Archive for the ‘movies’ Category

Nigel Bach has a lot to answer for.

I’ve talked about his Bad Ben series of films quite a bit on this site, of course, but leaving out their relative merits (or lack thereof) for a moment here, the simple fact is that their (relative) success has inspired a small legion of wannabe-filmmakers armed with nothing but their iPhones and, I suppose, a dream. One of them is Jeff Profitt, and the fruit of his labors is the just-released-to-Amazon-streaming Something Crashed In The Woods. Don’t let the title fool you, though — nothing “crashes in the woods” here (at least as far as we can see), but at about the ten-minute mark your interest level in the film itself will crash mightily, and never recover.

Profitt himself is the sole “actor” in the film, and he plays an unnamed dude who buys his dream “fixer-upper” cabin and intends to vlog the entire remodeling experience because, I guess, there are people out there interested in that sort of shit. On a walk through the woods one day he chances across some weird burn marks on the ground and on some trees, and decides, hey, I’ll come back at night and see what might have caused these because he apparently can’t figure stuff like that out during daylight hours. So he does just that and sees some weird lights and — sees them some more on successive evenings. Not that you can tell one instance from another here, nor does it matter.

Events “ramp up,” at least nominally, but they never threaten to actually become interesting, and Profitt himself has so little camera presence that he probably couldn’t carry a YouTube remodeling show, much less a movie about a YouTube remodeling show gone off the rails — and, it’s implied, beyond the stars. So there’s your rundown.

I could go on and on, sure — the lack of suspense, the amateurish “camera” work (even by “found footage” non-standards), the risible acting, the lack of coherence underpinning the entire project — they all deserve some attention, I suppose, but dwelling on them would just be cruel. To Profitt, sure, who’s probably a perfectly nice guy, but even more crucially to you, dear reader, who has better things to do with your time than read a laundry-list of faults about a sub-amateur movie production that has literally nothing going for it. At least, I hope you do.

And, in future, I hope that Profitt does, as well. I’m all for people with no resources not letting that stop them from making art, but the key word there is art. I don’t think Something Crashed In The Woods rises to the level of earning that title, and I have the broadest definition of “art” you can possibly imagine. This is just some dude with a camera phone, a threadbare idea for a story, and a few days and nights to kill. Props to him for getting it all the way to Amazon, I suppose — it’s more than a lot of backyard filmmakers manage to achieve — but just because it’s there doesn’t mean it should be. I’m gonna cut this short right now so as not to repeat myself — something Profitt does a hell of a lot of in the film — but one more “avoid at all costs” admonition is the least I can do for you good people. In fact, I consider it a public service.


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Once upon a time, a rag-tag group of ambitious filmmakers headed out to rural Pennsylvania with an amateur cast, a camera, no money, and a dream. The end result, George A. Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead, achieved cinematic immortality not only for itself, but for almost all of those involved in its production.

Fast-forward to 2016 (although it wouldn’t achieve release until two years later, and via Amazon Prime streaming at that) and Nicholas Pontoski crowd-funded a $15K production budget, grabbed some friends, and hoped history might — just might — repeat itself. The end result, Within The Woods Of Undead County, is having a tough time standing out in the streaming queue shuffle. but is actually probably worth your time to check out — provided your expectations are held in check.

We’re talking about fairly standard-issue stuff here, at least in terms of Pontoski and co-screenwriter Justin Stephens’ script, in that we’ve got a quartet of disparate characters — Jocelyn (played by Gabriella Harry), Ashm (Matt Motyl), Kelly (Angela McCormick), and Matt (Cory Handelong) — who have escaped to the sticks in hopes of out-running a zombie plague, only to find there are no “safe spaces” when the shit hits the fan. They’ve gotta learn to trust each other in order to survive, characters may or may not have hidden agendas and motivations, those with skill sets that would lend themselves more ready to survivalist situations are forced to both help and, ultimately, rely on those who don’t, etc. You really do know the drill here, people.

That being said — Pontoski manages to punch above his weight class nicely in terms of practical effects, shot composition, use of natural lighting (or lack thereof), overall production values, and he even manages to coax some slightly-above-average-for-these-sorts-of-things performances out of an obviously (though not painfully) unprofessional cast. If you’re not a seasoned veteran of homemade horror you might find the whole thing to be far below your standards, but shit — if  you’re not “a seasoned veteran of homemade horror,” you’re probably not even reading this site in the first place, am I right?

I am, of course, but I would say that. In point of fact, though, this film is probably of interest only to those who are fans of seeing how filmmakers do a lot with a little, but viewed strictly from that perspective, it’s a flick that’s actually reasonably impressive, difficult as that may be to believe at first glance. It’s absolutely as “been there, done that, got the t-shirt” as it sounds, sure, but there’s a hell of a lot of heart on display here, right down to paying keen attention to the smallest of small details — barring a few fuck-ups that, frankly, detract so little from the overall production that bringing them up would make me sound like an asshole (or should that be “an even bigger asshole”?), so I’ll leave them be.

There’s even a twist or two you may not see coming, for those who appreciate such things (that would be, I’m thinking, most people), and all in all, by the time the end credits roll, you’d have to have one hard heart to say that Within The Woods Of Undead County is anything other than a well-executed, if far-less-than-revolutionary, labor of love that Pontoski and his cohorts have plenty of reason to be at least modestly proud of — assuming, ya know, “modest pride” is even a real thing.


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And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack. And you may find yourself in another part of the world. And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile. And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife.

Or, you may find yourself browsing through the recent horror offerings on Amazon Prime and giving Texas-based writer/director Joseph Mazzaferro’s Dybbuk Box : True Story Of Chris Chambers a go simply because any movie that’s so sloppy as to omit an obvious “The” from its title is bound to at least be an interesting mess — and then, and only then, will you ask yourself “Well — how did I get here”?

That’s because this movie, in truth, isn’t interesting, occasional fuck-ups aside, such as our protagonist, Chris Chambers (played by — shit, you already know. The film’s only other “character,” Sarah Bently, “stars” as herself, as well) bitching about how no one on the “dark web,” where he purchases the purportedly “cursed” box in question, takes anything other than BitCoin before scoring it for $12,000 in cash. Those kind of brain farts are few and far between, though, and not enough to keep your attention between the lame dialogue, risible acting, shoestring production values (usually not something with criticize a film for around these parts), dull-as-dry-toast setting (get used to Chris’ apartment — it’s all you see), and stupid story.

Speaking of which — dude doesn’t believe the stuff he’s heard and read about Dybbuk boxes, buys one, records everything that happens after he gets it (and plenty before), his life goes right to hell, there’s your plot.

Could I say more? Sure. Do you need to know any more, though? Beyond “avoid this at all costs,” absolutely not.

I take no pleasure in slagging home-made efforts like this, but come on — if you’re gonna whip up a “mockumentary” that purports to show a true story — sorry that should just be “true story” — put forth at least a little bit of effort in making the illusion convincing. It needn’t be much — we all know the drill. But play along. Humor us. Show that you give even half a flying fuck about meeting the non-existent expectations of your living-room-sized audience. Otherwise don’t bother. Mow the lawn. Wash the dishes. Spend some time with the wife, the kids, your friends, anybody. Hell, do anything other than make a movie. Watch the flagpole rust. Time how long it takes your toenails to grow. It doesn’t matter.

And neither does this movie. It wouldn’t know how to if it tried. Which is really the crux of the problem here.

It doesn’t try. At all. No one involved with it does. And, as a result, you shouldn’t try to watch it. I mean, that’s only fair, right? Speaking of watching the flagpole rust or timing how long it takes your toenails to grow — you’d be far better served, and more entertained, engaging in either of those “activities” than you will be by Dybbuk Box : True Story Of Chris Chambers. If a worse film is made in 2019, then it’ll have proven to be one lousy year indeed.


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Okay, so in truth I wasn’t aware that Nigel Bach had cranked out a sixth film in this, the most unlikely “franchise” series in cinematic history, and I usually pride myself on being on top of these sorts of things, but hey — when I learned that Bad Ben : The Way In had shambled its way from Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey all the way to Amazon Prime back on May 1st, I can’t honestly say that I was surprised or anything.

And, really, why should Bach stop? When he sub-titled one of his films “The Final Chapter,” it looked like maybe he was going to retire this admittedly played-out concept, but let’s be honest : these things cost no money to produce, he doesn’t necessarily “need” anything other than his iPhone to make them (although he’s expanded the cast a couple of time in the past, it’s not like anyone actually expects him to hire actors on even a semi-regular basis), and a new “production” can probably be completed in, like, and afternoon. Or an evening.

I’m not sure how much cash they make, but seriously — even if it’s only a few thousand bucks (not an unreasonable assumption), that still represents a very nice return on investment when that “investment” amounts to nothing but time. And not even much of that.

All of which is to say, yeah, these are pretty lousy movies, but if you came up with this idea, and it paid off even modestly, then you’d keep coming back to the well, too, even if only for beer money.

But dammit, just because Bach can (and likely will) keep this up until the end of time, that doesn’t mean I have to like his flicks. I’ve been marginally impressed, all things considered, with a couple of them in the past — check back through my old reviews if you don’t believe me — but this latest one represents the possible nadir of the franchise, a dull and un-inspired “found footage” romp that sees Bach’s Tom Riley character returning to the house he supposedly “left” (that being his own “real-life” residence) in order to rid it of its evil spirits (say it with me) “once and for all” before new owners take possession of the place. Things “don’t go as expected” — which is to say that they go precisely as expected — and Tom ends up in a battle for his very soul against nine separate demons that are all, ya know, him. Hey, look — it is what it is.

And you and I both know what that is, and yet here I am, once again, not only having watched the film, but having taken the time to review it. So I can piss and moan all I want, but who do I think I’m fooling? Bach has me beat. He’ll make another of these — and another — and probably another after that — and I’ll be back. I’ll moan and groan, sure, but does it even matter? He wins by getting me to press “play” on my screen. That’s literally all it takes. Bach may be the biggest grifter in horror, but there are plenty of willing “marks” just like me, and he damn well knows it. Who says you have to be a talented filmmaker to be a cinematic genius?


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On the face of it, I’ve set myself a fool’s errand here : to review Avengers : Endgame on its own merits, completely divorced from its cultural context and all which came before it, may not even be possible. But once we get a few particulars out of the way, that’s precisely what I intend to do, those particulars being : This. Is. The. Biggest. Thing. Ever.

We’re talking the cinematic equivalent of your wedding day or the birth of your first kid — or so the Disney/Marvel marketing machine would have you believe, not that they’re necessarily wrong, depending on your own circumstances. The so-called “MCU” came into being when I was in my 30s, but I can only imagine what this must mean to people who literally grew up on this stuff. Ten years of big-budget spectacle after big-budget spectacle, all leading up to this — the spectacle.

And, on that level, not to give too much away too quickly, directors Joe and Anthony Russo deliver. This movie is as big a production as anything Cecil B. DeMille could have dreamed of, plus a whole lot more. The scale is simply staggering. It starts — and ends — in surprisingly quiet, dare I say intimate, fashion, but in between it really is everything and the kitchen sink.That can be good, that can be bad, that can be some of each — and, on balance, the brothers manage to make the most of what amounts to a raft of corporate and circumstantial mandates. There’s no need to donwnplay the scope of their achievement, no matter how badly I despise the media conglomerate behind it all. They had a job to do, and they did it exceedingly well.

Long-time readers here will no doubt be surprised to read those words, given my long-standing antipathy toward most of the Marvel flicks, but once they started coming up with villains that posed a worthy challenge for their heroes — a process that took the better part of nine years — it seems as if a corner was turned. The stamp of auteurship afforded Ryan Coogler with Black Panther is nowhere to be found here, it’s true, but this also isn’t the by-the-numbers extended television episode that so many other MCU flicks have been. It’s probably fair to say it inhabits a middle ground — a “house style” production that nevertheless uses the strictures imposed upon it to its advantage. That takes some doing.

But, again, its own merits only is the rule of the day here. I do, however, need to preface that by saying I was not very enamored of this film’s predecessor, Avengers : Infinity War. After the aforementioned Black Panther I felt it was a massive step back, a reversion to the norm, a dour reinforcement of the status quo. So I was not expecting to like its “back half” very much at all.

Cue some genuine surprises : a central role for Karen Gillan’s perpetually under-utilized Nebula. Several unexpected “ultimate fates” for Josh Brolin’s cosmic baddie, Thanos. A turn toward the nearly likable for Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton taking on the “conscience of the team” role usually occupied by Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers. A time-travel plotline that re-visits a number of key events in “MCU” history without once feeling like a nostalgic “greatest hits” reel or, even worse, a victory lap. And a sense of consequence hanging over every scene that nevertheless avoids becoming a Sword of fucking Damocles.

I’m gonna take a minute, at this point, to single out screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely for a praise — they had a lot to stuff into this particular stocking, both in terms of the “B” they had to get to from “A,” but also in regards to figuring out how to give a hell of a lot pf people something to do. Samuel L. Jackson, Marisa Tomei, William Hurt, Angela Basset, Robert Redford, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Vin Diesel, Dave Bautista, Benedict Wong, Pom Klementieff, Letitia Wright, Sebastian Stan, and Natalie Portman all draw a shorter end of the stick than the rest of the cast, but damn — in addition to the already-name-dropped Evans, Downey, Brolin, Gillan, and Renner, Paul Rudd, Benedict Cumberbatch, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Evangeline Lilly, Chris Hemsworth, John Slattery, Anthony Mackie, Tessa Thompson, Brie Larson, Rene Russo, Chris Pratt, Gwyneth Paltrow, Danai Gurira, Tom Holland, Elizabeth Olsen, Chadwick Boseman, Jon Favreau, Don Cheadle, Tilda Swinton, Hayley Atwell, Zoe Saldana, and Bradley Cooper all have important shit to do in this story. That’s pretty remarkable any way you slice it, and the logistics of the whole thing — well, I can scarcely being to imagine. Our intrepid authorial duo must have been keeping Excedrin in business for a good while there.

As for the stuff everyone really wants to know about, well, I’m going to keep things “spoiler-free” given the movie literally just opened at the time of this writing, but any long-time comics reader can tell you — death is never permanent, especially death on as large a scale was we were left with in the last flick. And it’s not even the folks who did die that necessarily have the most to worry about — it’s the ones who didn’t, because they’re the ones who’ll be called upon to pay whatever price is required to bring everyone else back. Which means that, yes, certain “character arcs” do come to an end here — and these are all pitch-perfect, whether tragic in nature or (here’s a glimmer of hope for those who haven’t seen it yet and may be rooting for a favorite or two) otherwise. Every hero gets a hero’s ending at the end of their hero’s journey and — forget it, that’s enough of the word “hero” in one sentence.

Production design, cinematography, costumes, locations — all are scaled to fit here, which is to say big, but the surprising amount of personality that finds its way through to the surface is what I think is this film’s most noteworthy feature. Against all odds, you’ll find yourself invested in these proceedings, even if you’re as far away from being a Marvel fan as yours truly. I didn’t go into the theater actively looking to find things to pick on when the lights dimmed and the screen lit up, but I didn’t think they’d be too hard to find. To my more than pleasant surprise, apart from a handful of stupid plot holes, nothing to add to the negative side of the ledger leaped out. Believe me when I say — I’m still trying to figure out how the hell that happened.

As to whether or not this is the “end” of something, as its title suggests — I’ve gotta say that, on the whole, it doesn’t feel like it is. More like the culmination of a whole lot of “somethings,” in preparation for the next act. The Marvel blockbuster machine shows no signs of slowing down — and for the first time probably ever I actually find myself interested to see what it has in store for us next.


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Damn, but it’s been awhile since we did one of these “International Weirdness” columns looking at strange cinema from other parts of the globe around these parts — and that’s no one’s fault but my own, for which I duly apologize. And I further apologize for the fact that it’s returning under less than auspicious circumstances, but what can I do? Last night, you see, I made the mistake of watching a 2011 Australian “found footage” horror flick on Amazon Prime (it’s probably also available on DVD, maybe even Blu-ray, not that you should care) titled — wait for it — Found Footage, and I’d literally be remiss in my civic duty not to warn you off from it in the strongest possible terms.

So — what’s it about? Well, it’s about a killer named Darius McKenzie (played by Matt Doran, who I understand is something of a “known quantity” on Australian television, and who also co-directed this steaming pile of kangaroo shit along with its screenwriter, Samuel Bartlett), who — kills people. Particularly women (bet you didn’t see that coming). And “films” it on his digital camcorder. And — that’s it.

No, seriously, that’s it. He’s busted by the end and this “footage” was purportedly “found” by the Australian Federal Police, so they’ve pretty much got him dead to rights. We know exactly how this flick wraps up, then — but we also know exactly what’s going to happen in it from the word “go.” And that’s its greatest sin apart from its blatant misogyny, atrocious acting, and cheesy-even-by-the-standards-of-this-sort-of-thing production values.

Honestly, I’m not at all sure why POV Horror — who have actually put out some films that I quite enjoy (although I fully admit to not being nearly as “down” on this whole subgenre as, apparently, most sensible folks are) — picked this thing up for international distribution. It literally has nothing going for it apart from some fairly realistic practical effects work and a short (64 minutes, if I’m not mistaken) run time. And when all you can say about a movie is “hey, at least it wasn’t longer,” well — that really isn’t saying much, is it?

I dearly hope that some of the actresses involved in this way-beyond-dubious project were fairly paid for their work, but somehow I doubt that. All the likes of Catherine Jeramus, Lisa Fineberg, and Alison Gallagher had to do, on a purely technical level, was show up, scream a lot, and pretend to be violently murdered, but seriously : there’s an indelible stain on one’s career that comes part and parcel with attachment to anything this undoubtedly sorry and they deserve appropriate compensation for that. Although, in fairness, perhaps the most appropriate compensation they could have asked for is simply having their names removed from it.

So, yeah, there’s just no sugar-coating it, under-selling it, or over-stating it : Found Footage really is just that bad. It’s one of those flicks where you honestly wonder why the hell anyone even bothered to make it, and none of the answers you can come up with are particularly pleasant. It won’t scare you, surprise you, or in any way even interest you. I’d call it worthless, but in truth it probably has negative value — I’ll certainly never get back the hour(-ish) of my life that I sunk into watching it, and for that I’m not so much disappointed as I am actively pissed off. I was robbed of time that would have been better spent watching my fingernails grow or the flagpole rust.


With the Oscar nominations having hit earlier the day of this writing, everybody’s talking about RomaA Star Is BornBohemian RhapsodyBlack Panther, etc. But there was a robbery committed in plain sight that seems to be going entirely unremarked-upon. I speak of the fact that writer/director Paul Schrader’s most remarkable film probably since Affliction, the criminally-underappreciated First Reformed, received precisely one nomination.

It’s in a category it could very well win, Best Original Screenplay — especially given that it won in same at the DGA Awards — but seriously : this is smart, nuanced, thought-provoking, intellectually and emotionally compelling filmmaking of the highest order, anchored by two incredibly strong central performances, pitch-perfect direction, and subtly impressive work by all and sundry behind the camera as the flick’s cinematography, musical score, editing, and production design are all in no way flashy, but essentially flawless.

So, yeah, I guess you could say I’m a little bit miffed.

For those unfamiliar with the plot particulars, Ethan Hawke exceeds any possible expectations in a stellar turn as the troubled Reverend Ernst Toller, who heads up a small upstate New York church that relies on tourism and the largesse of a neighboring “mega-church” for its survival. His house of worship is about to celebrate its 250th anniversary, and while he finds the celebrations commensurate with the “birthday” swiftly spinning out of his control, he’s also confronting his own crisis of faith engendered by the suicide of a disillusioned-with-existence parishoner named Michael (played by Philip Ettinger), a veteran who had fallen in with what’s derisively referred to as the “eco-terrorist” crowd after a stint in the military had run its course.

It wasn’t Michael who initially came to Rev. Toller for counseling, though, it was his pregnant wife, Mary (Amanda Seyfried, who, like Hawke, turns in career-defining work here), understandably conflicted with the idea of bringing new life into the world at the same that her husband seemed to be giving up on his. Mary and Toller develop a complex, multi-faceted and all-too-painfully-plausible relationship tinged with longing, desire, and a kind of mutual admiration, one shot through with with basic, elemental need for human connection with perhaps the only other person who can possibly come close to understanding their respective situations, but Toller is still struggling with the death of his son on the field of battle a good few years ago and the subsequent crumbling of his marriage, as well as his unresolved feelings for the musical director at the New Life “mega-church,” Esther (Victoria Hill). It’s a rich, thick stew of psychodrama that reveals just as much about its depth and character through the mannerisms, actions, even inaction of the principal players involved as it does by means of Schrader’s humanistic, melodrama-free dialogue.

The final ingredient, though, is certainly the most combustible and also the most tantalizing : Toller finds himself drawn toward the late Michael’s uncompromising ecological worldview, thanks in no small measure to the greedy machinations of local energy company magnate Ed Balq (Michale Gaston), who just so happens to be a major funder of New Life and a close friend of its lead pastor, Rev. Joel Jeffers (Cedric The Entertainer, credited here — appropriately, it seems to me — under his Christian name, Cedric Antonio Kyles). And guess where a whole bunch of the money for that big 250th anniversary extravaganza is coming from?

A bubbling cauldron is about to explode.

As the big day approaches, Toller finds himself going further and further off the rails, as well as deeper into the bottle, but a frightening medical diagnosis convinces him (perhaps ironically, perhaps not — it all depends on your point of view) that his path is set, his course clear, and the final act is a whirlwind of borderline-surreal storytelling and imagery that trusts viewers to make up their own minds rather than spelling things out in strict “okay, here’s what happened” terms. The ending itself has alienated some audiences and critics, it’s true, but for my money (not that I have a whole bunch), I wouldn’t have it any other way. Schrader has mapped out a trajectory for these characters and leaves it in our hands to determine exactly how they get to where they’re going. It all seems pretty damn clear to me, but I’ve read other reviews and essays on the film that posit different potential interpretations, and many make some very good points. So I’m just gonna leave it at “see it for yourself and make of it what you will,” since that seems the most honest approach to take.

And see it you definitely should. Whether on Blu-ray, DVD, or streaming on Amazon Prime, where it’s now available for members. You may not love First Reformed as unreservedly as I do, but you will be affected, and most likely impressed, by it. About the only thing I can compare it to in terms of its aesthetic sensibilities and understated-but-overwhelming emotional resonance is Ingmar Bergman’s finest work, and that’s high praise indeed coming from any quarter, I should think.

Oh, and if it doesn’t win at the Oscars for Best Original Screenplay, there damn well ought to be an investigation.