Friday, May 26, 2017

Murder Party (2007) [Midnight Movie]

So it's Halloween and the main character, Christopher, is a lonely dork who accidentally intercepts an invitation to a murder party. Yes, that's exactly how the party's billed and—surprise!—it's literally a party in which the guest of honor is going to be murdered. (One of the party organizers: "The invitation says murder party. If some asshole is dumb enough to come here, then he deserves to die.")

Christopher does what anyone would do upon receiving such an invitation: he crafts a knight costume out of cardboard and duct tape, bakes a loaf of pumpkin bread, and heads out to a scary part of town to find the address. Maybe someone smarter than Christopher would have at least mentioned to someone where he was going for the night, but that's the thing: Christopher doesn't have anybody to tell. His only friend is a cat who likes to hog the only chair in his apartment.

Christopher's captors, as it turns out, are a collective of insufferable artist types who are vying to wow a twisted benefactor with their execution plans. Christopher himself spends most of the movie tied to an office chair. When he finally breaks free, his escape attempt is so pathetic, the others simply shrug and put him right back into his bindings.

No, this is not a scary horror film, but it's a pretty funny one.

It's unusual for me to work my through a director's filmography backwards, but I'm glad I found my way to this one, which is Jeremy Saulnier's first feature length film. Although I didn't like it nearly as much as the director's next two films, it's an admirable first movie. (To be fair, I don't like 90% of movies in general as much as I like Blue Ruin and Green Room, the latter of which is probably my favorite movie of the last five years or so.) You can tell Saulnier and friends adopted a "No money? No problem" attitude to make it, somehow without skimping on the impressive camera work. 

I feel like I need to stress the following point: Murder Party is cheap... really cheap. If you're the kind of person who's turned off by cheap movies, give it a pass. If, on the other hand, you tend to enjoy the charm of ultra-low budget affairs like Video Violence and Blood Cult... well, you should probably know it's not that cheap. Fortunately, the acting is a whole lot better, though a little uneven at times. Other than a couple of slow sections, which could stand some tighter editing, it's a fun movie with some great energy.

* * *

Friday the 13th: The Game came out today. If you didn't catch it the first time around, here's my write-up of every Jason movie ever made.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Ghost in the Machine (1993) [Trailer]

Despite the generic trailer with Aliens music, Ghost in the Machine is an entertaining ride. See a dog hump a table. See a kid elbow-drop a digital ghost. See director Rachel Talalay put together a sequence in a crash-test facility that's wild and unpredictably hilarious.

Here are my full thoughts on the movie. The trailer above doesn't do it justice.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) [Midnight Movie]

The best part of an alien movie tends to be that build-up at the beginning, in which the terrestrial characters have no idea what's going on. Independence Day more or less stumbled through it while Battle: Los Angeles completely eschewed it. What's great about Close Encounters is Spielberg sustains the build-up for the entire movie—we have no idea what's going on until the very end. Even then, the mystery isn't completely explained, which is perhaps my only complaint.

I'm not saying I wanted every little question answered, but as-is the aliens seem like complete assholes. Kidnapping people from their own time and returning them to the planet several decades later is probably a fate worse than death; all your friends and family are dead or dying and the culture shock would drive you insane. Now, had there been an unintentional reason why the aliens committed these kidnappings, I would have been properly distracted.

On second thought, they're fuckin' aliens. Why the hell should we understand what they're up to?

There are two plots running in tandem until they inevitably cross paths near the end: in one, Francois Truffaut and Bob Balaban play a couple of G-men globetrotting from one mystery to the next. In the other, middle class electrician Richard Dreyfuss is driven mad following a late night UFO sighting. Teri Garr is alienated by her husband's newfound eccentricities, which leads to him losing his job and a mental breakdown for her. Dreyfuss only finds an ally in the form of Melinda Dillon, a single mother whose three year old seems to have a unique connection with the visitors.

So you have two duos racing to reveal the truth from completely different angles. Most movies don't have one interesting duo (Exhibit A: any action-comedy film coming out this season), much less two, and the fact Truffaut and Balaban aren't the emotionless agents seen in almost every other alien movie makes this one all the more special. It's curious the two men have to overcome their language barrier, which they'll do again with the aliens themselves.

My favorite thing about this movie is Truffaut, who feels like an accidental brushstroke in just the right place. How did Spielberg know the guy could act? What made him think Truffaut would work out at all, much less so brilliantly? Why the hell didn't Truffaut act in more movies?

If it isn't clear at this point, Close Encounters is one of my favorite Spielberg movies. I think it's the crowning achievement of his earlier career and the phrase "movie magic" was invented for stuff like this one (I would kill to see it at my local drive-in). It contains absolutely everything summer blockbusters forgot how to do in the twenty-first century.

There are three versions of Close Encounters: the theatrical version, the editing of which Spielberg felt was rushed; the Special Edition, in which the studio pressured Spielberg to add interior shots of the mother ship (bleh); and the Collector's Edition (a.k.a. the Director's Cut), in which Spielberg removes the Special Edition junk and really nails the ending. (Spielberg maintains the end of the film was the most difficult sequence he and Michael Kahn ever edited.)

If you've already seen the theatrical version, I think the Collector's Edition is where it's at. Sometimes it's hard to tell which version you're getting, but if the run-time is listed at 2 hours and 17 minutes, it's most likely the Collector's Edition. And even if you've never seen the movie, I still think the Collector's Edition is a good place to start.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Friday, May 12, 2017

Get Out (2017) [Midnight Movie]

I had a feeling the trailer for Get Out showed too much, which is part of the reason why I put off seeing it in theaters. I was right. Three months wasn't enough time to entirely forget the trailer, but it helped. I watched the trailer again after finishing the movie and I was shocked by how much it gave away. (This trailer is like the entire movie, minus the unpredictable goodness at the end.)

For those of you who abstain from trailers, I'll describe the setup without any significant spoilers: Get Out is kind of like Meet the Parents, only it's actually funny, and instead of Ben Stiller it's a twenty-something black man named Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya). Instead of a father who automatically distrusts him, it's a father (Bradley Whitford) who's so eager to prove he's not a racist he goes well past the point of self-awareness and wraps right back around to being unintentionally racist.

Then there's Chris's girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams), who stands up for Chris when a cop asks to see his ID for no good reason. She would have you believe she gets it, and she honestly thinks she does, but she doesn't really get it, which becomes apparent when she witnesses how the wealthy white citizens of her hometown fawn creepily over Chris. It's shocking for her to see how her liberal friends and family treat a black man in person, but Chris repeatedly shrugs it off because he's used to it. What he can't shrug off is the increasingly sinister vibes he's picking up from Rose's mother (Catherine Keener) and the family's hired help.

And that's about all I can tell you without ruining some of the best bits. No, the best bits themselves weren't spoiled by the trailer, but all the bits surrounding the best ones were.

Director Jordan Peele, who demonstrated his film literacy in various Key & Peele skits and Keanu, understands that indescribable connection between horror and comedy. Shortly after Chris has his first (truly terrifying) horror moment, Peele provides a laugh. It's such a simple laugh, involving an unexpected text message, but it's so much more rewarding than the stuff in most full fledged comedies. Peele knows just how to wind us up before springing the trap.

He also knows how to cast a movie. You know who sucks in this movie? No one. When's the last time you could say that about a cheap little horror movie? (My only complaint is Keener's character could have used a little more backstory.)

I can't remember the last time a movie made me this giddy. This is an incredibly unpredictable plot, undermined by its bullshit trailer. (I have a feeling Peele enjoyed a great deal of creative control over the movie itself, but not the marketing.) And when the movie's over you begin to realize nothing was a throwaway detail—each and every aspect serves a greater purpose. It's the kind of movie I'll have a lot more to say about after I see it again, which I imagine will be sooner than later (I'm glad I bought this one instead of renting).

This is what genre fiction does best. This is the kind of shit I live for. This movie's a downright classic.