Saturday, February 27, 2016

Best movies of 2015

So here it is, from least to best, my favorite movies (that I saw) from 2015. Just in time for the bullshit Oscars. I still need to see a few movies like The Big Short and Bridge of Spies, so I will adjust this list over the next few weeks.

23. Creed I liked Creed, but didn't love it. I liked it a lot better than Rocky's last movie, though. I don't know. I guess I just want to see Stallone do something different before his star fades. I probably would have liked the movie more had he not been in it.

22. Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation This is the same movie as Ghost Protocol. If you're a fan of the franchise, that's not really a complaint. I liked this one better than the first two. I find it insane that Tom Cruise still hasn't run out of box office steam when even Willis and Schwarzenegger are going straight to VOD. Cruise is probably the last 80s megastar who's still a megastar. Enjoy it while it lasts.

21. Sisters I loved James Brolin and Dianne Wiest as the parents, but they were underused. There are a lot of good gags here, but the "heart" of the film is phony. These comedies work best when they use Animal House as their moral template as opposed to trying to make their characters grow up by the end.

20. The Visit M. Night Shyamalan made a decent little horror movie out of The Visit, which made me laugh here and there (though not strictly when it was trying to). Definitely includes one of the grossest things I've ever seen in a PG-13 movie, so it gets points for that.

19. San Andreas I'm surprised this made my list, but the tsunami sequence (it was like something out of Return of the Jedi with boats instead of spaceships) was exciting enough to forgive the generic first half of the movie. It also showcases top notch CGI destruction—some of the best special effects of the year. Still, I wish Dwayne Johnson would get offered better roles. He's much better than this.

18. The Revenant I expected The Revenant to make my top ten. As far as technical achievements and acting go, the film kicked all kinds of ass. Yet the more I think about it, the more I think that's all there is to it. It never hit me on a purely emotional level after that breathtaking opening. Nothing wrong with that, but some of the films on this list did hit me on that level and that's often the deciding factor behind their placement. Full Review.

17. Ant-Man I think Ant-Man is one of the best MCU films, almost as good as Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. The fight scene in the briefcase made the movie for me. I hope Michael Douglas returns in the inevitable sequel. Full Review.

16. Crimson Peak The "typical" Guillermo del Toro movie would fare a lot better on this list. While I don't think anything in this gothic horror film reaches the imaginative standards he set with Pan's Labyrinth or the Hellboy films, it's still one of the year's best genre movies.

15. Jurassic World I'm really surprised this one made my top twenty because I hated everything about the trailer. Jurassic World is easily the best of the sequels, but that's not really saying much. I never feared for the characters' lives at any point during the movie, but it's otherwise a solid adventure film. I do have to point out that the kind of kid who can get a twenty year old jeep running (with twenty year old batteries, no less) is not the kind of kid who fails his driving test.

14. It Follows The music, the tone, the set design, the believable teenagers—It Follows proves horror is a lot more effective when it takes every aspect of the production as seriously as the scares. This is one of the directors to keep an eye on. I can only hope he does more horror. Full Review.

13. We Are Still Here This one came out of nowhere for me. I had no idea it existed until my girlfriend rented it one night. It remains chilling from the beginning to end. It's yet another reason I think 2015 was the most exciting year for horror in over a decade.

12. Straight Outta Compton Most people who produce a film about themselves take pains to cast their fictional counterparts in a positive light. Thankfully, there's no self-adulation here. Asking whether or not the rest of the film is historically accurate is missing the point—Straight Outta Compton is one of the most authentic, honest films of the year.

11. Spectre I'm hardwired to like James Bond films, especially when they're as proper as this one, which really seemed to balance the old theatrics and the new seriousness well in my opinion. While audiences and critics didn't seem as thrilled about this outing as the last, the showrunners should be commended for sticking to basics after Pierce Brosnon's run smoothed out edges which were better left rough. Even the product placement isn't as annoying as it's been in past films.

The top ten is after the jump...

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Dude Bro Party Massacre III is the new standard for YouTube-to-feature success

Dude Bro Party Massacre 3 Review

Sorry for the lack of updates. I've been out of town for a week.

Following Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror there was a flood of horror films which had been digitally aged to look like overused film prints. Efforts like Hobo with a Shotgun and Father's Day succeeded—kind of—but the charm of those older movies was rarely present. Worse, the effort to disguise digital cameras in film grain and scratches was almost always more distracting than convincing.

Dude Bro Party Massacre 3, which sounds like it's going to patronize its target material more than it ultimately does, is cut from the same cloth. Yet instead of settling for the rarely passable "film-look," it washes its faux film artifacts out with a VHS "modified to fit your television set" visual style. The effect is often so convincing you'll wonder if they ran the final cut through a dual-VCR a dozen times.

The film opens with a note: this installment in the nonexistent series was banned in several countries including the United States. The filmmakers ask us to believe the copy we're watching was taped from its only broadcast on public access television. This deceit allows the filmmakers, members of the Five Second Films comedy troupe, to squeeze in five-second short films during the hastily edited commercial breaks under the guise of retro TV ads. Although the snippets are only five seconds a piece, they're some of the funniest things in the movie, provided you remember what commercials back then looked like (think: the advertisements which aired during USA's Up All Night).

Dude Bro Party Massacre 3 uses its opening sequence to establish the story so far. We learn that in the first film, a woman "who never learned how to open doors" was trapped in a sorority house which went ablaze during a college prank gone wrong. Horribly disfigured, she exacted revenge on her victims one by one, only to predictably meet her demise by the end of the picture. In the sequel, her daughter took up the mantle and continued the killing spree until she, too, was dispatched as these movies require. The third film, which genuinely feels like the third in a movie series, opens with the sole survivor from the last picture getting himself killed five minutes in. (Can you spot all the references to previous horror films, both specific and in general?) Now there's a new killer and she's going to pick off the latest group of expendable frat boys who decide to party at a cabin in the woods.

Having recently reviewed Space Cop, I was skeptical about 5 Second Films' ability to produce a feature-length title. Many of Red Letter Media's problems with the format seemed to be a matter of length, even though they're known for some of the longest popular videos on YouTube. So how could a comedy troupe known for their five-second films make the jump to a legitimate movie? Pretty well, as it turns out.

The gore gags, although transparently and purposely cheap, are every bit as creative and distasteful as the stuff in Lloyd Kaufman's Poultrygeist. The background music sounds as if it was lifted directly from Troma's submission queue (most of the songs used in Kaufman's films are fan-submitted, garage-quality tracks). The energy and the tone of it all are admirable and because it's only a little longer than ninety minutes, it doesn't overstay its welcome. Yes, Dude Bro Party Massacre III is a pretty good movie even though I'm still not entirely on board with young filmmakers making fun of slasher films as an excuse to make one themselves.

I've been disappointed that the only standard I really had to compare these fan-funded projects to was the Angry Video Game Nerd movie, not only because it wasn't a very good film. Well, here's the new standard as far as I'm concerned. These regular joes made a movie and so can you... provided you have a humongous subscriber base on YouTube to help fill out a $200,000 Kickstarter. Nonetheless, here's the type of irreverent movie Deadpool only pretended to be: a don't-give-a-fuck gross-out spectacle that doesn't need studio approval to get made.

(Cameos include Larry King, veteran pornstar Nina Hartley, Andrew W.K., Patton Oswalt and a few familiar faces from YouTube.)

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Deadpool is exactly what you expect it to be


I could tell you that when I was a kid in the 90s I had already developed a sophisticated taste in comic books. I could say I thought the unreasonably big boobs, the plethora of pouches, and the emergence of gratuitous violence were garbage. I could even tell you I spent more time with my nose buried in independent mags because "that's where the good storytelling was."

I would be lying. Anyone else who was my age at the time would probably be lying, too. I loved Spawn and wasn't entirely immune to the countless comics with "X" in the title. My tastes ran more toward Dark Horse, Scud: The Disposable Assassin, and any comic with a hideous monster on the cover (see: Law Dog), but those were a product of the times, too. I look back on the comics of the 90s fondly, but I wasn't collecting death issues and variants like lottery tickets.

I didn't know much about Deadpool until the last few years or so. I've liked some of his stuff and some of it I couldn't stand. What I've admired the most seemed tricky to pull off: making an insane character sympathetic, tragic, and immaturely funny at the same time. That's where most of the stories went wrong. The movie has many of the same troubles, but for the most part it does a surprisingly good job mixing it all together. I won't say I fell for the romantic subplot, but it didn't feel forced, either.

Deadpool is an origin story even though it scatters its intro throughout the rest of the movie in the form of flashbacks. The effort to make it feel different from other origin stories is appreciated, but it's not different enough. It also has the unfortunate side effect of screwing up the pace at times.

The movie begins on the short section of car-piled freeway you've seen so much of in the trailer. Yes, these are the best parts of the movie and yes, the trailers showed just a little too much. Right off the bat, Deadpool is after a guy named Francis who horribly disfigured the hero in an effort to discover his deeply buried mutant genes. (The opening credits, in true Deadpool fashion, bill this actor as "British Villain.") Francis isn't a great villain and I wish I could report otherwise, because movies like this need a really good villain. Frankly—and this is coming from someone who isn't necessarily a fan—Deadpool deserves better.

That's probably why I didn't enjoy the movie as much as I could have. The movie's funny (there's a howler of a scene that successfully homages the black knight scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail)  and the action is often impressive, but I just didn't give a shit about Deadpool's plight, partly because he didn't seem to care very much about it either. That's been my problem with the comics: once you give the character a hard-edged focus, he loses his comic sensibilities and ceases to be Deadpool. The movie doesn't bother going there, playing almost everything for laughs instead. Like I said, Deadpool's recipe is a tricky thing to pull off, but the movie is good enough you'll be glad they tried.

So, does Deadpool have an end credits sequence? Yeah, but I don't think you're missing much if you want to beat the crowd into the parking lot.

Friday, February 5, 2016

DOOM campaign trailer is out and it looks awesome

The list of things which had a big impact on me is too long to mention, but DOOM is right up there with Mad Magazine and monster movies. While I didn't hate DOOM 3, I love that the new colors and some of the art design reflect the 90s graphics that helped make the original games a mind-melting addiction. DOOM works better as a nonstop action game with horror (and SF) elements rather than going full-blown horror. It looks like they're hitting that mark.

For those of you who missed out on the craze, RetroAhoy has a comprehensive retrospective on why id Software's masterpiece was so damn significant to video games and pop culture in general:

I know most of the original developers have moved on, but if it's anything like Wolfenstein: The New Order, I probably won't be terribly disappointed.

read the hyper-90s comic at Doomworld... it's radical, dude

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Space Cop is a terrible movie so... success?


Do you know how family videos are only funny to people in the family? That's what Red Letter Media's Space Cop is like. If you're a fan of these guys you'll probably enjoy their movie. Probably. When the promotional material suggests it would someday be a contender for RLM's own Best of the Worst series, they weren't kidding. It's a bad movie, but that's kind of their expertise, isn't it? Expecting them to make anything other than a bad movie is like asking Mike Tyson to figure skate.

Whether or not the Blu-Ray is worth the twenty-five bucks is another story, but there's a digital download which also provides the same special features (behind-the-scenes footage, commentary, and more than twenty minutes of outtakes) for $17. There's also a movie-only download for $14. Although I'm hesitant to recommend the movie itself for $14, you might as well buy the special features if you're paying for the movie anyway. The outtakes are often funny, but it feels like they included every single take in which the actors flubbed a line or broke character. Although I haven't had the time to check out the commentary track yet, I'm eager to do so.

I'm no stranger to crowdfunded films so I knew what I was getting into... in other words, I wasn't expecting much. Space Cop is A) better than I thought it would be and B) a lot more entertaining than the Angry Video Game Nerd movie, even if that one had a lot more production value. Space Cop starts off promising enough and feels like an authentic movie for the first few minutes despite the Spanish soap opera lighting. Then it quickly descends into the non sequitur jokes and politically incorrect humor which work roughly half the time.

As for the plot, a gung-ho policeman from the future is accidentally transported to 2007 after he chases aliens into some kind of time-space vortex thing. During a modern day shootout in a cryogenics lab, the future cop accidentally thaws a cop from the past. They'll have to team up to save the world from a devious plot involving aliens and a brain in a jar.

The two main characters are only about as good as a memorable Saturday Night Live sketch, but they're stretched to feature length. The actors' decision to speak in "funny" voices from beginning to end is, at best, easy to look past, while at worst it's frankly annoying. When Patton Oswalt makes a cameo early on, it's pretty clear they were reluctant to trim their only star's footage because it goes on and on. The length then becomes part of the joke, but not a very funny one. Also, I don't get why the guys think the slow-running gag, as seen in the trailer, is funny. I don't get it. I don't think it's a reference to anything, either.

Perhaps an inside joke?

My biggest issue with the movie is a complaint RLM have voiced themselves: the best bad movies are the ones that weren't intentionally bad. Movies that set out to be bad just can't capture the charm of good bad movies. Space Cop isn't a good bad movie, but it's a decent one, at least when the jokes hit their target.

If you're on the fence about purchasing the film, don't bother. But if you're a veteran of bad movies, and you like RLM—like, really like them—then you probably want to support them anyway. Might as well get something to show for it while you're at it.