DVD MARATHON 2:
by Jonathan Doyle, Sarah Duda, and Neil Karassik
Saturday, June 9th, 2007
(with special guest Jason Woloski)
This time last year, we introduced the first annual DiscLand DVD Marathon. While time constraints may make it difficult to get through as many films this year, we have an equally ambitious and diverse list of candidates: Candy (2006), Cinderella Liberty, Future-Kill, The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai, The Illustrated Man, Ils (They), Performance, Roman, Straight Time, Summer School, Who Am I This Time?, and You're Gonna Miss Me. As usual, feel free to play along at home.
You're Gonna Miss Me(Palm Pictures, 7.10.2007)
JD: My first impression of this film is how alarmingly similar it is to The Devil and Daniel Johnston. Stylistically, they're quite different, but they're both about cult legend musicians -- in this case, The 13 Floor Elevators singer Roky Erickson -- with strong ties to Austin, Texas and life-long struggles with mental illness. The central issue here is Erickson's controlling, religious nut mother, who the fiftysomething musician lives with. She prohibits Roky from using medication, refuses to let his son visit, and enables all kinds of unhealthy behavior. The film also features a Capturing the Friedmans-like exploration of the skeletons in this family's closet. But beyond all the schizophrenia and family dysfunction, You're Gonna Miss Me offers a valuable overview of a great, largely forgotten band (currently best known for being sampled over the opening credits of High Fidelity). Movie rating: 7.5/10.
NK: While maintaining an effectively calculative narrative structure, this doc also contains a subtle experimental quality that, for the most part, goes a long way in illustrating Roky's affliction. Grainy found footage flashbacks and atonal sound effects give the film a surreal yet remarkably sober aesthetic, kinda like a toned down Tarnation meets Crumb. Thanks to Richard Linklater veteran DP Lee Daniel, the non-found footage photography definitely gives the film a distinct look that adds to the its watchability (in spite of its dark subject matter). Other highlights include multiple, memorable cameos by Mr. Potatoe Head and the Powerpuff Girls. The film also made me mourn for the late, great Wesley Willis. That would've been one helluva duet. Movie rating: 8/10.
SD: This is a really well-made documentary about a difficult topic. Arguably every single person in this movie is crazy. It would be easy to exploit them, but the film doesn't. It's a fairly touching, somewhat uplifting look at mental illness. And cluttered houses. There's definitely some sort of connection between clutter and crazy. Movie rating: 8/10.
Summer School(Paramount Home Entertainment, 5.22.2007)
JD: One of the defining crappy American teen comedies of the eighties, Summer School is basically a sitcom about a slacker teacher and his slacker students. But what really distinguishes this appropriately unfocussed, meandering mess from its peers is its complete lack of authenticity in every area. The characters are all cartoonish stereotypes -- the geek, the foreign exchange student, the horror movie gore fiends, etc. -- but they're still appealing because they share a strange, winning combination of rebelliousness and joie de vivre. Though its populated almost exclusively by misfits, there's no angst anywhere in this movie. Summer School seems to suggest that being a status quo, model student isn't all it's cracked up to be... or at least that outcasts have more fun. These may be bland, unconvincing rebels, but they're idealized and that makes for a refreshing high school movie experience. Movie rating: 6/10.
SD: "Horror movie gore fiends" are vastly under-represented in most high school movies. So I was thrilled to see them play such a prominent role here. Surprisingly, Danny Elfman did the highly danceable score for this eighties classic. And Mark Harmon is way cool. Get me some of those red sunglasses, stat! Movie rating: 6.5.
JW: This movie doesn't have much of a screenplay, but Mark Harmon and friends provide laughs aplenty. Harmon's surfer wardrobe is extremely awesome, his nemesis reminds me of Steve Carrell, Kirstie Alley's mouth does something really weird the first time she says "Shoop" (Harmon's character's last name in the movie), and the line that makes me laugh the hardest is when the class is watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Harmon explains to his boss/nemesis that it's really a film the school district sent over on the safe use of power tools. Back to the wardrobe, I seriously need to get a pair of those floral shorts Harmon is wearing at the petting zoo, and that sun visor he wears with "Champion" logos all over it is sweeeet. It's also great how this movie's inspiring message is about learning not to fail as badly as you failed before, but still not passing. It actually makes sense in the movie, but this message seems from so long ago in our hyper-achieving twenty-first century. The photoshop on the new DVD cover is terrible: there is no "Bikini Xing" sign anywhere in this movie and, even if there was, I'm pretty sure three humans and a dog wouldn't fit behind it. Movie rating: 7.5/10.
NK: I don't know what movie you guys just watched, but after seeing this film I have to say that Carl Reiner is the true master of hardcore torture porn (and go-kart racing). Honestly, this movie makes Herschell Gordon Lewis look like Ron Howard. It makes Hostel 2 look like Baby Geniuses 2. This film is so shocking and twisted... it makes me sick to my stomach. Don't take my word for it. Here's the proof:
This is utterly depraved insanity. For reasons of general decency, some of the snuff gore simply cannot be shown... like the aftermath of a student being eaten by a demonic trash can (the attack itself is pictured above). Fortunately, the film has one saving grace: it contains one of the most epic go-kart racing sequences in the history of motion pictures. They really should've focused on the go-karting. Movie rating: 9/10.
Ils (They)(Warner Home Video, 5.8.2007)
SD: I really enjoyed this movie. Set in Bucharest, it opens with a mysterious attack on a mother and her daughter when their car breaks down on a deserted country road. The rest of the movie is an intense, real-time stalking sequence. A young French teacher and her boyfriend are mercilessly hunted and generally messed-with by a group of shadowy figures who go out of their way to scare the living hell out of their victims. The photography and lighting are impressive. My only complaint is the disappointing reveal at the end. Other than that, I like the way this movie cuts to the chase and doesn't let up. It's supposedly based on a true story of an Austrian couple who ran into trouble in the Czech Republic. The directors -- two guys from France -- are scheduled to remake The Eye. Movie rating: 8/10.
NK: This is a highly atmospheric, reasonably tense little horror film from France that definitely exceeded my expectations. Sure, the payoff wasn't exactly grandslammin, but thankfully it didn't have an arbitrary, cop-out, incoherent High Tension ending either. Also, the lack of graphic violence in this film was hugely gratifying after my traumatic Summer School experience. One major setback was the lack of subtitles (you can only watch it in original French or semi-crappy dubbed English). Oddly enough, the opening sequence has two characters having a conversation that's in neither language and there are no subtitles whatsoever. Is this a deliberate error or what? Movie rating: 7/10.
JD: I was also quite frustrated with this DVD. It doesn't appear to be widely available yet and with good reason. Not only are we stuck with mediocre dubbing, but the aspect ratio may be incorrect. The trailer (seen above) and the internet movie database suggest that it's 2.35:1, but the DVD is 1.78:1. Since this is an aggressively visual film, the aspect ratio problem is a serious setback. Still, it's an efficient and engaging -- if not terribly original or sophisticated -- horror film. Movie rating: 6.5/10.
JW: Me three on the poor production of this DVD. It's a compliment to the quality of this movie's content that an average dubbing job and an improper aspect ratio doesn't take away from the effectiveness of the visuals, the impressive moving camera work or the intensity of the cat and mouse game at the center of the story. When Ils is running on adrenaline alone it works very well as a suspense film. However, whenever the plot is explained -- as in the concluding ten minutes -- a great deal of the ambiguity, ingenuity, and energy of the narrative becomes bogged-down in cliche and simplicity. Overall, this is an impressively executed formal exercise from a talented pair of young filmmakers, but it falls a bit short in the original premise department. Movie rating: 7.5/10
The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai(Palm Pictures, 6.5.2007)
NK: This movie kinda pissed me off, but if you're into the whole pretentious, jumbled, rambling, offensively vulgar pink cinema that has next-to-no artistic or social value then hey, this will probably suffice. If you're into sequences with girls getting incessantly raped and exaggeratingly ejaculated on then this is the movie for you. Also, you gotta love the blissful aural experience. There's little dialogue, just the sounds of women getting beaten and quasi-raped with occasionally annoying atonal music playing between these petty, low-brow sequences of brutality. Seriously, it's pure torture. Calling this film the worst film Takashi Miike never made would be a massive compliment. Summer School's not looking so sadistic right now. Movie rating: 2/10.
JD: Invoking Stanley Kubrick's legendary trailer for A Clockwork Orange, the trailer for this film had me genuinely intrigued. I was expecting big ideas, audacious filmmaking, and a rare glimpse of American politics from a Japanese perspective. Well, it doesn't deliver on any of this. Roughly one third of the film consists of deeply unpleasant, poorly-directed sex scenes and all references to politics, philosophy, literature, etc. come across as simple name-dropping, more than any real, meaningful engagement with ideas. Overall, the film tries too hard to accomplish too little... and it's far too irritating to inspire any serious digging for further understanding. Movie rating: 3/10.
SD: This movie is really terrible. I hope I never have to sit through anything even remotely like this again. No likey. Movie rating: 0/10.
Roman(Echo Bridge Home Entertainment, 3.27.2007)
JD: Lucky McKee made a big splash with genre fans a few years ago with May and his Masters of Horror episode, Sick Girl, may be the best film to emerge from that series. But he's had difficulty following up on the acclaim he received for May. His theatrical followup, The Woods, went straight-to-video and this variation on May -- which McKee wrote and starred in and May star Angela Bettis directed -- is another significant step in the wrong direction. Some serious hubris was required for McKee and Bettis to think they could effortlessly trade roles and the truth is, both are quite awkward and uninspired in these alternate professions. The movie has some merit on a script level (it's an occasionally observant take on a loner who accidentally kills a woman he's obsessed with), but McKee lacks the confidence and craft necessary to bring such an internalized performance to life, while Bettis demonstrates little visual instinct behind the camera (the home video-level production values don't help). Movie rating: 4.5/10.
NK: Ditto for me. While a film like Bubble seemed to benefit from a similar minimalist approach, Roman really doesn't hold a candle in terms of style and substance. Most of the photography is uninspired and oftentimes downright ugly. Plus, for some odd reason, every second shot is out-of-focus. As a personal project for Bettis, this is a reasonably decent effort, but as a marketable film, it's pretty useless. Also, Lucky just doesn't cut it as an actor (fortunately, we do get to see Veronica Mars' awesome Kristin Bell bite the dust). When bad acting, writing, direction, and production values collide in one film, things get kinda painful. Movie rating: 4.5/10.
SD: I'm having a hard time putting my finger on exactly what it is that doesn't work in this movie. I guess it's a combination of really bad acting, three stooges-like broad comedy, and crummy indie music. Granted, there are a few interesting ideas here. I always enjoy a good psychopathic loner movie. But I dislike the fact that, in this movie, Roman has serial killer written all over him and yet, somehow, no one notices. Lesson learned: if you think the guy you're on a date with may be a psychopath, cut your losses and run. Movie rating: 5/10.