Posts Tagged ‘what the fuck did I just watch’

Twixt (2011)

Posted: December 30, 2013 in 1 star, Twixt
Tags: , ,

I’m just going to admit this up front: I love Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula.  I love it deeply, abidingly, and unironically.  I love the cinematography, I love the costumes, I love the sets, and not even the occasional dubious casting decision can shake my devotion.  So when I saw that Coppola had written and directed a film billed as gothic horror, I was pretty pleased.

Then I saw that Val Kilmer stars in it, and I made a sort of “Eeeeennnnngh” sound. 

Let’s face it: Val Kilmer was never that amazing an actor to begin with, and now he makes his money as a sort of paid mourner at the mausoleum of his own career – his job is to show up every so often, remind us that he was in some pretty good movies back in the ’80s, collect his paycheck, and go home.  Nonetheless, I queued up the film in Netflix anyway, hoping for a movie that, if it couldn’t wrest the thick red blood of a good performance out of the turnip that is Kilmer’s acting skills, was at least good enough to carry him instead of the other way around.

Looking at IMDB, I do not see that this movie had any US release outside of the San Francisco International Film Festival.  I am sorry, Coppola, but that is because it sucks out loud.

There isn’t much of a plot.  Kilmer plays a washed-up writer named Hall Baltimore, a name that miraculously will become even stupider as the movie wears on.  He’s at a book signing in Rural Bumfuckistan, where nobody buys any books; his agent is mad at him, and his wife is threatening to sell his first edition of Leaves of Grass if he doesn’t man up and get an advance on a book.  So he’s under the gun and needs to come up with a story fast.

So the faintly creepy sheriff takes him to the morgue, where there’s a body with a stake through its heart.  He says it’s the work of a serial killer.  Kilmer is weirdly uninterested, until he goes back to his motel, falls asleep, and starts dreaming about a strange little girl (Elle Fanning).

And Edgar Allan Poe (Ben Chaplin).  No, I’m not joking.  Poe is the ostentatiously pallid Virgil to Kilmer’s Dante, serving as the font of all exposition for what frankly silly plot there is.

See, there’s a group of Goth Caricatures living across the lake.  They’re vampires.  There’s also a creepy priest who for some reason ran some sort of orphanage or something, and killed all the kids because he didn’t want them to become vampires.  He almost killed Elle Fanning too, but she ran off and became a vampire.  And… well, that’s pretty much it.  Nothing gets resolved.  The ghost kids are, I assume, still ghost kids.  Elle Fanning is still a vampire.  Kilmer gets his book advance.  I can’t figure out if he’s supposed to be a vampire or not, since in the scene before Elle Fanning was gnawing on his carotid artery.   Seriously, the movie ends like somebody realized at the eleventh hour that you can’t tie up plot threads when there’s pretty much no plot except “Val Kilmer keeps falling asleep.”

So what’s the verdict?  It hurts me, but one star.  There is no plot.  There is no acting.  The special effects look like somebody did them in Microsoft Paint at three in the morning.  This movie avoided the coveted zero-star rating only because Coppola has earned the right to produce the occasional stinker, but I don’t recommend watching it anyway.  It’s so bad that its badness is actually confusing, like it’s secretly a brilliant parody and I’m just not getting the joke.

Dear Francis Ford Coppola: if this is really supposed to be funny then I take it all back.  Except that it wasn’t actually funny either.  So until someone explains to me where the brilliance is hiding, this is a one-star movie.

 

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In a way, I don’t like reviewing Japanese movies I didn’t love.  I just feel like they’re too high-context and I don’t have the cultural understanding to judge their merits accurately.  Like, I don’t understand what’s scary about hair, in the first place, and now I have to try to figure out what’s scary about basketballs.  (Spoiler: I did not figure out what was scary about basketballs.)

White Ghost/Black Ghost is actually two short films, both of which are supposed to fit into the whole Ju-On mythos.  White Ghost involves a family moving into the Grudge house and coming to a nasty end at the hands of the oldest son.  The story’s told in a flash-forward/flashback framework that bounces back and forth between a number of characters, all of whom have had a glancing encounter with someone or something involved in the murder, and all of whom come to a bad end.  There are some good bits and some effective scares, but the movie as a whole balances precariously on the boundary between effective and ineffective.

It’s still sort of balancing there, unresolved.  It probably would have been a grim, unsettling little movie if the ghost hadn’t, bewilderingly, been a tiny little old lady carrying around a basketball like she was going to beat someone to death with it.  Every time she came on the screen I just sat there, staring at her, going “What?  No, seriously, what?

I mean, the rest of the movie I liked.  I didn’t love it, but I thought it was good at conveying the sheer random nastiness of how the curse can just screw up your life if you so much as walk past it on the street.  (The poor cake delivery guy, holy crap.)  If it hadn’t had a ghost who made me stop dead in my tracks and go “What? What in the hell can possibly be scary about a little old lady with delusions of being a Harlem Globetrotter?” then I’d probably have been a lot more impressed.

Black Ghost, about a girl with an ingested twin who’s thoroughly pissed off about not being born, is widely considered to be inferior to the first movie.  I can’t decide if I agree with that or not, but I’m leaning toward no.  Certainly it’s less clever and stylish, but a couple of the scares were far creepier, and the only thing that made me go “Okay, no, seriously now” was the throat-creaky thing the ghosts will insist on doing even though I did that all the time as a child and it wasn’t scary then either.  It also gets bonus points for containing an exorcist, thus instantly transforming it into a sort of live-action crossover between The Grudge and Tactics.

Black Ghost is a lot more straightforward a horror movie than White Ghost, which is both a strength and a weakness – there are no distractions from the story, but the story itself is a little banal, and it could be that some distraction wouldn’t have done it harm.  On the other hand, White Ghost is a prime example of how even a clever movie can be derailed by by that one thing that’s just a little too distracting.

So what’s the verdict?  I went back and forth between a low three-star rating and a high two-star rating.  In the end, though, it only gets two, both because of Grandma With a Basketball (seriously, what?) and because of the over-reliance on creaky throat noises.

Last night, a film society in Philadelphia held an outdoor double feature amongst the graves of Laurel Hill Cemetery, one of the most hands-down impressive historic cemeteries outside of Père Lachaise.  First up was a home movie from the 1930s that randomly had footage of an exhumation at the cemetery.  (Sadly, this sounds more exciting than it was.  Maybe you had to watch it where you could really see what was going on, and without annoying color commentary from random people.)  The second movie?  Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Oh, Plan 9.  Is it even possible to rate?  On what basis is it even reviewable?  Zero stars for the epic failure in all elements belonging to a movie; five stars for the cult classic status and sheer whack-ass charm.  This is not merely a bad movie.  This is a movie that is so bad that it’s engaging in a way that escapes every schlock filmmaker currently in Hollywood.  Uwe Boll would slit his wrists over a cheap Pier One chalice and offer up six pints of blood to the devil if his movies could keep a mob of people uncomfortably seated on tombstones enthralled right up until the fade to black like this.

For those of you who know the movie exists but don’t actually know what it’s about, the plot (so to speak) is this.  An alien race decides that Earth has gotten too technologically advanced in their weaponry and is now at grave risk of destroying The! Entire! Universe!.  The Tallest of this alien race sends Alien Dude and Alien Chick, resplendent in their silver lamé pajamas, to… well, do something.  I can’t decide whether they want to destroy the Earth or convince every government official to be Facebook friends with them.  I think they tried peaceful contact first but the governments annoyed them so now they’re buzzing Los Angeles with UFOs.

They also have Plan 9.  No, we are not told what happened to plans 1 through 8.  Plan 9, as far as I can tell, consists of raising the dead and eventually having them march on the White House in a sort of Million Zombie March For Peace.  Fortunately, some woman has just died (Vampira, whose unfortunate turn here mostly makes you wonder who decided to bury her in that dress).  Her husband (Bela Lugosi) is grief-stricken for about thirty seconds until he walks in front of a car.

His funeral, by the way, is a comic tour de force rendered all the more sublime by its clear influence on such later film moments as the clown car full of atheists in Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter and, I don’t know, probably something in The Godfather.  I would tell you about it but I don’t want to spoil it.  Ordinarily I don’t care much about spoilers, but Plan 9 is so full of awesome little gems like this that you really have to come to unawares for their full effect.

Anyway.  The aliens try to control Vampira, Bela Lugosi, and some huge pro-wrestler dude.  They are, um, not good at it.  Eventually they are tracked back to their lair by a posse consisting of Police Lieutenant, Pilot Dude, Idiot Cop, Random Army Guy, and Pilot Dude’s Wife, who is constantly referred to as “the girl” despite the fact that she’s got to be in her 30s.  In the expository scene to end all expository scenes, Alien Dude reveals that humanity is on the verge of building a super weapon that will somehow blow up the sun.  Because of particles.  Then that will destroy everything the sun’s light reaches, which is The! Entire! Universe!.  There was a metaphor about a tennis ball.  I don’t know, Alien Dude’s physics were kind of suspect.  Then he has sort of a nervous breakdown and the UFO randomly catches on fire.

There is not a single moment of this movie that is not staggeringly incompetent, and you will be entranced anyway.  I was genuinely invested in whether or not Idiot Cop was going to manage to get himself killed.  And what was going to befall the adorable tinfoil UFOs.  And whether Vampira would at any point have anything more to do than wandering around with her arms stuck out in front of her and “Do I need to pick up milk at the store?” written all over her face.  And how many times the footage of Bela Lugosi walking through a graveyard would be reused.

This movie is something everyone should experience at least once.  In a graveyard, if you can swing it, with gorgeous monuments towering against the sky all around and the threat of a storm overhead.  That just adds to the ambience.

So what’s the verdict?  Fuck it, I’m giving Plan 9 five stars.  Yes, you heard me.  It’s a jaw-droppingly atrocious movie but a rollicking good time, and I like to reserve the 0-star rating for movies that make me hate humanity.  See it; you won’t be sorry.

I feel like there’s some really deep hook to YellowBrickRoad such that if you get it, the movie is amazing and brilliant.  On the other hand, it could be an awful lot like the annoying pompous drunk at the bar who goes on and on about some really esoteric topic like, I don’t know, the influence of Kierkegaard’s philosophy on the shaping of the modern Federal Reserve, where you can’t help suspecting that if you knew anything at all about Kierkegaard or the Federal Reserve yourself it would be clear to you that the guy has no idea what he’s talking about.

As I say, there may be some hook in the movie that you really have to get.  I did not get that hook.

YellowBrickRoad is, to be quite honest, a movie about a bunch of pointless people dying pointlessly in the service of what might have been a really interesting plot if it hadn’t been largely abandoned halfway through in favor of pointless  deaths. Pointless and badly filmed; at one point there’s a very graphic dismemberment scene that looks for all the world like the guy’s dismembering a muppet.

The basic story is this: in 1940, the entire population of a small New Hampshire town got up from the metaphorical dinner table and walked down a path in the woods known as the Yellow Brick Road.  Most of them were never seen again, except for the couple hundred who were left to litter the path with their mutilated cadavers.  A team of academics in some field or other, intending to write a book on the subject, walk up the path themselves.  Soon big band music is blaring at them non-stop out of nowhere, which would be enough to send anyone into a homicidal frenzy, and the team starts randomly offing each other and themselves.

There’s not even any joy to be found in watching their sanity degenerate, because there’s really nothing more to the characterizations than “Random people sent into the woods to die.”  Right to the end I had no idea who half the people on the team even were.  I have heard that the ending made sense in the filmmakers’ heads, but hell if it seems to have made sense in anyone else’s; it’s more like a non-ending that fits with the rest of the non-film but certainly isn’t any more satisfying for all that.

So what’s the verdict?  One star.  I will say this for it: the opening sequence is amazing.  If the whole movie had been like that, instead of descending into nonsensical indie pretentiousness, it would have gotten a lot more stars.  In that sense it’s a lot like Ghost Ship, and no movie should ever put itself in the position of being compared to Ghost Ship in any way.  You can get to the end of YellowBrickRoad, but there’s pretty much nothing there when you do and no good scenery along the way.

I spent a lot of time looking at this movie in genuine bewilderment and saying, out loud, “Are you serious right now?”  I never got an answer.  I suspect the answer was no.  That suspicion is in fact the only thing saving this movie from the coveted zero-star rating; that and the conviction that everyone involved in the movie had a lot more fun making it than I had watching it. In fact, I was left with many more questions than answers.  Deep, philosophical questions such as:

  • Why does Ghostbuster Dude recite all his lines as if he were being badly dubbed over a kung fu movie from 1978?
  • Wait.  Why does that ghost know what they’re looking for?
  • Is that supposed to be a puppet?  An alien puppet?
  • Does Tuberculosis Guy think that boxes become different boxes if you turn them sideways?
  • What does any of this have to do with people who were killed by Winchester rifles?
  • Why are there teenagers in roles that appear to be written for six-year-olds?
  • Does that woman seriously think a cop with a knife through her throat is going to answer questions about where her kid is?
  • This looks like someone thinks it’s going to be a twist.  Is it supposed to be a twist?
  • Okay, I got the “twist.”  Can you stop explaining it to me now, please?
  • How is that greenscreen so bad?  This movie has the worst effects I have seen in I don’t know how long.
  • What is that woman even doing right now?  What are they supposed to do, wander around there forever?
  • And finally but most pertinently: what in blue hell were the filmmakers trying to do with this?

I fear none of these questions will ever be answered.  That’s okay.  I’m not all that interested in the answers, to tell the truth.

So what’s the verdict?  One star, but I honestly feel a little bad about it.  The goofiness level in this movie is so high that I can’t imagine anyone involved with it took it seriously.  It didn’t even insult my intelligence; it just sort of… refused to engage with my intelligence. It’s like this movie exists in a happy little world where intelligence does not exist, nor things like coherent plots and well-done CGI, and the worst thing ghosts ever do is wander around in bad rubber masks going “RARR!” half-heartedly at you from across the room.  I feel sort of bad for introducing criticism into that good-natured, inoffensive place.

On the other hand, this is a really damn terrible movie.  If you’re in the mood for something like this, dig up that old Disney movie, Child of Glass.  I loved that shit when I was a kid.