Review: Delivery: The Beast Within

I have no interest in babies. I absolutely respect people who decide to take on responsibility of raising and teaching and caring for another human being, but that’s just not where I am in my own life. It’s as simple as that. Unfortunately, society seems to be certain that I’m wrong. Apparently, once women reach a certain point in adulthood, they have nothing left to contribute to the world other than being an incubator. Friends, family, and worst of all, marketing campaigns and the baby industry as a whole have decided that this needs to be my next step, and are hell-bent on shoving it down my throat.

So I really excited when I first saw the trailer for DELIVERY: THE BEAST WITHIN (no sarcasm – I was). The film is a faux documentary meant to be footage for a TLC/Lifetime-style reality show (which I consider to be pretty much the bottom of the barrel in terms of TV content) based around expecting couple Rachel (Laurel Vail) and Kyle (Danny Barclay).

Naturally, in the middle of the pregnancy, things take a turn for the sinister. After a near-miscarriage, Rachel becomes convinced that a demonic entity wants the baby. If you missed the trailer the first time around, check it out here:

Seriously – I couldn’t WAIT to see this devil baby claw its way out of this woman’s uterus.

And while the actual film isn’t nearly as graphic or over-the-top as any images conjured up by that statement, it is still a hell of a good watch. It’s a subtle film, and an elegant take on the found footage genre.

Much like the 2011 Australian film THE TUNNEL, DELIVERY: THE BEAST WITHIN combines documentary footage with interviews with the characters involved – film crew, doctors, friends are all able to interject and give thoughts and opinions on the proceedings without shoving them unnecessarily into a scene where they just don’t belong.

The faux-documentary structure is part of what allows this film to work so well. It is able to incorporate the personal nature of found footage, while side-stepping many of the problems inherent to this type of film. It’s tight, it’s well-paced and it’s well-developed. It’s really creepy and you’re on edge as a viewer, but writers Adam Schindler and Brian Netto (who also directed) wisely never ask too much of their audience. This film is great because it is so believable. The events, the characters’ reactions to those events, which characters witness what, etc. lend a great deal of authenticity and credibility to the story.

One of the things I found most enjoyable was, ironically, the reality show set-up. The first twenty minutes or consist of footage that was actually edited into a complete pilot episode, and Netto really nailed the look and feel of it. Interview footage with the happy couple, set against some romantic mood lighting? Check. Goofy soundtrack? Check. Bouncy graphics? Check. Semi-awkward, stilted voice-over narration provided by the subjects? Check check. It’s all there, and had you walked into my living room after the film started, you would have thought that I had lost my mind and was watching TLC.

What really sells the film are the performances put in by stars Laurel Vail and Danny Barclay. As the pregnancy progresses, tension mounts. Rachel is convinced that something is wrong, and Kyle, while concerned, thinks she is overreacting. As she drifts further and further from reality, leaving Kyle more isolated, the entire situation becomes increasingly stressful for both of them. You absolutely come to like and care about these characters and are worried for them as Rachel gets closer and closer to her due date. And for me, going from wanting to see the fetus Alien its way out of her to really caring about her was quite a feat.

You absolutely have to check this one out. It’s a breath of fresh air for found footage, delivers some genuinely creepy and horrific moments and does an incredible job of using the documentary set-up to its advantage. It’s not a throw-away found footage film that relies heavily on tired tropes as a means to getting a movie made quickly and cheaply. This film really works with its premise to create something that is believable, easy to connect with and something that is legitimately scary.

DELIVERY: THE BEAST WITHIN is on VOD now, and hits select theaters this weekend.

Review: All Cheerleaders Die

Over the years, I have really come to love Lucky McKee’s work. He infuses the horror genre with a much-appreciated offering of something that is uniquely his own. His films are always smart, strangely funny, interesting and unexpected. And his latest effort with writing/director partner Chris Sivertson (I Know Who Killed Me) doesn’t disappoint. The two teamed up to remake a film that they made together early on in their careers. I can’t speak to the original, but the new All Cheerleaders Die is a fun experience that doesn’t play by any rules except its down, and a film that you should definitely be seeking out.

Without giving away too many details (because half of the fun of this movie is watching which turns the story takes, and which ones it avoids), after surviving an accident in the woods one night, a group of cheerleaders find themselves the carriers of supernatural powers.

McKee has always been skilled at creating strange, somewhat unlikable characters that you can’t help but fall in love with anyway. May followed the weirdest of weird girls. Strange, awkward and many of her behaviors were by and large off-putting. And yet you can’t help but be drawn into her world and sympathize with her loneliness. It’s a feat that he has once again achieved, but this time, instead of focusing on the disliked outcast, McKee and Sivertson turn their attention toward a different group. All Cheerleaders Die is populated by inherently unlikable assholes, and yet somehow, you don’t loath spending the runtime with them – quite the opposite, actually.

From the outset, the cheerleaders are painted as being nothing more than what they are – stereotypical high school princesses. Conceited, snobby overlords who rule the school with an iron fist. Members of the squad are collectively referred to as “bitches”, while the football team falls under the heading “dawgs.” Appropriate titles on both ends – these people are pretty much worthless.

But they are all surprisingly watchable, and almost (dare I say it) likeable. Cheerleader captain, Tracy is an angry, snotty bitch, but carries such an exciting energy with her that actress Brooke Butler easily owns just about every scene she appears in. The dynamic between ice-queen Christian Martha (Reanin Johannink) and her younger sister Hannah (Amanda Grace Cooper) is a fun one to watch, as they are both chasing the same guy (which leads interesting places, as the story unfolds). And even our sympathetic heroine Maddy (Caitlin Stasey), isn’t all that she appears to be.  The standard movie stereotypes are played with and subverted here, giving characters that you can’t help but like, even though they are assholes, and others that you feel a little guilty for siding with, even though you started out completely supporting their decisions. The result is a group of pretty well-rounded characters breathing within the framework of a high school centered horror tale.

All Cheerleaders Die works because it is a playful voice within a horrific story. It’s certainly not an outright comedy. Scarier elements are played completely straight, and there are some dark dark aspects at work here that won’t go unnoticed. But it is a film that has a lightness to it, never allowing itself to be too grim, balancing a fun premise with giving the more serious moments the gravity that they rightly deserve.

This is a refreshing entry into the genre for a variety of reasons. It doesn’t tread the familiar and expected ground, and instead keeps you on your toes and delivers turn after turn that you never see coming. It manages to embrace the stereotypes that so often populate these films without really ever falling victim to them. It delivers a very entertaining, sharp story that revels equally in its comedic moments as well as its darker ones. If you’re in the market for something a little different, All Cheerleaders Die is definitely worth checking out. It’s on VOD now.

SIFF Review: We Are the Best!

We Are the Best! is a coming-of-age film that sets itself apart from the crowd in much the same way as its fascinating characters. More traditional narratives will see their characters climb some sort of metaphorical mountain, to emerge older and wiser on the other side. It’s a celebrated and often-used format, and while I love it, this film offered a refreshing take on the standard trope. We Are the Best! plays it a bit more casual and realistic. As hateful as it is, adolescence drags on for a good long while, and many of the challenges we overcome are more of a series of rocky hills, rather than one giant Everest.

Set in Stockholm in the early 1980s, the story focuses on a group of thirteen-year-old misfit girls – Bobo (Mira Barkhammar), Klara (Mira Grosin) and Hedgiv (Liv LeMoyne). Set apart from the world around them by alternative styles, an interest in punk music and a burning desire to separate themselves from their peers, they group is at once above their surroundings and at odds with them. One day, through a mix of boredom and rebellion, they decide to start a band. Undeterred by the many challenges facing them, including the fact that only one of them can play an instrument or read music, and the fact that everyone around them has informed them that “punk is dead,” the group presses on, using the band as a means of traversing all of the frustrations and bullshit that come with adolescence.

The story really resonates because through their rebellion and their dedication to flying in the face of conformity, the girls find a strength – a strength that they themselves probably don’t even realize. It’s something that will resonate with the audience as an understanding that clicks when you are able to look back at that time and fully comprehend what is going on, from a broader perspective. Had I had that freedom, that support and that fuck-all attitude, I would have sailed through those bullshit middle school years. Instead, I (like most people) was frustrated, confused and lonely. And while we see these girls deal with many of the same situations that we had to put up with, they are aided by their collective decision to not give a shit, if they can possibly help it, which is a freeing attitude that most people don’t pick up until much later, if at all.

Director Lukas Moodysson employs verite style of filmmaking really lends an authenticity to the story. You really do feel like a fly on the wall, observing these girls’ lives. Seeing everything, remembering that time you faced a similar situation. It’s a film connects because no matter the location or time period, adolescence is the same bag of shit for everyone. And we all remember being there.

These characters are really awesome, and so easy to connect with. For every instance where you know exactly how they feel, because you remember that time you felt it too, you feel bonded to them. And for every instance where they said “fuck it” and refused to play by society’s rules, you cheer them on, wishing that you had made that choice when it was your turn. Because even though their decisions and attitudes don’t wash away the grime that comes with being thirteen, they absolutely make it easier to manage.

You want to hug these girls and congratulate them for being unique and for refusing to get mired down in the same bullshit that plagued you at their age. You want to applaud them and let them know that yes, it might be a slog now. Nobody understands you and they all make fun of you and you feel like you’re ugly and stupid and you’ll never fit in or belong anywhere. But that will all pass, and through their attitudes and friendships, they are poised to weather it better than the rest of us did, and will come out stronger on the other end.

We Are the Best! is a film that transcends boundaries and takes you right back to the place in your life where these three girls are now. And while that sounds terrifying, it’s actually quite uplifting, as you see how they are bonded and how they are traversing the landscape that we, too, stumbled through. What, by all rights, should be a depressing story is fantastically feel-good and exciting, due, in large part, to these characters and their refusal to play by the standard rules.

SIFF Review: Witching & Bitching

Last night heralded the beginning of the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival (for me, anyway). I had my first screening at the Egyptian Theater with Alex de la Iglesia’s WITCHING & BITCHING.

The film opens with one of the craziest robbery sequences to date. A group of thieves decide to take out a cash-for-gold shop. The set-up is something of a nod to RESERVOIR DOGS, in that the thieves don’t know each other, and instead of identifying themselves by nicknames, they know each other by costume. That’s right – this robbery is pulled off with all participants taking on the guises of street performers. So Jesus Christ, Sponge Bob Squarepants and a green Army Man walk into a pawn shop…it’s the set-up for a bad joke that actually turns out to be hilarious. It’s the most bat-shit few minutes in the entire film and it alone is worth the price of admission.

The team is led by Jose (Hugo Silva), a deadbeat dad who is trying his best to do right by his son, but is frustratingly foiled by his angry ex-wife, who has primary custody. Jose’s plan is to rob the shop and secure enough gold to set him up with a new life for himself and his son. Cementing himself as the paradigm of fatherly love and togetherness, he not only brings his son along on the heist, he enlists his help as an armed look-out.

The plan goes south though, as this group isn’t comprised of hardened criminals. Their getaway car vanishes and they wind up having to hijack a taxi and force the driver to take them through the country and across the border into France. Their path is not an easy one though, as they must first pass through Zugarramurdi, a small village rumored to be a haven for witches.

Rumor turns out to be truth (as is often the case, when you are driving through the countryside and hear stories of nefarious supernatural creatures), and the group soon finds themselves in the clutches of a family of witches and their coven, at the center of a diabolical plot. And not the wealthy, socialite satanic kind of witches. These ladies are evil old hags with brooms, cauldrons and some powerful magic. The ringleaders are a maiden/mother/crone trio hellbent on using our group in a powerful spell to undo the world.

The execution is spot-on. The film is a blast to watch. It has a very frenzied energy that makes scenes like the bank robbery and the subsequent car chase incredibly fun. Iglesia has a very kinetic way of filming that keeps everything on the move – scenes, plot, dialogue; all of it is injected with an ever-present state of manic forwardness.  Even though the runtime felt a tad long, it still felt like everything was moving, and the film passed along an energy of pure excitement.

The aspect that gave me pause was the rampant underlying misogyny that plagued the story. It’s set up as being this insane battle of the sexes, but that’s not really how it comes across. Every male character, though flawed, is inherently likeable. Yes, these guys aren’t the best fathers, but they are able to pin a lot of that on their evil ex-wives and the fact that these women don’t give them the opportunity to be the fathers they can be. But they are still very likeable characters that you can easily get behind and root for. Every woman in the film, on the other hand, is a one-dimensional bitch.

Take Jose’s ex-wife, for example. We get a bit of exposition just after the robbery, where our crooks are making their getaway and begin to learn a bit about one another. Jose talks about his family situation, and paints his ex as being a hysterical, unfeeling shrew who can’t be reasoned with. Cut to a scene of his ex-wife herself (Macarena Gomez) as she learns the fate of her son and the day that he spent with his father, and we learn that she is, in fact, a hysterical, unfeeling shrew.

And it would be easy to brush this off as simply a comedic set-up, but the events of the film do nothing to resolve it. The women are never shown as being better than their initial portrayal, and the male characters are never shown as being at fault for any of their actions.

Sure, these guys are all massive fuck-ups, but you still like them. And when the fuck-ups are charming miscreants and overall, pretty good guys, and the responsible women in their lives are all shrieking harpies, who are we going to side with? I’m going to hang out with the charming fuck-ups, thank you.

The one female character who does undergo a transformation and is shown in a positive light, only does so after she falls in love with Jose (and in a completely stereotypical and psycho way). It is only when she ties herself to a man that she finally can shed all of her witchy (yes, she is one of the witches) ways and find true happiness. Not to mention likeability as a character.

It’s a sticking point because if you’re going to have a madcap battle of the sexes, you need an even playing field. Not misunderstood losers vs. heartless shrieking bitches. When you make one team intrinsically likeable and the other hate-worthy, you’re not playing fair.

The film isn’t bad and it isn’t even inherently hateful. It’s not an angry story – it’s a fun one. It has the feel of a live-action cartoon for grown-ups. Iglesia creates some fantastic scenes and moments and creates a vibrant and fast-paced world that it’s hard not to get swept up in. But the underlying themes and character portrayal made it hard for me to sink completely into it and fully embrace it.

My Favorite Drive-In Needs Your Help!!!

Guys, I need your help. You see, there is this incredibly awesome drive-in theater in the picturesque town of Port Townsend, Washington – The Wheel-In Motor Movie. I discovered it a few years ago and have made a pilgrimage up there at least once every summer and every trip has been an incredible and memorable experience. It’s a magical place, secluded and set back in a forest of pine trees. When the sun finally goes down, you feel transported to a time and place in American culture long-past, only reachable for a few hours after dark when the projector kicks on and you settle down to watch a movie from the comfort and confines of your car. It’s an experience that is harder and harder to find, and is all the more special when you are able to grab it.

And that magic is only enhanced by the story of the place itself. The Wheel-In has been family-owned and operated for over 60 years. 60 years! That’s epic! The same family has been dimming the lights and running the projector, making popcorn and creating a very specific kind of movie magic for over half a century. They built this place when drive-ins were the new big thing in entertainment, and they continue to run it even now that the concept becomes an ever-loved piece of nostalgia.

But like many drive-in theaters, they are currently faced with a challenge. They are facing down the changing film climate as they try to manage the switch to digital distribution and get their facilities switched over accordingly. There is where you can help.

They have a Kickstarter campaign going to help them to raise the funds to convert their AMAZING single-screen drive-in theater, and it needs money.

If you live in the Northwest, you should not only be donating, you should do what I do and visiting. Take a weekend and support this amazing business. Park your car, snuggle up in your jammies, eat some popcorn, pizza and cheeseburgers while you catch a double-feature on a screen surrounded by massive pine trees, while bats whisk by overhead. It is truly a one-of-a-kind experience, and if you are a fan of drive-ins, film, or just overall cool shit, you need to be making this place a destination. And give them some of your money so that they can stay around a while and continue to provide this magical experience for generations to come.

And if you don’t live in the Northwest and will never have the opportunity to hang out at the Wheel-In, maybe you could find it in your heart to help anyway. If you found your way to this blog, you at least have a passing interest in film, and as more and more drive-ins disappear every season, film is missing more and more of a specific and charming little corner of its history. It’s a piece that I would love to see hanging around longer, but sadly, the conversion to digital distribution is hitting these places hard.

If you can make room in your budget to give these guys a little cash, it would be greatly appreciated. By them, by me*, who selfishly wants to be able to continue to spend a weekend here every summer, and by the throngs of people who show up with couches in the back of their trucks and toss footballs around while waiting for dusk to finally settle.

Seriously – give these guys a few bucks. If you’re anything like me, you were just going to waste that ten dollars on something stupid anyway, so why not allocate it to a worthy cause and help keep this piece of nostalgia around?

*And please know that I have absolutely no affiliation with this group, other than geeking out on their property for one or two nights every summer.

Review: Jim Jarmusch’s Dazzling Only Lovers Left Alive

Only Lovers Left Alive is Jim Jarmusch’s take on the classic vampire tale, as only Jim Jarmusch can tell it. It is the story of Adam and Eve, vampire lovers who have spent centuries together. At this point in their long lives, Adam is at a crossroads. It is not the first time he has found himself here – in fact, it seems a natural part of being an enduring creature. He finds himself lethargic, questioning the point of it all and lacking the motivation to carry on. We’ve all been there. Eve joins him in Detroit and the two spend some time together in an attempt to bring him out of his funk.

The brilliance of this film is that it focuses on the simple existence of these two characters. The vampirism and accompanying traits and plot elements are certainly present, but wrap themselves around the story of these two and their interactions. Who Adam and Eve are and how they connect (to each other, as well as to the world around them), is the driving force behind this film. It’s a meditation on what exactly it means to spend eternity on this planet. It examines what you would see, how it would affect you and what you would take away from it. This is a simple, elegant, character-driven film, that happens to have all of the more interesting aspects of supernatural fiction circling it, while never exactly taking it over.

The casting is phenomenal. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton make the perfect pair of vampires before you even add a plot and dialogue into the mix. They are both exquisitely beautiful in a very otherworldly way. Add in the costuming choices where they both lounge around in dressing gowns for half of the film with fantastically epic teased out hair, and you have perfection.

But it’s not only the look of our vampiric pair that makes the film. Swinton and Hiddleston embody Eve and Adam and bring them to life with an almost impossible level of grace. These characters are everything you ever wanted from a pair of vampires. They are the embodiment of agelessness – beings who have been around for hundreds of years and the combined total of all of those experiences, yet are still part of the modern world. It can be a difficult thing to communicate – being old while still looking and acting young. One or the other often gets lost in the mix, resulting in a cheesily one-sided sketch of a character, built out in broad strokes with no subtleties holding it up. Through Jarmusch’s writing, Hiddleston and Swinton communicate this sense of time brilliantly, and the characters are richer for it.

The cineamatogrophy is another piece that really shines. It’s a visually engaging, yet somewhat restrained film. As beautiful as our actors are shot as the settings are, as Detroit is (yes, they managed to make Detroit look pretty – while still highlighting the fact that it is all going to shit!), they are shot in a very grounded way, which parallels the characterization of these vampires. Beautiful, otherworldly, yet still very much a part of this world, and tied to it. Nothing on display here is ever over-the-top. The film focuses on a pair of vampires as lovers and as people. The way they connect. The way they interact. The way they share and remember experiences.

Only Lovers Left Alive is a film that celebrates everything you love about the vampire mythos, while simultaneously creating something completely its own. It is a damn near perfect film about love, companionship and eternity, and will most certainly earn its place as a unique piece of vampire fiction.

Review: The Magic of Jodorowsky’s Dune

Jodorowsky’s Dune is a brilliant, fascinating documentary that explores one of the most legendary films that never came to be. But more than that, it is a film about creativity. A film about ambition, drive, art and the creator behind all of it. Despite only having a few titles to his credit, Alejandro Jodorowsky has easily cemented himself as a pioneer in a specific sub-section of film culture. His work is strange, challenging,  and very open to interpretation, often dividing audiences.

Personally, his films have never really connected with me. I recognize and appreciate where they come from and what he is attempting to do with them, but I have always found
the experience of actually watching them to be a frustrating one, and thus, they have never grabbed me on the level that many of his fans are able to relate to them. But his Dune project was just so massive, so amazingly ambitious and cutting-edge that I think it may have stood a chance of making a believer out of even me. Or maybe not. But either way, after watching this doc, it’s a film I am glad we are exploring.

In Jodorowsky’s Dune, director Frank Pavich explores the ultimately failed project that took over two years of Jodorowsky’s life, attracted some of the biggest talents of its day, and came as close as you can come to having a film before ultimately having the plug pulled. We get to see how Jodorowsky and the various components of his creative team were going to interpret Frank Herbert’s classic novel and bring it to life in a way none of us could possibly imagine. From art styles to characterizations to Jodorowsky putting his own unique spin on the meaning of the material, this was going to make history.

Most fascinating is the chapter near the end of the film that discusses the impact that this production had on film, art, science fiction and the industry, though it was never actually shot. The existence of this production and the work that went into it had a lasting effect on science fiction cinema that is wider than you can even imagine, and the film, though it never came to be, certainly still has a life of its own. Though it was never made, it still managed to change science fiction forever. And had it been made, science fiction cinema would be a very different place from what it is today.

Start to finish, the documentary is a delight to watch, as Pavich comes as close to recreating elements of Jodorowsky’s vision without making it cheesy. We get plenty of visual examples, storyboards, sketches, etc. to see what this film could have looked like, set against a FANTASTICALLY perfect and era-appropriate sci-fi soundtrack. Pavich is able to convey what this film could and would have looked like and brings the audience into Jodorwsky’s version of Arrakis without ever treading too far and attempting to speak for the man himself. He maintains a respectful distance and tries to convey Jodorowsky’s notions without ever recreating them, which gives the documentary a fantastic level of elegance.

Jodorowsky’s participation in the project is its very soul, and his interview footage is simply wonderful. Hearing him speak about his vision for the film, even all these years later, is an exciting experience. He is a true artist, and his passion for his work is evident whenever he begins to speak. Whether you like his work or not, it’s impossible to not get caught up in his enthusiasm as he discusses his approach to his films, the soul that lives within the art, the truth that can be found there, and the value of being an artistic warrior.

This is not a film to be missed. It’s in theaters now.