being the old Dead Kennedys classic “Kill The Poor,” and ya know, I do hope that Jello Biafra and co. are getting some kind of royalties cut here, but in truth The Purge goes about its political messaging a bit less directly than DK did, and its populist, horror/SF-crowd-pleasing instincts certainly leave it open to an entirely apolitical reading if one so chooses.

But that’s not how we do things here, is it? The gated “community” that wealthy alarm-system salesman protagonist James Sandin (played by Ethan Hawke, who’s enjoying something of a surprise career resurgence in recent years as, of all things, a genre star), his wife Mary (Lena Headey), and their two kids reside in is essentially exactly the same as most of the atrocious “secure” compounds that protect the privileged from the society-wide results of their greed and avarice that we find littering the soul-dead landscape of suburban America today, the reticence to help a downtrodden person  (in this case a black homeless guy who’s also, at least if we’re to go by the dog tags he’s wearing, apparently a veteran) on Sandin’s part is all too believable, the silent acquiescence of an entire nation to acts of barabarism is too obvious a parallel to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to ignore, and watching all the rich motherfuckers turn on each other when the shit hits the fan later in the movie isn’t so different than what they tend to do when they all-too-occasionally get called on the carpet for their reckless financial shenanigans and start selling each other out to protect their own asses from litigation or worse.

I’ve certainly seen and heard reviewers describe the root premise of The Purge as being “unrealistic,” and express the opinion that, no matter how bad things got, we as a people would never condone such a thing, much less embrace it with open arms as the people in the film have done, but when you honestly look at the way society’s headed, how “far-fetched” is it really? America is inexorably bifurcating into a nation of a few “haves” and a great many “have-nots,” with inner-city neighborhoods where Purge-like activities play out on an almost  nightly basis existing at a “safe” distance from people who have retreated behind walls, fences, and armed checkpoints that we laughably describe as “visitor’s entrances” in order to shield their families from the realities of the system they’re profiting from.  And now look — even if you do manage to venture behind those barricades, unarmed and minding your own business, you’ll be summarily executed by a racist thug who won’t even be sent to jail for killing you in a fight he started (see, you knew I would get back to that). The only thing I find “outlandish” about this flick is that the government has been so egalitarian in who it’s decided is legal to kill for one night — even if , as mentioned, in actual practice it’s going to end up more often than not being exactly the people they want dead.

The Purge was an interesting and topical film, with more layers of subtext than than your average dozen horror flicks combined, when it hit theaters six or eight weeks back, but in light of recent tragic events it’s become, dare I say, essential viewing. My hope is that it wakes people up to the dangers, and the inhumanity, of the rapidly (and radically) economically-segregated society we’re becoming — but given that one of the previews before the movie was for an obviously-sanitized, fawning new biopic of multi-millionaire asshole Steve Jobs, I’m afraid it might be too late already.


The big problem with most comedy these days is that it just isn’t funny. Granted, my idea of “good” comedy might be different from yours — I prefer the kind of humor that forces society to take a hard look at itself while simultaneously making us laugh (George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks, even some early Richard Pryor are good examples of what I’m talking about), and not the sort that actively encourages us to be even bigger morons and fuck-ups than we already are by celebrating all our most base, lowest-common-denominator elements under the thin veneer of “poking fun at ourselves.”

In other words, I don’t like stupid shit, and this summer’s offerings at the box office are loaded with the worst offenders when it comes to peddling stupid shit. The truly loathsome Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson have teamed up again for The Internship. The worst culprits of all, Adam Sandler, Kevin James, and David Spade (Chris Rock still gets a pass in my book, though not for much longer if he keeps this shit up) are back in Grown Ups 2. And almost every other unfunny asshole on the planet is on board for the movie that we’re here to (briefly) discuss today, This Is The End.

Yup, friends, the comedy landscape is indeed bleak, and with the spectre of  another brain-dead Will Ferrell extended character sketch breathing down our necks in the form of Anchorman 2, it doesn’t look like things will be improving anytime soon. Oh well — at least Ben Still is nowhere to be found on the radar screen for now.

Seriously, about the only thing This Is The End proves is that the only thing less entertaining than watching Seth Rogen (who also co-directed and co-wrote this stinkbomb along with Evan Goldberg), Jonah Hill, James Franco (who I usually actually like), Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Michael Cera, Paul Rudd, Jay Baruchel, Rihanna, Emma Watson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Channing Tatum playing other people is watching them play themselves. Oh, sure, their characterization here is self-deprecating on its surface, but poke beneath that for one nanosecond and you’ll see that this tone is a phony one and that the real raison d’etre for this film is for all these folks to tell us how awesome they are for a couple of hours. Just mix in the occasional pot, sex, or bodily fluids joke and you’re successfully hoodwinked 95% of the country into thinking you’re really just an average guy or gal like them.

Sorry, not buying it. “Celebrities Vs. The End Of The World” is as shallow an idea in practice as it sounds on paper, friends, and watching the rich and famous try to navigate their way through the apocalypse turns out to be so goddamn idiotic that you’ll be actively wishing for the world to end before the movie does, if only to save you from one more in-joke or self-aggrandizing public chest-thumping in the guise of toilet humor.

Seriously, who is the audience for a movie like this? Are we so obsessed with the vapid celebrity “lifestyle” that we’re willing to genuflect before these people and hand them our cash (full disclosure — I snuck into this one)  for telling us how cool they are to our faces? How pathetic and gullible have we become? How willing  to actively participate in our own cultural dumbing-down?

Ya know, maybe this is all we really deserve at this point, if we’ve become this cowed, complacent, and resigned to our own slow-burn apocalypse. What was it they said about the fall of Rome and bread and circuses?

The only joke in This Is The End is the massive, and frankly kinda tragic, one that’s being played on all of us.

My assault on the summer blockbusters continues at Through The Shattered Lens website —

Through the Shattered Lens


Let’s start with a life lesson here that’s completely contradictory right on its face and therefore of absolutely no value whatsoever — sometimes the simplest ideas are great, and sometimes they’re really, really dumb.It all depends on the inherent intelligence level of the person who has them.

First case in point : a retrograde, racist, trigger-happy, self-appointed “neighborhood watch captain” decides it would be a good idea to follow around a kid in his gated suburban subdivision who’s minding his own business and eating Skittles. The cops tell him to back the fuck off and stay in his car, but our low-grade Charles Bronson-wannabe thinks he knows better : he pursues the young man on foot, removes his gun from its holster, loads  some rounds in the chamber, unlatches the safety, and proceeds to generally and obviously tail him for three or four blocks. When the target of his harassment…

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The idle rich are suffering from a deep and abiding sense of existential torment — brought on, largely, by sheer ennui — that we mere mortals will never be able to fully comprehend or appreciate. I know this because Sofia Coppola’s been drumming it into our heads for about the past 15 years or so.  Look, I’m as firm a believer in the old expression “write what you know,” but come on — this is starting to get a little bit ridiculous.

I was, at one point, a die-hard Coppola defender (at first) and admirer (later) — I felt the ruthless drubbing she took as the de facto catch-pail for all the things that were wrong with The Godfather, Part III was both unwarranted and unnecessary. It wasn’t her fault that her dad stuck her in his film at the 11th hour when Winona Ryder bailed on it, after all, and while she certainly couldn’t act, she’s also not gonna say no to her old man under such circumstances. He’s the one who should’ve  known better than to ever put her in that position — she was just trying to help him out, and got labeled as the public face of the film’s failure for her troubles.

Later, when she got into writing and directing proper herself, I was one of her biggest fans. The Virgin Suicides was, I felt, a very promising debut effort, and Lost In Translation absolutely blew me away. I know the ending of that film left a lot of people — even many who had enjoyed it immensely up to that point — feeling cold, but I thought it worked perfectly. Here, I thought, was a young(ish) director who had enough respect for, and faith in, her audience to let us figure things out for ourselves. No spoon-fed, easy answers here — if you wanted to get on the Sofia Coppola wavelength, you had to work for it. I was impressed. I was hooked.

And apparently, judging from everything she’s done since, I was wrong.

The cracks, frankly, were there to be seen quite early on — both The Virgin Suicides and Lost In Translation focused on the shallow, empty, aimless lives of upper-middle-class-to-extremely-wealthy characters, and while that’s all fine and good, Coppola has only ever gone halfway with her critique of that lifestyle — showing it to be a hollow, cul-de-sac wasteland, but choosing to paint its authors and/or willing participants as, in a sense, victims.

Needless to say, subsequent efforts like the offensive Marie Antoinette and the if-anything-even-more-offensive Somewhere only upped the ante in this regard, portraying the most callow, self-absorbed, frankly irredeemable characters as somehow being trapped in a life they never wanted —never mind that it’s also one they’d never give up.

Honestly, about the only thing I “learned” from these two flicks is that the rich have never had that much to do with their time, regardless of what century — or country —we’re talking about. So while the going trend in recent years seems to be to criticize Coppola for her films’ pacing and general non-structure, I’m not about to jump on that bandwagon — I actually find myself enjoying her free-form, languid, organic approach to cinema. What I absolutely don’t have any more time for, though, is her approach to her (always, essentially, exactly the same) subject matter : after all, even if a person is born with a silver spoon in their mouth, they don’t have to be a self-absorbed asshole. That’s a choice. And if that’s what a person chooses to be, then fuck ’em — I’m not interested in either them as people, or in their tepid, pathetic, intelligence-offending “woe is me, I’ve got everything I ever wanted and now I just don’t know what to do with myself” stories. Fuck ’em, fuck ’em, fuck ’em.

And if you give us one more movie like that, Ms. Coppola, then I’m sorry, but — fuck you, too. Fuck you for trying to get us to feel one single ounce of compassion for a bunch of bastards who don’t deserve it. Have you been paying attention to the headlines for the past decade or so? The rich have been stealing everything that isn’t nailed down in broad daylight and are headed for the metaphorical exits while leaving the rest of us to clean up the mess that they made. Whatever problems they have are of their own doing. You’re an educated person, Sofia — surely you’re aware for the phrase “sympathy for the devil”? I thought so. And I can tell you, in no uncertain terms, that the devil — in the form of the economic “elite” — has worn out his welcome with all the hard-working people who are stuck navigating their way through the ocean of shit he’s stuck us all in.

Which brings us, of course, to the newest entry in Coppola’s self-indulgent pity-party, The Bling Ring, a movie “inspired by actual events” that focuses on the efforts of a group of  fame-and-celebrity-obsessed teenagers (led by Katie Chang and Israel Broussard, who are joined in their hijinks by Claire Juilen, Taissa Farmiga, and Emma Watson — though Watson gets top billing on account of being the biggest “name” of the bunch, thus proving that whatever “anti-celebrity” message Coppola’s aiming for here is undone by her own film’s marketing campaign), who are pretty high on the socio-economic totem pole themselves, to ingratiate themselves up even further by any means necessary, legal or otherwise.

Again, we’re given a fairly half-hearted and gutless critique of the lavishness and excess that are supposedly “under the microscope” here, but when push comes to shove, the ultimate message in this film might be, if anything, even more insidious than we’ve become accustomed to from previous Coppola efforts. That’s because, yeah, even though Sofia actively (and, to her credit, as stylishly as ever, at least visually speaking) portrays the hedonistic lifestyle that our gang of young stalkers-and-burglars are trying to infiltrate as being one that certainly isn’t worth joining, she reserves her greatest editorial enmity not for the celebrities and the bloated studio and media system that promulgates their status, but for the kids who should’ve been satisfied with nearly having it all instead of buying into the 24-hour celebrity “news” cycle that constantly reinforces the idea that they should want even more. “These famous people are a bunch of douchebags” is a sentiment I can fully agree with, but sorry, I can’t go along with the idea that these teens are even bigger douchebags for breaking into their homes and cars, etc. I find these kids to be pathetic, stupid, and spoiled, sure — but I can’t go along with the idea that somehow they’re the ultimate villains in this film, which is definitely what our erstwhile daughter of privilege herself seems to be saying.

The actors, to their credit, all do a uniformly fine job portraying unlikable characters trying to ensconce themselves into a world of even-more-unlikable characters, and that makes this flick easier to bear, but the material itself is of such an intrinsically offensive nature that even the greatest performance couldn’t save it. Simply put, no matter how much we’re supposed to feel nothing but contempt and disdain for these privileged-yet-unfulfilled saps, even on their worst day they just wouldn’t know how to be as fundamentally worthless as Kim Kardashian is on her best. Even at their most vapid and egotistical, they’re still in the minor leagues.

Besides — I kinda like the idea that the Lindsay Lohans and Paris Hiltons of the world were temporarily inconvenienced (at worst) by these kids’ shenanigans. These are people, after all, who have not just way more shit than they need but way more shit than they could ever want, they’ll hardly miss the property that was stolen from them, and their insurance will cover any losses anyway, so — no harm, no foul in my book. The young rich bratty fucking punks who committed all these “crimes” are, of course, all nauseatingly entitled little shits, but I would actively encourage any and all poor kids out there to emulate, and even one-up, their actions, and thereby stick it back to the people who are sticking it to you every single day.

So, what are we left with at the end of The Bling Ring, then? A movie that’s ultimately just as shallow and pointless as the very “culture” it’s apparently “revealing.” Coppola is sending the exact same message here that she always does — don’t hate these people, they’re every bit as much prisoners of their status as you are, in fact even moreso, and whatever you do, please don’t steal any of their shit or try to be like them in any way (even though the media paints their lives as being some sort of “ideal” to aspire to) because — well, you’re just not part of the club. And if you try to force your way in, we’ll make a laughing stock of you and maybe even send you to one of those jails  your taxes pay for (we don’t pay any taxes ourselves). Yes, we’re all shallow, pompous, arrogant, empty people here in Celebrityville, USA, but don’t you see? That’s why you’re so stupid for wanting to join us.

Know your place. And stay there. You’ll be much happier that way — and we certainly will be.


My assault on the summer blockbusters continues at Through The Shattered Lens website —

Through the Shattered Lens



It all seemed like such a no-brainer, didn’t it?

Disney snaps up the cinematic rights to the most famous Western hero of them all — one that hasn’t been “rebooted” since 1981’s disastrous Legend Of The Lone Ranger — and turns it over, naturally enough, to Jerry Bruckheimer, who “gets the band back together,” so to speak, by hiring Gore Verbinski to direct and Johnny Depp to star as Tonto. Pirates Of The Caribbean Goes West, anyone?

It goes without saying that budget wouldn’t be a concern here — special effects, production values, sets and costumes — all would be state-of-the-state-of-the-art. Turn it loose on the public over the extended July 4th holiday weekend, sit back, and collect all that cold, hard cash. What could possibly go wrong? This was fool-proof.

Except for the fact that, well, it hasn’t been. The Lone Ranger has landed at the box…

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Maybe you’ve been hearing about this little indie/arthouse political thriller that folks are talking about called The East. It’s about this quasi-anarchist/ quasi-“eco-terrorist” quasi-“cell” that gets infiltrated by a  female plainclothes “private security” (let’s be honest, that just a nicer term for mercenary) operative who finds her loyalties, predictably, being torn the more deeply she gets involved involved with her ostensible “targets.”

And hey — who can blame her? Big corporations suck. Sorry, that’s just not up for debate around here. They’re greedy. They’re evil. They’re sociopathic. They have no conscience. They’re assholes.

There’s just one thing that seems kinda, well, incongruous about this flick : it is, in fact,  the product of a major Hollywood studio  (and the most viciously right-wing one of the bunch — namely Fox — at that), the late Tony Scott and his brother, Ridley (not exactly strangers to the big-budget blockbuster machine themselves) are credited as producers, and the ending is a total cop-out that hews to the tried-and-untrue axiom that these dastardly corporate conglomerates can be changed without resorting to confrontational direct action. Oops, that’s three things. Sorry.

Come on, though, let’s get real — we’ve  been trying the whole “work within the system” approach for some time now, and I got news for you — it ain’t working. These oil companies, chemical companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and other targets of the titular “terrorist collective” known as The East (a monicker whose significance is never explained) are as firmly ensconced in the economic driver’s seat as ever. The actions that The East are shown to undertake probably would, in fact, work — and at the risk of my own ass let me say that anyone willing to mimic them in reality would have my full and unwavering support — but when our erstwhile heroine, one Sarah Moss (that’s her “operational” name, at any rate) decides to “go rogue” from both her employers and her new-found “anarcho-culture-jammer” friends, she maps out a tepid “let’s embarrass and expose these guys in order to get them to reform” course of action that ultimately plays into these hyper-capitalistic bastards’ hands by, at the very least, letting them live.

In other words, this is exactly the kind of “message” that a big studio like Fox wants to impart to what remains of the supposed “radical” community. We’re not that bad — just force us to do the right thing, and we will. Why, you can even leave us in charge of our companies — just put enough consumer pressure on us and we’ll reform, we promise.

Can you smell the bullshit from a mile away? ‘Cuz I sure can.

But wait, you say — this film only has a $6.5 million budget, it was co-written by its star, Brit Marling, and its “indie” wunderkind director, Zal Batmanglij, and the “name” supporting players in the cast — folks like Ellen Page, Patricia Clarkson, and Julia Ormond — took less than their usual going rate for the” honor” of participating in this “labor of love.”

Why, the de facto “leader” of The East is even played by “certified cool” up-and-comer Alexander Skarsgard. Therefore this movie must be “legit,” right?

Tell ya what — you just go on thinking that if it helps you sleep easier at night.

Besides, truth be told,  I’m not even really here to completely dissuade you from seeing this film (huh? Where’d that come from?) — it’s definitely a well-paced, stylish, competently-executed, occasionally-thought-provoking piece of cinema. But it’s way too polished to be a non-studio product, and ultimately way too gutless. I guess it would have struck a more resonant cord with me if my conscience were  conflicted about what these guys n’ gals were doing to bring down corporate America (and that type of moral ambiguity is clearly what the film-makers are aiming for), but since it’s not, a lot of the supposed “thematic tension” they’re going for fell flat with this viewer.

Here’s what I think probably happened, no matter what the officially-sanctioned behind-the-scenes scuttlebutt for this film may say — Scott Free productions shelled out a modest amount of cash for Batmanglij and Marling to make their little “socio-political thriller,” got Fox on board to provide further financing and, ultimately, distribution, Fox released it under their “Searchlight” label to give it some “street cred,” and yet another great celluloid hustle was born.

A well-done, entertaining, even occasionally involving hustle, but a hustle nevertheless. It might very well be worth your time and money to see The East — after all, most of the crap playing in theaters right now is a whole lot worse — but you should definitely go in with your eyes open, and realize that you’re being played.


Bear with me, friends, as I take a circuitous and convoluted path toward any supposed “points” I’m trying to make here —

As far as catchy pop tunes go, you could do a hell of a lot worse than Michael Sembello’s amazingly popular (and only) hit single, “Maniac.” I’m not here to tell you that it’s a quality piece of music by any stretch of the imagination, but it does have a few things going for it, namely that it’s fast (next time you’re on YouTube, do a search for “Michael Sembello ‘Maniac’ Cover” — you’ll be amazed by all the third-rate European speed metal bands that have taken a crack at it), it has some damn intelligent and evocative lyrics scattered about here and there (“there’s a cold kinetic heat — struggling, stretching for the feet”), and it knows enough to cut itself short before it becomes too terribly repetitious. Plus, it sticks in your head like a motherfucker if you haven’t heard it in a few years and happen to catch part of it playing overhead in the grocery store, the waiting room of the dentist’s office, or wherever the hell else they pipe in the Sirius satellite radio ’80s channel all the time.

There’s an interesting urban legend that’s been floating around for some time now that the song was actually written for William Lustig’s legendary, dripping-with-misogyny 1980  horror flick Maniac — which as you all are well aware, I’m sure,  features the late, great Joe Spinell in a tour-de-force performance the likes of which only happen in the cinema once every decade or two (and that’s if we’re lucky) — and that Sembello and his songwriting partner (whose name I’m currently just too goddamn lazy to look up) simply changed a few words here and there to make it fit in with the movie that it eventually landed in, namely Adrian Lyne’s runaway blockbuster hit  Flashdance.

Anyone who’s watched the bonus feature where Lustig sits down and talks about all this with Sembello and his (still too lazy to look up his name, sorry) writing partner that’s included on Blue Underground’s “30th Anniversary Special Edition” Blu-Ray/DVD of Maniac knows this isn’t true, of course — the actual facts behind the song’s genesis, its inclusion in Flashdance, and its mistaken association with Maniac are actually far more banal, yet bizarrely also more fascinating, than that. Suffice to say they really did alter the original lyrics pretty considerably, but it was never written specifically for inclusion in Lustig’s, or for that matter any, film.

But enough about that — let’s get back to these cover versions of Maniac that are all over YouTube (I did warn you this was going to be — what did I say, “circuitous and convoluted”? ). Some of them are, as you’d expect, pretty terrible. Others, however, are actually kind of fascinating. You can that tell some care went into their production and arrangement. The bands really do seem to be giving it their best shot.

But ya know what? Not a one of them, despite their best efforts, manages to get it exactly right.

All of which brings us — finally! — to the 2013 remake of Maniac, the movie, brought to us by director Franck Khalfoun , producer/co-writer Alexandre Aja (swiftly establishing a name for himself as the new reigning king of retread horror properties now that Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes production company seems to have slowed down its pace a bit) and co-writer Gregory Levasseur.


All in all, you’ve gotta say this ain’t a half-bad effort. If you’re lucky enough to be in one of the few areas where it’s getting some theatrical play (most of us are stuck with the cable or satellite “On-Demand” menu if we wanna see it), you probably won’t leave the multi-plex feeling disappointed, by any means. Our intrepid European “re-imagineers” have taken pains to make the proceedings more “realistic” than what  Lustig and Spinell gave us (no hot female photographer love interest , our titular psycho actually seems to have a job in this one, etc.), while keeping the general thrust (sorry) of things agreeably simple and straight-forward and doing their level best to hang onto (if you’re feeling generous), or at the very least mimic (if you’re not),  the sleazy, unforgiving “edginess” their predecessors served up so expertly and generously.

Most wisely of all, though, they’ve chosen not to have their lead, Elijah Wood, try to emulate, reference, or even give off the faintest accidental odor  of Spinell. There’s just no point trying to catch  lightning (even if it’s of the extremely greased variety) in a bottle twice.

But is any Maniac without Spinell even Maniac at all? That’s the question I’m still struggling to answer. To me, this feels like another one of those cover versions that tries its  level best, but still doesn’t quite manage to hit the nail on the head.


Wood’s take on Frank is an interesting one, to be sure — he’s still got the unresolved mommy issues, still got the whole mannequin obsession (hell, in this one he even owns a mannequin shop), and still harbors a pretty bleak and remorseless view of the fairer sex, but his presentation of the character is far more brooding, sullen, and internalized than was Spinell’s. You can pass this guy on the street and not think to yourself “what a filthy fucking creepy sleazebag!” And while that’s, as I said, pretty interesting, it still doesn’t feel quite right.

The “will-he-snap-or-won’t-he?” psychodrama that that the Khalfoun/Aja/Levasseur trifecta (who previously pooled their efforts on the shamefully-underappreciated P2) set up between Frank and art student/object of obsession/mother stand-in/unwitting muse (if homicide can an in any way be viewed as “art”) Anna (played with understated style and charm, and just a dash of dangerous intrigue thrown in, by Nora Arnezeder) manages to shift the main focus of the narrative a bit into “two-people-playing-a-dangerous-game-even-if-only-one-of-them-knows-it” territory, but again, while that makes for some nifty and even engrossing cinematic storytelling, it just doesn’t have that same completely random, scattershot, balls-to-the-walls sense of fury that Lustig and Spinell brought to things. It all feels too controlled, too calculated, too pre-planned to bear the Maniac title.

And finally, while Khalfoun does his best to keep things visually interesting — and to his credit largely succeeds — the street-level, “guerrilla” filmmaking style of the original is sorely missed here. Maniac circa 1980 felt like exactly what it was — some guys with a camera, little to no money, and certainly no filming permits, hitting the streets of New York late at night, getting things done in a take or two, and getting the fuck outta Dodge before the cops showed up and hassled them, or worse. Maniac circa 2013 is all about carefully selecting just the right color palettes, angles, and perspective shots to give its audience something of the same visceral experience that its predecessor achieved more by dint of necessity than out of actual choice. These guys want to make a sleazy, “street-level,” authentic slasher pic — and that’s great. I’m all for it. But it’s still not gonna pack the punch of something that can’t be anything but a sleazy, “street-level,” authentic slasher pic.


When all was said and done, I think it’s fair to say that Maniac‘s new iteration left me feeling much the same way that many of the hard-core fans of Max Brooks’ World War Z novel feel about the big-budget  Brad Pitt “starring vehicle” bearing the book’s name (and yes, I realize I covered this point yesterday in my review of that film and I am, therefore, guilty of repeating myself — and quite quickly, at that— but the sentiment really does apply, so I’m sticking with it) — it’s very good at what it does, and I even liked it quite a bit.  But it should have been called something else.