Super

Year: 2011   Company: IFC Midnight   Runtime: 96′
Director: James Gunn   Writer: James Gunn   Cinematography: Steve Gainer
Music: Tyler Bates   Cast: Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tylaer, Kevin Bacon, Nathan Fillion,  Michael Rooker,
Andre Royo, Sean Gunn, Stephen Blackehart, Don Mac, Linda Cardellini, Rob Zombie, Lloyd Kaufman
Currently available ‘On Demand’ and out in limited theatrical release through IFC Films – see it at Minneapolis’ own Lagoon Cinema.

It’s difficult to know where to begin in speaking of James Gunn’s Super, the tale of a humble man who turns crime-fighting vigilante after his wife falls for a local drug kingpin.  The simplicity of the story belies the extravagant absurdity of the thing, which may just be the strangest film in American cinemas today.  Super is gruesomely violent, raucously funny, frequently tasteless and unexpectedly touching fare, and an all-out assault on audience expectations.

Though advertised as an action comedy, Super could perhaps best be described as the portrait of an unstable mind.  Frank D’Arbo (Rainn Wilson, exceptional in his most substantial film role to date) is the would-be hero of the story, a short-order cook in a grimy diner whose marriage to a recovering substance abuser (Liv Tyler) is on the rocks.  When his wife falls for the drug-fueled lifestyle of crime lord Jacques (Kevin Bacon) it’s just another in a lifetime of disappointments for Frank.  The police prove to be of no assistance and Frank’s own efforts to curtail his wife’s downward spiral fail, leaving him at a total loss for what to do…

Continue reading

A Serbian Film

Year: 2010   Company: Contra Film   Runtime: 104′
Director: Srdjan Spasojevic   Writers: Srdjan Spasojevic, Aleksandar Radivojevic
Cinematography: Nemanja Jovanov   Music: Sky Wikluh
Cast: Srdjan Todorovic, Sergej Trifunovic, Jelena Gavrilovic, Katarina Zutic,
Slobodan Bestic, Ana Sakic, Lena Bogdanovic, Luka Mijatovic, Andjela Nenadovic

Angry, nihilistic and repulsive in more or less equal measure, Srdjan Spasojevic’s A Serbian Film has followed a cultural trend not unlike the recent horror bust The Human Centipede, and become notorious online before most have even had a chance to see it.  The big difference between the two is that A Serbian Film delivers the gruesome goods, a compendium of some of the most vile horror concepts in recent exploitation history, though whether that’s for better or for worse is up for debate.

I must confess – I had absolutely no intention of reviewing this one after I finished screening it on Friday, and it’s taken a weekend worth of thought to change my mind on that particular front.  At the time I had no idea of how to discuss what I had seen, a parade of grotesque sexual violence that was brutal in its extremity yet near comic in its absurdity.  Rather than being put off by the whole affair I found myself mostly confused, unsure of what I should be feeling about a film that so unapologetically, even carelessly, careens through such topics as incest and child rape.  One thing was for sure – I wasn’t entertained.

Then again, entertainment is the one thing I’m positive A Serbian Film doesn’t set out to be.

Continue reading

Let Me In

Year: 2010   Company: Hammer Film Productions, EFTI, Overture Films   Runtime: 155′
Director: Matt Reeves   Writer: Matt Reeves   Cinematography: Greig Fraser
music: Michael Giacchino   Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Moretz, Richard Jenkins, Elias Koteas
Currently out in wide release

Young Owen hates Los Alamos, where he lives with his disaffected and divorced alcoholic evangelical Christian mother and is constantly abused by his school’s resident bullies. One night he meets Abby, a girl his age only recently relocated to his apartment complex and with whom he quickly becomes friends. Living with her is an old man Owen assumes is Abby’s father, a man with a tendency to slink off into the night with an over-sized Duffle bag in hand.

Soon bodies start turning up, with all of the victims killed in brutal ritualistic fashion. The detective in charge of investigating the crimes assumes that the culprit is a member of some backwards religious sect, but Owen soon pieces together the truth. It is the old man and his ‘daughter’ who are really responsible, killing the good citizens of Los Alamos to sate the bloodthirst of Abby, an ageless vampire in the body of a child. Of course, Owen never liked Los Alamos anyway, so what are a few gruesome murders between friends?

Continue reading

Devil

film rating:
company: Universal Pictures,
Media Rights Council and
Night Chronicles
year: 2010
runtime: 80′
director: John Erick Dowdle
cast: Chris Messina, Logan Marshall-Green,
Jenny O’Hara, Bojana Novakovic,
Bokine Woodbine, Geoffrey Arend,
Jacob Vargas, Matt Craven
writers: Brian Nelson
and M. Night Shyamalan
cinematography: Tak Fujimoto
music: Fernando Valazquez
Devil is currently out in wide release

After a long string of missteps and abject failures, much maligned writer and director M. Night Shyamalan (The Happening, Lady in the Water) may well have found new worth in the film community with Devil, a concept spook picture that sees him taking on the role of producer. Though Shyamalan contributed the original story, writing and directing were dutifully handed over to others for Devil – Brian Nelson (30 Days of Night, Hard Candy) and John Erick Dowdle (the Twin Cities-born co-director of Quarantine) respectively. The result is Shyamalan’s best work in years, a tightly paced slice of claustrophobic horror that puts the honest-to-Pete supernatural back into the genre.

Continue reading

Piranha 3D

film rating:
company: Dimension Films
and The Weinstein Company
year: 2010
runtime: 88′
director: Alexandre Aja
cast: Elisabeth Shue, Steven R. McQueen,
Jessica Szohr, Ving Rhames,
Jerry O’Connell, Richard Dreyfuss,
Christopher Lloyd, Eli Roth
writers: Pete Goldfinger
and Josh Stolberg
cinematography: John R. Leonetti
music: Michael Wandmacher
Out in wide release now

Plot: Spring break festivities at a lakeside resort come to a relentlessly bloody end after a species of piranha thought extinct for millions of years unexpectedly resurfaces.

It’s worth repeating before going too much into things that I’m a huge fan of the original Piranha, the Joe Dante-directed John Sayles-penned Roger Corman-produced cult classic that took drive-in audiences by storm in the summer of 1978. After a dreadful official sequel produced by Ovidio G. Assontis and a limp mid-90s Corman remake, I was necessarily underwhelmed when news of yet another retread came across the wire. But contemporary cult powerhouses Dimension Films and the Weinstein Company have done more than just repeat that tired history, they’ve set out to unleash an indelible exploitation experience for the ages. I plunked down a hard-earned $13 and saw their film last night in all the gimmicky glory RealD stereoscopic projection has to offer and have to confess – it was one hell of a show.

Continue reading

Black Samson

company: Omni Pictures
year: 1974
runtime: 89′
director: Charles Bail
cast: Rockne Tarkington, William Smith,
Carol Speed, Michael Payne,
Connie Strickland
writer: Warren Hamilton Jr.
cinematography: Henning Schellerup
music: Allen Toussaint
Order this film from Amazon.com

Samson (Rockne Tarkington) has made quite a life for himself – he owns a well-loved, permanently overcrowded strip bar, has a big stick to hit people with, a (probably doped up to the gills) lion lying around on the bar’s counter and is very much in love with his girlfriend Leslie (Carol Speed) who just happens to have the biggest afro I’ve ever seen.

Samson deserves all that, too, because he is a deeply righteous man who lets the local elderly alcoholic spend the night in his bar, and helps drug addicts clean up their act. Well, after he has threatened them with his stick. He’s also the man responsible for keeping his part of town clean from two larger criminal organizations.

Continue reading

Inception

film rating:
company: Warner Bros.,
Legendary Pictures and Syncopy
year: 2010
runtime: 148′
director: Christopher Nolan
cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt,
Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao,
Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy,
Tom Berenger, Marion Cotillard
writer: Christopher Nolan
cinematography: Wally Pfister
music: Hans Zimmer
Out in wide release now

If one were looking for proof positive that the Hollywood system is still capable of producing compelling, original work there could be no better example than Christopher Nolan’s refreshing piece of blockbuster filmmaking Inception, which has arrived just in time to save multiplexers from a seemingly endless parade of knock-offs, remakes, reboots and franchise sequels. Inception is a rarity among contemporary big budget fare – a science fiction thriller that deals in big ideas rather than laser blasts and catch phrases, with a strong emotional core to bind everything together.

The big science fiction concept at the heart Inception is a machine that allows its users to plug into the dreams of others, and around which arises a new kind of criminal, dream thieves who construct controlled dreamscapes that allow their targets’ subconscious to manifest in more or less predictable ways. The story follows the best of these, a fugitive named Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) who uses his personal proficiency with the technology to commit industrial espionage for high-end clientele.

Continue reading

Survival of the Dead

rating:
company: Artfire Films,
Romero-Grunwald Productions and
Devonshire Productions
year: 2009
runtime: 90′
director: George A. Romero
cast: Alan Van Sprang, Kenneth Welsh,
Kathleen Munroe, Devon Bostick,
Richard Fitzpatrick, Athena Karkanis,
Stefano DeMatteo, Joris Jarsky
writers: George A. Romero
cinematography: Adam Swica
music: Robert Carli
Order this film from Amazon.com
Blu-ray | DVD

Survival of the Dead is currently out in limited theatrical release through Magnet Releasing, and is available for online rental or pre-order on Blu-ray and DVD through Amazon.com.

Oh no.  It’s the zombie-pocalypse.  Again.  People are dying, society is crumbling, and wi-fi coverage is spotty at best.  I’ll be the first to give George Romero credit for his accomplishments, and its hard to overstate his importance to independent film and modern existentialist horror.  But it’s been a long time since Romero’s ghouls first shambled ‘cross the silver screen.  Four decades and five sequels after the fact the people, places and things are all too familiar, and Romero’s once brave new zombiefied world is less compelling than ever before.

Continue reading

Daybreakers

rating:
company: Lionsgate
and FFC Australia
year: 2010
runtime: 97′
directors: Michael Spierig
and Peter Spierig
cast: Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe,
Claudia Karvan, Michael Dorman,
Vince Colosimo, Sam Neill,
Isabel Lucas, Paul Sankkila
writers: Michael Spierig
and Peter Spierig
cinematography: Ben Nott
music: Christopher Gordon
order this film from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray | DVD

Playing a like a belated companion piece to the troubled 2007 adaptation of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, Daybreakers brings audiences face to face with the dystopian world of 2019, in which a recent plague of vampirism has turned society topsy-turvy with the monsters in the majority and humanity on the verge of extinction.  Dastardly Mr. Bromley (Sam Neill) heads a blood-farming corporation that’s running dangerously low on supplies, driving the price of blood sky-high and leaving a good many law-abiding vampires hungry and disenfranchised, their hunger transforming them into toothy winged miscreants who run amok in the darkness feeding on one another.

His civilization on the brink of collapse, Bromley hires a consortium of brilliant vampire minds to devise a viable blood substitute and save the day.  Among the scientists is one Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), a vampire not so keen on the facts of his newfound biology as most of his fellow citizens.  Though working on a blood substitute as he is paid to do, Edward is more interested in finding a cure to the vampire condition all together – a cure to which human ‘Elvis’ Cormac (Willem Dafoe) and his few living friends may hold the key . . .
Continue reading

Tony

rating:
companies:
Abbot Vision,
Chump Films and Dan
McCulloch Productions
year: 2009
runtime: 76′
country: United Kingdom
director: Gerard Johnson
cast: Peter Ferdinando, Frank Boyce,
Lorenzo Camporese, Cyrus Desir,
Lucy Flack, Ian Groombridge,
Ricky Grover, Ian Kilgannon
writer: Gerard Johnson
cinematographer: David Haggis
music: Matt Johnson and The The
reviewed from a screener provided
by Revolver Entertainment LLC
order this film from Amazon.com
or visit the official film site

It’s difficult to know quite what to think of Gerard Johnson’s debut feature Tony, a brief and loosely structured drama that follows the day-to-day activities of the fictitious suburban London serial killer.of the title. “I didn’t want to make something with much narrative, I deliberately didn’t want much plot. What I wanted to make was a character study about this guy Tony, a week in the life, nothing much happens, and that’s it,” Johnson said in an interview with Slashfilm.  I suppose Johnson succeeded, though I could have done with more on the “character study” front and less of the “nothing much happens.”

True to the writer / director’s statement, Tony is about Tony (Peter Fernandino, Bodywork) and very little else. Tony is jobless, and lives at the taxpayer’s expense in a small apartment stocked with 80s action movies and the odd dead body or two. He spends his days eating cereal with his rotting teeth, calling sex lines, and carrying plastic shopping bags carefully packed with dismembered human body parts down to the river for disposal. Along the way he meets several threats to his way of life – a disgruntled fat man in a bar, a government worker checking up on TV licenses, an unemployment office employee who promises to cut off Tony’s benefits if he doesn’t find a job.  But as the director has stated, not much really happens.

Johnson’s film presents with a distinctly unpleasant world view, a biproduct of his choice of character perspective.  Tony inhabits a seedy universe of dingy elevators and porno shops, prostitutes, drug lords, and the just plain unlovable.  From a pair of meth addicts to the owner of a tanning parlor to a fat man angry about his failing marriage,the secondary players are unpersonable at best and despicable at worst. All enjoy picking on our poor Tony, assured that he’s as easy a target as his meek appearance and nervous ticks suggest, never suspecting that he’s a closet homicidal maniac. There are only a couple of genuinely amiable person in the lot – a fellow tenant who invites Tony to dinner for his troubles and an elderly man he meets on the street – but their participation in events is minimal.  The lack of any relatable elements or redemptive value in the world of Tony is unfortunate, and likely to limit the film’s appeal.

In line with the “nothing much happens” mindset action in Tony is slim, even with so many dreadful people entering and exiting Tony’s life. The most that happens is the disappearance of a child, the resulting investigation of which Tony is briefly pestered with. The rest of the picture is taken up with Tony wandering the streets, scouting gay bars for potential victims, or sitting at home watching his action films (on VHS only, mind you). There’s no real narrative impetus to things and, as such, no narrative resolution. In the end situations are pretty well unchanged, and Tony is left to freely stalk the streets for a day or a lifetime . . .

The ad art takes advantage of the most horrific potential of the film’s premise, showing Tony standing against a white background with a bloodied hammer at his side. Truth be told, there’s precious little in the way of horror to be had, save a trio of on-screen murders that play with regrettably un-scary everyday sensibility. The throbbing music cues that accompany the killings indicates that they’re supposed to be terrifying, brutal affairs, but the ho-hum handheld photography fails to complete the illusion.  A first-person perspective of a potential victim in Tony’s closet is kept blessedly brief, its incongruous editing leaving it more annoying than frightening.

That’s not to say that Tony doesn’t achieve a level of creepiness at times, courtesy of Peter Fernandino’s nuanced performance. With a hair cut that was never in style and a mustache to match, Tony is certainly memorable, and Fernandino imbues the part with a constant, quiet menace. One notably unsettling early moment has him singing “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” through his rotted teeth while watching a child play ball. Fernandino’s performance is reason enough to see Tony, imperfect as the rest of the production is, and may be enough to raise appreciation of the film to a respectable cult status.  It’s certainly the best thing about the film, and the reason I rated it a full three stars.

Tony is due out on DVD from Revolver Entertainment on the 6th of April. I can’t comment on that release specifically as the screener I received was film-only. The list of supplements looks encouraging, and includes a director’s commentary from Gerard Johnson and a pair of his short films, and the going price ($19.98 or less) sounds right for a new release.  Fans are certainly encouraged to indulge.

It’s unfortunate that Tony never really goes anywhere, particularly with such a strong lead performance to help it along. Director Johnson has said that he approached the film with a mindset towards social realism, the result of which is a thriller with very little in the way of thrills. A few moments with thrilling potential play out with the same indifference as the rest of the minimalist drama, lending the picture a surprisingly dull edge. Bleak humor creeps in to spice things up occasionally, but it’s too little to noticeably change the tone of the picture. Too bland to be thrilling and too sparse to be funny, Tony is ultimately a confused genre picture that, like its protagonist, just doesn’t seem to fit in.