Posts Tagged ‘eli roth’

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The label “Eli Roth Presents” is becoming positively ubiquitous on the purportedly “indie” horror scene lately — to the point, one could convincingly argue, that it probably doesn’t even really mean anything anymore. And yet, writer/director Guillermo Amoedo (who hails from Uruguay but makes his movies in Chile) seems to have at least something of a bona fide working relationship with Roth insofar as he penned the screenplay for The Green Inferno, so maybe ol’ Eli isn’t just helping himself to an air-quote credit as executive producer on the film we’re here to talk about today, 2014’s The Stranger (no relation to Albert Camus’ existentialist classic) — or maybe he is. I dunno. And I guess I don’t really care all that much, either, because it’s not like he would have all that much to do with the finished product here even if he did help cobble together financing, distribution, or whatever it is executive producers do. This flick is clearly Amoedo’s baby, and any praise and/or scorn for it should rest squarely on his shoulders.

As a fairly recent addition to the Netflix streaming queue that got, as far as I know at any rate, zero theatrical play here in the US, detailed analyses of the film are frustratingly hard to come by at this point, but I hope to do my best to alleviate that situation by chiming in here with my two cents’ worth, and what better time than now given that I literally just finished watching the thing?

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Right off the bat The Stranger assumes for itself something of an other-worldly tone in that it supposedly takes place in a small Canadian town, but the settings and characters are all distinctly Latin American. I really don’t have a beef with that sort of strictly formal incongruity and find that it can do a nice job of telegraphing to audiences that what they’re watching is anything but a “reality-based” story, but for those of you whose suspension of disbelief is immediately shattered by anything that doesn’t correspond to the world as we know it, well — be warned that you might be in for something of a tough slog here.

Which is your loss, really, because Amoedo has crafted a deceptively ambitious little number here that, while far from flawless and far from fast-paced, is nevertheless a reasonably immersive viewing experience that drops plenty of subtle hints in between bouts of stomach-churning violence and does a nice job of layering generous helpings of mystery both over the top of and underneath its more visceral main narrative. All of which is just my pretentious-ass way of saying that if you’re willing to pay somewhat close attention to the proceedings on offer, you’ll remain glued to your seat.

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Our central focus here is on a drifter-ish character named Martin (played by Cristobal Tapia Montt — who is, hopefully for his sake, no relation to Rios) who wanders into an unnamed (remember, Canadian) town one night and shows up at the doorstep of the home shared by wannabe-delinquent Peter (Nicolas Duran) and his mother, Monica (Alessandra Guerzoni),  demanding to know the whereabouts of his apparently-estranged girlfriend, Ana (Lorenza Izzo).

The two of them know where she is alright — the cemetery. And while visiting her grave, he’s set upon by a local group of real delinquents, led by a young punk named Caleb (Ariel Levy), who beat the shit out of our ostensible “hero” and, they’re convinced, leave him for dead.

Except, of course, he’s not, and Peter, who’s seen the entire altercation (a polite way of putting things to be sure since Martin doesn’t even really seem to fight back), takes his bruised-and-bloodied new “friend” home, despite Martin’s protestations that his blood is, in fact, contagious.

Wouldn’t ya just know, Caleb’s father, Inspector De Luca (Luis Gnecco) just so happens to be “top cop” in town, and so he’s in, shall we say, a very advantageous position when it comes to covering up his son’s criminal hijinks, but soon enough it won’t matter anyway — Martin’s very presence in town sets off a violent and sometimes surprising chain of events, and about the only thing that’s really predictable here is the fact that he avoids sunlight and drinks blood.  On that note, then,  I think it’s safe to assume that you know what Martin is (and if you’re especially thick or slow on the uptake, this film’s alternate title, Bad Blood, should more or less give it away) — but trust me when I say that what he’s up to hardly follows the standard formula.

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Amoedo’s script could use a little bit of fine-tuning as far as its pacing goes, and the acting from all parties other than the superbly-cast Montt can veer into decidedly wooden territory at times, but these flaws are more than compensated for by superb atmospherics throughout, inventive camera work, smart editing choices, and an intelligent musical score. The whole may end up being greater than the sum of its parts here, but what the heck — most of those parts really aren’t too shabby in and of themselves, either.

Let’s be honest — when you’re dealing with subject matter as tried-and-true as vampirism (whether actual or implied), the most you can really ask is that what you’re getting is an interesting, dare I say even fresh,  new take on things. The Stranger definitely provides that much and even a little more, and while not everything Amoedo tries to do here is necessarily all that successful, enough of it is to ensure that, for the most part, his film is able to break from the mold and stand out in comparison to the vast majority of its ilk. Maybe I’m just an easy mark, or maybe too may years of watching dull and predictable horror movies has worn down my resolve to the point where I go in expecting to get burned and end up pleasantly surprised whenever I’m not, but hey — that’s all it takes, at least in the instance at hand,  for me to recommend that you give this one a shot.

 

 

 

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I love Ti West. You love Ti West. All of us who love horror love Ti West. I mean, he’s the future, right? Proof that the genre is in good hands moving forward. The guy we’re all rooting for. The next big thing.

But ya know what? Even the finest directors make an occasional misstep, and as much as it feels like rooting against the home team to say that’s what 2013’s The Sacrament is — well, that’s what 2013’s The Sacrament is.

But not, necessarily, for all the reasons you might be thinking — “found footage” horrors are played out, Eli Roth hanging around as an air-quote “producer” is getting tiresome, etc. In truth, for the type of story being told here, “found footage” fits the bill just fine, and I can detect little to no “stain of Roth” on the proceedings. No, where The Sacrament comes up short is in the fact that we’ve seen more or less this exact same story done before — anyone remember Guyana : Crime Of The Century Cult Of The Damned ? — and in perpetuating dangerous, and frankly racist, myths about the massarce (not “mass suicide”) that occurred at Jonestown in 1978.

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Now, hold your horses — before you think I’m accusing West of being a racist himself, let me state for the record that he’s not, at least to my knowledge. But he has, like most people, bought into the official lie of what happened at Jonestown — a lie regurgitated frequently by the media — and that lie is, in fact, rooted in racism (as was Jim Jones’ entire operation). So let’s be clear that’s what I’m talking about when I bring up the “R word” here. Simply put, the idea that a charismatic but insane white preacher convinced a bunch of ignorant and trusting black people — particularly black women — to pour poison kool-aid down the mouths of their babies before taking their own lives in similar fashion is a monumental, despicable, unconscionable, racist lie. It’s a lie that’s been spoon-fed to us for a good few decades now, and most folks still believe it, but there’s no evidence to support it, there never has been, and there is, in fact, a wealth of evidence to suggest that the victims at Jonestown didn’t kill themselves at all but were, in fact, murdered.

For those unfamiliar with this side of the story I appreciate the fact that I probably sound like a raving “conspiracy loon” at this point, but I assure you that numerous respected researchers, as well as many of the victims’ relatives, have been pursuing this very same subject doggedly for years now. Heck, a court of law right here in the US even granted a huge compensation award to many of the family members who stated that no less than the CIA itself  was responsible for the tragedy in Guyana. That claim, as you’d probably expect, remains unpaid as of this writing.

Still — what’s the CIA got to do with it all, you may ask at this point? Well, quite a lot, as it turns out, but as I don’t want to go too far down that rabbit hole when I’m just supposed to be writing a movie review here, let me just say that anyone interested in learning more would do well to follow this link to read a detailed, exhaustive analysis of what really happened at Jonestown written by the late, great John Judge : http://ratical.org/ratville/JFK/JohnJudge/Jonestown.html . It’s unsettling information, to be sure, and proof that reality is far more horrific than even the most graphic and uncompromising works of fiction (cinematic or otherwise), but if you’re in the mood to have your blinders about how the world actually works taken off (and taken off forcibly, at that), Judge’s essay is essential reading.

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And on that note — let’s get back to the flick, shall we? Essentially what West is going for here is a “what if Jonestown happened in the internet age?” angle, and it’s a pretty obvious approach, since this material lends itself well to the “immersionism” style of journalism so popular online these days. To that end, he has a three-man crew (composed of fellow “splat-packer” Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, and Kentucker — -dear God, that’s a stupid name — Audley) from vice.com (you know them — they’re the folks whose coverage of what was really going down “on the ground” in Ferguson, Missouri recently absolutely blew the mainstream media’s slanted take on things out of the water) go down to an unnamed South American jungle nation to investigate the happenings at a religious commune called Eden Parish when one of the triumvirate’s sister, a recovering drug addict (played by Amy Seimetz) sends a letter back home that sounds just too damn good to be true.

And, from there, we basically know how everything else plays out. That probably sounds mighty dismissive, but shit, it’s true : the unnamed country is Guyana, Eden Parish is an obvious stand-in for Jonestown, and the camp’s leader (portrayed superbly by Gene Jones) even goes by the self-appointed title of “Father,” as Jones himself did. Our internet journalists essentially fill the role played in real life by the late congressman Leo Ryan and the team of reporters and photographers he brought down with him down to the jungle in that they’re threatening to expose the phony “socialist paradise” that Jones (who was, in point of fact, a hard-line right-winger  despite his public pronouncements to the contrary) said he was constructing for what it was — a slave-labor camp — and neither they, nor the people living there, can be allowed to survive once “father”‘s sadistic shell game has been exposed as a fraud. From there, it’s just a matter of time until the final — and titular — sacrament occurs and everyone offs themselves.

To West’s credit, he does at least show that many people were less than willing to go gently into that less-than-good-night and were either forced at gunpoint to do so, or else just plain shot. To his discredit, he portrays all of the armed “security” goons at Eden Parish as being black, when in truth, all of Jones’ inner circle — including every single person he entrusted with firearms — was white. The blacks, for their part,  were forced to work the fields and do the heavy labor of construction, etc. — the place was pretty much a plantation-cum-concentration-camp.

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Please don’t misunderstand, though — for all its toeing of the “company line,” the series of events that play out in The Sacrament are definitely frightening in and of themselves, and West, in his role as writer/director, makes sure they all pack a reasonable enough punch. But you’d have to have been living under a rock for most of your life to not know how this is all going to end. Hell, even if you want a basic re-hashing of the standard media line vis a vis Jonestown — which is all this flick really amounts to at the end of the day — the PBS Frontline special Jonestown : The Life And Death Of Peoples Temple from a few years back is much better, and frankly a whole lot scarier.

Does that mean The Sacrament isn’t worth checking out? I wouldn’t go so far as to say that — especially now that it’s streaming on Netflix and you can see it for free (I’d been eagerly awaiting its debut on there and watched it the day it came out —  it’s also, of course, available on DVD and Blu-ray, although I can’t fairly comment on the specifics of those versions). West is still a promising young (ish) horror auteur whose career is well worth following, and while this film doesn’t measure up anywhere near The House Of The Devil or The Innkeepers — hell, I’d even argue that Cabin Fever 2 was better — it’s still got its moments, especially when Jones (as in Gene, not Jim) is on the screen.

Truth be told, though, you can live without it, too. I’m not nearly as sick of “found footage” horror as most of my fellow internet pseudo-critics are, but there are literally dozens of better examples of the genre available on Netflix alone, and for a film supposedly centered on “new journalism,” the fact that West misses the big story in regards to his subject is, frankly, inexcusable.

 

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Okay, so I meant to get around to reviewing this back when it came out but I was lazy and I didn’t. Still, now’s not a bad time to take a look at Piranha 3-D since it’s due out on DVD any day here, and while home DVD and Blu-Ray 3-D can’t come close to matching the theatrical experience yet, this is such a fun flick that it’s certainly worth a rental on your part, or even a purchase if you can grab it on sale cheap.

And cheap is the operative word when it comes to Piranha 3-D. Oh, sure it had a budget of around $25 million, but it’s loaded with cheap and plentiful gore, cheap and plentiful nudity, and life comes damn cheap in it, too. I ask you, friends, what could be better than that?

This is true B-filmmaking all the way courtesy of French “new horror” maestro Alexandre Aja, who made his mark with Haute Tension in his home country before taking Hollywood by storm with his remake of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes and then taking something of a misstep with the Kiefer Sutherland horror vehicle Mirrors, which wasn’t as bad as many of its detractors would have you believe but really wasn’t actually very good, either.

Anyway, Aja’s back in fine form with this third installment in the Roger Corman-originated Piranha franchise (the two previous flicks were directed by Joe Dante and James Cameron, respectively), and while it’s probably not fair to classify it as strictly a sequel per se to the first two, it’s certainly not a remake of the original, either — I guess the most appropriate term to use here would be to say it’s a re-imagining, much as I despise that word, and indeed all trendy Hollywood and corporate buzzwords — for instance, is anyone still referring to anything as a paradigm shift anymore? Didn’t think so.

But I digress. The paper-thin plot here revolves around spring break in the fictitious town of Lake Victoria, Arizona, where thousands of hard-partying college kids descend each year to perform their annual bacchanalian rites of binge drinking and binge fucking. Things are gonna be a little bit hairier for the wild youths this year, though, since an earthquake in a self-contained underground aquatic ecosystem has ruptured the lake bed and sent hundreds of prehistoric piranha swarming into party central. The piranha have been surviving in their little watery subterranean paradise all these years by eating each other since there’s nothing else around to sink their teeth into, so they’ve big, they’re mean, they’re bloodthirsty, and,  like the nauseating drunken students, they’re out for a good time.

Aja really pulls out all the stops in once the mayhem ensues, treating us to a non-stop bloodbath punctuated only by totally gratuitous boob close-ups and even more gratuitous full-frontal nudity. There’s an extended underwater ballet scene with starlets Kelly Brook and Riley Steele (yes, that Riley Steele, and she’s only one of several porn stars brought in to liven up the proceedings here) that seriously verges on soft-core territory, and if 3_D T&A is your kind of thing, you won’t be disappointed. I’ll just leave it at that.

There’s a gratuitous sampling of has-been B-list actors crawling out of the woodwork here, too. Elizabeth Shue (who I swear to God doesn’t age) has the nominal starring role as local sheriff  Julie Forester, who;s got to try to solve the crisis while also rescuing her son, who’s gone off for the day on a photoshoot with ultra-sleazy “Girls Gone Wild”-type producer Derrick Jones (Jerry O’Connell). Ving Rhames is her bad-ass deputy, Christopher Lloyd is on hand as a mad scientist-type who’s fervently trying to figure out just what these deadly fish are, where they come from, and how they can be stopped, Richard Dreyfuss is on hand for just long enough for you to say “Hey, that’s Richard Dreyfuss!” before he becomes the bloodthirsty fish horde’s first victim, and if you look really closely you’ll even see Eli Roth as the emcee of a wet t-shirt contest.

But the main “star” here is the sheer, unbridled, completely tasteless mayhem that’s front and center almost from the word go. Ever possible way to be eaten by deadly fish is shown in graphic detail, some of which you can imagine, others of which, quite frankly, you can’t. A guy’s dick getting bitten off and later chomped down by one of the piranha is played for laughs (as it should be). There’s fish-bitten boobs, legs, arms, feet, shoulders, stomachs, faces, you name it — and there’s just no damn way to kill these things off en masse. In fact, at the very end, Aja just plain stops trying as the film finishes on a note that’s pure sequel set-up (not that this will probably happen now given the movie’s underwhelming box office performance).

Not all the 3-D works all that well, to be sure — underwater 3-D effects seem to be an iffy proposition at best, and some definitely deliver the goods better than others. Still, even when Aja and his effects crew fall short, it’s certainly not for lack of trying. Piranha 3-D is a film that aspires to do one thing and one thing only — absolutely annihilate all the boundaries of good taste, and get away with all it can and then some. It’s a true stylistic, and thematic, heir to many of the grindhouse and exploitation flicks that we cover so regularly here at TFG and viewed through that lens, you have to say that it succeeds more than admirably. It’s gleeful, unmitigated, irredeemable trash — just the kind of thing we love around here.

In short, Piranha 3-D is the party movie of the year. It’s full of blood, boobs, blood, boobs, blood, boobs,more blood, more boobs, butts, female genitalia, and huge, shiny, flesh-devouring teeth. Can’t ask for any more out of a movie than that, can you? Catch it as soon as you can.