THE DISASTER ARTIST (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 43 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language throughout and some Sexuality/Nudity

Directed by: James Franco

Written by: Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber

(based on the book THE DISASTER ARTIST by Greg Sestero & Tom Bissell)

Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Allison Brie, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron, Hannibal Buress, Andrew Santino, June Diane Raphael, Nathan Fielder, Brian Huskey, Sharon Stone, Paul Scheer & Jason Mantzoukas

Is it possible to make a great movie about the making of one of the worst movies ever made? Well, Tim Burton already did something along those lines with 1994’s ED WOOD. Now, James Franco has done something similar in 2017’s THE DISASTER ARTIST. Based on the non-fiction book of the same name, THE DISASTER ARTIST chronicles the true story behind the making of THE ROOM, which is widely considered to be one of the worst films of all-time. THE DISASTER ARTIST could have been a hilarious romp that mercilessly took down a weird individual and his passion project. Instead, THE DISASTER ARTIST is hilarious, poignant, and heartfelt! This is a movie about following your dreams…even if those dreams fail miserably.

The year is 1998 and the place is San Francisco, California. Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) is a 19-year-old aspiring actor who has trouble emoting in his performances. That all changes when Greg meets strangely accented weirdo Tommy Wiseau (James Franco). Wiseau is fearless in his acting methods, but have a shred of talent in his performances. When Greg and Tommy fail at the seemingly impossible battle to make it big, Tommy decides to write and direct his own movie…with Greg as one of the leading stars. What results is the bafflingly inept production on one of the worst films ever made and a failure so spectacular that it just might be considered a success in its own baffling way.

James Franco has directed films before and none of them seem to be any good. The most recent Franco-directed effort that I sat through was his disappointing adaptation of William Faulkner’s THE SOUND AND THE FURY. I was a bit hesitant that Franco was at the helm of this project, but he thankfully proved all my better judgement wrong. THE DISASTER ARTIST is fantastic and Franco seems like the perfect person to bring it to the screen. Besides the real-world Los Angeles atmosphere that the film evokes, Franco pulls double-duty and plays the role of Tommy Wiseau. To put it bluntly, Franco’s Wiseau impression is pitch-perfect. He has all of the mannerisms down and the unique way of speaking (complete with his unique laugh). Franco nailed this performance!

THE DISASTER ARTIST’s supporting cast sports a bevy of big talent, including Franco’s younger brother Dave in the role of Greg. Though it might be odd to have two brothers acting alongside each other as unrelated characters, this illusion is completely convincing. Dave Franco plays Greg as a level-headed guy who just happens to be friends with the world’s biggest weirdo and has a good heart. Though this film is about the making of THE ROOM, the friendship between Greg and Tommy is the main focus of THE DISASTER ARTIST. Conversations between them range from funny to occasionally intense, as the production brings out serious anger in a few crew members (Greg included).

Other recognizable faces include celebrity cameos and big names in supporting roles. Seth Rogen is especially hilarious as a script supervisor who tries to help Tommy out, but is constantly blindsided by the director’s ego-driven decisions. Paul Scheer is notable as a pissed-off director of photography and really gets his time to shine in the film’s darkest moment (involving an outburst during the filming of one of THE ROOM’s many gratuitous sex scenes). Josh Hutcherson is also quite funny as Philip Haldiman (who played the creepy teenage-ish Denny) and Jacki Weaver gets one great monologue as aged actress Carolyn Minnott (who played Lisa’s cancer-stricken mother).

THE DISASTER ARTIST is likely to win over fans of THE ROOM by injecting some semblance of sense into the sheer incoherence of that film’s final cut. There were lots of scenes in which I immediately thought “Okay, now that part of THE ROOM makes a little more sense.” These moments come as early as the beginning when we see Tommy and Greg watching REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, admiring one line that gets repeated in one of THE ROOM’s most memorable moments. We also see how certain on-set decisions directly affected the entire flow of that film’s insanity. Why did Mark try to throw someone off a roof? Why did Johnny throw a water bottle in a fit of rage? Why does Tommy Wiseau’s hair look like it’s constantly wet? All of these mysteries and more are answered in the course of THE DISASTER ARTIST’s 103-minute running time.

The biggest reason why THE DISASTER ARTIST works is because it’s a story about somebody following their dreams and doing something they love, even if they are absolutely terrible at it. This film captures the love for THE ROOM, whilst also showing the connection that someone can have with their own artistic material. THE DISASTER ARTIST is sure to delight THE ROOM’s cult crowd, whilst also serving as a fantastic piece of filmmaking for moviegoers who enjoy great dramas and comedies. This film is about friendship, ambition, failure, and unexpected success. THE DISASTER ARTIST is just as genuinely moving as it is hilarious. This is one of the best films I’ve sat through in 2017!

Grade: A+

FANBOYS (2009)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Pervasive Crude and Sexual Material, Language and Drug Content

Directed by: Kyle Newman

Written by: Ernest Cline & Adam F. Goldberg

Starring: Jay Baruchel, Dan Fogler, Sam Huntington, Chris Marquette, Kristen Bell, David Denman, Christopher McDonald, Ethan Suplee & Seth Rogen

I am a STAR WARS fan. I had the toys growing up (including a Darth Maul inflatable chair), watched the movies over and over, went to STAR WARS scout camp, and am still geeking out over new installments in the saga. FANBOYS is a comedy that is tailor-made for STAR WARS fans. If you don’t like or aren’t familiar with the series in any way, shape or form, you will probably not dig this movie nearly as much as someone who loves STAR WARS. FANBOYS is a fun, goofy and (at points) oddly heartwarming little road trip film for STAR WARS junkies.

The year is 1998 and four friends have unexpectedly reunited at a Halloween party. Eric (Sam Huntington) is trying to grow up and take care of his father’s car dealership business, while Hutch (Dan Fogler) lives in his mother’s garage, Windows (Jay Baruchel) obsesses over his unseen internet girlfriend, and Linus (Chris Marquette) still holds a long-time grudge against Eric. When Eric is informed that Linus is dying of cancer and has four months to live, he tries to make amends with his former best friend by enacting a plan they’ve had since childhood: breaking into Skywalker Ranch and stealing the work print of STAR WARS Episode I. Their plan is crazy and the guys will encounter lots of wacky scenarios on their journey, all while countless STAR WARS references fly at the screen!

The casting of the four childhood friends is spot-on. Sam Huntington (whose biggest roles appear to have been Jimmy in SUPERMAN RETURNS and Mimi-Siku in JUNGLE 2 JUNGLE) stars as Eric, the straight-man of the group. While most of the film is focused on laughter and movie-related hijinks, Huntington shares an effectively emotional story arc with Chris Marquette’s Linus. Marquette and Huntington’s final scene together beautifully summarizes friendship and fanboy culture in a nutshell, complete with why people love being geeks so much and how movies can bring people together. As Hutch, Dan Fogler is allowed to go over-the-top in his obnoxiousness and mostly thrives in getting laughs. Some of his bits fall flat, but most of them hit right on target…similar to how Luke destroyed the Death Star in Episode IV.

Jay Baruchel plays a geeky nerd character that he’s mostly been typecast as, but receives his own enjoyable story arc and has hands-down one of the most awkwardly funny scenes in the entire film. Kristen Bell also makes a strong impression as Zoe, a STAR WARS fangirl who plays a significantly bigger role during the second half. Keep your eyes peeled for lots of cameos. A few STAR WARS cast members pop up and so do many familiar comedic faces. My favorite moments come from three different characters played by Seth Rogen and a brief snippet from Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes. The former is hilarious in his multiple moments, while the latter is hysterically raunchy in his one-minute scene.

FANBOYS milks its 90s setting for nostalgia and retro jokes. There’s the familiar feeling of seeing Mario Kart played on Nintendo 64, having to hook up a phone line to a computer to access the internet, and a kick-ass soundtrack of 90s hits that’s likely to bring back good memories for 90s kids and Generation Y. FANBOYS also pokes fun at how insanely excited people were for Episode I and how much disappointment was around the corner in that movie later being considered the worst Episode. One bit that involves a tattoo of Jar-Jar Binks and Anakin Skywalker is hilarious and the film’s closing line is sure to evoke laughter.

This film is packed to the brim with STAR WARS references, which have been further aided by George Lucas allowing the director to use the saga’s original sound effects. While a police chase ending in a Darth Vader reference is obvious and on-the-nose, other smaller nods stick out too. There are tidbits of STAR WARS trivia that had me scratching my head and saying “Dammit! I used to know this!” Also, there’s a hilarious Darth Maul reference that I completely missed the first time I saw this movie and I immediately caught this time around.

I’m not going to claim that FANBOYS is a perfect film, because the storytelling occasionally seems a tad rushed. While I really enjoy the uplifting emotional arc involving four friends going out for one last adventure, there are moments where it feels shoe-horned in. This could be directly blamed on a troubled production path that had Harvey Weinstein (a.k.a. Harvey Scissorhands) desperate to shred the film to bits, at one point removing the heartwarming subplot entirely and with it, the characters’ main motivation. Being given only 36 hours to assemble a final cut and re-edit the emotional scenes back in, I feel that director Kyle Newman did a damn fine job with this film. FANBOYS is sure to please fans of the STAR WARS saga. If you enjoy STAR WARS, then I highly recommend that you check out FANBOYS for laughs, heart, and undying nostalgia.

Grade: B

JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK (2001)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 44 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Nonstop Crude and Sexual Humor, Pervasive Strong Language, and Drug Content

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Directed by: Kevin Smith

Written by: Kevin Smith

Starring: Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Ben Affleck, Jeff Anderson, Brian O’Halloran, Shannon Elizabeth, Eliza Dushku, Ali Larter, Jennifer Schwalbach, Will Ferrell & Jason Lee

After starring as memorable supporting characters in four movies, stoners Jay and Silent Bob became the main players in Kevin Smith’s fifth View Askewniverse flick. Lampooning countless films, featuring a bevy of cameos, and resembling an R-rated cartoon, JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK isn’t necessarily Kevin Smith’s most heartfelt or well-written effort. Instead, this is a stoner comedy that focuses on being entertaining and funny. It accomplishes both of those things in spades.

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Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) have spent most of their lives peddling pot outside of the Quick Stop convenience store (from CLERKS). When pissed-off employee Randall (Jeff Anderson) slaps them with a restraining order, the two stoners find themselves looking for a new place to hang out. This leads them to a comic book store…which in turn leads them to discover that they are the basis for upcoming superhero blockbuster BLUNTMAN AND CHRONIC. Unfortunately, Jay and Silent Bob never received their big Hollywood check and, to make matters worse, anonymous internet trolls are calling them names. Jay and Silent Bob decide to travel from New Jersey to Hollywood in order to stop the film from being made…or at least receive some cash. This road trip leads the pair of stoners to a stolen orangutan, a group of sexy jewel thieves, a loose-cannon wildlife marshal (Will Ferrell), and lots of movie references.

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JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK isn’t going to win over anyone who already hates Kevin Smith. This film was tailor-made for Smith fans who already loved the titular pair of stoners/drug-dealers in CLERKS, MALLRATS, CHASING AMY and DOGMA. The film isn’t as grounded as CLERKS or CHASING AMY, but it’s definitely not as fantastically outlandish as DOGMA. JAY AND SILENT BOB plays everything as a goofy stoner comedy, defying logic and physics when it results in a laugh or furthers the plot along. I’d like to think of this film as Kevin Smith’s equivalent to HAROLD AND KUMAR before there was even HAROLD AND KUMAR. It’s JAY AND SILENT BOB GO TO HOLLYWOOD with lots of stupid humor, general craziness and tons of movie references. I can’t even begin to tell you how many movie references and big name cameos are in this film.

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One of my favorite moments lambasts the then-upcoming SCOOBY DOO flick. There’s also a hilarious chase through the Miramax backlot that’s more than a tad reminiscent of PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE and also serves as an excuse for plenty of in-jokes. My point is that JAY AND SILENT BOB is hardly original. The plot is a giant road trip and intentionally borrows from many other movies. However, JAY AND SILENT BOB is well-made where it counts, in being funny and entertaining the whole way through. Whether it’s three of the best fourth wall jokes I’ve seen in a film or the sheer absurdity of a romance between Jay and a hot criminal with a heart of gold (Shannon Elizabeth), this film just worked for me. Is it stupid? Absolutely. Is it Kevin Smith’s best movie? Not at all. Did Jay and Silent Bob really deserve their own feature? Probably not. Yet, this film still inexplicably manages to be funny and engaging for well over 90 minutes.

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It’s also worth noting that JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK predicted the future in regards to internet trolls bitching about superhero movies for the sake of bitching about superhero movies. The flick makes that into the main plot point behind Jay and Silent Bob’s nationwide quest to Hollywood, also providing colorful profanity and insults along the way. Though it’s far from Kevin Smith’s best movie in the View Askewniverse (I think that title will always belong to CLERKS), JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK is highly entertaining for Smith fans. Film references, gross sexual humor (one joke about a cup broke me into a hysterical fit of laughter), the screenplay’s sporadic craziness, and the buddy-pairing of real-life friends Jason Mewes (foul-mouthed Jay) and Kevin Smith (almost mute Silent Bob) make this film well worth watching!

Grade: B+

YOGA HOSERS (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 28 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Crude Humor, Sexual References, Comic Violence, and brief Drug Material

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Directed by: Kevin Smith

Written by: Kevin Smith

Starring: Lily-Rose Depp, Harley Quinn Smith, Johnny Depp, Vanessa Paradis, Austin Butler, Tyler Posey, Justin Long, Haley Joel Osment, Genesis Rodriguez, Tony Hale, Natasha Lyonne & Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith’s filmography has recently gone through many odd shifts. Though he gained a loyal fanbase from low-budget comedies like CLERKS and MALLRATS, Smith has entered a horror phase…and this has been a hugely miscalculated move. The best of Smith’s horror efforts is easily RED STATE, a surprisingly strong merging of the Waco siege and the Westboro Baptist Church. 2014’s TUSK was disappointing due to its confused tonal shifts and a plot that seemed to making itself up as it went along. That film featured cameos from Kevin Smith’s daughter and Johnny Depp’s kid as Canadian convenience store clerks. YOGA HOSERS is a semi-sequel to TUSK and serves as a spin-off for that pair of minor characters.

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Colleen Collette (Lily-Rose Depp) and Colleen McKenzie (Harley Quinn Smith) are best friends, bandmates and co-workers at the Eh-2-Zed convenience store. They bury their faces in their cellphones during school and periodically skip out on their shifts to hold band practice in the backroom. After being invited to a senior party held by preppy Hunter Calloway (Austin Butler), the Colleens’ lives begin to look up…until Colleen C’s father (Tony Hale) forces the two BFF’s to take an unexpected work shift. Missing Hunter’s party won’t be the end of the Colleens’ problems though, because Bratzis (Kevin Smith in bratwurst make-up) have risen from the ground. You may be asking: “What’s a Bratzi?” It’s a little Nazi made of bratwurst and the Colleens have to contend with an army of them. Lucky for them, legendary man-hunter Guy Lapointe (Johnny Depp) is on the case.

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YOGA HOSERS’ plot is kind of difficult to summarize, because there isn’t exactly a straightforward storyline. The film is supposedly about two teenage clerks fighting bratwurst creatures that kill people by going up their butts, yet only a third of the film seems interested in that. The rest is dedicated to the Colleens going about their teenage lives and Johnny Depp mugging for the camera. Kevin Smith unapologetically admitted that this film was a vanity project, but it might have been fun (albeit ridiculously stupid) if there was any semblance of a story. Flashy headache-inducing title cards, two cringe-worthy musical numbers, and lame cut-away jokes constantly interrupt the movie’s already wavering momentum.

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Even though it clocks in at a mercifully short 88 minutes, YOGA HOSERS frequently lags in its pacing and feels much longer as a result. There are a few chuckles that keep the film from becoming a total failure, but these are few and far between. One visual joke seems directly lifted from Mel Brooks’ ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS (moles changing around on Johnny Depp’s face), which in turn was actually recycled from the ever-changing hump in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. The biggest laugh comes from Haley Joel Osment as Canadian Hitler. The punchline to his single scene is very funny, but that energy vanishes the minute he’s gone. Don’t worry though, because YOGA HOSERS tries to get more wacky laughs by giving us a Nazi villain monologuing through voice impressions of Hollywood actors (ala Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Pacino, etc.). That’s the level we’re at here, folks.

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I can’t judge too harshly on Lily-Rose Depp and Harley Quinn Smith’s performances, because they come off as annoying teenage kids. This was definitely the intention, but it doesn’t automatically turn them into likable ass-kicking heroines. Austin Butler, who resembles Justin Bieber, shows potential in a neat plot twist that showed promise…and is quickly written out by a lazy butt joke. Johnny Depp’s Guy Lapointe was one of the worst things in TUSK, but seems to fit in with the wacky stupidity of YOGA HOSERS. His presence is much more colorful than either of the Colleens anyway. The less said about Kevin Smith in bratwurst make-up, the better. Justin Long is serviceable enough as a pretentious strip mall yoga instructor. However, Smith thinks that cameos are the same thing as comedy…which makes for two incredibly out-of-place moments.

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Truthfully, I think that Kevin Smith knows YOGA HOSERS isn’t a good movie. In the Q&A shown before the Fathom Event screening, Smith stated that the film is a midnight movie made for viewers who aren’t allowed to stay up until midnight. He seems to be writing off this film’s bad quality as it being made for kids. I don’t think that’s quite the case. There may be no F-bombs or nudity in this film, but there’s definitely enough sexual innuendos to earn the PG-13 rating (which isn’t exactly perfect for a “kid’s movie”). Even if YOGA HOSERS was actually intended for little girls, quality kid’s films usually entertain older viewers too. How terrible is YOGA HOSERS? Well, let’s just say that a theater filled with hardcore Kevin Smith fans was dead silent for 90% of the running time and I’ll pretty much be ignoring the rest of Kevin Smith’s new movies until he inevitably makes CLERKS III.

Grade: D-

HOLIDAYS (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

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Directed by: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer, Gary Shore, Nicholas McCarthy, Sarah Adina Smith, Anthony Scott Burns, Kevin Smith & Scott Stewart

Written by: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer, Gary Shore, Nicholas McCarthy, Sarah Adina Smith, Anthony Scott Burns, Kevin Smith & Scott Stewart

Starring: Madeleine Coghlan, Savannah Kennick, Rick Peters, Ruth Bradley, Peter Campion, Ava Acres, Petra Wright, Sophie Traub, Jocelin Donahue, Michael Gross, Ashley Greene, Harley Quinn Smith, Seth Green, Clare Grant, Lorenza Izzo & Andrew Bowen

It seems like horror anthologies are becoming more frequent these days. We’ve had two massive horror anthologies revolving around the alphabet (THE ABC’S OF DEATH series), cursed video tapes (the V/H/S trilogy), and short stories around a single holiday (A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY, TALES OF HALLOWEEN). The premise for HOLIDAYS is exactly what the title suggests: various directors took on a major holiday and based a short horror film around that celebration. This ingenious concept sounds like it would open the floor to limitless possibilities, but only a few creative ideas actually make it to the surface in this mixed bag anthology.

1. V Day

VALENTINE’S DAY: We kick off in February with Valentine’s Day (a.k.a. Singles Awareness Day). This brief, to-the-point short follows a teenage swimmer who’s relentlessly picked on by the rest of her team. However, the coach shows this bullied outcast a bit of kindness by giving her a Valentine’s Day card, which serves as an inspiration for something violent. This segment’s stylistic visuals elevate it slightly above the predictable plot. While a gruesome punch line makes this short worth watching, I felt the 10-minute segment was okay. Nothing more, nothing less. B-

2. SP Day

ST. PATRICK’S DAY: Surprisingly, there are no drunken shenanigans or leprechauns to be found in this March 17th story. Director/writer Gary Shore (DRACULA UNTOLD) opts for a bit of Irish folklore instead. A teacher, who desperately wants a child, becomes mysteriously pregnant…and her baby might not be human. While this story’s initial set-up promised some freakish body horror, the execution was deliberately wacky. I have no problem with horror-comedies, but these jokes and absurd visuals seem weird for the sake of being weird. The cringe-inducingly awkward finale cemented this as second-worst segment in the film. D-

3. Easter

EASTER: This seems like the most forgivable holiday to screw up. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of potential for a creepy Easter tale. However, director/writer Nicholas McCarthy had something truly frightening in mind when he penned this short. A little girl finds herself scared by the concept of both the Easter Bunny and Jesus. Her fears come to life when she gets a glass of water…right as the Easter Bunny arrives at her home. This segment is genuinely freaky and had a legitimately effective jump scare. While the ending seems familiar, I really dug the hellish nature of this second-best holiday! B+

4. M Day

MOTHER’S DAY: And the title of worst segment goes to…this crapfest. A young woman finds herself pregnant every time she has sex (even when extreme protective measures are taken) and has gone through countless abortions as a result. Her latest pregnancy takes her to a creepy retreat where the women are less than enthusiastic that one among their ranks wishes to get rid of her unborn child. What follow is a slow, tedious crawl to a finish line that seems laughably bad. This segment slightly resembles ST. PATRICK’S DAY, but doesn’t even give us a brief glimmer of potential in its opening. Awful. F

5. F Day

FATHER’S DAY: We jump from the film’s worst segment straight to the best holiday of the bunch. A young woman receives an audio tape from her long-dead father. Using this long-lost sound recording, she retraces the steps of where her father disappeared. Director/writer Anthony Scott Burns builds serious suspense with very little at his disposal, as this short mainly consists of long shots of this woman walking through a spooky location with audio that becomes more disturbing as it continues to play. It’s enough to send a few chills up your spine and it certainly did so for me. Even though the ending is a tad rushed, this short still stands head and shoulders above the rest of this anthology! A-

6. Halloween

HALLOWEEN: Of all the holidays in this anthology, you’d probably think that Halloween would be the easiest segment to create. Too bad that Kevin Smith doesn’t do anything remotely Halloween related (all we get are a few decorations, a bag of candy, and nothing else) with his short and instead decides to whip out an overly crude torture-porn sequence. Three girls decide to get revenge on their abusive pimp through some grisly means. This feels like Kevin Smith watched bits of A SERBIAN FILM and SAW and thought to himself “Hey, I can do that, but with my patented quirky sense of humor!” It simply doesn’t work in a five-minute short that’s supposed to be centered around Halloween. This wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but still seems obnoxious and forced. D+

7. Christmas

CHRISTMAS: This potentially great segment is short-ended by an underdeveloped conclusion. A desperate father picks up a virtual reality headset for his child’s Christmas present and gets more than he bargained for. This short has its moments and I did like where things seemed to be heading in the finale, but the conclusion is so rushed and stinted that it cut off any momentum that this story had going for it. At least, Seth Green seems to be having fun as the father. C

8. New Years Eve

NEW YEAR’S EVE: A serial killer, who bases his murders around various holidays, picks up a potential new victim on New Year’s Eve. However, things are more complicated than they appear. From that synopsis alone, you probably have a good idea about where this short is heading. The plot basically gives itself up within the first minute. It’s still a lot of fun to watch though, as this segment’s humor really worked and a couple of solid gore gags make their way into the mix too. It’s nice to see the uneven HOLIDAYS end on a high note. B

9. Overall

HOLIDAYS reminds me a lot of the first ABC’S OF DEATH. The premise seems to be brimming with creativity, but half of the filmmakers don’t seem interested in delivering something scary or original. As a result, this horror-anthology is the perfect example of a mixed bag. Half of the segments are good and the other half fall flat. It’s almost worth recommending the film for FATHER’S DAY and EASTER by themselves. NEW YEAR’S EVE and VALENTINE’S DAY are fun, but nothing special. CHRISTMAS feels like it could have been one of the best segments, if it weren’t for the lackluster ending. HALLOWEEN feels like another Kevin Smith mistake as he tries to navigate his way through the horror-comedy genre. ST. PATRICK’S DAY and MOTHER’S DAY are inexcusably bad. If you’re in the mood for a horror-anthology and have completely run out of options, then you might want to check this out on Netflix or cable. Otherwise, you’re not missing much.

Grade: C

SOUTHLAND TALES (2007)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 25 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language, Violence, Sexual Material and some Drug Content

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Directed by: Richard Kelly

Written by: Richard Kelly

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Seann William Scott, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mandy Moore, Justin Timberlake, Miranda Richardson, Wallace Shawn, Bai Ling, Nora Dunn, Kevin Smith, Jon Lovitz & Amy Poehler

Richard Kelly has become a low-rent M. Night Shyamalan. He blew a lot of people away with DONNIE DARKO (similar to how Shyamalan blew everyone away with SIXTH SENSE) and was hailed as an interesting new filmmaker. However, he quickly squandered this reputation away by making crappy overblown movies (that looked good) and not realizing when his stories were in drastic need of a rewrite. The difference between Kelly and Shyamalan is that Shayamalan made three good films before disappointing audiences and Kelly let them down with his second feature. SOUTHLAND TALES premiered at Cannes 2006 to horrible reviews and booing (which isn’t necessarily out of the ordinary as even Quentin Tarantino’s PULP FICTION was heckled at the festival). It took a year for the studio to release this film afterwards to which I can only imagine their discussions were something along the line of “Just do it quickly…like a Band-Aid and then this pain will be over.” SOUTHLAND TALES is a colossal, mind-boggling failure of a film on every conceivable level. This isn’t so bad it’s good, this is so bad it will make you question what anybody on the set was thinking.

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Set in an alternative history, the United States has been forever changed since 2005 nuclear attacks on Texas. This led to a military regime taking over America, states being treated like individual countries, and harmful alternative fuels being created. It is now 2008 and the USA is on the brink of chaos. Boxer Santaros is an actor, suffering from memory loss, who has been sucked into a group of neo-Marxist extremists. Alongside another neo-Marxist (impersonating a police officer), Boxer finds himself in a confusing tangled web of conspiracy, power struggles, and all sorts of craziness. Oh, he’s also aided by a psychic ex-porn star and there are other sub-plots weaving in and out of Boxer’s journey. That’s the condensed version of this plot, because I really think Richard Kelly didn’t know what the hell he was doing while writing/filming this epic-length mess of a movie.

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I should have known that I was in trouble from the get-go as the story begins with a 10-minute-long prologue that spews exposition like it’s going out of style. Usually science-fiction films will introduce the world in a few short minutes and then incorporate the crazy technology and profound concepts into the story in an effective (sometimes, subtle) manner. That’s not the case in SOUTHLAND TALES as the lengthy prologue is just the tip of the iceberg. Justin Timberlake (who was fairly new to the acting scene at the time of this film) pops in and out to guide us through the story as best he can. His efforts are all in vain as this is entirely nonsensical and confusing. Some may argue that there’s a deeper meaning to everything in the film (right down the repeated phrase of “pimps don’t commit suicide”), but I’d argue that Richard Kelly didn’t have anyone to reign in his ambition on this project. He tried to cram way too many concepts, ideas, and plots into the space of one film. It backfired and the result is somehow simultaneously chaotic, stupid, and boring.

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Arguably, the plot isn’t even the strangest thing about SOUTHLAND TALES. That would come in one of the weirdest mismatched ensemble casts to ever hit the screen. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson tries to deliver his lines in a semi-convincing manner, but he doesn’t really seem to understand who his character is (I can’t blame him either). Seann William Scott attempts to take a semi-dramatic role as twin brothers (one’s an undercover neo-Marxist and the other is a racist cop) and seems confused (again, I’m not blaming him for the faulty characters). Sarah Michelle Gellar is playing a typical ditz as the psychic porn star. Meanwhile, lots of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE alumni show up for no discernible reason (including Jon Lovitz, Amy Poehler, etc.). Shawn Wallace is hamming it up as an oddball villain. Meanwhile, Justin Timberlake serves as a narrator who occasionally pops in for a pointless scene (including one baffling drug-addled musical number).

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SOUTHLAND TALES is also supposed to be a satire. Though I can see it trying to make political points and mock the state of our country, it doesn’t do either of these things well. In fact, every ounce of humor (including one brief joke from Timberlake about a Proposition 69) feels forced or just confused. The futuristic setting could have made for a neat world being brought to life, but it’s not fully explored as Kelly seems to focused on linking together bland characters and uninteresting plot threads. I can’t even call SOUTHLAND TALES an interesting failure, because it’s far too long for its own good and feels even longer than that. This movie drags to an unbearable degree.

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There are strange movies. There are weird failures of a film. There are also “WTF” moments strewn throughout many movies (just look at any David Lynch story). However, I think SOUTHLAND TALES takes the cake in being the ultimate WTF movie…and I don’t mean that in a good way. This movie is godawful and really makes you question how it got past the pre-production with a script this horrible and unfocused. This has made its way in my list of bottom three worst films that I’ve ever suffered through (right next to BRANDED and THE BLACK DAHLIA). The only possible way I could even recommend SOUTHLAND TALES on the tiniest merit is so people who sit through this epic-length failure will appreciate everything else they watch that much more.

Grade: F

CLERKS (1994)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Extensive use of Extremely Explicit Sex-Related Dialogue

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Directed by: Kevin Smith

Written by: Kevin Smith

Starring: Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Marilyn Ghigliotti, Lisa Spoonhauer, Jason Mewes & Kevin Smith

I rarely delve into my personal life in my reviews, but it bears mentioning that I have worked in retail for about eight years at this point. I deal with customers every shift that make me want to tear my hair out and I know that I’m not the only one with these sentiments. Kevin Smith suffered through a similar over-the-counter grind, because this film is all about two disgruntled clerks (duh) and their misadventures over the course of one work day. Working on a ridiculously small budget over the space of 21 nights at his place of employment, Kevin Smith constructed one of the funniest comedies to come out of the 90’s. The foul-mouthed, conversation-filled nature of CLERKS might not be for everyone, but it will definitely work for most who have suffered through the hell that is retail work as well as those who want something out of the ordinary in their comedies.

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Dante Hicks is having a rough time. He’s a New Jersey retail clerk who’s been called in on his day off. What started as a six-hour shift quickly consumes Dante’s entire day as he suffers through various aggravating customers and copes with his wise-ass lazy co-worker, Randal. This film is made primarily of conversations between Dante and Randal, Dante and his girlfriend, and between the two disgruntled employees and various customers. In actuality, not much happens in course of CLERKS. The film manages to be wholly entertaining from beginning to end because it’s driven by repulsive hilarity and great dialogue.

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CLERKS feels like it’s simultaneously realistic and exaggerated. Anybody who works in retail can tell you that there are awful shifts populated by dumbasses who somehow don’t consider “lowly” store clerks to be fellow human beings. Smith manages to capture this aggravation as well as the sheer mind-boggling nature of how stupid people can be in one foul swoop. Meanwhile, Smith knows not to keep everything grounded in reality as events quickly spiral out of control into some very dark areas. There’s a scene that comes near the end of the movie (you’ll know it when you see it) that arguably crosses a line. By the time this scene arrives, I had heard so much graphic sexual dialogue that I became slightly numbed to what exactly happened and only afterwards was I thinking something along the lines of “Holy shit! They went there.” It bears mentioning that this film was originally slapped with an NC-17 based purely off the dialogue. The MPAA’s decision was ridiculous from the get-go, but you cannot deny that the film is one of the raunchiest comedies ever produced…and that’s a very good thing depending on your tastes.

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The B&W coloring of CLERKS (something that either cost Smith more money or was done on the cheap) lends a sense of real-world grittiness to the movie that blends into the down-to-earth tone of the story. Aside from the dirty dialogue, cool style, and grassroots nature of CLERKS, the best part and the only flaw both come from the performances. We’ve all known people like Dante, played by Brian O’Halloran. He’s a young guy lamenting the fact that he seems to be going nowhere in life, but doesn’t exactly have the balls to change anything about that. Meanwhile, Randal (first-time actor Jeff Anderson, who originally auditioned as a joke) is someone who we’ve also encountered in the workplace. He’s a lazy, smart-ass who has somehow managed to keep his job in spite of his horrible attitude and rude behavior towards customers. The rest of the characters are made up of Dante’s friends and random customers…except for Jay and Silent Bob! This film introduced those iconic pot-dealing characters and they weren’t fully what they are now. In fact, I’d argue that their very presence slightly distracts from the jokes that work. However, this can be forgiven when you consider what the characters eventually evolved into.

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Have you ever had a hellish day/night at a retail job? Good, then you can relate to CLERKS. Have you ever had awkward discussions with insufferable co-workers about inappropriate topics? Good, then you can relate to CLERKS. Do you laugh or joke about these experiences now? Good, then you’re likely to love CLERKS. It’s a cheap film composed of profanity-filled conversations about pornography, STAR WARS, relationship woes, and the various dumbasses you encounter at any retail job. Taken as such, it’s wholly enjoyable and near-perfect movie.

Grade: A

FUCK (2006)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

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Directed by: Steve Anderson

Starring: Steven Bochco, Pat Boone, Drew Carrey, Billy Connolly, Ron Jeremy, Bill Maher, Kevin Smith, Hunter S. Thompson & Alanis Morissette

A documentary centering around the most taboo word in the English language sounds interesting to say the least. There’s always a liberating power and automatic judgment that occurs when someone drops an F-bomb in public. I tend to not swear in my movie reviews, but I do cuss (F-bomb included) quite a lot in my day-to-day life. Swear words don’t bother me, because I just see them as words. Curse words are “sentence enhancers” as Patrick states in a SPONGEBOB episode and they’ve become so routine to myself (and most of the people I associate with) that I don’t put a ton of value into them. However, there are groups who are devastated when someone uses profanity around them, especially the F-word. This evolution of the F-bomb, its usage and cultural impact surrounding it are intensely analyzed in F**K. Some might argue these are a bit too analyzed to the point of becoming sort of repetitive by the time that the end credits roll.

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F**K examines the supposed origins of the F-word, including various theories about it originally standing for Fornication Under Consent of the King or For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. However, a piece involving the origins of what giving someone the middle finger actually signifies cracked me up. I now have a newfound respect for the bird. Hilarious bits include Billy Connolly addressing how the word is universal and Hunter S. Thompson being…well, Hunter S. Thompson. Also interesting are the first documented uses of the word in different mediums shown throughout (including a satirical poem from 1475, its overuse in HBO’s DEADWOOD, movies like MASH and SCARFACE, the controversial CATCHER IN THE RYE, and various stand-up comedians).

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There are also interesting debates included between those using the F-bomb on a regular basis and those deeply offended by it (a.k.a. the profaners and the prudes). Arguments of overstepping boundaries and tasteful limits in Freedom of Speech (e.g. a broken law at a national park) are examined as well. The main issue with F**K is that it seems unfocused. There’s this great idea about the history and evolution of a taboo swear word, but the movie tries to do everything with it and doesn’t quite know what to focus on more. There’s also a feeling by the end that the concept has almost worn out its welcome (with the F-bomb being dropped 857 times in the space of just over 90 minutes). Though it becomes repetitive about halfway through, this documentary is still entertaining for those who don’t mind profanity or use it on a daily basis.

Grade: B-

THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED (2006)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 38 minutes

MPAA Rating: NC-17 for some Graphic Sexual Content

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Directed by: Kirby Dick

Written by: Kirby Dick, Eddie Schmidt & Matt Patterson

Starring: Kirby Dick, Becky Altringer, Darren Aronofsky, Jamie Babbit, Maria Bello, Atom Egoyan, Mary Harron, Wayne Kramer, Kimberly Peirce, Kevin Smith, Matt Stone, Michael Tucker & John Waters

My hatred for the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) burns with the white-hot rage of a thousand suns and I respect nearly everyone who stands up to them. You may know of the group as they are responsible for dictating which films are appropriate for what age group through a backwards system. In 2005, documentary filmmaker Kirby Dick put together a highly ambitious project that would shed light on the reclusive movie ratings board. THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED thoroughly examines the organization that determines which movies are G, PG, PG-13, R or NC-17 and points out the hypocrisy in this deeply flawed system.

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Fed up with the silly actions and illogical secretive nature of the MPAA, filmmaker Kirby Dick recruits a private investigator to find out the identities of the ratings board members. While Kirby’s investigation intensifies, we are shown interviews from various filmmakers, critics, and former MPAA raters about the double-standard of sex being more taboo than bloody violence. There’s also a special examination spent on the dreaded NC-17 rating (formerly X) that prevents a film from going into nationwide theatrical release at any of the mainstream theaters. A special focus is on specific directors speaking up about their experiences with receiving an NC-17 and going through complex appeals process.

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The way in which Kirby Dick goes about proving valid points against the MPAA are extreme to say the least. He straight-up hires a private eye complete with hidden cameras and stake-outs. Though it’s very entertaining to watch, one could argue that the ethics behind this approach are a bit questionable. I do agree that names of the MPAA board members need to be made public, but could draw the line at flaunting their personal information (revealing the ages of the children and digging through their trash). At times, it seems like Kirby is going too far. I know that some may disagree, but he could have condensed this information down into a small piece near the conclusion.

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As far as Kirby does go, the big complaint I have regarding THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED is that it offers brief throwaway glimpses of other problems with the MPAA (including ridiculously strict piracy laws and possible propaganda). These are coincidentally both brought to light to in two separate clips of one interview with a guy who seems to be straying off topic onto completely different things. Either Kirby might have devoted a more time to these topics or he could have cut these pieces out entirely because they seem out-of-place.

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Interviews with filmmakers and former MPAA board members more than make up for this documentary’s faults. These snippets are far more revealing and interesting than anything that Kirby or the private investigators offer. Most hilarious are Matt Stone’s experiences about the puppet sex scene in TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE and John Water’s possible reasons for A DIRTY SHAME receiving an NC-17. Filmmakers shed light on the MPAA’s prejudice towards pubic hair, gay sex, or a film’s overall tone being “too extreme” for an R rating, but other potentially harmful stuff skates by with a PG-13.

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There are annoyances in Kirby Dick and the private investigators going too far and unrelated interview clips, but this is a very well-executed and important documentary nonetheless. THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED is highly recommended for those who want to know more about the mysterious all-powerful MPAA and essential viewing for those who blindly judge movies simply by their ratings. I know some people who don’t bother watching an R-rated movie (let alone one with an NC-17) based completely on the MPAA’s decision to dictate what’s appropriate for certain ages. If you want to be informed about double-standards of a broken system that’s not likely to change any time soon, then this is a must-see. In spite of a few faults, THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED is one of the most important documentaries about filmmaking ever made.

Grade: A-

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