Posts Tagged ‘dvd’

Even among connoisseurs of “this sort of thing,” director Donald M. (not to be confused with Donald S. of The Forest and Schoolgirls In Chains fame) Jones’ low-rent straight-to-video slasher Muderlust has something of a checkered reputation for being nastier than the norm. Shot in California in 1985 for next to nothing, it was released straight to VHS in 1987 and quickly managed to raise a few eyebrows — among the few who were paying attention — for its downright gleeful misogyny, which reminded one youthful viewer (okay, me) of, say, what you’d end up with if Maniac didn’t take itself very seriously. But does that make this film less disturbing than others of its ilk — or more?

I gotta admit, having recently watched it for the first time since I was a teenager thanks to its recent addition to Amazon Prime’s streaming line-up (although Severin Films’ “cult” Intervision label has also recently released it on DVD paired with another Jones quickie, the almost-unfathomably bizarre Project Nightmare), I still don’t know the answer to that question. On the one hand, “star” Eli Rich is so clearly hamming it up as uber-woman-hating killer Steve Belmont that you can’t take much of anything on offer here too seriously, but on the other, if you have a conscience, then shit — shouldn’t this stuff bug you at least a little bit?

The character of Steve is clearly based on notorious serial killer Ted Bundy, a smooth-talking creep who pulled off a fairly successful pose as an upstanding member of society for many years until his nocturnal proclivities finally landed him in hot water. Steve’s not provided with anything by way of motivation of anything here — no troubled past, no fucked-up home life, nothing of the sort — so don’t bother looking for “reasons why” : he just hates women and kills ’em whenever he can. He’s not averse to fucking ’em, too, of course, but he doesn’t necessarily seem to need to in order to get his rocks off — it’s their dispatching and disposal that really turns his crank, and he’s gotten so prolific about it that his Mojave Desert dumping ground gets discovered by the authorities in fairly short order here. Not that he has any intention of stopping, mind you. He’s gotten a taste for it, and he seems to enjoy taunting both the cops and the community at large with his brazen what-by-all-rights-should-be recklessness.

The damn thing is, though, Steve’s such a fuck-up that he really oughtta get caught. He doesn’t seem to care about holding onto his shit security guard gig (and doesn’t for long once he starts threatening to kill a female customer right under the nose of his boss), he lives in a dump, he’s constantly borrowing money off his effete cousin, Neil (played by Dennis Gannon), he’s in heavy debt to his landlord (curiously referred to in producer/screenwriter James Lane’s script as his “realtor”), and he drinks like a fish. How this guy manages to get through the day without getting killed himself, much less being the one doing the killing, is downright dumbfounding. With extra emphasis on the “dumb.”

Still, they love him down at the church. Despite having no background in any relevant field, being a half-assed Sunday school teacher, and even being accused of molesting one of his students (a charge that Steve is, believe it or not, innocent of), he’s chosen by the church fathers to run their new so-called “Youth Crisis Center,” thanks in no small part to some very glowing recommendations from his quasi-love interest, Cheryl (Rochelle Taylor), and her mother, who are both completely fooled by his painfully transparent charm. Yessir, things are definitely looking up for ol’ Steve — until, in a rather delicious moment of irony, his extracurricular habits end up scuttling his plans to use the center as a means to find, sorry to use the term, fresh meat. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no direct connection made between Steve and the ever-growing pile of dead female bodies (yet), but the moneyed interests bankrolling the new outreach venture decide that it might be better to start helping young people out after they’re all done getting killed, and that’s when our “hero” well and truly loses his shit — okay, fair enough, that’s when he loses it even more.

It’s probably a heck of a reach to say that losing out on his dream job causes Steve to get sloppy, ‘cuz let’s face it,  he’s been damn sloppy from the outset, but he certainly cans all that “nice guy” pretext and starts letting it all hang out, and once he does that, it’s only a matter of time. Again, if you can see the “humor” in watching a madman murder women just because, well, they’re women, then you’re gonna be in much better shape here as events careen toward their one and only inevitable conclusion, but even then you might be forgiven for feeling that Murderlust‘s admittedly fleeting “je ne sais quoi” has already fled. Rich naturally radiates a kind of dime-store lothario sleaze for the first 3/4 or so of this flick, but he’s markedly less convincing in “out of control psycho” mode, and there’s a very distinct sense in the film’s final act that everybody’s running out the clock as surely as the clock is running out for our protagonist. As a result, Jones’ little opus essentially flips the switch from “guilty pleasure” to “just plain guilty” without even bothering to pass “go” and collect its $200.

Which may not be too far off the mark from the actual budget of this production, come to think of it. Shot in just a few locations, with a clearly amateur cast, and displaying nothing like an actual sense of style, this is straight-up, no-frills, point-and-shoot stuff that has no other choice than to feel hopelessly dated at this point because, hey, a moldy relic is all it could ever afford to become. And yet the modern world had probably already left this one pretty far behind even as it was being made — I doubt, for instance, that you could still beat a child molestation rap by simply telling the girl’s father that his daughter is a filthy little liar, as Steve does here (albeit politely, of course) in 1985. Probably not even in 1958. So if this really is the “throwback to another time” that many view it as, trust me when I say it’s a throwback to a time that (hopefully, at any rate) never even existed.

And maybe that’s the one nearest thing to a “redeeming quality” that Murderlust has to offer. There’s certainly no blood or guts here to make the gorehounds happy. There’s very little nudity apart from the quick bit provided by the always-game-to-get-naked-for-a-paycheck Ashley St. Jon. And there’s no particular indication from Jones that he has any concerns as a filmmaker apart from getting this thing in the can on time and under its obviously ultra- low budget. As a result, then — and an entirely accidental result, at that — what we have here is a flick that is completely divorced from actual, demonstrable reality, yet just as completely devoid of both the resources and the talent it would take to sell you on a false one. It can’t be bothered to attempt to suspend your disbelief, and so takes the easy (and only available) road, settling instead for admitting it’s total bullshit from the start. That’s not what you’d call a recipe for cinematic success by any stretch, but it’s been more than enough to ensure that this film has remained a morbid curiosity for three decades now, and will probably continue to be seen as such for many more to come. After all, not only do they not make ’em like this anymore — truth be told, they never really did.

It’s probably not a great sign when a film sits on the shelf for six years, unreleased and undistributed, but such is the case with The Haunting Of Ellie Rose, a modest little low-budget number out of the UK from first-time director Tristan Versluis (who also co-wrote the script with Tim Major and Andy Thompson), a guy who’s apparently has made a name for himself as one of the top makeup artists in the British film and television industry — and has subsequently returned to that line of work. Again, probably not a great sign.

So, anyway,  yeah — this flick was actually filmed back in 2009, but hung around collecting dust until 2015, when it was finally released on DVD as well as onto various home viewing platforms, including Amazon Prime, which is how I caught it. I certainly wasn’t expecting much given what little I knew of the production’s backstory, it’s true, but hey — I’ve found celluloid diamonds in considerably rougher spots than this in the past. Would this then prove to be another pleasant, unexpected surprise?

The short answer to that, I’m sorry to say,  is “no,” but it’s not for lack of trying on Versluis’ part. His script here is paper-thin, to be sure — beaten down (emotionally, mentally, physically) by an abusive marriage, our protagonist (played by Eastenders star Lucy Benjamin), whose name you already know, splits from asshole husband Frank (Bill Ward) and returns to her disused family cabin, ostensibly on the US east coast, where flashbacks to her troubled childhood soon threaten to overtake her waking life and go some way toward amping up the apprehension she feels toward either splitting the scene, or staying where she is and awaiting the arrival of — someone. Honestly, it’s tough to pinpoint exactly what is coming, if anything, but that’s a secondary concern for Versluis, since he spends most of his time piecing together where his central character has been.

In fact,in a very real sense, the present-day scenes in this film are just stage-setters for the flashbacks — Ellie stares out to sea a lot and pours herself one drink after another, and we do learn that an impending reunion with her younger sister, Chloe (Alexandra Moen), is what’s she’s so stressed about, but the real “action,” to the extent that it even exists, happens in the past, where we meet younger versions of Ellie and Chloe, as well as their emotionally distant mother, Rose (Kika Mirylees), whose supposed “transformation” from warm and loving parent to ice queen is still having reverberations in her daughters’ lives to this day. Although, ya know, stumbling across her dead body probably traumatized them a lot more —

I give Versluis credit for eschewing typical horror movie visual tropes in favor of a more “art house” look to his proceedings, but his disjointed time-jumps and rapid-fire editing do start to grate before too long. And by the fourth time we’re treated to a black-and-white flashback of the girls discovering their mother’s mutilated corpse, you’re more than ready to say “enough is enough.” The scenes look uniformly good, I’ll grant you that, but damn — they also looked good the first time, and once was plenty. Padding out a film is a necessary fact of life sometimes, sure, but when you go over the same ground over and over again and still only end up with an 80-minute feature,well, you’re in Nick Millard territory at that point.

The cast does a pretty decent job across the board here, particularly Benjamin (although all of them struggle with their American accents from time to time), but it’s not so much the quality of the material they’re given that holds them back as its sheer paucity. At the end of the day, The Haunting Of Ellie Rose feels like nothing so much as a 20-minute short extended far beyond its carrying capacity, and hoping desperately that some well-executed atmospherics can establish a pleasing enough “vibe” to distract you from the fact that there’s just not much happening here. It comes far short of pulling off that hustle, no question, but in strange way I do sort of admire Versluis and company for the earnestness with which they try to convince you that the appetizer they’re serving is actually a full meal.

 

 

Sometimes, friends, I just don’t even know where to begin.

I like to consider myself a fairly seasoned veteran when it comes to all things cinematically bad (I don’t call myself “Trash Film Guru” for nothing), but once in awhile something comes along that defies even my ground-down-over-time ability to adequately process. I’ve seen plenty of films that make no sense whatsoever — some good, some decidedly less so — but one thing even the most inexplicably bizarre servings of celluloid sewage have in common is that they were all trying to do something. Maybe it wasn’t something worth trying. Maybe it was something they flat-out shouldn’t have tried. But right or wrong, they all see it through to the end and sink or swim based on whatever fucking idea or premise they started out with.

Such is not the case with director John Hijiri’s 2009 zero-budget mega-turkey Jaws In Japan, which I caught earlier today streaming on Amazon Prime under its alternate international DVD (and whatever you do, I wouldn’t recommend sinking your hard-earned money into that) release title, Psycho Shark. This flick is like nothing I’ve ever seen simply because it seems to change its mind not once, but twice, about why it even exists. And as its thankfully brief 70-minute runtime drew to a close, all I could think is that it probably shouldn’t even exist at all.

Initially, Hijiri and screenwriter Yasutoshi Murakawa seem to be happy to simply dish out yet another Japanese bikini-romp, which makes sense given that its supposed “stars,” Nonami Takizawa and Airi Nakajima (as fun-loving college girls Miki and Mai, respectively) are what’s known as “gravure idols,” and neither of them can act worth a damn. Pretty early on, though, the decision is made that watching two admittedly quite pretty young ladies run around half-naked isn’t enough in and of itself to keep viewers interested if they’re not gonna get completely naked at some point, and so, while the “wear a swimsuit at all times” trope doesn’t go away, by any means, it’s simply steered into service of something that has the makings of an ostensible plot. Cue abrupt change number one.

This is the point at which our nubile co-eds find themselves completely lost on the island paradise they’re vacationing at and end up meeting a skeevy local who guides them to a hotel owned by a creep with blood under his fingernails who’s probably killing off tourists but, like an idiot, leaves their camcorders around for people like Miki and Mai to find. So, yeah, what we’re apparently looking at now is some sort of “found footage” serial killer flick.  And a damn boring one at that.

Unless, of course, roughly 45 mish-mashed minutes of watching shit “shaky-cam” footage, watching girls watching shit shaky-cam footage, and watching those same girls sleep, go to the beach, and take bikini-clad showers sounds gripping to you. There’s honestly more attention paid to — and more dialogue focused on — those ever-present bikinis than there is to the “killer on the loose” storyline, which is fair enough given that bikinis are more interesting than said storyline, but seriously — why not just make a “gravure” feature and leave it at that?

Evidently, Hijiri and Murakawa decided their “mockumentary”-style movie-within-a-movie wasn’t working out too well, either, so with approximately ten minutes to go, they abandon that conceit in favor of abrupt change number two : a giant CGI shark. Earlier scenes in this film borrowed obviously (and ineptly) from both Psycho and The Ring, but seriously, even though the film’s title gives it away, the sudden and hard pull into Jaws territory makes no sense whatsoever and feels very much like the last-second addition that it is (which makes me wonder what they were gonna call it before tacking this shit on at the end, but whatever). If you’ve got whiplash at this point, rest assured, you’re not alone.

Or maybe you are, because chances are that nobody else is awake at this point. Seriously, unlike other rankly amateur cut-rate CGI abominations like Birdemic, there’s just nothing weird or interesting going on here to maintain your interest until that shark shows up at the end, and by then it’s all far too little, far too late. It seems really strange that a film with pretty young women running around in next to nothing capped at the end with a laughably absurd CG monster could be boring, but that’s exactly what Jaws in Japan is. In fact, it’s downright interminably dull. And while I can certainly forgive (heck, more often than not I love) ultra-low budgets, cheesy FX, and absurd stories, one thing I can’t forgive is dullness. And no matter how many times Hijiri tries for a “do-over” with this thing, he never figures out how to turn it into anything you’re going to give a shit about.

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If I had the energy, ambition, or desire, I would begin this review with a lengthy preamble about the reasons why Charles Manson and his so-called “family” continue to hold such a grim fascination for so many of us, but you know what? The internet is chock full of thoughtful and articulate (as well as a number of hopelessly dull and derivative) essays on that very subject already,to the point where there’s literally nothing I can say about it all that hasn’t been said already. Suffice to say that even now, nearly a half-century after the Tate-LaBianca murders sent shock waves through the nation (and, indeed, the world), those waves continue to reverberate in ways both expected and unexpected and the very word “Manson” has become firmly ensconced as the brand name of choice for murder, madness, and mayhem. No amount of haughty proclamations about the killings associated with him marking the end of the so-called “flower power generation” or the supposed death of American innocence (there’s any oxymoron for you) changes that fact. These are the most notorious crimes in our country’s history, and even though there have been more horrifying incidents both before and since, for some reason odds are good that they always will be, and Manson himself will always be America’s “go-to” bogeyman of choice.

And while I’m being lazy, let me just say that we won’t be delving into the richly sordid history of Manson (or his numerous marginally-fictionalized stand-ins) on film here, either. The heyday of “Mansploitation” is obviously long over, sure, but every now and then we still get a new “Manson-centric” cinematic production and I don’t see that ending anytime soon, either. The most recent entry into this loose canon (sorry for the lame pun) is writer/director (and fellow Minnesotan) Brandon Slagle’s House Of Manson, a decidedly low-budget indie effort filmed in 2014 in and around the Los Angeles environs that has spent the last 18 months or so making the rounds on the film festival circuit and is now available for streaming on any number of so-called “home viewing platforms” (I caught it on Hulu) as well as on DVD. Its most recent corollary is probably Jim Van Bebber’s equal-parts admired and reviled 1997 effort The Manson Family, but beyond a similar DIY-ish ethos, the two films probably don’t actually have that much in common beyond their lurid subject matter. Where Van Bebber embraced a mish-mash of experimental filming styles, Slagle plays it fairly straight, for instance, and ditto for the narrative through-lines followed by each flick, with Van Bebber slyly calling into question various aspects of the established version of events largely extrapolated from Vincent Bugliosi’s hopelessly blinkered best-seller Helter Skelter, while Slagle hews to a pretty tight “party line,” with most of his take matching up almost disturbingly closely with the self-serving view  offered by principal- killer-turned-Christian-con-man Charles “Tex” Watson.

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And therein, I think, lies the problem. For all we supposedly know about the “Mason murders,” I would contend that our “information” all comes from either prosecutors, cops, or people with a distinct motivation for making themselves look less guilty. I think it’s entirely reasonable to have more questions than answers about the whole thing even after all these years, but if you’re looking for anything other than the same sort of standard-issue reiteration of events that you’d find in any number of, say, Lifetime movies about “Charlie and his girls,” you’re not gonna find ’em here. There are some fine performances, to be sure — Ryan Kiser, in particular, is borderline superb as the most relatably human Manson since Steve Railsback (a take that was considered to be “too sympathetic” at the time and basically derailed the actor’s then-quite-promising career), but he can still flip on the “trippy guru” and “homicidal madman” switches fairly effortlessly at the drop of a hat, and special mention should also go to Devanny Pinn as Susan Atkins, Reid Warner as Tex, Serena Lorien as Patricia Krenwinkel, and fellow Daily Grindhouse contributor Tristan Risk as murder victim Abigail Folger, as well. Honestly, there’s a lot of good acting on display here, and some of it’s even great.

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Is that enough in and of itself to make a film worth watching, though? Sometimes, sure, what the hell — but not when you already know everything you’re gonna see, and furthermore pretty much know it all by heart. When you’re treading territory this depressingly and horrifyingly familiar, it can be tough to find something new to say, no question about that, but again — there are so many lesser-explored tributaries coursing out of these tragic occurrences, not to mention competing theories as to why things happened the way they did and what the true motivations behind them were, that you would  think it wouldn’t be all that difficult to, at the very least, give audiences something new or different to think about in relation to the Manson, for lack of a better term, phenomenon.

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That’s not on the agenda here, though, which means that for all its laudable elements, House Of Manson is a rote and thoroughly unimaginative affair, a remake of no specific film, but rather of any number of them. It’s not without artistic merit, by any means, but it also seems to have no particular purpose. If you want to see what the Manson story looks like when it’s done with less money and lower production values than you’re used to seeing, fair enough, this is the movie for you. But if you’re looking for new insight or details or even just some semi-surprising little wrinkle you won’t find in a thousand other places, no such luck.

I know a lot of effort went into this production — behind-the-scenes stories about its truncated filming schedule and the grueling work that necessitated as a result of it make it clear to me that it was most definitely a labor of love. I just wish that I could love it back.

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One of these days, I’ll learn to resist new micro-budget “found footage” horror flicks added to the Amazon Prime streaming queue, but today wasn’t that day, and you know what? I’m kind of glad for that fact, because the latest one that I watched — Irish writer/director Peter Bergin’s 2015 offering, Territorial Behavior (which is apparently also available on Blu-ray and DVD, if you’re so inclined)  — turned out to be, while admittedly wholly unoriginal, pretty fun, well-executed, suspenseful stuff.

What Bergin is aiming for here is the classic bait-and-switch : outdoor survival instructor Bailey Rhodes (played with something more than competence but less than actual charisma by Ronan Murphy) heads out to the Montana (by way of Ireland) wilderness to film a tutorial video for prospective students/clients, but he soon finds himself squarely in the cross-hairs of a group of violent poachers who seem, shall we say, overly protective of the area. In fairly short order our guy Bailey is plunged into a real struggle for survival that he’s only marginally (at best) prepared for, but when he begins to piece together various clues he finds in the wild, he comes to the conclusion that there’s likely something far more dangerous after him than his human antagonists, and guess what? That means this would-be rugged outdoorsman is way out of his depth —

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It has to be said that the Irish scenery in this flick is absolutely beautiful and not altogether ineffective as a stand-in for Montana, and that the actors (special props to Bridget O’Connor as Amber, Corey Macri as local sheriff Marvin Krantz, and Aaron Lee Reed as sleazebag poacher Todd) sound more or less quasi-authentically American, so while the illusion isn’t complete, it’s complete enough, especially for a shoestring production of this nature, to be considered as convincing as possible. Ditto for the “shaky-cam” footage, which never becomes grating and manages to avoid some of the obvious logical contradictions (how can he be standing in front of the camera if he’s holding it, etc.) that too often plague this budget-conscious subgenre. These probably qualify as low-grade compliments to those pre-disposed to write off anything and everything “found footage,” sure, but they belie a level of care and attempted professionalism that those of us who do still spend a fair amount of time watching these things will certainly appreciate.

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What’s a little less easy to be kind towards is the fact that the plot for Territorial Behavior is about as by-the-numbers as it gets, to the point where you pretty much know exactly what is going to happen and when, but at least Bergin is skilled enough with the atmospherics to maintain your interest throughout. He has a pretty good grasp on what he can successfully pull off and what would be ridiculous to even try, and his strategy of keeping the fight well within his weight class actually allows him to land some fairly solid punches on occasion, even if you see all of ’em coming from a mile away. Too many other newbie directors in his position let their ambitions get the better of their abilities, resources, or both, but if you can do simple and straightforward better than you can do artsy and experimental, trust me — stick with the simple and straightforward. I’m pleased to report that’s precisely the philosophy this film adheres to.

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Still, there’s no doubt your enjoyment of Territorial Behavior is going to be entirely dependent on how sick of the “mockumentary” conceit you happen to be personally. If you can’t stomach it for any reason, then nothing here’s going to change your mind. And if you’re looking for at least something of a new take on a very shop-worn trope, you’re not gonna find that here, either. If you’re still a fan of “found footage” in a general sense, though, and merely need to see it done with an admirable level of care, concern, and attention to details both large and small, then this admittedly modest production should prove to be right up your alley. It’s nothing you’re going to want to rush to see ASAP by any means, but if you do decide to give it a go, you’ll be happy that you did.

So does that mean this was a subdued but positive review, or a politely negative one?

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It may not be a “cool” thing to admit, but I’ll let you in on a little secret — it’s okay to just want to feel good once in awhile.

It is, after all, a hopelessly fucked-up world that we live in right now : our nuclear arsenal is in the hands of an unhinged, delusional madman who is clearly cracking under the strain of a job he probably didn’t even want and is in no way even mature enough to handle; a lunatic religious zealot is eagerly waiting in the wings to succeed him when he undoubtedly crashes and burns; our closest international allies seem to be inexorably lurking toward a barely-rebranded fascist nationalism themselves; rising global temperatures and sea levels probably threaten our future even more than the would-be despots do — if you think about too hard, it can all seem pretty hopeless.

Can these problems be solved? Shit, I dunno — the jury’s out on that one. But they certainly can be avoided for a couple of hours here and there, and there’s no shame in doing just that every once in awhile. For those of any age seeking temporary relief and solace, then, may I humbly direct your attention toward director Chris McKay’s borderline-astonishing The Lego Batman Movie.

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I admit to never having seen The Lego Movie “proper,” but if it’s anything like this one, that’s my loss — and one I intend to rectify pretty quickly. I can’t pretend to know what it is about translating the grittiest and grimmest of costumed vigilantes into a CGI-animated toyworld that’s such a stroke of near-genius, but the truth is that it not only works, it does something that no live-action iteration of the character has been able to do on the silver screen for the last couple of decades : it makes him fun again.

Make no mistake — the increasingly Dark Knight as envisioned by Tim Burton, Christopher Nolan and, especially, Zack Snyder is the elephant in the room here, but rather than take inspiration from it, McKay and his army of screenwriters choose, instead, to offer a rebuttal to it. Sure, Batman as voiced (superbly, might I add) by Will Arnett is a brooding and dour figure — albeit one who loves, even needs, the gratification that comes from the limelight — but this film isn’t afraid to say that this is a problem. To that end, butler-cum-father-figure Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) is doing his best to get the closest thing he has to a child to let other people in, to move past the loss of his parents all those decades ago and find a new family.  Too many nights alone with microwaved lobster thermidor aren’t good for anybody, after all.

Batman “purists” probably won’t be too terribly happy with some of the liberties taken here : Robin (Michael Cera) isn’t just Bruce Wayne’s ward but his (accidentally — its a long story) adopted son; Barbara Gordon assumes the role of new Gotham City chief of police, replacing her just- retired father, before she dons the Batgirl costume more or less by default; Daleks and King Kong don’t exist in the DC Universe, etc. Well, grouse away, fan-boys — no one else cares.

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Perhaps the most daring and unexpected twist to the Bat-mythos offered here, though, is the refreshingly honest take offered on the relationship between Batman and The Joker (Zach Galifianakis). Freed form the constraints of continuity and editorial protectionism, The Lego Batman Movie admits what no other Bat-flick can — that these two arch-foes need each other, and that any enmity this deeply felt can only spring from a place at least vaguely approximating (strictly platonic, rest assured, nervous parents) love. You know it. I know it. And it’s high time someone said it.

If you never expected this much pathos-via-broad-brushstrokes in what is still, after all, a kids’ movie, don’t worry — it’s all couched in laugh-out-loud humor, obfuscated under mounds of “Easter Eggs” for the observant fan, and delivered with an entirely un-ironic earnestness that you just can’t help but love. This is a movie that has no qualms about admitting that it wants you to like it, and then dares you to find a reason not to.

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I never did, of course, and neither will you. A world this colorful, this joyful, this smart, this optimistic, and this fun is probably one we’d all like to live in — but then we’d be made of plastic and lock onto sidewalks and streets with our feet. So, ya know, nothing’s perfect.

As the title for this review states plainly, though, this film really is about as close to it as you’re gonna get. The Lego Batman Movie is the best Batman movie ever, by far.

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I’m noticing something of a trend in some of the “found footage” horrors I’ve been watching lately — a rather hum-drum and predictable (if not dull as dry toast) opening two acts, appended by a surprising, perhaps even amazing, third act that almost makes putting up with all the earlier crap worth it. Such was certainly the case with Adam Wingard’s 2016-released Blair Witch, and the pattern largely holds for the next film in the subgenre that I watched (courtesy of Amazon Prime streaming, although I understand it’s also available on standard DVD), 2012’s micro-budget effort from co-directors Ben Martinez and David Benjamin Franco, Alien Valley.

As far as set-ups go, they don’t come much more bog-standard than this : the crew from the supposedly-popular “reality” TV show “Paranormal Mysteries” (hence this film’s alternate — and thoroughly uninspired — title, P.M.) have “gone missing” after heading out to the San Luis Valley of Colorado to “discover the facts” behind a series of cattle mutilations that have plagued the area for years. There’s a bit of truth to this, apparently — the valley did, in fact, see a wave of still-unexplained cattle mutilations back in the 1960s — but the “compilation of leaked footage, documentary analysis, and material provided by the ALC network” that follows is, of course, all bullshit.

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In this flick’s early-to-middle going, it’s also pretty dull bullshit — the pacing of screenwriter Kristopher Simms’ script is such a slow burn that it barely “burns” at all, largely focused as it is on the one-dimensional interactions between crew members Andrea (played by Madison Guthrie), Matt (Jared Van Doorn), Rob (John Campbell), Eric (Nathan Blackburn), and Claire (Meghan McMahon) as they go about the business of location filming and interviewing various principals and self-styled “experts” with something to say about the case, but there are at least a couple of above-average performances to be had from Nate Bakke as head cinematographer Dave and Nikki Cornejo as ostensible government liaison Rose, both of whom seem noticeably more comfortable in front of the camera than their cohorts and have a nice and easy chemistry between them that’s reasonably enjoyable to watch. Other than that, though, the first roughly 60 minutes of this 75-minute production don’t have a whole heck of a lot going for them.

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Tell ya what, though, when Martinez and Franco decide to pull out all the stops for the final 15, they really go all-out. Some very effective practical effects work complements a fiercely tense and constantly surprising sprint to the finish, and when the film finally figures that it needs to live up to its name (well, one of its names) by dropping an “actual” alien into the proceedings, it not only works, it works unbelievably well. You know how things are gonna turn out, of course — that’s telegraphed from the outset — but how they end up turning out that way is definitely something to see.

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Our guys Ben n’ David certainly know how to play up the sense of unease and terror that the “shaky-cam” game can still deliver when done correctly, and if they get their hands on some material that demands real creativity and gusto from start to finish, who knows? They might actually be able to come up with something that forces the studios to take notice. As it is, though, Alien Valley doesn’t really showcase all they’re capable of until the very late going — and by then, a lot of folks will have understandably hit “stop” and gone on to do something else.

I would advise you do anything but, though, if you opt to invest your time in this one. If you’re willing to be patient  — okay, very patient — Alien Valley will most definitely reward your perseverance and leave you walking away from it impressed. If your attention span falls into the short-to-medium range, though, then there’s not much chance you’ll be willing to wait around for the rather immense payoff that’s in store. I won’t hold it against you if you check out early, but I will feel sorry for you — this is a flick that tests your determination, absolutely, but  also one that is equally determined to reward its most loyal and/or stubborn (is there a difference?) viewers very generously indeed.