Posts Tagged ‘alfred hitchcock’

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Admit it : Jason Bateman has been playing smug, insincere assholes for so long now (am I the only one old enough to remember him as Derek on Silver Spoons?) that you just sort of assume he must be one in real life himself. Which isn’t to say that he’s been a “one-note Johnny” his entire career, but —oh, who the hell are we kidding? Of course he has. But he does it so damn well that I honestly don’t hold the fact that he’s never exactly “branched out” against him.

Here’s the thing though — for whatever reason, he’s pretty much always confined his shtick to the comedy genre (specifically the TV sitcom), and as a result, his characters have always been relatively redeemable. Yeah, he’s gonna stab you in the back, get one over on you, and generally fuck up your life, but gosh — he just can’t help himself, and it’s all in good fun. For that reason, a good number of folks were surprised to see him playing the lead in the new psychological thriller (being marketed as a horror flick, even though it’s not — blame the Blum House production company label, I guess) The Gift, but honestly, the yuppie scumbag named Simon that he’s portraying isn’t even a small step out of his “comfort zone” at all — it’s just that this time his actions have consequences, and drastic ones at that.

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The Gift is the brainchild of writer/director/co-star Joel Edgerton, and is a deceptively simple modernized take on Hitchcock that lures you into its web quietly but confidently right from the outset as we meet Simon and his wife, Robyn (Rebecca Hall), who are aiming for a fresh start in life after a rocky couple of years in Chicago. Robyn had a miscarriage that triggered a downward spiral of chronic depression and prescription drug addiction, and Simon has taken a semi-prestigious job back in his old northern California stomping grounds in the hopes that a change of scenery will get their marriage back on track. When he runs into former high school classmate Gordon “Gordo” Moseley (Edgerton), though, things go from promising to weird to dangerous in no time flat.

Gordo obviously hasn’t been the capitalist success story that Simon is, and seems socially awkward and maybe even a little bit menacing once he starts popping by with gifts a little bit too frequently. Simon finally decides that enough is enough and that he’d better tell his “old friend” to back off, but Robyn, for her part, seems to think their newfound “third wheel” is harmless, to be sure, and maybe even a little bit endearing. Still, she agrees with her husband’s decision to tell the guy to ease out of the picture and, after a semi-scary bout of revenge (killing the fish he gave them, stealing their dog), the worst appears to be over when Gordo writes them a note saying that he was “willing to let bygones be bygones” but, since Simon doesn’t seem interested in that, he’ll just quietly fade into the rear view mirror and allow the couple to get on with their lives. Besides, Robyn’s pregnant now, and they’ve got other stuff to worry about.

That one line, though — “let bygones be bygones” — sticks with Robyn, and despite Simon’s steadfast assurances that he has no idea what Gordo’s talking about, she can’t help but feel there’s a whole lot more going on here than meets the eye.

(L-R) REBECCA HALL, JASON BATEMAN and JOEL EDGERTON star in THE GIFT

Which, of course, there is. As it turns out, Simon’s whole “successful nice guy” act is a complete crock of shit, and she’s married to a monster — one who’s left a trail of victims in his wake. And that’s probably about as specific as I care to get, aside from stating the obvious, which is that one of his victims is, of course, Gordo. But just when you’re ready to have some genuine sympathy for him, Edgerton reveals that his own character’s  desire to even the score has made him every bit as malignant and irredeemable as his one-time antagonist.

No doubt about it, The Gift serves up a fairly toxic stew of corruption and neuroses, and while the film’s sexual politics are “iffy” at best — with Robyn falling into the unfortunate role of a pawn in the sick game being played out by two men — the performances are so universally “spot-on,” and the pacing of the revelations so expert, that you’re willing to let that slide until the movie is over and have it trouble your conscience later. A few deftly- placed “cheap scares” add to the overall vibe of slowly-encroaching inescapable dread, and Edgerton’s moody, understated visual style gives things a uniquely “warm yet clinical” feel that suits the material to a proverbial “T.” Yeah, there are a few less-than-authentic instances along the way that strain credulity somewhat, but all in all Edgerton is in fine command of his project here, and manages to hit that “sweet spot” so few contemporary “thrillers” do where the audience knows it’s being toyed with like a fish on a line, but can’t help but allow itself to be reeled in anyway. In other words, this is supremely confident stuff.

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Full disclosure : I got a free pass to see this thing, but you know what? I can say without hesitation that The Gift is worth the full price of admission, even at today’s hyper-inflated weekend evening rates. It’s a movie that never lets you feel as though your feet are on firm ground, and leaves an indelible “stain on the brain” once it’s over. The “feel-good movie of the summer” it most assuredly isn’t, but it’s probably the finest cinematic rumination on the ultimate emptiness of revenge since Coffy, and an amazingly polished and disturbing psychodrama that probably has Sir Alfred himself looking down (or up, depending on where you think he’s at) and giving a quiet, knowing, respectful nod of approval.

 

 

 

 

 

I suppose I should start by clarifying that headline just a tad —I don’t mean to imply that writer-director James Nguyen’s 2008 cinematic opus (and the latest big-time midnight cult sensation) Birdemic : Shock And Terror is literally the last film you should see out of the millions that are out there. Truth is, you should see it right away and watch and re-watch it often. What I mean is that after seeing it, you may just feel like you never need to see another movie. After all, whatever you watch next is only gonna disappoint you. It’s only gonna let you down. It’s only gonna leave you with a hollow, empty, unsatisfied feeling inside. Because it’s not Birdemic.

Yes, friends, I have been to the mountaintop. I have seen the promised land. I have found the Holy Grail of all bad films. And its’ name is Birdemic : Shock And Terror.

Since my first viewing, I’ve been hooked, and a strange sort of inner peace and serenity has settled over me. Inner turmoil and doubt and restlessness have disappeared from my life, replaced by a feeling of sublime satisfaction. A life-long quest is over. I feel — dare I say it — complete. My life is now divided into two distinct time periods — B.B. and A. B . Because surely this film can never be topped — and frankly it doesn’t even need to be.

But first a little background. Folks, the world is fucking ending. Oh, sure, not tomorrow, not next week, not next month, and maybe not even next year. Nope, nothiing so exciting. But the meter on our continued survival as a species is running. The hourglass is almost totally out of sand. And while you’ve been drinking beer, eating pizza, flipping channels, and occasionally trying to get laid, James Nguyen has been worrying. He’s been worrying enough for all of us. And he’s decided to get up off his ass and take action!

Ya see, there’s a little thing going on called global warming. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Al Gore made a movie about it called An Inconvenient Truth. It won an Oscar. James Nguyen saw it and it changed his fucking life! Up until that point, he’d just been a guy who loved Alfred Hitchcock and wanted to rip off his Master’s style with his HD video camera and no money. He even got Tippi Hedren herself to play a cameo role in one of his backyard “romantic thrillers” (and she pops up for a split-second here, too).  But the epiphany our guy James had watching the former VP warn us of our impending doom left him a changed man. Now, he was gonna do a dime-store Hitchcock knock-off with a message, goddamnit, and even if he had to stand on top of a chair and scream at the top of his lungs, he was gonna make sure he got noticed !

And I’ll be fucked if he didn’t do just that.

It has to be said, what Nguyen (obviously) lacks in talent and (even more obviously) lacks in funds, he more than makes up for in sheer bloody-minded earnestness and determination. Birdemic : Shock And Terror is hardly the most accomplished, professional, or even competent piece of filmmaking you’ll ever see, but it’s probably the absolute most sincere. And as for the determination I just referred to — well, when Sundance rejected James’ film for inclusion, he spent the entire week of the festival driving around Park City, Uta —, up and down the same couple of blocks over and over, in fact — in a minivan with plastic dead birds stuck to it and “BIRDEMIC” written all over it. Really. Say what you will for the man, but he damn sure believes in his work.

And you know what? So do I. Honestly, how can you not? It’s like the kid you went to school with who was so convinced of his own coolness in spit of the fact that he was as uncool as anyone could possibly be that after awhile you start to respect him and think that he really is cool because his belief in his awesomeness continues, unabated, in spit of all the evidence to the contrary staring him in the face. Nguyen is so utterly unflappable in his conviction that he’s made something of genuine, earth-shattering importance here that he doesn’t let the pesky fact that his leading man (Alan Bagh) is quite possibly the worst, most wooden “actor” (and believe me I use that term fucking loosely) to ever appear in front of camera, or that his CGI team has created the most incompetently-realized effects in cinematic history, or that the sound drops in and out during his movie at all times, detract from his essential belief in the rightness of his message. he doesn’t even let digressions into other topics like sermonizing against the Iraq war distract him for too long. He’s on a mission to save the world from global warming, and nothing’s gonna get in his way.

Shot entirely on the fly without permits, with his “stars” (Bagh and Whitney Moore, who can almost, sort-of act) doubling as his crew, and with no eye for little things like shot composition, basic acoustics, lighting, or even a sensible, comprehensible plot (despite the fact that a story about two young  Bay Area lovebirds who meet, get attacked by a marauding army of eagles and vultures, fight the airborne menaces off  with coat hangers and pistols , and live to see another day at the end is so simple that it really ought to make sense, sheer absurdity and all that aside), Birdemic : Shock And Terror is nothing if not a labor of deep, passionate, unhinged, stalker-ish love. Nguyen pursues his goal with the tenacity of  an ex who won’t leave you the fuck alone. Of  a sandwich that you keep tasting long after you want to. Of a that dude you hated in high school but friended on facebook anyway who messages you every time you’re online. Of an  overbearing relative who calls at the worst possible times and drones on for hours.

And like all many of those things, somehow, some way, for some reason — he wins you over. He reels you in like a fish. And like that fish , you’re hooked. For my part I can’t tell you how many times the thought of “damn, I could be watching Birdemic right now” has gone through my head over the last few months. There’s no escaping it. I’ve had it happen at work. I’ve had it happen while I’m driving. I’ve had it happen at the theater while I’m  watching another movie. I’ve had it happen while babysitting my niece and nephew (a fact I’m none too proud of, but there you have it). Fortunately, thanks to the fine folks at Severin Films, who have obtained exclusive worldwide distribution rights to this mighty statement of cinematic art, you can now scratch that Birdemic itch anytime on DVD or Blu-Ray, in a package loaded with extras that include two commentary tracks (one from Nguyen, who still seems somehow blissfully unaware of the fact that people are laughing at him and not with him, and one from Bagh and Moore — if you rent this film rather than buying it, make sure you listen to both of these in their entirety before returning the disc or you’ll seriously be missing out), a cable-access TV interview with Nguyen, footage from various live Birdemic screenings around the world, previews of Nguyen’s other film work, deleted scenes and outtakes, a preview for the upcoming documentary feature Moviehead : The James Nguyen Story, and lots of other goodies (on the technical front, the anamorphic widescreen transfer and stereo sound are as good as they’re gonna be given the technical limitations of both the equipment and the guy who made the film). This disc has got everything and the kitchen sink, and I urge you to hunt down a copy immediately. You’ll be thanking me for the rest of your life.

Okay, in fairness, there’s lots about this flick that makes no fucking sense whatsoever and that can only be answered by listening to the director’s commentary track. Questions like “why do some of the birds explode?” (they’ve turned toxic from global warming) and “what the hell is going on at the end with those tiny birds you can barely see?” (they’re doves, who represent peace and have come on the scene to call the attacking vultures and eagles off and give humanity another chance) aren’t actually, you know, answered on screen and I guess you could fairly make the claim that’s a big strike against Nguyen in the comprehensibility department. But no matter. Birdemic : Shock And Terror weaves a kind of occult rhythm around its viewers that makes you forget about pesky little details like “what the fuck exactly is going on here?” and just surrender to its bizarre internal reality. You won’t be able to resist it. You won’t want to. And you won’t care about ever seeing another movie again.

Because you’ve entered into B-movie nirvana. You have achieved everything you’ve ever sought. Your purpose in life has been fulfilled. You can die happy now.

And with that, I’m gonna quit writing about Birdemic : Shock And Terror and go watch it again.